Issue 20: Peter Robinson


Hôtel Beaubourg

        ‘Paris change …’

        Charles Baudelaire

What with the quickly flowing Seine

a muddy snow-melt flood,

there’s no more sleeping under bridges

in the shadow of Notre Dame;

so cold, it is, gargoyles spit ice,

the scent of urine and Gitanes

washed away by years, by the swollen Seine;

but those rough sleepers, they remain

though I’m no longer with them

in, for example, Rue du Temple

bundled up on a cardboard mattress,

dans le Métro, or the pouring rain –

as if what a lifetime changes,

it changes and yet keeps the same.


        i.m. Geoff Ellis

There’s something about the light this morning

I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss –

as when twin towers’ and stained glass windows’

ashen stone was tinted rose

briefly by a dusk at Paris,

or the storm-light round a café awning

tormented by late squalls in the Marais …

No, I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss

today’s dawn, like a shepherd’s warning;

it sweeps low clouds of purple-grey

across those higher white ones

tinted pink too by the sun’s

emergence behind scratched winter boughs

with turquoise patches and some blues …

No, I wouldn’t have wanted you to miss this.


Caught by a flak-pocked European sky,

blacked out, overcast in fear,

when only a boy I would imagine

as if it were a love affair

my father in the Westland 'Lizzie’

his mother hadn’t let him fly;

but there were peaches, pears and grapes

‘somewhere in Sicily’ in '43

and reading your airgraphs, dad, what I see

is a steel helmet ‘always full’ of lemons …

Your memories, then, would tease me out

from a fed imagination, drawn

despite the stony smell of death

at village-square memorials

because they too, the martyred dead,

had the mind of Europe in their bones.

Norway Foam

        for Charles Ivan Armstrong

Out for some air on a farther shore

past homes restored to pristine whiteness,

bargeboard houses in Kristiansand,

I hear gulls’ raucous morning chorus.

Haven glints fill each cross-street end.

Away, at last, beyond the embrace

of Tynemouth’s north and south pier,

a breath from the Skagerrak bending us

by moorings and communal wharfs

to a fort that fired on the English once,

here too are shrill, exilic voices …

Hark at them, over Norway foam,

this long-imagined strand, its random

glimpses of their home from home.

At Dieppe

Then on the harbour wall, Dieppe,

after driving through a night

to cross the European plain, non-stop,

arrived here, now, a couple’s

quarrel at this Channel port

comes to seem the sum of it –

like they had never loved at all

in their doomed marriage (oh no, don’t tell me)

or ruined love affair …

Dog-tiredness aggravates the quarrel,

and I can only look aghast, aware

it’s better to have loved and lost

(as the poet had it)

especially when that good as hurts us all.

Doomed Marriage

River redoubling round to embrace them

and in different tongues construed,

the newly-married enter sunlight

beyond town bounds, on crisp-laid snow,

and dazzling hopes enliven eyes

tender to relatives as they’re about to go …

Mountains fading into parlous distance,

nothing but an outline, a lacustrine sunset

or Adige and hills implied, see, love’s

been driven from the better or worse

robbing them both of a promised release

in one another’s tried embrace.

Threatened by currencies of words and coin

and called upon to make some reparation,

to pay again what you had paid before,

these stretches of imagination come

over love’s distances none could cover,

a belated epithalamium!

Currency Issues

        ‘ … mordaci velut icta ferro

        pinus aut impulsa cupressus Euro …’

        Horace, Odes IV, 6

But then fear-project calculations,

how they flourish their designs

when money like an antique wind,

a lingua franca from beyond

the Alps, now alters its direction,

comes troubling the cypresses

and gnaws at ranks of pines;

it passes on indebtedness

to bankrupt others, save its own,

and in this smoke wind raises, this

raining all the time, you know

who’ll have to fund those losses

costing the here and now.

An Evening's Red

Then just think: clouds in a sunset

diffusing red-rimmed light

might comment on the pressed commuters

taken backwards down these lines

enclosed in the green, Great Western,

nostalgic livery.

This charged dusk tone at springtime

flashes equivocal signs

off west-facing windows

on trackside glass developments

sandwiched in between failed firms’

whitewashed brick façades...

It grants an odd solidity

to hillside grass and copse;

then goes, as if this edge of Europe’s

Cimmerian, sunset lands

were bringing down the curtain 

on all our misplaced hopes.

England in 2019

Even as the hollyhocks will still grow tall,

lattice-work fencing need to be replaced,

bottle banks choke, the rose petals fall

across walls double-edged graffiti has defaced,

still the people’s will will have been done

and dusted, somehow, rain, it will still rain

from storm-clouds upon our fainting country, sun

pick out brick courses, into the bargain.

From a muddy spring, the mud will invite them,

rulers, managing interminable wars,

to reverse engineer a continental system—

spiting faces, beggaring the neighbours…

Then, as deficits mount, some phantom may

burst to illumine our chilly, real day.

Peter Robinson is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press. His recent publications are Collected Poems 1976-2016 (Shearsman, 2017) and The Sound Sense of Poetry (CUP, 2018). A new poetry collection called Ravishing Europa is due from the Worple Press in March 2019.