When I started this small project, it was on a whim.
I thought : Everyone is locked down and frustrated at the moment. And will be for the foreseeable future. Weeks at least. And I thought Why not invite anyone who wanted to, to send me poems inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s beautiful poem ‘Swineherd’ and its opening line : When this is all over ?
It would be appropriate, I thought, for a time when people are asking the question on a daily basis. So I put out a request for submissions throughout April, and promised that every poem I got would be published on the Cobweb. Over the days and weeks, 80 poems arrived, which kept me busy and very happy.
Then it got even more interesting. Bob Horne, the primum mobile of Calder Valley Poetry gave me a ring and said he had an idea. Which was to take the best of the poems and publish a pamphlet/chapbook. It would sit alongside poets like Peter Riley, Steve Ely, Emma Storr and many others, including Michael Marks winner, Charlotte Wetton’s I refuse to turn into a hatstand , and the following year’s shortlisted pamphlet, Ian Parks’ If possible: Cavafy Poems. Who could refuse?
The next thing was to decide who should decide which poems were ‘the best’. Obviously, it couldn’t be Bob or myself, since we knew who had written the poems, and they needed to be read ‘blind’. We needed an impartial judge. We kicked the idea around for a time, but in the end the answer was obvious. We’d ask Kim Moore.
Just in case you’re recently arrived from a distant galaxy, here’s why:
She was awarded the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize in 2010 and an Eric Gregory Award in 2011.
Her pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves was a winner in the 2012 Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and went on to be shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award and was a runner up in the Lakeland Book of the Year.
Her first collection The Art of Falling won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize in 2016 and was shortlisted for Lakeland Book of the Year.
Since then, her poem from The art of falling ‘In That Year’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize, and she is currently on the judging panel for The Forward Prize 2020.
And guess what. She said YES!
So this is how it will work. First of all, if you’d rather not be considered, just email me. You can find the address in earlier posts in this sequence.
If your poem is one of the chosen ones, we’ll ask you for a short biog, and contact details so we can send you your copy of the pamphlet ‘once this is all over’. Which will take some time, but it will happen.
In the meantime, I’ll be publishing all the poems, a few each day, five days a week, until there are no more left to print. They’ll be published in alphabetic order of trades, occupations and professions, and the authors’ names will not appear until they have all been published and the selected twenty six announced.
At this point, the selected poems will vanish from the blog, to appear later in beautiful hard copies. At the same time the names of every contributor will be published after the last poem in the sequence.
I hope every one who’s contributed, and filled my days with joy for a month, will be content with all this. If you’re not, tell me privately, and not, PLEASE on social media. All will be well.
And now, the poems. I said right at the start that I’d repost the poem that Ian Parks sent me, and which Bob and I have chosen as the Prologue to the 26 selected poems (whichever they are)
When This is All Over
While we were sleeping they were still awake.
While we were hiding they were in the light.
The cold dark angel passing over us
left nothing but the flutter of its wings.
We huddled in our places, locked from sight
each waiting for the hush that daylight brings.
So empty out the squares and thoroughfares,
make criminal the handshake and embrace.
There is no other future except this:
the bolted door, the window and the face;
all of our journeys cancelled or delayed –
and if we meet we cough instead of kiss.
When all of this is over we’ll creep out
astonished by the new world they have made.
After Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, ‘The Swineherd’
When all this is over, said the actuary,
I mean to retire to a country where I will calculate
only the probability of a fly landing on the back of my hand,
where the three old shrews are old news,
and nobody gives a damn.
I intend to inspect cause and effect
in the spreading of yawns, and learn divination
by the casting of beer bottle tops. I will make tables
but lay no places for flood, fire,
death. I will dream of a giant abacus
strung with plums and when I wake my tongue
will be purple. I want to lie on my back in a field
of black clover under a scarlet sky
and count clouds as they slip by:
yan, tan, tether, mether, pip…
I like to catch the sun first thing
through the window of my son’s bedroom
which is all I have for a studio
but it’s better than no space at all.
I gesso my boards—12 x 12 birch plywood—
it calms me, a kind of meditation on these disordered
lockdown mornings when no news is good news.
While they dry, propped on the sill,
I drink strong coffee, line a roller-tray
with wet paper towel and greaseproof paper,
and squeeze out heavy bodied acrylics
to lose myself in one board after another,
smearing paint like butter then standing back
to see if I’ve got the values right.
I can always add more white or black.
I’d rather have a studio like Georgia’s –
pulling curtains across a morning view
of red hills and a flat-topped mountain.
This bedroom’s not being slept in.
My son can’t stay over even though
he’s not coping in his flat. There’s paint
in my hair, on my sleeves and on my jeans.
When this is all done, I’ll go to Santa Fé –
when the sun tints the sides of the mountain
I’ll be ready with my brush.
When all this is over, said the aviator
I will unlearn how to fly, fold
my wings, let the sky revert
to a blue strip crayoned by a child;
an off-white page scribbled by birds;
a star-chalked blackboard. I will look
to dandelions for sun and clouds; craze
the moon in a puddle. Under my lens,
the world will appear in a flake of skin,
a drop of blood, a gob of spittle. Wax-melt
from my wings will give candles for light,
their sharpened feathers, quills. And I
will write on the palm of my left hand
in small dark words, all that I have learned.
More poems tomorrow. See you all then.