A Co-Production: Ark’s Hadeda Ibis Photos–My Ibis Poem

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Yesterday Ark at A Tale Untold posted a striking sundowner photo of  Hadeda ibis over Johannesburg. You can see it at the link. And I told him I missed their mournful call heard at dawn and dusk over our Nairobi garden. He said he was sure I still had it in my memory. And I said yes, I’d written an ode commemorating same. He suggested I post it, and then generously said if I needed photos to borrow his. So here we are: photos by Ark, words by Tish:

 

Ibis [Hagedashia hagedash]

At dusk, at dawn

the flatlands waul

of roving Hadedas;

tawny fowl

that shy by day

on tropic lawns,

probe skinflint soils

with sickle bills

that wink out grubs.

You think:

dull, shifty types.

But then –

a sift of light –

dun coverts cast

for glancing green.

It’s hkaa-a hkaa –

Hadedas take flight.

Ibis [Hagedashia hagedash] Copyright 2018 Tish Farrell

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Case Of The Exploding Spear Thistle

This plant is a Spear thistle Cirsium vulgare also known as the Bull or Common thistle, and the most likely candidate for the role of ‘National Flower of Scotland’, although this particular one is growing in Much Wenlock beside the allotment hedge. I’m not sure why the Scots particularly took thistles to heart (a prickly enterprise if ever there was one), though there are possibly clues (not always decipherable) in Hugh MacDiarmid’s 1926 epic stream of consciousness in which one features. It is called A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle, and at 2,685 lines long, and written in Border Scots dialect, is a challenging read, though the version at the link above does provide a glossary here and there. Go there if you wish to discover some stunning Scots vocabulary.

Here are two tiny, rather more accessible excerpts, the first describing the thistle seen in the moonlight; the second likening it to the chief drone on a set of bagpipes:

The thistle canna vanish quite.
Inside a’ licht its shape maun glint,
A spirit wi’ a skeleton in’t.

And:

Plant, what are you than? your leafs
Mind me o the pipes lod drone
– And aa your purply tops
Are the pirly-wirly notes
That gang staggerin ower them as they groan

And then this is what happens next, in my version of reality that is:

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…a ‘pirly-wirly’ explosion of would-be thistles. Those floating seed heads get everywhere, making it yet another highly successful pest of farm fields and gardens. In its favour, the flowers are much loved by moths, butterflies and bees (as well as being most striking to look at) and birds, especially goldfinches, like to feed on the seeds.

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Six Word Saturday

When All Is Said And Donne…

 

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

John Donne 1573-1631 

Meditation 17 from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

And never was there more urgent need to embrace these words and embed them in heart, body and mind. Around the globe so many are locked in a constant state of divisive, calculated ‘them and us’ posturing, pawns in the too many ‘emergent occasions’ of the hate-filled, dogma-driven, racist, resource-grabbing, xenophobic, war-mongering sort that are instigated, managed and fuelled by the self-serving few. And now we have a ‘world leader’ actively promoting nuclear proliferation because, he says, his nation should be top of the pile in the arms race. That would be the nuclear dust pile then?

For those of us who were here the first time round – it’s back to the madhouse.

How did we let this happen? And what are we going to do about it?

Farewell Leonard Cohen ~ You Made Me Laugh

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“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen 1934 – 2016 Selected Poems 1956 -1968

 

Leonard Cohen was in his seventy fifth year when he put on the cool hat (to go with the sharp suit), set off on a world tour (2008-2010) with a band of brilliant musicians and reinvented himself.  He mined his back-catalogue, a body of work that the media in their trite, reductionist fashion, have long classified as doom-laden, wrote a host of new songs too, and generally set about letting in the light.What a star.

He made me laugh on the inside – little pulses of pleasure – wry, acerbic, revelatory – that hit my cerebral cortex and then migrated at a cellular level to all parts including those spots under your feet that practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine call ‘the bubbling well points’. In short, he was life-enhancing. He may have delved in dark places where we don’t often care to look, but he was also very funny. And we humans do need to laugh at ourselves now and then. Even, and maybe especially, a good dose of dark laughter is always worth having.

We were lucky to see him in 2009 when he was playing the Labatt Stadium (now Budweiser Gardens) in London, Ontario. The venue was packed, with every generation represented, from a bunch of retirement home residents to babes in arms. The concert was as fine as could be, and if you want to see it for yourself the DVD of the 2008 London UK concert is a good buy.

Coming up is a clip that especially makes me laugh inside. He’s performing with U2, and it comes from the 2006 documentary Leonard Cohen: I’m Your Man.

The man’s dry humour and humanity live on. Thank you, Leonard.

 

N.B. This is an update of an older post so some of you will have been here before.

Great Rift ~ Beneath The Skin, Our Common Humanity

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RIFT

Not homeland,

but sourceland;

scored in genetic code;

branded in bone:

thorn trees’ jasmine scent,

red pepper dust on the tongue,

sifted on skin,

while beneath our feet

obsidian’s glint,

shards of the earth’s dark heart;

the Rift,

riven,

wide

open

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Symbol

Lions before the storm

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Before the storm we fall in with lion –

six scions out from the pride.

Unmaned, cub-spotted, they slump amongst thorns,

smug in their big-cat skins.

They know we’re here.

So now we’re adrift on the storm’s swell:

coming like lambs to lay down with lions?

Caught in their lure we listen to their breathing;

the rise and fall of soft flanks.

Our breath marks time.

Waiting – till a drift of rainfall stirs them.

Watching – till they they rise to make their kill.

 

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copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells: OWPC Storm

The Poetree at Much Wenlock’s Poetry Festival

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 the perfect place for poetry

And that would be Much Wenlock, or so says Carol Ann Duffy, Britain’s Poet Laureate, and the festival’s founding patron. Not only that, Wenlock’s Poetry Festival is one of the best of its kind in the UK. Now into its sixth year, it was the creation of Anna Dreda, owner of the town’s lovely Wenlock Books, and in a few weeks’ time our streets will be teeming with poets and poetry lovers. For three whole days there will be events of all kinds and for all ages and tastes. There poems in shop windows, poetry breakfasts, and readings of their work by some of the best British poets of our time. This year there will be a closing gala event with Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Imtiaz Dharker, Jean Atkin & Little Machine. One of the side-show attractions is always the Poetree on the Church Green. Every year people can break briefly into verse and hang their words on the tree for others to read. Last year the tree was so happy it reciprocated by bursting into bloom. What more can one ask for? IMG_1050 IMG_1042 You can find out more about events at this year’s Much Wenlock Poetry Festival   It takes place all over the town on Friday 24th to Sunday 26th April 2015. And now here’s a poem I found while out window shopping at last year’s festival: IMG_1026 Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: shamrock   #WenlockPoetryFestival

Ode to a Drum by Yusef Komunyakaa

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Here is one of the finest poems I’ve read in a long time, Ode to a Drum written by American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa. Please accept it as a festive gift and pass it on.

 

Gazelle, I killed you
for your skin’s exquisite
touch, for how easy it is
to be nailed to a board
weathered raw as white
butcher paper. Last night
I heard my daughter praying
for the meat here at my feet.
You know it wasn’t anger
that made me stop my heart
till the hammer fell. Weeks
ago, I broke you as a woman
once shattered me into a song
beneath her weight, before
you slouched into that
grassy hush. But now
I’m tightening lashes,
shaping hide as if around
a ribcage, stretched
like five bowstrings.
Ghosts cannot slip back
inside the body’s drum.
You’ve been seasoned
by wind, dusk & sunlight.
Pressure can make everything
whole again, brass nails
tacked into the ebony wood
your face has been carved
five times. I have to drive
trouble from the valley.
Trouble in the hills.
Trouble on the river
too. There’s no kola nut,
palm wine, fish, salt,
or calabash. Kadoom.
Kadoom. Kadoom. Ka-
doooom. Kadoom. Now
I have beaten a song back into you,
rise & walk away like a panther.

 

Source: Internet Poetry Archive

For more works by award-winning American poet, Yusef Komunyakaa

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Yusef Komunyakaa  Photo: David Shankbone, Creative Commons

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Quoting Creatively: the ‘Out of Africa’ connection

Ngong Hills, view of Rift Valley to the west

I may be wrong about this, but doesn’t John Barry’s Out of Africa film score owe just a little something to George Butterworth’s Shropshire Lad Rhapsody? Both works ride on a swell of yearning for a life, a love, a land that is lost or unobtainable. Both composers are English, and Barry probably knew Butterworth’s small body of very English song-cycles. (Butterworth died in 1916, a casualty of World War 1).

Of course, the influence of one composer upon another is common enough, and could well be subconscious. On the other hand, Barry might have chosen deliberately to nod to the earlier work. There are many reasons to do so, and it all begins with that other very English creation, the collection of poems called A Shropshire Lad, by A.E.Housman, the work that inspired Butterworth’s Rhapsody and the several Housman poems that he set to music.

I have written elsewhere how this collection of ballad-type poems inspired several composers in their works, and not only Butterworth, but also Vaughan Williams and Ivor Gurney. At the time when I wrote that post, I had not thought about the Out of Africa film connection. But now I have thought of it, my interest is rather personal.

Firstly, as a writer who has worked with several illustrators, I like the way one artist’s creativity can provide inspiration for other artists’ work. Indeed, when it comes to A Shropshire Lad, there is a veritable multiplier effect of allusion and quotation in other works throughout the twentieth century. This includes Dennis Potter’s disturbing play Blue Remembered Hills (A Shropshire Lad poem XL).

Secondly, Housman’s poems, and in particular the music they inspired, make reference to Wenlock Edge and the town of Much Wenlock where I live.

Thirdly, I have also lived in Kenya, the country that inspired Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa.

And fourthly, in the script of Sydney Pollack’s film of the same name, which derives more from the biographies by Judith Thurman (Isak Dinesen) and Errol Trzebinkski (Silence will Speak) than from Karen Blixen’s book, includes two very striking quotations from A Shropshire Lad.

Both arrive towards the end of the film, and both relate, directly and indirectly to Denys Finch Hatton, Karen Blixen’s lover who died in an unexplained plane crash at the age of 44. For more of their story go HERE.

The first and most heart-rending is at the burial of Finch Hatton up in the Ngong Hills. Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen reads, not from a prayer book, but from a book of poetry, and the poem she reads is poem XIX To An Athlete Dying Young. This is the final stanza:

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on its curls

The garland briefer than a girls.

 

(You can read the whole poem HERE)

While I can find no biographical reference that supports the reading of the poem at the actual burial, I can only say that it could not have been more aptly chosen. In other words, if it is a Hollywood invention, then it is a good one. It adds to our understanding of both Blixen and Finch Hatton in real life.

Denys Finch Hatton had rare glamour.  He was man who was adored and admired by men and women alike. He was a consummate sportsman, a soldier, hunter. He was an elusive adventurer and the son of an English Lord. As a great lover of poetry  he would doubtless have known A Shropshire Lad very well. More importantly, he is said to have had a pathological fear of growing old, and was ever to be seen wearing a hat once his hair began to thin.

In her biography of him Too Close to the Sun, Sarah Wheeler makes the analogy with Icarus. This too is apt. With his shocking death, burned in his plane, the self-regarding sheen of aristocratic settler life was diminished. The film’s burial scene thus prepares us for Karen Blixen’s final exile from Africa. Loss piles on loss.

Before she leaves the country, the film shows her being treated to a drink in the ‘gentlemen only’ bar of Muthaiga Country Club, a restriction which she apparently infringed when first arriving in British East Africa. The toast she gives her hosts is one said to have been used by Denys:  ‘rose-lipt maidens, lightfoot lads’.  This comes from poem LIV:

With rue my heart is laden

For golden friends I had,

For many a rose-lipt maiden

And many a lightfoot lad.

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By brooks too broad for leaping

The lightfoot boys are laid;

The rose-lipt girls are sleeping

In fields where roses fade.

 

So where are these quotations taking us? What exactly is being evoked by their appearance in the film script?

It all comes back to the unobtainable or unclaimable: of the lost life, love and land that I mentioned in the beginning. The settlement by British and European aristocrats of British East Africa (Kenya) in the early years of the last century was an epic romance, one filled with the notion of noble master and faithful ‘noble-savage’  servants. There was the pitting of human courage and wits against the African wilderness; a wilful dance of death wherein sporting valour was supremely admired.  There was a notion of overbearing entitlement; that East Africa was their own country; that only they understood it. As a dream, it was bound to fail. It is a visceral longing for something that cannot be possessed.

For Housman the loss was for a love he could not have: another man. He was a respected academic who ultimately lived as a recluse. He wrote the entire collection of 63 poems while living in London, and without setting foot in the part of Shropshire that he evokes. Of this anomaly he makes the terse comment that, having grown up in the neighbouring county of Worcester, “Shropshire was on our western horizon which made me feel romantic about it.”

And here is where Out of Africa – book, film, and the true lives behind, find common ground with A Shropshire Lad; the ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ moment; the sense of tragic romance, ‘The happy highways where I went and cannot come again.’ Those ‘blue remembered hills.’ The human condition of longing for something we think we had, or should have, but never can.

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And finally then the music. Below are renditions of Butterworth and Barry. (The first begins with the song Loveliest of Trees, poem II, from which the orchestral piece derives). Compare and contrast, or simply ride the emotional tsunami – across Africa, or Shropshire, or wherever you think your lost Paradise resides.

 

 

Related:

Songs from an Inland Sea: “On Wenlock Edge”

Caught inside a Kikuyu Garden: A Memorial to Karen Blixen’s Lover, Denys Finch Hatton

A E Housman A Shropshire Lad  A Gutenberg e-book

 

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