I was absolutely delighted with the mailbag of poems on the theme of messages. Thank you for sending in your work. I loved reading all the many different takes on the theme.
If I didn’t choose yours this time, do try again. I promise you I read each one carefully and with real interest and enjoyment. Here are my favourite twelve. I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
As I started my blog with William Carlos Williams, here is a witty response to that famous poem. From that fab regular, John Foggin, it needs no introduction or explanation.
A very satisfying ‘Dear John’ letter which gets the prize for making me laugh in recognition. Beautifully handled structure and I like the little American word ‘stoop’ which gives the poem authenticity.
this is just to say by John Foggin
spot on, William
as you say
they’d have gone down
as would the single malt
and by the way
where is the bottle
as you’ll notice
your things are in the bag
if it’s still
on the stoop
and while we’re being open
they could do with a wash
there’s a laundromat
two blocks down
I missed you
went to buy plums
have a nice day
Next comes a truly wonderful poem by Joanne Key, one of several contributions which took on the challenge of rewriting myth or fairytale. In it the poet imagines a letter the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz might have sent to Dorothy.
Only, of course, this poem does far more than that. It is a poem about friendship and loneliness in the voice of a character who has just been given a heart and ‘can’t cry for fear of rust’. I think it is a superb poem. Thank you for trusting us with it, Joanne.
After Oz: The Tin Man Writes a Letter to Dorothy by Joanne Key
When the full weight of this heart tugs against its chain,
I think of us: friends bound together by need, big dreams.
You left me with nothing but tricks behind a curtain,
and a scarecrow going round in circles, poor straw head
burning with questions. Come home. See for yourself
how he stands alone in the field. Crows peck his insides.
Insects make a bed of him. I hate to say I told you so,
but Lion slid into a life of addiction a long time ago,
always looking for adventure, craving the next shot
of adrenalin. This inevitable drift. Wishes like windfalls
left to rot in their skins. And me, losing whole weeks
to the sad songs of rain, reading love letters written
in tears on the window pane, one bleeding into another.
The heart takes me to places I don’t want to go: dark forest,
that road with its sunlit bricks long since faded to grey.
Hard to say what creaks inside my chest these days with grief
grinding its axe in me. On nights when the heart sleeps,
I imagine my perfect life: log cabin, beautiful wife
in pigtails and gingham, her skin as the light that guides me
home through the trees. Some dreams were never meant to be.
Before this heart was set for me, forever was a city glittering
in the distance. Now it’s at my fingertips, close enough to touch
and I must be grateful for everything. I must count
my blessings, count myself lucky. I can’t cry for fear of rust.
And still the heart shows no mercy, pulling me away
to the chamber where it keeps its prisoners: monsters
shrieking about lives that could have been, polishing
regrets into emeralds. I’m lost without a friend to my name.
Come home. Or don’t. Perhaps it’s my destiny to stay
in one place, to be alone again. Without you,
I chase missed beats down dead-ends in pursuit
of something that looks like love, beauty. I drag my heels
down the back streets, shooting stars shrivelling
at my feet, all the doorways lit with rubies.
Still on the subject of messages from fairytale, here’s one by Doreen Gurrey which creatively uses the language of text messaging. Doreen has had fun inhabiting this jealous and dangerous character. It’s quite wonderful. I think you’ve been watching too much Frozen!
Snow Queen Sends a Text by Doreen Gurrey
wat u up2
wen2 c ma m8 bowt u
sez is gunna cum
nd get u nd put u in
his dads freezr wi all
tht ded meat il make sure
u got no m8s u wanna leave
nd i wil av tht wite dress
u bort satday n owt else i want
OMG ma m8 sez yul b
on a slab like all his mad cows
lol cya Q
Nairn Kennedy’s is a voice I have met very recently and instantly loved so I was excited to receive his poem, Duality, which, like the previous poem, is in text speak and also like Doreen’s has fun being thoroughly nasty!
I love the balance in these two stanzas and that little play on words. And of course the humour. Humour is great in poems. There is not enough of it. Cleverly done and effective.
Duality by Nairn Kennedy
Planets are my pinballs
and galaxies I devour
Unceasingly. Civilisations cringe
when I lift my eyebrow
On their final hour.
I am Shiva,
destroyer of Worlds.
white kit wif big Nike ticks
and duckbill hat in Burberry;
eye txt on mi mbl 4 stuf
an hav a laff an beat up stupid turds
wot get right up my nose.
im like, Gary,
Destroyer of Words.
Another very subtle poem which plays with different kinds of messages or signals came in from Pat Edwards who, again, is new to YorkMix and very welcome. I loved the idea of Braille as a metaphor for the signals we give through the body and its adornment and I loved the wit here too.
$ign@ls by Pat Edwards
Smart suit/high heels/face full of slap
Decipher if you dare
this Braille on offer
feel your way passed my epidermis
Crack the nut
It’s all an act in extremis
Bigger fool you/me/all of us
for the show we put on
the signals we emit
you’re breaking up
Ian Harker’s poem is highly original and he tells me he wrote it in direct response to one of my prompts in the blog so I am pleased to have played a part in its gestation. In fact, I was particularly pleased that so many of these poems were clearly written in reponse to the blog and that so many took up specific suggestions in it.
This poem explores the excitement and also the fear of communicating with strangers on social media. I think it is brilliant and I admire its honesty and the skill with which the poem is structured and handled.
I particularly liked the very effective juxtaposition of the actual messages on the social networking site with the sections in indirect speech which are the thoughts and words of the speaker. A cracking poem.
Right Now by Ian Harker
alright mate on Grindr
and I can tell the sender
is head to foot in gantry light,
his profile pic is a dual carriageway
and when he sends dickpics
the full length of his body is stretched out
in oncoming traffic
not bad fella U?
I want to ask him
if this is how it’s going to be
from now on, white light shining
from the palms of our hands
yes m8 u discreet?
I say there’s no way
anyone can ever know about this
your screenshot eyes
the swipe right of your smile
your fistful of inches
surrounded by radius
LOL. Work 2morrow U?
I tell him everything I say
comes out as voicemail
but he’s never heard me speak
I say you’re getting further away
just by staying still
Are you sure you want to block this guy?
Where he’s sitting
it’s always 3AM –
last seen 10 hours ago
when his voice was white noise
in the long stammer
of the First New Message
Although we don’t normally give biographical details on the blog, I note that Ian Harker’s first full collection will be out with Templar next year. I for one will be pre-ordering!
And now for two poems which deal with rejection through written messages. The first is by Yvie Holder, a previous winner in our competition.
I chose this poem for the beauty of its language, the way it conjures a sense of place and especially that lovely reference to the episode with the swan which so perfectly expresses the feeling of shock the speaker experiences when she finds the note on the table.
Break by Yvie Holder
the flooded land solid
day after freezing day
the early morning bus
its windows a slick of mercury
flickering behind tree-silhouettes
on the far side of the river
a note on your table
I don’t need you anymore
neat black letters that unthread
and sliver into white into blank
like the time a swan sheered in
so close you almost touched it
and its wing-weight hit the ice
smack! setting off vibrations
that buzzed inside your head
and ricocheted out of reach
miles across the frozen fields
The second ‘Dear John’ poem was sent in by Sandra Lyn Gordon (so many new names and so exciting to receive emails from new readers). Sandra told me in her email that she ‘enjoyed having a go at your suggestion of writing a poem about messages’ and described it as her ‘raw effort’.
It is far from raw but it is fresh and delightful. I did wonder about that change of tense in the last stanza but I’m glad you sent it in hot off the press. I can see the girl pulling up her white socks and the poor boy framed in the window.
Dumped by Sandra Lyn Gordon
With a corner ripped
from her exercise book
and the first pencil
yellow, not great,
but will do,
what has to be done.
Pulls each sock
to her knees
as she walks to his house
and on posting, she notes
he’s framed in the glass,
so she ran
till both socks
‘If you want to read something like a love letter’ by Angela Readman comes next. I was very excited to find an email from Angela in my inbox as I love her poems and this is no exception.
I just love the picture it gives us of a lover leaving teasing messages all over the house in tabs on the computer. ‘Flickering windows to my thoughts’ is so good and that dormouse that ‘curls a pink palm into a nest’ and then the glorious ‘I leave you instructions of how I want/to be touched everywhere’. Lovely poem.
If You Want to Read Something like a Love Letter… by Angela Readman
look no further than the computer.
Those tabs I leave all over the house
are wide open, flickering windows
to my thoughts. Here, I post you a video
of someone with sandpaper and a chair,
filler on scrapes in the wood. There,
a forest worker handles a dormouse
in a torpor, curls a pink palm into a nest.
I leave you instructions of how I want
to be touched everywhere. Think about it
and click again. That goldfinch on an arm
hops forth, back, closer to the sink
where strange fingers hold running water,
wait for feathers to dip in and bathe.
From the sensual back to the humorous, here’s one by Richard Carpenter whose poems I always enjoy. He plays with the message in a shop, ‘All the cakes are available to take away’, and his speaker takes this literally.
The list of cakes he secretes about his person before being caught is mouth-watering.
All the cakes are available to take away. by Richard Carpenter
All coin nicked from my purse
for the parking meter, and my wallet
fleeced of notes to buy provisions.
I’m skint, and crave a sugar rush
to complete my shopping trip.
So I read these words to suit
my situation: a simple message
in the café window, by the dark brown
polenta round so light I see it flying
to my plate, invites me to be a tea-leaf.
I steal a slice so soft and sweet, with
Tunisian citrus dripping from my fork,
and celebrate the entreaty on the poster.
I consume my illicit Orange Cake,
then let my nimble fingers filch a slice
of fruity Yorkshire Tea Loaf, slip it in a
jacket pocket, purloin a crisp meringue
and stuff it with the strawberries,
already in my bag, to make an Eton Mess,
then lift a wedge of Victoria Sandwich
and wrap it in a hanky. I’m too heavy
from my swag to avoid the owner
when he taps me on the shoulder
and points to the pile of washing up:
Please, read my messages more carefully.
Next comes a very touching poem from another great Leeds poet, Tom Weir, whose work I have admired for some time and who, I am sure, is one to watch.
Here we have the language of signing and also of facial expression and gesture. From that great opening line ’Before you lost your hearing completely’ I am hooked and this poet holds the reader’s attention right to his devastating ending ’the silence/would have been deafening’. A powerful poem about an important subject.
Language by Tom Weir
Before you lost your hearing completely
you taught me to use my face when I talked,
how each sleight of hand needed its own clue.
You showed me how to be sarcastic,
how the sign for fucking and getting fucked
needed help getting over the line—
so something beautiful could still be beautiful,
and I’m still learning now but I know
the conversation at the bar, hands moving
like wing-beats, is about a bad thing,
that in that bad moment the silence
would have been deafening.
And last but not least I have chosen a poem in which the speaker rejects ‘soulless electronic gadgetry’ in favour of writing messages in the sand and leaving the waves and wind to ‘have the wisdom to know/ what to deliver and to whom’.
Thank you for your lovely Sea Mail, Mavis Gulliver, and to everyone for all your emails, for reading and responding to the blog and for trusting us with your lovely poems.
SEA MAIL by Mavis Gulliver
Sometimes I scratch a message on the shore,
for thoughts, as yet unclear don’t warrant
in black on white, or tapping out on keys
for storing in soulless electronic gadgetry.
Rather I choose to etch a scrawl of words
across the sand’s smooth face,
trusting not to e-mail but to sea-mail,
hoping that waves and wind
will have the wisdom to know
what to deliver
and to whom.