Poems From OU Poets

Congratulations to OU poet Julie Stamp for the shortlisting of her A Poem to Remember poem Still Here.

Still Here

Should I return to where it all began –
to unknown shores, to cold unsettled seas,
or stand beneath now-empty skies and scan
remote horizons, hoping I might see
a face that I once knew, a voice once heard –
brief flickers half-forgotten in Time’s haze –
would silence still the senses, or defer
to images that time cannot erase:
of standing fast, to face the storm ahead
as spirits waver with a strange unease,
or battling with panic, terror; dread,
while loss is felt inherent on the breeze.

Yet, should I go back to that place again,
where once I left soft traces of my years,
though mind and body marred, I will remain
the person I once was, and feel no fear.
My courage leads me to a new terrain,
a place wherein endurance shows the way;
a place in which my spirit can attain
serenity and strength for all my days.

I have this life, the will to persevere;
feel sun and rain and hope: I am still here.

Julie Stamp

A different kind of urban

1: What do we celebrate?

We celebrate a different kind of urban,
something half a century old now, yet still brand new;
which embraces its past and its deeper past,
always changing, always growing –
still in a state of flux and roil, as it has always been.
Still excited, still exciting; fresh and hopeful for the future.

Everything begins with imagination …

2: Up in the air

Imagine: you are a bird flying home
from the south, as the day begins to go
and there beneath you, the whole of the town
lies like a complicated plaid below.

Behind the town, the remnants of the day
clamour a fanfare of glorious colour –
orange, red, purple – in the western sky.
Ephemeral. A burst of energy.

You think the show is over now, as twilight
deepens – ah, but wait! The orange streetlights
of our town begin to echo nature,
challenging the glory of the sunset.

First, the margins of the main roads come alight,
then the town’s estates begin to twinkle.
So many! As the twilight deepens on
they come, and on, like an ostinato
starting with a single voice, which grows
until the whole choir joins in song.


Through the pattern of lit streets, other lights are threading now;
sinuous as prayers floating on a holy river.

The white lights flow towards us and the red lights flow away.
And for a magic moment we cannot process what we see,

until we, too, start for home, when it at once comes clear
what these streams are. They do not float on any holy river;
they grind and growl and rumble upon asphalt roads,
for they are simply cars, cars, cars, and yet more cars –

and you and we and they are going home.

3: Down on the ground

Our history is woven through the earth we stand on
enriching our lives and the lives which came before.
Beneath our feet lie its warp and weft, a pattern
of primeval ley lines, alignments of constellations
and drovers’ roads, channeling ancient powers.

Canals, those engineering marvels, cut through
the land remorselessly. Beside them run the railways
triumphs of shaped steel, superceding them,
and superceded in their turn by tarmacked roads.

We live at a crossroads of Albion –
everything meets here: road, rail and water,
travelling north and south, east and west.
We are pinned in our place by the arrow
of Watling Street, the London Road, the A5,
thrumming to the spinning of a million wheels.


Up it, roaring mad, Boudicca came.

Where else would a grieving Edward stay
but here with us, the night he brought the
body of his dear Queen Eleanor
to London. Her crosses bear witness.

Crookback Dick kidnapped his nephews here
when he through trickery acquired the crown
he could not keep long, at last in his turn
hast’ning up Watling Street to Bosworth Field.

From all points of the compass dons and
crossworders came to crack Nazi codes
in World War Two. (Ten thousand people
working there – and no-one ever knew.)

Be assured, citizens of this new place,
we are no backwater of history here.

4: In the heart

This is the last and greatest of the new towns.
Architects, those techno-mages, drew up their plans
the very year of the summer of love,
when there were still loon pants, and long hair,
and money and vision. They made the town
out of straight lines and circles and low rise homes,
gave it good green lungs to help us breathe;
trees to scrub the air clean; open space,
where we may feel the grass beneath our feet,
As the town rose up out of the mud,
Baby Boomers arrived here in droves.
A unique generation of optimistic children,
rosy with free education and the welfare state,
we said, “let’s put the show on right here!” And we did.

In the middle of nowhere, we put on the shows,
the displays, the gigs and the festivals.
And we still do.


Those funky architects of ’67 knew
there is a little druid in us all
(it never truly leaves the human soul)
so built a boulevard to celebrate
the sunrise at midsummer.

So we whose town this is,
we techno-pagans
of every faith, or none,
know that there
at the city centre Belvedere,
as an affirmation
the sun will rise
as a ball of fire,
on the longest day of the year.

And again in November
we gather there together,
to mark the return of winter
on Guy Fawkes Night with fire.

As the fireworks burst above us
we stand silently in wonder,
shoulder to shoulder
in the dark.
At those times we realise
the town’s soul is older
even than the Druids
and not new at all.

5: An ending, but not the end

In this new place to live
we look for a new way to live
and cherish our diversity.

The deep past of our town,
and its continuing modernity
inform our lives from day to day.

What will our town’s next great story be?
Judi Moore © 2017

Commissioned for and performed by the Open University Choir to celebrate MK @ 50 2017

Click here for a vimeo video recorded by Judi at the beginning of this year, illustrated with images of Milton Keynes.


Itzhak Perlman is a stranger, but
he will join me at my funeral.
He plays a fretless box
with just four simple strings, but
every time he wields his bow,
a voice from heaven sings.

Alan Durham © September 2017

Response to an unanswered prayer

Thank you for praying.
Your prayer is important to us
and will receive attention
as soon as possible.
Right at this moment
God is asleep, though
as He is outside time
this moment for you
might seem to be forever.
Please believe the delay
is not through lack of interest
—poor God is just worn out
with choosing and helping,
providing a timely earthquake
here and there, the odd comet,
eclipse or supernova
to confound your enemies.
Right now, He is sleeping off
the sheer manipulation
of unintended consequences.
He has turned in His sleep,
wuffling softly through His beard
as He drags His duvet up
over the cold shoulder
that, by pure coincidence,
is now turned towards you.

Barbara Cumbers © 2017

First published in Acumen number 88—May 2017

Fishing, The First Time

First time fishing
and the rod lies unwieldy in my hand.

This wasn’t, then, the outing I had planned.
I wanted the rush of wind-swept waves:
to be Sarah Woodruff on the Cobb,
sun warm on nape like a lover’s kiss;
not this.

A sodden rosette of yesterday’s news
holds lugworms, still live:
a sand-engorged scab,
writhing and vaguely obscene.
Their tails snap off if you cast out too hard;
his words jar.

My rod bobs victory and I reel it in,
the taut orange line spinning
a fine salt spray across my face.
He shows me how to slide the barb
across pearlescent pink lips;
a surprise of Velcro-like teeth.

Yet I feel no relief
just a quiet disgrace:
Man’s primal urge to hunt and kill
stands up and slaps me in the face.

Julie Stamp © 2017


Evenings he is full of remorse,
cooks the sausages for supper,
walks the dog, explains away my
bruises, croons the baby to sleep,

so that the policeman who calls,
embarrassed and thinking Domestic,
is turned away. Besides, someone
might take my loved, late miracle.

He comes to bed. In his humped and
hooked shadow I see my crooked
self. He weeps apologies, swears
never again. He’ll change. He’ll change.

Sweating, he wakes from dreams of ghosts,
gallows and hangman. He speaks his
shame and pleads with me to stay. I
comfort him, murmur forgiveness.

Next day beside the sea, cocky
with the sun and noise, he’s pleased as
ever. Full of swagger and bounce
he crows, That’s the way to do it.

Alice Harrison

After the Party

He finds the proximities
almost too much to bear.
After a failed lift, these girls,
his friends, casually
invite him to stay.
Three of them, it seems like more.
A double bed and a single, he’s given
the space between them on the floor.

This, he thinks, he never will forget –
perfume and booze, fags and talcum powder,
something dreamy on the Dansette,
a froth of summer skirts, a slip
and slither of clothes half off a chair.

And the girls, to his bewildered delight,
so guilelessly immodest, such artless
teasing, unconscious mockery of his callowness,
in such prolonged preparations for the night.

After their whispers and sighs
and small movements, after
they have drifted off, he lies
face down and groans
softly into cushions.

Alice Harrison

The Longest Day

There are deadlines to complete today.
Not least getting myself washed and dressed,
bothering with my hair
when I want to drown in sleep
and not get through this day
in any other way.
Food tastes blah, I force myself to eat
each cardboard tasting morsel,
each waste of carbohydrate.
A tea-break ticks off another hour
nearer an appointment I’d rather miss;
wanting to know but not to hear
knowing I won’t take it in
at first.
A phone call where someone’s urgent task
postpones internal provocation.
I concentrate haphazardly on what seems
inconsequential with my preoccupations.
My watch, the timer on my PC, the date
on my cosy, cartoon calendar
scream silently.
Dark doodles litter my notebook,
the strange shapes probably mean something
count-down numbers: three, two, one,
But zero is not here yet,
there are meetings to attend
and pretend attention is paid when all
I feel is what a total, pitiless, nonsense
it is being here on this day,
when somewhere else results are resting,
unperturbed, in a tray.

Sue Spiers © 2017
First published Acumen 87 in January 2017


The dead have not yet dug themselves from graves,
The resurrection of the worm gnawed corpses failed,
And yet struck by a shaft of moonlight I still awaited,
Snow lay inches deep, a cloak of innocence blotted,
By the blood which drip, drip, drips from a red heart.

The graveyard was my nuclear bunker as the bomb
Must fall this truth had a clarity which was sad mad,
MAD mutually assured destruction a nuclear winter.
Gaia ached with her birth pangs and a death agony,
I wait her child amongst those tombstones moulded.

The freeze hardened, the cold dead, the bombs still,
But then the coppers arrived, crammed me in a car,
‘Why are you taking me to the asylum.’ You are mad.

N. S. Pearce.

28th June 1928

“Some say Louis set jazz free that day.

Why, he took Joe Oliver’s slow-dragger –
laid-back ballroom shuffle, OK in its way,

‘mindin’ us all of The Big Easy’s swagger,

and freaked it into somethin’ no jazzman heard
before and broke our chains. Why,even Bird,
he’d say it was his high-set bar,
those openin’ phrases – caviare
on a roll.
Nat Cole
played Fatha’s solo till his fingers bled
and Red?
Well, Red’d tell you, when he’d heard all that,
…..then Louis’ solo – high B-flat and all, his scat
duet with Jimmy Strong, he damn near quit.
They guys at Okeh just ’bout threw a fit…..

But that’s all hist’ry now.
Things had to change and Louis showed us how.

Ladies and gentlemen, when it’s time to choose
the day jazz turned into an art,
I reckon, from the bottom of my heart,
it was that day young Louis put down his ‘West End Blues.’”

Jim Lindop © 28th June 2017

Sue Spiers sent us a poem of hers that won ‘The Fairytale Sonnet’ competition in The New Writer Magazine – just before it folded 😦


His fists were bloodied fighting, matted beard,
unkempt mane, manners lost in loneliness,
in dirty clothes, the village cursed him weird
for drunken rages, house a cobwebbed mess.

He stole the blacksmith’s girl and kept her slaved
at first with threats to crush her father’s head.
The beast would grant her freedom from his grave
if she would tame his home and share his bed.

She bore with fortitude the beast’s cruel ways
and calmed him singing sweetly for a year.
She begged to see her father for a day –
though doubting her return, he let her go.

His change of mind was strange to him, unclear;
the compassion he thought he’d never show.

Sue Spiers © 2015

At OU Poets, we were once asked to write to the theme ‘Wabi and Ostranenie’, after looking these words up (!) here’s what Polly Stretton  did…


Find the Persian pebble-edged river,
cross the candyfloss bridge
to pure graph paper.
Work a motif, mina-khani, rosette
aching on acanthus
in repeating figures
borrowed from weavers,
and know
there is no more.
Perfection is another’s domain.

Polly Stretton © 2015

Wallet Wails

When I was young I had damned few.
Each penny seemed like something new.
Then I was given pocket money.
It made all Fridays seem quite sunny.
I even got some silver shillings,
so crisps and chocolate were my fillings.

Once at work I earned the notes,
and drink and dancehalls got my votes.
But then I had damn fivers few,
for all the things I wanted new.

And then I went and got damned married,
and never enough damned cash I carried.
My cash was netted by a mortgage,
the rate of interest was an outrage.

Now that is past but things are worse,
I’ve almost nothing in my purse.
Millions are the same as me,
I’m just a bloody OAP!

John Hughes © 2015

Closing Up For Winter

The October sun is tilted
and fattens the shade
as I prune back the hedges,
taprooted deep into
the phlegmatic clay.
Plants are hardest to leave.

Grass is cut and weeds slain
along the tamped drive
already spitted with ochred leaves
carelessly surrendered. The poplars are stripping off,
the liquidambar blushes.

The cold sky is impassive
as I tight-turn the stopcock,
tucked up with bags of leaves
to insulate, drain the water
and open outside faucets;
the house’s arteries are clamped,

and so it settles into its stone heart.
The angled sun kisses its closing eyes.
I pull down the black-steel damper.
Windows are latched and locked
and now accuse me, as
I close the old oak shutters.

Jim Lindop © 2015


The earth is trembling –
Man will return to the dust
As destruction comes

Lemuel Ibbotson © 2015


There were Cardinal days when unwelcome
shone in bright red on the doorstep,
glowing with scope for the sin of dirtiness.
Ready to stain and be stained
it smelt of spirit, like mothered grazes,
so I wonder now the taste
that kissing better must have had.

Don’t put your dirty feet there.
Take your dirty hands off that.
There was always something
that could be cleaner, that needed wiping,
mending, tying back,
something that was my fault.

She is still there in my garden
guiding secateurs and shears in weekly chores,
frowning at uncut edges, at clippings left lying.
I imagine her polishing the patio to Cardinal redness.

It’s strange that my house is so free of her,
that clothes are not folded neatly, or hung
from well-spaced hangers, that knickers
are not ironed, that papers pile up.
There is dull brown paint on the front step.
It lasts for years.

Barbara Cumbers © 2015
First Published in Dream Catcher #31 2015

Election Ltd

From our Election Limited factory
items can control the population.

The factory makes verbal machines.
They use our proven virus Pollas Ague.
It intentionally infects humanity
using well-designed programmes,
supplying fear, deception and oppression.

Three machines from factory floor
are outwardly similar.
These executive male machines
are packaged in standard colours
and wear similarly inoffensive attire
They contain unattainable artificialities
And can answer questions evasively,
trying to offend nobody,  having
a blandly successful marketing appeal

Another model is slightly different
It is dressed in a coat and holds a pint
and advertises little Englishness,
but is prickly as a Scotch thistle.
It cannot be marketed in Europe
but is popular in Southern England

The female model on the production line
has well designed legs and dresses nicely.
It advertises in a Scottish accent
and can have more marketing success
than all male models.

Designer viruses grip the nation
Infecting it with pre-election fever.
They capture the media and strip it
of international news and controversy
Issuing deliberately inaccurate information
and dubious data
Stunning the populace with bland statements
and magnetise many to vote wrongly.

Our dark misleads costs parties millions
but will be an outstanding success
in first past the post systems.
The sales have been staggering in the States.
Since our isles are becoming similar
Our most expensive models are election winners.
It is best to buy them, and tax the population.

John Hughes © 2015

The Silver Present?

Will the new bright gift assist me?
I’d like to use the tonic of music.

In the gift the violin screams.
A ‘cello and percussive piano
reach a dissonant climax,
torturing a darkening soul.

The second movement is slower,
more in chorus with my grim mind.
I treasure the darkly touched keys,
sombre ‘cello, and lamenting violin.

The final movement is stronger,
with a fiercely violent crescendo.
I become angrier and angrier.
discarding the new silver disc,
turning to Beethoven’s fierce fifth,
echoing my mind in anger.

John Hughes © 2015


In my dream a bird tweets lingeringly
Tweets like a plaintive chick
Just fresh from the egg
Then its voice soars to an ululating trill
Sweet and high
Higher until it becomes as penetrative
As a triumphant celesta

Yet elevated into a curious state of rapture
I awake and its song is no dream
I tiptoe to the window where I hear
A tiny flutter of wings
As I look up
To the starry plough in the medieval blue

In the early dawn
I will spot from this window
Cupped beneath
The umbrella of a fine-leafed shrub
A small brown bird

Is this the source of that cathedral of sound?

Tomorrow night I won’t hear it at all
Yet forever it will haunt my recall

Katherine Rawlings © 2015

Questions For The Schoolboys

Where did you come from
where did you go?
Where did you come from
so long ago?

A home of love and lots of life,
or a place of danger,
hate and strife?
Did your past inform the ways
you lived at school,
your work, your play?

Did you think all was the same,
that life had played a wretched game?
Did you know why you were here
in this mansion, full of fear?
Or maybe you just loved the stones
wishing for comfort to your bones.

Did you love three meals a day?
What if you dared to disobey?
Were you thought a tearaway?
Were you beaten?

Was all fair in the schoolroom?
Were you scared of the wooden spoon?
Were your questions ever answered?
Did you dare to ask?

Where did you come from
where did you go?
Where did you come from
so long ago?

Polly Stretton © 2015

First performed at Croome Park – July 2015


A hush on waking
Is a guidance to the glow
Outside my window.

Katherine Rawlings © 2015


Bats stitched to midnight
Embroider the moon’s halo
Like black butterflies;

I rise to meet them
Embrace the man in the moon
With umbrella wings.

Katherine Rawlings © 2015


The sound of the sea
As it rushes to greet me
Is here in the shell

From a summer beach
When the wind tangled our hair
And salt teased our cheeks

As we ran laughing
And our freckles bloomed freely
On our faultless youth.

 Katherine Rawlings © 2015

N’ Orleans Vignettes

the golden glow of beignets
dipped in chicory coffee, sipped by
the Mississippi
on a wave of m o l t e n b l u e s…

platters of siZZzling oysters
on piping, pearly half shells; a BuBBling
buttery reverie
on a symphony of ‘oohs!’…

masquerade shades of mystery
in s a s s s y shimmies on balconies; shinning poles
to stolen k i s s s e s
on Mardi Gras wishes too far…

the sun-bluSh ruSh of HuRRicaneS
on p i a n o and s a x refrains
throBBing in Bourbon Street bars
‘neath molassses skies luSh with

S t A R s

Susan Jarvis Bryant

Mapping On Tilberthwaite Fells

My base map shows the grid and contours, paths and streams,
some Viking-sounding place names, and bog and bog.
The only human here is me, the only human sound

the ring of steel on stone, and my uncertain voice
discussing with myself my lack of understanding.
A bearing on a hill, another, and two faint lines

drawn on the map intersect at you-are-here
where a cross is numbered 24 and 24 is written
on a piece of rock that’s added to my rucksack’s weight.

The map is in a fancy case that keeps it dry in drizzle
even as I write on it, my clothes are warm and weatherproof,
my boots are bog-proof, almost. I will describe and correlate

some square kilometres of Cumbria. Just possibly
the map I draw will bear sporadic correlation with reality.
I am bewildered and alone, and know with stunning certainty

my map will not be used by anyone. Still less will those
two hundred years ahead look at it and marvel how one man
could have done so much so long ago, and got it right.

I did my undergraduate mapping project in Cumbria. The last stanza refers to William Smith who produced the first geological map, single-handed, covering the whole country. Smith’s map was published two hundred years ago.

First published in Map–Worple Press
Barbara Cumbers

A Funeral In Askern

A funeral! Serious shit you would think
What was it about, what I saw made me blink!
Though the women wore black they tottered, stood tall
On sharp killer heels, thus proclaiming to all
As they drew on their ciggies: that fashion must win!
Then they posed round the box as the boys dropped it in
To its hole in the ground where the poor stiff must stay,
Then the girls stood above without much delay
With, stiff legged, short paces tip-tapped to the Wake
And with gimlet glances saw who made the mistake:
Of attending that function in sensible shoes!
The nub of this matter, and these are my views:
Though death’s incidental to the female race;
A fuck up in fashion’s a lifelong disgrace.

Dave Etchell

Bandstand In September

Deckchairs flap
to a rhythm
from the sea,
and hats are worn
against the north east wind,

dry leaves rustle
a counterpoint
and the only dancers
shape a slow gyration
in the breeze,

their feet in time,
habitually precise
from years of practice
and routine

but now she turns her face
from his gaze,

as the singer croons
‘Tis Autumn

Previously published in Southend Poetry 28 (2012)
Adrian Green

Making A Case

for the office of Andrew Isaacs, Solicitor.

What you need, Mr Isaacs,
is a poet-in-residence
to extol the black and chrome
weight and poise of that conference table
under its sleek ovalness;
the long calm stretch of corporate carpet;
those four chairs-in-waiting
with their smooth quarter-moon arms
to welcome clients into the hush
of this office of confidences.

The striated chronology of a divorce fills your desk:
tagged, labelled, annotated,
clipped and walletted to hold down edges
that might otherwise curl before the judge,
ready to be hefted into a briefcase worthy of a doctor,
for the surgery of court.
No novel would do justice
to those fat bundles of working papers;
no architecture boasts such intricate, towering arguments.
No painter could describe the thousand sighs
detailed there, the composed responses;
nor designer weave this tapestry for your clients
from all their broken threads.
To one side, your clipboard’s clinical time and motion study
records the precise heartbeat of every accounted minute,
creates its own steady rhythm,
and a dance of invoices and receipts
that no composer or choreographer could reproduce.

Only a poet can capture all this,
encompass too the elegance of brassy leaves,
glazed with silent water, on this side table;
the abstract on the wall, as brightly tangled
as a solicitor’s diary; the jazzy box of tissues
to cheer the inevitable tears; and the comfortable sound
of teaspoons coming to rest on saucers.
How else could you frame the contrast beyond the window,
the wet grey flap of a half-furled flag,
the trudge of industry along that grim ribbon of highway?

Think of the kudos, Mr Isaacs–
poetry wields a pen mightier than a business card,
more cultured than an advertisement;
cast a wink at this unique selling point and
imagine the envy of your rivals.
You wear an overcoat of gravitas,
your ship’s bell hangs on the wall to proclaim your triumphs;
all you need now
is your own poet-in-residence.

Helen Harvey

My Team

I’m a football fan
And I do all I can
To support My Team
Home or away
I’m there come what may
To follow My Team

The players, I fear,
Are not from round here
But they’re My Team
And the owner, to be fair,
Is a Yankee millionaire
But still they’re My Team

My life is more complete
With each other team we beat
That is, My Team
But if they should lose
It gives me the blues
Because they’re My Team

If you want my opinion
We need another Argentinian
To bolster My Team
And it will improve things, in fact,
When the manager is sacked
To save My Team

Though I’ve never kicked a ball
I’ve a season ticket after all
So I’m part of My Team
And I hate and deride
Fans of any other side
Because they don’t support My Team

And I LOVE My Team

Lem Ibbotson

Rocking Chair

The ghost of who I used to be arrives,
unbidden, through the caverns of my head.
He pixelates my dreamscape with dear, dead
acquaintances and colleagues. He connives
with that old doxy Memory, contrives
a magic,swirling totentanz; my tread
is lacewing-light; my possessed bed
projects a diorama of our lives.

The rocking chair sits smugly by the wall,
its polished oak solidity unfazed
by years of under-use. In childhood days
I’d see it bear the worries of us all.
My ghost approaches, indicates the chair,
suggests perhaps it’s time I settled there…

Jim Lindop


Silence and solitude unbroken drops
abiding stillness, soundlessness flutters,
no soul to disturb the cool, calm hilltop,
Midsummer Hill sighs in silence, shuttered.

And then from the West come the saucy swifts,
swooping and singing, playing today, while
they wait to migrate, chase, drift, flit and lift,
twitter, skitter, dip and dance to the sundial.

What joy in aloneness, what joy in sight,
a ballet of darting, diving divas
so rare, a flock of sure swifts in full flight,
plunging, soaring they surpass caprice.

Silence and solitude unbroken drops
abiding stillness, soundlessness flutters,
no soul to disturb the cool, calm hilltop,
Midsummer Hill sighs in silence, shuttered.

Polly Stretton


In short trousers, snake belt, Tuf shoe shod
too young for old sods like Richard Todd
with scrambled egg medals and cod
ham acting in films like he was God.

Then the Beatles came along and got us
like better than real older brothers,
of ourselves as we wanted to be and more,
a dreamed up fab gang of four.

Northerners, the same as us, as hitherto
we pissed on the cap of Jimmy Clitheroe
now across the schoolyard ran the mantra:
‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ that we all danced ta.

Then they went all kind of hairy scary,
left the nice suits, left that boy wary.
And this boy soon fell in love for real
with The Avengers and Emma Peel.

Bernard Rooney


To prepare the delicacy
take one stone, granite or gneiss,
place in the pot with the guga,
boil for twenty minutes,
drain the fat and repeat four times.
Add an onion at the fifth boiling.
When the stone softens
the guga is ready to eat.

The guga flesh is fishy duck.
The odour, one could not call it aroma,
is a thousand years of hunting,
a childhood of celebrating
the coastal pabulum.
A cull of chicks, once blue eggs
on Sula Sgeir’s razor cliffs
forty miles from human habitation.

Ten men of Ness, foolish or brave
or both, set sail for the nowhere rock.
A tiny bothy is the only shelter,
the monastery derelict, the isle barren
ten months of the year.
Seasick arrival, relief at the landfall
despite the foul stench of gannet guano.
They bring poles, ropes, food and barrels.

The rocks are slick with gizzard,
neck-cracked guga are plucked,
piled in circles of curing salt;
grey carcases like cairns.
The two week ritual leaves no calluses,
but ripped fingers cruciate in brine.
Oilskins offer little warmth
for the bones of Nessmen.

Some sense of perpetuation,
crafts sodality elsewhere abandons,
drives the inexplicable call;
the instinct to return each year
to chance the precipitous cliffs,
proof of life by risking it;
testing brawn, tenacity and species;
a delicacy of survival.

First Published in South #45 Apr 2012
Sue Spiers

6 thoughts on “Poems From OU Poets

  1. Just wondering what the criteria are for publication here, and what the status of publication here is vis a vis ‘poems may not have been published elsewhere’ criteria in comp entries?


    1. You submit any poems you’d like to have published on this page (yes, you guessed it, because it’s public they are classed as published) to: webdesk@oupoets.org.uk and our webmaster will put them up here. If they’ve been published elsewhere, just say and we’ll be sure to acknowledge that. It’d be lovely to see some of your work on this page, Judi.


      1. I wonder if you’d be interested in posting the poem/lyrics wot I wrote for the Open University Choir last year for their celebration of “MK at 50” – ‘A different kind of urban’? Sadly it wasn’t possible to make a recording of the of the completed piece at the time of performance. I did record just the poem earlier this year, with some images of MK I fettled. It might make an interesting post, with a link to the recording?

        Liked by 1 person

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