Friday, July 18, 2008

Boscastle Revisited

Boscastle, after the flood

We're off on holiday tomorrow to sunny Cornwall, where we lived for some years round the turn of the millennium. My eldest daughter is staying behind to hold the fort (she has a good job at the moment and is saving towards university, so quite rightly didn't fancy the idea of two weeks in a crowded tent with her parents and assorted siblings). But the rest of us will be stretching out in the glorious rain ... I mean sun ... for the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, here's a Cornish poem from my forthcoming collection, Camper Van Blues. It's never been published before, even in a poetry magazine, so I thought Raw Light could have it before it becomes crystallised in book form.

This poem, 'Rain', is a sister poem to my shorter poem 'Flood at Boscastle', which appeared in Poetry Review a while back.

'Flood at Boscastle' came out of notes I made a few years ago whilst in the Bull Ring in central Birmingham (and reading Robin Robertson's book 'Swithering', interestingly enough). I expanded those initial notes over several months, remembering what it was like to live at Boscastle before the flood, the devastation it had caused compared to the memory of the neat little village that we had in our heads, then pared that material down to create 'Flood at Boscastle', which is available to read on my Salt Publishing page.

It was only in late 2007 that I returned to the discarded notes and began cutting away at them, moving sections, adding new pieces, experimenting with various different forms, and eventually ended up with this much longer poem, 'Rain', presented in couplets. Please note though, since I'm not greatly skilled at HTML and don't have time to fiddle with this, that in the book each second line is indented. Here they both sit snugly against the left-hand margin.

Meanwhile, I hope you all have a great summer, and for my own part, that it doesn't flood again while we're back in Cornwall!





First, there was a rustle of frogs
unseen in bracken, parched

singing for rain
like all the frogs of the Amazon, for rain

like the beginning of things
over tired roofs and gutterings, for rain

deep and steady
over cliff paths and gorse

where workers once held land
strip upon strip

shining under the deluge, for rain
in the blown-out ford

slung black with, waist-deep in water
from these hills

hard-beat-against, untenable, for rain
falling through bruised light

grey-purple onto fishing nets
like giant spiders’ webs

draped in gleaming strands
across the wet stone quay

her cobbled streets back-lit
with a silver tattoo, with RAIN

the sheer thirst of it
the first of it

a rustle of frogs (unseen in bracken)
parched, singing for rain

like all the frogs of the Amazon.


I came there most days in search of sea,
blind with it,

that salt blue slap of the cliff’s edge,
shy gaggle of houses

curved like a woman’s hips
about a sleeping river, her upturned face

beautiful (though wrinkled in summer;
mud ruts in high grass)

and still the rustle of frogs
parched, unseen,

singing for rain
like all the frogs of the Amazon.

I came for the gravestones, stern
under the downpour at Forrabury

already furred black with,
bolted with water

swelling the river
at the hard mouth of the harbour

its wrung neck
and sling-shot exit a jostle

of water against rock, narrowing
and funnelling,

and trammelling up RAIN.

Perched antediluvian,
that’s how I remember it,

grey stone and Cornish slate
from that prehistoric crater at Delabole,

wind turbines
white noise in the dusk

and the sharpish approach to the harbour,
its corniche turns

and wind-sheer drop, gorse bright,
from the cliff edge

where I would come most days
in search of sea

(rocking the child inside, imagining flight,
that first curious step).

Most days I came in search of sea,
the constant boom and suck

of water on rock
like the beginning of things,

like salt, like rain,
like frogs, unseen in bracken,

singing, deep and steady,

like all the frogs of the Amazon.


And where the stifled river met
the dirty tide

it threw up bones of things, oddments
and fish, and wood adrift,

torn branches still in bud,
salted wet-black spars

and plastic bottles, bags,
arrow-tips of glass

rubbed down to frost
and always the rain

freakish in summer,
the frogs singing

and surging the blind river
down to the sea, down to wild water,

to that filthy driven flood
breaking its banks

and punching through walls,
bouncing campers and cars

and houses aside,
that old dirty tide

alive with rubbish and blossom
white as cottages

and whole trees, blown green to the sea,
a stone bridge cracked

and tossed in the long surge forward

No hands were lost –
no hands were lost, even as cars bobbed off

sea-drunk into brickwork, crumbling
as cars weaved

battered and jobbed
and the edge of a building broke first

then the rest shot free into the foam
swept loose

by the blank untenanted ark
of a mobile home

and love poured down like rain, unseen,
and the frogs sang on

like all the frogs of the Amazon.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

This Week ...

Sorry not to have been online much this past week, but on Tuesday one of my five year old twin sons, who had been off school with tonsillitis, was taken seriously ill with a viral complication. He was transferred that night by ambulance from our local hospital to the nearest university hospital, where he still is. I've been sleeping beside his bed during the nights and my husband's been taking the day shifts, so there's not been much time for checking email or blogging. (Rest has been a bit thin on the ground for me, due to frequent checks on his vital signs during the night, so my few daytime hours at home are mainly occupied with grabbing a quick meal and catching up on some sleep.)

Luckily, he seems much happier now than when he was admitted and is responding well to treatment. But it may be a few days yet before any of us are able to return to 'normal' life. Meanwhile I hope anyone who's expecting a book in the post from me or waiting for a reply to an email can be patient just a little longer.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

At the Godiva Festival: Cov's answer to Glastonbury!

I performed on stage last night at the Godiva Festival in Coventry's Memorial Park, two tents down from Cov's favourite band, The Enemy. I also happened to be in the Artist Liaison tent, getting my free food voucher, at the same time as some of the young band members and their families were picking up their backstage passes. My teenage daughter, who's a big fan of The Enemy, now apparently 'hates' me for not arranging a backstage pass for her too!

It was an excellent reading to a massive and appreciative crowd - if a bit 'Glastonbury' at times, thanks to the heavy rain, mud slicks everywhere, and an electrical short in the generator part-way through the unfortunate performer's set immediately before mine. There was a ten minute pause, while people danced about in the noisy semi-darkness and slow-clapped, then the lights came back on and suddenly it was my turn at the mic.

I warmed up the crowd, now rather frisky, with two short poems from my next book, Camper Van Blues (Salt Publishing, 2008): 'Day Tripping', about drug abuse, and 'Neighbours' (just published in Mimesis 4) about the downside of being a lone female traveller.

I then read two pieces from my first collection of poetry, The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman (Bloodaxe, 1997): 'Baize Queens', about my days as a semi-pro snooker player, and 'Not a Love Poem'.

To finish the ten minute set, I read my party piece - an extract from The Lament of the Wanderer, my version of the Anglo-Saxon poem, just published as a chapbook by Coventry's Heaventree Press, who were hosting last night's event.

Other readers in the poetry tent included the great Linton Kwesi Johnson and such stalwarts of the British poetry circuit as Dreadlockalien (aka Richard Grant), Mario Petrucci, Kei Miller, Mike McKimm, Yusra Warsama, Coventry's own Scrubber Jack, plus two excellent Irish poets visiting from Cork, Paul Casey and Billy Ramsell.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Singing Vegetables

This is just a little apology to those of you who have ordered a copy of 'The Wanderer' and not yet received it. This has been a mad week so far, but today at last I have a chance to parcel those signed copies up and ship the various orders out to different parts of the world - one to far-flung Australia, no less!

I was out all day yesterday on a school trip to the Eco Park near Milton Keynes. Not very highly recommended for a family day out, I'm afraid, unless you enjoy viewing row upon row of singing plastic vegetables and farm animals.

Though the 'digging for dinosaur bones' activities were rather groovy, it has to be admitted.