National Poetry Day

I was out of town yesterday, so am a day late writing something here about National Poetry Day. This week’s “The Essay” on Radio 3 (22:45 Mon-Fri) is called Five Poems I Wish I Had Written, in which the poet Don Paterson talks about five poems he wishes he had written. It is very good.

This is a poem I wish I had written-

Those long uneven lines
Standing as patiently
As if they were stretched outside
The Oval or Villa Park,
The crowns of hats, the sun
On moustached archaic faces
Grinning as if it were all
An August Bank Holiday lark;

And the shut shops, the bleached
Established names on the sunblinds,
The farthings and sovereigns,
And dark-clothed children at play
Called after kings and queens,
The tin advertisements
For cocoa and twist, and the pubs
Wide open all day;

And the countryside not caring:
The place-names all hazed over
With flowering grasses, and fields
Shadowing Domesday lines
Under wheat’s restless silence;
The differently-dressed servants
With tiny rooms in huge houses,
The dust behind limousines;

Never such innocence,
Never before or since,
As changed itself to past
Without a word – the men
Leaving the gardens tidy,
The thousands of marriages,
Lasting a little while longer:
Never such innocence again.


It’s MCMXIV by Philip Larkin. I love ‘shut shops‘ and ‘the thousand marriages/Lasting a little while longer‘.

This is a poem I did write: it’s called ‘SO’

The coffee I was sipping cost me £2
And the picture I was looking at and found
I liked in this coffee-house-come-gallery
Of which these days there are so many
Was £40

So: I figured
I could give up the so-so coffee for a month
Buy the picture and still have cash to spare
And I’d have the picture and it would be
A joy for ever- so what was stopping me?

-The thought that I would, once it was up on my wall
Find the picture so…so-so after all
The sacrifices I’d made; find myself longing
For a cup of the coffee I rarely bother to taste,
Just sip sip sip until it’s gone.


These are three pieces I wrote one after the other and then grouped under the heading ‘Throwaways’, which I then introduced (at Dave Horn’s wonderful book launch the week before last) thus:

“In case you think I am doing myself a disservice writing poems and then calling them throwaways, I offer you the example of the humble condom, which has very important functions and yet is thrown away after single use- except perhaps by certain kinds of fetishist, certain kinds of artist…”



The Absent-Minded Poet

I have come back to this
and find that I cannot remember
how it began and how it is meant to end-
I have come back to this
but It won’t come back to me

It’s such a shame-
I thought that for once I had nailed it-
The Love Song (or was it about Death
or War or one of the Ancient Myths
or daffodils or the view from Westminster Bridge
or the sea or childhood or loss
or was it just
an inspired piece of nonsense?).

It makes me wonder why we mourn the dead
or remember old flames
nothing ever ends
and I can’t get the beginning right
all we can do is try to get the middle right


The Seed-Bed

Onan splashed his seed on the land
                                                        and that was the end of Onan’s clan

I have no joy with plants
no matter that I water them
and talk to them and chant
protect them from pests

I envy you your green fingers
take pleasure in their offspring
the snapdragons and marigolds
the heliotrope

To you I tip my hat
nevertheless and for all that
I think that the seeds I have sown
are waiting their turn


Free Association

Alone with my thoughts
I could speak them if I wish
But would they die if they were caught
Like fish?

Aloud, they would be changed
And I would be alone
With the buried-alive golem
That won’t lie down

The lives we would rather live
Are those where we never have to say
Tell me you love me; why can’t you say it?
And no-one ever turned the other way

(Of course, now that I have posted these, I can’t reasonably call them throwaways, can I?)