Stocking fillers [7] Double acts and strange bedfellows

Still out of the loop, or many loops, befogged and becalmed, I nevertheless make a solemn promise that the next post after this one will be final one of the Catching Up series and will feature Martin Malone’s The Unreturning.

I won’t be a review. It’ll be more like a fan letter. I’m not up to analysis and summary and critical aperçus. Enthusiasm is the most you should expect. But there will, fingers crossed, be a lot of poems to enjoy.

A short post tonight, then. As you know by now, ‘stocking fillers’ are mainly stand-alone, one-off, ‘where did that come from?’ poems that more often than not are limited to outings at open mics. But some appear because a prompt in a writing workshop touched a nerve. I think these are the ones I’m most grateful for. Every now and then, at Poetry Business Writing Days, either Ann or Peter Sansom will invite you to think of a writer …novelist, poet, dramatist…and one of his or her creations, and then imagine them meeting somehow in a wholly unlikely location or circumstance. Jane Austen and Mr D’Arcy at a Ban the Bomb march, say. Dickens and Mr Gradgrind at a parents’ evening. As I say, the best times are when you’re ambushed. Why I should think of R.S.Thomas and of Cynddylan I have no idea, and why I should imagine them rubbing shoulders on a Parish trip to a Silver Blades in Swansea or Chester, even less. But here they are…and they even ended up in print, which I’m very happy about.


Cynddylan and the priest at Silver Blades

Hard and slippery, there’s no purchase,

unless, for one, consolation of a kind in bleakness,

the indifference of god, his chill disciplines

and the fear of falling, the nothing of stilled water

and the darkness under all,

and for the other

the thought of earthfasts rising in his frozen fields,

a broken ploughshare

and a shrunk clamp of beets in the lee of a barn.


They have no language for not working.


They want for the cold flags of a chapel,

a plain altar, absolution

for what will not be, precisely, named;


just a dusting of snow, the red of the Fordson,

sharp blue exhaust, a clutter of gulls

and a straight furrow.


.[Published as ‘The priest and the ploughman go skating’ Much Possessed. 2016]

The second, and similar prompt was to imagine the meeting of two writers or artists or otherwise famous people under unexpected circumstances. Norman MacCaig and the mountaineer, Mallory on a broken-down bus in Cambridgeshire, say. Pete Townsend and Beethoven swapping anecdotes about deafness. Peter Benchley and Damian Hirst seated together on a long-haul flight……..What happened on this occasion was that my mind sidestepped the ‘rules’. Possibly I’d been up to Heptonstall and Colden, and remembering lots of visits to Lumb Bank when it’s cold and wet and bleak, and the valley can be sinister. Anyway, Ted and Sylvia metamorphosed into the protagonists of a lost novel.


Banked up

brittle as a mirror 

worrying at little lines

exquisite as ants or wasps

half-aware of an open window

banging somewhere in this long dark house

in a clenched valle

of cold chimneys and black walls

cemented with orphans’ bones

of trees flogging themselves to death

balsam flattened by the weight of air

she cramps herself small and smaller

dreams of dwindling

into the fastness of a shell

white under a full moon 

in a sky of no wind


somewhere out in the yard a bucket has blown over

rackets about the cobbles like a big man in a rage

like a man who’d smash his fist into a gritstone wall

and sing about the blood


Thanks for dropping by; it’s always good to see you. Stay safe. Go well.

6 thoughts on “Stocking fillers [7] Double acts and strange bedfellows

  1. I have no knowledge of this one. Sounds like Thomas. Maybe they both said it. It should be possible. In otherworld than this. In the in the meantime, here’s a series of heartfelt hugs xxxxx


  2. Those two are lovely. I have a poem nudging me about meeting someone when were both sixtyish – she lived and died young before I was born and I turned 70 last week, to my astonishment. There’s a particular cafe where these two anachronistic characters have coffee and cake. Not sure yet how to make it happen – probably too literal-minded. I didn’t know what a Silver Blades was. I live at the back of beyond.


  3. I had to take ice skating trips to Bradford when I was a form tutor. Hated them. There was, I think, a franchise of Silver Blades rinks. Probably I’m wrong. As to your poem I think matter-of-fact is the trick. Believe it absolutely. “We’ve taken to meeting up on Thursday mornings….. she thinks there’s still a war on.


  4. Hi John – Always love to read your stuff. And I think about you often and hope that your health is improving. Certainly reminded of you recently with Tom Stoppard on the television – i somehow link the two of you in my mind. Not dissimilar in looks I think. And you introduced me at school to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – an utter revelation! Gosh – the playwrights were like pop stars in those days. Lots of love and good memories. Jean xx


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