A-Z Poetry

Ok, here’s the deal….if you’re at all partial to my stuff (and seeing as you’re reading this, I guess you must be?) you may have seen me do an A-Z thing at a reading. What happens is, I rock up armed with an A-Z of poem titles, someone shouts out a letter, I have to pick a poem beginning with it and perform it. Sound familiar? Good, because this is the virtual version! Here are an A-Z of poems scribed by my own fair pen. Pick your letter, pay a measly 65p (well these things don’t write ’emselves y’know!) and as soon as we receive your order, we’ll email you the poem as close to immediately as we can possibly manage.  Hope you enjoy…

 

A – Autumn Sunday

Harry Says: “This poem came out of a Sunday afternoon walk in – you guessed it – Autumn! We started off at the ancient steel foundry in Derwentcote, where you can see where the waggonway ran, covered in undergrowth. We then went to the cemetery in Earsdon, where the victims of the 1862 Hartley Pit Disaster are buried – hence the age range of the dead, which is really shocking now. Finally, the names in the last verse are all pits in South East Northumberland.”

Autumn Sunday
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B – Bongo

Harry says: “This is really a beat poem – very rhythmic, befitting its subject – and that’s how I perform it live. Club Bongo International – The Bongo for short – was a nightclub in Middlesbrough’s once-notorious Over The Border district, near to the river. Standing in the middle of the red-light area and originally called the Kenya Café, it was always something of a rough house. However, it also played great dance music – roots, reggae, funk etc.”

Bongo
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C – Coastguard’s Wife

Harry says: “This is my take on what life must have been like for my earliest ancestors in England. John Coyle and his wife and children came to Saltburn By The Sea in the 19th century from Annalong, a tiny fishing village in Ireland, with their children where he found work as the coastguard. It must have been a very hard time for them all, fleeing the infamous potato famine, sailing to somewhere foreign to them, which itself was becoming rapidly industrialised and harsh. The cottage where they lived is still there on the cliff top, we scattered my Dad’s ashes there.”

Coastguard’s Wife
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D – The Difference Between Bees and Wasps 

Harry says: “This is something I wrote purely for fun in the Spring of 2018 after seeing my first wasp of the year. I’ve always hated them and like many sensible folk, strongly suspect they hold a personal grudge against me! Increasingly this poem gets me into trouble though. After every gig, there’s always someone who feels the need to point out to me how wasps do an essential job in eating small insects. If you’re one of those people…..I do already know this, just as I don’t really imagine bees have any knowledge of the work of the great John Le Mesurier!”

The Difference Between Bees and Wasps
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E – Everybody Laughs

Harry says: “Sometimes poems write themselves. This one is from 2012. I had the misfortune to be seated near a couple at a big dinner ‘do’. He was a South African guy and the rest of the people around his table worked for him. He spent much of the night talking loudly about all of his exploits/achievements and most of his ‘jokes’ were at the expense of his wife, sitting next to him. At one point he referred to her as his ‘kitchen bitch’ and roared with laughter. I looked at the poor woman and imagined her thoughts. The rest spilled out in 10 minutes.”

Everybody Laughs
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F – First 

Harry says: “Ah….first loves, first kisses! I was (I think) about 11 years old – it was the Summer holidays before going to secondary school. She was a year younger but about 6 years more mature than me – I had no clue about anything! Her name was Julie, she lived around the corner from me and I have no idea what happened to her afterwards! She dumped me after a few weeks but I didn’t mind. It was all very innocent and rather lovely.”

First
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G – The Ghosts Of Hester

Harry says: “This is about the New Hartley pit disaster of January 1962. As the cage was descending the pit shaft, the beam (which weighed some 46 tons) holding it snapped clean in two and the two halves plummeted down the shaft on top of the cage, which tipped out several of the men to their deaths. The whole mess lodged in the shaft walls, trapping all the miners underground. Over a period of days they all slowly asphyxiated – fathers, sons, cousins, friends. The death toll was 204 men and boys and their village was devastated. It was because of this disaster that subsequent mines had to have a different escape route. The capped-off shaft is now a garden and I would recommend a visit.”

The Ghosts Of Hester
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H – How To Protect Children Against Mild Profanity

Harry says: “An unashamed piece of nostalgia, this. Written about my own Aunty Cathy – but I think every family has an Aunty Cathy. She was really funny, just like her daughters are today. Her and Uncle Jim travelled widely for his work but always came back to Middlesbrough – she was Boro through and through. And when she was home we’d go round for cards nights. As kids we’d sometimes sit at the table and sometimes play under it and she would deliberately swear in front of us just to wind my Dad up, then wink at us when she got told off. It felt like being in on some secret game.”

How To Protect Children Against Mild Profanity
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I – It Will Not Be Long Now 

Harry says: “This is about how the mining sector was utterly and deliberately destroyed in the 1980s by a government that lied and lied about their intentions and used the police as a militia against its own citizens. The ‘fortyfaced dragon’ is of course the scourge of the North, Mrs Thatcher. Looking back now from deep into the 21st century, when people are working sometimes 2 or 3 lowly paid jobs and still having to use food banks, it’s almost unbelievable what we have come to, while the rich grow ever richer.  Not to mention how it’s almost expected now for the powerful to lie, not have to resign and the ordinary working people have pretty much no right of redress. No wonder people have lost faith in their leaders.”

It Will Not Be Long Now
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J – Johnny Guitar

Harry says: “I think this is something that is hopefully universal! Haven’t we all been to that party as a young person, where some King of Cool is holding court with a guitar and the keys to lurve in his hand?? The Jimi in the first stanza is of course the real King of Cool, Mr Hendrix. Incidentally the last 2 lines are true! I was never Johnny in my youth, more the nerd in the corner shoe-gazing and blushing. I still lack dedication and almost never play my guitar at home unless nagged to run through a few songs by my better – and much wiser – half.”

Johnny Guitar
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K – Keogh 

Harry says: “This was written in 2012 and is about something of a Teesside urban legend. Mr Keogh was a (in)famous vagrant and teller of ridiculously tall tales. Many people have personal – and usually hilarious – stories of his antics. The references to Joan Collins and him ‘turning out for the team’ both relate to his own tales – one of which he was reported to have used as an excuse for being late in court on a drunk and disorderly charge, much to the amusement of the magistrate. I just thought it would be fitting to end the poem with a made-up story that he’d be proud to relate himself. The Boro fans don’t really sing his name, though some might say they should…”

Keogh
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L – Lapwing 

Harry says: “This is a personal favourite of mine. The lapwing is a fascinating bird and I became really interested when someone told me that their awkward flying technique (‘flopalong’/’lolloper’) is deliberately ungainly. They nest on the ground so they and their eggs are highly susceptible to foxes. The way they take off and fly, as if they are struggling, is purely to distract the fox’s attention away from the nest to themselves. They make their escape with ease, but only of course after luring the fox away.”

Lapwing
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M – Masham

Harry says: “The Masham was a well-known pub in the centre of Middlesbrough. I worked there as a DJ between 1979-1981. Hated it and loved it. It was a rough and ready place where some people went to lose themselves, some to party and some to fight. Whoever did the latter was unwise in the extreme. The landlord was never anything but kind to me, but he couldn’t half look after himself! I remember him several times taking out troublemakers into the back yard, only to come back in several minutes later, straightening his shirt and hair! And the end is true too – he knew how to keep in with the police and they would get served free pints after closing time while on duty.”

Masham
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N – Not Waving

Harry says: “A semi-serious/semi-comic one, this. It sprang from a gig I did in 2017 in Bristol. I was talking afterwards with the other poet on the bill, when we were approached by a youngish fella from the audience who wanted to talk. Over the next few minutes we discovered that the poor guy had been triggered by one of the other poet’s poems and it all spilled out about his rotten last year – how his girlfriend had left him, all of his struggles etc. But while he was doing this it struck me that neither of us really knew what to say to him! I think sometimes we all imbue people whose work we admire with having other qualities/insights – which they don’t – and I suppose it’s reasonable to ask why should they? Most poets I know are more interested in sorting out their own problems/issues than counselling other people!”

Not Waving
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O – One Better Day 

Harry says: “This was pretty much a transcript of a real dream I had in Spring 2018. I woke up and it was as if it had just happened. ‘One Better Day’ is the title of probably my favourite Madness song. It’s a lovely, gentle song and was playing in the background of my dream. A bit of a tear-jerker, this one.”

One Better Day
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P – Parliament Reconvenes 

Harry says: “Ever been in one of those cafes where ladies of a certain vintage meet for tea and scones? I was sitting at the table next to these and it was lovely just to eavesdrop on their chatter. Mind, I wouldn’t like to have been in their ‘gang’ and not have been there – they were ruthless!”

Parliament Reconvenes
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Q – Queen Victoria’s Train Passes Through Newcastle

Harry says: “It’s fairly well known that when Queen Victoria’s train passed through Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, she ordered her staff to close the curtains. Some say it was because she had at some earlier point stayed in the Station Hotel and the manager had had the temerity to actually – Heaven forefend! – charge her for her visit. Others say that she couldn’t bear to look on the smoke blackened city which was busy building her empire for her. I’m going with the latter. The poem is imagined in the voice of her Equerry.”

Queen Victoria’s Train Passes Through Newcastle
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R – Return

“A wee 3-verse poem in celebration of pride in a humble home – but from the point of view of a bird and its nest! One of my personal favourites, this. It landed fully formed in my head on a teatime stroll around the back streets of Whitley Bay – as the places referenced testify – and I had to wait until I got home to write it down.”

Return
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S – Sixer

Harry says: “Ah…pity the child who has never skimmed stones with a parent! We never think as a child what will stay with us and what we’ll pass on, if we’re lucky, to our own children. I remember distinctly where this was written – in a café on the Isle of Skye, watching a boy and his dad skimming stones in early evening sunshine underneath the Kyle Of Lochalsh bridge.”

Sixer
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T – The Thief Of Time 

Harry says: “This is all about musicality. You’ve never lived until you’ve sat in on a session that just…takes off! There’s no other feeling like it. Music is important to me in so many ways and I think the best poems sing to you in a way that’s difficult to capture on paper. I also tried hard with this one to make it really tight – each line is either 7 or 8 syllables long. Also, although on first reading, it may appear to be a freeform poem, in actual fact every line in the 2nd stanza is a perfect rhyme with its corresponding line in the 1st – go on, check it out!”

The Thief Of Time
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U – The Uncrowned Queen Of St Kilda 

Harry says: “St Kilda has long held a fascination for me and among the poems I’ve written about it, I think this is probably my favourite. This is about a real woman who in her youth was known as the Queen of St Kilda, due to her stunning looks. By the time the island was evacuated in 1930 she was an old lady and had great difficulty in adapting to life in a city. The islanders didn’t really use money, so her offers of trying to pay for goods by barter – she’d offer up a pair of knitted socks for food, for instance – were met with much amusement. The story of the islanders is well documented elsewhere but it’s a goldmine for anyone interested in humanity – or evolution for that matter! I know of one descendent from there who broke his ankle and the surgeon had never seen an ankle joint like it. Over generations the people – whose chief food source was sea birds and their eggs, which were only reachable by climbing perilous cliffs – had evolved so that the requisite bones were all double jointed.” 

The Uncrowned Queen Of St Kilda
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V – The Visitation

Harry says: “This was written after a conversation heard third hand about someone who had grown up in Ireland, where it was traditional for families to visit homes where someone had died, where they’d sit, reminisce and drink tea with the bereaved. As part of this, the child was always expected to kiss the corpse in the coffin and so – some may say understandably – used to hide beneath the table! So this is written from the child’s point of view – all written in rhyme and utilising the best Irish brogue I can muster!”

The Visitation
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W – The Whales

Harry says: “I tend to try and have faith in people and their motives, without that where would we be? But sometimes you see the news – or worse, pick up a newspaper – and you just despair. This is one of those. One of those times where you wonder at the mess we are making of the planet. But one day we will no longer be around and I’m confident whales will still be here with their different lives and timeclocks, patrolling the globe in slow-slow time.”

The Whales
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X – Sweary Mary

Harry says: “Ok, here’s the deal: I only have 2 poems starting with X and they’re both really short! So here’s the warning – this poem is in the X category because it’s very, very sweary! Ask for this and you get funny – but possibly offensive – filth…”

Sweary Mary
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Y – Yes!

Harry says: “Ah, how to write about love without going all slushy? Not easy when you’re a working class Northern lad. Better to keep it quite brief, be funny/tender and throw in plenty of rhyme.”

Yes!
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Z – The Zookeeper 

Harry says: “A somewhat furious comment on the vile behaviour of some of those involved in the policing, subsequent cover-ups and newspaper lies concerning the Hillsborough disaster.”

The Zookeeper
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