Gail Dendy has published six collections of poetry. She was first published by Harold Pinter’s Greville Press (UK) in 1993. Subsequent collections were published in SA, the UK and the USA respectively. Her sixth collection was entitled The Lady Missionary (Kwela/Snailpress, 2007) for which she jointly won the monetary prize for the Herman Charles Bosman award (2008). Her seventh collection, Closer Than That, is currently looking for a good home (aka publisher). Throughout the 1980s and early ’90s she pioneered Contemporary Dance in South Africa, being nominated for the inaugural AA Vita Award for Best Performer. She has worked as a university academic, radio news writer, advertising copywriter and is now the Information Specialist for an international corporate-law firm.
From ‘The Maids’
(Solange is one of the maids in
Jean Genet’s play The Maids)
I offer her the softest pears
and say to eat, Madame. You must
be well again. To please her
I plump her pillows.
On Sundays we go to chapel
and she prays for all my sins.
What can I do? Sometimes I sing for her
Solange, Solange will never leave you.
Your voice is strong, she says.
Mistake. Mistaken. Not I, Madame.
I fear even the fly on the wall.
And now she behaves
as if my voice were abstinence
and says to speak up and arrange my furs
and bring me my tea. And Madame
lies with one little finger crooked,
and her legs almost transparent
and she is beautiful to behold,
for her white lips are a blessing
and her apathy a sacrament,
and every evening I dedicate myself
to unpeeling the entire orchard of her,
and listen to the chiming of figs and apricots
as they slowly ripen.
The Kreepy-Krauly’s clogged
and the swimming pool is filthy.
I bend over the side
and my double in the murk
reaches up towards me.
This is an invitation to touch hands
or perhaps rub noses.
She regards me dolefully,
her grey eyes so close to my blue ones
that I start in shock. I know you,
she seems to say, every bit of you,
but before I can match her
word for word, there’s nothing left
except her watery cave
of slime and algae.
She visits me, sometimes,
in the bath, at night,
when just a candle lights the room
and the water smells of rose leaves.
I know you, she seems to say,
so loudly that I cover up
my breasts and am ashamed.
But I know her, too,
her wet and wily ways,
her slender, naked body
that mocks my thickened shape.
But my knife is out
and tonight’s the night.
Trembling, with just one finger
on the bathplug’s silver chain,
I lift it up with caution –
draw back in terror
as I see her do the same,
then watch her soften
beneath my grasp
as, with a single backward glance
at me, the reddening plughole,
she dives right in –
and commits suicide by proxy.
The Space of Forgetting
The smell of the sea is bitter.
I have left it in my memory
which is left in a drawer.
When I open the drawer
you dance a peculiar jig.
I cup memory in my hands
and place it back in the drawer.
I cup my hands
and all your jigging, dancing steps
dribble through my fingers.
I open the drawer
and a smell of musk
I close the drawer
to forget you
and your mad dancing.
I open the drawer
and the sea promptly drowns me.
A Short Poem
I won’t write a long poem tonight.
I don’t want to drown in a sea-slop
of green eels and purple sponges.
I don’t want a house with a chimney
that makes it look like a choo-choo train.
The house’s siding lies in a honeyed garden
up hill and down dale.
This is the day I watch the wasps
aim at my skin right through my clothes.
They are soaked
in honey and soon will drown.
Tomorrow I’ll follow the path to the sea.
I hear nothing but wasps.
Something has stung me.
This is a very short poem.
Previously published in New Coin 44/2.
An Inimitable Cat
She could be drawn
with one continuous line
looping and coming to rest
in a lopsided circle.
She could only be caught
in one split second
such as when a violinist
begins plucking and bowing
the audience feels
it’s still not okay
to move, or cough,
or shift in one’s seat.
She could be visualised
in the leak of water-
colours that soak
ever so slightly
into the sketchbook’s page
so that the verso
holds a shadow
that reverses the truth.
As yet, she hasn’t a name.
My small son kisses her
on the top of her head
and along the length
of her furry body.
Everything that is her
is perfectly shaped
around a single sound.
Outside, the wind
tucks peach blossoms
into the wooden folds
of the eaves.
A butcher bird
scratches inside the ceiling.
can no longer be found.
Previously published in Carapace 76.
I dislike the spiders
that make their tents
in my creeper.
They’ve no right at all
to be so comfortable
Each tent hangs
its unlit lantern
among the leaves
of the creeper.
is a magnificent work
and a perfect
refuge in time of war.
my war on the spiders
to be a work of art.
The siege begins.
My heart dances
evict the spiders
from their gauzy tents
and then certainly
I’ll be at peace.
But why does it seem
as if there are no spiders?
Why have the lanterns
suddenly all been lit?
Previously published on Litnet.
Ian Parks was one of the National Poetry Society New Poets in 1996. He was made a Hawthornden Fellow in 1991 and has taught creative writing at the universities of Sheffield, Hull, Oxford and Leeds. His collections include Shell Island (2006), The Cage (2008) and Love Poems (2009). A selection of his poems appears in Old City: New Rumours edited by Carol Rumens and Ian Gregson. The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications) was published in 2010.
“A real poetic gift: pure poetry written as though coming ready-made from outside him.”
– John Powell Ward
“A poet working big themes and moving in new directions.”
– Ed Reiss
“This is a poetry which is universal, profound and as natural as breathing.”
– David Cooke
“Park whispers his exquisite verse in precise awe of the ghosts which he transcribes.”
– Tim Roux
The coldest winter of the war.
You had no option but to spend it here
on the Humber mudflats, manning the big guns.
From the far side of the estuary
you watched the bombers come,
swivelled a searchlight to the sky,
tried not to think of what was happening
beneath that deadly rain –
the blitz that levelled Hull.
Next day you led a detail that was sent
to pull the bodies from the wreck.
You didn’t speak about it but I knew
that things had never been the same.
Tate & Lyle sustained a direct hit:
a stream of molten sugar running down the street,
brimming your boot-tops, blistering.
Pointless, I know, but when you died
I travelled to that spur of land,
raked up the rusted residue of war,
found a random pill-box, crawled inside,
peered through the narrow concrete slit
to see what you saw: grey dawn, churned up sand,
a wide deserted beachhead opened out,
sea birds at the tide-line clamouring
and under that the silence that surrounds
a non-event – the horizon not delivering
destroyers, transports, ships;
an invasion waited for which never came.
The Making of the English Working Class
No dignity in labour, no release,
no recompense in heaven, no reward.
Only the fact of working hard:
our mothers and grandmothers going down
to scrub the floors of rich men, sycophants;
our fathers and grandfathers setting out
to sink the mine shafts, cut the straight canals.
It was written on the windows and the walls,
set down on scraps of paper in the night.
They heard it in the wind that blew through squares
or whispered in an alley after dark.
It was born in upstairs rooms of smoke-filled bars,
forged in steelworks, cobbled yards. They knew it
when they saw it and they wanted to be free.
There were speeches, broadsheets, pamphlets, poems,
incremental stirrings in the dust,
Ruskin’s vision failing to come true.
Recover their lost labour. Restore their aspiration
and reclaim their fallen pride. Give it a new
and unfamiliar name. Call it liberty.
The birds have flown –
and all that absence signifies has gone
in the upward glance
cast after them into the air,
leaving us to the earth
and the dovecote standing foursquare
on the dark green lawn.
The crumbs I spare
are scattered on the ground.
All the gentleness you own
can’t tempt the fickle doves
to take bread at your hand;
no word of mine will bring them down.
However much we look for them,
however much the shadows spread
across the stricken land,
however much we turn to other loves
a hidden instinct brings them home
in their own time not ours.
Until they do we learn to live
with what their loss implies;
a setting sun, an emptiness,
uncertainties we share
as silences resound inside the dome.
The print of lipstick on a slender glass
at midnight in a cellar bar,
a blinded veteran begging at the gate.
An arched stone bridge, an empty square
where tanks rolled in one morning
from the east and never went away;
where someone with a name that I forget
struck a quick match and turned himself to flame.
I had so many dreams when I was there
the things I dreamed of and the things I did
are indistinct. The dreams were all the same.
I needed someone to translate
while I invented meanings of my own
and, like a lover, hung on every word.
The city was brittle, broken shell
and in it’s narrow streets I found
a question posed on every passing face.
All this was in the no-time that occurred
after the iron curtain fell,
before the wall came crashing to the ground.
In all the rented attic rooms
the paper lanterns shine.
White moons, they hang suspended
from the artificial beams.
Seen from the street
they burn with compromise.
I’d like to know what happens in the shade –
the dim recesses
where they fail to reach;
blurred corners that extend
outside the limit of their range.
They should be strung
from oriental trees,
reflected in the waters
of an ornamental lake,
floating to the surface
like drowned faces in our dreams.
I don’t pretend to understand
who put them there or why.
The lanterns smoulder and ignite,
making known darkness
suddenly more strange.
from The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications, 2010).
Order The Landing Stage.
Chris Hardy lives in London. His poems have appeared in Poetry Review, Stand, The North, The Rialto, Smith’s Knoll, Tears in the Fence, Acumen, Orbis, The Forward Book of Poetry 2009 and in other magazines and anthologies. His work has won prizes in the National Poetry Competition and the London Writers’ Poetry Competition. He has four poems in The Isles of Greece published by Eland (in their Poetry of Place series).
Hardy’s most recent collection, A Moment Of Attention, was published by Original Plus Press. “The unifying quality of the work is the unflinching eye with which he regards his subjects” – Jeremy Page, Frogmore Papers. “His poems have a vision that veers from the tender to the brutal and blunt” – David Caddy, Tears in the Fence. “His style is spare, economical, chaste yet capable of images that strike like a pang because of their truthfulness” – Nicholas Bielby, Pennine Platform.
He is also a musician. A cd of acoustic music, Health To Your Hands, is available from Spiderfinger Records and from www.cdbaby.com. “You can easily imagine his name being mentioned in the same sentence as John Renbourn or Eric Anderson … well worth checking out” – Guitar Magazine, Sept 08. “The picking is glorious and the songwriting excellent” – Acoustic magazine, Oct 08). “Stamp on his hands before he gets any better” – John Renbourn. He plays in the trio LiTTLe MACHiNe, performing their own settings of well known poems.
After Crossing the Mountains
After crossing the mountains
we sleep on the ground.
Dawn light lifts our eyelids
as a fingertip lifts a lens
out of an eye.
Snow has fallen overnight,
the horizon is a blanket
over our feet.
We cannot see the mountains
but we can hear them.
Under our chins a necklace
if we lie still it will not break
Previously published in The Rialto.
A Moment of Attention
The barn built from boards nailed
to a frame like a boat.
The purlins slotted into the walls
of the house still firm
but the planks split, slipped.
On an August afternoon
the still air inside is cool,
warm fans of light spread out
in silence hung with dust.
The swallows which live in the rafters
shoot out of the open doors
to dive-bomb our black cat
crouching and ducking
on the porch roof.
A woman lived in the house alone
fetching water from the spring.
She stayed indoors and grew fat
in the firelight her face burning
her back cold.
I cleared a rats’ nest
from beneath the stairs,
it took a day to smash her bed
and drag it out
a trail of wax inches thick led
from the bedside down to the grate.
In the dump outside we found
broken crocks, a spoon and big green
After a hot day the roof cracks
In the barn feathery patched
broken so light
that it might blow away
it’s easy to know
that there is only now
that life is short
a moment of attention
and be full of life
and want to live
until you’ve had enough. This
is the easiest thing
Previously published in A Moment of Attention
(Original Plus Press, 2008) and Obsessed with Pipework.
That time in hospital,
I was a stone down,
and the docs
for the first time
my parents would die
The surgeon said
he would only need
to make a cut
big enough to get
his hand in,
through which he would
pull everything out
and check it over.
Nine days after
I felt good,
my belly flat,
strong, a red
and I forgot
the thing I’d learned
about my parents
the other thing I saw
that night, at least
for a while.
Did you know or were you
to risk rejection?
In that room you led me to
like a dog
I was only aware
outside the door
they might have heard
my history crack.
I got out of there
in the car
stopped in a road
beneath a tree
you came again,
like an eel in water
killing my life and saying
take this and start
The phone doesn’t ring.
chills the wine.
I imagine you there looking
at the phone and waiting.
I imagine more,
you in your home
restless and ready.
Is this some other
you’ve got on hold?
Give him a break!
If you go into work
like that on a hot day,
eyes, hair, not much else,
and say those things
he doesn’t stand a chance.
Twenty years will vanish
a clean sweep,
all the rigging, sails
which steer his life
smashed on the deck.
It’s too late, all I did was
sit in his car and then he said
he wished his daughter
had never been born.
Anger steamed the windows as we drove.
Stopped by the kerb, bought some fruit.
Rain clouds made the morning dark,
and our voices saying blame.
Nothing else could enter into
our companionship of fear and hate.
The last road empty, street light covers
elevations like a skin.
Opening the boot next day,
an apple streaked and pitted like the moon.
Funerals are cheaper than weddings,
both cost less than a christening.
Snakehips went down like the Wurlitzer
in the ballroom beneath Blackpool Tower
after speeches featuring jokes
made once by the deceased
in the presence of the speaker.
All involved seemed to agree
there was no point in dredging
the depths of grief for words.
We had a few old hits,
Step It Up And Go,
The Midnight Shift, no encore,
then outside in the carpark
a gathering round a pile of flowers
already litter in the gale,
the rain blurred every name.
Somewhere below Snakehips got burnt,
I hope they packed him
sieved and dry
not like something you’d
heel into the gutter.
No invitations, the word goes round,
a note on the board,
an hour off work,
a jar of dust and
a folded card, inside
a photo of a student looking
glad to be alive.
Black cars scatter over London
like beetles from a hole,
put your foot down and drive.
Snakehips leaves a widow,
she shakes and coughs
she did before
but now she’ll do it
on her own.
Her future’s narrowed
the garden’s empty
there’s no one in the room
or on the phone, I’ve done
the gig I’m coming home.
Previously published in A Moment of Attention
(Original Plus Press, 2008).
One to Another
At midday a sea fret comes along the coast
horses gallop away upstream vanishing
somebody stands looking out to sea
the stillness rises through him so he
becomes like a pillar or a tree.
He is watching the waves that always keep coming
stretched across sight
like wings, and trying to hear what the sea
the shingle’s dicing chatter that
like the wind or thunder we have forever
wished to learn,
though maybe once before we began
one to another we knew
what the sky and ocean meant.
Previously published in Acumen.
Read more of Chris’s work at poetry p f, Great Works, nth position
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