I haven’t had much spare time lately what with work, moving house, and spending time with the kids. It’s been busy, exciting, rewarding and all that. Did I mention busy? But a couple of weeks ago I felt the unexpected urge to sketch some comic strips about meditation and related issues. Here’s the first, there may be others to follow.
Helen Eastman of Live Canon has edited an anthology of 154 responses to Shakespeare’s sonnets. I contributed a response to sonnet XXV, titled ‘Perseids’. It is a testament to Helen’s energy and organisation that this happened at all. They say working with poets is like herding cats. Can you imagine trying to marshall 154 of them to finally decide whether or not the penultimate line needs a comma?
Not only is the book filled with inventive contemporary poetry it has lovely production quality too. And there are one or two decent turns from W.S. himself.
While supposedly training for a half marathon, I went out for chocolate and crisps. As I’d been working at the computer for most of the day, I decided to loop around by the old cemetery. Though it was evening, the birds were still singing as I came to the grey stone wall. No doubt they were confused by the dawn-like haze of the road. Beyond lopsided gravestones and the derelict church, the sea was calm and azure.
A stone angel crouched at my left as I cut in through the gate. You know how it is in these places: the limbic system wakes up. You keep a wider field of view. Sounds get your attention more easily. What was I keeping an eye out for? The kind of people who hang out in places like this? Something else? It was getting dark and the headstones made it difficult to spot danger. Is that a person? No, it’s another cross halfway to sinking into the grass.
A white veil was blowing from one of the tall trees, hanging above the path. I gazed up at it. Just bubble wrap. Then a crow shot past, startling me with its yammering. I jumped again, as something howled in front of me. A large black dog started pacing towards me barking, no owner in sight. I took a few more steps and turned on my heel. The gate by which I had entered now seemed distant, and the dog for its part seemed determined to usher me out. It reminded me of the nights when Pablo and I would wander through the woods and over the hills after the pubs kicked out. Sometimes we’d come to the turn-off and look out over the unlit expanse and just get that feeling: no thanks, not tonight. It often happened on a new moon, when everything was that much darker, but not always. Bad juju.
‘Murmuration’ took second place in the Keats’ Footsteps prize. Judge Jennie Osborne said:
I loved the use of language here, its visual nature, its fresh, shifting images that conjure the idea of crow, rather than telling us about crows. It is an impossible task to speak in the voice of other beings, but I think an important one, if we are to try to fathom their otherness.
The reading and prize-giving was a wonderful event, with beautiful readings. I particularly enjoyed Martyn Crucefix talking about his translations of the Daodejing. It was great to rub shoulders with poets and writers again.
I don’t expect they’ll mind if I reprint the poem here. It was inspired by a flock of crows shape-shifting above the valley.
This is no ordinary murder:
thin as rumour; dense in our folds as coal.
A waveform of curling crows,
crow-consciousness, our own idea of crow
smudged above the wounded combe.
Here we come, and fade again, a ghost
pulling itself out of empty air.
A sketch, a fingerprint of crowing,
contorting wing and sinew into scavenger
and funeralist with an actor’s clever-clever.
We’re riders on our own black wind.
We are pure language: ink cannot trace us.
As soon as our shape is there it’s gone.
And pinning us to the page is to see a shape
where, after tricks and turns, there isn’t one.
I’ve had some poems published recently, including three in Urthona: Buddhism & the Arts. It’s a great magazine if you’re into Buddhism, meditation, and literature. Here’s ‘Waiting for Al-Khidr’ from the magazine. Also in the issue are ‘The Pearl’ and ‘How I Became a Prophet’. It’s the current issue so consider subscribing if you’re interested to read them.
‘The Cord’ appeared in Live Canon‘s New Poems for Christmas anthology.
In the co-ordinator’s office of the meditation centre where I’m volunteering, there’s a piece of wood engraved with the following:
A beautiful day. It will not come again.
As a call to appreciation, it seemed more urgent than carpe diem. This came home to me while looking out of the window of a bathroom on the upper floor, having ushered a ladybird from the sill behind the toilet to the ledge outside. I stopped to look at the rain lashing the chimney pots and garden, puddling on the flat sections of roof below. That set of circumstances: the grounds, the rain, me, the people in my life right now, will never line up again in quite the same way.
I took the photo above on another beautiful day, not long ago. The door was on a side street, metres from the shops and harbour of a Cornish fishing town. Afterwards, I had it in mind to start a photography project with impermanence as a theme, but gradually let go of the scheme and decided once again to just get along with life and see what happens. A few Big Ideas have come since, and it’s interesting to see how I grab onto them in response to a need for security, or recognition, for example. Sooner or later the Big Idea passes but hopefully a few, small, good ones will have taken care of themselves.
Beaten and bruised, my brother led me
over the wastes to the foot of the mountain
standing like a broken white tooth.
The red light of the sun had no power here.
Below us, the troubled village.
He led me to the pass, and I faltered.
“Please brother!” I begged. “Do you not trust me?”
“From here you go alone,” he said.
“Or I too will hunt you. Do not come among us for food again.
Or we will feed you feathers and bolts.” And he beat me.
A wolf cried in the sky’s great vault.
Those who can live outside the village,
must live outside the village.
“Where will you go, brother,” I asked,
“who can neither leave nor stay?”
He looked doubtful and said, “to family.”
“Get off this mountain before sundown, brother,” I spat,
“for I am not helpless or alone.”
He parted without another word.
The moon rose above the white broken peak.
The mountain cried as a guttural wind
shuddered in its crags and gorge.
My brother was gone.
I threw my head back,
let the pain inside be
and I howled.
Wood pigeons burble contentment
from the chimney above my childhood garden
as light falls from the sky
burning at an unknown horizon
beyond the oak leaves and fence.
The compost heap buzzes murkily.
The chains of the swing squeak:
each moment lives on this hinge.
My parents will soon call me to bed.
For now, the rush of falling upward.
How blissful not to want even happiness.
Ho ho ho! I have a poem in this new Christmas anthology. Each of the poems is a contemporary spin on the season to be jolly. My perhaps not-so-jolly poem, ‘The Cord’, recalls watching Nelson Mandela’s funeral on TV during the lead-in to Christmas 2013. The anthology was edited and produced by the Live Canon team.