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Foibles Frolics and Phantasmsdragonhenge Foibles, Frolics and Phantasms - illustrated poems by Paul Catherall 1995-2005

Foibles, Frolics and Phantasms

An illustrated Poetry book by Paul Catherall.

Extracts and Illustrations

I thought I would offer my own critical overview of some of the poems, with perhaps a few snippets from the accompanying illustrations, these are just a few of my favourites - Paul.

A Journey

A poem exploring the journey we all face from non-existence to life and the surreal nature of this passage; the speaker is awaiting a ferry to carry him to the world of the living, there is the distinct reference here to the legend of the Ferryman who carried the souls of the dead to the underworld, in this case, however, the journey begins in a place of non-existence, filled with trepidation of the coming transformation:

On the pebble beach I await a grim ferry,
its grinning timbers
approach the coral landing.



There are connotations of language in this poem, perhaps influenced by the author's locality, where the ancient Welsh language has been in decline for decades. The speaker's isolation is reflected in his inability to communicate with his environment and the surreal figures who inhabit it:

In the valley below, people are whispering -
their eloquent dialect
and chill wind's muttering
seem to relate...



A bizarre, surreal poem featuring a brutish ogre counting his 'moonstones', apparently indifferent to the surging, chaotic landscape around him; perhaps this is a reflection of humankind today, a misshapen figure obsessed with material wealth and out of touch with his environment:

Deep, deep underground -
the hoary troll
counts moonstones with a flickering pierce,
casting pale shadows in the glow
of incandescent suns -
slashing the dark with hungry
cadaverous teeth...



Another surreal poem; how can the speaker reconcile himself with the forces of nature when he is a mere shadow of humanity, a 'cyborg' whose thoughts are driven by 'electrodes' ?

Ultimates are everything, they define gravity;
Clockwork nature menstruates its aeons,
Heaving seas 
Subaqueate desert pastures,
On the ocean bed
Blind hunters track their prey...


Poem for a Poet

One of a number of poems in the book considering the whys and wherefores or poetry itself, is poetry an art, a science or mere fancy?

Were it not so sure
of itself,
the poem would be
like the poet -
wavering over a phonetic confluence,
muttering idly
over an image....


The speaker's 'roots' are quite literally discussed in this poem, there is a subtle comparison between the struggle of a root's growth in the soil and the hard struggle of the miner community of ages past. The struggle for growth and survival still faces the present generation, reflected in the contrast between the old faith-based existence and the skepticism of the modern world.

Where are the citizens, the bronze miners?
Whitewashed houses murmur their retributions -
nothing has changed,
their spirits are still here;
defined and bent with prohibitions -
unearthed among the back roots
that touch my heart endlessly,
burning like an ochre flame...

Pathetic Fallacy

A surreal critique of the 'Pathetic Fallacy' described by John Ruskin as an elevated state of mind when individuals are affected by the sights, sounds and power of the natural world. Whilst humanity may believe it has attained empathy with nature, the character in the poem seems to see only reflections of their own ego.

Over the darkening grass, I imagine
the dank abode of man, fixed
to the flesh, married like a snail
with the skin...

Stalking Grounds

The poem reflects on the degradation of the natural world from the splendid to the comic, as a result of humanity's influence over his environment, this is reflected in the attempt of the predatory cats to hunt. The environment surrounding the cats is a pale reflection of its former majestic state, the cats themselves resemble toys:

The grasses are actually lawns...
...the cats sense their dismay:
tawny hue and jet, one minute sporting -
each with the articulate delineation of
the toy maker;


War and Peace

A short critique of the charade of human conflict:

Underground in the shelters they partied -
sometimes fashion required formal attire, other times
casual dress exposed the hidden anterior;
serene, the dancers performed transactions
to the rhythm of automatic fire.

The Serpent Ouroboros

A bizarre motif, the Serpent Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of self-renewal found in many cultures around the world, it is often depicted as a gigantic serpent that encircles the earth, forever biting its own tail.

High above Gaia's azure veil,
embroidered with the jewels of night -
the serpent Ouroboros strides the sky...


A thought provoking poem on the nature of change and how we perceive this phenomenon as participants (or victims) of change; the steady tempo of the poem reflects the 'strutting' aspect of daily living we often take for granted:

Today's normality struts forth indifferently,
A senile pace, an egoistic rite...

The Spiral

The speaker attempts to relate their experience in being sensitive to the experience of life from a central point, from which he can glimpse fragments of both the past and future, however these visions are 'obscured' by the solid 'frontier' of the material world which exists between the speaker and the 'netherworld' where past, present and future are all present. A very strange poem...

From my window-seat, I see the landscape fly,
forms pass, but who is moving -
the traveler within the shell of motion
or the shifting world beyond?

Walking in Cader Idris

A walk into the unspoiled mountains of Cader Idris in North West Wales; the speaker is able to sense forces of nature at work in this environment but also suggests how this landscape is almost frozen in time, unaffected by the influences of the modern world.

Ahead stretched meandering paths -
Forces of nature both seeding and fading
Appeared in each boulder and crevice...


The Sorcerer

A juvenilia poem. The 'aged sorcerer' is a timeless, shadowy figure of the forest who extends healing and wisdom to local villagers; there are hints of Merlin and the druids. The sorcerer is a metaphor for the decline of our relationship with nature - as the sorcerer is finally driven out as a consequence of the machine and the complexities of the modern world.

Deep within the forest dim -
in a house that none might find,
dwelt the aged sorcerer,
stooped his body, dark his mind..

Sonnet to the Ancient Town

Another juvenilia poem, a pure fantasy but also a very surreal vision of a town which has long outlived its prime.

Oh ancient town bestride the restless shore,
Old shadows lingered lastest at thy gates...


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