Tuesday, 30 July 2019

July Octolunes


We have lately been blessed by some stunning moons, luring my focus to the lunar. I've produced a fair few Octolunes*, and as usual am unsure quite what to do with them.  Since inventing the form in December 2014, I have chalked up several hundred, and, as readers of these pages will know, others have taken up the baton from time to time as well.  I'm still hoping to launch some Octolune events, workshops, and collaborative pamphlets, as well as publishing some collections of my own - and from time to time Octolunes find their ways into regular collections - but the truth is I now have so many of them on my hands that they are running riot, and short of devoting an entire website to their publication, the most sensible thing seems to be to feed a few in periodic posts, starting with these, a few of my most recent.

*8-line verse form, addressed to the moon, in which the opening word is always "Moon."  That's it!

 


Moon,
astro-tycoon, like a sky-bound rune,
you're a lunar balloon over lakes and lagoons,
baboons, racoons, and protozoons,
from Rangoon to Cameroon,
to the dunes of Saskatoon.
I've written a poem about the moon
without once even thinking of mentioning June.


 


Moon,
globe of gloop,
a frozen scoop
of ice cream, hoop
filled-in, you sloop
through starry soup,
like a giant, silver, sup-
er drupe.

 

Moon,
you rise in skies
like a slimy eye's
reflected twinkle.
Your distance belies
your actual size
as you crystallize, a crescent kinkle
like a glittery Rip Van Winkle.

 

Moon,
permafrost pearl,
hinterland's glim,
Pre-Raphaelite ferris wheel,
like a frozen ocean, condensed
into a skull-like phial,
like a shrunken Jupiter
you seethe.


Moon,
inflated raindrop,
atop the dripping treetops,
crescented, a haloed halebopp
gloppy fop, your astral hop's
a crinkled cough-drop,
soothing the sunburnt throat of space
like a snowy glottal stop.


 Moon,
murk's quirk,
like a cool quark
star-clad,
you smirk,
sky-scythingly,
sawn smile,
glinting grinner,
swollen ghost.


Moon,
in  crescent jest
you wince,
silver-lipped,
like a quartered quince
slicing sky's blackness
in an icy stripe
of plucky light.

 

Moon,
ice heart,
tubular fuse
of post-river,
rocks of yore galore,
crescent twist,
glistening in mist,
like a pearl of frozen dew.


Moon,
soapsud moon
who, like a sheen of silky sherbet
sprinkles silver showers of icy light,
you bask,
illuminated lunar beauty,
against the licorice black
of frozen night.



Monday, 8 July 2019

Feeling Foxy - Four Fox Poems


 I was horrified to hear last week that the spectre of fox-hunting had resurfaced over British politics - dragged out of its 19th Century tomb by aptly-named Tory Leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, who had enthused to an audience of party members about his hopes to overturn the 2004 Hunting Act (its self a lukewarm rule change rather than an outright "ban") and ressurect the discredited activity.  Interestingly, Hunt never bothered to attemp the old lies about conservation - he opted for the honest rationale of "tradition" and described the practise of riding to hounds as they rip a terrified animal to bits as "part of the heritage of the countryside." Presumably he also thinks that muggings and stabbings are part of the heritage of cities?
Predictably, Hunt  - like Theresa May in the 2017 General Election - has since backtracked, faced with an outcry from not only members of the public (85% of whom want hunting banned, including, overwhelmingly, in rural areas) but from his own party.  I did wonder if his statement had been calculated to gauge the risk such a policy might carry, or to leak votes to his stag-hunting opponent, whose owncampaign is partly funded by a fox-hunter, in a strategy designed to ensure a Boris Johnson premiership while maintaining the pretence of a democratic party contest ather than a coronation - indeed I took to social meda to accuse him of this latter step - but as time has gone by I've come to the conclusion that this expressed support for hunting was apparently genuine, a reminder that for all of their feigned preference for progressive politics, there are some people who are so detached from modern thinking that they and their communities really are just a Parliamentary vote away from dredging up the cruelties of the past and re-establishing a Britain that went out with chimney sweeps and child labour.
The whole disturbing episode prompted me to collect my various poems on the subject of foxes, which I have reproduced below. I have excluded poems in which foxes feature, but not as the "main" thematic focus.  Instead, all are fundamentally foxy poems, inspired by real life sightings of the animals.


MIDNIGHT FOX

Limbs dangle
lazy-elegant,
a raffish mooch,
each furry step slots promptly
into a moonlit loop -

in and out of lamplight,
smooth as a glob of honey
dissolving into coffee
the midnight searcher tries his luck among the backstreets -

East-end terraces tangle into criss-crossed  sprawl,
estaes expand into outgrown concrete crushes,
bottlenecking into pub backyards and warehouse forecourts,
deserted car-parks, scrubland, a grid of lanes where drinkers
straggle out of pubs, prostitutes cross paths, the urban wastelands
and a frosty Wanstead Flats, which veer into the spiderweb of sliproads
pre-empting the M11.
Turning down the High Road, into a block of buildings tightly tucked
into the bricked in ghetto of east London, I am startled by his stare:

Seeing me, his gait assumes rigidity,
a temporary tightening of muscles.
Frozen stiff, this stiffened frame
of burnt-oak,
this nameless midnight wanderer,
mammal of the alleyways,
once more slipped into a casual insouicance
shuffling into shadow.

What I caught last
was not the shapely outline, gingery tint or snow-fluff
tail-tip, as fox fleet-footed out of visibility
but, a souveinir from its shoot-back glance,
two amber eyes half answering,
half questioning.




URBAN FOX

Bullet of russet muscularity,
knee high and up to your eyes in dandelion,
most feline of your kind,
the always searching canid,
sinewy and taut,
prodigal child of the copse:
no sooner had you brushed against a fence
emerging from sedge as if to prove,
“I still exist,”
than the glimpse of you was gone—
a second’s shred in which to see that tail, ash- white copper-coalesced
trailing like a newly lit cigar.




SUBURBAN FOX

An unknown quantity, you flow like a tributary
trickling over stones out of the nettled backstreet -

after the deluge as if post-exile, ear-pricked stealthy shuffler
you trot in nonchalance but with half an eye to suss out danger cocked,
or as a compass in the search for sustenance.  You're a tilted glass of single malt,
a whisker of rural English charm in the urban incongruity of house-heavy east Leeds,
a shadow bleeding ginger on the blackboard of the night as squeezed between
the takeaways and parked-up cars,
you flip flop-footedly across a road which sparkles in the drizzle and on seeing me
nosedive behind a shed, displaying that quicksilver quirk of fight-or-flight survival
that has paved your way through centuries of persecution and will be needed
in this trap of fumes and concrete, cans and glass laid like tripwire
in the single enormous precinct all of England's become.




 EVENING FOX

Ginger plunge
into coppiced copse,
stabbing into bramble,
a whisk of fire singeing darkness
like a shot of almond syrup
in black coffee.

Your Jack-o-lantern crafty dance
sees you rop up in oak woods,
combing alleys behind takeaways,
Pulcinello of the suburbs;
combing cobbled streets
in late summer midnights,
wolf-shaped shadow,
crooked penny glinting in the moonlight.



Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Turn the Page Brontë evening, June 2019

Turn the Page is a bi-monthly spoken word event which takes place at The Book Corner (https://bookcornerhalifax.com/) in the Halifax Piece Hall, hosted by Katie Atkinson and Katie Ashwood, and this month, for the first time, the readings had a common theme, the Brontës. I had suggested this theme a few months ago, and attended with my camera to capture some images of the evening. The videos I took can be found on my Youtube channel -
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz-mwhbWisTCpRKN335x4pA

 I have added below some of the defining images of the night.

 Co-host and Book Corner bookseller Katie Ashwood:


 Co-host Katie Atkinson, reading a poem by Laura Barnes:


Kevin Byrne of Beehive Poets, Bradford, entertains the troops:


Michael Greavy with one of his poems about the Brontës:








In thoughtful mood, Keiron Higgins delivers poetry by the Brontës :




 Kev Byrne in operatic pose:





 A few snapshots of Kevin's reading: 



 





We were joined by Lexi Tattersall, who performed her own song about Branwell Brontë, which she had written specially for the event:


Luella read a poem composed of lines from Wuthering Heights:


 



which was warmly appreciated by Lexi's dog:





As indeed were efforts by several other readers:



Michael Thornton paid homage to Branwell's chemically-prolific past with a tale of his own decadent youth - though with sherbet fountains as his poison:


While Oliver Standring approached the theme through heartfelt descriptions of the Haworth skyline and horizons, remembered from visiting the town with a loved one:
 
 

 


 And we were treated to  Nick Steel's observations of the Brontës' legacies - including his invitation for a drink with Branwell:




A few random shots from the evening:
















And the star of the show:





See more https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz-mwhbWisTCpRKN335x4pA

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@turnthepagepoet
 
https://bookcornerhalifax.com/

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@BookCornerHX





Lustre and Lifelines - Victoria Gatehouse's The Mechanics of Love





















Victoria Gatehouse's second publication The Mechanics of Love (Smith Doorstop 2019), selected by Carol Anne Duffy as a Laureate's Choice publication, is a worthy successor to her 2018 debut Light After Light (Valley Press 2018), taking in a beguiling variety of subjects, from Sixth Form Science studies, to spiderwebs on wing mirrors, via death, dogs, and Darwin.  It also contains two worthy competiton winners - of the Otley Poetry Competition 2018, and the previous year's PENfro Competition.

And this will be no perfect union, the book begins, in a poem on the unlikely theme of Inosculation - the phenomenon, where two trees effectively grow into each other - but one born of abrasion.  
I first came acrossinosculation earlier this year, and have struggled to find a better description of it than in Victora Gatehouse's tenderly observed lines:

two trees
grown close enough to graze, to chafe
as they shift in the wind, their bark worn thin,

rubbed down to the gleam of the cambium,
the raw lustre of vascular tissue.

Pondering the possibilities of a meld / of cells, a wound healed to a rise and shine, the poem transfigures the trees into imagery of innocent intimacy:


Some call them marriage trees, some say these grafts
once fused and sealed, transmit disease
or claim the heartwood isn't touched , but once

I saw two beeches, interlocked,
initials scratched across the place they joined.


It is the first time I have encountered such a subject in a poem, and one which seems the perfect metaphor for a remedy of togetherness in these increasingly abrasive times.


Victoria Gatehouse is a scientist by profession, and - as in certain poems in her first book - this is responsble, however obliquely, for a number of poems and their backstories within The Mechanics of Love.  The context is not always pleasant - in Sixth Form Science Technician, we revisit a grotesque memory of  collecting pig's blood for inspection with a microscope - but the merging of a scientfic and poetic aspect is satisfyingly eloquent. Here, one of the crinkly paper "Fortune telle fishes" found in Christmas crackers - a barely-there wafer of cellophane / turning over on your lifeline - is described years later through adult eyes:

A scientist now, you could explain
that whisper-thin strip as hygroscopic-
swelling or receding with the level
of moisture in the skin, a material so light
it shapeshifts on a breath

But as with the opening poem, it is the poet in us which has the final say, as:

               ...lay
it on your palm, you'll find yourself wanting
to show you've still got it in you
to raise that Independent flag of a tail.

Even in poems like Ceiling, where the wallpaper of a teenage bedroom is recalled, it is words like stalactites and spiral galaxies which stand out, along with a nod to Dr Who. The worlds of science, zoology and nature again takes centre stage in poems like Web on the Wing Mirror, where:

The morning I drove to the hospital
hedges glimmered and a web,

silver-beaded, spanned the wing-mirror,
a spider crouched tight on the edge. 

The poet imagine the spider grafting all night - constructing the scaffolding and reflects how:

I drove so carefully that day-
slowing each time the wind

forced her silk to billow, to bend
and she hung on in there. 

 

 Another driving poem is the unsettling Indian Blue Peacocks for Sale, prompted by an advert scrawled on sawn-off chipboard seen while driving.  I'd quite like to ring and ask if that's for a chick, the poet says, or a full-grown bird.  The poem, written in a somewhat breathless, stream-of-consciousness style, is both a challenge to the unethical practises of commodotizing animals:


didn't I read
that peacocks need space    more than can be found
in sunless back yards 

and a dig at Darwin, imagining:

how Darwin would turn away sickened
by the thought of females having the power to shape
these tails 

In fairness to Charles Darwin, my understanding of his feeling "sickened" at the sight of peacock feathers (quoted above the poem) was primarily related to his unease at how the beautiful but apparently unnecessary peacock feather appeared to contradict his theory of Natural Selection - and he did, indeed, go on to solve the puzzle, framing the feather as a perfect example of the burgeoning idea of Sexual Selection, but the subject at least provides a platform for some of the poet's most exhillerating, ironic imagery:

imagine how
musters of them might dust-bathe in gutters  roost
on the cold shoulders of pylons    act out their quivering
deep-blue rituals in the piss-reek of alleys of city estates 
creech and signal from the bonnets of parked cars

Meanwhile, another natural subject brings the poet's thoughts closer to home, as  

I watched pale shreds
form a mezzanine above the reservoir,
thought back to the time we abandoned
the car, took the path across the moors,

the hum of the motorway 
receding with each step until we found
the perfect place for a blanket
and afterwards, your hand in ine,
as we slept, a glaze of heather at our backs.


The poem again touches on relations between science and personal understanding, which emerges as a salient theme interwoven throughout this deeply felt collection - most notably in the titular poem, where It ticks me to sleep / the titanium valve in your heart. 

Describing how:

When they opened you up,
hooked cannulised veins

to the heart-lung machine

the author treads a fine and poignant line between the coldly clinical and hard-hitting:

how bood streaked back

from ventricle to atrium,
more turbulent with every year

and the vitality and tenderness of human experience:

Now the deep red
chambers of your heart, secured

against the leak and tonight,
every night, in that pause

between beats - 
titanium, titanium


With its short two-line stanzas, the poem, second place in the Poetry on the Lake Silver Wyvern Competition 2017, evokes a sense of intimacy, but also of suspense, or the fragility and brevity of every moment, as our eyes dart for the next installment, like someone impatiently looking ahead, or or of a consciousness of the intertwining of events - like other poems in the book which deal with human binding in a medical context, The Mechanics of Love is told in a rolling style of verse, where each line - and each new stanza - is part of the same sentence as the one preceding, a moving metaphor for the "sealing" of a heart, and the joining of lives.

Pearl's Daughter takes as its inspiration the dive of an Ama woman / in Ago bay, bare backed and free / from the compressed weight of oxygen is visualized.  The poet embraces the idea of diving for pearls:

Let me rise 
before dawn, join the women who make
dockyards tilt and dip with bamboo flares,
hair bound by tenugi, long knives slipped
into fundoshi at their hips. And let my strong toes
propel me down to thirty feet and my lngs
become the lungs of the sea, bronchioles streaming 
like weed, alveoli blown out to a coral-red bloom.

As with the spider's web, and newborn's cord - this wisp of a thing - / a twist of ochre, a garnet swirl,/  a swell of black, like a fossilised eye, which pulsed between us, bue-white / vigorous, the best I had to give, the poem is graced with images uniting the wider world with the familial:

if I'm to bear a daughter
let her swim before she can walk, let her hair
spread into a thousand salty whispers at her back,
let her pray to the glimmering eye of the shrine
for my return
 
concluding with the imploration:

let her body be a twist of flame the ocean can't douse.

The grandmother remembered for popping her deceased husbad's pills so that they wouldn't go to waste, the dog following his shadow, who is fixated on the moves / of his darker self, the husband, heart intact thanks to the workings of modern science - all these and more form a richly personal tapestry of family snapshots, natural observations, images of love, combining to intricately and beautifully illustrate the mechanics of love.