Flying visits

A poem about welcome guests…


Like an early fall of festive snow
Sent from a flat, blank sky;
Bringing a gentle, momentary reshaping
And bright retouching of our world.

An altered light and shift in sounds;
A different music to our ears.
Old things recast and seen afresh;
New footprints and angel-wings on familiar ground.

The everyday briefly suspended;
A borrowed grace, all too quickly gone –
Leaving us wistful, wishing for more
But enriched, and warmed right through.


This week, we’ve had the privilege and pleasure of being a host family in a long-established, highly successful exchange between the music department at our daughter’s school, and its counterpart at a school in Germany. As is customary, the visitors performed alongside our youngsters in the town’s main church at our school’s Carol Service, which is open to the whole community (it’s also recorded live by the local radio station, which then broadcasts it on Christmas Eve). It’s always a wonderful, moving occasion, made all the more poignant this year by the dreadful events in Berlin, which had unfolded the previous evening. Our guest (whose family generously hosted our daughter on the exchange’s ‘away’ leg back in July) was absolutely delightful and quickly became part of the household; we’re already looking forward to seeing her again this time next year.
Frohe Weihnachten, one and all. N.

A trio of triolets


To ride a bike today, a man must be
A hero or a fool. So which am I?
One thing that I can say with certainty:
To ride a bike today, a man must be
Gripped by great need – or why else willingly
Leave warmth behind for hard roads, hostile sky?
To ride a bike today, a man must be
A hero or a fool. So which am I?


The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall
And somebody is knocking at the door.
A year’s passed since you promised me you’d call.
The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall:
To let my hopes rise is to risk a fall;
And yet, what else have I been wishing for?
The mistletoe hangs in the empty hall
And somebody is knocking at the door.


He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
No intention of heading home hungry tonight.
With his eyes on the field and a kill on his mind,
He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
Wary, quick as the rabbits he’s hoping to find,
Checks the lamp, whets his knife in the fast-failing light.
He haunts the hedge; longdogs pad, patient, behind.
No intention of heading home hungry tonight.


For my final post before Christmas, I thought I’d experiment with a form I’ve never tried before. The triolet is rather haughtily dismissed in one of my books as ‘slight’, which I think is a little unfair. Originally, it was used for quite weighty subjects, but for reasons unclear it came to be a ‘light verse’ form, reserved for the frothy and the fanciful. I thought I’d try to redeem it, at least a little, and quickly discovered that it’s both more complex and more versatile than it first appears. The rhyme scheme is an interesting one – ABaAabAB – with the first two lines (AB) repeated at the end, the first line (A) popping up again as line 4, and only two rhymes for the whole thing. Having written one it seemed inevitable that I should write a trio of triolets, just to explore the possibilities. Since there’s no set metre for the triolet, the first two are in iambic pentameter, because I can’t help myself these days, while the third uses stressed syllables by way of a change. I shall definitely be writing in this form again.
I shall be off the grid for the next few days, so let me take this opportunity to wish every one of you a very happy Christmas, and a peaceful and joyous New Year. My heartfelt thanks, as always, for your encouragement and fellowship – God bless us, WordPress poets, every one. N.

Winter solstice



No. Darkness shall not rule the earth.
Though woods and fields lie still and cold
This day brings promise of rebirth;
The great wheel turns, a gift foretold.

Though woods and fields lie still and cold
The road leads back to life and light.
The great wheel turns, a gift foretold;
Hope blazes in midwinter’s night.

The road leads back to life and light;
Raise fire and song – Yule has begun.
Hope blazes in midwinter’s night;
We greet the great, unconquered sun.

Raise fire and song – Yule has begun.
This day brings promise of rebirth;
We greet the great, unconquered sun.
No. Darkness shall not rule the earth.


Haven’t written a pantoum for ages; its measured, rather portentous pattern of repeating lines seemed just right for a poem about the rolling of the year, and the long walk back to Spring that starts at 11.11 GMT tomorrow. Can’t wait! The line that ends the third stanza, and comes second-to-last in the final one, is a reference to the Roman festival of Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (‘Birthday of the Unconquered Sun’) which took place on 25 December: some claim our Christmas Day was chosen deliberately to coincide with, and thus suppplant, the old pagan rite. In much the same way, I’ve unashamedly borrowed the ancients’ lovely ringing words for my own purposes here. N.

Christmas sonnet

You know who you are…

What can I give to you this Christmas-tide?
My arm is not so long that I can bring
A gift to each of you, spread far and wide
Across the world. I cannot hope to sing
A carol that would reach (or please) your ears:
The turkey has not lived yet that could feed
Us all, and if I worked a thousand years
I’d not repay the time you take to read
My humble verse and leave your comments. So
I offer you, my friends, this year’s last post
With warmest Christmas wishes. You should know
Your work, your words and wisdom mean the most.
Long may we share this journey we’ve begun:
God bless us, WordPress poets, every one.


See you all in 2012.

A night at the opera

A night at the opera

I’ve ridden, driven past these gates
A hundred times and more.
But tonight, we’re turning in:
Parking in the dark and distant corner
Where mere musicians’ old jalopies
Can be discreetly hidden from
The summer season’s picnickers.

We climb up to the circle
In cathedral-goers’ reverence
Enclosed in brick and polished stairs
Five-quid tickets in our unworthy hands
Then for the first – and, we imagine, only – time
We take our lord-knows-how-much seats
In that fabled wooden Oh-my-goodness

And there she is.
One cherished face, one treasured voice
In that bright chorus of three hundred
Raised in jaunty, joyous song.
No soprano’s aria could make
These sparks go crackling down my neck:
No opera at any price

Could summon up this surge of pride.
It is for her –
It is through her –
That we are sitting here tonight,
Transported into wondrous realms
We never would have known
And would not miss for worlds.


On Friday night, our 10-year-old daughter sang in the world-famous opera house at Glyndebourne along with her classmates and Year 6 children from half-a-dozen other local junior schools. The concert was organised by our wonderful East Sussex Music Service (for whom no praise is too high) as part of its annual Great Big Christmas Sing programme, which runs in schools across the county. The children sang a musical based (very loosely) on the Christmas story, specially composed for them by the Music Service’s Director, no less, which they’d been rehearsing in class all term.

Normally, Glyndebourne is a byword for glamour and gracious living. During the Summer Festival, many people arrive by helicopter or chauffeured car, and opera-goers’ picnics are the stuff of legend. On Friday, though, we the Great Unwashed took over. Egalitarianism ruled: everyone in the audience paid just £5 for their ticket. We managed to bag the front row of the Circle, and I wondered how much it would cost to sit in the same seat for a Summer Season opera production. What’s certain is I wouldn’t be able to afford it – and it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun, either. The Girl was beside herself with excitement beforehand and walking on air afterwards – it was a truly glorious evening. (What’s more, we got to sing at Glyndebourne, too: only a couple of verses of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, but hey, that’ll do me.)

Martian poems

Martian poems

– 1 –

Silent lords

A noble race, these silent lords,
Who walk on four long legs
And speak with their ears.

Their plodding servants,
Two legs short,
Feed them, dress them,
Clean their houses, tend their gardens,
And receive no word of thanks.

And when these mighty princes travel,
They take their bondsmen with them,
Slung like packs
On their broad backs.


– 2 –

The Red God

His image hangs in every home,
His effigy in every window:
The Red God is coming.

Ahead of him, the people race
From place to place
Their cheeks and purses hollowed out
By this frenzy in the cold.

For he must be propitiated
With gifts and feasts and sacrifice:
Only those who stand unblemished
Will know his favour on that night.

And yet, among the true believers,
The infidels wait furtively –
Another’s name upon their lips,
An ancient heresy in their hearts –
All but lost in the noise and glare
Of the Red God’s triumph.


I first came across Martian poetry back in 2004, had a go at writing some and really enjoyed it. Only now have I got round to publishing it. This pleasingly whimsical form, which was briefly in vogue in the late 70s/early 80s, centres on describing familiar things in unfamiliar ways – as though you were a Martian seeing them for the very first time, with no prior understanding of what they are, how they work, what they’re for and so on. The images can be surreal, surprising, and sometimes rather charming in their deliberate naivety: there’s also a whiff of the delightful Anglo-Saxon riddle verses about them, too, which I really love. These two are about horses and Santa Claus, by the way.

No L

No L

There’s no L in Mastercard, Visa or debt,
In Where can we buy one? or What did you get?
There’s no L in party frocks, panic or stress
No L in consumption, exhaustion, excess
In hangovers, arguments, waking at five,
Or that this is a season we have to survive.
Look up ‘turkey’ in Chambers and what do you see?
You guessed it – and what’s more, there’s no L in ‘tree’.
Of course, none of this should be any surprise:
There’s no Christ in Christmas in most people’s eyes.
There’s no L in Santa, I’m sorry to say –
And there’s no L like Christmas in Britain today.

It's that time of year again

One of my favourite poems is ‘McCavity, The Mystery Cat’ from TS Eliot’s ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.’ I wrote this affectionate parody with my daughter, who when asked what she’d been doing at school replied wearily: “Nativity, Nativity…” After that, it pretty much wrote itself.

(with apologies to TS Eliot)

Nativity, Nativity, there’s nothing like Nativity,
Engulfing everybody in a whirlwind of activity
Assembling angels, soldiers, Magi, townsfolk, shepherds, sheep,
The Virgin Mary, Joseph and a baby (fast asleep).
And when Year Five’s in uproar and Reception’s stiff with fear
I tell you once and once again: Nativity is here!

Rehearsals happen daily and go on for hours and hours,
Till even Mrs Brown is at the limits of her powers;
Each time the boys attempt their song the quality declines,
Now Balthazar’s gone AWOL; Mary hasn’t learned her lines.
The soldiers miss their cue (again) and come on far too late
And Herod stands and trembles like a jelly on a plate.

Nativity, Nativity, there’s nothing like Nativity
To bring out children’s acting talent, wit and sensitivity:
The innkeeper plays it for laughs (he has us all in stitches)
While Joseph jumps a yard each time the donkey’s tail twitches.
And now we wonder where time’s gone: what happened to this year?
Ay there’s the wonder of the thing: Nativity is here!

Mrs Brown attempts to get the Juniors in the mood
By dancing: what they think I could not say (it’s far too rude).
She waves her arms and jumps about and does all kinds of jiggles;
Meanwhile the children in Year Five collapse in fits of giggles.
They won’t line up or stand up straight; it’s turned her hair quite white
Which prompts the Head to intervene and give them all a fright.

The angels hate their haloes: they say the tinsel’s very rough.
They scratch their heads and fidget – must they make them from this stuff?
The shepherds squirm and chatter, fight and pull each other’s hair.
Their tea-towels keep on slipping. Mrs B is in despair.
But somehow it will all work out and come right, never fear
So we can say with certainty: Nativity is here!

Nativity, Nativity, there’s nothing like Nativity
The Infants make a racket like baboons kept in captivity.
They have their own performance that’s as sweet as it is short,
Their parents reach for hankies; the Juniors simply snort.
An entertainment guaranteed to make you shed a tear
So grab the Kleenex, take your seats – NATIVITY IS HERE!