Archives for category: Childhood
Aster yomena yomena02

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. by No machine-readable author provided. Keisotyo assumed (based on copyright claims). [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons. No endorsement of BeadedQuill’s work by this author should be implied.

Plant asters by autumn

When all else fades,
semi-trailing heath comes
into its own. In banks and borders

snow-petalled asters make a
brilliant ground cover. Shimmering
their heads: a butterfly magnet
in the wildlife garden’s

banks and borders. Plant this by autumn,
plant this great choice in height and spread
before the winter turns.


I spend the occasional sunny, bright afternoons sitting on a plastic chair in the backyard staring at the hanging roses, pink hydrangeas and purple foxgloves. I am no gardener at present, and do nothing in this patch of yard in the house where I lodge. When I was a child, I first had a corner bed in which grew a pink hibiscus bush. Later I had a patch of soil next to my wendyhouse in the back garden and as a pre-teen I changed the flowering contents of a box outside my bedroom window. Since living the rented room life, I have dabbled with the usual supermarket herbs in pots and seasonal indoor bulbs. Currently, I am nursing an Ikea spathiphyllum that moves from the chest of drawers next to my bed to the sun-catching shelf on the other side of my room. It really needs a dose of plant food and would probably benefit from re-potting.

I love spending time in green spaces, surrounded by plants, and sometimes I find myself drawn to glossy, coffee-table garden books in bookshops or the gardening pages of home magazines. Yesterday I was leafing through the Guardian Weekend and stumbled across the gardening pages and started reading the “What to do the week” section. The advice covered Thin this, Read this, Plant this; reduce clusters of fruit on your trees, read up about 101 chillies and consider planting asters in time for autumn.

Today’s resulting poem is drawn from the column and echoes another poem, “look – really look”. This poem of two years ago (and uncannily this very time of year) was also inspired by the Guardian Weekend’s gardening pages. The relationship between gardening, seasons and plants holds a deep mystery for me. Birds, and especially butterflies, are for me symbolic messengers from another realm. My paternal grandmother was a botanist and her interest in the flowering world seemed to be the science and beauty. My interest is the beauty and lessons it offers about our human flurries.

It is no coincidence that garden banks and border feature in today’s poem during these times when both national and economic security are under pressure in many parts of the world. There is something of ‘the lilies of the valley in all their beauty’ about the delicate snow-petalled asters. Yet, as they trail like other determined ground-covers, they may prove the surviving, life-continuing film when the monuments of mankind have faltered. There are seasons of all kinds, both in the natural world and in our rhythm as humanity. Perhaps planting star-like flowers is not such a bad task to consider before autumn. As three of my favourite lines from “look – really look” remind us:

Concrete is brutal.
It needs softening.
Plants should have dominion.

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By Suzuki Harunobu (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Suzuki Harunobu (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Supportasse Boughs

The blossoms have come!
The blossoms are here.
On parade, white ruffs
of spring’s courtiers.

24/3/2015

Today I present the second of the two poems about spring blossoms. These lines, indeed like those of “March Burst” (posted last week) and many of my ‘sushi’ poems, owes a debt to Ezra Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” (1913).

I was in Standard 5, all of twelve years old. We relocated to the school hall while our ordinary classroom was enlarged and converted into a specialist science classroom. (Now that I think about it, this was quite a progressive enterprise for an all girls’ school in 1990s South Africa.)

The hall was dark and echo-ey. On the hall wall, as in the school passages, there were block-mounted reproductions of famous Works of Western Art. I spent many hours staring at a faded, blue-tinged reproduction of “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” wondering if the lady in conversation under the black umbrella would ever make it down the riverbank to the water’s edge. Of course, I had spent six years sitting through assemblies and other high day occasions in the hall, yet being taught in this formal space made it more intimate. The back corner of the ceremonial cavern became our classroom and learning nest for half a year.

It was during an English lesson that we sat over photocopies of “In a Station of the Metro” as an introduction to haiku. Years later, with some literature knowledge, I know that this is an unconvincing approximation of a haiku (inasmuch as haiku can even work in the English language and literary tradition) and an example rather of the Imagist poems of the twentieth century. I have also learnt a bit more about Pound’s work and life, which now adds conflicted layers to my adult reading of the poem.

But when I was twelve and I first read the poem, it was just me, the scene in the metro and the vivid image of petal-faces, a visual motif that I realise crops up in my own verse.


‘Supportasse’ is another term for the starched, lace collars worn by courtiers during the Renaissance. Read more about supportasses courtesy of the following links:

http://www.thefashionhistorian.com/2011/11/ruffs.html
https://historyofeuropeanfashion.wordpress.com/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supportasse

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
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Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

By Daderot (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph of an Edo period work, 18th-19th century Japan by Daderot (Own work) [Public domain or CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

It was very suspicious
the way that whale
rolled over and opened
its mouth for tips,
then set fireworks
to the water gods
from its blowhole.

Whales have featured in my poetry before. Like sluice gates and bears, whales prefigure as a childhood fascination. In my first or second year of school, we learnt about blue whales. They were enormous yet ate such small food with little effort through their sieve-mouths. Either in conjunction with the curriculum topic or with my family I must have visited the South African Natural History Museum where there was (and still is) the large skeleton of a blue whale. Alongside was a booth in which recordings were played of whales in communication. These creatures had a language, which I could not penetrate. I was in awe.

Southern Right whales come into the sheltered bays around Cape Town to calf. Whale watching is a notable annual event. I still think about a particular train journey from Simon’s Town, past Glencairn, when I saw two majestic whales dancing in the ocean and spouting the fireworks from their blowholes.

So it is that whales crop up every now and then in my musing, in my writing and even in my dreams.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Bunch of blueberries

By Jeff Kubina from the milky way galaxy (Blueberries) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

There’s something in the blueberries
that my body needs.
It might be the blue
citric blue in its
vitamin skin. It might
be the tray of pebbles
on a shelf in my ‘fridge.
There’s something blue
that’s missing from my body. Even a doctor advises
that something’s in the berries. blue.

It could be spurred by personal anxieties or simply a quirky habit, but when I feel penny-pinched I lock down on my grocery consumption. I don’t realise it until I start losing weight, get sick or people comment on my bad skin (I’m prone to horrendous staph infections when my immunity is low). It doesn’t help that my body must contend with a cocktail of medications consumed to neutralise a chronic kidney condition (glomerulonephritis). Eating a diet that is nutritionally inadequate and unadventurous exacerbates everything. In all the years I have been responsible for feeding myself, I still haven’t learned.

It has been suggested that anorexics and the chronically obese obsess over food. That is, obsession characterizes our patterns of denial and excess. But surely some of us express obsessions at other points along the spectrum? I write regularly about food. As a recurring subject matter it explores a variety of themes such as provision, inner-states, comfort, class standing and social identity. Right now, I am thinking about a coffee (a black Americano, because cow’s milk doesn’t agree with me), what I’ll consume for lunch (warmed up butternut soup) and what I should eat before this evening’s 3-hour training session (high protein – probably scrambled eggs with spinach). If this is not a degree of food obsession, what is?

In the days when I was ‘more vegetarian’, a young man said to me, “Are you anorexic vegetarian or vegetarian vegetarian?” At the time I thought it was such an interesting and astute comment. Most women have a fascinating relationship with food irrespective of culture and social bracket. Of course, men also have a relationship with food (for starters, they eat it), but conventionally it is not framed as notably psycho-emotional. This is not the whole truth, for as we see more and more in our modern age, men also have complicated relationships with food.

In “Taste: The Story of Britain Through its Cooking” (Kate Colquhoun, Bloomsbury: 2007) there is mention of young people – she mentions young bachelors in particular – who live alone in bedsits and rented accommodation during the early and mid-twentieth century. For the first time, they were disengaged from a community network in which their food would have been prepared. Their isolation was made complete by the canned and pre-portioned packaged foodstuffs made possible by the Industrial Revolution. At moments in my rented existence, like on Saturday when I portioned up butternut soup and pasta bake for the freezer, I think about this chapter.

Pantry staples of my childhood such as canned pilchards or peanut butter seem a million miles away from blueberries, or berries of any sort. The mere suggestion that blueberries might be a viable everyday item takes some reconsideration. The further suggestion that they might be a necessary vitamin source during a cold, grey London winter sounds like saying chocolate will help with PMS (which it does). My logical brain objects: I take a multivitamin and paracetamol is available for pain.

Yet, ‘that missing something’ like the ‘x-factor’ is elusive. Blueberries might indeed possess a quantifiable nutritional and vitamin content. On my ‘fridge shelf they do look like little pebbles in a plastic tray that await plopping into porridge and goat’s milk yoghurt. Perhaps their very presence satisfies the ‘missing something.’ I shall give this experiment in blue at least a month.

Any contributions of blueberries for the poet will be gratefully received.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Ursus arctos - Norway

Image courtesy of  Taral Jansen/Soldatnytt [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

January brought with it a blizzard.
Icy darts aimed for our knees
and the testing froze our sense
of belonging to that land.

The old bears sunk deeper in their caves,
groaned and turned their backs
on winter’s sluice
trusting that in time from it
would flow all the blooms of spring.

31/12/14

I wish to take this moment to applaud myself. Here, and in time for the end of 2014, I present my 200th poem for public consumption. (If you’d like to read them, there are 180+ poems available on this blog and another 20 poems in my book, Shining in Brightness.)

The threads of inspiration in today’s poem include a line about spring flowers in The Diary of Anne Frank, a childhood conversation about sluices with my Dad and watching Paddington (the movie) yesterday. There’s probably also a trace of my recent read, Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!

I shall make no secret of the fact that over these last few weeks I have found myself in a writer’s fug – and questioning my overall productivity. This surely stems from the seasonal tendency to review the year. Where is the novel I planned to write in 2014? What about all the poems I was going to submit to Proper Poetry Journals? When would I ever start earning any money from my writing (Indeed, when would I again start earning some Proper Grownup Money in general)? I am so, so, so tired. And it feels like I have been in this place (this winter?) for a very long time. It sometimes feels like this is the place people identify as ‘being an adult.’

When I was a child, my animal guide (or familiar) was undoubtedly the bear. In addition to my beloved teddy Edwina, who went to hospital with me and for years was carried all over the world as a security blanket, I collected figurines, books and anything teddy bear related. It was through this interest that I channeled my early writing. For over five years I compiled a monthly teddy-themed magazine.

It doesn’t surprise me, as I do a little cursory reading, that to call on the bear totem invokes grounding and strength. Since bears live a solitary life, they are examples of balance and comfort in one’s solitude. As expert survivors of harsh winters, theirs is an example of a wise animal-guide teacher. They are also associated with women of shamanic power who are able to communicate with other dimensions and pursue healing of self or others. The teddy bears of my past in no small way are the bears in this verse.

Finally, I must add that this poem was born of a prompt to “write about a heart that wouldn’t quit”.

2015, here we come
with our hearts that haven’t yet quit (even though they are a little tired).

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

OldDesignShop_LadyHangingWreath-211x300

Another perfect image courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

A quiet night preludes the festivities” nods to the classic “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Bruce Boyd (C) http://www.thewildones.co.za

Photographer: Bruce Boyd (C) http://www.thewildones.co.za

I love this poem – “Wild Horses Don’t Break” – so very much. To date it is one of the poems I’d be happy to have on my gravestone. Not that I like the idea of being buried in a cramped plot. Fling my ashes to the dunes and the sea!

The wild horses of Kleinmond are not grey/white. Most are brown. That detail was a stroke of artistic license intended to echo the seaside dunes and create the sharp image of white movement through mountain passes. There’s also something mystical about a white horse (or could this be the Celt in me surfacing?).

This post’s accompanying image is of the real wild horses of Kleinmond taken by photographer Bruce Boyd. You can view many beautiful images of Kleinmond’s wild horses in the Wild Ones online gallery. Prints of these images as well as a calendar are also available. Follow updates about the Wild Ones on FacebookA heartfelt thank you to Bruce for generously sharing his work.

Kleinmond, by the way, is a seaside town in the Overstrand, near Cape Town. It neighbours Betty’s Bay, a beautiful stretch of coastline that has inspired a few of my most personal poems:

On a rock amongst rocks
A thousand scientific facts about the sea
A quiet thought also titled In this place, I eat butternut soup

My poem “Bursting art” is quite different in tone. For its simplicity and quietness, it would be another epitaph contender.


Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Tulips from A Day in a Child’s Life by Kate Greenaway, c. 1881 and courtesy of the Old Design Shop.

I did not set out to write poetry. I intended to write Novels. And anyway, I am of the view that much superbly written and evocative poetry already exists. The Shadows of Giants loom large. At the moment I have no illusion about even coming close to their kneecaps, never mind shoulders. This time last year I posted “Emulation“, a poem about the finely wrought craft of three (English language) poetry giants.

Emulation” references two poems that had a notable impact on me during my adolescence: Sylvia Plath’s “Mushrooms” and “The Thought Fox” by Ted Hughes. (Yes, we studied them at school in our English lessons. Some exposures in life just can’t be helped.) Both poems struck me with the synaesthetic potential of words. To this day, I can still feel those mushrooms mouthing their insidious, hollow-breathed o’s at the world (“So many of us! So many of us!”). That Thought Fox still darts with a hot fox stink across my imagination.

(I had not noted, until reviewing these poems for this post, that both set the scene in a forest. How very archetypal; how very Brothers Grimm.)

“Mushrooms” is referenced via Plath’s famous “Tulips” (1961). I came across “Tulips” when I was older . Although a recognised and fine work, it does not evoke the same nostalgia for me.

The third poet to whom homage is paid is John Donne for his poem “The Flea“. Besides the pleasure of the words, it latched onto my leaning towards the miniature and slightly odd. Perhaps my little poem “An arrangement of Strangers” owes Donne a debt.

I may not (yet) have found myself on the shouders of giants, but I have written nearly 200 poems. 149 of them are available in book format:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry – 104 poems written across a year
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys – 25 poems about work, life and love
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012 – 20 poems about loss, love and growing up in quiet suburbia

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Scale (PSF)
The beam of a true poem balances
when each pan hovers
with just right the weight.
A real poem contains rhyme;
Each line leads us to a prediction.


When I was at junior school, it was the end-of-term duty of the girls in the highest class, Standard 5, to gather news from each year. These reports were compiled in rhyming couplet form:

As we close the door to Sub A,
it’s to the next classroom we stray.
So now enter the class of the Sub B’s,
where this term they’ve been busy as bees.

It was often as stilted as that; after all the authors were twelve-year-olds, most of whom had had little exposure to rhyming odes themselves. These reports together with the school song, national anthem and hymns we were obliged to sing in assembly were among the early influences of rhyming English in my life. Before I went to school there was rhyme at home. This was fun and storytelling rhyme that shaped Rupert-the-Bear adventures, Ahlberg’s classic “Each, Peach, Pear, Plum” and “’Twas the Night Before Christmas”. By the time I heard these and other rhyming songs and stories related to my younger sister, I was already reading long-form prose. Her educational video sang on a loop, “Five little ducks went out to play, over the hills and far away…” and. I was reading ‘grown-up’ books. Rhyme was little kids’ stuff.

Consequently, rhyme struck me as something twee and childish. It was used to round off pairs of ideas – whether ideology or fun nonsense – so that they would stick in your mind. When I discovered that poetry could exist legitimately without rhyme, I was hooked, though initially, more to reading this sort of poetry than writing it. I loved non-rhyming poetry so much that I thought, I must be a child of modernism’s sentiment. Rhyme seemed to constrict words’ directions, and a sad fate simply because words found themselves slotted into the line of a poem.

Playing with rhythm and meter, musicality and lilt, alliteration and soundscapes enticed my ear and imagination. Yet it is still those predictable lines ribboned together by rhyme that tumble from my memory all these years later: “Success is cheering words of praise, in cheering other people’s ways; in doing just the best you can in every task and every plan”.

More recently I’ve reconciled with rhyme and now deliberately expose myself to old hymns (with wondrous words like ‘eyelids’ and ‘slander’). But I’m still not convinced that Proper Poetry has to rhyme in words. There are surely other tools that craft an idea worth remembering.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill
Facebook: BeadedQuill
Books:
In the Ocean: a year of poetry
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness: Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

This image is a work of the National Institutes of Health, part of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain. Via Wikimedia Commons.

At the bottom of my road is a lovely green space poetically known as Cherry Tree Wood. Like the promised verdant idyll of Heather Green (explored in my poem of the same name) the Cherry Tree’s title is slightly deceptive. There are neither cherries nor much of a wood, unless you count the encalve of tress at the far end as woodland. But it is still a wonderful spot for adolescent boys to ride their bicylces and play football, for parents to bring their children to the playpark, for mums and toddlers to have playdates. Young lovers disappear into that shadey enclave and perspiring fitness hopefuls meet with their personal trainers alongside the tennis courts. Dog walkers greet each other by name and, since the newly refurbished café has re-opened, sometimes they stop for a coffee or juice.

Cherry Tree Wood is a rare site for mostly uncommercial communal gathering. The local schools make use of it for fresh-air time. After outings to the Phoenix, the reputable local indie cinema, the schoolgroups picnic on the grass before shepherding small groups of the children to the nearby facilities. It was from observing such a group on their outing that the poem ‘Packed Lunches’ came into being.