Against The Odds

It was last year. The fog had carpeted fields
in its breath, swamped crowns of trees
and reduced hedgerows to hedges.

Two tractors I saw were glazed in frost.
The streams frozen. Silent. You could feel
a cold earth, hard and solid as steel.

There are times when I accept this darkness, amble
blindly through years beneath a blurred moon
warped upon a night sky without a single star.

So I picture that honeyed glow of home,
like some beacon throbbing in the fog,
a lone wink of candlelight burning against the odds.

 

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On Broken Tooth

“Not everything has to be perfect.”
I hear each syllable, his breath on broken tooth.
Advice cemented in membrane; a tape never worn
to rewind. The phrase has been kept bold, underlined,
in periphery, easy insurance when needed.

If I could – go back to that minute, watch us from above,
that knee you took, eye to eye, how you said it slow
with a smile. An understanding laugh.
Those kind words found even on your weighted wings.
That I cannot recall; only build on schema.

But I can, and will, remember it for someone else.
Words of wisdom first uttered in their flesh.
Two days ago, I passed a mother and daughter.
Office attire. School uniform. Hand leading hand.
“We’re allowed to step on the cracks here, aren’t we?”
“Yes, darling, because there are so many.”

 

The Sculptor

Footsteps travel to corner, crevice. This room
has forgotten the chink of hammer on chisel,
the hoarse voice of rasp on marble. It is quiet.

We study, carefully. Contours, curves, flank, face.
I feel it: that urge to place a hand to element; burmese,
bronze, slate, let my fingers find groove and grain.

A life spent reducing to create, discovering form, shape,
to model thought, love, and landscape. The world is full of noise.
Take note from Hepworth: Start knocking


This was written after I visited Barbara Hepworth’s studio in St. Ives. I was hugely inspired by her work. It is one thing to see their picture, but entirely another to see her sculptures in their flesh and preserve, to be able to walk around each one and know their size and shape.

Her studio is now a museum kept exact since her death in 1975. It’s a home for her marvellous body of work, clearly of passion and love. She had an amazing outlook on the world, too, and her words haven’t left me.

“All my early memories are of forms and shapes and textures. Moving through and over the West Riding landscape with my father in his car, the hills were sculptures; the roads defined the form. Above all, there was the sensation of moving physically over the contours of fullnesses and concavities, through hollows and over peaks – feeling, touching, seeing, through mind and hand and eye. This sensation has never left me. I, the sculptor, am the landscape. I am the form and I am the hollow, the thrust and the contour.”

Extract from Barbara Hepworth,  A Pictorial Autobiography, Bath, 1971

They Will Fade If I Further

They will fade
if I further.

Wind breathes
to bulge sails.

I stand
on the stern,

wave to their
figures on the jetty.

My mother waves back.
My father motions with his hand

to steer me, points to a rising
crest that wraps and lifts the hull.

I could stay here,
at this distance.

Yes. I think I will.

Gift

Once felled, he left it there.
The axe head in oak stump,

A late gleam of sun lit
the blade for a moment

to burn a cold edge half sunk
and gift to time and rust.


A little experiment. I’ve been thinking about the use of syllables in poetry. Single syllable words can emphasise a fast pace and make choppy sentences. Seamus Heaney did this in conjunction with onomatopoeic words. They can be aggressive, punchy, and when read aloud, as you can find with Heaney’s poetry, they really make your mouth work. A bit like those exercises, tongue twisters, that help you pronounce before a speech.

This poem was an attempt to use a multi-syllable word amongst shorter words for emphasis. In this case, ‘moment’, which suggests a brief passing of time. I’m not sure how well it worked or stood out but I hope you enjoy it.

It must be Heaney who started this (I’ve been reading Wintering Out); I can’t stop thinking about how syllables work in poetry, amongst all the other techniques. I think I just had to get this one out and leave it be!