Sunday, 24 July 2016

Paradise Profaned

While our thoughts are with the people of Munich this weekend, I have been contacted by a reader in Norway.

Albeit necessarily selectively, I try to keep a record in my poems relating to events of particular significance and/or tragedy (as well as celebratory events) worldwide. Five years ago, there was a bomb blast in Oslo, Norway, and related massacre of nearly 70 young people at a summer camp on the nearby island of Utoeya by a lone gunman. Yesterday, a reader contacted me and asked me to repeat the poem - a villanelle - that I wrote to keep a literary record for future generations.  (Not, of course, that I can assume future generations will be interested in my poetry!)

The reader says, ‘When a loved one dies, every day is an anniversary of happy times that will never come again. The world, too, needs to remember…’ The reader asks, 'How can we move on when every day brings as many tears as the day before...? I have no answer for that. I only know, from my own experience, that moving on does not mean leaving anyone behind. Do we not owe it to loved ones we have lost to live our lives to the full, as much for them as for ourselves?

Sadly, remembering does not always mean the likes of such tragedies will not strike again… just about anywhere around the world in these troubled times. All the more reason, surely, to make the most of our life and be sure to make time for those happy memories that may yet help see us through its darker moments? No two words in the English language cause more pain than, 'if only...'


Stark images of death and terror
(alien to any aspiring paradise)
stalked young people on Utoeya

A dream blasted into nightmare
in any decent person’s eyes;
stark images of death and terror

Poison masquerading as a flower
(reason warped by prejudices)
stalked young people on Utoeya

Grief, disillusion and fear torture
all victims of world injustices;
stark images of death and terror

Be it son, daughter, sister, brother,
a sick inclination to terrorise
stalked young people on Utoeya

Long may a humanist ethos endure
in Norway and all democracies;
stark images of death and terror
stalked young people on Utoeya

[London: July 23rd 2011]

Copyright R. N. Taber 2011

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Engaging with Time OR Making the Case for Ghosts

I am often asked why I often write about ghosts and have recently received several emails on the subject.

For a start, I have seen ghosts although, yes, that may well have been simply my imagination in overdrive. Even so, I firmly believe that the human psyche comprises passions enough to make itself felt at any point in time.

Each in our own way, we leave a footprint on the passage of time for others to follow or simply observe, examine, reach (debatable) conclusions and act accordingly as and when they may (or may not) so choose. Inspiration lies in whatever it is someone somewhere - in the distant or recent past (not necessarily ours) – may have sad and/or done; thereby making their presence felt. It is this ‘felt presence’ that embraces us. We, in turn, pass it on, perhaps without each realising it, by way of a chance remark or observation; past and present contriving to affect the future while, again, not necessarily our own.

And so it goes on, each of us making history in our own way whether incidentally or by design, experiencing time’s continuum as if it were a home treadmill.

This poem is a villanelle.


Weepy echoes come to haunt me
(how long must I turn a deaf ear?)
like straws tossed on a stormy sea

World, acknowledging poverty
(conscience seeing its way clear?)
weepy echoes come to haunt me

Where ghosts, my only company,
(giant waves, nightmares of terror)
like straws tossed on a stormy sea 

Dark waves rolling back history
(one for every human being’s tear)
weepy echoes come to haunt me

Sure threads of life’s rich tapestry
(hidden persuaders, politics of fear)
like straws tossed on a stormy sea

As heavens watch impassively,
(Earth Mother’s intentions unclear)
weepy echoes come to haunt me
like straws tossed on a stormy sea

Copyright R. N. Taber 2007

Friday, 15 July 2016

Carnage in Nice OR Murder In Whose Name?

There are really no words to express any decent person’s horror - whatever their colour, creed, sex or sexuality - at the senseless carnage in Nice yesterday. Hopefully, though, someone somewhere who is perhaps harbouring thoughts along the lines of radical Islam, for whatever reason, may find this poem offers food for thought...and think again. 

At least 84 people are reported dead in Nice and many others injured, many of them children; their crime, having the temerity to enjoy themselves on Bastille Day, a national event celebrating the storming of the Bastille during the French Revolution, July 14 1879.

In ‘The Age of Reason’ Thomas Paine (1737 - 1809) makes the point that ‘…the belief of a cruel God makes a cruel man.’ What would Paine have to say, I wonder, about of the image of the prophet Muhammad every radical Islamist wears on his or her sleeve?

[Nice, Bastille Day 2016]

World, head bowed, but only for tears
where terrorism has its way,
nations, left victims of its worst fears

Though its nemeses breeding for years,
to love and peace, the final say,
world, head bowed, but only for tears

Freedom, a crown of thorns, it wears
for any who get in terror’s way,
nations left victims of its worst fears

Wherever fundamental dogma rears
its head, the mad dog has its day;
world, head bowed, but only for tears

Humanity, for all its flaws, endures
if inhumanity briefly holding sway,
nations left victims of its worst fears

In radical Islam, true faith disappears,
so testify efforts to keep it at bay;
world, head bowed, but only for tears,
nations left victims of its worst fears

[London, July 15 2016]

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

History Live OR Ghosts Revisited

I was born on the winter solstice, 1945, in Gillingham (Kent) one of several towns on the river Medway collectively known as the Medway Towns of which another is historic Rochester where Charles Dickens once lived. While many childhood memories are not especially happy ones, there were good times, too; at 70, I often find myself revisiting these, especially those that that take in picturesque Rochester.

When I was 14 years-old, my family moved across the river to a sprawling carbuncle of a housing estate that dominated the village of Hoo or Hoo St Werburg, to give the place its full historic title. My life there was a waking nightmare, not least because there was only one bridge across the Medway in those days; it was not unusual for the journey home from school to take two hours to cover less than five miles. None of my memories of Hoo are happy ones. An opportunity to live and work in London just a few years after I left school was a godsend. .

As much as I hated Hoo, I loved Rochester. I’d sometimes see ghosts in historic costume, including battle dress, looking out over the walls of its castle keep or treading its ancient streets, especially on days when a light, seasonal mist would fall or a stormy haze. Figments of a young imagination, you say? Maybe so, even probably, although I swear I caught a glimpse of them, too, as recently as on my last visit in 2013.

[Photo: Rochester castle - cathedral in the background - from an engraving by H. Adlard after a drawing by G. F. Sargent, 1836; taken from Wikipedia.]

This poem is a villanelle.


A castle keep overlooks the Medway
in fair Rochester city,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Like a war horse grown old and grey
in the service of liberty,
a castle keep overlooks the Medway

Companion cathedral, holding sway,
for century after century,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Time, honoured guest invited to stay
(no one’s friend or enemy);
a castle keep overlooks the Medway

A Dickensian charm brushing away
the cobwebs of history;
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

River flowing sure, at work and play,
ever restless and moody…
A castle keep overlooks the Medway,
ghosts, its guardians, night and day

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Smokescreen OR Philosophy Live

Today’s poem has not appeared on the blog before. It was slightly revised in 2003 (for my collection the following year) from an earlier [1980's] poem, and you are invited to make of it what you will.

Now, at 70+, I still find myself recalling the words of a song from early childhood:

Well, you push the damper in and you pull the damper out,
but the smoke goes up the chimney just the same…

I well recall what a teacher once said when I asked about philosophy, having read the word in a book and found a dictionary of little help. (I was 11 years-old.) ‘Philosophy,’ he mused, possibly more to himself than to me, ‘…is a vehicle for language devised by human nature to fire its passions without its having to commit to any responsibility other than just that. Think of the fireplace damper in your living room at home; the more it is opened, the more air to fuel the fire. So it is with philosophy. The more open a mind you apply, the more fierce the passions of intellect are sure to burn. On the other hand, if it’s actual proof or even meaning you’re after, that is tantamount to the damper being closed and the fire left to go out. Does that answer your question?’ It did not, of course, and I am sure he knew it, but I hadn’t the nerve to say so. Besides, my head was already swimming.

Nearly 60 years on, I begin to see the appropriateness of the simile although I should perhaps add that, as I progressed from first year to 6th form, I came to see my teacher, for whom I had much affections and respect, as something of a devil's advocate.


Drifting, circling,
homing in
on us…
the senses about
who we are,
where we’re going,
what will become,
of us…
Drifting, circling,
closing in
on each other…
confusing rights
and wrongs
drifting, circling
like buzzards
in a mist…
Obscuring, deluding,
mind-spirit about
who we are,
where we’re going,
what will become
of us…

Can’t breathe

Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2016

[From: A Feeling for the Quickness of Time by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2005; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Saturday, 9 July 2016

Breaking Bad OR Dissent, the Dark Side of Democracy

My only regret about voting to leave the European Union is leaving myself open to abuse from narrow-minded, arrogant hypocrites who, on the one hand support Human Rights, and on the other have no respect for the rights of every individual to make up their own minds on matters that have a direct bearing on their lives and the lives of family and friends. Whatever happened to the right to disagree?

I resent being called a racist because I voted to leave the E U. Immigration was not the only issue on the political agenda. Besides, most people were voting against a flawed system of immigration over which we had precious little real control while under the thumb of the Brussels parliament.  Moreover, many people of various ethnic origins who have been living and working here for years are also sick of the political shambles that passes for a European Union. [Yes, of course, EU nationals living and working here should be allowed to stay, not least because they are friends and neighbours, but what is our new PM supposed to say if any among the EU elite try to use Brits living there as bargaining chips during the course of Brexit  negotiations? Let’s face it. It would come as no surprise to anyone should they stoop to such tactics.]

Among a UK majority, I voted for an EEC (European Economic Community) not a United States of Europe.

Some of my friends voted to remain in the European Union and we have hotly debated the issue. However, we all agreed from the start to respect each other’s points of view (despite trying to change it) and - perhaps even more importantly - that we would not let our diverse opinions undermine our friendship. In short, we agreed to accept a majority vote if only because we all support the principles of democracy. Those people crying ‘Foul’ because the vote did not go their way are ignorant scumbags; no less so are those making the vote an excuse to verbally and/or physically abuse ‘foreigners’ living and working in the UK, some of them for years. Those who are calling the vote a disgrace need to look closely at the worse aspects of its aftermath if not their role in it.

No one likes a bad loser. I suspect the vocal albeit significant minority now noisily deploring the E U referendum result by casting aspersions on the opposition, even calling our integrity into question, will find that out for themselves in the fullness of time. Meanwhile, the country needs to pull together and unite not let knee-jerk reactions and activists prevent the UK's future outside the EU taking a positive turn in the longer if not shorter term.

This poem is, yes, another villanelle.


Come a vote on this or that decision
(why not let us all have a say?)
cue for bad losers to abuse someone

Some losers will wallow in delusion
(pity any scapegoats in their way)
come a vote on this or that decision

Vanity of vanities, the grand illusion
(in the right, deserve to win the day)
cue for bad losers to abuse someone

No assuming immunity to aspersion
(or sitting on the damn fence today)
come a vote on this or that decision

Take the case for a European Union
(grave reservations come what may)
cue for bad losers to abuse someone

Consensus is no call for celebration
(democracy, too, must feel its way);
come a vote on this or that decision,
cue for bad losers to abuse someone

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Monday, 4 July 2016

A Feeling for the Quickness of Time OR Everybody's Talking At Me

Today’s poem first appeared in the on-line poetry journal Ygdrasil in July 2004 and subsequently in my collection of the same name the following year.

Now, I have never subscribed to the view that children should be seen and not heard; they may not always be right (and are parents?) but are entitled to a point of view that deserves to be addressed and discussed if only so that any serious flaws in it are not left to fester into adulthood.

All parents want to best for their children. It should follow therefore that they need to know what their children are thinking and vice-versa, including if not especially among immigrant families whose socio-cultural-religious background is often very different from that of the country they have chosen to make their home.

Young people often feel no one is listening to them or even wants to hear what they have to say. (Old people understand, better than they know.) They are assured their ‘betters’ know what is best for them, yet those same betters might as well have cloth ears for all the notice they take of anyone not of the same mindset. Is it not high time we all started talking to not at each other and listening to each other more…before it is too late, and time has already put the boot in?

At 70, I sometimes feel as if my life is being fast forwarded before I've even had time to get my bearings, and invariably find myself asking, so what’s new…?


Yesterday gone, today nearly done, 
tomorrow soon on the run from shadows
wrestling with frustration like children
sent to bed early, a lesson supposedly
for the learning, but just as likely feed us
half lies (home truths may get a look in);
trying not to feel hard done by or cry,
would rather die than show how it hurts
to be missing TV, denied PC access,
nothing left to do but call people names;
could read a book, I suppose, but who
wants to do that these days…?
Nothing like being made to feel (so) small
for speaking your mind…

Being a kid’s a thankless biz, just wait till
I’m older...

I’ll show ‘em what’s what, high time
they learned what life’s all about
(too short to fuss about being late home)
although (fair enough) should have called
to say so, but, what the heck...? 
Got home okay eventually, didn’t I?
(Parents, who’d have ’em...?)

Ranting and raving at a window, 
watching the sun fade away, listening 
for voices we’re used to hearing say 
'don’t', 'can’t', 'shouldn’t', and 'mustn’t', 
old enough to know better’; shows 
they care, I guess, and an early night’s 
not the end of a child’s small world 
(in any language) even if we're as loath
as the mantel clock to acknowledge 
a fault, tailoring time’s cloth to suit parts 
we play (no carbon copy life will do) 
demanding a say in setting its stage, 
not ‘one day..’ but a resounding ‘Yes!’

Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2016

[Note: A slightly different version of this poem appears in 1st eds. of A Feeling for the Quickness of Time by R. N. Taber, 2005; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]