Poems on the theme of "Work" for National Poetry Day, Thursday, 9th October 2008

Behind the Scenes Hugh Timothy
Despatch Clerk Hugh Timothy
Salesman Hugh Timothy
Seven Haiku Diana Webb
Advice Tony Earnshaw
Presentation Tony Earnshaw
Economic Geography Michael Lane
Hay in Wartime Michael Lane
No money having exchanged hands Rosemary Wagner
Satisfying all five senses Rosemary Wagner
With particular care Rosemary Wagner
The penalty of thought-dreams Rosemary Wagner
Technician time out Helen Overell
Work Night Out Helen Overell
Routes - a poem about Utrillo Diana Webb

Behind the Scenes


Behind the wall of windows
Row on row
The weary workers wear away the week
Buried deeply in regret and longing
For another day
Another way
To spend and not to spill
The precious hours.

© Hugh Timothy
March 2000

Despatch Clerk

He sat at his desk
In the bowels of the business
Surrounded by parcels and packets and crates
Managing them in
Managing them out
Doing the Times crossword
In record time

© Hugh Timothy
March 2000


Morning mirrored, sensing he shines.
Motorway mobile for his dynamic day
Visualizing visits, every sale a certainty
Counting futures as facts
Dreams as reality
Knows he's a winner.
Well fancy that!
He does.

© Hugh Timothy
March 2000

Seven Haiku


artist's studio-
bits of the window cleaner
framed in different panes  

in the wake
of bin collection men
one pink ballet shoe  

spring Sunday morning-
a man gives the pillar box
a fresh coat of paint  

the old roadsweeper
day after day
sweeping up petals  

"in a meeting"
through the window
a fox stares  

in the tunnel
the old cellist's haunt-
always 'The Swan'  

bright winter morning-
in fish shop and pub
mops awhirl

Diana Webb



'Graft, hard graft, that's what life is lad.
And no time for skivers, now think on.
Oh, I know, daft old bugger, that's what you're thinking,
in private like - I can see it on your face
But graft, hard graft, that's your place.
Nowt wrong wi' that neither,
need a bit more honest graft,
a bit more sweat, a bit less pampering.
Earn your money, fair and square.
Friday neet, have a beer.
Weekend for the family
and then back here
for more honest graft.

Done me no harm.'

He coughed, spat and slowly rose,
hand on back in that familiar pose,
straightened, picked up his hoe,
set off to weed another row.

Tony Earnshaw



Slip the jacket on,
adjust the tie.
Step to the front and let the ideas fly.
Check 'slide forward'
(should have checked before)
and scan the auditorium floor.
Enjoy the moment,
reel them in.
To entertain is virtue,
to bore is sin.
Give images to stick,
and wit to make them smile
so they'll remember you
and, while they do,
remember too your message.
Make that clear,
and you'll have earned that beer

Tony Earnshaw

Economic Geography

Once I was a schoolboy studying geography -
Where places are, the rivers and the hills,
What cows they keep in Hereford and Worcestershire
Old-fashioned facts that a grammar-school instils.

So when I rode off, exploring on my bicycle,
Staying at youth hostels (a shilling for a bed)
Gratified to find the Chilterns marching north-east,
Then the Vale of Oxford, as the book had said.

Yet I still puzzled: how did people make a living?
Cycling through Berkshire, my diary condemns
Tea-less Wallingford, shut up on a Sunday
Ancient Saxon crossing on the middle Thames.

What did people do here, in their red brick boxes?
Perhaps they had a market - there was a Market Square.
Was it enough to keep the money flowing?
And why live in this town, and not elsewhere?

All these years later, the same questions baffle me :
No more coal mines. Fewer fields grow food -
Now everyone's in offices, sending endless e-mails -
How can they pay me to sit at home and brood?

Michael Lane

Hay in Wartime


Under slow-moving fenland skies
They gathered August hay.
Women, old men with a schoolboy
Holding the horse
Which moved on to the order "Hold yer!",
Halted to "Whoa!"

Work done, pitchforks and hay aboard
They came back in the cart
From the horizonless fen
To the close-gathered village.

Years on, I puzzled.
"Whoa!" I understood,
But what, to the horse, did "Hold yer!" mean?
I decided it must have been
A traditional shout to the men on the cart
Receiving the pitched-up hay.
"Hold on!" as the horse moved among the haycocks.

The horse had to be content with that
And learned to move on at the shout.

Michael Lane

No money having exchanged hands

crafted from egoless hours
of skilled fingerwork
and breathing of strands of her life
into the evenness of stitches,
absorbing her scratches and tears,
calming her runaway mind
while deflecting her fears
as she picks it up again
to work seamlessly on
through the luminous days
and crepuscular hours,
not knowing who will use it later
or wear it for years,
proud of the message
of its hand-craft,
no money having exchanged hands,
she having handed it on
without signature or imprint
and down
to whomsoever felt drawn
to the pattern and weave
of this other's life

Rosemary Wagner

Satisfying all five senses


Good work

is kneading dough with strong hands
and feeling the grip and stretch of muscle and tendon
on the plasticity of yeast

is leaving the batch to rest
then returning to elastic mushroom
giants overlapping tins

is the hot rush of air on our face
as we shove the living miracles
into the dark maw of the oven

is the mouth-watering in every room
of the house as we wander
about less bountiful work

is our astonishment at the bold new loaves
cooling on the wire-mesh tray
asking to be eaten

is cutting and buttering a thick slice
(to test) then biting the crispy crust
of the gold edge,

the first sinking of our teeth
into the warm crunch and taste of the magic
of creation: our bread

Rosemary Wagner

With particular care

Good work

is washing up with due attention
to the smallest spot of grease
on each and the last dish

is watching diamonds unpent from the tap
in the stream of water
plunging to gravity

is touching the lace of bubbles
as it skirts in a fountain
over the plate

is enjoying white space in your head
while heat seeps through the rubber
of your yellow gloves

and you brush the front
and back of each spoon
with particular care

Rosemary Wagner

The penalty of thought-dreams

Rosebay Willowherb

Bad work

is pulling a weed up here
and a dandelion there
on the way to somewhere else
using bare hands

and throwing them down in a corner
to shrivel and die
because it is too far
to walk to the compost heap

because she cannot make time
to take down the trug,
the kneeler, the trowel
and humble herself on her knees

before a patch of earth
or lawn one metre square
and work her way
patiently through it

she'd rather do some here and now
lost in her thought-dreams
at least one dandelion less
is better than none

this second all she can spare
from her life of gloss
and spin and managing
others' distraction

while in her heart she knows
but will not hear
that this is bad work
because there is no joy in it:

just one more thing to add
to her Sisyphean burden.

Rosemary Wagner

Technician time out

for CB

The stop-clocks were always tricky to mend -
pill-sized batteries held by thread-like screws,
reset buttons that jammed or came unstuck -
they were spread out all over the workbench
when you came in to ask about borrowed
chemicals - just the right person to solve
my conundrum "Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow? Why
that's a foxtrot" you said, pushing a stool
back against the bench to clear more floor space.

You stood, feet together, then raised your arms
to hold an unseen partner and stepped out
to trace the dance upon the scuff marked floor,
your white lab. coat standing in for a dress
that swirled, your clear voice marking out the beat
so that, one by one, all the clocks joined in
then a concert band that came from nowhere
picked up the rhythm, shook the room with sound
trailed from a trombone, filled us with laughter.

Helen Overell

Work Night Out


She was with you all evening,
propped up in her wheelchair
unable even to clasp
the arm rests, let alone
propel herself along.

We saw only the deepened
lines on your face, the way
your eyes shone speaking of her
with all her limbs on strike,
her head full of static.

She was as good as close by
buoyed up with company,
her hoist a gaunt scaffolding
tethered with chained shadows
that weighed on her shoulders.

We saw just the bewildered
look on your face, the way
your eyes shone speaking of her
with all her hopes hemmed in,
her life damped down, home-bound.

Helen Overell

Routes - a poem about Utrillo


by a fall
from the trapeze,
she earned a crust
by posing
for the painters.
Intrigued by watching them
at work
she had a go herself,
alighting on encouragement
from he who caught the dancers
unawares - Degas

Her son Maurice,
paternity unclear,
was highly strung,
got poor reports at school.
A complete disaster
as a bank clerk
he turned to drink
and landed in 'The Bin'

His mother took his hand,
his artist's hand,
and placed in it
a brush,
suggesting he might paint his way..
way out,
a path to different views,
a road on which to toss
his dancing star...

His gift to us
the paving stones of Paris.
the grey stones,
stones of back streets
noone visited,
yet each one
with its own quiet dust

a leaf
from the cracks

Diana Webb