Monday, 20 December 2010

DECEMBER - Her Winter Houses Moon

Before the full moon wanes its wintry way towards the shortest day, and the days themselves descend towards the year’s end, here is my final contribution.

I began this year’s blog entries by saying that one oughtn’t to ‘explain’ a poem - then went on to do just that!  This, the last piece of my twelve-poem cycle, An Imaginary Menagerie, is possibly the saddest poem I have ever written and, in this respect, perhaps the most personal. Best, then, that I leave it to speak for itself.

If you would like to look up some stuff on Edward Lear, this might give you some of idea of what lay behind the composition. Otherwise, just read it as it is, or interpret it as a photograph, or piece of music, or stone whose meaning is entirely in the eye, or ear, or hands of the beholder.

Moon Phases, December 2010
New Moon – December 5, 17:36
First Quarter – December 13, 13:59
Full Moon – December 21, 08:13
Last Quarter – December 28, 04:18

DECEMBER: Her Winter Houses Moon

The Yonghi-Bonghi-Bo.

Midwinter, and the garden's lake
is petrified to a pool of frozen tears;
a solid silver dish, impenetrable
from above or below by light or dark.

Alone in his Karmic Ivory Tower sits
Lear, with his myriad of nonsenses:
unmarried, impoverished, sedentary,
mind running faster than pulse.

His Eden consists of Bong Trees,
and his serpent less feared or revered
than the Yonghi-bonghi-bo,
Quangle-Wangle, Pobble and Dong.

He named the creatures; his crazy
cosmogony merely a foil to his
sad, self-depricatory sense of humour,
hewn from his ornithological pursuits.

To this end, he refused the fruit,
alleging enforced solitude to be
the sole route to creativity: travel,
his companion, escape his destination.

Yet once, this journey took him to the
land of myth, where one strange siren,
beguiled by the anomaly of his charm
both puerile and old before its time,

attempted to lure Lear from his fantasy.
Threatened by phantasmagorial reality
He ran a mile, preferring to dwell ever
more beneath Her Winter Houses Moon.

And so, regressive and old-fashioned,
unhappily trapped between the
ever after and once upon a time,
he sent out his ridiculous, satirical cat,

to court with wisdom and truth,
in a beautiful pea-green boat.
But now the winter warps the water,
And the Winter House looks out

No longer to a halcyon sea,
or a land of invention and magic:
Only the looking glass, back to front,
mocking Her moon's distorted image.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

NOVEMBER - Freezing Moon

Well, we’re nearing the end of this year of lunar-dictated poem-blogs (or should that be, moon-plogs?)  And as the evenings continue drawing in, and the streets are paved with grit, this certainly is the month of a freezing moon – in Scotland’s Central Belt if not the Native Lands of the North American Tribes.  November is also the month of the dead, when people remember saints and souls, certain martyrs and those who died while killing others or defending an allegiance.

If only we could defend the lives of threatened species as well as we defend a flag. Whether these beasts are mythical or really existed is neither here nor there: the loss of any animal, plant, or human life is a tragedy of epic proportion.  God forbid we should lose the gift of empathy that stems from our utmost unique faculty, the Imagination.  But then, it is this loss (or suspension, or suppression) that enables people to fight wars for what they think is right.

Rights are neither here nor there. Death is final, whosever side you’re on.

Moon Phases, November 2010
New Moon – November 6, 04:52
First Quarter – November 13, 16:39
Full Moon – November 21, 17:27
Last Quarter – November 28, 20:36

The Unicorn

A few hundred million years since the dinosaur
was duped by catastrophism, erased by uniformitarianism,
or when the sun's own sister showed her dark side,
and sent cataclysmic hell-showers upon our frozen earth,
a smarter race appeared to test supremacy,
and assist the mutually assured destruction of nature's gentle tide.
And yet the dinosaur is only marginally older than the
contents of the ark: it stands for simply that, an age gone by.

The Dodo has a more difficult time, immortalised
not by its quirky life or shape, but symbolising
in figure of speech the bleak reality of its demise.
Similarly the fate of the tiger, the tusks of the elephant,
and horn of the great white rhino fall prey to lies
which pamper to fallacy, greed, and pallid vanity:
to be hounded out of existence by spurious design.

Perhaps the phallic unicorn evolved
from what was first deemed good:
its epic strength and tender beauty held androgyny
in balance with grace like a mythical god.

But when this horned equestrian
- one of nature's true vegetarians -
gently nudged the fruit with his miracle tool
(which once had the power to quell raging waters -
A wasted potential) he inadvertently speared it.

A kindly, nubile and nymphomaniacal creature
took both the seed and protuberant weapon,
ate the fruit, then purporting it's aphrodisiacal nature,
ground the horn into a paste, inflating the alleged
membership of her race, whereupon

the Unicorn, demoted from ecclesiastical equus
to Grecian bucolis, as punishment for its innocence,
was denied a place on one man's microcosmic paradise.
Denuded and disempowered of its former potency
it perished the ultimate sentence in the deluvian purge.

Had the moon been full when the rain fell,
and had the floods that lifted that floating zoo
been petrified by the freezing moon of the Lakota Sioux,
it might not have preserved the frozen myth,
or the memory of an imaginary menagerie,

but as blocks of ice from God's deep freeze thawed
six hundred million years later, four thousand winters,
or a drop-in-the-ocean millennia or two,
the global warmth might have revealed the truth.

This story is thus;
the punishment of death for good,
whether innocent, naïve, or just plain thick -
it matters as little to us.
Like death, extinct is for ever.
- As the dodo, an irreversible trick.

Monday, 25 October 2010

October - a Month of Five Quarters

As I walked out last Autumn Evening (okay, I cycled if truth be told… this is parody, not paradox) there was a clean, silver disk in the sky above the Stadium. It perched behind the pinked clouds of a sepia season, brighter than the sun that sank behind Sainsbury’s (shut this week for refurbishment, and so I ventured in the opposite direction for my messages – not from the moon, but Morrison’s.)

Luckily, as I returned home by the light of the Hunter’s Moon, as it’s commonly known (the harvest, done) my catch had not wept itself into oblivion, although something had leaked into the lining of my rucksack. Probably the out-of-date fish I’d plucked from the yellow sticker department. Or worse, it was milk, spilt from the impenetrable plastic carton. Still, no point crying over it, they say.

Tell that to this month’s animal from my select menagerie, the ‘Squonk.’ He’s a tricky chap to write a pretty poem on. If he exists at all! He doesn’t appear much in literature to my knowledge; isn’t part of Native American lore, and features mainly in lyrics by two great rock groups. The first song, alluded to elsewhere in this sequence, is by a band who took their name from a strap-on-device coined in The Naked Lunch. (Or is that just rock-and-roll myth? Who can be trusted!)

The second is from the first post-Gabriel album by Genesis, the title of which is alluded to in this poem. The song, ‘Squonk’ was the audition piece that thrust or catapulted Phil Collins from cockney drummer to Front Man (and, alack, song-writer, thus demoting Genesis from the nomenclature of Rock Band to mere pop-group. Discuss.) This highly imaginative album, though, was concerned with the uncanny paradox that lies in the super-existential world of the Imagination: is it true, or false.



Moon Phases, October 2010
Last Quarter – October 1, 03:52
New Moon – October 7, 18:44
First Quarter – October 14, 21:27
Full Moon – October 23, 01:36
Last Quarter – October 30, 12:46

OCTOBER: Hunter's Moon (Algonquin)


More like a blubbery, blubbing crocodile,
if you ask me;
self-pitying, self-effacing, self-mutilating,
his form and being amorphous as the
red-alert moon that chases him
through the forest to his pool of tears:
some reserve, squonk.

His trail is like an old-fashioned paper-chase,
crisp white petals of confetti
dissolved into mulch
overnight, tinged only with morning frost.

A funny fish you are, or reptile or bird,
ugly duckling, chicken all right
- corn-fed no doubt -
yellow enough to be - or not to,
pending your state of fear:
live or dead you're an easy catch,
a trick of the tail and you're in the sack.

I only wanted to be your friend,
yet you spread your maudlin like ointment,
never offering to mop up my tears with your fur;
no condolence in your snuffling, grunting,
shuffling around to be let out of the bag:
gushing forth repentant, acquiescent,
a dribbling pool of aqueous misery.

No doubt you'll re-emerge; like father like son
your whimpering tadpole will turn to a
Munch-like scream, legs, arms writhing,
to evolve this time into more than the
cupboard love crocodile,
preying without pity,
praying without fear,
toughened, no more tears.

Oh dear.
Dear squonk,
queer squonk,
not-quite-all-there squonk,
true-or-false squonk.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

September - Looking in the Mirror?

Lately I have learned about ‘poaching’ – I thought this would be a good start for this, the month of Salmon Spawning. An expression that has affected me somewhat over the years, but not in the culinary sense: poaching, to put it crudely, is the act of stealing someone else’s bird. Whereas, perhaps, in the past seeing someone in a steady and sturdy relationship put them in the ‘no-go’ category, now it seems they are fair game. After all, it’s a great test of the status quo, especially if all parties assume that any flirting is purely academic.

Having been neither poacher nor poachee but, in my unfortunate past, poachéd, I found myself drinking gin-and-tonic on my sofa with someone who described herself as ‘happily un-single’ – and knew she wasn’t telling the whole truth. Anything but. So, to charm her, I attempted to recite Ted Hughes behemothic poem, ‘Wodwo’ only pausing to breath at the commas. Don’t try this at home, kids. Or if you succeed, move on to the last few pages of James Joyce’s Ulysses without a breath, and see if that secures you a place in the poachability pursuit.

Yes, I cribbed, nicked, filched, pinched, pilfered, poached and outright stole from others to create these tales (but Ted Hughes, too, took his idea from an ancient tale, or teller.) Unfortunately I didn’t get the girl, in spite of plying her with Gin, reciting poetry to her and performing Schubert’s ‘Dichterliebe’ in her honour. Poaching, it seems, like poetry, works well on the surface. But when we break through into it, it seems there are greater truths, and freshness deep down things.

(And that I 'arf-inched from Gerard Manley Hopkins)

Moon Phases, September 2010
Last Quarter – September 1, 17:22
New Moon – September 8, 10:30
First Quarter – September 15, 05:50
Full Moon – September 23, 09:17

SEPTEMBER: Salmon Spawning Time


Man or beast, goblin or troll, reckless or tame,
Wodwo dwells deep in the woods,
in the dark intestine of the mind's green eye.

If curiosity killed the cat,
it procured this vain creature's survival,
climbing through the icy glass of its own image,

the reflection of air and sky and unseen trees
as nihilistic as the illusion it shattered.
However you doubt its existence

time and again the eternal questions exist:
Where did it come from, to where does it go?
Some rabbit-hole: clay's aorta, within, within,

unreckonable with any system or organ or engine,
hovering on the perimeter of existential reality
while sametime lurking deep among the myths of truth.

Not seeded, laid nor spawned, neither animal,
vegetable, mineral, flesh, fish nor foul;
both animus and anima, moon and mind,

lifeblood from the earth's deep bowel,
watered by the darkest beams of creativity.
Embryonic omen, could we dice with blasphemy

and say: beginning and end, death and birth,
swallowed, digested, cathartic, reiterated,
deep down things, in the soil, within, within, within?

There is no answer, save the perennial ticking.
Keep searching, Wodwo.

Monday, 23 August 2010

AUGUST: Moon when cherries turn black


There’s nothing much more I can say about Edinburgh than: it’s August; it’s Festival-time. Some find this season deeply irritating; others, invigorating. Either way, it hits your pocket. Even if you stick to the Free Fringe, you get stung for the price of a pint, and then feel guilty for only having 73 pence to put in the donation bucket. Well, here’s a tip: nearly every free show I’ve been to this year has featured a ukulele or a p**dophile joke – or both. If that floats your rhyming aquatic transport, fine: just look for old episodes of Mock the Week with Frankie Boyle, OR clips of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

One is more entertaining (and talented) than the other.

There’s nothing much more I can say about this month’s mythical creature, the Crow, that hasn’t already been said by Ted Hughes, or Joni Mitchell. Yet I’ll hammer it out, with a few stolen quotes from other crow-poems (if you can spot ‘em – it’s been so long, I’ve forgot ‘em) and let the great edifice of my turreted pretence dissolve. Like Crow, and all Creation Myths, I am a fraud. None is less entertaining (or talented).

Moon Phases, August 2010

Last Quarter – August 3, 04:59
New Moon – August 10, 03:08
First Quarter – August 16, 18:14
Full Moon – August 24, 17:05

The Blackest Bird

Eskimo legend tells us the world was black,
Out of which pall came the darkest bird,
Before the owl blessed the ground with purer snow.

Heath Stubbs gave the Raven a hard time over the Dove;
That rainy November which extinguished Eden's lustre,
Sent for clues, he pecked at the entrails of fallen existence

Preferring Eve's blackened cherry to Adam's peace-offering
Fresh from the soil; and the sister's nocturnal illumination -
Corruption and diving, diving - to daylight's misty spectrum.

Then, in lunatic retribution, silver shadow was eclipsed:
Raven plunged into the dark that bore him in the beginning.
And if the Tower crumble: no great loss. Legend has it, yet.

Besides, he claimed the damp and smelly loam his own.
This strange year, there are more than the months' number
Of ways to view or justify the hidden side of mirrored sun.

I'd rather hear, from the dark side of that bird's abyss,
Heath Stubbs recalling the Raven's querulous 'kark'
Than Ted Hughes' or Joni's black and ragged Crow.

Monday, 26 July 2010

JULY: Ripe Moon (San Juan)

The Gormless Public

Throughout the Central Belt of Scotland in the early summer months, a plethora of out-door runs and races takes place; everything from Marathons to Moonwalks. The latter of these suits the subject of this year’s moon-theme: the Moonwalk is an event that raises money and awareness for and of breast cancer. Competitors wander through the night dressed in pink brassieres (mostly over their clothes – it can be chilly even at this time of the year) around the streets of Edinburgh. To illustrate, here’s a picture of Antony Gormley’s latest installation sporting a pink bikini… which brings me onto the subject of this month’s rant.

What’s the big idea of announcing in the news and on the radio the unveiling of a new Edinburgh installation by one of the great exponents of Public Art and then, not telling the public when or where to find him? Having spotted earlier this month a couple of the six figures, and recognised them instantly as Gormley, I was pleased to hear the news one morning on Radio 3 that the man himself was in town. Irritatingly, there was no information – not even on the world-wide-web – on where he could be found, so I jumped on my trusty orange bicycle and went to search out the elusive truth.

How foolish of me to think that a press conference was for anyone other than the self-aggrandising media, a few of the artistic elite and one random fan of Gormley’s work who having, by chance, caught up with this private party along the Waters of Leith enjoyed meeting and chatting with him, shared stories of Edinburgh, was bought a cream bun from a bakery in Canonmills. The private party strolled all the way to the foot of the Waters to marvel that the installation tucked behind the soulless Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre had been doused overnight with seagull shit!

Unfortunately, this random fan was not me: he was a van driver who, passing by the Modern Art Gallery, heard the news on his radio and, on enquiring, found himself at the right place at more or less the right time. I found him later, looking at the statue sunk into the pavement just by the zebra crossing between the Modern and Dean Galleries, and he told me, without gloating, that he spent the entire morning with the artist. He might not have made many deliveries that day, but this ordinary, pleasant and affable man was genuinely struck by how the Great Gormley was, equally, ordinary, pleasant and affable.

Arguably, Antony Gormley’s method could be described as ‘Realist.’ Scholars of English Literature will be told that the Realist Novel began with the likes of Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, even Charles Dickens; before these ‘new’ types of book were romances, allegories, fables, the Epic and other genres. This month’s poem makes a bold statement: claiming that somewhere between the Old and New Testament, something important happened that changed the concept of Truth forever, and sowed the seeds of what was to become The Novel.

The Gospel stories, about one extraordinary man, retold by those who to greater or lesser extent knew what happened, are presented in such a way that intelligent people who read with an open mind can interpret, enjoy, learn and possibly, live by them. ‘Realism’ is not the same as ‘realisticism.’ If we read all the Biblical myths as true stories, we relegate reality to fantasy-land. But if we read them as essential truths about the relationship between our selves and things of the deep, spiritual and infinite life-force that some call God, we come closer to understanding our very human condition.

Now I’m no evangelist – Heaven forfend! – but I must openly (okay, anonymously) commend any person to read the Gospel Truths with an open mind and ignore the closed, agenda-driven, spurious and mendacious claims of the media. You might prefer, perhaps, the didactic happy-ever-after stories of Jane Austen, or the gritty realism of our greatest film-makers: Ken Loach, Mike Leigh, or Michael Haneke. Better still, put on your best pink bra and go and visit Gateshead, Winchester Cathedral, Crosby Beach or the Waters of Leith and see for yourself, humanity in all its grandeur and humility.

Moon Phases, July 2010

Last Quarter – July 4, 14:35
New Moon – July 11, 19:40
First Quarter – July 18, 10:11
Full Moon – July 26, 01:37

JULY: Ripe Moon (San Juan)


For all the Brer Creatures
born out of barreness,
Crafted and grafted upon the mind's eye,

Sisters of Myth,
the eternal fraternities
link the bright earth to the night's dark sky.

Vicarious fictions
estranged fecundations of
human distended hyperbole

which singers and dreamers
and story-tellers create
to divert us from outer reality.

And what is truth (the Bible inquires)?
Adam himself evolved from a void,
and Eve a mere rib,

whose robbery Adam renegues to this day;
Hannah sang the same jubilant song
which Mary, mere handmaiden, magnified;

Ancient Elizabeth traced her relation
to Sarah, whose God-opened womb
housed the seed of our forefathers,

Forever and ever conceived in
immaculate miracles, bound
by unshriven sororel endeavours.

Who are the creators?
Blyton gave birth to a
fabulous family of 'creeturs'

she stole from the great Uncle Remus,
himself a mere mouthpiece
for some other orator;

And Aesop, the Father of Fabulists,
collected his stories
according to one simple truth:

There can be no Fables with humans alone.

Abstract, imagined, exaggerated,
the primitive beasts provide
the analogous truths of the ancient tales.

Enid Blyton, whose genus
the Brothers Grimm shared, was
not so barren it seemed;

Nor Dogdeson, Lear, Graham, Potter or Milne:
Trapped in regression, they all knew
The existential story-tellers' truth:

There can be no good fairy tale without humans.

Whether Adam or Aesop,
Carroll or Grimm,
La Fontaine or Reynard the Fox,

Uncle Remus' or Blyton's brothers:
are not all stories pure fiction?
Or the yearning for purification?

Not so, since all the Brer Creatures,
are but the seeds of creative unconscious,
ripened by the moon's dark side.

So what of the Bible (truth inquires)?
Signs and symbols, birds and beasts,
primitive pictures in preference to man,

’til One pre-empted truisms' pact:
what lies between Old and New
exists between fiction and fact;

no fairy tale hero or fantasy-land,
He incited something quite modern.
And called it 'novel'

Friday, 25 June 2010

JUNE: Flower Moon (San Ildefonso)

Unless I’m very much mistaken, the road-sign alerting drivers to the possibility of on-coming cattle is usually depicted by a cow. But there’s one nearby a certain scientific institute on the outskirts of Edinburgh with a picture of a sheep. One might assume its name is Dolly – or Polly or Tracey or any other of her scientifically-constructed sisters.

You won’t see Dolly grazing by the roadside next time you visit Roslin: she died in 2003, suffering from arthritis – unusual for a 6½ year-old sheep (or was she 12?). Now stuffed, she revolves on a plinth in the National Museum of Scotland, amid stories of Prometea the ‘horse’ (and its identical twin and mother, Stella Cometa) and other ever-hopeful clones-to-be, Thylacine, and (a little longer in tooth and tusk) the Woolly Mammoth.

It would be fun to think that we, as Spielberg suggested, could clone bits of DNA, but hard luck, time, and other thieves have not preserved the Jurassic amber so well. Yet, we have legend, lore and myth: why else is the Phoenix such an uplifting tale! Heaven knows, it makes more sense than the resurrection-myth purported by certain religions.

My sister once wrote out, as a calligraphy exercise, a passage attributed to Chief Seattle of the Dwarmish Tribe, about the everlasting presence of his people long after the white man has wiped them out. It seems there is more truth in myth than vice versa. As Elaine Feinstein (whose poem, ‘June’ I allude to below) says, ‘The dead are strong.’

How true.

Moon Phases, June 2010

Last Quarter – June 4, 22:13
New Moon – June 12, 11:15
First Quarter – June 19, 04:29
Full Moon – June 26, 11:30


Beneath the Flower Moon the Phoenix rises.
From the dust of winter's ashes, from the clay?
A miracle as old as Lazarus, Persephone;
Flaring flower of a dried-out cactus in June.

The Phoenix has a handy device
above his counterpart amalgamates,
The Griffin, the Dragon, the cockatrice,
The Gryphon, the Quagga, the Wyvern, the Minotaur,
Thylacine the Tasmanian Wolf et al: ice
couldn't preserve the Unicorn with its spiral horn,
Yet the Phoenix, tried seven times in the fire,
continues, continues to rise.

Surely these pieces are purely inventions
played out as if on some chequered board
according to systems of human convention
- abstraction and emotion hold little regard
for the laws of nature, reality, fact nor fiction.

Attempting to ape the animals we re-create Eden,
Design a warped Utopia, Atlantis or Shangri-La:
Weird combinations, grafted vines or paper roses,
Genetically modified, cloned sheep, test-tube mice,
Imaged, molded or morphed like a child's cartoon;
Plasticine, proven dough, clay corrupted and fired.

We cannot be foxier than the fox; the proud
Heraldic Lion is rampantly so (- two legs good,
the stubborn symbols, angry defensive arrogance),
Yet we learn the basic rules, throw the dice,
Compose our own music to join in the dance.

The Wolf lies down with the Lamb, the Cow and Bear
The Leopard and Kid, Lion and Calf and all the Brer
Creatures: cannot all of them jump over the moon?
How can the Infant jump over the Cockatrice' nest?

Because it is not written, but invented; allowed to rise,
the Phoenix will follow the cycle of bloom:
Flowering, fruiting, decomposed, rotted and hewn
to be cast onto Autumn's conspiratorial pyre,
Only to put, once again, its septennial trick to the test.

One thing is sure: come hell or high water, fair wind
or foul, high noon, full moon, November or June,
When the last red man shall have perished, and the
Memory of tribes become a myth among white men,
- on reflection, nothing but a change of worlds - the
Phoenix will flourish long after its author's demise.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

MAY: Corn-planting Moon

Far be it for me to make any kind of party-political comment on this blog – reserved purely for poetry, pictures and polemic – except to say that, yes, my last entry on all things green coincided with a General Election. Potentially this is the best night’s TV-watching (bar the Eurovision Song Contest… no, actually, scrap that: without Wogan, it is like, well, Election Night without Peter Snow!)

I spent the long night with some friends who, far from lasting until the Portillo Moment (or the Opik Defeat) flaked out long before the Green Dawn (I mean, when the hippies broke into the Pavilion, not when the Yuppies had a picnic in the Park.) For every silver lining…

This month’s full-moon poem may be more, or less, political – depending on your point of view. It sort of answers the question I get asked about vegetarianism: why I eschew something that has been created purely for my pleasure without any recourse to that creature’s or person’s dignity or humanity. Far be it from me: let poetry legislate.

Moon Phases, May 2010

Last Quarter – May 6, 04:15
New Moon – May 14, 01:04
First Quarter – May 20, 23:43
Full Moon – May 27, 23:07

MAY: Corn-planting Moon (Taos)


The moon in Maytime teases dew
for the dawn's ablutions;
Seduces the sap, entices the juices,
lifts us to action.
In the fallacy of sacrilegious beautification,
Here is no time for the planting of Corn.

In a mud hut somewhere, a Hopi girl
sits grinding last year's harvest,
awaiting the onslaught of blood and ties,
Permitted only to beat the irritant dust-mites
away with her grinding stick,
Enduring the weaving and winding of a
relative matriarch, who plaits her hair into maturity's design.

Symbol of obedience to society,
to servitude and subjugation:
to masculine superiority;
she neither weeps nor complains
though her hands are raw and blistered,
her tender skin itches, and her puerile womb
acknowledges the moment of the moon:
la moment de la lune spills out sans puer.

The initiation complete, she
emerges from her childhood tent knowing her place,
with the shroud of adulthood woven round her face.
This might seem like lore or legend,
stuff of ancient so-called civilizations,
but it goes on still today.

In another hut, an apology for straw bedding,
Young females are incarcerated and lashed
with strobe effects until ready to produce their eggs.
And sometimes they are fed with grain and corn
to assuage some guilt - or rather, demonstrate cowardice:
no wonder the chicken has come to represent
fear; cowardly-custard, corn-fed, yellow-faced fear.
Other animals too are tamed and trained to produce.
In yet another tent, billed as the biggest and best:
Cornplanter, performing horse, praying for Pegasus' wings;
Gargantuan, though hardly a King like his cousin, Kong;
Dumbo (who had the sense to fly - at least to cartoon-land)
Goliath, beached sea elephant, hadn't the giant's strength
or native habitat to escape; rather, a captive in chains.
And Jumbo, conversely, travelled the sea to join Barnum's
Monstrous show, appeased by a barrel of beer on the way
(a costly exercise, but the audience loves a freak).
Who started this abuse of rights, it's hard to tell.
Who permitted this deep sleep to fall upon them!
It's a wonder these simple yet mightily powerful creatures
didn't wipe the smirks off the audiences face:
God knows they had the strength to, if not struck dumb
by their subordinated instinct or sedated apoplexy.
Thus God ordained and gave to man supremacy over all,
who named and subsequently maimed an entire Kingdom.
We all have our rites of passage; all people have their
Naming and initiation ceremonies -
Some afford the animals a special place in theirs.
The sacred cow, the filthy pig, the deified Ganesha:
Do not all these dwell within the temples of the mind?
Then we must award, reward, and re-award all animals
Their regal right among our chosen race.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Moon of Grass Appearing

This month we have seen, in Scotland at least, every weather system – from snow to sideways sleet, howling gales to April showers, hazy summer shimmer and sunsets tinged with dark, Icelandic Ash. Convinced that it is spring, I took my trusty piece of sackcloth up our own extinct volcano, and celebrated something simple: freedom.

Funny, how they say the grass is always greener on the other side. When I got there I found it was not so much, greener nor less green, but simply so: green.

The poem for April mixes the Lakota Sioux name for the full moon with an Iroquois Creation story. The three sisters of the Iroquois, Corn, Beans and Squash are the three spirits that sustain life. Other myths speak of six sisters; either way, the doll created from corn husks was, initially, a symbol of celebrating the gift of sustenance.

Moon Phases, April 2010

Last Quarter – April 6, 09:37
New Moon – April 14, 12:29
First Quarter – April 21, 18:20
Full Moon – April 28, 12:18

APRIL: Moon of Grass Appearing

Corn Sisters

Over hill and dale, in park and pale,
Fairies dibble-dabble in the dam, with
Elfin mischief and lively Spirit-dances,
fording fen and brook and beck and burn;
High upon peak and pike, and under vale,
Trolls in crag and crevice hide beneath bridges
with Goblin menace and Impish glances.

These flights of fancy heralding fortune are
Mini-magicians, ushering joy and delight
to uncles, aunties, siblings, nephews, nieces;
placing mysterious gems in cowslips' ears,
replacing lost teeth with ten pence pieces,
displacing the soot with three gold purses -
nocturnal assistants, too reticent to appear
diurnal; sweet as dewfall, innocent as grass.

Other folk interpolated colours:
summoning seed from six beautiful sisters:
The apoplectic rage of shame-faced red;
panic yellow-faced fear and melancholy blue,
which faces up to pity, nostalgia and regret;
Black, the flipside, face untouched by sun, yet
flowering from the sisters' enigmatic psyche;

Finally, the dappled sun illuminates the flowers
in speckled beauty, paints the pearl-white drops,
defaces the envy of grass as it appeared
naïvely green beneath the April sky at night.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

March: Desert Night Lizard

How can a writer be trusted?

How can we know that what is written, and what is read are the same thing?

We cannot. We are the ineffectual jury, who interpret the word as beautiful or moving, but comprehend it not. The truth eludes us, like a lizard in the desert, or like the moon this month, curtained by clouds of sleet and snow.

How can a novel, a poem, a play imitate life when in truth it does not exist? What fidelity to the human experience can we glean from the page once the ephemeral is snapped shut between the covers? This, or that, is all we have: the book is bound and on this hard, hard back we place our hand and swear. On something not even there.

And Bill? You choose. He too is wherever, whatever, whomever your imagination allows you to roam, to do, to be (or not – if that is the question.)

Moon Phases, March 2010

Last Quarter – March 7, 15:42
New Moon – March 15, 21:01
First Quarter – March 23, 11:00
Full Moon – March 30, 02:25

MARCH: Lizard Moon (San Juan)

Desert Night Lizard: Xantusia Vigilis

To the San Juan, he may be a god.
Poised on a bare rock

in the relative nocturnal chill sits Bill:
uncle, cousin, man-in-the-street to us;

Peopled by an oh-so-ordinary name,
Placed tail-up in a jar, ineffectual juror.

How did he come to be there? Nobody knows:

a slither of lit-silver traces his skittering trail
in the once-gold, arid Nevada sand.

With a flick of his tongue and a trick of the tail
He's gone. Yet somewhere still

His smooth-skinned, wide-eyed stare
keeps vigil. Brer Bill. Herr Bill.


Sunday, 28 February 2010

FEBRUARY: Moon when Coyotes are Frightened

Different tribes of Native Americans had various names for full moons. In my ‘Year of Indian Moons,’ I have stuck to one particular source, using the names as a rough guide, mixing up a variety of legends and myths. The Coyote is a key figure in these stories, and I could not possibly write this poem without referring to Joni Mitchell, for whom indigenous folklore is a source of great inspiration. I urge you to listen to her album Hejira ­– a masterpiece that has inspired me in so many ways.

There are a couple of problems with the second poem of this cycle. I suggested above (or below, in blog geog.) that January began with a Blue Moon, but to be accurate, this fell on New Year’s Eve. According to certain schools of thought, a Blue Moon occurs when the moon turns full a second time in the same month. Since sidereal and synodic months are not aligned, the lunar and solar years do not run concurrently. A Blue Moon only happens once every two and a half years – hence the expression, possibly from Shakespeare, meaning rare or absurd.

Unfortunately, given that the moon’s cycle takes 29 days, 12 hours 44 minutes and 2.8 seconds, it would be impossible for a full moon to fall twice and therefore turn blue in February – even in a leap year. In some years – 1961, for example, when the moon was blue both in April and January – February missed out on a full moon altogether. The sly dog must’ve been tickled pink that year: no regrets, nor leap of faith; no fears nor hopes; no foes nor friends; no ends, but one (un-)equal eternity.

However, the Farmers’ Almanac of Maine (look it up – you’re on the web), besides listing a load of alternative full-moon nomenclature, suggests that, when occurring in those years when there is a thirteenth full moon, a Blue Moon is the third full moon of four in a fixed season usually containing three. By their rule, this will always fall on the 20th - 23rd of May, February, August or November. So, it could be argued that indeed Coyote saw a Blue Moon in February 2000, which is when this cycle was written, even though he claimed that the moon was full on the 1st of Feb (as it was) and again on the 29th. Does this make any more sense?

Of course not: he can’t be trusted either way.

I’d watch him, if I were you.

Moon Phases, February 2010

Last Quarter – February 5, 23:48

New Moon – February 14, 02:51

First Quarter – February 22, 00:42

Full Moon – February 28, 16:38

Moon when Coyotes are Frightened (Tewa)

No regrets, Coyote

The first of Feb, by leap of faith, finds the moon full,
and the sly dog duly frightened...

Bear wants back his frozen-off tail; Heron, the
ante-prometheus, wants back his stolen fire
– and the great god himself, whose heat and light
Coyote captured, and arrayed the wind's twelve
quarters, irrespective of the tides;

Also the greedy Wishpoosh, whose corpse provided
slices for each and every tribe (or did they
sprout from the charred feathered fancy-dress
which caught out that partying Heron?);

Ram, horns hammered fast into a tree, prepares for revenge,
(he's lucky, says Cow, milked dry by the equally wily Brer Rabbit);
Hen, retrieved from Granny Fox, is now in cohorts with
Porcupine – eternally plagued with dust –
And limping Meadow Lark angrily wields her walking stick,
unimpressed by Coyote's inefficacious tricks.

Every Bird sides with the four little ducks, the earliest dwellers,
whose bravery supplied the audacious tempter
– the callous, impudent trickster – with
Dirt: dry land dredged from their Watery Paradise Garden.

(This, the Crow's story: but who can be trusted in myth?)

He's been around since creation began, shaping the
world out of animal altruism, deceit, or practical joke.
Nine times out of ten his game backfired:
Hawk would chase him through the Whisker Wheat,
While Road Runner traps and taunts Old Wile E.,
beating his retreat, hooting among the tumbleweed.

It's true, he'll never learn: he's far too far
from Appaloosas and Eagles and Tides;
When his own Mother bit his inquisitive nose,
sent him away on his quest to fend for himself,
She thus diminished his ego strength to egotistic pride:
The sin by which the angels fell was not Coyote's downfall.

He's a slippery serpent, born to writhe in the dust of regret,
the eighth and deadliest amendment, ever mourning
his velvet coat, and the loss of his son to eternal death:
(Wolf – doubtless metamorphosed to a greater deification –
saw Coyote laugh on the dark side of his face)

He only opposed the after-life for a laugh:
to him, the acceptable paradox of the human race,
to bask in the light of certainty, or sweat in the dark
while awaiting life's sentence, was a bit of a farce.

This month, however, the planets exercise their own celestial mirth.
As the days of fear wear off, Coyote persuades the Old
Father for just a little extra time
(the humans, bound to their pendular systems, concede):

The moon, true to form, re-emerges fully, blue.
Returns the Old Man's coat to its former hue.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Begged, Burrowed or Lent

Now here’s a tale, tricky but true, from some time after 1992. I was doing a choir-tour of the chapels and churches of Southern England, a busman’s summer holiday. We were staying in none-too illustrious hostels and boarding-houses of opulent public schools; performing to relatively appreciative geriatric audiences, and imbibing the local beer (apart from the busman).

During our stay In Bryanston School, we inhabited the Girls’ Dormitory - relishing the rare opportunity to impersonate the 13th Duke of Wybourne (with my reputation? - scandalous!) Searching for spoils, a friend and I found a handful of black and white photos tucked away; the outcome of a 6th form photography project, left behind. One could assume the pupils had left too.

My friend and I thought they were great pictures, too good to be abandoned. So we took them away with us. The only clue to their ownership or perhaps the subject was the names scribbled on the back. My reaction to this mystery was to write a piece of music, Six Variations for Voice and Clarinet, dedicated ‘to Polly and Alex, wherever they may be’. Their image, transfigured, like the transient ghosts of the imagination, was all I had. Yet Alex and Polly exist, surely?

Where, Bill?

Last Sunday was the Feast of the Transfiguration, when all that is ghostly comes to seem real – or vice versa. To me, it was an Ordinary Sunday (in the Sondheim sense) – except that I trashed the ghastly 1980s fitted cupboards in my spare bedroom. It had been a long time coming (I blame Thatcher), precipitated by the precipitation from the flat above that had sent my ceiling crumbling.

And should the turret crumble: no great loss.

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday; the day to bury all one’s previous misgivings in a heap of self-flagellation. I could spend the rest of my life heaping ashen guilt upon my self, or I could just leave it to the tabloids to dress me with the sackcloth of eternity. Fuck them: I made my plea. Yes, I stole those pictures, but I did not take them. If anyone can identify the image - shooter or shot -let me know, if you can or dare. I will repay my debt – to whomever it is due.

For now, consider it lent.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

“An Imaginary Menagerie"

A Year of Indian Moons

Moon phases fascinate us. Ancient civilizations based their calendars on them, the Old Testament told us to blow the trumpet in the new moon, and Christians choose the date of Easter by the first full moon that falls after the vernal equinox.

The moon is strong: it pulls on tides and other sap and moistures, inspires poets, piano pieces and pop-songs; its dark side (apparently) influences the seeds of our unconscious, and illuminates the thin veil of truth between lunacy and genius.

In the year of my birth, on the day that I was born there was, I have discovered, a Full Moon. Native American Tribes call the full moons various names; this idea inspired me to write a sequence of poems about the mystery of the Imagination.

So here is a poem about a dog that I wholly believe in, even if Charles M. Schulz denies his existence. What does he know! Anyway, I’m off to howl at the moon.

Moon Phases, January 2010

Last Quarter – January 7, 10:39

New Moon – January 15, 07:11

First Quarter – January 23, 10:53

Full Moon – January 30, 06:18

JANUARY: Wolf Moon (Algonquin)

The Paper Wolf

Snoopy sits on his kennel top,
Howling at the moon.
Like no other dog he feels the cold,
and his digitally accurate internal clock
knows it's suppertime,

so he sings for it, with plaintive tone.
It wails across the neighbourhood
towards his distant ancestors, to mock
their envy of his absurdly luxurious manner.

By day, he's a party animal,
Lord of his manor, ace pilot, quarter back,
Easter Beagle, champion pitcher,
Planting his wet kisses on Lucy,
Dancing his manic jig to the Moonlight Sonata!
Now he curses his moonlit solitude,
Deserted by his nominal Master.

He's everyone's dog, you know,
not some miraculous creation
or bionic pencil-sketch.
Not so: his real master picks up his pen and
demotes the miracle, delineates the lineage,
deludes the illusion.

- Snoopy's not a real dog, he maintains:
he's an image of what people would like a dog to be.

You blockhead, Charlie Brown.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Dying of the Year

It is never a good thing to have to explain a poem, but the following one has, like many, a story behind it. It also contains a few musical terms, so I will append a glossary to save you having to trawl Wiki-sites, or look up your old Grade 5 Theory book.

I was at a party at one of those strange houses that one finds in Edinburgh’s South Side, best described as an architectural experiment. A combination of Art Deco and 1970s kitsch, it had brown wall panels and wall-sized windows that would have made the puritans proud – were they not facing an inner courtyard. From the street, it just looked like a wooden box, covered in foliage.

In one of the rooms of this inverted fish-tank, there was a rather rigid and lonely lizard in a glass cage. According to the hosts, it was so old they couldn’t remember what they (or the children, long-since flown) had called it. It seemed so sad that my friend (a violinist) and I both decided to write a poem for him.

This was my attempt, which I post here to reflect the dying of a decade, and as a pre-curser to my next selection of poems, which are all about fantastical creatures. I will post these poems over the coming year, a year of full moons that began with a blue one.


To 'Molly'

A creature called a gecko
Played the violin.
It was hard for him:
He came from the Nevada Desert
Where everything was secco.

It pained him in the neck – O
How he wished his
Long-limbed lizard fingers
Played the full length of the bow
A melody legato.

Now his home is just an echo
Of that North American Plain.
And though he oughtn’t complain
In his glass-fronted bungalow
It’s an uninspired existence Art Deco.

He hasn’t even got a name,
The sad, dried-out amphibian.
His sandy scales lack a leading-note:
Morendo, mixolydian.

Glossary of Musical Terms:

Morendo – dying away
Secco – dryly, without resonance
Legato – smoothly, un-detached
Leading-note – the seventh note of the Ionian (major) scale
Mixolydian – a ‘natural’ scale or ‘mode’, as if played from G to G

(therefore, with a ‘flat’ leading note, being a whole-tone interval)