Archives for category: Childhood
Image with thanks to Dark Roasted Blend http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2009/03/victorian-flea-circuses-lost-art-form.html

Image thanks to the blog Dark Roasted Blend*.

From this time last year, a poem about little creatures getting up to mischief.

* While searching the interweb for images of ant and insect circuses, I came across this diverting article about flea circuses on Dark Roasted Blend. DRB is self-billed as “a highly visual ‘Weird & Wonderful’ online magazine to complement your daily coffee ritual”. It’s worth a peek.

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Colias croceus – the Clouded Yellow Butterfly. Image courtesy of Zeynel Cebeci via Wikimedia Commons.

I will be 80 this year
here in my flat
only a mile and a half
from where I was born.
I have tried 
to lead by example, by
plunging my narrow balcony
into the principality of hanging gardens.

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

We breakfast amidst the crisp verdure
and watch a nesting bird,
fledgling wrens, butterflies 
and such wild visitors.
The flat faces of the 
daisies, pansies and geraniums 
accrue the afternoon and evening sun.
Most years –
A wren nests somewhere
blanketed by the ivy leaves.
Her fledglings zing past 
while we’re eating.
They’ll even call 
on us at table.
In warm summers,
the clouded yellow butterfly 
may join us from abroad.


Sometimes some quirky combination of words and images will capture my imagination. This time last year it was a comment in a Gudrun Sjödén catalogue about a Senegalese artist who sculpted birds from flotsam-and-jetsam.

Sunday last, the Guardian Weekend’s column “How does your garden grow?” hooked me. William Howard’s evocative interview about his balcony garden in the Barbican (London) – and the fantastic photograph of him in from of his verdant kingdom – had me enthralled. (Read the interview from the 28th June 2014 Guardian Weekend here.). “This garden,” explains Howard, “is about memories, sharing and reminding people to look – really look.”

Perhaps being a poet is in some respects like being a gardener.

(P.S. One of the most affecting books I read during my young adolescence was Rumer Godden’s An Episode of Sparrows, in which a scrabble of children try to grow a garden and learn how to look – really look.)

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

Nos Liberavit

“the maiden’s voice soars
and plunges
as she elongates the siren call”

Image “Midnight Harp” courtesy of Esmira

"Midnight Harp" by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Midnight Harp” by Esmira, on DeviantArt

Bell-like, round and clear
Hopeful and transparent 
as a copper bauble,
it lifts the congregation.
From the sanctuary 
the maiden’s voice soars
and plunges
as she elongates the siren call.

 

I am not a groupie. I’d rather spend my days in a hermit’s hut on a mountainside with books, green tea and yoga for company instead of people. I find people politics and inane conversation immensely annoying. But I keep seeking out institutionalised assemblies. In these experiences I find vestiges of tribal inheritances, which seem to inspire my creative work. At least, this is my theory as to why I keep seeking out groups and gatherings which jar with my loner’s soul. Being part of a martial arts academy is one example. Volunteering in various organisations and an ongoing relationship with institutions of learning, such as schools and universities, are others. Then there’s church attendance, which has influenced a few recent poems (Just Punishment, Let them eat).

Attending church takes me back to my childhood and familiar language patterns. My father claimed a deep personal religiosity. When we were children, it was a weekly parental pleasure for him to walk me and my brother to Sunday School. After the morning’s service proceedings we would play outside. He would siphon egg sandwiches, Salticrax with cheese and little cakes from the adult’s tea-table for us. (The Anglican Church to this day offers an excellent post-service tea spread.) He would spend a long time explaining things to us like the flat stones in the graveyard, the gruesome Stations of the Cross and the purple covering-cloths at Lent.

Today’s poem is drawn from a recent church experience during which I was struck by the clear, enchanting voice of the young woman who lead the singing. Her voice was neither trained nor very brilliant, but it moved me. In that moment, a flood of young maidens singing swept over me. I saw maidens with harps in old villages. I imagined maidens next to seas and riverbanks singing as they worked with others or alone to keep themselves company. I saw maidens next to firesides singing with the transparency of youthful hope, watched by audiences of older women and men, who in that moment were reminded of their youthful expectancy. This memory suspends itself like a copper bauble, picks up the fire-light and lifts them in the moment. It was all this that propelled me to write the poem.

The title references the “Libera me” at the end of Verdi’s Requiem. Instead of an awe-inspiring chorus with trained soprano, the single lay voice of this poem rings out unaffected and haunting. The siren call in this context is not entirely destructive. It is hypnotic, but it re-directs its listeners towards hope. The catch is that for many of them this hope is a bauble of the past, but it still frees them.

It only occurred to me years later that our absence from the house on a Sunday meant that my hard-working, music teacher mother could have a morning of quiet respite. At the end of 1987 and in early 1988, my Mum was also pregnant with my sister. Now when I look back at those memories, I add this layer. While we were running around the grounds of Christ the King on Lower Milner Road, stuffing our kiddie faces with egg sandwiches (on white bread! With crusts cut off!) and staring at faux-granite gravestones, my Mum was at home with a growing belly which contained my little sister.

My sister is now big – a maiden herself in her later twenties. She plays the harp and occasionally sings, though not in church. Her siren work with words is in a different field. She is a journalist.

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 

256px-Jack_and_Jill

Image attribution: Sue Clark (Flickr: Jack and Jill) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This time last year I revisited a poem based on the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. This version was a shortened version of the ‘Tumbling After‘ I had written the previous December.

Both versions veer towards the same scene: Jill watching Jack from afar and awaiting his delivery. Although not true to the nursery rhyme’s narrative, I fabricated my own thematic direction. I wanted to evoke a pastoral world in which young people worked in particular gendered realms and were awakening to an adolescent sexuality. So I placed Jill in the kitchen baking bread and Jack outside in the field hoeing and on the hill collecting water.

If you’re curious about the original nursery rhyme you might find the Wikipedia write up interesting. I stumbled across it while preparing this post. A further link was this handy visualization of the rhyme. Perhaps you’ll have as much fun as I did playing with the graphic display options.

Both versions of ‘Tumbling After’ are included in my book, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys.

Image courtesy of Norfolk-based artist, Nicola Slattery. View her enchanting work at www.nicolaslattery.com

“Taken Care Of” courtesy of Norfolk-based artist, Nicola Slattery. View her enchanting work at www.nicolaslattery.com

The 2×52 project developed in April 2013 when I committed to posting two poems a week for a year. I completed my self-made creative challenge this April when I revealed the 104th poem. Next month (June 2014), all the poems will be available in a book at my Blurb bookstore. In the meantime, here are the 104=2×52 poems listed in all their glory! And for your convenience, so that you can click on the titles that pique your interest. Enjoy!

  1. On a rock amongst rocks
  2. Things of the Heart, Told in Quiet #1
  3. £299 from Strand
  4. A Thousand Scientific Facts about the Sea
  5. Nice Words #1
  6. Benefactor of the Blind
  7. On the Way to Westminster
  8. Solutrean Hypothesis
  9. I don’t work for you (or Modern Frustrations)
  10. red herring
  11. Tarantella (two versions)
  12. Conversation
  13. Pakistan’s Gold
  14. 29oC
  15. An arrangement of strangers
  16. Recycled
  17. Packed Lunches
  18. Tightly Sealed
  19. Another Summer’s Day
  20. Look At
  21. Hairpin (a short poem)
  22. A definition, notably for the cloud-dwelling artists
  23. Instructions
  24. Scherzo: Allegro before the Finale
  25. Impatience
  26. Screens
  27. Leo’s Entries
  28. From a Stone
  29. Autumn’s ripened harvest store
  30. The Character Building
  31. An autumn evening in
  32. Preceding seafaring that was not to transpire
  33. The Home Commute
  34. On the declaration of the first day of the Year of Our Light
  35. What we were all thinking
  36. Emulation
  37. Genuine
  38. Stuck
  39. An address from a lectern
  40. Her magical box
  41. Sun Doves
  42. At the right age
  43. Just Punishment
  44. Every morning, because it’s wonderful
  45. Is it worth it?
  46. A Bequest of Wonder
  47. The Benefits of 320 Kicks
  48. I do. Do you?
  49. Five Consequences of Repeated Actions
  50. To the Valleys
  51. supreme ultimate
  52. Operations Meeting, El Dorado
  53. Without realising it, the postman leaves a poem
  54. Another drop in this week before Christmas
  55. A quiet night preludes
  56. Let them eat
  57. I learnt
  58. A New Room
  59. Philip’s Log: Entries about my moonlit sylph
  60. Pairings
  61. Conscripted
  62. Bursting Art
  63. Afloat
  64. Would you ever live in Heather Green?
  65. London’s Molten Hour
  66. Two poems about grey
  67. My friend Ellen
  68. Nice words of the moment (from autumn)
  69. Today
  70. Outpourings
  71. She’d read it in books
  72. Tube sketch (one of a few)
  73. St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden
  74. Near Liverpool Street, under scaffolding
  75. On the occasion of a dinner party in Kennington
  76. Tunnel Days
  77. London. Is it worth it?
  78. At the moment: £2
  79. the currency of sugar
  80. High-end Liquids
  81. Glomerulonephritis
  82. Dying is probably easier than this
  83. The Age Show
  84. Nice words #2
  85. How do you make a dream come true?
  86. Do engineers dream?
  87. Appropriate Recompense
  88. It’s complicated
  89. Every Sign of the Zodiac
  90. Saying it plainly
  91. The Brothers Three
  92. This morning’s request
  93. Recipe
  94. Kindly exit
  95. In the ocean one night
  96. Degas’s Business Card
  97. A small heart panics
  98. Interior holdings
  99. Reviewing the pursuit
  100. Absorbed
  101. Nearing the End
  102. Different Rides
  103. Spring Wants
  104. Escucha

From this time last year: an essay about a painting of Covent Garden rooftops. The image triggered a series of personal memories about school art history lessons and my ‘London Granny’.

Image courtesy of Earthworm Society of Britain. E: info@earthwormsoc.org.uk

EARTHWORMS

Pink entrails of the earth rise,
half-drowned,
all-blind and writhing.
How unthinking 
and stupid these no-brained 
are!
Useless and flaccid 
after rain clogs
their soil-bed
and the scatter to the paths
to be baked by the sun,
eaten by birds 
and laughed at by big mouths above pounding feet
fed by the 1,750,000 other pink gyrators
which churn each fertile acre.


There are two language misuses that bother me a great deal. One is excessive hyperbole; the other is un-nuanced comparison in analogy, simile or metaphor. This poem is a response to equating a group of unfocussed people with ‘dumb, blind’ (and by suggestion useless) earthworms.

From my father I learnt that even the smallest, seemingly insignificant creatures have their place in the world. Earthworms in particular are supremely important and spectacular beings. While researching for this poem, I discovered that there are thousands of different earthworm species. The worms are of different colours and lengths. Some live in leaf litter rather than the soil, and in rare cases they even live in tree branches.

It is supremely anthropocentric to forget the workings that occur beneath our feet. Beneath a metre-squared of garden lawn, 20 to 40 earthworms will be at work. Even more humbling is that for every acre of fertile farmland, there are 1,750,000 earthworms working their way through the soil.

My Dad was fond of reminding me, “Ants know as much as they need to know to be ants.” Similarly, earthworms know and do as much as is required to be earthworms. They aerate the soil. They leave their casts to nourish the soil. Their bodies feed birds and other creatures. In amazing hermaphroditic wonder, they make more earthworms. What perfection!

Earthworms
move as they digest, digest as they move:
one intertwined perfected motion.
If our lives were so simple,
imagine how efficient we’d be.

By all means, one may label a group of people distracted and confused, but to liken them to earthworms is a misplaced simile that this poet cannot accept.

Twitter: @BeadedQuill 
Facebook: BeadedQuill 
Books:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightnes:  Selected Poems, 1999 – 2012

Shining in Brightness, my first book of selected poems, documents the hopeful years of 18 to 30. I hold a special affection for this creative scrapbook. It is a nostalgic artefact of a time period I declared ‘a mystical decade‘.

For World Poetry Day last year I wrote out the fanciful myth I have constructed about how poetry precipitated my birth.