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?

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Handbook for Explorers 31 to 35


These are the clues some travellers look for:

Clay tablets, papyrus and bone; coins

Minted in the name of kings and scattered

Like birds; ornaments of gold and copper,

Once fastened at the breast of priestesses,

Who had the answers that were wanted then.

You'll make of such clues, some sort of sense,

As, looking for connections to decipher,

You'll weave through narrow streets and boulevards

To places every traveller visits,

And hope that, behind the picture-postcards,

You'll catch sight of something not seen before,

An artefact that time alone has made

From stains, which spread out wide from then to now.


Take no flags to raise above a planet

Or a tract of countryside, where olive trees,

With twisted trunks distil civilisation

From a terrain; where, by a lean-to hut,

A woman, her face as hard as the stone

Of an olive, watches a string of goats;

And fails to quarrel with poverty,

Or with someone like you, without roots and free

To cross seas, and be able to reflect

On the otherness of other people.

No photos please. Theres nothing you can take

From here, no sword or bangle from a grave:

Except the fruit, cheese, bread she's offered you;

And her blessing, once she sees you go.


You'll wait a long time for the words to come

To describe the conflicts that you've seen,

The routes you've taken, the research you've done,

What you have discovered.

But they'll turn out

Not as you intended; and instead

Of the sentences you'd meditated,

Grunts and whistles will astound

The audience. Would numbers or music

Better convey the story of your life -

The howling of a saxophone, murmur

Of a drum?

The trail's been difficult,

And it's spiral course helps you see why

Fibonacci's numbers match the order

Of cactus prickles and of sunflower seeds.


Perilous routes call for confidence;

Forecasts may turn out to be accurate,

And will rob your story of surprise.

Trust in prophets, and you'll forget to think,

And repeat their dubious promises,

And neither see nor hear awakening birds

Blast the forest with their notes of crisis.

The sun will rise, it always has.

If not, it will be hard to say goodbye

To all the places you have visited,

To music and to staring pictures;

See cities and artefacts disappear;

Civilisations, which shout "look, look at me,"

Go with a bang, and no time for a tear.


Hope is important to hold in your head,

Just to keep alive the inquisitive

Urge, which fuels persistence on the road.

Though it may lead you to where dangers thrive,

It lives in trees and grass, sits in the wind;

Breeds joys, which taunt and gratify the eye,

The hand, lips tongue and curious mind;

Creates clouds like promises in the sky;

Sows ideas in your brain that will turn out

To lead their own lives, as words whispered,

Uncertain of their intent, become a shout;

Takes you to watch - alone without a word -

A house, where a slow flame trembles beside

A window, and you don't know who's inside.