Category Archives: Poetry

A collection of poems by Philip Dodd, Author of Angel War.

Pass Into The Past

Pass Into The Past

And when you look around,
and when you look within,
when sure of what you’ve found,
then you can begin.
Somehow you are allowed
to pass into the past.
The people in the rooms
thought what they had would last.
The portraits on the walls,
the pictures in the frames.
Whoever made those calls
did not leave their names.
The statues in the rain,
the dark red violin,
the white cloth with a strain,
the old toffee tin.
These stories are not yours
you seem to know so well.
With keys for all the doors,
you find more to tell.
And when you look around,
and when you look within,
if you fear what you’ve found,
you cannot begin.
The wolves are in the wood,
you cannot go there.
Cold and heat battle in your blood
as you climb an iron stair.
Aware of a ticket in your pocket,
you enter a railway station.
Confused by all the trains,
you wonder if you have a destination.
When will you ever know,
come near to understand,
what screens and mirrors show,
a world strange and grand?
Those paintings that they stole,
those signs they daubed on doors,
that flag hung on a pole,
raised between the wars.
When fear heats your heart,
your lamp begins to dim,
the waves still fall and part
where the dolphins swim.
And when you look around,
and when you look within,
the marks etched on the ground
tell you who will win.

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A Photograph of Poets

A Photograph of Poets

A photograph of poets. Scrolling down a page on my computer screen, I was surprised to find it. I smiled to see them. They posed, looking very aware of the photographer and camera, each of them sculpted by their own vision. Good to see them in one room together. Later, I learned the photograph was taken in the office of the publisher, Faber and Faber, 24, Russell Square, in Bloomsbury, near the British Museum, London, on the twenty third of June, 1960. It would have been interesting to hear their conversation, before and after the photograph session. But it was not recorded, not even in memoir. But there they are, in black and white, from left to right, Louis MacNeice, Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender. All of them smart, dressed for the city. T.S. Eliot looks eldest, Ted Hughes the youngest. All of them famous. Fame is rare for poets. What they wrote will endure. It will provide literary work for college lectures, seminars, tutorials, essays, examination questions, professor’s papers. And there will always be the few, the small circle, who read poetry for pleasure. I wonder what they would make of what happened to their art, what present poets have done to it? Critics as well as poets, they would have a lot to say. More interesting to ponder, what would they create if they still lived to write? They launched their works on the same river. They listened for words in the wind. To let them go, they had to. And when the photographer was satisfied with his photograph, T.S. Eliot, as the host, may have said: “Goodbye, all of you. Thank you for coming. Goodbye, Louis. Goodbye, Ted. Goodbye, Wynstan. Goodbye, Stephen.” And maybe they would have said to him: “Goodbye, Tom. See you soon. Goodbye. Goodbye.”
And taking different directions, they would have been soon lost in London.
T.S. Eliot, alone in his office, may then have had a cup of tea, thinking to himself: “Well, that went well.”

Caliban

Caliban

( Lines inspired by Caliban, a character from The Tempest by William Shakespeare )

Orphaned on an island, isolation utter, exiled from other shores,
mother banished here for witchery.
Not beast, not man, what am I?
Riddle that I am, I rooted for the answer.
Regret I failed to dig that deep.
Solitary life I led, then the magician came,
left here with his daughter, Miranda, she like summer flowers.
Prospero put me in my place, measured by his regard,
taught me to move my mouth with words
instead of grunts and squeals like wood hogs,
ruled me not with might but magic,
summoned a tempest on the sea
to wreck a ship, such is his power.
Knows he cannot civilise me, only command me as his servant,
a slave to bring him sticks and logs to burn with red and orange fire.
Separated from the magic of my mother,
I brood on the darkness in my brain.
I know, for I have had long to ponder, I am like no other.
Not beast, not man, what then is Caliban?
Sycorax the witch, my mother, left this life to leave me here.
I lived on fish, berries. A freak can only repel.
Would not mind to live as a crab, hard shell on my back,
sharp claws to pinch and grab, quick to swim, dig,
hide in rock pools on the coast, loud with wave fall.
I look up at the moon, like me, alone,
unless, free of cloud, stars spread and shine.
Envy crabs on the shore, have families, like fish do,
like gulls that swoop in the coves, shriek on the rocks.
I woke to the slime and salty smell of seaweed.
My mother’s spells conjured me but them I cannot speak.
Free of laws men made, no axe could cleave cold chains that bind me here.

Tower of Babel

Tower of Babel

We’re poles apart,
we lost the link.
We could have sailed,
instead we sink.

We raise our flags,
and close the door.
Divided sides
prepare for war.

We have no chart
to find the way.
Peace was a pause
in this dark play.

Remember the tower of Babel.
They thought the higher they built the tower,
the closer to heaven they’d be.
As if toppled by a storm of fire,
to its root they lost the key.
But you must admire
the architect’s audacity.

Your broken arm,
your blinded eye,
your Eden song,
your question why.

We started wrong,
could only stray.
We leave behind
what cannot stay.

Unfinished Portrait of Cezanne

Unfinished Portrait of Cezanne

Cezanne painted portraits,
not just fruit on a table,
hills, green and yellow,
trees, light from a window.
There he is on canvas,
a young man with a moustache.
Now see him older,
sat with bowler hat and beard.
Nowadays people take selfies,
but his work needed no camera.
He learned from the masters,
studied them in galleries,
took a carriage down to the river,
conversed on art and literature
with his friend, Emile Zola.
He painted his relations,
friends and strangers.
See the woman in the red dress,
his son as a child.
His wife, Madame Cezanne,
he tried to mirror,
over and over.
Each one of her portraits
unlike any other.
His brush strokes were tender,
as when he attempted to capture
the essence of apples, wood and flowers.
Obediently, she posed for him.
She lived with him in Paris.
She left him to his work.
He worked alone for hours.
Look, there is his father,
secure in his wealth,
sat on a chair,
keeping an eye on politics and business,
reading a newspaper,
lying on his lap,
stretched out by his hands.
He ate well, he wrote,
in his last letters,
but could not bear the heat of summer,
from noon to early evening,
it was too hot to paint,
and when the sky was grey and cloudy,
there was no light,
then nature seemed ugly.
He did not pine to be younger,
but wished he was stronger.
He knew like any other
one day he must surrender
to the shadow that stood in the doorway,
waited in the corner.
His final portrait,
he meant to complete it later.
His studio silent,
he was not there
to lift his palette,
hold his brushes,
to finish his impression.
His spirit speaks in his letters,
his works on canvas,
he left behind him.
His name here forever,
his signature on the stream
that flows over wood and paper.

War Wheels

War Wheels

They all died in the war.
Those that survived it still died inside.
They stared ahead of them.
They knew now how low humans can go.
When the war was over, those that came back
helped rebuild the cities the other side had bombed,
almost obliterated.
How it could have been if the war had not happened,
that was for the speculation of the historians.
They who came back from the war
were not those who went away.
They were changed, aware of lost light.
No longer chained to the iron wheels of war,
they were abandoned, left to fend for themselves,
ruled by the cold majesty of peace.

Wild Garden

Wild Garden

Leave part of your garden wild,
maybe that rough patch
behind the potting shed, if you have one,
or that stretch in the shadow of the back wall,
for the sake of bees, butterflies,
slugs, snails, caterpillars, ladybirds, moths,
dragonflies and other winged and crawling creatures,
to preserve insect species, save green nature,
he read in his newspaper. Seemed a good idea.
Yes, he mowed the lawn, clipped the hedge,
but he did not uproot the dandelion or the buttercup,
weeds as they were to keen gardeners,
wild flowers to him, fair to his eye as the hyacinth,
lupin, fuchsia or rose.
Warm afternoons, spring or summer,
sat in his wild garden, he imagined how it would be
to paint it in greens, whites, browns, yellows, reds, oranges and blues
on canvas or pencil it on paper.
In winter his garden looked hollow and sad as any other garden.
The sight of a bee in summer seemed a victory,
justifying his plan to leave his garden wild.
Let nature take its course, they say.
It could also be said, let nature have its garden.
Repelled by the very words, weedkiller, insecticide,
he let so called weeds flourish, insects thrive.
Before they were driven out from Eden,
did not Adam and Eve live in a garden
that was not tamed but wild?
Is not that the paradise to which we wish to return?
Green fingered gardeners want to keep the garden tame,
be its mistress or master.
In the same way, some see a mountain as a height to conquer.
Trowel, spade, rake, secateurs may sleep in the shed with cobweb and dust,
but at least he used the lawnmower, the hedge clipper,
fed the birds with bird seed, helped preserve the original garden.