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Angels in the Hedgerow

On Friday 24th November 2017, at the Lock Keeper pub, Chester, Maureen and I attended the launch of Angels in the Hedgerow: Poems on Nineteenth-Century Writers, a new Chester Poets anthology from Cestrian Press, brilliantly edited by Edwin Stockdale, who presented the evening.

A most enjoyable evening it was too, with so many friends present. Local artist Jill Pears spoke about her beautiful painting of Thomas Hardy’s cottage, which adorns the front cover.  And contributing poets read one poem each.  Kemal Houghton, Chair of Chester Poets (and one of the contributors), recorded the event for Vintage Radio.

The poem Maureen read (one of her two in the book) was ‘Tatyana and the Climax of Onegin’ (after Alexander Pushkin). Mine was the following haibun…

Shades

(for Joseph Thomas Sheridan Le Fanu, the father of the English ghost story)

A wintry dusk in Dublin, January 1868.  Here in this cobbled alley the gloom is relieved only by a waxy light from the grimy panes of an old bookshop.  Within, a gentleman of aristocratic bearing pours over an antique tome on the subject of demonology.

Turning the yellowing pages of this arcane volume, he is known as “The Invisible Prince,” being a virtual recluse now, since the death of his darling wife a decade ago. Deep in his pocket nestles the silver crucifix that hung at her breast.

Poor Susanna; she was visited at her bedside by the ghost of her father: ‘There is room for you in the vault, my little Sue.’  Some months later she suffered an attack of hysteria and died mysteriously the next day.

Inconsolable, he was racked with guilt because unable to assuage her torment.  Henceforth he would seek, as he put it, ‘the equilibrium between the natural and the supernatural.’

Nearly midnight now, the upper drapes of an elegant Georgian house in Merrion Square glow with the light of two candles.  Within, Le Fanu lies abed, writing in pencil, scrawled sheets slipping to the floor.

a wraith yourself now

your genius yet chills

this digital age

PAUL BEECH

Angels in the Hedgerow, £6.00, is available from Cestrian Press.

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

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Remembrance Sunday 2017

Today is Remembrance Sunday and you can be sure that Maureen and I will be wearing our poppies with pride as the national ceremony proceeds at the Cenotaph in London. How very much we owe all those military and civilian service men and women who have served the cause of freedom in the two world wars and later conflicts. Maureen’s dad was in the army during the Second World War, my dad in the RAF.

I am pleased indeed to have had a WWI senryu and a WWII haibun published in the current issue of Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu (thank you, Mike Rehling). Here they are…

 

battlefield high

the lark calms them

zero hour minus one

~~

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

their spirits rise in glory

our boys, our girls

 

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

Halloween 2017

Jack-o’-Lanterns at the ready, here we go again, folks…Halloween…All Hallows Eve…Samhain!

Aye, and many a young witch, zombie, monster and ghoul will there be out tonight, trick or treating, as bonfires blaze and fireworks crackle.

I’m thrilled at having my flash ghost story ‘Wiggy Vann’ in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Samhain 2017. Here’s the opening paragraph to whet your appetite…

A woman in a red beret stands before an ancient oak of great girth with wisps of snow drifting slantwise through its bare boughs in pale moonlight. Vida is a widow though clearly out of mourning now.  She is just back from an evening with Gahan, her first lover since Ken’s untimely demise.  A dozen paces will bring her to Acorn Cottage, her lonely home on the edge of the woods.  But something in the bole of the oak holds her fast as always: the face of Wiggy Vann.

For more about this wonderful online and print anthology of spooky poetry and flash fiction, please follow the link below:

Three Drops from A Cauldron

You might also like to check out my post ‘The Barmouth Ghost’ (see under ‘True Stories’, 15/01/12).

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Yours, Paul

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

Quite a month…

Storm Brian is battering our Welsh hillside this dark Sunday morning as I cast my mind back over our hectic poetry doings since the beginning of the month.

Maureen and I have been gadding about “guesting”, with readings at The Petersgate Tap, Stockport, on 4th October (thank you, Margaret Holbrook and husband Steve, for inviting us), Knutsford Library on Thursday 12th (with major guests Margaret Holbrook and John Lindley – thank you, Mike at the library, for slotting us in) and BookShrop, Whitchurch, on Monday 16th (thank you, Ian Malcolm Parr, for inviting us).

At the Petersgate Tap and BookShrop events (the latter of which we had to brave Hurricane Ophelia to get to), Maureen not only read in her inimitable way but played her harmonica too, with huge applause following.

On to other things, Maureen and I were truly moved and proud to have a poem each displayed in Chester Cathedral along with selected poetry from other Chester Poets inspired by the Ark Exhibition of modern sculpture there. Maureen’s beautiful poem ‘Mother’ was inspired by Barbara Hepworth’s ‘Hollow Form With Inner Form’; mine, a haibun titled simply ‘Exhibit 20’, by Joe Rush’s ‘War Horse’.

I’m also delighted to have been published in Mike Rehling’s Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu for the third month running; had my flash fiction ghost story ‘Wiggy Vann’ published on 13th October in Three Drops from a Cauldron, Samhain 2017 (print and online); and had a haiku featured on Charlotte Digregorio’s wonderful Daily Haiku blog on 17th October.

So all in all, quite a month…and it ain’t over yet!

Below is my haibun ‘Cherry Bakewells’ published in Failed Haiku, Vol 2, Issue 21 (1st September) and read at The Petersgate Tap on 4th October:

 

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

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

 

National Poetry Day 2017

Yesterday, Thursday 28th September 2017, was our annual National Poetry Day in the UK, with nationwide events to celebrate the power of poetry to bring people together in friendship.  This year’s theme was Freedom.

Maureen and I spent a very happy evening at our monthly meeting of Chester Poets at Ye Olde Boot Inn, Eastgate Row, Chester, a truly atmospheric, supposedly haunted, black-and-white pub, in business since 1643, during the Civil War. Our upstairs room was packed out with many welcome new faces as well as regulars like ourselves.  And what a great meeting it was, wonderfully chaired as always by Kemal Houghton, the spirit of National Poetry Day enjoyed by all as we read two poems each.

Below is the second of my poems, one written a couple of years ago following a visit to Parkgate with Maureen – Parkgate on the Wirral, overlooking the Dee Estuary, famous for its association with Emma, Lady Hamilton, Lord Nelson’s mistress. I chose it for the feeling of freedom I remember, watching the wild geese…

 

THE BEST WAY

 

Why that way, towards the hills,

towards that blinding line as the sun sets,

skein after skein, honking?

Why not out across the sea?

I walk the Old Quay, wondering.

 

Waders cry in the flashing fire of the saltmarsh.

The glowing sandstone of the low wall

thrums with ancient knowledge.

Yet it is in your high-altitude honking

I find an answer:

 

Instinct, trust in instinct, it’s the best way…

 

I take her hand in mine

and we sing.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

(Poem included in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, Cestrian Press 2016.)

 

Callander Poetry Weekend 2017

Gosh, all those motorway services!

Owing to various delays, we were late setting off on the Friday, much too late with around 300 miles to cover. I’m never good behind the wheel when tired, so we had to break our overnight journey for essential refreshment at practically every other services along our northbound route, finally arriving in Callander, Scotland, “the Gateway to the Highlands”, at six o’clock on the Saturday morning, a thin mist hazing the deserted streets of this lovely little town and the slopes of Ben Ledi beyond.

Huge relief! We’d made it!  We were here for the Callander Poetry Weekend 2017, Days 2 and 3.  The proprietor of our guest house kindly admitted us despite the early hour, and after a short sleep and quick breakfast, Maureen and I were off to the Kirk Hall, where the day’s readings were about to begin.

And what a rich and varied feast of poetry it was. We greatly enjoyed the ‘Fierce Poetry in Motion’ poem-films presented by Lesley Traynor and Janet Crawford, especially Angela Hughes’ poem that began, “The heart that beats within me is not the one I was born with…”  Also the musical interlude during the afternoon session with the Tone Poets on mandolin and guitar.  This opened, much to Maureen’s delight, with ‘The Moorlough Shore’, the traditional Irish air which the great W.B.Yeats’ poem ‘Down by the Sally Gardens’ was set to.

Maureen read a number of her poems, a great set, concluding with our joint Somonka, which I joined her at the lectern for, stooping to her microphone to read my part.

Later Sheila Wakefield of Red Squirrel Press gave Maureen the anxiously awaited news that yes, her manuscript of short poems was accepted for publication as a pamphlet, though it could be up to three years yet. And we were overjoyed: Maureen Weldon was now a “Squirrel” in waiting!

Leaving the Kirk Hall, we joined up with Gerald England for a bite to eat in a café. Gerald is an old friend of Maureen’s, whom I was delighted to meet for the first time as his book The Art of Haiku 2000 had really shown me the way with traditional Japanese-style poetry.  After a good chat the three of us headed over to King’s Bookshop for the evening session, which I was due to read at.  My set comprised four poems from my debut collection Twin Dakotas (Cestrian Press, 2016) followed by three newer, Japanese-style poems.  And I marvelled yet again at how good it felt to take part in this wonderful poetry weekend.

On the Sunday morning, in the Friendship Garden, Maureen gave a half-hour talk, with poetry, about ballet in Ireland, focussing on her own career as a professional dancer with the Irish Theatre Ballet under Ireland’s First Lady of Dance, the legendary Joan Denise Moriarty (1912 – 1992). And what an amazing, inspiring talk it was.  She concluded by demonstrating ballet exercises and a gasp went around the garden when she did the splits in the gravel wearing Doc Martens.  Maureen’s talk and demonstration will surely be long remembered by all present, and I’m certain of this: that Miss Moriarty would have been proud of her.

Further terrific readings followed through the day. And huge thanks are due to our hosts Sally Evans and husband Ian at King’s Bookshop for their generosity and tireless efforts in making this a most brilliant Callander Poetry Weekend.

FESTIVAL

Poets

from all points come,

more new faces this year,

an old friend back and loving it:

pure gold.

 

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017

 

 

North of the Border

With under a week to go until we’re off to Scotland again, Maureen and I are busy preparing for, and greatly looking forward to, the Callander Poetry Weekend 2017 (1 – 3 September) hosted by Sally Evans and husband Ian at King’s Bookshop.

I’m down to read on the Saturday evening. On the Sunday morning, Maureen will give a talk interlaced with poetry about ballet in Ireland.  And what a great time we’ll have for sure, in such wonderful company, in this gorgeous little town, the “Gateway to the Highlands”.

It’s a good feeling, being part of something like this, and following last year’s Callander Poetry Weekend I attempted to capture the flavour in a short poem. Here it is:

 

NORTH OF THE BORDER

 

We press on,

the sky frowning now

as wind turbines between mountain slopes

threaten Scotland’s proud raptors.

 

Three hundred miles weary,

adrenaline bright,

we squeeze into a bookshop packed with poets

to be carried aloft

on winged words

and fly a few of our own.

 

We do well,

we both do,

and returning to my seat

a warm hand takes my shoulder

in tartan friendship.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2017