Bordeaux Bay

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

Sunday, 29 March 2015

PALM SUNDAY

As a youngster growing up in the Nineteen Fifties, I wanted to be Stanley Matthews or, failing that, John Wayne.
Since I wasn’t particularly adept at football, I usually settled for John Wayne.
Aged eight or nine, I’d go to the Saturday Matinees at the Astoria Picture House and the following morning to Sunday School. I can’t pretend that I attended both with quite the same enthusiasm.
Back in those days, the staple cinematic fare for boys was Westerns, those gripping sagas of Cowboys killing Indians, as Native Americans were referred to back then. 

Very often Westerns took the form of serials, with episodes shown week after week, each ending in a cliff-hanger with the hero in seemingly inescapable jeopardy.
Inevitably, he would survive, to return, unscathed, the following week.  
At cinemas from Ballyhackamore to Ballinderry, nobody slaughtered “injuns” quite as efficiently as big John Wayne and, although nowadays, I deplore the bloody genocide at the heart of American history, I still enjoy a good Western.
Most of us like to compile lists and tables of our favourite books, films and music.
My list of top ten Westerns would certainly include High Noon, a masterpiece directed by Fred Zinneman and starring Gary Cooper as the noble lawman facing what seemed to be impossible odds.
That rousing tale, together with the stories I learned at Sunday School, triggered the following poem.
    

  




 










 






RIDER
 

A man rides into town.

He’s a good man and this used to be a good town
but the bad guys have taken over and the townsfolk are weak
so it’s a bad town now with bad problems.

The rider will change things.  Valiantly, he’ll make a stand
against hopeless odds.  He’ll confront the bad guys,
inspire loyalty, teach the timid townsfolk to confront evil.

Remember, of course, that the odds were hopeless,
so the bad guys win in the end and the rider dies
alone in the sun, as the townsfolk look on, helpless.

But his death’s not till the final reel.  Right now,
he rides into town on a swaying donkey
while cheering townsfolk cast palm-fronds at his feet.





  Inevitably, he would survive, to return, unscathed, the following week.  

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

SUNDAY GIRL

As a creative writer, it’s always pleasing to receive recognition, especially from one’s peers.
Money would be better, but for those of us who write poetry, there’s little hope of that.
Recognition arrives in many forms and some came my way recently with no less than three placings in the annual International Poetry Competition run by the organisers of the forthcoming Guernsey Literary Festival.
I rarely enter competitions but was persuaded to do so to support our local literary event, which is growing in stature each year.
This year’s judge was former Poet Laureate, Sir Andrew Motion, who selected my poem Sunday Mornings in fifth place out of more than a thousand entries in the Open Section of the competition.
My second entry, Sailing By, came sixth in the Open, while my third poem, Passengers, was second in the prestigious Channel Islands section.
As a result, all three poems will now be displayed publicly at various locations around the island and also feature in the island’s Poems on the Buses promotion.
Sunday Mornings was inspired by my wife, Jane, a memory of whose childhood the poem depicts.




 


















SUNDAY MORNINGS

Those Sunday mornings in her parents’ bed,
tucked between them, tight,
she’d wriggle down, inhale their sweaty heat:
that smell, familiar, safe,
suffused with warmth and yet a salty, puzzling redolence.

They were her shelter: a cleft she grew in like an alpine flower.
Her father, red-cheeked, mountain-big,
made the bed tumble like a boat
when he yawned or stretched or turned;
while mother, plump and comfy, perched
at starboard edge, hand on the tiller, in control,

and she, snug and soft-nested between them,
was warmly content, secure in the moment, her future unspent.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

ALL CHANGE

Change comes in many forms.
When gradual, it allows people to accept developments they would otherwise refuse to countenance. There are numerous examples of this in modern society.
When sudden, change can be cataclysmic and the following poem attempts to illustrate this.
Happily, it’s not based on personal experience.





PHONECALL

We watched a small boat on the lake:
oars dipped and rose, oars dipped and rose,
and strollers, happy, I suppose,
went by, each blind to our heartache.
We held each other, did not speak
too numb to search for words to soothe:
instead, embraced the dreadful truth
and, in truth’s loveless arms, grew weak.

An hour ago, we laughed and shopped,
drank coffee, waited for a bus,
then came the call that murdered us:
Time slowed, then stalled.
Now time has stopped.


Wednesday, 18 March 2015

DEAD RECKONING

Is there consciousness after death? If so, what form does it take? And do the dead know they’re dead? 
We ask these sort of questions when we're very young and probably ask them again when very old. 
In between these two life-stages, there are other questions, with answers that affect our daily lives, which seem infinitely more important.
The following short story in rhyme (should that be storhyme?) is a bit of fun based on those first questions.


 

PSYCHIC EYE 

I read the sign and climb a stair.
The office door is smokey glass. Inside a radio plays jazz. I go in. He points to a chair. 

He’s shabby but he don’t look dumb. His voice is booze and cigarettes: a weary voice, full of regrets. A gumshoe, laid back, chewing gum.
I say: Man, you’re a Psychic Eye. I got a problem, something’s changed. It’s like the whole world’s rearranged, gone crazy but I don’t know why.
When joshing with my buddy, Pat, there was a mishap with a gun: the pistol was a loaded one. Things turned peculiar after that.
Down at the pool room, I’m ignored. Guys talk and laugh like I’m not there: goddam invisible, I swear.
I was their pal once: now they’re bored. I crack a joke. They look elsewhere.  I shout: Hey Guys! They just don’t hear. I ask for whiskey or a beer: the bar-keep gives me a blank stare.

The Psychic nods.
I tell him this. I visited my gal today: she looked right through me, turned away when I leaned forward for a kiss.
He lights a smoke, says: Some survive a bullet from a careless gun, a lucky few, but you’re not one.
Man, you’re a ghost. You ain’t alive. 

I’m psychic so I see a bit ... the gumshoe tells me ... just a peek. For you, the future’s looking bleak.
You’re dead. You gotta live with it.

Monday, 16 March 2015

SOLITARY MAN

This poem was inspired by a scene not unlike the one depicted below. 
I spotted an old man sitting alone on a bench and found myself contrasting his apparent isolation with the companionship that I had noticed amongst elderly bench-sitters during my time in Italy last year.  
There, it’s common to see a row of extremely old gentlemen perched like sparrows on a communal sedile in the piazza, all seemingly at ease with one another, exchanging whatever passes for banter in la bella lingua. 
We know that appearances can be deceptive, so my assumption may be incorrect and the old man may, in fact, have been enjoying a rare escape into solitude.
I'll never know. 
I went home and wrote these lines.    














RECLUSE

All scattered to the winds and ways,
like blushing cherry blossom blown,
the friends, he knew when not full-grown,
have vanished from his elder days.
The carelessness of childhood meant
that friendships were a thing to find
then let escape. No contract signed.
No deal. A currency unspent.
If friendships had been coins or gold,
he might have locked inside a cage
all he had gathered to assuage
the loneliness of growing old.

Friday, 13 March 2015

UN GENIO MUSICALE




Music was not abundant in the house where I grew up, nor was it absent. 
What I listened to as a child, before Skiffle and that other Pied Piper, Rock ‘n Roll accompanied me into a decade of blissful teenage angst, was Children’s Favourites on a Saturday morning and the Two Way Family Favourites request programme, both on the wireless, or else my mother singing scraps of songs from an earlier era whilst working in the kitchen.
Occasionally, when the Gramophone was wheeled out, the sublime voices of Kathleen Ferrier, John McCormack or Beniamino Gigli would fill the house: the latter singing in Italian, what I would later discover to be Opera.
In my thirties I began to explore that strange world of opera, where larger-than-life characters found themselves in implausible situations that always ended badly, and sang rather than spoke to one another.
I discovered that it wasn’t necessary to understand a foreign language to enjoy this emotional extravaganza: instead it was a rather a matter of tapping into the fierce passion of the music.
Giocomo Puccini (above) was an Italian composer who created some of the most memorable music of his age: music that has outlived him and flourishes today in performances of La Boheme, Turandot, Tosca and Madama Butterfly
Whilst he is but one of the many musical giants whose works transcend time and space, he is my favourite.
I had the good fortune to visit Puccini’s house, at Corte San Lorenzo in the beautiful city of Lucca in Italy, a few years ago and to see and touch the piano on which he created many of his masterpieces. 
The following poem references both Puccini and Beniamino Gigli, that amazing tenor voice from my childhood. 
The aria, Nessun Dorma, from the opera Turandot, is best known as the musical signature of one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest singers, Luciano Pavarotti, but Gigli’s earlier Gramophone version, recorded on rather crackly shellac, is the one for me.  




NESSUN DORMA

In silhouette, against the moon,
church spire and tree-tops are coal-black.
A needle scratches on shellac
to play an operatic tune.

It fills the room, this conjured genie, 
with gladness, irrepressible:
a miracle accessible.
The tenor, Gigli, sings Puccini.



Wednesday, 11 March 2015

FEBRUARY FAVOURITES


The three most popular blog poems published during February were Hibernation, In Grace and Quarry
Here’s an opportunity to read them if you missed them first time round. 
If you'd like to see the original narratives that accompany each of these poems you'll find them on the following dates: 1st, 18th and 24th February by using the Older Posts key below.












HIBERNATION

Hibernation over, they wake
hungry. Then swiftly re-engage
in animal things: so the cycle
begins again. We understand that.

Is it fanciful to wonder
if they dream? Or is their slumber
incomprehensible, like death,
devoid of sense of anything?





IN GRACE

The present is arcane and strange
and any recollection left
of what has happened in the past
is vague and liable to change.         
Of future plans, he is bereft,           
for nothing now is hard and fast.   

They give him multicoloured pens
and paper, as one might a child.
Familiar voices interweave.
He sees, through a distorting lens,
people who wept, people who smiled,
that, one by one, stood up to leave.

He is content. He lives in grace.
What matter if the moments blur,
if his nocturnal thoughts are grim?
He has escaped himself: his face,
a kind of absence in the mirror,
comforts and somehow pleases him. 



























QUARRY

Pockets weighted with rocks,
she sinks like a stone, down
through engulfing blackness.
The sudden coldness shocks;
dark water spreads her dress
as she begins to drown.
Steep granite walls surround,
like hands, this black water:
their blunted fingertips,
coarse stone-scarred, cupped around
a pitchy ale. Her lips
imbibe it. Drowned daughter,
she descends through grey seams
hewn by generations 
of quarrymen, long dead.
Her ears absorb the screams
of cutting-tools that fed 
slabs to loading stations,
harsh shouts, profanities
and laughter, trapped in stone. 
In bottomless darkness,
spinning, suspended, she
is free from time’s duress,
constraints of blood and bone,
all that once assailed her. 

Years will pass, rain and sure
forgetfulness will come
like longed-for sleep. Weeds stir
her hair. She will become
timeless, unsullied, pure,
assimilated in   
water, stone, and submit 
her flesh to nature’s game
then, snakelike, shed her skin,
while those that knew her name
will misremember it. 

Saturday, 7 March 2015

BOOKENDS

It’s a sadness to me that I seem to understand my father better now than I did when he was alive.
I’ve addressed our relationship several times in poems and find, having reached an age approximating his own when he died, that I’ve gained a greater insight into the distant, caring man who was my father.
He was born in 1907 into an era of rigid hierarchies and unchallengeable rules, and became a parent at a time when the most profound social changes were taking place in society. 

Conflict with a wayward son, eager to embrace those changes, was inevitable and was never entirely resolved.
The passage of time leaves nothing unaffected: even a rock will change shape through time's ministrations.
I like to think that were we able to meet now, my father and I, sitting like bookends on some imaginary park bench, we would be less at odds and, indeed, might find we had much in common. 

 



























FIRSTBORN

My father’s shop-front bore his name,
W. FLEMING and the word, FOOTWEAR.
Gents boots and shoes; an honest trade.
It was enough, he always said.
He never wanted SON up there.
For me, a better, higher aim.

Twenty-five years dead, he sleeps fast
in covetous earth, unaware
of what became of his firstborn,
who went his way and does not mourn
his father’s choice. Who can compare
lives: my pen, his shoemaker’s last?






https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-DsYmxznWA

Friday, 6 March 2015

MARCH OF TIME




6th March is the birth date of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the celebrated Columbian writer, who died last year.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982 and produced some of the finest novels to emerge from South America in the Twentieth Century.
Best known, perhaps, for his 1960s saga, One Hundred Years of Solitude, a tale which popularised a literary style known as magic realism, he also wrote numerous successful novels, short stories and journalism.

 My favourite Marquez book is his later, romantic novel, Love in the Time of Cholera: an unforgettable book and certainly one of my “Desert Island” choices.



"The only regret I will have in dying is if it is not for love."
(Love in the Time of Cholera - 1985)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
6 March 1927- 17 April 2014


Sunday, 1 March 2015

DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON

I daresay the rhyme scheme of this poem has a specific name but if it has it escapes me. 
At lines 6 and 7 the end-rhyme-pattern commences and then runs in reverse, so that line 8 rhymes with line 5, line 9 with line 4 and so on until the final line rhymes with line 1. 
Why have I written it that way? 
I wanted to contrast the hunter's mounting excitement with the growing sense of dismay he experiences as a result of his action. 




 BLACKBIRD

With catapult, when school was finished,
I went to hunt in woodland, high
above Belfast, in summer light
and heard, among leafed branches spread,
a blackbird, singing like a bell.
I took aim, shot; the missile flew
unerringly, my aim was true.
With awful suddenness it fell,
all broken. Exultation fled,

to be replaced by sickly fright.
I knelt to watch it slowly die.
Within me somewhere, light diminished.




Now check out a popular radio tune from the 1950s featuring the amazing Ronnie Ronalde, one time resident of Guernsey. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trtxVvyzlrA