Wednesday, 28 February 2018

GREY AND GOLD

A long grey train journey through the Welsh borders gave me a chance to catch up with my reading, including a recent copy of the poetry magazine, Stand.

I was particularly impressed with the poem, 'Van Gogh's Windmill', by the late Ron de Maris (a highly respected American poet and teacher whose work I had not encountered before).  The poem opens:

'Skies grey, clouds billowing black and in the tilted
      Field the grey slatted wood of a windmill,

      A crow perched on the blade, the blade wob-
bling as it turns, the post sunk in the mud of false
Spring.'

Then the artist appears - an unnamed 'he', laden with the  'weight of canvas and stretchers ... brushes and oils', his clothes 'spotted with colours'.  With consummate craft Ron de Maris welds detailed descriptions of the scene, the artist, the creative process.  He moves from the monochrome opening of the poem to the 'gold' (remember the sunflowers?) of the ending.

[You can read the opening lines of the poem on the Stand website www.standmagazine.org.  Go to the current issue 217 (volume 16 number 1) and scroll down the contents until you find Ron de Maris.  You can access the first five verses but after that you will have to subscribe to get the rest of the poem.]

                             *                   *                    *

I was reminded of this poem today as I watched the farmer ploughing the stubble field next to my garden.  As if from nowhere birds flocked to a newly opened food source:

      'Under a cascade of seagulls
Tumbling, blue clouds, buds of low trees sky

Blue'.

As well as the seagulls there were crows, rooks, a couple of buzzards and a handful of plucky lapwings who endured constant harassment from the herring gulls.  And the gold was a little patch of flowering daffodils under a hedge in a corner of the field.

                              *                    *                    *

My local paper (which comes out on a Wednesday) carried a feature on the forthcoming 90th birthday celebration of the renowned harpist, Dr Osian Ellis CBE, illustrated by a picture of the musician with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears.

I once sat next to Osian Ellis at dinner at Gregynog.  I was a naive 20 year-old student and he was (I think) musician in residence.  I remember asking him incredulously - 'Do you actually manage to make a living by playing the harp?'  He graciously replied that yes, it was possible to do this.

Now he is living a few miles away from me in Pwllheli, the market town of the Lleyn Peninsula.  The celebratory concert in Caernarfon will feature a celebratory poem by Mererid Hopwood, the first woman poet to win the Bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod of Wales.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A POEM FOR FEBRUARY

This poem is dedicated to my dog, Oscar, and my friend, Kathryn, who really did -

You asked for a poem about listening

How easy is it to represent a sound in words?
Take, for example, the sound of a dog's paws

on frozen leaves - a medium sized dog - and notice
how the pads spread apart.  The leaves are stiff
and the ice crystals abrade each other.
The dog does not press down hard with his feet.
As he walks a few grains of frost cling
to his paws.  When he runs he disturbs the leaves
so that they have a right side (frosted)
and an underside (unfrosted) like scraps
of satin cloth.  The dog's breath steams
in the chill air.  Far off to the south-east
dawn burns.  A heron studies the river.
Soon rooks will rise from their roost to begin
a day's forage in the fields.  And the sound? Crunch
is too sharp (boots walking on gravel). Crack -
no, that's pine resin in the fire.  Snap -
worse still - twigs, not leaves, under the same boots.

It's the sound of movement on a still morning,
the sound of a dog's paws on frozen leaves.

© Mary Robinson 2015
(First published in The Poetry Review vol 105:2, Summer 2015)