I always like to think of poems as word pictures, and as such many poems can be open to different interpretation. When two people read the same book, it’s unlikely that they’ll visualize the characters in exactly the same way, when two people look at the same picture they will often see an entirely different meaning to the one that the artist intended and when two people listen to the same piece of music, they may experience similar, but not necessarily identical emotions. It doesn’t mean that in any of theses cases that their interpretation isn’t valid, just that many art forms can be interpreted in more than one way. The picture above is by one of my favourite artists, Kay Sage, and was painted in 1955, towards the end of her life in 1963. I’m pretty sure that the feeling of bleakness is universal, but that the deeper meanings of the painting are many and varied, depending not just on the viewer, but on their state of mind when viewing. So my advice for what it’s worth is don’t bother looking for an explanation for any poem, if it already paints a picture for you.
The subject is very loosely based on someone I knew, who was actually a victim of verbal, rather than physical abuse, by her father. This led to a complete lack of confidence and an attraction towards, what I saw, as completely the wrong sort of partner.
The limerick form is a form of quintain (five line poetic form) and is thought to have started life in France during the Middle Ages, as shown below;
The lion is wondrous strong
And full of the wiles of wo;
And whether he pleye
Or take his preye
He cannot do but slo
It probably suffers a little in olde worlde translation (‘wo’ = ‘woe’ ; ‘slo’ = ‘slay’ ; ‘pleye’ = ‘play’ ; ‘preye’ = ‘prey’) but you get the idea…
The form contains five lines with trimeter (three-beat) measures in the first, second, and fifth lines and dimeter (two-beat) measures in the second and fourth. Note the rhyme scheme of ABCCB.
It wasn’t until the early 1700s that the limerick came to Ireland. Possible origins of the name come from a group of local Irish poets who composed limericks during drinking sessions at various pubs, including, some say, a pub in Limerick that was already noted for its pub crawl chorus, “Will you please come up to Limerick?”
It was the poet Edward Lear (1812-1888) who brought the limerick to popular attention. There was much more to Edward than merely the humorous rhymes that would feel at home on many a bawdy seaside postcard, and in fact his Limericks were quite different from the modern version, usually written over four lines and repeating the final word of the first line at the end of the last, rather than the rhyming punch-line that characterises the modern limerick. Note; if you are viewing this on a mobile phone, the fourth line will probably spread itself over two lines, making it appear as if it’s actually five lines. Honest, it’s only four.
The Young Lady of Norway by Edward Lear
There was a Young Lady of Norway,
Who casually sat in a doorway;
When the door squeezed her flat, she exclaimed “What of that?”
This courageous Young Lady of Norway.
The modern limerick consists of five lines with the first, second, and fifth lines of seven to ten syllables while rhyming and having the same verbal rhythm. The third and fourth lines should only have five to seven syllables; they too must rhyme with each other and have the same rhythm, giving the whole, the characteristic AABBA rhyming pattern.
Modern Limerick (anon.) (8,8,5,5,8 syllable count; AABBA rhyming)
There was a young lady of Lynn,
Who was so uncommonly thin
That when she essayed
To drink lemonade
She slipped through the straw and fell in.
In my version, I’ve essentially adopted the medieval rhyming system of ABCCB and added a hook on the 4th line, running with a modern syllable count. So when you’re writing a limerick, like all poetry, you can get away with quite a bit, just by going back in time!
Just as an aside, I fully recommend having a read around Edward Lear, who was a man of many talents and led an absolutely fascinating life. He was the first major bird artist to draw birds from real live birds, instead of skins, and the weasel above, is one of his drawings.
Dictators Kill Poets
I’m always fashionably late on these things, but last Friday, 5th June was Federico García Lorca’s birthday. He was a Spanish poet and playwright, and he is believed to have been killed by Nationalist forces on 19 August 1936 at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, although his body has never been found. Without a body or witnesses, there will always be controversy, but it seems likely that he was murdered by the Fascists for his support of left leaning causes and it’s thought his homosexuality could also have been a factor. García Lorca was a member of the Generation of ’27, a group consisting mostly of poets who introduced symbolism, futurism, and surrealism into Spanish literature. He had a turbulent relationship with the painter Salvador Dalí, which led Dalí to write in 1928, “You are a Christian storm and you are in need of some of my paganism…”
García Lorca had a much younger sister Isabel, who spent most of her life safeguarding her brothers legacy, and Isabel died in 2002.
My poem switches truths, and imagines how the future might have been if it had been Isabel who had died, and how that may have affected the poet.
There is always a problem when translating any poetry from its original language, because you lose the rhythm and techniques crucial to the original. I looked at two completely different translations of his poem ‘Casida of the Dark Doves’ and have taken a few mix and match liberties with his poem, but hopefully tried to maintain the spirit of the original, although the line about snow eagles is a tricky one. If you are a poet fluent in Spanish, I would welcome any corrections. I would dearly love to read more of his work, but I think I need to listen to some examples in the original language first, because many of the translations are pretty lousy, and more ‘google’ than poetic.
Casida of the Dark Doves
By Federico García Lorca
Through branches of laurel
saw two doves of darkness.
The one, was the sun,
the other was the moon
I said: ‘Little neighbours
where is my grave?’
‘In my tail,’ said the sun.
‘In my throat,’ said the moon.
And I, while out walking
with the earth wrapped around me,
saw two eagles, snow white,
and a girl who was naked.
And the one was the other,
and the girl, she was neither.
I said: ‘Little eagles,
where is my grave?’
‘In my tail,’ said the sun.
‘In my throat,’ said the moon
Through branches of laurel,
saw two doves both naked.
And the one was the other,
and the two, they were neither.
Everyone knows the opening line of Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech, ‘I have a dream’ but perhaps fewer would know much more than the next few lines, ‘that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places plains, and the crooked places will be made straight…’, and that phrase ‘I have a dream’ is repeated many times throughout the speech to emphasise his demand for racial justice and an integrated society. The key message in the speech is equality; that all people are created equal and, although not the case at the time, King felt it must be the case for the future.
But King was well aware that equality does not mean that we should all be the same, to lose our cultural identities and become one homogeneous race, more that we should have equality of opportunity and embrace and respect each other’s differences, be they differences of colour, gender, faith, sexual orientation, physical ability, even age.
King understood the root cause of the violence of his time, but was never its leading advocate;
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I’ll leave the last words to the subject of the book he is reading in the photograph, Mahatma Gandhi; ‘there is enough in the world for our need, but not our greed, so you must have the courage to be the change you wish to see. The eye for an eye only ends up with a world that is blind, so let us, in our gentle way, shake the world, awaken its conscience, and hope it listens…’
The Brown-headed Cowbird looks like a stocky blackbird and they forgo building nests and instead put all their energy into producing eggs, which they lay in the nests of other birds, abandoning their young to foster parents, usually at the expense of at least some of the host’s own chicks. Even though Brown-headed Cowbirds are native to North America, many people consider them a nuisance bird, since they destroy the eggs and young of smaller songbirds and have been implicated in the decline of several endangered species.
The Road Taken
Robert Frost (1874-1963) was one of America’s most celebrated poets, publishing eleven volumes of poetry and winning four Pulitzer Prizes.
Robert Frost had a long connection with Vermont, spending most of his summers writing there from about 1920 onwards, first in South Shaftsbury, then from about 1940 in Ripton, where he bought a 150 acre farm, writing most summer months from then until his death in 1963.
Given the fact that he had a winter home in Florida, and teaching commitments initially at University of Michigan, then Harvard, Massachusetts, I would imagine that he would have spent many hours on the roads when returning to Vermont, and this poem is trying to capture what it must feel like to be taking a journey with someone who is going back to somewhere that is very much part of their DNA, when it’s not part of yours.
Frost, had a life tainted by tragedy, his father died of tuberculosis when he was 11, leaving the family impoverished. Frost’s mother died of cancer in 1900. In 1920, he had to commit his younger sister Jeanie to a mental hospital, where she died nine years later. Mental illness apparently ran in Frost’s family, as both he and his mother suffered from depression, and his daughter Irma was committed to a mental hospital in 1947. Elinor and Robert Frost had six children: two died in childhood, one after childbirth and one committed suicide, leaving only two to survive their father. Frost’s wife, who had heart problems throughout her life, developed breast cancer in 1937, and died of heart failure in 1938.
Without doubt his most famous poem, and also one of the most famous poems in the world, is ‘The Road not Taken’ which was published in 1916 and I’ve reproduced the poem below. For me, what’s so interesting about this poem, isn’t its popularity, used frequently in graduation speeches, or its lovely lilting feel, but the slight and subtle contradiction of meaning, easy to discard on first read. To me, it’s these that make Frost such a great poet, with both a popular and intellectual appeal. That said, I really sympathise if you had to study this in school, because being forced to study any form of art can easily rip out the heart and soul of any future enjoyment (I went to music college where the teachers could find deep meanings in the back of cornflake packets).
The Road Not Taken
BY ROBERT FROST
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Sorry, I’m a little late on this one since his birthday was May 7th! Rabindranath Tagore, (1861-1941) was a remarkable man, though it’s hard to explain exactly how remarkable in a few short words. To describe him as a polymath, grossly underestimates his value and output to many different spheres of the arts. He saw himself primarily as a poet, though for ears accustomed solely to English, there will always be difficulties translating some of his Bengali poetry accurately from the mother tongue, while retaining the rhythm and nuance of the original.
It’s probably easier to judge his true value on his contributions to literature for which he won The Nobel Prize in 1913, as a poet, dramatist, novelist, short story writer, and writer of nonfictional prose, especially essays, criticism, philosophical treatises, journals, memoirs, and letters. In addition, he was a musician, painter (which he took up when he was 60), actor-producer-director, educator, patriot, and social reformer.
Tagore was also a patriot and man of great integrity. He renounced his knighthood in response to the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919, writing, ‘The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in the incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part, wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings.’
For more on his poetry please follow the following link;
Queen of Clubs
I thought you’d need some help with this one!
This, believe it or not, started as such a simple poem, called ‘Elle’; first verse as below, entire poem posted just before this poem on the blog;
Elle, with the arms outstretched
as a ballerina, balanced
waiting for the slightest gust
to decide if the time is now
or the cards have more to play
This is a nice, simple plot. Girl meets married man with new baby, he says he’ll walk away, but she knows that goes against everything she stands for, hence why she is standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the wind to decide her fate.
Now, the above is part of the first draft, and took about 10 minutes to write, the second draft is the version I have posted previously to ‘Queen of Clubs, which is about a further 30 minutes later in the process (and two cups of coffee…) but there was a phrase in it I was really drawn to which was ‘if the cards have more to play’. This, unfortunately, got me thinking about cards and fortune-telling. After a little research I discovered that Cartomancy is the act of fortune telling by interpreting a random selection of playing cards. The link below explains it in much more detail;
Once I started to adopt the card theme and re-titled the poem ‘Queen of Clubs’ everything became an absolute diabolical mess and it has taken me hours upon hours (and a lot more coffee…) to unravel. So I guarantee that this is definitely a one-time excursion down the blind alley of clairvoyant medieval metaphors and symbolism, which some poets take to like ducks to water, but drove me absolutely quackers!
So (good luck following this…) here’s some guidance on the poem and the meanings of the cards therein;
sea of shamrocks = seven of clubs , represents feeling confined or trapped, usually in regards to a romantic relationship
The number seven has been associated with a great deal of symbolism in religion, mythology, superstition and philosophy. In Western culture, it is often considered lucky. Think of Seven deadly sins, Seven days in the week, Seven colours in the rainbow, Seven Seas, Seven Continents, Seven Wonders of the ancient world etc. So here seven is symbolised by the ‘sea’. Later in the poem, it is symbolised by ‘sin’
Parched = thirsty for blood; she’s standing on the edge of a cliff, and it’s as if fate is willing her to jump.
the lonely spade = Ace of Spades: represents a time of significant change – one thing will come to an end in order to make room for something new
‘Noble tongue, forked, of fragile gift’
‘Noble’ means we know she is a queen; since she can’t be a jack or a king
‘Tongue, forked’ = speaks with a forked tongue, meaning she acts in a duplicitous manner. The fragile gift is beauty.
King of hearts (her soulmate) Represents an influential man who is romantic and affectionate, but also emotional – could be a father
Revealed a ‘Knave’. The Knaves or Jacks often represented untrustworthy types but could also signify lovers and best friends.
‘To moult’ = to shed his scaly skin, and leave his wife and child, but at what cost?
‘Life, most precious of all’ = the child, son of the king & queen of hearts
Arid as skull’s lost love = his love for the queen is dry
‘suckles slow, in darkest mind’ = he’s not thinking about the child
This verse is about her unconsummated attraction to the king (his tantric touch etc)
searing sins in spades = sins symbolises 7, as above (seven deadly sins) = 7 of spades, and represents the loss of a friend or another significant person in your life due to a disagreement or problem
In this verse, her resolve strengthens, the breeze nudges her towards safety and she once more returns to becoming the queen of clubs, ‘a charismatic woman who is in a position of power’
The picture used is from the following site,
and I just love it. I think the site sells very individual sets of playing cards, from a variety of artists, but there is much more to the artist on a site called;
This is the original to the above; a nice, simple plot. Girl meets married man with new baby, he says he’ll walk away, but she knows that goes against everything she stands for, hence why she is standing on the edge of a cliff waiting for the wind to decide her fate. This is linked in with the next post, Queen of Clubs, which is a reworking of the same poem.
It’s the old ‘nice girl falls for bad boy’ tale. The poet is remembering the true love of his life and how deeply touched he felt when she surprised him by remembering his birthday and getting him a gift. A gift with an added personal touch. Looking back from his prison cell, he remembers the day he found someone trying to attack her, and how he was able to repay her gift, preventing her from being raped; her ‘future, wiped clean’, but naturally, like all good tragedies, it came at great personal cost.
Walking with the birds
What does it take to make someone think walking off a ledge to their death is anything but a bad idea? For me I’ve always thought that, what if halfway down I changed my mind? Fortunately, most of us are a million miles away from doing something as drastic as this, but large numbers of people do commit suicide every year, so this is an attempt to understand part of that thought process. For this poem, I didn’t venture into mental illness, that’s for another poem, but deliberately chose a perfectly normal married man with a family, three kids, house, good job, faithful hound etc etc. We all get suicidal thoughts, little nanoseconds of them, which we can stop from developing further because of our support networks; friends, family, work colleagues etc, but what if we take these away, pull out the rug from under our complacent contentment? Perhaps, if we did it quick enough, and add in the death of a child, then perhaps we could find ourselves out on that ledge too….BUT….
If you are feeling depressed or suicidal, then talking with someone who is professionally trained, such as Samaritans ( www.samaritans.org ) to offer support should be your first step, not following the poet off the ledge! Life is a precious gift and, even though sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, it does get better. Alternatively, you could start writing poetry….
Will I be loved?
The poet in this poem is a fortune teller, and is asked the question ‘Will I be loved?’ by a horribly disfigured child refugee from a part of the world ravaged by war and disease. It’s only when he sees her holding her own baby, that he can give the question a positive response.
I remember seeing this sculpture ( Sphere within sphere ) in the grounds of Trinity College, Dublin, and it was the first time I’d seen any of Pomodoro’s work, and I found it absolutely fascinating. I saw it as a statement on the superficial nature of beauty; something I later found to be a little bit wide of the mark (the inner ball represents the Earth and the outer ball Christianity.) But just as music can engender different emotions and interpretations so, in my humble opinion, can art. We live in a world which places so much importance on superficial beauty. We can try to deny it, but when we ask ourselves, which of these strangers are we likely to want to spend more time with, the handsome young man, pretty girl, or the old and obese paraplegic, the honest answer is rarely the latter. Yes, naturally, if the paraplegic is a fascinating scientist, sculptor, he wins, but if they are all strangers, we feel much more comfortable and naturally gravitate towards beauty, it’s human nature, and we are often unaware of how much our subconscious obsession with beauty can dictate so many aspects of our lives.
Actually much to my embarrassment, this is based pretty much on a true story. I was about twenty, as green as grass, she was about thirty, drank in the same bar, was extremely sexy, confident and, for no good reason I can think of, had invited me around for dinner. She was Welsh, same as myself, but had lived in London for a while, though unlike me, she hadn’t lost the lovely Welsh lilt ( in the poem, I’ve transposed the pair’s roots to a small town; Skibbereen, Co.Cork, Ireland ). We had made such a connection, had so much in common and I had genuinely thought that this was a start of a beautiful relationship. As it turned out, I had completely misread the signals, and she was actually offended by the fact that I hadn’t made some sort of physical advance, and shaking her hand to say ‘goodbye’, was apparently the icing on the cake, something that my mates had endless fun with. Like most lads, there were times growing up when I wished I had that little bit of a wild ‘bad-boy’ streak that girls apparently find irresistible, but the sad truth is that you can’t be something you’re not, and you’re better off being true to yourself, even if the reflection staring back is a bit normal and boring….and much as it might stymie your chances of getting more than your fair share of female attention. As you get older, as the hormones quieten down, you realise that sex is actually only one part of a relationship, necessary for procreation, but otherwise not much more than an itch that has to be scratched from time to time, albeit in a very enjoyable fashion. The conundrum is why we elevate this basic animal need above most others in its importance, but that’s for another poem!
The inspiration behind this poem came from reading that the famous American poet Wallace Stevens walked the two mile route every day from home to his office, composing poems in his head while walking and apparently enjoyed matching the words in his head to the rhythm of his steps. I love this thought and I know that many poets end up reading or writing poetry while walking, especially in these days of lockdown. I was also drawn to the idea of two people very loosely connected (in this case through his poetry) walking right past each other but not actually meeting. This is about the thirtieth revision of this poem, and early on I had their eyes meeting, but I think that’s too obvious. I like the idea of two people who might end up being lovers, walking right past each other, unaware of their connection.
Over the Net
Sadly, to my shame, this is pretty close to being a true story. Years ago, shortly after Triceratops breathed his last, or at least vacated that particular part of North West London, I had decided that my very first relationship had sadly just about run its course. When I looked back on it later, I think I overplayed my importance in her emotional journey through life, and I probably just about got in there first (by virtue of the fact that I spoke first), though obviously this was in the days before my sparkling wit made me irresistible to members of the opposite sex (although I did nearly get nabbed by a member of my own sex, but that was much younger and maybe he wasn’t too picky). Feeling distinctly shabby about doing the deed I had decided, in my ‘new age of enlightenment’ phase, that just because we were no longer a couple, didn’t mean we couldn’t still be friends. Making a tennis foursome with my sister and her best friend seemed like a very civilised way to start our new ‘friendship’ until we actually started playing, when it became apparent that it had been an exceedingly bad idea and if I’d had a very blunt knife, I would have been able to cut the air with it quite easily. There is a school of thought which says the only way to resurrect a bad idea is with an even worse one, which must have been the thinking behind solo tennis, which led to me somehow catching the top of the net with my trailing foot and landing on my crown jewels, which cheered everyone else up no end. Naturally I failed to see the funny side, probably because I was struggling to breathe, and the new-found friendship died a sudden death. It was probably well over a year before I felt brave enough to try the dating scene again, possibly because everyone we knew, knew each other, and possibly because they also knew I was the idiot that dreamt up solo tennis.
The Old ‘C’
The ‘C ‘stands for Corona typewriters, but obviously in the current climate that might have misled people as to the nature of the poem, which has a minor nod towards Wallace Stevens and a large nod towards Samuel Langhorne Clemens, (aka Mark Twain) who were both residents of Hartford, Connecticut, though not at the same time. Wallace Stevens’ famous poem ‘The Comedian as the Letter C’ was the last written for his first poetry collection Harmonium (1923), but the bulk of the poem is a very wide, sorry, ‘damn’ wide stretching of reality. The poem imagines what might have happened if Clemens had lived through the first world war, rather than having a life parenthesised by Halley’s Comet, and also assumes that his sole surviving daughter Clara had also had a son who had then died in the war, rather than just a daughter who, as his last descendant, died in 1966. The poem imagines how his grandchild might have looked up to Clemens, who reputedly had quite a healthy disregard for politicians (“Politicians are like diapers, they need to be changed often, and for the same reasons.”), a colourful tongue and rather fond of his corn cob pipes, practically smoking non-stop.
The 1913 Mental Deficiency Act, enabled unmarried mothers in the UK to be categorised as “moral imbeciles” and sent to lunatic asylums, even if the pregnancy was as a result of incest or rape. The law was only repealed in 1959, but it wasn’t until 1987 that the concept of “illegitimacy” was abolished in law. Even in 1968, in the age of the Beatles and the contraceptive pill, there were 12,993 illegitimate babies given up for adoption by women unable to face the stigma of unmarried motherhood.
Source: Jane Robinson’s ‘In the Family Way’ ,published by Viking.
This was supposed to be a poem about love, but very quickly disintegrated into a completely different type of poem, proof that your mind often doesn’t like to do what it’s told. That said, it was a lot of fun to write and a welcome diversion. If you’re not sure about the terms; Alliteration; the occurrence of the same letter or sound at the beginning of adjacent or closely connected words. There can be a confusion with Consonance, where the repetition of consonants can happen at any place in the words of a sentence or phrase. Assonance; takes place when two or more words, close to one another repeat the same vowel sound, though often starting with different consonant sounds. Sibilance; is a device where strongly stressed consonants are created deliberately by producing air from vocal tracts through the use of lips and tongue. Such consonants produce hissing sounds. In poetry, it is used as a stylistic device, and sibilants are used more than twice in quick succession. Most of the times, the “s” or “sh” sound is the sibilant. Onomatopoeia; is defined as a word which imitates the natural sounds of a thing. It creates a sound effect that mimics the thing described, making the description more expressive and interesting.
Sex is one of the strongest human drives and, though necessary for procreation, it can often bring out the worst in people. Why else would respected people in positions of responsibility and power risk everything, often for just one night of passion? All the arts have reflected our inclination as a race towards prolific infidelity, a trait that has been relentlessly repeated throughout history. This poem is first about the ideals of the couple in love, then the consequence of infidelity.
To Caden; the cutest grandchild in the world! It’s not my greatest poem though, for some strange reason I always find it much easier to explore the grumpy, dark and discontented. This is my go at ‘happy’!
The last sunset
For Vince and Julia; sorry we couldn’t be there on your last night to watch the sun go down, but we were there in spirit! An amazing home, such stunning views and I’m sure, many treasured memories…
This poem is about following your dreams. Some dreams are achievable to us, others are not, but few dreams are achievable without an awful lot of hard work, and the ability to persevere despite the inevitable disappointments that we may encounter on the way. We live in a ‘fame’ culture, where many desire fame without realising that most people achieve fame because they have the work ethic and desire to achieve success and fame is a by-product. The poem starts off by saying that if we could look back from the future and see that it wasn’t going to succeed, then we could save ourselves an awful lot of hard work, and just sit back and watch films instead where it’s all a lot simpler. In the movies, you can turn your life around in five to ten minutes; from a washed up chain smoking, wife abusing, alcoholic one minute, to a super fit hero with a six pack, finally forgiven, by the girl he abused.
The poet contrasts the perfect ending in the movies with the reality of normal life, ‘run of the mill’. And says how it’s always easier to be determined ‘downhill’ when everything is going your way, than ‘uphill’ when everything is going against you. That’s why it’s so easy if you’re not completely dedicated and focused to give up, slide back into ‘the abyss’ of broken promises, achieving only another ‘false start’.
At the end the poet is saying that if someone who has had nothing (‘the Lebanon’s orphaned stray’) and deserves a second chance, can succeed the first time, then we should stop making excuses and keep trying until we get it right. The sting in the tail, is of course what the poet says at the beginning – and illustrated by the Hilary Swank picture taken from the film, ‘Million Dollar Baby’ where she does turn her life around but fate deals her a cruel hand in the end, and indeed, with hindsight, she would perhaps have been better off not pursuing her dreams.
So pursue your dreams, fully commit to achieve, but understand that as with everything in life, there are no guarantees, that’s the risk we take.
In this poem we have two separate scenes; a young boy looking into a rock pool and an older man walking along the beach picking up a pebble and throwing it into the sea. The young boy is looking down at the small pool looking at the tiny glimpses of life that dart across now and again, whereas the man is no longer interested having seen it all before. The real message the poet is trying to get across is that when we are young we are fascinated by the smallest of details (life in the small rock pool) and will often feel that we have to have some memento, selfie etc, of every occasion (in this case the shell), almost to validate it, even though we very rarely revisit these memories, often throwing them away later without a thought. When we are older we tend to look at the bigger picture (the sea) often don’t feel the need to keep hold of these memories, preferring to live in the moment, (throwing the pebble back into the sea).
Sometimes when writing it’s so easy to get so wrapped up looking for the perfect line and imagery, that you end up writing metaphors of your metaphors to the extent that the following morning you have something so complex that you really haven’t a clue what on earth you were prattling on about. I’m not saying that poetry has to be obvious, but often the best poems you will write will have an outward accessibility about them, and the beauty often lies in the levels beneath the surface.
This poem is an argument between two poets; the first who is crafting every word deep into the night, and the second who is much more free spirited, probably indulging in drunken debauchery into the small hours instead! A couple of things to explain in the first section: Ceridwen, according to Welsh legends and folklore, was a white witch and to some is considered to be the goddess of poetry and inspiration, brewing potions to inspire knowledge and beauty in others. Ernő = Ernő Rubik, the Hungarian inventor, best known for the invention of the Rubik’s Cube.
The second poet interrupts with “Enough!” and proceeds to say how the poem should flow etc, but at the end, in his haste, he is reminded by the other poet, smugly, that he has only mentioned three of the four seasons, forgetting to mention Summer . Undeterred, he just dances off, soon to reappear with the missing verse.
Dust from silica, a common component of a typical sandy beach, has been detected within the remnants of two supernovae in the Milky Way galaxy. These observations provide the first evidence that silica originated within exploding stars.
“This is a rich result in that something so common on Earth has now been found to be created in the most violent explosions in the universe,” says study co-author Haley Gomez, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales. “It’s an origin story.”
I find it fascinating that all life on Earth and the atoms in our bodies were created in the furnace of now-long-dead stars. The carbon, nitrogen and oxygen atoms in our bodies, as well as atoms of all other heavy elements, were created in previous generations of stars over 4.5 billion years ago. Because humans and every other animal as well as most of the matter on Earth contain these elements, we are literally made from the death of stars. So, without death, there cannot be life.
This poem was written just after the rather downbeat ‘The Last Dream’, and I often find myself doing that; writing an upbeat ‘ying’ after a morbidly depressing ‘yang’. This poem is all about V-day, with the ‘V’ standing for the rather overly contagious Covid-19. But, sooner or later we’ll (hopefully all) be free to roam the streets again, mingling with impunity. The poet here starts off by showing his complete ineptitude for golf, under the normally stern gaze of the ‘starter’, a man who would be present at the larger more prestigious courses, where they don’t really appreciate clueless day trippers out on a jolly hacking into their well manicured greens. No danger of that here though, since the first shot he takes has his ball running for the trees like a scantily clad ‘floozy’. The ‘up and under’ is a rugby reference which would obviously have no place on a golf course. Seeing this could easily have moved the starter to throw the poet off the golf course, but though he doesn’t exactly smile (‘pigeon steps’) his face certainly ‘twitches’ so he’s obviously in a happier place than usual, (‘like the drowning lad……the breeze’) just enjoying breathing the air, rich with the small of freshly cut grass, outside and happy to be alive. He starts to think about the members lost, but then the poet brings it round to remind us that this is a day to be glad to be alive (‘awake’ and ‘dance’), and not to be think too much of the past; that’s for another day.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon was born into poverty but, being highly intelligent, rose up to briefly become a French politician around the time of the French Revolution (1848), though fell out of favour and power after his criticism of Napoleon. He is considered by many to be the father of anarchism.
He is best known for his assertion that “all property is theft”, which quickly upset the French authorities. It also attracted the attention of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with Proudhon, though their friendship ended because of Proudhon’s objection to what he perceived as Marx’s authoritarian and centralist ideas, and the dispute between them became one of the sources of the split between the anarchists and Marxists.
Proudhon favoured workers’ associations or co-operatives over private ownership or the nationalisation of land and workplaces and considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner. He asserted that “Anarchy is Order Without Power”, the phrase which may have inspired the anarchist circled-A symbol, today. He unsuccessfully tried to create a national bank, to be funded by an income tax on capitalists and shareholders. Similar to a credit union, it would have given out interest-free loans.
I have butchered his quote in the poem to “all money is theft, or property, perhaps?” because in this poem, the Poet has had just enough of the modern world, the progressive persecution of endangered species, feral youth, derelict factories, pollution, slick politicians and the banks, and can’t be bothered to spend too long writing a long letter to the banks, but just wants to walk away.
The poem is about the poet’s brother leaving Queenstown, (modern day Cobh, Ireland) for a better life. The town was the departure point for 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish that emigrated to America between the Irish Famine; 1848 and 1950, and it was where the Titanic docked before it’s last doomed voyage. There are always many stories around any tragedy of this scale, but of the 450 men who boarded the Titanic on the cheapest tickets (steerage), only 59 survived, probably drowning below deck. Many of these would be men leaving with their families for a better life, but spare a thought for the engineers; all 30 engineers and electrical engineers perished. They were true heroes who stayed down below until almost the end trying to keep the ship afloat and the electrical system working.
The following is an abridged extract from a United Nations Human Rights Council Report on the conflict in Syria:
“During the initial years of armed conflict, Government forces arrested a large numbers of female relatives of men perceived to be opposition supporters or armed group members.
In detention, male officers subjected women and girls to intimate and humiliating body searches and, in at least 20 detention facilities countrywide, raped women and girls during interrogations. Many women and girls reported multiple rapes, including gang rapes.
Beginning in 2011, rapes and other acts of sexual violence carried out by Government forces and associated militias during ground operations, at checkpoints, and in detention formed part of a widespread and systematic attack directed against a civilian population, and amount to crimes against humanity, the report finds.
Members of armed groups have also on occasion used their position to rape and commit other forms of sexual violence against women and girls. These acts amounted to the war crimes of rape and other forms of sexual violence, including torture and outrages upon personal dignity.”
This report was published two years ago with a headline demanding that “…a devastating and pervasive feature of the conflict and must end now”
Whenever I used to let the dog out at night into the back garden I used to look up at this 2nd floor window in the apartments opposite which always had the curtains slightly ajar. So having an overactive imagination, and linking the fact that as we get older the memories from our youth can change in appearance and tone, I wondered if there was perhaps someone inside, maybe there was…
The last dream
Yes, another poem about death! When I first started writing poetry practically every poem I wrote was about popping off in one form or another, but this has the dubious honour of being my favourite. The first stanza is about coming into the hospital, the daffodils still waiting to bloom outside the hospital indicating the time of year, just before spring (new birth), then being wheeled along the corridor, looking up at the lights overhead ‘taxiing towards departure’ a bit like an airplane about to take off. The single raindrop running down the window over the top of the operating table, I always think it’s funny how we can focus on the completely irrelevant details at really important times of our lives. Stanza 2, ‘The waiting room’ is the post op recovery room, following the general anaesthetic, and I’ve used a little bit of artistic licence by putting a priest (‘shadows, collared’) in the corner of the room. The last stanza deals with that fine line between life and death, memories going through the mind like flicking through photos on your phone, remembering at the end the words of the (‘general’) anaesthetist as he counts down from ten, to make sure the patient is asleep, a sleep they may never wake up from.
There is an illustrated version of this poem on ‘Commaful’, available here :
Please note that you don’t need to sign in to view, you can just close the sign in pop up and the poem should still play normally.
Edvard Munch’s famous painting ‘The Scream’ has a lot to answer for, spawning millions of Halloween masks, dodgy wall posters and is also the inspiration for this particular poem, but definitely not in the way that the artist intended. Wandering back from the supermarket with my lunchtime ‘meal deal’ I spotted an elderly man asleep in his very expensive Mercedes, seat back and mouth wide open. I really wish I had taken a photo because I could have sworn he was dead, in fact I have honestly seen dead people look more lifelike, and my first thought was Munch’s painting. I have noticed since that a lot of men in the valleys choose the ‘stay-in-the-car’ option and just let their (often younger) wives battle it out in the supermarket isles. Naturally the reason I hooted the horn so firmly was purely to check that he was still alive and nothing to do with wanting to scare the living daylights out of him, waking him so abruptly from his snooze….
One for Easter. Putting aside whatever religious beliefs you hold, it’s reasonably undisputed, even by most other religions, that someone called Jesus lived and died and had a father called Joseph who was a carpenter. The poem explores a humble carpenter’s reaction to his son’s death, and how difficult and emotional that must have been.
There is a famous quote attributed to George Santayana ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Whether it’s a completely accurate quote or not, it is certainly true that we do have a habit of making, if not the same mistakes then pretty similar ones, again and again, and possibly it’s because we’re so blindly optimistic as people that we’re convinced that we won’t be so unlucky for lightning to strike in pretty much the same place twice. So wind on a hundred years or so from Spanish Flu, and we have Covid-19, and the first of the points of this poem is that surely at some point in the future, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that another virus could pop along, and possibly one with a higher mortality rate. The problem is that there are always groups of people who every year tell us that these things will happen, for a variety of reasons depending on their particular creed, and when they don’t happen, no-one remembers. But when things do happen, people start listening to them, which is the second point of the poem. Covid-19 didn’t happen because you didn’t stroke your cat seven times on the stroke of midnight, or because Nostradamus said there would be a bit of bother when the nations were ‘in turmoil’, or even because God was angry. (God maybe angry, but that’s a different issue). Covid-19 happened because of human nature, and we have to understand that. We have to understand that the human race has to look after itself and its environment if it harbours long term ambitions on inhabiting this planet, it needs to prepare for novel viruses, climate change, random meteor strikes, etc..because, if it’s happened before, it’s going to happen again. Wow, what a rant….and I’m normally so mild mannered!
The plus side of living three doors down from a pub is never having too far to walk if you fancy being sociable for a change. The downside is if you have an absolute scorcher of a summer, it’s too hot to sleep with the windows open and it’s also too hot to drink inside the pub so everyone crams around the four small benches they have outside and pretends it’s the middle of the day so there’s no need to even attempt to be quiet…This poem was written when it was obvious sleep was going to be impossible until they’d all got bored of each others company and staggered home.
There is an illustrated version of this poem on ‘Commaful’, available here :
Please note that you don’t need to sign in to view, you can just close the sign in pop up and the poem should still play normally.
Just a bit of fun with a slightly serious point at the end; i.e. not all religions have a sense of humour. We live in a world dominated by the extremes, (he who shouts loudest etc…) even though most of us are quite happy to be moderate, and respect each other’s differences. Druids are a spiritual lot, who believe in living in harmony with the natural world, with respect for all beings. So probably the least likely to stop you in the street and tell you that you’re doomed if you don’t give up everything you own and follow them immediately. I think I may be part-Druid…
A life in care
I think like most people, I find the mere thought of Dementia terrifying. Of losing your identity, losing exactly what makes us who we are: our minds, the respect of others and the fragile self-respect that we spend all our lives trying to protect. The fact that the mind and the soul are inextricably linked in our thinking just adds to the confusion, and I have the utmost admiration for people that work in the care industry and do the job with compassion and understanding, often for little reward. The first stanza deals with the smell that greets you every time you walk in through the door, a curious mix of smells, none of them particularly pleasant. ‘Fruits of a life…shells’ refers to the use of a patient’s assets to pay for the cost of care. It’s strange that most first world countries ship the old and infirm into care homes, whereas developing countries will tend to care for them in the family home, which feels so much more humane. Perhaps it’s because we have got used to living much more independent, busy lives, perhaps it’s because we live much longer than they do, or perhaps it’s because they have a stronger sense of family.
Martov goes to Barnsley
Julius Martov was a politician and revolutionary who was a friend and mentor of Leon Trotsky and political opponent of Vladimir Lenin, who confessed in 1921 that his single greatest regret was “that Martov is not with us. What an amazing comrade he is, what a pure man.”
The poem imagines what would have happened if an idealist such as Martov had stood on a soap box and tried to get elected in Barnsley, which would be regarded like many former industrial towns in the north as a Labour stronghold. So, about as left as you can get in England but still not quite as far left as Martov!
Quirrel in a kilt
This poem plays with two truisms; the Scots aren’t overly keen on the English and the Red Squirrel population (the ‘Quirrels in the poem ) has been all but wiped out in England by the grey squirrel. Most of the remaining Reds are now found in Scotland, presumably not there for the weather! The poem is a conversation between a ‘Quirrel and some poor badger he’s cornered, probably in some Glasgow pub towards the end of the night when he’s a bit worse for wear. The idea was to keep the rhythms random mimicking the way a squirrel / ‘quirrel runs, stop, start, quick, slow, but never smooth and never straight. For more about the ‘quirrels, follow this link:
Yup, it’s all about the rhythm. Loosely based on the fairy tale, young attractive girl from the country goes (by train, would you believe!) into the big bad city for a night out. The ‘Watchers’ refer first to the railway workers who have to stop as the train goes past, and then to the men in the nightclub eyeing up the talent. But of course, like all good fairy tales, she has to get home before the last train.
Years ago, many many years ago, I used to sell flowers at the side of the road. It was a great job if you liked your own company, because you spent most of your time on your own doing nothing, so fortunately I liked to read, and you could practically finish a book during a weekend, unless it was Mother’s Day weekend. This poem centres around a rather large lad (‘Porky, freckles’) who has a very active imagination and a passion for gingerbread men. It’s Halloween, so he’s telling a horror story (the Bold bits with caps) to his audience of sweets (‘chocolate mice and gingerbread men’). But he keeps getting interrupted by people wanting to buy flowers.
Poem in a bottle
We live in a world of instant communication. You can send a message quicker than it takes to think it. The ‘cliche’ is ‘a blink of an eye’ or perhaps quicker than a sneeze? The ‘shell’ refers to the bullet casing which is empty after the shell has been fired from a gun. The poet wants to take a more leisurely approach to his poem, so places it carefully in a (glass: no plastic pollution) bottle and throws it into the sea, at which point he then wonders how it will be found. being a cynic, he assumes that the glass will smash on some rocks and cut the toe of some young hunk running on a beach somewhere on the opposite side of the world in about a hundred years or so (the Tasman sea separates Australia and New Zealand, including the bit where Tasmania is). Obviously if his paper poem gets wet, it’s ruined, meaning that he should have saved himself the effort and sent it by email…
A Dog’s Life
It’s funny how we often assume human emotions for animals, just because they may have such expressive faces. This is just taking that idea to it’s logical conclusion of an old female dog (aka a ‘bitch’, so I wasn’t being derogatory!) musing about her lot in life.
Medecins Sans Frontieres
MSF (Doctors without borders) are an amazing organisation, who provide free medical care in many places that would otherwise have little or none. Many of the hospitals that they set up in war zones are deliberately targeted, and many of their healthcare volunteers end up paying the ultimate sacrifice for their altruistic nature. The poem is centred around the wife of a Muslim doctor who is searching in vane for the body of her dead husband, so that she can have it washed prior to burial, which would be important to her (The body would have to be washed by an adult Muslim an odd number of times, ideally by a member of the family who is of the same sex as the deceased). ‘Harun’ is her son, ‘Jannah’ is paradise and ‘Insh’Allah’ means ‘if God wills it’.
If you would like to learn more about Medecins Sans Frontieres, here is a link to their website; https://www.msf.org.uk
I’ve always loved the rain, but prefer to be inside watching it lash down the window than out in the middle of the park, still a good fifteen minutes away from the front door. But there is a point when you get so wet that you actually give up caring about trying to be dry and just embrace the fact that the weather has won this particular battle! Which is how this poem started out; drenched to the skin and actually in complete awe of the power of Nature, which made me think of climate change which was really starting to make the news at the time, with the Extinction Rebellion protests. ‘The unforgiving star’ is naturally the Sun, and I think the rest of it is pretty obvious…oh, and the picture is of course, Greta.
Man & Dog
This was written around the time that my 15 year old dog was driving me bananas, needing the toilet every couple of hours, which isn’t ideal when you live in a 2nd floor apartment. I imagined what it would be like for someone, perhaps a bit older and less able, living at the top of a high story block in one of those big 60’s soulless housing estates (‘the dream derailed’ ‘concrete grey….loveless lines’) who would also have to worry about young lads in hoodies (‘a few feral’) looking to prey on the weak and vulnerable. The ‘scent of fumes’ could be pollution, weed or both and ‘the other half long cold’ refers to his dead wife, who’s dog it was in the first place (‘her beloved hound’).
This is an updated version of a poem I wrote about 30 years ago. Unfortunately all my old ramblings got destroyed when weather got the better of the shed I was storing all my paperwork in, but the first two lines are the same, if not much else! I’m often intensely glad that I didn’t grow up in the age of online dating apps, which definitely favour those blessed with good looks and a thick skin, and the poem is trying to imagine what it’s like to be single in today’s world. ‘Angry hits the random’ refers to a lad who has had way too much to drink, the girl he’s been eyeing up has made her excuses and left, so he has a fight with some random stranger. ‘Sophie’s sweet…etc’ Sophie Sweet is a porn star, and I’m pretty sure that there must be at least one called Tanya.
As the title suggests, this poem is about a woman’s reaction to a stillbirth. Her partner has left her because of her reaction to his attempts to help (‘every intimate touch….strangled at birth’). She naturally still feels numb inside (‘echoes…silent in her mind’) and finds herself drumming her fingers (‘drum quiet rhythms’) in the night without realising. It’s almost as if she’s waiting to wake up out of her nightmare, but can’t, her thoughts are ‘like flies’ waiting for a daylight (‘endless nights to wake’) that never comes. She is ‘a shadow’ of who she used to be, but she is not really consciously aware of it (‘a vague truth’). As she drifts off to sleep it’s like she stops thinking (‘debris….cracks as floats away’), but it’s not replaced by anything positive, more an absence of emotion (‘wallpaper without emotion’) and at the back of her mind the quiet drumming of fingers ready to remind her the second she wakes up (‘the faint drum, waiting’).
This poem is in the spirit of the song ‘Every Breath You Take’ and centres around a busy market with a street cafe where there is a large screen showing 24 hour news. The poet sees the newsreader (reading the latest ‘North to South’) as ‘perfection’ (‘crisp. clean. white’ & ‘no dark places’). No-one can really hear what is being said (‘with the volume drowned’)(‘just your eyes….without the sound’), often the view of the screen is obscured (hubbub of hats..) and the poet is just left to his imagination, as he guesses what the stories would be (a coach crash abroad, the death of a forgotten actress or a pregnant panda) and he is reminding her at the end (though obviously she’s no idea about him) that whatever the stories, he’ll be glued watching her, fantasizing, even though he hasn’t a clue what she’s saying.
I was wandering around the garden at the back of the apartment and I came across this very sorry looking bird, who didn’t look like it was long for this world. There were feathers everywhere and presumably it had lost a fight with one of the many cats (‘as the feathers attest’) that lurk around the gardens but the weird part was that when I looked closer there were these big fat flies sitting on it, almost as if they were waiting for the end (Nature’s curse to kick). It kept hopping around the garden (‘a bob or two towards a bush’) but presumably couldn’t fly and I remember being grateful that I was slightly higher up the food chain than the pigeon, before I remembered that none of us know when we are going to slip off this mortal coil unless we have some form of terminal condition. I decided to bring the poet down to earth, imagining that they had earlier been told that they had Early Onset Dementia (‘Early and Dementia’), which would make them feel a little less ‘superior like a lord’.
This is about a woman who’s just had a row with her husband (‘a row to rue’, ‘the other child yawns’,’a grumpy Greek’) just before going away on a holiday to Italy, a holiday which she will now take with just her young child, perhaps to visit relatives, since she seems to know the place (‘staring at endless shores’). She’s struggled to pack the suitcase and had to sit on it etc, to close it, then wrap it up with sticky brown tape to keep it from bursting open. At which point she realises that she’s forgotten to pack the sterilising kit, so she has to unwrap all the tape from the ‘mummified’ case and then lose a few items (heels and a skirt) before repacking with the sterilising kit now included. She’s also used one of his best shirts (‘thoughtfully lined’) to cover a hole to protect her clothes. Her husband refuses to help because ‘his job is just to drive’ (her to the airport) which presumably was something that came up in the argument (‘remember?’). As she looks at her suitcase which is bulging at the seams and quite battered, she suddenly hopes that it doesn’t get wet on the journey (rain soaked here), or all the clothes will get wet too at which point she starts to think about the holiday (‘staring at endless shores’) and the fun in the sun she might have (‘enjoying an Italian’) which has been left deliberately ambiguous as to whether she is talking about Italian wine or men, though the ‘close your ears, little one’ hints at the latter.
The idea here is the antithesis of the ‘good little woman’. An Alpha-female, perhaps akin to the Villanelle character in Killing Eve. She is bored with her latest ‘Tinder’ conquest (starts with a swipe’) so she chains him to the bed while he’s asleep and sends him a text to tell him she’s off to find someone more exciting.
Reduction by Seduction
Just having a bit of fun with metered rhyming verse, took about an hour to write the first 29 stanzas, and about three weeks trying to get an ending I was happy with! I think the problem with this type of poetry is that it’s very easy to go on and on and on, but the longer you go on, the more impact you need to finish.