Tag Archives: Titanic

More Titanic Poems

Collyer

Titanic seems to go on inspiring poetry, and my blog feature seems to have brought more poems out of the icy sea of its memory. Angi Holden sent me these two poems as a result of exploring some stories not usually told.

This Strange Quivering

for Elizabeth Shutes, governess.

At first, nothing but this strange quivering; then silence

and a sepulchral stillness – no panic, for surely we cannot sink.

Refreshments served in cabins, a cup of tea, a chicken sandwich,

only the steward’s shaking hand betrays concern.

Later, we hastily slip our coats over lace-edged negligees,

choose slippers for speed over shoes and buttoned boots,

strap ghost-white life-preservers across our breasts.

We clamber into boats, are swung into the air above the sea,

thirty-six souls, rough seamen fumbling unfamiliar oars,

wanting to stay close to the liner’s smoke-stacked bulk.

Wives call out for husbands, mothers for their sons;

in answer only dimming deck lights and the cries of drowning.

Finally the distant throb of engines, Carpathia’s heartbeat,

the shouts of help, the haul of ropes, the reaching hands.

Horizon’s dawn sketched pale across the pitch black sea.

 

Repose

for Harvey & Charlotte Collyer and their daughter Marjorie

 

In my dreams I see you, one arm folded beneath your head,

the other thrown aside as if you could perhaps reach out to me.

It is a calm repose, the relaxed sleep to end a busy day.

The seabed holds you, supports you like our marriage cot;

silt, creased like linen sheets, ruffles round your limbs.

I would drape a blanket over you, protect your back from draughts;

then I see you wear your Sunday suit and I remember. Wake.

Relive those bitter hours of fear and cold, the creep of anguish,

the glare of public bulletins, the newsman’s callous flash.

There were kindnesses: clothes for us both and toys for Madge,

relief from Mansion House. But all besides my wedding ring was lost;

your pockets full of money from the sale of house and store

pressed beneath your now-stilled heart, your breathless chest.

 

The first of these pieces, about the governess, captures the mood on the ship after the collision. The second is concerned with the after effects on one family. So many wives were widowed, so many children made fatherless, by the cruel rule of only allowing women and children on the boats. At the time, this rule did not seem cruel. But had their been sufficient lifeboats, it would not have been necessary.

Titanic taught us we cannot beat nature. I believe it continues to capture the imagination because it was the end of an age of innocence. The two world wars made sea disasters almost commonplace. 1912 was a time of optimism and hope of a brilliant future, which was shattered all too soon.

Thank you to Angi for submitting these fine poems.

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Another Titanic postscript

This must be the final posting about Titanic, at least for this year. It comes from Carolyn Richardson. We started with a poem by Rosie Topping about the Unknown Child, whose body was much later identified. Carolyn’s is about the same child.

Carolyn says this about the story behind the poem:

The name of the Titanic Unknown Child found floating in the sea 5 days post the iceberg hit the ship, has been revealed by dna analysis.

The 19 month baby boy was named as Sidney Leslie Goodwin, whose parents were Frederick and Augusta Goodwin.

Thanks to Clarence Northover, a police officer attending the burning of the clothing of those lost to the tragedy to thwart souvenir hunters, saved a shoe.

Northover couldn’t bring himself to accept the burning of the tiny shoe, so he put it in his drawer at the police station. After retirement he brought it home where he packed it into a drawer

After his death, his grandson found it, donated it to the maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax  & where it was turned over to forensics to reveal the owner of the shoe.

Sidney had five other siblings whom, with their parents on the same liner, were hoping to start a new life in America. They had switched to the Titanic from the SS New York after it became possible for the eldest child, 16-year-old Lillian, to join them. They switched to third class from second to save money and give themselves a faster start when they arrived.

Sadly none survived.

shoe

Tiny Shoe

fire
ice
hell

frozen bodies,
stiff as a board
melt

then
burnt

stench
acrid police piles
thwart
souvenir hunters

yet
sadly cruel
for the lost
who double
lose.

embers are
not remembrances
nor embraces

yet
one tiny shoe
leather
soft as your heart

sea-secrets of
six siblings swept
over
wash into
uniformed
pockets

secretly

salt tears
flowing
from
sea to
eyes
from
eyes
no longer
see

Carolyn Richardson is a poet, painter with work in the Public Catalogue, now re-branded as ArtUK, a maker of filmed poems and a guerrilla poet in the wilds of Dumfries & Galloway. Carolyn has been a Director of the Scottish Writers Centre and long listed for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work, both 2015 & 2016. She spends some of the year abroad in the National Booktown of Montolieu in the South of France. http://www.poetrykitchen.co.uk

Her pamphlet Scots Rock is recently published by Red Squirrel Press.

 

 

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In Memory of Titanic #7

 

 

ATT00561The Titanic disaster affected people on both sides of the Atlantic. It is good to have a poem from an American poet today. It must have been difficult for survivors to give witness statements at the enquiries after the fact.

 

Premonition

—North Atlantic, 1912

Things unseen are nonsense to him.
It will mean trouble,

I plead once more,
paused on the dock.

But he knows better.
I sleep when I can by day,

write by night,
listen for sounds,

not knowing what I expect
to hear, but feeling a pall—

the veil of a mourner’s hat.
Suddenly the pen flies from my hand,

words lost
in a blue sea of ink.

I stagger into walls.
We are lowered in a small boat.

Bodies splash below.
We drift, float on the wake;

our breath spurts steam:
we listen to silence, the last word.

Marc J. Frazier
This lovely poem was sent to me via Linkedin. I relish all the details and the lexical choices.

Skating through the Atlantic

Skating through the Atlantic Someone says that name and once again
the ice sails silent from the north;a block
of frozen stars, a giant fist of knives
hid under blackboard water, hard as steel
and tempered sharp as oriental swords.

A skate slipped off its skater, the ship glides
slanting through ocean depths till, two miles down,
it shudders on the sand. A bronze gong sounds
from Greenland to Antarctica, waking whales
from icy sleep, a long vibrating ‘Om’.

Scales shiver throughout the ocean, plankton
morphs, medusae shrink, oysters snap tight shut.
The water fills with spoons, chairs, chandeliers,
jewels, antiques, art, the dead, and diamond rings;
the seabed is a Tiffany of wares.

We may be sure we’ll lose all we bought dear
and memory is salt water that preserves
at random precious, or just worthless, stones.
So rust consumes the wrecks of age and love
and stars released from melting ice dissolves.

Gabriel Griffin

Finally today, this from Harry Gallagher

Sinkable
Smooth and serene

in best silver and bows,
we set out on high tide,
shipshape to the world.

And life was a teadance
for the beautiful and young,
as we cruised on a blanket
of honeyed and blithe.

But surface dwellers
rarely look under
for the city of ice
that will tear them asunder.

One seven stars night
we sailed, titanic,
into a colossus hiding
ready in the depths.

Immovable and staunch
sinks newborn and tender
every single time.

These three poems work together in summing up the aftermath of the sinking. Tomorrow will be the final day and I have something very special from a poet who wrote a whole collection around this endlessly fascinating subject.

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In Memory of Titanic #4

 

 

 

titanic_2174586b

This poem is taken from Jan Dean’s sequence Lullabies for the Dead. The sequence was part of a collaboration with artist Caroline Lea. I was very struck by this poem’s relevance to Titanic, and Jan was kind enough to allow me to post it here. I find it such a tender and gentle, sad poem.

Leaving

the liner is berthed and streamers fly
into warp into weft    bind the ship to the port

long streamers bright streamers
from shipside to harbour
the pilotboat waiting            the pull of the sea

now they ease and shift
the woven sheet shreds     unlaces

and land lets her go
away from the ribbons and wreaths
rising on ripples that run from the wake

white petals drift in slow separation
soft as featherbreath

in a song that rows sweet as a wavetop
pebble and shingle and shellsong
gullcry and windcry

and bell

Jan Dean

Also featured today are three short poems from Alison Brackenbury. These remind me of Hardy’s poems ‘Life’s Little Ironies’. I am grateful to Alison for sending me these vignettes.

 

Titanic’s last tune

No, it was not ‘Nearer my God’-
that heavy guess, proved false.
But ‘Songe d’Automne,’ a pretty little number
which once touched lips with a waltz.

After the Titanic

I did not know about the cries
heard in the lifeboats, out of reach.
No one who heard forgot those cries,
sheer anger, fear and disbelief.

Clause 7 (b)

Now they update
succession laws.
The lawyers let
no errors through.
Titanic’s steps
were
polished
too.

Alison Brackenbury

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In Memory of The Titanic #3

This first poem is by the marvellous Penelope Shuttle, who tells me a distant cousin of hers, Pearl Shuttle, failed to survive the sinking of Titanic. She was on her way to America to start a career in the vaudeville.

Mighty Ship of Pride

 

I built this ship

from the iron of my father’s eyes

the steel of my mother’s heart

 

Three million rivets

 

I built this ship

from the bones and the skin

the hours and the days

 

I built it by hand

on a 49 hour week

for pay of  two pound

 

I built it from tongues

of the wise and the foolish

 

I hammered

I wrought

 

How fast she grew

my ship of woe

 

I built this ship

from the nettles

in the yard

by the nuns’ parlour

 

from streets

of a stricken city

torn between pride

and grief

 

 

I built this ship

from leftover rivers

and broken glass from all walks of life

 

from 655 black teddy bears

and the last 37 seconds

 

the old canoe

from white stars

and black moons

 

water-tight opulence

 

I built this ship

by force of habit

and from one hundred songs

 

I built it

from the remains

of all that beauty

the Grand Staircase

the chandeliers

 

I built this ship

from the death throes

of a spinning coin

 

from all who sail in her

 

note:

italicized quotations and adapted quotations in the above poem are taken from various writings on The Titanic including phrases from an anonymous poem about the workforce who built the ship in Belfast.

 

Penelope Shuttle

 

The second poem is by Rosie Topping, who was moved by the grave of the unknown baby, whose identity has since been discovered.

Probably Third Class

 The Mackay-Bennett sways, churning,
as the sea casts away its victims
Dour sailors haul bodies onto tarpaulin,
the fourth a shock: a baby.

A moment, heads bowed,
as they lift him aboard,
cradle his unblemished body
in tattooed sailor arms.

A reluctant hand pencils in his details,
their duty; it must be done.
He must be catalogued,
even as they hold him.

 No 4 – Male –Estimated age 2 – hair, fair
Clothing – Grey coat with fur on collar and cuffs;
brown serge frock, petticoat; flannel garment;
pink woollen singlet; brown shoes and stockings.
No marks whatsoever. Probably third class.

 They smooth down his fair hair;
vow to scrimp wages for a service.
Only two carry his white coffin,
a pendant at his neck, imprinted copper our babe.

Visitors place flowers, teddy bears
at the polished granite monument.
The years wash away in floods
but the memory is held.

Erected
to the memory
of an
unknown child
 

A camera watches as
scientists exhume the grave.
His secret hides in three baby teeth
preserved by his copper necklace.

Crowds invaded Southampton’s dock,
loud with the promise of adventure
Families wove through the throng,
expecting new lives.

A woman cradled her baby
whispered ‘hush babe’.
Chubby face beaming a smile,
Sidney Leslie Goodwin clung to his mother.

Rosie Toppingunknown_child_index_card

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In Memory of The Titanic

Titanic-violin_2509384b

 

As well as passengers, the crew and staff also lost their lives in the disaster. The courage of the musicians on the Titanic has been noted. There were two bands, but they formed together to keep passengers calm during the crisis. They were not employees of The White Star Line, and so had no rights. Not a single one survived. Their music probably saved many lives and kept up everyone’s spirits.

Poet and musician Kim Moore remembers how Wallace Hartley, band leader mentioned in my poem yesterday, was found with his violin strapped to his back. Many thanks to Kim, whose excellent blog you can find from the link to the right.

Wallace Hartley

And when he was found, still in his uniform,
his violin strapped to his back, people began
to remember the way he’d played each night,
not just the last, the dip and turn of his shoulders
as he led the orchestra through a waltz,
the way the ship was all lit up and smiling
like a brand new town, those nights before
the boats were counted, when the chink of cutlery
was louder than the band, how he played on
as boys kicked chunks of ice across the deck
and the ship was immense and black
against a sky full of flares and stars.

Kim Moore

I have been fascinated by The Titanic story for years. On a visit to a large exhibition at the O2 a few years ago, I was fascinated to learn that the bathwater was warmed sea water – very ingenious, and marketed as being very healthy, which is course it is, apart from when it is freezing cold. The irony of the sea water baths started this poem:

Bathing on the Titanic

Brass taps spurt a salty waterfall
drawn from the ocean below, piped
warm as blood, from heated tanks.

Health-giving baths with iodine and cobalt,
as boasted on posters, urged by doctors.
Rinse off with fresh water from a bucket

standing to attention behind the bath.
Such luxuries of scented soap and cloudy towels
while the valet lays out dinner clothes.

After brandy and cigars, a game of cards.
until it’s time to take another bath
in salt water, this time taken with ice.

Angela Topping (from Paper Patterns, published by Lapwing 2012)

 

 

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A Poet’s Adventures:National Poetry Day

 

Cover of my children's poetry book

 

I set off on Monday morning for the roadtrip down to Tunbridge Wells, where I would be working for the National Education Trust the following day, with Able Writers: this is teaching year 5 and 6 able children from six different schools how to write poetry, sharing tips and stimulating them, making it fun, fast and thrilling. I had spent a long time tweaking my lesson plan for the day and it went down really well.

I arrived at the host school at 9 am the next day and was immediately made to feel welcome. The teacher in charge of the pupils at the host school was a Yorkshireman and a poet, so it was like greeting an old friend – we talked the same language at any rate. I am from Cheshire, as you know (and originally Lancashire before they moved my home town across the border), but I have lots of Yorkshire friends, love Yorkshire and my oldest lass lives in Leeds.

As the kids started to arrive, I started making friends with them and soon the room was full of excited kids, their helpers and one very buzzed-up poet. I was overwhelmed by the kids’ enthusiasm and the quality of their writing as they learned about Kennings, structure, drafting, imagery and its different types, and tried things out for themselves. They were all up for sharing as well. I had started the day with a 10 minute performance of my children’s poems from The New Generation and was delighted that the children were keen to purchase signed copies and were immediately reading them over lunch. I will be doing a lot more work with Able Writers, as I am now formally on their books. Thanks to Jan Dean for suggesting I contact them, and Brian Moses for accepting me on the strength of the few poems he has seen of mine and been kind enough to anthologise.

Next booking with them is Eastbourne. Lovely way to see England, wearing poetry shoes.

Wednesday saw me driving over to Denton Library. I was two hours early and we needed every second to set up for my Titanic drama. I was delighted to have a range of people, many of them elders, to share this experience, and few of them were writers, so I like to think this workshop reached people who would not have come to a more conventional workshop.

In this drama, everyone takes on at least one role. I play Captain Smith so I can lead the drama from within. I use a few simple props and role cards which have a few details of the real life person, so the participants can build their characters. People really got into it and the two hours went by in a flash. Chris Smith emailed me some of the comments from the evaluation sheets:

An emotional experience, beautiful

Amazing, historical, fun

Thanks for organising such events – they make life more interesting

It was nice to do something together (mother and daughter)

This was an event for Pages Ago, and I am hoping some of the people who came will use their notes and responses to write a story for the Flashback Fiction competition.

I finished tidying up with the library staff by 8.30, then drove straight down to Lichfield ready for the next day. I was stopping at my nephew’s Steve Lightfoot, so it was wonderful to hang out with him and his beautiful wife and walk the kids to school the next day before setting off to Lichfield Literature  Festival offices. Soon we were whizzing over to Brownhills West Primary, where I was given a glass of water and led into a hall. 100 kids were  filing in, all smart in their school uniforms and ready to spend an hour listening to and joining in with poetry. This is the first long reading I have done with this book, as it only came out in August and September is a quiet month for schools bookings. I loved it, they loved it and the teachers enjoyed it as well. AND some books were sold. The lovely Litfest people had ordered them from my publisher so I didn’t have to do a thing except enjoy it.

Back to the George Hotel for a cuppa and a welcome pastry (I had forgotten to have any breakfast), then into a talk with Precious Williams, whose memoir has just come out, about her strange childhood in which her Nigerian mother farmed her out to a white woman whose own children had grown up. I am putting this book on my Christmas list! She is a wonderful speaker.

Lunch was followed by another school reading, in a school a little bit further out. Again the children were adorable and well behaved, enraptured by the poems and all very keen to put their hands up when I asked questions. I had a long queue of children to sign books for, and the school asked me to sign one they were buying for a school in China – what an honour for me.

Switching on my blackberry after the stint was over, I found emails from Andy Jackson about the Socttish Patchwork poem on the theme of Home, using lines from lots of poems. He had used mine as the title, and he copied an email reply to me:

Hi Andy ! On my way to Glasgow now so am sending from my magical whizzy new
> phone! Some technology I really do like. Meant to say I also love the poem
> title. It is Walt Whitman isn’t it?

It sounds like it could be, but it was the title of Angela Topping’s submission, which was too good not to use, even though she had already used it on a poem of her own (which is, in its own original guise, a thing of great beauty).

I was bowled over! What a lovely thing to say.

I also got an email from Saul Townsend to tell me ‘I Sing of Bricks’ had been selected to be on their website,   ‘The Poetry of Construction’ initiative which celebrates National Poetry Day.      (www.construction-manager.co.uk)

This thrilling day was rounded off by having tea with my favourite little family in Lichfield before driving home to my cosy house and lovely family, who by now were wondering who the hell I was!

Friday was the first night of my WEA writing course. If it is going to run we need more people, so spread the word. It is at Hartford Village Hall from 7-9 on the second Friday of the month and the next one is 12th November. We need to double our numbers by then. It is only £36, you’d pay more than that for a couple of hours on other courses, and this is 12 hours in all culminating in a book and a reading.

National Poetry Day gave me a wonderful week, and it really did feel like the whole country was reading poetry, or listening to it.

Now, this week is Wirral Bookfest – so soon I will be on the road again.

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