from Issue #8: Poetry by Bill Adams

Photo (CC) Vic Nicholas @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Vic Nicholas @ Flickr

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Wren

This is a bird’s back
Keeled as a breastbone
Fragile as a bag of sticks
Creaking like a matchbox.

Life is still a kind of test
You pick at details out of place
Lose concentration for a moment
And everything will come to pieces.

Your pinched body shrinks
To the essential kernel of discomfort
A sharp questing wren, forced to perch,
Flinty with disapproval.

Your bones are hollowing,
Soon you will simply blow away,
And we will hold only echoes of sharp song,
The self-belief that framed us

 

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Halloween

Tonight is the night that old dogs bark
And kids fill bus shelters,
When leaves give up and slump
Like plaster in a roofless house.

Tonight, car drivers desperate to get home
Jump lights and shave corners.
It was dark early – the fog
Is thick as ash and eats sound.

Tonight, November shambles forwards,
Asthmatic and grey-faced, sucking out the light.
The thinning hedge is a shrew ash,
Dressed with plastic. The festivals

We use to ward off darkness,
Tonight start to reveal themselves,
Stalk empty streets,
And search for souls.

 

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Barn Owl

Wings supple as a scarf:
Rigged to perfection,
That box fuselage
Stretched canvas over bent sticks;

Inside, a small hot body,
The rest is buoyancy.

Launched across the thin grass
You float beside the hedge,
Dipping and rising, a lilting tune
Against the dark blackthorn stave.

But this is not a maiden flight,
Your eyes miss nothing:

A roving drone, with death
Slung sheathed beneath you.

As the cooling air thickens
Wingtips sense the layered currents,
You turn, a shark quartering a reef,
Flip across the hedge, gone.

Ghost bird, for years your blank eyes
Watched me grow up, face pinched with disapproval.

Now I see you sometimes, towards dusk
In desert camouflage,
Fragile in the light air, drifting,
And I think, where did it all go?

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ABOUT THE POET

BILL ADAMS teaches about the complex relations between people and nature in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. He has published various books on conservation and development, including Wasting the Rain (Minnesota University Press, 1992) Future Nature (Earthscan 1995), Against Extinction (Earthscan 2004) and Green Development (Routledge, 2009). Bill lives in a village just within bicycling distance of Cambridge, and blogs on conservation at thinkinglikeahuman.com.

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from Issue #8: Poetry by Page Sinclair

Photo (CC) laura.foto @ Flickr

Photo (CC) laura.foto @ Flickr

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Grazie Italia

For the Roman sparrow who lent us his time
As we awed at the Pope’s palace in a crowd
Of two and for our moment by the Tiber
Green as the sycamore’s fresh summer rags.
For making us sticky in the heat as we fall away
Like ash into the noisy song lit twilight
And for the wine in worn out street corners
And marble foyers grand as an aging contessa
Slipping into the dark draped across the lanes
By the glamorous and impossible canals
Of my first time Venezia, where the night
Is an insistent daydream dressed for carnivale.

For the sun that razored the cooling Tuscan air
As Firenze stared down like a pantomine
Wizard casting a spell over its sleeping riches.
For the hidden church of gilded silence
That lost us all over again between the
Tourist party palazzos and wet diamond
Fountains busking for foreign coins.
For singing opera in gondolas steered
By poor boys in borrowed shirts.
For selling me enough glass beads
And Chianti to be dazzled by myself

Grazie Italia for being the best lover
I ever had the pleasure of leaving
Behind.

And you make me wonder if we were
Ever sound in mind with our strong
Young bodies pulling us up the hill into
The arms of a legends appearing like a
Distant relative from the summer dust.
You make me want to sit in shade until
The money runs out and jump a train
Through fields of canola and sunflowers
And tiny churches blooming from the
Harvest, old as trees. You make me
……………………STOP
And walk my streets in the rain
And falling churchbells, and sleep
Til Sunday noon in the spell of black
Silk and cobbled old women in the
Squares cleared in the stone forest
For the church, and wake to the rough
Hand of the artists in the piazza
Jewelled with their work, and breathe
Damp windowsill morning dreams.

I am a bird perched on a city
Lost in its own twistings and
The symphony of living on rooftops

And it’s all free

Italy you cheap whore
Soldering hearts together

I love your hairy upper lip
And swinging hips
And impatient loving
You big armed
Hold me together
So drunk and fed
That I forget to fall
To pieces under
The accordion light
And gypsy flowers
Worshipping in the
Dust of saint’s bones
And the grinning skulls
Strung with lace
And hot prayers.

Thank you for teaching a cold
White-bellied tourist how to burn
With the midnight candles.

Grazie for breeding greedy brave sparrows
To befriend the wanderers on a bridge.

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*

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An afternoon with Eliot, Dante and Steinbeck

There it is – your life – in a cage of rain. Impervious
As the clouds are to your wet feet. Too slow
Too slow the bird chimes from the bricked up
Chimney with the butchered shoots
Of the sage bush in its beak as the sun
Laughs at your turned up collar.
Galled by the world into the secrets
Under the dust and horse sweat,
Hiding with the mice in the haystack.
Lost somewhere in the powdered mist
Kicked up like a curtain hem
By the feet of the Hollow Men
There is darkness and a river –
Each the other’s nightmare –
And a journey into nowhere,
Through phantoms of the streets
And old frontier truths
To find the sky on a clear night;
To find the nothing in yourself
And your loves scattered like seeds
Onto the cool field of the stars.

.

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ABOUT THE POET

PAGE SINCLAIR was born and raised in Sydney and completed a BA at the University of Cambridge in 2013. She is currently working on her first collections of poetry.

from Issue #8: Poetry by Richard Berengarten 李道

Photo (CC) Papooga @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Papooga @ Flickr

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Editor’s note: below is Richard Berengarten’s specially-written preface to the selection from his large sequence Changing, which appeared in Issue 8. The poems themselves are presented in a special PDF, to preserve their unique formatting. Click here to read them.

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From Changing

Changing is a book-length poem composed between 1984 and 2014, whose structure is based on the I Ching. The patterning of this work is that of the spatio-temporal field (Olson). Its compositional strategies are those of correlative thinking or correlative cosmos-building (Granet and A. C. Graham). Its tissue is resonance: cosmic, magnetic, morphic (Sheldrake).

The two groups of poems published here are based on the third and fourth of the sixty-four hexagrams, Zhun, 屯 and Meng, 蒙. The first poem in each group corresponds to the hexagram itself, while the other six relate to each of the lines in the hexagram. The paratext in italics beneath the grey line at the end of each poem connects the text directly to the I Ching itself. The stanza divisions and mises-en-page suggest the stacked form of the hexagram.

The I Ching or Book of Changes is unique among the books of the world and its story is extraordinary. Its earliest known version, the Zhouyi, meaning the ‘Zhou Changes’, was probably compiled or composed during the last two decades of the ninth century BCE. As Edward Louis Shaughnessy wrote in his ground-breaking thesis (1983): “The Zhouji is incontestably the most important work of China’s long intellectual history.” It started its existence as a divination manual or fortune-telling handbook, a function it still fulfils today nearly three thousand years later.

The I Ching is comparable to the Bible for the huge number of commentaries and works of philosophy, literature and art that it has generated. My own fascination with this ancient book goes back fifty years to early 1962, when I was a nineteen-year old student at Cambridge. Over the years, Changing has grown, slowly but surely, out of that fascination.

RB, February 2015

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Click here to read selections from Changing in a special PDF.

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ABOUT THE POET

RICHARD BERENGARTEN was born in London in 1943 into a family of musicians. In 1975, he founded the international Cambridge Poetry Festival, which ran until 1985. He has lived in Italy, Greece, Serbia, Croatia and the USA, and has worked extensively in Eastern Europe and Russia. His poetry integrates English, European, Slavic, Jewish, Mediterranean, American and oriental traditions. His many books include For the Living: Selected Longer Poems 1965-2000, In a Time of Drought, The Blue Butterfly, Under Balkan Light, Imagems 1, Manual and Notness. He is recipient of various literary awards in the UK, Serbia and Macedonia: The Blue Butterfly provided the Veliki školski čas memorial-oratorio for Nazi massacre-victims in Kragujevac (Serbia, 2007), and his poetry has been translated into more than ninety languages. A former Arts Council of Great Britain Writer-in-Residence at the Victoria Adult Education Centre, Gravesend, Visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame, British Council Lector in Belgrade, and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newnham College, Cambridge, he is currently a Preceptor at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, a Bye-Fellow at Downing College, an Academic Associate at Pembroke College, a Fellow of the English Association, and poetry editor of the Jewish Quarterly.

from Issue #6: Poetry by Siobhan Hodge

Photo (CC) Tommy Wong @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Tommy Wong @ Flickr

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 Happy Valley Turnover

American alfalfa, fresh
off the jet, arrives
for a visiting
sprinter
in the barracks.

Soybean starches
ulcered bellies,
oats and lucerne
for horses ushered
to another day’s racing.

Withers judder
in humid clumps,
remembering
seasons in uneasy
halogen nights.

Eyes may turn
to Kowloon skyline
under lock
from stall to killing pen,
now harried up the ramp.

Seychelles broke fast,
Sicilian Storm no
breeder,
along the outside
we have another
Ferdinand.

Imported hay is
exchanged
for spent bodies
on the morning truck,
and the punters
park elsewhere.

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*

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Horse Latitudes

No red tide laps the shore
to mark your bloody passage.
Algal bloom snuffs oxygen,
your lungs filled
in unfamiliar seas.

Cast adrift, no water to fill
your salted flanks:
they pitched you over the side
like an empty barrel.

Spanish soil fell from your hooves
before Pacific
rose to claim
your abandoned hide.

Rolling in the deep,
hawkhead mauled
by foam. Sharks barter
for your sinews
beneath calm water.

No horizon will beckon
you home, body
sunken – skull to mount
the bedrock, mapping
a legacy of bones.

 

ABOUT THE POET

Siobhan Hodge was recently awarded a PhD at the University of Western Australia in the discipline of English, studying Sappho’s poetry and its translation. Born in the UK, she divides her time between Australia and Hong Kong, and is currently undertaking a writer’s retreat in Cambridge. She recently published a chapbook, Picking Up the Pieces, and has had poetry and criticism published in several places, including Cordite, Page Seventeen, Yellow Field, Peril, Verge, and Trove. Siobhan nurtures a longstanding interest in working with horses, drawing on both classical dressage and natural horsemanship methodologies, and is working on a related poetry collection.

from Issue #6: Poetry by Penny Florence

Photo (CC) Joscelyn Upendran @ Flickr

Photo (CC) Joscelyn Upendran @ Flickr

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 SELECTIONS FROM ANT HILL

Introduction

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.

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Tangent

.

to a touch
of one life to an
other.

short. scribe
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 flight,

like the flash of a wing

light glints, water moves in
constancy.
 
 .

They flee from me.

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Muse

a muse meant,
once upon a time, a lady
sat, alone, aloof, like
patience. smiling at no-one,
nothing altered, especially
not her.

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
no fools

they had no desire to talk to emptiness.

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Pair for Paolo
(With Paolo Totaro)

Translation
(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
horizon
centrifugued, until the scions of years – forgotten
descending years of meanings
meanings – draw to a close. One stone after
successively
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
remaindered.
mail of these last days last hours, like tombstones.

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Mapping 

(the motion of water inscribed on veined stone veins my vision,
blurred pearl)

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

green

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Nomadic Variations

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
ghost continent
actual and ungraspable
as myth, as Mu

Gondwana, Pangea
roots of mountains, basal layer,

Cornwall’s granite, Vesuvius spit
of land liquid like sea.

Mining the deep
belief, child-like,
to Oz & Ayer’s Rock

Uluru

strata as truth, perhaps,
.

stone

mineral culture
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
It must.

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)

alabaster, incandescent,
artfully lit on its full page
when book bound colour was rare.

Wonders of the Past
entombed millennia
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,
Once.

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
………………[…]
…………………………………………………………………………his delights
……………..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

land

is elsewhere, though beneath
to touch, just touch

……..as the sea the sea-sunk wave-hill

then, like dolphins, in air
……..to dance

.

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What’s What

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

.

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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.