Participants’ Poems ~ Poem as Diptych Writing Workshop

Our theme was poems consisting of two halves that might work in both partnership and opposition, thereby generating a dynamic whole. We discussed two ‘hinge’ poems (a looser form of diptych), and a ‘specular’ or ‘mirror’ poem by Julia Copus, who is credited with inventing this strange but mesmerizing form where the lines of the first stanza are repeated in reverse order in the second, creating a mirror image. The warm-up exercise was to write lines beginning ‘because’ or ‘so’ in response to the image of a landscape reflected in water. For the main exercise, participants were invited to focus on a key memory and, following guided prompts (smells, tastes, clothes and hairstyle worn), to draft the first half of a hinge or mirror poem. The prompts could be adapted or even abandoned if another direction suggested itself.

The poems below were all written at or as a result of the workshop; some are finished, others are evolving. They demonstrate the diversity of responses to the same stimuli. There are true mirror poems, hinge poems symmetrical and imbalanced, poems evoking both mirror and hinge, poems that have travelled elsewhere entirely … Enjoy reading – and consider signing up for a writing workshop at this year’s festival.

Anne Ryland, Poetry Workshop Tutor

July 2020

__________________________________________________

Winding Wool

The firelight dances a reel across the ceiling
Of my grandmother’s kitchen
I sit on the carpet by her feet
Cross-legged and sleepy
Arms chained by the wool
She’s wound round my wrists
Tilt right, tilt left, tilt right, left
My arms move to the rhythm of her winding
What is she thinking as the ball grows larger?
I smell the wool, earthy as fields of sheep
She’ll knit me new cosy socks.

The firelight behind the stove’s glass door
Is trapped, not able to dance a reel
My granddaughter sits on the carpet
Cross-legged and sleepy
My fingers wind round strands of hair
Soft like silken threads of cashmere
She tilts right, tilts left, tilts right, left
In time to the rhythm of my brushing
What is she thinking my precious lamb?
I'll not be knitting her new socks
Still the love is as warm and strong
As it was in my grandmother’s kitchen.

Norma Brown

__________________________________________________
.
.

Remembering Mum

It was already Autumn
And the schoolyard was wet
I wore the maroon wool coat
She’d made with a hood
To cover my boy urchin hair
That wouldn’t grow
Skipping to keep up with
Her I-am-angry strides
She was strong
As she marched to the teacher’s desk
With her “I want a word with you”
She was so out of place
In the pungency of chalk ink and shoebags
Because she never did stand up for me
Because that day she did
Because she told them to leave me alone
Because I was left handed and that was fine
I shrank from her bravery

In her armchair
Pleated skirt and roomy shoes
Screw curl hair permed by me
Dressed for seasons which never change
Knitting rested on her knee
But fingers always fidgeting
We revisit tired and ravaged places
Our battles done at last
Some weathered scars endure
Her pin blue eyes fix me to ask
“Did you ever really get away?”
Today I smell her peppermints
I’m sitting in her chair
Because it is my Autumn now
Because the ones behind stretch longer
Because fewer stretch ahead
Because all of love is strange
And anger was part of her love

Anna Edgar

__________________________________________________
.
.

Cold Linoleum

Before the lean-to bathroom was built
Saturday night was bath time in a zinc tub
Water bubbled in a kettle on the gas hob
As the Bakelite radio babbled about rugby
Deep Scottish brogue aroma of smokies
A production line of bodies washed and dried
All in the anodyne glow of the three-bar fire
Scalding water scarred my brother’s arm
The night he pulled the whistling kettle down

The night he pulled the whistling kettle down
Scalding water scarred my brother’s arm
All in the anodyne glow of the three-bar fire
A production line of bodies washed and dried
Deep Scottish brogue aroma of smokies
As the Bakelite radio babbled about rugby
Water bubbled in a kettle on the gas hob
Saturday night was bath time in a zinc tub
Before the lean-to bathroom was built

Colin Fleetwood

__________________________________________________

Party Purgatory

Memories are fleeting,
single scenes cut from a film,
mostly wiped by over-exposure.

Stick-insect-thin, shy as a fawn –
perhaps there was a hope
that I could be coaxed out of my shell
by fun and games.

Getting me into a party dress beforehand
was like giving a cat a bath.
A blouse bolstered my rickle of bones.

I remember sitting in a circle
on the polished wooden floor,
my name being called
to catch the spinning bottle,
scrabbling about like a lone chicken
with a fox in the run.

Events stick like burrs,
as invasive as briars.
Even now, hearing ‘Christmas’ and ‘party’,
I have an urge to scuttle down
a mousehole.

Maggie Harker

Rickle: Scots/Irish, a loosely piled heap

__________________________________________________

Clearances

‘Write about anywhere,’ said The Muse, ‘Byker suits you.’ And suit me it did.

I sang Byker Hill and Walker Shore and spotted Ant and Dec in TV’s Byker Grove.
Then, I was on The Quayside with Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen, who graciously gave me
Some of her very best pictures and stories of her time living and working in old Byker.

I saw a heavily pregnant mother crooking three rollicking lambs up a steep step,
Donkeyed primrose-yellow, to make a bonny podium for a jobbing photographer.
How the street throbbed, the car-free, carefree cobbles alive, crawling with merchants.

Rag-and-bone men with reined, beaten horses, blowing bugles and trading balloons.
Balladeers, sounding like Frankie Lane, sang aloud from The Great American Songbook.
Snot-nosed, jingling ice-cream men peddled lollies, ninety-nines and cornets, on tricycles.

Upstairs in Corbridge Street was The Royal Box for watching these workaday theatricalities.
At the very top of the street, topping the bill: The Raby Street Swap Shop and Emporium.
Good Money Given. Spot Cash for Unwanted Goods. Discreet Pawn. Always Here to Help.

The pageant was discovered, documented and portrayed by young Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen.
She lived in Byker for twelve years and that Geordie tribe loved, trusted and respected her.
‘Forst, she cudn’t tell hello from tarra, noo she speaks Finnish wee a posh Geordie accent!’

Those same Bykerites were not so highly esteemed by The Chief City Planning Officer:
‘Dwellers in a slum are almost a separate race of people with different values/aspirations.’
‘Noo that soonds just like Bob puttin’ Terry in ees place like in them ‘Likely Lads’, eh, eh?’

Planning prevailed, hundreds of poor people were harried and hounded out of their homes.
One observed, brokenheartedly: ‘These hooses iv been condemned for ower twenty years,
Thi aal cudda been saved, wie aye man, thi cudda just given wi a bath and hot watter yi na!’

‘Well, I’ve written about anywhere,’ said the poet, ‘and Byker did suit me.’ Suit me it did!

Bryan Langley

The contentious decision to destroy old Byker and build The Byker Wall is well documented. The quotations used are all from the book written by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen: Byker (Bloodaxe Books, 1988). Verse 6 (p9), Verse 7 (p125), Verse 8 (p8).

__________________________________________________

First

You sang to me
when the window turned hue to black.
The whole room became our covers,
we got cosy,
warmed by the knowledge of what fumbling hands meant.
Then
my body was sore and in need.
You smelt human, unpretentious,
wearing your black polo neck and brogues
for ideological reasons.
I was in my work clothes.
We were sleek and androgynous.
I wore my Docs to assert this:
“How could we not be angry?
It’s so sad, Jesus, it’s just so sad.”

“It’s so sad, Jesus, it’s just so sad.
How could we not be angry?”
I wore my Docs to assert this.
We were sleek and androgynous,
I was in my work clothes
for ideological reasons.
Wearing your black polo neck and brogues
you smelt human, unpretentious.
My body was sore and in need
then
warmed by the knowledge of what fumbling hands meant.
We got cosy;
the whole room became our covers.
When the window turned hue to black
you sang to me.

Niamh McNulty

__________________________________________________

And even the clouds are blue

And sharp early light is cold
And blackness bites and deadens trees
And mist lays a heavy blanket
And birds are expressively silent

Because the world is upside down.

After the fear of dark-memoried night
After reflections greet
After colours fight-dissolve-combine
After ripples in air are stilled in their mirror.

Because silence is broken by sound

So chorus’ feathers stir
So mist departs from its grassy bed
So trees, unsolid, are green, reviving
So darkened blue begins to warm

And pools that are eyes, drown.

Kirsty Ord

__________________________________________________

Wanstead Flats

It is a sunny day.
There are cows in the water.
I am wearing Clarks sandals –
The toes are scuffed,
The buckle on my left foot is loose.

My curly hair is skewered
Flat to one side
By a red plastic slide.
My legs are dark brown
Up to my shorts, then white.

Mum and Dad are on the blanket.
Dad is lighting the Primus stove.
I am looking in Mum’s bag –
Has she remembered
Sherbet fountains?

I imagine the bubbling fizz
As we suck on liquorice straws.
“Can we paddle now?”
There may be Naughty Boys.
What about leeches?

The breeze is cool
But the sun is hot on the Flats.
I have torn off my sandals,
My hair slide has flown.
My friends are all over.

They squeal with the cold
As we wade into the water.
“What’s this on my foot?”
A conker-brown, jelly blob.
Sickly sense of draining blood.

So Dad springs into action –
Jungle experience, lighted cigarette.
But now it’s time for the picnic.
I am wearing a bandage
On my left foot.

My leg on a cushion
Made from the food bag.
My friends are less bouncy.
I take centre stage.
And they are all awkward.
I discover that Birthday treats
Taste less exciting
If your Dad
Has just finished
Burning a leech off your foot.

“Are there sausage rolls?”
“Can we eat all the picnic?”
Their sun-smudged little faces
Smile because they are full up.
But next year I will ask to go to the zoo.

Barbara Prater

__________________________________________________

Then and Now

Then it was always sunny
Even on early mornings as we crossed the bridge.
Then it was always our ‘Round The Walls’ walk
Nodding and clinging on to Grandad’s remaining
Two fingers, a relic of the war.

A tall lanky figure,
He always wore a cap outdoors,
Dark trousers, tweedy jacket and workboots.
I loved those walks with him,
I felt important and safe.
He lived in the town all his life –
Plenty of people knew him so those walks
Were stops and starts, a progress of sorts.

Then people would call me ‘hen’ or ‘lassie’
And I could pat their dogs.
Above my head the chatterers would smoke
Their pipes and put the world to rights.

I’d be warmly dressed for our expeditions
In Granny-knitted kneesocks or fingerless gloves –
Me a pink-cheeked child with a straight fringe
Skipping along in my Clarks sandals or Start Rite shoes.
Then our saunter would always finish on Bridge Street
Where the Miss Binnies had a little treasure hut of a wool shop –
They’d give me scraps of fuzzy wuzzy wool.

Then we’d head up the cobbles of West Street
And half way up I could smell the pork butcher’s shop,
The last stopping point.

‘Who’s this big girl then, Sandy?’
The lady behind the counter always asked
And I pretended to be shy and shuffled closer to Grandad.
Then we’d buy a wedge of potted meat from her enamel bowl
And tuck the parcel into the string bag
He’d made using the fishing net mending method.
‘Your Granny will have the dinner on.’
I knew we’d have the meat with brown sauce
When we got home.

That was Then.
This is Now.

Now I’m grown up, the same age as Grandad.
I still saunter up West Street
But the shops are different now.
Unrecognisable – no stops or starts to chat.
No pork shop, though the smell is in my memory.
Now there’s no Grandad,
No reminder of his voice or face.
Only the pleasure of the walks
And the feelings of safety and love.

Sheila Roe

__________________________________________________