Bordeaux Bay

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

Thursday, 29 December 2016

TREE OF LIFE

I wrote the original version of The Big Tree almost fifty years ago when I was part of a novice writing group in Northern Ireland.
As with most of my other scribblings from that era, no copy of it has survived, but the idea itself remained with me and I decided to rewrite it in 2013, managing to recapture much of the spirit of the early piece.






















 

















THE BIG TREE

The boy was climbing a tree.
It begins that way: a boy climbing a tree all those years ago in the green-spring wood that was our world, untroubled as Eden: a small figure ascending through leafscape towards sunlight. 
Below, by the tree’s foot, other children gathered and called out encouragement as he climbed through a network of branches and leaves, soft as goose-feather.
We named it The Big Tree, our woody Everest, a mountain of bark and bough, king of the wood, huge among legions of lean, lesser trees, a giant encircled by mortals.
I remember that day: the scent of mulch, woodsmoke, the sound of birdsong. School had broken up for the Easter holidays. We’d gathered at the wood’s centre, as we often did, around The Big Tree: a mixed band of boys and girls cheering our champion on.
A soft breeze shivered the treetops. It seemed to whisper.
Confidently, the boy climbed, finding footholds by instinct, the branches a stair to a hidden room, while below, the others waited, faces upturned like flowers.
Up he went like a squirrel, quick-footed, not looking down, through a jigsaw of branches, soft leaves, fingers beckoning, bark, coarse skin and the tree itself, a beast breathing, aware of his coming.
Light in the treetops, bright as gold. Never grow up. Never grow old. 

Breeze through branches sang like a plucked harp; sunlight fell like a host of arrows on to the woodland floor and all the spider-web, foot-worn tracks converged on that tree at the wide world’s centre and at its foot the children, grown restive now, called out the boy’s name, their voices like small prayers rising.
In a wood grown suddenly colder, darker, birdsong ceased. They called out again and again but he did not answer.

 

Monday, 26 December 2016

SLIMLINE RHYME

Though lovers be lost, love shall not.  
DYLAN THOMAS

Post-Christmas, while still groaning from the excesses of the past few days, is perhaps a suitable moment to introduce a slender poem that has been pared down from a weighty and somewhat overwrought original.
May my waistline follow its example.


 



















LOST LOVERS

They lie entwined on an unmade bed,
whisper promises that won’t be kept,
leave not a thing unsaid
but say too much, afraid
love may have vanished while they slept.
 

Friday, 23 December 2016

BIRD SONG

This is a bad time of the year to be a turkey, although it’s probably fair to say that being a turkey at any other time is not particularly pleasing either.
Of all the birds one might choose to be, the turkey is probably pretty far down the list.
Turkeys don’t sing, they don’t soar and, additionally, they’re really rather ugly.
Jane and I will not be adding to the massive slaughter of these unfortunate creatures this year. We have alternative culinary plans.




















SONG OF THE CHRISTMAS TURKEY

We have grown fat, my friends and I,
and although some birdbrains say
these gifts of food Men bring us
must be treated with suspicion,
this I doubt.
I feed on corn aplenty and rejoice,
grow plumply satisfied and portly stout.
My fellows fast become inflated too:
such fine birds with no work at all to do.  

I call the doubters paranoid and mock
their pessimistic attitudes and gloom.
Another feast arrives, I gulp it down
then gobble thankful sounds
and strut about.
We grow each day more pillowy and sleek.
Our future is assured, our species blessed.
This is the life, I think, no need to fear:
December is the season of Good Cheer.


Tuesday, 20 December 2016

POET JANE

My wife, Jane, always supportive of my writing, is herself an accomplished writer with an impressive track record and some excellent poems to her name.
Writing under her professional name, Jane Mosse, she's achieved considerable recognition both locally and abroad.
Some years ago, Jane's success in an international poetry competition provided us with an opportunity to attend the Poetry on the Lake Festival at Lake Orta in Italy and to read alongside Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.
During that visit, we managed to persuade Carol Ann to come to Guernsey to take part in our own local literary festival.
Italy was virtually unexplored territory for me at that time but I caught the bug and we've returned many times.
The photograph below is of Jane in the gardens of a beautiful Tuscan property we rented for a few months. It was an idyllic time.
Jane's poem, Cabo Verde Christmas, speaks of somewhere rather further afield, which she visited whilst on holiday and wrote eloquently about.   





















CABO VERDE CHRISTMAS

As red hibiscus trumpets sound
Cicadas cheery carols sing
While from the acacia’s drooping branch
The egret flaps on angel wings

The ocean beats its rhythmic drum
As whales rear up to humble men
And turtles lumber through the sand
To set their course for Bethlehem

For here the sun awakes in man
A love of life, an energy
So oft forgot in colder climes
Where it becomes but memory

And I new brothers greet with smiles
With laughing eyes and warm embrace
Their open hearts and dancing feet
A message for the human race

This day unites us black with white
As arm in arm we sway in time
To music, which one language speaks
Like sacrament of bread and wine.


To listen to Jane being interviewed by BBC's Jenny Kendal Tobias, click here then scroll forward 2 hours 53 minutes into the programme..




Sunday, 18 December 2016

PATRIARCH AND PUG

I like this old picture. It reminds me of a poem I wrote following a visit to a museum art gallery when it dawned on me that photobombing is nothing new. 
In even the most staid of family portraits from centuries ago, you'll often find a small dog making an uninvited guest appearance.





















PORTRAIT

The portrait is conventional,
its subject, family of a patriarch
who hired a painter, like a clerk,
to celebrate in lurid oils,
his great fecundity and spoils.
They stand, posed, two-dimensional,
a mother-wife in bombazine,
daughters, each in crinoline,
son, as though for pantomime
and there, a little way apart,
lest there be doubt,
the patriarch, benevolent and stout,
his face expressing calm nobility
(so that the painter might receive his fee).
Before them, squatting on a painted rug,
a corpulent and scowling pug.



Thursday, 15 December 2016

EVERY BREATH YOU TAKE ...

There has never before been a period in history where the individual has been so much under scrutiny, either by surveillance cameras at street level or by satellite imaging. The smart devices, that so many have become slave to, also spy on us and our every movement is monitored, while online buying patterns allow watchers to interpret our personal lifestyles and impulses.   

   













CANDID CAMERA

The camera was a Polaroid
and though I may seem paranoid,
that woman in the leather coat
appeared to take my photograph
then vanished, maybe back to base.
I’m certain that I know her face.



Sunday, 11 December 2016

EXTRA TIME?

In a former life, in a different country, it fell upon me to accompany a friend when she visited an elderly relative in a care-home. I found it a singularly depressing experience.
Recently, in different circumstances, I had occasion to visit another similar establishment and found it equally distressing.
Perhaps it's the knowledge that, should we survive long enough, we'll end up in one such place ourselves: disorientated, frightened, probably incontinent. 
I regard that as a gloomy prospect.
When I read that some new wonder-food or vitamin supplement will extend our lives by five or even ten years, I remind myself that, whilst those notional extra years might be a bonus were they added during one's energetic prime, it's simply pointless gaining them when the brain has gone and the body's geriatric.

























NEXT

No amount of perfume spraying
can reduce the underlying
scent of urine.
                            Does despair smell?
For that, too, pervades the Day-Room
where they sit, the old, the hopeless,
toothless, sightless, deaf, dumb, feeble,
staring fearful at the ceiling
or some mirage, in the corner,
no one else sees.
                                The disorder
of their lives is like a puzzle:
pieces fail to fit together,
sky or trees or roof is missing.

There they sit and watch the seasons
come and go beyond the windows
and, on days considered clement,
some get out to sit on benches
or inspect the tidy borders.
Relatives come,
                               fuss around them,
speak too loudly, move too quickly,
leave, dejected by the sadness
that pervades the rooms and spaces,
curtains, tiles, pale watercolours,
faded armchairs, plastic tables
and the pot-plants
                                    wilting slowly.
No one can pretend that hope lives
in these wizened, vacant faces:
rather, an alarmed awareness
that a dreadful thing approaches;
foul, unthinkable, misshapen;
something never meant to happen.

Friday, 9 December 2016

FOX NEWS

Foxes first started to colonize UK cities in the 1930s and, over the last few decades, have become more and more common.

My sister, who lives at the edge of parkland on the outskirts of Belfast tells me that they are frequent garden visitors, as does my friend, Peter Kenny, who regularly spots them in Brighton’s suburbs.
I recall the thrill of an occasional dusk encounter with a fox in the woodland at Stormont, when I lived in Northern Ireland.
 

Former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described foxes as a menace.
As my dear mother might have remarked, it takes one to know one. 
Sadly, we have no foxes in Guernsey.
















FOX

Fox, on the grass, swept before his brush
as though his threadbare shape were rubbish,
hurries then pauses, scenting what?
Man, of course,
whose heavy boots tramped that way this afternoon,
bearing his entitlement
like a weapon.


Wednesday, 7 December 2016

THE TIMES THEY ARE A CHANGING

Guernsey's next Open Mic event will take place at La Villette Hotel on Monday 19 December 2016.

Photo by John Carre Buchanan




















Guernsey poetry stalwarts, Lester Queripel and John Blaise, together with John’s lovely wife, Sharon, have been instrumental in keeping the island’s monthly Open Mic sessions on track through ten exciting years of changeable literary weather.
At venues like the Fermain Tavern and, more recently, La Villette Hotel, Lester has, month in, month out, booked space, supplied and checked sound systems and handled publicity, while John and Sharon have brought order to potentially chaotic performance nights and ensured that everyone wishing to read has had the opportunity to do so.
It’s no mean feat but they’ve done it with remarkable enthusiasm and style.
After this month's event, however, all three are stepping back from their demanding roles. 

They will be sorely missed, but I’m assured that Open Mic evenings will continue, under new management, in the new year.
Lester and John were well established stars in Guernsey’s poetry firmament when I arrived on the island twenty-two years ago.
Today, they’re still going strong and we can only hope that, freed from the burdens of shepherding other poets to and from the mic, they will have time to add more excellent poems to their extensive back catalogues and retain their high profiles on the poetry scene.



Sunday, 4 December 2016

LARKIN AGAIN

The humorous poem below is written in the style of Philip Larkin's most quoted one, This Be The Verse, with its famous opening line, They fuck you up, your mum and dad ...
It's a bit of fun to celebrate the recent installation of Larkin's memorial stone at Westminster Abbey and touches on his well-documented stand-offish nature, his lifelong career as a librarian and his fondness for cycling.

























PHILIP LARKIN 1922 -1985

They carve in stone, engravers do,
Your name with start and finish dates
Then hand it to some cleric who
Abuses boys and masturbates,

Who then invites a bunch of craps
Up to the Abbey in best suits,
For lengthy speeches and back slaps,
Daft eulogies and organ toots.

It fucks you up, this being dead:
But I was fucked up long before.
I left behind so much unsaid
And, still unwritten, poems galore.

But now, turns up a stone that’s like
A library book long overdue.
I sit on my celestial bike
And, gazing down, applaud the view.

Friday, 2 December 2016

NOT BEFORE TIME

A long overdue memorial stone to one of our greatest poets, Philip Larkin, will be unveiled in Westminster Abbey today, 2 December, the 31st anniversary of his death.

Philip Larkin and John Betjeman

I have long been an admirer of Philip Larkin’s work and mention him often in this blog.
I’d be hard pressed to choose my favourite Larkin poem, but Mr Bleaney is surely one of them. It’s about a man who rents a shabby room and muses on the life of the previous occupant. It shows Larkin’s excellent use of syntax: the last two stanzas constitute one long sentence, culminating in a simple three-word statement.  I rather like the image of the speaker stuffing cotton-wool in his ears to drown out the sound of his landlady’s television set in the living room below.





















MR BLEANEY

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed 
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till

They moved him.’ Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,

Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,


Tussocky, littered. ‘Mr Bleaney took

My bit of garden properly in hand.’

Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags —


‘I’ll take it.’ So it happens that I lie

Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags

On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown


The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.

I know his habits — what time he came down,

His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways —


Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk

Who put him up for summer holidays,

And Christmas at his sister’s house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind


Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed

Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,

And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,


And at his age having no more to show

Than one hired box should make him pretty sure

He warranted no better, I don’t know.