will not be written. However, here are some thoughts on a few more poems.
The church is early 12th century. Some two miles from here
The Romans crossed the estuary by a ford
Now long impassable
The shades settle
I am confused by their weight, my questions muffled
By their insistent conversation
As though wings beat in dissonance, we struggle
Before they leave for the drowned land, the sky darkening,
One with a hidden face leaves me a thing
Carefully carved from wood, now pocked by seaworms living
I put it to my mouth, it makes a sound
And at the calling, all the shades turn round.
I actually gave a fair amount of information on this one first time round. It came to me while I was walking along the side of the Deben estuary in Suffolk with Ramsholt Church on the ridge to my right – hence the reference to the church. As often, the start of the poem came to me straight out of the unconscious and my consciousness then teased out the rest. The estuary is no single real estuary: the lazily beautiful Deben certainly influenced it, but the reference to the Roman ford probably comes from the Colne estuary in Essex.
The poem draws on a sense I often have of time past (at least) being present but hidden. For some reason estuaries are particularly liable to get me thinking like this. I wrote about that more directly in “In the Valley of the Stones”. I begin quite rationally describing the estuary and its surrounds, stressing the history of the place. Then, quite suddenly, I slip into a waking dream in which “shades” try to communicate with me, and I try to respond, but we are on different wavelengths: “As though wings beat in dissonance”. That was an image which came to me ready-made and it took time for my conscious mind to analyse it and find meaning in it. The shades begin to withdraw to “the drowned land” but one hands me a thing from the past and through it we communicate – with what result, the poem does not say.
The second and fourth verses are full of soft sounds.
I was surprised when this poem was accepted by an established poetry magazine as I thought it likely to confuse by its obscurity!
Out of the chocolate box pretty
Marzipan plastered cottage comes a sound
A little like a trumpet lesson going badly,
Then settling down
To a low insistant moan.
Outside, the roses and the primroses
Look pleasant and secure. A cat stalks past
Most things are as they were before.
The wolf has not been seen
In this neck of the woods for sixty years
The newspapers passed round
Established that the dragon was a myth
Even the brutal landlord’s growing somnolent.
The semihuman sound’s continuing.
A doctor’s called. He makes his measurements
Orders the site closed off behind high walls
Where local schoolkids under gentle supervision
Paint colourful murals full of smiley faces.
There has been no forgotten cottage
These walls are of the natural order
Behind them, we are happy to confirm
There is no gate, no foreign border.
Here I use the familiar imagery of fairy stories (wolf, dragon, the pretty village in the woods, lurking danger) mixed with the image of the idyllic English (or German) village (cottages, flowers, a cat). Such settings are of course often used in modern times for murder and horror stories, partly because of the dramatic contrast. So we have something apparently settled and idyllic but which contains horror.
The nature of the horror is not specified, but it could well be someone with mental illness: that would allow a quite literal interpretation of the strange sound. The reaction of the neighbours is the nub of the poem: instead of trying to help or investigate, they deny the problem, wall it off, pretend that everything is lovely and deny that the cottage (the source of the problem) ever existed. Were you to go past this wall, they say, you would find nothing frightening or unusual (“no gate, no foreign border”).
I don’t make a lot of use of irony, but this irony is almost savage: “Where local schoolkids under gentle supervision/ Paint colourful murals full of smiley faces.”
Perhaps the horror implicit in fairy stories is rightly raised there and tackled, and suppressing it leads to more horror or an inability to cope sensitively with fear and strangeness.