Blue Aerogrammes – Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Cid (Sidney) Corman (1924 – 2004) was an American poet, translator and editor, most notably of the magazine Origin. He was a seminal figure in the history of American poetry in the second half of the 20th century. Cid Corman was born to Ukrainian parents in Boston where he grew up and was educated. From an early age he was an avid reader and showed an aptitude for drawing and calligraphy. He was excused from service in World War II for medical reasons and graduated from university in Boston in 1945. He studied for his Master’s degree at the University of Michigan, where he won the Hopwood poetry award.  After a brief stint at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he spent some time travelling around the United States, returning to Boston in 1948.

Cid Corman ran poetry events in public libraries and started the country’s first poetry radio program. In 1952, he wrote: “I initiated my weekly broadcasts, known as This Is Poetry, from WMEX in Boston. The program has been usually a fifteen-minute reading of modern verse on Saturday evenings at seven thirty; however, I have taken some liberties and have read from Moby Dick and from stories by Dylan Thomas, Robert Creeley, and Joyce.” This program featured readings by Robert Creeley, Stephen Spender, Theodore Roethke and many other Boston-based and visiting poets. He also spent some time at the Yaddo artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs. It was about this time that Corman changed his name from Sydney Corman to the simpler “Cid.”

In 1951, Corman began Origin in response to the failure of a magazine that Robert Creeley had planned. The magazine typically featured one writer per issue and ran, with breaks, until the mid-1980s. The magazine also led to the establishment of Origin Press, which published books by a wide range of poets as well as by Corman himself and which remains currently active. In 1954, Corman won a Fulbright Fellowship grant and moved to France, where he studied for a time at the Sorbonne. He then moved to Italy to teach English in a small town called Matera. By this time, he had published a number of small books, but his Italian experiences were to provide the materials for his first major work, Sun Rock Man (1962). At this time he produced the first English translations of Paul Celan, even though he didn’t have the poet’s approval.

In 1958, Corman got a teaching job in Kyoto in Japan where he continued to write and to run Origin magazine. There he married Konishi Shizumi, a Japanese TV news editor and began to translate Japanese poetry, particularly work by Bashō and Kusano Shimpei. In Kyoto they established CC’s Coffee Shop, “offering poetry and western-style patisserie.” He was a prolific poet until his final illness, publishing more than 100 books and pamphlets. In 1990, he published the first two volumes of his selected poems, OF, running to some 1500 poems. Volume 3, with a further 750 poems appeared in 1998 and further volumes are planned. Several collections of wide-ranging essays have been published. His translations (or co-translations) include Bashō’s Back Roads to Far TownsThings by Francis Ponge, poems by Paul Celan and collections of haiku.

Cid Corman did not speak, read or write Japanese, even though his co-translation with Susumu Kamaike of Bashō’s Oku No Hosomichi is considered to be one of the most accurate in tone in the English language.

He died in KyotoJapan on March 12, 2004 after being hospitalized for a cardiac condition since January 2004.




I am old enough to remember aerogrammes, those thin sheets of  blue paper which, when folded neatly, could be used to send fairly lengthy letters to international destinations. They preceded the rise of the internet and the development of email. Cid Corman used them regularly and with great ingenuity. Billy Mills, in an article in the Guardian, describes  “the role Cid played as the hub of a global virtual community of writers and artists, one that far pre-dated the advent of the internet and email. He orchestrated this community through the good old postal system by following a very simple rule he set for himself: every letter he received was either answered within 24 hours of arrival or not at all. He typed his answers on blue Japanese aerogrammes and every square inch of space was used, down to the poems specially written for the occasion and placed on the front of the envelope, next to your name and address.” Bob Arnold has selected  and edited some of these poems and printed them, with an introduction, in  The Famous Blue Aerogrammes. Longhouse, 2004. Some are reprinted below.

Cid Corman described his own poems as direct. In conversation with Philip Rowland he had this to say,  I write what I call direct poetry: if you have to ask somebody to explain the poem then I’ve failed. As mentioned above, he was very prolific. His literary executor, Bob Arnold, (whose own poetry features in  Fortune Cookies – Brief Poems by Bob Arnold) has done much to keep his reputation alive. Not only has he published The Famous Blue Aerogrammes (Longhouse 2016) but he has also published  a selection of poems and translation in The Next One Thousand Years (Longhouse, 2008). He is due to publish the final volumes of OF (Longhouse) containing 1,500 poems over 850 pages.


Brief Poems by Cid Corman

Some Haiku

If these words
dont remember you—
forget them.


The leaf at last gets
the drift of wind and so
settles for the ground.


Azaleas gone and
hydrangea trying to make
a show of it yet.


How do you do? How
do you? How-do-you-do-you?
You’re asking too much.


I wear the mask of
myself and very nearly
get away with it.


In the shadow of
the mountain the shadow of
any bird is lost.


There is no end and
never was a beginning – so
here we are – amidst.


Your shadow
on the page
the poem.


Rain-drops. Each
makes a point
of silence.


Some Poems

Poetry becomes
that conversation we could
not otherwise have.



As long as you are here –
Would you turn the page?


The Call

Life is poetry
and poetry is life — O
awaken — people!


There’s only
one poem:
this is it.


What were you

What more is
there than this?


We are all
part of what’s

going on
to have gone.



Live with the living
Die with the dying
And there you are: here.


What have I
to do with

you beyond
being with?



She keeps coming home
to me – of all things – and I
remain home for her.


It isnt for want
of something to say—
something to tell you—

something you should know—
but to detain you–
keep you from going—

feeling myself here
as long as you are—
as long as you are.



from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes

Has it ever
occurred to you
you’re what is oc-
curring to you?


You are here – just as
I had imagined –
imagining me.


Nothing ends with you —
every leaf on the ground
remembers the root.


We wear out
but the sky

looks as new
as ever


Everything is
coming to a head — meaning
blossoms yet to fall.



She waters
the plants downstairs
from upstairs —
so does the rain.


The cry
of all cry –


So that




will be



I wonder. Is it
mere curiosity or
just a quiet glow?


The sun is
my shadow

I shall not
want — it

leadeth me



The weight of

a falling

leaf upon

your shoulder.


So many black flies
getting into the house and
making us killers,


When am I going
to lose my leaves and find I
am the poetry?


Translations from Sappho

You make me think
of a sweet
girl seen once
picking flowers


Spring dusk

Full moon
Girls seem

to be


a shrine


Come and I’ll
have fresh pillows
for your rest

yes, praying
for such a
night again


Am I to
remind you,

that complaint
aint right where



Further translations of Sappho by Cid Corman, together with the original Greek, are available on the Sappho (fragments) page.


Translations from the Japanese of Sengai (1750-1837)

Crown or grid iron —
there’s nothing to think about —
only all to use.


Over Everest
the same old moon shares its light
as clear as ever
but only for eyes ready
to see the darkness clearer.


Moon empty
sky shine
water deepened


Yes or no —
good or bad —
you have come

to this house.
Here is your
tear — your cake.


Translations from the French of Philippe Denis

I was present this morning when a
blossoming tree sweetly escaped.

For what refusal or acquiescence
was the head of the tree nodding
over my page?


The word snow used wildly.
I feel the difficulty of it.

Those mornings when we toss about
on one wing!


To be enchantingly alone. But does
that make any sense?

What we are, we are, most of the time,
thanks to what hasnt completely occurred.



The Poetry Foundation page on Cid Corman with an extensive bibliography.

The Wikipedia page on Cid Corman.

Some haiku by Cid Corman on the TAO site.

A selection from The Famous Blue Aerogrammes.

Original Cid, an article in the Guardian by Billy Mills.

An obituary by Michael Carlson in the Guardian.

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part One

Cid Corman in conversation with Philip Rowland. Part Two

Gregory Dunne on Cid Corman and translation.

A selection of Cid Corman books from the Longhouse Press.


Wet Skirts – Brief Poems by Kenneth Rexroth

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982) was born in in South Bend, Indiana, the son of Charles Rexroth, a pharmaceuticals salesman, and Delia Reed. His childhood was troubled by his father’s alcoholism and his mother’s chronic illness. He was homeschooled by his mother, and by age four he was reading widely in the Classics. His mother died in 1916 and his father in 1918.  He then went to live with his aunt in Chicago and enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago. He spent his teenage years as an art student and soda jerk, along with other odd jobs. In 1923—1924 he was imprisoned during a raid on a Near North Side bar that he frequented, allegedly for being partial owner of a brothel. He lived in a decrepit jail cell under the care of four black cellmates until his legal guardian could bail him out. In Chicago he  recited poetry from a soapbox to excited crowds on street corners downtown. He live as a postulant in Holy Cross Monastery (West Park, New York) where the lifestyle of meditation, silence and artistic creation suited him marvelously, and he later recalled it as the happiest time of his life. However, he felt strongly that he did not have a vocation there, and left with a solidified admiration for the communal rites and values of monasticism.

At age nineteen, he hitchhiked across the country, taking odd jobs and working a stint as a Forest Service trail crew hand, cook, and packer in the Pacific Northwest, at the Marblemount Ranger Station. Later he was able to board a steamship in Hoboken, exploring Mexico and South America before spending a week in Paris to meet many notable avant-garde figures, notably Tristan Tzara and the Surrealists. He considered staying on in Paris, but an American friend urged him not to become just another expatriate and he returned home. After meeting his first wife, he moved to San Francisco; he would live in California the rest of his life.

Rexroth married Andrée Dutcher in 1927, a commercial artist from Chicago. He claimed to have fallen in love with her at first sight when he saw her in the doorway of the apartment building he was renting. He encouraged Dutcher to pursue non-commercial painting, and she gave him feedback on his writing. The two shared many interests and what Rexroth described as a perfect relationship. Their marriage deteriorated, however, and the couple was divorced near his 35th birthday. Andrée died of complications from epilepsy shortly after, in 1940. Her death triggered great sadness in Rexroth, who wrote a number of elegiac poems in her honour.  Within a year of her death, Rexroth married the nurse and poet Marie Kass. They opened up their home to weekly literary discussions, anti-war protesters, and Japanese-American convalescents avoiding internment. They separated in 1948.  In 1949, Rexroth traveled to Europe with Marthe Larsen. The two were married in Aix-en-Provence despite Rexroth still being legally married to Marie. When the couple returned to the USA, Marthe was pregnant. They had had two daughters, Mary and Katherine, by 1955, when Rexroth’s divorce from Marie finally came through. In 1956, Marthe fell in love with the poet, Robert Creeley, and she later left Kenneth despite his desperate pleas for her to stay. Rexroth later removed all instances of her name from his poetry. After living in San Francisco for 41 years, Rexroth moved to Santa Barbara in 1968. He taught two courses at UCSB. After a few years, he married Carol Tinker, his longtime assistant. They remained married until Rexroth’s death in 1982.

Kenneth Rexroth is still, today, associated with the so-called Beat Poets. With Rexroth acting as master of ceremonies, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Philip Whalen read at the famous poetry-reading at the Six Gallery in San Francisco on October 7, 1955. Rexroth later served as a defense witness at Ginsberg’s obscenity trial concerning this event. He had previously sent Ginsberg (new in the Bay Area) to meet Snyder, and was thus responsible for their friendship. Lawrence Ferlinghetti named Rexroth as one of his own mentors. Rexroth was eventually critical of the Beat movement. Years after the Six Gallery reading, TIME magazine referred to him as “Father of the Beats.” To this he replied, “an entomologist is not a bug.” He appears in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Dharma Bums as the character Reinhold Cacoethes.

He died in Santa Barbara, on June 6, 1982, of a massive heart attack that blew out the fuse of the electrocardiogram machine that was monitoring him. He is buried on the grounds of the Santa Barbara Cemetery Association overlooking the sea, and while all the other graves face inland, his alone faces the Pacific. His epitaph, one of his late brief poems, reads, “As the full moon rises / The swan sings in sleep / On the lake of the mind.”



I first came across the poetry of Kenneth Rexroth when, in a Dublin bookshop in the 1970’s, I bought a copy of Penguin Modern Poets 9 which contained poems by William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov and Kenneth Rexroth. Williams I already knew and the selection did not add much to my knowledge and appreciation of his work. Levertov I knew from anthologies but the wider work in the Penguin book did not appeal much. However Rexroth was a revelation. He seemed to have a voice that was individual, eloquent and intriguing. One poem haunted me – his brief translation of Akiko

I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.

That poem stuck in my memory for years and when, in 2009, I decided to post brief poems on the Twitter account @poemtoday, it was one of the first poems I printed. Years later, on a visit to Vancouver, I found one of the most eclectic bookstores I had ever visited, MacLeods Books. There I came across a copy of One Hundred Poems from the Japanese. I have borrowed substantially from that book below and I have included, in italics, some of the intriguing and interesting comments Rexroth makes of the poems he has chosen. I hope you enjoy his work as much as I have.



The Love Poems of Marichiko were originally published as if they had been written by a young Japanese woman in Kyoto and Rexroth had merely translated them. In reality there was no such person as Marichiko — the poems were all written by Rexroth himself, projecting himself into a feminine persona, during the same period that he was translating several volumes of Chinese and Japanese women poets. These, his most erotic poems, Rexroth wrote when he was in his seventies. The text is chronological: in a series of short poems, the narrator longs for, sometimes meets, dreams of and loses her lover, and then grows old. The narrator is defined only in relation to her lover, and of her lover we learn absolutely nothing, including gender. Rexroth gained critical recognition for having conveyed so authentically the feelings of someone of another gender and culture. Linda Hamalian, his biographer, suggests that translating the work of women poets from China and Japan reveals a transformation of both heart and mind. Were they to be written today he would probably be accused of “cultural appropriation” although, in my view, given the sensitivity with which he translated and promoted the work of Japanese women poets, he earned the right to offer his own version of a fictional Japanese female poet who wrote poems that, in their tender eroticism, bore some resemblance to the brief poems of Yosano Akiko whose work he had also translated. If you are interested in responding to these poems, or to the problem of cultural appropriation, you could use the comment box below.


Brief Poems by Kenneth Rexroth

Translations from the Greek

… about the cool water
the wind sounds through sprays
of apple, and from the quivering leaves
slumber pours down. . . .



The moon has set,
And the Pleiades. It is
Midnight. Time passes.
I sleep alone.



Time’s fingers bend us slowly
With dubious craftsmanship,
That at last spoils all it forms.



Pass me the sweet earthenware jug,
Made of the earth that bore me,
The earth that someday I shall bear.



Neither war, nor cyclones, nor earthquakes
are as terrifying as this oaf
who stares, sips water and remembers
everything we say.



Translations from the Japanese

This world of ours,
To what shall I compare it?
To the white wake of a boat
That rows away in the early dawn.

Shami Mansei


As I watch the moon
Shining on pain’s myriad paths,
I know I am not
Alone involved in Autumn.

Ōe No Chisato

…believed to have lived about 825 A. D.  Nothing else is known of her, although  this poem is one of the most famous in Japanese literature.


When I gathered flowers
For my girl
From the top of the plum tree
The lower branches
Drenched me with dew.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro


A strange old man
Stops me,
Looking out of my deep mirror.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro


My girl is waiting for me
And does not know
That my body will stay here
On the rocks of Mount Kamo.

Kakinomoto No Hitomaro

This poem is Hitomaro’s death poem.


I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.

Yamabe No Akahito


The mists rise over
The still pools at Asuka.
Memory does not
Pass away so easily.

Yamabe No Akahito


It withers in the world,
This flower-like human heart.

The Poetess Ono No Komachi.

She is the legendary beauty of Japan. She is supposed to have lost her beauty in old age and become a homeless beggar. This may be true, but it is improbable and is most likely derived from her poems, many of which deal with the transitoriness of life and beauty.


Have you any idea
How long  night can last, spent
Lying alone and sobbing?

The Mother of the Commander Michitsuna

According to legend, she gave this poem to her husband when he came home very late one night, as he habitually did.


I have always known
That at last I would
Take this road, but yesterday
I did not know that it would be today.

Ariwara No Narihira


Out in the marsh reeds
A bird cries out in sorrow,
As though it had recalled
Something better forgotten.

Ki No Tsurayuki


The deer on pine mountain,
Where there are no falling leaves,
Knows the coming of autumn
Only by the sound of his own voice.

Onakatomi No Yoshinobu

This is the first Japanese poem I ever translated; I was fifteen years old. It is still one of my favorites.


Someone passes,
And while I wonder
If it is he,
The midnight moon
Is covered with clouds.

Lady Murasaki Shikibu

She is the greatest figure in Japanese literature, the author of The Tale of Genji, one of the world’s greatest books, of a diary and of numerous poems.


Autumn evening —
A crow on a bare branch.



An old pond —
The sound
Of a diving frog.


…describes a monk’s retreat in the forest, so still that the only sound is the splash of a frog as the visitor approaches.


On this road
No one will follow me
In the Autumn evening.



Summer grass
Where warriors dream.


…paralleled by hundreds of Western poems from the Greek Anthology and the Bible to Carl Sandburg. It describes a battlefield.


I can see the stones
On the bottom fluctuate
Through the clear water.



Frozen in the ice
A maple leaf.



Shitting in the winter turnip field
The distant lights of the city.



Press my breasts,
Part the veil of mystery,
A flower blooms there,
Crimson and fragrant.

Yosano Akiko


Left on the beach
Full of water,
A worn out boat
Reflects the white sky
Of early autumn.

Yosano Akiko




from The Love Poems of Marichiko


You ask me what I thought about
Before we were lovers.
The answer is easy.
Before I met you
I didn’t have anything to think about.


Making love with you
Is like drinking sea water.
The more I drink
The thirstier I become,
Until nothing can slake my thirst
But to drink the entire sea.


You wake me,
Part my thighs, and kiss me.
I give you the dew
Of the first morning of the world.


Come to me, as you come
Softly to the rose bed of coals
Of my fireplace
Glowing through the night-bound forest.


Because I dream
Of you every night,
My lonely days
Are only dreams.


Scorched with love, the cicada
Cries out. Silent as the firefly,
My flesh is consumed with love.


Spring is early this year.
Laurel, plums, peaches,
Almonds, mimosa,
All bloom at once. Under the
Moon, night smells like your body.


Love me. At this moment we
Are the happiest
People in the world.


Every morning, I
Wake alone, dreaming my
Arm is your sweet flesh
Pressing my lips.


Your tongue thrums and moves
Into me, and I become
Hollow and blaze with
Whirling light, like the inside
Of a vast expanding pearl.


The disorder of my hair
Is due to my lonely sleepless pillow.
My hollow eyes and gaunt cheeks
Are your fault.


A brief poem by Kenneth Rexroth

As the full moon rises
The swan sings
In sleep
On the lake of the mind.

This poem is engraved on Kenneth Rexroth’s tombstone in the Santa Barbara Cemetery  in Santa Barbara, California.



A biography on the Poem Hunter site

A wide variety of translations by Kenneth Rexroth,

A wide variety of poems by Kenneth Rexroth

Seven Poems on the All Poetry site.

The Kenneth Rexroth page on the Poetry Foundation site.


Around the Scuttlebutt – Brief Poems by A. M. Juster

A. M. Juster (born 1956) is the pen name of Michael James Astrue, an American lawyer who has worked as a public servant at the highest levels, holding a position as associate counsel to two Republican presidents (Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush), then as general counsel to the Department of Health and Human Services, and finally as Commissioner of the Social Security Administration from 2007-2013. In the private sector, he practiced law and was as a senior executive at several biotechnology companies. For the purpose of this post, I prefer to deal with the poet (A. M. Juster) rather than the political appointee (Michael Astrue) although an informative and entertaining article by Paul Mariani in the religious journal First Things skilfully explicates both sides of an intriguing personality.

A. M. Juster was the first moderator for Eratosphere, the largest on-line site for formal poetry and his work may be associated with what has come to be called The New Formalism. He has won the Howard Nemerov Sonnet Award three times, most recently in 2008. My own favourite sonnet of his was one shortlisted for the award: Weldon Kees in Mexico. He also won the Richard Wilbur Award in 2002 for his collection, The Secret Language of Women. His books of translations include Longing for Laura (2001) a translation of Petrarch, The Satires of Horace (2008) and Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles (2015). Recent books include Sleaze & Slander (2016),  The Billy Collins Experience (2016) and The Elegies of Maximianus (2018).


TWITTER – @amjuster 

For a Twitter account, that of A. M. Juster is particularly lively, engaging and provocative. He explains his interest thus: I reluctantly dipped my toe into Twitter (@amjuster) a year ago, and I like its concision and reach. I am not an academic or a networker, so it exposed me to a small but interesting group of poets and scholars. He tweets regularly, constantly offering a “warm Twitter welcome” to those who have joined, like a benevolent party-goer happy to see other like-minded souls in attendance. He is an advocate for the poets whose work he admires, promoting the work of such poets as A. E. Stallings, Rhina Espaillat and Kay Ryan and campaigning for a Nobel Prize for Richard Wilbur. He is also a trenchant and persistent critic of those who he sees as undermining the craft and the reach of poetry. Ben Lerner, Christian Bok and Ezra Pound are often subject to his acerbic wit. Of those poets who use Twitter, he is certainly one worth following.



According to Wikipedia: Scuttlebutt in slang usage means rumor or gossip, deriving from the nautical term for the cask used to serve water (or, later, a water fountain). The term corresponds to the colloquial concept of a water cooler in an office setting, which at times becomes the focus of congregation and casual discussion… Since sailors exchanged gossip when they gathered at the scuttlebutt for a drink of water, scuttlebutt became Navy slang for gossip or rumours.

In the concluding poem below, a mock epitaph entitled Candid Headstone, with its concealed pun in the third line, the scuttlebutt is regarded as a poetic approach and the “bile and bluster” mentioned in disparaging terms is, in the shorter poems (and in many of the best of the longer poems in Sleaze and Slander), refined by rhyme and meter to a humorous and a caustic stance.This is evident in the translations of Martial below and in the Martial post. It is also evident in the brief poems which follow. Satire is one aspect of this approach. The Billy Collins poems, collected in The Billy Collins Experience, are a remarkable act of ventriloquism. Another poem meshes, like a frenetic disc jockey with his mixer, Eliot’s Prurock, Stevens’ blackbird and the famous red wheelbarrow of Williams. As well as Martial, there are translations of Horace, Erasmus, Ausonias and Luxorius, all rendered in a bilious American idiom. As for the two poems from the Middle Welsh – Poem of the Prick and Poem of the Pussy – suffice to say that the great Australian erotic poet, A. D. Hope, would be smiling in his grave. Rhina Espaillat put it best when she wrote in Light He doesn’t use satire to settle scores with “Them,” but to attack, with self-deprecating humor, the traits, customs and practices that need attacking in all of us.


Brief Poems by A. M. Juster

from Martialed Arguments 


To say Acerra stinks of day-old booze is wrong!
Each drink is freshened all night long!



Diaulus was a physician;
now he’s a mortician.
The undertaking’s the same –
it just has a new name.



Paul is reciting poems he buys.
At least he doesn’t plagiarize.



Dear Max:

Your reading opened with a whine
about your laryngitis,
but since your alibi was fine
why reread on and incite us.



Sex with Sertorius is anticlimactic;
rapid withdrawal is his typical tactic.



Since you both share the same approach to life
(a lousy husband and a lousy wife),
I am bewildered it
is not a better fit.



Your seventh wife, Phil, is buried in your field.
Nobody gets from land, Phil, that kind of yield.



Dear Telesilla,

Four times in one night is what I can do.
Damn! Once in four years is plenty with you.


All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Further translations of Martial by A. M. Juster, together with the original Latin, are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.



Night Snow

I wondered why the blankets were so lacking,
And then I saw my window brightly glow.
With night long gone, I knew we had deep snow,
For through the calm the bamboo trees were cracking.

Translated from the Chinese of Po-Chu-i.



Poems are best
when compressed.

I detest
the rest.


A Stern Warning to Canada

If you want peace,
withdraw your geese.



I kept hoping she would come alone.
She’s a gem, but he’s a kidney stone.


A Consolation of Aging

Despite my thinning hair,
no barber cuts his rate.
At least the airlines care
and do not charge by weight.



Despite what’s promised when you marry,
actual results may vary.


A Riddle from Saint Aldhelm

No one can hold me in his palms or sight:
I scatter sudden clatter far and wide.
I want to hammer oaks with mournful might;
yes, I strike sky and scour countryside.

(Answer: wind)


Another Riddle from Saint Aldhelm

I share now with the surf one destiny
in rolling cycles when each month repeats.
As beauty in my brilliant form retreats,
so too the surges fade in the cresting sea.

(Answer: moon)


Anonymous East African Proverbs

Let the relentless fist
be kissed.
No donkey can cart
what weighs down your heart.
Outside a man is respected;
at home that man is neglected.
True words end;
lies extend.
Translated from the Oromo


From the Workplace

Your Midlife Crisis

You found yourself, but at an awful cost.
We liked you better when you were lost.

To My Ambitious Colleague

Your uphill climb will never stop;
scum always rises to the top.

Concession to My Colleague

I know that you will win in time;
the rising sewage lifts all slime.


Self-portrait at Fifty

None of this can be denied:
crabby, flabby, full of pride;
hypertensive, pensive, snide;
slowly, growing terrified.


Candid Headstone

Here lies what’s left of Michael Juster,
Failure filled with bile and bluster:
Regard the scuttlebutt as true.
Dance on the grave; most others do.


All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.



The A. M. Juster website.

An interview with A. M. Juster on political poetry.

A brief interview on the Headstuff site.

Another brief interview with an audio link.

Paul Mariani on the double life of A. M. Juster/Michael J. Astrue.

Introducing Mike Juster by Rhina Espaillat.

Some interesting comments on the Evidence Anecdotal site.

A review of The Secret Language of Women.

Ten Riddles of Saint Aldhelm.

Anonymous East African Proverbs translated by A. M. Juster.

A review of Saint Aldhelm’s Riddles.

A. M. Juster discusses his translation of St. Aldhelm’s Riddles.

Brooke Clark reviews Sleaze and Slander.

A brief review of Sleaze and Slander.

Another brief review of Sleaze and Slander.

Patrick Kurp reviews Sleaze and Slander and The Billy Collins Experience.

A review of The Billy Collins Experience.

About The Elegies of Maximianus.



All poems © A.M. Juster. Reprinted by permission of the author.

The Taste of Rain – American Haiku by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac,  born Jean-Louis Lebris de Kérouac, (1922 –1969) was an American novelist and poet. Born March 12, 1922, in Lowell, Massachusetts, he was the son of Leo Kerouac, a printer, and Gabrielle Levesque, a factory worker. He did not speak English until he was five years old, using instead a combination of French and English used by the many French-Canadians who settled in New England.  At the age of eleven he began writing novels and made-up accounts of horse races, football games, and baseball games. He received a football scholarship to Columbia University in New York City and arrived there in 1940 where he began to pursue an interest in literature and studied, in particular,  the style of writer Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938). In 1941 Kerouac had an argument with Columbia’s football coach and left school.

Kerouac worked briefly at a gas station and as a sports reporter for a newspaper in Lowell. In 1943 he joined the Navy, but he was honorably discharged after six months. He spent the war years working as a merchant seaman and hanging around Columbia with such writers as  William Burroughs (1914–1997) and Allen Ginsburg (1926–1997). He wrote two novels during this time, The Sea Is My Brother and And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, with Burroughs.

In 1947 Neal Cassady visited New York and asked Kerouac to give him writing lessons. When Cassady returned to Denver, Colorado, Kerouac followed. After a brief time in Denver, Kerouac wandered into California, beginning a four-year period of travel throughout the West. When not on the road, he was in New York working on his novel The Town and The City, (1950).  Kerouac then began to experiment with a more natural writing style. In April, 1951, Kerouac threaded a huge roll of paper into his typewriter and wrote the single 175,000-word paragraph that became On The Road. The more than 100-foot scroll was written in three weeks but was not published for seven years. Sal and Neal, the main characters, scoff at established values and live by a romantic code born out off the West. They are described as “performing our one noble function of the time, move.” In between writing On The Road and its publication, Kerouac took many road trips, became depressed and addicted to drugs and alcohol, and did his most ambitious writing.  When On The Road was published in 1957, Kerouac became instantly famous, a spokesman for the “Beat Generation”, young people in the 1950s and 1960s who scorned middle-class values. His classic book became the bible of the countercultural generation.  Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements.

He frequently appeared drunk, and interviews with him usually turned into arguments. In 1958 he wrote The Dharma Bums, a follow-up to On The Road. He then stopped writing for four years. By 1960 he was an alcoholic and had suffered a nervous breakdown. On October 21st, 1969, at the age of 47, while watching the Galloping Gourmet on television, with a pad in his lap and pen in his hand, Jack Kerouac began to hemorrhage and died hours later, a classic alcoholic’s death. He became a mythic figure, his writings directly influencing artists such as the Doors, Lenny Bruce and Bob Dylan.  Since his death, his literary reputation has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. All of his books are in print today, including his poetry.
He is buried with the rest of his family near Lowell. His grave has been a site of pilgrimage for decades. Mourners leave cigarettes and joints, as well as dollar shots with a sip inside, should he wake up thirsty. Poets impale poems on the pens that wrote them, which are planted in the dirt like a stockade fence to protect the flat, original plaque. The grave received a new headstone in 2014, a waist-high granite slab inscribed with his signature, and his line, “The Road is Life”. The original flat headstone (see image above) remains just in front of the new one, six stones up and three stones deep.




The so-called “Beat Poets” were attracted to Oriental modes of perception and of poetry. The one poet I find most interesting in this group is Gary Snyder, but he was not attached to the haiku form. Allen Ginsberg created many haiku, most of them risible. He did manage to create his own American version of the haiku – a monostich form he called American Sentences. If haiku involved seventeen syllables down the page, he reasoned, American Sentences would be seventeen syllables across the page. It was his attempt, successful at times, to “Americanize” a Japanese form. Like (rough) English approximations of the haiku, American Sentences work closely with concision of line and sharpness of detail.  Unlike its literary predecessor, however, it is compressed into a single line of poetry and often included a reference to a month and year (or alternatively, a location) rather than a season. Some of his more interesting examples are posted on the monostich page of this blog.

Jack Kerouac also attempted to “Americanise” the haiku form. He became acquainted with Gary Snyder in California, and discussed Buddhism and poetry with him. He was interested in Buddhism, and experimented with haiku which he called ‘pops,‘ a genre he defined as ‘‘short 3-line pomes.”  His haiku remain fundamentally American –

The windmills
of Oklahoma look
in every direction.

He offered his own definition of the American Haiku: The American Haiku is not exactly the Japanese Haiku. The Japanese Haiku is strictly disciplined to seventeen syllables but since the language structure is different I don’t think American Haikus (short three-line poems intended to be completely packed with Void of Whole) should worry about syllables because American speech is something again…bursting to pop…. I propose that the ‘Western Haiku’ simply say a lot in three short lines in any Western language. Above all, a Haiku must be very simple and free of all poetic trickery and make a little picture and yet be as airy and graceful as a Vivaldi Pastorella.  A large selection of his haiku is available on the Terebess Asia Online site. Cor van den Heuval, editor of The Haiku Anthology: Haiku and Senryu in English has said of Kerouac and the haiku that he probably came closer than any of the Beat poets to its essence. But it remained a footnote to his work. I tend to agree. I have included a baker’s dozen of these brief poems of which more than half are concerned with rain, hence the title of this post.


American Haiku by Jack Kerouac

The taste
of rain
– Why kneel?


The bottom of my shoes
are clean
from walking in the rain.


Snap your finger
stop the world –
rain falls harder.


After the shower
among the drenched roses
the bird thrashing in the bath.


Early morning gentle rain,
two big bumblebees
Humming at their work


Birds singing
in the dark
—Rainy dawn.


The rain has filled
the birdbath
Again, almost


Useless, useless,
the heavy rain
Driving into the sea.


The little worm
lowers itself from the roof
By a self shat thread


boy smashing dandelions
with a stick.


in the birdbath
A leaf


In my medicine cabinet
the winter fly
has died of old age


Missing a kick
at the icebox door
It closed anyway.



A large selection of Kerouac haiku.

The Terebess Asia Online (TAO) page on the haiku of Jack Kerouac.

Review of Book of Haiku by Jack Kerouac

New York Times appreciation of Jack Kerouac’s haiku.

27 poems by Jack Kerouac.

More poems on the All Poetry site.

A Jack Kerouac website.

Paris Review interview – with Ted Berrigan & others, June 1967.


Flushed Words – Brief Poems by Sir John Harington

Sir John Harington  (1560 – 1612) of Kelston was an English courtier, author and translator popularly known as the inventor of the flush toilet. Harington’s father enriched the family by marrying an illegitimate daughter of King Henry VIII; his second wife, and John’s mother, was a gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber of Queen Elizabeth I, who stood as godmother for John. The young man was educated at Eton, Cambridge, and Lincoln’s Inn, London. He became a prominent member of Queen Elizabeth I’s court, and was known as her “saucy Godson”. But because of his poetry and other writings, he fell in and out of favour with the Queen. For translating and circulating among the ladies a wanton tale from the 16th-century Italian poet Ariosto, he was banished from court until he should translate the whole of Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso. As it is 38,736 lines long, one of the longest poems in European literature, Queen Elizabeth thought she was rid of him. Much to everyone’s surprise, he returned in 1591 with the entire epic translated into English. He was praised, first for completing the task, and then for the quality of his translation which is still read and still popular today. As he complied with the queen’s command, he was back in good standing in the royal court.

Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603. During what would prove to be the her last Christmas, he tried to lighten her increasingly frequent moods of melancholy by reading her some of his comic verses. The Queen thanked him for his efforts but said sadly: “When thou dost feel creeping time at thy gate, these fooleries shall please thee less – I am past relish for such matters.”  She was succeeded by James VI of Scotland who claimed the English throne as James I of England. Harington was not as successful in the court of her successor. His cousin, Sir Griffin Markham, had become involved in 1603 in two plots to kidnap or depose James I. This led to his being arrested, convicted, and sentenced to death. His execution was waived in return for a massive fine of £4000 and exile. Markham left for exile in Europe and his cousin, Sir John Harington was stuck with paying his fine. He could not pay the fine without selling his own property, which he did not want to do. He escaped custody in October of 1603, but James I had already created him a Knight of the Bath in recognition of his loyalty to the English throne, and also transferred all of cousin Markham’s property to him, so Harington once again managed to stay out of trouble. He  later became the tutor to Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales, the older son of King James and Anne of Denmark.

Sir John Harington  fell ill in May 1612 and died on 20 November 1612, at the age of 52, soon after the death of his pupil Henry Frederick who died of typhoid fever at the age of 18.  He was buried in Kelston.



Sir John Harington has become historically associated with the invention of Britain’s first flushing toilet. It involved flushing with water from a cistern and utilised a stopper that prevented smells from rising from the storage below. He called it the Ajax (i.e., a “jakes“,  being an old slang word for toilet; the American slang term “john” is thought by some to be a reference to its inventor). He installed one at his manor in Kelston. In 1596, Harington wrote a book called A New Discourse upon a Stale Subject: The Metamorphosis of Ajax about his invention.He published it under the pseudonym of Misacmos (translated as hater of filthiness). This was the pseudonym he also used for his epigrams. (See FLUSHED WORDS below). The book made political allusions to the Earl of Leicester that angered the Queen. It was a coded attack on the stercus or excrement that was poisoning society with torture and state-sponsored “libels” against his relatives Thomas Markham and Ralph Sheldon. According to his biographer, D. H. Craig, “readers were to be repelled initially by all the talk of urine and ordure but then reminded that vice (however painted and perfumed) was a far more serious offense against moral sensibilities.” Filled with characters drawn from family and friends along with veiled representations of his enemies, the work also makes common use of biblical characters and classical writers. Many considered the whole subject a breach of common decency, and Harington had difficulty finding a printer. Eventually, Richard Field agreed to serve as the publisher, and it was released in 1596. After publication, Harington was banished from the court. The Queen’s mixed feelings for him may have been the only thing that saved him from being tried at Star Chamber. The work itself enjoyed considerable popularity on its publication.

Eventually Queen Elizabeth forgave him, and visited his house at Kelston in 1592. Harrington proudly showed off his new invention, and the Queen herself tried it out. She was so impressed it seems, that she ordered one for herself,  installing Harington’s “water closet” in Richmond Palace, making it the first indoor plumbing of its type. Her enthusiasm did not last. She may not have been impressed by Harington’s invention, but then, like other rich people, she did not have to empty her own close-stool.

Before his invention, the public was used to the chamber pot. These were usually emptied from an upstairs window into the street below, and in
France, the cry ‘gardez-l’eau‘ gave warning to the people below to take evasive action. This phrase may have been the origin of the English nickname for the toilet, the ‘loo’. Wealthy households might have a close-stool, which had a padded seat with a metal or porcelain container beneath it. But it still had to be emptied. Harington’s  water-closet had a pan with an opening at the bottom, sealed with a leather -faced valve. A system of handles, levers and weights poured in water from a cistern, and opened the valve. There was a picture of it in his book (see the image on the right) and he proclaimed that it ‘would make unsavoury Places sweet, noisome Places wholesome and filthy Places cleanly’. His flush toilet did not catch on and serious improvement of toilets in England had to wait for the 18th century and the coming of the S-bend.




Sir John Harington’s family were old friends of Queen Elizabeth and the queen was Harington’s godmother. She seems to have been fond of him, but he was often in trouble for circulating lewd verses and translations among the court ladies. His attempt at a translation of Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso caused his banishment from Queen Elizabeth’s court for some years. Angered by its racy content, the Queen told Harington that he was to leave and not return until he had translated the entire poem. She chose this punishment rather than actually banishing him, but she considered the task so difficult that it was assumed Harington would not bother to comply. He, however, chose to follow through with the request and completed the translation in 1591. That translation received great praise, and is still read by English speakers today. The more than 30,000 lines of Orlando Furioso took at least five years to compose and set to print.

It took him over ten years to compose and circulate more than four hundred epigrams, organised into four books, a brief selection of which I have included below. The influence of Martial is evident. Not only has he translated the Latin poet (see the Brief Poems post on Martial) but some of the poems below are virtual copies of Martial originals. During his lifetime, the Epigrams, written under his pseudonym, ‘Misacmos’, meaning ‘a hater of filthiness’, had the widest manuscript circulation among his contemporaries. Copies of individual epigrams or groups of them, evidently circulated within the Court, within the Inns of Court, and elsewhere, and they were frequently recopied in 17th-century miscellanies. Harington made numerous revisions when preparing fair copies of large numbers of epigrams from his ‘scatterd papers’, and it was revised versions that were posthumously published in 1615 and 1618. Some eighty or more epigrams found in his own manuscript collections were not published until the twentieth century. I have taken some limited liberties with the text and modernised the spelling.


Brief Poems by Sir John Harington

Against writers that carp at other men’s books 

The readers, and the hearers like my books,
But yet some writers cannot them digest.
But what care I? For when I make a feast,
I would my guests should praise it, not the cooks.


Of writing with a double meaning 

A certain man was to a judge complaining,
How one had written with a double meaning.
Fool, said the judge, no man deserveth trouble,
For double meaning, so he deal not double.


The author, of his own fortune 

Take fortune as it falls, as one adviseth:
Yet Heywood bids me take it as it riseth:
And while I think to do as both do teach,
It falls and riseth quite beside my reach.


Misacmos against his book

The writer and the matter well might meet,
Were he as eloquent, as it is sweet.


To Faustus 

Faustus finds fault, my epigrams are short,
Because to read them, he doth make some sport:
I thank thee, Faustus, though thou judgest wrong,
Ere long I’ll make thee swear they be too long.


Of mis-conceiving

Ladies you blame my verses of scurrility,
While with the double sense you were deceived.
Now you confess them free from incivility,
Take heed henceforth you be not misconceived.


Of plain dealing

My writings oft displease you: what’s the matter?
You love not to hear truth, nor I to flatter.


Against Itis a poet

Itis with leaden sword doth wound my Muse,
Itis whose Muse in uncouth terms doth swagger,
What should I wish Itis for this abuse,
But to his leaden sword, a wooden dagger.


Of reversing an error 

I did you wrong, at least you did suppose,
For taxing certain faults of yours in prose:
But now I have the same in rhyme rehearsed,
My error, nay your error is reversed.


To an ill reader

The verses, Sextus, thou dost read, are mine;
But with bad reading thou wilt make them thine.


In lectorem inuidum 

Who reads our verse, with visage sour and grim,
I wish him envy me, none envy him.


Of treason 

Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.


A rule to play

Lay down your stake at play, lay down your passion:
A greedy gamester still hath some mis-hap.
To chafe at luck proceeds of foolish fashion.
No man throws still the dice in fortune’s lap.


Of a fair shrew 

Faire, rich, and young? How rare is her perfection,
Were it not mingled with one foul infection?
I mean, so proud a heart, so cursed a tongue,
As makes her seem, nor faire, nor rich, nor young.


Of Cinna 

Five years hath Cinna studied Genesis,
And knows not yet what in Principio is ;
And grieved that he is gravelled thus, he skips,
O’er all the Bible, to th’ Apocalypse.


Of Friendship 

New friends are no friends; how can that be true?
The oldest friends that are, were sometimes new.


Of Fortune

Fortune, men say, doth give too much to many:
But yet she never gave enough to any.


In Philautum

Your verses please your reader oft, you vaunt it:
If you your self do read them oft, I grant it.


To an old bachelor 

You praise all women: well, let you alone,
Who speaks so well of all, think well of none.


Of Sextus’ s wit 

To have good wit is Sextus thought by many;
But sure he hides it all; he shows not any.


Of Lynus

Poor Lynus ‘plains that I of late forget him,
And says he’ll be my guest if I will let him.
But I so liked him last time I met him
That he be sure do all I can to let him.



Full text of Letters and Epigrams of Sir John Harington, together with Prayse of Private Life.

An account of Sir John Harington and his invention on the Toilet Guru site.

The Wikipedia page on Sir John Harington.

Biographical details on the NNDB site.

Further biographical details by Gerard Kilroy.

Even further biographical details on the Your Dictionary site.



Zeg-Zeg – Brief Poems by Tony Harrison

Tony Harrison (born 30 April 1937) is an English poet, translator and playwright. He was born in Leeds, the son of a baker,  and educated at Leeds Grammar School and at Leeds University. He is one of Britain’s foremost verse writers and many of his works have been performed at the Royal National Theatre. In his first full-length book of poetry, The Loiners (1970), Harrison explored his relationship with the eponymous citizens of the working-class community of Leeds. Yet, reflecting Harrison’s own experiences of teaching in Nigeria (the Zeg-Zeg poems below are set there) and working in Prague, the book ranges widely in location and topic, from childhood encounters with sex in Leeds to tales of love in Eastern Europe. His second full-length collection appeared in 1978. From “The School of Eloquence” and Other Poems was a more explicit exploration of class issues than The Loiners had been, provoking critical controversy but also gaining critical plaudits.

Harrison’s most famous poem, and his first foray into television, is  (1985), written during the miners’ strike of 1984–85, and describing a trip to see his parents’ grave in a local cemetery in Leeds,  ‘now littered with beer cans and vandalised by obscene graffiti’. The title has several possible interpretations: victory, versus, verse, etc. Proposals to screen a televised filmed version of drew howls of outrage from the tabloid press, some broadsheet journalists, and MPs, apparently concerned about the effects its “torrents of obscene language” and “streams of four-letter filth” would have on the nation’s youth.He is also renowned for his versions of classic poetic dramatic works and noted for his outspoken political views. He translated his first Greek play 50 years ago, and has since adapted ancient dramas for the National Theatre.

His most recent collection of poetry is Under the Clock (2005), and his Collected Poems, and Collected Film Poetry, were published in 2007. His latest book is Fram (2008), a work for theatre premiered at the National Theatre in 2007. He has picked up a number of prizes over the years, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the Whitbread Prize for Poetry and the William Heinemann Prize. In 2015, he was honoured with the David Cohen Prize in recognition for his body of work.




Tony Harrison travelled widely in his early years as a poet, especially in Africa and Eastern Europe and was open to various influences. The influence of Arthur Rimbaud and  Rimbaud’s poetic identity as a  white ‘nègre’ can be best found in, for example, from the Zeg-Zeg Postcards, a sequence of mainly parodic and sometimes pornographic short poems about the sexual exploits of a homosexual English professor and poet in colonial Africa.  ‘Zeg Zeg’ was the name in the Middle Ages for the region now known as Zaria, the Nigerian state where Harrison lived in the 1960s. The poem works best as a complete sequence but the extracts below indicate some of the humour available. Harrison gradually developed his own distinctive voice. The brief poem Heredity gestures at its source.

Tony Harrison has a degree in classics and, as well as translating classic verse plays, he has also translated classic brief poems. I sometimes work with ancient originals written at times when poetry had the range and ambition to net everything, but if I go to them for courage to take on the
breadth and complexity of the world, my upbringing among so-called ‘inarticulate’ people has given me a passion for language that communicates directly and immediately.
I first came across a selection of Martial’s verse in English when, many years ago, for the modest sum of one pound, I purchased a copy of Tony Harrison’s pamphlet of poems called US Martial, which was published by Bloodaxe Books in 1981. (See image on right.) Living in New York at the time, Harrison deftly translated some of the epigrams into a jazzy American idiom.  As well as translating from the Latin, he has also translated from the ancient Greek.   Palladas: Poems, first published in 1975,  introduced this pagan poet, with his Swiftian sensibility (saeva indignatio) to a contemporary audience. His selection, most of which are, unfortunately, too long to be tweeted, skilfully recreates the bitter wit which he describes as ‘the authentic snarl of a man trapped physically in poverty and persecution, and metaphysically in a deep sense of the futile’. As he writes in his preface, ‘Palladas…is generally regarded as the last poet of Paganism, and it is in this role that I have sought to present a consistent dramatic personality…His are the last hopeless blasts of the old Hellenistic world, giving way reluctantly, but without much resistance, before the cataclysm of Christianity.”


Brief Poems by Tony Harrison

from The Zeg-Zeg Postcards


Africa – London – Africa –
to get it away.


Knowing my sense of ceremonial
my native tailor
still puts
buttons on my flies.


I bought three Players tins
of groundnuts with green mould
just to touch your hands
counting the coppers into mine.


Je suis le ténébreux … le veuf ...
always the soixante and never the neuf.


The shower streams over him
and the water turns instantly
to cool Coca-Cola.


I’d like to


Mon égal!
Let me be the Gambia
in your Senegal.



How you became a poet’s a mystery!
Wherever did you get your talent from?
I say: I had two uncles, Joe and Harry-
one was a stammerer, the other dumb.



A flop is when the star’s first-night bouquets
outlast the show itself by several days.




from U. S. Martial


You serve me plonk, and you drink reservé.

My taste-buds back away from mine’s bouquet.


IX Twosum

Add one and one together and make TWO:
that boy’s sore ass + your cock killing you.


XII Paula

She doesn’t feel 3
parts in Comedy
quite do.

4’s more and merrier!
She hopes the spear-carrier
comes on too.


XVI The Joys of Separation

She wants more and more and more new men in her.

He finally finishes Anna Karenina.


Some of these poems, together with the original Latin are available on the Brief Poems Martial post.


from Palladas, Poems


Life’s a performance. Either join in
lightheartedly, or thole the pain.


Born naked. Buried naked. So why fuss?
All life leads to that first nakedness.


Born crying, and after crying, die.
It seems the life of man’s just one long cry.
Pitiful and weak and full of tears,
Man shows his face on earth and disappears.


Agony comes from brooding about death.
Once dead, a man’s spared all that pain.

Weeping for the dead’s a waste of breath –
they’re lucky, they can’t die again.


God’s philosophical and so can wait
for the blasphemer and the reprobate –

He calmly chalks their crimes upon His slate.


God rot the guts and the guts’ indulgences.
It’s their fault that sobriety lets go.


Death feeds us up, keeps an eye on our weight
and herds us like pigs through the abattoir gate.


Shun the rich, they’re shameless sods
strutting about like little gods,

loathing poverty, the soul
of temperance and self-control.


Just look at them, the shameless well-to-do
and stop feeling sorry you’re without a sou.


Poor devil that I am, being so attacked
by wrath in fiction, wrath in fact.

Victim of wrath in literature and life:

1. The Iliad  2. the wife!


A grammarian’s daughter had a man
then bore a child m. f. & n.


The ignorant man does well to shut his trap
and hide his opinions like a dose of clap.


Menander’s right, and thought’s most fertile soil
‘serendipity, not midnight oil.


Where’s the public good in what you write,
raking it in from all that shameless shite,

hawking iambics like so much Betterbrite.


Thanks for the haggis. Could you really spare
such a huge bladder so full of air?


women all
cause     rue

but can be nice
on    occasional

moments two
to  be  precise

in     bed
&    dead


When he comes up to the bedroom
and switches on the light,
the poor man with the ugly wife
stares out into the night.


A drink to drown my sorrows and restart
the circulation to my frozen heart!


Some of these poems, together with the original Greek are available on the Brief Poems Palladas post.



Complete text of from the Zeg Zeg postcards.

The Tony Harrison page on the British Council website.

A critical biography and a detailed bibliography on the Poetry Foundation site.

A newspaper article on Tony Harrison and his poem V.

The Bloodaxe Books page on Tony Harrison.

The Faber & Faber page on Tony Harrison.

A detailed Guardian profile by Nicholas Wroe.

The New Statesman profile by Francis Gilbert.

A Guardian interview with Tony Harrison.

A Book Trust interview with Tony Harrison.

University of Leeds profile.


This page was posted April 30th, 2017 on the occasion of Tony Harrison’s eightieth birthday.

Mists and Wisps – Brief Poems by Hildebrand Jacob

by Jacobus Houbraken, after George Knapton, line engraving, 1735

Hildebrand Jacob (1693–1739) was a British poet and playwright, whose major works include the epic poem Brutus the Trojan and the tragic verse drama The Fatal Constancy. His collected works were published in 1735. His father was Sir John Jacob, third baronet of Bromley, Middlesex (c.1665–1740) and his mother was Dorothy (c.1662–1749). Sir John served in the army from 1685 to 1702, seeing action at the Battle of Killiecrankie and in Ireland. Hildebrand Jacob was named after his mother’s brother, Hildebrand Alington, fourth lord Alington (d. 1722). During 1728 and 1729 he visited Paris, Vienna, and the chief towns of Italy. Following his father, Hildebrand served in the army until at least 1715, then in 1717 he married Meriel, daughter of another baronet, Sir John Bland of Kippax-Park, Yorkshire. They had a son, also Hildebrand, and a daughter, Anne. They made their home at West Wratting, Cambridgeshire. He died, in the lifetime of his father, on 25 May 1739.

Jacob published anonymously in 1720–1 a clever but indelicate poem, ‘The Curious Maid,’ which was frequently imitated and parodied. ‘The Fatal Constancy,’ a tragedy, acted five times at Drury Lane, was published in 1723. ‘Bedlam: a Poem,’ and ‘Chiron to Achilles: a Poem,’ appeared in 1732.  His scattered writings were collected, with large additions, in 1735 as ‘The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq., containing Poems on various Subjects and Occasions, with the “Fatal Constancy,” a Tragedy, and several Pieces in Prose. The greatest Part never before publish’d.’ In the dedicatory epistle to James, earl of Waldegrave, ambassador extraordinary at the court of France, Jacob states that he published the book because incorrect copies had been circulated, and because he wished to convince his friends that he was not the author of ‘some, perhaps, less pardonable Productions that were laid to my charge here at home while I had the advantage of living under your Lordship’s protection abroad.’  In the essay, ‘How the Mind is rais’d to the Sublime,’ Jacob shows himself to have been an enthusiastic admirer of Milton. The National Portrait Gallery in London has an engraving of him by Jacobus Houbraken after George Knapton (see image above).





The only thing certain about us is that we are too many.” That was Yeats commenting on his companions, other poets, in the Rhymers’ Club. While Yeats has survived, most of his companions are now forgotten. It was ever thus. Like most poets, Hildebrand Jacob has disappeared into the mists of time. There is no mention of him in the more than one thousand pages of Margaret Drabble’s The Oxford Companion to English Literature and he has no representation, either, in the six volumes of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature. Like a wisp, the odd poem comes out of the mist. I first encountered his work in a couplet (epigram XV below) included in The Faber Book of Comic Verse, edited by Michael Roberts. Slightly intrigued I searched for further epigrams and found them in The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq. (W. Lewis, 1735). These epigrams may lack the classicism of Ben Jonson, the balance of John Donne, the power of Alexander Pope or the imaginative scope of William Blake. But, in their old-fashioned wit, they may repay a second, even a third reading. I have included the briefest and the best of the thirty-four epigrams below.


Brief Poems by Hildebrand Jacob

Epigram I

O Love! what pains do I endure?
Have patience, Swain, they’ll soon be passed,
Your very passion brings its cure,
Since all philosophers assure,
Nothing that’s violent, can last.

Epigram IV

Corinna dies for grief; but still
She frets, her weeds are made so ill.

Epigram VII

Phillis, I a plot discover!
You have taken a new lover:
For his comfort I can tell,
Let him use you ne’er so well,
You will change him for another.

Epigram VIII

Collin, for love expiring, cries,
To see the Nymph, before he dies.
She went in pity, ’tis confessed
She went; but decked in all her best.

Epigram XV

Titus reads neither prose, nor rhyme,
He writes himself; he has no time.

Epigram XVII

Hamor in six months time, no more,
Has almost travelled Europe o’er:
Hamor must be changed, no doubt?
No; he’s come home, as he went out.

Epigram XX

Why weary of a single Life?
I would advise you, Charles, to stay,
Friend Limber married th’ other day;
You like his table, and his wife.

Epigram XXV

Sly keeps a mistress of his own.
You jest, she’s kept for half the town.

Epigram XXVI

Geron at four score married! ’tis too late.
No; but he wants an heir to his estate.

Epigram XXVII

Why all this stir at Myra’s house?
She took last night a second spouse.
Then why that hatchment, Friend, I pray?
Her first was buried but today.

Epigram XXXII

‘Tis strange, Prudilla, you accuse
Of too much warmth my wanton Muse,
While you read on with all your spite,
And practice, what I only write.

Epigram XXXIV

Poetic Works, you say, are vain,
Infants of a distempered brain,
What then? My verses still you read;
And I my labouring mind have freed.



Biographical details from The Dictionary of National Biography.

The Wikipedia entry on Hildebrand Jacob.

The Works of Hildebrand Jacob, Esq.


by Jacobus Houbraken, after George Knapton, line engraving, 1735