Category Archives: Reading & Writing Poetry

Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010

by Jane Poulton

a five oʹclock south-east breeze sweeps north shore
cooling the front to twenty one degrees
      uncurling strands of cirrus pass
      and wave crests break in glassy foam
      as the wandering crowds swarm
      waiting

on the sands beyond the pier and winter gardens
a
bird breaks his silence  pew pew pew  he calls to a man
in a voice like liquid air distilled  talk with me
     dumbstruck
     the man replies in broken breaths
     enchanted

twenty notes in twenty seconds is all the bird can spare
before returning to his flock to change his coat
from powder black to shining black
glossed violet-blue and green
     and tonight the man will brag about his matchless talent
     flirting over oysters with a tower ballroom dancing queen

looking back I wonder if
the calling bird saw the goldwings glow at dusk
or the evening star break the west-south-west horizon
or the waning crescent moon waxing in the mirror ball
or if he flinched as the switch was flicked at nine
and the town was set alight or if he heard the cheers
or guessed that many childhood years had passed
waiting for dark nights such as this
when the promenade would pulse with paintpot lights
and we could ride wide-eyed on spangled trams rattling
through the gaudy razzle-dazzle

 

Common Scoter from http://www.rspb.org.uk

This beautiful poem, Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010,  is one of the 67 poems in Watch the Birdie, an anthology published by Beautiful Dragons. Each poem is dedicated to one of the birds on the RSPB’s Red List of the UK’s most endangered species.

Where to get the Book: All profits from Watch the Birdie will go to the RSPB.  Copies can be purchased directly from Beautiful Dragons: https://beautifuldragons.net/price-list

Here the poet of Common Scoter: North Shore, 3rd September 2010, Jane Poulton, explains the making of her poem:

My work on the poem began with wide-ranging research that revealed serendipitous coincidences that would determine its form and content. 

One of the main wintering grounds of the Common Scoter (Melanitta Nigra) is Shell Flat, a sandbank off the coast of Blackpool’s North Shore.  Shell Flat was once the proposed site for a large wind farm development by Cirrus Energy.  The project was cancelled in 2008, partly due to concerns about its impact on the Common Scoter population. 

I found a short recording of the bird, made at North Shore at 5pm on 3rd September 2010—which also happened to be the date of the annual switch-on of the Blackpool Illuminations at 9pm that evening. Prior to the switch-on, the crowds had been treated to an additional light-show spectacle—a parade of Honda Gold Wing motorcycles, decorated in fairy lights, driving slowly in convoy along the promenade. 

With further research, I was able to establish the weather and sea conditions at the time of the recording, and which stars and planets would have been present in the northern sky.

The poem contains official technical descriptors about the bird, the sea and the weather, which I enjoyed for their slight awkwardness and chose to let stand as ‘found’ words and phrases.  The poem is divided into two parts.  The first is about the bird, the recording of its call, the recorder of it, the prevailing weather and sea conditions, and the pre-switch-on atmosphere of the town.  The second part begins with a personal speculation about the bird, leading to a recollection of annual childhood visits to see The Lights, for which my anticipation and delight never waned.

A footnote for those who don’t know it.  Some people ‘get’ Blackpool and others just don’t.  It’s a traditional seaside holiday resort on the north-west coast of England; colourful, loud, brazenand famous for its annual Illuminations.  Strings of coloured lights and illuminated, animated tableaux run along The Prom (the coast road) for 8km, from Starr Gate in the south to Bispham in the north.  Much speculation and excitement surround the ‘switch-on’ and the matter of who will push the button.  Once lit, the Illuminations shine brightly each night between dusk and late evening from September to November.  Since 19th September 1879, when 8 arc lamps lit up the promenade with “artificial sunshine”, ‘The Lights’ have become a much-loved, major tourist attraction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yceBTuCqBos

Biog of Jane Poulton
As a child, I loved words and drawing.  I eventually chose to study Textiles, but never stopped ‘playing’ with words.  I have earned my living through visual art and design, and only began to write seriously after moving from Manchester to North Yorkshire.  Here, the scope of my writing has expanded and I have become braver with words.  The sea and the landscape, the dark skies and weather patterns—the enormous wonder of it all and our place in the universe—are irresistible influencers.  

http://www.janepoulton.co.uk/

http://sitematerialobject.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the words: ‘This is not what I meant at all’

I am delighted to welcome to my blog poet Adrienne Silcock who ponders on how poetry communicates.

Given that any poem is a communication (even if it’s to our own inner selves!) and many of us want to write something that someone else can read and enjoy, it’s surprising how difficult it can be to express a thought, even when we know exactly what it is. Isn’t that what Alfred J. Prufrock was indicating in Eliot’s famous Love Song – “That is not it at all, That is not what I meant, at all” ?

How often we come across a poem that seems far too simplistic, or that we simply don’t get. The poet knows what they are saying and no doubt there are complex thoughts behind either style, but we don’t receive the message. In order for the reader to reach the final line of a poem with a sense of satisfaction, there has to be a connection. They may not necessarily understand everything the writer is trying to say but will nevertheless be left with a feeling of comprehension. And from a writer’s point of view that has to be bull’s eye.

So as I edit that first precious draft which is the nugget of my poem, not only am I trying to grow the poem, but I also try to step into the reader’s shoes. How might a reader interpret this? What might a reader see? Will giving the words a specific poetic form aid understanding? Will the music of rhyme help? How much can I expect the reader to interpret metaphor without blatant hint? Is the idea clichéd? There are so many ambiguities in life, in art, in communication. If I can achieve with my poem a resonance, an emotional recognition where my reader understands my message, my human theme, then I feel that I have succeeded with my poem – even though the lines may be open to quite different interpretations. But it is a constant struggle.

These were the kind of thoughts which passed through my mind as I walked the wintry landscape of the Dordogne this January. And these are some of my poetic notes:

 

Dordogne haiku
Woodpecker hammers
high in the frozen forest
now silence echoes

 

Direction
If it’s pain you feel
when white egrets fly over
the brown field in winter,
then it’s not I who can explain
or understand.
We both watch, see the same thing
from differing directions,
the birds landing, settling upright
upon the dark earth.

 

 

Adrienne’s work has been published widely in the independent press. Her first novel Vermin (Flambard) was published in 2000. Her second novel Controlling Aphrodite was shortlisted for the Virginia Prize 2009. Her third novel The Kiss is published on Amazon. She has self-published two poetic sequences Flight Path and The Fibonacci Sequence. Mudfog published her poetry pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon in 2014 and she is a featured poet in Arachne Press’ 2018 collection by six women poets Vindication.

Links:

Website: www.adriennesilcock.co.uk

https://arachnepress.com/books/poetry/vindication-poems-from-six-women-poets/

http://www.mudfog.co.uk/portfolio-item/taking-responsbility-for-the-moon/

For a copy of Vermin, please direct message me on Facebook, or see the links on my website.

Reading & Writing Poetry: Sarah Askew

I am delighted to welcome Sarah Askew to my blog, with her poem, ‘Not A Minute’s Silence’.

Not A Minute’s Silence
A muted explosion
of stamping feet
on sticky floors.
Mouths shriek

against my ear plugs.
Ten seconds of madness
to honour the silence
of Monday’s voiceless concert-goers.

The walls shake around me,
inside me. I felt
the reverberations, the impact,
three days late.

 

Sarah explains the naissance of her poem:

I wrote this poem in response to the Manchester Arena attack in May 2017. Just a few days after the attack, my partner and I had tickets to another concert at the O2 Academy Bristol, which still went ahead despite the increased terror alerts, but with extra tight security.

So there was a highly loaded atmosphere, not to mention the incredible heat wave that had descended that Spring, and the place was packed. The walls were sweating, shoulders and elbows jabbed, and leather clad behinds refused to budge. At one point I attempted to find the bar for a drink but was soon forced to retrace my steps as I could wade no further through the immovable wall of bodies, faces invisible to me in the dark.

And then the singer, outspoken as she is, invited the crowd to take part in, not a minute’s silence, but ten seconds of madness, in memory of the victims from Manchester’s concert. They had gone out that night, she said, to have fun. We were asked to honour them, not with silence and sadness, but with noise and madness; to make up for the fun they never got to have. The band counted us down, and the foot-stomping, hand clapping, cymbal-crashing, vocal-wailing began.

I hadn’t realised quite how anxious I had been about attending the concert until I was stuck in the middle of such chaos. And then it occurred to me: what must it have been like for those people in Manchester – in Paris, in London, in the middle of any terror attack – to be in the eye of such a storm of noise and panic and confusion. The chaos surrounding me was safe, controlled, expected. Theirs had been dangerous, sudden; fatal.

And, despite the fact that I was very much in my own bubble- ear-plugs in, eyes closed, feelings (up until this point) about terrorism in general, pretty much on mute – I found that I was crying. Relief, sadness, fear, shame, all washed over and through me and I remembered why I myself had given up singing with a band just a few months before: I hate chaos.

When I reflected upon this (uncharacteristic) flood of emotions at my poetry group the following Monday, this poem arrived…

Sarah (aka The Pocket Poet) is an award-winning poet and writing for wellbeing enthusiast based in Wiltshire. She has lived with various mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and OCD for as long as she can remember and has always used writing as a therapeutic tool to promote self-awareness and self-expression. She runs writing for wellbeing workshops for groups and individuals and also offers a bespoke poetry writing service for those looking to give a personalised poem as a gift.

You can find Sarah at:
http://thepocketpoet.weebly.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ThePocketPoet

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarahthepocketpoet/#

Reading & Writing Poetry: Nick Makoha

I heard Nick Makoha read some of his work at last year’s poetry festival in Bridlington and I was blown away by his words. I am, therefore, grateful and honoured to welcome him to my blog and my occasional series where I ask poets to explain themselves – or at least explain the inspiration behind one of their poems. Find out more about Nick Makoha’s work here: https://nickmakoha.com/

 

Resurrection Man by Nick Makoha
Somewhere west of our sacred sites, the ghost
of your former self is rising from captivity.
Your student friend, the one who saw you last,
swears she left you alive in the taxi. Even after my
two-fisted punches. She denies being the one who
gave the signal for dark men to change their shapes
in the night, as you knelt, blindfolded. I want to believe
she had no part in the shaving of your hair and pubic mound
in front of onlookers. Rebels kneading your breast
like posho in their palms, begging in turn for your body,
bleached by their jeeps’ headlights. Once broken,
you were dragged by the arms across the grass
onto the unpaved taxiway of Arua airport. Then
one yelled, “Burn her! The witch.” Their echoes agreed.

One lit the match, another peeled the blindfold,
the rest poured gin on your face. I know you saw me
in the hollow of a tree. I wanted to run to you
but their bullets would have easily caught up with me.
I stood firm, learning to hide myself in the dark.
A man must have two faces; one he can live with
and one he will die with. The second face is mine.

Nick explains:
I thought that I was midway through writing the book that would eventually be Kingdom of Gravity. I did not know this at the time but it was actually the beginning. The original working title was The Second Republic. This is what Uganda was referred to in its second constitution. But after writing this poem and placing it into the draft, it seemed to shuffle the deck. It raised the bar for what the collection could be. Good poems hum in their conception, in their reading and re-reading. They exist at their own frequency like Derek Walcott’s The Schooner Flight or Tracy. K. Smith’s My God, It’s Full of Stars. When I write a poem like this it feels like a fluke or like when a  DJ finds a rare record. The lines are akin to musical notes.

One of my favourite songs is Human Nature by Michael Jackson, it transforms you whether you are in a car, sitting at your desk or at nightclub ordering drinks at the bar. The poem Resurrection Man has that quality. I first noticed this when it got commended for the Flamingofeather poetry competition. I have a lot of thanks for this poem. It opens up the Uganda of the 1970’s to the reader. It’s for that reason I named my second pamphlet after the poem and in many ways I think its resonance has something to do with why the pamphlet Resurrection Man (Jai Alai Books) won the Toi Derricotte + Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize. In many ways this poem gave me the confidence to be bold with my writing. It is the window through which I climbed to finish Kingdom of Gravity.

Nick Makoha’s debut collection Kingdom of Gravity is shortlisted for the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and nominated by The Guardian as one of the best books of 2017. He won the 2015 Brunel International Poetry prize and the 2016 Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady Chapbook Prize for his pamphlet Resurrection Man. He is a Goldsmiths, Cave Canem & Complete Works Alumni. His poems have appeared in The New York Times, Poetry Review, Rialto, Triquarterly Review, Boston Review, Callaloo, and Wasafiri.

‘Nick Makoha’s first full-length collection, Kingdom of Gravity (Peepal Tree £8.99), was the 2017 debut which most excited me. Focused on Uganda during the Idi Amin dictatorship, his poetry is charged with ethical sensibility. The lines protest as they sing “the song disturbed by helicopter blades…” but they don’t simplify things: they explore, and complicate. Personal witness and artistry are one.’ – Carol Rumens – The Guardian

Find him at www.nickmakoha.com Or on Twitter: @NickMakoha

Buy Resurrection Man & Kingdom of Gravity: https://nickmakoha.com/books/

Little Boat by James Nash

The hills and cliffs are rinsed with mist, the green
Is muted, and the brass band sun turned down,
There is a breeze more felt on skin than seen
And roofs are silver in the distant town.
Then now before me is a little boat
Floating aslant the waves and bobbing low
Beneath a sky of clouds which I take note
Whose names and types I used to know.
So little boat, will you take me away
To a far ocean where I can be free
Beyond surging waves of everyday
And I can drift and drift into that sea.
And perhaps there’ll be a lantern bright
To take me out further into the night.

© James M. Nash

James introduces his poem: As a child I loved Robert Louis Stevenson’s  ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’.  Their beautiful simplicity soothed and enchanted me, I think some of that childhood innocence has crept into this sonnet.

 

 

James Nash is writer and a poet.  A long-term resident of Leeds, his third collection of poems, Coma Songs was published in 2003 and reprinted in 2006. He has two poems in Branch-Lines [Enitharmon Press 2007] among fifty contemporary poets, including Seamus Heaney and U. A. Fanthorpe. In 2012 his selected poems ‘A Bit of An Ice Breaker’ and a new five-star collection, ‘Some Things Matter’, were published by Valley Press. ‘Cinema Stories’ written with poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard was published in August 2015.  It celebrates the history of cinema in Leeds, in a series of poems.  

His next collection ‘A Bench for Billie Holiday’ will be published in 2018.

See The Valley Press website: https://goo.gl/aeeXvT

 

Last night we were undressed by the wind by Janet Lees

It took our shoes first;
we watched them rise like odd dense birds
into the indigo sky.

It undid buttons, habits, words;
twirled away the shadows on your face,
the lines engraved on mine.

It freed the magpie in your ribcage,
unzipped each one of my muttering scars,
opened our heads to the blazing dark.

And then there was only bright skin.
And then we were
just air

Last night we were undressed
by the wind. This morning
we woke in our clothes.

This wonderful poem by Janet Lees was first published in the Write Out Loud ‘Milestones’ anthology 2017, selected by Brian Patten.

Here Janet gives us some insight into the writing of her poem:

‘Becalmed’ Photo copyright Janet Lees

I wrote this poem in a workshop on my Creative Writing MA at Lancaster University. We were given the line ‘Last night we were undressed by the wind’ as a starting point to free-write from. So the first draft was done very quickly and I think that’s why there’s some surprising imagery. The ‘odd dense birds’ for example – I can’t imagine ever thinking up this description, but it came flying unbidden out of the unconscious.

I think the poem is about two things which are essentially the same thing. The poem captures something of the time when I fell in love with Ian, my husband. It was a time of complete elation, when anything seemed possible and love felt boundless – not restricted to any person or thing. A few years later, I went on a retreat holiday to Greece. Through long solitary sea swims and hours of loving kindness meditation with a group of amazing open-hearted women, my poetry came back to me. I hadn’t written poetry for many years. After being mired in addiction for much of my adult life, poetry was one of the things I’d lost. But as I swam the words came back – it was as though they were flowing into me from the sea. Again, it was a time of limitless possibilities and boundless love.

‘Free’ Photo copyright Janet Lees

It’s these times in life that the poem represents for me – the times when we are open without fear, and the edges between us and other beings soften and dissolve; when we feel and embody infinite love. Of course, for most humans, these times are fleeting and far between. Conditioned to protect ourselves against nakedness in all its forms, we inevitably default to the comfort zone of our clothes.

 

 

Short bio
Janet is a poet, artist and workshop facilitator based in the Isle of Man. Her poetry has been widely published and anthologised, and her visual work selected for international festivals and prizes including Filmpoem and the Aesthetica Art Prize. She is currently working on a collection combining her poetry and images, and hosting a long-running series of community writing workshops funded by the Isle of Man Arts Council.

janetlees@weebly.com
Instagram: janetlees2001

Reading & Writing Poetry #1

I’ve decided to launch a new series on my blog about reading and writing poetry. Each post will feature a poem – mine or maybe (if I can persuade them to) another poet’s – followed by a brief explanation of how it came to be written. I believe strongly that to be any kind of writer you have to read what has been written by others. This is no less true for poetry. It surprises me when I come across people who say they write poetry and then take no interest in what else is out there. As well as the pure enjoyment of revelling in the words, rhythm and music of the poems, there is so much to gain and learn in the reading.

This will, no doubt, be an occasional series, but I hope you enjoy it nevertheless. Feel free to comment.

Aspects of Autumn

Season of mellow mists and after damp,
joint between fecundity and decay,
you’re the rusted hinge, the balanced moment
before summer green becomes winter grey.
Your turned leaves are brazen in their dying,
firelit, their brassy tones trumpet their end,
they only fall to nest the ripening
kernels, torn from their cradles by the wind.
Your clods of decomposing foliage
remind us of our oozing hours,
your fruitfulness recalls our barren endeavours
to do, to strive — vanquish the final toll.
So then, only let your splendour fill us —
allow it to give us pause. Let us be still.

This is a Shakespearean sonnet. It has fourteen lines. It basically has a iambic pentameter rhythm (de-dum, de-dum, five times in a line). It rhymes a/c-b/d, until the last two lines which rhyme. There is what is called a volta around the ninth line, where there is a slight movement of focus. A volta can be dramatic or subtle, here it is like the slow falling of a leaf.

When I came to do my MA at Sussex University, I hadn’t read or written poetry since leaving school some twenty-five years previously. At school I had loved our study of TS Elliot, but I had always felt I didn’t know enough (which I now think was probably, at least partly, Elliot’s intention). So I had mixed feelings about engaging with poetry again. However, I found myself diving in and becoming immersed in it. This also coincided with a period when I was struggling a lot with the depression I live with, and I do think the brevity, pithiness and emotional potency of poetry probably struck a resonant chord within me.

And yet, and yet, though I read a lot and wrote tons, I frequently felt I was running to catch up with people who had studied poetry all their lives. Plus ‘form’ scared me, I couldn’t understand the rules about meter and rhyme, and none of what I wanted to say seemed to fit within what I saw as constrictions. Then I came across two books. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem by Ruth Padel and Some Things Matter (a book of sonnets) by James Nash. These two books opened up form for me and I was lucky enough to go to a workshop on sonnet writing led by James at the Bridlington Poetry Festival. I came to realise what form has to offer. It can be a frame which captures unruly and difficult emotions. It can create and emphasise a musicality which could be engaging or dissonant depending on the desired effect. It can create contrast between the strictures of the form and what feels unsayable.

Aspects of Autumn came after James’s workshop. It, of course, draws heavily on the John Keats poem. I love the colours of Autumn and walk as part of my creative practice. I recall walking round looking at the trees and the Keats lines rattling about in my head. Perhaps someone had said them on the radio that morning, maybe they were half-remembered from school. So these lines were my starting point. And the first part of the poem came quite easily, just from my observations of the season. Then I hit the volta and the question of what I was really trying to say in the poem. It took me ages (and many discussions with a poet friend of mine) to find out what the ‘kernel’ of the sonnet was; turning it from what could be thought of as a nice bit of description into something with another – hopefully more philosophical – layer.