A Good Night’s Sleep Guaranteed
I was staying on the Quayside in Newcastle. I’d spent the evening in the Slug and Lettuce, nursing a few beers and looking out of the window at the Tyne and The Sage. I walked out of there and into the face of a biting wind off the river and walked the short distance to my hotel in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge.
Opening the door and walking into my room I could see and hear the Tyne Bridge through the single glazed windows. There was a thermostat on the wall. I turned it up. I had a shower and then selected the firmer of the two pillow options for bed. I climbed under the covers, naked and relaxed, listening to the receding hum of the traffic.
I drifted off to sleep thinking of my wife. I saw her face in my dreams. I was woken when the thermostat clicked off. It was just on the wall at the side of the bed. I turned it up even more, and when it clicked off again later, again I was woken. It seemed the only way I would get some sleep would be to turn the thermostat right down. But the reading wouldn’t go below 18 degrees.
By this time the traffic on the Tyne Bridge was almost silent. I changed to the softer pillow option and drifted off to sleep again, thinking about the warm body of my absent wife.
In the morning I could see my breath in front of my face. When I opened the curtains there was ice on the inside of the windows. I looked at the thermostat, which had remained at 18 degrees. But the radiator was cold to the touch.
I was glad that while booking online I had taken the option of the ‘all you can eat’ breakfast. I spent an hour in the dining area, the morning sun shining in through the big windows. The third plate of sausages tested the patience of the chef and the capacity of my stomach.
Leaving the hotel in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge I stared into the bitter wind coming off the river. It was the wind that caused my tears.
Neil Campbell has two collections of short stories, Broken Doll, and Pictures from Hopper, published by Salt, and two poetry chapbooks, Birds, and Bugsworth Diary, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. Recent stories in Short Fiction and Tears in the Fence. Other stories in the anthologies, Murmurations, and Best British Short Stories 2012. Has a chapbook of short fiction, Ekphrasis, forthcoming from Knives, Forks and Spoons.Read More
Five photos: child in the garden
In a jam jar of
With dandelion leaves:
The hot dry smell of
Garden flints clashed
Soft yellow brick powder
Falls from an old nail turned
In the house wall.
Lilies of the valley
With huge white bells,
Tank battle of armoured
And an arching
Circular hollyhock seedheads
Peeled apart into
Small serrated hooks,
Vertical plantain seeds
With raking finger nails.
Do red ants hurt?
They stain the path
Where I stamped
On them. But now
I hear them screaming.
Ruth Aylett teaches computing at Heriot-Watt University. She is also a prize-winning poet and writer, whose work has appeared in New Writing Scotland; Doire Press, Textualities; Estuary – a confluence of Art and Poetry; Ink, Sweat and Tears and elsewhere. She has read as a Shore Poets New Poet and at many Inky Fingers events. Read more about her work here.Read More
It is difficult to write about big subjects without recourse to the abstract, and so Wendy Pratt’s first full collection is especially impressive given that its overwhelming interest is death. Pratt eschews abstraction first by rejecting mere ideas or notions as germs for poems, and secondly by refusing to remove – to abstract – differing modes of experience from the whole. All is of a piece. The mind, for example – distinctly abstract – gives way to the skull, as in “the skulls of students” (‘After the Digging is Done’) being filled with books and lectures about the mesolithic lake people of Starr Car.
Had I been the editor of this book I may well have insisted on calling it ‘Bones’, for the bone is a recurring symbol that seems to unite these poems. There are cheek bones, vole skulls, thigh bones, horse bones, vertebrae, deer skulls, bones of trees, little bones, bones of this and bones of that, even a whalebone corset – suggesting linkage, permanence, connection, strength, timelessness. The past inhabits the present in Wendy Pratt’s world – it “smoulders” (‘A64’) as peat smoulders.
The poet populates the quotidian with the mythic, conflates the inside with the outside –there is no Cartesian distinction as between body and mind: they are one. Words too inhabit the same intensely physical world: they “tangle / in the strawberries and weeds” (‘First Words’). Pratt promotes a kind of modern pantheism, in which everything is connected. In ‘Jesus of Nazareth Walks on Water’ the god “walks / to the boat, rests a human hand upon the wood”; in ‘Horse Singing’ “a universe can exist / in the dull thump / of a hoof”.
Nor is it only the human that is given personhood: wine “scampered / up and down my veins” (‘Driving Dangerously’), there is an ode to a polythene bag – “we’ve shared / our half-truths, bag” (‘Bag’), the poet’s mother’s bicycle is “No longer plagued by the intense futility / of age” (‘Black Beauty’); the landscape has “vertebrae” (‘Over Saddleworth Moor’). It isn’t a one way process: people are given planthood. They “intertwine / like tree roots” (‘It is Only Lunch’), wrists link like vines (‘The First Mrs Rochester’), the poet herself becomes “driftwood” (‘Raven Hall’).
Wendy Pratt gives life to everything, even as death undoes everything, including the poet’s child. The most moving poems in this collection are in a section entitled ‘The Unused Room’, and I hesitate to write about them, except to say that sad as they are, Wendy Pratt has succeeded in giving meaning to a life hardly lived. And even in these poems the felt is more important than the thought. In ‘The Blessing’ the childless mother feels “despair / balling up like a piece of stale bread / in my throat”. The mundanity of the image is shocking, but what it achieves is immediate connection. The reader is forced into the scene. I think this is very good poetry.
Museum Pieces is full of ghosts and hauntings (and a witch, the poems about which I have reviewed elsewhere – see Nan Hardwicke <http://www.wynnwheldon.com/search/label/Wendy%20Pratt> ), and, as poetry is perhaps haunted to some degree by Ted Hughes, another poet for whom the sacred and the mundane inhabited the same space, for whom the imagination was a tool not a toy.
Much of contemporary poetry is mere reflection, gobbets of prose in effect. Wendy Pratt does something only proper poetry can do: to make associations and connections across acres of symbol and image and idea, to address the most common of all subjects, death, provoking not only thought but also feeling. Fiction lures us into another world, but Pratt’s poetry invites us to explore our own, not factually, in the way of prose, but by way of the imagination. She is, in this sense, a kind of Coleridgean romantic. These ‘museum pieces’ are anything but. Death may be Wendy Pratt’s great subject, but her poetry throbs with “the rhythm of blood”, turning lived experience into vivid art.
In order for this not to sound like the rantings of a Prattitioner, I would add that I think the collection might have done with a little editing, and I am not sure it needed to be divided into sections (there are seven in all). Two of these sections, namely ‘A Box of Teeth and Claws’ and ‘The Cabinet of Hearts’ might have been excised completely, not because their poems are inadequate but because they are not quite so thematically coherent. Having said that, there is one poem, about love and death, which elicited from this reader a gulping sob at its last phrase, and deserves anthologizing by whomsoever compiles the next book of love poems. It is called ‘Shoe Trap’, and it is loving, as all Wendy Pratt’s poems seem to be, in a very particular, robust and inimitable way.
Flint arrow heads spilled like lost teeth,
found again, drawn up through the black
peat. They surfaced so often against
the shear side of a spade or beneath
the soft sole of a Wellington boot,
that they became common: a currency
in the playground; pocketed
with leaf skeletons and vole skulls;
our own histories marked out
along the chipped edges. And later,
at the official dig, deer skull hunting-masks
rose from the forgotten lake bed.
Glimpsed through the billow
of a white plastic tent they eyed us
with unwitting curiosity, watching
the new world; their faceless mouths
In the dark I grope across the bedroom
floor, feel for the shape of the wall, the door
and half trip, half step over your work shoes.
Shoe trap. Your favourite trick, four
shoes, haphazardly strewn,
your habit. My habit is the stumble, the meeting
of floor and face, the standard bruise
to the knee. Your shoe trap has held me captive
for thirteen years, swearing in the dark on my way
to the bathroom. Your habits and mine; a dance,
a meeting of selves over and over. The day
after my sister loses her husband to cancer,
I trip on your shoes in the dark, holding their scrubby,
battered shape, I’ve never felt so blessed or lucky.
Museum Pieces by Wendy Pratt is published by Prolebooks, 85pp, £6.50. Order your copy here.
you tried on that tiny bikini –
four blue triangles of sail – I knew
summer was nearly
you were wave tumbled, storm flung, glinting
on the shore in shades, slick oil skin,
whilst we, still half done,
over heels, salt-numbed. Four years it took
and a spring tide— those blue sails swelled, took
shape, bore you away.
Karen Jane Cannon’s novel Powder Monkey was published by Orion in 2002. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University. She has written for radio and stage. Her poems have appeared in Orbis and Acumen.Read More
patches of twilight
in the falling leaf
a river carrying
peak hour . . .
a flock of sparrows pass
the evening moon
an eagle circles
the day moon
warmth and coldness
Ramesh Anand authored Newborn Smiles, a book of haiku poetry published by Cyberwit.Net Press. His haiku and tanka has appeared in many publications, across 14 countries. His haiku has been translated in German, Serbian, Japanese, Croatian, Romanian, Telugu and Tamil. He blogs at ramesh-inflame.blogspot.com.
Ken & Belinda Meditate in a Garden
Two figures statue-still sit in the garden
gathering the light
eyes closed, hands pressed on knees
whilst an unseasonal sun
silvers their skin like weathered teak,
waiting for moss to bloom on trainers
grass knot through their laces, bind their feet.
Spines rigid as the far slate wall
whose secret strength is letting weather pass
so each sound, each smell
– the ooze of windfall apples, drunken birdsong
a breeze of October butterflies –
then breathes through each mind.
Sit as still as this for long enough
and you can disappear
into the landscape. Become the things unseen
yet elemental, Like a memory of rain
falling on a clouded valley,
or the pricking sense of faces
peering through the conscious green.
Emma Simon lives in London where she juggles poetry with parenthood and journalism. Despite often grabbing the wrong end of the lighted torch, she has been published in Other Poetry, Antiphon and Monkey Kettle, and won this year’s Prole Laureate competition.Read More
A Jane Austen House
Light cradles the water,
water cradles the light.
Cream bricks, so pure as to be disconcerting;
a manicured house – perfect life in a mirage.
Inside the house is the suitcase:
Move your hands along its threadbare surface.
Listen to dishevelled silence.
Open the suitcase slowly.
There’s a gleam of knife,
carnelian stains on its hilt.
Run down the stairs
away from the whimsy of this house.
The thread of my words
start to slacken.
Edwin Stockdale‘s recent magazine publications are the Coffee House, Drey (Red Squirrel Press), the Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, Poetry Salzburg Review, Poetry Scotland and Snakeskin. He has also been published in Sculpted (North West Poets, 2013).Read More