Winged chariots and an undiscovered gem : Jack Faricy

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Promises to keep and apologies to make; it’s been too long since the last post. I may be part-Troll. I may be like Detritus in Terry Pratchett’s stories…our brains don’t work in hot weather.

Which is how I started the last post..feeling guilty about not posting every week, but basically too busy. Mainly with home improvements and hospital appointments, but also with very enjoyable poetry events. It was lovely to go to Leeds a couple of weeks ago to read at the launch of Strix‘s fourth issue. What an achievement that’s been for them. Should you not know about Strix, it’s a new magazine of poetry and short fiction. In its first year of publication, Strix has been admired by Carol Rumens in The Guardian (‘—handsome, streamlined and sharp-eyed’) and was shortlisted for Best Magazine in the prestigious Saboteur AwardsStrix is edited and published from Leeds, England. The editors are SJ Bradley, Ian Harker and Andrew Lambeth. They have done a quite remarkable job, and are now attracting hundreds of submissions. Watch out for Strix. It is, without doubt, a lovely thing.

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Even nicer was to read at the Leeds Library,  founded in 1768 as a proprietary subscription library and now the oldest surviving example of this sort of library in the British Isles (it boasts Joseph Priestley (1733-1804) as one of its original subscribers) and celebrating its 250th anniversary this year. It’s an astonishing place, right in the heart of the city centre, and probably not known to the bulk of the folk of Leeds. If you’re ever in Leeds, give yourself a treat and go in for a look round. It’s on Commercial Street, tucked in behind and above the Co-op Bank. The first time I went was earlier this year to hear my hero Tony Harrison, so there was a real frisson to be able to read where he’d read.

At the end of July I was reading at the third launch event of my new pamphlet Advice to a traveller. And what a lovely night it was, with guest poets Laura Potts (it’s high time a smart publisher snapped her up) and Ian Parks, and a travelling enthusiastic audience from Mexborough and Doncaster. Made all the complications of organising venues worthwhile. And thanks to the staff of Wakefield’s Red Shed which is a really nice place to read and listen in. Thank you, everyone.

But what about that clock, and that winged chariot? I’m cautious about how I explain this. I don’t want to give the wrong impression. Maybe I should say, before I crack on, that I am fit and well and happy…no qualifications. Hold on to that thought. I’ve noticed for the last couple of years I’ve been writing what might seem bleak-sounding poems, a bit dark, a bit valedictory but not particularly backward looking or nostalgic. More concerned with the fact of death being a lot closer than it was not so long ago. I believe your poems are like dreams..you have less control over what they say to you than you’d like. Or at least, the good ones, the important ones, do. Behind them all is the acknowledgement that at 75, your days are numbered, and you begin to accept that you’re not immortal. It’s not distressing (well, not to me, anyway) but it means that sometimes you’re looking at life through a diminishing lens you need to understand and get used to. And it also means, for me, that everything becomes more interesting, and I don’t want to waste a minute. I’m in a hurry to do stuff. I can’t hang around fine tuning poems and pamphlets. I want to write and write and get it out there.

At my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near. Curiously, I’m untroubled by the concept of deserts of vast eternity, and I don’t think Marvell was, either. To his coy mistress is a young man’s vision in a young man’s poem. Because, I believe, he hears nothing of the sort. He’s in a hurry, but not because he thinks he’s going to die any minute soon. The one who speaks to me these days is Norman McCaig. A couple of years ago I set myself the job of reading his collected works, a few poems every day for a year.

By the time I reached his poems written in the 1980’s I started to notice images of approaching death. The horse that comes along the shore, the black sail in the bay, the scythe in the field, the immanence of journeys ending. I wondered why, because I didn’t know much about his biography. I noticed poems that mourned the death of old friends. The penny dropped a bit later. In the mid-1980’s he was the age I am now, an age when some of your oldest friends, all about your own age, have died. The thing is, he had nearly 15 years left to live, but he wasn’t to know that. And most of his poems go on being vibrant with life and the love of life. He went on walking in the Sutherland hills, fishing the remote Green Corrie. He became frail in the 1990s, but he wasn’t frail when he started noting the finite nature of things. I see what he meant. Time has changed its meaning. It is too precious to not do things in. It makes life more urgent, more vivid. I can’t get enough of it.

It would be slickly ironic to say that time is wasted on the young. It isn’t. I’m a firm believer in the value of wasting time, of faffing about, of being bored when you’re young.  I suspect that boredom is the mother of creativity, eventually. Though I’m massively impressed  by the energy and drive and hunger of young and youngish poets I know. Poets like Kim Moore, Laura Potts, the perennially youthful Clare Shaw. They make me more alive. I don’t know how they manage it, but I’m grateful. And equally grateful for the company of younger* poets I meet in writing workshops, who have all the time in the world, but (unlike me at their age) believe in cracking on, and writing as if they don’t. Which brings me to today’s guest.

*I realise, when I check and proofread this that ‘younger’ is entirely and meaninglessly relative. I suppose, by now, I mean anyone under 50. Eventually, it’ll be anyone with most of their own teeth who’s nippy with a Zimmer frame

When I started writing the great fogginzo’s cobweb I only knew that I wanted to provide a platform for poets who you might not have come across, poets who hadn’t yet been published, but poets who wrote things than I wanted to share.  It was a way of saying thank you to the ones who had shared my poems before I’d had any published. Which, in turn, is why I wanted to write more and write better, to justify their faith.

Regina 7

This will be 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. In fact, let him introduce himself:

I came late to poetry both as a serious reader and as a writer.  I’m an English teacher now but even that was an afterthought.  My first degree was in Economics and French. It was only after a few months working in an insurance company that I realised what a terrible mistake that had been.

I taught English as a foreign language for close to a decade (Thailand, Japan) and completed an MA in Linguistics by distance learning.  This enabled me to return to the UK and study for a PGCE.

I’d started reading more contemporary poetry but creative writing had always felt like something for other people.  I’d made the mistake of admiring elitist authors who could be savagely dismissive of aspiring writers with ‘provincial’ backgrounds.

But the itch outgrew Martin Amis.  I wrote my first ‘real’ poem after experiencing grief.  It is a landscape poem that is not obviously about loss.  I found I couldn’t stop, especially after enjoying the support and encouragement of friends at The Albert’s Monday workshops.

Now, sitting down to write feels like housekeeping.  If I didn’t do it, chaos would rule.  Giving shape to an idea or a feeling allows me to file it away and start afresh.  And once everywhere’s clear, I can start messing things up again.

I have had poems long- and short-listed in a number of competitions.  ‘Tom’ was highly commended in the 2016 Red Shed Poetry Competition and ‘Spoor’ was the People’s Choice for Best Poem in the 2017 Canterbury Poet of the Year Competition.”

I really like that:

Now, sitting down to write feels like housekeeping.  If I didn’t do it, chaos would rule. 

 

 I’d never thought of it like that. Housekeeping. But yes, that growing awareness that things are not where they should be, neglected, a bit dusty and grubby, ideas neglected, jobs unfinished, stuff left lying around. Writing as ‘putting things in order’. Yes. And now, the poems.

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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. I love the ambivalent tone of that last line:

I retrace the steps between us.  

knowing that the waving woman cannot know how far away in time he has been.

Three more poems, then, that share this business of digging into the meaning/significance of ‘the moment that draws you in’. The next ones, I suppose, more purely imagist. But I like the irony of it very muchjack 12

Tinkling Cymbal

 

Pylons vanish up, cables slung

over crawling traffic and a field

where blackthorns claw the mist.

 

Motionless on a hoarding’s rim

a peregrine falcon digests its prey

above a quote from Corinthians.

 

Drivers see mirrors and screens,

their vehicles passing like sand

through the neck of an hourglass.

 

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( I assumed, wrongly, at one workshop, that everyone would know the Corinthians reference in the title and link it with the image of the billboard parked on the embankment. Who hires those advertising trailers? Who rents the field space. Who wants to admonish me and pay to do it? Anyway, here’s the reference, in Tyndale’s version:

Though I spake with the tonges of men and angels and yet had no love I were eve as soundinge brasse: or as a tynklynge Cymball.

The next poem starts with an image, and then, like Spoor, takes in a swoop of time back through two millennia, eliding the the hubcap that spun away from the collision with a Roman legionary’s shield, the moorland road and golf course coinciding with a Roman road, the inflated plastic heart of an impromptu roadside shrine and the small flag of a golf course pin fluttering at the site of a brutal execution.

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A tethered heart twitches

 

in shivering wind.

Traffic cones sprout bouquets that buckle

under sleetfall. The toppled wall bleeds meltwater

into runnels that thread the way

from Rocking Stone to Cambodunum,

Slack’s ROMAN FORT (site of).

 

This unrecovered hubcap’s where

a Cantabrian sloughed his shield

to piss insults in the snow.

 

A flagged pin piercing Petty Royd,

the longest par three in Yorkshire,

points to his deathplace. Cudgeled

for breaking rank, he lost his hold.

 

Gusts tug the jittering heart.

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I was judging The Red Shed poetry competition a couple of years ago when this last poem  turned up in a batch sent by the organisers. It jumped out, snagged my attention, drew me in. I liked the disingenuousness of it;  I liked the way it it somehow manages to bring irony and empathy and caustic humour together. I like the deadpan tone. And I genuinely had not known about the anagram.

Tom

If you only could have known,

looking out over Margate Sands

in the wake of your breakdown

and summoning The Waste Land’s

 

middle section, that the shelter

where you surveyed the wreckage

of washed-up humanity, and felt the

burning allure of unholy Carthage

 

still stands and, as if in allegiance

to your enduring fame,

now faces a public convenience

bearing an anagram of your name,

 

then there’d at least have been something

you could have connected with something

 

So, thank you Jack Faricy…for the poems, for the idea of writing as housekeeping, and for connecting all kinds of things with all kinds of things, and playing games with time, reminding me that

…….though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
And so we shall.
I have jobs to do, walls (real literal ones, stone ones) to mend, a bit of patch-plastering; two book reviews to write, and hospital appointments to keep. And also promises. Here’s one. Next Sunday there will be a review of a new collection by a friend and inspiration, and during the week, some poems of my own by way of preparing the ground. See you around.
beach, wave and footsteps at sunset time

 

Not In Our Name

Independent Jewish Voices

This week, the Jewish Chronicle, Jewish News and Jewish Telegraph are publishing the same front page, headed “United we stand” on what they describe as the community’s anger over “Labour’s anti-Semitism row” and its “refusal to adopt the full International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism”.

The heading suggests that these papers speak for the whole community. We, the undersigned members of the UK Jewish community, take strong exception to the statement and disassociate ourselves from it. Whatever our views on the Labour Party and its handling of the antisemitism allegations, we consider that the demand to “implement IHRA in full or be seen by all decent people as an institutionally racist and anti-Semitic party” and the prediction of “the existential threat to Jewish life in this country that would be posed by a Jeremy Corbyn-led government” go beyond the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. Worse, they could help…

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The tigers of wrath, and an (un)discovered gem: David Spencer

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Promises to keep and apologies to make; it’s been too long since the last post. I may be part-Troll. I may be like Detritus in Terry Pratchett’s stories…our brains don’t work in hot weather.

I’ve also been distracted by disparate things. Like a cat going missing so I spend days of high anxiety, posting 150 “Have You Seen This Cat?” leaflets through the doors of the neighbourhood, and driving round at one 0’clock in the morning, whistling and calling. All’s well, as it is with cats. He comes wandering in, insouciant and unperturbed, but I can’t stand the stress.

I wrote in June: I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see.  Well, I made all the arrangements. Lovely venues like the stunning Halifax Central Library which is stitched into the even more stunning Piece Hall, and also the splendid Hyde Park Book Club in Leeds. I bought drinks and nibbles and napkins and paper plates..all that. I ordered too many books from the printer. I had not allowed for hot weather nor for football. It was a delight to read with wonderfully talented poets…Gaia Holmes, Vicky Gatehouse, Alicia Fernandez , Tom Weir, Ian Harker. It was a shame that we almost outnumbered the audience. But gods bless the ones who came, anyway. Was it worth it? Yes. It’s always worth it. Why write, otherwise. And there’s still one launch reading to go. Fingers crossed.

red shed

There’s been furniture moving, and painting and decorating, and mixing cement and raking-out and pointing, too. Some wall mending, thrown in, and more to come. It all distracts from ‘the work’, and the less you write, the less you write, and then you get frustrated, you lose all the carefully hoarded vestiges of serenity, and you might just lose your temper and do something(s) you regret.

Which brings us to apologies, and couple of thoughts about anger. A couple of weeks ago I wrote something on Facebook (since deleted) that was silly and intemperate. I’d read an elegantly written piece about Melania Trump’s stupidly tasteless coat with its allegedly post-mod ironic slogan about ‘not caring’.What made me cross was that someone took the the time to write  smart piece of semiotic deconstruction when what I fervently believed was needed was a simple statement: this is wrong, immoral; only a stupid person with zero sense or empathy could have worn it in those circumstances . So I wrote something cross and ill-thought which brought deserved gentle rebukes from two poets who I have immense respect for, and left me uselessly rueful for a couple of days. Blake wrote :

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Blake explains that,

Without Contraries is no progression. Attraction and Repulsion,
Reason and Energy, Love and Hate are necessary to Human existence.
From these contraries spring what the religious call Good & Evil.
Good is the passive that obeys Reason. Evil is the active springing
from Energy. Good is Heaven. Evil is Hell.

Now you can unpick those paradoxes for hours, but the fact remains that there is useful anger that is channelled, and there is crossness and rage which is useless and makes you ill. As the King James Bible says:

“He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down and without walls” so “let not the sun go down upon your wrath”.

And all this, after my mea culpa, brings me to today’s guest poet, 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. A bit later, in a Monday writing workshop, he took me to task over my reliance on similes, on not being plain and clear. It’s a blast of fresh air, that kind of challenge. It reminds me that I can’t be doing with arguments about what poems are, or aren’t or should be, and the either/or of some small corners of the poetry world. I deeply distrust  the exclusivity of  definitions that allow a lyricist I know to to casually dismiss Tony Harrison’s work as if he wasn’t in a great tradition of rhetorical poetry. I want to say as plainly as I can, pace T S Eliot’s ‘a poem should not mean but be’, that  I think we are better served by asking  not what a poem, any poem, is, but what it does, and how it does it, and if it does it well. I’m reminded, too, that Eliot also said that poems are best read ‘on the page’, whereas for me (and for most of history) poetry is performative, and poems are a synthesis of script and musical notation and pattern and ideas and beliefs and emotion. And, sometimes, anger.

Like this one. I can see it on a stage without props and with hard lighting. Or as a film in monochrome. It can’t be left on a page to be ‘looked at’ and considered and thought about. It has to be heard. And perhaps as an ensemble piece. Three voices.

Us three

 

Last night a seething son

clambered cemetery railings;

 

last night, I stalked us Dad

and lost me way again.

 

Last night, under an indifferent moon

yer brother pissed pails

 

over us Dad’s grave. Last night

if he phoned you, erase the mails,

 

delete the texts, never read’em.

Last night, he loved yer all again.

 

* * *

 

What yer bother’s tryin’t say is:

us childhood, it’s a brick

 

by wood brick built tower

what wobbles and topples and…  .

 

* * *

 

Remember Saturday nights? Hammer Horrors

on us portable black n’white?

 

Us three: wired on crisps

with them little blue sacks a’salt.

 

Us three: fizzed on Dandelion and Burdock

and Mum, cancering her lungs

 

at us front room window, praying fierce:

“God Sammy, God! Be on the fuckin’ bus.”

 

Her at tea time? She wanted him home

before the bookie blew his pay packet

 

Gone Midnight? Well? If the booze

hasn’t blasted his Barnardo’sbrain

 

right back to World War Two

then just havin’ him home’ll do.

* * *

F’me: It comes down t’Sunday mornings;

the pale-blue linger of Number 6.

 

F’me: It’s you two, dressed for Methodists

in semi-synthetic micro minis.

 

F’me: it’s you two, Sundays,

at the top o’the stairs.

 

F’me: it’s yer oddly angelic feather cuts

and yer oddly grown up eyes.

 

Yeah. F’me: it’s you two in

crocheted lime-green Rayon

 

appearing                     disappearing

 

* * *

 

Trust me: it’s all unriddled in me dream,

that one where us Dad dyes me pubic hair

 

day-glow green. And I leg it in t’yer bedroom

sayin’: “Look! Look what he’s done.”

 

And you two show me yours, chant together:

“It’s alright. He’s done it to us all now.”

 

* * *

 

Some-when somewhere in the nineties?

Whose wedding? I watch yer husband’s

 

stalk yer squealing daughters

ambush them behind the bush

 

chase, pounce, lift and spin

them up and out in centripetal bliss.

 

Then off into the woods they shoot,

girls under their arms like rugby balls.

 

And I ask the two of you: Do you remember

Sundays? At the top o’the stairs

 

trying to decide

who’s turn it was t’go inside his bedroom.

 

It’s a distinctive voice  ( or voices) with a particular Northern accent, and David has written about this when discussing his play from the 1980s: Releevo

I grew up on a council estate, sixties and seventies; we had a neighbour out the back of our garden; she killed her husband, invited his drinking pals into her house for a chat with his corpse. After three days she was dragged screaming from the house. I remember the policeman on a ladder and her screaming “y’can’t take him off me!” I remember her pushing the ladder away from the bedroom window and the copper toppled into the privet below. 

They say drugs were involved – that could have been anything; back then on a Northern council estate even THC containing substances were seen as something uniquely wicked. I never really found out what happened but the mystery of the situation intrigued me; later I learnt that she served only a two year suspended sentence and became a local Labour politician. My play, RELEEVO started as a way of answering something that I couldn’t research or really fathom; it then became something else completely. 

At the time I was fiercely conscious of class and had this un-reflected hatred of all things that were not proletarian; of course I was fascinated too by all such things, drawn to them. But for sure I didn’t want any middle class Southerners mucking this up, so I thought fuck this, “am gunna write it as yew’ve t’say it.”

I hold on to that last line whenever I read a new poem of his. It’s important to him as the the controlled anger that propels some of his poems. And also the tenderness. Like that in the next poem

david spencer 4

The Red Dog

 

Down over the cliffs from Siddal Infants

Walsh’s dye works spews purple into the Hebble.

Close to the sluice, the red dog churns in the torrent.

 

Behind the milk crates, Phil Radcliffe shows Pauline Hurst

his thingy, says: Mr Mason put his thingy in Miss Crabtree’s thingy,

now there’s a pregnant growing inside her.

 

Young Spanner knows nowt about that sexy-sex stuff,

he watches the red dog spiral in the eddy,

go under, bob up, beetroot and bloated.

 

What caught me in this poem was the way he can use a single image around which the poem turns, in this case, the bloated dog turning pointlessly in the current, and the way a character can be realised by his response to the moment. You know a lot about Young Spanner, you think. You think you know how and why he watches, without knowing why he seems ‘apart’ or ‘cut off’. I like the economy of it all. David can make you smile, too. Or even grin..the next poem is a family story. A true one.

 

At Us Kitchen Table

 

When our Nick wed into the Carter clan,

their John took the bus to Sunny Bank,

walked the line down Hunter Hill

 

all the way to Mixenden, a Martin on his back.

It were us auntie Sandra what clocked him:

out the corner of us curtains, “the Man in Black,

 

coming down us garden path.” Then, ‘bang! Bang! Bang!’

at us side door. Mum gets to it before Sandra, “Hello,”

he sez, “I’m Johnny Cash.” “Oooh,” sez Mum, “I know who you are.”

 

Then there he is, at us kitchen table, us new uncle John;

“Would you like a cuppa?” auntie Sandra sez and uncle John,

he sez, “Mouth’s mighty dry Maa’m, I don’t mind if I do.”

 

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 poems David read the first time I heard him was about an encounter on a train travelling through Germany. He meets an older Jewish woman who shows him the tattooed number on her arm, and for a second they’re drawn into a small conspiracy in the corridor of a train. I think you could make short films of David’s poems, because of the sure focus on the visual moment, and the time you imagine passing around them.  One more poem then. This one also set in Germany, and one he 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.

 

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

just three of us may enter the Tiergarten town hall.

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. So thank you, David Spencer for being our guest today. Keep on insisting that we will lay flowers even if we have to fight to do it.

 

Fathers’ Day

My favourite picture of my Dad with Michael) 1969-ish

Here he is, late 1960s with his first grandson. My Dad could have been so many things. He’d played trumpet and cornet in the Salvation Army. He sang in the Chapel choir. He was a gifted photographer; he won scholarships to Grammar School and to Art School. There wasn’t the money for him to use either, so he worked in a mill as a woollen-spinner for 50 years. A great walker, a bird-watcher. He loved Jussi Bjorling of all the great tenors. He didn’t talk a lot. Here’s three poems for him on Fathers’ Day.

Maestro

 

His hands cross-hatched as a chopping board

from breaking yarn- a million creels.

I think he dreamed moors and opera in the mill.

His nails were horny, blue with old dark blood,

caught by flying shuttles in the humming  sleet

of shivering threads. Miming in the din,

the racket of machinery, the deafening beat

of spinning-mules, close air thick with lanolin.

Chapel  choir –  his tenor voice came reedy-light.

Round and ringing if he thought he was alone

with Jussi Bjorling on the gramophone,

the gathering wave of None shall sleep;

a duet to bring a dreamed La Scala to its feet,

his voice like a moorland wind, and rich as night.

spinning

 

Trespassers

 

Drawn to Mam Tor, to Kinder Downfall,

Simon’s Seat, Grass Woods, The Strid;

they came by steam train, on the bus,

away from mill and pit and forge,

an England dark with smoke;

they passed by crumbled slums, grand

neo-classic terraces, iron-railinged

parks, until the cities petered out

on the edges of high moors, big skies;

 

they came to the quiet of neat fields,

of drystone walls. They walked miles,

wore caps or trilbies, belted macs,

flapping turn-up trousers, ordinary shoes.

They knew the habitats of birds and flowers;

they knew shortcuts and hidden waterfalls,

would pull aside wired gates,

push over ‘Private: Keep Out’ boards,

would not be kept from bluebell woods.

 

At school we had to pray they’d be forgiven,

those trespassers, who rambled viking fells,

ghylls and cloughs,  sour gritstone moors

and green lanes cropped by mourning sheep.

They knew the land they walked should not be owned,

wished it was theirs; coveted the cottages

of the small stone villages, their tidy gardens.

Those men like my father the woollen spinner,

namer of birds;  presser of wild flowers

dales

According to their cloth

 

I knew one man made a forced march in a column,

full pack and rifle; heat and scrub, humidity, thick dust;

forty miles in a single day and never knew a battle plan.

 

One man who fell from a plane

in a night full of parachutes,

the wind white silk ; the dark sound of planes

dwindling up into the night and him falling into fiasco;

who taught history, who clung to Communism

like a Tudor martyr to a relic.

 

Another who drove his jeep into something

that men might make, experimenting

in a slovenly way with making up an idea of hell;

into a camp made out of rust and rot,

of wire and sweet black smoke and rags and sweat;

No one came to liberate him;

no one to take his eyes from the dark,

no-one to bring him back from the dead.

 

The one I loved most spun yarn

for uniforms and army blankets.

Reserved occupation.Conchie.

All the same to him. Nobody tried to kill me.

He cut his coat according to his cloth.

Took his suit lengths into Leeds,

to Jewish tailors, emigrés

in small dark shops in narrow streets.

 

You don’t choose where you are in history.

You cut your coat

and wear it.

Tailor Sewing a Jacket

 

[According to their cloth”   published in Much Possessed [smith|doorstop 2016]

 

 

 

So there. Or, so what?

so 9

So when did it actually take hold. I mean, the business of answering a question by starting the answer with ‘SO’? As on quiz shows, for instance.

What do you do for living, then, Kevin? 

Pause.

So, ‘Zander, I put the eyes in Cabbage Patch Dolls

Or in news links going live to reporter on the ground:

What’s the reaction of the community this morning?

Significant satellite delay pause.

So, Sophie, temperatures seem to have cooled, but there’s still a significant police presence, as you can see behind me.

When did I become aware of it? When did I become so annoyed by it? Why? Why do I care? (don’t answer that in case you start with “So”). I was perfectly comfortable with certain usages for years and years. Mothers did it when you came home inexcusably late.

So where’ve you been?

Friends said it when you hadn’t seen them for ages.

So how are you doing?

And colleagues, when they’d just pitched an idea about how things could be changed

So what do you think, then?

And that was perfectly fine. You’ll notice there’s no pause after “so”. Whereas in current usage there is. What’s that about. There was a period after that (probably not yet finished) when things became  so (or emphatically SO) this that or the the other. Fashions became so last year. It was making noun phrases do the work of adjectives. I have no rooted objection to that. It’s what we can do in English. Shakespeare did it all the time, pushing the limits of what could be done. But it still irritated me in a low-level way. And now the latest, passing (it will pass; things do) usage. It annoys me that I can’t actually explain the basic grammatical function of ‘so’ any more. So happy, or so cross…I get that . It’s an intensifier. And in the first examples, it’s a rhetorical device. I can live with that. Still; I think I’m becoming rooted in the role of grumpy old man.

 

So, I thought, tongue in cheek, I’d post a poem which for some reason I called

So I’m thinking

 

– of Ted Hughes’ gritstone house,

of that tunnel of a yard, its slippery flags,

of that valley of unsmoking chimneys,

an old abandoned artillery

knee-deep in brown leaf-litter,

firing blanks at a Pennine moon,

 

– of the abrasions of passing time,

the world wearing down till it’s bland as an egg,

to the soundtrack of seconds, a long, drawn

cello note, circling these cloughs

 

– of defunct mills and breweries –

Hammonds, Duttons, Websters, thin and bitter,

and of my Methodist uncle,Leonard,

and of the Pledge he signed, aged six,

 

– of this film I saw, in Japanese,

at the Essoldo, where the whole of an army was killed

down to the very last one, the cannibal,

shot through the smoke by the farmers

burning stubble, clearing the last of war

that ended when I was two

and still isn’t over, seventy years on,

 

which is not to be laid at Ted Hughes’ door,

any more than the orphans

walled in the sides of the valley

in the shadow of lums and sycamores

 

I’ve never sent it anywhere, as far as I can remember. It’s a sort of tribute to the times I’ve spent at Lumb Bank, to the stories of the orphanage in the valley, to the smokeless chimneys, to that dark back yard. Which turns up in one that was published (in Much Possessed)..this one started life in a workshop which invited us to think of two writers and then to put them in a landscape. There’s minimal invention in it.

Banked up

 

Brittle as a mirror

worrying at little lines

exquisite as ants or wasps

half-aware of an open window

banging somewhere in this long dark house

in a clenched valley

of cold chimneys and black walls

cemented with orphans’ bones

balsam flattened by the weight of wind

of trees flogging themselves to death

she cramps herself small, and smaller

dreams of dwindling

into the fastness of a shell

of lying under a full moon

in a sky of no wind

 

Somewhere out in the yard, a bucket has blown over

rackets about the cobbles like a big man in a rage

like a man who’d smash his fist into a gritstone wall

and sing about the blood.

so 12

 

So. There you are. Have a nice Friday.

 

Passing the time with Mr Causley

(Preamble: there’s a phrase that’s been stuck in my mind ever since I first read it in the 70’s, quoted in an article by Geoff Fox in ‘Children’s Literature in Education’. I keep writing about it, one way or another. A 13 year old girl describes what it is for her to be a reader of stories.

It’s as if I’m a sort of dark watcher, who is there at the scene, but none of the characters pays any attention to me. I’m like a power, as if everything is happening because I’m there.                                                    Claire, 3rd year, secondary modern

[Dark watchers: young readers and their fiction)

I think all the poets who matter are dark watchers, none more so than Charles Causley, who once said: If I didn’t write poetry I think I’d explode.)

I’ll start with a rambling introduction. It’s the kind of thing you can’t ignore in a face-to-face conversation, but can cheerfully skim when you’re reading, without any fear of giving offence. I’ve spent most of last week setting up three launch events for my new pamphlet Advice to a traveller [Indigo Dreams] and after many small frustrations we’re now good to go with readings in Halifax (with Gaia Holmes and Vicky Gatehouse), in Leeds (with Alicia Fernandez, Tom Weir and Ian Harker) and in Wakefield (Ian Parks and Laura Potts)

[** should you be interested in finding more about them they’ve all been guests on the cobweb. The links to their posts appear at the end.]

In and amongst, I’ve been trying to do some real writing, when not distracting myself with comfort-blanket novels. I’ve not read novels for ages, and it’s remarkably soothing to be able to do it again. Anyway, I’m struggling to get grips with a sequence based on a local mining disaster in the 70’s. I’ve had a tutorial workshop with Kim Moore who suggests one element could be short ‘interlude’ poems about other disasters…Senghenydd, Aberfan, Markham, Hartley…and I have the idea that they should be short 4-line stanza ballads. I haul out Charles Causley: Collected Poems , because there’s a man who could make 4-line rhyming stanza do just about anything. Two sunny days later, I’ve read the whole book, which now bristles with post-its. I really thought I knew his stuff…in the way I thought I knew U A Fanthorpe. Couldn’t have been more wrong.

It reminds me that I once met Charles Causley, and I was sure I remembered what he looked like. I was convinced I remembered, along with the deceptively mild demeanour (think Alan Bennett) that he had a cap of soft white hair . Wrong. Like all of us he has had lots of physical selves and lives. And all of them sing in his poems. But no head of soft white hair.

Mr causley's chronology

Still. I’ll tell you a story.

One August, long ago and far away, I drove from Dawlish, where I was on a family camping holiday, to Oxford to start a week’s tutoring for an NYU course for American teachers of English. I’d walked up from the beach (where the seawall fell down in 2014), got changed, packed the car and drove to Oxford. I guess that added to the dreamlike quality of arriving on a warm, golden summer evening, to be greeted by ( I think) Maurice from Chicago….if it was Maurice, who was frighteningly correct, and always immaculately dressed in a blindingly white shirt and discreet tie.

Because it was a Sunday evening, he apologised, many of our course members would not be with us. (They were in the habit of flying off to Rome or Florence or Paris or Amsterdam at the weekends. That taught me how small Europe is, and that Americans have a different scale of distances.) However, said Maurice (if it was Maurice) a few of us had stayed behind to show some hospitality to a guest who’d been invited by the course director. If you like poetry, you may care to join us, said Maurice. Are you familiar with a Charles Cowsly?

And so it was that a bit later on I joined six or seven dutiful stay-behinds in what would have been the Rector’s study, all leather chairs and glazed bookcases and ticking clocks and buckram-bound works of biblical exegisis and there was:

causley 16

..Mr Charles Cowsly, who read to us for an hour, and told us stories, and generally entranced me. Just to be clear, this was 30 years ago. What I knew about poetry (apart from university and sixth form teaching) didn’t amount to much. As I wrote in an earlier post, I got my poetry from school anthologies. but that meant, thanks to Geoffrey Summerfield and ‘Voices’,  I certainly knew Vernon Scannell, and even more, like generations of the children I taught, I knew (or thought I knew) Charles Causley. Which mainly meant I knew ‘A jolly hunter’, ‘What has happened to Lulu?’, ‘Timothy Winters’, ‘The ballad of the bread man’ and ‘Charlotte Dyment’. The first four were sure fire winners with any class I taught, and the last one fitted in with the poetry I read as social history…broadsheet ballads; the poetry of the working classes. Oral poetry. Causley’s ‘Figgie Hobbin’ was the only single poet collection we had a full class set of, until Gareth Owen’s ‘Song of the city‘ was published.

So that was Causley for me, memorable and accessible, but not up there on set text lists with Heaney and Hughes and Larkin. Maybe that was because he was tagged as a children’s poet? I hadn’t tuned in to the craft, the elegance, the misleading simplicity of his work. One hour in a room in a house on the Banbury Road changed that for good, and for the better.

First there was the physical presence; comfortable, unassuming, a man at ease with himself. And then there was the voice. Some poets have an unfair advantage, their voices at one with the rhythm and music of their poetry. Heaney had it and so did Hughes. Tony Harrison has it, and so does Liz Lochhead. Young contemporary poets I know have it. Clare Shaw. Kim Moore. Instantly recognisable. You can make your own lists of people who haven’t got it, folk whose poetry is terrific but whose readings don’t match it. Charles Causley had it, Cornish and unemphatic but with a quiet authority and a lovely rhythm. And then the sense of place. Some poets live their whole lives in one place, a place where they are deep rooted and enriched, which is never parochial, and which they simultaneously transcend. George Mackay Brown is one, and Causley another.

causley 22

I started to get the glimmerings of it as he talked about his village, his mother and father, the house where he lived all his life, and this illuminated one of my favourite poems of his: ‘Reservoir Street’. Here, in ‘hallmark’ 4-line rhyming stanzas he recalls being sent as a child to stay with Auntie, who

‘…stood strong as the Eddystone Lighthouse.

A terrible light shone out of her head.’

who rules her five prime – beef boys with a fierce discipline. The days are hot, the sun comes up like a killer; at night, motor- car tyres rubbed out the dark, and next day:

‘Down in the reservoir I saw a man drowning’.

The child escapes back to his home, and on the train, says the poet:

‘I thought of my brother who slept beside me,

four walls round us pure as cloam.

 

When I got to my house my head was thunder.

The bed lay open as a shell.

Sweet was my brother’s kiss, and sweeter

the innocent water from the well.’

 

It’s a poem with not a wasted word, its release like the breaking of a storm after oppressive heat, and the cool of after. It’s as true and frightening and real as a folk tale. It was told, rather than read, and then he told us about the white painted bedroom he shared. He didn’t need to explain anything.  I’ve thought since that what enchanted me was its tenderness. What do I mean by that? I mean the tenderness of Rembrandt’s portraits of his wife and unwavering eye of his self-portrait, the loving honesty. Not a shred of sentimentality. That tenderness was in his reading At the grave of John Clare. I had not known that a poet could talk to a dead poet like that.

O Clare! Your poetry clear, translucent / as your lovely name’.

I had not known it was possible to use the word ‘lovely’ so frankly and simply. The only other poem I remember from that reading was Death of a poet. I’m still not sure that, despite its total accessibility, I understand it yet, but this last stanza  stays and stays.

‘Over the church a bell broke like a wave upended.

The hearse left for winter with a lingering hiss.

I looked in the wet sky for a sign, but no bird descended.

I went across the road to the pub; wrote this.’

One of the things about Causley’s poems is that you can learn them by heart more readily than anyone else’s I know. I also learned I needed to see beyond Figgie Hobbin to this unnerving quiet craftsman and maker of great and grown-up poems. A couple of weeks later, I bought ‘Secret destinations’. It wasn’t what I expected, and it took me a long, long time to just let it work. Many of the poems were written while he was a writer-in residence at the University of Western Australia, and it’s as though the unfamiliar landscape jolted him into what Tribune called ‘the arena of truly major poets’. I can’t imagine that sort of league-table labelling would have suited the quiet man I heard read, but I see what it was getting at when I read

Kite, poisoned by dingo bait

‘A kite, as motionless as clay,

plumping its feather against death

like northern birds against the frost

it gripped the noon, its eye of stone

blinded as by a pentecost’

and also, this, from Greek Orthodox, Melbourne, where,

in a scent

of drooling wax a priest hurls in,

suddenly pitches his black tent

scolds God in Greek.

There’s a heightening of sensation in these poems…that was the unexpectedness. I needed to grow, not out of, but beyond simple expectations of ballads, or lyrical reminders of

‘This is the house where I was born:

sepulchre-white, the unsleeping stream

washing the wall by my child bed’.

 

Well, it took days of reading last week to find that I’d not scratched the surface of what he could do, and with what passion he could write. I’d forgotten that he was, early on, a “Poet of WW2”. If he’d died in the war, he’d be remembered for that more than he is.I’d not taken in that he could write, with equal ease, blank verse, free verse, sonnets, couplets, and hymns (if asked); I’d not realised just how much myth, autobiography, fable and folk tale bleed into each other, nor just how far he ranged, geographically. I learned again how technically accomplished he was, and how apparently simple and accessible, and how he could make, unerringly, solid, breathing landscapes and seascapes. He made then, like his  crunching sea, with great economy.  Like this;

the cool quilt of the filtering moon

or this

the stiff waves propped against the classroom window

or this

beyond those pale disturbances of sky

another year assembles its vast floe

And his instinct was religious. It’s not just that angels and Christ walk familiarly in the streets of his imagination. For him, as for Blake, everything that lives is holy.  And he could be drily funny, too. Let me share two small discoveries before I finish.

There are some small poems towards the back of the Collected Poems. One records the time Ted Hughes came to his classroom….to read and tell stories, I imagine. (Wouldn’t you have liked Charles Causley to teach you?)

In a junior school 

“When I asked

what the poet did, a girl said,

Make up true stories

of people and animals

in his head.

 

When I told them

he was also a farmer,

they said they thought

farmers didn’t have time to write

stories and poems

…………………………………………….

Once, I said, he took home

a wounded badger.

Nursed it, then set it free.

All the children smiled;

clapped their hands very loudly

 

and then there are three or four that I could easily have passed over. I think they must have come unmediated from a notebook. The sequence is called Embryos. This is my favourite

1.

Emily Dickinson

called last night.

You are a poor cook,

she said. And look,

these windows

need cleaning.

As for your poems

listen to me

for a moment

 

Just one thing more; I have an abiding affection for ‘Jack the treacle eater’ with its gorgeous Charles Keeping illustrations. I think Keeping was created to be an illustrator of the work of poets, and especially of Causley.

causley 20

So, there we are. A happy accident. I’m not sure what American teachers of English, attuned to free verse, made of Charles Cowsly, but I’m pretty sure that an early evening in a house in Oxford is the reason  I spend part of most Sundays writing about poetry and poets. Thank you Charles Causley.

 

** To say thank you to all the poets who volunteered to guest at the three launches in June and July, and to introduce you to them if you’ve not already met them, here are the links to the posts when I’ve tried to say how much I like their work:

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2016/11/06/the-young-ones-and-an-undiscovered-gem-laura-potts/

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2018/02/04/them-and-uz-or-just-us-and-a-polished-gem-ian-parks/

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2017/05/14/found-in-translation-an-undiscovered-gem-alicia-fernandez-gallego-casilda/

 

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2016/07/17/alchemies-and-islands-and-a-gem-revisited-gaia-holmes/

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2017/01/15/poetry-readings-and-a-polished-gem-ian-harker/

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/?s=Vicky+Gatehouse

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2016/02/28/the-young-ones-and-polished-gem-16-tom-weir/

The company you keep. An [un]discovered gem: Regina Weinert

Regina 7

I realise I’ve used this ‘company you keep’ tagline before without explaining why. So, in a minute or so, I’ll put this to rights. But first, I should explain why there was no post last Sunday. Basically, I’ve been too busy, one way or another. The Friday before I drove up to Kendal to read with the inspirational Kim Moore, and with Jean Harrison at The Brewery Poets. I’d been looking forward to it for months. They only have two poetry nights a year and if you miss your window of opportunity, you have to wait a long time till another opens.

It’s not that long a drive from Ossett to Kendal; according to the AA, whether you take the shorter direct route through the Dales or the longer motorway route, it should take about two hours. Either way, and I’ve tried both, on a Friday at the start of Whit. it takes over three and a half. With the company of Terry Pratchett audiobooks, it doesn’t matter that much, but you do get tired. And if you’re incautious, you may need to stop at the Lancaster services on the M6. It is probably the ugliest, worst designed, motorway stop in Britain, if not the world. I mention this in passing, should you think it a good idea to try it. And Kendal has one of the trickier one-way systems; I always think I have the hang of it. But I haven’t. The Brewery Arts Centre, on the other hand, is lovely, and the cafe that hosts the readings is a delight of a space, furnished with big leather sofas, and hung with genuinely good art work. I loved it, and listening to Kim, whose current project All the men I never married just keeps better and better and better, as she shifts it into a more emotionally and intellectually challenging exploration of gender politics and its personal dimensions. Like I say, she’s an inspiration. (And she’s also one of the judges of the National Poetry Competition this year; get in for that).

Nevertheless, I had to jump in the car and drive home (2 hours!), get to bed and get up about 7.00 to drive to Sheffield for a Poetry Business Writing Day, where I had promises to keep…particularly to keep Louisa Campbell company on her first Sheffield writing day. I really must ask her to be a guest poet. In the meantime, I can tell you that her poetry has appeared in Acumen 87, Prole 22, Obsessed with Pipework 78, and The Interpreter’s House 65, she’s made the Bridport Prize shortlist in 2016, and right now she has a new book out. The ward. [Paper Swans]. Check it out.

the ward

It was a very nice day, and pretty productive. I think I think more clearly when Im tired. I think. I didn’t think very clearly that night at our lovely next door neighbour’s 50th birthday party. Dress code: golf-club posh – sort of blazer/Pringle pink sweater/air hostess scarf/cocktail frock; vast quantities of Prosecco and casual right wing politics. Alarmed and intrigued by a stocky woman in a canary-yellow blazer who told my partner Flo, at great length, what an admirable and inspirational woman Treeza May is. Fortunately, I’ve not had a drink in over five years, and understand that sobriety is the only defence against this stuff, and left before 11.00 to sleep the sleep of the virtuously knackered.

Sunday was prize giving and readings for the Red Shed Poetry Comp, in Wakefield. Wouldn’t have missed it for anything, especially to listen to judge Maria Isakova Bennett read her own poems and introduce the winners and commended poets. It goes from strength to strength, this competition, now in its 10th year and this year attracting over 350 entries from all over the country…and one from New Zealand (or was it New South Wales? a long way away, in any event). All credit to John Clarke and Jimmy Andrex who started it up from nowhere and made it a significant event.

And since then I’ve spent an unconscionable amount of time trying to organise three launch events for my new pamphlet Advice to a traveller (sales pitch: you can buy it via PayPal ..see the My Books page). I’ve been trying to juggle the availabilities of 7 guest poets against those of four or five possible venues. It’s like herding cats and knitting fog. I’m in open-mouthed admiration of anyone who manages to run a poetry festival. How are they sane afterwards? Right now I’ve not managed to book a single venue. At this rate I’ll be putting it off till September. We shall see.

And in and amongst all that, I’ve been doing a lot of reading for the first time in ages. Comfort blanket books (early John le Carre, and also A S Byatt) and The Loch of the Green Corrie. that gentle tribute to Norman MacCaig. I want to share couple of bits I bookmarked. Not to explain or discuss. Just to say: this sticks in my mind. This seems right and true.

“Climbers, fishers – we are players and sole audience.  A bit like writing poetry…..The absence of audience, the tiny readership…guarantees it is written for its own sake. We trust poetry because it’s not trying to sell us anything.

MacCaig referred to himself as an Edinburgh schoolteacher who sometimes writes poetry. The idea of ‘being a poet’ as though that were a different and higher form of life was abhorrent to him”

[At the Loch of the Green Corrie: Andrew Greig]

So that’s why there wasn’t a post. I’m making sure today, by writing it on a Saturday, taking advantage of a dull damp day when I don’t mind being indoors. So. As it seems you are required to say these days before starting a sentence. So. The company you keep. In particular the poetry company you keep…the readings you go to, the books you choose, the courses you go on, and, particularly, the small group you can come to rely on (as did MacCaig, and Sorley McLean and the other Edinburgh poets who would meet in the pub) because you trust their criticism and charge your batteries on their support and talent. In my case it’s The Albert Poets in Huddersfield, and their regular Monday night workshop, which used to be in The Albert, and is now in a curtained-off room in The Sportsman’s…a place where I meet lots of talented people including today’s guest, Regina Weinert. High time to let her introduce herself.

“I’ve lived roughly a third of my life in each Hamburg, Edinburgh and Sheffield and have spent most of my career researching and teaching linguistics and language. Over the last few years I made more time to write and started to read more contemporary poetry, which I’d liked for a while. I’d written for pleasure or to reduce stress, including a few poems, then had a lightbulb moment while looking through some short prose pieces that weren’t turning into longer stories. It seemed a good idea to get a reality check at an early stage and very much thanks to the gentle feedback and encouragement of Sharon Black and to Bill Greenwell’s Poetry Clinic, I kept writing poems. Through the generous support of the “Clinic” I learnt an enormous amount in a short time. (See links below).

I feel in my element with short poems and was very pleased to be shortlisted in that category of the Plough Prize 2017. I also enjoy writing narrative poems – although holding their shape and scale is somewhat alarming. I’ve had poems published inThe Northand Poetry Salzburg Review.

www.abricreativewriting.com

http://abricreativewriting.com/poetryclinic/poetryclinic.html

 

Two key things;  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. She’s sent me four to share, and it’ll be a pleasure.

Regina 1

 

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. Here’s another.

regina 10

 

Timing

 

I haven’t swept under the bed,

the stairs are garlanded

 

with the abandoned efforts

of long-legged spiders

 

on their way up or down,

never mind which, because

 

the fridge flashes by, cradling

mustard, beetroot, milk

 

and I’ve remembered

the crinkled parchment of jeans

 

blouse, cotton vest on the arm

of the spine-tingling settee

 

and it’s too late to beat the coir mat

into shedding a shovelful of grit,

 

too late to bin the pink rose, its bloom

hard to retract, once assumptions

 

are speed-budding, as they will be, since

I’ve opened the door to you.

 

I like the slightly harassed (or is it?  it’s beautifully ambiguous) voice, the way it starts in the middle of something, that sounds like anxiety, or a diffuse kind of small guiltiness, that opens out into the beginning of a moments surrender (which an age of prudence will never retract). Another thing: I like the moments/images that stick. The juxtaposition of mustard, beetroot, milk;  the crinkled parchment of jeans. I like the economy with which a real environment, a real place and lifestyle is constructed, and a real character inhabits it…one that I’m involved with and hope for.

The next poem, not in couplets as it happens, demonstrates Regina’s eye for the shape and texture of the moment that makes the image significant.

regina 2

Concentration

 

She dangles in her sleep

like the last bramley

from a winter-brittled branch

 

she’s tired as peat

with its memory of plants

her dreams are coal seams

 

(First published in The North, Issue 57.)

If I could only keep one moment from all her poems, I think it would be

she’s tired as peat

It’s the inchoate tiredness of tedium, of a long long process of small accumulations that grow inert and heavy. And eventually offer the hard brilliance and the promise of fire in coal seams.Beautiful. I love the way that it moves in a short space from the laxness of ‘dangles’ to the solidity of ‘coal seams’. Just one more, then, and minimal commentary. Just enjoy its clarity and quiet. Like a Rothko. Less is more.

regina 4

No question

 

The foghorn intones all night,

like a well-adjusted contrabass,

 

mooring my sleep with perfect pitch

and phrasing. In the morning

 

I’m drawn to its silence. Everything

hasbeen wiped to a polish –

 

the lapis vein of the water line

below a pale-blue cloche,

 

the sheer air, enamelling my neck

and sending a jet of birdcall

 

skidding along the shore, as if this sky

has lost its grip on the clouds.

 

So, a week late, but thank you so much, Reginert, for being our guest poet on a Saturday afternoon when the sun has suddenly come out.

Next week I’m hoping for another guest poet from the Albert Workshops. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, enjoy the sun, and wish me luck in trying to book three venues on dates that work for everyone. See you soon, and thank you for being here.