Friday 26 November 2021

The Island Boat has Crossed the Waters

The Island Boat Has Crossed the Waters

Where are our kin?
What deep is that?
Who is that boy at the oar?
Where are the great old ones?
Who dreamed of this?
Where can she be found?
Whose voice called out?
What journey was undertaken?

We had launched ourselves onto the shearwater’s road
Of winds’ lives, the kittiwakes’ way
The towering fortress of the ever shouting birds
We mariners had left behind us,
Our hopes & prayers knotted in cords & stays
Chords of songs & masts of sails
As delicate as the gull’s white wing feathers,
Singing as we pulled on oars
With the sun of glory scooting out over our heads
& the old dark, loathings of the storm left far behind us.

Left to rage; felt sensed but not seen
We could not look back, nor return to Laurentia
So the boat of the brothers & sisters of the child-king
Fulfilled the prophecy of banded Pre-Cambrianity
Sweet granite song-lines of inspiration
Can now call to darker birds, where secret waters
Rise to the surface & we stand upon the curving shore
Almost disbelieving that this tiny island-boat
Could have crossed the millions of years of storm waves.

A reunion of ancient lands.
Another bird on the wing.
A scented strand.
A woman waiting.
A timeless tomb.
An awakening hero.
Starlight upon the wave of the deep.
There are our kin.

Iona is a much loved & sacred isle for many people. It is no more nor less lovely that the surrounding islands but has a unique geology. When you cross from the Ross of Mull over to Iona suddenly you are in a different land. It is more like the Outer Hebrides. It Looks, feels & smells different. There are different birds & animals (eg. more starlings, no deer.) Here I play with that & merge it with St. Columba's tale.

Dear Ancestors: Wroth Silver Poem 2021

Dear Ancestors

When I think of you, I do not think of crumbling bones
Slowly returning to the native earth,
Nor the plague pit, nor the cemetery, nor forgotten mound,
I see you dancing & singing on your hills & in your halls.

I do not see the smoke of the funeral pyre
Nor the lost village hidden beneath the fields,
I greet your learning & your wisdom every day:
In the garden, the kitchen, when I take up my work.

When we stand by your stone before dawn,
Old friends & family, some long gone, some unknown
You seem to stand with us
As we acknowledge our shared heritage
In this not-quite-forgotten place.

I do not deny your suffering dear ones,
But I honour & thank you for the sacrifices
You have made for myself & for those with whom I share my world.

My world, of such freedoms & wonders
Which you could never have known;
My world, of such terrors & delights,
Which would have made you shout!

Beloveds I can hear you weep in both sadness & joy,
Likewise I can hear you laugh
In both delight & horror, but when you come to my side
I see that you are smiling, encouraging me to be brave
& wise, as learned, joyful & true as you were;
No more nor less. People of the land, following the path of life.
Should we be spurred by fear, anger, pity, shame or pain?
Or by delight in the depth & richness, complexity & danger
Of the life that we have inherited from you?

This was my eighth year as the poet laureate of Wroth Silver & my seventh performance of my work at the Wroth Silver Breakfast, held for some years now at the Queen's Head in Bretford. Last year I could not attend but I wrote a poem which was read at Knightlow Cross after the ceremony—there was no breakfast due to pandemic restrictions.

To read my previous Wroth Silver poems & find out more about this unique & ancient event follow these links:
2014: Martinmas
2015: The Road of Time
2016: Wheel of the Year, Wheel of the Land
2017: Eight Decades
2018: Ghosts
Throw a Penny in the Hollow of the Stone 

for the benefit of future chroniclers, here is the poem I wrote last year which was read by William Waddilove at the stone.

Wroth Silver 2020

For the benefit of historians of the Twenty First Century
In honour of our heritage, our soul-story
For you colts of the twenty second & beyond, I write!
Friends, it does not matter how or how far
You travelled to join this party through winter-light
But rather that you came to participate & bear witness
To our ancient rite in uncertain, dangerous times.
For we are not an elite, nor are we obliged to come
& even those who came each year for decades
Did so for joy not obligation.

& I am not a land-man in his field
Looking up to see men with spears & shields
Come over the ridge to do their worst
(Not for the last time, nor the first)
Or to see the cordon of the displaced
Marching  through our lanes in rag-bound feet.
Or foe-men coming to cut a swathe
Through our fields & woods for the pleasure of some lord   
To steal your herd, burn your barn
Salt the earth that is your livelihood.

& you are not some yeoman or woman of property
Watching the orchard fail, crops wither
The youth marched off to God knows where
When this will leave your stores & belly empty;
No, we think we’re beyond those old stories of uncertainty
But perhaps we’re not; disease is another terror
Of the ancestral world & once upon a time
People were afraid to come to Wroth Silver
For fear of the Black Death
Though as far as we can tell they came anyway
Just as we did today.

& there we are, gathered around the cross-base
That holds our point of gathering, as if in prayer;
We step out into our mornings with our ancestors at our sides,
The stories of our forebears all around us
Not grieving for the ending of our world,
Adrift in the unfeeling chaos of the cosmos,
Somehow insignificant; but like those who came before us
Unclear of what the future holds, but held
By human warmth within tradition upon the land,
Glad that we came & paid Wroth Silver.

Thursday 14 October 2021

The Bardo of Babylon


A place between the worlds or somewhere more day-to-day? A poem I have often enjoyed performing with music by my friend Graham Phillips.

Wednesday 16 June 2021

The Angel of Coventry


Maybe the spirit of a place isn't necessarily defined or limited by the ideas of human people who inhabit it. Maybe my home city has a deeper identity than it's known history?

Monday 17 May 2021

Enormous Gravity

A poem partly inspired by this article:

Black-hole Computing

Might nature’s bottomless pits actually be ultra-efficient quantum computers? That could explain why data never dies.

Words & images by Barry; 
Music by Graham Phillips
Saxophone: Gilles Ben Istri.

Tuesday 27 April 2021

We Dare not Confront the Mystery that We Are

Another poem, this time whispered. This is about how many complex systems, of which we are for the most part unaware, are responsible for what we call our consciousness, which is rather limited in its bandwidth. 

Thursday 8 April 2021

Mass Material

This new poem, Mass Material is about how mad we are, in various ways. I play bodhran, metal microscope case & Heat Synth. If you enjoy it let me know!

Wednesday 17 March 2021

All Gone Up

Another poem set to music; quite a recent one this. I'm playing a bamboo flute & a synthesiser app called Heat Synth. The painting is by Caspar David Friedrich, one of my favourite landscape painters.

If you visit my Youtube channel via this post you will also find that I have recently posted an archive recording of my guest poet slot at Fire & Dust Poetry in Coventry in October 2016. It's 18 minutes long & features seven poems as well as  music on bagpipes, xaphoon & low whistle.

Friday 12 March 2021

The Love Songs of Stones

This poem is an edited version of a previous piece, Time's Grandma which you can find if you dig deeply into this blog. I edited & remixed it as part of my project to post a piece on Youtube every week & added the music. Look at the photo & you may glimpse the other-than-human beauty of My Lady of the Gorge.

Thursday 4 March 2021

Words Come Out

Here I read my poem Words Come Out; the backing track contains recordings of a beaten old guitar-zither & a rather tuneful casserole pot from the Wildways kitchen.

I suppose I could have used a picture, quite literally, of words coming out of my mouth; I have plenty of them; but instead I chose this rather wonderful painting by Francisco Goya called Entierro de la Sardina: The Burial of the Sardine.

Wednesday 10 February 2021

The Voice of the Land

This is a short song which was spontaneously recorded on my phone, I don't know when. It seems pertinent to our times. The song thrush has been singing behind our house recently; what a delight!

The animation was made using images from my Instagram, @4mandalous using The Gimp, Fffmpeg & Flowblade Movie Editor.