Destination

(after Woman in the Polar Night by Christiane Ritter)

I lie down in my little room,
my ghost limbs restless on stiff sheets.
Where the moonlight filters green,
I know he is waiting beneath the yew tree.
Through the small snowed-up window
I can see Cancer flicker in a crystal sky.
Neither the walls of the hut nor the roof
can keep out his fearsome spell or
can dispel my fancy that I am myself

no longer woman. No longer flesh but merely
moonlight, gliding along the spires and ridges
of rooftops towards a cold constellation, east
of the mountains, through the white valleys.

 

Note:- the lines in italics were written by Ritter, the rest by myself.  This is an example of a coupling poem where a section of prose is reworked into a new poem by responding/echoing each line. I wrote it as part of the NaPoWriMo challenge.  The aim is to write a poem every day in April, National Poetry Month.

 

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The Selection

The secretary drafts the cries of babies through the opening.
She grades them in order of urgency. Some have already given up.

In the waiting room the candidates twitch in their red plastic cots.
There is an overwhelming smell of sick and shitty nappies.

The secretary ushers in the Headmaster, offers
coffee and biscuits, remembering to flirt with her spider eyes.

 

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Photo by the author

Sweet Dreams

It was not an ordinary day.
The east wind sparked salt and I awoke
to dreams of the unicorn. My old bones
rolled the waves and the falcon’s shadow
shifted. I knew what I must do.

Down Fast Eddie I chased the Dragon’s Tail,
surfed by leafy isles, rested in deepening
pools a while, glimpsed churches, spiraling treetops,
salmon swimming through castle walls.
I passed beneath Ness Bridge unseen.

It was the end of an ordinary day. So at So Coco
the waitress wrapped sweet fancies in tissue twists
as the last customer licked cappuccino
from his lips. At The Mustard Seed the chef marinaded
for dinner. At the Victorian Market they folded
tartan as gates clanged and the clock chimed.
In Falcon Square the piper belched away his ale

and no-one
saw my passing.  No-one saw the unicorn
fall.

 

Note 1:- The Loch Ness Monster is a mythical aquatic creature reputed to dwell deep in the cold waters of Loch Ness near Inverness in Scotland.  There have been numerous sightings and photographs showing a curvaceous beast rising out of the grey waves.

Note 2:- The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal.  A statue of a unicorn is located in Falcon Square, a landmark in the centre of the city of Inverness.

 

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Photographic image created by the author

Positive Poison

There’s a new church in town…the holy church of positive thinking.  The crux of its belief system is that we can control material reality merely by the way we think….a bit like magic.  It’s a dogma which has evolved from the all pervasive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which underpins our mental health services, the cheap skate version of real psychotherapy.  It’s a belief system that blames the victim for all her problems.  If we get sick, get raped or mugged or burgled or abandoned or our home is flooded, we are somehow to blame because we have ‘too much negative energy’.  If we are poor or weak it is our own fault.  We should try harder.  Apparently, according to nit-wit pundits like Nigel Schofield we could all be rich and famous if we were only more positive.

While I wholeheartedly agree that taking a positive attitude when dealing with the many problems that challenge us through life is always to be encouraged and can make a huge difference in recovery from illness, this ideology has gone to a ridiculous extreme.  It’s mind over matter gone mad.  All the positive thinking in the world will make no difference when you watch your home burn to the ground or your child die of a terminal illness.  Is the child to blame for getting cancer? Did his five year old mind generate too many negative thoughts? Did you invite faulty wiring into your house through the faulty wiring of your mind? Are the desperate victims of wars in the Middle East to blame for their own suffering?  Perhaps if they improved their attitude the barrel bombs and drones would vanish in a puff of smoke.

The other nonsense people tend to spout is ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and ‘Everything happens for the best’.  Really?  Say that to someone watching their loved one disintegrate through Alzheimer’s Disease. They will not welcome your comment.

All this positive thinking crap just puts extra pressure and guilt on people who are already suffering  misfortune.  It is insinuated that their bad luck is their own fault and they need to try harder.  It’s a good excuse to run down our health service even further.  Why not just send people away from ER with a button badge telling them to always look on the bright side?

Here are the facts:-  1. We are mortal creatures who begin to die from the moment we are born.  2. There is a very concrete material reality underpinning our lives.  It will not shape shift to suit our desires.  We are living in a material world and we are made of flesh and blood.  3. We are not to blame for our own problems. Bad things happen to good people.  4.  Shit happens for no reason at all.  Life is chaos and the most important things are beyond our control.

So all you woolly minded purveyors of positive nonsense need to grow up and have the guts to confront the world the way it really is, warts and all.  Life is not perfect.  We all suffer and that suffering is unavoidable.  What happens is not all down to us but that doesn’t mean life can’t be beautiful.  Make the very best of what you’ve got and be grateful for every precious moment.

 

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Photo by the author

Spot the Difference

Here are some beautiful words penned by a charismatic young man named Hamish Hawk from Edinburgh.  Is this a poem or the lyrics of a song?  What do you think?

Catherine Opens a Window

So you turn over,
Whisper into my shoulder
That you’re not clever enough to be sleeping with me.
But it’s not about schooling.
It’s more about using what you’ve been given, what you’ve got
And what you’ve got is more than enough.
I remember when cancer was just a constellation,
A starry-eyed crustacean with nothing to say of whether you and I live or die.
I don’t remember Glasgow until I was fourteen.
It’s where people I know tend to let themselves go when they’ve got something to bring to an end.

Well, it’s one, two, three
Steps in the cul-de-sac
You and me,
Your feet on the ground, mine hitting your back.
We’re running so fast that we smash into the bins
And we tumble over.
Catherine opens a window,
‘Now boys, that’s not how you play’.
Catherine, just wait,
What a peculiar thing to say.

I remember Maxwell.
I remember his mum too.
Her hands in the cool drawer of the fridge and her man’s fists on the window ledge.
I remember Michaela.
I remember her last name.
I know she could dance, I know she could hide, and that she won a netball game.
But she’s gone now,
Sticks in the corner.
There’s a bus ticket in the breast pocket of her green blazer.

Her mum has hung it up to dry in the airing cupboard
In the hope that she might need it the morning after.
Just once, maybe forever, again.

Well, it’s one, two, three
Steps in the cul-de-sac.
You and me,
Your feet on the ground, mine hitting your back.
We’re running so fast that we smash into the bins.
And we tumble over,
Catherine opens a window,
‘Now boys, that’s not how you play.
Catherine, just wait,
Well, you know
You’ll both have jobs one day.’

 

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Photographic image created by the author

 

So have you decided? Is this a poem or a song?

Song lyrics and poetry have much in common.  They both use rhythm, rhyme, repetition, refrain.  They both work through the building up of images and utilize metaphor.  But song lyrics have the advantage of music to help communicate emotion, atmosphere and meaning.  Poetry has to work that much harder because it exists in an empty space either as typed words on a white page or spoken aloud in a silent room.  Poetry has to look good on the page, it has a visual element as well as aural. This is particularly the case in concrete poetry.  Line endings are more important and can make all the difference to interpretation, to create pauses, to aid the flow of words.  In song, music takes care of these things.

There used to be a lot of snobbery about poetry.  It was seen as the superior, intellectual cousin to song lyrics.  Fortunately, this ridiculous distinction is fading and song is now considered just as worthy an art form.  Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, an event that officially gave lyrics the same status and gravitas as poetry.

Well, did you guess right? ‘Catherine Opens a Window’ is actually a song from Hamish Hawk and the New Outfit’s latest album called From Zero to One.  It’s a terrific album with a full band sound and every track is special.  Hamish is a young musician who reminds me of early David Bowie crossed with Morrissey from The Smiths  with a touch of Ray Davies.  Here is a YouTube link of Hamish singing the song solo in his living room.  Listen carefully, does hearing the words set to music alter your understanding….?

 

Celebrate!

Spring is just around the corner here in the UK and we have Easter this weekend for those who celebrate it.  However,  it’s actually snowing in northern Scotland today and not at all typical weather for the end of March.

I want to wish everyone out there a very happy Spring Holiday.  It’s a good time to look to the future with hope and optimism and to celebrate all the wonderful things that make life worth living.  Spring is a time of renewal, growth and positive change. There’s a different energy abroad, a time to seize each day.

I took this photo at the local pet shop….Easter eggs for cats!  Hope it makes you smile!

 

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