Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

A couple of my friends have been saying to me for a while that I need to slow down and start taking it easy and I’ve pretty much been nodding, agreeing but ignoring them.  It all caught up with me this week though and when I finished teaching late on Wednesday night I had a headache.  I didn’t think anything of it – it kind of comes with the territory being a trumpet teacher, but when I woke up on Thursday I felt terrible – dizzy, headaches and just generally exhausted.  So I spent the whole day in bed which was nice but I still carried on firing off emails and working so I probably didn’t rest properly.

I felt a bit better on Friday so I went for a five mile run with some friends in the morning and then Chris and I went for a walk round Ulverston.  I raided all the charity shops for poetry books – there weren’t many but I did get a collection by Paul Auster (haven’t heard of him but think I should have), an anthology of ‘happy’ poems edited by Wendy Cope (I like anthologies like this – useful for getting material for workshops), a small book of Japanese haiku, the Oxford Book of Prose and Newborn by Kate Clanchy which I’ve always wanted to read, so not a bad haul.

When I got back home I felt terrible again and went back to bed and slept.  I don’t do sleeping in the afternoon, so I had to concede defeat by this point, and admit that I was ill.
We were supposed to be going camping this weekend for a friend’s birthday but we called it off.  I feel guilty about not going, but the thought of driving there and putting a tent up when I felt like I couldn’t stand for more than five minutes was too much.

So we’ve stayed at home.  It is rare for me to have the whole weekend off with nothing to do, and for Chris to have nothing to do either.  I’ve behaved myself and done nothing strenuous yesterday or today.  I’ve even (mostly) kept off the laptop and have limited myself to reading and I’m starting to feel better.

I am very relieved it is now the Easter holidays.  A whole two weeks off teaching, and I feel like I’ve earned it.   I’ll never forget when I had my first work experience student following me around – by Thursday, he was sleeping in the car as I drove around between schools, and he wasn’t even doing any teaching, just observing..

I’m planning on catching up with friends for the next two weeks and doing lots of running.  Tomorrow I’m seeing my twin sister. She has managed to escape from the animal shelter where she is the manager and is having a day off, her first in a couple of months as well.  On Tuesday morning I’m meeting up with Pauline Yarwood to go through some social media stuff for the festival, and then our website designer is coming to give both me and Pauline a lesson in using the website.  I’ve got a plasterer coming to give a quote to get the middle room of our house sorted out and I’m seeing Clare Shaw this week to plot and talk poetry.

On Thursday I’m reading in Leeds at the River’s Meet Cafe as part of the Read Regional Scheme I’m involved in.  Linda France is running an Exploring Poetry session as well.  I’m considering whether it would be a bit stalker-ish to bring Linda’s collection to get it signed as I’ve not met her before.  I will probably stow it in my bag and see if I can do it unobtrusively!

On Friday I’m running my Young Writer’s workshop – it’s been a while since I’ve seen the Dove Cottage Young Poets so I’m looking forward to seeing them all, and then I’ll go straight from there to Lancaster where I’m reading at the North West Literary Salon, held in Waterstones

Then on Saturday I’m running my Barrow Poetry Workshop – 15 people signed up, so room for one more if you know anybody that is interested.

That might sound a lot, but I haven’t got four junior band rehearsals, 2 days of brass teaching and 3 private pupils to fit in this week, so this is a walk in the park!

Today’s Sunday Poem comes from Maurice Riordan’s latest collection The Water Stealer, published by Faber in 2013.  Maurice came to read for A Poem and a Pint in February, and I bought a copy of his book. I loved this poem as soon as I read it and was captivated from start to finish.

I like the story of it, of course, but I also like the way one thing leads to another, how one pond reminds the speaker of a pond in childhood. In The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, the two main characters find themselves in a ‘Wood Between the Worlds’ filled with hundreds of pools, each one leading to a different world.  This has nothing to do with Maurice’s poem, but it is what jumped into my mind when I read the poem, and the memory of the second pond entered it.

The poem is rich in allusions and associations – the italicised sections recall the children’s son ‘There was an old woman who swallowed a fly…she swallowed a spider to catch the fly..’  There are lots of doubles in this poem as well – two ponds, two foxes, two men crying at the sight of something destroyed.

I also love the images in this – the fact that the absence of the pond is noticed because its reflection on the ceiling is gone, the saucer of streetlight and that wonderful line about the fish possibly being ‘ferried into the dawn by the cormorant’.  It strikes me that there are a lot of wise fish in poems or maybe I’ve just come across lots recently.  Karen Solie has a cracking poem called ‘Sturgeon‘ which you can hear her reading and her fish has the same ‘streetwise’ attitude, as Maurice calls it.

Maurice Riordan was born in 1953 in Lisgoold, Co.Cork.  His first collection, A Word from the Loki (1995) was nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize.  Floods (2000) was a Book of the Year in both the Sunday Times and the Irish Times, and The Holy Land (2007) won the Michael Hartnett Award.  He lives in London and has taught at Imperial College and Goldsmiths College, and is currently Professor of Poetry at Sheffield Hallam University.  Maurice Riordan is Editor of The Poetry Review.

You can order The Water Stealer here from Faber and Faber.

I hope you enjoy the poem, and thanks to Maurice for allowing me to use it.

The Water Stealer  – Maurice Riordan

came to the pond in the night and emptied it.
I woke in the unwonted quiet
and noticed its reflections on the ceiling
absent this bright morning,

the fire outside quenched, the lilies
collapsed in a muddy heap, the neon
of damselflies, the skim of darters and fleas,
of skaters and water boatmen – gone.

Where were the carp? Sunk in the mud
or ferried into the dawn by the cormorant?
Or was it a town fox that chewed
through the tarp so it bled while I dreamt,

while my brain worried old scars,
the saucer of streetlight grew brighter
overhead and neared the huddle of carp
– who’d have jumped and bitten in terror,

gorping helplessly in the poisonous gas.

I mend the leak,and watch the basin fill,
the water not the same water: clear, drinkable,
the year’s clock too far advanced to be reset,
to remake the soup of eggs and insects.

Even so, the lilies untangle and lift
their cumbersome pads off the mud –
weightless and free, like the dancers in the loft
at harvest, when I watched as a child.

But no fish…the fish that came
with the pond that came with the garden
that came with the house that came
with the care that came with the children

And the pond, which no child fell into,
recalled our old pond back in Lisgoold
and heat-struck hours with my cousins
pawdawling in the duckweed and ooze.

I’d begun, since my days are freed up,
to love its little creatures, to scoop
for springtails and ‘water bear’ – the minuscule
tardigrade I’ve seen only on Youtube.

But now a fox has come as a thief in the night
– not the fox that squeezed through the mesh
to the hencoop (which our father tracked and shot),
no, some miscreant, with a taste for fish.

It’s time to cry – to pour tears like my father
in his old age, hammering the armrest
with an arthritic fist till he broke it (the armrest)
crippled because of a cur, a mongrel cur

the dog that barked that scared the mare
that carried the man that reared the foal 

that loved the rider that rode the mare 
that flung the rider headlong into the road 

my old man, as they were galloping home
from Midleton Show, their jaunt every June
without fail till the fall…which would shame
and shackle him, and send him to the grave.

And now I’ve a fox, or worse, for adversary.
I’ve a night of pillage and ruin to bemoan,
robbed of my pond and its innocent creatures,
dead fish to bewail – when lo and behold

a half-dozen or so are scooting here and there
among the lilies (those long gone country dancers)
the streetwise ancient carp, yea risen out
of the mud, and me in floods at the sight.



2 comments on “Sunday Poem – Maurice Riordan

    1. Thanks for this! It is really nice to hear that people look forward to the poems – it provides me with much needed motivation when I am flagging!

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