10 poems I wrote during Lent

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.

Still Life
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
Waxily beautiful
And left there – fading – an aftermath or an afterlife.

Frowning
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).

In Translation
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
Transported, transposed,
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
Taking photographs
Outside recommended restaurants
A few days alone
Showed all she had waited for
Memories, iron-branded
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
Big pebbles
On the street
Have expectations –
Each telephone box or tower
Or a man in an unusual hat
Is history and geography
Transport, transport,
Late,
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
Guidance guidance
Take pictures
Recommended restaurants outside
Only a few days
Show her waiting for everything
Memory, iron brand
Magic continues
It will go on
Will let her go on
And, quietly – will make her her.

Morning
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
Blithely, obliquely
Becoming aware

Gradual emerging
From nothing as human as dreaming
More atavistic
More animalistic
Lumbering out of an eight-hour winter

Nothing required
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?

Intensity was
Refracted from the stage
Bent with echoes
Of exhaustion –
Of admiration
The storms of energy
The shouts and the lights
(The expensive programmes)
And the dual identity
Seeing Martha;
Seeing Imelda
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!

8 things I learned by writing a poem every day of Lent

I’ve been meaning to write a post since Lent ended – because I achieved my aim, of writing a poem every day during Lent! Some were definitely hastily written at 11.30pm – witness my only haiku – but there are quite a few I’m pleased with, and it was a good experiment (albeit one I was glad to finish). I feel like it got me more into the habit of writing, as well as showing me where I need to learn more about poetry.

Lent poetry book

And here are eight things I learned – as well as a list of all the titles, because that seems quite fun to me. I love titles, me.

1.) There don’t seem to be as many poetic forms as I thought

One fun thing was trying my hand at a variety of poetic forms – and I think I ended up liking these more disciplined poems most. I wrote a sestina, two sonnets, a villanelle, a triolet, found poetry (using a recipe book), and the aforementioned haiku. I even wrote a limerick in French. (It is important to note that I don’t speak French.)

But I found it difficult to track down many more types of poetic form – beyond a dozen variants of the haiku.

2.) I made up some forms

I daresay I’m not the first to do these – but I play around a bit. I took all the words of ‘Nurse’s Song’ by William Blake (from Songs of Experience) and rearranged them to make a different poem. I took one of my poems and put it through Chinese Google Translate three times to make a different poem. Less experimentally, I kept returning to an abcdc rhyme scheme, which I liked (and which I used on day one).

3.) Free verse were my cheat days

This is absolutely not what free verse should be, I know, but when it was the form I turned to when I wanted to write a poem quickly. My apologies to proper poets.

4.) RhymeZone and Oxford Dictionaries Thesaurus became among my most-visited sites on my phone

I spent so much time on these, trying to find a synonym that had the right stresses, or a word that rhymed with ‘own’.

5.) My favourite poems meant something

Reading them over, it’s the most personal poems that I like best – though I can’t decide if that’s because they mean the most, or because I wrote better when they hit closest to home.

6.) It’s hard not to be earnest

I wrote a few comic verses, and enjoyed it, but I always seemed to be far too earnest as soon as I picked up the pen. Which is annoying, because I try to keep a light, witty element in almost any prose I write (“Does he?” you ask) and I need to remove that block.

7.) Poetry Prompts was useful

Poetry Prompts is a handy Tumblr which I often flicked through when I was out of ideas – and it would often give me an idea for a line or image, even if it didn’t end up being the theme of the whole poem.

8.) It’s way more fun than giving up chocolate

Seriously.

And here are all the titles I wrote over the 46 days of Lent:

  1. Beginning
  2. The Man Who Loved Virginia Woolf Too Much
  3. A Rope at Chawton
  4. February Sonnet
  5. Hands
  6. The Best Laid Plans
  7. Mirror in the Attic: a Sestina
  8. Chickens and Hens
  9. On the Surprise of the Inevitable
  10. Ellen
  11. John and Joan Were Off to the Coast
  12. Morning
  13. Needs Must
  14. Defeat
  15. The Three Little Pigs
  16. Crumb
  17. 8pm Phone Call
  18. Goldilocks: Philosopher
  19. As Brittle as She Was
  20. She
  21. World Poetry Day
  22. No Regrets
  23. Westminster Bridge, March 2017
  24. My Personal Blitz
  25. She Wears Pearls to the Supermarket
  26. Frowning
  27. Unbliss
  28. Innocence From Experience
  29. At a Wedding
  30. Burn all the Candles
  31. Still Life
  32. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
  33. In Translation
  34. Coffee Shop Limbo
  35. On Being a Bad Poet Because of the Theatre
  36. Piano Lessons
  37. Coffee Shop Limbo (2)
  38. Certain Women
  39. Une erreur poétique
  40. Good Things (A Villanelle)
  41. In Translation in Translation
  42. Do Poets Ever Smile?
  43. Railway Station Triolet
  44. Sundial
  45. Good Friday
  46. Split Ends

Goldilocks: Philosopher

I’m in danger of just rewriting fairytales for the rest of Lent… but I thought I’d share Saturday’s poem. And will write some book reviews at some point…

It comes, to those in fairy tales
As the mildest of mild shocks
To be objectified by males:
Such, indeed, was Goldilocks.

Though (charitably) meant to praise,
Dear Goldie was more than her looks.
While victim of the male gaze,
She infinitely preferred books.

As Goldilocks must needs explain
“A model, I would scoff to be –
I’d rather be (I have a brain)
A student of philosophy.”

With this in mind, she took a stroll
(Ideally one devoid of men)
And, thankfully, saw not a soul –
But found a cottage in a glen.

“I’m tired,” thought Goldie, “And want food,
And seem to have misplaced my map,
A little sick of solitude,
And desperate (frankly) for a nap.”

She knocked and entered, seeing still
No owners – though the furry chairs
(And photos on the windowsill)
Suggested it was owned by bears.

In fact, in every room she’d see,
On shelf, or floor, or hook, or wall,
That every object came as three:
One big, one medium, one small.

Recalling that her first intent
Was sleeping, she ignored the rest:
And to the bedroom, off she went
And found three beds (as you’ll have guessed).

And, with philosophy in mind,
Adjudicating what she’d seen
She lay down on the middle kind:
The Aristotelian mean.

(You may be asking yourself why
The porridge has been overlooked:
Let’s say the sleep would fortify
Her strength before she went and cooked.)

She woke to find three angry bears
And also found she’d caused offence
She told them why she’d used what’s theirs,
With Aristotle as defence.

Unhappily, the bears as one
Preferred a different Greek instead.
“Your theories, dear, are quite outshone
By the Platonic ideal of ‘bed’.”

A little scared, she could observe
Each bear appeared as one who brooks
No argument – and, losing nerve,
Poor Goldie fell back on her looks.

She batted eyelids, twirled her hair,
Apologised for breaking in,
And found small, large, and middle bear
Forgave, in moments, every sin.

The moral of this tale, you see
Is – well, let’s think – do what you’re told.
And, if you don’t, philosophy
Won’t help – unless your hair is gold.

The Three Little Pigs

I was going to write a Things I Have Learnt From Two Weeks of Writing a Poem a Day post today – but, by the time I’d finished today’s poem, it was quite late. So I’ll do that post soonish – suffice to say, so far I’ve managed to write at least some sort of poem every day of Lent. And today’s is on The Three Little Pigs – yes, it’s been done, but I thought telling a nursery rhyme could be fun.

Three pigs (of no enormous size)
Decided – with great enterprise
To try something transformative:
They’d build themselves a place to live.

But having got that far, they found
That each believed the plans unsound
Propounded by the other pair.
They split: one here, one here, one there.

Pig number one determined: straw
Was best for roof and walls and floor
And doors and windows and, indeed,
If liquefied, made potent mead.

Now, building regulations state
The roofs should be, ideally, slate
And doors and walls require more
(To keep them standing up) than straw.

The wolf passed by, prepared to huff
(And puff) – but nature called his bluff
A breath of wind, a tiny one,
And wolf found that his job was done.

(It’s sad to say, that little breath
Of wind meant pig was crushed to death.
It turns out straw, if in a stack
Can break more than a camel’s back.)

Pig number two observed the scene
Where Piggy number one had been.
He thought, “I knew that straw was wrong.
Now, sticks – they’re much more safe and strong.”

Suffice to say, no building guide
Has ever yet identified
As ‘Place To Start for Builder Pigs’
The hasty gathering of twigs.

The wolf turned up, and quickly saw
That ’twas with sticks as ’twas with straw.
His services were not required:
The pig had, under sticks, expired.

Let’s throw the third pig in the mix.
He’d (rather wisely) chosen bricks
Since noting (unlike straw or trees)
That almost every house used these.

He hired contractors, drew up plans,
Employed a fleet of men with vans.
The house was built and Pig, with glee
Moved in, and made a cup of tea.

The wolf was waiting – hungry, stressed,
Mere days from cardiac arrest –
And, rageful, watched the pig move in –
But vowed no porcine foe would win.

He Googled how to win this fight
And, after that, bought dynamite.
So, while poor Piggy drained his cup,
Wolf huffed, and puffed – and blew him up.

The Man Who Loved Virginia Woolf Too Much (Day 2)

It’s the fourth day of Lent, and I’m about to start on my fourth poem – so it’s all going to plan so far. As I said, I won’t be posting every poem – but I thought I’d share what I wrote on day 2. It’s something of a self portrait…

The Man Who Loved Virginia Woolf Too Much

A pensive smile, a far-off look,
A sense that here, at last, is truth
A somewhat tattered library book,
Oh lord… he loves Virginia Woolf.

He has fixed ideas about the sea
(Which mariners would contradict)
Each rock-pool is a simile
However dull or nondescript.

For holidays, he sometimes takes
A walking tour of Bloomsbury Squares
And points out all the guide’s mistakes
In case, by chance, somebody cares.

Occasionally, he handwrites prose
Inspired by Woolf (or so he claims)
With comma : full stop ratios
To rival those of Henry James.

Mention Faulker, Brontës, Proust,
Either Eliot, Brothers Grimm,
You’ll find it isn’t any use –
Only Virginia for him!

He doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke,
He has no sinful thoughts, as such,
His only vice, his heavy yoke:
He loves Virginia Woolf too much!

 

A poem a day for Lent (day one)

I hope you’ve had your fill of pancakes – Lent has begun! For many of us, it’s a time of contemplation leading up to the joy of Easter – but it’s also, of course, a time for giving up or taking up things. My brother has gone vegetarian for Lent (taking up vegetarianism or giving up meat, depending on how you look at it) – this excites me greatly, mostly because he has teased me for being vegetarian ever since I started, in 2001.

I’ve been watching a couple of arty programmes lately – The Big Painting Challenge and Portrait Artist of the Year – and it got me wanting to take up something creative in Lent. One artist said he had a New Year’s Resolution to paint a self portrait every day. Any sort of artwork every day seemed impossibly time-consuming, but I decided I could manage a poem a day. There’s always the option of a single rhyming couplet on hectic days. (And the project would require – yay – stationery!)

Lent poetry book

Perhaps I should emphasise this isn’t because I think I’m a great poet – rather it’s that I want to practise it more, and I like the idea of a record of Lent to look back on. I’ll be trying lots of styles, tones, and forms (though my go-to form is always something which takes a rigid structure and shakes it up a bit), and I will probably share some of them here, if people are interested. In fact, here’s day one – I thought ‘beginning’ was a suitable theme, and it was my jumping-off point for writing this one, as well as the title.

Beginning

She is there in a house on a cliff,
Facing out to sea and out to land,
The place both meet; the place where both begin,
A refuge for escapers, holidaymakers,
From all that’s past that’s not permitted in.

In a room in a house on a cliff,
Cold with age and waiting to awake,
The day begins; the dying back of night,
A light-switch makes a lighthouse of a cave;
A wary hand declares ‘let there be light’.

In a room on the edge of a cliff,
She finds that she has walked to every wall,
To use each sense; to know that they are there,
The witnesses to something wholly new,
But witnesses which must stay unaware.

In a bed in a house on a cliff,
Blankets form a powerless defence.
The warmth may come; perhaps she has to wait,
For now no walls can stop the creeping cold;
The world outside will always infiltrate.

In a house on the edge of a cliff,
Caught between the country and the coast,
The last escape; the first place to defend,
Sometimes an end is the beginning;
Sometimes a beginning is the end.