Monthly Archives: December 2012

Travelling Home for Christmas

“Driving Home for Christmas” by Chris Rea is one of those pop songs – like “Mistletoe and Wine”, “Last Christmas I Gave You My Heart”, “Stop the Cavalry” and a few others – that are resuscitated every year and played on the radio and in shops solely over the Christmas period.  It is relatively more low-key and meditative than most songs of this ilk, but still induces the appropriate warm glow of festive cheer and nostalgia.  I heard it around this time last year, just before setting off on my own journey back to my home town, and it was the stimulus that led to my poem “Travelling Home for Christmas”.


“Driving Home for Christmas”; a song, by Chris Rea,
celebrates a rite, enacted every year.
He’s cruising along, radio on; softly falling snow.
Tail-lights gently glimmer; he feels a warming glow.
1,000 memories, cascading in his brain.
He doesn’t mind the holdups; he’ll soon be home again.
Other drivers, just like him, gathered, all around.
Homing, like pigeons, to get their feet on holy ground.

I’m travelling home for Christmas, too; sitting on a train.
Dank air, grey sky, pouring down with rain.
Magical memories; Christmas as a child.
Little Baby Jesus; the lamb, so meek and mild.
Our annual pilgrimage, to mass at midnight.
Waking, to a morning brimful of delight.
Mother in the kitchen; festive table heaving.
Friends, neighbours, relatives, arriving, leaving . . .

My Christmas is less lavish now, more austere.
Numbers of visitors declining, each year.
On Christmas Day, there will be a total of three:
one brother, one reprobate uncle, and me.
We will sit down uneasily, our sins unshriven.
The reprobate uncle will smile, and be forgiven.
Our glasses raised, we will then commence to dine.
The food will be praised; tongues loosened by wine.
A measure of peace and goodwill will be found.
A fitting ceremony, on this holy ground.

Yes, we’re travelling home for Christmas; Chris Rea and I.
Flat fenland countryside; 1,000 memories flit by.
Rain teems down, from an unforgiving sky.



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Complex Art

My poem “Complex Art” is – more or less – a pastiche of “Pied Beauty” by Gerard Manley Hopkins.  I like to think of it as more of a tribute to the Hopkins poem than anything else.  The word “pastiche” is often confused with “parody”, and I certainly had no intention of making fun of Hopkins’ original.

In “Pied Beauty”, Hopkins (1844-89) – a fervent Jesuit – was giving praise to God for the teeming variety and unexpected contrasts manifested in nature and life in general.  The poem begins:

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple- colour as a brinded cow;

He goes on to list a few examples of this variety.  It is the first line of the second verse, however, that struck a particular chord with me:

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

I suddenly realised that what I wanted to do was a poem celebrating quirkiness, oddity, eccentricity in the cultural sphere.  To anyone interested in a wide variety of cultural events, it is easy to get depressed, these days, when the increasing commercialisation of culture seems to produce only bland bestsellers and “X-Factor” copycats.  Hopkins, himself, was a fine example of quirkiness.  Frustrated by the rigid conventions of standard verse, he devised his own form of poetry, with his notions of “inscape”, “instress” and “sprung rhythm”.  He described “Pied Beauty” as a “curtal sonnet”, comprised of eleven lines, instead of the normal fourteen.  My poem “Complex Art” is nothing like as revolutionary as Hopkins’ verse; but its sentiments are genuinely heartfelt.


Let us give praise to complexity in art;
to the odd, the quirky, the recondite.
Formulaic pap limits us; cuts us, like a knife.
Who can live, solely, on moronic pop charts?
We need the outré, the strange, to switch on our light.
No dumbed-down, blinkered vision; so much more to life!

All things left-field, twisted and tart,
can breach our defences; pierce us with delight.
Rigid uniformity leads only to strife;
hinders expression of the human heart.
Let complexity be rife!


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I Could Be Happy

The weather forcasters are currently forecasting snow for my part of the country, and it was the thought of snow – or, more specifically, hailstones – that reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago.  I was walking home, one day in May, when a shower of rain suddenly turned into hail.  I kept on walking, trying to ignore the hail, but the hailstones increased in size and velocity, and started “pinging” off the top of my head.  I ended up running the final stretch home, humming – for some unaccountable reason – an old pop song from my youth called “I Could Be Happy”.  I got home and switched the radio on – to hear none other than exactly the same song, immediately coming out of the speakers!  I stood, like a statue, listening until the song finished.  I remembered the name of the band that had the original hit: “Altered Images”, and that their lead singer was an attractive girl with a child-like voice.  I was then shocked by the rado presenter informing me that the song had been Number One in the pop charts on Christmas Day 1981.  I then started musing, sadly, about the ravages of time, and it was these thoughts, combined with the hailstones and the pop song, that inspired the following poem.


White dandruff flakes
float down, scratched
from ashen curls
of the grey sky-god.

Then, cascading
white pellets.
A rapid fusillade,
pinging, stinging.

I run for home,
for some reason singing
“I could be happy.
I could be happy.”

Hailstones in May.
I open the door.
There is no way
this is funny any more.

Huge wet blotches
on my clothes.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

Switch on the radio,
what do I hear?
“I could be happy.
I could be happy.”

Infectious rhythms,
washing over me.
Girl-child jigging
in front of my eyes.

Recall so vivid,
could be yesterday.
D.J. says “From
1981, Christmas Day.”

Twenty five years
have gone by!
In twenty five years
I shall be eighty!

Tears drop huge wet
blotches on my clothes.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

Red eyes in the mirror
stare at grey stubble.
I could be happy.
I could be happy.

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