GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
Gillian Henchley was brought up in Scotland, and had the dislocated life of a child sent away at the age of ten to a school in the south of England.
She read Classics at Cambridge, specialising in classical art and archaeology, then settled for England, married and had a family.
Gillian worked in industrial relations in the coal mining industry and subsequently as Director of Personnel at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
She now lives in the heart of Bloomsbury and overlooking the sea in Kent.
Gillian came late to poetry but from a life-long relationship with words. She says that ever since she could hold a torch and spell out words she has been a secret under-the-blankets reader for half the night.
Now, instead of crafting words to negotiate deals, she is able to spin them for herself, to tell a story, convey relationship or emotion.
She acknowledges a considerable debt to her classical education, especially the great Greek playwrights.
138 x 216mm
£8.99 + P&P UK
PUB: 19th AUGUST 2016
“Gillian Henchley’s poetry confronts unpalatable truths of illicit affairs, loss, age - all processes that ravage the human condition. However, her deft touch ensures engagement with poems which are both personal and philosophical and which create an emotional space into which we are all invited and in which we find an emotional congruence.”
Both personal and universal, these poems engage the reader into reflecting upon their own lives:
the love affairs that last and those that don’t,
the language employed in the transaction of love,
the circumstances and compromises that shape and change us.
Gillian Henchley’s imagery is illuminated by her Scottish childhood, a classical Cambridge education and a professional life as disparate as the coal mining industry and the iconic V&A Museum.
Grazes on the Skin
Truth and Lies
We lived in rumpled sheets of small hotels;
it seemed enough to taste the smells,
to trace your spine on every sort of bed,
then, waiting, float the empty voids. And yet
you never said you’d sever any ties,
no promises – and summer? Most unwise.
So each July you paid another’s dues
in Tuscany amid the cypress views,
with relatives to dilute the stress
of truthfulness in every small caress.
Autumn then, in secret, all off piste
you said, as if I’d understand at least
the chanciness this simple phrase implied.
Yet even in Zagreb you couldn’t hide –
winter coming, a blight of dying leaves,
a leaching frost, that cold I now perceive
rising like a tide into your eyes.
But you never told me any lies.
Mistletoe. Each table has a spray
of holly amid the perfect spaced array:
Venetian tumblers, green and red
partnered with the slender reeds
of thin spun goblets, folded napkins
shaped like swans, cutlery in silver lines.
The voices tune to his respectful calm
measuring the menu, solemn as a psalm.
No fluster when the uninitiated fail,
prefer poussin to his corn-fed quail.
There is swing in this balletic mime
the kitchen corps, the steady rhyme
of plates processing garlanded with jus
in complementary tastes and hues.
He signals to the players on his stage
allowing each a starring role, a phase
of prominence, savours all he loves
before slow folding into coats and gloves.
The robes of white go in the laundry bin,
the floors are swept, tables set, nothing
left undone: outside bruising ice
street rubbish, squalls, north wind bite.
No use to linger, one key clicks, the other
opens to an island world, moist smother
of blankets, a spread of pills like shot,
each colour in its pot, Bella’s cough
catching at the air, drag of hair tangled
on the pillow’s sweat, food barely touched.
What makeshift care, while he is out –
a mess of lipsticked stains rim that cup,
staleness curling sly round kitchen corners,
a smear of ash unwiped upon the drainer.
He watches frowns chase across her face
imagines endings for this year, this place,
picks up a cushion turns down the light
and silently begins to set the room to right.
The Importance of Chagall
There seems to be no sequencing to days:
they float in space, comets whose time
has gone beyond remembering, foretelling.
Now Tuesday drifts her skirt across
a Sunday, tangles tea with Friday lunch.
And then – his name begins with C – that man
whose horse leaps joyful as a nursery rhyme
across a midnight sky, his bride engulfed
in thickets of white flowers splashed red
for future grief. The painter? Russian.
That’s all the brain retrieves, although
an aftertaste like chocolate hits the tongue.
In some abandoned parking lot my mind
has dumped the furnishings of life, the lists
of English Kings and Queens, their dates.
Rows of useful facts are derelict now
as if their fuel has suddenly run dry,
or they have withered in an autumn wind,
swept away as last year’s waste.
Does it matter yet that streets have lost
their place upon a map, sink nameless
down a Council drain? That yesterday
I asked a passer by directions home
close by my own front door? Called Persil
Omo like my mother fifty years ago.
There’s fur around my feet, curled comforting,
a purr vibrating up my cold pyjamas legs
I thought I’d fed him but he says not.
He is the darling of my days, Chagall,
his striped perfection and his tiger ways.
I watch you at the morning kitchen table,
unbuttoned, coffee mug in hand, at ease,
shaded like a feral cat with rings
of crudely drawn racist tattoos.
You take scrambled eggs
without thanks, eyes track
the Kempton card, fist nailing
fancied runners with a cross.
I heard you last night in bed,
those grunts, my mother’s cries;
the skin thin walls cannot conceal
that crack upon the lino floor.
I wonder which of you I hate the more.
Greenham wire is meshed with tokens
– a boy’s first floppy winter hat,
stripy Babygrows, hands tied in knots
that cannot easily be undone. Pennants
dressed with flying doves and curving
lime green trees are celebrating
slogans of no great subtlety.
Arms embrace each flinching soldier
as if they were his Mum’s at home.
Gawky lads, instinctively polite, avert
their eyes from shaven heads (that leave
no hold for cops), fatigues and combat boots.
Today we organize like flocks of geese,
without the need for loud command
into a loving deep embrace from which
the world may change or not; but I cannot
undo the changes stitched in me.