Friday, 22 June 2012


Readers of this blog will know that I use experiences, snippets of overheard conversations and anything else I can as a basis for writing poetry. So what? Everyone does that. Today I want to share some poems that were provoked by memories. This first one for example came almost fully formed after I dropped a glass, Anne Briggs was singing on the stereo and in that second I was back in Wigan, at the White Horse Folk Club, July 1976 buying the album. Anne Briggs was a traditional singer in the 1960’s who retired from singing in the early 1970’s. She only released three albums and one of those only came out years after it was recorded (here is Anne singing Blackwaterside: her version of this traditional song has influenced everyone from Bert Jansch to Led Zeppelin. Here is the song I was listening to, one of the few she wrote herself:


Cava (pronounced Ka-Ba)
Catalan, Rose, Vintage
Like Anne Briggs on the cd,
I had the vinyl original
(Bought it for £1.80 at the White Horse Folk Club, Wigan, July 1976).
Events converge,
You say something,
I jump, startled,


The glass falls,
Shards cover
The black and white tiles,
My eyes are now,
My mind elsewhere.

The explanation is longer than the poem, but then that’s like real life. This next one was written seven years ago on holiday with my children in Crete. I think this one is self-explanatory.

CRETE 2003

Sat in some harbour bar,
Below the Battle For Crete Museum sign
That provokes my daughter to ask:
“Was Grandad here in the war?”
I look at my glass, swill the wine,
Reflect on his story second hand,
“No. Africa then Italy,
Alamain through Monte Casino.”

I remember one night he talked
Of the push after Alamain.
Driving a three ton truck
Along twisting mountain roads,
Shelled by the enemy.
Bulldozed blazing trucks
Rolled down the mountainside.
The road had to be kept open,
He grips his glass as he speaks.

Next day was home,
I dial his number,
Over the phone he tells me
That it has been so hot here,
But he could not open the windows
For the smell of all the barbeques,
And he has never liked that smell,
And he has always hated it.

This is a straight forward free verse, narrative poem. I just wanted to tell the story, as simply and as economically as I could, I suppose the only embellishment is the semi-repetition of the last line.

This next one is another poem about my father, I have written many poems about him over the years, but this is the only one that made him smile when he read it. A word of explanation; the Ivy Benson Big Band were an all female big band that toured entertaining the troops during the war. My father served throughout World War Two, he was a D-Day Dodger and proud of it (Nancy Astor an MP visited France soon after D-Day and referred to the men of the Eighth Army- who had fought in Africa then in Italy as D-Day Dodgers, implying that they had had it easy. Here’s a song that some unknown Eighth Army man wrote in response: ).

I asked him not long before he died where he was on VE Day (Victory in Europe), he told me that he was on a week’s leave in Rome, (he said, I think, he was at the Alexandra Club) he added that he had gone to see the Ivy Benson Band but they did not perform that night as everyone was celebrating. The poem came out of that conversation. The six years refers to the fact that my father was in the Territorial Army before the start of the war and was called up before it began, he was away from home for six years.

Charlie Tobin on V.E. Day

Six years;
Seventy two months;
One thousand, seven hundred and twelve days;
And on a week’s leave in Rome,
That final week,
That day he remembers
-Victory in Europe,
And in the Alexandria Club
Charlie parties with the Ivy Benson Band.
They do not take the stage that night
But drink with Charlie.

Perhaps now life can resume?
Leave the chains of duty?
They shuck off their clothes and dance,
Sensing life begins tomorrow.

Have you written anything inspired by a memory? 

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