… the valley that you’ve found

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

 

Our theme this week is  ‘ … the valley that you’ve found’, which is taken from the Joni Mitchell song That Song about the Midway Our Poetry Breakfast contributors have had great fun with it, coming up with, as ever, a wide ranging choice of poems for us all to enjoy – thank you all! The invitation was for poems on valleys, or midways – see what you think!

But please don’t think you have to wait for an invitation to offer up a poem! Next week’s theme is ‘Written on the Shore’ with Pauline Prior-Pitt and we would love you to send us your suggestions! Themes throughout July until we take our summer break are:

  • Written on the Shore
  • The lonely sea and the sky
  • Summer Dreams
  • Journeying
  • Tonight the Summer’s Over

So – dive in! Enjoy the poetry, and please add comments below about any aspect of the selection that you’ve enjoyed, or share any suggestions for poems that you think would fit the theme. And I’d especially like to know how you partake of your Poetry Breakfast – it makes up (just a tiny bit) for not seeing you and sharing it with you in person.

Char has chosen the poem Happy Valley by Alice Lyons because she likes it and especially because it uses the word Twombly, which I had to look up. It would seem the Twombly was a cyclecar manufactured in the US by Driggs-Seabury between 1913 and 1915. The cars had water-cooled, four-cylinder engines, two seats in tandem, and an underslung body. Few of them are still in existence. According to the urban dictionary, Twombly means to deliberately push yourself beyond the barriers of control in order to gain experience – so now we know!

Char March

Poet

The Changing Seasons in our Valley

We always knew the months Orion would be clear above our roofs,

the years the damson trees would yield a heavy crop.

We knew when geese would split the skies and flocks 

of field-fares arrive to strip the berries from our trees,

the time for harvesting, the holly’s ripening,

the time of wood-smoke and the sawing of logs. 

We never thought that we’d no longer read

the seasons as we used to do –

not know when to plant and when to sow, 

nor what would prosper in these endless days of rain, 

nor when the date of gathering might be

(one meagre week of sun, and so much to be done).

We look up at uncertain skies, wring our hands, 

and ask each other  ‘What’s to come?’

by Gill McEvoy first published by Ink, Sweat and Tears

Thank you for offering us this poem, Gill, and thank you for the photo Eildh Carr!

Airey-Force Valley by William Wordsworth

– Not a breath of air

Ruffles the bosom of this leafy glen.

From the brook’s margin, wide around, the trees

Are stedfast as the rocks; the brook itself,

Old as the hills that feed it from afar,

Doth rather deepen than disturb the calm

Where all things else are still and motionless.

And yet, even now, a little breeze, perchance

Escaped from boisterous winds that rage without,

Has entered, by the sturdy oaks unfelt,

But to its gentle touch how sensitive

Is the light ash! that, pendent from the brow

Of yon dim cave, in seeming silence makes

A soft eye-music of slow-waving boughs,

Powerful almost as vocal harmony

To stay the wanderer’s steps and soothe his thoughts.

Chosen by Ali Redgrave, Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books, re-opening July 6th! Ali also chose Football at Slack by Ted Hughes

 

Joyce has chosen On Causewayside by The Proclaimers. She says it’s a tenuous link – and a song lyric not a poem, but she’s a fan of The Proclaimers, the Scottish brothers who’ve had much success, and she loves this short song. Joyce says Causewayside is a typical early 1900’s tenement street in central Edinburgh. The streets are like steep sided urban valleys (!)  midway between being demolished –  or preserved for their fine stone frontages.

Joyce moved to Shropshire less than 2 years ago from Fife (where she attended geology courses).

I love how playful you’ve been with the theme, Joyce!

Joyce Watson

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

On Causewayside by the Proclaimers

 

Did they build this tenement

With stone from Fife?

Does it have a memory

Of an earlier life?

Before it was transported

To be cut with pride

And built up till it looked down

On Causewayside

 

At the edge of the pavement

There stands a girl

Of no more than three

Years in this world

Looking up at her mother

With sheer delight

For a moment

On Causewayside

 

The rats in the sewer

And the autumn sky

Stand still for a moment

And so do I

As we touch the eternal

Then the cold winds sigh

And blow it away

Down Causewayside

 

                                                   Craig and Charlie Reid

Nicky chose ‘What if this Road’ by Sheenagh Pugh, and comments:

That sense of things being able to change, of being unpredictable. The whole poem seems such a perfect, efficient metaphor!

Thank you Sheenagh for allowing us to include your poem

Nicky Bennison

Shared Reading Leader

What If This Road

What if this road, that has held no surprises
these many years, decided not to go
home after all; what if it could turn
left or right with no more ado
than a kite-tail? What if its tarry skin
were like a long, supple bolt of cloth,
that is shaken and rolled out, and takes
a new shape from the contours beneath?
And if it chose to lay itself down
in a new way, around a blind corner,
across hills you must climb without knowing
what’s on the other side; who would not hanker
to be going, at all risks? Who wants to know
a story’s end, or where a road will go?

by Sheenagh Pugh

Published by Seren, first collected in Id’s Hospit, then in Later Selected Poems

 

 

From Alix – first, a medley on The Half of Life: one in German, with a prose translation, and a Scottish version by Kathleen Jamie, included here with Kathleen’s permission.

Alix Nathan

Author, The Warlow Experiment

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget

Und voll mit wilden Rosen

Das Land in den See,

Ihr holden Schwäne,

Und trunken von Küssen

Trunkt ihr das Haupt

Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn

Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo

Den Sonnenschein

Und Schatten der Erde?

Die Mauern stehn

Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde

Klirren die Fahnen.

From The Penguin Poets, Hölderlin, Selected Verse, edited and with plain prose translations by Michael Hamburger (1961)

Hauf o’ Life by Kathleen Jamie

eftir Hölderlin

Bien wi yella pears, fu
o wild roses, the braes
fa intil the loch;
ye mensefu’ swans,
drunk wi kisses
dook yir heids
i’ the douce, the hailie watter.

But whaur when winter’s wi us
will ah fin flo’ers?
Whaur the shadda
an sunlicht o the yird?
Dumbfounert, the wa’s staun.
The cauld blast
claitters the wethervanes.

 

from The Overhaul published by Picador

The Middle of Life

With yellow pears and full of wild roses the land hangs down into the lake, you lovely swans, and drunken with kisses you dip your heads into the holy and sober water.

Alas, where shall I find, when winter comes, the flowers, and where the sunshine and shadows of earth?  The walls loom speechless and cold, in the wind weathercocks clatter.

 

From The Penguin Poets, Hölderlin, Selected Verse, edited and with plain prose translations by Michael Hamburger (1961)

Then, Alix told me she found her frst edition copy of Tide Race, by the Welsh poet Brian Morris, in my shop last year and was delighted to find that someone who’d taught her was actually a very good poet.  Alix said he was a brilliant lecturer, speaking without notes, apparently spontaneously: she says she was a terrible student and reading his work decades later was amazed to find she understood some of it!

At the bottom of the page I am including (with permission from Carcanet) the poem Postmeridian by Nina Cassian – it is longer than I would usually share here, but a beautiful poem with a stunning ending.

Cwm Gwdi by Brian Morris

Few ever lived here, and now for centuries none have.

Only the fading echo of long dead owls inhabits

This old groin of the hills, this secret patch where paths fork

Leaving a tight, unblemished mound between.  A few

 feathers

Mewed by casual hawks of passage have dropped gently

On this triangular feature: Nature’s droll parody,

The burlesque turn of fertility that might have been.

It all lies very still now, hard and cold as any stone;

Restless winds flutter the couch-grass and the blue heather,

Moving the hill dust on, shifting it from tuft to soiled tuft.

from Tide Race, Gomer Press, published in 1976, now out of print

 

And a somewhat sinister take on midsummer from Steve!

Steve Harrison

Poet-at-Home, Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Midsummer Mayhem

So little time to suck the blood

bid our business

catch the innocents.

Our lightless vision echoes

sounds you strain to hear.

A different wave

refracts through bricks

crumbling mortar

twisted trees 

stagnant water.

We haunt your dream gardens 

 dwell in coal-dark 

 scratch your subconscious

are the shadow in the park.

This frantic affray on your Freudian fears

 an Incubus screech-owl

 pin-drop pointed ears.

This midsummer mayhem

 leaves us drained.

Thank Nyx

the nights are drawing out again.

Thank you to Neil Astley for giving us permission to include this poem again, we previously featured it in Poetry for Troubled Times

Carol Caffrey has chosen this one, and says

I heard her read this in the Schoolhouse in Allihies ; just magical.

Leaving Early by Leanne O’Sullivan

My Love,

             tonight Fionnuala is your nurse.

You’ll hear her voice sing-song around the ward

lifting a wing at the shore of your darkness.

I heard that, in another life, she too journeyed

through a storm, a kind of curse, with the ocean

rising darkly around her, fierce with cold,

and no resting place, only the frozen

rocks that tore her feet, the light on her shoulders.

And no cure there but to wait it out.

If, while I’m gone, your fever comes down—

if the small, salt-laden shapes of her song

appear as a first glimmer of earth-light,

follow the sweet, hopeful voice of that landing.

She will keep you safe beneath her wing.

From A Quarter of an Hour by Leanne O’Sullivan, published by Bloodaxe Books

Thank you to Angela France for giving us permission to include her poem.

Angela’s new collection is to be published by Nine Arches Press in the Spring of 2021.

Hilary Tilley, from Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock, has chosen this poem for us.

The Light Beneath by Angela France

She looks up from the potatoes, sees him in the garden

and watches as he levels a molehill. He spreads earth

over the border, scrapes the ground flat, bends

to dust off a low leaf. She knows he will clean

his spade, wash his hands and leave his boots

in the mud room before he comes to sit at the table

and wait behind his newspaper for lunch.

~

Friends ask how she copes with his dour silence.

She could tell them how he’s got up first for thirty years

to make the coffee, how he’s always folded

his warm legs around her feet on winter nights,

how the first blooms of summer are cut for the kitchen

table before she knows they exist. She couldn’t explain

how once, when she was ill, she woke to find him

watching over her, hollow faced.

~

She sees he’s flattening another mound as a neighbour

stops to talk. She can see the man is animated,

fast-talking, pointing and making sharp stabs

in the air. She can guess that he offers suggestions

of poison or traps. She doesn’t need to hear her husband

to know what he says as he turns away,

She’s heard it before: They lighten the soil.

 from The Everyday Poet: Poems to Live By, edited by Deborah Alma

Hilary also chose this lovely poem Lowedges, by Helen Mort.

Hilary Tilley

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Thank you to Philip Browning for choosing this part of A Shropshire Lad, living as I do in the Clun Valley, in one of those ‘quietest places under the sun’, I can hardly credit that I didn’t think of it myself! Philip also chose that wonderful classic,  The Charge of the Light Brigade.

Thanks also to Alison Richards for Hills and Dales – how lovely it will be to drive through them to get to the sea, soon!

And a big thank you to Geoff Taylor for the gorgeous photgraph.

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast

from A Shropshire Lad by A E Housman

Clunton and Clunbury,
               Clungunford and Clun,
          Are the quietest places
                Under the sun.

In valleys of springs of rivers,
By Ony and Teme and Clun,
The country for easy livers,
The quietest under the sun,

We still had sorrows to lighten,
One could not be always glad,
And lads knew trouble at Knighton
When I was a Knighton lad.

By bridges that Thames runs under,
In London, the town built ill,
’Tis sure small matter for wonder
If sorrow is with one still.

And if as a lad grows older
The troubles he bears are more,
He carries his griefs on a shoulder
That handselled them long before.

Where shall one halt to deliver
This luggage I’d lief set down?
Not Thames, not Teme is the river
Nor London nor Knighton the town:

’Tis a long way further than Knighton,
A quieter place than Clun,
Where doomsday may thunder and lighten
And little ’twill matter to one.

from A Shropshire Lad by AE Housman, published by Merlin Unwin

Hills and Dales by Bernard Shaw

Strolling over hills and dales,

Wandering through the land of Wales.

Groves of ash I passed on my way,

Tall trees in the wind did sway.

Ferns luscious in their coats of green,

Wild flowers many I have never seen.

A glory opening to my wondering eyes,

At each turn and bend some new surprise.

Villages enchanting to behold,

A few quite new many very old.

With here and there ruins of stone,

Reminding me that I am alone.

Alone on a journey of my choice,

Good reason for my soul to rejoice.

I realised that it soon must end,

My mind sorrowful thoughts did send.

I must return to my daily routine,

Happy and thankful for all I have seen.

Nature had shown me yet once again,

That she alone had the power to keep me sane.

A lovely topic for this week and it made me think of this poem by Frances Horovitz. I have had a copy of her collected poems for a long time but didn’t know the area of Hadrian’s Wall at all then. I walked Hadrian’s Wall in 2018 (in the drought!) and loved discovering the Irthing Valley. Looking down at the huge ruins of a Roman bridge look like a piece of landscape art. Irthing Valley was first published in her collection Snow Light, Water Light. However, I have it in her Collected Poems, Bloodaxe Books

Thank you again to Neil Astley for permission to include this poem

Alex Hiam

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Irthing Valley by Frances Horovitz

 

a field of stones

a river of stones

 

each stone in its place

 

can a star be lost

or a stone?

 

unaccountable

the constellations of stone

 

the wind lays itself down

                                     at dusk

a fine cloth over the stones

 

the river is dipossessed

it casts up white branches

                                       roots

shoals of white sand

 

it cannot oust its stones

 

between air and water

                                    my shadow

laving the stones

 

 

 

Alongside Irthing Valley, Alex asked for Orcop

by Anne Stevenson.

Orcop is known increasingly as “the Poets’ Church”, being the final resting place of Frances Horovitz and a special venue for poetry and musical events.

It is a place of great peace and tranquility.

Pauline has chosen this poem by David Whyte, because she says

it is so life affirming, even though I’m way past the middle of my life.

Thank you Pauline.

You can read David’s poem on his Facebook page where he also says a little about what the poem means to him.

Pauline Prior-Pitt

Artist and poet

My choice for this week is Mametz Wood by Owen Sheers.

Mametz Wood, in the Valley of the Somme, was the setting for the bloody action of July 1916 that resulted in the death of 4000 Welsh soldiers.

I always find the ending, with the image of a band of men deep in the earth of the valley, mouths open as if to sing out, particularly poignant – and such a picture of Welshness.

Jude

And last one from Alix, thank you for choosing this poem.  I’ve fallen in love with it, and I’ve been enjoying this very mellow John Coltrane  song in the background while I’m reading it.

Anna

Poetry Breakfast

Postmeridian by Nina Cassian

1

After the morning has cut the sediment of night

with luminous acids, here is the afternoon

slowly recovering, getting heavier,

feeding on the general tiredness.

here is the afternoon with its look

of a middle-aged woman who once

committed a crime, long ago,

never discovered, forgotten, of no consequence;

she now passes, always unnoticed.

The afternoon among them, through them,

moving its heavy haunches.

2

The great rest, the great parties, the great solitudes

take place at night, when one possesses time,

when, after work, time finds itself

in the man in the North Railway Station,

in the woman in the South Railway Station, 

in the deaf-mutes in the restaurant,

whose quiet liveliness does not contaminate anyone,

in a certain nuptial room, 

in a certain attitude of sleep, 

in a particular dream in the shape  of a rhombus.

3

The afternoon is intermediary time.

Those who love lack the courage to show themselves.

Those who are loved let themselves be waited for.

Waiting expands chairs,

flattens the telephone,

the walls become pneumatic;

you hit your head against them in vain; it doesn’t hurt 

the entire universe is anaesthetized.

Those who love ring the doorbell, and when you open

there is nobody there; somebody ran away leaving behind

a delicate ectoplasm which disappears

if you breathe too heavily.

And so, between those who left and those who did not come,

you stand frozen, disfigured, 

tattooed on the air.

4

In the afternoon, the cobras sleep.

In their long slumber only the venom stays awake,

like a violet light bulb.

The lions with their wise jaws sleep.

In the sky, the pale soul of the stars.

In the alphabet, the letter ‘M’, the letter ‘N’,

closely embraced, sleep.

 

5

Postmeridian  – take care:

the day is half gone; you’ve already forgotten

the sparkling thorns of sunrise;

the speed of light in the tree’s spine

now has passed its peak.

After the cold waters of dawn sculpted you,

experience was deposited on your body

in thin layers, invisible.

 

6

If you could live

the tea hours, the coffee hours,

the tranquil sound of cups,

if you could conceive of the fragile amber hours,

the afternoon of an old family in an old century

altered by a romantic memory,

if only you would resist the horror

of seeing your face in the cupful

of tea, burning in the flames of Hell.

Or, in the later afternoon hours,

have you ever seen the sudden rain of wrinkles

falling on your visitor’s cheek?

It is as if the light’s decline

would first test its victim,

then abandon it without going for the kill,

leaving it terrorized for the rest of its life.

And you who watch say nothing,

only ask yourself if the same mass of wrinkles,

like a living creature, didn’t throb for an instant

on your own face.  You do something, anything 

for example, light a cigarette 

and, finally, twilight saves you.

Finally, the air is cool, like the body after love.

The vapors of premonition are lost.

The afternoon moves to the other side of the globe,

with its aspect of a middle-aged woman,

each hand carrying a loaded shopping bag.

Who know what they contain?   Maybe flour, maybe raw meat.

In any case, some bloody streaks were observed in her wake,

in the railway station, in the lion’s eye,

in the cup of tea.  Don’t worry about it now.

From the newspapers, tomorrow,

we’ll find out what really happened.

First published in Life Sentence.  Collected in Time’s Tidings, edited by Carol Ann Duffy, both published by the Anvil Poetry Press. Permission to reproduce the poem here kindly given by Carcanet.

So that’s it for another week!  Please send us poems on this, or any of the themes by email  or you can use the message function at the bottom of the page.  You can also follow us using the social media buttons just below.

And right at the bottom of the page you can sign up for our monthly newsletter! (Can you tell that we really want to keep in touch?!)

We would love to hear (and share) your suggestions!

Anna

Poetry Breakfast

6 Comments

  1. Pauline

    Just spent a wonderfully indulgent hour and a half reading these poems, so many different interpretations of the theme. I love Sheenagh Pugh and Angela France and Frances Horovitz, but enjoyed reading them all. I decided to read them all out loud. Thank you Anna.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Pauline, it is so lovely to think of you reading them all aloud! I’m so glad you are now a regular Poetry Breakfaster!

      Reply
  2. Alix

    Extraordinary range of poetry! Put together beautifully and intriguingly as ever, Anna.

    Nina Cassian was highly musical. I first heard of her when she was the subject of Desert Island Discs some years ago. Feel sure she would have been delighted by your choice of Coltrane.
    Images of her on Google are amazing; indeed her life was like no other.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you so much Alix – working on the next one now!

      Reply
  3. Alix

    Discovery! Searching for a sea poem in Kathleen Jamie’s The Overhaul I came across her perfect rendering of that Holderlin poem. Presumably I can’t reproduce both stanzas, but here’s the first:

    Hauf o’ Life

    Bien wi yella pears, fu
    of wild roses, the braes
    fa intil the loch;
    ye mensefu’ swans,
    drunk wi kisses
    dook yir heids
    i’ the douce, the hailie watter.

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      That’s amazing! How beautiful. I want to hear it out loud!

      Reply

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