Category Archives: poetry

Friday Faceoff – In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is cats, so I’ve chosen Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats – by T.S. Eliot.

 

This is playful cover is more than a nod to some of the earlier covers with the cartoon-like cats and cheerful colour – so much more fun than some of the other drearier offerings in the 1960s and 70s. It was produced in August 1982 by Harcourt Brace and Co., which sounds like the sort of publisher that would crop up in one of Eliot’s poems… I really like this one.

 

This edition, produced in October 2009 by HMH, is another really enjoyable cover with a number of the recognisable cats that feature in Eliot’s delightful poems. As well as being quirky and playful, this cover is attractive and eye-catching.

 

Published in 2001 by Faber and Faber, this cover continues with the bright background and cartoon cats. However, I think the whole design is spoilt by that ugly block running across the bottom of the cover for the title and author – and by 2001, they didn’t have the excuse that it was still the fashion that prevailed with covers.

 

This cover, produced by Faber and Faber in February 2014, is another strong contender. I like the madcap cat featuring behind the footlights – along with the distinctive font on the word CATS, this is more than a nod to the worldwide hit musical that came out of this collection of poems.

 

This is my favourite cover – mostly because I find it the most appealing and attractive, rather than because I think it is necessarily the best design. Produced by Faber and Faber in October 2010, I love the bright colourful design of the cats high-kicking their way across the rooftop. It may lack the quirkiness of some of the other covers, but the bold colours and well balanced title font sells this one for me. Which is your favourite?

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Review of The Twat in the Flat by Geoff Allnutt

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It was the birthday of the awesome Dr Seuss yesterday – so as a way of marking the anniversary of such a remarkable writer who has turned so many youngsters into readers, I decided to review this affectionate parody by my writing buddy Geoff.

twatintheflatThe Twat is the Flat is an anarchic reimagining of Dr Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat, deploying an alternative narrative to create an uproarious illustrated book for adults. Part parody, part homage, The Twat in the Flat has all the offbeat humour of the original, but you will probably not be reading it to your children at bedtime!

That’s the blurb, which doesn’t tell you all that much. But the story is about two depressed, broke young lodgers staying in because they are expecting the landlord to come calling for the rent – when they are visited by the idiot who lives upstairs, insisting on sharing his drugs and booze with them. Geoff has stuck to the rhythm and structure of The Cat in the Hat, which he says has only increased his admiration of Dr Seuss’s genius, as it took a lot of drafting and redrafting to keep to the limited vocabulary Dr Seuss was initially given.

Geoff aka The Speechpainter is an experienced performance poet who been gigging around southern England for the last twenty years, so the anarchy that the twat unleashes is ably handled in this amusing parody. My favourite character is the roach, who replaces the goldfish in The Cat in the Hat as he hops from the ashtray to the boot of the unwanted guest, imploring the two to get rid of him.

However, the original was not just about the poem – the illustrations were also part of the magic and Geoff has the great good fortune to know the gifted Annabel Munn, who provides the artwork for The Twat in the Flat. The pictures throughout are a joy and beautifully match up with Geoff’s punchy, amusing verse. I’m aware that as I have been involved in this project from its inception, I am not unbiased – but if you are looking for a book to put a smile on your face, then consider tracking this one down. It is a little gem.

Stormtroopers March

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Freezing sleet, frost, snow
flinging forward an icy arch.
Winter’s army is on the go…
Watch the stormtroopers march!

Water freezes in the blast –
set in a cruel film of ice.
While rime-coated grass
yellows in the crusted vice.

Birds huddle – feather-ruffled heaps
of shivered misery – on bare branches.
As spear-sharp winds make it weep,
the bruised sky howls and blanches.

Car sliding on rinked roads
perform slo-mo comic dances.
Or become coffins – as their loads
of late commuters take chances.

Freezing sleet, frost, snow
flinging forward an icy arch.
Winter’s army is on the go,
so…
watch the stormtroopers march.

Frosted car bonnet-4

Inheritance Poems…

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On this, National Poetry Day, I thought I’d share the poems that have mattered to my parents – and the poem I would like to pass down to my children.

Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley
I met a traveller from an antique landOzymandias
Who said: `Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’

This was my father’s favourite poem – and I also love it. The clash of what Ozymandias intended, against what actually happened to his works… Yep. Absolutely hits the spot.

Crossing the Bar by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!sunsetseas
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crost the bar.

This is my mother’s favourite poem and another one that gives me the tingle factor. The comfort and belief that underpins it comes from a different age, but for all that, it is a poem I grew up also loving.

And now for my contribution – the poem I’d like to pass down to the next generation. Hm. Which of all the poems I know do I choose? I was strongly tempted with ‘Anne Hathaway’ by Carol Ann Duffy – such a tender, loving poem, or Vernon Scannell’s ‘Grannie’, which is especially close to my heart, these days. I also seriously contemplated ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling, as the advice is so apt and beautifully put – there’s a solid reason why it’s the nation’s favourite poem. Or Jan Dean’s lovely poem ‘Angels’ that always leaves me with a lump in my throat. But, in the end I opted for this wonderful outpouring from Gerald Manley Hopkins – a plea for this untended corner to be left in peace, which surely must ring even truer today than it did when this poem was written back in 1881.

Inversnaid by Gerald Manley Hopkins
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foamarklet-falls-beside-the
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

POEM – The Creep’s Carriage

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This poem was written after the discussion about bringing in women’s carriages on trains, due to the rise in reported incidents against women. Then someone suggested a creep’s carriage – and this poem kept running around my head this morning while I was trying to edit. So I let it loose…

They say women should be herded into
separate carriages for their own good.
To keep them safe from the slimy creeps who
won’t leave them alone to travel in peace.

Why don’t we pen up the vile creeps instead?
Give them vomit-curry coloured tickets
showing their creep-class status, to be led
by guards straight to the creep’s carriage.

Who will qualify to travel creep-class?
If you’ve ever groped, stroked or touched, then in
you go. Let’s ditch words like bother or harass –
if you’ve unzipped your fly to have a wank,
you’ve applied for creep-class. Shouted ‘fuck!’
loudly, watching the old bag’s face as she shrank
into her seat, while grinning with your mates –
you’ve complied with creep-class T’s and C’s.
Rating a girl’s tits or her face, demanding dates,
taking pics and posting them online – I’m pleased
to say you have fulfilled the terms that rates
you as entitled to travel creep-class.

Have a journey full of fear and heartache.

POEM – The Road

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A long straight stretch of road lies
between Kitwe and Chingola –
dull grey, smelling of sticky tyres.
It slices through the blood-red
Zambian soil like a machete cut.
Heat coils off its dead surface
in roiling curls, tasting of tar –
slicking bodies in metallic sweat.
But in the smoking distance
sweet, blue sheets tease,
full of cool, clean water.
I watched for long, thirsty miles,
expecting that this road –
laid out like a lifetime before me –
would reach the soft splashing thrill…

It didn’t.

zambian road

POEM – Tania Honey’s Wedding

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We’re in Ringwood Church and running late.
Pews are packed with broad-brimmed hats
and shop-sharp suits. While hiding behind
the choir stalls, Mona and me fumble
into our bridesmaids’ dresses.

Kneeling on the icy flags and frigid with fear
I’m threading stiff arms into a
Cartland-pink froth of lace.
But my vest shows, high over
the scalloped neckline.
And it’s too late. Heavy doors thud open.
The organ plays ‘Tip-toe through the tulips’

A candy-floss vision of net, sequins and feathers,
Tania advances up the aisle. Clump – clump – creeeeak…
Her size 10 Doc Martin’s squeak at every third step
as she drops a curtsey to the congregation.

Mona and me scramble out in front of the altar.

Tawny eyes narrowed,
Tania’s gaze razes me to ashes.
“What the fuck jer look like?”
I flick away Mona’s hand seeking mine,
hoping Tania will blame her – not me…

On waking, I run to tell Mona,
giggling with relief it’s just a dream.

But
thirty-five years on – whenever
Life leaves me church-chilled and craven,
wishing someone else was to blame –
Tania Honey’s Wedding
still slips through the cracks
of my forgetting.

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Church of St Peter and St Paul, Ringwood.

POEM – Absence makes the heart hurt harder

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Loss-leached to brittle sticks,
my bones want to crumble.
Instead, they drag my
sad-sagged body through
the motions of a pointless life…

My lips are tired of forming
words to tell the space where
you should be, of things that
would matter. If you were
here to know and care…

My bed is a huddled heap of pain,
crowded by the cold acre of space
where you used to sleep.
While I yearn for your warmth
to melt my frigid longing…

My soul is frozen shut –
locked in an ice-gripped vice.
While I wallow in slo-mo torpor,
drugged useless by need of you…

…because you are gone.

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POEM – AFRICAN NIGHTS

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Syrup-thick African nights stroked
my skin, bathing me in
womb-warm stickiness.
Pupil-black African skies sprinkled my way
with pearl-sweet shafts of affection.
Blood-rich African earth powdered
my feet with silk-soft smoothness,
pillowing my walk with unconditional
care…

So why am I stranded on this northern shore
skewered by winter’s blast?
How come I am cornered under
the stained-orange glare of a bleak
plane-streaked sky? Why are
worm-filled clods of cold mud caking my
feet?

What did I do so wrong to lose
my African nights?

africannights

POEM – Song of the Starseer

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As we all gape at the marvellous photos and amazing discoveries NASA has revealed about Pluto, I thought I’d post this poem I wrote a while ago…

Tell them back home that we’ve made it-
While we speed
through the vast
night of Space
faster than a blur…

Tell how we’ve threaded
through asteroid fields
to gape at the swirling fury
of Jupiter’s Red Spot…

Spill handfuls of dust
from Pluto and Pan
through their fingers,
while spinning tales
of our travels…

For all those still stapled
to our small rocky planet –
still yearning skyward
for escape –
Sing of the rainbow-wrought
wonder of nebulae
and the lethal, taut-edged
awe of event horizons…

As the blinding glare
of Rigil fades behind us,
We thrum to the core
of our atoms
with the beat of being back-
Stardust to stardust.

To all Earth-bound exiles
who’ve bequeathed
generations
of hopeful dreams,
Say that we carry them with us,
glowing white-bright
against the blackness
like the coma of a comet…

Tell them back home that we’ve made it!

Photo of Pluto released by NASA

Photo of Pluto released by NASA