I started writing poems in my late teens, but it was years before I began to have any published. Seeing them in print was quite pleasing, but when I was asked to read one of my longer poems from a stage at a poetry festival I gulped in horror at the thought of stammering all those privately-produced lines before a visible audience, made my excuses, and never again submitted a poem anywhere. I continued to write poems, though (for my eyes alone) until the impulse, or ability, began to fade in the late 1990s and deserted me entirely shortly after the turn of the century - until the Coronavirus pandemic hit us, whereupon I reached for pencils and scraps of paper and wrote eighty or so poems in the two years that followed, after which I dried up again. The covers shown here represent my two privately-printed collections of poems. The poems shown below are from these two.

To hear readings of some of them click



(One of my earliest published poems.)

My passport, curled at the edges,

Lies in a drawer seven years out of date

Bearing a picture of me with different eyes.

From the window the sky

Is an enormous barrel of wasting apples –

Tip over the barrel and cider rains.

From the door the high corn in August

Bows before the great green harvester.

From the loft you hear the steady scrape

Of a tired man's feet on hard earth,

His throaty cough in the twilight.

Some nights I hear my name called,

But this is such flat country.

In flat country echoes run riot.

Mornings I listen to the news

And count the people on my plate.



On certain Sundays at the hotel in Odéon, 1965,

around the time that Winston Churchill died,

you would kick me out of that big hard bed

to make coffee in bowls, to sip between

bleary sighs and grumbles about the lack of this,

the loss of that, the temperature of the room.

The window stood grey through February.

Ice along the ledge.

Just an ordinary winter window in the long days,

but at night a crutch to dream upon

while picking out the windows of other

exiles anonymous forging future nostalgias

in freezing green garrets just like mine.

There I would sit, snowbound, youthbound,

numb in mind and body, adrift in my world

of quaint tomorrows, longing in secret

for the comforts of friends' homes:

eggs and bacon, central heating, unstained sheets.

And when my imaginary lover

shifted in her sleep, I took my place beneath

the 8-watt bulb, stub of martyr's pencil poised,

thinking that in the afternoon I might loiter outside

Shakespeare and Company in the Rue de la Bûcherie

running through my Young Hemingway impressions,

and later lounge behind the broad plate glass

of the Dôme or the Rotonde, feeling just a bit

like Jimmy Joyce. But soon I'd get caught up

in my labours and forget about you, the window,

the dead, and the wealthy Parisienne

from a week ago who sniffed at me suspiciously

and said: 'You're the first real writer I've met.'



There were thirty of us in the old work truck

Out to sightsee the captured Golan.

Avraham, our guide,

Expressed his pride in half a dozen languages,

Driving one-handed, microphone in the other,

Pointing out sites of historical interest,

Scenes of particular carnage, while we

Tourist-workers, packed in back, all shook up,

Took in the abandoned ephemera of battle lost:

Used shells, dud green hand grenades,

Sandbags, command huts, latrines,

Overturned trucks, an immobilised tank's

Once thrusting eager barrel

As impotent now as a spent erection,

Stained torn army fatigues,

Hats with funny pulldown earflaps,

And shoes, dozens of shoes, hundreds,

Lodged in the parched earth like

Drained limbs seeking rebirth.

The bodies had long been handed over

To relatives for ritual mourning, old snapshots

Set to become well-thumbed icons of

My brother, my son, my lover, my pal,

He died for his people, he was brave.

At ancient, now silent Quneitra

We pulled in to a grove of mellow cypresses

To eat our cold packed tourist lunches

From plastic containers, pleased with ourselves

As though we had personally conquered here,

Singing and joking together to prove our camaraderie;

And later, in an incongruously modern theatre,

Little John tossed his hat into the stalls

And urinated from the stage, to cheers.

Every building stood empty.

Every house on every street.

All doors flung back, or kicked in.

In the gloom, dusty spirals of afterlight,

Tables displaying the remnants

Of prematurely ended meals, half empty cups

Accumulating mould, bugs in stone-dry bread,

Pottery shards on cold floors, beds left unmade.

All the treasured keepsakes, all the families gone,

Bundled into cars and carts and lorries

As the town disgorged its heart on the black road

Between the blue Syrian hills.

When the soldiers came they met no resistance,

Met no one at all; went away again triumphant.

Only the dogs remained. The dogs and the rats,

Picking over the bones of dead houses.

As our truck bumped back towards

Green Galilee through the humid afternoon

Our earlier exuberance was no more.

The air was uneasy with dark possibilities.

Could it be, our silence seemed to say,

That next time it might be our shoes

Planted in the dust, our photographs passed

From hand to grieving hand,

Our trenches overrun, homes abandoned,

Our families trailing mile on mile

Along a thin black road;

And in our wake the multi-lingual patriotism

Of another guide, another Avraham,

Who next time might not be a Jew?



(A version of this was published twice in the early 1970s

in magazines whose titles I've long forgotten, since when

it's been reworked more times than I've thought to count

in the vain attempt to get it as right as I possibly can.)

In the year I was born naked people stood in line,

queuing for their gas oven deaths;

another world to us in our big house by the English river,

where war was never mentioned and the smart

uniforms that came and went were novelties,

like the uncles and fathers inside them.

My grandfather managed the paper mill

    – the house came with the job –

and while the world outside tore itself apart, my mother,

my aunt, my brother, my sister, my cousin and I

shared rooms, facilities and meals in reasonable harmony.

It was all so perfectly enclosed, with a treelined drive,

walls and fences on three sides, the river on the fourth.

We had a gardener called Mr Day, and chickens,

and a snow white goat called Flo, and a rope hammock

slung between an apple tree and a pear, all the fruit

and veg that we could grow, and at Christmas

a fir tree was cut down and brought indoors,

and when the river burst its banks, flooding the grounds,

the village, the town, we went shopping in boats,

and through everything, all the comings and goings,

those small events, the worries and fears that I

knew nothing of, my ever-aproned gran made chutney,

cakes and jam, and jollied everyone along.

Growing, I gazed out from my bedroom window

at the lily-covered river, the shallow punts drifting by,

and up, up, up at the endless sky, no idea,

no conception, of what the world had been about

through this small clutch of cloistered years,

or of anything that was to come. When the war ended,

boxes, trunks and furniture were loaded into vans,

trains taken in different directions as a family divided,

future in-fighting to be conducted by letter or by phone.

Within a decade my itinerant musician father would be

tumbling downstairs the worse for drink while my mother

screamed at him, at us, at life. Four or five years more

and my older brother, aged 24, would meet his own

gas-oven end, by choice, in our semi-detached

council house kitchen. And later still, after marriage,

fatherhood, divorce, I would become a stranger to most

of my surviving family, and begin to write about loss,

not least the loss of that small patch of childhood

where truth was suppressed or held in abeyance,

to which I return from time to time, lean on the old stone

wall of the graveyard that divides the house

from the village, just another nosy parker looking in.

There's a strip light in an upstairs window now.

An extension's been added in ill-matching brick.

The bulk of the ivy's been hacked away, the shutters

have been removed. They say the Irishwoman with the

Alsatians has been deserted by her husband. The police

hint that she's lost her marbles: 'Wait a year or two,

you'll probably pick the place up for next to nothing.'

Pick up what's gone for next to nothing?

Bring back my innocence, the multitudes of conveyor-belt

nudes and victims from the ovens and open graves?

I don't say as much, but memory's the best

I can manage, these personal mythologies of mine:

apple blossom on clipped bright lawns,

snow on my grandfather's hands,

willows trailing in a running river,

moorhens in the morning, laughter in the night.

This side of the wall the stones are well spaced out.

They have names on them,

and dates half hidden in the moss.



The odd minute here and there,

the occasional quiet moment

when the mind dances

between sunlit shafts of memory,

barely aware that you're

in someone else's world.

But then a throat is cleared,

a bird flaps by outside,

a door slams distantly,

and the here-and-now returns,

and a sigh is suppressed,

a hand turns a page,

and the minute and the moment

join all the rest,

shuffling for space.

100 poems, 1967-2001

30 song lyrics, 1975-2012

67 poems & 25 drawings




28th May 2020

To pinpoint the time in which this is written,

there are two main themes occupying

the commentators of the day. One concerns

the worldwide pandemic from which few are

entirely immune, the other the bizarre antics

and garblings of the self-centred thin-skinned

bully who struts around under the banner

'Most Powerful Man in the World'.

But as these are being covered internationally

by countless pens and voices, I'll just say

that the sky is blue today, and cloudless,

and birds are in the trees, along with new

leaves, and I have taken his breakfast

to the nameless cat that lives in the outhouse

that until two years ago was the make-do

studio in which I made abstract paintings.

But Nameless isn't there. Not there and could

be anywhere. He'll probably wander back later,

though, to munch his kibbles and sip from

his bowl of fresh water before strolling off again.

There. That's better. Little things in small days.

So much sweeter than adding further wordage

to bigger, more worrying subjects.plate.



Early March, the farm next door.

We watched a ewe drop her firstborn

on the ground. The little one lay confused,

eyes closed, as if wondering what

was going on. The mother began to lick

her infant with her brisk black tongue,

all over, every part. Little one's eyes

began to open. In a minute, still licked,

he tried to stand, and failed. He tried

again, and again, leg by leg, falling

each time, until he was up at last,

if shaky, still being licked all over, bullied

a little. Then he was taken away, roughly

stretched, this way, that, while a symbol

was painted on him. Mark of ownership.

There were many pens, many sheep, new

lambs. In one, a ewe without a lamb made

a racket that sounded much like grief –

'Hers was stillborn; she'll be culled now.'

Culled. Killed. For failing to deliver a life.

I could no longer enjoy the new lambs

finding their feet, stretching their legs,

bleating. Could only hear the heartfelt

wails of the unsuccessful ewe.

The one doomed for not delivering.

By the following day she was no more.

Only the memory remains.

And these lines, which feel so empty.



Directly out from the jetty,

between ten o'clock and two,

you'll find clear ground,

or so it says here. My memory

is less specific. For me,

from this sitpoint, the grey

stone jetty is all windy nights

and dark surrounds, a world enclosed,

wind-buffeted, rain-specked.

The small fishing craft, well secured

on the stoniest part of the beach,

the sky, cloud-rich, sneaking sly hints

of other worlds than ours as the wind

ruffled coats and hair, and hands

were clasped, then unclasped,

our selected enclosure tightening

with a wince, a laugh, a shiver.

Too soon by far to think ahead,

imagine, dread. Too early to not-plan,

too out-of-phase for negative

speculation. All seemed possible

yet nothing was foreseen. The cruelty

of one, which would force undreamt-of

transitions, in the course of which,

inside of which, anything might happen,

was not so much as hinted at.

The wind, the night wind, whipping

around us, cutting into us, jostled

the beach-boats but gave nothing away;

nothing beyond unease interspersed

with the bright pin-holes of other worlds.

Unimagined worlds, on the jetty.



You're in a dream.

A dream of running feet and rapping knuckles

and Dan at the door with his 'Time to get up!'

That's no dream.

You rub your eyes, you scratch yourself, then:

legs over the side, into workpants that look like sacks,

socks on, lace up your dirty boots, stick your head

in a sweater, slap on your woolly hat. Outside,

shivering, faceful of liquid ice from the standpipe

on the veranda as others emerge, guilty with night –

Dale in her tight pants and flyaway hair,

Martin with his cracked specs and academic hands,

Sally Goldstein with her Berlei breasts.

Now down to the canteen for stale bread

and runny jam, leafy black tea to swill it all around,

and to the revving trucks that never wait

– forty people coughing like asthma cases on

free cigarettes that taste like dried dung.

Walled in, ballsed up, moving out, bouncing down

the rutted track to the orchards of dewy September

apples and Canadian Joe's rowdy decrees

as we disperse amidst the trees in grumbling groups,

canvas baskets round our necks, an alloy ladder apiece,

to snap apples away at the stem.

Cold apples.

Cold grass.

Cold sun rising.

So this is five a.m.

Hard to believe there was a war here so recently.

Some of the apple pickers fought in it.

Some died in it.

By October these acres of perfectly-placed trees

will be as stark and clean as a military graveyard.

Ghosts here will have stems and cores

and shine when you rub them.

Make me an apple.

Shine me a real sun.

Sun on a stem, turning in the space of a hand.

It's 1967. It's morning at Sasa.



The smell of cows hung over this parkland

Throughout the fifties and beyond,

Vying for attention with roses. Side by side,

Just there, two cowsheds stood, a pair

Of gloomy brick-built caves for secret-mission

Saturdays while the cows were down by the

Railway lines conferring with signalmen.

In one of these caves two unexploded bombs sat,

Long defused and rusting, great iron steeds

For straddling and slapping and yelling upon

As if at some Saturday-matinee rodeo:

Sole survivors of a war we were too young

To remember, cold mementoes for cows

To huddle round on evenings at home.

It's decades now since those bombs

Were carted off for scrap, the cowsheds

Supplanted by neat flowerbeds, the wild

Meadow grass by careful lawns that sweep

Down to tracks where few trains run these days,

To one side of which houses played in

When under construction stand collecting

The random scars of time on their pebbledash,

Their long gardens cultivated reminders of days

When land was far less precious.

The park is a real park now,

A riot of colour in spring and through each

Summer, a bit exotic for a London suburb,

A burden on the rates to some, a few acres of

Solace in the rush of the town to others.

No cows low in fields here today.

The countryside has fallen back, a retreating

Front line. Beef is sent in from other fields,

Like certain bombs in battle, as dead hulks,

Instead of big moving beasts, with deep voices.



Bad coffee at the ramshackle shack

of a beach café that smells of crabs

and seaweed, distant sound of kids' voices,

white ribbon of foam hemming the tide

for miles. I sigh and close my paperback.

Work calls.

Heading back up the beach I turn

for a last sight of the sun-spattered sea –

and see her, barefooting my tracks

one after the other, head bent to watch

her progress in them, so bronzed, so fair,

so perfect in her dazzling white bikini

that I stop, rooted to the sand.

Her head comes up, our eyes meet,

any moment we'll be face to face –

but then: out of the dunes behind her

leaps a medallioned Neanderthal,

adjusting his baggy shorts.

Mouth like a porpoise, voice like a dog,

he drapes himself about her (like a tarpaulin),

walks her past me, past me.

Now she's making footprints of her own,

beside his. But just before

she disappears she glances back,

one bronze glance, that's all,

just enough to tell me that she felt it too.

Still I can't move, not yet, though I know

there could never have been anything in it,

me with my Penguin Modern Classic,

she her Neanderthal.

WORDYSOD : Michael Lawrence                                    www.wordysod.com

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