The Lowest of the Low

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...

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Ukraine

Rough Sleeper

The city numbs our sense of right and wrong.

Hurrying past, there is a temptation

To disregard his presence in our midst.

And, let’s face it, shocked at the exposure,

Most of us, averting eyes, do just that.

What would we see there, if we stopped to look

Beyond the torn sleeping bag, with a head

Propped up on folded rugs, squeezed yet still damp?

Would we see a life, a past...

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Przewodow

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,

They pai...

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Ukraine

Luxury

It’s a luxury if you can say:

‘I’m not in the mood right now.

I don’t feel like it.

I don’t really fancy it today.’

 

It’s the luxury of comfort,

Of the well- appointed,

The index-linked,

The flexible sort.

 

It’s not an option

For the poor or unfulfilled,

Nor for those hunting for scraps

Or queueing the pouring rain;

Nor for the worker who drops his sandw...

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#inequality

Mykolaiv Zoo

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;

Tr...

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Ukraine

A Song for Ukraine

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...

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Ukraine

Armageddon

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.

Until now.

 

Just before it landed,

The man next door reminded me

That tomorrow is his birthday.

 

Looking out, not much going on;

...

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Ukraine

Brass Monkeys

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,

...

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Ukraine

Foot Soldiers

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.

...

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Ukraine

Saxmundham

 

Once in Aldeburgh for the festival,

I checked out all the hotels. The White Hart

Was full up. (I knew I should have reserved).

So I decided to try Saxmundham,

Where my mum was stationed during the war

And often spoke of its bucolic charm.

Resplendent in ATS uniform,

She stares at me out of that photograph.

The room in the local pub seemed quiet,

But, returning from ...

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Day after Day

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...

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Ukraine

Mountain People

The mountain people speak in quiet tones;

Their language is concise, their speech is brief.

Beneath the precipice, in ice-thinned air,

Their words are chosen carefully. No slack

Is tolerated; any long-winded,

Fancy prattle is a stranger to them.

Visitors will be welcomed and advised

To take the shortest route, while the light lasts;

If not, hospitality is arranged,

With ...

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Revenge

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

Damps d...

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Ukraine

Apartment Block

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...

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Ukraine

Heyday

On those days when the news was slow,

Editors of a bygone age

Would hold the paper’s front page till

A tasty story reared its head.

You needed nerves of steel to bet

On beating deadlines with a splash:

A murder or a bank held up,

A bishop, caught in flagrante.

It was what the public wanted:

Big pictures, tearful confessions,

Have-a-go heroes, raffish cads,

Embitter...

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News

Here and There

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 ...

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Ukraine

Suburbia

Low-lit suburbia,

With its boxed excitement,

Suited her mood right now.

She lived a silent life

Of genteel disaster

And spent her afternoons

In cafés with her cups,

Deep in the corridor

Of her mind’s memories.

A kiss in a car park,

Which could have changed her life

(But which changed someone else’s),

Still haunted her at nights,

When darkness stole her dreams...

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suburbia

Sympathetic Stars

There’s no point in denying

Our cherished world is dying.

We’re choking it to death

With ill-considered breath

From factories and cars;

Soon sympathetic stars

Will weep at our demise

And curse our leaders’ lies.

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national poetry dayEnvironment

Generations

It was once in some far-off place

That the old would feather their nests,

And the young screamed in frustration,

Rattling the shackles of their cage,

While the middle-aged could afford

To lie back, safe in the knowledge

That their routine would get no worse.

A child, turning its twitchy gaze,

Is certain, in its innocence,

That its life will mine some marvels.

The unbo...

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Small Print

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...

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Ukraine

Referendum

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...

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Ukraine

In Town

A sweary man goes by;

Young Pauline and her brood

Buy more unhealthy food,

As usual.

 

No trains run this weekend,

Replacement bus is late,

Street’s in a shoddy state,

As usual.

 

The sports shop has closed down;

New nail bars and the ‘caff’

Look positively naff,

As usual.

 

There, where the bank once was,

An empty carcass stands,

But no one dirt...

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Difficult Decisions

The statement was made for comic effect;

That was the intention, one must presume,

Although the humour is a little sick

When millions are fearing winter’s doom.

‘Difficult decisions’ should be thought through,

Not simply be the sweep of some new broom,

And they should address a real dilemma;

Like whether or not to heat up your room,

Or sell your pets, economise on lunch,

...

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Izium

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...

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Ukraine

High Season (Our Village Liberated)

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...

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Ukraine

Time

Some say time is an illusion,

But I believe this not to be;

For time is present everywhere,

And waits to swallow you and me.

 

Replacement is the key to time;

Others step in as it rolls by:

Our school, our work, our love, our home –

These possessions appear to fly

 

Into the lap of someone else,

Who takes your desk and house and bed,

While you have seen the year...

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1966

When the Queen shook hands with Bobby Moore,

He wiped his in awkward reverence,

(Just in the way that Larkin reacted

By taking off his cycle clips in Church).

Such acts of unrehearsed respect,

Like the embarrassing curtsies

And those tongue-tied conversations,

May be the closest that we come,

Quite unwittingly, to sampling

A world of habits which endures

As years and ...

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Queen Elizabeth II

The Big Men

 

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’...

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Ukraine

King

The King entered swinging

And guzzled down a beer,

Before he picked a fight

With someone at the bar.

Humbled, he retreated

To his official car.

 

The King felt like some food;

The queue was far too long.

Impatiently, he waited,

Then pushed in at the front.

‘Do you know who I am?’

He often pulled this stunt.

 

The King had too much wealth;

He would give ...

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A Quiet Little Man

A quiet little man,

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...

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Ukraine

'Write Something'

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...

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Ukraine

Afternoon Stroll

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...

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Ukraine

Dawn in Ukraine

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...

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Ukraine

Atrocities

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...

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Ukraine

Guilty

I am, on most counts, as guilty as hell;

I deserve to be taken out and shot.

But those who take aim are guilty as well;

So I'm not.

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Late Larkin

(Towards the end of his life, Philip Larkin wrote very little poetry. 'They don't come any more', he said.)

 

In a small way, I understand the man.

As he grew older, verses would not come;

His delicious palette had been stowed away.

The ideas were there, aplenty, for sure -

Let’s face it, we have ideas all the time -

And words, waiting coyly to be favoured;

But his poems re...

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Larkin 100

Heaven's Gates

I know that the truth about war

Is limbs blown off and bodies burned,

Though someone working for the law

May bang his polished desk and say

That he will leave no stone unturned,

And generals will bleat and pray

That ‘certain’ lessons must be learned.

The soldier, gasping with relief,

Will weep in buckets for his mates

And dream, discreetly, in his grief,

Of planting ...

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warsoldiers

Facts

Facts are very boring; this much is true.

It’s hard to face them by the light of day;

Much easier to make the truth become

What you or someone else would like to say.

 

You will deny you dropped that bomb or shell;

You say the other side attacked its own.

You muddy waters, sow some seeds of doubt.

And cast the bleeding obvious as unknown.

 

You say you’re sceptical of...

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factfake news

Tanks

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.

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Ukraine

Blockbuster

‘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;

...

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Ukraine

Ceremony

Ceremony, like death, is all around.

Ceremony is life’s material;

Omnipresent but always elusive.

For some it never happens. We spectate

And drool, and press our face against the glass.

 

Hop on a bus. Look out of the window.

Somebody is dressing up or dancing,

Saluting an old war memorial,

Or chasing a ball in their sweat-soaked whites;

French kissing, or cracking so...

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ceremony

Innocents

 

(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...

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Ukraine

Gig Economy

She loved the pizza delivery boy;

She loved his cheery, optimistic ways.

She loved the feel of his muscular arms,

But not his endless sixteen-hour days.

 

That evening, he went out on the night shift;

He was so short of savings for his age.

But she was restless and her eyes would drift

Towards announcements on the singles page.

 

Soon after, he finished work exhausted...

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break-up

The Shape of Ukraine

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.

...

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Ukraine

Fancy Names

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,

Doused w...

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Ukraine

Frost, not Nixon

 

It’s strange how we remember certain things;

The nineteen-seventies, that was a time.

David Frost interviewed Tricky Dicky.

Years before, we ran into him at Lord’s:

‘You’ve dropped your coat,’ he motioned to my dad.

Stunned by the presence of celebrity,

We didn’t even get his autograph.

Screaming Lord Sutch was still screaming all day;

At the local primary school Georg...

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Conundrum

 

We know the climate is changing;

We know that the atmosphere roasts.

We know too soon many places

Will be fit for no one but ghosts.

 

Yet we demand our holidays

And haggle for more and more stuff;

With regard to our consumption,

Excesses are never enough.

 

We all profess to love nature

And take the environment’s slant,

But we are pursuing lifestyles

Wh...

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climate change

Dying in Ukraine

They’re dying every minute in Ukraine.

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.

It ...

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Ukraine

A New Life

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...

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Ukraine

Teacher

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...

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Ukraine

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