Monthly Archives: August 2012

Blind Asian Woman

This is a poem simply describing a woman I occasionally see, when I’m walking around my local neighbourhood.  I’ve always been impressed, and slightly awed, by blind people.  I admire the courage and fortitude involved in making your way around, in a world of darkness, aided only by a white stick or a guide-dog.

Blind Asian Woman:

Stocky figure, in yellow and red,
sturdily stepping her way.
Guide dog beside her, by which she is led
on each indomitable foray.

I watch; my admiration immense.
I follow her along the lane.
I speculate, my curiosity intense;
questions resound in my brain.

Where is she going?  Where does she live?
How does she do it?  Can she forgive?
Is blindness bred into her bone?
Darkness all she has ever known?

On her left flank, her dog.
On her right, her white cane.
On her back, a bulky rucksack.
She resembles a pilgrim.
Through dry spells, through rain,
she journeys, she travels,
she comes back.

Exotic figure, in grey, British climes.
Shining example, all places, all times.
Her determined stride; her dog’s padding pace.
Facing the darkness with pride, with grace.

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Irish Stout

I was about 14 or 15 years old, browsing in my local public library, when I first came across the work of Samuel Beckett.  Calder and Boyars, the publishers, had brought out a uniform edition of his novels, following his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  The books all featured a striking portrait photograph of Beckett on the cover, and I was captivated by it.  Who was this man?  I immediately wanted to know more about him.

I must admit I didn’t make much headway, initially, with his late trilogy of novels, but found his earlier work, like “More Pricks than Kicks” and “Murphy” more accessible.  More than that, they were actually funny!  Here was a man with a tragic vision of life, writing about the absurdity of existence – and yet expressing it as a comedy that was simultaneously grim and heroic.  Flann O’Brien was having a surge of popularity at about the same time, and I began to identify the type of humour used by both these writers – absurd, stoical, zany, yet heroic – as being particularly “Irish”.  I discovered that both Beckett and Flann O’Brien idolised James Joyce, and it was through that discovery that I first encountered the wonderful stories of “Dubliners” and the even more wonderful world of “Ulysses”.

My poem “Irish Stout” was inspired by the simple (yet complex!) experience of drinking a can of Murphy’s Stout.  The last couple of lines might perplex readers, but any fan of Flann O’Brien will recognise the line from O’Brien’s comic masterpiece “At Swim Two Birds”.

Irish Stout:

IRISH Stout’, the can proclaims,
ushering presences, illustrious names:
O’Brien, Behan, Beckett, Joyce . . .
Prodigies of prosody, vibrant of voice.

Poured into glass, blackness pervades,
biding its time, as whiteness cascades.
In tenebrous torrents, surging flow,
climactic currents of chiaroscuro,
shapes can be seen; their beckoning shades.

You drink in the darkness, in your dream,
sipping and surfing the endless stream.
You invoke the spirits, hear echoing calls;
see candle-lit shadows dance on the walls.
From disordered whispers and mutterings, you scan:
‘A pint of plain is your only man!’

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The Reader

My poem “The Reader” can be seen as a sequel to the “Early Reader” poem that featured in my previous post.  It is a vision of what could happen to the “early reader” in later life, if he continues his excessive, obsessive reading to the extent that he excludes everything else from his life.  I must stress that this situation could only come about if the individual concerned was a particularly negative, passive character with an indolent, lethargic disposition.  The poem is not meant to be an attack on reading itself, which I see as fundamentally a wonderful, life-enhancing activity.

The Reader:

I am a reader.  I live alone.
No close friends impinge;
I rarely use a ‘phone.
Solitary existence; I don’t have a wife.
Only characters, in books;
I live a vicarious life.

Vicarious dangers, vicarious risks,
vicarious relationships, vicarious trips.
It’s much safer, this way;
no major hazards, or strife.
They don’t come into play;
I live a vicarious life.

Something went wrong, you see.
I cannot tell a lie.
Something went wrong, with me;
I don’t know when, or why.
Friends plunged into life, pell-mell,
where risks and dilemmas are rife.
I just retreated, into my shell;
I live a vicarious life.

And yet I’m happy, in my way;
strange though it may seem.
For my life changes, every day,
in reveries, thoughts and dreams.
Others embrace a life of chance;
fortunes on the edge of a knife.
I must decline the offer to dance;
I live a vicarious life.

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Early Reader

I am the last person to launch a critical attack upon the value of reading as a cultural activity.  Reading has played a vitally important part in my life.  I was fortunate enough to acquire reading and literacy skills at an early age, and this, in itself, gave me a sense of self-confidence.  I can still remember the pride and self-importance I felt as a young child, reading aloud to the visibly impressed members of my family.  When I first started visiting the Children’s Section of the local Public Library, I could hardly contain my delight at the new worlds of wonder that were opened to me.  Ever since, reading has constantly been my main leisure activity, and, like most life-long enthusiastic readers, I could talk endlessly about the pivotal importance of “The Books in my Life”.

How, then, to explain the fact that my poem “Early Reader” seems to be a virulent attack upon reading; apparently proclaiming it to be an evil, life-negating force?  I can only defend myself by arguing that the poem is not an attack upon the activity of reading in itself; it is actually warning of the dangerous effects excessive reading can have on those of an indolent, lethargic disposition.  I must admit that there have been times when I have allowed books to so dominate my life that  – in the periods between finishing one book that has obsessed me and starting another – I have felt rudderless, adrift in a meaningless universe.  There have also been countless times when I have, lazily, opted to stay at home, curled up with “a good book”, instead of going out and engaging with the world.  I think what I am trying to say, in other words, is that reading is, essentially, a life-enhancing activity that can be life-changing – but not if one is only willing to spend the rest of one’s life in the comfort of one’s armchair!

Early Reader:

I was an early reader;
soon found my drug of choice.
From the Children’s Public Library
came a deadly, beckoning voice.
The cat detective Mr Twink,
Just William, Treasure Island.
So many more, I couldn’t think
of anything more enthralling
than just this, sitting, reading.
It seemed a lofty calling.

I was not aware of danger;
but then, how could I be?
I sat, entranced, as in a dream,
letting the stories thrill me.
In fact, I was entrapped.
I was no longer free.
My puny self was emptying,
as characters, stories filled me.

Once it was a Heaven,
now I see it is a Hell.
Sitting, reading, emptying;
the story fills my empty shell.
My inert inner self,
now constantly keening:
Come along!  Come into me!
Fill me up – with meaning!

 

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