Noddy Speaks in Tongues

Break-time. The English sip milk through a straw, crunch crisps.
I am the foreign kid, cornered by Miss Blowers, stick the tip
between your teeth. The them there this. The they them, like this.

Her tongue protrudes from her mouth like a sliver of salami.
De dem dare dis. De dey dem, like dis, I repeat.

Miss Blowers holds Noddy and the Magic Rubber. Her sharp
fingernails tap the cover; rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat. Thwack.
I am crowned with Noddy. I detonate with pain and shame.
The they them there this. The they them! roars Miss Blowers.
My tongue strikes, three thunderous thumps, thanks.

Back home Mama prepares borscht, slicing beetroots, carrots,
Chop, chop, chop into small. Her knife slides through red
flesh with no resistance, taps as it hits the chopping board.
Don’t like bosh, says I. Not de bosh, but de borscht! says Mama.
Not de borscht but the borscht and out comes my tongue.

 

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A Light Bulb Moment- photo by the author

 

 

 

Rehab

finally                       upright
and                            braced
swinging                  dead
legs                            between
parallel                     bars
I                                  struggle
towards                    reflections
of                               myself
one                            step
after                          another
says                           physio
walk                          tall
says                           physio
good                          girl
says                           physio
visiting                     hour
enter                         mother
face                           crumpled
and                            pale
my                             baby
is                               broken
she                            says

 

 

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The Gleaning

I follow mother’s crooked
path beyond the giant privet hedge
where once I found blackbird eggs. Perfect
spheres of eau de nil slipped through careless
fingers and smashed on paving stones set by father
years before. On the hill, the shed cowers beneath the apple tree
where once I found God. Perched up top, he was singing
Bowie songs and watching the neighbours through binoculars.
Ashes to ashes; Jennifer Jones kissed the coal man.
Dust to dust; Marjorie Moony hoovered nude.
I never done good and I never done bad.
I wanna come down right now and try
mother’s apple pie
but never
say why
never say
never say
………………….

 

The Gleaning is an example of a concrete poem where the shape of the page echoes the theme.  This one is supposed to represent an apple tree.

 

 

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Image by the author

 

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Picking blackberries from hedgerows, making daisy chains, collecting acorns, playing conkers, wandering the fields looking for rabbits, daydreaming under a tree on a sunny day. These are the precious memories of my childhood when my relationship with animals and the natural world became an integral part of my imagination and personality.  I was lucky enough to grow up in the late sixties before the age of parental paranoia and health and safety fanaticism.  Children were allowed personal freedom to explore the world, test their bodies and minds,  learn about risk, learn about the magic of nature.  But times have changed. We live in an age of fear, much of it unfounded.  Kids spend more time alone with their tablets than playing outdoors.  I was sad to learn that the 2008 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary aimed at children between the ages of 7 and 9 has omitted the following ‘nature’ words believing they are no longer relevant.

The obsolete words are catkin, brook, acorn, buttercup, blackberry, conker, holly, ivy, mistletoe.  No doubt they have been replaced by technology words like database, spreadsheet, voicemail, pixel.

Contact and knowledge of the natural world are essential to a child’s artistic and spiritual development, be it poetry, visual art, music.  How will future generations learn to cherish other living things and respect their environment if they don’t even have the right words?

 

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Photo taken by the author

 

Leeds 76

The ambulance man with striking
green eyes stroked the inside
skin of her teenage arm as she lay
strapped (for her own safety) on the reeking
canvas of another NHS.
If you’re a lucky girl you’ll meet Jimmy!

She thought he was, maybe
trying to be nice (but those alien
fingers were electric…) No comfort
blanket, suspended in L10 skeletal
traction, legs akimbo and knicker
-less (for her own hygiene), a monster pain
-ted by Hieronymus Bosch. The male charge
nurse with watery grey eyes brought gin
secrets in a Barr’s Cream Soda bottle, hot
take-away through her open
window of gritty nights.
She thought he was, maybe,
trying to be nice (but gin made her sick,
she liked Babycham).
The glass half
-full on the sunny side.
Cheer up, might never happen,
said the porter with lizard pink
eyes taking her down to a strip
-lit basement, down corridors
lined with conduits.
If you’re a lucky girl you’ll meet Jimmy!

 

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Photo by the author

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Missing

One by one they pass blind
through the living arch,
the children of loss following
Mother’s twisted path of breadcrumbs.
Blue birds peck at their bare feet.
The sun bubbles over yellow fields
where fat cats sleep away the shadows
of the deep purple wood.

One by one they stray,
broken children with tender skin;
tawny robin’s wing, freckled amber,
cuckoo spit, sun kissed pebble, raven’s
feather, morning mist and midnight pools,
following Mother’s cinder path
through the crystal orchard where apples
hang, red and flawless but out of reach.

One by one they stumble, feet bleeding
on Mother’s razor path of barbs
into the dark. Silver snakes encircle, whisper
warning but the children do not hear.
Their fingers seek between the snapping
branches but find no-one. Their tears
blossom roses no-one will ever see
in the depths of the purple wood.

The ancient hermit snips and sews silence
in her cave in the deep purple  wood.
She threads her needle with the fine hair
of a nameless girl, makes painstaking
stitches, a cloak of perfect skin; tawny
robin’s wing, freckled amber, cuckoo spit,
sun-kissed pebble, raven’s feather,
morning mist and midnight pools.

 

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Image created by the author

 

The Cow Jumped…

Daddy, do cows eat sunshine?

Daddy, does grass taste like spaghetti?

Daddy, why are the cows lying down?

Daddy, do cows have secrets?

Daddy, is mummy a cow?

Daddy, why is she lying on the grass?

Daddy, why is her skin like cold milk?

Daddy, is she staring at the moon?

Daddy, are there cows on the moon?

Daddy, where are you going?

Daddy?

 

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Image 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….?