Bordeaux Bay

Bordeaux Bay
Watercolour by Tony Taylor

Wednesday, 19 October 2016


Mortality and death are subjects which greatly exercise poets and, with the notable exception of Browning's My Last Duchess, murder tends not to be the subject of many poems.When it is, it tends to be in the form of a melodramatic ballad.
This month's Guernsey Open Mic had "Earth" as its theme, but I decided not to write about the planet and instead focus on soil, mud and clay, and this short poem developed from that.


Earth appeals for earth conceals
sad, broken things.

Like shattered wings,
her pale white arms 

would cause alarms,
her fractured smile 

(save for my guile)
could get me caught,
to trial brought, 

a lesson taught,
a lifetime’s jail.

Earth, do not fail
to hide this ruined, little one

and what I’ve done.

Saturday, 15 October 2016


This October is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and, across England, commemorations and reenactments of the event will be taking place this weekend and throughout the following week.
An ideal opportunity, then, to publish this poem.


An aspen in a Norman wood
supplied the shaft.
A craftsman’s patience
straightened, seasoned,
then perfected
something far removed from nature,
shaped the taper, sealed it,
gently carved the narrow nock.
Fingers, that might pluck a lute
on fair-days, set to fletching:
grey-goose feathers, 
resin gum,
fine thread of linen.
These would aid trajectory,
ensure the trueness of its flight.
Lastly, a hand affixed with care
the arrowhead, the killing-piece,
into a kind of bird-wing-shape
with pointed beak, as lethal as a battle-sword.

It would be one of many
that French archers took to English soil
to fly in flocks like starlings
over Hastings fields
and fall to earth like iron rain,
out of a grey October sky,
to pierce the fearful blue of Harold’s eye.

Thursday, 13 October 2016


I love summer but, as russet leaves pile up around my front door and the lane becomes strewn with autumn debris, I must reluctantly acknowledge that summer's lease has expired for another year.


The heating gets switched on;
sandals build nests 

in the boot-box;
the old straw hat sleeps, purring,
on the shelf where, overnight, 

hats become cats;
jumpers sidle out
like pale young vampires in early dark.
The game’s up.
Summer’s finally cleared off somewhere else
as you always knew it would:
a false friend,
a good lover gone bad.

Monday, 10 October 2016


I’ve just returned from several weeks in southern Italy, staying in Bari, Alberobello, Ostuni, Lecce, Galipoli and Otranto, and travelling (or rather, attempting to travel) on the notorious southern rail service, Ferrovia Sud Est (FSE).
Miraculously, Jane and I managed to survive the experience, although I feel it my duty to caution would-be travellers to avoid this rail company at all costs.
Trenitalia, which operates in northern Italy, is an excellent, inexpensive and efficient form of transport that we use frequently, but their southern counterpart, FSE, falls well below accepted standards in the Twenty-First Century. 

Photo by Jane Fleming

Having returned to Guernsey, I’ve been receiving encouraging feedback about my recorded radio interview with Jenny Kendall-Tobias on BBC Radio along with some excellent reviews of my poem, La Gran’mere du Chimquiere, which the BBC commissioned for National Poetry Day 2016. 
 Click here to read one such review and hear the poem.
Due to the terms of contract, I’ve been required to keep the poem under wraps until after the broadcast, but I am now able to publish it.

La Gran’mere du Chimquiere is a 4,000 year old statue-menhir situated at the gate of St Martin’s parish church.  She is thought to bring good luck and fertility to those who place a garland of flowers on her. The poem is written in the imagined voice of La Gran'mere.


old, old stone, I groan with age.

Gran’mere, Earth Mother,
I stand sentry beyond the churchyard gate,
and watch, with sightless eyes,
the snail of human traffic creep along.

I am old and granite-cold: your island’s anchor-stone.

Your fathers’ fathers came to me
to pray, to lay or lift some minor curse:
an endless chain of island men,
one generation to another,

Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.

Still they come,
their mode of dress and manners changed,
their supplications much the same:
love, fertility, wealth, happiness, a long life free of pain.

Young children step tip-toe,
lay yellow garlands on my weathered brow,
or proffer coins that glitter in the sun.
They stand before me,
gaze up to my strange Earth Mother face,
and murmur spells as old as time itself.

Rooted here, I listen
as the salt breeze sings of breaking waves,
of fishing boats and lobster-pots,
greenhouses, leafy water-lanes,
smart pillar-boxes, shining blue,
and amber cats asleep
on sun-warmed granite steps.

The soft breeze sings
of that so-lovely town
that climbs up to the sunlit summit of a golden hill,
the dauntless castle and the ragged rocks
where angry currents run.

Four thousand years grown old I am. Imagine.

Islanders, I anchor you.
Primeval, granite, I remain unchanged,
unchanged in a strange world of change.

This gemstone island, Guernsey,
this sea-locked rock whose timeless granite
birthed me,
whose good folk
shaped me,
my ancient magic will protect
and cause to prosper.

Saturday, 8 October 2016


 Skimming through my workbook, I discover that I've written several 'bird poems' over the years. My wife, Jane, however, is the more accomplished writer of 'avian' verse. 
Writing under the name Jane Mosse, her track record is impressive.
We once enjoyed a wonderful trip together to Italy on the strength of it, when she was invited to read one of her successful competition entries at a major festival at Lake Orta. 
Birds have been the muse of numerous poets: Shelley, Keats, Tennyson and Blake: all penned immortal lines on the subject. 
Edgar Allen Poe's Gothic poem, The Raven, is a perennial favourite, and writers as diverse as W B Yeats, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens and Ogden Nash have all published poems about birds.
It seems, then, that Jane and I are part of a very prestigious flock. 


A hunchback crow, its plumage black,
sits, like a threat, in a bare tree.

I hurry past, avert my eye
from evil. Some things hardly change.

A childhood dread, perplexing, strange,
still numbs me. Old fears never die.

No harbinger, no grim banshee,
could raise such gooseflesh on my back.

Friday, 16 September 2016


Bard at Bay is taking a short break, so KING OF THE HILL will be the last poem until online activity resumes in a couple of weeks.

“Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory”  Henry Ward Beecher. 


Stone hand upthrown,
he faces west:
sharp-browed, stern-eyed,
tall, statuesque.

Read the inscription at his feet:
A worthy man whose noble deeds
set him among the town’s elite ...

and yet, the epitaph misleads.

A robber-baron in his day,
then changed, by circumstance and luck,
to city elder, feet of clay
well hidden, so no thrown-mud stuck,
he ruled his little fiefdom well
and saw his enemies destroyed
without remorse. Who could foretell
that such a man, one so devoid
of gentleness, with traits like those,
would be immortalised in stone
and, in this hand-hewn granite pose,  
transcend mere flesh and blood and bone
to stand now, haughty and austere
upon a lofty plinth that reads
An honest man in every sphere ...
A worthy man whose noble deeds ...


Such sentiments are seldom true:
all’s foolishness, a massive bluff.
Man needs to forge idols anew:
mere gods alone are not enough.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016


A couple of weeks ago I was surprised and delighted to be contacted by BBC producer, Becca Bryers, who commissioned me to write a poem about Guernsey for broadcast on National Poetry Day, 6th October.

Naturally I agreed and I can honestly say that the generous payment that was offered didn’t influence my decision one bit.
The brief given me was to write a poem which would say something memorable and engaging about my local area and be suitable to be broadcast within a two minute time-slot.
Ideally the poem should send out a positive message of celebration of my local area with references to its geography, community and culture and should be composed from the point of view/in the voice of  a local landmark or well-known object connected to the place.

It's a huge responsibility to be, if only in a poetic sense, a spokesman for the island but I felt honoured to have been given the task. A number of UK poets have also been approached and given a similar briefing in relation to their own geographical locations.
A commission of this sort provides a considerable challenge, of course, especially when it comes with a tight deadline.
What helped considerably was that, from the outset, I had a very clear idea what my subject would be: a notable Guernsey landmark that has long fascinated me. 

I spent some time reading up on my subject, jotting down ideas and seeking the best way to interpret my subject’s “voice”.
Then I began the painstaking process of writing what I hoped would be a memorable poem of which the Guernsey people could be proud.

After several discarded drafts, I felt that had a piece of writing I was satisfied with, so I read it to my wife, Jane.
(It’s my great fortune to be married to a fellow writer, especially one as accomplished as Jane, who is hugely supportive and encouraging but never afraid to offer an honest, occasionally brutal, opinion of a newly-written poem or short story.) 
To my great relief she was thrilled with it but pointed out something that I had failed to keep in mind: that my reading of the new poem took close to four minutes, not the maximum two minutes required by the BBC.

So I began the slow and painful task of editing the four-minute poem down to a piece of less than two minutes.
Editing is something, generally speaking, that most poems benefit from, but cutting out what I believed was so much valuable material was obviously a painful experience.
With Jane’s patient help however I succeeded in making those hard decisions, and managed to abridge the four-minute poem to a workable two-minute piece. 

Much to my delight, the BBC-size poem still works very well.
Alas, I can’t share it with you here as it’s now the property of the BBC, at least until after National Poetry Day, 6th October, when I will read it during an interview with Jenny Kendall-Tobias on her mid-morning show on BBC Radio Guernsey.

"Easy reading is damn hard writing" Nathaniel Hawthorne.