Tony Earnshaw is a playwright and novelist as well as a poet and long standing member of Mole Valley Poets. His latest collection, Paths and Digressions was published in May 2021, and his first novel, Blessed Assurance, was published in 2019 while his many plays include the community based Passion for the Planet which combines poetry, prose, drama and song and The Door, which premiered in 2009, enjoyed runs in Edinburgh, New York and London and is still touring.

Tony now focusses on his writing but, while still employed full time in his previous occupation in the financial sector he used his writing skills within his local community for a number of years. This included writing the Millennium Revue, The Man That Gave The Year Its Number. Tony has been writing poetry for all of his adult life. He has had a number of poems published in magazines and has published four collections. He is a member of the Poetry Society and the British Haiku Society. In the Spring of 2009 he was runner up in the Birds on The Wire collection competition with a collection which included Wood Pigeons. More recently he has been one of the runners up in the Brian Dempsey Memorial competition twice and had poems included in the Inspiring Views collection published by Surrey Hills Arts. He has won a best new writing awards for his plays 'The Door' and 'Visiting Time', is a director of Damn Cheek Productions and of Arts company Terrestrial and continues to write for the theatre. More information on his writing can be found on his website.

Poems by Tony Earnshaw

Contents
Recovery
Practicing for the trenches
Newlands Corner
Mary Sang
Beyond
Adonis Blue
Views
Abdullah
Duck shooting
Olives /A human fate.
Pool
The children sang
Turkana
WORD

Recovery

After so long it was perhaps not surprising
that the move to touch met with some resistance,
permission was a while arriving,
and cautious habits proved quite persistent.

Old friends who had hugged without thought,
shaken hands, slapped backs, kissed cheeks,
had shrunk to images on a screen
and retreated over isolated weeks

till distance as a habit began to form
and many feared returning to old norms.

So many times they'd told each other
they longed to touch their friends and their relations,
but now each one came to discover
a reticence, a terror of contagion

so, like a recovery from any estrangement,
they were cautious, took their time
as if by tacit, pre agreed arrangement –
no words, a dance, a mime,

and slowly distances were breached,
hands extended, approaches made,
agreements on behaviour, on protocol, were reached,
assurances given, fears allayed,

till friends could greet the loved ones that they'd missed
with shake of hands or even with a kiss.

Written for MVP's 'Lines from Lockdown' event, July 2020
© C A Earnshaw

Practicing for the trenches

They came from Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba
to leafy Surrey to prepare for war,
young men, full of life,
dug practice trenches,
overgrown now by undergrowth,
explored by curious dogs
and small, excited boys.

Listen carefully and you can hear
the echoes of that time,
the energy of the young
before the world went dark;
jokes and joshing, spades hitting earth,
voices singing,
the sergeant major's bark.

Now we walk at careful distance,
ready always to move aside or back,
hardly seeing the remnants of their spade work
as we converse,
across the chasm of a track,
with those we come across by chance,
fearful of contagion from a stranger,

while those young men faced greater danger,
shipped out to fight and die in France.

Featured in MVP's 'Lines from Lockdown' event, July 2020
© C A Earnshaw 21.04.20

Newlands Corner

Beneath the path the meadow banks steeply
like a Spitfire on the turn
with that same vista of southern England
familiar from a hundred films – wooded valleys,
rolling hills, the weald;
all bathed in the May sun.

A horse can be seen far below,
led by a slighter figure;
sheep graze in the fields;
closer, looking bigger.

No sign of a road or track,
tarmac and metal hidden by hedgerows.
Only the lack of labourers
distinguishes the outlook from that of long ago.

And the threat. Not war this time
but species deprivation.
Heat, but not of battle,
threatening sheep, horses, cattle
and we ourselves
a slumbering nation
enjoying a second Edwardian summer.

In the long grass, crickets sing,
dogs run around, while we
gaze out over the Downs
and wonder.

First Published in 'Inspiring Views' (Surrey Hills Arts 2020)
© Tony Earnshaw 24/5/19

Mary Sang

Mary sang, a fine contralto, deep and pure.
Joseph played bass, metronomic, steady,
the beat nailed to the floor.
He thought the boy should play guitar
and made him one from fine cedar;
strings of camel gut, fret board inlaid
with finest golden sand;
a masterpiece of craftsman's eye,
craftsman's insight, craftsman's hand,
but as it turned out the boy
made music all his own,
unique in style, in sensitivity, in tone,
and when the townsfolk heard him sing,
hearts lifted, cares fell away;
it seemed to them they heard bells ring
and hope was born to see them through the day.

First published in the MVP Christmas Anthology 2019
© C A Earnshaw 10/7/19

Beyond

As soon as we argue about your God or mine
We've managed to limit, to restrict the divine.
And if we assign gender, or say God is tender
Or vengeful or loving. Or weeping, or odd
We've made him a human, she's no longer God.

The most that we can know
Is to know what we don't know
To think beyond thought
To speak beyond words
To search the unsearchable
To grapple with God.

First published in 'What the Peacock replied' (Dempsey and Windle 2019)
© C A Earnshaw 2019

Adonis Blue

Chalk
Whistled past my ear.
Talking again.
Chalk.
Great clouds of the stuff
Whenever Pippin slammed the board rubber down.

And now
A greater body of chalk
Lies beneath my feet
As I stand on the North Downs.

Rare orchids grow here,
Bee, Monkey, Man.
In meadows shaded by Juniper and Box
Cattle graze.

Distracted by the train below,
Chugging across the landscape,
I miss the Adonis Blue as it flutters past.
A disappointment which
I chalk up to experience.

C A Earnshaw 24.4.18

Views

The man sits at his window.
Outside, the trees shift in the breeze.
Not many leaves left now,
the branches look as bare as his dreams.

The autumn sun picks out the heath
and woodlands on the downs
and highlights the red brick
of the neighbouring houses.

A couple walk down the road,
While from somewhere further away
children can be heard,
let out of school to play.
It must be lunchtime.

Nothing has changed
but everything has.

National newspapers spew hate
and accuse anyone who disagrees of lying.
In Westminster the money machine buys power
and ministers override due process
so the big battalions can attack,
the Vale of Bowland can be fracked
and Leith Hill drilled.

Elsewhere, power is handed to bigots and racists,
Victory goes to the mendacious,
And the victors despoil.

Nothing has changed
but everything has.

The man sits and looks out
searching for hope.
The sunlight glints on a car window,
intermittent, like a signal back,
reminding that the light gets in
wherever there's a crack.

C A Earnshaw
30.11.16
Published in the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize anthology 'Poems to Keep'

Abdullah

Omar is a fighter,
Arifa is a nurse
And Abdullah?
Abdullah is twelve

Omar is dangerous.
Arifa is a healer
And Abdullah?
Abdullah is twelve

Omar kills hostages
Arifa tends the wounded
And Abdullah?
Abdullah is twelve

Omar's full of hatred
Arifa, full of love
And Abdullah?
Abdullah is twelve

When the Tornado shed its load
Omar the fighter died
Proud and defiant
Arifa the nurse died
One carer less.
And Abdullah.
Abdullah was twelve

C A Earnshaw
30.9.14
Published in the Brian Dempsey Memorial Prize anthology 'Poems to Keep'

Duck shooting

A peaceful day, in the fall,
the boy sprawls by me, his hand on the gun.
All is well.
The boy shucks off his shoes,
lies barefoot on the planking,
dreaming, saying little, smiling.
I watch the skittering of the birds on the water,
listen to the silence,
am glad to be there.

He's a good shot, has the eye,
holds the gun like it's part of him,
becomes a machine,
focused, centred, lean.
I see his smile, hold his shoes,
Feel a little proud.

Heading for home we stop to eat
Coke, a burger, fries.
The perfect day
until we reach home
and, twisting round to clean the gun,
he upsets the delicate mechanism of the trigger.

He hasn't unloaded.
His responsibility.

I lost that smile
Still have the shoes.

C A Earnshaw 23.9.14

Olives /A human fate.

While others drop into careful nets from grafted branches
to provide oil
accompany drinks
or liven up salads
these,
small, black, round
standing out against white stone
in the dappled shadow of the ancient tree
are destined to be swept aside by the primitive broom

Children of a neglected tree
these will not be pressed
not be nibbled with martini
not be chopped on pizza
or baked in bread
but will be prey to insects
kicked aside by sandaled feet
and returned to the earth.

C A Earnshaw
20.9.07

Pool

We're not the only ones to use this pool
but other visitors are trapped
drowned
fooled by the lights
wings spread on the surface
until the net liberates corpses and survivors alike
the long shadow of its wielder
yielding to bright blue at the blurred edges
while the pole bends straight as it
dips to dredge heavier debris
from the bottom

Job done
human bodies shed
and scatter cotton
before clawing the water
fooled by the sunlight
and expecting heat.

C A Earnshaw
20.9.07

The children sang

The children sang, clapped their hands and danced,
Recited passages committed to memory, each with a moral stance
Avoid prostitution, don't take bribes, admonishing finger to the fore
As each child stepped back, another took the floor

Their eyes lit up, their faces beamed, as Navin got them jumping
Cheering now for India, now that was really something
Lined up in their uniforms while we milled around in ours
Less concerned than we were when the sunshine turned to showers

But the thing that really hit us was the beauty of their song
Their hands keeping the rhythm, their voices young and strong
All cyclists had abandoned now the table and the tent
The song finished, the teacher near, I asked him what it meant

The song, he told me, says 'AIDS kills everyone
Rich or poor, old or young, AIDS kill everyone'
A simple truth for Africa, taught through lilting song,
A threat for all these children, AIDS kills everyone

C A Earnshaw
5/11/04

Turkana

Happy to welcome
donors and visitors,
Turkanas are friendly
and greet us with dance.

And we're strangely humbled,
fish out of water,
happy and grateful
that we have the chance
to visit these people,
to gain some more insight
into the needs
of this arid land.

The answer is water,
drilling for water,
conserving water,
and building stone dams.

We visit the projects
We're moved by the children.
We're moved that the adults
bless us with thanks.

We fly out that evening,
receivers and visitors,
discussing Turkana.
Remembering the dance

C A Earnshaw
1/11/04

WORD

When the word of God came down,
born in a middle eastern town,
and took on flesh
he could not speak
but was a child, poor and weak,
who had to learn what he first created,
so his message could be clearly stated
and, by word and deed,
communicated.
The Word, unable to speak a word.

C A Earnshaw
2000