Monday, 21 March 2011

Postcard 81: a gnarled oak ~ James Brush

My thanks to James Brush, who sent me this beautiful chapbook of 'Haiku-esque' micro-poems all the way from Texas, USA. The blue edge is just a Photoshopped background to ensure that 'a gnarled oak, 2010' shows up on my page.

James prepared this exquisite collection of micro-poetry himself under the aegis of his Coyote Mercury Press, and I feel very privileged to be the recipient of a hand-crafted limited edition.

The poems were apparently largely the fruit of James' perambulations, often with his dogs, in his local area. James re-casts his familiar landscape in a new guise, capturing those little moments that can so easily pass us by: 'it's about actively trying to re-see' the world around him, he explains.

The collection is divided into four seasonal sections, each prefaced with an accompanying photograph. Birds wing their way into a number of these pages. We encounter 'Hawk and Crow' in the Spring poems; 'Purple martins' streak through the Summer; the telltale sound of the 'Chicka-dee-dee-dee' permeates Fall (our UK autumn) - and fogbound mockingbirds and wrens make their entrance in Winter. 

James' world seems a tranquil place on the surface, but there are little ripples and ruffles, ensuring that a sense of reality is never far beneath the surface. We note the gathering of clouds, a 'broken bird nest', 'a barbwire fence', the short span of the dragonfly ... but despite these little hints that there are cracks in the ice, the writer conveys a serene and compelling acceptance of the world in his view.

The poems are exquisite little jewels - or perhaps 'breaths', in the language of Haiku. Thank you, James, for sharing this universe in microcosm.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Postcard 80: Thoughts sparked by Gray and a Country Churchyard

Cambridge, where 'Gray's Elegy' may have been composed

'The curfew tolls the knell ...' 

Many of us can recite this much of Gray's 'Elegy written in a Country Churchyard'. How many of us, though, know anything much about the background to the poem? I was delighted to read the interesting feature by Carol Rumens in her 'Poem of the Week' column in 'The Guardian'.

In my mind's eye I do not see Cambridge, a place I know well, for it was my home town for five years. Instead, I picture a rural churchyard, full of greenery and perhaps dominated by a large Yew. This may be because the driveway up to my childhood home ran alongside a scene such as this, and childhood impressions are etched deep in our psyches. The view below captures something similar, although it is in a completely different part of the country. 

A Country Churchyard
This is actually the churchyard (and a beautifully mown one!) at Vowchurch in Herefordshire. It has nothing to do with Gray, but it represents the kind of place I associate with the poem.

St Bartholomew's, Vowchurch, Herefordshire
Vowchurch has interesting literary connections of its own. We visited it once on our way to the Hay Festival (on a rather round-and-about route).

As you approach Vowchurch from the road . . .
Lewis Carroll, of 'Alice' fame, was really Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. His brother, Skevington Hume Dodgson, was the incumbent here from 1895-1910. Their father, Charles Dodgson Senior, was an Archdeacon. You can read about the family on this site.

This beautiful part of Herefordshire, Golden Valley, is also associated with another Lewis, namely C.S. Lewis, creator of the wonderful 'Narnia' stories.