In Search Of Lost Tomes

I had forgotten that —
for a long time — I went to bed early,
seduced by Proust,
who so often had le mot juste
about affairs of the heart
and the nature of art,
and all that stuff.

But life and things passed,
gave way to armchaired collapse
in front of a screen,
scrolling through memes,
watching videos of cats.

Until one evening,
when retrieving the remote,
I found you again, on the shelf,
as if stumbling upon a swan’s nest
amongst the reeds, hidden,
your pages like fresh linen.

Written to commemorate the death of Marcel Proust, 18th November 1922.


John Travoltaire

“If John Travoltaire did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”

Well, you can tell by the way I break the rules,
I’m a reason man: no time for fools.
Progress checked, our freedom scorned,
We’ve been kicked around since we were born.
But it will be alright, it’s not too late
For separation of Church and State.
We can try to understand
With science to lend a helping hand.

Dictionaries and dancing, poems, plays and prancing,
I’m spreadin’ the light, spreadin’ the light.
Despots are a-quakin’ and institutions shakin’,
And I’m spreadin’ the light, spreadin’ the light.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, spreadin’ the light, spreadin’ the light.
Ah, ha, ha, ha, spreadin’ the light.

Their lies ain’t goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me.
Somebody help me, yeah.
Their lies ain’t goin’ nowhere. Somebody help me, yeah.
In spreadin’ the light.

Written to commemorate the birth of Voltaire, 21st November 1694.

Empire of the Sunlounger

a poem written to commemorate J.G. Ballard’s birthday

his dreams take slip roads
past the airports and malls
and the perimeter fencing
that goes on for miles

until he finds himself back
amongst the pebbledash
and patios of the badlands
of Shepperton

and, in this drowned world
of hosepipe ban saboteurs
and sunlounged suburbanity,
his imagination conjures

a future of high-rise privet,
ornately-carved foxes and chickens,
a clipped hedge of darkness,
a sinister dystopiary vision


I would get everything
from a bookshop if I were able.
The food on my table

would come from there.
I would dine on tartts and flanns,
chocolate baudelaires,

lead a life of pi and dahl,
rice and flat tortillas,
accompanied by greenes.

They would all arrive
upon the scene
on gleaming sylvia platters. ​

The environment matters
so I would buy products
to suit eco-friendly homes,

like organic biographies,
and recycled tomes
with which to paper walls.

Wildely, I’d buy a painting
to hang in the attic or hall,
next to a looking-glass

(to admire my unchanging looks).
I’d build a coffee table
out of coffee table books.

I would buy my clothes there.
Dust jackets, ragged trousers,
experimental novel underwear.

But no, instead it’s the bore
of the supermarket, the mall,
the soulless online store

that try to take me in my prime
and leave me searching
for lost time.

But they can shelve
their plans for me.
I shall ignore all their displays.

I am piling up
these reference books
to make a bookshop barricade.

Thoughts Written Upon Turning Over an English Literature A-level Paper on Shakespeare

Question 1: ‘If we wish to know the force of human genius
we should read Shakespeare.’ William Hazlitt

Do you share this view of Shakespeare? Illustrate your answer
with examples from his writing.

For goodness’ sake,
what a way to break the ice.
This is all Greek to me.

It may sound like treason
but I cannot make rhyme nor reason
of his words.

I knew I should have paid more attention,
but at the merest mention
of the bard, I fear the game is up.

Shakespeare sets my teeth on edge.
It is all too hard.
I have been hoisted by my own petard.

Question 2: Answer either a. or b.
a. Using quotations from his work, show how Shakespeare’s language still resonates with us today.
b. In what ways is Shakespeare still relevant in the twenty-first century?

I am still in shock.
For this is the long and short of it;
I shall be the laughing stock

of the class. A sorry sight.
A foregone conclusion.
I am under no delusion.

I should have worn some quotes
on my sleeve, not my heart.
Perhaps I should try the second part –

or will that, too, give me indigestion?
2b or not 2b, that is the question.

Question 3: ‘A fool thinks himself to be wise but a wise man knows himself
to be a fool.’ Consider Touchstone’s observation in As You Like It in relation
to the current predicament in which you find yourself.

I wonder can others hear
in the midsummer madness
of this examination room,

this brave new world’s crack of doom
as my thoughts thunder and race
on their wild goose chase

for Shakespeare’s words.
No sooner do they stop
to linger there,

then they vanish into thin air.
I could more easily catch a cold
than manage to keep hold

of one of his phrases.
I have reached stasis
and I realise now

this naked truth;
my head is as dead
as a doornail.

I know that I am going to fail —
and thereby, I suppose,
hangs this tale.

How Poets Write Poems

It starts with a window,
preferably of the Georgian hung sash variety,
for the Poet is nowhere without one.

There may be other things involved, too:
a laptop, or some paper and a pencil,
or a Remington Home Portable.

And a pipe, of course.

Equipped, the Poet sets his* face
to one of Ruminative Contemplation
to survey the world through the window.

The Poet stares. The Poet gazes.
The lips purse. The brow furrows.
The eyes narrow and then …

    a leaf floats down from a tree,
a snatch of birdsong is caught,
a postman rummages in his bag,

and the Poet is off!
The image, smell, sound
is plucked, examined, cross-examined,

until a memory is stirred …

    perhaps the pattern
on a childhood picnic blanket in a Dorset field

    or the trace of that first kiss
in a grimy bus shelter in Wolverhampton

    or the crumbling headstones
of a Cumbrian church graveyard in October

which, in turn, provokes
larger – far grander – thoughts
about Life and Death and Beauty

and Hope and Truth and Loss
and God and Loneliness and Self
and Terror and Forgiveness

and so it continues
until the day slips softly into darkness
and the people who have proper jobs,

in factories and in offices and in shops,
walk past, carrying their bags and lives home,
and glimpse the Poet, silhouetted with pipe,

through his Georgian hung sash window,
and think to themselves
that he really needs to get out more.

 Please note that Poets are available in all genders

Letter Received regarding my Application for the Position of Oxford Professor of Poetry

Dear Brian,

Thank you for applyin’.

I hope you don’t find this distressful
but on this occasion you have been unsuccessful.

We found your poetry
unsatisfactory to the nth degree,
a cross between a dog’s dinner and a catastrophe.
In fact, the kind of drivelling doggerel
one might find inscribed
on a cheap sheet of bog roll.

Your limericks are limited,
haikus quite hopeless,
your sonnets have as much class
as soap-on-ropeness.
Oh, and your ballads are bollocks.

We wish that you suffered from more writer’s blocks.

Your verse is about buses and tank tops and socks;
you think you’re profound but you’re more like pro-lost.

And as for your poems about Clarkson
they’re bordering on the litigious.

On the plus side,
your spelling’s quite good
and your output prodigious.

Yours sincerely,

Professor A.P. Brearley

Read My Lips

I don’t need a lover
who’s a looker,
just someone who knows
the shortlist
for this year’s Booker,

with an insightful view on
Doris Lessing or Ian McEwan,
being satanically well-versed
in Salman Rushdie,
and would find it cushty
to share pillow talk
about the work of A.S. Byatt.

Yes, that would be a riot.

I could never judge a lover
by her cover,
be swayed by make-up
or a fancy hair do;
I’d much rather her be intimate
with À la recherche du temps perdu.

To be clear, I’m not talking
Fifty Shades of Grey here,
but finding someone
who knows their way around
the complete works of Shakespeare.

I would rip out my heart
and write her name upon it
if she can recite to me
his eighteenth sonnet.

So don’t give me eyes
to get lost in;
I’d rather have a heated debate
about Jane Austen.

I don’t care if she talks
in a Donald Duck voice,
if, together, we can thumb
through the stories of Joyce,

nor will we ever feel
an unbridgeable gulf
if neither of us are afraid
of Virginia Woolf.

You see, one thing I’ve learnt
as I’ve got older
is that literature
lights up love
and makes it smoulder

and that beauty
is in the eye
of the book holder.