Just do it

nike_003

I’m aiming for a short post today. We’ll see.

I’m 75 tomorrow. This comes as something of a shock. Or, alternatively, as just a number. I prefer the alternative. However, I’ve come to acknowledge in the last couple of years that there are things I could do that I can’t do any more, or as well, or for as long. Physical things. As my joints grow more crumbly I can’t do hill walks that I could do five years ago. For a time, this made me very resentful and cross and bad-tempered and sorry for myself.

When that happens, you need to stand back and take stock. Like Ivan Denisovitch, with his own brand of practical Epicureanism; an audit of the things you have that could be taken away. Counting your blessings, I suppose. What happens is that I remind myself that though I can’t do what I did five years ago, physically I can do twenty times more than I could do fifteen years ago. Because ten years ago, I had new hips fitted.

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. So why don’t we?  Metaphor time.

StephDavisSoloOuterLimits

If you’ve never done any rock climbing, this will look amazing, and remote and mad. And in any case, your senses may have been blunted by CGI images, and it won’t seem that remarkable. On the other hand, we all understand the business of height and of falling, and conclude that it’s all very well but not for the likes of us.

If you’ve just started rock climbing and got the bug, you might just dream of doing something like this amazing woman does with apparent ease. You can come to dream of it, you start to read about climbs and routes and lines, you start pushing your limits. And you hit a point when you know that’s it. You’ve hit your technical or physical limits. With me it was a combination of those and vertigo.

What do you do? You can keep pushing till you do something disastrous. Or you can be unhappy and resentful because you realise you’re not going to get better, and you’ll never do what the superstars do so (apparently) easily. You know you can’t do it. ‘It’ being defined what you can’t do.

Or you serenely face up to the fact that you never could have done ‘it’, but you certainly can do some of it. You know what it feels like, the pull of gravity, the cold of stone, the moments when you felt invulnerable, standing on a big safe ledge high up, above the world. I tried to catch that in a poem : Seen from above

 

“……that time, belayed high up on Gimmer Crag

we watched a tiny Mini puttering up the Langdale road.

It missed the sharp left turn, and, with a tinkling of stone,

ran slap into the boundary wall. There was a little plume of steam.

We smiled. Above us in the quiet, a kestrel hovered;

sheep coughed, and cropped.

Distance takes away all difficulty.”

 

It was that feeling of godlike irresponsible superiority that I could feel on even an ‘easy’ climb…this one being Holly Tree Traverse, which probably only counts as a scramble these days. Or, in Scotland, a walk. Still, I chanced my arm with a metaphor [climbing/writing] so I’ll push on. I can remember beginning.

climbing 2

I can remember the clumsiness with dealing with the gear, the ropes, the slings. All that. And eventually the clumsiness grew less. You get better if you practise. You remind yourself how far you’ve come, and if you want to stay sane, you stop worrying about the superstars, and you do what you can. You just do it. And who, knows, you might just get better.

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. The fact that I can’t climb up vertical ice walls doesn’t stop me from enjoying the company of ,say, Joe Simpson. When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig,  and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.

To my dismay, very briefly, I felt the poetry equivalent of what I’ve felt about my physical limitations. It didn’t last long, but I think it came down to seeing that he’s a year younger than me, and his first collection A brightness to cast shadows was published in 1980. In the way of things, I estimate that he was 33 when he had enough material from which to select a collection, and then to interest a publisher. And there certainly weren’t remotely as many poetry publishers around then as there are now.And I was jealous. Which is, of course, not only a waste of time, but a waste of the emotional energy you’d be better off spending on things that matter. Let me share some the lines that put me in mind of that woman free climbing that terrifying blank face in Yosemite.

the clock pecks everything to the bone.  

[from As our bloods separate]

 

I see the damned are like this:

loquacious to no effect……….

incapable of nakedness

they rasp their hands on one another

 

[from The damned ]

the dead lamb picketed a ewe.

She cropped round, bleating

and chewing in that machinal way of sheep

 

[from Lamb ]

I’m not a stone, I’m dirty snow that in

her sunlight melts. It has no choice but to

[from Suddenly she is radiant again ]

 

How soon, I wonder, after how many Novembers

did the years begin to seem not paces

interminably around a pit nor steps deserting

a place, but slow degrees by which she came

over the curve of the world into that hemisphere

his face rose in?

[from In memoriam 8571 Private J W Gleave ]

 

Like shrapnel in the lucky ones

she carried fragments in her speech

remarkable to her grandchildren

but to herself accustomed

[from In memoriam 8571 Private J W Gleave ]

 

But with a history of ECT

and separation Milburn Margaret Mrs

did not attain the obliterating sea

she got no further than the DHSS

and on a Friday in the public view

lodged on the weir as logs do

[From But with a history of ECT ]

 

the morning’s broken glass

and brightening air could not pick up his breath

[From Boy finds tramp dead ]

 

you were working slowly on a smoke

and, tilting your indoor trilby, would appear

through clouds soon and would broach

your silence waiting like an untouched beer

for a man back from the gents

[Fron Elegy ]

 

The summer moon was terrible. It beamed

like Christ on Lazarus

[From Spring tide ]

 

It’s the company you keep. One who’s not afraid to learn from R S Thomas or Geoffrey Hill, or Tony Harrison or from Heaney or Hughes or MacCaig. Not afraid of ellipsis, awkward syntax, abstractions, rhyme or rhetoric. I shall enjoy my year with David Constantine, marvelling at what can be done with words. I was tempted to go off on one about the poetry equivalent of the X Factor, the world where all must have prizes, but I’m going to avoid the vexatious. Most of the folk I know in the tiny world of poetry and and those who write it are honest with themselves. They support each other. They don’t put on airs. They want to get better at what they do. As a rule, it seems to me that the more talented they are the more self-doubt they’re likely to have.

I’ll finish with an anecdote. Someone who I taught in my very first class in my very first week as full-time qualified teacher wrote to me a couple of days ago. For years he was a tour /stage manager for some of the biggest names in popular music.

“Speaking of booze and drugs, I also had a front row seat for Queen’s most successful times, from Live Aid to the death of Freddie, curtesy of the years I spent working for Elton’s manager, John Reid, who for a while managed both.  Elton at least is still there, or was when I last looked.

I am very aware that all the music history I shared, no matter how remotely, through truly golden years, is not really relevant to anyone any longer (except old farts like us) and an echo of the transitory grandeur of these events only reverberates briefly through history upon the death of a protagonist.  

The most surprising person who truly got that, was George Harrison, who I chatted with backstage during soundcheck at the Albert Hall, before he went on to join in a set with Eric Clapton at a charity event for Pamela Stevenson, that again, I stage managed.

At the time, George had not played live for 100 years or so and before he went on he said to me, ”Dunno why he wants me. Nobody will know who the **** I am….”

Keep that in mind. Then believe in yourself. What you’ve done is done. It doesn’t matter if it was good bad or indifferent. You can get better. Just do it.

constantine

 

David Constantine : Collected Poems [Bloodaxe 2004]. £12

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milestones and landmarks (3)…with Kim Moore

drowned village 2

[Just to bring you up to date:

Today’s post will be the 275th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…

first solo guest poetry reading,

first invitation to be a guest blogger,

and

first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. Which, for me, was April 2013

So. Here we go.]

Like I say, there are so many people in the poetry world to whom I owe so much. Almost all of them have been guests on the cobweb, and some of them are extra special. However, I thought I’d stick to ‘milestones‘, and the final one of three is Kim Moore. She’s been a guest more times than anyone else, and she’s probably name checked more than anyone else (though it may be a very close-run thing with the Poetry Business).

I’ve been a fan of her poetry blog, The Sunday Poem for a long time, so when Kim invited me to send her a poem for her poetry blog it was a very big deal. I’d gone to a Puzzle Hall Poets Live night, in the days when Gaia Holmes was running it. Kim was the guest poet;I did one poem on the open mic and Kim took a punt on it.  Now, four years ago I’d had very few poems published, and I’d certainly produced no books or pamphlets. It’s moments like this that show just how important to your confidence it can be to have your writing validated by someone sharing it.

But that’s not all. Since then, Kim has been inspirational in all sorts of ways, not least via her residential courses. I’ve had two prize-winning poems come out of those. She’s taught me how to be rigorous with my own stuff ,how to read,  how to breathe through poems with long sentences (we both like those). She helped me to write honestly about the death of my son, and to find a language to frame it in. She gave me (and others) the example of her own courage in confronting personal trauma in her poetry, and also (for me) the way in which the myths of transformation can be a holding frame for our own stories. She has never stopped encouraging me to believe I can do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I’ve said thank you before. If you have the time, you can follow the link to something I wrote the year her first collection The Art of Falling came out https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2015/12/27/centenary-special-and-a-christmas-star-kim-moore/

When I read that collection I was convinced it would make a big splash. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t win every prize going. I felt personally affronted when it seemed to very quietly slip out of sight. But two years on, it’s suddenly got the recognition it deserves. Kim writes about this in a moment. So. On with the post.

I asked her for a poem from an earlier blog, and this is the one I chose. Whenever I read it, I think of the drowned villages that appear in times of drought. I like everything about it, its fully imagined landscape, that strange (but right) image of the man and woman whose hair flowed to their waists…and the bleakness of its vision, its pity for the human condition makes me weep.

 

drowned village 1

How The Stones Fell

(after Ovid)

 

We learnt that we were born from stones, that the last

man and woman to survive the flood climbed from their raft

onto the shoulders of a  mountain and looked across the water

which had swallowed everything.

 

For days there had been a sea but no shore, now as the water

curled back its lip and let go of the tops of trees

the man and woman followed, walking down the slope,

their feet touching the edges of the water,

 

their arms full of the bones of the earth, their hair long

and flowing to their waists.  They cast stones behind them

and from the hand of the man a stone fell and grew into

another man and from the hand of the woman

 

a stone fell and grew into another woman and so we grew,

our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth.

We were born from stones and we were destined to live

like stones, warming ourselves in the sun,

 

cracking when the temperature fell, we said there was

something of the sea in us, but in this, like many other things

we lied, it was never water in our hearts, we carried stones

in our pockets, we carried them in our hands.

 

It’s a poem that matters, isn’t it? It’s a real poem. A real poem?  I stick with Clive James’ definition. A real poem is  ‘Well separated’ . You hear ‘the force of real poetry at first glance’ . It’s marked by its clarity, its avoidance of ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance.’ What an important idea that is ..just that one word ‘substance.’ How good it is to be reminded that a poem has to be about something real and concrete, because ‘everything depended, and still depends, on the quality of the moment…whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.’ 

That explains to me why some poems simply nail ‘it’ for me. Poems that are memorable for themselves, that hold together, and surprise, and make themselves your friends for life. Like the poems that Gordon Hodgeon let me share with you. Like Jo Bell’s ‘The archaeologist of rivers’ and ‘Eve naming the birds’. Like Fiona  Benson’s Bright travellers. Robin Robertson’s ‘At Roane Head’.  But above all, and especially in these last three years, poem after poem by my inspiration, involuntary mentor, and special landmark/milestone guest, Kim Moore. And here she is to bring us up to date:

“The last time I appeared in the Cobweb was Christmas 2015 as a ‘Christmas Star’.  I can’t believe it was a full two years ago!  Back then, in 2015, I was still working as a peripatetic brass teacher for two days a week, which involved working in three schools and conducting three junior brass bands every week.   The rest of my gainful employment was spent as a freelance writer, running poetry workshops and reading at festivals. 

The biggest change since then is I’m no longer a brass teacher.  In September 2016  I was lucky enough to be awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship to study for a PhD, which meant I could take a step away from music teaching and become a full-time student.  My PhD is a creative-critical PhD, which means that part of my thesis will be my second full-length collection. 

Brass teaching is the only job I’ve known – although as a student I had part-time jobs, brass teaching was the first job I had which became part of my identity.  It feels strange to not be a brass teacher anymore.  At the same time, I know it was the right time for me to move on.  It’s easy now to feel nostalgic about teaching, and if I go and see the junior band that I set up and built over those 13 years, I’m filled with longing to go back into my old life.  I almost enjoy that feeling of longing though – because it means I don’t remember the annoying aspects of the job. 

My PhD project is to write poetry which explores and represents experiences of sexism and I’m particularly interested in whether poetry can play a part in changing the way we talk about sexism, or even who talks about it.  A member of the audience at a reading came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said they  hadn’t even thought about the fact that they hadn’t read any women writers during their degree, until they’d heard me read poetry about sexism.  For me, this proves that poetry can be part of a conversation that will hopefully change the way we think and discuss sexism.  I know that writing poetry about my own experiences of sexism has changed the way I think about those experiences  – so poetry becomes a way of investigating, a way of knowing about not-knowing. 

The PhD has given me the time and space to think about the type of poet I want to be, and the type of poetry I want to write, and what I think poetry is for.  I don’t know all the answers to those questions yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.  In 2015, I mentioned a sequence I was working on – ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Who knew that this would grow into a fully-fledged PhD? Not me!

I’m still continuing with my freelance work as a writer around the PhD.  Luckily for me, I have a mortal fear of being bored, and I like working till late at night – usually till midnight, so I manage to fit in everything I want to do.  I am part of Versopolis, a European-funded poetry project which helps promote the work of ‘young’ poets in Europe – this year I got to read at the amazing Struga Poetry Festival in Macedonia as part of this project.  I run Dove Cottage Young Poets**, a fortnightly writing group for teenagers, which is one of my favourite things I get to do as a writer.  My friend Pauline Yarwood and I set up Kendal Poetry Festival in 2015 and we’ve had two successful sold-out festivals, and are planning our third, which will be running 7th-9th September 2018.  My favourite part of my work as a freelance writer is running residentials.  A residential poetry course changed my life, and I believe they can be powerful and exciting.  This will sound cheesy, but the participants who come on my courses feel like part of my poetry family now.  Many of them return year after year, and it is a real privilege to work with them as writers over the years.

Perhaps the most exciting thing that has happened to me happened very recently – my book, published in 2015, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  Maybe I’m destined to win prizes with the name Geoffrey in the title? The judges were Gillian Clarke, Katharine Towers and Tom Gatty, and Gillian said such nice things about my collection in her speech that she made my mum and dad cry.  It was particularly nice to win this prize because I knew nothing about it until I’d already won it, so no nail-biting shortlists, just a lovely surprise that I wasn’t expecting.

**I should have said something earlier about Kim’s generosity, and about how hard she works, and about her concern for those young poets, too. Hannah Hodgson is one of them, and she’s been a guest poet on the cobweb. Not only a poet, then, but an inspirational teacher too.

I’m going to finish with three poems I chose from the many she sent me. The first one I loved the first time I heard her read it at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. It’s got the long sentences that she effortlessly breathes through, that never lose their balance, and possibly my favourite image, the moment that draws me in, that memorises itself

 

 we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.

 

 

 All the Men I Never Married
No 1.
(after Andrew McMillan)

 

There was the boy who I met on the park

who tasted of humbugs and wore

a mustard yellow jumper, and the kickboxer

with beautiful long brown hair that he tied

with a band at the nape of his neck, and the one

who had a constant ear infection so I sat always

on his left, and the guy who worked in an office

and could only afford to fill up his car with £2

worth of petrol and the trumpet player I loved

from the moment I saw him, dancing

to the Rolling Stones. The guy who smoked weed

and got more and more paranoid, whose fingers

flickered and danced when he talked, the one

whose eyes were two pieces of winter sky,

a music producer, long-legged and full of opinions

and more trumpet players, one who was too short

and not him, and one who was too thin and not him,

are you judging me yet, are you surprised?

Let me tell you of the ones I never kissed,

or who never kissed me, the trombonist

I went drinking with, how we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.

We were not for each other and in this we were wise,

we were only moving through the world together

for a time. There was a double bassist who stood

behind me and angled the body of his bass into mine

and shadowed my hands on its neck and all I could feel

was heat from his skin and the lightest breath

and even this might have been imagined.

I want to say to them now though all we are to each other

is ghosts, once you were all that I thought of.

When I whisper your names, it isn’t a curse or a spell or a blessing.

I’m not mourning your passing or calling you here.

This is something harder, like walking alone in the dusk

and the leaves, this is the naming of trees,

this is a series of flames, this is watching you all disappear.

 

Previously published in The Dark Horse

 

The next one reminds me of an exercise that Kim set…I think it might use a Clare Shaw poem as a starting point….but the focus is on those sins of omission that plague us sometimes before we wake up properly. The memory of a wrong that passes without our intervention, because we’re afraid to do what we think is right.

street row

 

 

   All the Men I Never Married
No. 15

 

Remember that night we’d been out drinking

and on the way home heard raised voices,

 

saw a couple across the road, arguing, leaning

towards each other and then he slapped her,

 

once, across the face then turned and walked away.

She stood there for a while and then she followed,

 

down Rawlinson Street as the lights from passing cars

fell on her, then swept on by.  We didn’t call out

 

or phone the police.  We didn’t speak, not to her

or him or to each other.   When we got home

 

we didn’t talk about the woman in the denim skirt,

holding her white shoes by the straps.  I wasn’t

 

close enough to see her feet, yet I remember them,

the blackened soles from walking on the pavement,

 

the sore on the heel where the strap had rubbed

and raised a patch of red.  We did not speak of her

 

and so we made her disappear, limping into the night,

trying to keep up with that man, who knew she’d follow

 

so did not turn around, hands thrust into his jeans,

front door key hot between his fingers.

 

Previously published in Poetry Ireland Review

 

Finally, an absolute stunner, a showstopper. A poem that should make you rethink what you feel about Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian urn’ and its ‘still unravished bride of quietness’. How easily that ‘unravished’ can slide past your attention. It makes me think especially of Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” that’s so astonishingly made, so flawless, that you forget what it’s about, what’s happening. I chose this to say thank you for the gift of Ovid, and the tales of metamorphosis and transformation, and for the way Kim’s poems that confront the business of domestic abuse and its trauma made me see the Greek myths differently, and made them help me to see my own life more clearly.

ApolloDaphneFeature

 When I Open

When I open my ribs a dragon flies out
and when I open my mouth a sheep trots out
and when I open my eyes silverfish crawl out
and make for a place that’s not mine.

When I open my fists two skylarks fly out
and when I open my legs a horse gallops out
and when I open my heart a wolf slinks out
and watches from beneath the trees.

When I open my arms a hare jumps out
and when I show you my wrists a shadow
cries out and when I fall to my knees
a tiger slips out and will not answer to me.

Now that the tree that grew in my chest
has pulled up its roots and left, now that I’m open
and the sky has come in and left me with nothing
but space, now that I’m ready to lie like a cross

and wait for the ghost of him to float clear away,
will my wild things come back, will the horse
of my legs and the dragon of my ribs,
and the gentle sheep which lived in my throat

like a breath of mist and the silverfish
of my eyes and the skylarks of my hands
and the wolf of my heart, will they all come back
and live here again, now that he’s left,

now I’ve said the word whisper it rape
now I’ve said the word whisper it shame
will my true ones, my wild, my truth,
will my wild come back to me again?

 

Previously published in The North

daphne

 

What a way to end the year. Here’s a prayer and a candle lit for 2018. May your wild come back to you again. Although , in Kim’s case, I think that it possibly has.

 

If you haven’t already bought her books, then now’s the time.

If we could speak like wolves:  [smith|doorstop 2012]

(available via the Poetry Business)

The art of falling   [Seren 2015]

 

2017, the highlights: September, October, November, December

IMG_2387

SEPTEMBER

Jane Kite

Abuella

Today I have nothing to say.
Your mother’s breath was loaded
with dust from the mountains.
You were oil dunked on account
of the dryness. You slept all afternoon.
Your father called you pimpernel.

Today I have nothing to say.
Your mother’s eyes were blue, not black,
your father traded olives for a gun,
stole swallows out of their nests.

Today I have nothing to say.
I would feed you almonds and oranges.
Your sweet name gluts my throat.
You were gone for weeks.
I came outside and scoured the sky,
found you asleep in the sun.

(September started a sequence of ‘poems about hospitals’. There were poems from Bob Horne, Neil Clarkson, Charlotte Ansell, Ian Harker, Becky Cherriman, Rose Drew, Hilary Elfick, Lydia Macpherson, Andy Humphrey, Keith Hutson, Christopher North, Maria Taylor, Andy Blackford, Rebecca Gethin and Joe Williams. I’ve chosen this one from Bob Horne)

 

Waiting Room

With a flick of fins the fantails
twist and tumble, shimmy and climb
through clear water between shingle bed
and still air resting on the surface.
Hexagonal tank: perfunctory aquascape
of single black rock, more fit for a wall;
tall plant with a look of ivy,
and bubbles rising like hopes.

Our files are on the trolley outside Room A.
Have you seen to next week’s nutrition?
Three rows of chairs; front left’s mine.
I’m fitting things in, doing bits of both.
Opposite, a metal cabinet in battleship grey.
I’ll get found out if they ask any questions.
CRE to DAV, DAW to DOD, DOH to DYS.
You just go blonde, you’ll get there.

We’re running late; there are whispers,
shufflings as bodies are rearranged,
timetables changed. The goldfish,
refracted in angles of glass,
wind and weave in their element,
while we, with a weather eye,
we sit on, stare at the floor:
blue linoleum, like a big sky.

 

OCTOBER

Judith Willson

Noctilucent

We cross the garden: late sun, evening’s slack tide.
He is remembering woods below San Pietro, the ragged end of a war.
Soldier and red-cloaked shepherd meeting on the road,
the old man calling his dog, waiting in the white road.
He watches how it goes on happening, the time it takes
to wade knee-deep in dazzle
towards the soft chalk curve between the trees.
The red cloak burned in his eyes. His hand, unsure.

He says, If a person walking raises his hand
he sees the shadow of each finger doubled.

Trees slide down to lap us, attentive to our solitudes
until the hollow dark is filled with memory of light –
fluorescence, phosphor glow, poppies’ slow burn.
Ghostlights to guide our double-going.

 

Ruth Valentine

like tolstoy
1
Not in hospital; nobody wants that.
Nor the pale-blue rooms and communal eating-spaces
of the hospice, however kindly. Not alone
on an industrial estate in Switzerland,
being filmed stating Yes I understand
if I drink this liquid… Not even in bed at home
surrounded by sobbing family, Victorian
fantasy of reunion and forgiveness.

Since it’s going to happen and won’t be dignified,
you could do a lot worse than a railway station
waiting room. Say Barnham, where after class
with the boys from the boys’ school we dawdled for the connection:
coal fire, view of the station pub, a playground,
mourners hurrying up from the underpass.
2
I’ve certainly known some beautiful railway stations.
St Pancras before it became a shopping-mall
and they hid the trains: wood-panelled ticket-office,
six empty tracks leading the mind north
past the gasometers to an improbable
state of grace; or Milan with its Day Hotel,
where you could have a shower and a change of clothes
in time for your Last Supper with Leonardo.

But the number one station for dying in
must be Ljubljana: the driving snow, the boys
off to art college in Venice, the gun-metal
socialist-realist trains, their sides announcing
the life beyond: Budapest, Bucharest,
Prague, Skopje, Thessaloniki, Athens.
3
You’re not taking this seriously. It’s not about
childhood or tourism or the early years
of your marriage. You are deciding where to die,
assuming you have a choice and aren’t knocked down
by a single-decker bus at Turnpike Lane,
or a heart attack in the Parkway ladies’ toilets.
It’s losing control of your body, shamefully,
and your mind, which will stop writing poetry forever.

So what you need is less the architecture
(though a final view of a vaulted wrought-iron roof
would do for transcendence) than the sound of trains
leaving for cities you can dream about
in the final minutes, and busy humanity
with its suitcases and phones and sudden weeping.

NOVEMBER

Zetta Bear

 
Stalker

The man who thinks to woo me by explaining
how to shoot a deer strips by the fire
peeling clothes off his blue patterned skin
in his kitchen with the back door wide open
to the windy night he’s come in from
wet through after standing for hours
waiting for his doe to show herself
waiting for the heart shot.

While in his shed ten grey rabbits hang from a pole
one hind leg slotted neatly through the other,
his muddy graft hangs from a hook,
and the doe he has shot and gralloched,
turns and cools, waiting quietly for him
to return and undress her.

 

Anne Caldwell

The Gate-Opener

Alice tramps along the Pennine Way all summer and remote, Cumbrian sheep farms in the winter; lying in wait for ramblers, vagabonds, genuine Romanies, long distance walkers, locals out for a stroll and fair-weather campers. She loves them all in different ways. Legendary throughout the north, she can negotiate any kind of five bar, kissing or latch-key gate; unlocks padlocks with a hairpin that she keeps in her knickers; always shuts and secures each field after strangers.

She collects all the smiles, nods, pecks on the cheek and cheery thanks like bunches of wild flowers. One bright evening, Alice meets a man who has walked in solitude for miles and wants to tell another human being of the boggy moors, sodden clothes, the way the mist came down, his pedometer readings.  The exact number of miles traversed.

 

DECEMBER

Sue Vickerman

The three wise men

To cap it all it was cold. Really cold,
and rough terrain, and all of us old,
and nearly coming to blows over the route
through those dark dunes to get to the bairn,

and we were loaded up. So heavily loaded
and the camels weren’t good. How they groaned
under all that gold. But we had a role,
and there is no record of us moaning,

nothing of three wise men with frost-bitten toes
missing strong brown Yorkshire tea
in that strong-brown-tea-forsaken desert
and nobbut camels’ milk, no cows,

and no really boiling water, nor proper pot,
and blaming each other for who’d forgotten it
and as we plodded, read in the stars the laddie’s fate –
what we each thought we could well foresee –

but disagreed on every time and every date,
and finally had to agree to disagree.

 

Gaia Holmes

Hope

Though it seems so dark
and the ceiling of the world’s a wound
and so many hours have been bruised,
and so many lives have been broken,
there are stars up there tonight
and we must name them,
we must love them,
we must whistle them down like dogs
in faith of their shine
and they will be loyal.
They will show us where their bones are.
They will teach us
their soft, bright tricks of devotion.

And even on the blackest nights,
when hope and protest
are knotted in our throats,
when our smiles have been tarred
and buckled with the weight and stain
of shadows,
we have to remember they are there,
those glittering sky-hooked prayers,
prickling and humming,
embedded in that thick and lovely blue,
guarding us from spite,
keeping the moon from slipping,
herding the pale lamb-like dawns
into our sleeping houses
where they flow
through all our rooms
fluent and loving as milk.

 

Roy Marshall

Waterloo Teeth


Wigmakers, jewellers and blacksmiths
all dabbled as dentists, wrenching surrogates
from the jaws of the sugarless poor, fixing rotten grins
with ivory, tacks, and piano wire.
Grave robbers bolstered the enamel supply
until a windfall arrived; Tobacco stained, cracked
or drummer-boy smooth, a harvest from Belgian fields
where soldiers flapped like rooks,
knelt or crouched with string and pliers, moved
from head to head, filling pockets and purses, noses pegged.
Handfuls of nuggets, sorted and sized, tipped
into boiling vats, the ends chopped, each set matched
for colour and shape as if sprung from the gums of a child;
enough, if a cart overturned and spilt its load, to make
a sewer-cleaved street into an ivory road, or turn
parliament’s blackened smiles off-white.

 

Right. I’ve one extra-special post coming up before 2018. But I’d not forgive myself if I forgot to say an extra special THANK YOU to

Small Poetry Presses and the Publishers, and in particular, to Brett Evans of PROLE, Bob Horne of CALDER VALLEY POETRY, Martin Malone of THE INTERPRETER’S HOUSE and Sarah Miles of PAPER SWANS.
Check out their stories in the Archives

 

And

 

A huge thank you to Laura Potts, Steve Ely, Keith Hutson and Pascale Petit for writing about SEQUENCES

 

and finally
Thanks to all of you who follow the cobweb. Have a Happy New Year, and I’ll see you all for the final post of 2017

2017: the highlights. May, June, July and August

 

 

window 3Here’s a thank you to everyone who’s followed the cobweb posts and made Sundays spent writing them worthwhile. And special thanks to all our guest poets for their generosity in sharing their poems and writing about themselves (the latter saves me more work than I can properly repay them for). And here’s a wish for better new year in 2018 for this damaged world than it got in 2017. Here we go.

MAY

Alicia Fernandez

Roadmap

The plan is to plunge into the canal
and collect treasures that I can
tape to your bed frame:
shivering damp daffodils
and rusty Czech crowns.
I will spend hours knelt over them
on the floor, sorting through the colours
and the different levels of degradation
and glow. I intend to take my time.
In the absence of a garland of ivy
there will be unravelled tape from a cassette
of the Small Faces’ greatest hits
and a collection of blanched stamps
featuring forgotten railways and beaches.
I will fill you with fugitive expectation
in an attempt to retain you. Don’t go yet.
Paper butterflies and fairy lights
will do the rest. It will take a while.
Once I have finished my display,
my hand will grab your hand and
drag you back from the caustic world
where I left you behind.

 

Hannah Hodgson

 

The diagnosis

I see a bruise on his vocal chords
as he delivers a package
no postman could.

“You aren’t going to get better.”
I try to breathe –
but my eyes sting of paper cuts

and my chest heaves silent tears
into storage.
I nod, words trapped
In the clasp of my lips

 

Natalie Rees

Washer Woman
By night she would take their best poems
out into the back yard.
Douse them in lemon and vinegar.
Scour each word
with baking soda and salt.

She would unpick
the awkward images;
the forced connections
that itched their neck by day.

She would wring out the phrases
dyed with language that did not fit –
the Greek myths,
the borrowed registers,
the Latin names for trees.

She would carry them in a heap.
Peg up their stanzas in plain knit,
let their line endings drip.

 

JUNE

Clare Shaw

This baby
This baby is a hurricane –
it’s the thunder of an underground train.
You can hear it coming from miles away.
You can feel it in the walls, the floor.

It’s the roar beneath the city street;
the earthquake that wakes you,
shaking beds, breaking plates.
This baby dislodges slates –

felled a steeple in Dudley.
This baby could kill.

This baby is news, big news.
This baby makes you huge.
Makes you Africa and Russia,
proud. A high hot-air balloon fat-filled with fire.
You could explode with it.
Stand clear! This woman could blow any minute.
*
This quick blood-bloom of certain cell
could grow to anything –
snowflakes forming like a wildflower,
a sly-eyed gull; a dinosaur;

a deep bellyful of weed.
This baby is a fallen seed.
The thin grass blade that ruptures the road.
It could open you up –

your stomach, the shape of a book not yet written;
the curve of the first word
of the book you wake speaking,
always forgotten.

It’s like that, this baby –
the light of a star that no-one can see
travelling ten thousand light years
to catch you unaware

knelt as you are in the slow Autumn rain,
heaving with dreams
and your body a poem
on the theme of ‘This Baby’.

Think of a name.

[from Straight Ahead]

 

JULY

 

David Wilson

Bivouac at Harrisons’ Rocks

Leaves turn from green to grey.
On the breeze a scent of hops.
A star appears. A bat.

Beyond silver birch trees
a train sounds its two-tone horn,
slows for a bend, disappears.

We’re fifteen years old
with apple pies, cans of Sprite,
and dreams of the Eigerwand.

Above our ledge a sandstone roof,
below us the drop. Not far
but far enough.

 

Keith Hutson

Bad Impresario

i.m. William Paul 1820 – 1882

 

William Paul, with millions to waste

on battling boredom, wondered which place

in Blighty had the least discerning taste:

 

could he unearth a town where utter tripe

would be considered culture at its height –

silk purses not sow’s ears – night after night?

 

Two dozen hardened scouts were sent to scour

the land; five hundred flops auditioned for

his troupe; the ten most woeful went on tour

 

including long-abandoned novelties

like Lady Clock Eye, Baldwin’s Catholic Geese,

The Human Mop, Frank and his Dancing Teeth:

 

from Cumbria to Cornwall no one asked

them back, except the Palace, Halifax.

 

AUGUST

 

Christy Ducker

Vaccine

My mother kept me from fairy tales,

not wanting those women in boxes

with all their waiting to stall me,

but when I grew up and found myself

boxed-in, I couldn’t see the walls

for years, not having rehearsed horror

 

in miniature, how a storyteller

or scientist might. Today, in the lab

I learn how to make a horror small,

that we boil it and pin it inside

our own blood, to teach ourselves

the lesson: naivety kills

 

but memory inoculates, measured out

at the right dose. For lupus, try

absorbing a microgram of its snarl

so you might bite back. For Cinderella

disease, take only its slippers,

appear to swoon but prepare to kick.

 

The science of self-protection asks

we rewrite the story of what appals:

be glad the hairs on the back of your neck

stir when a wolf comes near you.

For grief, devour a sugar skull

and dance on the Day of the Dead.

 

 

 

 

 

2017 .My favourite bits: Jan, Feb, March and April

minions-at-the-firworks

Here’s a thank you to everyone who’s followed the cobweb posts and made Sundays spent writing them worthwhile. And special thanks to all our guest poets for their generosity in sharing their poems and writing about themselves (the latter saves me more work than I can properly repay them for). And here’s a wish for better new year in 2018 for this damaged world than it got in 2017. Here we go.

JANUARY

Jane Clarke

When winter comes                                                  

 

remember what the blacksmith

knows, that dim light is best

 

at the furnace, to see the colours

go from red to orange

 

to yellow, the forging heat

that tells the steel is ready

 

to be held in the mouth

of the tongs and it’s time

 

to lengthen and narrow

with the ring of the hammer

 

on the horn of an anvil,

to bend until the forgiving metal

 

has found its form

in the sinuous curve of a scroll.

 

Then file the burrs, remove

sharp edges, smooth the surface,

 

polish with a grinding stone

and see it shine like silver, like gold.

 

Ian Harker

The caretaker compares himself to the happiest man alive

 

Freddie Mercury employed a butler

to serve cocaine on a silver salver.

Me, however – I’ve been a caretaker

for thirty years, give or take –

 

I had a spell

as Creative Director

of the Royal Opera House,

Covent Garden –

 

but now I’ve got to get up at half six

and work one Saturday in four, locking doors,

unlocking doors, switching off lights, moving chairs

for layabout provincial thespians.

But you get free tickets they say down the pub –

not seeing that I got free tickets at Covent Garden

but would give them away to incredulous

Community Support Officers,

who doubtless sold them on eBay.

 

Anyway,

the Happiest Man Alive

does not have to get up at half six

or work one Saturday in four and does not have to put up

with the square outside full of ladyboys.

 

How I wish I was caretaker for the ladyboys,

the ladyboys who come every year from Bangkok –

all the way from Bangkok and I would come with them

and move not chairs and water-coolers

but armfuls and armfuls of sequin bodices,

piles of lilies, stargazer lilies making me sneeze

and lashing my new tan with sticky bitter welts –

on my arms, my shoulders, the teeshirt I bought in Dortmund

so that when I go on my break and stand in the rain

smoking a fag people look at me strangely

covered in suntan and pollen and I smile and say

Yes! I am caretaker to the ladyboys

of Bangkok! And I’m on my fag break!

The Happiest Man Alive!

 

Maria Taylor

Poem in Which I Lick Motherhood

I have several children, all perfect, with tongues made of soap
and PVA glue running through their veins.

My boys and girls benefit from eating the rainbow.

I iron children twice daily. Creases are the devil’s hoof print.

I am constructed from sticky-back tape, pipe cleaners and clothes pegs.

There are instructions for making me. Look at the appropriate shelves
in reputable stores.

I am fascinated by bunk beds, head lice and cupcakes.

You will only leave the table when I have given you clear instructions.
So far I have not.

The school-run is my red carpet.

Yes, you’re right, how do I manage it? Though, I didn’t ask you.

Dreaming is permitted from 7:40 to 8:20 am on Saturdays, Bank Holidays
and on mornings when I will be engaged in healthy outdoor pursuits.

My children’s reward charts are full of glittery stars. I am the Milky Way.

Crying is dirty.

One housepoint! Two if you eat up all your peas.

I always go off half an hour before my alarm. In the morning I speak
a complex language of bleeps and bell tones.

Chew with your mouth closed. No. Don’t chew at all. Admire the presentation.

Underneath my ribs is a complex weather system of sunshine and showers.

Heat rises from me and blows across the gulf stream of my carefully controlled temper.

Sometimes I am mist.

(First published in Poems in Which)

 

FEBRUARY

Julie Mellor

Ode to the Scar on my Wrist

Yellow stars of skin where the break was pinned,
a car crash, Hereford, student weekend
of Pernod and black, my friends,

Susan with the cowlick fringe,
her boyfriend from the Rhonda,
and Steve, who would run naked down any street

at midnight for a dare, all of us in a hire car,
speeding down that road with the hidden bend,
scream of wheels spinning mid air,

the roof crushed in the long roll down the bank
and us, after our minute’s silence,
clambering out with no more than a graze,

except for the compound fracture to my wrist,
and weren’t we the lucky ones, in love
with ourselves, the resilience of our bodies

taken for granted, and didn’t we drink ourselves
stupid the following night, quoting Talking Heads,
this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,

 this ain’t no fooling around, me with my arm in plaster,
flirting with the fireball from a box of matches,
a pub trick that set my face alight.

 

MARCH

Steve Ely

 

No man can serve two masters

Walking that kelp-wrecked,

Hesperidean strand, notes

sanderling, turnstone, purple sand.

Shags hard and low across the surf swell,

crab boat’s outboard drone.  Hauled pots

and crates and nylon holdalls,

pagurus, AKs, shrink-wrapped keys,

the freedom of the golden isle

where phalaropes flirt

and red-throats flume and wail.

 

Carola Luther

The Rising

The roof of the distant house is still attached,

lashed down with tarp and rope

by the woman who floated past

on a section of road.

 

Now fieldlakes are sea. I watch wavelets

lap at tip-toey hooves of sheep and goats

on archipelagos. Tail to tail

they stand stock-still and stare

 

at this tree, at the house, at the ridge

in the distance that hides the farm.

Only when hocks go down do they bleat.

The bleating goes on.

 

The man who thought he was alone in my tree

croons a song of comfort. A tenor.

He sings to the beasts in a tongue I don’t know

but it could be Hebrew. Perhaps he’s a cantor.

 

He reminds me of my mother so I join in quietly

in Levantine Arabic, her home language.

I’m godless and tone-deaf but harmonise

as well as I can.

 

He looks up at my branch, shock in his eyes,

raises arms in the rain. I think he weeps.

We both sing louder. From the visible

tip of the hill, a bark. Vixen.

 

Two dogs howl from the house.

The woman leans from an attic window

dog either side and a chicken. She’s waving.

I think she’s a Christian. She sings

 

of waters that stood above mountains,

covers of the deep flung out like garments,

and a God who came to rebuke

the waters, and the waters fled, they fled.

 

A bellowing stag on a knoll to the east.

I hear scream of hare and keckering

badger. Moles and beetles join in

with squeak of weasel, squirrel, rat,

 

even dumb worms open their mouths

to mouth at capsizing frogs

and otters that mew from a channel.

Then the sounding of cattle.

 

It is ox-horn and shofar calling

to the planet’s diaspora, and I see herds

in silhouette from the milkfarm amass on the hill.

A lion from the zoo on the moor

 

roars his answer, and there is sweetness

in the sound of cow and lion lowing together.

I think of my lover and I miss her.

And just as  noise reaches crescendo, birds

 

rise up like bodhisattvas, and all things with wings

strain skyward as one to lift the world.

Crows, bees, peregrines, pulling

skyward with bats and swans,

 

and on the backs of hawks, the little things

singing and singing, mayfly, crane-fly, wren;

and high up, a harrier, and there a dove,

I’m certain I’m looking at a collared dove,

 

and I turn to ask the man who chants kaddish

when I realize that he and the sheep

have gone quiet, the goats are swimming

in silent circles, and water pulls at my hips.

 

APRIL

Judy Brown

From Platform 1, Blackfriars Station

 

There’s something over-familiar about the cranes

rising through the city.  For centuries its huddle

was spiked only by the paraphernalia of spires.

Through the river-soaked glass of the new station

we can measure the torturer’s bamboo as it grows

into a friable body.  The shallow-rooted boroughs

might be peeled off, easy as a roll of turf.

Here the earth has already crumpled, spills skeletons

which are coppery-blue from buried money.

Skyscapes are a story I’m bored being bored with.

Still, the latest towers are eating light like plants,

donating grace as they hurry into their final poise.

A confession has been exacted, then simplified.

All that remains as we sink down into the tunnel

between platforms is the city’s current heraldry,

its long bones opening our skulls to the air.

 

Published in The Scores (thescores.org.uk), September 2016)

 

 

 

 

Milestones and landmarks (2)…. with Roy Marshall

Roy 2

[Just to bring you up to date:

Today’s post will be the 271st since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…first solo guest poetry reading, first invitation to be a guest blogger, and first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. So. Here we go.]

In the five or six years since I started to take this poetry business seriously, and started to read poetry blogs, and to go to poetry readings on a regular basis, and, indeed, to to read at poetry readings, I’ve started to be aware of poets who regularly travel considerable distances to read and listen. There are a lot of them around, but I’m thinking of some in particular (pleased don’t be miffed if I’ve missed you out). For instance, there’s Michael Brown who I first saw at an event in the West Riding. He’d come all the way from Teesside to read…and , as it happened, got a shorter amount of time than expected (as was one who’d travelled from Barrow. I’ve written about this before. Nuff said.) Since then I’ve seen him in Leeds, in Halifax, at the Square Chapel…where he’d simply turned up to support the guest poets. He rocked up to a mini-launch in Staithes. Last Tuesday he was in Liverpool for the launch of Coast to coast to coast which he co-edited with Maria Isakova Bennett. And She’s another I’ve seen in Sowerby Bridge, in Leeds and elsewhere. A poetry traveller. She lives in Liverpool.

And then there’s today’s guest, Roy Marshall…Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Sheffield, Leeds; recently he was up in the north-east…….and then all sorts of venues in London, and around the Midlands.

roy 6

An indefatigable traveller, he lives in Leicester. The point is, none of them do poetry for a living. It costs them in time and cash. God bless them, every one. And Roy also writes poetry reviews, and a regular and well-followed poetry blog. Which is why he’s our guest today, because he offered me a milestone moment. My first guest blog post…which was about landscapes and a sense of place. You can find it in the archive..October 2015. Time to meet him again.

Roy 3

Roy Marshall was born in 1966. His mother was born in Italy, his father in London. Roy wanted to be a writer as a child and young man but became distracted for about twenty years during which time he found himself variously employed as a delivery driver, gardener and coronary care nurse, amongst other occupations.
His pamphlet ‘Gopagilla‘ was published by Crystal Clear in March 2012 and was very favourably reviewed by Andrew McCulloch in the TLS.
‘Gopagilla’ has sold out and is no longer available. A full collection ‘The Sun Bathers’ was published by Shoestring Press in November 2013 and has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy award. The book has also been received very positively in ‘The Warwick Review, ‘Under The Radar’, ‘The North’ and elsewhere. You can buy a copy by clicking on the ‘Sun Bathers’ page of his poetry blog. at http://roymarshall.wordpress.com/.

roy 7

He’ll be giving us an update very shortly. But first, here’s the poem I specifically asked for on the last post about him, because I heard him read it in Halifax and new it was the real deal….it did what Clive James asks of a poem. It’s a moment that draws you in; it seems to memorise itself as you hear in.

Zoetrope
Being no twitcher
I can’t tell if it’s a black swan or cormorant

speeding beside the train, the near-naked trees
interloping

to turn a glimpse of what must be
the most elegant of trajectories

into a zoetrope that strokes
the rooted eye,

wings fully open and now
closed, neck stretched to spear the sky,

and me in the carriage, alone
and transfixed, as far from that bird

as a child, his eye to the slot of a spinning drum
in an empty Victorian nursery.
First Published in New Walk Magazine

First I liked, a lot, the elision of the zoetrope’s imperfectly synchronised moving image with the flick/flick of something seen from the windows of a fast train. It seems to me exactly right. I like the exactness of verbs: interloping, strokes, transfixed. I like the simple honesty of it all.  I can’t tell. It comes without the knowing self-deprecation of that line of Larkin’s that I’ve never liked, in a poem that I love: someone should know. And finally, that image of the poet, alone, transfixed, not knowing, being involved and ‘outside’, simultaneously. It’s a beautifully crafted poem, I think. So, let’s find out what he’s up to now.

 Thank you for having me back. What’s happened since October 2015?

I started and finished an MA in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University. I applied for and won an award to do it, so it didn’t cost me anything except time and travel costs. My expectations were high. I believed I might learn a lot.  Maybe I did. I’m still figuring out what I learnt. I guess it was partly what I already knew- that is, to trust yourself and don’t acquiesce or automatically give undue authority to those who hold positions of authority.  I’m glad now I went back to university. I could leave the chip on my shoulder behind on the way out.  One tutor was very dedicated. Others, far less so. I know all courses and tutors are different so perhaps my experience was atypical. The best part of the course was making new friends and hanging about in Sheffield. I eventually received a distinction. However, I thought feedback from one or two tutors was poorly delivered, discouraging and very confusing in some instances. As a bi-product of this experience I became interested in what makes good, useful, constructive feedback and put down a few thoughts about this subject on my blog.  (you can link this if you like John –  https://roymarshall.wordpress.com/2016/01/26/the-art-of-constructive-criticism/

I’ve also used my blog to share poems by new poets. I like to keep an eye out for work that excites me and then I ask the poet if I can feature some of their work. Several of these poets have since gone on to have collections published, including James Giddings, Emily Blewit, John Challis and Keith Hutson.

Personal highlights over the last two years have included reading at Manchester John Rylands Library with Liz Berry, a beautiful place, and at the wonderful Swindon poetry festival which has a lovely vibe. I also enjoyed a reading with Kim Moore and Alison Brackenbury in Halifax, not least because I love visiting my friends in the North. I’ve received a few prizes, one being awarded by Don Patterson at Wenlock poetry festival. He told me my poem,’ The Pack,’ was ‘f- ing brilliant.’

roy 5

My second book, The Great Animator, was published by Shoestring Press in spring 2017 and has had some lovely reviews. Also, some cardiac nurses wrote to say my poem ‘Carrying the Arrest Bleep’ is up on the staffroom wall, which I was very pleased about.

After the book came out I wrote almost nothing for a while. The political situation, both domestic and abroad, obsessed and depressed me. I found my energy drained by reading reams of updates on political developments here and elsewhere. I felt that if I wrote anything at all it needed to reflect societal changes, but I didn’t want to write ‘political’ poems that were simplistic and crass. Now I accept that it is all right (and maybe a political act in-itself) to create and keep on creating whatever you feel you must.  There is no obligation to make every poem political with a big ‘P’ and it is not an abdication of responsibility if you don’t. I do want to write work that is reflective of my concerns, but I am happy to be patient while my conscious or unconscious mind figures out how to do it. In fact, as I write this I am realize that some of my recent work already does reflect my social concerns, one way or another.

I’ve also been through a period when my writing seemed to fall short of my own standards.
It took me a while to remember that it is normal for confidence to fluctuate. After a productive five years (one pamphlet, two full collections) I now understand that it is all right to take time away from writing and reading poems. Most important to me are the few good relationships I have developed via writing, and it is a great bonus to have the knowledge that poets that I like and respect also like my work. Poems will come if, and when, they are ready. Nothing is quite like the feeling when a piece of writing feels as if it might be going somewhere.  I first experienced this ‘caught up’ or lifted feeling as a child, and I feel blessed every time I rediscover it.

What he doesn’t say is that he regularly posts his beautifully observed and composed photographs on Facebook**….’beautifully observed’. That’s the keynote. Like me, he doesn’t ‘know’ a lot about birds in the way an ornithologist knows birds. But he sees and ‘knows’ individual birds at precise moments and records them in ways that go a long way beyond lyricism. He’s in the tradition of Heaney and Hughes in this. And, like Hughes, he can’t resist a crow.
 

roy 4

From the Book of Crow Etiquette

To avoid association with a crow’s death
feign a limp or otherwise disguise your gait
when passing a crow funeral. In order to escape
a scolding, don’t contest a crow’s right
to your roof or disrupt its visceral business
among fledglings and eggs. Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road, the location of a yard
from which a stone was thrown. Tame crows
give pet names to their keepers; make of this
what you will. Crows that are damaged or ill
are often assisted by others, or else
done in. Decades may pass before a widowed crow
casts the cross of her shadow
on a long abandoned farmyard. A murder might mob
the one-time owner of a slingshot, now
a grandfather in the park. Crows bring gifts
to those who feed them, to children with no prejudice
or fear of crows. You might not need
a stash of broken necklaces, Airfix kit
of sparrow bones, lens cap rinsed in a birdbath,
nor a half heart locket inscribed with ‘Best’.
You may not wish for ‘friends’ to priest a garden fence
or wall, who call before your alarm sounds
and pick at your open dream.

From ‘The Great Animator’ (Shoestring Press, 2017)

There you are: The Poet’s Book of Crows. I like the even tone of this, it’s absolute assurance, and the way I never feel disposed to argue with it as I read. I like the assurance of the line breaks, and, above all, the ‘moment that draws you in’, which, for me is this:

Crows have memories
like wet tar, can recognize the white-stitched ribbon
of a fruitful carrion road.

Just listen to the way everything is pinned and stitched by all those precise consonants, all those ‘t’ sounds. I love its texture. Finally, though, just in case you think his poetry is all about birds and photographs (when it’s not about the life of a cardiac nurse), lets finish with one I specifically asked for. It doesn’t get a commentary, because it speaks for itself.

 Waterloo Teeth

Wigmakers, jewellers and blacksmiths
all dabbled as dentists, wrenching surrogates
from the jaws of the sugarless poor, fixing rotten grins
with ivory, tacks, and piano wire.

Grave robbers bolstered the enamel supply
until a windfall arrived; Tobacco stained, cracked
or drummer-boy smooth, a harvest from Belgian fields
where soldiers flapped like rooks,

knelt or crouched with string and pliers, moved
from head to head, filling pockets and purses, noses pegged.
Handfuls of nuggets, sorted and sized, tipped
into boiling vats, the ends chopped, each set matched

for colour and shape as if sprung from the gums of a child;
enough, if a cart overturned and spilt its load, to make
a sewer-cleaved street into an ivory road, or turn
parliament’s blackened smiles off-white.

From ‘The Great Animator’ (Shoestring Press, 2017)

So there we are. Thanks for being my milestone guest poet today, Roy Marshall. One more to come before the year’s ending. And thank you to all of you for listening. Have a great Christmas.

 

** all photos, apart from the those of the book covers , are Roy’s  intellectual property  should be treated as copyright

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Milestones and landmarks (1)…. with Gaia Holmes

IMG_0978

Today’s post will be the 270th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I’ve asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…first solo guest poetry reading, first invitation to be a guest blogger, and first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. So. Here we go.

Ladies and gentlemen, the altogether wonderful Gaia Holmes!!!!!

Gaia has been very important to me. One of the people who validate what you’re doing. They may not know they’ve done it, or think that what they did do was no big deal. As a teacher, I’m often thrown when I encounter folk I taught years ago, and who say that I did X or Y or Z that changed their lives. Every teacher has had this experience, and very often don’t have any memory of what it was they did. They were just doing their job. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Gaia gave me my very first single billing guest poetry reading at The Puzzle Hall Inn. This was before I’d had anything published, but it was one of those occasions which made me feel I should do something about it, if only to have something to sell at poetry readings.

Gaia’s been a guest twice before…why not check out what I wrote about her? here are the links

 

https://johnfogginpoetry.com/2015/09/14/magic-toyshops-a-polished-gem-9-gaia-holmes/

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

 

Right. Good to have you back. Now here’s my Milestone Thankyou to Gaia Holmes. I’ll start with a poem she shared with us previously, and then let her bring us up to date.

 

Whenever I read Gaia Holmes’ poems, or hear her read, I’m put in mind of the world and work of Peter Blake. To nail my colours to the mast, this image of Alice is how I’d picture Gaia’s narrative voice.

QUEEN peter blake

Not quite other-worldly, but knowing things I have no immediate access to, and aware that the world is strange and lovely and that it can make us vulnerable. It’s a voice that makes me think of the doughty, unworldly, resourceful, compassionate clear-eyed heroines of folk tales. The ones who have no expectation of the kindness of  stepmothers and stepfathers and spiteful siblings, who are stoic about their work among the ashes, who undertake unnerving journeys through forests to the hen’s leg houses of cruel aunts, who understand that everything you are given is a gift to be used for the betterment of the world….all that.

As soon as I open up her her poems and read, rather than rely on this memory, then before long I’ll be chilled and close to tears. There’s a lot of ice; there’s even an Ice Hotel. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams that 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. Like this.

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 poem has everything in it that I think of as ‘Gaia’s poems’. The piling on and on of sensory detail, the Alice in Wonderland, or folktale, 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. Lovely.

 

And now your update and two new poems. Over to Gaia.

13613144_1729970957252816_1320774807572407494_o

“Gosh, is it a year since I appeared on the cobweb?! Phew! Yes, looking back at that post I see my poems were a chilly little bunch- full of winter, death, hospitals and shivering islands. I think I’ve written most of that time out of my system, for now at least…though most of my poems are slow walkers and tend to come to me two or three years after the experience…since that blog post some nice things have happened in my writing life…I spent the whole of January reading and writing within the cosy walls of Hawthornden Castle near Edinburgh. I was there with 5 other writers and all we were expected to do, all day, every day, was to write. It was like being a child again. We were fed, coddled and given a whole rich month without our usual responsibilities. Whilst I was there I wrote loads of new poems and sequenced and edited poems for my 3rd full-length poetry collection which will be published some time in 2018. I also learned that my poem ‘Guests’ had won 1st prize in the Bare Fiction Poetry Competition and this was a great boost which added fuel to my pen. After returning from the castle with the manuscript of my 3rd collection ready, at last, to be sent out into the world I focused on a collaborative project with fellow poet, Winston Plowes which culminated in a joint poetry collection called Tales from the Tachograph, published by Calder Valley Poetry. The poems in this collection all deal with the realms of roads, service stations and motorways. I haven’t written much lately but I’m not panicking about this as I used to do. I am using the time to read about colour, to immerse myself in the wonderful art of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Andrea Kowch, Catrin Welz-Stein, and I am learning how to draw flamingos as I think that someday it might be a useful skill to have. I am filling my notebook with them.”

And now, the poems. She sent me loads. I’ve chosen two.

 

 

 

In transit

 

How heavily they lift

their paper coffee cups.

How heavily they sigh

and plough spilt sugar off the table

with the sides of their hands.

How heavily, like arthritic camels,

they turn away from each other,

pretend to study

the barista bashing coffee grounds

into the stainless steel bin,

observe the man walking his dog

between the service station trees,

stare at rain or a moon

that isn’t there.

 

How hungrily they gobble down

these distractions, this transient space

where women, wet-necked with perfume,

and men, carrying neat bunches

of forecourt flowers,

prepare to drive home.

 

How tenaciously they cling

to the in-between,

wanting to stuff their mouths

and their pockets full of it,

wanting to soften their worlds with it,

because when they have walked

the distance from café to car,

when they have shut the doors,

sealed themselves into the miles,

there will be static,

there will be him and her

focussing on the rear-view mirror,

watching other people driving home

to warm houses that smell of bread

and oregano,

where red wine breathes

on the kitchen table

and touch is not a shock,

 

there will be him and her

craving the glow of those better lives

as they go back to the cold things

they cannot talk about,

the clean, unloved rooms

they sit apart in,

the draughts and silences

they breed,

the brittle cheese

and boiled potatoes

frosting in a fridge

that always ices over.

(From Tales from the Tachograph (Calder Valley Press, 2017).)

hopper

Hope

Though it seems so dark

and the ceiling of the world’s a wound

and so many hours have been bruised,

and so many lives have been broken,

there are stars up there tonight

and we must name them,

we must love them,

we must whistle them down like dogs

in faith of their shine

and they will be loyal.

They will show us where their bones are.

They will teach us

their soft, bright tricks of devotion.

 

And even on the blackest nights,

when hope and protest

are knotted in our throats,

when our smiles have been tarred

and buckled with the weight and stain

of shadows,

we have to remember they are there,

those glittering sky-hooked prayers,

prickling and humming,

embedded in that thick and lovely blue,

guarding us from spite,

keeping the moon from slipping,

herding the pale lamb-like dawns

into our sleeping houses

where they flow

through all our rooms

fluent and loving as milk.

 

Cold Dawn

 

Thanks for being my first milestone guest today, Gaia. Thank you for the poems.

 

 

Gaia Holmes’ poetry ….you know christmas as upon us.

Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed  [Comma press 2006]  via Amazon: anything from £15 – £65

Lifting the piano with one hand      [Comma Press 2013]  £7.99

Tales from the Tachograph   (co-authored with Winston Plowes)                                                                    [Calder Valley Press, 2017).