the walking stick

the stick is walking around the garden
slowly and with uncertainty, yet

touching and turning and flicking leaves,
falling once, then leaning down to collect

a birch leaf and take back indoors as
evidence of having perambulated, the tip

dampened by a poking in dew on grass
and the rest from its brief recumbency

The Revelation of ‘sweethearts’ by Emmett Williams

e w s

I have recently discovered the full/er story of Emmett Williams’ concrete poem/narrative sweethearts, this after nearly 40 years of ‘knowing’ it as something quite different.

In the early 80s and at the beginnings of my English teaching career, I would introduce concrete poetry to students for reading enjoyment and their own creative writing. My models at that time were work by Edwin Morgan, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Eugen Gomringer, Ernst Jandl (the amazing Erschaffung der Eva), Claus Bremer, and Reinhard Döhl with the wonderful Aphel.

1 cp2 cp

These writers and examples of their concrete poems were from an anthology – a print book – and I essentially knew just the ones provided for illustration, unable as we are today to explore widey online. Of course, I might have done more of this over the years than is the case, but I did so to some degree, and have more recently downloaded/collected a greater range – those familiars as well as new – and I am currently reading Concrete Poetry edited by Nancy Perloff: another print copy, but a fulsome history to hand.

c p

I compiled my own booklet in the early 80s containing many of the above poems mentioned as well as others, and along with Emmett Williams’ superb like attracts like,

like attracts

I included his sweethearts poem which at the time was comprised of the 5 pages I had. Thinking this the complete version, I presented it as a concrete poem narrative telling the story of sweethearts who have a fight and break up: quite an acceptable interpretation on my evidence, and certainly able to illustrate how the ‘grid’ formula of this concrete poem can work from simple to expansive. Here are the 5 pieces I had:

1sweethearts2 seethe3 see stars4 stars5 war starts

I only last week learned that sweethearts was published as a book of 226 pages in 1968; this in fact 138 pages of the actual sequence of concrete poems (I’m guessing – see link below – but this could still be an ongoing error), ‘starting’ with the single line sweethearts, and read from back to front where this singular line is, or in any formation the reader chooses: I like the full page/grid of sweethearts from which the rest is composed by erasures as its beginning. As it turns out, the complete text is a gloriously and at times explicit erotic poem, so my ‘version’ was acceptable for classroom use!

You can read online here.

‘From Fibs to Fractals. Exploring mathematical forms in poetry’ by Marian Christie – Beir Bua Press


In 1969 I gained a Grade 4 CSE in Maths – this, so I was told at the time, the average attainment for a 16-year-old, though in reality it was the average in the lesser tier that wasn’t an ‘O’ level (GCE), the qualification required for college and many jobs. Some years later, in gaining my teaching qualification, I also acquired the compulsory GCE maths ‘equivalent’, this having taken a multiple-choice test where, as an example, solving the quadratic equation question containing letters x and y was a cinch when only one of the 4 possible solutions contained these…

I have considered the above a full disclosure before writing this review.

Thankfully, Marian Christie’s book is a consummate lesson in explanation, clarity, illustration and considerable engagement – and thus wonderfully accessible to me regardless of previous aptitudes. That she has Masters Degrees in both Mathematics and Creative Writing informs the content, but one immediately realises it is her lifelong interests and experiences in both areas that conveys its deep understanding.

I’ll write about the book’s beginnings as a flavour of all it contains, my further reading a pleasing anticipation. The Introduction informs and persuades on the interconnectivity of mathematics and poetic skills – how the poet uses the former in writing, for example, a villanelle, and how the mathematician uses the latter in, for example, seeking ‘elegance of expression and clarity in lay out’. Some historical reference and illustration consolidate the facts and then agenda for the book.

We are quickly convinced of how these linked aspects are realised in ‘Fib poems’ – this the perfectly simple point at which I began to understand a seemingly more complex presentation of Fibonacci Poems in the first chapter. What Christie then moves on to demonstrate are the variations and alternatives there are in using and developing a Fibonacci sequence – how poets/writers are not necessarily constrained by an initial definition (though there is constraint inherently in the formula).

The second chapter Square Poems introduces the SATOR square – new to me – and its origins are both fascinating and meaningful in the ‘elegant ingenuity’ it presents for storytelling and the writer. It is important to stress how the effectiveness of this book is in its explanation and celebration of mathematical forms linked so quickly and engagingly to examples of their use in poetry. I was personally hooked with the first illustration by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson – pen name Lewis Carroll – because I have recently been appropriating his writings in Symbolic Logic for some of my found, experimental poetry.

Christie demonstrates how the square form can be seen in the 1597 poem by Henry Lok ‘in honour of Queen Elizabeth I’ – a compelling example of its intricate patterning – 10 lines, each containing 10 single-syllable words – and how it can be read in a variety of ways: the reader able to share in generating the experimentation. And as Christie says, ‘Clearly, experimental poetry was alive and well in Elizabethan times!’

Further examples of this technique/formatting are then shown in concrete and visual poetry with Bob Cobbing’s Square Poem. My use of teaching and writing square poems (or as I thought of them, grid poems) were influenced by work from Edwin Morgan, and it is a genuine learning curve to see its origins and broad uses over time so brilliantly presented here.

Only last week I wrote of how my ignorance continues to amaze me, this in discovering that my lifelong knowing of Emmett William’s poem Sweethearts at five pages (all I had ever seen, and used in my teaching) is actually a whole book of 226 pages! Seeking to rectify this wasn’t my prompt in getting Marian Christie’s book – rather its fascinating focus on maths in/and poetry – but it has so far proved as educational as it is appealing. I am so looking forward to reading the chapter Reflection Symmetry.

Further details and to purchase, go here.

When You Dream the Eclectic Sleep

iPhones and elves do – so they say –
although it is a marketing tool

for finding words and phrases
to construct the unusual.

Where sorrow and regret are vivid emotions,
what’s dreamt functions only as awareness –

seeing dolphins as lucid swimmers
brings transient joy, and then there is all that

falling and falling and falling. Oh, rock your
babes to sleep / oh, rock your babes to sleep

for vigilant dreams as your musings.
In the Dreamland Adventure Encore

you’ll hear again how what went before
was the initial selection of inspiration

behind those bedroom doors: birds that fly
in the room arrived by their own journey.

Finding Halloween Footsteps

(image by artist and photographer Nick Dormand)

Either arrived
from its mess and hurried away, or sauntered
to this eviscerated demise,

so the signs on that
end-of-October beach – DO NOT WALK HERE TODAY –
were ignored in a dark reverie:

oh festivity / oh
appropriation – is Christmas too long a wait?
Autumn is the Fall as well,

and if climate
can change, so too this celebration
of deaths.

(A beachcomber
was carrying a pumpkin until it exploded,