An Impromptu Reading

hillsofrhodaI was out in the garden at Benmore this morning, helping people write poems when suddenly a woman said she’d finished her poem and in return would I read a few poems to her.  At first I didn’t think she was serious, but the other people hunched in concentration over their poems looked up and said they’d like to listen as well.  So I read a few poems, two of which are below.

I don’t think I’ve ever read aloud to an audience in a more glorious setting. The sun shone, a cuckoo called and the scent of azaleas made the whole atmosphere feel very exotic.

And I’ve rarely had a more appreciative or curious audience. After I’d read we had a lovely discussion about where inspiration comes from… how long poems take to write… if they should rhyme or not… what topics are suitable for poetry… where to find other people interested in poems… favourite pots…

When the group reluctantly dispersed, I sat on the bench by Puck’s Hut and read through what people had written. Their poems kept me so engaged I totally forgot the time. I ended up having to run through the garden to make sure I didn’t keep the people on the Explorer buggy-tour waiting.


I split logs, crumple The Times, read again
how Guantanamo detainees pour water,
let it soak in overnight, use plastic spoons
to scratch enough earth, press in seeds
saved from meals: pepper, cantaloupe, lemon.
It’s old news. My grandfather’s
seven years hard labour became ten,
when gulag guards searched the hut roof,
found three apple pips planted in cans
he’d bartered for bread. I strike a match.

Back in Kharkov, free but coughing blood,
my grandfather grafted, taught me
to heel in tiny saplings, excited
by an orchard of cherries
he’d never taste. He died digging up turnips.
I close the stove, stay crouched
by my weeping grandmother, in the yard
where the tap had burst. For days
she wouldn’t speak, just carved the ice
into a frieze of sunflowers and life-size trees.

 Sue Butler


I’m using the dibber my grandfather carved
from the branch of an oak felled by lightning, spring 1942. He survived
Stalingrad to plant again; I have his Schwarzwald eyes.
There’s no one to follow.
I’m dropping in seed potatoes,
thirty centimetres apart.
When leaves appear, hands of the dead
trying to escape, I’ll work until my back aches,
banking up loamy, worm-filled waves. Again
hands will claw their way free, people drowning
in a stylised sea. For every hole I make
I try to name another.

Spy. Priest’s. Black. Holes in hearts that need
an operation, holes in walls
where lovers meet, pot holes, desert-fox holes,
toad-in-the-hole, holes in cheese, mouse holes
in the skirting and Cornwall. Woodworm.
Crude holes, rude holes, coal, port,
plug. Punctures. Holes in pension funds
and the defendant’s alibi. Loop. Deep. Bolt.
Key. Moth. Man. In one and drinks all round.
High up in the ozone layer, getting bigger,
bigger. Holes by which Inuit kneel,
narwhales spouting blood. Holes gouged
by an iceberg, the sinking front page news. The hole

through which the sniper must have followed
your Groucho Marx,
zigzag run, potatoes in a sack,
almost home. The hole
behind your left ear, I kept touching to be certain.

Sue Butler


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