Archives for posts with tag: cake
"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 

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in glasses: wine, cocktails, liqueur,
on plates as cake and biscuits
from two discarded plastic tubs,
a litre of ice-cream

Lonely is the currency of sugar.

I’ve eaten two squares of Lindt, 70% cocoa, as I prepare this post. My head’s throbbing lightly with the sugar rush. Depeche Mode is my soundtrack,

Can you feel a little love?
Dream on, dream on.

I’ve just finished a Skype call with my mum who lives on the other side of the world, as do both my siblings. I chatted with them via Facebook this morning.

Originally I had entitled scribblings of this poem “London lonely”, because there are many of us living in this city who are far from (some of) our family or friends. There are still many who come from this city, or have lived in this city for a long time, who are lonely. It fascinates me that in such a bustling mass of humanity, disengagement and marginality exists. In our loneliness many of us find solace, either alone or with others, in the currency of sugar.


As @BeadedQuill I tweet about my London life (much of which is most merry and sociable) and ex-pat interests, notably in arts and culture.
Visit BeadedQuill on Facebook.
I have two books of collected poems. Click on the titles to preview:
Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys
Shining in Brightness

The ordinary class 
does not  object to plastic chairs
or utilitarian rooms used for
multiple utilitarian purposes:
pre-school, ballet lessons, Sunday School,
prayer groups, a soup kitchen, evening workshops in crafts.

The ordinary class bends over
catered tray-lasagne
seeping into paper plates 
balanced on knees and 
an insulation of paper serviettes.

The ordinary class 
is certain
that their salvation resides 

Wait! Someone said chocolate cake?

Oh, a small piece.
I really shouldn’t;
Not after such a dinner.
Some tea with that would be 
lovely.
The cake was leftover from
a meeting this afternoon?
It’s really good.
Chocolatey, but delicious.
Karen baked it?
Please send our thanks.

Certain salvation 
of the ordinary class,
leftover from a meeting this afternoon,
sits in plastic chairs
attentively
noting god and good
and education,
balanced as warm and sodden paper plates
on wads of serviettes.

Our ordinary lives really fascinate me. They seem so unpoetic. Often this ordinary life and its props often just seems brutish and ugly. Plastic chairs, for example, really upset me. On one level they offend my aesthetic sensibility. On another, I wonder why we continue to sit on them and sit on them in the proscriptive, often less than beautiful spaces in which they are to be found.

I often wonder similarly about the food we eat when we gather as groups in these spaces. This food is usually served on paper plates, which do not absorb heat too well and soggy up with the juices of the dish. It is therefore not unusual to find the catered for with knees padded up with the serviettes provided. It’s like a dance of hunched sea creatures, consuming in unison during the incoming tide.

Ordinary life and suburbia feature in my two books of poetry, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boys and Shining in Brightness. They are both available for preview and purchase at BeadedQuill’s Blurb Bookstore

Twitter: @BeadedQuill

Facebook: BeadedQuill

Remember how
your grandfather stumbled and then fell
into the garden pond.
You wore a suit, freshly pressed 
-  a strange look from your usual garb
of sweat and day creased shirts. 
I in a satin dress 
of peacock colours,
never wanted to be conventional,
but my bouquet was of white arums
from the garden.
Everyone clustered: 
your mother, mine, 
my siblings, your sister and her fiancé, 
those friends who could make it,
smiles and congratulations.
Remember how we teetered into crinkled rows
on the muddy lawn
for the photographer
and almost forgot to cut
the cake 
so carefully iced by your mother.

Remember our wedding, 
that happiest of days
of our life spent together

that somehow didn’t happen.

While editing today’s entry, I turned to the dictionary to double-check the correct spelling of the man who is engaged to a woman. Dictionary entries often provide a sentence in which the word is used in context. I glanced down. “My fiancé and I were childhood sweethearts.” Interesting, I thought. I wondered, what might be the explanatory sentence for the woman who is engaged to a man? Here it is: “He went back to the valley to marry his fiancée.”

This was beyond interesting. My hackles inflamed. What archaic whatnot continues to be delivered in these sentences?

The woman, as the narrator in the first sentence, is hitched conjunctively and in sentence subject position to the man to whom she is engaged (“My fiancé and I”). This in a twenty-first century dictionary entry designed to clarify the meaning of “a man engaged to a woman.” There are alternatives, which set the two consenting adults as independents entering into an agreed contract. What about, “I proposed to a man, who agreed to marry me”? Or, perhaps it would be congenial to keep the couple pairing and shared history. Then let’s at least add some more believable action to the construction, “My fiancé and I met at work/a conference/playing tennis/surfing/while studying engineering”.

The reference to “childhood sweethearts” adds an overlay of those happily ever-afters much fawned upon in childhood and, well, fairy tales. Of course, there are some folk who meet their partners early on in life. However, the strident feminist in me is most uncomfortable to read of marriage agreement overlaid with tropes of infantilism, at worst, or indulgent adolescent mooning.  For the twenty-first century reader, this explanation is at odds with the times and many adult women’s real experiences of marriage or long-term partnerships.

As general language understanding and accessibility goes, “childhood sweetheart” is a decidedly idiomatic expression. The explanatory sentence simply falters in accessibility.

Yet, the second sentence, “He went back to the valley to marry his fiancée” could be as confusing for contemporary English –language users. Why should a man return to the wilds below the mountains to marry the woman to whom he is engaged? Is this some special English-speaker tradition? Not usually, though country weddings and returning to one’s home ‘village’ is not uncommon. Here the explanation paints a pastoralized version of the cave-man returning to the tribe to take up his woman, presented albeit as a neater pre-Industrialist version. Try the revision method I engage earlier. (Yes, that was deliberate.) Replace the man’s claiming action with some other activity and the valley location to somewhere more in keeping with contemporary, metropolitan contexts. Consider, for example, “He took the bus to the town hall to marry his fiancée”.

And, pray tell, what on earth is any modern-day, city-girl doing back in the valley? Marriage is not exclusively a rural/ peri-urban past-time. Let’s try, “He and his fiancée took their vows in front of the magistrate”. Even better, as a homage to one involved groom I met, “He helped his fiancée by selecting the wedding flowers”.

It also bothers me that both sentences locate the forthcoming wedding/marriage as an activity that involves returning to the past, childhood (time) or the valley to which the man must return (place). The significance of engagement is that it is a preliminary contractual agreement for an event to take place in the future. But now I have run out of possible alternative sentences. Hang on, what about, My fiancé and I will apply for a mortgage with our combined incomes.” Or, “My fiancée and I are planning our wedding on a budget“.

I sense a forthcoming poem about grooms flocking to the valleys.

P.S. Though did you notice, the gender of the suit wearer in the poem is not made explicit?

Fresh off the press this week! My latest volume, Emily’s Poems for Modern Boysoffers insights on life, work and love from the kind and curious poetess, Emily. Preview her introduction and some of the poems here.

My first book, Shining in Brightness, is also available for preview and purchase at the blurb.co.uk bookstore.

Follow me on Twitter as @BeadedQuill. I comment on my practise, writing and anything else that captures my interest – from words to Russian animation.