Thursday, 16 April 2015

Good things

Thought I'd do some quiet trumpet blowing ...

Firstly, I'm reading at the launch of South Bank Poetry 20 tomorrow at the Poetry Cafe. I'm really pleased to have a poem I wrote about London as the first in their commemorative issue. It's a great magazine and a prime example of a poetry endeavour that results from the hard work and vision of one or two passionate people. These 'little' magazines, reading series and publishers truly add to the lifeblood and richness of the UK's cultural life. Especially out of London, too.

Here's some details -

https://southbankpoetrymagazine.wordpress.com/poetry-workshops-poetry/


I was also chuffed to have a poem, Bats, chosen by the wonderful Liz Berry as highly commended in the Interpreter's House Poetry Competition. It'll be published in their next issue and I'm pleased the bats have found a home (roost).


Liz said in her judge's comments: "There are many wonderful poems about bats but this poem stayed with me for its rich and pleasing language, its lovely surprising imagery and its obvious craft. This was very nearly in the top three. Who could resist a poem which opens "Let us begin at slant-light..." ? Thanks, Liz.

Other news is I've got a new poem coming up in the next issue of Butcher's Dog which is another fantastic magazine. The last issue was full of good stuff from cover to cover and I'm sorry I can't get to the reading in Newcastle next month.

Finally, I was delighted to see this 'ere blog featured in the latest issue of the Poetry Society's Poetry News in an interesting article by the poet and blogger Robin Houghton on ... poetry and blogging. She interviewed five or six other bloggers, all more prominent than me, and it made for a thoughtful read in terms of the point of blogs and what makes them work. 

Right ... trumpet blowing over. Thanks for reading and happy April.








Saturday, 11 April 2015

O my America..my new-found-land

We have just returned from a wonderful visit to the West Coast of America. It is such an expansive, huge land compared to our small island. In one day alone, we travelled across varied topography from snowy mountains to flat, baked Wild West territory and a belt of incongruous countryside that reminded me of Devon with rolling green hills and lush grass.
Highlights - pelicans flying over the glittering Pacific with their saggy beak bags, streams falling through the mountain forests,  blue crested jaybirds and groves of Giant Sequoia trees thousands of years old.
Someone once said 'a culture is measured by what it preserves.' The 21st century has, I think, spoilt the tranquility of the Yosemite Valley with access for cars and buses. What tranquility there once was in the river basin has gone. It was not hard to imagine the native people working the earth and fishing and washing in the river. But across this huge glacial scrape of land, there was a belt of tarmac and a stream of traffic. Something was lost. We walked for a mile or two and wilderness was regained. Giant granite rock forms of a towering scale and distant circling hawks.
And of course, we used the road to reach this special place in our car, relied upon it even, so perhaps opening up access is equally as important as preservation and the two are not entirely opposed.

It was different in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. These beautiful beings with their spongy, russet barks were peaceful. There was something serene and wise in the atmosphere around them. Something of CS Lewis' tales.
We felt honoured to be walking among their trunks, the only people there, leaving our apple cores for the deer. Some of the trees had wonderful names  -  Bachelor and the Three Graces, the Fallen Monarch, Grizzly Giant, and this was where I felt inspired to write a 'poem'.
What can I say about these trees in my inarticulate, jet-lagged state? Their longevity and heft was so non-human it was awesome in the original sense of word, in the way mountains can be.
Their roots were like a brain, spread wide. The bark smelt of life passing, of seasons. Their immensity was comforting. They were beyond us but utterly present.
Later, my daughter Bridy and I talked to a native American and he showed us how they wove baskets and traps from willow and used pine-nuts to make jewellery. It was a very privileged glimpse into a different world.

Our children show the scale




Bachelor and Three Graces


Yosemite from the road


Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Golden Girl

Hello

Almost April ... and it's hailing. Magnolia buds waiting to be ignited by the sun, bird song loud and beautiful in the woods. Lighter, later evenings. I am not a winter person..

I have been making a concerted push on the poetry front recently (in terms of sending stuff out) and was pleased to have a poem on The Stares' Nest blog.

The site bills itself as 'poems for a hopeful world' and is loosely affiliated to the left with a general theme of political issues, social justice and equality. Impressively, the editor manages to post a new poem every day, and they are varied and interesting.
Mine was written five-ish years ago after being inspired by this Marc Quinn sculpture of one of the female icons of our time - Kate Moss. Face of a million projections, both filmic and psychological. I like the strength and defiance of the pose.






The sculpture is called Siren and is cast in pure gold.

Quinn told the British Museum at the time (2008) - 'The mask of Tutankhamun is one of the first artworks ever I remember seeing – it was in the early 1970s in the British Museum show, and that was one of the inspirations of this work as well. Like that mask, Siren is an image that glows and gives out love and light but remains completely implacable and silent. I think of both of them as sculptures of a cultural superego.'

Here's my poem after Marc Quinn- ( I would probably sort out the line breaks a bit and tidy it up but it is what it is, imperfect).  I don't normally write Ekphrastic stuff so quite unusual for me.


http://thestaresnest.com/2015/03/18/sarah-westcott-golden-girl/


In other news, I was pleased to find out Andrew Motion has chosen a poem of mine to be displayed on some buses in Guernsey this summer. Nice to think it will be making its way round the island, a place where its author has always wanted to go (and hopefully will one day).





Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Ladybird Leaders

I have a collection of these beautiful red and white Ladybird books which ranges from 'apes and monkeys' to 'man in the air'. They were written in the early 1970s, are all beautifully illustrated and have a clarity of expression that manages to be both serious/profound and gentle at the same time.
They were a joy to read to our children as well.


Somehow they imbue the material world with the mystery it still holds..
There is also a sense of wonder that I remember from learning to read,  and the keen sense that each new word learnt was a new territory of understanding. I remember learning about an amoeba and being so thrilled it existed. I also remember believing every fact I read, and taking them in, almost like sweets.

'Look around you.
'Look at all the living things that you can see every day.
Remember that all animals and plants are living.
Try to find out more about them.'

From Living Things.




Anyway, I found this draft from ages ago, back in 2007 when I was starting to write, which was inspired by this series.

It's called Living Things

You are alive. You know that
because you move and feed
and breathe and grow.

The limpet and dandelion are alive.
They breathe and grow.
But can you see them move?

Plants do move.
They move their leaves
so they are in the light.

Metals have never been alive.
Most rocks are never alive
But they moved into the light.

You may not think
You are very much like a goldfish or a horse
and you don't eat the same food as a sparrow.

But you all breathe and feed
You will all follow
Your parents into the light.

Some things were once alive.
A chair is made of wood,
the wood was part of a living tree.

Some people were once alive.
A man is made from cells.
The cells were part of another man.

There are millions of kids
of living things on earth.
You will never be able to see them all.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Woodpigeon

I've been going through all the old poems in my computer (there must be hundreds!) that have never seen the light of day but have a small *something* about them worth salvaging. They are by no means complete and are definitely flawed creatures but I'd quite like them to be released so I thought I'd put a few here over the coming weeks.
Here is one which I wrote in 2011. I remember watching this very fat mauve woodpigeon that would waddle around our small city garden, and feeling slightly repulsed by what it had become. Our 'fault' as much as the bird's.
Thanks for reading

Woodpigeon



dolloped on the creosote
fills its crop with scraps.

Oh survivor, soft-wadded 
angel of leylandii and barbecue cubes, 

snifter of breaded gougons, 
cup cake cases, Mother’s Pride. 

Did you live in the forests,
high in elm, Holm Oak, 

before you landed here?
Your epaulettes of white

suggest you fought for many years,
leaving the shy jay, 

nervous woodpecker to struggle.
You waddle the circumference

of your plot, pause to drop packets
of excrement, piped

like the Little Gems
you peck up after children’s parties,

regurgitate, shuddering, 
into your young.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

The 'burbs

We live on the edge of London, where the streets and fields merge into suburban Kent, and we are ringed by great arteries of traffic.  I can see the Dartford Crossing from my bedroom window, blocks of lorries edging over its curve. There are always planes above, heading into London, but they are not jets. There is always the low rumble of traffic, apart from on Christmas Day. Most of the time I tune the engines out.
The stars are very bright here, on a clear night. The air never smells entirely clean.
There is an unexpected, wonderful population of stag beetles and many handsome foxes. The soil roughens, turns chalky and flinty a few miles away towards the spine of the North Downs.
 If we drive 15 minutes we are in hopping country and oast houses mark the landscape. Another 15 minutes the other way and we are in the urban city. The Weald of Kent is not far away and seems verdant and beautiful.
I like it here well enough but there is the sense that the county is heavily populated, even in the remoter parts. Sometimes I yearn for the sea, and the moor where I grew up. Particularly the expanse and space and the fresh, ozonic smell. Here the man-made is everywhere, as far as I can see, and smell and hear. We didn't evolve in environments like this and sometimes I feel like everything we consume (in every sense) is one step removed from real nature. Even our broccolli comes shrink-wrapped or barcoded, even our dogs run on concrete.
Perhaps we should have an allotment but I am lazy and busy and maybe we will one day. We used to have hens that foraged for worms and woodlice all day and their thick-shelled yolks were bright yellow.

**

A February afternoon, lighter, lighter, sun around the world's corner.
A magpie is plucking twigs to wedge in the crown of blackthorn and the walnut tree is resolutely bald.
Grass lies low, the road cutting through the land down to the busy coastline.
Nubs of bud push from the edge of branches and green spears spike the dreaming earth.
The pears slowly rot.
I should be digging goodness back into the earth but instead I stay clean, one step removed from our earth.
Beyond the house there are small fields, with horses in jackets,  and the endless river crossing, its freight.
Beyond the tidal estuary, the North Sea holds its tides, swells and falls.
I know there are seals in Norfolk, see their gray dapple, cigars rolling on the rocks, smell the spray.
There are Eider duck up the coast, and terns and mounds of thrift and wide blooms of lichen.
I turn my mind to this and lose the traffic, the great brunt of perishable goods, plastic games.

**

There's a beautiful white egret that lives here, on the river banks. It startles and folds up like a white parasol with long, exotic feet. Once I dreamt of it with blood all down its white bib.  Here is a (not particularly clear) picture of it fishing and long may it live on the river fry.














Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Some ramblings


It is seventy years since the prisoners of Auschwitz were liberated by the Russian army. Of the 1.3 million held in the camp, some 7,000 were left alive. A quarter of the total murdered were children. 

The capacity for evil in humanity is an ever-present danger. It is part of our collective make-up, and we must never forget this when we talk of racial intolerance and bigotry. I detest what UKIP stand for and I believe its sentiments are on the same spectrum as the worse reaches of Facism.  But free speech and democracy are fundamental tenets of a civilised society and if UKIP thrive come the General Election in May, then thrive they will.

Against all this is a well-spring of goodness -  the capacity for what must be called love in humanity wins through despite the atrocities. It does.

*

I’m not a religious person, really. I enjoy entering the space of churches, and, like most people, I often feel a special, hallowed atmosphere within their walls; also graveyards, sometimes, or ruins. I love the words of the Bible, the archetypal stories, and the music. 
And yet..I have always prayed, since I was seven or eight. I remember praying for my family before we set off on a long journey. I prayed for everyone I knew, to be safe and protected. I can sometimes sense a wholeness in certain landscapes - mountains, moor and sea. But I use religious words lightly, like miracle, or angel. 

I've been reading some Walt Whitman recently and his boundless poems set me thinking about science and spirituality. Take these lines -

'Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
'I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.'

Walt Whitman, Song of Myself.

Science, our ‘truth-teller’, our enlightener, is confined, ultimately, to human parameters, to the space between each ear.
And of course we use science for good and for ill - to find cures for Ebola or to build gas chambers. 
But we use it too, to reach other more spiritual places. I know the science of the solar system. We know about our ideas of the Big Bang and how the universe began. But as Whitman says, that knowledge does not hinder those feelings of immensity, or awe, when we look up into the stars.

In a sense we are all miracles. I think how difficult it is for the millions of sperm to get up past the cervix, across the womb and up the fallopian tube, how the egg only lives for hours, how just a few hundred sperm make it to her looming form and of those, just one, the strongest, luckiest, penetrates 
How in a sense all of us walking about now, on the streets and fields, sitting in traffic, how all of us are born against huge odds, we are all miracles of chance. 
Everyone is a mixture of impulse and action and everyone makes mistakes and good choices.
Sometimes it helps me to think of every person as a spiritual being, and it makes me feel closer and softer to humanity. I have recently begun to feel connected to my ancestors. They are not just dead and gone. They are still here, living through us both genetically and through the landscape.
 As Don Paterson said, writing in the Guardian a few weeks ago, we are all just ghosts, living and dead.

“...we make the dumb mistake of thinking ourselves nouns, but we are really verbs.
You might think you are a “thing” - and we certainly mourn each other’s shocking disappearance as if we are real things, which aren’t supposed to just vanish.
But look around the room: almost everything in it will survive you. We’re really ghosts - from early childhood, we have perfect knowledge of our own deaths - and we certainly must look like ghosts to the room as we come and go.”