A Poem: For James

I have a folder with maybe an hundred poems in it; most of them were written between 1994 and 1999 and covered the span of time from GCSEs to my final year at University. In the last thirteen years my poetic productivity has died to a trickle. I have lost my way a bit. I feel embarrassed by the panting romanticism of the early stuff and the technicolour emotions and tangible intimations of immortality that fueled my late teens are not  as keenly felt as I approach my mid-thirties.

When I was at school, I was surrounded by poetry.  There were three of us in my A level English Literature class where poetry was inescapable, there was an annual poetry prize, there was even a Dead Poets Society and there was a library with a well stocked poetry section. With some friends and some support from the English department, I started a small literary magazine called “Apex”. These days I have to fight to make space in my life for reading poetry, let alone writing it, but there has been a modest output. Here’s one I wrote for a friend a few years ago:

For James
there’s a person i know i could be
theres a woodsman and a soldier in me
a weather beaten soul that’s rarely seen
i know he’s there because he’s been in my dreams
there’s a monk called brother somebody
who leaves his cell to cross the sea
he doesn’t fear and he doesn’t flee
but stands on the weatherdeck scorning the lee
i have felt his anger and desire to be free
his feelings and mine always agree
his indian name is strong-man-going-boldly
god’s breath must be in him or he couldn’t breathe
a strong man this woodsman must be
to fell the hulk of my family tree
a bold soldier too and armed to the teeth
gallantry and loyalty stirring beneath
his bayonet gouges mediocrity
and the monk steps out on a distant beach
salt on his lips that are burning to preach
and he speaks of my soul and who i could be

More poetry postings from this blog can be found here.

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Messing About with Poetry Again

I have had a long absence from both reading and writing poetry. It is hard to identify when or why it began but it has been a chunk of my life rather than a couple of years out. The why, I suspect, does not reflect me in a pleasant light and probably has something to do with me turning into some sort of snob.

Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. Luigi Cherubini...

Lately I have started to creep back, though, gently prodded by other bloggers who are unashamed to post poetry of their own and of other people (namely Barbara Lane and Robert Rife) and by others who advocate enthusiastically for poetry (Xe Sands and Marly Youmans). So I have been listening and reading again, and writing a tiny bit.

When I was younger and more prolific in the poetry department, it was one of the main ways I made sense of the world around me because it enables us to capture and hold something in a cage of words without destroying it, defining it or curtailing its mystery.  The kind of poetry that I really connect with is the stuff that brings elusive, ephemeral, intimated truths into focus and holds them for a moment, leaving the afterglow of an impression rather than the proof of a fact. Some things in life are like that – they will never stay still long enough for us to get them under a microscope, but that doesn’t make them any less real.

I need to recapture some of that stuff. Then, there’s the other thing I had forgotten: Poetry is fun. It is safe to experiment. It is a sandbox of words. So I don’t need to be so uptight about it. In the past, I have always written stuff that needs to be read aloud to be put in its best light, but this one probably only has any chance of making sense when seen on paper:

Six Years

Six years passed the grass has grown and been cut
Over this house although it never was this long before
Six seasons of spring mornings the same dew has perspired
Just like this one upwards still the relentlessness
But the thing that of laundry and dishes on the
I awakened to under today’s sideboard has been
Sun was that one day was all I can manage these
Too much like the others rhythms this cycle pinioned
What has happened to this house
What has changed for six years?
I cannot say.

A Poem: As Long as Life Beats

As I have been delving recently into a tattered folder of over 50 poems I wrote between 1994 and 2003, I have had a strange sense of reading my own soul’s history. Most of these poems, that I thought were almost perfect at the time, now make me wince and cringe with their sentiments; but they document my own growth during a time when I returned to the page again and again to process the stuff of life. This one is based on parts of The Song of Solomon:

As Long as Life Beats

My arms clutch emptiness
If I wake without the guardians
Of friendship and daylight so I see
I am alone and you have gone

And I take to the streets
To look for you in the places
I'd be comfortable to find you
Speaking vainly to those who should know you 

You may tell me another enigma
You have hidden in your heart
Then walk away into the night
But I'll follow you for an answer

And when you turn your face away
I'll choose the better part
Leaving my place in the firelight
So I can be under your gaze

Eyes without expectation
Eyes that are not disappointed
Those are the eyes I will die for
As many times as leaves have fallen 

Arms that rest in completion
Hands that tell me it has all been done
Those are the arms and the hands I will die in
As many times as day has run

(March 2001)

If you are in the mood for more poetry then I recommend you check out Barbara Lane’s Blog, “this | liminality”, where she is posting some of her dad’s poetry.

… and there’s more of my stuff here.

A Poem: Waking Journey

I recently unearthed, from the deep litter of several years of paper, a folder of poetry that I wrote between 1994 and 2001 when writing poems was one of the few ways I could make sense of life. I have always written not only for personal pleasure but from a desire to connect with other people. So many poets and authors have helped me to feel less alone that I have long kept in mind the conceit that what I write might help someone else to feel less alone. So I’m letting a few of these poems see the light of day again like messages in a bottle brought in on a fifteen-year-long tide.

Waking Journey
I didn't sleep at all
And dawn discovered me
Watching a projection of myself
Packing up this little room
With sighs

Books into boxes
Clothing to be given away
Getting back to the core of me
Papers of unfinished scores
Waiting still

Surely goodness
Will follow me where I am going
In the way it always has before now
And mercy I will get as much
As I need

When was I last
So true to myself as to drop
The trappings of expectation
And rewrite the script
By inspiration

And now I write
Like I have not written for years
Stumbling back to an old haunt
With another notch
On the staff

A little more
Wisdom in the eyes
Makes the old land look changed
The hair a little longer
Feels the breeze

I will return
To conquer the past
I will pack a few possessions
And leave the rest behind
For a while

(July 2001)

I did, in fact, return –  seven months later – with a few more notches on the staff and a little more wisdom in the eyes, and the place looked different; but I still have a few unfinished (musical) scores and balancing inspiration with expectation is an everyday battle.

More of my poems from this blog

A Poem: Common Things

I can look back to a time when writing poetry was one of the main ways that I had for making sense of the world around me. The creative output from this time in my life actually staggers me – although sometimes I cringe at the quality – I was certainly prolific. I thought I’d share a few poems over the next few weeks, verses that would not otherwise see the light of day; but I’ll start with one of the few that ever got published. This appeared in Emerge, an anthology of poetry, prose and drama, edited by Jude Simpson and Jane Campion and showcasing the work of the Subway Writers group.

Common Things

Some things are fairly common
Like waking up
In a meadow of rolling linen

Hearing over the hills
The breathing of a mate in
The tide of their own dream world

Stopping long enough to mark the
Progress of a shadow across
The yard

Holding a hand under
A running tap waiting
For it to warm

Falling silent on the hour to
Hear the chiming of the outside world
In the newsreader's voice

In saying these things I
Keep your company in
The moments you thought you were alone