Wednesday, 26 December 2012


I thought, Why not blog something seasonal over Christmas?  Cannot currently lay hands on Christmas poem from mid-90s, but here are some haikus that I wrote at around that time.  They were published in Cous-cous in 1995.


So much self-deceit's
called in to guard that story
anything stands now.


Worst Christmas -- unreal
as the first dream episode
in ageing sitcoms.


Doubly sad to hear
the old reasonable voice
used for this madness.


It's not wishful thought
or a verbal sleight of hand;
see, the new house works!

My life is a lot less glum now than it was in the mid-90s.  Current work in progress, or projected, is for the 'What's your history?' competition from Holland Park Press.  A competition entry I wrote under similar circs last year, and entered by email from my brother's house on New Year's Eve, was a great success; I'm not expecting that history will repeat itself, but I can have fun imagining.

Monday, 26 November 2012

How to stop spills

This dates from 1991.  Part of the inspiration was a sentence in journalistic account, I forget whose, of the causes of the 1987 Great Storm: I remember "In 24 hours the depression raced across the Atlantic, deepening as it went."  The poem was published in Streetwise 11, June 1993, p. 23.


Never nail the cup to the saucer,
never even use a screw,
but attach them sensitively
with a spot of Superglue.

If that doesn't stop the spilling,
fix the saucer to the tray
with a bed of melted candle-
wax and leave it for a day.

What, still spilling?  Bind the tray tight
on the table -- every side
has its silver eyelets, or you
punch holes if they're not supplied.

That's three layers of firmness.  Spilling
doesn't happen any more.
Whoops, the table isn't stable,
nail the table to the floor.

Nail the floor hard to the rafters,
nail the rafters to the hull,
nail the hull to the Atlantic,
dam the tide to hold it full.

Fill the dam to the brim with ocean,
taut Niagara of wall,
see the trough racing explosive
over spillage in free fall.

Down falls spilling, down fall saucer,
ship, nails, wax, tray, cup and thread.
There's the bad end comes of spilling --
so remember what I've said.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A hand at reading

My poem 'A hand at reading', emailed from a Yorkshire vicarage on New Year's Eve to the English Association for their poetry competition on the theme of Dickens, is now out!  Citation thus:

Aidan Baker.  3rd prize,  'A Hand At Reading'.  English (Autumn 2012) 61(234): 213 doi:10.1093/english/efs038

Unfortunately, the publisher has a policy against the blogging of work from their journals, so I'm not giving the poem here.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A librarian's gift to the Conservative Party

I was showing off in the Haddon Library to a student the other day, and I'm afraid I told him this story.  Remind me not to tell it again now it's online.

In March 1986, I was Assistant Librarian at the Haddon, and the other two members of the library staff were both on long-term sick-leave.  Working with me were two part-timers. 

The end of the Lent Term approached, and with it the end-of-term recall of loans.  In those pre-automation days that meant a ridge of activity, daunting even when the Haddon was fully staffed.  A wiser person would have looked at the task and the resources, and concluded that it would be a good idea to give the end-of-term recall a miss for once.  But in those days I was bolder than I am now, and saw in the situation an opportunity to try something. 

I had read of someone who had conducted research into research.  He had recruited a number of researchers to act as his subjects, and divided them into two groups.  Both groups were asked to report to him regularly on the progress of their own research, but one group was asked additionally to write cheques to organisations of whose aims they disapproved, and leave these cheques with him.  If research by the writers of the cheques did not prove verifiably fruitful, the cheques would be forwarded to the organisations concerned.  At the end of the experiment, members of the group that wrote the cheques were found to have made better progress than members of the control group, who faced no such financial loss.  (In 2011, I tried and failed to track that story down; let me know if you have any leads.)

My exploit did not involve a controlled experiment, or any money but mine.  What I did was to circulate to Haddon users, a fortnight or so before the end of term, a notice whose wording I remember as follows:


1.  You will not be allowed to borrow any books for the vacation until your loans for the term are back.

2.  We are extremely hard-pressed at the moment, with three people's work being done by one and two halves.  The fewer overdues we have to send, the better.

3.  I intend to donate 1p to Conservative Party funds for every overdue note we send out on Wednesday March 12.  Please help me to keep this sum as small as possible by returning your loans on time.

I cannot say whether it worked in terms of persuading people to return their books.  The donation I ended up sending to Conservative Central Office came to 86 pence, but, lacking figures for overdues sent at the end of other terms, I had no means of making a comparison. 

The biggest flaw in this incentive was its unexamined assumption about the political bias of the Haddon's users.  But the student who said, a few weeks later, that he'd kept books back in order to boost the donation made this claim in a funny voice. Was he joking?  Irony is the blind spot in my sense of humour.

A kind friend asked if I'd mind him sharing the story with the Times Diary.  They rang me to check it.  Afterwards I had a major backlash from the left wing of my conscience for talking to Murdoch's paper, and did penance with soap in my mouth for three quarters of an hour.

None of this is the kind of thing I do now.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Past times


No, it's a dummy cat – it's not stopped breathing.

Yet asking us has called into the air
the garden funeral there will not be,
homecomings from the vet there never were,
a life that's not, a Larkin's Coventry;
and where your kindness thus remains unspent,
the room's less warm around the non-event.

Above is a picture of the dummy cat in question.  And indeed another dummy cat is in the background and yet another is off camera.  All of them are presents from kin, the one in the picture bought, I gather, from the nostalgia chain Past Times.  No one's ever mistaken any of our dummy cats for a recently-deceased cat, but quite a few people have mistaken them for real cats, and I find that oddly disturbing, in much the same way as misplaced solicitude. 

The poem dates from 2003.  Its publication was as an entry in an online competition, run by the magazine Your cat.  It sank without trace when the competition page was taken down. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Lessons of money

This I wrote in 2001, in response to training at work before the introduction of a new accounting system.

(recalling Henry Reed)

In the 1940s
a poet could look down his nose
at an NCO, I suppose,
who said The reason being is,
and a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

Irritation nowadays
with those whose task it is to train
us would spurn any such disdain
for an unsyntactic phrase,
though a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized,

and they all said it, I think.
Learning computerized accounts
I woke for varying amounts.
Some if not all of it would sink.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

History ran up the shore.
Whether money’s grant or profit,
tax or gift, the movement of it
calls on all our powers to track.
We struggled in the wake
and wash of ledgerspeak.
Debt was not cut at Okinawa.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

In the run-up, the thing seemed to swell with historical change.
Up and running, not very, it comes to show,
like a blooper of snow-ploughs bought for the wrong sort of snow,
no human trends outside the usual range.
And a capsa’s a vase and the Vasa capsized.

The Henry Reed allusion is to his 1940s sequence 'Lessons of the war', a response to his training in the Army.  I suppose I had better specify, since my refrain makes no sense otherwise, that the accounting system in which I, and many others, were being trained in the summer of 2000 was Cambridge University's CAPSA accounting system, since then upgraded and rebranded.

I believe I stretch things rather in conflating a capsa -- a cylindrical container for scrolls -- with a vase.  The attraction of the Vasa pun was too great, and is, I hope, covered by poetic licence.

The Okinawa allusion is to the 26th G8 summit, held in Okinawa in the summer of 2000, and the subject of demonstrations by the Jubilee 2000 movement for the cancellation of third world debt.

The poem was published in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 51, Michaelmas 2002.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

The subjunctive and a rondeau, after recent Twitter conversations

These two poems tie in with a couple of recent Twitter conversations.

'Lines on the loss of the subjunctive' dates from 2003. I threw it into a recent discussion, on the Language Log blog from the University of Pennsylvania, about the future or otherwise of the subjunctive mood in English. A bit of a sideline to the discussion as a whole, in which many of the participants are dauntingly well-informed -- have a look!


With the subjunctive, we are losing
a way to show the difference
between two thoughts we'd be confusing
as polar opposites in sense.
"She insists that the house is clean"
(she does, despite all evidence)
is strained if also used to mean
she makes you clean it, no pretence.
"She insists that the house be clean"
conveys the other not the one.
This plaintive pedant rests his case,
lest it should tire him in the sun.

'Flip' was written in 1998 for Rondeau revue -- one of several anthologies that Poetry Now (Forward Press in its present incarnation) devoted in the late 90s to verse in established forms. I'm always up for that kind of challenge, and produced my rondeau fairly quickly. It's on page 105 of the book.


Credit discredit. Like some board
game battered in a long-stay ward,
but it's played everywhere. The game
flicks pain to good and good to blame
or power or weakness or reward.

Both sides of this game's cards record
the moves, but how each player's scored
turns on which side lands up, which name,
credit discredit.

Fine honesty, or mere discord;
beauty, or waste; faith's risks, or fraud;
thankless unstinting, as you claim,
or blackmail; discipline, or maim:

make up the rules, play them when bored,
credit discredit.

For the rondeau as a form see Wikipedia here; for what looks like its Scottish cousin, see Wikipedia here. The Twitter conversation that brought all this up was with Karen McAulay, who has blogged an eighteenth-century poem, possibly by an ancestor-in-law of hers, in a metre that's close kin to that Scottish cousin.

Head, Andrew (ed.). 1998. Rondeau revue. Peterborough: Poetry Now.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Irrationally sinister

This dates from 2004, and was published in Streetwise 59, summer 2005, p. 6.


A jib-crane and an England flag.
Strong breeze, November dusk,
the crane still, the flag flying,
the building site in its betweenness.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the web report --
BBCi, from Iran,
the jib-crane's engine starting up
in early dawn, the killer hoist,
choking, twitching, in the wind.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the TV thriller --
a man fixed high up on a boat,
brush in hand, hasn't painted once
in the last hour. A dressed-up corpse.

Irrationally sinister:
a jib-crane and an England flag.
Perhaps it was the photograph --
a boat-train and a Swedish flag,
not sixties-new, as I thought then,
but from before the First World War.

And we know what old photos are.

Monday, 13 August 2012


This one was written to order for an issue of Streetwise, the magazine of St Matthew's church in Cambridge, devoted to the theme of television. I watch very little television -- a fact I was reminded of recently when a friend asked on Facebook whether watching the recent Olympics coverage had done anything to my figure. I had to admit that most of what I knew about the Olympics had come via Twitter, and that I'd seen almost no television coverage at all.

The poem appeared in Streetwise 62, Spring 2006, p. 8. My other contributions to that issue included a summary of John Naughton's Christmas 2005 talk to Cambridge librarians, entitled 'Life after television', and a review praising Steven Johnson's Everything bad is good for you: how popular culture is making us smarter.


That April night long, the Trade Justice vigil
at Westminster: candles to light
beneath the barricades, silence to keep,
then noise, whistle, bang, shout, to bruise midnight!
Our stewards' tabards to return, then hours
of night to fill, streets to trudge, finding all
shops shut but one near Charing Cross, St Martin's
through-the-night worship, walk back to Whitehall,
our 3 a.m., the planet most awake,
then streets and feet again, St Martin's queue
down steps, the coffee crypt, seats at a table,
then up to limp, the sky a paler blue
over the demo, numbers vastly more
than planned for, gathering light of the sun
to happen on the London Eye, the streets
where next thing is the London Marathon.
And others besides Wordsworth have said there
Earth had not anything to show more fair.

November daytime, the Trade Justice mass lobby
of Parliament: silence to keep, then shout,
whistle, bang, noise to bruise the early afternoon.
Over the river, the queue moves again.
Cold clouds. Cycle-rickshaws bring hon. Members out
to mud, fliers, questions and relentless rain.
Some in the rain, some in the lobby, space
like a great church. The organization
faultless, but fewer people than April,
MPs busy with the Terrorism Bill,
and news eclipsed by David Blunkett's face,
the story of his second resignation.

And then the January whale,
dark shape in water, nightmare flail,
Thames-bridge-bewildered, and undeft
in the mid channel, muddied left
and right, in front of Parliament,
with no petition to present,
no nourishment of her own deep,
no words to roar, no tears to weep,
no Jonah to denounce the city,
she dies in shallows, held by human pity.

The whale made headline news and died,
and passed into marine biology,
ecology and other human ken.
We lobby made a less splash than we tried,
and keep on plugging on.

You can have fun with Google or DuckDuckGo, or whatever, identifying the news stories referred to. The allusion to "others besides Wordsworth" means Roger Woddis and the readers of his (I think) Radio times poem on the London Marathon, which used the Wordsworth quotation magnificently as its final line.

Monday, 6 August 2012


This poem has me, in Norman Nicholson's phrase, looking back to looking back. It was written in 1994. I believe that the discovery that triggered it was made that same year, though a scan of my diary for the whole of the University's Long Vacation 1994 yields no reference to it.

The memo referred to was dated 1982. My thought on finding it was not "How far we've come in twelve years!" but "1982? Really?"

I have noted three publications of this poem: in Streetwise 17, December 1994 (p. 17), in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 39, Michaelmas 1996 (p. 8), and in Perimeter 8, July 2000 (p. 21).


The library where I work now quiet
(deep in high summer, a day in August):
weeding old files, I find a warning
to staff, twelve years back, on both sites,
about this man, dirty, mad, belongings
all rammed into a bag -- he's recognizable
indeed by the bag and the dirt --
the only one, it seems, in all the world....

I weed some more, watching out for the memo
permitting first names on Faculty premises,
or the schedule of words, with shillings off your wages
for saying them, or the statement
on isolated cases of divorce, reported
in other sections of the University,
that they should not give any cause for alarm.
But the files contain no more of the kind;
there might be something in the books.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Science fiction

This poem is one of the sonnets I wrote for the Radio 3 sonnet competition in 2001. See my post of 30 May 2011 for more on that. The poem found a home online at , a not particularly prestigious site that has since been taken down.


With this hand-held device that has the power
of drawing moisture from the atmosphere,
to concentrate it in a mobile shower,
what happens next? Round its first pioneer,
we find the gadget game for innovating.
Fear that the water is unfit to use
is the most-cited factor militating
against acceptance. But the few enthuse,
till the complaint is carriage seats awash
with watered flesh, and people shower in church.
Then mobile showers are linked to the new rash
of sunspots, hurricanes and ghosts. Research
goes on, with altered frames of reference,
in deepest Wilts., and funded by Defence.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012


I had an access of poetry-writing in 1991, following a change of flat.  This one was published in Cambridge University libraries information bulletin 35-36, 1994-1995, p. 10.  The carpet tiles in question were in a library.  CULIB's online presence doesn't go back that far, but is worth following.


The green of the new carpet-tiles
so lightly matches that on dull
days it appears a windowful
of wan sunlight has smiled this pool

into the room.  The edges are
so finely trimmed you're never sure
if they lap at a fixture or
have moved its rising from the floor.

The great computer security debate

The technology's a bit dated in this one, I know -- it was written in 2005 and looks back a few years beyond that.  It was published in the last-ever issue of Streetwise, 68, Christmas/New Year 2007-2008, p. 7.


Fire is for firewalls, which, despite the name,
are software held on disks, not bricks aflame.

Fire is for arguments: should we install
firewalls ourselves, or trust the main firewall?

Fire is for hell -- flickers and smoke whereby
the world looks as it does, with stakes so high.

Fire is for martyrs, taunted to a passion
by spam, flesh, money, Goblin-Market-fashion.

Fire is for blushes, since the martyrdom
was ended by the filtering of spam,
not by firewalls.  The burn is from the embers
of martyrdom the martyred one remembers.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

By much too much

This one was written in 2005, I think for the Pier Pressure competition (now in abeyance). It was published in Streetwise 65, Christmas 2006, p. 17.


Bought in accordance with chocolate protocol
(bought on a day when a target's been met),
bought at my turn to buy eats for the meeting and
bought for the lunch that I haven't had yet,

bought in a shortage of metal and paper so
bought using plastic with four digits keyed,
bought two together (the credit card minimum
makes an excuse if you tax me with greed) --

CHOCOLATE FUDGE! And before I start minuting
matters arising and library plan,
heartened because others say they don't want any,
I get as much of it down as I can.

Chocolate fudge! and my biro is stickier
minuting, eating is not quite complete --
put to one side as the meeting is weightier,
nibbled more rarely for surfeit of sweet.

Chocolate fudge. Choc fudge. See, my line grows more slow;
I'd write what's left all spondees if I could
fit contractual obligation into any metre.
It is a sad decline for such a food.

The chocolate protocol referred to is a set of rules I have. I allow myself to buy chocolate, for consumption at a time to be determined by the diet, on calendar days when I have achieved one or more of a set of targets. At the moment I don't seem to be meeting any of them, so the protocol must be said to have been emptied of its power. Clare generously supplies me with chocolate not purchased by me -- a consequence not a cause of that loss.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Windozelle and Windosil


(an entry in the English National Opera Mini-Operas script competition; inspired by Neil Gaiman's The sweeper of dreams)

WINDOSIL's flat. Curtained window, with some light beyond it. Kitchen counter, with kettle and loaded toaster; table with cereal-and-toast breakfast setting for one. On the floor, the detritus of Windosil's dreams: toy dinosaurs, model railway tunnels, books with titles like The book of nasty photographs and 101 reasons you should commit suicide.

WINDOSIL sits at the table and stares glumly. WINDOZELLE stands, enjoying her complete mastery of WINDOSIL's life.

WINDOZELLE: On sister duty. I'm here for Windosil,
sticking up for her when the Sweeper of Dreams
arrives to take her nightmares. He's a bully.
I despise nobody more than him.

WINDOSIL: Oh Windozelle, you can't control the fall.

WINDOZELLE: The things he said drove Windosil
to drink and then it made her ill,
mad. She downed fifty of her pill.
She jumped from fifty feet and still
it wouldn't end.

WINDOSIL: Oh Windozelle, you can't control the fall.

WINDOZELLE: You never listen to me, Windosil,
and now all this. Do as your sister says
to keep the Dream Sweeper in his place –
five fruit a day
no travelling
no cheese at night
no tea at night
no wine by day
no consecutives
no adjectives and adverbs
no colour on colour
lie on your back, head to left, knees to right
avoid using the word got
don't talk to people you can't see
pull yourself together like a pair of curtains
dip the powdered bandage in water, every hour on the hour
reset the risk thermostat every night
and leave the morning reset to the Dream Sweeper.

WINDOSIL: Oh Windozelle, you can't control the fall.


WINDOZELLE: Yes, you. I'd like a word. It must be dull
for you, monotonous, that broom.
I want to give you some variety,
make your life useful. That is why I told you,
when you come here, don't just sweep, but reset
Windosil's risk thermostat. The poor girl
finds it difficult, another cause of worry.
I told you this three months ago and yet
each day she has to make her own reset.
Not what I'd call too big a thing to do
for somebody just sweeping trash like you.

The SWEEPER OF DREAMS stops sweeping.

WINDOSIL: Oh Windozelle, you can't control the fall.

The SWEEPER OF DREAMS attacks WINDOZELLE with his broom. He knocks her over. Then he sweeps her, with the dreams, the entire length of the kitchen and out of sight.

Musical crescendo under the remaining action?

WINDOSIL goes to the window, opens the curtains, opens the window. Sunlight, birdsong, traffic noises. WINDOSIL moves over to the kitchen counter, and switches on the kettle and the toaster; then to the table, and pours some cereal into the bowl. You can't eat and sing at the same time; let's end there.

Saturday, 5 May 2012

A sonnet and a villanelle

These two poems are six years apart.  'The exorcism of limping' was written in 1998 and published in The Poetry Now book of villanelles, edited by Heather Killingray (Peterborough: Poetry Now, 1998), p. 10. 

I appeared in a number of Poetry Now anthologies in the 1990s.  Be it admitted, I sometimes felt a tad embarrassed about the company I found myself in.  But there was good stuff there as well.


Three things will soothe my twisted ankle best,
soothe it and strengthen it, if not repair –
massage by Clare, turns on the bike, and rest.

Since the chiropodist – please be impressed –
said "Crikey!", waived the cost, and stood to stare,
three things will soothe my twisted ankle best.

Clare lays in it her lap with manifest
enthusiasm to fulfil her share –
massage by Clare.  Turns on the bike, and rest,

happen at other times.  The bike's a test
of sight, quick thought, and turnings yelled to Clare.
Three things will soothe my twisted ankle best.

Rest blurs the role of invalid and guest –
a fault to keep in mind should I compare
massage by Clare, turns on the bike, and rest.

Rest's the most trouble, bike's the readiest,
Clare brings most happiness.  But, to be fair,
three things will soothe my twisted ankle best:
massage by Clare, turns on the bike, and rest.

Another admission to make is that all those three methods of soothing the ankle had to yield place, shortly afterwards, to physiotherapy.  I am ashamed to say I have forgotten the name of the medic who gave me a set of exercises in April 1998.  Their application brought the ten-month agony of my left foot under control in a few weeks.  But massage by Clare, turns on the bike, and rest still have much appeal.

'Take' was written in 2004 for the Spire competition on the theme 'Welcoming strangers', and published in Poetry Nottingham 62(2), 2008, p.3.


So take Aziz – Christian in flight, with grounds
for flight – and think of how he used your phone,
unbidden, to run up eight hundred pounds
of calls to Tehran in one bill alone.
Take Charles and Sharon, whose bizarre eloping
stretched a tea invite to a six-week stay
in a North Midlands vicarage, and hoping
goodwill had somehow not been worn away.
Or take the woman who told everywhere
that everybody hated me.  I waited,
anxious, and hoping she had not been fair,
to see if I’d drawn hate for being hated.
All these were welcomed strangers once; but so
were you, was I, was everyone I know.

Monday, 16 April 2012

The thought

This poem was written in 2000. It has been published temporarily (15-22 April 2012) by the24project.


(After Humbert Wolfe; concerning one who no longer appears publicly in a wheelchair.)

You need not tell her story again.
Recycled stories, even the curiest,
with no new data in the pen,
dilute and stir what should now rest.

Nor need you beat her for a fraud.
We all use props. A tic, a fear,
a stammer, can grow hard as board,
then fall apart and disappear.

But you may hold in thought the day —
ending who knows what span of days? —
she chose to throw her prop away,
and found that there was no such place.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Canal time

This poem was written in the autumn of 1996 for a themed competition, though I now forget what the theme was. The poem was shortlisted in the 1997 Beehive Press competition, with the result that I got to read it out to a gathering in Merton, South London. The 2006 Bassetlaw Writers competitition commended the poem and published it in the competition anthology.


Canal time's different from other times.
Canal boats happen at another speed
than bikes and cars and trains and planes. The voyage
Leicester to Stratford can be interrupted,
you can drive to Heathrow and fly to Spain,
come back the same or other ways, rejoin
the Stratford trip, and lose none of the wonder
belonging to a boat and journeys south;
and in itself canal time magnifies,
has Nottinghamshire's flattest full of echoes
from more remembered places, has West Stockwith
the Suffolk coast, has rock a Malham Cove
as high as lost, a Mahler's Resurrection,
has the steady climb west out of Worksop
so steep, so locked, it was unnavigable,
the guidebook says, by eighteen-ninety-six --
and resonances there as well: the last
century's end, Wilde locked behind brick walls,
the urban myth, time-capsule of a station
waiting beneath St Pancras. So I saw it,
those gateless weirs, weedy stretches of water,
overgrown towpaths, not so long ago.

But now they're working on the locks again,
putting new gates in, strengthening the banks,
laying fresh towpaths, clearing weeds. St Pancras
plans a deep-level station now for real.
Strange thing, the past: keeps altering; canals
may prompt, like rivers, elegiac thoughts,
but needn't lie down under them. What is it
that has a century an interruption?

Bassetlaw is the district of Nottinghamshire where I grew up and still have kin. The urban legend about St Pancras is one I came across, around 1988, in a Guardian interview with Stephen Poliakoff about his film Hidden city. It contained the sentence (I quote from memory):

While filming at St Pancras Hotel, he was told of another complete station underneath St Pancras, which was bricked up like a time capsule at the end of the last century and now, presumably, awaits the mega-development of the site.

That buried station became an obsession of mine. I wrote to British Rail for information about it. They knew of no urban legend, but could tell of a low-level depot for beer trains from Burton on Trent. I won't pretend I scoured libraries for books of disused stations and underground curios, but I did touch on the matter in a desultory fashion, when visiting friends who collected such books and such stories. And, be it admitted, with people who didn't collect them. They hadn't heard of this one either. It finally drew from me a sequence of poems in the early 1990s, which I called 'The St Pancras resonances'. I may come to blog that in due time.

The 1996 poem is neater. It dates from when the buried St Pancras was beginning to occupy less of my mind.

Sunday, 25 March 2012



(to be cut out and enclosed with donations to charities)


My bank will verify that I exist,
but please don't add me to your mailing list;
the circulars I get on every question
have made me spin with mental indigestion.


No mailings, please. It don't seem right,
whatever cause it's for,
that you should spend the widow's mite
on asking her for more.

For the charity which rang people chosen at random from the phone-book to ask for help with door-to-door collections during its Week, the money to be paid in at local banks

From the Cyrenians, maybe,
how resonantly it would speak,
this asking strangers such as me
to go the extra mile one week!
From others, though, whether or not you like it,
the cheek is what strikes most, and here I strike it.

For any charity dealing with homelessness, prison, physical or mental illness, or senile decay

It's not a gift. If my life's hit,
it's all I could afford --
I hope you will remember it,
and treat me as insured.

The above set of verses dates from the summer of 1988. From the card index, I seem to have got my money's worth out of it. It's appeared in Streetwise 63, 2006, p.22; Streetwise's predecessor St Matthew's parish magazine May-June 1988; and the book Loose change, ed. Ian Walton (Peterborough: Poetry Now, 1994). So it might as well get another outing now.

And, having blogged something I wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago, I'm eager to report the success of a new poem. And I can. 'A hand at reading' got final tinkerings before breakfast last New Year's Eve, the deadline for entry in the English Association Dickens bicentenary competition. It won third prize! Announcement here. I will blog the poem when it's had its appearance in the Association's journal English.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Poems in Orbis

These poems are about to appear in Orbis 158. They have had the benefit, as Orbis poems tend to do, of editorial suggestions by Carole Baldock.

'By degrees' was my entry in the 2008 Keats-Shelley competition, whose theme that year, I seem to recall, was the word 'lost'. Keats-Shelley has a way of giving its entrants one-word themes that are very stimulating. 'A sentence' was written in 2011, probably for the Rhyme and Reason competition on the theme of 'time'.

The competition pattern re-asserts itself!


Soon it will be a twelvemonth since you lost,
whether by jump or push, your livelihood,
and ran to earth your heat in online post,
recycled Booker, climate science booed.
I lack much science, but, ad hominem,
am consoled, although saddened, when I see
your posts, the different ways of signing them:
two of them, a matter of geography.
For readers living in the USA,
you sign as ‘Dr’ at your new address;
for audiences here in the UK,
who know you, you still sign doctorateless.
Is this the old tradition of the prophet
honoured abroad, at home less well regarded?
Well-meaning, earnest? Other readings of it
spring up like Jack, and will not be discarded.
I cannot say what method’s best to measure
the profit of this title that you use,
not money, true, but cachet, psychic pleasure,
against what, as it’s false, you stand to lose.

The phrase ‘a prisoner doing time’,
tautologous, suggests the hand
of a sub-editor – ‘prisoner’
taking the place of ‘pervert’ (banned)?

I have no proof. Editing good,
censorship bad, I know. What time
changing ‘pervert’ to ‘prisoner’ took
was at worst a minute’s waste, no crime;

if hours, a background process, not
the trial months, the years of jail,
the decades from his bullying
strictness to this shock. And those measures pale

against the time he’s doing time for
against the lives he’s doing life for
against the time against the lives
against against against the lives
against against against against

against against against against

Saturday, 18 February 2012

The exorcism of migraine

I have not had a migraine since 2007. Atenolol keeps me off them. But I remember well enough what they used to be like. This poem was written in 1995, probably following recovery from one of them.

It was published in Streetwise 18, 1995, p. 28.


The blackness pooling round my brain
begins to drain.

The extra filing-cabinet up there
(I have to step around
its bruising corners and its spill
of order on the floor)
fades into air.

The lobes relax their grind
and re-engage. I have a mind.

Monday, 13 February 2012


This poem was written for Radio 3's 2001 'Sonnet Tree' competition, taking its cue from the competition's working definition of a sonnet, but not entered there. It finally found a home in the Ver Prize 2009 anthology, p. 42.


A sonnet's any stretch of fourteen lines,
a church is any group of thirty people,
a garden's any ground that has a fence,
a surgeon's anyone using a scalpel,
marriage is any stay for two or more,
victory's yours whatever the event,
a lecturer's a person you can hear,
a student's anybody under twenty.
Perhaps those bring a sense of things deficient,
the estate agent's way of talk run wild.
But you must grin and use such definitions,
and find in them the space to dig and build:
though they may seem inadequate to you,
no law of nature renders them untrue.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Checking a possible emergency exit

I hope this one is self-explanatory. There's nothing metaphorical about it: it's straightforward reporting of an incident in December 1993. In the Haddon Library, where I work, a staircase door was found unexpectedly open. The door had been understood to be locked and its key lost. Finding it open meant checking its security risks and safety possibilities.

The poem was published in Cous-cous 9, 1995, p. 6.

I was reminded of my own poem by tonight's snow -- less my own observations of same than pictures such as this from Cambridge incognito photographer Sir Cam.


The staircase didn't lead to Uncle Andrew,
mad in his study, with the magic rings,
nor to a wood, all winter, Lantern Waste,
nor upwards through four hours' climb to the cellar,
nor to the same floor, fifty years ago,

but through a cupboard -- lurch to sudden birth --
large, unexpected -- standing in a lab.
A woodcut's demons!
Mythical enough.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The ring

This is another poem of mine that's followed my classic pattern. It was my entry in the 2011 National Trust Landlines competition, had no success there, and has now found publication in CILIP East of England's Sunrise magazine. The quoted tweet is one that I posted using a dumb phone in the summer of 2010.

And yes, rain really was leaking into the carriage around the lights. The sort of thing one doesn't expect, and resonating in my mind now with last night's dream of a high-risk (tracks in the water? train overloading rickety boat?) train journey to an island in the Indian Ocean.


Nature to see: nature that stands,
nature that spreads, nature that glows.

Nature to work with: nature that shines,
nature that grows, nature that blows.

Nature to fear: nature that drowns,
nature that tears, nature that burns.
Nature has nature's ways to kill.
Appeasement's temporary. Nature will.

From train I saw wind turbines across miles of rainy fen, flashing in cloudlight at each turn. In the carriage rain fell between lights.

And that was a tweet, and a tweet is small,
but it was made from the ring of them all.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Ethical skid

This one was published in Cous-cous 5, May 1995, p.13, and Perimeter 9, September 2000 (page number not traceable). Like other work of mine that I have posted on this blog, it's a bit dated. Nowadays one might not look for rights income from a video of the kind described, but rather post it on YouTube with an appeal for donations.

Given my propensity to gaffes in general, I had better say that I have never had to write quite such a letter of thanks to a speaker I have invited.


Dear Dr Price:
Two points.
Firstly, thank you very much
for Wednesday evening's talk.
We shall add your Centre's work
to those we pray for. I
meant it when I singled out
eirenic qualities
in my opening remarks.

I hope you will accept,
secondly, my deep regret
for having let myself
inadvertently describe
too well how different
your approach would be from mine,
your Centre's endless work
renegotiating peace
from my response of arms
traders crucified along
the M11, with
income from the video
of this event applied
(after tax) to help support
the clearing of the mines,
water projects round the world,
and other causes. Thank
you for leading off from that
and disembarrassing
everybody from my gaffe
so skilfully. - With best
wishes for your Centre's work,
apologies and thanks,
yours sincerely....

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Competition poem

This would have been my entry in the Haddon Library's 2009 poetry competition, had I not been ineligible to enter because I was the organiser.

I'd asked entrants to write around one or more of the numbers 800, 1209, and 2009, interpreted freely -- so 1209 could mean £12.09, or 12 September, or some area code. The present poem to my own brief was written shortly before the closing date of this competition and entered in the competition run by Manchester Cathedral. It was one of the runners-up! And published in the competition booklet for 2009.

The reference to "Crediton, Landscore, Cain, Read, and Judge" concerns an incident -- an email indiscretion on the part of a school receptionist -- that made news that year.


(written around Cambridge University's putative 800th anniversary, 2009)


Church is over by 12:09, these days;
the sermon's shorter, the service tighter, brisker.
Pretty well everyone prefers it so.
By 12:09 we'd now be having coffee,
or even biking home on Coldham's Lane,
the country highway bit, the airport rise.

That's where we live. Meanwhile, in Devon --


After the incident, the email round the church;
and after the email, the concerned reader;
and after the concern, the boss;
and after the boss, the Institute;
and after the Institute, the journalists;
and after the journalists, the bloggers;
and after the bloggers, the hate-mailers;
and after the hate-mailers, the poets.

Poems about the news don't often find
much that the journalists have left behind.
Shirking reporters' legwork, poets tell
what others thought and may have said quite well.
To news that broke on Darwin Day 09
I can add little that will make it mine
in insight, wit, or fit words. If the shame's
that no one's yet made something of those names,
and you succeed in that, I won't begrudge
you Crediton, Landscore, Cain, Read, and Judge.


2009 was when Richard Holloway,
nine years an ex-bishop, labelled himself
"after-religionist". That's fair enough.