Issue 25: Peter Robinson

Five Poems

for Andrew McDonald

Andrew McDonald painting


Like a paper cape, a poncho

made of newsprint, printed matter,

the words and images floating through

bright patchworks are collaged in one

aerial view of a floral abstraction.

Blue rider-less horse by its peonies

negotiates a maze or two, and these

shades tell their own stories.

This fragile art object’s so easily torn,

so hard to display, you lay it out on

your drip-enlivened studio floor

and there it lies, a secret garden,

replete with messages, half painted over,

however contemplated or worn.


Horseback traveller paused a moment

turning to the sunset glow

through Roman campagna, how it meant

harmed lives reconciled within me …

But, Andrew, you were having none of it,

saying you couldn’t stand that yellow

in a Jan Both I had found

at the Dulwich Picture Gallery –

and I was thrown back on myself

wondering what got into you,

my stay against confusion judged

by another light not seen on land or sea.



Though the heart of play is ludicrous,

art’s faun-like, Dionysian,

your master of the gay saber.

For at the heart of play is this

stress, distress, the boys’ day carp

swollen, streaming in a breeze.

Then there’s a central tenderness

as with some free-form pottery,

the chance-glazed kneaded clay …

and here’s this same expression

in words to a philologist,

phlogiston, something I might say

mid-flow, mid-conversation.



Umbilical rocks, those six brown boulders,

high-lit, floating on their shadows

over a grey and viridian ground,

they’re connected together by the darker thread …

But how ever did they get here?

What must have been said?


With hot light cutting through leafage,

that red eye amidst thick jungle

verdure’s like a cannon fired,

last minute, by Turner on Varnishing Day.

It comes as mute nostalgia

for native landscape, boxed away.

But is it then a threat or promise?

You couldn’t say.


Certainly, through ultramarine,

a great white cloud above the land

shines out as if from another scene;

yet now, in all that wind,

the moor has turned to waves; beyond,

is there parched heath or strand?

Then could that cloud be surf,

or the deep sky, sea?



Home is where the paintings are,

as I wrote in your epithalamium.

Then even if I Think I’m Banned

might well be turned face to the wall,

yours, with a parrot by Edward Lear,

they’re on display back from the door.

Still, given nobody can live

their lives like they were finished art

and you wouldn’t want to have it found

in the attic, a picture of Dorian Gray,

let’s live with art as best we can,

a valentine for Sylvia, a birthday.

Andrew McDonald circular painting

Peter Robinsons 2020 publications are a sequence for poems, Bonjour Mr Inshaw, from Two Rivers Press, and the literary criticism Poetry and Money: A Speculation from Liverpool University Press. The Personal Art: Essays and Reviews is due from Shearsman Books in 2021. He is a Professor of Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.

Copyright © 2021 by Peter Robinson, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.