Posts Tagged ‘poem’

fallenA very sad story in the newspaper in Melbourne today, noting that over 104 people over the age of 50 died in their homes in 2011, and lay there dead for a week or more before their bodies were discovered.

Even sadder is that some of those people – victims of heart attacks, strokes, and falls, for example – might have survived if found sooner. And saddest of all is that the same litany of little tragedies are surely repeated every year in every city in the world.

We live in a world which is theoretically more connected than ever. And yet, as more people live alone – especially more older people – any sense that we all live in a village with an eye on each other’s welfare is receding into distant memory.

We recall growing up in a typical middle-class street, with friends and neighbours in abundance in all directions.

Connections were not made because people were nosy and inquisitive, but simply because people were polite and caring. It would be unusual not to greet the people who lived nearby with a cheery “Good morning” when walking past them. Indeed, more so: to nod, smile and utter a greeting to complete strangers, who often became, in due course, acquaintances, and then friends. Nowadays, likely as not, people would shy back, concerned you were a nutter or from a religious cult.

We live in a colder, harder world, where the idea of a harmless conversation over the fence or sharing a quick cuppa on the back step seems immeasurably quaint.

Do yourself a favour. Do the world a favour. Go knock on their door. Any excuse will do – or just ‘fess up. “I thought we should know one another.”

Especially if they’re old, and alone. Just do it.

 

MRS TURKINGTON

She used to stand, proud and erect, the Colossus of Assembly.
Headmistress of St Catherine’s Church of England Primary
Concentrating Camp
For David and Gareth and Julie and Helen and Me.

Talons grasping the eagle-winged lectern
she would gravely announce
“All God’s Creatures Here Alive
Ancient and Modern, Number 35”
,
and God help you if you didn’t sing.
(Except he wouldn’t.
because he was silenced by a glance
from Mrs T, as well.)

She had a cane, but never used it.
If found running in the quadrangle
she just pinned you to the blue breeze-block walls
with Yorkshire-steel eyes and asked you what
exactly it was you thought you were doing?7
And whatever it was, you stopped it.

Bubble-gum swallowed, marbles pocketed.
Prize conker? Dropped it.

I heard some time ago Mrs T had died.
They found her on the floor.
No-one called, no more.
So no-one saw.

Been there for days, they said.
All thin, and gnarled, and very dead.

In later life, she’d mellowed.
Her skin had yellowed.
I used to see her in Church, a bit
when time had pushed her shoulders up in the middle.
She just got all bent, when the rheumatics hit.

Always sent me a Christmas card,
even when her life got hard.

Mum used to shove one under me nose to sign for her
so I suppose she’d always got it,
and then thought I never forgot it.

I never thought I would, but
I felt sorry when they found her,
fallen and forgotten at the bottom of the stairs.

She had a cane, you see.
But she never used it.

poem

 

You came to me unexpectedly
happening on a glade, as if
gliding over me like crystal in the early morning
cool like the fever in my life breaking
refreshing as the splash of a wave
murmuring like a gentle stream until I drowned.

And then you left as if you had never been
and all my world was dust and air and sand again
but I remember you to this day
when the sun beats down, cruel
when the sun is strong on my brow

I swim in my memories and pretend that you were real.


Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

Spoons

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.


Kindergarnered

Stephen Yolland is a Melbourne poet and author/editor of Wellthisiswhatithink. You can find his book of poetry here. The book is also available as a download from lulu.com.

He would appreciate it if you could share this poem by linking to this blog post in any way you can.

detainee

 

CHRISTMAS ISLAND, AUSTRALIA,
JULY 2014 ~ A POEM

 

She takes a bottle,

smashes it against a breeze block

they used to build the barracks

that bake at noon and sweat at midnight.

 

Sorts out a piece of glass

sharp, fits neatly in her hand

draws it across her slender wrist

a green transluscent bow ’cross a brown cello.

 

She lies back, deeply tired.

More tired than she thought possible

sun incessant on her face

and, dignified, hoses her life over the wooden steps.

 

Within a few minutes they come running.

Rush her to the infirmary

wrapping her, scolding her,

but she is silent, crying silent, bleeding silent.

 

A dozen at least like this, they say,

because if they die their children

will have a golden future.

Dreaming of the lucky country.

 

And in the Ministerial offices

a man with glasses and a poor haircut

says we do not comment on detainee self-harm

we could not possibly comment.

 

We lock them up.

We send them back.

We give them over.

We un-person them by not talking.

 

And on the island, the woman lies

wrists bandaged, children frightened.

She is an operational matter:

she operated on herself,

but we are not allowed to know.

 

The blood bakes black on the wooden steps.

Birds carol raucous in the trees.

Her children weep midst the breeze blocks.

Merry Christmas Island.

Not.

broken bottle

Mystery first-grader’s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

Mystery first-grader s incredible poem about dancing goes viral

When photographer Jason Gardner visited a US public school to photograph some of the students and their families this week, he ended up taking one picture he wasn’t planning to — a shot of a poem, written by a first-grader, which has now gone viral worldwide. We’re guessing you’re going to love it and share it, too.

The poem, penned at an after-school program in honour of National Poetry Month, which takes place in April, quickly became a hit. As a working poet, we simply love it. We love the idea of National Poetry Month, too.

But since Gardner took a picture of only the unsigned poem and not the student who wrote it, at this point the world has no idea of the young author’s identity. The poem reads:

We did the soft wind.

We danst slowly. We swrld

Aroned. We danst soft.

We lisin to the mozik.

We danst to the mozik.

We made personal space.

Forget the spelling, read the thoughts.

 

Although the poem doesn’t seem complicated at first glance, there’s a surprising depth in those simple words. And it comes with the endorsement of several high-profile writers and critics, including Michael Dumanis, a literature and poetry writing professor at Bennington College in Vermont.

“I loved it!” Dumanis told Yahoo about the poem. “It captured the truth about personal space. The mis-spellings make it more primal and deliberate. At the end there’s an epiphany about dancing and what that means.”

And Dumanis isn’t the only one with good things to say about the elementary student’s work. After Gardner posted the photo of the poem to his Facebook page, NPR’s radio show “Studio 360″ shared it with listeners and called the poem its favorite poem of National Poetry Month. (The story has since become the most shared on NPR’s website and has gotten more than 4000 likes.) Meanwhile, a headline on Gawker.com blared “This Talented First Grader Just Wrote a Better Poem Than You Ever Could.”

Though some poets and scholars don’t like the idea of a National Poetry Month, worrying that it will dis-suade people from being interested in poetry during the rest of the year, Dumanis disagrees with that idea.

“Anything that draws attention to an art form is ultimately a good thing. Because of National Poetry Month, more people encounter [poetry], more people write it and find a role for it in their lives. It becomes a long-term pursuit.” He hopes that once the student is identified, he or she will find out how much positive praise the poem has received. He also hopes that the student will continue pursuing creative endeavors and continue to read, study, and write poetry.

“This poem, to me, coming from a first-grader, has so much spark and originality,” he said. “Anytime you put a word on the page, you are making a choice.”

And it’s clear that, for this six-year-old, it was the right one. More power to his elbow.

(Yahoo and others.)

stars

 

ONE NIGHT OF MANY


I lie beside you, a long wait into tomorrow

and listen to you gently snore.

Whoever invented that phrase

~ gently snore ~

they knew. There is ungentle snoring,

when I nudge you in the back and roll you

half awake into silence

but that is not this. This is a soft rhythm

like the sea carressing white sand.

 

The rain on the new tin roof

syncopatedly changes tempo

as if to accompany you.

For a while there, it rises and falls

in time with your chest

in time with your dreams.

And the life in your breath

and the life in the rain

soothe me.

 

Without warning, I am assailed by images.

Unbidden. What would happen

if you were taken out of our lives?

A truck, a tree branch, your heart.

Police at the door, our daughter’s face.

The nights.

I could manage the days, I think.

But not the nights.

I listen for the gentle heave of air.

 

And again, and again, there it is,

that gentle heave of air, and I am stilled.

Do not distress yourself with imaginings.

Not yet. Not yet awhile, at least.

Go to sleep.

The rain falls on the world like balm.

And by the moonlight of the clock

I see your perfect calm face and think

how you would hold me, if you knew.

 

 

readMeTo buy a printed copy
of my collection of
poetry, “71 Poems and One Short Story”,
(there’s a download, too), please go to:

http://tinyurl.com/cumbx42

 

 

Ring - A Poem

Many bloggers were saluting Remembrance Day yesterday.

 

The poem's author's parents on their wedding day

The poem’s author’s parents on their wedding day

 

This rather beautiful poem is worthy of a wider audience. Give it a click.

Lest I Forget.

20131021-001112.jpg

You don’t GET it I snarled
And told her why, at length.

Fine. You don’t get IT she smiled
And shortly after, left.

Clive James

Clive James

I am reminded by the arrival of a TV docco on the Wellthisiswhatithink household screen that one of my cultural heroes, Clive James, is apparently not all that much longer for this world.

Afflicted with leukaemia and emphysema, he battles on gamely, his body restricted but his mind still luminously alert.

Death comes to us all, and it’s better, I have decided, to get used to the idea, even if we rage, rage against the dying of the light as we go.

However long he is spared, James is and was the perfect fusion of true erudition and pop culture, and when he finally does shuffle off his mortal coil he will leave behind a charmingly rotund and ineffably sad gap for so many people.

Sue Ellen's drinkin' prarlm ran for a few series ... to everyone's delight.

Sue Ellen’s drinkin’ prarlm ran for a few series … to everyone’s communal delight.

He first came to general notice writing pithy and frequently hilarious TV criticism for the Observer newspaper in London some thirty or so years ago. His ability to take ephemeral material and turn it into something guaranteed to make one both think and yet laugh out loud was unmatched – I well remember how in one glorious series of articles he would take the mangled southern US drawl of the characters of “Dallas” and turn his column into something approaching comic genius by spelling their dialogue out phonetically.

Thus, you will see, Sue-Ellen Ewing wasn’t an alcoholic, she had someone with what was hilariously described as a “drinkin’ prarlm”.

As I am reminded (for which I am grateful) by a correspondent), James was also author of what must be one of the finest sentences ever written in the English language. It fell to him to review TV coverage of the royal wedding in 1981. Barbara Cartland was Princess Di’s step-grandmother but was not invited to the wedding ceremony, so one of the broadcasters hired her as a studio pundit. Clive James described her thus: “Twin miracles of mascara, her eyes looked liked the corpses of two crows that had crashed into a chalk cliff.”

Anyhow, I reproduce here from the author’s own website, for which trespass I am sure he will forgive me if I say clivejames.com often enough, one of his finest TV crit columns from 1980 which was headlined, as per his phonetic re-purposing of the English language when commenting on “Dallas”,  Someone Shart JR.

I reproduce it in full with no apologies for the patience I require of you in completing this column, Dear Reader, because it is possibly the finest example of a critical essay that I have ever read, and also for the simple reason that I note that the anthology which it is part of is now out of print. (I still have my treasured copy.) This example is notable not only because of the wonderful meandering amuse bouche of his opening views on the BBC and the cast of Dallas, but also because of the wonderfully wise and pointed Shakespearian crit that follows it.

He could hardly have demonstrated his ability to fire with both strings of his considerable intellectual bow more appositely.

Begins:

SOMEONE SHART JR

In a week which contained a full-scale production of Hamlet, the well-known tragedy by William Shakespeare, there could be no question about what was the most important event — the long-delayed episode of Dallas(BBC1) in which JR got shot.

The BBC overdid the joke, as the humourless are wont to do. After JR had been plugged there was an item on the Nine O’Clock News (BBC1) to tell the world that it had happened, almost as if anyone who hadn’t been watching would be interested in hearing about it. Before the episode rolled there was a great deal of preparatory barking from the link-men. ‘The long-awaited dramatic climax to the present series of Dallas — the shooting of JR!’ In the event, all you saw was JR getting mown down. You didn’t see who was pulling the trigger. Thus was the way left clear for another long tease-play before the next series arrives to put us out of our supposed misery.

The Beeb should realise, poor soft creature, that the Dallas thing is only a gag if you play it straight. After all, that’s what the actors are doing. With the possible exception of JR himself, everybody in the cast is working flat out to convey the full range of his or her, usually her, emotional commitment. Sue Ellen, in particular, was a study in passionate outrage when she realised the extent of her husband’s perfidy. Her mouth practically took off. You will remember that JR swindled all the other big oilmen in Dallas by selling them his oil wells ‘off the coast of South-East Asia’ just before the wells were nationalised, presumably by the South-East Asian Government. This behaviour filled Sue Ellen with disgerst, and she reached for her gern.

Sue Ellen keeps her gern in a bottom drawer. Or perhaps it is JR’s gern and on this occasion she was only borrowing it. Whatever the truth of that, you were left certain of one thing: that you could not be sure it was Sue Ellen who shot JR. Candidates for the honour were queueing up in the corridor. It is even possible that Miss Ellie shot him, since she has been showing increasing signs of madness, singing her dialogue instead of saying it. Don’t be surprised if the sheriff turns up with a wornt for her arrest. There could be a tornt of wornts.

And so to Hamlet (BBC2), starring Derek Jacobi in the title role. As writer/presenter of Shakespeare in Perspective: Hamlet (BBC2), which was transmitted on the previous day, I am duly grateful to the BBC for the opportunity to say my two cents’ worth about the best play in the world. This, however, was only an average production of it. It didn’t matter so much that Elsinore was set in a velodrome, although you kept expecting cyclists to streak past on the banking while the Prince was in mid-soliloquy.

How the play is staged certainly matters, but not as much as how the lines are spoken, and in this production it soon became clear that there was a mania on the loose to speak them in the most pointed manner possible, so that the Bard’s meaning would be fully brought out. We have the Royal Shakespeare Company to thank for many virtues and this one vice — a way of speaking Shakespeare’s blank verse that is almost guaranteed to deprive it of its binding energy, which is not meaning but rhythm. To a large extent the meaning will take care of itself if the rhythm is well attended to, but if the rhythm is broken then no amount of searching emphasis will make up for the loss, and you are left with the spectacle of an actor trying to exhaust the semantic content of William Shakespeare, with about the same chance as a thirsty man trying to drain Lake Windermere through a straw.

Derek Jacobi was an excellent Richard II, but as Hamlet he went out of his way, presumably with the director’s encouragement, to give every line an explanatory reading. Enterprises of great pitch and moment, we were informed, with this regard their currents turn awry. The implication, presumably, was that enterprises of great pitch and moment don’t usually do this, and that it usually happens only to enterprises of lesser pitch and moment. Many a time and oft I was reminded of Robert Stephens’s classically, over-explanatory first line as Oberon. ‘Ill-met (as opposed to well-met) by moonlight (as opposed to daylight), proud (not humble, like other Titanias Oberon had had the good fortune to meet in his time)Titani (not some other well-met fairy of equivalent high rank walking proudly in the moonlight in that particular forest).’

Hamlet’s mother and uncle were more inclined to play it straight and thus drew most of my attention, although Claire Bloom could not help but remind you that she was better handled in an earlier production, Henry VIII, a well-thought-out occasion to which she rose brilliantly. Ophelia was encouraged to participate in the by now hallowed directorial tradition of fiddling about with Ophelia: she looked as if she were just about to sit her Danish O-levels with small hope of passing. Eric Porter rattled on lovably as Polonius, but that’s a hard one to get wrong, since the reactions of all the other principal characters are carefully specified.

Clad in complete steel plus a flying panel of what looked like tulle, Patrick Allen, voice-over in a thousand commercials, was a good ghost, although you would not have been stunned to hear him recommend Danish bacon. One should be grateful, of course, that the ghost was allowed to appear at all. In the latest London stage production, I am told, the ghost is a figment of Hamlet’s diseased fancy, an interpretation which involves re-arranging the text so that Horatio and the sentries never see the spook. How drama
critics stay sane is beyond me.

As the Japanese Like It (BBC2) engagingly showed the aforesaid Derek Jacobi on tour with the Old Vic Hamlet in Japan. The stage version of his performance sounded twice as good as the television version. Presumably some of the Japanese theatre companies learned a lot about how to underplay a scene. Their leading actors, even when engaged in contemplation, show a tendency to stamp around like Toshiro Mifune with piles. The Haiyuza company, however, looked wonderfully accomplished. Their transvestite Rosalind was lyricism incarnate and the whole production around him/her bubbled with inventive life. The same director will be stagingHamlet next January. Doubtless he will include plenty of tumbling, juggling and magic sword-fights.

On the South Bank Show (LWT) Melvyn Bragg interviewed Roman Polanski, who was fascinating about his craft. It was refreshing to hear someone of his unchallenged technical skill declaring outright that Laurence Olivier is a film director of genius. Polanski has seen Olivier’s Hamlettwenty-five times. Bragg screened an excerpt from
it and there you had it, if you had ever forgotten: the way Shakespeare should look and the way he should sound, with Olivier’s voice moving as quickly and accurately as his body, so that the meaning of the verse rippled outward in your mind as the stress skipped rhythmically forward like a stone flung across the water.”

:Ends

Ah, bliss.

James was and is also an accomplished poet. As a young man, he fitted neatly for me into the great tradition established by populist 1960s poets such as Roger McGough, and he was unquestionably one of the luminaries whose work encouraged me to take up writing my own poetry, and eventually to make my career as a professional writer. He made it look so much fun, and so easy. And so a lifelong war of attrition with blank pages began.

In one early poem “Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini”, he reached such heights of delightful comic talent as to surely cement his place in writing history. Certainly in my view of writing history.

James never had to explain his crush on Gabriella Sabatini. It was shared by every other heterosexual male in the world.

James never had to explain his crush on Gabriella Sabatini. It was shared by every other heterosexual male in the world.

Never one to hide his affection for beautiful women, James, in the words of one commentator on NPR in America, “aims for warm glow and clear flow, and a delightfully shocking number of his poems achieve that lucid state. An ace critic of the printed word and moving image, James brings that eye for the ideas of art and the soul of pop to his lustrous moonlighting.

The speaker of “Bring Me the Sweat of Gabriela Sabatini” — a bloke, one surely senses, with tastes none too distant from the poet’s own — is a tennis fan no longer able to stifle his “croak of need” for the beauties of the women’s tour.

James unleashes this “parched howl” for eight stanzas, pining for intimacy with the Argentinean brunette and her supple backhand.

In classical fashion, he catalogues and incants. He’s not unreasonable (“Out of deference to Billie Jean I did my best / To control my male chauvinist urges”), but his reason loses its battle to the pull of the poem’s pleading meter.

Recurring themes (in James’s work) include the vanities of literary life (as in the schadenfreude masterpiece “The Book of My Enemy Has Been Remaindered”), the tick-tock of mortality (“The breath of life is what finally kills you”) and the destructive power of religion (and, not quite paradoxically, the plump grace of angels).

But almost all of the poems touch on desire — parting glances, nostalgic gazes, inquiries into the charms of both Don Juan and Cleopatra. One proof that James, the poet, deserves greater recognition on these shores is his ability to make even the sin of lust ring with the sound of fun.”

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini by Clive James

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
For I know it tastes as pure as Malvern water,
Though laced with bright bubbles like the aqua minerale
That melted the kidney stones of Michelangelo
As sunlight the snow in spring.

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
In a green Lycergus cup with a sprig of mint,
But add no sugar -
The bitterness is what I want.
If I craved sweetness I would be asking you to bring me
The tears of Annabel Croft.

I never asked for the wristbands of Maria Bueno,
Though their periodic transit of her glowing forehead
Was like watching a bear’s tongue lap nectar.
I never asked for the blouse of Françoise Durr,
Who refused point-blank to improve her soufflé serve
For fear of overdeveloping her upper arm -
Which indeed remained delicate as a fawn’s femur,
As a fern’s frond under which cool shadows gather
So that the dew lingers.

Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini
And give me credit for having never before now
Cried out with longing.
Though for all the years since TV acquired colour
To watch Wimbledon for even a single day
Has left me shaking with grief like an ex-smoker
Locked overnight in a cigar factory,
Not once have I let loose as now I do
The parched howl of deprivation,
The croak of need.

Did I ever demand, as I might well have done,
The socks of Tracy Austin?
Did you ever hear me call for the cast-off Pumas
Of Hana Mandlikova?
Think what might have been distilled from these things,
And what a small request it would have seemed -
It would not, after all, have been like asking
For something so intimate as to arouse suspicion
Of mental derangement.
I would not have been calling for Carling Bassett’s knickers
Or the tingling, Teddy Tinling B-cup brassière
Of Andrea Temesvari.

Yet I denied myself.
I have denied myself too long.
If I had been Pat Cash at that great moment
Of triumph, I would have handed back the trophy
Saying take that thing away
And don’t let me see it again until
It spills what makes this lawn burst into flower:
Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini.

In the beginning there was Gorgeous Gussie Moran
And even when there was just her it was tough enough,
But by now the top hundred boasts at least a dozen knockouts
Who make it difficult to keep one’s tongue
From lolling like a broken roller blind.
Out of deference to Billie-Jean I did my best
To control my male chauvinist urges -
An objectivity made easier to achieve
When Betty Stove came clumping out to play
On a pair of what appeared to be bionic legs
Borrowed from Six Million Dollar Man.

I won’t go so far as to say I harbour
Similar reservations about Steffi Graf -
I merely note that her thigh muscles when tense
Look interchangeable with those of Boris Becker -
Yet all are agreed that there can be no doubt
About Martina Navratilova:
Since she lent her body to Charles Atlas
The definition of the veins on her right forearm
Looks like the Mississippi river system
Photographed from a satellite,
And though she may unleash a charming smile
When crouching to dance at the ball with Ivan Lendl,
I have always found to admire her yet remain detached
Has been no problem.

But when the rain stops long enough for the true beauties
To come out swinging under the outshone sun,
The spectacle is hard for a man to take,
And in the case of this supernally graceful dish -
Likened to a panther by slavering sports reporters
Who pitiably fail to realise that any panther
With a topspin forehand line drive like hers
Would be managed personally by Mark McCormack -
I’m obliged to admit defeat.

So let me drink deep from the bitter cup.
Take it to her between any two points of a tie-break
That she may shake above it her thick black hair,
A nocturne from which the droplets as they fall
Flash like shooting stars -
And as their lustre becomes liqueur
Let the full calyx be repeatedly carried to me.
Until I tell you to stop,
Bring me the sweat of Gabriela Sabatini.

Clive-James-006

Bloodied by unbowed, James battles on.

Brilliant stuff. Whether in his hilarious and oh-so-human volumes of autobiographical memories, his TV criticism, his poetry, or his forays into really serious intellectual examination of people and things, (which I have struggled manfully to keep up with, frequently failing but always inspired), James has enriched and enlivened our lives and shone a torchlight on our culture – and not just British culture, but that of the world – for a generation which has been blessed to know him.

As he faces uncertainty and ultimately his final curtain, I hope he comes back for one more, and then one more, bow. However much he feels well enough to do, it is guaranteed that he will leave behind him a body of work so rich and varied that he can finally stop worrying about what has clearly plagued him all his life, to wit, whether or not we really take him seriously. Because the answer is clear.

Yes, we do. And we will seriously miss you, too.

You have been a stone flung across the water of our collective consciousness, and the ripples still bounce and cross one another and will do for a very long time indeed.

Thank you very much. Safe paths, Clive.

Neil Hilborn

Neil Hilborn’s brave and impassioned poem may do more for the recognition and acceptance of the suffering of people with OCD than a thousand documentaries or text books. Well done, that man.

Poet Neil Hilborn has become an internet sensation in the last 24 hours.

His massively impressive two-minute performance-style, life as art, baring of his soul poem about his love for his girlfriend, written through the window of his OCD, is simply astonishing.

 

 

As someone who has suffered from OCD in the past, a brutal multi-layered, multifaceted illness that makes its sufferer’s lives a misery, may I just say that I find the last two lines of the poem among the most moving I have ever heard in all my life.

Listen, weep, laugh, marvel at the courage – enjoy.

welsh

St David's Day poem

Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales

Penrhyn Castle, Bangor, North Wales

So, there I was, having glugged the best part of a bottle of shiraz and now enjoying a second pint of cider, toying with the remnants of a good steak. (The potato rosti had too much thyme in it, and the weirdly modern take on Brussel sprouts was laced with too much chilli – yeah, I know, right? – but the steak was very passable.)

Anyhow, I suddenly felt the need to write overwhelm me. I have blogged about this before: when it happens, it is simply a compulsion that cannot be ignored.

I don’t know if it was the creative environment of being at an open mic, the stimulation of having other artistes around, or simply one too many ciders. But before you know it, I was tapping away on the absurdly small keyboard of my iPhone, running the results past my fellow diners, then showing the hostess for the night, and before you know it, lo and behold, she was laughing and I was on the stage.

Anyway, here’s the result, video-ed on my dear wife’s phone, but the sound quality isn’t great, so I provide a transcript below as well. I actually think it’s not a half bad poem, although it’s only short. Sometimes, the best thing a writer can do is simply capture a moment, so it then lives for other people.

So, enjoy!

“Liam, I apologise for gate crashing your party tonight … but sometimes every writer in the room knows, that when you have to write something, you just have to write it … so this came out about half an hour ago, so I thought, well, “Bugger it”,  I shall just ask Phoebe if she’ll like me to read it. And she was kind enough to say “Yes!”

I will come back and read some other poetry another time.

(Scattered applause.)

Shit! Thank you! I haven’t done anything yet! Apart from look embarrassed. Er … this is a poem called “Snapshot”.”

SNAPSHOT (Open Mic, Melbourne, 4th June 2012)

The girl with the nervous eyes

applauds wildly as he works the frets.

He has announced before the coupling “This is hard.”

She knows what he means.

She glances at his girlfriend

here on a working holiday

from the land of the rising blues.

She prays she doesn’t notice

her sudden blouse-lifting intake of breath,

the shy embarrassment.

She’s cute, too, the girlfriend.

patiently working the Nikon.

How confusing life can be.

And in the wings,

another little angel waits -

hugging her guitar like a life buoy,

hugging it like a friend in a cold world.

That’s what the world needs,

On a wet Monday night.

More hugs: even if they are made of plywood.

Even the hugs of strangers.

Poet in pub

I am not playing pool until I can work out what the fuck rhymes with “buttock”.

People usually enjoy it when I post my own poetry here, and I am happy to do so, so long as some of you buy the book occasionally too. Remember, any profits benefit a number of wonderful charities. You can head to: http://tinyurl.com/7tzxxgg where it is available in both book format and download.

I am always – like most writers – pondering the nature of writing and the creative process. 

This is not mere self-absorption, I feel. Well, I hope it isn’t.

Like a musician who hears notes constantly in their head which won’t go away until he plays them, or an artist who perceives the lines and colours of the world in a particular way and feels compelled to depict them, so the writer is frequently the victim of his or her words, not their master or mistress.

Sometimes – often – I simply feel an urge to write things down, to express them just so. If I ignore the urge, it becomes a mental nagging, then an indescribable emotional itch, then a full-blown obsession.

Like all writers I have been tortured by words or phrases, and eventually tossed back the sweat-drenched sheets and stumbled angrily to my typewriter or computer, willing the damn things down onto the empty page, so I can get some damn sleep.

And as any writer will tell you, it is the day you forget your shiny new portable electronic device, or more prosaically, your notepad, that the thoughts come flooding thick and fast, insistently, clamouring for attention, and you have to press confused bystanders or friends into giving you pen or paper immediately less the internal howling becomes too intense.

So: I wrote a poem about it. As you do. (Well, as you do if you’re a poet.) About how writing doesn’t just invade my life, it really is my life – has been for as long as I can recall, actually – and the rest of my life goes on around it, sometimes uninterrupted, and sometimes completely dominated by it.

The poem’s very long, but I do hope you find it enjoyable. It describes a real evening, long, long ago. Deep in the last millennium. Or perhaps, an amalgam of evenings. The pub was the Leinster Arms in Collingwood, in Melbourne, which for a while I seemingly kept open almost single-handedly through my contributions, (it would have been cheaper to rent an office, as I later did), and I only reveal that location now because I am perfectly sure that no-one there remembers me at all, and most of those that I now report on are either dead, demented, or simply moved on. And anyway, the poem is written with affection, and “no names, no pack-drill”, eh?

I am sure other poets and writers of all kinds – indeed, creative people of all kinds – will find echoes of themselves in here.

The Writer, by Stephen Yolland

Anzac dead in captured Turkish trenches in Gallipoli

I wrote this poem remembering attending so many Remembrance Day services with my mother, whose husband, the father who I never knew, died at 46, a cheerful but essentially broken man, after six years of service in the Royal Navy..

I am very proud of this poem, both as a poem, in and of itself, and as an authentic expression of my feelings and some things I consider important.

I am largely a pacifist in my outlook, but I have great respect for those who put their lives on the line defending values I hold dear, and opposing tyranny.

It references not only those solemn services attended at memorials with my mother, but the many times since I have seen elderly people stand and pay their respects to the dead of both World Wars, and other wars.

Anzac DayThere is a wave of emotion sweeping Australia at the moment when Anzac day rolls around, with record numbers of people attending Dawn Services both around the country and in places overseas such as Papua New Guinea and Galipolli.

Increasingly, those people have young faces. The great grandchildren, grandchildren and children of those who were wounded, broken, and died. Why the sudden upsurge of interest? Perhaps younger people today look back to a past when the issues were simpler and convictions stronger.

I am also sure that the 39 Australian service people killed in Afghanistan since hostilities broke out there have something to do with it. The Americans and others have lost more people, of course, but those 39 lives are a grievous loss to a country with a population as small as Australia’s, just as the disproportionate sacrifice of the World War I diggers left a scar across the country that took generations to heal: the faces and stories of those brave young people killed in Afghanistan in recent years sure focuses the mind.

I am also reminded, on this solemn day, of the most important thing ever said about conflict, which is, of course:

“War will continue until men refuse to fight.”

If you are interested to purchase my collection of poems called Read Me – 71 Poems and 1 Story - just head here.

(Article re-published for Anzac Day 2013.)

 

LODGE ROAD, SOUTHAMPTON (1-3)

 

1

Determined, the bus belches its way up the incline.

Inside, cold white faces stare at me, unseeing.

They look at me but don’t watch.

(I take care not to stare

as they pull up at the flaky green bus stop

But I do watch).

 

Out from the bus steps the girl with the long, greasy-blonde

hair. I have seen her often. The sort of girl

you really shouldn’t fancy

(so, of course, you do).

 

This morning she pressed her body

into an envelope of black plastic,

stuck down the edges with a gash of make-up,

and posted herself to another pointless day.

 

Tonight she puddles her way home again.

Scuffed red shoes perilously splish-splash their way

past my heart.

A tight little ball of sex

and lost dreams, no longer hopeful,

and not pretty enough for her clothes.

 

2

On the corner of the road with the playground in

Pepe closes up Pepe’s Italian hair-dressers.

Winds back his shiny new awning

and gazes with smiling satisfaction at the light streaming

from his windows.

Lighting up the pavement.

 

Everyone will see what a warm inviting place his little shop is,

as they crawl home in the wet.

They will look at the bright lights and Panther hair tonic

and the piles of unbought faded yellow Durex packets

(“Something for the weekend, Sir?”)

and remember they needed a haircut.

 

(Pepe learnt all this from his father.

so it must be true).

 

As I pass him, he looks straight through me.

He does not recognize wet people in anoraks.

Only dry, springy heads of hair in need of

conditioning and cheerful chatter.

 

Next door at the late night grocery store

the till-girl who wouldn’t be working for the Indians if she had

any choice, but you know how work is,

reaches new heights of indifference.

 

As we all drip politely on her recently straightened pile of

Evening Sports Echos she is already in her lover’s arms.

Proud and defiant, she stares down confidently at all comers

in the local disco.

 

“He’s mine,” she sneers, “­All mine!”

Rich without money, a coarse, virile possession in an

unexciting world.

26p pint of milk kiss

74p curly smoked sausage groping urgent hands

62p Mother’s Pride Thick Sliced last Saturday in his car

it was the first time with him

won’t be the last

oh no.

 

She doesn’t even see me as her mind on automatic pilot

calls out my bill.

Well, why should she?

 

3

I press my nose to the drizzly window of the video shop,

waiting for the crush inside to die down.

Wonder if they’ll remember I owe them a quid?

The little tubby girl is serving, all stupid shy smiles and

dimples. She’ll let me off even if she remembers.

 

Little black boxes of freedom from thought stacked neatly

row upon row. Boxes of dreams.

Don’t get that one, it’s rubbish. Saw it last week.

(Can’t tell you though.

Don’t want to be thought the sort of

bloke who talks to folks in video shops.)

 

Trot home clutching our escape route for the night.

Never mind what it is, dear.

(Not that we do anymore anyway).

You stare at him, and I’ll watch her, and when they do

(as they always do)

we’ll clear our throats self-consciously

(’cause we don’t, so much, anymore.)

 

There was a time when we did.

Watching them at it would

probably have sparked us off.

But the spark went out.

Got damp.

 

(Should we have got a comedy tonight?

Always should when it’s raining. How come it’s always

raining nowadays?)

 

Now, out there in the street,

the dirty old bus putters his way home,

leaving a last late commuter cut up on the kerb.

Impervious, inexorable, the great yellow Leviathan trundles into the middle distance,

unaware that my TV screen has turned to a little white dot

that seems to want to suck me in.

 

As you quietly wander up to bed

I listen sadly to the occasional late-homer,

full of the desperate cheerfulness of a

drab pub where at least someone talks to him.

71 Poems & 1 Story is available in printed format and as a download. Share of any profits to the Bali Childrens' Foundation and Alzheimer's Australia

EQUAL LAST

 

And sometimes, without warning, it is lost.

 

Like old men trying to finish a marathon, we keep running.

Our spindly, shaking knees taking us all over the road.

We trail behind. Even the spectators are leaving.

 

True, around corners we find unexpected relief.

Small surprises of pleasure appear without warning.

Cracking lips suck, relieved.

 

But back at the start of the race we ran with the blood singing in our veins.

Each step juddered revelations through straining fibres.

Nothing broke our tempo, nothing could stop the running.

 

Now each slight incline is a panting reminder of past fitness.

Reality sticks in our lungs like an inhaled burr.

Others run ahead, still full of the singing blood.

 

Ashamed to catch each other’s eye, we trot to a halt.

Put our shaking hands on quivering hips.

Clasping them for a little passing stability.

 

The sweat of our failure drips incessantly on the pavement.

But the night has grown cold.

Somewhere, a mobile phone plays tunelessly.

 

As if by a signal, we turn our backs on one another.

Take a last, shuddering, sucking breath.

And silently creep away.

 

When the other is safely out of sight, we strip off our shoes,

barely concealing our relief at the new-won freedom.

Fling them over high walls, and walk, now.

 

Picking our way carefully, through a slalom of dustbins.

Miles and miles of dustbins waiting to be emptied.

Filled to the brim with other’s discarded shoes.

 

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v


 

Once the decision was made,

you were ruthless.

 

You hoovered away our life.

Shuffled poems, letters, and sleeves crusty with bleeding hearts into drawers.

Locked them, and threw away the key, making sure I saw it arc, scintillating,

over the back wall and down the embankment.

 

Watching your demolition, I waited quiet at the foot of the stairs.

Like a man on his way to an execution he thinks he deserves.

The unspoken agreement that it would always end like this stapling my lips shut.

Pinned together by the promises of expecting nothing.

When you deemed it right, we were to be un-realised.

“I will run out,” you’d said. “Always do.

  No lies, not between us.”

 

No whining. No reminiscing.

No last minute pub-garden rescues over bitter ale.

No relying on fevered bodies to make things right.

You had run your hand across my belly, making it stiffen.

“It won’t be that,” you had said. “It will be other stuff.”

 

Quiet now. Waiting for the bullet. Eyes fixed on the sky.

Click, staple, click, staple.  Your timing.

That was always the deal.

 

Casting around the newly laid graveyard, now neat as a pin,

untidy man neatly stowed away,

jumbled memories marshalled into neat rows,

you straightened the flowers

I had bought you, for this day,

self consciously, in the middle of our dinner-partied, wine-soaked table

where once you had bent, looking over your shoulder,

hair tumbling, laughing madly at me.

“Afters. Come on.”

 

Brushing passed me, you hurried up the stairs, and re-appeared,

bearing in front of you like an offending sceptre,

a solitary, white edged and almost new toothbrush.

For a moment, your face trembled and hope leapt.

Then, click staple, our lips were closed again.

You swallowed the toothbrush into my breast pocket,

gave it a little pat, and then another, more thoughtfully.

Looked at me for a moment,

and walked to the door, working the key

I had just given you back.

 

I pavemented, eyes squinting against the sudden light,

refusing a blind.

 

As it closed behind me, I saw you through the bowl of glass

fish-eyed through the mock Tudor door

grasp your broom and resume your busy sweeping.

You never glanced back as you swept and swept

your tears washing

the kitchen floor we had once danced on

all night

.

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of poetry – READ ME – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v

Lancaster bomber cockpit

Bomber Command crews suffered an extremely high casualty rate: 55,573 killed out of 125,000 aircrew (a 44.4% death rate), a further 8,403 were wounded in action and 9,838 became prisoners of war.

 

When they buried Uncle Ken

it took six strong men

to get him into Chapel again.

And I was one of them.

Loitering outside Swansea Crematorium in the drizzle,

old enough to smoke a Rothmans now and not get yelled at,

I dreamed old tales of a Pathfinder bomber pilot.

Bringing his plane home from Essen, staffed by bodies,

co-pilot’s head cradled in his lap, dead.

Flying dead.

Dead with a round gone in his groin and

out his shoulder, but the bucking stick and clouds of flak

meant Ken didn’t realise

till he got the crate down somehow at Warboys

and bouncing cross the grass he spoke to him

“Jesus, home again, that was close, buttie!”

and got no reply.

I was six when I’d told him I wanted to be Prime Minister.

From then, till the day he died, he used to ring up.

“Is that the PM’s office?” All haughty like.

Like a Whitehall nob in a wing collar,

not a South Wales fish merchant

in brown boots greasy with herring guts.

Even when I had forgotten the joke, he never did.

He used to send me and Mam boxes of fish.

We’d de-ice the windows

and take the Triumph Herald, complaining and wheezing,

to Christchurch station and collect them on Christmas Eve,

when they rang late in the chilled afternoon, as they always did,

to tell us the train had pulled in with the guard’s van

smelling of smoked cod and ling and plaice and even, once,

a whole salmon. Ice dripping from fire-wood slats and

fresh fish wrapped in newsprint.

Taking the strain of the box on my shoulders

I muttered “Come on, you old bugger”, under my breath

as we hoisted him out of the hearse,

weighty with years of Felinfoel Bitter Ale around his belly,

his face gone all jowly and heavy.

Memories gently pressed on me like a twig bumping a river bank.

Him leaning on my shoulder, juniper-laden gin breath,

waving gaily at the serried, hill-climbing ranks of slate-rooved glistening

gob-windowed wet granite and flint houses like a passing King,

shouting fuck off noises at his ex down the phone,

singing hymns to the stars with tears in his eyes,

while the tabby cats skulked away into back alleys and under the garden sheds.

When we reached the steps to go in,

I thought I would stumble.

The other men were all bigger than me.

Rugby broad and ruddy faced and tall as pit head joists.

So the coffin weighed down on me, digging into the flesh

under my cheap schoolboy suit.

Just as I thought I must drop him

splintered teak on marbled stairs

and disgrace the family

I felt a hand under my arm,

and a familiar slurred voice said with a smile

“Come on, Prime Minister. You’ll make it.”’

“I thought we were carrying you,” I said to myself,

through gritted and grateful teeth.

“As in life, so in death, eh?” he laughed

in an airy, young man’s voice.

And I swear it, to this day.

It was him.

No question.

High in the sunlit silence: hov’ring there,

I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the windswept heights with easy grace

Where never lark, or even eagle flew –

And, while the silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., killed 1941

Anyone interested in checking out my volume  of Poetry – 71 Poems and 1 Story – can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/7y55a7v