Poetry in the Land of the Twelve Churches
THE POWER OF POETRY
CS Lewis favours the 'approach oblique': 'no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth... you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.'
So, bang out some honest copy, but keep an eye on your publisher, for (as Oscar W said): 'A poet can survive everything but a misprint',
And all that'll do pretty well to justify a page of poetry from 'The Land of the Twelve Churches'...
WHAT (OR WHO) IS IN A NAME?
Why are our villages called what they are? A bit of nonsense saluting the founders of thirteen villages in the Shill & Broadshire Benefice.
Can you identify each village?
(This first appeared in Parish Pump 15 years ago.)
‘Tis well-known that Broughton Poggs
Is named for Pogeys (as in Stoke),
But what of ‘Phil’ who lived next door?
He sounds a family-minded bloke.
Further down the road there’s Ken
Who looks to to be a lie-a-bed
And nearby throve a comely wench,
All hale and hearty? Enough said!
Two more chaps seem in the pink
Although it’s tricky, I’ll allow...
For one looks to be a goner
and t’other’s en vacances for now.
Three Jocks next: tall Mr Ford,
A blind Scot oddly named (to tease?)
for Turkish carpets, and a third...
A semi-’illsman, if you please!
Here’s a curious eponym...
Reservoir dog or coal-mine pig?
Either way he’s a deepish man
But wet or dry we can’t now twig.
A fit American-looking guy,
(but maybe tacky, none the less)
Insists we know he’s not a town
and wears his label proudly, bless!
A pocket gypsy Spanish gent
Planted his village down the lane.
And lastly a casino stooge,
a hundred pounds did sharply gain.
What a harum-scarum crew!
But sans these village founders we
Would have no place to call Our Home,
So to them all we bend our knee.
Not a lure on the water by Dee or by Don.
A mere ripple of wind moves the surface upon
The cool calm eddies that turn the trout over,
Already confirm that these fish are in clover.
Jockey Fife, Upper Fontie, Stobbs and the Lawn:
These pools left in peace from the hook and the prawn.
I wonder just when will the fishers return…
Until then all is rested, the Loch and the Burn.
THINGS WERE, THINGS ARE... THINGS WILL BE
It is easy at the moment to see the world closing in, everything getting smaller and tighter. Here is Anne Hichens (churchwarden in Langford) reminding us that there are bigger things... In our memories, our imaginations, and to come:
ON LEAVING SOUTH AFRICA
I'll stare at the mountains
And burn them into the back of my eyes
So that I can plant them firmly
Into the cold mists
Of the Thames valley.
Devil's Peak, the Outeniqua,
Hottentots Holland, Franschoek.
Hot rocks will burn through
The cloud above Lechlade
And the white summit stones
Will fade into the pale sunlight.
My eyes will roam
As close there as here.
Hottentots Holland, SA
'I MAY BE OLDER, BUT...'
This is a poem that I wrote for my Mother, who has now reached the grand old age of 96 and is still living in the house she was born in. (As was I.)
When I awake I take a stock,
Of any aches and pain.
I really do not want to go,
Back to the Doc's again.
He might give me more tablets,
Or send me for a test.
I'm fed up with being poked around,
All I want to do is rest.
Taking all these tablets,
Is really quite a bore.
At least now with my dossette box,
I don't forget them anymore.
Little things that once seemed easy,
Nowadays seem such a chore.
But I've lots of helpful gadgets,
To make things easier than before.
There's a thing for taking lids off,
Grab rails help me get up.
I don't have to lift the kettle,
My machine makes just one cup.
No need to bother cooking,
Just microwave a ready meal.
And with my lovely stair lift
The stairs are no big deal.
I have a panic button,
To summon help if I feel queer.
My dentures fit me perfectly,
So of dentists I've no fear.
Now with my new glasses,
I can see both far and near.
And if use my hearing aids,
I can hear you loud and clear.
Though in my heart I am still young
My body's elderly.
My get up and go has got up and gone,
Replaced by lethargy.
Ironic, now I have the time,
I don't have the energy.
So I'll sit and have a biscuit,
And another cup of tea.
Sometimes if I'm a little sad,
Think the whole world's gone to pot.
I only need to look around,
And count the blessings that I've got.
Though I may not be wealthy,
I can recall past pleasures.
Family, friends, a happy life,
My memories are my treasures.
Now in my hair there's silver
And in my teeth there's gold.
So perhaps I'm worth more,
Now that I've grown old.
For there's titanium in my hip,
And metal in my knee.
If I was not a human,
They could recycle me!
A boy is chugging through the leaves.
Maybe a train, maybe a ship.
Or just the happy rarity of power
Of small over big on an autumn day.
The leaves weren’t there, and now they are…
Tomorrow? Who knows or cares.
For there’ll be stones to throw in the stream,
And a sandcastle to build in the sun.
Now, forward thirty years, and here’s the man.
Those leaves again. Covering his lawn.
And, as he rakes them to the compost heap,
He shivers at the sleep of winter coming on.
He stops to run though happy summers past,
And shrugs at maudlin autumn thoughts.
For his best summer’s still to come.
No need to note the falling glass quite yet.
An old man huddles on the bench,
Watching the leaves swirl roundabout.
He looks at the dryness of his hands.
He thinks on autumn, and feels his winter comes.
The year and his years are marching on,
Bound as single pages in a book:
Spring, summer, autumn, and the end.
He hears a sound and, looking up, he smiles.
The boy is chugging through the leaves.
Maybe a train, maybe a ship
Or just the happy rarity of power
Of small over big on an autumn day.
Looking for something
Like aging actors
With enormous stage presence
Stand the round straw bales.
I'm lying in bed
My fingers tapping, counting
I'm thinking haiku.
Anne Hichens, who inspired our first (and hopefully not the last) Poetry Stomp in St Matthew's Church in October 2018.
Bred in the bone
There’s been a church at Inglesham
A thousand years or more,
Since Saxons walked the Roman roads
And Alfred made the law.
Full forty generations,
Have marked their age in stone
And plastered walls. The very air
Seems now bred in the bone.
Accreted, careful layers,
Madonna carved with Saxon axe,
To pews from Cromwell’s time.
There’s not much gilt or silver,
Nor venerated saint.
No benefactor’s masterpiece,
Just timber, glass and paint.
So nothing special, nothing grand.
But I know to be the case,
That those who chance on Inglesham
Find comfort in this place.
Reach up high and touch the moon
Reach up high and touch the moon.
You'll fly there soon in the bowl of a spoon.
You'll slip and dip along the way
Until you reach the moonbeam highway.
So reach up high and touch the moon.
He'll be winking and blinking and singing a tune.
He'll flash you a smile and give you a grin,
Then wave you in to land on his chin.
Now reach up high and touch the moon.
Give us a blast of your spoon's va-va-voom.
It's time to drift down and show us your mettle.
Settle in the dust, but watch out for nettles!
Reach up high and touch the moon.
Where the lunar café serves cheese until noon.
Please don't dawdle cause the next stop is Mars.
Fire up your dreams on the way to the stars.
Archibald swung from tree to tree
(‘Tis natural for a chimpanzee)
But as he swung, Old Archie’s thoughts
Reflected he was out of sorts.
(Indeed the swing he swung was slow,
Brought on by melancholio.)
Though Africa has lots to offer
For Archie, ‘twas an empty coffer.
He really did not like the heat:
Constant sun was not a treat.
‘Twas not a case of ‘not a lot’,
He did not like the sun one jot.
From early doors, to late at night
The searing heat, the burning light…
And what made dealing with it worse
The constant, nagging, hateful curse:
However hot it was today
Come tomorrow, come what may,
Another cloudless sky, more sun,
More prickly heat… ‘It is no fun’
Thought Archie, ‘I must find relief
Before I boil and come to grief.’
And so it was that Archie Ape
Set off across the parched landscape;
He headed North, and round the Med,
And further North again he fled.
And gradually the sun shone less
And less and less, and then, Oh Bless!
A pitter here, a patter there
Chilling rain was everywhere.
Archie laughed with bright-eyed glee,
And crossed, at last, the cold North Sea.
He’s ‘Happy Archie’ nowadays,
So when you hear that well-worn phrase
That talks about it being cold
Enough, if I may be so bold,
To freeze the sack-like under-part
Off a brass monkey, take to heart
(Though strictly I’d allow the claim
That apes and monkeys ain’t the same):
For Archibald this scrotal-tightening,
That comes with cold, and storm, and lightning,
Is something he would never swap…
But, at this point I’d better stop.
If there’s a moral of our tale
Remember, when life makes you wail:
One man’s rained off cricket match…
… is another man’s opportunity to go swimming.
WEATHER OR NOT!
What are country words worth?
“So, once again… You ‘wandered lonely as a cloud’?
And saw, what… Daffodils, you say? ‘On high’?
"Well, William, High’s the right word, sure, to shout out loud,
But not, I think, on daffs... But dope… Now, look me in the eye…
"Yeah, as I thought: romantic poet! Poppy-head, more like.
Just as your mate, Sam Coleridge, the Laudanum King.
"See this, now? ‘Twinkle on the milky way’. You’re all alike:
You lay a line, right? Roll a note, and hear the white stuff sing.
"Now, this bit here.… ‘A poet could not but be gay’,
Well, that line’s true: you are a friend of Dorothy for sure.
"But come: ‘I lie in vacant or in pensive mood’ you say.
That’s doper’s talk, I’ve heard enough... no need for more,
"Book him, Sergeant, take him down, and throw away the key.”
Inspector Tennyson picks up his poet’s pen, and thinks: ‘Now me.’
The Puzzled Fellow
Some years ago, I met a chap
Who stood with puzzled frown, and map
Outside the railway station bar.
He asked me: "Is it very far
To where the flying fishes leap
To why the wolves devour the sheep
To where giants stride across the land
To how elves dance upon the sand…"
The fellow’s list went on and on
Mermaids, reindeer, cheese, the sun
Princes, peanuts, football teams
Roses, music, sex, and dreams…
‘Who? How? Where? What? And more beside
“There is so much to learn” he cried.
“Show me your map” I said at last
“We’ll find a route, be not downcast.”
But when I looked, his sheet was blank
No road, no town, no church, no bank
No school, no pub, no anywhere
The page was absolutely bare.
He had the words, and questions too
But not a clue of what to do.
What could I say to help a man
Who has no path, no goal, no plan?
How could I help him on his way,
To make sense of life’s cabaret?
Then all at once I realised
The things above all else I prized
To help me populate my chart
With matters both of head and heart.
I took an object from my bag
And said “I do not like to brag
But this will help you understand
And lead you to your promised land.”
He took it, slightly mystified,
And asked me, as he looked inside:
“What if it doesn’t do the trick
And straightaway things still don’t click?”
“There’s plenty more to fill life’s gaps”
I said “One day you’ll find your maps
Unfold full-drawn, and plain to view,
Based squarely on my gift to you.”
At last, he asked, with grateful look,
“What is it called?”
I said: “A book!”