The November 2020 Poetry Roundabout

The Poetry Roundabout
November 2020

Edited by John Coutts, Poet in Residence

‘What is the late November doing?’ -T.S. Eliot

An interesting collection this, with translation from the Arabic and  our  first contribution on Shetland dialect. There’s a sober side, with reference to Remembrance Sunday. Which is why I’ve tried to brighten things up with summer memories of the one-and-only ‘Miss Joan Hunter-Dunn’  –  John Coutts

From ‘East Coker’ (The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot )

‘What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.’

He said it! Let’s carry on wrestling with words and meaning. Here’s W.B. Yeats in simpler style

An Irish airman foresees his Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan’s poor,
No likely end could bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before.
Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years to come seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind
In balance with this life, this death.

Colin Gregory writes: I thought with November being such a drear month I might be allowed to inject a little colour. My last holiday abroad was in Switzerland and I visited the Fraumünster Church in Zurich, with its wonderful stained glass windows by Chagall. The poem I’ve chosen is called “Dancing with Chagall” by Angela Croft, who lives a few doors away from me in London.

It’s all very well allowing him to fling
you up into the air
your purple skirt waving like a flag
above the rooftops
your feet in the clouds

but what will you do if it turns to rain
up in the sky without a hat

those strappy shoes, that scrap of cloth
that hardly passes as a blouse
slipping off your shoulder
to show your luminous skin
your fragile bones

him with fire in his eyes clasping
your hand as if he’d never let you fall
and you so very, very brittle

Holden Hall recommends Rhoda Bulter (1929 – 1994) Shetland’s most famous dialect poet. She looks forward to spring.

Spring Eternal by Rhoda Bulter

Eence far awa in a forest I stöd,
Whaar da wadder wis fine an da times wir göd,
An I watched da wild craiters at wark an at play,
While choirs a birds sang ta me every day.

Oot an in trowe me branches de flachtered an fled,
An biggit dir nests idda croon a me head,
An singin in spite a da wark de’d da do,
An aft-times I wissed I could sing lack dem tö

Dan cam da day at A’ll niver forgit.
It staands oot da veeve i me memory yit.
An I mind foo I whaackit wi faer ta see
Dat man wi da ex, Makkin right ower for me.

Every swipe at he med at meg öd to da haert,
As he hackit aff fae me midder, da aert;
Dan nae langer able ta hadd me head high
I gronned, an lö oot da elska cry.

Fentir grew sounds around, dimmer da light,
As I lay dere condemned ta da darkness an night;
Tet a towt ta me-sel as I lay deean dere
At dis couldna be aa – dey jöst böst ta be mair.

O da time at cam efter, A’m no very clear,
Every day laek a week, every week laek a year.
Dan gentle haands saved me fae doom an fae strife,
An fashioned fae me an entirely new life.

Dey carefully cut an dey mizzered and planed,
Dey stak an dey glued, hit seemed niver ta end.
Dan dey poalished me brighter aa onny bird’s wing,
Till owercome wi joy – foo I wissed I could sing.

Jöst whaat wir dey med a me? Whaat could I be?
Whaat ös wis I for noo I wisna a tree?
Why wis I hollow? Why dis peerie brig?
An whaat ös wis da strings lyin strett ower me rigg?

Dan ee day da gentle haands took me eence mair,
An wi a waand med fae treeds laek da fine mermaid’s hair,
Drew im light ower me strings __ O joy abön joys!
I sang laek a lintie! dey wir gien me a voice!

Noo I can tell a da beauty or da sadness A’m seen;
Da fortins a war, or da foy held da-streen;
Enhance a love strory, or lighten a care,
An play a man’s music, tho dat man be nae mair.

An wha widda towt Whin a grew idda girse,
At I wid ever a been a fine fiddle laek dis;
An a aacht ta da world. Bit it jöst gengs ta shaa,
At da darkest ooer might be da brightest avaa.

Glossary

trowte – through: flachtered – fluttered: veeve -uptight:
aert: earth: elska cry – death cry: foy – party or dance:
da-sreen – last night: aacht – welcome: mizzered – measured:
peerie – small or tiny:
ö sounds like oo

Note from Helen Mclaren: I heard this on television recently and it struck a chord.

London by William Blake

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every Man,
In every Infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.

How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every black’ning Church appals;
And the hapless Soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls.

But most thro’ midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlot’s curse
Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

Margaret Hay writes from new Zealand: Here for November are two poems about the garden and the kitchen, two places to head to in fraught times like these. The first is by Ursula Bethell, born (1874) and educated in England, who started writing at 50 from her home looking across New Zealand’s Canterbury Plain to the Southern Alps:

Detail by Ursual Bethell

My garage is a structure of excessive plainness,
It springs from a dry bank in the back garden,
It is made of corrugated iron,
And painted all over with brick-red.

But beside it I have planted a green Bay-tree,
— A sweet Bay, an Olive, and a Turkey Fig,
— A Fig, an Olive , and a Bay.

The second poem, by Alison Wong, a Chinese-New Zealand poet born in 1960.

There’s Always Things to Come Back to the Kitchen For by Alison Wong

a bowl of plain steamed rice
a piece of bitter dark chocolate
a slice of crisp peeled pear

a mother or father who understands
the kitchen is the centre of the universe

children who sail out on long elliptical orbits
and always come back, sometimes like comets, sometimes like moons

Jock Stein writes “One of the things I enjoy is commissions, even if they involve writing a bit out of my comfort zone, which would be true of embroidery. However I was asked to provide a poem for a Zoom retreat last month on that theme led by my wife Margaret, on behalf of an English Centre called ‘Quiet Waters’. Here it is.”

Stitching

Join the wounds of earth, go stitch
the skin that holds its DNA
of painful memories, each day
a journey while the jagged edges
bind and heal; love plays her part,
makes needlework a godly art.
Join the tears, and wipe the tears
of those who clash on race and gender,
every stitch a move to bend a
listening ear to pent up anger
as it frays the human canvas,
twists the ends in knotted madness.
Join the heroes of our time
who knit their daily work with kindness,
thread their toil with tenderness,
take snipping scissors to the strings
of bitterness which tie up tight
our best attempts to put things right.
Join the company of practised angels
running needles with a weave so neat
through every tapestry they meet:
that common touch, that common skill,
that common thread which spools roughshod
from heaven, and the heart of God.

Anne Murray writes: Two very different poems on ‘Silence’ this month. I have chosen this theme with Remembrance Day in mind.

Extract from AMA ET FAC QUOD VIS by John Burnside

‘Silence is argument carried on by other means’ Ernesto Guevara

What we intend
and what we allow to happen

is anyone’s guess.

All week my voice was failing – first husky, then strained,
till it guttered away to a whisper

and disappeared;
guttered away

this morning, when the snow began to fall,
whiting out streets and gardens, muffling the cars,
until it seemed the only good reply
was silence:
not

the quiet of dismay,
but what Guevara thought of as the argument
continued – carried on
by other means – that cold and salty pact
the body makes with things unlike itself

– a snowfall, or a gust of Russian wind,
the evanescence of an upper room
that might be something new, or someone gone

a moment since:
and how it is transformed
by what it never finds:
no soul; no
shadow.

‘AMA ET FAC QUOD VIS’ is a quotation from St. Augustine; ‘Love and do what you like.’ But we all knew that. JC

Silence by Mourid Barghouti (translated from the Arabic by Radwa Ashour)

Silence said:
truth needs no eloquence.
After the death of the horseman
the homeward-bound horse
says everything
without saying anything.

A Subaltern’s Love Song by John Betjeman

Miss J.Hunter Dunn, Miss J.Hunter Dunn,
Furnish’d and burnish’d by Aldershot sun,
What strenuous singles we played after tea,
We in the tournament – you against me!

Love-thirty, love-forty, oh! weakness of joy,
The speed of a swallow, the grace of a boy,
With carefullest carelessness, gaily you won,
I am weak from your loveliness, Joan Hunter Dunn

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
How mad I am, sad I am, glad that you won,
The warm-handled racket is back in its press,
But my shock-headed victor, she loves me no less.

Her father’s euonymus shines as we walk,
And swing past the summer-house, buried in talk,
And cool the verandah that welcomes us in
To the six-o’clock news and a lime-juice and gin.

The scent of the conifers, sound of the bath,
The view from my bedroom of moss-dappled path,
As I struggle with double-end evening tie,
For we dance at the Golf Club, my victor and I.

On the floor of her bedroom lie blazer and shorts,
And the cream-coloured walls are be-trophied with sports,
And westering, questioning settles the sun,
On your low-leaded window, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.

The Hillman is waiting, the light’s in the hall,
The pictures of Egypt are bright on the wall,
My sweet, I am standing beside the oak stair
And there on the landing’s the light on your hair.

By roads “not adopted”, by woodlanded ways,
She drove to the club in the late summer haze,
Into nine-o’clock Camberley, heavy with bells
And mushroomy, pine-woody, evergreen smells.

Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn,
I can hear from the car park the dance has begun,
Oh! Surrey twilight! importunate band!
Oh! strongly adorable tennis-girl’s hand!

Around us are Rovers and Austins afar,
Above us the intimate roof of the car,
And here on my right is the girl of my choice,
With the tilt of her nose and the chime of her voice.

And the scent of her wrap, and the words never said,
And the ominous, ominous dancing ahead.
We sat in the car park till twenty to one
And now I’m engaged to Miss Joan Hunter Dunn.


John Coutts writes: In view of present debate about’Rule Britannia’, the British Empire, and controversial statues, I’d like to place Kipling’s ‘Recessional’ next to Chesterton’s devastating but still charitable parody.

Recessional by Rudyard Kipling (1897)

God of our fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

The tumult and the shouting dies;
The Captains and the Kings depart:
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away;
On dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday
Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose
Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,
Such boastings as the Gentiles use,
Or lesser breeds without the Law—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!

For heathen heart that puts her trust
In reeking tube and iron shard,
All valiant dust that builds on dust,
And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,
For frantic boast and foolish word—
Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

Post-Recessional by G. K. Chesterton

God of your fathers, known of old,
For patience with man’s swaggering line,
He did not answer you when told
About you and your palm and pine,
Though you deployed your far-flung host
And boasted that you did not boast.

Though drunk with sight of power and blind,
Even as you bowed your head in awe,
You kicked up both your heels behind
At lesser breeds without the law;
Lest they forget, lest they forget,
That yours was the exclusive set.

We fancied heaven preferring much,
Your rowdiest song, your slangiest sentence,
Your honest banjo banged, to such
Very recessional repentance;
Now if your native land be dear,
Whisper (or shout) and we shall hear.

Cut down, our navies melt away.
From ode and war-song fades the fire,
We are a jolly sight to-day
Too near to Sidon and to Tyre
To make it sound so very nice
To offer ancient sacrifice.

Rise up and bid the trumpets blow
When it is gallant to be gay,
Tell the wide world it shall not know
Our face until we turn to bay.
Bless you, you shall be blameless yet,
For God forgives and men forget.

And in conclusion – by request –

November Carol by John Coutts

Lord of the drizzle, the damp and the chill;
Lord of the leaves that lie soaking and still;
Christmas comes earlier, year after year.
Santa’s been sighted! Your season is here.

TV commercials proclaim the good news;
Make us an offer we dare not refuse.
Come with your credit cards: stand up and spend!
Pay when the universe comes to an end.

Lord of November, come early, come soon.
Gleam through the mist of our grey afternoon.
Short and depressing and dull is our day.
Come with the catalogues: come Lord – and stay.

Comment(1)

  1. REPLY
    angela croft says

    It was kind of Colin Gregory to send you my poem (unbeknown to me) since I don’t subscribe to social media and thank you for placing it on Poetry Roundabout. I enjoyed your selection of poems and the gallery looks wonderful. Meanwhile for reference you might like to see the link to https://dulwichonview.org.uk/?s=angela+croft

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