Here are some Notes to the pomes, er, poems indicated. One note to the notes: if you are suspicious about explanations of a work by its own author, you have my full sympathy.
This refers to a real event. It has a slightly odd modality
in the grammatical sense (nothing to do with the
modality of the visible).
What I mean is, it describes real events from the perspective of
someone who never saw them but imagines them with something like the
force of real memory. I’ve put it in the
which is where I wrote it up, but the events occurred while I was
staying with my parents in Cumbria between returning from Italy and
starting work in Cambridge, so it was local news—although the
Solway Harverster came from Galloway, across the Solway
I come from Tyneside and my parents gave me a photograph of the
building of the Tyne Bridge which still hangs in my bedroom in their
house in Wetheral. (One day I might have my own house, who knows.) I
suspect, the word
hockle isn’t known outside the North East:
to spit or deliberately dribble spit from the mouth. I
had an email from someone who works at my old school in Newcastle saying
she remembers someone in her family being chastised for more or less
By the way, it seems that the story that the Tyne Bridge was a sort of trial run for the Sydney Harbour Bridge is a myth: although the latter was finished later, it was already planned in detail. I can’t remember where I read that, but as the myth was repeated on an earlier website of mine (long defunct) I thought I ought to mention it.
Postscript: I now have my own house and the picture hangs in the living room over the television.
Blencathra is also known as Saddleback, though to be honest I‘ve only ever heard it called Blencathra, with the Saddleback tacked on as an alternative. It‘s the north-easternmost significant peak in the Lake District, which you pass on the A69 main road between Penrith and Keswick. All the other places mentioned are local. If I’d written it now, I’d probably have mentioned Mungrisdale, at the north-east corner of the mountain, where there’s a pub (the Mill Inn) that does good food.
This was about a ceilidh organised by The Round a couple of years ago. I should know the name of the dance, but I’ve forgotten.
All the places here are not only in Cumbria but in the Lake District. The descriptions cover visits over most of my life, from the late 1960s to the present, although the majority refer to a visit since my parents moved to Cumbria in 1998 (when they booked the removal van for the week I was back from Italy). Although each poem reflects the memories of one event, clearly there is a great deal of hindsight and it is this more than anything else that makes the poems a sequence.
Skelwith Bridge: a village on the road between Windermere and Coniston. The river is the Brathay, which flows from Langdale into Windermere. This was an autumn visit to Coniston; we didn’t stop by the bridge itself, which has coloured the way I’ve written about it.
Fairfield: this was a walk with my brother one summer in the eighties around the Fairfield Horseshoe in the area north of Ambleside and east of Grasmere. Nab Scar is a lower fell at the southwest of the horseshoe near Rydal. The hot summer day reminded me of an Egyptian wall hanging I was given by my aunt.
High Street: a fell west of Haweswater, the reservoir mentioned; there used to be a drove rode over the top. The whale-backed hills are in the western distance. Apart from the locations with literary and mythical associations, Eamont Bridge is a village south of Penrith on the way to Haweswater from the north.
Wrynose Bottom: This really does exist, a bit of the Duddon valley on the road between Hard Knott pass, the steepest in Lakeland, and Wrynose Pass. We went through it numerous times on a holiday in about 1970 when we stayed in a rather bare farmhouse in Eskdale with no electricity where our cat was bemused by the sheep.
The Patch of Mud Just Beyond the Entrance from the Road Towards Castlerigg Stone Circle: Castelrigg is a very atmospheric stone circle south of the A66 east of Keswick, particularly around new year where the view into the distance is rather murky.
Martindale Old Church: lies in a valley on the south side of Ullswater.
Crag Fell: a not very imagininatively named and not very high fell near the southwest end of Ennderdale Water we climbed in summer 2005 when we only had the afternoon spare. This is the most recent event referred to.
Inspired by Wetheral Woods, Cumbria, Boxing Day 2007. This is a thickly wood piece of valley beside the Eden, owned by the National Trust, near the village where my parents live. St Constantine, a rather obscure figure not direcly connected to the more famous Constantine the Great, had a cell in the woods.
The title refers to the practice in many Christian churches of storing communion wafers that have been blessed by a priest for later use. Usually a candle burns outside the receptacle where they are held. I noticed this is in a side chapel of Winchester Cathedral one Saturday when the place was full of tourists. There’s a slight play on the word ‘reservation’, but that’s the sort of thing you definitely don’t want to learn from notes.
This is one of those superficially straightforward but actually rather mysterious poems I’ve always wanted to write. It’s set in the Cambridgeshire fens not far from where I now live.
Ullscarf, presumably a Norse name, is a rather obscure mountain in the Lake District above Borrowdale, in Wainwright’s Central Fells. We climbed it on the way down from somewhere else in summer 2009, and on the way down got somewhat lost, for reasons that are hinted at but also somewhat expanded on in the poem. It didn’t seem to want us to get off it; the sense of picnics and hanging rocks was palpable, but in the end no one disappeared.
The Clerihew was invented in the early 20th century by Edmund Clerihew Bentley. There‘s nothing much to say about them except that those here are (in terms of form and subject) very typical.
Just for the badly culturally challenged: this poem is a pastiche of Coleridge’s Kubla Khan. It follows the form of that poem almost exactly. In principle, therefore, I can claim that all the infelicities stem from the limitations forced on it. However, that would be wrong.
For the blissfully unaware: it refers to the
loudly trumpeted by the British government as the great millenium
showpiece of the United Kingdom and derided by others as a complete
waste of time and money. The real answer probably lies between (but I
couldn’t swear to it).
The poem is inevitably stuffed with contemporary references. I won’t bother explaining them here. If you’re interested, email me; it would make a change from spam.
Written after hearing a broadcast from La Scala, Milan, of Wagner’s opera on Italian Radio 3. Probably vaguely inspired by the poem, whose author I’ve forgotten, written in reaction to Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. At the time of writing, I still haven’t seen The Twilight of the Gods (to give it its English title) on stage, but I will be going to the ENO production. You can read my (prose) reaction to their Siegfried elsewhere on this site.
I wrote a poem on a similar theme just before leaving Oxford; it was called Roads of Nowhere, and is pretty much lost, unless there’s a copy somewhere in the archives of the old Nuclear Physics VAX 8700. It finished ‘I’d like to walk again the roads of nowhere / And feel their breezes blowing through my hair’, so it was if anything more sentimental.
This is one of several poems written on my arrival in Pisa, so the turmoil in the poem is more than just meteorological; I hate moving, particularly when I’ve only got a hazy grasp of the language, whether it be Scouse, German or Italian. In fact, that’s another link to Roads of Nowhere.
Postscript: Oddly, I found Roads of Nowhere sitting in my poetry directory as if it had been there all along. Rather than rewrite the previous paragraphs, with their wholly appropriate note of wistful regret, I've left them and added a link to the poem which you won't find in the main index.
This sequence has its own set of notes. Be correspondingly afraid.
This was one of those very long journeys by InterCity Cross Country on a Sunday where they take you from Oxford to Birmingham via Worcester. Chesterton wrote The Rolling English Road; I wrote this: life isn’t fair.
‘Kaikhosru’ was the pen name I used at college; that’s Fitzgerald’s now out-of-date spelling of the name of a Seljuk emperor:
Well, let it take them; what have we to do(Quoted from memory of the last edition; you may remember ‘Or Hatim Tai call Supper...’ from earlier editions.) It reflected a sort of poetic detachment and even irrelevance to the big wide world. It seemed a pity to delete it from the poem.
With Kaikobad the Great or Kaikhosru?
Let Zal and Rustum bluster as they will
Or Hatim call to Supper; heed not you.
Green Lane, by the way, is a station on the Wirral between Birkenhead
and Chester. It wasn’t on the route of the journey in question, nor was
it ever on my route home except when I spent the day in Chester. This
is what we amateur poets call
This was one of the first poems in metre I had written for some years; it was quite fun to write. I actually wrote much of it on a coach, but the buses referred to are the ones I used to see when turning right into Longwall Street outside the top end of Magdalen College in Oxford. Some day, you may be glad you knew.
This is the other of my favourites, but you’ll have to guess what it’s about. I still used to tweak the odd word from time to time, which showed I hadn’t consigned it to the scrapheap. It now seems to me all a little too obvious, like Manchester Airport. All hopeless loves are a bit alike.
There aren’t really any particulars to go with this one; it’s just generally inspired by nighttime views of cities, in particular Newcastle. It sounds a bit too much like The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and other early Eliot at times for my comfort, otherwise I’m quite keen on it.
I’m not completely sure what this is about. I remember one day in Oxford locking my bike up opposite the house in Jeune Street where I lived and looking towards it and imagining somebody waiting whom I knew wasn’t there… luckily, however, it doesn’t sound remotely like de la Mare.
Seascale on the Cumbrian coast is just a few miles from the Sellafield reprocessing plant; that’s not what the poem is about, though it’s there in the background. I got the impression of a slightly faded seaside town that didn’t know what to do with itself: I don’t claim this is fair. Note that the first and third lines are longer than the second and fourth, which sometimes give a (not entirely inappropriate) feeling of something missing.
I capitalised Tarmac because Mr Tarmac’s lawyer, if he cares
enough, is liable to complain, even though in practice we’ve been
using it as a generic noun for decades. (The argument is that the
generic noun is
tarmacadam. Have you ever heard that
outside slightly stilted early twentieth century novels?)
Another in the series of confessions under the heading ‘derivative’: this now sounds to me like late Housman.