Featured Poem: From SIXTY, by William Gilson

Poet William Gilson introduces his poem Sixty.

I’m an American living permanently in England. My wife Alison is English. Our home is in Kendal in Cumbria. This excerpt is from a book-length poem written over a period of about two years during which our youngest son, Joe, was born, our oldest son, Tom, turned five, and I turned sixty.

William will be reading his work at the Kendal Brewery Arts Centre (with poet Sue Vickerman) on Friday 7 November.

 

from SIXTY by William Gilson

 

Tom is these days fascinated by gravity.

“Is it on the fence, Dad?”

“Is it pulling the house down, Dad?”

It’s pulling me down, Tom.
My feet shuffle
My back curves
I stoop.
It pulls the blood from the brain,
I can’t remember things.

I do situps, pushups,
I bought a pair of jogging shoes,
my choresterol is too high,
I’m terrified of a stroke,
I’m afraid of gravity.

But the beauty of it,
how it shelves the shaling rock,
how it slopes the talus,
how the trees appear as if resting,
having fallen,
as if softly embracing,
pulled into one another’s moss
and disintegrating bark.

Tom points out to me that gravity bends
the jonquils,
how the longer stems curve over, almost
touch the ground.

_______________

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Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: ‘Aeroplanes’, by Rebecca Goss

Poetry is changing and the ways we encounter it are changing too. Friend of The Reader Organisation Rebecca Goss is trying out new ways of bringing poetry to a wide audience and ‘Aeroplanes’ has been turned into a film by eekfilms as part of Liverpool’s Poetry in the City Festival 2008. It is soon to be screened on the Liverpool BBC Big Screen. ‘Aeroplanes’ was a prizewinning poem in The Bridport Prize 2000. Judge George Szirtes described it as having ‘….intelligence, poignancy and sharpness of perception’. Here it is in glorious Youtube:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJLleTY59-U&hl=en&fs=1]

Featured Poem: Jackie Kay’s ‘Darling’

Jackie Kay will be appearing alongside Matt Simpson at the Sefton Celebrates Writing Literary Festival on Saturday 27 September at the Southport Arts Centre Sudio. Jackie Kay is an award-winning poet who has published several collections of poems. Her latest book is Darling: New and Selected Poems (2007) and this is the title poem.

 

Darling

 

You might forget the exact sound of her voice

Or how her face looked when sleeping.

You might forget the sound of her quiet weeping

Curled into the shape of a half moon,

 

When smaller than her self, she seemed already to be leaving

Before she left, when the blossom was on the trees

And the sun was out, and all seemed good in the world.

I held her hand and sang a song from when I was a girl –

 

Heel Y’ Ho Boys, Let her go Boys

And when I stopped singing she had slipped away,

Already a slip of a girl again, skipping off,

Her heart light, her face almost smiling.

 

And what I didn’t know or couldn’t say then

Was that she hadn’t really gone.

The dead don’t go till you do, loved ones.

The dead are still here holding our hands.

 

By Jackie Kay

_______________________

The Sefton Celebrates Writing Literary Festival runs from the 22nd to the 28th of September. For updates about festivals in Liverpool and Northwest, subscribe to our email bulletin. Last week jen Tomkins compiled a roundup of literary festivals in the Northwest this autumn.

Featured Poem: The Beautiful Lie, by Sheenagh Pugh

Katie Clark, a Reader Organisation outreach worker recommends ‘The Beautiful Lie’ by Sheenagh Pugh.

I recently read this poem with my reading group at the Kevin White drugs detox Unit. I was so moved by the discussion it evoked that I came away and read it again myself, noticing things that I had not picked up on at first. After we had finished reading in the group, one member of staff told us that he read the poem from the point of view of the Grandma, and said ‘I think it is the Grandma who is telling the poem–it’s her voice. That’s why she cuts off in the last stanza’. Two other group members said that they had read it from the child’s point of view, finding themselves back at the moment where they first realised that it is possible to ‘say the world different’. One young woman said quietly ‘We all have experience of that in here I think. But it can go both ways. I’ve sometimes got into trouble for being too straight’. We thought that it was interesting the way this lie is reported, as ‘beautiful’, and just another important development phase in this child’s journey through life. It raises questions such as ‘is lying important? Do we need to do it to be human? What would we be like if we didn’t lie?’ Questions which remain with me, like a haunting presence, days after reading the poem.

The Beautiful Lie by Sheenagh Pugh

He was about four, I think… it was so long ago.
In a garden; he’d done some damage
behind a bright screen of sweet-peas
– snapped a stalk, a stake, I don’t recall,
but the grandmother came and saw, and asked him
“Did you do that?”

Now, if she’d said why did you do that,
he’d never have denied it. She showed him
he had a choice. I could see in his face
the new sense, the possible. That word and deed
need not match, that you could say the world
different, to suit you.

When he said “No”, I swear it was as moving
as the first time a baby’s fist clenches
on a finger, as momentous as the first
taste of fruit. I could feel his eyes looking
through a new window, at a world whose form
and colour weren’t fixed

but fluid, that poured like a snake, trembled
around the edges like northern lights, shape-shifted
at the spell of a voice. I could sense him filling
like a glass, hear the unreal sea in his ears.
This is how to make songs, create men, paint pictures,
tell a story
.

I think I made up the screen of sweet-peas.
Maybe they were beans, maybe there was no screen:
it just felt as if there should be, somehow.
And he was my – no, I don’t need to tell that.
I know I made up the screen. And I recall very well
what he had done

___

This poem was first published in the TLS. It was the title poem of the collection The Beautiful Lie, Seren 2002 and appears here by permission of the author. Sheenagh Pugh’s next collection is Long-Haul Travellers and is published in autumn 2008. Her Selected Poems is available from Seren.

Featured Poem: Candour, by Rebecca Goss

This week in our Featured Poem series we welcome back Rebecca Goss, who recommended Amy Lowell’s ‘Carrefour’ for us back in June. This time she writes about her own poem, ‘Candour’ which was first published in Ambit, issue 192, Spring 2008.

Rebecca writes:

Someone told me of a man they knew, who had woken his wife in the middle of the night to tell her he didn’t love her anymore. At first, I was horrified at this. How humiliating for the wife, how undignified to be told such a thing, whilst sleepy and vulnerable. But then, the more I thought about it, it was him I felt sorry for. How desperate had he become to feel he had to do it then, tell her at that moment? I’m no good at writing anti-male poems either, I like writing in the male voice too much. I love adopting a man’s voice, imagining his reactions, seeing if I can get away with it!

 

Candour

 

Moulding my back into the headboard,

I look down at my sleeping wife, push a finger

 

into her fleshy arm. I watch it sink in, like a child’s finger

lost in forbidden icing. With my whole palm, I roll her arm

 

like a baker’s pin, but still can’t drag her from the dark.

Shaking a shoulder makes her eyelids spark open.

 

She sits up quickly, unaware one breast has fallen

from her nightdress. Yawning, her sticky mouth stretches,

 

sour breath rises in the slim space between us

and I tell her I feel sunken, unloved.

 

by Rebecca Goss

_______

Rebecca Goss has poems forthcoming in 2008 in two anthologies of contemporary poetry In the Telling (Cinnamon Press) and The Poet’s Perspective (Headland Press). Her poem ‘Virginity’ was amongst a selection chosen by Kate Clanchy to feature in her poetry workshop for The Guardian (online). Read the poem and her comments about it here

Rebecca will be reading with the poet Paul Durcan at The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, 7.00pm, Wednesday October 15th 2008.

Read a review of her recent reading in Liverpool, see section ‘July 24th’

‘Candour’ is published here with permission.

You can get all our featured poems by email (via Feedburner). Just follow this link and enter your email address: Featured Poems By Email.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: ‘The world is too much with us’

This famous poem, written in 1807, needs little in the way of introduction. Wordsworth’s anguish over the lost connection between humanity and nature is expressed in clear and forceful terms: ‘We have given our hearts away’ and for what? Mere ‘getting and spending’:

The world is too much with us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon,
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.–Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

By William Wordsworth (1807)

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: ‘Sympathy’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar‘s poem ‘Sympathy’, first published in 1899, inspired the title to Maya Angelou’s autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, and after even the briefest of readings of the poem, it is easy to see why. I myself always return to Dunbar’s poem, for which neither the words ‘sad’ nor ‘happy’ can apply, striking as it does at a deeper chord of human feeling that has to do with one’s assertion of life even in the bleakest hours of struggle – an assertion of the life spirit which forces even those smallest of creatures, such as the small caged bird around which the poem revolves, to persist in their struggle for freedom which in turn requires their having to hold on to what might be regarded as an almost instinctive faith in life.

I read this poem last week at one of my Get Into Reading groups. After I had read it, two other women also wanted to take a turn in reading it. After I had read the poem, one woman, who is about seventy years old and has suffered from depression for most of her life, said ‘I think that is a lovely poem. I relate it to myself – with the prison bars and the bruised wings, I think about myself in here, but I also think about how I always make sure I go out and keep on going out, and walk around.’ I hope you enjoy the poem as much as I continue to do.

Sympathy

I KNOW what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
And the river flows like a stream of glass;
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals –
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch and cling
When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener sting –
I know why he beats his wing!

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,-
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings –
I know why the caged bird sings!

Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1889

Posted by Clare Williams

Featured Poem: ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence

This poem was given to me to read last week by one of our Get Into Reading group members. K, who has also been volunteering in our office found the piece of paper with the poem on it filed away with a collection of short stories, or rather sandwiched between other things in haste after one of the reading groups. It had been lying there, forgotten about, “It’s time we brought it back out into the light,” K said, “isn’t it?” Urging me to read it, telling me that it was one of the most beautiful poems that he’s ever read, I turned away from my computer screen to do just that.

What struck me most about re-reading ‘Piano’ by D H Lawrence was that it didn’t strike me as being merely an act of nostalgia but a beautifully penned illustration on the nature of memory. One can almost hear the “tingling strings” of the “tinkling piano”. These strike me as being like crystal clear water trickling and tumbling in narrow, rocky streams. So our lives move on, never stopping – like a river – and we’re left, on occasion, with our own “insidious mastery of song” which takes back to somewhere we can never really be again (and we may well not want to be) but in those moments floods our present life all the same.

Piano

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.

In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.

So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

D. H. Lawrence, 1918

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Featured Poem: ‘Weathers’, by Thomas Hardy

The British summer has a lot going for it if you happen to be a meteorologist or a poet. Thomas Hardy wrote a lot about weather, in his poetry and in his novels. The contrast between spring and autumn in these two stanzas is beautifully done, connecting the natural run of the seasons with the human (and animal) needs. For the next few weeks at least let’s have more of the weather the cuckoo likes.

 

Weathers

 

This is the weather the cuckoo likes,

And so do I;

When showers betumble the chestnut spikes,

And nestlings fly;

And the little brown nightingale bills his best,

And they sit outside at ‘The Traveller’s Rest,’

And maids come forth sprig-muslin drest,

And citizens dream of the south and west,

And so do I.

 

This is the weather the shepherd shuns,

And so do I;

When beeches drip in browns and duns,

And thresh and ply;

And hill-hid tides throb, throe on throe,

And meadow rivulets overflow,

And drops on gate bars hang in a row,

And rooks in families homeward go,

And so do I.

 

By Thomas Hardy

____________

Posted by Chris Routledge

Featured Poem: Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Writers often wish a plague of scabs (and worse) on their editors and Chaucer’s poem about his copyist or scribe, revealed a few years ago as Adam Pinkhurst, is one of the most famous literary outbursts against them. Chaucer’s poem is concise and to the point. Giles Coren came over all medieval in a long email to his subs at The Times and was rather less economical. Adam Pinkhurst, it turns out, worked on many of Chaucer’s best-known manuscripts, and was a ‘favoured scribe’. That makes the following all the more significant:

Wordes Unto Adam His Own Scriveyne

Adam scrivener, if ever thee befall

Boece or Troilus for to write new,

Under thy longe locks thow maist have the scall(1),

But after my makinge thou write mor trew,

So oft a day I mot thy werke renewe

It to correct, and eke to rubbe and scrape,

And all is thorowe thy necligence and rape(2).

1. scab

2. haste