Frost, and frost yesterday
and last night.

Strong little moon picked at your bones.

The pear on the brink
of unpacking its blossom.

One-bee marquees,
nectar festivities, tents.

One-day-only stalls of druggy sugars,
the beers of flowers.

Everything is dragged awake;
puts on its music clothes.


One of the highlights of Bee Journal. ‘One-bee marquees’, ‘druggy sugars’ – the last three couplets are just brilliant. The country show-feeling, meanwhile, also makes me think of this very different M E Gray Green poem.

[Read in Bee Journal, published by Cape Poetry.]


The road keeps accepting us.


That is the first, and most memorable, line of the poem – because that is exactly what the road on a long journey does. I struggled a bit with the volume this poem is from, PLACE, which won the 2012 Forward Prize: I don’t think I had the time to give it that is needed if one is to enjoy its unfolding images and associations, and my experience of the first few poems in particular was completely out of step with the transformative experience promised in the quotes used in the blurb. And in that blurb itself, this: “a book of poems written in the uneasy lull of a world moving towards an unknowable future.” I’m sure the blurb writer was pretty pleased with that sentence, but the future is never knowable, and the description could apply to any number of poets. However, there is a real treat at the end: the penultimate poem Lapse, readable here. It has a clarity of subject that much of the collection lacks, and real tenderness.

[Read in PLACE, published by Carcanet Press.]

Like the train’s beat
Swift language flutters the lips
Of the Polish airgirl in the corner seat,
The swinging and narrowing sun
Lights her eyelashes, shapes
Her sharp vivacity of bone.
Hair, wild and controlled, runs back:
And gestures like these English oaks
Flash past the windows of her foreign talk.

The train runs on through wilderness
Of cities. Still the hammered miles
Diversify behind her face.
And all humanity of interest
Before her angled beauty falls,
As whorling notes are pressed
In a bird’s throat, issuing meaningless
Through written skies; a voice
Watering a stony place.

[Read in Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, ripped from]

You said you would kill it this morning.
Do not kill it. It startles me still,
The jut of that odd, dark head, pacing

Through the uncut grass on the elm’s hill.
It is something to own a pheasant,
Or just to be visited at all.

I am not mystical: it isn’t
As if I thought it had a spirit.
It is simply in its element.

That gives it a kingliness, a right.
The print of its big foot last winter,
The trail-track, on the snow in our court

The wonder of it, in that pallor,
Through crosshatch of sparrow and starling.
Is it its rareness, then? It is rare.

But a dozen would be worth having,
A hundred, on that hill-green and red,
Crossing and recrossing: a fine thing!

It is such a good shape, so vivid.
It’s a little cornucopia.
It unclaps, brown as a leaf, and loud,

Settles in the elm, and is easy.
It was sunning in the narcissi.
I trespass stupidly. Let be, let be.

[Read in Collected Poems, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from]

Budging the sluggard ripples of the Somme,
A barge round old Cérisy slowly slewed.
Softly her engines down the current screwed,
And chuckled softly with contented hum,
Till fairy tinklings struck their croonings dumb.
The waters rumpling at the stern subdued;
The lock-gate took her bulging amplitude;
Gently from out the gurgling lock she swum.

One reading by that calm bank shaded eyes
To watch her lessening westward quietly.
Then, as she neared the bend, her funnel screamed.
And that long lamentation made him wise
How unto Avalon, in agony,
Kings passed in the dark barge which Merlin dreamed.


A couple of weeks ago, I was walking by the canal near Kortrijk (Courtrai) on a glorious early Spring day, with barges occasionally swimming softly past. If there is one idea most oft-repeated about First World War literature, it’s that it enacted the end of high heroism, in the face of mechanised slaughter. It’s no surprise to find Owen comparing a scene to Arthurian legend, therefore, but this is perhaps a uniquely placid rendering of the contrast. The ideals of Arthurian legend now seem tremendously remote, whereas Owen knew them re-rendered only a few decades before by Tennyson and the like; after my recent stroll, the depiction of barges moving along sunlit canals in the early 20th century seems quaint, but is still something I can situate myself in relation to. Today has also been a sunny Saturday, and so reading this earlier on the terrace of a café – all too rare a pastime – Owen’s description of the barge’s slow progress fitted well with the slowly progressing day that I was enjoying. My day, however, has been mercifully free of lamentation.

[Read in The War Poems, by Wilfred Owen, ed. Jon Stallworthy; published by Chatto & Windus.]