Thursday, 31 October 2013

all the crows gather
on the same chimney-pot
Hallowe'en rain

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

fulmars over the downland cliffs the passage of cloud-shadows

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Codex

What remains is less than half of what was:
your philosopher wrote it after swimming – 
mostly backstroke, which explains quite a lot, and the crawl
for half a length – in a matchstick-man code
typeset in a font of his own invention,
and each portion laid out in your scribble,
your left-handed flourish and swirl, within
which the letters tastily turn on a sixpence,
reveal more of the man than his dense empiricism,
which every beginner in epistemology learns.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Man on a Rope

at one side
– the port side –
of a white concrete building
whose dimensions aren't known,
this man on a rope, neither
high up nor low, pauses mid-hold

while below, like a sapling
arched forwards by the wind,
a young, cat-faced saltimbanque
grips her child with one arm,
rooted to the landscape
gold leaf on black

Sunday, 27 October 2013

in between storms
the shutters of the old meeting house
beam their whiteness

Saturday, 26 October 2013


On the bridge that marks the divide
between New Malden and Old,
the legend is gone that declared
Sexy Woman I love you Manhood.

Friday, 25 October 2013

St Luke's summer...
a chugger's patter
falls flat on its face

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Lombardy poplars
the languid swing of a crane
takes the sun with it

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Red Telephone Boxes

in and out and underneath
and in between
the dozen

red telephone boxes
that lean on one another
to make up the sculpture,

a cock pigeon
over and over
harries a hen

Monday, 21 October 2013

between trains
the slosh of the swollen stream
beyond the willows

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hurricane's End

lifting mist…
a flock of knots fans out
across the creek

sunlight shifts
with the cumulus—
flight of a curlew

teal whistle over the seawall long black freighters

marbled whites—
a blackberry pip
stuck between my teeth

cobweb morning
the merest outline
of ship funnels

avocet bills
scour the lagoon bed—
hurricane’s end

rain circles:
a redshank wades in
up to its belly

the brick pillbox
pummelled by easterlies…
shrimping redshank

clanking masts—
an avocet chick
shakes a leg

out of thousands,
black geese forming lines—
shaggy ink-caps

All-Hallows’ summer
the avocets’ plumage
yellowed by sunset

curlews poke their bills
the whole way in

raindrops tip
from an evening primrose
autumn dusk

after the fireworks
the last croaks
of roosting egrets

These haiku were all written at/about Two Tree Island, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex. I am posting them here to celebrate the first Shorelines Literature Festival of the Sea, which is taking place in Leigh between 8-10 November.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

autumn warmth
the cat's ears rotate
with the wind

Friday, 18 October 2013

out before sunrise...
mist still clings
to the dog-walkers

Thursday, 17 October 2013

a curled-up fox...
the southerly breeze brings
all kinds of woe

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

pink mist
magpies herald
a day of decisions

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

hospital visit:
all the nurses greet me
by name

Monday, 14 October 2013

into my thoughts:
the devotional singing
of the man at the bus stop

Sunday, 13 October 2013

But for a hush: some notes on Kathleen’s Jamie’s ‘The Orchard’

The Orchard

Here is the late half-land
where the underworld,
the moon-shadow of an apple tree

is a darkness, like the earth
we’re called from –
silent but for a hush

like heavy skirts;
women, perhaps, passing
on the far side of a wall

whom we may call
our history; or a vole,
some creature of the dusk

when the arms of the slender
garden plum trees suddenly
turn muscular, and deepest blue.

(from The Tree House, 2004)

In recent years, Kathleen Jamie has arguably become better known for the essays – collected in Findings (2005) and Sightlines (2012) – that have marked her out as a leading light of the much-hyped ‘New Nature Writing’ movement, than for her poetry. Although Jamie was invited to contribute to Granta 102 (2008, ed. Jason Cowley), featuring “The New Nature Writing” of 19 essayists, naturalists, poets and other writers, only one of whom other than Jamie was female, she has kept her distance from the hype, and memorably critiqued the “macho...colonial adventuring” of the movement’s presiding spirit, Robert Macfarlane, in his 2007 book The Wild Places. Her stance was a necessary corrective to the strangely hyperbolic praise heaped on Macfarlane by the then Poet Laureate and others. As Jamie intimated, one doesn’t need a Cambridge don to point out the beauty of the less urbanised spaces of the UK, especially those in Scotland which Macfarlane seemed to regard as his own personal playground for celebrating in overwrought prose without any regard to the Clearances and their legacy, the absentee landownerism that continues to this day.

But, aside from all that, Kathleen Jamie was, and remains, a richly talented poet, who has pared back her style over the years so that it has become deceptively simple and clear. In her 2012 collection, The Overhaul, Jamie developed further the central engagement with nature, and its quasi-mystical, pantheistic qualities, that dominated her preceding collection, The Tree House. Nowhere has that engagement been more evident than in ‘The Orchard’.

The poem is one complete sentence, broken down into subordinate clauses, that describes from the outset the unsettling, dream-like beauty of twilight – the ‘late half-land’ – which plays tricks on the senses. The use of ‘late’ makes the scene at once present and past, as if light and time have vanished before we can discern that they have done so; and that sense is enhanced by ‘half-land’ – in these crepuscular moments, the definite sights of daytime become sketchy and slightly beyond our ken, and bring to mind, for me at least, the bewitching paintings of Samuel Palmer or the Faraway Tree children’s books of Enid Blyton. We are then told that this ‘half-land’ has an ‘underworld’, which conjures sinister, trickster-like connotations of Greek myth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream or even, though more tangentially, the world of crime; and is, the poem implies, simultaneously both far beyond and, if we choose to look and listen attentively, within our immediate grasp. The third line appears to be a detailed, elucidatory metaphor for that ‘underworld’, yet the lack of a comma after ‘tree’ would make it syntactically seem to be in addition to that underworld were it not for the fact that the verb which follows – ‘is’ – pertains to one subject not two. Maybe the omission of the comma is a typographical error, but it’s not crucial and is the poem’s only (minor) flaw. The most obvious cultural associations of ‘the moon-shadow of an apple tree’ for me include Cat Stevens’s 1971 single ‘Moonshadow’, Palmer’s paintings and, although the poem pre-dates it, Tacita Dean’s wondrous (2007) film on the late, great poet Michael Hamburger, in which Hamburger movingly describes the history of the fruit from the individual apple trees within the orchard of his Suffolk home’s garden.

The format of the poem into tercets slows it down through a languid and measured enjambment. In normal circumstances, the practice of starting a line with ‘is a’ would look, to my eyes, a little ugly, but here it works because ‘darkness’ dominates the second half of the phrase. The ‘darkness’ confirms the sense conveyed earlier by ‘late’, of time moving faster than we can perceive, and then Jamie immediately shifts a gear, like a renku poet, with a simile that reminds us of the primeval slime and our pagan past: ‘the earth / we’re called from’. Thereafter, literally and metaphorically positioned at the heart of the poem, we have the real essence: an all but inaudible sound which has to be attuned to – ‘silent but for a hush’ which, wrapped in another simile, is ‘like [the unmentioned swish of] heavy skirts’, which are being worn by ‘women, perhaps, passing /on the far side of a wall’. The oxymoron of ‘heavy’ skirts causing such a quiet sound here is wonderful and overtly feminises the poem just before the use of ‘perhaps’ which is the exact centre of the poem and its point of equilibrium. That the sound emanates from ‘the far side of a wall’ makes the attentiveness of the auditory sense even greater, as though the setting of the poem is within a hortus enclosus, a cultural trope that has lasted from Jan van Eyck’s 1439 masterpiece, ‘The Madonna of the Fountain’ to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1911 children’s novel, The Secret Garden, and makes the sound somehow supra-natural and incidental to life within the orchard. The lines ‘whom we may call / our history’ do not yield their meaning easily, and it is the ‘our’ that is the most puzzling: does it refer to ‘women’s’, as if the ‘women, perhaps, passing’ are, like suffragettes in long Edwardian dresses, heading elsewhere to make history on women’s behalf while life, in all its dusky oddness, continues in the microcosmic orchard? Or is that overstating the significance of a phrase whose verb is qualified by an ambiguous ‘may’?

A second semi-colon then implicitly takes the poem back to the ‘hush’ which could, as much as it could be made by the skirts, belong to ‘a vole, / some creature of the dusk’. Here, Jamie binds her words together on the ear: the ‘vole’ completes a hat-trick of end-rhymes – ‘wall’ / ‘call’ / ‘vole’ – and ‘dusk’ echoes ‘hush’, before a comparative barrage of heavier consonants, and assonance (‘plum’ / ‘suddenly’ / ‘muscular’), in the final verse. One wonders why Jamie used ‘garden’ when it appears to be superfluous, unless it was to augment the image of the hortus enclosus; though the lack of en-dashes means that ‘slender’ could be describing just ‘garden’ rather than the more obvious sense of describing ‘garden[-]plum trees’ – clearly the latter is intended since the ‘arms [...] turn muscular’.

The climax of the poem is bathed in visual trickery, where ‘slender’ tree branches ‘suddenly / turn muscular’, and where colour, ‘deepest blue’, envelops ‘the arms of the slender / garden plum trees’. (Samuel Palmer, like his mystical forebear Blake, would have opted – and frequently did so – for golden light.) In the final line, Jamie gets her comma use just right: the pause it creates allows room for the full effect of the void-like blue as night descends.

In five short verses, Jamie delineates a Gnostic netherworld where nothing is quite what it seems and one can never be sure what one has seen or heard. It is most magically rendered, perfectly paced, and lovely.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

into the chalkstream valley:
the ballet of gulls—
a house of hydrangeas
still sparkles in pink

Friday, 11 October 2013

wind-tipped aerial:
the space between
crow and magpie

Thursday, 10 October 2013

morning murk
double-scullers leave a path

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

bit nippy...
the bus with no number
flies on by

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

from the top deck
a plane-tree shows where
the mist doesn't reach

Monday, 7 October 2013

between doctors
the cleaner swishes

Sunday, 6 October 2013

chalk escarpment...
the curve of the train track
mirrors the downs

Saturday, 5 October 2013

a heron looks set
at every freshly-formed pool:
the Thames at low tide

Friday, 4 October 2013


Dawn rain steams off the woodland ride.
Nettles embrace the morning light.
Here, among the chin-slumped burdock heads,
the last ripe blackberries, their drupelets

large and moist, are half within sun,
half not. Over boulders of stone
and brick, wordless, elemental,
the river picks up pace until

an old orange leather football,
trapped among feathery rubble,
dams the flow. A hidden moorhen
squeaks from beneath another laden

bramble branch, which arches its tip
to stepping stones, where dippers dip
and water voles fetch into view,
like secrets disclosed to the few.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

autumn rain
the firemen climb their
practice tower

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

night out:
a ginger tom finds
a gap in the traffic