Thursday, 2 December 2021

Sentinel

The sky shifts over the
skirling hills,
the wilful wind sinks,
and my shadow
slips to drink.

You have discovered me
again, and my vows are
renewed –
memories echo in me
as you carry me home.

I am the beckoning,
tectonic,
pinning spirits
to now, from then
to ever.

Not for me the gorsedd –
eisteddwch,
tawelwch yn canu
;
listen and remember
under the bell of sunset.

I hide, unmoving shape-shifter,
one note in
the song of ever,
sipping from the sky
until you come again.

Sentinel is about the standing stone in the Brecon Beacons (a national park of rolling hills in South Wales) called Maen Llia. It’s said that the stone sometimes goes wandering down to the nearby river to drink at sunset... This piece was originally a commission for an elderly Welsh gentleman who came by our Poetry To Go stall at RHS Wisley’s Arts Festival and wanted a poem for this feature, describing in achingly evocative detail how the stone appears as if from nowhere when you walk the Beacons. The piece appears in the Nature/ The Sea section of Spectral next year.

a mildly impressionistic, full colour, digital drawing of a pink stone menhir - a rock roughly hewn into a teardrop shape - set against a rolling hillside. The stone is covered in lichen (white, yellow, and reddish-brown) and green moss, stained and cracked in various places. It is seated in a shallow depression, on top of a tiny mound. The grass in the depression is rather short, and there is longer standing grass encircling the dip. The stone casts a strong shadow behind itself, to the left of the viewer, and there is a strange, purplish pool at the foot of the stone's mound. The hill behind the stone shows a variety of dips and tracks as the ground undulates up to a pale, greyish-blue sky.
Another foray into colour. Not easy, this one, but I’m glad I persevered! I was particularly taken with how the paths and scars on the hill are echoed on the menhir at this angle.
Source image from Wikipedia: Photograph by Immanuel Giel

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Compound Rhythm

We have tried to fit you in,
lumbering you with familiar names,
shamelessly labelling you:
plodder, late-comer,
wobbly moss-beast.

Sky-divers, galaxy-striders,
depth-riders, you can leap
from sauna to ice bath,
without shrinking,
in the wink of an eye.

And foolishly, we write rules
that don’t apply to you,
radiating cool, defying filing,
to stride, pioneers hitching wagons
to a new star, taking the next slow,
sturdy steps into ubiquity.

Thursday, 14 October 2021

Clio of the Depths

I have cast off weight to glide,
lost light in the undersky.
Where my cousins plod,
I rainbow arc,
backlit swiftness,
sleek among the butterflies.

Close to grace, I open,
lotus-like,
a fine fruit,
toothsome,
its bruised flesh threshed
by my winnowing maw.

Gorged, I sheathe my
glass scimitars, and
weave into darkness,
seeking further sweetness.


This piece was written in October 2017, from an Allographic workshop about animal poetry with Robin Lamboll. Sea Angels are, essentially, marine snails that ditched their shells a long time ago to glide through the water with their "wings". (Well, sort of – read the Wikipedia article for more details...)

Look out for this and its Lesser Spotted friends in Spectral next year!

digital drawing of a sea angel - a translucent creature against a very dark blue background with an ovoid body and a set of six tentacle-like appendages curving out from around the centre of its head like particularly aggressive stamens. It has two disproportionately small, pointed "wings" either side of its neck which greatly resemble the collar of Doctor Strange's cloak. The creature is backlit so that all its edges glow, ranging from a mostly bluish body and wings, an orange bottom, and a yellow head. the tentacles range from very pale yellow to dark orange in colour. You know the creatures from the first season of Stranger Things? A bit like that. There is a faint signature in pale blue which reads "Fay Roberts".
I enjoyed drawing this - the first time I've used colours since I started drawing last year. Source image by Alexander Semenov.






















Monday, 2 August 2021

Diurnal

This is one of those days:
the euphemistically entitled
Bad Pain Days
where someone was careless
with the ground glass,
let it infest my joints,
make its stuttering way
through every vein.

This is one of those days:
a make-do viewpoint
dominating,
a day when the dishes wait,
patient as the grave,
for my hands and knees
to deflate,
for irritation at the unfinished
to trump rest or relaxation.

This is one of those days:
every socket sprung,
alignment a myth,
grimacing at the bitter
brilliance of:
Remember when it all worked
properly, and jocularity
wasn’t a prop to dismiss
the head-tilt of sympathy?

(Wit serving in place of wisdom.)

This is one of those days:
the grating sounds along every
nerve-ending,
the light beaten into
a bludgeon for my skull,
where unpleasant textures
seem endless, 
and scents invade,
the vanguard of unwanted
stimulus.

This is one of those days,
and I’m sorry to say
that my scale has shifted lately
(like the Overton Window),
the baseline now sitting where
Oww! used to reside,
beckoning simpering gratitude
that it’s an interlude
between these days:
the New Bad Days,
the refactoring of fractions days.

This is one of those days
where self-talk is a brace,
where hope of a hiatus
has to cease;
stopping indefinitely
not an option because
life’s a relentless motherfucker
and you have responsibilities
that are also a pivot for
continued existence,
but at least you’ve found a way to say:
you don’t get deft from me today
to those who matter.

This is one of those days,
and I don’t mind. Not really.
It means that I have stood
against gravity, championing
my ongoing rights to independence,
setting foot on the foothills,
that will see me,
however slowly, arrhythmically,
to a good view of all that’s been,
and some of what’s to be…
But you need to know,
because I need a hand
to make it to my feet
on days like these.


Image: Full Lunar Eclipse Progression by Jean Beaufort


Saturday, 29 May 2021

Abstract from a paper written by a self-made expert

Or: Let’s stay friends. 

He pronounces on gender, says the construct is wide
He talks of time in the trenches, when the songs were sung
He says he knows the key is what’s on the inside
I anticipate the first blow is about to be swung.

He talks of time in the trenches, when the songs were sung
He expounds on the realities of biology
I anticipate the first blow is about to be swung...
He announces that reproduction is our ideology.

He expounds on the “realities” of biology:
Unless we’re replicating, alive is what we’re not
He announces that reproduction is our ideology
He tells me what’s important: he used to think me hot.

Unless we’ve replicated, alive is what we’re not
He says he knows the key is what’s on the inside
(He tells me what’s important: he used to think me hot)
He pronounces on sex, says the construct is wide.


(On second thoughts: maybe this should just be entitled Entitled.)

Sunday, 4 October 2020

Once More

I was asked to perform as the poet for Sunday Assembly (the well-known secular Sunday gathering), 4-Oct-20, the theme for which was “A Whole New World: Lessons We Learn from Musical Theatre”. Being me, I abruptly decided the day before that I was going to write a whole new piece. (I keep doing this; I may need to have a word with myself.)

Anyway, I asked people in various places what they learned from musicals, they came through in style, on Twitter, discord, and Facebook, and here is the result (video and text below, with my part starting around 20:00):


Once More

Or: What I learned from what people learned from musicals – a crowdsourced poem.

Meine Dammen und Herren!
Mesdames et Messieurs!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Are you ready to learn what I’ve learned?
It’s a whole new world…
A strange journey…
And I see you tremble with antici…
pation. The creation of a musical microcosm
Of reality can be costly, but don’t worry –
I’ll be gentle. You ain’t never had a friend like me.

Ready?

“And I know things now,
“Many valuable things
“That I hadn’t known before!”
And a score of reminders of discoveries,
In theatres or bundled up on sofa’d sick days,
Uncovering the array of
Human experience,
Peeled down to what can be delivered
At half the pace of human speech
Over a couple of hours, with interval.

“You don’t have to sit around complaining
’bout the way your life has wound up…”
But you can turn it into song,
Invite the world to sing along,
And maybe, at the end, you’ll feel much better
Well, connected, anyway,
And you may walk away with the impression
That ethical standards can be predicted
By vocal pitch and the presence of syncopation,
But baby, real villains don’t come accompanied
With percussive warning labels.

“But the tigers come at night,
“With their voices soft as thunder,”
And I understand more about
Found family (“you’re a Jet all the way”)
And how selling your soul (and hair, and teeth)
For safety’s a shorter-term solution
Than you might believe.
And that if you don’t say (or sing)
What you mean soon, it can be too late.
(And what a great waste of plant food
An abusive dentist makes.)

I’ve learned that “525,600 minutes”
Is shorter than you’d think
(For all it’s been a long year),
But we can cheer the facts of Hamilton’s 51 essays,
The way everything ain’t free in America,
Prickly pears are best picked pawless,
Opium wars were fought for awful causes,
The poor should pick a pocket or two,
And how (in just seven days)
He’ll make a man out of you.

And “I’m glad we’ve got this new technology!”
For seeing each other with the world locked,
Instead of jockeying for toilet roll,
We can stay home to sing along,
Not forgetting that
“Tomorrow belongs to me!”
Because not everyone who summons good intent is
Bent on the same values as you and frankly?
Nazis are everywhere in musicals too,
A true reflection of what might beset us
If we forget whose money makes the world go around…

“You’ve got to be carefully taught”
Because the more fraught messages,
Can fling up defences, but picket fenced
And bathed in tunes from dapper gents
And sassy dames
They can ring, unregarded but working
Miracles under the skin,
Buried deep in synapses that are slowly forming 
Brand new chains of meaning,
As catchy repetition literally changes your mind.

“Do you hear the people sing?”
Because the support of chorus
Is glorious, and we adore
Syncretic miracles weaving
Street sweepers and aristocracy
In high kicks and pretty harmonies.
But more than this, she tells me:
“It isn’t for the few to tell the many
What to do,” and we should choose
Which songs to sing, with whom.

“Consider yourself at home!”
Because no-one doesn’t have a place
In musicals. Can’t sing?
Here’s a comic role.
Can’t dance? Says who?!
But anyway, it’s overrated,
See, there’s oh so much you can do
Beyond the stage to make
The glitter linger longer
In people’s glee-starved souls.

“They had it coming!” apparently:
I’ve been handed horror stories of
All the incautious directors of musicals
Who neglect to check their props,
Stock up on body mic batteries
Flatter the pianist appropriately or
(Oh dear) let the band attend the bar
Beforehand. And oh, it’s messy,
But the show goes on.

And now it’s “Midnight!” (like, I literally wrote this line at midnight and couldn’t have been more delighted – yes, I need to get a life, or maybe just outside) and I need to find
An ending to this piece,
A triumphal closing chord
To call this to a halt,
And all while finding time to tell you
That it doesn’t matter that neither elephants
Nor jazz hands can make you fly,
But that life is also the song you sing in fits and starts:
Between the mundane, the joy;
Between the admin, the applause;
Between the tragedy, the soaring choruses;
And that some of these are the same things.

“It’s a hard-knock life!”
It’s true, and you could dismiss this as
Bread and circuses but for the subversive messages
Served up as hope, that “Singin’ in the rain”
Is sometimes the best way to make the most
Of things when times are tough
And that, if the chorus is large enough,
Its harmonies can overwhelm the best-laid plans
Of even the greatest single orchestrators.
“You choose.”
“What adventures we're going to have together!”

Meine Dammen und Herren!
Mesdames et Messieurs!
Ladies and Gentlemen!
Where are your troubles now?
Forgotten? I told you so…
We have no troubles here.
Here, life is beautiful.
Auf Wiedersehn!
A bientot!
Goodbye!




Saturday, 28 March 2020

Lifting Jörmungandr

Today is difficult.

Send water
Send the sea
Send endless, sea-washed sand
Send ssshhhhssssshhhhhhhhhh…
Send the seawind on my face
Send the nighttime quiet, strengthening seawind
Send hearing for miles of nothing but the sea washing, the wind in marram grass.

Today prickles on raw skin.

Send blankets
Send blankness
Send an enveloping closeness
Send still air, warm with only my own breath,
Send only my own body reflected;
Send being bound in a nutshell
Send being master of infinite space
Send a horizon an inch distant.

Today is endless.

Send everything that is Not-This
Just for a span
Send singing waters, clear horizons
Send an airing cupboard with a lock inside
Send boundaries
Send an end.

Please. My skin is filled with wasps.

Do not send me extra things to lift
Even the smallest grain of sand is beyond my strength
And what seems like nothing to shift is huge
What seems like a gift is another burden.
I beg you: send me nothing at all.
Except for silence, and unspeaking love.