Poetry blog: A spring in your step

A woodpecker features in more than one of your poems. Capri23auto / Pixabay
7 Sep 2017 @ 9.47 pm
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A bumper bundle this time and I enjoyed them so much that I have chosen more poems than usual. Even so, inevitably I have disappointed some poets and I am really sorry about that and do hope it won’t put you off sending again.

One or two poems had clearly already been written which is fine but I was very pleased that so many of you actually went out and did as I suggested.

I hope you took a sunhat and/or an umbrella! As soon as I say ‘the sun’s shining, get out there’ it starts tipping it down. Also, the daffodils were past their best by the time the blog was posted but I was pleased you found bluebells instead – or rock-pools, or hill-tops or just birds: seagulls, nightingales, ducklings, magpies, robins, goldfinches, woodpeckers, a song thrush, sparrows, swallows, great tits, even a yellow-hammer.

Let’s start with a poem from Lyn Langford. This is a lovely, light-hearted and closely-observed take on what the garden birds are actually saying to each other. Thank you, Lyn. I loved it. A garden alive with birdsong. And, hang on, there is a cuckoo after all! Bonus.

Birds Aloud by Lyn Langford

Blackbird: (Sits on the chimney-pot in mortar-board and gown)
This is your lesson for today; listen up or clear off.

Robin: (with battleaxe and spear) I’m telling you straight:
I don’t take prisoners and I’m watching you mate.

Blackbird: This is my garden, that’s my worm;
hey don’t prune those bushes – I’ll give you a clipping.

Starlings: (frolicking in a bird bath) There’s a great show tonight;
bring your friends and watch us perform.

Blue tit: I’m gorgeous. Give me some sunflower hearts
or I’ll go somewhere else.

Swift: (passing by) Can’t stop, I sleep as I fly.
Wouldn’t dream of stopping in your garden
it’d cramp my style.

Cor, Cor, you can fly with me anytime.
Human: Look at them sodding magpies at it again.

Sparrow: I’m brown, brown, brown, brown. I’ve heard
we’re becoming rarer. How about that?

Cuckoo: My eggs are bigger than yours – want one?

Bullfinch: I’m just calling in. Phew!

Thrush: Mine’s the best song on earth. I repeat –
there’s no point learning something new.

Pigeon: Shit, shit, shit…

Woodpecker: Knock, knock. Knock, knock.
Oh come on there must be somebird there.

Owl: So much noise! So much noise. But I –
I fly by night, intent, unheard,
until first light.

Here’s one from Rachel McGladdery who, like many of the poets here, is new to YorkMix.

Welcome, Rachel, and thank you for doing your homework and getting out in the garden at the crack of dawn. I love the way you have conjured the garden slowly coming into focus and then that wonderful ‘rallentando curl’ and and the conversation of the birds swelling and colouring that piece of Lancashire. Eat your heart out, Edward Thomas. Lovely poem.

Making Morning Prayer by Rachel McGladdery
Shortly before four I’m woken
and I stumble out
in dawn’s thin swill
in dawn’s pale water.
Ink leaf where I am, beneath the tree
light comes, coldly
before I can discern
the colour of the flowers
a piping in
quiet and thin as soup
a tentative charcoal sketched
and drawn from different quarters
“Here is a fence
And here, here, here, here, here, here is a tree.
And this is my broad field where all is shadow still”
But soon and rich and strongly comes
a different voice and more and more
and further out.
I can see now
the ghosts of rhododendron buds
in the hedge and the border
as the singing starts to fill the details and the wash
of lime green lichen on a wooden post,
the sky becoming duck egg at the edges, the voices add a rallentando curl
“Behold my lane, and see this spire
this path, this garden chair
Mine mine mine mine mine mine mine piece of scrub
these curling leaves this patch of bare scratched grass
and mine the gloss and furl of holly bush.
My fell.
My graceful sweep of woods”
And all at once the conversation swells
and colours in this piece of Lancashire. 

Here’s one, short but sweet, from Fiona Russell Dodwell. The woodpecker in her haiku made me smile. He sounds so delightfully daft somehow.

Woodpecker by Fiona Russell Dodwell

Tud tud tudder tud —
all morning the woodpecker
headbutts the peanuts

George Colkitto also chose to write about a woodpecker and I see from the date on the poem that it was written in response to my prompt too. I loved the tone of this, the woodpecker seen in rather human terms as a ‘head-banger’ giving manly advice to his chicks.

Lovely handling of form and I love the way you have captured the bird’s character by interpreting his actions and motives in human terms.

Woodpecker by George Colkitto

a smile shoots at the sound
of a head-banger in the wood

is it a man thing
a fellow feeling for hammering
of drills and wood chips

a desire to beat out a rhythm
echo this is my territory

and here he is poised
by the nest
caught on camera
eyeing up the hole
as if saying

just look chicks
this is what you can do
when you use your head

Here’s Mandy MacDonald with an evening scene in which the growing darkness is punctuated by the great-tit’s call. Beautifully evoked.

Nightfall, Haddo House by Mandy MacDonald
the evening moves above me
molten metal clouds clang, heavy-bellied
the tall limes thrash and roar, toss their heads like horses
i close my eyes, listen for the green creep of moss
clothing the roof’s old slates spore by spore
the fall of a bronze leaf on wet grass
and a great tit’s repeated note
beats a sopranino tattoo
against the dark

Duncan Chambers is out hill-walking at midday in his poem and the experience is so well-conveyed it made me want to lace up my boots at once. I admire the honesty of admitting the best bit is the hot bath afterwards!

Hill-walking by Duncan Chambers

Midday on the path from Sykes to High Nab Farm;
wind from the north, my face as raw
and rivuleted as the Nile delta. Through my eyelashes
I see another man in uniform – green waterproofs,
rucksack, boots that shine with love and wax.
We meet beside a stile and exchange
the ritual greeting: We must be mad.

Or else it’s hot. Our necks cook like lobster,
fungi germinate between our toes. No spare water,
even in the bladder. Yet we keep on,
plodding ever upwards, and to what? The rocks
grow smaller, the soil thinner and more bitter;
sheep and grass give way to ptarmigan and heather.
A pile of old stones, if we’re lucky, marks the summit.

You will have your reasons. Mine have a lot to do
with how it feels afterwards – letting the aches
flow from my legs into a hot bath, imbibing
first a quick pint then a slow one. Was that grey blur
where clouds, sea and horizon met really the Isle of Man?
Who knows? Who cares? Inside my head
the colours of the day are glowing as they dry

Now for two poets who were out and about at the seaside. First, ‘Staithes’ by Colin Fletcher. One of my favourite places and don’t you just love that wonderful word ‘broddle’, those worm casts ‘brief sculptures between the tides’ and that ‘higgle of huddled roofs’. Boots off, sandals on next time the sun shines!

Staithes by Colin Fletcher

The beach speaks 
from shallow pools, calls children
to stoop and broddle for shrimps,
tells how roots in tangled heaps are
antlers bleached by moon and sun,
says that bladderwracks are flags 
of tears, raised high within dark tides.

The beach sighs
when waves as thin as fingers 
stretch to touch fresh cliff falls,
their solid earth to be stroked
until reduced to grain and gravel,
for ammonites who peek half-hidden
their husks as hard as hazel nuts.

The beach sings 
as the beck rises to relish full spate
and take moors’ rain to the thirsty sea,
to the guidance of stepping stones 
to shells as shelter for the solitary 
to the symmetry of worm casts,
brief sculptures between the tides. 

The beach signals
when clouds converge to storm
the village hillside, before gusts
snatch at the higgle of huddled roofs,
drench doors until their colours gleam
tussle with boats until they bounce.
Then sun-lit walls release quartz sparks.

Colin is also new to YorkMix and another new voice is that of Mendes Biondo who tells me he wrote his poem in Italian (his first language) and translated it into English.

No mean feat and I think the poem really succeeds in conveying the cirularity of the seagulls’ daily quest for food. Rather refreshing to see the world through the gulls’ eyes when usually they get a very bad press for mugging tourists at Scarborough and making off with their fish and chips. Nice poem, Mendes.

Fishing Seagulls by Mendes Biondo

the seagulls fish
in the moving ocean waters
while the wind is blowing
and all the ships are moored

they scatter
they pull
they try to veer
with stretched wings
because the wind is bringing them too far

seagulls make a net together
to take more fish
before they swim away
or they will wet their beaks
and rest dry-mouthed

it’s a continuous drenching
throughout all the cold evening
throughout all the cold waves
of the ocean moved by wind

salt will burn the beak
also if the fish nourishes them
and the feathers lurk
and their nose are filled
with the bitter smell of the pitch
that hardens the axis of the ships

tomorrow seagulls will still be hungry
those wet, cold seagulls

they will fish again
they will cry again throughout the cliffs
hoping the wind rests high
and the fish come out

Peter White was hiking in the woods, observing the trees, their colours, movements and sounds. That phrase ‘crisp remarks’ is particularly lovely.

Flutter by Peter R White
I like the many
ways leaves behave,
the way they tear themselves
away from branches and elope
with the breeze, teasing the trees
with their flirtations and abandon,
flashing shades of gold, dashing
hues of amber through ferocious air.
I like the lazy way leaves drift and trickle
through pale sunshine, make deviations,
take time to daydream of a random design
to litter the ground, make crisp remarks
as they chatter to my hiking boots.
I like the way a butterfly will stutter as it
mutters in semaphore from leaf to frond,
from blackberry to buddleia.
I like the way your eyes glitter
through their stark
mascara frame,
make me

Katharine Goda (so lovely to have so many new voices on YorkMix) was out watching the ducklings. She came up with some great images, like the one of the ducklings as iron filings drawn to the magnet of the mother duck. So clever and effective.

Ducklings by Katharine Goda

Like commas,
They bob,
Punctuating sludge.
Like tiny iron filings
Describing the mother duck’s
Magnetic field,
Minute poles shifting.

Six brown,
Two clown yellow.
Not good for camouflage;
Just right for spring.

Once afloat,
They begin to seem
Less ridiculous:
Less slipping off rocks
As their mother sits, accidentally,
On still-fluffed wings;
Less fuss, less jump,
Less flop, less cheeping.

They zip across the currents
Like just-released springs,
Like comets trailing sparkles,
Like the inventors of swimming.

Sarah Wimbush chose to observe a robin in this delightful short piece. Beautiful, subtle half-rhymes and use of monosyllables to convey the bird’s darting movements. A highly visual piece.

Robin by Sarah Wimbush

He dips, hops, lifts his stick-beak to taste a raindrop.
He flits, drops, disappears in a flock of windfall Cox’s.
He nods, ticks, tweezers a grub from the flesh.
His egg-full belly swells. And he is gone in a flash.

Rob Miles sent in a lovely poem about magpies in the snow. Again, highly visual and using such wonderful metaphors and similes. The birds here are ‘like flung stilettos’ which got my atttention straight away, ‘a killer pair/dropped like a diva/kicked them off’. Brilliant.

The humans can only pause ‘booted and breathless’ to watch them. The birds own the space and earn ‘powdery applause’. Great poem, Rob.

Magpies in the snow by Rob Miles

looked like flung stilettos.
Bulbous heads

where the heel goes, tail tips
for toes. Two for joy, a killer pair

dropped like a diva
kicked them off, preferring

something better suited
to a softened world like this

and a bloodless war
like ours, wherein

we paused, booted
and breathless, watching them

watch us where they strutted
nudged, fanned

and fluffed into fancier
slippers, unsaluted, then rudely

ignored, flapping from the further
rounds of lobbed love, foggy

shrieks, powdery

There were two poems about encountering dead birds. I loved both of them. The first is by Pat Edwards and I very much liked the reverence with which the speaker handles the bird’s body while talking to it in ‘an avian-human patois’.

Paying Our Respects by Pat Edwards

I was deeply absorbed
when I heard the thud
on the curtained window.
Everything stopped.

Surely a bird had struck
the window and then
flown away unhurt.
I resumed my task.

But it had died, it had
perished right there
in a moment of final,
total catastrophe.

I carried on a while
and only later realised
the bird lay still and
dead to the world.

Death by navigational
error, by a random fault
in his doomed flight path.
Death from my window.

I cradled the soft body
and blew light mouthfuls
of my free air towards
his dormant beak.

I stroked his feathered
chest with rhythmic
waves like futile CPR,
Only death in my grasp.

All the time I was
talking an avian-human
patois, designed to calm
and ease his passing.

I left him, a clear ooze
trailing from his beak,
on a garden table,
open air mortuary slab.

No one had claimed
him overnight but
so many had called
to pay their respects.

The second is by John Foggin and I love this one for the way it goes further than describing the moving encounter, the wonder of studying the tiny body in all its beauty, only to realise it is in fact alive.

It’s a kind of miracle and the speaker hasn’t forgotten it and ‘would like to come back to the feel/of my hand holding a bird’ and the way it made him aware of his own hand with its ‘hammer-hefting usefulness’. A really beautiful poem, John. Thank you.

Goldfinch by John Foggin

I’d like to come back to the goldfinch
where it lay still on the stone;
the weight and warmth of it in my palm,
feeling its being alive, its pulse.
The way its small wings
were put together, how neat they folded,
the down of the head, all that bright colour,
carmine, amber, black; that beak
a splinter of flint, the impossible
reptile feet. The way it blinked,
the way it stood up. The way
it let itself into the air and flew.
I’d like to come back to the feel
of my hand holding a bird. My hand’s
cushioned pads. Its blunt nails.
Its hammer-hefting usefulness.

Now for a poem which places birdsong in a historical context to great effect. Something about the small bird singing in a Surrey wood while bombers fly overhead on their way to Normandy, is indeed ‘more telling than a thousand newsreels’. Thank you, Rachael Clyne, for sending this one.

Nightingale and Lancaster Bombers by Rachael Clyne
The radio tunes into the heart of a thicket:
Sounds of a Surrey Wood 1942.
Oak and ivy, haven to forage and flutter.
A bird pours liquid notes into
moonless dark and insistent
drone Normandy-bound.
More telling than a thousand newsreels
this small bird spirit holding its song
against the stopped breath of Europe.

Maggie Mackay captures her ‘interloper’ at nesting time beautifully in simple language with superb images. I particularly like ‘little emperor’, ‘spears his alter ego’, and ‘stringed puppet with wings’. I’m guessing people had to tread very quietly past that nest.

Interloper by Maggie Mackay
It’s nesting time again
for sparrow tribes and swallow flights,
and territory is scarce.
A tap-tap, yellow-blue flicker
of a little emperor blinks
across the window’s glass,
a featherweight bob
from ivy leaves to sill and back.
He spears his alter ego,
aims for a coup de grace.
From dawn to gloaming
he never falters,
his zig zag ink brushes the likeness,
a stringed puppet with wings.

Wendy Pratt, former YorkMix winner, is on fine form in her poem ‘Yellow’. Lovely use of colour here. I love that hedge ‘yellow as the noise of children playing’ and the ‘yellow skin of the man in the Ox/leaching out and into the yellow walls.’

Against that backdrop the sparrow’s brown feathers ‘are just a darker shade of yellow’ and even the sky seems to turn green. Wonderful spring poem.

Yellow by Wendy Pratt

The hedge is as yellow as the sun,
as yellow as the noise of children playing
and all the daffodils are yellow on the verge
and on the verge of being blown and brown.

A toddler sucks on a yellow sippy-cup
and the yellow skin of the man in The Ox
is leaching out and into the yellow walls.

A yellow-hammer trills its little bit of bread
and some cheese in the tree
and a sparrow waits next to a yellow

tulip, its head tilted, it’s brown feathers
are just a darker shade of yellow
and the grass mixes the sun
and the sky to be green.

Shirley Wright has been out walking in a bluebell wood and you can feel the pace of that walking in these skilful line and stanza-breaks. I felt I was there with the speaker

‘sometimes yellow fields
so golden
I almost believe again’

Here it is in its entirety, every fieldmouse, sticky sycamore bud and copper beech of it.

Sometimes bluebells by Shirley Wright
in wooded half-light
sometimes honeysuckle air
drowning in flowers
with luck, a fieldmouse or two
negotiating obstacles,
a leaf, a heavy twig
sometimes tall branches
that blossom inside cloud
sometimes birdsong
loud enough
to push the traffic roar
almost to the edge
often a burst of sticky
sycamore buds
unscarred as yet
sometimes the clap of wings
the hand of sunlight on my back
a copper beech that flickers
sometimes yellow fields
so golden
I almost believe again
and now and then
through the haze
the tree line, climbing,
seldom high enough.

To end on, a poem from Simon Currie which takes us back to the dawn chorus, only with a difference! Thank you, everyone for your fabulous poems and thank you, Simon, for making me smile.

First Light by Simon Currie

                   and the song-thrush
is up for it, selecting from its quiver
of phrases a few it will repeat
four or five times each
as loud as it possibly can.

                   Today it has a new call.
“Yippee! Yippee! Yippee! Yippee! Yippee!”
it goes, as if happy, happy, happy.

Maybe happiness is contagious,
something it caught from one
of the neighbours. I try to think
if any of my human ones
seem happy. But fail.

                 So I shut the window,
go back down the still-warm bed
and let the thrush get on with it.