Starry, starry night… the night sky has inspired a thousand poets

In her first blog for YorkMix, our Poet In Residence Carole Bromley considers a subject that’s provided heavenly inspiration for writers – and invites reader contributions

 
Seeing stars? It may just be because today is National Poetry Day and the theme this year is ‘stars’.

Carole Bromley. Photograph: Michael J Oakes

If you don’t read and/or write poetry you may not have heard of this annual poetry bonanza when poetry enthusiasts take part in workshops, master-classes, readings, open mic sessions, visual displays and all manner of poetry-related activities.

It is also the day when the Foyle Young Poets winners are announced by the Poetry Society whose website will be twinkling with starry poems and whose own National Poetry Competition closes at the end of the month.

Today seemed like the ideal time to launch a regular poetry blog on YorkMix. This idea was hatched over a tuna salad at Lucia’s with the editorial team and they didn’t even need to ply me with wine or promise to mention my Advanced Creative Writing Workshops at the University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning or my new collection, A Guided Tour of the Ice House or even the York Stanza group which I run for the Poetry Society and which meets monthly to discuss members’ poems and also poetry collections and magazines which we’re enjoying reading.

One idea we were all keen on was to set a theme or challenge every month and invite readers to respond with their own poems, the most interesting of which would be published on the website with some comments from me.

The plan is for this to be interactive so that readers can also comment and post questions. A kind of virtual bar or coffee shop where you can drop in for a while and talk poetry.

And poetry pops up these days in the most surprising places. At that lunch at Lucia’s we all confessed to being hooked on The Great British Bake Off and I have since discovered there is a website called The Great British Bard Off on which poets post baking-related poems, the most recent of which is by a local poet, Valerie Laws, who proposes doing interesting things to Eminem involving butter and jam…

If you’re short of time, there are tweet poems and text poems to tempt your appetite, there’s free verse which is kind of like your signature dish and for the technical challenge you could try your hand at a sonnet or a villanelle or any of those tried and tested forms which, in the wrong hands and if they don’t give you the recipe, might well end in tears and the bus fare home.

So, this month it’s stars. A quick check of your Spotify playlist or a glance in any handy anthology or on websites such as the wonderful Poetry Archive will tell you that song-writers and poets have always had a thing about stars.

Shakespeare, who, admittedly, believed your fate was written in them, probably springs to mind. Every schoolboy, whichever side of the dreaded GCSE borderline he falls on, will recognise these lines:

Come, gentle night; come, loving, black-browed night,
Give me my Romeo: and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

 
Closer to home, Simon Armitage’s 2010 collection, Seeing Stars, contains these lines:

When people have received a blow to the head they often
talk about ‘seeing stars’, and as a man of science I have
always been careful to avoid the casual use of metaphor
and hyperbole. But I saw stars that day. Whole galaxies of
stars, and planets orbiting around them, each one capable of
sustaining life as we know it. I waved from the porthole of
my interstellar rocket as I hurtled past, and from inside
their watery cocoons millions of helpless half-formed
creatures with doughy faces and pink translucent fingers
waved back.

 
In his 1963 poem Star-gazer Louis MacNeice was writing:

				it was a brilliant starry night
And the westward train was empty and had no corridors
So darting from side to side I could catch the unwonted sight
Of those almost intolerably bright
Holes, punched in the sky, which excited me partly because
Of their Latin names and partly because I had read in the textbooks
How very far off they were, it seemed their light
Had left them (some at least) long years before I was.

 
and this aspect of time also fascinates Carol Ann Duffy. Her Astronomer

In love with space, stares up
as breath smokes signals into night.
Light years, loneliness, dark waves

lapping moons. From there sees absences,
gone worlds; from here perceives
new galaxies where nowhere is.

(from ‘Space, Space’ in Selling Manhattan)

And who does not know these lines from York-born W H Auden, famously recited in Four Weddings and Funeral:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

 

You may have missed the blue moon but try a little star-gazing. Maybe start with what you can actually see and hear out there in the dark garden, what the stars or something about the atmosphere make you think about. What memories do they evoke?

Did you watch the stars when you were a child perhaps, or with a lover or at a time in your life when you were particularly happy or maybe very lonely. If so, try to recapture that memory in the same way. If you’re new to this, a good tip is to root your poem in the senses. Put yourself back in that place and time and show us what you can see, hear, feel, smell, taste. A simple list poem can be surprisingly effective.

So, reach for the stars, folks. What have you got to lose? Interpret the theme however you like: planets, athletes, even X Factor singers. Click here to email your poems to YorkMix, add your thoughts in the comments, and keep an eye out for the next blog-post which will feature the best of them, maybe yours.

The closing date is Monday, October 22. I’m off to pen a line or two about the Bero Book and its coffee kisses and coconut macaroons…

 


Carole Bromley is married with four children and lives in York. Twice a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, she has two pamphlets with Smith/Doorstop (Unscheduled Holt, 2005, and Skylight, 2009) and a collection A Guided Tour of the Ice House. She has won a number of first prizes, including The Bridport and Yorkshire Open, and her poems have appeared in a range of magazines and anthologies. Carole is a graduate of the MPhil in Writing at Glamorgan University and teaches creative writing for York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.