poetry diary

Poetry is just the evidence of your life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. (Leonard Cohen)

At Baddesley Clinton

Through centuries of Octobers’
windless days; quiet leaf falls
kiss and hold the ageing ground
like hands, that bind the earth and lake;
ancient lovers tired now, and still –
recalling (not yet awaiting)

Trees like memories hold
this latest year a few days yet;
caught between times, now and past –
softening under autumn light
and silent as prophets.

Footsteps and words, like bricks
and lily pads – uncounted
but complete, and bringing shelter
these six hundred years, to priests
and artists, and now to you and me;
stirring gentle eddies in the air.


Baddesley Clinton is a moated late medieval manor house in Warwickshire, England. It has beautiful informal and human-scale grounds.

Summer morning in Leamington

Rising gently like the sun,
a quiet murmur amongst leaves;
unlike the wind, somehow
digital, and wet?

And from the road a soft squashed,
receding, sound of moving wheels
escaping unseen, but
serious and set.

Then, through rising consciousness
a harder, wetter, foreground brings
the interrupted dream
of a rivulet.

I draw back the bathroom blind,
predicting summer rain, and find
quiet satisfaction –
I can listen, yet.


I awoke to light rain this morning.

Song of the seafarers (with thanks to the choir of San Vicente de la Barquera)

Once we were young and rose at dawn
to watch our fathers put to sea.
As jewelled boats merged into mist,
our grandmas sat us on their knee.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of their return,
and sang and sang to ease our way.

Then we were wed and rose at dawn
to kiss our young loves to their boats.
And walking slowly from the shore,
bright laughter echoed from our throats.

We threw our lines and scanned the waves –
your eyes shone out from every cloud –
we dreamed of home and planned new lives;
our sun-swept limbs stood tall and proud.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of your return,
and sang and sang to ease your way.

Our children played along the shore;
sailed past in toy ships made of shells.
You sang the slowing songs of whales;
we warmed calm village nights with tales.

Always our hearts yearned for your arms;
for children’s laughter warming hearths –
Far from the master’s urgent calls,
riding sharp spray through angry squalls.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dreamed each night of our return,
and sang and sang to ease our way.

And now our children set the sails –
We hold our grandsons on our knee.
The ebbing whitecaps in your hair
mirror the rhythms of the sea.

Dark sails once more against the moon;
and fishes idling near the quay.
We dream each night of our return,
and sing and sing to ease our way.


On the penultimate day of our holiday we went to a concert given by the local choirs in the 12th century church of San Vicente de la Barquera, a perfect and ancient natural harbour on the north coast of Spain. For their final piece, the conductor on impulse asked the choir to split into men and women and move out into either side of the nave, so that each half of the choir sang to the other over the top of the audience. I didn’t understand a word of the duet they sang, but it was the most moving and beautiful experience.

This poem is my re-imagining of the words of that duet. The women sing the verses on the left, the men on the right, and the ensemble sections are in the middle.

Posted on dVerse.

Happy places (inspired by Ignacio)

“This is my happy place,” you say,
and make it so with naked girls
and ancient books; sunflowers,
soft armchairs, opened writing desks,
a framed window with flower box;
pots and hedonistic rugs.

My happy place might share most things:
different girls perhaps, and books;
more plants, a clarinet and maps –
scents of summer, apple trees;
water too, for evening swims;
a seed table for birds.

I wonder though, to balance this –
for every happy place we make
might there not be as well a sad,
unhappy place, with pots unfilled;
fires unmade, and a woman –
unopened and unread?


There is a sign above the fireplace in the small and very cosy cottage we stayed in last week (see Human landscapes below) which says “This is my happy place”. I have only met the owner twice, and he and his wife seem very happy, so apologies for the third verse. The sign and lovely house prompted reflection.


A lemon tree

suspended yellow
against blue;
lemons amongst leaves,


There was a lemon tree in the small courtyard garden of the second cottage where we stayed. To my Northern European eyes this was very exotic.

The eagle

An eagle,
dark against clear sky.

Slow seeking seeing sensing slides,
twists and glides –
high –
through naked shrinking hills,
with one purposed swing of silent wings
and glint of gold against the blue,
tension-spilled –
falls, brings
sudden death –


There were many eagles and griffon vultures near where we stayed in the Picos de Europa.

Shaman (at El Castillo cave, Northern Spain)

Before shock of pigment hits
warm skin against cold-always
rock within – deep – mountain she
from which all comes all goes all is all was all will be
soon and always handmountain.

Dark almost silent depths drip
distinct drip, drip, down colder
spliced life hand to stone –
look see hear listen now quiet.
Blow softly and draw back. See.
Cave dark. Earth wet – always hand-
marked mountain, in silence now –
a man,
I am.


At the El Castillo cave in Northern Spain, you can still see a handprint made by a human 40,000 years ago (and other cave paintings, although the hand is the oldest). When Picasso saw these, he is said to have said that after this all art has been decadence.

I saw them this week, and if I imagine the handprint as the discovery of both time and humanity, I think I can see what he means.

As an aside, and reaching back unwittingly through 40,000 years, the current ‘strap line’ of the City of Birmingham, where I often work, is “make your mark”.

Human landscapes

Without the mountains, this house
makes a home with art – sensual
terracotta reds and gold;
and warm, most human breasts and thighs,
drawing me to cool, silent,
watching eyes, which say: ‘I am
beautiful – like you – (and mountains too),’
and with a yard, and lemon tree,
glass of wine and distant dog,
you welcome me;
human nature, shaped in stone.


We have moved to a cottage by the coast. There is no view here, in the centre of the village, but the owners have made it a wonderfully welcoming and cosy space with art and careful design. This includes, slightly disconcertingly at first, many nude images of the owner’s wife, who also gave us some excellent cake.

I like the contrast with the mountains and that both equally make visitors feel relaxed and comfortable.

Next to a footpath at Fuente De

Lives like raindrops falling into mud,
making rivulets of blood.

Unwasted, yet ungently blown; dashed and mixed and tossed and dropped,
then burned and baked to clay;
stretched tight in frozen screams.

Time, as in a century, will pass
and stir the mud; raise ears of corn
unnumbered like the raindrop lives
that cannot be remade.

On a balcony above a cowshed in Colio

Once these homes were built
by men like me,
with balconies – how they mocked –
in Colio,
where to care for cows is hard enough,
and wives and mothers asked no more
than milk and children,
an odd festival,
and enough meat to last the winter.

But you might have been published in Madrid,
or fêted in Seville;
left the women and the mountains
to their timeless game,
and played your own.

Your balcony says enough,
on evenings like this;
moon rising over mountains,
still forest and a distant owl,
calling to me,
and now to you across the years:
‘Hola y gracias.’


We are staying in a traditional village 600m above the valley.