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.


  1. Let's make a competition of this. Chocolate for the first reader to recognise the archaeological memoir alluded to.

  2. No idea about the memoir, but I like the poems. Especially the first one.

  3. Thanks! The Haddon's copy of the memoir appears to have been borrowed only once since 2002, so I suspect that not many others will recognise it either.