The June 2020 Poetry Roundabout

Poetry Roundabout
June 2020
Leaving Lockdown (?) Edition

Edited by John Coutts, Poet in Residence

‘…Fair Quiet, have I found thee here,
And Innocence, thy sister dear!
Mistaken long, I sought you then
In busy companies of men;
Your sacred plants, if here below,
Only among the plants will grow.
Society is all but rude,
To this delicious solitude.’

From ‘The Garden’, by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

We have a really good mix of poems this time, including translations from the classics and up-to-date responses to the current lockdown. A big ‘thank-you’ to all our contributors.

 

My Mind to me a Kingdom Is
Sir Edward Dyer

No one claimed the prize – coffee-and cake – for identifying our headline quotation in the May edition. It is the work of Sir Edward Dyer. (1543-1697) Not many of his poems have survived, though he has been credited with the authorship of Shakespeare. Here is the entire poem – you can hear it, set to music by William Byrd, and sung by Emma Kirkby here.

My mind to me a kingdom is;
Such perfect joy therein I find
That it excels all other bliss
That world affords or grows by kind.
Though much I want which most men have,
Yet still my mind forbids to crave.

No princely pomp, no wealthy store,
No force to win the victory,
No wily wit to salve a sore,
No shape to feed each gazing eye;
To none of these I yield as thrall.
For why my mind doth serve for all.
I see how plenty suffers oft,
How hasty climbers soon do fall;
I see that those that are aloft
Mishap doth threaten most of all;
They get with toil, they keep with fear.
Such cares my mind could never bear.
Content I live, this is my stay;
I seek no more than may suffice;
I press to bear no haughty sway;
Look what I lack my mind supplies;
Lo, thus I triumph like a king,
Content with that my mind doth bring.
Some have too much, yet still do crave;
I little have, and seek no more.
They are but poor, though much they have,
And I am rich with little store.
They poor, I rich; they beg, I give;
They lack, I leave; they pine, I live.

I laugh not at another’s loss;
I grudge not at another’s gain;
No worldly waves my mind can toss;
My state at one doth still remain.
I fear no foe, nor fawning friend;
I loathe not life, nor dread my end.
Some weigh their pleasure by their lust,
Their wisdom by their rage of will,
Their treasure is their only trust;
And cloaked craft their store of skill.
But all the pleasure that I find
Is to maintain a quiet mind.
My wealth is health and perfect ease;
My conscience clear my chief defense;
I neither seek by bribes to please,
Nor by deceit to breed offense.
Thus do I live, thus will I die.
Would all did so as well as I!

 

Margaret Hay writes from New Zealand, ‘Thanks for May Roundabout’.

I missed the June 5 cut-off date
But send warm thanks at any rate
For May’s respite from lockdown gloom
And no requirement to Zoom.
Our toon has the seed shop you describe,
And Solovyov’s pure joy to imbibe,
‘The strong sun of love shines for aye’.
A quickening thought on a winter’s day.
Much thanks to all at Roundabout.
New Zealand calling — over and out.

 

Lockdown is Ending
By Eugene Lubbock

[Eugene’s school in London is reopening, but not for him]

Lockdown is ending,
The R number’s falling,
Yet I still feel
That life is a bore.
The days are all blending
The schoolwork’s unending
My mood is appalling
The internet’s stalling
Getting up in the morning
Is terribly boring.

 

When Isolation Ends
Roger Clarke writes


Between 1824 and 1826 the Russian poet Pushkin lived in isolation under house arrest (political rather than medical quarantine) on his family’s remote country estate. Like many of us he greatly missed the company of friends. When eventually one attractive young ladyfriend managed to visit him he celebrated the break from isolation with the following

[To Anna Kern]

I well recall a wondrous meeting,
the moment we came face to face –
you, like a vision all too fleeting,
pure spirit of exquisite grace.

Later, in torpor and depression,
in uproar, fuss, fatuity,
I’d catch that voice’s soft expression,
dream of those features dear to me.

Time passed. The storms of fierce repression
dispersed those dreams of yesteryear,
drove from my mind your soft expression,
your heavenly features I’d held dear.

In exile’s dismal isolation
my days dragged by in misery –
no goddesses, no inspiration,
no tears, no life, no love for me!

Now night has passed, despair’s retreating:
once more we’re meeting face to face –
you, like a vision still too fleeting,
pure spirit of exquisite grace!

My heart now throbs in exaltation,
exhilarated to attain
its goddess and its inspiration
its tears, its life, its love again.

A.S. Pushkin (1825) Translated from the Russian by Roger Clarke from Alexander Pushkin: Love Poems, Alma Classics (2016)

 

Agnes Fanning writes,

I’ve chosen this poem by Florbela Espanca because currently, and always, the world could do with more love. Florbela Espanca (1894-1930), was a Portuguese poet known for her feminist writing.

Amar!

Eu quero amar, amar perdidamente!
Amar só por amar: Aqui… além…
Mais Este e Aquele, o Outro e toda a gente…
Amar! Amar! E não amar ninguém!……

TO LOVE!
(Translation by Austen Hyde)

I want to love – love madly!
Love just to love – here… there… and beyond…
Him over there, and him right there, and everybody…
Love! Love! And not love anyone!….

Thanks, Agnes. I hadn’t heard of her, but now I’ve learnt a lot about her from the internet. I enjoyed listening to the entire poem here  -JC

 

In Memory of Tessa Ransford
Founder of the Scottish Poetry Library

John Coutts writes: Poets and Poetry lovers owe Tessa a huge debt.

‘Farewell too little and too lately known.’ [John Dryden]

‘To mercy, pity peace and love
All pray in their distress’ [William Blake]

Farewell, too little and too lately known.
We met at Scottish PEN
[The group that fights
For persecuted writers Human Rights]
And there and then
You roped me in to run the Peace Committee:
A post I graced with dribs and drabs of Pity,
Mercy, Peace and Love for several years.
Tessa, forgive the flippant tone
Which only grief excuses.
Defensive irony with good intent
Beats bogus tears.

For you have raised a double monument,
Building a high-tech Temple of the Muses –
A shrine of sacred speech in silent stone,
Where hidden hoards of poems clamour to be heard,
Lurking in print, alive in spoken word.

Old William Blake was bold to say
That each of us, in dire distress
Can find surprising strength to pray
‘To mercy, pity, peace and love’. I doubt
If this true of ‘all of us’- or me;
But, sure as hell, it was of you,
Who lived the life of love that sets us free,
Spiced with a flavour that was yours alone.
You blessed me, Tessa. Yes – and still you bless.
Goodbye – so late, yet well and truly known.

 

Your Dad did What? Sophie Hannah

Catriona Duncan writes The poem is from Leaving and Leaving You (Carcanet Press 1999) by author Sophie Hannah. To read the entire piece (it’s worth it! J.C.) visit the author’s website.

Where have they been if they have been away.
Or what they’ve done at home, if they have not –
You make them write about the holiday.
One writes My Dad did, What? Your dad did what? ….

John Coutts writes: Here’s another tale of misunderstanding in the classroom. Jack was a quiet lad, adrift and too often unnoticed, in a class of teenage tearaways.

He cannae read!
I catch a glimpse of teenage Jack.
He sits bewildered at the back.
He does exactly what he’s told.
Wears the school tie, in red and gold
I’ll start again. More haste, less speed.
But he cannae read.

He cannae read!
I write it up. He takes it down.
His fist is clenched. He wears a frown.
His pencil breaks: I lend him mine.
The work is done. The book looks fine.
But, sir, he says – those eyes do plead!
‘Ah cannae read!

He cannae read!
It’s true. The words don’t mean a thing.
I’m glad you told me. Why not…sing….
Or draw…or act…record a tape?
The bell says ‘Stop!’ The boys escape.
And if at first you don’t succeed….
But… he cannae read.

 

Sappho
One girl to another

Roger Clarke writes
Despite her fame, few of Sappho’s poems survive, and few of these are complete. This is one of these few. What is striking about the poem, despite its age and the obscurity of its Aeolic dialect, is its simplicity and directness: once the language itself is mastered, the feelings of the poet come through with an immediacy that is unimpeded by any barriers of time or culture. The poem also teases with the ambiguity of its triangular situation: of the couple the poet watches is it the man or the woman that attract her more powerfully? Is she jealous of her, or him?
I have translated the poem into a metre that exactly replicates the original: unrhymed stanzas in the Sapphic metre, with the brief fourth lines of each stanza giving a sense of the breathlessness and faintness experienced by the poet.

Quite divine! Yes, that’s how he seems to me – that
man I mean, the one that sits facing you there,
leaning forward, listening to your delightful
voice as you’re speaking

and to that bright laughter of yours; it’s really
set the heartbeat pounding within my breast; for
when I glimpse you, or when I hear you calling,
I am left helpless:

frozen stiff and mute is my tongue, but subtly
underneath my skin there’s a fire now raging;
I can see no more with my eyes; a humming
deafens my eardrums;

streams of sweat pour down me; and all my body
trembles uncontrollably, and I go more
pale than dry grass. Dead, very nearly dead – yes
that’s how I feel now…

 

Anne Murray writes

My two poems for this month’s Roundabout. are from a lovely book called ‘The Lost Words’ which is a celebration in poetry of the 20 words that have been dropped from the Oxford English Children’s Dictionary. They are all words from Nature. The poems are all acrostics and the book is written and beautifully illustrated with children in mind, but I believe appeals to adults too. The poet is Robert MacFarlane and the illustrator Jackie Morris.

Ivy

I am ivy, a real high-flier.
Via bark and stone I scale tree and spire.
You call me ground-cover; I say sky-wire.

See also

Kingfisher

Kingfisher: the colour-giver, fire-bringer, flame-flicker,
river’s quiver.
Ink-black bill, orange throat, and a quick blue
back-gleaming feather-stream.
Neat and still it sits on the snag of a stick, until with . . .
Gold-flare, wing-fan, whipcrack the kingfisher –
zingfisher, singfisher! –
Flashes down too fast to follow, quick and quicker
carves its hollow
In the water, slings its arrow superswift to swallow
Stickleback or shrimp or minnow.
Halcyon is its other name – also ripple-calmer,
water-nester,
Evening angler, weather-teller, rainbringer and
Rainbow bird – that sets the stream alight with burn
and glitter!

See also

 

Domestique
by Kitty Fitzgerald

Helen Mclaren writes This is a poem from a pamphlet of poems for the Tour de France cycle race. I particularly like the first verse as it describes how I cycle, with one eye on what’s around me, an ear open for bird song, and always happy to stop for something interesting. During lockdown I’ve done a lot of cycling locally and have seen much of interest on my travels.

Cycling the Coquet, three geared sit-up-and-beg,
when state-of-the-art racers whizz by, heads down,
arses up. I’m an anachronism, enjoying the view,
complex blue of the sky, breath caught in my throat.
The sweep of the valley, the soaring falcons,
a kind of adulation at my victory….

The entire poem is to be found in ‘Tour de Vers’, poems for the Tour de France edited by Andy Jackson and published by Red Squirrel Press.

 

Lockdown

by Michaela Burns

Michaela writes: I wrote a poem and wanted it to be real on the impact that lockdown is not only having on me but, I am sure, on many others too… I hope that my poems may reach others, so that people can relate and realise that they are not alone.

They say lockdown
May have three weeks to go
Sometimes it feels like
It is going so slow

I understand the reasons
And the importance of being safe
But I don’t know if I can take it
Being tied up in this place

It feels like torture
Being stuck in my own head
Experiencing feelings
Of complete and utter dread

Running out of ways
To keep myself busy
Its grinding me down
Feels like I’m going crazy

Emotions are high
The loneliness is real
Struggling to make
Even one simple meal

I sit here and cry
Is it really to much
To long for a hug
Just a loving touch

 

Flacon

Jock Stein introduces an old friend.

It has sat there,
nodding acquaintance
while a library
took shape around it
– more than a little
drunk, that stopper,
like Stephen’s crown
in Hungary, bent
with the vicissitudes
of European history.
It still sits there
empty, without
the swirl of perfume
in its glassy body,
scent which might
have shared a neck
with pearls or diamonds,
eavesdropped sweetly
on the blossoming
of European history.
It will sit there
on the shelf,
a quiet creature,
lost in a world
of books and china,
knowing its shape
is out of kilter,
hoping to survive
the breaking up
of European history.

 

POSTSCRIPT

John Coutts writes: The last word – like the first – comes from Andrew Marvell’s ‘Garden’. He seeks peace at Nunappleton, home of the Lord General Sir Thomas Fairfax, in or after the brutal lockdown of the civil wars

… Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.

 

We have had to cut some poems from this Roundabout; for the full Poetry Roundabout for June please email John at johnjcoutts@gmail.com.
Deadline for next month’s Roundabout – Monday , July 5th

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