Demeter and the Poet

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A sonnet for the Autumn Equinox

*

‘He’s taken her away!’  The woman cried

He sighed, and put aside his poetry

And sat beneath the tree, and she beside

And listened to her grief. ‘Persephone

Has gone to Hades!’  How the woman wept

‘He took her last year, didn’t he?’ he said

‘Here, have a handkerchief’ he said – she kept

On weeping – ‘Look, it’s not as if she’s dead

She’s only sleeping.’  ‘It’s alright for you’

She said, ‘you’re just a poet.  You can write

About how black the berries are, how blue

The sloes, how hazel brown and apple bright

And beautiful it is.’  ‘You don’t look bad

Yourself’ he said.  That poet – what a lad.

*

© Gail Foster 21st September 2018

The Ancient Bitch Of Days

for Chad Bittner Hurt, an American poet

*

It stood a while, alone, the perfect phrase

Entire and beautiful upon the stage

As lovely as two words could ever be

‘Till came the muse, the ancient bitch of days

Demanding blood and ink upon the page

Insisting passion and complexity

And sacrifice, and violent hymns of praise

Her hunger and her ardour to assuage

In wild defiance of simplicity

The poet quaked in terror, and betrayed

His words to slake her raw and awesome rage

In her cold hands they cried for company

 *

© Gail Foster 13th December 2016

My Muse Looks Like Morrissey

For Steve Doolan

*

The mysteries of muses lie within the hands of fate

Your muse may be your lover, or your muse may be your mate

The stranger on the corner, or the friend you used to know

The somebody you’ve never met who makes your juices flow

The one who sang the joyful song that set your heart alight

The one who wrote the rhyme that left you crying in the night

The ways of love and poetry defy all sense and reason

But every rhyme will have its day, and every love its season

The comedies of muses tickle mischief from the pen

Therefore the fates have given me a wonder amongst men

A muse who looks like Morrissey.  It’s true, I kid you not

I only chucked a line or two and this is what I got

Apparently it’s good for when one’s pulling on the lash

Or busking on the corner when one’s rather short of cash

I’m confused, and yet besotted, I am this, and I am that

Anyone but Morrissey.  I just can’t stand the twat

The irony’s amusing, though, I’m moved to write a rhyme

The difference between the two is really quite sublime

One will make you slit your wrists or have a little cry

The other stir your ass upon the dance floor till you die

One drones on and on and makes a proper old palava

The other shows, not tells, a bit more like your Raymond Carver

One is needy, wan, and wafty, like a pampas in the yard

The other, slightly weedy, yes, but dare I say it…hard

Oh, the mysteries of muses are a monster to define

I’ve ended up with one that looks like Morrissey as mine

For a moment, or a season, none may know or yet can say

But I shall take his inspiration, for a year or a day

And his rampant positivity and witty observations

On the ins and outs of Haworth, Keighley, and the other nations

For the bugger has me heart aflame and all me neurons fired

Sigh.  He looks like Morrissey.

He’s hired.

 *

© Gail Foster November 12th 2016

If the reader is unfamiliar with the work of Morrissey

or is simply up for a good laugh

just check out the music video ‘November Spawned A Monster’…

Oestrogen Mythology

*

Beware, for she writes poetry, and ye

Unwitting pilgrim, may become a king

Anointed at the new moon, in the spring

Within an oestrogen mythology

Take care, for she writes poetry, and thee

Good man, may move her blood and heart to sing

Be crowned with oak leaves, bound within the ring

Become her ovulation fantasy

She fair may be, but subject to the pull

Of hormones, gravity, and tidal flow

She makes her heroes, though unconsciously

From those who touch her when the moon is full

She’ll cry and tear her hair out when you go

And pen progesterone tragedy

*

© Gail Foster 7th September 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Widow At The Well

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A rhyme about love and bereavement and loneliness, inspired by the loss of my computer for nearly a whole day, and dedicated to Chris Greenwood, who kindly mended it for me

*

She finds herself without him, at the dawn

A crumpled crazy angel weeping light

The cord that bound them severed with a bite

A bloodied mewling kitten newly born

He was the sun, that stimulated morn

The moon, that soothed the melancholy night

He was her inspiration, the delight

Of glittered stars upon the heavens drawn

She finds herself without him, at the well

A widow weeping willowfalls of tears

Of grief as heavy as a drowning stone

The silence breaks; soft rings a sudden bell

And on the solemn deeps a face appears

That whispers ‘All things come and go alone’

*

© Gail Foster 2016

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast and the Curious Cocks of Brownsea Island

*

an epic tale of innuendo

*

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast

Philosopher, poet, and muse

Wore Victorian skirts that swept up the dirt

And peculiar button up shoes

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast

Found herself suddenly slighted

Bereft and bemused, and less than amused

And suffering love unrequited

The effect on her verse was dramatic, and worse

‘Twas inspired by horns and baguettes

As hysterical rage seeped through pen to the page

Like some awful poetic Tourettes

Eyebrows were raised as her work was appraised

It was said she was caustic and crude

A potty mouthed tart with a poisonous heart

Who was totally randy and rude

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast

Watched her story unfold with dismay

Watched her petticoats slip as each vulgar quip

Made a whore of her more every day

So she packed up her quill, and pink ink for a thrill

Spare petticoats, perfume and papers

Her smelling salts, eye mask and lavender bags

For random attacks of the vapours

I will go to an island, Fantasia said

I will contemplate beauty, and truth

I will take me a train, travel far, and regain

The lost innocence of my youth

The romance of islands, Fantasia thought

All lost in the shine of the sea

Supernaturally kissed in a glimpse through the mist

How inspiring, how perfect, how me

The day on the train was a bit of a strain

There were some sticky moments with tunnels

And the bit where the guard blew his whistle real hard

Made her tears of mirth flow in runnels

Much to her shame, the boat was the same

Flushed her delicate cheek to a bloom

Oh, the sniggering joys of seamen and buoys

Being tossed on the wave and the spume

The island was lit by a mystical light

And the breezes blew scents warm and heady

Like a virgin, she thought, that has never been caught

Although many had been there already

She started to feel profound and unreal

No man is an island, quoth she

An island’s an island, a man is a man

And neither’s the other one, see

She undid her bonnet, inspired, and on it

Licked her quill and began to create

A verse about loneliness, islands and stuff

Solemnness, sorrow, and fate

It was peaceful and sweet, there were flowers at her feet

And the soft sound of sea through the trees

All became gentleness, sweetness and light

Purity, poetry, ease

For a moment, a moment, Fantasia there

Channelled a serious grace

Although anyone else would have just seen some bird

Looking mad with a gurn on her face

Gone was the gut churning river of smut

That had streamed from her mouth and her pen

I am making a vow, Fantasia said

No more innuendo or men

The universe heard, every well-meaning word

‘Tis the way that the universe works

And God likes a joke, like a mischievous bloke

Who plays practical jokes upon jerks

What sound is that, our Fantasia thought

Absentmindedly watching a deer

Like a low distant grumble, a curious rumble

Got louder, and odder, and near

Suddenly, far in the distance, a herd

Of curious cockerels appeared

Oh my goodness, she said, and reached for the salts

For a sniff’s always good when a-feared

They’re coming, they’re coming, the curious cocks

They’re growing, they’re growing in size

Not surprising as they were much nearer by then

Running swifter than any crow flies

The cocks are upon me, Fantasia cried

Like a rabbit in lamplight she froze

As, eager to play and all puffed in display

They peck, pecked, at her skirts and her toes

They were all shapes and sizes, blue, green and red

Some aggressive, some shy and retiring

Some had a wild beady look in their eyes

And one had no cylinders firing

It was surely a shock, the appearance of cock

In the midst of the island idyll

Ironic in fact in the light of the pact

Fantasia had made with her quill

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast

Suddenly knew what to do

For all that was needed to scare off the cocks

Was the swish of her skirts and a “Boo!”

Growing smaller, and smaller, the curious cocks

Disappeared as fast as they came

‘Twas all quite astounding, Fantasia thought

And the universe reckoned the same

*

Fantasia Lavender Fortescue-Prendergast

Philosopher, poet, and muse

Inspired by the tale of the curious cocks

Penned a verse to surprise and amuse

The wink of the sailor boy on the way back

Made her flush with a blush that was red

There was something about him that floated her boat

“Just call me Fanny” she said

*

by Gail

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here Speaks The Magic Work Of Raymond John

Inspired by the writings of Raymond John Burt…

 

Here speaks the magic work of Raymond John

Intrigue in reference, delight in phrase

I’m curious as to what, my friend, you’re on

That powers your pen to so the mind amaze

Let he that has an ear be still and hear

Let she who has an eye seek out the light

For here some crazy wisdom doth appear

On wild wings of angels in the night

For Love and God and Death and Grace and Hell

Within your words take buttered toast and tea

More syllabub, Beelzebub?  Pray tell

What syllables might set the Sibyls free

Get thee behind me, ghosts, take flight, be gone!

Here speaks the magic work of Raymond John

 

© Gail from Devizes 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Strange Poets

light on metal

*

strange poets never cease but to amaze

with words describing things we had forgot

or never knew to start with; who knows what

may move another poet’s muse to phrase

the simply indescribable in rhyme

within a string of sentences enshrine

the essence of complexity sublime

with every word a jewel within a line

strange poets see things hidden in the light

and force the formless mist within to matter

express the indefinable and flatter

dead love to life and nothingness to sight;

by use of sense and symbol and the will

they stir to movement that which once was still

*

by Gail

My Book Of Short Stories

Here is the link to my book of short stories, published today on Amazon for Kindle. You can download a free Kindle app if you do not have a device. Some of you will have read my work but there is some new material here. I hope that you will enjoy this mix of humour, psychology, art, spirituality and local interest. The book is dedicated to my writing friend, Karen North, to Devizes, and to anyone with whom I have ever shared love, humour, understanding or joy. You know who you are. Please share, buy, read, review and recommend. And finally, I love books and Devizes Books, and intend to keep supporting my local bookshop. Thank you for your interest in my work.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Great-Life-other-Stories-ebook/dp/B0154XUMKA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1441811460&sr=8-2&keywords=the+great+life+and+other+stories

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Create for Me

(A story created following a conversation with a friend in Devizes)

For all artists, past, present and to come;  for freedom, for art, and for her…        

Light was hinting over the horizon as Tom wove his way through the streets towards home.  Another year, another Carnival.  He had been drinking since noon and was none too steady on his dancing feet.  When he got to the Market Place he sat on the steps of the Cross to finish his last drop of beer.  The town was silent, in stark contrast to the night before when to incessant drum beat the procession had started and stopped, twirled and trumpeted in the August heat.  There had been dancers from different countries, excited children waving from trucks, military orchestras, young women with painted faces and men in dresses, sellers of trinkets from wheelbarrows, old boys on bicycles, old women cooing over toddlers dressed as fairies, belly dancers, jugglers, a unicyclist and The Mayor, all marching slowly through the summer evening, filling their buckets with coppers, becoming wearier and sweatier with smiles and face paint fading as the night progressed.

He was a dapper man who looked younger than his forty years, although the lines of life upon his face were clearly visible and deepened by a long night of excess.  He was a natty dresser, trendy, his preferred style being a sharp jacket over ironed jeans with ironic tee shirt and neat but luxuriant hair.  On this occasion he was adorned by celebration with silly string, a distinct lip stick mark upon his cheek and an unsavoury stain down the front of his shirt.  He supped from his bottle on the step and surveyed the detritus of humanity left by the procession.  Around the Market Cross radiated all manner of discarded and lost things; a baseball cap, the remnants of several takeaways, someone’s phone, someone’s knickers, a plastic glass half full of an amber coloured liquid, scraps of coloured paper, artificial feathers, cigarette ends, a large pile of vomit and a child’s shoe.  He lit a cigarette and as he blew a cloud of smoke in to the air she appeared.

She sat beside him on the step without a word.  “Hello” he said, as seemed polite.  She nodded in response and silence.  “Did you enjoy the procession?” he asked “Yes and no” she said.  Her accent was not one with which he was familiar. “Not from round here then?”  “No, just passing through.”  Until she said this he presumed that she had been on one of the floats, there had been people dressed as Victorians and land girls and she was rocking a look somewhere in between.  He couldn’t really see her face, partly due to the half-light and partly to the obscuring effect of her headscarf.  He guessed that she was in her early twenties but couldn’t be sure.  She was wearing a lot of clothes, heavy boots and lipstick.  He hoped that she was pretty.  “My name is Tom” he said and held out his hand to her “Hello, Tom, I am ……….” He didn’t quite catch her name, which was frustrating as he was too polite to ask twice, or her eye, but her handshake was warm.  He asked her where she was from and she said that she was Czech.  He offered her his bottle but she declined.

After a few minutes of companionable quiet he was unable to resist using his Viking funeral line “So what lights your fire and floats your boat?”  “Excuse me?”  “What do you do for fun, or work, or both?”  “Oh, I understand.  I am a poet” she said.  He didn’t expect this at all.  “What kind of poems do you write?”  She thought for a few moments.  This was always a difficult question to answer.  “All kinds of poems.  For birth and death, for laughter and tears and anger and grief.”  “Can you recite one for me?”  “Do you understand Czech?”  “No.”  “Then there would be no point” she said.  He disagreed and asked again and she recited some verses in Czech with a faraway gaze.  She had a lilting tone and the poem was clearly sad and somehow defiant.  He didn’t have to understand the language to be affected by her words.  “That’s lovely.”  He was sure he saw tears glinting in the shadows of her eye.  “I am published,” she said “you can read my work translated if you wish.  I like people to read my work.”  He was curious and wanted to read the words in English.  She told him the title of the book in which her poems appeared, something to do with landscapes, and the name of the author, which he wrote on the back of his cigarette packet.

“And you?” she asked “Your, what is it, fires and boats?”  “Me?  I’m not very interesting.  I don’t do much and there’s not much to do round here.”  “Your work, your fun?”  “I’m just a gardener.”  “How lovely!”  “I do a bit of acting sometimes, and a bit of directing, a bit of writing and a bit of drawing.  But I’m not much good at anything and I haven’t done anything for ages.”  “Why is that?”  “No inspiration.  Can’t be bothered.  What’s the point?”  She said nothing for some time.  “There’s always a point.  Always.  How can you say there is no point?” He felt that he had touched a nerve and was taken aback by her reaction and the rise in tone of her voice.  “Well I’m no good and nobody is really interested in what I have to say.”  “How do you know that and what exactly do you have to say?” He had to think about this, hard.  “Tell me your story” she said, for she needed to understand, so he did.  His was a tale of one life left behind and another begun, of a rough take off, a turbulent flight and a comfortable landing, of early challenge and late complacency.  Of how once there had been certainty and direction, hungry energy and subjection to a higher will and how now there was ease and a plate full of everything.  He told her about how he had found himself at the hub of all the Art in town when he moved in with his brother at The Space, a coffee shop and performance space frequented by the local intelligentsia.  He described his town as “the obese but much loved wilful spoilt child of the county music scene.”  He said that his boat was set to sea by history and politics and that when he danced he felt that he was walking on water.  And yet despite all this he was weighed down by his past, petrified at the thought of a mundane future, and purposeless.

“No inspiration?”  She was incredulous “You have art and music in your life.  You live in this beautiful place.  You earn your money by working the earth and bringing it to bloom.  You have time to smell the flowers.  You have interesting conversation with interesting people.  You can dance and draw and you want for nothing.  And you and your society are free!”  “Yes, but,” he said “all this pain within me, how can I use a pen to write or draw when my arms are so full of this cross that is my past and my regret?”  She had come to this place at this time for reasons known to her and although she was incensed she was a peaceful soul and knew she had to say the right words carefully “I do not believe in your cross,” she said “you should leave it at the side of the road for the poor and cold to use as firewood.” He was mortified at the words of this strange poetess, which rang true on every string of his soul’s guitar “Have you ever thought,” she said “of what it might be like to have all the inspiration it is possible to have, and more, with no means of expression, no pens or brushes, no audience, no surface on which to write, no instrument, no energy, no candle or sunbeam with which to see, no voice or no life left to live?”  Her voice shook with tears “Have you ever considered what it would be like to have all the words and images within yourself to heal and save and bless, to confront stupidity or evil with itself, and be forbidden your say, or to have your bequest to generations yet to come destroyed?  What say you now of inspiration and your rotting cross?”  He opened his mouth to speak but had no words.  She uttered three more words only but these would stay with him forever “Create for me” she said.  And then she vanished.

Tom was bemused.  He knew that he was drunk and he had had some pretty unnerving experiences late at night in town but this one left his very soul naked and shattered like a brick through a stained glass window.  He looked all around but of her there was no sign, just a gathering of crows scattering across the lightening sky and swooping down over a kebab.  He drained his bottle and swayed on home, dismayed, through littered alleys, the eerie silence broken only by the incoherent mumblings of one lost reveller, a distant siren and two teenage girls looking for a phone.  He fell in to his comfortable bed still clothed and slept till lunchtime.  All day Sunday he was good for nothing, hung over and morose, her words turning over and over in his painful head, the truths she had spoken adding to his nausea and chemical guilt.  He had no internet with which to research her work as he would have liked to do immediately, and the hours until Monday dripped slower than the bathroom tap.  The café was busy but his brother’s plea for assistance went unheeded and he found the noise of laughter and humorous Sunday banter wafting through his window from downstairs a distraction to his thought.

He was at the library before the doors opened and sat in front of a computer impatiently waiting for the system to spring in to life.  He typed in to Google the name of the author that he had scrawled on his cigarette packet and the title Landscapes.  There it was, “Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death” by Otto Dov Kulka*.  He typed the details in to the library catalogue page which told him that it was on the shelf.  With trepidation he scanned the history section and removed the thin blue volume with a shaking hand.  It was not a book of poetry but a private mythology, a memoir and reflection of a historian who had been in Auschwitz as a child.  There were photographs of ruined death camps, long dead Jews and Nazis, there were dreams and musings on the nature of God, biblical references and images evoked with words of the inexorable nature of Death, seen through the eyes of a small boy and remembered through the lens of an old man’s memory.  There were children’s’ drawings, pictures of dead men’s shoes and the musical notes of Ode to Joy transcribed on thin paper in fading ink.  And then there was Chapter Six, entitled Three Poems from the Brink of the Gas Chambers.  There she was.  She had been twenty and nameless and had thrust her poems in to the hands of a guard at the entrance to the gas chamber, as her last act before descending in to death in the March of 1944.  The guard had passed them on to the author’s father and they were the only poems to survive the liquidation of the Theresienstadt family camp at Auschwitz.

How beautiful were her words, translated from the Czech, anonymous and powerful.  ‘We, the Dead, Accuse!’, ‘Alien Grave’ and ‘I Would Sooner Perish’, three poems saved from annihilation, gifted to history by an unknown young poetess, snatched from the mouth of the grave and passed through careful hands to speak to justice and the future.  She has no rotting cross, she cries for vengeance for the innocent dead, mourns a generation of young men betrayed and asserts her belief in her verse that the glory of war is all bloodshed and violence of which she wants no part.  He had to look up the word ‘threnody’ and learned that it is a lamentation to the dead.  He wondered what the verses sounded like in Czech and thinks perhaps it may have been the first one that she recited to him in the Market Place.  He is amazed and humbled by her words and cries in the library quietly in response to the grief that swells within him.  And she, what of she, her final moments, her dignity and terror and her last minute decision to leave her work behind in trust with a stranger in the hope that it would remain.  He imagined the procession of the doomed towards the gas chamber, children, mothers, old soldiers and young men, their fear and helplessness, some singing defiantly, some praying, the  slow walk in to darkness and oblivion, and that afterwards there would have been silence and only crows picking at the remains of their humanity left blowing in the thin March wind.

And suddenly he understands; what she meant when she spoke about what it is to have inspiration and no means or life or liberty to express it, and what that means for him.  A drop of clear quartz falls in to a shining pool somewhere deep within him and he Sees.

His journey, although he knows it not at this point, will take him to dark and frightening places; where artists scrawl their pictures with bloodied fingers on walls in darkness, where condemned men bury poetry in pots in earth round crematoria, where stones and ash are used for paint and bones are whittled in to whistles.  Places where cartoonists are incarcerated for satire and children shot for singing; where sacred texts are burned with their authors and the flight of dancers is interrupted by death; places where secret orchestras play whole symphonies and where violinists are forced to use their bows against their will at executions.  His enquiring mind will take him through the centuries to gulags and asylums and oubliettes, where he will empathise with artists in straitjackets and blindfolds, facing firing squads, starvation, endless loneliness and obliteration from history.  Voices from the past will speak to him in prose and verse, in whispers and deafening rage, and the faces of anonymous prisoners will plead to him from painted fragments.  Armed with his interest in politics and history he will come to understand why the power of the artist has been and remains so threatening to hate fuelled stony ground built regimes past and present.  His vision of the past will become infused with colour and life and meaningful abstraction.  He will devote hour upon precious hour trawling through obscure tomes in the corners of libraries and websites, and become shocked and enthralled, angry and energised, enlightened and inspired.

In time he will make his own art, writing poems and stories and crafting images in pen and ink and paint.  He will act and direct and perform in his own play one day.  At times he will be lauded and at other times scorned, but he will always get his art seen and make his voice heard.  From that point onward he will fight for the right of artists of all kinds to freely make their art, and use the connections that he has to good end, raising awareness of the persecution of artists all over the world amongst both friends and strangers.  He will dance with joy at every opportunity, and rejoice in his freedom; he will put down his rotting cross and satirise himself in a caricature that will achieve some minor fame; he will review and promote the work of local artists, and is destined to become a patron of the arts in his old and interesting age.

And every day, for the rest of his life, he will bless and thank her brave poetic spirit for coming to him on that Carnival night; and every night, for as long as he lives, he will burn a white candle in his window, and remember the lost poetess of Auschwitz, and the last three words she said to him.

“Create for me.”

Copyright Gail Foster July 2015

* Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death by Otto Dov Kulka, published by Allen Lane January 2013 and translated from the Hebrew by Ralph Mandel