Autumn Showcase – September 2017

Thursday, 31 August 2017

• Archive of all Poetry Space showcases

Editor: Rosie Jackson

Rosie Jackson lives near Frome, Somerset and is a Hawthornden fellow, 2017. She’s taught at the Universities of East Anglia, Nottingham Trent, West of England, Skyros Writers’ Lab and Cortijo Romero. In 2017 she won the Stanley Spencer poetry competition and came 3rd in the Hippocrates competition. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies. What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014) was followed by The Light Box (Cultured Llama, 2016). Her prose books include Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, The Eye of the Buddha, Frieda Lawrence, Mothers Who Leave and a memoir, The Glass Mother (Unthank, 2016). You can read and hear her work on her website.

 

Editor’s overview:

What struck me, as I read and re-read the very varied submissions, were the seemingly contradictory pleasures I look for in poetry: being touched by the passion or compassion of poems with a level of deep feeling; admiring the joy of well-crafted poems, which disguise their skill, or are in love with language but avoid being over-written; savouring poems written ‘in yesterday’s blood’, where experience has been digested and understood, rather than leaving things hanging out raw; yet at the same time loving most those poems which take risks, which jolt me with a sense of the unexpected, whether that’s a new way of seeing, an unusual perception or vision, or an original way of using language.

 

So the poems here are a mixture which reflect these different tastes – some of understatement and restraint, where the reader is quietly invited in, others arriving after loss and trauma at distilled moments of meaning or epiphany, a few which are wilder and bolder. Sarah Manguso writes that ‘The purpose of being a serious writer is not to express oneself, and it is not to make something beautiful, though one might do those things anyway…The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair. If you keep that in mind always, the wish to make something beautiful or smart looks slight and vain in comparison. If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.” 

Most of all, then, I went for those poems which are on the side of life, of love, of light and affirmation in the face of the darkness which surrounds us.

Please scroll down past the poems to read Rosie’s comments on the ten selected poems.

 

 

Photograph by Sue Sims, taken at Art and Science Museum, Singapore.

 

A Mexican Wave

 

spreads like a wildfire fifty miles a day

Arctic to Algonquin and beyond

a shout of colour from a brush run riot

shocking maples, quaking aspen trees

 

Arctic to Algonquin and beyond

fingers of night frost polishing the stars

shocking maples, quaking aspen trees

red oaks, acers, liquidambar, larch

 

fingers of night frost polishing the stars

crisping the nutty flavours of the day

red oaks, acers, liquidambar, larch

resin, bletted medlar fruit and musk

 

crisping the nutty flavours of the day

under skies of lapis lazuli

resin, bletted medlar fruit and musk

apples, aubergines and butternut

 

under skies of lapis lazuli

silos, drooling streams of golden grain

apples, aubergines and butternut

ropes of bindweed berries, damson wine

 

silos drooling streams of golden grain

a shout of colour from a brush run riot

racing in scarlet, gold and purple flames

spreads like wildfire fifty miles a day

 

Jenna Plewes

From collection, Pull of the Earth published by Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2016.

 

 

Lost in Galloway

 

looking for those

who know the way

along the meanders

of this well-trodden path

 

I am west of the pink-footed

geese on Kiln loch,

who seeing not me

honk and speak to their kin due north east.

 

Along the track of dying larch

I’m east of that red squirrel

somersaulting the loch wall

intent on hazel’s husk –

kernel secrets only he knows.

 

The red-kite beneath by the burn

hovers north,

swivels on its hawk-pole star

and I, soon south,

chill in the high wooded valley below

the artist’s town,

where south-west

high in a trick of light-stippled glade

a roe-deer doe

nuzzles a nest of grass-leafed moss.

In her zone

she quietly feeds,

lifts her head,

disdainfully gazing

at what must be me.

 

Early evening, north-east

on the treacherous mud flats

Nith estuary’s haunted –

wheeling black scripts left by

Barnacle geese scrolling their skies.

Soon they’ll be flown,

heading far away

north to a beloved summer home.

 

This must be my turning.

 

Julie Sampson

 

 

When Lydia brings you flowers

 

she offers you one by one

a strange familiar stem –

green stalk, bright arrow –

it’s a kind of dance

a quiet duet

iris, tulip, rose –

you do not know their names

but hold each flower

like a fine quill pen

as an artist, to gauge perspective,

holds a brush, just so –

you arrange them

 

in the vase, settle them

in water, according

to their colour, size, bloom –

as a hostess welcomes guests

 

as once in conversation

your careful, chosen

words lit up a room

 

Jeff Skinner

 

 

Fragments

 

You’re always Mum – insisting we share

my discovery of cocoa, the chocolate

 

I bring like Cortès each Tuesday I visit.

Sometimes I fear the day I forget

 

will be the day you remember

but I need not fret. When we leaf

 

through your albums it’s clear

your memory’s shot. Every picture

 

no longer tells a story; you never were

in Rome or saw Vienna; the squares

 

of Salamanca are in pieces

the ones we break together

 

a puzzle we can savour, if I unfold

the silver foil like a map

 

Jeff Skinner

 

 

Elijah! *

 

last evening

Elijah the prophet

visited me

 

he arrived with

the sunset

on the early

spring wind

 

I poured burgundy

wine into the

turquoise clay goblet

 

we shared the wine

Elijah and me

we lit the candles

at my altar

 

when the wine

was all finished

I was ready for bed

 

Elijah asked me

if he could stay over

in the guest bedroom

 

where the cat Simone

sleeps on the high-up dresser

 

she jumps up there

from the bed

to see out the window

 

I have plenty

of extra blankets

and pillows

 

so Elijah was

my overnight guest

he sang me a lullabye.

 

 

Sharon Lia Robinson

* A glass of wine is traditionally placed on the Passover Seder table for Elijah, and during the Seder the door is symbolically opened for him.

 

 

Seals in the Currents

 

In the currents off Bardsey

something quick and slick

dives through forests

of swaying strap seaweed,

an oilskin torpedo,

limpid eyes and whiskers

intent on sandeels.

 

                                whale-road-divers

                                underwater-acrobats

 

A seal city on the rocks

in the bay silvers the shore,

atolls of blubber lolling in sunglare.

A sound of discord as bulls fight

for the right to mate,

slash and tear at each other

in a blood-stained brawl.

 

                                fishing-boat-chasers

                                lobster-crunchers

                               

Plush pups lounge in lanugo furs,

plump from rich milk,

eyes obsidian pebbles.

A blunt nose bobs out of the tide

like a bottle as a seal sleeps,

watched only by a squat lighthouse.

The bones of 20,000 saints sleep on.

 

                                foam-bathers

                                surf-gliders

 

Annest Gwilym

Notes
Bardsey Island is known as the island of 20,000 saints because it was a place of pilgrimage from the early middle ages onwards. Three pilgrimages to Bardsey were equivalent to one to Rome.
Bardsey Island is called Ynys Enlli in Welsh, which means Island in the Currents.

 

 

 NO

Two letters

One simple word

Helps recover

One’s whole world

Defines boundaries

Deletes threats

It is not an expletive

But it is more feared

The more it’s uttered

The better it’s heard

Takes time to practice

Worth it, once learned

It’s defined as negative

It enables the positive

So hard to say

But it’s okay

Say it without fear

Say it loud and clear

NO

There u go

 

Namita Sethi

 

The View from Up Here

 

the dormant cedar playset of my backyard

has outlived my seventeen years

it recalls rusty splinters and

my bestfriend’s timeless laugh

honey-ebony hairs lacing into knots

with mud manicures on coral palms

and of course, the dusty backyard sprinkler

of my childhood’s artificial rain

 

years say goodbye to me

dancing too soon away

the backyard swing is barely brushed

the wood rots in rain

lazy spiders lounge at its hems

while webs paint the slide corpse

all it knows now is weather since love

and grass accept their neglected fate

 

upstairs in my second story bedroom

next to the window that looks out

a heavy oak desk that bears the weight

of my expectations on

it’s back and right now I can see

my backyard and that yellow slide

and the green monkey bars that

my dad bought at Home Depot

the sharp blades of grass that

I haven’t sprawled in for too long

and the steep wooden ladder tracing a

sadistic canvas carved on windowpane

 

this is the view from up here

where I recall a time when

my mother and my father were gods

and uncertainty was just an idea.

 

Alice Heyeh

 

Outside in 

 

  The walls are high shelved with books,

  the kelim is faded, fringes tattered.

  Three vases stand on the mantelpiece

  and a bust of Chateaubriand,

  an ivory fisherman on the hearth.

  On one shelf is a silent clock.

 

   A small pastel by the door

   brings in the coast of Normandy

   and the smell of the sea.

 

  Rosalie Challis

 

 

Blue Hour                                           

It is an ordinary evening

a late sun dipping

an apostrophe of light

playing chase with waves

as I walk the shore road

 

In front of me your shadow

arms like melting stars

full of mysteries

 

You left with

the dandelion clocks,

for weeks I woke to the smell

of you gone, the earth spinning

its backscatter of love.

 

 Eileen Carney Hulme

From the collection Stone Messenger, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing

A Mexican Wave

I was struck by the vibrant language here, the celebration of rich natural colours spreading round the globe like a Mexican wave celebrating life, and the confident, emphatic use of the pantoum form, which creates a tight structural bowl for all the lush fruit and sensuality. The sounds of words here are as important as their meaning, and I was thrilled to learn a delicious new word – ‘bletted’.

 

Lost in Galloway

Human presence is almost irrelevant in this lyrical evocation of a world of geese, squirrels, kites, does, natural beauty. That the poet literally takes bearings from them and not from any map is an original touch, leading to the brilliant seemingly casual throw-away last line. And I loved the memorable ‘wheeling black scripts left by Barnacle geese scrolling their skies.’  

 

When Lydia Brings You Flowers

In this restrained, deceptively simple image of a woman receiving flowers whose names she has forgotten, we have a poignant, breathtakingly tragic scene of a woman whose words and former eloquence are gone. The under-statement and the beauty of the imagery turn what could have been a predictable poem about age and memory-loss into something more classical, graceful, once again proving the wisdom of emotional restraint and that less is more.

 

Fragments 

I knew this was the same poet as the previous one, with the same essential heart-aching scene, but what is new here is the clever way that cliches of loss are deliberately turned on their head – ‘every picture no longer tells a story’ – to show a life in pieces and a family vainly trying to hold things together. Once more the images and language are simple but deeply moving and memorable.

 

Elijah!

I chose this for its daring simplicity and vision, which reminded me of Blake’s angels in trees, and for the way the transcendental and domestic are dramatically spliced together, so that the spirituality is earthed. I’d have liked it to be longer and for the ending to be less of an anti-climax, less sentimental (somehow I associate Elijah with less restful things than a lullaby), but maybe that is also part of its risk-taking.
Seals in the Currents

Fabulous close and detailed observation of seals on their rocks – ‘plush pups lounge in lanugo furs.. eyes obsidian pebbles.’ The carefully chosen language and metaphors seem to capture their mobile forms, everything wet and slippery, sustaining interest and delight without the unnecessary distraction of too much human focus. 

 

No

Ironically, given what I’ve said about affirmative poems, this one with such a simple negative title and command, insisted on being included. That’s because in its stark, unapologetic imperative, this is a powerfully clear statement about making boundaries, about self-protection, all the ‘no’s’ we have to believe we can hold and make before we choose our ‘yes’s’. It’s the last line that clinched it for me: casual, assuring, humorous, encouraging, definitive. 

 

The View From Up Here

A portrait of a 17 year-old looking out on her backyard and the furniture of her childhood. I feel this captures that rite of passage between childhood and adulthood, when parents are no longer infallible, and all the paraphernalia of youth – captured here with intense, specific, vocabulary and imagery – seems to come from some other lifetime. To sense the irreversibility of the passage of time is a commonplace in poems by older poets, but to find it done so well by a younger one is rare and welcome.  

 

Outside In

This reminded me of one of Ezra Pound’s imagist poems, taking one central image and letting it speak volumes. Ordinary homely objects convey a human scene, but one painting on the wall holds all the unlived life in the room, and makes the barrier between inside and out permeable. Controlled, contained, sensitive, deeply suggestive: an ‘art’ poem with a difference.  

 

Blue Hour

Both beautifully written and deeply felt, this is a delicate poem of love and loss. Everything, including the title, is modest yet far-reaching, not indulging in grief but honouring the lost beloved and capturing the evanescence of human life and relationships in the familiar yet apt metaphor of flimsy dandelion seeds; last lines are always important and the ending here stamps this unassuming poem with brilliance. 

 

2017: Rosie receiving her prize at the Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition.