From Moments, Selected poems of Jean Whitfield
Permission to reprint poems kindly given by Bakery Press.
It is so tempting to lift every poem in sequence from this ‘collected works’ as they all deserve a wider audience. Sadly, I am limited in number and space per ‘post’ so have kept with my ‘Three Poems’ format, sometimes with additional poems, maybe with other poets ( a relaxed format, admittedly).
This is the first of several from Jean Whitfield over time.
It is important that any poem can be read as an independent piece even when collections are ‘themed’ in some way. As a complete collection ‘Moments’ is unlikely to be bettered. Themes will always exist in a poet’s poems but a serial poem or one extensive like a ‘saga’ will have ‘extractions’ to find a place in an anthology or post such as this.
I always try to include complete poems but do quote extracts if fitting.
Jean Whitfield’s poetry has a tone of its own. I hope this and future posts of her work will secure her place.
Wind in their bones
birds see-saw the air
a mass of moving ciphers
altogether on the sky.
Between them grim-beaked
and desperate against the air
and all their movement
heads a loner
going the other way.
Their feet were bleeding, torn,
their hands wound like rope
in the brown shrouds they wore.
Raw wind shred voices
Like bird’s wings
Above bare hills
where they walked
each hooded man
Granite muscled the land
thin soil lay a fine skin
where the line
of broken shards veined.
Five miles they trod
thorn and broom
to the chantry, hungering.
Blood flecked rocks they climbed
bracelets of blood:
a temporary offering.
And the buzzard for its survival
scanned barren moors, homes in.
Took the yellowest, limp-necked lamb
greased with its cleansing
outside the Chantry door.
First a solid river that swans slapped
warming ice with rapid feet
a courtyard with a bench, an unlit lamp
and long thin runnels between the polished cobbles
which silent water painted grey
and lay there dark with buildings.
Then the sun shone suddenly
and balconies broadcast wrought iron tendrils
over frozen water become sprinkled heaps of gemstones
and a long black window opened
for a woman’s arm to put out a pot of flowers
to spread the place with red and gold.
Three different ‘wintry’ scenes.
Bird: Brief, simple observation of a scene in this poem. Or, looking at the word ‘ciphers’ and then ‘grim-beaked’ we can see an alternative meaning as the poem’s last lines of ‘heads a loner/ going the other way’ This moves it into the personal world of the author but still further into the wider world of the ‘loner’, be they in the arts or by temperament. With this change of meaning the poem could well sink into a bleakness, especially because of the word ‘desparate’ but that image is perhaps held at bay by the use of ‘grim-beaked’. For me ‘grim-beaked’ is a sign of inner strength, determination and courage to proceed. Right or wrong in this poem does not come into it. Against the crowd? So be it.
Tor Chantry: Chantry: a chapel or altar endowed for the chanting of masses for the founder’s soul (source: Longman Concise Engl Dict.)
Longer, darker, with rhymes and half-rhymes scattered through. The last verse taking you abruptly away from the human effort of survival to the real world of survival. Throughout the poem it is the landscape that has priority. In the last verse you can put the emphasis on ‘its’ in: ‘for its survival’ and the men and their toil are literally out of the picture, forgotten. More can be threaded out of this poem, as in many a good poet’s work.
Winter Yard: The first verse offers delightful image of swans ‘warming ice with rapid feet’. You can see them slipping and trying to progress as their webbed feet fail to take hold and slide away from them ever faster. The next few lines describe acutely the place and view.
The middle verse is three lines, only one sentence and perhaps a little difficult to read first time around but the change of tempo and the compressed images capture that very moment of a fresh view of a scene when the sun flashes on it.
Last verse, linking with the balcony (in my mind), maybe below or on a level with it. The ‘black’ window actually contrasts positively with the grey and ice previously which flows into the softness and color of the final two lines.
All unrhymed; little punctuation so the reader can find their own pauses and a beautiful little poem.
tag as: seasons and winter