Entries in poetry (19)


The Moment



                To write down all I contain at this moment

                I would pour the desert through an hour-glass,

                The sea through a water-clock,

                Grain by grain and drop by drop

                Let in the trackless, measureless, mutable seas and sands.


                For earth's days and nights are breaking over me,

                The tides and sands are running through me,

                And I have only two hands and a heart to hold the desert and the sea.


                What can I contain of it? It escapes and eludes me,

                The tides wash me away,

                The desert shifts under my feet.


                The Moment - Kathleen Raine





silence I


This tiny extract from Marina Abramovic's piece An Artist is Present - in which she sits in silence with a stranger for just one minute - captivated me when I first came across it. I still find myself thinking of it. A procession of strangers comes and goes. And then she opens her eyes to see a former love sitting across the table from her. The reunion is evidently staged. But those silent seconds of clasped eyes and hands have a poignancy that feels truthful. Their meeting of eyes suggests years of knowing and an intimation of those hurts and misunderstandings that exist as a relationship ends. As she leans back again, readying herself to meet the next stranger, his hands are momentarily left on the table, stretched still towards her. In her work to compose herself for her next encounter, she too seems to be outstretched towards him. It feels like there has been something of importance said: largely in silence. 

Why it moves me so strongly I can't entirely say. Partly because it is an act that explores our culture's strong discomfort with silence. That so few seconds can carry a disproportionate weight of meaning. I suspect, however, that it's mostly because I have a few people I would like to sit in eloquent silence with: wounds I would like to heal. And when deep emotion is involved, words often fail me or become my enemy and, as in Prufrock, I hear myself repeating:

               'That is not it at all, 

 That is not what I mean, at all'

I am thinking there is something I can learn from this. Something about saying less but meaning more. Valuing the small moments. That reaching out can be enough. 



wing's beat

Twice weekly I sit pool side as Joel swims into the early evening and those little pockets of time have become an unexpectedly pleasurable part of my week. Once I've thrown off all the layers I need in the world outside, and am better placed to withstand the throat-catching heat, I settle into my nook at the back of the stands and gaze on the activity around the pool.  

For a few minutes it's like watching birds flock and gather: all is flurry, noise and motion as busy chattering mingles with the slip-slurp of wet feet and the colour-flash of swimsuits as girls bend heads to knees to fold long hair into hats. The young boys laugh and wheel their arms in animation; their long limbs lengthened further by the monochrome stretch of knee-length lycra. The older ones hold their bodies awkwardly, watching the girls shyly from under still-dry fringes. Then groups begin to slip into the pool, stopping momentarily with the cold shock of water, before arms and legs start moving and the whole pool becomes alive with the grace of bodies in water. No longer boy and girl, in the water they become swimmer - athlete. Finally, as the air calms into the regular soothing rhythm of churn and splash, the busy hum of my mind calms and I reach into the chaos of my bag and pick out a book.

Over the last couple of sessions I've been reading Kathleen Jamie's intimate, weather-filled essay collection Sightlines. I close my eyes and think about the book. I think of wind, light, birds, sea, sky, home. Transience. A startling, poetic precision of language that sometimes made me shiver. But I can't separate my experience of reading of it from the sensation of itchy, chloriney heat and yellow light on blue water and the simple, touching pleasure of watching children determinedly ploughing back and forth. Watching, amongst others, my child. In the final paragraph of the final essay - Wind - she writes:

'There are myths and fragments which suggest that the sea that we were flying over was once land. Once upon a time, and not so long ago, it was a forest with trees, but the sea rose and covered it over. The wind and sea. Everything else is provisional. A wing's beat and it's gone. 

That wing's beat echoes in the arc and stretch of the young arms pulling through water in front of me as I read; pulling, striving, growing. Growing up and away. A wing's beat - and they're gone. 




Home. West Wittering beach

The sensations of sea and air and sand are what come first when I close my eyes and remember this summer of Atlantic beaches. The slam and lift and ceaseless pounding of a sea at full surge. Hot blue air that burned skin and bleached hair. Salt in eyes and hair and on lips already roughened by the battering of tiny particles of sand and shell that flew on the wind. Utter happiness.

And now, as we tilt further into this new year and towards the final months of dark and cold, I turn to our own english coastline. Coat and scarf replace swimwear and boots hide bare feet but when the sun slants low and the waves pound hard in a wind that makes hair a nuisance, it's as if bodily atoms reform to their proper shapes. It feels good. 


The sill is peppering with storm-flies.

Colours deepen. Too close. Time to change.


Shed your clothes like pointless wings.

Now it's just the weight of you.


Rocks, sun, waves have kept a place for you.

Expecting guests? No matter. Go.



Feet on the brink. Avoid brushing earth

from your soles. Some trace of it


can cross the border with you:

flecks of other people on your skin and hair,


their wounds in your scars. 

Their memories? The ones they told you.



Look down. Don't. It's up to you.

If you can treat the view as abstract, then



reach up with your arms, as if this was 

less dive, more surrender,


less surrender, more ascension. Stretch

until your heels lift from the sandstone.



Technically, this is the crux.

You are living a half-life between


two elements. You may wish at this stage

to be photographed or painted.


Now you know what your solidity is for:

so gravity has something to work with.



You begin to melt, head first,

hair diffusing, clear lines of your form


dissolving. But you gain slow-motion.

Everyone looks graceful underwater.



Out in the nick of time, the strong sun

reconstitutes you. Back. Round your mouth,


a lick of salt. At home, casement 

windows bang. Net curtains haunt the rooms.


Your visitors stand in their coats,

looking for a note, a trace of you.


(extracts from Anatomy of a Perfect Dive - the last poem in Corpus.  Michael Symmons Roberts)




Blue warmth briefly breached the clouds so I took the chance to get into the garden. The slow and calm of tying in roses and the satisfying clip and pull of dead-heading made me hum out loud. That's a good sign. A precursor to the singing that will mark my full ascent to ground level. 

Buoyed by the pleasures of that outdoor tidy and trim I searched for a little something I could do in the house. Ignoring all the large, dull piles that are accumulating this week I settled instead on the smallest, and happily gathered all our recent beach finds into a jar for Joel. 

And so the morning passed until it was time for coffee. With biscuits of a kind I only eat on my own as I like to nibble away all the edge chocolate first in a way that seems unseemly in a grown-up. And a read through the new book I bought after taking Denise's counsel on my last post. The bracing blue against red made it irresistible and brought to mind summer and all things good.

I found more clear sky in Simic's words. The blue in the cloud, the light in the stone. Hope.




I have seen sparks fly out

When two stones are rubbed,

So perhaps it is not dark inside after all;

Perhaps there is a moon shining

From somewhere, as though behind a hill - 

Just enough light to make out

The strange writings, the star charts

On the inner walls.

Charles Simic




One More Time


By now his outdoor orbits of the house

approach the frequency of comets passing.


Yet when I ask what he's been up to since

he says he's been out in the fields walking.


And at once I know where he means. He says

he goes to keep his mind from wandering.


Andrew McNeillie 


My mind is wandering; roving like an unhappy ghost around old fears and unhappinesses. Sleeplessness, sudden doubts, this grey grey rain that just will not stop and the news that I dread but can't switch off. The sweat prickle awareness that each day is one less.  The remorseless orbit of thoughts. 

In the same way I've forgotten the feeling of sun on skin I've forgotten the simple pleasure of sleeping and living without the stone in the stomach. I know it will pass and pass quickly. The sun will come out, I'll sleep and will wake and forget this as I forget that time is passing. Until next time. 

While I wait for the orbit to slow, I'll practice the piano.  Buy some new herbal tea and stop for cake on the way home. Go to the yoga class tonight that I don't want to go to just because I don't want to go anywhere. Put on my boots and my hat and get out. Fare foreward.


early world


I sometimes think my vision of the sea is the clearest thing I own. I pick it up, exile that I am, like the purple 'lucky stones' I used to collect with a white ring all the way round, or the shell of a blue mussel with it's rainbowy angel's fingernail interior; and in one wash of memory the colors deepen and gleam, the early world draws breath.  (from Ocean 1212-W - Sylvia Plath)

For Plath, the sea. For me, the cold Canadian lakes - some of which were so big they seemed like the sea. And the little sandy shored, pine-ringed lakes that we'd drive to on a weekend; my legs swinging and sticking to the leather beneath my short 1970s dresses. The regular peel and slurp of skin released from leather mingled with the car radio and my own low singing. Sometimes, to fade out raised voices in the front, I would sing harder. As we drove, I watched for patterns in the clouds that dominated the big skies. Some days, there would just be blue. A bright dazzle - just blue and the yellow disc of sun. 

At the lake, the first slap of cold against hot summer skin. The scent memory of sun cream and pine, earthy lake water and the rubbery swim hat I was sometimes made to wear. Then into the water and the freedom of moving further away from my non-swimming parents. My dad taught me to swim by making me arrow towards him underwater; and as he gradually moved further away I found myself to be a swimmer. The transition from the speed and grace and cool shadow underwater to the splash and struggle of swimming in the air was one I made reluctantly. So when the shouts and splashes and noises of a busy beach began to drown out my daydreams, I'd happily submerge and swim long, slow pulls underwater. That water is glass green in my memory, striped at intervals by the sun. 

My early world, encapsulated by those lakeside moments, is tucked inside my own seashell - ready to open at any time. I'm opening it now.



...               I love

to stand among the last trees listening down

to the releasing branches where I've been - 

the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air

and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there.

from Wood Not Yet Out - Alice Oswald

Now that drought has officially been declared in our area, it's rained solidly for the past week or so. That really heavy, vertical rain that drills straight into the soil. Good for plants but bothersome to walk around in. Unless you have a rather fetching olive green hunter-style hat with a ludicrously large peak that makes it a matter of pride not to let a drop of rain touch face. Happily, I have such a hat.

As I walk I tune into the rhythm and patterns of rain. I like the hypnotically loud and regular drumming sound on the brim as I walk: it goes a little way to drumming out circular thoughts that walking alone has failed to do. 

And so the sun comes out now, until the next shower in a half hour or so, judging by the colour of the sky. Then comes that glorious hour before sunset when the skies ease and break into extravagantly tinted pinks and purples. Before it all begins again. I'm sure I'll miss it when it's gone, and sunny skies are taken for granted. 


dreams of flying



I have set up house in the hollow trunk of a giant redwood.

My bed is a mat of pine needles. Cones drop their spirals


on my face as I sleep. I have the usual flying dreams.

But all I know when I wake is that this bark is my vessel


as I hurtle through space. Once, I was rocked in a cradle

carved from a coast redwood, its lullabies were my coracle.


I searched for that singing grove and became its guardian.

There are days when the wind plays each tree


like a new instrument in the forest-orchestra.

On wild nights mine is a flute. After years of solitude


I have started to hear its song. I lie staring at the stars

until the growth rings enclose me in hoops - 


choirs of concentric colours, as if my tree is remembering

the music of the spheres. And I almost remember speaking


my first word, how it flew out of my mouth like a dove.

I have forgotten how another of my kind sounds. 


The Treekeeper's Tale - Pascale Petit


not talking of love

Hurtling as we are towards Valentine's day and those depressingly dutiful, standardised, expressions of love, this Fenton poem offers a comicly earthy twist on love - and sightseeing. Because, let's be honest, travelling somewhere engrossing and diverting during those early days is simply a waste of time. A room or two, some food. That's all you need. That's all I need now. Oh sigh. Now I've gone and stirred up stirrings. 

I'm going to think instead of Devon and the first time I heard this. That night when another road wasn't taken. 


In Paris With You

Don't talk to me of love. I've had an earful

 And I get tearful when I've downed a drink or two.

I'm one of your talking wounded.

I'm a hostage. I'm maroonded. 

But I'm in Paris with you. 


Yes, I'm angry at the way I've been bamboozled

And resentful at the mess I've been through.

I admit I'm on the rebound

And I don't care where are we bound.

I'm in Paris with you.


Do you mind if we do not to the Louvre

If we say sod off to sodding Notre Dame,

If we skip the Champs Elysees

And remain here in this sleazy


Old hotel room

Doing this and that

To what and to whom

Learning who you are, 

Learning what I am.


Don't talk to me of love. Let's talk of Paris,

The little bit of Paris in our view.

There's that crack across the ceiling

And the hotel walls are peeling

And I'm in Paris with you.


Don't talk to me of love. Let's talk of Paris.

I'm in Paris with the slightest thing you do.

I'm in Paris with your eyes, your mouth,

I'm in Paris with ... all points south.

Am I embarrassing you?

I'm in Paris with you.


James Fenton



a new year

He remembers the day the field burned,

not, he thinks, by accident.

Something deep within him said: I can live with this,

I can fight it after a while.


The terrible moment was the spring after his work was erased,

when he understood that the earth

didn't know how to mourn, that it would change instead.

And then go on existing without him.


 from Averno by Louise Glück



Today I found myself sketching from memory a Frink head and was surprised to discover how melancholy and odd he turned out. Replete with fiercely herbed and garlicky mushroom soup and with a cluster of newly potted tiny, fuchsia cyclamen catching this winter light on the windowsill next to me, melancholy is something far away.

Though as I drew I was listening again to a fascinating tribute to Ted Hughes, recorded to celebrate his inclusion in Westminster Abbey's poet's corner. The epigraph on his headstone consists of the concluding three lines of his poem That Morning, celebrating the magical sensation of standing amongst a shoal of salmon with his son. And perhaps the static monumentality of stone and plaster seemed suddenly a sadder, duller thing in contrast with the living, vivid flash of light and fish and atoms. With being human. 

There, in a mauve light of drifted lupins,
They hung in the cupped hands of mountains

Made of tingling atoms. It had happened.
Then for a sign that we were where we were
Two gold bears came down and swam like men

Beside us. And dived like children.
And stood in deep water as on a throne
Eating pierced salmon off their talons.

So we found the end of our journey.

So we stood, alive in the river of light,
Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.

from That Morning - Ted Hughes


a song of love and loss

Absent-mindedly stitching onto a little square of linen this afternoon, I found myself incanting one of my favourite poems, 'Donal Og'. A centuries old poem of Irish origin and uncertain date, I first heard it read by Seamus Heaney at a reading to celebrate the publication of The Rattle Bag. Sadly, it was shortly before Ted Hughes died, and he was too ill to attend. Heaney concluded the evening by reading this poem on behalf of Hughes, for whom it held a powerful, personal resonance. 

I've read the poem so many times I know most of it by heart. But it's never my voice that I hear. Often it's the voice of a young, Irish girl; sometimes Heaney's gentle murmur. But mostly, I hear the deep, doleful crack of Hughes' voice, making the lines ring.

Donal Og

It is late last night the dog was speaking of you;

the snipe was speaking of you in her deep marsh.

It is you are the lonely bird through the woods;

and that you may be without a mate until you find me.


You promised me, and you said a lie to me,

that you would be before me where the sheep are flocked;

I gave a whistle and three hundred cries to you,

and I found nothing there but a bleating lamb.


You promised me a thing that was hard for you,

a ship of gold under a silver mast;

twelve towns with a market in all of them,

and a fine white court by the side of the sea.


You promised me a thing that is not possible,

that you would give me gloves of the skin of a fish;

that you would give me shoes of the skin of a bird;

and a suit of the dearest silk in Ireland.


When I go by myself to the Well of Loneliness,

I sit down and I go through my trouble;

when I see the world and do not see my boy,

he that has an amber shade in his hair.


It was on that Sunday I gave my love to you;

the Sunday that is last before Easter Sunday.

And myself on my knees reading the Passion;

and my two eyes giving love to you for ever.


My mother said to me not to be talking with you today,

or tomorrow, or on the Sunday;

it was a bad time she took for telling me that;

it was shutting the door after the house was robbed.


My heart is as black as the blackness of the sloe,

or as the black coal that is on the smith's forge;

or as the sole of a shoe left in white halls;

it was you put that darkness over my life.


You have taken the east from me; you have taken the west from


you have taken what is before me and what is behind me;

you have taken the moon, you have taken the sun from me;

and my fear is great that you have taken God from me!


Anon. from the 8th century Irish (trans. Lady Augusta Gregory) from

The Rattle Bag ed. Heaney & Hughes, (Faber & Faber 1982)


of stars and silence

1. Untitled, 2. Dye Party, 3. nine., 4. rainy day pears, 5. stars + deer embroidery, 6. perfect night, 7. House., 8. 'arlo's space' embroidery, 9. Pojagi - Korean Style Patchwork, 10. oops., 11. paper, 12. Untitled, 13. Day 2/Dream Journal, 14. Untitled, 15. Untitled, 16. the eucalyptus is always greener

The longer a silence goes on, the harder it is to break. It becomes more important to say the right thing. But all too often lately, my ability to choose the right words has deserted me. I'm undermined by a series of griefs, hastening one after the other. By profound misunderstandings only heightened by candour. Some things, it seems, really are best unsaid. And I'm left feeling oddly mute. But the time has come to reach back out into the world and start trusting my voice again.  

Looking out at the ochring leaves it seems impossible to recapture the heat and languor of the South of France, or the gentle playfulness of our summer days at home. So I've chosen instead to introduce some of my favourite photos on flickr, inspired by Kristy's gloriously autumnal mosaic. It's only now that I'm looking at my choices afresh, right here, that I see how they reflect my recent mood and pre-occupations. Domesticity; silence; stars.

Looking up at the stars re-orients me: life is unknown and living it can be hard but there is so much that is beautiful. And when I look at these photos, their quiet beauty reassures me. Makes me look forward - to breaking the silence, reaching out, a new season. A new telescope.



When I woke up I was in a forest. The dark

seemed natural, the sky through the pine trees

thick with many lights.


I knew nothing; I could do nothing but see.

And as I watched, all the lights of heaven

faded to make a single thing, a fire

burning through the cool firs.

Then it wasn't possible any longer

to stare at heaven and not be destroyed.


Are there souls that need

death's presence, as I require protection?

I think if I speak long enough

I will answer that question, I will see

whatever they see, a ladder

reaching through the firs, whatever

calls them to exchange their lives -


Think what I understand already.

I woke up ignorant in a forest;

only a moment ago, I didn't know my voice

if one were given me

would be so full of grief, my sentences

like cries strung together.

I didn't even know I felt grief

Until that word came, until I felt

rain streaming from me.

from The Wild Iris - Louise Glück 


love, actually

Flicking through my notebook, I stopped at this photo of Picasso and Dora Maar. Look at the two of them together: perfect. Her glossy voluptuousness alongside his bullish solidity. The symmetry of their poses and their bodies a contrast to the horizontals of sky and sea. And, apart from wishing it was me in that sea with the scents of the Mediterranean around me, it set me thinking about the mysteries of pairings.

Often, during my (many) moments of people watching, I pay particular attention to couples. What was it that drew them to each other; what keeps them together? Over the years I've seen friends and family un-couple and re-couple. I've done the same myself. Sometimes it's a mystery why one individual is chosen over another. But a greater mystery to me is this deep need to move through life with another person. At times it seems that being in a pair demands more than it gives; times when love can be hard to summon. Times, to be honest, especially with the conflicting needs of family life, when a relationship seems less a matter of love than a practical arrangement. There is no hiding in a long relationship; all one's flaws are exposed and tested, over and again. To know someone utterly is to be known, and the vulnerability that comes with that sometimes overwhelms me.  

But to be willing to endure this exposure, endure all the compromise and contingencies and uncertainties that moving through life with another person involves, is to me what love is. To love someone despite, as well as because. To ask 'would I do it again?' and be able to answer yes. Yes. What more?

Bei Hennef

The little river twittering in the twilight,

The wan, wondering look of the pale sky,

       This is almost bliss.


And everything shut up and gone to sleep,

All the troubles and anxieties and pain

        Gone under the twilight.


Only the twilight now, and the soft 'Sh!' of the river

        That will last for ever.


And at last I know my love for you is here;

I can see it all, it is whole like the twilight,

It is large, so large, I could not see it before,

Because of the little lights and flickers and interruptions,

         Troubles, anxieties and pains.


You are the call and I am the answer,

You are the wish, and I the fulfilment,

You are the night, and I the day.

          What else? It is perfect enough.

          It is perfectly complete.

          You and I,

          What more - ?


Strange, how we suffer in spite of this!

DH Lawrence, from Selected Poems (ed. James Fenton, Penguin)



grand oasis

my photo of Russell Crotty installation, Turner Contemporary Gallery, Margate



Then I looked down and saw

the world I was entering, that would be my home.

And I turned to my companion, and I said 'Where are we?'

And he replied 'Nirvana'.

And I said again, 'But the light will give me no peace.'


from 'Fable' The Seven Ages, Louise Glück 



risky behaviour

We strung a zip wire in the woods alongside our house last year and it's proved to be both a great source of entertainment and a way to develop and direct risk taking. Over time, we've raised the angle of the wire so it goes pretty fast, and ends just short of a tree. But it's possible to hurl yourself off the platform so that you hit the buffers with a bang and a slam of feet on tree trunk. I wince every time. But I'm happy for Joel to keep on doing it.

One of the things I've found hardest as Joel grows is to stop myself crying out 'be careful!' on a loop through the day. We're surrounded by woods and water to explore and have done so since Joel was tiny. Building dams, floating boats, stream dipping and tree climbing have taken precedence over traditional playgrounds for us, mostly because it's on our doorstep rather than a drive away. All lovely but so full of potential danger! 

Despite my fears (the endless dreams I wake from in a cold sweat and run through in my mind whenever we're near deep water) I'm the one who urges Joel on to keep trying to climb a little higher, or ride the track that seems hard or jump into the deep end. I know that surge of self-confidence that comes with being scared and trying it nevertheless. He'll grow and the risks will get greater. I'll keep being scared and urging him on neverthless. We're both learning. 




Listening absent-mindedly to the online repeat of Desert Island Discs with Floyd's Roger Waters, I was startled to hear Neil Young's Helpless. I'm afraid I was lost then and heard little else as my mind wandered. Very little throws me so quickly to a particular time and place as music - or poetry.

Poetry is a private passion, known only to those who know me really very well. Robert Lowell is one of the first poets I read through choice and treasured more because I first discovered him in my father's own, annotated copies. I read everything I could of his, and all the books about him. I tracked down old vinyl recordings and painstakingly recorded them onto cassettes (remember those?). Hearing his voice for the first time shocked me utterly, it was so counter to the impression I'd formed.  But now, oh joyful interweb, people are putting poetry onto YouTube.

So, glass of wine in hand and vegetables roasting I can listen to Lowell, reading one of his later poems. And reminisce.





Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so

After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,

we ourselves flash and yearn,

and moreover my mother told me as a boy

(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored

means you have no

Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no

inner resources, because I am heavy bored.

People bore me,

literature bores, me, especially great literature...

John Berryman, Dream Song 14 The Dream Songs (Farrar & Strauss & Giroux 1969)

Sometimes, having nothing to do does me good.  I love an unexpected period of solitary time that allows me space to think and to plan - or just to sit with a pile of magazines and a pot of coffee. And the curious subterranean boredom of the earliest days of parenthood, when life seemed to close down to repetition interleaved with the panic of responsibility, nevertheless held a precious intensity.

But I find myself more intolerant of what truly bores me. Waiting interminably in a doctor's surgery with no-one else in it and nothing to read or in a traffic jam with no radio and lashing rain that excludes even the distraction of people watching. Or yet another evening listening to acquaintances discuss schools or cars or extensions. And yes, of books that just don't make my heart sing. Slowly I've learned (these things take longer with me I fear) I can say 'no' to the invitation that makes me groan and put down the rapturously reviewed book that I just don't like. And as for the rest? Perhaps I can use those moments to cultivate my inner zen.