Saturday, 15 October 2016

A Commination

Agamemnon, journey-worn,
Enflamed himself with meat and wine;
Hearth fires’ flaring greasy heat
Revelled on walls at the king’s return.
The fruit-piled table, the roasted chine,
Drowsed his wits as he mused in state.

The spoils of Troy-war stacked on floors,
Cassandra dragged within the gate,
Blazons of triumph hoist on poles –
Clytemnestra slams the doors.
Knife-struck in his sweetbread gut,
Leaking blood, Agamemnon crawls.

Iphigenia wailed through rooms,
Ghost-joyous at his thrown-down fate;
His pouring blood upon the stones
Raged for vengeance and many tombs;
Those flags which, dried and browned like peat,
Had known Thyestes’ dying groans.
And still it is as then it was:
Orestes scorned the Furies’ wrath
To thrust his flesh-kin down to hell:
I in mind sweats, flecked and gross,
Tasting resentment’s bitter breath,
Long to requite what I must not tell.

© February 2014


Friday, 7 October 2016

Winter Night

My early free verse lyric, 'Mid-Winter Sun' gives a very different approach, more romantic and less tough, here. For an even more different approach one of my few poems from my early Marxist phase (how astonishing to think I had one), 'Going for the Paper' is here. In this, nature is very much subordinated to the material world. If I recall aright, the poem appeared in 'Tribune'.


(Sunday 19 January 2014 at 6.15 pm)
   This January night a rime
   Has blanched the brittle heathland grasses.
      A frosty mud-black track
Is picked by birches, bleak as frozen time; 
Their cranked branches deface the moon which passes,
      Frigid as Janus’ back.

   A high clear sky, a violet dome,
   Pocked by the stars’ rich sulphur-spots,
      Glints silently and still;
Cloud in a gauze-thin eddying of foam
Untidies the sky which, thickening, clots 
      To Venus, white and shrill.

   Spores of my breath, like new-mint worlds,
   Limp in the awe-hushed, gasping air;
      A coal-brown wall of woods,
Dark and visceral as to what it holds, 
Muffles all sound or stalking, though that lair
      Was burrowed in spilled bloods.

   Except, alarmed, a blackbird rackets 
   With a hard clap of wings on branch,
      Escaping threat; that crash – 
Ur-noise when blood and woods were young – jackets
Me in the hunter’s impulse-drop to haunch, 
      Kill-poised, eyes in a flash.

© January 2014

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Saturday, 11 January 2014

The rhyme in the second line of the first stanza becomes the rhyme in the first and fourth lines of the following stanza, and so on. The rhymes in the second and third lines of each stanza become the rhymes in the first and second lines of the following stanza. The third line of each stanza is a trochaic tetrameter. 'Stare' is another name for the starling.
   For a tougher picture of January see my lyric, 'January' in 'Months,' a series of poems on the months of the year, here - scroll down the post to find January.


Eighty-thirty on a January morn.
My garden sycamore flings fingers high,
   Greyly-green and lichen-dusted,
To wrap them in the flushed fresh sheets of dawn.

Dews of sunrise distilled the kohl-blue sky, 
And creeping bars of sunlight orange-rusted
   Walls and flaring window panes;
Cloudy as lemon squash, mist trickled by.

Atop the tree by morning breezes gusted,
A red-beard robin, fiery in his reins,
   Wildly yells breast-swollen brags,
Hen-wooing and by skirmish-scars encrusted.

Beneath, stiff-legged starlings like toys on canes
Blackly chatter, clapping their wings like flags;
   Bagatelling branch to branch
They tumble like a flail of glossy grains.

On lower branches, two old spinsters’ workbags –
Mild pigeons, greyly-powdered – glared askance;
   Primly-pained by the stares’ brawling
They lift their ruffs, wind-caught and fluffed to rags.

A squirrel leapt and made those starlings dance;
Club-tailed, Achilles-racing, climbing, crawling,
   Savagely it swung its claws –
The starlings fled; it gave a victor’s prance.

Come leaf-time, quarrelling will earnest; bawling,
Breeding, caparisoned, pursuing wars,
   Training fledglings with the tawse,
Bird, beast and man must shoulder the year’s hauling.

© January 2014

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Boxing Day

The rhyme scheme of this otherwise straightforward poem is more complicated than might appear in that two of the rhymes in the first, third and fifth stanzas etc. reappear reversed in the second, fourth and sixth stanzas etc. Also, the rhyme in the third line of each stanza reappears as the rhyme in the first and last lines of the following stanza. Hence, things are tightly bound together. Those interested can analyse it for themselves.


(December 2013)

And what a day after rank storm and wind!
The sky was a mild sea of cornflower blue
   Draped lacily with strings of cloud;
The sun hunched into an orange ball and grinned.

You felt its heat and so the birds rang loud,
An afternoon chorale, come all, come few,
   And, truly, sun heat on the skin
Straightened my back so that I stepped out proud.

Despite the sun, the air stung eyes like gin,
Breath clouded from my mouth in frothy puffs,
   But huddling into layered clothes
I lauded spring’s glad preview, bright as tin.

Among the trees, the blackbirds flicked like gloves,
And blue tits flustered, balls of ends and fluffs,
   The starlings fell and whirred like toys,
Crows were unfriendly, flinging croaks like shoves. 

The trees rose leafless in their chilly poise;
There was an ash with hung brown bags of keys,
   A birch with creamy curds of bark,
And both were lacquered by the birds’ rich noise.

Each bore a robin like a rust-red mark
On topmost branches dipping in the breeze;
   They faced each other crown to crown
And sang as if to out-compete the lark.

Such carolling to shame glum winter’s frown, 
Fresh-tuned as water falling in a pool, 
   Now sparkling like an arc of spray,
Now measured like the flow of waters brown.

Yet these two puffed their chests as if to bray
"Keep off, this tree is mine and knows my rule,
   Its grubs, its crannies, soon a mate;
Approach and totter in my direful sway."

For robins, nature’s muggers, love to rate,
And this pair, bright of breast with chestnut hat –
   Not singing to but shouting at
Like bloodied wrestlers longed to try their weight!

© January 2014


Friday, 19 August 2016

December Morning

Other December-themed lyrics are 'Mid-Winter Sun,' posted on 11 December 2011 and written in December 1979 (here) and 'Year's End,' posted on 27 November 2011 and written in August 1984 (here).


   This morning is tomb-dark.
It’s not till eight that brackish dawn 
      And the crow’s coarse, “Hark”
Announce daylight and the day’s work;
   Till then shadows yawn.

   But at six, the grave’s stillness
      And snow-fingered air 
Grope the dark with an embalmer’s care;
Outside, a robin coughs with illness,
   Ice flakes fall like cut hair.

   The window’s breath-encrusted,
Tap water runs freezing on skin,
   Clothes are damp-musted;
Landing air is frost-bound, rasping
      Faces like tin.

One day, ungainly in darkness
      With a lank head,
Chilled and gripping the sheet's cold spread,
   I’ll lie long, for death’s impress
   Will have harried my bed.

© December 2013


Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Elegy: A Dream

On 23 March 2016 I posted 'Elegy: Washington Square Revisited' about my loss of a significant "other." The poem is linked here. Whilst writing it I realized there was more to say about certain early life experiences. A fortuitous if unpleasant dream provided the occasion. 'Elegy: A Dream,' as with its predecessor, is written in my approximation to the classical elegiac metre, i.e. alternating alexandrines and pentameters, although I have added rhyme to the pentameters. It is 136 lines in length.


(Monday night, 25 November 2013)

I’m in a crowded railway station waiting room;
   There’s a holdup or problem on the line;
People throng out onto the platform to its edge,
   Craning and disaffected for a sign
Of what’s to blame. Following behind them I try
   To see through shoulders and complaining heads
With no success. A pretty, child-faced worried girl,
   Trapped in the crowd, is crushed as the press treads
To right and left. I help her to resist the sway
   And notice kindly that she’s big with child:
Her huge belly protrudes beneath a cotton top,
   And warm on the belly curve I’m beguiled
To see a smudge of birthmark, hinting mustily
   At that delighted passion and frank urge
Which made her gravid and uncertain on her feet.
   She sees my glance; she’s at the very verge
Of giving birth and seems distressed; I give my arm
   On which she leans, and pat her hand and say
She’s not to fear; so old, I’ve seen so many girls,
   Troubled at term, who, through the aching fray, 
Joy in the lusciousness of mothering their young.
   Assured, she lets me guide her through the pack
To sit out in the waiting room our forced delay;
   But in the cram she stops, taken aback
To find herself upon a ledge perhaps a yard
   Above me. Reaching to assist her down,
I grasp her swollen waist, trying to lift her weight
   Ruinously back to ground. With a cried frown,
Protesting from the first, she lands upon the platform, 
   Doubled in pain and clutching at her waist,
Sobbing in fear for her half-strangulated child.
   I crouch above her, heart-struck at my haste,
Burning in the disapproval of the shocked crowd.
   But worse, much worse, is the unfriendly surge
Of disabused dislike which floods from this young thing
   To nullify my clumsy help and purge
All thought of manful competence at sixty-plus.
   And then I woke into November dark –
Five-thirty on a freezing morning, pricked with sweat,
   Blasted by loathing, pierced as by the mark
Of Cain: O friend, what self-contempt engulfed me then,
   What gut-despair, that every scrupled act
Of kindliness, of self-evasive help to those 
   In woe, should end in misery, the fact
Of others’ scorn and brutal disavowal of
   My anxious efforts to achieve acceptance 
By binding someone's wounds. That self-demeaning knowledge,
   Harvest of years, imposes countenance
That here’s a problem threading from my earliest days.

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Republic of Yeah (Revised)

In April/May 2013 I wrote three poems on ‘the way things are’ – ‘A Biedermeir Age,’ ‘The Anthropological Turn’ and ‘The Republic of Yeah’ and posted them August-October 2014. I have come to think that the rhythms in all three were too rugged, even jagged, and have revised them for easier reading. The revised ‘A Biedermeir Age’ can be read here ; the revised ‘The Anthropological Turn’ can be read here
   The third poem, 'The Republic of Yeah' was posted on 11 October 2014 and like the others I have quietly amended it in situ. This cost me more hair-pulling than the others put together. The poem uses a complex stanza and rhyme scheme adapted from models in W.B. Yeats and that most-interesting Cornish poet, Jack Clemo. Hence, hemmed in by line and rhyme restraints, trying to rewrite was mind-boggling work. I suspect that rather than finishing the poem I've abandoned it as the best I can do. The revised 'The Republic of Yeah' can be read here