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Monday, 30 April 2012

Suburban Village #3 : Dev the Rev

At first, my hero:
The Reverend J. D. Proberty,
billowing cloud on a sit-up-and-beg,
skirts of ankle length
doing nothing to hamper
the prowess he showed
on a bicycle made for trousered men.
To me that argued powers beyond
the human or the practical.
He had been sent by God, I had seen the sign -
but not that, human , he was set to fall.

My chest grew worse in London Smogs
and Dev the Rev
or Call-me-Father
(our two names for him)
suggested Switzerland.
He and I. To take the air -
and in the proceess, to
escape the London blitz as well.
An open-ended stay.
All expenses paid.
Umbrage he took
when my parents refused -
but for my grandparents
it marked the end of hm.

He it was persuaded me
to be an altar boy,
but called me sinful, hearing I had drunk
a mug of tea first thing, before
the early morning "mass" -
"Communion" to everybody else.

Sunday School was in the church,
but I was in his class,
which always met
somewhere in the vicarage:
his library, the orchard,
the great lawn or the garden.
In season he would give out windfalls -
though sometimes we'd have had
some apples from the trees.

Once in the church,
peeping through my knuckles during prayers
I saw high up in what we called the transept -
our misnomer for a chapel
tucked behind the choir - perched
in the apex of the intervening arch,
Blake's Ancient one of Days.
It hovered for a while then disappeared.
I told the Father what I'd seen.
He exorcised the transept for our sins.

William Blake's The Ancient of Days is from the Wikipedia Website

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Vampires I have loved

I've loved so many vampires in my life,
and with each one shared such a wond'rous love
full of the joys of flesh, its sins and blood,
though never a one ever took too much
or ever used it to fuel her flesh.
(Which may not accord with what you've been told -
it's light years beyond the vampires' bad press.)
In truth, the blood intoxicates psyches -
a minimal droplet will work the trick
to trigger their sex into overdrive
and to shatter in turn my last reserves.

They've hidden their sex in cartons of blood,
an aphrodisiac mixed with fear, spin
the added ingredient - unlikely
tales vanillas will hear... and stay away.
Only the chosen get close; the rest
are hedged with fears of the death of their souls.
They may try to nourish, externalise
the dread that has gripped them by the heart, dread
which only joy can move. But not for them
 surrendering to the darkest unknown.

Of all the many I've loved, there were four,
Chilli, Chalk, Joan and Horse, of whom I'll speak,
each with her own sweet peccadilloes
(according that is to the vampire code):
one who would only take blood from the toes,
one who would intermingle our blood, two
who insisted on one - and one for free.
My greatest regret: I've outlived them all!

For Poetics ~28 at dVerse Poets the theme of the prompt is Vampires

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Old Bones

Earth copies ocean
its movements never stop.
As cold and warm above
below each other move
so do the clays and loams.

Less pronounced maybe
but swellings and contractions
nonetheless. Just listen
with a stethoscope
you'll hear them taking place.

Complaints this week
from Epsom residents
that cemetery bones
were breaking through the ground
and rising into view.

Something of the same
when I was still at school:
the bartering of bones
at playtimes, I recall.
(Alas, there were no skulls!")

Swollen by rain,
beds of London clay
had buckled those of shale,
dismantled skeletons,
driven bones above

and toppled headstones.
Many there were nearby
who thought it spirit work
remembering the ground
had suffered in the blitz,

recalling too, old tales
of people buried there
who might have bones to pick
with someone still alive.
They'd not go near at night!

Friday, 27 April 2012

Be the World's First : why don't you?

dVerse ~ Poets Pub suggests for this week a range of options involving allegory. I have chosen 

Vermeer's visual allegory, The Allegory of Painting

We've pulled the hangings to one side. Perhaps
we're spying on this quasi-studio -
to wondering what's going on inside.
The artist dare not show his face - artist
is just persona for the act? He's posed
the model as his Muse of History
complete with trumpet and a laurel crown
of  fame and victory. The artist, too,
is wearing costume from a bygone age.
What sort of studio boasts tiles like these?
What sort of studio a chandelier -
with double-headed Hapsburg Eagle there
displayed?  For what the map of Holland and
the mask? Death mask, perhaps? Or artist's face?
The unknown future face of history?
In case, dear readers, you are still in doubt:
What sort of studio contains no paints?
Here, an allegory that no one's cracked.

Vermeer said the allegory had to do with the significance of painting.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

As Different as Dawn and Dusk

Light was always the uncertain thing
except it came from love.
Love is the death of all uncertainty,
including that of light,
but light is not the object of our search.
How could we search for light?
The light finds us.
Once found, we are the light
and when we are,
both dawn and dusk look different.

If we could go back to our first beginnings,
find there, the point that we have now attained,
but not to start again,
to verify our compass bearings -
an aviator might have said:
recalibrate our altimeters -
might we not
then find ourselves rewarded by
new panoramas, insights into
what might become the end games of our lives?

We'd find ourselves still here, I'm sure;
still in this time and place,
but with the time and place transfigured -
the evening from the prospect of a dawn.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

My Rueful Secret

It's been the worst of interviews,
the best of them,
an interview of halves -
how many halves, I can't be sure,
why would you ask?
I've scuppered several, damned if I've not,
seen chances down the drain,
watched as the doors were slowly closing on me,
thought: I'll never be
a grammar school boy with a tassel on my cap.
(For that at least, relief!)
Almost I'd heard
the great bolts on their oaken doors
shot home. But then:

What would you like to be when you leave school?
"An architect," I'd said...
and what was that? Squeak, grate, grind, rasping sounds
as doors
were opened just a bit?
Subtle change of atmosphere...
Let's say you are... you're asked
to plan a school like this. What will you put
to benefit us all,
staff and pupils equally?

"Good heating, lighting, air conditioning..." And where
did that come from? And at that point
did I hear sounds of hinges opening?
Well, I was in - but in
with one enormous secret tucked inside my head.
I could not tell them, then or later, that
I had this plan
nursed this desire
fond dream - to build
what would have rivalled the as yet unbuilt
Museum of Bilbao
and the equally unthought of Sydney
Opera House.

My edifice I'd have
flout every rule that architects dream up.
Inverted pyramids to form inverted pyramids
all standing on their points
precariously balanced
with from them flying arabesques of aluminium
anodised in rainbow colours.

Goodbye to boring calculations,
to hell with tensile strength, sheer strength
and ratios of weight to strength,
forget those co-efficients, out of date
and such a drag on such as me;
a building built against the odds;
no chance it might support itself -
except it would,
by some amazing formula
I'd not yet found.

How could I tell those staid
and academic gentlemen
that what I'd planned-
had I told all -
my true intent,
made what I'd said
a false pretence?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012


You've heard of Damien Hurst,
Art Shark supreme,
his fondness for formaldehyde
fame and fortune overnight?

I'll have a bit of that, I thought.
Ma banned the f-stuff from the house.
Smells unsavoury, she said.
That's fair enough, thought I,
Aspic will do instead
that's savoury enough for mum.

First thought was for the cat,
but he high tailed it out. So that was that.
I kidded my kid brother in.
He never knew what smothered him!
Lovely way to go!

So that's the way it happened, officer.
Straight up...
don't say you're like the rest of them...
world over,
all the damned  authorities
are Philistines.

No idea of what art is!
Eat your art up, Damien Hurst,
the little people aint caught up...
Nor never will, if you ask me.

The photo-prompt was provided by http://magpietales.blogspot.co.uk/

Monday, 23 April 2012

Suburban Village #2 : R.T.A.

Doctor Shellswell goes his rounds,
a country gent, complete in his plus-fours -
plus-sixes, now and then - green tweed,
as I recall. As welded to
his Gladstone bag as Charlie to his cap. #1
Attends me when I'm ill, but got it wrong
breathtakingly just once. Pneumonia
and pleurisy. He diagnosed: A flash
in David's pan! But now
we settle for Bronchitis, by and large -
The London smog's what gets the blame.

A keen philatelist - as I . He sits
beside me on my bed, and from
his Gladstone bag takes out
a pocket book of swaps.
We trade before he'll diagnose.
My Grandparents downstairs
grow very anxious as the minutes pass -
on one occasion just beyond the hour -
and still no word of what is wrong
or why it's taking so much time. I think it's Granddad
(mostly) who will pay his frequent bills - although
I saw the doctor once refuse the payment due,
waving it away like dad had got it wrong.

Today we'll visit his large house. It boasts
a waiting room consulting room and surgery
and, newly built, a pharmacy. The latter
is for me the focus of the day. There's one
whole shelf of bottles, meticulously  ranked
in differing hues of red and shades of pink.
Pick-me-ups and tonics - put-me-downs,
my granddad says - but none of them for me. For
me, he'll mix my favourite shade before my eyes.
I watch the colours change. He'll be the grand
magician -  perhaps they'll even cycle through
a set of hues. He  plays it differently for me -
or does he? Something says that Granddad's
in the wings, ringmaster of a sort,
manipulating the performance. Is it just an act?

The Doctor drives an Armstrong Siddeley Saloon -
not only owns a car, but has a garage, too,
a monstrous thing with sliding doors, joined to
the house, though hidden behind trees.
When coming down the steep slope from
the railway bridge, a billowing cloud emerges
from the side road at its foot,
clobbers him amidships, dents a wing.
The billowing resolves itself, becomes
the rather unbecoming garments of a priest:
a cassock and a wild and woolly cloaky thing -
beyond a man's control in a high wind.
Its Father Proberty in priestly garb.
More of him next time.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A Poet's Duty

ManicDdaily at dVerse Poets prompts us with the theme of  Duty Calls.

He who would write a poem builds a kite
and owes a duty to the laws of flight,

a duty first to trim and balance it
and craft it as his inner self sees fit

in faith that what he's building grants control,
will let him soar, dip, loop-the-loop and roll.

These form the grammar he is pledged to use,
the only truth that he is bound to choose.

These will for fleeting moments in the sky
tout his ideas both trivial and high.

The earth is flatter now than a tin tray,
but kite finds shapes in which the angels play.

So... solving all the problems of the world?
Too much to ask! A violent wind has swirled

and kite has nosedived; world has gone to ground -
though individual men new life have found.

The poet's duty to the truth of things
is first of all to sense them through the strings;

the tugging of the kite, the going slack,
the shapes the kite makes that the strings bring back.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Words from the Wise

I grew up with sayings,
maxims, proverbs, knew them
ere I understood,
and every now and then
some chance remark or action
brings one close.

Teaching. Stints of swimming
duty at a nearby pool. And then
they built a bigger, better one
a mile or two away.
The old one closed, and Michael
asked me how
they'd carried all that water all that way.
A version I supposed,
of coals to Newcastle.

Teaching again. The school
is bordered by large houses.
Ample grounds with conker trees.
Not unknown for boys to infiltrate.
One does, the very day our friendly pol-
ice liaison officer is visiting.
He asks the boy if he has ever heard
how mighty oaks from little acorns grow.
The boy responds emphatically: he's
not darned taken any acorns - 
only conkers, sir!

Working in his study
planning an assembly
a colleague head
looks out to see
a lorry, flashing light,
parked in his drive.
The drive has speed bumps.
The study door flies open.
A workman stand there.
In the area repairing roads.
Half a load of tar to spare.
The drive need s some repair.
He quotes a price.
My friend agrees.
Rushes out with sermon notes.
Returns to find
the bumps no longer visible.
The bill exorbitant.
Not the price agreed!
The price. Square yard, sir!
A foot of it lies on the drive.

Telling the tale,
weakly he would say
he thought the man was kosher
who had a flashing light.
I thought of how we shouldn't spoil
(what?) for a halfpennyworth of tar.
This last is interesting (to me). I believe originally the saying was not to spoil the hog. Later "hog" became "sheep", but when I was a boy we said "ship". I took it to refer to tarring the ship's decks to make them waterproof. But was it a natural slide from sheep to ship?

Submitted to Poets United for their Think Tank Thursday #93 : Quotes

Friday, 20 April 2012

Creatures from the ice

The things they ask of me would make you weep.
In melting ice from ancient sleep,
the first one found by humankind,
named after shale where I'd reclined -
so was I kin to cat or rat?
What did I like for habitat?
Was I clothed in fur or hide?
Half blind, was I? or eagle-eyed?

They found me in the permafrost
and danced for joy to think the lost
retrieved complete with all its bits.
They've reconstructed... guessed at wits
I might have had at my disposal -
I, who was apocryphal.

And then I'm reading in the news -
it makes me want to hit the booze -
of other creatures tombed in ice
as thoroughly as ever I. Not nice
to think exploding them
is all they have for stratagem.
But see, it's not Siberia,
and they aren't some exotica.
They're cows, n'est-ce pas?
It's quite bizarre
and not clear cut...
they froze inside a ranger's hut...
to think the care restoring me
is not for them - another post code lottery!


I was halfway through writing a poem about a creature found in the melting permafrost when I read in the paper of some cows who had wandered into a ranger's hut in the Rockies and got trapped there. They froze solid, and the authorities were perplexed to know what to do about them. The latest suggestion (then) was that they might use high explosives to disintegrate them.

Flood time

My father told me how
when The Wandle flooded
their garden disappeared
and one of next door's chairs
became snagged on their fence.

He and his father watched
a neighbour's shed float by
and bric-a-brac turn in
where once their gate had been.
A tree was something new.

The flood had come at night
and not until the dawn
did they see Rags, the dog
marooned upon the chair,
a rag doll in its mouth.

My father watched his dad
set off along the path,
the water round his chest,
then saw him disappear.
Dad dived into the flood.

The water had removed
the manhole's covering.
His father had stepped in
and now was tightly wedged.
My father pulled him out,

then struck out after Rags.
They often tug-of-warred
with Nanny's old clothes prop,
so when it floated by
he tempted Rags to try.

Rags held it with his paws,
the doll still in his mouth.
Dad towed him to the house.
His father became ill,
swallowing the water,

but Rags still claimed the doll,
would not relinquish it.
He'd take it everywhere,
its dress tooth-marked and torn,
its face like one who'd drowned.


The Wandle is a tributary of the Thames. Some stretches are culverted, and have been for many years. In places the diversions are underground, but it has never been fully tamed, and in certain conditions it is apt to bubble up again as though demanding its old course back. The floods of my poem occurred in Wandsworth. Alas, I don't know the year, though obviously before my parents were married.

Thursday, 19 April 2012


His name was Timberlimb,
Anglicised from something foreign, I believe.
He was employed to teach us woodwork,
but he never did. His thing was plastics.
Plastics are tomorrow, he would say.

To make the point he'd posted in the workshop
a cartoon of Tomorrow:
two suited city gents in earnest conversation
in an ulta-modern room: Everything
in here is made of glass, except the windows -
which are plastic, don't you know.

He'd chortle over that, thought it the height of wit.

We did not hit it off, Mr Timberlimb
and I: that happens sometimes -
as I'd find out later to my cost.
I made a table lamp one time. Plastic,
as you've guessed. My own design. I have
to say that I was very proud of it. Not he, for he
dismissed it with: It's modernistic rather
than completely modern, don't you feel?
Well, no, I didn't as it happened, and I wouldn't
have - not even if I'd understood the phrase.

Just every now and then - in a blue moon -
he'd demonstrate a metalwork technique.
Something quite spectacular - but not hands-on
for us. He showed us how to solder, braze
and weld. There was the time he drew a red
hot corkscrew shape from a small furnace.
So there he was, brandishing it, as a warrior
might his weapon, going into war. Sun-bright
and sizzling with heat. Cor, strewth,
a boy behind me said. I wouldn't fancy 
that thing up my ******* in the night.  
How's that to make you jump up out of bed!
Mr Timberlimb turned ashen,
left the school a short while after that.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Cornfield by Moonlight, with the Evening Star : Samuel Palmer

This is the night creation changed.
Earth mirrored in the moon -
was ever moon this large and silvered,
or so gorged with light - too much
to play its usual game, reflecting sun's?
It spills its surplus on the hills.
The hills absorb it and become
a little more celestial, less part of earth.

Intensity of star - as bright
as any seen at Bethlehem - is surely
omen, magic sign or devilish illusion...
The farmhand feels it,
threat or promise,
looks up towards the Earth.
A changed perception fits him for
this new reality.

For dogs, of course,
Earth lies where it has always lain -
beneath the feet; runs,
fur-wrapped, through the stubble
and among the stooks. But even so,
an eye and ear are cocked
in case the moon
is on collision course with Earth.

Or is this merely
what the farmhand sees,
a vision that is his alone,
not open to the likes of us?
Or something that perhaps
the dog can smell? The sweetness
of the cut corn? A sharpness under foot?
Did Palmer sense it in the flow of paint?

The image is from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Red Roofs by Chagall

Prompt from The Mag. Find them at http://magpietales.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/mag-113.html


Paths float above the roof tops, birds assume
a lover's alter ego.
Red tiles are precious stones along the way,
wild flowers stand in for love's bouquets.
Look at the flowers,
will you but call them cultured?
Are they not wild?
How will you tell?
The difference is as between a dream and reverie.

Starred crystals spangle earth
as much as ever they did sky.

Along these paths the lovers meet or part
or wander hand in hand.
Old men who in their youth were birds,
who soared beyond their promise and their powers
in targeting their prey, now carry home
their ancient scrolls or groceries.

Their days of spiralling quite past, they always knew
the lightness could not last. Who now
will jeopardise safe earth and home
for what the eagle sees? But they did once -
and what they did, they do again in dream.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Suburban Village #1 : Charlie

Charles Alexander,
maternal grandpop of your truly,
cap slammed permanently down upon his head
(often have I seen him nude but for the cap;
never have I seen him minus it - he sleeps in it),
cycles - now and then unsteadily -
Along Glebe Path and into Western Road
to see a man about a dog.
(God knows which man or what about the dog!)

He encounters Mrs Heppleweight - or she
encounters him, her ample weight
obstructing the dark narrowness of path
into which he aims the bike, still more unsteadily.
Hi, Charlie, how are you today?
"Hard up and happy, Mrs Heppleweight! Hard
up and happy, thank you this good day!"
He turns away and heads back for the road.
There, Mrs Garwood. Morning, Charlie,
And how are we today? "Can't say for you,
now Mrs Garwoood, but for me, I'm
Hard up and happy - same as yesterday!"

But now his luck runs out. He runs slap into -
physically into - Dr Shellswell, who has banned -
has "banned and then forbidden" him
to ride his bike. And so he makes for home,
his tail beneath his shirt tail. Walks his bike.

Returning prematurely, he collects
Grandma's large enamel bowl and vanishes
behind the loganberry trellises. Meanwhile,
Small Jack - six feet something,
distant cousin umpteen times removed,
kept goal for Sunderland, or somewhere
thereabouts, arrives to teach me how to kick
a football with a modicum of venom.
He talks a bit, then demonstrates. The ball takes off,
flies high above the rose bed - just as Grandpop
reappears, complete with Gran's enamel bowl.
The football catches him beside the temple.
He goes down like he's been poleaxed.
The family flap round. And even when
he smiles again, we're still at panic stations.
Only the cap remains unmoved.

At the moment this is still only a thought: that I might try posting a Suburban Village sketch each Monday morning based on actual characters and/or incidents from my childhood environment.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Underground Can Age You

or a true subway tale for dVerse Poets Pub: Poetics : Subway.
Find them at:  http://dversepoets.com/

I am waiting for a train on the London Underground.
On the platform, at its furthest end from me,
a couple zipped into a sleeping bag. Shades
of Henry Moore's shelter drawings from the war * -
the cotton folds both hiding and revealing form.

All at once, assorted crisp bags, papers. tissues
and confectionery wrappers are taking to the air
like mini kites without the strings. I feel a draught,
a solid blast of air that's coming from the tunnel,
pushed before it by the not-too-distant train,
but still before I hear the rumble of it drawing near.

The people on the platform start to move,
 a fraction up or down. They go on making fine 
adjustments as the train slows down. They know
exactly where the exits will be at their destinations
and want to board the train exactly at those points.

The train is full, with people standing, hanging on
to straps. Unpopular, a man near me who has
a double bass - and rainbow veins in both his cheeks.
We are all squeezed into each others' spaces
though no one seems aware of anybody else.
Everyone an elephant invading someone's room!

We're studying the adverts above the seats of look
intently at the tunnel walls as they flash by. Anything
not to be caught out looking at our neighbour. I and a
tall girl next to me make accidental contact with 
our eyes. She lifts her nose and looks away. I
also look elsewhere - and catch sight of a woman
sitting only feet from me. She has the sort of face
I want to take between my hands to breathe it in.
And whilst I'm on the subject she is fragrant - very.
Someone moves, allowing me to see the rest of her:
sheathed in silky lemon yellow, she looks now as
though she is a flower coming into bloom. O f course,
I'm fantasizing. She stands - and offers me her seat!
Have I really aged that much since leaving home?

Apologies : unable to make the links work. Suggest you cut and paste them into your browser.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

What Jess Really Really Wanted

Years ago they'd marked her card -
dog-eared by this time.
Trouble-maker, that was Jess.
Ask her what she wanted most from life
she'd say to see the school
and all her enemies
go up in flames -
or some such thing.

And then there were her cronies,
six or seven girls
who called her heroine.
The Devil Crew.
You could walk into their class
(thirty pupils plus)
and feel the vibes.

No one had an answer.
Jess Morrison - beyond the pale.
That's how it was and always had been,
that's how it remained
until the day that Mrs Grayling left
(as many others had - from stress)
to be replaced by Mrs Morrison.

The custom of the school
was for teachers to address
the students formally
by family names.
But calling "Morrison" felt awkward
for new Mrs Morrison.
She called Jess, Jess
and Jess, we think, believed
herself now privileged
and favoured.
And Jess responded,
lost her anger, dropped
her snide remarks
and settled down to work.
Quite accidentally
the key to Jess had come to light.

So when the class was asked one day:
"What are your dreams?"
most wrote of colourful scenarios,
but Jess described "a little house,
a baby and a garden with a swing,
and in the bedroom,
carpet that will go from side to side
and underneath the bed".

Written for The Think Tank Thursday #92 Key

Friday, 13 April 2012

Leaving it behind

When we the last man
homo sapiens
lies fossilised
and part exposed
on some brown hillside
in some upheaval of this crusty earth,
what patient palaeontologist
will be scraping at our bones
removing every trace of stone
and dust to reconstruct us
as we were
and carbonate of soda-blowing us
to some new clarity?
(It's now we need the clarity.)

What shall we have become?
Beyond the next extinction  maybe -
who or what will our replacement be?
(For evolution surely will go on.)

One palaeontologist believes
a rodent form comes hot upon our heels
to carry forward what we've left
of our brave world.

Imagine now: the child who would become
Professor Jenny Clark
is leafing through an illustrated book
called Prehistoric Animals:
a kind of magic is at work, she's listening
to the slow sounds
of the Shostakovich Fifth.
She sees and hears
the silent world
in perfect fits
of sound and images. She is
imagining a world
that is not hers. No animals
are here with vocal chords
or feet to crush the undergrowth,
nor any here with ears to hear the silence.
Only the wind and rustlings of leaves
would have been there for ears to hear
when lizard grew to newt and salamander.

Music and a  poetry of thought
brought forth the palaeontologist to be.

For what the lines are worth
I'm guessing our successor
will go back to the sea
(It's cooler there;
takes longer to warm up),
but not before, maybe,
he/we have given evolution's ass a kick
manipulating D.N.A. - that sort of thing
to fit ourself/itself
with double vision (light and infra red),
echo location (for transmission,
revelation, proclomation, navigation)
and reformed ourself/itself as spheres
(for better heat control). Perhaps
aquatic rodents armed with souls might fit the bill.

Written (after viewing the BBC film on Dr Jenny Clark - one of The Beautiful Minds series)  and for The dVerse Poets prompt Tripping the Cosmos

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Two Poems

Chalk and Cheese

When very small
our daughter
had a special friend
who had a maisonette
inside our T.V. set.
She'd talk to her
hour after hour
in some special lingo
that we didn't understand.

Our son, by contrast,
liked to sit cross-
legged on the floor,
enthralled and speechless,
gazing at the screen,
spellbound by
The News in Welsh -
first Welsh man
in our family.

Another Eden

If Eden was a one-night stand
(as our account would seem
to have it), and supposing
that the story happened in real time
(a season say, no more than that)
and if the ripe fruit (surely
it was ripe!) had not
the time to fall and rot,
if nothing was recycled back to earth,
what happened, do you think,
once Eve and Adam left?

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

horses see in the dark
see in colour
see dark as dark colour
see we
who we are
like colour in the dark
dark is their colour of horse

I didn't write this poem.
Here's another one I didn't write:-

a glass of wine
a glass of red wine
red in the sun
the sun red in the wine
wine warms in the sun
warmer than sun
spills like the sun

Nobody wrote them. They were written by a poetry machine a friend has spent two years tinkering with and is not yet quite "there".

To you and I it would be a computer program, but no, he insists it is a poetry machine. For him the difference is crucial, for his project is an attempt to do for poetry what many artists are doing - or have done - in other realms: to focus on process and to be true to the process of creation. His idea is that the poet might imagine himself as a robot with a soul. The robot (poetry machine) knows only a given process and remains faithful to it, but the artist recognises the lucky accident (for example) and can seize upon it.

The two examples above were produced back to back. He inputs two or three words to give the machine its theme or subject. He can set other limits - line length etc - but in these two cases didn't. The fact that they were produced back to back - he says - explains the fact that they both are concerned with colour. (The word "colour" was input for the first one, along with "horses" and "dark".)

I will come back later to say how this has struck me. First I would like to hear what others think. For now I will only add that I have been thinking for some time about whether an approach based upon process might have anything to offer the poet. The example that has bowled me over has been that of David Nash and his sculptures which are the result of a total focus on process. see here

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Mirabella, White Witch in Embryo

The feeling never left her
not throughout her childhood
that she'd have to walk on eggshells all her life.

Her mother's stress was at the back of it.
One wrong word or one false move
and mum was off again.

Inevitable therefore
that at the moment she became
a newly-hatched probationer,

member-of-the-coven witch,
she would resolve
to ride on the damned eggshells for a change.

Arranging eggshell transport was a cinch:
Page 5, The Witches' Handbook -
already covered in her training -

but controlling levitating eggshells... now
that was very different. We're speaking here
of Volume II, Spells Intermediate.

Almost at once
the landscape had become
a mass of broken eggshells.

by the air's low hum -
Earth's magnetism in the service of

a trainee witch -
Darkness, her dog,
quick to sense his mistress

less than fully in control,
let his pain be known,
and howled incessantly.

Marabella, to her lasting credit,
refused to take the short cut, and
remained a white witch to the end.

Not Brilliant White, perhaps,
no dazzling gloss to blast your eyes,
more your eggshell finish.


Image prompt by Tess Kincaid at Magpie Tales

Monday, 9 April 2012

Alfresco Easter

I'm new to this
and learning as I go.
I'm introduced to "Frank" -
as good a name as any -
who says he was a hoodlum in L.A..
He wasn't, that's for sure.
He had a business, doing well,
a large house and a limousine,
a wife, two daughters
and a dog he walked on Sundays.
"If he asks to talk in private,
don't go with him," I'm warned.
"Don't go with anyone.
Don't go alone. One of us goes too."
We talk a bit, then I move on.
I have to talk to Chap.
I talk, he listens
then he gets his meal.
That's the deal. It worries me a bit.
I can't quite work out why.
Chap doesn't mind the talk.
In fact, he welcomes it.
It's the listening that bugs.
He tells me - he tells everyone -
"Imagine all the Bibles in the world
would disappear at once.
I could replace them all -
from memory."
Perhaps he could.
No one ever caught him out, I'm told.
On any subject he can quote a text
that's apt and accurate - King James -
well known or not.
No one knows his story,
only that he's sleeping out
and has been since forever.
We don't talk Bible. Weather, health
and holidays - he'd like to go
to Brighton for the Easter.
Kip beneath the pier. Might do...
But Frank it is who worries them.
He's new. Five weeks. No more.
The crucial time.
Much longer and he'll not go back.
For him it's now or never -
that's what all the statistics say.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Birds of Prey for Easter Sunday Morning

Killing machines a case in point:
Nature was there before mankind -
and long before mankind - caught on.

These birds are such machinery:
each aspect of them is a piece
of specialised equipment, meant
for war. Nothing gratuitous.
Their eyes are not the general
optics known to us, they're martial
instruments designed for one thing
and for one thing only. Top of
the range, they have the power to
focus on a pinpoint in a
distant wood. Their broad wings are not
meant for forward flight alone, but
to support them as they hover
on thermals high above their prey.
Their claws do more than grip the branch.
Like beaks they tear raw flesh apart.

Their beauty is a side-effect:
fitness for purpose fashioned it.
The most efficient way to kill -
like any most efficient way -
produces living works of art.
Great beauty wheels across the sky.

from a picture prompt provided by <"http://nineacresdesigns.com/">Tracey Grumbach at <"http://dversepoets.com/"> dVerse Poets Poetics
(Apologies for these errors. Nothing I can think to try will make a difference. I am afraid you will need to cut and paste the addresses.)

Heard this morning that for the twelfth year in succession peregrine falcons are nesting at the top of the tower of Chichester Cathedral. They are incubating four eggs.

Questions for Easter Sunday Morning

What if the stone had moved itself -
the question Hugh MacDiarmid posed
(but chose to place it on our lips,
not having thought it through himself)?
The ultimate? Impossible?
The resurrection we await? *

What if all true? What would that change?
That Nature can suspend its laws -
so science, man's great edifice,
is doomed to tumble into dust?
What kind of resurrection, that?
What dead ideas are raised to life?

If stone and other minerals
could stir themselves, be animate...
perhaps they have such force innate...
perhaps there's something in the world
that holds them back from their true selves,
that works against this broader Life.

And was it that this anti-life
was shaken into disarray
by Christ's three cataclysmic days?
The rending of the temple veil
had marked the end of ritual law.
Earthquakes, the rending of the rocks

and total darkness all conspire
to plant the thought that maybe there
were some laws in abeyance then,
and other laws as natural
as those we know came into play -
and might again, come the right day.


*See here (The quote come near the end of the poem.)

Saturday, 7 April 2012

a roman spy reminisces

Sent to shadow him
reporting daily
there were times I even
might have joined him -

not on the cross, of course
but there were times
his spirit called me
to leave the world.

To go with him.
Word or world?
A real dilemma.

I hunkered down
in the equivalent
of today's small cottage -
as later on we all

in our small cultures -
writing my reports
(twice daily now)

always waiting...
waiting for
his spirit to depart -
which finally it did.

And then I knew
for the first time
that, not the crowds,
it is the man

who so disturbs me.


I have posted this watercolour and ink drawing before, but not the poem.
A Happy Easter Everyone.

Friday, 6 April 2012

my escapology

(for The Thursday Think Tank #91 at Poets United by Ella)

From earliest days
like a practised burglar
first thoughts
in all new situations were:
secure a viable
way out.

I drew a map once of my life:
a crooked Christmas tree
zig-zaggy trunk to represent
my subtly changing aims.
Its drooping branches my
skedaddle routes.

The first of these was bed.
Illness. Making sure
I'd toys. Whatever else
I needed to transform
the sheets to mountains. Caves.
Great ocean waves.

Next in line came books.
Not plots, but scenes in sequence,
episodes to mould
to my own purposes, create
a hassle-free environment and
refuge from the boredom of the world.

Much later there was cycling.
Imagination optional.
Escape roads now
were roads in the real world
to secret places far away.
Real dangers, real encounters.

And now it's poetry
the writing and the reading it.
Verse, the new bed linen,
provides the wherewithall
to keep the exits open
and the place of safety safe.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Jake - art student extraordinary

A gifted draughtsman - when he drew,
though Primitive with paint.
Irreconcilable, these two:
a mystery to me.

A lack of confidence, perhaps - the lack
that drove him scavaging the bins
for anyone's rejected work.
Before his time, perhaps: recycling them!

I heard it said some twenty artists
gave him his degree,
but I am sure he would have scored
more highly on his own.

He played trombone with a small group,
his first love being jazz - but was prepared
to slum it on the odd occasion
with blasts of modern pop.

He wrote the most exquisite poems,
delicate and subtle, full of quiet joy -
and published Dirtier than God is -
privately - a porno magazine.

He gave amazing readings:
poems, mostly on his art -
and always took the art along
and flogged it at the door.

(Even when it was not his to sell.)

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

blasphemy and unicorns

from a Tenth Daughter of Memory prompt.

Magic-powered unicorn
medicinal tears
universal panaceas
for all man's ills and fears.

Bullish, ox-strong unicorn
God borrows strength from flesh.
Untamable and agile
offers man of God's redress.

Stylish kosher unicorn
with coat of many colours -
was it yours that Joseph craved?
Devotions at all hours.

Metaphoric unicorn,
all wonders to all men
God-exemplar here on earth,
God-proxy there in heaven.

Fertile-making unicorn
aphrodisiacal horn
God commands us multiply
a race uniquely born.

Gross blaspheming unicorn
commandeering God's own ways
usurps His special powers -
arrogance of modern days.

You might be surprised to learn that there are nine references to unicorns in the Bible.

Monday, 2 April 2012

from the age of Truth to Material

With spokeshave, gouge and whittling tools,
but spokeshave most of all,
my father eased his shapes from blocks of wood,
and if I asked, he'd say the forms were - mostly -
there, already lodged within the grain.
He only had to feel his way -
the grain would guide him in.
He made it sound like they'd been trapped,
imprisoned by the tree.

Mostly what he made were golf club heads,
but now and then a porpoise or a wren,
a chicken or a rat would see the light of day.
I found this magical, and often after a new birth
would go in search of further denizens of wood.
And I would find them too! Snakes by the bucket load,
but lions, ferocious bulls, giraffes and elephants as well.

In a plank my granddad bought
I found a whole menagerie
and made up tales about them all,
explaining how they'd come to be
encased in seven feet of polished wood.
He placed it high above the bench in the top shed
and left it there for months to be
my Lascaux, Altamira and La Marche.

I never did find golf club heads.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

The Waterfall

being a Poetics ("Nightmare") prompt by Stu McPherson.

I saw the sacred waterfall when I was young
hidden behind lush greenery:
rushes from below, creepers from above -
and best of all for most exciting,
thick, overhanging trees.

The water stretched itself
across protruding rocks
like shirts of poorer quality
laid out to dry - or maybe not,
for some there were who said my "shirts"
were souls distressed,
their bodies gone -
some washed away,
some turned by salt to stone.
The wind would come
to calm their fears,
but all they'd do was moan.

But that was then and this is now,
and that was in
a lonely, wooded place
and this is where
I have no right to be
this late at night:
my parents' bedroom
with my mother's parents
in the ancient bed - appearing dead,
each with a lily laid across.

The waterfall
is where the wardrobe used to be.
Beside it, drinking from its waters, stand
two horse, purest white. I know,
the way you know things in a dream,
they are my parents.
Proof positive: they wink at me.

Last thing I know: the shirts are filling out,
are taking roughly human shapes,
collecting rocks and sticks
and will come after me.
They wave them threateningly.
I turn to run,
but feel my body falling through the air.
I wake up on the floor.