Fish 2

Some time ago I wrote a rather scathing poem about goldfish, those dull yet troubling pets. Over the years I have come to think the poem does fish a disservice. This sonnet, which looks at real piscine wonders, is the act of restitution. In the final collection (yes, I am planning one, self-published if needs be) it will sit immediately after the original poem, which is entitled ‘Fish 1’.

Fish 2

Scorn goldfish tanks, come to the brine
and plunge to fathoms far below
the shallow range of lure and line,
find wonders where the sun can’t go.

Take angler fish, with glowing bait:
the smaller male swims to a mate,
his teeth latch on, all’s going great
as he starts to assimilate.

Skin fuses, both eyes drop away
and all his organs are absorbed,
except, of course, his testes stay.
The female swims on undisturbed.

We’ll leave the male a parasite
and drift back slowly to the light.

© Huw Evans 2019

The Yorkshire Terrier

Have you ever hated a dog?

Generally, dogs and I get on fine. But a few years ago there was a Yorkshire Terrier that tormented me. There was a street I had to walk down every day, and every day this wretched little dog would rush out of its garden, yapping and howling, always circling to get a bite at my heels. Being a right-thinking person, and constrained by civilisation, I tried not to kick it while dodging it.

But in my head it was quite a different story.

The Yorkshire Terrier

The pavement’s peaceful. No it’s not.
He’s burst out from his skulking spot.
He yaps and howls. He turns and wheels.
I know his target is my heels.

He got me once with needle teeth,
right through my socks, broke skin beneath.
So now I always dodge and hop.
Undignified. This has to stop.

I stoop and scoop the yapping runt,
draw back my foot and then I punt
the snarling scrap high over head.
It lands far off, it might be dead.

But that’s a dream. The morning comes.
He’s lurking with his slobbery gums.

A Christmas Garland Redux

Garland

So. Last Christmas I wrote a twelve sonnet cycle, on the theme of Christmas, and posted them on Living Lantern, a day at a time. I was contemplating another Christmas project for this season, but a Christmas deadline on another project put an end to that, so I’m having a rest.

In the meantime, to make the original cycle easier to read, I have compiled it into an ebook. You can download that here:

A Christmas Garland – mobi format for kindle

A Christmas Garland – epub format for all manner of other readers.

The ebooks are free, but if you feel that you want to pay something for it, you can also buy it on Amazon (that link is to amazon.co.uk, but it’s also available on amazon.com).

Reflecting on A Christmas Garland

So. I posted the last sonnet in the Christmas Garland sequence a couple of days ago, which means it must be time to reflect upon the experience of writing. (I have also reposted the whole sequence in the right order.)

I started the first sonnet on 23th December and posted it on 24th December for the 25th. That gave me a safety margin of one day. I thought I might need it, and on 2nd January, as I was back at work, I slipped and only managed the first half of the sonnet. When I started I was worried the pressure of writing a regular series would mess up the holiday. There was a bit of pressure, but it also gave me a focus, something I could turn to, and prevented the holiday being a mindless bloat, punctuated by the occasional walk.

I didn’t have a plan for the subjects: Christmas, obviously, but beyond that, nothing. I knew there would be shepherds, some angels, wise men, Mary, Joseph, a baby. Quite how they would be connected, or what the balance would be was absolutely unknown, they just unfolded from day to day.

The most difficult thing was the garland. Sonnets are designed to conclude: that is part of their appeal. It is at best contrary (bloody-minded might be more accurate) to string them together; finishing one sonnet in a way that could be a starting point for another one was tricky. There are several endings that didn’t get used simply because they couldn’t be a starting off point for another sonnet.

The worst point – predictably – was the last sonnet, which I began already knowing the first and last lines. It didn’t help that the final line evoked a modern setting, while the first line was firmly in the first century (BC or AD depending on whose chronology you go with). The experience wasn’t quite as bad as writing a paradelle, but still had something of the same mental twistiness.

What else did I find?

  • I think I have doubled my lifetime output of sonnets over the last fortnight. That can only be a good thing.
  • I have remembered why I don’t write sonnets very often: finding sets of four reasonable rhymes which make sense and fit with the subject. There were some low points: sonnet V – wight; a word but very much archaic: sonnet VI – hoary; again, archaic.
  • The temptation to let rhyme triumph over word order and sense. I want to keep as natural a word-order as possible, but even so, to my shame, the force of rhyme led me to a few unpleasant things, mainly complex tenses. Verb participles, particularly past participles or conditional ones, are a way of keeping the word order reasonable while getting the rhyme. Sonnet VI is bad for that (and while I am on that one, I am not overly keen on leathern house instead of tent). This is something which comes up in folk songs (Froggy he did ride).
  • Going a bit deeper, it forced me to engage with the Christmas story across Christmas. That is a big plus.

A Christmas Garland – XII: 5 January 2015

Their tears come first, drawn by relief and joy,
and then the questions: ‘what if this is wrong?
You seem, beg pardon, poor.’ ‘The angel song,
that drew the shepherds to the new-born boy
and Gabriel’s announcement?’ They deploy
the royal, priestly gifts borne for so long
and kneeling worship with the angel throng.
What other can they do except enjoy?

Jerusalem runs rumour like a cold:
a king, legitimate, of David’s line?
The tyrant sends militias in; they’re told
to cull the toddlers. Outwardly, all’s fine.
Was Herod waiting by the telephone?
Were there reporters clumped, but each alone?

A Christmas Garland – XI: 4 January 2015

They brought the gifts of frankincense and myrrh
and rode uncertain down the village street
unsure of who it was they had to meet,
and when they met, just how it should occur,
what protocols they had to follow, were
they to find the greatest king. They greet
a man with adze in hand and sawdust feet,
no trace of silver, satin, silk or fur.

And somehow, inexplicably, the star
which they have followed over desert miles,
points out or signs that this is where they are
supposed to be. They ask the man, he smiles
and leads them home, to find a little boy.
Their tears come first, drawn by relief and joy.

A Christmas Garland – X: 3 January 2015

The retinue of magi found their way
from Babylon or Susa: we don’t know
what they saw in the star that made them go,
although the ever-easy course was stay
to watch the stars, interpret what they say,
pass on the news to others; let the flow
of action carry others, just lie low.
What did they see that made them ride away?

Did Daniel, magus-head of Babylon
bequeath the college some of what he heard,
so that the sacred knowledge would live on,
in preparation for the infant word.
And if not Daniel, then some hidden spur:
they brought their gifts of frankincense and myrrh.

A Christmas Garland – IX: 2 January 2015

The infant grew with every passing year.
His mother tends and nurtures, cares and feeds,
providing all a growing infant needs.
The seasons roll, he crawls, he walks: her dear
makes sounds for mother, father, which come clear
as month turns into month. A year recedes,
the boy laps up the stories of God’s deeds.
He helps his father with the wood. He’s near.

Has Mary quite forgotten all she heard
from magi, angels, shepherds, Gabriel?
Has filled-up life wiped out what had occurred,
and has the old man’s warning gone as well?
Or does she sometimes pause, rethink the day
The retinue of magi found their way.

A Christmas Garland – VIII: 1 January 2015

Her only answer was “I’ll play my part.
The Lord, he launched salvation years ago
the ship has sailed to far to have my ‘no’
deflect its course. And ‘yes’, a mother’s heart
is all times open to the dark world’s dart
whatever child she bore? A child will grow,
will try the world to finish high or low;
so how can I say ‘stop’ when he says ‘start’?”

She clutch her infant tightly in her cloak
then kissed him, stroked the fine down on his face.
Her boy was safe and she would not provoke
the future, but protect him in a place
of blessing, safe from every threat or fear.
The infant grew with every passing year.

A Christmas Garland – VII: 31 December 2014

‘So now the new messiah’s ours to take’,
thought Joseph as he paid out with delight
two turtle doves for Mary’s cleansing rite.
He joins his waiting wife and son; they make
a rough line for the gate but have to brake,
an old man blocks the path, his eyes alight.
‘Oh Lord let me depart now I’ve had sight
of your salvation, let the world awake.’

The old man studies Mary, then he sighs.
‘This child,’ he said, ‘is going to be a sign,
to mark the fall of many and the rise
of many others but you must resign
yourself to take a sword thrust through your heart.’
The only answer was ‘I’ll play my part.’