An Invitation To Join In

In sharing this Poetry page with friends and well-wishers my hope is to stimulate a dialogue about poetry.

I invite you to submit, via the Contact page, a favourite published poem which you have read so that we can share it here. It would be greatly appreciated if you'd add a few words on what it is you like about the poem. 


Solo in Three Parts

Indian
boy is brown and blessed
with a wheelchair, arms and hands
for manoeuvring it, and knees
to grip the cello. When the wheelchair stops
his hands tune the cello to the wind
and the strings are his voice.

Ugandan
boy is black and blessed
with ostrich legs; his arms and hands
ebony back-scratchers, just one
is strong enough to hold the begging bowl
that plays a hollow tune
and his belly is the echo.

Vietnamese
boy is blond and blessed
with a father in Wisconsin
who fought his war and went.
This child of dust holds a paper cornet
of peanuts for sale at Ho Chi Minh,
and listens for the music in the wind.

 

Maurice Rutherford
(from 'Slipping The Tugs')


Note:
Written after seeing three separate, though not disparate, harrowing items on TV world news, in the very early 1980s. 

Poem posted on Saturday 19th May 2018.



Time
(i.m. Alice Maud Gray, 1890 - 1970)


Often she calls us back to her
time, ten shillings a week and all
the fresh air of a sooty Hull street,
guarding herself against neighbours,
two bricks in her half-starved grate;
time fear changed its name
from Zeppelin to Relief Office,
her sewing machine indispensable
luxury, gone for a child's new shoes;
Time of her once higher-standing
headstrong on an unglued wooden chair
stippling the stairway walls two-tone
distemper, old gold going modern;
time humming-happy crotcheting
the milk-white woollen poodle
to dress her bottle of cologne
with love she handed down;
time and time again a trim size ten,
vulnerable, tough as a hill-bred cob,
sniffing in rain and wind,
tongue sharp as her brain;
time with her at our table
where again today she sits in
on talk from Rawcliffe Grove
to East Mount Avenue; how
we'd walk her to her bus for home,
the mystery of the dark
Italian eyes her secret
kept beyond our lost goodbyes.


Maurice Rutherford
(from 'And Saturday Is Christmas', Shoestring Press, 2011)

Poem posted on Wednesday 16th May 2018.


Letter to N.Y.


In your letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures are you pursuing:

taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,

and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,

and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,

and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.

Wheat, not oats, dear.  I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.


Elizabeth Bishop


Note:
Elizabeth Bishop was born on 8th February 1911 in Worcester, Massachusetts, USA, and when she was only eight months old her father died.  Five years later her mother, having become mentally ill, was institutionalised to live the rest of her life in an asylum.  Elizabeth was to endure an unsettled childhood and youth being shuttled from pillar to post to live with one faction of the family after another, some in straitened circumstances, others more well-to-do.  Against this background it is hardly surprising that there was never a close relationship between mother and daughter.  As an adult, Elizabeth settled in Boston, Mass., where she died on 6th October 1979, a successful poet and Pulizer Prize winner.
'Letter to N.Y.' is written as a letter about a letter which doesn't yet exist other than in the fretful imaginings of the poet.  As such, its composition is, in the best sense of the word, clever.  An admirable achievement! 

Poem posted on Saturday 12th May 2018.


Bee!  I'm expecting you!


Bee! I'm expecting you!
Was saying yesterday
To somebody you know
That you were due -

The Frogs got Home last Week -
Are settled and at work -
Birds, mostly black -
The Clover warm and thick -

You'll get my letter by
The seventeenth; Reply
Or better, be with me -
Yours, Fly.


Emily Dickinson


Note:
Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was born on 10th December 1830 at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts, USA.  She never married, and was destined to live a reclusive life writing her own brand of poetry which publishers felt obliged to tweak in line with with convention.  She grew to favour dressing in white, and when she died on 15th May 1886, she was buried in a white coffin in the West Cemetery, Triangle Street, Amherst.  Dickinson's poetry gained in popularity after her death, and is still widely quoted today.

Poem posted on Wednesday 9th May 2018.


Seaside Golf [2]


How low it flew, how left it flew,
It hit the dry-stone wall
And plunging, disappeared from view
A shining brand new ball -
I'd hit the damned thing on the head,
It made me wish that I were dead.

And up the fairway, steep and long,
I mourned my gloomy plight;
I played an iron sure and strong,
A fraction to the right,
I knew that when I reached my ball
I'd find it underneath the wall.

And so I did. I chipped it low
And thinned it past the pin
And to and fro, and to and fro
I tried to get it in;
Until, intoning oaths obscene
I holed it out in seventeen.

Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves
They really get me down;
In-coming tides, Atlantic waves
I wish that I could drown
And Sloane Street voices in the air
And black retrievers everywhere.


Sir Robin Butler

Poem posted on Saturday 5th May 2018.


Seaside Golf


How straight it flew, how long it flew,
It cleared the rutty track
And soaring, disappeared from view
Beyond the bunker's back -
A glorious, sailing, bounding drive
That made me glad I was alive.

And down the fairway, far along
It glowed a lonely white;
I played an iron sure and strong
And clipp'd it out of sight,
And spite of grassy banks between
I knew I'd find it on the green.

And so I did. It lay content
two paces from the pin;
A steady putt and then it went
Oh, most securely in.
The very turf rejoiced to see
That quite unprecedented three.

Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves
And thyme and mist in whiffs,
In-coming tide, Atlantic waves
Slapping the sunny cliffs,
Lark song and sea sounds on the air
And splendour, splendour everywhere.


Sir John Betjeman

Note: This poem was suggested by my very good friend John (Tiger) Alderton, as also is the riposte due to follow on Saturday.

Poem posted on Wednesday 2nd May 2018.


The Hippopotamus's Birthday


He has opened all his parcels
but the biggest and the last.
His hopes are at their highest
And his heart is beating fast
O happy hippopotamus
What lovely gift is there?
He cuts the string. The world stands still.
A pair of boots appear!

O little hippopotamus,
The sorrows of the small!
He dropped two tears to mingle
With the flowing Senegal;
And the 'Thank you' that he uttered
Was the saddest ever heard
In the Senegambian jungle
From the mouth of beast or bird.


E.V. Rieu


Note: E.V. Rieu was celebrated for his translation of Homer's classic 'The Odyssey', but here, in a lighter moment, he shares his own brand of humour.

Poem posted on Saturday 28th April 2018.


A Peasant


Evans?  Yes, many a time
I came down his bare flight
Of stairs into the gaunt kitchen
With its wood fire, where crickets sang
Accompaniment to the black kettle's
Whine, and so into the cold
Dark to smother in the thick tide
Of night that drifted about the walls
Of his stark farm on the hill ridge.

It was not the dark filling my eyes
And mouth appalled me; not even the drip
Of rain like blood from the one tree
Weather-tortured.  It was the dark
Silting the veins of that sick man
I left stranded on the vast
And lonely shore of his bleak bed.


R.S.Thomas
(from 'Poetry For Supper', 1958)


Note: for biog detail scroll to 'They', Sat 28 Oct 2017.

Poem posted on Wednesday 25th April 2018.


The Skye Boat Song


Speed, bonny boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry!
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to Skye.

Loud the winds cry, loud the waves roar,
Thunderclaps rend the air.
Baffled our foes stand by the shore.
Follow they will not dare.

Many's the lad fought on that day
well the claymore could wield,
When the night came silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field.

Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men.
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Scotland will rise again!


Sir Harold Boulton
(from 'A Poem for Every Night of the Year', Macmillan Children's Books, 2016)


Note:
The Battle of Culloden was fought on 16th April 1746 between a British Loyalist army under command of the Duke of Cumberland and a Scottish force commanded by Charles Edward Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie).  Stuart was the 'young pretender' to the British crown, which had been seized from his grandfather King James II in the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688.  'The Skye Boat Song' paints a romantic image of Charles's flight after his defeat.


Poem posted on Saturday 21st April 2018.


The Hurt Boy and the Birds


The hurt boy talked to the birds
and fed them the crumbs of his heart.

It was not easy to find the words
for secrets he held underneath his skin.
The hurt boy spoke of a bully's fist
that made his face a bruised moon -
his spectacles stamped to ruin.

It was not easy to find the words
for things that nightly hissed
as if his pillow was a hide-away for creepy-crawlies -
the note sent to the girl he fancied
held high in mockery.

But the boy talked to the birds
and their feathers gave him welcome -

Their wings taught him new ways to become.

 

John Agard
Afro-Guayanese poet and playwright, now living in Britain.
Holder of the Queen'd Gold Medal for Poetry.

Poem posted on Wednesday 18th April 2018.



Awakening

 

The Buddha sat silently
under a tree.
He sat and he waited
determinedly.

He sat like a statue
and scarcely stirred.
Out of his lips
came never a word.

He sat through the hours
of an Orient night,
and, just at the edges
of opening light,

up in the heaven,
so sharp and so far, 
glimmered the spark
of a wakening star.

Sitting in stillness,
the sight that he saw
pierced him through
to the innermost core.

And all he could say
in his moment of bliss
was simply and purely
'What is this?'.

 

Tony Mitton
(from 'A Poem for Every Night of the Year', Macmillan Children's Books, 2016).


Note:
Tony Mitton's introduction to this poem explains, 'The story has been passed down that the Buddha (Saddhartha Gautama) achieved a sudden and powerful experience of understanding after many years of study and practice.  Exhausted by the efforts he had made to get to grips with the meaning of his life, he gave up and sat down under the Bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until some answer presented itself to him.  After sitting all night in meditation he caught sight of the morning star rising.  The clarity and power of the moment that followed is sometimes called his Enlightenment (or Awakening).  In spite of his already great learning and wisdom, all he could say in response to the experience was, 'What is this?'. '.

Poem posted on Saturday 14th April 2018.


The Fertile Year


Don't let them kid you being old's all sad,
nine weepy apertures, rheumatic pains -
they'll come of course but, till they do, be glad
for one who's found senility brings gains.

The writer's trough cuts deep and leaves behind
its threat of more, though, buoyed by caring friends,
can be survived; one surfaces to find
that paucities, like plethoras, have ends.

Blank days and workbooks, as they fill with love
and words of love, become the panacea
long sought; a recharged pen begins to move
inquisitive along the fertile year,
age peels away, reveals a young man's brain
and maybe, on the page, a poem again.


Maurice Rutherford
(from 'And Saturday Is Christmas', Shoestring Press, 2011)


Note:
Were I publishing this poem today for the first time, I should be pleased to add an 's' at the title's end.  Although, the writing has changed; become shorter.  But then, so has the writer.

Poem posted on Wednesday 11th April 2018.


Of Mere Being


The palm at the end of the mind,
Beyond the last thought, rises
In the bronze decor,

A gold-feathered bird
Sings in the palm, without human meaning,
Without human feeling, a foreign song.

You know then that it is not the reason
That makes us happy or unhappy.
The bird sings.  Its feathers shine.

The palm stands on the edge of space.
The wind moves slowly in the branches.
The bird's fire-fangled feathers dangle down.


Wallace Stevens
(1879 - 1955)


Notes:

Wallace Stevens, American prize-winning poet and philosopher of aesthetics, was born in Reading, Pennsylvania,USA on 2nd October 1855.  As one of America's most widely read and respected poets, he was also thought of by some as one of the most purposely difficult poets.  I doubt many would call 'Of Mere Being' an easy poem, but whether or not it is intentionally difficult is debatable.  It would be interesting to have Readers' Comments on this.  Could the word 'mere' of the title equate to 'utter', 'simple' or 'pure'?  Does 'the palm' mean an aim, destination or some kind of reward?  Why is the wind moving slowly?  Is this because it's weakening, dying down, just as imagination and all further thought concludes in death?  As a classical scholar, Stevens might be said to have written in a mind-zone beyond the average so, wilfully difficult or not, he certainly sets his readers a stiff questionnaire.  But are we ourselves making the poem difficult?  Is 'Of Mere Being' simply making us mindful of the fact that from the moment we begin to be (to live) we are simultaneously beginning not to be (to die)? 

Wallace Stevens died on 2nd August 1955 and was buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery, Hartford, Connecticut, USA.

Poem posted on Saturday 7th April 2018.


Each In His Own Tongue


A fire mist and a planet -
A crystal and a cell -
A jellyfish and a saurian,
And caves where the cavemen dwell;
Then a sense of law and beauty,
And a face turned from the clod -
Some call it Evolution.
And others call it God.

A haze on the far horizon,
The infinite, tender sky,
The ripe, rich tint of the cornfields,
And the wild geese sailing high;
And all over upland and lowland
The charm of the goldenrod -
Some of us call it Autumn,
And others call it God.

Like tides on a crescent sea beach,
When the moon is new and thin,
Into our hearts high yearnings
Come swelling and surging in -
Come from the mystic ocean,
Whose rim no foot has trod -
Some of us call it Longing,
And others call it God.

A picket posted on duty,
A mother starved for her brood,
Socrates drinking the hemlock,
And Jesus on the rood;
And millions who, humbled and homeless,
The straight, hard pathway plod -
Some call it Consecration
And others call it God.

 

W.H. Carruth


Notes:
William Herbert Carruth, American educator and poet, was born in Osawatomie, Kansas on 5th April 1859 and died on 15th December 1924.  He taught at the University of  Kansas and at Stanford University.  The poem we post today is a favourite, worldwide.

Poem posted on Wednesday 4th April 2018.


Loveliest of Trees


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.


A.E. Housman
(1859 - 1936)


Notes:
Alfred Edward Housman was born on 26th March 1859 at Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, England.  Classical scholar and poet, he became professor of Latin, first at University College, London, and later at the University of Cambridge.  He is renowned as the author of 'A Shropshire Lad', a cycle of 63 poems, which was turned down by the first publisher to whom he offered the book.  He must personally have rated the work highly because he then subscribed to its publication.  His persistence was rewarded when, after a slow start, 'A Shropshire Lad' went on to win wide and lasting acclaim.
Housman died on 30th April 1936 at Cambridge.  His ashes are buried just outside St. Laurence's Church, Ludlow, Shropshire, England.

Poem posted on Saturday 31st March 2018.


He and She


When he came in, she was there.
When she looked at him,
he smiled.  There were lights
in time's wave breaking
on an eternal shore.

Seated at table -
no need for the fracture
of the room's silence; noiselessly
they conversed.  Thoughts mingling
were lit up, gold
particles in the mind's stream.

Were there currents between them?
Why, when he thought darkly,
would the nerves play
at her lips' brim?  What was the heart's depth?
There were fathoms in her,
too, and sometimes he crossed
them and landed and was not repulsed.


R.S. Thomas
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990', J.M. Dent, 1993)


Note:
For biog details scroll back to 'They', posted 28. 10. 2017.

Poem posted on Wednesday 28th March 2018.


Love Song


You've got nice knees.
Your black shoes shine like taxis.
You are the opposite of
all farting and foulness.
Your exciting hair
is like a special moss,
on your chest are two soft medals
like pink half-crowns under your dress.
Your smell is far beyond
the perfumes at parties,
your eyes nail me
on a cross of waiting.  Hard is
the way of the worshipper.
But the heart line on my hand
foretold you;
in your army of lovers
I am a private soldier.


Charles Causley

Poem posted on Saturday 24th March 2018.


A Slice of Wedding Cake


Why have such scores of lovely, gifted girls
   Married impossible men?
Simple self-sacrifice may be ruled out,
   And missionary endeavour, nine times out of ten.

Repeat "impossible men": not merely rustic,
   Foul-tempered or depraved
(Dramatic foils chosen to show the world
   How well women behave, and always have behaved).

Impossible men: idle, illiterate,
   Self-pitying, dirty, sly,
For whose appearance even in City parks
   Excuses must be made to casual passers-by.

Has God's supply of tolerable husbands
   Fallen, in fact,  so low?
Or do I always over-value woman
   At the expense of man?
                                                  Do I?
                                                               It might be so.


Robert Graves
(1895 - 1985)
From 'Collected Poems', Carcanet Press.

Poem posted on Wednesday 21st March 2018.
 


The Throstle


'Summer is coming, summer is coming,
   I know it, I know it, I know it.
Light again, leaf again, life again, love again,'
   Yes, my wild little poet.
Sing the new year in under the blue,
   Last year you sang it as gladly.
'New, new, new, new'!  Is it then so new
   That you should carol so madly?
'Love again, song again,nest again.'
   Never a prophet so crazy!
And hardly a daisy as yet, little friend,
   See, there is hardly a daisy.
Here again, here, here, here, happy year'!
   O warble unchidden, unbidden!
Summer is coming, is coming, my dear,
   And all the winters are hidden.


Alfred Tennyson


Notes:
Alfred Tennyson was born in Somersby, Lincolnshire on 6th August 1809.  He was educated at Louth Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge, but returned to Lincolnshire without taking a degree, due to his father's death. In 1829 he was awarded the Cambridge Chancellor's Gold Medal for one of his early pieces, 'Timbuktu'.  Tennyson was Poet Laureate from 1850 until his death in Lurgashall, Essex on 16th October 1892.  

Poem posted on Saturday 17th March 2018.


The Butterfly


This evening in the twilight's gloom
A butterfly flew in my room
Oh what beauty, oh what grace,
Who needs visitors from outer space?


Spike Milligan


"This second poem", suggests Paul Collins, "reflects the lover of nature, another side of a complex man.  The comedy is not far away.  Other poems reflect his concern for nature and how we use it".


Note:
For biographical details scroll back to 'To a Sorrowing Daughter', posted Saturday 17th February 2018.

Poem posted on Wednesday 14th March 2018.


Missing


Less said the better.
The bill unpaid, the dead letter,
No roses at the end
Of Smith, my friend.

Last words don't matter,
And there are none to flatter.
Words will not fill the post
Of Smith, the ghost.

For Smith, our brother,
Only son of loving mother,
The ocean lifted, stirred,
Leaving no word.


John Pudney


John Sleigh Pudney was born in Langley Marish on 19th January 1909 and educated at Gresham's School, Holt.  He worked for some time as an estate agent and, as a journalist, for the BBC and the News Chronicle.  In WW2 he served with the Royal Air Force.
Pudney wrote short stories and poetry.  He died on 10th November 1977.


Poem posted on Saturday 10th March 2018.
 


Metamorphoses


The girl in trousers wheeling a red baby
Stops to look in the window of a bread-shop.
One wants to tell her that it's all steam-
Baked muck, but really there's no chance
Of stopping her buying a bogus
Farm-house cob.  Reassuring to think
That anyway it will be transformed
To wholesome milk, just as somehow she
Has gathered herself together from
The chaos of parturition and
Appears now with a lacquered bouffant
Top-knot and her old wiles unimpaired.
Why should one trouble to disguise the
Origin of the terrifying
Earth-mother, that lies in wait for men
With her odours of bergamot
Plasma, and her soft rind filled with tripes?


Roy Fuller

 

Notes:
Roy Broadbent Fuller was born in Failsworth, Lancashire on 11th February 1912 and brought up in Blackpool.  He made a successful career in the legal profession as a lawyer working for the Woolwich  Equitable Building Society.  A prize-winning poet, his first publication was 'Poems' in 1939.  From 1941 to 1946 he served as an officer in the Royal Navy.  Fuller died on 27th September 1991. 

Poem posted on Wednesday 7th March 2018.


Vocabulary


Ruminations, illuminations!
Vocabulary, sing for me,
in your cage of time,
restless on the bone's perch.

You are dust; then a bird
with new feathers, but always
beating at the mind's bars.
A new Noah, I despatch

you to alight awhile
on steel branches; then call
you home, looking for the metallic
gleam of a new poem in your bill.


R.S. Thomas
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990, J.M. Dent, 1993)

Poem posted on Saturday 3rd March 2018.
 


Hen Under Bay-Tree


A squalid, empty-headed Hen,
Resolved to rear a private brood,
Has stolen from the social pen
To this, the noblest solitude.

She feels this tree is magical.
She knows that spice, beneath her breast
That sweet dry death; for after all
Her cradle was the holy East.

Alert she sits, and all alone;
She breathes a time-defying air:
Above her, songbirds many a one
Shake the dark spire, and carol there.

Unworthy and unwitting, yet
She keeps love's vigil glorious;
Immovably her faith is set,
The plant of honour is her house.


Ruth Pitter

Poem posted on Wednesday 28th February 2018.


Unposted


Dear friend unknown,
why send me your poems?
We are brothers, I admit;
but they are no good.
I see why you wrote them,
but why send them?  Why not
bury them, as a cat its faeces?
You confuse charity and art.
They have not equal claims,
though the absence of either
will smell more or less the same.

I use my imagination:
I see a cramped hand gripping
a bent pen, or, worse perhaps,
it was with your foot you wrote.
You wait in an iron bed
for my reply.  My letter
could be the purse of gold
you pay your way with past
the giant, Despair.
                                  I lower my standards
and let truth hit me squarely
between the eyes.  'These are great
poems,' I write, and see heaven's
slums with their rags flying,
cripples brandishing their crutches,
and the one, innocent of scansion,
who knows charity is short
and the poem for ever, suffering
my dark lie with all the blandness
with which the round moon suffers an eclipse.


R.S. Thomas
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990', J.M. Dent, 1993)

Poem posted on Saturday 24th February.
 


'To My Readers'


Here is my house. There is the Sun and the garden with beehives.
You are passing along the road, peering through the slats of my gate
Expecting me to speak. Where shall I start?
Believe me, please, believe me,
one could talk as long as one wants to, about anything:
of Destiny and the snake of goodwill,
of archangels tilling
the land of man,
of heavens towards which we aspire,
of hatred and fall, of sadness and Calvary,
but, above all, about the great passage.
Yet our words are only the tears of those who wished
so much to cry and could not.
Bitter are all those words
and that is why, please, allow me
to pass in silence amongst you,
crossing your road, eyes closed.


Lucian Blaga
(1895 - 1961)

Requesting this poem by his native countryman, Mihai Andrei wrote, "I found this website recently and must say I'm getting really fond of it.  I would like to share one of my favourite poems, initially written in Romanian but here is the English translation.  I hope you too will enjoy the poem".  Thank you Mihai, I do, and I'm sure our readers will welcome it.


Notes:
Lucian Blaga was born on 9th May 1895 in Lancram near Alba Iulia, Austria-Hungary, later to become Romania.  A widely published philosopher and poet, he was elected a titular member of the Romanian Academy in 1936. Blaga died on 6th May 1961 in Cluj and was buried in Lancram.

Poem posted on Wednesday 21st February 2018.


To a Sorrowing Daughter


My darling trembling child,
What ails you?
Please give me your burden,
Give me your sorrow,
Let it bend me to the earth,
I will not fail you,
Ask me to take death,
I will do it.
Anything to stop those
scorching tears.


Spike Milligan
(1918 - 2002)


In suggesting this poem Paul Collins writes that it is "from Spike Milligan's 'Hidden Words' published by Penguin ,a collection of his work over many years and reflecting his varied character.  The comedian and comic genius I remember. The troubled man I also remember.  I didn't learn of the loving father.  There are several poems in the collection that reflect this side of Spike".


Notes:
Terence Alan Milligan, KBE, British-Irish comedian, musician, poet and playwright was born on 16th April 1919 in Ahmadnagar, India where his father was serving in the British Indian Army, and his early education was at schools in Poona and Rangoon.  Later, when the family returned to UK, disliking his first name, and having heard the then popular band of 'Spike Jones and his City Slickers' on Radio Luxembourg, in place of 'Terence' he took on  that of 'Spike'.  A self-taught musician, playing drums, guitar and trumpet, Milligan was said to have perfect pitch and the ability to croon like Bing Crosby.
During WW2, Milligan served in the Royal Artillery (as also did Harry Secombe, with whom he was later to collaborate in writing the ground-breaking radio comedy 'The Goon Show') and Spike saw service in North Africa and Italy.
For most of his life, Milligan suffered extreme bipolar disorder, but never lost his gift for making people laugh.  When he died on 27th February 2002, he was buried at St. Thomas church, Winchelsea, East Sussex, having,in preparation, written his own epitaph," I told you I was Ill', but the Chichester diocese refused to allow it, and a compromise of 'Love, Light, Peace', in both Irish and English, was carved on his headstone.  We don't know if Milligan would have known this, but Hans Magnus Ensenberger wrote, "The boundaries of art can be defined quite precisely.  By the censor."  A sad thought, but true, QED.

Poem posted on Saturday 17th February 2018.


Tinnitus


Maybe it was always there.
Like that house you've walked past
on your way to work, oblivious
to its red door all these years.
A swarm of bees first registered
in a moment of stillness, buzzing
between your ears.  Or what others
call ringing, whirring, whistling,
even a neighbour banging
in the upstairs flat.  Or maybe
it's just the way silence sounds.
We use the same words - sadness,
tinnitus, red - without knowing
if we mean the same thing,
stranded, each of us, inside our heads
as we listen to phantom sounds
and signal to one another
across a great gulf of air.


Ruth Sharman
(from 'The High Window', Issue 5)

Poem posted on Wednesday 14th February 2018.


Russians


How silly that soldier is pointing his gun at the wood:
he doesn't know it isn't any good.
You see, the cold and cruel northern wind
has frozen the whole battalion where they stand.

That's never a corporal: even now he's frozen
you could see he's only a commercial artist
whom they took and put those clothes on,
and told him he was one of the smartest.

Even now they're in ice it's easy to know
what a shock it was, a long shock
that's been coming home to them wherever they go,
with their mazy minds taking stock.

Walk among the innocuous parade
and touch them if you like, they're properly stayed:
keep out of their line of sight and they won't look.
Think of them as waxworks, or think they're struck

with a dumb immobile spell,
to wake in a thousand years with the sweet force
of spring upon them in the merry world.  Well,
at least forget what happens when it thaws.


Keith Douglas
(1920 - 1944)
From 'Collected Poems', Faber and Faber Ltd.

Poem posted on Saturday 10th February 2018.


Don't Bother, I'll Do It Myself
(On bringing up teenagers)


Now I've had his report saying "Just the right sort!
Motivated; a jolly good show!
He's keen, energetic, determined, athletic!"
Well, where is he?  Where did he go?

Could this sleeper, this blob, help with one little job?
And exhibit some vigour and health?
I would wake him and ask, it's too much of a task,
So don't bother, I'll do it myself.

In his bedroom I stand with the Pledge in my hand,
And it's tricky to know where to start,
But one thing's for sure, that I can't see the floor,
The place has been taken apart.

Buying food, off I dash, and the plastic I flash,
Round the vast supermarket I fly,
I was straight when I went, but finish up bent
By the weight of the shopping I buy.

I have lost all my charms, grown orang-utan arms,
As I lope along clearing each shelf,
So it would have been great if you'd washed up your plate,
But don't bother, I'll do it myself!


Pam Ayers
(from 'Surgically Enhanced', Hodder & Stoughton Ltd., 2006)

Poem posted on Wednesday 7th February 2018.


At the Edge of the Wood


First, boys out of school went out of their way home
To detonate the windows; each smash
Piping with delight and skipping with fright
Of a ghost of the old man popping over his hedge,
Shrieking and nodding from the gate.
Then the game palled, since it was only breaking the silence.
The rain sluiced through the starred gaps,
Crept up walls and into the brick; frost bit and munched;
Weeds craned in and leant on the doors.
Now it is a plot without trees let into the wood
Piled high with tangle and tousle
Buried parapets and roots picking at the last mortar
Though the chimney still stands sheathed in leaves
And you can see for the time being where in a nook
A briony burst its pot with a shower of roots
And back through the press of shrubs and stems
Deep-coils into the woods.


Peter Redgrove  (1932 - 2003)
From 'Contemporary Verse', OUP 1981.

 

Notes:
Peter William Redgrove, poet, novelist, science journalist and playwright, was among the most prolific writers in mid 20th century England.  Born on 2nd January 1933 at Kingston upon Thames, Surrey, UK, he was educated at Taunton School and Queens' College, Cambridge.  Winner of a number of awards, Redgrove died on 16th June, 2003.

Poem posted on Saturday 3rd February 2018.


Love After Love 


The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome, 

and say, sit here. Eat. 
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you 

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart. 
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf, 

the photographs, the desperate notes, 
peel your own image from the mirror. 
Sit. Feast on your life.


Derek Walcott
(1930 - 2017)


"We often describe life as being like a journey in which there is always movement and change.  This can be in terms of the stages of life through which we move - it is also an internal spiritual journey deep into ourselves to learn firstly to understand, then to accept and finally to love ourselves in all our humanness.  The West Indian poet, Derek Walcott, captures this sense of inner journeying in his lovely poem, Love after Love.  He describes the destination as being able to 'greet yourself arriving at your own door' where 'you will love again the stranger who was yourself.'  This is surely a journey worth taking and the ultimate home coming!
I love this poem."
These are the words written by Shelagh Devereux in support of  a poem she holds very dearly.  There is nothing left for me to say, except that I'm pleased to commend to you both Walcott's poem and Shelagh's insightful presentation.


Notes:
Sir Derek Alton Walcott, KCSL, OBE, OCC, was a Saint Lucian poet and playwright.  Born on 23rd January 1930 at Castries, Saint Lucia, West Indies.  Among his numerous awards was the Queen's Medal for Poetry and he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.  Over the years, Walcott held many teaching posts including Professor of Poetry, University of Essex.  He died on 17th March 2017 in Cap Estate, St. Lucia, was given a state funeral and buried in Morne Fortuné, south of Castries.

Poem posted on Wednesday 31st January 2018.


Lettera al mondo (bozza)

Non temo la morte

ma quanto lascerò
incompiuto

Lascio al futuro
una bozza del presente
e l'ultima pagina bianca

[...]

Portate alla mia tomba
fiori di carta
per ogni poesia mai scritta


Carlotta Pederzani

 

English Translation:


Letter to the world (draft)

I'm not afraid of death

but how much I shall leave
unfinished

I leave to the future
a draft of the present
and the last page blank

[...]

Bring to my grave
flowers of paper
for all the unwritten poems

 

Translator: Maurice Rutherford

Poem posted on Saturday 27th January 2018.


A Poet


Disgust tempered by an exquisite
charity, wrapping life's claws
in purest linen - this man
has history to supper,
eats with a supreme tact
from the courses offered to him.

Waiting at table
are the twin graces, patience
and truth, with the candles'
irises in soft clusters
flowering on thin stalks.

Where did he come from?
Pupating against the time
he was needed, he emerged
with wings furled, unrecognised
by the pundits; has spread
them now elegantly
to dazzle, curtains drawn
with a new nonchalance
between barbarism and ourselves.

Patron without condescension
of the art, he teaches flight's
true purpose, which is,
sensitive but not too blinded
by some inner radiance, to be
in delicatest orbit about it.

 

R.S. Thomas
(from 'Collected Poems 1945-1990', J.M.Dent, 1993)

Poem posted on Wednesday 24th January 2018.


Nothing Gold Can Stay


Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.


Robert Frost


Note: For biographical information see Frost's 'The Road Not Taken', posted Wed 29th Nov 2017.

This deceptively profound poem was sent in by Chris Marchese, and it is a pleasure to share it with you.   Regrettably, Chris didn't give us an insight into how the poem moves him and why it is a favourite of his.  I know why I find it a powerful work, but I'd welcome your own response for posting on these pages. 

Poem posted on Saturday 20th January 2018.
 


There Are Some Men


There are some men
who should have mountains
to bear their names to time.

Grave-markers are not high enough
or green,
and sons go far away
to lose the fist
their father's hand will always seem.

I had a friend:
he lived and died in mighty silence
and with dignity,
left no book, son, or lover to mourn.

Nor is this a mourning-song
but only a naming of this mountain
on which I walk,
fragrant, dark and softly white
under the pale of mist.
I name this mountain after him.

 

Leonard Cohen
1934 - 2016


Notes:
Sending us this poem on the same day an acquaintance of his was killed in a car crash, Brian Jones writes, "Feeling a bit melancholy...He was someone I kept running into again and again and we always hit it off.  I meant to have them over for dinner and now, poof, they just aren't there to invite to dinner anymore.  Crazy.   Whilst in this melancholic mood, I opened up randomly to this page in a Leonard Cohen poetry book:"

In thanking Brian for both the poem and his explanation of its sudden increase in importance to him, I'm once more reminded - if ever I needed reminding - of the power of poetry/song/music to help us come to terms and cope with our microscopic place in this vast, 'crazy' world.  Our heartache at any time, unique as it feels to us, is immediately shown to be universal, part of the human package.  Fortunately for us, a similar case might be argued for joyous artistic creations. 

Leonard Norman Cohen CC GOQ was born on 21 September 1934 in Westmount, Quebec, Canada.  Poet, songwriter and novelist, he must be well-known the world over, if mostly for his musical work and his published poems.  He died on 7 November 2016 at his home in Los Angeles, USA.

Poem posted on Wednesday 17th January 2018.


Those Winter Sundays

 

Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I'd wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he'd call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love's austere and lonely offices?


Robert Hayden

Notes:
Robert Hayden (originally Asa Bundy Sheffey) was born on 4th August 1913 in Detroit, Michigan, USA and died on 25th February 1980 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  His parents having separated before his birth, he was fostered by neighbours named Hayden and brought up in a Detroit ghetto known locally as 'Paradise Valley'.  The Hayden's home was blighted by anger, arguments, beatings and constant fear, the effects of which stayed with Robert throughout his life.  In youth he suffered from depressions and, probably seeking some kind of relief, he found refuge in books, and became a voracious reader.  He attended Detroit City College.  Later, studying for a Master's degree, he worked under W.H. Auden.  Various teaching posts followed and he worked as poet, essayist and  educator.  From 1976 - 1978 he served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, later to be known simply as US Poet Laureate - an honour he had previously declined.
'Those Winter Sundays', from Collected Poems of Robert Hayden edited by Frederick Glaysher, 1966.

Requesting this poem Susan Benton writes, "I love the detail in this poem, the cold and bleak words:- blueblack cold, cracked, ached, splintering, breaking, chronic anger, austere.
For me it suggests the naivety and complacency of youth, accepting without expressing appreciation the acts of fatherly love routinely performed".

Poem posted on Saturday 13th January 2018.


Two poetic observations on thawing:-


Thaw


A field snapped with frost and stitched with brittle docks,
a metal gate where I hung, still, like the horses there -

the grey standing gentle over the bay mare, held
inside their listening; wick-wick of a pigeon,

the chat of a jackdaw flock.  Each second was a frozen bead,
but lovely to the touch.  Once, he barely whisked his tail,

I watched.  Then shifting my weight against the gate,
both turned and the mare lifted, nut-bright, out of her dream

then came slowly, and again on, slowly; the sky stretched
drum-skin, the sun low and sucked to a thin sweet.

She looked to the grey as if to say, should I? and a man
came, walking his dog.  The mare whickered.  Grand !

said the man.  It is, I said, some strange thing thawing,
and she brought me her breath, timid to my hand.


Sally Goldsmith

Notes:
Sally Goldsmith is an author writing in a number of genres including plays and features for BBC Radio 4, among them two Sony Radio Award winners.  Her poem 'Thaw' won a commendation in the National Poetry Competition, 2012.

 

Thaw


Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from the elm-tops, delicate as flower of grass,
What we below could not see, Winter pass.


Edward Thomas

Poems posted on Wednesday 10th January 2018.


Sleet Storm on the Merritt Parkway


I look out at the white sleet covering the still streets
As we drive through Scarsdale -
The sleet began falling as we left Connecticut,
And the winter leaves swirled in the wet air after cars
Like hands suddenly turned over in a conversation.
Now the frost has nearly buried the short grass of March.
Seeing the sheets of sleet untouched on the wide streets,
I think of the many comfortable homes stretching for miles,
Two and three stories, solid, with polished floors,
With white curtains in the upstairs bedrooms,
And small perfume flagons of black glass on the window sills,
And warm bathrooms with guest towels, and electric lights -
What a magnificent place for a child to grow up!
And yet the children end in the river of price-fixing,
Or in the snowy field of the insane asylum.
The sleet falls - so many cars moving toward New York -
Last night we argued about the Marines invading Guatemala in 1947,
The United Fruit Company had one water spigot for 200 families,
And the ideals of America, our freedom to criticize,
The slave systems of Rome and Greece, and no one agreed.


Robert Bly


Notes:
Robert Elwood Bly, born in Minnesota, USA in 1926, is a poet who likes poetry read aloud.  He listens to his own language as he writes, and doesn't stand in the way of natural idiom, rhyme, alliteration or the play of opposites as they occur.  Listen to the playful sibilance of line 7; note the sudden substitution, childhood innocence replaced by the asylum field, and all the contradictions implicit in the closing few lines.   And if you didn't notice the guest towels along the way, reflect that a good proportion of this poem existed in the imagination of the poem's speaker travelling along a motorway for passenger cars only, without the distraction of heavy goods vehicles, and space to ponder the human condition, the striving for comfort in the harshness of winter, both the seasonal one and the one we each separately travel toward.

Robert Bly's books are published by Harper & Row, Inc., New York.

Poem posted on Saturday 6th January 2018.



My Country 

 

The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes, 
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins. 
Strong love of grey-blue distance, 
Brown streams and soft, dim skies
I know, but cannot share it, 
My love is otherwise. 

I love a sunburnt country, 
A land of sweeping plains, 
Of ragged mountain ranges, 
Of droughts and flooding rains. 
I love her far horizons, 
I love her jewel-sea, 
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me! 

The stark white ring-barked forests, 
All tragic to the moon, 
The sapphire-misted mountains, 
The hot gold hush of noon, 
Green tangle of the brushes
Where lithe lianas coil, 
And orchids deck the tree-tops, 
And ferns the warm dark soil. 

Core of my heart, my country! 
Her pitiless blue sky, 
When, sick at heart, around us
We see the cattle die
But then the grey clouds gather, 
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army, 
The steady soaking rain. 

Core of my heart, my country! 
Land of the rainbow gold, 
For flood and fire and famine
She pays us back threefold. 
Over the thirsty paddocks, 
Watch, after many days, 
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze ... 

An opal-hearted country, 
A wilful, lavish land
All you who have not loved her, 
You will not understand
though Earth holds many splendours, 
Wherever I may die, 
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly. 

 

Dorothea Mackellar
(1885 - 1968)


Notes:
'My Country' was requested by John Rutherford (Family? Yes, a nephew), who wrote that it is one of the poems "on the concept of home that touch my emotions and help me to peer a little better through the mists of confusion about what this life is all about, particularly the sense of longing that we often feel for something or somewhere or someone that we do not have currently in our lives."

Isobel Marion Dorothea Mackellar OBE, Australian poet and fiction writer was born on 1st July 1885 at Point Piper, Sydney.  Her poem 'My Country' quickly became a widely know favourite in Australia, the opening lines of stanza 2 becoming almost a second national anthem, so deeply did it touch the population's spirit.  Dorothea was active in Sydney literary circles throughout the 1930s but it later life poor health brought an end to her writing and for her last 11 years she lived in a nursing home in Randwick, where she died on 14th January 1968.  She was buried in Waverley cemetery on the eastern outskirts of Sydney, Australia, her own beloved "brown country".

Poem posted on Wednesday 3rd January 2018.