Narcissus Looks Again

The pond was deeper than expected,
a giant footprint stamped into the earth.
It was home to a fifty-pound ghost koi
called Persephone. Music became silence,
became music again. Moonlight shone on the tiles.
Persephone broke the water with her tail.
Now gaunt and middle-aged, I saw the moon glint
on water like a ten pence coin, miles down,
and the carp circling the moon.

Ishmael’s Leg

I’ve just finished typesetting the first draft of The Tide Clock and Other Poems. This will be a shared pamphlet featuring poetry by Joe Franklin, Hugh Greasley and myself. It’s not unlike the split 7″ singles bands used to put out to share production costs and pool their fanbases. You might remember a similar collection we produced in 2013, The Inner Sea.

As a taste of what’s to come, here’s one of mine that draws on Melville’s classic, Moby Dick. Check back here soon for more news about The Tide Clock

Ishmael’s Leg

“I was crowded for space, and wished the other parts of my body to remain a blank page for a poem I was then composing.”

— Moby Dick.

I’ll leave it blank.
These patterns are only as permanent as skin
though a decent word might outlast the sea-places
I go to fish or through which I leave a life.
Shallows are quick to warm but never the same
from one wave to the next: like the bays, beaches and ports
long cast out of which, even if I’m gone an hour,
swell with strangers, new winds, tides.
You can never go back.

My mind’s tattooed with dreams,
changing more than my blue-inked body shows.
Nothing I write could fill the absence of friends
more central than myself in a life between storms.
Tyrants, bad weather and worse luck have marked me
more indelibly than ink but I love the tale
because I’ve never been the author of my fate
and yet there is a silent part to tell.

Anon. – The greatest of all poets

No doubt this January 1st we’ll all spring out of bed refreshed and ready to seize the promise of a pristine new year. As our clear, crisp minds embark on new creative pursuits, here’s a question to help understand what kind of projects we’re working on and who they’re really for.

Would I be willing to do this anonymously?

In other words: is this for personal gratification or personal enjoyment? Is it something I’m willing to stand behind? Is it worthwhile for others, and/or in its own right? The question is intended to help us clarify our motivations for working on a task.

Anonymity does appeal, however. I remember reading poetry anthologies in school and thinking the best poems were by Anon. Who was this mysterious Anon who wrote all of the bold, simple poems that spoke with such undeniable clarity that they sounded fresh, funny and often alarming centuries later? Now I find myself wondering who these poets were and why their names don’t appear in the anthologies. Perhaps a famous master decided that a straightforward, comic piece didn’t fit her oeuvre. Were they risking controversy? Did they only have one poem to write or thousands? Were they always anonymous or was their name lost over shifting centuries? Conversely, how many poets now exist in name only, a bit like Ozymandias?

This touches on the topic of intrinsic motivation. Some projects are passions and important for our fulfillment and sense of wellbeing. These are some of the most meaningful activities we can do. If I write a story because I enjoy the challenge of expressing myself, I don’t need the approval of others to do so. In fact, in some ways writing becomes more enjoyable if no external recognition is asked for or received. It becomes deeply personal – and its worth won’t be coloured by the opinions of others.

Other projects are valuable because they do have meaning for other people. They could be social, like playing guitar with friends; or inspiring, like painting a scene that stirs emotions. Perhaps a project will benefit a community or directly alleviate someone’s suffering. We might consider still other works, especially those at the pinnacle of a craft, worthwhile purely as aesthetic or innovative achievements – or perhaps because such actions or behaviours are inherently worthwhile. Solving a hard mathematical problem or learning to dance might be good examples (though neither are strengths of mine).

On the other hand, we’re likely to encounter disappointment when we expect our work or art to bring us pleasure because of how it reflects on us. Then we derive little enjoyment from our effort unless it gains us recognition: something we ultimately have little control over.

It’s a good idea to know what kind of satisfaction we’re looking for. Happy New Year!

Shigeru’s Cave

i.

When Shigeru was twelve, he found a cave
no one else had explored. The other boys
avoided that part of the wood. Their base
bordered the hillside near a soldier’s grave
now used as a bookmark for civic grief
but Shigeru went on deeper forays
into the forest. He staged one man plays
under the teeming emptiness. He tried to carve
murals in loneliness and what was slight
became whole, wider than the cave itself.
Even the dust made shadows when he lit
an oil lamp and ghosts rose to a swarm.
Their dreams were parables in low relief,
unknowable but easy to transform.

ii.

Shigeru blew out the flame and black verbs
gathered the unlit part of their burden,
climbing like fireworks with each blink, hidden
like smoke wrapped in a darker sky. Suburbs
called him from beyond the wood, offering bribes
of long stillness when the clearing was done.
A blind thief arrived. He made his den
out of insults, heartbeats and rubies.
He polished their blood-beauty like you would shoes,
counting them over decades, relieved
to find company in his own echoes.
For all the thief’s effort his only prize
was a hundred smooth-dull stones. Shigeru breathed
from the forest, smiled and opened his eyes.

iii.

The silence became floodwater, so bright
it glittered between branches yet so dense
it pulled the cave inside out and blindness,
regrets and blessings tumbled free. Black roots
erupted from the ground. Bare branches wrote
poetry in their scrawl against a wilderness
where swallows flew. Shigeru watched them dance.
Small deafenings and tensions came apart
as he stepped into a larger, deeper cave.
Meandering home and late for his tea,
a schoolboy paused for a minute and gave
his hands to the slow part of the river
to feel its cool alignment with the sea;
a darting, unexpected scale; quicksilver.

 

‘Shigeru’s Cave’ was shortlisted for the 2014 Live Canon Poetry Competition and appears in the competition anthology, available from Amazon. It was inspired by the formative experiences of Nintendo game designer, Shigeru Miyamoto.

The Roses of Heliogabalus

The Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-TademaThe Roses of Heliogabalus by Lawrence Alma-Tadema.

The Roses of Heliogabalus

We were talking about art
and taking wine with our
sensuous king when a slave
released the canopy and petals –
their blush-making softness,
their deafening of the skin –
continued falling through us.
And when the late sun reddened,
guards turned the litter
over itself continually
until the ground was bruised
and whether they spoke of it
or patrolled their memories,
or held themselves alert
or felt their way to excuses
that bore their tentative hurt,
I cannot say, except that
these men walked a quiet palace
where all those able had
given themselves to love.

 

 

 

Shigeru’s Cave shortlisted for Live Canon 2014

Poetry news! ‘Shigeru’s Cave’ has been shortlisted for this year’s Live Canon International Poetry Competition. It’s a series of three Italian sonnets imagining one of the fathers of modern gaming, Shigeru Miyamoto, as a kind of schoolboy hermit exploring Platonic territories. Miyamoto is (of course) the creator of the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games. Much has been made of his formative, solitary childhood playing in woods, caves and streams in the hills behind his family’s suburban home. Shigeru himself suggests a mysterious link between these early experiences of nature and the playful, tactile exploration that characterises his game design. The poem was inspired by this article in The New Yorker.

Isabel’s Curious Machine

Williams Carlos Williams said that a poem is a machine made out of words. That’s a fitting way to describe Isabel Rogers’ poem ‘John’s Curious Machines': a very efficient, inspired machine designed to evoke John Harrison’s ingenious marine chronometers. These highly precise clocks kept time even in rough, varied weather at sea, making it possible for a ship’s navigator to determine its longitude — saving many lives. Isabel’s poem recently won the Cardiff International Poetry Competition and she was one of the Live Canon Poetry Comp. shortlistees for the past two years. You can read ‘John’s Curious Machines’ on the CIPC website. She’s also written a guest blog for Royal Museums Greenwich about John Harrison and the Search for Longitude.

The St. Ives to Zennor Coast Path

I walked the coast path with Hugh today. Hugh is a writer and artist whose poems appeared in The Inner Sea. It started foggy and cool but by midday the morning haze had retreated to the horizon. We saw a seal surface to watch the waves rustle through the carracks, and a stonechat flitting and chirping about the rocks. It’s a walk that means a lot to me, having walked it with good friends on a camping holiday, and my wife when we first came to St. Ives together. The scenery is spectacular. Headland after headland stretches into the Atlantic. We stood in the Trevalgan stone circle and guessed that two hundred generations may have passed since the stones were brought there. It’s a place that makes you feel very transient and all the while waves continue to roll into hidden coves and beaches. We discussed ideas for a follow up to The Inner Sea and finished in The Tinner’s Arms.