Bordeaux Bay

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

Thursday, 30 July 2015

PICTURE THIS

So, what comes first ... the poem or the image? 
Almost invariably, I'd answer, the poem, and so far as this blog is concerned, images are a postscript, sought and selected to complement the written word.
There are, however, exceptions, and here is one of them.
I found this vintage image and knew immediately that it warranted a poem.
Whether or not this short poem does it justice is for you to decide.
I suspect the shepherd, wherever he may be, will not care a jot.  




















SHEPHERD

He keeps sheep on the high hill,
has two dogs, one young, one old,
hands that look ten years older
than the skin on his white back,
a sharp eye for weather, ear
for harp-wind in the tall trees.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

RAINDROPS KEEP FALLING ON MY HEAD

In my experience, Guernsey’s at its best during the months of spring and summer, whilst autumn and winter here can be pretty dire.
When spring and summer deliver their potential there are few better places to be.
Guernsey, however, suffers one huge disadvantage. It’s within the British Isles and is thus subject to British weather.
This means that summer doesn’t always provide sunshine, but instead treats us to constant rain and gunmetal skies.

This July, in particular, has proved a huge disappointment to those who, like myself, relish the sun's warmth.
Here’s a short poem about the British preoccupation with weather and the way that we employ it as an opening gambit in many of our conversations.

Here, too, is a picture, taken between downpours, of our garden at Bordeaux in all its summer glory.  


Garden designed, created and nurtured by my wife, Jane.     Photo by Shaun Gourley.


WEATHER

We talk to strangers, we British,
about the weather.

It’s what we call
a neutral subject.

It seems that there are
endless permutations:
countless ways to say
nothing of importance

while things that should be said
or might be said, remain unsaid.

A sadness, perhaps?

Oh well, at least it’s not raining.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

REASON TO RHYME

From early childhood, we grow up with rhymes and rhythms that embed themselves within us in the much same way that later on, lyrics from popular songs tend to do.
During my childhood, numerous family tales, frequently retold, took on an incantatory quality not dissimilar to prayer.
I sometimes wish I wrote less with rhyme because it seems to anchor me to a style of poetry that is no longer fashionable.
I do, however, find it stimulating to rise to the challenge of a strict rhyme scheme and the successful conclusion of such a poem provides a degree of satisfaction akin, I imagine, to what a mathematician must derive in solving a complex numerical challenge.
The trick is not to allow adherence to form to nullify the emotion that inspired the poem in the first place.
 



















SWANS
 

When we awoke the lake had turned to glass.
We ventured out into the crystal glare,
in rubber boots, through luminescent snow,
and were amazed, for nothing could surpass
the magic stillness of December air.
On glinting ice, young people skated slow,
their eyes, beneath their tousled hair, aglow.

Our exhaled breaths were visible; we laughed
to see bold skaters gliding on the lake
as in warm summer evenings wild swans do, 
white-sailed, austere, like splendid sailing craft
and, as we watched, there came a sudden ache
as I remembered, long ago we too
were young and fleet, before the wild swans flew.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

FUTURE NATURE

Guernsey’s Open Mic' Poetry evenings, ably administered by local writers, Lester Queripel and John Blaise, are well attended and always prove to be interesting events.
Each month a theme is chosen for the following month’s performance. 

July’s topic was Nature, August’s is The Future.
I thought I’d try my hand at combining both themes in this poem.  





 












THE NATURE ROOM

And here we have the Nature Room.
Step in. Do not tread on the grass.
See, we have realistic trees,
many flowers, also birdsong.
Notice the scent of fertile earth
and how the clouds appear to move.
Over there is a waterfall:
that is a recent addition.
The climate is strictly controlled.
We can simulate ice and snow,
or order Winter, summon Spring.
We are proud of our Nature Room.
It has been reproduced with care.
All that you will see and touch here
resembles the Old-World-That-Was
but is superior. Control
is the key. See how the rain falls
and how it stops. All so easy.
In the river there are salmon,
but not real fish, you understand,
for these, too, are artificial.
This river will never run dry
and not one tree will ever fall.
Technology is the answer.
Things were too slippery before
too unrestrained, disorganised.
Behold, now we control it all.
Look, we also have butterflies.
 

Friday, 17 July 2015

TREE OF LIFE

One of the first poems I ever wrote, back in my early twenties, was about a boy climbing a huge tree then disappearing, while his friends stood below and called out to him in vain.
The tree I based that early poem on was situated in Stormont woods where we seemed to play endlessly, back in those innocent days of the Nineteen Fifties.
That massive beech was a magnet for boys: a special place, a site for ritual and solemn vows, where rival gangs met and many a scrap took place.  

From its high branches there was a view, for miles, of placid fields and ever-encroaching suburbia. 
The Big Tree, as we called it, has featured again and again over the years in my poems and, unsurprisingly, here it is again.  





TREE
 
 
Up the rope ladder climbs the lad,
up, up into a cave of green
whose leaves surround him, sweet and sad.
The light there is aquamarine,
a patchwork of soft leaf and sky
where clouds, like icebergs, trundle by.

This is his special hiding place,
his eyrie. His bright kestrel eye
can spot, where grasses interlace,
the timid field-mouse scurry by,
a sparrow on the window ledge
or cat patrolling by the hedge.

The tree is vast, its branches stout:
he climbs through foliage to light.
With eager hands, he reaches out
to apprehend the sun in flight.
Perhaps he falls and, injured, bleeds.
Perhaps he seizes it, succeeds.

Monday, 13 July 2015

BROUGHT TO ACCOUNT

The trial has ended in Lunenburg of 94 year old Oskar Groening, the so-called "Bookkeeper of Auschwitz".
Groening was charged with complicity in the murder of 300,000 Hungarian Jews between May and June 1944.
He was found guilty earlier this month and the Prosecution is calling for a custodial sentence.
Because of the advanced age of those Germans who participated in the Holocaust, this is thought to be one of the last trials of its sort that will take place. 
Just over one million people, mostly European Jews, perished in Auschwitz camp between 1940 and 1945.





















THE BOOKKEEPER

Beneath the surface of himself
he lives a life alternative:
a mole’s life, secretive, unseen,
black-suited, moving in blackness,
labyrinthine, blacker than black.

You would not think that as he smiles
his static, bureaucratic smile,
stands up, straightens his uniform,
opens his book, murmurs some spell,
that he’s consigning you to Hell.

Friday, 10 July 2015

VOYAGES OF DISCOVERY

Living at Bordeaux bay, I am never more than a couple of minutes away from boats, either bobbing at anchor when the tide is high or lying helpless like upturned beetles when the tide has gone out.
Few views surpass that of a host of brightly-coloured fishing boats bobbing on the incredible blue of our bay at full tide on a sunny summer morning.
I’m not a nautical man though I’ve briefly owned a boat and thoroughly enjoy the experience of being a passenger on small craft.
I have fond memories of trips on Lakes Garda and Orta and excursions on tiny charter boats off the Aeolian islands.
As a child I remember the excitement, when on holiday, of discovering an old broken-down hull and the thrill of crawling inside to explore.
Lying on my back, looking up through the splintered boards, it seemed as though the world had been reversed: the sky was a vast endless sea and the sun, a golden Leviathan cruising the deep.
This poem is about young love and explorations of one kind or another beneath an upturned boat.






BENEATH THE BOAT

Abandoned, out of reach of tides,
an upturned boat with broken bow
and faded paintwork on its sides,
drew them like supplicants, on foot
through dunes and beach-grass, to its shell.
To enter it, they ducked beneath
its beams of salted timber, knelt
in humid, damp, salt-smelling gloom.
Crouched there, they whispered promises
like spells to ward away the dark
and clung together, yes, yes, yes,
in sinful, prideful loveliness.
Alive, exalted, they became,
a complicated knot entwined
as lovers are in lovers’ beds,
as poems are in poets’ heads.


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

UNHAPPY ANNIVERSARY

Today is the tenth anniversary of the 7th July London bombings that caused the deaths of more than 50 people and signaled the emergence of "homegrown jihadists' murdering in the name of Islam.
I was in London that day and found the atmosphere depressingly reminiscent of the bad old days in Belfast, when Irish Republican terrorists routinely targeted civilians and when coordinated bombing attacks on the city centre were a regular occurrence.
It's sad to relate that many of the leaders and supporters of that IRA campaign are now prominent in government in Northern Ireland.
Might we expect their Islamist equivalents elected to Westminster in the fullness of time?
I wrote this poem immediately after the Charlie Hebdo murders in Paris. It seems appropriate to feature it again today.



















LAMENT 
 

Ice petals on the blackthorn bow,
in twilight, masquerade as white
but it will never blossom now.
The world is slipping into night.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

For generations to be born
into a world without birth-right,
for darkness, fast approaching, mourn.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

Grieve for the final, breaking wave
that slips away, the bird in flight
that falls to earth, the hungry grave.
The world is slipping into night.

Tears in the grey, relentless rain
resemble signatures we write
on farewell notes imbued with pain.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.

Lament the sharpness of the blade,
the flesh, so vulnerable and slight,
the future plans so rashly made.
The world is slipping into night.

We must stand firm, repudiate
the bullet in its ghastly flight,
the torrent of extremist hate.
The world is slipping into night.
Weep for the last-extinguished light.




Saturday, 4 July 2015

BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY

Today our little Border terrier, Holly, has achieved the venerable age of SEVENTEEN.
Born on the Fourth of July 1998, Holly was not the most prepossessing of puppies: small, underweight, and apparently far from robust, she arrived, sight-unseen, from a breeder in Guildford: her only outstanding characteristic was her stubbornness.
Stubbornness is a traditional terrier trait, but other attributes were noticeibly absent. 
She displayed no interest whatsoever in hunting or chasing and steadfastly ignored any rabbit or cat that chose to cross her path. 
She was and is, however, intensely loyal and loving and receives much adoration in return.
Few would have predicted such longevity, but here she is, bless her, seventeen today. 
I wrote this poem a few years ago, inspired by the daily experience of walking Hols in our lane at Bordeaux and the similarity between the words, cord, accord, and a chord.  


Jane and Hols at Chouet beach, Guernsey.



















ACCORD

On the lane we walk together
in some small semblance of order:
not regimented, hardly that.
She’s spontaneous, this small Border,
stubborn, freethinking, like a cat
fleet-footed, floats like a feather.

Between us, a retracting lead
adapts to our differing pace:
she walks to heel then stops to sniff.
The lead holds us in its embrace,
one moment close and then as if
estranged again. So we proceed.

How similar to love, this cord
in its extending to and fro.
Though distant, we are not apart
like tides, emotions come and go
One heart linked to another heart
in perfect harmony: a chord.


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

FIFTY SHADES OF GRIEF

Paul Simon sang that there are 'fifty ways to leave your lover’ but there are also numerous ways in which the ones we love can leave us. 
Loss through bereavement is inevitable in a lifelong relationship and we accept this but the loss of a loved one through Alzheimer’s or addiction, when a physical presence remains though the mind has effectively departed, must be a particularly bitter loss and the ensuing grief, immeasurable. 
The following poem is about loss.













 


HIS ROOM
 

His paperbacks are still in order
above the desk. His football boots,
the radio and voice recorder,
old hoodies, t-shirts, office suits,     
that he so carefully arranged
hang neatly: all seems quite unchanged.

Such jigsaw pieces give no clue
to who he was beneath the skin.
The childish shape, that he outgrew,
returned as he became stick thin:
a zombie with a shoulder-chip
as jagged as a needle’s tip.



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