dog sutras

dog sutra §59

and the rain

fell in one

long story

we sidestepped

between trees

i tripped my length

into fallen water

and you chased

a hare

into a rainbow

Dog Sutras §62

the green barley
crowds the horizon
populous intense
as if to dig deep
and sway strong
when the indifferent
wind passes through it
these ecstatic dances
against the slashing
of the gold


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Dog Sutras §58







Dog Sutras §47

you chased the hare

a golden zigzag

covering the roots

and hollows

as if born amongst

bracken and moss

we waited

locked in time

i whistled and called

and you came

spinning in from

the wrong direction

hope intact

joy undiminished

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Dog Sutras § 52

at the edge

of angel wood

there is 

a sort of gateway

we wonder

what’s beyond

we stop short

no closer

than this

hold the dream

Dog Sutra §22

sad at the passing

of a friend

we few now

the sun sets

but still

you drive

the dark paths

as if they had

no end

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Dog Sutras §12
we make it home
just as the sun
dies in its own fire


Dog Sutras §13
here at the pond
the light swallows
the huge trees


Dog Sutras §14
crow jane lady
in your house
in the wind
flying still

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Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped between
ship and shore. I understand
that we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived or just heading
for departure. There’s always
someone to talk to, someone pausing
to put that suitcase down and then
rub chafed hands. “I’m heading south,
old son. Didn’t work out over there.
East, west, home’s best, eh?”
Yes, I guess so. And I turn to watch
a shimmying flag at a lonely masthead.
All to play for across a monotony
of waves. No suitcase for the next guy.
He’s a nomad under a hundredweight
of rucksack, thumbs under the straps.
“I’m off to Panajachel to join
my girlfriend. The most beautiful place
on earth, she says!” Yes, I guess so
and I turn to watch the only cloud
pass behind the funnel. Fortune
favours the bold under a limitless
certainty of sky.

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dog sutra §1

leaves turn into butterflies
they’ve understood 
that as winter bites
they might fly away

dog sutra §2

leaves go to earth
berries hang
like bright bells

dog sutra §3

the two of us
you running
into your future
me as slow
as one step forward
and then the next

dog sutra §4

between the sloe
and the oyster
a tree singing

dog sutra §5

we hang on in hope
but you know nothing
of winter’s tooth

dog sutra §6

mist lying in pools
another country
arrive and it’s gone

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The Dog Sutras and their accompanying photos all derive from walks with Lupin across and around the fields, meadows and woodland near our home in North Hertfordshire.


leaves go to earth

berries hang like bright bells

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‘Songwriters are not poets, Or songs are not poems, I should say. In fact, songs are often bad poems. Take the music away and what you’re left with is often an awkward piece of creative writing full of lumpy syllables, cheesy rhymes, exhausted cliches and mixed metaphors.’

By and large, I wouldn’t disagree with Armitage’s claim. The vast majority of song lyrics exist simply to keep the walls of the song from falling in. There’s always been more than an element of service industry to the work of the professional song writer. Horses for courses is the intention and it’s the overall subscription to the genre/style in question.

For me, only a handful of lyricists’ compositions stand up proud without the superstructure of music around them. Amongst them, I’d nominate Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Ian Dury, Richard Thompson, Bob Dylan…

Now, having set myself up for ridicule and scorn, here’s a group of lyrics that I wrote for my good friend Steve Moorby to set to music. Each one has been fully arranged and, until lockdown, was being played at gigs by the trio we share with fellow songwriter Gemma Moorby, named, somewhat unimaginatively, Moorby Jones.

I don’t know whether they have life beyond the vehicle of the song. But they derive from the same underground source that produces my poems so at worst they have the status of cousins. Here they are, all standing up stark naked, waiting patiently to be cloaked once again in music…


There’s a houseful of lights on the cliff top up high.
At the end of the track there it’s shining.
And the summer dark swarms like invisible wind
all around us where we two are climbing.

There’s sand on our skin and rime in our hair
and salt on our tongues as communion.
I smile in the dark; I know you’re smiling too
as we clamber towards the reunion.

It’s deep into night and we’re stumbling blind
with just candles of gorse here to guide us.
Voices rising like sparks: friends and lovers above
and a world that must shortly divide us.

As we rise into light and our story is told,
we take up our place in the chorus,
ghosts in the present, ghosts in the past,
ghosts through the long years before us.



This is where they live, the wise ones,
in the gap between each heartbeat,
in the space between each breath.
There the light will always find them,
clear before, no ghosts behind them,
cold eye cast on life, on death.

Past is past,
it’s just a story,
evening primrose,
morning glory.
What’s to come
is just a notion,
part still life
and part commotion.

On the way
we count each second,
minutes tallied,
hours reckoned.
gliding by;
each star numbered
in the sky.

Now’s the moment,
grain of sand,
countless falling
hand to hand.
Pinch in passing
every one
or watch them dwindle
down to none.



It was snowing hard that day in New York City,
drifting deep all the way down Amsterdam.
I stopped at EJ’s Diner along West 59th,
checking out of limbo, out of winter wonderland.

Davy Jones is crooning in the neon light.
Crazy Jane slips off her stool to dance the blues.
I’m seeking broken ghosts within the shadows that she throws.
Time, old man, I say, to shift your highway shoes.

Yellow cabs and police cars are spinning in their chains,
caught within the frozen river’s flow.
I navigate the canyons like a pilgrim in his time,
walking down from Riverside and a mile or three to go.

Dreams are made in fire and thoughts are made in ice.
We burned our dreams in Gramercy that night.
Booth looked down and smiled, his hand upon his breast
and the snow came down between us and took away the light.

On East 11th I’m standing like a tracker out of trail,
but Biaggi’s slinging pizzas hand to hand,
and the lights above O’Halloran’s spell out ‘Home is in the heart’
and like St Paul, Damascus bound, I think I understand.

True love’s like a compass with its needle spinning free,
from magnetic north to east, to south, to west.
If your heart can be your lodestar and you let it spin its fill,
magnetic north is where the needle comes to rest.

Light spills out like honey on the sidewalk in the dark
and the door to Benny’s Bar-and-Grill swings open.
Lovers who were strangers are now lovers once again
and the song up on the jukebox is ‘The Circle is Unbroken’.

Too much of distance,
too long of time,
too many stations
from the old borderline.
Two drifting solo
like boats out at sea,
to the edge of forever,
from our same old used-to-be.




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Right from the beginning of lockdown in March I started writing again. Two sequences of poems, each on a linking theme, are still under way and several single poems got themselves written too. Here are three of them, all very much in first draft form…


Here I am, said the old man
still young, trapped
between ship and shore.
Now, I understand that
we’re always on the gangplank,
having just arrived, or just
heading for departure. And
I know too that there’s
always someone to talk to,
someone pausing to put
that suitcase down
and rub chafed hands.
“I’m heading south, old son.
Didn’t work out over there.
East, west, home’s best, eh?”
Yes, I guess so. And I turn
to watch a flag shimmying
at a masthead. All to play for
across a monotony of waves.
No suitcase for the next guy.
He’s a hero under a hundred-
weight of rucksack, thumbs
in the straps. “I’m off to Kasol
to join my girlfriend.
The most beautiful place
on earth, she says.” Yes,
I guess so, and I turn to watch
the only cloud pass behind
the funnel. Fortune favours
the brave under a limitless
certainty of sky.

§§ §§


Anarchists should open cafes.
Spill the ill-assorted chairs
and tables onto the pavement.
Go heavy with the red paprika,
shower down the black pepper.
Have trans and Gypsy waiters
to glide between the tables,
taking orders couched as poems.
Decorate the walls with graffito
pics of Emma Goldman, Patti Smith,
Pete Kropotkin, Allen Ginsberg.
Sit the refugee next to the barrister.
Welcome dogs of all persuasions.
Usher in the teenage truant.
Request that anyone in uniform slip
into all-encompassing rainbow robes.
Feed the snap-trap eager-beaver
TV MPs vegan burgers ‘til they go
all Paulo Freire, shouting, We are
new in heart and soul, come to
change the way things are!

§§ §§

GRIEVING (from and wait for an echo)

a man has
his hands
on his face
the heels across
his working mouth
that sound is
told in an
animal’s voice
one brought down
but not yet dead
he has to
enunciate the pain
so he selects
a sort of cataract
of vowels to drain
the airtight sack
of his grief
his wordage is
of the blown foxhole
the riven trench
i heard once
of a soldier
running along the
duckboards his jaw
taken away
by shrapnel
the story was
of the sound
he made
he who once
knew words

§§ §§


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We all of us – well, many of us – carry through from childhood certain key interests or preoccupations. Living under what was then the London Airport flightpath, I grew accustomed to seeing at comfortable height pretty much everything that left the ground and traveled from it. I still feel a frisson of excitement when I hear the sound of a piston aircraft engine. And if it’s a Rolls Royce Merlin… But this is to lapse too much into a time when the machines of war were just the whirling hardware of excitement and adventure. Now it’s their shape and sheen, the pure aesthetic of form. Taken in the moment, it can just about transcend function.

Here are three poems about aeroplanes. They can be found in my first collection, Ancient Lights .









The strangest of times: a skein of geese
crossing the bedroom window, heading west
and no body of water within seven miles.
I am playing the pagan – sleeping late amongst
the Sunday morning bells.
Heaven is a cloudless sky
in late September, harvest past,
leaves on the turn.

At first I think I hear the binder,
wheels beating, turning at the headrow,
but the fields are bare.
Such a beating, a clattering.
More geese searching for a lake
in this land of furrows? Or
the rector in his Wolesely
come to seek me out?

And then my window darkens
into the shape of wings, jagged wings –
Weston mill uprooted, reeling across the fields?
Certainly a hurricane of sorts
in the throat of this beast
squatting low over the beeches,
dabbling its feet in leaves, roaring
in a black updraft of rooks.

An aeroplane, fearful in the untried air –
nothing like the rising bird
it mocks. This is a man,
dressed in wire and canvas,
climbing out of the clover.
This is a godless man ascending,
out of the dust, towards the light.




It’s a fire next time in scripture. And when it came
it was sky-borne. Some had said at first
that out of it might come a cleansing;
out of the sky might fall a fire

bright and holy, prophecy fulfilled. September,
and I trimmed the ivy round the lych-gate.
It was lifting tiles clear of the joists
and my gardener was still in France.

That was about as close as the war
had come – censored letters, rumours,
like an invisible tide you can hear at the edge
of the world. Little to see beyond uniforms,

gas masks in boxes, gummed paper stretched
over windows. And then, that afternoon, flying west
and in and out of cloud, the planes, a geometry
of crosses. I watched and all around

the earth stood still. The organ voice
of their passing scattered rooks, rippled
the water in the rain-butt, rattled a latch.
And then we carried on, conscious only of a sniff

of autumn in the air, the planes forgotten
in an empty sky. That evening we were told
of the bombing – docks ablaze, the tram wires down,
parish halls as hospitals. But still it came

from the wireless voices, morning papers and
the travellers’ tales at the village bar. Birds trilled;
I picked a sprig of yarrow for my hat, and rain
rushed across the lead roof of the transept.

The the Messerschmidt came. Not quite, as they say
in comics ‘out of the sun’: it was a dismal morning
stacked with cumulus. But we can all remember
from our kitchens, hayricks, lonely bedrooms

(I was in the vestry hanging surplices) the sound –
a falling cadence, like a voice that begins
in the throat but can’t find words. ‘Despair’,
it would have said. We heard it, all of us.

But no one saw the plane come down,
just the gout of fire that coiled and spun above
the oasthouse. Then, when they searched
the fields around, those Home Guard amateurs

(the lads who filled my pews at evensong),
they found a booted leg, bloodless, like a spare part
brought along in case of need. Little Sammy Scase
took the joystick home and his granddad scraped

the handle clean. (‘Viscera’, the vet said later
in the milking parlour). Then it rained again
and the army came to haul away the wreckage.
And no-one paid for Vincent’s oasthouse.



Even now, here, this past
before my past leaks down
the long conduits, the time-
channels, weed-locked with

my own memories. Back then,
on corner bombsite, in the
air-raid shelter under the apple trees,
that past before our past

bellied up, breathed in our faces.
Churchill, Hitler, Uncle Joe bowled
down cinema aisles and into
our infant dreams. Parents’ stories,

shed headlines from old newspapers
feeding the living-room fire, comics
swapped in playground corners, Belsen
photoes, shifted sideways through

a conspiracy of desks – war-echoes
blew like late rumours from a world
still turning out of darkness. Our legacy
was smoke from fires still burning.

And now, trailing tails of smoke,
red, white and blue, the parachutists turn
and turn in a blank sky. The last Lancaster,
Spitfire, Hurricane tug their trinity

of shadows over the aerodrome, over
the lifted faces of the crowd, across
the eyes of old saluting men,
remembering. Their past before

my past speaks in the beating
engines, the ghost-passage of three
black crosses over September fields,
heading east to the world’s edge.

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