Sunday Poem – Ben Johnson

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Evening everybody.  Am currently sat tucked up in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my aching legs – today the hubby and I along with two friends and three dogs walked up Skiddaw.  The weather forecast said strong winds but we’d already put off going once a couple of weeks ago so we thought we would just go for it as it was the last three thousand foot mountain in the Lake District I had left to do.  Anyway, I quickly realised that swanning around the UK doing poetry readings and swanning around the house reading poetry doesn’t actually get you very fit and there were moments, in particular the last third of the hill on the scree slope when I thought  that I was too wimpy to get to the top.  However, the prospect of sitting in the middle of a gale while everybody else went up the hill was not particularly attractive so I carried on plodding up to the top.

There were also three seperate moments at the top when we all had to drop to our knees when the wind was particularly strong or be blown over – I felt like a balloon tied to the hill with a bit of string – like I was fastened to the earth, but not particularly securely.  Eventually we abandoned dignity and proceeded up the hill like little old ladies, linking arms.  We got to the trig point at the top and clung to it for a couple of minutes – and when I say clung – I mean it –

We did see a family on our way back down sheltering in a small semicircle of stones and they said they were turning back – we told them they were only 200 meters from the summit – but they looked at us like we were slightly mad – I can see now their point – there they were sitting down in a very rudimentary shelter because it was impossible to stand and we emerge out of the mist arm in arm with the dogs just about managing to keep four feet on the ground…it seems a shame that they got that far though and then went back down…

Yesterday I went to Sheffield and met up with some of the other poets from the Writing School course which I’m doing – we did some writing exercises in the morning and then we all took a poem to be critiqued in the afternoon – had a really nice day.

We had a horrible train journey back with a family in the carriage who were shouting and arguing with each other – a mother and daughter and then there was a man (the son?) who was drunk and having a go at the train guard in a very aggressive way.  They didn’t really do anything to any of the other passangers, they were too busy arguing with each other – but I found it really intimidating and almost started having a panic attack when the bloke was shouting at the train guard.  The train was so crowded there was nowhere to move to either – it ended with the police being called and meeting them at Manchester train station.  There was two children with them as well who were witnessing all the shouting and the threats of violence and the insults and I felt terrible for them.  It got me thinking about violence – how we are all violent to one another – maybe not necessarily physical violence, but emotional violence – how probably all children will see some form of violence in their lives.  For example I was reading a poem from Maitreyabandhu’s new collection to the hubby on the way up to Skiddaw and the voice in the poem talks about the christmas turkey hanging with the blood dripping into a bucket.  And I think this could be a violent thing for a child to see, even if it is not intended that way.  The hubby said something interesting – one of the nuns at his old school said  that if an act is not loving, it is violent.  Which I think is a good definition and would definitely make me behave better if I remember it!

So, here is the Sunday poem for today!  An act of love for tomatoes from a lovely, lovely man I met in Fermoy at the poetry festival.  Ben Johnson was one of the winners of the Fermoy International Poetry Festival this year and his prize was a flight to Ireland and a reading at the festival.  Ben charmed everybody with his personality – humble, funny, kind, easygoing AND good with computers!  What more could you want?  I was very relieved when I heard him read and his poetry was good as well!

Ben lives on the edge of the New Forest in England with his wife Naomi. He works as an IT Admin in a small private school and spends his spare time either enjoying the wonderful scenery around the area he lives in or reading and writing poetry. He has been writing since his teens but in the last few years has taken it much more seriously.

Ben attends local open mic poetry nights as often as he can. He also runs an online poetry forum called The Poetry Forum and last year started up a small press called Ravenshead Press. He is also involved with a poetry organisation called Artful Scribe which aims to promote and improve poetry locally. He has been published in various online ezines such as The Ghazal Pages, Antiphon and the Polish magazine Kwartalnik. He was one of three international winners of the 2013 Fermoy Poetry Festival.

I asked Ben to send me a few poems to choose from – and I chose this poem because I really enjoyed the glut of images and similes that he uses throughout the poem.  I particularly enjoyed ‘brave little beacons’ and ‘flush as a wallet’.  I think it has something of the tone of Sylvia Plath’s ‘You’ – and the language used to describe the tomatoes and the imagery is certainly concerned with motherhood and fertility and babies – I hope you enjoy!

Tomatoes – Ben Johnson

They have gorged themselves on summer
and glow with the afternoons we spent
calling forth rainbows from a hose’s mouth.

Plump and content as puppies full of milk
they cluster together and radiate,
like a mother in her first trimester.

Flush as a wallet on the first of the month
or a tongue-tied lad falling over the words
of a well rehearsed speech. They burn,

brave little beacons against an October sky
percolated with milk. We pluck them
from their wrecked scaffolding and bed them

softly in the bottom of a trug, barely able
not to burst them between teeth and retrieve
our summer, acid sweet and burning bright.

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5 responses »

  1. My husband has that regular trouble on his trips to and from Manchester (he’s a train driver). Great little poem, delicious in fact!

    • Thanks Kath – glad you enjoyed Ben’s poem. And sorry to hear your husband has hassle – I think it is appalling that people who are just doing their job get spoken to so badly…

  2. I remember going up Cairngorm like that – we just got to the top – saw deer on the way up! – to the vast vista… and the cloud came down. That was it.
    My son lives in S – writing workshop with Simon Crimp? Know it?

    Best wishes and plump tomatoes!

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