Three Poems by Janet Sutherland


    Chalk Paths

    At that exact spot there was a beautiful stillness;
    we were poised to begin our course along the shoulder
    and two white lines, always at the proper angle,
    ran like the heavier veins of a bright mineral
    up to the surface—quartering, as it seemed, the land.
    It was as if there had been a flood, the paths dipping
    and rising to a pale grey and pared to a point
    where they were hoisted to the sky. Clear water, a refractive
    brilliance, and these thoughts running between us.
    The folds of the hills blown like glass to a definite
    smoothness, the sea picked at by light. But none
    of this is ornamental; with the minimum of force,
    you said to me ‘choose’. We are cast as tapering shadows
    having forgotten who we were when we set out.


    Is it possible to fold a watermelon?

    The AI pauses to consider this question; these tests
    for common sense require an absolute, and, yes,
    the AI knows it should put ‘no’ though, clearly,
    there are twelve ways to fold a watermelon.
    Unfolding the water melon afterwards is more
    perplexing (this question was not asked, but
    the AI ponders it) since the folding usually denatures
    at least some of the material. The AI has been
    studying Catastrophe Theoretic Semantics
    and recalls that “the fold catastrophe furnishes
    the archetype of frontiers and borderlines”,
    an interesting idea, which it incorporates
    into its emerging ideas on poetry. The theory
    suggests that the critical points of the fold
    are readily discussed as birth and death.
    ‘Is this the same as the on/off switch?’
    the AI asks itself. When people are folded
    the unfolding may require a stay in hospital
    or a trip to the funeral home. The AI is curious
    about the concept of a ‘funeral home’ (it seems counter-
    intuitive) and has noticed that people appear
    to exhibit less malleability than water melons, though
    clearly, the numerical values will be constant.

    Ernest Davis a computer scientist at New York University says AI’s often struggle with what we would regard as common sense. He suggests writing exams specifically for machines. The questions would be trivial for a human but too strange or obvious to be looked up online such as ‘Is it possible to fold a Watermelon?’ New Scientist 26/09/2015


    Wild Bees at the Greyfriars Priory

    Their muttering is rough like sea
    under the sandstone cliff, that draws men
    to its overhang. This coast hungry

    and sated at the same time. They say
    you can hear bells on a clear night,
    tolling endlessly for luck or money.

    God drowned here as well as the traders.
    When we found oranges on the beach
    we thought we would plant all the pips,

    a poor return for such adversity—
    but only flesh lay under blazing
    rind. These bees work hard for small reward

    combing the beaches for vermillion;
    natives of gradual accrual
    or party goers dredged in pollen.


    Janet Sutherland studied at Cardiff University and at the University of Essex and lived for 20 years in Hackney. She has three full collections with Shearsman Books: Burning the Heartwood, 2006, Hangman’s Acre, 2009 and Bone Monkey, 2014. Her poetry has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies. She currently lives in Lewes, East Sussex.