Enjoy these poems shared at the last Stanza meeting on Tuesday 16th July.
Peter Branson read from his new collection, Red Hill published by Lapwing Press. So here’s a poem from that collection, an epithalamium no less composed for his son’s wedding.
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)
And here are other poems from Peter Branson.
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 published in Envoi; 1st prize winner in The Envoi Poetry Competition.)
For Aunty Win
Before they reached the bridge
she saw the boats,
begged them to stop.
She knew the way the breeze
stirred them to life,
relaxed then taut again
against their mooring rights.
They shoaled small daubs
of light across the wides
like herring schools.
She wrote the message carved
into the slab below
the massive coping stone.
‘My age,’ she murmured
at the number 68 …
‘We had a boat like that
after the war.’
They started off
back down the telescope’s
cruel eye, concealed
behind a bank of cloud;
both hands loud round
the handle of her bag;
white knuckle ride,
that frightened fey
behind the eyes.
‘She doesn’t know
my bloody name!’ he snapped,
so angry with the world
he’d known and her.
‘Stop that!’ she warned.
‘Children who swear
deserve a smack.’
Outside himself, he laughed.
‘Perhaps she could have coped?’
his partner asked.
First time they’d found her out
he’d thought her drunk.
Eventually they talked
the doctor round.
‘Well this is really nice.
It’s ages since
we’ve been out in the car’:
smile of content,
then warned her husband
of the road ahead
and him already
more than ten years dead.
(First published in Acumen.)
AT THE RISING OF THE MOON
“And hurrah! me boys, for freedom;
‘tis the rising of the moon.”
(From The Rising of the Moon by John Keegan Carey)
For Luke Kelly, folk singer: 1940-1984
The awesome present of your voice: outside
the angry guttur of a power saw;
slowly the copper beech across the way
is layered to the floor. The Council say
it’s wormed inside and dangerous, mindful
of recent winter storms when branches tore.
Blank arc of sky, I loved that rich red down,
cool stillness of its crown of quiet shade.
Looked worth another hundred years and more
but cankered in the core it had to fall.
Feral red hair, rash beard and navvy looks,
you work each song as though it is your last;
a wild wood-kerne, veins cabling from your neck
as unequivocal as gelignite.
Beneath a rover’s weather-battened face
and dancing tongue, you charm tired simple tunes,
breathe text to life transporting minds and souls.
Unglazed by sophistry you clarify
what’s right, inspire us with pure energy,
complexity resolved to black and white.
Banjo divining like a Thompson gun,
you cast our doubts and forge an attitude:
raw undirected anger driven straight
inside the heat of things; fuse life and art
in perfect symmetry that’s understood.
The heroes you revered died sound, culled long
before their time. This tree, now a mere graze
of dust upon the ground — like you, inside,
the incubus had gorged and thrived; too brief
that span between the two great mysteries.
(First published in Coffee House Poetry.)
Geoff Sutton brought this poem to the last Stanza.
drive home again
ponies in the lane
shadows in the dust
switch on the wipers
wash away the flies
rainbow on the screen
dazzles tired eyes
in the cool hall
on the polished boards
a window on his belly
pendulum swings and swings
brass weight on a rod
swings away our time
Maurice Leyland contributed a poem on a topical theme.
DURING THE HEAT WAVE
the minute buzz of a towing aeroplane
the overbearing silence of a following glider
the barely-heard murmur of the distant motorway
the click of my wife’s e-mail erratically evolving
the crazy hum of the nectar -seeking bee
the gentle murmur of a high-flying jet
the angry strimming of a busy neighbour
the collared-dove’s mournful repetitive love song
the slithering groan of manoeuvred bins
the far-flung mew of the soaring buzzard
the threatening croak of the pursuing crow
the relentless chatter of the romantic wren
the industrious rumble of the harvesting tractor
the strident whisper in next-door’s bower
the blackbird’s warning with a pneumatic drill
the fading sounds
as I start to slip
Jenny Hammond brought the following:
Louring clouds hang low,
to smother mountain tops.
Water seeps from every soggy
feature of this savage landscape.
Dried summer streams transform
to plummeting cascades.
Spray spews damp air.
Rivers swell and overflow to
saturate spongy peat bogs
where sphagnum hides history.
Only a lonely buzzard circling high,
might sense brutality,
the horror of grim atrocities;
the sickening metallic clash
of sword on shield,
the savage sounds of death;
or taste the smell of fear,
smell warm, spilt blood
as Clan MacDonald fought and failed.
Destroyed but not forgotten,
restored but unforgiving.
Three centuries and more have passed
and still today the curse remains.
“Never trust a Campbell,” it says.