Poetry blog: Rain, rain go away

Another day, another shower in York. Photograph: Richard McDougall
10 Nov 2013 @ 9.01 pm
| News
Another day, another shower in York. Photograph: Richard McDougall
Another day, another shower in York. Photograph: Richard McDougall

YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley sets sail along the rushing tide of your watery poems

And to think only a few weeks back we were praying for the stuff. November again. The Bake Off’s finished. No more soggy bottoms for another year. I did think to decide the winner on the basis of a three-tiered wedding cake was a bit unfair especially as my money was on Kimberley.

Strictly’s got into its stride though. All the rubbish dancers have been booted out (well, most of them) and Sophie might as well make off with that glitterball right now.

The Dragon lady was not amused about being given her marching orders and come on, viewers, give the guy with the injured wrist a chance.

As for Craig, he’s the real hero if you ask me. That black shiny chair seemed to have been put together in a bit of a rush. Ouch. Give the poor chap a week off.

I was knocked over by the wave of wet poems and even more knocked over by the quality of them. I’ve chosen a baker’s dozen with a variety of approaches to the subject.

I always put a note at the end asking readers to submit poems as a Word doc attachment or a pdf and to put their name at the bottom of each poem but do they? Arrgh. Please make my life easier next time. I didn’t exclude any because of this. They were just too good.

Because I love walking, even in the wet, I will start with two poems about just that. The first is John Foggin’s A Walk In The Woods.

John tells me it’s about Skye and I love the peace and quiet in it and those tactile images “Underfoot/ is moss and bracken, a leafmould/ slough” and then the burns “their bedstones knock and clatter” and the rain “rapping bony knuckles/ on the tin roof of the shepherd’s hut”. Can you send me the grid reference, John, and lend me a waterproof rucksack?

A walk in the woods by John Foggin

English painters make woodlands safe,
as prim as lace, and orderly
as William Morris tapestries.

Storytellers know the wood is wild.
that the forest eats the orphan’s crumbs,
that paths are only spaces between trees
and always lead to bitter ends.

First come the unroofed crofts,
the deep-washed burn,
the broken gate,
the quiet wall of rowan, ash.

The loch is shivering, sensing the sea,
and far islands floating. The air
may be bright, at first, with birds.

Leaves sift the wind. The rain comes soft
and quiet. Deep in the wood
it’s hardly there at all. Underfoot
is moss and bracken, a leafmould
slough. The birds go, first.

The silence sounds like static
until the burns have found a voice;
full of rain and breakneck white,
their bedstones knock and clatter.

Every footsteps quickly fills, dissolves.

Beyond the soaking alders, birches,
the clouds trail nets of scrim.
The sopping hills leach into grey.

Rain raps bony knuckles
on the tin roof of the shepherd’s hut.
A sheep has died in there.
It bloats and stinks. White water
dances like a mad thing in the wood.

There is no way back.

Sarah L Dixon has been out walking too but her poem, Edale, focuses not on the wet walk but on the warm pub at the end of it. My favourite bit as well.

I love the simple way Sarah conjures up the anticipation of that hot dinner, the “clacks and hisses as the kitchen wakes” then the rain “beating its powerful lullaby” and the hot toddy in flanelette sheets. Lovely.

Edale by Sarah L Dixon

Torches exhausted
heavy feet drag towards a lit door
we bundle around the fire
stripping saturated layers from damp backs.

Hats bobble on sturdy tables
measled flesh prickles as it heats,
wet clothes burn dry on too-hot radiators
I untie laces caked with Edale clay.
the aged wood of the pub creaks with complacency.
I ignore the pumps for seven local ales
and order mulled wine on tap.

Candles are lit.

Clacks and hisses as the kitchen wakes.
Beef with a mustard slash, gravy, roast spuds,
Tidgy puds, peas and carrots.

Rain beats it’s powerful lullaby
we are soothed by gales grasping the windows
sashaying around the mountain.
We tunnel deeper under old-fashioned throws
and flannelette sheets.

No duvets here. No Match of the Day. No Ten o clock News.

Just last orders. A Talisker hot toddy.

Richard Carpenter took up my challenge of writing a poem in the voice of a river and here’s the resulting poem, Foss.

Richard sent in two poems and commented that he much preferred the other one. I liked it but not as much as this one with its great sense of history, its lovely place names and the way it manages to take us in a very visual way through the history of the city. I love it. You really should write more in this vein, Richard.

Foss by Richard Carpenter

I am small, but with the autumn storm,
the swelling tide from my big sister,
can contain myself no longer;
search the low lying streets and hovels
to shed my mire and misery.

Merchants always come this way
to unload their wares upon our wharfs;
gain wealth for Guild along our water roads.
Ivor the Boneless brings his long-ships
to sack our home; is soon converted.

Now another Lord hems me in;
builds a motte and bailie near my mouth
which I must circle to keep the enemy without;
the citizens within. I grow wide and deep
for food from the King’s Fish pool.

My head of water feeds the Castle Mill
to grind their corn.Then they dig my bed straight;
deep for barges to travel north under my humpy
bridges to clay pits near King Richard’s home;
the grain to larger mills at Wormald’s cut.

The Pool grows rank, causes sickness and despair,
is drained; reclaimed for iron and metalled roads
taking cocoa to our chocolate magnate.
My locks break down, my flow hemmed in.
I grow quiet. Now just a pleasant walk.

Lyn Langford sent in another lovely poem, Drip, which plays with the different sounds of rain. The elongated form with its short lines is perfect for the subject matter.

I love the way musical references knit the poem together, ending with a cosy Bach Cantata heard from the comfort of a duvet. Delightful poem.

Drip by Lyn Langford

I wake to it:
the sound of water.
Slow music,
dripping in crotchets,
two notes alternating:
Then, as if
I am conducting
it changes
to six-eight time
and triplets of quavers:
For a second
I think of the worst:
roof-fall, pipe-burst,
financial devastation,
sleep deprivation
but when I hear
a Bach Cantata:
du dube dube
dube dube du
I snuggle down
to listen.

Now for a poem by Sarah Wimbush in praise of rain in all its forms. A very subtle sonnet with some beautiful images and sound effects.

I like the “gurgle sweeping down/ the gullies” and the “teardrops exploding into iced popcorn” and also admire the bold ending and that exhortation to “embrace the wonder rush, and drink”. Beautiful.

Heaven Sent by Sarah Wimbush

It is a mist, a gentle thrum, the shine
across oak leaves. A gurgle sweeping down
the gullies in our streets, the pounding strike
of bullets ricocheting onto ground,
teardrops exploding into iced popcorn –
a perfect Christmas as they fall. Or silk,
that weaves and spins outside the window pane,
along a car windscreen, against my cheek;
to freeze like candy floss, or spray, like paint
and froth, which hangs across the grass in globes
diamonds and beads. We bow our heads against
its might; and wish for it to go, and come,
for it is all of us. So let us lift our chins,
embrace the wonder rush, and drink.

I chose Kay Wheatcroft’s poem for its originality of subject matter and its skilful handling of form. The scene is captured so well and I love the image of these prisoners of war joking as they revel in a simple wash in the rain and “trudge back ankle deep in mud but clean/ from the knees up”. Lovely ending too.

POW 1944 by Kay Wheatcroft

Sundays were worst.
No classes, short letters written,
nothing to say.

Someone passed round a bar of soap
to sniff lily of the valley
“My auntie Ada, been saving it since ’39.”
The hut, too cold in winter
hot in sultry summer stank
of unwashed soldiers.

A grey sky loomed, the door banged open
in the breeze before the storm.
They sprang up, stripped naked
and trooped out to the fence.
The guards raised their eyebrows
not their guns.

The rain and Ada’s soap brought silence
till one wag sang a harvest hymn
to soft refreshing rain.
Beyond the wire the sun lit
the damp wood, flashes
of lichen, orange, green and grey.
Something new to look at.

They trudged back ankle deep in mud but clean
from the knees up.
A rainbow dropped behind the look-out tower.
Nobody spoke.

In another poem about the simple joys of bathing, Kat Dale introduces us to the experience of a Japanese Onsen. The rich language is lovely and those Buddhas ogling the naked women in the pool are a nice touch.

I’ve been to an Onsen but it was mixed and we were issued with very decorous white dressing gowns to bathe in. A hot tub with a difference.

I love the way this ends with that egret “straining to lift its welded feet and fly”. Fab.

Dogo onsen by Kat Dale

Hot spring, Matsuyama, Shikoku

Beneath the throbbing orange sun, leg trailing,
the egret drops to earth in search of easement,
dips damaged toes into the gushing spring-burst,
shudder-stands the geothermic scalding,
scorching membrane, searing bone and sinew.
Sweat soaked it slowly rises skyward, healed.

Far away in time, suburban dusk falls
as women saunter by the iron railings
past the line of beak-chipped egret finials,
to wallow shoulder-deep in Kami-no-yu.
They sit skin-drinking-in the steaming water,
gifted by the gods from ancient legend.

Two guardian Buddhas perch there, back to back.
Myopic sight cannot detect the focus
of their unmoving orbs: do they lech on pert
refracted breasts or uplift roof-fixed eyes
towards the white cast wing-stretched egret as
it strains to lift its welded feet and fly?

Anthony Dew’s poem is rather darker and its real subject is not the idyllic childhood scene on the beach, but rather what the future held in store for the speaker and his friend who shared that day in Brighton.

I enjoyed the way the two drifted apart and took different roads in life and that third verse came as a shock.

Both boys are destined to lose a son in tragic circumstances and the return to the beach scene at the end is full of pathos. A dark poem but a very good one.

Tide by Anthony Dew

Eight years old on Brighton beach we
stepped gingerly, knees bent, over stones
that blunted our toes, grated our soles.
Drawn to the water’s edge like
new-hatched turtles following the gradient,
always down. There we paddled
driftwood canoes, playing pirates,

At that age you play with anyone: we
(same age and height, the sons
of wartime comrades, the strongest
friendship, father said, forged in the heat of battle).
were never friends. Bookish, he’d go on to be
a bank manager, grow a lazy paunch, live
in a big soft house. I’d always be a

We went our separate ways we two,
but the lesson learned that day
I couldn’t know or guess: blind
to danger, I was setting course for
my child’s death by ‘accident’ while my
companion, on his safer path, would
come at last to raise a

Though we share a wrong (since both our sons
are dead before us) we meet rarely now not even
at weddings or the commoner funerals. Careless
of the cold, immersed in our game, we became
immersed in sea, and only when father
shouted anxiously from the distant beach
did we notice the water had risen quietly up
to our necks.

Next come two poems about animals endangered by water. The first is by Susan Elliot and in it she recounts a memory of seeing (or perhaps reading about) efforts to rescue a whale stranded in the Thames. Every word counts in this one.

The story is simply told and the poem gains its power through the use of the senses. Susan is especially good at sounds; “the click of cameras/ hours chiming, the hushed whispers of children” etc and I like the picture of the whale “squirming through unfamiliar spaces… like a massive eel sifting through debris”.

There is something very powerful too in that fifth stanza “At first they used fear to drive her back. There was something obscene/ in her nakedness”. Only this close observer would have noticed that. A sad poem in which the news story is fleshed out so that we feel the terror of this creature “piercing the sunshine”.

The Whale In The Thames by Susan Elliot

A huge body, battered and stranded amongst grey rocks and plastic, poking
its bottled nose in tarred pebbles, hearing only the clicks of cameras,

hours chiming, the hushed whispers of children on shoulders, the faint kisses
of lovers, and the soft slow hiss of the tide as it rose and fell, sucking life.

Gently curious, she craved company, had squirmed through unfamiliar spaces
between bridges, nets and boats, like a massive eel sifting through debris.

But riding the shallow bed, she bled. Unnoticed, the blood seeped past tourists. We watched. The sun picked out the green and gold of the bridge.

At first they used fear to drive her back. There was something obscene
in her nakedness, the floundering in shallows, the ring of men, the silent caress

of a waiting world. I exchanged pleasantries, all the while with one eye on wave, following grey flesh. In the park birds sat, respectfully quiet. Time passed.

She had moved out of sight, thrashing in some silent place, beyond banks
and locks. Next day, at water’s edge, teeth gritted as cranes poised,

itching to lift. We felt her terror pierce the sunshine. But neither Science nor Logic
could wrench her to safety. Now she is bone, washed white, on show;

a faded headline, a memory, as once again we watch the brown river
running softly to song’s end.

Saving Grace by Kathryn Clune is a more domestic and personal piece. In it a young couple walking a puppy watch in horror as it jumps into a lake and gets into difficulty. The speaker’s companion rescues the puppy (the actual swimming and near drowning are beautifully described) and the couple are “tentatively united/ in awkward complicity”.

A tender moment and an important one. Some great lines in this. I love “the musky miasma of wet dog” and that “cairn of discarded socks and shoes”.

Saving Grace by Kathryn Clune

One for the family album :
The three of us strung out in a line,
Toiling up the gentle green of
Queen Adelaide Hill.
You in the vanguard, as usual;
Never slackening your pace
Or turning your face.
Myself in the middle,
Childish strides striving to match
Harder limbs and cleaner heels;
Stumbling over tussocks,
Sliding streakily in the droplets of dew.
Progress checked, too,
By the constant glances back
Confirming our companion –
The puppy –
Still brought up the rear.

We crested the rise and paused to draw breath,
Admiring the ribbon of blue beneath
As its folds softly shifted and rustled
In the light breeze.
Then began our descent,
Even you forced to slow by the arthritic twists of tree roots
Writhing up from the soft grey mud and scattered stones
At the shorelines approach.
I opened my mouth to speak,
Not knowing what to say;
Desiring some sort of communion.
A rare, shared, moment.

The words hung, half formed, on the air,
As a crackling, fizzing, yellow sprite
Suddenly hurtled ahead and plunged into the waves.
It ran and ran and ran and ran,
Ecstatic and oblivious.
The puppy had never seen any expanse of water
Larger than a puddle.
The puppy was unacquainted with the concept
Of being out of one’s depth.
We watched her ploughing on and on.
And then,
A full stop.
A mad windmilling of paws and tail and haunches
As panic gripped and pulled her down.

Tearing my eyes away
I saw you unfastening your belt,
Neatly stepping out of your trousers
And laying them, folded square,
Atop the cairn you had already built
From discarded socks and shoes.
Any comedy dissolved by your studied calm,
It was almost a smile you gifted me
As you turned and tiptoed over the debris at the waters edge
And trudged into the lake.
You grasped the soaking, shivering shape,
Clasping it to your chest until the spasms of shock subsided;
Carried it up the bank;
Placed it on a clear patch of grass;
Then tutted briefly and began
The damp business of dressing yourself again.

And so our sober return up the hill.
The puppy, fur rubbed and shaken almost dry,
Still exuding the musky miasma of wet dog,
Pathetically subdued.
You seemingly unmoved.
Until we neared the car, when you leant and murmured,
With something approaching urgency :
“Best not tell your mother, hey.”
My eyes found yours.
We held our mutual gaze;
Tentatively united
In awkward complicity.

Stephen Bone sent in a great poem about drought. Spare and elegant couplets just right for this subject. I assume this is about the heatwave in 1976 with its hosepipe bans and Ministry of Drought and the population being urged to “save water, bath with a friend”.

I like the economical way Stephen has sketched this in; “the horizon smudged with August heat”, “passing gardens foxed like old prints” and “water precious as silver” and I love “our skin a layer too much”. A finely honed piece showing real mastery of form.

Rain by Stephen Bone

Each day the mercury crept up,
the horizon smudged with August heat.

Our shirts mapped with sweat;
baked tarmac beneath our Raleigh wheels

passing gardens foxed like old prints;
dogs lolled in them, indecent on their backs,

lengths of pink unsheathed;
hose pipes coiled, unused, forbidden.

Water precious as silver, we shared baths
where we stopped or dipped flannels into feeble streams.

At night our skin a layer too much
as we sprawled or tangled on sepia grass.

Set To Continue, the news stands read.
The forecast held. In part.

I very much liked Yvie Holder’s On Dry Land which I’m assuming is about bees? Or possibly about someone who used to be a sailor and now devotes himself to gardening?

Not sure it’s really very much about water despite the “haunting from the deep”, the “undertow of years” and the “settled on dry land” but I gave it the benefit of the doubt because of my own ignorance and the sheer beauty of the writing.

I love the microscopic observation of it, “a hint of spider-silk shimmers/ between spires of blue petals”, “a wind-breath flinging a ladybird”, “a dogged red beetle mounting/ the cumbersome shell of its mate”.

On reflection, I think I was misled by the phone call sweeping this person off course (which made me instantly think of bees and their flight paths being disrupted by mobile phone signals). I think this is a gardener trying to control his little world “believing he can manage them, /that he can make life beautiful”.

Lovely poem, some great lines, Yvie. Just give us more of a clue so the narrative is crystal clear.

On Dry Land by Yvie Holder

Swept off course by a phone call,
a haunting from the deep, he flees

again the undertow of years
in his summer-haven borders,

anchored by the homely dramas,
minute fiascos, triumphs,

tiny dot-dash-dots around him:
a drooping bud, powder-white

necklace squeezing its downy throat;
a dogged red beetle mounting

the cumbersome shell of its mate,
as a hint of spider-silk shimmers

between spires of blue petals
and a wind-breath flings a ladybird

from a stem. How he’s constantly
deceived by those small destinies,

believing he can manage them,
that he can make life beautiful,

as if, settled on dry land,
he has it all under control.

And, finally, my favourite this time, a poem from Victoria Gatehouse who is new to the blog. Delighted to have this lovely poem, Victoria, in which the water is swelling the bladders of women in an early pregnancy assessment unit while they wait to be scanned and given good or sometimes distressing news.

An unrhymed sonnet, the form perfect for this subject, Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit shines a light on an aspect of obstetrics and of women’s experience which is rarely talked about.

In the poem the women are both “marooned” and connected by their “histories”. Words like “water-bellied”, “swell out” and “bloated” underline the longings of the women and also the matter-of-fact, production line way they are treated with the clinical “cold slick of gel”, “snap of gloves” and, saddest of all “a screen turned away”.

A very emotive and powerful piece. Thank you very much for sending it.

Early Pregnancy Assessment Unit by Victoria Gatehouse

Marooned in stiff hospital chairs, we wait,
water-bellied, magazines sliding from our knees.
Another plastic cup-full to swell out the womb,
a silent toast to the fickle goddesses of fertility.
Our histories have brought us to this place –
a possible ectopic, an early bleed. We’re bloated
with hope for a grainy image in black and white,
the flicker of a heart no bigger than a poppy seed.
One by one, they call us in – a name ticked off,
a fresh paper towel on the bed, the snap of gloves
pulled tight, a cold slick of gel, a screen turned away,
the nurse’s face telling us all we need to know.

Thank you very much to everyone who sent poems in this time. I loved reading them all and will look forward to the next batch at the end of November.

I will write a short blog around the middle of the month with a few ideas and suggestions for how to approach the theme which this month will be fire. Sticking with the elements and I thought it was apt as Bonfire Night has just taken place. Disastrous bush-fires have been raging in Australia recently.

Tackle the subject in any way you like, fire in a welcoming hearth, playing with fire, lighting a fire, firing a gun, fireworks, autumn bonfires, house fires, getting fired, camp-fires, fire used as metaphor, as a bringer of light, as a signal, as a destructive force, anything you like. Be thinking about it for a week or two and I’ll see what I can come up with in the way of great poems about fire which might give you a few ideas.

I now have a website expertly designed for me by Richard McDougall of YorkMix. Do drop in and say hello!

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.