Saturday, 24 November 2007

Poem for Rugby Market, Warwickshire

Below is a short poem called 'Where Two Roads Meet'. It's about Rugby Market, and was specially commissioned by The Rugby Times newspaper, around the time I was appointed Warwick Poet Laureate.

Not being the sort of poet who writes much about urban life - though I often write about rural spaces, and either imaginary or past places - I found this commission quite a challenge at first. However, I live on the outskirts of Rugby, so I went into the town and wandered about for an hour or so, talking to people and looking for inspiration for this first poem.

Eventually I sat down with a coffee near the regular open-air market and realised that I had found my subject. With its colourful stalls and bustle of shoppers, a street market is a natural source of inspiration for any writer. And this particular market, so steeped in the history of the town - indeed the entire region - was clearly perfect as a vehicle for tracing local and historical development in Rugby.

After making copious notes on what I'd seen in the market, I headed off to Rugby Library and checked out some local history books. From my research, it was soon apparent that the market was the original heart of the town, the vital 'seed' from which the earliest settlements at Rugby grew.

Back in the Middle Ages, a lone trader must have stopped at this busy Midlands crossroads and set up his stall, thinking it a good spot to do business. Other traders stopped, and eventually stayed, and soon there would have been a thriving village based around the little market at the crossroads, which grew into a town, its importance as a trading place growing and changing with the centuries.

Later, a large cattle market was established further down the hill, a clock tower was built at the crossroads, stone-built shops sprang up around the stalls, the low-roofed 'Shambles' were built, and over time the market and its surrounding town grew into the modern Rugby we know today.

It was a fascinating background story, and one which I really wanted to address in my first ever 'official' poem about Rugby. But I also wanted to write about contemporary Rugby, the hustle and bustle of the market today.

I threw out some of my original notes as useless and went through several wildly differing drafts. I looked at old photographs for further inspiration, and played around with rhymes and my usual eccentric scansion. I knew the poem needed to be quite simple in form and content, for a general readership, but I also wanted it to reflect my interest in the origins of things, in local history and how it shapes our lives today.

This is how it turned out. I hope you enjoy it.


Where Two Roads Meet
(for Rugby Market)

Where two roads meet, a man set up
his cart. Where the primrose
and the dog rose used to flower,
they built a market and a clock tower.

Soon, women in white petticoats sold
flowers and sweets, and men
in cloth caps drove carts and cattle
through the cobbled streets.

Today, two roads still meet
at the market awnings, striped
and neat, above the shouts
for bargain books and fresh-cut meat,

for shoes, potatoes and chrysanths,
for coconuts and underpants,
with stall-holders in caps and jeans,
and traffic choking up the streets

where Rugby past and present meet.

First published in The Rugby Times, September 2007

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Remembrance Sunday

As we reach Remembrance Sunday and set aside time to remember those who have so bravely given their lives for peace and freedom, I thought it might be a good idea to feature a local 'War Poet' on this blog.

After much research, I finally chose Rupert Brooke (1887 - 1915), who was born in Rugby, Warwickshire, and is probably best-known for his patriotic poem The Soldier, which begins:

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.

For this Remembrance Sunday, however, I decided to feature a different poem by Rupert Brooke. This complex fourteen-liner on the theme of death, following the form of a sonnet broken into two stanzas, an octet and concluding sestet, is called 'Clouds'.


Down the blue night the unending columns press
In noiseless tumult, break and wave and flow,
Now tread the far South, or lift rounds of snow
Up to the white moon's hidden loveliness.
Some pause in their grave wandering comradeless,
And turn with profound gesture vague and slow,
As who would pray good for the world, but know
Their benediction empty as they bless.

They say that the Dead die not, but remain
Near to the rich heirs of their grief and mirth.
I think they ride the calm mid-heaven, as these,
In wise majestic melancholy train,
And watch the moon, and the still-raging seas,
And men, coming and going on the earth.

Rupert Brooke

To find Rupert Brooke poems on the topic of war, you can visit or read about Brooke and other literary figures of Warwickshire here.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Send Me a Poem

If you are the sort who scribbles, secretly or otherwise, and you have a poem you'd like to share with the other readers of this blog, please do email it to me here at j.holland442 @ or send it by post via the contacts section of the Warwick Words Festival website.

Poems related to Warwick or Warwickshire are particularly welcome, but not necessary. Please note that there may be special themes at certain times of the year, so check recent posts before sending. This invitation is mainly directed towards Warwickshire residents, but poets further afield can send work too, especially if they have a Warwickshire connection.

If you are under the age of 18, please let me know your age when sending the poem. I would prefer poems to arrive as normal text in the body of an email, but can accept Word attachments.

N.B. I will read all your poems and try to respond to everyone personally, but I'm afraid I cannot guarantee publication!


One of my winning poems from the Warwick Laureateship Poetry Competition 2007:


To dream of death signifies fear
of the unknown. Dandelions
speak of a lover’s
infidelities. Towers and steeples
are signs of ill omen.
To avoid nightmare, sleep
with a stone under your pillow.
The ring-tailed dove
must not be crossed with the crow,
or harm approaches.
To see rivers in flood
means death by drowning, and roses
financial ruin. Anything blue
is an excellent omen
for childbirth. Pearls bring sickness.
Opals, relief.
Falling from a high place
indicates a stranger’s treachery
and carrying milk
a desire fulfilled. But to dream
of milk spilt
is to suffer love unrequited.

*Oneiromancy: to predict the future through dreams. The new requirement of the Warwick competition this year was to send four poems, one of which had to be inspired by this year's National Poetry Day theme of 'Dreams'.


One of my winning poems from the Warwick Laureateship Poetry Competition 2007:


Mid-September, and crane flies
are everywhere, haunting my kitchen
with delicate legs splayed
like a parachutist’s, gripping the air.

Soon my house is alive with shadows, black
under the bulb’s glare. These
are the terrifying Daddy-Long-Legs
of my childhood, an insect
straight out of the mind’s dark spaces,
insubstantial bodies
caught in my hair, delirious in flight
against the light’s tremor
or perched long-legged on a whitewashed wall,
tiny Buddhas deep in prayer.

I fasten windows, lock all the doors,
yet still that pitched flight,
vibrato of wings, is audible
until, quite suddenly, October thickens
and they disappear.


One of my winning poems from the Warwick Laureateship Poetry Competition 2007:


Another one goes higher, climbing up that ladder
like a monkey: screwdriver, hammer, wrench
tucked neatly in his belt. His mates follow,
leaving their cloudy fingerprints
on plate-glass. This is their world,
high above our ant-eye level.
We scuttle underneath with cups of tea,
leave them steaming on planks
or pass them through open windows.

They lean against the scaffolding
at half past ten, unhurried, rolling smokes.
Later, the backs of their necks will redden
as they pull the flashing from the roof
(the youngest often stripping to the waist).
The sun is in my eyes; refracting light
into a fleet of curving poles,
this structure almost seems to bend,
a tree-house circumnavigating stone.

I watch them come first thing, unload their van
and swing up into clouds.
Each day we hear them through our walls
like mice in the skirting-boards
or scratching at the roof, bird claws
hooking onto lead. Their voices rumble
in the chimney-breast, hammer us
a slant of sky through glass
until we’re living under occupation.


One of my winning poems from the Warwick Laureateship Poetry Competition 2007:


She comes up through the yard
at dusk, sturdy in boots
and thick fisherman’s jumper.
You stop work immediately,
smiling and combing lank hair
with your fingers.
Moments later, light streams
from an upstairs window.

The wind’s only a thin hiss
across darkening fields
but my camper rocks gently,
ringing its tiny bells
like some displaced troika.
Inside, I dream of snow
and cannon fire; pour myself
a cup of vodka
that sears even as it blurs.

Outside is like the first dark,
familiar as the first hurt.
I’m used to its deep velvet lagoons
and swim of wet tarmac,
its absence of love,
my road ahead the white trick
of a travelling moon.