Tag Archives: The Five Petals of Elderflower

Nothing but Rain

Thiepval

Edward Thomas joined up to fight of his own free will. He was just starting to come into his own as a poet when he was killed. This poem of mine refers to two of his poems, ‘Rain’ and ‘Words’, two poems I have loved for years.

In this poem, from The Five Petals of Elderflower, I have wishes for him but for every other person killed in war. World War One, like all wars, was indiscriminate in its killing: ‘poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers’ all perished, along with those killed by their own side who had become too traumatised to fight, conscientious objectors, who deserve to be admired for taking a stand, but who also suffered from poor treatment and even imprisonment in many cases.

The great war deprived me of three great uncles. Two were killed in France: Nicholas Lawler and Frederick Coyne, and James Lawler survived the war but died in his 50s as a result of bad health caused by being gassed. He walked with a stick and only had sight in one eye. As a child growing up it never occurred to me why I only had great aunts.

I was moved to see Nicholas Lawler’s name on the Theipval monument, but next time I go on a battlefields tour I hope to find Frederick’s grave. Nicholas’ body was never found.

This poem is for all of them.

 

Nothing but Rain

The window pane is streaked and spotted.
The beech hedge offers little comfort to birds.
Water puddles in the road, car headlamps sheen.
The bird feeder bobs on the almond branches.

Edward Thomas wrote about rain like this,
that drenched and seeped through fustian uniform.
He sheltered in a shed and heard rain drum
on the corrugated iron room, in such despair

as he’d been able to assuage by tramping
fields and woods where he lived in England.
No such warmth for him now, days or weeks
away from death, in a war that wasted

poets and painters and musicians,
labourers and farm hands, thinkers and doers
as trenches filled with mud and blood.
Even the weather was against them.

Rain is still as wet, and drips into poems
like this one, but each one after his
calls out in fellow feeling, as if his Rain
and ours is the same, as if shelter would come

and safety, and warmth and life, like mine
by this coal fire, time for his English words,
to flock into his mind with feathery lines,
so he could once more sing of birds.

Angela Topping

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Call for Submissions: Hygge Poems for January and February 2017

IMG_0788.JPG I have become very interested in the idea of Hygge, the Danish term for cosiness, intimacy and taking pleasure from simple things. It’s about candlelight and cosy throws, knitting, sharing comfort food with good friends, reading, country walks,and enjoying everything in the present moment. It’s a hug for the soul. With all that happened in 2016 on the world stage, and the consequences we might face in 2017, we need this concept just to keep going through the drear months. The poems don’t have to be all sweetness and light. I am interested in the darkness and how poetry can shine a light in dark corners.

So I have decided to do a blog feature of hygge poems and am seeking contributions. You can email them to me on anji.topping@gmail.com. I can’t pay you anything but my blog does have a good following. I am looking for poems in any style, that speak to me about hygge, and the things it represents. If you have a photograph that you own copyright for and would let me use, do send those as well. Credit will be given for any images I use. Please include your name at the bottom of your individual poems, as that really helps.

I will reply to everyone who submits, and I aim to start posting poems very soon. I don’t mind poems which have been previously published, but please include a credit to the first publisher. If the poem is in a collection, include the publisher’s details – they will appreciate that.

Here is one of my poems from The Five Petals of Elderflower, first published on InterlitQ, which expresses the concept of hygge (though I had never heard of it when I wrote the poem). The collection of the same name was published by Red Squirrel Press in September 2016.

 

The Glass Swan

 

January midnight, a numbness of winter,

not for the first time, I am last awake.

The house is silent except for the hum

of the coal fire, the blue song of the fridge.

 

All the winters I have been alive, the weather

has been teaching its hard lessons:

those who lived so intensely are gone.

I shall not see them again, though I speak with them

 

in all the aching chambers of the mind.

Ice has hold of the earth, as those things

which are true but unwelcome, grip memory.

Look at this fire in the hearth, feel it.

 

Bank it up against the night. It is all we have, these

corporeal things: these candlesticks, this glass swan.

 

Angela Topping

Photo credit: artwork by Maria Walker

Submissions for this feature are now closed.

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How to put together your poetry collection

There are as many ways to do this as there are to do anything worthwhile. I have done it different ways in different books, because the material one has often dictates the structure. Just as, in the writing of a poem, one has to listen to the poem itself, then with a book, one has to listen to the poems and allow them some say in choosing their own order.

 

Like a lot of other poets, I think it’s vital to print off the poems one hopes to include. It’s a good idea anyway, to have a hard copy of each completed poem; that’s the best way, other than having them published in book form, to guard against computer crashes and lost discs. I’m not always the best at taking my own advice here, I must confess.

 

My latest collection, The Five Petals of Elderflower, takes both its name and its structure from the title poem, which won first prize in the 2013 Buzzwords national competition. It is a poem in five parts, which can be read as the five stages of life. I divided the poems up into five sections according to the themes of each petal. I am indebted to my editor for this book, Elizabeth Rimmer, who saw at once the structure I was going for, and helped me cut down the manuscript I originally submitted, which was bursting with far too many poems. She had a very good eye for what worked well with those themes; some poems were cut because they will fit better in a later book. When working with an editor, one does fight one’s corner for the poems one loves, so there was some negotiation between us. I am enormously grateful for her acute sensitivity to what I was up to. The Five Petals of Elderflower is now available from my publisher, Red Squirrel Press.

 

petals-cover

 

My previous collection, Letting Go, has a different thrust. Because it is a selection of poems, some from out of print collections and some new, but all on the theme of childhood and parenthood, It is divided up into sections and runs chronologically, so it reads like a narrative, if taken in order, which people don’t always do with poetry. They dip, or start at the back, which I often do myself. But the narrative is there if people want to find it. The book doesn’t include every poem I have on those themes. With this one, I worked with Teika Bellamy of Mother’s Milk Books. She knows my previous collections very well and made suggestions as to what she would like to see included. Making the book at all was her idea in the first place, and it was her idea to use named sections, titled by quotations from the poems, which I had also done in an earlier book, The Fiddle (Stride 1999)

fiddle

at-letting-go-back-and-front-cover-final-version-for-angela-medium-high-res

Paper Patterns, published by Dennis Greig of Lapwing Press, was structured more thematically, without editorial help. It includes two sequences which I separated by half the book, because readers need space and shorter poems after such lengthy ones. Themes include travel and curiosities, places, elegies, food, the brevity of life, seasonal poems, flower poems, literary references and responses, politics and ageing. Each poem speaks to its companions. This 2012 collection is still available.

210110

I Sing of Bricks (Salt 2011) was a set of poems which were put together as a sample of my work, following my return to full time poetry. It was my first adult publication for four years, and I was asked to send my best poems at the time. What I hadn’t realised, but was pointed out by a very perceptive reviewer, James Roderick Burns, that it was all about work. “For this is a book about work—actual work, be it drudgery or stimulation; the work of starting and sustaining relationships; the dreadful work of mourning, remembering the (many) people who have died, and moving with their memory into something new; the work, in short, of life. “ It’s a very smart reviewer who tells you something you didn’t know about your own work. The point I am making here is that your own obsessions and themes will show themselves wherever your work accumulates.

Brickscover

In summary, here are my tips for putting your own collections together.

 

  • Print off all the poems you want to include. Re-read them as you do.
  • Spread them individually on a surface like a floor or large table to begin to assess them.
  • Discard any you feel uneasy about or which need more work. Or do the work on them needed.
  • From your re-reading you will have some idea of how they work together. Start to look now for themes, common topics or contrasts.
  • Find a really strong poem to start and end with.
  • From that starting poem, find another one that speaks to it, either by contrast, similarity, different angle on the same topic, or any small link like a word in common, or a place.
  • Repeat until you have picked up all the poems, and making sure the run of poems up to the last one lead nicely to it.
  • Listen to the work. Your order might be chronological like some of my books, grouped in themes like others of mine. There should be some kind of internal logic that facilitates flow for the reader.
  • Pile the poems up in your chosen order, slide on one of those plastic binders to hold together. Go and have a cup of tea, a walk outside, a sleep. Then come back to it and read from start to finish. If it feels right, you are nearly there.
  • If you are not lucky enough to have an editor, and not all collections do, show it to a few people whose judgement you really trust. Listen to what they say. Make necessary adjustments.

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