Bordeaux Bay

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

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: ROCQUAINE MERMAID

Poet Peter Kenny and I go back a long way.
We stumbled upon each others writing many years ago in the Guernsey Attic Press, a satirical arts magazine
(now, sadly, defunct) but didn’t actually meet until much later.
Although our approach to poetry is different, there is much that we have in common, so when, in 2010, Peter suggested a collaboration in the form of two collections of poems within the same covers, I readily agreed.
The result was A Guernsey Double, which incorporated two small volumes, The Boy Who Fell Upwards (Peter's contribution) and The Man Who Landed (mine) and some snappy artwork from Betsy Alvarez. 

It featured fifty poems on a Guernsey theme, was supported by the Guernsey Arts Commission, and sold remarkably well by poetry standards.
A few copies remain available at amazon.co.uk or via this blog’s Publications page.
Today’s poem, Rocquaine Mermaid, in common with all those you can read here during GUERNSEY WEEK, appeared in my segment of A Guernsey Double.
Rocquaine Bay is situated on the rugged west coast of Guernsey. At high tide, its granite coastal-walls withstand a constant battering from the sea. When storm conditions prevail, boulders and seaweed often make this stretch of coast road impassible.
At low tide, however, an extensive area of sand and rocks attracts children and adults alike, eager to search the nooks and crannies of rock-pools for baby crabs or tiny fish.
Bird-life is abundant and you can spot a huge variety of seabirds, from oystercatchers to snowy egrets.
Not many people, however, spot a mermaid.


 http://www.visitguernsey.com




ROCQUAINE MERMAID

She heaved herself up on a barnacled rock;
sea-water broke from her sun-blond hair
down over shoulders, freckled with salt:
a broad-breasted sea-nymph
launched from bright water.

No seal she, nor odd fish either,
but strangeness enough
in her queer duality.
Something feral
in those luminous eyes, some leonine thing
in the strong, broad face
turning, in sunlight,
to Lihou, Fort Grey.

Trapped
in triangular space,
among moonscape rocks, sea-wall, sky,
too close to shore or for comfort;
misplaced, adrift
in a place unfamiliar,
she saw me, heron-still
in chill water, staring, staring

and slid like a seal, soundlessly, smoothly,
into the rising tide’s rich, sweet sanctuary,

leaving me,
human me, her land-locked kin,
excluded, bereft, imprisoned in air,
with a longing to hold her, inhale
her salt skin,
to fill my rough hands with wet fistfuls of hair.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: FERMAIN FLIGHT

When I first came to live in Guernsey, I used to run on the scenic cliff paths which partially encircle the island. 
The views are magnificent, although the paths themselves are rugged and challenging, with frequent flights of granite steps climbing upwards or down, depending on the terrain. 
Hard work for a runner but exhilarating in a way that long-distance road running can rarely be.
Nowadays, somewhat older, I walk, rather than run, these paths but the sense of exhilaration remains.
Coming down the steep hillside towards the bay, through the woodland above Fermain, with salty air rising to meet me and the magnificent view of the sea unfolding, is enough to make the heart sing.
http://www.visitguernsey.com 
















 
FERMAIN FLIGHT

The trees stand random, not in rows;
the path ahead weaves side to side;
bright sunlight falls on branch and bough
as, overhead, white jet-planes glide,
their tracks like furrows from a plough
on a blue field where nothing grows
not even clumps of cloud today,
nothing to mask the brightness, fair,
but swallows sailing like thrown stones
across an endlessness of air.
At the cliff’s foot, sea sways and moans
on this rough coast by Fermain Bay.

Down over mulched roots, swift, I go;
boots drive me over waking ground,
past tall trees, spring leaves richly rife,
drawn by seductive ocean sound
down to the salty source of life.
Deep, endless deep then gently slow,
the tide’s raw pull envelops me:
bright shoals collide behind my eyes;
trees sweep like waves to left and right;
the heart, set free, begins to rise.
Transfigured, winged, in green sunlight,
I soar, ecstatic, to the sea.

Monday, 29 August 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: VAZON SHORELINE

Some years ago, Jane and I found ourselves briefly resident in the Vazon Bay area, just minutes from the island's longest beach. 
I used to walk our Border terriers, Rufus and Holly, on the sands each day and began this poem on returning home from the beach the morning after a major storm.
http://www.visitguernsey.com 













VAZON SHORELINE

After the storm,
a cleansed beach to walk upon
and early sunlight on washed sand.

Gulls guard the tide line,
police the sea: soft breezes ruffle
feathers, not composure.
Arrogant figures with dagger beaks
and pale, dispassionate eyes
of contract killers,
they stare me out.
Plovers race along like commuters,
hurrying, hurrying,
shoulders bent, drab as clerks,
then dart into collective flight
sprinting low over water,
their silver under-wings
glinting, glinting.

Black and white oystercatchers,
tiptoe round rock-pools:
liveried butlers polishing mirrors.
A single white egret shimmers
like a jilted bride.

After the storm,
a cleansed beach in sunlight;
the blanched sand
an unspoilt page.

Overnight, the world stopped.
Now it begins again.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

GUERNSEY WEEK: INTRO

This week I intend to feature seven of my Guernsey poems, one each day, from the 2010 collection, A Guernsey Double, which is an interesting little back-to-back  publication that showcased the work of Brighton-based writer, Peter Kenny and myself.
Peter is a freelance writer whose credits include poetry, stage plays and musical collaborations. Some of his many successes have been reported here on this blog as, no doubt, will be the many still to come.
Here’s an extract from the press release back in 2010 with a splendid endorsement from Professor Edward Chaney, author of the recently published biography of G B Edwards, Genius Friend.























I’ll follow it with a poem entitled Garden Diary, which I wrote when I lived in an old converted chapel in St Pierre du Bois, one of the high Parishes of the island.
It’s blank verse, not my usual rhyming lines, but I think it works well nonetheless.
I haven’t revisited A Guernsey Double for some time because I’ve tended to think of it as a bit quaint: a far cry from the sort of thing I write nowadays, but rereading it, prior to publication here, I’m heartened by the honesty and clarity of some of the poems. 
Tomorrow, and throughout the week, I’ll feature poems from the book, seven in total as part of Guernsey Week.

If you want to read the full collection, including Peter's poems, you might like to buy A Guernsey Double online from amazon or via this blog.
http://www.visitguernsey.com 























GARDEN DIARY
 

Old Sion Chapel wall is high:
the ladder feels precarious.
Up here, I combat vertigo,
fix nesting boxes to hard stone
with fingers, winter-wounded-cold,
claw hammer, last year’s rusty nails.
Below, the bird-table is strung
with nuts in cages, fatballs, seeds.
The Parish beech trees all seem dead,
my garden tools are stained with rust.
Wood-smoke, soft dew, birdsong, light,
this mellow January day,
awake my hibernating heart
as. high above, jet trails on blue
chalk out simple geometry.
The hours hang in the chill air.
Damp earth within the Chapel yard
smells like dank cemetery soil
that sucks away without return.

Today I knelt to plant small bulbs,
each squat shape pressed into the loam
like buttons on a telephone:
their planting, one long number dialled.
Down wires of weeks, green life will hum,
till springtime, when these mended hands
may pluck, from softly yielding ground,
bright blooms like syllables of sound.


Thursday, 25 August 2016

MERMAIDS

During the recent heatwave, we've been sea-bathing, Jane and I, and although we each have a different definition of what that entails, it's been fun.
While Jane has been teaching herself to swim and totally immersing herself, I, on the other hand, have been venturing little further than knee-deep into the water.
My earliest experiences of sea-bathing were on Northern Ireland's Atlantic coast, where the water temperatures were, and doubtless still are, little short of Arctic and my earliest memories are of wading out, shivering, into the icy breakers before shakily returning to shore, my woolen bathing trunks waterlogged and saggy, to tremble uncontrollably despite quantities of hot tea and gritty sandwiches.
 

You can imagine then, how much I admire Claire Thorburn, an acquaintance of Jane's, who is about to attempt to swim the positively frightening sea channel between the Farne Islands and Northumberland.  
Claire's fundraising for The Alzheimer's Society and also The British Divers Marine Life Rescue charities. You'll find details here: http://www.northumberlandgazette.co.uk/news/local-news/claire-combats-a-sea-of-phobias-for-charity-1-8063729
 And now to the poem.
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.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

THE GRAND (DIS) ILLUSION

My poem, Rope Trick, first appeared in Reach Magazine but, sadly, the published version contained a misprint which dealt it a death blow. 
Misprints in short stories can usually be overcome by context and an astute reader, but in a poem, where every word has a carefully selected role, one print error is enough to sink it. This then is the error-free version, the Director’s Cut, so to speak, written back when we discovered that our friends in 'the finance industry' really weren’t our friends at all.


 
  ROPE TRICK

Upward, upward, upward he goes
on the taut rope in dusty heat 
defying gravity, belief.
One rope end lies, sweat-oiled, coiled, neat,
on a soiled, cheesecloth handkerchief.
From his father’s pipe, music flows.

The other end climbs vertically,
upward and attached to nothing
and up that swaying ladder, there,
a small brown boy, with gold ear-ring,
shins, this red morning, while we stare
with breathless incredulity.

We western tourists: Brits, fat Yanks,
believe mostly in disbelief.
Dull cynicism is our way:
debunking magic is our brief.
It’s just a bloody trick! we say, 
who trust in pension plans and banks. 





R.I.P. SIR ANTONY JAY


The joint creator of the classic television series, Yes Minister, and its equally funny sequel, Yes Prime Minister, died earlier this week, aged 86.
Here’s a clip from one of my favourite episodes of Yes Prime Minister, which cleverly sums up the reading habits of the British people:- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DGscoaUWW2M

Sunday, 21 August 2016

KNIFE EDGE

I suppose that at one time or other we've all wondered what the future holds in store for us: fame, wealth, love, or even heartbreak. 
There are Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, Horoscopes and clairvoyants whose palms you'll doubtless have to cross with silver, along with a seemingly endless number of other less well-known methods, but in my view, something as simple as a kitchen knife, spun on a table top, has the edge over them all.

















DIVINATION

spin the knife  
on a table top
 
watch it imitate  
time accelerated
clock hands flying   

watch life rush
away    


its sure escape  
mesmerizing  

ask a question  

knife rotates  

somewhere out there
something waits

Friday, 19 August 2016

STRIKING IT LUCKY

Here's a piece of verse from the Noir sequence that a wrote a couple of years ago, partly as a homage to the 'B-Movies' of my youth and partly to help dispel a bout of writers' block which was making any creative work challenging.
It's one of a couple of dozen rhyming poems, on the theme of gangsters, dames, cigarettes and whiskey, that I wrote quickly over a period of a few weeks.
By switching style and subject matter from what I was accustomed to, I had enormous fun and rediscovered my hunger for writing.



LUCKY STRIKE

I get in, swallowing my pride.
Where to? I ask her and she smiles.
Be cool, Cool Guy: gimme a light.
She inhales deep then off we glide.
The dame’s in charge, somehow it riles:
gals driving guys just ain’t polite,

but she’s like no dame that I’ve met:
drives like a guy, acts smart and tough.
I talk, she drives; she talks, I smoke
a Lucky Strike: great cigarette.
I’ve struck it lucky, sure enough:
the gal, the money, at a stroke.




Monday, 15 August 2016

STRAP LINE

Back in the days when corporal punishment was deemed the correct way to discipline wayward children, the threat of a father's anger was enough to make the most recalcitrant lad shiver.






















THE STRAP

Black as a conger eel,
it hung from a hook on the bathroom door,
slid through my dreams like hunger,

lay beneath bridges of sleep, leathery, malign,
purposeful in dark water.

Awareness was always there.
                          If you don’t stop that and behave
you’ll get strapped when your father comes home.

And the threat worked, most of the time.

But when wildness outran caution,
we waited, heads bowed,
eyes on the latch;

the strap laid out
on a bare table;

hands of the clock
hardly moving at all.

Friday, 12 August 2016

INTERIOR WORLDS

Many of our earliest terrors become embedded in our psyche. They are never entirely forgotten. I wonder whether some of them emerge again, in our final hours, from an imagined wardrobe's dark interior or, stealthily, from beneath the bed. 














BOGEYMAN

The thing that woke you nightly as a child,
that squatted in a corner and exhaled
foul promises,
returns in these last moments,
as your older self sinks down,
to mar the room’s sterility
with nauseating breath,
to whisper those familiar
obscenities again.



A WHALE OF A TIME (For Writers)

If you were born in August you share your birth month with a number of famous writers. 


Along with Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, the list includes James Baldwin, Isabel Allende, Rupert Brooke, P D James, Leon Uris, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Guy de Maupassant, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Sara Teasdale, Izaak Walton, John Dryden, Philip Larkin, Jonathan Kellerman, Lawrence Binyon, Hugh MacDiarmid, Enid Blyton, Robert Southey, William Goldman, John Galsworthy, Sir Walter Scott, T E Lawrence, Stieg Larsson, Georgette Heyer, Ted Hughes, Ogden Nash, Jacqueline Susann, Robert Stone, E. Annie Proulx, Colm Tóibín, William Ernest Henley, Willy Russell, Robert Herrick, Jean Rhys, A.S. Byatt, Brian Moore, Sir John Buchan, Guillaume Apollinaire, Christopher Isherwood, Confucius, Theodore Dreiser, C.S. Forester, Ira Levin, Antonia Fraser, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Leo Tolstoy, Sir John Betjeman, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Preston Sturges, Thom Gunn, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and William Saroyan.
The list is not exhaustive by any means, tht's only the ones that write in, or have been translated into, English, but it gives you some idea of the wealth of literary talent born this month.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

PHOENIX RISES

I began writing poetry and short stories while in my early twenties and by the time I reached thirty had realised the limitations of my talent. 
Around that time I gathered together everything I had written, hundreds of typewritten pages, and burned them.
I didn't write again for twenty years.
One or two of the early poems survived (those that had already been published in one magazine or another) and rose from the ashes like the proverbial Phoenix.
The poem below, At Grandfather's, is one of them.
It gained favour with, what was then a fairly new literary magazine, The Honest Ulsterman, which I believe still exists under its modern title, HU.
I discovered a copy of the magazine a few years ago, made some amendments to the original, and included it in Strange Journey, my second collection of poems, published in 2012. 
My paternal grandfather lived in Hillman Street, in north Belfast, and was an inveterate gambler, drinker and all-round wild man. 
Both he and his wife, my grandmother, lived into their nineties and, whilst I doubt that hers was a particularly happy life, I never heard her complain.
This poem below is autobiographical and refers to an occasion my brother and I stayed overnight with them.



















AT GRANDFATHER’S

Along the entry he would come caterwauling,
striking bin-lids with his stick,
through the backyard knocking over milk bottles.
Up the wooden stair, rolling like a tar,
to lifeboat-bed and disapproval:
his salty, mermaid wife growling like an ocean.
On Sunday mornings there,
we children crouched, like mice,
digesting toast and catechisms,
as grandma stepped, stiff-backed, around him.
He would be still as stone, his bowl of porridge cooling.

Friday, 5 August 2016

SIREN SONG

There's something about the sound of a siren, be it ambulance or police car, that chills the blood in much the same way as the fabled shriek of the banshee is said to do in rural Ireland. 
It reminds me of the fragile hold we have on life, on our mortality.

















MEMENTO MORI
An ambulance howls like a hurt cat;
parts traffic as Moses did the waves.
Worms burrow in awaiting graves.
A police car buzzes like a gnat.

Stuck in a jam of steaming cars,
I contemplate how life transforms
in moments. How they wait, those worms,
so patiently, for us, for ours.

Monday, 1 August 2016

TRUMPED UP CHARGES

The title of this long poem, The Ministry of Fear, is shared with that of a novel by Graham Greene, published in 1943 and made into a film of the same name the following year.
I chose the poem's title with no awareness of Greene's book and found that the greatest challenge in writing it was to limit the number of verses as they kept rolling off my pen.
Although I'm generally suspicious of any writing that seems to happen easily, as The Ministry of Fear did, I'm not displeased with the end result, despite its echoes of Orwell and Kafka. 
History informs us that the threat of war or instability often inclines the population towards leaders that are perceived to be strong, even though they may rapidly become despots whose rule is totalitarian.  
Images of Vladimir Putin and of Donald Trump were never far from my mind while I worked on these verses.













 

THE MINISTRY OF FEAR

All hail The Leader, raise a hand,
a clenched fist for the mighty State:
the whole world is his to command
or soon will be, at any rate.
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.

 

Down in the Ministry of Fear,
pale clerks, with eyes as dead as stones,
breathe in, an icy atmosphere
as, deft, they juggle telephones
to call the media and hacks
and warn them all to guard their backs.

Fear is the lubricant they use
to grease the cogs that turn the wheel,
to influence world-news and views,
contrive to make the unreal real,
set Faction A on Faction B,
erode the roots of liberty.

They know that fear is stronger far
than love, compassion, kindness, care;
that threat of insurrection, war,
will serve to make all men aware
that blind allegiance is required,
that dumb obedience is hard-wired.

The Ministry of Fear proclaims
that all shall kneel and all obey
the Leader and the Leader’s aims
and daily to their children say:
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.

 

At Fear they like to play mind-games:
there dead-eyed officers confer,
examine lists and highlight names
or conjure fresh names out of air.
The Black Lists and the White Lists grow:
the officers know what they know.

There is a squad of angry guards
that are dispatched from time to time
to break down doors, smash panes to shards,
and seize those that are charged with crime
against the State, omnipotent,   
the protester, the malcontent,

and fetch them each to give account
then lock them up, their names erased,
lost in the system, a miscount
of numbers: they become untraced
if ever loving husband, wife,
should launch petition for their life.
 

Down in the Ministry of Fear
are rooms with photographs and names
of mutineer and pamphleteer
and all their secret hopes and shames:
their 1-2-3, their A-B-C
and dossiers on you and me.

As if at random, purges come
and randomly men disappear:
statistics are what they become
within the Ministry of Fear.
The stranger, neighbour, cousin, friend,
all rot in dungeons in the end.

What rough interrogation there?
What questions, answerable or not?
What violence is brought to bear
to make one tell what one cannot?
With self-respect and hope denied,
no one could blame men if they lied

and if their falsehoods laid a trail
that brought attention to one’s gate
and all one’s explanations fail,
the prison cell’s an awful fate.
What agony, beyond despair
to be incarcerated there.

The questions, questions without end,
the answers scribbled on a page,
the knowledge that one must depend
on reason, but they disengage,
these questioners, and hurl abuse:
for sanity, they have no use.

If there is nothing to confess
then something must be found, of course.
When pain begins, then, Yes Yes Yes ...
they damn their friends without remorse.
But agonies, far worse, await,
all in the interests of the State.

The needle that invades the eye
the razor blade, the severed ear,
electrodes pressed against the thigh:
this is the Ministry of Fear,
where, it is said, there is a wing
where, from the ceiling, handcuffs swing,

where detainees all pray for death
and howl and damn their mother’s womb
for bearing them, bestowing breath.
The souls within this living tomb,
whose skulls will decorate the shelves,
are lost to light and to themselves.

The officers that read our mail,
(that track our cell-phone’s every peep,
record our murmurs without fail,
that monitor us when we sleep,
that see a crime in every text,
that may decide we should be next

to make that trip without return,
down to the Ministry of Fear
to face interrogators, stern,
then gaolers that abuse and jeer
as we lie puking in the grime)
are simply jobsworths marking time.

They wake each day to feed the cat,
walk dog, hug children, watch TV.
Who would believe they could do that
to innocents like you and me?
They who destroy without a fuss
are ultimately men like us.

Now praise The Leader, raise a hand,
a clenched fist for the mighty State:
the whole world is his to command
or soon will be, at any rate.
When fear is great, when right means wrong,
support a leader that is strong.