In the comments to my post about writing poems during Lent, a few people were kind enough to say that they’d like to read some more of the poems I wrote. I will cautiously oblige! Some of the ones I was most pleased with were a bit too personal to share, but I have picked ten. Each one comes with a short line about the inspiration etc. I hope you enjoy reading them – I certainly enjoyed the Lenten discipline!
My Personal Blitz
I read so many books from the Second World War period that I thought I’d write a poem set then.
You went before the bombs began
A week before the sky was torn
With screams and neon shrieks, bereft
By seeming foes we could not see
Before that night began: you left
Upon my kitchen table sat
A vase of dying irises
While underneath hid I (not we)
The wood was a dividing line
Between your farewell flowers – and me.
The farewell flowers you cruelly gave
An antebellum jab; a knife
Thrust finally into my hand
The opposite of comforting;
The border to my no-man’s-land.
The words you said; the bombs you dropped;
The holding hand you took away;
The crater into which I fell;
The lives you lead; the lives you leave
And, in the midst of blitz, my hell.
Poetry Prompts suggested writing a poem inspired by van Gogh’s ‘Still Life with Lemons on a Plate‘ – so I did.
She left five brittle lemons on a plate
Like a painting by van Gogh
Halfway between use and decoration
Left to grow old, and bleak
Corroded by unuse; an aptly bitter fate.
Who needs five lemons? Who wants more than one?
To zest, to juice, to rearrange
To think about painting, but never paint
But look at, in passings,
Until you see they need to go – or that they’re gone.
She found it oddly funny – I could tell
The needless superfluity
That supermarkets pushed unsmilingly –
Five pears and five oranges
And so, to be consistent, five lemons as well.
When life gives you lemons, make a still life
Hasty, on a plate, all five
Huddled to one side – unneeded, silly
And left there – fading – an aftermath or an afterlife.
I remember the shock when I found out that my brother and I had been using an everyday word completely differently from each other all our lives…
You said frowning happened with the lips
I said frowning happened with the brow
Both of us were adamant – and right
But neither could absorb the other use.
“The brow?” you said – while I replied “the lips?”
To share our nature and a nurture – yet
To reach this impasse – well, then, what are words?
And what is conversation? Are there ways
To speak and understand – if two like us
Thought frowning was with lips (or was with brow)
If words are planks (and let’s pretend they are)
There’s something rotten, threatening our bridge
If words are bricks (why not?) – well, then our wall
Now has at least one aperture to show
How easily what we believe we share
Can be replaced, quite suddenly, with air.
She Wears Pearls to the Supermarket
I saw a women wearing a pearl necklace and pearl earrings in the supermarket – and was intrigued!
She wears pearls to the supermarket
Strung in two neat rows
With another for each ear
“No need not to look one’s best”
She’d say, if she were asked (who’d ask?)
And she chooses peas or sugar snaps
Like a Duchess in a poor disguise
Letting her surroundings raise their game –
She only has one standard: it is high.
She wears pearls to the supermarket
Modest and demure
Bought or – if one had to guess – a gift
Worn for style; worn for what they were;
Worn because she wears them (that is all)
As she chooses skimmed or semi-skimmed
A plastic basket ferried by one arm.
The world and all its shifting whims can change –
And she’ll keep going to the shops in pearls.
Railway Station Triolet
For those who aren’t familiar with triolets – as I wasn’t – they include a lot of repeating lines, and it seemed appropriate for the tannoy announcements at a railway station.
Your train is ready to depart
All passengers on platform one.
You made a move; I gave a start
(Your train is ready to depart)
You held your breath; you held my heart
You let both go – and you were gone
(Your train is ready to depart
All passengers on platform one).
Oxford is such a tourtisty city that I wanted to guess at the tourist experience – and see it as something positive, rather than cynical.
With a guidebook and smile
And two-way dictionary
She walked blank mazes
Admiring foreign stone
The very cobbles
Of the very streets
Held expectation –
Every phone box or tower
Or man in an unusual hat
Was history or geography
Late as it came,
At the end of a heavy wait –
She walked brick forests
Seeing diamonds in dust
And gold in graffiti.
The joy she sent out
Bounced back off the walls;
Reflected in a handful of faces
Faithfully she trod
Where the guidebooks directed
Outside recommended restaurants
A few days alone
Showed all she had waited for
The enchantment continued
It would keep going
It would keep her going
And, quietly – it would keep her too.
In Translation in Translation
This wasn’t the intention when I wrote the above poem, but a week or so later I decided to put the ‘In Translation’ poem in and out of Chinese/English Google Translate a few times. It’s not really writing a new poem, but it was a fun exercise.
Have guidance and smile
And two-way dictionary
Her empty maze
Enjoy the stone abroad
On the street
Have expectations –
Each telephone box or tower
Or a man in an unusual hat
Is history and geography
At the end of heavy waiting –
She walked the brick forest
See the dust of the diamond
And gold in graffiti
She is happy
Rebound from the walls;
Reflected in a few faces
Faithfully she set foot on it
Recommended restaurants outside
Only a few days
Show her waiting for everything
Memory, iron brand
It will go on
Will let her go on
And, quietly – will make her her.
Usually I’m relatively concrete with poems, but I thought I’d try to write about what it feels like to wake up on a weekend morning when I can stay in bed as long as I like.
Warm with the morning
Rich with sated lethargy
From nothing as human as dreaming
Lumbering out of an eight-hour winter
Nothing alarming or instant
Wake without urgency
Eased into sentience
Rich with warm vitality
A long, long moment before
Humanity – and the day, and the day.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I wrote this on the train, on the way back from seeing a performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Refracted from the stage
Bent with echoes
Of exhaustion –
The storms of energy
The shouts and the lights
(The expensive programmes)
And the dual identity
One broken roar
– of recognition
And distance – and
Being drawn into that hurricane
(For a matinee, between meals)
For – not a mirror – a portal
A vivid, broad portal
A storm, an explosion
– Imelda; Martha –
And, afterwards, dead calm.
Innocence From Experience
I took the words of ‘Nurse’s Song‘ by William Blake, from Songs of Experience, and rearranged them…
Green are the whisperings of my youth
And green the pale voices in my mind
Heard in the dale – dews wasted on my down.
And when my days are of night, and winter is home
Then, children, your turns: arise! Your disguise – gone!
Fresh of face children – rise and play!
In the day and in the night
Your spring and sun are come!