With this anthology, Mole Valley Poets have wandered far and wide, across a diverse range of subjects, and through a variety of landscapes. We hope you enjoy the journey with us.
|Roman Snail or Helix Pomatia: an encounter||Rosemary Wagner|
|One small step||Helen Overell|
|images||A A Marcoff|
|Look at the sea||Sylvia Herbert|
|The River Mole – A Celebration||A A Marcoff|
|My North||Tony Earnshaw|
|Along the Way||Sue Beckwith|
|Free as a Swift||Elizabeth Barton|
|The Hum of your Wings||Elizabeth Barton|
|The Magpie Tree||Sue Beckwith|
|Lambs' tales: March 2013||Rosemary Wagner|
|Wild Poppies||Keith Donachie|
|Horse Chestnut Trees||Sylvia Herbert|
|Coming home from school||Keith Donachie|
|Harmony, Pembrokeshire||Helen Overell|
|Houses under snow||RosemaryWagner|
|Tale of the city||Tony Earnshaw|
|Turning a heel||Helen Overell|
|Common Ivy||Elizabeth Barton|
|The most deserving boy in the King's School||Rosemary Wagner|
|Going Deaf||Keith Donachie|
|haiku & tanka||A A Marcoff|
|Been there, seen it, done it ...||Sue Beckwith|
|Contributors||Mole Valley Poets|
You are rare, my friend, and I fear for you
as you strike out over this downland path,
eyes on long tentacles wiggling.
I stoop to the coils of your shell,
the colour of biscuit and oat, whorls that recall
Mary-Ann's fossils, but you live still,
soft yet granular in the sunlight, beige
flesh sliding, then shrinking
as you sense the approach of my finger,
but not its tenderness. You are no snail
of common or garden, earthily oozing;
though so plump, my beauty, and large,
I will not eat you. I am no Roman consumer
of edible snails, and you a survivor
of those that escaped the centurion's boot
and his cauldron. For then as now
you were a delicacy, fit for a Caesar's table;
if I were French I might cook
you to a tit-bit in the light and fruity
wine from these Surrey hills.
Later we may raise sparkling glasses
in historical reverie, but first let me lift you –
no, don't slip back in your shell – to the other side
of this chalk and flint death-strip.
There, now you are safe for another day,
in rain-swelled grass, millimetre by millimetre
hauling your vulnerability away
from the next rambler's boot. Here
you may find a mate to sting with your love-dart,
if it is not already too late.
The encumbered, four-limbed ghosts – bulked joints
awkward as nested tyres – captured on film.
In one full-body snap, the visored face
holds the cameraman – proof of presence.
His feet are planted on the stone-still sea;
he has disturbed the sifted shallows.
From his heels, trail straggled shadows, ribbon
flat – an alien species, black as void.
There is nothing to refract the light –
the image is clear, sharp, unwavering.
Both are drenched in star-blaze that bounces
back, forth, bold as meteor-strike.
All they have known – the blue swirl of earth –
floats in the sky, can be cupped in one hand.
And now there are footprints on the moon,
the tread of boots forever in the dust.
Published in The Interpreter's House 2011
It is a running dream, this river,
flows through raw land
to a faraway sea: it is a running dream:
kingfishers thrill in flights that flash
down-stream where light & water congregate:
swans glide to reality – this wild white harmonic:
the river curves through rugged ground
to earth & meadow, hill, rock, root & willow:
everywhere – sunlight, & the clarity of trees:
here, a fox cools its tongue, alert:
the water is a channel,
currency of sky & light
repeated in its flow:
it is a green narrative, unfolds
into that blue grey–or distance
of its ending
in the sea:
I'll seize this dream as it runs
through my words, hold
to its moment for a while, then pass
under yew tree & birch:
see, a heron flies overhead, its journey
a grey silence – shadow-shift & swoop & drift –
slow down to water: some nine or ten gulls
swirl above, white & weightless
in the breeze: they skim the river-light
in shifting shapes: do they too remember
the ocean? let this kingdom be,
it's our here & now: it is
a holy land & moment when
we waken into our worlds
A A Marcoff
Look at the sea; on a calm day
rising and falling, ebbing and flowing,
a steady beat around the bay.
Wheeling and calling, coming and going,
the gulls fly high, but rarely stay.
Look at the sea; when winds blow strong,
pushing and shoving, whistling and sighing.
The tiny boats are whisked along,
sails all drying, rigging crying
and night comes down with wilder song.
Look at the sea; our life's like that,
stopping and surging, changing and growing;
an even keel seems very flat.
Questioning, urging, sounding and knowing
keep us afloat; our life's like that.
An infinity of sky, and the moor an ocean of heather,
and in the space framed by the low throw of a quadrat –
the tread of a path, sphagnum moss, tufted sheep's tail grass,
yellow tormentil, rust-red sundew, ghost-green lichen –
a tapestry so detailed, each stitch, observed through a hand lens,
opens the way into the needle's eye, the world within.
Published in Scintilla 2014
like horses on the grass:
among green rocks
A A Markoff
Green the starting point; grass, bracken, trees.
Green moss on the beck banks, grass stains on my knees.
And to those who'd con us the phrase we'd chuck in?
'I'm not as green as I'm cabbage looking'
Stone the material that formed all our houses.
Stone that we slipped down, grazed faces, torn trousers.
Stone that we climbed up; keeping us fit;
A Limestone layer and on top Millstone Grit.
Sheep were the soundtrack, the arrhythmic bleat.
Sheep formed the moor tracks that misled my feet.
Sheep by the window, sheep by the car.
Deep in my psyche, the sound of each 'baa'.
Hill side and gradient the heart of my town.
Hills to climb up, to sledge or slide down.
Hill wrapped with moorland, fields dotted with stiles.
Hills with large vistas, extending for miles.
The moors summed it all up, for me the true north.
Green bracken with twitch grass, and patches of gorse,
With outbreaks of rock and high, Pennine views,
A sprinkling of sheep; of lambs, tups, and ewes.
Green, stone, sheep, hills.
Walking free across the moor.
Green, stone, sheep, hills.
Central, primal, basic, core.
Curving at such a distance
that the view has enough
space to fill the gap
between the road and chalk hills,
any sun lights up the sheep,
rainclouds, mist and snow
blur the contours, but snowdrops
then daffodils highlight the verge,
cherry blossom heralds
the church and lily pond,
autumn leaves scurry
a sudden circle of mushrooms
Since Roman times
they've nested in our eaves, but still
they shun our heavy world for the giddying
like hummingbirds, wings
scything the sunset, their joyful cries
startling our earthbound souls, soaring
and pitching past ribbons of cloud
Catching raindrops, spiders
spun on a windblast, tumbling so high
they could almost touch the dark
cradle of the world.
Then there came a goldfinch,
a spark of red and gold
straight from poppy-stained cornfields,
Notes like tiny wind-chimes
teased to melody
proclaimed his joy,
The fable tells
one plucked the thorns
from Christ's cruel crown,
tasted that blood.
Artists painted him
into the Nativity;
foretaste of sacrifice,
new life observed.
Here, on the quiet roadside,
he sang about Salvation
and charmed his way
to an embroidered stole.
In the hush of a warm spring evening
a secret world begins to stir and I feel you,
flitting like a firefly through the shadows.
You skulk in the undergrowth as I weed
the flowerbeds, haunting me with your alien
muttering; but the scrape of my trowel,
the sight of the damp soil scattering finally
flushes you out and you perch by the end
of my hoe. Up close, you are no
sweet redbreast, but a plump assassin
poised on spindly legs and spidery toes,
your black, buckshot eyes ready for the kill –
and as you gulp your wriggling victim
whole, you hop towards me, tail cocked,
your firebreast puffing indignantly.
You can almost hear the earth's grateful
sigh as the harsh light softens, edging rooftops
in a burning orange glow, and I know
this is your domain, and I retreat, my heart
thrilling to the hum of your wings.
The stark outline
of a lightning tree
has been decorated
as for the design
of a china dinner service
– silhouette grey branches,
black and white elegance
on blue background
– The Magpie Tree,
a secret ready to be told
Down south, if you turned away from the knife
of the Scandinavian wind,
into the tree-sheltered path on the hills,
the one that nobody knows,
in delight you could raise your hand
to the mustard shower of lambs-tails,
fragile as corn-dust,
dangling in the bitter air.
Up north, you could stumble into snow-melt,
trip over carcases, curled
in the clasp of ice like foetuses;
cursing, you might skin the lamb
that never tasted spring's first grasses,
wrap the skin caul-like round another
give to a grieving mother.
Surprised by wild poppies clustered in the roadside grass
Dabs of scarlet on the palette of the field
Improbable fragile flags waving at our passing.
The daisy and the buttercup, hardy and familiar
Pale against the oriental silken glow of poppies
A gaudy brief display that flames and dies.
Do not pluck them or their life will drain invisibly
from the broken stem, the petals curl and drop.
Their slender strength is in the showing, cannot last
Life has such moments, when
touched by an unexpected joy,
We seek to capture it, hold it,
And trap the shining instant forever in our hands
But if, for you, heaven should break through
the fabric of the day
Dazzling the mundane with a glimpse of the divine
Accept the blessing but let it go for joy will not keep
Be glad only that, for a moment, you were blessed
And treasure the certain promise that in another field
and on another day
Poppies will surprise you, bright blooming
and blowing in the breeze
They gently shake their leaves
as newborn butterflies,
fresh from the chrysalis,
might hang their wings to dry.
Some, where the sun has reached them,
already thrust their snowy candle-blooms
towards the light,
adding their brightness to the pale gold sky.
And here some leaves are spread out fully,
like hands, to catch the benison of warmth
that ages as it touches them.
Fluttering, with candles guttering
in the draughty breeze
the chestnut's emerald branches
sway to the music of spring.
Sparrows play hide and seek
within the green glimmer
and all the trees begin to quiver
with sudden life.
My camera cannot capture
a sight so ethereal, so magical;
but somewhere in my soul
this transient beauty will remain.
We reach the sloping lane between the houses
Lucas lets go of my hand and begins to run
For the sheer joy of it
He spreads his arms wide and now he is flying
Making his engine noise as the wind presses the frame of his
He is rising now through white clouds
which pearl the steel wings of his arms with running strands
Still higher, his five year old feet drumming the path,
He breaks into the clear blue brightness of never-ending sun-
I lumber behind carrying school bags and my heavy body
But, for a moment, I see myself running just like Lucas
But under a northern sky where spitfires roam
in a war which will be history to him
Don't lose the dream as your slender bones grow and harden
Keep the vision of that clear blue horizon where the future
Stretches to infinity and all things are possible.
Fly, and take my dreams with you
We see two men seated mid-slope
on a blue tarpaulined roof,
we travel closer, another crouches
on scaffolding at run-off height –
the gutter clings, tenacious, the rain
could slide in sheets at any moment –
one more pours from a Thermos flask,
mugs are handed round as though
all four were perched on boulders
on a hillside, ankle-deep in heather,
instead of being half-way to heaven,
within sight of the ever-present sea;
we drive on past the gable end
where the name – Harmony Chapel –
stands out above the tall double
doors for all to see; beyond, tomb-
stones – inscribed slate, chiselled stone – tilt
together in good-natured rows,
then a handful of houses, nothing more;
the sky like a sail billowing in the wind,
held fast by the ridge of the blue
tarpaulined roof, sheltering the men,
those indoors, the children playing
hide-and-seek, the bones asleep.
Commended in Cinnamon Press Single Poem Competition 2013
From high on the Saxon burial hill
they could be new: or old as igloo
bumps of neolithic huts,
lumping the sloping field: families
huddle up inside, curve
into each other's S, snuggle
under furs – the smell of sweat,
animal bones and smoke ripe
in nostrils, the whistle and sigh of children's
breath, the wheezes of worn-out men's
sealing their ears; at the door the fire,
keeping fox and wolf at bay,
smouldering over creeping paws
of scavengers, no need now
for wiles, for all is well in here,
snow locks in our heat and sleep –
dreams of peace prevail for once
over the tumult of exhaustion,
tomorrow's meal is tomorrow's problem,
the white stoat scrambles away.
A spider's web spans
moments of dazzled
light – a glitch hidden
here, a hitch there
– zigzag mended
all held together,
waiting for the next.
He worked in the city, long hours and a blackberry
No escape but the money was good.
A young man in a hurry
Could get ahead fast, or he fancied he could
Felt quite secure, collected his bonus,
Drank skinny latte, went to the gym
Paid no attention to company rumours
Of dodgy deals that meant nothing to him
So when the bank crashed (and they said that it could
He wasn't expecting it, wasn't prepared
He could have saved money but strangely he hadn't
Went looking for sympathy but nobody cared
Home to his wife, his children, his sanity
Home like the hunter, whose prey got away
Home to the country, the squash and the golf club
And membership subs he no longer could pay
Tended his garden like many before him,
Made lots of phone calls, watched daytime TV
Looked for an opening, with prospects, that paid well
Or maybe a project he could do, for a fee.
Loving support (for richer for poorer)
And a kick up the rear if he started to slack
Found a new opening, a challenge, with old friends
E mailed his network saying 'Hi guys, I'm back'
He works in the city, long hours and a blackberry
Misses his kids but the money's not bad
Talks a good book about changing priorities
But 'model employee' trumps 'superdad'
He wanted to change things, to redress the balance
But he was, in the end, just a frightened young man
He felt he should break out and change his life's pattern
But with school fees to pay he doesn't think that he can
You were turning a heel
on the sorefooted
elbows tucked in,
coaxing yarn to looped
links in bracken-curl green,
the upended half-sock,
knitted in thirds, growing
a stocking-stitch sole,
each impeccable row
giving shape to the foot
of the man at your side,
your to and fro talk –
from somewhere up north –
easy as armchairs,
his broad shoulders
your shelter, his kindliness
matched by your own.
Published in The Glasgow Review 2010
Everyone he knew went to church, more strictly chapel.
The place was stuffed with his relations,
his father treasurer, both parents deacons.
For himself, he thrived in Sunday School
and starred in anniversary presentations.
During sermons Grand'ma twiddled her thumbs
and now and then she slipped him sweets.
After service, he'd help count the collection,
then off for apple pie and other treats
Cubs met at church, he was a sixer,
a Leaping Wolf; in gang shows played the lead
(there were other actors but only he could read,)
He shone in scripture, attended classes week by week,
hearing, on live broadcast, Billy Graham speak,
These things could sometimes make life hard,
being not so valued when at school.
Of course, he played the awkward card,
the muscular Christian, faithful but cool.
It was a differentiator.
He clung to faith when mother died,
a piece of wreckage on the tide,
a teenager terrified
of further loss.
At nineteen he just said 'Enough!
I can't believe in all this stuff',
consigned belief to childish past.
It didn't last.
Years on, years of professed faith, he wonders
how those intelligent, no nonsense folk
did believe the dogma; all that Pauline guff,
exclusive access, uneven yoke
repentance for every little blunder.
Now as he reads the letters and gospels,
Revelations and the Acts of the Apostles
the whole thing feels like a jewel heist;
they built a religion but stole the Christ,
forgetting that the book they read
was edited by politicians,
selected to meet fourth century needs,
hard wired into church tradition.
The whole thing clouds, muddies, impedes
the path to the God he still feels he needs
and in whom, despite it all, he still
You call me parasite,
but in lean times my flowers alone
give life –
plain, green umbels
a banquet for honey bees
and hoverflies, their wings
gleaming in a burst of October light.
My toadskin leaves
are sanctuary for wrens and wood mice,
and in the bleakest months of all,
while bats are dreaming
deep within me,
my purple berries, poison to you
are manna from heaven
When, one day, the universe unlocks
its secrets and we know from where
those barren rocks, the meteorites, have sprung,
they'll share the composition of our sphere,
Metal and stone reveal a perfect truth,
we, also, are a vital part of them;
our bodies bear the mineral traces still,
iron and zinc, magnesium, the ore
inherited from our globe's primeval core.
Astronomers explore far distant stars
with mighty telescopes' extended eye,
our children's children will lay claim to space,
the moon and Mars will hold no special fears,
with rockets built to travel for light years.
Yet when the sun explodes as a Red Giant,
as physicists predict it surely will,
is that the hell our ancestors envisaged,
engulfing all in everlasting flame,
a nothingness that had to have a name?
But were not all the boys deserving
in one way or another? There were no girls.
The crest on the hardback cover is engraved
in gold on green. Impressive.
Undated, 'The Fireside Dickens –
with illustrations by Cruikshank, Phiz, &c.'
Undated too, in printed copperplate, the label
gummed inside : 'Christie Memorial Prize',
signed by Mayor, Vicar, Chairman
of Govs., and, illegibly, Head Master.
'The Pickwick Papers' – his favourite Dickens
(I couldn't get past the first chapter)
is all I have of him. Nine hundred
pages thick, on silk-thin yellowed
paper: 'Presented at the hand of the Mayor
of Pontefract to Albert F.H.V.W......
'The most deserving boy in the King's School'.
What made him so? His poverty? Tenacity?
His widowed mother set the tone.
I doubt he had much choice.
How did the other boys react, I wonder,
to the deserving one?
Who worked and worked and rose
above the terraces and soot
and took the Pickwick Papers off to Leeds
then Rhyl and lastly Hardy's Blackmore
Vale. There it settled down
among the walls of history books,
to gather years of war and peace-time dust,
each grain removed after his death
– too soon, of brain disintegration –
grudgingly by his widow.
She dusted it another thirty years
before I plucked it from the shelf
to bring it here, where it stands proud
among the paperbacks, a lost soul.
I catch the sound of moving feet and murmured voices
Shared confidences floating beyond the net of my hearing
The leaves flutter from the trees softly whispering as they fall
What they are saying eludes me, trapped in my silence
Once the leaves were young green and tender
Translucent against the spring sun, clear in their meaning
Now they have become dull, grey and brittle
The bite of autumn winds browning their edges
Whatever their message was it is lost now
It seemed so important then to understand, to know
There was sap then and hope thrilled the green veins to stretch
Meaning was shared, reflected, amplified
There have been so many words, they pile up around me
A suffocating clamour but still the meaning slips away
I wade through the piled leaves and they crunch and complain
But I refuse them my attention and push them aside
Solitude is my friend now, it does not demand an answer
the river happen
quiet by the water –
a duck lands
In my silence
a kingfisher's flight
in blue silence:
of a stone bridge
over the water
softer than light
the mist curls
across the water
of consciousness & light,
under a yew tree
watching the river
by the water
become the span
of great light that is
wordless, like this river
by the river
the roots of old trees
grip the earth
across the river
the sound of a crow:
I know no more
A A Markoff
has never been before
this purple banded, vibrant
pink on indigo backdrop
no longer in existence
that insistent sparkle
soft on velvet darkness
more than vibrant
moment is emblazoned deep
I didn't know Dean Moriarty,
but he helped me figure out what I can be.
I can't be like his broadcasted glory.
But I can be
Who sent you love letters.
I can be the fool who loves myself
and cons you.
I can be the fool who's found out what he loves
and let's it destroy him.
I can be the fool
in a ditch.
Jack Argles is twenty-six, from Reigate. He has written songs since the age of twelve and made the transition to writing poetry in October 2013. Jack is heavily influenced by the beat poets and attempts to write as honestly and simply as possible, with slightly dark undercurrents in the meaning. Ultimately though, he looks for hope.
Elizabeth Barton studied English Literature at Christ's College, Cambridge and worked as a teacher. She has lived in Madrid and Virginia, U.S.A. She writes for a local environmental group.
Sue Beckwith works in marketing, striving to translate the technicalities of IT into everyday language, and with her writing looks to transform the everyday into poetry.
Keith Donachie is a recent recruit to the Mole Valley Poets and appreciates having a friendly group to share and discuss their poetic efforts. Originally from Yorkshire he and his wife Pat have spent much of their married life in Surrey. Both retired they now have five grandchildren who bring them much joy and keep them young at heart.
Tony Earnshaw is a poet and award winning playwright whose work has played to enthusiastic audiences in Edinburgh, London, New York and elsewhere. Recent work includes Tilly the Tadpole, an illustrated book for small children and George and the Dragon, a choral pageant written with Alison Jesson and Malcolm Archer.
Sylvia Herbert is a retired Modern Languages teacher who has lived in Surrey since 1970. She is a founder member of Mole Valley Poets and writes poetry for pleasure.
A A Marcoff For fifteen years, Tony Marcoff has explored the River Mole by way of a walking meditation. The river is time, it is life, it is light. And as Eliot wrote in Four Quartets, "the river is within us".
Helen Overell has work published in magazines including Scintilla, The Interpreter's House, The Frogmore Papers, Qarrtsiluni and Antiphon. Her first collection Inscapes & Horizons was published by St Albert's Press.
Rosemary Wagner studied modern languages and literature, and has worked in education, administration and translation. She has written poems all her life.
Mole Valley Poets meet monthly to celebrate, discuss and share poetry in all its many forms and expressions.
If you would like more information about Mole Valley Poets, visit our website www.molevalleypoets.co.uk. We are also a Poetry Society Stanza Group www.poetrysociety.org.uk
Copyright for the poems in this anthology resides with authors.