Bordeaux Bay

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

Saturday, 28 November 2015

MORE COLD COMFORT

Built at the Harland and Wolff Shipyard in Belfast, RMS Titanic was a prestigious addition to the White Star Line and widely regarded as unsinkable, so much so that it put to sea on its maiden voyage with only a token number of lifeboats.
As a young man, my maternal grandfather was employed as a shipyard worker in the construction of this legendary vessel, along with that of its sister ship, the RMS Olympic, and often spoke to me of the pride and camaraderie of the men who were involved in the massive project at Queens Island.
When it was launched in May 1911, the Titanic became the largest ship afloat. On its maiden voyage it carried a total of 2,224 passengers and crew, of whom 1,517 were lost when it struck an iceberg in the Atlantic.

Its subsequent, tragic story is well documented and has generated a legion of books, plays and films.






 














UNSINKABLE

Stiff-collared and stiff-upper-lipped,
they bade their womenfolk go first,
with children, into lifeboats
that were only there for show,
then, ramrod-straight on tilting decks,
they braved the icy, ill-starred night
or went below to congregate
with other men, pale, poker-faced,
in state-rooms loud with jokes and boasts,
to camouflage their growing fear,
as cocktails, spilled, or scattered cards
made nonsense of forlorn attempts
at nonchalance.

In that dark realm of bitter cold,
of signal-flares and glacial stars,
where massively impassive bergs
moved sure and silently as gods;
where all around, like tombstones, ranged,
squat ice-flows gleamed a ghostly white,
snow fell, in feathered silence, then
on black waves breaking endlessly
on lifeboats, where survivors prayed,
their upturned faces, pinched and wan,
for fathers, lovers, husbands, sons;
but when such supplication failed,
prayed for salvation.






Tuesday, 24 November 2015

COLD COMFORT

The Terra Nova Expedition ended badly for Captain Scott and his colleagues, all of whom perished on the journey home from the South Pole.
Three bodies were discovered, frozen in their tent, by a rescue party in November 1912.
A makeshift cross was put in place, the tent was collapsed over its occupants and a cairn erected. 
This poem was delivered at November’s Open Mic event which took place at La Villette Hotel in St Martin and was inspired by a conversation with fellow-poet, Gordon, during the interval at a previous Open Mic event.

  




























MEN IN ICE

Three figures, shrouded by a broken tent,
lie, curled like question marks, in icy death.
A group of living men
with breaths, collectively, like exhaled ghosts,
pronounce for them a brief but solemn prayer
and execute one last salute,
then leave departing footprints in fresh snow.

Years pass.
A century of change occurs.
Two great wars come.
God dies.
Prayers seem a waste of effort.
Man strives for planets not for poles.
Sons become fathers, grandfathers, then dust.

Scott, Bowers, Wilson, shrouded still,
lie frozen in Antarctica,
as far from home as any man can be.
Entombed in ice, preserved
unchanged, they seem to sleep.
Amidst the floating bergs
a massive silence rings.


Sunday, 22 November 2015

GLOOMY SUNDAY

Somewhere in the midst of this troubled month, I had a birthday: another one to add to the many.
I suppose I should be grateful to be still alive and kicking, as indeed I am, but getting old’s a grim process with few consolations.
I wrote this poem on my birthday a couple of years ago and perhaps it was because I completed it during one of the most gloomy months of the year that it turned out to be a melancholy one.
On the other hand, it may have little to do with the weather and much to do with the pessimism of a melancholic poet*.

(* Is there any other kind?)





BIRTHDAY POEM

Growing old is far from easy:
a steady accumulation
of aches, regrets, fears. The queasy
harbingers of life’s cessation,
appear like hungry beasts,
or over-zealous priests.

Being young was quite a test:
all those certainties intermixed
with uncertainty.  Who’d have guessed,
way back then, that the game was fixed.
Before we embarked,
dice were loaded, cards marked.

We all thought old was thirty-five:
death, the horizon, far away.
Too full of life to feel alive,
our gold transmuted into clay,
we sleepwalked through our years.
Now it must end in tears.




Wednesday, 18 November 2015

SECULAR PRAYERS

A poem seems a poor response to the terrible events that have taken place in France during the last few days, but if a poem can be considered a type of secular prayer, perhaps this one, first published following the Charlie Hebdo massacre, may be appropriate. 














LAMENT 

Ice petals on the blackthorn bough,
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.




Friday, 13 November 2015

LIGHT FANTASTIC

I wrote this poem ages ago and have resisted the urge to tinker with it. 
Only the title has been changed, otherwise it remains unaltered from the original draft.  
I wanted to create an aesthetically pleasing image in the form of two poems that would function either separately or together depending on how the reader approached them/it.
The picture below is of Paris, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and strikes me as a suitable accompaniment to the words.



CITY OF LIGHT


we meet on a sunlit bridge               in an ancient city in spring
and our shadows merge                      we meet like eager lovers
inhaling sweetness                                       your cool skin scent
apple blossom                                                    drenches my lips
the river                                                                            the light
sings                                                                                        sings


wings                                                                                    wishes
or  prayers                                                                       unspoken
sweep overhead                                                   escape like birds
        we stand like statues                                our lips eyes fingertips         
our vows now set in stone               connect to become but one
sky a purple mass of starlings     stretching beyond and beyond

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

GRIEF ENCOUNTER

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, I've been featuring war-related poems. Today’s is the last in the sequence, entitled Roots.
World War One, sometimes referred to as The Great War, was often spoken of as “The war to end all wars”.
In fact, this was very far from the case, for mankind has gone on to develop a taste for war on an even grander scale.
It seems that warfare, like a virus, mutates.
The Second World War, two decades later, involved airborne attacks on enemy territory which, inevitably, led to massive civilian casualties, while today, through further mutation, we appear to be in the throes of a third worldwide conflict, this time, terrorist-driven: yet another struggle for survival against the forces of darkness. 



ROOTS   

An Englishman and German met in France:
their encounter
was not amicable.
A German bayonet ended the fight
though the Englishman had an equal chance
but, being English, he was too polite
and said:
You go first.
He was unable
to overrule nurture.
Now flowers grow
where he fell.
And the German, what of him? 
A piece of shrapnel flew into his brain
and killed him too.
Now they both lie below
a spreading tree,
the slayer and the slain:
its roots bind them together, limb to limb.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

WAR GAMES

Around the time of Remembrance Day, I’m featuring poems relating to the Great War 1914 -1918. 
Today’s is based on the reported events during a brief cessation of hostilities at Christmas 1914. 
Interestingly, the retailer, Sainsbury's, chose to use a dramatised version of the football match in their Christmas advertising campaign last year.



















CHRISTMAS 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.

 Click here to see the Sainsbury's ad.


Friday, 6 November 2015

SKYFALL

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, I’ve been featuring war-related poems. Today’s is Turquoise Sky.
The fact that 60,000 casualties occurred on the first day at the Somme may give the impression that this was a battle speedily ended. This was far from the case.
Fighting continued for some four and a half months and resulted in over one million dead or wounded.



 













TURQUOISE SKY 

The child’s eyes are full of fear. He sees
light subtly altered, fields pulsating red.
Be a brave soldier, his mother soothes
and tucks him back in bed.

His father’s eyes are full of fear. He yells:
Get ready Men. Men tremble in the pit
then go over the top, following his shout.
Soldiers in dirty khaki kit.

No time for words or thoughts of home.
Only a moment to glance upwards and spy
something silver falling towards him
out of a turquoise sky.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

LAST POST?

In the run-up to Remembrance Day, I’ll be featuring war-related poems, starting today with Letter Home, written as a homage to the style of the War Poets



LETTER HOME 

The trenches are awash with mud.
We share this hell with rats and dead
while mortar shells scream overhead
and all the world is choked with blood.

We came as boys: some never aged
but died with childhood in their eyes.
Should we grow old, their fearful cries
will haunt us.  So, like scapegoats caged

before a hungry tiger’s eye,
we wait for them, the bloody foe,
to charge with bayonets and know
what we must do, but never why.

This futile madness makes me weep.
Such sacrifice for little gain.
Fear only quelled by fearful pain.
Let death be but an endless sleep.