Saturday, 24 September 2016



Camera, action.
Steep climb, slip, grasp stakes, barbed wire –
won't do that again.

Level streamside path,
climb, the half woods' length ridgeway,
nearing Byton now.

But we're going north,
shadows say, and waymarks gone,
no landmark certain,

no mobile signal.
Stumble on that steepest climb
we'd not do again.

Slippery, barbed wire
again down, walk unfinished;

back to start point. Wrap.

This poem was written for a project from 26 Characters, as were two pieces by me in 2015: 'Kirkconnel's bard' and 'The hang of the stones'.  The 26 Steps project behind the present poem was edited by Sandy Wilkie and Michelle Nicol.

26 Steps marks a hundred years since the publication of John Buchan's novel The thirty-nine steps.  The project identified 26 short walks in the UK between places whose names began with alphabetically adjacent letters.  I landed the walk from A to B, Aymestrey to Byton, a stretch of the Mortimer Trail.  Clare and I did this walk, partially, on Saturday 16 April 2016.  

It had its pains.  I take great pride in map-reading, and errors such as that described here are rare.  Also, since 1997, my feet have been happier cycling than walking; I took diminishing pleasure in a trek whose length was eventually some 12 miles.  But the weekend also led to my first visit to Tewkesbury Abbey, and lunch in Tewkesbury with friends and kin.  And some good tweeting from the train on the way home. 

The project has its own posting of 'Aymestrey to Byton', complete with photograph and sketch map.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Two haiku

These are a fruit of Haiku Poetry Day 2016: a response, during a long train journey, to stimuli received via Twitter.

Firstly, one about QR codes -- those things like crossword puzzles that you see on some notices or packages.  My take on them, from the 23things course I pursued in 2011, is at . Some maintain that the life of this technology is already limited, but you can follow for a story about the codes' use on gravestones.  My response was:

QR codes to stay 

on, enshrined by enshrining, 

half a life longer?

And then there was this. takes you to photographs of a royal train arriving at Brecon, in South Wales, in 1955.  Brecon Station closed many years ago.  One afternoon in 1975 or 1976 (I've checked both diaries; the incident isn't mentioned in either), on a family holiday in Brecon, my parents, my sibs and I mistook the disused railway track, as shown on the map, for a footpath, and followed it.  Despite that foundational map-reading error, we made it back to where we were staying.

20 years apart:

royal train, Brecon Station; 

brambles, barbs, no path.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Clare and the allness of all things


O little rondure, swimming at the gym,
your husband's not Walt Whitman so this image pleases him.

That couplet was written in 2001, taking its cue from Walt Whitman's 'The explorers' -- one of several Whitman poems set by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his Sea symphony.  My couplet's only claim to publication before this blog post is that I tweeted it on Sunday 20 March 2016.  I was led to do so partly by the fact that the Cambridge Philharmonic Society, in which I sing tenor, is preparing a performance of the Sea symphony, as it was when I wrote the poem.  Part of the score cover appears in the photograph above.

Clare, as many readers of the blog may know, is my wife Dr Clare Sansom.  The brooch in the picture is by Jane Bower, another Cambridge Philharmonic singer, and was made to commission as my valentine to Clare in 2002.

"The allness of all things" is my phrase for one of Whitman's favourite themes.  A classic instance is another Whitman poem in the Sea symphony, 'On the beach at night alone'.  In some moods one might say that the theme is instantly self-exhausting, but Vaughan Williams' setting of Whitman's texts, here and elsewhere, is very fine.

The Cambridge Phil's performance of the Sea symphony will be at 19:30 on Saturday 9 July in Ely Cathedral. 

Friday, 19 February 2016

Solids and gaps


(National Galleries of Scotland, )

The bridge, though in no Bible, often makes
a Christian symbol, as in pontifex.

Painting the Forth Bridge, though outfacted, still
means the done staying not done that always will.

Photographing the Forth Bridge in stereo,
when the bridge had had thirteen years' existence,
conjures? allows? depicts? recreates? -- though

monochrome, steel -- a looking in the distance.

The above poem was written early in 2010 for the 'Inspired? Get writing!' competition organised by the National Galleries of Scotland.  Entrants were invited to write poems relating to art works in those galleries.  I did my exploration online.  The image I picked on was a stereoscopic photograph of the Forth Bridge, taken in 1896.  Follow the link in the title note to see it and the NGS notes on it.

The poem has now found publication in StAnza's Poetry Map of Scotland, and, for the duration of the StAnza Poetry Festival, in shop and business windows around St Andrews.  I had better say that StAnza was drawn to my attention by music librarian Karen McAulay.

Some readers will have heard me declaim a poem about another Scottish estuarine bridge, at various times in the last forty years.  The Poetry Map of Scotland gives the Tay Bridge a modern Scots poem by Fran Baillie, who accords William McGonagall his rightful place, and nothing more, with a name-check in the opening line.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

The hang of the stones


The archaeologist, seeing the child brought here  for healing, sadly remembered the excavated child sacrifice. “Not cast in stone,” people say. They muddle casting the first stone and commandments cut in stone. Stonehenge was thirteen centuries in building, every change perhaps an altered purpose. And this was long before the Bible retold kings, rebounded transgression lines, gave new fulfillings of the law.

This, like 'Kirkconnel's bard', was my contribution to a project from 26 Characters26 Postcodes asked each participant to produce a 62-word composition inspire by the address corresponding to a specified postcode.  My postcode was SP4 7DE; the corresponding place was Stonehenge.

The rest of the creative journey is described on the project's post, which went live on 19 December 2015.

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Tnx for yrs


Time was when I wrote longhand, heard w. glee
praise for this "almost C18",
& wd, to ease the hand strain, which was gt,
C18ly abbreviate,
w/o the aim you charge, of seeming cool.
Altho' I tk to email as a tool,
I'm one whom loss of scope for longhand vexed.
I do it w. predictive when I txt.

This was written in October 2012 for a competition organised by the magazine The liner.  The theme was that of letters.  The poem achieved publication of a sort when I posted it on a friend's Facebook page, as a comment on a picture she had shared; then, being opportunistic, I went to the picture itself, by Julia Quinn, and posted the poem as a comment there.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Three more music poems

These poems were written at various times, and entered in a competition organized by Rhyme and Reason, the poetic fundraising arm of Rennie Grove Hospice Care. They didn't win any prizes, but they were published in the charity's 2016 desk diary.


honk and five drum-knocks
flock of strings in flight and dive
voices crunch the snow


This church, wool-rich East Anglian, half-built
at Reformation, lit like Dutch paintings,
cathedralled 1914, recomposing,
hears Ulysses awake, hears Europe's strings
sombrely weave, unweave. The programme note
is the composer's own. It gives bare facts.


The Alla sarabanda's slow rise shows
smoke from a woodland cottage, early morning,
a thin grey line. It fades against the sky.

Can smoke be guiltless? after cattle trucks?
people at stakes? hell and its mirrors? sati?
cancer? emphysema? culled herds? carbon,
carbon we need but get more than the cycle?
carbon too much? carbon a weight, a choking?
That's smoke from fire. So smoking's lately banned.
But smoke without fire, from a sarabande?
Should that line rise, or is it one that ought
to go down with its freight of perished thought?
Maybe; but after worse of our devising,
I hope I see the thin grey line still rising. 

'Jauchzet, frohlocket' evokes the first movement of Bach's Christmas oratorio: "Jauchzet, frohlocket! auf, preiset die Tage" -- "Shout for joy, exult! Rise up, glorify the day" says one rendering I can't improve on.  The image of voices crunching the snow was used by conductor Tim Redmond in a rehearsal exhortation to us of the Cambridge Philharmonic Society, and worked by me into a haiku early in 2011.

'Music in St Edmundsbury' was written after hearing a performance of John Woolrich's Ulysses awakes by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in St Edmundsbury Cathedral in 2002.  Yes, I stoop to pun on the composer's name.  Wealth from wool played a great part in the building or extension of this and many other medieval churches in East Anglia.

'Phantasy quintet by Vaughan Williams' dates from 2007 and arises from a very strong visual image that was suggested to me by the opening phrase of the quintet's Alla sarabanda movement.