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.

Tuesday 31 July 2007

Handbook for Explorers 21 to 25


You'll need no calendar on the way:

Every season's indifferent to its myth

And can't respond to acts of faith

That try to keep flood, famine, drought at bay.

The earth's upset and is out of kilter

With the sun and moon; it's no use to ask

What's the time, or complete a simple task

Within a period you can't measure.

And if you want to know what year it is,

The reckoning varies with who was born

And when, and who you choose to love or scorn.

Now the compass needles spin, as sages

Say they will; you must play dice to get through,

And chance alone will keep you steering true.


You must learn, when it's time to move on,

To leave no trace of your brief stay, no ash,

Charred wood, husk of nut, animal bone;

Let no cough escape, twig snap, no light flash.

An explorer, not one to be explored,

You'll not be prey that hunters can pursue,

Nor move, watched every square across the board,

A pawn, which knows how little it can do.

Unless you act to exercise restraint

You'll be treated as a coloniser

After wealth, by those who never learnt

The art of peace nor yet the art of war.

Better that they should look about and say:

It's clear no one's been here today.


Every explorer seems an intruder

To be accused of espionage

And found, when crossing a border,

To have maps or field glasses in his charge.

A fear of strangers is a common state

Of people threatened by their own self-doubt;

So better to know what drug or opiate

They relax with or choose to knock them out.

Perhaps you'll become friends and swap clich├ęs

Across a table, mingle politics

With sentiment; and think of ways

To ease the trade in sly half truths and tricks,

To find your way across a hostile land

With words its government will understand.


When you return to maps and grubby texts

To find out where you've been and aim to go,

You'll see that stains of damp and smudged insects

Have obscured the routes you used to follow,

And made a cypher of the way ahead:

Continents have appeared among the stains
And words, not yet written down or said,
Crushed by tectonic plates, drowned by oceans.

There is too much art and literature.

That mouldy smell says, hit the road again.

If there are messages encrypted there

Or piles of smoke stacked against the sun,

No matter: it's time to pull on your boots,

Walk free; you're not a tree and need no roots.


It's best, when hard-pressed, always to go slow,

Sharpen your knife with care, know where to stop,

Just where to cut, and where the buds will grow;

There is no hurry in the rising sap.

And you need not hurry to get somewhere,

(Whatever your strategy or the lack of it)

Which is just a step on a moving stair,

Past which fleeting images fit,

Or not, templates of what you most desire.

Slowly raise your wineglass to your lips

As though nothing else mattered; slowly light

A cigarette; slowly place your footsteps

In the uneasy maze of wrong and right.

Though you walk just from A to B, you'll see

The whole alphabet spread out like a tree


Anonymous said...

Fantastic, again! The black and white photos are very intriguing; I love the photos in 24 the most and even the words! I must go back to the beginning and read it all over again. Thank you both for your memorable work!

robinstarfish said...

The movement from stark black and white to rich color, both in the photographs and prose, is sublime. Poetry in motion!

Lucas said...

It is wonderful how the photo-text and the word text work together. I like the way images from nature become metaphor. Looks great on my screen.

apprentice said...

This is the best sequence yet I think.

I like the first three photographs very much. Andthe words are full of wisdom, like a new Disederata.

meggie said...