Barbershop is …

Barbershop is
a much misunderstood
musical force for good.
A kind of Westminster
without the politics.
Ambassadors without
the Ferrero Rocher. Zero8
with an ironically high score
a Hallmark of Success,
ringing true to their art,
on a journey without end
with songs of many parts
telling stories full of heart,
life’s tales of mixed fortune
that transcend all that stuff
and takes us from the rough
to velvet vocal grace, without
a single trace of discord
(except where intended).

What is? …
Barbershop is
singing unaccompanied
anywhere that you care
in the garden or the park
in the bar after dark or the
pub with some grub with a
pint if you’re dry, have a tear
in your eye for a love that is
lost … or one you’ve just won
whatever the cost. Barbershop
is the salve that, applied to the
ears, rolls away all the years
with ageless appeal and an
endless feel of vocal accord
that enables an equity of
beginnings and endings
and it pleases the Lord
with spirits ascending.

What is? …
Barbershop is
tearing up musical rules
whatever your vocal tools
it allows you to address
with rubato, or digress from
the score and, what is more
it sounds like the Lord
of the Rings hit the ground
on the seventh with a chord
like no other, made a sound
that will astound like you
heard a full orchestra set off.
Give it large. You’re the boss.
You’re in charge of the gang,
be they four or you hang with
dozens more, it’s just the same
this vocal game … Barbershop is.

© 2020 John Anstie
All Rights Reserved

[For good measure and, speaking of “The Boss”, as a mark of our intention to stick together whilst we cannot be together, here is what we ‘performed’ at the BABS Live event last night, a new song that we haven’t performed together, but learned, rehearsed and performed (via skilfully multi-tracked individual audio recordings, woven with video cameo performances from us all, by our maestro MD, Tim Briggs) … Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in The Dark“. Metaphorically speaking, this seems quite an appropriate title.]

You can read the background to this poem here

 

Posted in Music, Performance, Pleasure, poem, poetry, Singing, story | Leave a comment

Winter Song

A diaphanous veil of mist had settled
sensuously in the valley below.
The upper edge of a jigsaw wall,
its silhouetted frame that lay
beneath a cloud streaked blue, was
stark and sharp as the frozen chill
of air that nipped the ears, and
brought a tear to a rose red nose.

Under foot, a thin and brittle crust,
a chocolate crisp contained inside
a creamy, sweet and treacly core,
challenging the boots that tread,
questioning their proof against a
threat of insidious infiltration, thence
a haunting memory of trench foot,
the spectre of necrotic consequence.

Trees, undressed and still as death,
conserve what little life remains
their fingers, skeletal signposts,
reach patiently for their renewal,
impossible as it may seem to be,
moist and cold, but like a phoenix,
their fertile ashes hoping for a
chance to come again one day.
~~~
Once more, the late Spring’s vivid scenes
of sporting courts and verdant greens.
Once more, the early call of song,
the golden warmth of a rising sun
Once more, the vibrant purple haze
of August’s bounteous flowering days.
Once more October’s golden crown.

The moorland heather fading brown.

© 2019 John Anstie
All rights reserved

[This poem has simultaneously been published in the prose blog, Forty-Two]

Posted in nature, poetry, Weather | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

A Poem for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

~~~~~

Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” ~ John Donne (1572-1631) from Meditation XVII 

~~~~~

Photo: Sarah K L Langeveld (all rights reserved)

My grandpa is quite old, I think he’s seven

One day, I’m told that I’ll be this old too
in between I know that I should be
mindful of the bell that rings for you
diminishing the life that’s meant for me

So I should make the best of every day
and follow conscience’ dictate as I go
be grateful for my blessings on the way
and, like my body, know my mind can grow

To know that all about me is my heaven.

~~~~~

The idea for the title of this poem came from Patience Strong’s Collection of poetry, “Yesterdays and Tomorrows”, part of The Patience Strong Treasury. I believe John Donne intended that his brief essay, entitled “Meditation XVII” – whilst it may have sounded very doom-laden in the context of its time – should also be a celebration of life. But, as a preacher, particularly at the turn of the 17th century, he was bound to preach to his congregations, as well as the audiences for his poetry, of the importance of appreciating what you have, whilst you have it. 

The lovely photograph, taken by my niece, was one of many from my recent 70th birthday party, arranged as a complete surprise by my three children and my niece. It was a very special evening.

© 2020 John Anstie
All rights reserved

Posted in children, family, Iambic Pentameter, poem, poetry | Tagged | Leave a comment

Lost Gardeners

There was such colour and bustle
where now reflective calm.

In the thunderbox room
nearby the melon yard
haunting echoes of silent voices

once green fingers that pressed
a trigger for King and country
gently call from an early grave,
who once scattered humus here.

They shed tears for weeds
that stained the fresh leaves
of Spring, unfolding, unseen

cold frames of mouth-blown glass,
warmed the summer fare
that meant so much to those
who dug one last trench

so many lost at such a cost
shovelling cold organic mud
to sow the seeds of future green
in very unmilitary drills

and who would say what
could have been had peace
been thoughtfully nurtured
like the fruits of this place.

Inundated by nature’s mission
their names forever bleeding
from these crumbling walls

so few in the flesh of then
left much in the earth of now.

© 2019 John Anstie

 

[A visit to the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall revealed to me a very poignant story of its gardeners, 16 out of 22 of whom lost their lives in the First World War; of the gardens, which subsequently fell into ruin until the 1990’s when a descendant of the original owners set about restoring them to become one of the UK’s most popular botanical gardens. The scene is set around the ‘thunderbox’ room where they would carve the names in the walls as they sat and the very peaceful garden adjacent to it, where you can feel the history of the place, which was powerful enough to compel me to write this in their memory

this was intended to be published in the March edition of the BeZine, which I rarely miss, but didn’t make it this time. Here is the link to this worthy quarterly journal, whose mission is to foster ‘Peace, Sustainability and Social Justice’ and whose theme this quarter is “Waging the Peace” … https://thebezine.com%5D

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Dēmokratía

Have you ever felt the mocking tone
of those who disagree with common sense
whose point of view bears truly little weight.

To deny understanding. Socratic debate.

For whom jocular bullying is their choice of stick
to avoid a dialectic path to contradiction
better to decry with pejorative rhetoric.

To belittle rational thought. Compassion. Love.

Blinded by niggling insecurities
to win, at all costs, to conquer all
too keen to let the ego’s triumph reign.

To understand the conflict … between Demos and Kratos.

 

[You’d best have a dictionary to hand. This poem alludes to both direct and representative democracy, as well as to the unwillingness of politicians to engage in Socratic dialogue or dialectic debate. It is also about an unwillingness to recognise the ‘Kratos’ in Greek mythology, as the divine personification of strength, prevalant in young men, who are so often preparing for conflict … forgetting that, if they are prepared for conflict, they are far more likely and willing to engage in conflict. As the years pass and the generation of those who returned from the World Wars with their physical and mental scars, die and their ability to communicate the horrors of war is removed, new generations of young men will continue to be willing to go off to war, or fight in the streets for whatever gives an outlet to their anxieties and quest for conflict … it also bears comparison with new generations of ambitious politicians, who do have the advantage of learning from the wisest of the old guard, who themselves so often become worth listening to when they no longer have to tow the party line and are beyond selfish ambition. But the new generation cannot, because they are blinded by their own ambition … their own version of Kratos, the divine, entitled personification of their intellectual rather than physical manifestation of strength]

 

© 2018 John Anstie

All rights reserved

Posted in poetry | 5 Comments

The Festival

In a field somewhere, full of stars,
enchantment you could almost hug,
cupped in hands, with sparkle and dust,
you can carry it off in your pocket.
It’s magic, so catch some you must.

Catch a glimpse of follies too
enormous knitted daisies,
bluebells from yon Brobdingnag
bring you down to earth, coax a smile,
a tear in a song’s moving tag.

Nearby a winch wheel’s silhouette
casts shadows rumbling dark as night.
Here food to spare and racing sheep
yield a home grown breakfast, fresh
as the air that feeds its fare.

Amid the throng, unmannered crowds,
by day an unrelenting sun
glints from beads of sweat
that pour from a steward’s brow,
to sounds of string on fret.

A veil of purple haze on moors
a crown on green and rolling hills
dragonflies and butterflies greet
pink spotted sheep not far away
warmed by the simmering heat.

In a field somewhere, the sound of music,
here the family and other folk sing.
Cambridge beware of your conceit
size matters not to connoisseurs
here is where you’ll find their feet.

Under witch’s hats, the stage is set,
powered by love of music’s brew,
but here, no trouble; nothing jars,
here, the sun shines all day long
and Underneath the Stars.

© 2014 John Anstie
All rights reserved

(This was written five years ago, in response to a particularly special experience at the very first Underneath The Stars festival, in 2014. Originally a festival of folk and roots music it is now much more than that. It features two stages, one of them as big as any you’ll find, anywhere on the festival circuit; the second for standing or sitting on the grass, smaller and intimate, both under cover. The performances on both alternate between them. Still small, clean, intimate and very family friendly and special, this festival has so much culture to offer, including street theatre, workshops, the very best food and beer! And as a measure of all that it has to offer, they sold out of tickets over two months ago!

In less than two weeks, we will be attending for the sixth consecutive year, as volunteer stewards. Also a measure of how it draws us in every time and how great a job the Rusby family have done to make this little festival such a success.

Their website is here: Underneath The Stars festival)

Posted in Culture, Folk, Free Verse, Music, Pleasure, poem, poetry, recreation, Roots | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Last Year

(Same River, New Waters …)

Last year passed me the golden glove
You know, the one with a fist of iron.
She wanted no more of it.    Nor I.
Those glossy, glittering, glistening,
shining products of a golden age
had lost their sheen and the age of
growth and worshipping at the alter, 
where God Demands Profit*, is so last year.

Meanwhile, in the town, at Star Books,
We were reading over a tax-free coffee,
batting ideas on who could pay the bill
and how you make your money work,
if only we had some.

No longer bleeding from the lungs
but from now emptying wallets
consumption was her daily bread
and the disease that strangled
generations, who died of terminal debt,
the improper death of innocents.

Where is our misplaced virtue,
should we be held to account?
Maybe no more, and yet we must
pay due heed and plant a seed of hope,
to fight for nourishment forgone.

It might have been the will of the people,
but, for folk who step in the same river
ever newer waters flow …

© 2019 John Anstie
All rights reserved

[The core of this poem was influenced by the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who lived around the 5th century BCE and was well know for his thesis about ever-present change, that “no man ever steps in the same river twice”, which, in modern parlance, suggests that you can ‘reinvent’ the wheel. It is a subtle but, for me, a very compelling philosophical perspective.

It was first published in the The Bardo Group Beguine on 22nd April 2019]

* … GDP or ‘Gross Domestic Product’ is the standard statistic by which economic growth is measured.

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Pine Cone

In the midst of turmoil,
our Mother Earth besieged
by bloody conflict,
in a world beleaguered
by well healed negligence,
humanity is laced
with one great flaw.

Children are dying
We are dying with you.
I am crying for you.

Yet, whilst this goes on,
you walk the woods,
harvest your pine cones,
put them in a wishing well,
your unconscious prayer
for a better world,
for love, for life,
that sow the seeds
of perfect purity
in heart and mind,
that will not fade with time.
This is the magnificence,
the magic of your spirit
that is untouched
by a tainted world.

Then, in one gesture,
one single act of generosity,
of utterly moving faith,
you beckoned me
come close to you.
You looked me in the eyes;
and I was hypnotised.
Then, you gave it to me,
one single piece of magic,
a piece of nature’s bounty,
and bade me keep its secret
as covert as a spy.

Each time I hold your gift,
when we are far apart,
I’ll think of you and
remember this moment,
by which you have renewed
my faith in all our futures.

You could melt the heart,
like chocolate on a Summer’s day.
You could soften steel
in hardened minds.
You and your magic
are our future.

© 2013 John Anstie
All rights reserved

[Five years ago, my then 4-year old granddaughter gave me a pine cone. She had found it as we walked in the woods and called me to her, very secretively, and put it in my hand, confiding in me that it was magic secret and that I should tell no one. She bade me keep the secret, which I have done for five full years. Today, 29th September, is the annual celebration of the campaign that calls itself “100,000 Poets for Change” (100TPC), one of whose initiatives for 2018 is to read a poem to a child … finally I feel today is the day that I should share that magic moment with the world for the sake of the mission of Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, who established the 100TPC and its mission of peace and sustainability; and for the BeZine and its founder and Chief Editor, Jamie Dedes, whose mission is to promote peace, sustainability and social justice. Let us appreciate, value and respect our children and grandchildren, for the sake of  future generations of young minds, whose task it will be to care for this precious Earth … 

… thank you Jessica.]

Posted in 100TPC, children, Free Verse, Hope, Love, poem, poetry, Wonder | 5 Comments

Blackbird

Common_Blackbird

Photo: Andreas Trepte http://www.photo-natur.de. Available under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5 license.

Your red-rimmed, mystic, all-seeing eye
that asks of us the question …
why you’re first to rise, not we
in time to hear your cry.

A share of this full Earth is how,
you feed your Spring-time pride.
An earthworm meal is all you ever
ask it to provide.

Months of dry and we forget
enslaving you to sink …
your beak in water anywhere
but n’er a drop to drink.

Yet you gift your song’s duet,
its echoes beguile, but we,
by our neglect, ignore your need
and forget to think of thee.

© 2018 John Anstie
All rights reserved

Posted in animals, Ballad, conservation, Global Warming, green, nature, poem, poetry | Tagged | 1 Comment

Eva Joy

Mother Earth expected your arrival
her hills and mountains tumbled into plains,
but fault-lines held for your survival.

She is made of you and you of her,
atoms and molecules indistinguishable
inside the organic life you share

now the planets, just like wise men of old
align to honour you, look down on you
and from the star-filled skies behold

their will, it is foretold, to bring us rain
to wet your head and yield a flowering
of joy that sings a sweet refrain.

You are as welcome as any life could be
the seed from which you grow will never die
and flourish for eternity.

© 2018 John Anstie
All rights reserved

[This poem was written for my seventh grandchild, and third granddaughter. The first poem I wrote, in this phase of my life, just over nine years ago, was inspired by the first of my grandchildren, “Jessica Tenth of May]

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