Bordeaux Bay

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

Sunday, 28 June 2015

NERVOUS REX

At an Open Garden event today to raise funds for the Guernsey Tapestry, I bumped into my former neighbours, Emma and Matt Bowen, and was reminded of a poem I'd written about their old dog, Rex.
Rex was a nervous and highly-strung dog who pointedly ignored my efforts to make friends with him. 
Who knows, perhaps he was just choosy about his friends and regarded a poet as an unworthy type of human.
I used to pass Emma and Matt's gate each day when walking my own dogs, Rufus and Holly, and often failed to remember that behind it lurked, Rex, the Beast of Bordeaux. 
Invariably the rascal would take me by surprise by hurling himself at the gate, angry-eyed and barking furiously and I'd shake like a jelly all the way home.
One dark evening not long after Rex had passed away, I was walking by his gate when it was violently shaken by a gust of wind and that same sudden alarm gripped me. 
It was as though he'd lingered this side of Doggy Heaven just long enough to give me one final scare.
I hurried indoors and wrote this poem.




GHOST DOGS

Wind crashes the gate and brings to mind
Rex jumping up, black and sudden;
his frantic bark, scrabbling paws,
rips evening tranquility apart,
but tonight it is only
wind conjuring ghosts:
first Rex, fiercely unfriendly,
then, as though unleashed,
a host of other vanished dogs.

Now they run through my mind
as I trudge homeward.  Each one
an absence to be grieved for.
Every one remembered.




The image above is not Rex but instead a Rex Lookalike. Rex himself was a great deal more handsome.

Friday, 26 June 2015

POETS' CORNER










                       Philip Larkin
                          1922 -1985












Share with me, if you will, delight at the news that English writer, Philip Larkin, is to be honoured with a memorial stone at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.
Thirty years after his death, Larkin’s name will join a host of other famous poets, playwrights and writers commemorated there.
Philip Larkin's poetry has his detractors but I am not among them: on the contrary, I regard him as one the finest poets of the late Twentieth Century.
He is arguably the most quoted.
In selecting a Larkin poem, I was faced with a challenge because I admire so many of them. 

Here's an old favourite.


   
MCMXIV
 
Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;
 
And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;
 
And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;
 
Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word—the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.




Hear Philip Larkin read Arundel Tomb here:  
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acXxM2WAeNE

You’ll find other Philip Larkin poems here: 

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1964/jun/11/four-poems-byphilip-larkin

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

THE GENERATION GAME

I wrote The Hidden Traveller over twenty years ago, shortly after moving to Guernsey and entered it in a national poetry competition.
To my joy, it won the Alpha Poets Prize and I received a three-figure sum in prize money.
More importantly, this early success established me, a newcomer to the island, as part of the local arts scene, where I have remained, to a greater or lesser extent, ever since.
The Hidden Traveller proved to be one of my most popular poems and many people still refer to it with fondness.
It’s very different from the type of material I write now, but I still regard it as a strong poem and am happy to reprint it for my fellow-writer, Chris Hudson.




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 songbirds' 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.


Saturday, 20 June 2015

A DOG'S LIFE

Three years ago today, we had to say goodbye to our beloved Rufus, who finally conceded defeat after a three-year battle with diabetes and failing health.
A small dog who always appeared bigger than his physical limits, he was an unforgettable character.
A fierce and charismatic lad, yet butter-soft when seeking a caress, he was gentleness personified in human company, but no cat that crossed his path did so unchallenged. 
The world, or at least Guernsey, would be rodent-free, had Rufus had his way and a goodly number of much larger dogs retreated chastened, having tried to pull rank on him.
Sleep well, Old Soldier.
We miss you and your brutish gentleness.




RUFUS AT CHOUET

Run,
old dog,
run against
the ripe sea wind:
celebrate your body like a young dog.

Oh how my heart fills up with tears to watch
you, who was so
carelessly
youthful
once.



Click here: 

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

BATS AND HATS

My wife and I live on a lane close to the beautiful bay at Bordeaux and share our environment with an abundance of bird life.
Apart from the inevitable gulls, daily we see blackbirds, thrushes, tits, robins, wrens, and a regiment of sparrows.
In spring, swallows perform thrilling acrobatics in the narrow confines of the lane. 
After dark, however, this changes and swallows give way to those other amazing aerialists, bats.
Bats terrify my wife but I find them charming creatures and admire their remarkable flying skills.
Charming or otherwise, when dog-walking at night on our lane, it's advisable to wear a bat-hat.
Here's a short, fun poem about bats.   


 BATS

Two bats were hanging upside down:
said one bat, with an anxious frown,
“What worries me as I grow old
is not arthritis or the cold,
or even younger bats I see,
behaving antisocially.
What worries me, what makes me tense,
is suffering incontinence
for then I fear that I may drown
by peeing hanging upside down.”

Monday, 15 June 2015

KNOCKING ON HEAVEN'S DOOR

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy, in other countries, asylum from persecution. 
Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 14.

We, in modern Britain, are fortunate to benefit from a standard of living vastly beyond the expectations or imagination of our grandparents, and to enjoy a degree of security not shared by those who dwell in countries blighted by famine, war or the constant threat of war.
Our political leaders struggle to find a balance between securing our borders and extending the hand of compassion to the rising tide of refugees who stand at our door and knock. 
In the words of Dr Savitri Taylor: We must choose carefully how we treat the stranger among us, because our choice has serious implications for the stranger, but also for ourselves. 
 









 







HEAVEN'S DOOR

The immigration queue winds on
and slowly on, then out of sight.
We clutch our vouchers, move along:
in twos, with eyes downcast, polite;
a flock, a never-ending throng,
bent-shouldered, stricken, sick and drawn.
All, but our clothes and one small bag,
is lost: abandoned any how.
The future is relinquished too:
we live in the rude present now
and leave behind all that we knew:
possessions, symbols, honour, flag.
Officials, at the narrow gate,
are brusque beneath the moving lens
of cameras that seem alive.
We enter, gather in our pens,
like bees within a buzzing hive,
to wait, survive and procreate.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

LUCKY THIRTEENTH

William Butler Yeats, the celebrated Irish poet, was born this day, 13th June in 1839.



By W B Yeats

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes once had, and of their shadows deep; 

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.



For audio version click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TV11s8Mj1U4


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

LOVE AND DEATH (AGAIN)

In my previous post I remarked that the subjects of love and death tend to preoccupy me when I write. 
This poem started life as a love poem but I was dissatisfied with it and later rewrote it as the very different one you'll see below.
Maybe it's still a love poem.



 
RED UMBRELLA

It rained.
You held a red umbrella high,
leaned into me and whispered,
Sod the rain.
I realised that something had begun
that was unstoppable.

Time’s devoured
a lifetime of embraces since that day.
Now pain spreads like a red umbrella
as you lean into me.
The pillow, like an angel’s wing,
kisses my bloodless lips.


Monday, 8 June 2015

ONE HUNDRED WORDS FOR SNOW

As a reader, I find the poems that please me most are those that address the subjects of love and death, and these subjects tend to preoccupy me when I, in turn, am writing.
It's been a while since I've published a love poem so here's one from years ago that, to my mind, still retains its freshness.


SNOWFLAKES

Kisses can be so diverse.

I never knew before
how each is like a snowflake:
quite unique.

Within your arms, I am
drab terrain made beautiful
by drifting snow.






Sunday, 7 June 2015

THE END?


If, like me, you’re a writer of sorts, then it’s probably best to keep a low profile today.
June the Seventh has proved to be a fatal day for a number of notable poets, novelists and playwrights.

Dorothy Parker, E M Forster, Henry Miller and Denis Potter, all passed away on this day in 1967, 1970, 1980 and 1994 respectively.
So if you’re busy composing a sonnet or plotting the next chapter of your novel, stop now, draw the curtains and return to bed. 

No point in taking chances.


Thought for the Day

Monday, 1 June 2015

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON

Daily, we move unthinkingly back and forth over multiple layers of history, stepping through the dust and ashes of former lives, treading on the bones of our ancestors.
Young lovers, lying in a summer meadow, with no thought beyond themselves and the wondrous 'now' that they inhabit, spare no thought for the dead upon whose shoulders they recline, the dead who once were lovers too.  



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
 
here stand 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.