Thursday, 15 March 2018

Portrait of the Artist after Death

Portrait of the Artist after Death

He wrote of startled birth and death's benign front door
And told us we must rage, rage for all we're worth
Against the porter’s hail, well met and fading at an age
When wanton whorls of worthy words should not fail
To guide and stir, be read aloud and make ears dirl.

He brought us under Milk Wood’s tract, to Rosie and Dai Bread
And bought a one-way ticket for a train that never slacked,
That was franked by Evans Death in his role as acting picket
(Ah, the undertaker baits with his shrouded coffin breath,
Under vows to veil the truth, feigning pity while he waits).

He was drowned by eggings-on, but in poems performed from youth
Until good night, there shines a master's gift. His dominion
Conquered death in bronze and brass and boundless books, in lines
And stanzas writ un-spancelled by the down-draught in his glass,
’Til the masthead on the floor was lowered, coughing, cancelled. 

Image attribution: By Ham - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Question Time

This poem was inspired by two things: a wonderful poem called Glasgow Empire by Keith Hutson; and a rather jaundiced view of the eponymous BBC programme. I'm afraid it draws heavily on Keith's excellent poem, in term of form and structure, and pales in comparison. Any resemblance to persons living or dead having made an appearance on the programme is purely coincidental.

Question Time

Sure, it's the programme where a non-partisan
audience posed questions
and challenged the panellists,

where the Minister's ego briefly shone
then flickered down to fragment when
Dicky Dimble said, I'll ask you once again!

Where else would Jeremy Khunt
be forced to admit a lie, Pierced Organ
have to recant forced opinion?

That time Daffy Davies collapsed
on a point of principle, the crowd's
mocking derision lasted a full five minutes.

Even in Maydenhead, inquisition
reigned and railed, accusing and sharp.
Nah! It's the programme where variety choked

and died in temporary seats
full of voters tuned to their script,
unaware of the revolution.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Out of the EU endlessly flailing

No doubt many will recognise the form used in this poem. Its structure is derived from the first sentence (and the first 22 lines) of Out of the cradle endlessly rocking, by Walt Whitman, the entirety of which you can find here. Needless to say, my poor effort in no way matches the grace and depth of Whitman's seminal piece. However, there's no denying the suitability of the form of Whitman's first verse for making a statement. I think so at least, but feel free to disagree. Comments are free.

Out of the EU endlessly flailing

Out of a vote that was seriously flawed,
Out of a barrage of lies, the Brexiteer shuffle,
Out of the UKIP play-book,
Done to the splendid sounds of a blatant campaign, where the truth was left to suffer as mute, castrated, unsexed,
Down to the spurious claims,
Down to the shysters' tales of a threat, dreamed up, asserted and looped on repeat,
Out of the mouths of both Tories and Labour,
From the faith of the faithful who chanted belief,
From a misplaced view of the island superior, from The Road to Mandalay and resisting the Blitz, 
From under the gaze of the slumbering supposers who lately have shown us their tears,
From a lack of conviction and supine resistance by those who got lost in the gist,
From a promise once made to appease the sceptics and stave off revolt,
From the viewpoint of fools who thought they would lose,
From the personal ambition of those who were shocked they had won,
From a lack of respect for the lambs in the flock,
From scant regard for the fate of our sons' and daughters' offspring,
Born of the need to exhibit cojones and go it alone without a plan,
These huffers and puffers have a pious intent
To scuttle the ship and wall off the quay,
As I, of the marginal minority and believer in the lack of mandate,
Taking Article 50 and all that has followed on board,
Cry out – Betrayal.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

The Odyssey

This poem was inspired by W. H. Auden's Night Mail. Written in 1936 to accompany the documentary film of the same title, Auden's poem concerned a London, Midland, and Scottish Railway (LMS) mail train traveling from London to Scotland. The poem was set to music by Benjamin Britten and was read toward the end of the film.

The rhythm of Auden's poem matches that of the train on the track, and a reader can certainly get the feel of the train chugging along (don't forget, it would've been a steam train), especially in the first part, made up of eight rhymed, four-beat couplets. There are elements of personification in Auden's poem as the train is identified as 'she' and 'her' and said to be snorting noisily.

My poem follows, closely and respectfully, the meter and rhyme scheme of Auden's poem, which also lends itself to the rhythm of cycling. In the case of my poem, the only person involved is me, albeit I too have been known to snort noisily as I climb the hills (nothing as grand as Beattock Summit down here I have to admit) around Bedfordshire. Enjoy!

The Odyssey

This is the bike that I'm riding the Shire,
cycling the roads and the pathways on tyres.

Riding on the bike, riding where I choose,
north and go south, either side of the Ouse.

Sharpenhoe Clappers, a helluva climb,
the gradient's steep, but I'll make it this time.

From Streatley on down to Barton-Le-Clay,
huffing and puffing up Pulloxhill brae.

Greenfield, Flitton, Wardhedges by dark,
on towards Silsoe, nearby Wrest Park.

The blast of a horn as it overtakes,
I swear at the car, pull hard on the brakes.

A dog in the street, a nuisance to meet,
a dog on a lead, I stay in my seat.

In the towns that I pass, no-one cares
and few people see my Facebook shares.

Protein bars and gels consumed,
back on the bike, I'm off again,
onwards, on and on and on, riding down the miles,
riding down the roads and lanes, past mills and rustic stiles,
past sights and sounds, urban, rural, quaint pastoral.
All Bedfordshire is there to see:
from high on Downs through basined vale
o'er longest Ouse.

Pedals and cranks, cambers and banks.
Lycra for shorts, stripes on your flanks.
Helmet on head, with no hesitation.
Wear fingerless gloves for the worst situation.
With energy drinks for dehydration,
a litre an hour for preservation,
summer fruits flavour; expectoration.
Togged out practical, riding tactical.
Cycling with hands on the handlebar drops,
cycling with eyes on the fields and the crops,
cycling through villages, hamlets and towns,
cycling from home to Dunstable Downs,
cycling past coppices, warrens and parks,
riding too far on our countryside roads,
wary of lorries and heavier loads,
on tarmac, on gravel, on concrete, or cobbles,
the threat of the latter, the menace of wobbles,
asphalt, metalled, tar and chip,
the speed of your progress depends on the grip.

We are thousands alike,
traversing the roads around Bedford,
on evenings in groups or alone on a weekend or sunny day:

Riding a Boardman got cheaply from Halfords,
riding a Raleigh from the GoOutdoors chain,
or a road bike in carbon from Evans again,
to carry the dream of the Tour and the Giro,
clinging on tight to the Peloton's heels,
pumping piston-like knees on the Pyrenees,
between Clophill and Haynes in the teeth of a breeze.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Brexit Sestina

Brexit Sestina

The year of twenty-sixteen was the year we chose to leave,
the year the Referendum posed the question should we go.
To hell with Brussels and the rest or just decide to stay,
or count the blessings we were told we'd get when we were free.
The cash we'd keep was on the bus; it seemed to make some sense
to spend it on the NHS, but Boris couldn't count.

The benefits of membership, they said they didn't count,
because we fought for freedom and we had the right to leave.
But as we know, their facts were lies, we knew they made no sense.
To pull us out of Europe and to force us all to go
and leave the common market and stop trading tariff-free
meant nothing good would come of it if voting not to stay.

Despite the Tories thinking that we'd all just vote to stay,
the voters paid attention to deceivers and the count
then went against the polls, because the reins were given free
to teamsters on the wagons driving all of us to leave.
Despite the ballot's status and the lack of need to go,
the tight result was soon avowed a triumph in a sense.   

The country was quite clearly split and leaving made no sense,
because the Referendum rules meant that we could all stay,
but no the leavers threw a fit and we were forced to go;
to go against the interests of the people who don't count;
to go along with Grassroots Out and champions of Vote Leave;
to follow blindly Nige Mirage and be migration free.

The fascist doctrine of the right said Britain must be free,
so Greater Brexitania could be in one real sense
an island full of xenophobes and haters who would leave,
their jingoistic bigotry on show to those who'd stay;
to those remoaners as they called them, those who didn't count,
whose will was not for leaving like the ones who voted go.

And when she penned the letter that announced that we would go,
she lost control and panic struck, May thought that she'd be free,
if only folks would vote for her, but when the ballot count
was made, Theresa's Tories lost. Her gamble made no sense
and she was left to count the cost of paying up to stay:
a billion to the DUP to feed the will to leave.

So now what counts for talks take place as Britain plans to go
and jump the cliff and leave except, we're going not for free,
but for a fee that makes no sense. Far better off to stay.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Lead poisoning

Lead poisoning

C'est la via, c'est la mort,
c'est la fin de la guerre, 
c'est le poème du sacre mercenaire.

I was to compose a 'death or glory' poem,
after Tennyson, when the first few lines
were shot clean through with leaden slugs.

Slingshot, engraved with wingéd bolts,
Take that! (in Greek) inscribed on obverse,
peppered the raw first draft on the page.

I'd written of 'Harry' and 'unleashed dogs',
tried Havoc! but clichés clashed and those,
a writer's volleyed words, fell short once more.

Spherical lead in cold-swagered rounds,
which the French, in their way, call boulettes,
tore a bloody great hole in the verse,

and Minié balls, a gift of France,
were fired in discharged fusillades,
in salvoes to the stanzas' flanks.

Rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat, chanted guns
as columns were strafed while standing fast
and rank upon rank, the syllables fell.

Outflanked at the last, I attempted retreat,
but enfilades of covering fire
failed to prevent ignominious defeat

and an orchestrated din of lethality,
made wretched by countless fatalities,
brought surrender-- the last vulgarity.

Sunday, 24 September 2017


Here's one for you...


“That was old O'Nelly's seat. He sat
there every week there was a home game on.”
Moulded red and numbered like it was his
coat hook, supporter's pew, he'd park his arse
two rows down and somewhat left, behind
the Clock-end goal. He had a member's card
for the Arsenal;
a man amid a thousand other fans.

He'd bob erect and mouth along, Stand up...
eschew the tribal chanting, Ooh to be...
Detached, but still a part, manoeuvred by
the Army of the clad-in-red-and-white,
it seemed that he belonged unless you saw.
I wondered what it felt like to be there,
like an Ishmael,
outcast between a myriad Gooners' howls?

Nondescript, anonymous O'Nelly
felt all their eyes pin-prick his every move,
his selfish consciousness a faulty seam
hand stitched from shy-cloth. No-one noticed that
old jacket, worn a little more each day,
gone very comfy, snug, with patched up sleeves,
hands in pockets,
routinely wearing out towards its end.

He cheered his level best when goals were scored,
in skywards-surging exclamation points,
but instinct driven leaps of faithful joy
were never shared with mates who'd thump and hug.
That turned up collar, buttoned cuff, was lined
and seamed, kept inside pockets to itself.
Seeming threadbare,
that garment past its best was out-of-date.

I stitched together thoughts on what he sought
when drinking down the Tollington at nights,
seen fractured through an amber ale, his pinned
lapels a buttonhole array. I swear,
out on the far off side of the touch line,
you're never on your own in crowds. And me?
I'm but Anon...