A short post this week. Three tantalising teasers before the launch next Tuesday of Pressed for Time (Calder Valley Poetry). Shortly there should be a link via the Menu (top of the page)to My Books which will hopefully take you to the PayPal facility. Once it’s up, check out the special offer, available up to may 14th. In the meantime, here are three more poems which I hope will balance the bleakness of some of the work………..If you’re one of those who understand the urge to collect fragments which we shore against our imagined ruins, then this brick is for you.
By the Tide of Humber
Here’s the brick I fetched
from the grit of a beach so hot
my feet were blistered
that day at Spurn where sometimes
clouds of goldcrest blown off-course
make landfall, exhausted, too weak to move,
are picked off by rats and gulls.
This brick, more pig-iron than clay,
a small cylinder block. Little pebbles
wedged in four of its six holes,
picked up the day two dolphins came
rollercoasting up the muddy Humber
while container ships sat top-heavy
on the tightrope horizon, waiting for the tide.
Brittle marran, dusty thrift, rusted beer cans,
bits of glass at the end of the walked world.
Two dolphins, distant as birds
and blithe as birds. This brick.
The second poem is the title poem, and at the centre of a sequence exploring the astonishing processes of earthbuilding needed to take a man’s life in the underground of deep time. I don’t think WordPress will cope with the format, so I’ve had to use a screen grab.
And finally, out into the air, in a poem for my Dad and all the working people who knew how to see what the world had to offer if only you learned to look
Something Going On
Brick gable ends, gardens of dock and dandelion,
Privet, trodden clay and rusting prams.
A beck that ran hot, ran yellow, red and indigo.
The park and its ornamental lake
and fountains choked with mast and mulch,
and the ancient peacock clattering
the brittle sticks of its fan.
My father took himself to sewage beds,
marsh, canal banks. Dipper. Moorhen. Heron.
Gritstone moors, old quarries soft
with Yorkshire mist; curlew, lapwing, wagtails
were his familiars. Old woodlands;
coal tits, blue tits, yellowhammers,
chaffinch, robin, wren.
A poet in Hessle watched a man who pushed
a lawnmower down the cobbled street,
and wished him grass. He saw how a roofer’s trowel
makes diamonds of a slanting sun. Everywhere,
they told me, there’s a view. Something going on.
Something definitely going on next Tuesday 7.00-9.00pm at Brighouse Library. Launch of Pressed for Time with a supporting cast of Calder Valley Poetry poets. It’ll be lovely, and I’d love to see you there. If you’re not sure how to get there, here’s a link.
I’ve been remiss. I’ve not written anything for too long. I’ve been trying to write this ever since Flo, my partner of 36 years, and I got married just over two weeks ago, on a day of alternating snow squalls and clear blue skies. It was a day like one years ago on Skye, a day of snow and sun. We were hiking back from the Point of Sleat, in a sudden whiteout, and blundered into a herd of Highland cattle and one big Highland bull, pressed into the side of the hill, moodily waiting out the snow. And, snuffling and mooing, they made way for us. That was another special day. Days are where we live.
I wanted to write about writing about being in love. I thought I could write something grateful and insightful and intelligent. It turns out I can’t. In the end you simply have to sit down and do it and let it be what it will. This I learn from the to and fro of Kim Moore and Clare Shaw egging each other on to stick to their NaPoRiMo challenge via Facebook. They are each distracted by children or by work or by tiredness and still they do it. A couple of days ago each of them posted a piece for which the prompt was the challenge to write a love poem.
Kim wrote one for her three year-old which had a section that I’ll not forget in a hurry:
My nearly-three-year old
says when I’m not with her
she hears my voice
inside her head saying
‘I’ll be back soon.’
sometimes it feels
as if I’m talking
to a strange bird
whatever it hears
or an old soul
come to teach me everything
It took me back decades to the lurch of that possessive, utterly-enveloping feeling, watching my tiny daughter running down the road to greet me, oblivious to everything but me coming to meet her. That kind of love.
Clare’s was different; a reminder that when love goes it goes absolutely and leaves you in a different place. A lost love.
To hear a knock on the door
and no-one there.
To be empty, to be filled by a memory.
To hear footsteps, to be suddenly cold.
This took me straight back to Thomas Wyatt, who might well have written this in the Tower when he was in imminent danger of execution for loving the object of the poem. It was a dangerous business, falling in love with the wife of a king.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek With naked foot, stalking in my chamber. I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek, That now are wild and do not remember That sometime they put themself in danger To take bread at my hand; and now they range, Busily seeking with a continual change
So many songs, so many poems that we call love songs and love poems. The ones you share. Then the ones you hug to yourself when you sing along to the Everleys…When will I be loved? The ones you would dance to: I saw her standing there /I wanna hold your hand/ I love you, Peggy Sue/Then he kissed me/Heartbeat, why do you miss/ I’m in love with you……………………… And so on. There’ll be the songs that played along to your heartbreaks. Brian Ferry singing You are my sunshine. Prince’s Purple Rain.And the ones when you fell in love again. Steve Forbert: I’m in love with you. You can write the soundtrack to your life with them. Love is all you need.
And it’s a matter of life and death. Faith, Hope and Charity or Faith Hope and Love. The greatest of these is Love. Or Charity. In 16th Century England you could be strangled and burned for choosing the politically wrong one. Like Tyndale who was concerned with the love of God who so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [John. KJV].
Agape, eros, desire, absorption and infatuation. We talk about love of country (whatever that means); we love our children, our parents and our partners, and sometimes I think we never feel love more vividly than when we find we’ve lost it.
I got to thinking about the poems I’ve written that I could call love poems, though I didn’t think of many of them as such when I wrote them. Poems for my parents and grandparents, poems for my children. When it came to poems for a lover, a partner, a wife, I was never confident enough. Love letters I could write. But poems, not so much. I think I thought that if you couldn’t do it like John Donne…say in The Good Morrow..then you shouldn’t try, that you’d just be writing sentiment
And now good-morrow to our waking souls, Which watch not one another out of fear; For love all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an every where. Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown, Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears, And true plain hearts do in the faces rest
Clever, confident, laconic, grown-up, sexy. No wonder I thought that was the way to do it when I was a teenager, and why I never quite got over it. Until I learned to listen to more understated voices. Like Ursula Fanthorpe’s.
There is a kind of love called maintenance Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
……………………………..which keeps My suspect edifice upright in air, As Atlas did the sky.
It taught me, that poem, that a celebration of patient and enduring love of the kind we call living together could be so wonderfully memorable.
I was thinking about that when Flo and I decided (after 36 years) that we needed to get married to safeguard each other legally. It’s a shock to discover that there’s no such thing as Common Law marriage. Not really. Living together and sharing everything for 36 years gives you no rights at all in law. It turned out that it made us happy to get married. We had a lovely day of it. I didn’t write a poem for it or because of it. I realise that over the years the love poems I’ve written have been oblique…apart from ones not for sharing, publicly. But a couple of years ago I wrote a poem that says what I want to say about all this. UA Fanthorpe gave me permission. This is for me and Flo. Self-indulgent, possibly. But who’s to stop me?
But that was years ago. In Bakewell there were beasts
with clotted flanks in the cattle market’s clanging mazes,
on a day of rain, the showground waterlogged,
pubs warm and dark and full of farmers in damp coats,
farmers drinking big mugs of hot dark tea,
screwing red faces round slabby bacon baps;
and at the junk stall in the market down the street
I bought you this small warm mahogany box
with a broken lock. And some dished brass discs,
and two brass rods. I had no idea what use they were,
only that you would like them. And that was the year
I made you paper hyacinths in a paper box
painted with hyacinths , and a poem for its lid.
I suppose I was thinking of cruel months
and hyacinth girls, and unexpected rains.
I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all.
I was in love, and in various ways I am, still,
and thinking how we have assembled things around us
and cannot bring ourselves to throw away anything.
These cards, those bits of ribbon, these fragments.
PS. It’s a self-indulgent post is this. So while I’m on a roll, let me advertise the launch of my new collection, Pressed for Time published by Calder Valley Press
It’s on Tuesday May 3rd in the lovey and airy art gallery of Brighouse Library, in whose grounds you can park for free. It’s an early start, 7.00-9.00pm. (ish). This is partly because that’s the hours they offer, and partly because these days I get very tired very easily. It’s the first live reading I’ll have done for over two years, mainly because of the combination of lockdowns and shielding. I realise I’m absurdly anxious…not on health and safety grounds, but because I’m terrified no one will turn up. So, If you can make it I’ll love you all for ever. And if you can’t, you’ll be able to buy the book, after May 3rd, all 104 pages of it, either via this blog (there’ll shortly be a Paypal Button in the My Books link at the top of the page) or direct from Calder Valley Poetry.