August’s Featured Poet

Peter Branson is The Leopard’s featured poet for August 2011.

Wedgwood, Arnold Bennett,
Clarice Cliff, John Wain,
But all I knew as I grew up
Was dirt an’ smoke an’ rain.

From The Accidental Tourist.

A former teacher and lecturer, Peter has organised writers’ workshops and was Writer-in-Residence for the thriving ‘All Write’ project at Stoke-on-Trent Central Library.

Peter’s work has been published in Ambit, Acumen, Envoi, Other Poetry, Smoke, Poetry Nottingham, Pulsar, Fire, South and The Interpreter’s House.

Peter is a winner of the Grace Dieu Poetry Competition and won first prize in the Envoi International Poetry Competition and was highly commended in Petra Kenny Open Poetry Competition.

All poems remain the copyright of the author and should not be reproduced without prior permission.

Poems

ATTILA THE NUN
For Mo

Tag she gets lumbered with,
but only in bad dreams
and never to her face.
Trade name is Sister John
the Baptist. Bit on view,
from lower brow to chin,
looks early twentyish.

Her skin is palest pink,
translucent, viewed against
the stark, starch, habit-white,
black-shrouded penguin suit.
Dominican brand rite:
no soiled grey in betweens;
evil and good, dark – light..

Nails perfect sheening health,
eyes gleam like sculpted ice,
frigid, inflexible,
stern as a ruler’s edge,
strict as a Mackintosh
upright, drives sin from kids,
scourges and terrifies.

Children who come to her
suffer, sweet Jesus knows,
except the day you spy
her with an angel (five
years old found crying on
the yard) proud on her knee:
“So beautiful,” she sighs.

(First pub: The London Magazine)

THE BOAT HOUSE
London Rowing Club, Putney

This is the season for it, not when fields
are iced iron-rut or frayed brown corduroy
or loud with corn; rather when bells are pitched
to tune with living things, the rising sap,
white blossom, throstle, lark, hormonal rooks.
These days the stallion’s bolted, door distressed –
I’m speaking generally of course – and yet
it’s not died out nor been replaced. Young folk
don’t change that much, still feel the need to pledge
their troth in front of family and friends,
the world to judge. So what of this bright pair
who’ve pulled us here today, twin oars – one boat?
They’ve chosen well I think, each other, this,
the food and drink, the company, the view.

(Written for Peter’s son’s wedding. First prize winner: The Grace Dieu Poetry Competition, 2011)

HIGH HO SILVER, AWAY!

1.
Light slides down reels
of spinning celluloid,
freewheels through silvered streams
of space and time where ghosts
dance out from two dimensions, black
on white, rides technicolor myths
to flood the screen.
The stranger in the mask
would choke injustice in a cloud
of dust on sets of cardboard rocks
and plywood frontages,
where punches pull
and shell blanks ricochet.
A cowboy arms and head,
mad galloping
through hobbled streets
on hop-along back legs
and slapping thighs, you’d wing
hostile young kids with finger guns
beneath dark cobbler skies.

2.
That hero tucked inside
your head, recall
first rueful day your thoughts
outgrew his dreams.
He’d conjure reds from greys
where Pax Americana rules,
seal hearts and minds,
Korea, Vietnam,
time-warp, same script,
like Superman and Captain Kirk.
You’ve seen what’s happening:
talking forked tongues in cheek,
(‘The national interest’);
Afghanistan, Iraq; lost souls
in orange isolation suits;
wetbacks who hold
this brave new world intact?
As troops clean up another street,
stars fizzle out, stripes cringe
from sheer embarrassment.

(First pub: Ambit)

BENEATH RED HILL
In memory of Ed Wright

1.
On holiday, long summer haul, fifteen,
I call on you, tight cobbled space behind
the cinema where Saturdays, aged eight,
from ten-fifteen, I queue for matinees
with mates, clock grainy old B western films.
Blisters my badge of pride, I yearn to be
like you, a working man in your flood prime.
Tarmac and dustcart gangs all take the piss.
I burn brick red. You ride as Tom Mix would.
“Tough sod but fair, Fred Wright,” Jack Jenks has said.

2.
That stroke draws all your pride, word-shy, grid-locked
with concentration and embarrassment.
You know about the embolism, tick
on, borrow time – yet never tell your wife.
Talk tunes to old times you relent, restore
now bristling Lichfield Street, “A mere dirt track
for cart and carriage” where the nouveaux-riche
with Rolls or Bentley, bottle banks at Stoke,
build villas, ride to hounds, rough-shoot, a short
train ride from enterprise, slum-killing smoke.

3.
Low Anglican among massed Catholics,
a martyr to hard drink, I watch him edge
to your graveside. Their holy water words
well-spread, crumbs rap the coffin, like raised fists
on angry doors. “Sound bloke, your Uncle Fred.”
Your education life, your geometry
the perfect squaring of a garage base,
you’ve earned your neighbourly footprint, know how
folks tick; part of your signature, your firm
handshake, the solid ground beneath my feet.

(First pub: Iota; accepted for publication: Magma)

ROCKY ROAD FROM DUBLIN
For Keith, Kathleen, John and Dot

This place has grown a skin
like drying turf; the quaint decay
incensed by snarling traffic fumes
and goosed by all things new.
Rare times revised; seduced
by ancient history, Danelaw
and Eurogeld: ‘Queue now
to view the Book of Kells!’

Though folk still cross themselves,
talk tongues like a tridentine rite,
good craic’s the wanton whore,
mass genuflection of the will,
mouth music piped and pitched
at tourists tamed and canonised.
Flipside of bright new store some wag
has scrawled: ‘I spend therefore I am.’

He hardly breaks the countertop.
Pure leprechaun: ‘Ah that boreen,
so quiet. Sure you could murder him
(sly dig) no one would know.’
They think the church has lost its way.
He gestures to the motorbike
outside the presbytery (eye jig):
‘A two-stroke priest, yer man. Can’t cope.’

High hills, cruel archaeology
raw as a curlew’s eye; roadhenge:
echoes of ambulance cast down
some wormhole-callused sky;
‘Enough to wake the dead!’ – grave goods
to conjure ancient wailing rites,
draw power from what lies beneath,
unction for mating of hurt minds.

The lone turf-cutter harvesting:
he gathers up the half-dried sods,
air drowsing with the reek
of drying peat, his face the tinct
and texture of the turf itself –
couchant, through troubles times
and martyrdoms, like those sealed in
the Seven Sleepers’ den.

(First prize winner, Envoi International Poetry Competition)

THE BIG PICTURE

Way back, after the B film, interlude
(cue sex, uncomplicated stuff, the eye
and such, ‘It’s Now or Never’ land, ‘Be Mine
Tonight’), ice cream, lights fade, big picture floods
the screen. This is the country of the blind
where those who see are damned. When ignorance
is bliss, “Consume” the prayer on every lip,
banks bring us to our knees and get away
with it. Debit and credit cards fired from
the hip, the ones with most to lose aren’t fazed.
Small fry do time; the poor get sacrificed.
Where trees are camouflage, romantic views
the rage, Art prostitutes itself and paints
its face. The contradictions spread like weeds.

(September 1st, 2011)

LIFE CLASS

Stray girl of eight plays dead, defers her life
for several years, alone, out-blitzed. C.D.
that’s snagging on track one, each time you start
her off again she fails at the same spot.
Eventually she shakes herself from sleep
to carry on, changed irredeemably
from who she was to what she has become.
A long term member of her writing group
yet each September she begins afresh,
same train and station, page or two, full stop.
Blacked out, weird sirens like banshees, strange stars
appear between clear pools of fierce moonlight,
as shell fire shakes the shadow-lands beneath.
It starts at Stafford stepping from the train,
name tagged, evacuee down from the Smoke.
Eventually, about six paragraphs,
she joins a family she can’t make out
at all near Stoke. That’s where her story sticks.
The ravaged sky splits open like pie crust
and she dives in. Bad memories are cut
and spliced, words inked, till there’s mere shrapnel left,
the residue of unrequited dreams
she can’t construe. Deep in her seventies,
stalled in the Potteries, she’s in the groove
again, takes tea and coffee, washes up,
enjoys the gossip of this gang of friends.
What happens to her after she lands here
she finds impossible to call to mind.
Would it be better, do you think, or worse
than old B pictures we have conjured with:
official telegram; footfall outside
her room at night, door slowly opening …

(First pub: The Frogmore Papers. Also pub: Blinking Cursor)

You can see more of Peter’s poems on his website.

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About theleopard66

I am a member of the Stoke Stanza of The Poetry Society and run a bi-monthly Poems & Pints event in Alsager.
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