Lots of you rose to the challenge of writing a window inspired poem, and Carole Bromley loved looking through them…
It’s good to be back. Thank you for the avalanche of poems. I loved reading them all. Such a huge variety of ways of looking through a piece of glass.
And I am so sorry if I disappointed you. I know how that feels. Sheer numbers make it impossible to include everything so I have chosen a selection of 20 strong poems. I hope you enjoy them.
First up is a wonderful poem from David Tait who is from Leeds but now lives in China. It certainly gets the prize for having travelled the furthest and also for the best title. I love the images in this and the way a whole world is conjured in eight lines.
The Automatic People Mover by David Tait
Last night I took the APM to the river
and walked the short mile to my home.
Money-colored dragonflies were coupling in the air,
their bodies jangling like pockets of keys.
Young lovers rode out on their squeaky tandem bicycles
and a photographer asked if I wanted my picture taken
with the Canton tower lit up behind me like a giant
hothouse flower. I said “No. No thank you, I live there,”
gesturing towards a window on the 33rd floor
in an apartment complex four blocks away.
David Tait lives in Guangzhou, China. An automatic people mover is a metro train that operates without a driver, sometimes to be found in airports, or in Guangzhou.
Yvie Holder’s beautiful poem, Blades, is also set a long way from home and her ‘window’ is the TV which transports us to a war zone with fleeing, displaced people desperate to board a helicopter. The scene is brilliantly evoked and the ending ominous.
Blades by Yvie Holder
In the corner, by the cheese-plant, our
world-window opens onto mountain-tops
crawling with clothes, no – men, women, children,
who sprint and stumble under the thunder
of blades, to a single helicopter
that waits, like an ark, to ferry shreds of lives
through air; old ones peel away like skin crisped
on this high-noon plateau. Parents fling babies
upwards and hope for the catch not of a god
leaning down, but a foreign soldier, and
a future they cannot conjure in a land
unmet, behind mountains, behind borders.
It’s flat here, at the end of the valley
and cool for August. From our windows, we
can conjure mountains out of clouds, above
the meadows, over the river, past the point
where a ferryman would wait to shepherd
folk to their trades – lives long-gone from these lands,
though loosestrife blooms still; the same foxtail grass
shifts at night. Church bells chime. Eight. Our faces
frown back at us through the glass. Dark, so soon.
Shut the curtains. Switch over – no, switch off.
Dream of rivers, mountains, the rumble of blades
behind clouds, coming for me, or for you.
Rachael Clyne sent in a number of strong poems from which I chose this one in which the speaker describes a winter scene (I know, I know but we may as well face facts) outside her window in the Mendips. I love the way Rachael uses light in this poem.
Grounded by Rachael Clyne
No red buttons on the Mendip Mast tonight
it being damp and cloaked in softest grey.
Thick air hides the ridge, blurring sky and ground.
Just the satellite wink of headlight traces
what seems to be sky: a road high in the hills.
Snow is forecast so I expect to wake
to icing sugar sprinkling the slopes.
Meanwhile the vague monochrome
of the combe lies ghostly below.
Beyond, a delicate web of sodium
marks the edge of town,
yellow cobweb floating on moist grass.
A thin vein threads Glastonbury to Wells
across the blanked out Levels, lit only
by twin-bead headlights travelling to and fro.
Red corpuscles for Glastonbury, white for Wells –
its twinkle cluster in the distance.
Tonight all the stars are on the ground.
Ailsa Holland was one of many poets submitting to YorkMix for the first time and I chose her poem for the way she writes about rain as a messenger.
I love the sounds in this and also the behaviour of the drops on the window pane. It’s a subtle, delicate poem and a very good one.
Secret Message by Ailsa Holland
the rain is trying
to tell me something
but the drops it has selected
for my particular window
are not behaving
as logical syllables should
not enunciating themselves
in an orderly fashion
they think they are gymnasts
wait for their cue then step
roll tumble cartwheel
faster and faster
can make any
sense of it
Robbie Burton’s splendid poem also depends for its effects on close observation. I like the journey this one makes and its images, the line of trees like corduroy and the way, on some days, even rain is a relief. Lovely poem.
Window by Robbie Burton
When a fly climbs the garage roof
and makes life interesting
rain is a relief.
It slides down my bedroom pane
turning a line of trees
No dogs bark.
No rabbit tails bob.
A sapling leans towards another,
upper limbs touching now and then.
Leaves are probably whispering.
It might be advice.
David Riley chose to write about the French windows in an amateur dramatics production. I like this one for its originality and the movement in it from the hilarity of the farce to the reality of winter with its broken pipes. It’s a playful poem and I like it very much.
Farce by David Riley
The am drams staged Hysteria where
the French windows opened, closed
letting in and out the misadventures
of the church hall clowns relieving themselves
in public before going home
in a night that remembers winter’s coming on
with its list of jobs to do.
It’s no laughing matter, a broken pipe.
We had several poems submitted with the title Skylight (great title. I used it for my pamphlet). I chose this one by Lesley Quayle for its gorgeous images, “the thick, clotted moon”, “aureoles of ice”, “lozenge of spindrift” etc.
There is not a single wasted word in this powerful eight liner. Beautiful.
Skylight by Lesley Quayle
That indigo space,
star pollen and the thick, clotted moon,
scales of light gild aureoles of ice
grazing the mercurial eye of glass.
Cantle of blue and the salt white scuff
of slow, migrating clouds,
lozenge of spindrift, burning off like sea-mist
in the hot recess of beams.
Kathryn Clune was the only one to write about a childhood memory sparked by the prompt. This is so real and so creepy I just had to include it.
It captures the child’s fascination with ghosts, witches and all things gothic. And I love that quiet ending.
The Witch’s House by Kathryn Clune
When I was first allowed
To walk to school alone,
My route took me past the witch’s house.
It was a source of fascination :
Mossy gate posts; sweeping gravel;
Rhododendrons melting into trees
Which screened the building beyond.
My footsteps always lingered there
As I strained to see.
Autumn and the falling leaves
Offered tantalising glimpses.
Grey stone; gothic chimney pots;
The dull gleam of shadowed glass.
One morning as I paused,
Staring at the familiar mystery,
I was shocked to see a figure –
Crow black; slightly stooped –
Half way down the drive.
As if sensing my attention,
It slowly turned.
Instinct overwhelmed desire and I fled,
My heart a small bird
Fluttering against its cage of bone.
Beyond the exaltation of fear,
The place did hold dark magic.
It was a hard Winter,
And the first snow brought my father
To drive me home.
Peering through a tiny misted square
As we stopped by the crossing,
I saw that his gaze matched mine exactly;
Drawn to the quiet space
Of a shared secret, perhaps.
“Is it true that a witch lives there?”
I tried to speak lightly
But the words sounded brittle
As they tumbled from my mouth.
“Not a witch,” he smiled.
“Just a sad lady.
All the windows in that house
The traffic began to move again,
Cautiously nosing through spatterings of sleet.
I did not look back.
Simon Currie chose to write about a historical aspect of windows. I like poems where I learn something. I certainly didn’t know that flush windows contributed to the spread of fire in the Great Fire of London.
It’s quite a factual poem but I like the picture it paints of all those buildings falling before the flames and the closing image of “four feet of hot ash”.
Recess Your Windows! by Simon Currie
Standing in front of this London house,
can you see that its windows
are set flush with the brickwork?
That makes it old, pre-1666:
the year of the Great Fire,
after which, by law,
windows had to be recessed.
When that bakery in Pudding Lane
caught fire, house after house followed
as flames spread from one window frame,
set flush, to the next. Like dominoes.
Over thirteen thousand such homes,
with eighty seven churches,
forty four guildhalls, the Royal Exchange,
the Customs House and St Paul’s Cathedral.
The crypt of the last burned for a week,
full of printers’ paper. The city at large
was covered by four feet of hot ash.
With acknowledgments to Harry Mount
Brian Clark was the only one to write about York Minster so I just had to include his fine poem, Revelations, another poem with historical subject matter.
I love the alliteration in this one, the picture of the carvings being restored and, especially, that wonderful closing image of modern man, head bowed, as if in prayer, walking past the Big Issue seller while texting.
REVELATIONS by Brian Clark
It begins with a headache
buboes in your groin
black boils, then death
Black Death within a week
as a punishment for sin—
and half of Europe died
their agony immortalised
in the white-gold limestone
of the Minster’s figures
unseen on high
only there For the Glory
and the occasional angel
faceless and pocked
by six hundred years of toxic sky
until York’s master carvers
restore their pain
to witness again
The Revelation of St John
in the Great East Window
while down below
heads bowed, as if in prayer
and ignore a bearded man
Big Issue, Big Issue.
John Alwyine-Mosely chose a different kind of window and his view is of the outskirts of York on a rainy day when the speaker (I understand the poem was based on a Guardian letter) receives bad news on his mobile on the way to London. I like the simple title, the use of direct speech and the straightforward language which makes the poem even more moving.
On the 3.52 from Newcastle by John Alwyine-Mosely
The train had just pulled out of York,
the windows splattered with rain
and the tea cold as I put on my glasses
to peck at the numbers to speak to you.
Dad was in A&E again with another flare up
‘A cat with 10 lives’ we said.’He hasn’t
died then,’ I said.
The silence told me before the words.
I said I was OK but the eyes of the woman
opposite said something else.
Someone got me water
Someone got me tea with sugar for the shaking
Someone held my hand and took me to an empty carriage
Someone packed my bag
Perhaps the same person.
Alone the phone became a Rubik’s cube
until someone guided my hand and rubbed my back
and helped me work out who to call.
I asked to be left alone, and I was:
to pick the phone up and put it down,
to wish smoking was allowed,
to count the stations to London.
The next poem, by Laura McKee, shows how effective brevity can be. I know Laura’s work and can tell you that she is the Queen of the short poem.
This one is particularly good, the title giving the clue to the poignancy of the speaker’s limited view of the world. I love those “hectic red leaves” caught by the wind as if on “imperceptible skateboards”. Lovely poem.
care home window in autumn by Laura McKee
the other day
I watched the hectic red leaves
defy gravity with levity
joie de vivre
on imperceptible skateboards
The speaker in Richard Carpenter’s poem, CCU, is also confined to a room and, indeed, a bed but the viewer through the window this time is the nurse who watches the patient slip into a coma. It is a dark poem but a very well written one.
CCU by Richard Carpenter
by your bank of pillows,
a hospital evening,
any time of day.
Was it a private room
or just one of several bays
with curtains drawn?
I see you
rest a painful back;
lie flat on the floor,
on your chest,
Kaffe Fassett cushion
to raise your eyes
so you may read.
Your floor can now tilt,
run into another bay.
Sister Mary comes at last:
stares through this window
to your stillness.
You try to rise,
against your coma.
In Lyn Langford’s moving poem the speaker is revisiting or passing a window where she used to wave to an old lady. The smudge of grease is still visible on the glass the old lady used to tap and the chair is now “dumped on the forecourt”. The final image is very striking.
What once was by Lyn Langford
The grease smudge is still there
where the old hands hovered and tapped,
nose pressing the glass,
eyes sipping the light.
I used to wave though she couldn’t see-
more for me than helping her-
but perhaps she could feel a little swell of air
lift her hair, her shadowed face.
Sometimes she would sit in that old chair,
the same one that I see now
dumped on the forecourt.
Inside: Brilliant White, like blood.
Char March sent in a beautiful poem about a desk-light. I loved the unusual viewpoint “I am sun, hatted with red cloud” and that “pale twin”.
I like the way the poet focuses on telling detail, “I sow crescent moons/ from his laid-aside glasses”, the way it reads his letter and the gentle ending.
Desk-light by Char March
I sow crescent moons
from his laid-aside glasses,
him snoring in the wing-chair
while I read his letter
open on the blotter.
I am sun, hatted with red cloud.
I play with the ceiling
cobwebs, cracked cornices;
give sideways glances
to the curtains,
open, and letting night look in,
with my pale twin,
suspended in the dark garden
by the bird feeder
flickering with rain.
And from rain to winter. Perhaps not surprisingly, people tend to sit indoors gazing out of windows more in cold weather so there were a number of snow and rain scenes in the postbag.
Here’s one by Neil Fawcett which I chose for its elegant, spare form and its simple language – and, of course, because it’s good!
Window by Neil Fawcett
Winter boughs pierce
The open mouth fills
with pond water.
from old age, of a man
sitting by a window
reflecting upon all that’s done.
and fading in the growing light
of another’s day?
Counting was one of two poems sent in by Irene Cunningham. I like this one for its contemplative aspect.
The speaker has taken to looking at her own reflection in windows of various kinds “til I recognised the young me/ staring into my eyes”. I like the movement in the poem and its honesty.
COUNTING by Irene Cunningham
Maps in my head spread bubbles, inflated
love talk…mistakes lying broken, crumbled
to dust – memories of lessons learned, paths
paved. Now, I’ve reached the top, settled in peace,
a plateau, I see myself in windows…
and…mental re-assignment lives right here.
Dreaming on the train flipped me back and forth
in time ’til I recognised the young me
staring into my eyes, watching this old
face, cast back, listening to bluesy ballads,
trying to hold off death. She finds it hard
to accept the reflection of the flesh
through dark glass against a long night. Quiet
are the songs that sequester old regrets.
Kevin Reid also submitted two lovely poems. Only space for one, I’m afraid. I chose this one which again is about winter windows where “coffee and/ a window are just the right tools”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
I love the images in this one, the colours standing out against the snow, the ugliness of an urban landscape, “an ugly gap in that shit stained fence”, “the friendless/ face of a grey satellite dish”.
I was lulled into a false sense of security by these images only to be jolted out of it by that killer ending. Great poem.
Winter Windows by Kevin Reid
On their way past some drift,
others are forced. Some swirl
and rise like young feathers.
Street sweepers, all blatant blue
and luminous lime, shovel till
it’s grey. On a day where home
is the ideal job. And coffee and
a window are just the right tools.
Those blank stone walls want graffiti
but the street for now is empty. There’s
an ugly gap in that shit stained fence.
Today, colour is no more brilliant
than a high-viz postman or junk mail,
offering insulation and the friendless
face of a grey satellite dish. Odd,
a binman on a Saturday. Waste is
constant, until today so were you.
Cora Greenhill , like a number of readers, sent in a windows poems written in one of Peter Sansom’s wonderful poetry workshops in Sheffield last Saturday.
I decided, though, to publish this one instead because I love the way the speaker uses a window as a vantage point from which to observe the behaviour of a thrush.
There’s a touch of Edward Thomas at the end, which is no bad thing but what I really love about the poem is its matter of fact chattiness, “We cheated on her with foreign birds/ in Tuscany last week”, together with its close observation of the bird’s movements: “thrush is back, cricking her neck/ criticising the conifer hedge”.
The seasons are changing in this one too but it holds out hope at the end, reminding me also of Hardy’s Darkling Thrush. Lovely poem.
Thrush by Cora Greenhill
The crust is melting slowly
and through steamed windows I see
thrush is back, cricking her neck,
criticising the conifer hedge:
a dull brown housewife of a bird.
In the thick of it, she’d hunched
puffed up in a snowdrift, waiting
with robins for crumbs to fall
from the feeder – awkward,
a stranger to charity.
We cheated on her with foreign birds
in Tuscany last week, selfishly
chasing the sun. The feeders
emptied while we were away.
She’s no reason to trust us, or to stay.
But early evening, she opens her throat,
tries out her first hoarse notes,
their themes and repetitions,
from high in the lilac. Now
she will polish her arias,
a prima donna, demanding a lover,
corralling to our window
all the poetry of English summer.
And we’ll end on another bird poem. This time it’s Catherine Graham writing about a duck and her ducklings observed through a steamed-up kitchen window.
I just love this poem, everything about it really – its shape, language, images. “How brave they pretend to be/ on the slippery cobbles”. Can’t you just see them?
And I love the ending too: “I wish them safe home/ praying they’ll arrive/ in time/ for Evensong”.
Ducks by Catherine Graham
as if on their way to chapel.
I see them –
Condensation on the kitchen window.
How brave they pretend to be
on the slippery
She looks back.
as weekend sounds
into the street.
I wish them safe home,
praying they’ll arrive
Oh dear, autumn is creeping up on us while we’re not looking. It gets everywhere, even into our poems. Back to school and a queue a mile long to be measured for sensible shoes.
My granddaughters, Matilda and Eleanor, start school for the first time next week and can’t wait to try out those black patent shoes with flashing lights on the heels!
Good luck to anyone starting or changing schools, going up to university or waving off your offspring to a new phase in their lives. Don’t be sad. Put the kettle on, sit down and write a poem.
Next month’s theme is top secret so you’ll just have to look out for the blog. Thank you for reading this. Enjoy Tumble (I like seeing an ex pupil’s name among the credits. Send us another poem, Jimmy!) or The Great British Bake Off where my money’s on Martha.
I do love watching the contestants anxiously kneeling at the door of the oven as if praying would help. Why don’t they give them eye-level ovens? All that bending can’t be good for the joints.
My own evening classes at King’s Manor restart in January. See University of York Lifelong Learning brochure for details or click here.