Bordeaux Bay

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

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING

Guernsey's next Open Mic event will take place at La Villette Hotel on Monday 19 December 2016.

Photo by John Carre Buchanan




















Guernsey poetry stalwarts, Lester Queripel and John Blaise, together with John’s lovely wife, Sharon, have been instrumental in keeping the island’s monthly Open Mic sessions on track through ten exciting years of changeable literary weather.
At venues like the Fermain Tavern and, more recently, La Villette Hotel, Lester has, month in, month out, booked space, supplied and checked sound systems and handled publicity, while John and Sharon have brought order to potentially chaotic performance nights and ensured that everyone wishing to read has had the opportunity to do so.
It’s no mean feat but they’ve done it with remarkable enthusiasm and style.
After this month's event, however, all three are stepping back from their demanding roles. 

They will be sorely missed, but I’m assured that Open Mic evenings will continue, under new management, in the new year.
Lester and John were well established stars in Guernsey’s poetry firmament when I arrived on the island twenty-two years ago.
Today, they’re still going strong and we can only hope that, freed from the burdens of shepherding other poets to and from the mic, they will have time to add more excellent poems to their extensive back catalogues and retain their high profiles on the poetry scene.



Sunday, 4 December 2016

LARKIN AGAIN

The humorous poem below is written in the style of Philip Larkin's most quoted one, This Be The Verse, with its famous opening line, They fuck you up, your mum and dad ...
It's a bit of fun to celebrate the recent installation of Larkin's memorial stone at Westminster Abbey and touches on his well-documented stand-offish nature, his lifelong career as a librarian and his fondness for cycling.

























PHILIP LARKIN 1922 -1985

They carve in stone, engravers do,
Your name with start and finish dates
Then hand it to some cleric who
Abuses boys and masturbates,

Who then invites a bunch of craps
Up to the Abbey in best suits,
For lengthy speeches and back slaps,
Daft eulogies and organ toots.

It fucks you up, this being dead:
But I was fucked up long before.
I left behind so much unsaid
And, still unwritten, poems galore.

But now, turns up a stone that’s like
A library book long overdue.
I sit on my celestial bike
And, gazing down, applaud the view.

Friday, 2 December 2016

NOT BEFORE TIME

A long overdue memorial stone to one of our greatest poets, Philip Larkin, will be unveiled in Westminster Abbey today, 2 December, the 31st anniversary of his death.

Philip Larkin and John Betjeman

I have long been an admirer of Philip Larkin’s work and mention him often in this blog.
I’d be hard pressed to choose my favourite Larkin poem, but Mr Bleaney is surely one of them. It’s about a man who rents a shabby room and muses on the life of the previous occupant. It shows Larkin’s excellent use of syntax: the last two stanzas constitute one long sentence, culminating in a simple three-word statement.  I rather like the image of the speaker stuffing cotton-wool in his ears to drown out the sound of his landlady’s television set in the living room below.





















MR BLEANEY

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed 
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till

They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,

Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,


Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took

My bit of garden properly in hand.’

Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —


‘I’ll take it.’ So it happens that I lie

Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags

On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown


The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.

I know his habits — what time he came down,

His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways —


Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk

Who put him up for summer holidays,

And Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind


Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed

Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,

And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,


And at his age having no more to show

Than one hired box should make him pretty sure

He warranted no better, I don’t know.



Tuesday, 29 November 2016

ON THIS DEAFNESS

A consequence of advancing years is that, like any machine, the body starts to deteriorate.
One thing starts to go, then another, till we end up, as Shakespeare wrote, Sans everything.
I’ve been wearing reading glasses for a couple of decades but have only recently begun to wonder whether I need a hearing aid as well.
Conversations with others of my age have begun to take on a slightly surreal quality as we each misinterpret what the other has said.
It’s probably fair to assume that things will only get worse as I grow older.
My father became hearing-impaired as a young man and I grew up in a household where his deafness impacted hugely.
My memories of his dissatisfaction with the medical profession’s answers to his disability makes the concept of wearing a hearing aid a difficult one for me to embrace.
Hearing aids were primitive appliances back in the late Nineteen-Forties and my first recollection of my father’s was of a leather-bound box, worn on a strap, with a thin cable running up to an earpiece.
It seemed to offer limited assistance and, more often than not, this lead to frustration and anger.
In time, as hearing aids became more advanced, they became more discreet but seemed hardly more efficient.
Hearing loss isolated my father in a way that, as a child, I struggled to understand.
Only in recent years, as my own hearing has begun to deteriorate in group situations and public places, have I begun to experience that dreadful sense of isolation that my father must have had to endure every day of his life.
























DEAF

The battered leather box
hung, sinister, a weapon forged for war,
around his neck, square on the tweedy waistcoat
beside his broad watch-chain.
I had to stand on tiptoe, speak into it
slowly,
my childish words, enunciated clearly,
humming through cable, climbing, bindweed thin,
to my father’s distant ear.

A great oak, he seemed to me, solid
in his deafness,
and as I, year by year,
scaled his massive branches,
silence grew around us like a fog.
His deafness was a war zone:
preemptive strikes his way with conversation;
that strident voice, an armoured tank
crunching above
the dazed infantry of his family.

As he grew old and I grew up,
hearing-aids evolved as well:
small gadgets,
plasticised, discreet
replaced the ugly leather box,
more like the tools of spies than those
of men involved in all-out war.

There is no substitute, he said,
for nature’s gifts: the best to hope for
is some trick
to keep despair at bay.

 
In losing sound, we lost him as he lost himself,
where shrapnel-noise fragmented overhead,
in no man’s land,
beyond the bloody wire,
and I was never man enough
to venture there
or bring him, on my soldier’s back,
to safety

but crouched instead
within my fox-hole, deeply dark,
wherein went tumbling
the words we might have said,
the words we should have said.




This poem first appeared in my poetry collection, STRANGE JOURNEY (2010). 
Copies are available via the PUBLICATIONS page above.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP

The statement that "Breakfast is the most important meal of the day" originated in a 1917 article in Good Health, said to be the oldest health magazine in the world. 



CONFESSION

I blame my parents. They made me what I am. A sick weirdo. Someone who kills without remorse.
Throughout my troubled childhood I was deprived. Deprived of breakfast.
Breakfast! Breakfast!  My brutal father used to snarl: I never had breakfast when I was a lad and it’s done me no harm!  
So every day I went to school without breakfast.
I grew up to be a loner.  Spent all my time in my room fantasizing about breakfasts: Full English, Continental ... 
but the thing excited me most was the thought of a huge bowl of Cornflakes awash with milk and sugar.
One day I heard voices in my head. The voices said: KillI couldn’t ignore them.
I hurried to Tesco, just before closing time, hung around the cereal aisle and then, when no one was about, I grabbed a packet of Cornflakes and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed.
After that it was like a compulsion. I’d hear the voices and think: I could murder a bowl of Rice Crispies.
On and on it went, one cereal after another: Rice Crispies, Sugar Smacks, Puffed Wheat, All Bran, Shreddies, it really didn’t matter.
The pattern was always the same. Hang about, choose the moment, then strike.
I tried to stop. God knows I tried. But it was a compulsion.
I had to face the dreadful truth. I was a cereal killer. 
It couldn’t last, of course. I got cocky, overconfident. They caught me in Waitrose, my hands around a packet of muesli. My killing spree was over. Judge and jury convicted me. Now I’m doing porridge.   



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

PARTY ANIMAL

Despite my preference for a quiet life, I've recently found myself plunged into an uncharacteristic round of parties and, as a consequence, encounters with new acquaintances.
The following poem, however, is entirely fictional. 


























HIDE AND SEEK

At Marty’s party, met a man:
a polymath, he seemed to be,
well-bred, well-read, artistically
gifted, well-dressed. 

At cocktails we
discussed his penchant for the arts,
his thoughts on how mankind began:
a rather interesting man,

a charming man 
of many parts. 
He had a most intriguing plan
to make a mint: he had contacts, 

he swore he did. 
I told him I was nearly skint
but he accepted fifty quid
to let me in on the ground floor:

said he was on a winning streak,
(a chance like that you can’t ignore)
swore he would call me in a week
but now we’re playing hide and seek.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

A TALE OF TWO PUBLICATIONS

Two photographs from the archives prompted this post.

  

The first shows Brighton-based writer, Peter Kenny and myself, back in 2010, looking rather more lithe and youthful than we are today.
The picture was taken outside a bookshop in St Peter Port whose window display featured copies of our joint poetry collection, A Guernsey Double, a publication that was kindly supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission.
We both look immensely proud of ourselves.
I’m happy to report that, despite an optimistic print-run, the book sold astonishingly well and today only a few copies remain available.
You can read about the book launch at Anthology of Guernsey (posts dated 7 June and 13 July respectively).

If you’re interested in obtaining one of the last few copies then click on the Publications tab or click here.

 

The second photograph, taken in 2015, shows my wife, Jane, with Edward Chaney, (right) author of Genius Friend and his publisher, Steve Foote, whose company, Blue Ormer, launched the book.
They, too, look immensely proud of themselves, as well they might.
Genius Friend is a biography of reclusive Guernsey writer G B Edwards, whose posthumously-published Book of Ebenezer Le Page, is widely regarded as one of the great novels of the Twentieth Century.
Jane was closely involved in the extensive research that went into Professor Chaney’s impressive work.
Genius Friend may be obtained from Blue Ormer website www.blueormer.co.uk or from amazon.com