Summer is here. School’s out. Everyone’s flying off to beaches that are probably no hotter than Scarborough.
The exchange rate is so good that you can buy a pizza on a piazza for about two bob in old money.
The poetry blog is back. I’ve had my holiday. We went to the Lake District walking and practically melted. It was glorious.
I have also been to Spain on a writing holiday and it was paradise, or as close as we’re likely to get.
Sunshine, a pool, an olive grove, oranges picked from the garden, lovely Spanish food, wonderful company and poems. What more could you ask?
The place is called the Almassera Vella if you’re interested.
Too late for cuckoos but, if you want to get in the mood for this month’s theme which is summer in all its guises, you might do worse than listen to this recording of the medieval poem Summer is icumen in. What could be more joyful?
If you’re stuck for something to do with the kids this week, take them strawberry picking – or raspberries, or blackcurrants or wait a week or two and wander along the old railway track and collect blackberries for nothing.
One of my all-time favourite poems is about eating strawberries. Or, rather, it’s a love poem about sharing strawberries. Here it is, Strawberries by Edwin Morgan.
And here is the poet himself reading it.
Isn’t that beautiful and sexy and moving?
What I suggest you do is go back in your mind to a place and a person in your past, a lover maybe, or just a friend or someone you’ve lost who you loved for whatever reason and try to recreate a scene in which you shared an apple or a box of chocolates, or a bottle of wine.
Give us the name of the place as Morgan does, and use the senses. We need to taste what you were eating, to see the colour of the plates, to smell the air where you were sitting and feel the texture of the fruit, or the cold, green bottle.
You might like to start your poem ‘There were never apples…’ or ‘No wine ever tasted like…’
Butterflies and flowers
Or you could try this. Have you ever been to a tropical house to wander among butterflies, or walked through greenhouses looking at exotic fruit and flowers?
Maybe you went to the Chelsea Flower Show (or, like me, watched it on TV) and saw flowers in a tent that were too tender to be exposed to the cold May winds?
This poem, another favourite by Louis MacNeice, plays with the idea of the fragile barrier between delicate flowers and the cold outside world. Read it, or listen to it, and see if that is all it’s about:
You might like to start with the idea of butterflies in an artificially heated house. Go to Tropical World in Leeds to write this one?
A word of advice. Wear something cool. Try contrasting the day outside with the atmosphere inside and just see where the poem takes you.
Feel the heat
Or you could place yourself in a window somewhere and show us both your surroundings (again, use the senses) and the scene you’re watching.
Maybe it’s next door’s children in a paddling pool or someone reading in a deck chair or a neighbour mowing his lawn.
Or, if that doesn’t appeal, think about the hottest day of the year. Where were you and what did it actually feel like? Were the sounds different?
What were people doing? What were their dogs doing?! How did the heat feel on your skin? Can you describe sunburn?
Did you, if you’re being honest, long for it to cool down?
Here’s a poem about that. It’s one of mine and I wrote it after reading a poem in which someone sits indoors on a cold day dreaming of heat.
If anyone knows what that poem was, do tell me. It’s driving me mad.
Let us sip ice-cold lemonade through a straw
and talk of furry caterpillars, thrushes’ eggs,
the swoosh of a paddle-steamer.
Let us watch a plane go past, its vapour trail
a line chalked on blue sugar paper.
Let us lie in the grass without speaking,
then I’ll read you a poem about blizzards,
wool slippers, a hissing steam radiator.
Carole Bromley (First published in Poetry News)
To do this one, place yourself (not literally, though that could work well) somewhere you once spent a very hot day with someone else.
Address the poem to the other person and maybe start it as I have ‘Let us…’
Tell this missing friend/ lover/ parent/ child now long grown up what you’d like to do, how you’d like to recreate that afternoon in the heat.
Give us as much detail as you can recall, make it up if you like but I usually find honesty is the best policy. Go on, give us all the detail. we won’t tell anyone. Honest.
Or maybe what you like about the summer has something to do with sport? Wimbledon, the Tour de France, a Test Match or just playing in the park with the kids.
Sport is so rarely written about in poems and it has so much potential for drama and action. Here’s Simon Armitage on catching a ball.
Notice how Armitage uses those line breaks to give the poem pace and action.
The form seems to mimic what the poem is capturing so beautifully. The ball becomes an apple, the first of the season, and just as delicious.
Can you describe another sport and focus on one moment you remember?
Maybe the first time you put on cricket whites, or the atmosphere in Centre Court at match point, or the time you beat the school record for high jump?
Go on, try. What have you got to lose except your dignity? I did beat the school record at the high jump but all I could think about was my awful school knickers.
So, give me the hottest day of the year or a sporting moment or a view from a hot house window or a moment when you shared a bottle of wine on a beach.
I wrote one about that and it’s currently on a bus in Guernsey. I may fly down and take a ride on that bus in September if I can find it!
Happy writing in your deck chairs or on your hotel balconies or on Scarborough beach with a knotted handkerchief covering your bald patch.
Send in your summer poems to [email protected] by August 24th and we’ll publish the best we receive. Good luck.