Four Minutes in May 2020
A strip of light splashed onto laminate floor;
trace the source through net curtains
to the road outside where a car too fast goes
Weeds are growing strong in the always new weather,
no blue sky is ever the same as the last.
The strip of light has shifted; shrunk.
It will not last much longer.
I don’t recall the exact day I wrote this – but it was a Sunday, I think. Now, a year on as the country starts to open up again, it all seems so removed, and yet we did live through it, didn’t we?
Thanks to Atrium Poetry who recently featured this poem on their site.
The poem comes from Like This, my next pamphlet, due in August.
Ministry Of Waiting
Of course there are no clocks, or windows, that might allow guests to track time. And these days only people over forty wear a watch, and we’re less concerned about them. Mobile devices? We block network signals so that guests can go unbothered by distractions. The décor is always neutral; if anyone asks, which they don’t, we tell them the colour is August Wheat, but you and I can see it’s beige. A pastel shade here or there, a couple of abstract pictures, nothing too involving, nothing too fussy. New arrivals are the most tricky to placate, a lot of pacing often occurs, they fret about why they are here, and for how long; adjustment can take time, but every guest comes round at some point: notice how their bodies mould themselves to the shape of the furniture. Now, let’s leave this Department to look at another Ministry; Suffering is near-by, or perhaps you’re interested in Broken Promises? Truth be told it could be some time before anyone is called from Waiting.
A new name arrived on the poetry landscape last week. I’m not referring to Marvin Thompson, winner of the National Poetry Competition 2020, but to Jason Lee, who is at the centre of the winning poem.
Jason Lee… anyone? I remember him well, but I have seen plenty of comments from readers of the poem who did not know the name and had to go to Google. I bet Lee’s Wikipedia page has never been so busy – and here is the link – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jason_Lee_(footballer)
Yes, Jason Lee was a footballer, he most famously played for Nottingham Forest in the mid-90s. The poem in which he features is titled The Fruit of the Spirit is Love (Galatians 5:22) and it was chosen from 18,000 entries as the winner. I like the poem, though I think opinion of the judges’ choice has varied. It is a complex piece that, in the words of the judges, asks “What is it to raise dual-heritage children in the UK, and specifically in Wales?”
What I find interesting is the use of a reference (Jason Lee) that a large number of readers will not grasp. Marvin Thompson has taken a risk, but it has paid off in a big way. If you don’t get who Lee is and crucially, why he features in the poem, then the poem can slip away from you.
The gamble is that the poem is strong enough that a reader will spend time looking the reference up. Granted, looking things up on your phone is pretty quick these days, but Marvin must have known that Jason Lee was not top of everyone’s list of famous footballers (not at the top of anyone’s list).
I have written before about the use of names in poems – because I think there is the likelihood that the poem’s lifespan is shortened by the inclusion of someone who burns brightly for just a short while. I have used names in some of my poems – I have a whole poem that is based on David Attenborough, but generally the names I’ve used are very well fixed on our consciousness. A previous post on the subject is here https://neilelderpoetry.wordpress.com/2019/05/26/cheggers-plays-poetry/
Congratulations to Marvin Thompson. Perhaps his poem proves that readers of poetry are patient, and they will give time to following up on something they are unsure of. Interestingly, the judges are of an age that they may well remember Jason Lee (younger readers are less likely to recall). However, a further interesting point is that in the winning poem the term “cwtched” is used – and two of the judges happen to be Welsh – so they would not have had to double-take on the meaning of that word (it means to cuddle). Cuddle up to Jason Lee by reading the winning poem here: https://poetrysociety.org.uk/competitions/national-poetry-com
Lockdown is long – but Billy Collins and his Poetry Broadcast has brought joy and and a sense of belonging to many. So here is the A – Z of all things that you may just be wondering about when you watch the broadcast. I’m sure I’ve missed some – feel free to let me know…
A – Address or adress (you decide), ‘After The Inauguration’
B- Billy’s Birthday Girl, Blackwing
C- Cotton Tail F***er, Cool People The Night People, Cicada (just don’t)
D – DFFD, Dogs (and especially dogs in poems – get him every time)
E – Elephant in the room (this Broadcast won’t go on forever, will it?)
F- Freaky Blast (have one)
G – Google it up!
H – Handsome Bastard Studios
I – Insurrection / Inauguration – they got their approach to the Broadcast right every time
J – Jazz & Jamesons – is all you need,. Oh, and juke box poems.
K – Key cards – that is a mighty collection.
L – (This) Lime Tree Bower
M – Mould remediation and the Minor Third
N – New poem – those two beautiful words.
O – Oxymoron
P – Professor Bebop, “the paint is still wet on this one”
Q – Questions About Angels – he’s read that and all the rest.
R – (the) reader is central
S – Suzannah – without her we wouldn’t be here. Shovel – if you have to ask, well …
T – Triscuits & Tom Thumb’s Thumb
U – Unauthorised use of music – it’s Billy’s flirtation with the the popo
V – Value for money – you’re getting all this for free for the duration of a whole pandemic
W – WPD, “wouldn’t want to live on the difference”, Whale Day is ours
X- Let X stand for what it will
Y – You’re not double parked, are you?
Z – “why does z, which looks like the fastest letter, come at the very end?” (The Long Day)
Catch Billy and his Poetry Broadcast on Facebook — you can watch it live at 10.30 pm (MT) or see the recording next day.
The picture in the banner of this page is the artwork of Johnny Eaton – thanks to him for allowing me to use it.
The year is still young enough to decide on new ways of doing things. One promise you might make is to read more widely. In the last year, during lockdown, I discovered a couple of terrific poets I wish I’d known about before. The way I found them was simple – scroll through a couple of the big poetry sites and read a poet who is new to you – no mystery.
One of my finds (perhaps I am years behind everyone else) was Marion Strobel. An American writer who was producing poems about a hundred years ago that remain sharp and fresh and still able to reposition the world for the reader. Yes, one or two perhaps have not stood the test of time or seem a little contrived for modern tastes, but there is still plenty to be knocked out by – like this surprising piece called ‘Spring Day’. Consider the title – what do we expect – familiar territory for poetry, flowers and all that stuff, right? Wrong:
I felt a fool When you caught me smiling at myself In the oval mirror; But later in the day A six-legged bug, 5 Taking ten minutes to climb across The muscles of my arm, Convinced me of my greatness.
The poem whose title, ‘Spring Day’, is conventional in topic so that the reader may think they know what is in store, surprises us and moves from embarrassment or shame (we are plunged into the moment), to feelings of confidence via an insect, in the space of just eight lines.
IF I suck the flame into my mouth, Will it warm the places You have left so bare? I lean over the fire, Flutter my fingers— 5 Dare my fingers down toward a spark. I am cold—and tired: Push me a little … Yes?