Tag Archives: Poetry

The psycopathic reminiscence of a God-bothering, intermittent punk rocker

As I was rummaging through boxes, I found a book that I used to write in when I was about 14/15.  I have been trying to find this book for years because it has a poem in it that I have never been able to find anywhere else.  I have now discovered that this was because I’d got his name wrong.  I shall share it with you on Sunday.

Reading through this book, which was cunningly called ‘My Book’ was quite an eye opener.  Firstly the front cover was decorated with the ‘Madness’ logo of the M-shaped man in the pork pie hat, as well as the names of my favourite bands (The Clash, 999, The Undertones, REM etc), intertwined with leaves and flowers – how very middle class.

The contents, however, were an uncomfortable miasma of my favourite poems, my own poetry (which wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been), the poems of an older girl who was a friend but who wrote excruciating verses about love and kittens, and an awful lot of psalms and passages from the Bible.  In those days I was an unmitigated God Botherer (despite being a punk of convenience) and I remember long and earnest discussions in the Christian Union which eventually turned me off Jesus and onto Wicca, in whose leafy embrace I remained until only a few years ago.

And the handwriting!  I had decided that the truly poetic of heart would write with a slopier, more ornate hand, but what I developed over the course of the book would have caused a graphologist to brand me a psychopath and deviant of the first water.  Tiny, almost horizontally slanting letters, with great curling heads and tails and with illegibly distorted forms – virtually code, and I can only read it now with a magnifying glass.

But I can’t fault my taste in poetry; Keats, Tennyson, Donne, Blake.  I had only just discovered John Donne who was introduced, as an aside, by a supply teacher of great merit, who also switched on my passion for Chaucer.

It seems particularly apt that I should find this book just days before I’m due to go to my school reunion – a kind of pilgrimage is ever there was one.

So pricketh hem Nature in hir corages
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;

Sondry londes indeed.

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Sunday Poem 84

Robert Browning had very little formal education and gleaned most of his knowledge from his father’s library, including a smattering Latin and Greek.   He lived with his parents in South London, travelling once to St Petersburg and twice to Italy and during this time published his poetry at his parents’ expense.

He secretly married Elizabeth Barrett in 1846 and they spent most of their married life in Italy.  Elizabeth was a poet of considerable distinction in her own right and was extremely productive during this time, including the production of a son.  After her death in 1861, Robert returned to England where he achieved significant success with his poetry which embraced predominantly classical subjects.  He died in Venice in 1889.

April – by Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Oh, to be in England now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England  – now!

And, after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

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Sunday Poem 80

Louis Macneice was born in Belfast, Ireland, son of a schoolmistress and a retired farmer.  He was educated in England and studied Philosophy and Classics at Oxford.  Although he associated with left wing poets such as Spender, Auden and Isherwood, he was somewhat politically ambivalent and mistrusted political parties and any dogmatic philosophy.

He wrote a significant number of books, plays and poetry and was employed by the BBC to produce and write radio programmes and, by the end of WW2, had written over sixty programmes for them.

In the 1950s Macneice had began to drink heavily and this affected not only his marriage and future relationships but also his ability to complete his work.  By 1958 he was employed part time by the BBC leaving him the rest of the time to devote to his own writing.  Despite living on alcohol and precious little else, he was still turning out plays and poems.

In 1963, MacNeice went down into a mineshaft to check on sound effects whilst on location with the BBC for his final radio play ‘Persons from Pawlock’.  After being caught in a storm, he failed to change out of his wet clothes and developed bronchitis which evolved into pneumonia.  He died aged only 55.

Soap Suds – by Louis Macneice (1907-1963)

This brand of soap has the same smell as once in the big
House he visited when he was eight: the walls of the bathroom open
To reveal a lawn where a great yellow ball rolls back through a hoop
To rest at the head of a mallet held in the hands of a child.

And these were the joys of that house: a tower with a telescope;
Two great faded globes, one of the earth, one of the stars;
A stuffed black dog in the hall; a walled garden with bees;
A rabbit warren; a rockery; a vine under glass; the sea.

To which he has now returned.  The day of course is fine
And a grown-up voice cried Play! The mallet slowly swings,
Then crack, a great gong booms from the dog-dark hall and the ball
Skims forward through the hoop and then through the next and then

Through the hoops where no hoops were and each dissolves in turn
And the grass has grown head-high and an angry voice cries Play!
But the ball is lost and the mallet slipped long since from the hands
Under the running tap that are not the hands of a child.

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Sunday Poem 76

Edwin Arlington Robinson was born in Maine, USA in 1869. His family was poor and, although he attended Harvard for two years, he could not afford to continue.  He moved into a house in Greenwich Village with other artists and writers and, in the 1890s, he started to publish poetry.  With the help of President Roosevelt, he published more work and acquired a job, which meant that he was able to support himself and devote his spare time to his poetry.

His poetry was popular and he won three Pullitzer Prizes. Although he wasn’t groundbreaking or particularly innovative in his style or subject matter, he certainly gained legendary status in America.  He died in 1935.

This poem* is a stern warning to all of us that we never truly know what people’s lives are like and that the grass is rarely greener on the other side.

Richard Cory – by Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869-1935)

Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favoured, and imperially slim.

And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.

And he was rich – yes, richer than a king –
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
and went without meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

*  I found this poem in a lovely anthology called ‘Best Loved Poems’ ed. Neil Philip.  It has many familiar pieces but also poems I haven’t come across before, by people I haven’t heard of.  It’s also beautifully illustrated by Isobelle Brent.

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Sunday Poem 22

My thanks to Affer for recommending this poet.  Julia Deakin is a copywriter in Huddersfield who only started writing poetry because she was forced to when she undertook an MA in Poetry.  She is also a part time lecturer at Bradford University.  She describes the view from her house as “Wuthering Heights with central heating”.  See what you think of this.

Small dreams of a doormatby Julia Deakin 1956

I shall do such things… what they are yet I know not
– King Lear

Go on then – don’t make eye contact
just walk all over me, I know my place
among the lowest of the low, pushed into doorways
under everything and everyone;
you’d put me right out if you could, except – I have my uses.
Wipe yourself off on me then call me dirty? We shall see.
It’s murder here: the wind whistles viciously under the draught excluder
and I bear the brunt of every booted stranger like a scar.

Smutty bastards, lady mucks! I harbour grime:
caked and hardened to a crust its dust becomes me
and my filthy mind. Biding my time, dreaming low-down dreams
of multicoloured silken-tufted flying carpets
morning and evening, from your going out until your coming in
night after night, year after year
I lie here, bristling.

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Sunday Poem 13

I apologise for the lateness of the Sunday Poem.  I am sorry to say that the Wartime Housewife went to a party last night and got, in the modern parlance, trashed.  Also the computing machine is on yet another ‘go slow’.

I do not apologise, however, for my choice of Remembrance Day Poem.  Wilfred Owen is my favourite poet, indeed one of my children is  named after him, and also after a great uncle who died on day one of the Battle of  The Somme . 

I studied this poem for a Speech and Drama Exam at school and the imagery of it has never left me.  I think in these times, when the morality of conflict is so uncertain, the irony of the final words, translated as “How sweet and fitting it is to die for one’s country” seems more appropriate than ever.

Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen 1893-1918

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned out backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

Gas!  GAS!  Quick boys! – An ecstacy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime …
Dim, though the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, –
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

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Sunday Poem 12

I thought it was about time that we heard from our newest Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.  This is the first poem in her anthology ‘The World’s Wife’ and it sends shivers down my spine.  I’m not really sure why.

Little Red-Cap by Carol Ann Duffy

At childhood’s end, the houses petered out
into playing fields, the factory, allotments
kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men,
the silent railway line, the hermit’s caravan,
till you came at last to the edge of the woods.
It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.

He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,
red wine staining his bearded jaw.  What big ears
he had!  What big eyes he had!  What teeth!
In the interval I made quite sure he spotted me,
sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,

my first.  You might ask why.  Here’s why.  Poetry.
The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,
away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place
lit by the eyes of owls.  I crawled in his wake,
my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer
snagged on twig and branch, murder clues.  I lost both shoes

but got there, wolf’s lair, better beware.  Lesson one that night,
breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem.
I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for
what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?
Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws
and went in search of a living bird – white dove –

which flew straight from my hands to his open mouth.
One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said,
licking his chops.  As soon as he slept, I crept to the back
of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books.
Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,
warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood.

But then I was young – and it took ten years
in the woods to tell that a mushroom
stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds
are the uttered thoughts of trees, that a greying wolf
howls the same song at the moon, year in, year out,
season after season, same rhyme, same reason.  I took an axe

to a willow to see how it wept.  I took an axe to a salmon
to see how it leapt.  I took an axe to the wolf
as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw
the glistening virgin white of my grandmother’s bones.
I filled his old belly with stones.  I stitched him up.
Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.

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