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By my reckoning, I have written 244 poems since 1960. Of those, I think about 10 percent deserve to see the light of day -- almost enough for a slim volume. For some inexplicable reason no publisher keen to put them into print has yet knocked on my door with a lucrative contract in hand, so while waiting for that knock I have made a virtual slim volume here, in reverse chronological order. N.B. Although some of these poems contain autobiographical elements, most are complete fictions, and I'm not saying which is which!

As a sideline that might entertain some readers, I have also re-implemented in Javascript a random sentence generator that I wrote in Basic in 1976. Its compositions don't rhyme or scan, so calling them poems requires a degree of "poetic licence", but it does churn out grammatical sentences at an impressive rate, some of which have a certain gnomic poignancy. Click here to have a look.


183 *LPH*B*T M*N


	The despot's family and sidekicks must
	of course be shielded from the fatal blast.
	So caverns have been tunnelled into rock
	beneath a mountain none may name, and sealed
	by bomb-proof doors. The stores are piled up high
	with food and fuel; a filter cleans the air;
	there's even, so some say, a swimming pool.
	Some functionaries to serve those born to rule
	have also places booked inside this lair;
	and other plutocrats have plans to fly
	to bunkers in New Zealand. Thus revealed,
	to 7 billion victims, is the shock
	that wreckers will emerge unscathed at last
	to build their brave new world on toxic dust.

		#244, Leeds, 5/5/2022.
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	I love September when she's in this mood.
	The sky is painted ninety shades of blue,
	the trees are still in leaf and wasps still go
	on errands which show off their waspish skill,
	while brambles offer breakfast berries free.
	This clement sunshine lacks midsummer's hot
	unsparing rays. It warns that harvest food
	must soon be gathered or be left to rot.
	Those puffy cloudlets speak of storms to be,
	reminding me of winter's biting chill.
	My life has reached November, and I know
	that on that calendar no Spring is due.
	The gift of days like these won't be renewed.

		#243, Leeds, 20/9/2020.
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	From Plato's artful words we seem to feel
	we know the Socrates who went on trial
	as one who died to show us how to live,
	for which he could be numbered with the saints;
	though doubtless he would challenge such a view
	with simple, subtle dialectic skill,
	since many saints, as ancient texts reveal,
	were stained with blood from those they chose to kill
	for daring to declare their creed untrue.
	But can we trust the portrait Plato paints?
	Would Socrates, who found he could forgive
	the voters who condemned him, raise a smile
	at how we take a shadow play as real?

		#242, Leeds, 9/8/2018.
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	The apparatus captures light and traps
	an instant as a trophy we can own.
	When I was young my parents called them snaps,
	but now they're pixels in a telephone.

	So now although you're gone I still possess
	a simulacrum of you, with the breeze
	caressing the long contours of your dress
	as you half-turn to smile. The olive trees
	behind you mount the fertile Tuscan slopes.

	That fleeting smile will stay in memory
	a lifetime, yet its meaning for my hopes
	eludes the clutches of photography.
	No treasured timeless likeness held on file
	could ever catch the spirit of your smile.

		#237, Leeds, 20/9/2015.
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	Tonight we make a pilgrimage to view
	your dead half-brother in the family vault.
	I'm being honoured to be shown what you,
	surviving, feel, which fills your eyes with salt.

	You stroke the headstone with a strangled sigh,
	reading the carved incisions with your hand.
	I flinch to sense your silent inner cry
	that speaks of meanings I don't understand.

	At length, you turn your back upon the tomb
	and motion me towards the shadowed stair.
	I follow upwards through the dusty gloom
	knowing your soul has passions I can't share.

	Your human burden forces us apart:
	there can be only one such grief per heart.

		#236, Leeds, 30/7/2015.
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	 When Vincent took the train from Paris down
	 towards the brighter South, he found a town
	 which sat beneath the stars, where he could stay
	 to learn the secrets of the night café.

	 He took his easel into fields of wheat.
	 He painted lamplight falling on the street.
	 He fought to catch on canvas his despair
	 and capture hope in paint and keep them there.
	 He quarrelled with his only comrade Paul
	 who left the Yellow House. But through it all 
	 one person's writing on an envelope
	 meant not just cash but also words of hope.

	 Some ties exist that distance doesn't sever:
	 van Gogh's creations were a joint endeavour.
	 As strokes of genius flowed from Vincent's mind
	 to guide his brush, another stood behind:
	 his brother's handshakes steadied Vincent's hand
	 and gave him strength of spirit to withstand
	 the crippling inner voice of doubt; and so
	 it is to Theo also that we owe
	 the visions that we marvel at today --
	 a debt that history cannot repay. 

	 Out in Auvers two graves lie side by side.
	 They mark a bond that death has not untied.
	 Can we, who know the struggles they came through,
	 believe that just one name can stand for two?

	 	#235, Leeds, 26/10/2012.
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	 Why are we hot tonight, when love has died?
	 Why do you care that I respect your choice?
	 It changes nothing if I rage inside.
	 So why don't I just listen to your voice
	 as you expound your version of the story
	 and lose the greatest gift I had with grace?
	 Instead, I stubbornly pursue the glory
	 of being right on details, in the face
	 of such a huge defeat.  The facts are these:
	 you loved me once, then stopped -- as is your right.
	 No compensation on this earth can ease
	 the pain that knowledge brings this dismal night.
	 Why, therefore, waste our breaths to disagree
	 about the reasons you grew tired of me?
	 	#227,  Penang,  10/2/2006.
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	 They grind you down, your children do.
	 	You may not like it, but they will.
	 They pay back pain that's owed to you,
	 	and then they move in for the kill.
	 But they'll be ground down in due course
	 	by brats to whom they've given birth
	 who sometimes whine until they're hoarse
	 	and sometimes fight to save the earth.
	 The daughter breaks her mother's heart.
	 	The young man shoves his dad aside.
	 You'll have grandchildren if you're smart,
	 	and they'll avenge you when you've died.
	 	#225,  Luton,  19/10/2001.
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	 Sexual intercourse began
	 in A.D. 1970
	 (which was rather late for me) --
	 between that "one-small-step-for-man"
	 and Monty Python's first LP.
	 And so my real life began
	 when Jenny, out of sympathy,
	 resolved to end my misery
	 and show me how to be a man;
	 and spent the night with me.
	 Then sex at last was more than wanks
	 in postcode OX1 --
	 which is where the deed was done,
	 beside the Cherwell's shallow banks,
	 before the start of '71. 
	 She took away my greatest shame --
	 my long-preserved virginity,
	 which was just a curse to me --
	 and let me join the fucking game.
	 (I've never thanked her properly.)
	 Though now my sexual life is done
	 (since 1999 A.D. --
	 which was rather soon for me),
	 dear Jenny, you're still number 1.
	 I hope this thanks you properly.
	 	#224,  Luton,  7/4/2000.
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	 In Rome there is an ancient church, and in
	 Its portico there stands a marble face.
	 The church is called Saint Mary's, Cosmedin.
	 It isn't difficult to find the place:
	 It lies between the River Tiber and
	 What used to be the Circus Maximus.
	 I stood there, watching tourists place a hand
	 Inside the sculpture's mouth, and thought of us.
	 They say that if you hold your hand inside
	 That cracked old pagan mouth and tell a lie,
	 You'll never pull it out. But no one tried
	 To prove the myth by lying. Nor did I.
	 Still, that's the gift I want to give to you --  
	 A test that lets you know when I speak true.
	 	#223,  Bristol,  2/10/1998.
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	 Occasionally I think of Buckhurst Hill,
	 A London suburb on the Central Line,
	 Where many years ago I went to kill
	 An embryo that was, and wasn't, mine   
	 Though actually the father not to be
	 Is mere accessory to such a deed.
	 Unlike the temporary mother, he
	 Sheds nothing physical except a seed
	 That did what it was made for, though in vain.
	 (From tens of millions, not a lot to lose.)
	 She, on the other hand, must suffer pain
	 In payment for a woman's right to choose.
	 The medics said the op was a success.
	 It wasn't my job to clean up the mess.
	 A quarter century has passed since then.
	 All those involved have gone their separate ways.
	 Why have I come to Buckhurst Hill again?
	 I have no business in this dreary place.
	 Back then I never thought to ask what sex
	 It would have been. Too late to wonder now;
	 And far too late to mourn, or pay respects
	 To one I couldn't save. And yet somehow
	 It's right to come here, to the only link
	 I have with him or her who, though begotten,
	 Was never born. The time has come to think
	 Intently on the otherwise forgotten.
	 Unborn, unburied creature that we slew,
	 This is the closest I can get to you.
	 	#222,  Bristol, 27/7/1997.
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	 Do you remember Magda, the Romanian
	 Who studied dance or something at the Central School?
	 You know: she lived with David, the Armenian
	 In Kentish Town, then left him for that bloody fool,
	 The artist  --  I forget his name  --  Bohemian.
	 That's right: we met them at that campsite in Provence
	 In '68 or '69 I guess. Yes, Yann.
	 The one who always wore dark glasses. What a ponce!
	 Well anyway, she hardly spoke Romanian.
	 I found that out when Laszlo came to stay.
	 It turned out she was really Transylvanian
	 (Like Dracula!). They talked Hungarian all day.
	 I told her when he'd gone: I'm not American,
	 At least not one who thinks the world ends at Cape Cod.
	 So she explained she felt herself Hungarian,
	 But got so bored when English people found it odd
	 That somebody whose passport was Romanian
	 Should hail from Hungary, she let it pass. I said:
	 Not everyone in England's English. I'm Canadian.
	 My ancestors were Scots. So I'm no thoroughbred
	 Of Englishness -- if breeding's your criterion.
	 I think I understand divided loyalty.
	 To which she answered: let's put "Cosmopolitan"
	 Next time we're asked to state our nationality.
	 I later heard she'd married an Australian
	 And that she had affairs with lots of younger men.
	 I also know they called their daughter Marian,
	 Although I think I've only seen her once since then.
	 The daughter wrote a play about Napoleon
	 The Third. I went to see it just the other day
	 Performed above that pub beside the Odeon.
	 It wasn't bad -- though long. She writes quite well, I'd say.
	 But anyway, enough of this digression.
	 My point is that the table which we're sitting at
	 Was Magda's once. How come it's my possession?
	 Let's eat. A story for another day is that.
	 	#221, Bristol, 3/4/1997.
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	 From where we stand we cannot see his face
	 Or force our words across the landscaped lake.
	 Recalling him is futile. He must trace
	 Along those formal paths his past mistake,
	 Long since forgotten. We must let him walk
	 In speechless silence to his nameless fate.
	 She'll never speak to him if others talk:
	 Only in silence can he meet his mate.
	 No spoken voice has touched him anyway
	 Since long ago. So how will she explain
	 The symmetry that brings her back to play
	 A grand piano in the pouring rain?
	 Monsieur has seen her now, beneath the trees.
	 Perhaps her smile will set his mind at ease.
	 	#220,  Nottingham,  2/7/1991.
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	 From dawn till noon sun's rays will burn this land.
	 From noon till dusk they bake this arid dust.
	 From east till west they poke god's bony hand
	 Deep into dark grey soil, with holy lust.
	 They said that life can't grow amid such heat --  
	 Dead seed, dead root, dead tree, dead leaf, dead clay.
	 They even said that you'd turn back your feet,
	 That when you'd lost your path you'd turn away.
	 Your step once more will echo thru this haze.
	 Your eyes must shut: your mind must open wide.
	 Your soul must find some exit from this maze.
	 Then rain will fall; else true love will have died.
	 Men's lips have told such very easy lies:
	 Your ears won't hear from mine that true love dies.
	 	#216,  London,  2/1/1986.
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	 Now that the dying winter winds have blown
	 The world away again, and swept us close
	 To being real, we must invent our own
	 Ingenious lives, and watch them decompose.
	 Our first few worlds arrive in twos and threes.
	 The rest are being taught to come to birth.
	 Let us be clever, if not quick, to please:
	 Already we've inherited the earth.
	 And look! The spring is sent, as if by chance.
	 The first few chances to exist are free.
	 April is teaching unborn worlds to dance:
	 You will not learn from spring how not to be.
	 And since we left our first few lives to freeze,
	 Let us be careful, if not quick, to please.
	 	#202,  Sheffield,  23/3/1970.
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	 It seems the ghosts are grass tonight
	 And breathe our lives between them.
	 This haunted wind fans many lives
	 Though few have people in them.
	 How come the grass can sing tonight,
	 With both our lives bowled over?
	         I meant to tell you that the wind was free
	                 before you blew away.
	         I meant to ask which one of us was me
	                 but feared what you might say.
	 It seems my mind is leaves despite
	 The reasons clinging to it:
	 The night around me rustles like a tree,
	         Lady now
	 I see you through it.
	 	#201,  Sheffield,  26/10/1969.
	 	 ^ Back to Index 

	 Lie down,
	 Make yourself comfortable,
	 And think of hypocrites:
	 When you tell a lie
	 Our faces will go red   
	 Spare us your apologies;
	 It's your own blood.
	 Here is the dream.
	 We'll leave you at the entrance.
	 You can call for help
	 By pushing your eyes out,
	 And when you think of werewolves
	 Our souls will turn blue   
	 Spare us your sympathy;
	 It's your own life.
	 When we give the signal
	     which you will know
	     though you will not know how,
	 You will see where to run to.
	 If you cannot get there
	 Our heads will drop off   
	 Spare us your pity;
	 It's your own fault.
		#192, Hampstead, 21/3/1969
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	 He'll still be there
	 Putting poison in the cups
	 Of elderly relatives
	 When you have turned to leave.
	 When you observe
	     the performing swords
	 When you admire
	     the tempered speeches
	 He will be there
	 Putting blood in the veins
	 Of make believe kings.
	 Before you may wake
	 You must dream it right,
	 When you sing
	     in the weeping brook
	 When you mouth
	     and saw the air
	 He will be there
	 Strewing your grave
	 With new picked flowers.
	 You didn't think when you hired him
	 What he would cost you.   
	 Now call him Hamlet,
	 He has earned it.
		#191, Sheffield, 23/2/1969
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		*LPH*B*T M*N

I   	One
	      Four ....

	There he was
	Starting to sing
	Of the owl and the prioress's

		Sing us a song!
		Sing us a song!
		Tells us where
		The ring went wrong.

	O listen to me
	While I sing
	Of the Prioress's
	Stolen ring.

	She beat the ring
	From a stolen shilling:
	Toss it up
	And if you're willing
	It doesn't just say
	Heads or tails,
	But the time of day,
	Phase of the moon   
	And if you're good
	The owl will swoop
	Down from his lair
	And catch the ring
	While it's still in the air
	And then you'll know
	Why you're standing there.

	O! O! for the owl, the sky,
	The ring, the Prioress, and I;
	If I didn't think twice I wouldn't ask why
	There isn't any nonsense in a cloudy sky.

		Tell us more, Alphabit man,
		Is it true what they say, that you really can
		Talk to the deaf
		Cure the blind
		And bring to life
		The dying man?
		If we didn't think twice we wouldn't mind:
		Tells us whether you really can!

	Yes I do it;
	You will find
	I hear the deaf
	And I see the blind;
	To the lame and halt
	I simply say:
	You are helpless,
	You may stay.
	But it's nearly impossible,
	Even for me,
	To teach the blind
	How not to see.

	I am the rules
	You are the game.
	It isn't much fun,
	It's a bloody shame;
	But if you won't think twice
	I'm not to blame.

II	A Sheffield Wednesday supporter
	Not considering what he ought to
	Took the helmet
	(Then said 'sir')
	From a law enforcement

	Took the mickey
	(Didn't say 'please')
	From an officer of
	Her Majesty's.

	Put it under his arm and ran,
	Arrived in front of
	Alphabyt man
	Brandishing the well known sign,
		Is this Caesar's?
		Is this mine?

	Alfabet man
	Didn't know.
	You could tell he hadn't
	Long to go.
	Left us in
	The simplest way,
	He didn't think twice about what to say.

	Alphabett man's
	Dead and gone   
	Long time since
	We heard his song,
	But several relatively undefined
	Intolerable experiences
	Masquerade as him when they find
	A mind out of its senses.

	Humanity, or something more plausible, goes
	On its business,
	On its toes.
	And don't let me catch you
	In the dead of night
	To hear him sing.

III	It's nine p.m.
	Inside a hotel
	The manager curses
	The porter to hell.
	The gossiping moon,
	Blunt as cheese,
	Leans over
	A clump of trees;
	Says: told you not to listen
	To the poor man rave.

	Alphabed man
	Turns in his grave.

	Two little boys
	Tweak a saint's doorbell,
	Make it ring.
	Scamper back
	Behind a bush,
	Smirk: "even the bell itself
	Said 'push'".

	The saint comes out   
	No one there.
	Curses and blesses
	Thin air.

	Pretends not to see
	Two little scoundrels
	Behind a tree;

	Goes back in
	To think upon
	And on Salvation.

	Alphabet man
	Goes mouldering on.

		#183, Sheffield, 12/11/1968
 		 ^ Back to Index  

	 Someone is writing this. I think I see
	 A wicker chair that creaks each time he thinks,
	 Upon a quiet porch. The scene would be
	 More southerly than here, in time for drinks.
	 Impressions made by what I've never seen
	 Are vivider than wishing I was there.
	 Sit still! He's writing more. But now he's been
	 Disturbed, in time for drinks, and turns his chair
	 Away from what he's written (left face down
	 And paperweighted from the prying breeze)
	 To take the easy conversation up,
	 Not knowing he is watched; and so I ease
	 Across the wooden floor, and write, for his,
	 My own last words: someone is reading this.
		#181, Boston, 6/8/1968
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	 Either we should outlaw pleasure,
	 Or should ration pain    
	 Licensed as a last resort in 
	 Treatment for the sane.
	 Laying down the lawless calls for 
	 Vanity or guns;
	 Still there's little harm in hoping
	 (So the saying runs).
	 God was once about to tell me    
	 Close as you are now   
	 Something like: it's easy really 
	 When you know how.
	 A wilderness in good condition, 
	 A prophet, little rain:
	 Let the leopard judge its victim 
	 Humbly, but in vain.
	 	#179, Boston, 30/7/1968
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	 A face I have not seen before in dreams
	 Awoke the yawning fear that I might see
	 That what I have been looking for is me
	 And what I am to be is what it seems.
	 A face I will not see again and rest
	 Put out the light which showed me that we know 
	 How not to learn the shortest way to go
	 To where we are, and that they say is best.
	 The Devil comes to see me now and then
	 In colour, and employs my Christian name:
	 He calls me Adam, which was why he came.
	 The face I will not talk about again
	 Lit up as plain as wanting not to kiss
	 That where to start is that I'm thinking this.
	 	#176, Sheffield, 6/5/1968
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	The air
	Still and newly washed
	Led the shrill current
	Of the birds' cries
	More sharply to my ears;
	A horse
	Tossing its spray of mane
	Champed with its strong teeth
	At the sweet grass;
	A tree
	Girded its geyser of life
	More fiercely
	And a round zinc pail
	Stood on the sandstone path
	Full up with thundercloud.

		#145, Hampstead, 4/7/1967.
		 ^ Back to Index 

	Let me look on clouds again, let rain
	Fall, drip, run on my running face,
	Let grass grow under me, let trees again,
	As hollow and as toadstooled as that place
	I once called soul, be homes for squirrels if
	The goblins won't come back. For twilight yet --
	And some have called it beautiful -- can live.
	Its subtleties, its greys, they make regret
	For rainbows seem superfluous. What cat
	Bewails the traffic-lights, the neon red?
	I'll run (I've seen the sunset -- am I dead?)
	Once more among the trees to where I've sat
	And watched the squirrels bury nuts. What lack
	Are squirrels, though the goblins won't come back?

		#144, Assisi, 20/6/1967.
		 ^ Back to Index 


	Being down --
	Dropped gently --
	On my luck
	In the country,
	I could have sworn
	I felt the breeze
	Was talking
	To itself
	And the sky
	Most glorious in red
	Was bathed in blood
	That someone else had shed
	For other people.
	And the trees
	I could have sworn
	As if the heavy weight of their sorrows
	That as I walked along that lane
	I could have sworn.

		#140, Sussex, 26/2/1967.
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	 In the ultraviolet twilight,
	 In the twenty guinea flats,
	 Lurk a hundred thousand witches
	 With their pampered city cats.
	 From the shadow by a doorway,
	 From behind a flameless bush,
	 As you totter on a clifftop,
	 Come the buttons labelled 'push'.
	 In between the creviced concrete
	 In the midst of leafless glades,
	 From behind and from below you --
	 The armada of the shades.
	 But sit snug behind the windscreen,
	 Do not fill the beggar's palm
	 For the state will see to paupers
	 And you've never done him harm.
	 As you pass the faceless faces
	 In the city's choking throat,
	 Know that no man is an Island
	 But that many dig a moat.
	 	#93, Stratford-on-Avon, 6/9/1966
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	   In Babylon, the land of light,
	 The lonely scribe sits down to write:
	 Of love and hate, of peace and strife.
	 His chisled slab records that life
	 Changes in nothing but our sight.
	 The lovers clasping in the night
	 Enraptured by their brief delight --
	 To them was time less surely life
	   In Babylon?
	 Man struggles from the past's dim night
	 But one dead scribe remembers right,
	 Despite the turmoil, changes rife,
	 That people felt the soldier's knife,
	 The lover's joy, the famine's blight
	   In Babylon.
	 	#6,  Dorset,  18/1/1966
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	 Oh, how stealthily you fly
	 Over bleak and windswept moor,
	 Carried through the misty sky
	 By the wind, o'er streams that roar.
	 How I wish that I could do
	 All the antics I discern
	 When the wind that carries you
	 Gives a twist and sudden turn.
	 As you speed o'er stony ground
	 Are you full of soaring joy
	 Watching landscape all around?
	 I am just a walking boy.
		#3,  Sussex,  29/7/1960
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Copyright © R.S. Forsyth.
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