Archive for the ‘poems’ Category

a poem from 2016

January 2, 2017

In the wall

The quiet house has its small sounds –
the dog rolls over, sighs, softly
rests a paw on the skirting board;
light rain echo-tap taps on the conservatory roof;
my typing, tapping on the computer.
But mostly it’s silence.
Something scuffles in the wall.

– What was that again?
The dog’s tail shuffles in the hall.
– Oh. I see.
Yet – something scuffles in the wall.

Footsteps, stairsteps muffle-clump next door;
Tamil voices outside – the child laughs briefly.
Ducking under clouds, the autumn sun,
westering, strikes sideways through my room –
and something scuffles in the wall.

Inside the chimney breast, long bricked up
something is constricted. Some creature
is turning, scrabbling.
Pay attention.
It stops. Quiet as the grave.
Escaped? – – – – – the smallest of shuffles. – Rat! Rat!

A scary creature is trapped in my wall:
something that will flap, scuttle, rush in my face.

A quiet day passes – gone. Found its way out.

Evening sun rests light on my cream room
And something scuffles in the wall.
Something horrible that can’t get out
is stuck, dying and alone in the dark.

Mike comes over to unscrew the brass air vent,
opens an exit.
The creature is lying doggo.

Another day passes. Mice can live in walls
scuttle in skirting boards. Still the gentle
shuffling, on and off, fluttering, rolling.

We go by the book – chip off plaster
neatly knock out a brick or two, leave a torch
shining, go to the pub to give it some peace –
and return to see soot on the carpet.
Not a sound. Success!

And yet, come the sideways light of afternoon,
So close, next to my work table,
My creature scuffles in the wall.
Four days now, or five. How long does it take to die?
Does a pigeon die faster than a blackbird?

Take the big crowbar to it myself, and the
terrifying lump hammer.
In quiet she may find the courage to leave.
Repeat the torch, pub routine.
Return tipsy to more soot. Proper success.

Morning sun shines in the front window.
Further up and over to the side –
My creature shuffles in the wall. Poor choice!
Silly simple bird!
Crowbar. Hammer. Don’t crush her.
More debris, and now a breeze block to come out,
widen the way into that shallow concrete coffin.
Internet advice says: leave the room.
I only have one room. The phone rings.

And while I’m loudly on the phone, a soft flop –
Pigeon is sitting ruffled on the rubble, hops
up onto a chair.
Perches – long seconds. Launches a brief
battering flight around the conservatory.
Pauses again. She crouches, reassessing –

Then out, out, up, up
into the neighbour’s laburnum and then on –
in her shallow arc of rising flight, up and out,
my beautiful pigeon
skims the roof tiles, bending southwards and away.

make a bigger hole

make a bigger hole


brutal lump hammer and crowbar

brutal lump hammer and crowbar


consider the light

consider the light


dark cream walls and morning light

dark cream walls and morning light


assess the situation

assess the situation


conservatory door

conservatory door


September 21, 2016


Staying at the White House

Stylish, confident: through a mizzling Melbourne rain

cool Footscray edges sideways into spring.

Sticks of the backyard grapevine show infant shoots

near a hopeful carnival of party lights.

Trees still bare stake out this rain-shiny street,

except for a petticoat froth of leaf green on the desert ash

vibrant outside Christine’s bedroom window.

Fraxinus angustifolia.

Where are the dockland gangs now? The sweaty thugs

with their seedy whiff of booze and death?

In the artfully-named corner cafe,

the Footscray Milking Station, casually trendy,

helmeted Sunday morning cyclists pause for coffee;

waitresses busy in bright green and white;

the coffee grinder whooshes white noise –

the exhilarated morning fills

with a familiar settling into relief and calm.

Outside, wide streets and old iron lace –

all coming back up in the world.

Les Murray, Elena Ferrante on Poverty

June 19, 2015

Sometimes a kind of theme starts to emerge within one’s reading and thinking experiences.  One of the great puzzles of the recent general election is the manifest tendency of disadvantaged people to vote for a party which will not look after them: which will, if anything, thrust them deeper into poverty.

Les Murray talks about his dirt-poor Australian childhood in numerous poems.  I think that this one is nearly as wonderful as the others I have posted – but in a couple of places it is trying too hard; it poeticises.  But I have to forgive it for that: it’s still an amazing achievement.

Lately, I’ve been reading the Neapolitan novels by Elena Ferrante, who also talks about poverty, about escape and about a return, about the hold that one’s place of origins has, no matter how far one may have travelled.

I said there was a theme – is it a theme?  or just one of those moments when everything appears to tend in the same direction.  I’ve been reading about Napoleon with renewed interest, and listening to the BBC radio series about him, too.  (I was a great fan as a teenager: studied his battles with relish.  Not much empathy in me then, I’m sorry to admit.)  He didn’t move from poverty, but from obscurity at least, and his return, again, was to a kind of deprived luxury.  Yet the arc of his narrative, from one little island to another through a time of glowing success, seems to have something of that same quality: the instability, whether one leaves or returns. The inevitable return of the past.  That’s what both Murray and Ferrante know, and what they tell us about.


The Tin Wash Dish

Lank poverty, dank poverty,
its pants wear through at fork and knee.
It warms its hands over burning shames,
refers to its fate as Them and He
and delights in things by their hard names:
rag and toejam, feed and paw –
don’t guts that down, there ain’t no more!
Dank poverty, rank poverty,
it hums with a grim fidelity
like wood-rot with a hint of orifice,
wet newspaper jammed in the gaps of artifice,
and disgusts us into fierce loyalty.
It’s never the fault of those you love:
poverty comes down from above.
Let it dance chairs and smash the door,
it arises from all that went before
and every outsider’s the enemy –
Jesus Christ turned this over with his stick
and knights and philosophers turned it back.
Rank poverty, lank poverty,
chafe in its crotch and sores in its hair,
still a window’s clean if it’s made of air,
not webby silver like a sleeve.
Watch out if this does well at school
and has to leave and longs to leave:
someone, sometime, will have to pay.
Shave with toilet soap, run to flesh,
astound the nation, rule the army,
still you wait for the day you’ll be sent back
where books or toys on the floor are rubbish
and no one’s allowed to come and play
because home calls itself a shack
and hot water crinkles in the tin wash dish.


a favourite Les Murray Poem

March 9, 2015

The Day I Slept Like a Dolphin

The day I slept like a dolphin
I’d flown the Atlantic twice over
and come down in snow-rimmed Denver.
There I filled in both entry papers
and got called back: Hey! You, Buddy!
You didn’t fill these out right!
It was true.  Only the right hand
side of the Immigration form
and of the Customs form had writing.
I could explain that to you, I marvelled,
as he impatiently did not,
he of La Migra.  But I’d bore you,
I added, and filled in the left questions.
Under an Atlantic of fatigue
one half of my brain had been sleeping
as the other kept watch and rose to breathe.
Next time, I’ll peep, and get
a second, waking view of my dreams.

from Conscious and Verbal (1999)

a little more from Les Murray

February 18, 2015

Choosing and transcribing these poems by Les Murray makes me very happy.  There will be more.  (The collection is called Conscious and Verbal.)

from Five Postcards

Having run herself up out of
plush, the white-cheeked wallaby
sits between her haunches
like an old country tailor behind
her outstretched last yard, her tail,
and hems it with black fingers.


The kitchens of this 18th century
Oxford college are ten metres high
by the squinch-eyed cooks basting
tan birds spiked in hundreds all over
the iron griddle before hellfire.
Below high lozengy church windows
others flour, fill, pluck. And this too
was the present once, that absolute of fools.

a poem by Les Murray

February 16, 2015

         Drought Dust on the Crockery

Things were not better
when I was young:
things were poorer and harsher,
drought dust on the crockery,
and I was young.

Sydenham Brook

June 20, 2013

The quick stream was bustling clean and clear.
Blue sky, frozen lumpy ground
rigid underfoot
but the steep track was deep mud
slurped heavily along the brook’s bank

In the hurrying stillness
a woodpecker rattled – and again.


13th January, 2013


animals in public life

November 14, 2010

A friend’s blog post mentioning the Lake George zebras made me think of various other animal installations that I have encountered.  (It is    So far I know of the travelling cows that went through various European cities in 2006, and the toads in Hull this year.  I would love to hear of more. 

I am calling them ‘installations’ because they are not quite sculptures: they don’t have that feeling of permanence and marmoreality.  Instead they are engaged with reality in a different way – they address our experience of the animal, and our human myth-making about the animal.  Often, too, they are playful, but not in a naff or whimsical way – once one gets into the kittens-and-puppies-and-pink-bows area, one has left this category far behind.  On the other hand, not everyone has a taste for this kind of art.  The zebras, after all, attracted vandalism of a quite nasty nature, reminiscent of the attacks on horses in Peter Shaffer’s Equus. 

Here are the fibreglass zebras in their original habitat:

Zebras and cloud at Lake George

The toads in Hull were rather different – very much an official civic installation, celebrating Hull’s famous citizen and poet, Philip Larkin. 

Summary toad

Psychedelic toad

There is a marvellously detailed description, with pictures of the toads and their locations, at:

 But isn’t there something quietly ironic taking place when the Council uses an image from a disgruntled, rebellious and ultimately rather sadly resigned poem?  As so often, only the first two lines are widely known, and they certainly sound strong and angry enough to give any city mayor pause.  Nevertheless, perhaps we should admire their courage –

Why should I let the toad work
  Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
  And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
  With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
  That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
  Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
  They don’t end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
  With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
  they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
  Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
  No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
  To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
  That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
  Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
  And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
  My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
  All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
  One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
  When you have both.


The first time I saw one of these animal installations was in Budapest, in 2006.  There, the city of Pest was dotted with large – full-size, really – statues of cows.  Each one was differently painted and I think some had rather different stances.  They were enchanting and enigmatic, just standing on pavements here and there throughout the city, surprising and challenging interpretation.  It turned out that they were a travelling show – being moved from one city in Europe to another throughout the summer – and so there was also some kind of statement about pan-Europeanism to be found in their presence.  They had a past, and a vagabond-like casualness, that their clean obstinacy of form quite hid. Also, each cow would seem differrent in different locations (or at least I suspect so).  A mad desire to follow them around from country to country swept into my mind.  Alas – impossible – but Pest was amply enough, really.

cow near the Danube 2006

same cow - front view


More pictures can be seen at: and in looking for those, I’ve just found an explanation of the whole deal.  If you would rather not see a slightly mundane/worthy website, avoid this one, but if you are curious, here it is: 

Just to finish off, here is Big Blue – yet another clever, fine piece that causes art and humour to teeter into a complex alignment.  I love the way the smooth curves of the animal blur the sharp almost cruel linearity of the building:

a bear in Denver, USA

poem by Fleur Adcock

August 15, 2010

Robert Harington, 1558

Get you, with your almain rivetts (latest
fad from Germany), and your corselet,
and your two coats of plate! How much harness

does a man need?  None, when he’s in his grave.
Your sons may have it, together with your
damask and satin gowns to show off in;

while you go to lie down in Witham church,
and the most armour I’ve seen in a will
rusts or turns ridiculous in this world.

(published in the TLS 13th August 2010)



and – now that you’re here – a wonderful comment on music by Eric Griffiths, also from that TLS:

“After all, some pieces of music . . . by virtue of what Samuel Beckett called ‘the beautiful convention of the da capo ‘. . . seem to have a point of vantage on time, not because they escape it, but because they undergo it, how resolutely, with what forbearance.”

The Berry: 4th April

April 5, 2010

Bright sun igniting the green winter wheat;
above, a purple-grey pile of cloud.
On that sharp wind –
sleety rain any moment – now.

a man on a vast tractor, hedging roughly
flings sharp little stakes of hazel,
vicious, across the muddy path.
He pauses as we pass, and waves –
a young man.

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