Saturday, 7 April 2018

Winter Poems, 2018


You glide and you slide
down eddies of air,
you drift and you sift
through thin wisps of trees,
veneering valleys
in a chalky visage.

You whisper in white,
sonatas of snow,
silent reminders,
gentle spirits,
soft stars sailing
through oceans of space.


Pin-balls scuzzing
in haphazard zig-zags,
disrupting the flow

these erratic flakes
         melting mistakes
into fences, chimneys,
each a scrap of chromosome

damaged diamonds
oddball organelles
flapping about like snowballs in Hell.


Many miles from sea,
you circle the valley,
swooping ringlets
of ten or twenty birds,
a long white chain


        weaving inwards,
                 swaying over birches
           and Norwegian spruce
like the soft tread of ghosts,

 the spindrift of a dream.

Monday, 19 February 2018

A Short One

February has been a difficult month, dominated by family illness, and I have seen more of the insides of hospital wards and gp surgeries than my own home.  Neither reading or writing has featured much in my life, and I have little to report in terms of anything positive or poetic.  I don't believe in hackneyed ideas of hope being found in bleak circumstances, nor do I have faith in my own ability to process much in the way of the written word at present.  But as I have been wandering the corridors and staircases of the increasingly enormous, and thus increasingly impersonal, St James Hospital, Leeds, I have been briefly heartened by some of the paintings, photographs poems exhibited on the walls.  When I worked at the now demolished Roundhay Wing psychiatric unit on the premises in the early 2000's, I remember exhibiting some of my own poems on our corridors, and I do feel that poetry in such circumstances, if offered non-intrusively, can help to lift the spirits of patients, visitors, or staff. It reminds us we are human, a person rather than an NHS number, gives us pause for thought, and can have the unexpected effect of removing us for a moment from the reasons of our presence on the ward or waiting room.  That's why I am grateful to such poets as Mandy Sutter, whose poem At Least caught my eye as I ascended the stairs in Chancellors Wing, en-route to another visit, another uncertainty, and made me smile for a moment:

AT LEAST, by Mandy Sutter

At least, he said, you’ll get a poem
out of this and I thought
yeah, a short one.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Shivering Slightly - The Moon in Poems by Sidney, Wordsworth and Larkin

Philip Larkin's poem Sad Steps was published in his 1974 collection High Windows, but its theme - and title - were drawn from much earlier roots.  In Sad Steps, Larkin specifically references two poems, of the Sixteenth and Nineteenth Centuries,one by Philip Sidney, the other by William Wordsworth.  I want to look at how Larkin neatly samples both the language and the themes of the preceding poems, and creates with his contribution both a compliment and a riposte to both.

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!  begins Sir Philip Sidney's address to the moon, published in 1591,  How silently, and with how wan a face!


Sidney's lines are taken from Astrophil and Stella, a sequence of sonnets in Petrarchan style.  The title is taken from the Greek - "Astro" for star, and "Phil" for lover, thus Astrophil is the star lover, and Stella is his "star."  Sidney's sonnets are melancholy and at times self-pitiful, as in the lunar lines, where the poet claims an empathy with his celestial addressee:

thou feel'st a lover's case,
I read it in thy looks: thy languish'd grace,
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.

and asks rhetorically:

O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?

Sidney - or rather Astrophil (scholars generally agree that the persona is distinct from the poet, and not an alter-ego) - lapses into moralistic judgement, asking the lovelorn moon whether even in heav'nly place those who are loved scorn whom that love doth possess? and implying that the object of his unrequited affections is guilty of ingratitude:

Do they call 'virtue' there ungratefulness.

To be honest, I don't particularly like the poem, and find its narrator's self importance pompous and embarrassing, like the priggishness of a workplace pest who cannot understand how his romantic overtures or sexual advances would be met with anything other than reciprocation, a man who thinks that he is "God's Gift to Women," as the saying used to go.  And yet, there is a certain pained brusqueness in his barbed closing lines which smacks of the spurned grouch, too far down the road of disappointment to really care what others think of his petulant wit, which in later centuries could almost spring from the curled lip of a Tony Hancock, or indeed a Philip Larkin, which I do find drags me back into the fold of the poem's admirers, if reluctantly.

 With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the skies!
How silently, and with how wan a face!
What, may it be that even in heav'nly place
That busy archer his sharp arrows tries?
Sure, if that long-with-love-acquainted eyes
Can judge of love, thou feel'st a lover's case,
I read it in thy looks: thy languish'd grace,
To me, that feel the like, thy state descries.
Then, ev'n of fellowship, O Moon, tell me,
Is constant love deem'd there but want of wit?
Are beauties there as proud as here they be?
Do they above love to be lov'd, and yet
Those lovers scorn whom that love doth possess?
Do they call 'virtue' there ungratefulness?

The poem is written in a tone in which Larkin would also pay homage to the moon, but in a different, deeper, and more self-reflective way - but is far different from the style of its next incantation.

When Wordsworth wrote his sonnet inspired by the poem in 1815, it was the moon's magical allure that he embraced, with characteristic romance.  Maintaining the opening feel of the original, he also begins with a question:

 With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the sky,
"How silently, and with how wan a face!"
Where art thou? 

 Wordsworth's poem, though, soon departs from Sidney's sense of disenchantment.  The only concession to earthly concerns is an unusual comparison:

Unhappy Nuns, whose common breath's a sigh
Which they would stifle, move at such a pace!

And at the half way juncture, we are indulged in the stuff of myth and magic:

The power of Merlin, Goddess! this should be:
And all the stars, fast as the clouds were riven,
Should sally forth, to keep thee company,
Hurrying and sparkling through the clear blue heaven.

 Wordsworth invokes the lunar goddess Cynthia, an epithet of the Greek Artemis, born on Mount Cynthus, and synonymous with Selene and the Roman goddess Diana.  Wordsworth's lines are slightly reminiscent with those of Ben Jonson, whose 1601 play Cynthia's Revels contain a lovely paean to the goddess:

Earth, let not thy envious shade
Dare itself to interpose;
Cynthia's shining orb was made
Heaven to clear when day did close:
    Bless us then with wish├Ęd sight,
    Goddess excellently bright.

In Wordsworth's sonnet, the majesty of moonlight is given the full vent of the author's celebration, with no attempt at linguistic self-restraint.   It is a poem devoid of irony, which both centres on the sadness of the moon's retreating image, and the elaborate imaginings of the poet

With how sad steps, O Moon, thou climb'st the sky,
"How silently, and with how wan a face!"
Where art thou? Thou so often seen on high
Running among the clouds a Wood-nymph's race!
Unhappy Nuns, whose common breath's a sigh
Which they would stifle, move at such a pace!
The northern Wind, to call thee to the chase,
Must blow to-night his bugle horn. Had I
The power of Merlin, Goddess! this should be:
And all the stars, fast as the clouds were riven,
Should sally forth, to keep thee company,
Hurrying and sparkling through the clear blue heaven.
But, Cynthia! should to thee the palm be given,
Queen both for beauty and for majesty.

Philip Larkin's Sad Steps was written in 1968, and would be included in the author's final book of poems six years later. It is a fine example of the sort of poetry which defines "Late Larkin," and the scholar John Welford credited the poem as setting out an impression of beauty being observed yet stripped of its traditional connotations.

 Sad Steps, though obviously taking its title from the previous two poems, could hardly be more different in its opening lines:

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness. 

It is classic Larkin, though the curtness and apparent casualness of the scene serves a purpose beyond dour humour.  Typically, most people focus on the word at the end of the first line, but I would suggest that the first word, "Groping" is, if anything, even more of a powerful kick in the teeth to the poem's illustrious lineage.  Rather than its association with unwanted sexual advances, "groping" as written in 1970's England would conjure images of a weary, half-blind old an stumbling through the dark. It is a clumsy, cantankerous, loveable image - again the thought of Hancockian comedy springs to mind, and I picture a Rupert Rigsby or Alf Garnett, or even an out-of-sorts Kenneth Williams, perhaps clinging to the banister or reaching out with uncertain arms for the bedroom door. Like a kitchen sink comedian, Larkin commences his meditation on the moon by ushering in an image of the everyday, transposing Sidney's and Wordsworth's "Medallion of art" onto a distinctly unromantic setting with which his 20th Century readers might easily identify, lacking any references to Classical mythology or Heavenly figures. To those familiar with the titular significance, the opening line serves as a brusque dismissal of a less cynical past, and does so with a certain black humour.  When I first read the poem at the age of sixteen, I had no idea of its roots in Sidney or Wordsworth, and rather assumed that the sad steps referred to where those of the narrator.  Either way, Larkin sets the scene of a man standing at a window in the middle of the night.  One shivers slightly, looking up there, he tells us, and he could be a man on the deck of a ship, on a scaffold, at the edge of a bridge. It is an image he refines to dark perfection in poems like High Windows, full of pathos and foreboding - a man taking stock of his life, of the years he cannot reclaim, of the unknown still to come.

Larkin was in his early forties when he wrote the poem, and rather than mocking the grandiosity of his forerunners, it is to his own reflections that he is prompted by watching Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below. In pondering these reflections, though, he is not without humour:

There's something laughable about this
The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow 
Loosely as cannon-smoke.

Nor does Larkin ignore the fantastical allusions others might draw from an unexpected lunar interlude, suggesting associations with werewolves, describing the moon as a Lozenge of Love, and letting us dwell for a moment on its separate immensity.  The impact, then, of his terse, monosyllabic refutation - No - reads both abruptly, and with a certain reflective length.  It feels as if we are there with Larkin, standing by the parted curtains, and we can trace the thought process of the poem from its genesis by the window, presumably through the groping walk back to bed, as the gradual realizations form in the mind.  The poem brings Sidney's imagery full circle, touching on the drama and passion of the Wordsworth variation, and homing in on that same sense of resignation, or is it middle-aged fear and anxiety, which taints the original in its sour sadness.  Unlike Sidney, Larkin is reflecting from an older perspective, but like the former he is engaged on a summing up of something unrealized, and at the end of its useful course.  Yet the poem is also a cautionary tale, urging us to to grasp the reality and sharpness of the moment. For Philip Sidney, the moon offers empathy and solace against a background of thwarted young love, an unrequited romance from which the young narrator is bound to recover and strike out afresh. For Larkin, it is a symbol of a past beyond reach, but, as he acknowledges, also the circle of existence, a chain in which all the strength and pain of being young is passed on to another generation.  As such, Larkin's angle on the subject is inconclusive, and interpretative.  The moon, which alone stands firm while he, the human, ages, symbolizes the impenetrable mysteries of the Universe, and the insignificance of all of life's dramas and triumphs in the passing of time.

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon's cleanliness

Four o'clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There's something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate -
Lozenge of love!  Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory!  Immensements!  No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can't come again,
But is for others undiminished somewhere.


Tuesday, 23 January 2018


Although I have always enjoyed watching and learning about birds, it was on my birthday exactly ten years ago today that I first "took up" bird-watching as a regular activity, on a family wander around Newmillderdam, a nature reserve outside Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

Most of the birds visible that winter morning were bluetits - birds well known to me already, but which, in my newfound persona of serious would-be ornithologist, I eagerly scrutinized through the lenses of my binoculars, dazzled by their smooth collages of sapphire and gold, slotting in and out of branches like pirouetting harlequins, six to the dozen.  Later, I would learn that these birds were so frequent as to be regarded as nothing special in the eyes of "serious" bird-watchers , but I have never paid much heed to the vagaries of the snobbish world of twitching, and remain entranced by the beauty of bluetits whenever I see them.

But the sighting which stood out for me that day was not a bird sighting at all, but that of a weasel - weaving through the stones in the shallows of the lake.  It was the first time I had seen a weasel, and the animal inspired a poem which would find publication on the American website In Possee Review that September, and would eventually appear in my 2014 collection Random Journeys.

I had been struck by the weasel's willowy verve, its flexibility as the furry frame seemed to bend and twist with the water, swerving through the current with both determination and grace.  As far as other humans were concerned, the sighting was entirely solitary  - my fellow walkers were all some way off, as I had sauntered far from the official path and felt myself the sole audience of this shape-shifting mustelid, and so as the words of the poem began forming in my mind it seemed natural to address the poem to, rather than about, the weasel - indeed, when In Possee Review published it, they placed the piece in a section of the website called Conversations.  I will relay our conversation below.


I found you in mid hunt,
in search of eggs,
or unsuspecting voles.
All in a moment
I saw you slide
a tangled thicket,
like an elongated
pint of lager,
gingery flanks
licked by a frothy rim
of white,
a lithe half-yard
of fur:
probing reed beds,
eyes primed
you sensed me,
uncoiled, flash-like,
snuck beneath a clump
of sedge and nettle
and vanished into undergrowth.

Monday, 8 January 2018

Emily Bronte: High Waving Heather

I am preparing for a talk about Emily Bronte's life and writing, at Morley Library (details on my Upcoming events page), and one of the poems I plan to feature is High Waving Heather, whose form and structure I have been considering.  I have always liked the poem, but in recent days the experience of reading it aloud has drawn me to the particularly strident sounds and style of the poem, whose vowel sounds and line endings charge it full of purposive energy and bite. The poet's use of dactylic foot, as I shall demonstrate below, accentuates the aggression of the subject matter, and enables each line to thrust its self into life very much in the manner of the tempestuous weather she describes; but the poem, which has been interpreted allegorically, is also a wonderfully dramatic evocation of the sort of moorland world in which Emily Bronte felt most at home.

High waving heather 'neath stormy blasts bending, the poem begins, and notice how already we are tugged along by stormy weather into a brisk, or even bounding, pace; the authoritative syllabic sound of "High" kicks things off firmly; the alliterative opening, spiked with a Long "i" sound,  sweeps us into a rhythm of energy and movement. With the insistent sound of words like "High," "Mighty," and "Roaring," to initiate the lines, combined with the use of dactyls (syllabic units where the first sound is stressed, followed by two unstressed syllables), Emily Bronte has injected the poem with a vigour and anger, a little like an athlete "pushing" off from the blocks for that first spurt of a race. 
Right from the start, we know this poem is not going to be a pastoral meditation on heather waving gently in the breeze - but a fast blast of sharp sounds, all enabled by the employment of the dactyl.  With line endings like rending, descending, flying and defying, this three-stanza flurry of a poem is designed to rouse the reader, or listener, and to summon up an urgent pace.  Yet the poem also imprints an imagery of stoicism in the echoes of a storm, contrasting the transience of the elements and the "gloom defying" lightning, and the advance of the river bursting its banks, with the permanence and immovability of the earth.

Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

There is something in Emily Bronte's pace and rhythm which, for me, conjures thoughts not just of the heather and hills of Yorkshire, but of the Scottish Highlands, in these lines.  Indeed, when I first read the poem I half forgot that I was not casting my eyes over the words of Robbie Burns.  Much has been written about the author's veneration of nature, and her use of a lower case "h" in "heaven" (twice) is certainly interesting, especially considering her background as the daughter of a Parson, but whatever metaphors or allegorical themes might be deduced from this powerful poem, the sense of escape is ever-present:

Man spirit away from his drear dungeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars. 

The ABAAAB rhyme scheme is both pleasing to the ear, and invigorating, in how it gives the stanzas' final lines a punch, and neatly compresses a story of midnight storms, thunder, and desolation.  Rhymes and half-rhymes within the lines are acutely stirring also - wild, and life-giving, glory and rejoicing, Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying.  The juxtaposing of stars and darkness, or earth and heaven, jolt us into shifting visions and spectral imaginings. The vision of survival, even of the triumph of the will, against a hard, bleak background, and in spite of tempests, dungeons is hard to overlook, yet though the poem's power lies in its wet and wild setting, the lasting imagery of sadness is surely underlined in the fleeting brevity of the storm's life-giving essence, fading from the desolate aftermath.

High waving heather 'neath stormy blasts bending
Midnight and moonlight and bright shining stars,
Darkness and glory rejoicingly blending,
Earth rising to heaven, and heaven descending,
Man spirit away from his drear dungeon sending,
Bursting the fetters and breaking the bars. 

All down the mountain sides, wild forest lending
One mighty voice to the life-giving wind;
Rivers their banks in the jubilee rending,
Fast through the valleys a reckless course wending,
Wider and deeper their waters extending,
Leaving a desolate desert behind.

Shining and lowering and swelling and dying,
Changing for ever from midnight to noon;
Roaring like thunder, like soft music sighing,
Shadows on shadows advancing and flying,
Lightning-bright flashes the deep gloom defying,
Coming as swiftly and fading as soon.


Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Bicentenary of Emily Bronte - Exploring the Brontes events

2018 is the bicentenary of Emily Bronte, and I am greatly looking forward to developing the event Exploring the Brontes with my co-collaborator Caroline Lamb, and friends. In 2017 we took the show to Morley, Gildersome, Todmorden and Halifax,

...and we are planning an imminent event at Sowerby Bridge, plus some exciting further ventures - all of which will be featured here as soon as possible.

My first solo Emily Bronte themed event will be at 11AM on Thursday 18th Jan at Morley Library, West Yorks, where anyone is welcome and where attendance is free.  I will be talking about Emily's life and work, and focusing especially on certain poems, including the one below, which I have always felt is identifiable with the spirit of solitude which characterized Emily Bronte, and gave rise to some of her greatest literary creations.  In some of my Exploring the Brontes talks on Branwell last year, I used to say the poem reminded me of him, and I suppose it does in a way.  But I feel that it could also be said to be a sort of tribute to all lost spirits, or to anyone who has at any time in their lives felt alienated or adrift, and it is certainly one which I will be exploring a lot in this momentous year of Emily's bicentenary.

It was night and on the mountains
Fathoms deep the snow drifts lay
Streams and waterfalls and fountains...
Down in darkness stole away

Long ago the hopeless peasant
Left his sheep all buried there
Sheep that through the summer pleasant
He had watched with fondest care
Now no more a cheerful ranger
Following pathways known of yore
Sad he stood a wildered stranger
On his own unbounded moor.

Carving Angels in the Window Pane - Poetry by Keely Murphy

I know little of American poet Keely Murphy, beyond that her collection This Steady Place (Blue Begonia Press 2005) is one of my favourite books, sent to me by a friend from the publisher's home state of Yakima, Washington, nearly ten years ago.  The biographical information records that the author lives in the Yakima Valley, "one block away from the centre of the city," but there is no suggestion of any other publications. The poet's persona is as enigmatic as many of the presences which sail fleetingly through this magical book.  I dreamt ghosts carved an angel in my window pane, begins one of the poems in this shimmering collection, all shattery, haunting my apartment building. 


Dreams feature significantly, as do the beginnings of days, the act of waking, though often with the sense of something more elegiac than Edenic:

A hush fell over the city today.
I crossed Yakima Avenue and felt and
heard the same hush on 40th Avenue.
We drove downtown and this 
sea of birds flew up from the old buildings,
all curving in a crowd, darting, spotting the sky.
Dark against a gray sky lit up by sunset.


Birds flutter and swoop through the beguiling pages of this day-dreamy book, winging their way into the title poem, where the book's valley setting is my quiet strength, like bone destiny.  Setting out her declaration of intent, the poet states:

Today, I don't need sand dollars.
I need this sun, this March heat, these white cumulus clouds.
And I will continue as this desert does, bending seasons,
dry and wet, cold and warm, and
this inconsistency its own reliability.

Deep in a meditative communion with her surroundings, the author celebrates the valley's powers in a a Pantheistic joint embodiment:

I wake up just how this valley does.
It got into me as a child. It raised me up as a woman.
Its cycles are my cycles, and I am its own.
This dusty ground, accepting what we give it.
I accept this long way around.
I love it here - these chimneys and porchlights.
This steady place.  It is broken and blown over.
It is blooming and full of birds.

Reading these lyrical, quasi-Biblical lines, which so eloquently portray the cloudy heat of late winter in the Pacific Northwest, in the grip of a Calder Valley winter, it is hard not to notice both the vast differences and similarities between our two environments.  Here, there are no irrigation sprinklers to overwhelm any miraculous crop harvest.  No cherry blossoms, desert dust, or lawns being mowed - even by March.  But the horizons are defined by bulbous brown hills rising into clouds, and the ground we walk on is built over minerals thick and cold, while the Calder Valley winter is a glittering symphony of birds  - waders, ravens, wrens and woodpeckers, muscovies and merlins.
Keely Murphy's descriptions of pigeons strike a chord for me, as they are birds of abundance here in my neck of the woods:

Farther down the avenue, pigons flew
up from the old Baptist church and
one white bird landed on the east side
perched on a tiny stone ledge. I said,
"Look at that white one." 

I love how the poet imagines the pigeons' relations elsewhere in the world:

The pigeons flying like how I picture they fly in Europe,
how I picture they fly on the East Coast.
They fly the same on every continent, classic like that.
Birds flew in the hush and I pictured them
swirling up a wind current on their own,
flying by their own movement.

But the birds flocking through the poems in This Steady Place are as likely to be mythical or imaginary as real:


In a dream last night I dreamt
I was sitting next to this young Asian man,
overlooking the water when
a tremendous flock of birds flew up
dotting the entire pink sunset sky, end to end.
And as I gasped and told him how beautiful it was
he told me that sometimes when that happens
he tries to read what it says like text,
black letters dotting the page.
And I wondered what it would say
if you froze the there-
all of their wingtips touching
discovering the shapes.

What the poet has done here ties in greatly with one of my own current obsessions - the poem as dream, or the dream as poem - but in a manner so elegant and fluent as to create the impression of a realistic dialogue. I can see and hear the Asian man, the birds, the black letters of their wings dotting the page of a Pacific sky.  It is this acute skill of depicting characters which also brings to life the more conversational or human-focused poems in the collection, as in apparently autobiographical sketches such as Honey Cigars and Wine:

We stand there as Murphys.
We are everything my parents thought would never happen.
My brother, a desperate eighteen year old,
swallowed up by love,
emotional, transitory, troubled, and full of music.
Smoking cigars desperately.
My sister, a married purple-teeth-stained patchouli girl
who wants to fight and wants to be loved, equally.
Me, a color-driven poet, pierced and full of words.

The poet's family appear also in the gentler Honeysuckles, where she recalls The honeysuckle days of childhood  /tangled up in gray woody trees, and remembers warmly:

These are my best moments,
held up in live wood.
Fresh honeysuckle still in my mouth.

Going on to idealize the setting, while also hunting at hidden pains beneath the bucolic exterior:

We were a beautiful strawberry jam whole wheat bread
family with shallow aching unspoken secrets 

Elsewhere, the concept of sharing, of bridging the divide between two people by a joint experience of "opening up", is given unexpectedly pictorial, stunningly metaphorically effective treatment:

we opened ourselves,
opened beautifully in a few moments.
Raw right and left ventricles, red chambers, open.
We don't have solutions or remedies.

This Steady Place is a quietly enchanted, nostalgic, at times dark, often warm and sometimes funny book, split into three sections - the first being mainly recollections from the poet (or narrators) interlinked with dialogue, the innocence of garden and rural scenes mingling with the corrupting, and magnetizing delights of the city; the second a descent (or ascent) into spiritual settings, with the concluding third veering into surrealism.  Some of the titles of the poems in this third part are enticingly bizarre:  I Woke Up With a Mouth Full of God; and my favourite, My Mother's Unwritten Poems, while the poems themselves often begin with dazzlingly strange images:
I want to tape leaves to my eyelids

I am walking up and down the crucifix

A poem starts as an ache

There is uniquely crafted, bewitching poetry of love and loss, poetry of memory and of dreams, poetry of bridges, breaking hearts, city streets and spray-painted angels, and poetry that deserves to be read far beyond the poet's native Yakima, as far and widely as possible.  Indeed, one of the book's most arresting images comes, for me, in the short poem Prayer, which opens up its second, more spiritual or philosophical section, and which is arguably even more relevant at the onset of 2018 than when first published 13 years ago. The poet combines images of prayer in valleys beyond her own.  In Jerusalem they are praying, she tells us, while in China their prayer flags blow / and spin.  Just as at other points in the book her weaving together of valley after valley after valley depicts a multi-faceted web of shared existences, so this poem's deft depictions of cultures thousands of miles apart somehow transcend the barriers of space and time and bring into focus the bonds of a shared humanity and planet.  Reading it overlooking the woodlands, villages, towns and lives intersecting and evolving in my own valley, I am struck by the poem's simple beauty, and its urgent, unaffected truth.

I am breathing out in a valley
where I wait for the hills to brown
from their black muddied slopes.
I am breathing out the same air 
that moves their papery wheels.