Thief: for Terveen

I am a thief

a thief of words.

Watch out for me.

I am never at rest.

My tools

are my ears, my eyes,

my prey

the streets of my city.

I scan for the unwary face,

the frown or smile

that betrays.

I listen into conversations,

arguments.

Priest-like

I elicit confessions.

I watch for

the unguarded sentence,

the revealing phrase.

I am the one with the notebook

opposite you on the bus;

the one with the slightly intent look

at your side.

Watch out for me.

I am the purloiner of language.

I snatch words

and use them as my own.

I am the poet, the novelist,

the thief of words

* from my second book, 1990. Longman Cheshire

His Arms Were a Graphic Novel

It wasn’t the person from Porlock; it was my aunt

Who got on the bus, brought my poem to an end.

My notebook slumped on my lap as she told me

The long sad story of a friend.





When she got off I had my chance but this young bloke

Sat next to me, iPod blaring, hair swooped back.

It was the White Stripes live from Splendour.

How could I not listen ? It was Meg and Jack.





But then a cross-eyed biker got on, hair in a rat’s tail,

Skin graffitied with tatts. How could I not look?

His arms a graphic novel. Then a woman got on

Shouting into her mobile, angry as ‘The Angry Book’.





The sad sack on the other end was out for the count.

Luckily Coleridge didn’t board this bus

while he was dreaming ‘Kubla Khan’. He wouldn’t

have written a word. The poem would be dust.





  • picture courtesy of Pinterest by TheTatt

Come Closer and Listen

I reckon if someone calls a book, ‘Come Closer and Listen’ they ought to have something to say.

Something vital, urgent, new. Provocative.

I leaned real close and listened. I wanted to be shocked out of my stodginess.

Take something away, to share with my mates at the pub Friday night.

Something revelatory.

But there was nothing.

Admittedly the poems are well crafted, And there are a few good ones

and even one stand-out poem but that’s it in 60 + pages.

But really it’s the same old stuff as in the previous 10 books.

God help us, we;re all in danger of repeating ourselves and if I do I pray someone

calls me out.

But it’s like I said of the Seinfeld book.

You coulda done better, Charles. You coulda done better.

A Petulance of Poets

Not a tower of giraffes

Nor a bloat of hippopotami

But a petulance of poets

Gathered in a side room

Of the library

Each champing at the bit

Wishing the bore out the front

Would bugger off and let someone

Worthy get on

Not really listening

But when their turn comes,

Oh the words, the words,

Such melody, such sweetness,

Was ever anything ….

Barely noticing that many who had already read

Had buggered off home or hit the bar.

I have heard Stand-Up Comics are much like this.

It is no laughing matter.





  • pic courtesy of Wikipedia

I Read my Poems the Riot Act

Don’t go morbid on me, I say.

It’s my mother coming out in you.

At least she walked it off.

Lighten up.

Tap into your jocular vein.

Give your funny bone a bump so it knows it’s alive.

Look at yourself in the mirror. Pull a funny face.

No more ‘Hittites’. Too dark, gloomy.

And no, you’re not putting ‘Icy Innuendoes’ up for another run.

Don’t even think about it.

Lighter stuff. A bit of fluff,

Think Hobbo. Think Don.

With their clown hats on.

Away moroseness. Morbidity.

You’ll be the death of me.

On the Nose

You don’t see many poems celebrating the sense of smell.

Sight rules the roost, cock-a-doodles its pre-eminence

on every page; the nose rarely gets a look-in.

An anthology of ‘Smell’ poems would be very thin indeed

and would be ‘on the nose’ for most readers.

I haven’t had a whiff of a good smell poem for years.





  • I can’t think of a single poem celebrating the sense of smell, can you?
  • have you written a short poem, perhaps a funny one, on smells you could put in the comments column for the delight of readers?
  • have you a vivid memory of a particular smell?

Heretical Beauty

No one in their right mind while wandering

lonely as a cloud would proclaim they had spied

a host of scrawny weeds upon the hillside

and break into a jig. Yet weeds have their worshipers.

You can scour the internet and dig up poems,

odes to weeds, panegyrics. They are the bones

of the earth. Wordsworth got in first, that’s all.

But his daffy little poem is not the last word.

The weeds will rise up, their heretical, skewed beauty,

tough as barbed-wire, will find its bards.

You Really Have to Lift Your Game

You really have to lift your game, I say to my poems:

pull the finger out, push the envelope, think outside the box;

you’ve been resting on your laurels too long.

Other poets are doing amazing things with words,

smashing them together like neutrons in a Hadron Collider.

Get this: ‘these widowed months’, ‘the dents of highway laughs’,

and my favourite: ‘the soul is a runway for anything willing to fly’.

Whew! they say. Is that all you can say? I say.

Will you try a little harder? I say to my poems. Come on, guys.

For the Home Team. They look a little hesitant, abashed.

I don’t know, they say. It’s just not us.

We’ve been through this before. Okay, okay , I say. I’m sorry.

Just be yourselves. Just occasionally, Huh? Would it hurt?

They look at me. Give me the thumbs up.

Then I play them Slowly Slowly’s ‘Jellyfish’ as a stimulant.

They light up, move to the music.There’s hope for them yet.





* quotes from Bob Whiteside’s blog: naïve haircuts

I Have a Problem with Mary Oliver

I have a problem with Mary Oliver.

Much as I like her

and I do have a book of hers

all of her poems after a while

seem the same.

It may seem harsh but it’s a judgment

people could make of my poems

or, for that matter, any one’s poems.

Each poet has a voice, just as each singer has,

each artist, and that voice inhabits each of their poems.

You can recognize a Billy Collins poem,

a Charles Simic poem, a Lewis Carrol poem,

or, for that matter, a Shakespeare or Ben Jonson poem.

Each poem within a poet’s work is, of course, different,

but the song, to use  Led Zeppelin phrase, remains the same.

There is no way out of it. No way around it.

Maybe familiarity does breed contempt.

But many of us find comfort in familiarity too,

Swings and Roundabouts.

But is it poetry, John?

But is it poetry, John?

You mean, is it like Wordsworth’s ‘Daffodils’

you know the one, ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’

or ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’?

Probably not.

Well, How about Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost?

Come on, we’re talking 2020 here.

Then what?

A little bit of Billy Collins, I say, and Billy Connelly,

a sort of mad mix, the demotic and demonic.

We let our dirty laundry hang out. moon the pious,

but always in an Aussie accent. Your country first.

Does it have to rhyme? you ask. Probably not.

It’s not like Aussie Rules. There are no rules.

Though it’s a game anyone can play.

Just let it rattle off the tongue, roll off the mind,

Ignore the referees.

Have fun.