Bordeaux Bay

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

Friday, 31 October 2014

SHORT AND SNAPPY

When I was growing up Guy Fawkes Night was regarded as more exciting than Halloween and we children celebrated it with fireworks and the burning of an effigy of a Guy, usually attired in Father’s cast-offs and paraded around the streets, before being consigned to the hungry flames of the bonfire. 

Halloween, by contrast, was a very low-key affair, but I remember the turnip lanterns that we carved with grotesque faces and lit with candles and the ghost stories that were told, before bedtime, that rendered sleep impossible.  

Here’s a couple of bits of nonsense specially for Halloween. 

FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS

Gordon was too macho to go to the doctor when the dog bit him on that Halloween.  No doctor: no tetanus.  Shit happens and the bite wasn’t serious.  
The dog itself didn’t seem particularly serious either: a big ungainly mutt with a daft expression, wearing the remnants of a suit and tie.  The clothing puzzled Gordon.  
At home he bathed the wound with disinfectant.  Neat puncture marks.  Nothing to worry about.  
Worry set in a week later when the moon was full.  Hair sprouted on Gordon’s hands; his teeth became fangs; a reckless hunger overwhelmed him. Stumbling outdoors in pyjamas, he bounded across the Common, driven by an instinct beyond his control.  
What’s happening to me? he howled.  And howled and howled and howled. 


Check out Warren Zevon singing Werewolves of London at:- 




Wednesday, 29 October 2014

PS...


Whilst I don’t have a television set, I do occasionally watch programmes online. 
Browsing through the schedules, I discovered a BBC Wales production of Under Milk Wood, the celebrated play for voices by Dylan Thomas.   
Originally conceived as a radio play, Under Milk Wood has been performed in many guises over the years and the definitive version exists in an audio recording featuring Richard Burton in the role of Narrator, whose famous opening line: "It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black ..." always makes me shiver with anticipation. 
As an admirer of the Burton version, I approached the new BBC production with trepidation. It features numerous well-known Welsh performers, including Sian Phillips, Jonathan Pryce, Michael Sheen, Bryn Terfel and Tom Jones, speaking to camera, interspersed with images of Laugharne, where Dylan Thomas lived and worked.
I am happy to report that the performance was a triumph and the visual dimension, together with an excellent cast, brought added energy to the poetry of the original script.
If you want a hugely enjoyable literary treat, I recommend you watch it while it’s still available at:-  

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p01x5k4n/under-milk-wood



Monday, 27 October 2014

SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS

A version of this poem appears in my second collection, Strange Journey, published in 2012. It sold surprisingly well and copies found their way to places as far away as Canada, India and New Zealand.

Poetry books tend not to be big sellers, unless your name is Roger McGough or Pam Ayres, so even modest sales in this field may be counted a success. 

My earlier collection, The Man Who Landed, which appeared as one half of A Guernsey Double with The Boy Who Fell Upwards by UK poet, Peter Kenny, also notched up significant sales though, since we chose to market it online through Amazon, whose trading terms are not overly generous to authors, so far we've been unable to retire on our earnings.

Copies of Strange Journey, The Man Who Landed and The Boy Who Fell Upward are all still available. Simply contact me here or go to this link:-  http://www.anthologyofguernsey.com/




THE SWING



As we launch out, the air feels clean,

the wooden swing's a pendulum
divining or recording time,
as sunlight stabs, pure platinum,
through woodland chestnut, cedar, lime,
into our playground, softly green.

It takes our joint weight on taut ropes
as we, in tandem, drive it on,
gathering momentum, we rise:
you grip the seat I brace upon
with boots, knees, adolescent thighs
and boundless, adolescent hopes.

The swing is like a storm-tossed boat,
the wood a bold kaleidoscope
of light, leaf patterns, soaring dreams.
I sing within the cradle-ropes,
the sound extinguishing your screams.
Free from confining earth, we float.

Friday, 24 October 2014

CRYING WOLF

Some people eulogise dolphins but, for me, a wolf pack’s surely one of Nature’s proudest sights. 
Sadly, wolves have suffered centuries of bad press and, in many parts of the world, have been hunted almost to extinction. 
It’s heartening to learn that much has changed in recent years and Man’s perception of this beautiful creature has become much more positive. 
If you’re interested in wolves, their conservation and wellbeing, then check out Wolf Watch UK at this link:-  http://www.wwuk.org

 I wrote this poem some time ago, reflecting as I did so, how much the fate of wolves mirrors that of feared or hated groups within the human species.

WOLF

Out of a world corrupted 
and made vile, 
beyond the stricken tree, 
the murdered mile,
past poisoned streams and over tainted snows, 
copper-eyed, the wolf goes: 
beyond recall, 
beyond arresting cry, 
into an exile’s land where shadows lie.
His paw marks, 
his very scent, 
create his fleeting monument.


Tuesday, 21 October 2014

LOST BOYS

I’ve written numerous poems over the years but many have been consigned to the wastepaper basket. 
It’s always a difficult decision, particularly if the poem in question has involved a good deal of hard work; but a bad poem benefits no one, neither reader nor writer.
The saving grace is that it’s sometimes possible to salvage a good line for future use or simply to serve as a starting-off point for another, better poem. 
One line that survived the destruction of a bad poem, was ‘brotherhood is built, not born’ and it encouraged me to write Twenty-One, a poem about a close childhood friend, John Simpson, who died in tragic circumstances, half a century ago this year.
The image below isn’t us, but it’s probably the way we saw ourselves at the time.




















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.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

CROUCHING INFANT, HIDDEN DANCER

It’s disquieting when a child discovers that its parents have identities other than those of Mother and Father and that the stranger hidden within the familiar shape has his or her own fears and yearnings, dreams and doubts. 



HIS MOTHER DANCES

Crouched on the stairs, he sees her dance:
her feet glide over lino squares,
the wireless playing sweet and low.
She waltzes, as though in a trance,
alone, amidst pans, table, chairs, 
white kitchen sink: her eyes aglow.

Those slender arms grasp empty air:
her partner is invisible.
She circles, sweeps and murmurs words,
song lyrics or a lover’s prayer.
What seems to him incredible
is how the music, like small birds,

whirls round his sleepy, tousled head
and makes him sad. The dancing stops.
His mother, hungry for romance,
settles for washing plates instead;
talks to herself, while he eavesdrops.
His father never liked to dance.


Wednesday, 15 October 2014

WRITING WRONGS



Congratulations to Tasmanian author, Richard Flanigan, who has won this year’s Man Booker Prize with his novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.  
I've been working my way through the six-book shortlist but not speedily enough to be able to challenge or agree with the judges' choice. 

I have, however, already read the winning novel and commend it. 

The book combines a love story with a harrowing account of the terrible fate of thousands of Anzac troops captured by the Japanese during the Second World War and forced to work as slaves on the notorious Burma Railway. 

Not an easy read, The Narrow Road to the Deep North nevertheless rewards the reader’s perseverance.  

Admirers of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, will be pleased to hear that she presented the prize again this year. The Duchess, who is a patron of a number of organisations which promote literacy, handed over the coveted trophy to the winning author.

A rather different version of the Duchess can be found by clicking on this link.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

PS ..

The idea of compiling a selection of Desert Island Discs intrigues me, as does making a choice of Desert Island Books or Desert Island Films. 

My preferences in these categories vary as I explore new areas of music, and as new books are written or films produced.

One piece of music, however, has remained at the top of my Desert Island Discs list for many of years and seems unlikely to be ousted from that position. 


It’s from a rarely performed opera, Die tote Stadt, by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and is a soprano aria sung by the character, Marietta. 

Its electrifying and never fails to engulf me in its sweet sadness. 







There are several You Tube performances of it, notably by Elizabeth Schwartzkopf, Inessa Galante and Kiri Te Kanawa but, for me, this Rene Fleming interpretation is unsurpassable. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rzym2T0CJRo 

Listen to the note that she holds, four minutes fifteen seconds into the You Tube clip, and be astounded.




Sunday, 12 October 2014

BACK TO BLACK

I had the good fortune to be in my teens when a revolutionary new musical sound arrived from the USA.
Bill Haley introduced Rock 'n Roll to the UK and popular music was never the same again.
My friends and I spent our pocket money on records by Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry and The Everly Brothers, and learned to jive to the electrifying sounds of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.
Towards the end of the 1950's, however, a new voice emerged to captivate me.
Roy Orbison bridged the gap between the raucous music of my teenage years and that of the pure operatic tenors, whose voices graced my childhood home: John McCormack, Beniamino Gigli and Enrico Caruso.
Even today, a quarter of a century since his early death, Roy's fans are legion and each one has a favourite Orbison song. Mine is A Love So Beautiful. A perfect Desert Island choice. Click on the link below to listen.



THE BIG O

A rich voice, almost operatic:
cool as a shiny Cadillac.
The outfit, idiosyncratic:
black shirt, 
black jeans, 
everything black.

Behind big shades, stone-faced, he stands,
his eyes concealed. 
That voice, those clothes,
are richly dark. 
Admiring fans,
we each imagine that he knows
the thing we feel: a raw heartbreak,
undefined. 

When he starts to sing
his voice recalls an endless ache
for some unfindable, lost thing. 

Friday, 10 October 2014

THE ODD COUPLE

At a writers’ workshop a few years ago I encountered a couple of amusing poetic forms that challenge the brain. 
One was the Univocalic and the other the Tetractys: I’m still trying to work out how to pronounce that second one.
They operate like this. The univocalic poem uses a single vowel throughout and avoids all others, while the tetractys is a poem with five accumulating lines. Line 1 is one syllable, line 2 has two syllables and so on to a maximum of five syllables. A Double Tetractys is two such poems back-t0-back.
I like to play with rhyme and form and once challenged myself to combine the two: a univocalic poem in the form of a double tetractys. Rather an odd couple.
It didn’t quite come off because I needed to add a couple of extra five-syllable lines to complete it, but the univocalic element, avoiding a,i,o and u, was spot-on.
The result was Wren, of which I’m rather proud.


WREN

See
the wren,
resplendent:
her clever eye,
her sweet essence. Deep, 
let her sleep be deep;
there, let the green hedge
be her perfect bed;
the rye, the reed,
be her screen;
shelter
her.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

UNA CELEBRAZIONE DELLA POESIA


October reminds me that the annual Poetry On The Lake festival will be taking place shortly at beautiful Lake Orta in northern Italy. The festival was founded in 2001 by poet, Gabriel Griffin, and has as its Patron the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who described it as 
... perhaps the smallest but possibly the most perfect poetry festival in the world”. 
A few years ago, I had the good fortune to attend the events there with my wife, the writer, Jane Mosse, and took part in an outdoor poetry reading on the wooded hill at Sacro Monte along with a number of acclaimed British and Italian poets, including the Poet Laureate herself. 

This poem, Suitcases, is one that I read on that occasion. 


SUITCASES

Crouching in attic gloom, 
where skylight beams 
illuminate their pool of silver dust, 
old leather suitcases doze like alligators 
dreaming their prehistoric dreams.

They sleep soundly having eaten up my father’s life ...

the photographs, the hearing aid and collar studs, 
the safety razor with its rusted blade, 
the letters and the wallet with the ticket stubs

... yet I am so afraid 
that when I kneel beneath the skylight 
to prise apart those sagging, alligator jaws,

the life that I will find compressed within 
will be too small to match 
my memories of him.



You can find out more about the Poetry On The Lake festival at www.poetryonthelake.org/

Monday, 6 October 2014

BIKE TO THE FUTURE


There’s something magical about motorcycles: a kind of primitive connection between bike and rider that seems to exist only rarely with cars. Perhaps it’s the stripped-down quality in a motorcycle that brings engine and owner into close conjunction. For many, a second-hand Yamaha or Kawasaki is their first independent mode of transport and, like one’s first love, it retains a special place in the affections.  
As a teenager I couldn’t afford a motorbike but my best friend, John Simpson, had an old BSA and we had adventures galore on it. I remember us roaring off to the coast at Helen’s Bay on summer days, hoping to impress girls. We wore leather jackets but not crash helmets and imagined we were part of the biker gang in Stanley Kramer’s 1953 iconic  movie, The Wild One
In recent times I owned a 750cc Yamaha and rode it on the island and in northern France. A beautiful motorcycle with swept-back handlebars, customised paintwork and a leather seat, it was a pleasure to ride. The roads in Brittany are ideal for bikers, with little traffic congestion and great scenery. Riding a motorbike there makes you feel young again. Nowadays, however, I wear a crash helmet  
Here’s a short tale (just 250 words) about one man and his motorcycle.

Marlon Brando in The Wild One


PEPSI

Pepsi Morgan thrilled to the power of the liquid-cooled 12-valve engine of his new motorcycle. 
The dealer described it as the purest riding experience money can buy. He was right. Pepsi roared down the dual-carriageway like a bullet.
No stranger to bullets, Pepsi had left Afghanistan a month ago: a hero, they told him.  Plain lucky, he reckoned. He’d seen some hot spots but Helmand was the worst, a killing ground.
Like all soldiers he’d become fatalistic. “If the bullet’s got your name on it,” they’d say and, yes, he’d lost mates that way. No amount of caution could save you. He remembered the patrol when Beezer got hit. A lone sniper. A bullet with his name on it, poor sod.
Pepsi had been lucky.  Got home, got out, blew his savings on a brand-new Triumph Speed Triple, the perfect expression of stripped-down, brute power. Right now it felt like a package of pure energy rocketing him into the future. 
He didn’t see the delivery truck that came out of nowhere.  The impact was like a bomb exploding inside his head; more powerful than all the bombs in Helmand put together. He was dead before he hit the ground.  
The broken motorcycle spun like a roulette wheel on the tarmac. The truck came to a halt twenty yards away. It was a big vehicle. White. The word “Pepsi” in two foot letters on its side. A bullet with his name on it. 


Friday, 3 October 2014

COLD SNAP


As a child I loved to receive seaside postcards and, back then, before affordable air travel whisked us away to the Costas, holiday greetings tended to be sent from popular Northern Irish coastal resorts like Portrush, located on a peninsula extending into the chilly Atlantic Ocean. This poem was inspired by the reminiscences of my elderly Aunt Marion, who, as a young girl, spent an idyllic holiday there with her best friend. 
I've used a simple abcabc rhyme scheme and octosyllabic lines in an attempt to recreate the animation that I recall hearing in my Aunt's voice as she told me about those far-off, joyous days.  





FREEZE FRAME

We leapt like mermaids, screamed and froze,
while breakers splashed our thighs with spray.
As the Box Brownie camera snapped,
we vainly tried to hold a pose.
Behind us, the Atlantic lay, 
endless, eternal, arctic-capped.  

And afterwards, we wrapped ourselves
in rugs to shelter from the wind.
We hugged each other, laughing, there
beneath black, jagged coastal shelves
where sea-pinks grew. Thus, we were twinned
in friendship: an aquatic pair. 

Thursday, 2 October 2014

SHELL SHOCK

The death of a loved one is an amputation. 

C S Lewis,  A Grief Observed.



Loneliness is just one of the many facets of the human condition but, when combined with the grief and pain of bereavement, it must be particularly difficult to bear ... but bear it we must.
                                                                                       

CRAB

Inside a carapace, he hides,
a hermit, once an extrovert;
he, with his wife, a double act. 
whose parties, cocktails, dance-floor glides,
charmed friends galore. A massive hurt 
uncoupled them, left him intact.

Bereaved a year, he holds routines 
sacred; does his washing, Tuesday,
shopping for essentials, weekly.
Sunday lunch is tinned baked beans.
He moves forward in his own way:
head drawn in, crablike, obliquely.




Wednesday, 1 October 2014

WHAT A FELINE

To avoid the inevitable complaints from my cat-loving friends, I’ve decided to follow my previous poem, about our dog, with a cat poem. This is about a haughty fellow I sometimes see when walking in the Bordeaux area.




 OZYMANDIAS


A grey cat sits in a doorway,
sphinx-like, disdainful, elegant,
in velvet-textured light
that warms him like a throne.
He fascinates me. 
I name him
Ozymandias, Cat of Cats.

To him, I am irrelevant:
neither food-source, threat nor prey.
Nine cat-lives in a ninth of mine,
his gaze dismisses me: 
deems me invisible. 

You will stare 
till you turn to stone 
or shatter like glass,
Cat of Cats,
Ozymandias.