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

Check This Out: Mythos

Here is an interview I gave to highlight the publication of Mythos, an anthology in which I have two stories featuring. Many thanks to Linda for allowing me to appear on her great blog.

El Space--The Blog of L. Marie

With me on the blog today is the awesome Andy Murray. If you’re a follower of his blog, City Jackdaw, you know that he’s a poet who released a collection of poems called Heading North, published by Nordland in December 2015. We talked about that here on the blog. Now, Andy is here to talk about the short stories he contributed to Mythos, the second volume in the Northlore series, published by Nordland in December 2016. (By the way, Andy contributed a short story and a poem to Folklore, the first volume of the series.) Stick around after the interview to learn how you can get your hands on Mythos.

coverreveal Andy Photo

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Andy: 1. I’m at least six-generation Mancunian. 2. I knew my wife for twenty-six years before we got together. I play the long game. 3. I’m vegetarian. 4…

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On Poetry:Interpretation

As I said in my previous post, I’m not normally one who gives explanations about the poems that I write as I prefer readers to take from them what they will. I don’t think my stuff is obscure enough to warrant that.

But, after the publication of my collection Heading North, I’ve been interested to hear about some of the interpretations that readers have deduced from the poems within.

I used to be a postman, and on my round I had to deliver to several blocks of flats. While I was moving up and down the stairs in these flats, the graffiti on the walls would often catch my eye, particularly the humorous and the unique.

A lot of it, though, were candid (or perhaps false) disclosures of who was doing what to who. I think you can gather what I mean. From these squalid revelations was born the poem News On A Stairwell:

Sated on the stories of others,

fed in passing on casual affairs.

On stairwells, glancing,

their legible wares 

are traded second hand

for faltering steps,

and behind hand murmurs

of shallow cares,

where dead unions play on,

play on, laughing.

In salacious nooks

their small town shagging 

goes on, on walls,

spread everywhere.

My wife, bless her, was not too impressed by my use of the ‘s’ word. But, as I told her, the people who wrote these things didn’t use words like fornicate or copulate, so to be authentic it had to be either the ‘s’ word or the ‘f’ word.

A reader commented about this poem, asking if it was referring to Facebook. As I’ve already explained it wasn’t, and this poem had its roots before Facebook existed, but I liked that idea. Things have evolved — these days that type of gossip and dirty laundry are indeed shared on Facebook walls for all and sundry to feast upon Same shenanigans, different walls.

That works too. I’m cool with that.

Another poem, called Summer Boys, has its roots in a childhood memory of the place I used to live. A blazing hot summer in the seventies, I was playing with a couple of other now nameless and faceless children upon a croft, weeds growing amongst the red brick. I can still smell the breeze and the flowering thistles, feel the sun shining down on us, when we suddenly heard the music and fanfare of a passing parade. We dropped everything and shot off excitedly after this blaze of movement and colour. The poem ends with:

 . . .

only to be banished 

when a passing parade

calls them, flying

over stony croft.

They follow behind

in a winding line,

lost and in thrall

to the piper's call.

A reader took this to be a comment on all of the young people today who feel the call to join the military, being led away to these war torn places.

All of us live in context — both the writer and the reader. To me it was a fond memory from a moment in my life, to the reader it was a reference to current affairs in her life.

A similar interpretation took place with the poem called New Year, Morning. The poem begins with the lines:

Half the world is hurting,

turning its face to shadow.

These lines came to me when I was walking my dog early on New Year’s Day. The streets were empty, not a soul in sight, hence also:

The sky is leaden.

The streets are all 

unchartered lanes.

A reader deduced from those two opening lines about the world hurting a comment, again, upon the state of things at the time, what with all of the conflicts and natural disasters that were ravaging the world. She mentioned Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. The truth is that I had no such global thoughts in mind. I was actually thinking of all the hidden people inside those houses still in bed, struggling with the effects of over-drinking on New Year’s Eve.

But I do have to say that I love all of these interpretations. People make connections with poetry, lines conjure images and emotions in the hidden parts of our being. Rather than feel the need to correct the interpretations given (even though I’ve mentioned them here purely to highlight the point), I feel that I have made the right decision.

These are my words, my conjuring. Breathe them in and see what you will.

image

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Heading-North-2-Songs/dp/8283310097/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1485355776&sr=8-1&keywords=heading+north

On Poetry: Cause And Effect

I’m going to break my own rules, self-serving rebel that I am.

I don’t normally give much away about my writing. I don’t like to explain my poems, or give insight into their meaning. 

It’s not that I’m secretive, or have anything to hide. It’s just that I prefer readers to take from them what they will, as long as they aren’t too obscure.

The poems, I mean, not the readers 🙂

But, after a couple of discussions on here, I’ve decided to make a couple of posts about some of the poems in my book, Heading North.

One about inspiration. One about interpretation. 

Cause and effect. 

You may find them of interest. I shall post them early next week.

In the meanwhile have a good weekend. Hope the muse plays game.

Song Lyric-Hanging On ‘Til Morning

A lad I know is a member of a local band. He had a riff and outline for a new song, but no lyrics. Being familiar with my book, he asked if I could come up with some lyrics for it, and this is my attempt. Something I’ve never done before, but I think poetry and song lyrics are consenting bedfellows.

I think it works better with the music rather than standing alone in naked print, but here you go.

Will let you know if it makes the radio 🙂

Hanging On 'Til Morning

Satellite town where the sun sinks down
the people are the sheaves
of the concrete fields
stirred by degrees 
by the Pennine breeze

Hanging on 'til morning
Hanging on 'til morning.

The bucket bleed of the rusting heaps
the black cats creep
where the oil sinks deep
wandering free
the schizophrenic streets

Hanging on 'til morning
Hanging on 'til morning

The stifled screams of a dead man's dreams
sit up and watch the clock
and the winnowing fork
taking the drop
on a lifetime's work

Hanging on 'til morning
Hanging on 'til morning


©AJM