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sisters & sparrows

Poetry. Photography. Life.

I was away for the weekend, back in the shire for a training weekend with Christian Union mates.  But I’m back and now facing the toughest three weeks of this term.  Two essays to do, and tons of stuff with CU to sort out.  I’m gritting my teeth.

{Photo courtesy of my mate Josh}

IN OTHER NEWS. If you are in the UK, click this LINK.  It is to a brilliant company called Graze.  You will get delicious free food delivered to your door, no snags, and I will get me a nifty discount.  Do, oh do.  Please, oh please.

More on topic, I’ve been mulling over the subject of my fat 5000 word poetry assignment which I have to do soon.  I want to do it on something which is really going to interest me, something I can sink my teeth into, so that those 5000 words aren’t unnecessarily deadly.  So.  I’m going to write it about God, and poetry – the harmonies and conflicts between Christianity and literature.  Religious poetry.  The presence of the divine in contemporary poetry.  Or something of that ilk.  I had a massive meeting with my poetry tutor and she gave me some names… among them, Michael Symmons Roberts.  I think I’m going to buy a few collections because the couple of poems I read were wonderful.  Here’s one.

 

Jairus

So, God takes your child by the hand
and pulls her from her deathbed.
He says: ‘Feed her, she is ravenous.’

You give her fruits with thick hides
– pomegranate, cantaloupe –
food with weight, to keep her here.

You hope that if she eats enough
the light and dust and love
which weave the matrix of her body

will not fray, nor wear so thin
that morning sun breaks through her,
shadowless, complete.

Somehow this reanimation
has cut sharp the fear of death,
the shock of presence. Feed her

roast lamb, egg, unleavened bread:
forget the herbs, she has an aching
fast to break. Sit by her side,

split skins for her so she can gorge,
and notice how the dawn
draws colour to her just-kissed face.

 

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A non-relevant but celebratory video for you today.  Because I feel tired and bored and a bit dizzy.  Nine o’clocks are not my cup of tea!

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A load of my peers will probably remember the AQA poetry anthology that we studied at GCSE… which actually had quite a lot of really decent contemporary poetry.  The poems that always come back to me are the small selection of Simon Armitage‘s title-less matches.  Especially this one:

Mother, any distance greater than a single span

requires a second pair of hands.

You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,

the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.

 

You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording

length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then   leaving

up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling

years between us. Anchor. Kite.

 

I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb

the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something

has to give;

two floors below your fingertips still pinch

the last one-hundredth of an inch … I reach

towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky

to fall or fly.

 

They’re each supposed to be able to be read in the time it takes to strike and burn one match.  There’s something wonderful about that.

You can buy the whole volume in one of those sexy one colour editions by faber and faber… drool…

 

The quieter you travel, the farther you’ll get.

— Russian Proverb

I’ve been reading (or more like, watching) the blog Mr and Mrs Globe Trot for ages now and just ache with jealousy.  Yeah I know we shouldn’t covet, but really?  Difficult, in this case.

I think you either have or don’t have the travel bug.  If you do have it, you’ll forgo almost anything to go to another country, to eat its dinners and swim in its lakes, struggle with its language, meet its people, see its customs.  I’ve been saving my pennies and as well as the Morocco trip this summer, I’m planning to go to Albania, and then maybe up along the coast to Montenegro and Split…

Here’s a few glimpses of the travels of Julia and Yuriy.  Sometimes just the little things that stick with you, of a life on the move.  To brighten up your tuesday evening.

I strongly recommend you click on the photos, to see the whole post; or just have a good browse on their blog.  The photographs look tons better in a bigger format.

Today we went to Attingham Park for a bracing walk and to see the snowdrops.  The whole family and my brother’s dog went, partly because this is my last day at home…  Going back to uni tomorrow afternoon, no work accomplished thanks to bout of flu in the middle of the week… it’s going to be manic.

But I’m not thinking about that.

Here’s one of my favourite poems for you.  My sister read me this when I was a kid, but I only recently grasped how clever it is.

My Dog

by Ian McMillan

April is the Cruellest Month
might seem like a strange name for a dog,
and sometimes I think it is
when I’m shouting her name
on the high moors
in the driving wind.

‘April is the Cruellest Month!’
I shout,
‘April is the Cruellest Month!’
and my dog runs up to me,
barking, wagging her tail,
and I feel slightly, ever so slightly
embarrassed.

But then when people say
as they walk by me
on the high moors
in the driving wind,
‘Can a month bark?’
‘Can April wag its tail?’
I swell with pride
because my dog’s name
is image, and metaphor, and poetry.

So,
‘April is the Cruellest Month’
I shout, and
‘April is the Cruellest Month’
and the words roll round in my mouth
like Easter Eggs in a Shopping Basket
which is the name of my cat.

 

a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away

I am writing an essay on Romantic landscape poetry at the moment.  Bring on John Clare.  He is welcome back into my life, that poor sweet crazed farmhand.

The Yellowhammer’s Nest

 

By John Clare

 

Just by the wooden brig a bird flew up,

Frit by the cowboy as he scrambled down

To reach the misty dewberry—let us stoop

And seek its nest—the brook we need not dread,

‘Tis scarcely deep enough a bee to drown,

So it sings harmless o’er its pebbly bed

—Ay here it is, stuck close beside the bank

Beneath the bunch of grass that spindles rank

Its husk seeds tall and high—’tis rudely planned

Of bleachèd stubbles and the withered fare

That last year’s harvest left upon the land,

Lined thinly with the horse’s sable hair.

Five eggs, pen-scribbled o’er with ink their shells

Resembling writing scrawls which fancy reads

As nature’s poesy and pastoral spells—

They are the yellowhammer’s and she dwells

Most poet-like where brooks and flowery weeds

As sweet as Castaly to fancy seems

And that old molehill like as Parnass’ hill

On which her partner haply sits and dreams

O’er all her joys of song—so leave it still

A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.

Yet in the sweetest places cometh ill,

A noisome weed that burthens every soil;

For snakes are known with chill and deadly coil

To watch such nests and seize the helpless young,

And like as though the plague became a guest,

Leaving a houseless home, a ruined nest—

And mournful hath the little warblers sung

When such like woes hath rent its little breast.

 

 

Like Robert Frost, Clare capitalised on the image of himself as a peasant poet.  Unlike Robert Frost, Clare did not live a sort of double life, half the time working on the land, the other half lecturing in fancy-pants universities – even when Clare was really popular he still farmed.  Right up until he was chucked into the mental asylum and started believing he was Byron, that is.

 

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I told you I’d tell you about Ynyslas.  Well, this is the legend {via here}:

This land used to be the Cantre’r Gwaelod, which extended some 20 miles west of the current shoreline into what is now Cardigan Bay, and was ruled as part of the Kingdom of Meirionnydd by Gwyddno Garanhir (Longshanks), born circa 520 AD.

The land was said to be extremely fertile, so much so that it was said that any acre there was worth four acres elsewhere. The catch was that the land depended on a dyke to protect it from the sea. The dyke had sluice gates that were opened at low tide to drain the water from the land, and closed as the tide returned.

Around 600 AD, one night a storm blew up from the south west, driving the spring tide against the sea walls. The appointed watchman, Seithennin, a heavy drinker and friend of the King, was at a party in the King’s palace near Aberystwyth. Some say he fell asleep due to too much wine or that he was too busy having fun to notice the storm and to shut the sluices.

The water gates were left open, and the sea rushed in to flood the land of the Cantref, drowning over 16 villages. The King and some of his court managed to escape by running to safety along Sarn Cynfelin, Gwyddno Garahir and his followers were forced to leave the lowlands and make a poorer living in the hills and valleys of Wales.

Another, more bawdy version, maintains that Seithennin was a visiting local King, who, at the time of the storm, was intent on amorously distracting the fair maiden Mererid, who was in charge of the sluice gates. Successful in his mission, Mererid was therefore unable to shut the gates, and the land was flooded.

Here’re my thoughts on the matter:

Cantre’r Gwaelod

by Francesca Fletcher

 

A dull day, studded with slack clouds.

The sun went like the belly of a fish

Across the sand and the fat mulch

At the edge of the spent waves

Made a damp thweat when we kicked it.

We gleaned scraps of driftwood,

Heart shaped stones, watched worms

Slide in and out of the grit.

We walked quickly and sometimes

Some rain fell from the sky

Or upwards from the sea

With that kind of panting wind

 

That catches you and spins you into euphoria.

The land was on our right shoulder.

It was a lonely arm.  All that was on it

Was the chewed ends of ice-pops

One green adder and miles of fence.

Some dead holiday homes too,

But I ignored those.

 

The tide was dragging back as we went

So that before we reached Ynyslas

The drowned forest was undrowned

Naked under the cold appraisal of the sun

The stumps, now stone, stared

Out of their wallowy green pools

Vined with slime.  They were surrounded

By sinking sand. We got an eyeful

And swapped stories about how it happened

This devouring of the land by the sea.

 

We had to walk five miles back

Against the wind. We left the dead trees like

Dead welsh kings on the cold shore

To be reswallowed.

 

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