Monthly Archives: August 2013

Coming to know….

I have just ‘come to know’, at least a bit, R.S.Thomas.  I had loved his poem ‘Here’ for a long time, which I think is also about coming to know.

Here

I am a man now.

Pass your hand over my brow.

You can feel the place where the brains grow.

I am like a tree,

From my top bough I can see

The footprints that led up to me.

There is blood in my veins

That has run clear of the stain

Contracted in so many loins.

Why, then, are my hands this way

That they will not do as I say?

Does no God hear when I pray?

I have no where to go

The swift satellites show

The clock of my whole being is slow,

It is too late to start

For destinations not of the heart.

I must stay here with my hurt.

This last verse has been on my wall for a long time.  It is a timely reminder although time doesn’t pass very slow for me – it seems to rush by.  I have just finished reading ‘The Man who went into the West’  by Byron Rogers.  It is a wonderful biography of R.S.Thomas – who I had always thought of as being an ascetic poet, scourged by his conflicts and religious beliefs.  This book makes him human and approachable and is analytical and precise about his poetic development.  A lovely book that I just couldn’t put down.  The other exciting thing I found in this  book was information about Thomas’s wife, Mildred Elsi Eldridge.  Somehow from his poems I never thought of him as having a wife – they are so bleak and bare I imagined him a lonely, ravaged man in his remote parishes.  But his wife was amazing. 

elsi002   elsi001  

A wonderful painter whose work I had never even seen or heard of.  The inside covers of Roger’s book show parts of the great mural she painted for Oswestry hospital which at the time of writing was stored and not available to view.  Now looking her up on line there is a series of photographs of the restored and newly hung mural at the Glyndwr University.  Look at them at www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/…mural_mildred_​elsie_eldridge_wrexham  and wonder.  I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind since seeing those first small paintings in the book.

I love the fact that R.S.Thomas in his final years found laughter and lightness in a new relationship after Elsi had died and seems to have allowed the wry humour that Rogers makes clear in his anecdotes to become part of his last bit of life.  Elsi became very reclusive, and there is no doubt that R.S. Thomas had the artist’s privilege firmly in his own hands – he seems not to have taken much notice of her paintings although she earned money from them for many years.  How difficult it appears to be for two striving creators to live under the same roof, particularly if they are also poor. Someone has to put the food on the table.  I feel released into poetic space in the last bit of my life; able to take time and space to address the issues I want to think and write about, time to linger, to dream.  Although life still seems busy and demanding at one level – that is also the source and ground for thinking and writing.  Runner beans and blackberries making the ground now!

I feel overwhelmed with the double excitement of coming to know – the poet and the painter – and a painter who is so unusual.

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ON BEING AT SEA WITH W.S.GRAHAM

‘It matters only in

so far as we want to be telling

Each other alive about each other

Alive. I want to be able to speak

And sing and make my soul occur

In front of the best and be respected

For that and even be understood

By the ones I like who are dead.

I would like to speak in front

Of myself with all my ears alive

And find out what it is I want.’

From What is the Language using us for?

W.S. Graham.

Yesterday I found a title for a poem that is still resolving itself but I knew as being a salute to my most loved poet W.S.Graham. The Poem ‘At Sea’ has been resolving for months. I know it’s a poem that I like and that is important, although it appears slight, but I couldn’t work together the middle of it and the reference to night fishing is not clear enough probably for making the immediate link to W.S.G unless you are very familiar with him, nor does it carry the metaphor of search for words and language that it is really about. I was sitting in the car going to Meeting at Le Moulin when the title came to me – ‘At Sea with W.S.Graham. For those catching the internal reference to night fishing it confirms their connection; it just might inspire others to look at W.S.G’s work and find the amazing twenty page poem that is an evocation of life as a fisherman, and a metaphor of the poet at work in the deep and dark, the coming of light, the mingling of day and night.

‘Within all the dead of

All my life I hear

My name spoken out

On the break of the surf.

I, in Time’s grace,

The grace of change,

Am cast into memory.

What a restless grace

To trace stillness on.’

From Part 7, Night Fishing.

This morning I read the whole of ‘What is the Language using us for?’ And ‘Night Fishing’. I feel as if my head has been scraped clean, I can smell the sea and salt is on my lips, the swell of it carries me. I will try and finish At Sea today and send it off for a Quaker Newsletter publication. Yesterday we had a small Quaker meeting (4 of us) at Le Moulin. The silence was very profound and unbroken. Light unfurled through the window, haloed the objects in the room, entered the head with its revealing beam. I half remember a verse about standing in the light of God’s grace. I must try and find the reference for it. Grace is restless and also a revelation in the silence.

kARACHI

I did once go night fishing and I always have the sounds and image of it in my head when I read this poem; but it was a very different experience. It was full moon; the harbour water was black and viscous. It swung the moonlight in an oily movement as the heavy wooden boat eased across the water. The boat was creaking and moving under us. I went to trail my fingers in the warm water but the fisherman caught my hand and told me it was polluted, I should not touch it.

3521075-Sail_away_Karachi

We sailed between huge tankers and moored fishing boats out towards the moon and open water. It was still hot and sweaty although nearly midnight. The mangroves edged the water, dark openings shot with occasional slicks of light. Above us a large linen sail billowed now and then, but they switched a sputtering motor on to move us towards a space beyond the boats. We stopped and the fishermen removed some of the decking – planks an inch thick, grey and ridged along their edge. In a clay hollow they lit a twig fire; the smoke mingled with the smell of the water. There was a big basket of crabs which they had caught earlier in the fishing grounds. Greasy fingers, the taste of crab, the smell of the fire, nobody talking much, the boat rocking us into silence. It is a very strong memory. Later I walked back along the promenade to my friend’s house. We stopped at a cart selling falludah and added that rich, sweet milky taste to the Karachi night.

 

Sea and silence, the fishing for words and the waiting on the light. I am revising my poems now – four folders full. It is time to send these new-born babes as Ezra Pound described his poems, out into the cold day. It is interesting revising with a finality in mind. I have plastic pockets containing all the drafts of the poem and then work on a final draft on the computer using the most recent form of the poem as a base. I am only on the fifth poem of the first folder so a long way to go yet. At least I am back to my blog again – inspired by Caroline Carver who has just started blogging. Thanks Caroline!

At Sea with W.S.Graham

On sultry days

sea lays its grey arms

against the rocks, cradling them

in a slow heave.

Rough days it roisters;

we are all at sea,

rain on the windows salty

goldfish swimming in the bay.

Night fishing; the sound of water

draining through the pebbled beach,

seagulls surge up behind the boat

fingering the swell.

Stormy petrel; slices the wave.

At sea there is no calm without a tremor.

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