There are no tools or instruments,
No workbench, no materials.
No ringing hammers, rasping saws,
No hard blue flame, no rain of sparks;
No brick or plank, stone or cement,
No rivet, bolt or sheet of steel,
No whirling lathe, no shrieking drill,
No oil or smoke, no soil or dust.
But still, tonight we will depart
Contented with the work we’ve done;
No sign of how we spent the day
Or what it was we went to build.
Kinda early in the day
For noodling sax
And rippling piano;
Scattered motes of hazy night
Drifting into sharp, bright morning
Like smoke under the door;
The lingering tang of scotch on the tongue.
But right on time
For the double shot
Lined up to hit me
Right between the eyes;
A jolt to the brain, still half in bed,
To shock myself
Into my best pretence of life.
And when it comes
The first clear through is not
Of what I’m here to do,
But of you, and later,
When we’re together
Long miles down the road
And all of this might finally make sense.
Pre-meeting ruminations in the eponymous cafe. N.
I walked the woods, where Spring at last bestirred
Herself with bright abandon. All around
Bluebells and windflowers gleamed, and every bird
Rejoiced in lusty song. Then came the sound
Of angry scolding overhead: a coarse
And ragged band of brigands in full cry
As one by one, they swooped and swirled to force
The noble, broad-winged buzzard from their sky.
And thus when I, too, seek release in flight
Or silent solitude, the world’s dark woes
Rise up in loud pursuit, grant no respite
And crowd in, mobbing me like churlish crows.
How many years and miles before I find
A place to rest to my weary heart and mind?
Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary last Saturday has led to this sudden outbreak of sonnets; old and familiar ground, I know, but it’s still my favourite form to work with, and just feels right at this time of year. That said, spring is showing recidivist tendencies this week, with a bitter northerly pegging temperatures in single digits (C) and leaving the flowers wondering if they’ve accidentally skipped a few pages in their diaries. N.
How I long
To stay lost;
Off the chart
And out of time.
In some deep hollow of the hills
Among old oaks
Or way beyond
The low-tide line
Where none but the gulls and wild winds go.
Wilfully mislay myself;
Step off the road,
Rip the map into a thousand shreds
And watch them spin away.
Cut the line
And all the ties that bind.
No more words;
Just thoughts and birdsong, breeze and sun.
Nothing moving faster than the clouds,
No voices but the trees’ deliberations.
Only the shadows to show the hour;
Nothing to do, and all day to do it in.
Take paper, pen, and wait for words to flow.
Breathing suspended. All is possible.
The blank page stretches out; last night’s new snow
Untrodden, where we may plant footprints; show
The path we took, and others where to go.
Each poem is a map; a traveller’s guide
To strange lands we have passed through, wandering
Wide-eyed, alert and innocent inside
Our own heads; to the many roads we’ve tried,
The loves we’ve lost, the dreams we’ve been denied.
Like postcards from the places we have been
(Or wished we had); our reminiscences
Of roaring cities, cobbled streets, quiet green
Woods; eye-witness dispatches from a scene
Familiar, dreamt, and all points in between.
Like letters to an old friend – or maybe
We’re writing to ourselves in years to come:
To get ‘er down before she goes; so we
Need not depend on fickle memory
To tell us what we knew, and used to be.
One man’s take on this crazy art of ours – and a riposte to my inner critic, following our imagined conversation in the pub earlier this week! N.
I met him in the pub. He asked: “So, what is it you do?”
“I’m a poet,” I replied. “What, really? Get away.” “It’s true.”
“Well I’ll be damned. Excuse my asking: what d’you make a year?”
“It’s more of a vocation than an actual career,”
I said. “One never does it for the money.” “So you mean
It doesn’t pay that much?” “Well, if I’m honest; not a bean.”
He stared at me. “You don’t get paid at all? You must be mad:
Why don’t you get a proper job?” “You sound just like my dad.”
He shook his head. “What happens to the stuff you write each day?
You read it? File it? Rip it up?” “I give it all away.”
“What – all of it?” “Yep, every word.” “For nothing – gratis – free?”
“‘fraid so; just stick it on the web.” “Man, stop; you’re killing me.”
He swigged his pint. “And you’ve done this for how long?” “Ever since
I was a lad, so call it forty years.” I saw him wince.
I went on: “Come to think of it, I can’t recall a time
I didn’t frame my world in stanzas, syllables and rhyme.”
“How many poems have you written?” “Hell, I’ve no idea:
It must be several thousand, though.” He almost dropped his beer.
“So let me get this straight: you’ve done a lifetime’s work unpaid.”
“Guess that’s about the size of it.” “You need a different trade
And fast, my friend – or some way to get cash for what you do.
Someone must pay for poetry.” I smiled. “All right. Would you?”
Nobody’s closed a coal mine down
Or shut a shipyard in this town.
No locked gates at a lumber mill;
No steel plant dark and cold, but still
It’s ten a.m. and here I am:
Laid off, redundant. Not a damn
Thing I can do about it; they
Don’t seem to need this man today
Is all. Meanwhile, more bills arrive.
I know that, somehow, we’ll survive –
We always do – but life has left
Me on the sidelines. I’m bereft
Of solid skills. No place for me
In foundry, field, refinery,
Construction site or factory floor.
It’s hard to see what I’m good for.
You’ve got something to advertise?
Sure, I can help you: I’ll devise
Some clever lines to help it fly
Right off the shelves, make people buy
This thing they never even knew
They needed. This is what I do.
But not today. I’m not required.
Just sitting, waiting to be hired.
(So if you need some words that rhyme
Give me a call. I’ve got the time.)
Ah, the rollercoaster ride of being freelance. For five months, I’ve been working almost without a break: this week, things have dried up completely. After 15 years, I should be used to it, and I know the phone will start ringing again, but it doesn’t stop the silence being scary as all hell while it lasts. This is when I wish I had a proper craft or trade to fall back on! N.