Monday, 31 October 2011

The fight

This poem of mine appears in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 69, 2011.


Crowded theatre, people burned next --
why, of all books, was this the cause
the question had become so vexed
that they fired off their metaphors?

Self-published, yes, discarded, yes,
elsewhere, but duplicate not shame;
praised by near-experts. Who could guess
this book would be the one to flame?

What could have kept the tinder out?
You'd need more knowledge than you had
if you could smell the spot and doubt.
Asbestos taints. Firewalls go mad.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wikipedia on the village

This poem was written for a 2008 competition on the theme of crossroads. It has been published in Sunrise , the magazine of the East of England branch of my professional body.

No one's yet taken me up on my offer of chocolate for the name of the archaeologist whose memoirs I commented on in that previous post. I hereby offer chocolate similarly for the name of the village, though I reserve the right to award it only to people who couldn't be expected to know my remembered village from knowing me.


You could see York and Beverley, it stated
(across the Wolds? the Humber?), on clear days.
It said the market cross was desecrated
"some thirty years ago" (how's that for haze?)

-- stones taken to mend roads. (The 1970s?)
It smelt Victorian in every word.
1853, with the history's
claim: "I wikified this till I got bored."

So I have turned the village to my own
site of first wikifying. I stripped out
landmarks that weren't, and bailiffs' names long gone,
all 1853 that was in doubt.

I listed beacon, cross and windmill, showed
where you could find more data with ArchSearch.
Of course I scrapped the tale of cross and road.
I kept the paragraph about the church.

It was my church, when younger. Hence I knew
what you could see and not see from the ridge,
the broken cross, flat northward carrland view
beyond. I grew up in the vicarage.

Dreams that I'm back feel late, disturbed. They are.
By day I run a subject library.
Books, e-books, ArchSearch, Wikipedia
form a crossroads that's work enough for me.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Five legislations

This is another poem of mine from the mid-90s that was published in Verbatim. The reference is Verbatim 25(3), 2000, p. 14.


Thirty days hath September:
strictly, of course, the phases of the moon
do not reflect how many days, or nights;
strictly, indeed, letting the moon dictate
the months would give us thirteen in the year.
Unworkable! Instead, we have twelve months,
more or less equal, and September happens
to have got thirty days. No problem. Oh,
and there was one year when eleven went
to make us equal with the continent.

I before E except after C:
we all agree this shall be true.
The rebel words that do not spell
that way are weird and few.
Oh, and some French-descended words as well --
leisure, seize, and such affairs --
the problem's theirs.

How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which kings or laws can cause or cure,
wrote Johnson. That, I think, sums up my feeling
of why there'd be no mileage in repealing
the law that says your age is fixed at birth,
the one that bans cold liquids from congealing,
the one that stipulates the height of ceiling
for footpaths. Would the benefits be worth
all the upheavals that would send us reeling?

The pen is mightier than the sword,
which is why pens cost fifteen hundred pounds
from licensed dealers, lessons in their use
do not come cheap, and ownership is taxed
at eighty pounds a year, while swords are freebies
from charities and banks. Oh, and I worry
when kids leave school functionally unfenced.

Poetry is a verdict, not an occupation,
said Leonard Cohen. Tough, like science:
not the law’s unacknowledged legislation
but its appliance.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Field poems

These three poems were written in 1997 for a competition on the theme of fields.

'The loop' appeared in Streetwise 58, Easter 2005, p. 15. 'Feet and clay' appeared in Streetwise 56, autumn 2004, p. 10. Some readers may know the archaeological memoir to which it refers, and have found themselves, like me, brought up short over the misspelled word. 'Three startles' appeared in Cambridge insider (the predecessor to Local secrets), August 1998.


Vacation work always meant fields: the rows
of beet under the skyline, with the white stick
marking your limit, and the weeds, the fat hen
to hoe or pull, the bales of straw to stack
in eights on sloping ground as the dark lengthened,
potatoes still in earth from the machine
to bag, and strawberries to crouch along,
and always chuntering: some Monty Python,
C.S. Lewis, Pears' Cyclopaedia,
Macaulay latterly, some of my own --
I had aspirations -- the whole loop run
endlessly over those long rows of hoeing,
stacking, bagging, crouching, chuntering.
I noticed very little and remember
the aspirations and the chuntering
with squirms, with squirms. It's half my life ago.
Since then I've had two dozen? lines in print.
Should I go back to fields? I follow paths
through them; still see too little, hear too little.


(an archaeological memoir)

Field-walking, you write,
the next best thing to digging,
yields stones: arrowheads,
broken pebbles polished smooth
that once held ploughs together,

flint barbs from fish-spears,
jadeite pierced beads and pendants
from igneous rocks.
"The quarry is elusive,"
you write. The reader stumbles

there, as at your claim
to "a rather difficult
time at the rather
decayed grammer school." Eyebrows??
sic. We pick up what we can.


The day she said look
in place of luck.

The day she needed a literature
search on the war in Bosnia
and it came out she'd been there
ferrying aid from Manchester
during the summer.

The day she said she'd left the road
for a (she switched) to relieve herself, behind
a tree, and later found
she'd walked mined ground.

Not history themselves, just quirks of tact
where huge historic force-fields interact.