What am I saying?

What am I saying?  

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

Over the last couple of years of poetry workshops and small-group critiquing sessions, I’m becoming increasingly conscious of a trend/fashion/fad for poems that can look not unlike a collage of ineptly curated poetry fridge magnets ( That’s excessive. What am I saying? I told you I was tetchy).

Let’s have a bit of context. At one time I wanted to get away from what seemed to be my default ‘voice’ which was, and probably still is, iambic. Also Iwanted to push myself to write about, and for, people as opposed to the other default of landscape….a poetry equivalent of Sunday watercolourists’ pretty daubs. I was very much in thrall to the venriloquisms of AS Byatt’s Possession, and I was equally fascinated by the sculptures I passed every day on my way in to work at Bretton Hall via the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Three in particular: Michael Ayrton’s Minotaur, Elizabeth Frink’s Seated Man, and Igor Mitoraj’s Light of the moon. I wondered how it would be if they could speak, and why, and decided they imprisoned the souls of the deliberately or unwittingly transgressive, reduced to immobility and made dumb. 

The voices would have to be distinct, and this is how I eventually wrote a set of dramatic monologues, which became a sequence Outlaws and fallen angels. Finding a voice for the angel of the North seemed simple enough. It would have to be Milton. An aged tragic Mary Magdelene turned out to have a Tennessee accent. And so on. 

The one that gave me the most difficulty was Queen Victoria, or the version of her in Manchester’s Picadilly. The young Victoria was flirty and funny, and here she is frumpy and cross, entombed in a monumental masonry crinoline. It’s horrible.

Her diaries are often girlish and sentimental; she can gush, often it’s butterfly prose.  She is good company. When I settled on a voice for her it was because of the one AS Byatt chose for her fictional Victorian poet, Christabel la Motte. Which is, in turn, a pastiche of Emily Dickinson…or at least a lyric, stanzaic verse that uses a lot of dashes.

This is the authentic Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

.

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

.

They’re very seductive, those dashes if you don’t stop too long to ask what they say about her voice, about the pace of her thinking. As though she pauses, minutely to think, to linger; or maybe she stops to think what comes next (no…I know). But it struck me that the young Victoria could be seduced by it, or it might be a bit like her slightly scatterbrained diaries. So I borrowed it.

Queen Victoria in  Piccadilly Square

.

We are Set-  here on this Monument

not like – Patience 

but old and  looking Cross

the epitome  –  of Discontent.

.

A pencil Study –I drew

my own  Likeness – and delicate

I think it does not – Flatter me

I thought –  I made it True.

.

Enthroned ten feet high

Twice life-size  – Cold

Victoria regina – Empress

of half the Earth – I  Solidify

.

O my True love – my only Albert.

he had my Image – made – a Keepsake 

in his Dressing-room – all Loose my Hair

my white Shoulders Bare

.

Here I am – made Squat – a Toad

these Tons of stone – Drapery                                                                                

a small and silly – Crown

Years and – Dirt – bear down on me

There’s more. But the thing is I was just, I realise, borrowing a ‘trick’, the use of Capitals and – Dashes, but without any essential understanding of what Emily Dickinson was up to. It’s a pastiche. A game. It’s not, when we come down to it, an authentic poem.

What am I saying? Basically that I’m a bit distrustful of more and more poems turning up that are either the dense text of what may, or may not be, authentic prosepoems, or scattergrams of poems that may use the black Sharpie blockings-out of ‘redacted’ texts, or fridge magnet collages of cut and paste phrases, or white-space sprawling text which does without Emily Dickinson’s Dashes and uses spaces instead. This is my problem. It’s the problem I have with much of contemporary art. How do I tell the real deal from the superficial bit of pastiche?

I’m interested in the craft of writing, as in the craft of any art. I’m interested in line breaks and punctuation and single spaces and double spaces, and rhyme schemes and rhythms, and I think, (because my Art teacher drummed it into me) if you’re going to break the rules or subvert the conventions, you really need to know what they are, and be able to use them. I worry about the kind of contemporary art (conceptual or otherwise) that comes with a catalogue of impenetrable abstractions mashed together in gruesome prose. I am deeply suspicious of any art that comes with an instruction manual about how to understand it. It puts me in mind of Vernon Scannell who wrote in 1993 

At a time when contemporary poetry seems to be written for specialist exegetists in universties, in order that they may practise their skills in deconstruction, I have, as Wordsworth said ‘wished to keep the reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that, by doing so, I shall interest him’

and also what he called

“genuine poems; that is to say poems that have been written from a sense of compulsion, a real need to explore and articulate”

I know. It’s easy to dismiss him as dated and just a bit pompous, but the thing is, he was a craftsman who wrote powerful, memorable poems. And at the moment, he chimes with the way I’m feeling.

And then, of course, there’s Clive James, who I am always happy to listen to, and his own tetchiness about

“slim volumes by the thousand…full of poetry…but few…with even a single real poem in them”

as we live in a time

“when almost everyone writes poetry, but scarcely anyone can write a poem’

and of the would-be poets

“who want to keep technique out of it, because they don’t have any” 

What am I saying? I’m saying that there are lots of writers about who have been seduced by, say, Sharon Olds (who I have come to appreciate, to admire, to want to learn from). It’s as though they see a passage like this

As for the
condition of being beaten, what
was it like: going into a barn, the animals
not in stalls, but biting, and shitting, and
parts of them on fire? 

and see that she does odd things with line breaks, and ends lines with words like what, the, and …and feel empowered to do exactly the same thing themselves without actually having the voice that powered those breaks or the passionate involvement in the experiences that powered the poem in the first place.

Like I’ve said, I can learn or copy what seem to be easy tricks or devices from poets who can actually do pretty well anything, technically, but who choose to push the boundaries, one way or another. But if I’m just pulling tricks, it’ll never be the real deal. Maybe I feel a bit like John Cage who recounted a conversation with Schoenberg:

After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

The thing is, when Cage created 4.33 he knew exactly what he was doing. He made a silence in a very particular space, with an audience who probably came with educated expectations. He knew what he was leaving out and he knew why. But if I charged people to watch me sit at a piano, I’d be pelted by people wanting their money back, and quite right too.

Modigliani is famous for his frail attenuated skeletal sculptures. What you don’t see are the maquettes he pared down and down until they collapsed in bits and dust, and that’s how he learned the exact point of tension when you have to stop.

What am I saying? Not much. I just want us all to to be bothered to work with the constraints of rule and convention before we decide to break or subvert them. I want us to know what we’re doing.

What am I saying. Nothing. Nothing happened.

[That, by the way, is a quotation, but the poem hasn’t appeared in a book yet. Though it will.]

Enough. When I started this poetry blog it was with the firm purpose of sharing the work of poets you might not have encountered, or were flying under the fashionable radar. Time I got back on track. No more tetchy irritable stuff. Just poets I like. See you soon.

When this is all over: updates and moments

Thank you for all the poems that have arrived and the scores still to come.

I started on a whim. It’s grown like Topsy, and I need to get much more organised and keep you all in the loop.

First off: I’ll be delighted for you to ask for a letter of the alphabet if you haven’t already done so

Second: I’m setting a deadline of April 30th, and I’ll read no more that come in after that.

Third: After April 30th I’ll be involving other people to help me organise a sequence …. it won’t be random. I want to think of it as a properly edited online anthology; you deserve it.

Fourth: Everyone who submits will be published. If I have a problem I may ask for minor changes BUT your poem will appear on the blog.

Fifth: can I remind you that The Swineherd gets part of it strength from being written in the voice of the swineherd. I sort of assumed that everyone would assume that the poems should be ventriloquial …..you take on your character’s voice. The ones I’ve already got that aren’t, well, they have been accepted. Don’t panic.

Sixth. About those ‘moments that get you in’


Clive James says that these are the moments that let you recognise ‘a real poem’, the turn of phrase, or image that memorises itself as you you read it, the ones that make you blink in recognition. I sometime offer a list of these in the (very few) workshops I’ve run, and I thought I’d share them here. It’s impossible to define how they work. Alchemy. There’s always some sort of surprise. Keep awake for them, let them come in.

Some moments that draw you in.

At my back I always hear /Time’s wingéd chariot hurrying near

(Andrew Marvell)

..she was standing there/ silver bracelets on her wrists and flowers in her hair

….they’re selling postcards of the hanging

(Bob Dylan)

For five days and nights / the windows have worn veils of thin water.  

The stars go out/ as though a bluetit the size of the world /were pecking them out / like peanuts out of the sky’s string bag. 

He’s carrying a scythe/ but he’s young / he doesn’t notice symbols 

That’s it, said the stag, and buckled his legs, and fell over 

the mad, clever clown’s beak of a puffin

I think of Roddy drowned / off Cape Wrath gulping / fistfuls of salt

the road hemstitched on the skirt / of a mountain.  

(Norman MacCaig)

A fork of barnacle geese came over, with that slow / squeak of rusty saws

He went along the line / relaxing them / one after another / with a small knife

(Robin Robertson)

How fast the line of cold, dead candles grows.

Look how they put their wax heads in their hands

to weep

we were destined to live like stones / warming ourselves in the sun

to fall like Jessica / who fell down a well and watched / the the bright disc of the / sun and moon slowly passing

(Kim Moore)

The village bell’s been broken for a month

Old honey wails for a mouth

I’ve been thinking too much about the night    

I slipped and the coal scattered on a snowed drive

(Niall Campbell)

Three masts will grow on the green ship /before she leaves the quay

Up the slow hill a squabble of children wanders

He lies, his eyes quarried by glittering fish, 
Staring through the green freezing sea-glass 
At the Northern Lights. 

(Charles Causley)

He is the Sparrow, the Friday lord.

I hoped to be the watcher on the rooftop,

but he was first. I’m flake of his fire,

leaf-tip on the world tree

A woman bribed her way in/ with a bucket of meat, and fed them like fledglings

God says, Let there be no light.

           Starlings think it night, celandines shut their petals.

trees in Westridge Wood stand frostily waiting.

(U A Fanthorpe)

Or you might find them in a prose text…like the start of Hilary Mantel’s “Bring up the bodies

‘His children are falling from the sky’

Or in a nonfiction writer like Robert Macfarlane…these are from “The old ways

The cold like a wire in the nose.

Snow caused everything to exceed itself

starlings…feathers sleekly black as sheaves of photographic negatives

big gulls…monitoring us with lackadaisical, violent eyes

a dolphin….a sliding bump beneath the water..like a tongue moving under a cheek

star patterns..the grandiose slosh of the Milky Way

gannets bursting up out of the sea…like white flowers unfurling…avian origami

(after a hard long hike)….feet puffy as rising dough

FINALLY

Here’s a treat. Before the poet Ian Parks understood the rules (mainly because he has no internet when the libraries are closed) he sent me this poem. I’ll post it again at the start of the online anthology after April 30. But you shouldn’t have to wait till then. And you won’t.

When This is All Over

While we were sleeping they were still awake.
While we were hiding they were in the light.
The cold dark angel passing over us
left nothing but the flutter of its wings.
We huddled in our places, locked from sight
each waiting for the hush that daylight brings.
So empty out the squares and thoroughfares,
make criminal the handshake and embrace.
There is no other future except this:
the bolted door, the window and the face;
all of our journeys cancelled or delayed –
and if we meet we cough instead of kiss.
When all of this is over we’ll creep out
astonished by the new world they have made.

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]