Poems

 

Here is a selection of poems from my books and anthologies that are on sale. Go to ‘Brief biography & Books’ section for details. Also some recent poems that have appeared in (e)magazines.

 

​Local History

There’s anger in Cross Houses, exhaustion in Pant;

great poetry in Homer, laughter in Fitz.

 

They’re minty in Minton, very hopeful in Hope;

but nervous in Twitchen and house-proud in Broome.

 

They’re ghastly in Astley; there’s an inlet in Kinlet;

it’s murder in Morda with tip-offs in Hints.

 

They’re hopping in Hopton and speeding in Rushton;

they’re gambling in Betton and sinking in Moston.

 

Very squat in Quatt, they’re bitter in Bitterley;

dry-eyed in Dryton but embarrassed in Willey.

 

Never satisfied in More, they grow phlox in Plox;

wrecked around the Wrekin, it’s always night in Nox!

 

Published in The Cannon’s Mouth, The Poetry of Shropshire, 2013, the 2014 Wenlock Poetry Festival anthology, and Close to Home, Headland Press, 2015

 

​Damsons

Rare now by roads, forgotten walls,

purple drupes with slate blue sheen

or, trodden in, a yellow mush.

 

Its tangled cage of twigs a shock,

the fierce black energy of coils.

 

Small white flecks of blossom became

my grandfather’s powerful wine.

 

Picking from inside the crown

thread your hand through sharp, dull spikes.

 

The ripened fruit is bittersweet,

a potent draw for those midlife,

the best to come, the season short.

 

Published in The Reader, The Cherry Trees of Wyre, revised edition, 2014, and The Poetry of Worcestershire, 2019

 

​Matsuo Sakura

 

Sakura, an overlooked Japanese poet, was a contemporary of Matsuo Basho. Only his prose “Cherry in Autumn or Advice to Young Poets” has survived. This is my version of Harry Henderson’s translation (1881).

 

I

 

When young don’t forget

you’re a sapling among trees,

however sparkling.

 

Older poets do

not wish to be outshone so

be gentle with them

 

and don’t try to beat

all your peers to the mountain.

There’s a way to go.

 

You should enjoy all

the temptations of the world,

red silk on your skin,

 

then put them all in

perspective, build a house where

you can live and work.

 

II

 

Each generation

makes a different kind of pot

but it’s still all clay.

 

There are fashions so

be true to your inner voice,

sing your own true song.

 

When criticism

comes like an unwanted guest

be hospitable.

 

When he’s gone you can

test your work again for faults

but don’t ask those you

 

think are near for they’ll

tell you whatever they think

you would like to hear.

 

[Part of the text is missing here]

 

Listen to strangers;

read all the books you can find

and read them deeply,

 

for only in that way

do you find out what you don’t

want or need to write.

 

III

 

I’m old now, my need’s

just a bowl for food and drink,

a satchel for care.

 

I’ve travelled far and

soon must take my final leave

so I’ll give you this:

 

sincerity must

lie in your search for the truth,

but don’t sit too long

 

under this cherry,

make your journey to wisdom.

Never forget to

 

honour the old gods;

note migrations of wild geese;

always travel light.

 

Published in Acumen and Close to Home, 2015

 

​A Yorkshire Garden

 

For Rosa

 

The limestone bird bath stands coolly detached,

invites the sparrows to evening ablutions;

a nearby blackbird sings.

 

The roses cast carnelian light across the damp

stone slabs. Soft pink folds of geraniums

pillow the yard.

 

Lavender in neat lines enchants the passers-by

with whispers of Provence, the sleepy south,

and quiet pleasures.

 

Honeysuckle draws in moths, dipping down

the gathering gloom while bats flit through

the heavily-scented air.

 

Then a chamber orchestra of owls begins;

disturbing serenades, chilling fugues,

no easy cottage sleep.

 

Published on the Nine Muses Poetry website

 

​Pearl Fishers

 

For Dad

 

So as the traffic slowed, some novelist,

on Desert Island Discs, with his last call

named Bizet’s ‘Pearl’ duet first on his list:

I knew it was your favourite song of all.

 

"Au fond du temple saint",* boys see a wife,

a vision of a young goddess, a girl,

but they become professed good friends for life,

in ‘losing’ her, these lads have found a pearl.

 

Then, unaccountably, a tear rolled down

my cheek (I’m still eyes-strained for lights to turn)

so pondered on the power of love to drown

and without which our puerile hearts can’t learn.

 

I miss you now far more than you’d believe

and smile about you but, in missing, grieve.

 

* ‘at the back of the holy temple’

 

Published on the Crevice website, Romania

​Ghosts

 

On the common, over towards the Lime Kiln at Porth-y-Waen, green

woodpeckers can be heard making a lot of noise, in the spring. Some call it

‘yaffling’ or ‘laughing’, take your pick, but it makes its presence felt among the

ant hills of worked-out meadows. The lime-green flash of a woodpecker

heading off into the distance is about all one usually sees.

 

These lumps and bumps across the slope remind us that folk used to live

here; smallholders who also worked in the quarries, grew a few vegetables,

kept a pig perhaps or a couple of poultry.

 

Mary Webb, the Shropshire novelist and poet, wrote of such people.

Do their spirits wander here, now, happy that all the hard graft’s over,

smiling to themselves, giggling, laughing?

 

across the common

a flash of livid green’s all

that’s left of farms

 

Published in Ripening Cherries, Offa’s Press, 2019

 

​The Yield

 

Into the depths of a moss green afternoon

the grass cutter moves across the field,

the engine chugging, racking its way along.

 

The man in charge walks steadily ahead

but scans and reads the ground for any bumps,

or nesting birds, among the thick-set grass.

 

Sweat trickles from his greased black, thinning hair

across his reddening shoulders, cotton vest;

his hands are oily but alert, and firm.

 

The scent of new-mown hay is everywhere;

it falls among the clover, rattle, vetch,

moon daisies, pays a tribute to the earth.

 

Behind, a young man moves his pitch fork

in a circular rhythm, scooping, dragging,

laying the hay in regular swaths to dry.

 

It’s taken all day to mow this acre field

with breakdowns, rests, repairs, and that too brief

all-aching break for lunch beneath the birch.

 

By tea the field is cut, wasps’ nests avoided,

the calculations made on numbers of bales,

the yield, the likelihood of present rain.

 

The Poetry of Worcestershire, Offa’s Press, 2019

​Last Cuckoos

 

They were just there in my childhood,

a much-mocked but familiar chime

a background voice in early Summer;

comical but cheerful rhyme.

 

It was a song more than a bird.

Not with us long, its hawk-like flight

was seen in Wyre quick through the trees,

to seek out foster nests by sleight.

 

And then for many years in towns

and cities, far from my green woods,

something I never thought about,

in the dull exchange of work for goods.

 

But now they seem so precious, rare;

I seek them out in cuckoo land,

attuned to them, all eyes and ears,

my bright binoculars to hand.

 

There are so many questions. Yet

if we don’t give them room by choice,

just carry on this dull exchange,

we’ll find ourselves without a voice.

 

Published in Orbis and videoed for the ‘In the Sticks’ project, 2020. Go to ‘Projects’ for the link.

 

​Istanbul

 

For Basir Sultan Kazmi

 

Beyond the piety of holy mosques

I wanted nothing more than see the Harem.

 

Magnolias shed pale light on blood red roses,

marble fountains cool around the Harem.

 

Across the Bosphorus the boats ply wares

between two continents, ignore the Harem.

 

At Topkapi drank coffee in the shade,

alas, too frail for the glitz of the Harem.

 

My boating days are past, I’m sure, enjoy

the chirping sparrows playing by the Harem.

 

To be published in Poetry Salzburg Review, 2021