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.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Handbook for Explorers 26 to 30


You will never be more than half way there.

Though the space in front and the space behind

May seem the same, you'd like to be the hare

And the tortoise; and the prize, you will find,

Is by its nature of no fixed address.

Why else should it attract you, traveller,

Who loves the form and content, not the dress?

Who's drawn to what's ahead and fleeter far

Than you could ever be, a flash of light

Touching the heels of something gone for good,

Whose steps you'll follow just to catch sight

Of where they went into the trembling wood,

Where in brakes of hawthorn, sloe and yew,

The trail ends as it meant to continue.


The opposite of what's true is true, too:

Mirrors may tell you lies, but to lie twice

Can bring up an image you never knew.

So as you get down from a train or bus,

You'll catch sight of yourself in someone's eye,

As you walk toward each other,

You'll wonder who's meeting whom and why,

And whether, when you first set out, you were

Who you are now and who you will be when,

Held in her arms or his, you'll remember

A scent of washed hair, an inflexion

Almost of despair, a low dove-like timbre

That gives you courage to explore again

A tree bright with starlings you'd forgotten.


To start it is less hard than to end it,

No matter who you are, what it may be:

You may escape the strains of gravity;

Then find, once free, you cannot but transmit

Non-stop signals, which (you hope) may inform

People, who just don't want to listen,

Of what is about to happen and when.

You might say you took shelter from a storm

Once, when the air was heavy, moist and warm

And watched, unready to take off, winged ants,

When black sheets of rain rolled up the distance

To engulf the frail shelter and the swarm.

The flood swept on, picked up houses and trees;

So it started and has not ended yet.


Rivers will have burst their banks and flooded

The routes you'll take, snatched houses up and trees,

Showed vanishing landscapes how chaos

Works; and helped you understand why ordered

Worlds connect with something deeper, more wild

Than you had thought possible from the start.

The current is so fast, you'll lose the art

Of equilibrium and, like an abandoned child,

Clutch at passing sticks; turn head-over-heels

And all but drown; until the water teaches

You about the growth of patterns - creases

In time, perhaps the incidence of petals

In a rose; how close the great is to the small;

How hard to tie the knot that grips it all.


Avatars will be ready when you're lost

In a city or a desert, with directions

And advice; they'll know before you ask

Where you are going, though you will not know.

Such certainty may comfort you for years

Till you see your rear light in the mirror;

Don't ask (for they will kill you for your doubt)

How you travelled nowhere with their help.

Instead you'll get your bearings on your own,

Will nod politely, and pass quickly on,

Your step light, no parrot on your shoulder.

And when you sing, you'll sing of the path

Ahead, glad enough to step upon it,

Still eager to find out what is to come.


Anonymous said...

Oh my, I really want this to be a book!

robinstarfish said...

Wonderful works, Joe and Lucy! A symphony!

I smile at the tipping point of #26, to find that this explorer will never be more than halfway there. May that always be true.

Although it's really impossible to choose, the mirror of #27 is the portal I could easily enter to begin an adventure, the place where the compass points in all directions.

Lucy said...

Marja-Leena - you were quick in there, we hadn't even put the signs up on the other blogs! I would like to see it as a book, to see the poems in their proper order, to be able to pick it up, handle it, dip into it etc but I'm not sure how feasible it would be; I wish that machine existed and was available to all where you can just feed in the text and image information and, presto! out pops a book, or as many books as you want.
Robin - I feel quite chastened because, you know, I hadn't noticed the 'half-way there' reference was just at the midway point! The mirror too reflects both ways, too halves... He's a clever so-and-so!
Thanks for coming.

Anonymous said...

It's funny how things turn out. Unintentional significance seems to appear like patterns in chaos theory. I remember when I wrote that, that I wasn't at all certain how many poems there would be in the series. It was more a reflection on travelling and destinations in general. Likewise with the mirrors. Maybe it was all going on in my subconcious. Thank you to everybody for the interest and especially to Lucy for her glorious photographs, which add so much and extend the context so dramatically with fresh images.

Anonymous said...

Oh, with RSS readers, you get instant notice, so no, I wasn't lurking about. If you have some page layout software and skills, you could make it up and print a few copies with a good home printer or a service provider. If you like it, then you might consider something like Lulu to print it and sell on demand. Or get a publisher. I'd love to hold it in my hands!

Joe, I think the new deeper meanings that emerge are
what makes Handbook so powerful, a work of art! So, is this the end? I don't know if there's ever an end to this kind of exploration! Congratulations!!

robinstarfish said...

Lucy - that machine may exist at Their photo book software looks promising, at least for an inexpensive trial run before making a bigger leap.

apprentice said...

Yes something tangible to feel and pick up would be great. As ever lovely matching of pictures and words.

29 is my favourite this time.

meggie said...

More beauty to study, enjoy!

Lucas said...

This is definitely a life force of sound, sense and vision. I agree with all the comments about books and websites, yet we shouldn't forget what a remarkable experience it already is to tune in to this blog as it is.
Words and images do take us on a journey.

Lucas said...

Following on from the intriguing possibility of holding the book in our hands(discussed in these comments), there would be more detail in the photographs when sensitively printed and the poems on the page appear closer.
I've noticed that good quality photo books are cheaper on the shelves and in Amazon than they used to be. Digital imaging techniques perhaps? For example Phaidon do a photography book with 150 pictures for £10.