Bordeaux Bay

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

Friday, 18 August 2017

PRINCELY CHARLES

This month's theme for Guernsey's Poetry Open Mic event is CATS and I was therefore relieved to discover a couple of cat-poems gathering dust in the gloomy archive that I tend to refer to as The Bard's Basement.
As a lifelong dog-person, my relationship with cats has always been one of caution. 
Rufus, my Border terrier, was very attracted to cats but not in a friendly way and during his lifetime the bird-life in our neighbourhood flourished and brought us considerable pleasure.
One of the poems I've dusted off to read at the Open Mic (on Monday 21st August) deals with my futile efforts to deter cats from the garden and I recall submitting it, along with a couple of others, to a UK poetry magazine a few years ago. Whilst they accepted and published the other poems, they rejected the cat one and even attached a note to the rejection slip expressing stern disapproval of the poem's content. 
It appears that the editorial committee were all cat owners. 

I have recently become acquainted with a splendid cat called Charles who, were he to be appointed Ambassador for Cats, would win over even the most dyed-in-the-wool cataphobic
He is elegance and charm personified although, as with all felines, very much aware of his higher status and therefore at times is disdainful of humans.
Here is his photograph, along with a poem in his honour which he has permitted me to write.























THAT CAT CHARLIE

Like fresh-poured coffee, darkly swirling,
a question mark unfurling, curling
into a sleepy circle then
awake, alert, active again,
he sits immobile in my chair,
immaculate with glossy hair,
ignores the dogs, disdains to frisk,
has an expression, basilisk.

Cautious, I watch him, dare not try
to meet his concentrating eye
(I who am merely flesh and bone)
for fear that I might turn to stone.

He is indeed melodramatic
and never less than enigmatic,
a being of a higher kind
with strangely elevated mind,
whose role in life appears to be
to constantly impress on me
that humans have their place, and that
is somewhat lower than a cat.



This month's Guernsey Open Mic takes place at 8pm on Monday 21st August at La Villette Hotel, St Martin's.

Monday, 14 August 2017

EAST MEETS WEST

My recent visit to Northern Ireland was primarily to attend the wedding of my nephew, Simon, to the lovely Kimiko.
The happy couple live in London but for their wedding they chose the magnificent setting of Old Court Chapel on the shores of Strangford Lough.
The glamorous event was attended by a truly international array of guests from countries as diverse as Japan, Russia, Canada and Israel. 



I was asked to write a poem for the newly-weds, to be read at the ceremony, and since the request came from my sister I had no choice but to comply. 
The result can be found below.
It's worth noting that in Japan, the crane is associated with longevity, immortality and prosperity and, because of their permanent pair bonds, cranes are often featured on bridal kimonos. Sweet cakes to be served at Japanese weddings are often baked in the shape of cranes for good luck.















WEDDING POEM
(For Kimiko and Simon)

In nations far apart you grew
in innocent obscurity,
not knowing what awaited you
when you attained maturity.
Perhaps you were destined to meet
to make the incomplete complete.

A crane is flying east to west,
its languid wings like soft brush strokes:
a messenger; may you be blessed
by fortune that this sign invokes.                             
May life be sweet, may time be kind
and your horizons unconfined.

May each hour be suffused with joys,
with laughter ringing through each day
as though, like children with new toys
your world were cloudless, life was play,
that, somehow, hopes and dreams might fly
like swallows there. No rules apply

except these few: to always give,
with loving hearts, more than you take;
never condemn, instead forgive
a lapse of love or small mistake.
Love forms the mortar, love alone,
that binds a marriage, stone to stone.

This love of yours that you hold dear,
this love you share, without disguise,
without evasion, doubt or fear,
is mirrored in each others eyes,
so greet the future, hand in hand,
the world awaits, yours to command.

A crane is flying west to east.
We watch its progress as we pray,
may all your treasures be increased,
may every blessing come your way,
may your twin spirits intertwine
in marriage when two souls combine.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

FACING THE MUSIC

On Sunday I shared the stage with popular local soprano, Lee-Ann Hawkes, at an open-air performance in Candie Gardens, St Peter Port.



















Lee-Ann captivated an appreciative audience with a selection of classical arias while I read two sets of poems, taken mainly from my Stone Witness collection, and later signed copies in the shop at Candie Museum.
I'm happy to report that Stone Witness continues to sell extremely well, both online and through a number of local outlets.
One of the poems that I read was the ever-popular Requiem for a Gambler, which you can find below. 
  
Photo by Jane Mosse







































REQUIEM FOR A GAMBLER

All that you owned when at your peak,
with business buzzing like a hive,
was squandered on a losing streak
while, hopelessly, hope stayed alive.
No game of chance could you forgo:
you’d kiss the dice for one more throw.

Slow horses, greyhounds half asleep,
the Poker games you always lost,
the endless nights you got in deep
with fools who didn’t count the cost,
the roulette wheel’s capricious spin,
those gambles you could never win

left you like this: a rented room,
two threadbare suits, grease-stained and creased,
a stack of bills that I assume
no one will pay since you’re deceased.
You always were an optimist.
Where are they now, those dice you kissed?

 

Friday, 4 August 2017

FROM SARNIA TO NARNIA

My old stamping ground, East Belfast, which I revisited recently, is the birthplace of many well-known individuals.
The writer, C S Lewis, grew up there, not half a mile from the house where I was born, and from the same district came actor and director Kenneth Branagh; actor James  Ellis; musicians James Galway, Van Morrison and Gary Moore; writers, St John Ervine and Forrest Reid; playwrights Stewart Parker, Sam Thompson and Marie Jones, and footballer, George Best.  


The recently-opened C S Lewis Square houses a bright new tourist centre where visitors can access information on the city's attractions from interactive screens, interpretative panels and a wall map, connecting people to East Side's famous faces, places and industries. Nearby, visitors can rediscover Lewis's creation, The Chronicles of Narnia with a walk through a public space featuring seven bronze sculptures from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, including Aslan, The White Witch, Mister Tumnus, The Beavers, The Robin and The Stone Table, in a stunning display of public art. 

Have a peep at the amazing statues in C S Lewis Square by clicking here.

Today's poem is, unsurprisingly, an Ulster one, Padraic's Glen from my Strange Journey collection. 















PADRAIC’S GLEN

Beneath a cobalt sky, wind blows the barley heads
as wrens, through ragged hedgerows, drop like tears
and all the voices of ten thousand years
converge in one throat piping in the reeds

for here scenes are unchanging and unmoved
by all the petty vanities and schemes
and here remain the valleys, rocks and streams
our fathers and our forefathers have loved.

Here stand the granite stones that knew the shout
and felt the drum-led feet of marching men
and smelt the bloody fear along the glen
of tribes advancing or being driven out

and here the stunted trees that stamp defiant now
on shoulders of dead armies deep beneath the soil
where roots caress the riven shield, despoil
the eyeless socket, yellowed tooth or noble brow.

Beneath a cobalt sky you gathered meadow flowers,
perhaps to capture pieces of this perfect day,
as all-embracing summertime around us lay
and destiny conspired along with earthly powers

to make our bodies bend and shake like barley heads,
our hopes patrol, like warriors, the windy glen,
our hearts to drop like wrens and yet to rise again,
with one proud shout among the swaying reeds.
 






Monday, 31 July 2017

ROVER'S RETURN

I revisited Belfast recently and took a stroll down Newtownards Road, a staunchly working class area in that increasingly affluent city, to admire and photograph some of the amazing murals that adorn the gable-ends of many of the buildings.
The area is adjacent to Harland and Wolff shipyard, the birthplace of the Titanic, surely the most well-known vessel in maritime history.
Titanic Belfast, named the world’s leading tourist attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards in 2016, is a state-of-the-art visitor centre that tells the story of the great ship, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
The good people of Northern Ireland are justifiably proud of their association with the famous liner and, when the occasional puzzled visitor enquires why they celebrate a ship that had such a brief and ill-starred existence, will generally reply: Sure, she was fine when she left here!



TITANIC

Stiff-collared and stiff-upper-lipped,
they bade their womenfolk go first,
with children, into lifeboats
that were only there for show,
then, ramrod-straight on tilting decks,
they braved the icy, ill-starred night
or went below to congregate
with other men, pale, poker-faced,
in state-rooms loud with jokes and boasts,
to camouflage their growing fear,
as cocktails, spilled, or scattered cards
made nonsense of forlorn attempts
at nonchalance.

In that dark realm of bitter cold,
of signal-flares and glacial stars,
where massively impassive bergs
moved sure and silently as gods;
where all around, like tombstones, ranged,
squat ice-flows gleamed a ghostly white,
snow fell, in feathered silence, then
on black waves breaking endlessly
on lifeboats, where survivors prayed,
their upturned faces, pinched and wan,
for fathers, lovers, husbands, sons;
but when such supplication failed,
prayed only for salvation.

 
Here's a piece of music from Stewart Love's acclaimed play, Titanic Serenade, performed by Banbridge Musical Society.

This poem appears in my most recent collection, Stone Witness, available from Blue Ormer Publishing. 


Saturday, 29 July 2017

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Please join with me to celebrate, albeit belatedly, the birth of one of the Twentieth Century's greatest poets and one of my literary heroes, Chilean-born writer and statesman, Pablo Neruda.



POTTER  by Pablo Neruda

Your whole body has
a fullness or a gentleness destined for me.

When I move my hand up
I find in each place a dove
that was seeking me, as
if they had, love, made you of clay
for my own potter's hands.

Your knees, your breasts,
your waist
are missing parts of me like the hollow
of a thirsty earth
from which they broke off
a form,
and together
we are complete like a single river,
like a single grain of sand.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

TRAVELS

The Bard has returned from a thrilling visit to the magnificent open-air arena at Verona to see Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This was followed by a week of sunshine and relaxation at Lake Garda, then a lavish family wedding in Northern Ireland.
A sojourn in the country of my birth is always an occasion for nostalgia, when every landmark recalls an episode from my younger life. 
Here's a prize-winning poem I wrote nearly twenty-five years ago that's linked to childhood and youth: The Hidden Traveller.
I featured it on the blog some time ago but it's always worth a re-run. 

























THE HIDDEN TRAVELLER

I remember
the over-furnished room, cold as a cave,
where they had laid him
between the aspidistra and a spotted mirror;
the sunbeams, slanting by the window, shoaled with dust;
the silent street beyond, devoid of passers-by.
Immaculate in laundered shirt and
suit so rarely worn in life; in death he looked
more like a character from a story than himself.

I remember
myself dressed in a suit that day;
the parlour’s silence broken only
by the ticking of a clock;
the sense of unreality, of ritual without feeling;
an odour of chrysanthemums.

I remember him
alive and huge and I so small,
watching geese fly
high over wetlands blurred with morning mist,
our upturned faces wet with perfect joy;
the swing he built me in the secret clearing
in the green-wood;
his hearty laughter booming in the treetops.

I remember
the warm, familiar smell of him;
his callused, gentle fists
thrusting the timber swing-seat
higher, ever higher.
 

I remember still,
though years have crowded in between then and now,
the reckless humour ever-dancing in his eyes,
blue as songbird’s eggs;
the sweetness of the lulling tune he hummed at ending day
as, sleepily, I rode his shoulders home to bed.

Each passing generation
prints its image on the next: an echo of the parent
in each gesture of the child.
So his essential being rides my adult shoulders now,
as I transport his spirit towards another century. 

We dress ourselves unknowingly
in garments of departed love, in remnants
of lost voices or half-remembered smiles.
The length of stride, a turn of phrase
betrays the other, hidden traveller in our skin.

Preserve in me
the things that once I loved in him.