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To a Cockchafer

A large brown European beetle which flies at dusk and is a destructive plant pest, both as an adult and a larva . That’s it. Of course, this is no more than a dictionary definition, but it takes no note of the striking appearance, intriguing life cycle and the curious story of our relationship.     I should like two sets of feathers fanned like ferns on either side, bracken clock, to tell me, show me what is where and how and when beyond my flat-head senses, little kittywitch. And those eyes, bulging black, that you borrowed from a mouse, mitchamador show you so much more. My humbuz, it was almost worth those years spent underground, the miserable history of DDT, near extinction, even once found guilty by a court of law, condemned by senseless men.   Tom beedel, big boy beetle, June-bug how much more you feel and sense as you wave your ferny fronds, those anemone antennae, how much more, dear snartlegog than I with none.     Pe
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The Axe

I’m not a violent man – well, I like to think I’m not. But here was a strange experience, being startled by the realisation that I held such potential in my hand. All I wanted was to buy a new axe to split my logs, the old one’s head having broken from its handle. Suddenly however, I found myself not just in possession of a lethal weapon, but one that seemed to have its own inclinations. And even worse, the power to influence me. I wonder how much that’s a characteristic of all weapons? Well, the poem tells the story, so no need to say any more, except to add that I was further surprised to discover that what I’d written was light-hearted, when the experience was actually quite a heavy one. Still, all ended happily – my wood pile is high and tidy, no one came to any harm and I remain (I think) non-violent.     The Axe   Down there, as far as you can go... There they were, in the distant corner spades and mattocks, scythes and axes – heavy tools, unused and shining stood to attention in

My blog this month isn't a poem – nor even several...

  My blog this month isn't a poem – nor even several. No, this time it's a set of little films of poems. After sharing them with several of you, I apologise straight away if you've already seen them, but you might be interested to hear some thoughts on the matter. And if you don't want to hear me thinking about making films of poems, just ignore what follows and go straight to the YouTube link.   I hope you enjoy the films. And please tell me what you think! You may remember a couple of the poems appearing in past blogs, with me writing about the possible presentation of poetry in this way. Time was when poetry existed solely as the spoken or sung word – it took some time for it to be written down.  Now, for the most part, it exists and flourishes in both these forms. Recently, and refreshingly, it seems to have been recovering more of its original orality. Now we liv

Barn Owl Pellet

  Barn Owl Pellet   So this is what I’ve ended with. A set of skulls upon my page – two empty helmets still intact which rest on their incisors.   The pack was black, tight-packed in felt, dropped like a bomb which might have scattered bits and pieces, body parts   but as I pick the pack apart finding in fur, nail-clipping ribs, femora from a miniature dinosaur, a mandible with its row of molars   aligned in order like corn on the cob – here’s another to lay alongside – all these little light-weight bones bone-white and clean after their sojourn,   a burial of sorts, I find no trace of flesh remaining – just disjointed skeletal fragments wrapped in fur to protect a delicate throat   now collected into sets. All that remains of once warm mice, shrews and voles, has been gathered up   and rearranged upon this page.   I draw close. That which was rejected – this dusty debris, this residue is momentarily moved by my own

Masters and Servants

  Being almost square, this Holbein portrait is unusual, but there’s more that makes this particular one special.   The life-likeness of a man who lived some 500 years ago; the wonderful textures and freshness of skin, feather and cloth; the intriguing composition and disposition, creating that powerful sense of expectancy, awareness of things about to happen…   The man’s attention is drawn outside the picture – he’s watching and waiting. Waiting for something to appear, some other sort of development, a request, an order even? And, although hooded, so is the falcon, which unable to watch, simply waits.   Robert Cheseman served his master, Henry VIII as his representative in Middlesex.   Sometime after this portrait was painted, he was called upon to go to meet and bring Anne of Cleves to her husband-to-be – an unproductive foray it turned out to be, but that’s another story. (Although interestingly a portrait played an important role in that episode).   Robert Cheseman for his part wa

Palace of Dreams

    South Molton’s cinema, The Savoy, stopped showing films in the 1970s, and after a long period of dereliction was finally totally demolished some twenty years ago.  The site lay bare for ten years before houses were built on it. The Savoy   Just here it was I’m sure a cinema palace of dreams I cannot see now a name from romance where people like us were transported elsewhere exotic exciting real fears tears and laughs white-toothed good-lookers smooth shaven and smart inaccessible beauties to capture your heart jerky cartoons news from abroad with fanfares and announcements from voices assured local advertisements both shaky and still hands held in the dark giggling children nights to look forward to Saturday mornings meet on the steps holding your money queuing to see something we won’t see again I know it was here though there’s nothing to show where the frames told the future what was coming tonight and t

Strange, Stranger, Strangest

      Strange, Stranger, Strangest... Here's a strange story – on the face of it, nothing to do with Christmas, but in a strange way it is.   Maybe you know it already, but I didn't. (Bible – Judges 13 – if you're interested).   And this Rembrandt's a strange painting too – all the stranger, for disagreeing with the story as told above... but more of that later.     Manoah's Wife's Story   I never heard him come – in an instant, he was here The Stranger, with his message.   He declined our food and drink and refused to say his name. I would not understand   but knew and bowed my head. When I looked up again to try to learn some more   he was no longer there. I never heard him go The Stranger, with his message.     An unnamed infertile woman is visited by a stranger, also an unnamed person, who turns out to be one of those strange creatures identified as angels. A second strange encounter follows, this time including her husband (who does have a name) endi

And a Little Jade

    Qin Shi Huang Di 259 – 210 BC First Emperor of China (An Eighteenth Century portrait)   And a Little Jade                                    Qin Shi Huang Di aspiring to eternal life swallowed drops of Hydrargyrum with a little jade.   In the spheres of runaway silver he saw reflections of himself – more and more, with new worlds born under his almighty finger   until he grew tired of disintegration. Qin folded up the firmament. He gathered centrifugal planets to return them all to where they began   amalgamating wayward drops. He slowed the quick-willed silver globes with his omnipotence. When all the drops had coalesced   the imperial Qin, unaware of all he did not know lifted his drink to the setting sun and felt at one with the universe.   For Qin Shi Huang Di his journey to eternity began with drops of Mercury and a little jade.  

We were all together there in a foretime

    I find myself attracted to certain words, and here’s one.  Not a word often heard in modern speech, but perfectly proper and well-used since at least the sixteenth century. I came across it in Seamus Heaney’s Section 3 of Keeping Going in his phrase – We were all together there in a foretime. I imagined hearing in my mind’s ear his attractive rich voice rolling it out.   Foretime. Not just, or simply, the past, but a   foretime . (Interesting, that 'a'.  Not 'the', but 'a'). Fore , from before, so it is of course the past, but with a slightly different twist – an added dimension arising from the other words which use fore, as in forecast, foretell or even forehead, when it somehow also looks ahead, to the future… what lies before us? Foretime, Aftertime… be all that as it may, we’ve been here before, it affected us all then, it’s doing the same now and it’s threatening to overwhelm us in the future.   We were all together there in a for


  Departure     Here’s a poem about what’s not here, well not here any longer – distinctive life in a particular form, now gone.   And how, aware of this inevitability, I felt and what I would have liked to have done.     Departure Standing here, I scan the sky a silent sky – uncut, intact. They're gone, those screaming slicers leaving an occasional ordinary bird along with a local gull or two and earth-bound me, still here who had a need to wish them well – to say goodbye, adieu, safe flights to wherever it is they had to go. But it's too late, and I am left now wanting to describe to you to you yourself, no longer here, the presence of this absence and the silence that's been left.   The poetic convention is that when celebrating/commemorating a person’s memory, you  head the poem ‘i.m.’, followed by their initials. But although it is In Memoriam. somehow I didn’t want to put ‘i.m. S.W.’ up there under the title, I think this is because the poem is about absence – wha

I-Spy Wild Flowers

      On the Farm, Musical Instruments, The Sights of London, On a Train Journey, At the Seaside, Dogs… so many I-Spy books, covering so much of my childhood.   I wish I’d kept at least some of those little matching booklets with their distinctive triangular visual representation of what the eye might spy on the cover. Good Hunting, rendered into simple gobbldygook by shifting a few letters to create the impression of a secret code, was the motto/watchword, which linked with the idea of being a member of a tribe that was headed by Big Chief I-Spy, no less.   The News Chronicle and Bouverie Street where you sent your completed booklet to receive a special feather from the Big Chief all trigger memories, but powerful as the nostalgia is, that's not the theme of the poem that follows.    I-Spy Wild Flowers   The boxes are empty – with your bright little eye, what will you spy?   Some things are worth very little – Gound Ivy trails in the grass of the hedg

Samuel Holmyard

  Here’s an unremarkable picture, painted by an unremarkable amateur artist, of what seems to be an unremarkable moment in a provincial city. Undramatic it may be, but it documents a catastrophic occasion, at least for one unremarkable figure.   Samuel Holmyard taken for Execution   The time has come, Master Samuel for you to ride in an open cart from this old gate to Magdalen Road. A modest crowd awaits, faces framed in windows.  Others stand around in front of shops with thoughts of dinner, and your imminent end.   Soon you’ll have gone and they will turn, return to everyday life. Some may talk tonight of what they saw, or thought they saw, while shadow creeps across the city prison.  The children may be told of that which comes   to a forger, Master Samuel, who must leave for this last time the warm pink gate in an open cart pulled by one tired horse, past a modest crowd, a covered wagon, a curious shopper and two indifferent b