Three poets whose poetry contains a sense of place and being where edges, historic, water- flowed or rock faced allow us readers to engage with themes worthy of the time and effort required.
Those of us who are moved by rock’s edges will empathise with David Hughes in his posthumous collection, EX LIBRIS. Losing a friend on a rock-face, as any grief, startles and sears. Encouraging others in writing and poetry, as teacher, friend and support is a life well lived. This is the poetry that comes from this life.
Hughes’s poems are gifts to others, often dedicated to them – none more so than his climbing companion and friend, Barry Daniel, who was killed while leading an expedition of students on the Austerdalsein. His befriending of Young Dave, and the prison letters and poems composed as a response to the process of forgiveness and response to Young Dave’s attack on him are another element, and this not without the down-to-earth humour that eschews sentimentality –
Perfection, where all things are fixed and true?
It doesn’t sound the kind of heaven to strike
you dumb with wonder; you’d have nowt to do
You’d much prefer a heaven where gods might hike
on sponsored walks that you could organize –
to build a climbing wall, or something like.
The skill of a shorter breath-based, structured stress lines vary. Sustained line lengths also form a part, as in East of Ypres, Sanctuary Road
November night in Sanctuary Wood: the broken Old
have re-assembled in the low ridge lee, where field-gun
tears the year’s last foliage from trees that splinter, till it
seems there’ll never be
a spring sprung green again. Soldiers, sleeping shallow
and while ‘Soldiers, sleeping shallow’ may have too many sibilants the musicality of consonantal cluster and internal rhyme pressed against the length of the line catches the breath enacting a struggle fitting for it subject, Ypres. This horror at the outrage of war is all too timely now –
Seven of the players down by Armistice Day –
And even the slender boy in the Umpire’s coat,
Yes, even the Umpire lost his cheerful name
By the end of the War by being Jolly dead.
A touch of Sorley. It’s the details observed which register the value of true friendship and an evocation a reader can really engage with hearing ‘stories to tell ‘ accessible, lyrical and felt.
my own life
at the cwm’s rim
or on the steep
escarpment’s sudden edge.
Becoming competent, having the scenery mapped,
began to guide others.
I’d like to take you all the way.
Poetry Business prize-winner Jane Routh gives us an historical edge, ice-packed in THE WHITE SILENCE. Franklin’s ill-fated attempt to discover the North-West Passage was a Victorian equivalent of someone today landing on Mars. In such enterprises the apocryphal has an ineluctable place…. but each poem has its own view, like walking around a mountain and taking in a different vista. Here are thirteen pages of sustained, accessible and accomplished lyricism that goes beyond the fossilized past.
Even if there were a passage, Scoresby carped
So what? – You’d have to overwinter in the ice:
it would still be faster round the Cape.
And safer. But William Scoresby
was a whaler. Of no account.
[Franklin, in prospect]
It reaches a frozen present. A possible discovery if only the missing jigsaw piece could be found, the cold dread of how failure looms with time passing by.
Wake up, Sir John, and shape yourself.
wherever they buried you, hacking
the permafrost, break out: its soft now.
Your passage is dark and open water.
[Franklin, cryogenically preserved]
Jane Routh’s previously published collections included themes about our relationship with the environment and how we manage in it. In ‘Lancashire Life [23.10.14]’ she writes “ I have been interested in memory for a long time…. our memories do not record facts but explanations for our lives….”
What they charted was the nineteenth century’s
flatteries, friendships and obligations
– a sea for Beaufort, an island for Banks –
as if rock and ice and vastness
had no reality without their names;
as if the landscape did not know itself.
[On reaching the Arctic map]
This investigation is an explanation of confronting ‘the white silence’, ‘the grip of ice’, the ice that will not let go and questions of being itself may abound from such confrontations.
The titles give a hint – ‘Franklin, in prospect, ’’Three Photographs, 1845’, ‘On reading the Arctic map’, ’Franklin, ice-bound’, ’Franklin, in retrospect’, ‘Franklin, the evidence’, ‘Franklin, cryogenically preserved’, ’Sir John Richardson’, ‘Franklin, a postscript’, ‘And afterwards’. Only recently were the ships discovered. The mystery of ends provides such a resonance, consider Mallory, Irvine or ‘Titus’ Oates. Tackled chronologically to looking back from now provides evocations which poetry, Empsonian-like, can create.
Imagine a ship held fast all winter long.
Start again: you have to remember
its an Arctic winter: no daylight.
How to picture such darkness?
The structure varies but each poem has its place. We are gathered into this world where close observation and asides (e.g. the place of Richardson!) draws us in.
It’s a story
the local people always told: one listing
then down, in deep water off King William Island.
And that’s enough: what we want is the other
terror, something we can’t know,
Something greater that resists us –
a white silence we can’t fathom, that compels
imagination, to conceive its questions.
(O Lord, give us back our ice.)
[Franklin, a postscript]
Matthew Clegg’s THE NAVIGATORS sense of place – as magnetic as north – connects through time, flows as water. Forms vary from sonnet to free verse, tidal undulations that have observations life affords us. An aggregate of ‘minute particulars’ that being alive may be seen as extraordinary.
I get so close
to thinking I’m locked
out of this life,
off the sheen
of the highest
and the miracle
is a lake, a sea,
lifted into the arms
of the trees
by a faith
that can only
in this light.
[The Lake in the Trees]
The three sections of the book lead us, perhaps, to the last songs Orpheus sang, a lost paradigm, – of the resilience that place allows us. The lost song is not just of remembrance, but of clear and astonishing presence – across time.
If there were stars
I can’t remember –
only that you sat
behind me, close,
your arms pillion
around my chest
as we rode
There is an Odyssey here that starts in Lakeland and ends towards Ravenscar.
The Trig Points sequence is a set of 27 haikus that Clegg describes as ‘triangulations’ – to a loved one, a loved place and time in all its tenses. When successful, the nuance of phrasing, of rhythm in short-breath (sometimes single word) lines married with the accumulation of particulars build a striking and felt image such as Phineus:
When a blind man panics
He can’t flail his arms.
He must haul his breath
From the well of his gut
Until the harpies in his ribs
Stop flapping and clawing
And his fingers unfurl
Spiders from his fists
The second section, ‘The Navigators’, has the accent of ordinary folk and the (The Sink Hole) memories of Matthew’s grandfather’s boat, ‘Jasmine’. How Grandad was loved, built ‘Jasmine’, the journeys upon it, and the transformative learning and mixed emotions on mortality and growing when it had to be sold.
Clock-tick, birdsong, cars.
my palate wakes from last night:
whisky, wood, smoke, stars…..
A leaf turns over
its green days on the stem, leaps –
pioneers the air…
Where mud is deepest
the traces of man and beast
are one and the same
Matthew Clegg is “interested in the drama of the human heart in time”. We need to forage the path beset by the laws of change and mutability, as the realization of what different phases of life requires of us infuses these poems. For there are times when we must each of us dwell on such things.
You may think of your life
poised at the steer of a barge
where canal steps down to the Don
and lock gates unlatch and infold.
Imagine the trip in your blood:
As you gaze at river ahead
And the cautious nose of your barge
Sniffs then drifts into the flow
You feel the current take grip.
The barge is plugged into a mains
So all you can from this point
Is solder your fist to the steer
And amp up your savvy to match.
[When They Next Make You Redundant]
Finally, to a place beyond the Whalebone and Staithes to a rich edgeland. The compass points and prompts reflection. Matthew Clegg has not held back as a poet, nor should the reader in engaging with ‘The Navigators’. Appreciation should also be extended to Longbarrow. Wayleave and Valley Presses who are excellent examples of publishers with an increasingly impressive catalogue focusing on high quality productions.
You can order the books here:
Ex Libris David Hughes: http://www.valleypressuk.com/book/2/ex_libris
The Navigators Matthew Clegg: https://longbarrowpress.com/current-publications/matthew-clegg/
The White Silence Jane Routh: http://www.wayleavepress.co.uk/?page_id=324&doing_wp_cron=1474647811.9356279373168945312500Read More
The loch plays the game it likes to play
on windless days, double this, double that,
sheep/sheep cow/cow rowan/rowan.
Eyes twice-fill and only a frill
of white at the water’s edge remains
un-reflected. Splish-splash –
an orbiting sound speeds
from the brackish
depths – fish so fast we miss it.
Lynn calls it back and
it hurtles up, brown blade
of trout driving skyward.
She calls again. It comes again,
a miracle of scales slicing
the day. Circles ripple
and multiply. A man in a boat casts
lines thin as floss, out then in then
out again, whip-whip-whip on the loch.
Don’t be fooled little fish,
Lynn says, they’re not flies
but hooks that want to bite you.
Alyson Hallett‘s latest book is On Ridgegrove Hill (Atlantic Press). The book was written during her time as poet-in-residence in Charles Causley’s house in Launceston,Read More
Sometimes you can ride it, like in Texas when
you put your foot down and we flew, the screen
and mirrors all enveloping, sucking and flapping
the horizons in its corners, and then just for a few
minutes we were the vanishing point as desert stretched
and bended and we were weirdly still in the centre,
the constant motion and suspense, the sheer possibility
of it all in a perfect cycle, our wheels spinning still
Christian Wethered, 29, works in London as a freelance tutor and musician. He was a finalist in the Aesthetica Creative Works competition and the Decanto Poetry Competition. He has also been published in The Penwood Review and The Caterpillar.Read More
Say it with me, that Germanicky-Spanishy
word you made up to toast tea parties
with cats and eyeless dolls, to celebrate
our wins at fixed Olympics. No one
heard it but me back then, back when you
were my sleep and I your waking. Sharing
a room we shared a language. Now we live
separately, silent in our own countries.
I can’t hear your dream talk. If I phone
you assume bad news, won’t pick up.
Your tight-lipped life is yours alone.
I bring us back together for the end
and see us drop the word into the scurf
of twigs and desiccated frogs
beneath the cattle grid and leave
without a wake, having buried
our way to raise a glass, to say
farewell. But all of this is in my head,
the cattle grid now on private land,
and besides, words don’t give in,
lie down and die. When I’m faking
grown up in some swanky bar and some
joy or other requires a toast, klonjuze
is on my lips again. I shout it,
scream it, hurl it at the door –
your word my spell to bring you
here, to make you mine once more.
Katherine Stansfield’s first collection, Playing House, was published by Seren in 2014. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including as The Guardian online poem of the week. IS&T published a poem as part of the 2015 Twelve Days of Christmas feature.
http://katherinestansfield.blogspot.com/ Twitter: @K_Stansfield
Life On Wellington Road
I live in a row of three identical houses – red brick, mossy roofs, and gardens that miss the afternoon sun. There is a house nearby that a blackbird has twice lead me to. The second time I recognised it by the white spot on its head. It would hop forward, then look back at me, as if saying ‘come on then’, until we reached their garden fence. They have a pretty garden but I didn’t follow the bird any further – we all know what trouble Alice got into following that white rabbit through a garden. I prefer my own patch of grass, where hidden in various spots of undergrowth and atop pine trees is a fox, owl, squirrel and a hedgehog – a children’s book of woodland animals.
Once night falls and the residents are all asleep, Henry, who was born on this road and has lived here ever since, steps out from his house for just a moment. He smiles and familiar wrinkles, created by eighty years of smiling at strangers, appear around his eyes – everything is well.
Chloe Rogers is currently in her second year at Bath Spa University where she is studying creative writing. She writes a mixture of prose and poetry, ranging in genres. Find her on twitter @thegiddyelf.Read More
Love and Houses
I know a couple that made a house.
Laid down hardwood floors and carpets
and built up walls like lego.
Clothes hang from the ceiling washing-rack.
There’s a pop-art kitchen blind,
lavender in the bathroom
and a TV on the bookshelf at the end of the bed.
I know a couple that paid for a photoshoot,
standing in front of white walls.
There was shining never-used cutlery on the table,
next to candles with wax sealed around the wick.
In the background stock photos in golden frames.
The set had no roof above them
but they cropped that out in the facebook pictures.
I know a boy who carries an armful of bricks
hoping every day to meet someone new and build.
I know a girl who won’t stay in one house anymore
and takes her sleeping bag from sofa to sofa.
I know two men who built their home together
then had a rock put through their window,
glass scattered across a handwoven rug.
I know how to talk to a house
when living in it alone.
I know how to encourage the coffee machine
that its smell is still appreciated.
I know how to teach the radiators to be warm,
the cd player to sing
and the walls to listen kindly.
Rab Ferguson is a York based writer of fiction and poetry. He is published in several journals including Litro Magazine, The Cadaverine, Voice In, Storgy and Pastiche. For links to his work: rabtales.wordpress.com, or follow his twitter @rabtalesRead More
He found himself in a back alley;
no one was there with a knife.
The black cat was only sleeping
in the only sliver of sunlight
it had been able to find.
With nowhere to hide, no dumpsters
to sort through, no forgotten boxes,
he could not continue his story.
All that was left was to walk
out to the street and hope that the light
would turn green just in time
for him to cross as if his life
depended on it, as if
he had somewhere to go.
Andrew Shields is an American poet who lives in Basel, Switzerland, where he teaches at the University of Basel English Department. His collection Thomas Hardy Listens To Louis Armstrong was published by Eyewear in 2015, and he has also released an album with his band Human Shields, Somebody’s Hometown. You can find him online on Facebook and Bandcamp:Read More