Huddled in a drafty doorway,
warm against his master’s side,
the beggar’s dog has no regrets
for the day which has just ended,
or fears for the night to come
Danger ! This course of action
may seriously damage your health !
There are reports of dizziness,
a spinning sensation in the early stages.
You may become restless and irritable.
Weight loss may occur in many cases.
You may experience difficulty in breathing.
Light headedness and confusion are common –
giddy euphoria, sudden inexplicable despair.
Many people experience long term heart problems.
But that’s always the way of it
There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists
And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds
The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.
This is another poem by UA Fanthorpe,who wrote the sheepdog poem. In a way the two poems are comparable – they’re both about love – but not flashy, romantic infatuation. She writes about the love which is at work quietly, in the background, a love which does, rather than blusters; which knows when to oil the wheels of the relationship.
The first half of the poem is about day to day house-keeping – the insurance, the milkman, the dentist – the kind of mundane tasks which keep the show on the road. It’s a heavy load to carry – like Atlas holding up the world .
The pivot point of the poem comes here:
“The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living’
Every life is complex and provisional.Relationships, like houses, need to be looked after, otherwise they fall into disrepair, and suddenly she’s talking about herself as a house in need of maintenance – “Laughs at my dryrotten jokes” “ My need for glossing “
This is a love poem to her partner – the one who smooths her way, who knows what she wants before she knows it herself.
There are lots of people like this in the world. We should be grateful to them.
You will find an audio version of the poem here:
You can hear another UA Fanthorpe poem- ” the Sheepdog” here:
Each morning I’d get up and make the fire-
a pocket-money job- and yet
one I enjoyed.
The house was still and cold.
A thin, insipid light seeped through the blinds.
I riddled last night’s embers , watched the ash
float down in feathers to the tray below.
That would go out later.
Time to build.
A cube of firelighter, waxy, white
as compressed snow,then scrumpled newspaper
and kindling twigs to give a solid base.
I’d take some shiney nuts of coal and place
them gingerly on the makeshift pyre.
Then light a match.
Six decades later I can hear the hiss
and bubble of the twigs, the crackling coal,
see flames, like flowers bursting into bloom,
as crocus light spills out into the room.
He will be dead soon
because there is nothing left to live for.
His wife is dead. She hanged herself,
death being preferable to a life
spent facing down his cowardice,
his childish terrors.
He will be dead soon
because of the many friends he killed.
And when the killing slowly shifted
into tedium,I killed for him.
He will be dead soon
because he welcomed in the dark-
those crazy women, that endless line
of ghouls. They hollowed out his soul
as a boy might suck the jelly from an egg
and spit it out.
He will be dead soon
because the castle is surrounded,
because he is alone,
because I have unlocked the west gate,
because I hear them coming up the stairs…
Have you ever wondered what happened to the middle ranking characters in Shakespeare plays ? If it’s a comedy, the principal characters get married- Beatrice and Benedick, for example. And if it’s a tragedy, they die- Hamlet in a duel, Macbeth in a brawl, Lear of shock and old age.
But what about the characters left behind. What kind of a marriage do Sir Toby Belch and Maria have ? What happens to Seyton ( or is it Satan ?) Macbeth’s sinister bodyguard ? Does Horatio just go back to being a university don after the death of his friend ?
I’ve been thinking about Rosaline, the girl Romeo is passionately devoted to- at least until he meets Juliet. What happened to her ? And just suppose Romeo didn’t die of poison after all and….just suppose it all happened in the 21st Century…just suppose….
Have a look at this poem and let me know what you think….
We’re very comfortable- he’s a lawyer,
a specialist in conflict resolution. Senior partner
at Montague and Capulet. The old man died
ten years ago but still he kept the name.
I wish he wasn’t so fastidious.
At first we thought of moving from Verona
but we were brought up here-
childhood sweet hearts you might almost say.
I find that I still hate her, which is strange
for thirty years have gone and I’m not prone to hate.
A leggy girl with eyes like bright jade chips
and hair- I envied her the hair- a cloud
of red gold sparks where mine was merely black.
She grabbed love from him like a greedy child
while I held back, not daring to believe
that everything he said, he meant.
That business at the tomb- the poison bottle-
I shudder when I think of it.
That first night in the hospital. His skin
corpse cold. And later the long months
of therapy at that clinic in the Alps.
Then he was good as new- almost.
We married- it was a kind of reflex action.
No talk of love-it was an understanding-
something altogether more reliable.
He’s gentle and considerate-. Separate bedrooms.
That side of things was always a formality.
He sees his Roman mistress once a month
and I pretend a placid ignorance.
In thirty years we’ve only argued once-
in the clinic after I’d given birth
to our only child- a daughter.
Weeping, he begged to call her Juliet
but I refused. She has my mother’s name.
He drives into the office every morning
the house is left to me- it’s my domain.
A cook and gardener see to all my needs.
We have a small apartment in Geneva
and fly off to the Maldives every summer.
By the way, Susan Daniels has written a cracking Ophelia poem. Punchy, economical, it brings Ophelia into the present day. You can find it here:
Sometimes I think there’s too much music about. It’s too accessible, too cheap. Before recording, music was something special, a treat. You only had music at church, or on high days and holidays. Music was rare and live.
Nowadays people walk the streets, each one plugged into his/her own soundtrack- a bit dangerous if you’re on a bike, I would have thought. Nowadays music is cheap and canned. You can buy it at 69p a tune from iTunes, or £4.99 if you want to buy a cheap album. And that way you can keep the silence away. You don’t have to deal with the quiet. It’s not music you’re listening to on your headphones, it’s grey noise.
No. I’m talking about real music. It doesn’t have to be classical- but sometimes it is. It’s the music which reaches down into your very soul and twists your guts around and you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And sometimes you don’t even know why.It’s so private, so precious, that you don’t listen to it very often in case it loses its magic.
This music ( there’s not much of it- maybe half a dozen tracks- ten at the most) marks out your life up to this point. It’s a line of milestones reaching back to your childhood.
I’ll tell you about some of mine. Does that sound brash ? Loud mouthed ? Insensitive ? I don’t think so. You see, I can sit here at the computer and write about it, but if I were to actually play some of these, then I wouldn’t be able to type a word.
Here we go.
Vaughan Williams -Variations on a theme by Thomas Tallis
It is England. Simple as that. Broad cello lines that speak of a hills and drystone walls But more than that- it has immense strength and sadness- both at the same time. Something has gone, certainly, but is still there, hidden. And somehow the music brings all this to the fore.
Satisfaction- the Stones
I watched Glastonbury the other week, and the highpoint was seeing Keef ( wrinkled, pot bellied) one foot on a step, firing off the DumDum dudumdum dedumdum riff that brought me back to the sixties. It’s visceral- it grabs you by the throat. I was at college at the time and it became a kind of anthem for us. We even wrote an ironic lyric to it “ We’re the latest big sensation/ Get our share of adulation/ but the words are a bore/ they’ve been done, done before/ we get too much (Dudumdum dedumdum ) adulation…” and so on.
Here, there and everywhere- the Beatles
You’d think that, as a child of that time, that my life would be full of Beatle tunes. I listened to them a lot at the time. But only one remains. It’s a very clear memory. It’s a summer fair at the university, and I’m standing on some steps, looking down at the crowd below. I hear the line “ Changinging my life with a wave of her hand”- and at that moment an incredibly beautiful girl walks by and waves. It’s just that. As a matter of fact, she was far too beautiful for me to ask out, but she’s still a friend, fifty years later.
Waterloo Sunset- The Kinks
It’s an odd little song, and I’m surprised it’s so important to me because it’s about London, and I’m a northern boy. It has a quirky, almost folky tune and it brings up an idyllic picture of a London evening, golden light spilling across the river. There’s a kind of sadness about it too.
The Statues – Jake Thackwray
You won’t have heard of this guy. He was a brilliant guitarist and lyricist with a kind of Noel Coward cleverness. He was very funny indeed. He wrote about how his dog ruined his romance, about the burglar who found asylum in a nunnery ( “ Big Bad Norman, fifteen years on the run) but this one is about two statues- one of a beautiful naked lady, standing in the middle of a lake, and the other of Sir Robert Peel ( “ He was big and gritty and he fought like one obsessed” and it is very, very funny. Every time I listen to it I laugh aloud. But at the end, something wells up inside me and I get all teary…silly isn’t it.
Look out for Jake. He may be dead but his stuff is still available.
There you are then. Five tracks that stir my soul. What are yours ? I’d be interested to find out.
Everyone knows about sonnets- you know- 14 lines divided into an octet, a quatrain and a rhyming couplet at the end. Shakespeare wrote 154 of them ( including the ones in his plays) and Edmund Spenser and Sir Philip Sidney were both enthusiastic practitioners. Later on, Milton wrote sonnets, as did Wordsworth, but who reads them nowadays ?
Actually the sonnet has never quite gone away. “ Anthem for Doomed Youth “by Wilfred Owen is a sonnet….had you noticed that ? You don’t, straight away ,because you’re carried away by the anguish and bitterness of the poem. But you check- and it is. The fact that Owen packed so much emotional power, both personal and universal, into such a constricting format makes it even more impressive.Edwin Morgan, Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney have written sonnets as well.
And now I come to “ Some Things Matter” a collection of sixty three sonnets by James Nash, published by Valley Press. James Nash became interested in sonnets after going to a workshop in 2009. Two years later he had written more than 160- and this collection is the cream of the crop.
It’s the best poetry collection I’ve read in years- honestly.
Why ? Let me tell you.
Firstly, the range is immense. James Nash deals with love and loss- the stock in trade of every poet- but he also talks about sending old clothes to the charity shop, gardens, wasps- even a sonnet about bags for life. A sonnet about plastic bags ! That’s brave !
The language throughout is restrained, controlled. It’s emotional and deeply moving in places, but never sentimental. Look at the last two lines of sonnet on old clothes:
“ What if when these garments are gone at last,
I mourn those faded textures of my past”
Notice that he ends on a question. No easy answers here. What about “ mourn”- we mourn for the dead, yes, but also for our younger selves, as we get older. And “ faded textures of my past” sums up, not just a bag of clothes, but our feelings towards a past we can remember, but not return to.
The last point I want to make is about imagery. Good poetry has echoes, resonances, as well as explicit meaning, and James Nash is a master of this difficult art. Look at his Sonnet 24, which is about sitting in the garden one late summer evening “listening to the hidden blackbird’s song.” It’s a wonderful calm moment. And yet it will “ Not be long before the chilly wind arrives” “ Past memories must be hoarded still/ against the darkness and the loss.” Memories will help us carry on “ As darkness falls , and one of us has gone.” He means the end of a summer evening, yes- but he also means the death of a loved one.
James Nash manages to do what few poets can- he puts into words the feelings we all have, and yet are too tongue-tied to express.
You can buy “Some Things Matter here: