Shadowlands

 

CROFT

 

Here between the tumbled stones was the door:

Tired men passed seeking warmth, hot broth or a spade

Woman with a sickly baby in hope

The occasional visitor for a dram and stories.

Now the tourist wanders inside

The wet wind flails without a whimper.

 

SOLDIERS

 

They eat a little slowly, staring a short way ahead

To the battle they will lose tomorrow.

Each man prepares to do his job

The hidden guest at the meal is hungry.

 

GUARD

 

The Beast was last here eighty years ago

That is the print of its foot in the crushed house

It has returned a hundred times, they say;

Your office is to be prepared and wait.

These drawings ought to help:

This one is by the man who saw it last

This reproduction of a temple frieze

Is thought to be the oldest: all the others

Are in between. I’m sure you’ll notice

Nothing is common to them but the size

And a certain presence. Maybe you’ll spend your life

Waiting for an enemy that never comes

And maybe for an enemy that comes.

 

SHE

 

I saw her turn a corner from the alley

At that old inn she left a note on the board

I thought I heard her when the rainstorm rattled

The window sashes and the wood outside

Chattered and sang to the rhythm of the rain.

 

ENTRY

 

The man I think you know took us into the room

I happened to pass a mirror, turned and looked

And saw an old man with a bloodstained baby

But when I wanted to show it to someone else

Instead a woman was singing very quietly.

The doors when opened led to other doors

The drawers pulled out to infinite other drawers

You sought an explanation but the man had gone

And then we couldn’t agree his height, his age,

If he was bald, the colour of his jacket

And if he ever was there at all

And then you did not know me any more

And I did not know you except as a light

I had seen seeping under a door on a dark night.

 

THREAD

 

I am alive in the stone field

We are the rising of the moss

On fallen stones that lie like the last army;

Hint of salt in the wind over sandpaper desert

Light in the dark, dark in the light will nestle

Something in the fallen leaves rustle

Though they begin to rot; in the black lake

Stars are revealed; the star-warm sky

Rises to meet us, to repair the break.

 

copyright Simon Banks 2012

 

This poem seems to contain several figures that reappear in different poems – the ignorant, dutiful soldier; the guardian waiting for something that may never happen; the mysterious female figure just out of sight. You could call them archetypes, though I’m not sure they’re real archetypes in that they may not be common to other people and cultures.

 

Advertisements

Consumer Boom

 

If you are short of a principle

Or two or three or more

Principles for Men will fit you out

They won’t be demanding

You won’t have to shout

Or break the law

 

If you’re inclined to change your mind

If the conclusions it has come to

Aren’t for you

Go to the MIND shop, it’s no bind,

Address the crew

And say “I want to change my mind.”

 

If your account is in the red

The creditors in ambush wait

To Body Shop repair

Say “Out of stock – or am I wrong?”

In the van over there

I’ve got six bodies for a song!”

If something seems a little flat

A little empty

Don’t worry. Tesco’s is at hand

Seek out computer games and shoes

Join the happy band

There used to be just booze.

 

Some of the names here may puzzle the non-Brits. I don’t know how international they are. “Principles for Men” is a clothes shop chain, I think just so named because the original “Principles” was for women. MIND is a big mental health charity which has a large number of charity shops all with the sign MIND SHOP. Body Shop is a chain selling environmentally-friendly lifestyle items (roughly). Tesco’s is our biggest supermarket chain, famous for using its economic muscle ruthlessly to get planning permission for new stores.

 

Sea mist with rain

I live by the sea (not quite within sight of it, but just ten minutes’ walk away). Within a few miles (as the crow or gull flies) are two big ports. This was composed in my mind while walking along the esplanade, looking out at a misty sea.

 

The sky in infinite shades of grey

Wraps the weather-quiet town

Cool-silenced Sunday afternoon.

Ships blur

To ominous, mysterious castles.

Over towards the point the mist is thicker.

 

As the blue side of a great ship, stacked high

With giant boxes coagulates from the mist

A veil of rain drives in.

Flight Side

 

I have forgotten my name

Because it no longer seems important

Colour of hair, eyes, date of birth

Profession, blood group, what I’m worth

Incidents in another game.

 

Have I turned out of my pockets

Neatly into the crate

All I must leave? The alarm, I suppose, will tell.

Are memories too much weight?

But I can keep this thing

Undetectable to sight or smell

That someone else gave me to carry

Stuffed in my pocket while I wait

For the flight to take wing

Dreamless Sleep

 

This is no country for an uneasy dream

By text and phone we keep in constant touch

No marginal change of luck

No shifting of the figures

Not even a scratch on the car

Will go unheralded for an hour.

 

This is the dreamless land, we know its name

Not even a village of the soon-to-be-dead

Or a culverted stream has not been mapped

The problems are all cracked

 

So when the dreams invade the dreamless land

We find another name for them and spin

A comfortable definition and turn

To the selected music for a while

Outside is a sham

Where the dreams walk and sing.

 

 

There we go – the dreams are invading the dreamless land again! Call the Police! As I said under “Impressions”, I found one poem didn’t exhaust that phrase.

Long lines or short?

Poetry’s origins are in song and chant that made their impact by sound. It remains, for me, an art of the spoken word: that it’s seen in print on the book page or the computer screen or by Kindle is a convenience but not an end. We need to hear it, in our heads at least.

I think that helps to explain why I rarely use very short lines. If anything, my lines are getting longer. Very short lines produce a shape on the page that may be pleasing and is most obviously different from prose. The shape itself may be a kind of art as in the diamond-shaped poems beloved of Dylan Thomas and lesser poets. But this is nothing to do with the sound of the words, and indeed, diverts attention from the sound. Moreover, these forms seem to me to lay claim to a kind of precious exceptionalism, “Oh, look! This is Art!”) that I want to avoid.

The issue is particularly live for poetry that does not rhyme and does not follow a strict system of syllables and stresses such as the iambic pentameter. With such poetry, you can set it out as you choose.

Sorry if this sounds dogmatic. I do occasionally use short lines and they may be the best normal form for some – but not for me.

Let me illustrate what I mean. Here’s a part of a poem I wrote recently (not yet posted here):

What is this place we have come to between the mountains

The shallow hollow just enough for a tent?

You may find a buckle or a tooth and the grey shades cluster

To answer them death, to ride away from them death,

Or maybe you dreamt them as the ravens rose in triumph

As the sun fell and the moon rose and the stars’ fire

Beckoned the wolves’ wail, quietened the hare’s breath.

 

Now let’s see this as some might present it:

 

What is this place

We have come to between

The mountains?

The shallow hollow

Just enough for

A tent?

You may find

A buckle or a tooth and

The grey shades cluster

To answer them

Death

To ride away from them

Death

Or maybe you dreamt them

As the ravens rose

In triumph

As the sun

Fell, and the moon

Rose and the stars’ fire

Beckoned

The wolves’ wail

Quietened

The hare’s breath.

 

To me the former is easily heard with a compelling rhythm, while when you read the latter, the heard voice in the head is lost – and it would be far harder to read aloud!

Skills for Death

 

Welcome to the Skills for Death

Development Centre. Here’s a pamphlet with a web address.

Click on it and you will encounter

The usual warning. If you carry on, we guarantee

That you will be enlightened.

We can offer courses

In falling gracefully: it’s most embarrassing

After a lifetime of unbroken bones

To break your nose in dying.

We have a stock of memorable last words

For a small fee, though we advise all students

To carry a printed card with their last words

Since even if articulated they may be

Forgotten or misremembered. Moving on

You can select

Modules on travelling down a long dark tunnel

Towards a distant light;

Bodily disengagement readjustment skills;

Downsizing, destination management;

And for a minority, hanging around old castles

Or bedrooms making sensitive souls uncomfortable.

I do apologise, ladies and gentlemen,

I’m not quite sure how this should end

But then that’s quite appropriate, don’t you think?

Impressions

 

By the slow-flowing river running full

I saw a soldier slump and slide

By the old ruined farmhouse wall

I smelt the smell of burning oil

 

If I have trouble to tell a dream

And dreams invade the dreamless land

Nothing is quite what it once seemed

The water wavers, soil is sand.

 

Here’s an example of the recurring images I talked about a little while ago. In fact, it’s not just an image but a phrase: “Dreams invade the dreamless land”. It came to me, I included it in a poem, then another poem – I just felt I hadn’t fully worked out the riches of the words.

Links

 

Sometimes if you stand in just this corner of the car-park

Soft fronds will caress your face from the yew-tree forest

That grew on the flattened hillside here; your hand stretching out will encounter

Twisted, hair-cracked and creviced roughened tree-trunks.

Sometimes a plastic bag will waft across like a ghost

Through the enchanted long-dead forest and out again.

 

Here where the stabilised ferry hums through grey-green waters

Under that crazy-angled floating box

The mastodon fell and was butchered, the people rested from hunting

Wolverine waited and watched and the warning snowflakes

Silently fell on the skins and the lichens and lips.

 

The exiled unbroken woman drops a stone in the glade

That she found on the shore where the boat bumped in and grounded

Her feet make a pattern like a broken necklace

Through the green grass and unfolding ferns and last year’s leaves.

Perhaps she returned to the marks she left or even

Perhaps she will return when the old leaves grow green

And the order of things that we knew is thrown up in the branches

And falls in a different pattern we sensed all along.

Spring Migrants

When the pack ice cracks

When hostile green shoots break through the hard earth

Snow whisks off like a white sheet to reveal

Grassy mound, ruin, bare rock or field

The wanderers’ ship will come

Taking soundings slowly

They will unload their cattle, cloth and pulleys

Build their stony church and wooden houses

When the short days are lit by pallid snowfall

Only the white beasts roam the land again.

I think the influences for this poem are the Helliconia science fiction series where seasons last for hundreds of years and having seen a TV programme investigating the fate of the Norse settlers of Greenland.