the year’s midnight

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

Welcome to Poetry Breakfast ~ still at home, but possibly heading to some socially distanced, cautious time with some of our loved ones? I hope so.

Today is sunny and frosty ~ dare I say that I’m longing for snow . . . ?

Our guest poet this month is the wonderful Gillian Clarke. Gillian was the National Poet of Wales from 2008 ~ 2016 and she and I met in 2008. I was hosting a Readers’ Retreat in West Wales in the beautiful home of Carole and Allen Jacobs and Gillian, at Carole’s suggestion, was our very special guest poet.  Gillian and I hit it off immediately, chatting for hours round the table, and the upshot of our conversation was that Gillian would tell Carol Ann Duffy to visit the bookshop! She did. She came: and the Wenlock Poetry Festival was born! Thank you to Gillian for changing my life and adding such richness to it.

Gillian was our headline guest at the first Poetry in the Barn festival in 2019 at Aardvark Books. We are very pleased to see you at Poetry Breakfast, Gillian.

 

A NOTE ON READING!

My technical skills are increasing (hurrah!) but if you read this on anything smaller than a tablet there will inevitably be some slippage of longer lines onto the line below.

Do explore and have fun: most text in red, and most illustrations, are linked to other pages, so click away!

And just so you know, comments with a red line at the left side, are from me!

I hope you enjoy your Poetry Breakfast: may I suggest a good chair; a warm fire; a very good cup of coffee/tea/glass of wine ~ and a good half hour or so . . .

Anna

Call for poems!

I am going to have a break over Christmas, which means, of course, that you get a break, too!  Our next Poetry Breakfast will be published on February 11th and our guest poet will be the much~loved Paul Henry.

Paul has chosen the theme of Love, and the title: “What will survive of us …” from the famous last line of Philip Larkin’s An Arundel Tomb.

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 18th January. If you are not sure whether or not your contributions are wanted ~ let me tell you that if you are reading this, they are!

Gillian was guest of honour at our Reader’s Retreat in 2018 at Ty Newydd, and the following year, headlined the first Poetry in the Barn at Aardvark Books, Brampton Bryan.

THE YEAR’S MIDNIGHT

Thank you to David Thomas, Gillian’s husband, for this photograph, and the header photograph, too.

Polar

Snowlight and sunlight, the lake glacial.
Too bright to open my eyes
in the dazzle and doze
of a distant January afternoon.

It’s long ago and the house naps in the plush silence
of a house asleep, like absence,
I’m dreaming on the white bear’s shoulder,
paddling the slow hours, my fingers in his fur.

His eyes are glass, each hair a needle of light.
He’s pegged by his claws to the floor like a shirt on the line.
He is a soul. He is what death is. He is transparency,
a loosening flow on the sea.

But I want him alive.
I want him fierce
with belly and breath and growl and beating heart.
I want him dangerous.

I want to follow him over the snows
between the immaculate earth and now,
between the silence and the shot that rang
over the ice at the top of the globe,

when the map of the earth was something we knew by heart,
and they had not shot the bear,
had not loosed the ice,
had not, had not . . .

 

by Gillian Clarke, from Ice, published by Carcanet, 2012. Used with kind permission of the author.

Ice

Where beech cast off her clothes
Frost has got its knives out.

This is the chemistry of ice,
The stitchwork, the embroidery,
the froth and the flummery.

Light joins in. It has a point to make
about haloes and glories,
spectra and reflection.

It reflects on its own miracle,
the first imagined day
when the dark was blown

and there was light.

 

by Gillian Clarke, from Ice, published by Carcanet, 2012. Used with kind permission of the author.

Thank you to David Thomas for this photograph

The Year’s Midnight

The flown, the fallen,
the golden ones,
the deciduous dead all gone
to ground, to dust, to sand,
borne on the shoulders of the wind.

Listen! They are whispering
now while the world talks,
and the ice melts,
and the seas rise.
Look at the trees!

Every leaf-scar is a bud expecting a future.
The earth speaks in parables.
The burning bush. The rainbow.
Promises. Promises.

by Gillian Clarke, from Ice, published by Carcanet, 2012. Used with kind permission of the author. 

Photograph by Chantel Beam.

Gillian’s poem was included in the Twelve Poems about Christmas published by Candlestick Press, 2012.

As is our new tradition (I do love the way these Poetry Breakfasts grow organically as if they have a life of their own!) Gillian now offers up three poems on the theme of The Year’s Midnight by other poets, for our enjoyment. Thank you Gillian.

Anna Dreda

Wenlock Books Events

In the bleak midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Christina Rossetti

From “Carols for Quire 2”: Quire Cleveland, conducted by Ross W. Duffin, performing at Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland Ohio, December 3-4, 2010.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know . . .

Such an evocative first line! I’m reading this each week with my grand-children on Zoom at the moment and they are definitely ‘growing into it’. The poem is still in copyright so I can’t reproduce it here, but will treat you to this reading ~

Linoprint by Jay Luttman-Johnson, available to buy here.

P.S. Hilary and I had a lovely visit to our local bookshop, Aardvark Books, this morning. A chat at the counter with Sheridan ranged from bookselling to poetry; Gillian Clarke to Robert Frost ~ and this

For her final choice, Gillian says: “May I suggest George Herbert’s ‘Prayer’. This poem ends with a phrase which, for me, is the perfect definition of poetry – ’Something understood’. Herbert calls it prayer, but for me it is about thinking in words ~ music/metaphor/poetry, and those two final words express exactly what it is to find poetry with your own pen on a page, or to read the perfect words of another poet.”

Prayer (I)

Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age, 

God’s breath in man returning to his birth, 

The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage, 

The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth 

Engine against th’Almighty, sinner’s tow’r, 

Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear, 

The six-days world transposing in an hour, 

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear; 

Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss, 

Exalted manna, gladness of the best, 

Heaven in ordinary, man well drest, 

The milky way, the bird of Paradise, 

Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood, 

The land of spices; something understood. 

by George Herbert

READERS’ CHOICES

Here are our poetry choices ~ 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.

Ali has chosen The Back End of Time by Kathleen Raine, from The Collected Works of Kathleen Raine, Faber, 2019 and Robert Frost’s In Hardwood Groves. They are both wonderful poems, but still in copyright, I’m afraid, and the Raine is not on line. 

I can highly recommend Kathleen Raine’s book, which you can buy directly from The Poetry Pharmacy, or if you prefer not to order online you can contact Deb here

Ali Redgrave

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

Two poems to match the season:

Laurence Binyon is best known by For The Fallen (‘they shall grow not old’). The following wonderful poem, which I’ve always thought of as a November poem, is also suitable for the end of the year:

‘the world that was ours is a world that is ours no more’ and that ‘nothing is certain, only the certain spring’.

And then a favourite end of year poem ~ ‘Ring out the old, ring in the new’ whatever your beliefs.

Philip Browning

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

from The Burning Of The Leaves

I
Now is the time for the burning of the leaves.
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.

The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust;
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! The reddest rose is a ghost;
Sparks whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.

Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before:
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there;
Let them go to the fire, with never a look behind.
The world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.

They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring.

by Laurence Binyon

 

from: In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 106 

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Ring out the grief that saps the mind
For those that here we see no more;
Ring out the feud of rich and poor,
Ring in redress to all mankind.

Ring out a slowly dying cause,
And ancient forms of party strife;
Ring in the nobler modes of life,
With sweeter manners, purer laws.

Ring out the want, the care, the sin,
The faithless coldness of the times;
Ring out, ring out my mournful rhymes
But ring the fuller minstrel in.

Ring out false pride in place and blood,
The civic slander and the spite;
Ring in the love of truth and right,
Ring in the common love of good.

Ring out old shapes of foul disease;
Ring out the narrowing lust of gold;
Ring out the thousand wars of old,
Ring in the thousand years of peace.

Ring in the valiant man and free,
The larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Lizzie also suggests the poem Ring Out, Wild Bells by Lord Alfred Tennyson saying that a lot of the lines seem particularly apt for the pandemic and Brexit.

Lizzie Tingle

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

I have been thinking forward to this December edition. I love Gillian Clarke’s poetry and I’m sure there will be many powerful poems submitted by others. The phrase The Year’s Midnight struck an ominous note with me though ~ and I’d had enough of that!

I wanted to think forward to when people could be together again.

I thought of Auld Lang Syne as a positive message. Robert Burns collected/wrote this among a wealth of Scottish folk songs. Very few Scots know the words to the various verses and some of the words are now archaic. The spelling I’ve used is an attempt to give the sound of words. I’ll print below what is generally known and sung at Scottish gatherings! Lots of repeated phrases …

Please accept this as a New Year’s greeting to you, Anna, and all connected with Poetry Breakfasts.

Let’s hope there can be gatherings safely soon.

Joyce, this is a lovely choice. New Year greetings to you, too! And a little treat for you ~ 

Joyce Watson

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

Auld Lang Syne  (Old Long Since)

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty freend!
And gies a hand o’ thine!
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

CHORUS

 

The first time I read Briggflatts I felt electrified by the sounds of the words, and a shiver ~ not of cold but of a thrill ~ ran up my spine as I read Part V. The whole of Part V (shown here is just an extract) with a recording of the author reading can be found here.
Andrew James

Briggflatts

V

Drip — icicle’s gone.
Slur, ratio, tone,
chime dilute what’s done
as a flute clarifies song,
trembling phrase fading to pause
then glow. Solstice past,
years end crescendo.

Winter wrings pigment
from petal and sloth
but thin light lays
white next red on sea-crow wing,
gruff sole cormorant
whose grief turns carnival.
Even a bangle of birds
to bind sleeve to wrist
as west wind waves to east
a just perceptible greeting —
sinews ripple the weave,
threads flex, slew, hues meeting,
parting in whey-blue haze.

Mist sets lace of frost
on rock for the tide to mangle.
Day is wreathed in what summer lost.

by Basil Bunting, from Complete Poems, ed. Richard Caddell (Bloodaxe Books, 2000)

My suggestion is Midnight Anvil by Seamus Heaney (from District and Circle, Faber and Faber 2006). It’s not just the year’s midnight, but the millennium’s midnight (it’s hard to believe that was 20 years ago).

I love the mixture of old and new in this poem. Heaney juxtaposes the folk tradition of the blacksmith ringing in the New Year on his anvil in Ireland with the modern technology of the cell phone that enables his nephew in Canada to hear the ‘twelve blows/struck for the millennium’. I admire the craft of the poem (a parallel with the craft of the blacksmith) ~ Heaney writes each verse in the Japanese tanka form with the pattern of 5,7,5,7,7 syllables. At the end of the poem the reference to forging a spade has a personal resonance for me ~ my father had a beautiful hand-forged gardening spade which he used until his death at the age of 92 and it is now used by my son in his garden.

I really enjoyed the Welsh flavour of I remember, I remember with Jonathan Edwards and it was good to discover the John Burnside poem there, too: A Private Life.

Thanks so much for this Mary.  Sorry I can’t reproduce the poem, but there’s a bit of extra interest below.

Mary Robinson

Poet

You can read these two articles about The Midnight Anvil:

This one from the Irish Times

and this from The Guardian.

And I found this poem by Mary Robinson, and although it has an autumn setting, it seemed to me quite fitting for this month’s theme with its last line of the day dawning and the shadows retreating . . .

Goldfinches

I think it would be a day like this –
sunlight gilding the autumn fields,
scraps of red campion flowering on the bank
and a thorn bush clotted with haws
where a flock of goldfinches lands,
their voices a bracelet tinkling with charms.

The old churchyard’s run to seed
but I notice the word Hedd
at the top of a slate
for Thomas Jones of Tan Garn
who lost his life at Passchendaele
on the sixteenth of August, 1917.

Such lovely birds to be acquainted with death,
their crimson faces, it’s said, splashed
with blood at the Passion.
In a gorse-gold flash they’re away
and I read the inscription
until the day dawns and the shadows retreat.

Note: Hedd peace.

by Mary Robinson from Trace, Oversteps Books, 2020

I’m so very pleased to see that Gillian is heading up your December session.

From the moment I first discovered George Mackay Brown, I have loved his work. His stories and poetry resonate very strongly with me.

So I’d like to suggest Maeshowe for this month’s theme. Both are from Following a Lark (1996) in The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, published by John Murray 2005.

(Hilary and I stayed on Orkney a few years ago to attend the Orkney Folk Festival (which was fantastic!). We visited Maeshowe, which was incredible and we also saw George’s house just by the library in Stromness. It was a very memorable holiday. Anna)

I love the writing of Federico Garcia Lorca and also offer Merry Go Round: I find his ideas and use of language very evocative although the poetry does sound better in the original Spanish.

Coincidently, a few years back, Gareth and I devised and performed a programme for Guitar and Voice, ‘La Guitarra : A little Night Music ~ a journey from Granada to Aldeburgh’, which included the music of De Falla and Benjamin Britten together with Lorca’s poetry. Did you know that Lorca visited Herefordshire en route to New York? Therein lies a story.
Lynden Rees-Roberts

Poetry in Presteigne

Maeshowe, chambered cairn. Photo is from Orkneyjar, the heritage of the Orkney islands.

Maeshowe: Midwinter

Equinox to Hallowmas, darkness
              falls like the leaves. The
              tree of the sun is stark.

On the loom of winter, shadows
              gather in a web; then the
              shuttle of St. Lucy makes a
              pause; a dark weave
              fills the room.

The blackness is solid as a
              stone that locks a tomb.
              no star shines there.

Then begins the true ceremony of
              the sun, when the one
              last fleeting solstice flame
              is caught up by a
              midnight candle.

Children sing under a street
              lamp, their voices like
              leaves of light.

 

by George Mackay Brown from Following a Lark (1996) in The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, published by John Murray, 2005. Reproduced here by permission of the publisher.

Tío Vivo – Teorías (Canciones 1921-1924)

A José Bergamín

Los días de fiesta
van sobre ruedas.
El tío-vivo los trae,
y los lleva.

Corpus azul.
Blanca Nochebuena.

Los días abandonan
su piel, como las culebras,
con la sola excepción
de los días de fiesta.

Estos son los mismos
de nuestras madres viejas.
Sus tardes son largas colas
de moaré y lentejuelas.

Corpus azul.
Blanca Nochebuena.

El tío-vivo gira
colgado de una estrella.
Tulipán de las cinco
partes de la tierra.

Sobre caballitos
disfrazados de panteras
los niños se comen la luna
como si fuera una cereza.

¡Rabia, rabia, Marco Polo!
Sobre una fantástica rueda,
los niños ven lontananzas
desconocidas de la tierra.

Corpus azul.
Blanca Nochebuena.

Merry-go-round (Songs 1921 – 1924)

(to Jose Bergamin)

Holidays
travel on wheels.
The merry-go-round brings them
and takes them away.

Blue Corpus Christi
White Christmas Eve.

Days shed their skin
just like snakes,
with the single exception
of holidays.
These haven’t changed
since our old mothers’ time.
Their afternoons are long trains
Of moire and sequins.

Blue Corpus Christi
White Christmas Eve.

The merry-go –round turns,
suspended from a star.
Tulip of the five
corners of the earth.

On wooden horses
disguised as panthers
children gobble the moon
as they would a cherry.

Now hear this, Marco Polo:
From their fabulous wheel
children see far-off places
nowhere in this world.

Blue Corpus Christi.
White Christmas Eve.

by Frederico Garcia Lorca, translated by Alan S. Trueblood, from Selected Poems, Penguin Modern Classics, 2001

Thanks to Gareth Rees-Roberts for this: a New Year’s Eve photo literally taken at the stroke of midnight under a bright full moon from Stonewall Hill on the Welsh / English Border.

Midnight, December 31st 2009.

Can I suggest two poems ~

The first is an Emily Dickinson, no.93 in my The Complete Poems (Faber, 1976); Went up a year this evening! Always surprising, intriguing, I love her notion of the Tourist in this one.

The second is by Roy Ashwell who lives in Bishop’s Castle. I met him at a Poetry Breakfast in the Poetry Pharmacy last year, when the croissants were real. In his nineties and he’s still writing poetry, having begun during the last war. He’s had an adventurous life in different parts of the world. His most recent pamphlet, Now, is charming and courageous, but I’ve chosen If at the Year’s End from a previous collection, Age and After.

I’m pretty sure Deb at the Poetry Pharmacy has stock of Roy’s pamphlets. You can email the shop to find out. Anna

Alix Nathan

Author, The Warlow Experiment

Went up a year this evening!

Went up a year this evening!
I recollect it well!
Amid no bells nor bravoes
The bystanders will tell!
Cheerful—as to the village—
Tranquil—as to repose—
Chastened—as to the Chapel
This humble Tourist rose!
Did not talk of returning!
Alluded to no time
When, were the gales propitious—
We might look for him!
Was grateful for the Roses
In life’s diverse bouquet—
Talked softly of new species
To pick another day;
Beguiling thus the wonder
The wondrous nearer drew—
Hands bustled at the moorings—
The crown respectful grew—
Ascended from our vision
To Countenances new!
A Difference—A Daisy—
Is all the rest I knew!

by Emily Dickinson

Here is my poem for this month. I like the energy, warmth and light of this poem and it has plenty of oomph which we need at this time of the year!

Hilary Tilley

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Now Winter Nights Enlarge

Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours;
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o’erflow with wine,
Let well-turned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep’s leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense
With lovers’ long discourse;
Much speech hath some defense,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

by Thomas Campion.

Thank you so much to Alix Nathan for alerting me to this piece of music.

Here’s my response to the theme after reading Gillian’s poem of the same title and a few walks through my nearest woods.

(Thank you so much, Steve.  Love this! Anna)

Steve Harrison

Poet@Home, Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

The sessile oaks in Ercall Wood

The sessile oaks in Ercall Wood set traps
of wooden marbles on the forest floor.
They drop their cluster bombs in millions
This year each tree five hundred score and more.

A bumper mast of reprisal acorns
the season’s right to colonise the realm,
hid in tyre tracks, smuggled in boot soles
Trojan horses for oak and beach and elm.

Squirrels and jays spread the wood, push the hedge,
water and wind roll seeds down Ercall Lane.
Shoots start to germinate and open cracks
in tarmac, seedlings along motorways.

The journey is slow but foes self-destruct,
A hundred years to fill the skies again.

by Steve Harrison

I will submit A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day by John Donne as it does contain the words “Year’s Midnight”. It isn’t very cheerful so you may want to give it a miss with everything being so bleak and all!

Thanks Alex, I would have chosen this one, too!

Alex Hiam

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;
The sun is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rays;
The world’s whole sap is sunk;
The general balm th’ hydroptic earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the bed’s feet, life is shrunk,
Dead and interr’d; yet all these seem to laugh,
Compar’d with me, who am their epitaph.

Study me then, you who shall lovers be
At the next world, that is, at the next spring;
For I am every dead thing,
In whom Love wrought new alchemy.
For his art did express
A quintessence even from nothingness,
From dull privations, and lean emptiness;
He ruin’d me, and I am re-begot
Of absence, darkness, death: things which are not.

All others, from all things, draw all that’s good,
Life, soul, form, spirit, whence they being have;
I, by Love’s limbec, am the grave
Of all that’s nothing. Oft a flood
Have we two wept, and so
Drown’d the whole world, us two; oft did we grow
To be two chaoses, when we did show
Care to aught else; and often absences
Withdrew our souls, and made us carcasses.

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing the elixir grown;
Were I a man, that I were one
I needs must know; I should prefer,
If I were any beast,
Some ends, some means; yea plants, yea stones detest,
And love; all, all some properties invest;
If I an ordinary nothing were,
As shadow, a light and body must be here.

But I am none; nor will my sun renew.
You lovers, for whose sake the lesser sun
At this time to the Goat is run
To fetch new lust, and give it you,
Enjoy your summer all;
Since she enjoys her long night’s festival,
Let me prepare towards her, and let me call
This hour her vigil, and her eve, since this
Both the year’s, and the day’s deep midnight is.

by John Donne

Both of these poems focus on light rather than the longest and deepest of dark nights. In Solstice II by Kathleen Jamie the low winter sun lights up the whole poem, the people are dazzled, the shadows are faint, the ‘fenceposts splashed with gold’.

Tess Jolly’s Winter Solstice fairly sparkles, breathlessly along, instances of light flickering through a poem that she eventually acknowledges is supposed to be about darkness!

The perfect poetry combination to finish this breakfast, Maureen, thank you. In the midst and depths of darkness – the light will come! I didn’t know Tess Jolly ~ what a find! 

Maureen Cooper

Readers' Retreat

Thank you to Kathleen Jamie for kind permission to include this poem.

Winter Solstice

 

I will not write about the fairy lights garlanding the tree,
how steadily red blends to sapphire, emerald, gold,
how strong the bulbs must be to throw their hearts
upon the café wall, how children try to catch them.
I will not say there is tinsel draped over the branches
like seaweed over pebbles, nor list the many-coloured cloths
as ivory, turquoise, lavender, mint; I will not speak
of glazed pastries on the counter, how they shine so much
they could be varnished, there for the hell-of-it, for the sheer
beauty of their glistening berries. I’ll turn away from buses
heaving down the rush-hour road, ignore how in all this rain
the headlamps could be tumbling garnets, polished amber,
as if a picture-book box of pirate treasure had spilt
its pearls and precious stones across a tarmacked page.

I will not describe how willingly sunset yields to sea,
I will not delight in words to name its colours: indigo, cerise
crimson, ruby. I will not try to capture your smile
across the table, how it slips like warm charcoal
into the fabric of my heart. I will not suggest I light a candle
as the year prepares to wane, that you hold a second wick to mine
then another and another, that together we whisper a prayer
for each fierce flame. I will not talk about the light
that is everywhere, how far you have to travel for night
to be completely black, and even then there are stars.
I will not question why flames burn more brightly
before sputtering out, or how when we know we’re dying
we can be so fully alive. I will not say these things because this
is a poem about darkness. I am writing about the darkness.

by Tess Jolly

first published by the Poetry Society in 2015, also in Breakfast at the Origami Cafe, Blue Diode Press, 2020

Thank you, Tess, for kind permission to include this poem.

You can read more of Tess’s poems on the Poetry Society website and her new collection is very easy to order direct from the publisher.

You can watch Tess Jolly read from her collection this Friday evening (11th December, 7.30pm) at a free Zoom event with three other poets.  Register here.

Thank you!

Oh my ~ what a way to end the year. And what a year it has been. Thank you so much to everyone who has helped to keep this Poetry Breakfast going. There have been times when it all felt a bit much (especially when it was every week!), but each time I sit down to work on it I feel the sense of wonder that sharing poetry creates, and I fall in love with it all over again. And that’s down to you ~ and the marvellous and varied poems you send me.

Huge thanks to Gillian Clarke for being our guest poet this month ~ Gillian’s constant support of my various poetry ventures means the world to me. Thank you Gillian, for all you do for poetry.

Grateful thanks to Nicky and Alison for proof reading par excellence!

Buy poetry books!

Do support poets (and booksellers) by buying poetry books if you enjoy anything you’ve read here today. Many can be bought from the new online platform Bookshop.org where you can nominate your favourite bookshop to benefit from your purchase. You can also order your poetry books directly from The Poetry Pharmacy where Deb has now created a list of most of the books mentioned in this month’s anthology. Some small presses are not yet represented here, but Deb can help you out with those, too!

So all that remains is for me to wish you a happy, safe and healthy Christmas and let us all hope for the very best for 2021!

With love,

Anna x

Anna Dreda

Poetry Breakfast, Talking about Books, Wenlock Books Events

Contact Anna

(yes this is still the right email!)

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