the tender self
Poetry Breakfast ~ at home
Roz Goddard is our very welcome guest this month. Roz is a much loved poet and teacher. She has worked for a number of years as poet-in-schools for the Ledbury Poetry Festival. She is a former Poet Laureate of Birmingham and has published six collections of poems, of which the latest is the pamphlet, Lost City, with illustrations by Emma Dai’an Wright. Roz has been featured on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb and she won the New Welsh Review’s inaugural micro-fiction competition in 2014 and the Interpreter’s House Poetry Competition in 2015. Her poetry has been shortlisted and commended for the Bridport Poetry prize, Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition and the Bristol Poetry Prize.
Roz was challenged with serious illness recently, and has used this experience to create some moving new poetry which she will share with us at our live Poetry Breakfast on February 10th.
The Tender Self
Roz has chosen as her theme, ‘The Tender Self’ and this thread runs through the poetry, art and music in this anthology. Her chosen poems explore vulnerability, which may come about because of illness, or via a myriad of events that disrupt our sense of confidence in our bodies, our relationships, our world.
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.
Shropshire Green (Bromlow Callow), mixed media on paper, 48x62cm, 2015
Roz particularly wanted to include this image of Bromlow Common by David Tress which she has as a print. She loves David’s work, and you can see more of it ~ here.
David Tress is represented by David Messum Fine Art Ltd. My grateful thanks to David and Messum’s for kind permission to include this beautiful image.
By then, the city was a bruised mantle
soft with its hurting, colours of all alive things
turned down low. I took risks. Pushed out to sea
in a dinghy until hills drowned in black cloud.
Slept with men who could repair things,
tethered to their competence by a thread.
Some swam in me and were starfish,
Some were elephants without elephant tenderness.
Such smells off them: tucked up scents of oil,
dissolved stones in the rucks of trousers, necks,
like the city had rained earth. I went back to wrack,
weed, passing plastic, blushed in a red tide,
felt salt rush into hollows through broken skin.
from Lost City, The Emma Press 2020
To lean into sky, feel its cradle
I walk out under trees half filled.
Danny the greyhound moves slow
carrying the world’s sadness.
Aspen on high ground start up a sly song,
‘What are you saying no to?’
The doctor can’t reach me in the woods
with her clarity like a shrine room-bell:
ductal node high grade
language for another woman’s body.
Underfoot a sea of trip-root, needle,
a call to earth through leaf fall.
Breast thrums. I stroke its snare skin,
so full it could be milk coming in.
from Poetry Birmingham, Literary Journal, issue 7, Autumn/Winter 2021
Mr V wears a Reindeer tie
I concentrate on the hospital’s curving sweeps,
fresh fruit stall out front selling the red apples
of fairytales. A low building of secrets is wrapped
in plastic. It’s five days before Christmas.
My husband says everything will be alright.
It’s the time of masks, frosty roofs until noon,
winter’s strange light stirred with treacle.
At the sliding doors a palm tree is happiness.
We’re shot with a temperature gun, nodded through,
do the long walk past shady quads, head and heart,
lifts to acute and onto breasts. The surgeon will tell us
if the cancer has spread, or whether my breast,
on its way to the stars, contained the high-grade cells
within. We’re called in. Mr V wears a reindeer tie, he’s smiling.
from Poetry Birmingham, Literary Journal, issue 7, Autumn/Winter 2021
Chosen by Roz ...
Poems by Liz Berry, Jonathan Davidson and Paul Henry. My grateful thanks to these three poets for permission to include their poems.
And this is where it begins, love –
you and I, alone one last time in the slate night,
the smell of you like autumn, soil and bonfire,
that November the fourth feeling inside us.
There can be no truer wedding than this:
your bare hand in mine, my body winded
with pain, as you lead me to the car, to the
soon life. And we are frightened, so frightened –
Who will we be when we come back?
Will we remember ourselves?
Will we still touch each other’s faces
in the darkness, the white noise of night
spilling over us, and believe there is nothing
we could not know or love?
by Liz Berry, from The Republic of Motherhood, Vintage, 2018
Quiet the afternoon after rain
Quiet the afternoon after rain
And then the evening leaning back
To observe the coming of night
And then another day is done.
What I fear is not the passing
Of time but how I still find myself
At this point in my life, as if
I know there is nothing I can do.
by Jonathan Davidson, from A Commonplace, Smith|Doorstop 2020
You can listen to Julie Boden reading this poem ~ here.
The Black Guitar
Clearing out ten years from a wardrobe
I opened its lid and saw Joe
written twice in its dust, in a child’s hand,
then a squiggled seagull or two.
a man’s tears are worth nothing,
but a child’s name in the dust, or in the sand
of a darkening beach, that’s a life’s work.
I touched two strings, to hear how much
two lives can slip out of tune
then I left it,
brought down the night on it, for fear, Joe
of hearing your unbroken voice, or the sea
if I played it.
by Paul Henry, from Ingrid’s Husband, Seren, 2007, and included in The Brittle Sea: New & Selected Poems, Seren, 2010 and 2013.
You can read The Guardian review of Paul’s poem ~ here.
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.
My friend, Morar Lucas, has a daughter with Down’s Syndrome. She’s written a few very moving and honest poems about the challenges of this experience. I’d like to offer this one for the February Poetry Breakfast.
Sunday at the Mental Hospital – 1982
There’s muted beauty in the autumn air,
gold, bronze and green, the late leaves tremble still.
November threatens. Fog-bound grey despair
waits to inflict its creeping winter chill.
Inside, the changing seasons barely show –
the sterile corridors a maze – a world apart.
The pace of life is cumbersome and slow,
their one coherent organ is the heart.
They’re singing hymns this Sunday afternoon,
such a natural, easy way to pray.
Discordant, shaky voices seek the tune
of All Things Bright and Beautiful – so simple you might say.
How dare they sing, these children of the Fall,
without demur, those rousing final words?
How could the Lord in mercy “make them all” –
bracket them with flowers, and bees and birds?
And yet, this overwhelming proposition
echoes along the polished corridor.
They laugh, oblivious of their condition,
and what on earth the Lord God made them for.
by Morar Lucas from Retrospective, out of print.
(for Charlotte in New Zealand)
In the middle of my night
you rang with sunshine in your voice
in my ear, near enough to touch.
How strange it felt, knowing
your day was almost over
and fading into autumn, and mine
was still to come with snowdrops.
Like mother and daughter
upside down, caught up by time.
Now in an early morning dream, I hold
in my arms a red balloon, which grows
until it is too big to hold, and I let go.
by Pauline Prior-Pitt from Addresses and Dreams, Spike Press, 1997, revised 2004, permission given. This was written when her daughter was living in New Zealand.
This morning at breakfast
like a sudden spike of sun
piercing days of thankless cloud
she speaks about her memories
how they used to be like books
stacked on shelves in order
how they mix up now
lie upside down in jumbled heaps
how dark curtains draw down
like clouds shutting them out
how now and then the corner of a hem
lifts just high enough
to see the edges of some bindings
how mostly it is just dark curtains
clouds covering the sun
and she’s asking me who I am
shouting me out of her kitchen
by Pauline Prior-Pitt from Elsewhere, Spike Press, 2013, permission given by Pauline, who says this poem was about her husband’s sister when she had dementia but was still experiencing moments of lucidity. Thank you, Pauline, for letting us include these two poems.
I’d like to offer this ~
No need to snarl,
I know you’re there,
hiding in the shadows.
Today you aren’t with me
to trip me, lead me.
Today you are silent.
But tomorrow always comes.
When you grow large,
I crouch in your shadow.
Crawling along my floor,
I seek a brightness
I cannot find.
Your panting follows me,
wherever I try to hide
your hot breath chills me.
I never know when the door will open
and you slink in again,
of your affection
before you nip, bite, haul me down.
When the sun rises again
I make promises
to lock the door,
by Bert Molsom, unpublished.
To My Daughter by Stephen Spender, from Stephen Spender Collected Poems 1928-1985, Faber, 1985. You can listen to the poet reading his poem ~ here.
Full Moon and Little Frieda by Ted Hughes from New Selected Poems 1957-1994, Faber, 1995. You can read it ~ here.
I have made a recording of it, which you can listen to ~ here.
For Adam, nearly twelve
reminds me of other springs.
This, your last April
as a child,
I remember visiting friends
in your first month.
you, bleating in the house,
lamb cry from the fields,
I rushed indoors and out
not knowing which
my full breasts spurting milk.
I am photographed
through hawthorn flowers
my face not yet my own.
a lorry tailed too closely
down a hill.
From my rear mirror
it seemed huge cab
and tyres one inch away
from you, asleep.
Trembling at the wheel
I wept and swore
at all machines and men
that threatened you
as I still do.
by Frances Horovitz, from Collected Poems by Frances Horovitz, edited by Roger Garfitt, Bloodaxe, 2011. Thank you to Roger for kindly allowing me to include this poem by his late wife. Incidentally, this edition of the book comes with a lovely CD of Frances reading her poems, which she does beautifully.
Roger asked me to let you know that his step-son, Adam Horovitz is now 50 and a poet in his own right! His latest collection, Love and Other Fairy Tales, Indigo Dreams, 2021, includes a couple of memories of his mother, Frances. ‘Orcop Christmas’ is particularly moving. And Adam wrote to say that one of his poems remembering his mother in his new book was first published in the 2012 Wenlock Poetry Festival anthology! (Aardvark Books has copies of all the Wenlock Poetry Festival anthologies: well worth a visit now that they are fully open ~ including the café!)
We stared as witnesses in the Science Class
fixated by a metre rule half-covered
by three sacramental sheets of newspaper,
the other end overlapping the desk like a diving board.
None of us children could press the ruler down,
laid in testament on the iroko lab bench.
The corduroy teacher
smirked and explained ‘air pressure’ kept it in place.
Dad would tap the seaside b&b barometer
pretending he knew the score,
unlike his strokes on the bicycle pump
thumb and finger pressure gauge on the tyre wall.
On the day my feet could tip-toe the floor
I wobbled into youth on an adult’s bike.
I felt the mercury rising.
New friends and forces free wheeled into
infertile lives connecting
all the lubricated chains and cogs.
I could feel a five-mile column of air,
amassing to almost
a whole stone and
some extra ounces
on every square inch
of tingling skin.
by Steve Harrison, unpublished.
I didn’t know what ‘iroko’ was, but Steve says: ‘Iroko is a very durable wood that laboratory benches in schools were often made from to withstand tumbling Bunsen burners and spilled sulphuric acid.’
My Garden with Walls by William Brooks
My heart a garden is, a garden walled;
And in the wide white spaces near the gates
Grow tall and showy flowers, sun-loving flowers,
Where they are seen of every passer-by;
Who straightway faring on doth bear the tale
How bright my garden is and filled with sun.
But there are shaded walks far from the gates,
So far the passer-by can never see,
Where violets grow for thoughts of those afar,
And rue for memories of vanished days,
And sweet forget-me-nots to bid me think
With tenderness,—lest I grow utter cold
And hard as women grow who never weep.
And when come times I fear that Love is dead
And Sorrow rules as King the world’s white ways,
I go with friends I love among these beds.
Where friend and flower do speak alike to me,
Sometimes with silences, sometimes with words.
Circa 1918, this poem is in the public domain
Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.
Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!
Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever dissolved to wan wistlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?
Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
by Thomas Hardy, from Poets of the English Language, Viking Press, 1950. This poem is in the public domain.
I am — yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes —
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live — like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange — nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
by John Clare, this poem is in the public domain
When I searched online for ‘vulnerable’, choices came up immediately for the meaning in Urdu, Hindi, Nepali. Arabic. And then English. I wondered if my results were related to my location, living in multicultural Leicester. It highlighted, for me, that we are all vulnerable, but some much more than others.
I’d like to suggest
How We Were Transfigured by Eavan Boland which I found in 100 Poems to Save the Earth, edited by Zoe Briggs and Kristian Evans, Seren, 2021. You can also read it ~ here, third poem down.
My Son Waits by the Door
We live on a council estate, my son and I,
Nine years old, but he looks much younger.
He has not yet learned to read the minds
and motives of our neighbours, It’s a month
now since they stopped playing with him:
Heather, Helen, Edmond and Simon.
When I bring him home from school he
doesn’t take off his jacket, but waits.
When a breeze whistles past the house
he opens the blue door with a smile
to see whether anybody stands outside
asking him to play on the reckless street
with its smut; but no one is there.
A long emptiness howls like a hyena –
his path is now slippery with its saliva.
Weathered by what happened
he stares past the neighbourhood
and makes his way back into the house.
by Mir Mahfuz Ali from Midnight, Dhaka, Seren, 2014, with kind permission from Seren and from Mahfuz.
The best girls posed like poodles at a show
and Betty Finch, in lemon gauze and wrinkles,
swept her wooden cane along the rows
to lock our knees in place and turn our ankles.
I was a scandal in that class, big-footed
giant in lycra, joker in my tap shoes,
slapping on the off-beat while a hundred
tappers hit the wood. I missed the cues
each time. After, in the foyer, dad,
a black man, stood among the Essex mothers
clad in leopard skin. He’d shake the keys
and scan the bloom of dancers where I hid
and whispered to another ballerina
he’s the cab my mother sends for me.
by Hannah Lowe, from Chick, Bloodaxe, 2013. My thanks to Bloodaxe, for kind permission to include this poem. Hannah Lowe has won the Costa Book of the Year and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, for her latest collection, Kids, Bloodaxe, 2021. Congratulations, Hannah!
You can see Hannah reading this poem ~ here.
I’d like to offer Little Exercise by Elizabeth Bishop from Elizabeth Bishop: The Complete Poems 1927-1979, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984. You can read it ~ here.
and also this
Blessing for the Brokenhearted
There is no remedy for love but to love more.
—Henry David Thoreau
Let us agree
that we will not say
makes us stronger
or that it is better
to have this pain
than to have done
without this love.
Let us promise
we will not tell ourselves
time will heal the wound,
when every day
our waking opens it anew.
Perhaps for now
it can be enough
to simply marvel
at the mystery
of how a heart
can go on beating,
as if it were made
for precisely this—
as if it knows
the only cure for love
is more of it,
as if it sees
the heart’s sole remedy
is to love still,
as if it trusts
that its own
is the rhythm
of a blessing
begin to fathom
but will save us
by Jan Richardson, ‘Blessing for the Brokenhearted’ © Jan Richardson is from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief. Used by permission. janrichardson.com
And finally, this is a poem that my friend Ruth sent to me when I had my own brush with illness five years (five years!) ago:
For a friend, on the arrival of illness by John O’Donohue, from Benedictus: A Book Of Blessings, Bantam, 2007. You can listen to John O’Donohue reading the poem ~ here.
Thank you, as always, to everyone who has contributed to this Poetry Breakfast anthology ~ what a moving and lovely theme! Thank you Roz, for your tender poems, and for sharing your vulnerability with us. Working on this anthology has taken us all to some very beautiful poetry.
Our next Poetry Breakfast is on Thursday March 10th with theme of ‘Space’ and our guest poet will be the irrepressible Char March.
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!
(yes this is still the right email!)
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