The Bell Jar

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

Trying to master the thing

Japanese frog

The print that sparked off the poem

My new blog 52 and the Facebook group that sits alongside it are taking up a huge amount of my time, and I rejoice in it. The idea behind 52 is a simple one – write a poem a week, make it a good one and share work in progress with a huge group of like-minded folk on Facebook. It’s taken off more than I could have imagined, and has been a source of amazing new material and nascent friendships – a real writerly community. Thanks so much to all who have gotten involved, and who continue to offer each other support. You can join us at any time – have a look here for the prompt, which goes live every Thursday morning.

In the last week of each month we have a guest blogger. Our first was the wonderful poet, my friend David Morley, who asked us to inhabit a bird or animal. Now, I confess that I have written nothing new from this prompt – and won’t post old material in the 52 group, where we are turning up such a variety of new work. But I do have a poem which fits the subject, so I offer it here for the scrutiny of fellow 52-ers and anyone who might enjoy it. It came from an eighteenth-century Japanese print of a frog – and also from working sometimes with famous gardener (and frog-lover0 Sam Youd, who looked after the huge estate and gardens at Tatton Hall in Cheshire for many years.

Japanese Frog
For Sam Youd

A stranger has come
to the edge of my mouth-wet pond.
A man, dry as a bird.
I meet him at the bounds
of my silver parish
and examine him.
He looks at me so closely
I am hardly there.

We reach an understanding
and he smokes
while I consider my affairs.

We converse like this
for minutes at a time;
he with his pipe,
I with my private concerns.
He cannot know
what I return to now:
my minnow-slippery wife,
my appetite for silence.

[NB After I posted this, fellow 52-er and Bard of Exeter Simon Williams was moved to write on behalf of Mrs Frog - see his response below, with my thanks for redressing the gender balance.]

Japanese Frog’s Wife
After Jo Bell

Sometimes
he’s a stranger,
that frog, slippy as spawn.
We met, briefly
in the idiocy of summer
when everything’s quick.
He called so loud
I heard from the depths.

We reached an understanding;
the first few dozen
started wriggling.

Occasionally there’s a shadow
at the rim, mist rising.
I see him staring
like a clueless stickleback.
He’s well occupied
and his actions are little concern.
When he’s away
is the only quiet.

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5 comments on “Trying to master the thing

  1. Anne
    February 4, 2014

    It also reminds me a lot of a certain poem by Dylan Thomas….one of my all time favourites by him. :)

    • June Palmer
      February 4, 2014

      That’s just what I thought, Love in the Asylum! Probably Thomas is my favourite poet and I love this poem.

    • Jo Bell
      February 4, 2014

      I had never heard of the Dylan poem and didn’t know what you meant until June gave the title – so thanks for the introduction. I thought you meant one about frogs! No resemblance intended, I promise you.

  2. johnandjulie1@talktalk.net
    February 4, 2014

    Thank you Jo Bell wonderful poetry, words that touch my soul and inspire me. Can i join the 52, i am a female poet from South Wales i run and host a poetry open mic in Cardiff called Rhyme and Real Ale. Also i have a blog called the Walking Poet. Julie.

    • Jo Bell
      February 4, 2014

      Hi Julie – come on in and start writing!

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This entry was posted on February 4, 2014 by in Readings and writings and tagged , , , , , .
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