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There, but for the grace of God…

My following senryu was published in Failed Haiku: A Journal of English Senryu, Issue 21, on 1st September 2017:

 

sleet

a dark form in the shadows

she coughs again

 

Paul Beech

 

Prior to retirement, I was a social housing practitioner for over thirty years, and the work I always loved best was helping the homeless. It was challenging for sure, often gruelling, but uniquely rewarding too.  And I was daily reminded of the old adage that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”  For it is true: homelessness can come about in so many different ways – unemployment, business failure, relationship breakdown, domestic violence, illness, bereavement, and so on – that it can happen to practically anyone.

My partner Maureen Weldon (a former professional ballet dancer, now a widely published poet) is also deeply concerned over the plight of displaced people. And together, calling ourselves ‘The Free Range Poets’, we are putting together a poetry and music evening in association with Chester Poets, to take place at the Lock Keeper, a canalside pub in Chester, on Thursday 24th May 2018, to raise funds for SHARE, a wonderful charity based in Mold, Flintshire, with a shop in Chester, supporting refugees abroad and homeless people in and around Chester and beyond.

Maureen and I will compère the evening. And our special guests Aled Lewis Evans (the Welsh poet, novelist and playwright) and Morelle Smith (the Scottish poet, novelist and travel writer) will be backed up by ten highly accomplished poets we know well.

I will provide further details in due course.

Have a good Sunday, everyone.

Paul

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

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World Poetry Day at Upton Dene

Wednesday last week, 21st March, was World Poetry Day, and Maureen and I, along with our friend and fellow Chester Poet Mike Penney, visited Upton Dene, a beautiful new care home in Chester (opened 2016) to read our work to residents.

We were in the Hazeldene Lounge. And small though our audience was, how bright and appreciative were these ladies of the recently-formed poetry circle.

World Poetry Day was proclaimed by UNESCO in 1999 to promote the writing, reading and teaching of poetry worldwide, reaffirm our common humanity and recognise the linkage with other art forms such as theatre, music and painting. And our very relaxed afternoon session, with much happy chat between poems, certainly felt true to the spirit of the day.

Our distinctive individual styles worked well together, Mike’s dazzling imagery, my narrative approach (I even chanced reading my flash fiction story ‘The Brave’) and Maureen’s engaging intensity and unique ability to “come over the footlights” – you could have heard a pin drop when she read ‘Liverpool to Dublin: 1943’. And when she recited W. B. Yeats’ ‘Down by the Salley Gardens’ to the tune of ‘The Moorlough Shore’ on her mouth-organ then played ‘Danny Boy’, the proceedings were brought to a perfect close.

Homemade scones topped with cream and jam had been laid on along with a glass of sherry each, and, boy, how we enjoyed them now!

A big thank you to Bernie Harding of Sanctuary Care Ltd., the Activities Leader at Upton Dene, for inviting us.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

Shag Tobacco

In a comment on my post ‘The Barmouth Ghost’ (see under True Stories), the Canadian author Cynthia Reyes wrote: “There is much that science can’t explain.  And there are liminal moments when we become awake to the mysterious and the divine.”

I replied: “Those liminal moments, yes… their occurrence for me is only occasional and always unexpected, when I’ve lost myself in admiration of nature and the universe.  I have a poem on this theme…”

‘Shag Tobacco’ was written some years ago following a solitary walk beside the River Weaver in Cheshire…

 

SHAG TOBACCO

 

A wisp of shag tobacco, perhaps?

A balloon adrift in the valley,

self-esteem a snapped mooring.

 

So the willowed water’s edge I wander,

sun glaring from plankton depths,

brain percolating,

florescent fungus twitching with broom.

 

Humble I connect.

Proud and the poetry eludes me,

a wisp of shag tobacco, perhaps?

 

Paul Beech

 

(‘Shag Tobacco’ was first published in The Sons of Camus Writers International Journal, Issue 12, Autumn 2015, and appears in my collection Twin Dakotas: poetry and prose, Cestrian Press, 2016.)

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

The Sons of Camus Writers International Journal, Issue 13

On Wednesday this week – St. Valentine’s Day, as it happened – Maureen and I received our contributor copies of The Sons of Camus Writers International Journal. And what an exciting moment it was, that thump on the doormat, Issue 13 here at last!  Maureen is in it with two poems, ‘Evening at Parkgate’ and ‘Late November – Afternoon’, myself with a poem, ‘Countdown’, and a prose poem, ‘Stalemate’.

Edited by Ann J. Davidson, The Sons of Camus is a wonderful journal with a great ethos, a meld of poetry, prose and artwork from “Friends over 55”.

With Issue 13, I’ve only had time for a spot of random sampling so far, much enjoying several poems from Welsh poet Rowland Hughes’ set of 25, ‘Rain from a Bright Sky’ (Special Feature Writing Award), Morelle Smith’s book review of Herbert Kuhner’s Jazz Poems, Gerald England’s atmospheric black-and-white photographs, with descriptions, ‘Images from The Great Promenade Show, Blackpool’, and Patricia Prime’s ‘Short Poems’ (with other works from her Feature Writer Award). But I’m sure already that this is going to be just as brilliant and inspiring an issue as ever. One to treasure.

Thank you, Ann J. Davidson, for your tireless efforts as editor. And thank you, Morelle Smith, for doing such a grand job as Printing Manager.

It was a very happy St. Valentine’s Day for Maureen and I. Stopping for an apple pie lunch at a favourite pub, we drove up the coast to Prestatyn, where we had a wonderful view of the tossing waves with gulls wheeling above.

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

A Truth So Simple

Here’s a poem I greatly enjoyed writing for a special anthology celebrating the marriage of two dear poet friends in Leeds in December 2016, a truly beautiful occasion.

Maureen and I visited the Brontё Parsonage Museum, Haworth, before heading home the following day, and I drew on this for my poem.

The book was dedicated to the couple and a hard copy presented to them in 2017. Contributors received an electronic version.

Aye, many a happy memory will have been made that wintry weekend in Yorkshire, and that’s for sure…

 

A TRUTH SO SIMPLE

 

Wandering a Christmas Market

in a northern city never visited before,

munching a hotdog,

I knew it;

 

crossing a darkening moor by car,

a keen wind blowing through farmhouse ruins,

I knew it;

 

at the Parsonage where once the Brontёs lived,

genius aquiver still in the very air,

viewing through a mullioned window

a crescent moon low

between splayed boughs,

I knew it,

 

for it is a truth so simple

that wherever I am

with my love at my side,

I’m home.

 

Now you will know it too.

 

Paul Beech

 

Copyright © Paul Beech 2016, 2018

 

On the trail of the ghost

My last post, ‘Cutting the Dust’, was about a journey back in time, my return with partner Maureen to Farnworth, the Lancashire town of collieries and cotton mills where I grew up in the fifties. That Spring Bank Holiday Monday, 30th May 2016, will forever glow in memory.

But now to another time travelling experience, a rather different one…

***

Just over a fortnight ago, at the beginning of January, I took Maureen, her daughter Karina and teenage granddaughter Elisha to Barmouth in Gwynedd, West Wales, for a short break. But it was more than a break for me as Barmouth is the seaside town where, in September 1976, a young dad then, I had a paranormal experience, as described in my post ‘The Barmouth Ghost’ dated 15/01/12 (see under ‘True Stories’).

I’d set myself the task of finding the spot, overlooking the railway line and bay, from which I’d watched incredulous as the apparition came coasting down the track, southbound. I’d failed to find it on a previous visit in November and wondered whether that narrow path leading steeply uphill still existed.  A poet friend who knows the town well assured me that it did.  I’d misled myself through faulty recall, but find the spot I would this time – yes, I jolly well would!

All I had to do was follow my original account to the letter.

Dusk was falling and the weather wild, giant waves crashing high over the promenade with pebbles and other beach debris raining down. I left the others sheltering in the car and made off on foot, head down into the howling wind. I had to be alone for this anyway, as I was back then; it felt only right.

I made it safely over the level crossing, passed a small caravan park on the right then swung left…and sure enough, there it was: the path. A four-foot stone wall on my left (the seaward side), a higher stone wall opposite with bracken rising above.

Halfway up the path, leaning on the sea-facing wall, as I did back then, I knew with absolute certainty I’d found the spot.

No, I didn’t see the ghost again. Didn’t need to as that one time in ’76 was enough.  Quite enough.

I rang down on my mobile to excited congratulations from Maureen, Karina and Elisha. And my heart was truly warmed.

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018

 

Cutting the Dust

Hi Everyone, and a very Happy New Year to you all.

I thought I’d begin 2018 with this haibun, addressed to one of my younger brothers. I wrote it after visiting our family home of sixty years ago accompanied by Maureen on Spring Bank Holiday 2016.  Strange, isn’t it, how in later life we have this hankering to reconnect with our roots…

 

CUTTING THE DUST

You know it too, Bro, we all do, that lovely earthy smell as first raindrops cut the dust. But why should I be haunted by it now, on a fine afternoon in early summer, my late-love at my side, as I view the semi-detached redbrick house of our Lancashire boyhood, my first time back in all these years?  A buried memory perhaps?  Something to do with cobbles?

A pair of bullfinches sing from an overhead line. I was always the bird spotter, wasn’t I?  You were my genius kid-brother who built radio sets on Mum’s ironing board.  Dad made stilts for us, those gloriously varnished, adjustable stilts we’d walk up and down steep steps on, to our back garden below.  One time, with stilts fully extended, we peered in on the top-deck passengers of a bus at the bus stop… the look on their faces!  Then there were our diesel-powered roller skates.  Oh dear, a rather naughty invention.  With propellers whirring, we’d release them to zoom over the road and up past the corner shop.  The traffic was much lighter then, but still.  Aye, back in the day when tarmac became sticky and smelly under the blazing sun, roadside puddles iridescent with petrol after rain.

The house looks much the same, Bro, yet narrower somehow. Dad’s shed has gone; also the adjoining coal-store, from the roof of which, a pair of daredevils, we’d jump into the long grass of The Slope below, that gritty, gravelly incline where we’d hang out with Kenneth, our mate from across the road, and his black dog Gypsy.  His pram-wheel bogie was a laugh, the way we’d career down The Slope to a crash-landing at the bottom.

Still I seem to feel the heat and hear the crackle and roar of those giant bonfires at the bottom of The Slope, hosted by Mum and Dad every Guy Fawkes Night for our local relatives, who’d sit on spindly, black wooden chairs as rockets burst high, treacle-toffee and mugs of tea were passed around, hot chestnuts pulled from the embers.

All gone, Bro: The Slope and the church opposite, where we went to Sunday School; the timber schoolhouse we attended as infants; the field where waves rolled through golden corn; The Lodge we caught sticklebacks in. Gone now, a housing estate in their place.

Gone too, that vista of factory chimneys, each with its distinctive plume of grey, white or black smoke. Now the Pennines stand clear.  Nice, but not the view we remember through our rear leaded-panes.

The garage Dad built at the bottom of the garden still stands, though no longer opening into The Slope of course, just a plain street. The gable-end finial has gone but otherwise it’s as sturdy as ever and I’m seized by a desire to touch it with a finger at least, as if I could connect with the past that way, our boyhood.  The concrete is smooth and cold.

As for the cobbles, Aye, there they are, Bro, in the ginnel behind Kenneth’s house. And nothing to do with that lovely essence that haunts my mind.  No, that has everything to do with the woman at my side, who has never been here before:

the dust of times past

cut through the telling of tales

to my own late-love

 

Paul Beech

Copyright © Paul Beech 2018