Thursday, 10 April 2014

Now by Laurence Lerner


Yes, now, as I entered the tube,
As the door slid shut with unconcern,
As no-one looked up, I felt your grip
Tighten, and now my blood
Races in tunnels from you.
                                       Listen, now,
You catch at my heart and then let go.
I know those fingers, recognise the touch,
The tearing muscles, the insensate lurch,
The dip and the recovery of my heart.

My heart beats fast at its ring of fat,
Will go on beating as long as blood
Gets through the gap ; till I drop down dead
I will feel in my limbs what my heart is at.

As I did just now. The train moves on,
Flows in the tunnel like blood and the men
Rustle their newspapers. It’s not true
That it doesn’t hurt when you run your nails
Along the tissues. And what leaps up
When your fingers flex is no longer hope.
What flows in my veins is only blood.

Let me go. This time. Just this once
Let the train move on and the door slide shut
And you on the platform. No-one’s heart
Is stronger than so many times, and – now –
That was another. It isn’t true
That habit and newspapers kill the pain.
You can dry my blood though I know you so well.
I carry you with me. I always shall.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

Adam names the creatures by Laurence Lerner

               Adam names the creatures

. . . And him, and him, and then
That big one there in baggy skin,
The stamper. He roars, and sends,
Three messages into the air :
Two silver slivers and a wave of dark
– See how it lifts, and bends !

I’ve seen that darkness since,
Coiled round a tree. It shines,
It rears on air, it rides
(The bending grass divides).
Its tongue goes in and out,
Testing the temperature. It twists.

How can I come by all these names ?
Never by trying.
The world’s too empty, I must make them up.
Naming’s not lying.
Don’t ask me why I do it : I was told.
‘Look,’ he said, ‘lion, tiger, dog,
Goat,’ he said, ‘spider, hog –‘
But those don’t count, he said them.
A name is what you find.
Outside ? or in your mind ?

(When Eve lies down
Her breasts are flat,
Her belly is a bowl.
She has no breasts, but petals,
Bruises of red, that’s all.
She has geraniums.)
That’s it, that’s it,

Who bit those leaves ?
Who scooped Eve’s silhouette, with one clear stroke ?
It has three breasts, it is
An in and out of yellow green,
It is a perfect curve, a woman leaf,
It is an oak.

I know them now.
The world has come to life.
I name you : elephant.
You needn’t pull your skin up, now.
You needn’t blush, stop stamping, or look pale,
Or dress in shadows :
                  I can see you now.

The darkness that the elephant let fall,
Twisting among the grass, I see that too.
Slanting across a tree its colours break.
Striped tree, dividing grass, I see it all.
I understand the world now :
            Eve ; and God ;
And snake. I call you snake.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

The merman by Laurence Lerner

               The merman

It was because I swam into their net
Because the net was there
The water thickened, there was no way out,
It was because it tangled in my hair
Because it caught the water it caught me,
I left the wet and came to live in air.

I learned to stand on two legs in the dry.
I learned to look at day, at brown and red
Till they went dark. And then I learned to die
And wake when dark was dead.
I learned to change the place I was, with legs.
Learnt to drink the air, but never learnt their talk.

They gave me hungry needing fish to eat
And called it ‘fish’.
Then after needing nothing fish to put
And called it ‘fish’. Fish, fish ; as if the same.
That same, that difference, they call that a name.
I couldn’t talk like that. I couldn’t talk.

When humans talk they split their say in bits
And bit by bit they step on what they feel.
They talk in bits, they never talk in all.
So live in wetness swimming they call ‘sea’ ;
And stand in dry and watch the wet waves call
They still call ‘sea’.
            Only their waves don’t call.

Strange are their pleasures, living in the dry.
Build a long finger on an empty house
And in it sing, four times a moon, and kneel,
And talk sea talk at last, talk what they feel
Not words, not names. I heard their holy song
It said belong, belong.

So one day in the finger house I stood
And sang of wet and swimming in the was,
And happy sang of happy singing till
They came all running noise and sticks of wood
And shouting devil kneel
And devil and that day I found out hurt.

That dark I did not die but ran away
To where the wet and swimming call and wait
And joined myself to swimming. This was back,
It did not hurt to change the way you lay,
It did not hurt to breathe. Just swallowing hurt
At first, till water washed the words out. Yet

I must have tasted too much dry up there
I must have got a taste for words, or air,
Or hurt, or something. Now
I follow ships from afar,
I climb on rocks and sit there till they see,
Till they put off in boats to bring me words
And nets, and hurt. Wait till they’re close and then
Almost reluctant, slip back in the sea.

Laurence Lerner, Selves (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), no pagination.

Hummingbird-Heart by John Moffitt


Greedy bird, you are not more exasperating
Than a certain small person of preference—
You who have formed the alarming habit
Of drinking only out of the Audubon Society’s
Artfully camouflaged feeding-tube
Sugar and water mixed in precise proportions.
Shy, fascinating creature—
Shrilling to me impatiently to move away
Whenever I loom too near for your electric
Shape to dart down to flower level unafraid—
How was I to know you would prove
So fond of refined cane sugar as to make me
Fill your tube two and even three times a day?
How was I to know, amiable pest,
That you would take whatever I have to give—
Importunate, insatiable—
With never a thought of sharing your exquisite small
Self for more than the space contained
Between the opening and shutting of an eye?

John Moffitt, Escape of the Leopard (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974), 18.

Sunday, 16 February 2014


In Mornigan’s park there is a deer,
Silver horns and golden ear,
Neither fish, flesh, feather, nor bone,
In Mornigan’s park she walks alone.

The Faber Book of Popular Verse, ed. by Geoffrey Grigson (London: Faber and Faber, 1971), 39.

Monday, 10 February 2014

[My true Love hath my heart,…] by Sir Philip Sidney

My true Love hath my heart, and I have his,
    By just exchange, one for the other given:
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss;
    There never was a better bargain driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one,
    My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
    I cherish his because in me it bides.
His heart his wound receivëd from my sight,
    My heart was wounded, with his wounded heart;
For as from me, on him his hurt did light,
    So still methought in me his hurt did smart.
        Both, equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss:
        My true Love hath my heart, and I have his.

Everyman’s Book of English Love Poems, ed. by John Hadfield (London, Melbourne, Toronto: J M Dent & Sons, 1980), 44.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Bitter-sweet by George Herbert


AH my deare angrie Lord
Since thou dost love , yet strike ;
Cast down , yet help afford ;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complaine , yet praise ;
I will bewail , approve :
And all my sowre-sweet days
I will lament , and love.

The Works of George Herbert, ed. by F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford: Clarendon, 1941), 171.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Report on Arrival by Robin Skelton

Report on Arrival


They ask me where I was born.
I have no history
but the length of my bones,
and my religion
is the tablet of stone in climbing grass.

They ask me how much I am worth.
In pounds or dollars?
I scrawl dollars upon the sky.

And will I settle here?
Will I ever go back?

The rubber stamp
rolls like a whale on the pad,
and silence waits like a heron.

I can’t go back.

That is why I am here,
why I am breathing.


At thirty-seven I make a new start with the sea
and the peeling arbutus by middens of clamshells humped
up near the Reservation. Officers hope
I’m in work,
                 have a place to live,
                                               won’t let Faith down
by raging through roads that are underseas to green
rag-hanging chestnuts and oaks with a bottle or woman
or setting a mountain ablaze.
                                           I will fire a mountain
someday up-country where bears have the masks of people
and whales tunnel down through the seas, and I will call
         (They said “Call us back”),
                                                spinning black charred fingers
round the numbering disk
                                     “Yes, I have settled
          pretty well fixed,
                                   yeah, doing fine,
protecting the fire from the green,
the blaze from the cold”.


Would you say I was
Tell me
soberly under these trees that drag flat fingers
down on the English roses,
                                        Would you answer
I was a dangerous man?
                                    I don’t lie down,
        without recalling
                                 a woman’s mouth,
a woman’s hands, a woman’s breasts, a woman
mocking the folded roses,
                                       Would you say
now in your letter that I should be given papers,
rights, and freedoms?
                                 Could you ever say
anything safe of this
                                                 grey quail
in wool skirts
                    walk in line
                                     down the sidewalk,
                                     on God Street?


You would rather see photographs?
                    I have photographs
         (taken against the light)
                    of my wife and children
And of a big brown house upon McLaren
        where you think
                    (quite reasonably),
                              that I live,
Having written me there, and
                    getting this answer
        on the right paper,
                                   headed with the right name.
The evidence all points that way.
   There is even a mortgage
      And an insurance policy
                                         which is signed
                    (yes, I admit it)
                             with my name.
                                                   And you
Want photographs of the trees?
                           of the porch?
                           of a sitting
Family smiling?
                        Would rather have that than this
attempt at a genuine map
                                      of an entirely
                different country
                           we are all alone?

Robin Skelton, The Hunting Dark (London: André Deutsch, 1971), 9-11.

Monday, 25 November 2013

[I’d have you, quoth he] by Anonymous

     I’d have you, quoth he.
     Would you have me? quoth she.
             O where, sir?

     In my chamber, quoth he.
     In your chamber? quoth she.
             Why there, sir?

     To kiss you, quoth he.
     To kiss me? quoth she.
             O why, sir?

     ‘Cause I love it, quoth he.
     Do you love it? quoth she.
             So do I, sir.

Lovers, Rakes and Rogues: amatory, merry and bawdy verse from 1580 to 1830, ed. by John Wardroper (London: Shelfmark Books, 1995), 134.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Machine by B. C. Leale


The room exists for the machine
The machine is wheeled into the room
The machine contains the poem
The machine exists for the poem
         which is plugged into light
The rays of light converge on a blank
         freighted with language
There are dense textures and tones
There are weightless phrases
There are solids floating on colours
         as if rocks were the echoes of
         their fires and their seas.

The machine exists for the room
         it gives it meaning
When light wheels out of the machine
         it suddenly breaks.

B. C. Leale, Leviathan and other poems (London, New York: Allison & Busby, 1984), 66.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

‘in heavenly realms of hellas dwelt’ by e e cummings

in heavenly realms of hellas dwelt
two very different sons of zeus:
one,handsome strong and born to dare
—a fighter to his eyelashes—
the other,cunning ugly lame;
but as you’ll shortly comprehend
a marvellous artificer

now Ugly was the husband of
(as happens every now and then
upon a merely human plane)
someone completely beautiful;
and Beautiful,who(truth to sing)
could never quite tell right from wrong,
took brother Fearless by the eyes
and did the deed of joy with him

then Cunning forged a web so subtle
air is comparatively crude;
an indestructible occult
supersnare of resistless metal:
and(stealing toward the blissful pair)
skilfully wafted over them-
selves this implacable unthing

next,our illustrious scientist
petitions the celestial host
to scrutinize his handiwork:
they(summoned by that savage yell
from shining realms of regions dark)
laugh long at Beautiful and Brave
—wildly who rage,vainly who strive;
and being finally released
flee one another like the pest

thus did immortal jealousy
quell divine generosity,
thus reason vanquished instinct and
matter became the slave of mind;
thus virtue triumphed over vice
and beauty bowed to ugliness
and logic thwarted life:and thus—
but look around you,friendsand foes

my tragic tale concludes herewith:
soldier,beware of mrs smith

The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse, ed. by Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1980), 391-2.

Exchange of Letters by Wendy Cope

                                   Exchange of Letters

‘Man who is a serious novel would like to hear from a woman who is a poem’ (classified advertisement, New York Review of Books)


I am a terse, assured lyric with impeccable rhythmic flow, some apt and original metaphors, and a music that is all my own. Some people say I am beautiful.

My vital statistics are eighteen lines, divided into three-line stanzas, with an average of four words per line.

My first husband was a cheap romance; the second was Wisden’s Cricketers’ Almanac. Most of the men I meet nowadays are autobiographies, but a substantial minority are books about photography or trains.

I have always hoped for a relationship with an upmarket work of fiction. Please write and tell me more about yourself.

                                                              Yours intensely,
                                                   Song of the First Snowdrop

The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse, ed. by Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1980), 467.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Ballade Tragique à Double Refrain by Sir Max Beerbohm

             Ballade Tragique à Double Refrain

SCENE: A Room in Windsor Castle        TIME: The Present
           Enter a Lady-in-Waiting and a Lord-in-Waiting

SHE:               Slow pass the hours—ah, passing, slow!
                                 My doom is worse than anything
                        Conceived by Edgar Allan Poe:
                                 The Queen is duller than the King.

HE:                 Lady, your mind is wandering;
                                 You babble what you do not mean.
                        Remember, to your heartening,
                                 The King is duller than the Queen.

SHE:               No, most emphatically No!
                                 To one firm-rooted fact I cling
                        In my now chronic vertigo:
                                 The Queen is duller than the King.

HE:                 Lady, you lie. Last evening
                                 I found him with a Rural Dean,
                        Talking of district-visiting . . .
                                 The King is duller than the Queen.

SHE:               At any rate he doesn’t sew!
                                 You don’t see him embellishing
                        Yard after yard of calico . . .
                                 The Queen is duller than the King.
                                 Oh to have been an underling
                        To (say) the Empress Josephine!

HE:                          Enough of your self-pitying!
                        The King is duller than the Queen.

SHE (firmly):        The Queen is duller than the King.

HE:                 Death then for you shall have no sting.
                                 [Stabs her and, as she falls dead, produces phial
                                 from breast-pocket of coat.]

                        Nevertheless, sweet friend Strychnine,

                        The King—is—duller than—the Queen.

                                 [Dies in terrible agony.]

The Oxford Book of Satirical Verse, ed. by Geoffrey Grigson (Oxford, New York, Toronto, Melbourne: Oxford UP, 1980), 371-2.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Binary by Chris Wallace-Crabbe


WHY does a cauliflower so much resemble a brain? All those pale curved protuberances and hillocks tease the mind into activity . . .  at this point I randomly remember the complicated architecture of a particularly gothic dream. But brains and cauliflowers, ah yes, is this the same kind of parallelism as that which holds between pine cones and pagodas? There we go again, seeking order or duplicity in the stubborn universe. We ask ourselves whether the resemblance between a rose and a cabbage is like that between a clipped hedge and a high tin loaf, coming up with no answer at all. The brain and the cauliflower continue to rise up on their cortices, bubbly fruits that they are. Moon goes around earth goes around sun, et cetera, analogues active everywhere. Echo redeems Narcissus, shadow is touching reflection. We ask ourselves what it all signifies. Somewhere, in shadow, aged sages debate such questions on a lawn all day, over their wine and bananas.

The Oxford Book of Comic Verse, ed. by John Gross (London, New York: Oxford UP, 1994), 438.

Monday, 11 November 2013

To paint a portrait of a bird by Jacques Prévert

To paint a portrait of a bird

First paint a cage
with an open door
then paint
something pretty
something simple
something beautiful
something useful
for the bird
then place the canvas against a tree
in a garden
in a wood
or in a forest
hide behind the tree
without speaking
without moving . . .
Sometimes the bird arrives quickly
but he might also wait long years
before deciding
Do not be discouraged
wait if necessary for years
the speed or slowness of the bird’s arrival
has absolutely no connection
with the success or failure of the picture
When the bird arrives
if he arrives
observe the most solemn silence
wait until the bird enters the cage
and when he enters
gently close the door with the brush
then erase the bars one by one
making sure not to touch the feathers of the bird
Then paint a portrait of the tree
choosing the prettiest of its branches
for the bird
and then paint the green foliage and the freshness of the breeze
the dust of the sun
and the choice of the creatures in the grass in the summer heat
and then wait until the bird decides to sing
If the bird does not sing
it is a bad sign
a sign the picture is bad
but if he sings it’s a good sign
a sign you can sign
Now very gently pluck
one of the bird’s feathers
and write your name in the corner of the picture.

The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry, ed. by Hugh Haughton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988), 409-10.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Confounded Nonsense by Thomas Hood the Younger

Confounded Nonsense

Alpaca pictures of the previous past,
    Droop on the hovering confines of a snore,
And yet one further bloom, conversely vast,
    Springs bright in the perspective of the shore,

Where porphyry wings bear up an ardent pride,
    And rainbows drip from evanescent crags,
Where peaceful popinjays smile side by side,
    And immemorial franchise furls its flags.

So let it be: imperious tumbrils howl,
    And palpitating fixtures utter screeds;
Afar the murmurous aspens hoarsely scowl,
    And purple pageants echo frantic deeds.

Farewell! I see life’s periphrastic orb
    Shiver to scantlings with a latent sound,
Dark ether pours, while shrinking minds absorb,
    And blatant wilderness close around.

The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry, ed. by Hugh Haughton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988), 324-5.

Incantation by Laughter by Velimir Khlebnikov

Incantation by Laughter

         O laugh it out, you laughsters!
         O laugh it up, you laughters!
So they laugh with laughters, so they laugherize delaughly.
         O laugh it up belaughably!
O the laughingstock of the laughed-upon – the laugh of belaughed laughsters!
O laugh it out roundlaughingly, the laugh of laughed-at laughians!
         Laugherino, laugherino,
         Laughify, laughicate, laugholets, laugholets,
                  Laughikins, laughikins,
         O laugh it out, you laughsters!
         O laugh it up, you laughters!

                                                               translated from the Russian by Gary Kern

The Chatto Book of Nonsense Poetry, ed. by Hugh Haughton (London: Chatto & Windus, 1988), 371.