Friday, 7 April 2017

A Poem for Billie Holiday 7th April, 1915 - 17th July, 1959

Dead Lady Day
you were
hard dense matter shining
shining like a yellow moon
in a tear-streaked 
Harlem sky
you were
a fierce black star
all fired up for a while
falling like a stone
into oblivion
you were
a small sad thing 
a nightjar singing 
singing songs about that good stuff 
that was never like to be
you were
tough and strong
too old to be young
frailer than the rosy dawn
you somehow lived to see
you were
sweet and bitter
like so many broken dreams
and sharp on the tongue like easy kisses
your life
was like them 
tart green crabs
that still grow on that 
old history tree.

© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt
(First published by Tigershark)

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Angles, Parallels and Pinholes: Some of Example of the Work Produced

Image by David Rowland

The Glue that Still Holds

Do they ever wonder where they all are now,
old friends, fading faces,  so far apart,
still held by the thread of my heartbeat. 
Nothing digital, no Facebook memory.
For now they survive in celluloid
as they were and ever will be -
playing cards, young and smiling,
knocking back the scotch -
until the  years throw everything,
myself included, into some great
house clearance bonfire.

And yet, even then, someone,
somewhere might idly wonder
where they all are now -
all those high hopes, 
all that ambition,
memories of gtory days -
Oh to rule the world,
Oh to capture the moment,
Oh, to be loved.

I still get the occasional phone call,
a text from one or the other,
Bur they, they never do, except from me.
I am the fading glue  that still holds
their faces as they were.
Tempus fugit my mother 
used to say. People change,
But still I never learn. 

© David Rowland

Yvonne Walter (1915-1975)
Image provided by the author
I was surprised recently to find this photo among a packet of old negatives.  My young round-faced mother looks smart and happy with our Old English Sheepdog, Jock.    I think it may have been taken in 1937, the year she married Dad; certainly before WW2 broke out when anxiety and motherhood hollowed out her cheeks and she started smoking.   My arrival coincided with the London Blitz in 1940 when she was left on the ward in the nursing home while the babies were taken to safety in the basement.  This may well have been at the root of her ‘never again’ assertion when I enquired about the possibility of a brother or sister.

I didn’t realise what she had been through during my babyhood until I read about those war years much later as she had never talked about it to me.  She, too, had a war-time childhood, born in Norwich in 1915.   I think there were probably a lot of ‘war heroines’ among the women who struggled alone at home during war years, their traumas unrecognised. For many, the experiences affected both their capacity for motherhood and the children of the next generation.  

© Moira Fitt
(written in response to Guardian article for Mother’s Day – Inviting reflections on ‘your mother before you were born’)

Henry Ottley Tallett (Image the author's own)

Talking to My Father in Heaven 

Here you are shown in the crumbling outhouse, 
that was home to your last grand design,
the rusted AJ you bought to mend 
but somehow in the end never did.
You burnished its cylinders, eased loose old joints,
laid nuts and bolts in careful numbered rows;
but then your concentration failed.
You could not make it whole.

It was hard for you then, and hard for us
when you blustered and you cried
so that we who had not guessed
your grief were made to see its size;
and you did not care that we saw all;
red-eyed, you raved and swore
to see the broken pieces of a life past all repair.

Like this it happened: one sky-blue day
a ladder slipped and fell.
'No broken bones,' the medic said,
'but we’ll watch him just in case.
A day in bed, a week off work,
and he'll be as good as new.’

But it wasn't so. When you came home
a stranger wore your clothes
and he did not speak but gathered
like a storm that would not break.
Those times were hard for all of us.
Ours house was full of tears.
Your workman's hands, once sure
and strong, lay idle in your lap.

Now, much too late, I understand
how you wished yourself away,
not at home in a world where
your tongue was tied and your big,
unfettered heart felt far too much.
But, although you were my father
you had drifted away, and it seemed
you knew no way to draw me close,
for yours was a strange and empty land
where I, for all my aching, could not go. 

© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Angles, Parallels & Pinholes, A Writers' Cafe Workshop

Not so very long ago I was invited to facilitate a workshop for my fellow members at The Penzance Writers' Cafe. Of course, I agreed immediately but then came the agony of deciding what to offer. After considerable deliberation I plumped for the business of 'unpacking' the stories in old photographs. This is an area where I have done much work over the past several years. As a result, I now have a number of poems - somewhere between twenty and thirty - that I hope, in the not too distant future, to publish in the form of a pamphlet or a chapbook, although some of the pieces have already been published in kindly magazines and journals. 

I interrupt myself here to acknowledge a debt. Where would we be, we jobbing poets, without the efforts of those people who, mostly without help, glory or payment, give so freely of their time and energies to keep these precious outlets alive? Having been myself  - for two long years - a co-editor of Poetry24, a popular news-based poetry journal launched in the first instance by journalist, Martin Hodges, I am well-placed to appreciate exactly how much time time such work eats up. I had to give it up in the end. I had to make room for my own writing. It was a valuable experience, though, as well as a steep learning curve.

Anyway, to get back to my workshop. I believe it was modestly successful. It was a two week affair that mixed input, discussion, writing and sharing in what I hope were manageable proportions. Certainly, I was pleased with the feedback I received. And I was delighted by the range and quality of the work that was produced by those who attended. I would like to think that some of it might become available to a wider audience. Whether or not it does, of course, is not up to me. Nevertheless, I would like to thank Linda Camidge and Teresa Benison for their support in this venture and all the members of The Writers; Cafe who came along to participate. If any of them, reading this post, would be willing to see their work published here, then I will happily receive it. You can contact me either by commenting here or via The Writers' Cafe Facebook page.

Saturday, 1 April 2017


If you would know
the secrets of my heart
then look for me at dusk,
Seek me out in the stillness
of that lavender hour when rabbits, 
growing weary of their play, 
sit still, stock still,
their ears turned back,
their bodies painted blue
by evening shadows,
to sniff, sniff with their
quick, tender noses
the chill that shivers on the air. 
For in that hour this 
is where you will find me,
warmed by the early
evening sunshine,
humming to the beat
of  a day now passing,
and breathing in 
the slow, sweet peace
of that liquid, 
violet hush.

© Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt

Image by Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt

Blue Lilies (for David)

Whenever I am ill, or sad,
or bad-tempered you scour
the supermarket shelves.
It's never easy but most times you bring me 
the blue Madonna lilies I adore -
and, even though I know
they speak our mortality
their fragrance never fails
to bring me comfort -
and when the evening 
shadows lengthen
and you are elsewhere
your lilies watch my back
like blue angels.
Fiery-eyed and golden-tongued,
to my ears, they will always
speak your love.

©Abigail Elizabeth Ottley Wyatt