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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…
Recent posts

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…

Landmark

Landmark
Some miles before reaching home, we see that familiar black topped hill, away to the west. Nearly there, we think – or at least, this is our country now.
The landmark, Bampfylde Clump, is actually just a clump of trees – densely planted beeches, mature, but not especially ancient.It’s said that a certain Bampfylde, one Baron Poltimore, established the tautological Round Ring (another of its titles), so that he could look around in all directions over the land he owned.
More interesting, is the deep-rooted awareness of this natural high-point, and the celebration of it over the centuries, in various ways – secular and sacred.Certainly, many coming into north Devon – be they resident or visitor – must have raised their eyes to the hills: Round Ring – there it is, Round Ring, as it’s always been, awaiting our arrival.
Who knows what lies in, among and under those beech tree roots?Earlier burial places, perhaps even barrows, invisible now, will have been disturbed by the later p…

Some art work is like poetry...

Some art work is like poetry.
Of course, much isn’t – at least obviously.Many a huge oil painting is closer to drama – perhaps even better, opera.Most portraits are more or less representational, especially in pre-photographic times.Landscapes are records, as are Still Lifes…
But realising that all these may have emotion imbued or expressed, indeed that the very reason for painting or drawing is to offer a unique individual’s point of view, I appreciate that I’m arguing against myself.
Still, when pictures strive to be succinct and every line has to count, when a whole story is told with deceptive simplicity, when so much is expressed in a compressed form and when there’s an acute awareness of a sense of balance, harmony, even rhythm (I can’t pretend rhyme has a place in visual art) – well then they share much with poetry.
And none more so than Hans Holbein’s sequence of The Dance of Death.
41 tiny images – each no bigger than a match box – depict Death in the form of a skeleton, ca…

A Long Passage

Looking at the banks and hedgerows at this time of year, I wonder how anything small – or even large – that lives there manages to survive.  Everything’s withered up or simply gone.  Of course, there’s no expectation of leaves or flowers, but where are the fruits and berries, the smaller creatures lower down the food chain essential to survival… just what is there to live off?  It’s a bare and empty larder, hardly even offering any shelter.


And yet, deep under layers of moss, beneath bark, beyond and out of sight, sleep seeds and eggs, cocoons, life in shells, little wrapped-up tangled bundles of creatures, even slumbering, hibernating animals tucked up to weather the winter.
It’s always been like this.  Many must perish, but a few – a select few – live on, to carry the colony, the tribe, the clan – perhaps even the species – into better times. Yet despite its regularity, predictability, even necessity, such a slaughter is hard to comprehend.
So, we tell our own stories. For us, there has…

Now you see them, now...

There’s a lot of them about at this time.Along with the cribs and holy families, stars and shepherds, Magi and assorted animals – not to mention the robins, lit up churches shining across the snow, reindeer, stage coaches, drunken mice and yule-tide logs – here they are, singing, blowing the occasional quaint instrument or just standing around looking decorative.Not often flying in fact – perhaps even the most credulous find it hard to imagine those wings extended and in action, least of all in a windy night sky.But they’re certainly around.
Yes, the angels.
Angels – those hybrid creatures like the centaurs, combining – quite unrealistically, even if desirably – elements of different creatures. How on earth could that horse body support the upper half of a man instead of its own, properly balanced, head and neck? And imagine the massive pectorals required to provide the downward pull on those necessarily huge wings! Yet, at least since the winged Nike of Samothrace, those wonderful winge…