“A poem?”

Barlow Moor Community Library – Week 4

It was a quiet final afternoon outside Barlow Moor Community library, where I stood handing out the poem ‘Anon’ by Edward Doegar. It comes from his pamphlet For Now published this year by Clinic. I like the way this poem draws you in with simple, identifiable things like shampoo and baklava then uses your attention to lead you somewhere else…

If you find the poem confusing, or if you just want to hear another, shorter and less giggly but equally unedited podcast where I talk to my sister about the poem – then look no further!

 

anon

 

 

“I love a bit of culture!”

Barlow Moor Community Library – Week 3

This week the rain forced me to find shelter under a ledge to hand out this poem by Jackie Kay – from her first collection The Adoption Papers (1991). I think the added shock of me jumping out and quickly handing a poem before it got too wet made my project seem more urgent to people.

On my way back to my bike I heard my name and looked up to see David, who I met last time I was outside this library, up on his balcony. I hope you like the poem this week!

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It used to excite me even

standing at my bedroom window, breath on the glass
the dark arms of the cherry blossom
gesticulating madly; roofs like hats
blown off – best, the school one next morning.
Candles at home, toast from the coal fire.
Nightime again and that soft hysterical laughter
her and her mates gathering for a party,
standing at my window, breath on glass.

Now it steals my sleep and whispers warnings,
finally when I do fall there’s glass flying.
Next morning – wooden corpses on the street.
The world is all strange and unbelievable.
I tiptoe over the devastation to buy some milk.
The kettle whistles as I lipread global warning;
I imagine a person with 90 degree burns all over.
The hot tea starts to brew its own storm. I can’t scream.

 

*

As a special treat this week I am attaching the pilot episode of a new (literally recorded this evening) ‘Time for One Poem’ podcast – co-hosted and sound-managed by my housemate Ben – where we discuss our first impressions of this week’s poem.

Click here to listen right now!

 

“I’m not a very poetic person”

Barlow Moor Community Library – Week 2

I spent a sticky afternoon outside the library today, supported by David who lives in the flats above it. He said he wasn’t very sociable but he knew everyone who passed and encouraged them to take a poem from me. He also said he wasn’t a very poetic person but then immediately contradicted himself by saying he’s always looking for ways to occupy his mind – which I thought was very profound.

I gave out a poem by Sylvia Plath – who is very well known for the dramatic and sharp poems she wrote just before her death. I chose a lesser known poem from her first book The Colossus (1960). It’s quite a mouthy poem with a few long words which would normally put me off. But she makes them work by placing them alongside simple, striking images, so that even if you can’t visualise what she’s on about, it still makes you think – “wow, I wonder what that means!”

Departure

The figs on the fig tree in the yard are green;
Green, also, the grapes on the green vine
Shading the brickred porch tiles.
The money’s run out.

How nature, sensing this, compounds her bitters.
Ungifted, ungrieved, our leavetaking.
The sun shines on unripe corn.
Cats play in the stalks.

Retrospect shall not soften such penury –
Sun’s brass, the moon’s steely patinas,
The leaden slag of the world –
But always expose

The scraggy rock spit shielding the town’s blue bay
Against which the brunt of outer sea
Beats, is brutal endlessly.
Gull-fouled, a stone hut

Bares its low lintel to corroding weathers:
Across the jut of ochreous rock
Goats shamble, morose, rank-haired,
To lick the sea-salt.

“I’ll take a poem – it might cheer me up!”

Barlow Moor Community Library – Week 1

When I arrived at the library it was very quiet outside and in. The librarian suggested I come back on a Wednesday when it would be busier. But her daughter Erin showed me her poem ‘The Night’, which gave me hope. 

As I stood outside, people started to appear out of the woodwork – picking kids up from school, popping into the newsagents (some teenagers got banned for stealing Pringles) – and many were surprised and happy to be given a poem.

I gave out a poem called ‘Why I am not a painter’ by Frank O’Hara, who famously wrote poems in his lunch break from working as a receptionist at the Museum of Modern of Art in New York (one of his books was called Lunch Poems). This is one of my favourite poems and one of the few I know completely by heart.

 

Why I am not a painter

I am not a painter, I am a poet.
Why? I think I would rather be
a painter, but I am not. Well,

for instance, Mike Goldberg
is starting a painting. I drop in.
“Sit down and have a drink” he
says. I drink; we drink. I look
up. “You have SARDINES in it.”
“Yes, it needed something there.”
“Oh.” I go and the days go by
and I drop in again. The painting
is going on, and I go, and the days
go by. I drop in. The painting is
finished. “Where’s SARDINES?”
All that’s left is just
letters, “It was too much,” Mike says.

But me? One day I am thinking of
a color: orange. I write a line
about orange. Pretty soon it is a
whole page of words, not lines.
Then another page. There should be
so much more, not of orange, of
words, of how terrible orange is
and life. Days go by. It is even in
prose, I am a real poet. My poem
is finished and I haven’t mentioned
orange yet. It’s twelve poems, I call
it ORANGES. And one day in a gallery
I see Mike’s painting, called SARDINES.

 

“Go on then!”

Fallowfield Community Library – Week 4

This afternoon I gave out a poem from Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, published this year. Vuong is a Vietnemese-American poet who I feel very privileged to have seen read a few weeks ago at the Anthony Burgess Centre. I love how he combines public and personal history in this particular poem.

I was surprised to not see Mike or Tony out enjoying the sun – I left them a poem on their bench – but was happy to see a few of the knitting club. I showed them my home-made banner which was partly inspired by their beautiful creations. And as always I met a few first timers who needed a bit of encouraging, but I hope they didn’t regret making the time for one poem today.

 

 

Untitled (Blue, Green, & Brown): oil on canvas: Mark Rothko: 1952

The TV said the planes have hit the buildings.

& I said Yes because you asked me

to stay. Maybe we pray on our knees because god

only listens when we’re this close

to the devil. There is so much I want to tell you.

How my greatest accolade was to walk

across the Brooklyn Bridge

& not think of flight. How we live like water: wetting

a new tongue with no telling

what we’ve been through. They say the is sky is blue

but I know it’s black seen through too much distance.

You will always remember what you were doing

when it hurts the most. There is so much

I want to tell you—but I only earned

one life. & I took nothing. Nothing. Like a pair of teeth

at the end. The TV kept saying The planes…

The planes…& I stood waiting in the room

made from broken mocking birds. Their wings throbbing

into four blurred walls. & you were there.

You were the window.

“Read it with passion!”

Fallowfield Library – Week 3

When I turned up this afternoon, Tony wasn’t there and it was starting to rain. So I was glad when Dorothy turned up and told me to come inside and show my poem to the weekly crochet and knitting group, ‘Knit & Natter’.

The group were very welcoming and showed me all their creations – Christine has been knitting her blanket for about thirty years, picking it up every now and again when she had a long train journey to go on. She said it was “on its last legs now…”

In return I read them the poem (“with passion!”) – this week it was ‘One Art’ by Elizabeth Bishop about ‘the art of losing’. It led to a discussion about things we’ve lost – Christine´s friend could’t come to visit her this week because she lost her train ticket, and Dorothy lost most of her possessions when she came to Manchester from Salvador and could only afford to bring two suitcases.

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Then, when I came back outside I was happy to see Tony there sitting on his bench. I read him the poem too and he told me about the time he lost his watch in a field in Ireland and found it twelve years later – “And it was still going!”

 

One Art

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

 

“I’ve got lots of stories to tell”

Fallowfield Community Library – Week 2

This time at Fallowfield Library I shared a bench with Mohammed Rafik who included me in a video call to his friend in Pakistan and said his son would read the poem to him at home because his English isn’t good. He didn’t have a lock so I looked after his bike while he checked if the library had an Urdu newspaper.

Mike from last week turned up but there was no sign of Tony, who was apparently expecting me yesterday. Mike knows almost everyone who passes and has been coming to this library for about 35 years (the library is celebrating its 85th birthday in August) – he said he used to cycle here and had two allotments nearby. I also spoke to Donnie from Liverpool who was once an extra in the film Gladiator, as well as being trained as a theatre fireman on Shaftesbury Avenue. All his stories seemed to begin with: “I was completely broke, then…”

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I gave out a poem by Helen Dunmore from The Raw Garden (1988). I love the way this poem slips seamlessly between different generations using a repeated image of a shadow and the universal task of trying to get to sleep.

 

Shadows of my mother against a wall

The wood-pigeon rolls soft notes off its breast
in a tree which grows by a fence.
The smell of creosote,
easy as wild gum
oozing from tree boles
keeps me awake. A thunderstorm
heckles the air.

I step into a bedroom
pungent with child’s sleep,
and lift the potty and pile of picture books
so my large shadow
crosses his eyes.

Sometimes at night, expectant,
I think I see the shadow of my mother
bridge a small house of enormous rooms.
Here are white, palpable walls
and stories of my grandmother:
the old hours of tenderness I missed.