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”

 

 

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Three Poems by Henry lawson

Well,  just trundled my way through his collected works.  There must be over 500 assorted poems in total by this earl Australian poet, writer and journalist.   Most of them fairly long to put in this post of brief reminders of style.  I complained in the last post that his repetitive rhyming and rhythms were not entirely for me.  My slight reassessment  is that at least you know what you are getting every time and that his consistency is remarkable whilst carrying a wide range of stories, or rather sketches and scenes.     Not for too much re-reading unless I need a snatch of early Australian ‘scenery’, which is effective

Three poems:

Hawkers

Dust, dust, dust, and a dog –

Oh, the shepherd-dog won’t be the last,

Where the long, long shadow of the old bay horse

With the shadow of his mate is cast.

A brick-brown woman, with their brick-brown kids,

And a man with his head half-mast,

The feed-bags hung, and the bedding slung,

And the blackened bucket made fast

Where the tailboard clings to the tucker and things –

So the hawker’s van goes past.

 

On the night train

 

Have you seen the Bush by moonlight, from the train, go running by,

Here a patch of glassy water, there a glimpse of mystic sky?

Have you heard the still small voice calling, yet so warm, and yet so cold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that bore you! Come to me when you are old?”

 

Did you see the Bush below you sweeping darkly to the range,

All unchanged and all unchanging, yet so very old and strange!

Did you hear the Bush a’calling, when your heart was young and bold:

“I’m the Mother Bush that nursed you!  Come to me when you are old?”

 

Through the long, vociferous cutting as the night train swiftly sped,

Did you hear the grey Bush calling from the pine-ridge overhead:

“You have seen the seas and cities; all seems done, and all seems told;

I’m the Mother Bush that loves you! Come to me now you are old?”

Borderland

I am back from up the country — very sorry that I went —
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have lost a lot of idols, which were broken on the track —
Burnt a lot of fancy verses, and I’m glad that I am back.
Further out may be the pleasant scenes of which our poets boast,
But I think the country’s rather more inviting round the coast —
Anyway, I’ll stay at present at a boarding-house in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes, taking baths and cooling down.

Sunny plains! Great Scot! — those burning wastes of barren soil and sand
With their everlasting fences stretching out across the land!
Desolation where the crow is! Desert! where the eagle flies,
Paddocks where the luny bullock starts and stares with reddened eyes;
Where, in clouds of dust enveloped, roasted bullock-drivers creep
Slowly past the sun-dried shepherd dragged behind his crawling sheep.
Stunted “peak” of granite gleaming, glaring! like a molten mass
Turned, from some infernal furnace, on a plain devoid of grass.

Miles and miles of thirsty gutters — strings of muddy waterholes
In the place of “shining rivers” (walled by cliffs and forest boles).
“Range!” of ridgs, gullies, ridges, barren! where the madden’d flies —
Fiercer than the plagues of Egypt — swarm about your blighted eyes!
Bush! where there is no horizon! where the buried bushman sees
Nothing. Nothing! but the maddening sameness of the stunted trees!
Lonely hut where drought’s eternal — suffocating atmosphere —
Where the God forgottcn hatter dreams of city-life and beer.

Treacherous tracks that trap the stranger, endless roads that gleam and glare,
Dark and evil-looking gullies — hiding secrets here and there!
Dull, dumb flats and stony “rises,” where the bullocks sweat and bake,
And the sinister “gohanna,” and the lizard, and the snake.
Land of day and night — no morning freshness, and no afternoon,
For the great, white sun in rising brings with him the heat of noon.
Dismal country for the exile, when the shades begin to fall
From the sad, heart-breaking sunset, to the new-chum, worst of all.

Dreary land in rainy weather, with the endless clouds that drift
O’er the bushman like a blanket that the Lord will never lift —
Dismal land when it is raining — growl of floods and oh! the “woosh”
Of the rain and wind together on the dark bed of the bush —
Ghastly fires in lonely humpies where the granite rocks are pil’d
On the rain-swept wildernesses that are wildest of the wild.

Land where gaunt and haggard women live alone and work like men,
Till their husbands, gone a-droving, will return to them again —
Homes of men! if homes had ever such a God-forgotten place,
Where the wild selector’s children fly before a stranger’s face.
Home of tragedy applauded by the dingoes’ dismal yell,
Heaven of the shanty-keeper — fitting fiend for such a hell —
And the wallaroos and wombats, and, of course, the “curlew’s call” —
And the lone sundowner tramping ever onward thro’ it all!

I am back from up the country — up the country where I went
Seeking for the Southern poets’ land whereon to pitch my tent;
I have left a lot of broken idols out along the track,
Burnt a lot of fancy verses — and I’m glad that I am back —
I believe the Southern poet’s dream will not be realised
Till the plains are irrigated and the land is humanised.
I intend to stay at present — as I said before — in town
Drinking beer and lemon-squashes — taking baths and cooling down.

 

 

I might have included others, such as:          A Bush Girl.    To my cultured critics,     Second class wait here.      Pigeon toes….       But didn’t!

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Poetical Works of Henry Lawson

1867-1922

Born in a tent on Grenfell goldfields.  Father a Norse sailor turned goldfield digger and a Kentish mother of gypsy blood and tradition. He seems to have led a mostly nomadic life, crossing oceans as well as  working on farms and stations. Always writing. Short stories, masses of poetry and working as a jouranalist in Sydney until succumbing finally to alcaholism and almost destitution except for the support of  a boarding house keeper who was also a poet and had great admiration for Henry’s work.

 

A very brief outline of a man whose work I am reading now, having found  a re-issue of his 1933 edition by Angus & Robertson.

Briefly, his metre and rhyme seems punctilious, his subjects quite varied but mostly of the land- workers: Shearer, swagman, the woman who watched and waited for them and the political and class struggles of the day. Throughout  is the space in time as well as distance of the landscape whether on a farmstead or travelling through a township.  The characters are all real, unglossed and often lost.

The intro. mentions him coming out of the realms of  Wordsworth and Byron. To me Kipling and Tennyson are sometimes in step with his metre and style but the tru-ism of the introduction is that he is an Australian poet.

a sample:  not the best but one of the shorter poems.  Longer ones continue in similar strong patterns but a multitude of subjects  decide on feelings, of sadness, harshness of reality and hope.  :

Rain in the Mountains

The valley’s full of misty clouds,

Its tinted beauty drowning,

Tree-tops are veiled in fleecy shrouds,

And mountain fronts are frowning.

 

The mist is hanging like a pall

Above the granite ledges,

And many a silvery waterfall

Leaps o’er the valley edges.

 

The sky is of a leaden grey,

Save where the north looks surly,

The driven daylight speeds away,

And night comes o’er early.

 

Dear Love, the rain will pass full soon,

Far sooner than my sorrow,

But in a golden afternoon

The sun may set tomorrow.

 

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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.

………………………………………………

 

 

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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

 

 

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Lorna Goodison: ‘I am becoming my mother’, a closer look

I am becoming my mother        By Lorna Goodson

 

Yellow/brown woman

Fingers smelling always of onions

 

Lorna Goodison cover pic

published by New Beacon Books 1986

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 the sky

and stored lace and damask

tablecloths

to pull shame out of her eye.

 

I am becoming my mother

brown/yellow woman

fingers smelling always of onions.

 

This is a poem of fourteen lines.   A classic format is the sonnet, a poem of 14 lines, most expected as a love poem and considered to have a strict format of scan and rhyme, divided into two verses.  Such models as Shakespearean and Spencerian are common but several other variables are also set.  However, where does variation move a poem away from being a sonnet?

The paragraph above is probably slightly misleading but this poem does have fourteen lines and it’s subject would seem to be ‘love’ between mother and daughter/ daughter and mother.  Other than that it falls away from any standard sonnet form so is not a sonnet!

Another interesting section is the repeat of the first two-lined verse as the last verse but with an additional first line of: ‘I am becoming my mother’.    This line is the core of the poem and the repeating of the first verse’ two lines completes a circle……..     A circle that satisfies in many respects:  as the ending of the piece, a reinforcement of the original idea (image/emotion), and is a technique especially used in poems.  (Rondel, Rondeau are classic French verse styles).  Short stories may well use this repetition idea but using the idea rather than exact words:

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

In the second verse:

‘My mother raises rare blooms’      Seems to odd with her watering them with tea?

There may well be benefits to watering plants with tea and this is the initial image that we see.  A nice image but could it be the author is describing her mother raising her children with special care, attention and love, yes, even tea?  Problems and tempers are said to be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’.  A subject repeat comes in this verse too, starting with ‘my mother’ to ‘blooms’ and the last line of the verse with ‘my mother is now me’.    Seemingly similar to the main idea of the poem but has less weight as in this line the emphasis is on ‘mother’ rather than ‘me’, the author.

Verses two and three have rhymes on lines two and four and two and five.    The other lines do not have pure rhyme but half-rhyme (or is it sibilance, assonance or alliteration?  I stick with half-rhyme)  with the words: blooms, rivers; dress, damask and tablecloths.

‘tablecloths’ gets a line to itself.    This brings the poem into fourteen lines but is likely to have been separated as it would make the previous line too long and visually unbalanced for the poem. It has enough weight and the assonance to appear alone plus it enables a slight pause before the next line that starts with the harder sounding ‘to pull’.  ( t of to pull echoing t of tablecloths).

Storing the lace and damask tablecloths, is common as saving the best for special occasions, visitors,  as would be the blue linen dress, it would seem.  Perhaps less common today.     The mother cares about what others may think of her and her home: ‘to pull shame out of her eye’.    This is a simplistic explanation and there is more that can be considered from this verse about a caring, hardworking woman, mother.

Returning to the last verse and it’s repeat of the first.  ‘Mother’ was previously the subject, now the author  ‘I’  has become the subject.  A simple image from the first verse has been amplified in some ten short lines into a description of a mother and family, a loving childhood and adulthood and more widely, on the ‘circle of life’ and its continuity.

Often acknowledged in life but beautifully celebrated here, is simply the fact that children frequently see the ways, genetic and learned habits, of their parents in themselves as they mature.  Not only see but feel. (In a similar way that parents can see the visual and emotional elements of themselves in their children.)

 

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Stranger to Europe, the poem, by Guy Butler; a closer look

Stranger to Europe.        Guy Butler.

poem from: Stranger to Europe 1939 -1945, poetry collection

numbers on right relate to notes below.

 

Stranger to Europe, waiting release,                        1,2

My heart a torn-up, drying root                                 3

I breathed the rain of an Irish peace                         4

That afternoon when a bird or a tree,

Long known as an exiled name, could cease            5

As such, take wing and trembling shoot                   6

Green light and shade through the heart of me.

 

Near a knotty hedge we had stopped.

‘This is an aspen.’ ‘Tell me more.’                               7

Customary veils and masks had dropped.

Each looked at the hidden other in each.                  8

Sure, we who could never kiss had leapt                   9

To living conclusions long before

Golden chestnut or copper beech.                               10

 

So, as the wind drove sapless leaves                            11

Into the bonfire of the sun,

As thunderclouds made giant graves

Of the black, bare hills of Kerry,                                  12

In a swirl of shadow, words, one by one

Fell on the stubble and the sheaves;

‘Wild dog rose this; this, hawthorn berry.’

 

But there was something more you meant,                 13

As if the tree’s and clouds had grown

Into a timeless flame that burnt

All worlds of words and left them dust

Through stubble and sedge by the late wind blown:

A love not born and not to be learnt

But given and taken, an ultimate trust.

 

Now, between my restless eyes                                        14

And the scribbled wisdom of the ages

Kerry Hills photo by Angela Jones

Kerry Hills
photo by Angela Jones

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 dog rose.

 

Rhyme scheme:

Five verses each hold seven lines.   The first two verses have a rhyme scheme of ABACABC and the last three use ABACBAC.   In the second, third and fourth verse the second ‘A’ ending is not a complete rhyme for that verse’s other ‘A’ so might be considered a half-rhyme.     With the difference in scheme in verses three and four it might be also offered that they have moved away from pure scenic description into more symbolic mode.  The last verse returns to the earlier norm of rhyme scheme and a subject of emotion refreshed and recognition of a form of love through the vicissitudes of war.

Analysis focus is on first two verses and lessens through verses three, four and five.   More attention/analysis could easily be given to all, especially later verses but space is limited.  Something for the reader to continue, maybe finding differing interpretations.  Such is poetry.  Comments welcome.

Brief overview:

The author arrives into a peaceful Ireland (Kerry) after a long war (WW2), with others (of his ‘unit’). Conversation (with locals or others familiar with names of trees, bushes etc),  on ‘ordinary’ scenery and weather creates an emotional relaxation not known for some time.  However, this discovery of emotion in peacetime slips into a symbolism of his previous years and the realisation of trust and companionship between soldiers, in war in particular.

This triggers an emotional acknowledgment that a bond, a form of love and unity, has been established in him (and all) for such close army companions, that will always be there.

  1. ‘Stranger to Europe’:    Title poem of collection, placed last quarter of book. The author is from South Africa, several generations ago originating from Stoke and area, England.
  2. ‘waiting release’:       From life in the army, most likely……..
  3. Line harking to effects of war or of being so long away from South African homeland.
  4. Ireland; well known for its rainfall, especially S.West, Kerry.  Peace as countryside and or just not being at war…
  5. ‘Long known as an exiled name’ :  Exiled as in distance from the author? as the author and forebears being ‘exiled’ from their origins or perhaps also exiled from the author’s state of mind because of circumstances? Also a form of recognition that the author is also exiled from his own home in South Africa.
  6. From ‘could cease/As such to…… heart of me’.   Sudden remembrance of such things as ‘nature’ and a sudden mental and physical awakening in the author.

Second verse:

  1. ‘an aspen’. A tree;  they do not grow in South Africa despite being widespread throughout Europe, northern Asia and north Africa.  The interest shows a mental arousal, relaxation, growing re-awakening of awareness of  ‘new countryside’ around them.
  2. The men see each other’s reactions to this sudden relaxation into their surroundings. Shadows of war are falling away.

9/10.  ‘We who could never kiss’.  ……  To………’or copper beech.”    Each man realised how close they were to each other, deeply attached but not physically.   Perhaps the line of ‘Golden chestnut or copper beech’ echoes the colours of women’s hair that they missed.  Or that they recognised their feelings quickly, before many other trees were pointed out to them. Both, is likely.  Their sudden realsation that warfare is over and they are back in a peaceful world has released emotions they had steadfastly withdrawn from.

Third verse:

  1. First two lines can be as literal description or symbolising ‘leaves’ as men and dying into the sun. With the third line weighing it down with thunderclouds and the illusion of hills as giant graves, it seems the memory of warfare and death mingles with ‘dog rose and hawthorn berry’.

The tone of the poem is ‘deadened’ in this verse and use of ‘leaves‘ touches on a WW1 style of remembered poems and war poets.   The darkness of the clouds seems to have brought memories  creeping back where the men have begun to relax their control on their emotions.  Again, real and symbolic.   We are given the place of the poem; Kerry, the S.W. corner of Ireland.  As there is stubble in the fields it is likely to be after harvest, autumn sometime but before ploughing.   Stubble could also reflect the losses of war.

Fourth verse:

  1. A change of step again. From the memory of the clouds, the rain and wind and gloom comes the firm realisation, conviction, that some good had been born in those bad times.

The poet states ‘a love not born and not to be learnt/ But given and taken, an ultimate trust.‘  was created between them all during their soldiering.  A special bond that held them together through life and death.  The element of gloom in the previous verse, even the quickening of emotion in first two verses has moved forward to a sense of wider understanding of himself.   The ‘you‘ may hark back to the describer of trees in first verse but may well be the author talking of some other entity, god or Nature or his own consciousness.

Fifth verse:

  1. Here is the final understanding and acknowledgment by the author that he will carry with him a memory, a fixed image which ties him to that unique love among comrades: ‘Brown hawthorn berry, red dog rose.’  We may add to the strength of this image as the brown symbolises uniform and red, blood (of soldiers). The brown and red are simple additions to a repeated line from the end of verse three.   A war poem?  A love poem?

 

 

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