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Friday, 31 December 2010

A New Year Party at the Patents Office

I went as Boadicea, not having been before.

In party hats the hopefuls came
(and most - like me - in fancy dress),
all bearing plans they hoped would claim
the world for sense and hope again
and somehow save it from the mess
that's dumped it on the floor.

For good or ill, for right or wrong,
a polar bear had brought along
a high-tech hot air cooler.

From Lion King, a mini thing:
a plastic bendy ruler --
a sensible,
a flexible,
a universal proxy-King.

Three owls wore hats -
and two had spats -
with mottoes penned in inks
(that many thought were drivel):
viz: see no evil; hear no evil;
evil is as evil thinks.

The first had messages in mind
that get too mixed, as M.Ps. find:
When spin has spun beyond controls,
said he, and digging's dug too many holes,
this Sat-Nav could reset their goals.

The next, with gismo, super-fixed
a broken promise - seamlessly.

The third - grotesquely -
brought to bear
an anti-doctrinaire

Words like"vice"
spurred a baboon
to promise soon
a dirty-tricks hard water washer.

A long-eared bat
was topping that,
with smart-arse fast detosher.

Then from a tiger's sabre tooth
to swell the nation's stock of truth
there came a touch of righteous wit -
a moral spunk resuscer kit.

This year, a lowly lambkin said,
has been a perfect shocker.
Here's my device - a yah-boo-to-your-party blocker.

An ostrich came, who lacking guts,
had brought no plans because of cuts.

To all of you: the very best of all Good new Years.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

"Haiku" #330

Its robotic head
allows for your changing mood -
a sat-nav system

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

"Haiku" #329

calm down      those presents
that infuriate - all blocked
by Amazon

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


as suggested by POT LUCK MONDAY at Jingle Poetry

Stick the fairy on the tree,
all the lights are bright to see,
bless the Holy Trinity
God is one and God is three...
(Number three came down for me.)

Light the candles on the cake,
give the tambourines a shake,
let the Earth erupt and quake,
keep the city wide awake,
we have mighty thirsts to slake.

Hang the flags and bunting out,
beat the drums and raise a shout,
out with sadness, out with doubt,
tell the world that we're about,
flood the world with ale and stout.

Sing you choristers, outsing
even songs the angels bring,
let the bells of Heaven swing.
Here on earth the wedding ring
awaits the happy happening.

Loose your rockets to the sky,
lift the heroes shoulder high,
let the sparks from bonfires fly.
If a nobler world draws nigh
let your laughters multiply.

Monday, 27 December 2010

A Christmas Present

Muse Swings set this prompt on behalf of The Poetry Bus this week. The challenge was a poem about our most useless Christmas present. I don't think I've ever had a completely useless one - or I've cast it into my mental limbo - but this one came pretty close.

A cosy for your egg, she said.
A present from my aunt to match
that of the year before -
the famous Fair Isle socks

The cosy, too, was Fair Isle,
and like the stockings, knitted
by her own fair hands -
and just as generous.

She was alive to every
possibility, my aunt,
even that some day we might
start keeping ostriches.

Two thicknesses and lined,
turned inside out - I can't
think why - it made the perfect
blindfold for our party games.

This Haiku almost suggested a new verse for The Twelve Days of Christmas

a lunar surface
frozen snow     ice-filled craters
two magpies slipping

Sunday, 26 December 2010

A Christmas with Long Arms

Some of you will know from past posts that at the age of five I was whisked into hospital with pneumonia in both lungs and pleurisy. I don't recall anything at all of the illness and nothing of the treatment except that it involved two large bell jars, one filled with a coloured liquid, the other empty and the two connected by rubber tubing. Another length of rubber tubing was equipped with a mouthpiece and using this I had to blow all the liquid into the empty jar.

Apart from that, I remember the deep snow outside and seeing my parents trudging through it to visit me. I remember too, the nurses bringing in large bowls of snow for each child so that we could play snow balls. Still in bed, we threw them across the ward at each other. (Imagine that in the NHS!) I also remember (This being the time of my earliest connected memories.) the Christmas tree in the ward and the presents piled round it - all brought by Santa during the night whilst we all slept, of course. My present was a large Noahs Ark with two each of all the animals - all made from wood. And I remember the photograph, taken by the photographer from the Mitcham News and Mercury, of me being held by my favourite nurse beside my cot in front of the tree. The Noahs Ark was in the cot. I remember the photograph so clearly because my grandparents bought a large copy of the original, and it did the rounds for years afterwards.

I am not sure how long afterwards it was that we were visiting my dad's parents in Wandsworth and had gone to the shops. I had been left outside one particular shop for a moment. There were two women close by who, like me, had been looking in the window, but now one took a newspaper cutting out of her bag and showed it to the other. I cannot remember - or didn't hear - what was said, but they both looked at it for a few minutes before the first one returned it to her purse.

When my parents and grandma returned I asked who the women were. They didn't know - and it seemed quite obvious that the ladies concerned didn't know me. That being so, I always thought it odd that they should be looking at my photograph, for there were no other people in the photograph, apart from the nurse.

Roll on ten years or so and I am in Northern Italy, cycling with some friends. We go into a small wayside church in which some candles are burning. One of my companions lights one for a relation - I think a cousin - who is unwell. All the candles have small cards in front of them, each with a name and a date. Some with a message. One though - are you yet ahead of me? - has no card, just a newspaper cutting. No name, just a date - seven years earlier. It bears the same photograph of me aged five in hospital. Now is that eerie or is that eerie? One last thing: the cutting from the newspaper is printed in Italian. Does that make it more creepy, or less?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Something Nice Happened on the Way to Blogland Recently

The 'phone rang, Doreen answered it and said It's for you! I took it and heard a voice I did not quite recognise singing a song I did not quite recognise. Not at first, anyway. But then, it wasn't a song, as it turned out, but my poem The Eagle and the Child which an old friend of mine from college days had taken the trouble to arrange for guitar and was singing down the 'phone line.

But more than that he had made two videos of it, one of him speaking it and one of him singing it to the guitar, and had put them both on YouTube.

Yet more: he had sent the links to his granddaughter who teaches a year 6 class and she was planning to incorporate them into her teaching.

I promise I am not letting this go to my head, but if anyone out there is interested, here are the links.



On the other hand, if reading it the first time was more than enough I shall perfectly well understand!

Haiku #328

time for Peace on Earth
to all people of goodwill -
anarchists bomb Rome

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

A Christmas Carol

Out of darkness into light
flies the Doubting Thomas bird,
what is hid is only might
What is might's a mite absurd.

Out of winter into spring
wing the cries of infant king,
hope and passion both they bring:-
let the bells of heaven ring!

So much hidden, so much light,
so much wrong and so much right,
earth is in a parlous plight:-
sing your carols through the night!

Sing the darkness from the earth,
we who never thought to see
now confront a peerless birth
in the light of mystery.

Need and want go hand in hand -
they did so in the stable -
read the symbols in the sand,
then gather round the table.

Ox and ass and magi there -
nothing by its birth is banned,
creatures both of faith and flair:
nothing outlawed out of hand.

Out of fable, truth to tell,
each man shapes it as he grows,
finds his personal Noel,
his own demons to depose.

Here's to a wonderful Christmas
and all the blessings of the season to you all.
May your God or proxy-god be kind to you.

Yesterday's Haiku - late.

a beauteous sight
this morning's lunar eclipse
a red moon - hidden

Monday, 20 December 2010

When Earth became a lesser sun

It was a sign
the first of many
that the world was ending slowly when

we heard the pylon sizzle
like a bacon rasher

just an early surge
of fire from earth's deep belly.

I'd often said to Mary
how the lines would be the death of us.

'Oh my, you do go on!' she'd say,
'yet when the canopy
is fully greened
we cannot even see the blessed things!'

I'd tell her how the lines
are modern man's
late answer to the ancients,
how to think of them
as modern ley lines - of a sort.

"They're lines of force," I'd say,
"or stave lines in the sky -
for music, too's a force
we do not understand."

Then I'd go on: "If this 'ere path
were iron filings 'stead of stones
and leaf mould, Mary,
they'd be rearranging,
jumping in the most amazing patterns
you could see.

So never mind
you cannot see them
I can feel them in my bones!

Instead of iron filings,
what we've got is us:
two people standin' 'ere, who knows
or thinks them knows
what happens in thems brains!"     'O, you
and your iron filings!' she would say,
'you do go on, you do!'

The Kingfisher had made it clear to me:
omen or first symptom, call it as you will.

We'd often seen it skim the lake,
a flash of Royal blue.
That day it was electric blue,
a lightning bolt that hugged the wires -
escape denied - before
it plunged, not into water, but
a web of steel that disassembled it.

I'm talking long before
the earth became another sun,
before it spread soft orange light
across the Solar void -
Aye, soft it was in those days,
just a night light in the nursery...

I got quite angry with her sometimes...
still, bless her that she visits me
between her visits to oncology -
and always, always
when they turn the key
to let her in, she'll ask
how I am doing,
and when will I come home.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

"Haiku" #327

dogs for chewing by
from Companion Pet Products -
an advent calendar

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Seeing Stars on the Poetry Bus

Two Poems (and a "haiku")

We must be humble,we
who are so easily confused
by mere appearances, he said.
But he was looking at cold stones,
eulogising them as peers of stars.
So what if he had looked at stars,
would he have likened them
to stones? Or seen instead
the point at which a formless cloud
of dust and gas achieves its destiny,
evolves a structure to become a star?
Might he have seen from where
and how the structure comes?
Would he have shared all that with us -
or can it not be caught in words?

If only that were possible
he would have taught us how to fly
wing tip to wing tip with our god -
whoever that may be.
(whoever he may be, he must
explain the stars and me.)

Might we have: seen the cloud
reach critical, its inner core
expanding, slowly for a while,
then exponentially;
seen how it grew denser; felt
the growing heat;
seen the core explode
in energy releasing
nuclear reactions;
seen it turning luminous, become
the new kid on the block?

I think he would have shown us then
a massive star, its short life over,
decaying to a supernovae,
forming a black hole.

Once, stars were pinpricks in the firmament
(My granddad told me that.)
through which the light of heaven shone
to reassure the earth.

How sad to think the only holes
are made by ex-stars now -
and so are dark and threatening,
potential spanners in
the universal works.


When I was very young
a lamplighter came round
to light my star, the lamp
outside our house.

I asked him once
who lit the lamps
in those long lines
across the sky.

That always puzzled me -
although I never wondered
much about the sun
and who lit that.

He said I was too young
to understand such things,
that I should ask my teacher -
in a year or two.

I thought he was a star -
he played with gas and fire -
before I knew
that stars were gas and fire.

So I had two -
one fixed,
one wandering -
both mine!


their micro gismo
displays two states at one time -
proving Einstein right

Friday, 17 December 2010


With her ancient flute
a six month tour of gigs booked -
at the Space Station

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Homage to Munch's The Dance on the Shore

As masterpieces go, this by Edvard Munch - I will stick out my neck - is unbeatable. For me it is perfection. How on earth does one combine such calculated composition with such fluidity and dreaminess? The design of the picture is exactly calculated, but each object in it has been given its own unique colour. Yet nothing competes with anything else. The composition relies for its integrity on the interlocking shapes, the echoing patterns and the strong tonal qualities. As a bonus the lines of the tree and the ripples in the sea are perfect.

It is obviously related to The Dance of Life (below) which he painted the year before (1899) he began work on The Dance on the Shore

It is, though, The Dance on the Shore which remains my favourite. I had it in mind when I began doodling my not-so-dreamy digital version. There is no greater connection than that. When I refreshed my memory by going back to look at a reproduction of Munch's I was all but frightened into not posting mine, but it is good to remind oneself how difficult are the things that great masters almost persuade us are easy.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Women were of Earth, Men of Somewhere else

This week's Pot Luck challenge from Jingle Poetry (here) specifies Hobbies, Passions, Pastimes, Entertainment. That is our theme for this week. Silly me, when I read it I somehow overlooked passion - not something I'm noted for doing! Whatever, so here is my passionless offering.

What a muddle children make of logic,
shaping worlds from iffy intuition!
Here's a good example (two or three, for I
am nothing if not generous): required
of every man - a hobby. Wisdom of
the ages: man sans hobby withers like
a leaf in Autumn - hence his need of sheds
or stamp collections, not to mention trains,
his golf clubs, painting easels - just to see
him through. A woman, though, has interests.
These may extend into the arts, but should
not be confused with a mere hobby.

Entertainments are for families, whole
groups of people, doing (often watching)
the same thing. Being rather socially
aligned, their special usefulness lies in
their bonding and cohesive powers.
Hobbies are considered slighter. Shallow.
Interests are somehow more profound -
or at the very least, more practical.
When hobbies start to grow more serious
they're labelled as obsessions - not at all
a happy thing. These are the insights that
I garnered through my childhood and my youth.
No one preached them. Like spirits they were there;
they wafted from the pictures on the walls,
the stalking and the sporting images;
we heard them in the knockings of the pipes,
we breathed them in with every breath of air.
They were like smiling faces from a fair.

I do not meet these attitudes so much
in these enlightened times... just now and then...
an aunt not seen since eighteen Christmases
ago, will ask what I've been up to since
that far off time. I write a bit, I'll say...
What? Mostly poetry! Then I confirm
that, no, my third collection is not due,
and no, I am not yet a millionaire...
It's just a hobby then? Would that be true?
I'm relegated to the bottom league.
She does not ask if there is one to read.

Not at all a Haiku

L.V.in her eye...
logo of her contact lens -
The Mona Lisa

Sunday, 12 December 2010

"Haiku" #326

they think of eating
they keep thinking of eating -
they eat a lot less

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The Essence of Me on the Poetry Bus ; and Haiku #325

The image below gives the essence of this week's challenge - or one of them - issued by Titus the Dog. It explains what is an essence vessel and what it means for us as would-be passengers.

The Essence of Me

The essence of me
for those who would look:
bleached wood from the sea,
a worm in a book,
the hues of a tree.

The essence of me
for those who would taste:
a garlicky fish
with horseradish paste,
some hot curry dish.

The essence of me
for those who would smell:
ozone from the sea
faint whiff of bluebell,
black coffee and tea.

The essence of me
for those who would hear:
the silence of graves,
the words of King Lear,
weird echoes in caves.

The essence of me
for those who would touch:
smooth stones from the sea
the sea's angry clutch -
pure joy in a knee.

The essence of me
as a conscious man:
what it means to be,
what it is to plan -
life as mystery.

Haiku #325

In the library
smoking an orchid to death
was a rolling stone

Friday, 10 December 2010

Not Your Actual Haiku! #324

we no want Nobel
we have Confucius Peace Prize -
less bent - Chinese Gov

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Haiku #323

killed in their thousands
just for being left handed -
by right handed tools

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Beyond the Comfort Zone

Haiku #322

not bird song wakes me
but still lifes and lithographs -
sound lines and colour

Monday, 6 December 2010


This image is this week's rather clever prompt at Magpie Tales, the poem below, my response to it.

How right that glass should guard the threshold where
the two domains, inside and out, have drawn,
in silverpoint, self-portraits on its back-
to-back pellucid sheets that now are one.
So shapes we've left behind us ghost before
and those before embrace the ones behind
and worlds we thought were separate are mixed.
Our artefacts and nature interact
and works we see as nature's or as ours
become a montage when we look again .

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The Eagle and the Child

on the Poetry Bus

I can't quite believe that I've written this. It was a brilliant and original prompt (to take a pub name and from it create characters for a story - preferably rhymed) by Poetikat which excited - and finally defeated - me. Not at all my usual sort of endeavour, but that was a large part of its fascination. Hopefully, I will have learned something from it - maybe from the comments?

I tell the tale
of a bird of prey
and a child who met
by a lake one day.
Both were shy
and with nothing to say -
just a child by a lake
and the bird of prey.

The bird was gentle
and far from wild -
or so it seemed
to the trusting child
who saw in feathers
a place to hide,
in powerful wings
a call to ride.

They flew for ever,
flew far and high,
beyond the rainbow,
above the sky,
to a place where life
is light and free
and devoid of weight
or gravity,

a land too wondrous
to be quite true,
where rubbish food
is good for you,
where kids are more
than adult size
and adults think
them 'fab' and wise.

There, as they soared
above a stream
of ice and chillies
and juice and cream,
the eagle at last
had run out of steam
and dropped the child
from its happy dream.

Down he fell,
where they'd been before
to land with a bump
on the bedroom floor.
His parents tucked him
back into bed
deaf to the novel
stashed in his head.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

"Found" Haiku

(lifted - almost verbatim - from a reader's letter in The Guardian.)

smokers get the nudge
tobacco companies the wink -
the health white paper

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Way Time Passes.

"He likely won't see six," I overheard
the doctor say, when I was five.
I thought he meant o'clock, and so
resolved to stay awake.
Later, when my mother said: "That's it!
It's seven - past your sleep time!"
I was cock-a-hoop.
Only later - some years later - did I realise
what I'd achieved, how
cheating The Great Reaper,
I'd joined the great immortals.

Later still, I thought
I'd slipped time into over-drive
when time was but an ocean
and hardly moved at all,
except within itself.
Its tides and currents,
like so many secret thoughts,
like those that I enjoyed
that no one outside me
could know about.

Next, I can recall
the day I sat and worked it out
that half my life -- exactly half --
had vanished down the Swanny.
So I subtracted from my age,
sixteen, the theory being
that the years from one into the teens
could hardly count. And so,
I had two thirds
remaining in the bag,
as yet unopened.
And so we seek
to slow the pace of time
and make of it a dwindling stream.

Three interviews I went to, and at each
they said how young I looked.
I grew a beard. It worked: I got the job.
I'd suddenly grown older.
Time was then a flash flood in the sun.

Now time's a stream in tumult,
its speed increasing

I have no strategy for that.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

What's in a Haiku?

Spring loneliness -
it falls short of the surf
this stone I toss.

Soon it will be a year since I began my (almost) daily "Haiku" on current affairs and "newsy" items. From the beginning I had a nagging anxiety: that I might be misleading friends who are not yet au fait with the nature and mysteries of the Haiku. They are not, never have been, were not intended to be, the real thing, to engender in their readers the unique experience which is the Haiku moment. They are no more than its skeleton, its structural form. Many will know better than I what the haiku is about, but for those who do not, I have worried that I might be doing them a mis-service. When I began these Haiku, and on a couple of occasions since, I have gone to some pains to explain the true haiku and to make clear that mine were not of that ilk, but were merely wearing a Haiku dress. However, that was long ago now - or seems it - and many new friends have happened along since then. So time to put the record straight, I think. Here, then, are the essentials of a Haiku as I have come to understand them.

The overriding characteristic of a Haiku is that it should encapsulate the Haiku moment. By this is meant a moment of genuine awareness, perception or enlightenment. A moment of Epiphany, in fact. The moment will be one of intuition and feeling, and the poem will engender these in the reader or listener. It is important to note that what is first felt and then conveyed in the poem is not something amenable to logic and will normally be ambiguous to a degree. Unsurprisingly, therefore, ambiguity is much prized in the Haiku. It is a poem of genuine feeling, not a mere tinkering with ideas - as many of mine have been!

The aspect which may be said to be next in terms of importance - though many there are who (mistakenly) will place it first - is the form. Structure is important, but is secondary to cadence. In English the accepted structure has become three lines of 5 - 7 - 5 syllables. This is a rule of thumb. Nothing more than that. Haiku translated from the Japanese hardly ever conform to this formula. Mostly, 5 - 7 - 5 does what is asked of it, but the important thing is for the poet to find an equivalent that suits the natural cadence. In Japanese the long vowel counts 2, so right away a dogmatic adherence to the strict 5 - 7 - 5 rule becomes untenable.

The poet's secondary job is to come up with an array of words that cuts the Haiku into two opposing sections, rather as the turn does in a sonnet. Usually in the Haiku it is 12 syllables pitched against 5.

Punctuation is most decidedly not prized. The less there is of it, the better. In most cases it will be verbalised or the line breaks will serve in its place. Often the dash (-) is used instead.

The Haiku will give hints of emotion or attitude (again I stress, not logic) which ideally should grab all five senses - though this must be seen as a counsel of perfection.

The third most important characteristic is one I have already mentioned: ambiguity. It is highly prized, and is often obtained by the use of juxtaposition rather than by the use of conjunctions. Along with ambiguity I should mention open-endedness and a very sparing use of adjectives.

That, I hope, gives a broad view of what the Haiku is all about, but now we need to consider the techniques commonly used to bring all these requirements together - no small task, I think you will agree.

The first of these to spring to mind is the concrete image. These, when juxtaposed without syntactical links as mentioned above, create the emotional tension or atmosphere for which the Haiku is rightly prized. Used in this way, they are considered to be stronger than simile.

Most Haiku are written in the present tense and report simple observations or occurrences. They do not deal in generalisations or habitual happenings, and there are no explicit statements of feelings.

The mood is usually light and not ostentatiously poetic - but definitely not flippant.

The haiku deals in all aspects of contemporary life in what has been described as an interesting but disinterested way.

Vocabulary consists of ordinary, everyday words rather than poetic or ornamental ones.

Normal poetic techniques - e.g. alliteration, assonance, rhyme, melody, rhythm, enjambment, etc - may all be used, but they must not glare i.e. they must not draw too much attention to themselves.

Finally, titles are avoided.

Which just leaves us with the small matter of content! You will have gathered from the above that comprehension is of the essence, that only the absolute essentials are included. But there is more: in a traditional form of Haiku it should be possible to tell from the script in which of the five seasons the poem is located. (Five, because for the Japanese the New Year is a separate season.) This is often done with a key word. Mention of the moon for example, will give a Japanese reader to understand that the poet means the harvest moon - i.e. it is Autumn. However, there has been some extension of the Haiku beyond traditional limits, due mainly to the fact that people do not live as close to nature as they once did. Now there is a category for social concerns such as homelessness and illness. Even so, the effort is towards placing it in the now - example: the last haiku given below.

I have mentioned the turn which should occur somewhere in the poem, normally at the end of one of the lines, that also is most often managed by a key word called a kireji. Sometimes this is a meaningless word added to create a pause before the turn. The kireji can create a lacuna or a ligature to the poem's next unequal half.

The haiku at the head of this post and the first one below are the work of the modern master Suzuki Masajo

no escaping it -
I must step on the fallen leaves
to take this path

The next is by the eighteenth century poet, Buson

plumes of pampas grass -
the helpless tremblings
of a lonely heart

Finishing with one by Inahata Teiko and one by Kaneko Tota

running down inside

buckling in the heat
where the A bomb burst
a marathon

I may not be around tomorrow, may not be replying to comments until the weekend. I have a family funeral to attend - if I can get out!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Bubble and Squeak

"Haiku" #321

They take them with them
their favourite coffin things -
mobile phones and wine

Heard from two small(ish) boys playing soldiers in the snow:-

1st boy : I've bombed your secret camp.

2nd boy : You couldn't 'ave, you don't know where it is.

1st boy : I do so, it was on Wicked Leaks!

Snow turning crimson
has buried the maple leaves
is stained by their blood