Growing older and having survived cancer at 40, a long time ago, certainly focuses the mind on the future and I was very aware of this when I wrote the poem FUTURE TENSE. I've always loved writing and still remember the excitement of the first longer piece of work I did. It was very experimental and I was certain it wouldn't get published. It probably wouldn't have but one of the small magazines, who did such great work for new writers, took that piece and many others. But that wasn't all they did. With infinite kindness, they often pointed out where I could improve my writing.
My first book was a picture book, MATTHEW AND HIS MAGIC KITE, but after that, I started wanting to capture the humour and interest of where I lived, so PRIVATE-KEEP OUT came next followed by KNOCK AND WAIT and ONE WAY ONLY. They're not biographies because all I wanted to do was to catch the spirit of those times.
It would be good if everyone wrote an account of their lives so their times are not lost. So many valuable histories unwritten and unread.
When I was a girl, I loved the American writer, BETTY MACDONALD, with her very funny accounts of her family and her life in the 1940's. But NORMAN MAILER's, 'THE NAKED AND THE DEAD' spun me up to the stars when I stumbled across it in the subscription library I belonged to at fifteen. ERNEST HEMINGWAY's 'CHRISTMAS IN PARIS 1923', was so sublime and beautiful it was like a torch for writers and the Toronto Star Weekly must have published it with joy in their hearts. I wonder if there still is a Toronto Star Weekly?
When I was a girl, my father kept aviaries of canaries and budgerigars. He loved these little birds and I loved to see them darting about like so many tiny bright arrows. I remember the parrot but it didn’t belong to us and now I have no idea who brought it into the house. I think it must have only been staying for a short time because, apart from this one vivid memory, it was gone. I would translate these birds into bits of writing and even now, when I look at a page, I can still sometimes see golden full stops, exotic blue and green commas and semi-colons and the odd dazzling colour of the exclamation mark! Wishing everyone a safe and happy New year and may every day be a good writing day.
There were canaries through all those years, Endlessly flying down the days Like little golden full stops At the end of a sentence.
There were budgerigars, too. Blue and green, chittering and chattering Like commas or semi-colons Taming an especially unruly paragraph.
And there was one great question mark of a parrot. Where did he come from? Who brought him in? Sitting wherever he chose, Staring at us with a cool, sardonic eye. Shouting and swearing, ‘Shivering his timbers,’ Like some old sea tossed sailor. Every squawk an exclamation mark on a really Exciting piece of writing.
But I liked the little wren Singing in the garden, Startling the silence Like a poem.
Pea pods and pea straws And fields of green oceans As far as the eye can see, And busy little children Building pea-straw houses Or getting lost in the green fields As their mothers pull peas.
They were all told To keep away from the small river Where the Kingfisher flew, Enchanting those who saw The blue blur, blue on blue. Tempting one child or another To slide into the water.
Languorous now, the afternoon wears on, The sun emptying those green oceans, The red tractor silent As little children are found and woken. Bags weighed, Coins counted one by one Into green-dirty hands, Ready for the waiting corner-shop man.
Time to climb onto the lorry. Time to go home.
Everything will have changed In the year that is yet to come, But the fields will still be full Of quiet green oceans bringing hope Of a new harvest.
Some years ago, I wrote a Christmas Play. One of the parts was taken by my good friend, Irene, who had a wonderful singing voice, so that when she sang, there was breathless silence. This is the poem I wrote about Irene and her Christmas carol.
WHEN IRENE SANG HER SOLO
Our choir is so good Angels come down to listen to them. Those angels think I can’t see them, But I see them, Dancing on the head of a pin, Lolling on the piano, Or perching poker-backed on the tops of chairs Where people are already sat listening. They are very fond of songs where angels appear And especially liked it that time When Irene sang her solo, ‘Angels from the realms of glory.’ The angels liked that so much The tips of their wings were quivering. But when our choir sings about the Lord, Those angels join in. They think I can’t hear them, But I hear them. ‘O Lord my God,’ our choir sings, And the angels singing with them kneel down, Their wings all spread around the singers as they sing, Together filling this whole place with such tenderness I bow my head and cannot look at them again Until the singing ends. The angels have all gone home by then. ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo!’ AMEN.
Twice In one night, I thought I saw A buttercup, Shining In the middle Of a field Of frozen snow, But I was wrong. It wasn’t a buttercup, It was love. Small enough To be overlooked. Big enough To change the world.
There is no scent of roses here As there was in that quiet Cathedral, No flowers at all. Only the drunks hiccupping home, singing, Laughing at the grey and hungry water Hissing right up to the sea wall, All frosted and glittering.
Bitter sleet whips their cold faces, Whitens their hair, Whitens the streets around them, Warning of a coldness that could kill them.
But these men and women staggering Down the frozen pavements Are reluctant to go home, Reluctant to leave the fun, Laughing at this little bit of wild ocean, Dancing in and out of the sizzling spray Of wild waves and grasping water.
Drunks boozily loving each other, Singing without thinking, Knowing the words of songs learnt in childhood. Not seeing that the creeping white horses Hushing up the slippery pavements Are out to get them, fling them on their backs And gallop away with no-one noticing.
Drunk or sober, life is for the living. Just keep away from the water.