Higher Tier Unseen Poems 1998-2005 1998 Hurricane Under low black clouds the wind was
all speedy feet, all horns and breath, all bangs, howls, rattles, in every hen house, church hall and school. Roaring, screaming, returning, it made forced entry, shoved walls, made rifts, brought roofs down, hitting rooms to sticks apart. It wrung soft banana trees, broke tough trunks of palms. It pounded vines of yams, left fields battered up. Invisible with such ecstasy – with no intervention of sun or man – everywhere kept changing branches. Zinc sheets are kites. Leaves are panic swarms. Fowls are fixed with feathers turned. Goats, dogs, pigs, all are people together. Then growling it slunk away from muddy, mossy trail and boats in hedges: and cows, ratbats, trees, fish, all dead in the road. James Berry 1999 The Richest Poor Man in the Valley On the outside he seemed older than he was. His face was like a weather map full of bad weather while inside his heart was fat with sun. With his two dogs he cleared a thin silver path across the Black Mountain. And when winter kicked in they brought his sheep down from the top like sulky clouds. Harry didn’t care for things that other people prize like money, houses, bank accounts and lies. He was living in a caravan until the day he died. But at his funeral his friends’ tears fell like a thousand diamonds. 2000 The River’s Story
I remember when life was good. I shilly-shallied across meadows, Tumbled down mountains, I laughed and gurgled through woods, Stretched and yawned in a myriad of floods. Insects, weightless as sunbeams, Settled upon my skin to drink. I wore lily-pads like medals. Fish, lazy and battle-scarred, Gossiped beneath them. The damselflies were my ballerinas, The pike my ambassadors. Kingfishers, disguised as rainbows, Were my secret agents. It was a sweet time, a gone-time, A time before factories grew, Brick by greedy brick, And left me cowering In monstrous shadows. Like drunken giants They vomited their poisons into me. Tonight a scattering of vagrant bluebells, Dwarfed by those same poisons, Toll my ending. Children, come and find me if you wish, I am your inheritance. Behind the derelict housing estates You will discover my remnants. Clogged with garbage and junk To open sewer I’ve shrunk. I, who have flowed through history, Who have seen hamlets become villages, Villages become towns, towns become cities, Am reduced to a trickle of filth Beneath the still, burning stars. Brian Patten 2001 Sometimes Sometimes things don’t go, after all, from bad to worse. Some years, muscadel* faces down frost; green thrives: the crops don’t fail, sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well. A people sometimes will step back from war; elect an honest man; decide they care enough, that they can’t leave some stranger poor. Some men become what they were born for. Sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss; sometimes we do as we meant to. The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen: may it happen for you. Sheenagh Pugh *a grape from which a type of white wine is made
I take a jewel from a junk-shop tray And wish I had a love to buy it for. Nothing I choose will make you turn my way. Nothing I give will make you love me more. I know that I’ve embarrassed you too long And I’m ashamed to linger at your door. Whatever I embark on will be wrong. Nothing I do will make you love me more. I cannot work. I cannot read or write. How can I frame a letter to implore*. Eloquence is a lie. The truth is trite*. Nothing I say will make you love me more. So I replace the jewel in the tray And laughingly pretend I’m far too poor. Nothing I give, nothing I do or say, Nothing I am will make you love me more. James Fenton * implore = beg trite = lacking originality; commonplace; ordinary
The time is now
Never saw a sky so blue, so keen a light, all summer long. The time is now: this month, this week, to walk among the burning trees, till they snuff out. In the great park there stands an elm, yellower than sun in its chain-mail of shivering flame. The choir-school boys are playing ball, team-kitted, shrill-voiced, making fun behind Sir’s back, or watching where a girl swings past. The note of red rings in her hair; in rowan leaves; in the splashed blood of berries; in the smouldering west. The gates will shut before too long. Late in the day; late in the year. They look so young, the girl with her bright fall of hair, the boys in yellow, like the trees. Sheenagh Pugh
2003 Another Small Incident
November evening, rain outside and dark Beyond the building’s honeycomb of warmth. The old man stands there, waiting to be noticed. He wears *propitiation like a coat. The girl looks up at him. ‘Yes? Can I help you?’ ‘This card you sent like, that’s the problem, see. It says I’ve got your book, but that’s not right. I mean, I had it but I brought it back. That’s what I do, I read one, bring it back. I never keep them, see.’ He stands, condemned Yet quivering for justice. ‘All right, sir.’ She smiles at him. ‘We get mistakes like that. Just leave the card with me.’ He stares at her, Seventy, with spotted hands, afraid, And someone smiles at him and calls him sir. Lighting at the contact, like a bulb, He warms to her. ‘That’s what I do, you see. I take the one, I read it, bring it back. I thought, you know, it might be on the shelves. I mean, if no one’s had it since like, see.’ Another girl comes by. ‘We’re closing, Sue. You coming?’ Sue looks up and rolls her eyes. The old man catches it. He understands. He turns and shuffles out into the night. David Sutton * propitiation – a desire to reduce blame or anger.
Three or so
Is that child in the snapshot me? That little girl in the woollen dress By a broken door in a tiny yard She’s shy and laughing and ready to run And shielding he eyes from the morning sun I’ve forgotten the dress, and the colour of it I’ve forgotten who took the photograph I’ve forgotten the little girl, three or so, She’s someone else now, to be wondered at, With my mother’s eyes and my own child’s hair And my brother’s smile: but the child who’s there – The real soul of her – fled long ago To the alley-way where she mustn’t go Through the broken door that I never forgot Rough men on motorbikes, not to be looked at Scrawny cats scratching, not to be touched Down to the railway-line, never to go there Or up to the road where the traffic rushed Stay close in the yard with the sun in your eyes Come and be still for your photograph. I can hear now the drone of those bikes And the loud dark voices of the men And the howl of the tomcats on their prowl I can hear the scream and shush of the train And the whooshing of traffic on the road But the summer buzz in that tiny yard And the child who laughed with her best dress on And the voice that told her to stand in the sun And the click that pressed the shutter down Have gone As if they had never been. Berlie Doherty
2006 In the poem, a prisoner describes life in a prison. In The Can
Every second is a fishbone that sticks In the throat. Every hour another slow Step towards freedom. We’re geriatrics Waiting for release, bribing time to go. I’ve given up trying to make anything Different happen. Mornings: tabloids, page three. Afternoons: videos or Stephen King, Answering letters from relatives who bore me. We’re told not to count, but the days mount here Like thousands of identical stitches Resentfully sewn in to a sampler,* Or a cricket bat made out of matches. Nights find me scoring walls like a madman, Totting up runs: one more day in the can.
His van was in neutral, its engine revving with gathering speed. I watched him go. I thought yes, how quiet it seems. The sun glistened a dew-wet web in the hedge and hushed the cold rush of the roaring streams. GREG HILL 2008 A London Thoroughfare* Two A.M. They have watered the street, It shines in the glare of lamps, Cold, white lamps, And lies Like a slow-moving river, Barred with silver and black. Cabs go down it, One, And then another. Between them I hear the shuffling of feet, Tramps doze on the windowledges, Night walkers pass along the sidewalks. The city is squalid and sinister, With the silver-barred street in the midst, Slow moving, A river leading nowhere. Opposite my window, The moon cuts, Clear and round, Through the plum-coloured night She cannot light the city; It is too bright. It has white lamps, And glitters coldly. I stand in the window and watch the moon. She is thin and lustreless, But I love her. I know the moon, And this is an alien city.
*a type of embroidered picture
2007 Shopkeeper What a quiet time of year he told me, for it was February and the trees were bare. Storms had blown even beech leaves from hedges not a week before and trees were down at the forest eaves. What he meant by quiet was a lack of visitors coming and going on the forest road stopping to buy in his shop full of tack. He said it with his foot just inches from patches of snowdrops blooming between daffodil shoots and yards from the bird-table flurry of tits and finches. In the distance the mountains glittered with snow.
AMY LOWELL * a main road
2009 Winter Swans The clouds had given their all two days of rain and then a break in which we walked, the waterlogged earth gulping for breath at our feet as we skirted the lake, silent and apart, until the swans came and stopped us with a show of tipping in unison. As if rolling weights down their bodies to their heads they halved themselves in the dark water, icebergs of white feather, paused before returning again like boats righting in rough weather. ‘They mate for life’ you said as they left, porcelain* over the stilling water. I didn’t reply but as we moved on through the afternoon light, slow stepping in the lake’s shingle and sand, I noticed our hands, that had, somehow, swum the distance between us and folded, one after the other, like a pair of wings settling after flight. OWEN SHEERS
*porcelain - a type of fine white china, often used for ornaments