staring into space

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

Char says:

This is Hubble Space Telescope’s Ultra-Deep Field image. Time on telescopes – either on Earth or in Space – is always very limited, but some scientists managed to get a 10-day gap in Hubble’s busy schedule and decided to simply focus on a part of the sky where there appeared to be absolutely nothing – a big gamble of a LOT of telescope time! This is what they got. The image is time travel – an image of tens of thousands of galaxies when they were very young, just a few tens of millions of years after the Big Bang. It astonished everyone when it came out in 2014. So I’m really eager to see the first images that come from James Webb Space Telescope which is many times more powerful than Hubble. Exciting!

So delighted that Char March is our special guest this month. After her long (and ongoing) stint as background tech support for our monthly Zoom Poetry Breakfasts it is an absolute pleasure to have her centre stage, where she rightly belongs!

Char’s irrepressible sense of awe about the world and everything in it come through in all of her poems. Likewise, her sense of humour, which is always bubbling away, sometimes just beneath the surface, otherwise joyfully exploding. And yet, Char’s poem about washing her mother’s hair was the one that had many of us in tears a few months ago.

 

Staring into Space

Char has chosen as her theme, ‘Staring into Space’ and this thread runs through the poetry, art and music in this anthology. Char was thinking about Outer Space, as you’ll see from her own poems, and the poems she has chosen, but as always, our readers have responded to the theme creatively! We hope you enjoy the journey these poems take you on.

Most of the poetry books referenced can be bought from Deb’s Poetry Pharmacy; you can contact Deb directly with any queries regarding books not listed, which she may have in stock or be able to find for you.

Dorothy Vaughan

Nancy Roman

Valentina Tereshkova

Katherine Johnson

These fabulous cards, showing women who have been crucial to the development of space travel and exploration, and then largely forgotten, are designed by Megan Ballard.

I’m 18 and live in the market town of Thirsk. I’m currently doing an art foundation year at Leeds Arts University. I’m specialising in illustration which I hope to do a degree in.
With the cards, I wanted to shed light on some of the women involved with space exploration as they are often overlooked despite their key roles in what we know and where we’ve been.

Let’s help Megan Ballard’s newly-created Etsy shop by buying the cards to send to friends for International Women’s Day! Megan will donate part of the proceeds to Women’s Aid.

Char, on her music choice:

I’ve come across this on-line: ‘Fantastic recording from the space flights of Voyager I & II launched in 1977. The true ambient space sounds that come from electronic vibrations of the planets, moons and rings, electromagnetic fields of the planets and moons, planetary magnetosphere, trapped radio waves bouncing between the planet and the inner surface of its atmosphere, charged particle interactions of the planet, its moons and the solar wind, and from charged particle emissions from the rings of certain planets. All sounds are space sounds, there are no engine sounds from the spaceprobes.’ It’s 30 min’s of very much the same type of sounds, but something about it evokes the vastness, and loneliness, of space – and those astronomical distances.

Three poems on Space, by Char March

Unsung

We copy you down; Moon has its first guest.
A stark beauty all of its own; stand by.
Roger that
. Then three hours they lay to rest.

A bunch of guys about to turn blue are blessed.
It’s beautiful the power of that black sky.
You’ve heard of Mike?  Well, he did all the rest.

Roger that.
Then three hours they tried to rest
in Eagle’s cramp while the Apollo guy
you’ve never heard of – Mike – did all the rest.

Buzz and Neil dozed while round them reeled a fest
of stars and that blue orb of home flew by.
Roger that. Then three hours they lay to rest.

Meantime Houston bleeped and Mike ran more tests.
One small step, some bagged dirt, one flag held high.
You ever heard of Mike? He did all the rest.

He ran more tests, fixed tea for them and sighed.
The lift-off blast knocked planted flag awry:
Roger that. Then three hours they tried to rest
while Houston bleeped and Mike did all the rest.

from Full Stops In Winter Branches, Valley Press, 2018

This Tuesday morning she is travelling to the farthest arm of the galaxy

She spent all yesterday in training:
the exercises against gravity;
the moving safely around her cabin;
the gathering of supplies;
the careful donning
of her spacewalk suit.

At 10.12GMT she gets the nod from Houston,
releases the airlock and immediately
the manoeuvre down the one small step
almost stalls the whole mission, but,

the last moment giant leap by the girl
with the worried dog, has the spacemobile
safely back on track and the pilot is in full
control as she eases her craft round the back

of the sheltered flats and into the wind-tunnel
by the park where her navigations systems
are pummelled by solar winds and passing
lorries.  Finally, after a long communication

blackout with base, she reports in
from the safe-docking-refuge of the bench
that says:  This was Alan’s favourite view
before the ring road was built.

Half-a-light-year of R&R on the bench planet
and a re-fuelling of tea from her flask
and the pilot is gliding out into the galactic
airways, the twin moons of Saturn

your local electrical wholesalers gleam
off her titanium hull.  Her oxygen is running low
but the red glow of the Post Office heaves
into view just beyond the next constellation.

first published in Unsung, Grey Hen Press, then Full Stops In Winter Branches, Valley Press, 2018

 

Dislocating the Moon

It’s historic. Mum keeps saying this as if
that might be important. I’m in my rabbit-print
jammies – Mum-made so, ken, aw the seams

are wrang and one leg has a bend in it
where she said swearie-wurds at the Singer.
Maybe Buzz’s suit is tight in uncomfy places

as he manoeuvres (that was gie hard to spell,
and looks aw wrong – three vowels aw
crushedthegether but Dad says, that’s

the French for you). But they’re American
Buzz and Neil and Mike and all crushedthegether
in the Command Module. I paced oot

my bedroom: eight foot six both ways so
they’ve another four foot two – plenty room –
but that’s Americans for yous, they like

things big. But they’ve slopey sides aw roond
no’ just under the eaves where I can hear the pigeons
sklettering aboot. Imagine yon bell tent Iain slept in

at Scouts, Dad says. But I’m in the Brownies
and we’ve no’ been allowed to light a fire, let alone
have a tent – or go to the moon. It’s all grey and

speckly and they just speak in numbers and crackles
and sound affi bored and talk through their noses
but Dad says that’s American. I watch Mum and Dad’s

faces lit blue frae the Radio Rentals telly. There’s
aboot a pound weight of sixpences in there
so’s we dinnae get interrupted. It’s historic,

ken. Iain and me are never allowed
to say the B word: Bored.

I crack aff another huge yawn and my jaw
clicks and crunches like Mission Control.
At last Mum gives my Dad the eye. He sighs,

pulls hissel oot the moquette sofa, hutches
me up on his hip. Mum tears hersel awa’ lang enough
tae tuck my cellulose blanket roond us and we’re aff

up the back garden tae the teabaggyorangeskin smell
of Hamish the compost heap and Dad is showing me how
to keek through grampa’s wee telescope.

It’s aw black. Then blurry-as-the-telly
with wee bits of star wheechin’ past. Dad
gangs tae the big fencepost. Steady oan this.

And there it is. The size of a half-crown
fu’ bright – wi’ grey bits Dad says are seas, but
dry. He hods me firm and I airt oot every crater.

I’ve lost a furry slipper and my foot’s hingin’
cald and Dad’s bletherin’ oan aboot it being Amazing
afore I pit him right: I cannae see theym. Thur no’ there!

Back in front of the new three-bar electric fire
with real wood surround Mum and Iain
are still gaupin’ at grey fuzz’n’crackle.

Is this whit it’s like tae be Grown-Up? Is this
whit theym aw think is exciting? Do they no’ ken
it’s aw blaflum? I yawn and yawn and click/

crackle goes my jaw. Click/crackle. Until
I cannae shut it! Ma mooth – wide as the
dentist – and tears pouring doon…

The nurses at Falkirk Royal Infirmary
are moon-walking up and doon the corridors
going Bleep-Kshhhhhhhh-Bleep and Mum says

Well, this is historic!

Unpublished

Char March

writer ~ tutor ~ mentor ~ editor

Chosen by Char ...

 Three glorious poems chosen by Char, from Adrienne Rich, Jonathan Taylor and Tishani Doshi …

 

For copyright reasons, we cannot include the text to these poems, but you can read them all just one click at a time!

Planetarium by Adrienne Richhere

Black Hole in B-Flat by  Jonathan Taylor ~ here


JEFF BEZOS GOES TO SPACE AND BECOMES A BHAKTI POET by Tishani Doshi
from Poets Respond, November 2, 2021 ~ read it here

Tishani Doshi: “Jeff Bezos announced this week that his commercial space station venture ‘Orbital Reef’ will offer among other things an ‘optimal location for film-making in microgravity’ as well as a space hotel. According to this article, ‘The station will have large Earth-facing windows so that space tourists can take in the beauty of our planet and experience the thrill of weightlessness in complete comfort …’ The Bhakti poets knew a thing or two about connecting with the cosmos without actually relocating there, so I suppose this poem is wishful thinking.”

Char March

writer ~ tutor ~ mentor ~ editor

Our readers' choices

This monthly anthology of our Poetry Breakfast is very much a joint effort: it wouldn’t happen without you sending in your chosen poems on the given theme. All suggestions very welcome! I hope you enjoy these varied and excellent choices.

Sometimes Things Get Heavy on the Night Shift by Leo Marie Dragstedt, Student Mental Health Nurse

You speak of loneliness,
how your bandages bind you up tight
like a paper doll hug.
How people are always up for a fight
but that they don’t like to sit through recovery
that ends in better, but not fixed.

How you’ve been lying on disposable sheets so long
you feel a little disposable too,
that you still see the skyline when you close your eyes
but hear more monitor beeps than bird song.

You say the lights below your fourth floor window
look like stars to you now,
as if you’ve already crawled your way to heaven;
but that it can’t be, because in heaven
you can get a full a night’s sleep.

You say you prefer a view that overlooks the train tracks,
that you imagine walking along them
and never looking back;

that you imagine walking barefoot,

that cold metal is better than nerve damage
but that you can have both in a wheelchair.

You say that hope outside of its packet
can get stale in hospital rooms
and your lips are tinged blue when you speak
of all the beautiful lives that have touched you.
But your words come out black and purple
’til the whole room is tender as a bruise.

Then you steam up the window just sighing
and dreaming and wipe it all away
to keep watching as your alternate lives
curl up and burst into lights
and disperse like old friends
into the night.

from These are the Hands ~ Poems from  the heart of the NHS, Fairacre Press, 2020, included here by kind permission of the publisher. 

All profits from sales of this book are donated to NHS Charities Together

Ruth Walmsley

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Spring Party by Morar Lucas

Birdsong makes the music.
Massed bluebells scent the air
and form a fitted carpet
ethereally fair.

The conversation’s whispered
in gentle rustling breeze,
and all the guests (of course you’ve guessed)
are beeches (noble trees).

Their shining bark of silver grey
fits perfectly, skin tight,
for dancing, standing still, or play
in shafts of sharp spring light.

They all wear shawls of softest green
which look like leafy lace
through which the blue and sunlit sky
reflects earth’s glory back from space.

from Retrospective, Cairns Press,  2017.  (Out of print)

Morar Lucas

Zoom Poetry Breakfast

 

Two suggestions from me that might fit the criteria ~

For whom the moon by Vahni Capildeo

 

What is the moon, what is the mind,
What is a man, an area of darkness,
What is a mare, a getaway,
what is an astronaut, he carries out
instructions, obedient and armoured foetus
whose woven and worn lunar tether
could be any hiker’s failsafe terracotta
litter, if not returned to preserve with glass care
a memory few will ever have and some still say
didn’t happen.
                              O tell us –
earth of breathable fabric, earth of eyes,
                              O tell us who we will not –
earth of spontaneous colour, earth of fools,
                              O tell us who we will not send,
unquenchable earth, to the moon …

                               *

O tell us who we will and will not send,
discworld earth, to the moon,
                                                     to land
in the Sea of Tranquillity, to be saddled
with names from a science faulted with wonder,
as if there were seas on the moon, thirst
for seas that are states of mind, the sea of
Moscow also a state of mind?
                                                 Send
nobody who’ll run mad across the sand,
no nightmare hippy wet behind the ears
Looking for blooming moonflowers, burrowing
moonpups, moon roos boxing at the edge of
overly silver pools.
                                                Send
the fair to middling housekeepers
who don’t fix their clothes after they put them on
to go out, who are better at mending than ironing.
Kudos to the hoisters of flags with wrinkles,
Showing the stars the stars, the overreached
symbol, the possible infinity

                                                   we can begin to count…

from Like a Tree, Walking, Carcanet Press, 2021. This poem is reprinted by kind permission of Carcanet Press, Manchester, UK. You can buy the book ~ here

and 

What will you give for the moon? by David Morley

The Traveller seeks the key-harvester:
artist of mort and mortice,
miller, planer, sharpener of sorrows,

with a thousand keys to ways not taken.

The key harvester holds a cold coin in her hand.
She lifts her gaze from her sparking lathe.

Why is a moon misting in her palm?
The lathe’s steel scream stutters to silence.
Her keys, tempered, cool like comets

on hooks of orbit, twinkling, astigmatic.
The coin, the moon, is her new pressing.
What do you pay for with a moon?

What will you give for a moon? she asks the Traveller.
Her cat, as if to prove cats know, arches his spine
and twines his tail around her ankles, leonine,

languidly lingering under her fingers…
Moonlight plays with reflections in a mirror.
The cat pounces on a moonbeam on the floor.

The light, startled, skitters below a table.
The cat noses and paws at her vanished prey
but the moon stares from the dark. The lathe gleams.

What will you give for the moon? asks the mirror.

from Fury, Carcanet Press, 2020. Included with kind permission from David Morley.

Bert Molsom

Poetry Breakfast, Aardvark Books

The Great Indoors by Julia Deakin

Sensing a chill in the air, I brought the universe indoors
with the tomatoes. It had been out there so long, I felt
it was too old for nights out and needed me.

The moon came first and went straight to the cat basket
where, unlike the cat, it seemed happy. Grateful, even.
Sirius made for the sofa while I faffed with the planets,  

lining them up in size order on golf tees mounted in blu-tak
on the windowsill, curtains open so they could see the sky.
Don’t move, or I’ll swing for you.

Orion, Hercules and those pricks I put under the stairs,
then looked again – a matchbox, surely, would do.
I scooped all the angels off their spheres 

and gave the whole gaggle a pinhead.
The Perseids trapped under a cup with a postcard,
I told them to calm down and ran them a bath. 

Andromeda I shoved in the washing machine,
tried the Sombrero Galaxy on for size
then frisbeed it onto the wardrobe.

Word got out and red dwarfs were queuing past the shed,
curious, about what they’d looked down on for so long.
There were stars up the stairs and dark matter everywhere.

©Julia Deakin 2021, first published on Poetry Archive Now, included with kind permission of the poet.

Julia Deakin

Poet and Editor

Wenlock Edge by Jeff Phelps

At night, when you were homesick,
your brother told you to look up
and think of us at home,
continents away, watching the same
shared moon.

This field closens us, too.
When you come back I’ll show you
how it tilts up to the Edge,
how wind, soughing through bands of ash and hazel,
marks that boundary, like falling into space.
Today, a sky lark hangs, rising and rising.
Its fluttering song fills the basin of the air.

Ice once clunked and ground its way here,
sliced through hills, thawed to a broth.
Now every stone turned over at the field edge
carries the memory of warm seas:
coral, stone lily and shattered ammonite.
The earth ploughs itself endlessly,
churns up its treasures.
It settles and moves,
understands no boundaries, secretly
brings us together.

first published in the Wenlock Poetry Festival anthology, 2014 and then in Wolverhampton Madonna, Offa’s Press, 2016. Included here with Jeff’s kind permission.

Suicide on Pentwyn Bridge by Gillian Clarke

I didn’t know him,
the man who jumped from the bridge.
But I saw the parabola
of long-drawn-out falling in the brown

eyes of his wife week after week
at the supermarket cash-out.
We would quietly ask “How is he?”
hear of the hospital’s white

care, the corridors between her
and the broken man in the bed,
and the doctors who had no words,
no common supermarket women’s talk.

Only after the funeral
I knew how he’d risen, wild
from his chair and told her
he was going out to die.

Very slowly from the first leap
he fell through winter, through the cold
of Christmas, wifely silences,
the blue scare of ambulance,

from his grave on the motorway
to the hospital, two bridges down.
A season later in a slow cortège
he has reached the ground.

 

from Letter from a Far Country, Carcanet, 1982. Included by kind permission of Gillian Clarke

Carol Caffrey

Actor and Poet

 

I would like to suggest The More Loving One by W H Auden which you can read ~ here

Alex Hiam

Poetry Breakfast

Achieving Perspective by Pattiann Rogers

Straight up away from this road,
Away from the fitted particles of frost
Coating the hull of each chick pea,
And the stiff archer bug making its way
In the morning dark, toe hair by toe hair,
Up the stem of the trillium,
Straight up through the sky above this road right now,
The galaxies of the Cygnus A cluster
Are colliding with each other in a massive swarm
Of interpenetrating and exploding catastrophes.
I try to remember that.

And even in the gold and purple pretence
Of evening, I make myself remember
That it would take 40,000 years full of gathering
Into leaf and dropping, full of pulp splitting
And the hard wrinkling of seed, of the rising up
Of wood fibers and the disintegration of forests,
Of this lake disappearing completely in the bodies
Of toad slush and duckweed rock,
40,000 years and the fastest thing we own,
To reach the one star nearest to us.

And when you speak to me like this,
I try to remember that the wood and cement walls
Of this room are being swept away now,
Molecule by molecule, in a slow and steady wind,
And nothing at all separates our bodies
From the vast emptiness expanding, and I know
We are sitting in our chairs
Discoursing in the middle of the blackness of space.
And when you look at me
I try to recall that at this moment
Somewhere millions of miles beyond the dimness
Of the sun, the comet Biela, speeding
In its rocks and ices, is just beginning to enter
The widest arc of its elliptical turn.

from The Marginalian

The Starry Night by Anne Sexton, which you can read ~ here

 

and Antidotes to fear of death  by Rebecca Elson, from A Responsibility to Awe by Rebecca Elson, published by Carcanet Classics, 2018, which you can read ~ here

This poem was also chosen by Chris and Jane Pelton.

Anna Dreda

Wenlock Books Events

 

I came across a poem by Samuel Moon (1965) entitled The Shape of Space. You can read it ~ here
Janet Reece

Writer, Twitter: @JReecewriter Instagram: jreecewriter

Leisure by W.H. Davies

 
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Philip Browning

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

 

We recently read The Dimensions of the Milky Way by Marilyn Nelson in our shared reading group. It gave rise to a very wide-ranging discussion! You can read it ~ here
Heather Jones

Shared Reading, Stoke on Trent Library Service

Eyes can glaze over as we stare into space, seeing nothing. Or a landscape connects to our inner eye, personal, unsettling, as earth shifts and re-forms. And we wait.

The Floes by Philip Gross

The floes are breaking up now. Some nights,

thinking back, she sees a blue-black slightly
glowing hulk: that year, another, and the space

between them like dark sky beneath the surface
heaving, clouding when foam rushes over

while on some chilly fragment, as if sat for ever
on the naughty step, or in her impenetrable

own game, the child of her waits; and will
wait for as long as it takes, until the dark gap

between it all narrows again, something stops
this sliding apart of the galaxies, the starlight

thinning, floes like further houses, their late
windows switched out one by one, once recognized

names like bird cries heard from far off, over ice.

from Between the Islands, Bloodaxe, 2020, included with kind permission from Philip Gross.

Here is a SoundCloud recording of the poem, read by the author ~ listen here

 

Maureen Cooper

Reader's Retreat

I’ve just spent a happy hour reading poetry with thoughts of Staring into Space! I’d love to suggest:

The Dread 

These birds have no weight but heart-weight.
They are all heart, borne by lightness

and space — space between feathers, and space
within their trinkets of bone. These birds

have no thinking, but know the curve and swing
of the earth, coasts where old ice lumbers and creaks

and why they must always forfeit the land.
They are mocking this scrag-end of beach,

all jitter and fret, telling each other
what they might know of magnetic north,

how small the fishing boats are and how
the mother whales sing at night to the sea.

The Dread falls like darkness. It’s as if
someone quietly said: come, follow me.

by Katharine Towers, from The Floating Man, Picador, 2020. Included with kind permission of Bloodaxe Books and Katharine Taylor.

Skydivers

They fall outwards
as if from the calyx of a flower
each smaller than a falcon’s claw,
their target a gravel circle
in the Byzantine barley.

They fall like hushed flame
where once the sun’s disk
was ploughed from the furrow,
coupling, uncoupling
above the drop-zone.

When they run
with the white squall
you would think the air
holds their flight
like a welder’s seam,

but as they alight
there’s a sudden
billow of pollen,
an uprush
from winged heels

and like lovers,
the sweet tarrying
of their bodies
dissolves the moment.


by Pauline Stainer from The Lady and the Hare, Bloodaxe, 2003. Included with kind permission from Bloodaxe Books

 

and

Steeple by Cliff Yates

I lean against the steeple
two hundred feet above the ground.
A pigeon lands on my head.
The fire brigade have gone.
No more children throwing stones.

As thin as the spire and completely still
I forget to breathe and rarely sleep.
I like it best when the sun goes down.
I stare at the stars like I’m one of them.
I forget who I am. 

from Jam, Smith/Doorstop, 2016. ‘Steeple’ is the third and final poem in a sequence entitled ‘We Didn’t go to the Cinema in those Days’.  Thank you to Cliff Yates for kind permission to include this poem.

Jean Atkin

Poet in education & community projects

Thank you, as always, to everyone who has contributed to this Poetry Breakfast anthology ~ it has been a welcome change to look far outside of our own horizons. Thank you to Char for such unusual, expansive and humorous poems, and for reminding us to look up, and out! I loved the fact that Char’s ‘space’ poems were firmly grounded in the everyday domestic of getting to the Post Office, and the drama (or not!) of watching the moon landing on TV!

~~~

Next month’s Poetry Breakfast will be on Thursday April 14th and our guest poet is John Foggin. John’s theme is ‘Where the Masons went …’

Here’s how John explains it:

The theme was intended as the title of my new collection, which will be out in March. It is now entitled Pressed for Time. The phrase “where the masons went” is taken from an essay that Harold Rosen (yes, Michael’s dad) wrote in the 70s when we thought we were shaping the future of English teaching forever.

Harold was particularly interested at that time in the importance of narrative in culture and education. The full title of his essay was “Out there … or Where the Masons went”.

I’ve always read it as having two layers of interest. One is the anonymity of the voiceless and unrecorded workers and craftsmen who created all the great buildings and structures. Not just Cathedrals, but bridges, railways, docks like the Albert, chapels, libraries and on and on. Like the great myths and folk tales, they endure while their creators moved on – who knows where.

Similarly, I’m interested in the characters who are essential to narratives but drop out before the ‘end’. Of course, there are no such things ‘Out There’ as beginnings and endings. We invent them to keep ourselves sane. I’m thinking of the woodcutters and cottagers who send their three children out into the world and then are heard of no more. Anyway, that’s the nub of it.

Do get in touch if you would like to suggest any poems on this theme. If you are shy about reading, our readers will read for you!

There is no charge for these poetry blogs but they do take a huge amount of time. If you would like to show your appreciation by chipping in to my ‘coffee and paperback book fund’ you can do so here. If you don’t use Paypal you can email me for other easy ways to do this.

Thank you everyone, see you soon!

Anna Dreda

Wenlock Books Events

Contact Anna

(yes this is still the right email!)

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