A Poem A Day – January

Ingrid at Experiments in Fiction can be found on Twitter @Experimentsinfc. She has started A Poem A Day challenge over where the bluebird flies – tweet a poem every day. When I first read her post about it I was very clear with myself that I was not going to get sucked into that! However, here we are. Not quite a poem a day, but here is my January poetry diary – in no particular order, just what Twitter threw up.

Dawn slumps in
sullen
doesn’t meet
my eye

left her fags
in the kitchen
last night

no matches
no light

still exhales
greyness

Let’s go as close
to the edge
as we can –

to where the sand
and the sea
and the sky
and the sand
and the spray

are one great
glorious roar
of wildness

last night
a lemon-peel moon,
this morning, frost
and hungry birds

sunrise
and all those branches
scratching at the sky
begging for light

and it’s always hard
to step into coldness
yes but you must
unfurl

the wood
silent as
a temple

suddenly
a hare
racing like
a heartbeat

the sound of starlings
wheeling and whorling –
that rustle is winter

pause listen
breathe

January
and it’s easy
to wake before
the sun

to lie
in the
sullen dark

dreaming
the world
awake

today
the world
overflows
with the sound
of water
running water
all life
and movement

filling the house
with the scent of spice
cinnamon and ginger
cardamom and cloves
warmth worth its weight
in gold

not even sure
the sun
is rising

the sky
all sludge
and river mud

if you could
plunge your arms
into those clouds

they’d come out
gleaming
sticky

Press your fingertip
into the clay
and map the
mountain
of your story

contour lines
like a labyrinth

because
we are all
seeking the
silent centre

3am
bitch-squats
on my chest

not the gale
or the rain
clattering

not pain
or grief
or fear
or anything

just the night
whispering
in my ear

what kind
of fool
keeps a wolf
in a cage
of bone?

not enough thread
to stitch
my story together

leave it

ragged
tattered

free to fly
with the wind

today
everything screams
be alive

the hail
shouts into
my face

the wind
grabs me
shakes me

the sea roars

be alive
be alive
be alive

the world
silver
moth wing
the sky
tasting of
nothing
I could crush
these clouds
silver juice
scented
with snow

I love
the suddenness
of flames

how they open out

how they create
themselves

our footprints
melted in
the sunlight

as if we’d never
walked together
up the lane
beyond the
shadows

the world ends
at the end
of the lane

beyond there

dragons
things with
teeth and claws

mist
the absence
of colour

charred
remnants

ice

I don’t know

I turn back
before
I’m forced
to see

I am a comma
curving a brief
pause into
the word flow
of the day
cat-curling
round the lines
between
the stories

The Craft 1: Jane Dougherty

PENTAX Digital Camera

Welcome to The Craft, my new monthly series. It’s partly a way of celebrating and uplifting some of my favourite poets, and partly a way to justify being really nosy. I’m interested in how people write, in why they write, and in what inspires them.

I’m so pleased that Jane is my first guest. Jane was one of the first poets I came across when I started my poetry blog, four years ago now. At the time she was putting out some great prompts and offering generous and helpful feedback. Through those prompts I met a group of poets who led me to my favourite sites. I feel I owe a debt of gratitude to Jane for really taking me seriously as I took my first poetic steps – like Bambi on ice, clutching at a pen for support. And now she’s here again, supporting me as I take my first steps in interviewing someone else.

Jane has written a series of YA fantasy novels, and has just published two books of poetry, birds and other feathers and thicker than water. She is a product of the Irish diaspora. She was brought up in Yorkshire and educated in Manchester and London before moving to France to work in the wine trade. She spent fourteen years in Paris where she married and had four children, studied Irish for a year and taught herself Italian. Next move was to Laon in Picardy, a medieval gem of a town set in beautiful countryside, where her fifth child was born. She spent four years in Bordeaux, and now lives in a meadow in rural Lot-et-Garonne with her family, a Spanish greyhound and a posse of cats.

To give you a flavour of Jane’s writing, here’s a poem from her collection birds and other feathers. It’s about her mother’s mother.

Eagle

She walked with the Eagle, my gran,
not the thin-lipped bishop
with his pointing finger.

She walked the Reek alone,
no ghosts to take her arm,
but the dark, roiling presence of the mountain stone
and the ocean waves that swelled in her heart,
with the voices of the loved and lost.

Her sorrow is part of me still,
though she flies now, eagle-high.
I was born with her tears in my blood,
like rain in the wild Mayo sky—
they will run in its tide till I die.

So, welcome, Jane – and thank you for being my first guest!

What does poetry mean to you? If you had to define a poem, how would you define it?

That’s a difficult question for starters! There are so many kinds of poem, different styles and written for different reasons. I would have said that a poem ought to transcribe an emotion to the written or spoken word using as many of the senses as necessary. Story poems that have protagonists who aren’t the poet still use emotion to set out the story rather than dialogue or prosaic scene-setting. But there are also poems that don’t convey any emotion at all, that rely on surprise, humour, shape or an unfathomable element for effect. Whatever the style, the common denominator is the message. I see a poem as a form of communication, a two way effort between poet and reader.

You’ve written plenty of prose – flash fiction, short stories, novels. What brings you back to poetry?

The music. In both reading and writing prose I ‘see’ the story, like watching a film. Poetry though, I ‘hear’, which probably explains why I am drawn to lyrical poetry rather than ‘witty’ poetry which often has no melody. I can’t sing, but I love music. Writing poetry is the closest I get to making it.

Kate Clanchy describes writing poetry as being part of a conversation with other poets. Are there particular poets you feel you respond to? 

The kind of poetry that I am drawn to is in some ways like the novels I enjoy the most, escapist, with beautiful language, creating or describing worlds to explore. I don’t get much pleasure out of reading introspective stuff that takes the reader on a meandering/disjointed journey inside the writer’s head. I like the exploration of the natural and the mythical, emotion, writing that makes me weep. I can’t think of a contemporary poet that moves me the way some Walter de la Mare or John Masefield, Francis Ledwidge, or the best of them all, Yeats does. Seamus Heaney comes closest, and sometimes Mary Oliver. There are lines of Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, Donne, Coleridge, Shelley, Rossetti, Stephens that I love too. It’s a question of feeling empathy with what the poet chooses to write about and how he/she expresses it. Kipling might have written some rattling memorable lines, but it’s hard not to hear the jingo in the rhythm. 

If you could only read 3 poets for the rest of your life, who would you choose?

Yeats and Ledwidge because of the beauty of their verse, and Shakespeare both because of the words and because reading his work is a journey into another era. There’s enough there for most lifetimes.

Do you have a writing routine? 

I write all the time. After the birth of my third child, I started working from home and was in the ideal place (sitting in front of a computer) to switch to my own writing whenever I needed a break. Now the free-lance stuff has dried up, I can indulge myself as much as I want.

What about editing? How do you go about it? 

I don’t. I ought to probably, and I’m sure real poets do, but I don’t. I write the poem and that’s it; done. Some poems with a strict form take time to tweak into shape, but I’m usually so pleased that I’ve finally found a world combination that works, that I don’t touch it again in case it all falls apart.

What sort of response do you hope for from your readers?

I hope the reader hears the same words that I hear and that they create an image similar to the one that is the backdrop I see. If I haven’t made others feel the way I felt at the moment of writing, there’s some connection not working.

You frequently write structured poetry, using a form. What do you think a form offers, as opposed to free verse?

As I said earlier, I ‘hear’ poems. I don’t get an acute visual image as I do with prose, but the words make a sort of music. A structured poem has obvious affinities with music, and it’s easier to get that song effect using a form with a regular beat. Most of us accept that when we sing a song, the words have to fit the tune. A poem-song should work the same way. I try to follow the music. There’s no reason why free verse can’t be melodic; we just have to listen to the words and how they sound together. Depends what effect you’re looking for, but that regular rhythm helps to make a line memorable, and a rhyme, I believe, can give it extra force. 

How important is inspiration? How do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration, if you’re alive and curious, is there, in everything. I think we have to let ourselves find something to say about absolutely anything, in the same way that when you’re learning to draw, you should be able to find something interesting in every pebble or bit of junk in the road. I can be motivated by the sight of a kestrel landing in an oak tree on the lane as easily as by an old story, a memory or a family event. There’s always a new angle to be explored of even the most banal subjects.

Do you think you have particular themes that recur?

For the last three years I’ve lived in the countryside and very rarely leave these fields. I’m not sure how long it will be before the view and the cycle of the seasons begins to pall, but for the moment, it’s a fund of interest. The themes of growth and renewal often crop up, obviously birds are ever-present, the changing sky, life, death, but also roots. I think a lot about where mine started and where they’re going.

Do you ever feel blocked? How do you deal with it? 

No. I always have an idea on the boil. With novels, the story is there, the film just waiting to be turned into prose. There will always be sections that feel like a slog, where I have to force myself to keep at it, but I haven’t ground to a halt yet. 

What are you working on at the moment? 

My writing is almost always drawn from or wrapped up in myth, and the myths I know best are the Irish and Norse. Apparently there’s no call for that kind of stuff. It’s Greek or nothing, so for once, much as I dislike the Greek myths, I’ve decided to go with the flow. The story I’m currently working on is based on the Minotaur myth, set at the end of the Minoan civilisation, the fall of Knossos to the Greeks and their new ideas that turned the ancient world upside down. It’s basically the end of lingering matriarchy and the takeover of patriarchy. I hope it’s going to be Greek mythy enough to please someone.  

Who should I interview next? And why?

That’s another tough one. I’m getting to know a lot of new poets, so one of them would be appropriate. Andy MacGregor, for example, whose poems are very much rooted in the natural world. Another choice would be Yvonne Marjot who I knew first as a novelist, so her path has been similar to my own in that way at least. I’d like to hear how she works and why.

If you want to read more of Jane’s work, she blogs at janedougherty.wordpress.com and tweets as @MJDougherty33. And best of all, you can find her poetry collections here:

thicker than water https://www.amazon.co.uk/thicker-than-water-Jane-Dougherty/dp/B08LNJL59F/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1610617601&sr=8-1 

birds and other feathers 

Thirst

You fling it open for the first time/ but I’m gone

M Kahf ~ Wall

Why did you always keep the window closed?
What did you fear? I’m asking – look – she’s
barefoot in the field, she’s dusty,
arms scratched, squinting at the sun.
Didn’t you notice she was always gazing
out of the window? That she itched and twitched
in rhythm with the blackbird, that she sighed.


Was it the sound of sunlight that you hated?
Or the scent of bees? or the blue screaming
of the sky? Tell me. I’m waiting.

For Laura at dVerse. Thinking about how we end poems. Laura gives us lines to springboard from and use as epigraph

Footprints in the snow

I don’t ask if you remember
those footprints in that cave –
mother and child, walking.
I wonder if she took a moment
to look back at where they’d walked,
or if she kept on moving,
eyes fixed ahead.

Our footprints will be gone
by lunchtime – washed away,
meltwater merging into mud,
and looking back, it’s hard to know
which of us is mother, which
is child. You’ve grown.
Sneaked up on me, like time.

This is for Brendan’s earthweal challenge on Deep Time. There’s a bit of synchronicity here – I had a poem called “Pech Merl” published in Black Bough’s Deep Time II collection last year. Walking in the snow at the weekend with my son reminded me of the parent and child footprints we saw in the caves there, several years ago. I had that in my head trying to be a poem, and then Brendan’s prompt came along. If you’re interested, there is a Deep Time soundtrack with lots of great poetry readings here: https://soundcloud.com/stuartrawlinson/sets/black-bough-poetry-deep-time

Connection

atoms share electrons
forming lattices:
strength in community

and we are mostly
empty space
and energy

sharing time
as if it mattered

sharing words
and moments

emotion
emerges
out of motion

and we are planets
orbiting
a central sun

caught in its pull
but free to flow

For Merril at dVerse, who asks us to write about connections.

Weirdly, Brendan at earthweal is thinking about connections and entanglements, too.

I think there may be more to come on this.

Prosery – In the beginning

She looked at her work, and sagged a little.
“Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy” she sighed.
Mother took the hammer and chisel from her hands, and hugged her.
“Come and play a little.” Mother led her across the studio and and handed her a tiny brush and a tray of colours.

So she played. She painted carapaces that shone like jewels or glimmered like moonlight, rainbow wings and feet with microscopic hooks. Around her, her sisters created birds with clean-cut flight feathers, or concentrated on the precise dappling of a cat’s fur.

As the evening light slanted through the window, Mother clapped her hands. Everyone looked around.

“The Work is good” she told them, and together they blew Life into what they had created. Earth was ready to be populated.

How beautiful her insects were. How beautiful.

Prosery – 144 words of prose, including a quotation from a poem. This session is hosted by Linda at dVerse, and our line is from Mary Oliver: “Sometimes the great bones of my life feel so heavy”.

I really needed to write something joyful.

Birch trees

What could a birch tree be, except a girl?
A young girl, poised on the edge of a dance
with her arms wide, and her hair uncurled,
loose round her shoulders; and her friends
clustered around her, whispering secrets,
rustling and murmuring in their pale dresses,
telling each other which bird did this,
and what the squirrel said. Nobody guesses
how much they see, the supple birch trees,
that sway as they wait, feeling the notes
sung by the robin, played by the breeze –
they can’t resist. Even when they’re old
they sway like that, to music half-forgotten,
melodies half-heard, echoes of rhythm.

This is for Grace at dVerse, who is asking us to use imagery and/or personification. there is, of course, a nod to Robert Frost here, and I’m still wrestling with the sonnet form. The rhymes got pretty slant-y in this one.

A poem for Sherry

hard to think about gifts
and then the starlings come
scattered like letters
on a page, moving like words
forming phrases

the rustle of pages

hard to think about gifts
and then your words
like birds coming
carrying weather
on their wings,
the change of seasons
the slow roll from winter
into spring

the migration of birds
is an act of hope

A poem for earthweal where Brendan is hosting and asks us to think about gifts. This poem is dedicated to Sherry, because her comments are always so joyful and so appreciative. She always makes me feel like I’m a better poet than I think I am. I guess I’m using her to represent my online wolfpack – I feel connected to people I’ve never met, just shared words with. The international news has a different flavour now that I have links in Florida, in Australia, in New Jersey, in Pakistan, so many places…you’ve all become important to me.

This is not a coffee pot

This is not
a coffee pot

it’s sunlight
casting crisp shadows
across a square

it’s a bird fluttering
into a bright blue sky

it’s every city that
ever welcomed me
with open arms
and crowded pavements

it’s chiming waterfronts
clanging with boats
and narrow backstreets
blue with shadows
and a small square
where a child plays
with an orange ball

it’s a fountain

it’s a cool marble table
wiped down
by a man in a white shirt,
nodding to acknowledge me

it’s a painting
of a woman
holding a single rose

An object poem for Mish at dVerse. I love my little Moka pot. It’s a one cup pot, so it’s very selfish. I use it every day.