Poetry with Legs

Poetry with Legs

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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;

all metamorphose

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

Ideal

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.

Again.

Just for a while,

making my coffee in The Ipcress File.

Except I didn’t have his beans

or grinder,

or, waiting in the wings,

an irritated minder.

No sleeping-over office beauty

either, snooty

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

tucked away

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 –

another universe!

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

Ghost

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

Hello, Alloe

O cactus,

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

Nobody’s perfect

While one can picture Byron

supersensitive and vain

attempting to blow up his headmaster

for being too humane; *

or Shelley,

scarred emotionally

playing experimentally

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

Avoidable

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

By heart

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

Revenants, piano-striding

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

Intimation

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

Red braces

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

Dr Lake

 

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

cracks

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

Dahlink

Zsa Zsa Gabor

Has passed away.

She spun the lame

to gold lamé.

Married nine times,

not always well,

she juxtaposed

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,

calling, calling

among the catkins of a poplar tree.

He bends to watch each anguished cry

falling, falling.

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,

bowing, imploring.

 

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