Paul Sutherland: Poet and Pilgrim

Paul Sutherland is a  Canadian-British poet who has lived in the UK. since 1973. He has published  eleven collections of his own poetry and edited several others.  The founding editor of Dream Catcher, a popular international poetry journal which is now in its 35th issue, Paul runs creative writing workshops, seminars and writers’ retreats. Since 2004 he has been a Sufi Muslim, a factor of crucial importance to any assessment of his work.  Notable collections of his poetry have been: Seven Earth Odes (End Papers, 2004), Spires and Minarets (Sunk Island Publishing), Journeying (Valley Press 2012), Poems on the Life of the Prophet Muhammad (Muslim Academic Trust,. 2014) and  A Sufi Novice in Shaykh Efendi’s Realm (Dream Catcher, 2015).  His New and Selected Poems (Valley Press, 2017), taken from 45 years of his writing has been desc ribed as ‘ an unflinching and forensic exploration of a life through language.’ It was listed by PBS for winter 2017 and selected as a choice for The Morning Stars’ books of 2017. It is also  reviewed in the current issue of The High WindowAmoretti,   a collection of  his love poems, has just been published by Dempsey and Windle.

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You can read here a conversation between Paul and Monica Manolachi.

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Paul Sutherland: Six Poems from New & Selected Poems

THINKING OF MY FATHER AT MONTE CASSINO, 1944

As if I was a child who only knew a father by a grave
as though a mother who only knew birth by a sonogram
your hazy words speak to me of the enormities of war.

I have fingered the battle-site on the ordinances of Italy
and scratched the write-ups, noting the counted dead,
have dwelt on your survival and the echoes of victory

that sound more faint with each year’s eclipse. It’s not
as metaphor or statistic, I can imagine you, but only as flesh
clenching steel, the Ack Ack’s jolt when a shell was fired,

your hands drooping when you mourned a comrade soul’s
release, but mostly your rising hatred towards the enemy
as if that was the only way back to loved ones and peace.

LEAVING CANADA

The thirties’ high-speed locomotive, in stone
relief, headlines the C.N.R. station, now trackless,
where the city slopes towards its long-discoloured bay
where, rucksack and a case underarm, I left my home –
mum and my puffy-eyed grandma seeing me off.
We must’ve taken a twilight cab as none of us drove,
neither of them anticipating I might never return.

In semidarkness, we waited on the hardest bench
my escorts’ hands folded in mine soft as a pudding
with their spring-scented wrists and lipstick smiles.
The Atlantic-bound was late. After months and years
of planning, for a moment, it seemed I might not leave.
Then a gust of air whistled; couplings flexed into place:
from the pull-down window waved a wave I can’t retract.

A BAY VIEW ON ROWNTREE PARK

A windless dawn. Wood pigeons coo,
a walker slides through the philanthropist’s
garden – his reflection’s dim where an ice
film fails to uphold preening mallards.
A grey squirrel takes in bare branches
leaping from dangled teenage limbs ─
sycamore to flowering cherry to oak.
What could’ve propelled the dawn’s
passing screen of eastward mist?

The sun, behind its cold look,
with no ruby fingers extended,
now engulfs my jaded writing desk.
Soon the glow will shave the frost
from child-dedicated lawns and trails.
Already the deep yellow crocus wrestle
from my window-box. To the north
along a shingled dovecote’s gable
familiar white wings stay perched.
What could’ve propelled the dawn’s
passing screen of eastward mist?

I remove specs to rub away night,
watch branches reform to mesh.
At my slumped side, tight-lips
of star-gazers bend to the light;
their opening days in the future.
A robin’s lilt pierces the closed bay.
And my tired legs absorb the chill
that penetrates this Victorian house…
And what could’ve propelled dawn’s
passing screen of eastward mist?

THE OLD BOER WAR MONUMENT

Standing at ease in storm-weathered granite
eight soldiers keep an un-war-like-watch
on the civilian crowds that hurry across
Duncombe Place. In this season, under
the varied uniform stone combatants,
some of the open green lies fenced off
to make a small plot to hold small white
crosses dug-in and loosely regimented
with an emblematic poppy of Flanders
black-crimson pinned at the centre of each.
Each hour the cordoned ground expands
to receive more and more bereavements
of every nation that has, with bowed head,
soft-footedly approached on this November day.

1969

Two youths, strangers on a campsite,
one Canadian, the other American,
shoot a NFL football back & forth
among shoreline pines of Michigan.
Brown polished spirals shattering
passive green. Ducking, faking we
run patterns pro-style, knife-precise
catching one toss at the boot straps,
even full stretch a juggling one-hander,
until every limb aching we crash down
on a spare picnic table’s bench to chat.
‘What’ y’ doin’ after summer?’ I ask.
— I’m going to Vietnam. And you?

THE HEIRLOOM

Today, as if from reverie, my aged mum
revealed a first edition of Alice’s Adventures
in Wonderland, that she had used through
her only-child childhood as a colouring book —
its first plates liberated from the binding,
its cloth cover torn to its rudimentary heart
in places, and its maroon surface blistered.
In yellows, blacks and browns or red dashes
she’d crayoned over fine-pen border designs
portraying Charles Pearl’s Edwardian Alice
in purple, by the Fish Footman, a blue swiggle.

A 1910 edition, bought, when she’d reached
four or five or six, second-hand, by her father
now squeezes in between unscarred hard backs.
Amazed, she excites that the book’s survived
through decades and recurrent chucking outs:
auctions and flea markets, including her own,
had outlasted her desire for revenge against
her long deceased dad for the valued objects
he gave her; then affectionately teased back
realising he’d earn a good price for the thing,
money for her needs along with lapsed promises.

Poor Alice bears her defacing, mis-colouring,
without reproach, but with an absurd knowing —
the naivety that mum’s dad loved and hoped
his one child, into womanhood, would pursue
adopt unreason and awe against logic’s court
the way he gazed yearningly at a tree’s shimmer
for no cause, an artist gaze that craved nothing.
Or what did he desire against his impermanence?
Time-marred, colour scored pages: his daughter
beyond some dealers’ estimating, scribbled her
annotations for the next keen reader to decipher.

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