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 6 November 2011

If you could would you go?

A ball of string

"To escape Crete and its poisonous mazes,
which bend the mind and leave it empty,"
said Daedalus who survived the flight,
"such extravagant gestures are permitted."
But Icarus flew too high, some say too low.
His crafted wings, softened in the sun or soaked in spray,
lost wax and feathers
and he fell down for ever.

To explore unpredictable spaces in unfamiliar elements
is to follow the most delicate of birds, which drinks
as it skims the water, crosses oceans and continents,
feeds on flies, perches on telegraph wires
like musical notations, knows where to go, where to land
and when. Its nests are mythic architecture.
which country people do not touch
for fear the milk turn quickly sour or  the hens stop laying.

One of the ape family, adept at negotiation and deals,
I hang on a tree, one hand gripping a branch, the other
in the air to catch the birds that fly overhead. Earth remains
my element. If I could I 'd dare to enter the vast intelligence
of the unsuspecting and the unaware, to navigate without compass
or chart, and challenge gravity with a careless laugh.
But, discrete and far too clever, I cannot track the swallow's flight
except with wavering and uncertain thought, the dupe of fantasy.

A ball of string would help me find the way out
through the way in.  Though not alone. A forest of broken threads
testifies to other searchers who have got nowhere.
We bump into one another with apologetic grunts. It's dark.
The noise augments  the sense of bafflement and loss.
Swallow, where does your thread lead?

Saturday 30 July 2011

Kite or swallow?

A scarlet lozenge, a convention of a kite
-the kites we had as kids looked nothing like that when
we flew them on the chalk hill's humpbacked height
but still - a geometric diagram transected, then 
an s-curved tail, a knotted row of bright
blue bows, which looked at once again
prove to be messages on paper, folded tight.

Unfolding them I see some say
"Sorry no prize, please have another go!"
With some the words break up, trickle away,
lose sense and pattern, but just a few do show
solidity and meaning, substantial forms which stay
with me, find lodging there, and grow 
into companions for another day.

Seeing the world from up there where the kite
is flying, the human figure tweaking at the string
is small, expressionless, below, its movements slight,
the distant hills a convex line, the sun a thing
to conjure with, and throw another light
onto the blue-black oil-plume of the swallow's wing,
its joyous, startling, acuity of flight.

And as it flashes by the blue hills' bow
past other skylines, where the sea moves grey
and gulls and gannets plunge and swing
into the wave troughs' crackled white,
to roost in palms in lands where men
wave birdlimed brushes to and fro,
if you could follow, would you go?

Saturday 23 April 2011

What are the things which you wish that you knew?

As swallows try to catch them in nets of air,
Answers are harder than questions to find.
And so, inspired by yours, here's mine, my dear,
Honest as may be and returned in kind.

A cat named Curiosity  stalks in my  care
But it's clear the animal's designed
To hunt with eye and claw, whatever's there
And overwhelm with trophies an overburdened mind.

With so much data stacked up everywhere,
Rather than know more, I'd like to understand
The complexities which figure
In the cries and shadows of a troubled land.

Those who look for truth must learn to care
For crops trodden  down by rain and wind,
Burnt in hatred and ill will; and come to fear
What threatens to destroy them in the end.

It's not so much the structure of a star
Or particle or gene, but what lies beyond
The turbulence that swirls about us, near and far
And neither head nor heart can comprehend.

So my question curls up and settles where
You stand, your camera and eye aligned:
What's your choice? The swallows' game of dare?
Or bobbing kite tugged by a fretful wind?

Friday 8 April 2011

What promises have you to give? Or give up on? Or break?

Promises, promises. So that's what you're after
I've heard far too many and kept far too few,
forgotten, forgiven, in tears or in laughter,
it's highly unlikely I'll make any new.

The world is too fleeting and formless to count on,
the same goes for me, and I dare say for you,
oak turns into acorn and molehill to mountain,
things can turn upside-down, quite out of the blue.

The river we step in is never the same one
whether we paddle or try to swim through,
so what is the self that arrived with my name on?
Cells change and replace themselves, minds will do too.

Yet sometimes to stay put is what we require,
and loyalty and patience are powerful glue,
to hold us fast here in the warmth of the fire
our backs to the window, enjoying the view.

So here I am still trying to answer your query
without being pompous, or dour, or untrue,
or to clothe it in fake metaphysical theory,
if doggerel's what comes it'll just have to do.

So if you're still contented with fireside gazing 
I'll toss you another loose line to pursue
(though spring's at the door and there's no time for lazing):
What are the things which you wish that you knew?

Monday 10 January 2011

What I see in the flames

This new year, amid the crack of ice
And unspecified threats, I look into the fire
For help and comfort, or advice,
As anxious flames leap high and higher.
They're puzzled by the elements they're in,
Crowded down by elephantine shapes
In drifts of darkness they can't contain
While in the embers a salamander slips
In and out like a promise to be given.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on?

I think again about the phoenix
And doubt the promise of redemption
When looking at the burning sticks;
Yet think of what is going to happen,
Of leaves composting in a bin,
Of yeast cells working through the dough,
Of  a spinning top's brief, trembling spin
And the crunch of frozen snow.
I promise that I'll watch the fire
Till it gives way to smoke, and the smoke
Has climbed the air and is no longer there.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on? Or break?