Gertrude- a response to Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’

1 01 2017

 

Volume 68 of The University of Leicester’s ‘The Use of English’ contained academic essays on the former Welsh Poet Laureate, Gillian Clarke.  On of the articles was written by Gillian, explaining the imagery and contextual significance of her poem ‘Cold Knap Lake’.

My response to the poem, ‘Gertrude’, considers how the accuracy of Clarke’s memories over the drowning girl are similar to Hamlet’s mother’s sensitively recounts Ophelia’s demise.

It can be read in full here:

Gertrude
(in response to Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’)

So close to have known
the wild flowers round her brow
buttercups, orchids, the coiled-nettle crown,
you trail her gown,

nearer to her mad tongue
and broken melody you stalk,
then, shy steps short of the brook,
you hear the chant haunting the wood unsing
in watery stillness.
There, you gather the news

over your shoulder
like a body, struggle with the strain,
the black stain it leaves ‘till the guilt fits, soon,
as you deliver the death to her brother.

What is truth?
A report so young that words drip with dew,
Then puddle and grow so quickly green and stagnant
They could cloud memory and coronate
A kinder loss: Ophelia buoyed, jewelled,
Rests on the river’s surface, barely deceased.
Truth can drown a suicide, can float a lie,
Can leave behind a mermaid on that tide.

 

Gillian Clarke’s ‘Cold Knap Lake’ currently remains on the GCSE English syllabus.  The teaching and learning resources prepared by BBC Bitesize, together with the poem, can be found by following this link:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/english_literature/poetclarke/coldknaplakerev1.shtml

 

 

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The final days: residency at the Dylan Thomas Boathouse

25 10 2016

The Boathouse crowds eddied in the bright light all week.  As the weather calmed and the sun visited more generously, tourists to Laugharne sat by the wide bay for longer and longer.  On one welcoming day, a pair of dog-walkers and their muddy corgi,  arrived when the River Taf was heavy in the estuary and left when it was barely visible; we’d spent much of the afternoon in the Thomas’ yard together.

Commonly, visitors would arrive like the garden’s resident robin, flying down in fleeting sortees and disappearing just as anonymously.  Some came in passing flocks, such as the affable murmuration from University of Wales Trinity St Davids, staying to pick at Welsh teas, to share scones, to warm their wings.  They spoke in a vibrant rabble of Mandarin, French, Canadian and the yard seemed hushed and dusky when they’d flown away.  And others were regular migrants, visiting the Writing Shed and the Boathouse on an annual, or more frequent pilgrimage.  

The writer and poet John Bilsborough came to collect some books from his residency the week before.  He showed me the stunning collection of writers’ names and messages he’d gathered in his career journal: R.S. Thomas; Victoria Wood; John Betjemen.  Another artist to visit was the seascape painter Gareth Hugh Davies, who brought his family of illustrators for lunch.  All indulged the drawing challenge with their unique styles, Gareth’s daughter indulged me with her sketchbook which was flawlessly assembled and carefully beautiful.  

While other guests were noteworthy for their energy and vigour, such as a rare pair of articulate children from Penrith who produced the most-savage of sea imagery.

And memorable for their charisma, as a poetess and her husband who drew and drew and drew and shared their literature passions as though we were long friends. 

 

After work one day, I visited Newport and read at The Lonely Crowd launch evening.  Heavy roadworks choked the journey there, and the M4 on the drive home felt as long as a continent.  Though the few hours spent in the Murenger were more stimulating and satisfying that I could have gleefully anticipated.  Hosted by John Lavin, readings from Tony Curtis, Carla Manfredino, Alix Nathan, John Freeman, Craig Austin, Rebecca Lawn formed a collage illustrating just how intriguing the literature scene is in South Wales currently.  Chris Cornwell read his ‘Last Night Down Whetstone Road’ in a voice glossy with Dylan’s aesthetic verve for phonetics, Gary Raymond read a story about immigration and fear and stereotype, and veiled pertinent satire around wonderful, characters such as the tale’s ubiquitous Ellis.       

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Ordinarily, on a Friday afternoon, I’d be stood in Ysgol Pen-y-Bryn’s assembly hall, watching certificates be awarded to inspired learners.  On this occasion, they were watching the boathouse and writing shed through my eyes.  Or, more precisely, through a FaceTime connection.  The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Raynor, was in attendance at the school, together with a local MP, and they observed the whole school attempt a modern twist on a Dylan Thomas poem:  ‘Have you Ever Seen Half Term

On the weekend, my wife arrived with my son and we took the work from the week along Dylan’s route about Sir John’s Hill.  While retreading ‘The Birthday Walk’, she helped me film a video compilation of illustrations, my son made atmospheric leaf rustling effects and lingered precariously on steep images.

On one afternoon, when Dylan’s door was leaned shut, two ladies from the boathouse improvised a reading from my poem ‘Caitlin’, in response to Dylan’s ‘Do Not Go Gentle’ and I filmed it to store for when my debut collection, ‘Conversations’, is published next year.  Or for when Judith or Elen achieve fame in their respective fields of ceramics and translation.  Back at ‘The Pelican’, housing and feeding me until I began to bloat and sprout tight curls of hair, I was given lessons on sculpture and whisky by the artist David Gunther.

And yesterday, I drove my family home.  Home.  Up the serpentine Aberystywth Road.  My son was poorly as we passed Dolgellau, poorly as we approached Machynlleth, as though he was already enduring withdrawal symptoms from his brief time in Laugharne.  Reflecting back today, I too feel a stab homesick for a place that had become so welcoming to me.  

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Audio-recordings of two new poems

9 10 2016

An introduction to two poems and recordings of both.  There is also some context to each poem and their origins.

These poems, together with one other, were published in the Lonely Crowd last week.





Moortown

22 05 2016





JackdawQuarterly writers’ group: Summer meeting

30 04 2016

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Feel welcome to read a poem or an extract of prose, or to simply listen along to others on the theme ‘panic’.

 





Memories of Shakespeare – an article for Wales Arts Review

23 04 2016

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Crouched in the gloom at the side of the curtainless stage, the three bodies were silver-skinned and rag-wrapped; one woman was shaven-headed, one woman was, in fact, an elderly man, one woman was revealing more flesh than anyone in my pre-GCSE class (in their pre-internet schooling) had ever witnessed.  The three witches were immediately intimidating; to a group of boys who had never been to theatre before, they were formidable.

No pupil wanted to be shepherded by the stewards to the front of the theatre and none wanted to bookend the draughty first row. My first experience of Shakespeare was to sit directly under the glare of the three witches before Macbeth began at Mold’s Theatre Clwyd and, as the school bus had arrived thirty minutes early, my ordeal of eye-contact avoidance began early.

The witches lurked stage left throughout the play, haunting Macbeth from his periphery. They possessed during the interval and even remained to jinx the audience as we left; I am fairly sure that, while the rest of my class echoed bad Taggart impressions and sluggedNo-Frills Cola, one of the witches was stood in the aisle next to me on the coach, then followed me home in the rain.

My son repeats ‘shakes peer’ rhythmically in the café, like we have rehearsed it for the Americans who are noisily debating whether to stay and order. He colours the playwright’s face on a brochure, shading the pupils, rainbowing the lank hair. We tell him that Shakespeare spelled his name six different ways and try to show him, but he will not forsake the crayons and begins instead to write his own: the hooped ‘A’, a hangman’s ‘r’, a wide, flamboyant ‘t’, then, realising he is choked of space, doubles back, adds a ‘h’, ‘u’ turns and slots the ‘r’ between earlier letters.  ‘Shay kspere’, he says, ‘shhhhake speer’.

He sounds the name as we thread the narrow corridors of Shakespeare’s Birthplace.  The tiled floor of the living room is as cracked as the back of an old glove, the button-sized windows look out onto the courtyard where a seam of Chinese tourists are being led by an actor playing a lute. Over the empty beds, the empty fireplaces, the empty cribs, he says, ‘Shakesp ear’ and seems to inhabit the place.

In the garden, he is finally stilled. It is beginning to get cold and there is drizzle hiding in the late afternoon; the blossom cloaking the cherry trees is a reminder that it is still Easter. A lady in a cloaking, green dress covets his attention and earns it with her playful accents, ‘Double double, toil and trouble,’ she begins, casting her arms, stretching her fingers.

‘Double double,’ he mimics.

The actress plays all three parts and bewitches him. He is silent for so long on the winding walk back to the hotel that we know he is trying to make sense of it all, that he is trying to give voice to the changes happening to his thoughts, that he is rapt withal.

Memories of Shakespeare





Blodwen

31 10 2015

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Whether you tripped and fell into the fissure
or were trodden down that crack by angry feet,
time failed to press you against its pages
and you slipped out the soil in tiresome stages
like a leafless daisy dropped from a dusty book.
 
Moss was scratched from your skeleton like music,
sounds beaten, chorded.  Silent spaces in your spine
were composed and contrived into score, a  melody.
The tune though was the crass, hunchbacked malady
of this arthritic, iron old lady embalmed
 
by glaring lights, glued and stuck down to a stage.
Like the bog man dragged from leathery torture to melt
as a guttering candle while cameras flash,
your petals will flake, crumbling to white bone-ash,
while you thin and hush and they number your bones.