Poem of the Month 2016-2020

2020   May

Don't Get Involved Is Best

"The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie.
A dignified and commodious sacrament."

A registry office wedding-reception disco;
The happy couple's five years out of wedlock daughter
boogieing down with Bacchus deep after midnight;
an abrupt agony of inarticulate wrangling,
then the Best Man gets his nose broken.
Whodunnit? The father of his inherited children. Who else?
say the greybeards.
But he's family
So we take him and his overflowing nose to CASUALTY in the car.
He sways with the blood that's thicker than Allbright
dumped like a clown's bib all down his discoshirt.
A mixed receptionist reads us three distracted questions
from a printed card:

Ave the Plice bin informed?
Was it a Family Occasion?
Was it a Wedding?

First published in New Welsh Review in 1993. I never put it into any of my collections for some reason, so apart from NWR archives it's only available here. I stumbled upon it today, standing in a corridor on its own.





This first fallen leaf, grim turd
Of all that March green light and hope,
All that high blue summer it inters,

Does not appal. I’m glad it’s gone
With all its apprehensions
Of consummation. Let it loose.

Let it all come down.

The Hawthorn  (for Juanita)

The May King's crown and spring's bright star
Is summerberry red in the hedgerow as I drive Back 
To School. The cornfield nods, under the blade in an hour;
The rowan's a druid sacrifice in bright scarlet blood.
I have a slice of the moon in my pocket
And the wild red rose of desire. 
I want this road to go on forever

Where tawny-eyed Merlin and Arthur and Gwenhwyfar
Return to reclaim the whole of Britain
And the spring-white hawthorn and the flushed druid witchen
And the pale solstice mistletoe of Morgan le Fay
All bloom together on the same tree.
And the long exile of the bards is over
And I don't have to go to school anymore.

Note: The last line has shifted in meaning since I first wrote this. I finally left school at the age of 51 - 13 years as a student, 27 years as a teacher - and always feel very happy and fortunate indeed about that at this time of the year. But life's lessons continue of course. (The dedicatee is someone who loves the hawthorn as much as me.)


The EU Farm 

(for the young)

In Little England, there's a happy farm
With pigs on the hill and cattle lowing
And sheep collie-led to shearing and lambing,
Horses, a stream, an Enlightenment barn
Combining utility with classic charm:
The flint and science of British farming
When Townshend & Walpole was ordering
The world by Norfolk - a vale from a Psalm

And a bold EU flag at home in its corn's
Arcadian slopes, mixed farm rotation's
Unwasted greens, tractors that store up
A summer in bales, a harvest home
Which says:if we leave remember this portion
Of England remains forever Europe.' 

During the Referendum Campaign in 2016, I  got distracted in North Norfolk driving back from a rehearsal while listening to the World Cup. I found myself for the first time in my life in Swanton Morley under a tsunami of red Leave signs on big farm gates and along streets of villas. I have never felt so lost in my life. I feel the complete reverse in my own Norfolk village, at least in the part described above: one of the prettiest low valleys in England and with a model (or shall we say 'enlightened)' mixed farm defiantly flying an EU flag. "That's staying," the farmer told me. And it has. This sonnet nails my own flag to the same mast. Readers may detect in parts the influence of reading a lot of picture books with my one year old granddaughter and in another Rupert Brooke's sonnet The Soldier. (Not to mention the 23rd Psalm, not read lately but learned by heart at Primary School.)


Tommy's 100th

(Village Memorial 11/11/2018)

As fossilised as a Daily Mail font,
We gather for remembrance, Brexit-badged
With poppies pinned tweet-loud, Union-flagged
Against the Europe we won then didn’t want;
The dying leaves in wild gusts blowing blunt
Our inside-out umbrellas like the rags
Of Empire, this annual beret-ing wag's
Self-crowned Napoleon pushing to the front.

IN GERMAN CAR) for King, Country (and up lines
Dividing Indian, Arab, Jew) the names 
Peal cleaving off a tongue that joins us all
From Private Ames to Lancelot Percival
Williamson, knights of faith: these countrymen.

and performed in Leicester on 29 June and 29 July as part of a brilliant initiative by Ambrose Musiyiwa.

I'm coupling it with this: 

The Breck's Isle Rap (Congratulations)

View a performance here- https://youtu.be/yZnhn_I6hXk 

"No man is an island but a part of the main." John Donne

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a No Deal with Nil Points

The UK will win Eurovision again;
Cilla, with Ringo's hair.
The Tories will be Winston Churchill again.
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your French shtick, your double Deutch,
Your Dolce-clad discothèques
Your  tiqui-taca, your Peps and your Klopps
Your Lattes and Pilsners and Becks.

You can keep your fromage, your Nordic noir,
Your Breughel and Brendan and Brecht,
Your Christendom, culture and 'civitas,'
Let me live on the Isle of Breck

Where coiffure d'Albert is Albert's of Heacham
And le bistrot a gastritis-pub;
Where mange tout de chef is Chav's All You Can Eat 
 And pure white folk rules at the club.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

England will win the World Cup again,
Harry Kane will be the hot Spur
The Who will be Number One again
(Except that they never were.)

You can keep your Rioja, your Pinot, your Brut,
Give us Spitfire and Bombadier
And Broadside and Bomber and Brexile Bitter
And rationing, hatred and fear.

It's the new party line, the new Civil War, 
Breaching kin, class, friend and Union
Eyes right, all salute the all-white flag
Of our half-mast donkey-led kingdom.

Full steam ahead to Breck's Isle, Ahoy!
A hundred percent right and sure
Or 52 on a confident day
Which it might not be anymore.

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Wales will win the World Cup/ beat the All Blacks/ again;
Real Madrid/ Warren Gatland/ the Spur;
The valleys be home-grown and funded again
(Except that they never were.)

100 percent for a four point turn
Going back where we weren't before
Back from the Front and that Normandy beach
Home to Brexile's doughty white shore.

We will fight in the plazas where families dine out,
Kick over their wine and cuisine;
We will never surrender our country and cod
And chip on the shoulder and Queen.

We are the champions of Europe we were
And will be, by running away
Backwards up Winston Churchill Drive 
Though his soft 'Will' has shrunk to hard 'May.'

As our sandy shores rock Euro-vision
With our white Cliff-Engelbert noir
And seize back control from green Brussels
And win a no-deal with 'nil points',

Northern Ireland will win the World Cup again,
A backstop midfield be the Spur,
Our Lost Lands will be Arthur's England again
(Except that they never were.)


'Breck' is Middle English for breached, broken.



The leaves are coming out
Brave and gay
Like words 'I love you'
My heart burst to say.

Note: I wrote this a long time ago and then it gained new relevance in the early 90s about the time the Conservative Government prohibited any mention of 'gay' in schools, as my statement of solidarity with gay colleagues.


October (National Poetry Day)

The Ballad of Hereward The Wake

Twilight in the greenwood, is Hereward  awake?
Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,
Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,
Dreaming of a hooded man that winds a shadowy horn.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

A wild swan, a curlew,
A fen-son, a tiger;
His high blood-tide exiled
By Edward the Confessor.

Performs magic deeds
In Cornwall and Ireland;
Fights fearless and feared
For Flanders, his wife-land.

Family home 'Normaned'
With his brother's severed head;
Returns, puts the murderers'
14 heads there instead.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

As free as the waters
That flow through the fen,
As the wide heaven-skies
In the eyes of good men,

To the Saxon Abbot
Of Ely he speeds;
Lords, with King Sweyn of Denmark,
Its marsh, mere and reeds.

Raids Peterborough Abbey,
Frees God's Saxon gold
From the thief-Norman grip
Of the tyrant monk Turold.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

From the Normans learns war,
From Flems love, bonds with Danes
But when King Sweyn makes peace,
Stays true to the thanes.

With Saxon Earl Morca
Defends Ely Isle
Fights war-craft and witch-fire
With fire, bow and guile.

The Norman machine
Cannot conquer that fastness;
Greed's causeway sinks
In full armour and harness.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!

His wood-spirit leaves-drops
The Conqueror's hush-biz
Then is gone like a breeze
Through the secret rushes.

Though our monks will give up,
Afraid for their lands,
Their arms and his paths,
He will slip through their hands.

As free as the waters
That flow through the fens,
As the wide heaven-skies
In the eyes of good men.

In the Lincoln greenwood,
In the Bruneswald,
Yellow-haired, sky-eyed,
Great-hearted and bold,

For the soul of England;
For your own spirit's sake,
Lift your heart and voice up
For Hereward the Wake!



This first fallen leaf, grim turd
Of all that March green light and hope,
All that high blue summer it inters,

Does not appal. I’m glad it’s gone
With all its apprehensions
Of consummation. Let it loose.

Let it all come down.


The giggle of gas
The stillness of stone
The mildness and might of metal
The vigour of vegetation
The wiliness of the worm
Out of its depth
The flowing finesse of a fish 
Out of water beating its scales
Into hard won wings.
There balance of bird
At height of career
Still finding its feet.
The sum of all these
And their greater whole
In human being.


I am two!
I am at the zoo!
A toucan's eye
Balls into mine
His neck's
Giant peck's
A hissing snake
Rippling with hate

And completely fake!

He's got no clout
He's just a BIG MOUTH

Teaches I in my pram
The song of the toucan


I'm Writer in School at Sedgeford 1st tomorrow (World Book Day, March 2) and there's a bit of an African theme going on. I'm reading 'Bound for Jamaica' (my children's story about the Atlantic slave trade published by Collins Education) with KS2 and Tortoise's Dream, an African folk tale by Joanna Troughton, with KS1. 

The exciting prospect has reminded of me these two poems which I've explored and enjoyed with young children on world book Days past. That toucan at the zoo is my first memory. My experience with KS1 is that you rarely get beyond the first five minutes before the rolly pollies and cartwheels of delight take over - but you never know, I might manage to get some drama and movement based on the above poems and then some words for their own creatures. That's the carefully laid plan anyway!

Full report on my blog tomorrow.


From 6 Degrees of Separation, 7 Degrees of Love

 Beyond Words

Baba, what can I say to please You?
What tuneless song could I try to sing?
What note can I strive for to reach You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what can I do to keep You?
Close to my heart as it beats out my time?
Close in the crowds where I speak with You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what can I think of to praise You?
If I mastered expression in everything?
If I measured Your Grace in a poem for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what deepest bow could raise You?
Were the depths of humility sounded?
Were my debt to You found and expounded for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what heights of beauty could touch You?
Could the world rest in laurels at my feet?
Could I sing like Orpheus in the deep for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what kind of love could I utter You?
Would my drop were an Ocean pouring?
Would my life were an answer to Your calling for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what can I know to impress You?
Should all of my moments come clear?
Should all my inspirations come together for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Baba, what kind of sense can I make for You?
Can I open my heart and reveal it ALL?
Can I seek to know Your Word and express it for You?
In Your Presence words fail and are nothing.

Beloved, these questions I ask of You,
Yet Love asks no questions, and answers none.
I am lost, but in love I am lost in You.
In Your Presence my failings mean nothing.


This business of loving You in silence,
Not exhibiting it in wasteful words
That pay Love lip service instead of blood,
Talking the talk not the bleeding art;
Performing the arti instead of the heart;
Insult to real Love which doesn’t even know
It loves, still less makes a song and dance:

Well, that’s impossible for a poet
But makes perfect non-sense: the humble bow
At your feet as the audience applauds
Is not why you’re here nor why I do it:
It’s to love you in them and pray you bestow
On me in return your love’s All in all.


Remains (2016)

When everything you live for falls apart,
There remains the indestructible human heart.


            The Gift

And so at last it’s only you, my Friend,
The same old testament between these lines,
No other matter in these quiet signs
But You, no spirit, sense or start or end:
You gift the giver and your gift transcends
The fairest words, the subtlest rhymes:
A love-struck silence speaking volumes chimes
The un-forgotten lost soul chord, and sends:

What do you give the One who has it all?
What else, a Christmas
book my heart has made
From broken beat and strings and love as blind
As snowflakes on the wind, a debt repaid
A seven-petalled rose; love’s answered call;
The All in all I gave my all to find.

Published in '6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love' (Sheriar, 2016). as 'The Word on the Street and the Love Craft'


1. Glad Steps (for Emma)

On Marine Parade in Brighton, we bowl,
Father and bride, smiling through the stress,
Amused they hardly notice your heaven-made dress,
Unsure of my feet as I play the role
So many have before by ear, heart and soul,
An unrehearsed novice doing my best
Past this willow pattern chavvy express
Bright town of eyes all but blind to our glow.

At its shabby-chic Hall, and still unsure
Of my lines and moves, I give you away;
You - October sunshine; your groom in tears,
As made up as your mum, your maids of honour,
Your hundred raving guests lost in love's play,

Mutely divining the music of the spheres.

2. Tony

And so - at last - not just in step, in law
We're kin, the son is father to the brother
And wedding-suited well to one another,
The end of a line, un-warp of the flaw,
My gap generation's inherited war
Tie-refashioned; 'What's Tony's best feature?'
Our daughter laughs: what else, that you love her,
A kinship I immediately saw.

The daughter is mother to the woman,
My little girl still beams there in the bride
But needs a mate and Tony you’re the man;
You make the speech you feared and find you can
The pal is pumped up in the father's pride,

The family joy of being human.


Definitely poem of the month this October. I performed it on at 7.55 am on BBC Radio Norfolk (news programme) on National Poetry Day. And in New Conduit Street King's Lynn at the unveiling of King John's statue on 16 October.

The Angevins were Very Bad,
And Worst of All was John:
As foul as hell is, it’s defiled
By Eleanor’s Little One.

Usurped his Lionhearted Bro,
The One Good Angevin;
Jugged Merry Freeborn English (yay!)
Forest-flying Robin.

Villain of the Good/Bad History
School and book and song,
‘Inadequate with some Capone’
John. King John. …Bad King John.

In 1216 at all time low,
His ‘soft sword’ half advanced,
His shrunk-crown empire Richard-pawned,
Normandy lost to France, (pah!)

Despised by all those Magna barons
Carting him to heel
Flinging him to French invaders
And Abdullah’s deal:

England given to Mohammed!
A rock moored off Morocco,
Hapless John at bay and 4 years

Villain of the Good/Bad History
School and book and song,
‘Inadequate with some Capone’
John. King John. …Bad King John.

From Lynn, he armied up to Lincoln
As the Wellstream rose[1],
Despised by Emperor, peasant, guild;
His Rome-rule churches closed;

3000 men, wheels coming off,
Up creek without a guide;
The royal dosh lost in the Wash -
He never lost our pride.

Three wheels on my wagon
And I'm still rolling along,
I'm wicked, selfish, lecherous, cruel,
You learned about me in your school,
Now I'm under the cosh, lost my dosh in the Wash
But I'm singing a happy song.

For out in Norfolk we do different,
And his haven, it was Lynn,
Their domain he made our borough[2],
Gallant little Linnet king.

Victim of the Good/Bad History
School and book and song,
His Brother’s Bad Book Good Book Keeper
John. King John. …Good King John.


EDEN 000. 


e quindi uscimmo, a riveder le stelle.10 Purgatorio

Ah! I stand up – and straighten, show backbone and nerve
Like a human, breathe oxygen, swivel and swerve.

But this suit is unearthly, plays tricks with my brain,
Only Judo Islamic Christ Love-Zen will serve.

And the training is purgatory, flesh is not fixed;
I’m a gay-straight, man-woman, black-Eskimo Serb.

I’m the Wandering Who at the bottom of hell.
I can’t Adam and Eve how my crossovers curve.

Now the pantomime king – now the whore - of this world:
Any body that fits what the bit-parts deserve.

Lost in infinite space under multiple moons,
Super-alien brainwaves, Plutonic reserve.

Lost in time since it started and lost again now
Where the dinosaurs jump back and death-waves reverb.

Testing nuclear winter-wear moon boots, on ash,
Walking global-warmed wastes, sweating acid and derv.

Brought to Earth for a master, a mind-blasting love,
I am drilled, by purgation, to plant and preserve.

In this Inner Space love-suit, this Onesie fits All,
My identity shell cracks and heart hits a nerve.

Human being’s the grave-bed of wanting doing;
Love its flower and fragrance, lift off and surge.

Now I climb up this launch pad I’ve built for my craft
On this dying blue planet I’m pledged to conserve.

Middle wayfaring pilot, you’re programmed to fly
Seven planes to a love star no ‘I’ can observe.

This is from my other current publication 6 Degrees of Separation; 7  Degrees of Love - a modern take on Dante's Divine Comedy. At this stage the grail space-knight has reached the top of Purgatory (Eden) and is ready to take off for heaven. The form is the Persian ghazal, an intensely worked love lyric.


                      The Ballad of Edith Cavell
…When Norfolk soldiers came to hide,
She joked of home and smiled
In accents shared, ‘for Norfolk-men
I goo that extra mile.’

She sees the pale gold August wheat,
The oaken greens of home,
A mind’s-eye Norfolk harvest wrapped
Around October’s bones.

6 paces off, 8 rifles point,
Death scarves her blue-grey eyes,
The woman stands and prays and waits
And still no shot arrives…

Her life is flashing by, the days
With Eddy on the beach
‘When life was fresh and beautiful,
The country dear and sweet.’

‘Love of country’s not enough
And when they shoot me dead
Let bitterness and hatred die,’
Our Norfolk angel said.

… The clinic clean and welcoming
The poor and most forlorn;
A mother to her nurses clad
In angels’ uniforms.

A spider crawled across the floor,
One screamed, would stamp it dead,
‘A woman doesn’t take a life,
She gives it,’ Edith said.

The British held the line at Mons,
The French were in retreat,
All stranded men came to her door
Through Brussels’ conquered streets.

‘Love of country’s not enough
And when they shoot me dead
Let bitterness and hatred die,’
Our Norfolk angel said.

One nurse too hot for German pride
They bullied as a spy,
Ede sent her home – with army secrets
Bandaged to her thigh!

La Libre Belgique was her text,
The Life of Christ her God;
Said Pinkhoff, Bergan, Mayer, Quien:
‘Give her the firing squad.’

4 sneaks and spies to smoke her out,
3 days’ interrogation.
She wouldn’t lie…. They shot her dead
For love of more than nation.

‘Love of country’s not enough
And when they shoot me dead
Let bitterness and hatred die,’

Our Norfolk angel said.

Notes. Written Aug 3 2015, a century after her arrest. The pale harvest gold of the wheat fields and oaken greens at this time of the year remind me of it. This is ballad number 30 in the Poppyland book 'Doin different, 30 new ballads from the East of England' - available at Waterstones, Jarrold's and here
You can also hear a touching musical version of it by Anto Morra with paintings by Brian Whelan here Anto sang it live at Elsing Church on Sep 10 as his final contribution to the Doin different tour - his most most moving ever performance to my ears and to others present also.

1966  (England 4 Germany W. 2)
Hear it here

We won the war in 1966!
My Welsh mum beamed in the red-hatted sun
Commanding me to hoist The Flag upon
Our council pebbledash, porch and privets,
The Somerset exile in which she lived:
And we'd all died, she piped, when that German
Last ditch never-was-a-free-kick spun
Off Cohen's knee and fell to foreign tricks.

It was The Victor's never ending tale
Of under-doggéd gung-ho Beat-all Brits
(Each Daily written off by Mother’s Mail)-
Moore, Peters, Hurst, Banks, Stiles, Charlton, Wilson,
Cohen, Hunt, Ball, refashioned as Hendrix,
A mini-shirt beauty born to die young.

Notes: 50 years on and it's still our only World Cup. (Defeat by under-dogged Iceland and Little Englanders vote us out of a Europe we can't even get to the quarter finals of let alone conquer. When I was a lad we won Eurovision and the Beatles led the British Invasion of America. It's all gone horribly wrong!)

and a bonus bit of prose from the opening of chapter 8 of my novel Beat Music  It Was 50 years Ago Today (on which a Beatles show is based)

"1966. Mary Quant gets an OBE for her mini. London swings like there’s no Yesterday. Britain soars in Beatle harmony and Tomorrow Never Knows how high they can go. The Stones roll down Carnaby St Painting It Black with some of the realest emotion ever recorded, menacing Mama Pop with sitar, sneer and drum. Tommy wins both Wars every time you open a comic, look in the Mirror or at a screen. Golden legs slope though the grass leading down to the river.

And then – Goal! - we win the Third World War in colour thanks to an Allied linesman and a Hurst hat trick. (Even if the match ball is stolen by Uwe Hoeness protesting at the results of all three.)

When you get all that at 10, it's  hard act to follow.


The Lost Land (for the 48%)

Far away and long ago, 
The land was divided and leaderless. 
Barbarians invaded from north, east and south. 
A great king – a dragon head - was needed
To unite the people and drive out the invaders. 
Such a king would prove himself 
By drawing out from a weathered rock 
A wondrous sword. 
Many years passed and many strong men failed. 
At last, a boy succeeded. 
His name - was Farage.

Farage built a great fastness called Maidenhead 
And trained a band of mounted warriors called UKIP. 
Together, they drove out the invaders 
And the land grew in peace and plenty. 
Farage married Gwenhwyfar, 
'White phantom', first lady of these islands, 
The most beautiful woman in the world. 
And the people loved him.

But the traitor knight 48% and the witch Sturgeon 
Tore the land apart again. 
It was no ordinary armed rebellion. 
There was a fell intelligence at its heart. 
Aided as always by the wizard Murdoch, 
Farage overcame even this 
But was mortally wounded 
And escorted from the field 
By three mysterious blind maidens  
Just before the penalty shoot-out.

His last request was that Excalibur, 
The brand of Britain, 
Which gave him great power, 
Be cast back into the faery lake from which it came. 
He was last seen being shipped by the three Fates 
Beyond the red dragon sunset 
To the mystical isle of Little England, 
Where he will live on for centuries as a Maimed King 
And not return to save us in our darkest hour...

Note. There is a precedent for a European nation leaving the EU in favour of Splendid Isolation. Greenland did so in 1985. If only Farage and Johnson had run for mayor there.


Just Like Tom Paine’s Blues

Midsummer nightmare driving
The roads around Tom Paine,
The June moon had me crying
Were all his dreams in vain?

The woods were blurred with menace,
I could not read the signs,
My Common Sense was fading,
It has so many times.

The Rights of Man and Woman
Like road-kill on the track,
Too deep and late the forest
To think of turning back.

Midsummer in the greenwood,
Midwinter chill within,
The starry sky of reason,
The night as dark as sin.

They made a film in Thetford,
A set of posing thieves
Who aped Tom’s generation
To lies and mock-believe.

The Age of Revolution
They turned to smoke and lust,
His California dreaming
To boom and boob and bust.

This Burke who rolls the camera
Who never made a Scene:
America, the Human:
Our common State and dream.

Midsummer in the greenwood,
Midwinter chill within,
The starry sky of reason,
The night as dark as sin.

At midnight, I’m still wearing
King George’s darkened shades
My part’s short-sighted vision:
I tear it from my face.

Tom Paine is pointing down the road
To new world Washington;
I meet the clear and steady eye
Of Revolution

That maps a Constitution through
The dead decaying mess,
The Royal Burkshire Hunters’ praise
Of murky wilderness.

Midsummer in the greenwood,
I see it clearly now,
The angel moon of reason,

The Man of Thetford’s brow.

Notes: This is ballad number 24 in Doin different

I wondered if its time had come when I read this about the first full moon solstice since Sgt Pepper and the Summer of Love. 

'Just Like Tom Paine's Blues' a celebration of the Man of Thetford, Tom Paine. It is also a lament for the fate of common sense idealism. Paine's 'Common Sense' inspired the best bits of the American constitution and his 'The Rights of Man' (disputed by the aptly named Edmund Burke) voiced the best of the French Revolution. But like the Summer of Love, Paine's common sense idealism  -after radically changing society for the good - got lost in destructiveness, rivalry and competition:  in actual war and war at a subtle, economic or psychological level. Destructiveness certainly seems triumphant at present but maybe silent forces - like being utterly sick of this endless conflict - are gathering to straighten everything out. We can but hope.

I abandoned my usual practice in 'Doin different' in this ballad, which was to stay historical, and instead borrowed Bob Dylan's more dream-like method in a song like 'As I Walked Out One Morning'.  (on John Welsey Harding).  What emerged was a connection between Tom Paine's lost revolution and mine. And perhaps, in that midsummer moon of reason, some desperate hope for the future.

There are three very different sound versions of this ballad. 
My friend Anto's here - https://soundcloud.com/gaz29-1/just-like-tom-paines-blues-by-gamorra
My friend Tim's here - https://soundcloud.com/gaz29-1/just-like-tom-paines-blues-by-tim-chipping
And my own here-  https://soundcloud.com/gaz29-1/the-ballad-of-tom-paine

It will be performed at Folk in a Field (festival) on July 3. 


              The Ballad of Bread or Blood (1816)

It was ‘the year without a summer’,
The price of bread was sky-high;
The Poor Law kept our wages low;
The farmers watched us die.

The Iron Duke called us heroes,
The ‘Victors of Waterloo’,
We came home to our starving children
With no work for victors to do.

‘8 shillings, Sir, to work all week,
Two pounds of bread for to buy,
To till the England we fought to save,
To be maimed for, to kill for, to die.’

‘What do you want?’ they ask us,
The Judges and Kings of the age.
‘Our children are starving – to feed them!
Give us a living wage!

The land too dear for us to fence,
We sold to the enclosers;
Now we fence-ditch-hedge it for the squire
As landless labourers.

Aye, enclosure robs the common rights
We had, it ploughs the grass
Whereon we fed the cow we’ve lost,
The horse, the pig, the ass.

I joined the Army then to feed
My bleak-eyed family
But the war just parted rich from poor,
Made wealth my enemy.

 ‘What do you want?’ they ask us,
The Judges and Kings of the age.
‘Our children are starving – to feed them!
Give us a living wage!

“Your riot is for riot’s sake!”
Those JPs say, their station
To balance farmers, millers, shops
With waged men, as a nation.

On the old world of noblesse oblige
‘All help themselves’ is carved
They to our rights, we to their wealth,
He hangs as well who starves!

Machines steal my work, agues my house,
High prices my wages low,
From vicious Fenland damp and floods,
To pub and to riot we go!

‘What do you want?’ they ask us,
The Judges and Kings of the age.
‘Our children are starving – to feed them!
Give us a living wage!

Notes: This is title ballad of my Ely Folk Festival and Ely City Council commission 'Bread or Blood' (about the 1816 Litttleport and Ely Riots) which I'm currently touring with Andy Wall.  I wanted the overall narrative to have the atmosphere of a folk ballad and also to contain actual folk ballads. This was the first, which I wrote long before I'd worked out the narrative and which came - as the other four did - much more quickly and easily than the tale. These were real people enduring real suffering and driven by it to some acts that didn't do all of them credit - though the punishments they received were much more villainous than anything they did - so the writer has a duty fully to research it and to try to tell the whole truth of what happened and why. He also has a duty to entertain an audience with a story - after all, it's not a history class. All this is a hard square to circle. Fortunately, the ballad form is perfect for telling such tales though and Andy's music is perfect for the words I gave him. The song can be heard here


The Rise of An April Leaf

Ugly as a newborn face;
Scared to let myself go: 
And where do I go
Except towards death?
And what if I grow
In the wrong directions,
Abnormal or twisted,
And how do you do it anyway?
Thoughts crumpled,
Feelings crushed.
Perhaps I’m not even a leaf?
Just scared to stand out
From the crowded branches?
So what am I? – yellow?
Or just painfully shy 
Soft virgin green
Closed against the urging sun?
Do I have to do anything?
Will I just become – me?
Or do I have to force myself out?
Safer to sit tight;
But then I get scared
The rest of the branch
Which had seemed
So wooden
Is unfolding faster;
Best to let go then;
But what if my flower
Hardly out of bud
Gets pollinated?

The May blossom light
Of the still warm evening;
The birdsong high
Above distant traffic:
God become mild
And expansive, beaming:
Death's breathless wind:
All give their answer:
He who saves her dances

Will never be a dancer.

See it performed here


                      The Ballad of Binham Priory (Dissolution Row) 

Call their names from the rubble: Alexander de Langley,
Mad as a scholar – ‘here’.
William de Somerton, William Dyxwell,
Priors and bad boys  - ‘here.’

A mad monk in solitary, buried in chains,
Tortured to brake his devil;
Alchemy funded by holy sales,
Double and bubble and trouble;

Monks eating bran and drinking rain
Till King John raised the siege;
A wanderlust prior, administ-truant,
Deposed and then reprieved.


‘As the leaves of summer break in spring
From forest, field and tree
So let the song of freedom burst
From the walls of this Priory.’

The peasants were revolting here
In 1381
When Master Lister led the charge
That started all the fun.

‘Enough!’ he cried, ‘of fattened bishops
Fed on Priory rolls,
Enough of tenants, rents and lords
And serfdom’s heavy loads.’
‘I’ll join that fight!’ said Binham John Lister
To his name-sake of Felmingham
George whose Norfolk Peasant Spring
Brought mayhem into Binham.


The Fightin’ Norwich Bishop sniffed
The peasants’ merry fire;
The Fightin’ Bishop’s fist of Christ
Killed it with his ire.

‘Lister of Felmingham, for sins against
Your betters and your King,
I’ll have your guts for my Bishop’s garter
And the serfs can kiss my ring.’

‘You can hang my neck and quarter my guts
But my soul flies straight to heaven
When Adam delved and Eve span, ‘lord’,
What rents were recked in Eden?


The old order stood another six generations,
Its dead Norms carved in art
Then the ghost of Lister came back to haunt
The Priory’s stony heart.

He laughed as Henry’s inspector called,
Found ‘fault’ with the Priory rolls,
‘Down with these rood screens, saints and crowns
And idol Gods on poles;

‘Whitewash these saints from the walls of the nave,
A clear new page for the Word,
 Your bishops’ bank is ruined now
There are no serfs to herd!


This high Notre Dame of Norfolk shrunk
To a nave-sized Parish Church,
Abandoned wings sold off for stone
To men scarce more than serfs

But when Paston quarried the haunted pile
To build a house in the grounds,
 A wall killed a workman and none to this day
Will build in Priory bounds.

Three miles to the West, Roman relics and smoke
Rise again from Celtic Earth
Like the re-appeared saints whose rooted gaze
Reclaims the walls of this church.

‘Let the holy rain of autumn fall
From the solitary tree
And the grass grow wild and the four winds blow
Through the grounds of this Priory.’


Ballad no. 8 from the 2015 Poppyland book  "Doin different, new ballads from the East of England" .
I think this is my only poem ever commissioned (after composition) by a parish council after it was performed at Binham Village Hall (in July 2012) and used as part of a tourist package. I've had two very successful outings at Binham with musical and theatrical collaborators and there might be another night to remember this year also. There is a spring-like feeling to this which suits the mood as I post it - bright sunny days, suddenly very light evenings and a feeling of renewal.


Slices of Infinity

O love! I offer my patience, persistent, brave to the end;
This fickle loving so stiff-scared of life and death, I’ll amend.

I’ll hold your course through the quicksand, the place to learn to accept
The shifting world as it needs must; accept its ways cannot mend.

I’ll cry our love from the rooftops, embrace the hate of the street,
The cold attrition of thick skins, and won’t accuse or defend.

I’ll fly the rose of this love-truth you’ve gentled deep in my heart
And stand alone if I have to, no matter how I’m condemned.

Tomorrow’s reduced into worries; the past can never be changed;
Would gnaw my mind sick with what wasn’t or isn’t or won’t be my friend.

A fretful mind’s like a buzz-saw, it nags the joy from our lives
But such release as we let go and follow heart to its end!

Mind pirouettes as it works out - six limbo-dancing degrees -
A high school leap to a first kiss is how the wise heart ascends.

The Way of Love is a tightrope, it’s pitched above the mundane -
This circus whirl of allurements my mind is poised to transcend.

O ghazal-measure, love’s gashed foot is guiding you drunkenly slow;
When heartbeat struggles to follow; you race a head and pretend.

O head, love’s list of perfections is giving you vertigo,
Gall, spleen and shoulder-break verse stress; the stiff neck will break that won’t bend.


Death of the Author alert. If, like Roland Barthes, you prefer your authors dead, avoid this note. If you think the author has something to do with the text he creates and wish this one to survive a while longer, please petition the government to cut NHS waiting lists! I will be a pensioner by the end of this month. I spent my 59th year enduring a comical sequence of illnesses, tests and scary diagnoses, the least life-threatening light-heartedly referenced here as spiritual growing pains in the closing couplet. This is the opening poem of my new book of love poems '6 Degrees of Separation, 7 Degrees of Love.' It describes maturity as an acceptance of imperfection while still striving for perfection. Still not there but trying...


Love School 

Forbidden other half, who elevates
My depths and takes my breath, 
Elusive scent I seek through scorching
Desert day and iced night-ravine,
Up precipice and swirling peak 
To fall and breathe my last at last – 
Her Everest source in Me. (‘The Musk Deer.’)

This Leila I love is a chantress, her mouth like a painted rose,
Her ringed hands fly out of time's rut and pluck my harp of its woes.

This Leila I love is a dancer, unfastened hair like a tide,
Her body held in a soft flame of stillness, freed in a pose.

This Leila I love is a priestess who trails her heaven scent
To hell and back round a navel the musk-deer endlessly roves.

This Leila I love is a goddess, whose neck is softer than sky,
She turns to me like a planet, and everything else explodes.

O Majnu, this quest is your own end, you're lost and that's why you win,
You’re stripped of even your held breath and kiss what God alone knows.


Our lips blown apart on the wind like a bee

From the flower’s haven, he lives, eats, drinks

And solely breathes and as sleeplessly thinks

Only of me for whose rival he’d die,

If wedding that rival made me happy -

Happy alone in this cleaving that links

Our broken heart as punctured souls wince

In divided union’s blissful agony.

But when his prayer is crushed between our lips

And kisses come inside me like a bee's

And draw my honey from me, every drop,

A stillness comes upon me as of ships

That tall and stately slide beneath the sea's

Uncharted depths. "Oh God," I whisper, "stop...."

Notes. Two love poems for Valentine's Day from my new book 6 Degrees of Separation, 7 Degrees of Love.

The Kasturi-mriga is a deer of the Himalayas whose navel yields musk. Leila and Majnu - star crossed and pasted lovers - are (some believe) the Persian source of Romeo and Juliet. I think every marriage - potentially - has a Leila and Majnu romance of forbidden love somewhere in it as we are all seeking our lost 'other' half. Significantly, the last verse in Genesis  before the Fall is 'therefore shall a man leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife, and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, man and wife, and were not ashamed.' The ultimate romance is not courtly love but marriage.


The Calling

Love’s not for Sunday schoolgirls ; her rosy beam
Is blood on soles not blushing peach and cream.

God gave us religion to kherque and vest our egos
And showbiz to smash them to smithereens.

This calling in the wilderness, so far,
So near, so very faint, so heartbreak-keen.

This art and soul and song and dance on wings,
My vision died for, made a perfect scene.

Love’s deva peak, his heaven come to earth:
The angels weep to see or haven’t seen.

Art’s risen Adam-dawn and dewy Eve:
The breaking silence of the broken dream.

O Leila, he’s your Majnu lost to you
In boundless love, your Ocean in the stream.

Oh Majnu, she’s your heaven-scent pursued
To hell and back to where she’s always been.


To have turned to the East is then to be
Conscious of the fever behind the plan,
Mindful of the terror behind the calm,
Eyeful of darkness in lit Western cities;
Now I’m called at last to God’s own country
Disbelieving in switch and tap and fan,
A Western, hygienic, jetted Dis-Man
Orientated by your love of me.

Your holy germ is taking me places
Which have no painless position to lie.
I escape to my mind but it won't stop
Pitching me backwards through haggling faces,
Six degrees of separation unwound-up,
Fried, shivered skins: all the layers of ‘I’.

Note: This is the title poem of section 1 of my forthcoming book '6 Degrees of Separation; 7 Degrees of Love' - my ninth book of verse and my first for Sheriar press. It's only available in America. 

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