findingtimetowrite

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Archive for the category “Poems”

The Poetry of Inanimate Objects

DSCN6527Over at dVerse Poets Pub I’m urging fellow poets to let go of abstract concepts and describe things as concretely as possible in a poem combining household objects and adjectives describing emotions or feelings.

The Brave Garden Furniture 

Grime-filled white plastic piled in rotting corpses

turning hepatic yellow -

no money for wicker with its creaks close to breaking -

squish of inherited flowery cushions with plump squeezed out

alongside faded stripes and polka-dots.

We remove the slugs with squeamish squealing

we pile up the chairs.

Stronger winds will still scatter them across the lawn,

no matter how they hunker down together.

Into the garage they go: that black hole from which few return…

I wish I could hear their gossip.

 

All winter the long table will groan under layers of snow

without its playmates.

 

Another summer over.

Food for Thought: You’ve Never Had Anything Like This

Over at dVerse Poets, Abhra is urging us to write about our own cultural heritage via the uniqueness of our food and recipes. I thought I’d attempt something different: a prose-poem of sorts about experiencing Romanian food as an outsider, a child who had spent most of her life abroad.

You’ve Never Had Anything Like This

‘You’ve never had anything like this before.’

Uh-oh, here it comes, with warning lights!

As if I’d fall for tricks like that again. They’ve said it before, they can say it again. Too many times.

Usually, it involves something that looks like dog’s vomit covered in mayo.

Or meat wrapped up – for no good reason – in cabbage that’s gone off. They fill my mouth with sour revenge. For living abroad, for escaping them for ten months a year.

But this time, it’s a dessert. I have a sweet tooth, which I’m not allowed to acknowledge. However, this time… my carrot-munching, sugar-banning mother isn’t around. And even she cannot control what my aunt gives me in her own home.

I move in closer.

It’s foamy-white and quivers at the bottom of a bowl. I sink a spoon into its springiness and scoop it into my mouth. It melts on my tongue with creamy-egged smoothness and lingering longings of vanilla.

I gobble it up and ask for more.

‘What is it?’

‘Birds’ milk.’

retetelebunicii

From the recipe website http://www.retetelebunicii.ro

Hausfrau, Anna Karenina, a Poem and the Search for Identity

I’m not sure whether I should be reviewing Jill Alexander Essbaum’s novel ‘Hausfrau’ (the German for ‘housewife’) yet, as it’s not due to come out until May 2015. It’s the only book I’ve been pleading with publishers and publicists to send me an advance copy, because I felt I was born to review it. After all, it’s about the emptiness of an expat woman’s life in neatly-boxed-in, high-quality-of-life-is-assured-if-you-stick-to-the-rules Switzerland… Ring any bells? I may live just across the border in France now, but it’s still something I know both from personal experience and through my work.

In fact, I’d started planning a novel based on my experience as a ‘trailing spouse’ and was convinced that Essbaum had written that book. That turns out not to be the case (my mind is more filled with murderous intent than hers, obviously), but what a moving read it has been! Add to this the fact that Essbaum is an acclaimed poet and this is her debut novel, and you have pretty much all of my reasons to admire her (and be just a wee bit envious). Here is the blurb:

Anna Benz, an American woman in her late thirties, married Bruno, a Swiss banker, and made a new life with him in Dietlikon, a picture-perfect suburb of Zurich, where they live in comfort and affluence with their three young children. But just as the neat and tidy exterior of Zurich and Dietlikon obscures the darker, more complicated aspects of living in Switzerland so is Anna, despite the tranquility and order of her domestic life, falling apart inside.

Described as ‘a literary page-turner with echoes of Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina’, it also deals with themes such as loneliness, a woman’s quest for personal identity (apart from that of wife and mother), culture shock, alienation and the need for beauty in one’s life (which leads us to search for it in all the wrong places). I will review it in more detail closer to the release date, which will almost certainly involve some re-reading. No bad thing, since I gulped this down in just two evenings!

While I was waiting for the ARC of ‘Hausfrau’, however, I wrote a poem about Anna Karenina, which fits in rather well with the atmosphere of this novel. Here it is in its unedited first draft:

DVDtalk

 

She walks into the station as if

nothing could reach out or jostle

her intent; as if

the icy sheen on her forehead

gives her an armour of aloofness, invisible

to mortals.

Her foresight is complete, her pockets emptied of clues.

No noise to pierce her eardrums, she glides through crowds

erect and poised.

Her spine gains inches as if

the stone-weight of family has left her shoulders.

She drifts up the staircase, and crowds part

at the gauntness of her stare.

First up, then down,

directions cease to matter

if the journey’s end is one.

She’ll catch a moment when

they’re wrapped up in their small partings, their music and their emails,

their lives overwhelmed with tasks.

One breath

and she takes flight.

The screech of that train

branding scarlet letters on herds

trapped in search for romance.

 

 

Homecoming? You’re Not From Around Here…

From Wikipedia, shepherd in Fagaras mountains, Romania, attribution unsure.

From Wikipedia, shepherd in Fagaras mountains, Romania, attribution unsure.

I hope I’ll be welcoming when you sweep in after your long journey

But

you’d trail mud across the cream tiles

you’d waft in earthy sweat

loam encrusted in your gnarled fingers

you’d print my white door frame

your voice would boom and scare my children

with toothless joviality as you snatch

their kisses fierce and wet.

 

I don’t pretend I chose my setting.

The colour scheme’s not mine

I added touches, too timid perhaps,

family pictures and drawings.

You’d break the symmetry of photos

you’d want to point at your descendants

and trace each trait to some Carpathian shepherd

with wrinkle-lined eyes from gazing too long at the sun.

 

You would not miss my recoil

even as you laugh it off.

I would not miss your sharp intake

of breath as bleach fills up your nostrils

You laugh at how antiseptic, how shrivelled I’ve become,

how I pay someone else to muddle up

my colour-coordinated mops and sponges

while I read books on sofas.

 

I hoped I’d be welcoming.

But I fear it turns out

deracination is not just for plants.

 

Overwhelmed with house guests this week, so just a quick poem here (not about the current guests, but about my great-grandfather, the Carpathian shepherd).

Poem: Love of Music

Music-Note-Coloring-Pages-For-KidsAnthony at dVerse Poets Pub has us talking about music being the food of love,  and urging us to play on. Who am I to disagree? Musicality, rhythm, sound is all-important to me in poetry – when I read the poetry of others or when I write my own.

 

 

 

When you were mine I took you for granted.

I lost you and never noticed you had gone.

My desk, my car, my home bathed in silence -

I believed them calm. I thought I relished the peace.

Then one day I wandered by chance to a small room

cloudy with sweat, bulging with smoke, but a space

where you were revered

uttered with honey-dripped tongue

encased in love-laden arms.

No more passing by in deafness.

You unleashed yourself against my ears

entered my pulse

forged new pathways in my limited world.

Art, Creativity, Poetry (and Prose)

Two quick reviews today of poetry and poetic prose, by two very different but equally gifted young writers. One born in England but living in Ireland. The other is Swiss, but writes (in this book) about China.

seaofink_0_220_330Richard Weihe: Sea of Ink (transl. by Jamie Bulloch)

The author is clearly attracted by exotic (i.e. Eastern) art – he has also written about the Indian woman painter Amrita Sher-Gil. This slim book is also about a real historical figure, the Chinese painter Bada Shanren, descendant of the Ming dynasty. Little is known about his life, however, although his work has been very influential, hugely admired and extensively analysed. So Weihe is free to weave the meagre details of his life into a slow-burning meditation into the meaning of art, where creativity fits into politics and everyday life, and how to capture the essence of nature and reality. The biographical details are perhaps the least interesting elements of the story, although they provide a certain structure upon which the author hangs his narrative: finding refuge in a temple, feigning madness (or perhaps being really mad for a period) to avoid confrontation with the new political rulers, reluctantly achieving fame. His artistic progress is marked through little vignettes describing his thoughts, emotions and brushstrokes as he creates ten of his most famous paintings. It’s like looking over the artist’s shoulder, watching his attempts to capture the spirit of nature, render it on paper and make it look effortless.

A beautiful, hypnotic book, full of the apparent contradictions of Taoist philosophy (exhaustively researched by the author). A book to reread for inspiration, and not just for painters, full of very quotable pages:

When you paint, you do not speak. But when you have painted, your brush should have said everything.

When you dip your paintbrush into the ink, you are dipping it into your soul. And when you guide your paintbrush, it is your spirit guiding it.

When you paint, do not think about painting, but let your wrist dance.

Originality? I am as I am, I paint as I paint. I have no method… I am just me.

You cannot hang onto the beards of the ancients. You must try to be your own life and not the death of another.

How can it be that, from a dismal sky, this bitter world can suddenly show us that we love it, in spite of everything, and that in spite of everything it will be hard to take our leave of it?

He had set himself one final goal. He wanted to paint flowing water.

silentmusicAdam Wyeth: Silent Music

A fine blend between English realism and Irish romanticism, Wyeth’s poetry starts with a small observation of daily life, which is then suddenly subverted and lets you take a deeper dive into something far more profound. Gathering and cooking globe artichokes becomes a moment of intimacy and exploration, a cinema trip with his mother becomes a heartbreaking revelation of a boy’s helplessness when face with the end of his parents’ marriage, a lost umbrella becomes the metaphor for bad memories of which we try to rid ourselves. Divorce, love, lost friendships, a father’s tumour, trips abroad, childhood pranks, child labour, pigs: there is no subject too big or too small for poetry, but there is no bathos here. Just clear-eyed and very precise recollection and wording.

There is plenty of humour and experimentation amidst more serious poems: this is the debut collection of a young, exuberant writer after all.  ‘Bubbly’ is a poem designed to be read from bottom to top, rising like the bubbles in a glass of champagne – yet it works equally well when read from top to bottom.  The poet makes of fun of fake intellectual pretensions (in the title poem ‘Silent Music’), wannabe poets who lament their lives provide them with nothing interesting to write about, naughty schoolchildren with their secret jargon, even the Danish language ‘that is why there are no famous Danish poets’.

poetryinternationalweb.net

poetryinternationalweb.net

Here’s a short poem in its entirety – the title is longer than the poem, almost, yet so much irony and ambiguity is condensed into those three lines. It’s based on the miracle observed in the summer of 1985 at Ballinspittle Grotto, when the statue of the Virgin Mary moved spontaneously, receiving much national and international publicity.

Waiting for the Miracle at Ballinspittle Grotto

Nothing moves but cars.

First one passes, then I see

a second coming.

 

By way of contrast, however, these romantic, inspirational lines at sunrise:

Some say to witness the break of day

is to witness the hand of God

pull back his black mantle

to touch fingers

with our ancestors

and know something of Adam

as the land was revealed fresh,

like seeing a lover undress for the first time.

 

Life Happens Most When You Aren’t Looking

For dVerse Poets Pub tonight, the prompt is to write about the things that happen while we’re not paying attention, the small things in the corner of our eyes, half-glimpsed. I based my poem upon my almost unhealthy obsession with sneaking a peek at other people’s bookshelves.

Tales of the Unexpected Reader

??????????Loitering with Father Dirt,

in her bookcase I pick up

random titles, authors brittle, dead,

their fame clinging like heavy wet sand

to her hesitant words.

Blue Nights with a grain of sand

I assemble in her silence.

Genji winks at Kafka when

they witness my quick fumble, sorry mess.

Who are they to judge the

81 Austerities between women and men?

Poetry Anthology for a Great Cause

I don’t often trumpet publishing news  or ask you to buy my books (perhaps because I don’t often have anything to trumpet about!), but this book is for such a good cause that I have to share with you.

product_thumbnailOne of my poems has been included in The Wait Poetry Anthology, which is now available in paperback from Lulu. [I've ordered mine and it looks gorgeous - a satisfyingly chunky collection of poems.] Of course, it’s not just my poetry: you will find such a wide variety of poems, on all topics, in all styles, from writers all over the UK and the world, debutants to established poets.

All proceeds from the sale of this volume will go to Cancer Research UK. So let me tell you my very personal reason for wanting to take part in this initiative (and why I am so delighted that my poem was selected for inclusion in the anthology). It’s the same reason why I’ve done the Moonwalk in Edinburgh a few years back (fundraising for Breast Cancer Research).

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 36 years old. It was quite advanced so she had her left breast completely removed, plus months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy to follow. It completely destroyed her looks: she was not only forever scarred physically but also never wore a swimsuit or went to the beach again. She lost her lustrous locks (she used to have hair down to her knees when she was in her teens) and had early menopause. The cancer was vanquished and she is still alive today, but the consequences of such aggressive interventions have stayed with her, resulting in all sorts of health problems.

Edwardian Rapunzel from Etsy.com. Needless to say, this is NOT my mother in her youth!

Edwardian Rapunzel from Etsy.com. Needless to say, this is NOT my mother in her youth, but close…

I know her greatest fear at the time was of leaving me motherless at such a young age, potentially at the mercy of a cruel stepmother (she was not very optimistic about my father’s choice in female companions). Yet, although I was about 7-8 years old then and an only child, I never got to feel the full impact of her illness or her terrors. I have a difficult relationship with my mother – we have very different concepts of life and people – but I will be forever grateful to her and admire her for the way she held herself and my life together at that time. Fundraising for cancer is one of the few ways in which I can show her that.

An e-book will also be available at some point, but for the time being, here is another link with information about how to purchase the book online. Dead easy.  Thank you very much… and let me know what you think of my poem and those of others!

Myths Ancient and Modern

Over at dVerse Poets Pub, we are sharing our retelling of myths with a modern slant. I took a biblical story from the Old Testament which I’ve always had problems with (blind obedience does not sit well with me) and gave it a contemporary reading.

deckchairsSo Abraham took Isaac’s hand and led him to the barren hilltop

with view unimpeded,

deckchair aligned for a demanding god

to witness ultimate devotion.

Higher and higher they mounted:

in altitude

in death toll

in bare-faced wails and covered eyes

He was bound – he did not ask to be martyred.

Your son is not my son.

How easy to sever limbs you’ve proclaimed not your own!

Yet our sinews are joined,

through our arteries the same venom pulsates.

One cut and history bleeds out unchecked.

‘I was only obeying orders.’

Where is the word to halt, the hand to tremble?

Have they not proved enough to this rancorous Master?

Open Link Night: Autumnal Poetry

P1020461My garden teems with cucumbers, roses’ droop, heavily scented figs.

My floppy bag sufficient to fit all the harvest:

in it I also gather eggshells discarded by chicks.

I lay your boots and spade neatly to rest inside the shed.

Played the gardener enough for today – this week – this month.

So easy to forget in today’s sun-stillness:

those moments I flare in nervous thrall –

when is the shift to sandstorm season?

It’s there in the echo of last cuckoo-call.

 

Musing about the change of seasons with a little help from Sappho tonight. Please join us over at dVerse Poets Pub, where we are celebrating that wonderful free-forming, room-for-all event that is Open Link Night.

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