Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2018

A Long Passage

Looking at the banks and hedgerows at this time of year, I wonder how anything small – or even large – that lives there manages to survive.  Everything’s withered up or simply gone.  Of course, there’s no expectation of leaves or flowers, but where are the fruits and berries, the smaller creatures lower down the food chain essential to survival… just what is there to live off?  It’s a bare and empty larder, hardly even offering any shelter. And yet, deep under layers of moss, beneath bark, beyond and out of sight, sleep seeds and eggs, cocoons, life in shells, little wrapped-up tangled bundles of creatures, even slumbering, hibernating animals tucked up to weather the winter. It’s always been like this.  Many must perish, but a few – a select few – live on, to carry the colony, the tribe, the clan – perhaps even the species – into better times. Yet despite its regularity, predictability, even necessity, such a slaughter is hard to comprehend. So, we tell our own stori

Now you see them, now...

There’s a lot of them about at this time. Along with the cribs and holy families, stars and shepherds, Magi and assorted animals – not to mention the robins, lit up churches shining across the snow, reindeer, stage coaches, drunken mice and yule-tide logs – here they are, singing, blowing the occasional quaint instrument or just standing around looking decorative.   Not often flying in fact – perhaps even the most credulous find it hard to imagine those wings extended and in action, least of all in a windy night sky.   But they’re certainly around. Yes, the angels. Angels – those hybrid creatures like the centaurs, combining – quite unrealistically, even if desirably – elements of different creatures. How on earth could that horse body support the upper half of a man instead of its own, properly balanced, head and neck? And imagine the massive pectorals required to provide the downward pull on those necessarily huge wings! Yet, at least since the winged Nike of Samothrace

Did we really do that?

Did we really do that? It’s easy to ask this question as we look back and see what terrible things happened in the past. Not just happened – but were thought of as normal, unexceptional: what people like you and me were quite happy to countenance, if not actually do. Well, perhaps some people sometimes felt that was a bit harsh… who knows? But for the most part, decent folk like you and me just accepted it – that’s how it is, life goes on, why change how we do things and I’ve got quite enough to do already. Slavery’s an obvious example of course. I recently wrote a poem about another: the scold’s bridle, an iron helmet with a plate pressing down on the tongue, used on (what were considered to be) vociferous women – yes, almost invariably women.   I was of course pleased that my poem won a prize, but my consequent revisiting the writing of it and the research stirred me up all over again, with a renewed and heightened sense of astonishment and anger. (The poem’s on

A plague on all these houses

It's a great poem, Lowell's For the Union Dead. I only recently came across it - at least, that's what I thought - but it's been grunting (I choose the word advisedly) away in my head ever since, especially that fourth verse. Behind their cage, yellow dinosaur steam shovels were grunting as they cropped up tone of mush and grass to gouge their underworld garage. It took a little while for me to realise why. Before (I thought) I'd read it, I wrote a poem about the new housing estates springing up round our little town. I was thinking about the various creatures that had lived on the field that was to be covered with houses - sheep primarily - and then those that were to follow. The first were, well, a sort of dinosaur. Here's my second verse: At first it was the one-armed monsters, set free within their caged arena to trundle round, and gently paw the ground, then pile up mounds of earth accompanied by Lego men. I was pleased

The Unexpected

I like September. It's not just that it feels as though the effort of keeping summer going can be given up, almost with a sense of relief. No, it's more than that - here's a new season, fresh in its own special way. As September contains a quarter day (itself relating to the solstice) I read that it was a time when people were hired, land was exchanged and debts paid. So various things start now, like the academic year,  making it a month for new beginnings -  although it draws heavily on recent growth, sometimes hardly noticed. And then there's all the fruit, of course, only too often celebrated poetically... But much more interesting are the arrivals that startle. I mean the fungi -  extraordinary things which literally spring up overnight. Not things though - they're living plants.   No, not plants - organisms - but that doesn't sound right. As for the proper term 'fruiting body' - well, that suggests some

The Natural is Unnatural

Frank Sutcliffe photographs Whitby Fishermen It's quite a famous photograph, I gather.  But I hadn't seen it before. Perhaps you know it?  I can't show it here as it's copyright, but I'll try to describe it. So there they are, those nine sea-booted, variously-hatted traditional fishermen, naturally disposed on the quay. By which I mean, well, they're just there - as if they'd arrived a moment ago. There's a central group, close together, another smaller group to the right, two of them looking across the picture, and on the left, a chap leaning against the railing and peering over the edge.  For a backdrop there's a fishing boat, all sails set, and on the far right, a statuesque figure with a basket hoisted over his shoulder. It looks for all the world as though they'd just returned. Or, on second thoughts, perhaps they're waiting to go out? Once the question's been raised, you find yourself  looking mo

Summer time – holidays, beach days…

Summer time – sea and sand… We live near the sea, so find ourselves there quite a bit, not just at this time of year. Especially now though, with grandchildren expecting a day on the beach.   Buckets and spades, bats and balls, bags of food and drink, towels and clothes and all that paraphernalia we lug down… playing on the sand is both a simple and a complicated business. I don’t know if it’s something to do with getting older, but increasingly now when I’m at the seaside I find myself reminded of death and destruction. The very sand is substantially made up of countless shells, exoskeletons of once living creatures, each one painstakingly self-constructed.   From them all, the life has gone.   And now the gracefully fashioned ceramic, the solid part that managed to survive (if that be the word), long after the contents vanished, is itself ground up, or down, into dust – or, in this context, sand. Then there’s the crab containers, the cuttlefish shields, cast off p


Ruins Broken arches and ragged walls – this time-worn structure lies abandoned open to the sky. A site of great activity of business to produce and reproduce – here lived a busy population now gone.   They and their progeny have all moved on heavy with possessions leaving this building to start again. No evidence of artillery damage, bombs or snipers no pocked plaster – now these rooms, once good accommodation, are forsaken and forgotten. Polished floors and smoothed corners rounded steps from frequent use by inmates, born and bred within these narrow cells where no space is wasted in neat design. Nothing left of them except a lingering mustiness of propolis. Ancient sweetness remains somehow embedded long after their departure. The bees have flown each hexagon has done its work – the pods end in a point, an illusion repeating patterns of ruination. My hand crumbles masonry fragments to the lightne


Poetic people go on about the nightingale's song.  Not that we hear it down here in Devon.  But I listened to one singing in an old oak tree at my daughter's in Essex, and - yes - it really was beautiful. But this spring and early summer I've been struck by how lovely is the song of the blackbird. There are so many sounds, carefully - almost, it seems, thoughtfully - phrased. We have one who performs from our roof ridge, as high as he can get so that the song can be heard at its best, perhaps also by as many as possible.  He can be interrupted, when he flies off with a harsh alarm call, but most evenings (and probably mornings too) he takes up position, and delivers. Actually, it's much more than a straight delivery.  What made me think there was thought, indeed listening of his own, was that he was creating gaps, silences that were as important as the sounds.  And I thought I could hear another blackbird not far away responding, who for his part was

Grandmother's Footsteps

This is a time of sudden growth, and nothing seems to grow faster than brambles. I'm reminded of that children's game, when the challenge is for the approachers to see how close they can get to touching you in the few moments you're looking away, those long arms extending just far enough before their weight tips them towards the ground, to start all over again... And I think how quickly the post-apocalyptic world would be covered by looping hoops emerging from wood and hedge, from each and every edge, reaching ever further, even venturing into water, deterred by nothing much... Perhaps this was the original world, after or at least outside Eden - a landscape criss-crossed by arching brambles. You've got to have a certain admiration for the bramble, so determined it is. And well-equipped - what with that ability to progress in prostrate, clambering or flying mode, all those arms and weapons - hidden prickles on leaves, thorns on stems - the huge number of varie

Comings and Goings

Comings and Goings I’ve been thinking about these a bit recently, especially the latter – maybe because my newly published pamphlet* has been much in my mind, with my efforts to publicise it. Actually, I’ve met with some wonderfully supportive reactions, so ‘efforts’ gives the wrong impression.   But certainly a lot of time has been happily taken up by making lists, arranging a launch** and readings, contacting old friends and telling everyone I can think of, about it. So getting down to writing new stuff becomes that little bit harder.   Or there’s more of an excuse… Well, to come to the point, as the poems are about suicide, they focus on Goings.   I wrote this poem some time ago. Bradwell, looking east out over the North Sea, is a place of arrivals and departures, to be sure.   For over two thousand years it’s been exposed to invaders and defenders. All sorts of people, ranging from the predatory to the missionary, have come and gone; some have changed r