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FRIENDS

They will stand beside you
When all things are good.
And in the times when things are bad
Beside you they have stood.
They always tell the truth to you
As every good friend must
And they are reliable:
Friends you always trust.
They never will say nasty things
About the clothes you wear
They'll stand up for you against others
When you're not there.
You can always trust your friends
To hold your place in queues.
They'll always tell you "You played well",
Even if you lose.
Always keeping by your side:
Friendship never ends.
Yet, after all, we're only human:
Who has friends?
marnanel: (Default)
Often, when I don't understand a poem, I've been glad of people explaining it to me. So I'm paying it forward, by breaking down one of mine for you. Here it is:
I WALKED IN DARKNESS

I walked in darkness. Many a lonely mile,
my eyes and footsteps hesitant and blind,
I sought a kindly light I did not find
in land or ocean, asking all the while
if lightless lives are taken in exchange
for light eternal; still the shades of sight
would whisper, "Even I shall see the light!"
I never thought the light would look so strange.
Not in a temple, echoing and awed,
Not in a palace, glistening and grand,
Nor in my home, nor any friendly land.
But distant, dirty, in a shed abroad,
I met a maiden bloody from a birth
and in her arms, the light of all the earth.
This poem began when Kathryn Rose asked me to write something for Epiphany, which is the day Christians remember the wise men visiting Jesus. Epiphany falls on 6th January, in the darkest part of winter, so I wrote a poem about darkness and light. And because the wise men were on a long journey, and because Christians use light as a symbol for Jesus, I wrote a poem about a long walk in the darkness looking for a light. I was remembering the times I've been walking down a dark country road at night-time, always on the look-out for cars and often tripping over bumps and ditches.
I walked in darkness.
The poem starts with a sudden short sentence. This isn't the usual way poems begin, and it catches your attention.
Many a lonely mile,
There's a pattern of sounds here (an "alliteration"), like this: Many a LoneLy MiLe. All these are sounds you can keep on making ("sonorants"), rather than sounds that stop like "t" and "d". So this reminds you of the journey going on and on.
my eyes and footsteps hesitant and blind
If I said your eyes were hesitant, and your footsteps were blind, it wouldn't make a lot of sense. But it does make sense if your eyes are blind and your footsteps are hesitant. The order of the body parts is backwards from the descriptions. This is called a chiasmus. It feels awkward, to remind you of stumbling in the dark.
I sought a kindly light I did not find
in land or ocean,
John Henry Newman wrote a poem called "Lead, Kindly Light" which uses similar symbols to my poem. But in Newman's poem, the "kindly light" is like a lighthouse-- it shines in front of him all the time he's walking in the darkness, showing him the way to go. In my poem, the wise men are walking in complete darkness. They'd love to see a kindly light, but they can't.
asking all the while
if lightless lives are taken in exchange
for light eternal;
In other words, they've lived their whole life in darkness. So they're asking, when they die, do they get to swap it for living in heaven where there's always light?

"Light eternal" is a symbol for heaven. It comes from an old Latin prayer for someone who has died:

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei
("Give her eternal rest, Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon her")

Also, people who are dying often see bright light.

I originally wrote "for light perpetual", but then I realised that some people say "perpetual" with three syllables, like me, but other people say it with four. So I changed it to "eternal".
...still the shades of sight
would whisper, ...
"Shades" means darkness, but it also means ghosts. "Darkness of sight" would mean I can't see, and "ghosts of sight" would mean my sight has died. The double meaning lets me say both at once. Kathryn Rose suggested this.
..."Even I shall see the light!"
People often say that someone has "seen the light" when they start following Jesus. I think it refers to the story about St Paul seeing Jesus as a bright light on the road to Damascus. It left him blinded for a while.
I never thought the light would look so strange.
This poem is a sonnet, and there's a rule that sonnets have a change of subject (a "volta") somewhere around the eighth line. That's where we are now, and I'm finishing this part by giving you a shock. All the lines before this one didn't end with a full stop-- the sentences ran on to the next line. This is called enjambment. But here, we suddenly have a line which is a sentence all on its own. It startles you a bit, like the short sentence in the first line.

When people talk about "seeing the light", they don't explain what the light looks like. In this case, the light I've been looking for all this time turns out to be something I didn't expect. That's what the next part of the poem is about, and this line guides you into it.
Not in a temple, echoing and awed,
Not in a palace, glistening and grand,
You might expect to find Jesus somewhere important, like in a palace or a temple, but that's not where he was. You might remember that two of the wise men's gifts were gold (like you'd find in a palace), and frankincense (a kind of incense that would be used in a temple).
Nor in my home, nor any friendly land.
People often feel safe around people like themselves, and they treat everyone else as outsiders, different and scary. (This is called "othering".) Just as you might have expected to find Jesus in a temple or a palace, you might expect him to be someone safe, someone like you. But in fact Jesus was an outsider: a poor person, a homeless person, part of a nation who were hated, and a refugee.
But distant, dirty, in a shed abroad,
The Bible says Jesus was born in a manger, which is a food trough for animals. You would find a manger in a farmyard, or a shed. "Distant... abroad" picks up on "nor any friendly land", and "dirty, in a shed" picks up on "not in a palace". This is another chiasmus pattern.

Also, there's a play on words here. An old translation of the Bible says that "the love of God is shed abroad"-- in modern English we might say that it was spread everywhere. So we're talking about Jesus as the sign of God's love.
I met a maiden bloody from a birth
The sound pattern here goes M-M, B-B. As we saw earlier, "M" is a sound you can keep making. But "B" is a stop: again, it pulls you up and makes you listen.

The Bible says that Jesus was conceived by a miracle, because Mary was a virgin: she had never had sex with anyone before Jesus was born. "Maiden" usually means a young girl these days, but it once meant a woman who is a virgin.

When a baby is born, there's a lot of blood. (Check YouTube if you want to see videos.) I'm mentioning the blood here to remind you of the "dirty" and "not in a palace" parts earlier: when we see nativity scenes they're always very clean and tidy, and the real thing wasn't clean or tidy at all.

Also, starting the line with "maiden" but ending with "birth" reminds you how strange it is for a virgin to give birth.
and in her arms, the light of all the earth.
One of the first things someone does when they give birth is to take the baby in their arms to breastfeed it. Mary has Jesus in her arms.

When he grew up, Jesus called himself "the light of the world", and he's the light that the wise men have been looking for all this time. (You might know the famous painting of Jesus holding a lantern and knocking at someone's door.)

Kathryn Rose set my poem to beautiful music. Now you've read about the poem, you should go and listen to it!


marnanel: (Default)
Written around me, written within:
scars of my lifetime show on my skin.
This is a tooth I broke in a fight.
Here's where I tumbled, dancing all night.
Sites of injections. Chicken-pox spot.
Name of a lover better forgot.

Words in the open, words never said,
all of my stories hide in my head.
Tell me a story: now, evermore,
life has a pattern hidden before.
Tales of a lifetime carved in my brain
whisper politely: Tell me again.

Hid in a heartbeat, sung to the stars:
scars are my stories, stories my scars.
marnanel: (Default)
I was asked for a free translation of "Ubi caritas" (http://www0.cpdl.org/wiki/index.php/Ubi_caritas ):

As friendship fills our meeting-place,
Jesus is here;
he dwells in every friend's embrace,
each smile sincere,
rejoicing in the love we share.
Wherever love is, God is there.

As friendship fills our meeting-place
Jesus brings peace.
Divisions heal, and by his grace
Arguments cease.
Forgiven friends are one in prayer:
wherever love is, God is there.

As friendship fills our meeting-place,
Jesus our friend
will smile to see us face to face,
world without end,
and hold us in his loving care:
wherever love is, God is there.
marnanel: (Default)
A few years ago, I collected 110 of my poems into a book; I'm bringing it back into print for a few months in order to pay bills since my partner and I are both too sick to work. You can buy it from Lulu in the UK, US, and many other countries-- usually it's US$20, about £12, but at present it's discounted to US$17, about £11.

There will also be a numbered and signed proper hardback edition of fifty; I'll be doing that through Kickstarter and announcing it later this week.

Let me know if you have questions. And tell your friends!



Reader comments:
“It's happy, sad, funny, thought-provoking and occasionally groan-worthy.”
“Overflowing with beauty, sadness and joy.”
marnanel: (Default)
Love advice from a fishmonger, what puppies dream about, the invention of flatulence, an unusually honest job application, why King Arthur enjoys a good cuppa, and ten more short poems: Dogged Scribblings is a chapbook of my poetry newly published on Kindle. Reviews and ratings are always welcome!

Click here to buy on amazon.com for $1.99

Click here to buy on amazon.co.uk for 99p

(cover image here)
marnanel: (Default)
If I ever meet the Wizard of Oz, I'll ask him to turn me into a spider. Here's a song about that.



I would hurry to the kitchen
with pedipalps a-twitching,
to see what I could get.
And when there I would eat all
the insides of every beetle,
if I had a spinneret.

And that's only the beginning;
it sets my head a-spinning
to see them in my net.
To the edge I would scarper
where I'd pluck it like a harper
if I had a spinneret.

Oh, I could catch the fly
that ventured near my web,
then another as the hunger starts to ebb.
I'd be an arthropod celeb.

And I'd tell the tale with recaps
from more than seven kneecaps
to everyone I met.
And I'd be the provider
of a web for every spider
if I had a spinneret.
marnanel: (Default)
I scribbled this down as a teenager:

True Thomas lay on Huntlie bank; he'd gone down there to do some fishing;
He couldna see the other side, so he went down unto his optician.
"O see ye not that broad, broad road that lies across the lily leven?
That is the path of wickedness, though some call it the road to heaven.
And see ye not that narrow road, all thick beset with thorns and briers?
That is the path of righteousness, though after it but few enquires."
O no, O no, True Thomas said, the wicked road's too far away;
I can but see the gudely road, all clear as in the light of day.
"O, you're short-sighted, True Thomas, and you'll need glasses for to see,
And now you'll give me seven pounds, for we don't give these eye-tests free."
marnanel: (Default)
This is part of my set reading my poetry at March's "Pop Up Poetry" in Guildford. The poems are "Thomas", "Fishmonger", "The Creation of Beans", and "Puppy Dreams". I hope you enjoy it; feedback is welcome, as ever.

marnanel: (Default)
Here's me reading at January's Pop Up Poetry at the Bar des Arts in Guildford.

marnanel: (Default)
I was asked for a poem for the newsletter the churches here send out to all the houses in the town. This is what I gave them and they printed. I think it's reasonably good, though it could probably still be improved here and there.

I think I see defences start to crack;
this world shall hear, and see that I am right.
The pawns pass round to right the rook's attack
advancing under cover of the knight
to trap the piece of God, where he shall lose,
and all his plans shall prove themselves in vain.
You, God, who never walked in human shoes!
How can you think to judge a world of pain?
Then all is changed. He takes my form. His flesh
lies screaming on a filthy farmyard floor,
grows up, is murdered, builds the world afresh--
a king triumphant, out of check once more--
counters my every effort to disprove
and asks: what will you do with Christ? Your move.
marnanel: (Default)
I randomly got into a conversation about poetry with an elderly woman in a bookshop in Bakewell a few months ago, and promised to send her a copy of my anthology. Well, I just got an email from her daughter and son-in-law: she collapsed and died from a brain haemorrhage shortly afterwards, and they found the book on the doormat on returning from the hospital. They wanted to thank me for writing poems that have helped them through their grief. I'm not sure of the word for my feelings about this: sad and yet happy.
marnanel: (Default)
I've been looking through old school exercise books. This is from June 1986; I was eleven.

Seven standing stones are under the sky,
seven standing stones shall never, ever die.
Clouds blow, grey, white, or black,
and the wind shall blow, blow through the stones,
and memories shall fade and die,
and nobody shall know, know the reason why
seven standing stones are under the sky.
Seven standing stones--
years shall pass, and grass will grow,
around the stones, and groans of lonely stones
who know why--
they know why who toiled to erect them under the sky,
and the wind shall whistle through the trees,
and the wind shall whistle through the trees.
marnanel: (Default)
I haven't been around much, recently.

I wanted to mention that I am going to make a print-on-demand book of about a hundred of my formal poems. You can download the PDF for nothing and read it that way if you like. At some point in the near future there will be a printed version of the same thing. I always welcome comment and criticism.

A love song

Apr. 9th, 2011 10:12 am
marnanel: (Default)
The ones who breathe below the wave
have tales of how I should behave,
but should I sing, or comb my hair
when sleeping deeply in my grave?

There, deep within the murky green
I dreamed a man I've never seen
with trousers rolled and fading hair.
I offered him a nectarine.

Oh, does he take it? Will he eat?
I long to weep upon his feet
and wipe them with my golden hair.
He fades, and we shall never meet.
marnanel: (Default)
Thou who sent thine own Anointed
once for all the world to bless:
Should we make our windows pointed?
Should our deacons wear a dress?
Should our candles light the dark?
Lord, remain within the ark.

Should our priests be mild and matey?
Should our men be nervous types?
Should our women all be eighty?
Art thou fond of organ pipes?
Or dost thou, above the stars,
yearn for amplified guitars?

We shall sit around the fire, and
mumble of the Crucified,
preach his gospel to the choir, and
never mind the night outside,
where despite the rain and chill
winds are blowing where they will.
marnanel: (Default)
I've been getting a good response from contributors for the quarterly triolet review.

The only publicly-accessible part of triolets.org is the classic triolets (i.e. the ones which are out of copyright). When I release an issue of the quarterly triolet review, those will be added. But there are several triolets which are still live on the site (mostly mine), such as In depths of darkness, which aren't linked anywhere because they don't fall into either category. Of course they'll trickle in slowly if they're printed in the review, but I don't want to make it all about me, and it'll take years to get through them all. Maybe I need a new section for them.

I've added a few new old triolets to the site, including the rather silly The child is father to the man by Hopkins, and All women born by Bridges, which is so misogynistic I almost didn't include it even though it was written by the then Poet Laureate. Then I decided if he had opinions like that, it wasn't really something I wanted to hush up.

If you use Twitter, you can follow @triolets to get a random triolet every day (and similarly for identi.ca).
marnanel: (Default)
I finished the redesign over the weekend.

Would you all hit the random button a few times, and let me know your favourites? If you see any breakage, let me know as well, of course.

Thanks, everyone.

Tailgaters

Mar. 11th, 2011 01:02 pm
marnanel: (Default)
A thread on a poetry forum is about "tailgaters": you take the first line of a famous poem, and make it into an often satirical couplet.

Here are some of mine:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God,
And serve it up with chips and cod.

It little profits that an idle king
Should dress up like a lumberjack and sing.

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves?
Protection when greeting my lady-loves.

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
But immigrants aren't welcome any more.

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
July the fourth? Not quite. The first of May?

Milton! thou shouldst be living at this hour.
I need your disinfectant's cleansing power.


Someone else provided this, which I loved:

Something there is that does not love a wall.
But when I crap I like a private stall.


And I read this a long time ago and I forget where:

When I have fears that I may cease to be
I go and make myself a cup of tea.

2010-02-20

Feb. 20th, 2011 04:41 pm
marnanel: (Default)
A cat on a bed


Rio has been learning poems by Eleanor Farjeon and A. A. Milne, and reciting them to me. Impressively, when she makes mistakes they are starting not to affect meaning or metre. I am very proud of her.

The spring is beginning to arrive, and I'm feeling quite a lot better than I was. I'm reminded of the stories about how a hundred years ago kids would be sewn into their winter underwear in the autumn and cut out again in spring; leaving the winter behind feels like finally getting free of your winter underclothes must have felt. I was talking to Sumana earlier about my poem May and how I think of it this time of year, and how people seem to like its description of seasonal change, even though they perhaps often miss the extra meanings about Revelation 22.

My grandfather was buried on Friday. They put my sonnet into the order of service.

We found his medal collection: I thought you might like to see it.

I spent far too long yesterday hacking: something I love to do, and in a way it defines me, but if left to my own devices I would spend the whole day doing nothing else. That would be bad. Yesterday I started adapting the imgur integration to use the new API, and built part of a test harness I had been daydreaming about, and made a start on debianising some fonts I need, and played around with an idea I had for a LiveJournal/Dreamwidth to Atom adaptor which allows you to read friends-only posts in a desktop feed reader. (I call it ljferea. I may be the only person amused by this.) I also tried to explain things to someone who was creating a new programming language, and told the story of where Firinel's name comes from.

There's much more I'd like to write, but little time, and it's only a half-formed wish anyway.

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