Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Try to understand me,
where I come from, where I’m going;
I’m drifting and I need you
to save my hopes from ruin.

You’ll need to know what splits me,
my need for roots and dreams;
it’s not the earth that hurts me,
it’s the tyrants and their schemes.

My father sailed the world before me,
to Rio and to Spain;
his father taught him shells and ships
and how to smile in pain.

Mother stayed at home and nursed,
came from a quiet place;
she ran the river and the green,
grew strong, with a gentle face.

I split my tongue in the early days,
shook off asthma as I grew,
fell into school and struggled out,
just clutching what I knew.

I was bred for something ‘better’,
for an office on fifth floor,
away from sea-spray and stray sheep,
with my name upon the door.

My mother and my father
scraped and saved for me,
bruised each other in the process,
gave up smoking and the sea.

Try to understand me,
why I’ve come back to earth;
it’s because I need to know myself
and the landscape of my birth.


Monday, 14 December 2009

Two Poems by Dave Alton


Often, while the house is quiet, I’m reading
One of the slightly foxed anthologies
Prised from its tightly packed bookshelf, its spine
So faded selection is mere guesswork,

Except for me knowing this modest library
And its order beyond cataloguing.
Sometimes, when physicists publicly
Contemplate a possible multiverse

I wonder why science has been so slow
To recognise what seems quite obvious
To avid readers. Pages of poetry
Are the absolute proof of prodigious

Fecundity inherent in creation.
Not only is the past and present
Pressed like rare blooms between heavy pages,
But the future also is cast in words

Already written. Possibilities
Are realised and explored, every page turned
Opens yet another world, which is why
Tyrants burn books. For the threat to them comes

Not from the poets who can be silenced,
But the poems that cannot be contained
By razor wire and watch towers. Even when
Committed to the pyre poems become sparks

Fanned by the wind and igniting tinder
In unexpected places. This is how
New worlds come into being, when people act
According to such illumination.

Reading, at its best, requires silence,
Although it’s in the silence that voices
Are raised in anger, in exultation,
Until even the full stops are screaming.

Old Joe

Everyone down the club had known Old Joe,
They would have missed him, only the club closed
Two years gone, windows blinded with plywood.
Not for the first time police broke down his door,
Once they’d got their breath back having climbed
All nineteen flights, the lift being knackered again.
Who’d thought it a good idea to upend
A terraced street and stand it vertical?
Who’d thought it a good idea to stick
Some old gadgie in the very top flat,
Up on a level with the seagulls?
“Bloody good view over the Tyne.” someone said,
“Nowt worth seeing,” Old Joe had grumbled,
“Since the yards went, and my vision with them.”
Death leaves chaos and a dreadful stench,
Leaves the younger copper stifling a retch,
Leaves the older one bothered for a moment
By his own mortality. A clutter
Of sock and grey underpants, toppling stacks
Of the local free paper, chipped mugs
Stained with tannin like fingers jaundiced
By years of rollies. Anarchy of old age
Had not possessed Joe entirely it seemed,
For against one wall, in a bookcase,
Meticulously dusted and in order,
Stood proud volumes and selected works.
And by his decomposing armchair
An anthology lay open, face-down
On the thin carpet, making a small tent
Accommodating rebellious ideas,
Refugee thoughts from the world surrounding,
And a well polished magnifying glass.
However much his vision faded
It appeared Old Joe never went blind.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Two Poems by G.F. Philips

The following poem was published in the anthology Living Rights: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Stories and Poems (volume one (articles 1-10) by Flames Books, Birmingham, England, edited by Marisa Antonaya. The poem grew out of a couple of interviews and a series of photographs that the Burmese woman kindly discussed and showed the poet.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. There are in total 30 articles. In 2009 the United Nations celebrates its sixtieth year.
The quotation that heads the poem is from the photographer, Dean Chapman, who secretly took shots of daily life under the Burmese military dictatorship in the 1990s. The photographs formed an exhibition at The Side Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne in 2000.

From The Testimony Of An Otherwise Citizen
for Colette Anderson

‘I find it impossible to be ‘objective’ in my approach to the joys, desperation and terrifying fear that the peoples of Burma experience. It is the indomitable spirit, their kindness, determination and humanity that motivates me to persevere with my documentation of these people’s endless suffering.’
Dean Chapman,1962

Rescheduled line closing in on Bristol,
Its cargo weighing considerably more
Than its usual crates where shades of English
Mixed with Burmese. The little ones their voices
Weak from expectation or the strangeness
Of a cooler landscape, pale complexion.
Hidden on board all the way from Rangoon
Like fraudsters living under pretence;
Playing up to the moods of sea,
Three siblings with enough noise to match,
Already toughened by father’s orders,
Their lives shored-up and stirring
From the dangers that always lurked within.
First it was the Yanks then the Aussies kicked out.
The army with their zeal saw fit to govern,
Beating unrest through more unrest, shouldered
The blame on those in retreat, and so were guilty
By their actions. The same when students torched
Your university. The soldiers raided,
But days before you had already fled.
Your father had his only weapon:
A billiard cue – with more hope than threat.

All roads straight, all led from the capital.
You clutching hand-held beads and blown-up views
Of Windsor Road where, flimsy like new shoots,
You had hauled yourself free of the good earth.

Another day the coast would have been
Your Shangri-La, as it was for grandfather.
Earlier that century he had roamed in
From Ireland, into the interior;
Though spoon-fed on occupation and famine
It gave him the chance to own a pharmacy,
What the army took out of private hands,
(As was discovered later) a return,
It was said – a going back to basics.

Another Sunday it would have been
Something sacred. Fussed over by servants,
Beyond serrated palms in the games room
Your father soon ahead in billiards.
He hadn’t played so well in weeks. Standing proud –
Talking compounds was more his thing. His rush
In the way he’d follow-through was lethal,
For each ball he had to slug he’d see as
his enemy to smash.

In the depression of the 1930s unemployed men from the North East were drafted into ‘instruction centres’, i.e. work camps. One such work camp was in Thetford Forest in East Anglia. There was a national timber shortage, and thanks mainly to them the forest is entirely man-made.


As time went by they had to work for their dole money
In one of Whitehall’s appointed zones: the bleak railhead
Near Brandon where men from terrace were dragooned
Upon the heath – it was new to them.
In tented beginnings their eyes caught blown sand
Off Thetford Chase, its choking bracken,
Caught as the strange accents were between one people
That summer of 1936;
At first it was why they were greeted with suspicion -
If that was not punishment enough -
To make them want to turn back.

But then some men at the sniff of hay, local girls,
They forgot home and pride; themselves. They were a fillip,
An attention other than an ex-soldier’s orders,
What one must do and here’s the plan of action:
It stretched their limbs and patience to the maximum,
Putting up corrugated iron huts
That became for them their living quarters,
Complete with bunk beds and copper boiler.
Those huts in a row grew as the work grew
While the long exercise exhausted them;
Any thoughts of protest lost to men
Like cracked branches tossed aside in a gale.
Yet they lived in hope their spirit would not crack
Under the strain, be left voiceless, deferred; dry
As had this glacial plain.

On a long exercise more action
In the cutting of track in allotted space,
With ditches dug that some men were told to refill
Much later just to keep the backsliders busy,
A humiliation born out of superiority,
You know, the pointed finger, that kind of stuff.
But they still worked on a settler’s life,
Hardened to it, as ever, conditioned.

The bracken was gradually cut down, out of its tangle,
So all could see further down the nose of land.
As the settlers headed back to camp
The cleared ground opened up like a wound.

Next day the labourers were herded out,
Their bit done as behind them
The planters (the bees-knees) moved in en masse,
Yet their energy was soon stripped as loose bark.

Then in three years the forest looked primeval
From Gallows Hill the leafy way to timber.
But soon green trucks rolled over shaky ground
To carve out tracks through mud and spoils
While others with time off waiting for thumbs up
Took to local girls thrilled by their crisp uniforms,
Men living for today, close to the edge,
Seeing it as an interlude, dotage.