Poetry blog: Poems with a postmark

Dunstanburgh Castle, near Craster, in the mist. Photograph: johndal on Flickr
13 Aug 2013 @ 11.37 am
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Dunstanburgh Castle, near Craster, in the mist. Photograph: johndal on Flickr
Dunstanburgh Castle, near Craster, in the mist. Photograph: johndal on Flickr

YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley is whisked around the world courtesy of our well-travelled poets

Well, you certainly do get about. Thank you for sending so many delightful poems from near and far, especially far. It was nice to think of so many people in so many places capturing their surroundings on paper. Easier said than done.

And what different things you all choose to do to relax. We had writers ordering German ice creams, gazing at deserts, exploring castles, eating in tavernas, crossing swamps, rolling in snow, riding cable-cars, visiting battlefields, feeding buns to gulls, going to stay in a convent, playing bingo, watching fireflies and coming back to earth with a bump.

I’ll start with Angela Topping’s lovely sonnet about Egypt. I love the way she captures the strange mix of natural beauty, architectural wonder (“a crazy lego Egypt built on sand”), classical connections, commercialisation and religion. Quite a feat in fourteen lines. Those “fish cities” and the sulking Annubis will stay with me.

Sharm El Sheikh by Angela Topping

As far from home as we have ever been,
we gaze at strange stars in a desert sky,
cold distant suns which long ago have died.
As if assembled here on seventh day
an alien world appears in wilderness
a crazy Lego Egypt built on sand
where palm trees tantalise in jewelled gowns;
Anubis, bastardised and sulking, sits
outside casinos with sarcophagi;
a price attached to everything except
the landscape: bluest sea and jagged rocks,
magnificent against a dusty land;
below the turquoise sea fish cities thrive.
The Call to Prayer reverberates a sigh.

Next, and a little closer to home, is Susan Elliot’s poem From Craster. This one works because of all those little details and the humour of the last line. I’m less sure about “coward soul” (Emily Bronte?) and prefer the simple, chatty language of the rest, especially those “trout-stuffed meres” and that “heap of fish”.

It made me want to go back to Northumberland and eat kippers.

From Craster by Susan Elliot

A favoured walk, I watch for signs of cattle,
my coward soul ever fearful. But there are only sheep
and the dogs are safe on leads. We have captured
the rabbit-eared castle. I recognise a bread oven,
(not that I’ve ever had one). We sit alongside,
eavesdropping on chattering kittiwakes.
The sea, aquamarine, flaps handkerchief waves
at rocks and cliffs. We chuckle at garderobes
like silly children, imagine trout-stuffed meres,
ladies in green velvet, stockinged knights,
stout floors and tapestry. Coursing the walls
we find a heap of fish, freshly filleted.
Fairies? Water sprites? A kindly king?
We decide to give the kippers a miss.

Simon Currie’s less than enthusiastic poem about the food and drink in a Greek taverna nicely illustrates the contrast between positive and negative aspects of a place, and also the way that the company is all important, in these two brief stanzas. A love poem of sorts and it made me want to go there.

Skopelos by Simon Currie

Sitting under a trellis of vines
– taverna on this Greek island –
we sip wine laced with turpentine
and chew dried figs that may be
discarded condoms.

But the sea, the sky,
the scent of wild herbs,
scatter of white houses
amid red boulders,
most of all your company

make nothing matter.

Yvie Holder’s poem, Wetland at Petit Trou, came to us all the way from Tobago. Very evocative this one, thanks to close observation of flora and fauna.

I love that “look!” in line two which draws the reader right in and that wonderful flash of colour as the Purple Gallinule takes flight, leaving the reader gazing upwards. Fabulous poem. It brought the exotic right onto my screen.

Wetland at Petit Trou by Yvie Holder

After the boardwalk through protected swamp –
look! Wattled Jacana, Lily Trotter,
toes elongated, sprints over pads, through
pink and white buds and becomes its third name,
Jesus Bird. In the grassy clearing, you
gather along the curved edge of water
and draw breath, free from the press of damp heat.
Back there, a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron stilled
on a branch; a bronze lizard stalled its hunt
for Fiddler-Crab, long enough for your clicks.
Out here, you think you spot a moorhen in shade
at the pond’s far edge, until the dull thing lifts:
Purple Gallinule, lit by Tobago sun,
escaping on indigo wings.

Rose Drew’s marvellous piece about Tromsø in Norway evokes the scene and the feel of the place by skilful use of the senses, this time mainly colours and physical sensation. I just love that “sky insane with stars” and those inviting “duvets of snow”.

Tromsø by Rose Drew

You are never so big, so small,
so part of it, and yet insignificant
when lights flow and flume
across a sky insane with stars.

Green streaks smear midnight,
roughhousing rivulets widen, narrow, separate, rejoin;
celestial streams in spate following solar storm.
Freezing feet forgotten, we lay on duvets of snow,
follow the rush of electrons.
Concerns wash away,
twigs tossed to a storm-swollen beck:
our place is here.

From snow to ice-cream and Will Kemp’s delightful poem from Rheinland-Pfalz where he was on honeymoon. It effortlessly captures one of those wonderful near-perfect lazy moments we all should have more of.

I love the way the words wander from line to line, a bit like that “low-sitting barge” or Sybille choosing a hat. Congratulations, Will, on the poem, the wedding and the second collection, which I hear is due out in October.

Postcard from Rheinland-Pfalz by Will Kemp

Sitting at a café in 35 degrees, watching
a low-sitting barge haul itself upstream –
as if it had just had the Schwein & Wein
dinner – and just takes forever, a bit like
Sibylle choosing a hat. I baffle the locals
with my version of German, but the only
real problem is our inability to work out
all the recycling bins, and whether to try
the blackcurrant ice-cream or stick with
vanilla. But today blackcurrant it is.

Lyn Langford’s poem, Go There (I wish!) brings back both the discomfort of a crowded cable car in the Italian Alps and the rewards when you get to the summit. Oh that “tiny echo of cowbells”…

Go There by Lyn Langford

If you’ve never been up Mount Baldo
Go. Not for the crush in the cable car,
the child wailing, the smell of the armpit in your face.
Not for the tacky cafes, the hot-dog shack,
crushed chips on the peak.
Not even for the paragliding
and a bid for freedom.
Go a short way from the track,
look down on the valley
and sit. See the yellow globeflower
around you, and listen
for the tiny echo of cowbells.

Jacqueline Everett, who sent in that moving poem about the Boston Marathon, has emailed another, this time about Monticello, Virginia.

There is a real sense of the atmosphere and history of the place here. I particularly like the snatch of conversation which puts the scene in context and the way the poem ends with a glimpse of Jefferson’s feet of clay. I’d love to go there and stand among those cabbages and marigolds.

Monticello, Virginia by Jacqueline Everett

We’re standing in line. My neighbour’s from Alaska.
‘Now the Civil War battlefields; they’re real pretty.’
She thinks it odd I’d want to come here.
I too begin to wonder. Am I still the enemy, a Brit,

a poor loser, in pursuit of Thomas Jefferson, that seeker
after liberty and happiness, whose monument is guarded
by cherry blossoms which define a Washington spring,
whose name is sacred in the Pantheon of Founding Fathers?

I stand in his garden between cabbages and marigolds,
consider the sentiments of his Declaration of Independence,
and stroll under the portico of his elegantly proportioned villa,
along damp corridors where he bedded his favourite slave.

This is the first time John Foggin has sent a poem in. In fact he sent several, all of which were strong but I decided on Twopence coloured, penny plain which I admire for the way the poet conjures up a Northern Fifties childhood in which Cornish hydrangeas “came as a shock” and in St Ives, “the mornings came so bright / I thought they might break like glass”.

I love the mouthwatering pastel streets and the taste of saffron buns which the child secretly feeds to the gulls. Lovely poem.

Twopence coloured, penny plain by John Foggin

The 50’s came in black and white,
the light was muffled, grainy; in Cornwall
it was hydrangeas came as a shock—
blowsy, heavy-headed, profligate

and luscious, mauve and lavender; rampant
even in the grey towns of the china clay.
We grew only straggly marigolds at home –
muted Monet suns in a smudge of privet.

In St Ives, the mornings came so bright
I thought they might break like glass. A town
of narrow pastel streets, marshmallow
pink and lemon, peppermint.

The harbour flashed and sparked,
impossible and delicate.
At Charlie Stevens’ bakehouse door, a haze
of floury heat and winks of fire.

He gave me a paper bag of saffron buns –
hot as marigolds and spiced;
too rich for me. I crumbled them
on the warm white harbour wall

and fed them to the mobbing gulls
that came with red and raucous mouths,
great yellow bills and pebble eyes.
I told Charlie that I ate them all.

I have The Good Retreat Guide on the shelf in front of me but have never had the courage to book on one of them. Lydia Harris has and we hear all about the experience in this unusual and deftly handled poem.

I chose this one for its simple, everyday language and amusing details: “the Spanish sisters / who come one Saturday with a trout wrapped in foil”, those wasps crawling on apples whose flesh has “gone sweet in the sun” and the nuns quietly leaving meals outside the poet’s door and discreetly filling her tin with digestives.

I’m quite tempted if only to see Sister Agnes who gave up her studies to cut the grass in a brown overall. Wonderful poem.

St Pega’s by Lydia Harris

It’s in the ‘Good Retreat Guide’,
guests welcome, home cooking,
the seven daily Offices,

linoleumed bathroom, loo at the end
of the corridor I share with Sister Agnes
who’s studied at the Royal Academy

but had to give all that up, who wears
a brown overall to cut the grass, sits in the sun
with the others and the Spanish sisters

who come one Saturday with a trout wrapped in foil.
In my room, a prie-dieu, a Staples table
for the meals they leave outside my door.

Wasps crawl on the apples
under the tree by the chapel,
flesh gone sweet in the sun.

The Sisters fill the tin in my room
with Digestives. Seven times a day
I can’t find my place in the Office book.

And now we come to Rainy Rhyl with its sea “the colour of cold bath water” and its “slate skies” (this was June, so Kay tells me). I really like the way all the impressions of the place tumble over each other so we feel, in spite of the weather, that the whole day was fun.

I love “Rain-slaps as easy as kisses” and I’m so glad she rescued that suffocating Furby.

From Rainy Rhyl by Kay Buckley

Rainy Rhyl. Welsh slate skies and
sea the colour of cold bath water.
Flaming June. Unzipped our wallets
and spent a day on the slots.

Liberated a suffocating Furby
from the grabber machines Oxgene
4 playing as we fed it quids.
Push-pulled fruit machine arms.

Bingo and the caller’s voice was like
brass, ‘number two, me and you.’
Played a picture frame game then
nudged over Niagara two pences.

Puddle-stood outside the Rock shops.
Tonguing those sweet ‘Skelter’s spun
into lollies and aniseed twists.
Rain-slaps as easy as kisses.

From Rhyl to sun-drenched Tuscany. I’m green with envy. Such a beautiful, peaceful place.

This one really does feel like a postcard. It’s so cryptic the reader isn’t sure whether this is a tour or just a group of friends holidaying together but it doesn’t matter. Either way this feels like a trip filled with friendship.

Who wouldn’t like to “Sit with the moon / a Grappa, the winking fireflies / and loosened tongues”? “You should be here”. Wish I was.

Pieve by Richard Carpenter

Arrived in Tuscan sun with three
South Africa, two Strine, one Wales,
two Suffolk, six Henley and us
two from York: Idyllic pilgrim
restoration. Much wine, good walks.
Frank talks, fine dine. Sit with the moon,
a Grappa, the winking fire-flies
and loosened tongues – “Banana
between sex”? Insistent week-end
rave beats across the valley. Pine-
Marten leaves a crack: hugs the wall.
You should be here. Much love from both.

And, to end with, a lovely poem by Sarah Wimbush about how it feels to go home again and back to all that is familiar. By the third cup of tea “it will be / like you never even left / the room”. Oh dear. Well, there’s always next year…

After by Sarah Wimbush

You know
when they slide the door across,
that it’s gone.
Not forever,
but long enough
to forget the pulse
of that glow.

You know
as you sit leaving zip marks
in the sky,
that the grains of sand
peppering your hairline
won’t last
the week.

You know that
the cloud to swallow you
as you fall
back to earth with a bump,
will feel strangely comforting,
like that hideous fleece
you should throw out,

that the first mug of tea
will taste odd;
and by the third
it will be
like you never even left
the room.

I will post details of another challenge in early September. As a teacher I always associate September with beginnings so that will be the theme next month if you want to put your thinking cap on and start looking round for ideas.

And, by the way, my Advanced Creative Writing class at King’s Manor starts again in October. See the University of York Centre for Lifelong Learning’s brochure for details, or click here.



Carole Bromley is married with four children and lives in York. Twice a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, she has two pamphlets with Smith/Doorstop (Unscheduled Holt, 2005, and Skylight, 2009) and a collection A Guided Tour of the Ice House. She has won a number of first prizes, including The Bridport and Yorkshire Open, and her poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. Carole is a graduate of the MPhil in Writing at Glamorgan University and teaches creative writing for York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.