Saturday, 20 December 2014

A life in the day

I think this was the first poem I ever had published, at least, it was amongst the first, appearing in Reflections issue 85, back in 2012. It brings together four short pieces, septets, each expressing a single thought and based on the theme 'a certain slant of light' (from the eponymous poem by Emily Dickinson), which is what binds them together in the unity of the poem.

These four stanzas conjure images throughout a day in the lives of several unconnected souls in diverse places, hence the subversion in the title. The rhyme scheme is a non-rigid 'ababbcc' and I make no apologies for using Rhyme Royal. It's not always necessary (although some would say never) for form to dictate, but in this case, it suits the poem.

There is symmetry and rhyme in nature, which is apparent to all the senses, not just in sounds. Listen to the dawn chorus sometime, there's rhyme right there in your ear. Look at the reflection of overhanging willows in a pond, look at the wake behind the duck making for the shore, there's rhyme in all of that. Look at the rows of cabbages in a garden, there's rhyme in those lines – and that's human nature.

If you're going to break the rules of a form, always consider what's best for the poem. It's often better to look for alternatives within the constriction of the form, before considering breaking with the ideal. Nevertheless, do not shirk from bending the rules as they are not sacrosanct. That's especially true in a final line, for example, where the emphasis is on closure and where some dramatic effect, crafted through some divergence from form or strict meter, is perfectly acceptable. Making your words count is what matters in the final analysis.

He went a-poaching, seen as ancient right
and rounding wooded hill as day awoke
he saw at first a certain slant of light
like threaded silk appear.  If spun by folk
who went unseen by grey and shadowed oak,
that hillside, bracken clad, with lonely slopes
was tethered, earth to sky, with sunlit ropes.
Beyond the red and yelling orange glow
of noonday sun exposed above, their plight
in desert's harsh, relentless status-quo
accursed, for in that certain slant of light
illusive haze threw waterhole in sight,
on shimm'ring wings of heat, an arbour found,
enticing, but forever out of bounds.

A certain slant of light is cast sublime
at times when days dissolve at water's edge
and seagulls cries are lost in windswept mime.
As night approaches slow, its darkness pledged,
there, framed by blues and depths, not yet submerged,  
a vivid canvas, brushed against the sky,
paints horizon's glory in jaded eye.
If black or blue or shades of greying dark,
no matter now, we've lost our dayling sight.
We're left with shapes as indistinct remarks
that fall upon our eyes like they'd indict
our minds for fear and certain slants of light
escape between the blinds as thrown by lamp
they cut through shadowed night in furtive camp.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Awkward Ed

Here's one I did earlier. It was posted on Jottify, where it got a phenomenal amount of views, which probably had something to do with the fact that it was inspired by 'Awkward Ed Milliband Moments' on Tumblr. That is billed as 'A non-partisan celebration of photo opportunities that create an air of cringe or a sense of awkwardness, involving the Labour Party Leader and Doncaster North MP, Ed Miliband.' My poem is written in the Standard Habbie (a form used by Burns and well suited to satire).

Awkward Ed

O you, who would this country lead,
who went to school and learnt to read,
and read the books that sowed the seed,
you are instead,
in Labour Party's time of need,
an Awkward Ed.

O would that it had fallen to
a better man than you. Know who
they be? That's right, there 's very few
who might've led
the Labour Party sure and true;
not Awkward Ed.

You said it falls to us to build
One Nation and we all were filled
with hope, but look at what you've killed;
the spirit's dead.
I bet ol' Davie Cameron 's thrilled.
Oh Awkward Ed!

We can do much better than this.
The slogan tells us what's amiss,
while Tumblr user takes the piss
with pics of Ed
in awkward moments. Get the gist.
O Awkward Ed.

The man in charge is Milliband
and Tories' laughter means we're damned,
but when applause is something canned
in tins of red,
the party's future is becalmed.
Oh Awkward Ed!

Friday, 26 September 2014


This is a Hudibrastic poem. It's written after the style of W.S. Gilbert (1836-1911), who took the form that derived its name from the style of Samuel Butler's Hudibras (written in 1663-80) and made it his own.

Gilbert's 'I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General' is well known and its first four lines appear below:

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical,
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical”

Hudibrastic poems employ a mock-heroic verse structure and ostentatious rhymes. They're typically written in iambic tetrameter, with a rhyme scheme the same as that used in heroic verse (e.g., aa, bb, cc, dd, etc.). However, they use feminine rhyme, often implying inappropriate comparisons ( the better examples of Hudibrastic rhyme), for humorous effect. Traditionally, the form is used for satire.

I am the very image of a man whose seen poetical,
Who reckons almost every word in proper theoretical
Context as they're followed by his semi-colons, manly commas,
Stirring up those puns, old tropes and metaphors on Juan le Thomas.

Nothing that I ever write can be purely categorical,
Because it's fantasy, you see, or even allegorical
And it's obvious that I'm one of those you'd call enthusiastic
For what's known in songs and verse as Samuel Butler's Hudibrastic.

O, you must apply them strictly, for the rules are not elastic.
Though you practice rhyme in public, there's no church ecclesiastic
And it often really helps if some quasi-intellectual
Helps you with your reasoning, and your logic's dialectical.

It is, of course, an old verse form that's well-preserved, historical,
But that I think's no reason to be overly euphorical,
Get swept away on tides of joy, be overly demonstrable;
Beware the laws, they'll be enforced by Lexicon, my Constable.

Monday, 31 March 2014

The Maiden Stone

The Maiden Stone is a red granite, Pictish standing stone near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire. Its name is derived from a local legend, which explains the triangular notch toward its top. The legend states that the daughter of the Laird of Balquhain made a bet with a stranger that she could bake a bannock faster than he could build a road to the top of Bennachie. The prize would be the maiden's hand. However, the stranger was the Devil, who finished the road and claimed the forfeit. The maiden ran from the Devil, praying to be saved. The story concludes by claiming that God turned her to stone, with the notch being where the Devil grasped her shoulder as she ran.

The Ballad below is a Pictish Ballad, written by a loon frae Huntly in Aberdeenshire. It's derived from the above paragraph about the Laird of Balquhain's daughter [It’s two syllables; pronounced ‘Bal-kwane’ or ‘Bal-whain’].

The Lairdie's daughter of Balquhain,
a fair and bonnie quine,

Sunday, 30 March 2014

From where I stand

This poem was inspired by a poem I read in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was inscribed on a bronze/copper scroll, lying on the ground at the edge of a green, below a 15ft. high column of bronze books. There were two such columns, and there were several scrolls scattered around, seemingly at random. An interesting public monument, to say the least. 

The poem I read was by Mollie Strawn.

It's called 'From where I stand'.

From where I stand, I see our planet
happit poles
colours, hues
climate change
many views

From where I stand, I see this earth
mountains peak
canóns sink
valleys rift
crater's brink

From where I stand, I see the world
all within
some without
rights and wrongs
turn about

From where I stand, I see your land
green and pleasant
clouded hills
mills nor mines
nation's ills

From where I stand, I see my ain
for a' that
common weal
canny folk
dare the de'il

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A Word Sonnet

Here are two Word Sonnets. This is a relatively new variation of the Sonnet, still fourteen lines long, but with only one word per line. This miniature version of the Sonnet can contain one or more sentences, as the theme determines. I've read that the Word Sonnet was introduced in 1985, by an American poet called Brad Leithauser. However, the French might claim the honour as, in the same year, a poet called René Nelli published a collection of monosyllabic Sonnets, with each line comprising one monosyllabic word. I've deviated from the monosyllabic and my theme is the Scottish Referrendum, which is to take place in September, 2014.



Monday, 17 March 2014

Subcutaneous Scotland Blues

Inspired by a track from the Bob Dylan album, Bringing it all back home:

Here are the lyrics; scroll down for the video...

Salmond's at the casement
stirring up the rioting
she's on the pavement
thinking 'bout her government
the man in the tweed cap
coal mine, Bogside
said he worked in Clydeside
once upon a high tide
look out Jocks
here's somethin' you Scots
please take note
'cos you're gonna get the vote
you better seek through the Hebrides
lookin' for a new poet
the man in the philibeg
that's a kilt, ken
wants eleven dollars, Scotch
your Sterling 's worth ten.

Maggie sends Poll Tax
Hesseltine back tracks
Norman Tebbit last laughs
Spittin' Image, yeah but
the bed's taxed anyway
Geordie said it, many say
they must pay and will some day
never trust a Tory
look out Eck
you gotta sign the cheque
pay off your own dues
Irn Bru, short fuse
better stay away from queues
that argue 'bout a fool's ruse
make it big news
watch the Scots choose
you don't need a mirror man
to know which way to go – choose.

Vote aye, vote yes
get us out of this mess
redress, nothing less
if anything, it's for the best
Scone stone, Lia Fàil
Arbroath, Bo'ness
coal failed, eat kail, join the party, be unveiled
look out Bruce
the Comyn said truce
but Montrose, Dundee
six King Jamesies
thought about their loyalties
up by the Tollbooth
lookin' for a new truth
True Thomas Rhymer
read the Prophet's Paper.

O North Sea, keep free
crude oil, hard toil, Scottish soil
Caithness, Stromness
try a dram in Alness
exports, imports, wind blows
turbines, Hydro
fifteen years of Devo
and they give you referendum
look out Ed
you know it's not red
better look to your prospects
find yourself a mandate
don't wait too late
you can't afford to lose mate
don't wanna be so dumb
you better get some
the past don't count
'cause the Tories took the glories.