I Met A Friend Beside The Cross

I Met A Friend Beside The Cross ~ for Michelle

I met a friend beside the cross
Up on The Green on Easter Day
And she was there to mourn a loss
And I was passing on my way

Now she and I, we only meet
Infrequently throughout the year
But there we were; a meeting sweet
And meaningful, before the dear

Beflowered cross the people made
And posies in all colours bright
Where all day long the people prayed
Or stayed to see the way the light

Did shine upon the Field that day
As shone before high on the hill
And some go on and some will stay
To pray, and will be praying still

And so we spoke, my friend and I
Of love and life, and of her loss
And of the mystery of why
We met together by the cross

And I went on, and left her to
Her sorrow, and when I was gone
She did what she had gone to do
Adore the cross with flowers on

Who knows His ways? Not she or I
But Oh! What beauty was reborn
Up on the Field beneath the sky
Before the cross on Easter morn

© Gail Foster 5th April 2021

The Ballad of Derek and Pauline

Derek and Pauline North family photographs

In loving memory of Derek, 1932 – 2021, and Pauline North , 1931 – 2021
Two good people from Devizes who loved each other, and who loved to dance

I know what I like, my love
And I like what I see
I wonder if you’d like to take
My hand and dance with me

We’ll marry in September and
Go laughing by the sea
I wonder if you’ll take my hand
My love, and dance with me

We’ll have a little house and make
A home and family
And all of this will come to pass
If you will dance with me

And I will make your flour rise
And puddings that will be
Like honey on your tongue if you
Will come and dance with me

There’s children in the garden, love
So many I can see
And all because you took my hand
And came and danced with me

You were my only love and true
And we’ll forever be
The last ones out there on the floor
You loved to dance with me

I’ll bring you daffodils, my love
And later after tea
I’ll take your hand and then we will
Go dancing, you and me

© Gail Foster 21st February 2021

Family photographs by kind permission of Karen North

‘To the virus, we are landscape’ by CJ Thorpe-Tracey; a review

When CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s first poetry pamphlet slipped coolly into my Facebook Newsfeed I knew I had to have it. My dealings with Thorpe-Tracey to date have been that I met him at a gig he played a few years ago and that I read his Facebook posts with interest. He seems to say it as it is, and isn’t, or so I thought when I read one of his reviews once, much of a people-pleaser. I think of him as a bit of a left-wing Leonardo (or so I decided as I was making notes for this review), one of those people who can turn their hand to many things and do them well, and (more importantly to a self-obsessed poet with a short attention span) as a person who is unlikely to waste my time.

It has been a tradition over recent centuries for a new poet to introduce their work to the world by means of the production of a pamphlet, or chapbook, a slim volume of verse.

The book, with its subtle seascape cover, looks like a bit of class – ‘Tranquil, clear, and calm’, says my mate T as she feels it between her palms (I’ll explain about T later) – and like something I want to own, something important.

So I order it and it arrives and I decide that when I read it it will be a proper moment and it sits on the sideboard for a while.

My qualification for reviewing a book of free verse consists of a B in A level English achieved in my late teens when I was off my head, and five years of teaching my middle-aged self, mostly, to write poetry in traditional forms. I avoid free verse like the plague (not the best analogy in this day and age) as it seems to me that most of it is lazy tosh written because someone couldn’t be bothered to break their brain on a proper poem. I do know some damn good poets though, and every now and again I stumble across a free verse poem that causes me to catch my breath, so I’m open to educating myself and moderating my view.

Free verse may contain structure but is not bound by it, likewise there may be rhyme or there may not be.

It’s misty on the morning that I decide to open ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, and as I read the first poem ‘No pharmaceuticals’, the mist lifts and the sun streams into my living room and I catch my breath and my eyes fill with tears.

This is a poet who knows about words.

This is a poet who knows about sickness and shadow.

There are other poems in the book that do this to me; ‘Second Pillar’, in which the poet contrasts church bells with the Call to Prayer; ‘Visiting Hours’, a hospital conversation about racism and remaining; ‘Catholic Primary’, a brutal story of bullying and revenge; ‘Dementor’, in which the poet makes his views on JK Rowling known and no bones about it; and, my favourite I think, ‘Second Spike’, a poignant account of the evolution of a relationship during the months of coronavirus.

It’s a book about Britain in 2020, and the material in it is both personal and political. There’s a poem called ‘First six weeks of lockdown’; one called ‘Eat Out To Help Out’; an acerbic and gloriously vulgar set of lines called ‘A Dick Pic Triptych’ on the subject of Hancock, Johnson, and Cummings; and of course ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, which is the last of the twenty-one poems.

Thorpe-Tracey breaks the book up with a couple of pictures of tweets and three small poems on the theme of ‘wet’, and in the Acknowledgements says that he has been inspired by the work of Suzannah Evans and John McCullough.

What do I love about the lines in this book? The alliteration – ‘hung on high and hammer smashed’; the similes – ‘a goose-like honk through silence / as lime into cream’; the visceral (and often food-related) physicality – ‘Cold-burnt my teeth on a cumulus chunk’, ‘a lady snapped / a chicken bone above her plate’, ‘Crushed into the nuts and salt’.

What do I not like? Not much. Although I will say, and this is more about my grounding in traditional verse forms than Thorpe-Tracey’s ability, that sometimes the nearly but not quite form thing is a little frustrating. I’m not sure whether the fact that I like that he often ends a verse with a rhyme is about pure appreciation or relief, and I find myself counting syllables with some of the pieces. In ‘Grandma’s Funeral’, he’s gone for the 5-7-5 used in haiku/senryu/tanka and stuck to it, whereas in his ‘wet’ poems he wavers.

I rarely read other peoples’ work but I’ve read this book more than once and I love it. I love it because it takes me to places I know and don’t know at the same time; I love it because the words are complex and beautiful and I relish them; and I love it because it’s realistic and philosophical and it moves me.

And that’s where my friend T comes in. Because this book moves me a lot and I need to check that out. So, as we’re sat on the edge of the fountain in the Market Place in town with our coffees, and after T, who works in the NHS, has held the book between her palms and said that it is ‘Tranquil, calm, and clear’, I read ‘Visiting Hours’ to her.

And there it is. A sharp intake of breath and a silent ‘Ooo’. ‘How’ says T, ‘can so much be said with so few words?’

Not just me, then.

I’m delighted to have CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s pocket-sized piece of poetic excellence and bittersweet bite of history on my shelves. Reading ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ has been a great use of my time and whilst I am not yet a convert to free verse I do feel that I understand it better.

Methinks the gentleman has played a blinder, and I look forward to more.

Review © Gail Foster 10th December 2020

Q&A (thanks to CJ Thorpe-Tracey for the answers)

1. Any reason that you are not going to do a reprint? Might it appear in other ways in future?

I misjudged the timing of poetry publishing – how far ahead everything is scheduled. So I had to decide either to hold off till May/June 2021 (to try to get it into magazines etc) or to just not worry about that and go for it now. This pamphlet is so rooted in 2020 and Covid upheaval, I wanted it out, while it’s still all around us.

So now, it’s selling well, but to my own audience outside of poetry, rather than a ‘real’ poetry readership; I’m not making in-roads into that world. Plus obviously I’m just starting out, with a lot still to learn.

My plan is to move on – get on with writing more, submit to magazines as I go, until the next time I’ve got enough done for a pamphlet, however long that takes.

If I ever have enough work to publish a full book collection, I’ll include these.

2) Is the Dick Pic Triptych based on an old form?

It’s not sadly, it’s just built off the rhythm of the first two lines, which I got from hip hop rather than poems.

3) (Forgive me!) How do you Feel about the book and the work inside it?

I like it as a whole and I think it’s strong as a debut effort. I enjoyed the processes, it’s very new to me (and profoundly different from song lyric writing). There are poems in there I’m very proud of.

However I do think I leapt into publishing a pamphlet too early (but did so for good reasons, i.e. what I mention above, about corona times). So serious poetry people may find my work quite ‘beginner level’/naive and simple.

At the same time, it’s not really about that, right? The words pleased me!

Fwiw your own kind of tautly constructed rhyming poetry inspires me just as much – often more – than free verse and that “oh how clever am I, disguising archaic formalism within something that appears to be free verse” stuff that seems to be prevalent, as if poems are maths problems.  

And finally –

4) Will there be another one?

Definitely. Not until I’m certain it’s ready though, I’m not setting a deadline.

For further information about ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ by CJ Thorpe-Tracey, published by Border Crossing Press 2020, email chris@christt.com, or find him on Twitter @christt

Carrie Symonds and the Fish

Carrie Symonds sniffed the air
And wondered what the smell
That came from Cummings’ office was
Now he had gone to hell

How odious the man had been
And oh how he did hate her
So much that he had left a fish
Behind the radiator

Carrie Symonds got the fish
And threw it in the bin
How very nice the office looked
Without the Cummings in

But all the same there did remain
A funny sort of smell
And so she had it swept and cleaned
By MI5 as well

© Gail Foster 14th November 2020

The Last Thing That She Said To Me

– a poem for World Mental Health Day

‘I’m sorry that I didn’t come to tea
It’s just I’ve not been feeling very well’
‘You’ll soon be better, mate, you wait and see
You’ve got what I had last week, I can tell’
‘I don’t know, I’ve been feeling really bad
And sometimes even…’ ‘I know what you need
What I do when I feel a little sad
Is run myself a bubble bath and read
You try it, and you’ll soon be right as rain’
‘And sometimes even…’ ‘Sometimes even what?’
‘I feel like ending everything’ ‘Again?
You say that every time you lose the plot
And you’re still here’ ‘I’m sorry about tea’
That was the last thing that she said to me

© Gail Foster 10th October 2020

https://www.samaritans.org/

Hard Work It Seems Is Not Enough

Work hard, they said, and so I did

Till midnight sometimes and beyond

I read and did as I was bid

Work hard, they said and so I did

I always was that sort of kid

There never was a magic wand

Work hard, they said and so I did

Till midnight sometimes and beyond

 

Work hard, they said, and so I read

And didn’t go to bed till noon

Believing every word they said

Worked hard until my fingers bled

And all the world was in my head

There never was a silver spoon

Work hard, they said, and so I read

And didn’t go to bed till noon

 

Work hard, they said, and so I did

And you’ll be what you want to be

No path in life will be forbid

Work hard, they said, and so I did

I always was that sort of kid

But never went to Eton, see

Work hard, they said, and so I did

And you’ll be what you want to be

 

Work hard, they said. For kids like me

Hard work it seems is not enough

The Bs I need were not to be

Work hard, they said. For kids like me

There is no university

Hey, it’s a hard knock life, kid. Tough

Work hard, they said. For kids like me

Hard work it seems is not enough

 

© Gail Foster 15th August 2020

Blossom

May Day Blossom by Gail Foster

~ A poem for the first of May ~

The first of May today. The maypoles stand
In silence. Ribbons flutter in the breeze
There are no dancing feet but only bees
On empty village greens across the land

I wonder if the old gods understand
That we cannot in ancient ways appease
The lusts of earth, or lie beneath the trees
Or even hold an absent lover’s hand

How beautiful the blossom is. It falls
In showers on the garlic flowers, blows
In snowy clouds across our garden walls
And gathers in the potholes. No-one knows

What happens now. The first of May today
The blossom falls, the blossom flies away

© Gail Foster 1st May 2020

 

So Many More Coffins Than You

There once was a President who
Didn’t give one fuck or two
‘It’s tremendous!’ he said
‘We’ve got so many dead!
And so many more coffins than you!’

There once was a President who
Said that science was simply not true
‘All this talk of a spread
Is all fake news!’ he said
‘What’s that smell?’ he said. ‘That’s the dead.’ ‘Ew.’

There once was a President who
Killed his country. ‘The size of the queue
Of our glorious dead
Is enormous!’ he said
And it was. And it grew. And it grew.

© Gail Foster 28th March 2020

 

We Call The People That We Love Inside

The shops are shut.  Our hearts are open wide
Before we put the Closed sign on the door
We call the people that we love inside

‘Last orders at the bar!’ the barman cried
Our days of wine and roses are no more
The pubs are shut.  Our hearts are open wide

The schools are shut.  How hard the children tried
For what, they sigh, was all our striving for
We call the people that we love inside

No space made out of stone for God to hide
At home alone we face a higher law
The church is shut. Our hearts are open wide

Our doors are shut.  In darkness we abide
We tear our hair and wash our fingers raw
With all the people that we love inside

The price we pay for freedom is our pride
What price our freedom if we win the war
The shops are shut.  Our hearts are open wide
We call the people that we love inside

© Gail Foster 23rd March 2020

RENT at the Arc Theatre, Trowbridge

Rent at the Arc Theatre - montage by Gail Foster

This week ArcProductions present RENT at the Arc Theatre, Trowbridge, directed by Cherie Demmery.

For those not in the know, Rent is a Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning rock musical, loosely based on Puccini’s La Bohème and first performed in 1996, exactly one hundred years after the opening night of the opera.  Its creator Jonathan Larson died the night before the premiere and never got to see what an enduring success his musical became.

Rent is set in East Village in Lower Manhattan in the late 80s/early 90s, at a time when the community there was being ravaged by HIV/Aids.  The main characters are Roger (Rob Finlay), a musician desperate to write one good song before he dies, Mark (Karl Montgomery-Williams), a film maker who records the story, Mimi (Cherry Fox) an exotic dancer, Collins (Matt Dauncey), a professor and gay rights activist, Angel (Thomas Montgomery-Williams), a drummer and drag queen, Maureen (Emma Victoria Webb), a promiscuous performance artist, Joanne (Becky Lawrence), a lawyer, and Benny (Naomi Marie), a former roommate turned landlord.  Other characters are parents, junkies, homeless persons, a dealer, a waiter, a window cleaner, a producer, and the police; and some cast members take on several roles. The action takes place in and around Mark and Roger’s flat as they and the wider community struggle to define themselves and come to terms with death whilst keeping their homes and relationships together in uncertain and challenging times.

Scaffolding sets are the usual choice for Rent, and the stage and balconies at the Arc Theatre were divided into various performance areas and decorated with graffiti, wire mesh, coloured mobiles, and mannikins, giving the impression of an arty scrapyard.  The music was provided by a small but harmoniously formed band comprised of Musical Director Liam Howlett on keyboards, one guitarist, one bass guitarist, and a percussionist, from behind a transparent screen of coloured squares stage left that echoed the traditional design of Rent’s publicity posters.

There’s a lot going on in this musical; visually, emotionally, musically, simultaneously; almost to the point of sensory overload.  Why sing one song when you can sing eight at a time, why just have the one scene when you can have three going on in the same space?  There’s not a moment for a breath in Rent, and certainly not a moment to be bored.  That’s why people love it and go to see it time and time (thirteen times in the case of one cast member) again.

The cast of ArcProductions have been in rehearsal since September, and it showed.  I went to the dress rehearsal expecting to have to excuse various mistakes on the grounds that the show would be alright on the night but found little to criticise and much to wildly praise.  The high level of energy and competence exhibited by the players, some of whom clearly had professional experience and most of whom appeared to have had training of some sort, was consistent with a show at the end of a week’s run rather than a dress.

The standard was so high and the cast worked so well together that it is hard to pick out any one performance for particular remark.  The minor roles were played with as much gusto as the leads, and everyone availed themselves of the opportunity to shine.  The things that worked especially well for me were; the chemistry between Roger and his doomed love Mimi, and Collins and the flighty Angel; the spotlights at the sides and the phone scenes; the colourful costumes and complex choreography; the way multiple harmonies were woven together in songs like ‘Another Day’ and ‘Christmas Bells’; Rob Finlay’s performance of ‘One Song Glory’ and his character’s broad emotional range; Cherry Fox’s flirty junky; Emma Victoria Webb’s mesmerising and witty performance of ‘Over The Moon’; Thomas Montgomery-Williams’ sass and sensitivity; Karl Montgomery-Williams’ American boy; Naomi Marie’s magnetic stage presence; Maureen and Joanne’s (Becky Lawrence) ‘Take Me Or Leave Me’ duet; the joy and vigour of the table dance in ‘La Vie Bohème’; the strong voices of the chorus and triumphant cadences of the score: and the sheer gut wrenching mournful magnificence of Matt Dauncey’s rendition of ‘I’ll Cover You (Reprise)’.

Rent is a musical about how a disease devastates a community and how that community comes to terms and comes together in the face of adversity.  It’s a musical about creativity, diversity, equality, and social justice.   It’s a brave and life-affirming musical about love, that picks you up and dances with you and then drops you from a great height into a pool of tears.

It’s a musical about dying, and hope.

Me and the bloke sat next to me cried at the end.

Thanks, ArcProductions!

That was amazing.

Images and text © Gail Foster 21st February 2020