Bus Pass

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A passport to purgatory
with no request stops
and one final destination.

Blank eyed, killer cold,
I look just like some shifty cove
of interest to the police-
a drug baron or someone who
does dreadful things to cats.

I place my effigy face down,
wait for the electronic ping
which says I am still me,
then find a seat.

The bus, packed full
as a milkman’s crate
with silver tops,
is loud with chat.

“These car wash people are all Russian”
“They’ll soon get finished then.”
“Isn’t it funny – you often find
something you haven’t lost.”

Museum Street. The conversation’s stilled.
We shuffle off, take up our own affairs –
optician, dentist, hospital for tests-
all necessary measures for survival.
That way we can eke out a few more years
but still

the journey matters more than the arrival.

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Man and Dog

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Man

The dog plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
We pass the ball from dog to man
and then from man to dog again.
I’m bored as hell. It pleases him
for dogs are slow and somewhat dim.

Dog

The man plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
He tries so hard, it’s rather sweet
for one who’s blessed with two left feet.
It keeps him happy; I don’t mind.
I’ve grown quite fond of human kind.

Man and Dog

We both hate football.

How much happier we would be
watching cricket on tv.

Walnuts

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Plump as plums, clustered among leaves,
they hang in a green shade.
Pick one. Peel back the husk and find
a shell there, pocked and wrinkled
like some distant world.

You’ll need a knife. Just press
your blade against the lateral line
then prise the halves apart
and there, in a nutshell
is a brain.

Packed tight into an inch wide skull
two waxy hemispheres
each ridged and swollen
into lobes and clefts
and each the image of the other.

Remove the nut and place it on your tongue.
Crisp at first bite, then soft.
It tastes of sap,
and garnered sunlight
and green thoughts.

 

The woman who invented the selfie

Ex Libris- David Hughes-review

 
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Sometimes I think poetry is a small world- there are the legends, of course- Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney – and the modern greats – Armitage,Carol Ann Duffy,James Nash and after them there’s us – the wannabes and has-beens who keep on struggling to produce something that is better than mediocre. You rarely get a poet who comes out of nowhere and blows your socks off.

David Hughes, however, is such a poet. He taught English Literature in York from 1975 to 1991 – a career ended with a climbing accident in which a friend and colleague died.PTSD put an end to his teaching career, though not his writing.

His life became intertwined with a troubled young man (also called David) who was also a writer and poet. The two of them became a writing team – Young Dave and Old Dave. In 2008 Young Dave was sent to prison for an assault and sent poems to David Hughes for comment for comment. ” Young David and I,” he wrote, “wish them to be attributed to both of us.” A lot of his later writing is part of this project.

What does he write about ? Climbing and landscape figure in the early work, and he writes with immediacy and verve.

“Ice across our faces till our breaths begin to freeze
into our hoods, snow goggles glaze, becoming masks
Of plated frost, and compass needles disappear

He writes about war, including a stunning response to Edward Thomas’s ” Adlestrop.”

His technique is unobtrusive, controlled,making the structure reflect the meaning.

Without doubt his best work comes from the collaboration with Young Dave. In one of the prison poems – ” things I miss” -Dave (Which one ? Does it matter?) writes ” the smell of traffic in a queue” and ” the touchdown hiss of settling snow on leaves.”
Look at that last line again…isn’t it perfect ?

The two most successful poems reference the Bible,and the division of souls into sheep and goats.They examine the nature of charity. If you do something good, something charitable, should you be praised for it ? If you receive charity, should you be grateful ? Or is charity something that just happens – an exchange of energy between two souls ? These are poems which leave an echo.

“Ex Libris” is the first hardback from Valley Press. It is beautifully produced, with head and tail bands, and even a ribbon marker.

There’s a man’s life here, and his thoughts, and David Hughes is a man worth listening to.
You can buy it here:

http://www.valleypressuk.com/

The Dog Walking Poet

I’ve been writing poetry for about sixty years, and I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Why do it ? All sorts of reasons, really. First, it was more fun than football. I never liked football. Terminally short sighted and with two left feet, I was useless at it. On the other hand, I was good with words- I could kick them around the page and, from time to time, I achieved a goal.

Writing poetry was a way of fixing the present. Time moves on, you’re old before you realise it – and a poem can fix one moment, with all its complexity, like a fly in amber.I’ve still got poems I wrote forty years ago – they’re dreadful – but they’re honest.

I hate to say that poetry is a journey – a cliche about as fresh as that tub of last week’s yoghourt hiding at the back of the fridge – but sometimes cliches are true. When I start a poem I know exactly where I want to end up – and I never get there. I end up in a place I never dreamed of. Someone is leaning over my shoulder, whispering “ No, Ian…this way..can’t you see it..”

Poetry’s greatest virtue is that it’s short – unless you’re John Milton…or Byron…or Homer…ok…poetry is usually short. I like the idea of cramming ten gallons into a pint pot. It intrigues me. If a novel is a Venti Cappucino with cream, sprinkles and chocolate sauce, then a poem is a triple shot of bitter espresso.

I like the technical challenges of poetry writing. Anyone can write a novel. Even Morissey. Have you seen the reviews though…No – being a poet means heavy duty thinking, balancing meaning against structure, making one word do three jobs, agonising over a comma. It strains your brain.

It all takes time. Was it UA Fanthorpe, or Stevie Smith who said that a poem took 74 hours to finish. How did she get to such a precise number, I wonder. I know that most poems I write take about a fortnight. Around the half way mark I’m ready to quit – it’s so tempting to drop it into the “ Scrap” folder and melt it down later. But if I keep going, there’s a lovely moment when you know that it will work. The golden city is in view. All I have to do is walk through the gates. It’s a great moment.

And of course, poetry writing is therapy. It’s a chance to dig down, get the bad stuff out, look at it, and move on. Good poetry is an account of internal weather.

Talking of weather- it has stopped raining, and the dog is demanding his walk round the lake. Next time I shall be talking about the printed…and the spoken word.

Until then – goodbye

You can always listen to a spoken version of this piece here:

http://tinyurl.com/py2ljbq

Roman oil lamp

An awkward, graceless, hand made thing,
pot bellied, with a spout
and glazed in muddy brown.

It was a gift.
Who from, I can’t recall.
I kept it on my desk for years.

I’d pick it up sometimes
and feel the grittiness
that lay beneath the glaze,
marvel at the clumsy spout,
all caked with soot,
where once the flame had flickered.

I gave it away to one
whose life was shadowed then
and cold.
An amulet against the dark
two hundred decades old.

Winter 1778

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I’ve tried a bit of an experiment here. I haven’t actually written it.

Gilbert White ( 1720-1792) did that. Or rather, he wrote a long- running and detailed journal from which I have lifted a sentence here, a phrase there. The words are entirely those of Gilbert White. All I’ve done is arrange the flowers.

Have you ever tried that ? Any text will do… have a go…let me know..

Here’s the poem:

Leaves fall very fast. My hedges
show beautiful lights and shades.
Rain all night. One vast shower.
Vast rain and strong wind.
My well has risen many feet.
The earth is glutted now with water
which runs from our fields
into the hollow lanes.

The tortoise is very torpid
but does not bury himself.

Water froze in my chamber window.
The tortoise begins to dig into the ground.
Rain all night. And wind.
The tortoise retires to his coop.

Shallow snow. Ground very hard.
Snow all night. Snow lies on the hills.
Snow half-shoe deep on the hill.
The ground is as hard as a rock.
The ground is hard as iron.
The snow is drifted to the tops of gates.
The lanes are full. A very deep snow.

The tortoise does not stir.

Compiled from the journals of Gilbert White (1720-1793)

How do YOU write a poem…no….honestly..

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I wanted to set myself very specific brief for the poem below.It was going to be about an old man remembering his first love affair. I wanted it to be technically tight, as far as rhyme and rhythm are concerned. But I didn’t want it to sound stilted. And I wanted to use as few words as possible to tell the story- the silences had to contribute to the finished article.

Well. Here it is

Old love

Street light slanted through the half pulled curtain.
She took my hand and put it to her breast.
“It’s you I want.” She smiled. “ As for the rest…”

That she should want me then…to be so certain..

Yes. I have memories which sting me yet
even as they console- the way she purred
against my neck when we were done…. No word

seems apt…so long ago..I can’t forget…..

Well…what do you think ? How far did I succeed ? How long did it take to write?
Ten days.About twenty odd hours.

Writing ” Old love” brought all sorts of practical writing questions to mind, and I thought they might be of some interest to other people. Let me know how relevant they are to your writing style.

Do you have a clear idea about what you’re going to write about before you start ?
Or do you just take a pen for a walk ?

Do you have the first line in your head before you begin ? Or any other line ?

Can see a planned journey from beginning to end ? Or do you allow yourself to wander down golden pathways ?

Do you use a pen and paper or a computer ? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each mode of writing. Anyone dictate a poem ?

5. Do you usually finish a poem in one session, or do you write it over a period of time ?

6. How much do you revise your poem ? Do you just give it a tweak and move on to the next ? Or do you go over it line by line, word by word, silence by silence ? And if you do, how long does it take you ? Hours ? Days ? Weeks ?

7.Who do you write for ? Yourself ? Another specific person ? An audience in general ?

8. Raymond Carver said that every poem needs an audience. It’s like a kiss. You can’t do it on your own. Was he right ?

9.Which is more important- structure ? Or subject ? If you choose quite a strict format in terms of rhyme and rhythm, does this make writing the poem harder ? Or easier ?

10.Who are your poetic role models ? Do you consciously attempt to imitate them ?

A cold song for a cold night

Ok-  this week we’re going to the  Boss, the Top Banana, the Mensch- we’re going to look at something by William Shakespeare.

Arrgh ! No ! Not Shakespeare thingy  ! He’s old fashioned and boring and you can’t understand him and he’s like…just dull !

Silence oik ! And listen to this:

What do you think ?  Lovely reading but isn’t the poem a bit olde worlde ? A bit twee ?

A bit chocolate box ? Think again

Line 1 OK- I concede- an average opening line for a winter poem. We’ve all seen icicles

Line 2. Dick the shepherd tells us this a rural poem. Why is he blowing on his nail ? Because he hasn’t got any gloves ! Because he’s poor and cold and his finger ends hurt like hell.

Line 3. We get the first hints of a household here. There’s Dick the shepherd and Tom the servant- and Tom is carrying logs in because they’re going to be needed on the fire.

Line 4. It’s so cold the milk is solid. We’re starting to get a Breughel winter scene here.

Line 5. Key words are “nipped” -you feel as though the blood is freezing in your veins. And “foul” – the roads are impassable

Line 6. The owl. Not the most cheerful of birds- then why “ merry” ? Are we getting the feeling that The Boss is being a bit ironic here?

I won’t do a full line-by-line run through of the next verse. I’d only point out (a) the breathless use of “ and” throughout the poem. He can’t wait to tell the story of our house. (b) there’s a cast of characters here- the parson who can’t be heard because of the coughing, Marian, and greasy Joan- who’s probably the kitchen maid. And  why is she keeling (scraping) the pot ? Because she’s hungry and she’s scraping out the last bit of meat or dried on gravy, that’s why.

So the “merry note” of the owl isn’t so merry after all.

Far from being a jolly, rilly-me-dilly-me-and-a raspberry -o song, this is a harsh portrayal of a household on the breadline, in the middle of a filthy, cold winter.

Difficult ? Not really. Bland ? Certainly not.Powerful ? I think so.

There, that didn’t hurt, did it ?