Stephen Gospage is an enthusiastic writer of poetry and short stories. Now retired and living near Waterloon Belgium, he was born in West Ham, London, in 1953, but has spent most of his working life in Brussels and is proud to call himself a citizen of Europe. He is writing a series of poems in response to the war in Ukraine, two of which, 'Fear' and 'Graves' 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. 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.
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.
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.
Seamus Heaney was called ‘Famous Seamus’; At least he had to work to gain that name. Some are famous just for being famous, Which puts them in a very different game. When people congregate to acclaim us, We make a point of basking in our fame; And, to be quite honest, who could blame us? Celebrity turns easily to shame.
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.
All poems are copyright of the originating author. Permission must be obtained before using or performing others' poems.
Sending Tanks (27/01/2023)
Letter from Ukraine (24/01/2023)
Prayer for Ukraine (17/01/2023)
Zero Sum (14/01/2023)
La France Profonde (08/01/2023)
Last Man Standing (05/01/2023)
Do you want to be featured here? Submit your profile.