Poetry


Benjamin and the Frog. Hmmm… Sounds like a children’s story doesn’t it? Well it isn’t, having recovered from a really sleepless night and an exciting day in The Out, I thought I would tell you all about my meeting with poet, Benjamin Zephaniah at Blackfriars Arts Centre in Boston, and a meeting with a little frog the night before.

I was very excited that I was going to read my poetry to Benjamin Zephaniah. He is someone Colin and I worshipped from afar in the 1980s, those heady days of alternative cabaret and comedy. Tadpole and Co majored in disasters set to jazz and poetry, such as Herculaneum and the Titanic. These were surprisingly popular considering they were in very bad taste. Those days in the mid-eighties were brief but happy times brought to a premature end by the surge in interest in samba bands and the desertion of our percussionist, Richard Bett, aka Riccardo Thunderfingers. He was the only man I have ever met who was capable of sustaining a rhythm on congas whilst simultaneously being thousands of people going down with a ship or getting buried by volcanic ash.

Yes, we certainly did some crazy back stuff then. We performed music and poetry in gigs and literature festivals from Hastings to Edinburgh. Some of it was even quite good but it was the comedic disasters that earned us our Yorkshire bookings, courtesy of Wild Willie, and the opportunity to share the stage with such worthies as Henry Normal and Jo Brand. We never performed with Ben, but he was “Up there!” and when the opportunity came to meet him at Boston, read some serious poetry and discuss it we leaped at the chance.

The night before recording the interview I couldn’t sleep. I was nervous, excited and in that terrible place where the more you try to sleep the less likely it is to come. Add to that an annoying tune that kept running through my head courtesy of an advert on TV… you get the picture. Eventually I must have dozed off and about three thirty to four in the morning I was woken by a cat coughing. Now, when said cat is a Himalayan and there is a history of heart murmurs in the breed you worry, so I got up to check on him.

He seemed fine, but was scrabbling around his water bowl. Then he pounced on a blanket I had hanging over a box full of stuff I really ought to sort through, donate, throw away… you know the sort of thing. I lifted the blanket and in the semi-darkness of my Pusheen nightlight, I saw what looked like a pile of poop.
“Urgh”, I said, turning the main light on, but it wasn’t poop, it was a frog! We have an empty vegetable container we use for trapping and releasing flies so I grabbed it quickly and, with the aid of a piece of card, I easily caught the sleepy looking frog.

By this time Colin was up and about and wandered into the bathroom.
“You wouldn’t believe what I just caught in my bed room,” I said.
“Just a minute,” he grumbled.
He must have been half asleep because the surprise of finding a frog in the house didn’t register. Nor did he offer to do the gentlemanly thing and put it out for me. So here I was, standing in my nightie and slippers in the twilight before dawn, trying to unlock the front door while Froggie got more and more excited and jumped up and down in his box. He was released to the water feature by the pond (I know frogs hide in there). I was surprised that he made no attempt to escape after the first hop. I guess he is a very laid back frog and in my experience frogs are not scared of people.

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Now, I have no idea how a frog came to be in my bedroom, nor do I have any idea how long he was in residence. All I know is that he certainly seemed settled under the blanket and that one of the cat water bowls showed signs of dust-bunnies and what I assumed was a frog poop right in the middle. Cue vigorous cat bowl scrubbing and changing of water… I then went back to bed and caught about three hours sleep before I had to get up for an early start and our journey to Boston where we were due to read poems and discuss immigration, Pilgrim Fathers and Boston amongst other things.

I suppose I was a bit ring-eyed and stupid for my interview with Ben. It took me a long time to relax and come out of my shell, but he is a lovely, genuine man and seemed interested in my poems and Colin’s too. When it was all over the three of us chatted for a little while about the eighties, alternative cabaret and the parallel universes we seemed to exist in. Somehow we never shared the stage with Benjamin Zephaniah back then. Hopefully when the programme comes out, we will finally get that wish.


The words of I Vow To Thee, My Country sung so beautifully by Katherine Jenkins were written by Cecil Spring Rice in 1908 and define an era when the world was a very different place. It was a world that was very class conscious, where Empires ruled and where innocence existed alongside a great sense of adventure. There was still much to discover, enormous scientific discoveries had been made or were on the verge of being made, The Titanic had yet to be built, let alone sink, and the ravages of World War were as yet unthinkable. When Gustav Holst wrote the music to Jupiter from the Planets Suite the melody for “I vow to thee, my country” was forever set.

Now here I nail my colours firmly to the mast as a person of a certain age, brought up in a forces family during the twilight years of the British Empire and being made to sing this song in a primary school choir. It is a beautiful tune and a beautiful but, for many, an undoubtedly dated lyric. I learned to play Holst’s melody on recorder, melodica and piano by ear, note by painful note. It brought tears to my eyes but not before it had brought tears to others and I thought it was absolutely wonderful. To this day I believe it gives Jerusalem a run for its money as an English National Anthem but it is considered flawed and therefore rejected.

I am not a fan of nationalism. In an era when we need to act local but think global the last thing we need is national fervour any more than we need proselytizing religions fighting it out for supremacy in the Middle East or anywhere else. What the world needs is less “us and them” and more freedom and working together. This beautiful song has even been called heresy by those who hate jingoist philosophies but on the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War I wanted to think of those words as a poet and look for a different meaning. I truly believe that Cecil Spring Rice’s words have been taken purely at face value for a long time yet beneath them lies something universal and very spiritual. So for better, for worse, here is my take on what could have been an English National Anthem but for it being considered too patriotic.

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;

This has been labelled by one churchman as heresy, but it refers to all earthly things. In the Christian tradition and understanding that means rendering unto Caesar all things that are Caesar’s. Earthly things are material, not spiritual. It says that my love should be entire and whole and perfect and if love is less than those things it cannot be love can it?

The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

Oh my, think of those words in the context of the First World War? It never ceases to amaze me how many wonderful and talented young lives were cut short in the carnage born out of a conglomeration of diplomatic mistakes and proud rulers. This was indeed a powerful call to service and a call that most young men would have responded to without question. I think of this poem in a different context though, remember it was written during peace time? I think of it as saying love is not love if it only exists in easy circumstances. This could be just as easily extrapolated to a marriage, a deep friendship, living donation of transplant organs, a hero risking his or her life to save the innocent. It is about being prepared to sacrifice everything to achieve something better. That is a concept much bandied about by those who do not truly look to the greater good, but when sacrifice is truly made in the name of life, not power and certainly not to inflict death, then that is a form of profound love.

The second verse is rarely if ever sung. I certainly cannot remember singing it and this may be because of the military references. Pretending it doesn’t exist is not the answer though. An attempt at understanding it might be better even if we choose not to sing those words.

I heard my country calling, away across the sea,
Across the waste of waters she calls and calls to me.

Only someone who has been an expat can truly understand that profound feeling of homesickness. I knew it as a child. There is something magical about the land of our birth wherever that may be and however flawed our homeland might be. Like salmon we are all programmed with the homing instinct. It is in our very genes.

Her sword is girded at her side, her helmet on her head,
And round her feet are lying the dying and the dead.
I hear the noise of battle, the thunder of her guns,
I haste to thee my mother, a son among thy sons.

There is little doubt that these lines are an appeal to youth to protect their country as they would a mother. That may not be a fashionable statement, but it is one soldiers of all nations will be able to relate to.

Now what follows are the lines that to this day bring tears to my eyes. Cecil Spring Rice extrapolates those feelings of love, sacrifice, loyalty, family and bravery to a whole different level. This is a spiritual level and no doubt he made it in the context of Christian belief but I don’t think it excludes any other belief, including humanism or atheism.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;

In other words, the country of our birth or affiliation is not the most important thing in the world. That is a country within the mind, the heart, the soul; a country that has no boundaries; a country that not everyone knows, but those who do love it will love it more than anything else.

We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;

This country Spring Rice speaks of is not defined by power, by the might of armies or the pomp and ceremony of royalty and government. Her fortress is a faithful heart, not a nuclear deterrent; her pride is suffering, not the defeat of others. These lines are telling us that deep within the human spirit is the greatest country of all and that often the human spirit cannot be defeated.

And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

And one by one we will all learn to realise that there is more than one village, one town, one country, one race, one species because in fact we are all one. We are one because our lives and the impact of our thoughts and actions impinge on the entire globe, its weather systems, its flora and fauna. This new country of ours, the country of the mind and heart that seems so sadly distant at times, is within our grasp and our own making and one by one, soul by soul, this is what all right thinking men and women will come to see. The ways of this country are not those of conquest, they do not involve the domination of one race or religion over others; they are the ways of gentleness and above all they are the paths to peace if only we open our hearts to all.

I was reflecting on how life treats us and how we grow through the experience and I came up with this. It is a form I have used before, three haikus and a single line, making ten lines in all.

Sunyata

This Autumn rebirth
Sends tranquillity
Through the roots of my being

Youthful sap still drives
Mind grown evergreen
To smile in peace on snowfall

When Spring is over
Summer fading faster
Winter memories of pain

In passing lead to perfect emptiness.

Aimlessly Planting Daffodils

October finds you in its chilly kingdom
Holding court in smoke filled club room;
Antique, cosy friends around
Are hanging on each tory word.
They love to put the universe to rights!
Their targets? Idle, fallen girls
Who breed for homes and youths who lounge for benefits!
What use are pretty babies anyway?
You flip the ash from brown cheroot and holder,
Like a rising claw, salutes an extant power and dignity
As, sipping sherry, bygone Queen lifts tulip bowl.

But, trug in hand and wide brimmed hat,
An Autumn Sunday mist reveals you by the road.
The chosen spot at last!
You penetrate the barren council earth
With sharp edged trowel and plant each bulb
Leaving the idle fallen verge in shame –
Now violated, pregnant and alone.
Its destiny forlorn to bloom each spring
Lifting the hearts of random strangers passing by;
Your tribute to the fallen and the beautiful…
Aimlessly planting daffodils – those feckless flowers-
They breed to fill each waiting hole!

© Lisa Gabriel, March 2014

poems about the sea

The dedication for A Child at the Sea reads “For Gilly on her birthday at Garwick…” Now Gilly was a good friend of mine, a poet herself, and I met her on the Care2 network in 2004 or 2005. Gilly was older than I, but very much in touch with her inner child and that inspired me to write the following poem, A Child at the Sea. It details my own childhood experiences of living near the sea on the South coast of England and was meant to create a magical picture that I hoped Gilly would enjoy. She, at the time, was visiting a mutual friend on the Isle on Man and was enjoying her own childhood memories of Garwick.

My poem was not written for a child except for my own inner child who, to her utmost disgrace, refuses to stop playing.

A Child at the Sea

Somewhere a clock chimes three…
A seagull’s cry,
Like plaintive ghost,
Pierces a slow dawning sky,
And here I lie…
A child suspended,
Caught in that magic hour ‘twixt night and day.
Nor wake, nor sleep,
But race the innocent dreams of freedom…
And in my mind,
So old in one so young,
Down to the pebble beach I fly…
The scent of the breeze,
Seductive,
Fragrance of shellfish, tar, and the salt sea,
Plays havoc with my senses.
The boats lie idle,
Captains roll the deep sleep of sated pleasure,
Dreaming of rum, and ale,
And Siren songs of the night before…
A symphony of shingle;
Waves pulling,
And the rush and roar
Of tide on stone,
Soft water – tunnelling ancient rock –
Moulds, shapes and plays;
Itself a child on some forgotten shore…
As lone crabs stalk,
Anemones flower…
What child of time
Could ever wish for more?

10th May 2005


This is a poem from my collection In Remembrance of Future Present: A Journey through the Art and Heart of Lisa Gabriel, recently released again and in a Goodreads Giveaway. (Details at the end) It was written at a dark time in my life, but is about rising above that through positive thought. I do find these days that so many people have paid lip service to the concept of positivity that it has lost some of its credibility. Being negative about others whilst apparently embracing “positivity” as a set of values is neither positive nor constructive. For me, positivity is a very personal thing, at the time of writing this poem and others it probably made the difference between life and death – it certainly made the difference between sanity and insanity when depression was a very real and close companion.

So, eat, drink and be merry – but above all SING because the singing soul has no room for dark thoughts to multiply. That IS positivity!

In A Quiet Time

I will not write darkly
In this quiet space where time and tide
Seem at standstill…
For me, the Present is a race
To fill the Parting Glass
Before I taste Eternity –
But in this cold time
I live to dream –
Think kindly of me.

I will not write darkly
Of empty, silent days without Truth
For Darkness chains me down…
I would be free!
Pure Love seeks only Light!
I ask no more than this –
The future will be bright
And we will know
No more of pain.

(c) Lisa Marie Gabriel 12th June 2005

Goodreads Book Giveaway

In Remembrance of Future Present by Lisa Marie Gabriel

In Remembrance of Future Present

by Lisa Marie Gabriel

Giveaway ends January 25, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

In Remembrance Of Future Present

On the sacred touch
Of a Summer breeze,
Fresh
To a heart in Winter slumber,
Flows such warm fragrance…
Sweet Life renewed
In tender caress –
And in this Wave of Love
I gladly swim…

I sing

Through the Heart of darkness;
Dance
In the Stream
Of a thousand lives –
Breathe
The deep mystery of Renewal.
Faith is my rock
And Love?
Passion no longer
My hiding place –
But joy –
This fountain of Light
And Summer laughter…

And shall I taste Of the Promise

Of things to come?
Here,
In this space of simply being?
Tranquillity…
The touch of an Angel’s wing
Unknown to me –
Unknowing –
Folds my soul
In such a fond embrace
And in soft kiss
Reveals

Just Who I am…

Just one of the poems from my collection of the same name which is now available on Amazon and will soon be available elsewhere. There is a Goodreads Giveaway running for this book at the moment

Goodreads Book Giveaway

In Remembrance of Future Present by Lisa Marie Gabriel

In Remembrance of Future Present

by Lisa Marie Gabriel

Giveaway ends January 25, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win