Miserable Love Poetry

Thomas Hardy’s second wife, Florence, wrote in a letter: He is this afternoon writing a poem with great spirit: always a sign of well being with him. Needless to say, it is an intensely dismal poem.

I spent many years of my life writing almost exclusively in a genre called miserable love poetry, until I realised – at the age of about 55 – that this juvenilia was no good. I still have a certain fondness for the genre though…

I have written enough about love

And said nothing at all.

The dancing, the drinking, the weddings

Meant nothing at all.

There were moments, of course, there were

Moments when life was a ball,

But I’ve written enough about love

To know that was all.

And now, wrapped up warm, wearing gloves

In the old peoples’ hall

We chuckle at youngsters today-

How they rise! How they fall!

We shrink in the past and the present

Means nothing at all.

But the past is no good; it’s the place

Where the old voices call:

You have written too much about love

And said nothing at all.


In those days we wrote letters.

One night I wrote

I’m in love with you

And signed my name

And sealed it, then

Wondered whether to send it.

These days we have email, text,

Which are quick and sort of free,

So better.

Neither do we have to observe the niceties

Of beginning ‘Dear You’

And writing ‘Love Me’ to end it.


It seemed important then and doesn’t now

It’s autumn and the leaves are on the ground

And you dread the coming darkness and the cold

The time it takes to reach another spring.

     The wasps are angry and they sting

     The foxes stare and grow more bold

     Jackdaws fright the air with sound

     The knife you threw just missed, so now

We are still talking, though you’re in tears,

And to each other, not to the police

Or to the doctor in emergency.

Jesus, you know how to have a row.

     The black cat jumps the wall and bows

     His next trick is to walk upon the sea

     And after that he’ll bring world peace

     Yes, cats have all the gears.

We must beat our weapons into ploughs

What seems important now, just isn’t now.


Missing Breakfast

I read somewhere that the poet Gavin Ewart used to write a poem first thing every day. The main themes of his work were sex and death. I think that writing a poem when  you get up is a fine idea, but I am not sure that sex and death would be uppermost in my mind at that time- breakfast would be. For the same reason, I think that anything I write first thing is going to be short…

This is called

              Missing Breakfast

At breakfast time I was so deep in Yeats

That I ate without knowing what I ate

And only when I saw the empty plate

Did I roll my tongue around my mouth and taste

What I had eaten.


                    It’s food, not verse, that fills your belly

                    You don’t shop for  Dante, or Dryden,  in the deli.


This is a poem with a message:

No matter what these poems presage-

Eat your breakfast.

Don’t sell your mess of pottage for a birthright;

However well you think that Wordsworth writes,

Eat your breakfast.

I bet the painter Francis Bacon 

Didn’t paint while eating eggs and bacon

Although, now I think of it,

The people in his paintings

Somewhat resemble rashers of bacon,

So perhaps he was thinking of it;

And his work still makes a handsome profit…

But hey, what of it-

My message is…my, my, this coffee’s good

Message is…I’ll get back to you after my food


Well, that turned out rather silly.

Tomorrow is World Poetry Day. It was UNESCO who designated March 21st as World Poetry Day. The website points out that this is not a public holiday.

I shall write something about sex and death, probably after I have eaten breakfast.












Random Thoughts About Poetry

I have used the phrase ‘random thoughts’ knowing that it is just a cliché (as is the phrase ‘just a cliché’). They are not random in the sense of having popped out of a lottery machine into my mind; but they are not consecutive thoughts; they are not thought out.

There is a character in Patrick White’s Voss who wonders if poetry is just an elaborate practical joke? I rather approve of such wondering. Why is so much poetry so bloody hard to understand? Impossible to understand. From


Half a pound of tupenny rice

Half a pound of treacle

That’s the way the money goes

Pop! goes the weasel



Said the left front ox, suddenly,

‘pnAWH!’ as they tied on his front red band,

St George, two hokey-pokey stands and the unicorn

‘Nicchio! NicchiO-né!!’

The kalypygous Sienese females

get that way from the salite


and so on (Ezra Pound Canto XLIII)

there is a feeling that someone doesn’t want you to know.

(I’m wrong: you didn’t think anything like that when you were an infant chanting pop goes the weasel. That’s what comes of trying to construct an argument rather than allowing random thoughts. If we had thought about it then , we would have decided pretty easily that we preferred the rhymes that baffled us to the one that went Brush brush brush your teeth/ Early in the morning.)

On the subject of nursery rhymes, does anyone else think that the opening of Mozart’s piano sonata in A major (K331) sounds like Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross? I am not joking- I think that this is one of the greatest pieces of music there is, and I think that the opening sounds like Ride a Cock Horse.


And so:

Is poetry just an elaborate practical joke?

Were you to build a house in the way

That modernist poetry was written-

Fragmented, imagistic, alienated-

It would look, on paper at least,

Impractical; a dream-house, yes,

Certainly that, but the sort of dream you want to awake from

And forget.

Were you to remember and actually build the damn thing

Surely whoever lived there would discover

That the roof

And the wiring

And the walls

And so on, were experimental.

The victims of practical jokes don’t laugh;

And then it comes out that it wasn’t a joke at all…


Most of the poet Sappho’s work was lost and some of what has survived are just single words – sweatgoatherdblossom, for example. How can one word of a poem be worth preserving? Would you turn the page, read the word blossom, then close the book and think about it? Read it again? Read the footnotes? Here is a word salvaged from a lost work of my own:


Actually, now I think about it, perhaps that was from a shopping list, not a poem.


He Said She Said

He said Let’s do it in the park

We always do it in the dark

When I can hardly see

          She said O yes! That sounds a lark

          To do it the public park

          Where everyone can see

He said No absolutely not

I meant we’d find a hidden spot

Behind a bush or tree

          She said But if we find that spot

          And take off all that we have got

          And someone comes to pee?

He said I didn’t think that you’d

Object to doing something rude

You’re always so broad-minded, free

          She said You know I’m not a prude

          But really! to be in the nude

          Upon my hands and knees…

He got his way in the end of course

Behind a bush of prickly gorse.

No-one came to look or pee

But they were caught on CCTV

Mr Blue

What a fine night it was at the 7th Wonder Jam Session saying goodbye to Mr Blue, who is moving to Bath. This is for him.

Now Mr. Blue was the wonder jam man

In a Folkestone bar called Kipps

He’d play all night in the bar half-light

And it really gives me the pip

For he’s lost his heart to the city of Bath

And the jam won’t be the same

So although I’m not writing his epitaph
I’m sad just to speak his name

     O Mr Blue; what shall we do?

     I’m feeling- kind of 7th wonder jam night blues

     This funny feeling- keeps round me stealing

     O won’t you throw those Bath buns over do?

I try to write a poem- something that will show him

That Kipps bar beats those Bath buns any day

But every verse- is much much worse

Now I know you won’t stay no matter what I say.

O Mr Blue, what shall I do?

I’m feeling- kind of 7th wonder jam night blues

     But Mr Blue’s got a roving eye that flickers

     You ought to see it wobble when he sees a lady’s profile

     Mr Blue what shall I do

     I’m feeling- kind of 7th wonder jam night blues

And what does Bath have- that Folkestone doesn’t?

Okay, it’s a World Heritage Site

With its Roman Baths and the spas

And the Georgian architecture

And the Jane Austen connection

And the buns

But what does that add up to- you’ve got friends here by the dozen

Mr Blue what shall we do?

We’re feeling – kind of 7th wonder jam night blues

Kind of 7th wonder jam night blues


I have finished – for the time being – with Edward Thomas, and am now reading Rilke, who wrote, in a letter to his wife:Gazing is such a wonderful thing, and one that we know so little about. In gazing we are turned completely outwards, but at the very moment when we are most outward-turned things appear to happen within us that have waited longingly until they are unobserved…

There is more, but that is enough for the moment. That letter was dated March 8th 1907, so today – March the 8th 2016 – is a good day to think about gazing; is in fact a good day to gaze. Gazing is such a wonderful thing.

This is called Gazing (it’s by me; not Rilke)

          “On a clear day you can see the coast of France.”

          I take his word, and on this clear day gaze

          At shapes of low hills, blue-grey shadows,

          That look uninhabited; a desert.

In front of these the shipping-lanes appear

A darker blue than the rest of the sea.

Ships appear hardly to be moving

Until you look away; and then they move.

          Then there is nothing but sea, and the broken

          Light on the sea, and then, much closer but

          Far enough to seem but licks of a brush

          On a canvas, a black boat and a black buoy.

And then the end of the sea, unbothered

Today to be spectacular or grand-

An old-age sea, with its trousers rolled,

Doing no more than paddling on the sand.

          And then the beach and people throwing balls

          For dogs and letting their children romp;

          And then a line of unused chimney-pots

          Atop the off-white crescent of beach hotels.

Above them and shoulder-to-shoulder with me

A pine tree with straight, bare trunk; leaves

That are needles, sharp against the sky;

And then the railing that I lean against.

          And then my eyes, looking outward and sealed

          From the gazer beside the tree;

          Leaving the coast of France, the ships, the sea,

          My gaze returns to something unrevealed.