Archive for 2013


Footballers in the park grow younger, play

longer into December nights. In my garden,

leaves decompose. Fogs rise to the window.

I see my father’s features in the glass.


Gulls are grave, funereal in their white

seriousness. Bad weather visitors,

fickle as spume-flecks, they flitter from grass

into heavy skies, craftsmen in gravity.


Winter is too human for comfort.

Natural we should shudder as darkness

drifts in sooner. Ice seasons carry home

truths on incisive air.



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The pool is off the Dorking-Guildford road,

at the foot of the North Downs; is fed

from a spring, which seeps through chalk and flint;

is so-called for allegedly no birds sing

in this glade of ash, oak and yew;

a place of legend, of Druidic worship,

rumoured deep enough to drown secrets.

A sharp March wind rattles twigs and branches.


By the side of a flint pathway – that leads

to the top of the Downs with its Pilgrims’ Way,

an old drovers’ road – is a second world war

‘pillbox’, its unadorned and concrete

symmetry stark, a forgotten reminder

of fears of invasion from Bonaparte

to Hitler – not without reason in this land,

like many, pillaged over and over.


Edward Thomas, after his breakdown,

cycled westward, a century ago,

from Clapham to the Quantocks in pursuit

of spring in turbulent weather like this.

That laureate of the moment – the hoot

of an owl, grass stilled in the heat – briefly stopped here

the year before he wrote his first poem,

two years before he enlisted, three

before a shell blast killed him at Arras.



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I received a call from a literary friend

late some evening in the ‘70s –

I forget the year and the day – to tell me

Yevtushenko would be reading his poems,

the following evening, in Lecture Room 35

at Liverpool Polytechnic.

It was confidential. If they knew,

Zionists would protest

on behalf of the refuseniks.

I thought of his ‘Babi Yar’ –

‘I see myself an ancient Israelite…

And that is why I call myself a Russian!’

Either way, I took no action.




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In an art deco theatre on the Avenue Montaigne

off the Champs Élysées – newly built, its exterior

(for style and mechanics in concrete) the interior

(gilt, lead paint and plush) still smelling fresh – there is a riot

on the evening of May 29th at the premiere

of the ballet, ‘The Rite of Spring’, by Igor Stravinsky,

Vaslav Nijinsky and Nicholas Roerich.


This is the year the House of Romanov celebrates

its three hundredth anniversary, the year there are two

Balkan Wars, Ford introduces an assembly line,

Pablo Picasso paints his Cubist ‘Guitar, Glass and Bottle’

and the first volume – ‘Swann’s Way’ – is published

of Marcel Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time.’


Proust and Picasso were in the first night audience – as were

Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Gertrude Stein: luminaries

of a luminous city. The riot began, it is said,

with derisive laughter as the first notes were played.

Vegetables were thrown. The dancers could not hear the orchestra.

Nijinsky, dancer as well as choreographer,

called out the steps. Forty people were ejected – or maybe

no one was. The impresario, Sergei Diaghilev,

was a master of PR, hence, perhaps, the greengrocery.

Modernism in music was so successfully launched

on an eventually calm sea that Walt Disney used

the opening bars in ‘Fantasia’, conveyor belt art

in the year of the Blitzkreig. Yet art’s truth transcends as always.

How such fierce music and brutal dance overtured, by accident,

the sacrificial Eurasian violence of the rest of the century!




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I pause at the long window where the stairs turn.

The first hard frost of the season has rimed

the moss on the terrace. A neighbour has thrown,

as she does daily, stale bread on the flat roof

of her garage. Two Jackdaws arrive

then a small flock of Black-headed gulls

in winter plumage. The first comers

are aggressive. The gulls hover, swoop, feint,

feed swiftly, rise, return – like dancers.

(How truly ancient is these animal’s

ancestry! How arriviste we primates are!).

All, even the crows, are utterly silent.


I think of last summer: a beach in heat haze

and our three and a half year old grand daughter,

chuckling, chasing, gently, a Black-headed gull –

that had been intent on scavenging

crusts and crisps among the profligate –

then watching it take wing into the mist.


By the year’s end, to my unceasing surprise,

we will be seventy one. We have been

together many more years than apart,

so best to assume we will always be here –

and be deaf to the certainty of silence.



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