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Bluecoat and Front Row

Gosh, how wonderful it was, last Wednesday, for Maureen and I to take an evening off from the gruelling business of moving house. We headed over to Liverpool, a favourite place of ours with its zestful vibe and friendly cosmopolitan air. Radio 4’s Front Row programme (which follows The Archers) was to be produced and broadcast live from the Bluecoat arts centre to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of The Mersey Sound: Penguin Modern Poets 10 from Adrian Henri, Roger McGough and Brian Patten. We’d booked tickets for the show.

Before going in, we bought crêpes (pancakes) from a van – crêpes with sugar and lemon – and enjoyed them hugely sitting in the cobbled side-street with hopeful pigeons and gulls gathering at our feet.

The Mersey Sound ushered in a new type of poetry – punchy, provocative, socially relevant and widely accessible – bringing the trio fame as “The Liverpool Poets” during that heady period, “The Swinging Sixties”, when The Beatles sprang from the city’s Cavern Club to take the musical world by storm.

Presented by John Wilson, Front Row was simply brilliant, with Roger McGough and Brian Patten present to discuss and read poems from their ground-breaking anthology. Adrian Henri, a painter and musician as well as a poet, died in 2000 but his partner, now his literary and artistic executor, Catherine Marcangeli, spoke about his “total art” vision and introduced a series of exhibitions and events called Tonight At Noon (after a Henri poem) celebrating The Mersey Sound’s half-century.

Lizzie Nunnery, a playwright and singer-songwriter, performed with musical accompaniment, an extract from Horny Handed Tons of Soil, her new work inspired by The Mersey Sound and Adrian Henri. Andrew McMillan, the award-winning poet, premiered his new poem, written in response to The Mersey Sound.

The Bluecoat, built in 1717, is Liverpool city centre’s oldest building, a charity school for nearly 200 years before becoming the UK’s first arts centre in 1907. And Bryan Biggs, artistic director of its 300th anniversary programme, spoke very interestingly about the centre’s role in supporting contemporary artists.

It was altogether a most enjoyable evening which Maureen and I will long remember.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Somonka

I’d never heard of Somonka until Kemal Houghton, our Chair at Chester Poets, invited members to submit Somonka poems for reading on Poetry Roundup, his show on Vintage Radio (Birkenhead) on Wednesday last week.

The Somonka is an ancient Japanese verse form, each poem comprising a pair of tanka on the theme of love (romantic or some other type), the first a statement, the second in response. Usually the first tanka is written by one poet, the second by another, but a Somonka may be written by a single poet assuming two personas.

Maureen and I gave it a go of course, and we had many a laugh over it. I wrote a solo Somonka first, about my much loved infants’ school teacher back in ’53, when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Then we did one together, the first tanka (the statement) by Maureen, the second (the response) by me. And we were delighted when both poems were included in the programme, Kemal reading the male verses, his co-presenter Linda Bradley reading the female, as they did so brilliantly with the other Somonkas too.

Below is my solo effort. We’ll reserve our joint-Somonka (quite a funny one) for publication elsewhere.

MISS T

floral smock chalky
mistress of the scout hut school
she gave of her love
calmed this little boy’s fear
and let him sit with the girls

Coronation year
my sweetheart lost in the war
I gave of my love
to his brave comrades’ children
beneath a Union Jack

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Spring in the air

I popped out for milk this morning, just as the sun was coming over the chimneypots. And a lovely morning it was too, nippy definitely but with a hint of spring in the air, our feathered friends in fine voice and the first snowdrops out.  Drawing deeply on the fresh estuary air, I thought the following two poems from my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose might be nice ones to post today.  Hope you like them.

 

SCALLYWAGS

 

Nice morning, soft blue,

cheeky beaks at my window;

the sparrows are back.

 

Chirpy scallywags

gossiping in the laurel;

quick wings beat the air.

 

Nice morning, soft blue,

I feel like a boy again.

Aye, the sparrows are back.

 

Paul Beech

 

~

 

SPRINGTIME

 

Tangled toads at water’s edge

male mallards vie for a female –

a girl and her granny laugh.

 

Paul Beech

 

~

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose published by Cestrian Press, 2016

‘Scallywags’ first published in Reflections, Issue 96

Ruby

On Remembrance Sunday last November, as in 2015, Maureen and I stood to attention during the two-minute silence, before candle-lit photographs of our dear brave dads, both of whom served in the Second World War, hers in the Army, mine the RAF. Both thankfully survived but are no longer with us now.  We concluded our private ceremony as before, with proud salutes.

Of course we remembered all those wonderful men and women we owe so much to. One woman in particular came into my mind, the following haibun resulting…

RUBY

The thump of the big gun rolls away, the two-minute silence begun. Just a gull or two calling distantly.  And there she is, waiting in memory: a woman never quite met, face never quite glimpsed, only her withered, liver-spotted hand, like a claw.  I never knew her name but thought of her as Ruby.  I knew only this: that she was one of those brave British agents dropped into occupied France to work with the Marquis in the run-up to D-Day.  Her room in the nursing home was always dark, door ajar, music most sombre on low.  Occasionally I’d hear her cough.  The big gun sounds again: it’s over.

between bugle calls

they live again

our lads, our girls

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

The Old Majolica Bowl

Here’s another poem from my debut collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, published by Cestrian Press last August. The poem subsequently appeared, along with six of my others, in Unheard, our Chester Poets anthology 2016, also from Cestrian Press, the central theme of which was dispossession, alienation and homelessness.

The poem is about an orphaned refugee girl, and I tell her story as if to one of my younger granddaughters…

 

THE OLD MAJOLICA BOWL

.

She’s just a little girl, my love.

She cannot speak nor even cry,

so terrible have been

the things she’s seen

in her faraway ravaged land,

the land she has fled in fear.

But she’s just a little girl like you.

.

No mummy, daddy or granny anymore

because of the war,

she lives in a muddy camp across the Channel.

.

All she has left is an old Italian bowl,

the gloriously coloured majolica bowl

that always stood in a shaft of light,

lemons, limes and apples piled bright.

It’s a miracle it wasn’t destroyed by the bomb.

Pity anyone who’d steal it now

for this little girl can be fierce.

.

She paints like you, my love,

but uses more red than blue,

much more red than you.

She cannot speak but paints in red.

.

In her cold camp bed

she clutches her bowl,

the old majolica fruit bowl.

Miracles do happen,

and cross the Channel she will someday

to a happy life in our country.

Kind people to care for her

and a little girl who will be her friend,

a friend who’ll help her find her voice again.

So she believes.

.

A little girl like you, my love.

.

Paul Beech

.

Copyright (c) Paul Beech 2017

 

The Pole

Happy New Year, everyone!

One highlight of the day for Maureen and I was watching The Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra with conductor Gustavo Dudamel live on BBC2, 11:15am – 12:45pm. What a fantastic concert!  We were blown away.

But earlier, beneath the twinkling lights of our wee Christmas tree, I flipped open a copy of Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, my debut collection published by Cestrian Press last year, and re-read a short poem that rather tugged my heartstrings. Here it is…

 

THE POLE

.

I could do it,

.

I could walk along the pole,

the old telegraph pole

that lay on the ground.

.

Arms wide for balance,

one foot gingerly placed

in front of the other,

grandchildren following,

giggling,

I could walk along the pole,

the old telegraph pole on the ground.

.

Half-covered in moss

and fallen leaf,

the pole is rotten now,

yet still I glimpse

their nimble spirits

briefly.

.

Paul Beech

~~

My very best to you all for 2017.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

RIP Cynthia Jobin

I was much saddened to learn that Cynthia Jobin, the American poet, passed away on 13th December 2016.  Regular readers of this blog will know that Cynthia often commented on my posts here in a most thoughtful and supportive way.

I was an avid follower of her own brilliant blog, “littleoldladywho”, and posted my final comment early this morning. Here it is:

~~

Sitting quietly with the sun not yet risen, I think of Cynthia, whose poetry and friendship have meant so much to me since discovering her blog two-and-a-half years ago.

With her wide vocabulary and mastery of form, her humanity, humour and skill in painting pictures in the mind, Cynthia was a most amazing and versatile poet. Her finely-wrought work was not only entertaining but deeply moving and thought-provoking too, playful and profound by turns, even sometimes inviting contemplation of the great mysteries.

We have to be thankful for the beautiful poetry Cynthia left behind for us to treasure; thankful for her friendship too, the warm, lively friendship she showed towards each of us individually who made up her online community. Our world is surely the richer because of her.

In quiet moments like this, when I might have been responding to her latest poem or replying to one of her wonderful comments on my own blog, I will remember “littleoldladywho”.

My sincere condolences to her family.

Paul Beech

~~

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016