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Cold Soup

It seems that everybody’s fair game now.

In the town of Dnipro the other day

Their missiles claimed a two-year-old girl’s life.

And so we still have the moral high ground,

Until such time our side does something worse.

I want to have faith, believe there’s a God,

But was a decent man nailed to the cross

To make way for this dung heap of a world,

This foul dominion of the ha...

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We must have spoken far too soon;

I think we may have jumped the gun

When we waved patriotic flags

And romped around in blokey fun.


We thought that Bakhmut had caved in;

We thought that we would run the place,

But now it seems that victory

May bounce right back into our face.


We have lost thousands of our men,

Who we knew were expendable;

But we thought our ...

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Days of Sorrow

We live close to the stars,

But closer by the days:

From times which have long gone

Till the dawning of tomorrow.


Consider, for one moment,

The stars and the days, piled high:


The waste,

The loss,

The pain,

The grief,

The tortured sky.


The sorrow.

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Like a giant can of insect spray,

Or some demented farmer blitzing weeds,

The looming tank, vertiginously filmed,

Mows down a flock of soldiers in retreat.

Flushed out from their camouflage,

They scatter or they bite the dust.

Whose side were they on?

What does it matter?

You still have to step over them.

The military play their games,

The politicians giggle;


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‘How many of you live here?’

The man with the clipboard was asking.

Numbers are not my strong point

And I get a bit tongue-tied.

I reply, in a roundabout way:

‘Well, some, here and there;

Not many now;

Fewer than there used to be.’

‘Is that the best you can do?’

He snapped, looking peeved.

I slope off, inadequate,

Fumblingly imprecise.


Turning round, I see ...

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War Habits


Folding up your kit,

Cleaning out your gun,

Marching side by side,

Writing home to Mum.


Lobbing a grenade,

Fingers in your ears,

Larking with your mates,

Sinking twenty beers.


Blow the bastards up,

Keep your powder dry,

Punch the freezing air

As you watch them die.


Paying off the tarts,

Clearing body parts,

Bullet in the head:

Sorry ...

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Language Lessons

We do not know the future tense round here,

But deal in possibilities and mays;

Learning hypotheticals and options

And other such conditional displays.


Predictions in our world remain unsafe;

Coming weeks and months are speculation.

We may be staying here or going home;

Others will decide our situation.


We say ‘good morning,’ ‘thank you for your help’:

Phrases ...

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Sloviansk (14 April 2023)

Another toddler has copped it today;

They dragged him from the mess but then he died.

Attacks could come with heaviness of heart;

Those in charge know full well what may happen,

And might express regret for dirty tasks.

But no, each life has now become fair game;

All are equal before the randomness,

The cheap terror of such vague precision.

Yes, the good die young, but the ...

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We think the only victims in a war

Are those with names engraved who rise no more.

But we should spare a thought for those who live,

Those damaged souls with so much more to give:

Exploits in the battle oft unspoken,

Hearts and minds decayed or simply broken.

So many of them suffer from a loss

And find it tough to put a smiling gloss

On situations which become so hard


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Glory Days


These pictures look quite dated now,

Like all those old films that we see.

That’s you, returning on the bus,

And, picking up the kids, it’s me.


Back in the glory days of peace,

We lived together hand in glove.

Our future seemed mapped out in stone,

The present sparkled with our love.


Now that seems like another world;

Your letters from afar arrive,


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You hear your mother's voice,

You hear your father's voice,

From beneath the rubble

Of the savaged building.

Happily credulous,

You dig with your bare hands

And cry out loud for help.

But none comes, nothing moves.

Real life, in guise of death,

Has stripped away the scales.

With its offending heart,

The cruel ventriloquist,

Yapping at your conscience,

Is put ...

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Milk Bottles

In the great tempest of eighty-seven,

Mum and Dad remembered milk bottles

Bouncing and blowing down their quiet street.

Incredibly, none of them were broken,

Though hordes of healthy trees were smashed to bits.

But soldiers do not escape so lightly:

One bullet shot is easily enough

To shatter for good their unprotected shield.

The broken glass has to be collected

And put...

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Державний Гімн України State Anthem of Ukraine

I've just found this recording of a little girl singing the Ukraine National Anthem.

I first heard her singing "Let it Go" whilst she was in a bunker in Kyiv, a while back.

This is heart-breaking to listen to.

My thoughts and prayers are for the people of Ukraine, and for the people of Russia, including journalists and other actvists who are doing what they can to stop this evil madness.


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Pot Shots

Courtesy of lily-livered missiles

(Tactical? Strategic? Who on Earth cares?)

Ukrainians lose the rest of their lives,

While eating lunch or dinner in their flats.

My thoughts drift to twittish highland royals,

And double-barrelled toffs who hunt for stags,

Which bleed and stagger round for days on end

Before they die in bouts of howling pain.

It is all part of a continuum:


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Who includes diversity...

Written in March 2023: one year on.

(...sees races, eras, dates, generations,

The past, the future, dwelling there, like space, inseparable together"

Walt Whitman, Kosmos)



Only fragile glass

                                   holds the cold

                                                                night's times at bay:

each star above the beech

owning its mo...

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wartimeUkraineWalt Whitman

Resistant News

Written in March 2022 in response to Simon Armitage's 'Resistance'

We watch

                      the News


                to comprehend

the horror that is war:

we see

destruction... death... weeping...

children who do not understand

      held in the arms of mothers

                who do not understand




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war poetryUkraineresistancerussia

Dumb Animals

When the old Soviet leaders

Went hunting for the day,

The animals were sedated

To make them easy prey.


Some decades in the future,

They send in droves to war

Minds numbed so much they do not know

What they are fighting for.


I guess there is a parallel;

It always has been thus.

Lemming and lamb go to their doom

With bare bones of a fuss.


While some...

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This indescribable Hell.

Go ahead, describe it:

You are bound to come up short.

Those nearby can’t do the job;

To them it’s still neighbourhood,

And photographs, as we know,

Will never do it justice.

Perhaps this is the way Hell

Gets away with its nonsense;

Its mammoth violation

Too vast to get a grip on,

So that no one even tries.

A brief sun bursts through the...

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Tears In The Rain

Savour this warmth

Within me you see

For, what shall return 

May no longer be me


That which these eyes

Have still yet to see

May make a small shell

Of all I could be


Though, I fear I may not

Come back at all

Lying still and alone

Wherever I fall


Show my daughter a photo 

When her world feels small

The one where we're laughing 

At nothing ...

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It’s only anonymity

Which makes us go to war;

When soldiers meet up face to face

They wonder what it’s for.


They talk of friends and relatives,

About whom they all care;

Discuss the beauty of the world,

Which they delight to share.


They do not bow to nation states

Or military types,

Whose mission is to keep them down

By tapping on their stripes.



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The risk is there's nothing left but hate,

Or loathing and calls for revenge.

Should we prevail, one understands;

In battle, feelings are stripped down,

Until all that remains is raw,

Sensitive to the lightest touch

And far too easily provoked.

It’s simple, from many miles away,

To preach reconciliation

And call for offering of hands.

Less straightforward if family


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The Late Show

We used to sit out in the Maidan Square

Before the war, and chat into the night;

Our arguments continued well past twelve.

We called ourselves the late show, like TV.

But now there is a late show every day:

Late husbands, brought back home in body bags;

Late wives, uncovered by a fire crew;

Late children, each identified by toys,

Beneath the expendable wrecks of schools.


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Tread softly, the poet said, on my dreams.

Ukraine: a girl with a hunger for life

Took a detour on her way to school

To pick some early snowdrops for the class,

And some as a present for the teacher.

Cowardice is not equal in a war:

If you run from fighting, you are punished,

But if you scarper after laying mines,

You are feted as a hero, adorned

With medals, as your unk...

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Reluctant Soldier

The sky looked weary 

Pale and colourless 

As were we

I laid down my rifle

and thought of what I'd told her

I'd left it in the hollow of her mind

In the place where dreams ascend 

So, when the day came 

they could carry 

all that grief & sorrow away

and feed it to the clouds

for when they felt like crying

And on that day

Laden with the burden of

a thousand...

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Total War

It’s bizarre that Eurovision,

That riot of drivel and camp,

Became a combatant in war:

Builders bopped to the Ukraine song.

Politicians of every sort

Are decked out in blue and yellow.

Hollywood types, shocked in their awe,

Enlist and worship at the shrine.

Lottery winners in hard hats

View body bags through telescopes.

Pray silence for the giant screen.

The workin...

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The theatre of war

Is two steps from your chair.

You watch it on the screen,

You calculate the odds

While weighing up the form

And placing your next bet

On where the bombs will fall.

Those in the know predict

That Kyiv is odds-on.

The news comes through at six:

Bulls-eye! Time to collect,

For your holiday cruise.


But please, gamble responsibly!

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The Finer Things

Wars are the usual bag of tricks:

Fought by the same class of suckers,

Straight out of factory or school,

Uncomplaining and scared to death.

Heads crammed with patriotic guff,

They squirm in trenches at the front

And finish dead or short of limbs.

Those who survive, when they return

To a country fit for heroes,

Are told, in no uncertain terms,

To shut up and to know t...

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Sending Tanks

I understand but don’t rejoice;

Steps may be both sad and vital.

In Prague in sixty-eight they said

That no one argues with a tank.

How right they were, although one man,

Brave as hell at Tiananmen,

Stood firm and stopped some in their tracks.

Now ministers of every hue

Queue up to mount these phallic toys,

The pitiless monsters of hate,

Murder machines for far-flung ...

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Letter from Ukraine

Lone husbands shed tears at birthday greetings,

Texted by their wives, estranged in the West.

Today’s public face of chilly winter,

The old man shivers for the cameras.

Helpless, like a baby, he tries language,

But no one cares. The caravan has moved on

To the banter of fighters in the East,

Joshing weakly as they scoop up bodies.

Life stirs somehow beneath a bombed buildin...

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Should I listen to Tchaikovsky

At the opera or ballet?

Should I enjoy his symphonies,

In recordings by the Hallé?


The ‘Little Russian’ tests our taste;

Some say it denigrates Ukraine.

And what about the Eighteen-Twelve’s

Bombastic cannon-ball refrain?


Divide the artist from his art?

That’s not the point; this artist’s great.

It’s not his fault where he was b...

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Prayer for Ukraine

Does anyone here believe in God?

Surely, if you believe in God,

You believe, for all its faults, in peace,

And there’s precious little sign of that.


Men dressed in gaudy robes and giant hats,

With pots of incense which they wave about,

Will bless all sorts of fighting and atrocity.

Blessed are the warmakers now, it seems.


That said, we know God is out there somewh...

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Zero Sum

Think pointless wars in places like Ukraine,

Where ungrown men are daily bashed to bits.

The battle rages on through sun and rain

And morning's loss foretells a later gain.


Lines move or bend, but finish up the same,

As reinforcements make sure each piece fits.

The casualties have no time to explain

The part as zero-sum pawns in this game.


The dead, we claim, like...

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Without Remorse

The blood of innocents spreads like a flood,

covering cities and fields

because a delirious egomaniac, without remorse,

needs to be named in history books


Cities and villages are turned into rubble

because a fiend, without remorse,

decides to restore an empire


Widows and orphans perambulate the streets

because a diminished despicable man,

without remorse or sha...

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Last Man Standing


(On 3 January 2023, Russia announced that 89 of its soldiers had been killed in an attack on Makiivka, Donetsk. Ukraine claimed that the number of dead was 400.)


I once travelled home on a London train.

It was packed; people pressed against the doors.

As I squeezed aboard, I noticed a sign:

‘Capacity four hundred; eighty-nine

Seated, the rest standing.’ I looked along


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