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Roger Robinson responds to your poems on fatherhood
Several Things Our Fathers Taught Us by CJ Allen
That beneath the saffron fractals
floating on the old canal
were silver fish. How each sensation
was subject to infinite variation.
How to call pigs. How the light was going.
How you could stop the car kangarooing
by letting out the sticky clutch
tenderly, but with élan.
That there was a difference between
so and so and such and such.
That the truth is utterly merciless.
That a drowning man will catch at razors.
How love can soften ugliness.
How sticks and stones leave cuts and grazes.
That the soul is not continuous.
That things unseen can be believed.
That driving in London meant right-of-way
was merely a pretext for ill-conceived
and hair-raisingly executed improvisation.
That in the night all cats are grey.
I enjoyed this poem. I like the repetitive rhythm of the "hows" and "thats". You might take an opportunity to think about how the words you choose sound. You may have wanted to have lots of "K" and "T" sounds like "fractals" "pretext" "executed" to give the poem a jerky feel of an unsteady relationship. But if not then you should try a version where you pay attention to the sound of your word choice. Poems need to have an organised music.
The hairdresser's daughter by Emily Blewitt
In the backwash,
my head cradled by cold white china,
what it is to be Daddy's girl.
To grow older
as he grows old. To roll
my head and feel it held.
Those strong hands. My curls,
tight, blonde, on his shoulder
resting complacent, comforted
after a long day at the beach.
Crimson-suited, I got ice cream in my hair
and the wasps were fat and persistent.
I did not care then for conditioning,
straighteners, bristle brushes, Kirby grips
to hold the wind back.
Now, these dark loose kinks
cling to my shoulders:
hang weighted in summer,
collect heat and insects;
protest the future. Except
at precise six week intervals when
I forget the sharp heat
and cooled, capped, comforted,
rest my head.
Emily, there's some good stuff going on here. I like how the hair becomes a central image for the whole thing. You might want to think about your line break and your stanzas. What is the rationale? I'm sure you have one, but if you don't, think about it. Nothing by chance, all by choice in poetry. You could probably think about trying some kind of traditional form like a sonnet because of the turn at the end stanza.
Bones Part I by David Clarke
My Dad was afloat on an inflatable
mattress on the living room floor for over a year.
His femur, tibia, and fibula replaced
by a metallic scaffold, fused
by nuts and bolts that blistered and raised his bruised skin
like scorched sap on a gum tree.
My mother, sister, brother, and me, from the discomfort
of bed, heard his legs pounded to smithereens
by two lads from our road. I was kind of glad
they did it and not me. He lay like old gum
I'd rescue from the kerb, bless, and clean
as though signing the cross could restore
it to its former self. He spent the next two years prostrate on a bed
in the old Meath Street hospital. Blood clots
threatened his life on two occasions. I grew
to love him in that condition.
He was out of it then, pin-eyed on opiates,
buoyant, on a foldaway lifeboat,
in the wreckage of his big ideas
and the musk from Nan's old eiderdown.
This is good stuff. I like how David doesn't put the writer in a positive light. It stops the poem from being too emotional. Again, I'd look at the decisions on stanza and line breaks. Also, David, you might want to play around with the sequence of the stanzas and see how this affects your poem.
Not my father by Alex Dampney
I did not feel his velour skin
brush against my cheek.
I did not welcome his embrace
when I snuggled to his breast.
I did not let him gently wipe
the tears beneath my eyes.
His lips did not reach down
to mine and find their trembling goal.
His hands did not release
us from the confines of our clothes.
His moves did not entice
my frozen body to respond.
His breathing did not pause
as mother's foot stepped on the stair.
I did not hear his whispered threats
or feel his hands around my throat.
I did not ask how life would be
if he weren't there,
or relish the sweet honeyed taste
of his imagined death.
I like how this poem calls in to question things that did happen by saying they didn't. I also like its unrelenting mood. I wonder if all the bad stuff might seem even worse if a few good things were included (or as the poem goes, not included) to create a more rounded character. Sometimes, when bad people do good things, it actually makes them more scary, because they're more frighteningly human.
Kigo by Beverly Ellis
A pass-the-parcel of unwanted gifts,
wrappers carefully smoothed and set aside,
juggling cups and saucers
as we judge the sins of neighbours
and try to ignore plastic tubes
like worm-casts under cloth
while he sits very still. So far so good,
but just before it's time to go –
there: stark as a Japanese poem,
one gold drop trembling.
Hi, Beverly. I liked how sparse and taut this poem is. I also enjoyed the way you linked the Kigo generally associated with seasons with the Christmas season and a season of death. I would look out for well-worn phrases such as "so far so good"; also, for a poem with this title, you should consider whether you might want to use something else instead of "Japanese Poem" for the simile in the last stanza.
Roof by Malene Engelund
After his father dies, he slips off his grief
like a wet coat and becomes a fury of carpentry,
binding wood to wood as if grafting his heart
back together the way he would the split stem
of an apple tree.
By the second week his hands are gloved
in splinters, small landmarks mapping his loss
across palms and fingers. Then he moves
to the roof, replacing its faded grass cover
as they had done five years earlier.
I watch him work it alone, the sharp
North Sea wind drawing salt from his eyes:
My father, placing down each slab of soil
onto the grey tarpaulin, preparing the earth,
burying his father with every seed he sows.
Wow. Malene, this is a great poem. I like how it puts grief, memory and work together. Also I like how the vision of the father is halfway up in the sky. The rhythm and the images are good. Nice poem.
Jason and the Argo by Kirsty Gillies
When performing my frustration in the front room,
as the youngest child - feeling observed. Picked on.
I made my usual angry exit sweeping between
the two armchairs my parents always sat in
like Jason passing through those clashing rocks
dangerous, because I never made it through
before my father caught me as I passed,
in the net of his arms. Hauled me in
without a word onto his chest. The white
water rafting, the moody waves, became calm sailing -
lying flat as though he was the bottom of a boat –
the rough boards of his hands - yellowed
with tobacco, cradling my arms, and it was warm,
lying back, looking up, listening for the next
low boom of his heart – sea inside
an underwater cave, breaking against rock.
But one day I ran through - and I don't know
if it was me or you that thought I was too old.
Me dodging the net from spite, or perhaps you
never casting it out. But it's something to know -
that the sun hoisted on its ancient pulley
will jam half-way and never rise or set.
And the tide will one day halt mid-way in or out,
and never break against the underground rock.
Nice work, Kirsty. I like how you set up the metaphor of the armchairs and Jason and the clashing rocks – but I think that in some places you carry this metaphor too far. I'd look at the third and fifth stanzas and consider whether you could lose one or both. Try it and see how it feels.
Lekythos by Maximilian Hildebrand
I am sure you are dead. All that remains is the ritual
That began the day I took your pulse, and finding an echo
But no voice, cut a lock of your hair as comfort for my vigil.
Each day since, I have embalmed myself with the few photos
I still have of you. They reassure me that you were always old, old man;
Kind, indulgent, white-bearded. In short: always a father.
Most nights I anoint myself with your oils - I drink Lagavulin or good vin
de table, an honest link of what we shared. Or rather,
A recession between two likening faces.
For yours does not change, and my clothes-horse bones wear it
More often these days. Remnants that hold you in a false stasis
soak my skin into crinkled mimicry. I fear it,
My shadow-filled mirror, clearing as I grow older:
One day I will see an old man, crying on an old man's shoulder.
This is a nice sonnet, Maximillian. I like the whole idea of storing oil and storing someone essence and memories. I also like the rhymes you use: very unpredictable. The sonnet is all about the turn, though, and your turn could be a greater shift.
Dad's Shed by Harry Nicholson
That shed, carefully constructed
from scrap wood and bolted
as though to be moved later,
stood at the end of his Sundays
of tidy rows of leeks
and oblong beds of strawberries.
It began to sag with his decline,
until it collapsed into an exhaustion
of softened wood and torn felt,
to be over-run with brambles -
a courting spot for cats.
I cleared the site for her sake
and kept his medals.
Sometimes in dreams I go there;
it's where my memories are...
down his concrete path.
Inside - the rabbits stare
through wires, not fed for years.
I rush around...
give water and fresh hay,
long neglected fondles,
say: 'I'm sorry - I've been away.'
Harry, I think the symbol of the shed and is a good idea, but I feel your final stanza goes off at a tangent and the strong concept dissipates. Try some alternative final stanzas, perhaps linked more closely to the concrete idea of the shed.
The path by Joseph O'Donnell
to my father
a world of
brown tweed jackets
an old ford cortina
his days and nights working
my days and nights wondering
his lost parents
that lost family
a grave in the churchyard
where they lie
a mystery to me
woken every morning half singing
peppermint crisp and peppermint cream
turkish delight and tangerine
or that other favourite of his
tie a yellow ribbon
round the old oak tree
if you still want me
when i gaze on my daughter
i see me in her
and him through me for her
a world of silence
leads through to
I admire the idea of the path from dad to writer to daughter. I also see what you're trying to do with the shape of the poem, like a path, although I've become wary of late of representational forms. You may want to to play about with equal stanzas and see how it works for the poem. Good luck.
KANSAS, 1973 by Floyd Skloot
My daughter nestled in a plastic seat
is nodding beside me as though in full
agreement with the logic of her dream.
I am glad for her sake the road is straight.
But the dark shimmer of a summer road
where hope and disappointment repeat
themselves all across Kansas like a dull
chorus makes the westward journey seem
itself a dream. She breathes in one great
gulp, taking deep the blazing air, and stops
my heart until she sighs the breath away.
The sun is stuck directly overhead.
I thought it all would never end. The drive,
the heat, my child beside me, the bright day
itself, that fathering time in my life.
We were going nowhere and never would,
as in a dream, or in the space between
time and memory. I saw nothing but sky
beyond the horizon of still treetops
and nothing changing down the road ahead.
Floyd, I like this. It feels like some kind of extended sonnet. I think, though, that you need to examine your line breaks, especially in the first stanza. If you're saying that the line breaks there are to give the feel of continuous travelling, is it working? Play around with some others. I really loved the rapture of the second stanza.
4 O'Clock Sundays by Karen Stanley
In Summer, at this time, the heat has branded
earth; fans whir, regurgitating hot, dry air.
Along the beach, a tide of sunburnt skins begins to stir,
rippling slowly, drifting homeward, leaving littered
sands abandoned. At this time, you're bath-damp,
basking in your steamed cleanness, waiting
for my weekly call. Four o'clock, on the dot.
Your life clings to this thin thread.
In Winter, at this time, pink street lights spark
bright surprise through black nights; church bells
remind it's homage time. The long telephone line
winds south, its wire stretching to a disconnection.
Your bath's bone dry with death. It gets to four o'clock.
The phone sleeps in its cradle; my fingers fret.
Karen, I love the sense of mystery and hesitation in this poem, and also how you handle time and place. It draws me in and makes me want to know more – but has already given me enough.
[Our apologies for the delay in the responses to this workshop.]