YorkMix Poet In Residence Carole Bromley selects a dozen sonnets from a bumper postbag
I’m not sure whether the bulging postbag this time was due to the blog having more readers since the competition, or if it’s just that lots of poets out there love writing sonnets. Whatever the reason, thank you. I loved reading them and have decided to publish what were for me the strongest 12.
There were a number of good poems which didn’t quite make it and, if yours was one of them, do please try again. I had to leave out all poems which were longer than 14 lines even though some of these longer poems were really lovely. Sorry if my instructions were unclear.
Since my last blog I have been on another Arvon course, this time to Totleigh Barton in Devon and it was magic. The tutors were John Hartley Williams and Jo Shapcott. Both were really inspiring. If you would like to hear Jo Shapcott read, do come along to the Bridlington Poetry Festival which runs from 14-16 June at Sewerby Hall. The programme is packed with goodies, including the likes of Jackie Kay, Ian McMillan and Don Paterson. Check out the events for yourself – I think I was the first to book. I go every year and it’s a real poetic treat.
Winter seems to be reluctantly giving way to spring. Masterchef is over (I love it, especially when they mess it up) and all that’s left is Britain’s Got Talent. It’s hypnotic though you can feel yourself being manipulated, as if someone is pulling your strings. Anyway the best act was from Hungary so they should rename the programme.
Which brings me back to your poems. York certainly has got talent. One or two of these were from further afield which is good and shows we’re widening our readership all the time. Here they are in alphabetical order.
In the first sonnet, Chris Bridge shows that the form lends itself well to humour. I like the up to date language in this and the thought-provoking last line.
Sonnet by Chris Bridge
David’s my local farmer and no fool.
He likes a poem but it has to rhyme.
He still recites the ones he learnt at school.
I showed him my free verse. He has no time
for slick word puzzles, for my lack of frills.
The rules we write by are to him a tease.
He likes his poems full of daffodils
and preferably dancing in the breeze.
The old ones fire him up. They still excite
They sing to him; have beat, their words are bold.
He reads my stuff. His praise is just polite.
He longs for cohorts, for purple and gold.
Should we ignore him, put this down as fuss?
We must make sure we don’t write just for us.
Kay Buckley’s fine nature poem is next. Well-handled enjambement and some lovely images here.
Urged by the rhythms from a drum shore;
his moon-brown feathers winged by the gale,
the sea-wader chants his first Kyrie wail,
with these low notes surging water-rills pour.
Like you, unsociable bird, my steps explore
the billowed salt-ribbons and the stony dale
alone. Forgetting my love in the whale’s veil;
as losing my mind’s worth suits me no more.
Instead I eye-net water patterns dressed
in poured crystal or raven when winds blow.
Reminded when the sheen on the sea’s breast
purls calm as my past moments used to flow.
But when the salt-fettered thread does not rest
both tide and I are stitched in our woe.
I chose one of two sonnets sent in by Richard Carpenter. I like this for its form and its sentiments. Not keen on that repetition of “to now” but I love the final couplet and the place name in the title. Lovely sense of place and of history.
Rest at Triscombe stone by Richard Carpenter
Small dark stone still standing, yet old as Earth,
names this combe; signs this seat which celebrates
a life cut short just four weeks past its birth.
A lass who never grew so she could wait
and stare across the gentle slopes; hear shrieks
of buzzards circling high above the hills.
Too young to walk the ridge ’til old joints creak
and feet cry out to rest. The aching stills
as walkers settle on her bench of grief.
Too young to now explore the drover’s road
shaded by long dun fingers tipped by leaf;
to gain sufficient years to now be slowed.
The trees and combe hold close this place of rest.
Sit here, enjoy, remember you are blest.
I notice from Daniel Connelly’s email that he lives in Rome which makes his very funny sonnet even more intriguing as it is about someone at work envying people on holiday in the sun. Quite tongue in cheek though and I’m not sure the speaker would really have enjoyed the package trip. Echoes of all kinds of poets in this one (“of drudgery i sing”, “sans teeth sans eyes sans taste sans everything” etc.) It’s actually quite a subtle poem but I chose it because it made me laugh.
black hole sonnet by Daniel Connelly
of drudgery i sing oh god i’m bored
this head is vacant and this heart asleep
my feelings took a package-trip abroad
and left me drab alas too drab to weep
my spleen lies burnished on a spanish beach
and shares a beer with disdain fear and wrath
while i have sudden lost all power of speech
so while away ten days in silent sloth
they sent a postcard what is that to me
sans teeth sans eyes sans taste sans everything
air mail alicante → leigh-on-sea
All Right Mate? Senoritas Got Some Bling!
i clutch onto but one cantankerous dream
in which the bastards lose their sun-tan cream
Neil Davidson’s poem is very different, though again about escaping to Spain. Neil has good reason to long for “the thermal’s lark-dressed joy” somewhere sunny, having endured months of snow in Glaisdale. I loved the idea of being “Google-Earthed away” and getting some perspective on the lawyer’s world. Great last line.
Paragliding Away by Neil Davidson
From high above the lawyer’s world looks small
and people’s lives are Google-Earthed away.
Yet there are many here who, feeling all
set against them, found on their testing day
they were not alone: for beyond the reach
of law’s rough balancing of guilt or blame
you took the time to understand that each
was more than just a number or a name.
El Bosque, untouched by turmoil, unstressed
by day’s toil: there thought is, of sudden, freed
and, caught in the thermal’s lark-dressed
joy, flung cloud high. You have no need
to cross question, to explain or wonder why:
just spread your wind drawn bow bent wing and fly.
Susan Elliot’s very well handled sonnet is also concerned with the harsh winter. The rhythm is lovely in this one and I admire the everyday language.
April 2013 by Susan Elliot
But our eternal winter will not fade
where lines of power droop like fractured limbs.
Look there on hills: the sheep have plugged the snow,
their ice-caked lambs men pull along on sledge.
A farmer cries into a microphone. His crops will fail.
A lonely primrose dares to tread the woods
and crocuses like small umbrellas gape, then close.
The eastern wind digs deep into our throats,
the hope for warmth and springtime dashed
with every passing hour. The clocks leap back,
the evenings somewhat lighter, but still grey.
We mourn a planet that has lost its way.
One thing I really like about these is knowing they were written in response to my challenge and I think this makes them fresh and also of the moment. This is particularly true of my next choice (and my personal favourite of all the poems submitted this time) which is by Jacqueline Everett who happened to be in Boston the day before the bombing.
All the details, place names, the briefly flowering magnolias, the very American “Finish Line”, the “hydration tents” ready for the marathon, little details like the precise statues and the Freedom Trail marked in red transport us to the spot in a way that someone basing their poem on a newspaper report could never do. And those falling petals like “waxen tears” are perfect. Lovely poem.
The Finish Line by Jacqueline Everett
The medical tents are already there,
hydration stations stacked, waiting in line
on Patriots’ Day downtown Copley Square;
Newton and Darwin lauded in stone,
between Armani, Gucci and Beacon Hill
above The Common’s late flowering blooms
where we tourists follow The Freedom Trail
painted in red; history’s open wounds;
lives ended by home made back-packer bombs,
destroy people they never even saw,
ball bearings, nails, tearing apart limbs,
some only saved by strangers schooled in war.
As we question again whose hate, whose fears?
Boston’s magnolias shed waxen tears.
The next poem, by one of our competition shortlisted poets, Cora Greenhill, takes us abroad again (to Greece?) and is so skilfully handled you might not notice immediately that it is a sonnet. I love the voice in this, the everyday language and natural flow of it. Some great images here “A scatter of goat turds/ on the road glow like dark chocolates” and the sacks of firewood “heavy as corpses” and I love the idea of planting century plants you might never see flower.
Sonnet by Cora Greenhill
The boot’s full of bulging sacks, heavy as corpses.
Free firewood. After lugging them in, trundle off
down Malaxa mountain. A scatter of goat turds
on the road glow like dark chocolates: free compost.
Better than horse manure for potassium,
Giorgos told me, after I’d spread
Leo’s stable muck around the orange trees
banking on getting a better crop next winter.
I flick turds into a sack with a piece of the wood,
loose patience, lift them by hand. Forgot the trowel
I used yesterday to edge out crowded century plants.
Century plants flower in ten years, not a hundred,
Giorgos said. But either way I’ll quite likely be dead.
Someone will see them, I say to the road ahead.
Kathryn Gee’s sonnet obeys all the rules and is a very good example of what enjambement can do. There is a narrative here. It reads a bit like a detective story and there is something universal about finding out the truth about family myths. I felt rather sorry for this Reggie Perrin grandpa with his double life and sorry, too, for the duped relatives.
One Man Three Myths by Kathy Gee
Dad said Grandpa died on foreign ground,
reported missing, body never found;
some double bluff so he could be a spy.
Which could explain a second story: why
a friend was called upon to view his corpse
in down-south London, in between the wars.
And there it rested, when somebody said
‘Seen later with a woman. Wasn’t dead’.
We found the papers Dad had never seen:
Unfit for service, June 1916.
One man, three myths, too late for explanations,
a string of lies, confusing generations.
Perhaps in desperation Gran had tried
to shield her son. Much better Grandpa died.
Abroad again in the next one, this time on a road trip in Northern California with Jonathan Reid. Jonathan tells me they had stopped in a remote place of great natural beauty and the driver was taking a nap. The Judas Bird is the red-winged blackbird which has a wonderfully liquid, trilling call. So, a poem inspired by sound and one in which sounds are very important. I particularly like “threading the reddened beads” and “swift and liquid silver”.
In Mercury’s Vale by Jonathan Reid
Magdalena asleep on the sloping heel of a hand
That cups a juncture of the hills. A brief
Respite from work and wonder, a relief
To furl her thoughts within the folded land.
She dreams the creek along a sieve as green
As Venus, dreams the centuries that led
The blue oak to explode, and dreams her head
Is full of all that fire and stone have been.
And from the iris of her dreaming soul
The night-black pupil flies, the Judas bird,
Threading the reddened beads, the lucent word,
On swift and liquid silver. Truth be told!
His alchemy redeems an ancient debt,
His song dissolves the cold coin of regret.
Rosemarie Rowley sent in six poems, all of them very accomplished, but this was my favourite even though I couldn’t tell you exactly where it’s set and I confess to having double-checked “apparatchik” on Google. I like the fact that it’s about literature and how it can be out of favour with the wrong regime. How lovely that the friend’s poem slips under the wire. Even the image of the torn pieces fluttering out of the window is appealing.
THE APPARATCHIK’S CONFESSION by Rosemarie Rowley
Underneath the grey swathe of uniform in the war zone
I scarcely detected a heart beating
But if it was, it could scarcely be called my own
I had become so used to a life of cheating;
I confessed to things I hadn’t done, worse
Dismissed the authors who had gained much fame
Saying their lack of ideology was a curse
That damned their work and vilified our name;
But someone infiltrated my post-box
Had sent a live poem, one of my school friends
Who had studied ballet and had worn bobby socks
And had taken to writing for merely personal ends;
It was not me, I swear, who ripped the poem into shreds
And threw it out the window on the students’ heads.
A lovely Valentine’s poem comes next from Sarah Wimbush. Sarah has sent poems in before and one of the nice things about writing this blog is getting to know poets via their writing. I remember publishing a lovely poem by Sarah about coming home in the dark on a bus and commenting on the beauty of its everyday language. The same is true of this one. I bet no one has ever used Ernest Jones in a poem before! The whole thing rings true and the reader is glad that the love is there even if the lover is rubbish at presents.
Still No Valentine At My Door by Sarah Wimbush
I do not know how to describe your love.
In all our years I have not heard you say
it more than once. You do not sing d’amour,
or write love poems, or spray it from Moet
or Yves Saint Laurent. There’s no hasty slot
at Tony’s near the loos before they close,
or gestures in a black Ann Summers crotch
you badly wrapped, or that Tesco’s red rose
you thrust me; like a last thought, when you come
back from your mum’s. No silver-plated charms
reduced in ‘The Big Sale’ at Ernest Jones.
No February fireworks beneath the stars.
No heart laid on your sleeve, no card you care.
I do not know how, but it’s here; like air.
Many, many thanks for all the poems you sent in. It is lovely to receive them and to know there are readers out there reading the blog and responding to the challenges we set. Please feel free to comment. It is great to feel this is a two-way conversation.
Look out for the next poetry challenge which I will set later this month. Just to whet your appetite it will be to do with childhood so you might like to be doing some reading around that.
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.