Tuesday, 30 December 2014


This is getting ridiculous, but how can one not post these pictures? Hampstead Cemetery, around 3.40, 30 December 2014


From Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies:

If Wolsey wanted Norfolk he would lie quiet inside a table top, breathing along the grain of the wood; he would ooze through a keyhole, or flop down a chimney with a soft flurry like a soot-stained dove.

As a rule I don't much like prose that holds me up with its brilliance, but Mantel's is always in service to her content.  This little passage is remarkable in several respects, but the one that took me is that "soft flurry".  I would have been more than happy with "flop down a chimney like a soot-stained dove" (and I might have thought of "ooze through a keyhole", though never of the table top and the grain), but the soft flurry is the Wolsey part of it; it allows us to see rather than simply imagine.  Sometimes this kind of thing robs the reader, but not here, because the person doing the imagining is Thomas Cromwell.

Mantel may not be Tolstoy, but the Cromwell books certainly stand comparison with War and Peace as works of historical fiction. They are also of course desperately pertinent today, as they describe the complexities of power and the battle between reason and superstition.


Thoroughly enjoyable old fashioned rock music. Play loud, obvs.

Monday, 29 December 2014


Some of the poems I have read and re-read with pleasure in the past year or so.


The year we met, that summer driving
in your tin drum sports car from Abbraccio
del Lago to Dolcedo, music on, cigarette smoke
choking the open top and a glaze of alcohol
as golden as the light spilt over the tongue of the road,

I remember thinking
we would never love like this again -
the settlement of early evening,
the easy smell of grass, the moon,
the whole damn white of it.

I held onto you those years ago
and now, on the same long Italian coast road,
I hold onto that slim translucent memory
the way the day will sometimes
hold onto the moon in its blue sky.

Mel Pryor


Glide gently, thus forever glide,
O Thames! that other bards may see,
As lovely visions by thy side
As now, fair river! come to me.
Oh glide, fair stream! for ever so;
Thy quiet soul on all bestowing,
'Till all our minds forever flow,
As thy deep waters now are flowing.

Vain thought!  Yet be as now thou art,
That in thy waters may be seen
The image of a poets heart,
How bright, how solemn, how serene!
Such as did once the Poet bless
Who murmuring once a later ditty,
Could find no refuge from distress
But in the milder grief of pity.

Now let us, as we float along,
For him suspend the dashing oar;
And pray that never child of song
May know that Poet’s sorrows more.
How calm!  How still!  The only sound,
The dripping of the oar suspended!
- The evening darkness gathers round
By virtue’s holiest powers attended.

William Wordsworth


Young women with damp hollows, downy arms,
Bare burnished legs — you see them striding
Towards their plant-filled offices, riding
Bicycles to flatshares after work; lunchtimes, you stare
As secretaries, backpackers tanned from birth
Peel off their things and stretch on sun-warmed earth.
A few of them stare back... As if they’d share
Their world of holidays and weekend farms

With you! They step more lightly every year,
A glimpse of neck-hair, a scent that lingers, girls
Who, swinging bags with shops’ names, disappear,
Trailing glances, into crowds; each one unfurls
Her special beauty like a fragile frond
Before your famished eyes. I am what lies beyond,
They seem to say, beyond the mortgage, car and wife —
I am what you deserve, I am the buried life

You will never live. Are they pushed laughing onto beds
By hands that unhook bras and yank down briefs?
Do they wake with tongues thick-furred, heads
Hot and unremembering as carpet-swirls?
Crave water running over them in purls,
As cool as their long fingers? Schubert, jazz,
It’s all the same to them. As are your little griefs.
It isn’t fair. If you’ve not changed, what has?

Is it a kind of shifting, imperceptible, like sands
On some barren, windswept stretch of shore?
In simmering parks, on summer streets
Where they wait but not for you, you furtively explore
The curves of eyebrow, cheek and lip —
Of other things too; you search left hands
For seals of love, or ownership.
Moving off, they can smell your old defeats.

Alan Jenkins


Each poet builds in verse
For every age to see:
His monument, a brass

I would not have it so,
No towers, no tombs, no shows.
As a bird to the green bough
      Love comes, love goes.

I call no witnesses;
The songs I make for you
Should pass like a caresss
      Or the bright dew,

The assent of meeting eyes
When rapture, when laughter
Take silence by surprise;
      And silence after;

World in parenthesis,
Smiles we exchange,
Momentary as this kiss;
      As fierce, as strange.

Such songs I would prepare
As for our supper spread,
Songs we as simply share
      As wine and bread;

Songs for each place and mood,
All seasons of the heart,
And one for solitude
      When we two part.

Then to make one song more:
A song the bird alone
Sings after as before
      His love has flown.

He sings his first song still
Although his heart is wrung,
For love may change at will,
      But not his song.

A.D. Hope


On visiting Henry Moore’s sculpture in Dumfries and Galloway

On a Scottish hillside the bronze statue
of an archetypal king and queen
braves the elements,

observing, perhaps, a thread
of slit-eyed sheep winding up the hill,
with careful, delicate tread,

yellow marks like lichen
on their rumps, their gaze
full of vague unanswered questions.

My mind, also, struggles to explain
the different texture of the metal on
the king’s right knee. While all the rest

is stippled, rippled, riven
in a pattern to catch the varying
shades of light, his knee is smooth.

What point was the sculptor making
as he carefully fashioned this
one unblemished surface?

Only as I descend the hill
does a clear-cut memory emerge
from long ago, as I recall

a constant stream of pilgrims
filing past a marble statue of
the queen of heaven,

the slight roughness of the stone
contrasting sharply with the smooth
and shining toe

which generations of the pious
have knelt to fondle and to kiss,
wearing away the awkward corners

and bringing out a deeper shine. The line
of sheep has reached the sculpture now,
and as I watch

each sidles up to the impassive king
and meditatively rubs her rump
against his knee.

Alwyn Marriage


You think you have caught her with her guard down,
But you will only see what she allows.
Her sister upstairs has, no doubt, passed on
Her own wisdom in dealing with the crowds,
And she has let herself be captured so
As to show it.  Stood in the frisking flare
Of all these camera bulbs, you know she knows
Exactly how to carry herself there;
The shoulders almost hunched, not quite careless,
One thigh lifted as if to move, the span
of her unshowy breast in the caress
Of years, eye-kissed, earning her name, more than
The crowd packed into this museum wing
Can understand, but concealing nothing.

Tim Kiely

after ‘Birches’ - Robert Frost

To Jeremy and Christine Auld
You must have seen him when he was a fixture
and no one asked what pin he swivelled on
and just accepted he was swinging, rooted
on the spire, but earth’s a better place
for love, so slicing through the annex roof
he bent to join the nave of the cathedral
and what a lovely copper stippled smile
he is with scalloped feathers, viewed up close.
The inner dome of heaven hadn’t fallen
and I would say the universe conspired
with the same pains you’d use to fill a cup
up to the brim and even above the brim
to see no one was killed or cut or wept
the smallest tear, unless the Truth breaks in –
co-incidence, my dear. And it is good
the insurance will cover the cost of scaffolding
to put him back where seagulls come and go
and play in batches, learning all there is
to learn about not launching out too soon.

Dawn Wood


It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervors: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven–
Their bases on the mountains–their white tops
Shining in the far ether–fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer’s eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays his coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life! Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes;
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

William Cullen Bryant


They had no grandstand or marquee,
   Down by the Quarry Farm:
There was a wealth of leafy tree
   Behind the bowler's arm.

There were no scorecards to be had,
   Cushions for folk to hire;
Only we saw the butcher's lad
   Bowl out the village Squire.

Lord's and the Oval truly mean
   Zenith of hard-won fame,
But it was just a village green
   Mothered and made the game.

G.D. Martineau


Wind whines and whines the shingle,
The crazy pierstakes groan;
A senile sea numbers each single
Slimesilvered stone.

From whining wind and colder
Grey sea I wrap him warm
And touch his trembling fineboned shoulder
And boyish arm.

Around us fear, descending
Darkness of fear above
And in my heart how deep unending
Ache of love!

James Joyce


How blue the pool was,
and the sea.  How blue the sky,
and the waves white-tipped
crashing, still, against the dark rocks.

How dark the wine was,
and the sun low. The dark
bottles of wine, and the table
flecked with plates of food.

How young the children were
climbing, laughing, from the pool,
then tumbling into sprays of water.

How young we were too, smiling
towards this future, this dusty
spread of forgotten pictures,
discarded like playing cards,
from some long-forgotten game.

John McCormack


    That winter,
Following the pipelines, we flew south
From Nineveh. Oilwells, domes,
    Flashes of silver
Betokening wealth, prayer, were all
That gave clues to the usurped
Nature of the desert, a handful
    Of oases, ringworms
Of green. At intervals camels
Plodded below us, footprints
Like sponges.  Then, twin rivers,
    Tigris, Euphrates,
The colour of thermometers.  Flying over it
The Gulf had a kind of innocence,
Its marshes euphoric with birds.

Alan Ross


Not often con brio, but andante, andante,
    horseless, though jockey-like and jaunty,
Straddling the touchline, live margin
    not out of the game, nor quite in,
Made by him green and magnetic, stroller
Indifferent as a cat dissembling, rolling
A little as on deck, till the mouse, the ball,
    slides palely to him,
And shyly, almost with deprecatory cough, he is off.

Head of a Perugino, with faint flare
Of the nostrils, as though Lipizzaner-like,
    he sniffed at the air,
Finding it good beneath him, he draws
Defenders towards him, the ball a bait
They refuse like a poisoned chocolate,
    retreating, till he slows his gait
To a walk, inviting the tackle, inciting it.

Till, unrefusable, dangling the ball at the instep
He is charged – and stiffening so slowly
It is rarely perceptible, he executes with a squirm
Of the hips, a twist more suggestive than apparent,
    that lazily disdainful move toreros term
        a Veronica – it’s enough.
Only emptiness following him, pursuing some scent
Of his own, he weaves in towards,
    not away from, fresh tacklers,
Who, turning about to gain time, are by him
    harried, pursued not pursuers.

Now gathers speed, nursing the ball as he cruises,
Eyes judging distance, noting the gaps, the spaces
Vital for colleagues to move to, slowing a trace,
As from Vivaldi to Dibdin, pausing,
    and leisurely, leisurely, swings
To the left upright his centre, on hips
His hands, observing the goalkeeper’s spring,
    heads rising vainly to the ball’s curve
Just as it’s plucked from them; and dispassionately
Back to his mark he trots, whistling through closed lips.

Trim as a yacht, with similar lightness
    - of keel, of reaction to surface – with salt air
Tanned, this incomparable player, in decline fair
    to look at, nor in decline either,
Improving like wine with age, has come far –
    born to one, a barber, who boxed
Not with such filial magnificence, but well.
‘The greatest of all time,’ meraviglioso, Matthews –
    Stoke City, Blackpool and England.
Expressionless enchanter, weaving as on strings
Conceptual patterns to a private music, heard
Only by him, to whose slowly emerging theme
He rehearses steps, soloist in the compulsions of a dream.

Alan Ross


When I remember bygone days
I think how evening follows morn;
So many I loved were not yet dead,
So many I love were not yet born.

Ogden Nash


The butterfly, a cabbage-white,
(His honest idiocy of flight)
Will never now, it is too late,
Master the art of flying straight,
Yet has- who knows so well as I?-
A just sense of how not to fly:
He lurches here and here by guess
And God and hope and hopelessness.
Even the acrobatic swift
Has not his flying-crooked gift.

Robert Graves


It’s a pleasant night.  So tonight I’ll talk on the way
Of the images I seem to think in every day
Five strange years after:
Of how my life appears to me.
I don’t speak of it, the thing itself, not that.
But of how I seem to see our lives in the light of it.
It’s as though you live in big rooms filled with laughing;
I see little tables, and shining black pianos,
And you very busy. And me outside in the street
(Don’t laugh) sweeping it.
The place I suppose is my idea of heaven.
I haven’t described it (who could?)
But I’ve put in some writing desks and black pianos
Because that’s, if I’m honest, the best my poor brain can rise to
Without inventing.  Spirits, like flames, that meet
Melting into each other – yes, that makes sense to me often
But not (and you know this) every day.

Anyway, here I am
Out on the pavement.  And every night
I wheel my day’s collection to the depot
Where it’s assessed. But
(And here’s the odd part)
I don’t know who does the assessing
Or what it’s best to bring.  One just leaves it all there
And goes to bed; every day.
The streets and dreams and faces that I’ve seen now
Without you.  Or with you?

It’s late.
Time to turn in my collection.
Heaven knows how I’m doing!
When I sleep
Visit me then, reassure me.  Don’t share my puzzle.
And let me hear you laugh at my dustman’s hat…

P.J. Kavanagh


In the dark I grope across the bedroom
floor, feel for the shape of the wall, the door
and half trip, half step over your work shoes.
Shoe trap. Your favourite trick, four
shoes, haphazardly strewn,
your habit. My habit is the stumble, the meeting
of floor and face, the standard bruise
to the knee. Your shoe trap has held me captive
for thirteen years, swearing in the dark on my way
to the bathroom. Your habits and mine; a dance,
a meeting of selves over and over. The day
after my sister loses her husband to cancer,
I trip on your shoes in the dark, holding their scrubby,
battered shape, I’ve never felt so blessed or lucky.

Wendy Pratt

Tuesday, 23 December 2014


The monument highlighted on the right is a memorial to Arthur Frankau, an importer of cigars, and his wife Julia, who wrote novels under the name Frank Danby. The first was 'Dr. Phillips: A Maida Vale Idyll', a portrait of London Jewish life, including a discussion of euthanasia. As a young woman she was home-tutored by Karl Marx's daughter Laura Lafargue. She is the great-grandmother of Sam Bain, who co-wrote Peep Show. More here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julia_Frankau and here:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Frankau

Sunday, 14 December 2014


I've just come across a postcard sent to me from Denmark on my 7th birthday (1965, since you ask).  It is a rather delightful thing. His bag opens to display eight little pictures of Copenhagen.  And he manages to look both jaunty and formal at the same time....

Saturday, 13 December 2014


Delighted to say that my short story, 'Paper Work', is published this week in the utterly magnificent Prole:

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Proust on "the sublime face of true goodness"

...when, in the course of my life, I have had occasion to meet with, in convents for instance, literally saintly examples of practical charity, they have generally had the brisk, decided, undisturbed, and slightly brutal air of a busy surgeon, the face in which one can discern no commiseration, no tenderness at the sight of suffering humanity, and no fear of hurting it, the face devoid of gentleness or sympathy, the sublime face of true goodness.

this is from the original  Scott Moncrieff translation,  Remembrance of Things Past 
which is available online, here: 

NOTE: Pamela du Bayou, a French painter who was married to the publisher Fred Warburg, told me that proust was better in English than in French.


I think they were about as high
As haycocks are.  They went running by
Catching bits of shade in the sunny street:
"I've got one," cried sister to brother,
      "I've got two." "Now I've got another."
But scudding away on their little bare feet,
They left the shade in the sunny street.

Monday, 8 December 2014


 It is important that the artist should be highly educated in his own art; but his education is one that is hindered rather than helped by the ordinary processes of society which constitute education for the ordinary man. For these processes consist largely in the acquisition of impersonal ideas which obscure what we really are and feel, what we really want, and what really excites our interest. It is of course not the actual information acquired, but the conformity which the accumulation of knowledge is apt to impose, that is harmful. Tennyson is a very fair example of a poet almost wholly encrusted with parasitic opinion, almost wholly merged into his environment. Blake, on the other hand, knew what interested him, and he therefore presents only the essential, only, in fact, what can be presented, and need not be explained. And because he was not distracted, or frightened, or occupied in anything but exact statement, he understood. He was naked, and saw man naked, and from the centre of his own crystal. 

from The Sacred Wood, 1921
(quoted by Leavis in 'Justifying One's Valuation of Blake' in The Human World No. 7)

Tuesday, 2 December 2014


One more reminder of the the great Calliopian feast to be found in Betterton Street tomorrow night.  To whit, a Stanza Bonanza at the Poetry Society, featuring stupendous free poetry from Southwark and Brondesbury, including, I regret to say, me for a good seven minutes.

Everything you need to know is here:

Thursday, 27 November 2014

FOOTFALL by Wynn Wheldon

This is an old poem, originally published in an anthology called Shaken and Stirred (2002).  It is set in the old cemetery in Freiburg.  London's weather, and empty paths, over the last couple of days brought it back to mind.  It's a bit wordy, but atmospheric I think.

Freiburg, April 2002

Recent rain, the rich aroma of fungus
and the early unsatisfactory darkness.
The listening to one’s own footfall
as though the only footfall and all other feet
put up, all other heads easy on starched pillows,
easy with virtue if not contentment.
And this head full of its greeds and lusts,
hunched between tight shoulders in the mist,
shrouded, shall we say, as though ashamed.

From beyond, the minster bell tolls the quarter
and all at once this might be any age
in the last thousand years, and I consider nuns
friars and monks, bishops in purple
and the shoeless and the cold and the scholastic.

On the wall of the cemetery, in day-glo pink:
FUCK NAZIS - brighter than the mist-buried stars,
the letters a metre high; a very modern necrophilia.

Death’s dullness: toadstooled graves
and rain-dark headstones, the end of footfall,
the virtuous and vicious dead alike, content.

Saturday, 22 November 2014


Men who have been left by women or made cuckolds by rivals either lick their wounds in humiliated silence or start the Trojan Wars.
Frances Wilson
The Courtesan's Revenge


What an enjoyable time academics have with their 'texts'. Their own writing seeks to be scrupulously clean of themselves.  And this leaves the reader bereft of conversational comfort.  One feels not as though one is being talked to, but talked at.

David Plante, TLS

Friday, 21 November 2014

AN OLD PHOTO by Wynn Wheldon


That’s my first love sitting sipping tea
In her parents’ garden, smiling at me.
Around her neck she wears a violet scarf.
Her frock is virgin white; and you may laugh
But the symbols were rich for me. I thought
We might discover sex together, bought
Her Lawrence stories, marked out for her one
In which the heroine is penetrated by the sun.
To no avail.  I failed to win her round
And she gave herself to someone sound,
Someone certainly with better looks
Who did not euphemise desire with books.

Wynn Wheldon

Originally published in Prole 9

Wednesday, 19 November 2014


...est arrivé.  Contains my brief but fair review of Tim Kiely's brief but excellent pamphlet 'Footsteps'.  May I also recommend a new book of poetry, A Landscape Blossoms Within Me by Eeva Kilpi, translated by Donald Adamson.  More info here:

Thursday, 13 November 2014


The review below appeared in the first issue of Lunar Poetry (August 2014), a new monthly poetry magazine edited by Paul McMenemy. 


To Sing Away the Darkest Days
Poems re-imagined from Yiddish Folksongs
by Norbert Hirschhorn
Holland Park Press, 124pp
ISBN 9781907320354

Reviewed by Wynn Wheldon

Folk songs tend to address the quotidian. Daily life in the shtetls of Eastern Europe, on the Russian pale, was hard, and folksongs were a means both of expressing this hardship and of coping with it, of calling the monster by a name, to sing away the darkest days.

still, the Rebbe’s about to sing. When
he chants the holy songs, our whole

earth rings and the Devil will die.


Hirschhorn is well qualified to write about suffering, and the suffering of large numbers of people, for he is an epidemiologist by profession, now retired. He also has several books of poetry to his name. 

The thirty-odd poems of the present volume are based on Yiddish folk songs, hundreds of which Hirschhorn studied in rediscovering his own cultural Jewishness.  The chosen songs are given in transliteration and literal translation in the second half of the book.  I’m not sure that was entirely necessary.  Is the autobiographical act not confused by the scholarly?  I have chosen to read the poems as Hirschhorn’s own.

They reveal a civilized, liberal sensibility, concerned with inequality, but amused too by the quirks of human kind.  Underlying all however is the great existential melancholy that the Jews know better than anyone. A greater Jewish poet, Joseph Brodsky, once wrote that “the reason why a good poet speaks of his own grief with restraint is that, as regards grief, he is a Wandering Jew”*. Folk songs are not known for their restraint, but Hirschhorn’s complaints are never raucous, and they are not for his own plight, but for the pains of others.  The voices of these others he inhabits with enviable ease, employing an eclectic prosody.  There are prose poems and poems in free verse, poems that rhyme, and metrical poems that don’t rhyme. There is the song-like use of repetition and nonsense (oy-doy-do-diri-diri-tam).  The voices are those of both men and women, young and old, their terms sometimes formal, sometimes demotic.

Hey pussy cat, why such a pout?
You just checked up your pedigree?
So, what did you find out? Your daddy
greases palms at City Hall.  Your momma’s
a shoplifter.  Little brother fixes ball games,
and sister’s run off with a grafter.
         Uh huh.


There are poems with two voices, asked and asker:

…who will save you
when our foes hear your singing?
         When inquisitors come to seize me
     I will drown them in my song.

[CAVE SONG, p. 17]

Hirschhorn, writing in English, is as happy to place his characters in Leicester Square as in Union Square.  These occasional references pull the English-language reader back into the ambit of the poems as a whole: we are not allowed to lose ourselves in eastern Europe or Czarist Russia. The gentile reader recognizes universal themes: the pains and joys of motherhood, life-changing decisions, oppression, sisterhood, teaching, working, aspiration, wealth and poverty, exile, and the imperishable ability to keep dreaming of a better life.

just a wee nip to keep that
          fragrance, l’khayim, on your lips; one
                     last nip, l’khayim, for what
                             we always dream of.

[TO LIFE! P. 49]

Norbert Hirschhorn has pulled off a kind of transformative magic in this collection.  The lyrics of songs, of prayer, learned in childhood, are more often remembered as sounds than as words.  The reason lies partly in the communality of the act of singing or chanting.  One is driven along by a collective noise.  It is one of singing’s pleasures.  What reader has not grown up unsure as to the correct words of, say, Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’, while knowing with utter confidence the correct sounds?

In these “re-imaginings” Hirschhorn has turned songs to poems without sacrificing their communal power, and has found a way of relating common experience without slipping into cliché, and has furthermore reminded us that art is almost as vital to humanity as a woollen coat in winter.

Now nothing’s of use to me, except this little song.

[A TAILOR’S SONG, p. 55]

* Joseph Brodsy,‘The Keening Muse’, in Less Than One: Selected Essays, (Viking, 1986), p. 38