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Showing posts from 2024

Ways and Means

  Poetry shouldn't always, really doesn't have to take itself too seriously. It can be playful: enjoying words – their sounds, how they can alter depending on what else is around, their different meanings, even their meaninglessness... Yes, the word play reminds me of the close association of poetry with music: music is played, poetry is spoken and sung – perhaps also played? I found myself playing with a particular word, saying it out loud in different ways ( ways – more of that presently) tossing it up in the air, catching it, flipping it to see what might be on the obverse, until the word itself turned into something else altogether. I was left with no more than a sound produced by a widening of the mouth – a sort of smile – and an amused realisation that words can do so many different things, yet are as simple as that. Join me then on an exploration of the word Ways. No, that's beginning to sound a bit serious – this is more of a wander, a light-hearted wonderin

Nightingale or Toad anyone?

  The Nightingale has to be one of the most celebrated birds in poetry and song – we'll come to the toad by and by – so one approaches this over-poeticised bird with a certain caution. But it was when I heard it for real, I have to say I could understand why it's inspired so many poets and composers. The nightingale doesn't come to us here in Devon, so it was extra special for me to hear it outside my daughter's house in Essex. I was struck by the flow of the song, its sudden silence and then resumption; the power and urgency.  Perhaps that's why we attribute of all sorts of emotion to this bird's song. But, at the end of the day – or night – it's just a bird singing. Still, I found myself, well if not exactly inspired, at least moved to make my own response, to write a poem. The Song of the Nightingale Time for a moment’s pause in my performance. Silence can speak as strong as utterance – restraint produces passion in the gaps – the gap

Rake Daddy Rake

  As with lots of good stories, there are many versions. Basically this one's about a pair of Wiltshire yokels raking a pond for kegs of smuggled brandy.  They feigned lunacy when surprised by the excise men, saying that they were trying to rake out the full moon which was reflected in the water.  Their ruse was successful. The officials had no trouble in deciding they were lunatics, so left them to their raking. Interestingly, the Lunacy Act of 1842 defined a lunatic as someone ‘afflicted with a period of fatuity in the period following a full moon’. I suppose any time falls into the category of a 'period following a full moon'.  As for fatuity, that might include all of us on certain occasions, not least since it's not stated how long 'a period' is.  Perhaps then we're all occasionally lunatic... Be all that as it may, on this occasion the lunatics (I've put inverted commas round the word and taken them out several times) outwitted the sober and sane,


  I've always found this a touching story. A man actively considering suicide – even to the point of carrying a loaded revolver in his pocket – meets another writer for the first time, who never knew what was being considered.   The latter's friendly professional advice turns out to be momentous, for not only does he unwittingly dissuade – indeed save – the depressed writer, but sets him off onto the path of poetry, which was in time to make him famous.   A deep friendship resulted, alongside a body of important poems from the one who had possibly been about to kill himself. True, our unhappy newly-made poet was soon enough to find an early end – if not exactly suicide, then arguably a deliberate taking the road towards almost certain death.   But before that, the two poets had walked together happily in a productive companionship, which helped generate many of those much-loved poems. So here is the indecisive Edward Thomas, the author who Robert Frost told he should reca

Outside the Nursing Home

  I wonder what deliberation preceded this arrangement.  I think the care assistant probably just stacked them like this without a thought, it being the usual way to gather these rather bulky things up tidily so that they don't get in the way. I'm sure there wasn't any idea of the impression given to the by-passer, which I've tried to describe. The following little poem really needs no introduction. After all, pictures can say more than words. Outside the Nursing Home Mobility over their life work's done slowed to a stop no longer pushed so now going nowhere silently stacked up in their own tidy queue awaiting collection.   The skip being full with discarded cushions once waterproofed mattresses and uncertain items these walkers remain a little apart though still upright for now until along with the boxes the black bags and all everything's gathered to be taken away. Wondering why this little scene made me smile, I began thinking about humour. Why should this

Judicial Murder

    Admittedly, it was all legal.   But it was murder. A teenage girl – a particularly intelligent one at that, accomplished in Latin and Greek, with a decidedly independent mind – the victim of others’ ambitions and circumstance, executed. Circumstance – in this case, the accident of a relative’s early death, not to mention her own family and their inheritance. If the boy king hadn’t died, if her grandfather hadn’t divorced his first wife, if her distant cousin wasn’t a Roman Catholic and if her own learning hadn’t reinforced her own Protestantism – the list goes on and on… then she wouldn’t have been led out that February morning onto Tower Green to be beheaded.     Lady Jane Grey, February 12 th   1554   As I cross these old cold stones and climb the final steps bible in my hand, for now accompanied, silently I wonder at the accident which has brought me here.   Like you, I had no choice in who my parents were. I have been obedient and follow in

The Pillars of Hercules

  Welcome to January – the month of beginnings and ends.   Where do things start and finish? And, while we're at it, when?   Everything gets a bit mixed up when I try to focus on finity (no such word, but perhaps there ought to be), let alone infinity. To be sure – or even certainly – the more I think about it, the more I lose certainty. Here's a dialogue between a child and an adult about the nothing – or is it everything? –   that lies beyond the edge of the known world, as it then was.   Non Plus Ultra   And what is it that lies beyond beyond the Pillars of Hercules?   The waters, child, that endless ocean as far as the eye can see.   So beyond, what lies beyond past what my eye can see?   Never ever ending ocean like time, which never ends.   But if I travel long enough might an end come into sight?   I do not know.  I cannot tell what it is the future holds.   Does the ocean hold the future as the past sets with t