Friday, 30 September 2011


Now I sit my child on the jut 
of my hip, and take
his weight with the curve
of my waist, like a tree
split at the fork,
like lovers leaning out of a waltz.

Nothing is lost, I was never
one of those girls
stood slim as a sapling.
I was often alone at the dance.

Kate Clanchy

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


 Philip Larkin statue, Hull, England.
The statue, by sculptor Martin Jennings, was unveiled on the Hull Paragon Station concourse
on 2 December 2010, 25 years to the day after the poet Philip Larkin died.

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what's really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
- The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused - nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast, moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear - no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anasthetic from which none come round.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can't escape,
Yet can't accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

Philip Larkin

Friday, 23 September 2011


a stand of willowherb

I used to wait for the flowers,
my pleasure reposed on them.
Now I like plants before they get to the blossom.
Leafy ones - foxgloves, comfrey, delphiniums -
fleshy tiers of strong leaves pushing up
into air grown daily lighter and more sheened
with bright dust like the eyeshadow
that tall young woman in the bookshop wears,
its shimmer and crumble on her white lids.

The washing sways on the line, the sparrows pull
at the heaps of drying weeds that I've left around.
Perhaps this is middle age. Untidy, unfinished,
knowing there'll never be time now to finish,
liking the plants - their strong lives -
not caring about flowers, sitting in weeds
to write things down, look at things,
watching the sway of shirts on the line,
the cloth filtering light.

I know more or less 
how to live through my life now.
But I want to know how to live what's left
with my eyes open and my hands open;
I want to stand at the door in the rain
listening, sniffing, gaping.
Fearful and joyous, 
like an idiot before God.

Kerry Hardie
b. 1951 in Singapore

Wednesday, 21 September 2011


John Everett Millais
Detail of Ophelia

Every day God pats my head and calls me
angel, his little broken woman
and gives me flowers as if I hadn't had enough of these
and I choke back my rage and he mistakes this
for distress as I stand there shaking
in my little sackcloth dress.

Had I ever had the choice
I'd have worn a very different dress,
slit from breast to navel and far too tight
and I'd have smoked and sworn and been
out of my head on drugs, not grief, and the flowers
would have been a tattoo around my ankle,
not an anchor to drag me down, and as for
being a virgin, I'd have slept with both men and women.

I would never recommend a shallow stream
and what was no more than a daisy chain
as being the ideal way to die.
It was far too pretty but I had to improvise
and I was a poet, far more so than him,
who threw out every word he ever thought
as if that might have kept his sorry life afloat.

I didn't drown by accident. I was a suicide.
At least let me call my mind my own
even when my heart was gone beyond recall.

Today, a car crash might have ben my final scene,
a black Mercedes in a tunnel by the Seine,
with no last words, no poetry,
with flashbulbs tearing at my broken body
because broken was the way I felt inside,
the cameras lighting up the wreckage of a life.
That would, at least, have been an honest way to die.

Tracey Herd

Friday, 16 September 2011


Marcel Duchamp
Nu Descendant Un Escalier - 1912

Toe upon toe, a snowing flesh, 
A gold of lemon, root and rind,
She sifts in sunlight down the stairs
With nothing on. Nor on her mind.

We spy beneath the banister
A constant thresh of thigh on thigh -
Her lips imprint the swinging air
That parts to let her parts go by.

One-woman waterfall, she wears
Her slow descent like a long cape
And pausing, on the final stair
Collects her motions into shape.

X.J. Kennedy

Kennedy comments: "The poem was inspired by Marcel Duchamp's painting of the same title, but describes that work only with very rough fidelity".  (The work's title has the masculine gender)

X.J. Kennedy was born in Dover, New Jersey. His first volume of poetry  - of the same name - won the 1961 Lamont Award.

Monday, 12 September 2011


Tower of London - Traitor's Gate

Written in the Tower of London Before his Execution

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of pain,
My crop of corn is but a field of tares,
And all my good is but vain hope of gain;
The day is past, and yet I saw no sun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard and yet it was not told,
My fruit is fallen and yet my leaves are green,
My youth is spent and yet I am not old,
I saw the world and yet I was not seen;
My thread is cut and yet it is not spun,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death and found it in my womb,
I looked for life and saw it was a shade,
I trod the earth and knew it was my tomb,
And now I die, and now I was but made:
My glass is full, and now my glass is run,
And now I live, and now my life is done. 

Chidiock Tichborne
1558 - 1586

In spite of this very moving elegy, Tichborne was not primarily a poet.
He was a conspirator in the Babington Plot, six men who were pledged to kill Queen Elizabeth
and restore the Kingdom to the Church of Rome.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011


Earth Observatory NASA


Living is no joke. You must live with great seriousness
like a squirrel, for example,
I mean, expecting nothing above and beyond living,
I mean your entire purpose should be living.
You must take living seriously,
I mean so much so, so terribly
that, for example, your hands tied behind your back, your back to the wall,
or in your fat goggles
and white laboratory coat
you can die for people,
even for people whose faces you have not seen,
without anyone forcing you,
even though you know the most beautiful, the most real thing is living.

I mean, you must take living so seriously
that, even when you're seventy, for example, you'll plant olive seeds,
and not so the trees will remain for the children,
but because though you fear death you don't believe in it,
I mean because living is more important.


Let's say we're due for serious surgery,
I mean there's a chance
we might not get up from the white table.
Even if it's impossible not to feel sorrow at leaving a little too early
we'll still laugh at the Bektashi joke,
We'll look out the window to see if it's raining,
or impatiently await
the latest news.

Let's say we're on the front,
for something worth fighting for, let's say.
At the very first assault, on that very day
we could keel over and die.
We'll know this with a strange resentment,
but we'll still wonder madly
about how this war, which could last years, will end.

Let's say we're in prison
and nearly 50,
and let's imagine we have 18 more years before the opening of the iron doors.
We'll still live with the outside,
with its people, its animals, its toil and wind,
I mean with the outside beyond the wall.

I mean, however and wherever we are
we must live as if we will never die.


This earth will grow cold,
a star among stars,
and one of the smallest too,
a gilded granule in blue velvet, I mean,
I mean this tremendous world of ours.

This earth will grow cold one day,
and not like a chunk of ice
or a dead cloud -
it'll roll like an empty walnut shell
endlessly in the pitch black.

One must lament this now,
must feel this pain now.
This is how you must love this earth
so you can say "I've lived" . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Nâzim Hikmet

translated from the Turkish by Deniz Perin

Nazim Hikmet was he first modern Turkish poet, as well as a playwright, novelist and memoirist. He was born in Salonika in the Ottoman Empire (now Thessalonika, Greece) and died in Moscow.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


Now the hungry lion roars, 
And the wolf behowls the moon;
Whilst the heavy ploughman snores,
All with weary task fordone.
Now the wasted brands do glow,
Whilst the screech-owl, screeching loud,
Puts the wretch that lies in woe
In remembrance of a shroud.
Now it is the time of night
That the graves all gaping wide,
Every one lets forth his sprite, 
In the church-way paths to glide:
And we fairies, that do run
By the triple Hecate's team,
From the presence of the sun,
Following darkness like a dream, 
Now are frolic: not a mouse
Shall disturb this hallow'd house:
I am sent with broom before,
To sweep the dust behind the door.

William Shakespeare

There is a tawny owl living in a hollow in the horse chestnut tree in the garden. In autumn, the female's kew-wick  sounds for hours each evening and late into the night. As I type Puck's monologue from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' I hear her calling.

The call of the tawny owl sounds like 'komm mit' (come with)  in German and is said to presage a death.