Friday, 5 April 2013


Repetition in poetry can work, the oral tradition effectively uses repetition. It can, however, as easily limit a poem, keep it earthbound when you want it to soar.

Here is an example of what I mean. It’s an autobiographical poem. The events really happened, many years ago. In fact the poem was written in the 1980’s soon after the event it describes.

When I looked at it again recently, I was struck by the use of the word machine, it appears again and again throughout the poem. I did not like it. I felt the repetition limited the poem.

I had also been troubled by the last line. I had worried at it for many years. Never quite achieving what I wanted to say.

I also suppose it is of note because it’s the first poem I wrote about my father. There have been many more since.

I’d be interested to know what you make of it.

All that is recognisable are the reels.
These still spin determining loss,
Sometime fortune, mostly loss.
My father stands before the machine
Engrossed in the wheels motion,
As he did when I was little.
Then the device resembled a man,
Mechanism set into his chest,
The rhythm of loss named him;
A “one armed bandit.” Robbing all.
Though I could not reach the handle,
I understood those certainties.
I cannot follow this electronic sequence,
 The room is hot and smoky,
 The men drink pints,
Share a formalism of dress.
I do not know the conventions,
Am baffled by more than this bandit.
My uncle will be buried tomorrow,
I want to talk with my father,
Who is one with this distraction.

There is more than this machine between us

I suppose I should offer a word of explanation. A one armed bandit is an old name for a slot machine. They really did look like bandits from the Wild West when I was a child. My father played them obsessively. As they increased in complexity they became increasingly incomprehensible to me but it never phased my father.

You can see them. Lonely men,
Standing solitary on motorway bridges,
Fishing the traffic with their eyes.
Estimating tonnage, make of vehicle,
Wistfully dreaming destinations.
I hear they are there at night,
Hypnotised by the dazzle
Of people going places.

late 80’s

Do you ever notice the people that stand on the bridges over motorways and just watch the traffic? I have to confess that it’s not my idea of a good time, but I have always wondered why they do it.

Here is another old poem. I leave you to make of it what you will.


we cross the sea
sunrise on an aging shore

your ghosts follow
supplant the local images

your words empower
grant them immediacy

they wander through your dreams
you will not sleep again this night

it is the heat
it is the still air

they circle you
in the air that does not move

“let us occupy your waking thoughts
let us live inside your head”

I am awake
lie silent

sleep is gone
you lost in the darkness in your head

eyes open
I stare into the night

and dawn is a long time coming

Have a good week.


  1. Great poems, Paul! Have a wonderful weekend, my friend!

  2. Interesting poems!

    I can sort of understand watching traffic. Not for more than, say, 10 minutes at a time--but there's something intriguing about the flow of vehicles, particularly if the viewpoint is from above.

  3. Father poem is powerful ... and to be honest I don't think you need the last line at all. all you want to say is in the previous one. Just a view.

    The thing is fathers are powerful figures and those of us with more creative sensibilities than they (I have several 'father poems too!) probably more easily analyse the impacts they have left on our lives by the things they have (and probably more importantly from our place) not done.

  4. The motorway Bridge poem reminded me of the Paul Simon song: old men...sat on a park bench like bookends... I wondered why people did it, then, years ago, I found myself on a bridge overlooking the MI watching the late Princess Diana's funeral cortege pass by. It's the combination of static height, and moving speed - exciting and disorieientating at the same time.