Thursday, 30 June 2016

War and Remembrance OR Courage Wears Many Faces

Update (Nov 19, 2016): Yesterday, November 18, marked the end of the Battle of the Somme on that day 1916. How long before the world learns from its worst mistakes?

Many men and women rarely find it hard to settle down easily - if at all - into everyday life for being haunted by terrible scenes of death and carnage they have witnessed on tours of duty around a world where civil wars and terrorist atrocities persist. Family and friends from all socio-cultural-religious backgrounds and nations need to support them as and when we can.

Summer, 2016. As we are about to commemorate the start of the Battle of the Somme 100 years ago, we need to remember the human the face of Freedom; various cultural-religious-political masks should not be mistaken for the real thing. 

Thankfully, at least some lessons have been learned since the First World War about the effects of stress even on trained, experienced service personnel in a war zone. 

Thiepval Memorial 


Jim was just seventeen
when war broke out;
he was courting a girl
called Jane…
They held hands at the fair,
dreaming and planning  
for the future, celebrating
their lives together

Jim was just eighteen
when he joined up,
all his mates did too,
everyone admiring
the uniform, waving him off
with bursts of  cheers
while Jim’s ma and Jane
saved their tears

Jim was just nineteen
as war took its toll,
savaged the soul, senses
caving in till no place
left to run like a fox in a hole,
hounds hunting down,
waiting for the end, shivering
for sheer terror

And who’d know any better
than soldiers of the crown,
the human spirit once broken
no  use to anyone?
All was haste, no time to waste,
the pack denied its reward,
Jim (refused a blindfold) shot
at dawn for a coward

Copyright R. N. Taber 2002; 2016

[Note: Revised (2012) from an earlier version that appears under the title ‘Unsung Hero in 1st eds of First Person Plural by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2002 and subsequently in Poppy Fields 2007, Poetry Now [Forward Press] 2006; a revised ed. of the former in e-format is in preparation.]

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Bottom Line, Democracy OR Breakaway Britain

[Update April 24 2017: A French (gay) friend emailed me today to say he would be voting for Marine Le Pen in the forthcoming French election. He feels as I do, that the EU is a shambles; its failure to come up with a fair, sustainable immigration policy as well as its having to bail out Greece and Italy, not to mention the Deutsche Bank reportedly being in difficulties points to an organisation unfit for purpose. So, no, I have no problem with my gay friend voting for an anti-EU candidate even though neither of us would normally support the National Front. He knows I believe Brexit will prove to be in Britain's best interests. Who am I to criticise any path to a potential Frexit?]

[Update April 25 2017: While I probably should not comment on French politics (!) my French friend and I are further encouraged by the fact that Marine Le Pen has announced she is standing down as leader of France's National Front Party, saying she wants to be above party politics and be president of a France for everyone, thus even further distancing herself from the policies of her father.]


I am (very) surprised, but also (very) pleased by Thursday’s referendum result here in the UK. I had expected the political Establishment to win. As it is, I believe it was an overwhelming vote for a democracy that has been slowly but surely undermined by a European Union that has become unfit for purpose.

Once we have a new Prime Minister in place and the Labour leadership question, too, has been sorted, our politicians need to put party divisions to one side and work together for cross party consensus on local reforms initiated by our leaving the European Union.

While I understand the concerns of many young people who feel an older generation has voted for a future they do not want, I remain convinced that future generations will thank us for this decision in the longer term. Even so, negotiating Brexit with the EU will require tact and diplomacy; any show of aggressive defiance will help no one.

Britain is more than capable of holding its own while sharing in a common good in the modern world. As for Europe, we should never forget that we Brits, too, are Europeans and - whatever political games our leaders so love to play - our continental neighbours are also our friends.

This poem is a villanelle.

(June 23 2016)

Whatever will be, will be,
(divorcing the Union);
three cheers for democracy

Though the forecast stormy
for breakaway Britain,
whatever will be, will be…

Playing on fears comes easily
to the everyday politician;
three cheers for democracy

Braving unchartered territory,
(conscience of a nation)
whatever will be, will be…

A disaffected voting majority
rising to the occasion;
three cheers for democracy

Its potential weighing heavily   
on a younger generation;
whatever will be, will be…
Three cheers for democracy
Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

[Note: See also ]

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

L-I-F-E, Making a Case for Looking Forward

Even at 70, I am usually a very positive thinking person. However, after being made a captive audience at a neighbour’s recent rant about the problems commonly associated with old age, and how there is nothing to look forward to but death, I found myself struggling to rise above a growing sense of impending doom.

Dare I suggest that many if not most of us here in the UK are similarly weary in the wake of all the for and against arguments so passionately expressed by politicians doing their best to influence our vote in tomorrow’s EU referendum?

While browsing through some old papers, I discovered this little poem that I had all but forgotten, and it went a long way towards restoring not only flagging spirits but also a sense of proportion.


Ancient trees sprouting new leaves,
old habitats harbouring new life;
ancient fields reviewing GM corn
where grasshoppers still singing

Old folks (like me) expecting to fly
with swallows come autumn;
old tales kept alive by winter fires,
tongues of flame poking at history

Memory, persuading young and old
to rework the poetry of its seasons
Copyright R N. Taber 2008

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Remembering a Woman of Substance

Every death comes as a shock, even when it is expected. But when it is a wholly innocent person and not only unexpected but also violent, it sends shock waves around a whole nation, even the world. The shock waves fade in time, but memory is a living organism and that never fades so long as there are family, friends, and other decent people out there who will not only cherish it but pass it on from generation to generation. 

On Thursday, June 16th 2016, Jo Cox MP, 41, wife and mother of two young children, was murdered in broad daylight by one of her own constituents in Birstall, West Yorkshire. 

Now, I never met Jo Cox, knew her only by reputation and from hearing her speak in Parliament on TV. However, the outpouring of genuine grief and shock - even across customary political and socio-cultural-religious divides - further highlights the fact that she was, indeed, an exceptional young woman of substance.

Every death is a tragedy,  but the murder of a wife and mother in her prime as well as (already) a force to be reckoned with on a generally egocentric-driven political scene, that defies description. As for the killer’s motives, even his mental state at the time, these are barely relevant since nothing can change what has happened; all a poet can do is try to capture a little at least of the spirit of something in someone far better, and always well worth remembering.

This poem is a villanelle. (Why a villanelle…? By the very nature of its form, a villanelle requires a direct no-waffle, approach; by all accounts, Jo Cox was that kind of woman.)

Jo Cox [Photo taken from the Internet]


One loving wife and mother, 
rare breed of politician,
touching hearts, world over

Bringing opposites together,
her work, a passion;
one loving wife and mother

Anxious to make life better, 
a caring people person,
touching hearts, world over]

Crossing this and that barrier
set by culture or religion,
one loving wife and mother

No comfy chair commentator,
but getting things done,
touching hearts, the world over

Icon for life, senseless murder,
role model for a generation;
one loving wife and mother
touching hearts, world over

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

(London, June 17, 2016)

Friday, 17 June 2016

Au Revoir, Mon Amour

Regular readers will know that my partner was killed in a road accident many years ago. He was not my only love, but the only person with whom I wanted to spend the rest of my life, no reservations whatsoever. Sadky, we did not have long together, but his love has inspired me (and my poetry) ever since.

Now, there is nothing romantic about death, but neither is death any match for love.

I will be 68 years old this year. For me, it has never been so much the case that that time heals as that any brush with mortality makes life all the more precious while the pain of loss serves to remind us that we are, indeed, very much alive. It is a philosophy that has also served me well since I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in February, 2011.

Why should I fear death? If I am, death is not. If death is, I am not. Why should I fear that which cannot exist when I do?" - Epicurus


I have kissed Death on the cheek as it slept,
let a flow of memories course my veins
while hope past a grieving heart gently crept,
ghost rider tugging gently at the reins

I have kissed Death on the lips as it rested
where nature’s meaningful tides turn no more
nor its finer spirit’s growth arrested
but songs of love and peace, no talk of war

Death called out my name as I would leave,
its firm, kind, touch wiping away a tear,
prising my fingers gently from its sleeve
in the shade of some makeshift watchtower

Fear not as Death calls or where it takes us; 
be sure of awakening among spring flowers

Copyright R. N. Taber, 2007; 2016 

[Note: This poem has been revised since it appeared as 'Love, Testament to Life' in Accomplices to Illusion by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2007; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Monday, 13 June 2016

Give a Dream a Go

Once, I read something along the lines that the ‘dreams’ we most vividly recall are but leftover, half-formed thoughts inclined to either embrace us or knock us for six as we necessarily negotiate an emotional landscape that finds us close to waking up but unable (quite) to let go of whatever it is about sleep that insists we stay; cave in to the latter, and we risk making of our lives an open prison.

I get it. More than once, contemplating the day ahead over breakfast has felt like being pulled one way or the other by complacency and positive thinking, each in the form of a viable escape plan from the other. Usually, but not always, a few slices of toast and several cups of coffee will summon a strength of mind and purpose resolved to let the more constructive alternative run its course.

Sleepwalking through life (with eyes wide open if eyelids drooping) is sadly, all too common; going through the motions of life instead of living it the way we want not as other people, convention... whatever...says we should. At the same time, we need to bear in mind that not everyone's idea of 'living' is the same, and it is unfair to compare, even more so to set ourselves up as judge and jury as so many people I know SO love to do...

Life, of course, does not always give us our head, and our options are often limited through no fault of our own, but where an opportunity tailor made for us does present itself, we owe it to ourselves to GO for it, no matter what other people might say or think. Some might say that's selfish, but in my experience, letting someone prevent you from doing something you really want to do can only end in tears; nor should we assume that person would begrudge us the opportunity by way of a get-out clause for not braving a dream...

Wake up, GO for it...

'What is not started today is never finished tomorrow.' - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe  (German Playwright, Poet, Novelist and Dramatist. 1749-1832)


Sometimes, the human body
will not (quite) emerge from shadows
(courtesy of sleep) conveniently
induced by selective half-memories
of fonder (kinder) times
when body and spirit took a stoic stand
against the more aggressive
(egocentric) interpretations of what it is
to be a practising human being

Sometimes, the human mind
can't (quite) escape a darker, weaker side
(courtesy of conscience)
invaded by selective half-memories
conveniently (almost) buried
under layers of regret, pain, wishful
thinking for turning back
the ever-spilling clock measuring out
human life in grains of sand

Sometime, the human spirit
refuses (quite) to justify being slow
to do the right thing
by all that’s integral to the integrity
even of those children
of a lesser god than it chooses to put
above reproach, especially
when available to call upon to excuse
the plainly inexcusable

Eventually (with luck) we wake
to choral music promising us heaven
of a kind not (quite)
as interpreted by various Holy Books
if only to keep us quiet
in the face of pain and regret stoically
managed but self-inflicted
all the same, especially upon others
who meant us no harm

Day dawns, and life goes on
so we need to pull ourselves together,
put the world to rights
and put any irksome misgivings down
to common misdemeanours
attributed to quirks of sleep expressing
(only human) anxieties
of a far less forgiving ego than likely
to meet the eye over breakfast

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Mischief Maker OR the Shape of Things to Come

I have met many people who feel their past is somehow preventing them for having a future, be it a criminal record, a history of mental illness, or quite simply an honest mistake that had unforeseen consequences of the worst kind. Having suffered a BAD nervous breakdown in my early 30’s - among other examples of social mud inclined to stick, not least my being gay - I know only too well where they are coming from.

However, I don’t believe in good luck, bad luck or… whatever. We make our own , and where good people come forward to help, there has to be something within us as well as within them to make them want to help...or not, as the case may be.

When things go wrong, whether or not through any fault of our own, we invariably need help to get back on our feet, take a positive perspective, make amends for our mistakes as far as amends may be possible, get real rather than feeling sorry for ourselves and abdicating responsibility for our future to a world that appears to ‘have it in’ for us. 

True, help is not always on hand or if it is it's not always obvious; more often than not, we have to seek it out and want to seek it out. No, not an easy task, but always well worth the effort.

This poem is a villanelle.


Who says it’s how it is, and so will always be,
the past ever catching out what its future brings,
takes their cue from mischief maker, 'Destiny'

Loves to act judge-jury over tea and sympathy.
reluctant to concede any conscience’s redeeming,
who says it’s how it is, and so will always be

Once the past a prison, all hope of breaking free
but a dream for one who, (upon a rude awakening)
takes their chue from mischief maker, 'Destiny'

Bad making good has to be is beyond the ability
of even the creative mind’s more positive thinking
who says it’s how it is, and so will always be

Learning from our mistakes rarely comes easily,
where he or she who sets  gossip tongues wagging
takes their cue from mischief maker, 'Destiny'

Call human nature a fickle creature for essentially
choosing to feed (or not) on a rare bent for forgiving;
who says it's how it is, and so will always be
takes their chue from mischief maker, 'Destiny'

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016; 2018

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Nature Is as Nature Does (But Human Nature has Choices)

Various species of the natural world - excluding humankind - are more likely to follow their instincts than make reasoned choices; it has to be said though, that we human beings are often out of step with reason and inclined to let our emotions get the better of us, for better or worse.

I once went to a local variety show which, for me, was spoiled by its two compères trying to score points off one another throughout. The audience clearly thought this was an act, and lapped it up. As it happened, I knew better. It was an excellent show, marred only (for me) by these two. (Sometimes, I guess, ignorance really is the better part of bliss.)

Years on, I recall this occasion wherever I see nature and human nature at odds with one another and lookers-on mostly accepting if not applauding it as part of the show. After all, how much better for everyone to sit back and take life as it comes; finding fault can be such a tiresome distraction.

There are times, though, when we need to speak up about how and why we feel let down by events if only for those in charge to tell us (more often than not) to mind our own business and let them get on with theirs. But isn't it our business, too, when we have paid our dues? Oh, and why shouldn't we have the last word if only (hopefully) to prevent the need for repetition?

Where human behavior (good or bad) directly - or even indirectly - affects us, we need to make it our business. Whatever, of course, the show must go on...


Among winter snows,
a cruel north wind blowing,
nature mostly dozing,
perchance to dream, set to wake
once the poetry of spring
reads as if reaffirming its role
as Master of Ceremonies

Where forests once sang
odes to life, love, the spiritual
nature of new beginnings
and hope (yet) for humankind
up for sleepwalking
through all it misty yesterdays,
a live show goes on air

Run tiger. Run, rhino…
and other species under threat
from greedy fingers
in Big Business pies cooking
to a turn in mansions
the less discerning nouveau rich
mistake for social icons

Enter, summer storms able
to provide acres of parched earth
with sustenance enough
to provide for its keepers if only
in the shorter term
while unable to prevent wildfires
raging at the uninsured

Midsummer hols destined
to linger, fall prey to autumnal
appetites for make-believe,
lost opportunities and half-regrets
left transforming tomorrow
and tomorrow…into long winters
of pretend contentment

Among winter snows,
a cruel north wind blowing,
human nature dozing,
perchance to dream, set to wake
once the poetry of spring
starts to read as if usurping its role
as Master of Ceremonies

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016; 2018

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Laughter, Elixir of Youth

Hi folks! 

Sorry, nothing new on my You Tube channel lately, but Graham (who shoots the videos) and I have plans... 

Meanwhile, I was SO pleased to hear from a reader who emailed to say she loves browsing the channel whenever she is feeling fed-up as it always cheers her up. Thanks, Monica, positive feedback always welcome:

Now, just in case you think I am getting too serious in my old age…

Since my mid-late 60’s, I seem to be having more than my fair share of senior moments. I can’t help wondering…what lies ahead now I am 70?

Oh, but life is too short to let such things get you down. Besides, sharing senior moments has to be more fun than discussing the weather…well, hasn’t it? As my mother used to say, if you can't laugh at yourself, you really need to get a life.


This little poem of mine
may well be missing the occasional line;
since senior moments with me
are as common as sugar or milk in a cup
of tea or coffee

Whenever out and about,
I rely on my trusty walking stick’s support,
but will often raise the alarm
when I put it aside and it chooses to hide
(usually on my arm)

An easy to follow recipe
(meant to impress old friends visiting me)
might well prove a mistake
when I get proportions sufficiently wrong
to make us all feel sick

I have hurried for buses
only to find I’m soon counting my losses
for its heading (miles) away
from whatever destination I’d had in mind
or forgetting that anyway

A positive thinking person,
I refuse to let senior moments get me down,
but love to laugh at them
among friends over a few drinks in the pub,
ever toasting, ‘Carpe Diem’

Copyright R. N. Taber 2016

Friday, 3 June 2016

Engaging with a Speculative Mind

Society - that is to say, the more vocal and 'pushy' of its so-called  'betters' - may well like to think the human condition can be moulded as it sees fit, but it underestimates the human spirit, that inner self inclined to resist all attempts to fit us into boxes for which we were not made.

By all means, let us resist...


Some turn to love but for escape, comfort,
weary of a world full of pain and hate,
sick of always being told what to do (or not),
seek peace, understanding in a kind heart

Some find an escape and comfort they seek,
believe they're safe under sheltering skies;
some, disenchanted by love for its own sake,
weary of the same people, places, half lies…

If squaring up to life’s clout is never easy,
squaring up to love is harder still by far;
as for looking both in the eye with sincerity,
that demands the sureness of a guiding star

As clay to the potter's wheel, human nature
can but do its best with what's on offer...

Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2016

[Note: First published under the title ‘Horoscope' in A Feeling For The Quickness Of Time by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2005; revised ed. in e-format in preparation.]

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Alice Maud Taber OR Remembering My Mother

On June 2nd 2016 it was 40 years (June 2nd 1976) since my mother died. [She was born 100 years ago on July 16 1916] A friend came to lunch and we toasted her over a glass of Baileys Irish Cream Liqueur.

She was a remarkable woman, my mum. She would talk to anyone and anyone would talk to her regardless of any artificial class barriers. Above all, she was a very understanding and forgiving person, traits of human nature that - in my experience - rarely go hand in hand in people and which, sadly, are anything but common in my own family. (I like to think I am a very understanding person, but struggle with forgiveness although I usually get there in the end.)

Throughout my childhood, my mother would often tell me story poems instead of a traditional story at bed-time. (She could recite 'The Highwayman' (Noyes) and 'The Ancient Mariner  ' (Coleridge) by heart!) Even as a young man, I used to love to hear her reciting poetry.

We cannot celebrate death, but celebrating a person much loved and a life well lived is always a privilege.
My mother at 21 (1937)

My mother at the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, 1971


Always there for me, believing in me
more than I believed in myself, knowing me
better than I knew myself,
loving me more than I loved myself
although I could never  give you
what you wanted, be what you wanted,
live or love how you wanted...
subscribe to your fantasy of family unity;
we did our best by each other, assisting
one another through life’s maze of emotional
twists, turns, and dead-ends; me, unable
to grasp for years how conflicting loyalties
were tearing you apart...

Yours, a divided heart never truly made whole;
we whose demands you loved to meet
always failing it. Yet, even now, years on
since a tumour took its toll, you are (still)
one to whom this poet turns, always striving
for some peace of mind, heart, and soul
(imagination’s impossible goal) - learning 
to read between lines to which you gave
life and meaning. Only, then I wasn’t listening
(youth thinks it knows everything.)

Copyright R. N. Taber 2005; 2011

[Note: This poem has been slightly revised from the original version that appears as the dedication poem in A Feeling for the Quickness of Time by R. N. Taber, Assembly Books, 2005.]