A new anthology from Pimento Poets, discussed by Shirley Bell
A View from the Steep
I make no apology for publicising this anthology from Pimento Poets, one of the longest running and most successful poetry groups in Lincoln, even though I compiled and edited it and some of my poetry is in it! The book contains poetry from 15 poets and it will be launched on March 23rd, along with the magazine and Dominic Fisher’s book.
The group is welcoming and listens to members’ poems at meetings where poets can introduce new work and discuss ideas. The quality of the members ‘work is high and the participants all bring a diverse mix of ideas and styles for discussion. I did an MA in Creative Writing in Lincoln in 2012/13 and I missed the opportunities I had there to share my work. Pimento Poets came to read at the University when they were launching an anthology, so after I got my distinction, although I was delighted, I was at a loss for where to go next. I thought of Pimento Poets and they seemed obvious place to go to continue to share my work and listen to that of others. I joined more or less straight away and they could not have been more welcoming.
For this anthology, members of the group all voted to choose their favourite five poems by the other writers to include in this book. The poetry represents the diverse voices and different life histories of the writers, who come from the United Kingdom, Republic of Ireland, Canada and the USA. It covers diverse subjects, including politics, natural history, a sense of place, emotions and much more.
Here is a sample of the work of the poets in the anthology.
Tell it to the bees
The garden hums. Bees guzzle in the throats
of the lush flowers and butterflies clot the blossoms.
The simple flowers are full of nectar. Sometimes
the hives are dressed in mourning. Someone has
rapped softly and told it to the bees. Their hive servant
who managed their perfect world has gone.
As the coffin settles in its grave, so gentle hands
lift and set down the colony with its waxen cells
like catacombs. And reverently, lay out their share of
funeral meats and drinks at the entrance where the bees
dance their maps; carry the pollen in their baskets
to feed the hive in their secret waxen chambers.
Cells dripping with nectar metamorphosing into honey:
that gold that gives the gift of prophecy. Telling the bees.
But there is a stutter in the rituals. Threats grow like
the larvae in those perfect hexagons. The doubled flowers
flounce their skirts. Nectarless. The bees in their quietened hive
are alive instead with Varroa mites, crawling in their plush.
And all the words of prophecy roll on the tongue.
Foul Brood and Nosema,
Colony Collapse and neonicotinoids.
Tell it to the bees.
Things I have made
a harp of unsuitable materials
which sundered under tension,
bespoke pitch-pine bookcases, with shelves
that failed to keep pace with their contents,
a pilgrimage to Delphi, in just
a candy-striped flannel nightshirt,
a cabinet of curiosity
with drawers I never wish to close,
a pirate chest I should have buried,
a Turk’s Head knot of useless beauty,
(a dozen hours to make it fast,)
a ton of angst and a toasting fork
for mum, finely tempered and blued,
a gift of Poison to a lover,
a mask of stiff card and raffia,
another, more fragile of bonhomie,
an exception of you.
I have made many, many, many mistakes,
but will never count these among them.
View from the Steep
I enter a second-hand book shop,
a shelter-seeker from storm.
A cleansing river flows freely down Lincoln's
Steep Hill cobbles.
This jettison holds me for now, an unscheduled island detour
in a sea of Monday discontents,
flooded locals and tourists
caught out, web-footed in their late summer Birkenstocks.
I drink in a segmented city panorama
with an elderflower cordial,
refreshingly pale green and bubbly,
herby and sweet palated.
The rain thunders down past open doors,
rods sheer, vertical.
Soothed by Lakme's Flower Duet playing in the café.
Either side of the Steep red-brick terraced buildings
darken like bruises on shins of schoolboys
japing in the playground
of a former Bluecoat School which once stood here.
Christ's Hospital Terrace school open from 1612 to 1883,
a charity school for boys with parents too poor for fees.
I thrust my hand into my jacket pocket, feel the slubbed skin
of a scrumped apple, a trickle of farthings;
light, almost weightless.
Hear the shouts of boys fighting, striking iron-rimmed hoops.
Wooden clogs clatter up stone walls as they piggyback,
clamber for air,
For a view of the city stretched below. Its wooded Commons
tethering travellers' ponies to wooden stakes with heavy chains.
The music throbs to its final crescendo, fades gently then dies.
Rain slackens into the repetitive plod of a ploughman's stride.
A four o'clock sun appears slyly glinting off latticed casements
One parallel tramline of black and white timbered houses, shops.
Splintering their glass into triangles of silver, slate, anthracite,
virtual set-squares of light to be used in math lessons by aliens.
Far distant blue and purple trees plum-bloom,
silhouette hazy gold,
over-arched by a slowly dissipating layer of iron-grey cloud.
Yesterday’s youth, now today's people,
tomorrow's architects of our future,
Let them design Lincoln city with instruments
of vision, light and passion.
The little train to Mumbles - Tren Bach i'r MwmbwlTs
The curve of observed journey
From village to Town.
Early morning sun.
Promising pennies in a pocket,
Penknife at hand
To repel boarders – Swansea Jacks!
Standing in line for our Orient Express.
Skip on board, slip upstairs,
Upfront a vista of quiet cinematic content,
Panorama of Bay, sand, bent Lowry figurines, distant
Far-away shores, endless possibilities.
Colours of a Sunday, sundae sweet
Cherry red and cream,
The Mumbles train trundles out,
From homely lonely sand-dune to tempting seaside pier.
Atop the mainstay, we surpass St Helen,
Home to the 'Whites',
First outpost of our colonial expedition.
Singleton Park, light greens on dark rich hedging.
Blackpill station, then on, then, on then.
Skies of memory mind are always early blue,
Always cloudless and the sea always on
Concrete shapeful remnants bobble in wave, pill boxes
Of another time,
In Heretime, we revel in the youth of now and smile
And talk and laugh and giggle and soon,
Sooner than you might think,
The pier at Mumbles, end of line.
Start of seagull, slot machine, paddling, ice-cream.
Sun on new-white boy-skin, white skin on green-grass,
White skin and dark rocks.
Our cove of ruddy rocks and warmed up pools,
Final margin of solidity
Before the outwardness, waywardness of long lengthening sea.
Mammy at rest, tired eyes closed against the sun,
Shoes carefully discarded next to a white shirt.
We eat up the day.
Sand shifts, ebbing slightly under foot.
The ritual of remembrance, every detail in its allotted space.
I recite my mother.
Remember wood-framed single-glazing?
Morning's mist on the window panes?
Rivulets trickling down into pools
on the cill? Then we knew we'd breathed
in the night and our hot-aired dreams
could be sponged and squeezed in a bowl;
or left to dry into Rorschach blots,
yellowing white, until spring's light
chinked through to our hibernation:
when the putty’s spores spurted earthy
on glass and the lawn sprouted snowdrops
and we imagined the stirring of paint.
White Witch Of Withoft
White witch of Withoft
wife of Walter
Wild woman with a
wobbly wobbly wheel and whip
warbled with the westerly winds
Whistled while watering watermelons
On wet wong
White witch of Withoft
whiter than white
waved her wand
One wink and I was won
A nonsense ‘w’ poem inspired by Abbie’s alliteration pinned up on the hall wall of a local school – Westgate School, Lincoln:
“one wet walrus waggled his whiskers”
I noticed this during the Lincoln Folk Festival which was staged in the school hall.
Snow fell during the night blanketing the Wolds.
the white hoar-frost
crystallised on the wet hedge-rows and ·on the barks
of trees, obliterating grass and pathways.
During the hours of darkness,
a solitary fox visited my dustbin leaving dented pad-
marks in the snow, its direction obvious, by its wavy
Blowing into my hands
and wondering of its present whereabouts I put a blessing on
and hoped perhaps -
that it might call again sometime
Grandmother rowing—Michigan 1942
The oars seem to move through oil without splashing.
And the boat inches slowly over the heavy surface
towards the black line of trees on the shore.
The grandmother rows steadily and the child grows more uneasy.
She does not like being out at night.
She cannot imagine how this same scene looked in the daylight.
She cannot imagine how they will find their way back—
in this darkness—in a boat—in the water.
And now they have rowed through a narrow passage through the black trees
and she can no longer see the yellow light of their campfire or the outline
of their tent. Only darkness, and she shuts her eyes till
the grandmother nudges her and points her finger towards the greenish lights
like dancing Christmas lights.
Death in Venice
Fog breathes, phlegms,
thickly obscuring buildings and islands
on the far side of the lagoon; thinning
at the Grand Canal's entrance, it unveils
heron-leg stilts of oars and docking,
prowed silhouettes of Charon's fleet
etched on fluttering light,
waiting payment where different worlds meet.
The tide slips away
with the day and her life,
lived towards her dying;
distant from us,
hers is a death in Venice
shrouded in its ghosting mists.
I watched him for hours on end
when I was just a child.
I sat on the bench by the door
and followed the shavings as they curled to the floor.
I stared wide-eyed as he worked his magic
and pieces of art emerged out of nothing
from ordinary blocks of wood
to become elaborate or plain - according to his mood.
I sometimes came home with a present
- a figure, a dish, a fork or a ladle -
created as I witnessed his meticulous craft.
Sometimes quite funny, sometimes just daft.
The tools were neatly arranged on a rack,
the chisels in front, the planes at the back
The ones he was using sat on a tray
sharpened and polished like a window display.
I observed the sawdust cascade in the air
and freshly-carved pieces emerging as bookends,
candlestick-holders or trays:
some completed in hours, others taking for days.
A garage for a favourite nephew,
a doll’s house for the girl next door,
a rocking horse in chestnut brown,
a crib for his first grandchild, anticipated soon.
But when last I saw him he had given up his hobby.
The tools were abandoned and rusting with age.
Frail and withdrawn he was not his old self.
The completed crib was covered in dust on a shelf.
I can see your hand through the glass, I think,
Four hundred years and twenty centimetres away
Signed E-capital, assured, R-regal.
The curlicues snake down the centuries
lemniscate after diminishing lemniscate …
And then the Y.
Why the Y?
Was it You?
Your hand? Your mind? Your will?
Someone’s scheming did a Queen to death.
Deed destroyed after the deed.
Post hoc this copy remains
(‘Framed’ was written in response to viewing a copy of Mary Queen of Scot’s death warrant apparently signed by Elizabeth I. However, it was signed “Elyzabeth”. This got me thinking that it might not have been her signature.
On further investigation it seems that the copy was ‘signed’ by somebody else. The original was destroyed after the execution. This made me wonder whether it was ever signed in the first place.)
Days later, we walk a cold winter beach;
you – my only living child – run ahead
on the bare strand, chasing after your father.
Each one of us is alone on a vast
expanse of sand, beneath a wild sky,
in a scything wind that cuts us to the quick.
I study your reflections in the wet sand –
always that space where others should be
and sometimes are – the mind’s eye sees true
Suddenly, you stop and stoop, squat down
in that child’s pose, call out to me and
I come to you – always I come to you
to see what treasure you – my miracle –
have found. This time, a pale, new-dead fish
fixes me with its unseeing, all-knowing eye.
Returning to My Homeland
At my grandparents’ burial spot
where few had come to separate funerals
with many secrets sprinkled into the earth
I kneel, brush and polish.
In encroaching grass their shone floral design
reflects nothing of their past wishing.
I rise with stained knees and walk off...
with his and her terrors bonded to me while grey
travellers, Canada geese, stray among the plots.
Riseholme Flax Fields
Forty miles from the coast-line;
a vast ocean of blue flax flowers.
Heat-waves shimmer as the ghost
of a medieval woman winds her thread
from spindle to distaff.
Sky mirrors calm, larks soar until
distant trills float with the rhythm
of shell to ear.
Soon the reaper’s blade will cut down,
only then the woman with salt-tears
will spin her strands to linen, strong
as the white-wave horses she once rode,
she will wash the winding-sheet, watch
and wait until the blue ocean returns.
Spring tide in Norfolk
You being thigh high,
it was I, tall as houses, who saw it first
as we held cold hands down the long hill.
The early sea lay over the land,
covering it to the chin.
Perhaps I was the first in all the world to see it,
you being an early riser.
The quay, the car park, the long creek,
all gone under and lost to the day’s break
beneath a mirror that spread to the earth’s end.
You, being fairly new to the world,
found this no more remarkable,
than that gulls both float and fly
or that crabs sidle and sink under sand;
while I, old as houses, was set talking by it.
It did not strike you as strange -
you seeing all the world as wonder -
that a stretch of sky had fallen,
nor that by the time the town had woken
the sky and sea were back in place again, safe as houses.