Mental Health Awareness Week

Apparently it’s Mental Health Awareness Week. I say apparently because I’ve been avoiding much of social media for the duration. All the influencer posts. All the one size fits all advice from people who aren’t trained in the area or are just repeating glib suggestions. I’m being harsh. I am sure the posters concerned are trying to do good. And maybe they do reach out and help someone. Fair enough.

But those of us with closer, lived experience in this area maybe don’t need reminding every single time we scroll through Facebook or LinkedIn, (and yes, I know I’m potentially being hypocritical here, but at least if you’ve got this far you have done so by choice ).

For a lot of us every week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Something we deal with. Every. Single. Day. It’s exhausting. Looking out for signs, trigger points, anything that might lead to some kind of relapse. And along comes a well-meaning mental health awareness post to brighten our day. And then another, and then the first post again, shared by someone else we follow.

Not only this, but these articles are so full of sweeping generalisations – just because I’ve suffered from depression it doesn’t mean I know anything about schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or any of the other myriad conditions that people have to find a way of living with. It’s as if someone who once had a broken leg can automatically be an expert on mitigating the effects of varicose veins.

Although as Gillian McKeith managed to build a career as a ‘nutritionist’ from not much more than an intense interest in the contents of someone’s bowels, it isn’t that surprising. Anyone can be an expert on anything if enough people are listening. Being full of shit can be highly profitable.

Back to Mental Health Awareness Week itself. It’s 2021. Surely we’ve had enough focus on developing awareness of these issue by now for this to be unnecessary? But then I hear a colleague in the office moaning because someone won’t go to work because they are ‘a bit sad’. Yes maybe I should have said something. Maybe I should have snapped. But perhaps they were just covering their own insecurities, their own issues, their own illness. Many of us are just trying to find a way to deal with our own crap (unless we’re Gillian McKeith of course).

Despite my colleague’s comment, I do think attitudes are changing – I only have to think back to what it was like in the 80s and 90s to see how far we have come, and initiatives like Mental Health Awareness Week have probably played a part, despite my ambivalence and curmudgeonly annoyance. Just don’t expect me to share any chain mail social media posts on this subject (or any other for that matter).

There is so much that still needs to be done. I could rant and rage about the government’s woeful attitude an funding cuts to mental health provision in the name of austerity, but I’m not going to bother. They aren’t listening and they certainly don’t care.

On a personal level I’m not at the stage where I am willing to divulge everything that I went through. Sorry to disappoint, but you won’t see some badge of honour confessional from me in this post.

One thing I will say is that in my case there were times that I felt as if the treatment was as bad as the illness it was treating (it wasn’t). The prose piece which follows at the end of this post, (at this stage part of a much larger sequence I am writing – though it might not make the final cut), is an attempt to give an insight into one aspect of my own treatment through the use of (in my case a relatively low dose) anti-depressant medication.

Having started by criticising advice being given out during Mental Health Awareness Week, I am going to give two pieces of advice of my own.

Firstly, from personal experience and what I’ve read, I don’t think you can properly begin to deal with depression in someone until that person realises or accepts that they have a problem. Secondly, if you are struggling with depression and getting to the point of thinking that those you love will be better off without you being around, then you are wrong. The void you will leave behind is far greater than anything anyone who cares about you will be feeling right now.

Anyway, before this ends up as one of those self help articles I pilloried at the start of this article, here’s the poem / flash / hybrid writing piece. It hasn’t appeared anywhere else before. It’s entitled Sertraline (the anti-depressant I was taking for some time). To misquote The Verve, sometimes the drugs do work, even if we don’t always think they are at the time. They helped, and alongside the support of health professionals and my wonderful family and friends I was able to find my way back from the dark.

Sertraline

A comfort you said it was being unable to feel. You’d paid for the fog with your own credit card. It came in a box of bitter-white pills. Slip one from its pod and sleep not needing to dream. 

Numbness is a blanket. Tuck in the edges. The gaps where light might grow. It’s a fair price to pay for a few hours of peace.

A bus-stop shelter in a nondescript town, where stormwater guttering sluices with despair. Been waiting for years for a way out of this place. For a discourse of traffic through a diaspora of spray.

Walking the centre in a figure of eight. Stanchions of concrete stained with rain. Shopping precinct garlanded with for sale signs. The acrid scent of alleyway piss. Playing chicken with passing cars. The thrill of knee brushing steel.

Or finding a feather in the park. Look how it shimmers in the sheen of a summer moon. Remembering a smile, the whiteness of teeth, the shape of a laugh. But there is no iridescence here. I like it that way. 

I’m not the man I thought I’d become.

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Moniza Alvi

I own two of Moniza Alvi’s seven collections, Europa and At the Time of Partition.

Many of the poems in Europa, (published in 2008), relate to ancient and modern traumas, including enforced exile, alienation, rape and honour killing. It’s centre-piece is a re-imagining of the story of the rape of Europa by Jupiter as a bull, whereas At The Time of Partition (2013) is a book length poem set at the time of partition between India and Pakistan. These are obviously weighty and serious subjects, but there is a lightness of touch and clarity of language which makes them both accessible and readable.

Not all of her poems are about such issues. One of her most well-known earlier pieces is as follows;

I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

Barely distinguishable from other dots, 
it’s true, but quite uniquely placed. 
And from my dark centre 

I’d survey the beauty of the linescape 
and wonder — would it be worthwhile 
to roll myself towards the lemon stripe, 
Centrally poised, and push my curves 
against its edge, to give myself 
a little attention? 

But it’s fine where I am. 
I’ll never make out what’s going on 
around me, and that’s the joy of it. 

The fact that I’m not a perfect circle 
makes me more interesting in this world.People will stare forever — 

Even the most unemotional get excited. 
So here I am, on the edge of animation, 
a dream, a dance,a fantastic construction, 

A child’s adventure. 
And nothing in this tawny sky 
can get too close, or move too far away.

Born in Pakistan, Alvi grew up in Hertfordshire. She is a freelance tutor and writer living in London, who often runs courses for the Poetry School. I’ve never taken one of them, though perhaps with my current rate of poetry acceptances I should!. I have only heard excellent things about them. Follow the below link for details.

https://poetryschool.com

As for her own poetry, in the Poetry Book Society bulletin, Kathleen Jamie and Hugo Williams stated that…Alvi’s voice has achieved a relaxed naturalness, a fluidity which allows her to present these delicious, extraordinary poems as though it were easy.

The central poem in Europa , in 25 different segments is superbly written. There is an excellent article on this particular sequence from the Guardian, published back in 2009

https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2009/aug/03/poem-of-the-week-moniza-alvi

The Guardian article shares a few of the segments. It’s a powerful poem that builds with significant narrative pace. Alvi’s use of line breaks and the segmentation of the poem is particularly effective in both separating each element and building the tension and momentum.

As for At The Time of Partition, it uses a similar fragmentary approach, as in this sequence which I have taken from the Poem Hunter website – I hope it is OK to reproduce here (I only share poems or significant parts of poems that have previously been shared online).

Take notice of the precise language, imagery and line-breaks. None of this is showy, none of it is overwrought;

Part 4: Ever After 

Ever after 
she heard it as an echo 

in her inner ear, disembodied, 
as, in a sense, all voices are – 

We’ll take him, Shakira.He can travel with us. 

You’ve enough on your hands 
with the other four. 

There are places still 
on the second bus, inshallah! 

At that swollen moment 
there was a shadowy unburdening
because at that time, perhaps 
any child was a burden. 

How she would wish 
as the weeks and the months 

and the lifetimes churned on 
to undo Take him, 

to force back the heavy, rusted 
hands of the clock – 

God’s clock held by God’s hands 
in permanent view. 

Say your goodbyes, ticked the clock. 
No time to lose. 

But who was left for goodbyes – 
her Hindu friends, the friends of friends? 

A stream drying up. 

How to say it? 

It was hard to sit on a cane-seated chair 
on her old verandah and sip tea, 

the conversation curdling 
like milk for the weekly paneer. 

Tomorrow we will be gone. 

The risk of departing 
and the risk of remaining 

weighing much the same. 

Was the worst goodbye to the house? 

The house was her second skin, 
hardier than her first, 

an island in the deafening, tumultuous sea. 

She was married to its daily rhythms – 
the kneading, the sweeping, the praying . . . 

Under duress, 
it was dauntingly calm. 

And Ludhiana itself, the Old City 
and the New – 

the Civil Lines with their flowering trees. 
The Christian Medical Hospital. 

The cloth factories and the temples. 
The neighbourliness of the lanes. Her lanes. 

Bleeding internally, the city 
tried to appear whole 

for a final goodbye – 

as, they would gather and wait 
appear whole 

under Hindu sun and Moslem rain 
Hindu rain and Moslem sun. 

Nothing was wrong with the clock. 
The clock ticked on.

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/from-at-the-time-of-partition-2/

There’s an audio recording also available at the above link.

You can also hear Alvi read her poems here;

https://sounds.bl.uk/Arts-literature-and-performance/Between-two-worlds-poetry-and-translation/024M-C1340X0013XX-0000V0

This is a 48 minute reading, which includes a recital of the first poem I have shared in this post, I would like to be a dot in a painting by Miro.

What more is there to say? This is beautiful written poetry that speaks of fragmentations of society and disparate connections, of loss and despair, but also of redemption, of finding a way. It’s not surprising that both Europa and At the Time of Partition were nominated for the TS Eliot prize.

Both these books are as relevant in subject matter now as they were when they were written, and both repay repeat readings. Highly recommended.

You can buy them direct from the publisher, (Bloodeaxe), or of course from my Poetry Bookshelf at Bookshop.org here: https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/my-poetry-bookshelf

From my Poetry Bookshelf – Peter Reading – Perduta Gente

1989. The year the wall came down. Tiananmen Square. Exxon Valdez. A year bookended by George HW Bush becoming president and Ceausescu being deposed. I remember watching the latter in my grandmother’s house in Portchester Road, as we went there most Christmases. Such. A. Long. Time. Ago. So much has changed. Yet so much hasn’t.

Today’s book from my bookshelf is a case in point. Published in 1989, Peter Reading’s Perduta Gente, with its’ central theme of homelessness is as relevant today as it was then. Perhaps more so, after forty years of the sham of trickle-down economics, and the last ten years of austerity. Even after the magical thinking and ridiculous economic self-harm of Brexit, the UK is still the sixth richest country in the world.

A famous quote from Mahatma Gandhi springs to mind here: ‘the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members’. So how do we stack up here in Britain? How do we treat our destitute, our disabled, our ill? We vote for Boris Johnson. We vote for Boris Johnson. We vote for David Cameron. We vote for the rich getting richer. We vote for those who come down hard on asylum seekers. We vote for those who want to commercialise the NHS, who cut funds for social services, welfare and education. Well enough of us do.

I’m not going to try and understand why people vote the way they do. I’m sure that many who vote Conservative are compassionate, caring and kind individuals. However, as Reading states;

Don’t think it couldn’t be you –
bankrupt, batty, bereft,
huddle of papers and rags in a cardboard
spin-drier carton,
bottle-bank cocktails and Snow soporifics,
meths analgesics,
beg-bucket rattler, no-hope no-homer,
squatter in rat-pits,
busker in underground bogs
(plangent the harp-twang, the Hwaet!
Haggard, the youthful and handsome whom I
loved in my nonage;
vanished, the vigour I valued;
roof-tree and cooking-hearth, sacked).

Bankrupt, batty, bereft –
don’t think it couldn’t be you.

Peter Reading was born in Liverpool in 1946, and was educated at the Liverpool College of Art. After graduating he taught for a few years before obtaining a job as a weighbridge operator at an animal feed mill in Shropshire – where he remained for 22 years until he was sacked for refusing to wear a uniform when a new owner took over. He liked the work because he said that it gave him time to think.

He was a prodigious poet – writing a total of 26 collections. These collections were unusual because they were fashioned more like novels with themes and plots and often featured: characters, newspaper cuttings, letters, found poems, crossings out, different type-faces and pieces of prose. The poems that did appear were often untitled. He once said: ‘The concision of poetry appeals to me, but the novelist’s job – big-scale serious tackling of things, as in Dickens and Smollett – is something I try in a smaller way to get into what I do.’

The above two paragraphs were taken from this biographical post on the Poet’s Graves website.

https://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/reading.html

Perduta Gente is filled with anger, power and compassion. As with his other work, it’s a mix of untitled poems, prose pieces, snippets, collages of newspaper clippings and headlines, and handwritten diary entries;

Or this;

Some of the poems are written in the vernacular of the street, or at least in Reading’s interpretation of it. I think this is a way to try and bring their voices and experiences to life.

gizzera quiddora fiftyfer fuggsay
mistera tellya
tellya da missiziz fugginwell whatnot
fugginwell ampute
afer da nackerup arm

I’m not sure how well they work, compared to some of the others here, but they broaden the scope and language in what is a relatively short collection.

Incidentally there are no page numbers in Perduta Gente. It is a book that is not meant to be read in any particular order. You dip in and out. It is unstructured, rootless, a collision of styles and formatting. Which fits well with the subject matter.

One thing I have tried to do with my weekly blog posts is illustrate the sheer range of poetry available. I know a lot of people who say they don’t ‘get’ poetry, it doesn’t speak to them. My reply is that they just haven’t found the right poet yet. As for Perduta Gente, It’s safe to say that if you are looking for gentle, easy reading, lyrical poetry, then this isn’t the book for you.

Newspaper, wrapped round the torso between the
fourth and fifth jerseys
(night attire proper for doing a skipper in
icy December
under the Festival Hall),
carries a note to the Editor, from ‘Ex-
Soldier’ of Telford,
outlining plans to withdraw
DHSS cash from those
no-fixed-abode parasites.

Wound round a varicose indigo swollen
leg, between second
and third pair of trousers (which stink –
urine and faeces and sick),
Property Pages delineate bijou
River-View Flatlets
£600,000 each.

The house prices may have increased, but so has homelessness. Where is the anger? Why are we so accepting of this?

Perduta Gente is out of print, so if you want a copy you’ll have to pick one up secondhand. You won’t find it on my bookshop.org page.

You can, however, listen to an audio recording of Perduta Gente here;

What do you think? Do you prefer poetry that is less angry, less politicised (in the small ‘p’ sense of the world), and conservative (in the small ‘c’ sense)!. Or should there be more writing like Perduta Gente being published now? How does what you’ve read here compare to the contemporary poetry you see in magazines, online publications and new collections and anthologies?

And for those of us who write poetry. Do we take enough risks with our own writing, with the subject matter, language used or poetic form and structure? What if we don’t want to? Does it actually matter? Can it actually achieve anything? Maybe that’s something for a future post.

The Great Cre8 – Discover Your Passion

I enter very few competitions, but will be entering this one as it’s for a great cause. Any other writers / artists / creative types out there, please consider doing the same, thank you!

The Great Cre8 is an arts competition run by the Society of St James who support those without a home.

Entry fees go directly towards their vital work.

https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/TheGreatCre8

From my Poetry Bookshelf – John Kinsella – Armour

The Australian poet, John Kinsella, has written over thirty books. I only have Armour, which was published in the UK by Picador on 2011. My copy arrived as part of the Poetry Book Society membership I had at the time. The back blurb states that Armour is a beautifully various work, one of sharp ecological and social critique – but also one of meticulous invocation and quiet astonishment, whose atmosphere will haunt the reader long after they close the book.

Many of these poems are of rural Australian life, of man’s interaction with nature. They speak of environmental change, but not in an in-your-face polemical way. The first part of Easterlies, a three poem sequence, reads;

We fear the brouhaha of mood
and tones of inaction, to decamp,
to extract myths from country
and myths hard let go from reading

a vicarious sense of being,
of having come from wherever
myths implant. Dust stings.
We are blinded by howlers.

The long seeding grasses
suddenly dry. Shaken empty.
From whips to whispers. Exhausted.
Freshwater snakes huddling,

desiccated at the riverbed.
Toads, deep buried, vulnerable
to evaporation. Scattering
of salt deposits.

To call upwind
is to singe lips and perish,
no matter how loving
your speech:

we must hope,
fire-risk, a cold lunch
read on the table.
Grit in our mouths. Fire.

When writing about nature, Kinsella often uses scientific terms – as an example, Owl, which as with the excerpt above comes from Armour ;

Owl

Massive owl in redgum surprised
in heavy moonlight by my passing:
a barn or boobook, quite different
though even a grey-white glow
could not illuminate identity.

So I went back to the place today;
a thin dead branch, not much more than a twig,
that took your eerie weight, phantom bird.
And below, an answer. A component
of the algorithm: a freshly dug mousehole.

A vengeful or indifferent or hungry bird
perched in calculation? Whatever the answer,
I went again tonight to see if your hunting
took you there: opportunistic or logical.
And clouds sweeping over the harsh moon,

what weight their stains would bear.
But you were not there; and why should you be?
It’s spring and the mice are opening gateways
everywhere: a vast burrowing and surfacing,
the small weight of their bodies adding up.

I found a critique of the language online – you can read it here;

I can see where the writer is coming from, but my take is slightly different – I suspect that this is partially about a conscious rejection of anthropromorphic language, and about trying to root the poetry into something more solid, more calculated, a different kind of real. Having said this, some of these lines do jump out -‘A component of the algorithm’ , ‘perched in calculation’ , ‘opportunistic or logical’. But maybe that’s the point?

There are poems of family – such as Yellow , a brilliant poem that starts off with his son coming home from school angry because he has been put into ‘Yellow Faction’ that catches alight in a completely different direction (you’ll have to buy the book to find out!), and three poems about different kinds of armour – a knight’s suit, a metal horse, and Durer’s drawing of a Rhinoceros.

There is also an Elegy for Dave McComb, the singer of Perth-based band The Triffids, who died far too young (aged 36). The Triffids were a highly regarded band that failed to get the breakthrough they deserved. McComb’s writing often encapsulated the space and dust of Western Australia, particularly in Born Sandy Devotional, probably their best album, although Calenture runs it close.

Anyway, I digress. an Elegy ends with the following four stanzas;

Staving off inevitables,
we watch from ashen tables,
sing higher than Norfolk pines,
this gifting us, this turning

inside out, an aubade
to sunset, horizon’s loud
cicatrice, as soothing as a road
torn wide open:

travel jars the mind
and that’s the sign
of the times, the crowd
standing still in flight,

to look out on morning:
good morning, good morning:
and I am reminded
how to know, to listen.

Within this poem there are references to McComb’s music, which you would not get unless you were a fan of The Triffids, the Black-eyed Susans or McComb’s later solo work. I’m sure there are plenty of other references in other poems that I haven’t picked up on – including those where scientific language has been used, as a counterpoint to the comments by Charles Whalley in the post I shared earlier.

As for why I pick up this book fairly often? I took Armour on a family holiday to France. I was going through a pretty challenging time, but whenever I sat down with it I was transported to another place on the other side of the world, that I have never visited, and probably never now will. Perhaps that’s why I keep going back to it.

I didn’t manage to travel as much as I wanted to when I was younger, getting caught up in work, a career and everything else that goes around it. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always been a sucker for poetry, and music, that evokes a certain place.

You can find Armour at Bookshop.org – it’s on my poetry bookshelf with other books I rate, including some previously written about and others that I have yet to comment on.

https://uk.bookshop.org/shop/richardwilliamspoetry

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. Any comments appreciated!

I’ll finish, why not, with a link to one of The Triffid’s best songs;

Saying Goodbye to the Wild Geese

I’m lucky to live within a five minute cycle to the sea. Living in Portsmouth, it doesn’t matter where you are, you are always within a 5 to ten minute bike ride from salt water. It’s one of the benefits of living on Portsea Island, along with the lack of hills.

With the sea comes wildlife that you wouldn’t otherwise expect from the most densely populated city in the UK. Families of seals. The occasional porpoise. A wide range of seabirds, including some that are very rare elsewhere.

If you are out on the South Hampshire coast between October and March you are likely to encounter flocks of Brent Geese. They’ve gone now, back to their summer grounds in the tundra of northern Siberia. With such a long migration, this small (Britain’s smallest) and rather unassuming goose is perhaps the most remarkable we have in the UK.

Their feeding grounds here are under significant pressure – here in Portsmouth from the ridiculous decision to allow a company to lay an energy pipeline right through an important wildlife area, to other plans to build housing on wasteland to the west of the island.

I’ve been in touch with my local councillor on the latter matter – his response was actually very good – full of detail as to the realities of the situation faced by Portsmouth City Council. The financial penalties that local governments get for non fulfilment of central government set housing targets are severe. So what does a cash-strapped council do in such circumstances? What really can they do?

Meanwhile, our Prime Minister pontificates on Earth Day. I couldn’t be bothered to watch his speech. This is the man who wanted to destroy green space and mature trees for a vanity-project garden bridge. Whilst this was just a local planning issue it shows where his priorities lie. There are plenty of other examples of his hypocrisy and contempt for the environment. The man is an utter disgrace.

But we carry on. We carry on hoping, that despite the negligence, corruption and greed around the world, that things will change, that there still is time.

I think there is, just.

I’ll finish this post with a poem that first appeared on the One Hand Clapping website last October. Take care everyone, and good luck.

Reclaiming

This runt-scrap of land.
This pith of earth.
Half-soil,
half-salt,
all howling sky.
For now this silt’s still ours.

A concrete sea wall;
impervious,
half-toil,
half-hope.
Already dissolved
in the future’s slewing surge.

Today the light is fragile blue,
foreground a smear of sea.
Brent geese flying in
from what remains of the Arctic.
Where do we go from here?

From my Poetry Bookshelf – The Oxford Shakespeare Complete Sonnets and Poems

Anyone reading these poetry bookshelf posts will have seen that I haven’t, as yet, written much about any of the canonical poets, those who everyone says are the best, the most important, those you must read to get a proper understanding of poetry.

The truth is I’m a little intimidated about doing so. I know that it will expose my lack of reading, my lack of education (I only took English to O Level at school – as part of a misguided career plan to become a surveyor). I have therefore, never properly studied literature, and so have huge gaps in my literary knowledge.

I could, in theory, study for a masters degree, since I eventually got a BA in Humanities, focussing on History or Geography, but due to government funding cuts for higher education that avenue is no longer open to me. I don’t have a spare £10K lying around that I could use for this purpose.

Whilst it’s not a huge issue for me personally, it’s worth thinking about all those other people whose life choices have been shrunk because of this. Not just in literature, but in music, theatre, art. The last ten years of Conservative Party led austerity has been at the expense of the opportunities for so many people to learn new skills, to open their minds to different ideas and experiences, whether for career or pleasure. But we all know that by now.

As an aside, I have to assume that anyone who votes Conservative is perfectly happy with this, as they no doubt must be with austerity policies in general. Still at least the national debt has been reduced significantly since 2010 (allowing for Covid of course). Oh wait.

Anyway, enough of the rant. Back to Shakespeare. I bought this book because I am reading at an event celebrating his birthday next week, and I wanted to choose a suitable poem or sonnet. Apart from the really obvious ones, (Sonnet 18 for example) , I haven’t actually read many of them.

Are they all equally brilliant? Clearly not. But how do we judge what is, and what isn’t good? How much of our assessment is based on our own prejudices, and our own reactions to the previous assessments and criticisms of others? There’s an interesting article on the Poetry International blog which goes into this – it’s about the apparently much unloved Sonnet 145. You can read it here.

I’ve chosen Sonnet 50;

How heavy do I journey on the way,
When what I seek (my weary travel’s end)
Doth teach that ease and that repose to say
“Thus far the miles are measured from thy friend.”
The beast that bears me, tired with my woe,
Plods dully on, to bear that weight in me,
As if by some instinct the wretch did know
His rider loved not speed being made from thee.
The bloody spur cannot provoke him on
That sometimes anger thrusts into his hide,
Which heavily he answers with a groan
More sharp to me than spurring to his side,
For that same groan doth put this in my mind:
My grief lies onward, and my joy behind.

I picked this sonnet because of my own ambivalence towards Shakespeare whilst growing up – we were taken to see some of the plays from quite a young age, usually RSC productions, either at Stratford or the Barbican. I can’t remember much about the ones I saw, though I’m sure this has no reflection on their quality. But I associated going to the theatre with the disintegration of my parents’ marriage. Looking back I’m pretty convinced that it was subconsciously also the reason I chose to take A level Maths , (which I failed), instead of English.

A good few years ago I wrote a haiku which appeared in Orbis Magazine;

On being taken to watch Akira Kurosawa’s version of Macbeth for my twelfth birthday when all I wanted to do was go to the football

deceit and hubris
lead to lengthening speeches
everybody dies

Obviously the whole poem is a joke – haiku’s don’t have titles and my parents never took me to see Macbeth, nor any Japanese film versions of it, but there are undercurrents of truth – about family break-ups, about how we are sometimes blindsided by our own interests and passions to what others want, and how we can over promote something to the point that it can have the opposite effect on those we are trying to share it with.

I suspect this is why my wife doesn’t appreciate Portsmouth FC, Tangerine Dream’s challenging early 70s music, or for that matter the complete back catalogue of Black Sabbath. Though as I sit here listening to Iron Man on this sunny spring morning, I do believe there is still time for her to change her mind.

I think this may well be the first poetry blog post about Shakespeare that also references Black Sabbath. If you know of any others please do let me know!

As it happens I found my own way back to Shakespeare through Akira Kurosawa. I saw the incredible Ran, (his version of King Lear), at a near-empty cinema in the West End of London shortly after it came out. It’s a mind-blowing film that is really worth watching on the big screen if you ever get the chance. There’s a good review in the Guardian of the 4K restoration that came out in 2016. It’s one of my favourite films.

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/mar/28/akira-kurosawa-king-lear-story-ran-4k-restoration

And here’s the official trailer for the film;

Anyway, back to Shakespeare. Sonnet 50 is one of a pair. Sonnet 51 reads as follows;

Thus can my love excuse the slow offence
Of my dull bearer, when from thee I speed:
‘From where thou art, why should I haste me thence?
Till I return, of posting is no need.’
O what excuse will my poor beast then find
When swift extremity can seem but slow?
Then should I spur, though mounted on the wind:
In winged speed no motion shall I know.
Then can no horse with my desire keep pace;
Therefore desire (of perfect’st love being made)
Shall weigh no dull flesh in his fiery race,
But love, for love, thus shall excuse my jade:
‘Since from thee going he went wilful slow,
Towards thee I’ll run and give him leave to go.’

Obviously both poems are about leaving and returning to a lover, but there’s much more to them than that. You can read far more detailed analyses of these poems elsewhere – far more detailed than you are going to get from my ramblings at any point!

The Oxford Shakespeare The Complete Sonnets and Poems does have notes on each sonnet, helpfully shown on the page opposite that of the sonnet itself, along with a 158 page introduction, so this may be all you need, but if you are after something shorter, about say a particular sonnet, then there are plenty available online.

As a starting point should you be interested in finding out more, here are a couple of short ones for each sonnet. There may well be better analyses out there, but these also give suggestions for further reading.

I have come to appreciate Shakespeare’s work far more than I did when I was younger. Maybe I just needed time, to go on my own journey. What about you? As for the sonnets themselves, what do you think of them? Do you have a favourite? I’m still reading through them so any suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Please let me know in the comments.

Actually the same applies to Black Sabbath, Tangerine Dream and the films of Akira Kurosawa. We are all still learning, there’s always something new to see, to listen to, something we have somehow missed. Last week I listened to Tangerine Dream’s Atem, which is a sonic exploration of the history of the Earth in reverse. It’s the album before their most well-known work – Phaedra – and so despite being championed by John Peel on it’s release in 1973, tends to be ignored today. I thought it was brilliant.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this rambling blog post. Most of the books mentioned in My Poetry Bookshelf are available on Bookshop.org – I have a page where they are all saved. If you do buy anything from this page then I’ll make a small amount of commission from each purchase, which goes towards the running costs of this blog. Last time I checked I had made £6.30 in total, so it’s hardly making me rich, but it all helps!

https://uk.bookshop.org/lists/my-poetry-bookshelf

The Poetry Place

The next edition of The Poetry Place includes a recording of me reading my poem Pieces with accompanying music by award-winning and hugely talented composer Crispin Ward

It is being aired on West Wilts Radio . The show features readings by Nichola Deane and Charles Lauder Jr. who will bring Sherlock Holmes, Lorca, Einstein and, possibly, proof of a parallel universe into your afternoon at 3pm on Sunday April 24th – their new, regular time. Charles, who Pam Thompson says ‘is not afraid to delve beneath the surface of white masculinites, unearthing violence and toughness but vulnerability and tenderness also…’, and Nichola, who Katharine Towers says offers us ‘poems of darkness and delight – alive to sensation and feeling, and open to the urgency of beauty’, will be joined by an eclectic gathering of open mic-ers: Rosie Jackson, Pey Oh, Moira Andrew, Pratibha Veronica Castle, Ray Fussell, Eileen Anne Gordon,June Wentland, and myself

You can listen to the Poetry Place online at https://westwiltsradio.com/ on the day, or catch up from the following day at https://westwiltsradio.com/shows/the-poetry-place/ – and listen to a range of back episodes any Sunday, ‘live’, at 3pm.