Posts Tagged 'Islington Green'

forty-two: Michael Bartholomew-Biggs, Tell it Like it Might Be

Over the last six months or so I’ve been getting to know Mike and his wife, Nancy (and it was they who introduced me to both Mimi Khalvati and Alice Major), so it was a real treat to go to the launch party of Mike’s latest collection Tell it Like it Might Be a couple of weeks ago. It was certainly more fun than any other book launch I’ve been to; for a start, it was held at the beautiful Little Angel Theatrein Islington, which I hadn’t come across before, and we were entertained by a fantastic magician, Jonathan Dolling.

I really savoured this collection. I find Mike’s tone very measured and precise, which I love in poetry, while at the same time hinting at a certain expansiveness that, in some of my favourite pieces, brimmed over into celebration. ‘Islington Green’, for example, with its ‘little promised lands’, and the ‘fresh-picked self-respect’ of ‘Tenacious Sugarbush’ testify to the survival of little, hidden things and their flourishing against the odds. The hope that this might be so in the bodies of those we love is almost agonisingly expressed in ‘Out of Reach’ and also ‘Aviary in Dulwich Park’, which describes waiting for a child in hospital:

We snatch at straws
to weave and moss with optimism
cushioning our fledgling hopes.
Bright flowers advertise survival
and the chattering of finches
sounds like the repetition of small prayers.

And there are some scathing political pieces, too, most notably ‘Cover-up’. The notes explain that

In February 2003 the reproduction of Picasso’s painting Guernica at the UN headquarters in New York was curtained over during press briefings which followed Security Council debates on Iraq.

Other favourites were ‘The Otters Greet St Cuthbert’, ‘Stained Glass in Tudeley Church’, ‘Jairus’ and ‘Voice’. This is ‘Islington Green’:

Unlike Lincoln,
this borough does not qualify a colour
for making up heroic doublets.

A passer-through
sees patchy tarmac, sooty bricks. Graffiti
daubs the church and round its porch

religious pigeons
peck second-hand confetti; but the steeple
would scarcely have to crane its neck

to get a sight
of honeysuckle camouflaging walls
and shrubs bunched plump in sunny corners.

Ivy claims
the drainpipes, brambles clamber over fences
and nettles, if there’s nothing else,

make up the numbers
when leaves applaud the rain. Sometimes ducks
occur in unexpected places.

yet filled with little promised lands: this parish
fashions parables with offshoots

of the tree
whose roots and stems assert themselves the same
in Eden and Gethsemane.

I love the picture of leaves applauding the rain – just brilliant. Apologies for such a late post, and consequently a short one!

Tell it Like it Might Be, Michael Bartholomew-Biggs (Smokestack Books, 2008)