Best of 2018. November and December: Tom Weir and Christopher North

 Tom Weir

(and once more, WordPress defeats me. The poem is in couplets. Visualise it in couplets, hear the line breaks)

Magic

Magic

You used to say there was magic in these stairs—

pistons turning, hammers getting to work,

springs being fixed onto the wings of birds.

I used to tiptoe because, under my feet,

there were clouds about to burst

and one night I dreamt I stamped so hard

rain fell and buried the village like Pompeii.

I still remember the step that kept

all the loose bits of storm, the one where trams

and buses went to be repaired

and the one that held curfews like ice about to break.

You used to say if we opened them up

we’d see men throwing wood onto the sun,

find out where waterfalls began,

but this chill has nothing to do with water.

Why did you never tell me about the one

that hid black ice? Or this one that sinks

under me now like a landmine, leaves me frozen

while everyone else carries on up to your room

to say goodbye and I cannot move?


Part of the magic of this poem, for me, is the way it understands how children imagine, how they are formed by chance encounters and stories whose tellers never imagined the impact they might have, and how our childhood is carried in us, and how we can be startled back into it, and in some ways become as powerless as a child. The framing narrative is kept implicit..you used to say …. these stairs …everyone else…..your room.The detail is kept for the stories of each tread, the fabulous tales told to a child who will never forget them. And then there’s the power of the image of one rooted to the foot of a staircase and its narrowing closed off perspective. I love the way poem pivots on that one line .why did you never tell me?  In its control and contained love and grief it does everything I want in a poem. Lovely

Christopher North

Finally, a poem about friendship to finish what, out there, in what politicianns like to call “the real world” , has been a horrible year. Thank you to all the poets who have been guests on the cobweb this year, and constantly reminded me that what survives of us is love.

The Night Surveyor: Dartington Gardens

(For Ben Okri)

After the farewell party we grabbed a bottle

and, on your suggestion, headed into the gardens,

pitch dark, rustling leaves, I don’t know how many came.

Giggling, without a torch we found the Tiltyard,

above us Cassiopeia, a slumped Great Bear.

Now be our night surveyor you said.

I declared to the six (or were there seven?):

‘The Cypress is twenty metres from the twelfth Apostle;

the fountain, two chains, fifteen eleven

Starlit dunes of Devon fields gleamed above trees

as we crossed silvered lawns and I announced:

we are four hundred feet above the sea

then led them up endless steps, finding risers with gentle kicks.

There’s this place of seven echoessomeone whispered

someone counter-whispered: No there’s only six.

Full fathom five.. I shouted from the bastion. 

No please not that one surveyor  you murmured, 

O trees of dark coral made?  – ‘No try something else.

Some bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch…

No echo but a leaden voice climbed inside my ear.

Over Staverton, or Berry Pomeroy’s lowly thatch

hung Jupiter, no Venus, or was it Mars?

One shouted:  I embrace the universal me,

voice cracked and small beneath shades and stars.

Two melted into trees: We remaining passed round wine.

The town below lolled in sodium as if bathing

and you yawned Get us back surveyor, I think it’s time.

I counted steps. Shadows rose and fell in bands.

Feeling for damp and stone, plotting silhouettes 

and shadows, gradually we became a chain of hands.

I really like the filmic quality of this, a film by Peter Greenaway…the draughtsman’s contract. The story of the bunch of tipsy chums stumbling around in the dark under a huge starlit sky, stumbling over silvered lawns, declaiming of bits of Shakespeare, the absurdity of it that gradually comes to its senses, and back to earth as The town below lolled in sodium. I love the way the declaiming poet comes back to the role of the measuring and sensible surveyor and the group of friends who became a chain of hands. The whole thing is witty, elegantly constructed, and ultimately life-affirming, lyrical and loving.

So there we are. Thank you to all the cobweb guest poets of 2018. I hope you all have a happy and successful 2019.

Why not make a start by submitting your poems about food, or food related poems, or poems with taste and flavour and possibly a recipe for a better world to The Fenland Reed. It’s a handsome journal edited by lovely folk. Go on. You know you should.

Here’s your link. https://www.thefenlandreed.co.uk/submissions

Best of 2018.November. Gaia Holmes and Pauline Yarwood

Gaia Holmes 

There’s a lot of ice (and also stars, and milk and fire) in Gaia’s poems ; there’s even an Ice Hotel in one collection. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams which make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing. So I think this poem is a perfect choice for Boxing Day 2018.

The Allure Of Frost
Boxing day.
No fire in the grate and unopened presents
stacked around the base of the tree and fairy lights muted,
switched off, and the brandy that swells the fruit starting to eat
the cake in its tin and all the mirrors doused with tea towels
and your raw-eyed mother keening into a pillow in her bedroom
and too many men in black whispering and nodding
and I don’t know what the rosary is and whether to curtsey
to the priests when I hand them their tea
and the phrase ‘fruits of thy womb’ seem too ripe and too rich
for this and, Mary mother of God, I don’t know
how to cross myself and fear I’m invoking the devil
and the scent of death’s so thick
that it’s tainted the water and it’s heavy in the curtains
making them bend the rail
and your lips taste of the oils that grease your dead sister
and when I kiss you, you push me away and I want to spit
and weep and slap the corpse where she lies in her coffin
all done-up with hair grips and lipstick,
her sunken cheeks plumped out with wads of cotton wool
and the rictus of sin softened
by the crust of Rimmel Natural Beige powdering her face
and it’s so hot in here
that the cheese is sweating and the butter is liquid.
The chocolate coins are dripping from the tree.
Your Aunt’s un-bitten sandwiches
are curling upwards on her plate
and the lilies are wilting and stinking in their vases
and the cat stands quivering and retching
against the cold crack beneath the back door.
Outside the frost, not knowing any difference,
continues to sparkle. And I’d like to go out there.
I’d like to stand in it until my feet turn blue.

I think this has everything in it that I think of as a Gaia Holmes poem. The piling on and on of sensory detail, the Alice in Wonderland sense that the logic of things is wrong; the wistfulness, the vulnerablity, and the pluck of a girl who will stand in a sparkling frost till her feet turn blue and the world becomes real again. It also has the undertow of of a diffuse guilt about religious uncertainty  (which resurfaces in The Lord’s Prayer, a poem with a sting in its tail)

and I don’t know what the rosary is 
……..and, Mary mother of God, I don’t know
how to cross myself

Pauline Yarwood

(apologies, in advance. Pauline’s poem is in four line stanzas. WordPress is defying all my efforts at keeping the double spaces. Forgive me)

the slippery-slidey look you almost saw,

One of those things that just stick, and seemed to me to catch a quality that I like in Pauline’s writing. A sideways look can be suspicious. It can be cautious or secretive. It’s the quality of noticing that seems to come with a withheld comment. And it also suggests to me the things accidentally seen, that come without the filter of expectation, as though seen for the first time. Think of walking through a city street and suddenly seeing your reflection in a shop window, that elderly/dishevelled/comic/clumsy/ill-dressed you who can’t possibly be you, that isn’t you looking as you imagine you’re seen, but as you actually are in that split second. The you a dark watcher would see, and withhold judgement, but be thinking it anyway. A sideways look sees something on the periphery, and brings it to the centre.

Being Eight

I wanted out of childhood,

away from unexplained asides,

the slippery-slidey look you almost saw,

the put that lip away you, now.

It seemed to me that film stars had it sussed,

always smiling satisfied, grown-up smiles.

I wondered how they did it, how they fixed that grin.

My plan was to look like that, and so I thought

if I wedged my pillows high behind me,

tightened the sheet over the blanket,

sat bolt upright, hands good-girl folded,

and fell asleep with a smile as wide as the sea

then my smile would last forever,

fixed in perpetuity.

You can take that look off your face

But, no, I can’t.  I can’t.

I like the sure-footedness of this poem, its clarity, the iambic ease of it. It never misses a beat. And I especially like the ambiguity…or do I mean ambivalence? I like the observation of the way that children find adults puzzling, hard to read, but suspecting that somehow they have spotted a transgression that was never intended in a look you almost saw. The strategy of sitting bolt upright with a fixed smile that will ‘stay’ and make a film star of you is beautifully surprising, and I love the doubleness of the italicised ending, which may declare a ruefulness or a defiance. Maybe that I can’t is really an I can’t, because it isn’t in me. Nailed it.

Best of 2018. October: Laura Potts

Laura Potts

Alma Mater

Widow-black and winter, evening took me south into

lamps burning blue in the dusk. Out and over my hometown musk

lay the hinterland hills breathing low in the dark. Still,

frostspark sharp on the city streets, holy rain sweet

in the winter and the wet, with no evening stars ahead I let

the pavement take me home. Through the town nocturnal, gloam

and grey, my chimney throat coughing its smoke, I saw aslope

on the city’s slow spine those old black gates, the summer of my days

inside. Grief cracked my face. Those navy girls and me, a pace

always ahead. But in the pale stairwell light the ghost of my girlhood dead

in its fresh green spring and gone. From roadside wet I looked on

at this child of light, her afterglow bright, her ashes of life

already black. The cold breath of loss on my face. At my back

a schoolbell cracked at the evening air. I saw Death at my table there

tipping his hat, and the years in my face that sank as I sat

at that desk at the back of the class. I remember that. And last,

on an old December evening, down hallways dark the wilting hymns

of girls turned ghosts before their time, I saw their eyes

like candles cold, like lights no longer leading home. Outside, to the bone

I shook and swung, the darkened seas that were my eyes done

and gone at the sight of myself. Each girl ringing her own passing bell.

Well, in that mist and half-dark morning, my face a clenching fist

in pavement pools, I saw that septic, terminal school for what it was.

I never went back, of course. I tipped my compass north.

The first time I heard this poem, I wanted to see it on the page. You need to hear it first, and then you need to have it in front of you, so you can read it aloud and try its syntax and rich texture on the tongue. I love the way it starts, in a landscape realised like an Atkinson Grimshaw painting (which is why I chose one). I love the persona of the narrator, a dark watcher who puts me in mind of others, like Jane Eyre, Mary Lennox, and of Stephen Dedalus, the ones who examine their isolation, or alienation, and square their shoulders, and become resolute. As she watches her own ghost with a mixture of pity and a huge sense of loss, of being cast adrift, the clenched fist of a face fighting back tears becomes the clenched fist of defiance. That last sentence nails it.

I tipped my compass north.

I really like that stripped back line after the rich language that comes before. And I like that rich language too. Laura kicks the fashion of the day.

Best of 2018. August and September: Clare Shaw and Jack Faricy

August

Clare Shaw 

(from a post reviewing her latest collection, Flood, from which this poem is taken)

 The biblical flood is unavoidable, isn’t it? In this version though, the survival is that of the wife and mother, and the survival is that of her self. Mrs Noah can say at the end : this is my voice. And it’s been hard-won. (I should say in passing that I like the device of using the stages of developing flood as described in a kind of Beaufort scale of inundation as titles for poems; I like the way that this one conflates and elides her personal story with the story of the valley, and its flood with those of myth).

Low lying regions inundated. Large objects begin to float

My man was not blameless but he knew his own mind.
He loved his sons, his God, his goats.
We were solid as wood, as steady as bread.
It was not perfect: it was what I had.
I brought up boys in a time of war.
I loved them. I had no choice.

And this is my voice:

you would not believe the violence;
how the ground was covered in minutes;
how quickly our valley was Nile.

When the river came with a sound like battle
and when all the waters were one

then we knew how angry we’d made him
and it was too late to run.

When I tell you I feared for my life

for my children – you cannot imagine.
When I say, I saw people drown,
they looked in my face and I could not help them –
ours was the only boat on that ocean;

a boat the size of a zoo, a mansion;
a sea the size of the world.

I lived to see what I loved destroyed
and all my world was unmade.

Forty days. The boredom and stink
and the darkness. No wonder

the birds pulled out their feathers
and the bear banged his head on the wall.
And when the rain stopped,

then the silence.

The mountains a dream in the waters beneath us.
I think, that day, there was sun.

When floods recede,
they don’t leave a world made shiny

and bright. For years, I’ll be cleaning up shit.
No bird nor branch can make this right.
No trick of the light. No I’ll-never-do-it

again. No god or man.

I loved him. I had no choice.
And this is my voice:
it takes more than a dove
and I will not forgive.

That note of defiance, truculence, even, sounds like a trumpet. It’s the voice of a survivor.

Jack Faricy

This was from the third post to introduce the work of poets I meet at The Albert Poets Monday night workshop group in Huddersfield. You’ve met David Spencer and Regina Weinert. Now meet Jack Faricy. 

Spoor

His silt-soled footprint fits like skin;

its mud-mould gives

a little, goads the nuzzling toes

and flexing arch.

I try to feel my way in, discern

the pulse of his veins,

hunt-quickened, alive

to some new cunning in his prey.  My eyes

strain to be his, not blurred

and blinking in the wind, but whetted

keen, flashing and darting

as he harries an aurochs

to death, heedless of shapes

left in the sand to harden, become relics

of the chase, like this

fragment of his scattered form.

Nothing. We share nothing

but this tide-washed stratum.

My foot’s a blindworm

thwarted in its burrowing, nostalgic

for its cast-off skin.

I turn back to the dunes. A boy

digs; his mother, deck-chaired,

wind-shielded, hugs herself for warmth,

waves.  I retrace the steps between us.

This poem reminds me that Jack’s poems have two qualities that particularly grab my attention. One is the quality of curiosity coupled with a wide frame of reference; you can find yourself anywhere in the world or in history. The other is the way he will seize on the moment that draws you in, and then speculate about its back-story, which is often (but not invariably) presented quite filmically.  So we start with the fossil record of the momentary impression of a long-dead hunter, his single footprint in estuary mud, then strain to see through his eyes, and fail. My foot’s a blindworm. I think this image nails it. We’ve reached a dead end, and then the focus shifts, as it does in film, back to the living and loved. We have been away too long. 

The best of 2018 . July: David Spencer

David Spencer

David is not primarily a “poet”. This is important. Born in Halifax, he is a dramatist and has been creative writing tutor at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, Burgtheater Wien and the University of Arts in Berlin. His numerous plays were staged at the Royal Court Theatre in London, Deutsches Schauspielhaus Hamburg, Volksbühne Berlin. The first time I heard him read was at The Albert Poets in Huddersfield, and he didn’t so much read as perform. His poems are more often than not, I think, soliloquies, and are written, consciously or not, as you would write for performance. They are like a score or a script, waiting for a performer who who understands  who the narrator is and what motivates him or her.

Jim Caruth called his Poetry Business winning Pamphlet The death of narrative because another poet told him that narrative was dead. I was told pretty well, by another famous poet, that narrative isn’t the real deal. Except she characterised it as “the anecdote, the conversation at the bus-stop” which was all very well in its place but that place was probably not ‘poetry’. And I thought well, if it’s true, that’s me stuffed. But it isn’t true. One of the most essential things we did after we invented language was to invent stories. I cannot imagine that we ever thought of using it to make lies. Not at first. We told stories to remember, to make sense of the world. It seems to me right now that people in power are doing the exact opposite., and it’s a crime that goes beyond denunciation or any possibility of forgiveness.

This poem is a narrative; it is set in Germany and one that David performs with rare passion. A poem of useful anger.

We Came to Lay Flowers

with the written permission of the Berlin police,

three hundred of us, here for comrade Mathilde

as she was there for comrade Rosa. We are to the left

and we are in the right, as comrade Jakob was

in the Altnazizeit.

just three of us may enter the Tiergarten town hall.

And now, a delegation, the cops say a delegation;

We say: “All of us or none of us, we came to lay flowers.”

Negotiators  negotiate. We crank the lautie louder

“Fuck, fuck, fuck the police! Fuck, fuck, fuck the police!”

We are AntiFa, we are Black Block; we are Green Partei, PDS,

we are SPD, members of the Jewish community; my Germany.

Riot squads down visors, hammer shields, “Fuck, fuck, fuck

the police!” deploy CS gas, water cannon, elite Hessische 

snatch bulls; I have seen this shit before:

Belfast, South Africa House, the Miners’ Strike, G8 summit.

With their telescopic whips, their tonfas, they will hurt us.

We are afraid but we are AntiFa: “Fuck, fuck, fuck the police!”

Five to our one, they kettle in; we are AntiFa, we do not run;

we came to lay flowers.

For comrade Mathilde Jacob, Rosa Luxemburg’s secretary and friend; (born, 8 of March 1873 and murdered 14 of April 1943, Theresienstadt.)

I was thinking before I wrote this piece that there is so much to be rightly angered about, from mindless validations of racist violence by powerful men, the brutal separation of children from parents, the needless and pointless deaths of disabled people by the withholding of benefits, the genocides of Palestine and Yemen, the sustained attacks on truth in the MSM…on and on. I have never known a time of so much hate, and we need people who can confront it with controlled anger and empathy for the wronged. We need poets who can write it. 

Keep on insisting that we will lay flowers even if we have to fight to do it.

The best of 2018: June Regina Weinert

Regina Weinert

 Regina researches language and linguistics; she writes ‘short’ poems. Put them together and you have the economy and precision that I’ve come to admire in her work. And also to envy it. My own writing sprawls. I don’t do short, especially ones built out of crafted couplets, and I’m fascinated by poets who can and do. Of the four she shared earlier, I picked this one. (for some reason, WordPress keeps reformatting the poem. It’s in couplets. try to imagine that)

Mistake, sister

Neither of us paid much attention to birds,

we never chased pigeons,

noticed gulls only as a threat

to our picnic or to our Sunday skirts.

If I remember rightly, your interest

was limited to a duck’s sense of timing,

how it pretended to study the grass

before snatching  the bacon from dad’s plate.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long.

It’s all in the movement, the way you swoop

and dive in and out of your daily doings, yes,

you’re some kind of low flyer.

What always struck me was the lack

of doubt. Now I see the hesitation

I took for nonchalance, all that chaperoning,

how pristine you keep your wings.

( first published in  Somewhere to keep the rain, [Winchester Poetry Festival 2017, Sarsen Press])

What has always struck me in Regina’s writing is the way she understands line breaks. Look at the work that’s done by the big space between  swoop    /    and dive, all the expanse of air it implies. Or the space between lack  /  of doubt.Lovely. I like the way that apparent conversational tone, the unselfconsciousness of the voice, works with the accurate, careful diction; that’s where that immersion in language and linguistics pay off. It’s expressive and tight at the same time, like a confident etching.

The best of 2018: May. Maggie Reed

Maggie Reed

Essentially, this is a first: a guest poet who I met, on a Poetry Business Writing Week in Whitby, who married another guest poet who she met on a Poetry Business Writing Week in Whitby, and who I met on a Writing Week in Spain, tutored by Ann Sansom of…the Poetry Business. Which has a nice sort of synergy, and makes me very happy. As does this poem I chose from her guest post

When you listen to this poem for the first time, you may think you’re in over-familiar territory. You may be inclined to think : nostalgia. But it has a trick up its sleeve.

Visiting.

A red-brick vicarage in a northern coastal town

near the football club by St Andrew’s Church.

My father, taking me to Roker Park,

asked a policeman to stop the traffic

so we could cross the road.

I remember cold winters, hands over gas rings,

velvet curtains drawn, matching blue carpet,

draughts under the door.

Mrs. Donkin boiling sheets, wooden tongs,

struggles with the mangle, steam,

pegging them out in the back yard,

Do you remember holidays in Saltburn,

staying in Marlborough House

on Emerald Crescent, taking Peter,

our cat, how he never ran away?

Always smiling at the flowers

in the window, eating homemade

chocolate cake for tea;

riding my bike in the garden,

no, it must have been a tricycle,

I was only three.

I remember these things because you told me

from your chair in the nursing home,

eyes searching then holding my own.

I do remember these things, don’t I?

Or was it you?

Or was it me?

maggie reed 4

I like the way (as I read it) the poem invites me to assume the “I” of the narrator who tells me about the vicarage and the policeman, and the old woman doing the washing is the voice of the poet. If it was, then I guess this would just be a piece of nostalgia, which is as interesting to a listener as a stranger’s photograph album. But something happens very quietly in one line which retrospectively made me re-read and re-evaluate:

Do you remember holidays in Saltburn.

Just like that, the poem turns from a soliloquy to a dialogue. Who asks the question? Who’s being asked? Why?  I make an assumption that it’s a daughter (because it’s a woman poet; yup, that simplistic) and I know she’s visiting a parent (a mother, I assume, because in my experience, it usually is) in a care home. But the thing is, that I don’t know whose memory is unreliable, who rode the trike, who owned the cat. And at the end I don’t know whose memory is more unreliable. And I find it hugely moving. It’s quiet and unassertive and it won’t let me be..

The Best of 2018. April: Jennifer Copley and Judy Brown

Jennifer Copley

Basement

1940, but they feel safe here,

between the ping-pong table

and the bottled fruit.

Light from a tiny barred window

spills down dust-motes.

There’s a birdcage

he always knocks his head on,

a cupboard that creaks.

Today it’s hot.

They remove more clothes than usual.

Her buttons roll into mouse-holes.

His braces, hurriedly unsnapped,

fly into a corner where they stay

for fifty years.

Upstairs, pans clatter.

Where’s Lizzy? Someone shouts

but with his tongue in her ear,

Lizzy doesn’t cotton on.

Not knowing the way war will turn,

all their arrangements,

love tokens,

sweat from their bodies,

moons from their fingers,

semen,

salt,

lie in scuffs on the floor.

I like the story-teller’s ‘they’ that demands you have to find out who ‘they’ are, between the deliberately comic ping-pong table and the bottled fruit, lit dimly by what comes through a window that’s ‘barred’. Which should make you think twice. Whoever they are, they come often because ‘there’s a birdcage / he always knocks his head on’. And yes, it’s comic, until it’s unsettling. Because they take off more clothes ‘than usual’ in a fumble of snapped-off buttons and unsnapped braces. A poem of desperate love in a time of war that’s not comic at all but as serious as salt and moons and semen. I love it.

Judy Brown

This poem is one of a sequence, Songs from West Cumbria,which is woven into her collection Crowd sensations.You’ll see what I mean by the poet as ‘dark watcher’

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There was a goat outside the window of my Classic Double,

working a bald strip of tilted earth behind wire.

Between us laya five-foot-deep concrete alley

through glass; my admiration at its brown head and neck

on a white body, like two beasts severed and sewn;

and some prison dreams neither of us would divulge.

In the bar, low sun glimmed off the sea.  I couldn’t

get a seat near it.  The men from the power station who could,

as a squadron, turned their headsfrom the window

to watch the TV above mine.  For me too, it was hard

to believe in the beach that stretched for miles each side

like an adhesive strip ripped off something useful.

Breakfast was an open bag of Kingsmill White,

some soft croissants pouched in cellophane, plus

one bruised pear which I took out of fellow feeling.

I had to get us out of here: away from the owners

talking business in their sagging tracksuits, away

from this disowned ground, its hand-hot rain.

From ‘Crowd Sensations’ (Seren Books, 2016)

It’s the moment that matters, says Clive James. Sometimes the moment is also an image. The beach like a a strip of parcel tape ‘ripped off something useful’.Lovely. Desperate.

The best of 2018: March. John Duffy

Praise poem

Emma Gonzalez,

I wish I had never heard of you,

I wish I had never seen you

wiping tears from your eyes

as you stood on the platform

and spoke for the people,

for the young people who died,

for the young people who survived,

for all the people who know

that what comes out of the barrel

of a gun is inadequacy and

envy and smoke and hating

people as beautiful as you,

Emma Gonzalez, you

with your words that shame

the traders in death and lift

sad friends, miserable families,

bewildered children, and all of us

across your country and the planet

who stand amazed at the power

of your voice,  Emma Gonzalez,

your angry laugh,

your daring your president

to become a man, to own up

to his blood money in deep

pockets, I wish I had never seen you

rooted on the stage, defiant,

your head like a wonderful marine’s,

Emma Gonzalez, cropped short

and meaning business, meaning

to clean up big business,

meaning justice, meaning a scattering

of vendors’ tables: your tongue scourging

the ones who trade in carnage

and the ones who watched

the gunman swagger, the gunman

pose, the gunman possessed

by misery, by smoke, by nothing

of any worth.  You have given us

hope, Emma Gonzalez,

by your courage and your words.

What a sister, what a friend,

Emma Gonzalez, what a daughter!

The best of 2018: February. Ian Parks and Matthew Stewart

Matthew Stewart

“Matthew Stewart works in the Spanish wine trade and lives between Extremadura and West Sussex. Following two pamphlets with HappenStance Press, both now sold out, he has recently published his first full collection, The Knives of Villalejo, with Eyewear Books. He blogs at http://roguestrands.blogspot.com.

 The four poems he sent me were all from The knives of Villalego, and they make me think of a phrase I’ve used before in my posts. Dark watcher. The point of view of the unseen observer, or at least the overlooked observer who can see what’s going on but can’t affect or change what happens. Maybe it has something to do with the fact of his living in and between two countries and two languages. It’s something that Kim Moore picked out in one of her Sunday Poem blogs when she posted one of his poems : Twenty years apart

Ignore the smells, swap Spanish for English,
back streets of Villalejo for Oxford.
Muttered stories mirror muttered stories.
I’m still in the background.

Kim commented:

the outsider is always an outsider, whether in Villalejo or Oxford. When the speaker in the poem urges the reader to ‘Ignore the smells, swap Spanish for English’  the reader starts to realise the speaker is an outsider where ever he goes.Yes. It’s that quiet understatement, a sort of self deprecatory quality, a rueful one, but a truthfully observed one too. 

The 23rd

i.m. George Stewart

It casually loiters in the fourth line

of April, pretending not to stalk me,

the expiry date on David’s passport

and the start of a trade fair in Brussels.

It knows full well you chose your namesake’s day

to die, as if you were somehow afraid

I might forget. As if I ever could.

Ian Parks

The Great Divide

Ian  is the only poet to have his work published in the Morning Star and the Times Literary Supplement on the same day. Born in 1959, the son of a miner, he went on to teach creative writing at the universities of Sheffield, Hull, Oxford, and Leeds. His collections include Shell Island, The Landing Stage, Love Poems 1979-2009,  [uz can be loving as well as funny] The Exile’s House and, most recently, Citizens. He is the editor of Versions of the North: Contemporary Yorkshire Poetry, was writer in residence at Gladstone’s Library in 2012, and Writing Fellow at De Montfort University Leicester from 2012-2014. He currently runs the Read to Write project in Doncaster.  His versions of the modern Greek poet Constantine Cavafy, If Possible, will be published by Calder Valley Poetry in 2018. What a track record! Let’s start with a poem I asked him for after I heard him read it recently in Huddersfield. The title’s apt.

 She looked at me and saw the bitter streets

where I was born – the valley floor that offered

no escape, the Chartist cobbles hard rain

rained upon – and everywhere a sense of failing light,

streaking the uplands, making a theatre of them as it did:

the unrelenting grimness of the north,

its chapels, pit-heads, slag heaps, union halls,

processions through the darkness, millstone grit.

A great red furnace blazing from the Humber to the Sheaf

fought-over, misbegotten, stratified.

She looked straight through me to my father’s eyes

black-rimmed and smiling after a long shift

and as she gazed a cross the great divide

I let the balance of the landscape strain and give

as if the world itself was undermined

and felt – not pity at the thought of it – but anger first, then pride.

[from Shell Island (Waywiser 2006)]

It’s a poem that has all the elements that well-meaning folk have tried to steer me away from; there’s one line in particular that might be seized on and waved at me as a warning

the unrelenting grimness of the north (and all its standard accoutrements).

But that would be to ignore the passionate, almost biblical, vision of:

A great red furnace blazing from the Humber to the Sheaf

That’s the moment that pulls me in, because it’s not just ‘visionary’ ( a great red furnace of struggle and immense creativity, a mighty forging) but also, in my memory, a real landscape that you might have seen from Pennine gritstone edges where Chartists and other early socialists would meet, the valleys and plains of Lancashire and of the West Riding, all in a fume, and the failing light streaking the uplands ‘making a theatre of them‘. It’s real and a dream simultaneously, a poem where resentful anger and pride tug in different directions. And it’s a poem about love.