Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
David’s wonderful poem Skellig Michael has led to me having a lovely exchange with my old friend Annamarie from Dingle, west Kerry, and her photographs and choice of music are from that wonderful land and seascape.
NOTE TO READERS:
Most of the text highlighted in red is a clickable link where you can futher explore a poem or poet, and many of the pictures, also. Click away, have fun!
I am writing this on St Swithun’s Day, and yes, it did rain this morning.
42 years ago today, David and I went through that Rite of Passage known as ‘marrying’ when he became a ‘houseband’ (sic). We have been lucky to be fruitful and creative on this journey together, but sadly Alzheimer’s has crept in between us and David now needs the support of a Home for the last part of that journey. He can no longer talk coherently, but his poetry can speak to all who care to listen, and he remains gentle and empathetic. Once, in an interview, David was asked if he would like the word ‘Priest’ or ‘Poet’ on his headstone … I know that he must have both, as together they encapsulate his nature and cannot be teased apart.
I commissioned this lovely portrait of David by Evelina Dee-Shapland in 2007 to mark his 60th birthday.
We travelled to Orkney for our honeymoon, and learning that David had never visited an agricultural auction I was confident that he would find it interesting. Here is the result. ‘Kirkwall Auction Mart’. The Sunday Times and the BBC had together launched a National Poetry Competition, and the poem had to be suitable to be a ‘Close Down’ poem. David won that competition and it was read at 23.55 on BBC2 on Wednesday 1st November, 1978. The cattle were sold and marshalled on, and we were starting out on married life. Winning the competition took David from delightful small press booklets to the real deal of publishing books with Bloodaxe.
There are no bolts that do not exactly
fit the gates into and out of the store-ring.
Hundreds of times a day the same slamming iron
marshals cattle lots, hooves fighting the sand,
until the stick smacks them into view.
A nod decides the hidden bidders
and for these ghosts a litany is sung
bridging the jump in bids by the ancient
rattling of tongues until a bashed hand settles it.
Paper slips locate the buyers. We might
have guessed it would be a man of dull cloth,
hunched over the front rail, his smoke
joining the wreath of snorted breath high up
in the roof, who knew his business, and bought.
Photograph by Annamarie
In 2002 David enjoyed his one and only Sabbatical, and afterwards he published a small booklet of poems and sketches. He hoped that his sabbatical pilgrimage would complete on Skellig Michael, rocky outcrops in the Atlantic, off the South west coast of Ireland. Hermits used to eke out a meagre living on the summit. Here is an excerpt from his introduction to the booklet:
… Then there was the intellectual Journey, tracing the flow of the Irish Mission in the 6th – 9th centuries, which brought Christianity, with an intellectual and spiritual rigour, to the life of Europe in the dark ages. Deeper than both those journeys was my own spiritual one. It is that journey I hope the poems will go some way to explaining, and then there’s a level of journeying that only time will tell, if at all …
His time in Ireland was limited, the weather was not propitious, and no boat trips were to be had, but the need for a maintenance crew to visit the island meant that a boat had to weather the turbulent water, and he was invited aboard … you could say it was ‘a miracle’ that he got there. David was delighted that Norman Ackroyd was happy for one of his etchings of those rocks to be on the cover of Beyond the Drift, Bloodaxe books, 2014.
I was on the top of an illuminated wave
the ones you don’t believe when you
see them in manuscripts, an upturned ‘U’,
or on top of a Leviathan, but it was true.
The boat climbed the wave, sat on
top of it, and slid down the other side.
We had the childhood colours too:
blue boat, black sea, white faces.
On arrival the sea doesn’t give you up,
but still rolls, and even in your dreams
you will be surging and plummeting,
or leaping off the cliffs like a puffin
which takes a leisurely fifty feet to ease
out of its fall, and tucks its orange feet
behind, and squits its white stuff
like parachutes onto the rocks.
It’s only when you leave the lighthouse path,
strewn with the skeletons of birds
and thick with a high-pitched smell of bird lime
that you begin to hear the silence
pressing in, far from the engine of the boat
and the orchestrated scream of gulls.
Then the steps begin, the Southern Stairway,
counting six hundred up to an unknown bedroom.
Somehow it felt necessary to be discalced,
my feet, white as a gannet’s breast, my boots
hanging round my neck like earrings.
The boatmen, I noticed, stayed below.
Rightly, to enter the enclosure you have
to stoop, awkwardly, lowly. You begin by bowing.
In, you cannot see your way out.
The first miracle will be if you’re alone,
the second that the sun will shine, the third
that God will talk with you. Pray to St Michael
for three miracles, whose skellig it is. Stop.
Breathe. Let in the peace, and if you don’t kneel there
where on earth will you kneel?
I looked up and saw an angel standing by the tombs.
She was dressed in brown. She was the guide,
She understood the need for silence.
This is where the guidebooks stop and the poems begin.
This is where we have to imagine the monks
watching the sky with nothing
between themselves and heaven,
a psalter for food, rain for drink, and possibly
a strip of wheat beyond the enclosure.
This desert is on the edge of the ocean
and they made the edge a virtue.
But surely despair was sometimes the shape
of their beehive hut, a homesickness, when
the elements took leave of God’s control
and became something other. Surely, for some,
having said goodbye to the world,
death could not come quickly enough.
A part of us will not come down:
the glimpse of heroism we could never really manage,
a crazy love of Christ, a romance, something
to do with penitence. And as we sit in meetings
in our suits, we’ll take the boat again, and climb
with the gulls willing us up further into lightness
for which prayer is the only music, and Christ’s coming
the only purpose under heaven.
Photograph by Annamarie
The third poem I have chosen is ‘Driving Home from Basingstoke Crematorium’. It is in memoriam of Stan Hughes, a generous calligrapher and a faithful member of the parish of St Lawrence and St Swithun in Winchester, where David served as Rector. Stan died in his 90s, and he was much loved. This was his final Rite of Passage, from body to spirit. Such was the heart of David’s priestly life, being alongside, as guide and comforter, from birth to death…. And he did it well.
If I had known that as we sang
the final hymn to end your body’s stay,
the westward sun outside was fading too,
and turning Dever’s stream into a golden way,
I would have added to the tribute then.
So it wasn’t till the driving home,
knowing the unimaginable fire had taken you,
that I saw the evening sun contending with the clouds,
and stopped the car. The silence doubled.
I watched the February fire descend
as you became a mobius twist of gold
gilding the clouds’ dull pewter.
As fast as dusk desired to carry you away,
I sensed the eastern dawn would wake, and claim you
for quite a different sort of day.
A bit about Words. David is a word lover, with a gift for choosing just the right word. My wedding gift to him was the full version of the Oxford English Dictionary. He loved it, and it has now moved, along with his poetry library, to the exciting new library at the Poetry Pharmacy in Bishops Castle, where it can be enjoyed by other word lovers. His favourite bible passage? In the beginning was The Word. In a late poem he writes ‘Words are hiding somewhere inaccessible they are not coming when I call … ‘ Proper nouns slipped away first, then the rest slithered after. His ability to read slunk away, and it is possible that his lovely library might have been taunting him. David has a beautiful speaking voice – friends would be disappointed when I answered the phone. Aware of this coming loss our son Adam made recordings of David reading a few of his poems, and so here we have a chance to share his gentle but clear voice as well …
Kirkwall Auction Mart, The Church Boiler and Skellig Michaelhttps://soundcloud.com/davidscottpoetry/sets/davidscottpoetry
The Poetry Pharmacy is very proud of its extensive and comprehensive poetry reference library.
Many of the books have been generously donated by the poets themselves and at least half of the books are a great gift from the library of the poet David Scott, generously donated by his wife Miggy Scott. As well as collections, we have many anthologies, children’s poetry books and books on the theory and practice of writing poetry.
The library is available for reference, free of charge and by appointment. It’s a pleasant and airy room to work in and coffee, tea and cakes can be bought in our Dispensary Cafe and taken upstairs. There is access to a wi-fi printer and scanner. This library/ workshop space can also be hired for groups and events. Contact the Poetry Pharmacy for prices and bookings. Refreshments and lunches available.
I’m delighted that the Poetry Pharmacy is now our recommended poetry bookshop – more news after the summer break!
And now ~ our readers’ choices …
This poem, so often quoted, captures a moment of waiting. An express-train unexpectedly stopped in a country station. The revelation of a moment’s sounds and images. A turning point in the life of Edward Thomas. And for me a reminder of my father’s roots in Gloucestershire.’
Also, Coastal Journey, by Norman Nicholson: The image of ‘no more sea nor sky’ is such an enthralling one. The draw of the horizon. A shared, momentary experience from inside a railway carriage but somehow the outside flows in and brings about some lasting recognition, connection or change.
Yes. I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
This poem is in the public domain
A wet wind blows the waves across the sunset;
There is no more sea nor sky.
And the train halts where the railway line
Twists among the misty shifting sand,
Neither land nor estuary,
Neither wet nor dry.
In the blue dusk of the empty carriage
There is no more here nor there,
No more you nor me.
Green like a burning apple
The signal hangs in the pines beside the shore
And shines All Clear.
There is no more night nor evening;
No more now nor then.
There is only us and everywhere and always.
The train moves off again,
And the sandy pine trees bend
Under the dark green berries of the rain.
From Collected Poems by Norman Nicholson, published by Faber & Faber
Included here with permission, all rights remain.
I’ve chosen three poems by Polly Clark for the theme of Journeying.
I’ve also chosen an Emily Dickinson poem which is about that essential journey … you can read it here.
And lastly, a poem I love by Kathryn Gray. Here is some backround on Darinka Rumistrewicz who was born in Krakow in 1890. Landing alone on Ellis Island in 1910, she settled in Brooklyn where she carried out a number of menial jobs before marrying a second-generation Polish carpenter, Stefan Notkoff, in 1912. After the death of their only child Katerina in 1915, they parted, and Darinka set to work on Za Chlebem (‘For Bread’), a moving prose-poetry account of the economic and personal struggles of the Polish in America in the early twentieth century. Za Chlebem was published uinder the pen name Karol Rosen by W.D. Rechtzeit in 1920 to some acclaim and popularity within the Polish community. After 1925, Darinka left Brooklyn, and no record of her after this period can be traced. She remains in death, as in life, an elusive and enigmatic émigré.
Polly Clark divides her time between the west coast of Scotland and a houseboat in London. She’s written three books of poetry, been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize and more recently produced two wonderful novels: Larchfield, about W.H. Auden and Tiger about Siberian tigers, the largest cats on earth.
Climbing the road to Chisholm, with
the mist weeping on the car, my grandmother
staring at a memory lost
in the verdant muddy verge, I saw
a galloping horse in the valley, orange
against the humbled green and the grey
mist-balls of sheep, galloping
calmly, like a film-horse.
We climbed until I almost saw
the stillness of its back.
No one saw it but me. No one spoke, not liking
to interrupt the steady command of the wipers
or fight the protests of the rain drawn
beneath the tyres. In this silence I followed it.
Who turned it loose in such a huge place,
who left it in the rain,
who knew what I knew, that love had left us,
and this was all we had,
the rain, our bodies, a destination.
First we passed the shops, hot and open,
pleading with us to stop. I saw the dresses
wave, their hats bowed, their shoes crossed.
On the High we rode the shoulders of the lost,
the woman with the teddy bear and the dots of rouge
cried out to someone, but we were gone,
and the creature in his twisted baseball cap
stopped singing and pulled in to let us pass,
because we had a known destination,
and you have to bow to those strong enough
to leave themselves behind. I’m that sort of course,
and so when we passed her I didn’t stare for long
at the face that was clearly mine, accusing me
from a rippling window, clinging to the seat in front
and crying How did I get here? Where can I go?
And then we tip, with giddy slowness,
like an ice cube or a smooth green olive
drifting through a long, clear gin.
When I see you again we will each have shed
half a world, and ourselves as we go,
as if we were dying forever at high speed.
Below lies the skeletal desert, its spine of ash,
its hide crusted and still, the last thing I see
before I close the blind and turn to sleep.
We each have seen the same forbidden blue,
the same fire too bright to believe, and it is this
that means we hold each other after the fall
of five thousand miles, and know we are alive.
after Darinka Rumistrewicz
Imagine the suitcase I carry bearing hard west,
inside it, all these things I’ve left:
the village tongue, a tic, the local shrug
or the must of the rolled-up rug
stitched with the light as it fell in a hall
and a kicked-over bucket, fresh from a well
that makes of the grass a network of rivers,
crossing which I learned the balance of these
things I carry with me, each unmourned,
unable either to keep or return.
For journeying, although it might seem a strange choice, it is a kind of journey, “ Moon” by Kathleen Jamie, from her collection, The Overhaul. I have always loved this poem. The moon is almost journeying through the room.
I became interested in Wyn as he was part of an exhibition at The National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth in 2017. It was called ‘Fallen Poets’ and was about Hedd Wyn and Edward Thomas.
Last night, when the moon
slipped into my attic-room
as an oblong of light,
I sensed she’d come to commiserate.
It was August. She travelled
with a small valise
of darkness, and the first few stars
returning to the northern sky,
and my room, it seemed,
had missed her. She pretended
an interest in the bookcase
while other objects
stirred, as in a rockpool,
with unexpected life:
strings of beads in their green bowl gleamed,
the paper-crowded desk;
the books, too, appeared inclined
to open and confess.
Being sure the moon
harboured some intention,
I waited; watched for an age
her cool gaze shift
first toward a flower sketch
pinned on the far wall
then glide to recline
along the pinewood floor
before I’d had enough. Moon,
I said, we’re both scarred now.
Are they quite beyond you,
the simple words of love? Say them.
You are not my mother;
with my mother, I waited unto death.
from The Overhaul (Picador, 2012)
Reproduced by kind permission of Kathleen Jamie, thank you, Kathleen.
‘Y gwahodd‘ in Welsh
“Come with me across the breakers,”
Says a voice from a storm far away,
“And I’ll torment you with roses
And the light of wide lands far away,
And the morth of a fairer cay.
“Should your ship founder on the ocean,
What of it? May your heart be at ease;
The emerald mansions of my realm
Are deep in the beryl seas,
Deep under the weeping seas.
“If your body be borne to the coastline
All wet on its foamy white bier,
Your spirit can live on in the depths
Like the moon in the depths of the mere,
Like a shaft of sunlight in the mere.
“So raise up your sails now, and follow,
Don’t stay in so foolish a world;
You can sail to a golden summer time
With your hair flying behind you unfurled
Like a black flag behind you unfurled.
“Behold across the Atlantic’s wave
An Eden all shining and bright,
Where the roses linger among the grass
Like sweet sundials of love’s delight
Like happy priests of love’s delight.”
Hedd Wyn, from The Shepherd War Poet (Gwasg Carreg Gwalch)
Stills by A.R. Ammon (1926-2002)
I have nowhere
to go and
nowhere to go
when I get
back from there.
from The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness and Joy (2017) ed John Brehm published by Wisdom Publications (I bought it from the Poetry Pharmacy!)
A few years ago I went to an astonishing event at Hay Festival, where three actors, introcduced by Francine Stock, read a selection of poetry from World War I. This is where I first heard of Helen MacKay and was moved beyond tears to hear the reading of the heart-breaking poem, Train. The actors were Jeremy Irons, Sinead Cusack and Rupert Evans – and below is the audio from that event, available via Hay Player. The reading of Train, by Helen Mackay, read by Sinead Cusack, starts at 10.39, and you can listen here.
I’ve always loved the poignancy of Gillian Clarke’s ‘On the Train’, often using it as stimulus for a piece of drama with students. The most moving performances have usually played with the layers of sounds that feature in the poem. The lines ‘and in the rubble of suburban kitchens/ the wolves howl into silent telephones’ gets me every time.
For my second and third choices, I was thinking about journeys now, in the era of our pandemic. Despite living on a bus route, I’ve still not got used to seeing masked faces staring out through windows. I wondered how different Jonathan Edwards’ poem ‘X16’ would be today …and, especially, how self-conscious the sneezing passenger of the last stanza would feel?! I’ve also selected ‘What if this road’ by Sheenagh Pugh, featured in Deborah Alma’s anti-stress anthology. I think, for so many people, this time of reflection has prompted a consideration of the paths we choose and the journeys we take.
Cradled through England between flooded fields
rocking, rocking the rails, my headphones on,
the black box of my Walkman on the table.
Hot tea trembles in its plastic cup.
I’m thinking of you waking in our bed
thinking of me on the train.
The radio speaks in the suburbs, in commuter towns,
in cars unloading children at school gates,
is silenced in dark parkways down the line
before locks click and footprints track the frost
and trains slide out of stations in the dawn
dreaming their way towards the blazing bone–ship.
The Vodaphone you are calling
may have been switched off.
Please call later. And calling later,
calling later their phones ring in the rubble
and in the rubble of suburban kitchens
the wolves howl into silent telephones.
I phone. No answer. Where are you now?
The train moves homewards through the morning.
Tonight I’ll be home safe, but talk to me, please.
Pick up the phone. Today I’m tolerant
of mobiles. Let them say it. I’ll say it too.
Darling, I’m on the train.
from Selected Poems by Gillian Clarke – Picador Poetry (2016)
Thank you Gillian, for your kind permission to include this poem.
The 7.54 to Cardiff is a dream.
In his shop window,
the bus driver is an ugly mannequin.
I take my seat among the regulars:
him who wakes five minutes before his stop;
her who’s reading Anna Karenina for breakfast.
I fill in the blanks, write their lives:
she does tae kwon do on a Tuesday evening;
he does the washing up while listening to Bruce Sprinsteen.
That girl who got on one day
with a goldfish in a plastic bowl –
this is the third day she hasn’t caught the bus.
A Bless you, a borrowed tissue.
At the station, we walk away from each other,
flicking cigarette ash, leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.
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?
Thank you so much to both Jonathan Edwards and Sheenagh Pugh for kind permission to include these two poems.
Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made,
Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,
The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands.
His sins they were forgiven him; or why do flowers run
Behind him; and the hedges all strengthening in the sun?
The wild thing went from left to right and knew not which was which,
But the wild rose was above him when they found him in the ditch.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
My friends, we will not go again or ape an ancient rage,
Or stretch the folly of our youth to be the shame of age,
But walk with clearer eyes and ears this path that wandereth,
And see undrugged in evening light the decent inn of death;
For there is good news yet to hear and fine things to be seen,
Before we go to Paradise by way of Kensal Green.
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
It’s little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it’s little I care,
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere!
It’s little I know what’s in my heart,
What’s in my mind it’s little I know,
But there’s that in me must up and start,
And it’s little I care where my feet go!
I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place,
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Or the roof of a house, or the eyes of a face.
I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.
But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it’s little enough I care,
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.
“Is something the matter, dear,” she said,
“That you sit at your work so silently?”
“No, mother, no—’twas a knot in my thread.
There goes the kettle—I’ll make the tea.”
If The Odyssey is arguably the greatest journey in literature, one of the finest poems I know is Ithaka by C.P. Cavafy. That’s probably why it’s made more than one appearance at Tea On The Square (remember that?) over the years.
Oh yes, and here we have Tim, reading at Tea on the Square, Much Wenlock. Those were the days, my friend!
Hilary, like Nicky, also chose The Journey by Mary Oliver. Additonally, Hilary asked for Mappamundi by Billy Collins, which you can find in Questions About Angels published by The University of Pittsburgh Press.
Mention of Mary Oliver’s Journey reminded me of David Whyte’s poem of the same name which I listened to over and over during those painful last weeks in my gorgeous shop. It helped so much. Two for the price of one, you can read and listen to David’s poem on the fabulous Brainpickings blog here and there is also a link to the Mary Oliver poem on the same page – so three for the price of one, actually!
I’ll take a ferry to an island
not sardined in some buckled plane
weighed stamped and frisked
arriving at a packaged somewhere else.
I want shaky sea legs between landless horizons
on an open-topped blue whale with deck-mad hair.
I fancy a pint with the Captain
of one of the two Isle of Man rugby teams
bored with familiar bruising
picks his team for this weekend’s tourists
whitewashes the touch line, warns the Curry House.
I’ll let the deckhand rope my bike
to the wooden ferry out of County Cork
bound for Cape Clear where the wires emerge from America,
cycle to Telegraph House hostel,
write a post card relaying my nightmare of
falling off the gang plank with rucksack clipped twice
– at waist and chest-
before I struggle in the harbour mud.
I’ll take the strains and clanking
from the iron bowels of a Cal Mac to Stornoway/
a snatched sunbathe on the impossible blue of a first time Med/
the first cyclists out like greyhounds
from the metal trap of the roll-on roll-off
over the sea to Skye/
adding memories of measured beach steps
on another treasured island.
by Steve Harrison, our Poet ~ at ~ Home: huge thanks, as ever, Steve
I didn’t plan for this: queueing with my sons,
i miei figli, for the Galleria dell’Accademia
to see Michelangelo’s David.
We’re in Florence, Firenze, Italy, Italia.
I’ve brought no food, no drink, no pack of cards,
niente, not even an Italian phrasebook.
Half an hour and just ten feet along it’s:
“Whose idea was this?” and the danger of feeling
this queue’s a mistake we needn’t have started.
But, given time, we become more fluent,
take it in turns to drift in and out to buy focaccia,
pizza, tre gelati, un cappuccino, limonata, acqua,
discover we’ve learnt these words without trying.
It turns out this is why we are waiting:
for loose-limbed time leaning on walls,
leaning on each other, playing with words,
playing with our hair, making it up as we go along.
We’re unsure of the scope but discover that love
can be translated into time in any language.
David’s the perfect excuse for being here
in Florence in the sun on a Wednesday in April –
for trying out being together in Italian.
I miei figli, i miei cari figli, my beloved sons:
this is, after all, my point. Passing time with you
is all, tutto, enough, basta. And look, guarda!
Even our shadows are smiling.
Thank you Liz, this always makes me cry!
So that’s it for another week. Thank you, as ever, to all the poets and publishers who have enabled us to share their poems, and to all our poetry readers who have made recommendations. This wouldn’t happen without you! Next week is our last Poetry Breakfast before the summer break, and the theme is Tonight the Summer’s Over, from Rory Waterman’s first collection, of the same name.
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