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Between The Lines - Past Poems

Between the Lines Poetry Archive

Take another look at Poems we previously featured.

The words above are by Poet Lemn Sissay, They sum up perfectly why this section is called "One day at a time". We love the poems we have already shared, but if you think there is a poem we should include we'd love to hear it. Please send us your suggestions and tell us why they mean so much to you, you might even want to record yourself reading one.



R.S. Thomas is considered one of the leading modern Welsh poets, although his style has been compared with the country's harsh and rugged terrain. Thomas stated he sought to demonstrate man's spirituality in his poetry, he was a Christian priest who often experienced God more as absence than as presence, but longed for assurance.  Louis Sasso wrote of him "Thomas's poems are sturdy, worldly creations filled with compassion, love, doubt and irony. They make one feel joy in being part of the human raise."


In Threshold he couldn’t have imagined the coronavirus pandemic we are living through today, and yet his words (which, okay, refer to bacteria) seem very much ‘of the moment’.  How very poignant the longing for ‘reciprocating touch’ has become! How would it feel to write down your own experience during this time – perhaps especially about being ‘in’ or ‘out’ of touch? See what you think?
 
 
Threshold          By R. S. Thomas


I emerge from the mind’s
cave into the worse darkness
outside, where things pass and
the Lord is in none of them.
I have heard the still, small voice
and it was that of the bacteria
demolishing my cosmos. I
have lingered too long on
this threshold, but where can I go?
To look back is to lose the soul
I was leading upwards towards
the light. To look forward? Ah,
what balance is needed at
the edges of such an abyss.
I am alone on the surface
of a turning planet. What
to do but, like Michelangelo’s
Adam, put my hand
out into unknown space,
hoping for the reciprocating touch?


This week's poem feels like a response to the events of 2020.  It offers us all an invitation to look within, but also recognise each other, as we find our way through these times together.


(Painting: Brave Soup by Matthew Dibble)


Invitation to Brave Space   
by Micky Scottbey-Jones (published in Little Spaces of Hope)

Together we will create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space”
We exist in the real world.
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love.
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be.
But
It will be our brave space together,
and
We will work on it side by side.


This week's poem we shared in a recent live Mindfulness session.  It chimes with a quote by the CEO in an article a few weeks ago: “In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”   Pablo Neruda's poem gives us pause to reflect on what we might find in the silence, if we all just stopped "doing" for a moment and noticed what it feels like simply to be living.







Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about...
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still
for once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for a second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would not look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about...
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with
death.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.

This week we are sharing Dr Maya Angelou reading her own powerful poem - "The Mask."



“The Mask,” - Maya Angelou

We wear the mask that grins and lies.
It shades our cheeks and hides our eyes.
This debt we pay to human guile
With torn and bleeding hearts…
We smile and mouth the myriad subtleties.
Why should the world think otherwise
In counting all our tears and sighs.
Nay let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile but oh my God
Our tears to thee from tortured souls arise
And we sing Oh Baby doll, now we sing…
The clay is vile beneath our feet
And long the mile
But let the world think otherwise.
We wear the mask.

When I think about myself
I almost laugh myself to death.
My life has been one great big joke!
A dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke.
I laugh so hard HA! HA! I almos’ choke
When I think about myself.

Seventy years in these folks’ world
The child I works for calls me girl
I say “HA! HA! HA! Yes ma’am!”
For workin’s sake
I’m too proud to bend and
Too poor to break
So…I laugh! Until my stomach ache
When I think about myself.
My folks can make me split my side
I laugh so hard, HA! HA! I nearly died
The tales they tell sound just like lying
They grow the fruit but eat the rind.
Hmm huh! I laugh uhuh huh huh…
Until I start to cry when I think about myself
And my folks and the children.

My fathers sit on benches,
Their flesh count every plank,
The slats leave dents of darkness
Deep in their withered flank.
And they gnarled like broken candles,
All waxed and burned profound.
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

There in those pleated faces
I see the auction block
The chains and slavery’s coffles
The whip and lash and stock.

My fathers speak in voices
That shred my fact and sound
They say, but sugar, it was our submission
that made your world go round.

They laugh to conceal their crying,
They shuffle through their dreams
They stepped ’n fetched a country
And wrote the blues in screams.
I understand their meaning,
It could an did derive
From living on the edge of death
They kept my race alive
By wearing the mask! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!

This powerful poem was written to honour a specific woman of colour, and serves to give insight into the painful experience of many. Giving us pause to consider how some people have to hide their pain and struggle to protect themselves from judgement and preserve their dignity in the face of cruelty. It also leaves me thinking about the masks we all wear from time to time; the emotions we hide from others; pain, sadness, distress. Do we do this to protect others or to protect ourselves? Are there times in your life when you have worn a mask?

Here is the original poem Maya refers to in her version.

We Wear the Mask By Paul Laurence Dunbar

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!



There are times we all wake in the night, anxious, afraid.  Where do you go, either for real, or in your imagination, to calm yourself and find perspective? Can you picture that special place now? It may be outside, or it may be a room, or even something like an old rocking chair. Go there now to find peace.


The Peace of Wild Things      by Wendell Berry
 
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

 

 

 

 

How would you describe the process of ageing?– and how would you ideally like it to be?  Below are the responses of two different poets as they ponder how they want to age.  Of course, life rarely delivers what we envisioned, but Sea Glass certainly suggests that the bumps along the way are that will smooth and create that final well worn soul.




Sea Glass by Bernadette Noll

I want to age like sea glass.
Smoothed by tides
but not broken.
I want my hard edges to soften.
I want to ride the waves
and go with the flow.
I want to catch a wave
and let it carry me
to where I belong.
I want to be picked up
and held gently by
those who delight in my
well-earned patina and
appreciate the changes I went
through to achieve the beauty.
I want to enjoy the journey
and always remember that if
you give the ocean something
breakable it will turn it into
something beautiful.
I want to age like sea glass.




Here's another well known poem about aging, Is this more you?


Warning by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.