from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 29 May 2011

wildlife, magpies & panic (incl poem)

Drought across Europe, that young guy
being court-martialled for leaking dirty secrets
another dictator nailed and Bin Laden
swaying on the seabed and our own
storm-force gales rocking the trees
in this end-of-May rain that’s not enough
to seal the cracks in parched earth
nor to offer the swallows mud for their nests

and these things wake me up shuddering
in the lonely night. But here, this Bank Holiday
Saturday, we have enough food, the fire’s lit,
two of the three children are gathered
in safe from across the continents, and my
daughter and I after the recent turbulence
are lounging on the sofa losing ourselves
in the film we save for special occasions –

‘The English Patient’, ('the heart is an organ 
of fire') and at peace, right now, with our lives, 
under the slates that screen off the sky, 
protect us from the sometimes-too-fierce
gaze of the naked and close-by heavens.


The lanes are full of fledglings. We've been watching fox cubs and young deer, too. This morning the great tits brought their young to the feeder – clinging and oscillating their wings like hummingbirds, already au fait with what feeding from a commercial rather than natural deliverer of foodsource requires.

We have, here, a remarkably well-adapted magpie, evolutionarily speaking. It/he/she has learned how to cling on to the peanut feeder in the same way as the tits and woodpeckers do – theoretically impossible for magpies – so is not only emptying the feeder itself on a very frequent basis, but calling in all its mates, too, to strut and police the yard. In between they hang out on the roof and divebomb any other visitor to the feeders. I tried suspending the feeder from a long piece of string which did foil the magpie, but after watching the woodpecker, on landing, whirl round and round at speed as if on a carousel until staggering off to go and recover, presumably still hungry, on the fence post, I went back to the original suspension. 

In addition, I lost a few new peanut feeders to the plump and acrobatic squirrel, nicknamed the FFS ('fut facking squirrel'), this winter until I sussed that I really needed to buy entirely metal feeders, ie with no plastic to be chewed through. This creature, too, though, is learning how to adapt by prising the metal mesh away from the base of the feeder so that the nuts drop out.

The Man, witnessing my yelling at both magpie and squirrel in the otherwise-peaceful Sunday drizzle, says thoughtfully: 'I suppose what we see out here reflects what even sympathetic critics of anarchy, such as us, would point to as a potential problem with the anarchist ideology in practice – it lets the bullies in. So maybe a degree of centralisation might, in fact, offer a democratic way of countering the bullies... And OK the cops might pull someone out of a wheelchair and hit him with a baton and we're all quite justifiably outraged, but they might also prevent the hoodlums from completely taking over.'


It's been, for me, a wonderful week for poetry. Christmases and birthdays galore. 

It started with the Keats workshop, followed by a gift in the post from a dear friend: a book of essays and poems entitled Can Poetry Save the Earth? which, synchronistically, opens with a quote from Keats: 'The poetry of earth is never dead'.

Two new, to me, collections of Charles Wright's had arrived the previous week, into which I've been dipping; and then  Giles Goodland sent me his collection Littorals, prompted by my workshop of the same name which was held in a similar location, as his collection is a series of poem reflections on walking the SouthWest CoastPath. (Speaking of that, my intrepid adventuring sister, who – counter-intuitively – moved last year to Wester Ross in northwest Scotland but whose work consists in walking and writing up circular walks on the SWCP, is heading southwest again today, as her first two coastpath books are coming out this week [more anon].) 

I've also had particularly satisfying poems returned by my students on the poetry correspondence course: profound, original, moving.

And then my old friend Rupert Loydell, he of Stride publishers and a consummate poet, and with whom I completed an exciting collaborative long prose poem sequence a few years ago (A Hawk Into Everywhere), sent through his new collection Wildlife – possibly his best and strongest to date. More of both those another time; but I want to quote a few lines of Loydell's here: although they're not typical of the range of the book they do have a recognisable Loydell 'voice' in them, a mixture of the poignant, the philosophical and the humorous:

Panic, though not without reason,
is fundamentally without cause...

Write it in magic marker on your bottom:
smudged capitals, with the word (PANIC)
written smaller and in parentheses.
Now run naked through the shopping arcade.

Meantime Tony Frazer, my publisher for Bardo, dropped said book off here – it's an indescribable thing, even for a poet, having your new book out; and it's also a bit trepidatious. Even when disguised, a poem contains a germ of deeply personal material, or at least material that will be interpreted as personal, and to put that out into the world with no sense of how it will be received by a reader but knowing that some will hate it as much as others love it, is an act of courage akin to going naked. I could panic, I suppose...

As I think about how to finish this blog, my eyes fall on the last lines of Loydell's poem quoted above ('Rescue Mission'):

'Reborn, I am ready to be my own design...
I'll take Zen over frantic meltdown any day.'

That's as good a place to end as any.

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