The Chained Swan Beyond Watersmeet there’s a chained swan. Above the thundering river, dipper-dipped, heron-pierced, grey-wagtail flittered, boulder-bounding down from Watersmeet, an oasis of cream-teas at the fishing lodge, yes, way above that densely oaked ravine there’s a crowned swan in chains. Beyond the pied flycatchers, flitting from the oaks to stab the air on invisible strings, the birches thin to a rising meadow where crows congregate at cowpats and a path, cresting the buzzard-cruised meadow, descending to a dell and a church, leads to an angry swan biting her chains. Beyond the isolated church of Countisbury the coastal path drops from Butter Hill, high above the sea, balancing through bracken, airy, loose and steep, towards the Lyn’s mouth. Raven calls black-flap below. But from that church echo the distressed cries from a medieval bench-end of a swan chained to the crown slipped down her neck.
The Singing Bus for Clifden Community School, Connemara passes the rising tide on its port side along the rounding shore road, whistling the otter’s lament, bowing the strings of yellow kelp, plucking at pink crayfish, sounding the base of the turf, its dark storied heat of hearts and tears at the hearth, beating always with flying feet the bounce beating back against rain, those ever changing clouds that do not know how to end their raindance the way school ends, a lesson ends, a journey ends in the singing bus until tomorrow’s new sharing session in the old bus of airs and songs of cart roads, drove roads, sea roads, songlines.
Relics From My Father’s Greenhouse Wood tamped earth flat over seeds secure in their pencil holes, gently watered by a can from the rain-butt: flat wood, cracked along its grains like old skin, as though eaten by sea, has been screwed to new wood for holding like a reduced board-rubber. Stone broke earth for replanting: sea-shaped stone for my father’s fingers to fold around for his potting-on after the pricking-out of plants rooted in holes from this dull pebble, its pointed end whitened by fertilizer’s good wishes. We’d joked that clearing his shed of a lifetime of piled rusting objects would be our grieving nightmare, but my sister paid to pre-empt our pain. From his greenhouse I have only his two Neolithic tools, of aching wood and that carefully selected cold stone.
How I write – by Terry Gifford
My notebook is essential. It’s hardback, pocket-sized and covered in waterproof tackyback because I write outdoors in it.
I’m a great believer in rewriting and rewriting to find the poem’s form. I try out my work-in-progress at a monthly workshop with fellow poets and I’m hugely grateful for their responses.
Every landscape, every flower, every tree, bird and animal are threatened in some way and climate breakdown and my own culpability are always at the back of my mind. My poetry needs to address this if it is to be more than personal therapy. I try to hint in an indirect, undidactic, way. I believe that the slow drips of poems can make something happen, accumulatively, communally, in the dialogue between writers and readers.
Terry Gifford has published eight collections of poetry and is author/editor of seven books about Ted Hughes. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. He is Visiting Research Fellow in Environmental Humanities at Bath Spa University, UK, and Profesor Honorifico at the Universidad de Alicante, Spain. His most recent book is D. H. Lawrence, Ecofeminism and Nature. See terrygifford.co.uk.
Poems © Terry Gifford, 2023.