October 1st National Poetry Day

How has it come to this? That October is already showering us with leaves and that National Poetry has dawned again.

Today also marks the launch of Places of Poetry: Mapping the Nation (University of Exeter and Oneworld Publications), in which my poem ‘Long Man of Wilmington’ is featured; an online map of the many poems in this volume – and others besides – may also be found at www.placesofpoetry.org.uk

Here, too, is a copy of the poem published today; I hope you’ll enjoy it, especially if you’ve never had a chance to visit this fascinating South Downs place in East Sussex:

Long Man of Wilmington

That chieftain:
He was a man too bold to bury in the town.
His eyebrows bristled hedgerows
And from his smoldering face the black looks fell
Like a flock of rooks, a murder of crows.
Lime-kilns that were his smoking eyes flamed fear
In hearts of local country folk.
His arms were mighty corn-stooks bulging
From a lumpen neck, nipped in at crook of elbows;
His thick trunk stern & strong as seven sycamores;
His legs too long for some poor, paltry parish grave—
Nay! What he needed was
The whole sloping shoulder of the hillside,
The weathered, rough-edged ridge & dorsal spine
Of the long line
Of the Downs.

And so they hollowed out a mighty barrow;
Bore him up (those men of the town)
And, groaning, carried him (flesh & marrow)
Aloft to burial on the Downs’ high crest;
Interred him there beneath a flint-locked sky…
But carved his image on another cliff,
White chalk etched out of pagan darkness:
Giant over, & under, the hill.
And, afterwards, they gave him
(As a parting shot, or to appease him)
A pair of walking poles;
Then, on yet another top,
Later, a chalk-white steed;
So, if he minded, he might haul his bones up, heave the hill up,
Stride away, ride away & leave them
Standing in among their sacred stones.

Image and words © Lizzie Ballagher

 

Small, winged hopes

Recently, I’m pleased to say, Words for the Wild have featured my work on their website. Do follow this link, if you like, to read and hear my new poem ‘True Builders’. And if you like poetry about landscape, nature in all its forms, then this website is for you.

Bees in Lavender

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

Bees in Lavender

stems sea-green or silver-green are spiked
with royalty
oozing an oil that draws the fire
of bees:
flare of smoked-glass wings dusted with pollen,
prickle of honeyed buzzing—
so quick—
furred in dark bands
sun bands
they move unceasingly
to light’s choreography
in lazy heat

their glossy velvet flickers lightning
and their hum
in the lavender
is thunder

© Lizzie Ballagher

Anxious Days

Recently, a challenge to write a poem in the style of Dylan Thomas brought me to reread and rethink his triumphant poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion” – in the light of Covid-19. Here I offer you a new poem that will never match Thomas’s work, but which seems relevant both for Easter and for the current global situation.

Creed for an Anxious Century
And fear shall have no dominion.
A man shall call from a lakeside shore
with nets cast far aside,
with fish drowning the craft,
waves cresting to beat on the boat,
when another shall propel himself
to walk to the first on the water
though no one before has ever walked waves,
though water has never been so bidden.
And fear shall have no dominion.
And fear shall have no dominion
though the sun shall go dark,
though nails spill red blood
of a holy Redeemer,
though temple curtain tear in twain,
though graves shall yawn up
the dead from dark pits,
& though baying voices may proclaim,
“Let him save himself if he will.”
So fear shall have no dominion!
Words and image © Lizzie Ballagher

New Poem on Nine Muses Poetry

It’s lovely to be able to commend a fellow blogger, Annest Gwilym to those who follow posts on this website; her site is called Nine Muses Poetry. Recently Annest has featured a new poem of mine on this site, which I’m pleased to share here: “Ophelia in Mourning at Evening”.

Please enjoy this poem, below; or click the links above to discover this and many other poems on Nine Muses Poetry.

Ophelia in Mourning at Evening

 

Summer seeps away

in a barely moving brook.

 

Last leaves fall from desolate birch:

those trunks that draw black inks

through the glassy water,

through branchy weeds: runes

signifying autumn’s melancholy

under a sky paling to nightfall.

 

And not even a twilight-blue wrap

or the gossamer threads

of a needless bridal gown—

now dappled, dank with dew

in evening’s grass—could keep out

sorrow’s cold.

 

She will go cloak herself, instead,

in widow’s weeds.

 

© Lizzie Ballagher

Felled Pine

Felled Pine:   

this morning when they came

with bowsaws

and that grinding whine

had its beginning

worse than wolves baying over a carcass

in the wilderness

 

you sent up your thin protest

of pine scent:

 

sap rising for spring…

but the well

of fresh-mint pine

green turpentine

will pump now

no more fragrance

 

all the air filled

with your leaking, seeping…

with the ugly thump & clunk

of log-chunks

as they hit the metal flat-bed

of the truck…

 

neighbours gazed on new sky

but my ears heard strange roots grieving—

my eyes saw noonday sun

strike dangerous blows

on shrivelling ground

where hot light probed & stabbed…

 

you were a pine tree

that tendered bark to beetles,

sanctuary to collared doves,

where finches pulled at ranks

of seeded cones

finding their food…

 

also you gave soft footfalls,

perfume, to my childhood—

the cool of northern woods—

but when afternoon’s breeze

blows up today it will carry

only my raging, outraged tears…

 

the seething needles’ sweetness will have gone:

not even that faint lament of pine scent…

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

National Poetry Day 2019 – just for fun

Marooned
 She’d sat already far too long on the beach:
so long she was as desiccated
as the coconuts beyond those fringing palms
so long she’d gotten bored
with her old friends gold-legged starfish
who had entertained her,
miscounting aloud each other’s fingers & toes
& quarrelling far into the night,
so long the desert island novelty had worn clean off
& she had read to the end of the Bible
& the Complete Works of Shakespeare
smashed her wretched desert island discs
drowned them all in despair until
   just as she’d thought of giving up                  wading out
to perform some crazed act of sacrifice
to grinning sharks (who might have enjoyed
her iconoclastic sense of humour
as well as her fingers & ten pink toes)
   the waves rose frothing up
presented her—
right into her outstretched hand—
with a bottle:
no sparkling South Sea bubbly
no fisherman’s tall tales on fractured parchment
of albatrosses painted oceans
no luscious vintage    from distant California
no irksome lovelorn messages
but a genie uncurling gorgeously, ready
to unroll a magic carpet & transport her
out of her ennui
out of the hallucinating desert island & its hackneyed discs
out of the paperback novel she’d been living now for oh so long
to lacklustre grit & greyness, the smog & streaming cars & cabs
of Manhattan or maybe Maida Vale in fog-soaked March
to where at least she understood
the colourless weight of working weekdays:
the kind that did not ask of her so much imagination.
Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher

Water Lane, Guernsey

Water lanes as sources of pure running water saved lives during the plague years in England, and in many older settlements they can still be identified by that very name. We found one such in Guernsey ten years ago, its banks flooded by wild passionflowers. From that modest pathway winding down Guernsey hills to the sea sprang this brief poem.

Water Lane, Guernsey

Dabbling, scrabbling in sand & shards of quartz,
paired green mallards turn pebbles for morsels,
wade rock-pools, then climb the channel flowing clear
down Water Lane, where springs run soundlessly
from hills beyond.

Overhead, holm oaks seethe
in a breeze that smacks of salty seaweed.
Here, around our feet, passionflower chains
bind us together—forever ascending
Water Lane: a paradise prickling with bees—
all under that honeyed island sun.

Words and images © Lizzie Ballagher