I remember, I remember …
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Welcome to Poetry Breakfast ~ at home. The first of these on-line Poetry Breakfasts was back on 18th March – days before the country first went into Lockdown. Our theme was Daffodils – and you can see it here. Haven’t we grown?! Huge thanks to everyone who has enabled me to continue sharing themed poetry during these difficult times. As we brace ourselves for another month of lockdown (I wonder if it will really be so short?), I’d like to say a big thank you to our guest poet this month – Jonathan Edwards for taking us on this fabulous trip down memory lane. It seems to me that Jonathan does a special sort of ‘remembering forwards’ somehow, which I absolutely love.
By the way, we have so many poems this month that I’ve kind of not chosen one myself, but note the visual clue at the top of the page!
So grab your coffee, and your croissant, and settle in . . .
A NOTE ON READING!
I am learning as I go along and until I learn more this blog is best read on a laptop-sized screen. I think I have managed to make it look better on phones and tablets, too (let me know how it works for you on whichever screen you use?) but there may be some slippage of longer lines onto the line below if you are reading on a phone or tablet. (Any WordPress experts, feel free to get in touch re this issue!)
Do explore and have fun: most things in red, and some pictures, are links to other sites where you’ll find items of interest, so click away!
I hope you enjoy your Poetry Breakfast: may I suggest a good chair; a warm fire/shady spot (weather dependent); a very good cup of coffee/tea/glass of wine ~ and a good half hour or so …
(And my friends have told me I need to put the link to my Paypal site nearer the top of the page, so … if you would like to buy me a coffee, or contribute to my paperback book fund, you can click HERE!)
Sunday. The crowd beneath the viaduct
waves banners made from grocery boxes, bed sheets –
Welcome to the valleys Mr Peck!
Wind turns their chapel dresses into floral
parachutes; their perms don’t budge an inch.
The emotion of it’s too much for one girl’s
mascara. We love you Miss Loren! My father
parks away from them, around the corner,
in his brand new car, a ’30s Lanchester,
with stop-start brakes, a battery he shares
with a neighbour. All sideburns and ideas, a roll-up
behind one ear and a flea in the other
from my gran for missing Eucharist,
he coughs and steps down from the running board,
as two Rolls-Royces pull up opposite.
Gregory Peck, three years after being
Atticus Finch, steps from one, says Good morning.
From the other – it isn’t! – it is, wearing her cheekbones.
My father’s breakfast is nervous in his stomach,
but he grabs his Argus, pen, and Yes, they’ll sign.
Her high heels echo away through the whole valley.
That’s how my father tells it. Let’s gloss over
how his filming dates aren’t quite the same as Google’s,
the way Sophia Loren formed her Ss
suspiciously like his. Let’s look instead
at this photo of the crowd gathered that day,
he walked towards to share those autographs,
his fame. There, front and middle, with her sister,
the girl he hasn’t met yet – there. My mother.
Nil-nil. Once the changing room door’s closed,
the Germans out of sight, the Welsh team can
collapse: there’s Kevin Ratcliffe, belly up
on the treatment table; Sparky Hughes’s body
sulks in the corner, floppy as the curls
which he had then. All half, they’ve barely had
a kick. Big Nev Southall throws his gloves
to the floor, like plates in a Greek restaurant
as, in tracksuit and belly, Terry Yorath
looks round at a room of Panini faces:
he doesn’t know yet he will never get them
to a major finals. He does know what to say.
Ryan Giggs, still young enough to be
in a boy band, stands up, doing an impression
of his poster on my wall. The crowd begins
to ask for guidance from the great Jehovah
and Ian Rush’s famous goal-scoring
moustache perks up. He’s half an hour away
from the goal that cues the song that makes his name
five syllables. What he doesn’t know
is I’m in the stand in my father’s coat,
storing things to tell at school next day.
My father pours more tea from his work flask
and says We got them now butt, watch and asks
again if I’m too cold. What we don’t know
is we’ll speak of this twenty years from now –
one of us retired, one a teacher –
in a stadium they’ll build down by the river.
But now it’s Rushie Sparky Southall Giggs.
8.45: the crowd begins to roar,
wants to be fed until they want no more.
The tea tastes just like metal, is too hot
and something catches – right here – on the tongue.
The changing room door opens and they step out,
toe-touching, stretching, staring into the future –
it’s time to be the people we’ll become.
It is so still. The water
presses its mute button. Here, you can look
in any direction and just see hills
and, in the lake, the hills’ reflection.
Breaking the surface, the tip of the spire
of the waterlogged church
is a radio aerial bringing the news
of another century to those submerged.
If you could step now into the water
and swim down, down, find the wreck
of a town, spend an hour doggy-paddling
down a main street cat’s-eyed by starfish,
watch fish blowing bubbles in a shop window
and, in a school you well remember,
take a book from the shelf,
brush a shell from the cover… Then jemmy open
the rusted door of the postbox, take a letter
with a lover’s name on the cover, snatch a suitcase
from the hand of a girl with seaweed in her hair,
waiting for a bus on the corner
that’ll never be there… Could you give the past
a piggyback to the surface, then stand on the bank
and open the letter to find those pages
blank, blank, and don’t have the heart
to open the book, pick the lock on the suitcase?
Sunset does Morse code on the lake surface.
Wind shakes the hill like a picnic blanket.
In the city, a polished historian
picks up a pen. In Liverpool,
a man turns the tap, fills the sink or a glass
and, in Tryweryn, the lowering water
makes the church spire grow stronger, taller.
The slogan ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ was first etched on a wall in Ceredigion more than 50 years ago. It was a powerful and poignant response to the loss of Capel Celyn, a village in the Tryweryn Valley. People had lived and died there for generations, but in 1965 this Welsh village was lost forever when it was drowned by billions of litres of water.
Almost 70 residents of the village were forced to abandon their homes after the UK Government ratified plans to create a reservoir – Llyn Celyn – which would supply water to Liverpool and the Wirral in the north-west of England. A chapel, a school and a dozen farms, all integral to a proud community, were all consigned to history.
Last month, Jonathan Davidson offered poems by other people as well as his own when he was our guest poet for Apples, Bricks and Other Peoples Poems. He did this because his latest book, A Commonplace, includes poems by others as well as his own, so it made perfect sense. I loved the added richness that this selection brought to Poetry Breakfast – after all, the working ethos of Poetry Breakfast in those long-ago times when we used to meet in cafés and bookshops and share coffee and croissants along with the conversation and poetry, was that many of us would bring our favourite poems to share, so why not invite our guest poets to do that, too?
Jonathan Edwards, as editor of Poetry Wales, and a lifelong reader of poetry, is well placed to select poems for us – and he has chosen not ‘two or three’ but five! All wonderful, two new (to me) poets (always a treat) and one of my favourite Gillian Clarke poems. Thank you, Jonathan, for getting so completely into the spirit with us!
I was ten
and upstairs doing my homework when
the Reverend Hocking called
to divest my mother
of her Chair of the Mother’s Union.
I could hear them downstairs talking
but couldn’t make out what they were saying.
It was Yuletide – the season of Goodwill
to All Men and, presumably, All Women as well,
but my mother sounded upset.
I was unaware then
that she’d been married before,
had a son by her former husband
somewhere down in Somerset or Devon
who would have been 23 or 4
the year the Reverend Hocking came knocking:
A divorcee with a child who’d been adopted
holding the Chair of the Mother’s Union –
how inappropriate! How shocking!
To give him his due, though, the Reverend Hocking
always had a beatific and all-forgiving smile
on his face and was very popular
with his parishioners. People came flocking
to hear his sermons. He’d laid up treasures
for himself in Heaven and was surely destined
for Greater Things. And, indeed, not long after,
he became Bishop Hocking of Braintree-and-Bocking
or somewhere similar but, had I known –
had I been old enough to know – the reason
for his visit that day, I would have stuffed
that Chair where the sun never shines –
Chair, arse and Hocking tightly interlocking
from Waters by Alan Perry, Moonstone Press, 2017. Thank you Alan for giving permission to inlcude this poem.
after R. S. Thomas
He counts the passing of minutes, asks what time
he’d need to leave the house to catch the next flight
to Baghdad. InshaAllah. InshaAllah. He potters into the kitchen,
sings the lullabies his mother sang
hides teaspoons in his robe pocket and flips the kettle’s
switch on again. He can’t bear to find the water cold
as the land he finds himself in. He leaves the front door ajar, waits for a tide
of visitors; neighbours already passed. Small rooms and damp walls
here, just as his chest, his ribs, each bony ridge.
His final days, he speaks only through his eyes;
aged throat of strained breaths, unable to take a sip, a drip
of water, without the ocean’s overflow into his lungs. He sees the date tree,
smells the Jadiriyah garden jasmine. Breaths quicken. Slow. Gone. Before dark
just as the sun sets, the last Thursday of Ramadan, the man
who filled our house travels to the space between worlds; the unseen so vast.
His body still in the book-filled room as we surround the bed.
Thank you Abeer, for the kind permission to include your poem.
I remember a house where all were good
To me, God knows, deserving no such thing:
Comforting smell breathed at very entering,
Fetched fresh, as I suppose, off some sweet wood.
That cordial air made those kind people a hood
All over, as a bevy of eggs the mothering wing
Will, or mild nights the new morsels of Spring:
Why, it seemed of course; seemed of right it should.
Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
All the air things wear that build this world of Wales;
Only the inmate does not correspond:
God, lover of souls, swaying considerate scales,
Complete thy creature dear O where it fails,
Being mighty a master, being a father and fond.
for the forty-four miners killed in the explosion on 28 June 1960
Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she’d finished hanging out her sheets.
Here are our poetry choices (and two pieces of delightfully different music) ~ don’t forget, I welcome contributions from everyone! Chosen poems must be published and, if possible, in the public domain. Suggestions for music also welcome! Just email me with your ideas.
What a wide topic! Two obvious ones:
My third choice is Memoir by Anthony Thwaite which I found while browsing Anthony Thwaite’s Selected Poems 1956 – 1996, Enitharmon Editions. I came across Anthony Thwaite through two poems which I actually used while training magistrates about the Children Act 1989! I heard him at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival not long afterwards and he was pleased when I told him. He’s 90 this year; I’ve just read his Wikipedia entry – what an amazing literary life.
He writes what he remembers, innocent,
Though now he is no longer innocent:
What he remembers, what he tries to write,
Is how things were. He cannot get it right.
The words go down on paper. In between
Another sheet of paper lies between
The sheet he writes on and the sheet beneath.
Something is lying down there, underneath.
And it is those words, on the page below
That somehow stick, as he goes below
Experience to innocence, and finds
The things he looked for is the thing he finds.
But in the morning, reading what he wrote
Last night, the only words he finds he wrote
Are on the surface. And the page below
Is blank as things he did not want to know.
by Anthony Thwaite from Collected Poems, Enitharmon Editions. Thank you to Stephen Stuart-Smith at Enitharmon for kind permission to include this poem.
For this month’s poetry theme I have three from Best Poems on the Underground, Phoenix, reprint edition, 2010.
Firstly, A Private Life by John Burnside from Swimming in the Flood (Cape, 1995)
Then this lovely poem from Moniza Alvi:
The bottom of the pan was a palette–
paprika, cayenne, dhania
haldi, heaped like powder-paints.
Melted ghee made lakes, golden rivers.
The keema frying, my mother waited
for the fat to bubble to the surface.
Friends bought silver-leaf.
I dropped it on khir –
special rice pudding for parties.
I tasted the landscape, customs
of my father’s country–
its fever on biting a chilli.
from Split World: Poems 1990 – 2005 (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). Permission of Bloodaxe Books.
And lastly, Requiem by Anna Akhmatova translated by Richard McKane and the section is from Epilogue 2 which begins “The hour of remembrance has drawn close again. I see you, hear you, feel you …”
I couldn’t find this particular translation on line, but have found these links, which are all interesting. (Do let me know if you read any of them in the comments below?)
You can read parts 1 & 2 of the Epilogue here.
Requiem: How a poem resisted Stalin is about how Akhmatova memorised her long poem, Requiem, revising it over several decades and asking her friends to memorise each new draft, too. It is absolutely awe-inspiring.
Poetry in the Time of Affliction is a long article, written post 9/11 but very appropriate for our particular affliction today. It includes wise words from Billy Collins, and references Akhmatova.
The last day of your childhood
We go up to the green hills where you are at home
Look down on the buzzards
And the sludge-coloured winter valley
The loosening of frost has released it back into decomposition
And no colour is intact
It undoes itself in algae
And wealden agony which is a paler version of the Slavic
Like ageing in comfort
I’m walking the dogs
But in a cellar in my mind I am rehearsing a scene
In which a woman takes her child to a wasteland
And abandons it
War is coming and she is in flight
I’m wondering about the difference in sensibility
Between this woman and me
I’m wondering about the imaginative difference
What I would be if the air was never still
And the horizon smoking
But the air is still
Apart from my prattling
How I would like to seize the moment
Hold words to its throat like
Future and luck and hope
Words that are countless and
Expended like shells into an area
In which all life is extinguished
The only chance of life here
The only small hope is the repeated
Movement of lung and heart
Your willingness to forgive
The loosening between us.
Sussex, 22 January 2017
Thank you to Jonathan Davidson, for suggesting this poem, and Sasha for giving permission to include it, Anna
I’ve been thinking about the theme for this Poetry Breakfast, ‘I remember, I remember’ and of how … capacious it is! So much poetry seems driven by memories or to celebrate memory. It’s hard to know where to start. But I have been reflecting that many of the poems I love, that speak to me, are those that capture a moment in a life.
Perhaps Edward Thomas’s ‘Adlestrop’ is one of the finest examples; I love the way nothing happens but his perfectly simple and clear descriptions of the sounds and sights make the moment and the place so, so vivid.
And then there are all those moments from Seamus Heaney’s childhood – following his dad, peeling the potatoes – preserved in pellucid poetry.
I love Raymond Carver’s ‘Happiness’ which seems to have similar qualities of simplicity and timelessness.
Finally, in a time when we are deprived of touch, I’d like to mention Thom Gunn’s ‘The Hug’.
These poems all seem to celebrate memories which, while unremarkable, are spiritually nourishing. The kind of memories that keep you going in tough times.
I think one of the best possible pieces of music for this theme is Dido’s Lament from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in which, dying, or about to die, she sings the heartbreaking imperative ‘Remember me, remember me, But ah, forget my fate.’ (Kirsten Flagstaad, Janet Baker, more recently Sarah Connolly).
Speech House, Tumps, Corse,
sheep, fern, bark, gorse.
Bream’s Eaves, Scowles, Cone,
oak, ore, coal, stone.
Stroat, Naas, Brimps, Pludds,
shrimps,sprats, reens, muds.
Sling, Awre, Meend, Slade,
Axe, saw, pick, spade.
Stow, Trow, Nork, Chase,
close, clan, Dean race.
by Ivor Waters
What things I have missed today, I know very well,
But the seeing of them each new time is miracle.
Nothing between Bredon and Dursley has
Any day yesterday’s precise unpraised grace.
The changed light, or curve changed mistily,
Coppice, now bold cut, yesterday’s mystery.
A sense of mornings once seen, for ever gone,
Its own for ever: alive, dead, and my possession.
by Ivor Gurney
Somewhere out there the sea has shrugged its shoulders.
Grey-green masses slip, rise, gather
to a ripple and a wave, purposeful, arrowing up
arteries of the land. Brown and sinuous, supple
as an otter, nosing upstream under the arching
bridge, past Chepstow, Lydney, Berkley where a king
screamed; Westbury where the old men
click stopwatches with grins of satisfaction;
slopping into the wellingtons of watchers,
swamping the nests of coots, splashing binoculars.
And so to Minsterworth meadows where Ivor Gurney’s ghost
walks in sunlight, unforgotten; past lost
lanes, cow-trodden banks, nudging the reeds,
lifting the lank water weed,
flooding pills, backwaters, bobbing the floats
of fishermen, the undersides of leaves and boats,
and gliding, gliding over Cotswold’s flawed
reflection, the sun swelling, the blue sky scored
with ripples, fish and dragonfly, stirred
by the drip and cloop of oars; and finally, unheard,
washing into the backstreets of the town to lie
at the foot of the high
cathedral, prostrate, breathless,
pilgrim from a far place;
from the ominous petulance of the sea.
by Catherine Fisher, from Between the Severn and the Wye, The Windrush Press.
Thank you Catherine for allowing us to include this poem, Anna
‘I remember, I remember’ led me to look for poems where the poet expresses a long-lasting memory of a person or a place. My first choice is Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and then John Clare again. His sonnet Burthorp Oak speaks well of memory I think, sorry if you were looking for Back to Infancy or Gunpowder, Treason and Plot!
Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?
Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!
This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;
How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!
Old noted oak! I saw thee in a mood
Of vague indifference; and yet with me
Thy memory, like thy fate, hath lingering stood
For years, thou hermit, in the lonely sea
Of grass that waves around thee! – Solitude
Paints not a lonelier picture to the view,
Burthorp! than thy one melancholy tree,
Age-rent, and shattered to a stump. Yet new
Leaves come upon each rift and broken limb
With every spring; and Poesy’s visions swim
Around it, of old days and chivalry;
And desolate fancies bid the eye grow dim
With feelings, that earth’s grandeur should decay,
And all its olden memories pass away.
found in Joyce’s copy of The Anthology of Popular Verse, edited by Christopher Hurford, Parragon Books, 1995
(a Sequel to Some Like It Hot)
Sometimes, I miss the woman my husband used to be.
I loaned her my lipstick and lips perched on her face
like a bird she thought only I could teach to talk.
I gave her cosmetics shy as showing a penis,
she got that sometimes it’s all girls like us have.
We were girls of the orchestra laughing in key,
tuning our instruments against one another, foolish
guys draped across our afternoons; boners birthed
by a conspiracy of femininity. We sharpened
our silhouettes on that jut, knew our power.
When it came to the crunch, Josephine shrugged
off her wig and became Joe. We married in a chapel
in Acapulco,no one there to catch my bouquet.
I miss Josephine, scrubbing her ‘smalls’ in the sink,
lace gloves frothing on hands that ached to be dainty.
Some nights, I do Joe’s laundry and invite bible salesmen
in for milkshake just to be in the presence of belief.
I string the ukulele’s pine bra over my heart
and sing about my friend negotiating spike heels.
My husband comes in, I feign sleep, day streaking night.
Sunrise is a blonde with her roots coming through.
from Cooking with Marilyn, poems after Marilyn Monroe, Blueprint Poetry
Thank you also, Steve, for another fabulous film from Stay@Home Productions: Anchored Trust by Steve Harrison
While reading your email about this theme, Desert Island Discs was on in the background and I heard a wonderful, bitter-sweet song called I Remember by Molly Drake. I liked it so much I Googled it and found it was by Gabrielle and Nick Drake’s mother who was a lyric writer and poet! She sings it on YouTube, and you can see the lyrics on line, too.
Thank you to Gabrielle for kindly approving the inclusion of Molly’s singing, and for giving permission for me to reproduce the poem here.
We tramped the open moorland in the rainy April weather,
And came upon the little inn that we had found together,
The landlord gave us toast and tea and stopped to share a joke,
And I remember the firelight,
I remember firelight,
I remember firelight,
And you remember smoke.
We ran about the meadow grass with all the harebells bending
And shaking in the summer wind the Summer never ending,
We wandered to the little stream among the river flats,
And I remember willow trees,
I remember willow trees,
I remember willow trees,
And you remember gnats.
We strolled the Spanish market place at ninety in the shade,
With all the fruit and vegetables so temptingly arrayed,
And we can share a memory as every lover must,
And I remember oranges,
I remember oranges,
I remember oranges,
And you remember dust.
The Autumn leaves are tumbling down and winter’s almost here,
But through the Spring and Summer time
we laughed away the year.
And now we can be grateful for the gift of memory,
When I remember having fun,
Two happy hearts that beat as one,
When I had thought that we were we,
But we were you and me.
by Molly Drake, from The Tides’s Magnificence – Songs and Poems of Molly Drake, published by Bryter Music
Once you’ve said Coventry, Hull,
and Paragon Station, the journey to London,
our schools, and the toads, it’s hardly worth writing.
But before I lived there, in Coventry, where
he said his childhood had been unspent,
he ran past my house to get to his school
at the top of the road.
And at my school in Hull, when I ran
through the trees at the edge of the pitch
and peered through the fence, was that him
leaning out of the library window composing a poem –
Did he wave back?
– composing a poem about that toad.
Mine was the part of toad of toad hall,
his was a metaphor squatting inside him
for most of his life.
And, was he the lugubrious man in the corner,
chain smoking the journeys from Paragon, Hull
to London, Kings Cross, who gave me a light?
It wasn’t at Whitsun.
Now the grimly lit station we knew is restored.
Sunlight shines in through its arching glass roof
onto walls and concourses sand-blasted cream.
And hurrying towards me, silent in bronze,
still clutching his briefcase, holding onto his hat,
Larkin is catching the last train to London,
leaving Paragon Station decades ago.
Huge thanks to all our contributing poets for permission to include your poems; to everyone who wrote in with poetry suggestions and to all of you for reading this. Very special thanks to Jonathan Edwards for being our guest poet. Do check out Poetry Wales if you haven’t already – it is such a treat when it drops through my letter box. And last but not least, thank you to Alison and Nicky who are so brilliantly perfectionist about proof-reading – you wouldn’t believe the errors that would slip through without them! (And that last sentence was popped in after they’d done their bit, so I hope I’ve not messed up!)
So – our next Poetry Breakfast will be published on Thursday 10th December and our guest poet will be the former National Poet of Wales Gillian Clarke who has chosen the theme: The Year’s Midnight.
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 Monday 16th November, yes that’s right: you’ve just got the weekend. If you are not sure whether or not your contributions are wanted – let me tell you that if you are reading this, they are!
These themed collections of reader’s poetry choices are free and always will be, but they do take an enormous amount of work! If you would like to buy me a cup of coffee, or put something towards my next paperback you can do so right here: thank you!
Please use the comment function below and share this post wherever you can! Thank you.
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Bye for now, keep safe,
(yes this is still the right email!)
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