Today (or yesterday, since I have fallen slightly behind) the subject of the day’s poem was to be any space, as long as it is small, definite, and meaningful to me.
The space is a space inside a green leather wallet, stamped on the outside with the insignia of the Royal Marines, and the Corps motto : Per Mare, per Terram – By Sea and By Land. It is where my brother keeps his testimonial from his time in the Corps, and it is meaningful, because it is what he prizes most, even though his time in the military was many years ago.
This poem will be part of the colleciton of poems I am writing about my brother. It is hard to write about him, because I worry that using him as a subject is not wholly moral. I have shown him some poems though, and he was pleased with them, so….
Pressed flat inside green leather,
the stained, worn piece of paper
which he shows to all his carers.
Testimonial that, once, he was a man.
He gained operational experience
in the Falklands campaign.
He was nineteen, sent a letter home
from the Invincible to ask for suntan oil.
He was a polite, reasonable man,
worked well without supervision;
demonstrated some potential as a leader.
He maintained an outstanding level
of fitness and was a serious contender
in national standard triathlons
which requires dedication, sacrifice.
The veteran keeps the wallet
close to the bed, ready to produce
to testify that, before this horror hit,
he was a man. Unfortunately,
he did not last the distance, decided to
leave the corps before he had
realised his full potential. Now,
he is slowly leaving his body behind,
without fully realising
His pleasant, amiable approach will
Ekphrasis – poetry about a work of art, but in this case, very specifically about the marginalia of mediaeval manuscripts. The fantastical creatures doodled in the margins and at the bottom of pages by monks who may have been bored, or may have wanted to keep the readers interested, or who simply could not help themselves. This prompt took me to the Mappa Mundi, which is not a manuscript, but which contains fantastical creatures, but also human beings doing monstrous things.
Here lies a bridge between belief and certainty.
Around the bridge, that graceful arch,
stretches fantastical and strange terrain.
Who drew this map – this world
of savage gods and monsters?
Maybe a man who, rigid in his daily prayer,
shut up in that fastness on the hill,
spent his days in terra incognita living
a life of imagination, terror and discovery,
Certainty took him from cloister to chapel;
imagination took him everywhere.
Here, the Sciapoi – each holds his leg aloft,
its giant foot a shield from heat of noon;
the Blemmyes with no heads: they speak
like lawyers – through their bellies;
the Troglodytes, cave dwellers, snake eaters,
maybe artists too, of hunt and Auroch and
strange people with the skulls of birds;
Cynocephali with the heads of dogs.
He drew such monsters, their misshapen dignity,
such beautiful deformity – awash with magic.
He knew that monsters do exist,
too few in number to be truly dangerous.
More dangerous, the monsters who believe
and hate and act without asking questions –
who cannot imagine what might be,
who travel at night, without a guide.
I had never heard of an “elevenie”. As a form, it sems to have been devised to teach language, rather than to capture a thought in the best possible way, but then, I am not sure what does work for that. I suspect that, if a poem is to be remembered, it will be for a phrase that speaks to the reader, or for a rhyme or other poetic tool that switches on the part of the brain which handles memory.
Anyhow – very quick draft of a double elevenie:
draws a line
That space needs filling.
fills the space
on the pillow
she is gone.
Our prompt today asks for a Georgic. Which means I’ve learned what a Georgic is. Vergil wrote a collection of them, all poems to do with farming and agriculture about which I know little. However, his Georgics do include poems about the weather and effects on the harvest, so there was my “in” right there.
Ten days of rain and the paths through the woods
are streams of water, filling culverts, running down,
carrying twigs, soaking the ground.
Our sheep huddle in the shelter of the walls;
our boots squelch in the sodden earth;
the grass darkens and is trampled into mud
where sheep gather for the grain we’ve lugged.
Twenty days, and the road into town is closed.
Water swift under straining arches shoves and buffets,
pulls stones from their settings. The bridge is not safe.
We drive over twenty miles to the valley’s head
to cross the river further up, where it plunges
down the cliff and under the road a hundred feet below.
The paths through the woods are torrents;
the flood carries branches down the hills,
gouges tunnels under trees; at night
we lie in bed and hear them crashing down.
Still no sign of a break in the weather.
Implacable grey clouds press down on the tops.
Storm winds, hot from Africa howl and crash;
our neighbour sees his harvest smashed
by horizontal rain.
Our river bursts its banks.
The sheep scatter and move up field by field,
until the valley is a sheet of iron, and the sheep
grey woollen shapes shivering along the top walls;
still no sign. No rainbow. It rains. It rains.
Today, our prompt is to write a poem that incorporates overheard speech. Somewhere in an old writing notebook, I find the scrap of conversation I heard years ago, before Youtube existed. This is a young man being told by a slightly older, and rather vehement man what he should do to get on in life:
There are all these types of peas, see,
and you know it’s so hard to choose between
Petit Pois, Mangeteout, Everyday Value,
Baby Sweet, Steamfresh, Marrowfat,
Pigeon Peas, Pease Pudding, Chick Peas.
In all that crowd of tiny green seeds,
what stands out?
You gotta market yourelf.
If you wake up at four in the morning
and think to yourself, “Hey! Why am I
not having a great month?”, you gotta
think: I gotta contact people gotta get moving,
gotta put myelf out there gotta be fresh
gotta think about my brand. The Declan brand.
Your brand is you, and if they buy your brand
It means they’ll hire you, they’ll like you, be your fans.
There’s lots of options you could pursue. Truth?
We all want to shine, but only a few achieve real fame
and branding is the neon in your name.
So – ask yourself – what kind of pea are YOU?
Use the vocabulary and/or imagery from a game or sport. Ah – I remember those lessons teaching metaphor to teenagers and begining with the simple exercise: write a football match as if it were cookery; write a football match as if it were a war.
But all my sporting vocabulary deserted me – for ages the only phrase that occurred to me was from cricket: “silly mid-on”, which I have always loved, but which got me precisely nowhere.
In the end, I used snoooker. Maybe I will be able to play with this one and make it look more like a snooker game on the page at some stage:
I was sick of love that night we met
in Chorlton Snooker Hall.
But I took my cue from you –
Not even half, butt it would do.
You bent towards the baize
you took your stance;
thus, we began our dance.
You forced an angle;
feathered me into
kiss, double kiss,
doffed me your cocked hat. Gave me
the postman’s knock at the top of the table
I saw red.
and all the rest, till finally –
What a fluke! And that’s how
I was snookered.