Archive for May, 2010

The Tuesday poem – I am becoming my mother

Monday, May 31st, 2010


Yellow/brown woman
fingers smelling always of onion

My mother raises rare blooms
and waters them with tea
her birth waters sang like rivers
my mother is now me

My mother had a linen dress
the colour of sky
and stored lace and damask
to pull shame out of her eye.

I am becoming my mother
brown/yellow woman
fingers smelling always of onions.

(By kind permission of the author)

I wanted to offer more poems about identity as expressed through family likeness, following my last week’s choice of Thomas Hardy’s ‘Heredity’ poem. And I think Lorna Goodison’s extends that idea in a particularly interesting and emotionally accurate way. I don’t know if men are often haunted by memories of their fathers – I’ve never asked that question of my men friends – but I know many women whose thoughts, like mine, are frequently invaded by unexpected memories of their mothers, and who see their mothers reflected in their own habits and circumstances. Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but apparently unavoidable. Maybe it’s an age thing.

There’s a powerful David Campbell poem called ‘Mothers and Daughters’ where he says of the daughters that “They mock their anxious mothers/With their mothers’ eyes.” Hmmm.

Do visit The Tuesday Poem blog and see what others have offered today.

The Tuesday Poem – Heredity

Monday, May 24th, 2010


HEREDITY, by Thomas Hardy

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance – that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die.

I’ve been fascinated by this poem since I first found it in one of the ‘Voices’ series – those great anthologies of poetry and pictures produced by Penguin in the 1960s for classroom use, and edited by Geoffrey Summerfield. They introduced me to a glorious range of poetry, and later on ‘Australian Voices’ edited by Edward Kynaston showed me poets like Geoffrey Lehmann and David Campbell.

But I’ve chosen this Thomas Hardy poem for my second Tuesday Poems post because I love the way in which he expresses the ideas of inherited likeness. I saw the family face most recently in the photo of my mother and her sisters as children that I discovered in the museum on Waiheke Island in February – and blogged about as “Swimming through time” on 3rd March. It’s disconcerting but also oddly comforting to be confronted by such familiar features out of context and out of time. ‘Leaping from place to place over oblivion’ indeed.

I’m going to try to post more poems on this theme for the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday poem: “Instants”

Monday, May 17th, 2010


To my great pleasure I have become a member of the Tuesday Poem blog. I have to admit that I haven’t scaled what I think is the very top of the literary writing mountain – that is, I don’t write poetry myself. I love it with a passion, I carry poems & poetry books around in my handbag, and poetry gives me more pleasure than any other kind of writing. But write it myself? I admit defeat – maybe in another life, but not (so far) in this one! But happily, I qualify to join the blog because I’m a writer and poetry anthologist.

It is such a great idea and I hope you’ll check out the Tuesday Poem blog and read the other poems. I have to post on a Monday night because I’m in London and the blog is based in New Zealand, at present eleven hours ahead – so here’s my first contribution, a poem by Jorge Luis Borges, translated by a friend of mine, Miguel Angel Gonzales. Enjoy.


If I could live my life again
the next time I’d try to make more mistakes.
I wouldn’t try to be so perfect, I’d relax more.
I’d be more foolish than I have been — as a matter of fact
I would take seriously very few things.
I’d be less hygienic.
I’d take more chances, would travel more; watch
more sunsets, climb more mountains, swim in more rivers.
I’d go to many more places I’ve never been to, would eat more
ice-creams and less beans, would have more real problems and
less imaginary ones.

I was one of those people who live sensibly and fruitfully
each minute of their lives. Of course I had joyful moments
but if I could go back I’d try to have
only joyful moments.
In case you didn’t know, that’s what life is made of, only moments,
so don’t miss this moment now.
I was one of those who never goes anywhere without
a thermometer, a hot water bottle, an umbrella and a parachute.

If I could live again I would travel light.
If I could live again I’d start going barefoot
as the spring begins and would stay like that till the end of autumn.

I would turn into more side streets, watch more dawns
and would play with more children, if I could live my life again.

But you see I’m 85 years old, and I know that I’m dying.

Definitely a fossil, but of what?

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Question: How often in life do you visit a town and discover that something delightful is going to happen the day you have to leave, or happened just before you arrived?

Answer: all too often.

But happily, when we visited Lyme Regis for the first weekend of May we coincided with a Fossil Festival which we hadn’t heard of before we arrived (the festival, I mean; not Lyme Regis). Lyme Regis is a great choice for this festival – it’s on the Jurassic Coast, which is a World Heritage Site, and the surrounding beaches yield large numbers of fossils. Even on an ordinary day the town is filled with fossil shops and tours and the town celebrates its fossil fame with pride; even its elegant lamp posts are shaped like ammonites.

I loved the festival and spent hours learning about fossils and yet more hours walking the beaches, where I saw this amazing stone. (It’s on Monmouth Beach, about a third of the way along, if anyone else wants to look for it.)


It’s about the size of our dinner table and probably twice as heavy so all I could do was take this photograph. And sadly, I have no idea what it’s a fossil of – I can recognise ammonites and trilobytes, and those little things known as the Devil’s Toenails, and that’s about it.

Looking at images of fossils on Google it seems this might possibly be a coral fossil, although the frilly bit on the left might not meet the criteria. Has anyone got any other ideas?

Anyway, whatever it was millions of years ago, it’s very beautiful now.


Saturday, May 8th, 2010

What a woman and what a poet; Carol Ann Duffy’s done it again! I remember the couplet she offered when the MPs’ expenses scandal first made news:

“What did I do with the trust of your vote?
Hired a lackey to clean out the moat.”

And now, in ‘The Guardian’ this morning, this poem about Thursday’s election, called ‘Democracy’:

“Here’s a boat that cannot float.
Here’s a queue that cannot vote.
Here’s a line you cannot quote.
Here’s a deal you cannot note …
and here’s a sacrificial goat,
here’s a cut, here’s a throat,
here’s a drawbridge, here’s a moat …
What’s your hurry? Here’s your coat.”


Peonies! Can asparagus be far behind?

Thursday, May 6th, 2010


The first peonies to arrive in London are, I think, from the Netherlands, and they’ve just hit the greengrocers and the flower stalls. What a joy! I love anemones and I usually name them as my favourite flower, but peonies are so extravagantly beautiful, and their scent so subtle – almost ghostly – that they come a very close second in my heart. I can’t afford the first rush of these gorgeous flowers (and in any case the first ones are always red, and I like the pale creamy ones best) but I’ll look forward to the price coming down to my level as soon as the English ones arrive. (In London, the last tranche of peonies come from the Irish republic wrapped in sheets of Gaelic newspapers. But that’s about 6 weeks away.)

Peonies and asparagus: two great joys in one month. I’m hoping to buy field-grown asparagus in the farmers’ market this Sunday – there are some around now from the Wye Valley, but they’ve been grown in polytunnels and their flavour’s not quite up to scratch. Call me fussy.