Summer in Swansea

My Uncle Frank’s first water color:
the Mumbles Lighthouse from Limeslade

              … but it’s watch out for the dog, for the dog gets everywhere because he’s on holiday too and everybody’s on holiday in this little sea side town and the cousins have come down from London with their cockney accents, born within the sound of Bow Bells, though they’re half Welsh by blood, though you wouldn’t believe it with those incredible accents which nobody can understand … and they’ve never seen the sea, though their mother was born here, beside my mother, beside this self-same sea which has never left and which still flows in and out, even now, and it still flows through my bones and “Look at all the water!” my youngest cousin cries and then he really cries because London, the capital of England, is concrete and tarmac and all petrol smell and smog and fumes and busses and he’s never ever seen the sea, the sea’s open spaces, the wide open arms of the bay held out to embrace you with Swansea Docks on the left, a working area of ships and shipyards where my grandfather labours and takes me on workdays, even in summer, and shows me the ships and his friends and everyone is happy and laughing because it’s summer and it’s hot and there’s lots of employment and the banana boats are lining up in the bay, at low tide, waiting for high tide, when they can enter harbour and be unloaded and this happens all year round, but it’s really in summer, when the sun is as yellow as the bananas, that the banana boats become significant and we show them to my cousin who has never seen the sea nor the banana boats, though he knows what a banana is and where to buy them and what they cost, but he never knew they came in on these boats, these great white summer boats, from Africa and the Caribbean,  with their funnels all yellow and their bright stripe of blue, Elder and Fyffe, and the boats all lined up in the bay and look: to the right there’s the Mumbles and the Mumbles has a pier and a playground and you can go out and walk on the pier and at the end there’s the life boat and the life boat has a slipway for the life-boat to run down into the sea to rescue people who are shipwrecked, but only in winter because in summer the sea is calm and shiny and it runs in and out twice a day, like an obedient dog, and why is the beach wet? Because the sea weed … and the pier is a world full of wonders, with its peep shows and its games and the old men fishing off the end, chatting and gossiping, and not ever worrying about whether or not they catch the fish which many of them throw back anyway, so they can catch them again tomorrow  …

Blue and Green

“Blue and green
should not be seen
without a color
in between,”
thus spoke my mother.

What did she know
of the Peace Park grass
sweeping spring-clean
to head pond waters?

Didn’t she sense the frail
brown fringe of rock
scarfing between green
grass and head pond blue
or the white caps lacing
cow parsley on the stones?

I know she knew nothing
of yellow and red leaves,
brown spotted like an old
man’s hands, freckling waters,
fretting at the fragility
of nature’s delicate balance.

Plein Air

 

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Plein Air
(for Ruby Allan)

Plein air,”
she said, and I imagined her
sitting before the blank spread of a canvas,
a ship’s sail waiting for a sea-side breeze
to fill that empty space with color and mood.

What routes will her paintbrush take
as it wanders over the new world
lying before her?

Plein air, al fresco,
in garden and street,
before the shops and then
on headland and shore,
alone or accompanied,

with sea birds wading
and the gull’s cry echoing its sea of sound
as the sun sets in its bonfire of brightness
and throws light and shadow,
chiaro-oscuro,
all around.

Comment: The lead photo of Ruby Allan in her studio was taken in her KIRA studio in June, 2017, by my friend and fellow artist, the Peruvian pan-piper and flautist / flutist, Carlos Carty. The poem comes from my book, One Small Corner (2017), written in KIRA during my residency. It can be found on page 94 in the section entitled Artists.

In this poem I have tried to capture the idea of Ruby painting in the fresh air (plein air / al fresco) in St. Andrews-by-the-sea. Clearly, as you can see from the above photo, the sea is so important to this town, as are harbors and boats and the men that man and sail them. The light is important too as it changes throughout the day or with wind and weather. As you can see, Ruby’s paintings are filled with light and she catches those magic moments when the world seems to freeze and stand still. I try to imitate visual art when I write, and I try to fill my poetry with those magic moments as I create verbal pictures that seize the seconds and  hold them, even if it be for just a little while.

 

An Angel at Jarea

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An Angel at Jarea

An angel moves through the room
in the silences between our chatter.
He fills the interstices of speech
with the wonder of feathers
enlightened by rainbows.

Tranquil his footsteps
as we sense his presence.
He places his hand on an arm,
his arm around our shoulders,
and now, commanding silence,
a finger on his lips.

We sit here
scared by our intimate inadequacies,
scarred by the fierceness of our thoughts
as we sense the vacuum
of his soon-to-be absence.

Comment: The video reading of my poem follows. Ruby Allan, one of the five artists invited to participate in the first cohort at KIRA (2017) would always say, when a silence fell on the group, that ‘an angel is moving through the room’. This poem is dedicated to her, and to my friend, Geoff Slater, whose house and gallery we were visiting when the happenings depicted in this poem took place in June, 2017. Several years ago now, but I remember it like yesterday: a magic moment that I have tried to preserve in words. I could never have captured these moments in my verbal snapshots without the assistance of my friends. Thank you all so much.

 

KIRA Creative Quarantine

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KIRA Creative Quarantine

The Kingsbrae International Residencies for Artists (KIRA) requested its alumni to consider creating a ten minute video of themselves offering an instructional lesson based  on themselves working in their specialist areas. You can click on the above link to see all the creative videos currently available. Note that two more are added each week. Here is a link to my own video on Writing a Poem. It is designed for people of any age and I hope that anyone who sees the video will enjoy it and be inspired to start putting together their own poems.

The photo above was taken by Geoff Slater, the Artistic Director at KIRA. He placed a selection of my books on the beach at Holt’s Point and Bingo: instant art from a master artist. My book Fundy Lines now sunbathes on a beach that has ready access to the beautiful Bay of Fundy.

Word without end

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Word Without End
Antonio Machado

Tree: rowan, mountain ash, larch, tamarack,
hackmatack, spruce, birch, maple, passerines
flying from branch to branch. Birds: more words,

woodpeckers, downy, hairy, pileated, cardinals,
finches, purple, house, golden, rain-rusted robins,
crows, aerial magicians, wondrous in flight.

Spring: fresh branch tips, tiny fox gloves, leaf buds,
folded fiddleheads soon to open their spring magic.
Open: hearts worn on sleeves, open to the world,

wounds, eyes, everything open to beauteous
sun-warmth, snow’s slow disappearance, rising river,
freshet flow freshening this Renaissance,

every day a rebirth, a new beginning,
fresh starts, the world reborn beneath a rising sun,
its yellow disc growing, the new day glowing.

The word as it was in the beginning, head in hands,
heart in mouth, words without meaning, words whirling
golden autumn leaves, words caught in a whirligig,
words all powerful in a word-world without end.

Comment: “La palabra: una palptiación honda del espíritu / The word: a deep palpitation of the spirit.” Antonio Machado (1875-1939). In The Meaning of Meaning, Bertrand Russell discusses what words mean and how they construct, with their endless associative fields, a net of emotions that take us beyond logic into new realms of meaning. As poets and creative artists, we are conscious of the emotions we attach to each word we use. If the poetry is good, then that network of emotional associations reaches out to a wider audience and draws them into our own world view. If we are less skillful, then the emotions are trapped in our own claustrophobic words and fail to reach out, to lift up from the page, to achieve take-off. As we develop as poets and writers, we become more and more aware of the ways in which the microcosm, our own world in miniature, reaches out to the macrocosm, that wider world outside. When we achieve a blend between those two worlds, even if it be in nothing more than a metaphor, nothing more than a felicitous phrase or a delicately timed rhyme, then we reach a new level, a level that we strive to retain and attain anew every time we create.

For me, many of the secrets of poetry can be found hidden in the rhythm of words, the music of their joining, the harmonies they create when they play off each other, old and older meanings reflecting off the newer meanings we give them as we shuffle them anew and put them through their paces.

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Yesterday, my beloved placed seeds on the back porch, and a chipmunk, her pet chipmunk, came and sat on her foot as he chomped the seeds. Today, this first chipmunk was followed by a second chipmunk. Patience my friends. Keep writing. Keep striving. Keep experimenting. Keep your faith and your creed. Your words will one day reach out, like seeds to chipmunks, and will sow themselves in the mind’s of your readers. And those readers will beget other readers, much as one chipmunk plus one chipmunk will eventually equal many more than two chipmunks. Oh the joy of words, the loving search for le mot juste and the meaning of meaning. In the words of the immortal Cervantes: Paciencia, y barajar / patience, and shuffle your words. The results will creep upon you one morning, unaware and, like the chipmunks, they will catch you by surprise.

Duende

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Duende
Federico García Lorca

It starts in the soles of your feet, moves up
to your stomach, sends butterflies stamping
through your guts. Heart trapped by chattering teeth,
you stand there, silent, wondering … can I?
will I?what if I can’t? … then a voice breaks
the silence, but it’s no longer your voice.

The Duende holds you in its grip as you
hold the room, eyes wide, possessed,
taken over like you by earth’s dark powers
volcanic within you, spewing forth their
lava of living words. The room is alive
with soul magic, with this dark, glorious
spark that devours the audience, heart
by heart. Magic ends. The maelstrom calms.

Abandoned, you stand empty, a hollow shell.
The Duende has left you. God is dead, deep
your soul’s black starless night. Exhausted,
you sink to deepest depths searching for that
one last drop at the bottom of the bottle to save
your soul and permit you a temporary peace.

Comment: “Todo lo que tiene sonidos oscuros tiene duende / All that has dark sounds has duende.” Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). García Lorca, an inspired and inspirational vocal performer, well understood those dark artistic powers that rise from a combination of earth, air, and fire to possess artists as they weave their magic, be it musical or verbal or a combination of both. Those who possess it know that they never really possess it, for it comes and goes with a will of its own and possesses them, body and soul, taking them over. Deus est in nobisit is the god within us, wrote the Romans with their understanding of the power of performance. And they are right. Those who possess it are changed by it, no longer know themselves, turn into something other than what they are and becoming something special. “Ah would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us” (Robert Burns). But what happens to us when the wondrous gift is taken away, when drab reality takes over from the glory of the stage, the spotlight, the performance of the play? That indeed is the question. And the answer varies with each of us.  I look with dismay on the comedians who, for one reason or another, when deprived of their audiences, have chosen the darkest of exits. The hollow shells of the performers who have given their all are sad things to behold. The existential emptiness that is left when the powers drain away is difficult to live with. That is why so many, faced with this darkness, akin to St. John of the Cross’ Noche Oscura del Alma / Dark Night of the Soul, chose not to live. That is not a choice that I will ever make. And I encourage all my friends to wait, to wait in patience and hope for the light, the glorious light and fire of the Duende, the Spirit that will return, will pluck us from the depths, and will raise us to the heights again.

Still Life with Hollyhock

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Still Life with Hollyhock
Geoff Slater

How do you frame this beaver pond,
those paths, those woods? How do you
know what to leave, what to choose?
Where does light begin and darkness end?

Up and down: two dimensions. Easy.
But where does depth come from?
Or the tactility, the energy, water’s
flow, that rush of breathless movement
that transcends the painting’s stillness?

So many questions, so few answers.
The hollyhock that blooms in my kitchen
is not a real hollyhock. It is the painting
of a photo of a genuine flower that once
upon a time flourished in my garden.

A still life, then, a nature morte, a dead
nature, portrayed in paint and hung alive,
on display in this coffin’s wooden frame.

Comment: I love the way language changes the way we look at life.  A still life painting becomes nature morte in French and naturaleza muerta in Spanish. Still life becomes dead nature. Fascinating. I also love the way in which the camera captures nature and the natural world. We think it is an accurate depiction, but really it isn’t necessarily that accurate. Filters, light and shadow, mood: they all fluctuate and sometimes we capture that which we never saw and sometimes that which we saw is never captured. Oh the subtle enigmas of creative art.

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And it is the same with the hollyhock, my hollyhock, Geoff’s hollyhock. At the top of the page is Geoff’s painting of my hollyhock. The above is a photo of my hollyhock. Which bloom did Geoff capture and reproduce in paint? Language: and what do I mean when I say ‘my hollyhock’? My indicates possession, ownership. How and in what way does one own a hollyhock? How does one possess a garden, a flower bed, a tree? Are they not free, living, beings with a life and maybe even a mind of their own? Does one hollyhock talk to another hollyhock as the trees are said to converse with the trees? Do the trees in the garden possess a soul and if they do, in what sense do they possess one? And what is a soul anyway? I guess it depends upon the church and creed to which you belong. Certainly the garden has a life of its own and we discover that every spring when the grass and flowers grow back and the dandelions return.

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Questions: dangerous things, questions. Several of the questions posed above could have landed me in an Inquisitional institute in Spain in the 1500’s and 1600’s. That is a frightening thought. Alas, the philosophy of all that is way too deep for this poor poet and apology for a philosopher. One thing I do know, though: I love the garden going on outside my window and it is a privilege to be allowed to watch it, admire it, and follow its progress as the sun returns and the draws the birds back with it.

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¡Vale! Hail and fare thee well.

Bird’s Nest

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Bird’s Nest
Jackson Pollock No 5 (1948)

This bird’s nest starts with a startling tweet
that wins a trilled, thrilled response. A flutter
of heart-string wings, creator, viewer, join

with the creation. Thin threads of life mix
and match their tangled weave, existential
tapestry, fathered in a feathered nest.

World without end, this labyrinth without
an entry point, without a beginning,
with a spaghetti-thread middle that meets

not in a breath-catch of the mind, but in
a brush-flick of coloured rain, a cycle
recycled of circled paint, circular

in its circumnavigation, its square
eight by four-foot globe of a new world whirled
in stringy whorls, reinvented beauty

drawn haphazardly from the bicycle
tour de force of this artist’s inner mind.

Comment: In my latest poetry book entitled The Nature of Art and the Art of Nature, I explore the relationship between art and the natural world. I have always been fascinated by what we see, how we see it, and how it affects us. The tiny print above is scarcely representative of the eight by four-foot world that the artist creates, or re-creates. And what is modern art? Is it a re-creation of the world as we see and feel it or a representation of a new internal world glimpsed by the artist’s mind and hand-turned into a new reality, the work of art? I guess it depends on the artist, his or her way of life, the way they approach the macrocosm, and how they view the microcosm of their own inner lives.

Creation: such a lovely word. Such joy generated as we create something new, be it something verbal, visual, or tactile. For me, it is more a verbal world than a visual one. My forays into art are wonderful, enjoyable, but very personal and artistically limited, even though I love taking a line for a walk or allowing the marker to trace images on the page. Dreams and a dream world: we need them. Sometimes reality is too much for us and we have to shut out the noise of the world and, in Antonio Machado’s words, ‘saber estar solo entre la gente‘ / know how to walk alone among the crowd. The loneliness of the long-distance runner. The isolation of the loving heart trapped within its cage of flesh and bone. The solitude of the spring nest on the pillars at Long’s Creek, overlooking the head pond at Mactaquac, as it waits for its restless occupants to return from their long journey back to the north from the south and start the rebuilding process, each twig, each straw, a minor miracle. And then the hatching and the fledglings and the return flight south that gifts the empty nest such loneliness as it waits for the cycle to begin again once more.

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Bleeding Heart

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Bleeding Heart

White moths
wing their snowstorm,
pale stars through the night.

A candle flickers in the darkness.
Hands reach out to grasp me.
A feathered shadow flies
frail fingers across my face.

Butterflies
stutter their eye-lash kisses
against closed cheeks.

Awake,
I lie anchored by what pale visions
fluttering on the horizon?

Eye of the peacock,
can you touch what I see
when my eyelids close?

Black rock of the midnight sun,
blocking this day’s dark cave,
when will I be released
from my daily bondage?

Last night, the planet
quivered beneath my body
as I felt each footfall of a transient god
who mapped in runes
the ruins of my bleeding heart.

 

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Comment: Another Golden Oldie, also dug out from the rejection / dejection of striations. I tinkered with it this morning. Funny what a shift in structure and a twitching of the metaphors will do. New lamps for old: indeed, and why not? We are not just writers, we are re-writers and some thoughts can be reworked to rise again in the shadows of the adopted children that are our poems. This bleeding heart plant vanished a couple of years ago. We dug up the flowerbed, inserted a rockery, and watched and waited. After two years, the bleeding heart plant resurrected itself from within the stones. Survival, renewal, faith, hope: key words nowadays. Who locked that plant down? Who let it rise up again? When we have gone, how will our gardens get on without us? Very well, in all probability, but they may be more of a tangled garden than a cultivated one. And what’s wrong with a tangled garden? Why, nothing at all, my friends, absolutely nothing at all.

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