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You are viewing Poetry

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

i.m. John Wareham

 

The tide of chance may bring
Its offer; but nought avails it!

THE OPPORTUNITY Thomas Hardy

 

Each week on Tuesday promptly at seven –

chicken curry and chips from Barry Wong’s

on West Derby Road at the ready –

he and I would turn on the TV

in our rented rooms to watch Hughie Greene’s

‘Opportunity Knocks’.  It was an hour –

including adverts – of metaphors

of the mid-sixties: kitsch;

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THE POET’S EYE

Maya Angelou would pronounce ‘poetry’

with each syllable given equal, gentle

weight, and the first two clear as a call, a soft

sonorousness as if water spoke.

 

***

 

There are few words in the English lexicon

with so many, diverse, Attic meanings

as ‘poet’: maker, inventor, composer,

speech writer, legislator, author:

images of workshops, and lecterns;

chambers with high ceilings and long windows;

the law’s austere and tempered modalities;

stanzas memorised then taught by rote;

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THE GRAIN LOFT

There are gaps between the Velux windows

and the blinds – intentional, of course,

to let in shafts of sunlight. At night

the sodium street lights make arrow shapes

on the bedroom’s walls. Raindrops the flood tide brings

slide like orangey, silvery glitter balls –

almost the colour of the wheat grains

that would have been piled on tarpaulins to dry

on the oak floorboards of this converted loft.

 

Thinking the street lights daylight herring gulls

halloo all night from chimney tops and gables.

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ARS POETICA

For Keith Johnson

 

‘Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.’ Carl Sandburg

 

I presume, since Carl Sandburg was a poet

of the railroad and the five-and-dime,

of prairie skies and the remarkableness

of the people, they are American

biscuits – that cross between scone and bannock –

to mop up the gravy from your beans

on the Chisholm Trail to Dodge City.

 

According to Homer, among others,

Hyakinthos,

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WHAT IS IT THAT STARTS A POEM?

Although it is a cold evening,

down by one of the fishhouses

an old man sits netting…  

AT THE FISHHOUSES Elizabeth Bishop

 

What is it that starts a poem? What rupture –

a fish tugging at a hook? What rapture –

the seventh wave breaking as it should?

Consider Elizabeth Bishop:

fatherless at one; her mother certified

four years later; taken from her grandparents

in Nova Scotia by her father’s parents

in Massachusetts; a Vassar girl

with a private income;

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PAINTING PARADISE

If I were a painter – and I would have

so many memorable titles – I would paint

your garden in all its rooms and seasons:

across the high back wall spring’s coral pink

clematis; summer’s sword-leaved, red-flamed

crocosmia by the aquamarine

gazebo; the white, weathered table and chairs

and the acer on the dark-brick terrace;

plants inherited, self-seeded, handed on

in stewardship – a world compendium.

You are the architect, builder, labourer –

and only begetter: ‘Sylvia Among

Her Sonnets Without Words’

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ORGANISED CRIMES

I watched the TV parade of affluent

(and mostly public school) chancers, liars,

fantasists, hypocrites, law-breakers

vie to top each other’s warmed-up clichés

and self-serving platitudes. The social

and economic future dystopia most

seemed to desire would, they assured us,

bring out the British best in all of us,

just like the Blitz. I thought of bomb-razed

building lots in major cities still empty,

and a tale a cabby told me years ago,

taxiing me from the railway station.

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ALL THIS IS BUT A DREAM

For Barbara and John Huddart

 

On this calm summer evening the North Sea falls

unheard on the wide sands below the castle

in whose inner ward the play is set – and we

(an eclectic collection of friends)

have brought folding chairs, prosecco, pop,

and fish suppers from Seahouses nearby

along this coast of raiders and saints.

 ‘My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

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ACROSS THE ESTUARY

The beds of varicoloured reeds, fields almost,

stretch north and south along this bank for miles,

and westwards, nearly to Wales, across the wide,

silted river. Unseen marsh creatures scarcely

disturb the grasses. Egrets and herons

fly in and out of hidden lagoons.

Before silt, from here, the Dublin packet sailed –

with G.F. Handel and Jonathan Swift.

On the opposite shore are the ruins

of Flint Castle where Richard was dethroned –

‘…night-owls shriek where mounting larks should sing.’

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OUT OF THE EARTH

The park’s diagonal avenue of limes

is in leaf. A warm southwesterly

billows through the foliage like falling surf,

like the tumultuous rushing of flames.

I watch you walk away under the trees,

and disappear into the green shade.

 

On the path directly opposite,

across an uncluttered expanse of grass,

you reappear some moments later,

undeterred by a surge of carefree cyclists

taking short cuts, or self-absorbed dog walkers.

You vanish beyond the wind-swept tennis courts.

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