Getting ready for bed last night,

I heard, in the distance, a cry.

An owl? A dog’s bark? No, a man

Howling at his disappointments,

At his bad luck, his one mistake,

His limp, his pain, the sucker punch

Which floored him when caught off his guard.

Then, all at once, the silence fell.

As I sank into the mattress,

I thought of his long night ahead,

Of good deeds tha...

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Exam Question


Gary and Barry were as happy as Larry,

But Larry was really quite depressed.

So were Gary and Barry

Feeling all that happy?


You may have already guessed.

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Less obvious

Drop the less obvious, the cryptic clue;

I expect that from others, not from you.

Your talent is to give it to me straight;

Which is why you remain my friend and mate.

So please, no subtle hints, no secret code;

My kind of game is where all hands are showed.

Discreet intimations just leave me cold;

I need the direct, the up-front, the bold.

Inklings and whispers are no soli...

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Johnny Bang-Bang


‘Bang-Bang’ Johnny loomed large above my youth:

A cowboy hero shooting baddies down,

He made the world a better place to live.

Part comic-book, part black and white TV,

He had the most profound effect on me.


I never questioned what is right and wrong

Or asked myself about the shades of grey.

I just assumed that guys with guns and stripes

Would constitute a proper ...

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You ask if you can buy some piece of tat.

You ask how far will go this winding road.

You ask to where this raging river flows.

You ask for the stars, the moon and the sun;

All day you make demands,


But you never float on the weightlessness of a melody,

You never breathe the clean air of the prisoners’ freedom,

Never die a little during a string quartet,

And never ...

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The Peppers


The Peppers lived at number three;

Our house was at number eight.

We used to see them every day,

Crouched down behind their garden gate.


Mr Pepper’s hair was snowy white;

His stare grew ever bolder.

Mrs Pepper oozed the glamour,

Though was twenty-five years older.


They had a mangy dog called Fred

And at least a hundred cats.

They were so pampered that t...

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Old Writer


Our television crew arrived today,

To celebrate his age of eighty-five,

Perhaps surprised that he was still alive.

The film ‘Nigel Thing at work, rest and play’

Was always bound to be a non-event.

All we got was a sedentary old gent.


The foppish young admirers had left

To chatter somewhere down near Charing Cross,

The critics had forgotten who he was,

His last ...

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Love in Winter


At grubby winter’s evening time,

They waited in the cold and dark.

He saw her run across the park;

Each changed their taxis in between,

To take no chance of being seen.

He opted for a jazzy blue;

She wrapped herself in guilty green.


Later, beneath a small squashed sky,

They looked back at the empty room,

Scraped featureless by some new broom,

With all scraps...

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The Log Sledge


He had said: ‘Don’t give it a thought,’

So I did not;

But later, in the shade of a waking moment

Of a quiet spot, I did.


It was not the thought, but the memory;

I had opened that door

And seen them. It couldn’t be erased

Or picked up off the floor, not now.


She had come after me, rearranged her hair.

Then his turn to explain,

Or try to, but I was in no ...

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Global Rat


The global rat,

He’s on the prowl;

He may be eating local fowl.

No time to talk,

No time to play,

Global rat is getting away.


He’ll never been caught, the global rat;

He’s fallen down hard and hit the ground,

Yet signs of his presence still abound.

The autumn leaves, the apple tree,

The family down at twenty-three,

Can testify he’s still around.



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Once demos held the highest ground;

We marched against an unjust war.

Now what the hell do they march for?

These folks (mostly blokes) like the sound

Of their own voice. What do they say?

Why should we let them have their way?

They talk of choice and being free

But do not know what these words mean.

They disbelieve all we can see

Through face masks and the plastic s...

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Dead of Night


Come Sun, drop down, defer to light;

Defer to stars, soon twinkling bright,

Defer to the Moon, up above,

Defer to unlit, sombre love.

Defer to silence in the sky,

To floating clouds which tiptoe by,

To owls and their nocturnal shriek.

The dark, by dint of huge physique,

Enjoins the light to stay away

And shields the secret lives at play.

At least till Earth compl...

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Eighty year-old rockers



The plight of such seniors is well known:

Stripped of a status they once used to own,

They still play a part at eighty years old,

With faces flushed and extremities cold.


Retired from cavorting on the stage,

With spouses well beyond the pension age,

They favour shop clothes and elastic waists,

Count Berg and Stravinsky among their tastes.


With no further...

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Waste of Space


There is a limit to the size of Earth;

We have to learn to live within this sphere.

This air, this land, these seas are all we have;

We can’t make any more, no matter how

We play and toy with innovative fakes.

No annex on the Moon, no Mars estate;

We work with what is here, without complaint.

There’s progress, there is fantasy, and then

Wet dreams of schoolboys wasting...

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Raw data swirled around my head;

I should have been in love instead,

But I was not. Time and again

The mechanism of my brain

Seizes up with dancing numbers,

While the worn-out city slumbers.

The next day, through some early mist,

I hesitate, but don’t insist;

Convoys of data trundle by

And each one tries to catch my eye;

But, for the sake of you and I,

I steel myse...

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The wisdom of age


The crushed-ice boy in the corner

Has both his eyes fixed on the cup,

But the old hands near the dart board

Have the tournament sewn up.



Though cocky, preening juniors

Contest the calls across the net,

The veterans the other side

Win at a canter for a bet.


Gun-waving youths are boasting that

They’ll stop the flight of helpless birds;

The grey campa...

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One evening as I dig and hoe,

I chance upon parades of souls,

Proceeding past the garden’s end.

Electing not to comprehend

The point of our respective roles,

I follow, distantly and slow,

Then stop, astonished, in the woods.

For my intruder’s eye can see

The souls span humankind, of course,

But plants and beasts are there in force;

You find a man, an ass or tree:


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Hunger Games


Five minutes past sell-by,

Near perfect to taste,

A plush gourmet banquet

Is tossed into waste.


Misshapen apples,

Slightly ripe pears,

Twisted bananas,

Soft kiwi squares


Are spied by the sorters,

Discarded as scrap,

While all the world’s starving

Present arms and clap.

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Prime Sinister


I still cannot believe

He is in Number Ten.

I’d seen him more in films,

Cavorting on Big Ben.

As Fay Wray screams so high,

He gives the girls the eye,

And spouts the practised lie

Of all such gilded men.

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Something for nothing

Getting something for nothing

Seems like a pretty good deal,

If perhaps a touch unreal.

The moment when you break the bank,

With no one else but you to thank.


Getting something for something

Puts you on a level pitch.

You swap a bit of that for this,

The balance, in the end, of which

Depends how much the something is.


But getting nothing for something

Is ...

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Ancient History


It’s not ours, our ‘own’ backyard;

We pitch a tent and borrow

This patch for our duration.

By diversion, we consume

At an ever faster rate,

But for the same reasons – sex,

Greed, guilt, jealousy, revenge –

As ten thousand years ago.

Are we happier today?

Contented and more fulfilled?

Brainier and better skilled?

We think so, but do not know.

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Old Dancers


A tango, a foxtrot, a waltz :

They danced until the night had gone.

This was, by now, their greatest love,

But not their consuming passion.

That stopped years ago : a booze-up,

A handshake and out of the door.

All efforts of return rebuffed.

So now they twinkle starrily

Around the glitter in the halls,

Their sunset years a rare campaign,

A chance to live their li...

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We used to live in packed societies:

Packed trains, packed clubs, packed shoulder to shoulder,

The crowd squeezed in and sniffing next door’s sweat.

Think back : no room to pass on the pavement.


From now on the word is to move apart,

Keep everyone out of touching distance,

Disinfect at will, no song or shouting,

Forbidden seating, air hellos and bows.


Our use...

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These Drawings

Up there, two lovers trembled, face to face,

While life raced by, at its frenetic pace.

Some days and nights passed by; the people talked

And in the cool of autumn time some chalked,

Upon inviting spaces on the wall,

These drawings of the lovers and their fall.

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There is an moment prior to a storm,

Just as the wind is piling up its force,

As clouds prepare the deluge soon to come

And light dims slowly into daytime dark.

A pause to quietly evaluate,

In fat, adhesive air, perhaps too late,

The shaky balance of our bite and bark,

The precipice of life, the total sum

Of highlights and a chance to alter course.

Now we retreat fo...

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Think Piece


Groupthink, doublethink, we’ve all had enough.

The very act of thinking is unwise.

Sit back and let this truth wash over you;

That’s the idea. Nobody will notice

The interruption of your whirring cogs

In the red letters of the global brain,

Or miss your spit-smart, jabbered online views.

There’s a new world out there; wide boulevards

And joyous, sunny escapades await


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Military Coup


A group of my neighbours, past middle age,

Run every Tuesday, in the dead of night,

Like the wind to the end of their garden.

Rain, snow, hot, cold, they strip off and make love.

‘So what? It’s a free country,’ you might say,

Unless you know that most are Generals

Who don't want the place to remain that way.

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The Truth


The truth is a mountain

Encamped in thoughts above;

Revealed in cares and woes,

In daily highs and lows,

In whispered tales nobody knows.


Truth is the chainsaw

And the fighting cocks,

The rolled umbrella,

The undistinguished socks.


Truth is East,

Truth is West,

Truth is what you once did best.

Truth is those who fail the test.


The ones who...

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The postman used to ring twice


To a vintage film director,

A naive drifter was ensnared

By the wiles of a platinum stunner

And liquidated husbands in his rage.


Nowadays in the service sector,

The drifters come better prepared.

They ring just the once and do a runner,

Venting anger at the minimum wage.

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Big Dave Diff


Big Dave Diff was a local bloke;

He liked a laugh, a risky joke;

When no one watched, he cadged a smoke.

One day he told us he was broke.


Though usually a blow to pride,

He seemed to take it in his stride,

But soon great chasms, acres wide,

Would open up on every side.


His savings short, surviving thanks

To social credits and food banks,

Dave’s loan sha...

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What she remembered was the sound of seagulls,

Not the burning eyes of the eager boy

She had come away with for a dare.

Harold. Yes, that was his name.

She could see he had it all planned out.

‘I’ve brought some,’ were his first words.


Frinton. She had gone there because that was where

Mum and Dad had spent their honeymoon.

Where she was conceived, almost certainl...

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I remember him all those years ago,

Ploughing through the sleet and the mushy snow

One late December night at Upton Park,

Where pre-Christmas fixtures lit up the dark.


He made his move in his late middle age,

Flaunting his body on the public stage.

Far from Charles Atlas but certainly male,

Folds set to wobble and skin turning pale.


I recall the cold steamed ...

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The Little Book of Love


They needed a short paperback on love:

‘A hundred pages,’ explained the letter,

‘Airport stuff, a Christmas stocking filler.’

Simple enough, I thought: a poem or two,

A few choice quotes from the usual suspects,

A photo of a couple by the Seine,

Plus memories of passions at first sight,

Delirious summer days of pleasure.


‘The Little Book of Love’, I shall call it.


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Come out today!


Come out today! Come out today!

To see this first of June display!

The pinks, the whites, the blues, the reds,

Emblazoned on well-tended beds.

Fuelled by spring rain, still in the soil,

The fruits of nature’s ceaseless toil,

They preen themselves till summer’s heat

Brings shrivelling and sure defeat.

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A drifter rides into the town,

Soft-spoken and quite roughly dressed;

His smile and manner win him friends,

Three others are far less impressed.


While he relaxes at the bar,

They gather, spoiling for a fight.

The plain folk start to peel away;

This is a match of wrong and right.


He swigs his drink and spins around;

He picks off one from either side.


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UK Nul Points

An uninspired singer,

A rather plodding song:

Zero voters can't  be wrong.


No offence, mind;

I'm sure they did their best.

I just wanted

To get it off my chest.

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First sight


Your loveliness faded with the morning.

At first sight, this may seem strange. Why should it?

The daybreak, with its blaring rays of sun,

Perturbed, with its sudden glare, our idyll:

The twilight just before impatient dawn,

When your beauty had attained perfection.

Illumination disarranged the mix,

Removing the refinement of the dark.

Will we see again this rare conjun...

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At the time of colours, no one came here.

The sea-red sand, compacted, stained the floor

Of the yellow valley. Some way above,

Off-duty mountains in teardrops of blue

Topped hedgehog browns in bark of trees. At dusk,

Venus shone, white as glass. No one came here.

Alleged sightings of a stagecoach, a cart,

Or a bicycle, easily disproved,

Confirm this truth, with proof t...

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As he looks out past prison bars,

He magnifies the unkempt world:

Sees leftovers for Sunday lunch,

Dry sandwiches, with corners curled.


The paint is peeling off the doors;

The once-thumbed books are brown and frayed.

Through windowpanes, opaque with grime,

Lie bills piled high, as yet unpaid.


Most words recede in faded ink;

All vivid colours dim with age,


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What Matters


Now is not important;

Nothing really matters.

Your latest wheeze in shreds,

A whole month’s work in tatters.

This is not what matters.

Your ego is the thing

Controlling this charade,

And in a cowbell’s ring,

Lines spoken by a bard

Or low skies dappled red,

All timelessness is stored.

While close by, in the head,

A devil’s dreams are moored.

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Detective Stories


The college master lurks behind the screen;

The innocent young student is his prey.

‘My experiment!’, he cries, triumphant.

Inside a church, remorseful priests clench hands;

Dog-tired wives can stand their fate no more.

Jealousy tears the fabric of their dreams.


Slow-witted boys are beaten to the punch;

An old man’s lust awakens from the dead.

Ambitious workers sl...

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Mister Larkin



Poems, deep on many levels,

May end up nowhere near enough.

At such a time, we should give thanks

That Mister Larkin did his stuff.


It’s true he had a gloomy side

And used the odd indecent word,

But nobody would claim his work

Would better be unseen or heard.


He wrote about the everyday,

Of unspent childhood, wedding feasts,

Sullied posters, non-co...

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Sell-By Date


We ordered him to write a verse.

The poet laboured night and day,

With little rest and with no pay,

And penned the best he could muster.

But as time passed, we feared the worse;

Now his ode has lost its lustre.


Its shiny eloquence has gone,

Its bounce and pace is weighted down

And, like a fading seaside town,

The content has slipped out of date.

There is an ...

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From her balcony, she scrutinised

A man’s strong hairy leg below.

“A very impressive one”, she purred.

“But I have two,” was his insistent reply.

Peeping downwards, he panicked, rose,

Unexpectedly lost his balance

And rummaged through the undergrowth.

She leaned over and waved something;

Enticing him up with the prospect.

“Is this what you were looking for?”

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I want a revolution now;

I want to smash the state.

I want a new society

To end this cruel stalemate.

I want to stop the lockdown,

Some lines of police to knock down;

The walls are going to tumble,

The edifice will crumble.


Hang on, they’ve opened up the pubs!

Oh well, mustn’t grumble.

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Enemy Losses


They’re lying at the bottom of the hill;

Not destined to climb back up to the top.

Face down in mud, their bodies stiff and still;

Their untold stories blasted to a stop.


We knew them once, as neighbours and as friends;

Their crime was being on the other side.

Once peace arrives, we’ll try to make amends,

But there’s no bringing back the ones who died.


For on...

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Upstairs, Downstairs


Below the stairs is where I want to be;

The people up above are too consumed

And sickly in their self-congratulation.

The air downstairs is pungent yet perfumed.

No rueful, unrequited love dwells here;

This place is where our follies are exhumed.


There’s no plush carpet like they have up top,

Just dingy crumbling concrete on the floor.

Some tenants may be flawed o...

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The first man in space


In that one orbit of the Earth,

He must have understood far more

That any human mind alive.

Think about it. Not just the view,

But actually being there:

Above the trifles, the low plod

Of puffed-up order, the slow deaths

In crowds pressed against shop windows.

Above the bile, the pious chat,

The mush of mediocrity.

Above the relevance of air.


Seeing all t...

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Glad to belong to the mainstream;

Delighted that my boats are burned.

I’ve joined the crowd life passes by,

The columns of the unconcerned.


My friends will never admit it,

But we are all set up just fine.

The ink, still drying on the page,

Initials with gusto each line.


There is now no way back for us;

The contract is sealed, like our fate.

And what is ...

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The cynics are the enemies of love;

Though cheats and low deceivers have their faults,

A part of them is driven by their heart.

The cynics know the fickle candle’s flame,

The ravages of time, the wilderness,

The unaccomplished ventures of our dreams.

But isn’t it delightful when they’re wrong

And one condemned liaison turns out long?

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