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.

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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.

 

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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

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Poem Preview

My collection of poetry, being published next month by Nordland Publishing, is called Heading North. The poems in it are arranged in a particular order, reflecting a gradual journey from the summer and childhood of the south to the mortality-facing winter of the north. My recent visit to Sweden, being the furthest north I have ever been, was too good an opportunity not to write a last minute poem for my book. Below is an excerpt:

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.

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.


                   - from Three Poems In Stockholm


©AJM

Seven-Shot Stockholm

These photographs were taken on my recent visit to Stockholm. They were actually taken by the friend who accompanied me, but some of the shots were suggested by me. I have the eye, but not the equipment! So, let’s say, we can share a 60-40 credit, yes? In his favour. Begrudgingly.

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Night falls fast on Stockholm.

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One of the many cobbled streets of Gamla Stan for me to get lost in. I really could do with an in-built Sat Nav. Pigeons seem to have it sussed.

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Nobody in sight to ask directions from.

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Rainy evening, made me think of home.

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Same again, but with a puddle. It had a Christmas feel to it. The town, I mean, not the puddle.

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A double rainbow on Gröna Lund. The Abba museum is over there, so it’s obviously a sign that the band are going to reform.

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The Swedish night, as the sun sets on our Nordic adventure.

Photographs by DJB

Scenes pointed out by me.

Sweden In Sentences, Mishaps A Plenty

And so I return. Stockholm was great, and I’m weary and all coffee’d out. I will post about it all later, but in the meanwhile, just a few snippets of conversation and discovered written word to give you a flavour of my time there:

On entering the country, my very eager travelling companion was having his passport inspected at passport control:

“This is the first time I’ve been in your country, I’m excited and looking forward to it.” Friendly, female passport inspector: “Enjoy your stay, I hope it lives up to your expectations.” Next, my turn, I motioned towards my departing friend: “He will be asleep within an hour!” “Not you, though?” “No-he snores!” She laughed, waved me through.

Over the four days:

“Excuse me Sir, your handbag is open.” I was that ‘Sir.’

“Do you know what Polish Alzheimer’s is? Forget everything but a grudge.” Calm down-it was said by a Polish man.

“Without struggle, there is no progress.” Okay, I can go with that.

“Kiss me like you kissed that goat.” You really don’t want to know.

Entered a restaurant, was instructed by a very-loud-voiced-it-had-to-be-heard-to-be-believed-waiter: “WHEN YOU’RE READY TO ORDER COME TO THE COUNTER, WE ARE A LAZY BUNCH IN HERE!” I did: “Can I have a draught beer, please…” THAT SOUNDS LIKE A PLAN!” “…erm, and a mineral water…” “THAT SOUNDS LIKE LESS OF A PLAN!” “…and the soup…” “WHERE IN ENGLAND ARE YOU FROM?” “Manchester.” “WENT TO LIVERPOOL ONCE. COULDN’T UNDERSTAND A DAMN THING ANYBODY WAS SAYING!”

A lovely blogger and follower of Jackdaw on here was going to email me some tips about visiting Stockholm. She didn’t manage to do it in time for my visit. It wasn’t a problem, it was a nice gesture, but a bit of a catchphrase began to feature:

Just arrived, in the middle of the city, ten o’clock at night, got on a bus. Bus driver: Have you got a ticket?” “Can we buy one off you?” “No.” “Okay, can we pay for one using a card?” “No.” “We need to get off and get one?” “Yes.” Thanks a bunch, Erica.” 

In McDonald’s for breakfast, I wanted an egg muffin as I don’t eat meat. Opened it up, it had bacon on it. “Thanks a bunch, Erica.”

Next morning, emphasised more clearly WITHOUT bacon.  Opened it up. Bacon. “Thanks a bunch, Erica.”

Morning after, used the Swedish word ‘utan’ meaning ‘without’. Didn’t even have to open it. “Thanks a bunch, Erica.”

We went on a cruise around the archipelago, but picked the wrong day, weather-wise. Poured down. “Thanks a bunch, Erica.” Who do you think was the only person who didn’t go inside the boat where it was heated, but stayed outside for the experience? Yep, I sat, coat fastened up, hat tightly on. Got a coffee to warm myself up, the wind blew it out of my hands. “Thanks a bunch, Erica.”

On departing the country, four days later, at passport control, the same friendly passport inspector to me: “You’re returning home then?”  “Yes, to catch up on my sleep.” “Was there a lack thereof?” “Ohhhh yes!” She laughed, waved me through.

Full of a cold, probably through my rain-lashed cruise, I sneezed on the plane. “Thanks a..”  Well, you can guess the rest. Poor Erica’s ears must have been burning.

More inspirational words from the toilet of a Swedish placed Irish pub:

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Swedish Interlude

Just a quick post to let you guys know that I will be away for a few days.

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Well, the moon is a bit of an exaggeration, (and I hope that my mode of transport is a little more robust), but I thought you might  prefer that image to this one:

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Except all of you feet lovers out there. And mutilated feet at that.

No, I am going to Stockholm tomorrow, and don’t arrive back until late Monday night. I am pre-occupied at the moment with making that most crucial of decisions: which book do I take with me to read on the plane? And then no doubt doing some last minute packing.

In the meanwhile, I would be obliged if you could keep an eye on the old Jackdaw site for me while I’m away. Make sure she’s secure, and don’t forget to put the bins out on Monday.

See you soon.