Stephen Gospage is an enthusiastic writer of poetry and short stories. Now retired and living near Waterloo, Belgium, he has dual British and Belgian nationality. He was born in West Ham, London, in 1953, but has spent most of his life in Brussels working for the European Union and is proud to call himself a citizen of Europe. He is writing a series of poems in response to the war in Ukraine, several of which appear in this profile. Several of these poems have appeared in 'Poems for Ukraine', an anthology produced by Poetry Performance and others have been collected into 'The Shape of Ukraine', which was published in November 2022 and is available on Amazon UK. Many more have been posted on the WOL poetry blog. He also produced a short pamphlet of Ukraine poems, entitled 'Snowdrops' in March 2023. Stephen's 2019 poetry collection “Bedside Days” is published by Lulu and is available on Amazon. He has also published a further poetry book entitled "The Shape of the Trees, Poems for 2020" which includes poems about Life, Brexit and the Pandemic. Some of the poems in the book have been shared on the WOL blog and a sample poem "Memory Tax" is included below. Several of his poems have been published in the 'New European' newspaper, including "The Pavements of Europe" from 2019, which is reproduced here. This profile also includes "Climate Change and us", which highlights concerns about the overwhelming issue of our time.
Survival (New Year in Ukraine 2024)
This year we did not celebrate, But curled up in our makeshift bed And kept our fingers tightly crossed That no drones would fall on our head. New Year was once a pleasant time; We used to dance around the street, But these days we just hunker down. You never know what you may meet. Survival is the game’s name now; There is no space to sing and cheer. The limits of ambition are To make sure that you are still here. The absences of kith and kin And friends in exile far away, Have stripped enjoyment to the bone As long as evil is in play.
Each time he climbed another mountain peak, He took a slice home as a souvenir; Nothing too big, just a vanishing scrape. One day, on cue, he heard the mountain speak, And through dawn’s modest light, it shed a tear At such a violation of its shape. This act would likely finish his career.
The tax on memory will be increased, Effective from next Saturday at ten. An extra five per cent will be applied To every word remembered after then. Stuff from the past will weigh our system down; We’ll give a rebate for your future thoughts. Provided they conform to what we like, Your polished teeth may feature in reports. Don’t think that we can promise, though; we can’t. Our fiscal line depends upon supply Of out-of-date ideas to bring in cash And punters having other fish to fry. And in the end, does it really matter? Our archives will be slimmed down to a dearth. Memories in time attain their limit, Once their possessors lie beneath the earth.
Climate Change (and us?)
Climate Change (and us?) The planet turns, the planet turns; The adults fiddle while Rome burns. And children yet to be conceived Have every right to feel aggrieved. And us? We plunder wealth from mines And join the back of frantic lines In shirtsleeved January sales, Pursued by ever-warming gales. Exhausts and power stations spout Unheeded warnings all about. But politicians must pretend That nothing need change in the end. And us? We like to say we care, But still demand our swollen share Of space and luxuries consumed. If we go on like this, we’re doomed. The strongmen plan to reach their goal By felling trees and burning coal. This fragile membrane’s tinderbox Reverberates with ticking clocks. And us? Our thirst for wealth and stuff Will decimate this world enough To make sure nothing will remain. And there’s no time to start again. In nature’s misery and drought, What was ‘in store’ is now about; Faced with the force of our attack, The atmosphere is hitting back. And us? We slap our footprint down And roam all night around the town, Hoovering up the last clean air To trade with at the morning fair. As long as opportunist suits Crush progress with size fifteen boots, The sole repositories of truth Are howls of idealistic youth. For summertimes of storm and flood Are swathed in carnage and in blood; This is no future far away, It’s happening to us today.
In wartime there is only fear. Everyone out there is frightened, Afraid of death or scared stiff; Of what, no one knows, even them. The invader, the defender, The innocent civilians, Are sick to the pit of stomachs. Terrified, when fear returns, On the front, crossing sprawling streets, Or in their twelfth floor apartment. Hands of all ages tremble before The bomb or the sniper’s bullet; The prospect of bravery tempts Some to great deeds. But not for long.
World Cup Final, July 1966
World Cup Final, July 1966 (A fictional tale) Do I really have to watch this? I was there fifty years before. Dad had downed a few too many And was on a bit of a high, Combined with a surging anger, As I had skipped off at half-time And watched the rest at a friend’s house, And the friend’s dad was half-German. Helpless, I watch it all again: A boy enters, Dad swears at ‘Krauts’, Mum drops something in the kitchen. ‘You stupid…’ I still remember The crack of his hand, and Mum’s scream. What advice would I give? Nothing. Just be grateful that you survived.
Could you forgive the people who did this? For those removed, in some comfortable spot, It may sound like a question of process. But, first and foremost, our grieving heart Must come to terms with unrepentant brutes, Sneering at the glory of their capture. Stripped of our rage and experience, Our mind, our trained intelligence, may think: A necessary step to finding peace, To cleansing our heads and starting anew. But part, reacting, will choose to rebel And wish the swine to squirm and melt away. Wounds, as in the graves, fester and remain.
Each time he climbed another mountain peak, He took a slice home as a souvenir; Not a big one, just a vanishing scrape. One day, on cue, he heard the mountain speak, And through dawn’s modest light, it shed a tear At such a cheap invasion of its shape. Quite soon, his act would finish his career.
When you are young, You wonder what life is about. When you are old, You still do not know. It’s only when you’re middle-aged That you think you understand, Because of tears you shed at funerals And the trail of your footprints in the snow.
‘Des images extrêmement dures…’ The newsreader gravely announced. And they were. The end of a life. They tried their damnest to save him, But soon the soldier was no more. The glimpses of his splintered legs, Smashed almost past recognition, Were enough to make us shudder. As occasional spectators, We have not quite become immune, Or been beaten into dumb silence. We can, thank God, still get angry. The next item was a woman Who massages cats near Liège.
Watching the prime time news programme. The women presenters are scary: Chiselled and plumped to a perfect shape, Ever-perky through their dazzling teeth. The men flaunt their faux gravitas And a weary, avuncular sneer. Does anyone dare to declare: ‘I am only here for the beer’? That would shatter, once and for all, Our skimpy, civilised veneer.
La grande bouffe
Mister Black Forest Gateau Sat gorging in his chateau. This scandalised the press, Which condemned his wild excess, Demanding that he exercise Or go and sail his bateau. But, intent on his demise, He denounced such talk as lies And forced down yet more food To put him in the mood For when his intake would Expand beyond his size. Now his remains are there to see And can be viewed for a small fee.
The Pavements of Europe
In years like nineteen eighty-five, The pavements, through their long, nocturnal sleep, Were viewed at all times with distrust. Dawn: soles of freezing workers clatter past, To jump aboard the belching queues Of buses, lined up ten or twenty deep. A brave new world stirred, some years on, Stuffed with gold teeth and overpriced flash cars. Once more the pavements stole the show. They sprouted worlds with tall chairs stacked outside, Within which, furred and fast-tracked, lounged A rising class with merchandise in tow. In certain disinfected spots Sidewalks could play host to gala dinners. But much foul footfall had passed here, Which gave the rich too many tales to tell. For all the loudly touted boom, The poor had just their roadside wares to sell. Somewhere on the edge of Europe, On warm nights, pavements, bloated with excess, Drew veils to cover up their faults. First light brought women, trading in stale loaves (From gaudy kitchen towels unpacked); Soon heading home, their fondest dreams intact.
All poems are copyright of the originating author. Permission must be obtained before using or performing others' poems.
That's How We Are Right Now (26/02/2024)
Two Years On - Poems on the War in Ukraine (22/02/2024)
Two Years On (20/02/2024)
Time Passes (16/02/2024)
Too Late? (11/02/2024)
Bad News (08/02/2024)
Musée des Beaux Arts (January 2024) (24/01/2024)
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