Tailed sonnet: Confession

Too long I’ve sat in silence in this cell.
Come, guards, unlock the door: it’s way past time
To step into the searchlight beam and tell
The truth, confess the catalogue of crime
I have committed in the name of duty:
Twisted my mother tongue, made her a liar,
Robbed her at gunpoint of her strength and beauty,
Stripped her of virtue, put her up for hire.
I just did as they told me; but excuses
Rehearsed through time unmeasured will not clean
The slate, absolve me of my vile abuses;
My fingerprints still dot the dreadful scene.
Pray God, the Queen and Shakespeare may forgive:
The humble English poet has to live
          And find a way, according to his lights,
          To hold to truth, yet set aside his joy
          In craft and meaning; bend his back to plough
          A barren soil; and wonder as he writes
          What fear compels his masters to employ
          So many words to say so little now.


In the middle of a long work jag, hence not much to see here lately. I’m working on some big corporate projects, which is death by a thousand clichés, but a man has to live. And whatever torments I visit on our long-suffering language in the name of making a buck, it’s nothing to what the suits get up to if left to themselves…
As so often, I’m indebted to Tom Davis for the impetus behind this poem – my first attempt at a tailed sonnet. The sonnet itself is, of course, your basic Shakespearean (a creature of habit, I) but with a few feminine endings sneaked in by way of variety. The coda is a simple abcabc, which may not be right, but I had to start somewhere! I like the couplet ending on the Shakespearean sonnet – it has the satisfying feel of a heavy door slamming shut when you finally get it – but I found the tail gave an opportunity to keep exploring, take ideas a bit further, and finish in a more contemplative mood. It’s not perfect, but right now, I’m just happy to be writing. N.


Shadorma: Waiting room

Scrubbed, shining,
Their eyes flicking round the room.
Subtle sizing-up.

So much rides
On the next few hours.
Win or lose,
In or out.
It all starts or ends right here.
And don’t they know it.

Once, I sat
Waiting for that call:
Told myself
It mattered,
Answered thoughtfully, played nice,
Told, then learned, the truth.

Now, God knows,
I have no desire
To join them:
Run that race,
Chase that rainbow. Good luck, kids;
Hope it all works out

And accept
What is said, held out
And promised
To you now
Will quickly be forgotten
Once the shooting starts.


Jotted this down while waiting in the lobby at a big corporate HQ yesterday morning. As they rightly say, there’s always someone worse off than you. One day in that environment is always enough to remind me that working for myself is the only way.
That said, I’ve been crazy busy the last few days; but I’m hoping to get some reading and writing done this week. N.

Jorio: Hard labour

This day has been
As hard and blank
As a prison wall.
Must get over it.

Some poet I am.
Whatever made me think
I could do this?
I have no idea.

Some days it’s easy,
The words flowing unbidden
Onto the page. This
Isn’t one of them.

Today it’s breaking rocks
Or hauling up some
Rusty anchor on miles
Of thick, slime-covered chain.

Five lots of sixteen:
Eighty words. Can I –
Dare I – call this
A good day’s work?


For anyone else who feels that writing is really hard work today! N.

Shadorma: Solo

She’s so small
Up on stage, alone:
Just her bow
Her fiddle
And three hundred eyes on her.
Nothing we can do

Or say now:
It’s all down to her.
She holds us,
This whole room,
In her little hands and gaze.
A cough. Then silence.

The first notes
From the piano.
Shakes her head –
No: too fast.
The grown-up nods, starts again.
Yes, good. Attagirl.

Long F sharp.
All around the hall
Eyes widen
Mouths open.
She’s got them. Won’t let go till
She’s good and ready.

No idea
How she’s doing this:
So poised, cool,
In control;
And all the while there’s this sound
Sent straight from heaven

So it seems.
I can barely breathe.
No more my
Baby girl:
She owns this place, this moment.
And so it begins.


My daughter performed Massenet’s ‘Meditation from Thais‘ at her school concert on Thursday evening. We’d heard her practising it at home, of course, but like all great performers, she saved her best for the big night. She played it on my father’s old fiddle, and it was great that he was there to hear it, too. Have to say that from my childhood recollections, it never sounded like that when he played it…N.

Sonnet: A memory alone (Guest post)

Upon whose sweet sorrow will I cast these
Inscriptions that can never ease the pain;
Eternity now lies beneath these trees,
And never to be lost or found again.
The stone is standing sombre, cold as night;
Among the fading roses shadows play.
The trauma of the angels’ hopeless plight;
A memory once treasured dies away.
I’ll think of you in things we used to share
Instead; the places that we used to love,
The scent of flowers in the summer air,
The soft white snow cascading from above.
For me, your memory is not that stone;
I hold you in my mind and heart alone.


I’m proud to present the first sonnet written by my daughter, aged 13. It was an English homework assignment, so she’ll get ‘official’ feedback from her teacher, but I know she’d be thrilled to hear from the WordPress poetry community. Thank you! N.


A restless wind was rising, and the waning moon was down
As I sat alone on a slab of stone at a crossroads far from town.
When the midnight bell rang out I stood and addressed that empty space:
“I’m here to trade, and I’m not afraid: are you going to show your face?”

A roil of smoke, a blood-red light and brimstone filled the air.
I fell to the floor; when I rose I saw the Devil standing there.
He looked me up and down and said, “Guess you know who I am:
But who the hell are you, and what do you do, and why should I give a damn?”

I took a deep breath and stood up tall and tried hard not to shake.
I said, “I’ve heard you’re a man of your word: there’s a deal I’d like to make.
“I beat you in a contest here and you give it all to me;
And if I don’t win -” but the Devil cut in: “You’ll spend eternity

“With me – yeah, I know how it works; I’ve heard it all before.
But as a matter of fact, that kind of pact ain’t what I’m lookin’ for.
Hell’s full of bluesmen, guitar-pickers, fiddle-players and guys
All so obsessed with bein’ the best they staked their own demise.”

“Hey, I’m not Faust, or Robert Johnson, mister,” I replied.
“I want to write rhyme that’ll last all time.” Satan laughed until he cried.
“A poet?” he gasped, and clutched his sides, “That’s the best I’ve heard yet, son.
What’s your big idea: that we stand out here trading sonnets till I say you’ve won?”

Then he fixed me with one dreadful eye. “I’m a liar, but I’ll tell you true:
Even I’ve no curse that’s as bad, or worse, than the one they’ve hung on you.
Never been much call for your kind of work, and that little is in decline.
There’s no hope in Hell, far as I can tell. And miracles ain’t my line.

But I like you, boy: I admire your sand. Here’s what I’m going to do.
I’ll fill your head with doubt and dread, and crack your heart in two.
I’ll tell you that the world’s against you, stoke your fires of rage,
And all you feel, what’s hard and real, will spill out on the page.

I’ll make you enigmatic, kinda dangerous – the sort
Her mum and dad will say is Bad. I’ll drench your every thought
With hopelessness and heartbreak, joy, serenity and song.
Won’t make a dime, but you’ll get your rhyme – you just see if I’m wrong.”

We sat on the stone and watched the stars. I said, “I hate to ask,
But now we’re done, O Wicked One, what’s your next infernal task?”
“I’m going down to Georgia.” “What, again?” “Yep. It’s a grind.
Didn’t go to plan with that fiddle-playin’ man, and now it’s on my mind.”

Then Satan stood. “Well, sayonara, son; I’m on my way.
I’m glad we met, and don’t forget the things I’ve had to say.”
Then he vanished, but he kept his word, for sure; no compromise.
I’ve told my tale in true detail. For that’s where the devil lies.


Wanted to do something with a whiff of the supernatural about it for 1 May – the ancient Celtic festival of Beltane. The story of doing a deal with the Devil – gaining wealth, long life or otherworldly musical prowess in exchange for your mortal soul – has been told (much better!) by everyone from Kit Marlowe and Goethe to the Charlie Daniels Band. It’s also a charge that’s been levelled at musicians from the virtuoso violinists Paganini (who actively milked the rumour for its publicity value) and Tartini, to the blues guitarist Robert Johnson. I’ve suffered similar accusations myself: my work is frequently described as diabolical… N.