Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
I am so pleased that Liz Lefroy is our special guest this month. Liz created the Poetry Busk for the Wenlock Poetry Festival and for many years has run the highly successful Shrewsbury Poetry where new talent is nurtured and celebrated, and where the great and the good queue up to appear ~ Andrew McMillan and Philip Gross among them. Liz appeared at Theatre Severn in 2014 with Carol Ann Duffy and Gillian Clarke, and took part in the Shore to Shore poetry tour in 2016 with Carol Ann, Gillian, Jackie Kay and Imtiaz Dharker.
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.
Liz has chosen the theme of ‘Leaving’ for this month’s Poetry Breakfast ~ it’s open to interpretation: escape, relief, loss, freedom … ? We’ll start with three of Liz’s own poems, then three that she loves by other poets, and then our readers will offer their choices.
As an added treat, Liz has also chosen a piece of music for us to listen to ~ you can have it playing while you read!
I hope you enjoy this Poetry Breakfast blog, and please join us on November 11th to hear Liz, and others, reading a selection of these poems.
You dream of logging off
shoving your chair under the desk
checking the empty drawers
pouring the dregs onto the spider plant
then pushing up the ceiling
climbing out for the last time.
And you dream of striding
to where the air is boundless
crossing the stile, gaining elevation
feeling the sweat leak from your skin.
You clear the flurry of talk and paper
as you near the hills.
And you once dreamt of this:
the end of the final school day
how you hurtled down the riverbank
and cast your books upon the water,
how you flung out your arms crying
I am no one’s, no one’s!
A PLACE CALLED SOLOMON
I have come to a place called Solomon,
where there is something vital to be judged,
to be divided. There is, as usual, a tall and seated man
sporting a type of wisdom in his beard.
He carries a weighted sword, hilted in bronze,
etched with slant words and pointed to the light.
Around him are women dressed in midnight,
grouped like schooled and silenced children;
and they’re bowed down in gratitude,
as if they deserve their vast and errant petitions.
When the man speaks, it will not be softly,
and the women know this, cross themselves with the intent
of those traversing bleached fields of stubble
before entering a cooling church at dusk.
There is one child, has only ever been this one child,
and he an infant, nestled in hay, lulled into a dream
which he dreams in the smoothest of milk-sleeps.
He curls his small fingers, unaware of the claims on him,
all of them deep as the instinct of a thousand mothers.
But a raised sword will make its judgment.
Everyone grieves for this child they know to be theirs
(though he is not theirs). Not one can prevent
the separation of head from heart, soul from mind,
body from spirit, flesh from flesh.
There will be a thousand pieces before it’s over.
This poem was highly commended by Penelope Shuttle, and published in the 2017 Aurora Prize anthology.
On the last morning, you’ll rucksack-up
then lower your pack to the floor, consider
the weight of things. We’ve planned this –
you’ll be going on and I’ll be going back –
this, and that I’ll take your excess:
books you’ll have read, trainers you won’t need.
You’ll be lighter, readying for the next
adventure. Your friends will be waiting.
Together you’ve planned trains
to Budapest, Bled, Split, Zagreb, Venice …
My suitcase will be close to the limit.
You’ll carry it downstairs.
I’m not ready for this so I’ll draw
things out – suggest breakfast,
choose a café in Schwedenplatz.
We’ll discuss the Danube, how grey it is,
and (in this stretch at least)
not to be considered beautiful.
We’ll go over each step of this journey,
discover what we’ve found is
not what we thought we’d find.
We already knew Beethoven, and yet
somehow he’s eluded us, led us on a dance
to middle Europe: to Schoenberg, jazz.
The next part I’ve rehearsed in my head.
We’ll take the underground to Hauptbahnhof.
I’ll buy you sandwiches. We’ll find the platform.
You’ll board the 11:25 to Bratislava.
I’ll wait till the train pulls out east, wave you off:
you’ll be going on, I’ll be going home.
from GREAT MASTER / small boy, Fair Acre Press 2021, available from Liz Lefroy at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chosen by Liz ...
Poems by Philip Gross, Kei Miller and Adrienne Rich
I am Those Clothes
left on the beach, folded fastidiously,
the name inside absconded.
They ran tests, but I told them nothing.
For a couple of weeks I was news.
People phoned in with their sightings
and confessions. False,
to a man, believe me.
In the end
I stood up, brushed sand from my creases
and walked, and went on walking
wondering who I could take it to,
this new and salty lightness at the core.
by Philip Gross, from Love Songs of Carbon, Bloodaxe, 2015. Thank you to Philip, for kind permission to include this poem.
What the Mapmaker Ought to Know
On this island things fidget.
The landscape does not sit
as if behind an easel
its lines, compose
its best features
or unruly contours.
by utter spite.
Whole places will slip
out from your grip.
by Kei Miller from: The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Carcanet 2014. This poem is reprinted here by kind permission of the author.
For the Dead by Adrienne Rich
from Diving into the Wreck, WW Norton 2013
I can’t get permission to include this poem, but it is very special to Liz and I wanted to include it. You can click here to read the poem.
Our readers' choices
This monthly anthology of 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! I hope you enjoy these varied and excellent choices.
The Horse Stops
Why do you look back so intently
Over the closed gate, up the lane
As if the January night were endless
As if you would never leave again?
Look, there is light. But the warmth is slipping
Over the land’s rim, where the sun
Darkens the valley with gold and murex,
Flying blind to everyone.
‘I’ll come, tomorrow.’ Yet you stare.
Your face as still and sharp as frost
Shifts into the light’s ebb where
It finds, like breath, all that is lost.
by Alison Brackenbury, from Gallop: Selected Poems, Carcanet, 2019
Thank you so much, Alison, for offering this poem.
Others want this house and soon
we must either leave or stay.
Is it the house or love
we are moving out of?
Perhaps we cannot say
but it hurts, all afternoon
our marriage has moved inside me –
the boys, the prints on the stairs,
the broken down cars, the holidays
in heaven and hell, long Saturdays
in market towns, mad neighbours …
I pick you a pear from the tree
but you have disappeared again
into that silence you inhabit,
your second home, where a whisper
might fall heavily to the floor –
an incendiary, pear-shaped
and loaded with pain.
Shall we stay or leave then, love?
It’s only the years moving inside us
and everything hurts in autumn.
Where shall we put them,
the years, in our new house?
the years we are moving out of?
by Paul Henry, from Ingrid’s Husband Seren, 2007 and The Brittle Sea: New & Selected Poems, Seren, 2010.
Thank you so much, Paul, for offering this poem.
Ruins of houses jut above the grass
where we are walking
and rocks that once were walls
This was the byre end, this
the living room, and this
the hearth stone where we sit
and listen to its memories
of people living here in peace
beside this shingle shore,
their houses clustered close together
down below the moor,
looking north to Pabbay
and the Harris hills, welcoming
the boat from Boreray, whose skeleton
still rests here in the bay.
How what they had they shared
of fish, potatoes, crops; and paid
their rent in ash from burning kelp,
to landlords who were harsh,
until eviction notices arrived
to clear them out, telling them
to take what they could carry
on their backs, and leave,
leave the very walls, roof, turf,
their cultivated land,
food that they had grown,
the place that was their home.
How the factor came on horseback
with strong men, giving orders,
dragging their belongings in the mud,
nailing up their doors.
And how the minister preached
it was God’s will for them to leave
and emigrate to foreign lands
to find a better life.
How they pleaded, how they were
helpless in their plight, how they
were kicked aside like dogs,
till all the fight was gone from them.
Only these stones bear witness now.
Only these stones, remain.
And flowers of Tormentil, threading
their yellow petals through the grass,
remind us of the agony and pain,
of those who had to leave their land,
their way of life, their home,
and will not come this way again.
by Pauline Prior-Pitt, from No Better Place, poems about North Uist with Gaelic translations by Neil MacDonald and Catriona Black, which will be published by Spike Press early in 2022. Thank you so much, Pauline, for offering this poem.
Walking to the Rural Station
In this cottage someone’s playing a recorder.
The notes fly, one by one, into the thatch.
A heron flaps up from the pond-edge,
voicing its objection.
A gasp of breeze shuffles the leaves.
It might rain.
The train to Newport is always late.
The hills are blue with waiting.
For days this friend has not known
what to do with herself.
She should take a train to somewhere.
The world is out there,
by Gill McEvoy
Thank you so much, Gill, for offering this poem.
We went to find bats
In caves dug into the red sandstone cliff
that the castle pushed its roots into.
In the moving beams of our torches
we saw the herringboned roof
where Pictish antlers had gouged
at the red. It was surprisingly warm.
And in just a few of the vertical cracks
above our bowed heads, the tiny bodies
hunched and pulled their elbowed wings
over their eyes when we poked our lights
into their narrow homes.
Don’t let her drive. She’ll have missed
the last ferry, and besides, she’ll be crying.
Next, they got me searching for badgers.
The five of us, nursing our breath, tip-toeing
into the crackle of the wood wishing
we’d eaten more carrots. Instead of brock
we found luminous fungi breathing up
through composting leaves. And a pile
– still steaming – of fox shit, pungent
as truffles, as week-old un-iced fish.
I swear my boots still stink of it.
They kept me exploring for nine hours,
till the physical black of the woods
started to dilute. The first time any of us
had seen dawn for decades.
Nothing pretty about it.
Then they helped me pack the car,
gave out hugs, a huge flask of caffeine
scalding into the passenger seat.
by Char March, unpublished
We were parents
You played hide and seek
through our dreams for years
before you arrived.
Then, once we’d tigged you
– that squirm of blur
inside that pulsing screen –
we lay at night trying
not to giggle; straining
to hear your heartbeat.
You made us laugh a lot,
and disagree, and talk till 3am
of names, and whose nose you’d get.
And then you, who had lived
with us such a blink of time,
And we are left, holding
onto nothing but naming books,
and our lurching world.
For you braced your whole
13cm self, and threw our
planet off its axis.
by Char March, from The Thousand Natural Shocks, Indigo Dreams. Thank you so much, Char, for offering these two poems.
I’d like to suggest this ~
Under fallen leaves small creatures look
trickling beings in a rotten storeroom,
when I dig deeper.
A moment of nothing
before the storm-trees sway.
The forest smells of damp and decay,
an unknown grave swarms
with homeless life.
The sun seeps down along the trunks,
insects rustle under dry-rotten bark,
stagger drunkenly out along a branch.
Cyclone of changes,
no different than a circle of friends struck
by a typhoon’s force:
divorces, illness, sudden death.
A society goes under, another rises,
new air flows cool and clear. Breathe. Survive.
Creatures dash up along trunks
disappear into a treetop, where birds
now and then short-circuit in song
Drops of dreamt light between twigs
or patchy blindness
as after shooting stars on the sky’s vault,
before the unavoidable departure
(translated by David McDuff)
And two from the Thomas boys ~
Lights Out by Edward Thomas, which you can read here,
and No Time by RS Thomas. Click on the picture to listen to RS reading the poem.
On ‘Leaving’ ~ I immediately thought of the Beatles’ song ‘She’s Leaving Home’ and have just looked up the lyrics. It seems ideal to me.
You can listen to the Beatles singing the song by clicking HERE.
You asked for suggestions for November.
The poem Loss by Elaine Feinstein from her Cities collection, published by Carcanet in 2010, does not include the word, but it’s what I believe it is about.
Also, An Ending by Wendy Cope from her collection, If I Don’t Know, published by Faber in 2001.
I found this many years ago in Penguin Modern Poets Volume 2. Googling, I found it on Amazon for nearly $600 but it is on AbeBooks for £2!
from All of it Singing, Graywolf Press, 2008
In My Dreams by Stevie Smith from New Selected Poems 1972
Waving Goodbye by Gerald Stern poem appears in POETRY, July 1979
Stanzas by Emily Bronte from The Complete Poems of Emily Jane Bronte 1923So We’ll Go No More a Roving by Lord Byron, published by Thomas Moore in 1830
On the theme of ‘Leaving’ I came across On Going by Owen Sheers this morning. I didn’t know it (though the book has been on my shelf for quite some time!) and it struck a chord with me. I have it in Skirrid Hill, Seren, 2005.
Here are my two short poem suggestions for Poetry Breakfast ~ ‘Leaving’. Although ‘Why Brownlee Left’ remains a mystery, and a sad scenario may suggest itself, there is also a possibility for optimism amid the uncertainty. ‘A Removal from Terry Street’ holds out such hope with its unused lawn mower now finding pastures new. I enjoyed considering these poems, the family moving towards ‘the grass that is always greener on the other side’ and the man who ‘should have been content’.
A Removal from Terry Street by Douglas Dunn appears in Staying Alive, Bloodaxe, 2002, reprinted from Selected Poems, Faber and Faber, 1986.
Why Brownlee Left by Paul Muldoon also appears in Staying Alive, Bloodaxe, 2002, and is reprinted from New Selected Poems 1968-1994, Faber and Faber, 1996.
I’d like to offer Walking Away by C. Day-Lewis. I first came across this poem when it was read by Rachel Norbury at one of our Poetry Breakfasts. Rachel had read the poem at her husband, John’s, funeral. Both Rachel and John were long-time supporters of the bookshop and this poem works for me on many levels. You can read it here.
We’ve had a Beatles’ song already, and for all you Abba fans out there (you know who you are!) here is one from the movie Mama Mia. Click here to watch the film clip.
Thank you, as always, to everyone who has contributed to this Poetry Breakfast anthology ~ what a moving and lovely theme! Thank you Liz, for your wonderful poems and for choosing this theme for us.
Our next Poetry Breakfast is on the theme of CHRISTMAS! How could it be anything else?! We will also be holding a real life, in-person Christmas Poetry Special in Clungunford Church on the afternoon of Sunday December 19th: do get in touch if you would like to join us.
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.
Thank you everyone, we won’t be meeting in January, but our special guest is February is the wonderful Roz Goddard!
(yes this is still the right email!)
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