Ladybird Pastorale (or, Ludwig & the Ladybug)

Lady-beetle Close-Up by Thomas Moertel, from Wikimedia Commons

Lady-beetle Close-Up by Thomas Moertel, from Wikimedia Commons

I was up with the birds and the June dawn last Saturday, and weary when I laced up my running shoes and stepped out of the door in the afternoon – but sometimes nothing clears the fuzzy deskbound head as well as a run, even a slow twenty-minute one. And I had my iPod for company – a spot of Beethoven to urge me on.

By the time I pushed open the gate to Nightingale Park Creatures of Prometheus had given way to Coriolan, and slowly, overture to overture, I was warming up and finding my stride – though still, as always, molto molto moderato. Past the recently planted apple trees and on to Egmont, my favourite of the trio of overtures on this recording. By then my mind had loosened up a little too. How happily we ran, I was thinking, me and Egmont and old Ludwig Van. (Yes, too loose, I know, but I can’t help it, it’s the rhythm of the run….).  Me and Otto Klemperer, and the Philharmonia…A steady sostenuto suits a slow runner like me.

On, along Queen Edith’s Way, and my earphones blossomed into the glories of the Sixth Symphony, note upon unfurling, heart-lifting note. Allegro ma non troppo and doing just fine. Even though I knew it was coming, the opening bars are always a fresh and cheering wonder. Except for the first years after my father’s death, when I couldn’t listen to the music he loved without searing heartache – so I didn’t listen to much at all, especially not Baroque or Classical composers. I only realised later how firmly and for how long I had steered clear of Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi, Handel, my father’s beloved Sibelius, and especially Beethoven and the stirring Sixth.

Like Ludwig van Beethoven, Charles Harwood Dixon loved a long, thoughtful country walk, and he loved the Pastorale in particular. When I read later that Beethoven had annotated the first movement ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside’[1], it fitted my ever-cheery father perfectly. The words evoked an image of him stepping down from the train to some country platform, lifting his hat to other passengers in farewell, and setting off down a leafy lane, map and prayer book tucked into his long-trousered safari suit pocket.

In the last weeks before he died, when his legs no longer took him anywhere, my mother moved a record player to the foot of their bed so he could listen to our collection of old LPs. I remember phoning one day from London and hearing the Sixth Symphony in the background. ‘It’s good of you to call,’ he said, ‘we’ve been having a lovely time here, running through the woods and fields all day.’ At first I thought it was just the wandering of his mind as he struggled for breath, not enough oxygen to his brain despite the canister beside his bed, but much later I remembered what had inspired the Sixth, why it was called the Pastorale. A flowing musically illustrative journey through the beauties of the countryside, babbling brooks and cuckoo calls – so perhaps he had just been making a joke, sweet and playful and more than a little sad. Either way, the music brought him imaginative release, and took him on a journey his own body could no longer make

These days, grateful for what I can still do, and no longer running away from the music, symphonies are my favourite running company. Only instruments, no lyrics: there are so many words (‘too many notes’?) in my publishing and poetry life, and I relish this space without them, just body and music and nature and breath. But of course in that meditative space, the words bubble up in your head, things shake free and surprise you.

Something else surprised me too on my Saturday run, jogging on, thinking of that conversation with Daddy and the way, even in extremis, he had such a calm presence, and heartening vision. Even, it seemed, an easy sense of connection with the sublime. More than just the air of being a man of the cloth – I’ve known ministers with the opposite of peace about them, the most unpastoral pastors.

I’m thinking as I run, is ‘sublime’ too big a word? Perhaps it was just his curiosity, his awareness, that quiet yet fulsome appreciation of the aesthetic and natural world. What we’d call ‘mindfulness’ now. I slow to sip some water from the bottle I’m carrying and as I look down I see that a ladybird beetle has settled on my running trousers: how long she’s been there I don’t know, but I don’t want to brush her off. So I just run on, sure she’ll take wing soon.

A block on she’s still there, snug against a seam. Somehow she doesn’t look like she’s going anywhere, except where I’m going, right now. All right, ladybird, I think, let’s test your tenacity, and mine. This was just going to be my ordinary short loop-and-back-home tick-the-box run, but perhaps I can stretch it a bit. I vow I’m not going to stop running till this little Coccinellida has gone. It surely won’t be that long, what with the breeze that rises as I reach the crossing – and instead of going left, home, I turn right, out to Fulbourn and the windmill on the hill, the run I do when I’m really fit. Which now I’m most certainly not.

Ladybird’s still with me as I cross the turn-off to the airfield. She ain’t flying anywhere, just lifting her wings now and then, a bit of a scurry and a turn, then a hunkering down. Like she’s conducting a survey, a little beetle physio, checking out the state of the ITB on my tight left thigh. She’s not helping that much though, so I pause to stretch, and even then she doesn’t take the chance to get off at the convenient stop.

Impossible not to be fond of these creatures, bright round things, both homely and ethereal. She’s one of the orange ones, on the rise here I know, not like the bright red black-spotted ones from my childhood in South Africa. I fervently believed – and well, really still do – in the good luck they bring you, how must let one trundle along your hand to your fingertip, pause and take wing, then make your wish….

I’m wondering what to wish for if Little Orange takes flight as I hit the hill – if hill it can be called, this modest wee slope in the flatlands of the Fens – and feel my muscles groan. Thinking to myself, be careful what you vow, there are stories about people like you, making careless promises to strangers met on the road, getting carried away by the little people, or creatures, to deep under the hill, under a spell, never to return till their loved ones are old, or gone…. Yes, beware the wiles of Coccinellidae, and ouch, onward (she’s still there), up the hill (which now feels more hilly), slower and slower, molto andantino now.  Phew.

I stop completely to swig some water (fine excuse), as a stream of cars, back from Saturday shopping, roll by. Not quite Beethoven’s ‘merry gathering of country folk’ from the Third Movement.[2] A young boy leans out of window and shouts: ‘Don’t give up!’ as they whizz past. Is the whole of the human and insect world in league to make me run my legs off? Huh. All right for some.

But it’s embarrassing to be in your running gear a few miles from home, in full view of the homegoing crowds, and walking, so I pick up again (scarcely faster than a walk really, so who am I kidding), and we soldier on together – Ludwig and the ladybird and I, though she’s not really doing much soldiering. Ludwig’s helping on the uplifting motivational front, but you’re not exactly pulling your weight, are you, ladybird? And what is your weight exactly?[3]

What I do know is she’s doing a little seam-to-seam scurry on my leg, a to-and-fro perambulation as if she were an orange-frocked lady of leisure impatiently pacing a train carriage ahead of her station. She clearly wants to get somewhere – but where? Not the crown of the hill, by the old windmill, where I stretch again before I turn, and not back down the slope where I pause to examine a clump of woolly thistles, flowers busy with bee browsers above the moth-eaten (or caterpillar-munched) leaves.

So I’m keeping on, eyes to the horizon, the old just-one-foot-in-front-of-the-other device, on the home stretch at last, but ladybird ain’t gone, which means I still have to run…. So instead of the straight route back down Cherry Hinton Road, I veer into the grounds of Cherry Hinton Hall – which I would have passed a whole lot sooner had I not made my rash running promise and Coleopteran detour.

There’s a sudden peace on the far side of the hedge, among the gentle towers of trees, the soil soft underfoot. I walk under a generous canopy of leaves and wish I knew more of their names, though I can spot a beautiful beech – and a sad, sick-looking chestnut, alas. But a calm green space, a place to breathe in – and as I do, deeply, I look down and realise she’s gone, taken wing at last.

Perhaps the park was where she’d wanted to get all along, all that pacing her impatience at my silly scenic route, shilly-shallying along on a hare-brained whim (but at tortoise-like speed). Perhaps she’s after an early pitch for Cambridge Folk Festival in a few weeks’ time. Ladybirds love music too… See, the endorphins do make you high, and I’m feeling elated and surprised I managed to run so far, an unexpected start to training for a half-marathon in Palermo in November.[4] The only ‘thunder and storm’ I’ve been through on this journey is through my headphones, but I have all the full-hearted gratitude of the Pastorale’s closing ‘Shepherd’s Song’ – ‘cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm’.

And here among the life-enhancing trees there’s more than a touch of the sublime. Not so hard to find after all, if you know where to look, how to listen, and what company to keep.

7 July 2017

~

Some Notes:

[1] Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande’

[2] I love the relish of the original German: ‘Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute’

[3] I was thinking that’s the kind of question my little nephew Stuart might ask and Googled for an answer when I got home – to find to my delight that there’s a book called just that: How Much Does a Ladybug Weigh? I’ve already ordered it…

[4] More on the Palermo run anon… A long way to go with the training, ladybird or no ladybird! I’ll be doing some fundraising with that run for Parkinson’s research as I did in the Havana race last year – but right now, philanthropic running fans, you can support my colleague Tom Witcomb and Jaime Frost who are running the British 10km race in London on Sunday 9 July, in support of BTBS, the Book Trade Charity. The Book Trade Charity is an excellent charity which offers support and guidance to people in the book trade and their dependents in times of need. They also provide accommodation for our agency’s Carole Blake Open Doors Project, which helps make this diversity project possible.

To sponsor BTBS, The Book Trade Charity, via Tom and Jaime’s run, click here.

 

The Jewel – A Poem for Carole

Photo of Carole Blake - with champagne & pearls, on her 70th birthday in September - by our colleague Conrad Williams.

Photo of Carole Blake - with champagne & pearls, on her 70th birthday in September - by our colleague Conrad Williams.

My beloved colleague, friend and mentor Carole Blake died suddenly last month – far too soon, but in full flow and flight, as I think she would have wanted. Like so many of her friends and colleagues, I keep expecting her to sweep into the office with a story to tell, and often hear her voice in my ear, characteristically crisp, often finished with a chuckling flourish.

Like the first line in the poem below, the words I heard in her voice as I was running one day soon after she died, which gave me the first line of the poem I wrote for her funeral. Like taking dictation from her, you might say. A thought that brings back another wave of memories – back in 1995 when I began as Carole’s assistant at Blake Friedmann, we all dictated our reams of Book Fair notes, but at least there was someone else much swifter to type them… “Jane types faster than a speeding bullet,” as Carole would say. And I have to admit my CV had exaggerated my own typing speed somewhat. Given Carole’s love of an expansive story perhaps that was something she wouldn’t have minded, as long as the job was done. It never mattered anyhow, and I think I managed to keep up, over the next two decades of hard work and laughter. A great deal of both, shared camaraderie and challenge, and joy in the authors and the stories, and a close band of colleagues.

At the funeral this Monday past, the celebrant began with the image of a multi-faceted jewel, the many sides of the person we had come to mourn and say farewell to. I had no idea those lines would be in the service, but loved the fitting serendipity: that I had chosen to call this poem ‘The Jewel’, and that many people had, like me, decided to wear purple, Carole’s favourite colour, reflecting her much-loved amethysts. My talented colleague Hattie, Carole’s assistant and an agent at Blake Friedmann, read Jenny Joseph’s ‘Warning’ before me, so poised and clear and beautiful.  ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple’… And after the service several people said, ‘Did you notice the stained glass window behind you?’  (I hadn’t), ‘It was purple.’

Colour, light and love stitched together a service with several warm tributes: the eulogy written by Carole’s sister Rosie Walker (with many murmurs and laughs of recognition from the gathering), fond words from author Peter James and close friend Olga Vezeris, Hattie’s reading, and ‘Panis Angelicus’ beautifully sung by Naomi Ladenburg. You can read more in this lovingly encapsulated description by Carole's friend, journalist Liz Thomson. And so many more stories shared by many, many friends, publishers and authors (who were also Carole's dear friends) on social media, in letters and in my inbox – which I hope to be able to answer better in due course. A flood of messages, but every memory and story is precious.  There will be more to share at a memorial next year.

So this too is for Carole, with myriad memories of colourful stories, exhibitions and lunches, art and accessories, love and laughter – and the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is where I first really got to know her and appreciate what a great sharer and communicator she was. Her treatment kept her from the Buchmesse this year, and I so missed her there, and always will.

The Jewel

Never let facts get in the way of a good story
I hear you say, turn towards you to reply,
to check the detail of some famous anecdote.
But my mouth is stopped: on my tongue a stone,

a river pebble blocks my question’s flow.
I pluck it out, and look! not stone, but amethyst,
your purples swirling in its polished light.
Oh, your thrill in treasures, jewellery, any art

that’s made with colour, care and craft: a lavish coat,
that rosy punchbowl’s miniature perfection,
books of every size and sort, a painted harpsichord.
Your doll’s house was a world complete,

all yours to fashion as you wished, and though
you knew you might not finish it, the end was not
the point. The labour was all love and chattels
aren’t the legacy. Your clarity and force,

your pleasure in the great bazaar of life,
the splendour and the clamour of it all.
How in the thick of it your smooth-worn stories
brought both teller and the listeners delight.

And I recall how crossing the bridge back to our hotel,
we’d pause in Frankfurt’s golden autumn light,
and you’d reminisce how once you drove out to the hills
after the Fair. I’ll miss that pause with you. But wish you

godspeed on a crisp, bright afternoon, a drive in a car swift,
open-topped, heading into the Taunus Mountains, all aglow,
for a long, slow, laughing lunch with one you love. Here,
we’ll keep the stories burnished up. Keep relishing the day.

i.m Carole Rae Blake
29 September 1946 – 25 October 2016

 See more on Carole here.

(And I'm still looking for the right photo of Carole with amethysts ... though she did love the specially-strung ropes of (mainly) black pearls in this photo, taken by our colleague Conrad Williams on her 70th birthday in September).

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 – Alan Gillis

Poet #6 – ALAN GILLIS

 Unfortunately, Alan Gillis is not able to take part in the reading as originally planned, but we hope you enjoy this introduction to his work and we look forward to welcoming him at another Fruitmarket poetry night.

Join Eliza Kentridge, Isobel Dixon, Clare Best, Tessa Berring and Rob A. Mackenzie at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humans.

Here’s an introduction to another of our six poets, Alan Gillis:

About Alan:

Alan Gillis is from Belfast, and teaches English Literature at The University of Edinburgh. His poetry collection Scapegoat (2014) followed Here Comes the Night (2010), Hawks and Doves (2007) and Somebody, Somewhere (2004), all published by The Gallery Press. He was chosen by the Poetry Book Society as a ‘Next Generation Poet’ in 2014.

Park Walk

Press your face into cobwebs on the elm's
coarse bark, away from the cars' flotilla,
the hubbub of farting buses, tinned trams.
The sky buoys your mind like a cinema.

Running fingers through rosebay in the park
you feel tremors, as distant trains crest
the lake, within the hedge's dark;
a quake of light through the dilapidated nest.

You go away and leave us,
you leave us and you go away
through the town's thrummed laburnum musk and splay,
skin crawling with the passing cars' convolvulus.

 

Read more about Alan Gillis here.

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 – Isobel Dixon

Poet #5 – ISOBEL DIXON

Join Isobel Dixon, Alan Gillis, Eliza Kentridge, Tessa Berring, Clare Best and Rob A. Mackenzie at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

 The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humans.

Here’s an introduction to another of our six poets, Isobel Dixon:

About Isobel:

Isobel Dixon’s debut Weather Eye (Carapace) won the Olive Schreiner Prize in South Africa, where she grew up. Her fourth poetry collection Bearings is published by Nine Arches in the UK and Modjaiji in South Africa. Scottish publisher Mariscat published a pamphlet, The Leonids, in August, and Nine Arches will re-issue her earlier collections, A Fold in the Map and The Tempest Prognosticator, later in 2016. With Simon Barraclough and Chris McCabe she co-wrote and performed in The Debris Field, about the sinking of RMS Titanic. She enjoys collaborations with artists and composers too and is working with Scottish artist Douglas Robertson on a project inspired by D.H. Lawrence’s Birds, Beasts and Flowers. Her work is recorded for the Poetry Archive.

Ellon

What are we to do with all this sky?
Swifts swoop and stitch it
to the glistening grass,

bring flighty news of clouds
that gather     pass    disperse
as birds do,

chirruping the breeze.

Here even the breeze
has water in.
The grass is fat with juice,

the river laps your skin.

The cloudlight turns,
pale stone. The turbines
make their stately signs –

alien druid presences
absorbing winds
into their whiteness,

making fire.

The wide earth’s washed
in several silences.
The grass tufts nod.

This day
will be like another day
and not.

 

From Bearings, published by Nine Arches in the UK and Modjaji in South Africa.
‘Ellon’ first appeared in Slow Things: Poems About Slow Things, published by The Emma Press.

See more on isobeldixon.com
Twitter: @isobeldixon

And come and hear more at the Fruitmarket Gallery!

 

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 – Tessa Berring

Poet #4 – TESSA BERRING

Join Tessa Berring, Clare Best, Isobel Dixon, Alan Gillis, Eliza Kentridge, and Rob A. Mackenzie at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humans.

Here’s an introduction to another of our six poets:

About Tessa:

Tessa Berring studied Cultural History at the University of Aberdeen and Sculpture at Edinburgh College of Art. Much of her work, both written and visual, stems from an interest in the quality of fragments, extracts, and displaced objects, especially in relation to memory and sense perception. Her poems have appeared in a variety of journals/anthologies, and her poetry sequence 'Paper, Dust, and Donkeys' is included this year in a publication with fellow Edinburgh poets Marjorie Lofti Gil and Jane Bonnyman. She regularly works in collaboration, most recently with writer and artist Kathrine Sowerby on the performance and artist's book Tables and Other Animals, A Poem in Four Acts.

Poem from the sequence ‘Paper, Dust, and Donkeys’

19.

Let's get back to the donkeys,
the used bus tickets,
little scarves,
things like that.

Or this, I found it:

Ted and rose are in the---
Ted is---
Rose fetches a---and a---
Rose is---Ted is---
Rose---

Little scarves!
I don't want to think about little scarves!
I want rough kisses,
I want dust under my feet,
I want to be triangular!

 

See more on tessaberring.tumblr.com

And come and hear more at the Fruitmarket Gallery!

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 – Clare Best

Poet #3 – CLARE BEST

Join Clare Best, Isobel Dixon, Alan Gillis, Eliza Kentridge, Rob A. Mackenzie and Tessa Berring at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humans.

Here’s an introduction to another of our six poets, Clare Best:

About Clare:

Clare Best’s first full collection, Excisions, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize, 2012. Other poetry publications include Treasure Ground (HappenStance 2010), Breastless (Pighog 2011) and CELL (Frogmore Press 2015). Clare’s prose memoir was runner-up in the Mslexia Memoir Competition 2015. Springlines, her collaborative project with the painter Mary Anne Aytoun-Ellis, explores hidden and mysterious bodies of water across the South of England – work from this project was shown at Glyndebourne in summer 2015 and there will be further exhibitions across Kent, Sussex and Hampshire over the next two years. Clare has been a bookbinder, a bookseller and an editor. She is currently an Associate Lecturer in Creative Writing for the Open University, and in 2015 was one of two Writers in Residence at the University of Brighton.

 

The Aftermath Inspector                                                              

The boy wakes to the red call in the green night.
Unmoving on his narrow bed, he hears
his father run downstairs to fix quick tea, and then

his steady dressing – overalls, gauntlets, waders –
according to what kind of aftermath it is.
Hours until he’s back, hours the boy wonders

how many yards of buckled track, how many carriages.
He imagines arclights, inspectors gathering screws
and bolts, identifying scattered parts.

Later, his father props the waders in the shed
and sits. Resting, he says. The boy stays close,
waits for him to search his bag. A trophy from the site.

Over the years he’s brought three merlin feathers,
the cracked skull of a hare, one perfect ammonite,
a roe buck’s antler (velvet still attached)

and now this grey stick with the sway of a swan’s neck.
The boy watches his father place the keepsake
on the store-room shelf, he sees him

climb the stairs to wash, and dress
in other clothes for other work, as people do
who witness engines burst open in the dark.

 

Clare blogs at selfportraitwithoutbreasts.wordpress.com

See more here.

And come and hear more at the Fruitmarket Gallery!

 

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 - Rob A. Mackenzie

Poet #2 – ROB A. MACKENZIE

Join Rob A. Mackenzie, Clare Best, Isobel Dixon, Alan Gillis, Eliza Kentridge, and Tessa Berring at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humans.

Here’s an introduction to another of our six poets:

About Rob:

Rob A. Mackenzie is from Glasgow and lives in Leith. He has published two pamphlets and two full collections, the most recent of which was The Good News (Salt, 2013). He is reviews editor of Magma.

Wedding

No flowers, as if my bride were saving
herself for a funeral to come. She carried
plastic posies acquired at a local garage,
a last-second panic, and walked the aisle
like a plank, with drunk, flat-footed certainty.
Pepsi or Coke? An exchange of mystery
ring-pulls took place, bridesmaids skin tight
and self-conscious, congregation mouthing
Groovy Kind of Love to a jumping CD.

No photographs. No video. Corned beef
sandwiches proved themselves reliably
irresistible at the reception. No kissing.
No presents, we had insisted, but guests
brought avocado kitchen clocks all the same,
batteries winding down, as if everyone knew
the honeymoon suite was twin-bedded with
panoramic views of short-term disturbances.

                            ‘Wedding’ was first published in New Walk magazine.

 

See more here.  

And come and hear more at the Fruitmarket Gallery!

6 Poets at the Fruitmarket Gallery – 7pm, Wed 17 August 2016 - Eliza Kentridge

Poet #1 - ELIZA KENTRIDGE

Join Eliza Kentridge, Tessa Berring, Clare Best, Isobel Dixon, Alan Gillis, and Rob A. Mackenzie at Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery, on Wednesday 17 August, 7pm for a prompt 7:30 reading start, to finish at 9:30 – 3 poets in each half, with a short interval for wine and book buying. The evening is free, but donations are welcome. Sign up on Eventbrite or Facebook.

 The Fruitmarket Gallery is right by Waverley Station: 45 Market Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1DF - View Map

 The poets will read new work and from recent collections, and the night will include some original poems from the poets inspired by the work of Damián Ortega in the gallery’s current exhibition. Damián Ortega is one of the most prominent artists of the new Mexican generation and for The Fruitmarket Gallery’s summer exhibition, Ortega has made new sculptures, mostly from clay, focusing on how the forces of nature – wind, water, earth and fire – act on the earth both independently of and in relationship to humankind.

 Here’s an introduction to the first of our six poets:

About Eliza:

 Eliza Kentridge was born in 1962 in Johannesburg.  She came to England in 1988, and has lived in a riverside village in Essex since 1990.  She is a visual artist.  Her first book of poems, Signs For An Exhibition, (Modjaji Books) appeared in 2015.

 SIGN POEM 56

When I was six, I had a doll
I loved her so much
I believed she was alive
I believed she left a warm patch on the bed

CELESTE

When I was thirty, I had a baby

YOU LOVE HIM MORE THAN ANY DOLL

Sage grandmother, you were right
I did and still do
Same with the girls
Celestial cellmates
Squidgy arms threaded through Raggedy Anne sleeves
Flesh of my flesh
Wet, warm patches on my heart

 

See more about Eliza’s work on her website here.

And come and hear more at the Fruitmarket Gallery!

THE LEONIDS - Flowers, Meteor Showers ...

In the same way my first instinct is to close my eyes and not open the attachment when poetry proof pdfs arrive in my inbox, when The Real Books arrive, I have a kind of stage fright/envelope-opening phobia. To be fair, once I did open a box of handsome hardbacks to find there was an almighty clanger of an error on the dedication page (which was actually all my fault, but that’s another story…).

So when the envelope arrived yesterday, with the very superior ‘Cat’s Whiskers’ Mariscat cat logo on the back, I hesitated – what if the last typo we caught, wasn’t the last typo after all? What if I have writer’s remorse (too late, the die is cast, the printer’s ink has dried…). But the enigmatic cat did not disappoint – and my publisher Hamish Whyte and designer and typesetter Gerry Cambridge have done a beautiful job of The Leonids. I hope others agree. I sat on the sofa yesterday stroking the lovely creamy end papers and looking at the spacious pages as though they were someone else’s words given space to breathe. I love the way words can fly through the ether and reach people all over the world in our connected age, but there’s still nothing like the beauty of A Real Book (even if this is a short one, officially a pamphlet or chapbook, without a spine, but slim and light and bright and mine). The Leonids has vivid nasturtium orange covers, the colour of the flowers my mother grew outside the kitchen at Number 42 (a house that looms larger in the book than I realised till I did actually read those proofs…), and the exact same shade as my mother’s orange dress which features in the first poem ‘Notes Towards Nasturtiums’. And there are nasturtiums trailing down the Hermanus cliff path in ‘Roman Rock’ at the end. As you may guess, I’m rather fond of them.

We have no nasturtiums in our garden here in Cambridge (I tried once, but the aphids had a ball, and I’m better at flowers on the page than in the soil, or at least I hope so…), but I realised a favourite photo of my father and mother, around whom these poems turn, has similar shades in it: the warm red and saffron of cardigan and winter sheets, as they wake from a Sunday nap, some chilly Karoo afternoon way back when. So here they are, Ann and Harwood, with my little bright book – though not quite in the same realm any more. I like to think they would be pleased: my mother had heard or read several of the poems before she died last year and seemed not to mind – indeed perhaps she wanted – people reading poems about some dark times in her life.  The Leonids has sad subjects in it, but I hope people see the light in it too. At heart it is a celebration of the beautiful complexity of family, and I hope it does them honour. 

Thank you Hamish and Gerry, and my lovely sisters and wonderful sine qua non Jan and his family too, and the precious poets who helped me as both friends and editors. And to my mother’s family and the friends from Umtata and Graaff-Reinet who were so good to her, and the carers, official and unofficial who looked after her… So many kind people who loved Ann, Gogo, Mrs D. I thank some by name at the end of the book, but not enough, there are many more who deserve gratitude.

So I’ll be raising a glass in Scotland this Friday to Ann and Harwood (a Scotsman who would have relished an Edinburgh launch, though he wasn’t so much a man for a dram) and to friends and family far and wide. If you’re in Auld Reekie, come and join us at Blackwells, all welcome and the details are here.

LONDON'S SOLEMN SOMME COMMEMORATION

On Friday, when I was waiting for my train to go to Ledbury Poetry Festival, I saw a group of young men in World War I uniforms walk through Euston Station. A silent troop, boots clicking on the floor tiles, such solemn fresh young faces filing down into the Underground. I saw one give a young woman a card and later I learned that these had each soldier’s name, age and place of death on. A simple, heartbreaking memorial. 

I well up at every news clip about the Somme centenary, thinking of what my grandfather and all those less lucky young men faced back then. My Yorkshire grandfather was gassed on the Somme, and his one eye would always weep, his tear duct damaged by the mustard gas. But he lived to see the Second World War and died at 97. Those young men going, literally, under ground on Friday were a potent reminder of those who fought in the terrible trenches, who went over the top straight into machine gun fire - wave upon wave of them falling, so many never to get up. This quiet tribute had a profound effect - people turning, noticing, falling silent. I thought about it many times on my journey out of the city.

And yes, I choked up at the sight of those boys at Euston Station, despite knowing they were volunteer actors, not a line of ghosts, not men actually heading for the front. In this divided moment, when the British people have voted to leave a union which I believe has helped keep many nations from conflict for decades, the memories of war, and the sense of waste and sorrow is sharper than ever. 

https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2016/jul/01/battle-of-somme-centenary-commemorations-in-pictures#img-3

GETTING MY BEARINGS .... NEW BOOK, NEW WEBSITE ....

This weekend I found my way to Much Wenlock for the first time, for the wonderful Wenlock Poetry Festival - a first festival outing for my new collection Bearings at the Nine Arches Press Showcase and (now that I've leaped some technological hurdles) the start of a new website. I hope there are no errors in the collection, but do please bear with me while I work on this fledgling site! Some tweaking and polishing still to be done, and more on launches and festivals to follow.

I feel very fortunate indeed to have this new book out, with the help of a brilliant team of women - Jane Commane of Nine Arches Press in the UK, Colleen Higgs of Modjaji Books in South Africa, and Lynne Stuart (artist and world traveller extraordinaire), who took the haunting cover photo and did the beautiful design. You can see more of her work on her idea in a forest website.

More about the collection, from Nine Arches Press (and next month it will be out from Modjaji Books in South Africa too):

In Bearings, her fourth collection, Isobel Dixon takes readers on a journey to far-flung and sometimes dark places. From Robben Island to Hiroshima, Egypt to Edinburgh, the West Bank and beyond, these poems are forays of discovery and resistance, of arrival and loss. Bearings sings of love too, and pays homage to lost friends and poets – the voices of John Berryman, Michael Donaghy, Robert Louis Stevenson and others echo here. As Dixon explores form and subject, and a sometimes troubled past, she keeps a weather eye out for telling detail, with a sharp sense of the threat that these journeys, our wars and stories, and our very existence pose to the planet.

‘‘Isobel Dixon's recent poems confirm her sumptuous gift of mining for melody all the way down to the syllable, but it is remarkable how she can go on tightening her focus even as she widens her range of topic. With every airport lounge a new starting point, her poetry is truly an international event. Admiringly, one is forced to the conclusion that she is becoming a poet who, far from hiding in lyricism, uses it for adventure and exploration, like a magician's cloak. Her work is a perpetual transformation, inexhaustible even though anything in it can be said aloud, and indeed demands to be. There is something new under the sun on every page.’ – Clive James

‘Here is a new collection by a poet at ease with a variety of forms and approaches, and possessing the confidence to address experiment in her work. The poems often sparkle with colour, and are feisty, full of rich doubt, and complex considerations of world and self. Much energy is released into being by these poems, whether the poet is drawing on her South African roots in both contemporary and historic settings, or whether her subject is Seville, Cambridge or Dubai. A wide-ranging collection in many senses then, venturesome and powerful, remaining in the mind long after reading.’ – Penelope Shuttle

Click here to buy direct from Nine Arches Press.

Five Poets at the Fruitmarket - Claire Crowther

‘A Silent Star Among the Hypocrites’ by Claire Crowther

 

A Silent Star Among the Hypocrites

One no class teacher taught her most.
A no job boss employed her first.
That no bed boyfriend slept with her again and again.
Many a no couch counsellor offered her a handkerchief.
The Choir of No Church nuns prayed for her often.
Some no pill medic prescribed for her at last
a no screen rest of life.

            – Claire Crowther

 

Claire Crowther is reading with Isobel Dixon, Tom Chivers, Andrew Philip, Rob A. Mackenzie on Wednesday 19 August at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 8-10pm. More details here.

Five Poets at the Fruitmarket - Isobel Dixon

‘So Many Henries’ by Isobel Dixon

 

So Many Henries

Thou Upstart Crow, glove-maker’s son,
what a world is this you’ve made?
What right have you to break our hearts so,
foundering nightly on the reefs
of your tempestuous stage?

How could you know so well
our joint and secret griefs,
the schisms national, long jars
of York and Lancaster,
and of our several selves.

From the heavens to the cellarage,
blood’s old parade:
the tinchel closes on the victim,
brothers plot harm, war
issues from a mother’s rage.

Son who has killed his father,
father who has killed his son –
all Falstaff’s merriment
can’t wipe this from the page,
nor right the wrongs we’ve done

to those we love. Do we learn,
rent by these scenes,
or is it bootlessly we burn?
If this whole Globe goes up in flames,
then God have mercy on the man
who seeks to build it up again.

 

             – Isobel Dixon

From The Tempest Prognosticator (Salt/Umuzi, 2011)

 

Isobel Dixon is reading with Claire Crowther, Tom Chivers, Andrew Philip and Rob A. Mackenzie on Wednesday 19 August at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 8-10pm. More details here.

Five Poets at the Fruitmarket - Rob A. Mackenzie

‘The Moral Hotel’ and other poems by Rob A. Mackenzie

 

THE MORAL HOTEL

The way the light falls, he can only see the moral
in Balmoral, the great hotel’s glasspainted Bal
deflected by a blinding curve, a trick of sense,

into holy darkness. Fleck enters, contemplates
the infinitely priceless, seasonally rotated menu.
Roaches hiss from skirting-board cracks:

‘Keep your soft belly hidden. Avoid the dusting heel,
the raging stump,’ the dining room’s key icon
Elihjah counting profits in forkfuls of dollars.

Fleck, for the first time in decades, feels
the drag of certainty’s deadweight anchor,
until the light shifts seconds later and bellhops

eject him to Princes Street, where barging shoppers
mingle with Zen masters, serene, giddy, vacant
in non-attachment, though not so as you’d notice.

              

                         – Rob Mackenzie

 

Rob Mackenzie is reading with Isobel Dixon, Tom Chivers, Andrew Philip and Claire Crowther on Wednesday 19 August at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 8-10pm. More details here.

Five Poets at the Fruitmarket - Tom Chivers

‘Petrus’ and other poems by Tom Chivers

 

PETRUS

How can I begin to speak of change, my love,

  who lives in the smallest of time.

We cannot see beyond the next financial year.

  I have no recollection of an iceberg,

though I do recall the plastic bag discarded on the lawn

  seen through a window as we tried to speak of change

or how we might begin. Its shape was not unlike an iceberg’s.

  For frosty things I say a prayer like a lock.

 

                                          – Tom Chivers

 

Tom Chivers is reading with Isobel Dixon, Claire Crowther, Andrew Philip and Rob A. Mackenzie on Wednesday 19 August at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 8-10pm. More details here.

Five Poets at the Fruitmarket - Andrew Philip

‘The Rock of Horeb’ by Andrew Philip

The Rock of Horeb
Exodus 17:1-7

Who sets the hard-set to such weeping
they can slake the thirst, can quench
the quarrel burning in a wandering folk?
I am no instrument. What rings
from the struck rock is not
what was wrung from me.
I am no aquifer. Nothing of
life whispered through my fissures
till that single blow pushed me
to bow to a fresh and giddy spring.
I couldn’t quell its pressure, couldn’t
name the force that split me
open like a loaf just risen
from the oven’s grave; split me
clean open like a pomegranate,
the juice I didn’t know I held
bleeding into gaping, grateful mouths.

 

              – Andrew Philip

First published in The Irish Pages.

Andrew Philip is reading with Isobel Dixon, Claire Crowther, Tom Chivers and Rob A. Mackenzie on Wednesday 19 August at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, 8-10pm. More details here.

Of art, science, music, poetry - & Scottish festivities!

 

My half-Scottish heart is taking great delight in being back in Edinburgh for the opening week of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, catching up with friends, publishers and writers in this glorious city (you can see more on Blake Friedmann author events at the Book Festival here).

 

I’m also happy to be reading on Wednesday night at the Fruitmarket Gallery with poets Tom Chivers, Claire Crowther, Rob Mackenzie and Andrew Philip. I’ve read with local poets Rob and Andy at the gallery a few years in a row now, every time a great reminder of what skilled and entertaining writers they are. I’m looking forward to Tom and Claire joining us in their first Fruitmarket appearance. (See more on each poet on the Facebook event page above).

 

The reading kicks off at 8 pm, Wed 19 August, but doors will be open from 7.30 pm, so do take the chance to come and see the wonderful Phyllida Barlow exhibition before the readings start, or just say hello and have a glass of wine.

 

One of the poets’ tasks for Wednesday night is to write a new poem inspired by the work in the exhibition, and I’m very curious to hear what my fellow readers have done with it. They’re all fine poets, and it’s sure to be an interesting night. The gallery, right by Waverley Station, is usually open 11 am to 6 pm daily, but stays open to 7 pm in Festival time, and the exhibition is free, so if you’re in Edinburgh you can catch the exhibition between now and 18 October. And hope to see some friends this Wednesday night.

 

Next month I’ll be at another Scottish festival, the Bloody Scotland crime fiction fest in Stirling , and am excited to stop off at Sheffield on my way back to London to join in the launch celebrations for AB Jackson’s The Wilderness Party (a Poetry Book Society recommendation for Autumn 2015). AB Jackson is one of my favourite UK poets, and I can’t wait to read this collection and thrilled to be doing a short support reading at the Sheffield launch on Monday 14 September, along with Simon Barraclough – whose brilliant new collection Sunspots is also out from Penned in the Margins. You can also see Simon in his Sunspots show on tour in the months ahead.  Penned in the Margins publisher Tom Chivers is a busy man right now, with Penned in the Margins author publications, tours and prize shortlistings, but he’ll be reading from his striking collection Dark Islands at the Fruitmarket on Wednesday, as well as new work.

 

Great to catch up with so many authors and publishers at the Book Festival’s opening party last night, including my clients Margie Orford and Pippa Goldschmidt – South African crime writer Margie is on at the Book Festival tomorrow with Ben McPherson (Monday 17 August, 5pm at the Writers’ Retreat, guaranteed to be an intriguing discussion). Margie’s also appearing with Alexandra Sokoloff atBloody Scotland in Stirling on 12 September. And Pippa’s new short story collection The Need for Better Regulation of Outer Spacepublished by Freight Books, is a real treat for lovers of science, astronomy and short fiction. With Tania Hershman she’s also co-editing an anthology of stories on general relativity I Am Because You Are (also published by Freight Books) and you can hear her on this at the Orkney Science Festival on 6 September and at the Wigtown Book Festival with Marek Kukula, the public astonomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, on Sunday 27 September.

 

… & thinking of Scottish festivals, I can’t believe it’s almost a year since a really fun project I was involved in for the Sound Festival’s Skills Biennale 2014, with composer Stephen Montague and the BrewDog brewery in Ellon, Aberdeenshire,. Here’s a piece I wrote about the development and performance of that piece –  The BrewDog Howls – Poetry, Percussion and the Art of Collaboration’.  

 

You can see some pics here (scroll down a bit) and on the far left in the group pic of our brewery orchestra on performance day you’ll spot Iain Morrison, Enterprise Manager of the Fruitmarket Gallery, who gamely stepped in to read the poem for the piece – so we’re back full circle to the Fruitmarket!

 

EVENT DETAILS:

Wednesday 19 August 2015, Five Poets at the Fruitmarket, Edinburgh

A reading featuring some new art-related poems written especially for the event - come see the Phyllida Barlow exhibition and listen to some poems! With Tom Chivers, Isobel Dixon, Rob Mackenzie, Andrew Phillip and Claire Crowther. A lively night at the Fruitmarket in Edinburgh Festival season.

8:00 pm, The Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DF. £5

 

Monday 14 September 2015, AB Jackson's The Wilderness Party launch, Sheffield

I'm thrilled to be joining Simon Barraclough in reading some poems in support of the Sheffield launch of AB Jackson's new collection, The Wilderness Party, out in September from Bloodaxe.  The Wilderness Party is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation for Autumn 2015.

7:00 pm, The Fat Cat, 23 Alma Street, S3 8SA Sheffield. Readings will take place between 8 and 9 pm.