Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor http://www.paintingbreaksguernsey.com

Friday, 16 September 2016

ON A PEDESTAL

Bard at Bay is taking a short break, so KING OF THE HILL will be the last poem until online activity resumes in a couple of weeks.

“Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory”  Henry Ward Beecher. 



















 KING OF THE HILL

Stone hand upthrown,
he faces west:
sharp-browed, stern-eyed,
tall, statuesque.

Read the inscription at his feet:
A worthy man whose noble deeds
set him among the town’s elite ...
 

and yet, the epitaph misleads.

A robber-baron in his day,
then changed, by circumstance and luck,
to city elder, feet of clay
well hidden, so no thrown-mud stuck,
he ruled his little fiefdom well
and saw his enemies destroyed
without remorse. Who could foretell
that such a man, one so devoid
of gentleness, with traits like those,
would be immortalised in stone
and, in this hand-hewn granite pose,  
transcend mere flesh and blood and bone
to stand now, haughty and austere
upon a lofty plinth that reads
An honest man in every sphere ...
A worthy man whose noble deeds ...

 

Such sentiments are seldom true:
all’s foolishness, a massive bluff.
Man needs to forge idols anew:
mere gods alone are not enough.
 











Wednesday, 14 September 2016

TIME TRIALS

A couple of weeks ago I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by BBC producer, Becca Bryers, who commissioned me to write a poem about Guernsey for broadcast on National Poetry Day, 6th October.



Naturally I agreed and I can honestly say that the generous payment that was offered didn’t influence my decision one bit.
The brief given me was to write a poem which would say something memorable and engaging about my local area and be suitable to be broadcast within a two minute time-slot.
Ideally the poem should send out a positive message of celebration of my local area with references to its geography, community and culture and should be composed from the point of view/in the voice of  a local landmark or well-known object connected to the place.

It's a huge responsibility to be, if only in a poetic sense, a spokesman for the island but I felt honoured to have been given the task. A number of UK poets have also been approached and given a similar briefing in relation to their own geographical locations.
A commission of this sort provides a considerable challenge, of course, especially when it comes with a tight deadline.
What helped considerably was that, from the outset, I had a very clear idea what my subject would be: a notable Guernsey landmark that has long fascinated me. 

I spent some time reading up on my subject, jotting down ideas and seeking the best way to interpret my subject’s “voice”.
Then I began the painstaking process of writing what I hoped would be a memorable poem of which the Guernsey people could be proud.



After several discarded drafts, I felt that had a piece of writing I was satisfied with, so I read it to my wife, Jane.
(It’s my great fortune to be married to a fellow writer, especially one as accomplished as Jane, who is hugely supportive and encouraging but never afraid to offer an honest, occasionally brutal, opinion of a newly-written poem or short story.) 
To my great relief she was thrilled with it but pointed out something that I had failed to keep in mind: that my reading of the new poem took close to four minutes, not the maximum two minutes required by the BBC.



So I began the slow and painful task of editing the four-minute poem down to a piece of less than two minutes.
Editing is something, generally speaking, that most poems benefit from, but cutting out what I believed was so much valuable material was obviously a painful experience.
With Jane’s patient help however I succeeded in making those hard decisions, and managed to abridge the four-minute poem to a workable two-minute piece. 

Much to my delight, the BBC-size poem still works very well.
Alas, I can’t share it with you here as it’s now the property of the BBC, at least until after National Poetry Day, 6th October, when I will read it during an interview with Jenny Kendall-Tobias on her mid-morning show on BBC Radio Guernsey.


"Easy reading is damn hard writing" Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

CHANGED TIMES

I was drinking coffee at a pavement cafe in Auray, a small town in Brittany in northern France back in 2001, when I heard the news of the terrorist attack on New York’s Twin Towers.
Conditioned by many years of exposure to Irish Republican terrorism in Ulster, I was perhaps not as shocked as many of those around me.
A terrorist’s advantage is the ability to think, and then perpetrate, the unthinkable. There’s no defence against this unless we begin to think like terrorists. 

Unfortunately most democratic institutions are incapable of doing this.
It’s sad to reflect on how much the world has changed since that terrible day.
How good it would be to be able to rewind time.




 REWIND

Wind Time back. Rewind Time.
     
Make the struck towers rise from dust,
reconstruct themselves: 
glass, concrete, girders, walls,
a huge jigsaw
interlocked, 
complete again.

Lights come on, phones chirp like crickets.
In reconstructed work-stations, 
fingers dance on keyboards again;
vending machines cough 
then spew out pungent brew; 
air-con sighs then resumes; 
elevators ascend, descend;
video conferences resume mid-
sentence, emails beep, 
digital clocks flicker
like quick, green lizards. 

Wind Time back. Rewind Time.

Time restarts 
as though it had never ended.
Hopes, innocence, daydreams, boredom: 
all the mundane certainties of ordinary lives 
are reaffirmed.
Shoes, handbags, mobile phones, flesh, 
warped by intense heat:
these un-melt, re-form, 
resume their former shapes.
The terrible, unearthly screams 
subside.

Wind Time back. Rewind Time.

Backwards 
the soft clouds drift; 
birds fly in reverse.
Those grim death-planes, 
stiletto-silver in the morning sun, 
withdraw, like daggers, from the shattered towers,
whose twin glass skins, pristine again,
shimmer
like smooth, un-rippled water.


Wednesday, 7 September 2016

DONKEY-WORK

A familiar sight when I was young, seaside donkeys were as much a part of summer holidays as candy floss, buckets, spades and ice cream cones.
Those forlorn beasts, usually under the supervision of a team of sullen youths, would plod back and forth all day with their cargo of excited children, while beyond their well-trodden path, we boys played bat and ball and built colossal sandcastles. 
Viewed from a modern, adult perspective, such donkey-work seems essentially cruel and unutterably sad. 


















DONKEYS

Tired seaside donkeys: watch them plod,
on khaki sand, from A to B
without enthusiasm, eyes
downcast, heads hung dejectedly,
like defrocked priests without a God,
tormented now by buzzing flies.

We can but pray for beasts like these,
required to labour in the sun
for some man’s profit whilst alive
then later by a knacker’s gun,
dispatched, or perished from disease,
that in safe pasture, they might thrive.


Tuesday, 6 September 2016

DAN'S THE MAN

Earlier this year the Just Write community, in association with Writing Magazine and John Murray Press, scoured the country to find undiscovered short story talent.
They whittled down hundreds of submissions to six shortlisted entries, one of which was a story entitled Reconstructing Amber, by Dan Purdue, a friend whose excellent work I have previously featured here.



I wrote my very first Flash Fiction story under Dan’s patient tutelage so, clearly, I’m biased, but having read all six, I believe that Reconstructing Amber is the best.

You'll find all six short stories by clicking here:-http://www.tyjustwrite.com/wp-content/uploads/Just-Write-comp-booklet-lres.pdf

Dan's entry begins at Page 67.



Sunday, 4 September 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: KENNY FOR YOUR THOUGHTS

This week I’ve featured a number of my Guernsey poems from the 2010 collection, A Guernsey Double, a slim volume that showcased the work of Brighton-based writer, Peter Kenny and myself.
Here’s an opportunity to read a couple of Peter’s poems from that publication.
Peter Kenny is a freelance writer whose credits include poetry, stage plays and musical collaborations. He is co-founder of Telltale Press.

You can find out more about his work here:- https://peterkenny.co.uk








 


NIGHT WALK

The whine of the moped’s engine
diminishes in the dark parish
and stupidly I spook myself
imagining the scuff of shoes
in this moonless night, motile


with satellites and Perseids

that skid across the starry sky
like momentary omens.

I reach an island of streetlight
as bats burst its halo
and my shadow is elastic.
It dials its dark around me
yearning down the blank rouette
where my feet can only follow.

Guernsey, you are my safest home
but I know there are black books
stored under your floorboards
and Le Gardien du Tombeau
looks down on many secrets:
your soil is the ash of witches;
dead slaves lie in labyrinths
the Nazis groined in granite.


There’s something I’m half suspecting;
that someone else is with me here
with eyes black-barred like those of goats,
someone who’d command me
to descend - past the closed cafe -
to the uneasy midnight sea.

But what scares me most is me.
breaking some private curfew
I’m half laughing, half afraid
for tonight is not the last night
I will be drawn into the dark.
I still have time. I can return
to a room with a bright desk light
and type and type and type till dawn.












 
TIMEPIECE

Apple-damp from storage,
all the way from Guernsey,
the box is borne indoors
like a child’s coffin.
I lift my grandfather’s clock
from a nest of newsprint
and know that it’s broken,
hearing its unhinged slink,
a shifting skeleton:
spring, wheel and pinion.
Then I picture him
winding the clock
and, from its motion work,
imagine a spring uncoiling;
the syringing probe
of a strange mosquito
that drained him
of days.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: GRANDES ROCQUES

One of the pleasures of living in Guernsey is the famous sunsets that, on a summer’s evening, can be breathtakingly beautiful.
The west coast beaches of Cobo Bay and Grandes Rocques are perfect vantage points from which to watch the blood-red sun slip down beyond the horizon, and if you’re sitting there on warm sand with a high tide rolling gently, a bundle of fish and chips in your lap and maybe a bottle of wine at your elbow, there’s no better place to be, this side of Heaven.
That said, I think there’s something inherently sad about sunset.  It speaks of me about the ending of things. 

I wrote this rhyming poem with that thought in mind. 




GRANDES ROCQUES

When the Fat Lady sings her song
of death, her red dress billows out.
Her stage is the horizon there
beyond the sea where white birds shout
like stage-hands in the cooling air
or, lazy, simply bob along.

Her audience, this perfect night:
beach strollers, men with barbeques,
joggers, dog-walkers, laughing girls,
wet-suited boys in bright canoes;
stare as her aria unfurls
its ruby notes in dying light.

Collectively, we hold our breath
to watch the Lady, red as paint,
sink down, her wondrous final scene
completed in a breathless faint.
The colour now, the tangerine
of saffron robes, perhaps of death.