Poems

Here are some poems that I’ve had published recently. (‘I’ve had published recently’ – how cool does that sound?) Most of them were written for the online poetry group 52, which continues to be utterly brilliant – see the earlier post ‘Out of the Comfort Zone’. I hope you’ll take the time to check out the publications they appear in – there’s lots of brilliant poetry in all of them.

Atonement
 Before you came what we knew were olive trees,
mules scuffling through dust, sweet smoke
of cooking and tobacco, old men polishing
memories generations long. The church bell clanged
the regularity of our life; the language of our land
had not been wrested from us.

You were the refugees, returning to the home
you mourned each year with brine and bitter herbs,
digging through stones, watering your new life
as it grew into our soil. At the beginning it almost seemed
we could have lived together. Semite was not a word
you applied only to yourselves.

Our land became your right. We gagged on smoke
from burning fields, watched our olives fall
ungathered from the trees as our compliant mules
bore us away from the houses you had stolen.
Church bells hung mute; the old men’s stories
were uprooted from the land. The language we heard
was like ours but not ours.

Now you have caged us in like animals, denying us
even the right to anger. Only you claim persecution,
the gaping crater of wrongs too terrible to imagine
always in your vision, blinding you to the sight
of your own cruelties. All that you’ve taken from us
you wear for your own adornment, thinking we can’t see
the stains of blood and ashes.

Published in The Stare’s Nest, www.thestaresnest.com

Faded
I think of you always dressed in black
your darkened hair at odds
with your pale blue eyes.

Now I don’t know what your colours are
only that once I saw you
wearing a red scarf

looking more real than the winter
that misted around you,
not looking at me.

Published in Nutshells and Nuggets, www.nutshellsandnuggets.tumblr.com

Galileo
I remember how my daughter learnt to sew; the way the seams
got twisted out of true or a bias-cut inset wouldn’t lie at ease;
how she’d bring home a goldfinch captured in a cage, keep it there
beating against its house arrest until I let it free.

Nature is all my work. When I found out the earth is made
to travel round the sun, I had to say it. That was my nature.
The truth I knew hung straight in my body as a plumb-line.
It did not compromise the God I know, who is never a liar.

Unlike me. They made me swear their truth, a sad affair
of fusty books and hand-me-down ideas, was what was true.
Their God, small enough to fit inside their lists of calumny,
knows only what they know. No-one is outside their power.

They let me have my work. Confined here I am no more unhappy
than my daughter in her convent. My clipped wings do not reach
even to the bars of my cage. Nature has not been forbidden me,
only the one truth I have sold to them in return for nothing.

One day it will not be hidden. Their God, no longer bent out of shape,
will let us reveal all that we dare to know. For now I do what I can,
an old man whose crooked back can never straighten again.
Silenced though I have been I still repeat: eppur si muove.

Published in Snakeskin, www.snakeskinpoetry.wordpress.com

Pink
I never liked pink –
roses and marshmallow
and bows for girls’ hair.

I always liked yellow –
sun and lemons
and the number seven.

If I’d lived back then
I might have been given
a pink triangle and a yellow star.

Published in Nutshells and Nuggets, www.nutshellsandnuggets.tumblr.com

Illusion
That first moment
your face was the only one alive
in a room of muted people.

When we sang
your voice was a bright thread
in the muddle-coloured mass.

When you stood near
I felt your body without touch
knew you inside me like myself.

Then came the wanting
the torturous yes, no, perhaps,
the audacity of imagination

till finally I saw
imagination was all it was.
I took away your kindness
and wrapped it round the hurt.

Published in the Agenda online supplement, www.agendapoetry.co.uk

What men do
He had a beard, a fat one. I don’t remember his name,
only his Arab accent seeping through French like oil.
He talked a lot, took my hand, seemed to have charm.

He led me from lighted streets down to the river.
On the bank: heaps of rubbish, unsavoury smells,
perhaps a rat, a flat patch of grass and earth.

He held my hand; I was all right. Then came
the slippery invasion of a kiss. I pushed him back,
he heaved towards me, shoved my shoulders

till I was lying on dirty grass. What happened
then was not happening to me. It hardly hurt: a doll
doesn’t know how to feel. Quite soon he stopped.

I shouldn’t have let him do what they said all men
were waiting to do. All women should have ways
of stopping them. Smeared with mud and shame

I put the fragments of my body back together,
smelt night, rank water; saw him wipe his beard,
turn away to re-imprison himself inside his fly.

Published in Prole, www.prolebooks.co.uk

 

 

 

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Spindrift by Peter Reason

Up till now nearly all my posts have been about me, one way and another. However, I’m pleased to start making space for some of the beautiful, distinguished, prizewinning books that my friends and acquaintances have been writing.

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Having posted a piece on Daughter by Jane Shemilt, I’m now delighted to write about  Spindrift by Peter Reason, which recently won the Rubery award for best non-fiction book from an independent publisher (Vala Publishers). It was published in this spring this year and is a fascinating and beautifully written account of a sailing voyage from Plymouth to the Skelligs and the Blasket Islands in the far West of Ireland. It’s not only a book about a sailing voyage, though. Underlying the delights, difficulties and discoveries of the voyage itself is a deep concern with our relationship, or lack of it, to the natural world, and the devastation that this has caused. The book starts out with a koan – a question to ponder: wilderness treats me as a human being. Through his sometimes uplifting, sometimes frightening encounters with wild places Peter gains a deeper understanding of humanity-in-wilderness which he hopes can be applied to our current situation.

Like Jane and me, Peter is a member of a writing group which came out of the Bath Spa MA and has now been going for something like three years. I’ve seen the gradual honing of Spindrift into an engaging, honest and beautifully described account of an outer and inner journey in Coral, a small boat that is very much a personality in the book. We learn about Coral’s features, quirks and foibles and also about the technicalities of sailing, with all their richness of language. ‘Sheets’ are ropes, for instance, and the ‘heads’ the lavatory. For much of the voyage Peter was on his own with the sea and the weather, but for some of the time he also had crew on board and we get to see both their enjoyments and their struggles. ‘Wilderness treats me as a human being’ is more demanding than it seems. As well as some wonderful descriptions of seas, night skies, rock formations we get the daily detail of life on a boat in all its ordinariness, which brings us right into contact with the reality of the voyage.

I enjoyed Spindrift as an armchair sailor and can see its appeal to sailors and non-sailors alike. It is an involving account with a serious message and has the potential ‘to instruct by pleasing’.

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Daughter by Jane Shemilt

STOP PRESS!! STOP PRESS!! Bestseller alert!

daughterjaneshemiltTonight I’m going to Bristol for the launch of Daughter by Jane Shemilt. Published at the end of August, this compelling and beautifully crafted novel about a teenage girl who goes missing from a seemingly happy family has already made it into Richard and Judy’s list and has been at or near the top of several of the main bestseller lists.

Jane, a former GP who lives in Bristol, was a fellow-student on the MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and, as you might expect, did extremely well. Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to be a member of a wonderful writing group which Jane was instrumental in starting and often generously hosts. The group includes several published writers and on Wednesday most of us were there to toast Jane’s success in champagne which she very kindly supplied! I was proud to get my copy of the book signed by the author – I always love it when friends sign their books for me – and am enjoying reading the final version, having seen it through several of its drafts. As people often say, it’s amazing how much more impressive a book looks when it’s got a cover and proper pages – not that Jane’s book was not impressive before.

Daughter has been variously labelled a literary novel, a literary thriller and a crossover novel. Not that these labels matter: they’re only there for the convenience of the book trade. What they are saying, however, is that while the book has a thriller/crime novel-type plot (daughter disappears, police are called in, clues are followed up and lead to the ending) it has depth and subtlety and much beautiful writing. Beyond the plot itself it’s about the nightmare of losing a child and the breakdown of apparently stable relationships. But it’s also – as Jane eloquently pointed out in her interview with Richard and Judy – about coming to terms with loss and moving on. Jenny, mother of Naomi the eponymous daughter, is an artist and her artwork is part of her journey back into life, as are her relationships with the people she meets and with the natural world. As she discovers more about what has happened to her daughter she realises too how little she has known about her family and how blinkered her life has been. A mother with a demanding career and too little time, she questions her own priorities in a way that will strike a chord with many women.

Daughter is a novel well worth reading. I wish Jane continuing success with it, and with the next one which is due to be published next year. Here she is at a reading that she gave at Durdham Down bookshop. Thanks for the picture to Tanya Atapattu, also pictured.

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More thoughts from Adelina

 

Aardvark

Hello everybody

I’ve just retired from being a Profile Picture on Face Book but I thought it would be nice to come out again into the Public Domain just for a little while. I’m not sure where the Public Domain actually is, but I expect that like everything else on the Inter-net you can look up its Domain Name and find out. I haven’t got a Domain Name or a Web Site, but still I do like being able to have my say sometimes on this Blogg. It’s a great honour to be able to talk to so many people.

As you may know, the Belated Writer has been writing lots of Poems and getting some of them Published, which is quite exciting. It’s a pity, though, that a lot of the poems are about such strange Subjects, when she could write proper Poetry if only she would try a bit harder. The things she has written about include Chocolate and Woodlice, for instance (not chocolate woodlice, I’m glad to say), a Piano that killed somebody (I didn’t like that one), a Photocopier, and Serbian Bean Soup. Not very Poetic, are they? I keep telling her she ought to write about proper Poetic things like Love and so on.

In fact she has written quite a few Poems about Unrequited Love as unfortunately she had rather a nasty outbreak of it earlier this year and has taken a long time to Recover – which is why she has to keep writing Poems about it. A few of those Poems have now been Published or are going to be Published, but you might not want to read them as some of them are not very happy  – though I think others are supposed to be funny. I don’t really understand about Unrequited Love myself as I have been Happily Married for a long time, but I know it is something Poets suffer from and write lots of Poetry about.

I would have thought the Belated Writer could come up with some other Poetic Subjects apart from Unrequited Love, wouldn’t you? I suggested she should write about the Meaning of Life but she thought that would be too hard, especially on account of being a Budd-ist. I also thought perhaps she could write some interesting Poems about being a Spycho-therapist, but she said that would be impossible because of having to be Confidential, which means you mustn’t tell anybody about anything. I said last time I wrote on this Blogg that Being Miserable was a proper Subject for Poetry because a lot of Poets seem to have written about it, but I’m afraid I don’t really like reading miserable Poems. I don’t suppose you do either. I think Poets also write about being happy, and plants and flowers and trees and so on, so perhaps I can encourage her to write a few more Poems like that. Nature is a good Subject. I believe there was a very famous Poet called Wandsworth who wrote lots of Poems about Nature and Daffodils.

I’m sorry to say that my dear Husband, who writes such wonderful Poetry, hasn’t written anything for a long time now. He doesn’t feel Inspired very often, but when he does he writes such beautiful Poems that they put the Belated Writer to shame. I put one on this Blogg a little while ago and I’m sure it was a great inspiration to everyone. It was called To Adelina, which is a wonderful Title. Here is another one called Wedded Bliss, which he wrote when we were still living in London. I was so proud of him. The Aster-risks are there because the Belated Writer doesn’t want people to know her real Name, which is Confidential (though that isn’t her Name).

Wedded Bliss

We have now been married, dear,
Very much more than a year,
Living beside the bedside here
In * *’s cosy Room.

Such happiness, Adelina mine,
Light of my life, O my sunshine,
Nothing could ever undermine
Or cast down into gloom.

It’s been a pleasure unalloyed,
Every hour an hour enjoyed,
Never at any time devoid
Of you, dear, without whom

My life would be a lonely thing,
A garden where birds never sing.
But thanks to the great joy you bring
My pleasures all are keen.

We’ve never had an unkind word,
No quarrelling has * * heard,
No discord have we ever stirred
Or malice ever seen.

Let’s hope for many good years more
And cherish what life has in store
Together, as we have before
Here in Golders Green.

There! Isn’t that beautiful? I wish the Belated Writer would write Poetry like that as I’m sure everybody would want to Publish it. It Rhymes and Scans properly and it says a lot of Very Profound Things, as you can see. I will try to persuade my Husband to write another Poem as I know you would all love to see it.

I had better stop now as it’s getting dark and the Belated Writer needs the Computer back. (In case you’re wondering how I type, I have a very agile Nose.) It’s been lovely talking to you all, as always, and I do hope you will take your Poetry seriously and write lots of proper Poems about proper Subjects.

With love from

Adelina xx

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Being the belated writer

When I started this blog a couple of years ago I had just emerged from the wonderful MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and was still incredulous that here I was, having reached retirement age, at last doing properly what I had wanted and struggled to do for most of my life. ‘Better late than never’ was definitely the motto, but the emphasis was perhaps on the lateness – regret that I hadn’t managed to do it earlier and doubt that I could get anywhere because of the late start. Well, two years on I still haven’t got anywhere with the novel I wrote but I am beginning to publish poems (another magazine, an online magazine supplement and an online anthology since the last blog post) and to feel more like a proper writer. In the online poetry group there are quite a few poets of about my age who seem to be in a similar position, all launching out into this new world with a mixture of trepidation and delight.

What seems important is not the point where I’ve started – much later in life than I would have liked it to be, even though I’ve been writing off and on since my early twenties – but the fact that it’s possible to start at any age and still do one’s best with the time and energy available. When I first set up the blog, a wise friend commented: ‘If it’s happening at the right time it isn’t belated,’ and perhaps it’s good to acknowledge that often things happen when they are ready to happen, and with a logic of their own that we don’t control. Supposing I was fortunate enough to get anything published, I never imagined it would be poetry or that it would happen with relative ease – I’ve had rejections from two magazines but they are outnumbered by the acceptances.

Perhaps the time has come to stop apologising for being a belated writer and just get on with being a writer. Watch this space…

 

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Out of the comfort zone

Since I joined the online poetry group 52 at the beginning of May I’ve written about 60 poems. Yes, that’s right – 60. Me, who used to write one every few months if I was lucky and would usually add them to my collection of unfinished drafts, having given up on them. Not all the new poems are of high quality but I’ve been quite pleased with a few and think my work is showing signs of improvement. I’d like to believe that as I read all the marvellous poetry other people post something may be rubbing off on me. Many of those people are properly published poets whose work has had or is starting to get the recognition it deserves and I’m deeply grateful to be in there somewhere, even if I’m only waving from the back row. I’m also pretty chuffed and grateful that I’ve now had poems accepted for three magazines and two poetry websites and that a pamphlet of mine was shortlisted for a competition, even though the shortlist was very long.

The way the group works is that every week the person who runs it sends out a theme for the week. The themes vary from apparently safe ones like sound and colour to ones that are definitely near the edge – like the erotic. Whatever the subject, though, it seems to take people right to the limit of what it feels possible to write about. There have been poems about illness, death, bereavement, violence, rape, sexual abuse, guilt and shame and the ordinary varieties of unhappiness, as well as poems that are joyful and loving and celebratory and funny and wonderfully surreal. And it’s genuine poetry, so beautifully written and full of imagination that that alone would make you weep; it’s not simply the kind of ‘therapeutic’ writing whose main function is to say what needs to be said, never mind how.

I’ve found that other people’s openness and the safety of the group have helped me to write about things I never thought I would, and in ways that I haven’t tried before. The poems haven’t always been successful or even appropriate, but I’ve managed to survive that and write poems about it too. Although it is most definitely a poetry group and not a therapy group, what happens in it has many of the qualities of the best kind of therapy. There is acceptance, support, care for one another, freedom to be who you are and a welcoming of diversity. And there’s the shared love of poetry – writing our own and reading other people’s – and encouragement to make our work as good as it can be.

In case that sounds too utopian, the group is very large and poems don’t always get the amount of feedback the writers hope for, and that you might get from an in-person group or class. I’ve sometimes felt overlooked or discounted, even though I recognise that many of the other poems are better and more noteworthy than mine. Nevertheless it’s a community, and some people from it actually met for the first time at the weekend. I didn’t manage to get there, having been away somewhere else, but realised as I was driving down the motorway that I easily could have taken a detour. But perhaps that would have been too far out of my comfort zone: scary and awe-inspiring, not to mention just plain socially awkward. Knowing people online, however well, is very different from knowing them in person. I’ve had some pretty personal online ‘conversations’ with people I’ve never met or hardly spoken to, and the question then is: where on earth do you start? Having seen the photographs, though, I wish I’d had the courage and – more than that – the navigational competence to get myself there and have a go. Had I planned it properly, there would have been nothing to stop me coming back from Nottingham via Stratford upon Avon.

Well, I didn’t. But what I did do was write a poem about it – the shyness and the awkwardness and the fear of seeming an ‘unpoetic fool’, as well as the regret at having missed out on the party. It wasn’t a good poem, but for once that didn’t matter. I wouldn’t have been able to write it at all before I joined the group.

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Coming out

When I was just four, one of the littlest pupils of Miss Perry’s dancing school in South Norwood, I took part in a show. I was supposed to be a chick, dressed in a yellow satin costume with a cute little peaked cap (I still have the photo). At the right moment I should have burst out of the egg, a hoop covered with tissue paper, ripping the paper with my little wooden spoon. Unfortunately it didn’t tear and a large grown-up hand had to smash through it for me, whereupon I stepped through the hoop with great delight and called out, “Oh look, there’s my daddy.” I don’t remember saying that. What I remember most clearly is being fascinated by a large basket of fruit on a table in the centre of the audience – presumably a raffle prize. My memory has been aided by a piece from the local paper about the show: clearly the journalist enjoyed my debut as much as I did.

Although I can’t say that all my comings-out – of whatever kind – have been as well received as that one, coming out in the widest sense seems to be a theme right now. As well as literally coming out after being confined at home for weeks with a bad back, I seem to have been emerging in other ways too. I’ve been sending work off to magazines and competitions – no luck so far – and to my amazement have been writing several poems a week, thanks to the wonderful online poetry group that I’m part of. If I’m not careful the group could become a full-time occupation. Some of the poems people post are amazingly beautiful and many more are amazingly honest, taking the most raw and difficult experiences as material for poetry that’s eloquent and heartfelt. It’s enabled me to make poems about things I never thought I’d share on paper and to feel part of a community of creative, generous, witty, insightful people, some of whom already seem like friends, even the ones I don’t know in real life. The great thing about writing for the group – and writing poetry generally – is that no-one bothers about whether their work is commercial: people are just themselves in all their quirkiness and individuality, which invites others to be themselves too. Of course they want their poems to be published, and many have had poems published, but there’s a great freedom in not writing with one eye towards the market.

Having said that, I realise a novel is a very different animal from a poem or a collection of poems. It has to tell a story, oh dear yes, as E M Forster said, and it has to draw the reader in. Although I don’t write novels solely in order to be published, being published does matter and that means doing all I possibly can not only to make the novel better but also to make it more engaging for the reader. The one I’m writing at the moment has some rather dark themes and I will have to be careful it isn’t so grim and gloomy that it simply puts people off. In that sense I do need to think about the market in a way that I wouldn’t if I were writing a poem, which could be as grim as it liked. It also means stepping back and seeing the book as a whole – seeing it as though I were reading it and not writing it, which of course is necessary with a poem too. I’ve got to a point with the first novel now where I could imagine myself as a reader actually wanting to read it, though I’m not sure I’ve moved away completely from my infatuation with it as the writer. Whether I have or not, I’m about to submit both novels to a publisher who is having an open submissions month and have entered the new one for yet another competition, shelling out more money in pursuit of the dream. There’s persistence for you, and the continuing hope that this time someone at last might want to read what I write. At least the publisher isn’t asking for a fee: competitions come expensive, if you enter a lot of them.

This far from the first time that I’ve written about coming out with my work. Perhaps what’s different now is that more of me seems to be coming out with it. I’ve been feeling a bit like a champagne bottle that’s just had its cork popped, which is how I often felt on the MA course. Not all the time, though. It was strange to go back to Bath Spa University just a week or two ago to hear Tessa Hadley’s inaugural lecture as professor – in fact a beautiful short story. The event was held at the university’s main campus, not at lovely Corsham Court where we studied for the MA, but nevertheless it was good to be breathing that inspired atmosphere again. I didn’t feel so much like coming out there, with so many fellow-students around who had already published books or were about to do so. “Well, no, I haven’t actually got anywhere yet. Oh yes, I’m still writing. No, I’m not going to give up,” I managed to avoid saying, and pushed the cork firmly back in. However, it’s soon popped out again as I unrepentantly continue to post poems in the group and make comments, appropriate or not, on other people’s work.

When I say that more of me is coming out, more seems to be emerging into the public domain. For the poetry group I’ve written Jewish poems, a Buddhist poem and a therapist poem – all aspects of myself and my background, none of them unknown to people who know me and all of them in some way woven into the fiction I write. I’ve admired other people’s courageous poems about their own backgrounds and families, and applauded those who have come out more directly about themselves. I’ve been reluctant to do that – though again these things have been part of my fiction and on the whole are not hidden from the people I know. When I posted a piece not long ago about gay conversion therapy I said very little about myself. I did refer to ‘those of us who find ourselves elsewhere on the sexuality spectrum than at 100% heterosexual’ but deliberately left it at that. However, the urge to come out more fully on this blog hasn’t gone away.

If asked, I’ve usually chosen to define myself as bisexual, though over they years I’ve fallen in love with more women than men. I have been and still am attracted to men, but when I fell in love again recently it became very clear that I’m more attracted to women and that probably isn’t going to change. When I’ve told people about the experience I’ve tended to fudge it by saying ‘the person’ and ‘they’ (dead giveaways in themselves), but then I’ve thought, “What the hell? The sky isn’t going to fall in if they know.” If anyone couldn’t deal with it, they probably wouldn’t be the kind of person I’d want as a friend. I think my carefulness says more about my own lack of acceptance, which after all these years of therapy has rather surprised me. I still cringe a bit at the thought of defining myself as ‘a lesbian’, especially with that stigmatising ‘a’. If I use the term, about myself or anyone else, I prefer it to be an adjective rather than a noun: that way it doesn’t label the person as a whole. In the same way I wouldn’t want to define someone as ‘an epileptic’ or ‘a schizophrenic’. ‘Gay’ still seems to me easier and more manageable, though, perhaps because it doesn’t have to be gender-specific.

One of my concerns about coming out on this blog is not only that I’m making my sexuality public – though this isn’t very public. The blog only has about 50 followers, whereas the poetry group has over 500 members. It’s also that if I do so people may start to pigeonhole me as a ‘lesbian writer’ rather than simply a writer. I do write about lesbian relationships in my novels, among other relationships, but I would like to think that the novels are about more than sexuality. I’m glad Sarah Waters wrote Tipping the Velvet as an explicitly lesbian novel but I’m also glad some of her later books include other themes and relationships – and that her work is popular with the public at large. Although Alan Hollinghurst writes about relationships between men, he too isn’t seen simply as a ‘gay novelist’, perhaps because the quality of his books takes them out of that niche. While I’m obviously not comparing my novels with theirs, I would also want mine to be read by people who could see past the label.

So there we are. I’ve said it and I’ve yet to see whether the sky will fall in. And I’m continuing to enjoy coming out, as a human being, in all the ways I’ve mentioned above.

 

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