This is Not Your Final Form: Emma Press

Cover of This is Not Your Final Form For this post I am having a change of direction and featuring a poetry book as I have not done so for a quite a while (sadly remiss of me). The collection This is Not Your Final Form (edited by Richard O’Brien and Emma Wright) is comprised of entrants and winners from the Birmingham based 2017 Verve Festival Poetry Competition. This book isn’t a long term TBR item as it only took up residence on my bedside table a few months ago and I did start reading it straightaway. I was browsing on the Emma Press website and as a Brummagem lass now based in Dublin, this collection was too tempting to pass up, so dear reader, I bought a copy. The back-cover blurb says this is ‘a tough, unsentimental love letter to the Midlands metropolis, which finds beauty in concrete and unity in contradiction’. And there is certainly a lot of concrete in Birmingham to inspire conflicting emotions, especially as Birmingham never seems to achieve its ‘final form’. I suspect it never will.

Canals and stories

There are so many poems that I like in this anthology, that it is difficult to know what to feature in a short article such as this. I am simply going to pull out a few themes from the collection that particularly resonated with me, starting with that old saying about Birmingham having more canals than Venice. I think that one cropped up in three poems altogether. Here’s an extract from ‘Birmingham – some advice’ by Rob Walton which amused me, as it suggested that we should change the saying to better attract tourists to Birmingham:

Seems you have ‘more canals than Venice’,
but surely ‘more canals than roads’ would be more impressive.
And wetter. Which could lead to more souvenir towel sales.
I got soaked in Birmingham! How about you?

I like the sound of the idea, but would it work I wonder? Let’s have your tea towel designs on a postcard please! Kibriya Mehrban’s poem takes as its title ‘More Canals than Venice’ and links the man-made waterways of Birmingham with rivers, tears and the currents that brought her family to Birmingham from Kashmir:

We were washed into this world,
soaking it with our colour.
Some stood, splattered, scandalised,
while others called us sisters and brothers,
offered us cloud cover.

When my grandfather first saw a girl in a hijab
working at the local post office,
he cried this city a river.

Mehrban’s poem tells us her family’s story though different generations and experiences. How they found a home in Birmingham despite the hostility of some people. This collection serves to remind us that Birmingham has been the scene of many family stories, some sad, some happy, during its long history. Birmingham also played a crucial role in the story of the modern nation. Rishi Dastidar’s lines say it all:

The middle is where the future started –
our modern world was invented here.
Minds, steam, capital met in manner uncharted –
the middle is where the future started.

 

An unsolved mystery

Continuing with the theme of story, what place would be complete without at least one unsolved mystery? The one featured in this collection was somewhat macabre and has proved endlessly fascinating to later generations as this poem proves. ‘Who put Bella in the Wych Elm Tree?’ by Helen Rehman is about a 1940s murder that remains unsolved to this day. In 1943, four boys were poaching in Hagley Wood when they discovered a skeleton, later found to be that of a female, hidden within a tree trunk. To cut a long story short, there have been many theories and stories around the discovery. These were partly fuelled by the appearance of graffiti that gave a possible name to the dead woman. The poem title references one version of the provocative question, which appeared on locations around the Midlands after the remains were found.

As the last verse tells it, time has moved on, the remains can no longer be located and the mystery endures:

The skeleton’s mislaid, the experts can’t agree,
the boys are grown and gone and lost to history;
she haunts the city’s dreams and grows a mystery.
I wonder who put Bella in the wych elm tree.

Brummie-isms

I move onto what is possibly my favourite poem in the book as it references some of the Brummie expressions that I grew up with and still fondly remember. The strange thing about local quirks of language is that you accept them while young and it never occurs to you to ask where/why/how these expressions came about. Here’s a snippet from ‘Never in a rain of pig’s pudding’ by Jill Munro:

You can take the girl out of Brummagem,
let her leave behind old Winson Street.
dress her in some bostin Southern glad rags,
marry her to a yampy Cockney with some ackers

But don’t throw this babby out with the bathwater,
for so long as it’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s
you’ll never take the Brummagem out of the girl –
even way down south, she’ll always be Our Kid.

I like the last line, it reminds me of my uncle calling my dad ‘Our Kid’ even though dad was the eldest brother. If anyone wants an explanation of some of the terms in the verses quoted, there is a handy guide on the Birmingham Live website, giving you fifty Brummie and Black Country words and phrases to chew over. Not all the phrases given necessarily originated in or are exclusive to Brum as language travels as people move around the country.

I’m going to finish with my own contribution to the topic of language with one of my Paragraph Planet pieces from 2016, with some of my Brummagem memories.

 

Hepserus: a 75 word piece from Paragraph Planet

I’ll just note that whereas Jill Munro’s poem has ‘faces as long as Livery Street’, I grew up with ‘arms as long as…’. Which just goes to show the adaptability of the local lingo.

That’s it for now and I hope it won’t be too long before I dig another poetry book out of the Landing Book Shelves!  

 

 

Romans on The Landing: Ecce Romani

Today’s post is about a studious little side-project to my TBR Pile endeavours, though I am not sure whether it will be a long-lasting one or not. I have begun to tackle a cherished ambition to have a go at learning Latin, a language that I never studied at school. My impetus for this ambition fulfilment is that The Bookworm is taking Latin classes so I thought that I would keep her company. Now, to be absolutely clear about this, she is in her second year of Latin study, so it has taken me long enough to screw my courage to the sticking place and get on with a spot of conjugating. So, without even a thought of New Year resolutions, I have acquired a new Reading Challenge.

Ecce Romani

Four to go…

I am working from Ecce Romani: A Latin Reading Course, which was passed on to us by a friend, so I need not feel too guilty if this doesn’t work out. At least I won’t have spent a fortune on my texts. The edition I have is an older version rather than the more recently updated one, but I don’t think it will make much difference. After all, the language can hardly change, can it? The Scottish Classics Group wrote the series, originally published in 1971 (Oliver and Boyd, an imprint of the Longman Group). Longman reprinted the series many times, the edition I have being the seventeenth impression (2000). I am sure that many people must have memories, both good and bad, of studying along with Marcus, Sextus, Cornelia and Flavia. It reminds me of the Peter and Jane reading books from my school days.

I have Ecce Romani books one to four to work through and then I will see where to go from there (assuming I make it that far). Alongside, I thought that I might dip into the Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge School Classics Project) series from time to time, as this is the text used by The Bookworm. Cambridge also has online activities to tie in with the books, which might be handy for vocabulary testing. Finally, if I feel truly brave I will tackle some poetry from the poetry anthology called Carpe Viam (The Classical Association of Ireland, 1993, 1998). I am not sure whether I will get as far as the Latin poetry any time soon but I do have good intentions.

Cambridge Latin

How far will I get?

On with the next chapter of my challenge…

 

A Maytime Poetic Interlude: London Bells

Browsing through the ‘One City One Book’ poetry book, If Ever You Go brought to my mind last year’s birthday present from my daughter. She chose to buy me the new edition of Poems on the Underground, which I have been picking up to read every so often. For this edition, the editors have decided to collect poems into themed sections including The Darker Side, The Artist as ‘Maker’, Exile and Loss and The Wider World. All of the poems in the anthology have been featured on the London Underground poetry posters at some point since the project began in 1986. My smart new edition was published to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the famous underground.

Poems on the Underground

Poetry in Motion

It seemed appropriate to follow on from April’s Dublin theme, with a poem from the section on London. I have chosen one from that ever-prolific poet Anonymous, as a nod towards my last #PoetryinJune blog post in 2013 when he/she insisted on sneaking in to close the series. Another reason for choosing this lighthearted London poem is that many of you probably remember it from childhood (or at least a version of it).  According to a Wikipedia article the following version first appeared in Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book, c 1774 (but with ‘ye’ rather than ‘the’). An excellent source of information about nursery rhymes is Iona and Peter Opie’s The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press), though I’m not sure if it’s still in print. I thought I had a copy tucked away somewhere but it must have been wishful thinking on my part. I think I’m right in saying that Iona and Peter Opie’s work on British nursery rhymes and childhood lore in general is the best source available. 

 

London Bells

Two sticks and an apple,
Ring the bells at Whitechapel

Old Father Bald Pate,
Ring the bells at Aldgate

Maids in white aprons,
Ring the bells at St Catherine’s.

Oranges and lemons,
Ring the bells at St Clement’s.

When will you pay me?
Ring the bells at the Old Bailey.

When I am rich,
Ring the bells at Fleetditch

When will that be?
Ring the bells at Stepney.

When I am old,
Ring the great bell at Paul’s.

 

This is the version that I grew up with; the last bell was sung to represent a very deep, slow, imposing peal:

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and Lemons

Oranges and lemons,
Say the bells of St. Clement’s.

You owe me five farthings,
Say the bells of St. Martin’s.

When will you pay me?
Say the bells of Old Bailey.

When I grow rich,
Say the bells of Shoreditch.

When will that be?
Say the bells of Stepney.

I do not know,
Says the great bell of Bow.

Here comes a candle to light you to bed,
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The Wikipedia article I’ve linked above suggests some meanings behind the rhyme and also quotes yet another version of it. We used to play the game illustrated in this nineteenth century plate, when you went round and round and got your head ‘chopped off’ if you were too slow. It’s strange how you play games as a child without ever really thinking about what the words or rituals mean. But let’s not get into too much blood thirsty stuff now, as I shall be off to bed shortly and don’t want to be dreaming of the dark doings in the Tower of London.

So, altogether now:

Here comes a candle…

 

A Witchy Halloween Poem

This is my small contribution to the Halloween festival, in the form of a poem taken from a poetry book called The Story Witch and Other Rhymes that my sister gave to our daughter a few years ago. I like all of the poems in the collection as they are funny, imaginative and not at all tedious to read aloud over… and… over… and… over again. This one is short enough to reproduce in its entirety.

Witches and Wizards

The Story Witch

A Seething Cauldron

Witches and Wizards are born not made.
Their parents are witches and wizards too.
A different blood runs through their veins
And they will go to the greatest pains
To emphasise this point to you:
Witches and wizards are born not made!

So look very hard for your family tree –
You may find it somewhere on your shelf,
And examine it very carefully.
You may be a wizard or witch yourself.

The Story Witch and Other Rhymes written by Eileen Cross and illustrated by Helen Ricketts (2005). Printed by Anthony Phillips & Davis Print & Design.

Eileen Cross, a literacy volunteer was inspired to write this collection by the children at Quinton Church Primary School in Birmingham. A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the first edition were donated to Acorns Children’s Hospice Trust. I’m not sure if it is still available to buy new but I did notice that a second-hand copy was advertised recently via Amazon.

Witch Family Tree

Where do you fit in?

Happy Halloween folks! And don’t forget to check your family tree for pointy-hat wearing ancestors…

A Poem by Anonymous ?

For the last of my #PoetryinJune features I thought that I would feature a poem from that ever prolific versifier Anonymous (often shortened to Anon). Not only prolific but of amazing longevity, Anonymous has penned poems, songs, ditties and doggerel on a variety of subjects for several centuries. His/her versatility is truly legendary in poetic circles, therefore it is not really surprising that no anthology is complete without at least a couple of verses by the writer known as Anonymous.

I therefore browsed though an anthology, Other Men’s Flowers edited by A.P. Wavell (Cape 1944, 1958). This is a rather nice reprint of the memorial edition of Wavell’s book, complete with red slip-case, bought from a book fair about twenty years ago. After much indecision amongst the ‘Anons’ I chose the nonsense poem below, partly because I have always liked it and partly because a pair of cormorants nest on top of an old chimney on a nearby stretch of the River Dodder. We often see them in the spring but sadly have never yet been able ascertain whether they do indeed lay their eggs in a paper bag. The chimney is rather tall you see.

Birds, Bags, Bears, and Buns

Book cover in blue leather binding

Other Men’s Flowers

The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
The reason you will see, no doubt,
It is to keep the lightening out,
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

Now comes the rub. On browsing the internet to see whether I could find out more about this poem, I discovered that poem has been attributed to Christopher Isherwood. Wikipedia say that it was in Poems Past and Present and they reference a 1959 (fourth printing) edition from J.M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Ltd. What puzzles me somewhat is how the poem came to be attributed to ‘Anon’ in the first place if it indeed by Isherwood.

If anyone out there can offer any concrete information on this poem’s history, I would love to hear about it. I hope you have enjoyed this month’s trawl through The Landing poetry books on the TBR (or not read for a long time) Pile. Thanks for the comments and likes posted up – I appreciate the contact.

See you soon!

Ogden Nash

Now that school’s out for summer, I think that we should have another beach related poem to nudge us a little  nearer towards the end of the month. Ogden Nash (1902-1971) has given his own inimitable take on the urge we have to go down to the beach. His poem Seaside Serenade was originally published in The Bad Parents’ Garden of Verse (1936). I have this poem in Candy is Dandy: the Best of Ogden Nash (Andre Deutsch, 1994) which has an introduction by Anthony Burgess. I bought this collection a few years ago when I was working in Dún Laoghaire. This was another case of a customer bringing a book to my attention; the great thing about working in a bookshop is that you gain much inspiration from customers.

I like the parody of R.L. Stevenson in the title of the 1936 collection, so I thought that would be an additional reason to include this particular poem at the start of the school holidays:

Seaside Serenade

But liquor is quicker..

But liquor is quicker..

It begins when you smell a funny smell,
And it isn’t vanilla or caramel,
And it isn’t forget-me-not or lilies,
 Or new-mown hay, or daffy-down-dillies,
And it’s not what the barber rubs on Father,
And it’s awful, and yet you like it rather.
No, it’s not what the barber rubs on Daddy,
It’s more like an elderly finnan haddie,
Or, shall we say, an electric fan
Blowing over a sardine can.
It smells of seaweed, it smells of clams,
It’s as fishy as ready-made-telegrams,
It’s as fishy as millions of fishy fishes,
 In spite of which you find it delishes,
You could do with a second helping, please,
And that, my dears is the ocean breeze.

……

The poem goes on to describe the sights usually seen on a beach: ‘Is people reclining upon their abdomen’ and ‘Kiddies in clamorous crowds that swarm’. It finishes with a riff on John Masefield and Sea Fever:

Oh, I must go down to the beach, my lass,
And step on a piece of broken glass.

If you go down to the beach this holiday, I hope that you don’t step on any broken glass, but that you do enjoy the sea breezes.

I have only one more day of #PoetryinJune left and I hope that you have enjoyed the poetic offerings this month and Ogden Nash’s verse today.

Christopher Robin and Alice

Today’s choice for #PoetryinJune post is to combine two things: my mum’s birthday (which strictly speaking is tomorrow) and our daughter’s last day in primary school today. My mum used to sing this song to us when we were little and I tried to do the same with my daughter but couldn’t quite remember the tune. I wish I’d found this clip sooner:

Credit: YouTube – uploaded by Robert Ready (2008) – with thanks

See you tomorrow….

George Mackay Brown

The school summer holidays are now almost upon us, so today’s poem from Orcadian poet  George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) is meant to encourage you to think of beach activities. We do of course have to pretend that it’s never going to rain and that all will be sunshine and light. Fortunately you don’t really need the sunshine to go beach combing. Depending on the beach, you might manage to come up with all sorts of objects; I like the range of flotsam and jetsam that the narrator turns up in Beachcomber.

In our garden, we have a bird table and a plant trough that were made from driftwood salvaged from the river estuary near Swords, Dublin courtesy of the OWLS nature group. Maybe you might feel inspired to do a little beach coming yourselves. Who knows, perhaps you might even find a sea chest of golden coins…

Beachcomber

Beach in Orkney

A Beach in Orkney

Monday I found a boot-
Rust and salt leather.
I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
Next winter
It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
I tilted my head.
The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
A whalebone,
Wet feet and a loud cough.

Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
Sand spilling from it
The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
A Spanish ship
Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

Sunday, for fear of the elders,
I sit on my bum.
What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

I took George Mackay Brown’s poem from an anthology that I have used previously, Golden Apples: Poems for Children (edited by Fiona Waters). If you want to find out more about Mackay Brown take a look at the George Mackay Brown Website for plenty of information on his life and work.

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

Orkney Photo Credit: DJL (2012) – with thanks.

David Marcus

My poet today is David Marcus (1924-2009), a poet (also editor, translator and novelist) whom I only discovered in the last couple of years. I bought Lost and Found: Collected Poems (New Island, 2007) from a bargain bin in a Dublin bookshop. It was one of those serendipitous moments, as I had been reading an article about David Marcus’s work and then a few days later I spotted this volume while browsing. The collection was edited by George O’Brien who says of Marcus, ‘ It’s hard to think of another figure in twentieth-century Irish literary life to whom the designation ‘man of letters’ is better suited. In ways that have been as unselfish as they have been influential, David has truly been a person of the book.’ High praise indeed; The phrase ‘person of the book’ conjures up a wonderful image of someone it would have been good to know.

From David Marcus’s collection I have picked out the following love poem to act as a modern counterpart to Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet a few days ago:

cover of Lost and Found

Lost and Found

Sonnet

For thee, my love, a lifelong lease on Time,
Safe passage through the crumbling Halls of Life,
Eternal stay in the most temperate clime,
And clear exemption from dark Age’s knife.
If I could garner knowledge from the air
Or by some strange or subtle alchemy
Compound a wine that has of each a share,
If needs, I’d bring it in my hands to thee.
The sweetest verse should every day be spoken.
Your face by every person should be seen.
Your form for other beauty might have been.
It’s easy known my love could not be such,
Even so, yet still I love you much too much.

I would most certainly love to have an ‘exemption from dark Age’s knife’ if such a thing were possible. That not being so, I shall have to make do with words (which are ageless).

For more information on David Marcus’s work Irish Writers Online is a useful resource.

#PoetryinJune is entering the last few days and I hope you have enjoyed the verses that I chose to feature. Thanks to the people who have been kind enough to ‘like’ and comment. As this week also sees the last week of my daughter’s primary school career, I may wax a little nostalgic over the next few days. You have been warned…

Stevie Smith

I chose Fairy Story by Stevie Smith (1902-1971) because I felt that the woodland scene would follow on well from yesterday’s Kipling verses.  There is always a sense of mystery in a woodland, whether it is from strange sounds, half hidden paths or the sense that unseen creatures (and the trees) are communicating in a way that we don’t understand.  I haven’t so far been able to find out when this poem was first published, but it often crops up in anthologies for children. I think we have ‘Fairy Story’ in two or three collections of poetry on The Landing, so I’ve used one that I haven’t featured on the blog before:

Golden Apples: Poems for Children, edited by Fiona Waters and illustrated by Alan Marks (Heinemann, 1985). This anthology is another one of my library sale bargains (thanks again to Dundrum library) from recent years. It is an excellent anthology of ‘simple poems and challenging ones, the familiar and the completely new, poems that range from the lyrical to the comic’.

Fairy Story

book cover with a girl and a boy reading and a golden appletree

‘a gift book to treasure’

I went into the wood one day
And there I walked and lost my way

When it was so dark I could not see
A little creature came to me
He said if I would sing a song
The time would not be very long

But first I must let him hold my hand tight
Or else the wood would give me a fright

I sang a song, he let me go
But know I am home again there is nobody I know.

I only know a scattering of Stevie Smith’s poems so I should look out for an addition to The Landing poetry shelf. While putting this piece together, I was reminded of the film made of Stevie Smith’s life (from a play by Hugh Whitemore) starring Glenda Jackson and Mona Washbourne (1978). I saw it on television when I was a teenager; Glenda Jackson and Stevie Smith have since become inextricably entwined in my mind. I remember being fascinated by the poet having a man’s name (her real name was Florence Margaret Smith) which seemed awfully sophisticated at the time. According to Wikipedia, the reason for the nickname was due to Smith’s supposed resemblance to the jockey Steve Donaghue. And here was me thinking all these years that it was some sort of artistic feminist statement.

I think I now need to go on a DVD hunt to relive my teenage years…