Questions is a collaboration by Lucy Kempton and Joe Hyam. Poems are based on questions drawn from an agreed starting question and formed by answers, which contain and inspire the next questions. In response to Lucy's first question, Joe kicks off. This follows our earlier work in Compasses, archived here, where Lucy's photographs illustrate Joe's series of 50 sonnets under the title Handbook for Explorers.

Sunday 24 June 2007

Handbook for Explorers 6 to 10


It's difficult to explain who you are,

To explain the people and the stories

That made you leave home and impelled you where,

In these far, intractable territories,

With no warning, a stranger's eyes decide

To let you in deeper to discover,

Where blinding spotlights swing and trace inside,

The trail of questions asked over and over

Again: how and why are you here with us?

It was so long ago that you set out,

That you'll not know, lover or incubus,

How you stand, whether to whisper or shout

That you had, in a probing, brief embrace,

Found love's secret; then lost it without trace.


You've travelled far, and heard wild parrots call;

Lived among people who shoot monkeys down

From trees, their darts smeared with poison,

Who hear, a mile away, the least footfall.

You've made signs of peace, risked their angry spears,

And danced and drunk, with them, fermented juice;

Repeated words that set your dull brain loose,

Shared rhythms of a hundred thousand years.

But now, your diaries destroyed by damp,

You'll wonder if your journey had a reason,

If you remember what year or season

You left behind; if it's time to decamp

Again, to get back to your starting place;

Although it will, by now, be somewhere else.


Here, there'll surely be a fresh obstacle:

A beckoning mountain face, bleak and sheer

That will leave you no option but a frontal

Assault; and the need both to be there

And to have climbed it, and find a place to love

Beyond it, where beans and potatoes grow,

Such as all fucked up explorers dream of,

But which few of them will ever know.

For you there is no choice; you must move on,

Over mountains and through clouds, with just one

Consolation: everything you've known

Or possessed (when, warmed by the rising sun,

You step lightly upon your chosen track)

Is either in your head or on your back.


Each foot's a mile, each minute's a day;

In each harsh breath you feel and hear shingle

Heaving up the shore; at each crest you stay

A while, look back to see nothing at all

But mist close in around you, like a valve

You've come through; each crest a peak, peak a crest

Above it. And above that the sky's black cave

Spewing from its mouth long skeins of mist.

Best not to think much about getting there

Just to keep climbing, your mind empty,

Expecting no reward but the joy and rush of fear

As you get closer to the ever widening sky.

Then at the true summit, you stop at last

Lost in the clouds till, curtains drawn apart,

You see, as though in the future of the past,

A glimpse of light and somewhere else to start.


Getting lost's the better part of getting there;

The other half's not knowing where you were

At first; or what you may discover -

God's word, or a herb that'll provide a cure

For broken bones or dislocated minds -

As darkness wraps up the mountain face

Where you flounder, and contrary winds

Give loose advice; and confused, you tread space

And falling, wonder how long until

You land;

... find, not oblivion but snow

To cushion you, and then guess you're still

Alive in a dead world of ice and rock,

At whose heart lurk new secrets to unlock.


apprentice said...

Again a fantastic sequence of words and picture. I particularly like 7 it has a wonderful timelessness to it.

herhimnbryn said...

Coffee gone cold, had to read all twice. Thankyou both.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely spellbinding work, both!

Lucas said...

This is a new chapter in blogging. Poems and photographs go to a new level, which comes alove on screen.

Lucas said...

which comes alive on screen

Lucy said...

I feel when I say thanks from both of us as though I am rather arrogating the credit etc,which more than equally belongs to Joe.
However, he is modest and retiring as a collaborator, and if I don't say it for him he probably won't say it for himself!
So thanks.
Lucas, I rather liked 'alove'!

meggie said...

My words fail me, to express how much pleasure I get from these words, & these pictures.

Lucy said...

Thank you Meggie, I'm very glad.

Unknown said...

Thank you Lucy and thank you everyone for your comments. It is so good to be read and appreciated in such company.

Jan said...

Are you thinking of publishing these as a book?
You are both very talented people...