Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Months: January

The poems for March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November and December in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May, 20 June, 29 July, 29 August, 27 September, 25 October and 24 November.

Dawn like creation’s moment: fireball orange
Engulfs the sky, inflaming the flat cloud
And searing pink the townscape below; lozenged
Glass flares and freezes, intincted with blood.

Shorn of growth’s clutter, a wisteria prinks
Its picked bones; the tall poplar swayingly
Disdains the bundled shoppers whom cold cranks
Into shop door stand-offs, shrill and unseemly.

And then the snow. From a steel sky it flogs
Faces and legs, creaks underfoot and lards
The common. Gulls, edgy at snow-mad dogs,
Settle, beaten down by its stinging shards.

The iron-bound lake is frozen. White-nosed coot
Ballet-strut its grey slabs, planting arrow-prints
In slush. Snow waves, chivvied by the wind’s shout,
Lap the ice, where thrown sticks protrude, black as flints.

Determined, children build snowmen, cupping
The featherdown to ice, though perished fingers
Produce screams at sunset. The air, dipping
To dark, is mauve with snow. A coot cry lingers.

Despite all, the yellow jasmine has flowered,
Its petals soggy as tissue. Bulbs erect
Their spatulas. The fragile snowdrop, bowered
In ice, droops its molars. Shabby man, shipwrecked

In darkness, racked by bronchitis or worse,
Janus-like twists in the turn of the year’s course.

© January 2013

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Memory

A boy rapt in his play darted
In some game for the high-hearted
From a gate, fairly impaling himself                            
On the headlands of my sharp knees.
Like wind-bounced bees                                            
He dodged the obstacle and ran
On to glory, giving no thought
To the old man wheezing in poorly health                  
In his way: so with boys since time began.

And so fifty-plus years ago                                        
On holiday: my eyes aglow
In a comic, I fumbled for the hand
Of someone, thinking him my father –
In fact a stranger;
Startled, I hurried to my father,                       
Regarding him whose hand I sought
Not as a person but some faceless brigand,
Forgotten in an instant with a shiver.

But those forgotten are persons
Indeed – subject to death, its lessons
Toughly-taught. Twelve years later my father
Lay dying in his death rattle,                                  
His fraught battle                                                        
For breath defeated; surely that                  
Holiday stranger also fought
And lost. And I, held fast by death the lover,             
Whose hand shall I seek in my final combat?

© May 2013

Monday, 24 November 2014

Months: December

The poems for March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October and November in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May, 20 June, 29 July, 29 August, 27 September and 25 October.


The shortest day. Men slumber heavily,
Rising belatedly from their own must;
The brief hours pass in twilit lethargy:
How bitter is the sharp air’s Hades taste.

The flint church broods among its dead, their stones
Slewed beneath burdensome ivy; wind wreathes
The graveyard, polishing to corpse-grey tones
The folded frosty grass and ice-thin leaves.

A stark oak with its heart’s-vein branches bears
A derelict nest like a wart; below,
The densely-armoured holly, dour, outstares
The swart yew at whose trunk no plant will grow.

Among the graves a barrel-chested robin
Chides the rummaging blackbirds. At sundown
Magpies in the frost-hung willow come mobbing –
Their clatter stilled by mist fading to fawn.

A yelping bark: a watchful fox appears,
Scabby-brown and thin. A house-fed tabby
Sneaks to safety. A man with cold-pinched ears
Considers the pocked stone of a tomb, webby

With rotted bindweed. Ah, the dead will shiver
Tonight! The sun, apricot-small, resiles
Beneath roofs. Ice-film drifts in the river.
What fraught silence, what darkness; bead-hard frost fills

Hollows. In such nullity, how will birth
Force passage through the stiff, refusing earth?

© December 2012

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Thought in the Sistine Chapel

World-weary Michaelangelo
Harrowed the Sistine Chapel with
Maelstroms of the Christ-Apollo;
His blatancies of the flesh-fork
Angered dewlapped clerics who wrought
Correction, daubing veils of stuff.

Pope Benedict, enswathed in gold,
From the Sistine throne taught depth-dark
Truths, his face alight with a cold
Mosaic clarity. His warted
Cardinals shifted hams and doubted,
Seeking relief in whispered talk.

Be it the Florentine upon
His scaffold or Benedict at
His beads, those who have thought or done
Great things are wrecked in solitude:
So Dante, exiled, ate his food
On other men’s stairs and raged at that.

© May 2013

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Months: November

The poems for March, April, May, June, July, August, September and October in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May, 20 June, 29 July, 29 August and 27 September.

The year collapses. Creatures hoard and hide;
The sun’s thin gruel does not sustain; All Souls
Is chorused with phlegm and colds, and man’s pride
Flickers in guiltiness like dying coals.

Fireworks! Flare and smoke in the foggy dark,
Crump of mines and crackers like tearing cloth;
A spent hydrangea gapes in the fumes’ murk,
And starved, a fuchsia droops its lifeless mouth.

Windstruck, the sycamore and pollard lime
Disgorge their leaves, blood-brown and pumpkin-yellow;
Crackling in piles or mulched with the streets’ grime
They smother boots and wheels, sticky as tallow.

Stripped tree crowns supplicate like sinners’ hands,
Ignored by the corn-plaster morning moon;
Birch catkins like joss stick ash hang in bands:
The fairground starling fizzes its showman’s croon.

Mornings are bromine-dull. Ablution-steam
From bathrooms plumes the air; rime like sugar
Sprinkles the eaves. Post-noon a drowsy gloom
Blanches the clammy light. At dusk a figure

Homes in a breath-cloud, the frost-melt hardens
And night, plum-black, annihilates the sky:
Rooks before roosting palaver in gardens.
Come dawn and gruff horses loom in the lea,

Herring gulls vortex onto the river bank –
Where death pinpoints the straggler with a snapped shank.

© November 2012

Saturday, 11 October 2014

The Republic of Yeah

The first four stanzas of this poem - curious but you can't have everything in life - appeared in the Winter 2014 issue of The Salisbury Review, a quarterly magazine of conservative thought. It, the magazine, is well worth reading. Its web site is: www.salisburyreview.com


Under studio lights the statesman smiles
Devoting Sunday morning to the glib
Three carded tricks of power: he smoothes the nap
Of his slacks; without a tie, his posture tells
With an unlovely knack                                                
Of nuanced pally salesmanship; his speech
Is negligent, expressed                                                 
With many “sort ofs,” “likes,” “I means” – a botch
Of sound in which the letter “t” has died.
Did Churchill so present himself when bid                              
To action, Clio’s finger at his breast?                                        

Colours and cultures clash in the schoolroom
With shoddy uniform and uncouth hair;
There’s boredom and a vicious background clatter
Of slang and scuffling as the class resume
‘The Winter’s Tale’; what stir
Of grief at Hermione’s plight can there be                                 
When language is brute noise?                                      
For thought and language, complex as the sea,              
Engulf the world and, coarsened, thus degrade             
Their subject animal. Outside the gate                        
Gangs churn, and their syntax is taught with knives.

On weekend nights delinquents foul the High Street,
Screaming-mad on Jack Daniels and drugs;                              
Filthiest cursing, smashed bottles and boots
Cause chaos; girls, wide-legged and rolling, retch.               
An offhand age thus gets
Its quittance for what’s truly human is not,                          
Foolishly given sway,                                       
Edenic hand-holding bliss, but wolf-pack                                  
Savagery. And sanctions done away with                                   
Do not produce kibbutz-like healthful growth                
But bloodied streets, where thugs posture till day.

Father Gerry in nylon vestments sits                         
On a front pew, condoling with his charges;
His brief chat neither purges nor assuages;
His TaizĂ© altar centres a dead tot’s
Cuddly toy; Miss Barge’s                                                        
Threnodical dancing will follow later.
Outside, a slapping wind                                                          
Throws about the gulls’ riotous chatter.                        
Tragic man, brought to the rockface of death,               
Needs marble obsequies to meet that truth                               
Not buttonholed whimsy which binds no wound.

At the town’s edge on an overgrown estate
There’s little sign of the “imago Dei”;
The Tomkins household sleeps; the morning’s grey                   
Young hours are dead since life on benefit
Incited them to lie.                                                                   
God’s right and wrong rolls round with trash of pizza                   
Cartons and trampled cans.                                     
Awake, their hours will wander in a litter                                  
Of rancid clothes and half-pulled curtains. Feeding,
Begetting, fighting – all’s public; their offspring
Prepare their future with a stoat’s whine and claws.                    

In David Allan’s “Sir William Erskine
And Family” all is formal. His sons,
Returned from hunting, race to show a fox’s                 
Brush to their mother’s and sisters’ bright approving
Glance. Buskins and frock-coats,                                                         
Huntsmen and horses, hounds, attest a self-                                        
Respect that’s approbated
By God’s rich sky. Erskine, made grave by his rough                
Commander's duties in the wars, looks on:
Each one has dignity of state, a decorum                                                     
Undone when demos, the serpent, mutated.

© May 2013 Revised July 2016

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Months: October

The poems for March, April, May, June, July, August and September in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May, 20 June, 29 July and 29 August.


The spiked limes of chestnut plummet and burst,
Gaping like fledglings’ mouths, disgorging nuts
Glossy as foals. The sunspot dahlia, cursed
By rust, sags, and the mauve aster abuts

The ground. Apples, pears, blush ripe and are gathered;
Plums are downy like cheeks, though whitepox mould              
Rots the fallen. Leafage, jaundiced and weathered
Like skin, dangles dolefully, rueing the cold.

Night darkness deepens and sunrise is damp;
Mist like a low tide sluices the coppice.
Birds are silent; and, bodies in a hump,
Folk rush to work, their faces like pumice.

The angry wasp dies. Unmindful, the sheep
In the fields await slaughter. Autumn’s effacement
Looms, and like children feverish in sleep
Folk fidget, resisting the abatement

Of blood and flesh. Post-equinox, the rains
At last begin – a drenching, drumming fall
From cloud like a taut sheet, engulfing drains,
Stained with the city’s lights like yellow gall.

A gale follows. Mountainous gun-metal cloud
Invests the horizon. Battle-primed wind
Assaults the sopping ash trees, barrels loud
In subways. Later, the assault declined,

Sunlight cracks the siege towers’ plinths and domes,
Searing them gold and white with lacquers, chromes.

© October 2012

Sunday, 14 September 2014

The Anthropological Turn

A fist of lightning sunders the packed cloud
On Sinai’s peak; thunder engulfs the slopes;
Moses, exultant with the Tables, browed
With light, descends to mould men’s fears and hopes:
Moral truth is given and hence endowed
Is beauty – golden cherubim and tropes
Adorn the Ark. A proud propitiating
People is created, lacking but one thing.

The Nazarene, transfixed with the Divine,
On Shabbat day completes the Torah’s lack:
“Stretch forth thy hand” – a flesh-transcending sign                   
Is given, pity more flagrant than God’s back
Seen by Moses in the cloud. Like sweet-scent wine
Compassion infuses dogs-in-a-pack                                         
Humanity, and though men riot like fools                                   
Their wounds are bound by hospitallers and schools.

Later, the harmonic circle is smashed:
Vaunting men, in love with experiment,
Scrub Revelation’s face until it’s washed
Raw. Diderot’s book swells to a testament,
Newton by the sea of knowledge is splashed,
Paine’s pot of rights boils to a sacrament;
Hume demands freedom to die in his sins;
In France the clash of guillotines begins.

The wheel turns. A Sixties scientist re-presents
The fruit; Eve swallows and fecundity
Is balked. Man centres self and the ornaments      
Of being are smashed in a futility
Of drugged desires. Harsh New Age hierophants          
Propose fault-free fulfilment and absurdity                          
Is raised a god. Two thousand years of symbols                                
Are overthrown by dancers beating timbrels.

Destruction triumphs. Pornography swamps
The internet; man’s primal itch inflamed,
Aggression surges and motel room romps                                 
Turn rapes. Enthused, unnatural rights are named –
Gay marriage, gender choice – what tawdry pomps!               
Careerist women have the boardroom tamed;               
Children are objects, abortion’s in demand:
Moloch counts dollars with a blood-stained hand.                     

Saint Damien sweats in Hawaii’s heat,
Dressing ulcers, digging graves. The leper priest,
In the eternal wrapt, with bandaged feet,
Scarred face and dragging legs, dies for the least
Of his charges. There’s no despair, nor bleat
Of woe, instead a pure-eyed grasp of the feast
Of being. Fulfilment’s not in drugs or vice
But in hands gone leprous in sacrifice.

© April 2013. Revised June 2016

Friday, 29 August 2014

Months: September

The poems for March, April, May, June, July and August in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May, 20 June and 29 July.


The hemisphere reclines, skittling the sun
Towards its winter wanness. A dawn bar
Of lemon light descends facades and dun
Windows erupt. Mercury dew on car

And hedge embodies the high flat sky where jet
Tracks stipple the cloth-thin blue. A transhumance
Begins, archaic and grim. Howling regret
The swifts have fled. Coal tits feed in a trance.

By afternoon an Indian warmth has built
And sea winds thresh the tamarisk. Inland,
Butterflies dither between the rattling quilt
Of sweet pea and violet scabious, japanned.

Fruits firm. Blackberries at the line side glow
Off-limits. The dusted bilberry is shy,
The glossy rosehip brash; glimmers the sloe;
The tree fruit though is hard and green, still dry.

Die-back sets in. Hibiscus loses bulk;   
Once more lost pots wink through the whiskery grass;
Moisture is lost – the ligamented hulk
Of bramble quivers its limbs under the brass

Harvest moon. Harvest home! Church bells call out
In short-lived homage, but the golden gleams
Of summer turn matt and autumn’s redoubt
Of plenty is mined by shivering dreams

Of starving villeins gleaning ice-hard tillage:
Against winter, men gather wood and knowledge.

© September 2012

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A Biedermeir Age

Note (19 May 2016): This poem was written in rugged ottava rima which I have come to think of as too rugged. Hence I have revised the poem for greater smoothness, and quietly amended it in situ.


Bronze statues glowing under London rain
Declare, forlorn, a bankrupt history:
Nelson and Cunningham who held the main,
Napier and Havelock seizing victory,
Are swamped in Nelson’s square beneath the vain
Roarings of Muslim demagoguery.
Disdained is public beauty, Roman, Greek –
The fourth plinth occupied by a crop-haired freak.

Pinioned before a screaming crowd a scold
Is ducked, her tongue strapped by an iron bit;
Of country stock, like seasoned oak, she told
Unnerving truth, shared in the ancient writ
Of peoplehood, now banished behind the fold
Of a hand in taverns. Magistrates sit
In well-soaped watchfulness; their rolled-up laws
Poised to curb honesty like a grim monk’s tawse.                     

Borders create cultures – a steepled range,
A sweeping river or the jagged sea –
All nurture smoky camps which swell to grange,
Then town and city, time-bedecked, whose glory
Is marble, and where golden towers arrange
The twilight sky. But should a foreign bee
Seduce the hive, feud engulfs the honeycomb:
Polis, comity, art come tumbling down.

Art is corralled – a gleaming stallion
Gone broken-winded in a muddy field;                         
Its maker’s brio that of a scullion
Scouring pots: Hockney’s colours all congealed
Like Barbie make up; Hirst enjewelling bullion
For hedge-fund men; and Emin loath to wield
A pencil but Professor nonetheless –
Insubstantial putty, an infant’s cess. 

Sentiment triumphs. On a pastel couch,
A lout in jeans and trainers howls, urged on
By cameras to hug his winnings in a slouch                       
Of gross delight. Such is the snotty guerdon
Of grammar-masters’ age-old work to vouch
For man’s civility and learning’s garden.
Did Scipio act so, when Hannibal fled
The plain of Zama, disgrace upon his head?

The straits are breached, the towns are seized; the marches
Bristle with mute despair: Tariq bin Ziyad,
Kettledrums pounding, stacks the Guildhall’s arches
With spoils of war. His thin-eyed mullahs of Ryadh
Uncrate their close-writ texts, their Law which starches
All it grips. Ambrosius, torn, ill-clad,               
Conspires revolt, but his captains, cold and nerve-shot,
Cravenly slink away to barn and cot.

Low cloud and rain hang upon the town square;
Gottlieb Biedermeir goes home for lunch;
A medieval clock tower rattles the air;                     
Moroccan street toughs, Roma girls, a bunch
Of scuffling Poles, and him, attract the stare
Of batoned police: move on, ignore the crunch
Of glass. Think nothing. Lunch is cheese and fruit;
After, Herr Fless calls with fabrics for a suit.                             

© April 2013. Revised May 2016

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Months: August


The poems for March, April, May, June and July in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April, 24 May and 20 June.
The hay is baled; the blackbird’s liquid call
Moistens the meadows; like earthenware the sky
Projects raw heat and soused with dust the tall
Hollyhock totters, though the thistle, sly,
Shrugs defiance, flaunting its purple bonnet.
Blackspot swarms on the rose leaves; lavender
Protests with scent like a sumptuous sonnet,
But among roots slugs gorge juicy provender.
Ruthless, the sky blackens – cats go to ground;
Thunder like granite cracking, lightning stark
As judgement, scourge with rain-hard wind the drowned
Buddleia, gangling in the abandoned park.
Later, squirrels daredevil in the high trees
Seeking berries. Breakneck growth has reached stasis;
Pale, reluctant men are squeamish to seize
The year’s last chance for some anabasis.
Instead, the harvest. Combines clatter in the fields
Engulfing barley and rapeseed. Rabbits
Squat, stupefied by the heat-dust which builds
Over the slaughter, shroud to man’s habits.
After the heat, the evening silence is long;
Jigsaw pieces of pigeon-grey cloud drift
Breathlessly. A nervy spider’s web among
Tight-leaved privets displays a jackdaw’s gift –
A feather. Fireweed strips its seed heads to husk,
Purple in sidings in the humid slow dusk.
© August 2012

Thursday, 17 July 2014

From a College Window

A.C. Benson (1862-1925) was Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge from 1915-1925. He was one of the many talented children of E.W. Benson, Archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife, Mary. (The children included E.F. Benson, author of the Mapp and Lucia novels, and Fr R. H. Benson, the Catholic convert.)
   A. C. Benson's civilized essays, redolent of Victorian and Edwardian days, are a delight to read. His easy knowledge and loquacity, combined with self-deprecation, put most of our contemporary "controversialists" - nearly all of them influenced by social Marxism - to shame (although his work and stance are vulnerable to Cardinal Newman's strictures on the English gentleman).
   I picked up Benson's volume of essays, From a College Window, by chance in a second-hand shop and greatly enjoyed it. I wrote this sonnet in respectful tribute.


(A. C. Benson)

The drowsy fire, the shadowed room, shrug off
The autumn chill; the gyp bows his retreat;
Tapping glibly his eye-glass, the don with soft
Decision strikes through a freshman’s gauche conceit.

Later, dinner in hall; tomorrow chapel:
Gowned beneath plain windows indulgent scholars
Will nod; the timid chaplain’s black-scarfed grapple
With Erastian good sense will shew God’s favours.

Mild duty done, that afternoon the men
In the Common will jostle like muddy cattle,
Their games a path to a Secretary’s room
Or parsonage loud with a singing kettle.

Drifting, the don starts up at his student’s jest:
“The Decalogue – a matter of good taste.”

© July 2012

Friday, 20 June 2014

Months: July

The poems for March, April, May and June in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March, 20 April and 24 May.


The month of window boxes: horned nasturtiums,
Petunias and breaking-wave lobelia
Sparkle: the dark-leaved tart geraniums
Are cautious but the party-plate regalia

Of passion flowers trumps all. With a glutton’s smile
Blowsy St John’s Wort bubbles like custard.    
In town’s-edge roughlands children with low guile
Behead dandelions and storm the clustered

Ice cream flutes of bindweed. Ignored, the breeze
Scuffles the rank bushes like gushing water.
Grasshoppers, dauntless among vetch and furze,
Grind their tissue-and-comb call for a partner.

Beyond are the woods. Tall spruce and dense beech
Flash fresh growth. Beneath their shade-cool awning
Wood wasps dart and sing in the sun’s hot shaft,
Moths start from the path dust and grubs hang, dancing

On threads. Hidden, a train soughs through a culvert.
Such musky disarray! Boles, lichened boughs,
Hang, lean, lie, trellised by ivy, inert
To the gross-feeding fungus. Spider and louse

Forage under dust-heavy ferns; the brown
Dunnock, pattering, will devour them. High
On a birch’s flaky trunk a flame-crown
Woodpecker scatters bark, laughing mournfully:

Summer’s workshop of instinct and sensation
Echoes with breeding, killing and mutation.

© July 2013

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Months: June

The poems for March, April and May in this sequence were posted on 24 February 2014, 21 March and 20 April.

Summer solstice: for immortal hours the sun
Dazzles tarmac and field, boiling greatly
And large in the sky. Day’s eternity done,
Rises the moon like beaten pewter, stately

And immense. Honeysuckle chivvies the lanes
With scent, strengthened with the tang of the year’s
First cut of silage. Men are urgent – thanes
To daylight’s drug, fixing tools, greasing gears.

The ash has tardily leaved above hawthorn
Sudsily frothing; nettles and grasses
Are purple, stifling the curded viburnum:
Dogs dustily tumble in madcap races.

Each morning the blatant chatter of sparrows
Rouses streets like coins rattled in a bowl;
Goldcrest flash in a larch’s dark narrows;
In brakes a pheasant dodges with his red poll.

From waxy buttercups to black-cupped poppies
All is profusion. The cream-cake roses –
Luscious in odour – shadow gentilities
Of pot plants – marigolds and flat-faced pansies;

The tough cascading foxglove is aloof.
Forgotten, a stream placid over gravel
Turns a waterwheel, dousing each paddle’s growth
Of wet-dark moss. Beneath its muted trundle

The water puzzles as if seeking sense;
The wheel turns without end or consequence.

© June 2013