Tag Archives: Bathtime

Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Teddy Bears’ Picnic

Raggle-taggle music,
straight from a funfair,
roller-coasters in,
as you mope in your lair,
sullenly grooming your
existential despair.

You look out the window:
a shabby white van,
Mr. Softee, the ice-cream man,
Orange Maids, Mivvis,
Strawberry Splits.
Your childhood comes back;
the rough magic of it.
Noddy and Big Ears, Rupert Bear,
Nutwood, the animals living there.

Your sins, deceits,
little white lies,
all swallowed up
By a huge pair of eyes,
silver coins held
in small, grubby hands,
the wonder of
those fairytale lands.
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five,
perhaps, after all,
it is good to be alive.

It smashes into
your self-imposed shell,
frees you from the stress
of your personal Hell,
for you know it betokens
that all will be well,
and all shall be well,
and all manner of things
shall be well.

Long-time followers of this blog will be aware of the fact that I frequently get ideas for poems whilst relaxing in a warm bath, browsing through anthologies of poetry.  I was engaged in this activity recently, when the joyful sound of an ice-cream van suddenly intruded into my musings, and immediately provided the inspiration for the above poem.  Please excuse the fact that the last three lines are a blatant borrowing from Julian of Norwich’s “Sixteen Revelations of Divine Love”.  I have always loved those lines, and have finally found an appropriate place to quote them; besides, T.S.Eliot quoted them in “Little Gidding”, and if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for me!

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Quantum Poet

 

 

QUANTUM POET:

Schrodinger’s Cat is alive and dead;
it’s all a matter of superposition.
Quantum computers now exist,
utilising this transition.

He reads the great verses in the bath.
He reads one poem; it makes perfect sense.
He reads another; it makes no sense.
Then there are some that are in between;
that shift and blur their meanings,
mutate, even as he’s reading.

It’s not a question of right or wrong;
some poems will make sense, ere long.
He thinks, again, of superposition;
a quantum poet could sing this transition.

It’s a binary world: the weak, the strong.
Binary opposites: the right, the wrong.
Binary opposites: the generous, the mean.
But don’t forget the ones in between.
Don’t forget the constant transition;
necessary for the superposition.

Constant flux; Heraclitus was not wrong.
The binary opposites switch off and on.
The world keeps singing its binary song.

I’ve read quite a lot about “Quantum Computers” recently.  Apparently they exist more in theory than practice at the moment, but if and when they come into being they would revolutionise computing as we know it.  I read about how they are based upon “superposition” of atomic particles, and the almost infinite options that arise from the seething flux of colliding particles; whereas conventional computers are limited to binary digits.  I started to think about the notion of quantum poetry: if quantum computers could be developed, shouldn’t there be “quantum poets”, who could give meaning to the myriad possibilities of quantum collisions?

I struggled for quite a while, wondering how to write a poem about this, but the well-known story of Schrodinger’s Cat proved to be a breakthrough into how to start the poem.  I then realised that the images of constant flux – anticipated by the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus – could be applied to virtually anything; even my habit of reading poetry in the bath!

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Sneeze

 

 

 

SNEEZE:

My father’s sneeze always came in threes;
a series of escalating, shattering explosions.
We would watch the spectacle,
our amusement tinged with awed reverence.
The very air in the living-room retreated,
quailing from its impact. Our eardrums
reverberated from its echoes.
After the climax, he would look around,
skin flushed with a roseate glow,
eyes gleaming with exultation,
and release a laugh of sheer merriment.
The pleasure he felt from his prowess;
the thrill of its purifying power.

As I approach the age he was then,
I realize he must have appreciated it
as one of the dwindling catalogue
of pure pleasures, granted us
by our ageing bodies:
the simple grace of
a perfect bowel motion;
the cleansing burp,
lifting the heart;
the thunderous, brute
exhilaration of the fart;
the rare, yet still salvatory
spasm that signals
the (inevitably)
onanistic orgasm.

I sneezed while I was relaxing in the bath, the other day.  A sneeze is one of those mundane, everyday occurrences that you wouldn’t normally think about as a subject for a poem, but followers of this blog will be familiar with my habit of reading anthologies of verse in the bath, so bath-time, for me, has an automatic association with poetry.  Immediately after the sneeze, I began thinking about the curious nature of the event, and how everyone sneezes in their own, idiosyncratic manner.  When I sneeze, it is invariably a double event – the first sneeze followed immediately by a slightly louder explosion.  I remembered how spectacular my father’s sneezing had been, and realized that the sneeze could, after all, be the material for a poem.

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Yet More Bath Time Reading

THE GREAT VERSES (8):

He reads the great verses in the bath;
his relaxing mind absorbent, he hopes,
as the sponge, nestling next to his soap.

T.S.Eliot: Little Gidding, The Wasteland;
another heroic effort to understand.
He gets glimpses, at times; signals, from afar.
Chinks of light glimmer, from a distant star.

It seems to make sense; meaning coheres;
bubbles in his bath foam swell, become spheres.
But, just moments later, it is as he feared:
sense now non-sense, bubbles disappeared.

The water turns chillier; more time passes.
Words fade and blur; he should wear his new glasses.
No good, he can’t grasp it.  Frustrated, he sighs.
Why deceive himself, believe his own lies.
He must grasp some of it, before he dies!
But his brain now less pliant; he’s getting too old.
(“Too old. . . too old. . . trouser-bottoms rolled. . . “)
Mind rambling now, focus difficult to hold.
He clambers out, slowly, shivering, cold.

I thought I had done with the subject of my habitual reading anthologies of verse in the bath, but, it turns out, the subject has not done with me!  T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” and “The Wasteland” are poems that have often enticed me and then frustrated me with their opaque imagery.  It was while I was making yet another attempt at the “Four Quartets” recently that the entity I like to think of as “my muse” stirred into life, and I thought: ok, I’m struggling to understand this, but I can at least try to write a poem about my struggles to understand these undoubted masterpieces. 

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Bath Time Reading – Again

 

YOU READ THE GREAT VERSES:

You read the great verses, in the bath;
an improving way to sustain a soak.
Two wonderful poems by Philip Levine.*
How does he do it? So much emotion,
profundity, in such plain, simple lines?
He writes about his sister, his brother.
You’d love to write about your brother:
how he looked after your mother
for all those years, while you frittered away
your life, dreaming of writing masterpieces.
How she died, and left a void, into which
he fell.  How he is still bravely clambering
out of it.  But how can you write about him,
while he’s alive?  And he’s several years
younger than you. . .
You’d love to write about your sole
surviving uncle.  Just how and why
he is The Most Irritating Man in The World.
The eccentricities, peculiarities;
the leech-like existence.  But how can you
write about him, while he’s alive?  He’s well
into his eighties, but you just know he’ll
outlive you, out of sheer, malign perversity. . .
So, here you are, the first weeks of January;
a new year beginning.  Here you are,
still frittering your life away, dreaming
of writing like Philip Levine.  Yes, here you are:
a man who writes poems about
a man who reads poems, in the bath.

 

  • * “Listen Carefully” and “What Work Is” by Philip Levine.

Followers of this blog will be familiar with my habit of reading anthologies of poetry whilst relaxing in a warm bath.  They will also be aware of how this led to me writing a sequence of seven poems, all entitled “The Great Verses”.  Although the sequence could have continued indefinitely, I decided to bring it to an end, towards the end of last year.  “You Read The Great Verses” is a new poem, intended to stand alone, although it obviously has a tangential relationship to the sequence of seven poems.  It is partly a tribute to the American poet Philip Levine, and fans of his work may notice a similarity of style.  This is deliberate, on my part, reflecting the fact that the man in the poem is “. . . dreaming of writing like Philip Levine”.

 

 

 

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Bathtime Reading (7)

THE GREAT VERSES (7):

He reads the great verses, in the bath.
The lines, the words, that delight and inspire,
may ignite – who knows? – creative fire.

Images in Edwin Morgan’s “Trio”
effervesce, instil a sparkling brio.
Buchanan Street, the trio, Christmas lights.
Clarity of vision; piercing insight.

Bubbles of thought rise and soar in his mind.
He must catch them, or they may float away;
capture them, store them, for fresh light of day.

A line of verse comes to him, full-blown;
a line of verse hitherto unknown.
First line, perhaps, for a poem of his own?
He holds it in mind; sure he’s on the right path:
“He reads the great verses, in the bath . . .”

“He reads the great verses, in the bath.” turned out to be the line I would use as the first line of a sequence of seven poems.  All were entitled “The Great Verses”, and all were inspired by my habit of reading anthologies of poetry whilst relaxing in a warm bath.  I would often refer to the actual poems I was reading at the time – in the one above, for example, it was Edwin Morgan’s poem “Trio” – and sometimes I took the liberty of quoting lines from the poems I was reading.  I finally decided the sequence would have to come to an end – although I was tempted to continue it indefinitely – and “The Great Verses (7)” is the only way I could think of finishing it.  I still continue to read anthologies of poems in the bath, though; bath time just wouldn’t be the same without it. 

 

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Bathtime Reading (5)

THE GREAT VERSES (5):

He reads the great verses, in the bath.
His body unwinds, thoughts fill his mind.

Denise Levertov savours plum and quince;*
tells of tasting, living, in “O Taste and See”.
Peach blossoms intoxicate Li-Young Lee.*

Oh yes, he thinks, catch sensation on the wing.
Transfix it, preserve it, ever-anew;
that’s what he must try; what a poet should do.

He reads on; dogged, ageing, unafraid.
The fragrance of his bath foam disperses and fades . . .

 

*Denise Levertov: “O Taste and See”
*Li-Young Lee: “From Blossoms”

Having recently completed a sequence of seven poems on the subject of reading anthologies of poetry whilst relaxing in a warm bath, I realized – looking back at recent posts in this blog – that I had inadvertently omitted number five in the sequence.  The final one in the sequence – number seven – will appear in a few weeks.

Readers of this blog might be interested to know that I also write short stories, which are available at www.alfiedog.com

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Hold Back the Night

THE GREAT VERSES (6):

He reads the great verses, in the bath,

at his favoured time, as the evening begins.

It is the night when the clocks are changed.

The hands go forward; time rearranged.

As he enters the bathroom, it is still daylight;

a few weeks ago, it would already be night.

He gratefully sinks into fragrant warm water;

opens his book, stilling his mind,

for the chiming cadences, lyrical lines.

 

The poems sink in, at varying rates.

Some do, with words, what Vermeer does with paint:

create motionless moments, meditative states.

He reads on, engrossed; outside, darkness falls.

Inside the house, too, darkness encroaches;

his bathroom the only oasis of light.

He emerges into darkness; fumbles for switches.

It is not so easy to hold back the night.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The brutal brevity of human existence, how fleeting our time is in this “vale of tears”; this is a subject that has fascinated many of our greatest poets.  Shakespeare, for instance, makes it one of the focal points of his sonnets.  How can we halt the inevitable march of time; how to “hold back the night” – to quote from a pop song of my youth.  One way is, perhaps, to capture certain magical moments, meditate upon them, and recreate them in poetry.

It’s a subject I’ve touched upon more than once in my own sequence of poems inspired by the many happy hours I’ve spent reading anthologies of poems whilst relaxing in a warm bath.  The poem above is the penultimate one in the sequence, and it came about due to a combination of changing the clocks at the Spring Equinox, after having watched a television documentary about the great Dutch artist Vermeer.

 

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More Bathtime Reading

THE GREAT VERSES (4):

He reads the great verses, in the bath;
his favourite time, now a hallowed rite.
The fate of mushrooms, in a disused shed,*
left on their own, for over fifty years,
strikes him as tragic; moves him to tears.
He wants the immortal words to sink into him,
as the fragrant bubbles soak into his skin . . .
“But no!  That’s not it!”  He exhales a sad sigh.
The bubbles, ephemeral, soon fade and die . . .
So hard, to be a poet!  But he’ll try.  He’ll try.
His petulant foot makes a turbulent “splash!”
He wants the effect of these words to last.
These wonderful words, when they settle, and sink,
should live forever in him; in the way he thinks.

* Derek Mahon:”A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford”.

My poem “The Great Verses (4)” is the fourth in a series of poems inspired by my habit of reading anthologies of poems in the bath.  I have written about the three earlier poems in the posts “Bathtime Reading” (2012/04/30) and “Reading Poetry in the Bath” (2012/09/27).

The anthology I am reading at the moment is “Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy” edited by Neil Astley, and the particular poem that inspired me was “A Disused Shed in Co. Wexford” by the Irish poet Derek Mahon.  It is, as Neil Astley comments, “. . . one of the great poems of the 20th century.  It doesn’t just make you pause for thought as you read and re-read it, it almost makes you feel more human.”  The mushrooms in the poem are symbolic, representing the marginalised people and mute victims of history.  It is quite a long poem, so I can only quote a few of the lines that particularly moved me: “A thousand mushrooms crowd to a keyhole./This is the one star in their firmament/ . . . A half century, without visitors, in the dark/ . . . They lift frail heads in gravity and good faith./They are begging us, you see, in their wordless way,/To do something, to speak on their behalf/Or at least not to close the door again./

I cannot recommend this anthology – and Derek Mahon’s poem – too highly.

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Seagulls

For anyone unfamiliar with Whitby, it is a picturesque Yorkshire seaside town, famous for its associations with the great explorer Captain Cook and the author of “Dracula” Bram Stoker.  It also has atmospheric gothic abbey ruins, and many fish and chips shops, selling – probably – the most expensive fish and chips in the country.

My mother loved to visit Whitby, and, in her later years, my brother and I accompanied her on many day trips there.  All it took to create the poem “Seagulls” was for me to hear the shrieking of a seagull, whilst relaxing in a warm bath, a few weeks ago.  Immediately, memories of our visits to Whitby sprang to mind, and, as soon as I got out of the bath, I started writing . . .

SEAGULLS:

I remember Whitby, that last visit;
the wearying search for somewhere to sit.
The distant Abbey ruins, clawing at the sky.
The precious fish and chips; cost a fortune to buy.
This more precious old lady, her eccentric ways.
Her senses now failing, her absent gaze. . .
They fell on her; carnivores, sensing their prey.
Serious business, not “birdies at play”.
“Mum!  Don’t encourage them!  Stop it!  Please!”
Greasy batter, soggy chips, on the ground, on my knees.
Diving at speed, braking to land,
they swooped, remorseless; tore it from her hands. . .

I live alone now, in my castle, miles inland.
Far away from rocky inlets, claggy, sticky sand.
So something is wrong, for me now to hear
those piercing cries.  I’m shuddering with fear.
Why do they stalk me?  Why should it be?
Why am I haunted by these vultures of the sea?
The seasons are awry; officially, it’s spring.
But skies glower, snow falls and no birds sing.
Only these creatures, with their harrowing shrieks,
their hooked claws, cold eyes, sharp, rending beaks.
The world around me staggers, with a drunkard’s lurch.
They won’t eat me! I will knock them off their perch!

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