A part to play

What is the point of poets?
What exactly do we do?
By all conventional measures
We’re a waste of space. It’s true.
We stare out of the window,
Go wandering in the woods;
Far more concerned with dreaming
Than delivering the goods.
We have no head for business:
Profit motives have no hold.
We’re a terrible investment;
We can’t be bought or sold.
And yet, we have our uses:
For we come into our own
When you want to tug the heartstrings
Or cut right to the bone.
When no one else can capture
All the things you want to say
In a few short, ringing phrases
The poet finds a way.
You may not need us often
And we’re thin upon the ground.
But when that time arrives
You’ll be relieved we’re still around.

Had the opportunity last week to produce a couple of poems as part of a proper ‘work’ project – only the second time, I think, this has happened in my 24 years as a freelance writer. It was so much fun; and, even better, the experience prompted me to write another one. I’ve always regarded poetry a calling, not a career, but it’s cool when the two worlds overlap, albeit briefly and at long intervals. N.


Distance no object

The other day I met a man – a cyclist just like me –
Who told me of the goal he’d set himself. An odyssey
Not undertaken lightly, nor done easily (or soon):
His one small step, and giant leap? To cycle to the moon.

Not literally, to my regret; but the miles accumulated
Between Earth and its satellite. And he had calculated
He’d hit the quarter-million mark when he reached eighty-five
At his current rate of progress (and if he was still alive).

And in return I told him of my own more modest ride:
A circumnavigation never venturing outside
The limits of my county; endless loops joined in a chain
Each one beginning at my door and circling back again.

Preposterous? Pointless? Well, perhaps: but in these quests we find
Some purpose, peace and agency; light heart and easy mind.
And bless the bike for giving us the means and will to say
It might not make much sense; but hey, let’s do it anyway!

The man in question is the wonderful Dr Mark Williamson, co-founder and director of Action for Happiness, fellow cyclist and all-round good guy. We ‘met’ for the first time last week via Zoom to talk about cycling, books (written and prospective) cycling, mental health, work, cycling, personal goals, families and future plans. We might have mentioned cycling, too.

Mark’s a serious bike-rider and has done all kinds of amazing stuff; and in the course of conversation, he casually mentioned he’s working towards a lifetime target of cycling the distance from Earth to the Moon (384,400 km or 238,855 miles)*. How could I not write a poem about that? And more broadly, I’ve found having goals, even entirely arbitrary ones that make no sense to anyone else, can be very helpful for my own state of mind. Bon courage, Mark!

*My rather inadequate response was that I’m rapidly closing in on riding my e-bike the equivalent of once round the world (a mere 40,075 km or 24,901 miles) – all from and to my own front door and without ever leaving Sussex!


They named you well: The Masterpiece –
The finest of your kind:
The ne plus ultra, best-in-class,
Ineffably refined.

All black and gold and platinum
And subtle ornament;
We must not call you ‘fountain pen’
But ‘writing instrument’.

And we have been together now
Through long and trying times
Of boring meetings taking notes
Or wrestling with rhymes.

Then suddenly you let me down:
No explanation why.
No fond farewell, no parting word;
Just left me high and dry.

And so we spent some time apart:
You went to distant lands
While I remained here all alone
No work for idle hands.

But lo, you are restored to me
All fixed – oh happy day!
Yet now the ink flows free again
What do I have to say?

My Mont Blanc Meisterstück is one of the very few true luxury objects I’ve ever been lucky enough to own. A gift from my parents on my now long-ago 40th birthday, it’s far more than ‘just a pen’ to me: it’s a talisman and token of my trade (as well as being lovely to write with, especially with Manganese Orange ink) so I was rather bereft when back in November, it inexplicably stopped working. Happily, through the good offices of the Bond Street store, it’s been back to the factory in Hamburg and is writing perfectly again. Now just need to have an idea worthy of it!

Duet: a love story

At break-time in rehearsals
A flute lay on a chair
And let out little silvery sighs
Of sorrow and despair.

Her heart had just been broken
By a cruel cor anglais
Who’d charmed her with his double reed
And smooth, seductive ways.

He’d loved her con fuoco,
Their passion burned con brio
Till he spoiled it by asking
If she’d care to form a trio.

Betrayed, abandoned, cast aside
The poor flute wondered whether
She’d ever find a soulmate who
Would want to play together.

And then she saw another flute
Reclining at his ease
And as she stared a shiver ran
Along her trembling keys.

He shimmered in the spotlights’ gleam
That subtly revealed
His head-joint made from finest gold –
“A Louis Lot!” she squealed.

But then she wept, resigned herself
To love him from afar:
He’d never give a second glance
To a humble Yamaha.

But when the orchestra returned
Replete with cake and tea
He met her gaze and whispered
That he loved her ardently..

He wooed her with a Bach bourrée,
And a Mozart minuet
Then they made a little night music
As they played their first duet.

So now they’re happy, side by side
In harmony – and, who knows?
Perhaps they’ll quit the concert hall
To raise some piccolos.