So it’s important and you ought to look at it seriously. OK, I’m being ironic: putting something boring, uninspired, mannered or prancingly self-indulgent in short lines in a nice shape and calling it poetry and art doesn’t make it any more worthy of attention than anything else anyone writes or says.
Still, you might find these interesting – more re-posted poems with discussion. Do join in!
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.
The strangeness of this poem is that it talks as if the changes of the seasons take place over many years. I suppose one influence was the Science Fiction series by Brian Aldiss (I think – I haven’t read it but have seen it referred to) on Helliconia, where each season lasts hundreds of years. Thus states and cultures could be adapted to a particular season and could die when the weather changed and people and other life-forms would carry out migrations not unlike those that happened when an ice age was beginning or ending. Another was a TV programme on the Norse settlement of Greenland, that flourished for a while but died out when the weather became long-term colder. Cattle, cloth, stone churches and wooden houses would fit the Norse culture of the time very well.
When the snow vanishes it reveals mounds and ruins, suggestive of earlier vanished settlements. When the snow and ice return, so do the “white beasts” (polar bears?).
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 knew all along.
The poem describes two worlds existing in one place, with communication between the two possible. This idea is at the root of many myths from shamanistic beliefs to the European belief in “elfland”. Here, though, in the first verse it seems that one – the yew-tree forest – existed in the past. Since then the forest has been felled, the hill has been levelled and now there is a car-park, but the forest can still be reached.
The second verse describes a similar situation: where the ferry now ploughs through the sea (North Sea?) was once land where humans, mastodons and wolverines existed. I may be unhistorical here as I gather European mastodons died out before they encountered humans, unlike American ones. The “warning snowflakes” may warn of a snowstorm or of a new advance of ice.
The third verse is less clear. There is no longer a distinction between the past and the present of a location. An exiled woman has landed, has left marks and may return. The woman seems to be some kind of messenger or to have magic powers (but maybe that’s a way of seeing all of us). There is again something strange happening with time because the old leaves will grow green, as though time is reversing (but this could also mean when the rotted old leaves turn into green new ones in spring). At the end is the suggestion that the way we understand things, the pattern, will be fundamentally altered into a new pattern that we somehow already suspected.
This poem uses a lot of alliteration (sometimes, stand, soft; wolverine, waited, watched, warning) and achieves effect by the sound of the words: contrast the soft sounds of the first two lines with the harsh sounds of the fourth, conveying the roughness of yew bark – or the way “bumped in and grounded” suggests the thump and grind of a small boat grounding.
copyright Simon Banks 2012
SEA MIST WITH RAIN
The sky in infinite shades of grey
Wraps the weather-quiet town
Cool-silenced Sunday afternoon.
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.
And now a nice simple one! Everyday sights in a port become mysterious in the mist. It describes familiar sights for someone living as I do in the Harwich area, seeing ships coming in to Felixstowe and Parkeston from the North Sea. Again I’ve used alliteration (all the Ss and Ws in the first verse) and soft sounds to convey blurry mist and soft rain. The word “coagulates” for a large shape appearing from the mist is unusual, but I think apt.
And now I fancy a mug of tea. Back in a day or two.