Absence and Edges
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Sheenagh Pugh is our special guest this month, and has chosen the theme ‘Absence and Edges’. Sheenagh has made her home on Shetland (Hil and I must get there one day!) and many of her poems are deeply reflective of place. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her poems here, and the ones she has chosen by other poets, including our dear friend Paul Henry. As always, there is a wide range of fabulous poem chosen by our readers.
Most of the poetry books referenced can be bought from Deb’s Poetry Pharmacy; you can contact Deb directly with any queries regarding books not listed, which she may have in stock or be able to find for you.
Absence and Edges
Sheenagh Pugh, our guest on this blog, has chosen three poems on the theme ‘Absence and Edges’ and in each poem’s section there is also some commentary, and a complementary poem from another poet or, in the case of her last poem, there is a link to the book-length poem which inopsired her. We thank Sheenagh for these selections and very much hope you enjoy them.
My first poem is about an empty space, one which is full only of what was once in it (a prehistoric river) and now is not. It is a few miles from where I live in Shetland and I did a radio podcast about it with Jenny Sturgeon of BBC Radio Shetland, which you can listen to here.
A place named for nothing,
a nothing, a space
in a spine of hills,
a great scoop of sky
in a green spoon, a doorway
from east to west.
A place with a past
before history started.
Think the river back,
the giant whose bed
you stand in. It would run
where the skuas balance
between two hills,
where air pours
in place of water.
Something was here,
now nothing is. Nothing
fills the eye,
the colour of weather,
Who knew nothing
could be such a landmark?
From the North Sea,
sailing up this coast,
bays blur; nesses flatten out,
it’s hard to tell
But no one can miss
the gap, the emptiness
that signs its name
across landscape, sky,
that draws the fancy
like a window, or rather
the space in a ruined wall
where a window was.
by Sheenagh Pugh, from Afternoons Go Nowhere, Seren, 2019
For once I know where the inspiration came from, and mention it in the podcast above: a favourite poet of mine, the Dorset dialect poet William Barnes who was adept at conjuring the space where a person used to be. He does it in several poems, most notably ‘The Turnen Stile’ and ‘Woak Hill’, in which he talks to a woman who isn’t there and escorts her on to a cart and into a house:
When sycamore leaves wer a-spreadèn
Green-ruddy in hedges,
Bezide the red doust o’ the ridges,
A-dried at Woak Hill;
I packed up my goods all a sheenèn
Wi’ long years o’ handlèn,
On dousty red wheel ov a waggon,
To ride at Woak Hill.
The brown thatchen ruf o’ the dwellèn,
I then wer a-leävèn,
Had shelter’d the sleek head o’ Meäry,
My bride at Woak Hill.
But now vor zome years, her light voot-vall
‘S a-lost vrom the vloorèn.
Too soon vor my jaÿ an’ my childern,
She died at Woak Hill.
But still I do think that, in soul,
She do hover about us;
To ho vor her motherless childern,
Her pride at Woak Hill.
Zoo–lest she should tell me hereafter
I stole off ‘ithout her,
An’ left her, uncall’d at house-riddèn,
To bide at Woak Hill–
I call’d her so fondly, wi’ lippèns
All soundless to others,
An’ took her wi’ aïr-reachèn hand,
To my zide at Woak Hill.
On the road I did look round, a-talkèn
To light at my shoulder,
An’ then led her in at the doorway,
Miles wide vrom Woak Hill.
An’ that’s why vo’k thought, vor a season,
My mind wer a-wandrèn
Wi’ sorrow, when I wer so sorely
A-tried at Woak Hill.
But no; that my Meäry mid never
Behold herzelf slighted,
I wanted to think that I guided
My guide vrom Woak Hill.
by William Barnes
This is the last in a sequence of five poems about death, personified as a man called Walker. I suspect, but don’t know for certain, that the sea bit of it owes something to Paul Henry’s way of viewing sea and shore, and the shifting dividing line between them.
He hangs around the edges
where things happen,
the shoreline where land is eaten
and shells wash up
empty. Where countries stop
midstream, or at barbed wire
and rifle posts. Where walls meet air
at windowsills, balconies, parapets.
Most often, though, he waits
on time’s borders, the rim
where light and dark bleed, become
other, the red pen-stroke
that is Walker, his mark,
the end of days.
by Sheenagh Pugh from Short Days, Long Shadows, Seren, 2014
And this is the sea, of course
scrawling by moonlight in its room,
not quite getting the line right
where it meets the shore.
The earliest hours still find me
thinking of you; somnolent tides
rise towards daylight.
Perhaps you have drowned in me.
A table lamp shines the grain
of an old violin in the grate
and down the slope from your dreams
the bay similarly shines.
Perhaps you are not so far away
from the moon in the violin
and the clock I should wind, to hear
the workings of the bay.
At least in your dreams
see how I can not get this line
to make sense of the sand,
and how I am running out of time
and how easily the night and the day
exchange places, the land and the sea.
by Paul Henry, from The Brittle Sea, Seren, 2010, 2013. Thank you to Paul, for kind permission to include this poem.
My third and final poem is a long one, but it’s a central concern of mine, i.e. what becomes of us when we’re dead. The material bits of us change into something else, and some things, like achievements and memories, can remain, but what of the immaterial consciousness, the personality? The title of the poem comes from a 13th century ‘ubi sunt’ poem which, of course, takes the simplistic view that we all end up in heaven or hell. That won’t do for me, but the question remains. The reference in the poem to the purple ball comes from Anakreon’s immortal little lyric about the girl from Lesbos: https://www.loebclassics.com/view/anacreon-fragments/1988/pb_LCL143.57.xml, and the form of the first part of my poem is a very conscious imitation of the Anglo-Saxon riddles, especially those concerning change of state. But the main impetus behind it is Lucretius’s book-length poem De rerum natura, which I won’t attempt to copy out! You can read De rerum natura here.
Wher beth they, bifore us weren?
For it is impossible for anything to come to be from what is not, and it cannot be brought about that that which is should be utterly destroyed – Empedocles
Seeded in the dark, it hankered for sky:
it shouldered beyond the forest shade
to touch sunlight. Under an axe
it became a house, a boat, a book,
lived a new life, fell from use
to kindling: the fire caught and blew it
to flinders that flew and cooled to ash.
Or it crashed and rotted, eaten with age,
into earth, under it, stifled, pressed
beneath lifetimes, ice ages, until it hardened
into diamond or anthracite.
And the poet who riddled it took a pen
from a greylag’s wing that had flown oceans.
He made ink of oak-galls, rust, rainwater
and he laid his words on a calf’s skin
that ended its days as a kitchen rag.
Then he fell, he too, back to earth,
leaving his song in the ears of many,
hoping that they, before the air
forgot their voices, would throw it on,
like a ball that passes from hand to hand,
Should it console us somehow
that what looks so like annihilation
is only change? That beaches were cliffs,
that coal was once leaf, that flesh and bone,
even, become humus and lime
to feed new life? If this is comfort,
why does our breath catch, our heart turn over
when a dead man is lifted from permafrost
or peat bog with his face still on,
looking as if you could shake his shoulder
and wake him?
We’ve no cause to love change,
that’s the truth of it. Surely something
is lost; surely a body is
not just limbs, but their running lightness,
not eyes only, but what lit them,
and where does that go, Empedocles,
what becomes of it?
The ball passes
from hand to hand, but its colours
fade in the sun: one day, perhaps,
it drops in the grass, lies half hidden,
its purple weathered to grey.
And it may be a poem, so perfect
it lives on the page or tongue
for long ages of men,
but it may be no more
than a neighbour’s good nature,
a workman’s craft, a joker’s quick wit,
and these are soon gone, as soon
as the last man dies
who kept them in mind,
yet they were, as surely as cliff and leaf,
but where is the sand, the coal
that came of them?
Is there a beach somewhere,
unmapped, unvisited, whose sand
was ground from the soft stone
of all that has slipped from mind?
Could we run through our hands
the grains of a girl’s longing,
an artist’s gift, a palaeolithic jest?
Show me the sand, Empedocles,
show me the sand.
by Sheenagh Pugh, from Afternoons Go Nowhere, Seren, 2019
Thank you for those lovely poems, Sheenagh. I’d like to add a poem by Paul Henry here, too.
The Black Guitar
Clearing out ten years from a wardrobe
I opened its lid and saw Joe
written twice in its dust, in a child’s hand,
then a squiggled seagull or two.
a man’s tears are worth nothing,
but a child’s name in the dust, or in the sand
of a darkening beach, that’s a life’s work.
I touched two strings, to hear how much
two lives can slip out of tune
then I left it,
brought down the night on it, for fear, Joe
of hearing your unbroken voice, or the sea
if I played it.
by Paul Henry, from Ingrid’s Husband, Seren, 2007, and included in The Brittle Sea: New & Selected Poems, Seren, 2010 and 2013. Thank you again to Paul, for kind permission to include this poem.
A brief essay on the poem, by Carol Rumens, can be read here.
Our readers' choices
This monthly anthology ~ our Poetry Breakfast ~ is very much a joint effort: it wouldn’t happen without you sending in your chosen poems on the given theme. All suggestions very welcome!
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
by Thomas Hardy, from Poets of the English Language, Viking Press, 1950
They Flee From Me
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”
It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.
by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Iron Shoes on the Embankment
The smallest ones, hardly more than cobbles
kicked from the embankment’s paved stone,
until, up close, you see the tiny instep.
Others slipped off, as though to enter a bath,
coupled in ownership, moulded to imperfections,
facing the cold, racing Danube.
A night in January when they dropped out
of their clothes, lastly their shoes, before
militiamen shot them into the water;
blood oozing through holes in their sides, their heads,
the river rolling them in as arms flailed
the surface and the current dragged them down.
And when you turn away – turn to cross
the bridge – they stay in your head,
breaking your heart in their simplicity,
an art form so domestic, yet left out
in the weather, to fill with snow in winter
and promenade the embankment on summer nights.
(‘Shoes on the Danube Bank’ in Budapest is a memorial to the Jews shot into the river in 1945 during the time of the Arrow Cross terror.)
by Frances Sackett, from Cradle of Bones, The High Window Press, 2018. You can order copies directly from Frances, here.
A poem that quietens four squabbling teenagers in the back of a car, on a long journey, must say something special. A whole family listening, increasing the volume of the radio, decreasing the hubbub, to silence. A silence that continued for several miles. The poem ~ Norman Nicholson’s ‘Rising Five’; a worn copy is pinned up still wherever I live. You can read it here.
Lockdown has given us the ‘now’. And today’s poem from Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe Books in 2002, sprang out from the page. Ellen Hinsey takes up similar concerns of where the edges of life are, what is the here and now, what memory.
On the Uncountable Nature of Things
Thus, not the thing held in memory, but this:
The fruit tree with its scars, thin torqued branches;
The high burnished sheen of morning light
Across its trunk; the knuckle-web of ancient knots,
The swift, laboring insistence of insects –
Within, the pulse of slow growth in sap-dark cores,
And the future waiting latent in fragile cells:
The last, terse verses of curled leaves hanging in air –
And the dry, tender arc of the fruitless branch.
Yes: the tree’s spine conditioned by uncountable
Days of rain and drought: all fleeting coordinates set
Against a variable sky–recounting faithfully
The thing as it is – transient, provisional, changing
Constantly in latitude – a refugee not unlike
Us in this realm of exacting, but unpredictable, time.
And only once a branch laden with perfect
Fruit – only once daybreak weighed out perfectly by
The new bronze of figs, not things in memory.
But as they are here: the roar and plow of daylight,
The perfect, wild cacophony of the present –
Each breath measured and distinct in a universe ruled
By particulars – each moment a universe:
As when under night heat – passion sparks, unique –
New in time – and hands, obedient, divine,
As Desire dilates eye – pulse the blue-veined breast,
Touch driving, forging the hungering flesh:
To the far edge of each moment’s uncharted edge –
For the flesh too is wind, desire storm to the marrow –
Still – the dream of simplicity in the midst of motion:
Recollection demanding a final tallying of accounts;
The mind, loyal clerk, driven each moment to decide –
Even as the tree’s wood is split and sweat still graces
The crevices of the body, which moment to weigh in,
For memory’s sake, on the mobile scales of becoming.
by Ellen Hinsey, from The White Fire of Time, copyright 2002, by Ellen Hinsey, Wesleyan University Press, used by permission.
The Death of King George V by John Betjeman
The elegant evocation of the edge of a new world with the landing of a hatless Edward VIII.
The desperation of a daughter rushing to see her father before he dies. The moving and idiosyncratic French of the crying daughter is skilfully rendered by her translator, Susan Wicks. The sequence won the Griffin Poetry Prize and you can watch Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau reading the poem together, here.
You dying on the phone my mum he will not last the night see dad.
The train a dark rush under rain not last not die my father please oh please give me the get there soon.
Not deadying oh not desperish father everlast get up run fast –
Hand watch the time we’ve got to Vierzon outside it’s tipping hail.
We miss each other I have no idea passing through Vierzon that in these train arrival times you’ve died.
Not die oh please but everlast until the nurses’ corridor of white.
Until your bed as fast the engine into Lyon la Part-Dieu.
Until your forehead over now and all together in the little room and not forget.
Tell me, daddy dear, dadarling, daddy poorling: do you remember my little horse?
How it went round the table on its little kitchen wheels its mane our black hair streaming in the wind.
How the tins of tea the saucepans danced so fine as how we went for it to dada laughing daddy rear until it all breaks up not say no getting away.
Talk to you dad I managed a bit of daddychat a chitter ’cause we didn’t have that much time.
Outside the world its birds as white as planes, the barrier of sound.
Your hands on the white sheet were growing yellow yellow.
Surely they have no right to fly so low no right no fly so low you said.
Even the whites of your eyes were even yellow so we two forgave each other everything.
Okay when people ask I tell them fine especially when there are people round me yes I’m coping fine.
You don’t see me in the grocer’s weeping over the potatoes.
Nor waiting at the PO window when a portant package has to be packed off.
I’m fine it goes I say without saying my head my head.
It makes no sense your dying inwardly poor song.
Some stamps I need and some potatoes please a book, a bag.
Thanks a bundle.
Toi mourant man au téléphone pernoctera pas voir papa.
Le train foncé sous la pluie dure pas mourir mon père oh steu plaît tends-moi me dépêche d’arriver.
Pas mouranrir désespérir père infinir lever courir –
Main montre l’heure sommes à Vierzon dehors ça tombe des grêlons.
Nous nous loupons ça je l’ignore passant Vierzon que tu es mort en cet horaire.
Pas mourir steu plaît infinir jusqu’au couloirs blanc d’infirmières.
Jusqu’à ton lit comme la loco poursuit vite vers Lyon la Part-Dieu.
Jusqu’à ton front c’est terminé tout le monde dans la petite chamber rien oublier.
Papa dire papa dear dada pire: tu te souviens de mon petit cheval?
Comme ça tournait autour de la table à roulettes de cuisine sa crinière nos cheveux noirs au vent.
Comme ça valsait les boites à thé les casseroles belles comme ça y allait à dada rire oh papa rear à tout casser pas dire?
Te parler papa j’ai put e paparler un peu un petit peu paparce que nous n’avions plus tout le temps.
Dehors le monde ses oiseaux blancs comme des avions, le mur du son.
Tes mains sur le drap blanc jaunissaient jaunissaient.
Ils n’ont sûrement pas le droit de voler aussi bas pas pas le droit de voler aussi bas tu disais.
Même même le blanc de tes yeux était jaune nous alors nous sommes tout pardonné.
Ça va quand on demande moi je dis bien surtout s’il y a du monde je prends sur moi très bien.
On ne me voit pas chez l’épicière sangloter sur les pommes de terre.
Ni aux guichets de la poste retarder l’envoi pressé d’un colissime.
Ça va je dis sans dire et la tête et la tête.
Ça rime à rien ta mort intérieurement pauvre chant.
De timbres je voudrais et de patates un carnet s’il vous plaît, un filet.
Merci beaucoup de monde.
by Valerie Rouzeau, from Cold Spring in Winter (French title Pas Revoir) translated by Susan Wicks, Arc Publications, 2010. Thank you to both Susan Wicks and Valerie Rouzeau for their kind permission to include these poems and to Andrew James, who will read them in English and French at our live Zoom Poetry Breakfast on July 8th.
MCMXIV by Philip Larkin, from Look, Stranger, published by Faber, 1936 and Selected Poems, Faber, 1979
Again, the edge of a new world. The evocation of pre-1914 Britain is flawless.
You can also read the Guardian article from the time of publication.
That was the moment when, closing
The wicket gate behind me, I knew
That nothing would ever be the same again.
I knew I could wait before turning,
Very slowly, to look back:
An eternity to note precisely
How the falling sun would sketch
The branches, trace the millinery
Of the leaves. And then to turn
So slowly, looking backwards
At the glory of that other life
Lived not knowing what would come,
Before the eye of the storm passing
Over our heads brings us the world’s
Enormity, its frailness, driving
And driving the exquisite spike
Of ecstasy into our lives.
by Hilary Davies from In a Valley of the Restless Mind, Enitharmon Press, 1997. Thank you to Enitharmon Press for kind permission to include this poem.
Look, Stranger by WH Auden, from Look Stranger, Faber, 1936 and Selected Poems, Faber, 2010
The edge of the English world:
‘Here at the small field’s ending pause
where the chalk wall falls to the foam’
Q’s Pew (Fowey Church)
‘I had rather be a doorkeeper …’ Psalm 84, v, ii.
Up at God’s end, the grandees: Treffrys and Rashleighs,
In layers of granite, epitaph and swagger.
We looked for him there. It seemed the right place
For a knight, a mayor, a writer, a Cambridge professor,
Begetter of English studies. Up there with the choir;
Or rather, less classy, near the Spanish galleon’s
Fancy woodwork converted to Protextant pulpit.
He must have relished that. But not there, either.
He lurks in a lowly place, in a one-bum pew,
An edging of seat, left over from a pillar.
His wife perched there with him. He’d sit at the outer end
In his courtly way. A small brass plaque
Tells us nothing much (which is all there’s room for),
Leaving us free to guess. I like him for being modest,
For sitting so far from the haves, in the draught
Near the south door. Not quite a doorkeeper. He’d be too old.
But nearness to doorkeepers may have seemed better
Than nearness to grandees and God for a man like him.
by U.A. Fanthorpe, from Consequences, Peterloo Poets, 2000. Included here by kind permission of R.V. Bailey.
A Broken Appointment
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb,—
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure loving kindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.
You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
–I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love not me?
by Thomas Hardy
its not necessarily the wooden spoon
you would choose from the utensil jar
next to the hob
unless you are drawn to faded elegance
the long slender handle has a split
along one side
it’s shallow bowl has a chipped edge
it’s one from a pair of salad servers
whose partner snapped years ago
a wedding gift from my uncle
who would be surprised to see me
using it to stir my porridge
surprised to know it reminds me
of the trouble he caused back then
nana’s shocked face the way the word
divorce was only mouthed not spoken
even behind closed doors
I would like him to know the chipped edge
is the perfect shape
for scraping every bit of porridge out of the pan
by Pauline Prior-Pitt
Edges of my Mind
You occupy the edges of my mind
waiting to be summoned into thoughts,
filling me with longing and with guilt
for all those opportunities ignored.
But life stands on my doorstep everyday,
demanding, using, eating up the hours,
and years drift into decades, separating.
We lose the bonds that once held us so close.
Oh I would like to stretch my arms out wide
and gather you all to me in this place,
to look upon each face in turn, and say
how I have missed you all along the way.
Yet every day I summon one or other
and slowly please in that time we had,
knowing that we cannot be together. It’s gone
and we have changed, there’s no return.
And do you think of me sometimes, I wonder?
Do I occupy the edges of your mind?
by Pauline Prior-Pitt from Be an Angel, Spike Press, 2017
Attend to the gulls and forecasts heard in bed,
reassurance that we’re safe from winter seas
where wrecks roll under the sea lanes, tilting
in the oily wash of ferries
or fathoms down, where whales slip freely
through the Hebrides.
You must have been there in the flap and crack of canvas
that Malin stitched for you in beads of ice
and worked a slanting Dog Watch while the gales
whipped North Utsire white at nightfall
and learned co-ordinates for the sight
of black ceramic water shattering on Rockall.
I imagine you counting, between Fair Isle
and Forties, a flock of shipwrecks,
when you slept. Long after you’ve gone,
I think of the course of your keel
on its barred-silver passage to the mackerel north
or on the coal road from Lerwick to Shields
The Dark Farms
And now they’re emptied
the dark farms
now crouched in their earths.
they swallowed glints
and flakes of stars
as mica shines in granite.
Now cloud hangs in veils
there’s no hill
there’s no moon
only rain-soaked wool
press into the cottage
find their shelter
under the lum.
I’d like to follow Jean’s ‘Dark Farm’ with this one of Pauline’s …
Deserted Croft House
From the road, it looks like a child’s drawing,
a chimney at each end,
door in the middle, windows either side.
Mountains are in the distance
with a glimpse of the sea. The sun
is a spiky yellow flower.
The door isn’t locked, of course,
no one does and anyway
the windows are square holes.
If the dust wasn’t so deep,
you could think she had just gone
down to the shore to gather driftwood.
Her small purse is open on the table
next to a cup and saucer
and a pinafore is set on the back of a chair
as if someone called her name
a moment ago and she took it off
to answer the door.
You love it, want to buy it, spend
the rest of your life restoring it,
replacing rotten timbers and roof tiles,
pointing up the stones, painting them white,
putting in heat and light. You know exactly
how it’s going to look. But it’s not for sale.
They say it used to be a ceilidh house
where every night the sounds of songs
and stories warmed these crumbling walls.
And somehow you know the house is waiting,
holding its breath, for when she walks back in
and sets the driftwood in the grate.
by Pauline Prior-Pitt, from Storm Biscuits, Spike Press, this edition 2017. Thank you Pauline for your permission to include this poem.
Horses always look cleverer than they are
He doesn’t trust their aristocratic eyelashes.
He skirts wide of their paddock
on his plod to the scaffolded church;
never fills his slake bucket from their tap.
The hacking-out takes longer than he’d hoped, his palms
blistered from the plugging-chisel’s punishment.
Every afternoon they pound the bounds of their field
as he pounds the mortar joints, clears the Victorian cement.
He’s memorised every medieval mason’s mark on this East wall
– the weather wall where the sandstone’s been ploughed
and globbed by centuries of wind from the Urals.
And every afternoon they kick up their hooves and whinny.
Through August he mixes the quicklime, the sand
– watches each patted-down volcano rise and steam.
Sometimes, when the sizzling slows, he eases his back
against the hot mound. Then hears them nicker and blow.
By October, he’s pleased with the re-pointing,
his mortar glows white as the evenings draw in.
He cleaves the clod-awkward chert, knaps the faces blank.
They snort and windsuck as the first frosts breathe at his back.
November. His finger-ends split from flint and the wind
that chews this place, he prinks the nave wall flushwork.
It is the last afternoon that, up through his ladder’s feet,
he will feel them beat their strange symbols into the turf.
Over and over where her neck made that final sound.
by Char March, from Full Stops in Winter Branches, Valley Press, 2018
Another Thomas Hardy!
Why did you give no hint that night
That quickly after the morrow’s dawn,
And calmly, as if indifferent quite,
You would close your term here, up and be gone
Where I could not follow
With wing of swallow
To gain one glimpse of you ever anon!
Never to bid good-bye
Or lip me the softest call,
Or utter a wish for a word, while I
Saw morning harden upon the wall,
That your great going
Had place that moment, and altered all.
Why do you make me leave the house
And think for a breath it is you I see
At the end of the alley of bending boughs
Where so often at dusk you used to be;
Till in darkening dankness
The yawning blankness
Of the perspective sickens me!
You were she who abode
By those red-veined rocks far West,
You were the swan-necked one who rode
Along the beetling Beeny Crest,
And, reining nigh me,
Would muse and eye me,
While Life unrolled us its very best.
Why, then, latterly did we not speak,
Did we not think of those days long dead,
And ere your vanishing strive to seek
That time’s renewal? We might have said,
“In this bright spring weather
We’ll visit together
Those places that once we visited.”
Well, well! All’s past amend,
Unchangeable. It must go.
I seem but a dead man held on end
To sink down soon. . . . O you could not know
That such swift fleeing
No soul foreseeing—
Not even I—would undo me so!
by Thomas Hardy
They’ll say: ‘She must be from another country’
When I can’t comprehend
why they’re burning books
or slashing paintings,
when they can’t bear to look
at god’s own nakedness,
when they ban the film
and gut the seats to stop the play
and I ask why
they just smile and say,
‘She must be
from another country.’
When I speak on the phone
and the vowel sounds are off
when the consonants are hard
and they should be soft,
they’ll catch on at once
they’ll pin it down
they’ll explain it right away
to their own satisfaction,
they’ll cluck their tongues
‘She must be
from another country.’
When my mouth goes up
instead of down,
when I wear a tablecloth
to go to town,
when they suspect I’m black
or hear I’m gay
they won’t be surprised,
they’ll purse their lips
‘She must be
from another country.’
When I eat up the olives
and spit out the pits
when I yawn at the opera
in the tragic bits
when I pee in the vineyard
as if it were Bombay,
flaunting my bare ass
covering my face
laughing through my hands
they’ll turn away,
shake their heads quite sadly,
‘She doesn’t know any better,’
‘She must be
from another country.’
Maybe there is a country
where all of us live,
all of us freaks
who aren’t able to give
our loyalty to fat old fools,
the crooks and thugs
who wear the uniform
that gives them the right
to wave a flag,
puff out their chests,
put their feet on our necks,
and break their own rules.
But from where we are
it doesn’t look like a country,
it’s more like the cracks
that grow between borders
behind their backs.
That’s where I live.
And I’ll be happy to say,
‘I never learned your customs.
I don’t remember your language
or know your ways.
I must be
from another country.’
by Imtiaz Dharker, from I Speak for the Devil, Penguin Books India, 2003. Thank you to Imtiaz for kind permission to include this poem.
Letters from Yorkshire
In February, digging his garden, planting potatoes,
he saw the first lapwings return and came
indoors to write to me, his knuckles singing
as they reddened in the warmth.
It’s not romance, simply how things are.
You out there, in the cold, seeing the seasons
turning, me with my heartfelt of headlines
feeding words onto a blank screen.
Is your life more real because you dig and sow?
You wouldn’t say so, breaking ice on a waterbutt,
clearing a path through snow. Still, it’s you
who sends me word of that other world
pouring air and light into an envelope. So that
at night, watching the same news in different houses,
our souls tap out messages across the icy miles.
by Maura Dooley, from Sound Barrier: Poems 1982-2002, Bloodaxe Books, 2002. Thank you to Bloodaxe for kind permission to include this poem.
Thank you, as always, to everyone who has contributed to this Poetry Breakfast anthology ~ what a feast of poetry it has been. And special thanks of course to Sheenagh Pugh who has given us so much to think about with her poems and this theme!
Our next guest is the poetry publisher Seren (also Sheenagh’s publisher!) who are going to celebrate with us by offering a showcase of poetry published this year, Seren’s 40th year.
There is no charge for these poetry blogs but they do take a huge amount of time. If you would like to show your appreciation by chipping in to my ‘coffee and paperback book fund’ you can do so here. If you don’t use Paypal you can email me for other ways to do this.
Feedback very much welcomed in the comments section below.
Thank you everyone, till next time … have a lovely summer!
(yes this is still the right email!)
Keep in touch!
For all the latest news about forthcoming events and to see the latest blog posts, sign up below.