Your poems about places: Six of the best

Runswick Bay, one of Carole's favourite places and the subject of a poem. Photograph: Welcome To Yorkshire
5 Dec 2012 @ 8.56 am
| News

Runswick Bay, one of Carole's favourite places and the subject of a poem. Photograph: Welcome To Yorkshire
YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley enjoys your poems with a sense of place – and asks for Christmas poems

Sorry – couldn’t resist it, given the fact that I’ve chosen six poems this time and the first of them is debunking an old myth about a notorious street-name. I’m not, of course, in favour of corporal punishment. Right. Having got that out of the way, now for some poems.

[column width=”55%” padding=”5%”]A smaller mailbag this time. I don’t know if this was because the nature of the subject meant you probably had to get out there and write a new poem (I nearly put “a spanking new poem” but thought better of it) or because of the tighter deadline or because (as a couple of contributors pointed out) people are more likely to write about people than places, or they have written about places but not places in York.

I was asked if Barnsley would do but decided to keep my Craig hat on, darlings, and insist on sticking to the rules.[/column][column width=”40%” padding=”0″]

Carole will be taking part in a Christmas reading with the Poetry Society’s York Stanza group at City Screen Basement Bar on Monday, December 17 at 7.30pm. Tickets are £4 from City Screen website and box office. All proceeds to York Against Cancer

[/column][end_columns]In the end, though, I’m afraid I was spoilt for choice again and had to leave out some very good poems.

By the way, what a disaster it will be if Craig does decide to give Strictly a miss for a year. Don’t you just love all that bitchiness (or maybe it’s just honesty?) and the way he looks like a naughty little boy when he gets the giggles about some double entendre or other. I won’t give examples, this is a family show…

The first poem I chose is a neat, succinct, witty “found” poem from Richard Carpenter. I love to learn something new from poems and the writer clearly knows his stuff (he’s a tour guide). Found poems, in case you’re new to them, are a great idea. You take a prose text of any kind and turn it (or a section of it) into a poem. You can even use a spoken text. Paul Farley’s Relic is a good example. It opens like this:

One’s a crown, two’s a crown,
three, four, five, distal occlusal,
Relic from The Ice Age

See how Farley plays with the rhythms of a particular kind of technical language? In his poem, Richard has taken the language of the original text and added rhymes. No mean feat and it really works here.

Whipmawhopmagate by Richard Carpenter

Angelo helps with this gate.
Not scoundrels whipped for their fate
from the house of correction
in the Layerthorpe direction.
In dialect it comes from whatten.
The form of word now forgotten.
So whitney is a whitnay
a whatney is a whatnay.
And in time the name will slip
to become the present whip.
Just as Knar becomes a Knave
common usage is our slave.
Let us not forget the original spelling
helps us understand what we are telling;
Whitnawhatnagate, they bleat,
"Call this a street."

The doggerel helps with the philology
written in Rev Raine's topography.
A found poem from Rev Angelo Raine; Mediaeval York. A topographical survey based on original sources. 1955. pp 60,61

Rose Drew sent me another lovely poem about a York street. This time Lendal, or rather the bridge that takes its name from the street. (Have I got that right, Richard? And is it Lendal Bridge or, as in the poem, the Lendal Bridge? Answers on a postcard, please).

Crossing the Lendal Bridge at Midnight by Rose Drew

Blank peaceful mirror:
not even a selkie gazes back
at my reflection.
If tidal action fills and empties,
no ripple betrays the timeless task.
Does this beckon?
Is it drunken whimsy
or clumsy view
that tumbles in the undergrad,
the desperate?
Calm surface promises peace;
I rattle on, suitcase wheels an echo, 
mirror unstirred.

I love the way the poet captures a moment so effortlessly and in so few words. She places us there with the simple title and then we know the speaker is leaning over looking down into the water. Those first three words show us the stillness of the river at night, so still you can see your own reflection.

She knows the river must be moving with the tide but no ripple “betrays” this. I like the questions and the use of “tumbles” as a transitive verb. It sounds deceptively harmless the way the river can “tumble” you in, though one look at a passing fire engine with its message “Don’t drink and drown” would persuade you otherwise. Anyway, for the speaker it’s just a passing thought. I was quite relieved when she trundled on, dragging her suitcase. Great poem. A good example of “less is more”.

A FAREWELL TO YORK by Neil Davidson

A city island where the stone wrought walls             
keep strong and safe the difference that is York:                   
the crowded houses, churches, gates and halls
the buskers, markets, tourists and ghost walk. 
Above the ancient tangle of the street
the watching Minster’s bells peal out the hour:
the mighty Ouse and languid Foss still meet
below the daffodils of Clifford’s Tower. 

All this will wait; as quiet as the stone  
and can be visited through coming years
but there’s another York which, once I’m gone,
will, like memory, just slip away. Fears 
hopes and struggles pass: the people that I know
will all move on. Today’s my turn to go.

Neil Davidson is saying farewell too, but this time I think just to his working life in York. A well-handled sonnet written for a specific occasion and the form suits that very well. (I was surprised how many of the poems submitted so far have been in traditional form. If you find yourself writing lots of rhyming poems, try free verse as well.)

Having said that, the sonnet is alive and kicking in the 21st century and this one works well, conjuring up with strong metre so many of York’s iconic sights and sounds in the first stanza. I particularly like the ending with those breaks in the middle of the lines and that simple, matter of fact yet oddly moving last sentence. Always go for simple, everyday language like that.

Liassic Midden by Simon Currie

Shale cliff debrides to shore,
the sea left to mop up.
Civilizations are known
from their middens
but what of this?
Detritus of monkey puzzle,
shell, dinosaur gets exposed.
Men fossick, retrieve, name
“pencil”, “toenail”, “snake”:
unimaginable creatures
rendered familiar as  
objects of our time.
But how they lived, swam, flew,
mated, died, involves us easing back
to their world, this chill border
between land and sea returned
to steaming swamp.
Runswick Bay, nr Whitby

Oh good. Runswick Bay. One of my favourite places. I chose this for its unusual take on the subject. I love the idea that “Civilisations are known/ from their middens” and all the little archaeological detail is lovely: those men fossicking, retrieving and naming everyday objects. But what makes the poem, for me, is that last stanza with its vision of “easing back to their world” and that “chill border/ between land and sea returned/ to steaming swamp”. Fossil hunting will never be the same again.

January Bus Journey by Sarah Wimbush

I’m sitting at the back with my kids arguing. 
Passing green into brown into grey; the city
unhinging, flat on its belly consuming
armies of shoppers dithering in mizzle. Surely
they must be like me, wishing to be home sitting
next to a fire roaring. Far, far, from graffiti
seats and fingered bells and Chelsea Luvs Jack bleeding.

Ding, ding. The grey bobble hat lady reminds me
of someone pushing a pram, or water skiing.
And I’m thinking she must have had a bath, maybe
once upon a time. Sitting watching her struggling
down the steps. Watching her gather herself. And we
are moving. Away. Far. Thinking of arguing.
Thinking of a fire roaring this evening.

Another sonnet; this time a very subtle one with half rhymes you barely notice, lots of enjambment (running on one line into the next) and thoroughly modern, colloquial language. A slice of life in the Wimbush family on their way home on a winter’s afternoon in Otley. Great images make this one for me: “the city/ unhinging”, the bobble hat lady looking as if she’s water-skiing.

I also love the use of sounds; ‘dithering in mizzle’etc. and the gentle humour “she must have had a bath, maybe/ once upon a time”. All very familiar details, closely observed. I can feel the bus moving in that penultimate line “moving. Away. Far. Thinking of arguing”. Maybe a pity to repeat that roaring fire but it’s a fine poem.


I cut off 
               the top of your head   
sliced off 
               your left breast           
               and outstretched leg
you smirked and said I couldn’t edit you in 
so let’s go back to Whitby and enjoy it again 
eat fish and chips from polystyrene trays 
your black nails swooping down like seagulls
while Goths’ piercing eyes lust for your scraps;
I can tell you wouldn’t mind if Count Dracula
lured you back to my weekend shack in the woods
where a stream waterfalls to the shore and
trees retreat like scaredy-cats afraid to wet their feet.

The tide begins to turn, the sea has come
to salt away fresh waters, force you to think
about it over a pint in The Bay Inn
watch wild white horses violate England;
a ruined castle crashes from the clifftop
smithereen by smithereen
a broken bed and smashed fridge lie on the beach 
so all we can do
is laugh at my foam moustache.

Well, we might not have got one about Betty’s but here’s one about Whitby and a very confidently written piece it is too. A strange, violent opening which isn’t explained but I took it to be referring to a photograph? After that I love all the detail in this and the slightly threatening images (“your black nails swooping down like seagulls”, “Goths’ piercing eyes lusting for scraps” and “wild, white horses violating England”).

The end is great with the detritus from erosion littering the beach and that “foam moustache” from the pint in The Bay Inn. It’s all there, very evocative and an original take on the subject. A really strong poem.

And, just to make it a baker’s half dozen, I’m going to squeeze in one extra by Jimmy Baker simply because it made me laugh – and anyway it won’t take up much space:

The Nightclub by Jimmy Baker

It changes when you don’t go back much.
It was Silks.
It’s not now.
It’s not even the Gallery.
It’s something else.
But I wouldn’t go.
I can’t even be bothered
to look up what it’s called.

I love the off-the-cuff feel of this one and the fact that, despite the humour, it’s actually about something quite serious (the realisation that places change in your absence, even the names and, of course, the person writing about them).

Thank you for all the lovely poems you sent this time. I loved reading them.

As it’s December I thought it would be nice to publish a little group of Christmas or winter poems next time. Your poem can be about December, snow, ice, fog, hail, rain (you can see I’m an optimist about weather) or about any aspect of the festive season.

If you need some ideas and inspiration, take a look at a Christmas anthology like ‘The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems’. U.A. Fanthorpe wrote many Christmas poems (one every year sent as Christmas cards) and Wendy Cope has also written about it a number of times though mostly, and very amusingly, from the perspective of a lonely woman for whom “the whole business is unbelievably dreadful, if you’re single”! (A Christmas Poem from Serious Concerns).

One of my favourite festive poem is How to Paint a Perfect Christmas by Miroslav Holub. In the middle of the poem he invites you to

put under the tree
real big thing,
the thing you most want in the world;
the thing pop-singers
call happiness

If you want something more traditional here’s Charles Causley in Innocent’s Song, asking

Who’s that knocking on the window,
Who’s that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Don’t be fooled by its innocent opening.

And here’s U.A. Fanthorpe in What the Donkey Saw, telling the Christmas story in the voice of the animal:

I did my best to make them feel wanted.
I could see the baby and I
Would be going places together.

If you want to simply evoke a sense of winter, you could do worse than go to Eliot’s Journey of the Magi and hear again:

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.

or to Laurie Lee:

Tonight the wind gnaws
with teeth of glass,
the jackdaw shivers
in caged branches of iron,
the stars have talons.

There is hunger in the mouth
of vole and badger,
silver agonies of breath
in the nostril of the fox,
ice on the rabbit’s paw.

Or maybe you agree with Auden in Well, so that is that:

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –
Some have got broken – and carrying them up into the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. These are enough
Left overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully-
To love all of our relatives…

Me, I’m soppy about Christmas. Two bars of Little Donkey and I’m blubbing.

I find, looking back, that I have written a few Christmas poems myself. I’m sure you can do better. So go forth and scribble. And if you’re a teacher and you’d like to get your class to write Christmas or just wintry poems, I would love to read them and we’ll publish the most interesting responses here.

And, as it’s Christmas, the writer of the best poem this time will receive a poetry book. Click here to email your poems to YorkMix.

Keep the poems coming, spread the word and add any comments you like at the end of the blog. We like to hear what you think.

Poems by December 15th please and a selection will be published here before Christmas.

And, by the way, strictly between you and me, if I have any money left after the Christmas shopping for my ten grandchildren, I will be putting it on Denise Van Outen. How does she glide like that? It’s enough to make you almost forgive her for marrying Lee Mead.

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.