Skip to main content


Showing posts from 2023


  An unexpected bird to open a December blog – but listen for a moment to this one, who seems to have a lot to sing about.  The song is ‘a prolonged, breathless jingle of strident but not unmusical notes and high trills’ – like no other.  But enough words for now, hear the song...   The Song of the Wren   No need to hunt me – I’ll let you know exactly where I am.   I’ll sing out loud – oh yes you’ll hear me I repeat – you’ll hear me   up to half a mile away – a burst of song five times a minute –   which is why it’s no surprise they told the story   about old Stephen – that saint who hid then was discovered   to be stoned to death. They did the same to me because they said   it was my song. But here I am your singing Jenny Wren   who’s survived the stones the cold and rain and all that man could hurl   so stop and hear me. All is well – the world is full of happiness and song.     Actually, the Christmas Bird is probably the ubiquitous robin.  Yes, despite all those partridges in pear


  Just how Hallowe'en – All-Hallows Eve, the eve before All Saints’ Day – has become so associated with the idea of spirits walking abroad, all decidedly diabolical rather than saintly, isn’t quite clear. But celebrated it certainly is.   For children, it's probably the most important non-sectarian festival; for others, as ‘the night of Samhain’, it represents the first day of winter – but alongside and below these secular, pagan aspects, its religious roots run deep. The festival of the Mexican Day of the Dead falling at this time, draws on an even older Aztec culture.   These festivities were devoted to the Lady of the Dead, who was transformed into (the rather more Roman Catholic) Catrina.   She appears as a partially dressed jolly skeleton, the whole festival enjoying a humorous carnival atmosphere, with an emphasis on food and drink, as well as music and dancing.   Enough talk, let's party!   Calaveras I  heard that merry dancing long before I saw them what a c

Noughts and Crosses

  And once again it's Apple Time. We gather apples and crush them into juice. But I peel a few carefully to make slices for a pie, which reminds me of childhood. I'm still intrigued by those long uncertain skin snakes appearing as the apple is rotated against the blade... Noughts and Crosses   She peels them with her usual skill against her thumb. The apple turns. In the bucket windfalls wait which we gathered where they fell. I watch the freed peel fall away still tethered – for how long I wonder.  Gravity is light. I hear another apple fall. You can tell the future she says quietly to herself although I do not want to know. I select a strip of skin bend it round into an O in which the future might be held.   I peel them with my usual skill against my thumb. The apple turns. The years have passed. As they grow old apples fall into the grass. Time itself descends, is pulled by gravity, no longer light. This time I pick two strips of skin and drop th


I love the word Aftermath, with its apparent Anglo-Saxon simplicity. I read that it means after the mowing, perhaps a second or later mowing; more specifically, it can refer to the crop of grass which springs up after the mowing earlier in the summer. Even if the quality of the grass be criticised as not having the fragrance or sweetness of the first crop, or worse, dismissed as 'the bloomless aftermath', it is after all new growth – a reminder of what has been, and of what is yet to come. Aftermath Yes, the grass will grow again. There will be another season here upon these same old fields where sheep shall safely graze again as if it were the first occasion.   Fresh growth of flimsy blades will spring to feed a new-born generation here once more, in time, expected along with others, all those others drawn forth to prosper in the sun.   And some who left will come again remembering this place. A pair of swallows from the past will score the sky above the

The Wolf Mother speaks

  What a complicated relationship we have with our fellow creatures! When I said that, I wasn't actually thinking of our exploitation of them – important and sobering as that is – so much as how we relate to them, what we ascribe to them, what similarities we notice, or imagine, and what we as humans think we gain and learn from them. It's an ancient story of course – not just to be saved by an animal, but nurtured, even suckled. Why wolves should be so often chosen for this role is curious, but two thousand years after this particular telling of the story, the story of protective parental wolves continues to be told, as in the Jungle Book. Like other versions, my poem presents a speaking wolf. Having an animal thinking and talking opens the teller to the (usually critical) accusation of anthropomorphism. But if anthropomorphism is about seeing animals as more like us, or us as more like animals; then the attribution of human characteristics to animals, and vice versa

Strangeness and Familiarity

  A few thoughts about strangeness and familiarity... and imagination, brought on by discovering that this was the time when a familiar but strange man, endowed with a huge imagination, met his abrupt end. It may have been nearly five hundred years ago, but that day in early July probably felt much the same as today – so,  familiar : a warm English high summer's day, probably with a few screaming swifts darting over the Thames and a blackbird alarm call or two, responding to an unusual gathering of people.  The central character, nature lover as he was, perhaps would have noticed those familiar birds; their life and freedom – their physical freedom, as well as their freedom from imagination. It is strange trying to imagine how it would feel, having been imprisoned, to step out into the open air, to climb a slightly rickety scaffold (he made a joke about it) and then observe a few formalities, knowing that in a moment one's neck was about to be sliced through. The evidence

Midday in Stoke Churchyard

So here we are, entering the month that's half way through the year. My poem for this month shares that half-way point, having been written when the sun had travelled half its long day's journey – was at the top, at midday. A church yard isn't an original place to sit and write a poem, what with all those prompts of mortality, picturesque views of church and landscape beyond, with a bit of peace and quiet favouring rest and reflection. Traditionally perhaps one expects the poet to write their churchyard poem in the evening, with darkness imminent... but in my case, it was the brightest of times – one of those lovely summer days when the contrast between light and shadow was at its strongest, walls radiated warmth and life felt as though it was between breaths. Midday in Stoke Churchyard The tower tips, propelled by clouds, travelling its own way, away from the sea. Someone is mowing.  Here on a stone lichens have dropped, spreading their circles of silvery skin on to

The Swallow

  Perhaps there are too many bird poems already and perhaps all the things that might be said about them have been said, and certainly better said, than anything I can do now –   perhaps, in short, birds in general have become too poeticised, perhaps, perhaps... And yet the arrival – that long awaited, much looked forward to – was that really a swallow? – of the traditional herald (no, not that poeticised word 'harbinger'), of summer's-on-its-way, inspires (another poeticised concept to be avoided!)... well, at least, triggers ideas, memories, and happy associations. So here's my simple celebration of the swallow. It's a great pleasure to head it with my friend's painting, which alludes to various questions and man-made stories associated with this lovely bird – details below.   I've tried to incorporate them into my poem, as he has in his picture – more after the poem, if you're interested.     The Swallow   Stream-lined swallow with t

Here are many voices

   Here are many voices. Each one silent though full of words, waiting to be woken. I recognise these names and titles. Many are friends from long ago, beside the newly arrived and unacquainted – quite a few I’ll never know.   Nothing so patient as the unread book ready to unlock its store of story – eager description, gentle reflection, anger, sadness, earnest instruction. Some urging laughter. Others just trying to make you cry – sealed up and silent   as I draw near I hear in my head this voice of mine talking in various accents. My index finger touching the bindings can open up, unlock, unmute – set free stories and thoughts packed tidy and tight waiting like goods in a hold.   There they remain, heavily freighted with authorial intention, their burdens of words bound up and silent, unless another with finger and voice releases those words giving them sound. Until then, inside their covers they wait, weighted with so much to say

Looking at a Surface...

  Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Surface 1 Superficially George looked on glass. I don’t know if he saw heaven.   2 Perhaps he saw himself? But that’s another story – a different surface altogether showed a lovely face.   3 I see you on the surface. My skin is where I start and where you meet the world – a membrane keeps my inside in and all the outside out.   4 It’s just psoriasis. A profusion of the epidermal layer – excessive and exuberant skin cell reproduction if you want to put it simply. Whether it’s guttate, erythrodermic possibly pustular, even inverse the psoriatic phenomenon declares itself upon the surface   5 where Perseverance searched. And others delve, descend and dig – prospectors poke the diver dives… what lies below the surface?   6 Qin’s massive mausoleum waits to be discovered.   7 Surface for the dry geometer is readily defined – there’s length and breadth, but never depth being two-di