Bordeaux Bay

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

Sunday, 28 December 2014

REVIEW 2014

At year's end it's something of a tradition in magazines and periodicals to feature a review of the previous twelve months' events.
As this blog is only four months old, a more limited review seems appropriate.
I've already reprised the three most viewed poems from my inaugural month, September, so here are the most popular ones from October, November and December respectively.
















TWENTY-ONE

We started out with cocoa tins
attached by string: 
a telephone
of sorts; progressed to proper phones,
old army surplus; wired them up
and strung a line from my bedroom, 
to yours next door. 

We formed a link
that bound us fast through teenage years:
fifth form, sixth form, till, 
on you went to uni, I to unsought work.

Where you were cerebral and gauche,
I was the opposite, and yet
we hit it off: no other friend,
before or since, meant half so much.

In those strange, final months, we seemed
to drift apart: you went away
and I, in turn, 
went elsewhere too.

Estranged at twenty-one, we were.
You didn’t live to twenty-two.

Your picture, pale, in newsprint grim,
beside the stark facts of your death,
remains my image of you now
a half a century away.

My vanished childhood friend, 
you look so innocent, 
so fresh of face:
forever in a state of grace.

Posted 21/10/2014




















TOYS

Others have a toy from childhood: ragged bear
or plastic gun, the barrel jammed
with plasticine; or floppy doll with thinning hair
and one eye lost, but loved the more for that;
or broken car or grounded aeroplane;
or arrow without bow or single table tennis bat.

In age, I am diminished to have none of these,
no childhood keepsake still,
to resurrect for comfort, when sad or ill at ease;
or handle with a wistfulness, or proudly reminisce
to you, child of my own child,
how once a threadbare tiger was the object of my bliss.


Posted 11/11/2014















CHRISTMAS DAY 1914

Out of the trenches stepped one man,
a truce flag held above his head,
then from the other side was waved
a cloth and word was quickly spread.

From blackened ground, like seeds, they grew
to cover those disputed lands:
a khaki crop mingled with grey,
cautious at first, then shaking hands.

Gifts were exchanged, tobacco, smiles.
Creased photographs were shyly shown.
Then, from a trench that frosty day,
a leather soccer ball was thrown.

The goalposts were four bayonets.
A match was played in friendly style
by muddy boys, for boys they were.
War was forgotten for a while.


Posted 25/12/2014 





Thursday, 25 December 2014

MATCH OF THE DAY


















CHRISTMAS DAY 1914

Out of the trenches stepped one man,
a truce flag held above his head,
then from the other side was waved
a cloth and word was quickly spread.

From blackened ground, like seeds, they grew
to cover those disputed lands:
a khaki crop mingled with grey,
cautious at first, then shaking hands.

Gifts were exchanged, tobacco, smiles.
Creased photographs were shyly shown.
Then, from a trench that frosty day,
a leather soccer ball was thrown.

The goalposts were four bayonets.
A match was played in friendly style
by muddy boys, for boys they were.
War was forgotten for a while.  



Now click here
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGA6djLsDgs&noredirect=1






Sunday, 21 December 2014

MERRY CHRISTMAS

For those of you who leave your purchase of Christmas presents till just before the final whistle, I'd like to recommend four poetry CDs that any lover of Twentieth-Century verse would be happy to receive. I have all four already, so just send me money instead.
These CD's showcase the best collaboration of music and poetry that I've encountered and feature the late Sir John Betjeman along with gifted musician Jim Parker. 
The titles to look for are Banana Blush, Varsity Rag, Betjeman's Britain and Late Flowering Love and all are available at amazon.com 

You can get a taste of what's on offer by clicking on this link

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nP2LrQrWWrI

Sir John's poem Christmas, which he reads on the Varsity Rag CD, is reproduced below. 




















CHRISTMAS  
by John Betjeman

The bells of waiting Advent ring,
The Tortoise stove is lit again
And lamp-oil light across the night
Has caught the streaks of winter rain
In many a stained-glass window sheen
From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green.

The holly in the windy hedge
And round the Manor House the yew
Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge,
The altar, font and arch and pew,
So that the villagers can say
'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day.

Provincial Public Houses blaze,
Corporation tramcars clang,
On lighted tenements I gaze,
Where paper decorations hang,
And bunting in the red Town Hall
Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'.

And London shops on Christmas Eve
Are strung with silver bells and flowers
As hurrying clerks the City leave
To pigeon-haunted classic towers,
And marbled clouds go scudding by
The many-steepled London sky.

And girls in slacks remember Dad,
And oafish louts remember Mum,
And sleepless children's hearts are glad.
And Christmas-morning bells say 'Come!'
Even to shining ones who dwell
Safe in the Dorchester Hotel.

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window's hue,
A Baby in an ox's stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare -
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

SUCCESSFUL ENCOUNTER

I wrote Briefcase Encounter in 2011 in an early attempt at Flash Fiction. Earlier this year I entered it in the annual Pennine Ink Short Story Competition, which invited stories themed on “A Journey”.
Much to my surprise and pleasure, it made third place and was published in Issue 36. 
Pennine Ink is a small magazine of poetry and prose that, in a cultural climate where such publications tend to be short-lived, has achieved astonishing longevity and, indeed, appears to go from strength to strength with each issue, drawing contributors not only from the UK, but also the USA, India, Canada, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.
The standard of content is remarkably high, but far from being obscure or inaccessible, it’s a hugely enjoyable read.
Pennine Ink limits itself to one issue each year and Number 36, the current one is available from http://pennineink.weebly.com at a surprisingly modest price.
I chose the story title as a play on the name Brief Encounter, David Lean’s iconic film based on a short play by Noel Coward, much of which was set in a railway station. My character, Harvey, who delivers the fateful briefcase to the terrorist, Pandora, borrows his name from Alec Harvey, one of the two main protagonists in the film.
My story is obviously fictional. However the recent nightmarish escalation in global terrorism suggests that fiction may yet become fact.





BRIEFCASE ENCOUNTER


Eurostar disgorged its passengers like a pod expelling seeds. Harvey, clutching his briefcase, allowed himself to be carried forward slowly, legs still stiff from the journey. Security checks were in progress but he moved forward confidently, certain his bland exterior would ensure cursory attention.        
      Waved through, Harvey waited by the railing close to Betjeman’s statue, briefcase resting at his feet. He saw the woman approach; her stride confident. She gave him a quick, cold smile and set down her briefcase, departing with his.
      Harvey picked up her case, identical to his own, and hurried to board the returning Eurostar to Paris. He wanted to be far away from London when Pandora released the deadly spores in Oxford Street.
      Safely aboard the speeding train, Harvey cradled the briefcase, itching to handle the stacks of hundred-euro notes he knew lay inside. He thought of Pandora preparing to text him with the combination to open the case: his portal to a new life. Of the devastation awaiting London’s population, he thought very little. Who said life was fair?
      Mid-way through the Tunnel, Harvey was on his third cognac when the text came through. He fumbled with the briefcase lock; suddenly remembering Pandora’s icy smile, and felt terror engulf him as he opened the lid.

Friday, 12 December 2014

PLIGHT OF THE HUMBLE B

Books and films have given me enormous pleasure throughout my life and I have a nostalgic fondness for noir: those old B-movies, packed with gangsters and blondes, that were part of every cinema outing when I was young. 
Growing up, I thrilled to the exploits of hard-boiled characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe and the high jinks of the Prohibition era in the USA.
The humble B-movie never won Oscars or plaudits but, in my opinion, it has an important part to play in the history of cinema.
I’ve written a collection of poems celebrating the noir genre but these remain, as yet, unpublished.
Here’s one that I’m particularly fond of. 

The rhyme pattern is basic abba and the lines, octosyllabic.
When posting a poem, I usually seek out an image that seems to compliment it. In this instance, I stumbled on the wonderful image first and it triggered the poem.




THREE WISE GUYS
 
Three wise guys.
See what they run.

They run illegal drinking dens
in smoky rooms, behind locked doors,
where gents compete for busy whores,
illicit hooch from moonshine-men
or big cigars, thick as their wrist.
While jazz-men do their groovy thing,
a crooner murmurs, dancers swing.
Order is kept by gun and fist:
everything’s cool. Corruption buys
the mayor, the police chief. Cops don’t care.
Ten dollars here, a showgirl there,
it’s pocket-change to three wise guys.

They look respectable in suits:
just businessmen who do the maths,
not calculating psychopaths
who’d make you swim in concrete boots.

Monday, 8 December 2014

KINDLING INTEREST

Laura Sheridan is something of an inspiration to me.

When she’s not working on her current novel, she’s polishing off a short story, poem or haiku, sketching or taking part in discussions at one of the writers’ groups she regularly attends. Then, of course, there’s her role in heading-up a reading group at her local library and editing the amazing Pennine Ink magazine.

Laura, who publishes her novels under the name G L Sheridan, also includes some radio comedy sketches and numerous magazine articles in her impressive C.V.  Just reading it leaves me exhausted and envious.

You’ll find her work on Kindle and, below, I’ll mention just a few titles to get you started: the rest, and there’re currently five novels, several prize-winning short stories and a collection of poems out there, you'll have to find for yourself.

Laura’s attractive website http://g-laurasheridan.weebly.com will point you in the right direction. There you'll find a samples of her writing and, as a bonus for cat lovers, photos of feline beauties, Trina, Phil and Elsie.

Here's one of Laura's poems. 


ENGLISH TEACHER 

The arched window looks out
onto a pillared courtyard, yearning
for the drift of monks
and she is here
among dark heads bowed over notebooks
where silent dust motes
dance in Roman sunlight
as she walks between rows
and dreams
of England’s lukewarm rain. 


(Copyright G L Sheridan 2011) 

Novels on Kindle by G L Sheridan

UGLY TUCKLING
SHORT OF A MIRACLE
BUTTANA
GERMINATION (Young Adult Fiction)
MARTIAN ODDITIES (Young Adult Fiction)


Pennine Ink Writers’ Workshop http://pennineink.weebly.com


Burnley & District Writers’ Circle http://burnleyanddistrictwriterscircle.webs.com

Thursday, 4 December 2014

ECHOES

Once each month I intend to reprise the three most popular poems or stories from a previous month. 
Today I’m featuring September 2014, my first month of writing this blog. You can find commentary on each of these poems at their original locations, whose dates are shown below.




ROPE TRICK

Upward, upward, upward he goes
on the taut rope in dusty heat 
defying gravity, belief.
One rope end lies, sweat-oiled, coiled, neat,
on a soiled, cheesecloth handkerchief.
From his father’s pipe, music flows.

The other end climbs vertically,
upward and attached to nothing
and up that swaying ladder, there,
a small brown boy, with gold ear-ring,
shins, this red morning, while we stare
with breathless incredulity.

We western tourists: Brits, fat Yanks,
believe mostly in disbelief.
Dull cynicism is our way:
debunking magic is our brief.
It’s just a bloody trick!  we say, 
who trust in pension plans and banks. 

(First appeared 8 September 2014)





ORIGINAL SIN

Catechism came with porridge
on Sunday mornings, then. 
Question
and Answer. 

What is man’s chief end?

A lifetime later, adult, grown,
I have the forthright answer still:

To glorify our God, amen.

How those morning pictures linger.

With hair slicked down and parting straight,
scrubbed knees, nails free of grime, clean hands,
in Sunday Best, clean underpants
and vest, black brogues with Bible shine,
I went with hymn-book to the church,

then into Sunday School we trooped like little soldiers off to war,
while parents stayed for Hell-Fire words and promises of Satan’s wrath
that they, in turn, would promise us.

Grey were the Sundays of my youth: shut shops, shut faces, shuttered hearts.
A football kicked would damn to Hell. 
A comic read, a careless laugh, would be recorded in God’s book.
Guilt was instilled and mortal fear.
I haven’t yet got off the hook.

(First appeared 18 September 2014)



 
SHIP IN A BOTTLE

He dreamed of oceans as a child;
would run away to sea when grown;
might sail the chill Atlantic, wild,
or broad Pacific, tempest blown,

but grown to adulthood, he failed  
in everything. There was no prow
or spreading wake: he never sailed.
He seeks his ships in bottles now.



(First appeared 17 September 2014)




Sunday, 30 November 2014

CINEMA PARADISO

Since childhood, I’ve loved cinema and never more so than in the golden days of the great Picture Palaces that were once a prominent feature of every town and city.
These fabulous places were a magnet for youngsters and adults alike with their gaudy foyers and lush interiors. Back then, a visit to the cinema was a memorable event.
There were, of course, exceptions. A few cinemas rightly earned the nickname, Flea-Pits, for they were run-down and badly maintained, though they too had their clientele. 



























A typical cinema programme offered cartoons, Mickey Mouse or Popeye; Pathe News; Pearl and Dean advertising and a B-Picture, usually featuring gangsters or warfare, then, top of the bill, The Big Picture, often a Western, an Historical Epic or a Sci-Fi adventure.
In the interval before the Big Picture you could buy Walls ice cream, Butterkist popcorn or Kiora juice, and no visit to "the pictures" would have been complete without one or all of these delights.
Television changed our relationship with cinema but, despite dire predictions at the time, cinema survived and evolved. Arguably it’s as popular today as it’s ever been, although the viewing demographic is different.
Most British multiplex cinemas offer a menu of Hollywood blockbusters, strong on special effects but low on engaging narrative, that appeal to the "Gamers Generation".  Alternative, non-mainstream film houses aren’t always easy to find except in larger cities. A visit to the cinema hardly qualifies as an event nowadays. Somehow the glamour has gone. 



AT THE PICTURES 1954

No smelly flea-pit this, instead,
a Pleasure Dome to this small lad,
Balcony-Front-Row like Chad,
bomb-aiming, targeting a head
down in the crowded Stalls below,
a cigarette’s illicit glow
lighting the victim, infra-red.
Popeye and Olive on the screen,
along comes Bluto, muscled, mean,
to beat the sailor almost dead.
A can of spinach saves the day:
it does so every Matinee.
On comes the Western, good Tom Mix.
Down the the Stalls the six-guns blaze
or else space-guns with cosmic rays
when Space War’s showing at the flicks.
We stamp the floor with scuffed black brogues,
cheer on our heroes, damn the rogues.
The usherette, with torch and scowl,
shines light my way, I duck right down.
She stamps her foot with angry frown.
The lady’s always on the prowl.
for noise-makers, rowdy kids,
for things the cinema forbids.

We long to be them but we’re not:
the Marshall or the Astronaut.
When errant Martians all are caught,
when wars are over, baddies shot,
we file outside, reluctantly,
to daylight and reality.


Thursday, 27 November 2014

DEATHS AND ENTRANCES

One aspect of a melancholy nature is the tendency to reflect, perhaps more than one should, on the ephemeral nature of life. 
Poetry should not shy away from such preoccupations, indeed, there can hardly be a better medium through which to engage with subjects like love and death. 
Living in Northern Ireland, during the IRA's terrorist campaign to gain control of the province, tended to focus the mind sharply on how swiftly one’s life could be changed in an instant.  Sadly, for a number of my contemporaries, it was.

This poem appeared in Issue 35 of Pennine Ink, a long-established and consistently excellent magazine published annually in the north of England. Issue 36 has just been published. More details at  http://pennineink.weebly.com





 MEMENTO MORI

An ambulance howls like a hurt cat;
parts traffic as Moses did the waves.
Worms burrow in awaiting graves.
A police car buzzes like a gnat.

Stuck in a jam of steaming cars,
I contemplate how life transforms
in moments. How they wait, those worms,
so patiently, for us, for ours.


Monday, 24 November 2014

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE

Spiritus is a Latin word referring to breath or breathing, and is the origin of the English word spirit. I find this connection between breath and the spirit an interesting one and the interweaving of meaning prompted the following poem.

SPIRITUS

The playing cards fall one by one,
each turning card a single breath:
an Ace of Spades, the card of death
lurks in the deck. A coin is spun
and while it spins, life hastens on:
our fortune hangs on heads or tails.
Death cuts us down but life prevails:
our genes alive in daughter, son.
So breath moves forward, like a breeze,
through autumn, winter, into spring:
a snow bird’s feathers on a wing
uplifted over endless seas.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

PS ...


 

If you’re interested in some excellent television documentaries featuring modern poets you should check out BBC iplayer for a series entitled Great Welsh Writers. The subjects are Vernon Watkins, Dannie Abse and Gillian Clarke.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04pg7x5/great-welsh-writers-series-2-2-dannie-abse

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

NOVEL EXPERIENCE

Since childhood, I’ve loved stories. From the time that I learned to read, I’ve done so, incessantly, and my enjoyment of the written word has never diminished. I started out with the Bre’r Rabbit books, progressed to Treasure Island, Kingsley’s Water Babies, then via Westerns, Radio Fun and Eagle annuals, to the world of American novels: Faulkner, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Kerouac and Capote.  I love encountering that other world behind the secret door that opens when I pick up a book.
 
You won’t find a Dan Purdue novel on the shelves of Waterstones, well not yet, but I predict that you will before long. 
Dan’s short stories have garnered prizes in abundance and if such things existed in the form of cups and trophies, I suspect he’d need to extend his mantlepiece.
I attended a Writer’s Workshop he led at the Guernsey Literary Festival and came away enthused and thrilled by the experience. I’ve since tried my hand at writing short stories, with modest success, but always return to Dan’s tales to marvel at his imagination, skill with words and off-beat take on life in general.
You will find many of his stories on-line or if, like me, you hanker for the printed page, a compilation is available called Somewhere To Start From and you can obtain a signed copy from http://www.danpurdue.uk



 
In the meantime, here’s one to whet your appetite.

COUNTERFEIT CONFETTI  by Dan Purdue

The bride declared, “I do,” and the groom slipped the ring onto her finger. The dearly-beloveds applauded as her new husband showered her with air-kisses, while the rotund vicar beamed with such enthusiasm that he jettisoned his false teeth.

After the newlyweds had each forged the other’s signature in the register, everyone congregated on the Astroturf outside the church. The photographer herded them back and forth, striving to keep the fibreglass gargoyles out of shot. The process took an age, mainly because half the invited guests hadn’t turned up, sending either their stunt doubles or cardboard cut-outs of themselves instead. The former wouldn’t stop fighting one another with balsa wood chairs and sugar-glass bottles; the latter kept blowing over in the wind. Eventually, the required images were captured. Everyone threw photocopied sheets of confetti as the newlyweds climbed into their carriage. A cow dressed as a pantomime horse towed them lethargically to the reception.

At the hotel the guests toyed politely with rubber chicken and Plasticine carrots. The bride sat in demure silence as the groom tapped his glass, thanked everybody for coming, and then donned a wig and false nose to deliver the best man’s speech. He toasted the happy couple and the guests cheered and sipped sparkling grape juice. As the applause died down, the bride stood at her husband’s side to cut the cake. The knife sank through thick white icing into shredded telephone directories and Styrofoam packaging chips.

In the evening, he took her in his arms and waltzed across the dance floor. They held each other close and, as they danced, their eyes glittered with the reflections of a hundred artificial candles.



Sunday, 16 November 2014

MARKETING WAR

I was in London on Remembrance Sunday to view the magnificent display of poppies at the Tower of London. 
Later that day I read that archaeologists have been granted the opportunity to excavate an area in Flanders where trench warfare took place during The Great War. 
This permission was granted because in 2015 work is scheduled to start on a pipeline, which will facilitate the movement of gas between France and Germany, and once this work begins all future archaeological exploration in the area will be impossible.
Ironically, gas was one of the deadliest of the many perils faced by the men who inhabited the trenches during 'the war to end all wars'.
Conditions endured by soldiers in the trenches were appalling and men survived from day to day, exhausted, their bodies plagued by lice and trench-foot, sharing filthy mud-holes with marauding rats: a far cry from the Hollywood-style portrayal in the current Sainsbury’s television ad, which depicts a friendly Christmas encounter between British and German troops, with combatants, on both sides, clean, bright-eyed, handsome and healthy.
I’m sure the Sainsbury’s commercial is well-enough intentioned but it seems somehow distasteful to use the sacrifice of gallant men to sell groceries and score points in the ‘great supermarket war’.
This poem is as much about those men as about the archaeologists who dig in the trenches today. 



THE ARCHAEOLOGISTS

Digging again in Flanders Fields,
long trenches deep in red, rich earth,
that march in rows from east to west.

It rains, but now there are no shells:
instead, with slow forensic skill,
they harvest artifacts from mud.

A pipeline has been promised: gas
to flow from here to Germany
but first, in one last push, they dig,

these archaeologists, who duck
beneath the trench's lip with spades
as once their forefathers, with guns,

crouched, cursed or wept, as shrapnel flew.
These modern men find badges, boots,
cups, broken rifles, helmets, more.

They work relentlessly in rain
to harvest relics from the soil
that runs like blood beneath their boots

while deeper yet, cold corpses lie:
bones, clothed in ragged uniforms,
reach from the weeping earth in vain.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

PAGE TURNER

Every writer knows that no matter how much he or she might work at crafting a poem, it is incomplete until it finds a reader. Then, and only then, an extra dimension is added through the reader’s imagination and this will vary from reader to reader because each of us brings our own unique interpretation to what we read or see.

This applies, even more so, to abstract art. Here, for example, are three images that intrigue me. What am I seeing? How do I interpret them?









These are, in fact, close-up photographs of the hulls of fishing-boats moored around Bordeaux Bay, taken by my wife, Jane, earlier today but as examples of 'found art' I think they work amazingly well.

Could Mr Turner have produced better?


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Turner_%28film%29
 








Tuesday, 11 November 2014

TOYS-R-US

I wrote this poem seven years ago for my grandson, Cameron, who was then a toddler. He's shot up  a bit since then and, at nine years old, already looks much the same as those of my generation did when teenagers. It must be something they're feeding them nowadays: confidence pills, maybe?




TOYS

Others have a toy from childhood: ragged bear
or plastic gun, the barrel jammed
with plasticine; or floppy doll with thinning hair
and one eye lost, but loved the more for that;
or broken car or grounded aeroplane;
or arrow without bow or single table tennis bat.

In age, I am diminished to have none of these,
no childhood keepsake still,
to resurrect for comfort, when sad or ill at ease;
or handle with a wistfulness, or proudly reminisce
to you, child of my own child,
how once a threadbare tiger was the object of my bliss.












 



Wednesday, 5 November 2014

MIRROR IMAGES

Another birthday has arrived and I’m waiting here to greet it. Birthdays seem to turn up with alarming frequency the older I become but the only alternative is to die young and I’m far too old for that. 


A FATHER’S REFLECTION

In my shaving mirror, increasingly,
as I grow old, my father’s face
replaces mine. As I erase
the moisture, he stares back at me.
Map-lines, into his features drawn,
are duplicated in mine now
like signatures on cheek and brow:
all vestiges of youth have gone.
So here I stand, the mirror a lake.
He signals from his distant isle:
a loving wave, a gentle smile.
Thirty years past, yet still the ache
of loss lingers. He is long dead
and yet some hint of him remains
within me, in DNA chains:
a psychic fingerprint, a thread
that links the parent to the child
then spins out onward, onward still
to my child, her children. Such skill:
each life unique yet each profiled
to the shape of its begetter.
So something of my father stays
forever in my looks and ways,
perhaps for worse, perhaps better.
Our immortality exists
within our offspring: they transport
our essence forward, teleport
us through the future’s swirling mists.
The bristle on my jaw is braille.
its message clear in words, sublime:
like frogspawn in the pond of Time,
souls will survive, though bodies fail.