RIP Les Murray

Who I think I met in a pub in Norwich in the 1970s. He encouraged me to write poetry – above all, not to feel intimidated by those poets we admire, but to feel fellowship in the same struggle for words.

Mr Murray’s Words.

Riding on the central lowlands railway to the east
From the Soccerland end of the bar-bell line to make Haymarket
In past an earlier Murray’s field: this car today is full of
Ring-pulls of Tennants and Red Stripes who have

Brought along with them students and first year workers like
This couple: her next to me and him across from her, still
Linked by the spent cartridges of their last night’s
Hormones and the complicit sparkle of their day out after

I settle in some way similarly with my companion, who I swear
Forty years ago I met once in a pub backroom
In one his medieval knots of roundabouts
By the cathedral of the concrete university city

His are some parched towns and the flooded outback in
The Vernacular Republic; I long to be at that place
But am now fixed, a bluebottle butting inside this carriage
Intersection, an occluded Venn diagram of muscular young hope

Clipped across the sunshine cloud world, on a grenade splashed path
With a cut-out heron, an Asian family picnic on a racing green park,
Random gazing toy cattle, a gable end with its eyes put out,
Slops of spiny broom baby sick on a hill’s old shoulders,

Each harpooned between Bathgate-Livingston North-Uphall
In shattering relief while Mr Murray’s words keep coming
One after another straight and without fail like every polished rail
On the return journey home from Perth to New South Wales.

Poem on John Hume’s 82nd birthday

John Hume has dementia, and cannot remember what he achieved in bringing peace to Northern Ireland. We should not allow the world to not remember.

I had the privilege of meeting him when he delivered the Glasgow Fabians Lecture in the late 1980s. (I also bought him a drink. Or maybe two)

This poem is about him and Seamus Heaney.

The St. Columb’s Old Boys Club.

John said let us spill not our blood, but our sweat together,
His father taught him on St Patrick’s night you can’t eat a flag
Seamus made poetry’s redress with words as harsh as weather
And gave it a glorious shake in the Good Old Rattle Bag
And John left off with a whiskey from the priesthood way
To give his people cross-border credit in unions where it was due
Seamus put poet’s pen to Ulster paper to grapple and to play
With lines to define like the Bann and Foyle and make the world anew –
So bordered, confessional lives need be not blessing nor curse
The craft and sweat of labour that those obdurate men could give
Bring blessings in themselves to save them and us from worse
Making room to argue out loud together as well as love and live
John, Seamus, from two-name city, an island, people, province of divide
From a school that made peace and poetry equally Nobel prized.

Poem for 4th July: America First

America First is life and liberty

America First is Mohammed Ali and Billie Jean King

And Kate Millett and Malcolm X

America First is Arthur Miller and Harper Lee

And Mark Twain, Edgar Allen Poe and Walt Whitman

America First is Maya Angelou and Allen Ginsburg

America First is Sharon Olds and Patti Smith


America First is the pursuit of happiness

America First is Johnny Cash and Elvis

And Muddy, the Wolf and John Lee

America First is Tamla, Stax, Philly and Funkadelic

And Hank Williams and Ella Fitzgerald, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington

America First is the Velvet Underground, the Doors, the Stooges

America First is Bruce and Dylan and Woody


America First starts with We The People

America First is Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins

America First is FDR and Martin Luther King

America First is the Village, the Haight and the Castro

America First is Woodstock and Wounded Knee

America First is Selma and the Battle of Chicago

America First sings we shall overcome.

Poem: Do You Mind The Time

Do You Mind The Time
Peter Russell 

Do you mind the time, all those years ago
When Nicola was Scotland’s very own queen,
The referendum was our stage and our show,
And Alex was emperor of our airwaves and screens?
Do you mind the time when we were so sure:
When independence was just through the next door?

Do you mind the time, back then in the past
When we pretended we could use the pound
And oil prices at 113 forever would last
And Europe would embrace us with joy unbound?
Do you mind the time, when the downside was nil
When independence was there, just over the hill

Do you mind the time, back then in the day
When folk believed every word that we uttered
Before they got their brains back and voted to stay,
So all of our dreams lay shattered and gutted?
Do you mind the time, when we were so dumb,
When independence was so certain to come? 

Do you mind the time, long ago, it’s true
Before Project Fear ripped back the curtain:
The polls were all lying and everyone knew
That our SNP one party state was certain?
Do you mind the time when hope was inexhaustible
And independence wasn’t impossible and implausible? 

(“Naw. Me neither.”)

For National Poetry Day: The Ritual Of Total Immersion.

The Ritual of Total Immersion.

Do not Take Me To The River, but take me down
By an excursion boat that will shudder and stop
And whose anchor chain rattles out
To deliver pink bodies on a flat sea
Suspended over the blanked out deep

Where I can climb up to the rail, with tense toes
Taking temporary prehensile grip on the
Slippery wooden curve as we dip and tilt to
Topple headlong through air too long and too short
For fear but too little to catch breath

And Be gulped in: fingers, wrists, elbows, crown, neck
Shoulder, back and thighs, knees, ankles, toe-tips
And under. And down.

Down as far as life can take us
Down further where lungs burn and fight
Down where pressure and fear can break us
Down where the bottom is hidden from sight

Turn. And exhale.
Up with gases streaming out of breath
Up through the watery stratum of eternal blue
Up to broken light, stealing back life from death
Up like a torpedo or a missile true

Surface shatters and I bob with a sneeze and snot
The pink bodies in bright costumes shout
Giggle, chatter to themselves in mundane sun and shade
I am back from the blue, full disciple of Poseidon
Rocking the boat from below with his trident

Soaked with grace gained from him in my
Ritual of Total Immersion.

Who’s That Knocking At The Door

Translated from German. The poet was a Viennese Jew.

Who’s That Knocking At The Door?
Theodor Kramer (1897–1958)

Who’s that knocking at the door
Too early for most souls?
It’s just the baker’s boy my pet
Dropping off some rolls

Who’s that knocking at the door?
I’ll go, my child, don’t stir
Just a man at the neighbours’
Asking who we were

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Run your bath, you needn’t care
That letter we’re expecting
Here’s the postman on the stair

Who’s that knocking at the door?
Now there, just make the bed
It’s the landlord: we’re to be out
On the first of the month, he said.

Who’s that knocking at the door?
The fuchsia blossom is so near –
My sweetheart, pack my toilet bag
And don’t weep while they’re stil here.

Monologue Of An Emigrant – Mascha Kaleko

Inspired by our recent visit to Berlin: my translation of a work by a poet who grew up and lived there as a young woman before fleeing to the USA in 1938. After World War 2 she lived in Israel, and died in 1975 in Zurich, on the return journey from her last visit to Berlin.

Monologue of an Emigrant.
Mascha Kaleko

Once I had a lovely homeland
So sang the refugee Heine
His stood on the banks of the Rhine
Mine on The Mark’s home sand

To have a (see above!) was once the norm
It was eaten by plague, pulverised in the storm.
O, rose of the moor and of the heath,
Strength Through Joy put you to death

The nightingales were struck dumb
Looked around for a safer home
And only the cry of vultures was heard
High over the ranks of those interred

It will never again be as it was
Even if the outcome was changed
Even if the sweet fairy bell chimed
Even if the sword no longer clanged

To me it sometimes seems as if
My heart will break and more.
Now and then I suffer homesickness:
But I do not know what for…