Bordeaux Bay

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

Monday, 31 July 2017

ROVER'S RETURN

I revisited Belfast recently and took a stroll down Newtownards Road, a staunchly working class area in that increasingly affluent city, to admire and photograph some of the amazing murals that adorn the gable-ends of many of the buildings.
The area is adjacent to Harland and Wolff shipyard, the birthplace of the Titanic, surely the most well-known vessel in maritime history.
Titanic Belfast, named the world’s leading tourist attraction at the prestigious World Travel Awards in 2016, is a state-of-the-art visitor centre that tells the story of the great ship, from her conception in Belfast in the early 1900s, through her construction and launch, to her maiden voyage and subsequent place in history.
The good people of Northern Ireland are justifiably proud of their association with the famous liner and, when the occasional puzzled visitor enquires why they celebrate a ship that had such a brief and ill-starred existence, will generally reply: Sure, she was fine when she left here!



TITANIC

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 only for salvation.

 
Here's a piece of music from Stewart Love's acclaimed play, Titanic Serenade, performed by Banbridge Musical Society.

This poem appears in my most recent collection, Stone Witness, available from Blue Ormer Publishing. 


Saturday, 29 July 2017

COMMERCIAL BREAK



An eclectic new collection that deals with themes
of love and death, old and new gods, nostalgia for
a vanished age and the challenges of life in the
21st Century.
 

Price £6.99
 

ISBN: 978-0-9928791-5-0
Paperback. 64 pages
Published by Blue Ormer Publishing
 

CLICK TO BUY






Please join with me to celebrate, albeit belatedly, the birth of one of the Twentieth Century's greatest poets and one of my literary heroes, Chilean-born writer and statesman, Pablo Neruda.



POTTER  by Pablo Neruda

Your whole body has
a fullness or a gentleness destined for me.

When I move my hand up
I find in each place a dove
that was seeking me, as
if they had, love, made you of clay
for my own potter's hands.

Your knees, your breasts,
your waist
are missing parts of me like the hollow
of a thirsty earth
from which they broke off
a form,
and together
we are complete like a single river,
like a single grain of sand.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

TRAVELS

The Bard has returned from a thrilling visit to the magnificent open-air arena at Verona to see Giacomo Puccini's Madama Butterfly. This was followed by a week of sunshine and relaxation at Lake Garda, then a lavish family wedding in Northern Ireland.
A sojourn in the country of my birth is always an occasion for nostalgia, when every landmark recalls an episode from my younger life. 
Here's a prize-winning poem I wrote nearly twenty-five years ago that's linked to childhood and youth: The Hidden Traveller.
I featured it on the blog some time ago but it's always worth a re-run. 

























THE HIDDEN TRAVELLER

I remember
the over-furnished room, cold as a cave,
where they had laid him
between the aspidistra and a spotted mirror;
the sunbeams, slanting by the window, shoaled with dust;
the silent street beyond, devoid of passers-by.
Immaculate in laundered shirt and
suit so rarely worn in life; in death he looked
more like a character from a story than himself.

I remember
myself dressed in a suit that day;
the parlour’s silence broken only
by the ticking of a clock;
the sense of unreality, of ritual without feeling;
an odour of chrysanthemums.

I remember him
alive and huge and I so small,
watching geese fly
high over wetlands blurred with morning mist,
our upturned faces wet with perfect joy;
the swing he built me in the secret clearing
in the green-wood;
his hearty laughter booming in the treetops.

I remember
the warm, familiar smell of him;
his callused, gentle fists
thrusting the timber swing-seat
higher, ever higher.
 

I remember still,
though years have crowded in between then and now,
the reckless humour ever-dancing in his eyes,
blue as songbird’s eggs;
the sweetness of the lulling tune he hummed at ending day
as, sleepily, I rode his shoulders home to bed.

Each passing generation
prints its image on the next: an echo of the parent
in each gesture of the child.
So his essential being rides my adult shoulders now,
as I transport his spirit towards another century. 

We dress ourselves unknowingly
in garments of departed love, in remnants
of lost voices or half-remembered smiles.
The length of stride, a turn of phrase
betrays the other, hidden traveller in our skin.

Preserve in me
the things that once I loved in him.

 


Tuesday, 11 July 2017

DREAMS OF AVARICE

The Bard is taking a short break so, in my absence, here’s a lengthy gangster tale in verse to keep you going.
It’s influenced by the B-Movies of my younger days, with a nod to the cliches of the genre.





THREE BLIND MICE

1. BETTY MAE’S DREAM



She had a dream. Mice in a maze.

Blind. Trapped like lost souls in the Pit.

It haunted her for days, she says.

I tell her that dreams don’t mean shit.

2. WES
    
                                

I meet this bozo in a bar.

He says: You Wes? I say: Who says?

He says: I know you from the scar.

Ok, I say. I guess I’m Wes.

He says: We need you drive a car:

word is you’re outa work these days.

He offers me a big cigar.

I like his style: admire finesse.

He says: The job won’t take an hour.

C’mon, consider my request.

Just grab the dough then au revoir:

no stress. Hey Wes, just acquiesce.

I’m hooked: but something seems to jar.

3. BETTY MAE AND WES



Be honest Wes, I say: Confess;

you plan to do another job.

Wes says: It’s cool, I guess, don’t stress.

But me, I can’t suppress a sob:

I know, with every bank they rob,

the danger grows, his luck gets less. 


He says: Just one last job, and then

we’re gone: we’ll quit this crazy town,

head for the coast and start again:

diamonds and mink, a classy gown.

I force a smile. Conceal my frown:

don’t want him back inside the Pen.


Wes laughs and says: I only drive.

They do the rough stuff, it ain’t me, 

but I know there’s a forty-five

hid in his drawer: I found the key.

Goddam it, guns make me antsy.

I need Wes to come back alive.

4. LEROY



The Olds’ pulls in. I slide inside.

The Driver nods but he don’t speak.

I recommend we go get Vin.

He cracks a grin: away we glide.

Wes drives relaxed, a cool technique:

I like a guy with discipline.


We pull in back of Artie’s bar:

Vin piles in like a thunderbolt.

Mad eyes and face that’s furnace-hot:

his energy heats up the car.

A Smith and Wesson and a Colt

are the equipment that he’s brought.


There’s me, Leroy, with Vin and Wes

cruising on Fifty-Fifth and Main.

The Olds’ is solid as a tank:

respectable. Who’d ever guess,

as we swing back and forth again,

we’re here to rob the Union Bank.

5. THE DRIVER
 

I fetch the car. The boys arrive,

jump in, shout: Okay Wes, let’s go!

They’re bad guys, that’s for sure, although

I ain’t a bad guy. I just drive.


They’re wired up, fired up, talkin’ jive,

discussing bank jobs, easy dough,

but Whoa man! I don’t wanna know.

This ain’t my caper. I just drive.


They go in fast, say: Wes, take five.

I grip the wheel and sink down low,

eyes on the street, ready to go.

When they come running, I’ll just drive.


I’m cool until the cop strolls by.

Then, in the bank, things go awry.

6. THE BANK


We’re cruising past the bank again,
just three guys in an Oldsmobile.
We’re cool and Wes is at the wheel,
along by Forty-Fifth and Main.
Vin tells Wes: Wait.
I look around. I calculate.
We see no cops. I say to Vin:
Let’s go! We’re out and moving fast
and, jeez, it’s happening at last.
The bank doors spin as we go in.
I shout: Just freeze!
Vin shouts: Gimme the money please.
Time speeds up, then slows down once more.
We give the teller bags to fill
with unmarked bills. It’s cool until
a cop walks through the spinning door.

It turns out bad.
It always does when Vin gets mad.

7. PSYCHO VIN


Leroy, he shouts out: Get in, Vin.
I get in of my own accord:
don’t take no orders from no one.
I’ve scored some blow, got more on board,
so now the action can begin.
I check both pockets for a gun.

That goddam Leroy don’t know shit.
The driver is some pussy guy.
Could run this whole job on my own:
just tell them jump and they’d comply.
I’m one mean guy with guts and grit:
they’ll write that on my damn gravestone.

It happens fast. We’re though the door.
We’ve got them cold. We’ll soon be gone.
They’re packing money in the sack.
A young cop bursts in, pistol drawn.
We’re firing. Leroy’s on the floor.
The bank guard shoots me in the back.

I blow the fucking guard away
then limp into the avenue.
The cop crawls out and fires again.
Our driver takes a bullet too.
I’m hurt. I need a tourniquet.
The car leaves like a goddamn train.

10. THE PRIEST


I get there. There’s three guys deceased.
I do my duty as a priest.

These rituals I know by heart.
They matter: help eternal souls
of good and less-good men depart,
whether through age or bullet holes.

But killings leave me vexed, perplexed.
They'll call the undertaker next.

11. THE CONCERNED CITIZEN


He wrecked the auto, then took off
on foot. I watched, I told the cops:

He’s injured, bleeding through his coat.
He’s only gone ten minutes tops.

Short guy, with battered pork-pie hat;
his face was scarred: I told them that.

Two chased him. One cop took a note
of what I said: it’s good enough

to get the bozo apprehended.
That’s where my involvement ended.

12. WAITING FOR WES

 

I had this crazy dream one time:
there’s blind mice running in a maze
of endless winding passageways
whose walls weep blood and ooze with slime.
I want to save them but I can’t.
I sure think that’s significant.

Wes told me, meet him here at four.
I was on time, he didn’t show.
He’s never made me wait before.
Like Peter at the third cock-crow,
I feel cold fingers seize my heart
and slowly rip its flesh apart.









Monday, 10 July 2017

DOG DAYS (7)

The final poem of Dog Days week is dedicated to Holly, our little Border terrier, and was written during the last years of her life when her longevity and devotion had earned her the right to occasionally snooze on our bed.



HOLLY

Waking, my hand falls on warm fur:
a small rib cage rising, falling,
as breath goes on doing its work.

We are connected, she to me,
by synchronous breathing. By love,
on my part: on hers, obedience.

Now fifteen years, I hold her close,
gently as when she was a pup,
skin-and-bones, promising nothing.

A good dog, demanding only
a clean, warm bed, small kindnesses.
Fortune, grant her sleep, untroubled.










Sunday, 9 July 2017

DOG DAYS (6)

There are plenty of open spaces to take your dog in Guernsey and quite a number of beaches where they can run free. 
Indoors is a different matter and, sadly, we do not emulate our French neighbours in their willingness to welcome animals into shops and restaurants.
For a list of dog-friendly pubs, hotels and bars on the island, click here.
The short poem below is of a type known as a Double Tetractys, a form invented by Ray Stebbing, that consists of five lines of 1, 2, 3, 4, 10 syllables (total of 20) followed by an inverted syllable count of  10, 4, 3, 2, 1.

















RUN

Run
old dog,
run against
the ripe sea wind:
celebrate your body like a young dog.
Oh how my heart fills up with tears to see
you, who was so 
carelessly
youthful
once. 


Saturday, 8 July 2017

DOG DAYS (5)

Master McGrath (Pronounced McGraw) was a famous greyhound born in Ireland in 1866. 
One of a litter of seven he was an undersized, delicate pup but despite his unpromising beginnings, he went on to become the most celebrated and successful racing dog of his time.























MASTER McGRATH

Canine perfection, symmetry,
embodied in an agile frame,
sleek body like a comet’s flame
ablaze with pride and majesty.

Those elements that made you fast,
heart, muscle, sinew, blood and bone,
ensured a legend set in stone,
all rivals beaten and outclassed.


Friday, 7 July 2017

DOG DAYS (4)

After we lost our Border terrier, Rufus, to diabetes, his companion Holly, became much more attached to us and, as time passed, the bond grew stronger by the day.
I wrote this rhyming poem with various permutations of the words A Chord in mind.
For example, a chord is notes sounded together, the basis of harmony. Alternatively, a cord was the physical link between us when we went for a walk and, given Holly's total dependence on me, the cord might well have had umbilical connotations. 
Finally there is the word accord which means compatible and sympathetic.
And after that lengthy preamble, here is a picture of the late, much-loved little Holly herself.




















A CHORD

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, our humours come and go
One heart linked to another heart
in perfect harmony: a chord.



Thursday, 6 July 2017

DOG DAYS (3)

This poem can hardly do justice to Rufus, our plucky Border terrier, but it was the best I could manage in the period of sadness after he died. 
One day, perhaps, I shall write a better one for the splendid fellow.























RUFUS

Such strength of body, such a noble head;
expressive eyes like pathways to the soul,
but dominant, reluctant to be led,
determined to assume the Alpha role.

You were a fierce and charismatic lad
yet butter-soft when seeking a caress.
Some wisdom, beyond canine sense, you had.
We miss you and your brutish gentleness.




Wednesday, 5 July 2017

DOG DAYS (2)

This is probably one of the oldest poems I've featured here. Written nearly twenty years ago, it still retains the power to bring a lump to my throat.






















JACK

My name is Border Collie, Jack, age seven years: my coat is black
with, here and there, a splash of white, and one white paw, my foreleg, right.

My sire and dam were Bob and Bree, each with a lengthy pedigree.
In me, their hearts and souls combine. Mine is a pure and noble line.

I worked for Farmer Collinfold, who died when I was six years old. 
He was a kindly man, but stern, and in those years I came to learn
that, as a hand fills out a glove, so loyalty gives shape to love.  


At Country Shows, in those bright days, I won rosettes and gathered praise:
I was renowned for grace and style. I was a hero for a while.  


The world moved on and I grew older. Work grew harder, nights grew colder.
Younger collies constantly pushed to gain supremacy.

I worked a farm at Eden Rock till foot and mouth destroyed the flock
and now my Master sits and stares. I nose his hand, he turns and swears.  

With empty fields devoid of sheep, I hang around the yard and sleep.
I am the Border Collie, Jack. I need my pride and purpose back. 
Though not so young, my heart is strong. I need a place where I belong.

If there are sheep left in the land; if somewhere there’s a Master’s hand 
that reaches, absently to pat, I can be there. I can do that. 


Tuesday, 4 July 2017

DOG DAYS (1)

July's Open Mic event at La Villette Hotel in St Martins, has as its theme the subject of dogs. 
Sadly, I'll be unable to attend this ever-popular event because of a prior engagement but, since I have no shortage of dog-poems in my archive, I've decided to feature some here over the next few days.
Let's start with Ghost Dogs, written one sleepless night some years ago.
The Rex referred to in the poem was a large black cross-breed that lived at the end of our narrow lane. He was a highly-strung fellow given to hurling himself at the gate when I passed by with my own dogs. 
No matter how often he did this, the rascal never failed to catch me unawares.
I nicknamed him Nervous Rex because I believe it was fear rather than hostility that caused him to behave this way. 
The poem, written some months after he died, is a testament to all the dogs I've encountered over the years. 





















GHOST DOGS

Wind crashes the gate and brings to mind
Rex jumping up, black and sudden:
his frantic bark, scrabbling paws,
rips evening tranquility apart,
but tonight it is only
wind conjuring ghosts:
first Rex, fiercely unfriendly,
then, as though unleashed,
a host of other vanished dogs.

Now they run through my mind
as I trudge homeward. 
Each one
an absence to be grieved for.

Every one remembered.



Sunday, 2 July 2017

BUY THE BOOK

And the book, of course, is my new poetry collection, Stone Witness, available from selected outlets in Guernsey or via my publisher's website below.


An eclectic new collection that deals with themes
of love and death, old and new gods, nostalgia for
a vanished age and the challenges of life in the
21st Century.
 

Price £6.99
 

ISBN: 978-0-9928791-5-0
Paperback. 64 pages
Published by Blue Ormer Publishing
 

CLICK TO BUY







STOP PRESS



One of my wife Jane's amazing photographs of participants in the Venice Carnival has just  been published in the Guardian's online picture gallery, Guardian Witness. You'll find it by clicking here 
(it's six or seven photos down on the right).



Saturday, 1 July 2017

BY THE BOOK

In my experience, the people who are most happy or perhaps least unhappy are those who, of their own free will, commit to a religion or way of life and it seems that the more wholeheartedly they commit the happier they are.
It must be a relief to embrace a prescribed code or dogma that provides unequivocal answers to the challenges that life sets for the independent thinker. 









TWILIGHT

She has a Bible, black and white,
of ancient words from Heaven sent:
the Truth, she swears, omnipotent,
that delineates wrong from right. 


Faith is her lantern. Hope, the spark
that lights it in the grim unknown.
Robed in a shawl that has been sewn
with prayer, she braves approaching dark.