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Saturday, 30 March 2013

What George Told Me :
Helicopter Gunships?

George went missing at odd times.
Could not -- would not? -- tell where he had been.
He once went missing with a class of children
though not far. Was quickly found.
Then one day he confided:

Knee-jerk reactor me.
That's all I'm left with now: knee-
jerk reaction is the whole of me.
Like yesterday
walked up Clover Hill
branched off towards the cliffs
just before the ridge
a whoosh, whoosh, whoosh...
Bird. Eagle. Owl. Dunno,
coz I'm not countrified, you see.
A helicopter gunship
whooshed up from beyond the brow.
Nearly took my eyebrows off,
i'm telling you.
Missed me by inches. Anyway,
drops down doan I? Flattening meself
in the long grass. See, what I'm saying?
Anything that moves could kill me, eh?
Would kill me. Anything
out in the open. Just like that!
Just got this well-honed knee-
jerk going for me, eh?

That and the single strategy they taught
us all to stay alive in desert sands.
Last week down in the town...
the marching jazz band passed by me.
I followed it. Joined on the back.
That's what they taught us, but
that's how I got lost...
The crowd was laughing fit to bust
I didn't give a damn.
That's the strategy they said.
Get separated from your group your done for --
mostly. Only chance. See a column moving...
join on the back.

Now that I could believe,
but helicopter gunships? Really?
Or something he's picked up since then?
What he clearly did pick up
was agoraphobia of some sort. If I
would take my class out to the playing field
and passed his classroom on the way
I'd find him and his pupils
lining up with mine for games, but then
he'd have a change of mind
and take them back, resume his classroom
talk of theories. Mind control.

Friday, 29 March 2013

The Man Who Wrapped the Reichstag

The man who wrapped the Reichstag hung a dress
of haute coutour on an iconic bull;
a delicate and spectral garment full
of silver glints and feminine finesse.

He who wrapped the Reichstag found a princess
in an ancient warrior king -- a cool
exposure of the way such lines can rule
or free a vision, hide it or express.

Who wrapped the Reichstag showed a diff'rent view,
as of a person, intimately known --
as many sides as there were folk to see.

Though viewers often asked for some small clue,
Meaning, he'd say, is something art's outgrown.
An art work's single purpose is to be.

In Form for All at dVerse Poets Samuel Peralta challenges us to write a Miltonian Sonnet. Hopefully, I have!

NOTE: The name of the man who wrapped the Reichstag is Christo. The project took a million square feet of fire-proof polypropylene fabric covered by an aluminium layer -- and 15 km of rope.

The image is from Wiki Commons.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Colour-blind - or Simply Racist?

First day, first special school,
I make my way to the first floor.
The first half-landing gives a view
of fists and feet employed in anger
in the playground way below.

At first just two or three boys,
but multiplying as I watch. No sign
of staff. (I'm hoping that's
unusual.) I'd better to the fray.

Beyond the main doors: steps, broad
and semi-circular, descending to
the battlefield, make grandstand seats
from which to watch the show unfold.

I stand above it all and call,
in my best Sunday foghorn voice,
for Silence! The insurgency falls quiet.
All eyes towards the stranger in their midst.
From somewhere at the back, a small quiet voice.
It carries: Could he be the right man for
the job?
I do the usual thing
(remembered from my visit for the interview):
pick out the boys I think responsible
and send them to the first floor hall.

They've done the usual thing and spaced
themselves along the full length of the hall.
I'm wondering what would the usual next
thing be, when as I enter, the nearest boy
accuses me: You've only picked on us
because we're black!
I look along
the line. The first six boys are black -- and I,
until this moment, had not noticed. Owch! But
now, at the far end, boy number seven --
sigh of bless'd relief -- I see is white as I.

So why, I ask, did I choose him?
You can't pretend he's black!

Back comes the quick reply. Nah sir,
you picked on him because he's Irish!

Written for Poetry Jam where this week's challenge is to write on the usual and/or unusual.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Storm Brewing

In a grey sky
a dark cloud. Spreading.

Rolling out from under it
a rose and copper cloud with purple veins
stoops over us.
A school ma'am on her rounds
not liking what she sees.
She straightens
topples fast towards us
flattening a white cloud child.
The child keels over knowing that its time is up.
No cry rings out from the dead child
but mournful wailing comes to us from somewhere afar off.
Sea cries like a chorus answers it.

A dark cloud issues from her skirts
rolls back upon itself. From skirt and bodice now
the rose and copper cloud spawns other clouds. Streaked,
mottled, ink dark, glowing, stirred
as by an unknown hand, they bubble, burst, come to the boil
as though there is a heat source hotter than the sun.

Softly they drop towards the sea
like feathers from some bird kill in the sky.
The water is in turmoil. Dark beyond the rocks
and far beyond man's dark imaginings, but blazing white
where now it's springing skywards from its slapping of the rocks
before it crashes in a shower of flying shards on top of them.
It's mirroring the clouds. It rolls. It plunges. Spirals
inwards. Is flung in all directions. Water ejects water
in great jets. Great gobs of water are sucked down. Spewed out.
Subdued. Waves turn into tunnels. Spouts turn inside out. Are holes.
Become the sea's black holes. No light escapes them. Stars
might die within them. We would never know.

Water pours down from the clouds. At first fine sprays.
Soon these are heavy, bouncing columns battering
the pock marked surface of the sea with all the vigour
that the sea expends upon the rocks.
The rain welds sea and cloud together in some conspiracy.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Not to be Reproduced, by René Magritte

Sometimes the light surprises us
with what it knows
the way old light from space
brings images
of stars that died
millennia ago,
the way an image grows
and is not simply seen
remembering times past
how light becomes the handmaid of all time,
the way it flows around us
like water round a boat,
the way the mat of rays is warped,
the surface of the lake deformed,
both warp and weft
the way time is by gravity.

A man stands looking in a mirror.
We stand behind
and see his rear view twice --
once in our reality
then once more in the glass.
So should we now assume
that he sees in the mirror what we see?
Perhaps his light
has different memories,
has not been wrenched
or made to flow
in some more stressful way.
He sees his face.
His face looks back at him.

His face looks back at him...
Consider for a moment
how strange that sentence is.
Familiarity has packaged it
as something obvious.
It's nothing of the sort.
If time could but reverse,
then his reflection in the glass
might look out of its world and see
the back of its own head.
The virtual see the real.

Written for The Mag, to whom thanks for the image as a prompt.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

An Interview with Madame Blavatsky,

First of all, my thanks -- and the family's thanks -- to Claudia for the opportunity to converse with Mme Blavatsky and to attempt at first hand to reconcile the conflicting family myths concerning her influence on its past.

Me Mme Blavatsky, thank you for speaking with me.
Rightly or wrongly, my family blame you
for devastation wreaked upon us,
mainly through the agency of Great Aunt Min --
she of the parrot that would squark
at punters in her pub at closing time, to ask
why they'd not got no bleeding homes to go to. Min
maintained the parrot was a gift from you,
that you performed (her word) a seance for her
during which you caused the parrot to appear.

M.B. As if, my child! Am I a conjurer?
A party trickster, me? Am I a perpetrator
of such trivia?

Me It wasn't trivia. The parrot taught my aunt
a whole new lexicon of words --
words not respectable, nor Theosophical. And don't pretend
you are not into tricks, illusions and the like.
Did Eliot in his Waste Land not send you up,
characterise you as a Madame Sosostris,
famous clairvoyante
She with the stinking cold and yet
the wisest woman in all Europe? -- That was you, I'm thinking?

M.B. The bird was Aunt Min's nature manifest.

Me That's a kosher way to talk about reality?
Theosophy can talk in those terms, yes?

M.B. Indeed, the way the Secret Document states:
as above, so below. The microcosm is
a tiny copy of the macrocosm. So peace be yours, my son.

Me But not quite yet. Min's husband was a sailor,
said you were an early terrorist, blew up
the ship you sailed in to Piraeus,
yet still arrived in Cairo in one piece --
and fit enough to launch your new Society...
He thought it certainly black magic! My family --
and half Min's punters -- thought you a witch.
So many patrons left, Aunt Min was close to bankruptcy.

M.B. Speak metaphysics and you'll be misunderstood.
But where are all the positives in this? That I --
Theosophy, in fact -- described the atom as divisible
before (and long before) your science had caught up.
And still has not. Our hidden science declares the atom
to be infinitely so. In other words, reality
is non-objective. Matter is pure energy.

Me Like Aunt Min's parrot, eh? --
Not easy, ma'am, to live with, would you say?

Written for Claudia's prompt at dVerse Poets in which she asks us to interact with an historical character.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

2 firsts and... whose counting?

our daughter had her forty-seventh birthday.
How ridiculous!
How could that be?
I am her father!
How old does that not make me feel? I,
who am what I have always been throughout
my adult life -- a steady forty(ish). How could
she dare be older than yours truly?

We celebrated at a local Chinese restaurant.
Recently opened, and so of unknown quality,
it proved a great success. Eight of us shared
a Banquet item from the menu.
(My first dalliance with what
has always seemed a little self-
indulgent in the past.)
Time to indulge the self, I thought. And did
so with a will.

Furthermore, there was the little matter of
the chopsticks. I have never wielded them
with serious intent before. Last night I did.
Now, putting this in context, I
am at the stage of having problems with
a knife and fork. I had none with the sticks.

Two firsts in a single evening then...
How's that for forty(ish)?

Not so much a poem, more like chopped-up prose... well, it was a heavy night.
The photograph shows the birthday girl. The old git trying to get rid of the paparazzi is her father.

Friday, 22 March 2013

How to Make a F***ing Fortune

Wassee witt'ring on abou'?
Wees all leavin' in a term or two
so they all do keep 'arping on abou'
What employers want and what they're lookin'
for... what they expects...
YeH? What's
it gotta do with me, what they expects?
Don't want employers, do I? don't want
to be employed. Stuff their pensions.
Working for me ole man inn-I, eh?
I tells him that one lesson. Thought that'll settle it,
but then ee pipes up Wont allus
have yer dad there to rely on!
the hell's ee mean by that, I'd like to know.
Like me dad is gonna die or sumfink soon... well guess
he'll die sometime... So what? Thing is,
I leaves school. Then I goes to work for me ole man.
One day ee dies, let's say... And what does I do then?
Coz that is it boys, that is wot ee's on abou'!
Well, they all is gonna see then. See wot's wot
when I takes over dad's ole barrow
and I makes a f***ing fortune out of it --
more'n f***ing teachers get an' all!
More'n dad has made yet. Dad aint got the ruthless
touch, but now I got my Ellie too to think abou'!
We getting married soon for ten years, maybe more.
I did ask five, but she comes back with six
and then we plumps for ten. Big day, see!
Soon as I gets outa school and works off me probation.
Ten's enough she says to bring up kids -
or get'em on their way. She good wiv kids
but I'm not minding 'em. I told her that.
We boff wants a small house. Must 'ave a garden
an' carpets in the bedroom underneath the bed.

Written for Anna Elizabeth Graham's prompt at dVerse Poets where she asks us to write on Negative Capability in a persona poem from another's world view.

Thursday, 21 March 2013


A place for everything,
my mother said,
and everything in its place.
But not so easy when
reflections flood
and spill out of their space,
when trees take root
where chairs alone should stand.

This is a concertina world...
the sun glides round, and as it moves,
light's bellows play
their silent, visual tunes:
a maple leaf, four jonquil blooms,
two maple leaves, an orchid (blue),
an orchid (white), two candle flames,
a chair back and a cushion. Stop.

Move self or head, stand up, sit
down. Relax. Move back. An image moves,
sets off a one-arm-bandit sort of roll.
Then STOP! and fancy that
you hear the fall of coins.

All things are possible
where shadows fall
on rays of light.
This palimpsest of rooms has several keys.

The subject was set as prompt by Peggy Goetz at Poetry Jam

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Storm Wind

The wind it is a chainsaw
in a forest made by man,
it rips the buildings limb from limb
and piles them storeys high.

The mighty oaks and redwoods fall
like old teeth pulled
and full of puss
and rotten with the pain.

Each solitary figure stands,
as cherished notions blown like leaves
are ripped from what would nourish them
and thrown into the night.

There's terror in the chain saw's screech
it echoes every creature's call.
The forest has been pulled awake
as Nature told it sleep!

With chain saws all around us
there's no way from the wood,
the ancient moors, though places loved,
are lost now to our feet.

The loggers who have stricken us
are forces we unleashed:
we stirred the pot and boiled away
what might have been the balm.

The sounds that now besiege us
are the rattles in the throats
of all who once believed us
when we said the Earth would live.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Strange Companions

Faun, Horse, and Bird, 1936 Pablo Picasso

(Image provided as prompt by The Mag)

Unlikely trio.
Faun, for instance:
what does he get from horse and bird
or they from him?

Pan without his pipes -- Pan shorn
of music... hardly Pan at all.

Half goat, half man,
God of woods and wilderness.
Pan--ic--inducing spirit of the wilds,
cause of sudden fears that fell
like nets upon the traveller.

Yet here at peace with horse and bird --
hardly woodland animals!
What draws him to these two? Perhaps
a craving to be whole. Complete. A something more
than half and half.
We, being half of flesh and half of spirit, understand
the strong desire to be the higher one
entire. He sees what we see in the clean sweep
of a bird through sky,
in beings of one element,
not flesh plus spirit, this plus that,
how wings should somehow guarantee
the wholeness we and he desire...
and yet this fowl
is somewhat earth bound. Flight is limited.
There is a measure of affinity.

And from the horse? Flesh
subservient to spirit?
The spirit grooms the flesh.
Aristocrat of animals. Aloof-
ness in the tilt of head
might indicate
he's sure of special status in the world.

And they for their part, see in him
an otherness they neither can make out
nor wish to do without.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Twister? Me? Moi?

15/16 Going on 17
Maybe more.
Some kind of a slow start
you may suppose. But time
to meet the girls.

Best zoot suit with the wide lapels --
The killer-diller coat with the fedora hat.
(Said Malcom X.)
Slow mooch to The Majestic Mitcham, then
I sign on for a dance sensation/education/something of the sort.

First dance, first session, must have been
a reject from the first experiments
with what they came to call The Twist much later on.

If so, good name. As I recall,
the only things got twisted
were us punters and our feet.
The dancers didn't move, nor did their hips
(unlike the The Twist itself
the leg wrench soon to conquer Christendom.)
At any rate I, Moi, did not take part,
instead consumed a knickerbocker glory by myself.

Next up: The Twelfth Street Rag.
Anathema to me. (Nothing personal. the honky
tonk of Winny Atwel was a favourite --
but dance? Nay, sorry Sis!) I leave...
some things rate more than hormones, I believe.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

The World's an Ancient Donkey

ManicDDaily at dVerse Poets asks us to be both green and poetic. Tough call!

The world's an ancient donkey,
we've flogged it half to death,
it's grossly over-laden
and fighting for its breath
We pay a guy to follow it
and scrape up all its shit...
recycling it's known as --
so then we've done our bit!

We've totally ignored that
the bones are poking through
and in time will be no more than
a pool of sticky goo.

Emblazoned on its nosebag:
Nature, she is cyclic,
puts back what she takes.
Man just took, thus I am sick.

The other side reads:OATS

(But proven to be toxic.)

He was resource--ful once
and seemed he'd go for ever.
Now all his powers depleted,
we do not look so clever.

Beyond our ministrations
and close to no return...
So could the donkey cure himself?
(We've far too much to learn.)

We'd need to set it free
(The harness first to go),
find fodder where it may --
a feral donkey... no?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

On Tasting Magic Mushrooms

The magic mushrooms by the shed...
I hadn't tried them until now.
A fairy tempted me with toasted bread,
then nothing seemed the same somehow.

At any rate, dad's raspberry canes
I saw were ramps of dandelions,
were lits for piss - en -lits,
bedwetting swains - crabs and other crawling scions.

while on the yellow duvet sat
a gecko of a cheerful aspect
who kissed a pink and slinky bat
in fancy dress from Bats Direct.

And in the hawthorn overhead
a top bunk-lit for peeing-in,
which as I wrote became instead
a jester with a world-wide grin.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Grandad's Face : (Random Words)

Following on from Brian Miller's Random Word prompt at dVerse Poets last Saturday, ten random words used by Victoria C Slotto at Live2Write"day's Blog to fire a poem has tempted me -- too late for inclusion in the Open Link Night -- to do the same (even though, as some of you will know, I am not usually inspired by such prompts).

The randomly chosen words on her blog were: Elegance, Parousia, Steal, Merge, Enfold, Garnet, Ruptured, Saintly, Sabbath, Nebula. In escatology, she explained, the word Parousia refers to the end-time.

Grandad's Face

First time solo on the mighty 6.5...
aligning it, a slight miscalculation...
and there it is, an unknown nebula
in a sector thought to be uninteresting.
Now the jealousy will start. His seniors
with hours of gazing through the telescope
and never anything like this! Beginner's luck?
Of course it is! As if that bothers him,
he's focussed on the cloud of deep red dust,
it's golden halo -- and the custom that
will give the privilege to him of naming it!

He'll call it Garnet. Why? The colour, yes,
of course, but more than that... it's
reminding him of Granddad's garnet signet ring.
And soon, of course, the cranks will be around
peddling their tales of prophesies fulfilled.
Parousia indeed! He's having none of that!

But the halo puzzles him... why that?
He'll study it for several days, then realise
the dust is turning in upon itself,
the gold enfolding garnet like a present
being wrapped, the colours merging where
they meet. He thinks again of Grand-
dad's ring, how elegant it is -- he is. And how
it's only for the Sabbath, how he wears it only
for the Sunday Services, how true he is,
a saintly man, a man imbued with so much
divine power, you would have thought, as to
work miracles or give the world a sign.

And what would Granddad make of this, his Garnet
Nebula? And then he saw it... in the centre of
the red dust cloud, the face of Granddad,
smiling. Younger. Growing older. Looking
gaga. And then the image ruptured
and he saw the end of all things
and he could not look again.

The image is sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Double Whammy #2

Hopefully this chapter will stand alone, but for those who would like to read the first part, you may do so here.

And so my second guess proved right:
the Earth was spinning further from the sun,
spinning away from its warmth and light,
spinning out into eternal darkness
like an unrepentant sinner from Gran's Book of Old.

I wonder as I write, will this survive?
Is it feasible this tale may yet be told?
Now that the Earth has slipped its tether,
burst the bonds of gravity, flown
its orbit to career through space beyond control,
what does the future hold for it or us
but all eternity in some deep freeze?

And yet I should have realised...
nothing happened in our unexpected situation
but the unexpected:
the light and warmth came back... fainter, it was true;
the warmth came back like a dim memory of warmth,
a trace of what had been, the way that light
seemed but a shadow of what light had been.
Penumbra might have been a better word for it.

But even so, slower than I've time to mimic, warmth
and light slid back beneath some cosmic door,
possessing maybe just a quarter of their former power.
But hardly had Gran time to praise the Lord
than they began to fade again.
Gran sank back in her chair, trying hard
to hide her disappointment. Then:
We're playing fast and loose with God, she said.

I could not disagree. It seemed to me
that Earth was on a different orbit, was set upon
a longer, flatter, more frightening ellipse
than we had known before. If so, I reasoned then,
although we now were further from the sun,
we would swing in again, become
uncomfortably close ... too close, perhaps.
But then a greater fear emerged: what if
our new ellipse was an eccentric one?
The sun not at its centre. One side of our orbit --
or one end -- was closer than the other to the sun?
And we were yet to make it's close acquaintance
on the other side? What could have caused
this outsize wobble of the solar system?

I think I know , said Gran. Of course
you do!
sang every one in unison. Let's hear
it then. What gave?
Smiles all round, you may
be sure. Then:- Last we heard before that telly
closed its eye for the last time,
said Gran,
was that some super comet thing was due to pass
by Earth! Maybe it knocked us sideways, eh?

That killed the smiles. We all got back to thinking
what if our new orbit was unstable? What if...
and a hundred more what ifs... you can imagine.

You've more chance in a slowly sinking ship,
said Gran, than one that's plummeting.
And then the strangest thing:
while we were huddled round our makeshift fires,
outside in the fields and on the hills
fires were breaking out spontaneously.
Trees bursting into flame. Grass singeing.
Pools and rivers boiling dry.
Cracks appearing, crackles everywhere.
Pylons melting though their wires still sang --
and loudly too, that we could hear.
And still we shivered in our almost dark.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

The Poems of the Masters

Here is a text I posted on Boxing Day 2009, just into my third full year of blogging, a time when I was mostly writing on poems, poets, art and artists, and before I had got to posting poems of my own. I had bought this book Poems of the Masters on pure instinct and was blown away by what I'd acquired. I've never stopped dipping into it, and every now and then I have a period when I cannot put it down. Just at the moment is such a period, and reading it last evening, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to repost it.

Let me first risk putting you off this book and then, assuming that the unintended has come to pass, let me try to reverse that unfortunate consequence. Here we go then, one short sentence should do it: It is an anthology of Classical Chinese poetry, some of which dates from before the early eighth century. There you are, then. What did that do for you? Have I lost you? Hopefully, not too many of you, but both eighth century and Classical can be slightly off-putting, as can the word anthology. Anthologies are for some anathemas, and for most not books to make the pulses race. So now, to reassure you, let me suggest that this book and these poems have more than enough on the plus side to outweigh those disadvantages. First up is the fact that the T'ang and Sung dynasties are regarded by the Chinese as their Golden Age of Poetry, something akin to our own Elizabethan age, when after a long period of development, the language gelled with new concepts in writing to produce a richness never seen before - or, some would argue, since. Indeed, it was Ezra Pound's discovery of these ancient verses that set him on the road to his invention of Imagism.

This anthology was first compiled (in Chinese) towards the end of the eleventh century (though this is the first - and still the only - complete English translation), and was the basis of of all Chinese Classical poetry and Education from that time until it was replaced by political propaganda when China made its more recent foray into Communism. The book's English translator, an American who goes under the pen name of Red Pine, has written an insightful introduction. The Chinese ideogram for the word poetry, he tells us, actually means language of the heart. That is to say, it is more an expression of the poet's internal landscape than an attempt to convey the external or physical world.

There are 475 pages to this book, 224 poems in all, each set out on facing pages, the Chinese original on the left and the English translation to the right. Additionally, at the bottom of the pages, Red Pine includes notes on the poem and the poet. But in all that there are only four distinct poetic structures, a fact easy to appreciate as the book is divided into four parts, each part being dedicated to one of the four forms. There are:-

39 poems of four lines with five characters per line,
45 eight-line poems with five characters per line,
94 poems of four lines with seven characters per line,
and 46 eight-line poems with seven characters per line.

Obviously they will not work out like that in English. The Chinese characters do not correspond to a fixed number of English words or syllables, but the originals are there to give an idea of their Chinese forms. Something of this can be absorbed even by those who do not read Chinese.

By structure, however, more is meant than simply the line or character count. Each poem-type follows complex rules as to rhyme scheme, tonal pattern and parallelism. Such considerations will not interest every English reader of course, nor need they, for there is much to savour without having to wrestle with such complexities.

The first poem in the book, Spring Dawn, is one of the great favourites with the Chinese people, and it is not difficult to see why. It is seventh century and by Meng Hao-Jan. The form is 4 lines of 5 characters per line - known as wu-jue.

Sleeping in spring oblivious of dawn
everywhere I hear birds
after the wind and rain last night
I wonder how many petals fell

An interesting point here is that in the original Chinese version no pronouns were used. Red Pine has inserted them: I hear... and I wonder... but the poet Meng Hao-Jan avoided them. It is as though he wanted to leave his readers with the feeling that the phenomena being described were witnessed by some impersonal being or manifestation - perhaps of nature itself. As such it would be a stunning example of the power of Chinese poetry to express abstract ideas in concrete images.

In his notes, Red Pine also highlights the wonderful piece of characterisation that is going on here: the poet being able to conceive the possibility of lying there wondering about the scene outside - without at all feeling any compulsion to get up and go outside to see at first hand.

One of the downsides to anthologies, I always think - certainly of Western poetry - lies in the fact that you miss the threads of meaning, the nuances of influence and concern, the development of ideas that poems in a one-poet collection give to the works around them. Reading poems in isolation is not at all the same as reading them as part of the collection, as part of that in which they were conceived. Now that which follows may stem from a misunderstanding on my part, but it does seem to me that these considerations do not apply to the same degree when we come to Chinese poetry. Here the rules governing their composition and limiting the development of each poem are so strict that continuities bind them together in an anthology almost as tightly as in our culture the poems in a one-poet collection are bound. In both form and content there is much continuity. Indeed, there is something of a family feeling.

Nowhere is this more the case than in the two eight-line forms. Here the rules have the sort of force that is normally reserved for laws. You infringe them at your peril. They are numerous, extreme and inflexible. They extend beyond the verbal into visual and musical elements. For example, they lay down that the third and fourth lines must be mirror images of each other, as must the fifth and sixth. And by "mirror images" we mean that nouns must face nouns (you need to look at the Chinese versions to see how this might work out), verbs must face verbs, adjectives, adjectives and adverbs, adverbs, and so on. But the rules are more extensive even than that: they say that numbers (if used) must face numbers, colours, colours etc.

You would think, maybe, that poets would be using their ingenuity to circumvent these rules - or maybe just ignoring them or avoiding those verse-forms altogether. Far from it. Many of the best poets, Tu Fu for example, have taken them even further, constructing the eight-line versions from four matched pairs - and in doing so increasing exponentially the problems facing translators!

For me one of the joys of this book has been the notes which accompany each double page spread. Here is an example:

The Chungnan Mountains
by Wang Wei

Taiyi isn't far from the Heart of Heaven
its ridges extend to the edge of the sea
white clouds form before your eyes
blue vapours vanish in plain sight
around its peaks the whole realm turns
in every valley the light looks different
in need of a place to spend the night
I yell to a woodcutter across the stream

The notes explain that Wang Wei (701 - 761) was an influential official who rose to be deputy prime minister, but much preferred to be at home in his beloved mountains and spent as much time there as he did at court. Taiyi (The Great One) was another name for the Tao. It was also another name for The Chungnan Mountains and for their highest peak. The Heart of Heaven refers to the Taoist paradise as well as to the Son of Heaven's residence. White clouds represent a life of detachment and blue vapours worldly aspiration. The Chinese at one time laid out the empire into twenty-eight realms corresponding to the constellations of the Chinese Zodiac, all radiating from these mountains. Upon meeting a woodcutter, a herb gatherer or a hermit in the mountains of China, even a stranger soon feels at home.

One of the big differences between Chinese and Western poetry lies in the fact that the former does not describe an event (as Western poetry often does), but a situation. This is sensed, I believe, at the time of one's first encounter with the Chinese art-form - as, for example, in the case of the following poem. Red Pine gives the narrative background to the work, but the poem itself represents a moment... I was going to say a moment in time, but in fact time, in the sense of time passing, does not exist. The reason for this is quite simple:

Chinese verbs have no tense - though Red Pine does introduce tense in some of his translations. Nevertheless, if we are to believe those versed in both languages, the original feel remains.. One of Ezra Pound's most perceptive pronouncements was that images can create insights in a second. It was the mainspring of his inspiration and, more than any other fact, led him to the creation of Imagism.

Here then is first one of the four-line verse-forms:

The Peach Blossoms of Chingchuan Hermitage
by Hsieh Fang-Te (1226 - 1289)

In Peach Blossom Valley they escaped the Ch'in
peach blossom red means spring is here again
don't let flying petals fall into the stream
some fishermen I fear might try to find their source

Red Pine explains that when the Mongols brought the Southern Sung dynasty to an end Hsieh had formed an army of resistance, but he was defeated, captured and imprisoned. He starved himself rather than serve his new masters. Here he visits a hermitage and describes how a fisherman followed peach blossoms that were drifting down a stream until he reached their source in a cleft in the rocks. Squeezing through the crevice, he came out in an idyllic valley, where he met people whose ancestors had come there several hundred years earlier to escape the brutal rule of the Ch'in dynasty (221 - 217 B.C.). After returning to tell others of his discovery, the fisherman was unable to relocate the valley, as the refugees had obscured the trail and the crevice. Hsieh uses the Ch'in here to represent the Yuan (1280 - 1368), from whose encroaching dominion he hoped to find refuge.

And now another eight-liner:-

Commiserating with Gentleman-in-Waiting Wang on Tungting Lake

By Chang Wei (720 - 770) Through Tungting Lake in the middle of fall
the waters of the Hsiao and Hsiang flow north
but home is a thousand-mile dream away
and a guest greets dawn with sorrow
there's no need to open a book
far better to visit an inn
Ch'ang-an and Loyang are full of old friends
but when will we join them again

The author was a minor official who had been rusticated to Changsha, in the province south of the Tungting Lake. The title Gentleman -in-Waiting, Red Pine explains, was an honorary epithet for someone who had been sponsored as an official but had no formal position. He was thus exempt from the civil service exam (< i>No need to open a book) Chang watches the waters of the two rivers flow north through the lake, into The Yangtze, and towards Loyang, while he and his friend wait to be recalled to the capital.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Be Careful What You Click On!

You've clicked on nuts and new mown hay,
I'll take the cello and some good red clay.
But everybody's done it often: you have, so have I --
alighted on a website when only surfing by --
and it's asking in all innocence
for what might be your preference... on film types now... do you go for high suspense?
or are you more for comedy?
And on another matter,do you retain your Teddy?

It's just a bit of fun, saying if you like or hate 'em --
and then how high or low you rate 'em...
Would you prefer a dog or cat?
What harm is there in that?
But behind them lurks a profiler
with algorithms of a complex kind
who wants a profile for... er...
all sorts of people come to mind.
Traders without number who want to target you.
(You've given more away to them than you had wanted to.)
Authoritarian regimes, who see an odds-on bet,
have their own algorithms set
to winkle out your politics
and then apply their fix.

Is The Godfather a favourite? and also curly fries?
That tells them straight away -- I promise you, no lies --
that you are blessed with high intelligence!
Steam trains and fish though, here I dread to say
what that could tell about your sexual preference!
Big Momma's House and milk shakes... together these two lay
you open to a drugs charge. But perhaps you ride
a Harley-Davidson? If so, I can confide
you are in academic eyes the blue eyed one with brains.
Me? I've not got past the trains?

Monday, 11 March 2013

Double Whammy

As if the world was made of light
and scans and x-rays taken of
the people we had known in solid state
who'd walked about like you and I --
as we had once -- but now
could pass through trees that had become
mere shadows from a bloated sun...

The first who'd noticed it, I think: my gran.
It's getting bigger, son, she said.
Of course it is Gran! they replied,
the way we always did, to humour her.
I wasn't sure, so measured it. A small
black disc stuck to my bedroom window pane.
If I stood on the paint stain on the rug
the disc exactly covered it. Two days
later though, the sun was rimming it.
I knew I shouldn't look, not even with
dark glasses, but I did. How could I not?

The story went around our block: the sun
would burst. Folk were being driven mad.
Six in the next street had topped themselves.
Even the pets were acting strangely,
our dog attacked the stump of the old elm,
and next door's cat had started burrowing --
as if it might have dug itself salvation.

Stay indoors, son, my Gran said.
Out there are people made of straw,
fodder for the fires of hell, like Guys
on bonfire night. We'll all end up
too near the fire. Gone before our time.

In time the sky became a picture of the sort
that people travel half way round the world
to see: like Northern Lights with Grandma's
bonfire night display thrown in. Rockets
I saw among the waves of green, and Catherine
wheels to liven up the sheets that spiralled
out of sight. The sun is getting closer,
I'll be bound!
Gran said. Or else it's
getting bigger, as I thought. Or else it's both!

And she was right. The skins of people in
the streets were scorched, the trees
had flaking bark. Burnt wood or looking
like gran's knitting: plain or pearl,
or both, but caked in soot. And then
the clock was out. Day was night and night
was day. The radio had packed up long ago.
The television, broadband, phones of every kind.
We had to work it out from basics for ourselves.
Gran got there first. The sun had passed us by.
Or we'd skipped it... that's more likely, seems to me.
Some clever people in the future I don't doubt,
will work out how that came to be... or maybe
not. More likely now we wait eternal night.
The ice age and the death of llght, heat, warmth,
and all that made this planet what it was.

I am submitting this poem to Poets United Poetry Pantry.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

The Hippo Bag

A Hippo Bag is what it's called.
You buy it at the local store,
you take it home, unfold it, and
you fill it to the gunnels with
a ton of rubbish you don't want --
and settle down to wait.
You're waiting for a lorry with a crane.
With luck, within a day, a week, a year or two
the rubbish will have vanished from your view.

We did just that.
It's sitting in the garden by the road.
(Within four meters is the rule.)
Meanwhile, I've noticed
how so many passers-by
find it a magnet that they can't resist.
It seems it's hardly possible to walk on by.
They stop. They peer. They prod. They poke...
you half expect, you're quite convinced
that if you'd look away they'd help themselves.

So far they don't.
(Well, saving one, anonymous, who took
the broken handle of a walking stick.)
What fascinates them, do you think?
Old water cans? The fungi-covered wood?
The carpet cleaner or Aunt Jennie's broken gnome?
The mouldering roof rack from a car
that mouldered long ago?
A favourite seems to be
the scant remains of last year's Christmas tree.

A final word: because you've bought the bag,
don't think the lorry with the crane is free...
The poor man's skip? Just skip the poor.

Written for dVerse Poets where there is a co-hosting. I am responding to that by Brian Miller who suggests we get someone to give us:-
2 nouns, 3 verbs, 3 adjectives and 2 random words.
I was provided with: magnet and gunnels
resist, settle and vanish
old, broken and favourite
and scant and fungi.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

two record-breaking abstracts.

Two cyclists -- I forget their names --
had ridden through a stormy night,
the last leg of a twenty four hour run
which broke the tandem record for that time.

Next day at school we heard how Mr Jones,
art master extraordinary,
had also braved the storm all night,
one of the hundred helpers, feeders, marshalls,
to see his two friends through.
He told the tale enthrallingly:
no details missed, no dramatic moments
overlooked -- but then the task we dreaded:
to paint the scene as we imagined it.

My friend and I, easel facing easel
across the classroom floor
(no chance to see each other's work),
produced two look-alike results.
Both backgrounds wholly indigo to black
relieved by one small, yellow disc.
Asked to comment, our comments were alike:
His headlight, sir, is all that's to be seen.

Next day the paintings hung along the wall,
beneath them the results: how they had done.
Mine was the best. My friend's was next.
How was that possible? They were alike --
and others in the group were worthier.
We'd just been out to have a laugh.
(You can't make art from bicycles, we thought!)
Had Mr Jones with subtle point got some-
thing over us? The other pupils seemed
amused, not irritated by the marks.

From that time on, my friend and I
were known as having certain gifts
of telepathic origin.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Our Town #1

Approaching from the north
down steep and steepening Folly Hill
and into Castle Street,
beware the tight right-hander
or take the cut end over end
to end in Farnham Park,
your wheels as free as air.

Par 3, the golf course you are on.
Nine holes, if you've not made a tenth.
(Amenities and wild life share
in equal measure here
for this, a park to cherish.)

Three hundred acres plus:
no planted beds,
no long borders, but instead;
a stunning avenue of trees
one kilometer long,
eight woods and copses,
several ponds, the river
Nadder and its valley
and a cycle way;
cattle and deer are here --
and don't forget
the vigilante foxes
that patrol our streets.

Somewhere among the trees, I've heard
(you only hear, you never see),
the Ranger's House
where dignitaries visiting may lodge --
including those requiring an armed guard.

Once gently guided to another path,
I wondered -- idly, as one does --
had I been balaclava'd, carrying
a cello case... how gently guided then?

But now, you've made the tight right-hander
and come in quick succession to
The Cricket Club and Farnham Castle,
twelfth century the latter, once
the seat of bishops, now
a centre meant for briefing
those about to go abroad.
Alas, its A1 reputation has not proved proof
against ubiquitous administration.
Horticulturists will love the Palace Gardens.

We're very close here
to the heart of what
I call My Town,
the place where I have lived for half my life,
but still the road drops down
and S-bends for a bit beneath
low, overhanging trees
then broadens out, becomes
a boulevard but in name
with parking either side,
the buildings Georgian,
shops and businesses as well as houses.
Still we drop down --
less steeply -- to The Borough,
part of the centre's one way system.
The very heart itself.

Submitted in response to Paula Sayers prompt for Critique and Craft at dVerse Poets

The images show Farnham Park's Nadder Valley and the Castle Gate House. They were sourced from Wikimedia and WikiCommons.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

A beam of light.

Before we split the atom
we split light,
a simple glass contraption
did the job.
From a single beam of white
we made a seven-stranded wonder,
violet to red
and every child in Christendom
could play with them.

The atom, though,
was such a great advance on that!
It made it possible
to vaporise a man
and leave him on a boulder
or a wall -- a work of art
to stir the minds of man
into imaginations
never known before. Even Raphael in all
his prime could not approach
the elusiveness of pastel shades,
the subtleties of shape,
the eloquence of line and silhouette
that splitting atoms brought into the world.

Oh yes, my friend,
it's been a huge advance for science --
see how far we've come! --
since first we split a simple ray of light.

Written for Poetry Jam's prompt and image : Prism.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

A moment to savour.

I would have noticed it
had it been there before:
the small gap in the hedge
and the beginnings of a track
that runs off to the left.

The hedge is dogwood
and wild privet, drenched
with old man's beard.
And there are more
whose names I do not know.
An ancient hedge, to have
such wide variety.

Something or someone's forced
a new way through the hedge.
I follow suit,
snagging coat and trousers
as I go. Clearer now,
the track beyond.
It opens out.
Two could walk abreast,
but only just.

The path seem ancient, too;
is deeply grooved
into the chalk.
Millennia of feet,
perhaps, have ground it in.
The land on either side
slopes gently down;
was wooded once, now
sending trip wires
for the careless
across the path.
I watch my step.

I reach a stream,
the path turns, follows it.
And then the moment comes:
a cloud of butterflies
rise up from somewhere near
my feet. I am engulfed
by them, and by an icy,
ethereal blueness.
Pale and transparent in
the weak sun, fluttering
their eerie light
they move with me, follow
for a while, then vanish
as suddenly as they
had first appeared.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Come gulp some sludge with me!

Top o' the Range, we called him --
that being his term for
the sludge gulper he drove... that's right,
the very one he drove
on to the playground on
that never-to-be-forgotten day
to open up the cesspit
for essential maintenance.
(The submerged pumps were playing up.)
An hour it took before:
the pit gulped dry;
the maintenance work done;
the cesspit covered up;
he and his merry crew
had doffed their caps and gone their way --
long before the first small child appeared.

Two day later -- thereabouts --
the janitor appeared:
Have you taken my blue bucket sir,
at all, at all?

I hadn't. Not at all!
The fairies must have had it then, he said.

Another two days and the pumps have stopped --
not playing now, they're on a total strike.
The sludge gulper returns,
the pit is soon sucked dry...
and there, among the workings of the pumps,
much mangled, the remains,
a janitor's once pride and joy,
the former shiny bucket.

It took a lot of squeezing,
but one by one they squeaked, the crew,
until we had the tale.
Top o' the Range,
leaning over the cesspit to instruct his men:
lost his false teeth,
commandeered the bucket and a rope,
had somehow fished them up
Can't be doing without them, he'd said, before
he'd let go one end of the rope,
and watched the precious bucket plunge
into the murk below.

I'm offering this post to Open Link Monday at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads

Monday, 4 March 2013

Another of each!

(Afraid so, yet another trireme sonnet and another for the mini/micro collection.)

The Hermit

Here on this dry and waterless terrain
I am content to share my dwelling place
with creatures who, like me, have psyches shaped

by dreams of moisture, visions of sweet rain,
of moisture in whatever form: a trace,
a drop, a tear, a torrent, damp sand scraped

from under a great rock -- but mine the pain,
and mine alone, two distant dreams of grace:
from silken skirts, a slinky spray; or draped,

cascades perhaps, salvation's veil, a grain
of hope for here and now, faith's friendly face
in this dry wilderness the wind has raped.

Grasshopper-mice and lice may share my space,
but not my elevation from disgrace.


Only inordinate sexual desire
prevented me
from finishing the crossword.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Three Short Poems.

Rubbish for recycling:
I take it to the bin,
a wicker basket just the job --
until a neighbour greets me:
Morning, Red Riding Hood!
Ah, I say, but Granny,
What big eyes you've got!

Sunday lunch.
A queue forms at the inn.
On the river, dark
and thick as treacle
where the houseboats rock,
a mist has formed.
Across the bridge
an Asian woman and her children
walk towards me, singing.
Smiles form on their faces.

The street light on the square goes out,
the floodlit football has to stop.
The boys mooch off, debating loudly:
A replay versus the score stands.

Hobgoblin 2011 at dVerse Poets has set us the task of writing short verse.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Shadow and the Glory
(just another trireme sonnet!)

There is a shadow strolls through yonder glade
but is no threat, and has no axe to grind.
If it stood still, you'd think it one more tree...

except, part artifact, with windows made
to scan the woodlands, it essays to find
in all life forms, their commonality.

Disturbing hints are wrapped in light and shade,
of human thought by sylvan thought refined,
as though we were their old-time prodigy.

The shadow pauses where old wood's decayed
and fungus is a spongiform of mind.
Glory in life: in death, machinery!

Decay is their slow fuse to energy.
The woods restore themselves from memory.

I found working with yesterday's trireme sonnet particularly conducive, so have tried it again. The image is one of my Digital Doodles - again, I fear, not new to you.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Midwinter, Magic and an (ekphrastic) Trireme Sonnet

A blotting paper scene: I watch as snow
soaks up the inky stains that we call night,
becomes the source of colours wholly new.

The hues seem solarized and time is slow,
stopped by the trees as though it is their right.
Sky hammers copper from a common blue

'til more exposure turns it indigo.
The landscape now, a Mondrian's delight,
a grid of whispers that the eye sees through.

The moon alone, serene, appears to know
which other worlds have put our world to flight
and if they've new agendas to pursue --

but trees spread wide their arms as if to show
that we are welcome here where spirits grow.

At dVerse Poets: Form for All Samuel Peralta has set three challenges in one: Midwinter, Magic and a Trireme Sonnet. And as an extra bit of insurance, in case that was not quite enough, the suggestion that the sonnet could be ekphrastic. I have done my best, played a bit, using a painting of mine that some of you will have seen before -- is that cheating?