Archive for July, 2007

I’m so excited!!!!!

This morning I received a letter from the Forward Press, saying that my poem ‘Boxing Day, 1975’, which I submitted absolutely ages ago, is to be included in their anthology Poetry Now Southern Poets. I wrote the poem whilst on an Open University creative writing course. The Boxing Day baby in the poem is my daughter, Kamsin. Although I’d resigned myself to never making it into print, I’m very excited. Thanks go to Janine, Beryl and Susan for their support and encouragement during the course.

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I’ve been thinking about voyeurism in connection to Seamus Heaney’s poem, ‘Punishment’, which contains the poignant lines:

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

I was prompted to write this poem by a newspaper article about a man who jumped from his hotel window, taking his two children with him whilst on holiday in Greece. I felt guilty about making poetry from someone else’s tragedy. I think there is a part of all of us that is drawn to the dark side of life.


He was a quiet man
a placid man
a caring man.
He hated any form of cruelty.
He had not been drinking.
His wife was out buying
baseball caps for the children.

She returned to see
police cars and an ambulance
outside their hotel.

The policewoman
spoke little English;
she spoke no Greek.
A hotel porter translated:

Your son is dead.

Your husband and daughter
are being taken to hospital

When she left,
he was sitting
cross-legged on the floor
playing with the children
he took with him
when he jumped
from the balcony

© Carole Alexander 2006

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I have always been drawn to mountains and lakes; to me they represent peace, tranquillity and the numinous. During my stay in Nyon, a former Roman settlement on the edge of Lake Geneva, I liked to walk from the busy centre to a place on the edge of the town. There I could look down over the roof tops, beyond the huddle of yachts moored near the shore and across the water to Mont Blanc.

On this particular day the mountains were just starting to materialize from the mist. It was autumn and yellow ochre, russet and tan mingled with the greens of the taller firs. Two men rowing close to the shore startled a flock of birds who screeched as they skimmed low down over the water before taking flight. I relished the crunch of the horse chestnut leaves beneath my feet as I made my way to my favourite spot. Looking down I noticed a fly crawling over a cluster of leaves sprinkled with discarded filter tips.

Looking up again, I almost stumbled and fell onto a man seated on the iron bench I had come to regard as my own: he wore a mackintosh that was none too clean; a pair of shabby trainers and his grey hair, receding from a high forehead, fell to his shoulders in greasy waves. He was drawing on a cigarette with short, sharp intakes of breath. Although his hand was shaking, I felt irritation rather than pity; he had encroached upon my personal space. I struggled to regain my composure whilst resigning myself to walking further, in search of somewhere more solitary. He must have seen the disappointment on my face. Tossing his cigarette butt to the ground, he was on his feet like a sprung spring. As he placed a hand on my shoulder, I couldn’t help observing the smear of dirt across the back of his hand which and the black wedges under his nails.

‘Madam, s’il vous plaît?’ he said. His voice was deep and melodious but as unsteady as his hand.

‘Anglais… Angleterre…’ I was not going to admit to even a basic understanding of French. French, a language I loved to hear spoken by a native speaker, especially by a man. It appealed to the romantic young girl I used to be.

‘Forgive me.’

He released his hold on my shoulder and raised my hand to kiss it. I flinched. He smelt of mould and rancid gorgonzola. Not only could he speak my language he had also foiled my feeble attempt to avoid conversation. When I raised my eyes to speak they met his; brown with unmistakeable sadness. A tiny fissure opened in the fortress I had built to shield my emotions. Here was another victim of psychological scarring, a subject on which I considered myself to be an expert. He dropped my hand and turned away to light another cigarette.

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C’est La Vie

Above is a photograph I took of Voltaire’s chateau in Ferney-Voltaire. I took the photo using my new (and already much loved) possession, a 10 megapixel digital camera. Unfortunately, I had to position the camera between the uprights of a iron gate. A notice on the path which led upward from the road announced that the chateau was closed for restoration and would be opened at an indeterminate date in the future. Unable to resist the urge to stereotype, I reflected that only the French could have written this although it did not mean they no longer venerated one of their greatest writers and thinkers: inside the Office de Tourisme back in the town were copies of the first edition of Candide and some ancient printing presses.; a poster outside a shop announced forthcoming concerts in the grounds of the chateau.

Different countries and cultures seem to have different attitudes to property and the preservation of old buildings. In Britain we go to absurd lengths to preserve the artefacts of the past, from country houses to Stonehenge. I have to admit to a personal liking for ruined castles and a highlight amongst my past school trips was a visit to Fountain’s Abbey. In many parts of Asia, the past is, or has been, demolished to make way for new buildings. My daughter described China as not so much a developing country as a country under construction. The building process seemed never to stop, loading the air, with particles of dust. Japan, on the other hand, totally re-constructed its buildings so that they bore little relationship to the original: Osaka Castle provides an oddly modernistic shell in which to display shogun momentos. I visited there one Sunday as rival pop groups loudly competed for airspace, watched by knots of girls in Gothic make-up and clothes. Such categorization is anathema in these post-modern times with their distrust of meta narratives, but it has provided me with an excuse to reminisce about past holidays now that this one has come to an end.

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There’s an interesting piece on the ‘Comments’ page of today’s Guardian by Terry Eagleton. It mentions a number of the writers who feature in my course: Orwell; Wilde;Woolf; Eliot and Brecht. Eagleton contends that that ‘British literature’s long and rich tradition of politically engaged writers has come to an end’ apart from Harold Pinter ‘who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all’. What do people think? Is part of the reason for this that there is no obvious alternative to global capitalism? Is there a general political apathy? Aren’t most people as appalled as I am at Thatcher’s legacy? I have to admit that although I am a political animal I have become wearied, in recent years by what seems to be a losing battle. However, watching the enthusiastic young people on last Thursday’s ‘Question Time’ did give me some hope.


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