The Kingdom Of Memory

I first encountered John O’Donohue when I picked up a copy of his book Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World. (Anam Cara is Gaelic for ‘soul friend’.) It is a beautifully written book that I have returned to time and again. Described as a ‘poetic priest with the soul of a pagan,’ O’Donohue died unexpectedly in his sleep, at the age of 52.

Not so long ago I bought a copy of another of his books, Eternal Echoes: Exploring Our Hunger To Belong.  Although I haven’t read it yet, I recently came across an excerpt from it which I have shared below. As we get older, the number of family and friends that we lose increases. It is inevitable, for that is the natural order of things, the price of life. And, for me personally as an avowed creature of nostalgia, my memories are precious and form a connection between the person I was and the person I am. The people who were, and the people who are.

John O’Donohue:

As we journey onwards in life, more and more spaces within us fill with absence. We begin to have more and more friends among the dead. Every person suffers the absence of their past. It is utterly astonishing how the force and fiber of each day unravel into the vacant air of yesterday. You look behind you and you see nothing of your days here. Our vanished days increase our experience of absence. Yet our past does not deconstruct as if it never was. Memory is the place where our vanished days secretly gather. Memory rescues experience from total disappearance. The kingdom of memory is full of the ruins of presence. It is astonishing how faithful experience actually is; how it never vanishes completely. Experience leaves deep traces in us. It is surprising that years after something has happened to you the needle of thought can hit some groove in the mind and the music of a long vanished event can rise in your soul as fresh and vital as the evening it happened.

So, Tonight’s Conversation . . . 

 . . . between my wife and I.

Me:”I’ve just picked up a book about Julian of Norwich.” 

Jen:”Why?” 

Me:”You know who Julian was?” 

Jen:”Of course I do.” 

Me:”Who?”

 Jen:”A bloke from years ago. See-I surprise you don’t I? I might not know what he did, but I know he lived years ago. So there!”

 Me:”Julian of Norwich was a woman.” 

Jen:”Whatever.” 

Hand Me Down Stories

I thought I’d reblog this after recently talking to someone about the power of storytelling-and the ghost of Annabella.

City Jackdaw

When I went to Primary School, there used to be a name whispered in the corridors and classrooms that all of the kids knew: Annabella.

Annabella was the name of the ghost of a girl who was said to haunt the girls’ toilets. If I recall the story correctly, it was a girl who was supposed to have hung herself in there. This may be a recurring theme, as when I went to Secondary School there was a story of a boy who had hung himself from the bell tower.

What dark imaginations the young have. The thrill in being scared.

But that latter school story was more vague, the boy-ghost being anonymous. In my junior school the ghost had a name.

My wife went to the same primary school as I. She says that out of the few cubicles in the toilets, there was one whose door was always…

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Thought For The Day

I just read this, in a review of Death Of The Poets, by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts:

‘ . . . as one psychologist is quoted as saying, “being a published poet is more dangerous than being a deep sea diver.” Versifiers are absolute martyrs to anorexia, agoraphobia, epilepsy, dipsomania, manic depression, paranoia, broken hearts and self-slaughter.’

Think it’s time for a career change.

On Poetry:Inspiration

For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.

The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.

The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?

We writhe 

with a rage to know 

the unknowable,


blind to great masses

that dance in dark orbits. 

And a soft, summer wind 

on a night beneath stars 

is no balm.

While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the night, the stillness was broken by the sound of somebody passing by the front of the house, their presence announced by their whistle as they went.

From somewhere a whistle

casts a line,



a fragile camaraderie 

in a world

fell silent,



where white moth-wing

is riotous



and a spider's touch 

carnal.

That faceless person, whoever it was, initiated the close of this poem. Sometimes we go about life oblivious of the effect we have on others, positive or otherwise. And writers can be voyeuristic vampires, stealing in secret what they need from those around them.

I had half of another poem entitled Old Town.  When writing it I had the idea of an American-type run down town in the middle of the desert, with people eking out a life in a place where unknown others lived long before them.

As is their wont,

the ancestors speak of nothing,



just leave their handprints

on rock, drying in shadow.



In sterile dust

we kick

careless trails,



tracks opening up

in animal minds.



In towns

we lay our markers down,



watering holes

within arid charms.



The rats have our number,

wait us out,



sandstorms filling our lungs

like egg timers.

 

I wanted to add a second part to the poem.

Regular readers of City Jackdaw will no doubt know of my love for old photographs. There is one in particular that has featured on my blog a few times before.  It bears the  legend Mary and her Grandfather Jasper. Around 1900. In many cases we never know who the people are in photographs such as this one, but with this we know enough to give it a personal dimension.

I wanted to somehow include this in my book, and so for the second part of this poem I envisaged somebody using it as a bookmark, reading a Truman Capote book (I had The Grass Harp in mind) while, in contrast to the whole ‘heading north’ theme, thinking of the south where the author came from and set his stories.

image

On the porch 

she reads Capote.

Turns her face to the south.



Her bookmark is an old photograph

of an old man; a girl; a dog:

'Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900.'

He: sat, stern and saturnine, wearing the dust. 

She: stood, hand lightly on his shoulder,

glaring at the camera,

facing down posterity:

Not yet. Not yet.




The dog is unnamed.

The birdcage in the window, empty.

In the book there are voices on the wind.

Here, just the parched whisper

of turned vellum.

 

Just weeks before Heading North was to be published I went to stay for a few days in Sweden. It being the furthest north I’d ever been I thought it an ideal opportunity to write something as a last minute addition to my collection of poems.

And thus was born Three Poems In Stockholm. 

The first poem came about when I was staying on a boat that served as a hostel and I was woken early by the sound of a foghorn. On looking out of the cabin window I was greeted by the unexpected sight of a Stockholm blanketed by thick fog.

Anchored mists hold down 

the grey waters

of Saltsjön.



The mournful baritone

of a foghorn

splinters the hull,

grinds the bones,

raises us up

from our slumbering 

wooden berth,



to climb high above

the city's fitful dreams.

 

I got dressed and went for a walk. Wandering around there was hardly anyone else around: it was a Sunday morning and the shops were still closed, even in this capital city.

I found myself on an empty street, myopic in the cataract effect of the fog. Suddenly a girl came into sight. Perhaps in her twenties, she wore a bright chequered dress, and beneath her arm she carried around half a dozen sunflowers.

The contrast between her and her surroundings struck me, and I immediately knew that this encounter would feature in the poem I was writing.

In Södermalm,

shining in a multicoloured,

chequered dress,

a girl breezes along with an armful

of sunflowers,

creating a fissure of brightness

in the milky gloom,

ploughing a passage of light

right through to 

the warm facades of Gamla Stan.

Blind to all else,

we follow her down.





 

Although another two Stockholm based poems followed, this is the one that reminds most of my time there. It was that image I can still see now: within a fog-bound scene a flame-haired girl in a bright dress, clutching yellow sunflowers. A centre of colour in a colourless landscape. It was like a painting.

Of course if I’d have approached her and said I was going to write a poem about her I could have been hit with a restraining order or something much more painful.

So somewhere out there, probably still in Stockholm, there is a girl who inspired a poet and is immortalised in a poem that featured in a book.

And she will never know.

I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s kinda sad.

 

image

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heading-North-2-Songs/dp/8283310097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1486389824&sr=8-1&keywords=heading+north