Grace – Robert Nisbet

Grace
 
“There’s nothing more inspiring or – beautiful than
the sight of a mare and a new colt”
(Biff Loman, in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman)

And you, Biff Loman, right out there
on prairie, in open air, we all of us
see and share your moment’s grace. But we
who’ve taught in schools, a pasty-faced kind
of livelihood alongside your Texas ranch:
a tough guys’ register would rank us
pretty low. We are seen as indoor men.

And Biff, I notice too you hesitate,
you check before the simple beautiful.
Biff, in all those years I taught
in classrooms, nothing, nothing at all
(not learning outcomes, grades, initiatives)
was ever as inspiring or
………………………………………..beautiful
as the simple sight, in a Silent Reading class,
of a child, a pupil, twelve maybe, thirteen,
quite, quite absorbed in a book.
Witches, midnight gardens, winds in trees.
The page would turn, rustling (the child
unaware), so very, very slowly.

 

Previously published in Roundyhouse

Robert Nisbet is a poet from Pembrokeshire who does not see himself as unduly competitive, but who has recently won the Prole Pamphlet Competition. His entry, Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, appeared last year from Prolebooks.

Featured Publication – Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes by Robert Nisbet

Our featured publication for February is Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes by Robert Nisbet, published by Prolebooks.

The poems collected here are of an age, they are of a place – Wales, The Valleys and Southern peninsula – but their themes, their wit, the emotions they elicit are universal. Amongst the nostalgia, the musical connections, these poems are peopled with unforgettable characters and their stories are told through a poet’s honed craft, and at times, with a wicked humour.

‘Throughout, the people and their stories that populate these pages are vivid and authentic, the emotional force cleanly depicted with concrete imagery and language that rarely disappears into abstraction, and therefore holds your attention closely. I read the whole thing in one sitting and never felt bored. Which is as good as it gets, really.’ Paul Vaughan, Algebra of Owls.

Robson, Fitzgerald and other heroes

 

Epiphanies

Three cars, unwittingly together, drive
off the motorway and into Pembrokeshire.
The BMW has its family, a nucleus,
and Mum sifts notes on a priory hereabouts,
the burial chamber, Iron Age fort. The region
is renowned, she tells them, for spiritual things.

The Fiesta, overtaken earlier, straggles.
The couple here are younger (not that young,
certainly, but eager, newly together).
They stop in a clearing, their embrace takes in
the smell of hawthorn, farmland after rain.

The Astra from Rotherham is pumped full
of little children, iPods, Gameboys, games.
Since the motorway, the kids have vaguely
clocked cows and sheep and stuff, but
now, just past Brynberian, a herd of cows
(a hundred head) crosses their path,
off to milking. The Astra stops and ponders,
but one cow detaches herself, nuzzles
a side window, and Jason, aged nine,
is eyeball to bloodshot eyeball with a
fucking great cow. The cow (and she too
has a name, Jason, she’s Rhiannon
and she’s a Friesian) rubs and bumps
the window with her trumpet of a nose,
and exhales enormously.
Jason, now mistily obliterated,
will remember this moment
for the rest of his bloody life.

 

As You Like It in the Bishop’s Palace
An open-air production in St. David’s
 
A coastal summer and cathedral bells
and the rooks’ hauteur give us this night in Bardic country.
Foreground, romance in a forest.

From the back row of canvas chairs
they watch, they two.
They have not yet adventured.
But the voice of the lovers is reaching them
from the forest, from the palace,
and as eight o’clock deepens to a cooler nine
they draw the blanket more around themselves,
nestle.

Rosalind and Orlando are eighteen, nineteen,
but grown to love’s confidence
in the play’s disguise.
The playwright stakes out his promise:
Hang there, my verse, in witness of my love.
 
The watching two are in thrall.
Their hands, beneath the blanket,
steal together, clasp,
as in the happy ending of a play.

 

A Sudden Summer Sun on St. Bride’s Bay

Towels and Colas gritted by the sand,
more brown than golden sand on a day when
a warm bluster of westerly wind
is the beach’s feature.

She is just shy, gauche really, seventeen.
She just does not want
to walk down the beach on such spindle shanks,
such sad bare legs exposed

She huddles behind the windbreak until
the Mediterranean moment
when the sun rushes out, just as she peels her way
through the spider-written letter
from the boy from France.

……………………………………………………………………..(What do we know of him? Seventeen also.
…………………………………………………………………………………………………Not gauche but not adroit.
………………………………………………………………………………………. Loves languages and music and,
……………………………………………………………………………. in the grace of a reserved adolescence,
…………………………………………………………………………….loves the girl to the point of adoration.)

She reads his civilities, pleased, and then the phrase,
If I cannot become to see you this August,
my summer, he will be ruined 

and she flowers, and walks,
on nicely-rounded spindle legs,
to the water, in the sun,
feeling herself a mademoiselle,
a mannequin, a belle.

 

Previous publication credits are Smiths Knoll, Scintilla, and Snakeskin/Shortlist for the Wordsworth Trust Prize 2017, respectively. 

Robert Nisbet is from Pembrokeshire, teaches creative writing to a range of classes and has been publishing poetry widely in Britain and the USA for 12 years. In 2017 he was shortlisted for the Wordsworth Trust Prize and his short collection, Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes, was published as the winner of the Prole Pamphlet competition.

Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes is available to buy from www.prolebooks.co.uk

Nell – Robert Nisbet

Nell

Nell Gwyn sold oranges, loved a King.
And Nellie Forbush (South Pacific,
remember?) was a nurse, a Forces’
sweetheart, married a landowner
(despite I’m Gonna Wash That Man
Right Outa My Hair). But our Nell lives
in a green and nearly glade-like place,
where three Welsh counties coalesce.
Lives alone (the past being the past)
in an over-big and draughty house.
Sells drapery at various markets,
Cardigan, Carmarthen, one Sunday
in two at Carew. Drinks lager once a week,
quiz league, White Lion. Washes
the kit for the football team (a nephew
plays). Entertains to barley wine in that
big lone house, friends and riff raff,
a host of cousins with hard luck stories,
saints and sinners, and a kindly man
with a share in two racehorses. She has
an acre of grassland, nearly woodland.
On the Sundays she doesn’t do Carew she
gardens. She grows no veg, no flower beds,
it’s more that she cuts back, hacks down,
keeps at bay encroaching wilderness,
finding in that a lonely satisfaction.

 

Published in ‘Planet’, 204 (November 2011) and again in the author’s pamphlet, Merlin’s Lane (Prolebooks, 2011).

Robert Nisbet, from Pembrokeshire, taught English in grammar and comprehensive schools and later taught creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. He has had hundreds of poems published in Britain, dozens in the USA and a couple in India.

 

Paul Robeson at the County Theatre Haverfordwest, South Wales, May 1st, 1938 – Robert Nisbet

Paul Robeson at the County Theatre
Haverfordwest, South Wales, May 1st , 1938

They’ve known for years the simplest evenings out,
church socials, shilling dances and the flicks.
Hepburn and Boyer playing Break of Hearts,
and Garbo as Karenina, Will Hay
in some daft farce, Temple in Stowaway,
Astaire and Rogers dancing through Top Hat.

And now celebrity. His name rings sounds
of fame and wonder and exotica
and all that sings of marvels up the line.
A mile from town, doorways in Prendergast
flutter with waves and welcomes at the sense
that here, in flesh and voice, entering town,
we have a burnished legend. Down in town,
crowds mill, the man is warm, signs autographs.
They love him, they applaud.

                                                          The concert starts:
a famed soprano singing Handel airs,
a Milford schoolboy playing violin.
And then the sad lament of Shenandoah
and Go Down, Moses. Robeson’s rumbling voice
cossets and captivates, until the night,
pregnant with novelty, swells up in love,
to clasp and clap and touch their gentle guest.
Then Ol’ Man River is his final gift.

They’ll thrill, for years, to Robeson’s plunging bass,
sounding the sad deep river of his race.

 

Previously published in ‘Roundyhouse’ 13, (2005)

Robert Nisbet, from Pembrokeshire, taught English in grammar and comprehensive schools and later taught creative writing at Trinity College, Carmarthen. He has had hundreds of poems published in Britain, dozens in the USA and a couple in India.