Thursday, 22 July 2010

On the East Coast

When I was seven I thought all cliffs were made of clay;

the land stopping at a ragged brown edge

chewed like a comforter by a sea anxious to claim it.

The steps to the beach are a ladder once used on roofs,

now pinned to the thatch of turf and not quite

reaching, so you have to jump the last few feet.

I scramble up and down in muddy sandshoes,

with dirty knees and wind whipped cheeks

while my mother sits placidly with a flask of Bovril.

On the cliff top the land frays and lurches seaward,

below it dissolves like a sandcastle in the incoming tide

or oozes into chocolate pools like Fry’s Five Boys left in the sun.

On winter walks we see great bites of ground

slide recklessly downwards, and when summer comes again

the landscape is different; the ladder lost in a storm,

my shoes no longer fit, the flask has broken.

There is a new baby,

and even the earth is inconstant.

Painting by Myles Birket Foster, poem by yours truly.

Friday, 16 July 2010

This is the first poem I can remember, it came in a story book with a wonderful coloured plate of a little girl I thought was me..


When I'm alone beside the sea,
The mermaids come quite close to me.
They toss their silver shining curls
And whisper 'We are water girls'

We have a Queen who sits alone
Upon a pearl and coral throne
Oh won't you leave your rocky shelf
And come and see her for yourself?'

But if I come deep down, down deep,
I asked 'wherever would I sleep?'
A tiny mermaid tossed her head
And answered 'in the oyster bed!'
'Then I'll not stay' I cried and they
All turned to waves and raced away.....

I'm sure I've missed out some of it and probably misremembered, but it was a beautiful blustery day on the beach today and I thought of it whilst the mermaids were having fun in the waves...

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

' Sweetness, Always' by Pablo Neruda

Why such harsh machinery?
Why, to write down the stuff and people of everyday,
must poems be dressed up in gold,
or in old and fearful stone?

I want verses of felt or feather
which scarcely weigh, mild verses
with the intimacy of beds
where people have loved and dreamed.
I want poems stained
by hands and everydayness.

Verses of pastry which melt
into milk and sugar in the mouth,
air and water to drink,
the bites and kisses of love.
I long for eatable sonnets,
poems of honey and flour.

Vanity keeps prodding us
to lift ourselves skyward
or to make deep and useless
tunnels underground.
So we forget the joyous
love-needs of our bodies.
We forget about pastries.
We are not feeding the world.

In Madras a long time since,
I saw a sugary pyramid,
a tower of confectionery -
one level after another,
and in the construction, rubies,
and other blushing delights,
medieval and yellow.

Someone dirtied his hands
to cook up so much sweetness.

Brother poets from here
and there, from earth and sky,
from Medellin, from Veracruz,
Abyssinia, Antofagasta,
do you know the recipe for honeycombs?

Let’s forget about all that stone.

Let your poetry fill up
the equinoctial pastry shop
our mouths long to devour -
all the children’s mouths
and the poor adults’ also.
Don’t go on without seeing,
relishing, understanding
all these hearts of sugar.

Don’t be afraid of sweetness.

With or without us,
sweetness will go on living
and is infinitely alive,
forever being revived,
for it’s in a man’s mouth,
whether he’s eating or singing,
that sweetness has its place.

Translated from the Spanish by Alastair Reid

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Sometimes you just want to be gloomy....

I Am! Yet What I Am None Cares or Knows
by John Clare

Written in Northampton County Asylum

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am, and live with shadows tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest -that I loved the best -
Are strange -nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod,
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie, -
The grass below -above the vaulted sky.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Fern Hill

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the night-jars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising,
Nor that riding to sleep
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,

Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1953)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

From A Railway Carriage

I love trains and I make the long train journey to and from Yorkshire and Cornwall often. I'm making it today. I also love Robert Louis Stevenson, here's his really good train poem.

From A Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows, the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away on the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

Robert Louis Stevenson

and whilst we're on the subject-

On the train 2

Mostly the gardens seen from trains, attract our scorn.
We note the mossy patches of an unmown lawn,
a shed just sited so to block the sun,
an untrimmed hedge, an empty rabbit run

Abandoned toys and plastic chairs lie on the grass,
the barbecue has rusted and decayed.
Old plant pots are migrating down the path -
garden jetsam blown too near the rails

Next door has netted ponds and concrete curbs
with daffodils like soldiers on parade,
no weeds or insects daring to disturb
where nature has been neatly put away.

These horticultural horrors make us feel
that when we bring our own garden to mind
we're glad we see, as we go by at speed
the dirty washing on another person's line.


Monday, 19 April 2010

What is Pink?

What is Pink?

Pink is the colour of glistening lips,
Pink is the colour of cold finger tips.
Pink is the colour of candy floss you eat,
Pink is the colour of shimmering heat.
Pink is the colour of my rabbit’s ears,
Pink is the colour of fairies’ tears.
Pink is the colour of diamonds bright,
Pink is the colour of a starry night.
Pink is the colour of a bright pink rose,
Pink is the colour of a sea of flamingos.
Pink is the colour of bubble-gum,
Pink is the colour of my sore thumb.
Pink is the colour of a snorting pig,
Pink is the colour inside juicy figs.
Pink is the colour of a teddy bear,
Pink is the colour of a poodle’s fair hair.

Millie Hodgson (aged 9)