Archive for April, 2012

Tuesday poem: Nothing

Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

Nothing
by Rachel Rooney

Red; it’s overrated. See that token
red on a single stem, that
redness of me waiting like a pillar box.
Red’s too easy.

Blue is foolish.
Blueness; I can dive right into it. Yes,
blue’s an invite; it’s the touch of tiles in a pool.
Blue. Don’t do it.

Yellow’s hell. Avoid it.
Yellowness is madness.
Yellow. Break it down and it’s the sound it makes.
Yellow. I won’t enter it.

Greenness; it isn’t me.
Green is somebody else’s smell and
green’s their home, fingers, mould.
Green grows. Best keep away from it.

White? Now, that’s more like it.
White’s an absence. It’s nothing and all I ever wanted.
Whiteness, pure and sweet as a fantasy.
White. I can almost taste it.


I posted a poem by Rachel last June: ‘The Language of Cat’ from her collection of poetry for children with the same name. This poem, ‘Nothing’, has been selected for an anthology of poems for adults: ‘Languages of Colour’, published next month by the Frogmore Press. So it turns out that Rachel is fluent in colour as well as cat.

And while we’re talking poetry, why don’t you look at what the other Tuesday Poets are offering: if one of the posts on the sidebar mentions a Tuesday Poem you can be sure there’s a poem in there somewhere. The Tuesday Poets have just celebrated their second anniversary in cyberspace by writing another ‘group’ poem. Each member of the group added a line every 12 hours or so, for about 14 days. You can still see the terrific result at the Hub by scrolling down the main section. (Oh go on, have a look: we’re very proud of it!)

And so the season begins

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

The very best thing about Orford Ness is that it really belongs to the wild birds. The Ness opened again to visitors two weeks ago, but at this time of year ‘open’ means only on Saturdays, and even then you can do only one of the three designated walks; the others are closed because of ground-nesting birds. The first boat across from Orford Quay is at 10.00 am, and the last one back is at 5pm. After that, and for the next six days, the 16 kilometres of shingle spit is returned to the ownership of wildlife – to the birds and the hares and the wind, and the sounds of silence. (The Ness opens more frequently in August and September, but after that it’s closed completely until the beginning of April.)

This characterisation of humans as strictly controlled, temporary incomers gives me enormous pleasure, and I believe it’s these restrictions that give the Ness its own distinctive character. That stretch of shingle has a particular and unusual beauty that I find both moving and inspirational. The loveliness is more than the sum of its parts, although each of the parts is so individually beautiful, and so intensely ‘other’, that it takes your breath away.  And although this was my third visit in recent years no memory quite prepared me for the feral joy of its diversity: the reed beds thrumming with wind and bird song, the rolling marshland where larks and swans nest, the harsh salt marshes where this time we glimpsed not only hares but also one of the rare water deer, and the steeply shelved shingle beach where just about every single one of the thousands of pebbles seems a distinctive and natural work of art worth individual attention.

Orford Ness has a long history of supporting secrecy. In the 13th century it protected the port of Orford from surprise attack, but more recently, and most notoriously, it was used for a sequence of top-secret military research and development programs during the 20th century. It was finally bought by the National Trust in 1993, and the Trust aims to preserve past evidence of the site’s use while also allowing natural process to run their course – which means the slow decay of the remaining military buildings and leftover junk. Some visitors, I’m told, complain about “the mess” of decay and rust: I love it.

We saw: a barn owl, oyster catchers, lots of gulls (I’m no good at identifying one gull from another, but some were black-head gulls and others might have been skuas), larks, swans, redshanks, shelduck, cormorants and a skein of geese in the sky. We also saw hares and a water deer. I heard, I’m sure, a cuckoo – but the call was coming from the mainland and not actually on the Ness itself.

This is a water deer, but not my photo.

The only wildlife I managed to photograph was this caterpillar.

And I was struck by an incident I witnessed on Orford Quay, waiting for the boat. Two tourists had driven on to the Quay and parked their car, despite notices that ask you not to do that (there’s a visitors’ car park close by, and the working fishermen own the parking spots on the Quay). One of the fishermen prepping his boat asked them to move, and when they argued he patiently explained the rules. And after he finally won the day, and the visitors had grumped off to move their car, one of the fisherman’s friends grinned at him and said, “And so the season begins.” You have to wonder if that sentiment is shared by the Ness wildlife.

A garden is a lovesome thing

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Just look at our broad beans! They were planted last November and they survived the winter really well and are now covered in flowers.

And here they are up close so you can see just how many flowers are flowering. People say that if you plant them in the autumn you don’t get blackfly: I’m not sure. Not yet.

And – trumpet roll – here is the very first potato plant to poke its little nose above ground. I’m pretty sure it’s one of the Red Duke of Yorks – we planted them last year and they were a great success, so they’re one of the varieties of earlies we chose for this year. They only went in on 25th March.

And just for a change, I thought I’d also take a photo of this – it’s a very beautiful installation of a support structure. I could imagine seeing it in the Hayward.

We planted some more chard yesterday; we’re eating last year’s right now because it’s sprung back up in prolific style. And I’ve got out the packets of runner beans and squash seeds …

Gardens are lovely, especially in spring when they explode with promise and beauty. We have bees, we have blossom, we have bursts of rain and bursts of sunshine, and a general lifting of hearts and spirits. This is what Robert Bridges said in April, 1885, which is also the title of his poem.

April 1885

Wanton with long delay the gay spring leaping cometh;

The blackthorn starreth now his bough on the eve of May:

All day in the sweet box-tree the bee for pleasure hummeth:

The cuckoo sends afloat his note on the air all day.

Now dewy nights again and rain in gentle shower

At root of tree and flower have quenched the winter’s drouth:

On high the hot sun smiles, and banks of cloud uptower

In bulging heads that crowd for miles the dazzling south.

Robert Bridges, The Shorter Poems (1891).

Tuesday Poem: homage to Anne Tyler

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Anne Tyler is presently – and unusually – in England; as far as I know she seldom travels far from Baltimore. She gave a talk at the Oxford Literary Festival yesterday and that’s utterly unusual; almost unknown. Anne Tyler never attends conferences or festivals. She never gives talks. As far as I know she’s given only two interviews in her entire working life. In the second, given recently to National Public Radio in America, she said: “I did do one [a face to face broadcast interview] about 35 years ago. I don’t have that much to say, so I figure about every 35 years will do, right?”

Well, Ms Tyler, I wouldn’t say ‘right’ but I would say, ‘better than nothing’. I couldn’t go to the Oxford Festival to hear her speak but a dear friend went and promises to give me a complete, in-depth and definitive account including hand gestures and a note about handbags, if any: meantime he says this: “You simply have to know, right here and now, that Anne Tyler has two poems on the walls of her study: ‘Walking To Sleep’ by Richard Wilbur. And an Updike poem about writing a novel.”

If anyone reading this loves Anne Tyler’s work as much as I do, and is waiting as impatiently for the release of her new novel (‘The Beginner’s Goodbye’, published in the UK tomorrow) then you might be interested in the NPR interview.

And those poems on her study wall? Well, I can’t give you the whole of Richard Wilbur’s poem because I haven’t had time to seek his permission, but it’s a magnificent poem and especially wonderful for a writer’s wall. So here are the first few lines, and a link to the rest of it on the web.

Walking to Sleep
by Richard Wilbur

As a queen sits down, knowing that a chair will be there,
Or a general raises his hand and is given the
field-glasses,
Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind.
Something will come to you. Although at first
You nod through nothing like a fogbound prow,
Gravel will breed in the margins of your gaze,
Perhaps with tussocks or a dusty flower,
And, humped like dolphins playing in the bow-wave,
Hills will suggest themselves. All such suggestions
Are yours to take or leave, but hear this warning:
Let them not be too velvet green, the fields
Which the deft needle of your eye appoints,
Nor the old farm past which you make your way
Too shady-linteled, too instinct with home.

And the John Updike poem? I have, I think, all his published poetry, so unless he wrote it privately for Ms Tyler, and nothing would surprise me there, I ought to be able to track it down. That rustling noise you can hear is me skimming the pages of John Updike’s poetry collections. Watch this space.

And while you’re waiting you might like to check out the rest of the Tuesday Poems this week (lots of them will be up already – it’s run from New Zealand where it’s already been Tuesday for five hours). And the Tuesday Poem community are embarking on another communal poem to celebrate the site’s second birthday, and members have been assigned rostered lines to write and post – roughly one every 12 hours. You can watch it grow!