The Poets Have Been Silent

Roger McGough, Mersey Poet and National Treasure, has been persuaded by Waitrose to judge poems for their Year of Poetry. The idea seems to be that the winning entries are posted to the competition page and also are displayed in actual Waitrose supermarkets. I have to say I haven’t seen any in store yet (I now live 45 miles from the nearest Waitrose – *shocked face*), and the first round results seem to indicate that one needs to be either a small child or a grandparent to be selected. I don’t know what has happened to Round 2 of the competition but Round 1 results can be seen here. Undeterred, I sent a poem in for Round 2 – and not only have I not heard that I won (!) but the whole competition seems to have folded. So, because you won’t see it in Waitrose, I decided to donate my cheese poem to the Internet.

Not a lot of people know that a couple of years ago I was looking into the idea of becoming a cheesemaker. I went on a proper course and made experimental cheese batches in my own kitchen.  It looked like this:

#001 Chaource style September 2011 003

So, I wrote a poem inspired by a quote from writer and all round smart-arse G.K. Chesterton, who obviously thought he was being funny when he said: The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.  I regard statements like that as a challenge. It’s only when you get to do some cheesemaking that you realise what a poetic subject cheese actually is.

On the Subject of Cheese

The poets have been silent on the subject of cheese;
of milk, gone bad, come good again,
milk, shapeshifted into solid character
by sly bacteria, the maker’s hands
and the wild herbs of the pasture.
Cheese is poetry in edible form;
the subtle alchemy of heat, salt, pressure,
the white and blue moods of ripening mould
and the long, cool patience of the cellar.

 

Another flood poem

Copyright Edwin Graham - used under a Creative Commons licence.

Copyright Edwin Graham – used under a Creative Commons licence.

 

I wrote this poem a week or so ago and shared it with a few friends. A couple of them wanted to pass it on to other people so I thought the best thing to do was to post it here.

It was inspired by the twitter feeds of a couple of farmers from the Somerset Levels whom I have been following on twitter: @SouthWestFarm and @westyeo, who have been having a terrible time.

On The Level

The sky is wearing a blue dress today
coming on all innocent, but she’s been
a grey fiend since the year turned
and we’ve borne the brunt of it.

Lying so low, the Levels used to be
managed land, now there are untended
consequences. We’ve broken
a thousand year promise of pasture.

The water-birds lost no time moving in
and if we were swan-keepers or gull-herds, we’d be in
our element. But now it’s time
to move the cattle out, to higher ground.

They wade up from the barn, their eyes turn
from trust to terror; below the surface is only
folly and drowned grazing. These last few weeks
have silted up our hearts to overflowing.

 

 

 

 

The Rising River

The current flooding in the Thames Valley is scary.

No, I wasn't living there in 1947!

No, I wasn’t living there in 1947!

At a really early point in my poetry writing, I went to a workshop run by Jane Draycott at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley on Thames. I was scared. Everybody else seemed to know everybody else. There had been a series of workshops about the river when Jane was Poet in Residence, and I think I tapped into the very last one. The theme was “The Rising River” and it was about floods.

Thinking about what to write, I remembered the seven years we had spent in Windsor. It was only after we bought our house there that we realised we were living on a flood plain. We worked this out after visiting the pub at the end of the road, and finding photos on the wall of people rowing down the street in 1947. Despite this our house was built in 1957 – although I noticed there were a couple of steps up to both the front and back doors. I felt a bit safer once the Eton / Dorney rowing lake was dug, but I understand that isn’t necessarily coping right now.

Reading the resulting poem out loud at the end of that workshop was the scariest thing I had done since I sat my driving test. But many of the people I met that day are now good friends and I’ve had the pleasure of being taught by Jane Draycott at the Poetry School since then.

Flood Warning

We climb the stairs, suspecting, while we sleep,
the inundating tide will creep above its banks
bringing reeds, and planks, and water-weeds,
branches torn from their moorings, blooms adrift,
borne floating in the gift of the rising river.

The sandbags, propped rotund against our doors,
a futility of sacking, soon soaked and full,
are breached, as fish are washed, gasping and flapping,
into gardens. The flood, now feasted and replete,
making a midnight Venice of these streets.

Then we moved to our current location – on top of the Chilterns.

And this is all I’m going to say about her

hazlealfroberts

A few years ago the subject of Margaret Thatcher arose in an on-line poetry forum I used to frequent. I was taken aback by the very personal, misogynistic and crude ad feminam attacks that resulted. I know there’s a lot that could be said about her and her legacy, but I tried to be a little more subtle. I wanted to think about her early life, and how that might have affected (not to say jaundiced) her view of the world. The result was this early poem:

A Nation of Shopkeepers

Here, among the cartons and the crates,
crouched in the stockroom, the grocer’s daughter
knows the price of everything. She has learned
which are the good customers, who smiling, drop

their shiny shillings in her outstretched palm
and to spot those who, in plain daylight,
will pilfer from the shelves without a thought
or, ingratiating, ask for tick

against next payday. Then she sees them run
straight from the grocer’s to the betting shop.
They have no thought for how the grocer puts
food in the mouths of his own family.

Her dad, brown-overalled, pen behind his ear,
negotiates by phone with his suppliers.
They’d like to hold the shopkeeper to ransom
which isn’t to be tolerated. This

is business, and each honest businessman
must take care of his family and his cash.
If Dad would only let her mind the till,
this grocer’s shop would be a bigger business.

From Sarsens to Clay

kidd

Image: copyright Roger Kidd, used under a Creative Commons licence.

A few weeks ago I went to a poetry workshop in Avebury, led by Jo Bell and Martin Malone. After a bracing walk around the stones, which we used as a starting point for our imagination, we began to consider our own personal archaeologies. As I come from Stoke on Trent, I took the derelict “pot banks” and their surrounding landscape as a theme, plus a line from a poem by Adam Thorpe, and wrote this:

 

Industrial Archaeology

It’s artificial and there’s nothing at the core
                              Adam Thorpe; ‘Silbury Hill’

It’s artificial and there’s nothing at the core
but clay and pebbles; this ditch and bank
cut for a waterway, that, for a motorway.
This sheer cliff a windowed warehouse
where plates nest on spacers made of fireclay
and pots hunker down in saggared cists.
Here a toilet-bowl midden cast out by Doulton
there, winding gear, as pithead megaliths.
Rounded cairns barrow within the landscape,
squat, strangely bottle-shaped and hollow
as a hermit’s cell. They bear traces of old fires,
their use no longer understood, but probably
of ritual significance. Today, all we remember is;
they’re artificial and there’s nothing at the core.

A Poem for First Great Western

Paddington 001

 

Connecting Services

For a population suffering ABC1 socioeconomic
demographics, Henley on Thames
is under-deserved by First Great Western,
its hourly service simply not executive
for a serious commute to London Paddington.
While the parking is suspiciously adequate
and seats always outwardly available,
it is the return which leaves something on the line
to be desired; the wrong kind of No,
and comes to a complete next station stop.
We signal failure of trains and are disconnected
to fifty five cold minutes platformed at Twyford;
sometimes I think my life has no real purpose.
Surely your timetable will be sensible
to Regatta this line a far higher frequency
allowing value customers to homeward importantly,
derailed and minimally shunted.

Solstice

A few years ago, a poetry class I was in was challenged to write a seasonal poem.  This was my attempt, inspired by a news item about a Dark Skies Park in Galloway.  It was published in Acumen No. 68, in September 2010.

Solstice

In these northern latitudes, the light is sparse
and winter bares its white and weathered fist
against the fastnesses of night.

We decorate the darkness, cannot stand
its plain finality.  Daub it with tinsel
dress it in baubles, switch on season’s greetings
in the streets.  Perhaps God is dead;
perhaps the shortest day
will dwindle into black.

The brilliant gift-wrapped sacrifice
is not far away now.  Pause a while.
Let your eyes become accustomed
to  these dark skies; perhaps they hold the light
of a billion stars.

 

Urban Stories

The website Urban Stories is collecting short, flash fiction pieces about London, and hopes to post a story about each tube station on the London Underground.

I’ve subverted the site slightly by submitting a couple of the London poems I wrote over the summer.  I’m now responsible for Gants Hill and Hanger Lane. Please do take a look!

An Idea Whose Time has Gone

This poem owes a lot, style-wise, to Sean O’Brien’s ‘Timor Mortis’, and a lot, content-wise to a group of Facebook friends from whom I crowdsourced the ideas.  But I wrote it to support a cause I strongly believe in. The Sun began Page 3 in 1970. Women stripped to the knickers in a ‘family newspaper’ sends poor messages to both men and women.  If you want to understand the sexual intimidation and bullying women still have to put up with, take a look at the Everyday Sexism Project. Then ask yourself whether Page 3 is likely to make the situation A) better or B) worse.

Big in the 70s

Sometimes it’s good to bring to mind
all the naff stuff we left behind;
Fanny Cradock, nylon sheets,
avocado bathroom suites,
Bernard Manning, Love Thy Neighbour,
crinkly Izal toilet paper,
Stylophones and Irish jokes,
‘I mean that most sincerely, folks’,
public payphones, party lines,
crimplene and Rise ‘n’ Shine,
Bob Monkhouse and the Golden Shot,
the decade that all taste forgot,
Checkpoint Charlie, dolly-birds,
Brut and ‘Are You Being Served?’
blacking up for Minstrel shows
how that was normal, no-one knows.
George and Mildred, Benny Hill,
seaside postcards, sleeping pills,
OMO, Gary Glitter, flares,
Kevin Keegan’s curly hair,
incense sticks – patchouli-scented,
all dead, all gone, all unlamented.
Flowery wallpaper, New Faces,
cigarettes in public places,
Stars on Sunday, Uri Geller,
Cinderella Rockefella,
Austin Allegro, Ford Cortina,
Confessions of a Window-Cleaner.
Showaddywaddy, Paper Lace,
all disappeared without a trace,
Dennis Wheatley, Robin Day,
no legal right to equal pay,
Playtex girdles, Dr White’s,
Vesta curries, orange tights,
Inflation, twenty-five percent,
Mrs Thatcher’s government,
the Vietnam War and Watergate,
golliwogs with marmalade.
Tommy Cannon, Bobby Ball,
we didn’t need them after all.
Ali Bongo, Whitbread beer,
the Yorkshire Ripper, Slimcea,
Jimmy Savile, Legs & Co.,
scarletina, polio,
apartheid, birching, Chopper bikes,
the three-day week and all-out strikes;
ideas whose times have come and gone
and almost all of us moved on.
But while there’s knockers on page three
the Sun’s stuck in the Seventies.

So, support the petition, please. No More Page 3.

 

photo from Tim Ireland’s excellent blog: 
http://www.bloggerheads.com/page-3/

Come October

It’s National Cask Ale Week! A perfect time to talk about why so many pubs are closing.  This is one of a series of beer poems I wrote this summer.

The Dog and Duck, Highmoor, Oxfordshire

 

Come October

we’ll be giving up the lease
on this place; calling time, ladies
and gentlemen, please. No-one drives
these country roads for beer, in case

they’re breathalysed. There’s not much call
for food, and you can’t build a trade
on crisps and nuts and lemonade. I’d say
it’s getting tougher every day.

The Brewery will want to find
another tenant; so they’ll start the rent
real low, but turn the screw
by raising it at each review,
until there isn’t any margin left
however good the management.
It’s no loss to them. They sell their bottled beer
in supermarkets at a higher price

than they can charge you here for draught;
no buildings – and no landlords – to maintain.
You’re right, it makes no sense;
with cask-conditioned ale,
its proper point of sale is in a pub.
Eventually, they’ll kill the licensed trade;
this place will go for Residential,
it’s worth more to the Brewery

dead than alive. The old Red Lion,
the Crown, the Dog and Duck, the Sun,
the Carpenters, the Cherry Tree,
the Fox, the White Horse, the Lamb;
sold off for asset-stripping, one by one.
Why should they care if pubs survive?
The taxman’s duty escalator adds
five pence a year on every pint;

nice that the cocktail-swilling Chancellor
decides what we can all afford to drink
on our nights out. So tell me this;
if they want a Big Society
then where’s it going to meet?
Are we building our communities at home,
when we grab cheap cans of lager from the fridge,
log in to Facebook, watch TV?

And we’ll be looking for another job
come October.

If you care, support CAMRA with their campaign to stop the duty escalator on beer, and preserve the local pub.  http://saveyourpint.co.uk/