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On Patrol

 

Here’s a haibun from a few weeks ago, one that gave me a warm glow to write as it concerns a local character who puts many to shame…

 

ON PATROL

 

Three times around the green, he rides his trusty mobility buggy, on patrol. Stetson cocked defiantly, he might be a lawman from the Wild West, but for his Welsh dragon flag and twisted body.

An oddball he is, in the rheumy eyes of the old dears who peer tut-tutting between parted drapes. How unseemly for a man in his delicate state of health, to be scalding bullies or climbing roofs to rescue creatures in distress.  Mad, really.  And here he comes again…

Through flying leaves, stetson cocked, the oddball rides his buggy, a small black cat on his lap so trusting.

storm brewing

wicked tongues wag

faintly a banjo

 

Paul Beech

 

First published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 3, Issue 34, 1st October 2018.

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

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Exhibit 20

On Saturday 21st July 2018, Maureen and I attended the Lady Chapel at Chester Cathedral for the launch of a brilliant new Chester Poets anthology from Cestrian Press, Out of The Ark, edited by Julia D. McGuinness.

The anthology arose from the Gallery Pangolin exhibition of contemporary and modern sculpture, ARK, hosted by Chester Cathedral from July to October 2017, the largest exhibition of its kind in the north-west of England.

Out of The Ark is a truly gorgeous book, printed on glossy paper with colour photographs of exhibits alongside the poems inspired by them. Maureen has two poems included, ‘The Duel’ (inspired by Nick Bibby’s ‘Red Deer Stags: The Duel’) and ‘Mother’ (inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Hollow Form with Inner Form’).  I have a haibun included (inspired by the exhibit named in the poem).

The launch, led by Julia, was a proud moment for all of us attending to read our work, and a moving one for me personally as I began my working life as a 15 year old apprentice electrician at the Cathedral in 1962. The master electrician I worked with told me upon entering the Cathedral for the first time: “Only our best work will do in the Lord’s house.” His name was Herbert and he was a hard task-master.  I only hoped he’d have approved my poem.

Here it is:

 

EXHIBIT 20

1962:

Blown in with flying leaves, a boiler-suited boy advances up the workmen’s passage at Chester Cathedral, hands poised for the split-second draw that’ll end with imaginary six-shooters spinning in triumph.

2017:

Back for an exhibition of modern sculpture, a poet now, he’s ambushed by a pair of eyes that shame him.

Jack Cornwell, the boy in the memorial photograph, was a gun layer on HMS Chester, just sixteen-and-a-half years old when he died before his mother could reach him in hospital; died of injuries sustained at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

organ music

a whiff of incense

a cough

Exhibit 20 is the one that really gets our poet, Joe Rush’s ‘War Horse’, a massive horse’s head fashioned from military waste with a mane of red-tipped bullet-shells. The white candle with black wick might have been extinguished in a dying snort.

He spins his imaginary six-shooters as he hasn’t since a boy and his eyes smart with tears.

a changed man

maybe not

but cogs are turning

 

Paul Beech

(‘Exhibit 20 was first published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 2, Issue 24, 1st December 2017.)

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017, 2018

 

 

The Dive

A trip down memory lane this morning, to that very different world of 1959, when I was a 12-year old grammar school boy in Bolton, Lancashire, much into skiffle, rockabilly and rock-‘n-roll, who sported a quiff like Elvis and was becoming rather interested in girls…

It’s a trip that half-amuses me and half-horrifies me – thank goodness we’re rid of corporal punishment in British schools now. One song I’ll always associate with “The Dive” is Lonnie Donegan’s ‘Hang down your head Tom Dooley’…

 

THE DIVE

 

Down “The Dive”

we felt alive,

back in ’59.

 

Satchels dumped, ties askew,

we were grammar school boys

from up the cobbled hill,

fresh-faced still

but keen.

 

Nettle beer, cold and sweet,

jukebox belting out the beat,

we’d pose with fags unlit

and try our luck

with the girls.

 

Caught, we’d be for it next day,

teeth gritted against “The Whack”,

determined not to crack,

shed a tear

or scream.

 

Down “The Dive”

we felt alive,

back in ’59.

 

Paul Beech

 

‘The Dive’ is included in the author’s collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016).

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

Callander Poetry Weekend 2018

So there we were, bowling along a tree-lined road, Bob Dylan on the sound system singing ‘Mr Tambourine Man’, as we glimpsed Ben Ledi ahead, just a few miles to Callander now – Callander, “the Gateway to the Highlands”.

It was Friday 7th September 2018, mid-afternoon, and Maureen and I were back seat passengers in Kemal and Caroline’s car.  Our good friends were giving us a lift as I couldn’t have driven the distance this year with my left big toe heavily bandaged because of a nasty diabetes-related injury.

Minutes later we were cruising up Main Street, the Crags towering above. We were back for the Callander Poetry Weekend, greatly looking forward to it of course, but a little sad as well, knowing this would be the last of these wonderful annual events hosted by Sally Evans and Ian of King’s Bookshop.

***

After unpacking at our hotel, Maureen and I popped over to the bookshop to say hello to Sally and Ian, and to our lovely friend, the poet and writer Morelle Smith, of course – she’d arrived mid-week and been working solidly, helping with preparations for the weekend. Sally was delighted with our flowers and Morelle arranged them in a big vase on the table.

Soon more poets were calling in and the old shop, with its packed bookshelves reaching almost to the high ceiling, was abuzz with friendly chatter, not only about poetry either. One conversation was about a swarm of bees!

Later we enjoyed a wee walk down to the River Teith and back with Morelle.

Ian King opened the evening and the first event, compèred by Sally Evans, was a Mass Book Launch for books published since October 2017, with only two minutes allowed for each (stop-watch running!) and no reading of poems from the books permitted.

The long list of books included two of our Chester Poets anthologies, Angels in the Hedgerow and Out of the Ark, ably presented by Kemal and Maureen respectively, and Autumn Voices presented by Morelle. It was a tall order for those presenting but good fun really, with votes cast and prizes awarded at the end.

Now came the first round of readings of this final Callander Poetry Weekend, Sally leading in brilliant form with five poets following, all excellent, including Maureen who completed her set with ‘Thomas Kettle, 1880 – 1916’ plus ‘Boolavogue’ on harmonica, and Morelle, whose poetry always touches hearts.

***

Saturday was a long day of amazing poetry in the Kirk Hall with refreshment breaks along the way, during which books were on sale. People also slipped out from time to time for a breather in the busy, touristy little town, though there were showers to dodge!

Our friend Kemal Houghton gave the first reading of the day and I really enjoyed it, as the audience obviously did too. I came next and was pleased when Colin Will, who was compèring he session, commented afterwards that it was good to hear haibun read, as haibun was a favourite form of his.

Truth is, every poet reading had something special to offer, with certain poems resonating particularly for one reason or another. One example for me was Pauline Prior-Pitt’s Alzheimer’s poem about her mother, as my own late mum was also an Alzheimer’s sufferer.

Being a Lancastrian, I was also much taken with Sally and Ron Williams’ Lancashire Dialect performance, which brought the day’s readings to a perfect close.

After supper, a Ceilidh was held in the hall, compèred by Ian Blake, with music and song from Alan Gray and the Tone Poets, Rita Bradd on harp, Morelle singing, and several others including a lively performance from Kemal on guitar.

Finally, for those with the energy left (not me, I’m afraid), there were pints to be quaffed down the pub.

***

All too soon it was Sunday morning and the final session of this final Callander Poetry Weekend after twenty years. It was due to take place in the Friendship Garden but had to be switched to the bookshop because of the teeming rain.

Sitting in a ring around the room, we were to read one poem each in random order, as called by Sally. Maureen read ‘Early Morning Cigarette – Callander 2011’.  I’d decided on my poem but a late arrival, who crept in and sat on the floor by the door, bodhrán on lap, caused me to change my mind.  And when my turn finally came, I read my tanka about Magi McGlynn, first published in Callander Haiku (diehard 2016):

 

Divine radiance

the warrior-poet cocooned,

wise blue eyes aflame…

 

Hearts and swallows gravel-drawn

his bodhrán becomes a heartbeat.

 

“Thank you,” Magi said, hands pressed together as if in prayer. “Thank you…”

Following the last poem from the circle, a most beautiful one from Sally Williams about a jigsaw with one piece missing, Magi was called upon to perform with his bodhrán, which is just what he did, weaving a visionary poem to the gentle rhythm.

The church bell struck 12 noon as he came to an end. Magi then shook my hand vigorously.  “We will meet again,” he declared.

And who knows, maybe someday…

***

Thank you, Kemal Houghton and Caroline Wilson for the kind lifts you gave Maureen and me both ways.

And thank you, Sally Evans and Ian King, for being, once again, the best hosts ever.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

The Swerve

I’m just now starting to put together my 10-minute reading for the Callander Poetry Weekend in Scotland, Friday 7th September – Sunday 9th September 2018.  And the first pieces into my folder are my haibun ‘The Prayer Book’, published last month in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society, which I’m now a proud member of, and ‘Septic’, my senryu sequence poem published 1st September 2018 in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 2, Issue 33 (Guest Editor: Adjei Agyei-Baah).

Next into the folder go my senryu sequence poem ‘Curlew Sunset’ published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Volume 2, Issue 20, 1st August 2017 (Editor: Mike Rehling), followed by two recent anthologies from Cestrian Press, Angels in the Hedgerow: Poems on Nineteenth-Century Writers (Edited by Edwin Stockdale), containing my haibun ‘Shades’ (about Sheridan Le Fanu), which I’ll read, and Out of the Ark (Edited by Julia D. McGuinness) containing my haibun ‘Exhibit 20’ (inspired by Joe Rush’s sculpture ‘War Horse’), which I’ll read.

Maybe I’ll even squeeze in a short poem or two from my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016): we’ll see.

You’ll notice that a big swerve has occurred in my poetry over the last couple of years or so, a swerve eastwards, towards Japan’s ancient haiku and kindred verse forms.

My poetry in Twin Dakotas is mostly modern freeform but I did include a few of my early haiku and my first ever haibun, ‘Upriver’. A writer friend who read the book commented that “you certainly write good haiku.”  And I wrote ‘Upriver’ having been pointed in the direction of haibun by my wonderful partner, the poet and former professional ballet dancer Maureen Weldon, who thought the combination of prose and haiku would suit me well.  I took my writer friend’s remark to heart, and shall be eternally grateful to Maureen for opening up a whole new horizon for me with her advice, a horizon bright with promise.

Maureen is putting together her own Callander reading of course, and I know it’ll be brilliant…with a tune or two on her harmonica, naturally!

Roll on Friday the 7th.

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

Cherry Bakewells

When an elderly lady neighbour gave me a box of Cherry Bakewells as a thank you for changing a few light bulbs, I realised at once that I had a haibun to write…about my wonderful Dad, who passed away on Sunday 15th April 2012, aged 89:

CHERRY BAKEWELLS

First bite and I’m right back there with him now, Dad in his kitchen on a Saturday night, Lancashire roots rich in his speech again. “My word, Paul, you’ve got big feet!”  He’s frail in old age, his precious girl lost, my Mum.

And didn’t we achieve a new understanding, chatting over hot sweet tea and Cherry Bakewells? Dad told of days spent pedalling around, a lone apprentice wiring up air-raid shelters; evenings courting Elsie as Blitz sirens wailed.  He joined the RAF on turning eighteen.  I spoke of my work with the homeless.

Aye, a new understanding for sure, his crushing handshake, saying goodbye, always proof enough of that.

slide-rule foolscap love

he taught me more than equations

my Dad

Paul Beech

First published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Vol 2, Issue 21 (1st September 2017).

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017, 2018

 

Robin

The other evening, I was driving down a road of big posh houses on the outskirts of Chester, Maureen at my side.

After the ferocious heat of the day, the air was cooling rapidly with occasional rumbles of thunder far away. And something about the atmosphere carried me back to a time in the early ‘60s when, as a young apprentice electrician, I worked briefly with a lad called Robin in one of those big houses.

I’d told Maureen about him before but couldn’t help doing so again. A fellow apprentice, Robin was a bright, cocky lad with mocking eyes…

 

ROBIN

 

We were never best mates,

you made that very plain,

how well I remember your disdain.

 

You were a wild lad, Robin,

wild on your motorbike

in those distant days of The Cavern.

 

Leather-clad and devil-may-care,

you laughed at our warnings,

our promise of flowers for your funeral;

two fingers to Fate as you roared away,

Bader after Messerschmitts.

 

It was unbelievable when you died, Robin,

died the front-seat passenger

in your best mate’s car.

But we kept our promise.

 

Paul Beech

 

Written nearly thirty years ago, the poem is included in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose (Cestrian Press, 2016).

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018