Archives » Poetry

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres (Ieper,) Flanders

Essex Farm Cemetery is located on the banks of the Ypres-Yser canal by the site of the Advanced Dressing Station where Lt Col John McCrae was serving as a medical officer when he wrote his famous poem “In Flanders Fields.” I have blogged about him previously in connection with the McCrae Memorial at Eilean Donan Castle in Lochalsh, Scotland.

The cemetery contains more than 1,000 graves. Unusually for a Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery its Cross of Sacrifice is located right at the entrance:-

Essex Farm Cemetery Ypres, Cross of Sacrifice

Graves from northwest:-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From southeast. Note Yorkshire Memorial on the canal bank:-

More Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

From northeast:-

Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres, Graves

From south. Again note Yorkshire Memorial (which I shall come back to):-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from Yorkshire Memorial:-

View of Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Graves from north, Yorkshire Memorial to left:-

Graves at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

A tree trunk has grown round the gravestone of Private J MacPherson, Seaforth Highlanders, who died on 5/7/1917, aged 33:-

Commonwealth War Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Symbolic of the fact they fought and died over the same ground the cemetery holds a German grave, Franz Heger, RIR, 238, 7/8/1916:-

German Grave, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Grave of Rifleman V J Strudwick, The Rifle Brigade, 14/1/1916, aged 15, said to be the youngest British Empire casualty of the Great War. (There may be some doubt about this.) It is nevertheless a focus for remembrance:-

Youngest Casualty, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

John McCrae Commemoration stone. Written in four languages, French, Flemish, English and German, with the poem itself also inscribed on the memorial along with a facsimile of the handwritten manuscript:-

John McCrae Commemoration, Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

The bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery where John McCrae worked as a medic:-

Bunkers at  Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunker interior:-

Interior of Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Another bunker interior:-

Another Bunker at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Bunkers, looking back up to Essex Farm Cemetery grounds:-

Bunkers at Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Information board with a photograph of how the bunkers appeared during the war:-

Information Board Essex Farm Cemetery, Ypres

Lest We Forget:-

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Wilfred Owen

One hundred years ago today, only one week before the armistice which ened the Great War, perhaps the most resonant of that war’s poets, Wilfred Owen, was killed leading his troops across the Sambre–Oise Canal.

Wilfred Owen

On my trip down to Oswestry for the Challenge Cup semi-final in February I discovered his name is on the Great War Memorial inside Shrewsbury Abbey.

The Abbey:-

Shrewsbury Abbey

The War Memorial. Owen’s name is marked by a poppy:-

Shrewsbury Abbey War Memorial

Closer View:-

Shrewsbury Abbey War Memorial Detail

In the Abbey grounds there is a memorial dedicted to Owen. The text in red this side reads, “Wilfred Owen Poet 18/3/1893-4/11/1918.”:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial, Shrewsbury Abbey Grounds.

The memorial is titled “Symmetry” and was designed by Paul De Monchaux and erected in 1993:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Title

Three other information stones surround the memorial. Birth and life:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Information Plaque

Death:-

Wilfred Owen Memorial Plaque

Line of Poem:-

Wilfred Owen  Memorial Explanation

The memorial is in the form of a pontoon bridge. You can read more about it here.

The red writing on this side is the quote (line 40 of “Strange Meeting“) “I am the enemy you killed my friend.”

Wilfred Owen Memorial Reverse View

As Though We Were Flying by Andrew Greig

Bloodaxe, 2011, 62 p

 As Though We Were Flying cover

One of the best authors I have discovered since starting the blog, Andrew Greig, started out as a poet. His first publications were books of poetry and then in amongst those he took to writing prose about another of his interests, climbing. He only took up novel writing after twenty years or so. He has also written a book about golf, another on fishing and the Scottish landscape, and, with Mike Heron, one about The Incredible String Band.

I thought I should sample his poetry, hence reading this, one of his most recent collections of poems.

The slim volume (nearly all poetry books are slim) is divided into three sections, Home for Now, The Light of Day and A Moment’s Liberty. The first poem, The Tidal Pools of Fife, is a lament for those lost pleasure grounds and there are five other poems set explicitly in Fife. More than a few deal with marriage – in especial A Long Shot compares the incredulous certainty of holing a putt as it moves across the green with the equally chancy outcome of being in the estate of matrimony. All are thoughtful and illuminating. But they need to be read, not written about.

Pedant’s corner:- In the contents page a poem is titled Eck Hutcheson but on page 20 is Eck Hutchinson (and twice in the poem itself,) “the fruit … are so nearly ripe” (the fruit is so nearly ripe,) “How could I live so long ……. and somehow failed to grasp” (and somehow fail to grasp,) “the crowd stream” (the crowd streams,) “her eyes propels the bird” (propel?) “above the river ,” (no space between river and comma.)

Reelin’ In the Years 147: Wherewithal

Clifford T Ward was an unusual pop star. Who else would have based a popular song around a Robert Browning poem in Home Thoughts from Abroad? (See here track 7.)

Not only did Ward use the word wherewithal in this song, he made it the title.

And I doubt you’ll find non-pareil in any other song lyric. (Granted, nonchalant is less rare.)

Clifford T Ward: Wherewithal

Diddy Team Dreams, of Diddy Cups

In celebration of the mighty Sons’ forthcoming appearance in the Challenge Cup final (oh, all right then; the Irn Bru Cup final) this is a poem by Dumbarton FC’s poet in residence Stephen Watt.

The accompanying video has some goood views of Dumbarton Rock, the town and the stadium plus footage from the semi-final win down in Oswestry.

The words as posted on the club’s website are here.

Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

Corvus, 2012, 521 p.

 Hide Me Among the Graves cover

Powers has form with poetry and poets, especially those of the nineteenth century. In The Anubis Gates he even, in the form of William Ashbless, deployed one of his own (and that of James Blaylock) invention. Fantastic Fiction even lists some of “Ashbless”’s works.

Here Powers concentrates on the Rossetti family, Christina and her brother Dante Gabriel, but Algernon Swinburne also features as a character as does Edward Trelawny.

In Hide me Among the Graves sublime poetry is an expression of a kind of demonic possession by (or more accurately a close association to) the Nephilim, a semi-vampiric type of creature. The affliction is partly hereditary but can be transmitted by biting. Two of these creatures (one is Byron’s friend John Polidori, the Rosettis’ maternal uncle, the other embodies the spirit of Boudicca – though the characters of course call her Boadicea) are the background drivers of the plot. Uniting their two strands in one body by the union of the two bloodlines will awaken such power that Boadicea will again be able (as she did in Roman times) to destroy London in an earthquake. Byron, Shelley and Keats are said to have shared the nephilitic tendency, Tennyson and Ashbless not. The loved ones, especially the children, of those close to the Nephilim are in danger of death, or – worse – a lingering half life as a diminished ghost. The prologue involves the awakening of the spirit of Polidori, by Christina rubbing her blood into a small statue belonging to her father. (There it is, blood again.)

The lesser known (ie totally fictional) protagonists of the book are Adelaide McKee and John Crawford who unknown to each other (at first) are host to the relevant spirits. When they are passing by chance on a London bridge at night they are attacked by an avatar of Boadicea. Only Crawford’s quick thinking in hurling them both into the water saves them. (For some reason both salt water and almost drowning repel the vampires, exposure to the open air increases the danger.) The same night though they conceive a child. Since McKee had earlier been trapped into prostitution they do not meet again for seven years, by which time McKee thinks Johanna, their daughter, may be dead. She is not, but has fallen into the clutches of Polidori and they and she spend the rest of the book trying to evade a forced union of Johanna with one of Boadicea’s creatures.

Powers is good with characters. McKee, Crawford and Johanna are very well drawn and their story is much the most compelling in the book. I was less taken with the doings of the Rosettis though. This is perhaps due to my distaste for the incorporation (it might as well be traducing) of real people in such a distortion of history. It is only the fantastical elements which disturb me here, however; I have no quarrel with the practice in a straightforward altered history. In this context, in Hide me Among the Graves, Powers purports to give us the real reason why Gabriel’s wife Lizzie Siddal’s grave was exhumed.

While Powers does write like a dream bits of this are ridiculous. Like vampires, the Nephilim – or their agents – can be deflected by garlic, killed by silver bullets, and their reflections trapped by mirrors. (I know it’s a staple of vampire stories but …. garlic? Really?) It is a measure of Powers’s facility that despite my reservations I continued reading. He can certainly spin a yarn and people it with apparently living, breathing characters. The book is too long though. I could quite happily have stopped reading at the end of Part One and still felt satisfied; but there was still over half the book to go.

Pedant’s corner:- remarkably few instances for a book this long. And the copy I read was an ARC (or proof as they used to be known.) It shows it can be done.
Nevertheless we still had “to lay low” (lie – but it was in direct speech,) missing opening quote marks when direct speech started a chapter, “had strode” (stridden, surely?) “‘the effect requires parents from two continents’” (Powers’s geography is off here. A Roman, no matter how consecrated to an Alpine Goddess, who raped one of Boadicea’s daughters – similarly consecrated to the old British Goddess known as Andraste, Magna Mater or Gogmagog – was not from a different continent to that of his victim.) An electric doorbell (in 1869?) Octopi (the plural is octopodes or octopuses,) “in front of one in the long row of houses” (it does make sense but “one of the long row of houses” is a more natural construction.)

Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy

Picador, 2015, 583 p, including indexes of titles and first lines.

Duffy’s Selected Poems was one of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read. I’m counting this compendium of 10 of her books of poetry as a reasonable substitute. Looking at that Scotsman list I see I have now read five more on it than when I made the original post.

 Collected Poems cover

The book contains poems from nine of Duffy’s previous collections, Standing Female Nude, Selling Manhattan, The Other Country, Mean Time, The World’s Wife, Feminine Gospels, Rapture, The Bees, Ritual Lightning, plus her, as the blurb has it, “much-loved”, Christmas Poems.

Standing Female Nude I have already read. As for the rest:-
From Selling Manhattan we have the embedded metaphor of a poem written as if by a ventriloquist’s dummy, revelation of the stories that roil beneath the surface in a Model Village, Absolutely deploys an impolite word to great effect, Yes, Officer conveys the plight of an accused person, Politico references Glasgow’s coat of arms to deplore the betrayal that was the city’s industrial decline, Mouth, With Soap the purposelessness, in the grand scheme of things, of minding your language, Correspondents and Telegrams relate love affairs carried on through different communication media, and for personal reasons I loved the Jane Avril Dancing fragment of Three Paintings.
In The Other Country, Originally reflects on the experience of losing a part of your identity when as a child your family moves elsewhere while Too Bad seems to be about a hitman. Poet For Our Times rather wonderfully rhymes poet with show it and Serbo-Croat.
In Mean Time, the poem Litany expresses the enduring memory of the shame of speaking outside the bounds of politeness. Stafford Afternoons the lack of surprise in encountering a flasher. Prayer evokes the lyricism of the names from the shipping forecast.
The poems from The World’s Wife are brilliant reimaginings of myths, fairy tales and figures from history from the female viewpoint. Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud, Mrs Sisyphus and Mrs Icarus are particularly biting.
Feminine Gospels contains what its title suggests. Beautiful is about famous women throughout history, and how they were treated. The longest poem, The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High, might as well be a short story.
Rapture’s poems are mostly about love; fine on an individual basis but faced collectively begin to merge into one another. However, the sentiment “Falling in love is glamorous hell” seems about right and “When did your name change from a proper noun into a charm?” captures that ecstatic first flush perfectly.
While some of the poems in The Bees do concentrate on or refer to that insect many do not. Three – LastPost, New Vows and Premonitions – reflect on the possible consolations the reversal of time could bring. The first of those and The Passing Bells derive inspiration from the work of Wilfred Owen. Big Ask examines the evasions those in power practice to avoid embarrassment.
Ritual Lightning must have been a very small volume when it was published on its own, with only 17 or so poems. Liverpool is a reflection on the Hillsborough tragedy, Birmingham demonstrates that extreme Islamophobia is no newcomer to these shores, White Cliffs’s “something fair and strong implied in chalk/what we might wish ourselves” shows up the distance between actuality and sense of self, Pathway is a remembrance of the poet’s father, while The Crown’s last three words, “not lightly worn,” are more a modern day desideratum than a historical truism.
The “much-loved” Christmas poems turn out to be five in number. The 11 page long Mrs Scrooge is of course inspired by A Christmas Carol and reworks that in a reversal. The always joy-dispensing Mrs Scrooge has outlived her husband but still encounters the three ghosts. It derives much of its impact from a pun. The Christmas Truce is a pretty much unadorned celebration of that peaceful interlude in The Great War’s first winter, Wenceslas encourages the charitable impulse, Bethlehem imagines the scene at that first Christmas, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday does the same for 1799.

Pedant’s corner:- hung (hanged, x3,) Orpheus’ (Orpheus’s,) Goldilocks’ (Goldilocks’s,) span (spun,) “iCallaos! iCallaos! iCallaos! iQuedense!” (those “i”‘s in front of Callaos and Quedense should be upside down exclamation marks,) lay down (laid down,) lay (laid,) homeopathy (homoeopathy,) Señora Devizes’ (Devizes’s,) mistress’ (mistress’s,) leucippotomists (I have no idea what this means,) reindeers, x2 (the plural of reindeer is reindeer.) Colly-Flowre (a deliberate archaism no doubt.)

Standing Female Nude by Carol Ann Duffy

Picador, 2016, 67 p.

Standing Female Nude cover

A reprint of what is stated to be Poet Laureate Duffy’s first collection but both Wiki and Fantastic Fiction have it otherwise. The slim volume contains 49 poems. A few are only 7 or 8 lines long, most are of longer length, some are sonnets and employ that most passé of poetic devices, rhyme. Much of Duffy’s verse here tells stories. Several deal with unsympathetic husbands.

This is a strong assortment of poems with the most memorable including Lizzie, Six which seems to be about child abuse, while Ash Wednesday, 1984 employs rhyme to emphatic effect in imploring parents not to subject their children to religion, Jealous as Hell uses unusual stripped-down syntax and grammar to help make its point, Terza Rima SW19 varies from classic terza rima rhyming but does so to good effect, Where We Came In is a modern take on La Ronde with divorcees meeting up complete with new spouses, Free Will dwells on the lingering effects of an abortion, A Clear Note’s three sections tell a story of three generations of women. The title poem examines the distance between an artist and his sitter, What Price? is about The Hitler Diaries and those who thought to make money from them, Borrowed Memory the reality of incidents in novels to some people’s sense of themselves, while Shooting Stars is a plea not to forget atrocities.

The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2012, 59 p

 The Overhaul cover

Winner of the 2012 Costa Poetry Award, shortlisted for the 2012 T S Eliot Prize.

35 poems, most one pagers, one six pages, the rest two. 2 are eftir Hölderlin (as is one in Jamie’s later collection The Bonniest Companie). Hölderlin seems to be one of her favourite models. Most poems here are in English with the odd Scots word but some are entirely Scots. Nature, or those working in the outdoors, is an inspiration for many and there is an abiding seriousness to her poems, though she is not beyond essaying a pun for a last line. An odd quirk was that some poems had missing full stops at their conclusion, as if they’re unfinished. Understandable enough for those two entitled Fragment 1 and Fragment 2.

I most enjoyed Excavation and Recovery with its evocation of deep time partly because I have seen (in Perth and Abernethy Museums respectively) the log boat whose archaeological recovery it partly describes and a depiction of the dig process.

The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2015, 70 p including 1p Notes and Acknowledgements.

The Bonniest Companie cover

This, Jamie’s latest book of poetry, won the Saltire Society Book of the Year Award for 2016.

There are 47 poems here of which only two stretch over 1 page in length. Most take the form, if not the formal structure, of a sonnet, though Soledades has eight lines of what look like prose before opening out in its last three lines. Some are very short indeed. The last, Gale, has only 16 syllables, shorter than a haiku. The longest, Another You, bears out the potency of cheap music, the titular deer in The Hinds are “the bonniest companie”. Ben Lomond refers to the bonny banks in a poem which, like the song containing those lines, is about death and remembrance. 23/9/14 is an injunction to gird up again after the Scottish Independence Referendum. High Water compares ocean tides to an adulterous affair, Scotland’s Splendour scopes out the delights of memories from a book stumbled on in a charity shop, Wings Over Scotland is a litany of the recorded deaths of birds of prey on various landed estates, taken – verbatim it would seem – from the original reports.

The language Jamie uses goes from standard English to various degrees of Scots depending on the poem. Migratory II, (eftir Hölderlin) is the most uncompromisingly Scottish. The prevalence of poems about animals or landscape places Jamie’s poetry firmly within the tradition of Scottish literature.

Pedant’s corner:- midgies (I know Scottish spelling is a moveable feast but midges, please,) “one less left” (“one fewer” sounds more natural to me.)

free hit counter script