‘Voice’ by Jean Whitfield

Probably written in the early 1980s:     Jean Whitfield     1941-1984    Reprinted from her one published (posthumously) collection: Moments  with kind permission of Bakery Press.

Voice

I have wondered about dying

will it be a rock fall in the mine

will I crawl waist-high in slime

naked with a feeble lamp

carving at the walls, dirt in my nails

and will the earth say, no further?

 

Will it be too much richness?

the salmon bone lodged in my throat

the room spinning, a river flowing through it

a damask cloth, wine and boats rocking

the punt probing to the cool clear depth

I am now flat under, black, alone

the pole impaling while the picnic lasts

and will the river freeze me white

and will I slide face up and out of reach?

 

Will I know there are no more stars?

the moon will no longer ride on her back

above the amber spreading palm?

But the moon will ride, stars, clouds

I will be changed and part of it

grass creak through me into growing.

There will be no end to my river

sparkle or ice-fire, apple-flame.

 

Will I clench my fist or die

palms curled open like a baby

naked on the floor of the cell like the prisoner:

Haiti, Chile, Long Kesh, Uruguay, Siberia,

all in the cages of Inverness and with them

I shall fight death too.

 

We shall stubbornly live.

Whatever they have radiated us with

we shall resist the fall-out

of bullets, bombs, poisons, silent gases.

 

I shall sail with the fisherman hauling

the silver net, popping and dancing.

I shall swim with the dolphin

looping my back.

I shall walk with the worker

rain wetting the backs of my hands.

I shall fly with the redwing

searching a mild cloud

moisture beading my feathers.

 

The fox stood on the bridge

the proud dog-fox

sure and simple in his pride

motionless in the headlight

and the empty bridge

filled gradually with dusty leaves.

 

The morning gathered

out of grey air

blossoms heavy with birds

sang rose-coloured

the water lay heavy

under the road

but we walked on

out of the night

knowing we were

last night’s ghosts.

 

Now I can only be separate

then I will join them all

they will not refuse me

even the soldier who sights us

down the barrel screwed into his eyes

even the general who makes

the irrelevant joke who calculates

and fingers his honourable medals.

 

Will dying set me free from these singular bones?

All our atoms mingle with rain on the blue leaves

clouds of dust along the blue ridge burned off sapphires

lie on the dust sheets to become moths’ wings

soft flat dust rubbed to nothing with a forefinger.

 

Each living thing clings to its own self and shape.

I shall reach out dying.

A jaguar will grow from me.

 

………………..

…………………

 

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Owl Poems

A bit of a mis-nomer this title.    Should be something like:

Where are the observation poems on owls?  

I was reading Owl, by Jean Whitfield and I couldn’t recall any other specific poems on observation of owls by other poets……..I thought there must be lots,  by Clare or Edward Thomas, maybe Tennyson and Wordsworth et al.    Here I admit to small knowledge of current poetry, performance or otherwise; and  very limited on likes of Motion, Armitage, Cope, Plath and others of the myriad of now established poets or recent past ones.             But historically there seem to be very few, as few as the rare sightings of owls by the likes of average me!    Note:   Since I first published this I have found a poem by Vita Sackville-West that is about owls….. but sneaks in a little human thought at the end:  It is included as the last entry…..

Owl            by Jean Whitfield   from ‘Moments’, Bakery Press

Composed by the roadside

he weighed a level branch down

knowing he was beautiful

the clear white sweep of him

 

tufted ears and round orange head

he blinked his eyes

rested iron claws easy

let us see enough of him

 

and finding undercurrents

lifted slowly, wafted wide wings

poised in the even air

figure skated on the breeze

 

allowed himself to fall

a small space gracefully

and rolled the lazy evening

forward and backward

over the hump in the road

 

he hung on those sunken eyes

swung over the field-hedge

Poured down from that low sky

– was gone.

A strong image that gives us  an image of an owl in flight.  Artists often draw them as such, often in silhouette.  Yes owls exist in poems; briefly, as hoots or eyes or metaphysically wise, but why haven’t I found many ‘naturalist’ views of that simple, beautiful bird?     Well, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough so will keep searching.  Another possibility is that as they are nocturnal hunters they have not been observed like other birds.  Surely Clare or other ‘naturalist’ poets would have seen them well enough?

If anyone can point me to a poet, ideally pre 1930, with an owl poem to their name (and title) then I would much appreciate the help.    Also, any current poets that have an Owl poem/s that they can send and authorise to be published on Poetryparc and Wordparc sites then I will sort some out for inclusion on future pages. (Copyright will be retained by the author).   Suggested closing date is end of January 2018: this is not a competition, it’s an opportunity!    Email: wordparc@gmail      subject      ‘Owls’

This is the new title from Whittet Books whose cover and superb photos inside started me off on this woodland ramble: my adornments!!

full details and available  via:

https://wordery.com#oid=1316 1

and search for :     The Barn Owl

isbn  978 1 873580 89 9         hb

The Owls                    by Charles Baudelaire

Under the overhanging yews,

The dark owls sit in solemn state,

Like stranger gods; by twos and twos

Their red eyes gleam.

They meditate.

Motionless thus they sit and dream

Until that melancholy hour

When, with the sun’s last fading gleam,

The nightly shades assume their power.

From their still attitude the wise

Will learn with terror to despise

All tumult, movement, and unrest;

 

For he who follows every shade,

Carries the memory in his breast,

Of each unhappy journey made.

The poem above is a variation of the wise or mystical owl as they sit in a churchyard.  Not actively designated as such but of an ‘attitude’ that you might be wise to follow as ‘shades’ can be interpreted as many things, not only churchyard ‘happenings’.

I did find Ted Hughes’   The Owl: a short poem and purely owl but a briefest of image, and likely true.  A glimpse, much like sightings can be, I suppose.    An accurate description but an air of mystery is hinted at by the contrasting colours and time between first and last final two lines.    ‘a fine dust’ raises the question of  ‘what is it?’   The disjointed lines  are another way of keeping the reader slightly off-balance.  In the last line the subject, the owl, is just not there in the light of day.     The whole poem, simple observation written with a poet’s eye.

The Owl                           by Ted Hughes        (faber & faber)

The path was purple in the dusk.

I saw an owl, perched,

on a branch.

And when the owl stirred, a fine dust

fell from its wings,

I was

silent then.

And felt

the owl quaver.

And at dawn, waking,

the path was green, in the

May light

 

 addedd poem:    V. Sackville-West.    From.  Selected Poems, Hogarth Press. 1941

The Owl

Each dusk I saw, while those I loved most

Chattered of present or alien things,

The rhythmic owl returning like a ghost

Across the orchard cruising on wide wings.

 

She went, she came, she swooped, she sought the height

Where her young brood hid snoring for the mouse;

Tirelessly weaving on her silent flight

Between the laden branches and the house,

 

Soft and nocturnal, creamy as a moth;

But to the timorous small colony

Crouched in the grass, as fatal as a Goth

Ranging the plains in armed panoply.

 

Such beauty and such cruelty were hers,

Such silent beauty, tallness with a knife;

Such innocence and fearlessness were theirs,

The little denizens intent on life,

 

That, terror swooping on my heart’s alarm,

I wondered what dire spirit, hushed, adrift,

Might go abroad to do my loves most harm,

Silent and pouncing, ruinous and swift?

Notes: likely to have been written early or just before WW2  so the last lines’ sentiment could have been prominent in everyone’s minds….  Also, the word  ‘snoring’ in second line of second verse seems wrong to me, maybe a misprint(?)  but I cant fathom what it replaces…..

 

tagged: animals

Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.

 

April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.

 

April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.

 

A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.

 

Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.

 

April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.

 

I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.

 

A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.

 

 

 

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

 

 

Three Poems by Jean Whitfield

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.

………………….

Bird

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.

………………………

 

Tor Chantry                                 

 

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

counting sins.

 

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.

……………..

 

Winter Yard                                      

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:        Chantrya 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

 

 

Moments; collected poems of Jean Whitfield

Moments

Collected poems of  Jean Whitfield

Published Bakery Press      1985    paperback

Note on back cover, as handwritten by Jean Whitfield:

jean-whitfield-moments-cover“There are many things to say; many things and people to record.  The question is where to begin?  Is it to be a mixture of story, speech making, poems and even characters in a play?  Will it be self-indulgent, over emotional, sentimental, full of feeling both wasted and enjoyed?  The answer is bound to be yes because that is one of the reasons for it:  perhaps after all it isn’t too heretical…….

……….. getting all the images wrong, muddling the tenses but using the spaces in between the words to search for one’s own identity. “

These words are on the back cover of a what appears to be a one-off book from Bakery Press.  A forward gives more information on the author of the collected poems of Jean Whitfield.  She died in 1984 of leukaemia at the age of 43, this collection published posthumously.  Only four of these poems had appeared in magazines prior to this book which contains 118 poems.    I like to think her words appearing as a forward give an insight into her personality as compasssionate, an active socialist politically and passionate about poetry, especially in its role to provoke change.  When writing this, up to the early 1980s, England was  in great internal turmoil.  She  saw the need for socialists, socialist poets especially, to speak out:   “I want poets to be in the vanguard of change – not just influenced by it –  …….For poetry in England to be effective it will have to become dangerous …………… because our socialism is poorer without it.”  There have been several in the spotlight over the years as there have been comedians of similar conviction. Politics is integral to living and the latest to carry this banner is Kate Tempest.

Living in a small village her poetry, her reflections were by no means limited.  She covered many themes close to her, of family, locale and ‘moments’ that touched her.  Her poetics might be considered of her day, much blank verse, often short lines, many without punctuation where the reader has to find their own way into the poem.  Those lines quite short are pleasingly re-readable to find their own pauses and breathing spaces.  Others, fewer, with more punctuation and  occasional rhyme.  Whether the rhymes are designed or just natural I couldn’t know.  I like to believe they are deliberate, as crafted as the moment of construction allowed.  As many a poet she dipped her pen into the descriptive world of ‘Nature’ leaving some finely drawn examples, several of which would sit well in anthologies. She frequently wrote with an edge that pulled you into an understanding that was not pure imagery but allowed the sound and feel of words to underline the jagged side of the world.  Jagged lines that might jump across images and make you falter where the meaning you followed suddenly changes course. Deliberate?  Maybe not,  but the words pull you through, like watching a bird suddenly take fright and plunge away before settling on it’s course.

The collection is divided into themes:  girdled with hope,   And now for joy,   Full-steam-ahead-house,  into the eye of the month, theses special ones,  through many gates, no end to my river.   I should also note the selection of fine drawings, as a full page or little inclusions to top or tail a poem. Plus b&w photos around the area.  A fine collaboration in all its content and production.

There are many poems here I would dearly love to introduce to you from this (complete) collection by Jean Whitfield.  Many from the themed sections would benefit by being read in a sequence, such as the poems in ‘the special ones‘.  Others memorable being:  Last Summer and Pulse and the final poem on her thoughts on anticipated death: Voice.    I would select even more from earlier in the book but offer one from near the end:

Poets

Ah! You poets poor things

how you struggle with words

like a farmer

with his dog

rounding the sheep

-there is always a stray one

and the farmer calls his dog

it turns, hesitates

water sparkles and sprays

where he races

and the farmer shades his eyes

and sees the drops of water

spinning under the shining, shifting sky.

Whether the countryside, scenes from her windows, her life, weather or wildlife around her; on the natures of man, or rather women, and god and of course life and death;  thoroughout is an acceptance of the beauty and harshness of nature but less so  humanity, except for love.   For me she is the voice and eye of a poet who deserves to be remembered.  I trust the Poetry Library has a copy of this book so Jean Whitfield will be re-discovered when her time comes round again.