there in the stark cleft
where trunk & bare branch divide
mistletoe flames – green!
Haiku © Lizzie Ballagher
Lest we forget, living in the relative peace of Western Europe, just what war can do, November serves as a month for reflecting on the consequences of war and the sufferings of those who still endure it now, in 2017.
My poem “Merciless Day” was last year set to music by composer Simon Mold. If you would like to hear the music and poem, please follow this youtube link.
After 32 years America’s oldest poetry festival, the Houston Poetry Fest is over now for another year; but the ripples go out across the world for a few happy writers and (we hope) for many readers of poetry.
Today I received in the mail a copy of the 2017 festival’s Anthology. It features writers well-known in the US but also, among them, others (like me) scarcely known at all. My poem “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” is featured in this collection.
You can read the poem elsewhere on this blog in the post “Inspired by Art”, or why not order your own copy of the Anthology from Houston Poetry Fest, Anthology Orders, P.O. Box 22595, HOUSTON, Texas 77227-2595.
Many countries in the northern hemisphere alter their clocks this weekend. While our cousins in Australasia, southern Asia and South America look forward to spring, we in the north know only too well what lies ahead. Time for another new haiku for you…
we feel the year’s great wheel turn—
smell winter’s bonfire
Words & images © Lizzie Ballagher
Words & images © Lizzie Ballagher
Perhaps one of the most famous images of the past two centuries is the 1831-33 woodblock print by Japanese artist Hokusai known as The Great Wave off Kanagawa: that tsunami wave dwarfing all else, including Mount Fuji.
This summer, thanks to a local exhibition of Japanese art, I was able to stand and gaze at this image for as long as I liked. Hence the poem below.
Happy news! The response to this poem has, frankly, astounded me. At the weekend, some of my work (including this poem) was chosen as the only poetry from a British writer to be read and celebrated at the Houston Poetry Festival in the USA. Invited to read my work there, I could not travel the distance at short notice. Even so, this poem was among several read to the many assembled this weekend in Texas for this well-established festival; it is now to be published in the festival anthology.
The Great Wave off Kanagawa
after Katshushika Hokusai
I am the one in the lowest boat
my head flung back
my face the colour of rice
the colour of the distant moon
as the great wave too flings back crests
up over curving curling caving in
while I am only a white foam-speck
my face a pale flint-fleck
my blue fishing jacket
a drop of indigo water
at the foot of the glowering towering tide
our painted prow rises skywards
on the wave but we are overswept
the mountain shakes
even the very sea-bed quakes
heaves up the tsunami
soaring over me
by beauty are we so engulfed
in the unstoppable rising roaring wave
more mountainous than Fuji
that we are done for
small consolation to be dying a beauteous death
forever poised below the wave
immortalised by Hokusai’s deep dangerous ink
© Lizzie Ballagher
In celebration of 2017’s National Poetry and in honour of a family birthday today, I hope readers of this blog will enjoy this poem:
Postcard to Two Grand-Daughters
(or She Stoops to Conkers)
On the day when you became a loving sister;
And on the day when you were born,
I waded ankle-deep in spring-like grass
Under a burnished tree to gather horse chestnuts:
Rich globes of silky wood still varnished
With the oil of their thick satin casings.
I chose the glossiest, the shiniest,
Just as your parents chose you, too, you two:
A pair of bright stars in their loving eyes—
And in mine four thousand miles away.
Look—take them! In your baby hands you hold
The world & all your two sweet lives. You could
Dry them, preserve them in vinegar & bake them,
Knot them on strings & bash them in that old playground sport
Until they split & you can’t play for giggling.
Or you could open up your mother’s precious oil paints
And portray each chestnut’s singular loveliness
On a field of springy grass & autumn leaves.
Or you might turn them into castanets
And dance a tarantella in a swirl of skirts.
Or else, like me, your wordsmith grandmother,
You could grow a shiny conker
From the chestnut tree
Into happy poetry.
Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher