Fathers

This is very roughly based on thinking about the early evolution of Christianity, not the very early years of persecution, but the great meetings that defined doctrine.

FATHERS

A congress of the faithful ruled

That heresy, this solid right

The darkness was defined and named

They drew the boundaries of light

But in the dark a light still shone

And in the land of constant light

The forests shrivelled, streams ran dry

Until the coming of the night.

Advertisements

Expedition

Another take on exploration – this time influenced by reading about early European explorers of Australia and their fixed belief that there was a huge inland sea. This is not, though, a poem about them, but something less rational and measurable.

 

EXPEDITION

 

It is a long way home from this last camp

We have found the inland sea we planned to find

Though it is smaller than we always thought

And seems to shrivel in the relentless sun.

 

We found some creatures that were good to eat

And others that entranced our sand-sore eyes

With the incredible sheen of many feathers.

We did not, though, catch fish in this strange sea;

The water is unpleasant to the tongue

Though in the crumbling rocks up this low hill,

Here on the spiny bushes warted slope,

Our cook found this strange scaly fossil that

Must once have been a fish when the sea was higher.

 

On this loose stone strewn hilltop overlooking

This sparkling sea, we have seen the stumps of trees

And we have heard the comments of our keen

Geologist: these pebbles are black glass

Incredible heat has forged them out of sand

But there is too much here to understand

We are returning what we’ve missed

We will leave this silent land.

 

On the way back we have kept these chiselled samples,

Relying on the streams we passed and used

On the way out: but now the streams seem smaller

And here is one that has dried to windblown sand.

These yellow fruits resist the hungry teeth

With a tough skin but a sharp knife will do it:

Inside is watery pulp and teasing sugars.

Finally we straggle to the crest from where

You can see the singing valley we started from

Thunder beats a dry drum

But the trees and houses are gone.

 

The Immigrant

Back from a week in France and posting again! I think this poem needs little explanation.

THE IMMIGRANT

The immigrant adjusts his hat

Squints at the unfamiliar words

Tests the new land with his shoe

Some casual abuse

Is partly understood

The hat is wrong but not the shirt.

Wrapped in the now familiar streets and shops

Handling the hard language less well than he thinks

He seems to be at home

A diligent Roman

Following the new-found rules

But then a haunting tune, words said in drink,

Recall a half-remembered clouded place

That maybe never was

It’s hard to say

Easier to drive the thoughts away

Than enter that unbounded space.

Night Vision

 

Dark shape of a man against the drifts of white

The pale watching lights on concrete walls

The crump of boots in the untrodden snow

The short scream of an owl in the hidden wood.

 

No lights show in the sky, but the steady throb

Of a heavy heaving plane in the opaque air;

The dogs begin to bark; a light goes out.

 

 

copyright Simon Banks 2012

 

I think this poem was influenced by images of the Second World War, of prisoner of war camps and concentration camps, but also perhaps by postwar spy thrillers, especially Le Carre. Still, it could be about something completely different! It’s not set in the tropics, anyway.

Disenchantment

 

The world is disenchanted

We have walked in the dark places

And found no ghosts or elves

No dragons roam the forests

The real fearsome beasts

Of the forest we have shot

And made a diagram of their bodily systems.

 

But now the sabre-toothed beasts from the forest myths

The giant wings, the parallel cunning people

With their invisible cities and hidden spells

Are coursing through the streets of the flooded city.

 

Come with me to the sea.

We know the source of its power, waves and tides

There’s not a grain of sand disturbed

By the last thrash of the wave

I cannot analyse;

I can tell when a star will disappear.

 

Hunting elusive messengers in your mind

You may find useful this neat chart

We can identify

The electromagnetic impulses for love or hate

We’ve come a long way, you and I

Perhaps it is too late

To search back for some thing we have forgotten.

 

Shop

 

I’ve gone to the shop

With my card in my hand

I’ve bought these fine clothes

So you’ll understand

What a fine, what a sensitive person I am.

 

Now the wind has blown sharp

And the clothes are all lost

Neither fashion nor pattern

Survive, not the cost

And yellow and blue lie where they were tossed.

 

The cavern is dark

And the water drips slow

Where are the clothes,

The things that I know?

It is time now to go.

Passport

 

Half down a long smooth corridor I turned to check

Who I was supposed to be meeting, what I should plead

As the purpose of my visit, length of stay,

And my destination. But there was no-one to ask.

So I just carried on

Hoping someone would tell me, or I’d find a clue

In the codes on my documentation

Or the false heel of a shoe

 

Anyway, they let me in

Stamping my passport with “indefinite stay”

And then I wandered round the streets making notes

And taking photos to elucidate

What I should do and who I was.

Finally I’ve come to a door

That looks familiar, and the signs on it, though damaged,

Could be a reference to shining shores

Where travellers in the past have managed

To find a boat, to watch the moving oars.

Watershed

As a hill-walker and long-distance-trail walker, I’m familiar with interpreting landscape: “down there must be a large river” and so on. I find the idea of a watershed fascinating – the point at which streams flow and valleys begin on opposite sides, a few feet determining whether a raindrop will feed rivers going in one direction or another. The watershed can also be a metaphor, the point at which one worlds becomes another.

This poem was influenced by actually climbing to a watershed and down the other side in Torridon in the North-west of the Scottish Highlands, with elements from the ascent of Black Sail pass in the English Lake District.

 

WATERSHED

 

Did you see, there where the cloud broke

Between the high grey ridges an angled cleft

Roughly in line with the uneven river

Which might be a pass? A great bird soared over it

Now nothing shows but cloud and the warning of rain.

 

The broken impatient river carved the way

We leave the many-angled rocks behind

And the last twisted tree, the last glimpse of a roof;

And the hidden ravens call in the grey mist.

With cunning and husbanded strength

We drag from the circle of sweat to the circle of icy wind

Recovering from a slip is hard

Recovering from the task impossible.

 

There is never a point where you can say “that’s it”

No throne or light or monument

Only the slope is inconsistent

The shattered smoothing rocks lie in no order

There is no river

These barren pools are the only water

 

And then the ghost of a trickle

A few thin fingers feeling

Trying to come together, the hiss and sparkle:

We have passed the watershed

We have seen the birth

Of a new river.

Somewhere there is a new land

But it is hidden and the mist rolls in.

 

There is no warning

No sign, no new music

Just the realisation and the standing still

The dropping, blocking hills

The unknown, long suspected

Alien valley ahead

But half-familiar, like a dream

The hidden end

You feel you ought to remember.

 

The descent from the murderous heights

To the soft valley is always more dangerous

Than the struggling up:

The sight of meadows and bushes can lead like a mirage

To the eggshell-crushing fall

And the way to the low glittering lake

May be many miles round.

 

But at least the first task of the explorer

Seems to have been fulfilled

To show what he wanted to explore

Was there at all.

America is found

Mars glows dully but more clear

In the dark waters, something moves after all

Down the strange valley our suspected

Alive waters fall.

 

 

Woodpigeon

 

Waddling unevenly on the ground

A heavy, blunt, ungainly thing

By gawky gait and thick flesh bound

It flaps and struggles to take wing

 

Once up, a bolt of power and grace

Twisting and gliding in the skies

It revels in its secret race

It will be earthbound when it dies

 

A shattered, greyish, burst old bag

Much smaller than it seemed in flight

Lies on the road, a filthy rag,

And rat and beetle wait for night.

Book reviews: “And Another Thing” and “The State Counsellor”

Thanks to Hannah, whose blog I follow, for giving me the idea of blogging book reviews, though I don’t expect to blog as many as she does (she’s a university student of English, so I have an excuse).

I could post them on my blogspot blog (http://sibathehat.blogspot.com), which is meant for pretty well everything that isn’t poetry, but after all, books are literature and I mean to review mainly fiction – so here goes here.

AND ANOTHER THING by EOIN COLFER

This is a continuation of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” humorous science fiction series. Adams had left this series apparently finished and gone on to other projects, but it seems there was some discussion of a further book in the series, perhaps because the previous one had such a depressing ending. It didn’t happen because Adams died suddenly. Penguin Books got Colfer, whom I had not heard of (he’s written a successful children’s SF series) to take up the torch.

I took a while to be persuaded.  Colfer had succesfully imitated Adams’ style, but the frenetic logically counter-logical anarchic fantasy humour seemed to be lacking or laboured. Then, around the arrival of Zaphod Beeblebrox at Asgard, it took off. Weird things happened in line with a ridiculous logic and there were pieces of vivid and hilarious description. Attitudes to religion and particularly cults were revealingly lampooned (I am religious, but I have no problem with this kind of fun: of course there’s much deceit and vanity in religion, but since that’s true of everything else too, it seems no reason to reject the whole idea).

Still the jokes weren’t quite as madly inspired and I doubt if any will develop a life of their own on a level with the meaning of life being 42 or God’s message to his creation being “We apologise for the inconvenience”. In some ways, though, it was better because more serious. Satire needs deep seriousness and passionate anger, and Adams seemed to me to lack these. His passages of jokey tragedy seem a bit like toying with misery. In this territory, the gold standard is Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut saw horror mixed in with irony; Adams liked writing about it. Colfer’s book is a bit more like  a novel in that it has somewhat more human depth and sympathy.

So it was worthwhile. OK, it wasn’t Adams, but as I felt the Hitchhiker series went one book too far anyway, the last one being rather thin, I felt no inclination to denounce the false prophet.

 

THE STATE COUNSELLOR by BORIS AKUNIN

Akunin (his real name is something very long,  scrabble-hand-like and Georgian) has made a mark over here with clever, literate crime novels, but this is the first one I’ve read. It is very well written and thoughtful, a perceptive picture of Tsarist Russia about twenty years before the Revolution. Good and bad men struggle to keep the ship of state afloat against revolutionaries whose motivation is mostly very understandable. The senior detective Erast Fandorin and a revolutionary cell leader engage in a murderous dance while a shadowy third figure manipulates them. Fandorin and his foe have a lot in common, but they never share words.

I thoroughly enjoyed it. I did guess the identity of the third figure some way before it was revealed, but that shows I got deeply into the book. If  it has a weakness, it’s that Fandorin is an oddly shadowy figure, giving very few clues to his emotions, his political or religious beliefs if any (in a book that has plenty of politics) or even why he becomes attached to a revolutionary girl.

I shall read more Akunin.