A Perceived Distortion

This poem is about photography and newspapers, and how the images we see before us can tell so many different stories, whether they’re true or false. So much rests on what spin we put on them, and the explanations we give. I’ve chosen to put this in the context of the Second World War, particularly the London Blitz, but it’s still a topic that is very relevant today, as all of the newspapers we read have a particular political bias, and therefore the same story can serve two different interests. It’s all in the hands of the interpreter.

One picture shows a cathedral consumed by fire,
another shows it rising from the flames.
What if I told you they’re both the same photograph?
Does London burn or does it become strong again?

‘Oh! It’s a lovely war’
said by the lady in the widows weeds,
apparently.
‘We must defend British shores’,
uttered a lad of spectral seeds,
transparently.

For they’ve ashen faces and nowhere to go
searching for traces of someone they know.
The fires are burning but they frighten no more,
the tables are turning with death at their door.

Pick up a paper, you’ll see soldiers laughing,
read another and they’re dead in the field.
Some see a good life, others see the skeletons,
look behind the captions to see what is revealed.

‘Come, you must hide away’
shouted the general in uniform,
concernedly.
‘My faith will keep me safe’
prayed the woman with a cruciform,
avowedly.

For the light is all they have left to hope,
and their sight tells them they will not cope.
When the bombs come they’ll look to the clouds.
After the siren’s sung they’ll make it out.

But who’s to say what they’re feeling?
They may smile but they’re still reeling
from the missile smashing through the ceiling.
It’s their stories we make habit of stealing.
The rain washes away the ink of the page,
the page declaring stories of the age,
the interpretations of the pain and the rage,
of those who chose (or not) to engage.

When the records are lying, who will tell
the stories of the dying and their own hell?
Polarised are the thoughts in our minds
as we’re sought to become one of our kind.

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Beyond The Stained Glass

This is a poem about someone who has been fascinated by what they have read about the Renaissance in books and what they have seen in paintings. They are totally entranced by the beauty of it and they would like to go five hundred years back in time to Italy and see it for themselves. This poem imagines that they have found themselves there and have found it to be a more complicated place than the picture they have been presented with. A place of danger and persecution, as well as artistic and intellectual enlightenment.

I’ve only seen the Renaissance in books and frames,
and in my mind this is such a great shame.
If I could charter a ship and sail through time,
I would talk with all of the great thinkers and minds.

Be a muse for Da Vinci and even more for Botticelli,
then return and wonder ‘have I lived once already?’
See a face in a painting that’s awfully familiar,
yet I’d just put it down to someone similar.

Dante’s circles may not be quite my thing
but neither are the angels that do sing.
Florence is hot in this Summer of flame
I must take care to not join this game.

I gaze in wonder at the grand ships of trade
but I remember the woes of those enslaved.
Who paid for the splendid basilica dome?
How much blood was sold to construct Rome?

I bring to mind what Machiavelli said,
keep yourself alive and bow your head.
These are the cities where the saints do sleep,
I should go home lest I wander too deep.

Asphodel Meadows

I used the concept of part of the Ancient Greek Underworld as a metaphor to describe my own feelings at the time. Those who had lived unexceptional lives, were believed to be sent to the ‘Asphodel Meadows’ – a rather banal place. I saw this as somewhat comparable to my own life. I was asking myself, ‘what was I doing?’ I couldn’t think of anything exceptional that I had done, or that I could possibly do.

I was delivered unto a place of grey.
All I could do was to sit on the dry grass
and reflect on what had made this my home.
It wasn’t by choice that I lived so ordinarily;
in the vale of years I remained uninspired.
No creation to my identity,
nothing synonymous to my name.
Not a dent was made
on the clay model of lifespan.
No handprints left from efforts to press down,
just the puddles of raining ink that I had spilled.
Through pleasantries, I found no ascension.
To be polite, is to be enveloped by time.
Becoming a grain of sand, one for the mound,
without a notion to change.
What I dreamt to express, the words refused to orchestrate.
instead, every meaning and feeling eluded me.
Now it’s too late,
for I am bound to a constant.
I harvest grain, only for it to rot from birth.
I walk under trees, but no leaves will fall.
I long to flow forgetfulness into my mouth,
and let Lethe, oblivion’s patron, rebirth my soul,
lest I linger here, burning in monochrome.
I preserved ambition into the afterlife.
But I’m trapped by stone peaks,
in this arid valley.
I dream of the Elysian;
the sunshine gold that I stretched too far for.
Only the notorious achieve the prize,
And the mediocre inherit a static land.
Surrounded by spectres that I do not identify with,
They mourn, and themselves become mist.
I don’t belong to the haze,
but it has me, and I dissolve into white smoke.
I become one among the dull trees,
swirling with the dust on the ground.
Even when it was Earthly air that I breathed,
I acted the role of the scenery.
Never finding the voiced half of my thoughts,
and always being swayed to a direction.
Like a river of opinion.I was a tiny stone,
being ground to salt by the louder pebbles,
and integrated into the scream.
I was shouted down.
The Elysian Fields are full of loud voices.

Ritual Of Inversion

The subject of this work is based directly from the medieval concept of a ‘ritual of inversion’, hence the title that is somewhat derivative of that! The concept is that, in many communities for one day a year, the natural order (within reason) would be ceremoniously and symbolically reversed. In particular, a ‘Lord of Misrule’ would be chosen to preside over the festivities. Some have suggested that this has been seen as a form of subtle social control, which I find fascinating. Here, I have written the story of a group of serfs who decide that the day of the ritual would be a symbolically opportune time to enact a revolution.

This day dawns only once a year
when the moon presides over the light
and the suns sleeps on oceanic damask.
This time, we’ll make it ours
and tear down the silken sky,
drape it over the eyes of our lords
and slip through the gauze into freedom.
-o-
We used to be fettered in seigneurial chains
for the fruits o’the Earth, to our masters’ hands.
But to subside, we toiled to survive,
grappling existence and sapping the spirit.
Always bathed in the manor’s shade;
it seemed to hang from the scales of Libra.
-o-
Our plans are born upon evening’s fall,
and we embody the violet dusk.
Tonight, the sumptuary order’s reversed
but fortune’s wheel shall hold it’s stance
for our hands shall interrupt the circle.
The Lord arrives to the sun’s demise,
of misrule he shall reign so true.
Let sceptre and orb become shield and sword.
-o-
From the weight of which we were bedecked
led us to fall so grievously.
The gold on our wrists tarnished to iron
and burning spirits were surely drowned.
Fools we were, for without our labour,
the land blooms still, once we are killed.

The Portrait And Landscape Of Lady Jane

I suppose this is where my inner-history student comes to the surface of my poetry. This discusses the way that the personality of Lady Jane Grey has been interpreted in history. From victimised puppet, to a cunning woman, clever in the coup that gave her the crown. I’d like to think that the actuality of the situation is much less black and white than this interpretation suggests. Lady Jane Grey, in order for a Protestant succession to be achieved was named as heir to the throne of Edward VI. It is likely that his will was hastily altered in order to accommodate for this to happen, and it was not his decision. This was to stop the Catholic Mary I from coming to the throne. This, predictably did not work. Public support generally went in favour of those who had the natural right to rule, and this was seen as Mary’s right. Mary became Queen of England in 1553, and Lady Jane was confined in the Tower of London. Originally, she wasn’t going to be executed, but it was on the insistence of Philip of Spain, Mary’s to-be husband that Jane be executed, as she was seen as a possible figurehead of rebellion, which Mary (popularly and inaccurately demonised as being evil) was extremely reluctant to do, but knew that it was inevitable. 

A planned construction like the scaffold,

a calculation of canvas and oil paint.

Herself, not central, but her white gown

on her, she was transformed into

the immaculate virgin raped by the axe.

The head that harboured the crown;

guileless, apparently so.

The chest that took anointing oil;

a pale close to snow.

We observe her memory

through stained glass.

We see her outline,

but let our minds be coloured.

The paints of propaganda,

the murmurings of martyrdom,

whisper the stories of

a flowering rose of red and white,

and a severing of the stem.

An undercurrent still remains,

suggesting a sliver of guilt.

She is now stripped of petals,

causing the core to wilt.

Limniad From Avignon

This is one of my wilder poems, and every time I read it through, the subject matter makes less and less sense to me, but I do enjoy writing narrative poetry and telling a story, as it gives me a greater sense of direction. Set in Early Modern Venice, this creature of the depths emerges and enchants those who she meets, and predictably, she arouses a sense of extreme suspicion, leading her position to be dangerous.

The ambassadors of Carinthia,
swore to the men of the red robe.
They swore through their lustful hearts,
what they glimpsed in the lagoon.
They say she’s a balladeer,
they will swear that you sung to them.
Get away, get away.

Said to have swam from Avignon.
Born from a cursed Frankish harlot.
Now in the Venetian bays you stay,
enjoying men of divers crafts.

The silk master of the plaza,
brought his tussah to the sands.
A lonely man among merchants
who display wives as their wares.
You, the duchess of the depths
begged to ennoble him your duke.

Many whores did loot the silks,
and the thieves seized the gold.
Blue on his earth bed of sand
and the Lusignan ancestress
hides beneath the rock pools.

Said to have swam from Avignon.
Born from a cursed Frankish harlot.
Now in the Venetian bays you stay,
enjoying men of divers crafts.

The ancient bonfires were reborn,
fuelled from hopeful ideology.
Fettered to their zodiacs,
the stars knew who to burn.
Get away, get away,
swim away.

The assassin perched on the tree,
crossbow bolt primed to aim.
I knew that you’d be tempted,
as as a huntress, you’re hunted.
Oh, what have I done? Swim away,
get away,
NOW.

A scout found his flesh torn
a victim of the wave mistress,
executing the serpent’s curse,
or so it was said.

Said to have swam from Avignon.
Born from a cursed Frankish harlot.
Now in the Venetian bays you stay,
enjoying men of divers crafts.

The peninsula of Apulia,
of the Kingdom of Sicily.
Swim away impetuous heart,
hide away solitary soul.
I beg you to get away,
get away now.

The Grey Veil Of Griselda

This poem centres around the struggles and the defiance of Katherine of Aragon, Queen Consort of England and the first wife of Henry VIII. She held on to her rights, and refused to be co-erced into retiring into a convent as the King turned her over for Anne Boleyn (who’s story is equally as sad – though, it is not within the study of history to debate who had a worse time). Although, not in her own words, she refused to be a quiet ‘Griselda’ and take the veil.

I sheath my stubborn sword
and draw the queen of hearts
from the deck of a patient sufferer
mired in matrimonial repression.
I may be the pride of the people
but even the crowned can court concession.

Don’t think I choose to cross you
with my silent sacrifice.
I close my eyes and then my heart;
you do know submission is my station.
Trained to brew a fictitious acceptance
I smile and ignore this vicious aberration.

When her ribbon adorns your lance
you turn the tiltyard into an arena of envy.
The loyal heart emblem wasted by years,
seventeen of which to her I am elder.
I am resolute not to relinquish
and hide under the grey veil of Griselda.

From The Battlefield’s Garden

This poem centres on Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of England, but on a time just before her reign as Queen Consort had begun. At the Battle of Bosworth, in 1485, the crown of England was won by Henry Tudor over Richard III (without conjuring any images of a crown hanging from a thorn bush). Now, Elizabeth, being Richard’s niece, was seen as a way to unite the struggles of the Lancastrians (of Henry’s side) and the Yorkists (of the side of Elizabeth and Richard). The solution was to marry Elizabeth and Henry. Their marriage was said to be a happy one, but this poem focuses on how it would have been directly after the battle had finished.

She wore a garland of ivory and scarlet;
a circlet woven with blood and bone.
The famed daughter of the royal harlot,
with the red dragon claiming her home.
In all but his name, he took her throne.

They say the snow lay white no more,
they day decay has touched heaven’s door.

We sacrificed England’s frosty flower,
to the incoming serpent of the seas.
Her blood is the structure of our power,
diluted by pretence as he pleased.
Now the country bends for his alien needs.

Her soul flies with the ravens of the Tower,
stolen away with her gold and her dower.

The shining purity of the fleur-de-lis,
is violated with the slashings of red.
The hopes and ambitions of a queen to be
are burned to cinders and long dead.
She is the silent petal, it has been said.

And so the rose closes up to the sun,
for it’s sojourn to splendour is surely done

For The Look Of A Lady

From the point of view of a minstrel in love with the lady of the house, even though he knows that she is completely out of his reach, socially speaking. In the era of courtly love, women would often be idolised in the poetry of troubadours, and something of a rapport would start up between the musicians of a court and the women there; even ones that were unattainable. It was a bizarre, extra-marital game, that has left my minstrel a victim. Whether things such as this would have happened in history for real, I do not know.

melting in to the shades of a lit room
illustrating the ephemeral string blooms
not often present in the foreground
seldom gone from his delicate lute sound
taking turns to pleasure each strung chord
rearing the dance for the lady and the lord
even appreciated but never for his name
lower of the kinds and they’re all the same

he hides from her and veils his face
a kiss of his would not be to her taste
reading the dances faced with her betrothed
bearing the smiles of the man he loathed
on and on, his score must never cease
undoing waterfalls he continues with his piece
relishing the pause for them to catch a breath
seeing the courtship that may make his death

“allow me, your lordship”

singing his lament to the partner of his life
even so, a lute can’t become his wife
caressing the strings of his lone consort
relaxing him as his horizon starts to distort
ended his energy through the drink he took
these dying days were all for a lady’s look

Clouding The Cruciform

This poem was inspired by the crusades of the medieval period, and begs the question of motive. What were these people on crusade for? Honour? Glory? Their own kind of hedonism? Or was it of a religious conviction deeper than that? I get the feeling that the religious aspect of it played second fiddle to other factors.

I hear grunts from the men of flame
muttering in disgust from their base.
They say ‘infidel’ in lieu of a name.
The cross on their chest an illusion of grace;
I sense nothing holy in this sterile place.

One could suspect their crucible soul,
working in tandem with political minds.
Do two come together to forge a whole?
Does one preside leaving another behind?
But, how dare I think our conquest maligned?

This wasn’t a voyage from my conviction;
I crossed land and ocean cerebrally bound,
through fleeting shackles of marital affliction.
I dared not dispute lest I faced the sound,
of laboured breath as my identity drowned.

They wish to betray those we came to aid,
plunderous propositions for the city of gold.
Byzantium falls and fortunes are made,
on a damnable deal in which faith is sold.
Stories of the butchered ones will lay untold.

I work among washerwomen and whores,
not worth a fraction of the soldiers’ spit;
serviced, shamed and constantly deplored.
The flames of greed spread as they permit.
Conversely, these are crimes I could not acquit.