As you may know, I have just published a collection of poems on the war in Ukraine, entitled 'The Shape of Ukraine'. There are forty poems in the book, many of which have been shared with WOL readers, and WOL was kind enough to feature a news item on the collection.
In many ways it was sad to have to write these poems, but ...
Friday 2nd December 2022 7:04 am
The generals fry in their fat,
The spokesman spouts his usual junk;
The sergeant’s barking will fall flat,
The new recruit has trashed his bunk.
The rumpus at the front is still;
Noise of mortal combat ceases.
Exhausted soldiers, trained to kill,
Break their weapons into pieces.
They hug their foes and swap their hopes
Of lives soon filled with joy and art;
Tuesday 29th November 2022 4:33 pm
In a way, it reminds me of my brother,
Who lived for seven days in nineteen forty-eight.
A young life was snuffed out, barely begun,
And Mum and Dad’s heartbreak never really healed.
George. I still have his birth certificate.
Medicine was less advanced back then
But everyone involved did their level best
To keep him in this world. No one was to blame.
Unlike in today’s new...
Wednesday 23rd November 2022 5:22 pm
A missile fell on to this Polish place;
The media rushed to report the case.
We screamed: ‘Help! Article Five! We are doomed!’
The end of our selfish existence loomed.
But this has turned out as a false alarm,
And none of us this end will come to harm,
Unlike two poor devils who are no more;
The latest victims of this evil war.
Collateral damage their final lot,
Thursday 17th November 2022 8:15 am
Species from all around the globe:
An elephant, a polar bear,
And here, an unexploded bomb.
Hang about, what’s that doing there?
A tranquil spot during the week;
The animals make not a sound.
But the tail end of a rocket,
Protruding coldly from the ground,
Reveals the darker side to truth,
As people pass with bike and pram.
An enemy would like us dead;
Friday 11th November 2022 7:19 am
I wanted to write a song for Ukraine,
But I gave up almost straight away.
An expert was required, ideally
Someone who would burrow into corners;
Go beneath the surface to smell the soil,
Who would press wounded flesh and procreate
And clasp lost strangers to their belly’s bulge.
But how could I find a person like this?
Advertising? Perhaps. But in real life,
I knew I had...
Saturday 5th November 2022 4:36 pm
There was a misunderstanding.
Some words were exchanged,
Translation errors, perhaps;
And then it happened.
A mistake, I suppose.
A pity really, we were doing all right.
A few problems, of course,
But nothing terminal.
Just before it landed,
The man next door reminded me
That tomorrow is his birthday.
Looking out, not much going on;
Wednesday 2nd November 2022 5:05 pm
That’s what I thought, arriving in Kyiv.
It was December and minus fifteen.
‘This is nothing,’ said the driver. It felt
Like something. Hat, gloves and scarf were no use.
The hotel was marvellously porous,
Rooms glacial, the restaurant shivered
Behind flapping Perspex windows. The wind
Reached all protected parts. The next morning,
To the lecture. Everyone double-wrapped,...
Sunday 30th October 2022 9:44 pm
Just like the bodies, plucked and sacrificed
In dirty factories and down in mines,
Like frightened masses, banished to the dark,
Or the timebound terror of the trenches,
Here come the foot soldiers, their destinies
Already marked. Convenient agents
In the hands of the men who know better.
It was ever thus. Some are dead, others
Beyond hope, the rest numbered and dated.
Friday 28th October 2022 6:46 am
Day after day we watch Ukraine,
And feel the anger and the pain;
We feel the pity and the sorrow,
The fear of what may come tomorrow.
We wonder what the next months hold,
As people fight the winter cold;
We wish that we could end by magic
This wretched mess, insane and tragic,
And turn to silence every gun,
Which shoots beneath the chilly sun,
Wipe off the b...
Sunday 23rd October 2022 5:12 pm
It’s strange how we view war from far away.
Distance lends itself to rage and anger,
To dollops of easy indignation,
Fuelled by being powerless, I suppose.
For those on the spot, it’s the practical,
The workaday, which occupies the mind:
Filling in the forms, feeding survivors,
Visiting hospital, booking the hearse.
The task of clearing out dead neighbours’ homes
Monday 17th October 2022 8:48 pm
I didn’t deserve the love that you gave:
I didn’t deserve your extinguished heart.
I wish I had been the one to behave
That last time before fate tore us apart.
As one young child is pulled from the rubble,
I realise that you were crushed beneath.
Another search is not worth the trouble;
I’ll find a still spot to lay down my wreath.
I hear the sirens and look to t...
Saturday 15th October 2022 6:40 am
There is no rubble in my street,
No bombs, no shells and no rockets.
The people have their fill to eat,
Cash is bulging in their pockets.
Down our way the lights are shining
And the windows remain unsmashed.
Our access to fun’s not declining;
No hopes for the future are dashed.
All sick and injured are treated,
Not shot and abandoned for dead.
Our wealth is ...
Monday 10th October 2022 5:38 pm
It’s the rifle-butt nature of all this:
Sit down, shut up, sign here, do as you’re told.
We talk about land grabs, but this is, well,
An extortion, of dignity and heart.
There’s a bash for the scammers in the North,
And jobs for the boys. Lot’s of them, no doubt.
Imagine this: ‘Yes, I’d love to be ruled
By the people who blew this place to bits
And killed or maimed our frie...
Sunday 2nd October 2022 9:54 am
What should be a simple counting of heads
Is here a pratfall buried with the bones
Dumped near the fenced-off railway sheds.
For freedom’s optimistic tidings
Are out of fashion in these parts,
Their wagons mothballed in the sidings.
In place of a future based on trust,
The polished tracks will soon become
A instrument of power’s grasping lust.
This will no...
Wednesday 28th September 2022 6:06 pm
I knew this one. In different times
She could have led so many lives:
Doctor, artist, mother, teacher,
One of a band of merry wives.
A guess, of course. She was so young,
And now is hauled out of this pit.
Laid out for ever in a shroud;
Deprived of all her charm and wit.
This place concealed a tragic tale;
A savage tumult oozing waste.
Like her, each one had...
Sunday 18th September 2022 5:35 pm
They’ve done a runner; thank goodness they’re gone.
Let’s face it, they were a pain, all summer:
Every morning, their ugly mugs on view.
We remembered their sort from holidays:
Stripped to the waist, with their lobster tans,
Letting off steam until the small hours
And dumping all their rubbish when they left.
They puffed on stinking fags and terrorised
The local girls, wher...
Friday 16th September 2022 8:32 am
The Big Men limber up for war,
Showing off their guns and rockets;
The Big Men strut around the town,
Looted cash stuffed in their pockets.
The Big Men are toning their muscles,
To beat their captives into shape;
The Big Men snigger at reports
Of instances of wartime rape.
The Big Men hide behind the lines,
To dodge the other side’s attack;
The Big Men’...
Tuesday 6th September 2022 7:00 am
Lurking in the corner;
Keeps all his powder dry,
Looks no one in the eye.
A quiet little man,
Is pacing up and down,
Dying to go public
On the next big subject.
A quiet little man,
Projects his tiny voice;
Points his jabbing finger
At victims of his choice.
A quiet little man
Deals from his wily pack.
He smiles upon his f...
Monday 29th August 2022 5:12 pm
Late one evening, not doing much,
I glimpse the latest news on screen.
Soldiers from Ukraine, dismembered
At the front, battle to insert
The cold stumps of their missing legs
Into new replacement hollows:
Each faltering step agony,
Their cries the rage of raw courage.
All hanker to re-join the fight
And kick the cheap destroyer out.
Anger swells, somewhere. They shoul...
Thursday 25th August 2022 5:04 pm
We strolled down the streets of Kyiv
One balmy August afternoon,
Past burned-out skeletons of tanks,
Which might as well live on the moon.
We understand this rough display,
To boost a noble people’s mood,
But battles rage not far away,
Where wrecks like this are caked in blood.
Conflict is a harsh performance;
You enemy is marked as bad.
But truth, uncomfort...
Monday 22nd August 2022 9:45 pm
Dawn is another day, we say;
It has to be a time of hope,
The vanquishing of night,
The promise of the new,
The turning of a page,
An exit from our dreams.
But is that really what it means?
The start of the day, in some way,
Does nothing but confirm our fears.
It is proof that nothing changes,
That night cannot be chased away,
That dread and cunning stalk our...
Friday 19th August 2022 3:18 pm
It is a brutal game, this war,
But certain lines you do not cross.
Conventions have to be maintained;
It’s difficult to say much more.
When you see this, when you see this –
You know damned well of what I speak –
No human souls should be hung out
Unclaimed and near to the abyss.
Someone will try to wriggle out
Of these evil exhibitions,
Claim force majeure o...
Sunday 14th August 2022 4:29 pm
Through the spectral quiet
Of this deserted place,
The tanks go rolling by
In their odd little race.
It’s hardly a surprise
That they proceed so fast;
There’s nothing here to see,
Since that almighty blast.
So as they disappear
Along the dusty road,
The silence will renew
Its dark, despondent load.
Monday 1st August 2022 7:32 am
‘Come see my new blockbuster’,
The film director smiled.
‘It’s about a sinner
And all those he defiled.
It’s about the cities,
Reduced to smithereens;
It’s about the soldiers,
Cut down in their teens.
It’s about the people,
Running for their lives;
It’s about an exodus
Of children and of wives.
It’s about the cowards
Who fire long range shells;...
Thursday 28th July 2022 9:56 pm
(On 21 July 2022, it was reported that 15,000 Russians have died in Ukraine and 45,000 have been wounded).
Fifteen thousand Russians dead in Ukraine;
Innocents, for the most part, made guilty
By the vicious vanity of old men,
Using the war like a wild young lover,
To prove they can do it, still get it up.
In their pointless, far-off rumpus, blood spills
As one hundre...
Friday 22nd July 2022 5:30 pm
Though every nation’s shape must be unique,
The outline of Ukraine attracts our gaze.
A sense of the vulnerable protrudes
From this quiet space, once so short on hate.
This is where fear comes in; borders store
Culture, landscape, language and traditions,
Encircling the rich plains of history.
More than that, they preserve our memories,
Of sunny dreams, glistening on water....
Monday 18th July 2022 3:24 pm
Let’s consider this, just for a moment:
Hundreds are slaughtered in attacks on schools,
On apartment blocks, or shopping centres.
Yet still we call it this fancy name: War.
We hand out medals, salute the stupid,
And march up and down wearing silly clothes.
If I sent bombs towards civilians,
I should go down as a mass murderer;
But in this mad world, I am a hero,
Saturday 16th July 2022 5:24 pm
They die up at the front and in the towns,
Cheered on by generals and circus clowns,
Who push the envelope to entertain
With their own brand of tragedy and pain.
They’re dying every minute in Ukraine.
Lives may be swapped for twenty feet of land,
Transactions nobody can understand,
Fought out in summer heat or pouring rain.
Saturday 9th July 2022 4:31 pm
Sometimes, in villages, you hear old men
Who tut that things are not how they should be.
They knew the boy. It had been a close call.
A few months before, he was still at school,
A cheeky sort, though decent in the round,
But one morning, flaunting teenage stubble,
He joined the beards and testosterone.
The bullet was not long coming. Alex,
Known as ‘tree trunk’, once the l...
Thursday 7th July 2022 5:38 pm
The war does not discriminate;
Fists clenched, it grits decaying teeth
And laughs its cocky, cackling laugh
Before the tanks and missiles strike.
Onlookers trawl chunks of horror
From the ocean of public grief,
Where treasured souvenirs are crushed
And no one can identify
The charred remains in plastic bags.
Yet those round here whisper a name:
A woman, a teacher by t...
Monday 4th July 2022 7:15 am
I curse the bloody things sometimes.
Last Monday at the Shopping Mall
I grabbed one but a wheel was jammed.
The next one veered off to the right
And the last trolley in the row
Simply collapsed before my eyes.
I went outside to the car park
And spotted a shiny model
In the far corner. Just the job,
I thought, and marched off to claim it.
Light and mobile, it was perfe...
Thursday 30th June 2022 4:04 pm
Close now. I think. It’s hard to tell sometimes.
War takes away perspective with its taste
Of danger, its relentless jabs of fear.
Yes, we can see them. Just across the field,
Behind the trees but not quite out range.
Easy prey for our telescopic sights.
They’ll probably never know what hit them;
Two of them are down, the rest run away.
Bloody cowards, just like we wou...
Tuesday 14th June 2022 7:21 am
The war is sucking up our splendid youth.
They’re racing to the front; they won’t come back.
Each town and village starts to empty out,
As friends and classmates go on the attack.
They’re fighting for our dignity and state
Of freedom and of happiness pursued,
But consequences, each one plainly knows,
Could be unmentionably vile and rude.
In these now quiet streets the ...
Friday 10th June 2022 7:44 am
I wonder if those who lay the mines down
Stay put and wait for victims to approach,
Or, with a surreptitious grin, retreat.
As for the victims, no imagining
The horror of their plight will bring them back.
The miner and mined have done their duty.
In moral terms, they seem so far apart:
One bad, one innocent. But consider.
They are both under orders not to think:
Tuesday 7th June 2022 10:17 pm
A hundred days have passed since it began.
So anyone who came of age since then
Will know of nothing but this raging war,
Impardonably thrust into our lives.
Are all attempts to look beyond such days,
Anonymously scribbled on the wall,
A futile antidote to these cruel ways?
Or something sinister which may recall
A game which every canny person plays:
To test how far the ...
Friday 3rd June 2022 7:12 am
The look on Mum’s face told its own story;
Our dad’s weekly letter had failed to arrive.
In its place, as sombre as a scarecrow,
Was a black-bordered missive from the state.
When we left, it seemed like an adventure:
Hugs and backslaps and putting on a smile.
Then the train rides, through cold nights and long days.
I don’t know where we are. They all seem nice
But they spea...
Monday 30th May 2022 8:48 am
They’re performing a foxtrot in Davos,
The great and the good are crossing the floor;
While deep in Ukraine, with little to gain,
The dance is wilder than ever before.
The movers and shakers are out in force,
They move their careers and their buyback bids;
While near to Kyiv, with little to give,
Old jackets are shaken to feed the kids.
Designer shoppers and vegan...
Thursday 26th May 2022 5:45 pm
Good afternoon, you’ve come from far and wide;
In Mariupol, I shall be your guide.
Do not believe the lying foreign press,
Who will pretend this place is one big mess.
Just look at the improvements we have made:
All that extra space, if a bit less shade.
(And any minor damage has been done
By outside agents who have cut and run).
You see that souvenir shop with its flags?...
Wednesday 25th May 2022 8:09 am
Many here will go to heaven,
Though some of us will go to hell.
These places stand on worlds apart,
But who does badly? Who does well?
We think that sinners should be sent
To purgatory down below,
But in a war all lines are blurred;
Good people may not even know
That they deserve an afterlife
Of peace and comfort and of joy,
While devils rise in our esteem...
Thursday 19th May 2022 9:16 am
You wake again in dawn’s reluctant light;
The neighbour’s wife and youngster have both fled.
He shivers as he clings hold of his gun
And, unrefreshed, falls on his lonely bed.
War, looking back, can be a lucky break.
Men who once cleaned up a factory floor,
When it is over, build a better life;
At present, it’s a terrifying chore
Of trembling hands, impending...
Monday 16th May 2022 7:40 am
I felt a numbness after the event:
A single shot, and this was just a boy,
Barely out of school. He lay, open-mouthed,
And I thought of his family and friends,
His teenage passions, posters on the wall,
His portrait of pride, hanging in the hall.
Suddenly, my mates were surrounding me -
We had blown a hole in enemy lines -
Slapping my back, but I was now alone.
One may a...
Friday 13th May 2022 9:25 pm
We should not yield to anger,
Nor trespass upon kindness.
There are other ways to staunch the boiling blood.
The sight of yesterday’s Victory parade,
With its wind-up, flat-pack military,
Its gross salutes and guns and strut,
Its little man made out of wax,
Talking for ages through his nut,
Made me grimace at the waste
And at the tragic, pointless load
Of fresh-dead b...
Tuesday 10th May 2022 9:50 pm
I thought he would be giving us a wave,
But no. An old gent, looking quite cheesed off.
As an individual, he had good points,
But I don’t want his statue in this town.
He has too much baggage; I’m short on tact.
Anyway, we do not need more clutter.
These damned edifices are everywhere:
Footballers, dogs, forgotten men in wigs.
In some spots you can hardly move for them.
Sunday 8th May 2022 5:22 pm
I once passed a little village
Where locals met and chatted in the square;
Some, most withdrawn, played cards and smoked.
The place was poor but free from fear or care.
When required, the work was done;
Winters were hard but held a certain charm.
Then all too soon the tanks rolled in;
There was no time to ring out the alarm.
Now, though the buildings are long gone...
Thursday 5th May 2022 5:07 pm
Stop. Go back to your make-believe,
For what is real is hard to bear.
In normal times we take a stroll
And look around and sniff the air,
But now imagination rules,
No entertainment lives out there.
Three heroes in their sailor suits
Dance to the tunes of ‘On the Town’,
While outside bombs and missiles land
And innocence comes crashing down.
The burned-out s...
Monday 2nd May 2022 11:49 am
Not many shepherds live around these parts,
But down the road the buildings are ablaze.
In semi-darkness, citizens with pails
Run like hares towards the smoky haze.
I stop one in passing. ‘I’m Jan,’ he says.
His features throb with duty and despair;
His younger friend stands polishing a gun.
Our lives are here, but could be anywhere.
Friday 29th April 2022 5:43 pm
I popped out to the shops to buy some bread;
When I returned my family were dead.
A missile had destroyed our neighbourhood;
From this time onwards, nothing will be good.
I cannot understand these men of war;
I cannot comprehend what this is for.
We had no quarrel with our former friends;
How can these means advance their twisted ends?
Were they at war, my children and my w...
Tuesday 26th April 2022 10:06 pm
Can you hear me?
Please let me in
I'll save you from God
And convert you to sin
I won't abandon
Or show you no care
I'll give you free horns
So you know that I'm there!
I'll speak in wry tongues
Only you understand
And tattoo your soul
With my 666 brand!
I'll make you new shoes
(On the hoof, as it were)
You'll be able to trot
Through my pit of de...
Tuesday 26th April 2022 7:01 pm
On “Victory Day” Knee deep in blood
The arms and limbs of the dead
Climb up you
In day and night terrors.
Murdered by you
All silenced by you
Your final solution…
Like the Jews in the ghetto.
All must go
But on your death bed
“Your god” whispers...
Saturday 23rd April 2022 2:38 pm