Category Archives: poetry

Simply Human

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On National Women’s day I want to say something. It’s not radical, it’s not clever, it’s not even controversial – at least from where I am. And that is the point. I am writing from a position of privilege , I have been educated to the same standard as my brothers, I have worked in a male dominated industry and been accepted as successful within my career, and I have a marriage which is traditional in values but recognises my strengths ( and my weaknesses).

I want to say thank you – to all the women and the men who went before me and worked quietly in the background to remove barriers in the system.  It’s not perfect, and I myself worked hard two decades ago to change attitudes within the company I worked. But the change has been remarkable in my lifetime.

The challenge for our society – U.K – is different now. It is to accept the equality between genders and to understand that equality retains the opportunity for difference. It is to accept responsibilities and duties that are incumbent on everyone to work hard, and to embrace challenge together, both in the workplace, in the community and in the domestic arena.

I would like to see less commodification of sexuality, which starts at birth now – the baby vests that promote the princess in the female , the five year old pageants, the sexting of teens.  Do grown ups that have sex really need to display this sense of rampant horniness in the everyday and in the inappropriate age groups of the tender young.

I don’t know what a day can do to promote the values of women – I don’t even know what they are. My values are different to my friends, let alone those who think I am ridiculous. I just want a world where we can be confident enough to have a dialogue with one another beyond gender, race, abilities. It’s a bit of dream but we have arrived at a place undreamt of by my female ancestors.

My illustration for a challenge at Redbubble provoked me to produce the illustration above – it has man and woman side by side, potent with possibility.( and available here  redbubble and  at  Society6

 

On a final note I defer to the poet laureate Wislawa  Szymborska, succinct and brilliant .
It’s a political age.

All day long, all through the night,
all affairs–yours, ours, theirs–
are political affairs.

Whether you like it or not,
your genes have a political past,
your skin, a political cast,
your eyes, a political slant.

Whatever you say reverberates,
whatever you don’t say speaks for itself.
So either way you’re talking politics.

Even when you take to the woods,
you’re taking political steps
on political grounds.

Apolitical poems are also political,
and above us shines a moon
no longer purely lunar.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
And though it troubles the digestion
it’s a question, as always, of politics.

To acquire a political meaning
you don’t even have to be human.
Raw material will do,
or protein feed, or crude oil,

or a conference table whose shape
was quarreled over for months;
Should we arbitrate life and death
at a round table or a square one?

Meanwhile, people perished,
animals died,
houses burned,
and the fields ran wild
just as in times immemorial
and less political.

In my beginning is my end

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‘Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.’

From T.S Eliot’s ‘East Coker’

 

Inheritance tracks part III

Today’s poem rounds off my reflection on parenthood and arrives courtesy of a wonderful blogger I follow , D.K.Fennell at Hidden Cause, Visible Effects

When the world around us is mired in confusion and as dishevelled as a wet Spaniel , it can be difficult not to feel terrified for our offspring. And yet twas ever thus, and my sons laugh and love and make my world worth my time and energy. My beloveds. They won’t see this, they are far too a) busy in their own lives and b) poetry is not for them.  But they wouldn’t be surprised.

Collected in Walter Lowenfels (comp.), The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1969)

by Dilys Laing

Forgive me for neglecting to show you that the world is evil.
I had hoped your innocence
would find it good
and teach me what I know to be untrue.

Forgive me for leaving you open to persistent heartbreak
instead of breaking your bright heart with medicinal blows.
I had hoped your eyes would be stars
dispelling darkness wherever you looked.

Forgive me for a love that has delivered you unwarned to treachery.
Now I confess that the world,
more beautiful for your presence,
was not fine enough to warrant my summoning you into it.
My beloved.

My sincere thanks to the great pleasure afforded to me by the aforementioned D.K. Fennell whose blog is a wonderful treasure trove of curiosities to behold.

Inheritance tracks Part Two

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Baby awake . Walsall Art Museum

This is the second poem I want to share .Motherhood is such a large part of my persona that watching my sons develop into young men brings their absence from my daily round into sharp relief. Nevertheless it is an experience that has shaped me and tested me . As a young woman in my twenties there was virtually no consideration of the possibility of me having children – life was simply busy, and I had none of the maternal cravings that others seemed to feel.  I had never been around babies – I was the youngest – and had no extended family that included them.  I lived to work and to play , and did both probably harder than was good for my well being. So motherhood arrived in my early thirties – a biological imperative kicked in which I could neither explain nor ignore.  I was ignorant of all things to do with being pregnant and  further on ,of small human beings that had lots of demands. I was adrift in an alien landscape without a map.  I struggled. I loved this little stranger with a ferocity I had never experienced. He was a baby in pain during the first few weeks, and was not thriving. I was encompassed totally by my responsibility towards him, and increasingly tormented. It was not a happy time, and yet it was full of wonder and awe  and deep, deep love.

This poem by Sylvia Plath suggests the alienation that I felt at that time.

Love set you going like a fat gold watch. 

The midwife slapped your footsoles, and your bald cry

Took its place among the elements. 

Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue. 

In a drafty museum, your nakedness 

Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls. 

I’m no more your mother 

Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow 

Effacement at the wind’s hand. 

All night your moth-breath 

Flickers among the flat pink roses. I wake to listen: 

A far sea moves in my ear. 

One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral 

In my Victorian nightgown. 

Your mouth opens clean as a cat’s. The window square 

Whitens and swallows its dull stars. And now you try 

Your handful of notes; 

The clear vowels rise like balloons.

My first outing without my baby was instigated at the insistence of my husband and mother, and I was literally harangued into making an attempt to rejoin the world. I went to Walsall art musuem , where I was moved to my core by an Epstein bronze of a baby’s head. It inspired me to write my own poem. Its not a good poem, but it reminds me.

Bronze baby

Bronze baby, Epstein’s child.
Perfect depiction of infant
beauty, human fragility.
Lovingly carved, sculpted
polished, held. Immortalised
infant head of exquisite
timelessness.  How I want
to secrete you, cradle you.
placed so unprotected
in our midst.
You spoke to me that day,
slashed through silence,
touched a delicate, fragile
part of me, the voice I was
so unsure of. In the newness
of my motherhood,
you showed me what it means
to be a child.

I took your message away,
kept it safe, inviolate,
next to my heart. Today,
a decade late, I know
the voice I heard was not
the sound of my  newborn
but my own, untended
and unheard.

An inheritance, Part One

YeatsI think of death and it reminds me to consider how to live.  I contemplate the brevity of a lifespan and know that choices are important. I am not ready to die, nor possibly will ever feel so, but I am ready to consider what I want to pass on.

As Hamlet replies to Polonius , when questioned on what the matter is that he is reading …’Words, words, words.’

Language is the river we swim in daily, the route to communication, miscommunication, love and hatred. It is paradoxically the most powerful of medium and the least effective.

There is a radio programme on a Saturday morning that delivers inheritance tracks – those pieces of music that the particular contributor wants most to pass down to their loved ones – in  a similar manner I give you my inheritance tracks – written ones.

I begin with Margaret Atwood, a writer who always has something of note to say and always with style. I love her novels, but this is a short poem that for me describes the atmosphere of a new relationship perfectly.

Habitation — Margaret Atwood

[1939–current, Canadian]

Marriage is not 

a house or even a tent 

it is before that, and colder: 

The edge of the forest, the edge 

of the desert 

the unpainted stairs

at the back where we squat 

outside, eating popcorn 

where painfully and with wonder 

at having survived even 

this far 

we are learning to make fire

Source: Atwood, M 1970, Procedures for Underground, Little, Brown.

The line  ‘it is before that, and colder:’  has the perfection of a musical note precisely measured – with just the right element of surprise to quicken the curiosity.

I chose this poem because the five boys that I have the privilege of loving – two my own sons, three from my husbands first marriage, are all embarking on long term relationships. It is this fundamental relationship with a partner that has been the central impetus to my own life – I am introverted and have little need for a wide circle of friendship, but without the anchor of a committed loving relationship I feel adrift and anxious. And I like fire.

Autumn then.

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I do love a shadowed footpath – Purleigh

Autumn then. Nothing quite like the march of time to remind us of our transient nature. I love the seasons here in England – the definition of different states of nature as the year progresses. And they do progress – have you noticed that? Whatever we do, however clever we think we are, time has the last word. Every time. I think about death alot. I always have, since being 6 or 7 years old. It doesn’t make me anxious. Losing someone I love to it makes me feel anxious. I don’t want that to happen. But it will. That’s what being alive has taught me. It doesn’t last forever. Be kind to those who love you the most because its easy to be careless with them. More than anyone else. Prioritise. Give attention where you want it to go. Remember there is never enough time. It’s not morbid, it is liberating. Cast off the shackles of ‘should’ and decide where you put your love. Today. Do it today. Do it now

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Biscuit comes to say hello, Purleigh dog walk.

 

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…

I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.

 

 

From tales of the Mabinogion, Celtic oral tradition, by  Anonymous

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All illustrations my own, please do not use without permission.

Images available via sites on menu – ask if there is anything not there that you would like.

Yuhana no sakayuru toki ni

..But just at the time of flourishing blossoms.

 

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From  The Tales of Ise – Ise monogatari  – anthology of Japanese poems from the Heian period 794  – 1185

Illustration my own, based on  Japanese illustration by Utagawa Hiroshige born 1797