Monthly Archives: March 2011

John Siddique’s Full Blood

Author photo © Jojo Stott

   
 
John Siddique was born in 1964. His discovery of his local library when young began his life-long love affair with what words mean and how they sit together. He is the bestselling author of Recital – An Almanac, Poems From A Northern Soul, The Prize and now Full Blood (Salt Publishing, 2011). He is the co-author of the story/memoir Four Fathers.
 
He has contributed poems, stories, essays and articles to many publications, including Granta, The Guardian, Poetry Review and The Rialto.
 
The Prize, published to wide acclaim in 2005, was nominated for the Forward Prize. His children’s book Don’t Wear It On Your Head was shortlisted for the CLPE Poetry Award in 2007. On publication in 2009, Recital was described as “one of the most important British poetry books of the last twenty years” by Lauri Ramey of CSULA. Jackie Kay describes Siddique’s writing as “A brilliant balancing act”.
 
Siddique is admired for his captivating readings and his infectious love of literature. He teaches poetry and creative writing in the United Kingdom and abroad and has worked with the British Council, the Arvon Foundation, the Poetry School and the Poetry Society. He has a website at www.johnsiddique.co.uk.
 
 
 

 
 
 
Full Blood is John Siddique’s fourth full-length collection of poems for adults. Erotic, physical, completely open and fully engaged with the moral urgency of life, Siddique tackles his themes robustly and yet with great sensitivity, constantly defining and reimagining what it is to be a man in today’s world, living full in the moment. Marking a serious development in the writer’s work (as well as the mind of this significant British poet) this is Siddique’s most emotionally charged work to date.
 
 
“John Siddique’s new collection takes the reader down the street and round the world. This is a brave and a bold book of linked poems whose subjects range widely from love to hate, from war to peace, from childhood to adulthood, from the real world to the world of myth. Siddique is interested in everything. Tender and open-hearted, these poems are full of wonder at the power of love. Dreamy and yet direct, this is Siddique’s most powerful collection yet.”
 
– Jackie Kay
 
 
“In this beautiful new collection John Siddique seduces the reader with his life-affirming reflections on our mortality and a profoundly moving poetic interplay of tenderness, love and eroticism.”
 
– Dr. Claire Chambers
 
 
 
Love Poem
 
(for A.G.)
 
 
I will take you strongly in my arms,
sky over my earth.
 
I will leave my burdens down,
earth over my core.
 
I will love you as
the sun lights a bird’s back.
 
I will stand with you as
we give our hearts to life’s great keeping.
 
Sky over my earth.
Lay your burdens down.
Earth over molten core.
Sun of a bird’s back.
 
Keeping our promise to live by living.
I will take you strongly in my arms.
 
 
 
 
Thirst
 
Imagine thirst without knowing water.
And you ask me what freedom means.
Imagine love without love.
 
Some things are unthinkable,
until one day the unthinkable is here.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.
 
Some things we assume just are as they are,
no action is taken to make or sustain them.
Imagine love without love.
 
It is fear that eats the heart: fear and
endless talk, and not risking a step.
Imagine thirst without knowing water.
 
Fold away your beautiful thoughts.
Talk away curiosity, chatter away truth.
Imagine love without love.
 
Imagine believing in the whispers,
the screams and the gossip. Dancing to a tune
with no song to sing inside you.
Imagine love without love.
 
 
 
from Full Blood (Salt Publishing, 2011).
 
Order Full Blood.
 
 
 
Launch details
  
 
Date: 5 May 2011
Time: 18h00
Venue:  Manchester City Library, Deansgate, Manchester

Date:  22 June 2011
Time:  19h30
Venue:  Poetry Café, Poetry Society, 22 Betterton Street, London
 
 
Dress code for both events is ‘sexy with a touch of red’.

Carrie Etter’s Divining for Starters

  
 
Carrie Etter is an American poet resident in England since 2001. Previously she lived in Normal, Illinois (until age 19) and southern California (from age 19 to 32). In the UK, her poems have appeared in, amongst others, New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Poetry Review, PN Review, Shearsman, Stand and TLS, while in the US her poems have appeared in magazines such as Aufgabe, Columbia, Court Green, The Iowa Review, The New Republic, Seneca Review. Her first collection, The Tethers, was published by Seren in June 2009, and her second, Divining for Starters, containing more experimental work, was published by Shearsman Books in February 2011. She is also the author of two recent chapbooks: Yet (Leafe Press, 2008) and The Son (Oystercatcher Press, 2009). She is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing for Bath Spa University and has been a tutor for The Poetry School since 2005.
 
 
 

  
 
 
In 1999, living in southern California, Carrie Etter began a series of poems focusing on our cultural obsession with creating beginnings and origins—a new day, a new chapter, a fresh start—called ‘Divining for Starters’. Twelve years and a move to England later, here are the best poems from that work in progress. They join poems exploring the environment, the erotic, politics, and selfhood. Employing a poetics of consciousness in an array of forms, Divining for Starters ranges widely with poems at once rigorous and delicate.
 
 
 
“Carrie Etter catches the drift and pushes it lightly into her courses. Lilting now, her courses swerve between the reaches of the American mid-West and the claggy ruts of England, and their erotics are those of skin and fold, of elegant runs and breaks. Carrie Etter’s poems give the feel of pleasure; they take unpredictable turns. When all about would be stipulated, Divining for Starters points heedfully to the possible.”
 
– John Wilkinson
 
 
 
“Carrie Etter’s wonderful new book, Divining for Starters graphs a crop of new forms, swerving from blanks to bliss. Taking the long view of time, Etter writes poems that can at once be a species of call and response (erotics of language), a particulate trace of how one writes, a ‘True Story’, a physics of animals eating, or a vigil for stillness. She tunes into some kind of latinate downhome radio, or maps the milky way, post-pastoral in its graphology.
 
Memory is here, (‘fireweed for acres’) as are breathing trees, fields across the world—always with an immediacy—a sense that poems are appearing right before our eyes as we eagerly approach ‘the entrancing right margin’”.

– Lee Ann Brown
 
 
 
 
McLean County Highway 39
 
tar shrugs goes to dirt
gravel’s slow crunch over
winter with no hill for
frost to the horizon
 
     *
 
 
green hectares rising into
Illinois’ no blonde endeavour
but for the corn tassels dangling
covert silk threads
 
     *
 
 
cycle up dirt-dust’s brown haze
flattening thought a prairie
the only height for miles
a grove its doe
 
     *
 

sweat and cornstalks taller than
pushed through the close
click into speed sticking hairs
peel the nape free
 
     *

  
all exhale the green expanse
cicadas’ two notes sunset
the red eye pink strata
push an unwavering line
 
     *
 
 
without thought three miles out
an idle porch swing
shrug or flattening not silence
but nothing heard in
 
     *
  
 
soybeans crouch along even as
horizon at my back
cools toward streetlamps and cement
glide in the last
 
 
 
 
from Divining for Starters (Shearsman Books, 2011).
 
 
Order Divining for Starters.
 
Visit Carrie’s blog.
 
Order Infinite Difference: Other Poetries by UK Women Poets,
edited by Carrie Etter (Shearsman Books, 2010).

Kona Macphee: Five Poems

  
 
 
Born in London in 1969, Kona Macphee grew up in Australia. She flirted with a range of occupations including composer, violinist, waitress and motorcycle mechanic. She took up robotics and computer science, which brought her to Cambridge as a graduate student in 1995.
 
She now lives in beautiful Perthshire, where she works as a freelance writer and moonlights as the co-director of a software and consultancy company. She has been writing poems since 1997, and received an Eric Gregory Award in 1998. Her first collection, Tails, was published by Bloodaxe in 2004. Her second book of poems, Perfect Blue (Bloodaxe, 2010) is now available. Visit Perfect Blue’s Bloodaxe page, Perfect Blue’s dedicated website, Kona’s professional website and her personal website (which includes her Poem of the Week).
 
 
 
*
  
  
  
Prodigal
 
Would you leave it, then, leave it all behind,
take nothing but an apple and the open road
and what you’re standing up in (even a change
of clothes, of shoes, being too much freight
for the liberation of this light new way)?
Would you wrack, in going, your old life’s webwork,
feeling the snap as each drawn strand
reaches some secret limit and lets go?
 
Would you know, in the early weeks and miles,
some heady freedom, going your way
on a whim or a coin-toss, scrabbling your meals
light-fingered or by luck or miracle,
making your bed where the nightfall finds you,
waking with the sun and without fixed plans,
shedding fears, eschewing mirrors,
seeing it all for the very first time?
 
Would you go on, drunk on brief acquaintance
and the endless vanishings of the horizon,
stoned by the roll of day to night to day,
until you sense that finer net
cast in the wake of every other face –
a loop of feedback amping touch to slap
and speech to shouting, love to prison,
liking to demand – and think you comprehend?
 
Would you shun all ties in some bleak fastness,
slip last bonds of custom with your shoes,
your coins, your name, only to find
a screen impeding: your mind drawn round
like a curtain, one day tautly thrummed
with the buzz of struck drumskin, one day slack
as the wattled folds of an old throat,
but always a veil between you and what’s real?
 
Would you learn, at last, that any heart
will shred to tatters when what hauls it on
is some crazed engine hulking in the dark
of what it can’t unlearn and can’t outrun?
Would you ask yourself what’s real?, look down
and stare at the empty, dirty palms
of the hands upturned in a mocking question,
the feet that bore you nowhere, here?
 
 
This poem was a commission for the “Impossible Journeys” exhibition for Edinburgh’s Hidden Door 2 festival. It was subsequently recorded as a filmpoem by Alastair Cook, with an original score by Rebecca Rowe, and now available for online viewing.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Mary Porter’s questions
 
If I spread my fortunes like a deck of cards
across the marked baize of a table,
what chance will be foretold? Into the yard
  
our gentlemen don’t go – and yet, what evidence
might Bertha find today, concealed
behind the wash-house, lapping at the fence?
  
Why does the weary drape of counterpanes
across the drying-ropes still bring to mind
that one night at the theatre? Jane,
  
when Mother spoke of wickedness, of shame,
why did she never mention this? – the way
the mended roof of sinners shrugs the rain?
  
   
This poem first appeared in Ambit magazine. 
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
Inland
 
There’s a river, but here’s a long haul
uphill from its pebbly burble. A cold spring
threads the stepped streets, over, under,
pooling in a neighbour’s garden, lipping,
spilling back into a pipe. When gutters fill
with storm-wash, skimming cars cast ankle-waves
at walls that harbour sodden gardens.
Daily in the square, gulls shark
and bicker round the carrion of lunch
while lorries moor at High Street shops
and crewmen ferry wares. The stopping edge
of town is thin and final as a strand;
beyond it, pylons float, tied buoys becalmed in seas
of barley, haygrass, sheep-cropped choppy stubble.
At nightfall, every full-moon streetlight
dons its yellow glare; there are no tides.
 
 
This poem first appeared in New Writing Scotland.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
An announcement
 
The dropping bomb was real, the blastwave
merely hypothetical, until it took
its coarse-grained quota of collateral:
his father’s wounded scowl, his mother’s look
 
of willed incomprehension, while, behind their eyes,
the partisans fell back to teenage rooms
they’d fantasied, those wardrobe mirrors tiled
by Miss July, her lush barrage-balloons;
 
and here’s the aftershock: he’s quivering;
that unexpected recoil’s ripped him wide.
Oh come on now, his sister fires, across
the grey roast beef. It’s not like someone died.
 
 
This poem first appeared in Poetry London magazine.
 
 
 
*
 
 
 
A postcard

StAnza Poetry Festival 2010

 
Rough winds hoarsen
all the night,
then morning’s aftermath:
 
a roof-slate, slipped
from tight-lapped ranks,
lies dashed and scattered;
 
tall bins, wind-felled,
loll square tongues
across the gutter.
 
Visitor, you thrust
and vanish. We abide,
fragmented and agape.
 
 
 
*

Fourteen writers on their childhood reading

  
 
 
“Not only can I remember, half a century later, my first readings of Treasure Island and Robinson Crusoe, but I can sense quite clearly my feelings at the time – all the wide-eyed excitement of a seven-year-old, and that curious vulnerability, the fear that my imagination might be overwhelmed by the richness of these invented worlds. Even now, simply thinking about Long John Silver on the waves of Crusoe’s island stirs me far more than reading the original text. I suspect that these childhood tales have long since left their pages and taken on a second life inside my head.”
 
– J G Ballard, The Pleasure of Reading,
ed. Antonia Fraser (Bloomsbury, 1992)
 
 
 
“Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives … In childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water they influence the future.”
 
 – Graham Greene, Collected Essays
 (Penguin, 1969)
 
 
 
“The first book I ever treasured was a cloth book, a children’s book perhaps, and though I have no memory of the story I do think of it as something sacred … I was more addicted to words than to pictures. Words were talismanic, transfiguring, making everything clearer, and at the same time more complex. Words were the sluice gates to the mind and to the emotions. Reading for me, then as now, is not a pleasure, but something far more visceral, a brush with terror.”
 
– Edna O’Brien, The Pleasure of Reading,
ed. Antonia Fraser (Bloomsbury, 1992)
 
 
 
“In that box were Gulliver’s Travels, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Dick Whittington, Greek and Roman Myths, and best of all, Norse Tales. Why did the Norse tales strike so deeply into my soul? I do not know, but they did. I seemed to remember seeing Thor swing his mighty short-handled hammer as he spread across the sky in rumbling thunder, lightning flashing from the tread of his steeds and the wheels of his chariot … That held majesty for me …”
 
– Zora Neale Hurston, Dust Tracks on a Road
(Harper Perennial, 1996)
 
 
 
“The best part of me was always at home, within some book that had been laid flat on the table to mark my place, its imaginary people waiting for me to return and bring them to life. That was where the real people were, the trees that moved in the wind, the still, dark waters.”
 
– Anna Quindlen, How Reading Changed My Life
(Ballantine Books, 1998)
 
 
 

  
 
“As I grew older, the images of bleak yet rapturous imposture – particularly in fairy tales – aroused an inescapable sensation of wanting to write. Princesses turned into mute swans, princes into beasts. Think of the eerie lure of the Pied Piper! I began to pursue that truly voluptuous sensation in middle childhood.”
 
– Cynthia Ozick, The Book That Changed My Life,
ed. Diane Osen (Modern Library, 2002)
 
 
 
“No days, perhaps, of all our childhood are ever so fully lived as those that we had regarded as not being lived at all: days spent wholly with a favourite book. Everything that seemed to fill them full for others we pushed aside, because it stood between us and the pleasures of the Gods.”
 
– Marcel Proust, ‘Days of Reading’, A Selection of His Miscellaneous
Writings, trans. Gerard Hopkins (A Wingate, 1948)
 
 
 
“Books provide the most helpful of road maps for (an) inner journey. They show us the tracks of fellow travelers, footprints left by earlier pilgrims who have trod the path that stretches before us. Their luminosity helps to light our way. As we read we realize that we are not alone.”
 
 – Terry W Glaspey, Books and Reading: A Book of Quotations,
ed. Bill Bradfield (Dover, 2002)
 
 
 
“Remember the feeling when turning the page was almost too much to bear? As adults grown weary of clichés and redesigned storylines, we too easily forget the initial jolt, the power, almost drug-like, of those first readings, when imagination flared up and seemed capable of consuming us.”
 
 – Roger McGough, The Pleasure of Reading,
ed. Antonia Fraser (Bloomsbury, 1992)
 
 
 
“In every corner of Palermo (I have been told) knives and guitars were teeming, but those who filled my mornings and gave a horrid pleasure to my nights were Stevenson’s blind buccaneer, dying under the horses’ hoofs, and the traitor who abandoned his friend on the moon, and the time traveler who brought from the future a faded flower, and the spirit incarcerated for centuries in Solomon’s jar, and the veiled prophet of Khorassan who hid behind precious stones and silk, his face ravaged by leprosy.”
 
– Jorge Luis Borges, Evaristo Carriego,
trans. Rodríguez Monegal (Gleizer, 1955)
  
 
 

  
 
“Let me give you, let me share with you, the City of Invention. For what novelists do … is to build Houses of the Imagination, and where houses cluster together there is a city. And what a city this one is, Alice! It is the nearest we poor mortals can get to the Celestial City: it glitters and glances with life, and gossip, and colour, and fantasy: it is brilliant, it is illuminated, by day by the sun of enthusiasm and by night by the moon of inspiration … And it is to this city that the readers come, to admire, to learn, to marvel and explore …”
 
– Fay Weldon, Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen
(Carroll & Graf, 1991)
 
 
 
“What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength, not tea parties. What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces, whose people and events and days lived, actually matched the exaltation of the interior life. There you could live.”
 
– Annie Dillard, An American Childhood
(Harper and Row, 1986)
 
 
 
“At any moment the impulse might seize me; and then, if the book was in reach, I had only to walk the floor, turning the pages as I walked, to be swept off full sail on the sea of dreams. The fact that I cold not read added to the completeness of the illusion, for from those mysterious blank pages I could evoke whatever my fancy chose.”
 
– Edith Wharton, A Backward Glance
(Simon and Schuster, 1998)
 
 
 
“I lay voluptuously on my stomach on the big bed, blissfully alone, and I felt a thrill which has never left me as I realized that the words coming magically from my lips were mine to say or not say, read or not. It was one of the peaks of my whole life. Slowly my eyes rode across the lines of print, and the New World smiled. It was mine, not something to beg for, book in hand, from anyone who cold read when I could not. The door opened, and without hesitation I walked through.”
 
– MFK Fisher, Among Friends
(Shoemaker & Hoard, 2004)

Orchidelirium

   
  
  
I’ve only read a few chapters but I’m pretty sure that if you loved John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (as I did), you’ll love Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief (Vintage, 2000).
 
It was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes and Noble Discover book, a Borders New Voices selection and the subject of the movie, Adaptation. It promises to live up to its reputation.
 
The back cover reads: “The Fakahatchee Strand, Florida, once a vast swamp awash with indigenous orchids, was plundered during the orchid boom of the 1890s. Its remaining plants, now fiercely protected by law, still attract the unwelcome attentions of thieves. John Laroche is one such self-confessed and convicted thief. Intrigued by newspaper reports of his trial, Susan Orlean followed Laroche on an enthralling exploration into the eccentric world of the obsessive orchid collectors; a subsculture of aristocrats, enthusiasts and smugglers whose passion for plants is all-consuming.”
 
 
 
 
 
“Sometimes this kind of story turns out to be something more, some glimpse of life that expands like those Japanese paper balls you drop in water and then after a moment they bloom into flowers, and the flower is so marvelous that you can’t believe there was a time when all you saw in front of you was a paper ball and a glass of water.”
 
 
Susan Orlean on Florida:
 
“It is a collision of things you would never expect fo find together in one place – condominiums and panthers and raw woods and hypermarkets and Monkey Jungles and strip malls and superhighways and groves of carnivorous plants and theme parks and royal palms and hibiscus trees and those hot swamps with acres and acres that no one has ever even seen – all toasting together under the same sunny vault of Florida sky.”
  
 
Read more about The Orchid Thief at Susan’s website.
 

Joanne Limburg: Three children’s poems

 
 
 
The Dinosaurs Died
 
The dinosaurs died because they fell into a volcano
The dinosaurs died because they couldn’t swim
The dinosaurs died because they got eaten by cave-men
The dinosaurs died because the Anglo-Saxons
                                                  gave them chicken pox
 
And the dinosaurs died because because
And the dinosaurs died because
 
The dinosaurs died because they never washed
The dinosaurs died because seeds turned to trees in their tummies
The dinosaurs died because the mammals came along
                                                  and wouldn’t share
The dinosaurs died because they were mind-zapped by aliens
 
And the dinosaurs died because because
And the dinosaurs died because
 
The dinosaurs died because they dissolved
The dinosaurs died because they ran out of crisps
The dinosaurs died because they were eaten by giant cockroaches
The dinosaurs died because of their unacceptable behaviour
 
And the dinosaurs died because because
And the dinosaurs died because
 
The dinosaurs died because they were rude
The dinosaurs died because they didn’t look where they were going
The dinosaurs died because of bad television
The dinosaurs died because Victorians ran them over
                                                  on their penny-farthings
 
And the dinosaurs died because because
And the dinosaurs died because
 
The dinosaurs died because they didn’t listen
The dinosaurs died because there was a lot of it about
                                                   and they all caught it
The dinosaurs died because insects crawled into their ears
                                                  and ate their brains
The dinosaurs died because they forgot to save
 
And the dinosaurs died – it’s really true
And the dinosaurs died – they did, you know
And the dinosaurs died because because
And the dinosaurs died because
 
 
 
Beware the Humans
 
So terrible humans are, hideous, cruel,
they are nightmares with nostrils,
disasters in shoes,
shrieking in daytime, rasping by moonlight,
loud as astonishment, stupid as glue.
 
O beware humans, see them and shun them,
they breathe rotten eggs
and they wear stolen skins,
they quarrel in daylight, and dribble at night time,
vicious as triangles, madder than pears.
 
Observe now the human, hiccupping, sneezing,
squeezing dead cow
through a hole in his face,
he slobbers in daytime, his guts groan by moonlight,
slimy as six o’clock, rude as a boot.
 
Such are the humans then, horrible, pitiful,
tail-less absurdities,
ruthless mistakes
that gibber in daylight, and whimper at night time,
lost as last Wednesday, and sadder than soup.
 
 
 
And Then My Brother Said
 
So we were just leaving the house,
and I said
Wait! There’s something in my shoe.
and then my brother said
Wait! There’s something in my shoe
so I said
No, I mean it, I’ve got to take it off.
then my brother said
No, I mean it. I’ve got to take it off.
so I said,
Hey! Stop copying me!
and he said
Hey! Stop copying me!
so I said
Stop copying me!
and he said
Stop copying me!
and we went on
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
Stop copying me!
till I yelled
STOOOOOOP IIIIIIIIIIITT NOOOOOOOOW!
right in his ear and he said
Ow.
 
 
 
Visit Joanne’s website.

Lyn Moir’s Veláquez’s Riddle

  
 
When living in Madrid between 1959 and 1960 on a postgraduate scholarship, Lyn Moir spent many sessions in the Prado, alone in the room with Las Meninas, before the crowds arrived. Some 45 years later, she felt impelled to write in the voices of the inhabitants of that painting, and when she discovered that in 1957, in his villa La Californie, Picasso had painted his variations on a theme, her cup was full. She entered their world …
 
 
 

 
 
 
Veláquez’s Las Meninas: an Inventory
 
Paintings, assorted, on back wall, three,
in dark oak frames, plus one
in which, for reason unexplained, glass
either plain or mirrored, has been installed.
On right wall, four at least, not possible
to catalogue or mark in any way: side view
of necessity only shows frames.
 
Item, on ceiling, two light fittings, chandeliers
missing from same. (Note: inquire
as to whereabouts. Check palace inventory
and other Court paintings. Insurance claim?)
 
Walls themselves in need
of fresh distemper. Ditto ceiling.
Strong evidence of stains. (Query cause:
fumes from charcoal in braseros?
simple breathing? turpentine?)
 
Item, living beings, humans, nine, one dog.
Five women: one faceless duenna
behind the luminous princess
flanked by protectors, ladies of the court
pendant on her every royal whim,
and the dwarf whose body,
achondroplastic, marks her as foil
for the iridescent beauty of the girl.
Four men: one in door, coming or going
or simply standing there; one anonymous
guardadamas, the only unknown in the pack;
one pituitary dwarf, delicate as a child;
the painter himself, towering above the rest.
The dog, honest, sound in temperament.
 
Taking up entire left foreground,
floor almost to ceiling, one easel
complete with canvas, subject unknown.
 
 
 
Veláquez by Veláquez
 
A looming figure, in whose hands
the whole illusion rests,
he lures us in, he pulls the strings
of those we see and those we must
conjecture. Ringmaster
with the power to position
unwitting performers at the point
of maximum tension,
he also is the star, the bill-topper
the hero of the hour who makes us gasp
at his audacity and skill
in wire-walking. He makes us feel that we
have some effect upon the scene,
that if we breathe too hard, too short,
we might disturb the balance of the court.
 
 
 
Veláquez, In His Painting Las Meninas, Observes Picasso
Painting It
 
He comes and goes, dressed
like a sailor, short, monkey-faced,
staring into this room
with obsidian eyes. He thinks
he’s a painter, carries a palette,
flashes the brushes, swears
in a comical mixture
of Castilian and French.
 
Does he spy for the Bourbons?
It’s a cunning disguise,
he’s bizarre in his manner
and a child in his art. Is he mad,
some poor bastard
let loose from the madhouse
as clown for the grandees
and others at court?

He’ll bear watching, whatever
he’s doing. The others don’t seem
to see him, as yet, save perhaps
for the dwarf. She’s a deep one,
too smart for those wittering girls
at the princess’s side, knows
the answers to questions
that haven’t been asked.
 
 
 
The Boy in Red – Picasso Gives a Young Dwarf a Life

The boy in red’s mysteriously acquired
an upright piano, ebony black:
candelabra, vase with roses, all the gear.
He plays honky-tonk, he plays jazz
in a bordello just down the road
from his regular job. He fears
recognition, so covers his face
with a mask. He wears gloves,
pounding the keys
with a passion he isn’t allowed
in the palace, sex out of his orbit,
forbidden to him and his kind.
 
Here in the half-light of illicit loving,
he plays his heart’s longing:
here he’s the heart of the scene,
the powerhouse engine
controlling the rhythms
of all of the players. Daylight
creeps in, revealing the grime.
The girls have gone home, the room
smells of sour Valdepeñas,
the dog rolls his eyes, the candles
are guttering. Nicolasito plays on.
 
 
 
Veláquez on Picasso’s Pigeons
 
That man, that manic clown, he’s painting pigeons!
He excuses himself, to be sure, with the claim
it’s the view from my windows. ¡Ojalá fuera!
If only it were – it’s a view calls to mind
my native Sevilla, or the coastline at Cádiz,
expanses of water and waving pine trees,
birds on the balcony, a fresh summer breeze
instead of this arid Castilian plain,
pine-cloaked Guadarrama range sawing the sky,
league after league of boulders and rock
weighing us down, we arse-lickers at court.
 
If there were a pigeon-loft around my windows,
one of two things: her highness would be cooing,
handling their feathers, laughing, smiling, playing
like a child in any village watching living creatures grow;
or, more sinister, more likely, the courtiers
would pluck them from their nesting boxes, eat them,
that is, if his good majesty had not had them first.
I fear a game bird’s life at Philip’s court is short.
Eat or be eaten, crawl and curry favour. Simple rules
to keep oneself alive in a world of fools.
 
 
 
I the King
 
Some mock my cousin’s vanity. They say
the cross of Santiago on his chest
was painted long before the king
had honoured him. Yet others claim
the royal hand inscribed the sign
after Diego’s death.
 
I do not know who put it there,
though modern tests have proved
the scarlet cipher’s in another hand
than his: the brushwork indicates
a different artist. If you press
me to name names, I must suspect
his son-in-law.
 
Eliminate the king. Our Philip is not known
for painterly pursuits. The hunt’s his sport,
for stag or wolf, or woman. Intellect
is not his thing: he reads the paperwork
of state, but literature? And art? Others
do that for his aggrandisement. Hard to compare
his pen-strokes with the swirling scarlet cross:
his written words are few. He signs decrees
with arrogant disdain, in sprawling script:
          yo el rey.
 
 
 
from Veláquez’s Riddle (Calder Wood Press, 2011).
 
Order Veláquez’s Riddle.
 
Read more of Lyn’s work at poetry p f.

Marion Tracy’s Purple irises

 
 
 
Purple irises
 
she favoured purple irises for their elegant shadows
growing under olive trees or on on the banks of streams
bright flags of memory clump and proliferate
in the language of flowers Iris means eloquence
 
growing under olive trees or on the banks of streams
how easily concealment becomes second nature
in the language of flowers Iris means eloquence
words we never had time to unwrap
 
how easily concealment becomes second nature
flowers in cellophane how she disliked them
words we never had time to unwrap
finding them laid out with the others in the churchyard
 
flowers in cellophane how she disliked them
the scent like violets insubstantial but lingering
finding them laid out with the others in the churchyard
I bent and touched her face
 
the scent like violets insubstantial but lingering
bright flags of memory clump and proliferate
I bent and touched her face
she favoured purple irises for their elegant shadows
 
 
Read Marion’s poetry at poetry p f.
 
 
 

Ruskin on cookery

  
 
 
“Cookery means the knowledge of Medea and of Circe and of Helen and of the Queen of Sheba. It means the knowledge of all herbs and fruits and balms and spices, and all that is healing and sweet in the fields and groves and savory in meats … It means the economy of your grandmothers and the science of the modern chemist; it means much testing and no wasting; it means English thoroughness and French art and Arabian hospitality …”
 
– John Ruskin
 
 
 

Liz Berry’s The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls

  
 
Liz Berry was born in Black Country and now lives in London where she works as an infant school teacher. She received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2009. Her debut pamphlet, The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls, was published by tall-lighthouse in 2010. Her poems have appeared in most of the major UK magazines and on Radio 3′s Words and Music. She is an Emerging Poet in Residence at Kingston University and a 2011 Arvon/Jerwood mentee.
 
 
 

  
 
Liz Berry is an accomplished new voice. Her poetry is full of energy and surprise, with images and lines that entice the reader into a world of sensuous imagery and sultry, dark humour. This pamphlet was published as the winner of the tall-lighthouse pamphlet competition.
 
 
“This short selection of poems by Liz Berry is a completely satisfying achievement – packed with intelligence, sharp observation and a clever innocence – but also leaves us hungry for more. It marks the emergence of a compelling new voice – one that will continue to grow in range and authority.”
 
– Andrew Motion
 
 
 

Owl
 
My body wakes with the constellations,
star-by-star in the stifling darkness. I glide
over the dog-guarded houses, the cattle
 
lowing in the moonlit kraal. A parcel
of skin, teeth, bones falls from me,
a skeletal warning. I come with messages
 
from the darkest place. An infant coughing blood
in the village, a woman on the bed of the Ruhuhu river,
her eye-sockets hollow, a fist printing a boy’s face.
 
I trouble the shadows with my mourning song:
hoot-hoo-hoo-buhuhu-hoo. They shot my love
with a wooden arrow and nailed his white chest
 
to the doorframe to drive me away.
It drew me closer. Shape shifters conjured my body
and I welcomed their wickedness. I bore them
 
into the dreaming houses, the beds of lovers,
mothers cursing slumbering babies. I carried curses
between my claws, drought in my beak.
 
A fury, I plunged through the sultry blackness,
over children with bows, to seek y love,
his pitiful heart face, the shape of sorrow.
 
 
 
The Year We Married Birds
 
That year, with men turning thirty
still refusing to fly the nest,
we married birds instead.
 
Migrating snow buntings
swept into offices in the city,
took flocks of girls for Highland weddings.
 
Magpies smashed jewellers’ windows,
kestrels hovered above bridal shops,
a pigeon in Trafalgar Square learnt to kneel.
 
Sales of nesting boxes soared.
Soon cinemas were wild as woods in May
while restaurants served worms.
 
By June, a Russian kittiwake wed
the Minister’s daughter, gave her two
freckled eggs, a mansion on a cliff.
 
My own groom was a kingfisher:
enigmatic, bright. He gleamed in a metallic
turquoise suit, taught me about fishing
 
in the murky canal. We honeymooned
near the Wash, the saltmarshes
booming with courting bittern.
 
When I think of that year, I remember best
the fanning of his feathers
on my cheek, his white throat,
 
how every building, every street rang
with birdsong. How girls’ wedding dresses
lifted them into the trees like wings.
 
 
 
from The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls (tall-lighthouse, 2010).
 
Order The Patron Saint of Schoolgirls.