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.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

heart (w)rap by Shamshad Khan

heart (w)rap

i strap my heart
bind it strong

was how i presented it to you

how you questioned me
on what was in this strange parcel

first tentatively
and then held it in your hands
and feeling the warmth
and faint beat
you guessed

and since
have tugged at the string
i so carefully bound
in protection

how you teased open
layer after layer
unravelled it all
until it lay open before you

how you were repulsed
when you saw
the pale blood drained flesh

i too drew back

hardly recognising the half healed mass
before us
disgusted by the scars
you did not ask
in what battle they were won

but fled

“the faint hearted”
i whispered to myself
“won’t inherit”

and began again
to bind.

The Fire People: A Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets, ed. by Lemn Sissay (Edinburgh: Paperback Press, 1998), 59-60.

Spider Woman by Shamshad Khan

Spider Woman

She spun the argument
with a thread
he could not follow

the delicate construction

until he



gentle destruction.

The Fire People: A Collection of Contemporary Black British Poets, ed. by Lemn Sissay (Edinburgh: Paperback Press, 1998), 58.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Minerva by C. H. Sisson


If silence were enough
I might well have it here,
And yet the word will puff
And blow until I hear

As it climbs the vast hill
From the dark pit where none
Can apprehend it till
It sees the distant sun.

In the pit only sleep;
In the sun only death:
One moment on the steep
It draws a waking breath.

I go to meet it where
It touches life at full:
‘Salut, mon fils, mon frère,
Touch hands, but do no pull.’

You pull, and I go down
Where silence holds me fast.
I pull, and with a frown
You mutter and push past.

Only a moment’s poise
Gives us a common mind,
Mere silence and mere noise
Shown up as being blind,

As when, before a form
Containing all I seek,
I recognise a norm
And do not try to speak.

C. H. Sisson, Antidotes (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991), 36.

Looking by C. H. Sisson


Look, looker, if you will,
But what you see,
That shape, that colour, still
Is no-wise me.

So beauty is a dream
And ugliness the same:
To seem, to seem, to seem
Is all that’s in a name.

C. H. Sisson, Antidotes (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991), 40.

The Birth of Venus by C. H. Sisson

The Birth of Venus

So she stepped naked on to the shore and broke
Into a thousand pieces as she awoke
To life in sunlight, and forgot the sea.
The spray blinded all to her symmetry.
Imagination saw a pearly flesh;
The hand that touched it found it cool and fresh,
And moulded it, complete from top to toe.
A liar then asserted that it was so.

C. H. Sisson, Antidotes (Manchester: Carcanet, 1991), 28.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Evolution by Edwin Brock


One wave
sucking the shingle
and three birds
in a white sky

one man
and one idea
two workmen
and a concrete mixer

one wave
white walls
bird and sky

two workmen
and a concrete mixer

white walls
wave and windows
bird and sky

wave and white rooms
walls and windows
lights and sky

five hundred men
and a computer

desks and days
white walls
lights and
one computer

rooms and men
one computer
desks and days

rooms and windows
desks and lights
lights and days
and days and rooms

desks and rooms
days and lights
daylight in
and days
in desks
and days
in days

and one man
dreaming of

one wave
sucking the shingle
and three birds
in a wide sky

Edwin Brock, A Cold Day at the Zoo (London: Rapp and Whiting, 1970), 16-7.

Autobiography by Edwin Brock


Draw three sides
of a square

cap it with
an inverted vee

call it a house

imagine the house

call it a home

pin this picture
to a wall

travel by the sea

throw stones
for dogs

eat sleep
arrange things

quietly by the sea

the dogs

and the stones
have gone

then travel

to three sides
of a square

capped with
an inverted vee

imagine it

and arrive

Edwin Brock, A Cold Day at the Zoo (London: Rapp and Whiting, 1970), 11.