Bus Pass

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A passport to purgatory
with no request stops
and one final destination.

Blank eyed, killer cold,
I look just like some shifty cove
of interest to the police-
a drug baron or someone who
does dreadful things to cats.

I place my effigy face down,
wait for the electronic ping
which says I am still me,
then find a seat.

The bus, packed full
as a milkman’s crate
with silver tops,
is loud with chat.

“These car wash people are all Russian”
“They’ll soon get finished then.”
“Isn’t it funny – you often find
something you haven’t lost.”

Museum Street. The conversation’s stilled.
We shuffle off, take up our own affairs –
optician, dentist, hospital for tests-
all necessary measures for survival.
That way we can eke out a few more years
but still

the journey matters more than the arrival.

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Man and Dog

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Man

The dog plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
We pass the ball from dog to man
and then from man to dog again.
I’m bored as hell. It pleases him
for dogs are slow and somewhat dim.

Dog

The man plays football every day
with me, along the passageway.
He tries so hard, it’s rather sweet
for one who’s blessed with two left feet.
It keeps him happy; I don’t mind.
I’ve grown quite fond of human kind.

Man and Dog

We both hate football.

How much happier we would be
watching cricket on tv.

Moments from a parallel universe

1.
Isac ! Your lunch is ready.
Stop moping in that orchard !
Go and wash your hands !
Unheard unseen
the apple falls.

2.
It’s a message, Will,
from the Queen.
She likes the play
but could you make Hamlet
a bit more cheerful……
and alive at the end..

3.
I shall call her Luisa.
If it had been a boy, my husband
would have called him Adolf.
4.
Honey, I got to stay late at the Oval Office tonight –
can’t make the theatre.
Okay Abe

The Schrodinger poems

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Schrodinger’s Cat

Well, here we are then
or possibly not.
It’s a bit cramped in here
what with the radio active sample
and the bottle of poisoned gas
and me.

I come and go as I please
I visit my friend McAvity
or pass time with my cousin Smiler
who lives in Cheshire.
I’m in and out all the time.

Notice he chose me for the experiment
and not Schrodinger’s Dog.
That would have put
Particle Physics back
a hundred years.

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Schrodinger’s Dog

You wouldn’t get me into that box.
I’ve just had a dump on your lawn.
Got any biscuits ?

 

Walnuts

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Plump as plums, clustered among leaves,
they hang in a green shade.
Pick one. Peel back the husk and find
a shell there, pocked and wrinkled
like some distant world.

You’ll need a knife. Just press
your blade against the lateral line
then prise the halves apart
and there, in a nutshell
is a brain.

Packed tight into an inch wide skull
two waxy hemispheres
each ridged and swollen
into lobes and clefts
and each the image of the other.

Remove the nut and place it on your tongue.
Crisp at first bite, then soft.
It tastes of sap,
and garnered sunlight
and green thoughts.

 

The woman who invented the selfie

Hunters

 

Spiders find it easy
stretch their strings of pearls from A to B,
create a warp and weave so wonderful
it dazzles passing flies, seducing them
to a sticky end.

Sharks find it easy
Sleek as burnished steel, they strip
the flesh from seals and dolphins,
pirouette away through water
smokey with their victims’ blood.

Why can’t I
head packed with words, pen poised
pick out a plump and juicy metaphor,
feed it fantasies until it bursts
into a poem ?

Ann Shakespeare

 

I hold his hand.
Broad palm. Strong fingers.
Underneath the fingernails
a crescent of black ink,
and on the second finger
a pad of fat has grown to rest his pen.

All those quill pens. And the paper.
So much writing…..
He bought this house with words –
and hence had few enough to spare for me.

Virgins when we met, and married
six months later. Our first girl
came three months after that.
You can add it up.

It was not words which bound us both
but deeds and shame.

That’s why he left for London.
No word for weeks, and then a hurried note,
a bag of coins, an empty promise.
That was the way of it for years.

Then our boy died. My grief was real enough
though his was make-believe and came too late.

Now he’s back here to die –
a kind of compliment, perhaps
or simply a return to his beginning.
I do not know.

The sweats that left his flesh corpse-cold,
the dry, hoarse cough
all that is done now.

His slow breath whispers wordlessly.

Beyond the candle light a blackbird spills

bright pearls of sound

across the velvet dark.

 

Ex Libris- David Hughes-review

 
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Sometimes I think poetry is a small world- there are the legends, of course- Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney – and the modern greats – Armitage,Carol Ann Duffy,James Nash and after them there’s us – the wannabes and has-beens who keep on struggling to produce something that is better than mediocre. You rarely get a poet who comes out of nowhere and blows your socks off.

David Hughes, however, is such a poet. He taught English Literature in York from 1975 to 1991 – a career ended with a climbing accident in which a friend and colleague died.PTSD put an end to his teaching career, though not his writing.

His life became intertwined with a troubled young man (also called David) who was also a writer and poet. The two of them became a writing team – Young Dave and Old Dave. In 2008 Young Dave was sent to prison for an assault and sent poems to David Hughes for comment for comment. ” Young David and I,” he wrote, “wish them to be attributed to both of us.” A lot of his later writing is part of this project.

What does he write about ? Climbing and landscape figure in the early work, and he writes with immediacy and verve.

“Ice across our faces till our breaths begin to freeze
into our hoods, snow goggles glaze, becoming masks
Of plated frost, and compass needles disappear

He writes about war, including a stunning response to Edward Thomas’s ” Adlestrop.”

His technique is unobtrusive, controlled,making the structure reflect the meaning.

Without doubt his best work comes from the collaboration with Young Dave. In one of the prison poems – ” things I miss” -Dave (Which one ? Does it matter?) writes ” the smell of traffic in a queue” and ” the touchdown hiss of settling snow on leaves.”
Look at that last line again…isn’t it perfect ?

The two most successful poems reference the Bible,and the division of souls into sheep and goats.They examine the nature of charity. If you do something good, something charitable, should you be praised for it ? If you receive charity, should you be grateful ? Or is charity something that just happens – an exchange of energy between two souls ? These are poems which leave an echo.

“Ex Libris” is the first hardback from Valley Press. It is beautifully produced, with head and tail bands, and even a ribbon marker.

There’s a man’s life here, and his thoughts, and David Hughes is a man worth listening to.
You can buy it here:

http://www.valleypressuk.com/

Stream

I’m putting this up because I’ve been struggling with the writing of it for at least three months. Poetry and I have had a falling out. I’ve been unable to write anything worthwhile since the early summer – and what I have managed to produce has all the meaning and perception of babydrool.

I had this memory – it goes back ten, maybe fifteen years – when I was living on the Isle of Man. I started fishing because that’s what you do when you live on an island with rivers. Sometimes, in the summer, I’d go down to the harbour for mackerel- they used to come  in shoals, right up to the harbour wall. All you had to do was put a bit of silver foil on the end of your hook and they would throw themselves on it. And mackerel brought straight from the sea tastes like nothing you can ever imagine.

Then I found a little river which led down through some woods and into the top end of the harbour. There were pools there, and trout would wait in the shadows to take damsel flies, water bugs- anything with lots of legs and not much sense.

One summer afternoon I  was fishing a shady pool under a weir. I was using breadpaste and sugar…..and they were interested. There were four brown trout, head on to the stream, waiting for a toothsome morsel to float past, and I caught all of them. They weren’t stupid – it took me the whole afternoon. Thinking back to it, I must have been fishing for about six hours. Totally involved. In the zone. I’ve never forgotten that.

The poem came about because it struck me that writing poetry and trout fishing are comparable. You’re trying to catch something which is cautious, fleeting. You have to be immersed in what you’re doing. Does that make any kind of sense ? I hope so.

So- after all that preamble. Here’s the poem:

Stream

I used to fish that beck for trout
where it flowed thinly down a weir
to a dark pool beneath.

Below the fizzing damsel flies,
the shards of splintered sunlight
lay gravel beds and pebbles
casting amber shadows.

Trout lurked there, hovering,
winnowing the flow
for nymphs and water bugs.

One afternoon I took a round half dozn,
the line twitching between my fingers,
rod tip dipping to the water.

On this grey morning, frost
sheathes every blade of grass,
the brook runs sullen
under dirty ice.

All things are withered
and stilled
under a crust of cold.

The Dog Walking Poet

I’ve been writing poetry for about sixty years, and I’m just starting to get the hang of it. Why do it ? All sorts of reasons, really. First, it was more fun than football. I never liked football. Terminally short sighted and with two left feet, I was useless at it. On the other hand, I was good with words- I could kick them around the page and, from time to time, I achieved a goal.

Writing poetry was a way of fixing the present. Time moves on, you’re old before you realise it – and a poem can fix one moment, with all its complexity, like a fly in amber.I’ve still got poems I wrote forty years ago – they’re dreadful – but they’re honest.

I hate to say that poetry is a journey – a cliche about as fresh as that tub of last week’s yoghourt hiding at the back of the fridge – but sometimes cliches are true. When I start a poem I know exactly where I want to end up – and I never get there. I end up in a place I never dreamed of. Someone is leaning over my shoulder, whispering “ No, Ian…this way..can’t you see it..”

Poetry’s greatest virtue is that it’s short – unless you’re John Milton…or Byron…or Homer…ok…poetry is usually short. I like the idea of cramming ten gallons into a pint pot. It intrigues me. If a novel is a Venti Cappucino with cream, sprinkles and chocolate sauce, then a poem is a triple shot of bitter espresso.

I like the technical challenges of poetry writing. Anyone can write a novel. Even Morissey. Have you seen the reviews though…No – being a poet means heavy duty thinking, balancing meaning against structure, making one word do three jobs, agonising over a comma. It strains your brain.

It all takes time. Was it UA Fanthorpe, or Stevie Smith who said that a poem took 74 hours to finish. How did she get to such a precise number, I wonder. I know that most poems I write take about a fortnight. Around the half way mark I’m ready to quit – it’s so tempting to drop it into the “ Scrap” folder and melt it down later. But if I keep going, there’s a lovely moment when you know that it will work. The golden city is in view. All I have to do is walk through the gates. It’s a great moment.

And of course, poetry writing is therapy. It’s a chance to dig down, get the bad stuff out, look at it, and move on. Good poetry is an account of internal weather.

Talking of weather- it has stopped raining, and the dog is demanding his walk round the lake. Next time I shall be talking about the printed…and the spoken word.

Until then – goodbye

You can always listen to a spoken version of this piece here:

http://tinyurl.com/py2ljbq