Poetry Blog by Greg Freeman

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Greg Freeman on Islands of the Loire (Fri, 31 Jan 2020 09:01 pm)

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Islands of the Loire

entry picture

Faraway, naked couple

disrupt a crane. It huffs away

as they pursue each other

among terns and cormorants  

on a plump sandbank

as wide as a beach.


River invades each winter,

islanders take

to flat-bottomed boats.

But they have standards.

The restaurant-bar where

“il n’est pas possible”

in the height of summer

just to get a drink.  

“Quel dommage!” w...

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Paris 1944, 2004

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‘Tenez bon. Nous arrivons,’

the liberators told the restless Resistance

in messages dropped from the sky.


Von Choltitz held firm, defying

Hitler’s demand to fire the city.

‘Come quickly,’ he urged the Allies.


Laval and Petain fled as Paris rose;

hundreds died before the ceasefire.

Sixty years on, our Friday Eurostar


from Waterloo packed with rugby fans.


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After shedding Pennine tears

they fled the rain and men of Yorkshire

to learn the sevillaña

under Andalusian skies.


Angry and passionate flamenco:

the teacher reproved them for smiling.

The four-part sevillaña was another matter,

something that everyone could master.


Not all Marbella expats sit in beach bars

nursing a beer, a grudge, and the Daily Mail.

A bl...

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January Swear Box

The Queen (The Crown); Prince Philip (The Crown); Lord Mountbatten (The Crown); Australia's prime minister; the Soviet secret police arresting people at night (The Death of Stalin); Stalin dying of a heart attack (The Death of Stalin); Trump spokeswoman being rude to Channel 4 intervewer; Sky Soccer Saturday's Geoff Stelling; Piers Morgan; Arsenal's second equaliser against Chelsea; Boris Johnson ...

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The black beach

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The statue leans forward,

towards the sea, arms by its side

but yearning for contact,


for reconciliation after the years

of net-cutting, rammed boats,

skippers playing Rule Britannia,


only ended when this newest

land threatened to close

the Nato base at Keflavik.


Moon rising in a purple dusk.

Waves sidle up on Vik’s black beach

as Katla shifts under ...

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entry picture

Quick, open the curtains.


What happens next?

What’s this scene about?

Will someone keep

those children quiet?


What went wrong there?

Who missed their cue?

Doesn’t matter if it goes

tits up, it’s only panto,


something to keep out

winter’s chill. Forget

what happened

at the dress rehearsal.


The more mistakes

you make, the more the fun.


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The carriage in the forest

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After three days of arguing the armistice was signed

in the French general’s private train

at a siding in the forest of Compiegne.

The Kaiser left for exile in Holland.

The military, unwilling to admit defeat,

still surrendered guns and planes.


No one told the people how bad things were.

A German corporal, recovering

after being gassed the month before,

a misfit who...

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First world warsecond world war

The Three Kings, Clerkenwell

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i.m Caroline Jones


Today’s special: Toulouse sausages

and mash, or pumpkin ravioli.

Quizzical rhinoceros head peers

from wall papered with celebrities.

WC Fields behind the bar. Poster

of Chet Baker, should be Bobby Moore.


A stopped clock. Coals glow

in the grate, warm, darkening gloom

of a wintry weekday afternoon.

It’s time for rum. There’s no one

left ...

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The Sambre canal, November 4 1918

entry picture

After Craiglockhart he returned to the front line.

In October the officer wrote home:

‘My senses are charred. I don’t take

the cigarette out of my mouth

when I write Deceased over their letters.’


After four years of war that transformed his verse

the Allies were making swift advances

but talk of peace was premature. He wrote

to Sassoon: ‘The new soldiers cheer

when ...

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Le Treport

It seemed like another of my mother’s

mad missions. We left at the crack of dawn,

caught a snorting steam engine

at Boulogne, the like I’d never seen before,

cleaned our teeth under a tap

on the platform at Abbeville.

Boarded another train for Le Treport,

a train that stopped everywhere.


The taxi driver said: ‘Which cemetery?

There are two.’ We struck lucky, found


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Brexit Boy

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Feels like we’ve won the league. Yet

I get so angry I want to smash things.

You know that feeling? When people

sneer on the telly, or you talk

to someone who’s been to university.

You see their lip curl, when they think

you’re not looking. Take back control!


Ain’t just the weather, I’m always hot

under the collar. Say what we think

on the buses, down the tube. Tell ...

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York station

entry picture

You’ve come from somewhere;

                       you’re going somewhere else.


On a wall in this minster of stations

is a map of the North Eastern Railway

around 1900. Lines criss-crossing

North Yorkshire: Coxwold, Ampleforth,

Helmsley, Hovingham, Slingsby,

Kirbymoorside. Amotherby,

Wetwang, Fangfoss.


Memorials to that railway chancer

George Hudson. Puffed-...

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The oak tree

A misshapen old man

that barred our way to school.

We would sidle past, caps over our eyes,

the aged oak in Greenfield Avenue,

so wide the path went round it;

startling, lurid growths

broke away from its crevices,

crumbling at a touch.


Aware of beauty, we gathered

cobwebs, glistening with dew

and sunlight, netting them as gleaming fish

in rock pools, with bent...

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The donkeys of Mijas

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bear children and overweight parents

around the streets on New Year's Eve.

At work they see nothing

but the cart in front, face their fate

in blinkered silence. Tethered

in stalls, their braying

roars through the town.


Pale-haired twins twirl

each other with ghostly smiles;

Marbella square awash with people,

music as midnight nears.

Our daughter doles out the ...

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The Grammar School

He turned up pissed, fresh

from the pub: glazed face,

breathing beer, gazed at the boy

in the front desk, stroked

his blond shock of hair.

It was all such a hoot.

About him flew books,

duffel bags, hockey boots.


The ale wore off, he growled

for quiet; clutched

with nicotine fingers the Penguin

book of contemporary verse,

decades out of date.

He coughed a...

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The poetry of Art Garfunkel

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Pimms in the palace gardens

before the concert, sun soaking

the evening crowd, reluctant

to leave their picnics

and champagne for the music.

One half of a famous duo, the one

that arranged the harmonies

but didn’t write the songs.


Great reception, nevertheless.

Patience even when he craved

our indulgence  to read a few

so-so ‘prose poems’. Now in his 70s,


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A sad little station

on the Hampton Court line,

the place where the fast

slowed down for Surbiton.

It overlooked a sewage farm

we’d cycle past, a short cut.

Lower Marsh Lane

more or less summed it up.


Sad? Not for us.

John and I would trainspot there,

watching the Merchant Navys

and Battle of Britains

round the bend and thunder

towards us, while listenin...

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A Foreign Wood

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The empire called for more men, and they came.

Shipped from sub-continent

to western front,

Gallipoli, Mesopotamia, East Africa, 

largest volunteer army in the world.

They weren’t ready for the cold;

couldn’t understand new officers

when theirs were slain. 

Some wounded, shipped to England,

died and were buried

in a corner of a foreign wood

with Muslim honours...

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Murder mile

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Rome lays bare its bones,

a body dissected for sightseers:

in a corner of the square, the spot in 44 BC

where the Senate met and Caesar fell.

Pillars, ruined temples, marble lavs

uncovered, for the cats to colonise.

Let developers

gnash their teeth in vain.   


In the nearby shadows of a back street

small shrine to politician Aldo Moro,

found in the boot of a...

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The Oldies


Mature English Blonde lady

offers no rush massage.

Old postcards wanted

by private collector.

Continence care:

bed protection,

pads, briefs, accessories.


Wanted: Dinky toys, model trains.

Underwear by post.

Understanding attractive

Continental lady offers

memorable massage

to discerning gentlemen

in discreet Marylebone surroundings.



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Looking back, we remark upon another year

crammed with readings,

poetry festivals, am dram rehearsals.

The illustrations? Jaunty railway

posters, preferably from the 1930s,

views of promenade and coast for you,

moors and uplands for me,

awash with confident colours.

Life begins at 60? Too true!


Looking forward, an older woman,

us before too long,  

checks her ...

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To My Unknown Soldier

I hope these help to keep you safe.

Are you lonely at the front?

You have your pals, along the trenches.

And we have ours, inside the factory.

The laughs we have, us girls.

I didn’t mean, that kind of lonely.


That’s why I’m slipping my note

inside this box of ammo,

which, I hope, protects you.

It’s funny. Though we’ve never met

and maybe never will, I often


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First world war


You mourn old photographs:

‘I was pretty then, and I never knew it.’


I’ve just filled an album

with our last pieces of paper

before digital took over:

It includes my mother’s 80th birthday

(she just missed out on 90).

A fabulous, tearful, joyous Sikh wedding,

dancing to the bhangra boy’s beat,

the marriage lasting little more

than a year. That holiday in Sorrento...

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Plain Man's Valentine

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By Frank Jaye


You’ll get no Valentine from me; I’m not the type,

Pallid daffodils prematurely delivered – all that transatlantic hype.

I am not easy with love, be it concept, verb or noun,

My sentiments are more mundane and wear a plainer crown,

Embellished with affection, encouragement, respect not least,

You moderate my temper, rising still like yeast.


Maturity has...

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Valentine poem


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“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” 

Jack Kerouac, On the Road


for Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty


“The only people f...

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Jack KerouacOn the Road

The Eleven-Plus

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Football over, mown grass,

heady scent. School photo,

earnest expressions

squinting into sun.

Yearning, inexplicable,

unspoken crush

on a blonde-haired girl

with snub nose and pudgy face.



Winners and losers.

Another girl, dark-haired,

stared moodily after me,

had I but known.

Dusty sang I Just Don’t Know

What To Do With Myself.


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Margaret Thatcher: how I missed my moment

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My first and only, indirect encounter with Margaret Thatcher was in 1971, at a demo outside a private girls’ school in Leamington. The “milk snatcher, union basher” – the then-education secretary had introduced some legislation about student unions, but I can’t remember the significance of it now -  was handing out the prizes at speech day. Protesters gathered outside the school gates. I was ne...

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Margaret Thatcher

Jones the Voice

Once his nose was fixed

a sex bomb was launched

from the valleys all the way

to Vegas. Gospel truth.

Blazened out cheesey ballads,

brazen hips met with

rapid fire of knickers.


With age came self-mockery.

Always more to Jones the voice;

not quite ready to be put out to grass.

Rediscovered soul, became

hip with old and young.

Now he roared abo...

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Tom Jones

The Winter Gardens


Always blew like hell beside the Winter Gardens,

playing havoc with the wives’ hairdos.

Sunny Jim Callaghan and his silly song,

fishermen's tales about catches and the EU.


A little arm-twisting, word in the right ear;

the workers, united, will never be defeated.

Late-night curries and composite motions.

Flying pickets, tactics; that wasn’t my department.


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The cat, the damselflies, and the deer

That Google thrill;

seeing your name overtake

drain clearers, garage owners,

estate agents, even playwrights.

Habit had to be fed,

became second nature.

Alarmingly easy. Just change

a location, you’re on to a winner.


Imitation built a growing

reputation; flattery,

offers to publish

a first collection. That

MA in creative writing.


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Cat Comp

Railways cento

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There were flags, and a few maps.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

A soldier and wife, with haggard look.

The convict, and boy with violin.

The river’s level drifting breadth began.

Things moved. I sat back, staring at my boots.

For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?

Letters of thanks, letters from banks.

And for that minute a blackbird sang.


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CentoWrite Out Loud November poetry exercise


The walls of life are closing in;

her world reduced to one room

covered in pictures that sometimes


jog memories, but more often

questions, like: ‘Who is that man?

I don’t know him.’

                      ‘That’s Dad, Mum.’

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Waiting for the next one

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Hotel in a stranded coastal town.

Locals are trained in evacuation;

TV station's webcam is watching,

awaiting the volcano.

                      The volcano is overdue.

                      The tour guide does not mention this.


Alien terrain stretches to the horizon,

moss-cushioned lava, misshapen limbs,

battlefield of broken trolls. Deserts

of black s...

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The bike race

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In the subway they’re cleaning the graffiti;

new mural with torch / jubilee theme.

Railway bridges receive fresh coats of paint.

Down-at-heel England attempting to gleam.  


The schoolkids have made willow sculptures

of cyclists leading the way. At the park

where teenagers drink wine all night,

the beer tent is open all day.


The Olympics are coming to ...

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WOL Olympic Competition

Gentler pleasures

Attend the church summer fete;

tombola and a silver band,

lucky dip and discarded books.

Bike along the restored canal.

Nurture your own, make do and mend;

hark again to the vinyl.


Sell the car, return to Scarborough,

watch cricket on the green, 

Wander aimlessly in the garden

as leaves swirl about in the wind.

For all the money is gone;

life won't be the same...

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Two ladies, late eighties: one flicking

the pages of Majesty magazine

to pass the time, but still a believer;

the other preparing to sail down

the Thames in a royal barge. 


Yachts, palaces, castles, state visits,

breakfast cereal in Tupperware cartons.

Happy holidays in the Isles of Scilly,

bereavement, confusion, incontinence.


One paid her care home fees by se...

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The cruet set


I never really knew my mother’s father.

All I remember: tuft of nostril hair,

spied from sitting on his knee; and a hoard

of half-hidden threepenny pieces

slipped into a sandpit outside the lido.


In pictures he looks a kind, fair man.

Worked for his only firm from 16 to 61.

Received a wedding cruet set in 1922,

inscribed "from members and friends" at ...

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Family silver

Rooftops (for Bruno Cordati)

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The worst of the front was that trickle of rain

down the neck. Wet through, it felt like liberation.

And lice. Home on leave, people shunned him in trains.


Walled, hilltop village of his childhood:

as another war came, he returned to Barga.

Saw himself as immobile, a tree spreading roots.


When the Germans briefly retook his village

one self-portrait was damaged. The ...

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ItalyPaintingsecond world war

The Clyde Paddle Steamers

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Memory as clear as a perfect summer;

two-funnelled steamship, day trip

to Inverary. Pier to pier under fug

of smoke; going below

to watch engine cranks turn mesmerically;

on the way back people on deck

singing to an accordion band.


Most of the Clyde paddle steamers

scattered or scrapped. One lay berthed

on the Thames, lost. Just

the cash-strapped Waverley,


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ClydePaddle steamers

Kicking and screaming

Breakfast is moving to Salford. 

The giant polar bear will melt

in about five days.  The landlord

has a firm, settled intention:

by night he dons all the sequins

and feathers, trawling hotspots,

on patrol. No deposit, ever. 

What early trauma ...? Emergency lights:

cowering under a stool in the kitchen. 

(Actona Dodgem Bar Stool on chrome base). 

Did she ...

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cut-upexperimentalmanchester evening news

Question 17

Question 17 on the census form “is left intentionally blank.”

Pull the other one: there was a question there once.


Do you surreptitiously pick your nose

when you think no one is looking?

Do you have trouble sleeping /

get up in the night at all hours,

worrying about things left undone,

or things you did, and shouldn’t have?


Are you happy in your job/ ...

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Bobbing in moonlight, pleasured by waves;

journeying through swell, under stars;

buffeted by wildness, first murmur, then roar;

smacked against rocks, the foam and the crack


Coasting on rollers, taken for a ride;

immersion, hope, exhilaration, surprise;

borne along on billows, swept up by joy;

directed where the tide decides


Chill dawn emerging,...

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Something for Everyone


Seeds, sheets, plugs, paint; something of everything

if not much range. Pots, pencils, saucers, plates;

pocket-money treasures, find a present

for your gran. Towels, wrapping paper, pins.

Sometimes you came away with a bargain.

If only they didn’t keep moving the plants,

picture frames, toys, socks and sockets, sweets.

Times changed; you only called in now and ...

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World Cup haiku

A vuvuzela

up Mark Lawrenson's backside;

it's what he deserves

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footballMark Lawrensonvuvuzela

What a Wonderful Game

(This one's for Ray, and all the others out there) 


Brazil in Mexico;

Bonetti’s blunder and Gazza’s tears;

Pele, Eusebio, Cruyff;

North Korea, when they were plucky, not dangerous and mad;

The often-absent Tartan army;

Beckenbauer’s grace and Zidane’s rage;

Argentina!  Rattin’s dismissal, Maradona’s revenge;

Can Drogba carry Africa’s flag?

Wembley, the ...

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FootballWorld Cup

A time that glowed


Once it was a time that glowed:

turned-up collar, hurrying through glistening, early 60s streets.

A kind of muddling, room at Odsal Top,

or summat like that;

steam train always whistling in the distance


Dashing for the bus; overcoats,

shopping bags, windows steamed up,

conductor breathless.

Running the last yards from the corner,

hammering at the ...

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northold agesouthyouth

The Reluctant Volunteer

My dad, no hero, didn't look

for punch-ups. When the call came

he signed for the pay corps. 

But the look on his face

sometimes got him into bother.


He couldn't quite stomach the drilling,

or hide what he thought

of the shouts, the how's your father, 

the moustache and tiny eyes,

the whole bloody rigmarole of the sergeant major. 


One night in ...

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Big Fish in Masvingo Lake

There’s a big fish at the bottom of Masvingo lake.

Old, fat, and ugly, it won’t be caught


I glimpsed it once, on the end of my hook;

Thought I had it, saw its cruel, fierce eyes


The fishing isn’t good in the lake.

The big old one has eaten almost all the others.

People still come to try and catch it


Maybe if the lake dries up

It will be found there at the bottom

Wriggling, squ...

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