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Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

My new collection, ‘Skies’, has just been published by Carcanet.

This brilliant new collection’        Penelope Shuttle

‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.

Helen Mort

‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016

Stop Press: ‘Skies’ has been featured on BBC Radio 4. I was interviewed by Kirsty Lang and read three poems on the lively arts magazine programme, ‘Front Row’.  Here is the link.  ‘Skies’ and I appear after 18 minutes! Please drag the marker along the time bar to go straight there. – click on marker again to play if necessary.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b074vtkn

And delighted that ‘Skies’ was The Observer’s Poetry Book of the Month’!  ‘The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection’. (Kate Kellaway)

Can skies be bought? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet , my publishers– at a bargain price!

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

or from Amazon:
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1468603376&sr=1-1

Readings 2016

Friday 23 September 10-11a.m. with William Fiennes and Laurie Palma at the Cambridge Conservation Initiative and New Networks for Nature Conference, ‘Nature Matters 2016’, CCI Campus, David Attenborough Building, Pembroke Street, Cambridge, CB2 3QZ.

N.B. This is a conference. You can buy day tickets or a ticket for the whole event. Details at

http://www.newnetworksfornature.org.uk/events.htm

Tuesday 4 October, evening Bristol Poetry Festival with Gillian Clarke, John Greening and Penelope Shuttle. More details nearer to event.

http://www.poetrycan.co.uk/

Monday 24 October, at 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF, with Sean Street and Gregory Woods. Entry is £5 / £4 and £3 for the open mic participants.More details nearer to event.

Saturday 12 November, 8.15 to 9.15 p.m. at the Cornwall Contemporary Poetry Festival, The Falmouth Hotel, Falmouth, Cornwall

https://cornwallcontemporary.wordpress.com/festival-programme/

There are many more readings in the pipeline for 2016, but not yet in the public domain! Please watch this space…

William Holburne’s China

 

The Holburne Museum - at a tilt...

The Holburne Museum – at a tilt…

For a teetotal poet, I take some remarkably drunken pictures. I have heard it said that Bath, and its sulphurous springs, are sitting on a volcano. But its earth has not tilted yet. You can walk safely into the Holburne Museum, once a hotel, now one of those extraordinary free treasure houses which a visitor can stumble upon, and be entranced.

Here is the collection of William Holburne, whose delicate face, wistful eyes and fine curls appear on each catalogue beside his china, paintings and spoons.  He appears in one photograph as an old man, heavier, melancholy but not dissatisfied, sitting beside two of his favourite china figurines. What, the visitor might snarl, did this dilettante ever do?

Do not underestimate a collector of china. William Holburne knew the world outside the drawing room. At eleven, he was in the Navy. By twelve, he had fought at Trafalgar and gained his medal. He was the younger son, who would not inherit. The heir was Francis, who appears in a silhouette as the most elegant of soldiers, with an extravagantly curved sword. But Francis died, after a futile battle fought just after Napoleon had abdicated. The sword came to William. So did his family’s money – and his three unmarried sisters.

All lived in Bath, amongst medallions, china monkeys, majolica and the odd marvellous fake, all acquired by William. He idolised William Beckford, who had squandered a fortune, derived from slaves, on a huge collection, failed financially, gone to Bath, but still hoarded, in his specially built tower. Photographed by me, it would rival Pisa! Here, in its place, are some haughty painted tulips (from the Holburne’s own garden).

Holburne 2

William the wiser, Trafalgar on his far horizon, did not spend Francis’ lost fortune. He may have bought Beckford’s exquisitely crazy gold teaspoons, but he kept them, and the monkeys, bequeathing them to the people of Bath for their enjoyment. So you can wander beneath vases, suspended in a stairwell (are the overburdened curators playing Russian roulette?) You can pay to walk through the travelling exhibitions. Mine included the children of Impressionist painters (male and female), delicate as the young William, often less long-lived. On the stairs, partly hidden by a magnificent piano, I found a painting by Joshua Shaw.

I had never heard of Shaw. Wikipedia tells me that, like me, he was born in Lincolnshire. Unlike me, he could paint (and invent modifications to guns which netted patents, payments and law suits in rapid succession). He and his powder caps sailed to America, to plenty and poverty (but no towers).

Shaw’s ‘Woodland Scene with Watering Place’ smoulders with light. Wikipedia says he learnt from Claude Lorraine. The excellent organisation which has put ‘Woodland Scene’ on to the Web does not demonstrate how paint threatens to set fire to the piano.  The colours, to my eye, are not true. But you can see the massive horse, the old man, the quieter cow. It may be the theatrical work of a semi-charlatan, but, on a hot staircase, it transfixed me.

http://artuk.org/discover/artworks/woodland-landscape-with-watering-place-39606

You may prefer the china foxes, made in Bow and Chelsea, heirs to that long British genius for turning clay into creatures… Then there is the café, with its quiet garden, where old women murmur, and young women laugh. Come to Bath, and be briefly idle, reflective. Before the volcano opens, or the battle begins again, come and sit beside William Holburne’s china.

 

http://www.collections.holburne.org/themes/collection-highlights

 

Finally, here is a poem about another collection – assembled by a less agreeable collector!

 

The Wallace Collection

 

Not house, but jewel box.  The first Duke

Built it so he could blast at duck

In the dim marshes.  Buses roar.

Who bought the art?  Earls five and four.

 

The last, though loathed, crony to Kings,

Outbid frantically at auction,

Left landscape’s blues, our Lady’s face,

Forgotten in their packing case,

Then died.  His secretary, stunned,

Found he was heir, the unclaimed son.

 

What filled the rooms?  China’s glazed glow,

Bleu lapis, bleu céleste, bleu beau,

The last French queen’s last desk, where clouds

Of lilies swim the water’s wood,

Leafed with frail holly she could slam

When servants padded through her room.

 

Rococo gilt hides mercury.

Gilders, best paid, were first to die.

By Chelsea’s lights the river smells.

Art draws, withdraws, bankrupts, compels.

The good son left to us the best

Fine hands had formed, rough hands possessed,

Bleu beau, bleu lapis, bleu céleste.

 

Alison Brackenbury

Published in ‘Then’, Carcanet, 2013

The Holburne Museum .. still standing...

The Holburne Museum .. still standing…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scraps of Shakespeare

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

My new collection, ‘Skies’, has just been published by Carcanet.

This brilliant new collection’        Penelope Shuttle

‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.

Helen Mort

‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016

Stop Press: ‘Skies’ has been featured on BBC Radio 4. I was interviewed by Kirsty Lang and read three poems on the lively arts magazine programme, ‘Front Row’.  Here is the link.  ‘Skies’ and I appear after 18 minutes! Please drag the marker along the time bar to go straight there. – click on marker again to play if necessary.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b074vtkn

And delighted that ‘Skies’ is The Observer’s Poetry Book of the Month’!  ‘The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection’. (Kate Kellaway)

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/may/01/skies-alison-brackenbury-poetry-review

Can skies be bought? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet , my publishers– at a bargain price!

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

or from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s

Readings 2016

 

Monday 6 June and Tuesday 7th June 

Delighted to be part of a week of summer time poetry events in Bristol! These are the Poetry Arch lunchtime readings, organised by the Bristol Poetry Institute at the University of Bristol.

If fine, the readings will be at the Ivy Gate, Royal Fort Gardens, Tyndall Ave, Clifton, Bristol BS8 1UH. This is near the science block. It can be easily accessed from either Tyndall Avenue (off Woodland Road) or from Tankard’s Close opposite the Faculty of Engineering Building.  If wet, the Verdon Smith Meeting Room, Level 1, Royal Fort House, accessed from Tyndall Avenue.  Here is a map….

Bristol Poetry Inst garden map

 

I am doing the launch reading at 1 p m on Monday June 6, and also reading at 1 pm on Tuesday June 7, alongside the readers from ‘Bristol Poetry’, an anthology of poems by students at Bristol University.

Link for all events in week of June 6

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/arts/events/

Wednesday 8 June, at Square Chapel, Halifax with Hilda Sheehan. Details nearer to the event at

http://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/

Thursday 30 June at Words and Ears, The Swan, 1 Church Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1LN.  7.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets £3 on door. Reading with Rosie Jackson. Open mic!

http://www.dawngorman.co.uk/words_and_ears_whats_on.php

Friday 21 October at Poets’ Café, South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU. Provisional time: 8 p m. Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.readingarts.com/southstreet/whatson/

Monday 24 October, at Emporium Theatre and Cafe Bar, 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF.  More  details nearer to event.

Scraps of Shakespeare

Scraps of S Sarah B

 

Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet: early film still.

This blog is a disgrace.  As I begin, I hear the voice of a history student, forty years ago.  She complained that, to me – and to my fellow English students –‘Shakespeare equals God throughout’.  God? No.  But I feel I am scrabbling in the foam, at the edge of a great sea.

It is a sea which licks the feet of almost everyone who speaks English.  There are threads of Shakespeare woven through our speech.  They are so familiar that, if we notice them at all, we probably think they are proverbs.  They quietly defy anyone who thinks that poetry becomes incomprehensible with time; that it cannot speak of our own lives; that it is not for everyone.  I must admit, disgracefully, that when the Tory Education Minister, Kenneth Baker, made Shakespeare compulsory, I thought this would be a disaster in my daughter’s comprehensive school. Instead I found that her best friend, struggling in most subjects, spent lunchtimes with my daughter, rehearsing ‘Macbeth’: ‘Heaven knows what she has known …  God, God forgive us all.’

I consider the four hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and his burial beneath doggerel: ‘Curst be he who moves my bones’. I hope I will not be cursed because Shakespeare runs like a thread through the shabby cloth of my own poetry.  The young wear black.  When I was younger, I wrote, blackly, about ‘Hamlet’:

The Players Come to the Castle

 

It was a dream of welcome,

After miles of storm

The table steamed with cakes and game

The royal fire sprang warm.

 

Our leader’s lines.  Now I, the poor

Boy playing queen, tell what I saw.

 

The hall lay dark and icy,

Its scarlet rugs rubbed bare.

No word or gesture came from

The prince, slumped in his chair.

 

Alison Brackenbury

(From ‘1829’, Carcanet, 1995)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scholars would tell us, carefully, that we must not seek the man in the plays.  But I swear that the man who made Hamlet welcome his players so warmly had travelled in rain-soaked carts, and been treated like a dog on arrival. That he did not sleep enough: ‘Sleep, O gentle sleep’ – And that he paid a price for his London sexual adventures.  I think that ‘Lear’ was written by someone with a venereal disease:  ‘But to the girdle do the gods inherit; beneath is all the fiends’. There’s hell, there’s darkness, there’s the sulfurous pit’ —

We do know something about Shakespeare and money.  For he carefully made money, in impressive quantities. He bought an equally impressive house in his home town. He would go to law to get what was owed to him.  The Sonnets are dense with legalities.  But, as a Shakespeare-loving Tory Cabinet brought in Clause 28, I wondered if poets frequently addressed their young handsome patron as ‘Dear my love’?  (For younger readers, here is an account of Clause 28.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Section_28.  And love? Read Sonnet 13, and decide.  http://www.shakespeares-sonnets.com/sonnet/13.)  Meanwhile, in middle age, trying to scavenge some rags of his metres, I glimpsed Shakespeare again:

 

The sonnets

 

 

I planned to take these lines apart,

The story lies too close to lose.

The young man’s fingers grip his heart.

 

Each betrays each.  The woman comes.

Both sleep with her.  How do they part?

He buys the grandest house in town

 

Where his wife stays.   The boy moves on.

Thick body creaking, he retires.

Only once, toils back to London,

 

Climbs to lawyers; on the landing

The short breaths stop.  The faintness flares.

He leans against the greasy wall.

Their laugh breaks round him, down the stairs.

 

 

(Alison Brackenbury

From ‘Bricks and Ballads’, Carcanet, 2004)

Hamlet rages against comic actors.  Yet the fools remain, especially in my favourite play, ‘Twelfth Night’.  It ends in ‘the wind and the rain’ of the Elizabethan street (or the player’s cart).  But first, Feste says ‘Foolery, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun. It shines everywhere.’  And my day once brightened because student editors, expert in the rags and patches of postmodernism, wanted to publish a poem, of my old age, where Shakespeare shines in an irreverent light:

 

To Mr W.S., from his agent

 

The sonnets were a flop.  But plagues are over.

Go back to plays again!  Don’t be cast down.

Plots aren’t your strength.  Steal one!  A fight, a murder.

And this time, please, a good part for the clown.

 

 

Alison Brackenbury

(From ‘Bricks and Ballads’, Carcanet, 2004)

 

So, queen ‘of shreds and patches’, I fold my borrowed finery around me, to say a last ‘Amen’ to that. To God?  To William Shakespeare.

P.S. If you are in London, you can see The Poetry Society’s exhibition of posters inspired by lines from Shakespeare. It runs until May 7, and is in the basement of their excellent Poetry Café. ‘Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?’  I am not sufficiently virtuous to resist the Poetry Society’s food!

And there are special Shakespeare events there on Saturday April 23rd – a workshop with A.B.Jackson and a reading by A.B.Jackson and A.E.Stallings. More details here:

http://poetrysociety.org.uk/events/

Here are some of the posters which will be the backdrop to these events!

 

Shakespeare  (1)Shakespeare  (2)Shakespeare  (6)

 

 

I helped to suggest the Richard II quote. ‘For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground…’ In Shakespeare, the ground comes before the King.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Briefly

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

My new collection, ‘Skies’, has just been published by Carcanet.

This brilliant new collection’        Penelope Shuttle

‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.

Helen Mort

‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016

Stop Press: ‘Skies’ has been featured on BBC Radio 4. I was interviewed by Kirsty Lang and read three poems on the lively arts magazine programme, ‘Front Row’.  Here is the link.  ‘Skies’ and I appear after 18 minutes! Please drag the marker along the time bar to go straight there. – click on marker again to play if necessary.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b074vtkn

Can skies be bought? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet , my publishers– at a bargain price!

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

or from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s

Readings 2016

Saturday April 23rd, 2 p m at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. I am reading with Chris Kinsey at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock.
http://www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org/event/alison-brackenbury-and-chris-kinsey/

Much Wenlock poster

Friday 6 May, 12 noon at Bristol Can Openers, Steam Cafe Bar, 15 Union Gate, 63 Union Street, Bristol, BS1 2DL.  FREE. Open mic.

http://www.poetrycan.co.uk/events.html

Monday 16 May, 7.30 p m at Leicester Shindig, The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA, with David Clarke. FREE. Please check details nearer to the date at

http://ninearchespress.com/events.html

Wednesday 8 June, at Square Chapel, Halifax with Hilda Sheehan. Details nearer to the event at

http://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/

Thursday 30 June at Words and Ears, The Swan, 1 Church Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1LN.  7.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets £3 on door. Reading with Rosie Jackson. Open mic!

http://www.dawngorman.co.uk/words_and_ears_whats_on.php

Friday 21 October at Poets’ Café, South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU. Provisional time: 8 p m. Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.readingarts.com/southstreet/whatson/

Monday 24 October, at Emporium Theatre and Cafe Bar, 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF.  More  details nearer to event.

Briefly

Nzfauna – Own work CC BY-SA 4.0 Double white hellebore hybrid ‘Betty Ranicar’

Hellebore photo

Short poems are the hardest to write about.  I would rather review an epic than an epigram.  It is no easier, I find, when the short poem is your own

I have always loved short poems: Pope’s epigram on a puppy, Anne Stevenson’s astonishing ‘Vertigo’, which holds body and soul in a bold handful of lines. But I never tried to write them.  I was the university student who would take seventeen pages of scrawled essay to admit that I was both obsessed and confused by All’s Well That Ends Well. I still am, but, armed with a Delete button, would now conceal this better…

But what does Time say?  ‘Hurry, you need to take the cat to the vet in five minutes.’  ‘Of course you’re falling asleep, you’re sixty-two.’  And, very softly, in the unexpected tenderness of dusk: ‘You’re going to die’.  ‘Not yet!’  I snap. ‘No’, agrees Time. ‘But still, aren’t six lines enough?’ And often they are. Or four. Or two.  Younger poets read them kindly. Editors greet them with relief.  They can be whisked out of the drawer at the last minute to fill that awkward space left on page five. (How my patient, dead tutors would laugh…)

So one of the surprises of my retirement from day jobs is that I can write short poems.  They, I realise, are the ones I used to miss: the flicker in the sunlight, the tickle in the throat. You cannot catch them when you have aircraft tooling to oil or invoices to total.  Too often, they can only be caught once.  For someone who tends to map out stanzas, they are surprising.  They come with their own rhythms.  They settle upon their own rhymes.  Some have definitely met ballads.  Some seem to arrive from nowhere.

It is awkward, as an Old Poet, to admit how little control you have over what you have done for so long.  Surely a writer can choose subjects? Or at least avoid them? I never meant to write about Sylvia Plath, in poetry or prose.  I think I am under-qualified to do so, because I did not know the landscape of English poetry before her blood and bees descended.  I am, perhaps, a little too well-qualified to comment on her bleakest work.  Three months of my life at eighteen have left me wary of some of her most famous poems.

Any consideration of Plath’s story plunges us into two topics – mental illness, and marriage – which remain mysterious even to the most knowledgeable observer.  Her life is a dark mirror in which we each meet our own fears. I have chosen to concentrate on my favourite, memorised lines from her poems, especially ‘Wintering’:

What will they taste of, the Christmas roses?

The bees are flying. They taste the spring.

One day, I must track down an admired poem I dimly remember, in her fat Collected, about managing to stay on a horse.  It is always better not to fall off, not least (I write this with studied seriousness) because it is dangerous for the horse.

I was firmly seated on a chair, in London, a few years ago, when I glimpsed an elderly woman.  She was dignified, but very lame. I remembered, with a shock, that she was a contemporary of Sylvia Plath.

 

These five lines were scribbled down, I think, on the way home.  I hope they made a kindly poem.  They did not ask too much of my time.  They will steal still less of yours.

 

 

After meeting a friend of Sylvia Plath

 

 

She would have been as old as you.

She might have freckles on her hands,

a stick, one knee which would not bend.

 

Would she read slowly through her book,

not flick, so quickly, to the end?

 

Alison Brackenbury

From Skies, Carcanet, 2016

 

Carcanet

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

 

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460153677&sr=1-1

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edward Thomas

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

My new collection, ‘Skies’, will be published by Carcanet on 31 March 2016.

This brilliant new collection’        Penelope Shuttle

‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.

Helen Mort

‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016

Stop Press: ‘Skies’ has been featured on BBC Radio 4. I was interviewed by Kirsty Lang and read three poems on the lively arts magazine programme, ‘Front Row’.  Here is the link.  ‘Skies’ and I appear after 18 minutes! Please drag the marker along the time bar to go straight there. – click on marker again to play if necessary.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/player/b074vtkn

Can skies be bought? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet , my publishers– at a bargain price!

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

or from Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s

Readings 2016

Saturday April 23rd, 2 p m at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. I am reading with Chris Kinsey at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock.
http://www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org/event/alison-brackenbury-and-chris-kinsey/

Much Wenlock poster

Friday 6 May, 12 noon at Bristol Can Openers, Steam Cafe Bar, 15 Union Gate, 63 Union Street, Bristol, BS1 2DL.  FREE. Open mic.

http://www.poetrycan.co.uk/events.html

Monday 16 May, 7.30 p m at Leicester Shindig, The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA, with David Clarke. FREE. Please check details nearer to the date at

http://ninearchespress.com/events.html

Wednesday 8 June, at Square Chapel, Halifax with Hilda Sheehan. Details nearer to the event at

http://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/

Thursday 30 June at Words and Ears, The Swan, 1 Church Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1LN.  7.30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tickets £3 on door. Reading with Rosie Jackson. Open mic!

http://www.dawngorman.co.uk/words_and_ears_whats_on.php

Friday 21 October at Poets’ Café, South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU. Provisional time: 8 p m. Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.readingarts.com/southstreet/whatson/

Monday 24 October, at Emporium Theatre and Cafe Bar, 88 London Rd, Brighton BN1 4JF.  More  details nearer to event.

Edward Thomas

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

I was definitely not going to write another poem about Edward Thomas.  About ten years ago, I had a brief correspondence with Myfanwy, Thomas’ youngest daughter.  Aged ninety-four, she was generous with her time, enthusiasm and stuttering biro.  I still wish I had asked her if she did remember the rue bush which Thomas wrote of in ‘Old Man’:

I can only wonder how much hereafter

She will remember […]

Myfanwy did remember the titles and words of the songs she sang with her family, as a very young child, when they lived in No 2, Yewtree Cottages, in the small village of Steep in Hampshire.  After I read her description of her father’s voice (was she the last person alive to have heard it?) I wrote a poem called ‘Singing in the Dark’.

One short ballad may not seem much, after months of research, thought, and correspondence.  But poetry is a costly art.  My original intention had been to write articles (which I duly did). Myfanwy died a few months after she had written to me.  The poem was her gift, and I am no longer young enough to expect life to be an endless succession of gifts.

Yet chances come, and in the cold spring of 2014 I had the chance to go and visit Steep, and the Thomases’ cottage.  Emma Harding was producing a programme, narrated by the poet Deryn Rees-Jones, about Helen Thomas.  Helen’s passionate memoir of her husband is a book I recommend wholeheartedly. (It can be found, with moving contributions from Myfanwy, in Under Storm’s Wing, Carcanet, 1997.)

We tramped round Steep, which was partially flooded – what would Edward and Helen have thought of our world, with its half-wrecked climate? But if they could have seen us huddle from hailstorms, scramble up banks as lorries made tidal waves, and, occasionally, fall rather gracefully into the mud, I think Helen would have laughed aloud.  Even Edward might have smiled.

I did not intend to write any poems.  I headed finally for the Thomases’ cottage, talking to Deryn, resolved to record well for Emma.  I was deeply impressed by the cottage’s absent owner.  First, although the cottage is not open to the public, she had kindly said that we could record in her garden, although she would be out.  Secondly, her garden still had the strongest links with what Edward and Helen Thomas had loved: wild grass, vegetables, and birds.  A robin had been guarding Edward’s memorial stone up on the hill. Its village rival was singing from his tall, still-surviving hedge.

So, at Emma’s suggestion, I stood in front of the low cottage, which Emma and Deryn had visited earlier.  They had found it surprisingly small and dark.  It had been built for farmworkers by a wealthy socialist, but was, as Helen shrewdly remarked, jerry-built, originally with no bathroom, yet still too expensive for a labourer to rent.  Without thinking, I planted my feet in front of the small green door, and began to read the poem I had written about one of Helen’s, and Myfanwy’s happiest times there, when, with Edward, they sang the folksongs they called ‘the old songs’, islanded by dark, beside the cottage’s coal fire.

But, in the windy February daylight, something unexpected happened.  I felt a pressure on my shoulders. It was not touch.  It was the feeling you have when someone is standing very close behind you.  I knew it was a man, impatient almost to the point of anger, who wanted nothing to do with any of us or what we were doing, simply to get through the cottage door, down the path, and out into the wind. As soon as I stopped reading and could step away from the door, towards the budding rue bush, the feeling was gone.

I do not believe in ghosts.  But I think there are some places which keep a memory, which no longer belongs to the person who caused it but the place itself.  I think this is true of No 2, Yewtree Cottages.  I remembered later that I had heard another strange story about a recently bricked-up door in the wall of a house, left to Cheltenham Council by a reclusive antique dealer.  A woman standing in front of the wall, at an official ceremony, suddenly toppled forward, saying indignantly that she had not fainted; she had felt pushed.

I was not pushed to the ground but into writing a poem. In fact, there are three: one taken from a letter from Thomas, dreaming of tea inside that cottage; one set in its sheltered garden, and one which reported, briefly, on that minute before its door.  Here they are, with the repeated promise that I do not intend to write any more poems about Edward Thomas.

Three poems from Steep
I

Letter, 1917
I had one dream in France,
curled up before the fight.
I fell past the bugles,
stray blackbirds, stabs of light,
landed by our table.
Though you clasped Baba, smiled to me,
I was a sort of visitor, and
I could not stay for tea.

‘Baba’ was Edward and Helen Thomas’ youngest child, Myfanwy, (with whom I corresponded when she was ninety-four). The poem’s last two lines are taken from a letter written by Edward to Helen on 17 March, 1917. He was killed on 9 April, 1917.
II

No 2, Yewtree Cottages
(last home of Edward Thomas in Steep, Hampshire)
This was your garden. And the grass is long,
rough as a child’s hair. The wind gusts strong.
Only the half-pruned hazels in the hedge
shelter the new stone pigs, by the path’s edge,

broad rue bush, grey with buds, high fat for birds
you might have bought, if men paid more for words.
Stray vegetables, too few to meet your needs,
break old black garden soil, part-raked for seeds.

Could we live here, with scattered book or tool?
Does the cramped house recall you, kind or cruel?

It does not know you. It is not unkind.
The brief hail gone, spring nuzzles hard, behind,
bends primroses. March light, like your hair, thinned,
sweeps us down your cracked path, out with the wind.
III
Visitor
But while I wait by that low door
where he would duck, though rarely shout
I sense harsh pressure thrust me back,
someone in pain, who must walk out.
Alison Brackenbury
From Skies, Carcanet, 2016
Carcanet
http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1457475542&sr=1-1

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

© Francis C. Franklin / CC-BY-SA-3.0

 

            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Playground

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

My new collection, ‘Skies’, will be published by Carcanet on 31 March 2016.

This brilliant new collection’        Penelope Shuttle

‘Her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’.

Helen Mort

‘These are personal moments which shine with the universal; a cosmos on a slice of toast; the waxing of the moon in a milkman’s morning round. ‘Whirled and free / the stars, my calm dead, walk with me.’

Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Spring 2016

Can skies be pre-ordered? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet – special offer!

**SPECIAL PRE- LAUNCH OFFER UNTIL 31st March **

To order your copy of Skies at the special price of £8 (RRP £9.99) with free UK P&P, go to http://www.carcanet.co.uk and enter the code: AMBER (case-sensitive) at the checkout.
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s

Readings 2016

Friday 11 March, 8 p m at the Dugdale Theatre, Enfield, North London
I am reading with John Godfrey – and an excellent jazz quartet! Details below…

http://www.enfield.gov.uk/millfield/homepage/17/whats_on_dugdale

Jazz poster

Saturday April 23rd, 2 p m at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. I am reading with Chris Kinsey at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock.
http://www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org/event/alison-brackenbury-and-chris-kinsey/

Much Wenlock poster

Friday 6 May, 12 noon at Bristol Can Openers, Steam Cafe Bar, 15 Union Gate, 63 Union Street, Bristol, BS1 2DL.  FREE. Open mic.

http://www.poetrycan.co.uk/events.html

Monday 16 May, 7.30 p m at Leicester Shindig, The Western, 70 Western Road, Leicester LE3 0GA, with David Clarke. FREE. Please check details nearer to the date at

http://ninearchespress.com/events.html

Wednesday 8 June, at Square Chapel, Halifax with Hilda Sheehan. Details nearer to the event at

http://www.squarechapel.co.uk/whatson/

 

Thursday 30 June at Words and Ears, The Swan, 1 Church Street Bradford on Avon Wiltshire BA15 1LN.  Evening event. Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.theswanbradford.co.uk/events.html

Friday 21 October at Poets’ Café, South Street Arts Centre, 21 South Street, Reading RG1 4QU. Provisional time: 8 p m. Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.readingarts.com/southstreet/whatson/

Thursday 27 October, 7.45 pm  at Pighog Poetry Night, Redroaster, 1d St James’s St, Brighton BN2 1RE.  Please check details nearer to event at

http://www.redroaster.co.uk/p-redroaster-events

Playground

Sheep photo

Public Domain File:Flock of sheep.jpg Uploaded by Ddxc

Shortly before my grandmother died of a stroke, she began to have vivid memories, and dreams, of her schooldays. She told me about the spring morning when she had lingered a few minutes in her Buckinghamshire village to play with another girl. Then they heard the tyrannical bell. The Victorian working classes had to learn punctuality. This was delivered, in my grandmother’s case, with stinging blows from a ruler into her soft palm.
The memories behind my poem, Playground, are less cutting, but did return with a curious sharpness. I began to think about the games we played in the breaks and long lunch times at my small village school, in Lincolnshire. Even then, I suspected that some of these were very old, with their own, ragged poetry:

The wind, the wind, the wind blows high
The rain comes scattering down the sky
She is handsome, she is pretty
She is the belle of [insert name] city…

This game, which was played only by girls, ended with them yelling the name of a reddening or angry boy, disturbed while scrambling inoffensively on the climbing frame in front of the wooden verandah of the oldest classroom. The teachers disliked this game, for its fight-provoking tendencies, and its precocity. I suspect that Victorian girls, sent from school and home, like my grandmother, to be chivvied housemaids at thirteen, began to look for an escape route early.

The words of this game came to me thoroughly garbled. Was I really meant to call ‘Brian, tell me who is she?’ I was more familiar with the words of another game, which began by flirting with death, and then swerved off into the dialect of playground abuse:

Wallflowers, wallflowers, growing up so high
You’re all pretty maids and you’re all going to die
Except for little [insert name]
She’s the only one
So turn your back, you saucy cat and don’t come home no more.

I secretly considered this a boring game, as it simply involved each player, when she became the ‘saucy cat’, turning to face the outside of the ring.

But my favourite amongst the older games was so wildly exciting that it too was likely to be banned by observant and nervous teachers. Unusually, it involved everyone in the big uneven playground. It was a catching game, where every child except one rushed across to the opposite fence in a breathless breaking line. Its words were so brief and clear that I remembered them all, from the 1950s, just as they appear in the poem.

What should I add to them? First, that my mother, who later taught in that school, told me that by the 1980s the children had abandoned all of the old games for new ones, based on TV characters. Secondly, that at the end of the poem, with the logic of imagination rather than chronology, I do not see the ‘you’ as the country child in the playground, but my daughter’s chic urban generation. But – thirdly – I live in dread of becoming passive: the child who is caned, the farm worker to whom wars and politics seem like the weather, but who is engulfed by them nevertheless. My father’s family, after all, spent at least five generations working with sheep… Here is their poem.

Playground

Children, you lined up for your game,
one tall boy called, ‘Sheep, sheep, come home.
The wolf has gone to Derbyshire.
He won’t come back for seven years.’
You raced across the wind-blurred ground.
But he was wolf. He plunged, he pounced.
Each child, when he clutched coat or cuff,
straight-haired, scuff-toed, became the wolf.

Are you a wolf, grey, slender? Yet
as, elegantly, you stroll through
the café’s buzz, the city’s dome,
what is it you do not forget?
How even then they lied to you?
Still they sing out, ‘Sheep, sheep, come home.’

Alison Brackenbury
From Skies, Carcanet, 2016

**SPECIAL PRE- LAUNCH OFFER UNTIL 31st March **
You can order a copy of Skies at the special price of £8 (RRP £9.99) with free UK P&P. Please go to http://www.carcanet.co.uk and enter the code: AMBER (case-sensitive) at the checkout.

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

 

Down Unwin’s track

Skies draft cover 2 (front only) (1)

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

My new collection, ‘Skies’, will be published by Carcanet on 31 March 2016.
Can skies be pre-ordered? Yes, in this case, from
Carcanet – special offer!

**SPECIAL PRE- LAUNCH OFFER UNTIL 31st March **

To order your copy of Skies at the special price of £8 (RRP £9.99) with free UK P&P, go to http://www.carcanet.co.uk and enter the code: AMBER (case-sensitive) at the checkout.
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s

 

Readings 2016

Friday 11 March, 8 p m at the Dugdale Theatre, Enfield, North London
I am reading with John Godfrey – and an excellent jazz quartet! Details below…

Jazz poster

Saturday April 23rd, 2 p m at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival. I am reading with Chris Kinsey at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock.
http://www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org/event/alison-brackenbury-and-chris-kinsey/

Much Wenlock poster

Down Unwin’s track

Hare photo

Lepus europaeus in August 2013 at Köyliö, Finland.

Santtu37 – Own work  CC BY-SA 3.0

It was on a wide grassy hill path – ‘Unwin’s track’ – that I first began to see hares again. The hare has a strange double power. It is hazed by half-remembered stories. It is the moon’s creature, the wounded animal who is also a human witch. But real hares, flying off down the furrows, startling as small deer, have a strange knack of reappearing at turning points in our own lives.

I grew up in Lincolnshire, in houses owned by the farmer my father worked for, often totally surrounded by farmland. It was a devastated landscape. After the Second World War, (only a few years before my birth) tractors had replaced horses, hedges had been ripped up, DDT had killed the hawks. In my youth, the new generation of farm chemicals was often sprayed from planes.

Yet, in the great fields, hares remained. They like pasture land, field margins, wide verges, strips of grass by woodland. These remnants of traditional farming lingered on in my youth. So, as I walked down the lane from my parents’ house with my university boyfriend (later my husband) we would often see a pair of hares on the horizon, out in the vast ploughed fields, boxing. I thought they were both male. Never take on trust any fact about wildlife told to you by someone who has always lived in the country! When glow worms reappeared one summer, a Gloucestershire farmer, who had last seen them as a child, assured me that these mysterious points of light were male. They are, in fact, wingless females…

Brown hares, the experts tell us, have declined 80% since my grandfather was a young, and wildlife-loving shepherd, a hundred years ago. When I began riding around a friend’s small Gloucestershire farm, a quarter of a century ago, I rarely saw hares. If I risked a four-footed trespass into a local wood, I might glimpse one on a sunny bank, in a grassy No Man’s land between trees and field.

I often rode the broad path we called ‘Unwin’s track’. Do we own land? Only in the most temporary way. If we are remembered in a landscape, it is often for the good we have done. The farmer whose name I still give to that track has grown old, sold up, and gone. But he kept the track green, and allowed us to ride there, past its brambles and cranesbill, although it has no rights of way.

And along Unwin’s track, a few years ago, the old pony and I began to meet hares: a single one, sitting bolt upright, puzzled by the horse, then loping into the hedge; a mother, racing ahead of a large leveret to the safety of longer grass. There was no mystery about this. The EU had given farms environmental grants. These obliged farmers to keep wider field margins (often sown with wild flowers). Hares need these; they live on them, and feed on the varied grasses and herbs which grow there.

So, again, I met with hares. When my husband retired and began walking out, with me and the slow old pony, we saw more and more. Did you know that the brown hare is not a protected species in Britain? If the Hunting Act were repealed, it could again be hunted with dogs. Despite its continued decline, large hare shoots take place each year, legally.
But yesterday, from Unwin’s track, I saw two young hares, crouched quietly in the rain in a wide open strip by the edge of the crops, waiting for the weather to improve. One small farm; a handful of hares. Yet they show that things can be made better. It is up to us. Poetry can’t lobby for changes in farming and the law. But it can praise the mysterious animals which need these changes.
Here is a poem of time, and hares. In one respect at least, it is a more truthful poem than I would have written when I walked the windy roads of Lincolnshire. I now know that one of the furiously boxing hares is a female, fending off the male because she is not yet ready to mate.

Down Unwin’s track
And the rain stopped. And the sky spun
past the hills’ flush of winter corn.
The mare strode out as though still young.

You walked. I almost said, last year
I saw a hare run with her young
just past the broken wall, just here.

Two flew in circles. First, one rose
upon its great back legs. It boxed
at air. The second flinched, then rose.

England has blackbirds, mice. To find
these strong black shapes makes the heart race,
as barley, under icy wind.

Boxing is courtship, failed. One broke,
tore past us to the rough safe hedge.
She crossed the sun. Her colours woke,

ears black, back russet, earth new-laid.
Her legs stretched straight. The late showers made
bright water fly from every blade.

Alison Brackenbury
From Skies, my new collection, to be published by Carcanet on March 31.

It can be ordered now from:

Carcanet (cheaper!)
http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800
Amazon:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448388060&sr=1-8&keywords=alison+brackenbury

White Magic

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

Skies by Alison Brackenbury

Where are we now?

                           David Bowie

 

Where are you?  In the ache of January’s black

as though its cold clutching had crept up my back

I hear you are dead.  I hear track after track.

The illness stayed hidden.  Only the voice

grew careful and weary.  It sang, we have choice.

For you knew where you were, how our planet spun.

You found American rock, then breathed on

your English air.  You flew to the sun.

 

David Bowie said in a radio interview that he had added to rock the great gift of English music: melody.

 

Alison Brackenbury

11 January 2016

 

 

Readings 2016

Friday 11 March, 8 p m at the Dugdale Theatre, Enfield, North London

 I am reading with John Godfrey – and an excellent jazz quartet! Details below…

Jazz poster

Saturday April 23rd, 2 p m at the Much Wenlock Poetry Festival.  I am reading with Chris Kinsey at the Edge Arts Centre, Much Wenlock.

http://www.wenlockpoetryfestival.org/event/alison-brackenbury-and-chris-kinsey/

In the quiet dip between Christmas and New Year, I have finally dodged between unprecedented home renovations and all-too-familiar computer breakdowns.

So before the next paint tin or catastrophic updates arrives, I will just quote from an article which amused and touched me. It is a review, not of a book, but of a reading.

The Oxford poet and journalist Humphrey Astley wrote an article, in November, about a Hallowe’en poetry reading in the Albion Beatnik Bookshop.  It’s excellent to have poetry featured in the local press.  Here is what Astley wrote about my reading:

‘…there can be no doubt that we are in the presence of a master performer – reciting from memory, her incantatory tone and gestures give her the air of a kind of white witch of poetry. (That she’s getting into the spirit of things by wearing a cape probably adds to the effect.)

And there’s magic in her poetry, for sure…’

You can read the full account of the memorable readings from Mimi Khalvati, Claire Crowther and Jing-Jing Lee here:

http://www.oxfordtimes.co.uk/leisure/theatre/theatre/reviews/14099852.Broken_taboos_and_autumnal_alchemy_from_some_masters_of_modern_poetry/

I can’t, sadly, perform white magic – and the cape belonged to a kind friend.  But I do own one sequinned jacket…

If you would like a cheap and cheerful reader for 2016, have a microphone, and can be reached from Cheltenham by public transport, I would be delighted to come. I don’t do workshops, but do rehearse readings very thoroughly, keep to time religiously, and am always glad to talk to audiences afterwards.  Do feel free to contact me, without obligation, via the Contact Page on this website, which sends messages straight to my current email.

My new collection, ‘Skies’, will be published by Carcanet in March 2016.  I’m delighted by the light-filled skies of this cover. I think it is one of the best Carcanet have produced for me, in the thirty-five years we have worked together.

And, thanks to technology undreamed of when I first began publishing poetry, ‘Skies’ is already available for pre-order:

From Carcanet (cheaper!)

http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781784101800

or Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Books-Skies-Alison-Brackenbury/dp/178410180X/ref=sr_1_8?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448388060&sr=1-8&keywords=alison+brackenbury

A very Happy and light-filled New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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