Down to Earth by Laurie Bolger

Down to Earth

“You’ve been away so long…”

holding that jubilee photograph

a chubby child in a garden

Pat’s pawprints making dust from the sand –

 

At Jodrell Bank you observe space

all the red wine warmth of it

the diamond galaxies and years like comets

Cliffs invite the tide in – it is speaking in french

 

The hills are unwritten routes

unsaid things, noticing the little bits

that people sometimes miss – butterflies wings

landing, with no fuss –

the ten of spades in a garden – the way

peas sat snug, all the things

that bring you joy, that you love –

© Laurie Bolger, Macclesfield “Poetry Takeaway”, Barnaby Festival, 18th. June, 2016

This was the day Tim Peake came down from the Space Station after 186 days. After providing Laurie with the title, she asked me a series of questions to flesh out the poem: Who’s the most down-to-earth person you know? (Joy Winkler);Who would you take into space with you? (Mady); What would you take? (food and drink – red wine); What else? (Family photographs. I told her about “Childhood Photograph” and the workshop it came from: writing about a photograph from memory); Who’s your favourite musician? (Bob Dylan);What’s your favourite track?(“Corrina, Corrina”); How does it go? (“You been away so long”); What else do you do? (allotment gardening, bridge…)

Laurie has somehow managed to weave all the tangled threads I gave her into her poem in a brilliantly subtle and striking way.

She is launching her first poetry collection, “Box Rooms”, at the Roebuck pub (London Bridge) on Wednesday, 13th. July, 7-30 pm. If you’re within striking distance of London, it should be a great evening.

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Childhood Photograph

At today’s run up to the Barnaby Festival where pairs from our local Creative Writing Group (in Quangle Wangle hats!) were offering “Stop Me and Try One” poem readings to the milling crowd, there was the much more high profile “Poetry Takeaway” – poems written to order by Jo Bell and a prestigious quartet of writers from the deep south. I was lucky enough to sneak in as the very last customer of the day, opting for “Down to Earth” as the subject (Tim Peake had returned from orbit earlier in the day). A super, friendly Laurie Bolger (“Bang Said the Gun”) wrote me a beautiful piece based on some pretty random responses to a handful of questions. I’m hoping to post it on here soon. Meanwhile, here is “Childhood Photograph”, a 2012 poem of mine coming out of a workshop where we were asked to write from memory about a cherished photograph and which figures in her poem.

Childhood Photograph

The photo is in black and white.

It dates from the early fifties.

This might be its diamond jubilee year.

It shows a young boy

on the front lawn of a semi.

He peers, squinting into the sun

and the camera lens.

And behind the camera?

His Mam? A friend? Not his Dad.

His Dad won’t be home from the pit yet.

 

By the boy’s feet, a dog relaxes,

tongue lolling in the heat.

The dog, a smooth-haired fox terrier,

is lean, alert, intelligent.

It’s the boy who is chubby with puppy fat.

He will cry for a week when his dog is run over.

He will cry less when his Dad dies

or even ten years after that, for his Mam.

He does not know that very soon

he will be me.

 

Goodbye to the Greatest

Always controversial, never short in self-confidence, Muhammed Ali danced, battered and floated his way into the consciousness of those of us growing up in the 60s and beyond, irrespective of how passionate, or otherwise, we were about boxing. What a showman! He was as quick and confrontational surrounded by the press as he was in the ring. His conversion to Islam and his stance as an objector to the draft for the conflict in Vietnam were major, polarising moments. The rest, as they say, is his story.

The title poem of my “Seconds Out” collection is about my Dad’s love of boxing, involves Ali and is an earlier post on this site. However, in a Macclesfield Creative Writing Group workshop in 2013 on “Quotes and Character”, I chose the quotation:-

“If you even dream of beating me, you’d better wake up and apologise.”

That had to be “Muhammad Ali”.

The second part of the exercise was to change the pace, give a different idea of the character and include some reference to smell, so, 2 poems for the price of one, really!

Muhammad Ali.

I.

It sounds like a quote from Muhammad Ali

in Africa that time -Zaire or Mali? –

screamed at Joe Frazier or was it George Foreman?

Whichever opponent it was, the poor man

had to climb in the ring with a man who could sting

like a bee, float on those butterfly wings,

could dance around, feint, until the bell rings.

His boxing gloved fists and the strength of his wrists

struck fear in the heart of each fighter,

but unlike his stance, his verse, at first glance,

was not heavy weight class, a touch lighter.

II.

Every time that he caught a whiff of cigar smoke

and that unmistakeable man smell 15 rounds in,

the tremor got worse. It was as if he awoke

from a nightmare where he could still hear the crowd’s din.

He was clinging and holding, yet still somehow drowning.

The ref was Parkinson, who shouted, “Clean break!”

His fist held a torch, his head laurels crowning,

yet now in his waking, he continued to shake.

Goodbye, Champ!