Life-changing: Walking with Gyula Friewald

I’m looking back to the first time I went on a poetry residential at The Old Olive press in Relleu, in Alicante in May 2013. I’m looking back to how I met someone who transformed the week and changed me. In fact, there were two. The other one was Hilary Elfick, who has been a guest poet for the cobweb; the other was Gyula Friewald.

When my first collection, Much Possessed was published in 2016 it was dedicated to My three wise sisters, Hilary Elfick, Gaia Holmes and Kim Moore. Hilary was the first person to tell me that my work should be published. Gaia was the first person to give me a headline guest slot at a poetry open mic. And Kim Moore was the first to publish one of my poems on a poetry blog. They have, all three, gone on encouraging, inspiring and enthusing me. Inspirations, all three of them. And there’s another who’s never had a dedication in a pamphlet or a collection, but should have. So here’s a post, dedicated to him.

Gyula Friewald is a craftsman in metal; a sculptor, a forger, a blacksmith, an artist…all of these. He has made thousands of stunning things, like the bas relief Nomad, which is my headline image this week; he has created monumental gates for embassies, beautiful cast street lamps, elegant steel trophies, stunning staircases…he has made things for streets in capital cities, for restaurants, for private houses. His range and energy are formidable. But, like he says, it’s physically punishing, and he’s retired. He lives in Spain. He writes poetry in English. And he is one of the best walking companions I have ever met.

In the late afternoons, before the evening meal, we’d sit and workshop his poems, with me helping (I hope) him to find the English idioms that would keep the meanings he intended, in a language not his first or his own. But before that, after lunch, we’d go for long walks, and, if we hadn’t done that, I’d never have learned the landscapes we were walking through. It was a week of tumultuous history lessons, philosophy, discovering the names and properties of flowers, watching eagles, far off, uprooting steel snares, finding the bones of a fox, speculating on the meaning of petroglyphs, the behaviours of metals, the weight of anvils, and laughing a lot.

When I went there the second time, I hoped he’d be here too, and found that he was, even if he wasn’t..I found myself on every solitary walk wondering what Gyula would make of this or that, and pointing things out, even though he wasn’t there. In the end I had to write this poem for him.

                      Broken English     

                      for Guyla Friewald, sculptor, and teller of stories)


On my own, months later, by the footprint 

of St Jaume, the candles in the niche, I could swear

I heard you still forging meanings ……all this terraces…

and you held an arc of sky in one hard palm,

drew a pure line on the air…..these bancals; was the Moors 

who build.. and you put your hand on the drywalled stone,

tracing its joints, so I felt the weight and drag,

the ugly labour that it took to make those lovely 

contours where olive, almond, lemons grow.


And where we came on the bones of the fox.

…. you want sculpture; look at your own hand, the way…..

The sea so far and vague. Back on the track

you were hunting words to tell the meaning 

 of that finger-painted petroglyph..

maybe this man, 

he wants to make a power over the dark….


 By this burned tree stump above the deep arroya …

was the time  my father had to hide away from Stalin…..

and in the meadow profligate with flowers 

you know why this Hungarian has a German name?,

In the dark below the grandfather’s Christmas table

the mill race ran…..between the boards you could see..

You know that…


                            ………….. know why I like England? 

a thick-boled olive, two hundred years old, 

and a mountain floating  in the sky beyond…

because is surrounded with food.…….and we watched 

the eagles, spiralling on thermals,  miles away…..

 you know what my country is surrounded by?…..

In a blink the eagles slanted off into the sun…..  

                       … by enemies…leaving nothing to be said.


Late afternoon, on  the Via Dolorosa

below the castle ruin….that big anvil that I have 

to leave behind in London…maybe two ton… between 

the Station of Veronica,…but that big hammer

gives the sound…like bells, maybe. and Simon of Cyrene know is right…. you raised your arm, your fist, 

so I felt  how the forge, the heat, and that hammer 

take their toll on the body, the bone.


Day after day, this lore of flowers, the secrets

 of copper, of silver, the forging of steel, 

how a carob pod smells of chocolate, 

the hinges and hanging of church doors ten metres tall, 

of damascening, of the breaking of Hungary, how love 

can fracture on the anvil of work……all of it.


In the cool green light where the village women

used to do their laundry we said nothing at all.


I watch mosquito larvae struggle with the surface 

tension. Listen to small sounds of water. Bells.


Since then I’ve stayed at his home in Murcia, and we’ve written together on a retreat in Relleu, and we’ve walked over the watershed to Sella, and we’ve talked and talked about everything. I have no idea when or if I’ll see him again. And my passport’s expired. I collected the bones of the fox, and they sit on my study window ledge, reminding me of him.

The fox on the window sill

grows articulate, what’s left –

skull and grinning jaw, femur,

scapula, pelvis, vertebrae.


She says over and over

how she  once all fitted,

how each stiff bright hair lay

flat, went bracken-dark in rain,

how each grew loose and fell away,


how she grew used to her own sweet decay,

how she leached into the crumbled stone

among the thorn and cyclamen


how she listened into the wind

how she smelled the far-off ocean,

the taste of cordite, juniper, sun


how she remembers a fall  

out of high places, blue distances,

how once she could move like smoke

how wet and red was her long tongue.


Light  comes through the paper lantern

of her shoulder bone;

translucent, my fox,

with not a thought in her head.

It’s his birthday today. Happy Birthday, Gyula. Thanks for the memories.

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