Flax

There are two kinds of flax – the first
has blue flowers.

I picked some this morning,
oversleeping

in a shimmering Lincolnshire field.

Simple clothing and sheets –
that keep temperatures low.

The other flax – a bluer blue
(my reference works don’t have enough pictures).

I picked some this morning,
treking back from that radiant Lincolnshire.

This flax endures, bluesy at the roadside.
It cheers a place up, kept to a small vase.

(Varnish – a layer
to seal this spoken
painting, your painting.)

by Richard Price

from Earliest Spring Yet by Richard Price (Landfill, 2006)
Copyright © Richard Price

Richard Price is Head of Modern British Collections at the British Library. His widely-acclaimed first collection, Lucky Day (2005), was nominated for the Whitbread and Forward poetry prizes. His new collection, Greenfields, was published by Carcanet earlier this year.

‘Flax’ is from the title sequence of Earliest Spring Yet. Its lyricism hovers between sleep and waking. Like the rest of the poems in the book, it is a love poem, but an oblique one. The speaker seems to be living two lives, symbolised by the poem’s two flowers: one in a lonely dream of fields, and one in the real world of roadsides. The ‘blues’ of both are presented in conclusion to a private addressee as a ‘spoken / painting’, a picture of the speaker’s heart.

Landfill Press was founded in Norwich in 2004 as a publisher of contemporary poetic sequences.

The Potter’s Field

or A Wanderer’s Song

Since I am a stranger, since I am a guest,
Bury me in the Potter’s Field, that which is called
The field of blood. Here is calculated
The utility of a kiss on a bearded
Cheek, by night, beneath the olives,
In the smoky light of torch and legend.
He who lies there will lie forever
Between the hanged and the crucified
And moulder in frightful balance.
Bury me in the Potter’s Field,
Because it was bought, in the words of the book,
To bury strangers in. Wayfarers, rovers
Lay claim to it: those who seek
Peace in movement, security in rootlessness,
Are otherwise suspicious, and usually keep
Their silence, if not always about the same;
Their shadows are dusty from the road
And a little denser than most—
So bury me with my shadow:
The weeds will grow blacker in the Potter’s Field.

by Ivan V. Lalic, translated by Francis R. Jones

from The Passionate Measure
Anvil, 1989
Copyright © Ivan V Lalic 1989
Translation copyright © Francis R Jones 1989

Translated poetry is sometimes regarded as a second-hand or inferior form of poetry, but in the hands of an imaginative translator as close to the poet and the poetry as is Francis Jones, one feels that the poems might well have been written originally in English. And Lalic himself, a Serbian with idiomatic English who translated a lot of English poetry into Serbian, thought that Jones’s translations were a perfect mirror of his poems.

This poem is from what is possibly Lalic’s finest collection, published in Jones’s translation in 1989. It needs no comment and is a good example of Lalic’s marvellous work. He was born in 1931 and died in 1996. Anvil hopes to publish his Collected Poems in English in 2008.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern.

In Praise of Aunts

I conjure Aunts, sly laughers,
Aunts not of the blood
but of the spirit; invite
from their cold cots for scones and tea
Aunts who could cheat
and fib for fun, playing Old Maid
in silent riot, keeping a card
up a knickerleg; Aunts who would never
hurt a child to do it good;

Aunts without men, good sports,
bachelor Aunts eternally retired
who liked dogs, who could whistle,
Aunts with pockets, pocketsful
of small timely treats,
and not wincing at stickiness
nor at blood as they strode
through the war, through the wards,
voluntary servant goddesses.

You women long at peace,
rooted in sycamore scrub
beneath St. Peter’s topsyturvy stones
without memorial: I will praise
your names, your dented hats and bulging shoes,
who pedalled across my dream
last night with shining spokes and hubs
and cracked halloos and glimpse of knees,
old children in your upright childless bones.

by M.R. Peacocke

from In Praise of Aunts (Peterloo, 2008)

M.R. (Meg) Peacocke’s poem “In Praise of Aunts”  is the title poem of her new collection (Peterloo, 2008).  Her previous volumes are: Marginal Land (Peterloo, 1988), Selves (Peterloo, 1995) and Speaking of the Dead (Peterloo, 2003).  All her volumes have received exceptionally favourable national review coverage.  Reviewing her first volume for London Magazine, Stephen Knight wrote “Like Larkin, Peacocke has that all-too-rare gift of knowing how to make a memorable poem”, and reviewing her second volume for Stand, John Lucas wrote of her “truly inventive elegance, wit, and immaculately-controlled feeling” and described Selves as “a gem of a collection”.  Her third collection received full-page coverage in Guardian Saturday Review. 

Meg Peacocke was born in 1930 and grew up in South Devon.  She read English at Oxford and after teaching, travelling, marriage and bringing up a family of four, a training in counselling and work in a children’s cancer unit she moved to a small hill farm in Cumbria where she still lives.

Peterloo Poets was founded by Harry Chambers, still the Publishing Director, in 1976. Its masthead is “poetry of quality by new or neglected poets”. Peterloo publishes between 8 and 10 volumes of poetry a year, runs an annual poetry competition – the 2008 competition will be the 24th – and, since 1999, an annual International Poetry Festival.

“From time to time it has seemed to me that the Peterloo Poets series is a haven of poetic sanity in a world of modish obfuscation.”
Michael Glover, British Book News

Lamb

We left him sleeping peaceful in the night
but they have tied him down, bony wrists
wrapped in a sheepskin cuff, lashed tightly to the rail.

He was fierce after we left, they say:
shouting, tearing at the drip. Hard to believe it
of this gentle man, but this morning,

unbound for the time we’re there, he cavils,
clawing at the needle in his arm, moaning
and stubborn, baring his teeth at us

when we refuse. I stroke his fettered hand,
his paper forehead, murmur comfort,
courage, anything. He shakes me off, tossing

his head, red-eyed, an angry ram. Ha!
I must remember who I am: his child,
just a child, why do I question him?

So I hold my tongue, but stay. Lift up the cup,
with its candy-striped concertina straw,
to his splintered lip and he, in resignation, sucks.

Yes, we make a meagre congregation, father,
disobedient. The flesh, indeed, is weak.
Still, remembered echoes of his sermons come:

a promised child, the tangled ram, the sheep-clothed son;
last-minute rescues, legacies, and lies.
The promised and the chosen, certain hopes.

How, from these stories, are we to be wise?
His word was clear and sure before, but now
his raging, rambling, shakes this listener’s heart.

And yet, to be here, of some small use,
is a kind of peace. Three spoons of food,
oil for his hands, his feet. Then at last,
at last, returning to gentleness, he sleeps.

by Isobel Dixon

This poem is taken from the painful sequence ‘Meet My Father’, gathered in A Fold in the Map, which forms a searching exploration of grief at a father’s final painful journey into death.

A Fold in the Map is a nod to Jan Morris’s Trieste And The Meaning Of Nowhere, where the traveller’s state of in-between-ness is explored. Robert Frost said “a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a home-sickness, a love-sickness” and in these poems of love and longing for home, family, and other loved ones, Isobel Dixon draws on a rich store of natural imagery, illuminating the ordinary at times with a touch of wry humour. Her vivid poems will speak memorably to travellers, lovers and all those who mourn.

Isobel Dixon was born in Umtata, South Africa, grew up in the Karoo region and studied in Stellenbosch, and then in Edinburgh, before the world of publishing lured her to work in London. She now lives in Cambridge. Her poetry has been widely published in South Africa, where she won the Sanlam Prize and the Olive Schreiner Prize for her collection Weather Eye. Internationally, her work has been published in The Paris ReviewWasafiri, Avocado, The Guardian, London Magazine, and The Tall Lighthouse Review, among others, and has been translated into Dutch and Turkish. Her poems have appeared in many anthologies, including several of the British Council New Writing volumes, and she read on the first Oxfam Life Lines CD. She does regular readings around the country, often with a group of London-based poets, and has also participated in two group pamphlets Unfold and Ask for It by Name.

For further information, and to read more of Dixon’s poems, go to Salt Publishing.