Monday, 12 April 2021




I thank my God, I speak with tongues more than ye all --

glad my reading of Mr Gloucester in Mr Shakespeare's play was liked so much by that paper --

yet in the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding,

I'd rather read 5 words that would go in a flier about throwing bottles away,

that by my voice I might teach others also,

if this will help others understand,

than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue --

than 10,000 in the tongue of 400 years ago.

(Bible reference 1 Corinthians 14. 18-19, Authorised Version; other lines made using Up-goer Five Text editor )

This poem is another written in response to a prompt in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week.  The prompt, by guest author Philip Gross, was for a macaronic poem -- one written in two or more languages, or two or more registers of English.  So I took a direct quotation from the Authorised Version of the Bible, and rendered it into the 1000-word vocabulary of Up-goer Five.  I wrote more about Up-goer Five in February 2013.

The poem has now found publication in the Indian magazine RICThe magazine title is an acronym for Red In Corner, one of its tenets being "No sublime human creation is perfect; it’s the little failed detail, the RIC, that turns it into a masterpiece."

Saturday, 6 March 2021

Counter protest


I do not want to take part in this rally. 
Us against them.  Which one is an Aunt Sally? 
I hope, noticing me and this placard, 
they will not come across and kick me hard. 
I hope no stage will need me to decide 
whether to rescue someone on our side, 
and none remind me, every year I live, 
I was cowardly or provocative. 
I hope for space to let my bladder settle 
not in a crowd, not in a police kettle. 
We'll make the point against the wretched man, 
and get away as early as we can.

This poem was written in July 2018, a response to prompt 38 in Jo Bell's 52: write a poem a week.  The brief was to write against something.  Reluctance to take part in a counter-protest is about as against as anything can be.

I went on the counter-protest I describe, and my anxieties proved, as usual, to be groundless.  I can supply details of the causes on request.

The poem found publication in the booklet All together now from Babylon Art Gallery, Ely.  The gallery ran a competition for poems to be made into a comic book.  Mine wasn't the winner, but All together now gave a print opportunity to all the submitted work.

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Poem about Royal Victoria Dock



Harbour. Geese crowd on something almost submerged

and rhyme the pulley tackle close aloft.

Human swimmers enthuse the water, them

and cable cars more safe to view than mix.

The reach between Millennium abandoned

and Excel’s mothballed Nightingale, with bridges,

lifts, bridges engineered to swing, less swum.

Covid turns high summer to out of season.

The star circle is of another time.

The above was my contribution to 'A common place', a project organised jointly by the writers' group 26 Characters and Eames Fine Art.  Looking back to '26 prints', an earlier co-production (my contribution here), they invited writers and artists who'd participated in that to pair up, identify a place that mattered to both partners, and produce work in response to it.  My assigned project partner was the printmaker Anita Klein.  The common place we identified was the Royal Victoria Dock in London.  For me, it was a place much imagined in childhood, when I had an overwhelming interest in ships and fantasized about the docks over the river that was in walking distance from my grandparents' home in Lee Green.  For Anita, it was a recent discovery with the joys of open-air swimming.  Clare and I had a good day out there, and this poem came from that.

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.