INDIGO DREAMS PUBLISHING LTD
GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2021
Stephen Boyce is an award-winning British poet widely published in UK magazines, anthologies and online.
He is the author of two previous collections, 'Desire Lines' (Arrowhead 2010) and 'The Sisyphus Dog' (Worple 2014) as well as the pamphlets 'In the Northland' (TegArt 2011) and 'Something Persists' (TegArt 2014).
His work has been described as “intelligent, sophisticated and formally-assured.”
Stephen works as a consultant in the cultural sector and his poems often draw on themes of art and heritage; he frequently collaborates with visual artists.
He lives in Dorset and is a founding trustee of Winchester Poetry Festival in Hampshire.
Cover image by Sioban Boyce
138 x 216mm
£9.99 + P&P UK
The Blue Tree
Stephen Boyce’s third full-length collection extends his range with poems of loss, love, reconciliation and especially hope. The poems are anchored in the natural world, especially the world of trees whose ‘awes and fascinations’ often provide the setting for tales of the everyday and the unexpected.
“These poems are exquisitely crafted, woven together with subtle cadences, half rhymes, delicious details, unexpected similes. Yet beneath their elegance and grace lies a deeply felt humanity, a passion and gratitude for nature, landscape, enduring love, that is all the more profound for being understated and beautifully contained.”
“To read a poem by Stephen Boyce is to step into a physical location – with landscapes rendered in tactile detail, trees in particular coming as vividly alive as people. Whether drawing on present experience, memory, visual art or reading, he makes it real, in a seamless weave of thought, perception and emotion.”
“The natural world is often the touchstone of these elegant and supple lyrics. Poems that hinge on a bird or a tree offer up small epiphanies which illuminate the parallel journeys of the human creature. These are poems of tenderness and quiet beauty that know just how little needs to be said.”
The Blue Tree
The night the blue tree was struck by lightning,
its thicket of twigs absorbing the shock,
protecting its slender trunk, we had sat out late
in that sticky air, uncertain as to what
made us want to be there – the oppressive heat
of the house, a glint of moonlight on moths’ wings,
an odd falling star? Or the want of company,
a desire to feel we had made amends?
The talk was of the here, the new, the now,
we did not venture into the past. The future
was masked by night. We let silences bloom,
as what had gone before rose and settled
in the blue tree’s tangled thatch. Then the fork,
and jagged flashes lighting up the gorge.
Joining you some way into your journey
I find myself on desert tracks, following
camel trains and silk roads, among Sufi
and Tuareg, wanderers in the cradle
of being – simple lives finely tuned,
seeking and giving – where a goat is worth
more than gems, where there is honour
among traders, among neighbours, even
among poets, where the life of the nomad
is an act of devotion, where the landscape
holds no distraction and a moment
of stillness is worth a lifetime of struggle.
The day a wandering sheep ate our map
as we ploughed into wind on Moel y Plas –
and, skirting the mountain, we found our way
back to the car park, shrugged off the rain,
made it at last to the hotel, bathed, rested,
eased our aching limbs – you rescued
from thirty-five years of memory the name
of the farmer, our neighbour at Llanarmon,
just as the waitress (that same man’s daughter)
described with what they call a lilt – softer
here than down south – her family home, sheep
scattered among bracken, the exposed scarp
and how Cynthia Lennon dropped in at the farm.
The Lone Tree of Loos
What matters is not that this landmark was a singleton,
self-sown, a range-finder they took pot shots at
over the barbed wire, in what became for them no-man's-land.
What matters is not that its scarred limbs would cradle
for three days or more the body of an officer
machine-gunned while raising his country's standard there.
What matters is not the million other trees of Flanders
felled for duckboards and ammunition boxes,
nor the Chinese labourers alongside lumberjacks and foresters.
What matters is not the name – einsamer Baum, arbre solitaire –
nor the remnants, the museum pieces,
the replanting eighty years on, the rooting in earth-memory.
What matters, beyond the white algebra of these cemeteries,
is this one wild cherry – 'loveliest of trees…'
Count in cotton, in paper and in pearl,
in tooth-tested precious metal.
Count the breaths, the vows, the tears,
the tables laid for two, then three or four.
Then three, then two again. Count the rings
on fingers, phones and in the core of trees.
Count the falling leaves, the ticking clocks,
the beep of monitors, the drip, the drip, the drip.
And, before you part, count the countless kisses,
thrilling, tender, doting, dry – count
the rhythm of the halting heart.
What washes up in the forest is no less
a wonder than the flotsam of oceans.
Take this skeleton of an upturned ark
stranded among a reach of ash trees,
beached in leaf litter, its ribs and spars
secured by a rigging of twiggy larch,
tangles of plaited honeysuckle, all
leaning in as though wanting to give ear
to silence, breathe the wood’s cool must.
Some Crusoe surely built this, laid limbs
against a fallen ridgepole, wove vines
and brushwood, spread out a bed of brash,
learned how stillness is a state of mind,
here where things slither, drip and flinch.