Issue 1

John Hartley Williams


on doorsteps
not thinking
about the next line of a poem.

They go
to the seaside
just like other people.
You have to admire the way
they walk into the sea
when the red flag is up.


The surf is heavier
than Milton’s
blank verse,
and the poets are out there
riding it.
If I were a lifeguard
I would certainly blow my whistle.
But there they are, the poets,
taming those foam horses
as if they were
breaking in
the metres of God.

Or something.

Later they walk
past shop windows.
Poets, the Italian suits
and the French wines
in this elegant resort
are almost certainly
worth more than your lives.
It’s hardly a wonder
your language is down to a whisper.
There’s so much wry meekness
in your encroachments
on the silence:

I have everything
I need
for my
thank you.

What a statement!
What brevity!
What profundity!
No wonder people
simply can’t hear you!


Poets don’t say
what they mean.
They don’t mean what they mean.
They don’t say what they say.
They don’t even mean
what they say they mean.
They don’t even say
what they seem to be meaning to say.
Meaning is saying.
Saying is meaning.
Something like that, anyway.

This is unfortunate.
People are baffled.
Poets, how dearly
you would like to leap
like circus tigers
through the hoop of people’s bafflement
and alight agilely
on the other side!


Have you addressed a poet recently?
I think not.
In fact, no one has spoken to the poet.
No one has seen the poet lately.
No one has read the last book.
Or if they have read it, they were puzzled by it.
It is good to be creative,
but what is it all about?
People play bridge, these days.
Or they drive their cars at defenceless pedestrians.
Or they go to the cinema.
Does one really need
to try and understand the poet
when the poet claims
no effort is needed, when the poet
maintains, in fact, that effortlessness
is the soul
of what the poet does?

One fears one is being hoodwinked.

In the cemetery
it is very cold.
There’s an icy wind
powdering the graves
with snow.
Who do these footsteps belong to?
What is this mumbling?
Whose shadow is sneaking
spectrally through trees?
No, no! Absolutely wrong!
It’s not a poet! It’s a mourner!
The poet is safely at home,
sitting in front of a fire,
drinking a little mulled wine,
reading an excellent poem
by a dead rival.
Very soon
there’s a little tapping at the window.
Tap-tap, tap-tap, tap-tap.
A slow smile walks across the face of the poet.
Who could that be?
What could that knocking signify?

The poet turns
the handle

and opens the door