Poems

Hollow lands

(The first few years in this house were very strange indeed. At times I felt as I were caught up in a story. I started to write about it in a prose poem, but never finishing it. The whole experience has stayed with me however; too powerful to ignore, and so I have included it, unfinished as it is, here.)

Aside: Perhaps stories perform a more vital function than we might think. The portion above ground may look pretty and refresh us, but it is underground where the real work is done. In our unconscious. Just as the alder and the ash hold the banks of this river, so, maybe, the roots of stories hold our common ground against the floods of time and change that would wash it away. And maybe, as here, the roots are being undermined by higher floods and disease among the trees. Perhaps we need to plant new stories and quickly.

I.	Foreword

This is a difficult tale. 
A tale of patterns in water.
Of effects cast back before their causes. 
Of rivers. 
Of rivers as rivers, 
and as metaphor. 

It is a new and ancient tale.
But also, a tale I do not know how to tell.  
A tale of power,
of meetings and boundaries. 

But how to tell it? 
Prose or poetry? 
A ballad? 
A Gothic story?
Yes, there are elements of the Gothic here. 
Perhaps even it could be painted or sung. 

One thing is certain, 
however, I tell this tale, 
I shall be as someone pointing to shapes in clouds 
or flames. 
I will describe, 
and prompt,
and nudge, 
and hope, 
but, in the end, your own imagination must make the leap 
and conjure shape and pattern. 
Or this will be a tale 
told by an idiot. 

Why tell this tale at all? 
That is easy. 
Because I must. 
To overcome these events that have entered me so deeply
I must make of them something. 
To maybe put them aside.



II.	River
Until recently I thought I was probably free of the river.
Now I think I am probably not.
But it is hard to be sure.  
My grip was loosened a while ago.
And, like a balloonist,
I travel in still air.

I have got used to the temperature. 
And can breathe in this new environment.
So, there is little discomfort.
Only an occasional distortion around 
objects suggests I am still submerged.

Just as someone may dream that they have woken from sleep, 
then, noticing some strangeness of reality realise they sleep still.
So, it is, probably, with me.

I was,
You see,
caught by a story.
By a story spun by a river.
By a story-river.
A story trapped under rocks and tree roots. 
The rocks and tree roots of this valley.

And I have heard that fast flowing water 
need only be as deep as your knees 
to cause you to lose balance and drown.
And this story was already as deep as that,
before ever it swelled and rose.

For this is, I think, not any story,
but an ancient story.
The most ancient of these lands.

But strangely,
for such an ancient story, 
It does not strike,
at first, 
as great or profound. 

But instead, thin, and unsatisfactory.
Trivial almost.    

But then maybe this is the point.
Might it not be, 
that it is this thinness,
that allows a story to enter so deeply
and bury itself 
within.

For who,
after all,
are we to know what our unconscious will find trivial,
or profound?
Or what is,
in the long term,
Important.


III.	Time

If I say, 
time is a river, 
what do you think of? 
The Thames maybe.
Implacable.
Unstoppable.
Steady to the sea.

And yes,  
in a city,
bound, and
lives-entangled,
time, perhaps,
must be 
a plodding grey river. 

But in the north, 
and the west,
in the hilly-hollow lands,
the rivers are different. 
Lithe and fast. 
Dark under banks. 
White over rocks. 
Whorls and complexities.

Can time also be like this? 
Away from the measured and 
measuring gaze of man. 
Unconstrained. 
Wild in its wild nature.
A mountain stream.
Diverging. 
Converging. 
Eddying. 
Waves and reflections. 

Why not?
Would the dipper or the heron care 
if time flowed fast over rocks or slow under banks?
Or the trout if it became a chaos of foam at the base of a waterfall?

And, 
if this is so, 
might it not explain the stories,
that populate these upland parts.
Could not a man get caught in such a river, 
be spun a few times around,
and be left with a tale to tell, 
to be ridiculed for, 
and to ponder? 

IV.	Mabinogi

I like to imagine what it was like, 
the day he rode through the valley. 
Was the May-light on the leaves?

Did the wagtail nest under the bank?
No doubt the dark bee-shadow of the dipper whirred its way upstream, 
as it does now, 
As the buzzards mewed above. 

It was a relief for him, 
probably, 
to be away from matters of state and governance. 
To have only dogs for company 
and a clear quarry 
on a bright morning. 

It would have been easy not to notice 
the boundary between the worlds. 
Trees, rocks 
and water 
exist both Here and There and so what warning could there have been? 
In carefree mood especially, 
a man might not sense the subtle change in the flow of life around him 
until it is too late.

For that is the point. 
And something I have learned. 
Some events in life cause change before they happen. 
As a rock in a river 
may cause the water to swell upstream.  

Perhaps a skilled and sensitive man, 
might sense such change in flow and be warned. 
But not so him 
and not so me.


V.  Faerie

You would think
the wooded valleys
of slanting light,
the bluebells,
streams and rivers,
waterfalls and rapids
of this place
would provide settings enough 
to cast a meeting between man and Faerie....

.....................................

The stream pours on.

The stream pours on
Over the rocks
And the fall
But some droplets 
Thrown free
By fortune
Good or bad
Catch the sun
And seem to make the rainbow

Battle morning*

Where is the warmth of fire and spirit?
Gone with the owl-haunted night
Put to the sword by the cold hard day
By the merciless thin grey light

More chance to kindle poetry from reason
Than warmth from this cold ash and clay
More chance for the heavens to open 
Than I to survive the coming affray

For the noose round my neck grows tight at the last
And my river runs fast to the sea
Yet less distance than we once might have thought
Is there now between you and me 

* Originally written about a ancient welsh battle (Y Gododdin) it now, tragically,  seems to have more contemporary resonances. 

The tide closes over the foreshore

The tide closes over the foreshore
like an eyelid.
Moistening.
Soothing.
Allowing the hard earth to sleep and dream.

Murmuration*

A few at first
Joined by others
Building
A mass
Back and forth

Transforming
Reshaping
Kneaded dough
Middle to edge
Edge to centre
Fold, stretch, fold
Rippling
Pulsating
Now Changed again
Tendrils Holes Expanding Contacting Each second more beautiful Transfixing Transforming A rush of wings Hints of meaning A message even Letters, symbols Shamanic forms Oohs and ahs (from the audience of one) Then Down Gone A Buddhistik sky Clean Onset of night And sleep * Murmuration or rumination (starlings or thoughts!)

The dragon-sea withdraws

The dragon-sea withdraws, 
leaving her hoard unguarded for a while.

And I, with more than a scientists need,
clamber to plunder the shallow depths.

Searching for what?
The beautiful and bizarre.

The refreshment of 
nonsense poems after
too much careful prose.

1. Mainly birds

These poems and accompanying illustrations are included in ‘An Observer’s Book Of Birds: https://jonjamesart.com/books/an-observers-book-of-birds/

Starlings

A Flash flood of starlings. 
peaty and dark;
streamed over the rise.
and down the wet hillside, leaving
droplets on the gate and fence. Then,
chattering and splashing against the rocks they dropped; 
disappearing;
absorbed;
instantly; 
into the already saturated ground.

Foel Drygarn

A short steep walk to the camp.
Windy, wild and lovely. 
Smoke from heather-burning in the distance 
lit sporadically as the sun found gaps in the cloud cover.
Then coffee from a flask in the shelter of an outcrop.  
Courting ravens riding a panicked wind
add to the wildness of the place.  

Ravens

(Foel Drygarn – detail)

The claustrophobic wind,
trapped within the corrie,
panicked, shrieked
and hurled itself toward 
the sky and escape.

The ravens
uncaring
rode the uprush
diving, falling, tumbling
buoyant and laughing
like corks in surf.

Cormorant

Cormorant
Wellsian time traveller
stationary as the eons flicker past
but having no candle
and being careless of fashion
his only measure of time
the slow black wave-wearing of the rocks

How the cormorant got his stance

(A just-so story)

The cormorant used to produce oil to water-proof its wings when preening,
but it began to see this as signifying a rather un-becoming level of activity
and engagement,
which
heaven forbid,
might be misconstrued
as attachment to the world.
So now
when it’s wings are wet
it just stands
with them open
on a rock
in the sea
and the wind
(having no choice)
dries them.
And so honour is preserved
and the wings get dry
soon enough.

Cormorant Juv.

It has been observed that some young cormorants
are defying what they describe as
the tyranny of biology
and are refusing to be born,
preferring to stay
as smoother pebbles
on the shore.

Snettisham

Winter skeins pattern porcelain sky
as tea-leaves around the rim after a swilled-out tide


Lindisfarne spring

(For St Cuthbert)

Eye level with the pink bobbing sea thrift.
Hunkered down among the bee-buzzed, sun-warmed rocks.  
Safe, twixt wheeling sky and teeming sea,
the birds of the air; 
gulls and kittiwakes, 
build nests of weed, wind, and grass
and 
strangely,
here and there, 
catching the sun, 
catching the eye,
illuminated scraps,
gospel fragments,
a monk’s practice, 
lofted high and across the islands - 
a building material.

RSPB Bempton

(photographing Gannets on the cliffs)

Clever apes leaning out over the void
Taking pictures of dinosaurs on smart phones.

Motorway cave

(Common pigeons are descended from Rock Doves which live and breed in sea caves)

High in the Fingal gloom 
of the motorway cave,
the common pigeons sleep.
Lulled by the muffled crash and boom of the traffic surf;
the ebb and flow of human tide
and dreaming dreams of west coast storms.

Kingfisher

(collective noun - current)
(Kingfishers are often described as sparks – I thought I would try and take the metaphore a bit further)

Potential sighting;
static
on a twig or branch
for a moment or two,
before discharging
to bank or water, 
then
flowing off down the river-wire
.

Swallow

(Sense of relief at seeing the first swallows arrive last year. ‘Cut’ is another name for canal)

The gap is joined.
The spark flies.
The lock above the old bridge opens.
Summer floods.
The swallow has made the cut

2. The Preseli hills and surrounding area

Mynydd Dinas

An early frost,
white and sharp under a blue sky.
The air full of larks and the scent of sheep.  
Grey rocks rise abruptly from winter-brown grass, 
their skin lined and textured like elephant hide, 
and with the same feeling of mass and warmth. 
To have spent the night up here.
A clear dark sky, sliver moon, 
pin sharp milky way and Orion dipping toward the sea. 
A night to have felt part of the universe 
and to have remembered.

Mynydd Dinas II

Darkness.
Nothing to hear 
but a few sheep tearing the grass.
Nothing to see,
but a thousand suns
blazing above the hill


A Teasing sky

Twilight.
A teasing sky. 
A dance of seven veils.

Then, 
confident in darkness
revealing all.

Bold bright points,
hidden nebula
only to be seen with averted gaze.

From Carningli

Dinas Island,
a lozenge of green enamel
in a crimped-cliff setting.
A Tudric jewel 
in a pewter sea.

Carn Enoch

I wish I were up there now
on a wild spring morning
Low sun,
frost lingered hollows

Behind me the rocks,
elephant grey on the hill.
Cracked and weathered.
Stretch-marked in places,
as of difficult birth

Moor

Mid-stride gurgle of invisible brook.
Scatter of boulders.
Reflection of clouds.

And the skylark's song,
streams of summer consciousness,
Mingling with the soft scents and changing airs of the moor.

Strange imagining

Two skylarks 
sing above the moor.
Insistent stories
in each ear.
Cause a crack, 
a split,
in mind
and self. 
And, 
stepping out, 
a younger me 
smiles and leaps
On up the hill.

The empty Hills

The empty hills and the
grey uncaring sea.
How do they so sooth the soul?


Happiness

Happiness.
Glimpsed. 
As hills seen through the gaps in a hedge from a speeding car

Lockdown

A beautiful place
this steep sided valley.
But at times now I look to the sky 
as a prisoner to his window.
And the birds that pass, 
fleeting high,
take my spirit with them
.
And the river at the door,
ever the joker,
shrugs and washes to the sea,
the leaf-litter of past illusions about the world
.

3. Scotland:

Swordle, Eigg, Rhum and Muck

(Inner Hebrides)

Swordle Eigg Rhum and Muck.

There.
You have them.  
The Names.

And you sense now
of course
the peace they trail in their wake.

The view of the islands  
and how they came and went with the bands of rain 
that blew in squalls across the sea. 

The flight and bob of the dipper.
The mew of the buzzard above the hill at the back.
The leather capped stooks of hay.

And you see now, as clearly as I,
the rabbits on the edge of the dunes.
On the edge of the day. 
In front of the sea
as twilight falls.

Scotland 2013

(Blue remembered hills is a reference to A. E. Housman’s poem ‘An air that kills’)

There is no trauma of wa
to keep me from my blue remembered hills.
They are there now,  
through the open car window.
The hills that mean so much

And there, look!
Flying in front,
a small flock of pipits
play tag with the car,
for a fence post or two,
before scattering
into the country on either side.
Just as they ever did.

And later,
in front of the tent,
the holy of holies,
the contraption,
dirty black vestments,
anointing with oils,
the vital spark , (the sprat to catch a mackerel),
primus stove,
time machine.

Riemann rhyming

Walk on Barra beach
with eyes turned down 
to better see the sky.

And you might observe,
as I hope you do,
(as indeed did I).

A pristine place,
a field of stars,
(Olber’s paradox in sand).

Where, scattered there, 
all round-about, 
disrupting the metric of the plane,

banded pebble-planets lie’ 
in sea-washed hollows, 
of perfect curved space-time.

And Hubble objects,
whirls of weed and jellyfish,
may cross your field of view.

And at the wave-lapped edge,
a singularity,
of pure Euclidean blue.

Eoligarry Pier

Eoligarry.
The North end of the island.
Where last year we watched the godwits feed.
Stone arms flung into wide heaven.
Water clear as a solved riddle.

By-catch

(By-catch: the catching of other than the target species - a true story )

Pipits trapped in lobster pots stacked against the old pier wall. 
Release was easy,
a simple plastic latch,
and they were gone.
With all the thanks and backward glances of a child leaving home.
But nothing would I ask for this gift of freedom
but maybe catch their feet as they fly,
and so spend another day 
among the shoreline rocks and the long grass of the machair.

Scottish single track road


Memories flushed out by the car,
fly in front,
like a flock of pipits.
Nearby for a while, 
then scattering
into the hills
on either side.
Too distant to tell meadow from rock.
Too close to tell thought from feeling.

4. Other

Sat. Nav.

“He’s probably got that wrong
Einstein that is".
My Father thoughtfully suggested

Not given 
to having his mind stretched,
warped, or Lorenz contracted.

While high above,
billionths of a second, are carefully calculated,
then added or subtracted.

“That bit about the clock running slow on the plane"
Wouldn’t vibration,
be a more reasonable explanation,
than curved space-time?”
Imagine my frustration!

But he shows no deference,
to the physicist’s frame of reference.

Preferring to stay with the commonsense notion,
of ignoring the invariance of the speed of light,
And the effect of relative motion.

And now millions every day,
use Einstein’s big idea, 
to navigate safely,
if not around a black hole,
then at least 
from home, to Asda 
or IKEA.

Summer mooring

Not yet the leeward cove of some Western Isle,
rope trailing nightly cropped rabbit turf. 

Nor bowline tied to a gneiss driven ring
in orange, agate band of sea-loch bladder-wrack.

No. 
For now, the other home.
The complementary pole.
The calm of Norfolk marsh and mud.
Dog walkers and a seafood van.
Broad sky.
Flint churches.
Wind and tide. 

 
And the boat.
One of a flock.
Long necks.
Clamouring halyards calling 
(restless in the rising breeze).
Insistent. 
Unnerving.
Like mugs against prison bars.

Walking

Sit at home,
or just mooch about
and black thoughts,
like Scottish midges,
sometimes irritate
and cloud the sun.
But get out and walk,
at a good pace,
and they can’t keep up,
they fall behind,
the sun comes out
and the sea is over the next hill.

Friend

I met a friend on a walk the other day.
He joined quietly 
and for a while
we walked together, 
shoulder to shoulder 
along the cliff top,
talking occasionally 
about times past and 
(having similar tastes),
sharing the odd view until,
as we approached the town
he slipped away.

Occupational hazard

(I like the word Imaginocean.  It’s about a lobster of course)

The scientist,
with his oversize claw,
pursues the gobbet of noble truth
to the core.
But on turning,
may not regain,
the wider
imaginocean.

From one (intj) to another

(A beadlet is a sea anemone)

Poke with a stick,
or even just stir the water,
and the beadlet closes.
Tighter than a badgers arse.
A featureless blob of red jelly.
But leave alone,
for a good while
and a hundred tentacles appear,
moving in the water,
sensing the world.


Music

Many gifts the gods have given,
except fire,
which we surely stole
and music,
which we invented ourselves,
to sooth our (likely) non-existent souls.

Song wind

Set your sail to the wind of a song,
and travel where you will.
Ten minutes I tacked into a Bob Marley poem.
Close hauled.
Reaching toward the source. 

Project Earth: Application to the ethics committee

(If you work at a university and want to conduct an experiment involving living creatures you have to apply to the ethics committee and justify what you are doing – a protest poem)

To seed with the spores of conscious life.
To destroy all those not quite ‘the fittest’.
To fool with cunning tricks involving smoke and mirrors
To study reaction as the full truth dawns.
To tear all asunder.
To terminate the experiment on a whim.
To publish nothing.

User manual for J reg (1958). How to bump start the imagination:

1. Roll down-hill with a glass or two
2. Engage some Nietzsche or modern physics

Knot Garden

Victorian rule,
from an empire of shears.

But an expression of nature
more true
than the raging sea or 
the wild woods edge.

Symmetry and form of fundamental law,
writ large,
in privet and box
and made into a hedge.

Floods

A bright morning with the sky in the fields.
Kings Sutton church floating,
transformed,
an Isle-of-glass.

The beach

The beach
A giant Etch-a-sketch.
Shaken each high tide
to produce a new canvas for our throughts,
dreams and doodles.

Walking by the shore

Walking by the shore
.
.
Need I say more?

The Dragon Sea

The dragon-sea withdraws, 
leaving her hoard unguarded for a while.

And I, with more than a scientists need,
clamber to plunder the shallow depths.

Searching for what?
The beautiful and bizarre.

The refreshment of 
nonsense poems after
too much careful prose.








The tide closes over the foreshore

The tide closes over the foreshore
like an eyelid.
Moistening.
Soothing.
Allowing the hard earth to sleep and dream.



I heard the gulls again today

I heard the gulls again today.
Still faint.
Carried on the wind.
But still they made me wonder,
how many bends there are
in the river yet.



The sea yearns for the moon

The sea yearns for the moon
But in reaching out 
Pushes her ever
further away*