Words words words ...

I've been struggling with a poem about the sounds that trees make and they're effect on me this summer. I've realised that there is very few alliterative words that really reflect the sound of a breeze rustling the leaves of trees high above us.  That sound is quite trance inducing - I noticed this recently on a visit to Keats House, Hampstead, 

where a group of us sat in the beautiful gardens, beneath the trees on the lawn, on a warm summer's day, listening to a talk about Keats and analysing his lovely poem - 

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thy happiness,---
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O for a draught of vintage, that hath been
Cooled a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Dance, and Provencal song, and sun-burnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
And purple-stained mouth;
That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
And leaden-eyed despairs;
Where beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
Or new love pine at them beyond tomorrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Clustered around by all her starry fays;
But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
Fast-fading violets covered up in leaves;
And mid-May's eldest child,
The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and for many a time
I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
In such an ecstasy!
Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain---
To thy high requiem become a sod

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
The same that oft-times hath
Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam
Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:---do I wake or sleep? 
Part of the magic of reading and studying his poem that day was that the gardens in which we sat were where he would have walked and stopped and sat down, while writing the poem and where he may have written it after hearing the nightingale's song on a walk around nearby Hampstead Heath. It was quite shocking to realise that he had died at the very young age of 25. The poem flirts with the idea of death as TB or 'consumption' carried away so many people of those times.


I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Called him soft names in many a mused rhyme.

Keats I'm sure, like all poets, wrestled with the English language to find the right words to express what he wanted to say.

Many years ago, I did write a poem about that struggle, the striving that we all have to communicate - although I'm not putting myself or my simple poem in the same league as Keats' genius. 

Here's my poem, perhaps it does manage to convey the gap between the words we say and what we're trying to express....


Sometimes words gallop
from my mouth in a disordered rush
and people’s eyes glaze over
under the barrage.

Sometimes, when its warmth that I feel,
cold razor words fall from my lips
and the distance to bridge
becomes a glacial chasm.

Sometimes words are so futile and grey
for painting passions that could explode
in a rainbow of numberless colours
that I despair.

Sometimes a chord sounds
when I look in someone’s eyes
and a note of harmony hums between us.
These moments, though rare keep me in tune.

… so how do we convey grief or sadness or depression?  This is why poets so often use metaphor, because there's no other way to convey what we really want to say.  My poetry writing is generally easy to understand and accessible but sometimes metaphor(or simile) is the only way …

Walking on ice

I’m walking on ice, thin, brittle,
sliding one foot forward,
then another, then another.

My legs tremble,
the ice crackles and squeaks.

I put out my balancing arms,
step one, two, three,

and look across,
holding steady.

But the other side
is hazy and blurred.

It must be the mist …
in my eyes.

Maybe it's the job of a poet to find the words that you want to say but can't and speak them out for you?  Is that it dear reader?  I'll end this with Keats and the nightingale - as I began this musing. ..

Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
In the next valley-glades:
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:---do I wake or sleep?

Catching the Breeze

Last week I had an email from Anthony Fisher, the facilitator/organiser of Enfield Poets letting me know that my poem Catching the Breeze had been blown up and put in the window of The Dugdale Arts Centre, in Enfield and would be displayed as Poem of the Month until the end of July.  I was surprised, delighted, thrilled and of course honoured that my poem was chosen.

Years ago, I really believed that my poetry would never be recognised as having any literary merit and that no one, except a few friends and close family would read my poems.  I've never been interested in writing clever and obscure poetry (although I do enjoy reading other people's) . I've never written the kind of poetry that ordinary people would find hard to grasp. I've taught in prisons and to those going through the Criminal Justice system, to those for whom poetry has been outside their experience.  I've also taught in Higher and Adult Education. Many people I've taught thought poetry was for other people at a different educational level, never for them.   Even educated people I've come across, some seemed to think poetry was for the literati, the academics, an elite who read literary journals not for them. 

From the start I was not interested in writing that sort of perceived clever, obscure poetry.  I wanted my poems to reach ordinary people's everyday experience.  I never cared if some high faluting lit-mag turned down my poetry.

Over the last 20 years I've had many poems published in anthologies and poetry magazines.  Each time I've been surprised that a poem of mine was accepted. 

My first collection was called 'Heart Broke'  and was published in 2013 by Tambourine Press. 

In the Forward I have quoted Jimmy Ruffin - 'What becomes of the broken hearted who had love that's now departed...'  In the Forward I wrote: 
 'All the poems were about the end of whichever relationship I was in at the time. It was always painful and … it always seemed questionable how I would survive...'  There was a great review in Gold Dust - a literary magazine: 

My second collection, called Dolly Mix

contained many poems I had written and used  for performance.    In my Intro to the collection, I talk about my poetry writing ethos:

'Many poets write books for the poetry world, not for the ordinary reader – not for the average Joanna or Jo who thinks they don’t know what poetry is about.  I showed a poem I wrote many years ago to a well-read friend and said what do you think?  He said ‘I couldn’t possibly comment as I don’t know enough about poetry’.  He was under the common assumption that good poetry is only for experts and they are the ones who should comment on it, that it is a literary endeavour that only very highbrow people can truly understand.  He was therefore afraid to say something for fear of what?  Not giving me the correct literary or academic response?
I write poems about ordinary life, about the high street, about popping down the shops, buying new shoes, the difficulties buying a bra or does God like football. About life, death and anything in between that pops up.  I write for you and me – not obscure literary poems (which have their place), but poems that are easy to understand and I hope will resonate with a wide audience.  You don’t have to be a literary critic to appreciate my poems – you can just say – Oh yes I like that one, or Oh I felt like that when ... or Oh I’m not alone then, it happened to someone else.. or even Oh no! I don’t like that one... whatever your response, it’s all fine by me.'

Coming back to my poem in the window of the Dugdale Centre then, well I guess I feel like cheering, because that poem and the decision to put it up for the passing public to read in the centre of Enfield was chosen as Poem of he Month by fellow poets. But it's also on display for any passing person to stop for a moment and read.  Ordinary people on their way to the shops.

That's what makes me want to cheer.