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.
Monday, 30 January 2017
So I'm taking a break from Lost Species (more coming later today or tomorrow) because I feel I can't not post this (you might have already seen it). It gives a very different perspective on issues like Islam from Trump's, or even our collective, assumptions.
Here are some rather astonishing numbers for the causes of deaths in the States (sources quoted on the original tweet):
Number of Americans killed annually (averaged out over 10 years) by:
Islamic jihadist immigrants: 2
Far-right-wing terrorists: 5
All Islamic jihadist terrorists (inc. US citizens): 9
Armed toddlers (yes really): 21
Being hit by a bus: 264
Falling out of bed: 737
Being shot by another American: 11,737.
So should I conclude (in order of severity from lowest risk to highest) that:
Islamists need to be banned as they're Islamists
The far right needs to be banned as it's the far right
Toddlers need to be banned as they're dangerous when put in charge of a gun
Extreme or even not-so-extreme natural phenomena need to be banned as they can't be trusted
Lawnmowers need to be banned as lethal weapons
Buses need to be banned as they're bigger than humans and their vision's not good
Beds need to be banned unless they're caged so we can't fall out
Americans need to be banned because they're Americans
I assume the rest of Americans die in other ways, so maybe:
Life needs to be banned as we'll die from it.
Wednesday, 25 January 2017
This piece, and its accompanying poem, comes from prolific Scottish author and poet Kenneth Steven.
It's thanks to Kenneth that I'm leading my annual retreat on the Isle of Iona for the 17th time this year. Ken, who has long been a dear friend, suggested we co-tutored a weeklong course in 2000. Although we now lead separate courses, still on Iona, we co-led 'Into Blue Silence' for 9 precious years.
Read this (from August 2016), and then you might want to check out Kenneth's website.
'A number of years ago I had the privilege of visiting Greenland. It is a wondrous country: the biggest island in the world with just fifty thousand of a population. There are no roads in Greenland: the tiny communities that hug the coast are linked by sea. I have thought of it since as a child’s fantasy kingdom: when you look up at the mountains you can hardly believe the height of them, or the sharpness of the peaks. It is the most hauntingly beautiful place I have ever seen.
'I spoke to a man from one of the villages who remembered his childhood. He said that when he was a boy they drove round to visit friends in winter. Not by road – there were no roads then any more than there are none now – but by sea. They got into their cars and they crossed the sea ice to visit friends. Now, he told us, there is no sea ice. Not that it is too thin for such driving: there is no ice at all. He told us the ice is retreating a full ten miles each year.
'Before I left Greenland I bought one souvenir – a tiny carved polar bear. A long time later I wrote this poem, remembering the precious days of our stay and thinking of the future. I thought of it the other day, when I saw the image of the starving polar bear and all day could not put it from my mind.'
Last year in Greenland I bought it
Under great whales of mountains by a sea of ice,
From a table of things all carved from shining:
Little men threading water, their softstone canoes,
Walrus rearing at harpoons in mid-roar.
Now, all this time later, that place
Remains like some story from a book.
I turn it in the light, my polar bear on a pad of ice,
And think of the world wilting in the sun’s wrath,
And nowhere left for the polar bear to go.
Monday, 23 January 2017
He’s the only one who’ll look you in the eye
and looking, make you feel he’d like to talk;
he takes no heed of other passers-by
but motionless, he sits as if in thought.
Unconsciously, he scratches at his thigh
and takes a sniff at what it is he’s caught
then, satisfied there’s one less louse at work,
he examines it and eats it by and by.
Turns out he hasn’t got a lot to say,
our thoughts, if such, too far apart to share
and if our differences are night and day
it doesn’t mean to say there’s nothing there.
I’ve seen his children’s cooked hands on a plate,
palm upwards as in prayer, articulate.
© Geoffrey Leggett
Thursday, 19 January 2017
Barn owls are an endangered species in GB now (though conservation efforts are paying off): partly because of loss of habitat, and therefore prey, and loss of nesting sites, and partly because of the pesticides sprayed and poison put down to kill their prey, voles, mice, rats.
I've the frequent privilege of watching one of the local pair quartering the scrubby (organically-farmed/agroforestry) field opposite us on summery evenings, or perched on a fence post, rising elegantly and featherlight as I approach.
First to Blink
And on the rain-slick road in front of me
white-staring staring me down
daring me down not moving
luminous in the moment in the car headlight
taking me in
taking my lethal metal jacket in
and not moving facing me down
claw gripping carcase
pinning me down
till I blink brake swerve
into the risk of oncoming
lifts upward like a leaf
letting go of gravity
curd of mist
of white ash
dissolving to night to drizzle
blurring to peripheral
letting me run
leaving me smeared
furred and bloody
on the road
© Jennie Osborne
This poem comes from Jennie Osborne's Colouring Outside the Lines, Oversteps Books, 2015. It also won the 2015 Kent and Sussex Poetry Competition.
Monday, 16 January 2017
Explaining a Few Things to Neruda
You will ask why my poetry
speaks of leaves and green rivers
and that family of goosanders
spinning and diving and drifting downstream
on the ebb tide this rainy morning.
Where are the unemployed? you ask,
the litter, the broken windows,
graffiti curse-words and allegations,
the lost generation, the hope of revolution?
You will ask why my poetry is so pretty,
all those woodlands and winter skies,
when jobs are scarce and art is strangled
and freedom is bought and sold with oil.
In those fields we have no lapwings,
no hares, a stillness of yellow rape,
and wheat after barley after wheat.
The skylark song is quenched in rain.
The moon rises over green absence.
Once there were bitterns in those reeds -
salmon, kingfisher, tufted duck,
children at the village school – all gone.
We wash the guilt of extinction off our hands.
Oh, see, the blood of extinction on our hands!
© Elizabeth Rimmer
This poem was first published in Dark Mountain 3, and then in Elizabeth's second collection The Territory of Rain. www.burnedthumb.co.uk
Friday, 13 January 2017
Speaking of anthologies, someone who puts a lot of time to creating and editing them is Deborah Gaye, of Avalanche Books. This, Woven Landscapes, is perhaps the fourth anthology of hers to which she's invited me to contribute. I'm honoured to be one of the six women poets the anthology features (the others are Anne Caldwell, Katrina Porteous, Wendy French, Katherine Gallagher and Kaye Lee). (I have one or two copies for sale; you can also order them from your local bookshop or through that big warehouse in the sky beginning with A.)
Deborah's just drawn my attention to a lovely review of this, including a passage on my work (in a time when I'm writing little poetry it's good to be reminded that sometimes I can):
'And each [woman] truly does have a clear, resoundingly individual voice. Section one, from Roselle Angwin, is a sensual tangle of the intimate and universal, beginning with Apple Tree and a wassail in an orchard that offers up memories of rural customs even as the poet urges us to rest “your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open/ the eyes and ears of your hand” to experience the “journey between earth and star.” It’s a powerfully enticing beginning. Each poem conjures the same magic, elevating the ordinary details of life while contemplating big issues – politics, mortality, pilgrimage and migration, all elegantly laid out in vivid verse.'
Thank you, Judy Darley, and your lovely blog (worth visiting for her other posts too): http://www.skylightrain.com/poetry-review-woven-landscapes/
Here's my first poem, mentioned above:
Wassail night has passed and winter’s
blue flames have retreated for now.
In the orchard, a thrush stabs the last
soft apple, and another calls from the tallest
tree. If you were to come by here, come
and stand by me here, I would hold
your palm to the trunk, tell you how to open
the eyes and ears of your hand so you
could feel how again the xylem and phloem
are waking, making their long slow
streaming journey between earth and star,
if you were to come here, to come by here again.
Wassail night is 17th January, when we go out to waken the trees with song and noise and a libation of a slice of toast soaked in apple juice or cider from the previous year's crop to tuck into a fork of the tree, giving thanks for each harvest and requesting another.
In a time of such global disorder and despair, the fact that the apple trees keep on blossoming and fruiting, and that here at least there are bees to pollinate them is something worth celebrating.
As is the fact that the UK's population of red squirrels is growing again, slowly, with help.
You want more good news? Positive News (https://www.positive.news/) tells me that 'At £38bn, the UK's ethical goods market is now worth twice that of tobacco, new research suggests.'
Did you know about the existence of Positive News? I can promise you that a read of that will make you feel much more optimistic about the world and our future than the more usual newspapers ever could.
But back to poetry, for a moment: my friend and colleague Sharon Black has now taken over editorship of Pindrop Press. Sharon, who is very much a hands-on editor, is open to submissions. She's looking for strong and distinctive voices. She only publishes four collections a year, and you will be expected to be familiar with the contemporary poetry scene. As with most poetry publishing houses, if you have not had poems published in the small press, or placed in competitions, you are unlikely to find a home with Pindrop – though it's not impossible.
The first two collections of this year, Mark Russell's Spearmint and Rescue, and Elisabeth Sennitt Clough's Sightings, are both now available from the Pindrop website, or order from your local bookshop.
And this is enough for the moment, I think, but I'm very excited to have led the first day, in Cornwall this week, of my new year-long group 'The Wellkeepers'. I've been writing about the well maidens from the Grail stories of the C12th and the symbolism of their rape and its connection with the wasteland that we are both inheriting and creating since my first book was commissioned in 1993. It seems increasingly urgent that we heed the warnings in those ancient tales before we truly destroy our own habitat along with that of the other species, and my course takes an, I believe, unique angle on this.
|photo B Grundbacher|
Oh, speaking of writing your life story: you have just over two weeks to submit 'a piece of your life' to the Fish Short Memoir competition: http://www.pw.org/writing_contests/short_memoir_prize
Thursday, 12 January 2017
And then, thankfully, I remembered Shirley Wright's fine poem. Here it is. Ragbag another day.
He has sucked the light
from the stars,
swallowed day and night,
tucked the moon
into a velvet pelt
so thick I struggle to breathe.
Matt black has never felt
more like drowning in soot
fathoms deep as he
paces the length of bars
there to protect me.
I would tear them down
if I could, replant
the Amazon and howl
like a baboon. But I can’t
conjure the jungle’s roar,
the covenant of wild and real.
Instead, I watch him circle,
take his photo, flinch as I feel
his glance graze my skin.
© Shirley Wright
This poem won 2nd prize in the Poetry Space competition. Shirley Wright’s excellent poetry collection, The Last Green Field, is published by IDP.
Tuesday, 10 January 2017
after W S Merwin
What shall we say to you and your kind
when we meet you in the blue beyond –
you great herbivores who could teach us
to live peaceably, who for so long
have done our bidding as slaves, you who
bury and mourn your dead as we do?
What shall we say to you whose faces
we mutilate, whose children we orphan,
whose whole family we’ve driven to the cliffs?
Shall we protest our ignorance as innocence,
tell how our great and growing god Profit
dictates and who are we to contravene?
Might we admit to our failures of imagination,
our poverty of spirit? Or shall we plead merely
that the world and all that’s in it was made for us?
© Roselle Angwin
Monday, 9 January 2017
Here, all animals are equal,
equal in extinction.
The Moa, long ago
an is-no-more, dozes
with the Golden Toad;
the Aurochs shoulders
the load of the Great Auk.
The Quagga logs
all recent arrivals –
the Western Black Rhino,
shorn of her horn,
Lonesome George crawling
from the island of himself,
the Spix's Macaw clawing
of captive survivors.
The Pyrenean Ibex
takes vertiginous bets
on who's next –
the Caspian Tiger's
wild striped guess says
the Pygmy Three-Toed Sloth's
himself, racing past
the red edge
of his mangroves,
while dead glaciers wait
for the kiss
of the Snow Leopard's tread.
And look, here's
the Common Skate,
the tide of her name,
snarled in infinite
© Susan Richardson
Friday, 6 January 2017
In the Midst of the Sixth Great Extinction
All of John Clare’s birds – Fern-Owl and Starnel,
Chiffchaff, Corncrake, Pettichap, Pewit,
Bumbarrell, Snipe, Quail – all of them,
overnight, in moonshadow, while elsewhere
we lay dreaming, upped, just upped, took wing
from his poems, leaving not an echo
or a fallen feather on their page, leaving
redacted lines like a stripped winter hedge
holed with black spaces, with windswept nests
where nothing now glabbered or chelped.
© Chris Waters
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
would see you revamped as clone.
I could stroke your fuzz, so
orange-blond soft, feel the hard
and swelling buds
where your marvellous tusks will grow.
But this is selfishness, my wanting;
this is greed.
Mammoth, you must not quicken again
in a cold unwelcoming world.
With those tusks
you would become the poachers’ prey
for they are priceless and, to some,
worth murdering for.
I will forego the joy
of seeing you feast on a blackthorn hedge
crunching it up, twig and splinter,
like marrow, like bone DNA.
© Mandy Pannett
Published in Jongleur in the Courtyard (Indigo Dreams Publishing)
Monday, 2 January 2017
However, bats are vulnerable to habitat and food-source loss, and some are indeed endangered. While the pipistrelle bat is relatively common in GB, I heard last year that it's very under-represented in, for instance, Brittany.
Response to Meredith Andrea’s ‘Pipistrelle’
It was like this: a high street place
of bodies busy with their heels
and soles, the ordinary tramp of feet
on wet pavements.
I was little
but not as lost as the bit of brownish-black
on the pavement that a woman kicked to the side
with her pointy shoe. The way she curled
her nose at this bit of slack stuff
drew me closer, and down.
Toot of traffic was big around
pedestrians, their crossing and me
more afraid now for this flimsy thing
dropped from some dark into daylight
danger, now scraping its bit of brolly-self
against wall-edge, stranded amongst cigarette stubs
and chewing gum, the click-clack of heels, the swing
of shopping bags –
like live litter, this little
with webbed wings.
My mother’s voice, like ultrasonic singing,
sounded somewhere above, a kind
of echolocation. She fell upon me,
It could have been a Pipistrelle.
© Fiona Owen, from The Green Gate (Cinnamon Press, 2015)
- a perspective: figures on US deaths
- Lost Species poem-plus 20: Kenneth Steven
- Lost Species poem 19: Geoffrey Leggett
- Lost Species poem 18: Jennie Osborne
- Lost Species poem 17: Elizabeth Rimmer
- from the Ragbag, January 13th
- Lost Species poem 16: Shirley Wright
- Lost Species poem 15: Roselle Angwin
- Lost Species poem 14: Susan Richardson
- Lost Species poem 13: Chris Waters
- Lost Species poem 12: Mandy Pannett
- Lost Species poem 11: Fiona Owen
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