Next-Gen

Jenny von Westphalen & Jenny Lind (both born Johanna). Presumably their J’s were soft.

Next-Gen

Women have answered to ‘Jenny’ far longer than ‘Jennifer’,
Whether they’re maidens or maids –
A pet form of Janet, Joanna, or even Siobhan,
She’s really a jack-of-all-trades.
Old English had a few Jinifers, sure,
But those weren’t Guiniveres, those were Junipers –
Then, from nowhere, Jennifer came –
From Cornwall, and from a parallel universe.

As the Twentieth Century progressed,
The Jennies were pressed into service
And switched their allegiance to Jennifer only,
And rode her success to over-abundance –
Then into the downward curve of redundancy,
No longer heroines, neighbours, or queens –
But surely we’ll always remember the Jennies,
As wrens, or as donkeys, or spinning machines.

Lazy Art

The Master’s Studio by Cesar Santos

Lazy Art

The Impressionists, they started it –
The deliberate eschewing of the details of the waterlilies,
Slapping on the sunflowers, slacking and half-arsing it,
The barmaid blurred by beer-goggles, shorn of intimates and frillies.
The Modernists just loved the concept,
Loved the new permissiveness to never bother with the hard parts,
Far too busy writing manifestos, or just overslept,
To ever stoop to spend the years to learn the graft behind the arts.
Ah, I guess they have their fans, these Abstract-ists of vapour –
And not just money-launderers or the Commie-fighting CIA –
Some might look alright in advertising, or as wallpaper,
When tossed-off in an afternoon of dribbles, nudes and squelching clay.
But then, the public never get to choose who shall be fruitful,
For we must take whichever trends the critics shall annoint.
It’s just…I want my art as something rare and something beautiful,
And not a random find, or shocking ugly, just to make a point.

Oak Apple Day

parasitic tree lurker
Oak Apple Gall Wasp by Milan Zubrick

Oak Apple Day

Little wasp, little wasp,
Laying eggs upon the tree –
Sting the one who would be king,
And sting him once again for me.
Little worm, little worm,
Wriggling in your swollen gall –
Bite the one who’s cowering,
And bite him twice for one and all.

But oh !, you’ve gone and birthed a hornet,
Let loose on us worker bees –
And king or queen, or brutal drone,
They sting the same – just ask the trees !
To rid us of a coronet
Will always leaves behind a gall.
The buttocks mould to fit the throne –
The canker ripens, warts and all.

Working-Class Absolution

Photo by fotografierende on Pexels.com

Working-Class Absolution

White men ran the slave trade, true,
And I’m a man and also white –
But don’t charge me for grievance due,
I played no part in the blight.
While others wreaked this tragedy,
It’s not me, mate, and not my folks –
I come from village farmhands, see,
From ordinary blokes.
While others banked the whole affair,
Or snapped the chain or cracked the whip,
We never owned a single share,
Nor crewed a single ship.
So don’t try laying on the guilt
For crimes my bloodline never did –
The damnable at which you tilt
Were not my fam’ly, kid.
I bear no blemish on my name,
I bear no once-and-future sin –
Don’t think that you can judge my blame
By the colour of my skin.
It’s not me mate, and not my genes,
My hands are clean, my soul is light –
So spare your wrath for dukes and queens,
Not me, mate – get it right !
My ancestors were starved and bruised,
And sometimes even outright killed –
They all were wage-slaves, much abused
By the lords whose lands they tilled.
And so were yours – I get it, I do,
But they’re not you and they’re not me.
But even if my blood were blue,
My conscience would still be free –
For the faults of our great-great-grands back when
Have died with them, and have passed away –
Look, nobody alive back then
Is still alive today.
For none of us in here’s a slaver,
No-one’s whitewashing the trade –
So please, just do us all a favour,
And find a new crusade.

Fish & Physics

Amazonian Guaperva Fish by Francis Willughby (at least, I think he did his own illustrations).

Fish & Physics

Gentle Francis Willughby,
To best of his ability
Has written us a thriller – see,
The History of Fish !
Illustrated lib’rally,
Meticulous and jibber-free –
No charlatan or fibber, he,
But honest, if not swish.
The Royal-dubbed Society
Have praised his work most high and free,
And published with propriety
His dense and hearty dish –
Examining their parity
And countless similarity,
To classify with clarity
Each finble, scule and gish.
His work will lead inex’rably
To Karl Linné’s complexity
And Darwin’s sexy theory
That the bishops try to squish –
Yet mocked in perpetuity,
His book an incongruity,
For lacking the acuity
Of Newton’s masterpiece –
His grandiose Principia,
That makes the heavens trippier
And gravity much nippier,
Is straining for release.
But things are tight financially,
With profits down substantially
And Newton sees his chances flee
Despite the Fellows’ wish –
They cannot foot the bill, you see,
The budget’s blown on Willughby –
But don’t show Frank hostility,
He’s not so queer a fish.

The Merchantman Shanty

detail from Moonlight over the Bosphorus by Edward Hoyer

The Merchantman Shanty

“Work songs were banned in the Royal Navy”
                                                                                    – Capt A. Bakalarka

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval brig,
But there they wouldn’t let me sing
Whene’er we raised the rig

     So we hauled away in silence so,
     We had to heave without a ho,
     We dare not hum a quick-quick-slow
     Or the cat would make us holler.

We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only lubbers sing at sea
     So let all singing go.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval sloop,
But I couldn’t let my whistle ring
Whene’er we swabbed the poop.

     So we scrubbed away in silence, see,
     We had to dumb without a dee,
     We dare not hum a do-re-mi,
     Or the cat would make us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only madmen sing at sea
     So keep your whistle’ing low.

I used to sail with the king, I sailed
On a Royal Naval barque,
But I must not pluck a single string
Till safely after dark.

     So we sailed away in silence, aye,
     We had to hew without a cry,
     Unless the roaring wind was high
     And the cat can’t hear us holler.


We mayn’t disturb his majesty
     With a too-rye-ay and a yo-ho-ho,
For only sirens sing at sea
     So take your singing below.

The lines in roman are sung by the shanty man, the lines in italics are sung by the crew.

The Wages of Sin

Manners & Customs of ye Englyshe in 1849 by Richard Doyle

The Wages of Sin

Thanks, Dick Turpin – what a guy !
Killed a few, but by-the-by.
Thank you Ripper, Jack the Flash –
Take the tour and rake the cash.
Thank you Crippen, bask in fame; –
Morse was made through your good name.
Thank you Shipman, take my breath –
Waxworks beckon, Doctor Death.

Lokomotivy

Lokomotivy

We’ve all heard of the sealed train
That carried the 36 between
Zürich and the Glasbahnhof,
In April 1917.
A couple of ferries and a new suit later,
Tornio station, platform 1,
To catch the sleeper to Petrograd –
And become the prodigal son.
Finnish metals all the way,
On over the swamps and rugged terrain
To the Finland Station and history,
Though no-one thought to note the train .
One is preserved – it may be the one,
But as likely not – we’ll never know.
Those locos were all faithful workers,
Too busy working to stop and crow.

But in the height of August,
Fleeing back the way he came –
Working his passage with a shovel,
Lenin stoked the movement’s flame.
293 – preserved in glass
The only loco we know he rode,
Not that we can blame the pistons
For their unexpected load.
American built, as the century turned,
A proud ten-wheeler, H2-Class,
A broad-gauge beauty, wood-fired boiler,
Black, without that bourgeois brass.
Does it matter ?  Holy relics ?
Lenin was also just a machine
That public anger drove to the station
In the red-heat of 1917.

Quarter Days

book of hours
detail of December from the Très Riches Heures by the Brothers Limbourg

Quarter Days

In March the Ladies have their day,
In June, the Summer’s mid,
And Mickel holds his mass, they say,
In late September, come what may,
Just as he always did.
And then we get to Christmas…
That well known day for paying rents,
And hiring staff, and starting school,
And other secular events
That prove there’s nothing new, alas,
In monetising Yule.

Carol of the Robins

Carol of the Robins

They’re here all year are the robins,
The robins on their rounds,
Delivering their song.
But we barely see all the robins,
Barely hear their sounds
When they’re lost in the throng.
But come the Winter and come the cold,
And go the fairweather flocks –
But the robins are patient, the robins are bold,
As bright as the frost and as red as the fox.
With a whistle they come,
And they sing out the season
And snow cannot stop them from spreading their cheer.
They sing to each other,
They sing for no reason,
But we only hear them at this time of year.

They’re here all year are the robins,
The robins on their rounds,
Delivering their post.
We little think of the robins
Braving rain and hounds,
Till we need them the most –
Then comes the Winter and comes the cold
And on go the jumpers and socks,
And we need them to bring us the red and the gold
On the cards and the parcels they push through our box.
With a whistle they come,
And they bring us the season,
And snow cannot stop them from winging it here.
They come when it’s sunny,
They come when it’s freezing,
But we only see them at this time of year.

As I’ve discussed in another poem, robins are territorial and violent birds. However, they’re also a great source of pleasure to humans. So much so that Victorian postmen with their red waistcoats were nicknamed robin redbreasts and soon Christmas cards were featuring them in both human and allegorical avian form.

And when I suggest that the robins ‘sing for no reason’, I am aware fully aware of the many uses that their song serves, but there is increasing evidence that occassionally birds really might just sing for the fun of it.