Kathleen Jones and Clarissa Aykroyd . . . Remember! for National Poetry Day

 

 

Remembering the Trees

Kauri Forest, New Zealand, 2013

It takes time to grow
a continent of rock, rooted
in ocean.  Time
to grind and sift
a handful of soil for a seed
and two thousand rings of dense grain
packed into furniture, floor boards
a Whare, a house, the shaft
of an axe. . .

 

 

Kathleen Jones writes poetry, fiction and biography.  She has two lives – one in Cumbria and one in Italy connected by Ryanair.  Her first collection  Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21 won the Straid Award and she’s currently writing about the islands of the Haida Gwaii.

 

 

 

 

Against Remembering

In remembering, that which should have died
still lives. Remember your grandmother’s eyes
and fear will pass, they said. But what remains
is a fear that I will never again
be held so closely. All the hidden things,
the black telephone, last things – all return.
Learn history, forget: those red poppies
conjure anger. Memories of your face,
the knowledge that seven minutes later
I said those words – they’re all that now remain.

 

 

Clarissa Aykroyd grew up in Victoria, Canada and now lives in London. Her poems have appeared in publications including The Missing Slate, And Other Poems and Shot Glass Journal and she has been nominated for a 2015 Pushcart Prize. She is the author of a blog on poetry in all its forms, The Stone and the Star . Find her on Twitter: @stoneandthestar

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Mark Pajak

 

 

 
Break Time

Remember the lumber of the teacher’s words
buckling under the bell’s smash. Remember
us kids blocking at the door to get out
a bundle of smells: the nose fuss of jumper wool,
spicy graphite on pencil stained fingers,
our little mouths bursting with hot chat.
On the playground, remember the cram splintering
in a twang of shins, arms ribboning and the cold
snapping as though the air were chalk.
Hurtling over the concrete, remember if you can
tugging at the body’s bonds
from the cake of scalp down to the toe clasps,
every pore and goose bump as Velcro to unhook
and, in that second split like an atom,
your child’s heart becoming
the crack of a whip bound in a school uniform.
But remember also the railings
drawing in like ribs of a corset. All sprints fray.
All bodies slow. Remember the bars’ solid thrum
like a kicked guitar under the rain of our hands.

 

Mark Pajak was born on the Wirral. He is a graduate of LJMU and also the Liverpool Playhouse Young Writer’s Programme. His work has appeared in Askew, Myths of the Near Future, Smoke and Spilt Milk Magazines, among others.

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Donal Mahoney

 

 

Dying at Midnight

Two big attendants
in white coats are here
to remove my remains.
My son called the mortuary
after Murphy said I was gone.
The doctor, a good neighbor,
came over at midnight, found
no pulse and made it official.
I could have saved him the trip.
I knew I was gone.

My wife’s in the kitchen
crying with my daughter
in a festival of Kleenex.
I told her I was sick
but she didn’t believe me.
She thought I was faking it
so I wouldn’t have to go
to her mother’s for dinner.
I don’t like lamb but
her mother’s from Greece.
Lamb shanks are always
piled on the table.
Stuffed grape leaves I like
and she’ll make them for
Christmas provided I start
begging at Thanksgiving.
Every Easter, however,
it’s another fat leg of lamb,
marbled with varicosities
and sauced with phlebitis.

Right now I’m wondering
who’ll win the argument
between the two angels
facing off in the mirror
on top of the dresser.
The winner gets my soul
which is near the ceiling,
a flying saucer spinning
out of control.
I want the angel
in the white tunic
to take it in his backpack.
The other guy in gray
looks like Peter Lorre
except for the horns.

 

 

Nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, Donal Mahoney has had work published in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. Some of his earliest work can be found at http://booksonblog12.blogspot.com/.

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David Cooke reviews Maitreyabandhu ‘The Crumb Road’ and Terry Cree ‘Fruit’

The Crumb Road is a debut collection from Maitreyabandhu, a Buddhist priest who was born Ian Johnson in 1961. The contemplative tone of his prefatory lyric, ‘This’, hints at the journey he has made:

There’s no law against my listening

to this thrush behind the barn,

the song so loud it echoes like a bell,

then it’s further off beyond the lawn.

Whatever there is, there’s this as well.

 

It’s a poem which, in its more modest way,  might usefully be compared with the opening movement of Eliot’s Burnt Norton and one in which Maitreyabandhu seems to be reaching towards transcendence, ‘even though we build a common hell’. The collection proper is then divided into three sections. In the first of which he evokes family memories and, in particular, creates a memorable portrait of his father.  ‘Burial’ is the first of several poems in which we find the poet’s father digging objects out of the earth. Elsewhere we see him digging up old bottles or copper wire, but here he accidentally turns up some human remains. Written in couplets, the poem is concise and effective, but finds room for some humour:’ He brought / the second skull indoors with clods of earth // still hanging from its jowl and stood it on / the Stratford Herald while my mother protested.’ The father’s obsession with digging becomes, as in Heaney’s signature poem, emblematic of the son’s later, and more complex, attempt to unearth the past:

 

But that isn’t right,

 

I’ve made it up or rather I’ve mistaken

my father’s story for the thing itself:

 

the smell, the wormy skull, the policeman

tall, bright-buttoned, standing by the Aga.

 

This is then followed by a dozen poems that focus on various childhood memories. The accumulation of detail in ‘The Coat Cupboard’ re-invents and goes beyond a small child’s perspective on a place that seemed strange, if not quite magical: ‘You don’t push your way through to discover a landscape  / where beavers can talk.’  As in ‘Burial’, this is a poem about a specific memory, but then comes to symbolize the actual process of trying to remember: ‘You find a set of keys / without their brightness or warmth of handling.’ The poem concludes on a note of Proustian recognition, when the poet discovers that his grandmother’s pink lipstick ‘is still shaped to the curve of her lip.’ ’Bottle Digging’ and ‘Shark Fishing’ are further character studies of the poet’s father. In the former one senses the adult’s wisdom as he stands back to let his son to learn from experience. In the latter, appalled by a fisherman’s cruelty, ‘my father paid the thirty pounds / we owed but wouldn’t shake the skipper’s hand’. In ‘Hammers’ he conveys the obsessiveness of a man forever on the lookout for bargain tools and the subsequent grief of those tasked with having to dispose of them.

The work collected in the second section is less circumstantially autobiographical and more stylistically varied. With its twenty eight poems it might well have been advisable to hold some of them back for a subsequent collection and thus give more prominence to this volume’s two autobiographical sections. ‘Still Life with Geranium’ is the first of several poems that strive to create an abstract space: ‘The quiet / inside myself / is of a room inside a room.’ In ‘Place’ the poet’s goal seems just beyond him: ‘You’re in a room / with one high window // your step ladder doesn’t reach.’ Throughout these poems the images tend to be more elemental and the landscapes more visionary than in those that precede them.  In ‘Pine Branch’ the poet evokes Cezanne and suggests that the painter and the contemplative share a common approach

 

Cezanne would have understood the problem

of a pine branch, its relation to the sky

in the early morning with just a sickle moon

and the sun not yet up among the rocks.

 

This section has four effective prose poems and a mesmerizing narrative poem, ‘Rangiatea’, which, somewhat in the manner of a classical epyllion, describes a voyage between dream and reality. Further highlights are ‘Visitation’, ‘The Man’, in which contemplation is undermined by a longing for community, and ’At the Station’, a description of two gay men:

 

One wraps his arms around the other

from behind. He can feel his belly’s breath

against his back. They stay like this

for quite some time, like figures made of clay

still warm from the hand that fashioned them.

 

Finally, the collection is brought to a close with STEPHEN, a sequence of twenty one  poems exploring the troubled relationship between two adolescent boys and its tragic conclusion. The candour, tact and poignancy of this sequence are quite remarkable. Shot through with moments of guilt, awkwardness and lyrical intensity, its fragmentary, non-linear, handling of events creates a brooding sense of obsession, as the two boys try to make sense of their feelings. Set in the 1970s, Maitreyabandhu’s re-creation of that less than tolerant era is utterly convincing, as is the mythologized landscape of Crockett’s Lane, Fletcher’s Hole and Lodder’s Field. From the outset there is an atmosphere of secrecy and denial: ‘Two boys once walked across an iron bridge… / They didn’t speak / or catch each other’s eye.’ There is also an authentic sense of the mundane, as the two boys explore their feeling towards each other, and how they feel about themselves, across a landscape of allotments, dens, and railway tracks. It’s an ordinariness that helps to bring into sharp focus their drama of gaucheness and desire. The tension is well conveyed in ‘The Cutting’ where, after some twenty lines of leisurely description, there is a sudden change of key:

I managed to lift his shirt and touch his side,

but he was scared and so was I. And anyway

the train didn’t stop; we just stood there

on the platform while she thundered past.

 

In ‘The Brook’ water becomes a symbol for repressed sexuality: ‘I was looking // to where the silted leaves might show / a trout or stickleback, a sluggish / weight of water.’ In ‘The Garden’, racked by guilt, the poet creates a poisoned paradise in which he finds room for potato drills, piles of scrap and a wrecked Austin Princess; while ‘The Mop’ is a brilliant evocation of a travelling fair as detailed as any of Larkin’s set pieces. It finishes on a note of matter of fact tragedy:

He’d been waiting to do something with his life

when someone screamed as a woman we both knew

turned right and knocked him off his bike.

 

Taking his title from the tale of Hansel and Gretel, Maitreyabandhu uses the image of ‘the crumb road’ to symbolize the vulnerable trail he has followed back in time. ‘It didn’t matter now. It was long ago’, the poet says in ‘Two Boys. The reader, however, will be inclined to disagree as he travels back with the poet to share each shimmering ‘spot of time’.

 

Terry Cree is a writer and artist based in Hampshire. Fruit, his first collection of poetry, contains a sixteen page ‘triptych’ inspired by the work of the American photographer, Ralph Eugene Meatyard alongside another dozen poems that vary in length from brief lyrics to lengthier meditations. Cree has supplied the artwork for the cover and a sequence of pencil drawings to accompany his poems. At a time when poetry collections are frequently too long and seem careless of their overall structure, it is a relief to fine a volume that is so meticulously assembled. A similar concern with ‘composition’ also informs the individual poems. In ‘The Consolation of Walls’ Cree works through existential uncertainties with the elegance of a geometrical paradigm and with an ironic nod, perhaps, toward the imprisoned philosopher Boethius:

 

There is a wall inside me against which

I have been kicking a small rubber ball

For years

 

Sometimes it rolls back along the ground.

Sometimes it bounces back like feelings plotted

On a graph,

 

That old oscillation of up and down…

 

That ball can rest inside me like a stone,

As hard and rubbery as death, unkicked,

Unknown.

 

However, to start at the beginning with ‘Josephine Jones’, Cree’s enigmatic opening poem, we will see that the metaphysical obsessions that shape Cree’s work do not lead to predictability of approach or any narrowing of range. In this poem we seem at first to be on familiar territory: ‘In a tent of clouds / I am six years old / in Mercer’s Field…’ Soon, however, as the opening sentence slowly unwinds, details merge and the narrative becomes dreamlike. Swept along by the poem’s riddling and incantatory rhythms, we learn little beyond the fact that Jennifer Jones was five years old and may have died: ‘Josephine had flowers on her heart.’  More certain, is the fact that the poem’s protagonist is haunted by his memory of her: ‘She was the dark cleft / I will carry with me/ till the raging sun / falls out of the sky.’ What is so impressive about this piece is that it manages to achieve both depth and resonance from what, on the face of it, is very simple language.

Absorbing too are ‘Weir Gate’ and ‘Sea Song’. The former is an unflinching narrative about an act of childhood violence: ‘There were three kids / and two were friends / and one was no friend / to either but, abject in / his hope, just tagged along;’ while the latter is a study of isolation in which a protagonist stares out to sea and contemplates the nature of waves: ‘he wonders / if a wave can have identity // whether one wave is entity / unto itself or whether waves // are merely gestures of the sea.’ Observation, however, does not make sense of the world, so that the waves can only reinforce our sense of the man’s emptiness: ‘their sighing / signals nothing to our lonely / man except the limits of love, //  his own heartfelt perimeter.’

Transience, separation, and the limits of what is knowable: these are also themes explored in Cree’s meditation up the ‘family albums’ of Ralph Eugene Meatyard. In this poem, Cree’s technical skill is again much in evidence, as he adapts a form put to brilliant use by Thom Gunn in the 1960s. ‘Meatyard Triptych’ is composed in rhyming quatrains, each line of which is based on a count of eight syllables, rather than four metrical feet. It’s a form that gives both backbone and flexibility. In the first panel of his ‘triptych’ Cree concentrates upon the photographer’s studies of his own children. Attempting to get some kind of purchase upon the mind of a child, he explores the distance between the artist and his subject: ‘What does it mean / When a child by its yawn or lean / into another seems to know // More than we imagine they do?’ In the second panel the photographer’s wife, Madelyn comes to the fore and the poet homes in on the concept of ‘the couple’ with side glances toward The Arnolfini Portrait and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. In the final section poet and subject seem to merge:

 

Meatyard looks down on us,

And, in doing so, looks by chance

Like me. Only the circumstance

Of death, it seems to me, sets us

 

Apart. He has that doubtful look

I cast upon my own image

Whenever I’m stopped on a ridge

On my own, knowing what it took

 

To get there.

 

Cree’s ‘Meatyard Triptych’ is beautifully sustained but challenging. It is the most interesting consideration of the nature of ‘art and reality’ that I have read since the early work of Charles Tomlinson.

Alongside poems that highlight Cree’s ability to write at length, Fruit  also contains a selection of shorter poems, each of which seems sui generis, as if the poet were determined to constantly renew his practice. In ‘Flat Calm’ he reinvents the traditional ‘ubi sunt’ theme: ‘The haberdashers, milliners and mercers / are vanished like the nap beneath their hands’. ‘Wardrobes’ captures the actuality of an object and illustrates the proposition that sometimes we have to adapt our lives to our furniture. ‘Blind Man’s Buff’ is a short but moving poem about some young people who are ‘attractive, bright, and utterly broken’. Terry Cree’s Fruit is a stunning debut from a poet who knows that, ultimately, there are no answers to the big questions and that words are all we have: ‘Words that meant nothing / Then and nothing much / now.‘ However, in this poet’s hands they have a music of their own and point towards depths beyond their burnished clarity.

 

 

 

Order your copy of Maitreyabandhu: The Crumb Road from Bloodaxe Books here

Order your copy of Terry Cree: Fruit: Two Rivers here

 

 

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Owain Lloyd-Williams

 

 

 

On Sickness

Well what can I say; what can I say?
I’ve been in the hotpot little under a month, nay;
barely three weeks and a day;
first crowded in excess; now shunted, wild
worn-out and alone.

In the grasp of a nearby concrete maze
there echoes space lights and spoiled sounds,
voices high, low and laughing,
screaming bells and Tchaikovsky;
child’s play and fire.

The room is cold.
Last night was pure haze.
Amid karaoke dreams of a Western well-being,
Budweisers and laughs, cigarettes and baths,
I nearly tasted what they told me
was true freedom.

At each and every five hour interval
there comes a knock at my prison door;
up comes a handyman, belt and hat a blazing,
tongue twisting and dark eyes gazing,
all to a shy young man
oblivious to his good intentions waving.

The room is cold.
At night I suck on light-green liquor
in search of fixes of homely wit;
barely in video form.
I see the eighties, the nineties, Tories, New Labour,
baked beans, English Indians, tomatoes, stale bread.
I think of brown tea, (the way it should be?)
I think of hot and cold that’s never really there
but by god don’t we wish it.

I think of family smiles and frustrations, closures
and wing snapping.
I think of brotherly banter;
easiness, uselessness,
flash in the pan annoyance.

The room is cold. New, but cold.
Outside lies wild imagination;
ritual tongues and love;
ways of new and old begging naked discovery.
Perhaps then the room’ll no longer be cold,
and dogs will run free.

 

 

 

Owain Lloyd-Williams is a writer from West Sussex who has just returned from the UK after spending four and a half years living and working in China. After obtaining a degree in English literature and language, he has continued to write all manner of poetry and prose, and is currently adding the final touches to his first novel.

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Jadine Eagle

 

 

 

Living Room

I saw the painting first, hung above the sofa,
a pike smiled from a riverbed, water dripped.

The walls, not as I remember, flock filigree.
Mould creeping along the seams.

I sat, rested my feet on a Persian rug.
It undulated. Hovered an inch off the parquet floor.

The porcelain dog barked. Startled,
a brass deer skipped away behind the TV.

A phoenix sat in the grate, blazed and died
on command. A copper stick poked through its heart.

Two spoons came to rest on my lap.
I held them to my eyes, my mother stared back.

 

 

 

Jadine Eagle won the Sarah Smith Poetry Competition and has been published in various magazines and webzines, the most recent being The Interpreter’s House.  She has also recently discovered crumbling a chocolate flake on a cappuccino – life changing!

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Natalie Stevenson

 

 

 

Antonio’s Lament

I’ll never understand why you
Pursue
These feeble imitations, which
Themselves
Combust like embers lost and found;
They burn
Upon a moonscape made of mud.
Silent
Except for the occasional fizzle, we
Vent steam
At one another’s faults like dragons
Without
Lighters, teaching ourselves to hear
The noise
But not the meaning underneath.
It claws
Out of its skin if prodded gently,
Snapping
At eggshells, and expanding
Like smoke
In a sky full of wind.

 

 

 

Natalie Stevenson studies literature at Sarah Lawrence College.  She has been published in The Oxford Student, Coffeehouse, and The Cliffhanger.

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