Yea, I'm up in the summerhouse adoing of me blog. I see that I haven't got around to posting anything since 12th May. That is the date on which I emailed Anne of the CCC to see if any progress had been made on my website. I had a couple of circulars from her (to me and the exCPLs) about different poetry things going off in the county but nothing about my website. I emailed her again last week and got a reply. I evidently misunderstood and the CCC are not prepared to provide a website but will provide a web page for my 'Homage to Cheshire' project for 2009. Setting up a website is not a skill of mine nor do I have the dosh to pay someone else to do it so I guess that knocks it on the head. What I will do is post poems up on this site.
This misunderstanding between Anne and I resonates with my theory that people are generally more interested in poets than they are in poetry. My paymasters, the CCC are patently no exception. Their website carries a picture of me (courtesy the Sentinel) and some quotes from a statement I made about my stance in poetry but not a single line of my writing. Odd, ain't it? There is, of course, another dimension to this with it being the CCC: I am paid by them, presumably, out of public money. Do the public not have a right to see what they are getting for their tax? Anyway, I will start putting that right with immediate effect. Here is my first commission for the CCC - an extra to my five core commisions. It is my poem for Holocaust Memorial Day. The Memorial Day took the form of a very moving event at the Ellesmere Port Civic Hall.
Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna . . .
Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna,
Joseph, Miriam, take back your names.
By cyanide, rifle or strung from a scaffold,
By disease or starvation, you died just the same.
They brought you by train, huddled and herded,
Truck-full by truck-full, galloped and whipped;
Skittish and squealing, prodded, curse-worded,
Tethered, shorn, branded and stripped.
They beat you and took your young from your caring,
Weighed-up and yoked you and put you to work,
Or culled you for slaughter, wild-eyed and flaring,
Piled carcass on carcass to rot on the dirt.
Ash from the chimneys falls like snowflakes,
Clogging throats, blinding eyes.
Gas chamber doors slam on new intakes,
And emptied of angels loom Auschwitz's skies.
Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna,
Joseph, Miriam, take back your names.
If your deaths are to be worth living,
Never must we kneel to tyrants again.
(I pronounce the names Jacob and Joseph as if they begin with a Y)
There you go then. That was my first commission and that was when I felt the difference between writing a poem from your own musing that you may later decide to put into the public arena and writing a purpose-built poem designed for public consumption. I have become much more tolerant of the lesser poems of others (I mean in comparison with the main body of their own work NOT in comparison with anything I've done!) in a similar position - Tennyson, Motion, etc. It has also given me insight into Shakespeare's brand of rhetoric. I felt it was a big responsibility trying to be a kind of spokesperson for others whilst keeping within the frame of my own beliefs.
Lynda and I had tea with Ron and Jill Milne, on Saturday - in this summerhouse, in fact. They are great friends of ours and happen to be well-read, articulate people with a great sense of humour and who are unafraid of speaking their minds. It is to them I sometimes run when I am in doubt about something I have written. They always have something apposite to say. Their comments sometimes hurt a bit but they are never unkindly meant nor are they ever able to be dismissed. It is to them I went when I had drafted my Holocaust poem. They always get what I am doing and are able to nudge me back on path if I stumble off. I am still unsure about the last line of my Holocaust poem. It's a bit heavy-handed. It worked in performance, though. And that's what I mean about the difference between public and private poetry.
Hey, I'm really glad I've started putting poetry up on here. I was playing into the hands of my own theory, wasn't I?
I've been out with the Woodlanders Country Dance Band a couple of times since my last posting. They really have got it all going on. I love English traditional music, especially when it rocks a bit. The caller for the recent gigs has been Linda Westrup. I had heard of her over the years but never actually worked with her before and she is terrific to work with. The dancers love her. She's got a really nice calling voice not at all like the screech of others I won't mention. She introduced a couple of innovative dances of her own. The tradition lives on. I just love getting a chance to play guitar and fiddle all night. The Woodlanders is the best dance band I have played with to date and that really is saying something. It took me two days to come own off the last gig.
On the 22nd May, there was the 'unveiling' of the Footprints project mosaic at Alsager library. The children who had made the mosaic under the direction of artist Su Horrell came along and so did the young poets I had worked with at Excalibur school. It really was a fine and pleasant day and the sculpture looks good especially from upstairs in the library looking down. There were a few speeches and I read the poem I had been commissioned to write. The Chronicle took photos and did interviews and BBC Radio Stoke came along and did interviews too. I found the radio interview strange. The guy with the mic kept looking away from me after he had asked a question. He perhaps was preoccupied with something techinical. I am used to interviewers at least pretending to be interested and it put me off to the point where I completely forgot what I was on about and dried up. I kept giggling to myself about it afterwards but I think he was annoyed - maybe he thought I was nuts. Mind you, that's a good thing about being a poet, the stereotypical poet is a half-crazy dreamer and you can get away with things others can't.
Here's my poem for the Excalibur Primary School / Alsager Library project:
At Alsager where four roads meet, the traffic beats
its changing rhythms on tarmacadam and plate glass
To the west, the rumble and crash of falling masonry as
a university campus is laid bare, for more shops and more houses
where generations read environmental science, art, music, philosophy,
got drunk on new ideas and fell in love with the world;
yellow classroom huts where hares nested in the gaps below
and boxed each other in the madness of springtime;
small copses where pirate squirrels swung through the rigging
of tall trees on swashbuckling winds;
where, in the dreams of old farm hands, mixed herds still graze
on clover-rich pasture and hectares of wheat still stand tall in the crop fields
and horse pairs snort and blow as they put their muscle to the plough;
where the farmer's own fathers, fathers cut clearings in the forest for homesteads.
On a small green island by the public library where four roads meet,
a sweet and gentle offering by children of the Excalibur Primary School:
industrial and domestic scraps of our time - circuit boards,
broken cups and toys - encapsulated in a giant figurative footprint.
The traffic murmurs a prelude to the carbon surge of eventide.
Cherry trees with chain-sawn arms hold pink blossoms out to the sun.
I've just thought: the line breaks of these poems will be destroyed by the format of the posting. They will overrun and get tucked under the next line. Oh well. I should tell you that the Alsager Rotary Club helped finance the Footprints project.
In between these two commissions I did another for the National Year of Reading, 2008. It's due out on a poster soon too, I hope, as there's only half the year left already. I'll post that one up next time and also the commissioned poem I have written for World Environment Day (June 5th) that I have a feeling will go down like a concrete glider - not perhaps the best expression, as a concrete glider might be looked upon rather favourably by the WED people as an alternative to the aeroplane. I am also working on what to do for the Congleton Garden Festival of 15th June.
When I went to Alsager library they had four banners which, as I recall it, were to do with Freedom and Liberty, Getting Away From It All, Crime and Punishment, and the Second World War. With Gayle Hawley's permission (Alsager's every-friendly, ever-helpful, ever-keen librarian), I stuck up some poems in response to these banners: Black Ivory, A View Of Mow Cop, Wayward Women And Fallen Men, Ballad Of An Owd Sowjer. The banners are left in a Cheshire library for a month and then moved to the next library in the county. When the guy came along to collect the banners for the move, he asked to to take my poems along with them which I was delighted to agree with, of course. So now, my friends, I am on tour and with no on-the-road expenses, no dreary miles to beat along and no seedy hotels needy to catch some respite for my old grey weary head. How good is that? Ta-ra.