Monday, 30 May 2011

Three more music poems

Yes, I've no excuse for blogging these, except that I've been at work all this bank holiday.

The first dates from 2004, and was published in the 2007 Ver Prize anthology from Ver Poets of St Albans.


Vaughan Williams. An upland slope
as steep as team can plough,
a cloud of gulls, a hillside's
sliding shadow.

Butterworth. The sport along
the river-shore, the flow;
and slow chords match the silence
of old film, now.

The second is one of the earliest poems of mine to be be still getting much of an outing, having been first published in the Durham student magazine Palatinate in May 1977.


Banks of black cloud climbed up the sky;
the cathedral became Noah's Ark:
the striking afternoon sun held her straight
against the boomy dark.

But, down in the body ecclesiastic,
something was rotten and soft:
there were intrigues in the vestry that year,

Finally, a sonnet -- one of several I wrote for Radio 3's sonnet competition in the autumn of 2001, though I was allowed to enter only one, and this was not it. It was published in Perimeter 11, 2003.

It's not evocatively musical, as the other two poems in the blog try to be. It namechecks Britten. The Radio 3 indiscretion mentioned in ll. 4-8 was triggered by Britten's Gemini variations. Social mores and Radio 3's presentation style have both changed since 1989; the word awesome has changed its meaning since 2001. But I think it's still the case that a loved one's privacy is not yours to dispense with.


Wilfred Pickles bade Britain Goodneet. The red
light closed. Out at Moorside Edge, sporting no light,
the mast faithfully relayed the way he said
the word. The shock, under the wartime night.

Buoyed up by Britten, one presenter on
Radio Three announced another as
not his twin but his companion,
in '89. The red light stopped. There was

an awesome silence. Out, brief candle; out,
damned spot; an outing and a half! Judas went
out; and it was night. Light out, from twent-
y years of seance failed. Lamps going out

all over Europe. More than going out.
Out, fallen out, down and out; a rout, a rout.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Poems on Radio Teesdale

My sister Sarah co-presents the monthly book programme on Radio Teesdale. I told her when I had come across a reference, in Dorothy Wordsworth's journal (Wordsworth 1960: 213), to the fact that William's poem 'The grasshopper' had been written not far from where Sarah lives. Sarah was delighted to make something of that in a later edition of the programme, and kindly asked if she could read some of my own work on air.

This was in February 2010. Potential themes included February, radio, and love. I was able to send in a poem called 'Utter February' that included a reference to a radio. It had been published in Jared Millar's magazine Perimeter in 2000.


November's cold call
promised a free stereo
radio cassette
for my trial subscription
to the local evening rag.

the paper girl had problems
getting to my flat:
neighbours had to let her in.
I cancelled after a week.

Tonight it's come up,
my free radio cassette:
smaller than I thought,
feeble, few stations, darkness.
It feels very right, somehow.

Not much love in that one. For Radio Teesdale's remaining theme, then, I sent another poem dating from 1997. It's a respectful parody of Yeats' poem 'To be carved on a stone at Thoor Ballylee'.


My wife, the physicist Dr Clare
Sansom, by quantities of email
for automatic writing, share
of her Goodmans midi hi-fi tower,
sound of her beating heart, and power
of love, restored this shattered male;
and may her memory remain
when I am ruin once again.

Yes, 1997: actually written a year or so before we got married. I remember reading it to my mother over the phone, and she said, "You want to hang on to that one, Aidan. It'll improve with keeping." It has.

Wordsworth, D. (ed. Clark, C.). 1960. Home at Grasmere: extracts from the journal of Dorothy Wordsworth (written between 1800 and 1803) and from the poems of William Wordsworth. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

In black and white

This one came to me very quickly, almost in its final form, one December night. It was published in the Cambridge poetry magazine Virtue without terror in 1990. A later appearance was in a payload anthology that I'd feel embarrassed to name.


The staring one's her sister Lily, who,
at Criccieth in nineteen twenty-two,
while others swam and paddled in the bay,
walked on the sea. It was a funny day.
The picture where she does it is so blurred
you can see only light, gone grey. They heard
her words, when they had got her back to sand
and shingle, but they couldn't understand.
They gave her tea. She bravely smiled a try
at drinking it. She could not. It was dry,
all liquids dry, dry as the blackest sun.
Three, four days dry. Then, as it had begun,
it ended: she could swim, and drink, and talk.
No one said anything about the walk,
certainly while their parents were alive.
Lily died in nineteen sixty-six.

Sunday, 8 May 2011


A poem sequence of mine from 2001. Published in Keeping faith, the anthology from the 2003 Spire Trust competition.

(i) Godwin's Law

By Godwin’s Law, you lost at your first mention
of Hitler. Should certain acts be held as sins?
Whichever, calling the Bishops' Conference
a Nazi rally has to unconvince.
Here on, it's automatic: like machines,
we trade what's triggered, empty of what means.

And you, of all men -- you who wrote
(I paraphrase, I do not quote),
if we must choose truth or choose God, choose truth,
so you said once, for when truth wins, God wins.

(ii) Gravity

Spring Harvest -- anxious as the happiness that astonished the stars.
The speakers told us tales, by way of illustration,
from driving, parking, losing, crashing, being driven in cars.
The Riding Lights play made the car central to its narration.

A woman with a stick brought one speaker a note, tight-lipped.
The expert on time management turned up at the end of his session.
The long-wed couple departed badly from their script
that should have led us through married communication.

So many times the mechanism slipped!
Yet for each one, our race seemed all
the more driven by gravity, mechanical.

(iii) The Tallis Fantasia

G major opens --
a dawn chord through five octaves:
the stars sang for joy,
we marvelled at new shadows,
saw the notched stone and skyline.

G major concludes --
bright, compact, and working hard.
Solar-powered watch,
calculator, hot water,
spring sun drives the radio.

G is for the departed glory.
G is for the goodness of the day.