Call for submissions: All About My Name Poetry Series

Not much time left to meet this deadline but it is an interesting project and I intend to try to get something together.

Silver Birch Press

name_logo How did you come by your first, middle, or last name? What’s the “meaning” of your name? How do you feel about your name? If you could do it all over (or if you already have), what name would you choose for yourself? How did you get your nickname? Did a childhood or “baby” name stick? We want to know all about your name (or names) — so tell us in a poem for our ALL ABOUT MY NAME Poetry Series.

PROMPT: In a poem, tell us all about your name — first, middle, last (or any combination thereof). Please send a favorite photo of yourself — at any age — to accompany the poem, and provide a caption for the photo.

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish on social media and…

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Surprise, Surprise!

After a lengthy period when my blog simply refused to function – along with the blogs of a number of other people in my geographical area – it now seems that the problem may have been fixed. Sadly, this did not happen before I began another, new blog at Mad Rabbit http://abigailelizabethwyatt.blogspot.co.uk/. However, if all goes well, I propose to keep both blogs running, using ‘Mad Rabbit’ for most of my writing-based posts and this one for the stuff which is more random: meanderings, rants and the like. I am sure you know the kind of thing I mean. 

Solstice

We need more the power of magic now
since we turned our gaze away,
since we closed up our ears
to the earth’s sweet hum
and heard only the great
rasping of our greed;
though we wear our science artfully
still it catches us
and snares us in;
our little learning is lost
to us in this scrabbling
and lusting after wealth.

The ways of magic woo us
now that we are cast adrift.
(It was long ago we broke
our faith when we made
our wants our creed.)
If the great oak cracks
and bows his back
and the green girl tears at her veil,
we will bare our bones
and feed its fires
while the great wheel
hurtles and burns.

For the chorus of the magi calls:
though we shrivel and we shrink,
the dragon rises up to roar
and we must feel its breath;
and we may be heroes, all of us
that grapple with the moon
and brave the flames
to find again our vision
and our strength.Image

Song of the Labouring Poor

(written after the burial of Margaret Thatcher)

We’re all as rich as Croesus now
and the labouring poor is no more.
Class war went of the window;
and, instead, we have social rapport.

Since Marx was proved wrong, the militant left –
and it never did know what was what –
has found itself bruised and divided,
bereft of all hope and sans plot.

Today we have ‘strivers’ and those who ‘aspire’
and consumers hell-bent to consume;
but, try to disguise it however you may,
the truth is it’s all bust and boom.

Joe Public won’t even get angry
at the way the big banks carry on:
he’s stupid and slow and appears not to know
how the great money swindle was done.

No one believes in the family of man;
it’s every man jack for himself.
It’s less about truth and conviction than
power and status and personal wealth.

At the top it’s all champagne and roses
and, while those in the middle get squeezed,
they still get to look down their noses
at the class this last century deceived.

But it may be the time is for turning:
this circus may prove the last straw.
The bonfire she lit is still burning:
may its torches not light us to war?

 

The Chorus Speaks

tragedy-mask-wearable

The Chorus Speaks

Nothing worth having comes easy;
competition’s the spur to success;
it’s all about effort and purpose and will –
and the need to save more and spend less.
But some of us now have grown lazy and soft
and the truth is they don’t want a job.
We’ve created a culture where welfare’s the way
to sit back and relax and live high off the hog.

So it’s three rousing cheers for the great and the good,
and the ‘strivers’ who toil nine to five;
to the idle, though, go a curse and a blow:
why should those who graft support those who skive?
The case, after all, is transparent;
it’s logic can’t fail to impress:
if it wasn’t for them and their scrounging,
we wouldn’t be in this mess.
And it makes my blood boil, if I’m honest.
You see it emblazoned all over the press:
the work-shy and shiftless who won’t pull their weight:
well, aren’t they a drain on the rest?
If it wasn’t for them we’d be laughing,
There’d be jam every day of the week.
We have to work so why shouldn’t they? I say:
Let’s CRACK DOWN on the benefit cheats.
It’s high time they got up off their arses:
all this something for nothing won’t wash.
The country needs strivers, not skivers
who live on their wits – and our dosh.

That said – and it’s hard to admit this –
it’s troubled me lately to see
how the bankers get bail-outs and beanos
and the rest of us – AUSTERITY –
and we’re told that we’re in this together;
but it doesn’t seem like that to me.

It’s cuts in this, and taxes on that;
and the old and the dying are told they must ‘strive’
while the young and the hale and the hearty
have no other choice but to ‘skive’.
They are jobless and hopeless, and full of despair,
and we offer them not much they need.
Is it possible we are mere pawns in a game
dictated and mastered by corporate greed?
And might it not be that we’re all being conned
into thinking that ‘they’ are to blame:
the shiftless, the work-shy, the chronically sick,
the old and the weak, the mad and the lame?

And the men in grey suits, what’s in it for them?
They say that the cost of compassion’s too great
but is it the logic of profit that drives
this shameful undoing of the Welfare State?
There’s no heart in a culture that grows smug and fat
on the backs of the weak and the poor;
how can it be true that we can’t afford love
when, always, there’s money for war?

‘Murder of Krows’ Anthology Launch with Dr Alan Kent and Redruth’s Own Les Merton

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‘Murder of Krows’ is an anthology of work by poets living and working in Cornwall, many of them closely connected with the Camborne, Pool and Redruth areas. The anthology is a not-for-profit venture and is the first major project of the Red River Poetry Collective. The collection has been edited and produced by fellow Red River Poet, Duncan Yeates, in conjunction with myself and it will shortly be available for just £1 per copy.

The launch evening for ‘Murder of Krows’ has been arranged for Wednesday, 20th March at The Melting Pot Cafe, Krowji. Our special guests will be Dr Alan Kent and Les Merton, both of whom have been gracious enough to show their support for this project by agreeing to read from their own works. In addition, there will be readings from some of the contributors to the pamphlet, Duncan and I included, a display of work from CMR artist, Janet McEwan who is among the contributors, and music from local singer/songwriters, David Rowland and Aston Drees.

The aim of this anthology – and of the Red River Poetry Collective generally – is, firstly, to encourage and support local poets and, secondly, to raise the profile of poetry in the Redruth and Camborne areas. We hope that lots of people will support us in this and there are a number of ways in which you can do this. The most obvious way is by coming along to the launch evening and buying a copy of the anthology. (The Melting Pot Cafe serves excellent coffee and a range of beers, wine and spirits.) There is no entry fee for this event and there will also be a free raffle. Alternatively, however, and if you can’t come along, you could do one of the following: order a copy of the anthology through me (which can be posted if necessary for an additional charge of 50p); contribute a prize for the free raffle (literary or artistic prizes are welcome);put up a poster in your place of work or study (contact me if you are able to do this); or simply share the link for this post and encourage your friends to do the same.

If this event is a BIG success we will be able to produce another anthology later in the year. Many thanks for reading and in anticipation of your support.

On the Perils of Speaking Out and an Encounter with Mr Angry

I am not always very good at keeping my mouth shut. Once, a very, very long time ago, I was briefly and most unjustly, detained in what was then called a ‘remand home’. On the first morning, after a dismal and meagre breakfast, all us ‘girls’ were marched off to ‘lessons’ which took place in a vast and chilly hall.

One of the instructors – I hesitate to use the word ‘teacher’ – began castigating a girl, somewhat older and tougher than I was, for her stubborn refusal to read aloud. She was a poor reader and, after a stilted and obviously painful beginning, she had dried up completely.

The instructor was a thin, hard-faced looking woman with a neat, pleated, plaid skirt and a nice line in sarcasm. For a time, I watched her torment her victim whose faces burned an angry red. Finally, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I stood up and spoke out.

‘You can’t talk to her like that,’ I said, and I really believed it. There was a terrible hush as all the other girls looked a me. I saw quite plainly the horror in their eyes.

After the briefest of pauses, the outraged instructor turned her attention to me. I was left in no uncertainty as to the contempt in which I was held and soon I, too, was flushed in the face and very close to tears. I was given a book containing some simple comprehension exercises and sent to work alone in a corner. I was not to to speak or be spoken to for the remainder of the morning session.

I though about this incident the other day when I had occasion to ‘speak out’ again. The context was a very different one but, once again, I could very easily have found myself wondering whether it might not have been better just to bite my lip. The trouble is that I never really stop to consider the possible consequences and, one day, this might well be my undoing. This is what happened one Sunday morning on the way to a visit to Heartlands.

David and I were on our way to an open mic event at the Red River cafe. The day was chilly but bright and we were in a good mood as we strode across the car park. David, eager for his promised breakfast, was a step or two ahead. We were still carrying on a conversation as I followed behind.

As we approached one vehicle, a man opened the driver’s door and came round to the rear of the car intent on opening the boot. As he did so, David and I passed by and David’s arm very lightly brushed his elbow. The ‘collision’ had been so inconsequential that David himself was not aware of it and he did not see, as I did, the man’s features twist into an expression of angry indignation, as he turned round to confront, not David, but me since I was following behind.

The man, who was, I would guess, in his late twenties or early thirties, emitted some dark mutterings. These were clearly directed at me but the sense of them I could not understand. I stopped in my tracks, pulling up short, and turned round and looked him.

‘Sorry?’ I said. My tone was questioning. My demeanour expressed surprise and bewilderment.

‘Don’t mind me,’ he he snarled nastily. ‘I’m just getting to my car.’

‘It was nothing,’ I told him in disbelief at his manner, ‘and I’m sure that nothing was meant by it.’

‘Well,’ he said, downright surly now, ‘you could see I wanted to open my boot.’

‘We were merely following the path,’ I said. I was still struggling to understand why he was so angry. ‘You are, I am afraid, a very rude and aggressive young man.’

This was the point at which, I suppose, he might have produced a knife. David pointed this out to me a short while later. He might have had a knife and he might have used. Sadly, such things have happened. On this occasion, though, what happened was this: he bowed his head and looked suddenly ashamed.

Perhaps he had realised that, in front of his wife and his three young children, he was being very rude and unnecessarily aggressive to a couple of older people whose only ‘offence’ had been to pass too close to the boot of his car. I wondered whether they were about to go shopping. The car park was close by Tesco Extra. Tesco Extra is crowded at that time on a Sunday. Bloodshed could have been the result.

The Mystery of ‘Les Mis’ or ‘Liberty Leading the People’

David and I went to see ‘Les Miserables’ earlier this week, David more or less on sufferance because he doesn’t much care for musicals but I had decided I wanted to go so  he manfully agreed to come along.

 

We went to the Regal in Redruth for an afternoon performance where we enjoyed a very good light lunch before climbing the stairs to the Screen 7 auditorium. We had gone for the ‘lux’ option as a bit of a treat so, as we settled ourselves on our sofa, we each had a drink on the neat little table at our side. It was just as well. We found we really needed a shot of alcohol to survive the advertisements. Together we mourned the passing of the days when a trip to the cinema always included a ten minute ‘Look at Life’.

 

‘What about the film itself?’ I hear you ask.

 

Well, it isn’t altogether easy to say. David, somewhat grudgingly, pronounced it ‘better than expected’ and I emerged snivelling and emotionally exhausted. The fact is that, despite the sneering criticism of those who see it as ‘pop corn art’ fodder for the masses, it is quite spectacular and, in many ways, a triumph of cinematic art. It has a strong cast, some big production numbers and lots of stirring and heart-rending music – though some of the lyrics, if you really listen to them, teeter on the edge of being trite and predictable.

 

Being petty, one might suggest that some of the characters didn’t age sufficiently over the course of the movie and also that the squalor of the Paris mob was at times overdone. On the other hand, though, the ‘Master of the House’ was a triumph of caricature and the cinematography was excellent with many shots, especially those of the barricades, having the compositional qualities of a painting. (Delacroix’s ‘Liberty Leading the People’ is one that springs to mind.)

 

Having said all that, however, there is something unsettling about this movie. It seems to me that it raises questions for which there are no easy or obvious answers. How are we to account for the extreme popularity of a film about a failed revolution in an age marked by nothing more strongly than the political apathy of the people?  Is it the the ideal of equality and fraternity to which we respond when we are moved by this spectacle or is it, more cynically, the failure of that ideal?

 

There are those, I am sure, who will insist that the politics is incidental. They will argue, no doubt that it is the human story, and most importantly the love story, that so grips the imagination of the audience, an audience probably – and this is an assumption, I admit – dominated be women.

 

And such commentators may be right, up to a point, at least. The  story does come with lashings of sentiment. Not only is our hero young and dashing but he  is also stubborn and headstrong. He wants to lead the people to victory but he is blind to their human potential and, consequently, does not see what is under his nose. Moreover, to add to the theme of vengeance, there is unrequited love, rape and murder, forgiveness and heroic self-sacrifice, not to mention the cheekiest boy actor since Mark Lester in ‘Oliver’.

 

Still, though, there are questions and this one is foremost among them: what message is it that this film carries to the people who so take it to their hearts? Is it a) that ‘the people did not rise up’ and that therefore they cannot be relied upon or b) that, given the widespread notion that we now live in a ‘classless’ society, revolutionary fervour is a thing of the past?

 

Don’t get me wrong. I am not pretending to be in possession of the answers. I am merely flagging up the fact that there is something quite interesting here.  Perhaps what’s going on is akin to that process posited by the art critic, Anne Bermingham, when she suggested that that which is ‘lost’ in actuality may be experienced as ‘restored’ through the operation of the  imaginative faculty. She, of course, was talking about the lost English countryside rather than the spirit of revolution and it may be that the analogy is unsound. On the other hand, it may also be that the ‘common’ people respond to ‘Les Miserables’ because they see in it something they have lost, something they would like to recapture but do not quite see how.

Postscript:

Delacroix’s painting was made to commemorate the 1830 Revolution that toppled Charles X. The French government bought the painting in 1831 for 3,000 francs with the intention of displaying in the throne room of the Palais du Luxemborg as a reminder to the ‘Citizen KIng’, Louis-Philippe of the events of the July Revolution that brought him to power. This plan did come to fruition and the painting was hung for a few months in the palace’s museum gallery before being taken down for its inflammatory political message. After the June Rebellion of 1832, the one portrayed in Victor Hugo’s novel and the film ‘Les Miserables’, it was returned to the artist. It was later described by Champfleury as being ‘hidden in an attic for being too revolutionary’.  After the uprising at the funeral of Lamarque in June, 1832, it was never again openly displayed for fear of setting a bad example. Finally, however, it was exhibited very briefly in 1848 after the restoration of the Republic. It is now in the collection of the Louvre.

(See Wikipedia)

On Servants and Service

Right-wing veteran Tory, Christopher Chope, has become the object of scornful derision because, in an unguarded moment, he referred to to those waitresses and waiters employed in the House of Commons (heavily subsidised) restaurant not as ‘waiters and waitresses’, nor indeed as ‘catering staff’, but rather – most revealingly and against the ‘etiquette’ of the day – simply as ‘servants’. He was, it seems, applauding the fact that there were three employees available to attend to the needs and wants of each and every person who ‘sat down’. The opposition, we are told, hooting with laughter, pounced gleefully on this gift of a gaffe. They, of course, do not have ‘servants’: they know better; rather, they have ‘staff’, ‘hired help’, housekeepers and nannies, or, more prosaically, ‘a woman that does’.

What has struck me most about this incident and the way it has been reported is the way has been the awareness on both sides of the House that the language of servitude is embarrassing. After all, we are supposed to believe, aren’t we, that we are all middle class now? Do we believe it, though? I don’t. And I don’t think they do either.

The truth, I suspect, is that, whether Conservative or Li-Dem or, indeed, (shamefully) Labour, most of our illustrious parliamentarians would look down their noses at me quite as much as their forefathers would have done my grandmother, Matilda Jane Ottley, later Tallett, was was, in fact, a ‘servant’ and, by all accounts, a very fine one, too.

My grandmother began her life in service as a humble kitchen maid. When, eventually, she left it, many years later, she was a happily married woman, mother to her first child, Henry, my father, and a more than competent cook. Later in her life she would do many things – run a fruit and vegetable shop and work both as a cleaner and in munitions – but it was the dozen or so years spent in service in London of which she was most proud.

Yes, my grandmother was proud of her work and she talked to me often about it. She worked ‘below stairs’ in many fine and well-respected households including that of Lord Ellis who refused to use her proper name. (He called her not Matilda but ‘Pada’, though for what reason she never knew.) It was Lord Ellis, however, who tested her honesty by leaving two bright silver half-crowns in the hallway for her to find, afterwards casually mentioning that he had ‘lost’ a small sum of money. Had she happened to find any money or did she know where it might be found?

My grandmother, always respectful, dipped him a curtesy.

‘If you mean, my lord, the five shillings you meant to catch me out with, then the money is just where you left it.’

Lord Ellis, apparently, coloured a little but did not press the point. What my grandmother did not tell him, which he later discovered, was that the coins were now glued fast to the linoleum. The butler told her later that it was only with some difficulty that they prised free with the aid of a knife.

‘He never ever mentioned it,’ she said, smiling as she told me the story, but, in all the years i worked there, he never tried to catch me out again.’