Night Inks

This week at the NCLA we launched John Halliday’s stirring new anthology on Ageing Don’t Bring Me No Rocking Chair (named from a Maya Angelou poem).  Douglas Dunn came down from Scotland to join us and read some wonderful new poems, as well one of his from the book, Poem for a Birthday.

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I have enjoyed being reminded of familiar poems and discovering new ones.  Reading these poems is helping me further rehearse the ageing process and I’m happy to see several with a botanical flavour – plants perfectly reflecting our own cycle of blooming and dying.  Ranunculus Which My Father Called a Poppy by Peter Porter takes us to Australia, where we’re also shown eucalyptus, paw-paw, dahlias, salpiglossis and antirrhinums.  We’re teased with a snatch of Heaven in MacDairmid’s  A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.  Gillian Clarke’s Blue Hydrangeas recalls her mother’s loveliness, the aching intimacy of mortality.  What is it about blue flowers that is so evocative?

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Blue Hydrangeas

You bring them in, a trug of thundercloud,
neglected in long grass and the sulk
of a wet summer.  Now a weight of wet silk
in my arms like her blue dress, a load

of night-inks shaken from their hair –
her hair a flame, a shadow against light
as long ago she leaned to kiss goodnight
when downstairs was a bright elsewhere

like a lost bush of blue hydrangeas.
You found them, lovely, silky, dangerous,
their lapis lazulis, their indigos

tide-marked and freckled with the rose
of death, beautiful in decline.
I touch my mother’s skin.  Touch mine.

Gillian Clarke

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Still cold and dark with flurries of snow up this way, we’re not quite ready yet for the short time of Herrick’s Daffodils or for Larkin’s Trees to begin afresh, afresh, afresh.  But soon, soon.

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