Bordeaux Bay

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

Sunday, 15 October 2017

BIRD OF ILL-OMEN

I've lost count of the number of poems I've written about birds. It's a subject I keep returning to again and again.
Garden birds, of course, are a source of constant joy and living close to the sea ensures that we encounter an abundance of coastal species ranging from snowy egrets to oyster-catchers in their distinctive black and white livery.
There is a kestrel that frequents the granite cliff-face adjoining our property, an owl that hunts in the narrow lane and a noisy gang of magpies, whose coarse sniggers can be heard coming from a nearby conifer.
Crows, too, can sometimes be seen around Bordeaux but, for some inexplicable reason, these birds fill me with dread.
There's something ominous in their baleful presence that seems to stir a memory in me of a frightening childhood experience concerning these sinister birds.























CROW

An old grey crow perches on a granite wall.
Its prehistoric stare
unnerves me.
In those unfathomable eyes
I see
nothing discernible,
only vertiginous darkness.
It hardly seems afraid
when I return its look
but hops from foot to foot
as though to say
this is my wall, this is my wall ...
so I retreat.

From farther off, I pause to look again.
There it remains,
in silhouette,
stiff as a sentry,
with murderous, malignant eye,
camouflaged blade,
assassin’s cloak.
 

    

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

ORTA OCTOBER


This month the annual Poetry On The Lake Festival took place in the beautiful setting of Lake Orta in northern Italy. 

The festival was founded in 2001 by poet, Gabriel Griffin, and has as its Patron the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, who described it as
‘ ... perhaps the smallest but possibly the most perfect poetry festival in the world”.  


I don't have Ms. Duffy's wide knowledge of poetry festivals but I'd certainly agree that the Poetry On The Lake Festival is as close to perfection as I can imagine.

A few years ago, I had the good fortune to attend the events there with my wife, Jane, who had been invited to Orta to read her acclaimed poem, Il Mio Pavone Bianco.
On the final day of the Festival I took part in an outdoor poetry reading on the wooded hillside at Sacro Monte along with a number of acclaimed British and Italian poets, including the Poet Laureate herself.
This poem, Suitcases, is one that I read on that occasion. 



SUITCASES

Crouching in attic gloom, 
where skylight beams 
illuminate their pool of silver dust, 
old leather suitcases doze like alligators 
dreaming their prehistoric dreams.

They sleep soundly having eaten up my father’s life ...

the photographs, the hearing aid and collar studs, 
the safety razor with its rusted blade, 
the letters and the wallet with the ticket stubs

... yet I am so afraid 
that when I kneel beneath the skylight 
to prise apart those sagging, alligator jaws,

the life that I will find compressed within 
will be too small to match 
my memories of him.




Saturday, 7 October 2017

SEA FEVER

As a child, the seaside was a place of wonder and delight where my family holidayed for a fortnight each summer.
Throughout my life I have retained the sense of excitement and fascination that those early excursions provoked.
The north-east coast of Ireland has some of the finest beaches in Europe and the journey from Belfast, by way of the spectacular Antrim Coast Road, is a joy to any traveller.
On the small island of Guernsey, by contrast, the sea is never far away and its proximity to our home at Bordeaux ensures that, when sea fever overcomes me, I am only two minutes away from the beach.
Standing by the sea wall at high tide on a bright morning, sunlight reflecting on the water, brightly-coloured fishing-boats bobbing in the foreground and the neighbouring islands of Herm and Jethou on the horizon, is a truly uplifting experience.


















TO THE SEA


These early autumn mornings, bright
as summer,
catch me, wakefully,
prowling the house while still you sleep,
your face turned from the windowpane,
east-facing,
where sunlight flows in.
Wrapped in surrealistic dreams,
you hardly stir as I collect
essentials: glasses, mobile phone,
slip on a coat
then step outdoors
to marvel at a morning sky
that, in its endlessness, astounds.
A sea breeze summons me.
The wild,
entrancing, 

so alluring sea
awaits my morning presence there,
where wave meets wave
then slips away
from granite wall,
from foot-worn steps.
I picture you then, sleeping still:
a child again, immersed in warmth,
and wonder what unknowable
oceans of strangeness
lap your dreams,
then draw my snug coat collar up
and stride out lightly
towards the shore,
my spirits rising, soaring free
as swallows do, effortlessly. 






Wednesday, 4 October 2017

RIBBITING ON

It's a bizarre experience, on a damp autumnal night, to encounter a large gathering of amphibians on one's doorstep. 
There are those who might find such an experience unnerving but I considered their unexpected presence propitious and cause for celebration.



FROGS

Tonight, on flagstones, drawn by rain,
frogs have congregated.
Drizzle falls gently,
like acupuncture needles,
on slick, camouflaged skin.
They squat there,
a dozen Buddhist monks,
bulbous eyes blinking.
My torchlight does not disturb them.
Rhythmically,
synchronistically,
their leather throats pulsate.


Saturday, 30 September 2017

SEPTEMBER REMEMBERED

This time last year my poem, Stone Witness, commissioned by the BBC for National Poetry Day 2016, was broadcast nationwide. 
The iconic subject of the poem, La Gran’mere du Chimquiere, is a 4,000 year old statue-menhir situated at the gate of St Martin’s parish church in Guernsey.  
She is thought to bring good luck and fertility to those who place a garland of flowers on her. 
The poem is written in the imagined voice of La Gran'mere.



STONE WITNESS 
(La Gran'mere du Chimquiere)
       


Stone,

old, old stone, I groan with age.



Gran’mere, Earth Mother, 

I stand sentry beyond the churchyard gate,

and watch, with sightless eyes,

the snail of human traffic creep along.



I am old and granite-cold: your island’s anchor-stone.



Your fathers’ fathers came to me 

to pray, to lay or lift some minor curse: 

an endless chain of island men, 

one generation to another, 

linked. 



Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.



Still they come, 

their mode of dress and manners changed, 

their supplications much the same:

love, fertility, wealth, happiness, a long life free of pain.



Young children step tip-toe, 

lay yellow garlands on my weathered brow, 

or proffer coins that glitter in the sun.

They stand before me, 

gaze up to my strange Earth Mother face,

and murmur spells as old as time itself.



Rooted here, I listen

as the salt breeze sings of breaking waves,

of fishing boats and lobster-pots, 

greenhouses, leafy water-lanes, 

smart pillar-boxes, shining blue,

and amber cats asleep 

on sun-warmed granite steps.



The soft breeze sings

of that so-lovely town 

that climbs up to the sunlit summit of a golden hill,

the dauntless castle and the ragged rocks 

where angry currents run.



Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.



Islanders, I anchor you.

Primeval, granite, I remain unchanged, 

unchanged in a strange world of change.



This gemstone island, Guernsey, 

this sea-locked rock whose timeless granite 

birthed me,

whose good folk 

shaped me, 

this 

my ancient magic will protect 

and cause to prosper.


*      *      *

BLUE MOUNTAINS UPDATE
 

Blue Mountains, Andrew, Colleen and Mike.     Photo by Jo Dowding
The eagerly anticipated appearance of talented local musicians BLUE MOUNTAINS at September’s Open Mic Night helped draw an even larger crowd than usual. I previously described the band as an acoustic duo, unaware that Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall, have joined forces with strings virtuoso, Andrew Degnen, and nowadays perform as a trio.  As always at this ever-popular monthly event, we enjoyed some excellent and varied material from local writers and poetry-lovers but, for me, the high point of the evening was Blue Mountains performing, live, songs from their brand new CD, Hummingbird. 
 

You can obtain a copy here:-
https://www.facebook.com/BlueMountainsBand

or, if like me, you prefer your retail hands-on, just pop into that treasure-house of music, Vinyl Vaughans on Fountain Street, St Peter Port, and purchase your copy there.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

NATIONAL POETRY DAY 2017

It hardly seems a year since I was commissioned by the BBC to write for National Poetry Day 2016.
The result was the poem, Stone Witness (La Gran'mere du Chimquiere) which, shortly thereafter, formed the nucleus of a poetry collection built around that iconic subject.
This year's National Poetry Day is today, Thursday 28 September 2017.  

The theme is “Freedom”.


















FREEDOM

Locate the lock, insert a key
then turn it. Suddenly you’re free.
Step into light. Inhale fresh air.
Allow a breeze to lift your hair.
Glance round, observe: this is the world
spread out before you, bright, unfurled.
Did you imagine, when in chains,
the subject of endless campaigns,
how flowers explode in yellows, pinks,
how every living creature links
one to the other, how the sky
astonishes the human eye,
how birds fly free unknowingly,
how, when you were a detainee,
you watched, through bars, bright swallows glide,
the air their element? You cried
because your prison world was square
while they had freedom of the air.
Do you recall the shape of trees,
the scent of woodsmoke on a breeze,
the zig-zag of a butterfly,
the glamour of an orchid’s eye,
and how the sea, never asleep, 
is almost endless, cold and deep?
These things existed, richly real
while you endured your long ordeal.
Embrace them now, rejoice and be
a human being, blessed, free.



This poem is dedicated to Fred Williamson 1941- 2017.
 

National Poetry Day is annually celebrated and aims to inspire people to enjoy, discover and share poems. It was founded in 1994 by the charity, Forward Arts Foundation, whose mission is to celebrate excellence in poetry and increase its audience. The Day enjoys the support of the BBC, Arts Council England, the Royal Mail and leading literary and cultural organisations, as well as booksellers, publishers, libraries and schools.
 






Sunday, 24 September 2017

WAITING FOR THE MUSE


Like most creative writers I experience periods of despondency when I become convinced that I will never again write anything of consequence and that whatever small talent I may once have possessed has been squandered or extinguished by time.
During our recent trip to Venice, we once again lodged at our beloved Ca' Biondetti, the home of celebrated 18th Century Italian artist, Rosalba Carriera, and more recently the American novelist, Henry James. 
The apartment consists of a number of rooms on the ground floor of the old house whose windows look out on the Grand Canal where much of the daily life of Venice takes place. I took this photograph during the annual Regatta whilst Jane and I sipped Bellinis and enjoyed the spectacle.

The list of artists and writers who have lived in or visited this uniquely beautiful city is substantial: Robert Browning, Josef Brodsky, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, Edith Wharton, Claude Monet, John Singer Sargent, Marcel Proust and John Ruskin, to name but a few.
It’s impossible to spend time in the tranquil setting of Ca' Biondetti, in the calming presence of Rosalba's gentle ghost, and not feel the long-absent muse return.  

Absence of a different sort is the subject of the next poem.


In Ca' Biondetti 2017 by Jane

ABSENCES

I switch on lamps as daylight fades,
draw blinds against approaching night.
Dogs start to bark, cats start to prowl.
As silence settles down like dust
the endless day begins to end.
Slow clock hands creep. Four walls encroach.
The ceiling, like a flower-press,
weighs on my shoulders, drains from me
my spirit, breath, my energy,
while, in the mirror, nothing lives.
I pour a drink, pick up a book,
sit in my chair opposite yours
but cannot concentrate to read
so close my eyes and try instead
to bear your absence like a wound
that I'm assured will surely mend.
Indeed it will, I know, for when
a week from now, with speeding heart,    
I greet you from a landed plane
we will, of course, be reconciled.
Such temporary absences
provide a terrifying glimpse
of what bereavement must entail:
the agony of injured time;
the futile days that never end.
The ghosts that linger after death
are those the dead have left behind
who wander lost in empty rooms, 
companions now with tears and dust:
the living that are not alive.
 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

TIME TO RHYME


This month's Open Mic Night for poetry will take place at La Villette Hotel on Monday, 25th September at 8pm. 
As always, all are welcome. Come along to read, chat or simply listen. 
The optional theme for the event is "Off the Wall"


The musical slot will be filled by the ever-popular acoustic duo, Blue Mountains.


The standard definition of the expression "off the wall" is eccentric or unconventional and some may regard the colours of the houses on the Venetian island of Burano in that way
Jane and I visited Burano this spring when the quality of light enhanced the already spectacular hues. 
This charming small hideaway is the home of lace-making in the Veneto, a delightful place and a welcome escape from the cruise-ship hordes jostling for space La Serenissima itself.