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, 11 November 2007

Handbook for Explorers 46 to 50


Being wrong has formed your plans of travel

As often as being right. The unforeseen

Explains, in part, how hard it was to tell

Useful signs from those of superstition.

You could blame limited intelligence

For errors of judgement and perception;

Admit that when, at last you arrived, chance

Played its part; that what you claimed as reason

Was wild surmise; that the choir, that captured

Your ear, was the wind buffeting the wire

That follows the road; that what you'd endured

Was for nothing, a worm wriggling in the fire;

That what you took to be the Holy Grail

Turned out to be just rags and scrap metal.


The screens that show you, point by point, the track

Of you time and trouble across the globe,

Tell you where you were right and wrong, and stack

Up all your hopes into a flashing strobe.

Yet, if you believe the technology

That enters into every corner

Of your experience and geography,

You will have nothing left to call your own.

Better to look for faults there, too, which race

To reach an unexpected conclusion;

Ambiguities, which suggest one face

For another, challenge beliefs and strain

To restore to a healthy, fractious state

The near chaos you movements generate.


To sum it up neatly, is to close it down:

The story of your travels doesn't end,

And you can't be certain where it began.

The daft voices of your forebears, behind

Your striding shadow, chatter in your brain,

Say: "Keep on this way; one day you'll learn to fly;

The Pleiades will be your destination."

You have the gift of curiosity,

And nothing you meet on the road is less

Than significant; if you look close enough,

Written on each stone you pass is "press"

Or "open";... hear "come in" in each puff

Of wind; a door's half open, always set

To halve the gap, halve that, and halve, half that.


There were things you ahd to dig for on sites

By the road. ...

... No reason to excavate,

Except an inborn sympathy for rites

Practised long before your time, private,

Magical, no longer comprehensible,

But prompted by urges bred in desert,

Forest, cave - the birthplaces of evil,

And of what was good, also, from the start,

Original virtue; this collect too,

Should be Adam's banner, Eve's song of joy -

Not to neglect the animal in you.

The falcon on your gauntlet, thoughts of prey,

Memories of scales and fur, bones piled up,

Strike you with a rhythm that just won't stop.


To look back at all the faults and failures,

Which have led you to this curious place,

Might keep you occupied for years;

Or else be worth a quick laugh, without trace

Of regret or homily, and no text

Drawn from stale notes, no sums or stately sermon.

At best, you can admit you were perplexed,

Still are, by the meagre spread of reason

In the country you know best. Facts are scarce,

Too, in these parts and hard to verify;

The noise of opinion is continuous.

You think, now you're back, it was worth a try;

You say, " I've moved, not far from where I was,

But enough to see how the distance grows."