Tag Archives: poems

A Thousand Years of Peace

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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.

 

 

From ‘In Memoriam A.H.H.’, Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Knowing Our Place

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I had no idea that the Barbican had a Conservatory  – or a Library until a few weeks ago when I found myself there, reading at a launch of Issue 18 of Long Poem Magazine.  It was a friendly affair, surprising and happily sprawling like the unsung long poems and sequences the magazine does a wonderful job in drawing attention to.  We were tucked away in the Music Section, a niche of hidden delights.

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I particularly enjoyed hearing Katharine Pierpoint read her poem Camelopard, trying (and succeeding) to catch the giraffeness of the giraffe and Anna Reckin’s graceful evocation of various emanations of Jade.  Also Alex Bell’s epistolary Dearest, lurking in the shadows of Victoriana, as did my own contribution – A Hundred Ways to Know Our Place.

When I was younger and a touch adrift I often read self-help books to check my bearings.  Most of them have migrated from my shelves now (apart from a few classics like Dorothy Rowe on depression and Buddhist angles on anxiety) but I was interested to trace a clear line of connection between those and the beginnings of the genre in the 19th century.

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A Hundred Ways to Know Our Place is part of new work I’m writing for my PhD, an overture to a book-length piece.  If you’re interested in reading it and other longer poems and sequences, I’d point you in the direction of Long Poem Magazine, edited with passion and insight by Linda Black and Rose Hamilton.

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Etiquette books also fascinate me.  It’s hard not to be braced by their arbitrary sharpness, like eating a particularly arcane olive.  Possibly after a long soak in a dirty martini.  Some Russian visitors I had once called that sort of snifter a ‘walking stick’, to be taken before leaving the house for any reason.  And in the right quantity (although this is hard to gauge) it can rinse the senses wonderfully.  Isn’t that what we want reading a poem to feel like?  To ‘take reality by surprise’, in Francoise Sagan’s phrase.

And so back to music (always)…My senses didn’t know what had hit them watching and listening to Ukrainian ensemble Dhaka Brakha perform at the Sage last week.   And it was a performance, highly choreographed and styled with stunning costumes riffing on traditional styles, as did the music that playfully transforms folk songs from their beleaguered motherland into something almost miraculous.  I was transported, utterly enchanted, and continue to be so listening to their latest CD the road.  Dhaka Brakha ‘know their place’ and invite us to spend some time there.  Foolish to refuse.

Down in London, I can sometimes feel like a bit of a country cousin.  Walking from the Tube station to the Barbican, I was very excited to see a plant breaking up the clean lines of the long tunnel of the Bridgewater Highwalk.  It wasn’t going to be told where it could grow and where it couldn’t, what freedom means.

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Knowing our place is no easy matter – fierce, transgressive, and extremely quiet, it must take the risk of being there, doing it for ourselves.

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Happy Easter

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They bring this hint of something startled in them –

the dreadful earliness of their petals

against dead earth, the extremity of their faces

suggesting a violent start –

dumb skulls opening, overnight, to vehemence.

Their lives are quicker than vision,

their voices evade us.  And as

water tightens its surface in vases

and sharpens its glass, slicing their sticks

in half, these funnels clatter on their bent necks,

like bells for the already dead.

 

Catriona O’Reilly

From The Nowhere Birds (Bloodaxe, 2001)

 

I’ve spent the past few weeks writing about what women poets are writing about when they write about flowers (snowdrops in particular) and now I look up, the daffodils are nearly over.  Never my favourite flower, I think Catriona O’Reilly has caught something interesting in them – that vehemence.  It seems to be the case that women poets (and possibly men too, but in a different way)  write about flowers either as a strategy for addressing an actual Other or approaching what they experience as Other inside themselves.  All flowers seem to lend themselves to reflections on death, they last so short a while.  A good place to consider impermanence.

My own wild daffodil poem from over ten years ago (part of a collaboration with the ceramicist Sue Dunne) was nudged into being by the death of Julia Darling.  It’s a different sort of grief when a friend dies – at least it was for me, tangled up with my own mortality, the sheer lostness of loss.  Those brave yellow flowers have some of Julia’s radiance about them.

 

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After all that Easterish death maybe it’s good to think about all the Easterish rebirth…so here’s some daffodil-inspired handiwork and humour in an installation in Hull, UK City of Culture – 1700 flowers made out of nearly 150,000 lego pieces.  I wonder what sort of poem might these be a muse for?

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Chippewa Song Pictures

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From Shaking the Pumpkin
Edited by Jerome Rothenberg

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Flowering Through The Cracks

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Prunella vulgaris

Now your flowers are all gone,

your flowers of light have come –

what’s left when this and that

you don’t need’s blown away

Call dark red/light green

your architecture of opposites –

spinal pagoda, whiskery sixes –

more than the eye can see

Haloed in fine hairs, like human

skin, you ask to be touched –

only let yourself be stroked

skywards, hollow-tongued

Summer’s blood drained from

your cups, you’re drying, huskish –

empty pockets of veined paper,

your language without words

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Seeing, Choosing, Being

…there is nothing more surreal, nothing more abstract than reality.

Giorgio Morandi

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Plant Sale

Because I have no roots to speak of
I choose a bulbous specimen
George tells me is indestructible

and if I lived in Mexico would grow
the size of my kitchen table. I carry it
home in the car like an adopted child.

When its blanket of gravel spills
beneath the seat, I panic, swerve;
it stays steady, stoutly anchored.

I water it and slip its tan plastic
inside purple ceramic, happily
matching the base of its leaves, folded

into each other, like family, where one
and many gather. These leaves, searching,
thinning to nothingness, sprout

from the scaly caudex in a topknot
of bright ideas that might make a difference
to the air it lives in, which I swallow,

changed already for seeing it there,
taking up residence on my windowsill,
elephant’s foot going nowhere.

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What’s writing really about?

It’s about trying to take fuller possession

of the reality of your life.

Ted Hughes

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Translation from the Tulip

The most interesting things in life often happen by accident.

The opening sentence of The Tulip by Anna Pavord (Bloomsbury, 1999)photo copy

Perhaps it’s because I’m on the brink of a birthday but recently I’ve been thinking about how memory works and noticing my changing relationship with it.  I used to think that memory and imagination occupied different compartments of my brain – particularly in relation to the making of a poem.  Lately I’m more inclined to think they’re aspects of the same impulse – our need for assimilation and understanding.  Memories aren’t fixed – they evolve over time and there’s always more to uncover than you think there is.

IMG_4593 Since I became more thoroughly aware of that, I’m less interested in writing about ‘the past’, which feels like a slightly skewed concept – much more intricately stitched into our present experience than is always comfortable.  If it’s true that we are the sum of our thoughts, words and actions, the past, present and future can be seen to work in parallel –all with the potential to be changed by our making different choices.  I’ve often thought of this as manifest in the process of choosing the next word (and the next and the next etc) when writing a line of poetry.  None of it is inevitable, although we might persuade ourselves it is so.

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Today I have been looking at a friend’s gift of tulips (a gorgeous variety called Angélique).  They’re just getting blousy – that knack tulips have of dying so very beautifully.  Over sixteen years ago I must have looked at another gift of tulips and wrote Still Life (from Storyville, Bloodaxe 1997).  Re-reading it is like looking at an old photograph of myself, a historical translation.  A great deal of my experience and how I would choose to express myself has changed but I recognize the almost physical impact of the flowers’ beauty, the pleasure that goes in through the eyes and touches something in the belly.

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Isn’t this how memory and imagination works?  Not in the brain at all but somewhere in the gut, all those nerve endings stimulated into communicating a sense of perception, of relationship and intimacy.  How we choose to respond to that moment of recognition and connection affects what the future looks like.  And today, how my new tulip poem might unfold and what the coming year may bring…

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