Contemporary Poets

John Heath-Stubbs

As I move, through autumn to winter, my life's house Is Edmund Waller's cottage of the soul.

How chill, how pure, eternity shines through the chinks! Yet, while my fire still burns, I'll proffer Scraps of toasted cheese to the crickets - My long-legged, whiskery poems, that chirp in the chrannies, or hop about on the flagstones. And there'll be other visitants - an incognito

Angel or so, all my accustomed ghosts, And, twirling his forked tail, pedunculate-eyed, With sharp, nine-inch proboscis for a nose, Not all malignant, the odd domestic bogle.

National Portrait Gallery

Seamus Heaney

From Station Island

‘I hate how quick I was to know my place. I hate where I was born, hate everything that made me biddable and unforthcoming,’ I mouthed at my half-composed face in the shaving mirror, like somebody drunk in the bathroom during a wild party, lulled and repelled by his own reflection. As if the cairnstone could defy the cairn. As if the eddy could reform the pool. As if a stone swirled under a cascade, eroded and eroding in its bed, could grind itself down to a different core. Then I thought of the tribe whose dances never fail for they keep dancing till they sight the deer.

National Portrait Gallery

The Liverpool Poets

National Portrait Gallery

Charles Causley

Eden Rock

They are waiting for me somewhere beyond Eden Rock: My father, twenty-five, in the same suit of Genuine Irish Tweed, his terrier Jack still two years old and trembling at his feet.

My mother, twenty-three, in a sprigged dress drawn at the waist, ribbon in her straw hat, has spread the stiff white cloth over the grass. Her hair, the colour of wheat, takes on the light.

She pours tea from a Thermos, the milk straight from an old HP sauce-bottle, a screw of paper for a cork; slowly sets out the same three plates, the tin cups painted blue.

The sky whitens as if lit by three suns. My mother shades her eyes and looks my way over the drifted stream. My father spins a stone along the water. Leisurely,

They beckon to me from the other bank. I hear them call, ‘See where the stream-path is! Crossing is not as hard as you might think.’

I had not thought that it would be like this.

Lawrence House Museum, Launceston.

Ivor Cutler

An Unhappy Medium

The excitement of a poet is his vision,
and the words. These are not the man
himself. Those who talk with a poet
are bewildered by his ordinariness and
the poet is hurt by their reaction,
because he too thought he was more
than he is.

Private Collection

Douglas Dunn

Saturday’s Rainbow

It happened that I saw it paint itself In light and liquid. Sky Turned into art. Original Cloud-Constables emerged To make new moments when The eye’s in love with wonder. “Go on, then, break my heart,” I dared To the big window as I watched Sudden, shaded radiance declare Its moist lustre, its big phenomena Vivid with wet physics, working together To arch across the Tay and link Tentsmuir to Monifieth Where people walked along the beach At each bright, leaking root of it Straining to hold the curve, driving each hue Beyond the commonplace, towards perfection. Those distant people disappeared in it Or else they found Intimate, legendary treasure on Kaleidoscopic sand.

Then it began to break. Its cylinders decayed. It vanished bit by bit – Violet, indigo and blue, Green, yellow, orange and red. If only how we live could be as true In our arrivals and departures as A rainbow comes and goes! … It left its light-print on the conifers, Its seven-coloured, seven-heavened smears; And after seven flourishes, the sky Departed in an optical goodbye.

Ferens Gallery, Hull

Wendy Cope

Waste Land Limericks

In April one seldom feels cheerful; Dry stones, sun and dust make me fearful; Clairvoyants distress me, Commuters depress me – Met Stetson and gave him an earful.

She sat on a mighty fine chair, Sparks flew as she tidied her hair; She asks many questions, I make few suggestions – Bad as Albert and Lil – what a pair!

The Thames runs, bones rattle, rats creep; Tiresias fancies a peep – A typist is laid, A record is played – Wei la la. After this it gets deep.

A Phoenician called Phlebas forgot About birds and his business – the lot, Which is no surprise, Since he’d met his demise And been left in the ocean to rot.

No water. Dry rocks and dry throats, Then thunder, a shower of quotes From the Sanskrit and Dante. Da. Damyata. Shantih. I hope you’ll make sense of the notes.

Collection of the Artist

Michael Longley

Ulster Museum, Belfast

Sorley MacLean

Creagan Geaga

I am going through Creagan Beaa In the darkness alone, And the surf on Camus Alba Is a sough on smooth shingle.

The curlew and the plover Are crying down about the Cuil; And south-east of Sgurr nan Gillean, Blaven, and the stainless moon.

The light levels the sea flatness From Rubha na Fainge stretched north, And the current in Caol na h-Airdre Is running south with swift glitter.

Collection of the Artist

Peter Reading


Reminiscent of Grandfather photogravured, Impenetrable, on guard, an alarmingly Nondescript chiaroscuro in brown Confronts me from unbiased uncompassionate Depths of a butt in a wilderness corner.

Immured in a collar of steel, unremembered By litters of unending progeny, seems our Mutual prospect.

But whereas the surface- Calm of the goon in the barrel is rippled With frowns, the framed memorial (facing A mirror) exhibits the Old Boy’s commendable Talent for staring bald anonymity Straight in the face unperturbed.

Private Collection

Kit Wright

Who would suppose a dryad in a laburnum Accusing over a privet hedge? Or the woman Who asks me the way and stared deep in my eyes As though reading an autocue in them? But we have entered

The country of short afternoons where every angle Is filled with intense implication. Brickwork is pertinent, Sycamore leaves The wind scrapes widdershins over the pavement Are freighted with dangerous meaning, a world

At your two-timing feet and its secret truth on the tip Of your tongue. In the sky A vapour trail is a pipe-cleaner metamorphosing Into a papery silver birch limb, changing Into a spoilage into the lake of darkness,

Sun knowing sudden Disgrace as it falls from the arms of the tree of heaven. And then the silver, Black and too purple Frieze is under vindictive construction,

Wind in its element again Of Chaos and old night. So faces That dip after work into pubs on the Holloway Road Are electrical, tripped Into such sudden transparency,

Into such lit significance there is reason To fear and cherish, to huddle and talk excitedly, Naming each others’ names, since faces Are offered once only, says the wind, And the singable circumstance is being alive.

Collection of the Artist

Craig Raine

From Shaman

And I am something else. It was Siberian outside, The frost was like an undercoat.

The stove with mica panes Was doubled in my father’s stare. He drummed on the sofa arm.

And Yodelled with the wireless on. He had returned from the dead With the gift of tongues:

He spoke to the dark Beyond the bedroom walls, Rapid as a Polish auctioneer, And the dog would wake With anxious anapaests, Howling like the dead. I am only my father, The healer with head wounds, Who takes on pains in his sleep.

This is the sacred monster, The sound at the centre, Who is only my father,

Irritating, unimportant, vital, The prophet in a Burton suit, Who knows that his myth

Will survive with the maze. I am only my father Having a fit on the floor,

Leaving the body behind Arched in a perfect crab, While gravity stretches my face

And I hurtle to heaven.

Collection of the Artist

Click here to read 'The Poet Painted' - Craig Raine. Galleries Magazine Vol.


Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle

Lunar Mane

As a mane of hair to a comb Or a cat to thunder, so the loose Chafing clothes charge the lady up And her fragrances pile at collar, cuffs and Hem of the skirt, like that low smell That comes off a lawn just before the rain falls; Low thunder and flashes or lightning Emitted by her in lunar cycle; the rich clouds Pass over the full moon; like an electrical engine That is made of flesh and blood, From the men a brooding tension that cannot earth Without her. She watches the retort of the bird’s beak Dropping shining seeds, fruit-wet. The seeds Polish their husks in the bird-guts, the clouds Hang unsatisfactorily, like crooked pictures, the plants, Striving for adjustment, turn about their centres; She now in riding-gear, animated with sweat of horses, Seeds of power glistening in the wet mane, Tossing out rainbows. The big wheels of the shelving wind As she leaps over the hedge of flowers that are opening, The crooked thundercloud as low as it dares … (A fly on my wrist reading my notes, like horse And rider in one, stout with eggs in its panniers And dabbing its tongue where my pulse beats.)

Collection of the Artist

Vuyelwa Carlin


She is become – all my mother’s anguish Was for nothing – as I would wish, Icebaby: contained

Galatea stayed
Just as the Godwind tinged her marble
And the blood began

Creeping. - Dear thing,
Nerved statuary, elegant
Quick death: - I feared men for her,
But thse, see them, untouching

Her graven glow,
Charactering industriously. – My child,
Your eyes, ash-

Grey shadows, hold this room
Of colour and clay,
These lovers, littlely. – Density

Of wraith, ivory
Poverty; we are twined
In the Dis-dark garden, your wrought cold
Fruit even still
On the bough of me.

Collection of the Artist

Medbh McGuckian

Venus and the Sea

When I return from poetry as from a sea-shore To the streets of dream, what is left on waking Is whatever I was full of, naming itself. A colour walks around, with people hidden in it.

A summer that was meant to mean nothing Lifted his ten fingers like a fence between us, Or snow that does not fall. I felt him through An envelope, a glove touching a glove.

His sound-curves so quivering, I was shorn Of all words, and hummed him with my eyes And mouth. The incomplete opening of his mouth Lives in my hand like a wound, the thought

Of the subtraction and the narrowing circle Is like a turn-of-the-century spring along A delayed fuse or a graph of deep Confusions, reaching the first trees.

It begins in an hour like the door-mirror Of a wardrobe cracking the mismemory Of an overremembered window-door

Wiping off the painted pinpoint pupils And the ringlets of music with a smile Waking in the separate mouth beside me.

Collection of the Artist

Willy Russell

National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

Maud Sulter


Tulips spilled sensuous stamen Scattering intense purple Pigment across glass topped table.

Blown petals sunkissed yellow Shot through with spiced pink Flanked full and open cores.

Had Nature been in attendance To her full omnipotence fat Bumble bees would hover patiently collecting nectar for the Goddess. Backleg pouches overflowing as returning posses deliver up their tributes.

Alas our Sister slept too deep This May afternoon. No platoon In striped regalia came creeping To collect Her bounty. And so She also neglected to attend Our twentieth century fable.

Collection of the Artist

Dannie Abse

Case History

‘Most Welshmen are worthless, an inferior breed, doctor’. He did not know I was Welsh. Then he praised the architects Of the German death-camps – Did not know I was a Jew. He called liberals, ‘White blacks’, And continued to invent curses.

When I palpated his liver I felt the soft liver of Goering; When I lifted my stethoscope I heard the heartbeats of Himmler; When I read his encephalograph I though, ‘Sieg heil, mein Fuhrer.’

In the clinic’s dispensary Red berry of black bryony, Cowbane, deadly nightshade, deathcap. Yet I prescribed for him As if he were my brother.

Later that night I must have slept On my arm: monetarily My right hand lost its cunning

National Library of Wales



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