Tag Archives: poetry

Murmurs in Dark Times

Fear and anger, Hate’s Ravens, stalk the street
drown our senses with harsh discordant chords.
We dance to a slow, dissonant back beat
the dark rhythm of the nine of swords.
Poverty is shame. Indifference eats
at the table of compassion.  We move
backwards in a series of small defeats
caught in a twisted and broken groove.

But some small disobediences occur;
a song, a word, a dream, a connection
murmurs of hope and love behind the door.
I will say enough. Another card is drawn.
Poets sing, the dancers break and reform,
light shines through. Hand in hand life spirals on.

 

The old saying it’s an ill wind …. True! I’ve been feeling bleak and sad about where the world is headed but at the end of the day it focussed my mind on the fact that poetry, music and art are the answer to most problems.

 

In the space between heartbeats sundial

Do the dead lie in summer meadows
hear a lark singing; ribbons
of music drifting down
in the space between heartbeats?

Or feel the warmth of a lover’s breath
a soft intermittence caressing hair
and skin; unspoken promise
in the space between heartbeats?

Or drift along green-arched streams
catching the eddies of dreams,
the long slow swell of silence
in the space between heartbeats?

 

In Time of Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s poem was written in 1916 at the height of the Great War and just before  It seems very appropriate to use it as a title in the current circumstances of Brexit.

My Blog has been inactive now for over six months. Two reasons – firstly a complete though very positive upheaval in family circumstances meaning we now are immigrants in France. I refuse to be an Ex-pat. That to me is a word soaked in the dark heart of colonialism and empire and the fact that so many Britons living abroad use that term to describe themselves is probably a clue to the result on 23rd June.

The other reason is that sometimes it is just difficult to find words for how you feel. A feeble excuse and not what a writer should say? The truth is when I wrote my last blog entry ‘Whispering in a Hurricane’ I felt an overwhelming sense of  being a helpless spectator watching a catastrophe unfold but powerless to prevent or stop it.

I cannot in truth determine whether we stand at on the threshold of an unimaginably better or worse world. Our current global capitalist oligarchies are heading toward collapse through overexploitation, climate change and the ever widening gulf of inequality between have and have not. Could Brexit be the act that collapses it quickly before more damage is done and allows a new socially just, non-growth orientated sustainable civilisation to emerge?  Maybe, though on past performance I don’t hold out much hope. I was born at the end of the second world war. I grew up in a society that seemed to have changed irrevocably for the better. Health care, education, decent jobs and homes and not least the shared consensus that the weak and vulnerable needed protection and help. That has vanished. It lasted for about thirty five years which in hindsight was probably remarkable. The subsequent thirty five years have been marked by how remarkably easy it has been to undo all those gains for the ordinary average person.

On Friday when I felt quite desperately depressed and wanted to weep for shame at the sight of Farage triumphant I decided to retreat from the madness and read poetry. I had no particular poem or poet in mind but I turned to Yeats and the book almost of itself opened at the Stare’s nest by my window, a poem which I think speaks even more evocatively than Hardy’s about what it feels like to live in deeply troubling and uncertain times.
starling

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Me, the Cat and Dannie Abse – David Jones

This poem was written in 2009 by a friend of mine, David Jones of Merthyr. He hated reading in public regarding it as complete torture both for him and the listeners but over a pint with a few friends he could be persuaded to share his work which was embedded in the rich tradition of Anglo-Welsh poetry. Wonderfully descriptive of Welsh life and the natural rhythms and seasons of the Welsh countryside. Despite friends urging him to do so he never submitted any work for publication regarding the writing and reading of poetry as a personal and intimate pleasure rather than any kind of ‘profession’.

I thought I would share this example of his work  on my blog. I have only a few of his poems and wish I had more but he regarded them as ephemera and often infuriated us by confessing to have lost the only copy of something he had written.  I can only hope that others of his friends have also kept some of his work since this humble and joyful poet deserves to be remembered.

Me, the Cat and Dannie Abse

There’s a small audience
high backed pews cast shadows of emptiness
on white washed walls.
A tousled haired Dannie Abse
Welsh jew – preaches poetry
from the pulpit of nonconformity
free verse set in tablets of stone

I notice a cat walking up the aisle
a street wise walk, haughty, tail up
tousle haired tabby. Stops. Leaps up
nuzzling in to my thigh
he purrs contentedly. Drinking in words
through the black slits of his eyes,
mesmerised. And I think only
of blood-sucking jumping fleas.

Dannie reads ‘In the Theatre’
The cat becomes agitated
at the words ‘brain-mashed’
he sinks his claws in the varnished wood.
Until suddenly, ‘You sod leave my soul alone’
pirouttes him in the air with a shriek
and he is gone through the slit of the door
into black tumoured night.
Dannie stammers and then moves on
‘Leave my soul alone,
Leave my soul alone’.

Lines in winter – for Raif Badawi

Lines in winter

                            I

Black flakes of birds, wind driven, tossed
from tree to tree across a bleak sky.
Winter stubble fields sullen and empty

tramlines of pale stalks in dark mud
even the weeds seem to have given up
attempting a foothold in this cultivated desert

The news is full of dismal stuff

Wars and plagues, immigration and austerity
and as if all that wasn’t enough
Politicians shuffling through piles of dead words

And I keep thinking of Brecht’s line
that it is almost a crime
to speak of trees for it is
a kind of silence about injustice

                           II

You think we have no reason
to write of anything beyond
personal experience, introspection,
intricacies of words and emotion
because no one will put us in prison
when our words offend?

But what is the purpose of poets
if not to focus the mind’s
attention where it is needed most;
to sing like canaries in dark mines
in the space between heartbeats?

                             III

And this skinny little man
with an impish grin and unruly hair
this twenty first century Voltaire

with his tongue and his pen,
who dares to use them to question
and to oppose oppression

and every beat of the cane
draws a line of fire  across his back
“he made no sound” the witness said
“but you could see he was in pain”

and each stroke of the lash opens
another throat to sing.  Becomes
one thousand strokes of one thousand pens;

lines of pale stalks that remain
defiant and upright after snow and storms,
gleaming against the dark of the earth

©2015  A de Grandis

Raif B 1Raif Badawi is one of us, a blogger and part of our community – he is a writer and activist who co-founded the website “Free Saudi Liberals”.  In 95% of the world he’d be doing what the rest of us do, leading his life, going to the day job, happily expressing his thoughts and opinions on his blog but not in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2012 shortly before his arrest he addressed the nature of Liberalism on his blog
“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
More of his writing can be found at
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

Raif B 2On January 9, Raif Badawi was taken from his prison cell to a public square outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was subjected to the first fifty of the sentence of one thousand lashes.
Days later, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair’s prison sentence was extended to fifteen years
Then, on January 16, Badawi’s next 50 lashes were postponed because his injuries from the first round were too harsh to withstand additional flogging. They are scheduled to resume this week.  The Saudi Authorities will resume their torture once he has healed enough to withstand the next fifty lashes.

The crime that prompted this appalling punishment is that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’.  He does not advocate violence and what he says would be taken as self-evident truth outside the closed, medieval and fearful world that is Saudi Arabia.

I’d urge all bloggers to take up Raif Badawi’s cause if to do no more than sign the petition that Amnesty International have organised to stop his further flogging
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/saudi-arabia-free-raif-badawi-flogged-blogger

We must not forget that we enjoy our freedom to blog and to express our opinions because in our countries in the past there were individuals like Raif Badawi, writers and thinkers who dared to speak out against oppression and injustice.  I believe we owe him our support and our voices, which is what prompted me to write the poem.  I’m happy for it to be shared and used to help his cause.

On the road to nowhere

the road to nowhere

On the road to nowhere

They have gone, one by one
taking with them
their carefully packed
suitcases
into which they have put
important items,
bits of life they
did not
want to forget

as they went, each one shut
the door behind them
a gesture saying,

I am not coming back,
what is left 
is for you to sort out