Friday, 30 May 2014

Jean Valjean

Articulate among the rocks
of this expedient exile
not so far from home,
what thoughts, what stories
recur like aftertastes
of not so haute cuisine ...

Victor Hugo on Guernsey,
amongst his poems
and les miserables,
plotting the fate
of convict Jean Valjean,
the sea his own barricades.

22 May was the 129th anniversary of Victor Hugo’s death.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 23 May 2014

За 24 май

Как да пиша, но с букви
от една древна азбука,
със звуци от сърцето?
Те носят дълги години,
спомени и истории:
една култура стои тук
в техните обикновени линии.

Тя следва моите ръце,
които създават думите,
които откриват карти
в най-малките кътчета.
Без тях – никаква любов,
никаква болка, никаква песен.
"Красиви са," казва тя.

How to write but with letters
from an ancient alphabet,
with sounds of the heart?
They bear long years,
memories and histories:
a culture stands here
in their plain marks.

She follows my hands,
which make the words,
which discover maps
in the smallest places.
Without them, no love,
no pain, no song.
“They’re beautiful,” she says.

24 May is Bulgarian Education, Culture and Slavonic Literature Day or Ден на българската просвета и култура и на славянската писменост. It is also St Cyril and Methodius’ Day, commemorating the brothers who devised the Glagolitic alphabet from which, in turn, Cyrillic is derived.

Images: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips (with help from and thanks to Iliyana Mircheva and Tsvetomira Peykova)

Friday, 16 May 2014

Bulgarian Monastery

A freshness as after rain
in this deeper seclusion
where our putative span figures –
from gardened beds to slim trees –
in an architectural scheme,
epitome of calm between storms.

Navigating corridors and cloisters,
we thicken patina and paintwork
with thoughts we’ve brought to bear
from guidebook précis,
biography of this or that artist,
history of dates and erasure.

By a bench on these stone flags,
some internal murmur frets,
pushes out into a penumbra
where others meanings
might wait to be distilled
from a precinct’s iconic silence.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Kettle

 So simple in construction –
but who first thought
to fashion that shape,
add spout and handle?

And who before them
found that leaves dropped
into boiling water
blossomed, made tea?
Or that clay transformed
to porcelain? And who
took fire and tamed it?

An untraceable regression –
but one which leads back
from this corner of the kitchen,
through centuries, millennia,
to a moment of discovery
on the margins of
a vast and unmapped plain.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014


Inside this hushed rotunda, frescoes,
haloed figures, patches of worn plaster
around serpent-dragon, horse and lance
are like a map of endurance,
faith held to and held onto
through years of omen and eclipse.

We move through incense traces,
iteration of prayers and blessings,
not so far from shopping hall and traffic,
along a cusp of the sacred and shadow,
where everything might be laid out before us
in resurgent light across the iconostasis.

6th May is Гергьовден or St George’s Day in Bulgaria. 

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips 

Friday, 2 May 2014


They seemed to bloom for weeks,
banks of tulips in the college yard –
bright as crimson envelopes you filled
with mementoes, drawings, news.

Hurrying back from the post-room –
a student in daps and my own world –
and rashly tearing open what you’d sent,
I had to stop beside those vivid beds:

breeze-taken, a lock of your red hair
scattered across those sun-dappled flowers.

Image: Marina Shiderova; text: Tom Phillips