Donkey jacket

This might be the only poem ever written about a donkey jacket! (If anyone knows otherwise, please let me know.) Some of my readers outside the UK may not be familiar with this item of clothing, so I will explain: it is a coat very commonly worn by working men, mainly associated with dockers, miners, roadworkers, railworkers etc., and at one time a ‘fashion’ item worn by ‘skinheads’.

It was invented by George Key of Rugeley in Staffordshire for the navvies working on the Manchester Ship Canal, and given its name because it was used by men operating the ‘donkey engines’. It has an added association for me in that I grew up not far from this canal, and sometimes used to cycle down there. I’ve had mine for 35 years, and this poem is to celebrate the long life of this coat.

 

Threadbare

 

It’s a wrap up warm from the wind                                                         dsci0001

kind of a coat,

threadbare at the collar and cuffs

and one button ripped off but tough

kind of a coat.

To my kids it was a joke of a coat:

‘it’s made from the skin of a donkey,

that’s why it’s called a donkey jacket’

kind of a joke;

or ‘it was made by a blind black bloke from Stoke

who loved donkeys’ kind of a joke.

Shoulder patches of black PVC worn and cracked

after thirty-odd years of hard graft,

wind and rain.

Pockets of deep comfort,

capacious enough for kittens,

(I once took two gingers for a walk,

one peeping from each pocket,

safe and warm in wide-eyed wonder),

now full of bits of straw and baler twine,

a fence staple or two, a plant label,

dust and detritus of a working rural life.

Bought in the Army and Navy store,                                 dsci0002

stuff for the working class outdoor

kind of a man.

Did my dad ever wear it when

tinkering with tappets,

adjusting the carburettor

or checking for spark in distributor cap,

and other mysteries of the 1960s

combustion engine?

Memories are hazy and incomplete now,

but I like to think that he did.

It’s a comforting kind of a coat.

Winter nights I wear it, collar up,

walking the dog around the fields,

the crisp frost reflecting moonlight,

Cassiopeia and Orion looking down,

seeing out my days.

 

 

© David Urwin 2016

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The wordless earth

The coast of Pembrokeshire must be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I am priveleged to live so close to it. Unfortunately, I fail to get there very often, but managed a walk there recently. I am always promising myself that I will go more often. I promise myself again now. The poem is an attempt to deal with the idea of places on earth that just carry on being or growing, when we are not there, as in the Zen Buddhist notion that ‘the grass grows by itself’. We humans overestimate our importance on the planet- it would all carry on quite well enough without us, and indeed does so in the places from which we are absent (except for the damage we have done, and continue to do, on a global scale).

 

The wordless earth

 

 

No words                                                                 dsci0024

 

just grey sky

 

black rock

 

the vast ocean

 

sunlight meagre

 

on the horizon                                   dsci0020

 

a pair of choughs

 

stabbing at the cliff scree

 

blackthorn crouching low

 

where the winds scrape

 

and drag their harrow                dsci0017

 

the heather   the gorse

 

slowly growing

 

in our long  heedlessdsci0011

 

absence.

 

 

 

© David Urwin

 

Wooltack Point, Pembrokeshire, December 19th 2016.

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Not the Dabke

The following poem has just been published on the webzine, ‘I Am Not A Silent Poet’. Here is the link: https://iamnotasilentpoet.wordpress.com/2016/12/21/not-the-dabke-by-dave-urwin/

The war in Syria goes on and on. Nor should we forget the plight of Iraquis, Palestinians, Lebanese and many others in the Middle-East. Innocent civilians are pawns in the ‘game’ played by superpowers over oil, arms and religion, not to mention petty prejudice and hatred. Sad to say, but I think many men get a thrill from killing. Furthermore, human beings become entrenched in their belief systems and refuse to give way or compromise. Therefore, war goes on and on and on.

Not the Dabke                                                         palestinian-dabke

 

(the Dabke is a dance of Middle-Eastern origin, common in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, northern Saudi Arabia etc. It is performed at joyful occasions such as weddings.)

(To be read aloud to a jaunty rhythm, possibly with your foot tapping in time.)

Take your partners for the killing dance,                                                syrian-war-4

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

One step forward, two steps back,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

The organisers watch from their houses on the hill,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

No one can stop it, they don’t have the will,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

Rape a young woman in front of her child,                                                   syrian-war-2

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Then execute them both, as the crowd goes wild,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

Change your partners, make new friends,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Make sure the supply of arms never ends,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

The dance club’s bombed out, burned to the ground,                                 syrian-war-3

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

No cause for concern, another can be found,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

The gamblers paid their money, they all want a winner,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

They’ll arrange the next dance over peace talks dinner,

it’s the killing dance, it’s the killing dance.

Kill, kill, kill, kill.

The dancers to their gods all pray                                           syrian-war-1

they’ll live to dance another day.

They hear their Holy Scriptures say

kill, kill, kill, kill.

© Dave Urwin 2016

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How are we to live?

There is so often around us the depressing news of yet another human abuse: a murdered child, a bombing raid on innocent civilians, a homeless person frozen to death, ceaseless stories of children abused by those in a position of trust, and so on, and so on. The world can seem a cruel place. Yet there are so many things to be thankful for, to celebrate, to enjoy. How can we reconcile these opposing forces? Some are able to find a way of accounting for it through their religion. What of those of us who have no religion, no belief in a omnipotent god? We must wrestle ceaselessly with this thorny snake…

 

How are we to live?

 

How are we to live in this world

of mangled steel and tangled wire,

of battered babies and brutal dictators,

of delinquent priests and ruthless terrorists,

of imprisoned speech and crucified prophets,

homs-ruins

of melting ice and looming oceans

of toxic rivers and rubbled cities,

of raped children and abused wives,

of children killing children for something to do,

of the starving dying in the stinking street,

of tourists footsore from sweatshop souvenir shopping;

 

although the blackbird serenades his sweetheart

from the blossoming cherry by the bombed-out buildings;

although the music of the shining sunlight                                                  blackbird-in-cherry-blossom

scatters its indiscriminate blessings;

although peaches hang wanton from the fertile bough;

although there are many wondrous acts of

random and spontaneous human kindness?peaches

 

How are we to live in this world,

without running down the sparrow

in the dusty road

without weeding out the wild strawberry

from the stony path,

without becoming an addict or a slave

to any cause or idea,

to any programme or leader,                                                         che-guevara-quote

to any icon or idol;

without bearing false witness

to the despised or reviled,

to the mercenary deceiver,

to the arrogant ingrate?

 

How are we to live in this world

with its clenched fists

with its agonised screams

with its hidden lonely nightmares

with its aching heart?

 

 

©  Dave Urwin  2016

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The Snaggerwamps

Here is a poem I recently wrote to celebrate the centenary of the birth of one of our great writers, who is famous for his stories for children, but was a fine writer of short stories for adults too: Roald Dahl. He was well known for making up new words, so I have done likewise in my poem. There are also shades of Edward Lear here too, famous most of all for ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’, and I would be surprised if Roald Dahl was not an admirer of his work.

Who can know what the Snaggerwamps look like, or indeed Quoggy Bottom? The pictures suggest what the place may look like, but you can use your own imagination instead! After all, the river doesn’t look very purple, does it? That may be just a trick of the light!

This a poem for kids, perhaps, or for the adult’s inner child.

 

Down in Quoggy Bottom                                                  

mytical-landscape-1

 

The Snaggerwamps lived all the way down

the dipsy-tripsy hill in Quoggy Bottom,

having hopped away from Tattle Town

so long ago that just when I’ve forgotten.

 

Breakfast every evening was cabbage fish,

which they caught in the purple river

by singing their riddles of gibberish

that made all their enemies quiver.

 

For the Snaggerwamps had many enemies,mystical-landscape-2

as all strange creatures do,

and they’d eaten up all of the strawberries

that in Quoggy Bottom once grew.

 

Their language was lovely and yellow

like the sun of a June afternoon,

and they loved to sing songs to the cello,

who complained they were never in tune.

 

The Snaggerwamps asked lots of questions too

about this and that and who, when and why,

like what to do if your mouth’s shut with glue

or your toe’s in a cherry cheese pie;

 

or why is the Greater Wart-faced Scum Bum Bird so incredibly shy

and no camels are seen with three humps,

and why we are born if one day we’ll die

and toads are all covered in lumps.

 

So if you should meet any Snaggerwamps

when you’re frozzwuffling down in the dell,

please answer their curious questinumps

and make friends with those creatures as well.

 

 

© Terence the Troublesome Terrapin   2016

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Heart of Darkness

The following poem was published on the webzine, I Am Not A Silent Poet on 9th August 2016. Here’s the link:  https://iamnotasilentpoet.wordpress.com/2016/08/09/heart-of-darkness-by-david-urwin/

The refugee crisis continues, and everyone gets on with their own lives. Although many of us are disgusted by what the refugees have to endure, governments fail to take clear and decisive action. Europeans and Americans in particular live with great wealth and privelege, much of which could be shared with suffering refugees. Yet still so little happens to relieve their suffering. Are we all essentially selfish and protective of our own interests? This poem addressteargas-calais-YouTube.jpeges the plight of unaccompanied child refugees in particular.

                                     Heart of Darkness

 Something is rotten in the states of Europe

children fighting for survival     tear-gassed

at close range

into the eyes

refugee children

down the throat.

Something is rotten in the Jungle

of democracy

and civilisation

refugee children starving

sent away from terror       to suffer in horrorunaccompanied children refugees

or be killed on the road           to a better life.

Something is rotten in the states of America

land of the free                    capital of liberty.

Is something rotten at the heart of humanity?

 

© David Urwin  2016

 

refs: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/02/child-refugees-calais-failed-by-britain

Woman’s Hour, BBC Radio 4, August 3rd, 2016.

Photos courtesy of ibtimes.co.uk,  and (teargas image) independent.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ashamed to be white

The following poem was published on the webzine, ‘I Am Not A Silent Poet’ on 11th July 2016.

According to mappingpoliceviolence.org, ‘Police killed more than 100 unarmed black people in 2015.’ And ‘Unarmed black people were killed at 5x the rate of unarmed whites in 2015.’

Forty years ago Bob Dylan was singing (in ‘Hurricane’) about a black man, Rubin Carter, sentenced for murder by an all-white jury: ‘How can the life of such a man/ be in the palm of some fool’s hand?/ To see him obviously framed/ couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed/ to live in a land where justice is a game.’   What’s changed?

black lives matter Is his life worth more

Ashamed to be white

 

(in memory of Alton Sterling of Baton Rouge, Louisiana

and  Philandro Castile of St.Paul, Minnesota,

murdered by white police officers.)

 

‘Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.’   John Donne

 

It is shameful to be white.

It is shameful to be white

and not speak out.

It is shameful to be white

and not speak out against

racial abuse.

It is shameful to be white,

the colour of purity,

when so unclean.

It is shameful to be white,

the colour of innocence,

when so guilty.

It must be shameful to be white

in the home of the brave,

when some behave as cowards.

It must be shameful to be white

in the land of the free,

when so many are imprisoned

by their colour.

It is shameful to be white,

the colour of cold sterility

of those who have the power

and abuse it.

Black brother, black sister,

when the trigger is pulled,

I am ashamed to be white.

Centuries deep

and time after time

I am ashamed to be white.

 

© Dave Urwin 2016

 

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