Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Poems to hymn tunes: 'Trentham' and 'Little Cornard'


SAM HUGHES (1824-1898)

(To the tune 'Trentham'  .  Acknowledging 'A lament for Sam Hughes: the
last great ophicleidist' by Trevor Herbert  )

Trentham where he was born,
Three Mile Cross where he died,
these framed the triumphs of his breath:
he played the ophicleide.

Fanfares, chromatic runs --
he played not only these,
but gentle phrases softy breathed
to bands' strong harmonies.

He could have stayed in Wales,
grown Welsh, you say, secure
in comfort and admirers' love,
a champion and more.

He could have learned the new
smart-prized euphonium,
cheaper and easier, and lived
rich with well-earned income.

Footnote to Trentham's tune.
Not Wales, nor progress, he.
Your prose undims his instrument.
He died in penury.


(to the tune ‘Little Cornard’)

Sing of a breaking world!
Nations to strive and part,
points of the compass spin,
nothing is found at heart,
and what you mean by south and north
and west and east has lost its worth.

Sing of a breaking myth!
Dragon on dragon fight!
How did the tale arise,
shouts in a Suffolk night?
No dragon-real time’s known to be,
not even fifteenth century.

Sing of a breaking rule!
Derailment injuries,
horrible grandeur fail,
nothing of that in these:
van bearing matter for a drain
smashed with a level crossing train.

Sing of a breaking sea!
Deep, deep and deep their call,
waves that are high for waves,
boats and a hard landfall.
Our voices falter praying for
all those in peril on the shore.

I mentioned in my blog post on Boxing Day 2019 that I had a Google Maps list of British Isles places with hymn tunes named after them.  The Places of Poetry map, where I'd posted some of my work, was re-opened briefly for posting in October 2020, and I nipped in and put these two poems of mine on it. 

But henceforth my ignorance shows.  I'd like to know why Robert Jackson, a church organist in Oldham, chose to name a hymn tune after Trentham in Staffordshire, some fifty miles away.  Similarly about Martin Shaw and Little Cornard in Suffolk.  Come on, Aidan, you're a librarian.  There's a wealth of published material about these chaps, especially Martin Shaw.  Have a look.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

26 Trees


Paired, my trees mark gates of the old workhouse
(now private residential streets, like many),
surround themselves with (I’ve just learned this word)
suckers – new growth that gardeners control.
Their bark is grey. Not photo grey but live,
gnarled and with recent branches offering
leaves greenfly have holed. The trees stand tall,
one bent. The tree book keeps them with X rating.

This was my contribution to the 26 Trees project, one of many from 26 Characters that have stimulated me since 2015.  My brief was to write 62 words of prose or verse about an individual lime tree (a pair of them was acceptable) in Cambridgeshire, plus 400 words on the background to the species.  Click on the project link above, then follow your nose.

The ex-workhouse is that of St Ives, Cambridgeshire -- across the River Ouse from the town, and now on the eastern edge of the village of Hemingford Grey, whose manor house drew an unrelated poem from me in 2018. 

The X rating is the mark given to the Common Lime in Alan Mitchell's The trees of Britain and Northern Europe, which rates the gardenworthiness of trees as follows:

I -- first-class
II -- good
III -- mediocre
X -- little or nothing to commend it.

And one question in the 400 background words remains unanswered.  Who was this elusive French chemist Missa, and in what century did they live?

26 Trees was a joint project with the Woodland Trust, who generously presented participants with saplings of their species.  What I did with mine is this:

Sunday, 3 May 2020

A letter to the Second World War


Dear Mrs War,
the one middle-aged Britons hanker for,
you happened, so you're not there any more.

Why do we lack, 
seeing your legacies, the will to hack
them for our own day and not want you back?

What should I say?
Not being there, you cannot go away.
Please fade.  Napoleon's did. They had their day.

This poem was originally written in response to one of the prompts in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week.  It was for number 20, to write a poem in the form of a letter. 

It has attained no publication higher than self-publication as part of a social media conversation.  I tweeted it in response to colleague Clare Trowell's disquiet, working from home on a rainy day, at the sound of a Spitfire beyond the clouds.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

This song of gladness

This Song Of Gladness

Beautiful Saviour by Stuart Townend

Verse, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, greater chorus –
yes, a structure to fit the song’s ideas:
verse worship, work, ordinary time,
and chorus echoing something more.

Less sung now than it used to be in our church,
unexpected that Sunday in the Spring.
New out of hospital, I sang it loud,
loud as recovery let me sing.

Biblical language, resonant names of God,
let’s say clear day, let’s say vista,
let’s say journey which has made.
We felt it raise us, we felt it let us see,
with our gathering, yes, our gathering
flying higher than before.

True, nothing inherent in this structure,
which I’ll call A A B A B B dash.
It will not beautify each pairing known
but may serve others, like this song.

Biblical language, resonant names of God,
let’s say clear day, let’s say vista,
let’s say journey which has made.
We felt it raise us, we felt it let us see,
with our gathering, yes, our gathering
flying higher than before.

Biblical language, resonant names of God,
let’s say clear day, let’s say vista,
let’s say journey which has made.
We felt it raise us, we felt it let us see,
with our gathering, yes, our gathering
flying high, high over all.

This poem was originally written in response to one of the prompts in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a weekIt was for number 42, to write about a song.  I chose to write about Stuart Townend's worship song 'Beautiful Saviour'.  After the rediscovery described in the poem, Clare and I spent a Sunday lunchtime talking about the song's structure.

"It will not beautify each pairing known" -- we thought a bit about whether the structure in its most basic terms -- AABABB' -- would have much effect on every pair of things put into it. We tried a couple:

  • Portugal, Portugal, Finland, Portugal, Finland, Finland in winter
  • 60s nurse film, 60s nurse film, cement mixer, 60s nurse film, cement mixer, cement mixers

and concluded that the structure had no magical power to be inherently uplifting.

The poem has now found publication in Orbis 191, spring 2020.  It has benefited somewhat from suggestions by editor Carole Baldock.

Regarding church music more widely, I continue to add to my Google Maps list of places in the British Isles that have given their names to hymn tunes, with 273 at the last count.  During lockdown I have developed an addiction to Ralph Vaughan Williams' tune King's Lynn.

Monday, 23 March 2020

Final places of poetry

I put thirteen poems on the Places of Poetry map, and have so far blogged ten of them. Here are the remaining three.


Centuries to keep
this castle state-of-the-art
that saw no action
till a Civil War slighting
felled its walls into the ground.

Our visit didn't
find the same guidebook as mine
nineteen years before,
but we both together thought
ruins of Cair Paravel.

I liked that guidebook's
leading me through room by time
then on to ramparts
for a vista of the whole.
That was in a work-bad year.

The castle in question is Helmsley Castle in North Yorkshire, and the guidebook that had so pleased me on an earlier visit is by Glyn Coppack.  

The poem was written in response to a prompt in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week. Start now. Keep going.  The prompt, in a chapter contributed by Helen Mort, was for a poem about a significant place out of doors.


(on reading MichaelDrayton revisited by Jean Brink)

They tell us now that Polesworth never was
remembered village to the poet Drayton.
Move just a little, read him cause by cause,
and see the Goodere idyll first unstraighten,
then vanish like cloud-streets. I spurned the good
in my remembered village at first dare,
age five or six: replanned it new Nutwood,
gave people roles round me as Rupert Bear,
and told them so. But nobody enjoyed
co-option in this way by such a lad.
My parents were embarrassed and annoyed.
I had some explanation from my Dad.
Patrons miscast in myth and golden age;
Drayton did that, older than I, little more sage.

Polesworth is the Warwickshire village where Michael Drayton (1563-1631) may or may not have grown up. In 1580, he was in service to Thomas Goodere at Collingham in Nottinghamshire. Nineteenth and twentieth-century scholars, on the basis of scattered allusions, in his poems and dedications, to Polesworth and its River Anker, conjectured that he might have been intimate with the Polesworth branch of Goodere's family. Jean Brink's book, published in 1990, casts doubt on those speculations.

The poem was written in 2008, my entry in a competition for work to be included in the Polesworth Poets' Trail. Entering a poem on doubts about the basis for that enterprise wasn't really a good idea.

The third poem is a piece of reporting, written in 2004. 


The boys quizzed him about his family:
his sister, twenty-one, brother in prison
for murder, fifteen years, somehow missed thirty,
for a debt of around five hundred pounds –
a gang from Milton Keynes, and gypsies. Who owed whom?
which was which? "Gypsies, they're hard," the boys said.
That on my left, across the carriage. Rightwards,
window, and tracks, and other tracks disused,
with gantries over them, hanging no cables,
then trees between the gantries, then big trees.
Welcome to Northampton, home of the Saints.

An anti-Adlestrop! OK,
I know it happens every day,
but commonly when I'm not there;

excuse my noting it as rare.

I imagine I would irritate readers if I included explanations of Cair Paravel, Rupert Bear, and Adlestrop.  If you're reading this online, you can look them up there.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Standard class


The mask of no eye contact, when walking past a beggar,
fits most of us, I reckon, on most streets.
You wore it fixed and you were the still ones
on the train, in other passengers' booked seats.
No selling masks to you whose bad
has pulled your faces into tweets.
Too late. You took a risk against the card,
against the wheels, the racing. Now it's known. Hard.

The above has a very simple publication history.  It was written in October 2019 for the Momaya competition, on the theme of masks, and published in the competition's anthology.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Boston's elevation


(acknowledging John Beckett, 'The city of Boston?', Lincolnshire past & present 49, autumn 2002, p. 18)

Probably not banking the same river
as Botolph's monastery – waters shifted
more in those days – and not an east coast mainline
station since early routes soon shifted too,
but with its tower and famous namesake, why
should Boston, Lincolnshire, not fantasise
above its neighbours? Spalding, Sleaford, King's Lynn
mere towns, but Boston standing as a city
set on a hill cannot be hid, a city
that is at unity. They tried, you know:
in 1944, for their forthcoming
four-hundred-years-of-Charter celebrations,
with help from newly-citied Lancaster,
Boston put in a bid for city status.
But they hadn't Lancaster's royal connections
of duke and castle, weren't a county town,
had non-citied in documentary.
They were politely ushered out. The Charter's
quatercentenary was in the week
of VE Day. And riverwise, my source
says celebrations had to take that course.

This poem is mostly self-explanatory.  It was written in the autumn of 2015 for a Poetry Kit competition on the theme of cities, and published as one of my 13 postings on the Places of Poetry map of England and Wales.

The documentary in which Boston had non-citied was Country town, directed by Sydney Box in 1943.

My interest in Boston was sufficiently piqued by John Beckett's source article for Clare and me to route our 2016 bike tour through the town.  We found the church building a model of itself in Lego, and supplanting thereby an earlier model of the church in wood, that was still lit up in its humbler place at the back.