Friday, 27 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 28 to 30

 Day 28: A poem that you would like to read out loud to the world  

I love poetry which marks the seasons and the great festivals. It seems to act as an anchor to both the past and the passing years.  Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi' is one such poem; I declaim it every Epiphany. I would love to read it to the world, but have to settle for the kitchen table.










Day 29: A poem that makes you feel guilty

'This Be The Verse' by Philip Larkin



Day 30: A poem you'd read to your children


I did read this, from Eric Carle's 'Animals, Animals', to them, so frequently that even now my 17-year-old, a-literary son is almost word perfect. And if I'm ever lucky enough to have grandchildren, I'll read it to them. (Otherwise, Ted is going to have to develop a liking for lullabies ... ) (And good to finish with Rudyard,  whom I dissed right at the start of this adventure into poetry.)





'Seal Lullaby' by Rudyard Kipling







Tuesday, 24 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 25 to 27

Day 25: A poem you wish someone would put to music

None. A good poem has it own music and sings itself. Though it has been done startlingly well. Blake's 'Jerusalem', which really should be England's national anthem. George Herbert's hymns, born as poems. And Leonard Cohen's 'If It Be Your Will' - poem, prayer, song, here sung sublimely by Anohni.







Day 26: A poem that makes you laugh 


I've tried to read this through several times without subsiding into giggles but still haven't managed it yet. I love Billy Collins.






Day 27: A poem you wish you'd written yourself

Oh for crying out loud, how to choose just one? (And yet I have!) 

I've had the great good fortune never to have studied Gerard Manley Hopkins, and so can just appreciate him for the daring and experimental poet he was. I wish I had more of his skill and courage. This poem - 'The Windhover' - is held aloft by joy and sheer brilliance. 



Sunday, 22 May 2011

Dor Kemmyn - Common Ground

My poem, 'Kin', has won the 2011 Dor Kemmyn Poetry Competition.  Dor Kemmyn is Cornish for Common Ground; it's also the name of a proposed inter-faith centre in Cornwall, 'to bring people together from different faiths and cultures to find common ground for the future well being of everyone'.  I feel very honoured that my poem is connected with such an all-embracing and exciting vision.  

 


And they said nice things about it here on Radio Cornwall (about 2 hours and 35 minutes in, but if you start a little before then, you'll also get to hear '(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher' by the incomparable Jackie Wilson. Score!)



NB. My poetry collection, Communion, is being published by Indigo Dreams at the end of June. This poem is in it.



Dancing on Graves

No point keeping a Dru and blogging yourself ... 



Saturday, 21 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 22 to 24

Day 22: A poem from your childhood

I fell in love with the words long before I knew what they meant. For all that there was a small pride in the doughtiness of the dirty British Coaster, I was SO disappointed by the third verse. Especially pig lead! It really wasn't fair. (Of course, this was before I realised how a quinquereme was powered; beaten and bleeding slaves do rather lower the romance quotient.) 

'Cargoes' by John Masefield 



Day 23: A poem to read when you're angry

I have anger issues (trouble feeling it).  Here's someone who managed it.

'Daddy' by Sylvia Plath






Day 24: A poem you wish you'd heard being read by its poet

Oh God ... Shakespeare? Coleridge? Keats? Shelley? Blake? And who's to say they'd have read it well?

 

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Tales from the Grassy Knoll

Because my job with Bristol City Council is part-time and I don't usually work on a Friday, I had a lieu day last week for the Royal Wedding (Gawd bless ’em!) , and in the absence of a commemorative DVD to watch, I chose to go on a jaunt with Ted.  

My original plan had been to take my elderly parents to Porlock, as my father has a hankering to go there, but his sciatica and the weather were dodgy, so they cried off.  Faced with a last-minute change of plans, I vacillated between the Cotswolds, Bath and the Quantocks.  Then the thought of Berrow Beach with its vast stretches of sand and year-round welcome to dogs sent up a flare, and its shipwreck sealed the deal.  It was off to the Levels again.


We parked in Lympsham (which I always confuse with Lympstone and therefore expect to be in East Devon).  A quick pop into the church and we were off through the village and out into the countryside via a long causeway. Almost straight away it started to rain, but not heavily and the smell of petrichor (my latest word), mingled with the almost spent but still pungent hawthorn blossom, was delicious. 

Then came the point of the walk, the climb up Brent Knoll.  If you’ve ever driven up or down the M5, you’ll have seen this hill, part of the Mendips but in grand isolation and distinguished by its flat top.  It was a very prominent waymark during those interminable childhood trips to Devon down a very congested A38, and as a family we climbed it the weekend before my sister got married in 1980.


For the benefit of any Americans who might stumble across this, this is what a grassy knoll should look like.  Fairly challenging for a person of a certain age to climb, but with buttercups and compensatory views on the way up (here over to a rainy Glastonbury). 

No assassin on top of ours; instead, the remains of an Iron Age hill fort and a Roman temple and fortifications.  (The Romans called it Frog Hill, apparently.)  There are also connections to King Arthur, and the Saxons fought a battle on its eastern slopes in 875AD, successfully driving away the Vikings.  More recently it was used in the Second World War as a look-out post with gun emplacements, and there are pillars commemorating the jubilees of Queens Victoria and Elizabeth II.  


And a fab view even in the rain. Couldn’t see much of the Welsh coast, but the more local landmarks looked very moody and magnificent.  This is looking across the mouth of the River Parrett to the Quantocks.


For the most part, the descent was along invisible paths through fields of long wet grass, and I soon realised that my walking shoes aren’t as waterproof as they purport to be.  It was like having twin foot spas strapped to my feet.  Ted was in clover, though.






















As I paused to photograph a rhyne lined with reeds and rushes, I heard a crescendo of drumming behind me.  It was a fieldful of black heifers galloping towards us.  I hurried Ted through the gate.  Fumbling on the other side with stiff latch, chain AND knotted blue twine, I dropped the lead and Ted skedaddled from the still approaching cattle.  Well, at least we were in a field empty of cows … but full of horses!  And then – oh rejoice, all ye angels! – Ted heeded my command to sit and stay until I reached him.  Next, having squeezed under a padlocked gate (unfortunately, this was a persistent feature of the day’s footpaths), he waited obediently in the lane while I inched along a slippery wet plank over a stagnant rhyne.  Needless to say, he got lots of gravy bones as a reward.

Then it was off to Berrow Beach, which is tucked away between the metropolises of Brean and Burnham.  It has a stumpy little church squatting in a hollow which I would have loved to have explored, but having waited until the tide was ebbing to start our walk (so as to be able to explore the wreck), it was evening by the time we got there and closed.  Never mind, the waning day as seen from the dunes was beautiful in its silveriness …


The tide was so far out as to be invisible – what looks like sea in the picture is, as everyone who is familiar with Severn beaches knows, glistening mud flats – but it was very present in its roaring.  There were a few dog walkers about and a couple of horses and riders, but the beach is so vast that to all intents and purposes, we had it to ourselves. 


The wreck is of the Norwegian barque SS Nornen, which in March 1897 fell prey to a howling south westerly gale sweeping up the Bristol Channel.  She tried out to ride out the storm in the lee of the Lundy Roads but was driven towards Berrow mud flats, her sails in tatters. The Burnham lifeboat went to her aid, and safely took off the ship's crew of ten, together with their dog.  I was reminded of the wreck of the Helvetica, another Norwegian barque, at Rhossili, which foundered in 1887.  Both are equally atmospheric.   

The Nornen now lies more or less on the boundary between firm sand and this part of the coastline’s notorious mud.  It wasn’t difficult to reach it but care was needed not to lose a shoe in the process.  And of course, as the tide races in, the danger increases, so Ted and I trod very circumspectly indeed.


 Was well worth the effort, though …


 … and Ted didn’t disagree.

  
Dead animal of the day:


Dead scary animal of the day:





Wednesday, 18 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 19 to 21

Day 19: a poem that you would like to read at your wedding

Hmm.  Not ever doing that again.  But in a parallel universe – one in which I can tell a good man from a bad one – it would be 'A Marriage' by R S Thomas.







Day 20: A poem you want read at your funeral

Shortly after his death in 1998, I watched a programme about Ted Hughes in which Seamus Heaney read Hughes' poem 'The Day He Died', originally written about his father-in-law, the farmer Jack Orchard.  It was one of the most moving things I've ever heard, as Heaney struggled with grief for his friend.  But I am hardly a guardian of the land and I doubt Seamus will be able to squeeze my send-off into his busy schedule.  So given that I hope it will be a little longer before I shuffle off, I've chosen Carol Ann Duffy's lovely poem, 'Premonitions', written for her mother but also dedicated to the wonderful  U A Fanthorpe. 




Day 21: A poem you love seeing performed

Can't post the poem, or link thereto, for fear of compromising it, but this is the John Terry and his poem 'Laying the Capstone of St Mary Redcliffe' is something I'd never tire of hearing. My favourite part is right at the end when the Mayor's wife, whose name is lost to history, spreads her arms to the wind and rain, 300 feet above Bristol. As the poet spreads his arms, I'm up there also.




Sunday, 15 May 2011

On the Levels: Axbridge

Off to the Somerset Levels last Sunday – to Axbridge, in fact, with my friend, Julie. I’d never been there before, and immediately fell in love with the mediaeval market square. For a start, the town hall has a balcony you could imagine Michael Henchard appearing on.  Caroline, who lives there, tells me that the local worthies do address the townsfolk from there on special occasions.  I doubt they hold many skimmingtons these days, though.









There’s also a magnificent half-timbered Tudor building known as King John’s Hunting Lodge, which is somewhat fanciful as he was three centuries dead before it was built.  In fact, it was originally a wool merchant’s house and is now the town museum.  We couldn’t go in as we had Ted with us, so a return visit sans chien is on the cards. 



Instead we visited the Church of St John the Baptist atop the town walls and two public wells which survive intact and are still full of water.   Inside there was a font dating from 1450, which for centuries was thought to be plain until a sexton, awaiting a baptism, idly picked at some of its plaster.  It turned out to be carved with angels at each of its eight corners, but covered up since the time of the Cromwell. 






There were also painted organ pipes ... 

... and 17th century gravestones emblazoned with skulls. 

















I especially liked this tomb – the contrast between the pious austerity of the chilly-looking inhabitant and the bawdy mermaids on either side.










I'm sure this one's up the stick.


















After exploring the town, we went on a walk around the reservoir – that is, not around its edges but down the surrounding droves and causeways.  There were good views over to Cheddar Gorge ... 





... and along the ridge to Crook Peak which will always have a special place in my heart as it was the first walk we did, just Ted and I, after I got my car and started driving again. 









For a while, our route took us along a stretch of the long disused Cheddar Valley Railway nicknamed the Strawberry Line, and now pressed into service as a cycle path.  There were a fair few about too, but Ted coped very well and I was really pleased with him. 

Then it was back to Axbridge via the rhynes that define this unique landscape.  A lovely five mile meander and all of summer opening up before us …  




                                                                      
                                                                          'Another feckin' bike ... !'

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 16 to 18

Day 16: A poem for a happy day

A whole day?!  That's pushing it.  Hmm.  I suppose birthdays should be happy days, and mine is in October.  This poem still makes me cry, though.  Actually, I can't think of a good poem about happiness. It's an oxymoron.

'Poem in October' by Dylan Thomas





Day 17: A poem you want to read when you're having a bad day

Good to know that someone somewhere's having a worse time than me. Enter Philip Larkin, who always makes it better.  



Day 18: A poem you wish your mother/father had read to you.

My father can recite snatches of poems he learnt at school, but I can't imagine either of them reading poetry to me.  But in my Do As You're Told childhood, permission to struggle and even fail would have been welcome.

''Not Waving But Drowning'  by Stevie Smith


 
  

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Ode for Ted


Ode for Ted (with apologies to Sylvia Plath)

I could do without the alarm that sounds
at the least provocation.           .
The affronted expression on the faces
of harassed neighbourhood cats.
Lace curtains of collie snot
swagging the windows.
Pre-dawn chorusing in spring
while foxes rut.

Your fame amongst scooter-riding kids,
cyclists, and joggers in the park
verges on legend. ‘Hey Ted,’ they say,
as you whirl on your lead,
which means
‘Keep that crazed dog away from me!’
You’re black and white to them.
They miss the versatility

of my personal trainer
who brooks no slacking, my saviour-
dog in a manger, my angel
with healing kisses.
You would fetch the moon for me,
out-growl the roar of invisible seas.
My furry comforter, my guide.
The dark poet at my side.



Poem ©Deborah Harvey 2011

Illustration ©Dru Marland 


Friday, 13 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 13 to 15

Day 13: A poem that describes you                         

'In A Bath Teashop
' by John Betjeman 




Day 14: A poem no one would expect you to like


The Laureate poems aren't among his best, and I'm not a royalist, but 'Rain Charm For The Duchy' by Ted Hughes is one of my very favourite poems.  (Though given the subject matter - the moors and rivers of Devon - I suppose it's not that surprising.)  




I haven't found the words online, but if you don't know it, don't be put off.  This is no forelock-tugging paean to the Windsors.  Please seek it out.



Day 15: A poem from your favourite anthology/collection
From Ted Hughes' and Seamus Heaney's 'The Rattle Bag', this is Lady Augusta Gregory's translation from the Gaelic of one of my very favourite poems, the 8th century 'Donal Óg'. I have a beautiful reading of it by Ted Hughes on cassette, but sadly I can't find it online.    


(Methinks the Hughes estate should pull their collective finger out and make more of Hughes' work available online. And rectify the omission that sees Plath without even an official website.) 

Monday, 9 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 10 to 12

Day 10: A poem from your favourite poet 

How can anyone have a favourite poet? It's like expecting you to choose between your children.  Best hope is to shoehorn a few of them into the thirty days.

'Earthed' is one of my favourite poems by one of my favourite poets, the late U A Fanthorpe, and here beautifully read by her also.  
I was lucky enough to see/hear the best Poet Laureate we never  had and her partner, Dr Rosie Bailey, do a lunchtime reading together and it was blissful.


Day 11: A poem you don't understand a word of

'God Full of Mercy' by Yehuda Amichai


I don't understand a word of this in Hebrew.  At first I didn't understand all of it in English either.  It's a riddle, after all.  But as with any poem that has integrity, with each reading it revealed more of itself.  And that's the thing - you don't have to analyse every word in a poem.  Just give it time and the benefit of the doubt.  


Day 12: A poem that's a guilty pleasure  

What's a guilty pleasure when it comes to poetry? Being a closet Pan Ayres fan? Or having a predilection for sumptuously voluptuous verse? This poem is short, sexy, clever and pleasurable, and I'm guilty of loving it. 


'The Connoisseuse of Slugs' by Sharon Olds






Sunday, 8 May 2011

Remembering the dead

My cousin died by his own hand ten years ago today, aged 22.  This is a poem I wrote for him then.  Nothing has changed.


Prawle Point

Don’t imagine for a moment
that I didn’t think of you
just because the sun spilt honey
and the tumbling lanes drowsed,
mesmerised by flowers.
True, my memory tripped
like wind through wheat fields,
chasing Chinese whispers, wild rumours,

only to eddy on itself
as we stumbled down the blinded combe
towards your crucible of fleet, elusive dreams,
where, beyond a crest of hawthorn,
a cormorant kept the look-out
from its lonely pedestal.
Basalt angel?  Reliquary urn?
My eyelid flickered in the glare. 

Fifteen days ago we launched
your narrow, wooden boat.
Flags flapped low, taut wires and lines
against high masts tolled your passing.
And one black cardigan, forgotten,
lifted from a railing on the breeze,
as hapless – hopeless – as the sail
of the Athenians’ homebound ship.


Deborah Harvey © 2001, 2011

Friday, 6 May 2011

30 Day Poetry Challenge - Days 7 to 9

Day 7: A poem that reminds you of a certain event

My middle two children were diagnosed with severe autism aged 4 and 3. I tried to accept this but my intuition was in revolt even as they rampaged through life. Then, one afternoon, Jenny gave me a kiss. Two days later I came across ‘Rondeau’ by Leigh Hunt. Google it and you’ll learn that i
t was written in honour of Jane, wife of Thomas Carlyle, but that’s bollocks – it’s about my girl.






Day 8: A poem you know by heart

Necessarily short, then!

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris?nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

And my own loose translation:

'I hate and I love. How can that be? You might well ask.
I don’t know, but I bear the brunt of it, and I am in torment.'



'Without Catullus there would be no pop music.' Discuss.




Day 9: A poem you'd read in bed to your lover

'Kubla Khan' by Coleridge

Incense and moonlight; a holy and enchanted bed; my gilt-embossed, lightly foxed and slightly musty edition of Coleridge; and someone with whom to trace sinuous rills and the meanderings of that sacred River Alph from its rising to its delta … ah, fountains, honey dew, milk of paradise … turn the page … damn that Person from Porlock!



(Couldn't find a suitably purry rendition; here's an interesting one instead from Julien 
Temple's entertaining (if somewhat inventive) film, Pandaemonium.)