Can the suburbs generate poetry?

Suburban morning – Winter

As the sun glares coldly

at the town, white around the gills

like an ageing dog,

the waves swish down the road.

The long night’s gathered

energy crashes on to the streets

only to stop, beached, steaming.

In the unsparing clarity

of the blue’s sharp light

eyes narrow to slits and the hardness

of brick and stone pierce the advancing tide;

killers come out of their sandy beds,

claws sharpened, shells hardened.

Shivering, I listen and watch,

but head for the trees,

the squirrel’s rustle and the furtive

twitch of the brambles, where I hide

my wounds in the dappled light.


Clean the drive, shine the windows,

Scour the kitchen, beat the carpets;

Polish the paintwork, wash the sorrows,

Cover the blemishes, clear the weeds.

But the spider creeps from its corner,

Rains stain our shine with Sahara’s sand,

The wastes of living feed the future

And for us to flower, the tears must fall.


Suburban Fallacy

No digging here.

Spade thrown in the garage-grave,

Soil pasty, malnourished,

Thin gruel for summer fruits.

Words ricochet off fences

Spreading misunderstanding.

Only the blackbird

Head cocked

Listens and snatches

The worm, here, now.

The Back Lawn on a New Day

The dewdrops distilled from frosted mists

At dawn, point the sun through my retina.

Sharp stabs of blinding light

Look up at me, shimmer

And disappear on some new errand.

Just for one moment, search lights

Are on me from innumerable blades

And I flinch and step outside myself

To let my eyes sweep over the multitude

To smother with incomprehension

Their chattering responses to my

Exposed illuminated slightness;

To be lulled into awestruck hope

By the glittering mysteries of light,

By the marriage of the vastness

With the domestic detail

Of a suburban lawn,

By the unfathomed construction of beauty.

Finding the Poets

I am cocooned in a warm fug,
The suburban temperature,
Where the business of living
Dries to a husk, held together
By old patterns, crocheted
In a lifetime of compromise.
My eyes droop under the weight
Of passing time, warmed by the familiar,
Cushioned by common sense.
From time to time I look out,
Shielding my eyes
From the harsher truths of hunger,
War and oppression
That lie fly blown on barren planes.

But then the humid shroud
Of politeness is slashed apart
By the ice cold scalpel
Of those who live wildly
On the edge of madness,
Their Ariel set free to dance
On the dark side of convention;
By the pitiless clawing
Of beauty from the hot entrails
Stretched out before us
To give food to Crow;
By the dry rasp of sandpaper
Polishing the grey mornings
With bitter truths;
By the sharp scrunch of his spade
Digging through our foundations
To find gold lit by learning;
By the strange patter of words
Turned in their spare aridity
To uncover mystery
Through a music of tongue and tooth.


These are the soft lands
Where life clings to the gaps
In polished floors;
Its smell hides in clothes
Of bleached colour
Pushed to the back
Of tight packed drawers;
Its timeless calling
Is seldom heard beneath
The excited glitter
Of monied distraction.
Because we can, we escape
The grounded grind
In lonely fields where the stars
Crush us to humility;
Because we can, we demand
The right to pain free
Prosperity, scattering
Our fields with disdain,
Certainty and blame.
Because we can, we retreat
Into privacy
And hang its leaden baubles
Around our willing necks
To drown us in fear
Of difference and change,
And turn old age into a prison.

Yet this is progress –
Not here the sunken cheeks
And hollowed eyes
Of the desperate;
Quiet sorrows are cushioned
By pockets of creation,
And small kindnesses.
And the song of life
Curls its strange harmonies
Around home grown cloisters.

Terribly House and Garden

It is the wrong sort of anonymity

Here hiding away from history

Absorbed in the domestic.

Often the butt of affectionate humour,

The Home Guard as it were, catching the scent

Of great events fitfully.

This though is the nursery for heroism

The cradle for passionate destruction

The school for cannon fodder.

It is the summit of ambition, the dream

For millions whose task is wealth creation,

Service untouched by power’s lure.

Another few thoughts about suburbia – a sort of anti – Larkin, despite the fact that I love his poetry! Suburbia invites the sort of cynicism that Larkin grappled with though he too I think ultimately affirmed. George Eliot captured something essential and beautiful that can be applied to suburbia far better than I can in the epilogue to Middlemarch. To me that is poetic genius and hearing Judi Dench read it at the end of the BBC production of the book was one of the most moving pieces of television I have ever seen. Still, I had to have a go….
Steps tread softly here;
The kind of sound that is absorbed
Into pallid routine, you think
When the greyness blankets your soul.

Steps tread softly here;
But loud enough it seems to hide
The terrors of the home, the cries
Of solitude, the echoing tombs.

Steps tread softly here;
Cushioned by the public niceness
Displayed in carefully controlled
Flower beds, nature turned to diagrams.

Steps tread softly here;
They are functional, work a day;
Unambitious; done, forgotten;
Or pressed down by obligation.

Steps tread softly here;
Yet this is the home of those
Who after lives patched with goodness
Will lie in unvisited graves.

Steps tread softly here;
Where quiet devotion tends gardens
Of hope, where kindness and laughter
Survive the certainty of death.


Whilst I’m on about suburbia, I thought I’d include something I wrote soon after retirement when I started thinking about writing more regularly. Philip Larkin managed to capture a sort of suburban English experience but by and large, the comfortable safeness of suburbia doesn’t seem to throw up obvious dramatic poetic material. It was about this that I was thinking when I wrote:

Nothing to say – just a busy
Rustling sound, constant, only broken
By passing traffic.
I have to listen through this rattle
To reach quiescence as if
Burying through the earth to sunshine
Beyond, where birds sing and flowers bloom.
I can feel the wind on my face
Cool, like a refreshing shower.
Above, frond edged clouds, set against
The blue with sun tinted pastels
Sway past, content.
The nameless scents of nature rise up
Into the silence.
It is here that I must find a place
Where I can sit and wait for the words,
Allow the back of the mind to expand
And listen to the thoughts that float
On the seas of my anxiety,
Here the fenced place, sitting unobserved
Except by creatures lost in their own urgencies.

Here is a picture of my garden with ‘the killing fields’ in front of the fence, the dry lands in the corner under the tree on the left; the farm lands are on the right (broad beans growing beyond the poppies); the wide Savannah is in front of you and the orchard is the apple tree above the bench. The bulbs have all gone now but daffodils used to line the bed to the right of the bench, and the roses used to be off picture to the right.

On the other hand, this could well be too much information!

I suppose is an ‘Englishman’s home is his castle’ sort of thing! My garden is in truth a small rectangle, 6×4 metres or something of that order but you can dream….. (Just in case you thought of calling the police, the killing fields refer to where we buried the pet rabbits when they finally gave up the ghost.)

I stand at the door of the world
Looking out. I can smile here
At the driving Winter storms;
The cloudbursts with their violent rush
Of heavens to earth, like the last coupling
Of desperate lovers;
At the killing fields where the corpses
Fuel the force of creation.

I see the dry lands, fern darkened,
Housing scurrying life forms, hosts
To our fears. I see the farm lands,
Untidy, half cropped awaiting the Spring.
I see the wide savannah,
Where the cats prowl and defecate,
Where a thousand savage dramas
Hide under the moss marked sward.

The orchards are still, their greasebands
Ready to repel assaults,
Testifying to our world of control
And invention.
I see pathways through the shade
And the ivy clad darkness,
The bulb fields and the rose garden;
They reach out to me kindly.

Yet I stand still at the world’s door;
Looking out? Is it the world I see
Or the back of my eyes?
I open the door, feel the cold blast
Of nature, its scents and sounds,
Its contest with the noise of living,
The machine, the buzz and rasp,
And the squeals of children playing.