Poems (to 2015)


The Ballad of Windmill Hill
For Keith…

The man clambered to the windmill, blunt pencil in his hand;
Head empty as his notebook: as nothing yet was planned.
But he sat down on his jacket: spine cold against the stone
Where the bread had once been moulded; the seed had once been blown;
Where the stooped-back miller once had toiled for hour upon hour
To turn the labour of the harvest into finest golden flour;
And he soon began to scribble, as the wind began to call
From the houses far below him; from cottage, church and hall.
And this is what he registered – inspired by what he learned –
Never passing any judgment on what his neighbours clearly yearned.

All we want is something simple, that we all can understand:
Nothing complex or beyond us; notions rooted in the land;
A village with a future; where each to each is known;
A place which folk find welcoming; that is everybody’s own;
Where, gradually, in union, with corresponding power,
We spread this presence evenly, and remember well that our
Stay upon this well-tilled soil means little to time’s sprawl;
Though man is one of many visitors whose impact may be small
Next to heaven’s mighty globes and the voyages they’ve turned;
But that yet we must be wary of the furrows that we’ve churned.

What wisdom can we manifest; who amongst us will take stand
To garner our agreement; stop our wishes turn to sand?
How will we ever vanquish those who want to reign alone:
Whose voices shout much harsher, whose only word is sown
On fallow ground, whose every thought is selfish, sharp and sour;
With no empathy or sympathy: their lust set on the tower
Of ruling over everyone; of leering over all;
Of meeting our petitions with an egoistic bawl?
Are there those amongst us brave enough – whose regard we know is earned –
Who will help us stand together; guarantee such fools are spurned?

And then the breeze veered westerly; and light glowed on the hand
Of one, then two, then several more, until a mighty band
Of villagers of every class who all had always shown
Great steadfastness and loyalty to the place in which they’d grown
Stood strong and straight in unity – no longer would they cower:
This was the land they loved – each tree, each bird, each flower –
And they would hold forever, brought together by that call,
To ensure that all three Tysoes could never ever fall;
Would from here deal right and fairly with each resident concerned;
Would from here shine bright with passion that in every heart now burned.

Upon the hill, the man awoke; his blank pad on the grass;
Yet sure that all he’d seen and heard would shortly come to pass.



123 or not 123…

a jay punctuates the air
and suddenly the sky is full
of apostrophes and commas
parentheses and chevrons
asterisks and hyphens
colons and ellipses
all in syntactic flight

the primates are at Hamlet again
stuck on the numeric keyboard



This knave would go sore

I’m riddled with pain like a rat is with fleas;
And yet I’m not ill – I don’t have a disease:
I’m simply disabled – it’s all in my neck –
But, bugger, it hurts: and I feel like a wreck.

No pill has an impact; no medicine helps;
And each time I move my poor body it yelps.
There’s no chance of sleeping with comforting dreams –
Only dark, spiky nightmares, riddled with screams.

All doctors can offer are ways I should cope:
Not proven solutions; or proffering hope.
I’m all on my own with my torment and hurt –
Descending so low that I’m left in the dirt.

So I form my own methods to deal with the aches:
A very large whisky; and a mountain of cakes.



Written on Windmill Hill

A walk – a metaphor for a life –
beginning and ending in mist:
the spindrift confetti of gulls
and crotchety staveless rooks
bursting beneath the robbed-out windmill,
and fading facets of connection
kidnapped by the crawling clouds.



The Bard’s epitaph (in the form of a bench)

Here would Tysoe sit and writ,
And rest his bum a little bit;
But now it’s yours to stop and weigh
In the posterior of his day.

Holofernes: The posterior of the day, most generous sir, is liable, congruent, and measurable for the afternoon. The word is well cull’d, chose, sweet, and apt, I do assure you, sir, I do assure.
– William Shakespeare: Love’s Labour’s Lost



aflitterfortwitter (#thinkofapoem #thinklikeapoet)

amoth a lights onalight
notthemoon anothersatellite
sat a float afloatingpontoon
set a light insight
abrightsprightinflight



For the Guardian of Minack (October 1987)

This afternoon I found
          that you had died
     And I was glad
          that I was all alone
For inevitable rivers
          of tears flow
     And waters leap
          where you have gone
And this is all I know
          save
That deaths and entrances are all we crave

And where will you go
          now that all your goings are done?
     A subtle lightening
          in the new child’s eyes
     Much more than such
          a suitable joy
     For this you gave
That deaths and entrances are all we crave

And through this joining
          although it may force crying
     I was so glad
          that I was all alone
And as the fragile life force
          leaps
     It’s old to new religions
          now
          that vow
That deaths and entrances are all we crave



The path to Wroxall Abbey…

Though fresh-furrowed,
ghosts – having trod this field before me –
have signed the track new with silent boot and scythe.
They came to pass; made my way plain:
my bearing clarified by clover beribboning the glebe’s brink –
a shock of verdant stripe, bright after slack stubble –
sharp after soft: an excised edge keen as the blades
stopped short of earth’s full mastery.

So I move on with grace and gratitude:
true as the plough; and pure as those prior souls.



The renal calculi reds…

My kidney stones
are shaped like Toblerones:
and thus get stucked
within my duct.

They may be spikey:
and – oh my crikey –
do the buggers hurt –
I really wish they were as soft
(especially as I have them oft)
as real Swiss chocolurt.

Renal colic
is no frolic.
Soon I’ll be an alcoholic.



meadow rue

the gold of cups
     has freely been replaced
by royal thistle purple
     whilst I was gone
a textured tapestry
     of swaying sorts
multicoloured limelight
     and no more one
hue
     now dominates the raw summer grass

and yet I move on slowly
     and sad-faced
the present image in its palette
     thwarts
my fast memory
     as onward I pass



Composed upon Stannals Bridge, June 23, 2015…

I have rested on your bench so many times:
     faced the blind sun;
          dreamt of poor rhymes;
     but never really thanked you,
          or those you left behind –
who really miss you still – for being quite so kind

as to leave this limping poet a handy place to sit,
     when halfway round his walk,
          to rest a bit… –
     So thank you, Dan Diamonds:
          a shining soul so worthy of such name;
I am glad for your memory; and happy that you came.



The Adrian Mitchell blues (Christmas 2008)

I use rock and jazz and blues rhythms because I love that music.
I hope my poetry has a relationship with good-time rock’n roll.
Adrian Mitchell (Shadow Poet Laureate; 1932-2008)

Woke up this mornin’
Got a space within my bed
Woke up this mornin’
Got a face that’s full o’ dread
Woke up this mornin’
Got a bass within my head
Playin’ the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

Bump
     Crump
          Frump
               Grump

Thumpin’ out the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

                    Hump
                         Lump
                              Rump
                                   Slump

Trumpin’ out the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

Woke up one mornin’
And found that you were dead
Woke up one mornin’
And found a world of lead
Woke up one mornin’
And found all you had read
Writin’ the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

Bound
     Crowned
          Drowned
               Frowned

Poundin’ out the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

                    Ground
                         Hound
                              Mound
                                   Round

Soundin’ out the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

But now my head is better
Read so much of what you wrote
Nearly every single letter
Heard the words sing from your throat

I’ll always be your debtor
You will always get my vote
The perfect antidote
Our greatest ever… pote

Floatin’ out the Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues

Floatin’ out
     the Adrian Mitchell
          blues
               in all
                    their laureate hues
The Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues
The Adrian Mitchell blues



After dropping my tiny migraine meds for the umpteenth time this week

In my hand I have some pills:
But not the kind that give you thrills;
These ones should stop my hands from quaking,
But I cannot pop them without shaking.

I may catch one, I may catch two;
But some will fly to join the few
Rolled under chair and under table.
Because my grasp is so unstable

I cannot take the answers to my ills
Without the probability of spills.
The irony is not beyond me:
Although my failure does despond me.

But until they make my tablets like Maltesers
I shall have to learn to medicate with giant tweezers.



Make it real: a rap (sort of) – but not on the knuckles – for those in chronic pain…
Remembering Ian Dury (1942-2000)

Build me a butty
(fry the bacon
fill me up)
Hand me the pills
(hate the flavour
gulp them down)
Push me to putty
(play the music
turn it up)
Help me walk hills
(climb through torture
feel let down)

Up
down
spin me around
Tell me you’ll cure me
and make it real

Help me be frisky
(feign my comfort
buckle down)
Hand me the cream
(smooth my aching
lift me up)
Pour me a whisky
(take your time now
come on down)
Build me a dream
(brighten the world
give it up)

Up
down
spin me around
Tell me you’ll cure me
and make it real

Up the creek
Down and dirty
Up and about
Down and out
Lighten up
Knuckle down
The game is up
So knock me down
I’m coming up roses
So lead me down
the garden path

Up
down
spin me around
Tell me you’ll cure me
and make it real

Up
down
spin me around
Tell me you’ll cure me
and make it real
Make it heal



Carol for Christmas Day…

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
The Lord is born today.
Come on, rejoice,
With heart and voice,
The Lord is King for ever.
Be happy and glad,
Be joyful, not sad;
He’s come to save us from our sins.
Hurray! And let us sing
Our praises to the King.

Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Sing hymns for Christmas Day;
Of shepherds and kings,
Of ox and ass,
Of Bethl’em’s lowly stable.
The star, on high,
Lights up the sky,
And welcomes Jesus to this Earth.
Hurray! Hurray! Hurray!
Sing hymns for Christmas Day!

Set to music by Stephen R Ward (child genius), for unaccompanied SATB; dedicated to Keith Bond (the church musician’s musician); and first performed by the astoundingly accomplished Blackburn Cathedral Young People’s Choir (YPC) at Matins on Christmas Day 1976.



If this field… (In memoriam Joseph Ashby)

If this field could cry, then it would;
If this field could cry, it would cry
For hare, for badger, for silence,
As the owl cries, but not for care.

If this field could weep, then it would;
If this field could weep, it would weep
For unity, for history,
As the cloud weeps, but not for rain.

If this field could grieve, then it would;
If this field could grieve, it would grieve
For tilth, for furrow, for the plough,
As the horse grieves, but not for ease.

If this field could pass, then it would;
If this field could pass, it would pass
For myth, for symbol, for tribute,
As the days pass, but not for night.

What once was plenty was all our fathers’
And our mothers’ too; was shared in labour
And enjoyment; was permanent and firm
As the ridges and footsteps they planted:
Knowing never to cry, weep, grieve, or pass
By this field that grew them, formed them entire.

If this field could cry, then it would;
If this field could weep, then it would;
If this field could grieve, then it would;
If this field could pass, then it would;
But it will not lie easily
Entombed beneath base usury.

If this field could live, then it would;
If this field could live… it would live.



Anatomy of a migraine

A migraine may begin in many ways:
Quite instantly, or with some challenging delays,
With auras like the borealis, or the singing of the whales –
But however it may start, the pain then never ever fails
To lay you low, with potions, pills and ice,
In darkness and in silence, and not feeling very nice.

It keeps you down for hours, or even several days,
And punishes in many different ways:
Not just the hurt, but losing half your sight,
Or even half your body (that’s not right);
And feeling sick and dizzy, and quite crushed –
But then, a migraine is not ever to be rushed.

And even when it’s gone, it leaves you out of phase:
Your brain feels ground from diamond into clays;
Your appetite is gone, and you feel weak;
And sometimes you don’t even have the strength to speak.
Some sleep will do you good, and give you energy to burn –
Until, of course, the damned thing cruelly chooses to return.



Charred-brown these ringèd fingers

Charred-brown these ringèd fingers sway,
Scattering their summer clay
Of leaves that billow, then stop still, until
Again they fly.

Golden-green these crusting, rusting leaves
That fall like feathers to the breeze:
Down to the frosty, mossy ground, where, still,
They wait to die.



The hedgehogs (postscript & epitaph)

There were three of them – poor souls –
Old before their time it was said
We fed our brothers as one does
As – unlike us –
It was said that their mother was dead

There were three of them – now two –
One other slung without the pomp
Over the broken wall with shame
We – cowards all –
Had her say that they had gone away

There was one of them – with shame –
The maggots taunting with their smiles
Wicked in their beckoning guiles
One – stomach split –
Had lost both mother and his life

There was one of them – their mum –
Old before their time we had said
Crushed by a rubber bomb slow speeding
As – unlike us –
She fought for fodder and their feeding

There are two of them – poor souls –
Hidden from the prowls of night-time
We fed our brothers as one does
But – eating not –
We prayed that with the warmth they would

(And then there were none – all gone –
Old before their time they had tried
To suffer as brothers but they died
One – to the end –
Fought hard – but that stench of pain will stay
For the three of them – poor souls –)



Mindfulness

Hale: sound of body; sound of body breathing
in with out; a lifetime’s lifetides ebb with flow,
full with empty; inhale, exhale; endlessly
repeating, pulsing, pushing the breath that moves
the brain; the source; the beating drum; ceaselessly
calling the surge within marking mariners’ time.



…Never fair

Fly unto a curlew’s weeping distance;
But grant your arching wings a closer hold,
That, reaching down, their feather fingers fold
My saddened soul into your breast. Entrance

Your wandering, restless flight with love of me,
And pale not your roaming heart, but brighten
All with my fond love of you. Go: tighten
Our strong bond – but yet return, and softly

Cry my name from that sad curlew’s weeping;
Grant my aching wings your hold when sleeping.



Missingness

I knew she wasn’t home
When the cat came to greet me
Cuddled up on the window’s ledge
And hungry for his love
He knows my returning tones
No-one had been there to keep him warm
And he pounces to the door
To welcome and to beg me

I knew her for some short time
Before I presented her
With a parcel of myself
Gilt-wrapped and silk-tied
Many hours had been used in preparation
Of that second skin
And with a lightness of touch
And tenderness of intuition
She undid my heart
And unveiled the reality of self
I know not what mysteries she uses
In her companionship of me
But I know the missingness of her
Is impossible to bear

I knew she wasn’t home
The curtains too were parted
And the milk lay idle on the step
Where the cat cries for love
So I lifted the bottles
Closed the door and gave him warmth
And switched the television on
For false comradeship

We knew each other longer
The intricacies perhaps now too easy
Our parcels so emptied
That we cannot further rip the paper
Of our selves
But still the missingness
Is perhaps the thing that excites us
With no missingness
Will those selves find stagnant love?

I knew she wasn’t home
The dishes still need washing
And the home still lacks the willingness
I knew she wasn’t home
because I’ve waited there for too long
And she didn’t come down
And the bed was cool


PS: I told the cat

I told the cat it was called loving
This warming stroking snuggling thing
He nuzzled my hand and padded my lap
And fell curling asleep



Rose

The rain washes his eyes
(I rose before the stars wanted to dim)
They suppose that he cries
With sadness that his love is not with him

But she is always there
Who rose before the suns and earths were made
(You whom I think most fair)
With echoed smiles of joy that will not fade

And he is always here
Who rose before the stars had walked above
Two eyes and one small tear
(Why? I would say my spilling fuel is love)


An edited extract from the original accompanying notes

The ideal audience the poet imagines consists of the beautiful who go to bed with him, the powerful who invite him to dinner and tell him secrets of state, and his fellow-poets. The actual audience he gets consists of myopic schoolteachers, pimply young men who eat in cafeterias, and his fellow-poets. This means, in fact, he writes for his fellow-poets.
– WH Auden: Poets at Work

My poetry has always been private – born of emotion-of-the-moment into a world where I’m afraid to let my offspring wander, in case it is harmed, rejected, or simply scorned. But we all crave praise for our creations, I suppose, as well as wanting to coddle them – qualities, which, after years of being a father, I realize are instinctive in us all. We have to trust not only in our child’s ability and right; but in the world, to offer its acceptance.

Prior to this semi-reluctant untethering of my poems (to a pride of my “fellow-poets”), then, my audience consisted usually, only, of one: of “the beautiful who go to bed with [me]”; plus an occasional close friend or two; and it has usually also been the case that my poems were written to, about, for – or occasioned by – such companions.

I described myself in my submission as:

A chemical engineer by degree(s) – a modern romantic by nature – most of my working life has been spent sitting in front of various computers: marketing IT (information technology); writing about IT; editing newsletters about IT; and designing annual reports about IT. I only write poetry when I’m sad. (My personal life is happy; but my working life is sad – which is not to say I only write at work.) And I’d like to be as good a poet as Robert Graves. (One day…)

…which was supposed to make the point that much of my emotion – and thus my poetry – stems from antithesis, from conflict: whether flippancy and earnestness; art and science; good and bad; happiness and sadness. (Isn’t this the same for all artists?) But, also, to ‘warn’ that my particular brand of ‘lyric poetry’ may not be to modern taste.

I started writing poetry, as many do, I suppose, in an adolescent blur of angst: sometimes for “myopic schoolteachers” and the school literary magazine; but, more often than not, to burgeoning blondes and brunettes who I worshipped, unrequited, and from afar.

Perhaps at fourteen every boy should be in love with some ideal woman to put on a pedestal and worship. As he grows up, of course, he will put her on a pedestal the better to view her legs.
– Barry Norman

But real love came much later. And it was only with the pain that comes with the realization that one’s love is not always perfect that my poetry also ‘matured’. (I hope.)

This poem was written in a telephone box in the rain at six o’clock, one rainy Saturday morning, a few years ago – in a micro-depression caused by having to ’phone for an ambulance for an elderly neighbour suffering an obvious, life-threatening, cardiac arrest; as well as an aching absence. Unusually for me, the poem originated completely in my head, waiting for the medics, watching the rain; and I only scribbled it down later, as one of many “pimply young men who eat in cafeterias”, eyeing the early-morning buses going by.



Of Mirage and Echo

      “To love beyond infinity,”
My godhead said to me,
      “Not even to divinity
Is granted – nor shall be.”

      She searched through her inventory
Of mortals quick and dead;
      “None such in any century
Are listed here,” she said.

      “Except…” – and here her finger traced
The heartbreaks and the lies,
      The trusts and promises erased,
The bluffs of compromise –

      “Except there is a partnership
Outlasting words and wars,
      Exceeding clear the farthest tip
Of miracles or stars:

      “A truth of perfect unity,
A heart and soul that fly,
      That soar beyond eternity:
That is… but you and I.”



Vesper

Your name strides
Sculpted on my landscape mind,
Its racing arches rooted firmly
In that host of thoughts
Which we have christened…
Memory –

And wide, vast nothings
Echo round those blocks
Of chiselled retrospect,
And suns set beneath them –

Whilst crescent moons paint blue…
The conscious Memory.



Plough and scatter

Impossible perspectives,
to eyes trained on more rugged climbs:
gouged strands of tilth
that race, but never touch,
scarred by the ferrous digits
of a lifeless claw,
of both bird and bough –
a euphony for all my senses;
a concrete palimpsest;
a manuscript complete.


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