tonight the summer’s over
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Our last Poetry Breakfast ~ until September! What a journey it has been – from a ‘list with links’ of poems on a theme, to an anthology of poetry, images, films and audio recordings; special guests; featured poets, even music to read along to. And through it all – poetry: chosen by you, me – us, together: a collaboration with one intention – to help get us through, with poetry, together! I think every poem offered has been used, or if permissions have not been forthcoming, they’ve been mentioned – and that just shows what a brilliant lot of poetry lovers you are. This would not have carried on without you, especially as there were a few weeks earlier on when I had a ‘poetry block’ with my mind too unsettled for the quiet concentration that poetry needs. Thank you for getting me through that.
And now to our featured poet and special guest today, Rory Waterman – we are so delighted to have your company!
A NOTE ON READING THIS BLOG!
Nearly everything written in red, or on a red background, is a clickable link to another page – it might be a copy of the poem online elsewhere; it might be background information to a poem or a poet; or to the publisher’s page for a particular book etc. Each link should open up in a new page, so that when you’ve finished looking at it you can close the link and you won’t have lost your place here. Some images will also be ‘clickable’ – particularly if they are of a poet or a book, for example. Do explore and have fun!
I can’t actually remember how I first happened upon Rory Waterman’s collection Tonight the Summer’s Over – but I do know I read it from cover to cover with that delighted sense of joy and excitement at discovering a new poet to follow and admire! My pleasure was increased by Rory’s friendly (and very humble) reply to my enthusiastic message to him – and I’ve been a fan ever since. I do hope you enjoy these poems.
The boatman stares through million-pock-marked waters,
tapping a cigarette, shying from the rain
in mac and wellies, beneath a London plane
that rustles and drips. He turns and tells his daughter
to bolt the hut. Tonight the summer’s over.
He heaves the skiff to the boatshed, ties the lines
and double-locks the door. She fits a sign:
CLOSED FOR SEESON. They load a battered Land Rover
with cash tin, radio, stools, as fast as they can,
for it’s raining harder. Lightning blanks the dark,
and then they’re away, the wiper thwacking its arc.
She glances at this ordinary man
then shuts her eyes: she’s damp and tired and bored.
He drives more gently. Neither says a word.
I never thought I’d have a home
but then I’d built one up from the bay,
a shrub-scrubbed cleft half-hiding it,
a plunging stream behind the grate
and locals pointed up, or down,
to where I lived beside myself
for years, with all I’d wanted most,
building a greenhouse, annexe, shelves,
and made it all I knew to want
and drowned the voice that said I don’t
with all I’d always done for this
and grew tomatoes, seed to light
and ate them, happily, every night,
and fixed the leak that drew the rain
and fixed it when it sprung again.
Well, I knew of rock across the bay –
a skerry? – green-topped, curving round
to out of sight behind near rock.
But rain set in, the endless rain,
and through the sheet of endless cloud
a jet of sudden light cracked down
across that further hunk of land,
which glimmered ginger. And it stayed
for seconds, minutes, hours, days,
the whole life of my house away.
Kirby Muxloe Castle
Crikey! you say. It’s gorgeous! Across the moat
two hunks of unfinished battlement reflect,
a bit like the butterfly prints we once did at school:
the bottom halves faint and blemished. Let’s walk it round,
and never mind the scuppered portaloo
breaching by the bridge that was a drawbridge:
the teams of mallards sifting wavelets don’t.
Then when you see a moorhen padding the roots
of an undercut willow – instinctive bird-brained head
quantum-leaping about on the stem of her neck,
ten balls of chick bunching and stretching behind
as she pushes away to the safety of open water –
you act as I once would’ve. Look! She’s got 10!
At Belfast Zoo, between goes on the toddler swing,
I finger-jabbed at a peacock stretching its fan:
Duck! But I was one and can’t remember
this tale which might be true. And ten years later,
a ‘Young Ornithologist’ tied to the heart of his father,
keen to impress somehow, as we boated the Broads’
long bends of reed-furred river, blue-green-blue,
I pointed out a preening crested grebe
riding the ripples. He was half-blind by then,
a sudden genetic inconvenience,
and couldn’t see it and said he thought he could.
A windmill stretched its X across the sky,
geese beat frantic along the water-runway
(he turned his head to show me I could show him)
and that night when we’d moored beside The Swan,
and after my bedtime, as I raced model hawks
surreptitiously around my cabin
he punched his would’ve-been wife in the eye
then went back to his scotch. I watched them through
the crack he couldn’t discern along the door-jamb,
and knew the truth, then how to doubt the truth
when he said – then when she said – that she’d slipped:
the bitterness of justice
Dandelions are stitched down to the water,
where ramsons have flowered. I pick one and we taste;
you bunch your nose to wrinkles – do you mean it? –
then pounce for another bite. Lead me behind
this blackthorn hedge. No, let me drive us home.
FROM OUR POET~AT~HOME:
Last Cricket Game of the Season by Steve Harrison
Falling through the pavilion
I knew something was wrong.
Floor boards, splintered by cricket boots,
hadn’t lasted the Groundsman’s “just one more season”.
I was caught between knee and thigh
softly armoured white knight in a jumper.
My pads acted like barbs and I was stuck and dangling.
On the pitch the flannelled enemy awaited my entrance.
The sacred scorebook of
fifty mini coloured Sudoku
one for each over
plotted our fate, had recorded the Summer.
Shouts of “Bowler’s Name?”
interrupted the lazy, anonymous afternoons.
Corvedale’s famous cricket teas
their saccharined weapon.
We went out to field
The pitch looked like a long way down to bend.
The bruises lasted until Halloween.
OUR READERS’ CHOICES
Three from Ali this week: ‘The Late Wasp’ by Edwin Muir which you can read here – I just love the picture it draws of that rather lonely breakfast table, with that oh so familiar wasp!
‘The End of Summer’ by Rachel Hadas, which you can read here.
And also this absolutely stunning poem from Emily Dickinson:
As imperceptibly as Grief
The Summer lapsed away—
Too imperceptible at last
To seem like Perfidy—
A Quietness distilled
As Twilight long begun,
Or Nature spending with herself
The Dusk drew earlier in—
The Morning foreign shone—
A courteous, yet harrowing Grace,
As Guest, that would be gone—
And thus, without a Wing
Or service of a Keel
Our Summer made her light escape
Into the Beautiful.
Two different poems from Philip about the end of summer and a sense of loss:
There is always a poignancy when the swifts leave. Edward Thomas knows he will see them again next May but fears that ‘other things’ will be ‘over and done’. Edna St Vincent Millay’s sonnet ends with a wistful sense that her own summer ‘sings no more’.
How at once should I know,
When stretched in the harvest blue
I saw the swift’s black bow,
That I would not have that view
Until next May
Again when it is due?
The same year after year –
But with the swift alone.
With other things I but fear
That they will be over and done
And I only see
Them to know them gone.
A poem that recognises we cannot be everything to those we love but the love is no less valid. Acceptance of this, and accommodation, may not be easy but it is a way for love to prosper.
I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods that are not mine my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another time.
Edna St Vincent Millay
Summer Holidays by Meg Cox
Me and my friends
did a lot of poking about
in a desultory kind of way
for months, it seemed like.
Sometimes we went
as far as ‘the dam’
which wasn’t one
Everywhere was covered
in wild garlic.
Sometimes we went
to the pine wood forest
where we had a den
and showed each other
Maybe that was just once.
Sometimes we looked
for adders and found
Sometimes we sat in hedges and
didn’t do anything much.
Ponte Vecchio by Rosie Shepperd
Not for the first time, I’m staying in a hotel whose name I don’t know.
The voice that said I’d join you in Florence? I’m sure that was mine.
But who’s this, in a thin blue silk dress, in the thick part of evening?
A long grilled pepper floats in red juices, crazy with oil and sweet basil.
You lean back to tell me, “These places have so many possibilities.”
They might be living their possibilities. Not everything is conditional.
My napkin is a starched square, lovely smelling, in ceramic neatness.
The round half litre of Morellino sits, patient, to the left of my hand.
You excuse yourself to check on something – it could be anything:
Cheese? Tickets for tomorrow? The faltering signal on your phone?
A flat-faced woman passes, with roses wrapped in cellophane tubes,
It’s been a while now since I’ve stopped making regular use of similes.
When summer’s end is nighing
And skies at evening cloud,
I muse on change and fortune
And all the fears I vowed
When I was young and proud.
The weather cock at sunset
Would lose the slanted ray,
And I would climb the beacon
That looked to Wales away
And saw the last of day.
From hill and cloud and heaven
the hues of evening died;
Night welled through lane and hollow
And hushed the countryside,
But I had youth and pride.
And I with earth and nightfall
In converse high would stand,
Late, till the west was ashen
And darkness hard at hand,
And the eye lost the land.
The year might age, and cloudy
the lessening day might close,
But air of other summers
Breathed from beyond the snows,
and I had hope of those.
They came and were and are not
And come no more anew;
And all the years and seasons
That ever can ensue
Must now be worse and few.
So here’s an end of roaming
On eves when autumn nighs:
The ear too fondly listens,
For summer’s parting sighs,
And then the heart replies.
When we are done, you and I, and all this mess
of love and sweat is just a faded stain;
when loving hands instead of a caress
reach for the evening paper with disdain;
what will we say, you and I, now the nest
has emptied and we have nothing to sustain
the nights when silence is the only guest?
Will we still, you and I, even try
to rekindle love, now in its last arrest?
Or will the final act be a lengthy sigh
of boredom too withering to bear?
When it comes to that, our last goodbye,
will we forget how much we each once cared?
Are we done, do you think, you and I?
is available from the Poetry Pharmacy
Alix has chosen a Nina Cassian poem for us, as she did for The Valley That You Found: ‘And When Summer Comes to an End’, and also a lovely poem from Fiona Sampson, called ‘Harvest’.
One of the great joys of Poetry Breakfast, whether ‘live’ or online is discovering new poets through what other readers bring to the table (how sad that we’re not sitting round tables together). For me, Nina Cassian is my standout new poet – thank you Alix – so one of my choices this week is also a Nina Cassian poem, which I’m slipping in to this selection.
Alix’s final choice today, is ‘The Balcony’ by Louise Glück, US Poet Laureate, 2003-2004. We don’t have permission to include it, as yet, but you can read it in The Seven Ages (Carcanet, 2001) which you can order by emailing the Poetry Pharmacy.
And when summer comes to an end
it’s like the world coming to an end.
Wilderness and terror – everywhere!
till all dignity’s gone.
Wet slabs of cloth
drape our bodies:
And then we shiver, stumbling
into the holes of Winter Street
on the corner of Decline . . .
What’s the good of living
with the idea of Spring
– dangerous as any Utopia?
by Nina Cassian, translated by Brenda Walker and Andrea Deletant, from Life Sentence (Anvil Press Poetry, 1990)
We are grateful to Caracanet Press for allowing us to include this poem.
Shelley’s incomparably dull line (you know:
‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’)
is obviously about hope . . .
but look at these luscious puddles,
these sticky, crumpled leaves.
We’re drenched, we nibble
at some icicle, we swallow
a mouthful of unsweetened snow
– the spittle of the sky,
the belching of the earth.
As for su-su-summertime,
it’s just a so-so-song,
or an ill-ill-illusion.
by Nina Cassian from Take My Word for It (Anvil Poetry, 1998)
We are grateful to Caracanet Press for allowing us to include this poem.
Already the day
is on the turn as all these days
are on the turn
the light that rose up like
the odour of plums and of vines
beginning its descent
into the earth returning
laden with the voices
of roofers the calls
of blackbirds barks of dogs
hunting beyond the river
who pass between trees
passing to and fro
their shadows are unclear
they do not see themselves
it is we who see them
remembering the dark
as the light turns to the source
again turning once more
to the orange earth.
Fiona Sampson, from The Catch (Chatto & Windus, 2016)
Thank you so much to Fiona for your kind permission to include this poem.
Fiona Sampson was a very welcome guest at Wenlock Poetry Festival back in the day, and we are delighted not only to include one of her poems this week, but also to bring to your attention her latest poetry collection, just published, which is a Financial Times Book of the Year for 2020, and Financial Times Pick of Summer Reading .
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-waiver
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across the skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
The last day of summer
How the sea draws us
as we walk down the rough track.
You give me bilberries
with your hand cupped to my mouth.
We reach the end of the land
watch light undressing
the sea’s silk, the silver clasps
of islands. We are
silent, as if love could start
on the last day of summer.
Thank you Mary Robinson, for getting in touch and sending this lovely poem, and for choosing the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem on the left.
O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
Tomorrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know.
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away.
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
For the grapes’ sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost—
For the grapes’ sake along the wall.
Chosen by Bert Molsom, thank you Bert.
They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!
They clear the creeping moss—
Elders and juniors—aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years,
See, the white storm-birds wing across.
They are blithely breakfasting all—
Men and maidens—yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee. . . .
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.
They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them—aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs. . . .
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.
Source: The Longman Anthology of Poetry (Pearson, 2006)
I can’t resist this gorgeous poem by
We are caught in a storm, this last day
at St. Amand de Coly. First rain
comes fast. It is suddenly cold.
In the café opposite the church
the old woman, almost blind, insists
we want apricot juice after all.
If she could see the glasses I am sure
she would polish them for us, proudly,
with an immaculate cloth. My French
scarcely adequate for the long, sweet
conversation she wants of us,
I tell her about Wales, our rain,
our language. Strangely she knows already.
A Welshman passed this way two days ago.
Hearing the thunder, rain at the open door,
she stands to feel it, reflectively.
‘L’été va vite maintenant,’ she says,
and again, no longer talking to us,
‘L’été va vite maintenant.’
Swallows by Gill McEvoy
Fling the summer from its bolt of blue,
shear down the silk of sky,
stitch rapid darts around my knees,
scissor the long grass, neatening
the ragged edge of insects
that waver in the humid air.
They tack the blues together,
sweep the selvedge with their wings
until the fabric gleams.
When September comes
they roll the summer up,
working in tidy lines along the wires;
shoulder to shoulder
they lift and hurry it away,
leave behind a dab of thread,
a smudge of blue.
Thank you to Gill McEvoy for this lovely poem.
The thistledown’s flying, though the winds are all still,
On the green grass now lying, now mounting the hill,
The spring from the fountain now boils like a pot;
Through stones past the counting it bubbles red-hot.
The ground parched and cracked is like overbaked bread,
The greensward all wracked is, bents dried up and dead.
The fallow fields glitter like water indeed,
And gossamers twitter, flung from weed unto weed.
Hill-tops like hot iron glitter bright in the sun,
And the rivers we’re eying burn to gold as they run;
Burning hot is the ground, liquid gold is the air;
Whoever looks round sees Eternity there.
Thank you to Joyce Watson for choosing this poem.
Sorry I can’t share either of these for copyright reasons, but I hope Nicky’s passionate recommendation might encourage you to look up James Merrill and maybe search for these books?
PHEW!! We’re done! Thank you everyone who has contributed, supported, proof-read, hand-held, brow-mopped and generally kept me going! Big love and thanks to Hil who has lost me for a couple of days each week as I’ve pulled it all together – now a rest! And very special thanks to all our poets and publishers (in particular Bloodaxe and Carcanet), and to our wonderful guest poets:
And the biggest of thank you’s to our Poet~at~Home Steve Harrison. Not only has Steve sent in either a newly written or a re-worked poem for pretty well every post, he has often made a special film just for us to go with it! What a privilege it has been. Thank you, Steve.
What next ..
There is still no sign that we will be able to hold viable Poetry Breakfast gatherings in our lovely venues: Tea on the Square in Much Wenlock (hosted with my grateful thanks by Tim Cook); Aardvark Books in Brampton Bryan (hosted likewise with my grateful thanks by Ali Redgrave); The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle and The Beddfa Centre near Knighton. We miss them all, and you all! So, for now, I will continue with these online anthologies, but only once a month, on the second Thursday of the month – as was our habit in Wenlock, where it all started.
Call for poems!
So – our next Poetry Breakfast will be published on Thursday 10th September and our guest poet will be the fabulous Katrina Naomi who has chosen the theme: Taking off Billy Collins’s Clothes! So let’s see where that takes your wonderful poetry imaginations … Please do contribute: all published poems are accepted, and providing copyright is cleared, they will be included. To aid that process – please email your suggestions to me by midday 10th August. If you are not sure whether or not your contributions are wanted – let me tell you that if you are reading this, they are!
I’m looking forward to hearing from you already and I hope you have a lovely summer – stay safe.
And PS please use the comment function below and share this post wherever you can! Thank you. And order your poetry books from The Poetry Pharmacy if at all possible!
(yes this is still the right email!)
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