Archive for January, 2011

Tuesday Poem: The Ferlew

Monday, January 31st, 2011

As I understand it, a British poet called Jenny Lewis came up with (or perhaps perfected, I’m not sure which) this poetic construction. It’s an amusing one to play with, and very satisfying to accomplish – in much the same way that round songs and folk dances please the participants. This one is by Roger McGough.

IN CASE OF FIRE by Roger McGough


In case of FIRE break glass

In case of GLASS fill with water

In case of WATER wear heavy boots

In case of HEAVY BOOTS assume foetal position

In case of FOETAL POSITION loosen clothing

In case of CLOTHING avoid nudist beach

In case of NUDIST BEACH keep sand out of eyes

In case of EYES close curtains

In case of CURTAINS switch on light

In case of LIGHT embrace truth

In case of TRUTH spread word

In case of WORD keep mum

In case of MUM open arms

In case of ARMS lay down gun

In case of GUN, fire

In case of FIRE break glass

If you are reading this on my blog you might like to go to the Tuesday Poem site and look at other contributions. But you might already be there, checking out the sidebar contributions from other poetry members. Enjoy your Tuesdays, dear readers, either way – I’m still on Monday morning time, so I still have the pleasure of a Tuesday to come!

How to be happy though human

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

Yay! At long last the new blog name is established: see above  (although you might have to empty your cache and start again if you can’t see anything different). I saw the phrase on a book in the British Library shop last year, and it so enchanted me that I wanted to try it as a theme for the blog. So here goes.

To begin, here are quotations from Gustave Flaubert and Barack Obama about human happiness – and I am willing to bet a sunny day that you can tell who said which.

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

“We recognize our own mortality, and are reminded that in the fleeting time we have on this earth what matters is not wealth, or status, or power, or fame – but rather, how well we have loved, and what small part we have played in bettering the lives of others.”

And here’s the beginning …

and the end …

of the sunny day I’m offering if you guess the quotes wrong.

Tuesday poem: I saw a jolly hunter

Monday, January 24th, 2011

We’re presently in Key West, where the local paper, the Key West Citizen, carried a report on Saturday about a hunter in Belarus who was shot by a wounded fox. It seems that the hunter had shot and wounded the fox, but when he approached to finish the kill the fox fought back. And somehow, during the tussle, the fox’s paw pressed down on the gun’s trigger and shot the hunter in the leg.

The hunter’s in hospital with a leg wound. The fox escaped and is, I hope, recovering from its own injuries.

This story may be apocryphal, although it has the ring of possibility about it – and it gives a whole new context to the saying ‘clever like a fox’. It also reminded me of Charles Causley’s wonderful poem, “I saw a jolly hunter”, which I am using here with the kind permission of David Higham Associates.

I Saw A Jolly Hunter

by Charles Causley

I saw a jolly hunter

With a jolly gun

Walking in the country

In the jolly sun.


In the jolly meadow

Sat a jolly hare.

Saw the jolly hunter.

Took jolly care.


Hunter jolly eager –

Sight of jolly prey.

Forgot gun pointing

Wrong jolly way.


Jolly hunter jolly head

Over heels gone.

Jolly old safety catch

Not jolly on.


Bang went the jolly gun.

Hunter jolly dead.

Jolly hare got clean away.

Jolly good, I said.

If you’re reading this on my own website and feel like browsing more poems, do have a look at the Tuesday Poem page, where this week there’s a great New Zealand poem in the lead, with more from other contributors in the side bar.

Tuesday poem: American names

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

I do know it isn’t Tuesday yet. It isn’t Tuesday anywhere in the world at this precise moment, and in London, where I am at present, it’s only late on Sunday afternoon. But I’m off to America tomorrow, and – as the celebrated Captain Oates said in far less happy circumstances – I may be some time. (New Zealanders, especially any of my generation who remember the School Readers and in particular the story about Scott’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition, will instantly recognise that reference.)

Anyway. I’m not stumbling out into the snow like poor Oates, in fact I’m flying away from the threats of further cold and icy weather here in London, and straight into the sunshine of Key West. (Right at the bottom of the chain of islands known as the Florida Keys. Closer to Cuba than to Miami. A small island that somewhat resembles the funky best of the developing world, except that the supermarkets are air-conditioned, the phones always work, and wifi comes as standard.)

So I’ve been thinking about the USA this past week, and somehow or other I got on to thinking about the glorious variety of American place names. (This is not very surprising. I am often spellbound by the resonance and cadence of names; I even have a glass panel in my bathroom with Maori place names sand-blasted on it.)

And those thoughts, in turn, reminded me of this lovely poem. You might think you haven’t heard of the author before, but chances are very good that you know at least a little of his work. The novelist and poet Stephen Vincent Benét (1898-1943) wrote “John Brown’s Body” which of course you almost certainly do know, if only to hum along to the refrain in the song version. The last line of this poem – the one I’m posting – will also be very familiar, and if you now want to stop reading me blethering on and skip to the poem’s last line, who could blame you.

Benét has even featured on a postage stamp in recent years – I’ve added a photo of it below. He’s very famous indeed, and deservedly so. I think the poem’s wonderful, and I hope you do too.

[I hope the poet can be forgiven for the shock of the 'n' word in the 4th verse. Look at his dates. It's an historical horror but I'm not about to censor him. I don't want Mark Twain's Huck Finn censored; I don't want to pretend words like that weren't ever used. I  couldn't handle the idea of cutting out that verse from the post. I don't know what you all think...]

American Names by Stephen Vincent Benét


I have fallen in love with American names,

The sharp names that never get fat,

The snakeskin-titles of mining-claims,

The plumed war-bonnet of Medicine Hat,

Tucson and Deadwood and Lost Mule Flat.


Seine and Piave are silver spoons,

But the spoonbowl-metal is thin and worn,

There are English counties like hunting-tunes

Played on the keys of a postboy’s horn,

But I will remember where I was born.


I will remember Carquinez Straits,

Little French Lick and Lundy’s Lane,

The Yankee ships and the Yankee dates

And the bullet-towns of Calamity Jane.

I will remember Skunktown Plain.


I will fall in love with a Salem tree

And a rawhide quirt from Santa Cruz,

I will get me a bottle of Boston sea

And a blue-gum nigger to sing me blues.

I am tired of loving a foreign muse.


Rue des Martyrs and Bleeding-Heart-Yard,

Senlis, Pisa, and Blindman’s Oast,

It is a magic ghost you guard

But I am sick for a newer ghost,

Harrisburg, Spartanburg, Painted Post.


Henry and John were never so

And Henry and John were always right?

Granted, but when it was time to go

And the tea and the laurels had stood all night,

Did they never watch for Nantucket Light?


I shall not rest quiet in Montparnasse.

I shall not lie easy at Winchelsea.

You may bury my body in Sussex grass,

You may bury my tongue at Champmédy.

I shall not be there. I shall rise and pass.

Bury my heart at Wounded Knee.

And when it really is Tuesday somewhere in world you might like to go to the Tuesday Poem website and read some more.

Tuesday poem: Thaw, by Edward Thomas

Monday, January 10th, 2011

I’m a great fan of Edward Thomas and I’ve posted at least one of his poems before, but this one seems especially appropriate for London weather at present, which is cold and dark and wet, with the threat of more snow an ever-present undercurrent to the forecasts. I’m lucky to be leaving it next week, for the sunshine – I don’t usually mind winter weather, but this one has been, is still being, troublesome and difficult and spirit-lowering.

I particularly like Thomas’s imagery in these taut four lines – and the use of perspective – the rooks’ perspective versus our own. And if the snow is thawing, then maybe spring can’t be far away …

Thaw by Edward Thomas

Over the land half-freckled with snow half-thawed

The speculating rooks at their nests cawed,

And saw from elm-tops, delicate as a flower of grass,

What we below could not see, Winter pass.

You might like to have a look at other poems on the Tuesday Poem page – if the post titles in the right hand side bar say ‘Tuesday poem’ you can bet there are poems somewhere about!

Prisoners of hope, 2011

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Desmond Tutu once said, “I’m not an optimist; I’m just a prisoner of hope.”  And that seems to me a very good way to begin a new year: filled with hope, rather than attempting blind optimism. It’s hard to be optimistic about many of the things that matter, but it’s not not so hard to be hopeful.

This blog is soon (when my techie friend has a moment) to be renamed: it’s going to be called ‘How to be happy, though human’. And being a prisoner of hope also seems a good way to begin that new journey.

And to celebrate the new year here are three photos of the wonderful, the matchless, Desmond Tutu.

Making an incisive point,

laughing with his wife Leah,

and – as ever irrepressible – dancing in front of the world’s press cameras.
I hope he’s really enjoying his retirement. And I also hope that 2011 goes well for you all. If in doubt, try dancing … although I very much doubt you’ll be able to do it with as much energetic style as Tutu.