Monthly Archives: November 2012

Lilith

I have written before about poems originating from a resonant phrase that I will have come across, perhaps, by accident.  In the case of my poem “Lilith”, all I can say is that I woke up one morning with the phrase “she wore a gown of night” buzzing around in my head.  I have no idea whether the phrase occurred in some strange dream I might have had, or if it had just swum up, unbidden, from the depths of my unconscious mind.  I suspected that I might have seen or heard the phrase in a book or song somewhere, but when I “googled” it, the results were completely negative.

As soon as I started trying to write a poem using the phrase, all sorts of images of “demon-lovers” and “succubi” suggested themselves.  This came as a bit of a surprise to me, as I am no great fan of horror or fantasy fiction.  Nevertheless, the stream of imagery was so rich that I ended up writing not just one, but two completely different poems about the subject of “succubi”.  I might discuss the other poem – “Succubus” – at a later time, but it is “Lilith” that contains the phrase that kick-started the whole idea for me.

Lilith:

Her eyes were dark, her feet were bare,
she wore a gown of night.
Two ravens, hovering above,
obscured the lunar light.

She moved towards him soundlessly,
gliding through the air;
gentle breezes flickering,
tousling lustrous hair.

He could not meet her gaze; hopeless was the fight.
Timorous, enfeebled at this spectral sight,
he froze in place, his scattered senses
roaming where they might.

Her mantle closed around him,
infusing scent of wormwood.
Moths, fluttering from her mouth,
first chilled, then stilled his blood.

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Tobacconist’s Shops

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the decline of the local butcher’s shop. Tobacconist’s shops are in a similar decline – due, of course, to the fact that smoking is, seemingly, in its death-throes. I was looking in the window of one of the few surviving tobacconist’s shops recently, and the rather bizarre assortment of objects I saw there inspired the following poem.

It was only after I’d completed the poem that I started asking myself whether it could be described as a sonnet. It gives the appearance of being one, at first glance, as it’s composed of 14 lines of (mainly) rhyming verse. I was fairly sure, however, that it didn’t fulfill all the technical requirements of a sonnet, and a consultation of The Oxford Companion to English Literature confirmed it. A sonnet is defined as “a poem consisting of 14 lines of 10 syllables, with rhymes arranged according to certain definite schemes, of which the Petrarchan and the Elizabethan are the principal”. In my poem, while most of the lines converge around 10 syllables, only 5 of them are exactly 10 syllables; and my rhyme schemes do not conform to either the Petrarchan or the Elizabethan models. So my poem could be best described as an “approximate sonnet”, or “almost a sonnet”. These technical definitions are a matter of no consequence for me, in any case. As long as the poem expresses my thoughts and feelings in a harmonious way, then I’m happy!

TOBACCONIST’S SHOPS:

Solitary survivors, tucked away,
inconspicuous, in ageing arcades.
Surreal range of devices on display:
pipe-cleaners, grinders, rollers, “Rizlas”,
“Zippos”, lighters, in glinting array.
Memories of “Gauloise” and “Gitane”;
erotic cachet of French “chic”.
Pungent as garlic; harsh, acrid reek.
“Park Drive”, “Consulate”, “Embassy”, “Pall Mall”.
Moody B-Movies; Bogart and Bacall.
A spurious concoction, it all now seems.
Ersatz glamour; celluloid dreams.
A notice is hidden, behind rollers and mills.
Its bleak declamation: SMOKING KILLS.

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Down at the Bus Station

Like most people enthusiastic about writing poetry, I suppose, I spend a lot of time pondering on what to write about next.  Long stretches of time go by when no subjects seem to suggest themselves, and I start desperately hoping for “my muse” to come into action.  Occasionally, however, I undergo an experience that simply demands to be written about, and “Down at the Bus Station” was generated by one of those experiences.

All my working life I had problems simply getting to work and back every day.  These problems were largely self-inflicted, due to the fact that I – stupidly – never learned to drive, and could never seem to find work anywhere near to where I lived.  The very worst time happened, a few years ago, when the only way I could get to work was by getting up at 4.30 a.m. and walking a mile to the bus station to catch the six o’clock bus.  An hour-long journey on the bus was followed by a further twenty minute walk, before I finally arrived at work.  This routine was repeated, morning and evening, five days a week, during a freezing-cold winter.  The poem is, basically, a heartfelt lament that virtually wrote itself one of those bleak, wintry mornings, as I stood waiting for the bus in a virtually deserted bus station.

Down at the Bus Station:

It’s cold; so cold.  Black as the Ace of Spades.
I’m miserable as sin; in a pit of Hades.
Bereft of hope, shivering, yawning.
Down at the bus station; six in the morning.

The journey to work; a torment, a trial.
Time eked out, so slowly, mile after mile.
A daily dilemma; a journey too far.
I should have learned how to drive a car.
But there is no option; no other resort.
I must rely, for my sins, on public transport.

A small café-bar emits a dingy light.
Like all else here, an unappealing sight.
The woman there laughs; a hoarse, rasping sound.
My spirits sink further; seep into the ground.

Population sparse; a total of three.
Woman at café, a down and out, and me.
The tramp has a shaggy beard, greasy, matted hair.
His eyes roll and fix me with an insane glare.
Stillness, silence; who knows what happens next?
We are all figures in a Samuel Beckett text.

The hand you are given; the cards you play.
The forces that steer you, or stand in your way.
I fought my corner; I had my say.
I still ended up where I am, today.
Stripped of illusion; resigned to my fate.
My daily journey to a job I hate.
Bereft of hope; shivering, yawning.
Down at the bus station; six in the morning.

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The Local Butcher’s Shop

A few years ago, I came across the poem “The Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford” by British poet James Fenton (b. 1949).  I was amused by the way the poem begins:

The Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford

Is shut
22 hours a day and all day Sunday

It was the first time I had seen a poem where the title is used, in effect, as the first line.  I thought it a clever idea, and stored it mentally for possible use in my own poetry.  Some time later, I was walking past a local butcher’s shop which happened to be closing-down.  There was a notice in the window, announcing the intention to close.  As I stood there, reading the notice, I had the idea for a poem, and realised I could use the same device as Fenton had used in his poem about The Pitt-Rivers Museum.

The Local Butcher’s Shop:

. . . has ceased trading.  Ken and Karen
Would like to thank our faithful customers,
whose loyalty, over the years,
has warmed our hearts; moved us to tears.

We’ve come a long way, since first opening our doors.
Those days of blood, dripping onto sawdust floors.
We’ve lived through some good times, despite the lies
of those jealous of our prize-winning pork pies.

Butchery is, sadly, a dying trade;
not one in which a profit can still be made.
There are, these days, depressingly few
who need ingredients for a proper oxtail stew.

The very notion of succulent sweetbreads
doesn’t even enter people’s heads.
Little call, now, for dishes of sheep’s brains;
no wonder our business has been on the wane.

Needing some restful years, before we die,
we’re getting out now; our heads held high.
Independence still runs, freely, in our veins.
We could never cow-tow to those supermarket chains!

 

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Humorous Poetry

I am currently reading an anthology of humorous poems – “The Funny Side – 101 Humorous Poems” – edited by Wendy Cope.  I first came across Wendy Cope when a friend gave me a copy of her first collection of poems “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis” as a birthday present.  It was a good introduction to her work; a mixture of parodies, literary jokes, lyrics and love poems, described in the blurb as “Candid, sometimes erotic, and very funny indeed”.  I’ve been a fan of her poetry ever since.  The poem that forms the title of the collection – “Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis” – doesn’t appear until the final page, and is a fitting coda:

It was a dream I had last week
And some kind of record seemed vital.
I knew it wouldn’t be much of a poem
But I loved the title.

In her introduction to “The Funny Side”, she writes about how genuinely funny poems “. . . can be enormously helpful at some of the darkest moments of one’s life.  Funny writing – not just in poems but in novels, articles and television and radio programmes – has saved my sanity on many occasions.  I am at a loss to understand why it is considered less important than unfunny writing.”  I completely agree.

It could be argued that my poem “Door-Slammers” is not exactly “humorous”, in that it doesn’t cause the reader to burst out into uncontrollable laughter.  Nevertheless, it was intended to be a wry and (hopefully) witty response to the annoying situation I found myself in at the time.  It definitely has the feeling of a limerick in its rhythm.

Door-Slammers:

I have door-slammers living next door,
with an incessantly-screaming baby.
The walls are thin; so is my skin.
I feel I’m slowly going crazy.

We are situated on the first floor,
so wretched is my fate;
for we share the same front door
– no wonder they incur my hate.

“SLAM!” goes their flat door;
rapid flurry of feet on stair.
“SLAM!” more loudly, the front door;
leaves me quivering in my chair.

So often this is repeated
in the course of a normal day.
What can I do to prevent it?
Cajole them?  Wheedle?  Pray?

I speculate upon these door-slammers.
Their motives now become clear.
They slam doors, they also smoke.
They live, in a way, without fear.

“I am here!” – “SLAM!” – “I am gone!”
“SLAM!” – “I am here again!”
Intensity of life is what matters.
Sheer duration, to them, just a pain.

Dramatic exits and entrances;
they light up, then snuff out.
Their lives punctuated by this;
no timidity, caution, doubt.

They don’t care how long the doors last.
They don’t want to live forever.
They don’t think about the poor neighbour,
who’s reaching the end of his tether.

All I hope is they finally feel
some stirring of decent humanity.
This slamming of doors has to cease,
for the sake of my nerves, and my sanity!

 

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