First, it’s the language that goes, a whole lexicon

Of words, classified as ‘redundant’; then its

The context, the subtle nuance, the use of

Neologisms that you’d never heard of,

The pancaking of opinions, one

Upon the other; contemporary theatre,

street art, book-club politics,

Theories about raising children

and the mindless exhaustion

of child-rearing, and managing

the little dears

None of which you are expected

to know anything about,

(Remembering only too clearly

Their first tears), now deemed

Not to have a clue

Living in the grey-haired margins, as you do.

Welcome to insouciance, that

Awkward place, unsure now

Even of your shadow, feeling

Your words curl and wilt and all

That wisdom you held dear

Being trashed, devalued,

No longer wanted here:

Across the room you sense an

Air of irritation, eyes shifting

Face to face, holding back

a veil of mild contempt;

just in case.

Then there’s the diminution of comprehension.

Opinions, views, once so carefully

Hewn and crafted, no longer countenanced.

The audience who used to play attendance,

Having slipped away, leaving

An inverted hierarchy, a disturbed connection,

An erosion of common ground,

a sliding scree; lacking roots

The world’s become a shiftless thing, and you,

Have lost your hold on terra firma

Let go, let go,

you hear them murmur.

Obsolescence beckons. In a nod to

A long-lost childhood, you are put on the boring step,

an infant again, seen and not heard:

Waiting to be weaned from this absurdity:

Later, caught in a family photo, a time-worn face

Filling a space amongst the staggered generations.

Propping up the family tree as leaves

Peel off and flutter to the ground. It’s the Fall

From family favour, an autumn requiem

But no-one hears.

And no one grieves.

The shame of being irrelevant; who’d have assumed

It would come so quickly, a simple hug, a Judas kiss,

Some hush money, a little bribe or two

A holiday abroad, dinner for two

While all the time being groomed

For empty pastures, fallow fields, cast into the shadows,

Just like this.

Were we the same, bullying our elders?

Perhaps people were more polite then, perhaps

In a matriarchal world, things went by a different name

And elders earned their place by playing the game,

Trading in the coinage of acquired wisdom

Not now; the currency has changed.

As has the world.

Our only offer is a retreating world of tedium,

With all its partisan views, the sum of all

We’ve ever learnt and felt and known and seen,

Of all we were and could and should have been,

Now put into a box, placed in a hole

Box to box, womb to tomb, lust to dust,

How embarrassing we are, without gifts to bring,

Without the least semblance of trust, self-control

our movements trussed in string, locked in a cage

Listen. Hear the aged ones sing

and feel them rage, rage, rage.

Maybe, in the passage of time

someone will ask,

Who was that person in the photo

Were they related, were they family

What did they mean to us? But I doubt it,

They’d balk if we were to ask them

offer up some kindly words, some civic talk

make the semblance of a fuss

While noting all the things we lack:

Each generation seeded in

The one before

Tilling new soil, never looking back




Will You Not Remember

Red strips of cloud fell off the shrinking sky

And light began to fail us as we walked

Down valley, past the two-bar gate, its hinges

Red and rusting: there, stopping to talk

I let my eyes lie full upon your brow

And loved you in that moment, then and now

But you would not remember

Beside the stream, beside the matted heather

Water rushed on blindly, spun and eddied

And as you leaned, my shy hands gently steadied:

I kept them there, just longer than was needed

And grew the love that I had long since seeded

But you would not remember

And through the wood and back to where began

The walk, brushing the boots, scrapping that cloying earth

From underneath; turning back from heath to trampled path

And shuffling ever slowly back to birth

When coming to the fence, like love, unplanned

Across the stile I gently brushed your hand

But you will not remember

And then, my gentle one, as we sat there

Upon the roughhewn plank, I stole a glance

At your sweet face, your soft and willowed face

Sweet-cradled in your hands, your cheeks a-dance

And, pausing as the thrush flew overhead

You felt my heart and softly turned your head

And will you not remember?

The Winning entry in the McCarthy Stone Thomas Hardy Poetry Competition, March 2021

North Coker

We’ll start at the beginning, in the paddock

Near the bridle path, where the sow last held court,

The sty’s empty now, the last scrappings of gruel

Dried up and gone, just like the piglets, and their mother;

Gone girls too; admire, instead, the thatched rooves,

hamstone porticos, it’s too cruel to dwell on

pigs in digs or worry where the summer goes

Past Honeysuckle cottage, house by the forge, rooks

Spying from trees, and you and Somerleigh, and me and

Daphne too – such casual friends yet such abiding glue . . .

A hangover of red letterboxes,

Holly Cottage, hanging mugs, a scented breeze

And Squealer’s exhortations, animus mundi, pleading,

Save our souls too. . . .

And so the world turns on the waft of old drains,

smudge-prints of foxes, Sweetpeas, skies of

cornflower blue; somewhere a bonfire burns,

crisp leaves, the husks of dead flowers, bins of

empty words and wasted hours, beginning

of the summer’s end. Listen!

The whispering mimic of the aspen tree, the arching

shadow of a fleeing cyclist, the burrows and underways

signs warning of adders, wild rabbits and badger setts

Old men on ladders, rotting fruit and still born berries

Hay rising in the fields, a tractor red and rusting

Sounds of pigs rutting, grunting, squealing,

It’s the waning of days and something has diminished,

shrunken all of us, kicked out our stays, blunted the last

semblance of animal feeling . . . .


Mid-Summer Blues

I have started to live my life vicariously in the village

Spying through the hedge at goings-on in the

Street. This self-same hedge where tenants live

Two blackbirds and their bairns. Each day they’re at my door

reminding me of ‘seed for birds in need’, a charity

I push as penance

Something I do gladly

Desperate to do good  –

Oh Lord save me,

From being a menace

In the neighbourhood

I need help badly; I realised that when waiting anxiously for

Melons to grow, counting the steps to the café (closed), still

Ten more than I’d supposed, tracking down the sound of

mowers, wanting to see if they’re petrol driven or

electric and if the latter, how they avoid the cord.

Oh Lord, save me

From the happy pill

And things that don’t matter

Waiting to feel ill

God, I’m bored

I am now reading every notice on the telegraph poles, inspecting

the street’s recyclable rubbish every Wednesday morning, seeing

how many bottles of wine have gone down, sending the NHS a warning,

Tracking the packing from Amazon, what people have bought

to sustain them, explain them. All the time conscious of nature . . .

the veritable din of rooks, the greenery, the tedium of books, the never ending scenery, the same soundtrack, groundhog day

Give me two metres of social distance,

Reward for my persistence,

Give me the key to lockdown, I’m tired of resistance,

So the world’s out of reach:

Just tell it to the crowds

on Bournemouth beach

from  Lockdown Sonnets *

  1. In the End

What will survive will not be love

Or disaffection, but indifference

For sure, you may feel the cold puff

of mortality as life is snuffed out, may even

mutter some shallow penitence or be winded

by the passing; but it won’t last,

not even for a paragraph before you fall back

on the old familiar stories, digging through the chaff

It’s better this way; better for one and all

To think him the love child of Bram Stoker

Or of Judas Iscariot, riding for a fall

Than imagine there was anything worthwhile

About a life spent playing the joker –

Just press delete, redact him, close the file

  1. Thomas Hardy on Love

When Emma died, there was such an outpouring of

Grief from the old man; elegy after elegy dripped

from his pen onto tear-smeared pages; poems for

The ages devoted to Dear Emphmeral Emma,

His west of English girl; Thomas the poet

penned words of such delicacy to his swan necked love,

Sketches of Botterell, Beeny Cliff, the woman riding high,

etched as from above – and all she had to do was die.

Such a messy way to get attention, dying. And then to

Put up with all those fine poems suffused with guilt and

Remorse, masquerading as lost love; his pilgrimage to St

Juliot’s, his over wrought mourning, her ailing in rhyme

While all the time he’s mining his memory, levelling the score:

Warning: It’s fake love. Poet’s love. Don’t give him the time.

 3.    Deflection

 There’s a rumour that our hegemony is doomed

That rising seas are plotting to drown us;

And while the planet will survive, mankind will not

It’s not the storyline that we’d assumed; yet

There are signs of moss and creeper on the shard

Foxes in the Mall, rabbits in Hyde Park

Birdsong in the trees, green snakes in the grass

The sound of running water, songs of the lark

It’s not a lark though is it? We’ve all

been tumbling down through Eden since

The Fall; ignoring the Ark; lessons

Of plague and pestilence. Like Saul

we’re just weak penitents taking

the easy way out, taking our haul

4.    Responsibility

Free range eggs are on my shopping list

(though other eggs will do); I care about the

Provenance of such things; that hens are free

To range within their well-fenced runs

Free from the darkroom and the hunter’s guns

And from the foxes wandering in the fields

And from the hovering axe, allowed to be

Just poultry focused on their paltry yields.

I don’t eat veal now; focus on beef

With cows and calves, I can justify

the difference; at least, that’s my belief

In the field, the lamb stays close to its mother

Who watches over it, nurtures it, keeps it safe

When I eat lamb it’s never that one, but another

 5. Bees

 A bee bangs his head repeatedly against my study window

I  try to let him out, but he won’t be persuaded; he doesn’t

Know the deceptive qualities of glass, that what looks

Clear is often not; things being seldom what they seem;

you’d think that all of this would be apparent

To the bee. But he keeps butting at my window pane

Believing only what he sees. He should use other

Senses not think that what’s transparent is the sky

I leave him there to die; strange really how we blindly follow

False leads, trusting in what we see; how we end up in

Rat’s nests, blind alleys, life’s little conundrums

Concussed by constant battering against the glass I

Feel his pain, watch him go numb. He should know

there’s more than one way out, another mountain pass

  1. Old Bones

My poetry reads like old bones, stiff and aching

growling a rusty dirge; no-one listening

Can’t tell if it’s the sound of waves breaking

or the fractures of a heart. My words need oil, I know

To grease my synapses, to lubricate my rhyme

And I need time to pull my poem apart, to strip

the chassis down. On the sea edge the stones are

glistening, yes, I need to become explicable

While I am able; it’s no good just pretending, placing

Words in any old order; I need to find the muse again

From somewhere in the ocean; I search beneath

The waves’ curl, find succour in an oscillating swell,

rolling out its murmur: this is your home, this

is where you first gave birth, brought up your poem

  1. Osler’s Wharf

Osler’s wharf, opposite the bakery, is past

Shaky now; rickety planks of matai, leeched

To the river bank, plodding on daft kauri

piles through the clench of glutinous mud into

the brown stream of water; Opposite, the

outlet pipe from Swifts spews blood and

offal into the dirge, drawing the fish upstream,

tempting young boys to drop a line and dream

Many a day, string wrapped round a piece of

driftwood picked from the river’s edge, hook

dressed with snail sans shell, I sat upon that wharf

and waited; sometimes feeling a herring bite, once

a lazy kawhai, but usually catching nothing more than

clouds, passing thoughts and whispers of the shadow man

8. Mowing Lawns

Do I need to do this? Mulching buttercups and daisies

Into a neat green swathe until my lawn emulates

The Oval on opening day, grass shaved within a whisker

rolled flat and baked. After all, there’s no play in

My back yard so I could relent, but my desecration

leads to an inexplicable feeling of satisfaction, a soothing

vista, pleasing to the eye; it’s teaching mother nature

just who’s boss. And if it’s not cricket, who gives a toss?

Shame comes only slowly. For too long now

I’ve ignored the common bent, the meadows the Red fescue

Waiting for my conscience to come to the rescue, teach me

of our planetary doughnut, we are of nature’s scent

It’s time, blithe spirit, dearest heart, to give up cutting

grass, put away your scythe, go back to class.

9.    Sad white men

Today I find I’m on the wrong side of the ledger

without the chance to comment or make redress; muted

by a new wave of human-tide, young, loud and

angry, apportioning blame for the unholy mess

We’ve left the planet in; shame they tell us, shame

On you, old white men, for what you’ve done,

sucking life out of the planet, plucking the money tree

stuffing your lives with injections of folly, growing

richer and fatter; What you’ve handed down is debt

and a scarred human condition; you lost sight of the ends

that matter; yes, we know you never truly saw what

you were doing, the damage to your health, your friends

Your warped definition of wealth driving all ; yet not too

Late to make amends; Physician, heal thyself.

10.   Alone

Alone we are born; and die alone: that much we know.

Yet how much time we spend pretending otherwise

That we are loved and cared for in connected ways, that

DNA and love and friendship binds us so. Only by

Growing old do we understand how tenuous the ties,

That vast emptiness within; those unuttered words

caught in the throat’s constriction, another memory

lost after the cord has broken and the body dies

It was not always like this; it is something we learn

As we grow up and first encounter

shadow men. We start to put up fences at each

catastrophic stage, rings around the trunk, building

impregnable defences. That’s when the layering

begins in earnest, as we age, get drunk, move out of reach.

*Which are not really sonnets at all in the English or Petrarchan tradition. Like the original Italian meaning of the word, they are ‘small sounds’, but other than having fourteen lines, the rhyme scheme is irregular as is the number of syllables in each line. This reduced and simplified form has been called the Baxterian sonnet after the poet James K. Baxter.


from Poems in Exile

The First Rook War

Rooks strung out along the power lines

So many crochets and quavers

Angled south-east, north-west, up and down

Flat notes on a music score

There is purpose to their vigil: a reason

To scan the tree-serrated eye-line

Lift the ragged hems of clouds, keep an ear

For whispers on the woodland floor.

Yesterday the wind gave warning; this

Morning the sky was purple-bruise; for the

World they – and we – had known was leaving us

And no way back, not now, nor evermore.

For out there, on the coast, gulls were mapping

Their flight-paths, inland raiders from

A beastly sea; herring gulls

Eyes full of menace, armed with cadences and

Looking for war.

Not where they should be

Not the proffered enemy

It foretells a new zeitgeist

Not the normal state of affairs; as in life

The old ways are distorted, we have to look further, closer

Even the countryside feels broken

Placed on alert; anticipating danger

No longer from the foe you know

But the stranger.

What Lies Ahead.

It hits you, suddenly, the realisation that it will all end one day,

And not so very far into the unreadable future

At some point everything will be compressed

Into a pandemonium of flesh and marrow

And your life, as an accordion with the air suppressed

Will play a wheezing requiem, before you exit, for a final time.

Frustrated that you cannot choose the moment

Utter those last words you always meant to say,

Private declamations, simpering apologies, septic guilt

All that will be left hanging in the context of a careless life.

The Antithesis of Noman Standing

  1. Time and Tide Waits for Noman

When I was young and free and the world was first laid bare

Startled and nude as a skinned peach

I did not bother to chase time for I knew it was always there,

Coming at me, floating into reach

Once, I rode the tides like pumice,

Porous and unsinkable

washed out of the sky, at such times

Death was unthinkable

Now I think of nothing else

Nightmares of bodies dashed on rocks

And someone at home, waiting

dumbstruck by the heartbeat of the clock

I was oblivious to it all,

Conscious only of

The tide abating.

While just around the corner

In a tinpot, tea-cosied world

My old adverseries

Time and Tide

Lay waiting

  1. Noman is an Island

I don’t need the company of men

Or women for that matter not armed with a pen

As I am, which I use brutally

To create my effigy, shadows casting shadows

To suffocate the loneness that

I feel,

Cut off from the main

A loneliness that screams, thy will be done,

For  as I knelt and prayed, not for courage

As once I would have done

But to be afraid

To be cast adrift, a loner, on an island, to be

that island, noman’s island

To be unmade.

3.    Noman is worth crying over

Men are an abomination, that truth was self-evident

Before the geneticist filled in the dots and told us so

Even before the revelation, before the enquiry, before the Judas kiss

Was made public

Before the show trial

Before the story turned up in The Mail

Before the last nail, we all knew this

Before the jury (skirted? et tu, Grayson?) assembled and this poem was

used as proof of an overwhelming deception

we all knew

It was time to go

We had long known it, of course we had

But its fiery alphabetic rhetoric left us stunned

Stupified by the brilliance of a super nova

Leaving only me standing, as ever, an exception

Drink, you bastards, drink, you ugly munchkin bastards

Noman is worth crying over

Whatever you may think.

4.    Greater Love Hath Noman  

She thinks I don’t care

She thinks I don’t know the connection

She thinks too much, methinks, of things

That lack direction; the ceremony, the harelip rings

The flowers; it is all symbols and observances

The giving or the taking and the giving back

She’s on the wrong track, silly girl. Give it a whirl, spin the bottle

check with the chap above

I have the greater love.

Of course, it is all comparative, whose got what and what love means

and what it is that hides behind the screens

it is pure theatre, made for the showman

with grandiose gestures, scrambled sentences

sweet allure; some love the Lord, others love the tyke

Say what you like, Greater love hath Noman.

5. Noman’s Land

I have been lost between shores for as long as I can remember

trapped in a chrysallis, neither one damned thing or another

exiled in my portion of unmanned universe

So damned weary, life’s hardly worth the bother

Days spent waiting for the hearse.

There is a tipping point in people’s lives; would the world

Have noticed had they never been? Now, I despise self pity

Self abrogation, but hey, hot dog in the city, I know the scene

Know the score, the has-been and the might-have-beens; once

was shown the door

Oh years ago; Would that I would go away people will understand

They will say he took too much, expected too much, he had become trite,

An unfortunate accessory after the fact; he showed no tact, no human

qualities, a cripple looking for a crutch, it was all too much

An outcast now at home

In No-man’s Land.

Some thoughts on the short story. . . .

Like Ian McEwan, late of Chesil Beach

I don’t like books that overreach

That pride themselves on pages written

Nor, if I’m truthful, am I smitten

By flowery names and distant places

Leading to a form of stasis

Worth ‘too much detail’, ‘too much story’

I’m a simple chap, a jackadory

And bred to sidestep words en masse

And while the learned think that crass

I think that Ian’s point of view

Is one I’d happily eschew

So spare me all those lengthy tomes

That line the walls of stately homes

They’re not for me, I’m sure of that

The Cat in the Hat is where I’m at

I’m a novella sort of fella

and like a simple story teller.

Wendy Cope

Too many words to scan

In one vowel swoop

An overpowering mien, oh yes, and mean

While carrying the can

For some poor dope; pausing between scenes

losing all hope

O call out the guards, notify the Pope

If anyone can cope then you can

Wendy Cope

Poems about pater; pitter-patter poems

Does it matter poems

Poems without a grievance

Poems from broken homes

Poems in tomes and honeycombs

With couplets strung out

Hanging by a rope, but then

You’re not the sort of poet to mope

If anyone can cope then you can

Wendy Cope

You sit there, flitting from book to book

Reading your words away; who’s to say

A clever chap wearing an Oxbridge look

Might not persuade your poems to lose

The form you dressed them in; then it’s the slippery slope

When words come loose and metaphors elope

When gravitas sets in and kills all hope

But you’re the sort of poet that’s going to cope

Wendy sea-scope, see, you’ll cope.

The Passing of WE52 MJE 

The back story is that in May 2014, I was travelling from the funeral to the wake of my Aunt Margot when my car, a PT Cruiser (it was the initials that did it for me) ground to a crunching halt. The car had run out of oil and on my return to Sherborne (thanks to the AA relay) I was informed it could not be fixed and its value was such, that the offer of £150 for scrap was as good as I could hope for. I couldn’t bring myself to consign my wheels to the scrapheap and held on to it. Then, when I had finally given up on it, an engine was found and in mid-November, the car had its transplant and was deemed roadworthy once again. But its resurrection should not detract from the pathos, the grief that gave voice to the lines printed below.

Between the funeral and the wake

The life oil ran out; it was to signal

another passing; not a patch on Margot

with her 93 years, but to see a car go

without warning, before its time was spent

with nigh a ding and scarcely a dent

Can only end in tears.

She was a mere slip of a chassis

Classy but born out of her time

I loved her gentle lines, her only crime

Not to inhabit Chicago or some other no-go

zone. Oh Al Capone where are you now,

my violin case lies empty, like my heart,

grieving alone in the back window

A black widow

awaiting the bandage of time

for a world ripped apart

clunking out of rhyme.

She was only 12 years old when she went

On the cusp of adolescence,

Twelve measly years old; touch her!

Feel how cold steel is

O God! the horrors of obsolescence

Of body parts, no longer needed

Fittings and gadgets superseded

And warning lights never heeded

Feel her abiding presence

Won’t you

Sense the passing of menace.

I remember her last tax disc whether

Twelve months was a risk – no, I thought

She would always go on and on

I never dreamt she would desert me

That her life could not always be bought

And now she’s gone

And begorrah, it’s hurt me!


It’s taken this long to know my number plate

Too late, I hear it saying to me, it’s your neglect

That means I’m going to end up wrecked

Packaged in a cube, an art installation

when you could have saved me

At the last petrol station.

I’m sorry

Like your tyres

I’ve let you down

I only wish I’d been that lorry

To have carried you back home

To rust, to rest

Beneath a garden gnome

That would have been best

So what of you, my PT cruiser,

Your body work needs work

Your motor’s failing; you’re no longer the bruiser

I married

Sure, you carried me for a while

For many a serendipity mile

But you’re a loser

Insult and flat battery that’s you

Why would anyone choose you

From a car yard? Do the hard yards, buddy and confess

That underneath your bonnet, you’re a mess

You know when I bought you, I was quite emphatic

I didn’t want an automatic; I’m one for changing gears

Travelling the roads for the rest of my years

That was the dream, that was the plan

Not to end up a cruiser abuser

But a travelling man

Wending my way through life

Or at least, Cornwall and Devon

Strapped in with the wife

For my natural span

Sat-naved to heaven

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