Category Archives: Paintings

To Jocelyn – Nine Months On

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Last week I posted a poem sequence inspired by the paintings of Jocelyn Merivale. This week I’m posting an elegaic poem written by her husband and our family friend, John.

To Jocelyn – Nine Months On

You did not need Domperidone
You were not sick, you would not die
You had an illness of your own
Those unused boxes piled up high

Along with other made-up names
Two milligrammes Loperamide
You didn’t want them. Surely they
Were meant for someone else who died

Please Jocelyn look, for by the way
I cleared the medicine shelves today

The fiercer stuff you suffered plenty
Xelox with Capecitabine
Your bid for ten, fifteen, or twenty
Blissful years that might have been

Cetuximab and Folfiri
The smartest fix that science could give
Such groundless etymologies
Colluded with your will to live

Please Jocelyn look, for as I say
I cleared our medicine shelves today

Remind me, what’s this ointment for
No matter – too late now to ask them
Your hands, your feet, your skin, your hair
Good doctor, dona nobis pacem

What did this cost the NHS?
We stood in line, we took the dope
Marvelled at their treasure chest
Bright cardboard packages of hope

Please Jocelyn look, please look this way
For I cleared those medicine shelves today.

JM  –  June 2015

Every Bird is Singing

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A while back, whilst posting about the influence of painting on my poetry, I mentioned the artist Jocelyn Merivale who died two years ago, far too young.

Below is a sequence of short poems I wrote after visiting an exhibition of Jocelyn’s held at her home in Merton. I’ve included a few photos of her paintings, although I’m afraid they’re not the exact same ones that inspired the poems – but they give a good flavour of her talent. I would put all her paintings up here, they’re fabulous.

And a small point of clarification – these titles and sub-titles are my own, not those of the paintings.

Every Bird is Singing

I watch the painting
with its thousand yellow birds
all edged in black

and only some time later notice
that all their beaks are open,

that every bird
is singing –

fieldbirds

Green Ghost Girl at No. 9

Who is this green limned girl
stood at No. 9’s red door?

Won’t they let her in? Are there
bundles of garlic
splashes of holy water
sprigs of wolfsbane round the frame?

Does some sudden memory
paralyse the will of the dead?

Or perhaps she rehearses her performance,
how with just the right moment and angle
she might make forever good her intent,

push her teetering target
over the edge
of a measureless chasm of fear.

Or maybe she just doesn’t have the power
to walk through.

After all there is only so much
the dead can do.

lighthouse

The Sea

is everywhere. We are made to think
of our edges, our rocks and shingle beaches
bee-sting Victorian lighthouses –
of hulls on tossed waters
whose fate is to break.

But the sea is also amongst us
dull green with algae host
sitting, seeping around buildings –

an urge to circumscription
we can entertain, or not.

venice

*

– This is my favourite
he tells me, it reminds me
of the girl I fell in love with.

A beautiful, everything girl
full of treetop song –

with splashes of red
falling down gold beside her

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*

And, found behind the portrait of the baby,
a mental hospital, rain, billowing trees
in iron-dark grey

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To see more of Jocelyn’s work, visit her website here.

Next week I will post a beautiful elegaic poem by Jocelyn’s husband, John.

St George and the Dragon

Looking At It Now
– Saint George and the Dragon, Paolo Uccello, 1460. National Gallery

Knight, you’ve hit your target
wounded the beast, unruly child, diseased id
with your long, straight, storm-driven pole.
Brow forward, on prancing stead,
your deed is done –

the translucent lipless Princess saved.

But look how she’s joined in,
used her girdle to leash the beast
and thwart its fun –

in those Rottweiler eyes
you can see
the final froth of madness
as the horizon recedes –

claws dig into neat turf
wings splay diminished targets
as the poor-dog beast succumbs
between the armoured Nazi Knight
and his Ice Maiden, Nazi wife.

 

Self Portrait

This poem was inspired by a Van Gogh self-portrait. I’ve always found looking at paintings a great source of inspiration for writing poems. I’ll post a few more poems from paintings in weeks to come, including some based on work by the only painter I’ve ever known, Jocelyn Merivale.

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Jocelyn died a year ago, far too young, but she made a big impression on me. As well as being a great artist and a fabulous host, she was also a teacher, and one night she gave me some significant advice on writing for teenagers. Not too dark, she told me, there has to be hope.

A message she embodied throughout her generous and inspirational life.

She was also a big fan of Van Gogh.

Self Portrait

His face is alive with stitching,
and all the colours under the sun.
Like a wheat field scored by a gusting wind,
or a closing pride of unseen predators.
And from somewhere in the field –
white and green.

The face a ginger cat-monster’s face,
a knitting of beauty and beast.
The stitched lips unable to utter
something in the mind made true.
And leaping from the apparition’s glare –
grey and blue.

Or the face that of a crash victim,
weak flesh mended by a Frankenstein –
the blood still congealed,
the beard red, from the knife’s touch.
And somewhere on the ear, near the top –
a little more red.

From his face he’s made his own straw doll,
set it in motion on the canvas
with a thousand frenzied strokes.
So now it’s alive, alive with stitches,
a witch’s doll, and he’s pierced it
with those smooth, colourless eyes.

 

Self Portrait first appeared in Staple no.48