Archive for April, 2011


‘But the worst mistake I made was that stupid suburban prejudice of anti-semitism.’ Ezra Pound

Sitting in a traghetto, Olga Rudge

from Ohio and Ezra Pound from

Idaho – together fifty years,

from concert violinist to poet’s helpmate,

poet maker to fascist propagandist,

he, typically, with stick, wide brimmed hat,

floppy collar, she, wearing woollen gloves,

left hand clutching a large, canvas bag, right hand

a carefully folded scarf, dressed, like any

elderly woman, for a chilly day –

look away separately into the distance.

Five years before Pound’s death, Allen Ginsberg,

from New Jersey, on a sort of Grand Tour,

kissed him on the cheek and forgave him,

on behalf of the Jews, for his ‘mistake’.

‘Do you accept my blessing?’ asked Allen.

‘I do’, said Ezra. What closure! What chutzpah!

Held in a cage in Pisa, lit day and night,

jeered at as a traitor and a coward

by GIs who had battled from the south,

he wrote: ‘What thou lovest well remains,

the rest is dross’.






Note: The poem has subsequently been published at


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'East End Girl, Dancing The Lambeth Walk' Photo by Bill Brandt

He’s set it up, of course. Or, rather, framed it.

There’d be no feigning this young woman’s delight

in being ‘free and easy’ and doing

‘as you darn well pleasy’. She’s got her best blouse on,

with shoulder puffs, her sister’s shoes, which fit her now,

black ankle socks and shoulder length, unpermed hair

freshly washed – and waved, probably with Kirby grips.

Doin’ the walk, she lifts the hem of her skirt,

revealing her slip – and smiles coquettishly.

Beside her is a line, a queue almost of

female acolytes. (The only boy looks away).

They’re pre-pubescent, excited, nervous at what they see:

grown up clothes, shapely legs, unimaginable bust,

a sensuousness that, unwilled, will be theirs.

Down the street of terraced houses, symmetrical

as barracks, a woman strides, her back turned

on this miracle: a girl who knows

she will never grow old – ‘Any ev’ning,

any day…Doin’ the Lambeth Walk.’ Oi!



Note: the piece was first published on the site in April 2009.

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I am a gumshoe tailing mortality,

a shammus staking out history,

death’s sleuth. The past has bequeathed itself,

its deceiving legacy of meanings.

Here is the evidence, thronging the cramped,

provincial streets – the line of a wall,

family remembrance, an ancient name.

Before terraces and villas, before

canal and railway, under pavements

and metalled roads, beneath fields is lost heathland,

a forsaken brook. There are only stones

and ghosts and the heart’s testimony – childhood,

ambition, emptiness.




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The silence woke her. Beyond the locked door

by now her maids should be chattering

in that harsh tongue. She went to the window.

Even the gulls on the battlements were mute.

And no guards on the ramparts, nobody

in the bailey. The straits were the colour

of the emerald at her neck – her father’s

wedding gift. A barque moved edgily

through the sands. Its pennants spoke of home.

The island’s coast was clear in the sun.

She imagined the light summer wind

stirring its fecund, strategic fields.

Her door was unlocked, opened and flung wide.

The Prince held a red cloth. “Cover your eyes.”

As she tied the cloth in place, he said,

“Who can find a virtuous woman?”

He put his hand in the small of her back,

steering her from her chamber into his,

impelling her to the window. She felt

the gentle air from the valley, inhaled

the woods and the river. He pulled the cloth

hard from her head.  Eyes shocked wide in death,

her lover hung from a gibbet. She watched

the body move this way, that way; listened

to the rope creak; turned to her husband.

“Until I die, I shall count the years

I will have loved him as a benison.”



Note: The poem has subsequently been published at


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Rome’s legionnaires quarried its sandstone cliffs

and Ptolemy put the Dee on the map.

William the Conqueror, in winter,

force-marched his army over the Pennines

to reach the river and waste the town – the last

to submit.  For eighteen years, Prince Gryfyd

ap Cynan, shut in the keep, heard only

the river’s voice, dyfrdwy, dyfrdwy.

Parliament’s forces sent fire rafts downstream

to purge besieged citizens. On its banks,

King Billy’s infantry was camped

while, in the silting estuary, his fleet

provisioned for Ireland.


The winter I had scarlet fever

my mother read me Coral Island.

While I was deliriously admirable –

with Ralph, Jack, Peterkin – Mao’s Red Army

crossed the Yalu. One person’s commonplace

is another’s Road to Damascus.

When the Apprentice Boys shut fast the gate,

they had the Pope’s blessing.


Standing on the leads of Phoenix Tower

(eponymously, King Charles’), he saw

his cavalry routed on the heath, scattered

through its gorsey hollows and narrow lanes.

Watching Twelfth Night,  Charles crossed out the title

on his programme and wrote, ‘Malvolio –

Tragedy’. He was a connoisseur of

defeats. ‘I’ll be revenged.’


On a Whit Monday, long before bandstand,

suspension bridge and pleasure steamers,

two watermen rowed an outing of girls.

When one of the men threw an apple,

they jostled to catch it. Shrill scrambling

upturned the boat and drowned them, lasses and men…

A school acquaintance, bright, admired, sculling

late on a December afternoon,

somehow – where the river curves like a sickle

round meadowland – upset the skiff and drowned

beneath that ‘wisard stream’.


Even here are Principles and the Sword.

Two Christian martyrs share one monument

on Richmond (then Gallows) Hill: George Marsh,

John Plessington, Protestant, Catholic –

distanced by three monarchs, a civil war,

a regicide and a little doctrine –

each burnt by the others’ brothers in Christ.

When Bobby Sands had starved himself to death,

some houses flew black flags.


In the ten minutes or so it took me,

one bleakly raw February-fill-the-Dyke day,

to cross the ‘twenties suspension bridge,

pass the Norman salmon leap and weir,

return across the 14th century

three arch sandstone bridge to where I started,

by the bandstand with cast iron tracery,

the rising river – awhirl with the debris

of factories,  mountains, centuries

– had covered the towpath.




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