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Poetry

I wrote poetry back in the 1980s, then stopped, starting again in 2012. Whereas in the past I wrote mostly free verse, these days I mainly use more formal styles as I enjoy the challenge and discipline this provides, and I find my words surprise me more often. Something to do with the collision – and ultimately synergy, I hope – between form and content. I’ve started to have a few published, and am republishing those here.

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1955

i.m. Richard Langridge *

 

Magpies love a rabbit halfway dead

to peck its weeping eyes, disdain the rest

then nonchalantly pause and lift their heads,

hop down and pick their way along the vale

of pain to blind and leave undead, the next.

 

Romans loved rabbits, too: their settlers sailed

with does and bucks, as well as laws and peace.

We love them less we’ve placed them on a trail

where gun-green birds glint in the April sun,

imperious at their casual charnel feast.

 

We met the halfway dead, half hidden among

the dead, as we advanced towards Berlin.

 

I lift the stricken rabbits one by one,

take cover from their blank and aimless stare,

then break their necks and set them down within

the shadowed margins of the coppice, where

last autumn’s leaves lie cold and half decayed.

 

The magpies scatter but they reappear.

 

I’m tired of asking if this horror show

would have me save or kill, or kill to save,

and – as I watch myself deal every blow –

if Romans’ clearer view of dying made

them kinder. Perhaps the feasting magpies know.

 

* Lt. Langridge helped liberate Belsen concentration

camp in 1945. Mixomatosis was introduced to Britain

on his farm in Kent in 1953. Two years later,

he shot himself, by which time the number of rabbits

in the country had declined by 95%.

(This poem was shortlisted and commended in the Binsted Arts Festival 2016, and is on Binsted Arts Festival 2016 website).

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The nurseryman

 

and then the government attacked

and fire leapt from roof to roof

and all the colours bled to black

for days the greatest rainstorm sluiced

the soot from stumps of home to stain

the soil I lost my wife to war

our girl to floods our boy to flames

I fled with only what I wore

I hid in fields in ditches nights

I named the rose I bred for each

repeatedly and hugged them tight

I walked in circles weeks then reached

this pebbled shore at Dungeness

awaiting boats to France or death

 

(This is on the Ink Sweat and Tears site)

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The flower preserver

 

Dusk almost hid behind her eyes

as with a voice of quiet tears

she handed me the columbines

her sister’s unforgiving man

had picked, the day he reappeared,

still labelled in his brutal hand:

Our love is stronger than your lies.

 

They bring me flowers to preserve,

my clients: quiet memorials

to love, death, marriage, birth;

to people, moments, days now past –

parched, pastel talismans that pull

like tides upon the heart and cast

their fragile shadows on the earth.

 

I work in silence. When the shop

bell rings I read the blooms and how

they’re brought – a bridal bouquet dropped

with nonchalance, a frail fern leaf

less held than touched, the tightly-wound

ivy and easter lily wreath,

a chaos of forget-me-nots…

 

I give them what they come here for:

a clue to whom they may have been;

a bar to whom they might become.

I can’t preserve, much less restore

that April day, nor all those dreams

we shared under the springtime sun.

I’ve kept the primroses I wore.

 

A slightly edited version of this was runner up at the Shepton Mallet Poetry Competition, 2017

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The wall

 

Long peace with France had softened us,

but life at home was never still.

God knows we fought, often enough,

and hard, about money, the mill,

your family – everything – until

 

we wore each other down, and learned

the art of never being where

the other was; and in return

somehow negotiated air

enough to breathe; and layer by layer

 

we built a wall: on your side home,

the church, community; you made

our children yours and yours alone.

On mine, the town, the milling trade,

the rarest snowdrops ever grown.

 

No other thrill can match the lurch

of coiled desire I felt each year

as new-bred snowdrop stems appeared,

and promised petals – unshed tears –

in unseen whites and greens emerged;

 

nor disappointment match my hurt,

that winter every snowdrop failed

to bloom, dissolving in the dirt,

and loosing suddenly a gale

of silence louder than I’d heard.

 

And then, as though you’d waited long

for this, you stepped across the wall

and stilled my silence, broke my fall,

and gave a plantsman lessons on

the way to shelter plants from storms.

 

James Allen (1832-1906) – the ‘Snowdrop King’ –

a miller and amateur plantsman in Shepton Mallet, Somerset,

grew over 100 snowdrop varieties. But after

decades of intensive breeding, his collection was all but

wiped out by fungal and insect infestations.

 

A slightly edited version of this was runner up at the Shepton Mallet Poetry Competition, 2017

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Twenty-five years

For Tebo

 

I waken too early, on woodsman’s toes explore

a home that’s still, until our neighbour turns

the news up loud, and you begin to snore

to match the rhythm of the morning trains.

 

Again I discover as though surprised, the sounds

of dawn are sung by modern life not birds,

that we inhabit cul de sacs, not glades,

wear dressing gowns, not bark cloth capes or furs.

 

So coffee and toast, and a view of the low winter sky,

an hour or two at tasks brought home from work:

I read, respond, review, redraft, delay,

and listen out for when I hear you stir.

 

We make pastel love, and when we look outside

a quiet snow has fallen across the town.

The sun shines on the whitened roofs and road.

We smile and put the central heating on.

 

(This was published on the Ink Sweat and Tears site)

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Loss

 

I met you only briefly, twice,

perhaps a dozen years ago

beneath the pinnacles of ice

you feared. I wonder, often: did you sow

those seeds you held, into the melted snow?

 

You stood there slight, but this stood out:

you were a powerhouse of grief;

alone. And certain – way past doubt –

of utter undeception, in whose teeth

you’d lost your grip of comfortable belief.

 

So deep, so deep, you felt distress,

it stayed unburied, near to hand,

from where you vouched your forthright sense

the gods, with arbitrary spite, had planned

to visit drought upon and scorch your land.

 

I screwed my eyes against the glare

of highland light which bathed, and drained

all life, from the deserted square;

I wanted nothing, nothing more, right then

than for you to be healed and whole again,

 

and still, today, I think of you

abandoned – brittle, proud – by grace.

I pray you found a pathway through

the melting snow to reach a burial place

wherein to plant anew; a safer space.

 

(This was published by Pennine Platform)

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Dictator

 

You take me to task because a man has died.

I ask: do you think I can just forget?

Know this: to protect what’s left to protect

I won’t stop short of murder when required.

We won’t return to unreaped harvests, heads

bent over crippled stalks; the awkward shapes

in stiff repose; the thrice-abandoned space

bereft of you, the slaughterers, the dead.

Democracy will wait until I fear

no more the clattered landing of the crow

in silent farmland, nor that salt-sweet smell.

In quiet moments now, the sounds I hear

are not the cries of twenty years ago –

but their foretokened echoes, should I fail.

 

(This was published by Pennine Platform)

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Eyes

For Goya

 

You painted duchesses and kings as who

they were – not whom they wished to be – and gave

them what they wanted nonetheless. You drew

the inner contours of their souls; engraved

in permanence their fleeting light and shade

to share a tincture of humanity

with who would see. With care you weighed and made

each mark in a seditious tracery

of progress. Chronicler and refugee

of war, your inner turmoil matched your times:

from deep within your silence you perceived

and stilled the moment, and with tints and lines

you offer us a glimpse through people’s eyes

of history as its brushstroke touched their lives.

 

(This was published by Pennine Platform)

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El Tres de Mayo

 

The edge of town. A lantern lights the man

about to die. His comrades clasp their eyes.

He kneels: arms spread like sails aloft, he wills

defiance but it’s terror which obtains.

 

The friar murmurs blessings, swears and damns

the French. The waiting chorus moans and cries,

then ‘tirez!’, muskets fusillade; he spills

beside the corpses slumped among the stains.

 

Low fearful wails behind the victims’ hands,

the panicked mumbling of the priest who shrives

the doomed, the terse command, the gunshots – still

they resonate, among the faint remains

 

of ancient susurrus of surf on sand,

dead families’ and lovers’ truths and lies,

muezzin, birdsong, rain on rooftiles, peals

of laughter, angelus and lonesome trains.

 

Each wave, since noise and atmosphere began,

continuously pales but never dies:

each instant as it passes, pares and steals

a half, and then a half, and half again…

 

reducing history from the first big bang

towards a point it will not realise:

attenuated, yet its core prevails,

diminishing, but nowhere vanishing.

 

What’s past is present: faded cryptogram

of sound – no matter if we try to prise

a meaning out of or ignore it – fills

our ears with its abiding, quiet refrain:

 

the edge of town. A lantern lights the man

about to die. His comrades clasp their eyes.

He kneels: arms spread like sails aloft, he wills

defiance but it’s terror which obtains.

 

(Published in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Folio, 2016)                                                  

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    My weather girl

Tonight you told us our tomorrow will

be changeable, though starting dry.

You spoke with all the confidence instilled

by science and facts – but I could see

anxiety alive behind your eyes.

 

They spoke of unslept nights, of the debris

and disarray of home where dawn

no longer gracefully unfolds but bleeds

a crimson warning to the day;

of weather fronts where storm clouds follow storm.

 

The data show that winter’s here to stay,

but you persist with your forecast

of early spring, where daffodils display

above the snow, proof of the heat

still stored below. It will not come to pass:

 

your husband’s love affair with self-defeat

ensures that every sign of thaw,

however mild, is just one more deceit

before the sky turns dark again

and elements resume their climate war.

 

His voice, as you drive home in sheets of rain,

reveals he’s turned once more to face

the buffets of the private hurricane

he mocks and dares to do its worst –

from his retreat within the sham embrace

 

of grape or grain. You close your phone and curse.

Your stomach seeps with acid fear,

uncertain if the threatening clouds will burst

upon the night ahead. I share

your dread, and drink my numbness deep and fast,

to be inert when you reach here.

 

(Published in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Folio, 2016)        

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Love

 

I see old friends desert their wives, and ask

‘Why not?’ Looked at from outside and from in

it seems improbable our love would last

this long – yet still we wear each other’s ring.

I often fret our mutual need to cling

to love or marriage is what joins our lives

from year to year – and when we come to sing

of love, it’s love, and not our love, we strive

for. Yet you dread death, but would not survive

my death, you say; and I, in foggy dreams

of widowed freedom, feel the future screw

of pain your absence turns, sharp as a scythe.

Our love is love, and so my heart redeems

a life as long as life allows, with you.

 

(Published in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Folio, 2015)

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The pallbearer

 

Bring us, O Lord God, at our last awakening into the house and gate of heaven

to enter into that gate and dwell in that house, where there shall be no darkness nor dazzling,

but one equal light; no noise nor silence, but one equal music; no fears nor hopes,

but one equal possession; no ends nor beginnings, but one equal eternity;

in the habitations of thy glory and dominion, world without end. – John Donne

 

The bell falls quiet; the horses’ shoes collide

with cobbles; music floats; the priest appears.

we measure off our height in equal pairs,

absorb the coffin’s weight and, eyes downcast,

in tentative half-march, proceed inside.

 

June’s brightness filters limpid through stained glass

into a cool obscurity. Song climbs

from choir to fill the space, and all combines

in Dean Donne’s Equal Music, Equal Light,

to ease us, leaving but two questions at the last.

 

What makes a well-lived life good, in our sight?

The mourners praise her as a wife, her art,

the way she raised her children, her kind heart.

Was that enough, how do we set the bar?

Had she done more, might they still more delight?

 

And what is left of us, when what we are

dissolves? A pigeon perches in the beams,

and causes quite a stir, her soul it seems

ascending – mumbo jumbo, surely: wings

as apt to rouse, as raise her to a star.

 

The vicar sprinkles holy water, sings

the final phrases as his curate swings

the censer, then we shoulder her again.

I’d swear she’s lighter now than when we came –

not by the weight of her departed flame –

but since to pray together strengthens us within.

 

 (Published in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Folio, 2015)

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Flax

 

…through generous fields of flax, their overlapping

flowers a gentle gentian; tangled mats

of chamomile among the wheat; to trapped-

in, hedged-in meadows, hemmed by sunken tracks

and spreading oaks, with you – so closer to

the past than I – I felt the touch of those

whose baulks of timber dragged these lanes, who knew

the cloying scent of mayweed, clover, drove

the horses pastured in these intimate

enclaves to till and sow. I wondered how

this path we trod began, saw William on

his horse lean forward to negotiate

his needs: their right to walk and rent and plough

the land he’d won, with those he’d won it from.

 

(Shortlisted and commended in the Ealing Magna Carta competition, 2015) 

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the-wind-graphic

 

(Published in Other Poetry).

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aburakham-graphic

 

(Published in Other Poetry).

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metromanrandom-graphic

(Metro-man was published in Elbow Room Broadsheet, June 2016)

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