Saturday, 1 June 2013

Poem: Chy an Peber

Photo: SallyDouglas

I was reading this week about Slow Food UK's campaign to revive forgotten British foods - among them the Cornish saffron cake. Well, the saffron cake fills my childhood with its fragrant yellow yeastiness. My grandfather was an artisan baker, and for me as a small child the bakery was a place of enchantment and fear. I was terrified of the ovens, which were black and cavernous, and had something of Grimm about them, but I was equally entranced by the magical transformations that took place each night in this strangely unremarkable-looking house of wonders. And reading about the revival of the saffron cake - which to be honest has never been lost in Cornwall - I was reminded of a poem I wrote a while back. Saffron cake is definitely in there, but the main stars are the Cornish pasties.

I read this poem at my Grandfather's funeral.

Chy an Peber
(House of the Baker)

For my Grandfather, Lloyd George Trethewey

It’s your domain: an almost-creature,
a watchful dragon leaking light
through the interstices of night. Its yeasty breath
warms drowsers in dark houses,
reminding them of morning.

Inside, the heat-noise-light of
Milton’s Pandemonium.

A restless anchor roils and cleaves
elastic saffron sea,
shoals of currants tossed by endless waves.
In a vast vat a huge pale belly swells.
Deep-stitched quilts of fresh baked bread
already snuggle in their beds,
but in another place a groaning mouth rasps
pebbles of potatoes with its teeth.
A barrel of knives throws weeping dice
of onion, swede and naked spud.

You pour out the dusty roll of soft cream velvet.
Armed with a sharpened saucepan lid you frisbee
perfect circles, stack them into Pisan towers.

And now creation.  A miner’s lunch halfmooned by
those punched holes. Rope-edged.
Your fingers type a perfect crimp, neat rows
of baby toes on a foreshortened foot. Pale purses
in neat ranks, upon the tray’s parade.
You love their schoolgirl uniformity. Banish
some because their pleats aren’t neat.

And then into the dark cave’s heat, the dragon’s
lung. Its breath is savoury, meaty, with a taint
of adolescent sweat, the smell of ripening.

And finally they’re born, and borne aloft, slid into
cooling racks to settle and to breathe. Suntanned shells
with perfect fluted frills. Keen oysters eager for the feast.

Outside, night’s mouseness slips away.
Shops are lifting up the eyelids of their blinds.
The vans move off, as carefully as hearses.                                       


Sally Douglas 2008

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

National Poetry Writing Month 2013 Evaluated

Photo: Sally Douglas

Well, NaPoWriMo's over. I lost the last few days because of a family crisis, but over the month I managed to produce twenty-five poems. Some were completely new, some were old drafts dragged out for finishing. But the great thing for me is, that I have twenty-five poems that wouldn't have existed otherwise. National Poetry Writing Month has got me writing again. It's broken the block - not just with my poetry but with other writing too.

I know the quality is varied, but there are some poems I am really quite pleased with. Shell, This Day, That Thing You've Carried For So Long, Looking Out, Music Lesson - these are poems I am glad I have written. With time, no doubt I shall see some flaws, but that doesn't matter. I can still change them!

I've also had a great time reading poems produced by other poets this month, some by people I already knew, some from the NaPoWriMo website, and some via Twitter. Thanks for sharing your work, people!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Poem 25 - Red-tailed, Bumble

Red-tailed, Bumble

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,

Red-tailed, bumble,
common carder,
cuckoo, mason,
tawny mining,
leaf-cutter, hoop-shaver,
humble, honey,


Sunday, 28 April 2013

Poem 24 - Another Riddle

Photo: Sally Douglas


I am a lock turned by infinite keys,
A knot that’s too tight and too fine to untease.
Unpick me too far and my threads turn to dust,
but I’ll let you inside me to make what you must.
I am the white space as well as the mark,
I am the place you can find in the dark
I am said, I am thought, I am harsh, I am kind.
I blow free from the page in the winds of your mind.

Sally Douglas

In addition to being a riddle, this is possibly a manifesto of sorts. And the photo isn't a clue, but I think it fits.

I will post the answers to the riddles - eventually.

Poem 23 - A Riddle

Photo: Sally Douglas


I am a judge (but I do not judge).
Soft darkness pours from my empty eyes.
With a shrug I weep onto the ground:
divide (not decide) what’s to keep or despise.
I am the O that holds onto stones,
fragments of twig, and shards of bones.
I am the O pierced all over by light.
I am the O! that is in plain sight.

 Sally Douglas

Any ideas?

Incidentally, if you're interested I wrote a blog post about riddles and readers here.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Poem 22 - Girl with a Letter

Photo: Sally Douglas

Girl with a Letter
(after Vermeer)

I close the window.
Draw the curtain
so the folds of red brocade
hang flat
against the day.
I held them both,
the flatness
and the folds.

The flatness of paper
and the folds
within its words,
the spilling of the fruit –

my folding of your letter
into something very small.

Sally Douglas

The first draft of this poem has been on my hard drive for a long time - since 2009, according to the date on the file.  I attended a very enjoyable Poetry School workshop, run by Lawrence Sail, which focused on poetry and paintings. This poem came from an exercise based on Vermeer's painting Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window. I stashed the draft away, and didn't do anything with it until now, prompted by NaPoWriMo. So here it is.

Incidentally, if you haven't read any of Lawrence Sail's poetry, I would recommend it. You can find some of his poems here.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Poem 21 - That Thing You've Carried for So Many Years

Photo: Sally Douglas

That Thing You’ve Carried for So Many Years  

Once, you could have planted it
in the rich kindness of loam
in earth which would have let it breathe

and then you could have gone away
lived some life
visited the garden just from time to time

and one day found green shoots
clean new shoots which would have cheered you
however frail they were.

But to bend down to the ground
was far too hard.

Sally Douglas

The picture was taken in Bugle, Cornwall.