Archives for Poetry

A poem to read in the bath… ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’

John Betjeman is an English poet so identified with his times and interests. Born in 1906, his family ran a firm in the East End of London making furniture and household items distinctive to Victorians. Betjeman remained fascinated by Victoriana, its architecture, English nature and society, and this is evident in his poetry. He was a founding member of the Victorian Society, and became Poet Laureate in 1972. In his introduction to his collection Slick But Not Streamlined, published in 1947, he wrote of himself ‘so at home with the provincial gaslit towns, the seaside lodgings, the bicycle, the harmonium.’ I read ‘May-Day Song for North Oxford’ on a freezing cold February morning, in a public library in West London. It was the sort of day on which you doubt you will ever be warm again. In a few words, I forgot my surroundings and was with Betjeman on a spring day. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Belbroughton Road is bonny, and pinkly bursts the spray Of prunus and forsythia across the public way, For a full spring-tide of blossom
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Categories: Poetry.

A #poem to read in the bath… ‘I loved her like the leaves’

The sense of loss in this Japanese poem is unquenchable. Written by Kakinonoto Hitomaro in 7th century Japan, it speaks of emptiness so great there is no hope or comfort. Hitomaro was a poet of the Asuka period [538-710], serving as court poet to the Empress Jitō, and is considered to be one of the four greatest poets in Japanese history along with Fujiwara no Teika, Sōgi and Bashō. ‘I loved her like the leaves, The lush green leaves of spring That pulled down the willows on the bank’s edge where we walked while she was of this world. I built my life on her. But man cannot flout the laws of this world. To the shimmering wide fields hidden by the white cloud, white as white silk scarf she soared away like the morning bird, hid from our world like the setting sun. The child, the gift she left behind – he cries for food; but always finding nothing that I might give him, I pick him up and hold him in my arms. On the pillow where we lay, My wife and I, as one, I pass the daylight lonely till the dusk, the black night sighing till the dawn. I
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘My Mother’

I was hooked from the first line here, I think because of the familiarity of the cornflake cake. So what came next was a surprise, not something my mother said to me when I made her a cake! This is My Mother by Ruby Robinson [below] from Every Little Sound. Published in 2016, Robinson’s first collection of poems was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Forward Prize for ‘Best First Collection’, and the TS Eliot Prize for ‘Best Collection’.  Here is the first stanza of My Mother. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘She said the cornflake cake made her day, she said a man cannot be blamed for being unfaithful: his heart is not in tune with his extremities and it’s just the way his body chemistry is. She said all sorts of things.’ Source: Poetry (October 2014) Read more about Ruby Robinson here.   ‘Every Little Sound’ by Ruby Robinson [UK: Pavilion Poetry] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Tulips’ by Wendy Cope ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke And
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Unthinkable’

This poem grabbed me from the first line. It has action, it has colour, it has place. I could see the purple door, I could see the beach. And I wanted to write my own story about it. This is ‘The Unthinkable’ by Simon Armitage [below], included in his latest anthology The Unaccompanied.  Here is the first stanza of The Unthinkable. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘A huge purple door washed up in the bay overnight, its paintwork blistered and peeled from weeks at sea. The town storyteller wasted no time in getting to work: the beguiling, eldest girl of a proud, bankrupt farmer had slammed that door in the face of a Freemason’s son, who in turn had bulldozed both farm and family over the cliff, except for the girl, who lived now by the light and heat of a driftwood fire on a beach.’ Source: Poetry (May 2013)   ‘The Unaccompanied’ by Simon Armitage [UK: Faber] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Digging’ by Seamus Heaney ‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin ‘A thousand years,
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A poem to read in the bath… ‘A thousand years, you said’

Written in 8th century Japan, this poem speaks of the longing of love shadowed by impending death, and it is as relevant today as it was then. I discovered this poem in The Picador Book of Funeral Poems, and then stumbled on it again in an old paperback on my bookshelf, The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse. It was written by Lady Heguri in mid-late eighth century. No details are known of her, except that her poems are addressed to Yakamochi. ‘A thousand years, you said, As our two hearts melted. I look at the hand you held And the ache is too hard to bear.’   ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson Amazon UK Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Runaways’ by Daniela Nunnari ‘Winter Song’ by Wilfred Owen ‘The Cinnamon Peeler’ by Michael Ondaatje And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘A thousand years, you said’ by Lady Heguri https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dS via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Because I could not stop for Death’

This lyrical poem by Emily Dickinson sees the poet meet Death who, as a gentleman caller, takes a leisurely carriage drive with her. It was first published posthumously under the title ‘The Chariot’ in Poems: Series 1 in 1890, the edition assembled and edited by her friends Mabel Loomis Todd and Thomas Wentworth Higginson. Here are the first two verses. ‘Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility.’ The poem has since been set to music by Aaron Copland as the twelfth song of his cycle The Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson.    ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Happiness’ by Stephen Dunn ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Tempest And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Because I could not stop for Death’ by Emily Dickinson https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3dG via @SandraDanby
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Along the field as we came by’

Best known for A Shropshire Lad, the poems of AE Housman reflect the dooms and disappointments of youth in the English countryside. Popular throughout the Victorian and Edwardian periods running up to the Great War, this two stanza poem by Housman transitions from first romantic love to death and grief, followed by hope and new love. It was his simplicity of style that appealed, and his nostalgic nature settings. Here is the first verse. ‘Along the field as we came by A year ago, my love and I, The aspen over stile and stone Was talking to itself alone. ‘Oh, who are these that kiss and pass? A country lover and his lass; Two lovers looking to be wed; And time shall put them both to bed, But she shall lie with earth above, And he beside another love.’   ‘The Picador Book of Funeral Poems’ ed. by Don Paterson [UK: Picador] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘After a Row’

Winter Migrants by poet Tom Pickard is a collection of poetry and prose, starting with the prize-winning sequence ‘Lark & Merlin’, an erotic pursuit over the hills and fells of the poet’s Northern-English homeland. In truth, I could have selected anything from this slim volume, but ‘After a Row’ just caught my mood today. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘After a Row’ A lapwing somersaults spring, Flips over winter and back. After a fast walk – my limbs The engine of thought – up long hills Where burn bubbles into beck and clough to gill   ‘Winter Migrants’ by Tom Pickard [UK: Carcanet Press] Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle ‘Cloughton Wyke 1’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Forgetfulness’ by Hart Crane And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘After a Row’ by @tompickardpoet http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2UD via @SandraDanby SaveSave SaveSave
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A poem to read in the bath… ‘Tulips’

Anyone who enjoys gardening understands this poem, the feeling of planning for a garden of the future, digging, sowing, hoping, and then the temporary feeling of joy when the flowers appear. To be replaced again by the annual cycle of planning, digging and sowing. Wendy Cope obviously has a garden. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Tulips’ Months ago, I dreamed of a tulip garden, Planted, waited, watched for their first appearance, Saw them bud, saw greenness give way to colours, Just as I’d planned them.   ‘If I Don’t Know’ by Wendy Cope [UK: Faber]  Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘The Boy Tiresias’ by Kate Tempest ‘The Roses’ by Katherine Towers ‘Elegy of a Common Soldier’ by Dennis B Wilson And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Tulips’ by Wendy Cope http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2Uo via @SandraDanby SaveSave
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Death of the Hat’

Billy Collins is a favourite poet of mine, he is so good at making the ordinary everyday things suddenly become personal and touching. So true. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘The Death of the Hat’ Once every man wore a hat. In the ashen newsreels, the avenues of cities are broad rivers flowing with hats. The ballparks swelled with thousands of strawhats, brims and bands, rows of men smoking and cheering in shirtsleeves. Hats were the law. They went without saying. You noticed a man without a hat in a crowd. I challenge you to read the very last stanza [not shown here] without a tear in your eye as he transitions from hats to the loss of a loved one. Read two other poems by Billy Collins which I love:- The Dead On Turning Ten   ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes’ by Billy Collins [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts, and perhaps find a new poet to love:- ‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James ‘My Heart Leaps Up’ by William Wordsworth ‘Oxfam’ by Carol Ann Duffy And if you’d
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘We Needed Coffee But…’

There is something mesmeric about the rhythm of this poem by Matthew Welton which draws you onwards, like being tugged forward by the rope in a tug-of-war competition without your own momentum. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘We Needed Coffee But…’ We needed coffee but we’d got ourselves convinced that the later we left it the better it would taste, and, as the country grew flatter and the roads became quiet and dusk began to colour the sky, you could guess from the way we retuned the radio and unfolded the map or commented on the view that the tang of determination had overtaken our thoughts, and when, fidgety and untalkative but almost home, we drew up outside the all-night restaurant, it felt like we might just stay in the car, listening to the engine and the gentle sound of the wind Matthew Weldon is from Nottingham, UK. In 2003 he received the Jerwood-Aldeburgh First Collection Prize for The Book of Matthew [published by Carcanet], which was named a Guardian Book of the Year. Listen to Matthew Welton read from ‘We Needed
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Boy Tiresias’

You may have heard of Kate Tempest [below], the rapper born in South East London, who has gone on to write poetry and plays and perform at Glastonbury. ‘The Boy Tiresias’ is one poem from Hold Your Own, a collection about youth and experience, sex and love, wealth and poverty. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘The Boy Tiresias’ Watch him, kicking a tennis ball, keeping it up the boy on the street in his sister’s old jumper. Watch him, Absorbed in the things that he does. Crouched down, Observing the worms and the slugs. He’s shaping their journeys placing his leaves in their paths, playing with fate. Godcub. Sucking on sherbet. Riding his bike in the sunlight. Filmic. Perfect.’ There is a sadness at the heart of Hold Your Own, it is clear that Tempest draws on her own childhood for her poetry which is simple and at the same time rich. For more about Kate Tempest’s poetry and music, visit her website. Read a review of Hold Your Own, published in The Guardian.   ‘Hold Your Own’ by
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Categories: Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Roses’

The Remedies is the second poetry collection by Katharine Towers. Such an economy of words, beautiful, never a superfluous thought. Concise, moving, piercingly beautiful. My favourite is ‘The Roses’. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘The Roses’ Because my father will not stand again beneath these swags of Himalayan Mush nor stare for hours to see which stems are safe… This poem is about remembering, about loss, about family. And roses. Read more about Katherine Towers’ poetry at her website. ‘The Remedies’ by Katharine Towers [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolitte ‘Elegy of a Common Soldier’ by Dennis B Wilson ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘The Roses’ by Katharine Towers via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2rI SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Alone’

This is a short poem from a pamphlet by Yorkshire-born, Lancashire-based poet Dea Parkin. The collection is varied, designed to appeal to people who don’t normally read poetry. Some of the poems are based on stories or images. When I read the first stanza of ‘Alone’, I knew where I was standing. Read it. Where do you see yourself? Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full. ‘Alone’ I stand in a startling place White-cold and bleak With absence all around.   The clamour of the world Grows bold and strident in my ear But I am quieted.   ‘Any Other Business’ by Dea Parkin [UK: Open Circle] Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Name’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Not Waving but Drowning’ by Stevie Smith ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘Alone’ by @DeaWriter via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2lp SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘On Turning Ten’

This is the second time this year I’ve chosen a poem by Billy Collins [below] but I make no apology. He had me by the second stanza [below], I was ten again having already been a champion showjumper and a soldier. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘On Turning Ten’ … At four I was an Arabian wizard. I could make myself invisible By drinking a glass of milk a certain way. At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince. I defy you to read this poem, and not remember when you also were ten.   ‘Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes‘ by Billy Collins [UK: Picador]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Elegy’ by Carol Ann Duffy ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Poems’ by Ruth Stone And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: A #poem to read in the bath: ‘On Turning Ten’ by Billy Collins via @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-1YS SaveSave
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Japanese Maple’

Most of us came to Australian broadcaster Clive James via his witty television programmes and writings. In recent years he has turned again to poetry. It is four years now since he was diagnosed with ‘the lot’: with leukaemia, emphysema and kidney failure. Now his poetry is full of dying – reflections on life and death – and the poems are beautiful and incredibly moving. ‘Japanese Maple’ is about a tree, given to him by his daughter, and how witnessing the tree change through autumn signals a change for him. I defy you to listen to this, and not have moist eyes. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Japanese Maple’ Your death, near now, is of an easy sort. So slow a fading out brings no real pain. Breath growing short Is just uncomfortable. You feel the drain Of energy, but thought and sight remain: Click here to listen to Clive James read ‘Japanese Maple’ for the BBC. For recent poems by Clive James, visit his website here. Listen here to Clive James talk about ‘taking life slowly’ [Interview: Radio
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Categories: Book Love, On Writing and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Poems’

Ruth Stone [below] was rocked to sleep in her mother’s arms to the sound of Tennyson’s verse. A poet all her life, she died in 2011 aged 96. In 2009 her collection What Love Comes To was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. This poem, included in her 2002 National Book Award-winning collection In the Next Galaxy, is about ageing, a topic she returned to again and again. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Poems’ When you come back to me It will be crow time And flycatcher time, With rising spirals of gnats Between the apple trees. Every weed will be quadrupled, Coarse, welcoming And spine-tipped. To listen read a tribute to Ruth Stone on her death, published in the New York Times, click here.   ‘In the Next Galaxy’ by Ruth Stone [Copper Canyon Press] Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost ‘Japanese Maple’ by Clive James ‘Lost Acres’ by Robert Graves And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet: Enjoy
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Runaways’

Today’s poem to read in your bath is from Red Tree, the debut poetry collection by Yorkshire poet Daniela Nunnari. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘Runaways’ Run away with me. We’ll drive down roads With old stone walls. We’ll close our eyes By waterfalls, And listen. You’ll how me how to skim a stone And how to pick the perfect one. I’ll catch the icy river ripples, Frozen like February, in my phone.’ So evocative of new love, the exhilaration and freedom of getting away from it all. The countryside and nature feature in examination of the fantasy/reality elements of a daily relationship. My other favourites in this edition? ‘Optrex’, ‘Buoy’ and ‘There’s Something in the Trees’. For more about Daniela Nunnari and publisher Valley Press, click here.   ‘Red Tree’ by Daniela Nunnari [UK: Valley Press]  Read these other excerpts and find a new poet to love:- ‘Cloughton Wyke I’ by John Wedgwood Clarke ‘Alone’ by Dea Parkin ‘Sometimes and After’ by Hilda Doolittle And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Elegy of a Common Soldier’

We are all used to the ‘War Poets’ of the Great War, but perhaps not so aware of poets writing about the Second World War. Dennis B Wilson’s Elegy of a Common Soldier was written at a time between the trenches in Normandy and being in hospital in Swansea in 1944 and conjures up the horrible detail of war juxtaposed with nature and what was once normal. Quite arresting. I was unaware of his work until I read an article in The Sunday Times Magazine about Mr Wilson’s reunion with a branch of the family he didn’t know existed: his father, novelist Alexander Wilson, had actually been married to four woman at the same time, producing numerous children. So in his late eighties, Dennis B Wilson discovered new relatives, including actress Ruth Wilson. She says of the poet: ‘As a wounded soldier in the Second World War, he bore witness to so many things, including the D-Day landings, all of which he wrote about in his poetry. I feel I have kindred spirits in my new-found family, I certainly do with Dennis. It may have taken this long to find each other, but I’m so pleased we have.’ If you
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.

A poem to read in the bath… ‘The Dead’

A popular American poet, Billy Collins [below] was praised by John Updike for writing “lovely poems…Limpid, gently and consistently startling, more serious than they seem, they describe all the worlds that are and were and some others besides.” He has been Poet Laureate twice: the US Poet Laureate from 2001-2003, and New York State Poet Laureate from 2004-2006. I like his idea here of the dead looking down on those they’ve left behind, keeping an eye on us. Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library. ‘The Dead’ The dead are always looking down on us, they say, While we are putting on our shoes or making a sandwich, They are looking down through the glass-bottom boats of heaven As they row themselves slowly through eternity. I am new to Billy Collins, and found this poem in a Bloodaxe anthology. I ordered his first collection, Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes and was immediately won over by the endorsement by Carol Ann Duffy on the cover: “Billy Collins is one of my favourite poets in the world”. That’ll do for me then. Here’s
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Categories: Book Love and Poetry.