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Poetry with Legs: A 2-Year Marathon Run
Hello, I’m Ian Whybrow, a proud patron of ELoH. Just to remind you – I’ve been writing children’s books for over 30 years - The Sniff Stories, the Harry (and the Bucketful of Dinosaurs) series , the Little Wolf’s Book of Badness series, the Meerkat Madness series, the Bedtime Bear, The Tickle Book, etc.
I’ve put that career on hold, and since July 2020, inspired by Captain Tom, have set myself my own old-bloke-challenge: to write at least one poem a day. Originally, I aimed to keep going for a year but was amazed to discover that by July 2021, people were kind enough to donate over £3,500 to provide help and prosthetics for children who don’t have the NHS to support them.
Knowing that lots of people who can’t stand poetry supported me has given me a second wind. I extended my marathon for another year – which means by July 15th, 2022 I had written over 730 poems Below is a little selection of short, cheery ones for you to browse.
I hope (my favourite word) you enjoy them and might cheer me by adding something to the donation-pot.
Things are tight now and everybody’s focus is naturally on helping those dispossessed by European wars but we mustn’t give up on child-amputees in India and Africa. ELoH is desperately in need of whatever you can afford to allow it to continue with its vital work. Remember, £30-£50 buys a child a prosthetic leg in Africa or India. Aftercare is often complicated and pricier.
Everything you donate will go to the charity. Please do what you can; give what you can afford. Thank you, Ian W.
30 short poems for hurrying people: A Poetry with Legs selection, by Ian Whybrow
1st August 2020
The unfairness of flies
If you are brutalised by flies,
consider; they have compound eyes.
From any angle of attack
they’ll see their way to bite you back.
How cruelly unfair of Fate
to speed their flicker-fusion rate.
August 4th, 2020
Anemoi (The Four Winds)
After William Cowper
The modest pea, fresh-picked or canned or split
becomes when swallowed,
orchestra to pit.
The bean, the sprout, the huddled broccoli;
into a symphony.
Your cabbages, your onion & your grain -
Each have their dying fall…
That strain again!
Yet for the wittiest intestinal tune
rely on fig or
apricot or prune.
September 10th, 2020
You are perfect, o banana!
Daily this is how I feel
about the way you fit my hand,
about the easy way you peel.
No artisan makes artisana
to equal thee, ideal banana!
December 22nd, 2020
Breakfast with Michael Caine
This morning I was Michael Caine.
Just for a while,
making my coffee in The Ipcress File.
Except I didn’t have his beans
or, waiting in the wings,
an irritated minder.
No sleeping-over office beauty
and neglected, looking slightly hurt
and obviously naked underneath my borrowed shirt.
I keep my black-rimmed glasses in my drawer;
I can’t see clearly through them anymore.
12th December 2020
Mrs God and her hobbyist husband
He’s in the shed,
shouldn’t be long.
He’s got some stuff
he’s working on.
He calls it time.
Yes, hard to explain.
Think of weather
with no sun or rain.
Or a lavender bag
without the lavender
inside a drawer.
Only he’s made
a bigger place
to keep it in.
He calls it space.
I call it the cart
before the horse.
Bang! Here we go –
Boxing Day, 2020
Midsummer Common before Storm Bella
It’s out like Yeats in a big hat, striding
along by the boathouses, mouthing and muttering.
Under a tin sky, swans are fidgeting,
nervous on the river with their goslings clamouring.
Weir water whitens, not quite thundering.
The barges are rising, their docklines tightening.
On alder and willow the branches are stirring
A dog lifts an ear and ignores the ball bouncing.
Motionless gulls button grass down like quilting.
Wind fists are clenched to give somebody a pounding.
January 4th, 2021
That man in the mirror
his hair growing thinner
is surely my father.
Dad, did you see your father
at my age in your mirror?
Or would you rather
not talk about it, ever.
January 5th, 2021
with more legs than an octopus;
we never liked you but you’ve stuck it out here.
So, after what we’ve been through together
- you on just the odd spoonful of water -
we want you to persevere.
Please count yourself one of us.
February 20th, 2021
While one can picture Byron
supersensitive and vain
attempting to blow up his headmaster
for being too humane; *
with acid, gunpowder and electricity
and blowing up a tree,
it’s hard to imagine gentle Keats
giving himself up to such mad fits
or to imagine
what did in fact happen -
that he and Brown would sit in their shared garden
taking pot-shots at Hampstead blue tits.
*Byron and his fellow monitors at Harrow School objected in 1805 to the reforms of Butler, who replaced the popular Drury as Headmaster, and in particular, to his ban on monitors’ beating other pupils.
June 26th, 2021
A Dead Shrew
They say that Disney’s blueprint Mickey Mouse
was drawn in circles, rounded so that we
would feel for him what babies stir in us,
a human, melting, doting empathy.
Is it perversity that this sweet softness,
stiffened, absurd and mucronate in death,
at once repels us and amuses us -
contriving, too, to take away our breath?
June 29th, 2021
To a mouthful
What other mouthful squeals like little pigs
with satisfying snap between incisors?
O de-hydrated Marks and Spencer figs
more calming than prescription tranquilizers;
O sweet, ridged roundness, rubbery gem!
O pliant plug of elasticity!
What pleasure ‘tis to nibble off your stem
and let the rest of you slip down inside of me.
July 9th, 2021
It takes only
a slight swing of the door,
a slight collision with your elbow
and the tea you’re carrying carefully
slops out onto the floor.
You should have allowed for that;
your tea has been floored before.
October 30th, 2021
Small jobs to do in the garden this week…
Check in the shed for things you do not need;
dig them well in and let them go to seed.
Think about seeds you’d really like to grow
and let them flourish in your mind right now.
Scrub out the pots that grew resentments.
Plant up some bulbs that promise you fragrance
ideally in re-usable bulb planting trays.
Seek out some of the many handy ways
to use up beetroot and the chunks of hake
you freezered in the days of Hereward the Wake.
November 11th, 2021
Mrs God and her jealous husband
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.
(Discussed on Christianity.com)
Yes, I saw that online, too, about God
asking how it can be
that He gets jealous. It is a bit odd
but it’s something to do with idolatry.
Could be the translation from Hebrew
but between you and me
it’s what you might call His ways, too.
He’s always moved mysteriously.
Oh yes, He loves His bit of mystery.
It’s like Shakespeare’s “primrose path”.
I can tell when He thinks I’m on it,
then it’s wrath, wrath, wrath.
I just wait till it blows over.
He’s mostly nice as pie.
I worship him, He lets me off
and that’s how we get by.
November 13th, 2021
Epitaph for an oligarch
He went at his life
like a dog at a bone.
He might have done better
to leave it alone.
December 15th, 2021
What music is more wonderful
than Yeats’s “Wild Swans at Coole”?
What hymn to hope could ever move
as tenderly as Herbert’s “Love”?
I have them in my memory,
my cage for birds that sing for me.
December 28th, 2021
Supper with Christmas leftovers
The ham, the sausages, the cheeses
commemorate the recent birth of Jesus.
After the meal, we play a game together,
paying attention to each other’s pleasure.
We celebrate our gifts received and given
and for a moment glimpse some sort of heaven.
Mary and Joseph, babe and beasts, are we,
willingly stabled in the old complicity.
7th January 2022
for Jules “watch the left hand” Reuben
If I come this way again,
I shall play the piano.
Sunshine or drumming rain,
I shall practise like billy-o.
I’ll dig out Fats Waller
wherever he’s hiding
and he won’t just come walking;
he’ll be smiling and striding.
In a cloud of pomatum
we’ll stride down the lines
with Art Tatum, Cliff Jackson,
Pete Johnson, Earl Hines.
17th January 2022
I found it painful,
the notice in the art shop:
Reduced for Clearance.
18th January 2022
In praise of things that creep up on you
for Philip Larkin
There was a time I knew I’d never tie
my laces or jump high enough to join
the big kids sitting on the drab substation
humming outside the corner shop along my
street. Their laughter told me, and their heels
drumming the metal doors whose colour I
couldn’t yet specify, were guarantee
that some things life teaches, some it conceals.
And if there was a moment when I saw
later, with tears of joy or my heart pumping,
precisely when I’d mastered laces, jumping,
or “beige” - I can’t remember anymore.
19th January 2022
Not just the parties
“Boris Johnson fights on as Tory plotters pull back from the brink.” The Times
Not just the parties
but the lies, the lies.
Spawned in the dark
and fattened up like flies,
they sicken and infect
crawl in our ears
and blind our eyes.
They rot us, rot us,
heart and mind.
Make him go now. Be kind.
26th January 2022
for my very dear friend, Les Bass
When Les was on his way to dying
I bought him red braces
- what with his stoma and his dwindling -
to hold up his trousers.
I see him, pale, bent over his guitar
putting Angie through its paces.
When I hear Rodrigo, Albéniz, Tarregá …
the music wears red braces.
Snowdrops are poking out
white drooping faces.
Bloodless, the snowdrops shout
Give us braces! Red braces!
31st January 2022
For Trevor Goodfellow, naturalist
At Mickle Mere by Packenham Mill
we take a moment to sit still
and marvel while the greylag geese
clang in the air, then take their ease,
settle companionably, swimming round
the crowded water, yelp their busy sound.
Beside them in the shallows, shuffle mottled snipe,
sun polishing their spears, lighting each stripe.
A stonechat chips, a water rail
squeals like a piglet, flicks its pointed tail
and then, up from a willow, linnets spring,
a moil of ‘twenties flappers, trilling like anything.
Moments like these we gather as our own
natural, restorative prescription.
1st February 2022
A couple of spuds and a failing memory
Bits are flying off my memory,
like sparks off a bonfire.
There goes a name
twisting into the night sky
and an arrangement for something
and hisses to a flicker, a nothingness.
It’s just your age, a voice says,
though I can’t remember whose,
or all the circumstances
that heaped up these burning years.
Get your coat on, I say.
Get out in the cold and put
a couple of fat spuds among the embers
to bake. For the fun of it.
15th February, 2022
The song of the blenny in the rockpool
I look miserable and bulgy
but I’m happy, eating algae,
hiding in my tidal hollow.
What I find most hard to swallow
is the game Big Light & Daughter
plays with my capricious water.
Twice a day they pull her from me,
leave me high and dry and lonely.
Still, I love my weedy home
and I never wish to roam.
18th February 2022
One Use of Literacy
for Richard Hoggart
Sometimes our mother, strength and patience wearing,
would mutter softly, Bugger, and that’s swearing,
by which we children understood
a prudent bugger does one good.
3rd March, 2022
There are stories
Ukrainian women capture a young Russian,
lend him a mobile phone to call his mum,
tell her that she can come and fetch him,
that she is free to take him safely home.
Another captive conscript gulps a cuppa.
Shivering and young, the poor boy cries.
His masters said his mission was to free Kyiv.
He understands too late he was told lies.
And there are videos from other conflicts
sharing “Ukrainian” atrocities.
It’s no surprise the Russians still believe them.
A love of country fixes what one sees.
8th March 2022
View from the leaf-litter
Your golden neb becomes a king.
Gold is your terrible eye-ring.
You wear your shadow like a sable.
You mark your boundaries with cable
winched off the steely songs you sing.
Planted like Holbein’s Henry, tense
watcher, wide legged on the fence,
you’re majesty and airy killer,
grim as the Scourge of God, Atilla,
quick to beguile and quick to pounce.
9th March 2022
Zsa Zsa Gabor
Has passed away.
She spun the lame
to gold lamé.
Married nine times,
not always well,
the bomb and shell.
O revenant Madame Pompadour!
Never again such Haute Gl'amour
but still, there’s plenty to adore.
Yes, still you glitter, Mzzzzssss Gabor!
13th March 2022
Crow music in an uncertain time
A crow rides high against a troubled sky,
among the catkins of a poplar tree.
He bends to watch each anguished cry
Who knew a crow could sing so touchingly,
his cracked notes pouring?
No echo sounds. No answer to him yet,
who seeks a partner for a Spring duet,
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