Categories
Poetry Telltale Press

A bit of bardic business

IMG_0084
Peter Kenny, Siegfried Baber, Helen Fletcher, Martin Malone (and the back of Robin Houghton’s head)

Quite a bit of bardic business this week. On Wednesday I did a Telltale and Friends reading with Martin Mallone a top poet who also edits The Interpreter’s House and finished the evening by accidentally setting his poetry file on fire. He is currently writing about the first world war, and there was some laughter as he remarked about his incendiary work as the room filled with the smell of burnt plastic. With Martin was Helen Fletcher who travelled down from Carlisle and gave us beautifully-read deft and delicate work. While Siegfried Baber stepped in at the last moment to cover for a poet who couldn’t make it. He is the next Telltale Poet, and will be launching his collection When love came to the cartoon kid shortly in Bath. In his mid-twenties, Siegfried’s work is fresh, and assured beyond his years. I can only guess at what heights he will reach poetically.

The night was hosted by Robin Houghton, and the Lewes Arms was a really cheery venue. Catherine Smith told me a while ago, that if you throw a stone in Lewes you will hit a writer. The audience was filled with some dauntingly excellent poets, not least Catherine herself. My nerves not helped by making the schoolboy error of reading out a brand new poem. It was about the The Brontës and foxes, and was supposed to be funny, but was heard in pin-drop silence.

Then, a bit panicked, I performed an old poem of mine called Someone-else’s patch, which is a monologue of someone who is paranoid about having a double. It was originally published in the sadly now-defunct Iron, which was for some time my favourite magazine. I teed it up by saying that it was written by the younger, better-looking slimmer Peter Kenny and I have suspicions about him, playing with the double idea. I did it from memory, having relearned it last week. Robin has been thinking about memorising her work, and she wrote about it here in her blog. I’d forgotten how freeing not having to read your work out can be.

IMG_004
Me performing from memory

And talking of blogs, Roy Marshall who, like Robin, as well as being a highly-regarded poet has an extremely well-regarded blog to boot. Flatteringly enough, he did a post featuring me.  And in Roy’s next post he featured Siegfried.

Today (Sunday 19th April) I have a poem Hooked on the Ink Sweat and Tears site.  Really chuffed by this, as Helen Ivory manages to round up some amazing work. It was written ruefully recalling how I spent many childhood summers slaughtering as many fish as I could, and this poem is a kind of atonement. By coincidence, I have a poem on the Guernsey Poets website today, called A Glasshouse, also written about Guernsey.

Categories
A Guernsey Double Guernsey

An exile’s lament

I am an exile, but I am not alone.

Most people I know live far away from where they grew up. Though born in London, my mother moved to Guernsey to live with my grandparents when I was little. I started school on the island, and my brother was born in the old granite cottage where we lived with my grandparents. I am lucky. I return often to what I think of as my heartland. I can walk about in the parish of my childhood, and many things are the same. A wall on the Icart Road has an uncle’s initials in the plaster between the granite blocks, the hedge of the old family home still has my Grandmother’s fuchsia growing in it, and the old wishing well remains the same.

When I return to Guernsey, I am conscious that what I am exiled from is not the place, but the past. Each lane is full of muttering memories. One lane was always very dark at night – which is why we called it Screaming Lane. It was here my grandmother lay in wait in the inky hedgerow shadows wearing a gorilla mask, ready to spring out on an unfortunate guest to the party she was throwing. Or just down the road from where we lived, a corner called Le Coin d’la Biche was supposedly haunted by a terrifying goat, and was a place that my grandfather sped by when we walked past it at night. But my grandparents are long buried, and some feud after my Grandfather’s death put a rift in the remaining family.

Over recent years Guernsey managed to weather recessionary storms better than most places. But properties in St Martin’s parish, where I lived, have been bought up by rich folk working in finance not from the island. I sense a resentful division between locals, and others. When I arrive at the airport, I often am asked if it is my first time on the island, and I want to say no, I belong here.  But of course I don’t, and however many times I return to Guernsey I will never be a local.

I have written love letters to Guernsey since I was a teenager. In fact, being away from Guernsey was what started me writing. I tried to capture the safety of my long summer holidays, like the dozens of different insects in my Grandparent’s back garden I collected in jam jars when I was a kid. These sweating trapped insects are my poems. And the publication of A Guernsey Double with Richard Fleming about the island, received generous coverage on BBC Guernsey radio (but was snubbed by the local newspaper). My poems have also been set to music, including a current project with a local composer. Just sometimes, it is possible to feel that my love letters were not sent to a granite heart.

Last week I was on the island for a few days honeymoon with my wife Lorraine. We caught a bus into town. But in Guernsey, buses are suddenly controversial. A two-tier pricing system has been introduced, and boarding a bus in spring I was told the fare into town is £1 for locals, £2 for non-locals. I was charged £2 by a dour bus driver from Yorkshire (to add insult to injury) and I sat down feeling furious – confirmation that I did not really belong here. Last week, happily, a different driver charged us £1 each and asked us no questions.

Settling into our seats, I noticed one of my poems on a poster inside the bus. With having just married my lovely wife, I was in an emotional state, but this little surprise felt like a moment when something precious was requited.

The poem has a few local names for fish in it. Cabou is the local name for goby, longnose for garfish, rockfish for wrasse,  and ormer is the name of a local and highly prized shellfish.

HOOKED by Peter Kenny

I stuffed my hook in a ragworm’s jaws,
caught a glum cabou with a ground line,
hooked peacock rockfish, cats-meat pollack,
spinning with the twins off The White Rock.
With a sun-thawed, severed sandeel head,
I foul-hooked fighting green-boned longnose
on a short-traced float from the lighthouse.
From boats I dragged foil, feathers, bare hooks
past ravenous packs of mackerel.
I heard spider crabs skitter on deck,
saw lobsters lobbed out from lobster pots
went home to the kitchen scream of crabs.

Now I fish for something I can’t describe.
I wait for the ormer skies of sundown,
my fine line curving somewhere out of sight
its weightless trace baited with silence.