Lorna Goodison: Guinea Woman and Selected Poems

After reading ‘I am Becoming My Mother’, I take a look at Guinea Woman and For My Mother, a collection published in 2000.

Guinea Woman & Selected Poems

Lorna Goodison

paperback       published 2000,    Carcanet

Maybe it is me but there is always a lushness to Lorna Goodison’s poetry.  The feel of her words surrounding you as you read, a sorrow or bittersweet note coloured by the undergrowth of her formative island home.  Even the harshness of some poems are influenced by the colour and warmth of her environment in the Caribbean, others to the more  sombre landscapes of  the North and Europe.  Even here she is able to prick the poems with colour.

Lorna Goodison’s poetry is a distinct counterbalance to the bright-glittering lines of my last read: Smoothie, by Claudine Toutoungi (Carcanet)

Guinea Woman  contains poems from the publications: I Am Becoming My Mother and   Heartease plus a great many as ‘New and Selected’

I mention above ‘lushness’ and depth (undergrowth) and her tone of bittersweet.  I should pick up also on the fact that within these emotions lies a core of flashing steel; or maybe I should refer you to her poem ‘On Becoming a Tiger’ which for me suggests her need to become such, maybe as a self-portrait.  Deeper into this collection and her poems become more extended.  Throughout she frequently places the role of the poet to sit with the people, those torn away and subjugated but still surviving.  Their history, her history, and the catching at truth in the midst of the islands.  Yet despite the hardships of the past or her then present, the enveloping plants and sweet smelling herbs give succour and support.  Her poetry is frequently about the ‘injustice’ (To put it oh-so too mildly!) of people against one another, of the world of transportation and slavery and how that ‘hinge’ has weighed down so many people.  Yet hope, beauty and humanity survive despite the failure of history to truly recompense and the continued need to call for true freedom.

Read.   Elephant.

and:  In city gardens grow no roses as we know them

I have never been to Jamaica but in reading Lorna Goodison I can believe in the heat, the colour, the rhythm of life and language, the humour and both injustice and truth of this sensuous world she shows us.

You can meet her family here and a wealth of people in the pleasure of her verses and the justly acute observations on history and still the present, that sadden and frustrate.  When she is far away from her origins you hear that too.  Her anger and maybe scorn sometimes surprises the reader in poems.

Noting the particular pleasure I had in reading : The Mango of Poetry, I offer this to any poet, would-be or active as a balance to some texts on writing poetry.   I have just see that this poem is is also highlighted on the back cover of her latest full collection since she became Poet Laureate of Jamaica on 17th May 2017 ( until 2020).

All-in-all, this may be a collection published in 2000 but it is a grand set to read and covet.  But then, now a more complete selection is published  perhaps that should become my standard!    Of her work, to quote the last verse of  The Mango of Poetry:   ‘And I say that this too would be/ powerful and overflowing/ and a fitting definition/ of what is poetry.’

 

I Am Becoming My Mother may be a classic poem, ripe for study, but to gather the fruits of this author you really need to dig only a little deeper and Guinea Woman: New & Selected Poems should satisfy any reader of Poetry whatever their main interest.

I have indicated a few favourites in the text above, others in this memorable collection to recommend are:

To Mr William Wordsworth, distributor of stamps for Westmorland..….( a poem for students of the W.W. too, surely?).

Annie Pengelly,   God a Me,  and  Guinea Woman

I am sorry to have missed her visit to England in July 2017.  Maybe another time.

 

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National Poetry Day 2017:

 

The UK National Poetry Day theme for 2017 is ‘Freedom’ 

poems,  one by JJ Smith  and one by Jean Whitfield

Gated                                                          J Johnson Smith   ( for John  Clare)                                                 

This gate I may not pass through.

Five bars that bar my way, a notice plea to shut

when shackles hold it to.

And yet it seems something that I must do

or seek another path to the shepherd’s hut,

a pleasant grassy hoo.

On muddied path I would sneak and twist

along a nettled bank, sharply observed

and scornfully warned by the blackbird

that hides more subtly but breaks to protect its nest

from the likes of me and all the rest.

Must this gate stand a barrier evermore,

a symbol of enclosure’s yoke?

It must, like any bolted door,

for future use be broke.

 

This poem by Jean Whitfield, published by Bakery Press, published 1985.

Prayer

 

Happiness used to make me speechless

but now it has given me voice:

 

at my friend’s table where the glasses stand

and the full red wine is my winking joy

and our words fly like darting birds

flashing between us the shadows of our meanings

lightly touching our lips with all our laughing;

 

in the strength of the singer who brings me hope

from the wet lamp lit streets, the crooked pavements

the girls laughing arm in arm going to the meeting

and thoughtful foreheads between the railings

outside the factory walls making decisions for the new day;

 

that the older women will not brook divisions

between us remembering their mothers’ pain

the bent and broken saucepan balanced on the flame

the stewing bone and the wasted child’s silence

turning in the corner under the damp linen

and the new child turning under her own thin-ribbed bones;

 

and the railway worker who bled in the trenches

seeing thousands and thousands of deaths in the poppies

that fall round the shifting numbed feet of the rulers

remembers the whip of the hunter and would send him again

down the narrow track to the river’s dark deep;

 

while we are walking together through afternoons

our eyes half-closed at the smoking rain

our hands cradling fruit, flowers, a round new loaf

we must not let go our determination, our power

we must not stop wanting the intricate spider

the motionless heron, the smallest singing gnat

the green pyramids of blossom on the tree dancing

the whole of the ringing sunset when it touches the top

the top of the dancing tree, touches the snow

we must not give away even the rounded, the various

the curled, the bulbous, unfurling, riotous, heaped springing grasses.

 

Guy Butler: ‘On First Seeing Florence’ thoughts

Mostly:     On first seeing Florence                   a long poem

Guy Butler

Published:     New Coin poetry, pamphlet by Rhodes University, Grahamstown.  1968.

As far as I am aware this pamphlet/poem is unavailable.

This pamphlet has a forward as ‘author’s note’ where he explains that it was first written in 1944, shortly before his Armoured Division advanced to the southern banks of the Arno on 4th August 1944.

Not really satisfied with the original version he rewrote and expanded it in 1960 and again in 1964. The floods of the Arno in1966 and his reading of War in the val d’Orcia by iris origo took him back to his poem and finally a satisfaction that it was finished to the best of his ability persuaded him to publish as a pamphlet.

A poem divided into eighteen parts.      This long poem is broken into many stanzas within the individual parts.  Part one starts with three-line stanzas in ABA rhyme scheme with one line-end of a following stanza repeating with one of the previous stanza; in irregular order.   Different parts vary in stanza length but overall maintain approximately regular rhyme schemes within each part.

The subject is initially simple, a first view of Florence, but hugely influencing the feelings of the moment were the author’ situation of a military progress in WW2 toward a city that coalesced his childhood reading of history, legend and literature.    Not only his reading but interest in Arts.   In the poem Guy Butler describes the wide ranges of thought and emotion that flood the senses and through them the links it discloses to his boyhood in South Africa.  A moment when time, place and memory merge.

He shows his personal art and literary tour within the poem.  You can feel that these words, thoughts, emotions, bundled through his mind as he first saw the vista of Florence through the trees as light improved and mist dissolved.  (the ‘mist’ might also be associated as clearing his mind at a later date first composing then editing/re writing later). The poem begins when he had found himself in a situation in view of a’ real’ place of his childhood ‘discoveries’; was actually seeing part of his memory, his past and current influences in mind and reality.  He recalls his boyhood and his world of stories and wonders at his ‘fall’ into adulthood and his wartime circumstances of ever present loneliness and expectation of death.

This amalgamation of emotion into his previous sense of self and seemingly new awareness of his being part of a ‘universal oneness’ is fairly clear.  God was there, clearly, but where now?    One element of the many running through this poem.  For me, I find the artful allusion within the poem is understandable, no doubt appropriate for his intention but looks back into the style of Shelley rather than Wordsworth, albeit not the rhythms.  And here I have to profess to a lower enthusiasm for Shelley than perhaps I should.  Taking Wordsworth’s idea of ‘composing in tranquility’ may also have softened a little of the edge of Guy Butler’s usual style, for my taste.  Not knocking the intention or result.

Guy Butler started this poem amid writing others that appear in his well studied ‘Stranger to Europe’ poem and first collection of the same name.  The shorter poems such as ‘Stranger to Europe’ suit me better.  As does ‘Giotto’s Campanile’.  Another poem, ‘December 1944’ brings in the sights and sounds of  war with religious considerations/questions seeping through.  Talking of the same period as ‘Florence’ they seem more ‘of the moment’ hence more direct.  No surprise just a degree change of preference.  His other poetry of this period, unsurprisingly, resonates through ‘On First seeing Florence’ though their content is more literal or should I say, storytelling, almost a diary line.

As with all good poetry, re-reading ‘On First Seeing Florence’ will always offer new views and insights.  One tip is copying out any poem, or at least part, is also an interesting way to pick trends and threads of ideas of the author.

First section:   ‘On First Seeing Florence’

I

 Earth shakes, spine jerks, eyes flicker to the flash

   of heavy guns; tense as a dog’s, ears strain

for the obliterating salvo’s crash

 

upon our bivouac:  but once again

   It crumps far left.  Dun gleam on tank and truck,

on dark tents taut from midnight’s drenching rain

 

and dreaming towers deep in the campaign’s muck.

   And yet one dresses, dons unusual hopes

and steals abroad to try one’s curious luck.

 

Far more than lungs are breathing as one gropes

   towards the black hill’s crest to catch a first

close view of Dante’s town.  Long, wooded slopes

 

secrete a blessed sense of getting lost

   in scented labyrinths, until the Lane

on one side falls away:  sheer sky, where tossed

 

festoons of soft mauve cirrus sway between

   the moon’s dim burial and the unborn sun.

Transfixed, one stares.  Why should the natural scene

 

seem to excel itself?  Who dares poke fun

   from such a stage?  Lear’s all-licensed fool

beneath this sky, after the storm is done,

 

might hold a tattered heart to ridicule.

   Let tragedy alone; sit, smoke and take

a journalistic note, guard a small cold lake:

 

dark pines, spear straight, in massive phalanxes;

   loose robed poplars, Parthian free and bright,

each poised to wheel and prance in the slightest breeze  –

 

an old trick this, to take what comes to sight

   from public day into one’s private time,

fling words at it, then watch it catch alight

 

and, sparkling with live history, consume

  its three-dimensional sheath of metaphor  –

it’s all in old Longinus On the Sublime.

 

Vanity of vanities  –  as though this war

   should be fate’s winnowing wind that sifts

the grain from all the chaff I’ve lived before.

 

One waits and smiles at one’s own mental shifts.

   Nun’s fingers fell habitual beads to still

the heart for timeless prayer:  so eyesight lifts

 

thing after thing, feels each, then lets it fall

   till outer meets with inner mystery,

then pauses, holds it, and is held in thrall:

 

a pine is no mere non-deciduous tree;

   each poplar celebrates its own white core:

once they were gods and oracles to me,

 

vast presences whose tall bone-houses bore

   contrasting robes in whose deep shades I found

cool worlds to wander, dream in, and explore;

 

but now O how disturbingly they send

  their minor chords vibrating through my brain

to where, half over earth’s unending round,

 

their differing greens rise in a sun-blind plain

   to splash damp shadows on the dazzling ground

about our house.  Now I am there again.

 The threads of religion and mythology run through many of Guy Butlers poems and in the shorter poems are more easily handled than in this long poem. But one of the points of ‘……‘Florence’ is its history of millennial influence as a centre for the arts (of Western and ‘imported’ mostly) on the world.  Guy Butler is heavily influenced by such culture but in other, later works, also absorbs and narrates the stories of his surrounding South African indigenous peoples where his voice moves into honest, colourful images that seem to illuminate the harsh beauty/reality of the villages and scenery around him; where elemental Nature is itself!   This fall-back to depiction and final involvement of nature, especially tree and bush, their place in landscape as more permanent than man, is a large part of his expected long life as a poet as well as one of the ‘war-poets’.

Last verse excerpt from,

Stranger to Europe:     (From Selected Poems,  AD Donker ltd. 1975)

Now, between my restless eyes

And the scribbled wisdom of the ages

Black hills meet moving skies

And through rough hedges a late wind blows;

And in my palm through all the rages

Of lust and love now, always, lie

Brown hawthorn berry, red dogrose.

‘Home Thoughts’, is a poem in the ‘Selected Poems’ which is longer than average at some at 140 lines (broken into stanzas of 10 lines, in three parts).  Which feels its way through the legendary Apollo, linking with Galileo and their worlds and Butler’s ‘sense of communion with them’ (my words) but also about his new awareness of his and past generations’ deep roots in Africa.:

I have not found myself on Europe’s maps,

A world of things, deep things I know endure

But not the context for my one perhaps.

I must go back with my five simple slaves

To soil still savage, in a sense still pure:

My loveless, shallow land of artless shapes

Where no ghosts glamorise the recent graves

And everything in Space and Time just is:

What similes can flash across those gaps

Undramatized by sharp antithesis?

The above is the third from last verse.  Here seems to be Guy’s realisation that Europe is not his personal future, that the climate of South Africa, the soil of the Great Karoo and its own ancient world is where his future lies:   In the last two lines:

‘Cleave, crack the clouds! From his brimming drum

Spill crystal waves of words, articulate!’

A personal calling for his own muse to give him the ability to ‘write’.  And it can be read as a plea of the day (late 1940’s) for his country to awaken to its combined sense of self, beauty and history.  South Africa was calling him home, to stay.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of  Love and War: Vernon Scannell

Of Love and War.    Vernon Scannell.  1922-2007                           New and Selected Poems

 

November 16th is the 10th anniversary of the death of Vernon Scannell.(23rd  January1923 -16th November 2007)

 

This seemed as good as any time to read a self-selected collection of his poetry, some new but most previously published in book or magazine form.  He worked on this collection in his eightieth year and describes in a beautifully written introduction his belief in the art of poetry and its requirements.  Also of his disdain for the written poetry rising at the start of the 21st century and  throw-away performance poetry designed to be ‘disrupted-verse’ ( my ‘word’ not his).

He admitted that poetry had always been performed and ‘performance’ may have included his view of an extravagance that was acceptable for the event but unnecessary for written poetry.   This clashes somewhat with the idea that poetry is best read out loud but maybe it’s the degree.   However he gave no allowance to work turning into the first decade of the 21st Century, which is his perspective, not mine.

I previously reviewed Epithets of War

I read ‘Epithets of War’ not so long ago and was  quite taken up by his style which frequently sought to maintain a more traditional, or at least, Victorian-cum-Tennyson format.  His experiences as soldier at war and boxer may well have helped his appreciation of technique.  His choice of words was no doubt also influenced by a life that was frequented by difficult  physical situations and sights.

A poet of international standing in his day,  numerous prize winnings and often a visiting reader of his work.  From a man who is also known as a soldier from El Alamein to Normandy.  As a boxer both amateur and professional.  Making him a poet of the physical world.

Scannell’s awareness of the subtlety of metre and words can create an unexpected softness from their often terse and blunt meaning.   His poetry, often tough in language, cannot hide the variations of love that filter through.  Vernon Scannell is frequently classified as a war poet (fair enough) but reading his own excellent introduction to this book,  his commitment is to ‘poetry’ and far more can be taken from his poems.  This collection broadens the view you may have of his work.  Two sides of the same coin, you might say with compassion, nostalgia, less than subtle humour tucked in and imagery; all through straightforward storytelling. Each poem a complete entity and leading you onward to the next.

Do read his introduction.

The Arrival of Brighteye and other Poems, A Graph Review

A Graph Review,   50s with high points of 60s

Published by     Bloodaxe Books    2000.         paperback £7.95

978 185224538 2                                  A collection of 31 poems

 

I found catching the native Caribbean accent from this collection daunting at the start but with concentration and the numerous smooth transitions to standard English as separate and within poems, the unfamiliar soon became much easier and that voice inside my head settled into an agreeable attempt at the diferent words and patterns.  However it still remained a challenging but interesting read into, for me, a different world.

Poems of  Caribbean scenes: Childhood, school, surroundings, emigration, life transplanted and death.  Not forgetting the likes of housework and love; the latter cropping up in its many guises. ‘The Arrival of Brighteye’ is the keynote poem as well as the cover title.  It is a story-poem, part prose, that offers hope and excitement of a new world and family reunion but ends on a sad line of familial  love.

Poems that seemed extravagant as I read turned into colourful pictures of places and people. The writing is spirited throughout,  affirming sisterhood no matter what.

The first, Bush Babies,  sets the scene and the poems move along picking out moments like apples from a tree.  Understanding and sexuality flit through many, especially early poems.  More use of Caribbean accent is in the second half of the collection, allowing readers to tune in to the language.  I have not seen her perform her work but expect Jean Breeze to be as colourful and exuberant as these poems

I always have to pick out some I like, so:

The garden path,     Sky love,        The arrival of bright eyes,   leading on to   playing the messiah and the last poem in the collection…Duppy Dance

Shame I can’t include ‘Ole Warrior’ or ‘on cricket, sex and housework’, or several others too…….. Yes, I would recommend all of them!  A thoroughly good read!

Short extract from Upstream (for Stevie):

“If you could hear the drumbeats on my mind

Give me one more flight of time

One more chime of music

One more glimpse of dawn

One more walk

through open spaces”

 

 

More: Three Poems by Jean Whitfield

I am pleased to reprint three more poems by Jean Whitfield, permission kindly given by Bakery Press.  Several other poems by Jean have been published on ‘poetryparc’, to read them just use the ‘tag’ on her name or ‘Three Poems‘ for her and additional poets.

Just received the satisfying news that her one and onle published collection: Moments   has been accepted for catalogue and stock by the Poetry Library, South Bank, London.

 

The usual thing                                  

 

We always say farewell like this

a raincoat on your arm

carrying books and a bag in one hand

the other behind my back

fingers wide-spread across my bones

car keys caught on one last finger

and flapping in your neck

a carrier-bag I forgot about

and found there

halfway through our kiss.

In my hand slid round your waist

a pair of school shoes

you surprised me with

But the kiss lasts just as long

with tongues and lips

as when without books and bags

shoes for schoolgirls

old winter coats

we met our mouths that first time

and afterwards noticed

how clocks and lamp lit rooms

forgot us

till we remembered

and now remember it.

 

……………

 

These flowering currants……

…hang heavy in the light

like wine or strawberries brushing it with sugar

still crystal fruits where dew is cold

amongst the small peach-tongued lips

of over-folded new tight leaves

 

we love like that and hold each other

in the warmth of our sheltering hands

become each other’s leaves and flowering stems

that thread together extending blossoms

 

we touch lightly with our sweet breath

and perfume the air with words

that arouse our gentle power our growing

our hope in the unfolding moment.

 

………………

 

Prayer                                                      

 

Happiness used to make me speechless

but now it has given me voice:

 

at my friend’s table where the glasses stand

and the full red wine is my winking joy

and our words fly like darting birds

flashing between us the shadows of our meanings

lightly touching our lips with all our laughing;

 

in the strength of the singer who brings me hope

from the wet lamp lit streets, the crooked pavements

the girls laughing arm in arm going to the meeting

and thoughtful foreheads between the railings

outside the factory walls making decisions for the new day;

 

that the older women will not brook divisions

between us remembering their mothers’ pain

the bent and broken saucepan balanced on the flame

the stewing bone and the wasted child’s silence

turning in the corner under the damp linen

and the new child turning under her own thin-ribbed bones;

 

and the railway worker who bled in the trenches

seeing thousands and thousands of deaths in the poppies

that fall round the shifting numbed feet of the rulers

remembers the whip of the hunter and would send him again

down the narrow track to the river’s dark deep;

 

while we are walking together through afternoons

our eyes half-closed at the smoking rain

our hands cradling fruit, flowers, a round new loaf

we must not let go our determination, our power

we must not stop wanting the intricate spider

the motionless heron, the smallest singing gnat

the green pyramids of blossom on the tree dancing

the whole of the ringing sunset when it touches the top

the top of the dancing tree, touches the snow

we must not give away even the rounded, the various

the curled, the bulbous, unfurling, riotous, heaped springing grasses.

………………………………………………

 

 

Deshabille, Mornings, Snow: Jean Whitfield

Three Poems by Jean Whitfield

 

Deshabille                              

 

Extraordinary to think

I hardly knew how to start

to take them off

with him relaxed and watching.

Would he understand

the clumsy shadows

or see something new

inspiring, over-inspiring

from my point of view

of readiness or lack of it

while I stood

one stocking wrinkling like old skin

and his large hands removing the rest

romance no use to him now

Wanting to get on with it.

 

Deshabillee I thought

fin de siecle, Toulouse-Lautrec

la nuit, a strange pince-nez

images that fit

and like Piaf I find

that looking back

I do not regret it.

……………………..

 

Mornings                                                    

 

In the mornings I exchange one man

for another when that small child

creeps within the cover

grins in the sunless dawn-grey room

pushes elbows, legs, feet

between our elbows, legs, feet

routs his father out

with his too early activity.

 

Plans a snore and calmly notes

hair-brown shadows

on that other man-shaped creature

rear into the day-cold air.

 

Crouches in the hollows

owning now quite all the spaces in the bed.

 

Finds a stomach a cushion for his knees

leans his head back a rock on my shoulder

a bold boy he winks at his mother

tells his dream of rabbits, guns, explosion

moves winningly, hugs with warm persistence

the ridden mattress, knows his heritage.

………………………

 

Snow                                    

 

Days after the first fresh fall

the crunching feet the rosy glow

has turned to cinders

 

lumps of it hang on wire fences still

like the bridal dress

hangs at the back of the wardrobe.

……………………………………………………

reprinted with kind permission of Bakery Press