Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Square One, Full Circle

I won’t be back with regular links to new and old poems for a good few weeks yet, but here’s a new poem one just to keep the ball rolling, and one I hope you will enjoy. I am not too well at  the moment, but expect to make good progress after hospitalisation on September 11th, hopefully for no longer than a week although I will need daily injections to keep infection at bay for up to six weeks.

Whatever, I can but continue looking on the bright side of life here, and succeeding…well, most of the time.

Now, most if not all of us know only too well that life is full of ups and downs, drawing us into various relationship triangles here, running circles around us there; we can but do our best to shape up on our own account, and may the best man, woman, girl or boy win. As for what we mean by 'best' or 'win'... well, how subjective is that? It depends on your point of view, I guess, and a poem can only ever hope to touch upon skeleton templates. 

My English teacher, 'Jock' Rankin - more years ago that I care to remember - once described the relationship between the reader and any piece of writing as putting flesh on the bones; not an uncommon analogy, but one that went over the head of a slow-learner 12 year-old. In time, though, I came to see how appropriate it is given that no piece of writing strikes any two readers in quite the same way, thereby taking on a life of its own for the reader/s and in the abstract; the latter, in the course of any subsequent discussion, being left to us to make of what we will. A good teacher will suggest interpretations without imposing any; we may well instinctively opt (at the time) for what we discern as the teacher's preferred point of view, but the best teachers provide food for thought that can last a lifetime. 

Needless to say, Jock was one of the best. Gillingham (Kent) Technical High School (now Rainham Mark Grammar) was all but irrelevant to my educational needs as I have always been a very impractical person, but I learned more from its teachers than anything on the curriculum, and for that I will always be grateful.


demanding we play our part,
do our best
to rise above the worst
society can throw
at us, contrive (or negotiate)
a winning streak
least likely to drag us back
to Square One

challenging us to do (far) better
than our peers
if only to earn promotion
of the sort likely
to bring in enough to pay off
the credit cards,
stop the bailiffs returning us
to Square One

too soon for congratulations
on playing our part,
keeping society off our backs
(for now, at least)
long enough (we live in hope)
to take a step back,
get the measure of ourselves
in Square One

running a gamut of high hopes,
broken promises,
missed opportunities, pipped
to the post every time
by Fate’s favoured, among whom
we are as...chaff
in an ill wind blowing us back
to Square One?

Full Circle,
waking up to chinks in shutters
greeting us
with wicked winks and cheers
from town and field,
applauding our taking off (again)
on wings of a skylark,
if only to enjoy putting one over
on Square One

Copyright R. N. Taber 2017

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Conversations between Mind, Body and Spirit

Text-speak may well be as relatively a new phenomenon as the mobile phone itself, but conversations with the inner self are as old as humankind.



spiralling me downwards
from cradle to grave…
often when I least expect it,
leaves me clinging
for dear life at straws in an ill wind
raised by a helter-skelter
of events conspiring to drag me
beyond imagination,
test ego (and salvation) to limits
rarely conceived
even by those daily enduring
a world of nightmares


spelling out such promises
as sweet dreams
are made of, offering (for free)
a magical mystery tour
of mind-body-spirit asking only
that I stay true
to the end of a line drawn
not (whimsically) 
in sand or clay, but in good faith
that 1 + 1 is equal,
to the sum of all its frictions
and I can add up


bringing me the best of things
at the worst of times,
moulding the less savoury clay
of human nature
as a potter’s wheel might
its tasks in hand,
demanding the poetry of art
speak up for Beauty,
fair chameleon exposing masks
of the Beast
for human waste washed up
by the tides of life

Copyright R. N. Taber 2017

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

It is what it Is...or is it?

Only recently, a reader emailed me to ask if I consider myself an agnostic because I am gay and, if not, why not…?

Over the years (I'm in my 70's now) I have lost count of the times I have been told by members of various religious groups that I will go to hell for being gay. (So God is a homophobe?) Evangelical Christians and the majority of Muslims are by far the worst, but I exclude none. (While Judaism is inclined towards a liberal attitude towards LGBT issues, most Orthodox Jews stop well short of sanctioning LGBT relationships.) For this reason, I am publishing this post/poem on both blogs since feedback suggests that not all readers visit my Google + site where I link to new and historical posts & poems on both blogs. Regular readers will know that I have every respect for all religious faiths, but as a human being (who happens to be gay) I have the right of reply.

At school, 50+ years ago, we were once asked to write an essay about ‘Secrets’. This was preceded by a class discussion on the subject during which we were all agreed that secrets are hard to keep, especially from family and friends. Someone made an unkind remark about gays not being ‘out’ to which the teacher responded with a wry shrug that “Time outs us all in the end. The trick is to get in first, before gossip and ignorance can do their worst.’ This comment livened up the debate no end, but I missed most of what was being said for dwelling on the concept of Time ‘outing us all in the end.’ It is so true. Gay or straight, it is a rare person that has no secrets; invariably these come out, if not during their lifetime then in the course of events following their death.

I only came out to a few people until a bad nervous breakdown in my 30’s finally rid me of all self-consciousness about my sexuality. Even then, though, I trod carefully through what I had known for years as a minefield of public opinion. The breakdown had lasted several years before I found the confidence to face the world again. During this time, I explored human nature through avid reading and writing poetry, both of which had already stood me in good stead at university.

Being gay is, of course, only one aspect of human nature, one part of a complex whole. It has always been the whole that interests me although, obviously, I have a special interest in the gay aspect. Some gay people seem to find it strange that I write general as well as gay-interest poetry. But…why not? Being gay is a very significant part of who I am, yes, but I can hardly ignore the rest of me, those other parts that make me who and what I am. Well, can I...?

In my 70’s now, I often look back and wish I had done things differently (as in ‘better’) but I guess we are all victims of our circumstances up to a point, and my circumstances have often conspired against me. Yet, I am no victim in the sense that I made my own choices, albeit not always the right ones.

Many who subscribe to a religion have told me I will forfeit Heaven and go to Hell although I suspect we make our own heaven and hell as our lives take shape by our own hand. So is death the end of all things, I wonder? I have no idea, but as a nature lover, take comfort from the way nature nurtures itself, and spring follows winter. Love, too, never dies even as lovers and loved ones pass away. I suppose I put what Faith I have in nature and love rather than in any religion since, from both, I have always taken a strong sense of spirituality. As to whether or not that sense of spirituality is seen as a sufficiently positive force in my poetry  to pass into living memory by way of my readers after my death, only time will tell.


Time running out,
mind-body-spirit left floundering
among regrets
for missed opportunities, rushes
to misjudgement,
and plain, everyday mistakes
with consequences...
for there can be no payback
equal to the task
of making reparation for any flaws
in humankind

No sense of a God
likely to extend any forgiveness
to the likes of me,
unable to relate to any Heaven
(potential safe haven)
throughout a lifetime of struggling
to make sense of dogma
interpreted by Religion’s finest
as leave to preach
a Politics of the Heart making sense
of humankind

How then to approach
the End of Things in the absence
of any New Beginning
other than as some deactivated spirit
gone to ashes, dust,
someone else’s (imperfect) memory,
there to endure
a kindly ‘eternity’ that sits more easily
on the tongue than ‘death’
while advocating spiritual qualities
in humankind?

I have asked this of poems
that have dogged my every footstep
from child to senior,
no one answer offered (or confirmed)
but a sense of moving
through time (other than growing old)
acting out tales passed on
by ghosts about leaving footprints;
no one left behind
but (together) creating a continuum
called humankind

To each, our own way,
engaging with the greater mysteries
of life and death,
finding such comfort as we can,
pinning our finer hopes
on what’s better, kindlier, said
and done, wiser choices
than less so, promise nurtured
or left unfulfilled
for an indefinable social conscience
to define us as it will

Whatever, it is what it is, and Time
will out us all one way or another…

Copyright R. N. Taber 2017

Friday, 4 August 2017

Blood on the Bread OR Street Cred, Overrated

[Update 1/1/20180): Here in London during New Years Eve and early on New Years Day, four young people have died in unrelated knife attacks! More wasted lives, more families left grieving...]

[Update 21/2/2018: Two more young men, victims or knife crime, died yesterday near where I live in Kentish Town, London NW5. So tragic, and senseless!]

The villanelle below was written on June 29th 2008. On the previous day, another young person had been fatally stabbed on London’s streets. Tragically, the poem is even more relevant now than it was then.

Official figures released by the Office of National Statistics (ONS)  in April 2017 showed a very significant increase in violent crime across the UK, much of it gang-related. Knife crime alone had increased by 14 per cent year on year by 2016 to levels not seen since 2011; a leap from 28,427 knife offences to 32,448.

The greater tragedy is that gang-related violent crime remains prevalent on the streets of many countries worldwide; such a waste of human lives where, more often than not, contemporary society fails to provide constructive alternatives offering potential solutions.

Whatever, these people commit violent acts by choice and the buck stops with them. If they have a conscience at all, they need to come to terms it, start steering a kinder course through life before they, too, become just another fatality statistic... and what kind of footprint is that to leave behind?

‘His [Jack's] mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.’ - William Golding [Lord of the Flies, 1954]


Don’t carry a gun or knife,
a young friend said;
show more respect for life

I want a career and a wife
(and a four-poster bed)
don’t carry a gun or knife

Let years of pain and strife
stand peace on its head?
Show more respect for life

Though gang rats run rife,
and blood on the bread,
don’t carry a gun or knife

Let me look, dress how I like
if it makes me feel good;
show more respect for life

Streets of fear, tears of grief,
saw him shot him dead;
Don’t carry a gun or knife;
show more respect for life

Copyright R. N. Taber 2008; 2017

[Note: This poem first appeared under the title 'Blood on the bread'' in Poetic Expressions, Poetry Now, 2009 and subsequently in my own collection, On the Battlefields of Love, Assembly Books, 2008; rev. ed. in e-format in preparation.]