Sunday, November 16, 2008

Documents for Poets


I call my current series: “Documents for Poets”: after consideration I decided for this, because it obliquely touches on the achievements of a famous photographer, who has been an inspiration to many.
The title is borrowed from the celebrated turn of the century Parisian photographer Eugene Atget whose images included Parisian precincts and suburbs where he sought and found relics and preserved masterpieces of a world that was disappearing rapidly. Much of what he depicted focused on the ordinary and everyday, which through his lens was mysteriously transformed to become dreamlike & iconic.
He referred to his photographs as “documents for artists.”
I therefore retrospectively dedicate my “Poetry Pivotal: documents for poets” to Eugene – a title I think he would have understood and tolerated.

Poetry Pivotal 1


In the window a canal,
bars spill out on the street;
no longer Summer, green September.

There are caravans of ants
on the pavement, trees, rooftops
and the bridge whose angles
pick up the sheen of grass;
pink dark glasses in the day
and glasses to drink from
at night. The motorway’s

curved boomerang shape;
a perfectly formed film star,
in an evening gown, steps
from a cracked walnut;

looking into the canal
her window glimmers.


Overarching the concrete and glass
of the station’s restaurants and shops,
Paddington’s still girders –
like elongated yellow bees
the trains reach for clover
and the barley fields.
Once this station was an actor
young and handsome in the Age of Steam.

The past is still doing
its double act with now:
up and down the escalators,
customers who were once passengers
alight at different levels,

and, ranged in a semicircle,
the Station Orchestra is amply playing
the music of the brass, as if
breasting a river somewhere deep,
where, each with its candle glowing,
ride tiny boats across the stream.

Friday, October 31, 2008

A Poem by Phil Crick

This poem is quoted from Treble Poets 3 Chatto & Windus 1977.

Quiberon by Phil Crick

"A ten-ton man
in a suit of stone
dozes face down
on the edge of France.

His green jaws nudge
the immaculate beach
and the low waves lance
a rift in his bone.

All ropes unreel
in his waterlogged heart.
He sways on his bed.
His vertebrae moan.

And he floats a long cry
down through the sand
that even the stars
and the quasars own.

Its echo shatters
the sky off Belle-Ile.
At sunset, too,
sea-owls murmur."

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Heine Translations

The following quotation from an old Peter Porter essay seems peculiarly relevant to my recent endeavour.

“Too many translators (and I include myself) are ill-acquainted with the tongues they translate from and know very little about the prosody and traditions of other languages. You can achieve useful results from this ignorance but that is not what translation is supposed to be about.” (quoted by Jon Silkin in the Introduction to his Poetry of the Committed Individual – A Stand Anthology of Poetry – Penguin 1973)

Poems Read in the Dual Language “Songs of Love and Grief“ selected and translated by Walter W.Arndt, North Western University Press Illinois 1995.
Walter.W.Arndt is a renowned scholar, poet and translator.
My versions are my own versions – translated from the ground up by me with the help of my Collins dictionary, yet guided and no doubt influenced by Arndt’s excellent and enjoyable translations. I have also been helped by the biographical essay in “Heinrich Heine: Poems and Ballads” translated by Emma Lazarus – Hartsdale House New York 1947. Without Arndt, I would not of course have had access to a selection of poems drawn from all the periods of Heine’s poetry. This selection highlights the many levels and complexities of Heine’s work. He comes over as very modern, not so much the achingly romantic lyricist the Liede composers latched onto. The poems in Arndt’s selection amount to a volume that has affinities with Baudelaire and the Symbolists.
Why on Earth with my rusty O level German have I taken the step of re-translating these poems? My only motive for producing translations of my own is the enjoyment it produces, the struggle and search for getting it right feels worth while – I imagine as an aspiring piano player struggles to get to grips with a Schubert sonata and gets a buzz when a few bars come out. I hope my “playing” of Heine does not upset the neighbours!
I also hope the results may be useful to someone else as well as me.


Wir fuhren allein im dunkeln (Sorry, can’t manage the umlauts in Word)

In the dimly lit coach
We travelled alone through the night;
We pillowed our heads and laughed
On each other’s hearts.

Then, as the morning light appeared,
My sweet, how silent we were:
Between us a new passenger,
The blind one, Love.

Wir haben viel fur einander gefuhlt

We felt a lot for each other
and got on perfectly well;
we often played husbands and wives,
only we didn’t bite each other’s heads off.

We hugged and cuddled a lot –
we kissed each other as well,
and then, on a childlike whim,
we started to play hide and seek,

and we hid from each other
so well and elaborately, we hid
that never on this sorrowful Earth
have we found each other again.

Sie haben mich gequalet

They egged me on
And cut me up:
One with love’s hot brew,
the other with hate’s cold cup.

They put poison in my drink
And brought me poisoned bread;
The one with warmest love, the other
With hate left me for dead;

Yet she who hurt me the most
And strafed my flesh with grit –
She never hated me at all
And loved me not one bit.

Gaben mir Rat and gute Leben

They lectured me and gave me good advice;
They showered me with faint praise,
And said that if I would only wait
They’d put in a good word for me.

Well – for all their good words
I could have wasted away from hunger,
If there had not appeared a more decent man
Who took it upon himself to fight my corner.

A much more decent man, he stopped me from going hungry;
Him, I will never, ever forget!
What a shame I can’t kiss the guy,
For I myself am this decent man.


Wie Schandlich du gehandelt

I’ve never told anyone
How shabbily you behaved;
I went far out to sea
And told the fish instead.

So, I have preserved your reputation,
At least on dry land,
While all over the ocean
I’ve branded you with shame.

Es ragt ins Meer der Runenstein

On a rock covered with runic signs,
I sit dreaming above the sea;
The wind whistles and the sea gull cries,
The wandering waves and the foam.

I used to love the travelling men
And all those beautiful girls:
I wonder what happened to them.

The wind whistles,
The foam and the wandering waves.

Meinen schonsten Liebesantrag

You earnestly claim
To know nothing about
My beautiful love note
That bore your name.
Tell me then, sweet dame,
Are you turning me down?
Ah! Oh dear - She’s crying…

Me, I hardly ever
Resort to prayer;
Then, please listen
To this request:
Dear Lord come to this
Girl-for-hire’s breast,
Shedder of sweet tears.
Make her better!

Wenn Ich an deinen Hause

When I happened to be passing
Your house this morning,
I was so glad to see you
At the window with your

Almost black eyes, sweet little girl,
And you looked so searchingly at me
As if to question, “Well, who are you?
And what’s your problem, strange, ill man?”

“I am a German poet,” I answer
“Well known throughout the German lands;
Where people drop the best names
There also my name appears,

And my problem, little girl,
Is shared by many in Germany;
Where the worst sufferings are listed
There also my name appears.

(It would be well worth {any one’s} while checking out Tony Harrison’s excellent film poem about what happened to Heine’s statue, after Heine died in the 1850s, to get another perspective on this theme! I have read the script and would love to see the film.)

Philister in Sonntagsrocklein

Worthy townsfolk in Sunday dress
Go walking through woods and meadows;
They shout and leap about
Like bucks to greet the Spring.

They see with misty eyes
How Romantic everything is;
The flowers, the sparrow’s song,
They suck it all in.

I, however, pull down the blinds
Of my room and make it black;
My ghostly personal friends
Pay me a daytime visit.

Stepping out from death’s kingdom
My old girlfriend appears;
She sits beside me and cries
And melts my heart to wax.

Ich hatte einst ein schones Vaterland

I had a fatherland:
There, the beautiful oak tree thrusts so high,
The bluebells nod peacefully.
It was a dream.

I was kissed in German,
German I spoke –
You can scarcely believe
How good that sounded:
The words, “Ich liebe dich.”
It was a dream.

Die Lorelei: Ich weiss nicht, was sol es bedeuten

There’s a story that is timeless;
I don’t know what it means;
I can’t get it out of my mind
It fills me with such sadness.

As dusk falls the air is cool
And peaceful over the Rhein,
Flowing between far mountains
Whose peaks still catch the sun.

A beautiful young woman
Mysteriously appears;
Her jewellery reflects the light;
She’s combing her golden hair.

Even her comb is golden,
And she sings enchantingly,
Such a sweet melodious chant
It’s wonderful to hear.

The sailor in his little vessel
Is overcome with grief;
He’s not looking at the jagged reef,
Instead he looks up to the heavens.

I think the waves will get involved
With this sailor and his boat:
A finale that, with her singing,
The Lorelei has brought about.

Diese Damen, sie verstehan

These women know just how to
Applaud my poetic genius;
They put on a special lunch
For me – and it of course.

Ah! The soup was delectable
And the wine livened me up;
The chicken was fit for the gods,
And the hare was definitely jugged.

I think there was some talk of po-
etry – at last, quite satiated,
I thanked them for having treated
And bestowed such honours on me.

Anno 1829

So that I can bleed
Conveniently to death
Give me a wide, white field.
Let me not suffocate
In commerce’s closed-in Colloseum.

They wine and dine so well here;
They cram their mouths on prosperity,
And their generosity is as wide
As the alms-box flap!

They deal in spices
From around the world,
Yet behind all the fragrant essences,
You can’t help noticing their souls
Smell of rotten shrimps.

Oh! That I were witnessing a great
Profanity: full of ritzy wickedness –
Not this insipid virtue
And morality of the counting house.

They walk with cigars
Stuck out of their mouths,
And hands thrust deep
In their trouser pockets.
Their digestion is so good -
Who? Oh, who can digest them?

You clouds up there, take me with you.
It doesn’t matter into which far distance –
To Lapland or to Africa
Or it could be Pomorania,
As long as it’s away, away.

Oh, take me with you… They didn’t hear;
The clouds up there are far too wise;
They climb higher when they cross this city,
And anxiously speed up their flight.

Es kommt zu spat was du mir lachelst

Whatever smiles
you were smiling
they came too late;
whatever sighs
you sighed too late –
long-since deceased
the tender feelings
in cruelty rejected!

The love you returned
returned too late –
it fell onto my old heart
like rays of sunshine
on a sarcophagus.

Only, I would
like to know
what happens to
our souls when we are dead.
Where does
the extinguished fire go?
And the air
that fanned it –
where to that?

Die Flaschen sind leer, das Fruhstuck war gut

The bottles are empty, the bacon sizzling,
The girls’ cheeks hot with rosy pinkness;
Hems going up, chemises falling,
They’ve started, it seems, to get undressed.

How white the bare shoulders; the breasts how pretty!
My heart stops, arrested in mid-beat;
Now they’re flinging themselves onto the bed
And parcelling themselves up with the sheets.

They’ve even managed to draw the curtain
And begin snoring in unison.
Like a lonely tower th’embarrassed poet,
In his room, surveys his slept-in bed!

Neuer Fruhling

Through the window
of this morning’s first
awakening, floats
the lovely carillon

sweet song
sweet little song
of spring –
ring out, little song

go far out
into the distance
ring far away -
you’ll come across

the house
where flowers are
just beginning
to appear

and when
you have found
a rose
tell it “Hello” from me.

Translated April 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Sea Air

One moon, many shapes
nightly changing through August
many moons, one self.

The holiday air
is cool, like flasked juice - I walk
the sea-wall again:

gulls on warm air-drafts
glide still in stretch-winged ballet,
banner trailing plane.

Headlines in black and white, news -
a rasped flute happening -

the thermal cameras needed
for hidden earthquake victims.


This writing, a phase,
waxing lyrical, waning,
breathing in and out -

a tin-whistle player flauts
for copper and silver coins;
his breath makes music.

The miniature railway
is a great way to travel.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Camera Trouble

Camera Trouble

It was a piece of plastic heaven,
My Kodak Brownie 127,
A ten-year-old’s quite grown-up toy
To bring delight and to annoy.
I loved to hold it, point and shoot
At everything from head to boot.
It was my I-pod and my air-guitar,
Without a film, I could click thin air.

And then one day I pointed it
Towards a stranger’s open door,
As we climbed the little seaside street.
Exploding like a keg of powder,
Out came the outraged occupant
With every right to rage and rant.
My father joined in to tell me off:
The opposite of Muzzeltov!

I’d stumbled at a tender age
On danger. Though all the rage,
The tempting trinkets of technology,
Seeming the perfect boredom remedy –
Those natty things will do you harm
Unless you stay completely calm:
No quicker way to burst your bubble
Than get yourself in camera trouble!


Monday, July 07, 2008


Dreamt 02 - 3/07/08

In this flat that I do not own
yet feel at home in nonetheless
with a garden whose sound and scents
the old sash cords unveil,

She dives in from the night,
Skids on the window-seat;
fur: colour of the black
window thrust up to night.

She pirouettes and jive-arches,
turns, all tale and neck:
I stroke her from the neck back
in the way I know she likes.

All quick, sudden and pulsating,
with the energy of night life,
in a living room that’s better
than the one from the life I know,

taller and swishier, creamier,
with this one fine-tuned cat.
What can this mean?
What can it, save –

Pussy-Paws loves you.

Friday, June 06, 2008



Long-ago, through
night and day
linked to now,
film-frame by frame:

a car door slams,
an engine runs,
sometimes there are voices,
sometimes none,

the long rumbling
of a train,
the almost-no-noise
of a drawer opening.

Silence like water-drops
suspended through walls
or ceilings, a click,
a throat cleared.

Summer is staying awake,
nightly responding;
Summer is opening
the lens of your eyes.

Second by second,
where rail-yards meet
the estates and part-buys,
the city’s pulse fades fast:

light is beginning
all over again
in a kiss, an embrace
that never stops.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ballad of Lost Objects 2

Ballads of lost objects

With a roll of Kodak Tri-X in my Praktika,
camera concealed and disguised in canvas rucksack,
I came to the Café Nero on that Autumn day
When the sun drenched the plate glass window in light and heat.
We talked of illnesses and work and what retirement
could mean with low spending, Arts, London and Freedom Pass.
We stopped with the coffee drinkers and newspaper readers
for less than an hour, walked up towards the Tube,
the young fashion-wearers in their old high heels looking good,
and parted on the corner of Flask Walk, to walk
further into the fine day, I to shoot my roll of film.

Gingerly at first, framing the shops and then the Flask,
my shoot got bolder, quicker, aiming for contrast and shape.
Go for the cool word “Ginsberg” on the name of a close,
get down close to the cobbles for texture, low f-number.
Walk up, turn left, circle back to the Tube and fire off
the rest of the film at the branches of dusty trees
by the bus shelter; “ride” the 46 back home.

Rewinding on the couch with curtains drawn, there’s a snag:
Tri-X is ASA 400 – I’d forgotten
about the ISO settings, so used to automatic!
Back in the’70s you had to set the beast.
I’m 4 stops out and, disgusted, bin the film:
those bleached out prints would be money down the
Later, the nagging thought appears and won’t go away –
Those 4 stops out could well have been the key, a door opening..


N.B. Kodak Tri-X is a black and white film still favoured by some photographers over digital. Some great B&W photos have succeeded precisely because of their high contrast “burned in” through aberrant exposures.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

German Poem

German Poem

Recently I came across this German poem. It was printed on an end-of-term exam paper from 40 years ago, in that type-written Roneo system, that made 25-30 copies before the copies became so faint they were of no further use.

There is no title and it seems to be identified by its first line which is underlined. The exam question asked us to read the poem and offer a prose translation of it. I vaguely remember that someone in our class foolishly and facetiously translated “grungolden”(umlaut on “u”) as Golders Green. The German teacher was not amused.

I can’t imagine why I kept this old paper. Perhaps the poem moved me in a way I did not grasp fully at the time. Or perhaps it is just my archaeological filing system which preserves and conceals at the same time. Now, re-reading it after the long interval, I hope the translation I offer - with the help of my Collins German Dictionary - is better than the one I did for the exam.

The name at the bottom of the poem is H.Heinze, which I assume is a typo for Heine. I’m not sure. There is a Helmut Heinze, who wrote novels and plays – perhaps it is him.

Grungolden und goldfarben leuchten die Blitzen auf…

Green-yellow, yellow-green
The lightening flashes
Suddenly across the sky:

I can’t be sure
Whether that’s you across the street,
As out of a charged cloud,
Heavy rain splashes down.

The heavy rain
Makes people run for cover –
Anywhere to find
An awning or a doorway.

While, I stand stock still
Alone on the pavement,
My Summer shirt stuck close,
The rivulets washing my back.

I saw you there,
From two Summers ago:
The love I lost.

I saw you
With your dark blue eyes
And pale smooth skin,
As the lightening flashed
Yellow-green, green-yellow,

And the rain,
In rivulets, anoints me
With your blessings
From two Summers ago.

Saturday, April 19, 2008


History Society Picnic with Arthur Cubit

The celery dipped in salt,
no pepper, and the wine
chilled in the river, not
from the fridge. Sticking
to documented foibles we
laid the patchwork cloth
on the short grass, sloping
with the sun undulating in
and out across the Downs.

These moments feeling right,
we praised the books we knew
he loved, and his own re-
examination of Auden, in the Star;
and it seemed the atmosphere
pleased our distinguished guest.
Someone derisively
cracked a joke about his old
adversaries, the second Phalanx –
the first splinter of
the Socialist Collective.
Laughter spread through
the occasion from those
who could not see his face,
his eyes darkening; then

he spoke: “Is that meant to be funny?
What gives you the right
to mock the heroic, my
companions in struggle –
insult to the Working Class.”
Silence arrested our flow;
from behind me came
the scrunching of a plastic cup;
clouds undulated
across the Downs, like sheep
entering a pen.

I was glad I’d asked
Cubit to sign his poems
in the pub before the picnic,
in the safely atmospheric
wood and glass interior
where we have our
Saturday morning meetings
every other week.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Film Still in Camden

Film Still in Camden Town

Went to Camden in sunlight
to check out the ready mades, cool
by the fish and flans, couldn’t find the water.
Outside on the street, thought about
the fire, the wreck burnt out,
rage burnt out, stalls, boxer reeling,
security guard with coffee and skinny ribs.

I walked up to the cross roads, a week later,
and took this photo, staring at the people-rushes,
one week after the fire before the railway bridge.
Camden Lock: business picking up, the car makes;
Photographed the Odeon letters
Making deep shadows, young actors
In the world, aggressive gait, ambling at me.

The fire again, the wreck:
think of starting a poem to a boxer
still sent packing, sickening reeling,
still packing punches, sickening blow.
He got it in the ribs; got stuck.

I photo-shopped the first car too much,
looks like a ghost car, only the central group
stand out: young actors against the station –
something about to happen; the beginning
of a film. I turned and walked past the flow
er stall: dozens watching this time real.
Ash falling, heat enough to twist metal,
red night sky reflecting on his smooth sweat:
the boxer, muscles rippling, keeps on coming.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Deep Roots

Poetry Pivotal 2

These hesitations, advances,
doublings back & crossings out,
snakes-and-ladders, scrapings
at opaque prisms of light

a Tolkien ordeal of
winding precipices and milky depths
that takes me to the realisation
I am clinging to a secret

that leads and holds me back –
it’s the reason the horizon’s tilting
all ways, and why the poem
is suspended in a tunnel of jet

until its scraps and stages
gather into one shape and make
a faint beam for the next few steps,
a yellow circle for the white page,

the beginning of a re-enacting
in the arc of a new shedder of light
more positive than torch or match,
a strong light mirrored, sun

in a distant morning, reaching here.
My fighting black characters straddle
the bridge; lying back on a ledge
I drink the safe shadow and go on.


Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Shop in Soho

The Shop in Soho

Madmoiselle Maigret and her detective
father outside the Algerian
coffee store on Old Compton Street:
in a culture of parkas
and hoods, his trilby stands out –
he a smoker of pipes, she
in tights and blue shoes.
Together they look
at the coffee makers, closely, considering…

a gift for Madame Maigret.
While she goes in to pay, he regards
this Soho, as if a Kasbah.
Alone on the pavement, he stands for Bonjour;
he stands for au revoir;
he stands guard
for Parisien Savoir,
for self respect
and the daily grind,
for love and the love
of the smell of ground coffee.

For tobacco
for Mystery,
pour La Vie.