Friday, 13 July 2018

Within these Walls

Mental health is something that is finally coming out of the closet here in the UK but here, and the world over, still has a long way to go before everyone feels at ease with the subject. From time to time, I get emails from men, women and young people struggling to recover from what is referred to as a nervous breakdown but doesn’t even come close to describing the sheer intensity of a rollercoaster of emotions as likely as not ending in a nasty crash.

Sadly, more often than not when we try to explain bad, even criminal behaviour, it is seen as making excuses rather than a genuine attempt to understand; not only for the benefit of others but also, possibly primarily, ourselves.

I will be 73 later this year. Regular readers will know that I had a bad nervous breakdown some 40 years ago; although it continues to haunt me I feel I’ve come to terms with its multiple causes which, in turn, has helped me achieve a sense of atonement for its effects on others

‘Work out your own Salvation. Do not depend on others’. – Buddha

While I agree with the Buddha that we need to work out our own salvation, accepting help should not be seen as a form of dependency, rather as a learning tool necessary to see us back on terra firms after going into freefall. It was nearly 4 years before I was able to start looking for and eventually got a job in which I would stay for the next 25 years. I could not have achieved this without the help and support of certain people to whom I am more grateful than words can begin to express.

My Good Samaritans did not include any family members, I suspect because they saw my need to discuss my behaviour at the time as an attempt to excuse it, and they had neither patience, empathy nor inclination to listen. Fair enough, but fortunately, not everyone turned a deaf ear, and in trying to explain, I, too, began, slowly but surely, to understand. Once there, I had foundations upon which to rebuild my life, and proceeded to work through what I saw as a form of salvation; in my case, through writing, for others as much as for myself, trying to share something of the lessons I had learned. (Coming to terms with being gay was a part of a learning curve I still see myself on some 40 years later.)

A thousand rights cannot compensate for a single wrong, but a sense of atonement, even if no one else sees it as such, does wonders in restoring a shattered self -confidence and faith in oneself. How far I have been successful has to be for others to assess, but I am more at ease with myself now than I ever thought to be again, hopefully deservingly so.

Yes, this poem is another kenning.


I crawl passages
of mind-body-spirit,
less frightened
of the dark than daylight
where pain
lies in wait, ready to strip
and humiliate me
in its contempt for the vagaries
of human nature

I pause now and then
to read writing on walls
over centuries
where such as I despatched
well out of sight
by any too close for comfort
to such cause-effect
likely any point fingers of blame
at human nature

They urge me on,
the disembodied victims
of a vulnerability
considered (even by those
in the know)
best left to its own devices
as if life were a game
of Consequences, and the devil
take the hindmost

I, my own enemy, finding salvation
among hidden truths, here, within

Copyright R. N. Taber 2018

Thursday, 12 July 2018

As Good as it Gets

A reader contacted me earlier today via ‘Comments’ but I have only initials and no email address so am posting this poem by way of reply. He or she sounds very despondent, not least due to the daily ups and downs, slings and arrows of growing old. I will be 73, need a walking stick following a bad fall in 2014, have prostate cancer which has been treated with hormone therapy since 2011 so constantly needing the loo plus arthritis in my bad leg, and, more recently, in my neck.

Yes, I know, there are many people a lot worse off than me, but I can empathise with this reader. Growing old is definitely no picnic, but it’s only fair to point out that the same can be said of life in general. Some people in some parts of the world have a relatively easy life compared with those in other parts while some individuals appear to sail through life where others constantly find themselves swimming against an unremitting tide.

“How do you cope?” I once asked a young disabled friend some years ago. “Mind over matter,” my friend replied, “Think good, feel good,” he added with wry grin, and this from someone in pain 24/7.

By the way, as regular readers will know, I always read but do not post comments because they take up space and trolls so love to spoil everyone else’s enjoyment. Feedback is always welcome, though, and feel free to be as critical as you like if something I say or a poem I write gets the hackles soaring. I never mean to offend anyone, but even a poet can only hope to please some readers some of the time…


Can’t get out and about
every day as easily as I could
not so long ago, though
a walking stick gets me by ok
(well, most the time,) - and that’s
as good as it gets

Can’t hear or see as well
as I could not so long ago, though
hearing aids and specs
get me by, if not all the time,
(where did I put them?) - and that’s
as good as it gets

New technology remains
a mystery not designed for old folks
who struggle to master
even the basics (failing memory
chasing pin or password) - and that’s
as good as it gets

Growing old is no easy task.
gets harder by the day, yet a feeling
for life, love and nature
more than gets me by, inspiring
mind-body-spirit to endure - and that’s
as great as it gets

Copyright R. N. Taber 2018

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Autobiography of an Archive

We are all past-present-future in the flesh. We inherit certain genes and much of our approach to life is taken from historical figures who have made a deep impression on just as we, in how we live our lives, make an impression on others for better or worse; family, friends, casual acquaintances, even complete strangers. It only takes one moment in time when something we say or do strikes a chord in someone’s life that will play out forever.

We won’t all make the national archives, of course, but there is another, more extensive to the point of being inexhaustible archive that is the human mind.

This poem is a kenning.


I walk with ghosts, night and day,
and they are as real to me as my own reflection
greeted in mirrors, shop windows,
still waters in favourite places keeping memories
and sometime companions alive,
sustaining mind-body-spirit like voices in the ear
urging me to press on, regardless
of whatever obstacles fallen or placed in my way
whether by accident or design

I talk with ghosts, night and day,
and they listen without interruption, just a nod
or shake of the head occasionally,
sufficient to persuade or dissuade any thoughts
to action or inaction gathering pace
demanding I look again or press on, regardless
where inspiration has landed a hit,
missed its mark altogether, deserves discussion
or better left to gather dust

I bare all to ghosts, night and day,
far more even than to those who know me best
if only because I dare not share
any part of me that takes its cue from the dead
for fear of being misunderstood
or (worse) denied a voice, left with less of a life
to speak of than even a ghost,
reduced to a skeleton in someone’s cupboard,
exhibit for some eager archivist

An open secret, my ghosts, there for all to see,
 a past-present-future that’s the making of me

Copyright R. N. Taber 2018

Friday, 6 July 2018

Not for the Fainthearted

If we really want to achieve something in which we passionately believe, we need to be prepared to stick at it every step of the way though the going be rough or smooth. Maybe if the British Government believed more passionately in Brexit, they may well have achieved more sooner instead of alienating all sides and homing in on a compromise. Certainly, if the LGBT campaign for equality that began with Stonewall had weakened, even given up under pressure from the naysayers in society, we would not have come as far as we have, here in the West at least; less so in other parts of the world so while where there is cause for celebration, there remains no room for complacency, and never is. Every cause worth fighting for will always have its nemeses with which to contend and find ways of either defeating or winning over.

Certainly, in an LGBT context, it is good to see how the latter continues to prevail where once it would have been unthinkable; it has, to take just one minor but significant example, taken yours truly many years to find a publisher willing to publish a selection comprising general and gay-interest poems where once it was thought to be non-commercial because there could not (surely?) be any interest out there. [Once I have a publication date In a few months or so I will let everyone know. Hopefully, we can sustain the momentum and fling open doors previously slammed shut in our faces.]

This poem is a kenning.


A worthy ally, and necessary
to keep faith
with body-mind-spirit where
its causes just,
and likely outcome much the better
for everyone
engaged in the greater purpose
of making a positive contribution
to raison d’ĂȘtre

Whomsoever engages with me
needs must
feel committed to all ends
in view, no matter
any distractions conspiring to deflect
(even defeat)
such perseverance as treading
a tightrope of conflicting alliances,
no safety-net

Though fickle contemporaneity
try and test all
who take me to heart, insist
on compromises
that would all but see me in freefall,
but keep the faith,
and count every battle won
a triumph over the world’s Naysayers
if never complacent

I am Motivation, feeding momentum
to inspiration

Copyright R. N. Taber 2018

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Hillsborough, in Remembrance

This is not a new poem but it has not appeared online for a couple of years and now seems an appropriate time to reinstate it. Although it was written in 1989, it did not appear in print until included in an anthology, ‘A Day in Time’ Forward Poetry, 2013. Why?

Well, I try in my poems to record as many events as possible that have made a deep impression on me and/or everyone else, for whatever reason; this one was written before I began to get poetry published on a regular basis in various magazines and anthologies, and later online. In this way, I began to build a modest reputation as a poet. Even so, it was rare indeed for an editor to accept a gay-interest poem which is why I resorted to self-publishing collections (2000-2012) that included both gay-interest and general poems by way of an attempt to convey not only that these are alternative voices of the same genre but also (to the less discerning among us) that there is more to a gay person’s identity than his or her sexuality. Besides, as far as I’m concerned, a poem is a poem is a poem just as a person is a person is a person. 

A whole is the sum of various parts, and as I have said on the blogs before, I see myself as a poet who also happens to be gay, not a gay poet; my sexuality is an integral part of who I am, but it is only a part. I have been very encouraged to hear from heterosexual readers that they enjoy many of the gay-interest poems I post while it would never have occurred to them to explore poems on a gay site.


It was announced yesterday that some people will (finally) be charged in relation to the Hillsborough tragedy. Among them is David Duckenfield, 73, police commander at the time, who will face charges of gross negligence manslaughter following the crush in the terrace pens of the Sheffield Wednesday stadium, Leppings Lane end at the match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest here in the UK on April 15, 1989.


For the ninety-six fans who died
(then made to shoulder the blame)
truth will out that lay half buried

Family, friends, have long cried
for justice, and in more than name,
for the ninety-six fans who died

If police, media, playing off-side,
who else engaging with shame?
Truth will out that lay half buried

It was a bulldog spirit succeeded
in putting human flaws in the frame
for the ninety-six fans who died

Where facts and cover-ups collide,
closure but, oh, so slowly ever came
(truth will out that lay half buried)

A closer look, loose threads tied,
(ghosts looking for a football game);
for the ninety-six fans who died,
truth will out that lay half buried

Copyright R. N. Taber 1989; 2012

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Tracking the Torchbearer

This is not a new poem but one that several readers have asked me to repeat on the blog.

In 2012, the year the Olympic Games came to London and Her Majesty The Queen celebrated her Diamond Jubilee,, I produced a new collection, Tracking the Torchbearer; overall, it tries to capture something of the spirit of The Games rather than focusing on sporting events. (I had not long been diagnosed with prostate cancer so it was a welcome distraction!)

The book comprises 100+ poems in seven themed sections - including a gay section - for easy reading. Among poems on love, nature and contemporary society I have included others on such themes as the so-called Arab Spring, a tribute to trapped miners in Chile and their dramatic rescue, earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand and the earthquake/Tsunami off the coast of Japan as well as a record of happier occasions like a royal wedding and Her Majesty the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

Regular readers will know that I publish my poetry collections under my own imprint, not least because most if not all poetry publishers seem to disapprove of poems on a gay theme appearing alongside poems on other themes and/or believe it to be a non-commercial proposition. I am delighted to have proved them wrong. Not only do my books sell well (for poetry) but gay and straight readers alike frequently get in touch to say they enjoy them; new readers among the latter usually express surprise at  enjoying ‘even’ my gay-interest poems, and some even start dipping into both blogs.

Oh, yes, I get some complaints and hate mail for supposedly ‘promoting’ a gay lifestyle, but not a lot, and it doesn’t bother me in the least.

I have to confess I am not much of a sports person, but what I love about sport is that it is open to everyone to actively participate or simply watch and enjoy. Colour, creed, sex and sexuality all but cease to be the kind of artificial dividing lines some bigoted people insist upon drawing; all that matters is the person and his or her personal achievement in taking part, just as it should be in all aspects of life. People matter, end of... (One reason I will never understand so-called 'good' people who are intolerant of anyone who does not subscribe to their way of thinking, especially with regard to religion and sexuality; take the humanity out of religion and what is left is nut an empty shell for appearances' sake.)

Visiting 135 cities in 20 countries, covering 137000 kms in 130 days, I like to imagine the Olympic torch as bringing people together in a world where are neither gay-friendly nor gay-unfriendly people, homosexuals or homophobes…just people; a Family of Man that, like all families, will have its ups and downs, its share of falling out and making up, but always there for each other when it really counts. (Oh, but I wish…!)

Here's a BIG HUG from your truly because, as I write the blogs, I have a wonderful sense of your being there; it's a wonderful feeling and helps me a LOT in dealing with my prostate cancer. (So far, so good with the hormone therapy!)

It was the founder of the Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who said "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.'

The poem is a villanelle.


Cheers, not just for those who win,
but everyone playing their part
in the race to show we’re human

Old gods who saw the Games begin
see new gods playing their part;
Cheers, not just for those who win,

Torch lit, world crowds making a din,
all set to make a start...
in the race to show we’re human

Politicians worldwide putting a spin
on an overloaded apple cart;
Cheers, not just for those who win

As old gods would get under the skin,
so new orders falling apart
in the race to show we’re human

Apollo, struggles even to raise a grin,
Earth Mother fast losing heart;
Cheers, not just for those who win
in the race to show we’re human

Copyright R. N. Taber 2011; 2018

[Note; An earlier version of this poem appears in Tracking the Torchbearer by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2012]

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Who Pulls the Strings? (Fate or...What?)

When our circumstances take a nosedive, there are invariably many factors to take into account. Oh, but how most if not all of are quick to play the blame game!  How many of us, though, consider pointing the finger at ourselves sometimes…especially when, at heart, we know we should…?

Ah, but when those same circumstances improve, especially by leaps and bounds, who among us is not quick to take most if not all the credit…?

As I was writing this poem, I could not help but recall a BAD nervous breakdown I suffered way back in the 1970’s. It was four years before I could work again. During that time, I had the support of three wonderful people – Joyce B, Dick L and Malcolm P who encouraged me to (eventually) start writing again. As creative therapy, it was a huge boost to my mental health and general well-being. I owe those three people so much, not least for helping me to help myself. (One died before I was able to find a job and start living again while I am ashamed to say I was so desperate to put those awful years behind me that I lost touch with the others after I moved away.) 

As for any concept of Fate or God taking a hand in things then or now, I remain sceptical. Neither, for me at least, have a place in a positive thinking mindset; it is too simplistic to blame or credit either for whatever. Sadly, few, if any of  us can avoid playing the blame game altogether even though (as I know only too well) it can scar a person for life.


I wander in the mists of time
where no one, but everyone goes,
pondering the meaning of life 
that no one but everyone knows
has us like puppets on a string

Alone, but never quite alone
where no one but everyone goes
giving the lie to a flawless  life
such as no one but everyone knows
has us like puppets on a string

I wander in the mists of time
rearranging lyrics to a poet’s song
if only to remind me I’m human
for getting it right, getting it wrong,
(no mere puppet on a string)

No sign of the mist ever lifting
yet a spirit within refuses to despair
going it alone, yet never alone
for the pulse of history beating there
(no mere puppets on a string)

I walk among heroes, head high,
sparing tears for those missing out
on the human spirit’s capacity
to love, learn, put prejudices to rout
(living puppets on strings)

I wander in the mists of time
where no one but everyone goes,
homing in on meanings of life,
too soon, too late, on cue, depending
whose hand pulls the strings

Could it be mine?

Copyright R. N. Taber 2018