Friday, 26 March 2010

All Change!

Welcome to my new look blog! 
Blogger sent an email announcing the options on offer, I thought, 'what the hell!' and here we are! 
Here's another Katherine Pierpoint poem from 'Truffle Beds' to celebrate diving in!

Diving Board
Brand-new girlish breaststroke up and down the town pool,
A cool pearl button through silk-frogged buttonholes,
An elision fluid and oval as a French vowel;
You are proud of your chlorinated otterings.
A haze of talc, wet hair and hot Bovril from tiered orange seats
Floats bellyup to a streaming glass ceiling abuzz with neon.

The tough oilsleek diving board stands dark as a pithead crane,
A pointing steel gundog straining for the falling star.
Room for another flea on its back.
A long black tongue is ready for your feet.

Leg-up the ladder onto the board? - Dare you to.
Warty and tense underfoot,
It's like walking out along a great toothless gumline.
With small, rude leaks and poppings from your bathing suit,
You're a kipper gone cold in its cleaving bag.

This is a rock-face swaying in a high wind.
A concrete trampoline.
Judge it wrong and you break your jaw on the toffeehammering end,
Or burst like a fig, swooping from the kindly tree onto tarmac.

Walk back to the safe end, firm on its silver rollers.
Just let the loud boys go through first.


A dull spong and a few metallic knockings, like a dying engine
Flip you up and over.
Sweet as a perfectly-served tennis ball;
Murderous, invisibly aflame with topspin.
Then a pebbledashed implosion,
Shrugging down like a dynamited building
In the suddenly spanked and yelling water.

Katherine Pierpoint

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Learning to Swim on Dry Land

Today I've been reading Katherine Pierpoint's 'Truffle Beds' - the collection from which Going Swimmingly in an earlier post is taken. She is a great poet, her poems are full of surprises: striking sensory imagery and a quirky way of viewing life. She describes the natural world brilliantly and I strongly recommend the book. Here's another swimming poem from it which I love.

Swim Right Up to Me

I first learnt to swim at home in my father's study
On the piano stool, planted on the middle of the rug.
Stomach down, head up, arms and legs rowing hard;
I swam bravely, ploughing up the small room,
Pinned on a crushed stuckness of stomach to tapestry,
The twin handles hard on my elbows on the back stroke.
A view down through four braced wooden legs
To the same thin spot in the rug.
My mother faced me, calling rhythmic encouragement,
Almost stepping back to let me swim up to her,
Reminding me to breathe;
And wiping my hair and eyes with her hand
As I swam and swam on the furniture against a running tide,
Pig-cheeked, concentrating on pushing and pushing away,
Planning to learn to fly next, easy,
Higher than the kitchen table, even. The garden wall.

Katherine Pierpoint

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Anne Sexton

Here's a picture of Pulitzer Prize poet Anne Sexton. Her life was troubled but she blazed quite a trail into previously taboo subject areas for women poets who followed after her.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Swimming in Capri

Here's a beautiful, descriptive poem by Anne Sexton from my newly purchased book, Splash, which I enthused about yesterday.

The Nude Swim

On the southwest side of Capri 
we found a little unknown grotto
where no people were and we
entered it completely
and let our bodies lose all
their loneliness.

All the fish in us
had escaped for a minute.
The real fish did not mind.
We did not disturb their personal life.
We calmly trailed over them
and under them, shedding
air bubbles, little white
balloons that drifted up
into the sun by the boat
where the Italian boatman slept
with his hat over his face.

Water so clear you could
read a book through it.
Water so buoyant you could
float on your elbow.
I lay on it as on a divan.
I lay on it just like Matisse's Red Odalisque.
Water was my strange flower.
One must picture a woman
without a toga or a scarf
on a couch as deep as a tomb.  

The walls of that grotto
were everycolor blue and 
you said, "Look! Your eyes
are seacolor. Look! Your eyes
are skycolor." And my eyes
shut down as if they were
suddenly ashamed.

Anne Sexton

Friday, 19 March 2010

Splash by Laurel Blossom

'Years ago, not long out of college, I dated a young Floridian who had been a high school swimming champion She kept her trophies in her room - dozens of tiny dime-sized medals hanging from thin ribbons. At the time, I was struck with how minuscule the rewards were for such an exacting sport - the innumerable hours spent training, lap after lap, in that strange, surreal chlorine-scented world with little to see except the tile patterns below. I once asked her if she's ever discovered anything on the bottom. She said she had - a shoe, a pie plate, plastic spoons and once a sodden rag doll - but not enough to make up for the monotony....'

So begins George Plimpton in his preface to Splash - Great Writing About Swimming which plopped through my letterbox today.
I stumbled upon this exciting anthology while trawling about the internet. It combines two of my very favourite things, writing and swimming. American poet Laurel Blossom has compiled a wide-ranging  and very satisfying collection which I can't wait to dive into! There are are 48 pieces of prose and poetry - here's a sample:

  • John Cheever - The Swimmer
  • Dawn Fraser with Harry Gordon - The Night of the Big, Big Minute
  • A E Housman - Tarry, delight
  • Annette Kellerman - from How to Swim
  • Doris Lessing - Through the Tunnel
  • Rohinton Mistry - Swimming Lessons
  • Diana Nyad - Mind over Water
  • Sharon Olds - The Swimmer
  • Anne Sexton - The Nude Swim
  • John Updike - Lifeguard                      need I say more?!

Well, yes! I ordered the book from Amazon Marketplace - a great place for finding out of print and secondhand books. The seller was The book cost 1 penny plus £2.75 postage and packaging! It is absolutely pristine - hardback, purple binding, withdrawn from stock at Southampton University. All the labels are intact and show it was never borrowed, not even once! It even smells wonderful, like library stacks! Mmmmmm! Can you hear how excited I am? What a bargain - I'd thoroughly recommend it to all you swimmers and armchair swimmers out there. Must rush off now to start reading and communing with my lovely new book!
I might share some gems with you once I get going.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

And this just in...

Oh the Poet Laureate is on fire.....follow the link to read her poem about David Beckham's injury.
(Thank you to my stringer who keeps me abreast of football-related issues!)

Outdoor Shower

Still no swimming - might I make it back to the water tomorrow? Who knows. Anyway, my writing's been on a roll, two poems nearly ready for submission, so that is good.
To keep the spirit of the swim alive, here is one of the Sharon Olds poems that I mention on the side of the blog. I love it. And my tour de force - the picture above - which I found on a bathroom fittings type website after scouring the internet. Perfect!

Outdoor Shower

Crusted with dried brack, dusted with
sand, shaking from the cold Atlantic,
hair gristled with crystals, tangled with the
jellied palps of wrack - just step on this
slatted rack, pull the iron
handle of the forged world toward you.
The sluice courses, down your shin,
in a swirling motion, milk smoke, the
silky rush of fresh water, supple and alkaline.
Lids clenched, you reach for the small
oil torso of soap, run it
along your limbs and whirl it over the points of the
three-point shower star of sex:
arm-pit, arm-pit, sex. Then the gritty
dial of your face, lather it, bring it
under the coursing, and open your mouth,
stone-sweet well-water,
and then the head,
delve it in so the sand around the scalp
dances like the ions at the edges of matter,
and the shampoo, mild soldier,
take her by the shoulders and pour the pale eel on your head. Then
      feel them going:
salp, chitin,diatom, dulse, the
blind ones of the ocean. Rinse until
it pours down your head like water, the dark
descendant pelf of the land. Now open your eyes -
green lawn, silver pond,
grey dune, blue Atlantic,
the simple fields of God, liquid and solid.
Turn and turn in hot water,
column of heat in the cool wind
and sunny air, squeeze your eyes and then
open them again - look, it is still there,
the world as heaven, your body at the edge of it.
Sharon Olds

from Blood, Tin, Straw, Knopf.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Mothers' Day

A lovely spring day spent doing this and that. Two of our three children at home, breakfast in bed, roses, tulips, Lady Gaga CD (my kids are quick to pick up hints!), celebratory meal this evening. 
We don't have a swimming pool, but we do have a small pond. This afternoon we cleaned it out for the first time in quite a while - hard work, but intensely satisfying. Sadly, none of the fish survived the harsh winter (or had the heron eaten them all?) but the frogs were fine, hunkered down in the sludge. We got the cleaning done just in time, there is a frog orgy going on out there as the pond refills. Now we'll be able to see the frogspawn develop and there won't be any fish to eat the tadpoles. Ah, the cycle of life!!
Here's a poem by Seamus Heaney to mark the day.

from Clearances 3
(in memoriam M.K.H., 1911-1984)
When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other's work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives -
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.
Seamus Heaney

from Being Alive: the sequel to Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Older and Wiser

Today in the Guardian there was no poem of the day. Instead there was a treasure trove of poems commissioned by Carol Ann Duffy on the theme of ageing. Sixteen poets (eleven women and five men) contributed original poems. The poems are wonderful - serious, funny, rich, full of vitality. They reflect the robust confidence that can only be gained from having been round the block a few times, tempered with a wistful fragility and sensitivity which makes each of them very moving. 
I admire Carol Ann Duffy's decision to showcase the talents of these poets and put the topic of ageing on the agenda in this striking way. 
All the poems can be read by following the link above, Linda said I could include her poem here in Marineville - thank you Linda!

Old Flame
He turns my hand in his hand
as if to catch the light,
separating my fingers
to see my rings, one by one.
Questions and answers follow -
country, stones, when, from whom
and then my other hand
because this ritual has been
going on for fifty years
and there are no surprises,
as he counts the parts of me
and the decorations I choose.

But today I wear a bracelet
he has never seen before,
knowing that it's to his taste,
that it will spark new attention
beyond his routine inspection.
Between the larger stones,
sit dashes of orange abalone,
keeping spaces in between
irregular chunks of turquoise.
He fingers them around my wrist
and I'm a girl again, fluttering
through her jewellery and her life

Linda Chase 
born in 1941, is an American poet, living in Manchester, where she set up the Poetry School. The Wedding Spy and Extended Family are published by Carcanet; a new collection is due in autumn 2011.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Going Swimmingly

My last swim was almost two weeks ago as I've been under par - not completely laid up, but not quite up to the joy of swimming either. I spent today with a group of friends whose shared experience is our work. One of these friends swims on a regular basis in Llyn Tegid - Lake Bala in Wales. Talking with her and seeing the weather forecast - 'bright and milder' - made me want to dust off the wetsuit and jump in. Well, getting back in a swimming pool will be a move in the right direction...
And, as for swimming in the great outdoors, I found this fascinating link. It's a memo by Roger Deakin in a House of Commons debate. He cites a passionate, lyrical piece by Kate  Kellaway about outdoor swimming and writing!!
Continuing with my theme of poems by women in International Women's Week, here's the swimming poem by Katherine Pierpoint that Kate Kellaway refers to in her piece: 

Going Swimmingly

The blue-rinsed pool is full of rhythmic, lone strokers.
It drew us in from the edges as though it were blotter-dry and we were rushing liquid.
Swimming, an occasional, unseen toe contact
Seems to come long after the other solemn face bobbed by;
The body lengthens, a pale streamer drifting out under a Chinese lantern.

Standing in the pool,blinking and pinching your nose, brings
A strange, slewed perspective down to the wavering floor -
Firm, cream shoulders, telescoped to no trunk,
Standing on skewing, marbled shimmypuppet legs,
Fatdappled with fallen blue petals of curling light.

Swimming, everything is simplified.
The eye level so low, a baby's out along the drunken carpet.
A rhythmic peace, of rocking and being rocked,
Plaiting yourself into the water,
Ploughing an intricate, soft turtle-track along the undersurface,
Each stroke a silver link in the chain that melts behind you.

Sheer weight and size of water!
Remembering some geography and its clean, cross-section diagrams -
The sea is an upside-down mountain of water,
An up-turned yogi
Alive with pulling, fluid muscles;
A pressing city of water; a universe;
The town pool is an inverted block of flats, something
Gathered and gently milling. Container for a small revolution.
Hands trying to pray. Legs slowly trying to fly.
Simple, straining juxtapositions -
Waterbuffalo! Hovercraft! Starfish!
The water on fire in volcanoes and set in earth in amber!

The swimmer broaches a strange but yielding density;
Leans quietly into a huge, enfolding flank.
Reaches over, forward and out; to re-test the limits,
Smooth the limbs,
Of a rediscovered lover.

Katherine Pierpoint

From 'Modern Women Poets' edited by Deryn Rees-Jones, Bloodaxe

Beautiful, isn't it!!

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Guardian Heads-Up

I said I was keeping an eye on the Guardian vis-a-vis women poets. Well, I've had an insider tip-off about this Saturday's edition! Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has commissioned a group of poets to write on the theme of ageing. Poetry School co-ordinator in Manchester - Linda Chase - is one of the poets who will be contributing a poem. Linda is a skilled poet who writes fantastic poems, full of insight and compassion. I'm looking forward to reading the supplement in Saturday's paper.
Here's another poem for International Women's Week. Being of a certain age, I love this beautiful poem by inspirational African American poet Lucille Clifton, who died in February
to my last period
well girl, goodbye,
after thirty-eight years.
thirty-eight years and you
never arrived
splendid in your red dress
without trouble for me
somewhere, somehow.

now it is done,
and i feel just like
the grandmothers who,
after the hussy has gone,
sit holding her photograph
and sighing, 
wasn't she
beautiful? wasn't she beautiful?

from 'Being Alive- the sequel to Staying Alive' edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

International Women's Week

I'm glad the F-word seems to be having a renaissance. Younger women appear to be embracing it and daring to call themselves feminists again, without the angst that's attached to it over the last couple of decades.
Here's a poem for IWW by the Scottish poet Elma Mitchell (1919-2000). I can't find a picture of Elma anywhere, so I've started the post with 'Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose' by John Singer Sargent, as its name reminds me of this poem. If you click on the poem's title, there's a link to an analysis of it by Ruth Padel which appeared in her popular column in The Independent on Sunday.

Thoughts after Ruskin

Women reminded him of lilies and roses.
Me they remind rather of blood and soap,
Armed with a warm rag, assaulting noses,
Ears, neck, mouth and all the secret places:

Armed with a sharp knife, cutting up liver,
Holding hearts to bleed under a running tap,
Gutting and stuffing, pickling and preserving,
Scalding, blanching, broiling, pulverising,
- All the terrible chemistry of their kitchens.

Their distant husbands lean across mahogany
And delicately manipulate the market,
While safe at home, the tender and the gentle
Are killing tiny mice, dead snap by the neck,
Asphyxiating flies, evicting spiders,
Scrubbing, scouring aloud, disturbing cupboards,
Committing things to dustbins, twisting, wringing
Wrists red and knuckles white and fingers puckered,
Pulpy, tepid. Steering screaming cleaners
Around the snags of furniture, they straighten
And haul out sheets from under the incontinent
And heavy old, stoop to importunate young,
Tugging, folding, tucking, zipping, buttoning,
Spooning in food, encouraging excretion,
Mopping up vomit, stabbing cloth with needles,
Contorting wool around their knitting needles,
Creating snug and comfy on their needles.

Their huge hands! their everywhere eyes! their voices
Raised to convey across the hullabaloo,
Their massive thighs and breasts dispensing comfort,
Their bloody passages and hairy crannies,
Their wombs that pocket a man upside down!

And when all's over, off with overalls,
Quickly consulting clocks, they go upstairs,
Sit and sigh a little, brushing hair,
And somehow find, in mirrors, colours, odours,
Their essences of lilies and of roses.

Elma Mitchell

(From Staying Alive - real poems for unreal times 
edited by Neil Astley, Bloodaxe)

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women's Day

I love my Mslexia diary and I love the Saturday poem in the Guardian. For 2010 I had a brainwave - I decided to cut out each poem and stick it in my diary, thereby compiling a lovely anthology which grows week by week, and which I can dip into if ever I find myself somewhere without a book to read. 
Six weeks into the year, I realised that not one poem by a woman had featured yet!! The following week - another male poet. By this stage I was fuming, preparing my letter of complaint to the Guardian. Luckily for them, in week eight a woman appeared, so I calmed down. For the moment. 
I am keeping my eye on them. Here's the year's anthology so far:

1)  2 Jan - Traffic - Andrew Motion
2)  9 Jan - Pigeon - Lachlan MacKinnon
3)  16 Jan - funhouse - Charles Bukowski
4)  23 Jan - In a Syrian Harbour - John Ash
5)  30 Jan - Turns - Christopher Reid
6) 6 Feb - About Time - Robin Robertson
7) 13 Feb - Strawberries - Edwin Morgan
8)  20 Feb - On Lacking the Killer Instinct - Eilean Ni Chuilleanain
9)  27 Feb - Cholera - Kona MacPhee
10)  6 Mar - 42 - Derek Walcott 

Statement from the front of Mslexia magazine:
'Mslexia means women's writing (ms = woman, lexia = words). Its association with dyslexia is intentional. Dyslexia is a difficulty, more prevalent in men, with reading and spelling; mslexia is the complex set of conditions and expectations that prevents women, who as girls so outshine boys in verbal skills, from becoming successful authors. 
Mslexia aims to define, explore and help overcome the condition of mslexia and provide a platform and playground for women writers. We are dedicated to encouraging, nurturing and empowering women writers to produce, publish and have their work read, with the parallel aim of improving the reach and quality of women's literature.'
Click on the image above of the diary to visit Mslexia's website.