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Return of the Green Man

His wound-up crozier straightens out tightened springs unwind, releasing frondy fingers first, tipped with soft new nails
followed by stalk of hand and wrist then un-stretched arcs of bramble arms thrown out to grasp and root.
Keratin hardens, new limbs grow stronger from the making. He emerges phloem fed, hydrated by xylem
strong-armed in lignin. Rib circled he inspires, his inflating body ready to break its bonds
swollen with fresh projections. Leaves sprout from every crack jostling. They are drawn forth
these unsuspected members to find themselves full of purpose and unruly.
Renewed man is almost ready to take his leave once more, once he has learned to walk
and take stock. Firmly rooted multi-limbed he advances when you’re not looking
implanting his staff afresh he leaves the last one, leading the way to his rightful place
through irrepressible growth.


There are lots of Green Men – so many types, in so many places, in so many ages, with all sorts of different names.
He may be…
Recent posts

Ashes

In recent years poets have attached themselves to all sorts of places as poets-in-residence – such as famous landmarks, beauty spots or buildings, especially if there are literary associations.Residencies have since extended to more workaday places like supermarkets, clinics, prisons, stations, offices, factories, airports, theatres… and outwards, to include teams, groups and all sorts of clubs and organisations.

My residency was at a crematorium. With its great variety of people working closely together, performing an essential job in a distinctive place which exerts a certain fascination, it promised to be a fruitful choice. Which proved to be the case.
A set of poems resulted from all my watching, listening and talking – to technicians and office staff, managers and gardeners, to visiting professionals such as clergy and lay celebrants, organists and funeral directors, to mourners and attenders.
This one comes from the middle of the sequence, after the cooled cinders have been rak…

Notice

Exminster Mental Hospital Notice

The Hospital have for disposal various Goods as per Price List below. Samples of which can be seen at the Canteen or Female One Ward.
Some of the items are second-hand but having rendered good service and been subject to careful assessment they are commended for general perusal.
Others of course are unused. Howsoever they may have arrived the Committee has no hesitation in confirming their general utility
for Staff and for Patients alike. Early inspection is urged Management being aware that every item will prove to be
no less than excellent value. Individuals with particular needs not addressed by the present arrangements are requested to postpone any purchase
since further disposals will follow, Management ever mindful of the undoubted continuing need to maintain a proper supply.


I’m not sure how old this notice is, but I can vouch for its provenance (but that’s another story).
To be sure, it bears the stigma of age, with the several stains, the perforations and wrinkling – …

A new jawbone

And he found a new jawbone of an ass and put forth his hand and took it and slew a thousand men therewith


Judges 16



What someone can do with something new can surprise
your eyes open wide here by your side you find what’s required
to tackle the task no need to ask for much help
just put out your hand seize the moment and nothing can stop you
armed with a jawbone you slew on your own a thousand men.
Who’d have thought that the jaw of one herbivore had such power?


Well, it wasn’t any old jaw bone – it was a new one.I’m not sure how important it was that it happened to be one of an ass, but the narrated story – minimal as it is in other respects – provides us with that particular detail.
‘Found’ is interesting too.Was he looking – searching for a weapon – or did he just come across that fresh mandible lying in the grass?
And the putting forth of his hand, with its suggestion of a conscious and determined action, after a moment – perhaps even a longer time – of reflection, raises many a question.Almost thousan…

In Search of Genius

In Search of Genius



Dr Thomas Harvey conducts Albert Einstein’s autopsy



The body itself was perfectly ordinary of course, just as I expected. But here between my hands I raise a gift, an offering which is held before me, like a sacrifice. I set it down with reverence, noting familiar features – see the cerebellum with its fissures closely set, transverse and curved. All appears normal, for now.
So to the cortex. Accompany me – let us walk around the hemispheres enjoy their glistening surfaces: the superolateral and the medial (the inferior is presently hidden) following folds, traversing sulci – across the longitudinal fissure I skim, an arctic explorer on my sled over hills and valleys, there is so much awaiting discovery.
I pick up my knife, the round-ended one, as I search for the genius that lived and died here. The slices begin.  Each falls away softly like cheese.  A key hole appears gradually growing into a chamber fit for a pharaoh perhaps, although empty of course, it hasn’t…

The Gargoyle Speaks

The Gargoyle Speaks
Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder. My eyes protrude, quite an eye opener, set wide apart, away from each other they behold – down the gross of my nose past lips that are parted – grotesques which are those whose foreshortened bodies grow heads from their toes. They pass to and fro, avoiding another with similar slit eye – no more a beholder of beauty than a gargoyle thought uglier.


Actually, not a gargoyle at all, as the gurgling, gargling gargoyle was designed to throw water clear of the stonework below. These heads are grotesques.

What does that mean?
I’m not convinced they were designed to represent ugliness, to remind us of our own ugliness, or even the transience of beauty, if only because they’re not easily seen.  If that was the intention, they’d have been placed more – to coin a phrase – in your face.  Very few passers-by will have noticed these downward gazing people, intent as they seem to be on us.
Nor that these fellows were placed there apotropaically – to fr…

The Explorer

It’s interesting to rummage around in old folders and notebooks, looking for something useful that might be worth sending somewhere,
I found myself rolling the years back – at least ten years, discovering (it felt like that) poems which were remembered and recognised, but also discovering that they’d changed.Or more accurately, I’d changed.It was still me who wrote them, and they were still them, but we were both different.
I felt as though I was travelling upstream on a voyage of discovery – discovery not just of old poems, but of my earlier self. Here I was – or am – going back in time, when things were younger: striding against the flow of time, through years that had past.
One poem in particular gave me a metaphor.
I could see why I’d titled the poem ‘The Explorer.’
There’s something naturally attractive about the source of a river, as the great Victorian explorers discovered (you just have to use that word).And the poem brought back that feeling of searching, of being on a journey o…

Straw

A strange new structure has landed in a farm just near us – not very high, it’s domed with no windows, a bit like a flying saucer.Leading directly up to it, there’s even a spanking new road, complete with kerbs, new drains and proper passing places.
Our little lanes round here are quite different.It’s as if they’ve never been built at all, winding their apparently inconsequential ways round the hillside: disinclined to follow a straight line, they seem to have just grown.Sunk deep in the ground, the width of a cart, dependent on a gateway for two vehicles to pass each other they do their job well enough.They take a car, a single car for sure, but it’s necessary to drive slowly, hesitating at bends and being prepared to find one of those gateways.As for larger vehicles – they and their loads scrape and scour both sides, which at least has the benefit of maintaining such narrow width as the lane provides.
I know and love these lanes well from walking and running.It’s bad enough with a …

Of Mice and Men

Of Mice and Men

Fragments have been in my mind recently.
It’s partly because I’ve been reading poetry to people with dementia, when memory literally fragments – thoughts and words becoming blanked out, lost temporarily, if not permanently. Which itself reminded me of those pages of text we’re becoming accustomed to, where chunks have been redacted – heavy black lines descending and obliterating what was once there.
It’s not original at all I know to suggest that we’re living in disintegrated times, not so much in terms of being separated, aware of differences, even broken apart, but arguments get blocked, discussions halted and attention spans seem shorter.  Rushing on to the next thing means an extended line of thought is at risk of fragmentation.  
Still, we can live with, if not on, crumbs as well as wholeness: they might even offer an opportunity for creativity.

My poetry study group is presently reading Ezra Pound.  Here is a poet interested in scraps, picking up bits and piece…

Are we nearly there yet?

There’s been an awful lot of moon poems recently – of course.
I’ve enjoyed many (Ted Hughes’ is one of my favourites) but there’s a definite tendency for the moon to bring on, well soppy thoughts – and often not that original.  All of which is understandable, what with the 50th anniversary – these round figures seem to encourage sentimentality – the role the moon’s always played in mythology, its soft silver subtlety… oh no, I’m finding myself sliding that way.
I was struck by the comments I heard about the moon dust – how abrasive, tenacious and unpleasant it was.  The lunar module commander, a bit like Mrs Tittlemouse, was put out by the influx of this sand on the return of the explorers.  He had to fuss around, clearing up, tut tutting the while.
It all reminded me of the pervasive quality of sand after beach visits – sand in the ears and hair, sand in the footwell of the car, sand in shoes days afterwards, sand in, well, the sandwiches.
Maybe it’s because we’re now entering the s…

More on Memory…

Memory has been much in my mind recently, at least partly on account of reading poems to people with loss of memory.  And with gratitude to my good friends at the Poetry Society for publishing my description of doing this, in Poetry News.
It really is something to think about, when the experience of hearing a poem remembered from childhood lights up someone who remembers very little of the here and now – a person for whom there isn’t much in the present tense, but for whom the past is rich.So it’s not at all the case that they don’t have memory or are lacking in memories.
All somewhat paradoxical, as the more distant memories might be thought to be harder to reach. But entering this strange land, we encounter many an unexpected phenomenon, such as the story of a cat and an owl sailing a boat for a year and a day before marrying, slithy toves that gyre and gimble in the wabe and a walrus addressing an assemblage of oysters.  The farthest away memories are almost the clearest. So no o…

Very Rich and Dishevelled

‘Always rich and dishevelled, it (English) is fast becoming very rich and dishevelled.’ William Empson (Seven Types of Ambiguity p 236).
Dishevelled – what a wonderful word!It’s one of those pleasant-sounding English words we all use from time to time, readily understood and unquestioned, which refers to an absence, disruption or diminution of a quality described by a never-, or hardly ever, heard adjective.I mean, have you ever found something hevelled, appointing, traught or even ruptive?  And as for combobulated...
I was reminded of the richness of our language when reading an interview with the admirable Judith Kerr, who's just died.  I've admired her and her books for a long time, thanks yet again to my children for introducing me to someone I wouldn't otherwise have known.  Surely one of the most shevelled of people and fluent in three languages, she was comparing French and English, the former distinguished by its precision, the latter by its wealth of synonyms – wel…

The Green Man

There are so many Green Men – so many sorts, in so many places.
The strange image of greenery – not just leaves, but stems and stalks, tendrils, roots, branches and even hawthorn berries and bunches of grapes – growing from a face continues to intrigue.
Some authorities try to classify them. Here’s one that describes four types.
First and most simply, the (normal) head that peeps through foliage – which might be thought of as Jack in the Green, Puck or even Pan himself. Next, the face from whose mouth greenery emerges. Then, the one in which eyes, ears, nostrils are also exit points for vegetable growth. And lastly, the foliate head, where the whole face turns into, has become leaves.
But such classifications tend to break down under unstoppable green power.
There are faces with leaves growing from the forehead or sides of the nose, heads whose luxuriant hair is turning into twigs and branches, or beards become leaves, happy and tranquil faces along with the tormented (how would I feel if pla…

Do you remember an inn, Miranda? Do you remember...

Of course I knew that poetry can short circuit.
That’s the point of it really – to go straight from the centre of one’s being – the deep heart’s core – to another, perhaps not needing even to think.Like music, poetry can fly: cut directly through clutter – all those habits, pretence and assorted nonsense and trivia of everyday so-called grown-up life, to ancient memories, deep-seated experiences and relationships, and love itself.
I’ve been reminded of this vital ability of poetry by the recent happy experience of working with an amazing National Memory Day Project.Literature Works at Plymouth University, in partnership with the Poetry Archive, supported by the Alzheimer’s Society put out a call to train and commission poets to use poetry to help people living with memory loss.
The idea was that by reviving memories through the shared recollection of much-loved poems, confusion might be alleviated, conversation encouraged, speech difficulties eased and creativity stimulated.
Learning…