Marshlands

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up and by water to White Hall, there to discourse with G. Carteret and Mr. Fenn about office business. I found them all aground, and no money to do anything with. Thence homewards, calling at my Tailor’s to bespeak some coloured clothes, and thence to Hercules Pillars, all alone, and there spent 6d. on myself, and so home and busy all the morning. At noon to dinner, home, where my wife shows me a letter from her father, who is going over sea, and this afternoon would take his leave of her. I sent him by her three Jacobuses in gold, having real pity for him and her. So I to my office, and there all the afternoon. This day comes news from Harwich that the Dutch fleete are all in sight, near 100 sail great and small, they think, coming towards them; where, they think, they shall be able to oppose them; but do cry out of the falling back of the seamen, few standing by them, and those with much faintness. The like they write from Portsmouth, and their letters this post are worth reading. Sir H. Cholmly come to me this day, and tells me the Court is as mad as ever; and that the night the Dutch burned our ships the King did sup with my Lady Castlemayne, at the Duchess of Monmouth’s, and there were all mad in hunting of a poor moth. All the Court afraid of a Parliament; but he thinks nothing can save us but the King’s giving up all to a Parliament. Busy at the office all the afternoon, and did much business to my great content. In the evening sent for home, and there I find my Lady Pen and Mrs. Lowther, and Mrs. Turner and my wife eating some victuals, and there I sat and laughed with them a little, and so to the office again, and in the evening walked with my wife in the garden, and did give Sir W. Pen at his lodgings (being just come from Deptford from attending the dispatch of the fire-ships there) an account of what passed the other day at Council touching Commissioner Pett, and so home to supper and to bed.

I found the ground there
in back of the sea
mouth to mouth
hunting a moth of fire


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 21 June 1667.

Haircutting

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, without any respect to my wife, only answering her a question or two, without any anger though, and so to the office, where all the morning busy, and among other things Mr. Barber come to me (one of the clerks of the Ticket office) to get me to sign some tickets, and told me that all the discourse yesterday, about that part of the town where he was, was that Mr. Pett and I were in the Tower; and I did hear the same before. At noon, home to dinner, and there my wife and I very good friends; the care of my gold being somewhat over, considering it was in their hands that have as much cause to secure it as myself almost, and so if they will be mad, let them. But yet I do intend to, send for it away. Here dined Mercer with us, and after dinner she cut my hair, and then I into my closet and there slept a little, as I do now almost every day after dinner; and then, after dallying a little with Nell, which I am ashamed to think of, away to the office. Busy all the afternoon; in the evening did treat with, and in the end agree; but by some kind of compulsion, with the owners of six merchant ships, to serve the King as men-of-war. But, Lord! to see how against the hair it is with these men and every body to trust us and the King; and how unreasonable it is to expect they should be willing to lend their ships, and lay out 2 or 300l. a man to fit their ships for new voyages, when we have not paid them half of what we owe them for their old services! I did write so to Sir W. Coventry this night. At night my wife and I to walk and talk again about our gold, which I am not quiet in my mind to be safe, and therefore will think of some way to remove it, it troubling me very much. So home with my wife to supper and to bed, miserable hot weather all night it was.

without a barber I cut
my hair every day a little
by some kind of compulsion

but see how hair is as it ages
so quiet a weather


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Thursday 20 June 1667.

Corvus corax

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office, where all the morning busy with Fist again, beginning early to overtake my business in my letters, which for a post or two have by the late and present troubles been interrupted. At noon comes Sir W. Batten and W. Pen, and we to W. Pen’s house, and there discoursed of business an hour, and by and by comes an order from Sir R. Browne, commanding me this afternoon to attend the Council-board, with all my books and papers touching the Medway. I was ready [to fear] some mischief to myself, though it appears most reasonable that it is to inform them about Commissioner Pett. I eat a little bit in haste at Sir W. Batten’s, without much comfort, being fearful, though I shew it not, and to my office and get up some papers, and found out the most material letters and orders in our books, and so took coach and to the Council-chamber lobby, where I met Mr. Evelyn, who do miserably decry our follies that bring all this misery upon us. While we were discoursing over our publique misfortunes, I am called in to a large Committee of the Council: present the Duke of Albemarle, Anglesey, Arlington, Ashly, Carteret, Duncomb, Coventry, Ingram, Clifford, Lauderdale, Morrice, Manchester, Craven, Carlisle, Bridgewater. And after Sir W. Coventry’s telling them what orders His Royal Highness had made for the safety of the Medway, I told them to their full content what we had done, and showed them our letters. Then was Peter Pett called in, with the Lieutenant of the Tower. He is in his old clothes, and looked most sillily. His charge was chiefly the not carrying up of the great ships, and the using of the boats in carrying away his goods; to which he answered very sillily, though his faults to me seem only great omissions. Lord Arlington and Coventry very severe against him; the former saying that, if he was not guilty, the world would think them all guilty. The latter urged, that there must be some faults, and that the Admiral must be found to have done his part. I did say an unhappy word, which I was sorry for, when he complained of want of oares for the boats: and there was, it seems, enough, and good enough, to carry away all the boats with from the King’s occasions. He said he used never a boat till they were all gone but one; and that was to carry away things of great value, and these were his models of ships; which, when the Council, some of them, had said they wished that the Dutch had had them instead of the King’s ships, he answered, he did believe the Dutch would have made more advantage of the models than of the ships, and that the King had had greater loss thereby; this they all laughed at. After having heard him for an hour or more, they bid him withdraw. I all this while showing him no respect, but rather against him, for which God forgive me! for I mean no hurt to him, but only find that these Lords are upon their own purgation, and it is necessary I should be so in behalf of the office. He being gone, they caused Sir Richard Browne to read over his minutes; and then my Lord Arlington moved that they might be put into my hands to put into form, I being more acquainted with such business; and they were so. So I away back with my books and papers; and when I got into the Court it was pretty to see how people gazed upon me, that I thought myself obliged to salute people and to smile, lest they should think I was a prisoner too; but afterwards I found that most did take me to be there to bear evidence against P. Pett; but my fear was such, at my going in, of the success of the day, that at my going in I did think fit to give T. Hater, whom I took with me, to wait the event, my closet-key and directions where to find 500l. and more in silver and gold, and my tallys, to remove, in case of any misfortune to me. Thence to Sir G. Carteret’s to take my leave of my Lady Jem, who is going into the country tomorrow; but she being now at prayers with my Lady and family, and hearing here by Yorke, the carrier, that my wife is coming to towne, I did make haste home to see her, that she might not find me abroad, it being the first minute I have been abroad since yesterday was se’ennight. It is pretty to see how strange it is to be abroad to see people, as it used to be after a month or two’s absence, and I have brought myself so to it, that I have no great mind to be abroad, which I could not have believed of myself. I got home, and after being there a little, she come, and two of her fellow-travellers with her, with whom we drunk: a couple of merchant-like men, I think, but have friends in our country. They being gone, I and my wife to talk, who did give me so bad an account of her and my father’s method in burying of our gold, that made me mad: and she herself is not pleased with it, she believing that my sister knows of it. My father and she did it on Sunday, when they were gone to church, in open daylight, in the midst of the garden; where, for aught they knew, many eyes might see them: which put me into such trouble, that I was almost mad about it, and presently cast about, how to have it back again to secure it here, the times being a little better now; at least at White Hall they seem as if they were, but one way or other I am resolved to free them from the place if I can get them. Such was my trouble at this, that I fell out with my wife, that though new come to towne, I did not sup with her, nor speak to her tonight, but to bed and sleep.

over the cliff a raven
its great laugh

I gaze after it
going into prayer

like burying daylight in the garden
where many eyes sleep


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Wednesday 19 June 1667.

Heat wave

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and did this morning dally with Nell and touch her thing, which I was afterward troubled for. To the office, and there all the morning. Peg Pen come to see me, and I was glad of it, and did resolve to have tried her this afternoon, but that there was company with elle at my home, whither I got her. Dined at home, W. Hewer with me, and then to the office, and to my Lady Pen’s, and did find occasion for Peg to go home with me to my chamber, but there being an idle gentleman with them, he went with us, and I lost my hope. So to the office, and by and by word was brought me that Commissioner Pett is brought to the Tower, and there laid up close prisoner; which puts me into a fright, lest they may do the same with us as they do with him. This puts me upon hastening what I am doing with my people, and collecting out of my papers our defence. Myself got Fist, Sir W. Batten’s clerk, and busy with him writing letters late, and then home to supper and to read myself asleep, after piping, and so to bed. Great newes to-night of the blowing up of one of the Dutch greatest ships, while a Council of War was on board: the latter part, I doubt, is not so, it not being confirmed since; but the former, that they had a ship blown up, is said to be true. This evening comes Sir G. Carteret to the office, to talk of business at Sir W. Batten’s; where all to be undone for want of money, there being none to pay the Chest at their publique pay the 24th of this month, which will make us a scorn to the world. After he had done there, he and I into the garden, and walked; and the greatest of our discourse is, his sense of the requisiteness of his parting with his being Treasurer of the Navy, if he can, on any good terms. He do harp upon getting my Lord Bruncker to take it on half profit, but that he is not able to secure him in paying him so much. But the thing I do advise him to do by all means, and he resolves on it, being but the same counsel which I intend to take myself. My Lady Jem goes down to Hinchingbroke to lie down, because of the troubles of the times here. He tells me he is not sure that the King of France will not annoy us this year, but that the Court seems [to] reckon upon it as a thing certain, for that is all that I and most people are afeard of this year. He tells me now the great question is, whether a Parliament or no Parliament; and says the Parliament itself cannot be thought able at present to raise money, and therefore it will be to no purpose to call one. I hear this day poor Michell’s child is dead.

morning with a touch of noon
in an amber prison

this paper fist of corn
in the garden is no ear

but an ear itself
cannot raise the dead


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Tuesday 18 June 1667.

Transcription error

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to my office, where busy all the morning, particularly setting my people to work in transcribing pieces of letters publique and private, which I do collect against a black day to defend the office with and myself. At noon dined at home, Mr. Hater with me alone, who do seem to be confident that this nation will be undone, and with good reason: Wishes himself at Hambrough, as a great many more, he says, he believes do, but nothing but the reconciling of the Presbyterian party will save us, and I am of his mind. At the office all the afternoon, where every moment business of one kind or other about the fire-ships and other businesses, most of them vexatious for want of money, the commanders all complaining that, if they miss to pay their men a night, they run away; seamen demanding money of them by way of advance, and some of Sir Fretcheville Hollis’s men, that he so bragged of, demanding their tickets to be paid, or they would not work: this Hollis, Sir W. Batten and W. Pen say, proves a very wind-fucker, as Sir W. B. terms him, and the other called him a conceited, idle, prating, lying fellow. But it was pleasant this morning to hear Hollis give me the account what, he says, he told the King in Commissioner Pett’s presence, whence it was that his ship was fit sooner than others, telling the King how he dealt with the several Commissioners and agents of the Ports where he comes, offering Lanyon to carry him a Ton or two of goods to the streights, giving Middleton an hour or two’s hearing of his stories of Barbadoes, going to prayer with Taylor, and standing bare and calling, “If it please your Honour,” to Pett, but Sir W. Pen says that he tells this story to every body, and believes it to be a very lie. At night comes Captain Cocke to see me, and he and I an hour in the garden together. He tells me there have been great endeavours of bringing in the Presbyterian interest, but that it will not do. He named to me several of the insipid lords that are to command the armies that are to be raised. He says the King and Court are all troubled, and the gates of the Court were shut up upon the first coming of the Dutch to us, but they do mind the business no more than ever: that the bankers, he fears, are broke as to ready-money, though Viner had 100,000l. by him when our trouble begun: that he and the Duke of Albemarle have received into their own hands, of Viner, the former 10,000l., and the latter 12,000l., in tallies or assignments, to secure what was in his hands of theirs; and many other great men of our masters have done the like; which is no good sign, when they begin to fear the main. He and every body cries out of the office of the Ordnance, for their neglects, both at Gravesend and Upnor, and everywhere else. He gone, I to my business again, and then home to supper and to bed. I have lately played the fool much with our Nell, in playing with her breasts. This night, late, comes a porter with a letter from Monsieur Pratt, to borrow 100l. for my Lord Hinchingbroke, to enable him to go out with his troop in the country, as he is commanded; but I did find an excuse to decline it. Among other reasons to myself, this is one, to teach him the necessity of being a good husband, and keeping money or credit by him.

transcribing pieces of a day
as wishes for night

they brag of their wind-fuck
going to prayer bare
as a body in the grave

her breasts
his one-inch country


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Monday 17 June 1667.

Poetry Blog Digest 2020, Week 27

Poetry Blogging Network

A personal selection of posts from the Poetry Blogging Network and beyond. Although I tend to quote my favorite bits, please do click through and read the whole posts. This week, poets had trouble sleeping and trouble waking up, trouble celebrating and trouble mourning, trouble writing and trouble not writing, while all around us flowers unfurled and swelled into fruit.


I’m writing this post while sitting on a bench by the side of the canal in Bradford-on-Avon.  I’m writing in a small sparkly notebook and I’ll type up these notes later when I return home.  It’s nearly 3pm on Friday, 3rd July, 2020.  I left home just after 2pm to catch the train here, just one stop from where I live.  The journey took six minutes.  It was the first time I’ve used public transport since the lockdown started in March.  I wore a face mask and I sanitised my hands with gel once I’d got off at my stop.  These are items that I always carry now, in the small rucksack bag I wear on my back.  Most other passengers were also wearing masks, but not everyone.  My carriage was about one third full.  I bought my ticket from the machine at the start of my journey using contactless payment – I tried to book online using my phone but those tickets were unavailable on my app.  There were no staff on board the train checking tickets or face mask-wearing.

Today I feel I’m rejoining the world again, in my own way.  Using public transport is important to me although I realise it’s riskier than driving a car, in terms of being exposed to Covid-19 and other germs.  But I’d started to make a concerted effort to reduce my carbon footprint before lockdown, and I want to return to that lifestyle.  I also felt an urge to get out of the house and to be alone.

My household’s lockdown began with all four of us watching The Tiger King on Netflix.  It’s coming to an end with each of us involved with a BBC iPlayer series I May Destroy You: Andrew and I watching together on the telly in the front room; our daughter watching in her own time somewhere in the house on her laptop; our son not yet watching but listening in to conversations about the series when we meet in our kitchen.  Perhaps we survived this enforced time together without major arguments because we’ve circulated around each other in our lives, giving each other space.  Some of us would probably appreciate more space than others.

Josephine Corcoran, With lockdown hair and a face mask, I rejoin the world

A hot night, no sleep
to cool down thoughts and doubts.
Then the light, the birds,

a cup of coffee,
as one must declare defeat.
A win is this dawn,

yellow and rosy,
the earth, a sweet funfair candy.
Fine, I’ll stay awake,

dream of lilac dawns*.

*dusks

Magda Kapa, Isolation Time – Throwback June

ruby is my birthstone the gem of July Ruby was my grandmother’s name this moon is a jack moon a jack knife moon a Jack and the Beanstalk moon a jackoff moon a high noon moon a Jack Torrance moon a screw you moon a moaning moon a moon of betrayal and butter knives this moon leaves suicide notes in cookbooks then makes dinner this moon shoots a gun on black and white television this moon dangles over the Aurora Bridge in the middle of the day but it’s a strong swimmer this moon shakes up history this moon is a tourist a sham a mark a shill a Shaklee salesman needing a drink of water a used car salesman with a cigar

Rebecca Loudon, 100% full

In the wee, small hours of the morning, once again, I couldn’t sleep. I was having one of those dark night of the soul kinds of night, where I couldn’t quiet my brain and go back to sleep. I decided to get up and do some offline journaling.

I ended this way, “So many roads circling back to a question: what am I going to do with the rest of my life? How can I plan now that this pandemic has changed everything? Or has it changed everything?”

I did some sorting. My spouse has an idea for a shelving project; I am fighting despair as the plan has gotten ever more complicated. All I wanted was a place to put my books! Books that have been packed away for 2 years now. Insert a heavy sigh here.

I came across some map fragments.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott, Fragments of a Map to an Unknown Future

I made this box for you

I filled it with fragments, beachcombed
sea glass, wisps of snagged wool.
I wanted you to know
the random loveliness of being alive,
to know it in your bones and blood.

I put in :

snow, to remember draughts
and rooms with cold corners;

a black handled knife, sharp as silk,
in a grey-vaulted market, the scent
of cut flowers to show that fathers
give like the gods; a bicycle stammering
through stems of barley, willowherb,
to understand that gravity may be defied;

the humped glass of a brown river,
black branches snagged on the weir’s rim;

these bundled letters in different hands
and inks to show how words fall short of love.

John Foggin, Our David’s Birthday

The language of illness is, as Woolf puts it, “primitive, subtle, sensual, obscene.” It is urgent, terrifying, and sacred. These are qualities found in poetry.

Later in the same essay, Woolf writes, “There is, let us confess it (and illness is the great confessional) a childish outspokenness in illness; things are said, truths blurted out, which the cautious respectability of health conceals.” 

The part about “the cautious respectability of health” implies that when we are ill, we can blurt out truths we wouldn’t dream of when well.

This is the time for honesty and fresh, raw language. This is the time for poetry.

Erica Goss, Plague Poetry

In the Google search bar, I type “how do you know when it’s time” and the first autofill response that comes up is “to put your dog down.”

Followed by: to break up, to leave your church, to dig up potatoes, to move on, to retire.

I don’t go to church and I haven’t planted any potatoes, so Google’s powers of divination are limited. But I was seeking information about how to know when it’s time to let go of my dog, and I hate that Google’s algorithms correctly anticipated that.

I wish I were searching for some of the other “how do you know when” topics; many are about food and their harvesting or cooking: salmon, mangoes, pineapple, garlic. I wish I cared about food more, the way I used to.

I try “how do you know when it’s too late” and I get both “to get your ex back” and “to have a root canal.” I’ve never had a root canal, but from everything I’ve heard about them, those two things might have more in common than one would think.

I trim the inquiry back to “how do you know” and the stakes are suddenly much higher: if you’re pregnant, if you love someone, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have coronavirus.

“should I” yields a mix of results that speak to the absurdity of these times, of our lives: refinance my mortgage, get a covid test, get bangs, stay or should I go. Or, maybe just of my life. I suppose Google knows that I’m of an age where lyrics by The Clash might be what I’m searching for.

It’s only when I click on the lyrics to that song and read them–rather than listen to them through a haze of alcohol and hormones and unresolved childhood trauma (hell, completely unrecognized childhood trauma)–that I understand I’ve misunderstood them for my whole life.

Rita Ott Ramstad, A day in the life

The weight of other people’s suffering can be palpable, whether someone weeping in the next room or someone in agony across the globe. How do we go about our own lives knowing others are in anguish at the same moment? This question has haunted me, especially in my growing up years. I suspect such questions weigh more on children than we imagine.

By the time I was eight or nine years old, my parents had cancelled their subscriptions to news magazines because they couldn’t deal with repeated questions like, “Why is that village burning? Who hurt that man? Why isn’t someone helping that baby?” Even the most well-intentioned adult would rather not think about such questions, let alone answer them. Try to explain war to a child. No matter how you skew it, the answer comes down to whoever destroys more property and kills more people, wins. Try explaining poverty or prejudice to a child. It’s impossible to morally justify the indifference and greed that helps to prop up “normal” life in the face of truly open, honest questions.

Laura Grace Weldon, Compassion By Design

America,
we can shine and scrub your floors
without a Hoover or a Roomba, then punch
holes in the bottoms of fruit
cocktail cans so we can grow bird
chillies and tomatoes on the veranda.
We let a dentist in our old hometown pull
out all our teeth so you wouldn’t get
the chance to do it and charge us
triple. There is a fish we like to eat
whose belly is soft and sweet and full
of fat; but every bone in its body
is a tree that bristles with more than
a dozen spears. Like you, America—
if we’re not careful, we could choke
on even the smallest mouthful.

Luisa A. Igloria, America

The Unafraid is deeply moving in parts, as it portrays quite well not just the multi-generational struggle to create a better future in America, especially but not only in the Deep South, but also what forces those with no money, no education, and no papers to leave their countries for the United States. The sacrifices made are tremendous, and what it means for families to risk everything to come here is wholly unappreciated by policymakers who would rather erect walls than uphold the values this country is supposed to represent. Our cluelessness robs human beings no different from ourselves of so much, from the most basic rights and services we born here take for granted, to the opportunities to realize better lives for our children, opportunities slow in coming, if at all, to the undocumented.In addition to showing us the truths about forced migration and its life-changing consequences, the documentary also sharply reveals the racism endemic throughout this country. To be brown means having a life that doesn’t matter, if you want to go to college, if you want to make a living that lifts you out of poverty. To be brown means not having the right to believe in the “American dream”. To be brown means, in the argot of the film, to be “very afraid” until you become one of “the unafraid” who finds the strength to risk opening a closed door. That any one of us might watch this film and not see the wrongs we perpetuate in our government and socioeconomic and cultural policies, as well as through our myth-making, is to be deliberately obtuse and tragically indifferent to the riches that immigrants, undocumented people, asylees, refugees, and DACA recipients offer us.

Maureen Doallas, Musings in a Time of Crisis XXXI

Independence Day (or Interdependence Day, as I’ve heard it called): The country has been thrust back on me.   I’d left it countless times, then straddled between two countries, then made a life of motion.  But circumstances being what they are, I am simply facing it, America…  

posthumous, finished, junked, done — or part of the process of rising and passing that covid-19 has made us so aware of?   A “Finale for America” as clever wits have referred to rogue fireworks that have been exploding nightly?  In recent weeks and months I have agreed.  But the 4th gave me — what — freedom of stuckness.  I looked kindly on things; it wasn’t forced, it just happened.  

I thought about the Declaration of Independence and read, along with many, Frederick Douglass’ bracing famous 4th of July address: “You may rejoice.  I must mourn.”  The polyvocalism of these declarations of values – that we are living in the polyvocalism – unstuck me from singularity.  The truth and reconciliation process we’ve so long needed might be here.  I listened to the very best of American song — the sinuous pairing of elegant contrast, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald duets.  In a flight from nihilism, there are ways to combine the large and small. 

Look how beautiful the day after – peony petals against a pile of oyster shells. They are dissociated from their meaning — yet in this time of appreciating passage, the wisdom songs of covid as well as garbage day, here they are.  The flowers had been flush and full, the oysters a marvel. The energy of passage keeps us from getting stuck.  The poet Alice Oswald talks about this in her new Oxford lecture, “An Interview with Water.” Poetry, dance, rhythm and water all keep us moving. Then there’s the leaping between odd things – country, trash and renewal – that keeps the mind buzzing.

Jill Pearlman, Of Oysters, the 4th and the Surreality of it all

& awaken cranium of geraniums, awakeness will make your thought gardens grow brighter.

& awaken all relatives of relativity, awakeness will travel you at the speed of light.

& awaken evil-faced clocks snuffing out lives with every tick, awakeness will allow you to more carefully consider each moment of every day.

& awaken those whose blues are blacker and bluer than the blues, awakeness can allow you to sing above the pain.

Rich Ferguson, & awaken

Despite saying I probably needed a certain amount of distance to write about the current state of events, and in fact a 2-3 month span of being unable to write at ALL really, I find myself mid-project on a series called BLOOM–named so because of the ways illness (actual, metaphorical) blooms in the body, in society, in the world. Also the way nature this spring, despite humans and their stupid diseases, continued to bloom while we were still dying. While people were being killed by the virus, by the government, by the police. But even still, I usually need more distance, and who knows how much time there is for any of us.

Kristy Bowen, bloom

On my walk home from Launcherley yesterday I made a note of the wildflowers I saw: Sweet Woodruff, Meadowsweet, Agrimony, Camomile, Pineapple weed, Yarrow (both white and pink varieties), Creeping Cinquefoil, Yellow Trefoil, Spear Thistle, Hawkweed, Common Mallow, Field Convolvulus (both the white and the pink-and-white varieties), White Deadnettle, Sowthistle, Herb Bennet, Herb Robert, Willowherb, Ragwort, various docks and sorrels, Water Hemlock, Spurge, Redleg, Fat Hen, Wild White Clover, Field Scabious, Burdock, Teasel, Marjoram, Hedge-mustard, and a Mullein when I was almost home. […]

My family moved from London to an isolated cottage in a rural part of Surrey when I was ten. It was the beginning of the summer holidays and, not knowing anyone locally, I spent my days happily wandering alone looking for wild flowers. My aunt in the Isle of Skye, a keen amateur botanist, sent me Collins Pocket Guide to Wild Flowers, newly-published, far too big and heavy for any normal pocket, but just what I needed. I learnt a lot of names that summer.

Ama Bolton, As I was out walking, part 2

Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach from my tree and ate it right there. The fine and soft part of a morning in summer. Not far off, the sounds of birds.

James Lee Jobe, Standing in my yard just after sunrise I picked a ripe peach

So I’m contemplating memento mori with all my soul of late. Maybe if we all contemplated the theme memento mori we’d be a little kinder, a little more mindful. We’re here so briefly, so beautifully. And self-portraiture, I know it might get confused with the influencer culture when posted on Instagram, but they are two different things. Though interestingly, and I adore this, when I posted a picture there, I had a lot of comments on my sunglasses. (Which are from Simon’s btw — not a paid product placement, but interesting that that’s where we go in our minds, and I’m no different).

The thing about posting photos of yourself through time, is that you really begin seeing yourself, and seeing yourself differently. You see angles, you get to know your best side, your wrinkly neck, your flaws and your beauty, and your ridiculousness. One does begin to accept certain aspects of oneself. And also, because it’s not just one session per year or every second year for an author photo or work photo, it’s less important. There will be another moment.

The best thing though, is that you don’t seem to change as much, it’s much more about the slow process of living, aging, being. It’s all okay. Yes, I’m still picky and I’m choosing how I’m presented, portrayed, touched up in Lightroom, but that’s part of the art of it. I’m sure these photos say things about me that I’m completely unaware of.

Shawna Lemay, Contemplating My Themes

I have never considered myself a person who had any power; and yet I now recognize that just as I have privilege I never earned, I have power I never earned–and that I have indeed been using that power (as I have unwittingly benefited from privilege) and can do more with it. For educators possess power.

So do poets.

The past three months, as spring has bloomed into summer, poems of protest and poems that inform society have likewise bloomed. Poets of color, marginalized poets, poets who are disabled or queer or immigrant or for other reasons yearning to be heard are all over social media–which is not unusual in itself (the voices, the poems, have been online for decades)–but the difference lately comes through retweets and viral videos and shared posts at a higher rate than previously. These poems, and the prose and interviews that often accompany them, create discourse. Badly needed discussions. Confrontations that cannot be shoved away as easily as they were. I’ve been reading and observing, hoping a change is gonna come.

Ann E. Michael, Top ten, discourse, power

I’ve been advised enough times not to do it, you’d think I’d stop trying. But here we are again. The royal “we,” I mean, possibly, or the group of us who do such a thing, as opposed, I guess to the “they” who do not; that is: use the first person plural pronoun (we) in poems. Why do I keep trying to make it work?

It interests me to write poems from the perspective of this identity: a member of the human species. From this perspective I can think about the so-called “human experience,” not as “in opposition to the nonhuman,” but as a part of a, let’s face it, pretty significant force on the planet, and as a representative of a species that is able to think about itself and go “Hmm…really?” A member of a species that is aware of, possibly obsessed with, death, and, therefore?, a bit obsessed with life and its meaning.

But the use of “we,” or MY use of “we,” shall I say, has caused people to become argumentative (“you do not speak for me,” they say, or sometimes just “oh yeah?”) or to be otherwise put off by the lack of immediacy and intimacy (“hm, what are you distancing yourself from,” they ask). I don’t know, though. Do I not have the — what: right? capacity of imagination? proper hubris? — to speak out of that human stance?

Marilyn McCabe, We shall be released; or, On the First Person Plural in Poems

have you ever wanted to be that man
the one with the stick
you know – the one with the metal pole
who listens to your stopcock
out in the road
with his ear to the shiny wooden cup
at the end of his decision

or the man with his hands on the handles
of the surging tube that goes up and down
up and splurging down in the storm drain
that keeps the kids enthralled

or the man with the shiny wooden pole
with the pig’s tail hook that darns
the coupling links between the trucks
with such deft luck that barely at moment
between the buffers shine bouncing the
chains tight in a juddering offwego

Jim Young, have you ever wanted to be

Here’s a few of the poetry books I read during lockdown. Some took longer to arrive than others, but I liked the wait, the feeling of anticipation when something new is on its way. The Penguin Book of Haiku was one I felt I should have read a while ago. Here’s a lovely haiku from it, by Socho:

in the riverbreeze
a cluster of willowtrees
spring revealed

And then there’s the wild imperfection of Kerouac, and a haiku that sums up those days during lockdown where I waited for the books to arrive, and felt fully imersed in both my reading and my writing:

Big books packaged
from Japan –
Ritz crackers

I tend to nibble on oat cakes, not Ritz crackers, but I identified with the sense that really all you need are some good poems and a few snacks to keep you going.

It’s hard to pick a single poem from any of the collections I read, especially from Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years, which is a gem. I’ll quote this one by Max Verhart for now:

out of the haze
the dog brings back
the wrong stick

Isn’t it wonderful? Precise, evocative, profound.

Julie Mellor, Lockdown reading

Rob Taylor: In “Talking with Ancestors After the Show” you write “if there is a moment this is it / know better than to beg a minute’s sojourn // reminder to the artist: this is it.” I can imagine so vividly that line being delivered in a spoken word performance, and how it might resonate differently (and, in some ways, similarly) in that context. That Venn diagram between the “stage” moment and the “page” moment — their audiences, their performative spaces, their “voices,” their ephemerality.

As a writer whose background is in spoken word, how have you found the experience of putting your words, often first meant for public performance, onto the page? What have you been able to bring over with you, and what have you had to leave behind? What new opportunities has writing for the page granted you?

Jillian Christmas: I love that you frame them as opportunities. When I first approached the challenge it seemed to present itself as a fear of what would be lost, what eye contact or small facial expression would be missed and what emotional information would go with it. But your framing is absolutely correct, somewhere along the process, I discovered that it was in fact a great joy, almost a game, to figure out what choices I could make on the page that uplift the poem to a similar effect as I would have on the stage. In some places I learned that the voice of the page poem would be different, more concerned with shape, spacing, or a leaning, possibly tumbling word. In some places a more direct translation would occur, a long slender diving presentation, where my voice might have dipped or swayed (as in “But Have You Tried”). In the end I decided that there were no limits to my choices, allowing each poem to have as many lives as it needs, perhaps one for the page, a longer more lyrical or repetitive version for the stage reading, perhaps a third snappy edit for tucking inside the nest of the perfect song. A multitude of mechanisms to coax every bit of connective tissue from any given piece.

Rob Taylor, Playfulness and Gravitas: An Interview with Jillian Christmas

Mr Hoyes was no ordinary English teacher. He’d already had an extremely youthful Matthew Sweeney as his Poet in Residence at the College for a year, while numerous workshops with Ian McMillan were still in the future. I suppose I fell between those two stools, but I didn’t have an inkling of that at the time. Instead, all I knew was homework turned into writing stuff of my own accord, turned into staying behind after class to show it to him, turned into him gifting me copies of literary magazines such as Iron, where Peter Mortimer had published his short stories.

This sharing of his own work, treating me as an equal, was just one example of Mr Hoyes’ generosity, as was his gentle prodding of me in new creative directions. His support meant that I suddenly stopped feeling alone and different from everyone else. As such, he was crucial in my becoming the poet I am today.

However, things developed even further once I left for university. On my first trip back, I visited all my old teachers at the college and showed him some of my more recent poetry. He suggested looking at it together over a pint at the Hop Blossom the following Friday. Thus, Mr Hoyes became Richard, and our friendship began, involving London Prides over more than two decades, all combined with swapping our latest work. He’d bring short stories, articles he’d written for the TES and extracts from his regular column in the local paper, and I’d contribute my drafts of poems.

Matthew Stewart, A tribute to Richard Hoyes

I suppose I want to believe there is always
a way out and a way through. Because

what else can I do? Collapse into whatever
strangeness and fear I encounter and weep?

How quickly the cat shifts from panic
to acceptance. Look at her rolling

in the dusty earth, as if this place
is what she has always known it to be.

Lynne Rees, Poem: No Through Road

Death is an
unbroken horse.
All the wind

is wild. The
sun is risen
and we move

on, chasing.
Some day we
will catch it.

Tom Montag, DEATH IS

Independence Day

This entry is part 17 of 17 in the series Pandemic Season

 

Watch on Vimeo.

Remembering a time in my life when I still found people interesting and believed in the future. I think I’m happier now that I have no particular expectations.

once again
finding my fly unzipped
Independence Day

The full moon is bright enough that for once, moths aren’t drawn to the light of my phone. Their wings brush against my pale legs as I sit out in the meadow, drinking homebrew and jotting down these notes with one finger.

fireworks done,
the milkweed’s honey-
suckle scent

***

Process notes

the video combines footage from our own little backyard celebration on Friday night with the footage and audio of the full moon on Saturday night, when I did indeed sit outside, as the haibun says, jotting down haiku and senryu as they popped into my head like a sad parody of an aging haijin. Rejects included:

moon on the meadow
the flight paths
of white moths

*

fire
works
hard

*

moon in conjunction
with Jupiter
I blame Putin

*

That “Yee-hah!” during the credits is me. Just in case there’s any doubt whether my misanthropy extends to myself.

Soothsayer

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

(Lord’s day). Up, and called on by several on business of the office. Then to the office to look out several of my old letters to Sir W. Coventry in order to the preparing for justifying this office in our frequent foretelling the want of money. By and by comes Roger Pepys and his son Talbot, whom he had brought to town to settle at the Temple, but, by reason of our present stirs, will carry him back again with him this week. He seems to be but a silly lad. I sent them to church this morning, I staying at home at the office, busy. At noon home to dinner, and much good discourse with him, he being mighty sensible of our misery and mal-administration. Talking of these straits we are in, he tells me that my Lord Arlington did the last week take up 12,000l. in gold, which is very likely, for all was taken up that could be. Discoursing afterwards with him of our family he told me, that when I come to his house he will show me a decree in Chancery, wherein there was twenty-six men all housekeepers in the town of Cottenham, in Queene Elizabeth’s time, of our name. He to church again in the afternoon, I staid at home busy, and did show some dalliance to my maid Nell, speaking to her of her sweetheart which she had, silly girle. After sermon Roger Pepys comes again. I spent the evening with him much troubled with the thoughts of the evils of our time, whereon we discoursed. By and by occasion offered for my writing to Sir W. Coventry a plain bold letter touching lack of money; which, when it was gone, I was afeard might give offence: but upon two or three readings over again the copy of it, I was satisfied it was a good letter; only Sir W. Batten signed it with me, which I could wish I had done alone. Roger Pepys gone, I to the garden, and there dallied a while all alone with Mrs. Markham, and then home to my chamber and to read and write, and then to supper and to bed.

foretelling the present
I stay sensible of misery
the straits we are in

like the keeper of a church in the heart
where we garden all alone


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Sunday 16 June 1667.

Edenic

All the morning at the office. No newes more than last night; only Purser Tyler comes and tells me that he being at all the passages in this business at Chatham, he says there have been horrible miscarriages, such as we shall shortly hear of: that the want of boats hath undone us; and it is commonly said, and Sir J. Minnes under his hand tells us, that they were employed by the men of the Yard to carry away their goods; and I hear that Commissioner Pett will be found the first man that began to remove; he is much spoken against, and Bruncker is complained of and reproached for discharging the men of the great ships heretofore. At noon Mr. Hater dined with me; and tells me he believes that it will hardly be the want of money alone that will excuse to the Parliament the neglect of not setting out a fleete, it having never been done in our greatest straits, but however unlikely it appeared, yet when it was gone about, the State or King did compass it; and there is something in it. In like manner all the afternoon busy, vexed to see how slowly things go on for want of money. At night comes, unexpectedly so soon, Mr. Gibson, who left my wife well, and all got down well with them, but not with himself, which I was afeard of, and cannot blame him, but must myself be wiser against another time. He had one of his bags broke, through his breeches, and some pieces dropped out, not many, he thinks, but two, for he ’light, and took them up, and went back and could find no more. But I am not able to tell how many, which troubles me, but the joy of having the greatest part safe there makes me bear with it, so as not to afflict myself for it. This afternoon poor Betty Michell, whom I love, sent to tell my wife her child was dying, which I am troubled for, poor girle! At night home and to my flageolet. Played with pleasure, but with a heavy heart, only it pleased me to think how it may please God I may live to spend my time in the country with plainness and pleasure, though but with little glory. So to supper and to bed.

the first man to complain
ached to be alone

like a pear in slow light
more itself

heavy with plainness and pleasure
though with little glory


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Saturday 15 June 1667.

Those people

holloway overhung with ancient trees n Cornwall

Up, and to the office; where Mr. Fryer comes and tells me that there are several Frenchmen and Flemish ships in the River, with passes from the Duke of York for carrying of prisoners, that ought to be parted from the rest of the ships, and their powder taken, lest they do fire themselves when the enemy comes, and so spoil us; which is good advice, and I think I will give notice of it; and did so. But it is pretty odd to see how every body, even at this high time of danger, puts business off of their own hands! He says that he told this to the Lieutenant of the Tower, to whom I, for the same reason, was directing him to go; and the Lieutenant of the Tower bade him come to us, for he had nothing to do with it; and yesterday comes Captain Crow, of one of the fireships, and told me that the officers of the Ordnance would deliver his gunner’s materials, but not compound them, but that we must do it; whereupon I was forced to write to them about it; and one that like a great many come to me this morning by and by comes Mr. Wilson, and by direction of his, a man of Mr. Gawden’s; who come from Chatham last night, and saw the three ships burnt, they lying all dry, and boats going from the men-of-war and fire them. But that, that he tells me of worst consequence is, that he himself, I think he said, did hear many Englishmen on board the Dutch ships speaking to one another in English; and that they did cry and say, “We did heretofore fight for tickets; now we fight for dollars!” and did ask how such and such a one did, and would commend themselves to them: which is a sad consideration. And Mr. Lewes, who was present at this fellow’s discourse to me, did tell me, that he is told that when they took “The Royall Charles,” they said that they had their tickets signed, and showed some, and that now they come to have them paid, and would have them paid before they parted. And several seamen come this morning to me, to tell me that, if I would get their tickets paid, they would go and do all they could against the Dutch; but otherwise they would not venture being killed, and lose all they have already fought for: so that I was forced to try what I could do to get them paid. This man tells me that the ships burnt last night did lie above Upnor Castle, over against the Docke; and the boats come from the ships of war and burnt them all which is very sad. And masters of ships, that we are now taking up, do keep from their ships all their stores, or as much as they can, so that we can despatch them, having not time to appraise them nor secure their payment; only some little money we have, which we are fain to pay the men we have with, every night, or they will not work. And indeed the hearts as well as affections of the seamen are turned away; and in the open streets in Wapping, and up and down, the wives have cried publickly, “This comes of your not paying our husbands; and now your work is undone, or done by hands that understand it not.” And Sir W. Batten told me that he was himself affronted with a woman, in language of this kind, on Tower Hill publickly yesterday; and we are fain to bear it, and to keep one at the office door to let no idle people in, for fear of firing of the office and doing us mischief. The City is troubled at their being put upon duty: summoned one hour, and discharged two hours after; and then again summoned two hours after that; to their great charge as well as trouble. And Pelling, the Potticary, tells me the world says all over, that less charge than what the kingdom is put to, of one kind or other, by this business, would have set out all our great ships. It is said they did in open streets yesterday, at Westminster, cry, “A Parliament! a Parliament!” and I do believe it will cost blood to answer for these miscarriages. We do not hear that the Dutch are come to Gravesend; which is a wonder. But a wonderful thing it is that to this day we have not one word yet from Bruncker, or Peter Pett, or J. Minnes, of any thing at Chatham. The people that come hither to hear how things go, make me ashamed to be found unable to answer them: for I am left alone here at the office; and the truth is, I am glad my station is to be here, near my own home and out of danger, yet in a place of doing the King good service. I have this morning good news from Gibson; three letters from three several stages, that he was safe last night as far as Royston, at between nine and ten at night. The dismay that is upon us all, in the business of the kingdom and Navy at this day, is not to be expressed otherwise than by the condition the citizens were in when the City was on fire, nobody knowing which way to turn themselves, while every thing concurred to greaten the fire; as here the easterly gale and spring-tides for coming up both rivers, and enabling them to break the chaine. D. Gawden did tell me yesterday, that the day before at the Council they were ready to fall together by the ears at the Council-table, arraigning one another of being guilty of the counsel that brought us into this misery, by laying up all the great ships. Mr. Hater tells me at noon that some rude people have been, as he hears, at my Lord Chancellor’s, where they have cut down the trees before his house and broke his windows; and a gibbet either set up before or painted upon his gate, and these three words writ: “Three sights to be seen; Dunkirke, Tangier, and a barren Queene.” It gives great matter of talk that it is said there is at this hour, in the Exchequer, as much money as is ready to break down the floor. This arises, I believe, from Sir G. Downing’s late talk of the greatness of the sum lying there of people’s money, that they would not fetch away, which he shewed me and a great many others. Most people that I speak with are in doubt how we shall do to secure our seamen from running over to the Dutch; which is a sad but very true consideration at this day. At noon I am told that my Lord Duke of Albemarle is made Lord High Constable; the meaning whereof at this time I know not, nor whether it, be true or no. Dined, and Mr. Hater and W. Hewer with me; where they do speak very sorrowfully of the posture of the times, and how people do cry out in the streets of their being bought and sold; and both they, and every body that come to me, do tell me that people make nothing of talking treason in the streets openly: as, that we are bought and sold, and governed by Papists, and that we are betrayed by people about the King, and shall be delivered up to the French, and I know not what. At dinner we discoursed of Tom of the Wood, a fellow that lives like a hermit near Woolwich, who, as they say, and Mr. Bodham, they tell me, affirms that he was by at the justice’s when some did accuse him there for it, did foretell the burning of the City, and now says that a greater desolation is at hand. Thence we read and laughed at Lilly’s prophecies this month, in his Almanack this year! So to the office after dinner; and thither comes Mr. Pierce, who tells me his condition, how he cannot get his money, about 500l., which, he says, is a very great part of what he hath for his family and children, out of Viner’s hand: and indeed it is to be feared that this will wholly undo the bankers. He says he knows nothing of the late affronts to my Lord Chancellor’s house, as is said, nor hears of the Duke of Albemarle’s being made High Constable; but says that they are in great distraction at White Hall, and that every where people do speak high against Sir W. Coventry: but he agrees with me, that he is the best Minister of State the King hath, and so from my heart I believe. At night come home Sir W. Batten and W. Pen, who only can tell me that they have placed guns at Woolwich and Deptford, and sunk some ships below Woolwich and Blackewall, and are in hopes that they will stop the enemy’s coming up. But strange our confusion! that among them that are sunk they have gone and sunk without consideration “The Franakin,” one of the King’s ships, with stores to a very considerable value, that hath been long loaden for supply of the ships; and the new ship at Bristoll, and much wanted there; and nobody will own that they directed it, but do lay it on Sir W. Rider. They speak also of another ship, loaden to the value of 80,000l., sunk with the goods in her, or at least was mightily contended for by him, and a foreign ship, that had the faith of the nation for her security: this Sir R. Ford tells us: And it is too plain a truth, that both here and at Chatham the ships that we have sunk have many, and the first of them, been ships completely fitted for fire-ships at great charge. But most strange the backwardness and disorder of all people, especially the King’s people in pay, to do any work, Sir W. Pen tells me, all crying out for money; and it was so at Chatham, that this night comes an order from Sir W. Coventry to stop the pay of the wages of that Yard; the Duke of Albemarle having related, that not above three of 1100 in pay there did attend to do any work there. This evening having sent a messenger to Chatham on purpose, we have received a dull letter from my Lord Bruncker and Peter Pett, how matters have gone there this week; but not so much, or so particularly, as we knew it by common talk before, and as true. I doubt they will be found to have been but slow men in this business; and they say the Duke of Albemarle did tell my Lord Bruncker to his face that his discharging of the great ships there was the cause of all this; and I am told that it is become common talk against my Lord Bruncker. But in that he is to be justified, for he did it by verbal order from Sir W. Coventry, and with good intent; and it was to good purpose, whatever the success be, for the men would have but spent the King so much the more in wages, and yet not attended on board to have done the King any service; and as an evidence of that, just now, being the 15th day in the morning that I am writing yesterday’s passages, one is with me, Jacob Bryan, Purser of “The Princesse,” who confesses to me that he hath about 180 men borne at this day in victuals and wages on that ship lying at Chatham, being lately brought in thither; of which 180 there was not above five appeared to do the King any service at this late business. And this morning also, some of the Cambridge’s men come up from Portsmouth, by order from Sir Fretcheville Hollis, who boasted to us the other day that he had sent for 50, and would be hanged if 100 did not come up that would do as much as twice the number of other men: I say some of them, instead of being at work at Deptford, where they were intended, do come to the office this morning to demand the payment of their tickets; for otherwise they would, they said, do no more work; and are, as I understand from every body that has to do with them, the most debauched, damning, swearing rogues that ever were in the Navy, just like their prophane commander. So to Sir W. Batten’s to sit and talk a little, and then home to my flageolet, my heart being at pretty good ease by a letter from my wife, brought by Saunders, that my father and wife got well last night to their Inne and out again this morning, and Gibson’s being got safe to Caxton at twelve last night. So to supper, and then to bed. No news to-day of any motion of the enemy either upwards towards Chatham or this way.

who would live on war

who would kill time every day for hours
and be unashamed
to cut down trees

who laugh at prophecies

who know nothing but distraction

who have guns and a foreign faith

who service the mouth

who tick like a heart
under the bed


Erasure poem derived from The Diary of Samuel Pepys, Friday 14 June 1667.