SELECTIONS FROM ANT HILL
Ant Hill presented itself, complete, when I returned to the UK following a month in Australia at the invitation of friends. The month was spent with people I have met in diverse ways and contexts, but I have spent little time with any of them, if you measure a lifetime. Yet their significance is not at all ordinary.
The relationship between Australia and Britain can, perhaps, like other post-colonial affinities, be compared to this. We have formed each other for a brief moment, but that split second has left structural traces, like a slide from geology to topography to topology.
The harbinger of the sequence of poems was “Tangent”. While staying at Pittwater, I had begun a rare conversation. I did not know if it would continue. I sat down to send an email about my projects in digital poetry, and wrote “Tangent” in 5 minutes. It remains virtually unchanged.
I take no great credit for this. I find the best things happen unaided, gifts from that miraculous and elusive space beyond self.
This collection is about these things: people who matter to you way beyond the amount of time you spend with them; places that become part of the imaginary landscape that is your unknown blueprint of home; the lightest of touches that your body knows until it dies.
A final word about ‘Pair for Paolo’. It grew out of a poem by Paolo Totaro, sent by email, which became the basis, set in standard type. My line by line response is in blue cursive. Imagine the lines playing off each other in a visual dance. Read freely, following your eye and inclination.
to a touch
of one life to an
in infinitesimal eternity
(strange word, of beauty and fear).
brevity and sightlessness
no match for a lifetime.
exactitude. perfect. match
a moment, fleeting and sure
like the flash of a wing
light glints, water moves in
They flee from me.
a muse meant,
once upon a time, a lady
sat, alone, aloof, like
patience. smiling at no-one,
nothing altered, especially
a poet, she.
no taster of success, she. just, she
kept her own counsel. knowing
one day, once upon a time, later,
a poet, met by chance by the water,
would be her muse; the hope and delight
gently, lightly, show
her her way. because, being
they had no desire to talk to emptiness.
Pair for Paolo
(With Paolo Totaro)
(from P’s idiolect to P’s idiolect)
My leaf of gold, my truest, my routinely checked
gold flutters, autumnal, regular and random
mail each day each hour, like water you take the shape
as words weave magic trees out of ether
of the vessel you are poured in, like ice you are
frozen to form. Or rock between rivers, green
stone, like a meadow you link two rivers that flow
one east one west. Yet, the one source is forever
space, compass lost.
for both, lost. The mountain that is behind
Seated, soaring promontory recedes
continues to be seat, passage, road, landscape
from all to nought. O. Recall
finally to disappear. From all but the memory
draws all to the event
where all converge and somersaults in, is then
centrifugued, until the scions of years – forgotten
descending years of meanings
meanings – draw to a close. One stone after
another stone, the building that is mind
as a house of cards prettily shatters
sheds floors. In the outside memory remains
to harvest only leaves,
my sheaf of mail, my routinely deleted
mail of these last days last hours, like tombstones.
(the motion of water inscribed on veined stone veins my vision,
I see everything that was here before, but the map must have been wrong.
Following it, I bump into things.
Perhaps it is upside down?
Well, that helps,
but it’s not enough.
I shall remember that there are rivers and forests, seas and deserts,
and draw my own
I. Kernow, An Lysardh (Cornwall, The Lizard Peninsula), Australia
Purple The Lizard, long, low
reaches to Brittany
long lost matrix, earth joined
by splitting sea
South, Europe lies, and North
actual and ungraspable
as myth, as Mu
roots of mountains, basal layer,
Cornwall’s granite, Vesuvius spit
of land liquid like sea.
Mining the deep
to Oz & Ayer’s Rock
strata as truth, perhaps,
a mine is a mine is a mine …
II. (Tutankhamun, Valley of the Kings 1336 BC, Cairo 1922 AD, London 1972 AD)
It must be here
searching plinth, shelf,
panic rising, absurd
I stop. It’s this size, I say
(holding a hand at hip height,
my size when first I saw)
artfully lit on its full page
when book bound colour was rare.
Wonders of the Past
the country of my birth
where I do not belong. But.
A perfume vase, I say, handles, carved, round,
waisted. It must be here. It is, he says, with an odd smile.
And I see. Two inches, three,
Where feet once were.
We laugh. I turn away,
hiding my grief.
My father, born there, too, and his
in Scotland, generations gone.
A common sort of story,
Aunt Cissy died stateless,
relict of colonial adventure.
Love of Cairo holding
when Suez bade her leave.
Not for her the straitness of a canal.
III: Alexandria, Gwithian (Kernow), and beyond
………………His legs bestrid the ocean
……………..Were dolphin-like; they show’d his back above
……………..The element they lived in.
…………………………………………..(Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Antony & Cleopatra V ii)
High tide and the dolphins
a crab shell at my feet,
horned carapace starred like the prehistoric moon,
scarred with extinct light.
…….Shift sideways, sidereal
…………weed wedge to belly, tail, flicker
………………clear of the horizon
childhood windblown voices down the dunes
hollowed in recessive horn,
……..What do you see at the end of the sea,
……..When the sun shines through, and the sand
……..Stripes rippling stipple the yellow scree
……..Is it light, is it sea, is it.
is elsewhere, though beneath
to touch, just touch
……..as the sea the sea-sunk wave-hill
then, like dolphins, in air
Mud and stones polished by bright water,
The air bruised with the scent of wild garlic
Pelted with hail. That lies white, speckling the green and brown.
Small opportunist birds flit excitedly in the intermittent sun,
Knowing it seems what
Mud and stones polished by bright water,
air bruised with the scent of wild garlic,
pelted with hail, are.
White, speckling the green and brown,
small opportunist birds flit excitedly in the intermittent sun,
knowing, it seems, what
ABOUT THE POET
Penny Florence currently works primarily with digital poetry, exploring translation and visual art. She has published on a range of academic interests, most of which concern poetry or painting, or how they relate (she is Professor Emerita at The Slade School of Fine Art, University College London). Ant Hill, from which this selection is taken, is her first collection of poems. Although she has always jotted poetic notes, she has rarely properly written poetry. These 5 poems are the first she has published. She lives in Cornwall, on the Penwith Peninsula, in the far South West of Britain.