Poetry

My book Wild Track: poems with pictures by friends was published by the artist Sian Bonnell at Trace Editions in 2005. John Greening wrote in Critical Survey (vol 19, no 1, 2007, pp 99-100):

Wild Track is full of quiet, intelligent observations and insights – understated but shrewd – into human behaviour and psychology. Essentially domestic in their focus, the poems are often studies of neighbourhood and neighbour (a next-door marriage breakdown in ‘Night’), of family made unfamiliar (‘Negley Farson’s Wild Duck’). Unsurprisingly for a writer who has been a curator at the V&A, the visual detail is strong and many of the poems seem to guide our eye as they take their lines for a walk. 

More recently, in summer 2016, the poet Sue Boyle wrote most generously about Wild Track in her blog: https://sueboylepoetry2.com/the-well-imagined-room/ (I am the unnamed friend she mentioned and the poems she referred to in detail are ‘Magnolias’ and ‘Wild Track’).

I have given readings in the ‘New Voices’ series at the Poetry Library in the Royal Festival Hall (with Susan Wicks, 1992) and at other venues in the UK and US. My poems have been seen on London buses, in the calligraphy of Stephen Raw and in anthologies including The Night Shift (2010), Midnight Skies: Exmoor in Verse (2013), In memoriam ( Thynks Publications, 2015), Poems for a Liminal Age (ed. Mandy Pannett, SPM Publicationsin aid of Médecins Sans Frontières 2015) and Poems for Jeremy Corbyn (ed. Merryn Williams, Shoestring Press 2016). My ‘Fernald Point’ was awarded first prize for poetry in the London Writers awards, 2006, judged by Maura Dooley and Mario Petrucci.

Resurgence for May-June 2014 featured my poem Skylark: ‘Our Dwelling Place – Peter Abbs introduces a selection of our best eco-poets’.

My poem ‘The Anthropocene’ (inspired by Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction, 2014 and Wilfrid Owen’s poem ‘Exposure’) was highly commended by the judges of the Wilfrid Owen Association poetry prize and appeared in the association’s journal in summer 2015. The poem was reprinted in Poems for Jeremy Corbyn, edited by Merryn Williams (Shoestring Press, 2016). In February 2017 Tessa Traeger published a book of her North Devon photographs, Wild is the Wind (Impress, limited edition) with ten of my North Devon poems. Two poems have been shortlisted in the Stanley Spencer Poetry Competition and will appear in a booklet to be published by the Cookham on Thames Festival on 12 May.

Below is ‘The Anthropocene’, which has been published as above, plus  ‘Fernald Point’ my prizewinning poem from 2006, followed by ‘Magnolias’ and the title poem from Wild Track.

The Anthropocene

Everything’s mobile in this time of global flows:

money, people, goods, bacteria and disease.

Something’s affecting frogs, bats, bees and now the trees –

too set in their ways for new climates and viruses.

How were we to know?

A fungus gnaws away at bats in hibernation

in New England: ‘White-nose’. The bats wake up and fly

in search of prey in mid-winter. Six million die.

A European fungus – a probable extinction.

We were not to know.

Have all the Golden Frogs now gone from Panama?

When an African fungus smears spores on their skin

it closes down their osmo-regulation system.

Watch them wave goodbye to Sir David and his camera.

How were we to know?

Great Auks were favoured by the early mariners,

easy to catch as picking fruit and good to eat.

Birds were used for fuel, their fellows fried with the heat –

the last Great Auks were killed in Iceland for collectors.

We were not to know.

We’re still working our way through the planetary menu,

just finishing the ‘charismatic’ megafauna –

why take an aspirin when there’s White Horn Rhino powder?

Just one last slice of Bluefin Tuna – then adieu.

How were we to know?

We are as Gods so, of course, we’re having a blast:

the first species to enact, wilfully or not –

and as effectively as some vast meteorite –

a mass extinction. It’s the sixth. Our first and last.

We were not to know.

Nearing the climax of the climate wars, our slow

commanders somehow can’t provide decisive orders –

the attrition goes on with chainsaws and Toyotas.

There’s a soughing in the trees: You were not to know?

               How could you not know?                                                                                

 

Fernald Point (For Robert Dudley)

Flash grey black

glimpse white patch

scissoring the air

in a new design

past the corner of the sun-room

gone beside the spruce

fast over Fernald Cove

up to Flying Mountain

leaving a shape a look a thrill

I try to fill from the bird-book –

I stare at the silhouettes

and can’t find what fits

as I fumble through the pages

of habitat and plumage

for the beauty of a wing-beat

passing through the heart –

and searching possibilities

stumble into memories

find instead my mother’s kiss

my father’s young man voice

my lover’s belly

the scent of our babies –

all from the sacred scrapbook

into which I place my Goshawk.

Fernald Point is on Mount Desert Island, Maine. My prose piece, ‘Homage to Mount Desert Island’ (2006), can be viewed on the Granta website by subscribers.

Magnolias

Magnolias shake in the Spring sunshine.

It is Good Friday and three days

after we heard that our friend had found

her son dead in his bed at 35:

 

all of which makes the trees shake harder,

the April gale testing each twig,

harrowing branches, bole and roots,

tossing and buffeting the leaves to frenzy.

 

The trees are sprung like towers or yachts

and sway all ways, the boughs so buoyant –

the tattered white winecups surging up

to meet each mighty blow with such bravado.

 

We don’t know how our friend can bear it –

unless the heart was engineered for this.

Wild Track

Filming’s finished for the afternoon

but the soundman wants another minute.

He needs to tape for atmosphere.

So we sit on in the Sussex glasshouse –

 

the floor a mess of cables, wires,

DAT machines, reflector screens and mikes –

and start picking up those under-sounds

we edit out of normal hearing:

 

first an expectant, surreptitious hiss,

like a stylus kissing glossy vinyl –

or a kettle’s quiet sigh towards the boil –

then something hushing from the wainscot.

 

There’s the sound of the town and the downland,

the lull of a faraway train. The dusk

is settling like dew, deep inside the head.

It’s time to wrap but we’re still here,

 

holding the shell of the earth to our ears,

listening for the death and birth of stars.