Plague birds, exquisite and focused,
who scavenged Shakespeare’s unspeakable
streets, they have drifted back
from the borderlands of extinction
on tense, splayed wings.
in the rinsed clarity of spring light
they have staked their claim
to limitless acres above
the Chilterns’ wooded heights.
And was it months, or even a year,
my own dreams of flying
took possession of sleep,
making something of nothing
in gaps between the days?
– My free falls and soaring
seeming purposeless, inspired,
until, ceasing, they left me earthbound,
trying to keep my eyes
on this twisting road.
David Cooke was born in 1953 in Wokingham and grew up in Reading, although his family comes from the West of Ireland. He has been writing poems, somewhat sporadically, since his teens. In 1977, while he was still an undergraduate at Nottingham University, he won a Gregory Award, and since then his poems have been published widely in the UK, Ireland and beyond. He has also managed, in spite of long periods of poetic silence, to publish seven collections of his work. His first Two Rivers collection was A Murmuration (2015) and he is delighted that later this year Two Rivers Press will also be publishing Sicilian Elephants, from which ‘Red Kites’ has been taken. He is the editor of the online literary journal, The High Window, which he founded in 2015.
Your Sisterʼs Tapestry Cushion
i.m of my grandmother, ʽCullerʼ and her sister, Den, daughters of a painter-mother.
In this view
weft-faced yews (Ucello darks)
strew the escarpmentʼs
grey-green, mint, plaster, white.
Her mind was stitched
into yours, yours into mine
(those colours spoke like a mother tongue).
From a distance, itʼs leaping wildness,
the in/out of things
sewn up. Shadow and lightness.
Weʼd sit on your sofa in drifts
of Silk Cut smoke, Ma Griffe.
Tonal shifts made patterns
to lean on, with the thick curtains
drawn on blue cedars.
Kate Behrens’ most recent collection is Penumbra, published by Two Rivers Press in January 2019. It follows on from her first collection, The Beholder (2012), and Man with Bombe Alaska (2016). Other poems have appeared in Mslexia, Blackbox Manifold, Stand, The High Window, Reading Universityʼs Creative Arts Anthologies, Poetry Salzburg Review, Wild Court, Noon, The Arts of Peace (Two Rivers Press) and as Oxford Brookesʼ Poem of the Week.
Read more about Kate’s poetry here.
MINT TEA IS NO CURE
The art trail enlivens proceedings by inviting
poets to read in artists’ garden, where bees
work for pollen on lavender and valerian.
I choose a few poems that may chime
with the work of potters, painters,
printmakers and jewellers, but
this year I’ve not shaken off winter’s grip
and my chest is a squeezebox with loosed ties,
tumbling to the floor from careless hands.
Discordant and groaning I’ve wheezed my way
through weeks of heat, so find some quiet shade
away from the studio and watch bees
working for pollen on lavender and valerian,
but it’s hopeless, I can barely give breath
to one whole line let alone the next.
A friend offers to read every alternate stanza
for me to catch my breath, or try,
and we manage like this, but every muscle
of my ribs pulls. My lungs are more folded back
than when I began, and the fresh-picked
mint tea offered by the host is no cure –
I can barely stop straining long enough to drink it
as bees work for pollen on lavender and valerian.
Kate Noakes’ Two Rivers Press collection from 2009 is The Wall-Menders. Her most recent is The Filthy Quiet (Parthian, 2019). She lives in London, where she acts as a trustee to writer development organisation, Spread the Word.
The following poem is a translation of Baudelaire’s early ‘Le Serpent Qui Danse’.
A Serpent’s Dance
How I love, dear indolence, to gaze
……….Upon your body of delight,
That flickering of material
……….A shimmering of skin!
Upon the dark depths of your hair
……….A tangle of pungent odour,
A wild scented ocean
……….Of surging blues and brown,
As a vessel setting sail
……….Upon an early morning breeze,
My erring soul embarks
……….For far-distant skies.
Your eyes let nothing show
……….Of the sweet or of the sour
But like two frigid jewels
……….Gold is merged with steel.
Gazing at your moves
……….Of rhythmic carelessness,
One might say you were a snake
……….Responding to the charmer’s stick.
Burdened with idleness
……….Your child-like head
Wags with the sluggish motion
……….Of a baby elephant,
And your body stretches out in leaning forward
……….Like a trim vessel
That sways from side to side before dipping
……….A yard-arm in the sea.
Like a flood-tide swollen by the deep groan
……….Of a melting glacier,
When the saliva in your mouth surges up
……….To the tooth’s tip,
I seem to quaff Bohemian wine,
……….Powerful and bitter,
A sky of moisture strewing
……….Stars in my heart!
The Cracked Bell – a new translation by Ian Brinton
Crowds – a new translation of a Baudelaire prose poem from 1861
Baudelaire’s ‘Chant d’Automne’ translated by Ian Brinton
Ian Brinton’s recent publications include Islands of Voices, an edition of the selected poems of Douglas Oliver (Shearsman Books) and a translation of the selected poems of Mallarmé introduced by J.H. Prynne (Muscaliet Press). Forthcoming publications include a translation of the selected poems of Valéry introduced by Michael Heller (Muscaliet Press) and a sequence of poems by Philippe Jaccottet (Equipage). His Paris Scenes by Baudelaire will appear from Two Rivers Press in July 2021.
An Egret Moves North
Wren, robin, dunnock, rat
Mandarin ducks in a raft of eight
great-crested grebe, cormorant
Canada and Egyptian geese
on a winter’s afternoon around the lake –
this strangely vacant campus
the traffic now distant, peripheral.
Shrill coot’s tewk, moorhen curruc
laughing kwarr of black-headed gulls
perched on the underwater bench
and now a pair of dabbling gadwall
the monogamous shovelers
the usurper rose-ringed parakeet.
true litmus of the change
a little egret, out of the water
showing the world its yellow feet.
John Froy is retired and now writes full time. He has published two poetry collections with Two Rivers Press, Eggshell: A Decorator’s Notes (2007) and Sandpaper & Seahorses (2018), and a memoir The Art School Dance (2013).
Poet of the Week – 14: John Froy