HOW NOT TO LOSE YOUR POEMS

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They WILL get lost if you let them. Some of them may have gone into my paper bin yesterday. Why?

I've been tidying. The debris and clutter of papers that builds up round here is astonishing! Every three or four years something has to be done or you wouldn't get in the door.

Imagine me sitting on the carpet surrounded by cards, photographs, sheets of paper, prints, drawings, poems, letters. It's lovely in a way but in another intensely panic-inducing.

What do you keep? What do you discard? How do you file them all?

I try to file HappenStance correspondence by year – for posterity or something. It goes in plastic wallets that eventually find their way into the roof in boxes. I'm not sure why, to be honest, but it seems a good idea to keep records, just in case. Fragments shored against something.

And yet, I end up throwing masses of it away. When the lovely card from MS arrived, I knew who MS was, of course. But that was a couple of years ago. Maybe even longer. Now I have no idea.

The sweet letter from Tony isn't dated, and I know (or have known) five Tonys. Which one, and when?

And, most importantly, what about the poems?

All sorts of people send me poems. Not just for feedback during the reading windows, but at other times for other reasons. When my sister was dying, numerous people sent me poems (written in not dissimilar circumstances) as a form of empathy or consolation. So of course, I kept them.

But I was in chaos at that time. I just piled stuff up. When things arrived signed by Sarah, (I know nine Sarahs) I wailed 'Which one?' and then stopped thinking about it because other things took over. I know several Susannas, lots of Stephens, Davids, Emmas and Johns, a number of Jameses, Michaels, Martins and Jennys. HappenStance alone has had, so far, nearly 900 subscribers, and that's without other friends and acquaintances.

When my mother had Alzheimers and she couldn't remember who her correspondents were, I learned how important it was to write on cards not only the first name, but the second (in brackets) and possibly 'your niece' as an explanation. But I don't have Alzheimers (yet) and it's just as bad!

On the HappenStance submissions page, it reminds people (twice, because I've just doubled the instruction) to put their name and address on every poem sheet. But many people either don't read this, or ignore it. In the 2017 December reading window I had more unnamed poems than ever before and found myself wearily scribbling in pencil, again and again and again, 'put your name and address on each poem sheet'.

There is only one of you. You know who you are. You write to me with an SAE (though many people forget this too) so you know I know to whom the poems should be returned. Why would you need to put your name and address on each individual sheet?

Because the individual sheets may not stay with your envelope. Because if I particularly like one, I might lift it out to show someone or to copy out. Or I might just drop the whole shebang while having a bad cracking-up day. Poems get separated from their poem-set. They get separated from their authors. If the author's name and address is on the poem, it's no big deal. But often it is not. Trust me, often it is not.

You may think it is poet novices who forget to identify themselves. Not so. Often it is the most experienced, widely published poets. Often it is my friends!

Yesterday I found poems in all shapes and sizes that I had kept over the years. Many, of course, had identifiers, or signatures in handwriting I know well. But some had no identifier whatsoever. Once I knew precisely who sent them. Now I have no idea. Some of them were even laminated!

If they're sent electronically, it's even worse. I file them in a digital folder – maybe under Submissions, or Poems of Friends, and at the time I know who they came from. But later, years later, opening up a Word or text document with no identifier – who wrote it? Where did it come from?

People worry about copyright theft – and yet they don't identify their work....On good days, when people send me poems electronically with no identifier, I add one – put a header or footer in for them. So some days I remember but haply may forget.

So – is a small habit to get into but a good one. Put your name – and an address if possible – somewhere on your sheets of poems. Create a footer and put details in there so it's neatly out of the way but easy to find when needed.

Your poems are important to you, or why would you write them? And having written them, why would you disown them? 

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Antony Mair
A classic example of your straightforward and practical advice, Nell. Some magazines specify that one should put one's name on ev... Read More
Monday, 12 February 2018 14:33
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REASONS FOR WRITING THINGS DOWN

INSCRIPTION

This week an old friend sent me a copy of a poem, cut out of a magazine. It ended, or appeared to end, on a stanza that was somewhat appropriate to him. (My friend lives alone and, like many who are lucky enough to live a long time, has found his former cronies have vanished one by one.):

But the years, that take the best away,
Give something in the end;
And a better friend than love have they,
For none to mar or mend,
That have themselves to friend.

It's from 'The Chilterns' by Rupert Brooke and if you follow the link, you'll find there are actually three more stanzas.

But that's by the by. This piece of Rupert Brooke set me to thinking about him. I've always loved some of his poems, even The Soldier, which has fared so badly compared to Wilfred Owen's Anthem for Doomed Youth.

'The Soldier' has come to be seen as a slightly embarrassing piece of patriotism in an age when patriotism is a dubious virtue. I'm sure the poem was used in its day (1914, when war was new, and people and poets didn't see what was coming) to stir up battle-hungry youth. But actually, the title is the only part of the poem that mentions war, and the last line celebrates peace. If you set it next to Robert Browning's Home Thoughts From Abroad, or some of the things Edward Thomas said about his reasons for going to France to fight, it is very much in a tradition.

Also, poor Brooke did die in another country. Not of a gunshot wound or a shell explosion, but nevertheless, in Greece on his way to Gallipoli, of an infected mosquito bite. Nothing heroic about that, but fearfully sad.

Anyway, I still haven't got to the point.
Which is that I started to think about Rupert Brooke, whose poems I learned to like from my mother, who had the Complete Poems with the lovely frontispiece photo of Brooke looking irretrievably handsome in 1913 protected tenderly by a sheet of tissue paper.

She had told me how she started to read Brooke at the start of another war, the Second World War, and it was because of a man she met while watching a military parade. He had given her a volume of Brooke. I knew there was a story to this, and I remembered there was a mysterious inscription at the front of the book, but for the life of me I couldn't remember what she had said about this chap.

This gave me one of those little stabs of grief that you get when you know the people who knew the answers are all gone. My mother died over two years ago. My sister, who might have remembered something of this, died last October.

So I picked up my mother's copy of Brooke (I have my own copy too, and it's in better shape, so I rarely look at mum's) to reflect on the inscription I remembered at the front.

How mysterious it is!

    A tribute to your
charming, vivacious personality
& recalling our very happy
companionship – though of
short duration.
    Sincere wishes for a very
Happy Future,    from   
    Just an ordinary
                   Englishman

I recalled her saying she thought he was probably married, that's all. What had happened? What happened to that ordinary Englishman? In 2016, I published a book of my mother's stories and anecdotes, her attempts to recover memories from the past before Alzheimer's removed them permanently. But this story wasn't in that book.

I turned idly to the back of the volume. There was a thin sheet of paper, folded and sellotaped inside with tape that had gone dark orange with years and dust. There were also two quotations in red biro, written in her own hand:

Love is like a hyacinth, it must strike root in the dark before it can produce a vigorous flower. Strindberg.

This is the measure of the love that warms me to you, that I forget one nothingness, and out of shadows make reality. [No attribution]

I unfolded the piece of paper. It was the story of the man she met who gave her the book. Typed in her own slightly wonky fashion, there it all was. I hadn't even known this existed, but then perhaps it was her secret. But she had written it down. Thankfully, she had written it down.

And so I learned that this man – the man who had given her the book – came from Sussex and that he knew H.G. Wells, who was his 'neighbour'. At that time, Wells would have been living not in Sussex, but in London. But his childhood years were certainly in West Sussex, at Uppark where his mother was in service, and later in Midhurst as a young apprentice. Midhurst, where my mother spent the last 16 years of her life. She always loved a coincidence.

The story of the man who gave her the Rupert Brooke is below. I am quite certain every word is true, and equally certain that had she not written it down, it would all have been lost forever. 

A sunny morning at the beginning of September. There was a war on, and a girl with a dog stood beneath a low copper beech tree, waiting for a parade to pass, on its way from church. She was in her Sunday best, happy and seventeen, and desperately wishing ot be older, to be part of the drama taking place in the world. Then the bands came nearer, and the Territorials, the Home Guard, the Nurses and the Civiil Defence marched bravely past, heads high, arms swinging, and the sun shone and the world sang.

There was a man watching the parade, too, under the beech tree. Something that he saw in the face of the girl moved him to speak to her – the weather  –  the parade  – the war – and in minutes they were carried into a conversation which swept them along, of books, of music, of life....

After that, they met often. They went for long walks in the crisp Autumn evenings, and she showed him the Cheshire countryside. he told her that he came from Sussex, where the soil was red instead of black ... that he was in the Army ... and that he knew H.G. Wells, who was his neighbour. But she never knew his name, or rank, or whether he was married, though she suspected that he was. Or his age, but then she never told hers, hoping that he would think her older than her seventeen years. Nor did he know her name or address. They met and parted in the same place always, and neither asked any questions of the other.

But he took her to her first opera, The Barber of Seville, and they sat in the very best seats, and she had a huge box of chocolates in spite of the war.

It was a fine Autumn, and the nights grew colder, and the leaves fell. 

One evening they were walking across the fields towards Rostherne, and a bright Hunter's Moon made a path for them to walk on. Suddenly, and for no reason that she could ever explain, a cold terror seized the girl, a primitive aweful dread which froze her. The man was gentle and courteous as always; they turned round and made their way out of the fearful fields, through the dark streets, and at last into a pub where he insisted that she had a whiskey.

But it was the beginning of the end  – after that she was afraid to go walking in the dark, and besides, in a small town her anonymity could not last much longer.

They had one last evening together at the ballet, and as a parting gift he gave her a book of poems, this book, with special reference to a poem called 'The Wayfarers'.  It was November 1941.


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RECIPES FOR POEMS AND POEMS WITH RECIPES

RASPBERRY-BUNS

There are recipes for certain kinds of poem. Villanelles, for example.

Ingredients: one rhyming couplet, each line sufficiently persuasive to bear four repetitions and bake on its own with strong flour. If you have any iambic pentameter, so much the better. Select a third line that's easy to rhyme with, since this pudding (I mean poem) only has two rhymes throughout. Pre-heat your oven to approximately 180°C.

But you don't want to make a villanelle, surely. I know they're fun to concoct, but so rarely sustaining. They remind me of Dr Johnson's unfortunate but memorable observation on women's preaching: 'like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all'.

But I digress. I am thinking really about poems with recipes rather than recipes for poems. I am working on Alison Brackenbury's forthcoming HappenStance publication, which was to have been a pamphlet and has grown into a delightful book. It is called Aunt Margaret's Pudding and contains a mixture of poems and recipes, as well as a brief account of the life of the woman who inspired them – Alison's grandmother, Dot – who worked, at one time, as a professional cook.

As a recipe lover myself, I have often been struck by the similarity, on the page, of poems and recipes. They both often resemble lists, but they're a little unpredictable. They can sprawl unexpectedly, and contain little asides that have nothing to do with the food. You can make of them what you will.

Either way, it strikes me as an excellent combination. Alison's poems are particularly good if read in combination with a cup of tea and, say, a raspberry bun. (I especially like Dot's raspberry buns and my other half, Matt, who almost never eats cake, has developed an interesting partiality for them.) So this is a little advance puff for her book, though there will be much more about it later.

I once tried to combine a recipe and a poem. That is to say I converted a recipe into what seemed to me at the time to be poetic form. I am not sure the results would have pleased the T S Eliot judges, but at least it has saved the recipe from getting lost – another use of poetry, if you like. Before it became a poem, I once lost it, and my friend Barbara, to whom I had passed it on, copied it out and gave it back to me. It is called 'Pain de Campagne' and when Barbara returned it to me, she had subtitled it 'Tired of Living in the Country'.

So whether or not it's good poem, I know it's a good recipe. It is tried and tested by more than one of us and will not let you down. Here it is:

Pain de Campagne

Day 1:
Mix these things in a roomy bowl:

8 ounces of strong white bread flour
A scant dessertspoon of table salt
8 fluid ounces of tepid water
A little dried yeast (a scant half teaspoon)

Cover with a plate and leave till next day.
At night dream richly. Record your dreams.

Day 2:
Return to the bowl.

Add 4 fluid ounces of luke-warm water
and then 4 ounces of whole-wheat flour.
As you stir the mixture, remember your dreams.
They will rise to the surface in tiny bubbles.

Cover and leave. Sleep well that night.
Record your dreams.

Day 3:

Back to the bowl.

Beat in more water—4 fluid ounces
and then add 12 ounces of strong white flour—
enough to make a workable dough.
Knead at length, remembering your dreams.
Add flour if needed. Continue to work
until the dough is beautifully smooth.

Leave to rise till doubled in size.
Sleep, if you wish, while the bread rises.

Later the same day

Punch back the dough.
Knead briefly and form a long oval.
Place on a baking tray covered in flour.
Shake more flour on top of the loaf.
Lightly cover and let it rise.

This loaf will grow.

When the size impresses you
slash the top with diagonal cuts
and bake very hot[1] for a quarter of an hour,
then somewhat cooler for twenty minutes[2].


The crust of this loaf will be domed and firm,
the crumb dreamy.
It will make great sandwiches, keep well
and prove that poetry can be useful.

[1] 230C

[2] Or perhaps a little longer, at 180° 



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Ama Bolton
Mmm ... yummy! Thank you. Here's my recipe in return. How to make Sloe Gin Buy a litre bottle of gin. Drink half. With friends. ... Read More
Monday, 15 January 2018 14:29
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THE BEAUTY OF OLDE SPELLING

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How much lovelier an old poem may seem if the original spelling, or something approximating to it, is retained. It takes me back to my early years of reading, when the children in books by E. Nesbit (or Enid Blyton) find an ancient manuscript or a treasure map. They know it's old because all the 's's are 'f's.

What mystery is in that idea — what glory in deciphering the words and phrases and finding they are not so far — not so far at all — from what we might say even now.

When you're young, you tend not to think an awful lot about the meanings of the words. You can like them, thankfully, without analysing them. You can welcome things that are different and odd. So each December, I remember the time we did Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols in the school choir. Both my sister and I sang in it, and we loved it all our lives.

That Britten stuff – it was weird, right? We'd never sung anything like that before. What we usually did was the descant to O Come All Ye Faithful. But the more we sang the Ceremony, the more we got to like it, and its strange words. I don't recall anybody explaining what they meant – only how we had to sing them.

So in 'I synge of a mayden', 'Goddes moder' was three syllables, with mother as mudder. (We were not to sing God's mother, even though we all knew that was what it meant.)

We did not reinvent the words. We just sang them. With relish.

We sang most carols with relish, whatever the words were, which was just as well. Hymns to us were all a kind of mystery with a good tune, and fair game for creative interference. So the repeating phrase from The Angel Gabriel from Heaven Came  – 'most highly favoured lady'  – was invariably rendered as 'most highly flavoured gravy'. I still can't hear that carol without thinking of good quality turkey stock thickened with just a little cornflour.

The year after A Ceremony of Carols, I started a degree in English Literature in the University of York. I didn't go to all the lectures, but I went to all the lectures by one R.T. Jones (Bob Jones) because they were a revelation to me.

He would take just one poem and talk about it for a whole hour very quietly and very carefully. Actually, he didn't talk. He read slowly from whatever he had written down on the papers in front of him. Little, if any, eye contact with his students. He had an intensely bookish, closed-in manner, as though everything he was sharing was a secret. So you tended to lean forward and listen more carefully.

One of the poems in his series was a medieval lyric from Britten's Ceremony, and it was 'I syng of a mayden'. I hadn't thought of a carol as a poem till this point, or considered the relationship between song lyrics and 'lyric' poetry.

This was over 40 years ago, so my memory of what he said is partial. The main thing I took away with me was an understanding of the power of repetition when each repetition is connected to a tiny change. That, and the idea of an experience getting close, and closer, and closest.

I think I had thought (because we sang it at Christmas) that the song was about the birth of Jesus. But it's not. It's the annunciation – the point at which Mary – without having sex with mortal man – meets the angel Gabriel, accepts the invitation to be the mother of God, and. becomes quietly and mysteriously with child. Most highly flavoured gravy, in fact.

But I believe this carol is as much about a spiritual change as anything else. Here are the old words, from the Sloane Manuscript in the British Library, thought to date from about 1400.

I syng of a mayden þat is makeles,
kyng of all kynges to here sone che ches.

He cam also stylle þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle, þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille, þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille, þat fallyt on þe spray.

Moder & mayden was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady Godes moder be.

So the maiden that is 'makeless' is matchless – beyond compare – and a 'mayden' means a virgin. If you lost your maidenhead, that meant you had had sex with a man. Here, Mary is a woman with a choice, not meekly bowing her head.

Bob Jones took us through the structure of the piece, the way it's bookended with couplets about the holy maiden – mudder and mayden, Godes moder – all those 'm' sounds and 'd' hammering away. Bob was the first person ever that made me aware of the small sounds and their connection with sense.

And then the direction: the way new life approaches and then gets closer, and closer and closer. He comes 'also stylle' – very very quietly – first where his mother was, then to his mother's bower, and finally where his mother lay. Something delicate and beautiful about it all, and increasingly intimate. 

The dew in April (lovely idea in itself) is there three times, but first the dew falls on the grass, then the flower (with all its fertility associations), and finally the spray. It is an insemination, of sorts – but as quiet and innocent as morning dew.

And then suddenly there's the last couplet which is a triumphant assertion. In the Britten version, it was enormously satisfying. You get to sing 'was never none but she' – such a wonderful phrase, with each of its syllables belting out the message, and the music suddenly scored to zoom from very quiet to as maximum forte. There is a YouTube recording of a girls' choir that sounds very much as we did.

Bob would have pointed out the three monosyllables at the end of the line 'none but she'. I can remember his mouth making the word 'syllable'. I can remember realising the syllables had something to do with the intense heart of a poem, whatever that might be.

I have only just noted that Carol Rumens had this lyric as her Guardian poem of the week in 2010. She's a similar age to me. A Ceremony of Carols must have been doing its round of the English schools when we were both busily being educated. She read the words then and now, she says, as an 'erotic myth'.

Odd how strong a word 'erotic' can seem in the context of this lyric with all its subtlety and sweetness. But that's newspapers for you. They have allowed someone (I am sure not Carol) to introduce the ghastly subhead: Set to unforgettable music by Benjamin Britten, this strangely erotic Nativity is even better on the page. Heavens above! It's not a nativity. It's the arrival of the first thought of a baby.

I found it both pure and intimate, and still do. There seems to me something odd about a baby coming to his mother in an erotic way. Obviously people could argue about this till, as they say, the cows come home.

The cows are on their way right now. The stable is just around the corner. One more ƒleep


By Anonymous 15th Century scribe, digitised by the British Library [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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ON NOT RHYMING PROPERLY

DISOBEDIENCE

Children learn about rhyme probably before they can speak, but certainly they start to be able to do it – for fun and with relish – as soon as they can talk easily.    

My granddaughter and I used to go for walks and do rhyming. I would say, 'What do you want for Christmas? Do you want a mat? .... Or do you want a cat? Or do you want a ....' and she would roar HAT (or RAT or BAT), and fall about with delight. She would even invent words that rhymed. TAT! WAT! DAT!

Create a space and a rhyme falls into it. Goodness knows why rhyming sense is fun. But Dr Seuss, Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, A A Milne, Lynley Dodd and Julia Donaldson are just a few of the names that have profited and continue to profit from this fact. They have entertained children and parents for over a century and a half.

I think it's something to do with knowing what's coming while at the same time being slightly surprised. If I read aloud from A. A. Milne's The Christopher Robin Story Book, or happen to say to you

James James
Morrison Morrison
Weatherby George Dupree
Took great
Care of his Mother
Though he was only ...

won't you leap into the fray with THREE? Can you resist saying 'three'? And

James James
Said to his Mother
'Mother,' he said, said he;
'You must never go down to the end of the town, if you don't go down
                                              with....'

You will finish the line for me, won't you? Me. Me. ME!

But some of the rhyming verses you learn as a child don't rhyme properly. The old ones, the authorless ones that get passed down over generations – some of them have terrible rhymes. 

Jack and Jill, as I feel sure you know, went up a hill to get a pail of water. When Jack fell down, he bumped his crown, which rhymed nicely, but 'Jill came tumbling after' is miserably disappointing. 'Water' absolutely does not rhyme with 'after'.

And this happens a lot. Look at Ding Dong Bell / Pussy's in the well. 

Little Johnny Thin and Little Tommy Stout rhyme neatly. But what about the cat who 'ne'er did any harm'? 'Harm' does not rhyme with the farmer's 'barn', except for the purposes of this ditty (which by the way is grossly modernised on Wikipedia and not the version I grew up with). Still – harm/barn? You can make it rhyme. You can hear the similarity. You can hear a similarity between 'water' and 'after'. But it's not a full-blooded, satisfying, click-into-place rhyme. 

As a child I knew the difference. Everybody knows the difference.

But where are we now? Contemporary poets are nervous about rhymes and go to all sorts of lengths to avoid the delicious neatness they might offer. Perfect rhyme is looked down on, with much the same raising of eyebrows as goes with the word 'Georgian'. 

But poets still pair words like 'sleeping' and 'walking'. Or they may slant-rhyme 'cat' with 'pot' (Philip Larkin being the grand master of brilliant slant rhyme). They rhyme in the middle of lines instead of at the end. They rhyme without a metrical pattern to drive the rhyme home. They rhyme singular with plural (hope / envelopes). Or most commonly they rhyme not at all.

It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that contemporary magazines reject certain poems because they rhyme. I do not think this is true. It is more likely that the editor felt the poem weak for other reasons. But rhyming is both easy and hard to do. That is to say anyone can rhyme with certain words (the balladeers exploited that to the full by regularly ending lines on sounds like 'lie' and 'say', for which there are many matches). But rhyming with the panache of Hilaire Belloc or Roald Dahl or W H Auden or is a true art. 

Most of the rhymers I have mentioned here wrote for children or humorously, and it is in humorous writing that rhyme still flourishes. The fortieth edition of Lighten Up Online is proof of this alone, and Martin Parker's 'Ermyntrude and the Higgs Boson' offers a number of inspired rhymes for the Hadron Collider. It can still be done.

And not just in light verse. Ruth Pitter, who lived into the last decade of the twentieth century, continued to rhyme all her life. She rhymed through modernism, post modernism and beyond. Olive Dehn loved rhyming, and it worked for her. And of course, Charles Causley, whom I wrote about last week – the man could rhyme.

'New' poets often go to considerable lengths to flout convention, as artists are supposed to do. They drop punctuation. They spatter words across the page. They right justify. They put things in boxes. They put things in columns. They superimpose text with other text. They cross things out. They invent symbols and signs to substitute for words. (They don't, usually, write for children.) Despite all of this, most contemporary poems look, at first glance, remarkably similar to one another. For example (as I have pointed out elsewhere) the practice of writing in (unrhymed) couplets is currently so common as to be a contemporary convention, as well as frequently associated with poems that win competitions.

But rhyme is no longer a convention in non-humorous, contemporary, literary, page poetry. (In performance work, it's a different story, though I might say something about that another time.) Not-rhyming is the convention in page poetry (except at weddings and funerals), even though readers appear to continue to enjoy it, from childhood onwards. I wonder how long it will be before use of rhyme will radicalise the page. It hasn't been in fashion now, except in light verse, for a very long time. It's hard though. It's hard not to sound like a greetings' card. It's hard to do it well.

And hard to write good poems – has been from the year dot.

(Hard to write good poems, whether they rhyme or not.)


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KNOWING WHAT WORDS MEAN WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT THEY MEAN

CAUSLEY

So I was listening to the radio – not properly listening – but it was on in the background, and suddenly 'Timothy Winters' came through.                               

There's something incomparably satisfying about a poem you can join in with, because most of it has stuck indelibly in your mind decades ago – without your ever having to learn it. That's 'Timothy Winters' by Cornish poet Charles Causley, who died in 2003, and whose poems will be remembered – or this one most certainly will.

Poets are highly preoccupied with the idea of being overlooked while alive, and forgotten when dead. You can mention the name 'Charles Causley' in a group of younger poets and see blank faces. But not in poets of a certain age. And not in those who studied his ballads at school. And even those who aren't sure about the name 'Charles Causley' – you see them fumbling through the memory files when you mention him – try them on a line of 'Timothy Winters', and see what happens. 'Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters: / A blitz of a boy is ....'

I think I met Causley in person once, but I was only in my teens, and now I can't be sure. But I met 'Timothy Winters' before that, and he has always stayed close.

What a poem! And it illustrates another thing about poetry: its ability to educate – and I don't just mean educate about socio-historic human deprivation. Who had ever heard the word 'helves' before they encountered

At Morning Prayers the Master helves
For children less fortunate than ourselves

My Picador Collected footnotes the word helves as Cornish dialect 'the alarmed lowing of cattle (as when a cow is separated from her calf); a desperate, pleading note'. I always inferred it meant 'appeals for help', which suggests the sound of the word in context led to not inappropriate interpretation. I have never read the word elsewhere, but I've always remembered its strangeness, and its curious rightness in this poem. Not just there for the rhyme, I think, though rhyme it certainly does.

But most importantly of all, the poem ends 'Amen'. To the many generations of UK children who were once closeted in daily school assemblies and enjoined to pray, 'Amen' meant the closing of something formal and the opening of doors. We had no idea of the meaning of 'Amen' in Hebrew, or that it was originally Hebrew at all. We just knew it signified the end, and the bit we could join in with, agree with – joyfully – if it meant getting on with something else that we hoped wouldn't involve praying.

You can know what words mean without knowing what they mean.

But you can never write (or hear) a poem that ends on the word 'amen' without remembering Timothy Winters, and therefore Charles Causley: humane, metrical, melodic and haunting.

So come one Angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says 'Amen
Amen amen amen amen.'
Timothy Winters, Lord.
                                      Amen! 


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Marcia Menter
I didn't grow up with Charles Casley or this poem. But wow. And it's still terribly true.
Sunday, 26 November 2017 16:01
jo field
'Timothy Winters' is on Jim Causley's CD 'Cyprus Well'...along with 'Angel Hill', 'On All Souls' Day', 'Who?' and more. All great.... Read More
Saturday, 02 December 2017 09:00
Helena Nelson
Thanks, Jo, Jim Causley can be found on Youtube singing some of these but not 'Timothy Winters', so the only way to it is via the ... Read More
Saturday, 02 December 2017 09:47
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