urban beauty

Poetry Breakfast ~ at home

 

Dip into our weekly Poetry Breakfast ~ at home.

I hope you like the photograph above, taken on one of our many trips to Venice: for me, la Serenissima is the epitome of urban beauty. This isn’t a strict match of poem to picture, but it works for me! Thank you, Hilary, for choosing it:

Dockside by Amna Ahmed

Sat by the water for hours. Watched nothing but water,
how it was spelt out by light;

its mass like silk blown in slow-moving wind,

or the glitter of fisted diamonds that flickered and
kicked
as the waves caught the light
from the bounce of the sun and i squinted my eyes
and saw every one

of those diamonds that tickled and swam,

or how the light lay like a curve
in a ripple of time, on that wet pool
and I thought of a painter
jig-sawing brushstrokes of yellow
over the salty-sea blue.

from New Poems on the Underground

Now, come and meet our three guest poets …

Sending you all much love,

Anna x

PS The next theme will be ‘So green, so green …’

OUR GUEST POETS

ALISON BRACKENBURY

CHAR MARCH

GILL McEVOY

May Day, 1972

How gold it was, the first wash of sky
as voices floated from the tower
as you spun the umbrella the tourists loved,
on every spike a paper flower.

How cold it was at the day’s mid-point
when tiredness kicked in like a mule
when you stood at work and the hours stretched
as sea in fog’s breath, tense and dull.

How rich and dark was the crumb of cake
which came from the tin of the dancing men
in absurd white clothes: for luck, new life.
How nothing was the same again.

 

This poem is by Alison Brackenbury and is published in Gallop (Carcanet, 2019)

Last Week

Last week I had two rows with my superior,

my best friend chose to leave. There was a bomb scare:

we shivered for an hour, among clouds of smoke and daisies 

(the smoke was cigarettes, they found no bomb).

I promised next, to strike, risking the dull future –

not the best of weeks, in short. Again, the lilac

hangs heavy over other people’s fences

and when no one is looking, after rain

I draw the sprays close to me, breathing slower,

brush from my face the cold and vivid water.

The martins have returned, from unimagined seas’ 

wind-blinded miles, as sudden as they left,

their bow of wings, stubbed tails, boldly black

wheel and turn above the crumbling flats;

how tall they make the houses look. The sky

stays further than I thought, further and higher. 

 

This poem is by Alison Brackenbury and is published in Gallop (Carcanet, 2019)

Pearl, our allotment Viking

We wrench at the crusty boards;
a crackle of turquoise paint and crazed
rust. The two deckchairs are locked
in an elbowed embrace that tears apart,
fluttering rotted stripes
– like an ancient battleflag
going down under hooves.

The spitting blaze is a baresark beacon
against the shutting down of November.
The leaning towers of sprouts, the young leeks,
the left-to-seed parsley flap in the flaring wind.
Sodden earth clubs our wellies
as we heave planks loose
– stoke the Valhalla flames.

Pearl’s shed lurches forward onto its knees
– an old warrior axed from behind.
Its burning gasps force us back.
This was the shed’s last summer
as Pearl’s longboat. Humping heavy,
over uneven swell, it swayed and creaked
through August evenings as,

another good afternoon’s weeding behind her,
Pearl pulled the little nets on the single porthole,
and got down to it with Stan.
His zimmer frame hung from a nail outside
– a gleaming set of horns hacked
from some mythic beast.
His wife safely bedridden.

 

 

by Char March
from her collection The Thousand Natural Shocks
published by Indigo Dreams 2011

Praise-prayer to Leeds from Rattus norvegicus

Dearest Leeds, we thank you for your sewers:
for our subterranean superhighways lead us into temptation

We thank you for the cacophony of scents and stinks
your pavements give us, their lush squishing of Tetley’s and chips

We thank you for going fortnightly with your bin collections,
and for your Loiners who liberally spread their offerings to us

We thank you for dim street lighting so we may guzzle in peace;
we thank you for The Dark Arches where we hold our AGMs

We thank you for providing loft insulation and wiring to gnaw
from Adel to Armley, Beeston to Calverley, Horsforth to Seacroft

We thank you for all the cosy homes you provide for us,
for all your roof spaces and cavity walls, for every under-floor

We thank you for constant food and warmth; for every landfill,
especially the thrice-odiferous Mickelfield site

We thank you for making your Environment Officers focus on
our flying brethren, rather than us, with their nets and poisons

We thank you for inviting us into your great cityness
with your welcome flag of a dead sheep

And we sing together Muroidea Muroidea Muroidea Amen

by Char March from Full Stops in Winter Branches, published by Valley Press

Walnut Trees in a Suburban Street

The trees are too close to the road,
children cannot play by them.

They’ll never know what it is
to rake their nails
down the thick green rind
and launch the pale boat of nut,

to come home with their
small fists full of plunder,
faces, hands daubed
with strange bronze blood.

Crushed by cars the walnuts
grease the road with white.

Flocks of starlings
whistle down to feast,
one loud rush of wings.

 

by Gill McEvoy from Rise, published by Cinnamon Press

The Object of Desire was actually a statue in the Duke of Westminster’s stable yard, Chester but I didn’t feel I could mention him in the title …

Gill McEvoy

Object of Desire

The most vital thing
I’ve ever seen

is far too big for me to lift or carry,
and I couldn’t fit it in my garden
under any circumstances.

Look at those forelegs
punching the air, the clench
of those muscular haunches,

the living veins that stand out
underneath its skin.
I want to run my hands all over it,

free it from its metal base
in this ducal stable yard.

Oh, my black night-angel,
moon-horse,
firebird,

leap down and speed away
into the night.

And let me ride with you.

 

Gill McEvoy

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 by William Wordsworth

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

 

 

Another Westminster Bridge by Alice Oswald

go and glimpse the lovely inattentive water
discarding the gaze of many a bored street walker
where the weather trespasses into strip-lit offices
through tiny windows into tiny thoughts and authorities
and the soft beseeching tapping of typewriters
take hold of a breath-width instant, stare
at water which is already elsewhere
in a scrapwork of flashes and glittery flutters
and regular waves of apparently motionless motion
under the teetering structures of administration
where a million shut-away eyes glance once
restlessly at the river’s ruts and glints
count five, then wander swiftly
away over the stone wing-bone of the city

from Woods etc. by Alice Oswald, published by Faber

 

Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

by William Wordsworth

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/play/77002

Travelling with Ashes by Sheenagh Pugh

On the outskirts of town, we passed a dead factory,
windows all gone and the light pouring through,
airy and bright, a red-brick filigree.

At a disused halt, the edge of the platform
had blurred back to grass, and willowherb grew
through gaps in the flags and the crumbling asphalt.

And crossing the bridge, the stretches of mudflat
shone like lead sheets as the tide withdrew,
not looking as if it were planning a comeback

to float the bleached boat, an empty ribcage,
bones standing out as old men’s do
when appetite’s gone and flesh is wreckage.

Rust in the scrapyard was engraving
on heaps of silver and black and blue
some cryptic message to do with leaving,

and sunlight’s morse sent answering flashes
off broken windscreens, a code he once knew.
Ciphers read clear, when you travel with ashes.

from Short Days, Long Shadows, published by Seren

Thank you for letting me use this poem, Sheenagh. Hope all is well on Shetland.

Anna

Weeds by Norman Nicholson

Some people are flower lovers.
I’m a weed lover.
Weeds don’t need planting in well-drained soil;
They don’t ask for fertilizer or bits of rag to scare away birds.
They come without invitation;
And they don’t take the hint when you want them to go.
Weeds are nobody’s guests;
More like squatters.
Coltsfoot laying claim to every new-dug clump of clay;
Pearlwort scraping up a living from a ha’porth of mortar;
Dandelions you daren’t pick or you know what will happen;
Sour docks that make a first-rate poultice for nettle-stings;
And flat-foot plantain in the back street,
gathering more dust than the dustmen.
Even the names are a folk-song:
Fat hen, rat’s tail, cat’s ear, old men’s baccy and Stinking Billy
Ring a prettier chime for me than honeysuckle or jasmine,
And Sweet Cicely smells cleaner than Sweet William
though she’s barred from the garden.
And they have their uses, weeds.
Think of the old, worked-out mines –
Quarries and tunnels, earth scorched and scruffy,
torn up railways, splintered sleepers,
And a whole Sahara of grit and smother and cinders.
But go in summer and where is all the clutter?
For a new town has risen of a thousand towers,
Sparkling like granite, swaying like larches,
And every spiky belfry humming with a peal of bees.
Rosebay willowherb:
Only a weed!
Flowers are for wrapping in cellophane to present as a bouquet;
Flowers are for prize-arrangements in vases and silver tea-pots;
Flowers are for plaiting into funeral wreaths.
You can keep your flowers.
Give me weeds!

from Sea to the West Faber & Faber, 1981

Thank you Miggy Scott for sending this poem by Norman (and telling us you had it as a poster on your loo wall!)

Anna

August Morning, Upper Broadway by Alicia Ostriker

As the body of the beloved is a window
through which we behold the blackness and vastness of space
pulsing with stars, and as the man
on the corner with his fruit stand is a window,
and the cherries, blackberries, raspberries
avocados and carrots are a rose window
like the one in Chartres, yes, or the one in Paris
through which light floods from the other world, the pure one
stabbing tourists with malicious abundant joy
though the man is tired in the summer heat
and reads his newspaper listlessly, without passion
and people pass his stand buying nothing
let us call this scene a window looking out
not at a paradise but as a paradise
might be, if we had eyes to see
the women in their swaying dresses, the season’s fruit
the babies in their strollers infinitely soft: clear window
after clear window

from Waiting for the Light published by the University of Pittsburgh Press 

 

Alicia Ostriker

Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1937, Alicia Ostriker has been a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. She currently serves as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Waiting for the Light by Alicia Ostriker

for Frank O’Hara

Frank, we have become an urban species
at this moment many millions of humans are
standing on some corner waiting like me
for a signal permitting us to go,
a signal depicting a small pale pedestrian
to be followed by a sea-green light
we do not use this opportunity
to tune in to eternity
we bounce upon our toes impatiently
It is a Thursday morning, Frank, and I feel
rather acutely alive but I need a thing of beauty
or a theory of beauty to reconcile me
to the lumps of garbage I cannot love enclosed
in these tough shiny black plastic bags
heaped along the curb of 97th Street, my street —
like a hideous reminder of the fate we all expect
letting the bulky slimy truth of waste
attack our aesthetic sense and joie de vivre
reliably every Thursday. Let me scan the handsome amber
columned and corniced dwellings
reflected in rear windows of parked cars, let me wish
luck to their hives of intimacies, people
in kitchens finishing a morning coffee
saying see you later to the ones they live with
Let me raise my eyes to the blue veil adrift
between and above the artifice of buildings
and at last I am slipping through a flaw in time
where the string of white headlights approaching, the string
of red taillights departing, seem as if
they carry some kind of message
perhaps the message is that one block west
Riverside Park extends its length
at the edge of Manhattan like the downy arm
of a tender, amusing, beautiful lover,
and after that is the deathless river
but waiting for the light feels like forever

From Waiting for the Light by Alicia Ostriker. Published by the University of Pittsburgh Press.

The Cathedral Builders by John Ormond

They climbed on sketchy ladders towards God,
with winch and pulley hoisted hewn rock into heaven,
inhabited the sky with hammers,
defied gravity,
deified stone,
took up God’s house to meet him
and came down to their suppers
and small beer,
every night slept, lay with their smelly wives,
quarrelled and cuffed the children,
lied, spat, sang, were happy, or unhappy,
and every day took to the ladders again,
impeded the rights of way of another summer’s swallows,
grew greyer, shakier,
became less inclined to fix a neighbour’s roof of a fine evening,
saw naves sprout arches, clerestories soar,
cursed the loud fancy glaziers for their luck,
somehow escaped the plague,
got rheumatism,
decided it was time to give it up,
to leave the spire to others,
stood in the crowd, well back from the vestments at the consecration,
envied the fat bishop his warm boots,
cocked a squint eye aloft,
and said, ‘I bloody did that.’

 

A poem I like which I think could creep into “Urban Beauty” is John Ormond’s “Cathedral Builders”

Pat Morrison

Ali’s choices:

To the City of London by William Dunbar 

I said at the beginning of the post that Venice was my ideal of urban beauty, but William Dunbar clearly thought the same of London: “London, thou art the flour of Cities all.” A wonderful poem. Ali, thanks for this,

Anna

Prayer by Carol Ann Duffy

and lastly, This Moment by Eavan Boland, who sadly died just a few days ago.

This Moment

A neighbourhood.
At dusk.

Things are getting ready
to happen
out of sight.

Stars and moths.
And rinds slanting around fruit.

But not yet.

One tree is black.
One window is yellow as butter.

A woman leans down to catch a child
who has run into her arms
this moment.

Stars rise.
Moths flutter.
Apples sweeten in the dark.

 

I do hope you have enjoyed your Poetry Breakfast ~ at home.  Please feel free to add poems, comments or suggestions in the comments box below.  Till next time …

8 Comments

  1. Philip Browning

    Another lovely selection, Anna!

    John Betjeman could see beauty in urban places. One of my favourites is Harrow-on-the-Hill which I can hear him reciting to the sound of Jim Parker’s music.

    Harrow-on-the-Hill by John Betjeman

    When melancholy Autumn comes to Wembley
    And electric trains are lighted after tea
    The poplars near the stadium are trembly
    With their tap and tap and whispering to me,
    Like the sound of little breakers
    Spreading out along the surf-line
    When the estuary’s filling
    With the sea.

    Then Harrow-on-the-Hill’s a rocky island
    And Harrow churchyard full of sailor’s graves
    And the constant click and kissing of the trolley buses hissing
    Is the level of the Wealdstone turned to waves
    And the rumble of the railway
    Is the thunder of the rollers
    As they gather for the plunging
    Into caves

    There’s a storm cloud to the westward over Kenton,
    There’s a line of harbour lights at Perivale,
    Is it rounding rough Pentire in a flood of sunset fire
    The little fleet of trawlers under sail?
    Can those boats be only roof tops
    As they stream along the skyline
    In a race for port and Padstow
    With the gale?

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you so much Philip! I love this – and today is the last session on the theme of transport for my children’s Zoom Poetry Club! I think I will read this to them! Love, Anna x

      Reply
  2. Deborah Gaudin

    Thank you Anna, what a find. Hope you are all keeping safe and well.

    Am still running the Elizabeth Goudge website, and often find myself wondering what she would have made of the current state of the world. She lived through the flu pandemic of cause
    Best wishes Deborah

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Hello Deborah! I’m so glad you have found our Poetry Breakfast posts and hope you will enjoy them. I will look for the Elizabeth Goudge website – as you know, her book City of Bells was the spark to my becoming a bookseller – when I was a little girl! Much love, Anna x

      Reply
  3. Nicky Bennison

    I did enjoy this selection, particularly ‘The Cathedral Builders’ and the last poem, ‘This Moment’. The Ormond poem is great – ‘I bloody did that!’ indeed! I’ve often thought of these men when visiting cathedrals, which seem so vast and complicated, and yet so simple. Great exemplars of how so much beauty is the direct result of religion!
    In ‘This Moment’ I find the line ‘rinds slanting around fruit’ most intriguing. And I love the idea of ‘things …getting ready to happen’. The poem reminded me of this one -https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/57628/the-world-in-the-evening – describing a similar scene, though more indoors and less serene, and SUBurban. (Who doesn’t love to peer in lighted windows, before the curtains are drawn?)

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      Thank you Nicky, I’l check out your link when I’ve finished putting tomorrow’s Poetry Breakfast together – but YES I love looking in lighted windows!

      Reply
  4. Alison Richards

    Hi Anna,

    Just enjoyed my first remote Poetry Breakfast – still a treat even without the croissants! I notice that your next theme is So green, so green … and I’m not sure if the poem I’ve copied below fits but I think so. It’s just a short one, “A Radiant Romance” by Matt Harvey but I love it!

    Take care & stay safe,
    Alison xx

    A Radiant Romance

    To fly so far, so fast
    And land so gently

    Upon a panel on planet Earth

    Eight and a third minutes old
    And worth its weightlessness in gold

    Fallen, faded and cooled

    Then to be told,
    ‘Oi photon. Get your coat on.
    You’ve been pulled’

    Reply
    • Anna Dreda

      HI Alison! Fab poem – made me laugh! Next Poetry Breakfast is tomorrow morning so take a look then, Lots of love, Anna x

      Reply

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