Stream

I’m putting this up because I’ve been struggling with the writing of it for at least three months. Poetry and I have had a falling out. I’ve been unable to write anything worthwhile since the early summer – and what I have managed to produce has all the meaning and perception of babydrool.

I had this memory – it goes back ten, maybe fifteen years – when I was living on the Isle of Man. I started fishing because that’s what you do when you live on an island with rivers. Sometimes, in the summer, I’d go down to the harbour for mackerel- they used to come  in shoals, right up to the harbour wall. All you had to do was put a bit of silver foil on the end of your hook and they would throw themselves on it. And mackerel brought straight from the sea tastes like nothing you can ever imagine.

Then I found a little river which led down through some woods and into the top end of the harbour. There were pools there, and trout would wait in the shadows to take damsel flies, water bugs- anything with lots of legs and not much sense.

One summer afternoon I  was fishing a shady pool under a weir. I was using breadpaste and sugar…..and they were interested. There were four brown trout, head on to the stream, waiting for a toothsome morsel to float past, and I caught all of them. They weren’t stupid – it took me the whole afternoon. Thinking back to it, I must have been fishing for about six hours. Totally involved. In the zone. I’ve never forgotten that.

The poem came about because it struck me that writing poetry and trout fishing are comparable. You’re trying to catch something which is cautious, fleeting. You have to be immersed in what you’re doing. Does that make any kind of sense ? I hope so.

So- after all that preamble. Here’s the poem:

Stream

I used to fish that beck for trout
where it flowed thinly down a weir
to a dark pool beneath.

Below the fizzing damsel flies,
the shards of splintered sunlight
lay gravel beds and pebbles
casting amber shadows.

Trout lurked there, hovering,
winnowing the flow
for nymphs and water bugs.

One afternoon I took a round half dozn,
the line twitching between my fingers,
rod tip dipping to the water.

On this grey morning, frost
sheathes every blade of grass,
the brook runs sullen
under dirty ice.

All things are withered
and stilled
under a crust of cold.

Beach

Beach

Somewhere, a long way,
the sea- a second horizon line.

Here, a blank sheet of sand.
The ground gives, blanching at each step.

Later it will be a palimpsest
of stories, a circle scrabbled
by eager children;
a dog’s paws printed shallower
and wider as it runs;
serpentining bike tracks and
gulls’ webs pressed like leaves
into the sand.

This is not a new poem. I wrote it five or six years ago when we were visiting family in the Isle of Man. It’s not quite the poem I hoped for and I post it here because I want to use it as a starting point for something else.
Let’s see what we can salvage.
I don’t like the start. It’s all too vague. Too vanilla.
I do like “ The ground gives, blanching at each step” – there’s movement here. That works.
I’m not sure about “palimpsest) ( it’s a manuscript which has been scribbled over and re-used) Shall I keep it ? Maybe

The rest of the poem is straight description – stories and pictures drawn from the marks on the sand. It works…a bit…but it doesn’t go deep enough for me. Standing on the tideline is a curious existence. You’re standing where fish swam a few hours before. It’s not one place.It’s two places. And tomorrow morning there will be no scrabbles or bike tracks in the sand…the tideline only exists for now…

So. I’ve got some ideas. Add to them if you like. I’ll go and punt a few sentences about.

If you want to hear the poem read then go here :

https://soundcloud.com/superfortress99/beach … on #SoundCloud

Lighting the fire

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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.

Strange how potent cheap music is

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.