Friday, 30 September 2011

Universal Soldier


Today’s poem has appeared on the blog twice; in 2007 and 2009. I am repeating it again for no other reason than I feel a need to let off steam.  Hopefully, new readers and those who never have time to browse the blog archives will enjoy the poem and regular readers won’t mind becoming reacquainted with it. Mind you, I cannot (and don’t) expect everyone to like every poem I write...

I am coping with hormone therapy for my prostate cancer, but with some difficulty. I dread going shopping on my own. Some days, it seems that everywhere I go I am a target for abuse, the more so for refusing to take being treated badly with a nod and a smile as if that’s perfectly okay. I can’t wait to get home, sometimes close to tears and falling apart, to let several cups of tea help put me back together again. [Mind you, my mother did warn me that as you get older, you become more and more invisible...] Oh, well it is what you come to expect when you live in some areas of London. So why don’t I moved away? Well, I can’t afford to, and besides why should I?

I dread going shopping on my own. Some days, it seems that I am a target for abuse just about everywhere I go, the more so for refusing to take being treated badly with a nod and a smile as if that’s perfectly okay. I can’t wait to get home, sometimes close to tears and falling apart, to let several cups of tea help put me back together again. 

What is it about humankind, I often wonder, that our need and desire for peace of mind is invariably undermined by someone else’s appetite for conflict? I guess the trouble is, the latter often if not always provokes the same in us.

It doesn’t even take a war, not here in London anyway. You might glare at someone for nearly knocking you flying because they are on their mobile phone so you are expected to get out of their way, but weren’t quite quick enough, and the next minute you are on the receiving end of a stream of verbal abuse. Or you are crossing the road and someone walks right in front of you causing you to stumble. (It is your fault, of course.) Or you are on an escalator at a London Underground station and someone in a hurry pushes you so you fall but (hopefully) avoid a serious accident. You protest and are either ignored or, again, verbally abused for being in the way. Or you are coming out of a shop, and some cyclist who thinks he or she has every right to ride on a busy pavement sends you sprawling and rides on without a care. By the time you are nearly home, the slightest thing is likely to trigger rage, and then someone suggests you need anger management.

An average week (if not day) in the life of a pensioner in London...

Yesterday a little lad about 6 years-old was playing on the floor in a store where I was queuing. Apparently, I knocked his head with my basket. The mother laid into me verbally as if I had done it on purpose. She demanded I apologise in such a way that I stormed out of the store without purchasing my items rather than stay within an inch of the woman and her children another second. Maybe she was right and I was wrong. Whatever, it was the last straw in a chain of events that made me feel like going to war with the entire human race; end-game - annihilation.

Today has to be a better day...Well doesn’t it...?

UNIVERSAL SOLDIER

Wrestling in the womb
with thoughts I cannot know,
feelings unable to show,
I start to grow…
the way of all humanity
that’s gone before, a personality
and identity to call my own
though I take my place
in a world anxious for a face,
to place here, there, 

within the easier confines 
of a history classroom taught, 
and purpose-built

Wrestling in the womb
with thoughts I cannot know,
feelings unable to show,
I continue to grow…
a microcosm of all human
endeavour, facing the complexities
of Fate without a murmur,
one to one with God
without fear of the world’s
goading icons, relishing centuries
of silence brought soundly
to bear upon Man’s first cry,

'War, war, war!'

[From: Love And Human Remains by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2001]

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Whatever Happened To once Upon A Time?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

Regular readers will know that I am often revising earlier poems, usually only slightly, but sometimes more drastically even when the original has already appeared in one or more poetry publications. Why? I suspect that, years on, I am quite simply looking at the same poem/s and their theme/s from a different perspective; it is not necessarily a criticism of the earlier version.

The first version of this poem was written in 1996. It had already appeared in Thoughts from the Pen, Book Mark (1997), Meridian Poetry Magazine (1998) and Visions of the Mind, Spotlight Poets [Forward Press] (1998) before I included it in my first major collection in 2001. The second version is a revision with which I have been toying only recently.

So which version do you prefer?

Ah, but the sheer escapism of my childhood continues to see me though the harsher aspects of reality. So much for growing up...

(1) WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ONCE UPON A TIME?

Fairies in the garden,
dragons in the sky;
Shadowy mists of Avalon
risen high;
Home, some dark cave
in a far, far distant time;
Poetry and heroes,
legends in their prime
come to rescue us from
the terrors of bed-time;
All gone, kids grown,
and who's passing on
secrets of protection
to a generation
that prefers computer games
or, better still,
copycat storylines
from Pandora's Box?
Issues of the day, strategy
in a ratings war. Peter Pan
shot down over Walford);
Beasties under the bed
breaking out like chicken-pox
on a child's face

And no hiding place

[From: Love And Human Remains by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2001]

(2) WHATEVER HAPPENED TO ONCE UPON A TIME?

Fairies in the garden, dragons in the sky;
shadowy mists of Avalon risen high;
Home, some dark cave in a far distant time;
poetry and heroes, legends in their prime,
come to rescue us from the terrors of bed-time;
All gone, kids grown, and who's passing on
hard hat protection to a generation
that prefers computer games, copycat story-lines
from Pandora's Box?

Issues of the day, strategy in a ratings war
(Peter Pan shot down over Walford);
Beasties under the bed, busy breaking out
like chicken-pox on a child's face

And no hiding place...

Copyright R. N. Taber 1997; 2011

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Mad Hatter's Tea Party Revisited

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

Once there was a Boston Tea Party, and then...

An American friend recently asked me for my thoughts on the US Tea Party. I was relieved to discover that he is as appalled as I am regarding the antics, rhetoric more than occasional ignorance and suspect morality displayed by this appalling political phenomenon.

As I have said before, though, I hope Sarah Palin is elected as the next Republican candidate for the presidency if only to ensure Barack Obama a second term.

Who in their right mind would vote for the Tea Party? Alarmingly, a growing number of disaffected voters or so statistics would have us believe.

I suspect many of us world-wide are disaffected voters in the current economic climate. Ah, but is that any reason to lose out heads?

As for those readers who may well say that a UK poet has no right to comment on US politics, may I remind them that just about anything and anyone is up for comment, including via art and poetry.

My thanks go to Lewis Carroll for giving me a child’s take on the mad, mad, mad world of adulthood that would prepare me for the real thing...

THE MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY REVISITED

There once was a white rabbit
that ran down a hole
for fretting that the world
was in poor shape;
a little girl (with big ideas)
ran after him...
thinking it might be an adventure,
and had to be better
than moping because her daddy
had just lost his job

White Rabbit, he had contacts
in high places
whom the little girl (with big ideas)
was so thrilled to meet
and get an invite to a Tea Party
hosted by a Hatter
even madder than the rest
of the guests,
including a Queen of Hearts
and (peculiar) Minds

‘Off with his head!’ Queenie
kept shouting
at anyone who might have been
listening and game
to give her their vote as Hostess
with the Mostest,
and saw the little girl (with big ideas)
as the ideal candidate
to try the very humbugs she’d slaved
over a hot stove at all day

‘Try these dear,’ said Queenie,
‘and tell me honestly
if you love them or hate them
though be sure
it’s off with your head if they’re not
to your liking.’
The little girl (with big ideas) insisted
she never accepted sweets
from strangers in case (who knows?)
they are poison

‘They will probably make you ill,’
agreed the White Rabbit,
‘and then you’ll be in a fine pickle
with no health insurance
to pay the bills, and not a soul
giving a damn
if you take to your bed. Oh and do
have some tea,
it’s a party, not a wake, leastwise
no one’s dead yet...’

‘Off with his head!’ cried Queenie,
but the White Rabbit
laughed and said, ‘You can have my head
for desert, it’s big enough
to go round, especially since all else
on offer here
is humbug, humbug, humbug - and
more humbug. Oh, and what
does Dormouse think he’s doing
with that teapot anyway?

The little girl (with big ideas) loved
every maddening minute,
was so disappointed when she woke up
to realise it was but a dream
that she pulled a white rabbit from a hat,
set it loose, made it an excuse
to chase The Dream, have a tea party
of her own, Mad Hatters invited,
she delighted to play Queen of Hearts
and (peculiar) Minds

Copyright R. N. Taber 2011

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ally In The Line Of Fire OR If You Can't Laugh At Yourself, You Might As Well Be Dead


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

Today’s poem has appeared on both blogs before, but not for some 18 months or so, Several readers have asked me to repeat it so I am duplicating this post on both blogs if only to re-open debate.

I often find myself at odds with people over political correctness. I applaud the theory, but suspect it is stifling serious debate in many areas that affect us all; it is perpetrating division, not healing it as was intended by its introduction. For example, many people say one thing in public to avoid being taken to court accused of political incorrectness while saying the opposite in private; including if not especially where sexuality and religion are concerned. This applies to people from all areas of society, not just politicians and religious leaders. I know some of them personally.

Now, people often take me to task for criticising religion. If they were to read what I say instead of interpreting it to give themselves a platform, they would see that I do NOT criticise religion , only those preachers and followers of any religion who do precisely that, interpret (or misinterpret) the various Holy Books for their own ends and/or justify their personal take on life, love, relationships, sexuality, whatever.

I am no satirist, and can only wish I was. I have every admiration for those writers and artists who capture the bigotry and hypocrisy of various socio-cultural-religious issues in humour. Humour is a very effective weapon against this bigot or those hypocritical/repressive elements of society. No one and nothing should be exempt. Satire highlights what is wrong here and offers serious food for thought about how to put things right.

Sadly, political correctness appears to have all but suffocated satire, and blunted  even the sharper edge of humour.

Laughter can have a very serious side. We laugh, but sooner or later may well begin to wonder why we are laughing and start to feel uncomfortable.

Those who choose to take satire personally are missing the point or, rather, it is often the case that the point strikes home; it is only human to go on the defensive against criticism initially and launch an attack on its source.

I get angry when any socio-cultural-political group displays such arrogance that they see themselves as being above criticism, satire, and humour. Take those Muslims, for example, who took offence at the publication in a Danish publication satirising Islam and its prophet. It was not a personal attack, but a well-deserved subject for satire. There is a LOT wrong with the way many people choose to interpret or misinterpret Islam, just as there is also a LOT wrong with the way many people interpret Christianity and other integral elements of this or that socio-cultural-religious take on life and Faith.

Why should any individual or group be exempt from constructive criticism? Satire is a very constructive as well as creative art; there are many layers, each of which deserves careful consideration where, invariably, careful consideration is not being given by many of those who leave themselves wide open to satire.

I have no problem with gay issues and elements of gay lifestyle being gently mocked or satirised; it is usually well deserved. Attack and abuse for the sake of attack and abuse is something else altogether; the more discerning and self-critical observer will easily spot the difference. Sadly, many people are so centred upon their own ways of life and thought that they go around wearing blinkers with regard to anyone else’s.

Being able to enter into someone else’s point of view does not mean we have to agree with it. On the contrary, healthy debate is fundamental to a healthy, democratic society.

Arrogance and only being able to put ourselves in hostile opposition to ideas and principles with which we, personally, cannot identify is a recipe for a divided society.

It will come as no surprise to new readers that I follow my fellow blogger Edwin Black’s blog; sometimes scathing, often funny, but always providing food for thought and never malicious for malice’s sake. I love it:

http://bardicblackspot.blogspot.com/

...not least because I do not have much of a talent for satire myself although there is a sharp edge and wry humour in some of my poems should readers care to access this level of appreciation.

This poem is a villanelle.

ALLY IN THE LINE OF FIRE or IF YOU CAN'T LAUGH AT YOURSELF, YOU MIGHT AS WELL BE DEAD

Where society a well-heeled liar
(politics but a blame game)
find a sharp-tongued ally in satire

They say, ‘no smoke without fire’
(EEU by any other name)
where society a well-heeled liar

Odds against survival rising higher
(global warming the same);
find a sharp-tongued ally in satire

World leaders neck deep in its mire
(enjoying the perks of fame)
where society a well-heeled liar

Religion taking the AIDS toll higher
(rhetoric loud, excuses lame);
find a sharp-tongued ally in satire

Drugs and arms dealers loath to retire
(Greed, the name of the game);
where society a well-heeled liar,
find a sharp-tongued ally in satire

Copyright R. N. Taber 2009

[Note: This poem does not appear in previous collections, but will be included in my next, Tracking The Torchbearer, scheduled for publication next spring.]

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Wrestlers

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

I received an email a while ago claiming to be from a celebrity who shall remain nameless. I doubt whether it was genuine. This person was having a go at me for my ‘pathetic attempts at poetry’ which is the sort of thing we’ve come to expect from many of our lesser celebrities whose supposed ‘star’ quality fools no one but themselves. Besides, they are too busy bitching at other celebrities to bother with small fry like me. (Maybe if I was a media babe?) So, no, I am not convinced the person who sent the email really was a gay singer I have admired for years. [Yes, for his singing too.]

Am I discouraged? Well, in 2012, not only will the Olympic Games come to London but also Her Majesty the Queen celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. Cause for celebration, indeed.

I have been encouraged to join in the celebrations by bringing out a new collection to which I have already given the title, Tracking The Torchbearer.

I hadn’t intended to bring out a new collection until 2015. While I have reservations about bringing out Tracking The Torchbearer after only two years, several people have pointed out, with carrying degrees of diplomacy, that I may not even be around for what will be my 70th birthday in 2015! Hopefully, I will have written and collated enough poems by 2012 for someone else to publish Tracking The Torchbearer should I have passed away. Now, that’s a sobering thought…

I should add that (whatever my prostate tumour has in mind for me) I still hope to publish an even later collection in 2015 under the title Diary Of A Time Traveller. Moreover, for the record, I have every intention of reaching 80+. I can only hope people will still be buying my books by then; if they become bored with my poems and the voices I use...well. I'll only have myself to blame.

On the subject of my poetry books, they are only on sale in the UK although I do sell some copies over the Internet. I have found a publisher who can produce US editions that will be available in the USA and fully listed on amazon.com. However, although many US readers access my blogs, I am not sure if I would recover costs. So if you are an American reader and think others would be interested, please send an email or comment as it would be very helpful to know if there is a wider US market for my work; I never post comments (good or bad) but read them all, and will reply if there is an email address.

Poems on the blog are read world-wide and some readers have asked if translations of my collections or any selections of my best poems are available. Sadly, the answer is no. Apart from the fact that I cannot afford the services of a professional translation service, poetry requires that a translator is able to enter into the spirit of a poem, not simply translate it.

Meanwhile…

Whenever I say to parents that any education about sex and relationships should include gay sex and gay relationships, the are either horrified or agree in such a half hearted way that I know they are against the idea and are merely paying lips service to political correctness.

Do parents honestly believe there are no gay boys and girls at their child’s school and if there are they present a threat? More to the point perhaps, how can they be sure their child isn’t gay? The last person most teenagers will confide in about such matters is a parent, however close they may be.

Years ago, I’d sometimes engage in friendly wrestling matches with a boy at school who was very mature for his age (the same as mine) and always won hands down. I never really minded if only because I fancied him like hell although I was careful never to let my feelings show. Ours was a boy’s only school and there were plenty who would have made my life a misery. As it was, my friend never suspected. [At least, I don’t think so…]

‘You’re stronger than me,’ I once accused him ruefully.

‘Not at all,’ my friend replied with a knowing grin. ‘I’m just better than you at playing mind games.’

True. Ah, but it would be a few years on before I fully grasped what he meant.

This poem is a kenning.

WRESTLERS

More than once I’ve leapt
into a ring and wrestled with Time
even though I know
he will best me in the end while
daring to hope Earth Mother
will spare me long enough to find
and hit a nerve designed
to let us off the hook till reconciled
with outward appearances

I know him for what he is;
no kind father, Time, rather a beast
in a body resembling a man,
but closer to the animal kingdom,
protective and destructive
at one and the same turn of identity
tipping the scales of reason,
wrestling with me to wild applause
for settling old scores

Education, the only antidote
for societies still obsessed with crime
against so-called morality
committed in shadowy corners
or shrubberies of the mind
that so-called decency would never
tread…for fear of being
caught out by me (to whom history
is fickle, it has to be said)

Some call me Shame, say I’m to blame
for beating them at their own game

Copyright R. N. Taber 2010

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Diary Of A Tower Block

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

Several readers have been in touch to say they are enjoying my serial Dog Roses: a gay man’s rites of passage on my fiction blog:

http://rogertaberfiction.blogspot.com/

...and want to know if (a) it is autobiographical and (b) if I will be posting more fiction once Dog Roses ends in a few weeks.

As I have already said on other posts, the answer to the second question is ‘yes’ although my next serialised novel does not have a gay-interest storyline. My hope is that gay readers will continue to follow the blog and that more among the heterosexual majority will start taking an interest.

In reply to the first question, the answer is ‘no’ although there are parts of the novel that I have taken directly from personal experience. Many years ago, I had a closet relationship with someone just like Billy Mack; he, too, died young, but not as described in the story.

Meanwhile...

I once had a school friend who lived with his family in a tower block that no longer exists. There was an incredible view across London from his bedroom. We lost touch after they moved away, but I went to see it being demolished. As it tumbled, so many memories came crashing around my ears; every one a story well worth the retelling (in a poem perhaps?)

I guess every very home has its seasons. Could it be, I wonder, that we pay more attention to them the closer to ever changing heavens we live?

DIARY OF A TOWER BLOCK

April, a glossy green
like a toddler’s crayoning
of a garden;
August, a shiny blue
like a child’s imagining
of the sea;
October, a silky yellow
like a teen’s yearning
for a puppy;
December, a rosy pink
like family cheeks lit up
for fairy lights;
January, a snowy white
like a blank sheet, learning
how to write;
Years on, a leathery
grey folder, sole survivor
of Demolition Day

Stories, blown away...

[Note: This poem was centred on the page in 1st eds. of The Third Eye by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2004; 2nd ed. in preparation.]

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Seagulls Over Brighton Pier

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

Given that it has a gay-interest storyline, I can appreciate that the audience for the first serial I am posting on my fiction blog us predominantly heterosexual. However, I am thrilled that a number of straight readers, including some parents, are also enjoying it. [I can only hope the reverse will be true when I publish my next serial that does not have a gay-interest storyline.]

Dog Roses contains 25 chapters + Epilogue so I hope you will enjoy it through to the end; when a terrible tragedy strikes, Rob, its narrator with all the flaws of a young man on a learning curve, is forced to not only acknowledge those same flaws but also find a way to overcome them, finding new strengths among family, friends and colleagues a wiser and better person:

http://rogertaberfiction.blogspot.com/

Meanwhile...

Today’s poem has not appeared on the blog since 2009 and is another favourite of mine. Regular readers will know that I have been visiting Brighton (East Sussex, UK) for many years, since I was about eight or nine years-old. (I will be 66 later this year.) Its ghosts are never far away; a dear late partner, mother, cousin and old friends are always happy to keep me company here, there and just about everywhere; in this particular instance, it is the only partner fate has seen fit to allow me if only for a short while; on Earth, that is, since our love has lasted for the greater part of my life and will endure beyond it.

Some readers may be interested to know that I have read some of my Brighton poems for YouTube; just go to my channel and click on 'see all':

http://www.youtube.com/rogerNtaber

So where do you meet with your favourite ghosts? [Never shut them out.]

Oh, but I’m being fanciful, did you say? Of course I’m being fanciful. I ask you. What use is a poet without imagination, and what use imagination if it cannot work its magic on anyone? When people tell me they have no imagination, I tell them to get in touch with their feelings ( the power source for imagination) and go with the flow...

SEAGULLS OVER BRIGHTON PIER

I met a ghost once on Brighton pier,
greeting me warmly like an old friend,
lightly dismissing my fear;
although its features were blurred,
I recognized a cheeky catch in the voice
and my doubts disappeared

A passer-by wore a queer expression,
shook his head at us, no empathy there
with the poetry of illusion;
an old woman walking with a child
looked nervous and quickened her step;
the child saw us and smiled

Halcyon days rolled determinedly by
like a sure tide taking on Brighton beach
in time’s tearful eye;
I barely felt an embrace, only desire,
and your kisses left my mouth feeling dry,
my whole body on fire

I strained to hear such words of love
making a bonfire of all self-pity and grief,
smoky clouds above
absorbing us into a gull’s cry,
now circling, now swooping, lending us
its wings to fly…

With good grace, let’s soar and share
a lifetime of love as feisty as Brighton pier
in summer, even winter;
no more will halcyon days pass me by
since I know now for sure you’ll stay near
and seagulls don’t lie

[From: On The Battlefields Of Love by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2010.]


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Dead Poets Walking

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R._N._Taber

There are poems spoken aloud everywhere we look; on the wind, in the trees, among leaves of grass, but especially (for me at any rate) from the sea. The sea has, after all, inspired many writers, especially poets, and even though they may be long dead, whatever inspired them is still available to anyone else who cares to listen...

Today's poem was first published in Poetry Monthly International, February 2009 and subsequently in Ygdrasil, a brilliant on-line poetry journal prior to my latest collection the following year; sadly, the former has closed down, but the latter continues and I recommend it to poetry lovesr everywhere:

http://www.synapse.net/kgerken/

This poem is a villanelle.

DEAD POETS WALKING

Bodies call out hopefully
(we turn a deaf ear)
taking a walk by the sea

Images of suffering we see
and cannot bear;
bodies call out hopefully

Ghosts keep us company,
(feed on our fear)
taking a walk by the sea

From the world, no apology
for a single tear;
bodies call out hopefully

Though God seek patiently,
He’ll not find us here,
taking a walk by the sea

Foaming mouths gobble us
as night draws near;
bodies call out hopefully,
taking a walk by the sea

[From: On the Battlefields of Love by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2010]