My kind of poetry: Jenny Hockey’s “Going to bed with the moon”

After 400+ posts on the cobweb, I’m bound to repeat myself, I suppose. But I still have to remind myself that when I started it, it was simply to share my enthusiasm for poets who I called undiscovered gems…or (un)discovered gems. It depended on whether they’d already been recognised by a publisher and had work ‘out there’.

Over time I got distracted by what seemed like the need to sound off about the business of poetry in general, and on occasions, like last week, to have a bit of a strop. Mea culpa. I’m determined to get back to basics, albeit not on a weekly basis.

So here we go, with a poet I’m very fond of; I’ve enjoyed listening to her at Poetry Business Saturday workshops, and I’m delighted to have a guest who, among other things, has been active in the campaign to save Sheffield’s street trees and was arrested for the first time at the age of 70.

Jenny has a background in Anthropology and had a career in Sociology. If I’d only read her poems, I’d have guessed at Archaeology..I think a lot of her poems are like careful excavations. Jenny has written that her aim has been: 

to notice the everyday and give it due weight.  And that’s what I write about mostly, my lived or remembered everyday.  I want to hold or recover the moment and gently scrutinize it

I think this illuminates all her work. It chimes with MacCaig’s lines in An ordinary day

‘how ordinary
Extraordinary things are or

How extraordinary ordinary
Things are, like the nature of the mind
And the process of observing.’

Jenny writes about memories of childhood and family (and the memorials of them enshrined in documents and objects, the work of their hands). The response to this might be a world-weary doesn’t everyone? The family anecdote, the familiar, the quotidian are staples of our memories. But poems that we remember. that seem to memorise themselves as we read take us beyond that. They surprise. They illuminate our own experiences. They will involve what Clive James calls ‘the moment that draws you in’ and what Jane Draycott calls ‘the point of ignition’. Let me share some of the moments that drew me in, and then Jenny will tell you a bit about herself before I share some of the poems with minimum interruption. 

I was born dwarfed by the dead and/all their impedimenta , she says. And that last unexpected, accurate word lifts the idea out of the ordinary.

She sleeps , (as we all do, without thinking about it ) under a bedroom ceiling, the other side of which is the dustbound side of everyday. 

Which is how, from now on I will have to think of lofts and attics. Which may, or may not, store memories, and which she searches out:

to a high shelf..[she says]….. to a legacy of albums and attaché cases /I take my ignorance 

Of a painter- Grandfather she writes about how she comes to take possession of his 

sunlit room, and something up there

laid out above his wardrobe

under the pall of a dustsheet’s folds

Here, the past is probably unnerving, and tantalisingly out of reach, or possibly forbidden. These images stick. Her observation is acute, too, as in the cleaning of a fish and its stamp-hinge scales. Love that one. I like the bit of grit that jams the Dyson, a bit of grit that comes out of Deep Time; grit  the oyster turns to pearl in a later poem.

I love the house of (I think) an elderly relative, up a 

fern-choked clough….a nudge of pasture at her kitchen window. 

So far, so Laurie Lee. But then there’s a line that stops me dead in my tracks: Cute as a grave/ here’s her garden. 

There are poems about birds and animals that remind me of MacCaig (again). A mouse in the house has battery-powered whiskers; birds in the garden trees are perched like saints or green men. 

I could go on. But I think you get the point. Enough. Here’s Jenny to introduce herself, and then some poems she’s shared.

“I am a poet and until recently an active academic. Then I gave up the day job to find more time for poetry. I wanted to feel, think and hear through poetic language, as well as the academic words I had written in their many thousands. Memory, loss and the objects that survive us have been longstanding research interests  and they remain an important inspiration for writing poetry.

Ed. : Why poetry, why poems? I ask

Rupert Bear Annuals were a feature of my early childhood.  My grown-ups only read me the text under the pictures and I now discover it’s all end-rhyme couplets. Did that set my ear?  There was little spare cash after my mother divided the housekeeping into her five labeled tobacco tins in the kitchen drawer,  but she bought me Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘A Child’s Garden of Verses’ one Christmas, and I adored it. I wish I could recapture what its simple language evoked for me, so skillfully written from a child’s point of view: the child in its bed; the child watching from the window; the child re-imagining  its garden as a battleground.  I never wrote anything myself but I did read and re-read and re-read A.S.Collins ‘Treasury of English Verse, New and Old’given to  my mother by my father  ‘with my very deepest love, for Christmas 1946’, an inscription I could never marry with my parents’ apparently boring lives.  I was six months old that Christmas. Did Mum find time to read it, with a new baby and no washing machine or fridge?  And with ‘duty before pleasure’ as her mantra. 

Me reading aloud A.S.Collins ‘Treasury in bed on long light evenings makes me smile at myself now.  As a parent (and grandparent) I think it might unsettle me to hear a child intoning poems for what I remember as hours.   What did I actually read?   Wordsworth’s ‘Westminster Bridge’, Coleridge’s ‘Frost at Midnight’ and Shelley’s ‘Ode to the West Wind’, almost all of Keats and Tennyson, Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach’, Hardy’s ‘The Darkling Thrush’ , almost all of De la Mare and then Masefield’s ‘Sea-Fever’  

Ed.: which I find impressive and unnerving in equal measure

As a young parent I wrote little, but kept the faith. Two of the four poems I eventually produced in the early 1980s were included in The Raving Beauties’ No Holds Barred (The Women’s Press, 1985). That set me off, with regular Arvon courses and The Mutiny Poets group in Hull. In 2013 I received a New Poets Bursary Award from New Writing North ( and, after magazine and anthology publications, my debut collection, Going to Bed with the Moon, is now available from Oversteps Books.

I’ve written as a member of Cora Greenhill’s inspiring poetry workshop for women, ‘Living Line’; I’m also a member of Tuesday Poets, a workshopping group, and of The Poetry Room, a group that reads poetry collections as well as workshopping its own poems.  I also relish The Poetry Business’s  Saturday writing days and absolutely value its presence here in Sheffield. where I live with Bob, my partner, in a house sandwiched between two parks. I continue to write about loss, but also the tree- and bird-filled landscape that surrounds me. And along with my leaning towards the downbeat, I am always inspired by the quirky, surreal and laugh-out-loud hilarious nature of everyday life.

When my debut collection, Going to bed with the moon came out with Oversteps in 2019, I introduced myself at the launch as ‘a recovering academic’.  

Ed.: you can find out what that involved by following this link; it’s impressive..

I’ll still put lots of words into long complicated sentences when I write poetry.  Or still assume too much on the part of the reader.  But being trained as an anthropologist did sharpen my capacity to notice the everyday and give it due weight.  …….. I’ve never visited Mars or Atlanta in a poem, never taken on the persona of a historical figure or inhabited a painting by Breughel.   But there’s still time.”

Ed.: To which I add: oh  yes there is

So. As everyone says. For no reason at all. The poems. First from Going to bed with the moon, which the editor descibed as a collection which moves from the beginning to the end of the day, and from the familiar world of home to unknown travel destinations and their imagined challenges.

There are a lot of poems about remembered tactile love in the collection, bound up very often with memories of foreign travel, a touch of glamour. I chose this one because of its compression, its absolute assuredness, because of the image of layers, an idea that quietly and unobtrusively runs through the book. I think its a stunner

Concrete and Clay

We lay there a long time, really

chilling to the draught which blew beneath the door.

We were like statues, weren’t we,

one above the other like folded rocks,

massive in our contentment.

It mattered to us then

if you remember.

Jenny says : I’ll still put lots of words into long complicated sentences when I write poetry. I’m not sure if the next poem is the kind of thing she had in mind, but what grabbed me was the way the matter -of -fact, decidedly prosaic language of the ‘memoir’ is suddenly transformed into something quite other in the second stanza. Maybe the pivot is that ‘cut throat razor’, but Grandfather’s suddenly not a comfortable old buffer. There’s something of the folk tale about growing longer than the alcove, and sonething decidedly insettling about the line 

and I came intopossession of his bed

And as I said before, the last four line absolutely nail it.

Meredith Charles Watling


was an acknowledged East Anglian

painter, I read in the 1955 obituary

that fluttered from the unlocked leaves

of my mother’s diary. He filled our house

with the scent of linseed and St Bruno

pinched from a flat Bakelite pouch

with a screw-off inset lid; pared his nails

with a knife, stropped a cut-throat razor.


When I grew longer than the alcove

in my parents’ room, they moved me

downstairs by Grandad’s easel and paint

— until Addenbrookes took him one night

and I came into possession of his bed,

his sunlit room and something up there,

laid out above his wardrobe,

under the pall of a dustsheet’s folds.


One more from the collection; this is the last poem in the book, and exactly where it needs to be

The Party’s Over


Oily scraps of veg, drabs of bread

and napkin shreds,

red wine, salt and cigar butts

and I’m drink-dazed for sleep,

drained with the weight

of my own unspoken words.


And in the small room where three flames burn

on the green fish candlestick

that I cycled seven French miles to choose for myself

at the cost of several hundred francs,

I spit on my finger and thumb

and draw down the darkness.


I like this for its filmic quality, the way the camera moves slowly, the way it lingers, the way it takes us through the house to the last room. I love the assuredness of the narrator, the conjuring of the darkness. I love the way the screen goes black.

And now, to finish, the bonus of two new poems, a bit edgier, a bit more swagger. And that trademark thing of the unwritten subplot…as well as another attic.

Jesus with Guinea Pigs 

There’s always something to be done in our house. 

But in between, my mum gets out her paints, completes

another Jesus and props his wet radiance on the easel,


his wounded body hanging there as I walk in from school, 

fists clutching roadside grass grubbed up for Ginger 

and Bobby Charlton squeaking their heads off in the shed. 


Always that quiet conversation going on — something about 

The Other Side, evidence of uncles who have crossed over. 

Mum and Mr Sperring, the worry of his gifts.



Easter and I’m crossing the Cleveland Hills,

Losing My Religion full on through the sun roof 


as you stow the relics of a dead husband 

in your attic, filling a tall house 

with withered climbing gear, 


a grounded kayak I later help you free.  

Picture us down at the quayside, posing

by the whale bones, the Abbey’s silhouette.


Thirty years on and you’re not 

anymore, I’m losing my religion.


 Jenny Hockey, you may be losing your religion, but you’re not losing your touch. Thank you for being a guest on the cobweb, and for sharing so many poems.

Right.I think everyone should now follow this link, and buy the book

What am I saying?

What am I saying?  

In a normal world with the company of friends (and strangers, and acquaintances), in the normal world of to- and -fro conversations, and chats, and arguments, at some point someone’s bound to say ‘So, what you’re saying is…..’ and you’ll say, ‘no, that’s not it at all; what I’m saying is….’ and so it goes.

In my current world, where we’re now in our eighth month of 99% lockdown, where I’ve been shielding, and then (officially) not shielding, and puzzled to know whether I am, or I should be; when face-to-face conversation is a brief chat over the garden wall to our lovely neighbour who nips up to Lidl for us every few days, or a visit to the surgery or the hospital, gloved and masked, for an injection, or a CT scan or to see a consultant -when the conversation is not-exactly to-and-fro; when this morning I was suddenly impelled to get in the car and just drive for 30 minutes, just to see something slightly different…..

What am I saying? No-one’s said, what are you on about, or jeez…..just get to the point. No-one’s around to keep me on track or up to scratch, and the only feedback I’ll get is that of one of the several versions of me that live in my head, like disgruntled squatters who are clamouring for better conditions, or room service.

The other thing is that the various changes to my programme of meds have come with the advice that side-effects may include low-level anxiety, mild depression, loss of concentration and joint pain. What that actually means in practice is tetchiness, irritability, intolerance and a tendency to swear even more. On Facebook, this manifests itself as a kind of keyboard Tourettes. So bear that in mind as this post progresses.

Over the last couple of years of poetry workshops and small-group critiquing sessions, I’m becoming increasingly conscious of a trend/fashion/fad for poems that can look not unlike a collage of ineptly curated poetry fridge magnets ( That’s excessive. What am I saying? I told you I was tetchy).

Let’s have a bit of context. At one time I wanted to get away from what seemed to be my default ‘voice’ which was, and probably still is, iambic. Also Iwanted to push myself to write about, and for, people as opposed to the other default of landscape….a poetry equivalent of Sunday watercolourists’ pretty daubs. I was very much in thrall to the venriloquisms of AS Byatt’s Possession, and I was equally fascinated by the sculptures I passed every day on my way in to work at Bretton Hall via the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Three in particular: Michael Ayrton’s Minotaur, Elizabeth Frink’s Seated Man, and Igor Mitoraj’s Light of the moon. I wondered how it would be if they could speak, and why, and decided they imprisoned the souls of the deliberately or unwittingly transgressive, reduced to immobility and made dumb. 

The voices would have to be distinct, and this is how I eventually wrote a set of dramatic monologues, which became a sequence Outlaws and fallen angels. Finding a voice for the angel of the North seemed simple enough. It would have to be Milton. An aged tragic Mary Magdelene turned out to have a Tennessee accent. And so on. 

The one that gave me the most difficulty was Queen Victoria, or the version of her in Manchester’s Picadilly. The young Victoria was flirty and funny, and here she is frumpy and cross, entombed in a monumental masonry crinoline. It’s horrible.

Her diaries are often girlish and sentimental; she can gush, often it’s butterfly prose.  She is good company. When I settled on a voice for her it was because of the one AS Byatt chose for her fictional Victorian poet, Christabel la Motte. Which is, in turn, a pastiche of Emily Dickinson…or at least a lyric, stanzaic verse that uses a lot of dashes.

This is the authentic Emily Dickinson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –


And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –


They’re very seductive, those dashes if you don’t stop too long to ask what they say about her voice, about the pace of her thinking. As though she pauses, minutely to think, to linger; or maybe she stops to think what comes next (no…I know). But it struck me that the young Victoria could be seduced by it, or it might be a bit like her slightly scatterbrained diaries. So I borrowed it.

Queen Victoria in  Piccadilly Square


We are Set-  here on this Monument

not like – Patience 

but old and  looking Cross

the epitome  –  of Discontent.


A pencil Study –I drew

my own  Likeness – and delicate

I think it does not – Flatter me

I thought –  I made it True.


Enthroned ten feet high

Twice life-size  – Cold

Victoria regina – Empress

of half the Earth – I  Solidify


O my True love – my only Albert.

he had my Image – made – a Keepsake 

in his Dressing-room – all Loose my Hair

my white Shoulders Bare


Here I am – made Squat – a Toad

these Tons of stone – Drapery                                                                                

a small and silly – Crown

Years and – Dirt – bear down on me

There’s more. But the thing is I was just, I realise, borrowing a ‘trick’, the use of Capitals and – Dashes, but without any essential understanding of what Emily Dickinson was up to. It’s a pastiche. A game. It’s not, when we come down to it, an authentic poem.

What am I saying? Basically that I’m a bit distrustful of more and more poems turning up that are either the dense text of what may, or may not be, authentic prosepoems, or scattergrams of poems that may use the black Sharpie blockings-out of ‘redacted’ texts, or fridge magnet collages of cut and paste phrases, or white-space sprawling text which does without Emily Dickinson’s Dashes and uses spaces instead. This is my problem. It’s the problem I have with much of contemporary art. How do I tell the real deal from the superficial bit of pastiche?

I’m interested in the craft of writing, as in the craft of any art. I’m interested in line breaks and punctuation and single spaces and double spaces, and rhyme schemes and rhythms, and I think, (because my Art teacher drummed it into me) if you’re going to break the rules or subvert the conventions, you really need to know what they are, and be able to use them. I worry about the kind of contemporary art (conceptual or otherwise) that comes with a catalogue of impenetrable abstractions mashed together in gruesome prose. I am deeply suspicious of any art that comes with an instruction manual about how to understand it. It puts me in mind of Vernon Scannell who wrote in 1993 

At a time when contemporary poetry seems to be written for specialist exegetists in universties, in order that they may practise their skills in deconstruction, I have, as Wordsworth said ‘wished to keep the reader in the company of flesh and blood, persuaded that, by doing so, I shall interest him’

and also what he called

“genuine poems; that is to say poems that have been written from a sense of compulsion, a real need to explore and articulate”

I know. It’s easy to dismiss him as dated and just a bit pompous, but the thing is, he was a craftsman who wrote powerful, memorable poems. And at the moment, he chimes with the way I’m feeling.

And then, of course, there’s Clive James, who I am always happy to listen to, and his own tetchiness about

“slim volumes by the thousand…full of poetry…but few…with even a single real poem in them”

as we live in a time

“when almost everyone writes poetry, but scarcely anyone can write a poem’

and of the would-be poets

“who want to keep technique out of it, because they don’t have any” 

What am I saying? I’m saying that there are lots of writers about who have been seduced by, say, Sharon Olds (who I have come to appreciate, to admire, to want to learn from). It’s as though they see a passage like this

As for the
condition of being beaten, what
was it like: going into a barn, the animals
not in stalls, but biting, and shitting, and
parts of them on fire? 

and see that she does odd things with line breaks, and ends lines with words like what, the, and …and feel empowered to do exactly the same thing themselves without actually having the voice that powered those breaks or the passionate involvement in the experiences that powered the poem in the first place.

Like I’ve said, I can learn or copy what seem to be easy tricks or devices from poets who can actually do pretty well anything, technically, but who choose to push the boundaries, one way or another. But if I’m just pulling tricks, it’ll never be the real deal. Maybe I feel a bit like John Cage who recounted a conversation with Schoenberg:

After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, “In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.” I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, “In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall.”

The thing is, when Cage created 4.33 he knew exactly what he was doing. He made a silence in a very particular space, with an audience who probably came with educated expectations. He knew what he was leaving out and he knew why. But if I charged people to watch me sit at a piano, I’d be pelted by people wanting their money back, and quite right too.

Modigliani is famous for his frail attenuated skeletal sculptures. What you don’t see are the maquettes he pared down and down until they collapsed in bits and dust, and that’s how he learned the exact point of tension when you have to stop.

What am I saying? Not much. I just want us all to to be bothered to work with the constraints of rule and convention before we decide to break or subvert them. I want us to know what we’re doing.

What am I saying. Nothing. Nothing happened.

[That, by the way, is a quotation, but the poem hasn’t appeared in a book yet. Though it will.]

Enough. When I started this poetry blog it was with the firm purpose of sharing the work of poets you might not have encountered, or were flying under the fashionable radar. Time I got back on track. No more tetchy irritable stuff. Just poets I like. See you soon.

A labour of love. Ian Parks and C P Cavafy

Miles to to go, and promises to keep. It’s not the first time I’ve promised to write about the work of someone I owe a debt of inspiration to. For one reason and another, it took me months to bite the bullet and write a review of Yvonne Reddick’s work on Ted Hughes as an eco-poet. And equally, to sit and write about Ian Parks’ translations of Cavafy : Body Remember [Calder Valley Press: 2019]. As headline poet, he introduced it at The Puzzle Poets Live in the Navigation Inn in Sowerby Bridge. August 2019. And I said I’d write about it. Over a year has passed. Covid has been a distraction, but no excuse. Mainly, it’s been down to a diffuse terror that I’d not do him justice. It won’t do. Because the voice of these poems is one we desperately need in in the sleep of reason we’re currently living through. Bugger it. Here goes. 

If you are a follower of the cobweb, you’ll have encountered my enthusiasm for Ian Parks’ work before. If not, then you might like to fill in the background by following this link, which will give you a flavour of his voice, and also a detailed bibliography

You might also have come across other things I’ve written about my feeling of temerity when it comes to approaching or evaluating someone’s translations of other poets’ work. I wrote a revirew of Peter Sirrs’ Sway, his translations of troubadour poems from 12thC Occitan. I bothered for ages about the business of translation/homage/retelling/inhabiting. As a life-long monoglot, I bothered about the problems of the business of affect and connotation. A good friend, the Spanish poet Alicia Fernandez explained for me what this might mean even to a fluently bilingual professional translator and gifted poet.

“Behind the things we write about, and the way we write about them, there is a heavily-loaded layer of meaning guiding our choices for words. I believe these choices are based on how our own life events have allowed us to delve in the many nuances clustered in those words. For example, when I describe something as green in English, my experience of the colour is not the same as if I resorted to the word verde when writing in Spanish – verde is the colour of the olive groves amongst which I grew up, and it makes my heart skip a beat with homesickness as I picture my grandfather hitting the branches with a wooden rod during harvest season; verde is also the colour Lorca used to represent death in poems such as ‘Romance Sonámbulo’, and having read his poetry since my adolescence, I cannot detach all those implications from the word.”

If I don’t live inside a language, how can I know the exact and complex resonances of a key word for the writer. Equally, how can I understand the music of it if I’m not even sure of how it should sound. And so on.

In the end, it was Peter Sirrs who offered two answers, one explicit and one that wasn’t even a conscious answer.

The first was a kind of response to something I read in a scholarly essay about translation (I can’t remember whose):

The translation-maker’s duty is to the original, yes; but his primary duty is to the new poem which, through the process of translation, “becomes” the translator’s poem and not just a transliteration of the original poet’s work. In this view, the translator is active and not passive; an originator and not a transporter; a transformer and creator and not just some drudge who, dictionary in hand, roots for and writes down linguistic equivalents.

Sirrs makes it even simpler in his Afterword to Sway:

“These are not, it should be said, scholarly translations…I played fast and loose with form and image.”…….. Translation is never fixed or finished; it answers a contemporary need to engage with and remake in the language we have available to us whatever calls out to us from the past”.

and finally in the key he gave me to approach the work: 

It’s just one line in one of the poems:  “oh I was the quare one”. I think this was the moment that I realised that one way to listen to these poems was to imagine an Irish voice; that dialect and accent were probably the key to imagining these 900 year old voices, written before the idea of French (and Standard English and R.P.) existed

I think it turned out to be as simple as that. Just listen. Listen properly. Which is what I set out to do when it came to Ian Parks’ Body Remember , the third of the trio of his tributes to, and celebrations of, Cavafy. Because, at the end of all, I firmly believe that what matters is the authenticity of the voice. And, because the loss of lives and love in time is something I think Ian Parks has particularly tuned into, I also hang on to this observation by Daniel Mendelsohn, 

“The common approach to interpreting Cavafy for many, many years now is that he has two subjects: history, the Greek past from classical times to Byzantium, and then as if it were an entirely different subject, desire…. 

And I don’t see it that way………. I make a case for thinking about Cavafy as a poet who was only interested really in one subject, which is time and the passage of time, and how it affects how you see the past, whether that past is a Byzantine emperor’s failed attempts to restore the empire or one’s own love affair with a beautiful boy in Alexandria in 1892. It doesn’t matter to Cavafy. What he’s interested in is a relation to what has already happened. “

When I asked Ian about his long love affair with Cavafy, and about the business of translating from early 20th Greek, he wrote me this:

“I first came across Cavafy through W H Auden’s brilliant essay on him in Forewords and Afterwards. Auden was keen to point out that while Cavafy possessed ‘a unique tone of voice’ his poetry also ‘survived translation’. 

I thought that was a fascinating concept and set about trying to prove to myself whether it was true. I’d be in my twenties at the time and I found, by and large that it was – in that the existing translations (particularly those by Keeley and Sherrard) conveyed something of the essence of this poets enigmatic and philosophical work. However, I became increasingly aware of how these translations were literal – that they provided a word for word, line by line, and stanza by stanza rendition of Cavafy’s poems into English. 

While that provided the reader with a clear idea of the content of the poems it did little (in my mind) to convey either the musicality of this poet’s work, his undoubted lyric gift, or the subtlety of his poetic thought. And so it was that I set about to teach myself modern Greek in order to put myself in a position where i could read these remarkable poems in the original language. It took me ten years to reach a level of basic proficiency – just enough to understand the drift of the poem, much as a dog might catch the drift of human conversation through level, intonation, and tone. 

My method is to transcribe a version from the original, line by line, and then to treat it in much the same way as I’d treat a first draft of my own and take it through a process by which clarity gradually becomes apparent. This way i can visualise the whole poem from above rather than allowing myself to get entangled in the detail.  When in doubt I’ll compare my results with other translations in order to see what nuances emerge – but i very rarely adhere to them. My intention is always to be true to the spirit and integrity of the poem and to convey something of the atmosphere and flavour of the originals. I wanted to refract rather than reproduce, to refine rather than to define. :”

Don’t you love that line: much as a dog might catch the drift of human conversation through level, intonation, and tone. 

And this after ten years of patiently teaching yourself Greek. There’s a labour of love. Love, as it happens, turns out to be another key idea in understanding what Ian does with his translations. A love which he combines with the patient task of literal translation, and the idiom, the rhythm of his own, familiar idiomatic language. 

To see how this works it’s useful to have a look at other peoople’s versions of the title poem of the pamphlet: Body Remember. I’ve not found a way of setting poems side by side for WordPress, so it may feel a bit laborious. Bear with me.


Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds you lay on,
but also those desires that glowed openly
in eyes that looked at you,
trembled for you in the voices—
only some chance obstacle frustrated them.
Now that it’s all finally in the past,
it seems almost as if you gave yourself
to those desires too—how they glowed,
remember, in eyes that looked at you,
remember, body, how they trembled for you in those voices. 

[Reprinted from C. P. CAVAFY: Collected Poems Revised Edition, 

translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard,…probably the touchstone translation]


Body, remember not only how much you were loved,
not only the beds on which you lay,
but also those desires for you
that glowed plainly in the eyes,
and trembled in the voice—and some
chance obstacle made futile.
Now that all of them belong to the past,
it almost seems as if you had yielded
to those desires—how they glowed,
remember, in the eyes gazing at you;
how they trembled in the voice, for you, remember, body.

[Trans. Aliki Barnstone]


Body, remember not just how much you were loved,

not simply those beds on which you have lain,

but also the desire for you that shone

plainly in the eyes that gazed at you,

and quavered in the voice for you, though

by some chance obstacle was finally forestalled.

Now that everything is finally in the past,

it seems as though you did yield to those desires –

how they shone, remember, in the eyes that gazed at you,

how they quivered in the voice for you – body, remember

Trans. Stratis Haviaris 

You read them aloud, and you can start to ask what difference is made by the choices of  ‘lay on’/ ‘on which you lay’/’on which you have lain’  to the tone and feel of the well as its rhythm, its music. Whether a slightly archaic syntax is the right thing. And so on. What about ‘tremble’ versus ‘quavered’?

And what about 

only some chance obstacle frustrated them.

as opposed to

some chance obstacle made futile.


by some chance obstacle was finally forestalled.

As you work through them, line by line, considering the choices, I think that, like me, you’ll become conscious of bum notes, little snags.

Now try a different tack. What’s Cavafy writing about here, in his later years? What’s he asking for…not for what can’t be brought back, but what is in danger of being physically forgotten. We take for granted that the body has the wonderful facility for not being able to remember pain. The circumstances yes, but the actual pain, not at all. But what if the body forgets sensual, tactile, auditory pleasure, the loveliness of it all. 

Now, here’s Ian Parks’ version.

Body Remember

Body, remember how much love you drew –

not just the beds, the hot illicit rooms

but how that love so fiercely burned

deep in the eyes of those that gazed on you:

how voices trembled even though

some random moment always intervened

to stop the dream from coming true.

Now everything is contained in the past

it feels as if, in fact, you gave in to

all those desires that fiercely burned;

remember, through the eyes of those that gazed on you,

or the voices trembling. Body, remember.

I love the tenderness of this, its authenticity of voice. The way you forget that this is Poetry in the way that the other three translations are constantly reminding you of, if only because they don’t quite get it right. A reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement put it better.

Parks captures the measured graceful voice and quiet humour on which so much of Cavafy’s poetry depends in a way that makes us feel we are reading it properly for the first time, This, you feel, is exactly what they would sound like if they had been written in English.

I’m struggling to choose another from the pamphlet, because I want to choose them all. I could choose any of the ones that celebrate craftsmen..jewellers, for instance…and painters and poets who quietly observe themselves making art. But I think I’ll settle for this, about Caesar’s son, who is called to an imagined life as the light fades in the poet’s room.


My intention was to check the facts,

to pass a quiet hour or two

among the names and places of the past.

The volume that I chose contained

a history of the Ptolemies.

The praise becomes monotononous:

the men are just, magnificent and bold,

the women upright, beautiful.


Just as I was about to close the book

and place it on the shelf

I came across the briefest mention of

Kaisarion – Little Caesar, Caesar’s son.

I was drawn to it inexplicably.


You stood there full of praise and charm.

Because the record is so sparse

I filled the sketch out in my mind,

made you sensitive and shy – 

a dreaming far-off face

despite the name they gave you, King of Kings.


So vivid did I conjure you

that as the lamplight dimmed

you came into my darkened room. came close and stood in front of me

weraing the expression that you wore

in fallen Alexandria,

imploring them to pity you –

Octavian’s henchmen, those murderers

who said One Caesar is enough

I suppose at this point I could share more poems from the pamphlet. But I won’t. Just go and buy it*, discover its range and its many voices as it travels between the worlds of classical/historical Greece and of the early 20th C. 


Instead, Ian has sent two more , as yet unpublished, versions of Cavafy poems. There’s a bonus.

The Horses of Achilles

after Cavafy

The horses of Achilles wept

when they saw brave Patroklos dead.

Immortal, they were stricken by the sight –

the unforgiving handiwork of death.

They drummed the ground, shook out their manes

and reared their wild, magnificent heads.

They mourned Patroklos, mangled, killed,

his precious life force fled

into the great void of nothingness.


Zeus saw them weeping and he said

I now regret the wedding gift I gave

to Peleus on that day. Better had there been no gift

than for you to suffer in the world of men.

You’ll never sicken, age, or die

and yet you weep like this to see

how men have brought about such misery.

It was not merely for Patroklos

but for the universal certitude of death

that those noble horses’ tears were shed.

Very Seldom

after Cavafy 

Stooped with age, the poet makes his way

along the narrow street that takes him home.

Affliced by time and the excesses of his life

he hides his crippled body from the light,

his mind reliving how things used to be.


And now his poems are all the rage:

their lustre burns whenever they are read.

His sensual verses come alive

in the eyes and lips of these young men.


It’s possible, of course that one of ‘these young men’ is Ian Parks.. Thanks for being my guest, Ian, and sharing this labour of love.