Poems that won’t lie down and die, poems that may not have been seen for a while, that had something to say when they were written and are still saying it, in that fixed language poems enjoy. Keep Poems Alive International is one place to hear them again. Mavis Gulliver ventures on a bog path, but it’s words she is seeking. Rachel Bentham finds words for her sadness while looking out of a train window.
Catherine Graham uses her words to take us back into Newcastle’s history with a girl making clogs all week. It’s about connecting with aspects of her city that may be obscured through time, but inhabit the recognisable map of the city’s life.
Sometimes, poets link their work to that of other poets in the great tradition that poetry is. Here’s a remarkable example of this, in that it describes an early reading by Iain Crichton Smith of his famous poem “Deer on the High Hills” and shows how it was first received in Aberdeen, so many years ago. Iain is not mentioned by name but to every poetry reader in Scotland at least, this is wholly unnecessary. So, a bit of poetry history as well as a poem, from Gerard Rochford.
Our thanks as always to the poets who have contributed their previously published work to this project, to reach known and unknown readers round the planet.
Looking for Words
If you leave the road in winter wet
there’s always bog
and the place you want to go.
But if you want it bad enough
you’ll carry on,
squelching through water, oozing mud,
gauging distances between tussocks
and exposed stones,
hoping to come away with something special,
like Bob Dylan, who, eager
for the gift of Woody Guthrie’s notes
took the cut across the bog,
arrived wet to the knees,
found no-one home,
returned without Woody’s words,
wrote his own instead.
First published in Purple Patch, No 115, 2006. Author’s photo
A long hour from Temple Meads
gazing through my face
upon flooded fields, terraces.
She comes with me.
Slide behind those eyes;
they aren’t mine, but older.
Unstitched edges become visible scribble
when we pass something dark. Tunnels.
Canals coated with an algae skin
skim my mouth that’s thankfully closed.
Pig farm. I am the same as before.
Wet sheep. I am not the same.
Her jaw sags over fleeting dollops of hill.
Woodsmoke makes the landscape more
beautiful, just as well as horses. Smoky
eyes disappear into clouds and return.
An elegant flight of birds.
I cannot accept the loss,
although of course I must and I will.
Mourning what men see.
The rivers churn,
brown with the overload of tears.
I will always be here, making
no more mark than my reflection.
The Coffee House Magazine published Reflection/Train Window
Making Clogs at Gallowgate for Doris
I let him believe I’m fourteen; old enough
to be a clog-maker. The rough, green overall
tied tight around my waist gives me the figure
I haven’t got: I comb my fringe to the side.
Uppers hang in the workshop like kippers;
the genuine smell of leather all around.
Gripping the sycamore sole between my legs,
I squeeze my knees together, like mam
says I always should, and hammer like hell
at the horseshoe, braying the nails into the wood:
Slicing leather with the sharpest knife in the world;
my hands bleeding, like Christ up on the cross.
Soon I’ll be promoted to stretching the skins
over metal lasts, if I keep my head down.
My workmates are five sisters, all would-be
opera singers. Listen, you can hear them
even now: Si tu ne m’aimes pas prends garde à toi!
And old Ebenezer next door, stitching:
Our would-be baritone. Every morning
we’re greeted by a longtail that runs along the pipes.
The same R.A.T. (for it’s unlucky to say the word),
comes out again at noon, scurrying around
like a frantic clerk of works, on the look out
for idle crumbs. The loud clock ticka ticka ticka ticks
its way to Friday when the shop window is filled
with beautiful black clogs, perched in pairs
on shelves, like lovebirds, and I collect my
seven and six. That’s when I leave work
by the front door, so I can pass the window
and Fenwick’s with its felt hats and blouses
made from the finest of satins and silks.
first published in Things I Will Put In My Mother’s Pocket (Indigo Dreams Publishing 2013). Photo: Fenwick Newcastle store, c1900
Poem to “Deer on the High Hills”
for Iain Crichton Smith
It was open-mike time:
a carousing ceilidh.
Hamish recited his war poem.
A quiet innocent man came forth.
The crowd whispered his name,
the room fell silent.
He told an anecdote or two,
teased those who’d gone before him,
gently, with a touch of the blade.
Then seamlessly he flowed into a poem.
“Just written it,” he said,
“It’s about deer.”
And almost as though he was weaving as he spoke,
an island cloth shot through with thread of gold,
the verses were set free within the hall,
down the granite stairway,
into Marischal quad and up until
they settled on the feldspath pinnacles,
scarfing those delicacies against the northern cold.
And when he finished
still the room was silent;
as if a chalice had been held on high
to honour an angel,
thinking aloud about love, brutality,
loneliness and beauty,
in a city of stone
Gerard Rochford’s poem was first published in Poetry Scotland, 2003. Photo: Marischal College, Aberdeen