Tuesday, 29 December 2015

'Sherlock': A BBC Sherlock Poem

'Dancing Men' from the 2015 Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London. Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd

Messrs Cumberbatch and Freeman are just about to return to our screens as Sherlock and John, although this time around they will really be 'Holmes and Watson', in a one-off Victorian episode. I'm looking forward to seeing whether they can come close to the greats - Jeremy Brett, David Burke and Edward Hardwicke.

I've been writing poetry about Sherlock Holmes this year - inspired by many different aspects of the stories and the different portrayals over the years - and a few of the poems were published. So to end the year, here's another poem, this one based on the Cumberbatch/Freeman modern-day series.


after BBC Sherlock

Sherlock's mouth is a typewriter: he's spinning out the tale to the sharp end of his breath.

He'll cut and make it neat with his cheekbones.

Sherlock is downloading your brain to his hard drive.
He is uninterested in your heart, except when it threatens to break the machine, your soul.

Sherlock's pale eyes have narrowed to tiny keyholes.
He may have to kill you, but he will look so good while doing it.

Sherlock is talking to a skull, but he may talk to you if you stick around.
He's the mind of this city, but you keep him from the fall with your words, your light.

 © Clarissa Aykroyd, 2015

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Keith Douglas: 'On a Return From Egypt'

Keith Douglas


To stand here in the wings of Europe
disheartened, I have come away
from the sick land where in the sun lay
the gentle sloe-eyed murderers
of themselves, exquisites under a curse;
here to exercise my depleted fury.

For the heart is a coal, growing colder
when jewelled cerulean seas change
into grey rocks, grey water-fringe,
sea and sky altering like a cloth
till colour and sheen are gone both:
cold is an opiate of the soldier.

And all my endeavours are unlucky explorers
come back, abandoning the expedition;
the specimens, the lilies of ambition
still spring in their climate, still unpicked:
but time, time is all I lacked
to find them, as the great collectors before me.

The next month, then, is a window
and with a crash I'll split the glass.
Behind it stands one I must kiss,
person of love or death
a person or a wraith,
I fear what I shall find.

                                          [? March-April 1944]

'On a Return From Egypt' was published in Poetry (London) in December 1944, six months after Keith Douglas died in Normandy. It appears to be the last poem he wrote, or at least the last surviving poem. At the time he was in England awaiting D-Day and the Normandy campaign. He was to die three days after D-Day, on 9 June 1944.

'On a Return From Egypt' isn't a perfectly finished poem but - unfortunately - it stands as quite a fitting swan song for Douglas. It reprises and sums up many of the images which haunted him and which recur. He had already written about 'the wings of Europe' in the sweeping but very unfinished 'Actors Waiting in the Wings of Europe', and the restless, ambiguous movement of the sea appears again and again in poems such as 'The Marvel' and 'Song'. It is, of course, also about his death.

The really heartbreaking thing about this poem is when Douglas writes about the failure of his endeavours and the end of his time. One wonders what he meant by 'All my endeavours are unlucky explorers'. He had certainly achieved success in poetry and in the military, but perhaps these are not what he wanted. He may have been thinking of his failed romances. Douglas was a restless soul and many people much older and apparently wiser than him don't really know what they want, either. The image of the explorers 'abandoning the expedition' is extremely powerful and the poem really turns on the third stanza. It also reminded me of this quote from Isaac Newton, in both its seeking nature and its innocence: "To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me."

The final stanza also returns to some of his primary concerns - the ambiguous figures, the two sides of a window, a door or a mirror and the passage through. There is a harshly exposed quality to "I fear what I shall find" which helps to make this last word by a very young and gifted poet unforgettable. It's not a perfect piece of work, but it is powerful and utterly real.

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Favourite 2015 Collections: Kim Moore, Sean O'Brien, Dan O'Brien

I'm pretty sure I've said before that I'm not much for end-of-the-year lists (I like reading other people's lists, but I'm not that excited about compiling my own.) However, I wanted to give a quick rundown of my three favourite new collections of 2015.

Kim Moore, The Art of Falling (Seren). Kim Moore's poems have both a lightness and a strength to them which is very appealing. They are personal and deeply rooted in her own family and community connections ('My People', 'A Psalm for the Scaffolders') but many of them also have a movingly timeless quality. The centre of this collection is the cycle 'How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping' which is a spectacular sequence of poems about an abusive relationship. In poems such as 'He Was the Forgotten Thing' and 'On Eyes', the elements of such a relationship are depicted with images that seem to arise from an archetypal place, conveying the physical and emotional pain undergone by the speaker on a very deep level. You can read the poem 'How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping' here, on Josephine Corcoran's And Other Poems blog/e-zine.

Sean O'Brien, The Beautiful Librarians (Picador). Sean O'Brien's poems live in the company of such great poets as Philip Larkin and WH Auden, but I prefer his wry, loving, sometimes sardonic depictions of British society in poems such as 'Another Country' and 'The Beautiful Librarians'. His poetry has a very strong sense of place but it also breaks the boundaries of place, and his England represents much more than just one country. I was blown away by 'The Lost of England', an epic, reflective, self-deprecating train journey. Sean O'Brien is the kind of poet I don't find often enough in contemporary poetry - really technically assured in a classic way, but also thought-provoking and funny at the same time. You can read the poem 'The Beautiful Librarians' here.

Dan O'Brien, New Life (CB Editions). This collection is a sequel to the 2013 collection War Reporter, and my only caveat is that you should probably read War Reporter first and then New Life - but do read both. New Life carries on Dan O'Brien's unusual collaboration with the war correspondent Paul Watson. This poetry blurs the lines between non-fiction and poetry - it's a dizzying film-reel of the poet's thoughts, the war reporter's thoughts, emails and phone calls, and the nagging sense that the poet and the war reporter are not only two different people, but also aspects of the same person. War Reporter started with the terrible consequences of Paul Watson's photo of the dead American soldier in Mogadishu in 1993, and ricocheted through many other countries and wars. New Life spends time in Syria and the other countries affected by the Arab Spring, but it also explores O'Brien's personal life, Watson's view of the discovery of Franklin's ship Terror in the Canadian Arctic, and many other stories. New Life, like War Reporter, is often graphic and a difficult read, but I found both collections extraordinarily powerful and quite unique in contemporary poetry. New Life is probably my pick for collection of the year. You can read the poem 'The War Reporter Paul Watson and the Room Across the Hall' here, again on And Other Poems.

Monday, 14 December 2015

Ishion Hutchinson: Honoring the Light

Sunset at Sandals, Negril by Gail Frederick. Used under Creative Commons license

I've been reading Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson for a couple of years. His first collection, Far District (Peepal Tree Press, 2010) is certainly one of my favourite poetry books of recent years. His sonically gorgeous poems often have a surreal reach, but they are also grounded in places which are sensory, sensual and real-world.

I wouldn't call Ishion Hutchinson's work especially similar to that of the great poet of St Lucia, Derek Walcott, but in this Paris Review interview I came across this, which I'd already been thinking of both poets.

Interviewer: In an interview for the Virginia Quarterly Review, you asked Derek Walcott, "What would you regard as your greatest strength as a poet?" That was a hard question - he said at first he couldn't tell. Do you have an answer yourself?

IH: Derek did answer eventually, and his response is spectacular, he said "I think there are lots of times when I have maybe caught the light in certain passages...the Caribbean light at sunrise and sunset." My answer is, I would hope, in my own way I have honored the same light.

I haven't yet visited the Caribbean - the closest I have been is the Caribbean Sea side of Mexico (the Yucatan Peninsula). But when I read both of these these extraordinarily visual poets, I know that I am seeing the Caribbean light.

I recommend Ishion Hutchinson very, very highly. I hope to write more about him at some point, but in the meantime, here are links to two of his poems I've especially enjoyed. There are many others available to read online.

THUNDER IN APRIL (Ishion Hutchinson)

HOMAGE: VALLEJO (Ishion Hutchinson)

Sunday, 13 December 2015

New Poems Published and 2015 Readings

Norwich, November 2015. Photo by Clarissa Aykroyd

I recently had a couple of new poems published. One of these, 'Beekeeper', appears in the Mexico City-based The Ofi Press and you can read it here: http://www.ofipress.com/aykroydclarissa.htm

The other poem, 'Seventeen Steps', appears in Issue 10 of Lighthouse, a journal focusing on new writing by up-and-coming writers - and ah, the rarer delight of being published in print! You can purchase a copy of this issue here: http://www.gatehousepress.com/shop/anthologies/lighthouse-issue-10/

Both of these recent publications have been poems about (or inspired by) Sherlock Holmes. If this is starting to look like a theme, that's because it is a theme. Watch this space.

Another recently lovely thing was appearing on the list of the Best UK Poetry Blogs of 2015 at Matthew Stewart's highly regarded poetry blog Rogue Strands. You can find me in very good company here, with many other blogs that I would recommend: http://roguestrands.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-best-uk-poetry-blogs-of-2015.html

Finally, here's a list of the poetry readings I gave/took part in this year. I have a couple at least coming up in 2016, which I think will be another good poetry year.

  • June - London: reading at Red Cross Garden as a poet-in-residence for the London Open Garden Squares Weekend
  • July - Cambridge: reading at The Missing Slate anthology launch event, at the Judith E Wilson Studio
  • September - London: reading at Red Cross Garden for their annual Flower & Vegetable Show
  • October - London: reading with The Quiet Compere at the Hackney Attic
  • November - Norwich: reading at the Lighthouse launch event at the Bicycle Shop

I hope that all poets, audiences and readers had as wonderful a year as possible.