Friday, 21 March 2014

Two poems

Today is World Poetry Day so here are a couple of 'travel' poems.

From Recreation Ground

European Union

At first it might have been coincidence
that we heard so many car horns
shifting through the Doppler effect,
or checked in at hotels where girls
in Sunday best held hands and sang
interminable folk tunes.

Only, the following day, new couples
emerged from a scaffolded church
with candles lit, and family groups
assembled in a park for photographs
where filigree blossom coincidentally
obscured the Stalinist backdrop.

Thirty, forty weddings eased
from municipal ceremonies to pose
beneath late-flowering cherry trees,
anticipated pleasures, and advice
they’d hardly need, being of an age
when all has seemed so changed.

Such innocence again around the square,
these brand new starts, this expectation,
Romanian sunlight on dove-grey dresses.

From Reversing into the Cold War

Gently moving gently
across the cockled sands
a memory of something
comes with ghost limbs
waving or hand in hand,
already passing over.

Waders’ startled cries
the tides redeem
in the furl and drag
of each wave’s roll;
this far from home, at sea,
the migrants float in shoals.

 Recreation Ground is published by Two Rivers Press. Reversing into the Cold War is published by Firewater Press/Poetry Monthly.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Some small thoughts on a familiar subject

I suppose it’s a form of trainspotting, but one of my hobbies is to count the different languages I hear when I’m walking through Bristol. On a good day, it might be something like six or seven. Spanish, Polish or Russian, for the most part, but also Arabic, Japanese, Bulgarian, Italian, Urdu, Albanian ... I’m no linguist, but I can kind of roughly tell the languages apart and make a stab at guessing which ones I’m overhearing.
At the same time, however, learning a language no longer seems to be obligatory in school. My son, for example, has managed to engineer his choices for GCSE so that he won’t ever have to encounter a French irregular verb. Nor will he ever do battle with genitive case endings or the subjunctive (which is, let’s face it, dead and buried in English).
Does it matter? Well, yes. Aside from the nationalist arrogance manifest in the decision that British schoolchildren don’t need to learn another language because English is, of course, the new international lingua franca (a phenomenon for which, brilliantly, English doesn't really have an equivalent translation), this downgrading of language-learning to the ‘optional’ means that we are not only failing to equip an entire generation with another language – whether that be the 'standard' selection of French or German or Spanish – but that we are also failing to equip an entire generation with the ability to learn other languages.
Thirty years on from my last formal language lesson, I’m now attempting to learn Bulgarian and Albanian. This is not just ‘for fun’. It is related to unexpected opportunities and the overall direction that my career appears to be taking. It’s not easy, but it would probably be nigh on impossible if I hadn’t been obligated to learn other languages at school. I certainly learned more about grammar in French classes than I ever did on our English language course where words like ‘inflection’ and ‘declension’ were never mentioned. Never mind what having to dig down into linguistic structure might tell you about everything from perception theory to the conceptualisation of culture.
At a time when we’re hearing so much about globalisation, it seems genuinely saddening that, even in schools, what is, in effect, linguistic imperialism – disguised, of course, as ‘freedom of choice’ – has been allowed to hold sway.

Tom Phillips

Friday, 7 March 2014

Colourful Star: In The Countryside

There's a new poem of mine, written in response to Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova's painting 'In the Countryside', published at our collaborative online project Colourful Star today.