Week 5 poem prompt (the lazy late one)


The theme this week is animals. I do not want to be more specific although foxes is on my mindses. If I say grizzly bear you might counter teddy bear. If I say sly fox you might say thoughtful fox. Here is The Three Foxes by A.A. Milne. See how the rhyming works and the how the making new endings to words makes this poem skip along.

One of Carol Ann Duffy’s poem for children has a marvellous repertoire of words that work hard.

Ted Hughes’s The Thought Fox is a poem about the writing of a poem, utilizing the symbol of the fox to stand for the idea of the muse: fleeting and quick, it haunts the poet-writer, disturbing his quiet night.

This poem is my favourite. The attention to detail is amazing.

The Fish
Elizabeth Bishop – 1911-1979

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

So you could describe the first bird you see. Or maybe a wasp or a bee.

Week 4 Poem Post

A Holderness Beach

This week it is easy to find a theme. I miss the sea. I miss the predictable and erratic personality of the tides. Of course it can be about fish and chips, sunburn, rip tides and rolling your skirts up into your knickers and paddling. We start with a gentle reminiscence and Ian Parks poem


It must be all of forty years
and still I think I’ve found the exact spot:
the spa the colour of wet sand

and rock-pools strewn with bladder-wrack.
An ice-cream melts into the crevice of my hand.
I pick my way among the rocks,

the giant pebbles bleached and pocked.
This is where my parents stopped to kiss –
a quintet playing thirties jazz,

old men in faded deck-chairs listening
my mother flustered as I turned to look.
The spa is held in place by scaffolding.

I blink at the sun and shade my eyes.
There are no landmarks on this empty beach.
There is no safe way back.

It would be easy to think of the sea’s awesome power but what about the ordinary tides that smooth the sand. Here is very early English sonnet

Edmund Spenser, from Amoretti LXXV.

One day I wrote her name upon the strand,
But came the waves and washed it away:
Again I wrote it with a second hand,
But came the tide, and made my pains his prey.
‘Vain man,’ said she, ‘that dost in vain assay,
A mortal thing so to immortalize;
For I myself shall like to this decay,
And eke my name be wiped out likewise.’

And that desire to see the sea that I have is not new. Here is a poem you will be familiar with.

Sea Fever 


I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, 

And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; 

And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, 

And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking. 

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide 

Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied; 

And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying, 

And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying. 

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life, 

To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife; 

And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover, 

And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over. 

Perhaps you see the sea as a dangerous place. How familiar are we with this deceptively humorous poem by Stevie Smith. An interesting way to remind us that all we see may not be so.

Not Waving but Drowning

Nobody heard him, the dead man,   
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought   
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,   
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always   
(Still the dead one lay moaning)   
I was much too far out all my life   
And not waving but drowning.

And finally a lovely poem from the collection Nigh-No-Place. the title of the poem is a Shetlandic word meaning slack of the tide .

Daed-traa by Jen Hadfield

I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry’s for.

It has its ventricles, just like us –
pumping brine, like bull’s blood, a syrupy flow.

It has its theatre –
hushed and plush.

It has its Little Shop of Horrors.
It has its crossed and dotted monsters.

It has its cross-eyed beetling Lear.
It has its billowing Monroe.

I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry’s for.

For monks, it has barnacles
to sweep the broth as it flows, with fans,
grooming every cubic millimetre.

It has its ebb, the easy heft of wrack from rock,
like plastered, feverish locks of hair.

It has its flodd.
It has its welling god
with puddled, podgy cheeks and jaw.

It has its holy hiccup.

Its minute’s silence


I go to the rockpool at the slack of the tide
to mind me what my poetry’s for.

Week 3 Poem Post

this week’s theme is letters. You could of course pick your favourite letter of the alphabet. You could do an acrostic poem. You could write a poem about a letter you wished you had sent or received. You could write a letter and call it a prose poem because it may well be one.

These are telegrams for January 1957. They were included in the final batch of photographs my parents have given to me for the family history project. I think they look like parts of a game. Getting a letter or card is quite special now when personal communication is often by text or email or a one App or another. Here is a poem by Spike Milligan

I was thinking of letters,
We all have a lot in our life
A few good – a few sad
But mostly run of the mill-
I suppose that’s my fault
For writing to run of the mill people.
I’ve never had a letter
I really wanted
It might come one day
But then, it will be just too late,
And that’s when I don’t want it.

Poems that read as letters are called epistolary. Poems that directly address someone or something.

Here is Elizabeth Bishop’s Letter to N.Y.

In your next letter I wish you’d say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you’re pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl

When I think of letters I more often think of songs rather than poems.

Of course the note here This is Just to Say by William Carlos Williams is perhaps one of the most memorable (to my mind) because it is so ‘reusable’.

Have fun.

Week Two Poem Post

Where I begin

Me and maternal Grandmother Edith Leahy outside Granville Terrace

Where does the journey of a family history begin? Is it with a casual comment of ‘do you remember a particular person’. Is it in response to a television programme like ‘Who do you think you are’? Is it curiosity about a memory or a photograph? If it is your own family history like this is it was more about the physical places and the events of the times. Of course like many I shall begin the recording in a more conventional place. One black and white photograph and only my Mother’s word that the blur is my face. This is 1960.

This week’s theme

I or me.

As a poet you might refer to yourself directly as John Clare does here.

I Am

I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

And here is a contemporary poem about a life event. The poet Srikanth Reddy is both reflecting and deflecting from the implications of a medical procedure. Here is the poet reading his work.

Winter Term XV

Admittedly I may be blowing my <6 mm mole somewhat
out of proportion in the general scheme of things. At my
last follow-up, Dr. Song gently reminded me that we
entered the “catabasis” phase of my journey through
dermatological oncology some time ago.

 Cata-, from the ancient Greek κατά, or downward, prefixed
to the intransitive form of the verbal stem baínō, to go. It
means a trip to the coast, a military retreat, an endless
windstorm over the Antarctic plateau, or the sadness
experienced by some men at a certain point in their lives. 

In a clinical context, the term may also refer to the decline
or remission of a disease. So why do I still feel a ghostly
pinprick along the crease of my arm where the needle went
in before I went under? I suspect that I am not quite out of
the woods yet. Then again, maybe the woods have yet to
exit me.

Here I am in my garden. I am now sixty. How do you describe yourself? Maybe you have an ideal? Maybe like me in these times of social distancing and only the hour for walking (when you usually walk or roam a lot) have taken a fancy to elasticated waistbands and are wearing joggers.

Me at Sixty

And here is a poem by Jenny Joseph. But maybe you can span an actual period of time or recount a childhood memory. You might also want to listen to Pam Ayes making up a regret.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

You could write a poem in praise of yourself. Tell us how wonderful you are at driving, brushing your teeth or perhaps eating an apple quietly in a cinema.

Week One Poem Post

Where I begin

Today I took a photograph of the Lily of the Valley growing at the back of my husband’s allotment plot. I had noticed the plants the day before and they had reminded me of the garden I lived in as a young child. The same day my parents gave me some more family photographs to add to my growing collection. They have been sorting through their photograph albums for some time now because I had expressed an interest in putting together a simple family history. It has been very much a work in progress in my thoughts rather than a realised project. I needed to find something that could work in tangent to the task to motivate me. I think linking to a poetry prompt which I shall forward to both a poetry stanza group and another two groups I belong to using social media tools and email will work.

What prompted me to begin

The photographs came in a smart, shiny blue box. I thought as they handed me the box that it would contain chocolates. I was a little disappointed but not for long. The photographs themselves are not particularly interesting but a couple of lines from a poem came to my mind as I walked home with them.

What will survive of us is love

What will survive of us is love.

This is the last line from Philip Larkin’s, “An Arundel Tomb“. In these days, as I now refer to them, in these Covid-19 days when so much art and cultural happenings are going digital, I wonder about touch and tangibles things such as tombs, heirlooms and souvenirs. What place or future do keepsakes or physical archives have now?

This week’s theme

Is walking.

The rhythm, the place you are going, the watching of someone else, perhaps you recall trying to walk with crutches after an accident or teaching a child or laughed at the way competitive walkers wiggle their hips. It might be the walk you do every day or the shuffle walk in a supermarket queue.

I took my parents shopping to them during my hour of daily exercise. I walked through East Park. My local park. When I realised that the purple box contained photographs I asked if any were of Holtby Close. That is the first place I remember as home. Mrs Green lived next door to us. In her garden was a border full of Lily of the Valley. It was dense and always felt damp. I knew this as I often had to retrieve tennis balls from the leaves. Even though I would see the place the ball landed it was never found at that spot. Mrs Green’s daughter Marchelle baby sat sometimes. She must have been at university. I was around five years old and was fascinated by the way she put her hands in her jeans with the palms facing outwards so are arms looked twisted. I would have liked to include a photograph of Holtby Close, but I am not sure I can get there and back here in an hour.

The poem that follows is by Alison McVety from her collection The Night Trotsky Came to Stay.

How you can know a place

and not. How you can know it
through your feet, through the pitch
and crack of pavement, through games;
their stones and sticks,
through hopscotch numbers
scratched on flags with chalk or coal.
Through the clip of ropes on kerbs,
The tap on grids, through the clap of hands,
The toll of dustbin lids, the spark
Of stud boots. Through Messerscmidt
And Spitfire arms, strobed or flecked
With rationed sun. How you can see a thing,
Defined through shadows,
The twitch of nets, the very thick of it.
Through the snatch and flare
Of two fags lit with the same match,
Through the warden’s bawl
to put that bloody light out,
to shut the flaming door. How one shell
can re-shape the place you know,
shift a shelter three feet north,
so you dig for the man in the tin hat
in the wrong place. And how
when they lift your father,
caked in dust, there are no cuts,
no bruises. This is how a man drowns
in earth, this is how you know a place.

You can see how McVety uses the word through repeatedly in this poem. It steps through the poem keeping a regular pace. Today Captain Tom Moore has been celebrated as he reached his hundredth birthday and a staggering amount of money raised by his walking around his garden. Is references to behaviour in the blitz comparable to our shielding and social distancing?

Watch here Neiel Israel -reading “When a Black Man Walks” for a different view of walking

read “When a Black Man Walks” here.

We are in the fifth week of what is referred to as lock down. Life is becoming for us routine. The imagining of the future is beginning. We are thinking about how we will meet people when this pandemic is still active, while this virus is still without containment other than social distancing and hand washing.