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 23 September 2007

Handbook for Explorers 36 to 40


For lack of companions you will talk

To yourself; ask how a thought started -

With needs or words? Which was the first to stalk

The other?

Lonely in this search you'll tread

Paths, which go where you can't predict,

Where crowds thump out slogan after slogan

In squares where the same posters are stacked

Sky high, and flash and flicker in the brain

Images of horror and suspicion;

Where you hear your own voice on the phone

Attempt to find out when you might be free;

Where you'll see advace towards you someone

You thought you knew, and look again to see

That it's you, in a mirror, moving on.


You will say, in the middle of a city,

One day, among friends you've not met for years,

"The best part is always what you don't see -

The imagined, the hoped for, the missed chances."

Like the moment long ago when you heard

Someone sing, in a room across the street,

A song you didn't know, and wondered

Who the singer was, and why you could not greet

Her when you saw her face at the window.

Worst is a nightmare, never yet explained,

That travel has only caused to grow -

A roulette wheel, from which you cannot descend,

Where, like a silver ball, you bounce and spin,

Never to settle, neither out nor in.


You may tell your story when there's no one

To listen. No need to look for a laugh

Or exaggerate in aid of fashion

Or art; and if you manage to convey half

Of what you believe happened, you may

Have helped history.

Back from your journey

The hardest thing is to know how to pay

Tribute to the best you met on the way;

They will stand in your memory, hands

Raised in greeting or farewell, dignity

And reserve masking the natural kindness,

Which is the root and custome of their lands.

They'll be the heroes of your adventures;

From them your hope and inspiration grows.


Bold shifts of emphasis have swept

The place you left; and your ideas, lost

Under the feet of new regimes, have crept

Away, uncertain of their worth, and cost

Nothing on the market now; your return goes

Unnoticed; and your discoveries

Seem common place; while those, who can discern

Something of strength and value in your journeys,

Fear they might lose face, if they protested

The plants and creatures you brought back.

Yet, why should you, who never contested

For applause or trophies, regret a lack

Of fame? For close your eyes, instead you'll hear

The triumphant shriek of monkeys in your ear.


The changes that have occurred in the place,

Where you first drew up your plans to travel,

Will make you think you've come back somewhere else,

And that you'll have a new story to tell

About people, who like to shout a slogan

To make it clear they know they're right,

Prove it true by endless repetition,

And finding an excuse to pick a fight.

When you approach these proud strangers, take care

Not to look at them too closely, or try

To work out what kind of men they are,

Who are your brothers, yet chalk "no entry"

On their foreheads. They are explorers too

But can they know that what they've found is you?


Anonymous said...

I've come back to reread this several times, curious about my own response. This seems more dark, especially the first part accompanied by the black and white images. Still wonderful work as ever, Joe and Lucy! What a wonderful collaboration.

robinstarfish said...

This sobering installment is most interesting and hearkens back to the beginning preparation for hardship, now realized in the valley of shadow. It could only have been composed by one who has actually traveled and come back. No armchair poets and photographers here!

It's a cliffhanger of sorts as well, and unexpected.

The triumphant shriek of monkeys in your ear. Chills!

jzr said...

The path this work leads me down is thrilling and frightening at the same time. Also familiar in so many ways. Wonderful work!

Unknown said...

Lucy, I could not refrain from looking. I suppose there are layers of darkness here.You have captured and extended the mood beautifully, as ever. A more detailed appreciation when I get home.

Lucas said...

These words and images once again create a unique effect. The photographs with images from the natural world responding to the complex tones of the poems. Very good indeed.