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 21 October 2007

Handbook for Explorers 41 to 45


Sometimes you'll wake and won't know where you are,

Or why you're there, or who is sleeping by your side;

Your feet, not used to rest, will pound the air

Your arms battle with an imagined tide.

Smells of leaves, beer, petrol, piss, newsprint, tea

Will come to filter England back: "cheers, mate;

Where've you fucking been? Long time no see.

It's just like you to be so fucking late."

Round the world in eighty years is close to it.

The need to say as little as you can

Returns : you suppose you got held up a bit.

And in fact, it's much easier to move on

With a joke or two, sit beside a pint,

And ask what else in the world you'd want.


It may take years to shift the ideas

You had on a high plateau or by the frayed

Edge of seas, longer than your span allows

Perhaps, but it's the nature of your trade

Not to know exactly what is what and why,

Though you may try; surprise is its own reward

As you top a ridge and hear the sharp cry

Of monkeys give warning of a leopard

Stalking in jungle shadows, sly and lithe;

You recognise the hunter, don't you,

As a creature, ruthless, of your kith

And kin, which does what it knows how to do?

Years of speculation bring you to that;

So much comes in and very little out.


Sometimes you'll want to keep your mind empty;

Thought may be circular and unproductive,

Seditious, disloyal, a travesty

Of the model by which you're supposed to live;

For rules apply here, which you could ignore

On the road. Soldiers collect in a crowd

Here, to check your credentials. " It's the war,"

They say, "on terrorists, and you could

Be one." And you might just be if you knew

Your potential in this interesting time.

A blank mind's the best way through,

For you can find in it a sort of calm.

Yet subversive seeds lie there still, and wait

For the rain to help them germinate.


A thought you had, long ago, far away,

Will catch up with you, greet you as an old friend

One day: whatever you had meant to say -

The words themselves, and what caused them to end

In mid-sentence, without graft or traction -

Have left a hiatus, which has lasted

All your life, drew you to exploration

And led you to paths no one else trusted.

And now, a hand on the shoulder, a voice,

Unexpected and unlooked for, brings you back.

It was not that it was a difficult choice

To stop where you did, and to come unstuck;

Rather your attention wandered elsewhere,

When you just had to look ahead and dare.


You forgot what you were going to say,

And nearly said; the thought turned to vapour,

The surplus words went back to their hide-away,

Waited till they were called upon to score

A point in an argument or convert

A doubter to a cause, to come to grips

With what was going to happen and start

From somewhere else. So when you kissed the lips

Of one you'd fallen for, explored her thought

And her terrain, trekked across her kingdom,

The pace changed, the past was not appropriate.

What was now then, became the past again.

You ask: will the words you were about to speak

Come back and call you liar, trickster, freak?


Anonymous said...

Beautiful and profound. This chimes for me right now as my own thoughts recently have been along some of the same paths as I think back to some of the directions I've taken in my art making journey, and some to the directions I have not yet explored. Thank you for the inspiring words and photos, both of you!

robinstarfish said...

This handbook, now packed full with achingly beautiful photographs and the wisdom of time travel, can't be nearing its end, can it?

jzr said...

More moving words and photographs ... as always!

Lucas said...

These images of shells and the earth itself are tidal, like the poems recording the undercurrents deep below the surface of events.
Again, an exciting and moving conjunction of words and pictures.

Anonymous said...

Ever wonderful story and images, thank you. I don't want this to end, sigh.