I have just performed this show at the wonderful Faversham Fringe Festival – my first ever solo show. These are the poems I read.
Remember when we said
We must meet
To remember that time
When we sat
And remembered how we met
And everything that led
Remember how you said
Yes- but no!
I’ve just remembered
I’m busy all that week
And then we go
To China; but we’ll speak
Again in September
Remember how I said
But you will remember won’t you
And then I heard
Nothing for an age
Not a word
Until I ‘phoned you
And reminded you you’d promised to remember
And you hadn’t remembered
And you must have known how much I’d be upset
And you said No, I forget
THE JUDGMENT OF PARIS
I am Athena and I have riches and power
Choose me and I will give you as my dower
I am Aretha and I am skilful and wise
Choose me and we will live above the skies
And not expire
My name’s Apple- what you see is what you get
Choose me quick- these attributes won’t last, though they beget
He chose Desire
Once again you set me on my shanks-
There have been so many meetings, partings
At so many bus stops, taxi-ranks
So many passions that turned into farces
So many walks back home on canal banks.
Yes, love will return but empty-handed
The tormentor will wind the rack
Believing you have answers he is minded
To keep on winding ’til you crack-
All he asks of you is to be candid.
The only remedy for love is song
But art is too brief, life too long
We go on singing all the time there’s light
And now ’tis night. And now, he said, ’tis night.
Miserable Love Poetry- Type 1
There are only so many sad love songs you can take
Before you start wanting more
Enough for your heart to break
Once and for all
I believe that there are no synonyms for love
Why should anyone use a figure of speech
As if a magician removing his white glove
To show you he’s keeping nothing up his sleeve
But tricking you all the same with his masterpiece
Of producing a rabbit that couldn’t have been there?
And that rather proves my point, for love
Is nothing like a rabbit – it can’t be seen,
It is itself a figure of speech, enough
In its brevity, its beauty, to mean
No more, no less, no other – to fill the scene
Which until then was unpeopled, uncurtained, bare
We both like watching comedies of love-
Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Creseyde
The lights go down and we are at one remove
Getting our kicks from real-life tragedies.
Afterwards, in the midnight mean streets
We stay close, look for taxicabs, beware
If you strive to think of other words for love
Devotion, admiration, lust, esteem
You realise at once that they’re too rough
They will not hold the tears that teem
Cannot show what is, but only seems
The ecstacy, the hopeless, the despair
What Hurts Most
Writing down the memories that hurt
I try to be complete
I write them out in measurements of feet
My home, my school, my friends, my work
You will notice what is missing from the above
I try to be complete
But it hurts too much- from my head to my feet
To write of love
I heard a man on the radio say-
Talking about the music he had listened to in his youth-
That when you are a teenager you choose-
Even though you are too young to have known such a thing-
To play those songs that tell of broken love affairs-
As if – no, not as if, but truly –
Lost love seems more real than anything you know-
As if those songs about love that’s over
Speak to you even though it’s before
You’ve ever had love; before you’ve ever been in love-
And, having said all that, he played
An old, familiar song,
One of those songs
In which ‘brown eyes’ rhymes with ‘goodbyes’;
‘Lovin’ heart’ with ‘torn apart’;
‘By my side’ with ‘tears I’ve cried’.
It only took three minutes to say all that.
On the clifftop
Through a gap between the poplars and the pines
Beyond the miles of iron-grey sea
The horizon glitters:
A thin line of light you could never reach-
No matter how young and fast you are.
It is always just as far away;
And it won’t come in with the tide.
In the high street
A man bent over a guitar sings, roughly, a song.
It takes you a while to recognise
Bobby Shafto’s Gone To Sea
He is playing it as if it’s a tragedy.
You drop a coin inside his hat
Say Thanks for the memory.
Back home you turn the radio on.
This time you hear a woman’s voice
Telling you about mindfulness
How it can help you to cope with painful thoughts
You listen for a minute, switch it off
Saying sorry but now I’m fully grown
There’s nothing you can do for my heart of stone
You wait for the repeat, of the man
Talking about lost love and about those songs
That made melancholy sound more appealing
Than happiness or joy
When you were still a boy
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
Neither do we have to observe the niceties
Of beginning Dear You
And writing Love Me to end it
Poem To You
I address this poem to You
As if you will ever see it
I talk to You in this poem
As if you will ever hear it
I write to an anonymous You
Certain you’ll never read it
The chances are I shall bury it in my blog
Read it to seven people in a bar
The chances really are a million to one
That you’ll come across it by chance
Yet I address it to You
And even if that million-to-one shot comes in
How could you possibly know that I mean you?
I know other women, you know
But all the same I am saying this to you
Whatever do I mean by doing so?
I shall write you a fucking sestina and you still won’t care.
I shall stare at the laptop waiting for your answer.
After a week you will send me a one-line e-mail:
I like it! a smiley face and a single kiss
Is all I will get for my outpouring of love.
Do you wonder that I am bitter and your slave?
You cannot – or can you? – have wanted me for your slave.
Even if you knew what I felt, and didn’t care
You must have known that everything I write about love
Is addressed to you, and’s for you to answer;
Yet all I receive is a hug and a chaste kiss,
A tardy, unwilling reply to my passionate e-mail.
I wish I could write you a letter instead of an e-mail.
The list of emojis doesn’t have one for ‘slave’;
And there’s no weight of meaning in typing an ‘x’ for a kiss.
Between the lines I can tell you how much I care,
But not enough for you to have to answer
In words that have anything at all to do with love.
And that’s that. I’ve had enough of writing about love –
Writing to myself (even though I send you the e-mail).
I have no question waiting for an answer:
All I have’s this sestina over which I slave;
And I wonder sometimes if it is this I care
More about than getting from you a tender kiss.
But my heart aches still when I dream about that kiss
And of you, and of begging you for your love;
And I wonder if I have taken too much care
Not to hurt you with what I write in the e-mail:
Romantic love, like this tricky form, can make a slave
Of anyone who can’t find an easy answer.
O love! O Love! tell me tell me the answer.
Is it that simple- to want no more than a kiss?
Would that free me to be your equal, no longer your slave?
Would I know at last what it means to love,
To please you, to be kind, forget the bloody e-mail;
To forget the pangs of passion and truly care?
Answer me, dear, and, I beg you, in words of love.
Kiss your poor slave who sends you this e-mail.
I press ‘send’ and place this poor verse in your care.
The perfumed letters that you let me write
Like pleadings of a penitential rite
The perfumed letters that you let me read
The perfumed envelopes, the bleeding
Words on lilac paper: my boyfriend’s a pain;
When can I see you again?
I read your letters and I felt your dole
I kept them in the shoebox of my soul
I heard the late-night music, drank the wine
Considered the exchange of scents- yours/mine
The paper that I write on smells of rue
I write the words I’m listening to to you
How is it human beings haven’t changed?
Still can’t tell right from wrong
All the way from the Stone Age
To drone-dropped bombs
She lent me – this is a long time ago – a sweater
She gave it to me because I was feeling cold
She told me I could keep it- this was later
It was navy-blue and crew-necked.
I can say, now I’m a poet,
That it smelled of hope and of regret
But it didn’t- it smelled of her sweet scent
I treated it with care and with respect
Pressed it to my face and to my breast
Trying to preserve the perfumed present
Which was her
I’m sorry that you feel that way
Is a line that ends with a full stop.
I begged her to continue- “and?”…
Even though I knew that adding to it
Sounds as though you are taking something away
The sweater lost her scent after a bit
Should I wear it? I wondered; or write about it?
What was She Then-
When I was Young
And spending My Heart’s Youth-
That now is lost
To half-blind eyes
That squint at books for Truth?
Was She – the gold
And lustrous hair;
The sparkling eyes
Aglow with Tears
That now are dull and dry?
Or was She – the Soul
I could not see
That gave such joy, such pain?
And where’s that now
And how transformed?
Is it, too, aged and stained?
No answer comes-
Today, or other days.
There is no map
That marks the place
The thread snapped in the maze.
Yearning for Love
These days we begin our infrequent meetings
With smiles and touches, near-ecstatic greetings;
As though it’s showtime after far too few rehearsals
We exchange banalities, step apart
To say Let me look at you- what’s the art
You have of staying young and beautiful?
We tell each other that we didn’t prefer
This cafe when it was cheap and cheerful-
Its smell of bacon frying, sound of Radio One
We like, we say, the way they’ve done it up,
Play punk music as background noise;
And, as we sit and stir our cafe noirs
I just about make out Patti Smith snarling
We don’t need your fucking shit
And we laugh, as if it’s funny, for a bit
We used, I’m certain, to be adamant
That prose was a hardly-spoken-of, distant
Relative of poetry, the real thing
Our lives, we meant, were poems, all moments
Heightened, all nights red, red roses:
No-one would ever say My life’s like prose
These days we choose our words more carefully
“I like your coat”, I say; “it suits you”.
Its lapels, its pockets, its buttons, the way it
Holds your scarf to your neck, the way it
Comes down to your knees. Once a coat
Was a thing to get quickly out of
Its warmth and colour of no interest to me
We’ve been through what we’ve seen and what we’ve read
How you finally cleared your credit card debt
How the lump in your armpit was benign
We agree how sweet it is that all is well.
I notice they have games- we could play Scrabble?
When you think that once…aren’t we terrible?
We say goodbye like mourners on Good Friday.
I get all the warmth of your coat. Don’t be a stranger.
We must do this more often. No. Really.
These ones are best for headaches, back pain
These are for mild to moderate pain
There are non-opioid painkillers
And weak opioid painkillers such as codeine
There are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
And these ones should only be used as part
Of a long-term plan to manage your pain
There are those who have chosen alternative treatments
Everyone who experiences pain of course has the right
To decide what if any treatment they wish to pursue
It is vital, however, that people are fully informed
There are many forms of alternative medicine
There is, for example, acupuncture
How acupuncture works is not entirely clear
Self-hypnosis, marijuana, willow bark,
Aswagandha powder, all have their advocates
These are for people who will not take prescribed medicines
Especially if they are likely to kill the pain
If she knew how I was living
In this place where they give you a shilling for a song
Enough for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit
She wouldn’t have known that you can’t go wrong
In a spot like this
But she doesn’t know how I am living
So she doesn’t know that you can’t go wrong
In a spot like this
Where they give you a shilling for a song
And you have everything you need
GUN FOR HIRE
And no metaphors either
This ain’t no phallic symbol
(A gun being a stiff black thing
that hangs below a man’s waist
and which he occasionally raises 90 degrees
and shoots- oo missus no don’t)
No, this is a proper gun
Buttoned in a holster next my heart
I hope never to have to use it
Not even to threaten
All I want is to make a little art
I thought if I just dressed in black
And you could hear the ringing of my spurs
As I come to get the Clanton gang
It would take your mind off things
The important thing about being a gun for hire
Is to show you how to love without desire
If you stand in the right light
Your tears show all the colours of the rainbow
I have spent my life counting
The motes of dust in a sunbeam
It is some comfort to me
I lay three days upon the ground
I will die with her
I will not eat or drink or sleep
I lie down on the beach and
The sea wrack gathers over me
This was in the days when
Your wore your hair uncut down to your eyes
Perhaps it was the mouth she thought too wide
The rounded body that she couldn’t hide
Bride of my youth
My love went in and out with the tide
What you saw was all: she had no side
She had no way of knowing when you lied
Sighed at the truth
My love went in and out with the tide
These days I can take it in my stride
Love awakened that so quickly died
Wide of the mark, in truth
The portrait that was painted while she cried
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
I never never never never never
Want to meet anybody ever again – ever
I mean it I really really really really do
I never again want to hear anyone say
It’s me- it isn’t you
OR I need my space
OR I think we should take some time out
(A trial separation is the idea
But the key word is separation…)
This is the living grid of shiftlessness
That passes for maturity, even sophisticatedness
We were not, after all, meant for each other
But I still love you like a friend or brother
Stuff that- what happened to romantic love?
Why is it dead and gone
Living on only in song?
Yours is the most meaningful, deepest-
Friendship – I’ve had in years
Don’t trash it because you can’t have everything
I’m really fond of you; I love you dearly
But we’re not teenagers any more
And you’re acting like a child
Don’t you know how selfish you are being
I’m a decent man and mild
And, may I say, you always
Will be a priority
Not exclusive though
You can’t have everything your way
Besides, I’m not looking for a relationship right now
And anyway you’re too good for me
You’ll always be special
I ask Yvonne Do they ever say
I need to get my head sorted out
or better still
I need to get my karma sorted out
I bet they do
Maybe we’re just not meant to be
No-one’s to blame
I’m not good enough for you
Yes, any old excuse will do
For leaving you
Hayley Mills Helen Mirren Gina Lollabrigida
Sophie Marceau Ava Gardner Debbie Harry Cher
Rita Hayworth Christine Keeler Cyndi Lauper Doris Day
Lulu Claudia Cardinale Twiggy Ludevine Sagnier
Mandy Rice-Davies Romy Schneider Isabella Rosselini
Ingrid Bergman Virna Lisi Diana Rigg Natasha Kinski
Louise Brooks Christina Hendricks Monica Bellucci
Audrey Hepburn Susan Sarandon Mae West Vivian Leigh
Scarlet Johannson Lesley Caron Marilyn Monroe Sandie Shaw
Bridgette Bardot Kim Novak Raquel Welch Hedy Lamarr
Natalie Wood Marianne Faithfull Sophia Loren Heather Graham
Joanna Lumley Elizabeth Taylor Diana Dors Honor Blackman
Jacqueline Bissett Jane Birkin Joni Mitchell Grace Jones
Petula Clark Kirsty McColl Jean Shrimpton Clara Bow
Carole Lombard Kathy Kirby
Diana Quick Isabelle Adjani
Jenny Agutter Jayne Mansfield
Grace Kelly Tuesday Weld
I could go on, but time is short
And on and on and on