Saturday, 12 September 2009

building wings

I knew this chap who could slaughter a pig, play the flute, quote by heart from Joyce. Oh, and he was the Chief Engineer on the ferry I was working on, too. But he was Irish. English engineers are usually a bit more philistine, in my experience.

Well, English people generally, I suppose.

John Terry, on the other hand, is a precision engineer who used to build wings for aeroplanes. And he's a poet, and all-round Good Sort.

We were down at the Arnolfini the other evening, for the launch of his new book. And a very good evening it was too (though Katie was drooping by eleven o'clock; it's hard to keep up when you're mixing with people who are mad, bad and/or dangerous to know...).
John shared the evening with Penelope Shuttle, Esther Morgan, and Gwen Seaborne, so there was a lot of poetry around.

Oh, and Katie designed the cover. She was given a round of applause too!

Here's one of John's poems.


At least once a week, every week for years,

she'd kept on at him to clear the garage:

until one day he locked its up-and-over

from the inside and she heard the sound

of hammering, the clatter of metal,

the sudden shriek of his drill; the beaten

echoes of her own fist on the tarnished

aluminium he'd always refused to paint.

The familiar lock rejected her key

as if she were a stranger. He never spoke,

not even to swear, never sang or whistled –

ignored the food she began to leave outside,

tapping lightly on the aluminium,

her fists grown too sore for aggression.

As winter approached she started to beg:

the house was lonely, the garage unheated.

How could he prefer concrete and the Flymo

to their Slumberland, her flesh under the duvet

yearning now as it hadn't done for years –

heart beating like a Bosch hammer drill,

her nagging complaints filed down to trivia.

When all sound ceased on Christmas eve,

and nine hundred and ninety-nine police

forced open the door, they found a pair

of delicate butterfly wings, cunningly

fashioned from junk and pieces of the Flymo

with the word 'Hers' worked into the pattern.

There was a marked chart of migration routes;

and clear evidence that similar wings

had clipped the lilac as they flew away.

After the police had gone she scribbled a note

for the milkman, folded the chart to its first

section, and left the suburbs; flying up

through the gap in the lilac, heading south.


  1. You always choose lovely poems, this one is a kind of warning not to nag, or perhaps not

    The two Irish men I knew quite well were of the same ilk. They both knew how to tell a story ... and with that lovely accent.

    Katie is already designing book covers? I'll bear that in mind for when I get round to writing mine. I add to the applause.

  2. What a lovely poem!

    On the assumption that all the others are just as evocative, I'm off to investigate the purchase options.

  3. Been on retreat for a month or so, so good to come back to a wonderful poem (enticingly introduced). And, bravo, Katie!

  4. They were a civilised lot on that ship, Anji; roughly equal numbers of North Welsh, Irish and Scousers, so not English at all really. I also liked the way that the Welsh crew used welsh as their first language, but switched to english if someone came into the room so that they wouldn't feel left out. I'll pass on the message to Katie!

    Thanks, Tara. I hope you get hold of it easily enough, and enjoy it!

    Hi again, Larry. I wondered where you'd gone; I hope it was a good retreat. It sounds like a nice thing to do.

  5. Hi Dru!

    I ordered the book online almost immediately after leaving my previous comment. It arrived in the post yesterday, and I've already nibbled around its edges a little.

    Now if someone (hint! hint!) could convince Ms Annie McGann to publish her poems, I'd be in literary heaven...

  6. Hi Dru,
    thanks again for your piece on 'Building Wings' and thanks to Tara for buying it - hope you enjoy it, Tara. BTW I'm sure Annie McGann has published a book - I'll ask her.

  7. Hi again, Tara! I know that one of Annie's poems is in a collection of poems about Bristol; hers is called (I think) 'Quartier Vert'. Not sure if she's been published otherwise; must ask her next time I see her. Oh, I see that John's already going to!

    Hi John! BTW, I got the green light to photograph the Red Book next week. V exciting!

  8. The Red Book so soon after the ridiculous song and dance they gave you last time. Goody,goody,goody! Can I come?

  9. I should hope so, John. I'll check with the curator.

  10. Sory this comment is soooo late. It is due to the link you put recently.

    Do you really think English men are all the same? If so, it doesn't bode well for us as a nation.

    Maybe I am brainwashed, but I like to think of the English as being fair minded; even-toned and good at losing.

    P.S. I am an English woman.

  11. Me too, Bella, though maybe I've been tainted by my years in Wales...

    No, I really don't think all English men / people are the same; but I do think that there are culturally-determined attitudes that are common or even prevalent among groups of people. We're still pretty class-ridden as a society- I used to think we were past all that, but it was just that I hadn't really moved much among the more middle of the middle classes (still haven't, for that matter- but encountered the young of the species, in my Uni days)- and being involved in a strike was quite an eye-opener, too...

    ...though, as we are generalising, I must say I enjoyed working with foreign crews, particularly the french. Better educated, more cultured, massively nicer food!