Treks

Last time I said a bit about long-distance trail walking, having just come back from doing the West and East Highland Ways. I set myself the aim of relating posts like that to poetry.

Well now, one thing at a time…

Here’s a brief Q and A on long-distance trail walking, bearing in mind that more poets than hill-walkers will be reading this.

Q: What’s long distance?

A: I wouldn’t call anything under 70 miles a long-distance trail. Even in Britain trails extend up to 630 miles (The South-west Coastal). In bigger countries it can be much more, like the 2,200 miles of the U.S.’s Appalachian Trail.

Q: What can you do in a day?

A: It varies person to person – and according to the nature of the country. My view is that pushing yourself to extremes like 40 miles in a day must mean you can hardly enjoy the sensations on the way. The most I’ve done on a trail in mildly hilly country is 27 and 30 in flattish country, but 20 in hill country is a good session. Take into account, as far as you can, not only the ascents, but the nature of the paths. You can make much quicker progress on a broad cart-track up a hill than on a narrow path going up and down between rocks, strewn with tree roots and rocks at all angles.

Q: They’re all in hill country, right?

A: A lot are, both because the scenery is impressive and because you encounter fewer areas you can’t walk through, fewer roads and fewer towns (navigating a trail through a built-up area of any size is really complicated). But most of the hill trails have lowland stretches and Britain has several coastal trails.

Q: Is it right you can have sherpas carrying your bags?

A: It’s not illegal, but in Britain sherpas of the sort that assisted Himalayan mountaineers it would cost the earth. The “sherpa” services contract to carry your pack from one day’s walking destination to the next by van, relying on the fact that many people will be walking the same stages and staying in the same places. This leads to fun walking, but to me it’s cheating. If you say you’ve walked the Pennine Way, you should mean you’ve done it carrying everything you needed on your back. As a Dutch businessman said to me at the end of the Coast to Coast, “It’s good to know that everything you really need in life you can carry on your back.” Deciding how you can cut the weight you carry, deciding what’s too important to leave out, is part of the challenge. And keeping the weight low is VITAL!

Q: Where do you stay overnight?

A: Some people camp (mainly “wild camping”, a term that’s quite new in Britain, though the reality isn’t). That gives you lots of flexibility and a nearness to nature, but it means you have to carry more food plus the tent. Crucially, it also means that if you finish the day with wet boots, they’ll be wet next morning (and this leads to foot problems). I prefer to stay in bed and breakfast, guest houses, inns or reasonably-priced hotels. Inns are my first choice and on many routes they’re quite numerous.

Q: What do you take with you?

A: NOTHING you don’t need – so I recommend no reading material other than maps and a guide book. I wouldn’t take a kindle either unless you can enter the guide book and maps on it, the display is really clear, which it wouldn’t be in black and white, and it doesn’t mind getting wet. On any walk of more than five days, count on washing some clothes and re-using them, but properly-washed socks are important. Even pared to the minimum, the list is too long here, but take insect repellent, sun screen and disinfectant (in the smallest, lightest versions possible) and two hats. Hats are useful against sun and rain, but they’re easily lost and it could be four or five days before you come to a place where you can buy a replacement.

Q: I’m pretty fit and can walk 25 miles in a day. Am I ready to take on a trail like the West Highland Way?

A: Probably not. You need to know what you can do over several days. If you count on repeating day after day for a week with a full pack what you know you can do for a day with a half-full pack, you’ll come unstuck. I always fit in a bit of practice before taking on a serious long-distance trail, ideally one or two weeks before. That might mean four days’ tough walking in similar country with a similar weight and the same boots.

Q: Are you a masochist?

A: Not quite. On every trail I’ve done (except the West Highland this time – the low point came when I took on the East Highland straight on from that) I’ve paused for sweaty breath on a gruelling climb or retraced my footsteps having gone wrong on a particularly long stretch, or pulled myself upright from a glutinous fall in a bog, or forced myself forward into driving rain, and said to myself, “You don’t have to do this – so why ARE you doing it?”. But the answer always came in a day or two at most. The scenery is fantastic, the sense of moving from one kind of country to another by the power of your own legs is marvellous, reaching the end of the day’s stage with a soft bed to snooze on, a bar to have a beer in and the prospect of a good meal is wonderful, the sense of achievement on reaching the end is unrivalled – and there’s something more than that, particularly on the longer trails. You’ve become a nomad. Your home is not in Birmingham or Bremen, but in your pack and in your head. You move on each day. It begins to seem like a way of life.

The quiet, the beauty and the lack of much else to do at the end of the day can help produce poetry too!

Next time I’ll look at a couple of my poems and see how long-distance walking might have influenced them. Then maybe I’ll find a relevant poem or two by other people (Wordsworth?). Any suggestions for that?

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The Wall

A response here to a poetry group challenge. I’m usually reluctant to write poetry to order, but I think this isn’t bad on the subject “walls”.

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THE WALL

 

Perhaps a straggly hedge; a random pattern of bushes

Our inkblot eyes form into a rough finger,

Blackthorn-barbed, elder and bramble tangled

Stronghold of spiders, ant home, breeder of birds

Only cutting or clear deduction from shape

Would show the wall it was.

What wall, though? Did it divide warring families,

Mark the boundaries of a morose feud,

Shear off the rich estate from stubborn farmers

Or shelter sheep against the harsh March wind?

Perhaps a law, a rule, stopped here, on the other side strangeness

Darkness and a different light to be dowsed

Perhaps two lovers held hands across the roughness

Rasping their wrists, or maybe a farmer forswore it

Broke holes for his plotted purpose

A generation from its loving building.

It fruits and flowers like a spiny Eden

It holds its secrets like a deep, dark millstream.

Copyright Simon Banks 2013

 

 

Estuary Shore

ESTUARY SHORE

Where river suspects salt, land shakes the sea

Revealed expanses lie

Out of the lifeborn mud, worms rise

Ribbon weed aligns, rigid heron stalks

Woman cries, crews die

Remember the dragonflies in the winter

After the last bright body, shimmering wing dies

Under the dark water, waiting, rise

Man gathering shells, sharp stab in the chest

Like a bugle-call, clock struck

Is that the hour?

Turmoil of voices

When shall we hear, where shall we hear,

Now, here?

Rain slants, seeds rebel, green grows

The earth of shells and friends is covered in flowers

Under the pale moon, what cries?

Dust in marble halls, dust of marble halls

Ground jewels, rose roots strike

Lustre withers, slow-burning amethyst escapes

A lost note cries in the dark and I cannot find it

Out of the deathborn mud, worms rise

Boat bumps against the jetty with the waves.

Copyright Simon Banks 2013

I’m just going to leave this one for you to make of it what you will.

Right and Wrong

Keats criticised poetry that had a “palpable design” on us. Poets debate at length to what extent poetry today should carry a political or moral message and whether it changes anything anyway. For re-posting and discussion, I’ve selected three poems written roughly around the same time that all raise moral issues, that is, issues of right and wrong.

I’m not afraid to talk of right and wrong. I’m what philosophers call a “soft relativist”, which sounds like an insult, but actually means the position which I suspect most people in the Western world take if they think about such things – that there are very few if any absolute statements of right or wrong actions (that it is never right to lie, to kill, to eat pork, to accept blood transfusion and so on) but this does not mean that anything goes and different actions in different circumstances may be said to be right or wrong by a standard that is not purely related to my own benefit or comfort or the survival of my genes.

I think, though, that poetry ought commonly to confront moral issues by asking questions or drawing attention powerfully to consequences rather than by laying down right answers.

So here’s the first poem and the most politically and morally engaged:

THE HERALD OF FREE ENTERPRISE

On 6 March 1987 the car ferry “Herald of Free Enterprise”, owned by Townsend Thoresen (later P&O) capsized outside the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, causing 193 deaths. A number of safety measures that would have prevented the disaster had not been taken because they were seen as low priority or would have reduced profits.

 

In December 2009 the Copenhagen climate change talks ended without countries’ leaders agreeing to Carbon emissions limits, after aggressive campaigns by commercial interests attacked the whole idea that humans were causing global warming.

 

The Herald of Free Enterprise

Proclaimed a message of hope and joy

In words that could be painted gold

And deep vermilion in a book.

He blew a long note on his horn.

When from the sea there came a scream

From trapped and drowning passengers

And from the writhing, poisoned earth,

The herald turned the speakers off.

In looking back at this I see immediately that the gloss or introduction makes political points much more directly than the poem, but this is because poetic language uses images rather than syllogisms or platform bullet-points.

The poem is very political and moral, though. It charges the profit motive and unchecked capitalism with 193 deaths and with untold suffering and extinctions through global warming. As it happens I am not a socialist and believe attempts to do without private enterprise are pointless. I don’t see it as the role of a poem, though, to suggest and debate the political action that could be taken (some of it is pretty obvious in these two cases).

I use the name of the ship to develop an image of heraldry and hence bright colours and impressive ceremony – and then suddenly introduce reality and, in poetic form, the way powerful interests control information.

Here, by contrast, is the next poem.

THE LAST PROBLEM

The great detective, pantherlike,

Prowls round the web of traps and mirrors

Constructed by the lord of crime

The lord waits sentient inside

He does not need to move to strike.

The great detective makes his maps

His diagrams and brilliant plans

Each trap is tested by the lord

And nothing’s what it first appears

Even the great detective’s word.

The great constructor sits inside

The marvellous complexity

Of art and thought and warm routine,

Watches the prowling of the wolf

And studies the compelling lie.

The wolf has broken through the web

The city of light alarms and screams

The great detective meets the lord

And who should live and who should die

Lies in your hand and lies in mine.

The character of the Great Detective is a recurring one in my poems. He’s dedicated, determined, rational, intelligent and narrowly-focused – in deliberate reference to Sherlock Holmes.  The poem starts by presenting such a detective locked in battle with a Moriarty figure, the lord of crime. No moral ambiguity here. But as it progresses we find the perception shifts. Now we’re seeing the organisation of the lord of crime as a beautiful city threatened by a destructive force, a wolf that is also the Great Detective.

The prowling nemesis breaks in and comes face to face with the lord. Now, says the poem, you choose who should win. This represents the fact that we can influence the outcome of social struggles, but which side we should take is often unclear and there are different perceptions. But the poem is unforgiving: the difficulty does not absolve us of responsibility for taking a decision and acting.

Here’s the third poem.

NEW THINGS

It will not be all new when we meet again

The blood will still be on the old stone steps

The man at the corner will still be glancing after

The drunken girl who retches beyond the railings.

We recognise the smears, you and I

We know the use of bleach on the grimy standard

Will wreck it beyond loving, and the raising

Of a pure standard is a call to killing.

But where the stray cat wolfs the fallen burger,

Where up the bloodstained steps you come by night

There is the cancer that will grow and scatter

The knowing of the dark, the love of light.

You could say this poem lies between the other two. It suggests an attitude but leaves a lot unclear. The world is dirty, messy, often unpleasant and damaged. But to react with a wish to reject the world for something pure and perfect is dangerous: that way lie fanaticism and mass murder. Robespierre, the Inquisition, the Fascists and Al Qaida were all obsessed with purity. So accept that the world is imperfect – but don’t walk off indifferent.  Know the dark and love light.

Copyright Simon Banks 2012

 

Neanderthal Lute

A second poem that reflects my fascination with Neanderthals – this time thinking about the discovery of a piece of worked bone of Neanderthal origin that had a number of regularly-spaced holes in it, so it’s hard to imagine it wasn’t a musical instrument like a lute.

 

NEANDERTHAL LUTE

 

So they had music.

What tunes have we lost, what songs,

What thoughts? What did they think of us,

Who dreamed ourselves explorers

And, with the deadly weather, doomed them?

What is left in us, those few well-hidden genes

In which they notionally survive?

 

The figure lurking by the tree is a dead stump

The waves clap in the empty cave.

 

Two notes on this: the current view on the extinction of Homo neanderthalis is that a sudden change in the weather which destroyed large areas of forest in Europe and Western Asia had a devastating effect on them as they were well-adapted for forest hunting. As for the impact of Homo sapiens, there are still lots of debates, but we will certainly have competed for resources which will have been scarce at the crucial time, so the Neanderthals may have reached the tipping point through a combination of rivalry from sapiens and environmental changes, when neither alone would have done it. Since our own species frequently fights its own over scarce resources and non-human predators often make efforts to take out rivals, it would be very surprising if our species didn’t fight and kill Neanderthals some of the time. How much contact there was between the two species is uncertain: maybe we traded as well as fought, and in Iraq there is evidence of sapiens and neanderthalis living side by side for hundreds of years, but the interbreeding seems to have happened almost entirely very soon after the two species first met. That’s the second note – that it is now established modern Homo sapiens carries two to four per cent Neanderthal genes – except for pure sub-Saharan Africans, who have none. Oh, and some of the last neanderthalis populations lived in sea caves in what today is Spain and Portugal.

 

Copyright Simon Banks 2012

The Meaning of Life is 43

It was 42, but we’ve improved it.

As for the meaning of these poems, well, this is as likely as anything.

I’m continuing to reblog some poems with a bit more discussion.

FORLORN HOPE

Stand firm behind the Good Old Cause

The King is subject to the Laws

The People are the true sovereign

Though they were robbed, to great lords’ gain

The fight is won, the Norman yoke

Is in the dust, the crown is broke

But now the new lords stand on high

For what, then, did we fight and die?

The Cause is down, the free are sheep

The Spirit does not die but sleep

Those who are blind will one day see

And those in chains will soon be free.

This refers to the English Civil War. Actually there were conflicts within and between all of England, Scotland and Ireland in the 1640s and 1650s, but the voice of this poem is an English one.

A “forlorn hope” was a term for a small unit of cavalry, but of course in the poem it has two meanings.  The “Good Old Cause” was a name used for their cause by supporters of Parliament, continuing long after the Civil War: “That Good Old Cause, in which I was from my youth brought up…” (speech on the scaffold by Sidney of the Rye House Plot against Charles II).  The first verse contains the mainstream Parliamentary idea that the King was subject to the laws, not standing above them, but also the more readical idea that spread during the war among the Parliamentary soldiers and others, that the People were sovereign. This was often associated with the idea that the English people had been conquered in 1066 by foreign oppressors and the kings and great lords since then were the descendants, spiritual if not necessarily genetic, of those foreign conquerors – so the Civil War was a war of national liberation – hence the “Norman yoke” at the start of the second verse.

Levellers and other radicals felt they had won the war but then been betrayed by the senior officers and MPs, though they, of course, mostly had less radical ideas all along. Cromwell and others weer christened “the Grandees”.

The third verse refers to the Restoration of the monarchy. It seemed to many that all they had fought for had been lost, or at least postponed. Many of the radical ideas, though, were not lost: for example, the American Declaration of Independence and the American constitution have many echoes of Leveller beliefs and their draft constitution for England, “The Agreement of the People”.

 

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.

 

This poem describes climbing a small, steep valley in the hills to a watershed and seeing lower land beyond. It can be taken quite literally and was heavily influenced by two actual places, Black Sail Pass in the Lake District and a route over a watershed in Torridon in the North-west Scottish Highlands. However, it can be taken to describe any exploration, any effort to discover or achieve something new.

 

The climber thought there must be a valley on the far side of the heights. The mystic thought there must be another world. The valley on the far side could even be another human being.

 

This is a poem where I’ve made a lot of use of the sound of the words: the broken impatient river, the shattered smoothing rocks, the hiss and sparkle, the low glittering lake. I stretch the bounds of scansion and use near-rhymes (monument/inconsistent; trickle/sparkle; still/hills).

 

Copyright Simon Banks 2012

The Forest

I was saying a bit about various environments or scenes that helped me think up poetry and which appeared in my poems. I’ve had my say about the sea, the shore, estuaries, rivers, skies and hills. There isn’t an endless list of such things, but I felt there was one more worth mentioning – forests or woods.

 

Living in lowland England, I walk in woods far more often than on the hills. In Britain the higher hills are generally covered in grass or heather and not trees, though many such areas were once forested. The open hills, like the sea and the sky, convey a sense of great, perhaps limitless, space. This makes some people scared, but for me it signals liberation and “the oceanic feeling” of linking with something bigger.

 

Among the trees, though, vistas are rare. You feel encompassed in the forest as you might feel underwater. In reality, after a while you’ll find a view of fields or moors or even houses, but it’s quite easy to forget this and imagine an endless or inescapable forest (I mean one that, once you enter it, allows no exit). Forests are full of life, both plant and animal, but they are dark (small woods are often less dark both because of light entering at the margins and because they’re often managed to provide spaces). We know that much of our land was forest, that once forest stretched from the English Channel to the southern Highlands of Scotland without break. In England there is no primeval forest left, and in Scotland only small, straggly fragments of the great Caledonian pine forest, but we remember and imagine the primeval forest and perhaps imagine the ghosts of those who inhabited it as elves and the rest.  Real primeval forest, for example the Bielowieza Forest in Poland, is immensely powerful, living, rotting, foetid, pulsing with birdsong, peopled with wolf, beaver, lynx and bison and, in imagination, with extinct animals such as the aurochs and our own Neanderthal Man.

 

Forest appears in my poems less than the sea or the open hills, but it appears as a place of strange life and suprises, of whispers and shadows. This is the forest of fairy story where children may get lost and find strange things.

 

 

 

 

Rivers and estuaries

So here’s the last (unless I have afterthoughts) of my mini-series about environments or types of places that help to inspire my poems and feature in them. Hmm… maybe forest? We’ll see. Anyway, this is about rivers.

 

Many poets have been fascinated by rivers – fast ones, slow ones, big ones, small ones. They’re beautiful and varied. The habitat along the river keeps changing as you go up or downriver. W.H. Auden referred to “One of man’s oldest joys/ Exactly as it was, the water noise” and I suppose he was right: early humanoids would have liked the sound of flowing water because it meant drink and food. Rivers unite and create valleys but divide communities, even states. They require bridges – a recurrent image in my poems partly because I feel I’m a kind of bridge.

 

It isn’t true, as one poet had it, that the stream or river goes on forever: in geological time, all rivers have a birth and a death; but they’re long-lived even though the water is moving on. Rivers stand for life and for change.

 

To travel down a river can be a metaphor for living a life. So why have I enjoyed travelling up rivers – just because I love the hills around the source?

 

There’s something weirdly wonderful about the source of a river. Here is this small spring, this trickle, this undistinguished patch of boggy ground, this slight dip among high rocks – the beginning of a major river.

 

When rivers near the sea they become estuaries – the borderland between river and sea. Unless destroyed by development, these are marvellous places for birds and all kinds of wildlife. They change drastically with the tide. Nowhere for me can convey more strongly the sense of inhabiting a land between two worlds.

 

The hills

I live in a county that’s famously one of the flattest in England (not the flattest: that must be Cambridgeshire). I grew up in Hertfordshire, not known for its ruggedness. When I was about 16 we had a family holiday in the Lake District. I still remember my amazed joy at seeing waterfalls running down sheer cliffs. I was hooked.

 

I do a lot of hill-walking on holiday, including long-distance trails: every day you move on and every day you get up on the tops.

 

Coleridge said of Wordsworth that even if you read his poetry with no knowledge of where he lived or was raised, you could imagine bleak, open hill country from it. I don’t suppose my poetry is more of the hills than the valleys in nature, but images of hill country occur all the time. My poem “Watershed” describes the experience of struggling up a high pass on to the hilltops, crossing a watershed and discovering a valley on the other side. It’s partly a metaphor for other kinds of discovery, of course, but the specific description would ring bells for anyone who’d crossed a high watershed, as I have. When I don’t write about a type of scenery, but need a setting for the poem, I find it’s often moorland and mountainsides with small, fast-flowing rivers.

 

There is less distraction, less detail, in such scenery. It bears the marks of history clearly – a ruined watchtower, an ancient stone cross marking a track, signs of a cart-track leading to a farm that no longer exists. These things are built over or hidden faster in the lowlands. So up in the hills it’s easy to have a sense of history and of past inhabitants and visitors. I often write about that.

 

It’s also easier to see a long way and to perceive how the land is organised – hills, streams joining a river, the valley, the point at which a road or track can cross the river. I think my long poem “Six Strands” contains a number of examples of this kind of thinking.

 

The hills are harsh. They can kill by fall, by snow, by exposure. Often they’ve been disputed borderlands racked by raids. Life exists by impertinence.

 

Up in the hills, you’re more aware of the sky.

 

 

Apparently anything can be poetry, so it seems safe to say this is

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!

 

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.

 

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?).

 

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 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.

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.

 

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.