John Clare born 13 July 1793: 225 years ago today, 2018


clare painting  It is quite amazing that a poet who was recognised by many of his peers of the day, only briefly by his public at large, sank almost out of sight for a hundred years before climbing in stature to a pre-eminent position amongst poets some of whom surpassed him in his lifetime; and is now studied at A level plus degree level and researched widely.

The likes of Burns (with whom Clare felt a close affinity), Byron, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Keats, Shelley and many others of his day may have retained their fame but none have grown in stature over the centuries as has Clare.

Born to an agricultural labourer family in Helpston.  Educated at the local village school, he was a promising child who might have gone further as an apprentice but Clare found the rigour of such indoor work confining and seems to have needed the freedom of an outdoor life.   He became a ploughboy.  He found the poetry of Thompson and the work of Robert Bloomfield and his eye and brain turned to poetry.  Not only that but also taking on his father’s interest in playing the fiddle and folk songs.

As well as roaming the countryside for  between or during working hours, he became a collector of folk songs, learnt to play the fiddle, gained knowledge of gypsy music from visiting their camps.  Taught himself to read and write music by reading music scores of tunes he knew so he could  record the tunes he gathered.   And wrote many poems as ‘songs’ for those tunes.    I haven’t read that he wrote any new music, just collected what he heard.   Travellers he met, drovers too, would have brought music from such as Scotland and other regions, in the way that music travels even today.  Many happy hours seem to have been spent working as a pot-man at the Blue Bell Inn or just whiling away the hours with drinking, fiddling and song.  These seem to have been sunny times for him, maybe helping lift his spirits.

john clare statue

statue of Clare in too-large overcoat for his 4foot6 height. Given to him originally to hide his even poorer clothing.

One reason why he has become so well known may be that there is still so much to be discussed and discovered about the man.       He was not highly educated, at a village school, though recommended as a very able student by the master.  He was and continued to be, an avid reader and self-educating along the way in the wide range of books he could borrow or buy.  At one point he had a whole library to select from where he worked as a gardener for a while.   You may say he was unfortunate in his life for all the hardships he had to endure.  The stress of poverty and physical hardship caused an eventual breakdown in his health and mind.

But we must remember that with a mind as sharp as his, we can see decisions that he made for himself.  They may have been wrong at times, pride, unwillingness to change, and an element of diffidence or inferiority that held him back.  I suspect a serious aspect for him was his (in)ability to support his family within the constraints of the work available to his small stature whilst maintaining his growing believe in himself as a poet.  He had some small success on being published but not in volume or as income.  A degree of fame without income was draining mentally, physically and also financially.

His family was supported to move to Northborough a very few miles from his village of Helpston but this was a difficult move for him personally and may have added to his slipping mental health.  However this move did produce a whole raft of writing recently published as the ‘ Northborough Sonnets’

His years in asylums where his mental health was in difficulty actually produced some of his best poetry.  Poetic form was in his blood and it is thankful that he was allowed pen and paper and that these were collected and kept safe.  This was both in High Beech and again in Northampton Asylum after a brief spell of refusing writing materials.  In these years his physical health was much improved, his stress levels most likely lessened by being away from his family.  Though still to some degree because of his separation from family and especially his beloved Helpston environs; and need to be confined within a different, smaller area of grounds.  (Epping Forest would have been an area he could have wandered but had not the fields and fens he loved.). At Northampton, when more settled, he would be allowed to visit the town and often sat in the precinct of All Saint’s Church.

Becoming frail they used a wheelchair for him, enabling him to sit in the asylum grounds. He had a stroke and died shortly after on 20th May 1864.  He was buried at Helpston on 25th May.

clare midsummer cushion

midsummer cushions for Clare on his anniversary from local schoolchildren

His output is put at thousands of poems, large amounts of natural history prose, a brief autobiography, partly written humorous novel and rewriting of verses of the bible.  His writings have been problematical in their ‘deciphering’ and dating put progress has been made in the last few years.  More study will produce more insights and understanding.  No doubt some deeper meanings will be sought from some verse.  In many cases I believe he wrote what he saw, in minute detail, for us all to see. He was not ‘philosophical’ in his writings on nature, perhaps a little, later, in ‘personal’ verse.   He wrote satire too, in scything detail, read The Parish and Don Juan at least for a sharper side to his tongue.  Some say his stature in literature ranks with Shakespeare.  His was a totally different vein to Shakespeare but it is not an idea I have much argument with.

Perhaps I wrote more than I intended but there is so much more to write!  Clare’s poetry should be his memorial.  I usually include lesser known lines where possible and these  later poems, likely from 1860,   are fitting:

The Peasant Poet

He loved the brook’s soft sound,
The swallow swimming by.
He loved the daisy-covered ground,
The cloud-bedappled sky.
To him the dismal storm appeared
The very voice of God;
And when the evening rack was reared
Stood Moses with his rod.
And everything his eyes surveyed,
The insects in the brake,
Were creatures God Almighty made,
He loved them for His sake–
A silent man in life’s affairs,
A thinker from a boy,
A peasant in his daily cares,
A poet in his joy.


To John Clare

Well, honest John, how fare you now at home?
The spring is come, and birds are building nests;
The old cock-robin to the sty is come,
With olive feathers and its ruddy breast;
And the old cock, with wattles and red comb,
Struts with the hens, and seems to like some best,
Then crows, and looks about for little crumbs,
Swept out by little folks an hour ago;
The pigs sleep in the sty; the bookman comes–
The little boy lets home-close nesting go,
And pockets tops and taws, where daisies blow,
To look at the new number just laid down,
With lots of pictures, and good stories too,
And Jack the Giant-killer’s high renown.


I Am

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest- that I loved the best-
Are strange- nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below- above the vaulted sky.


An Evening With John Greening May 2018

An Evening with John Greening.   May 2018

A pleasant evening well spent, within a small audience hosted by Poetry I D (a North Herts poetry group) featuring  John Greening reading examples from his numerous published poetry collections.  Through which he gave us rounded views and experiences of his life via themes ranging from world travels to collaborations, family memories and around his current locale.

Versing through Egypt, briefly America, Iceland, always absorbing the history around him and current influences too.  In, dare I say it, mellow, pleasantly rhythmic styles.  His collaboration with Penelope Shuttle on ‘Heath’ adding a nicely varied voice in selections picking through the history of the area now swamped and overflown by the aircraft and turmoil that now surrounds Heathrow.Airport.

Another interesting concept was the ‘Letters to the War Poets’.  In this John elected to follow the idea with what are essentially prose poems, as letters to well and lesser-known poets of WW1.

What made the evening so successful was his smooth interweaving from his first title, “Threading a Dream” through the various collections with explanations of their place, or rather his place at the time and reason for the verses he had written.  As a prolific  poet he gave us excerpts from long single poems, sample from  a themed, short booklet.  Where he gets the time to write the wide range of material such as plays, book-reviews, editing for collections, judging for poetry prizes as well as a serious love of music (classical, it seems) whilst fitting in bouts of teaching, I can never know.  Did I miss out biography? Maybe other things too.

Among poems I noted were:  Westerners,  Crossing,  Little Gidding,  Red Kites,  Cromwell to his wife Elizabeth,  Heathrow,  Two Roads (from Spectator),  To Robert Nichols,  to Isaac Rosenberg.         There were many others 

A busy man is always busy.  What is true is that John Greening  gives a lot of pleasure either through his numerous public readings, small or large as well as through his writing.   I suspect he enjoys his work……. He easily persuades us that he does, so we too all enjoy his work.

In answer to a question he was asked on ‘the requirements to be a poet’  he emphasized  the words of Seamus Heaney when asked a similar question: “You should always look harder, notice things,” and to another piece of conversation, “be ruthless in editing your work”.  Not forgetting the other vital requirement of “reading your lines out loud, as you write.”  All advice worth taking up!

I may have missed the boat on the latter ( I usually wait until finished)  but all three seem vital in writing poetry and fiction; indeed for all genres of creative writing.

Thanks to John Greening for a generous portion of your time and talent.

Books John Greening read from:     Threading a Dream,   Hunts,    Iceland Spar,  To the War Poets,    Heath,     The Silence (nyp at 25 May 2018),   Knot. 

Three titles cover images are on this page. 

Taking the opportunity to buy his books “Hunts poems1927-2009” was my first choice though I then had to grab at a copy of John Greening’s editing of a collection of Geoffrey Grigson poetry….. more of that anon..


Useful links

I sometimes add links to blogs but realised it would also be  useful to have them plus others on a single page.   They will be added to when I get  a round tuit (as they say) and no doubt may fall off over time.  Most will have links to other sites.   This ought to be a page not a post but it is a start.  Also havent yet checked the links work.  (Oh the shame of amateurism versus enthusiasm).  Many offer similar items such as poetical form but always the one you want.  Usually have examples, which is useful

There are thousands of sites and here but a sample………

All UK based (as far as aware)  unless country noted e.g. USA

blackbox manifold               Current poems and poets, online mag.  Uni. Sheffield site.             USA              A site for students and teachers.  Can be useful as a quick double/check on people and terms.      For full service there is a subscription.

Friends of Dymock Poets       Covers an area of beautiful countryside which attracted poets to live and visit, specifically supporting:  Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Wilfrid Gibson, Edward Thomas

Guardian Poetry page            Regular articles and reviews from this Guardian site.

Ivor Gurney Society               Composer and poet:  often considered a war poet (WW1) but he considered music and song as his priority.

John Clare Society                 John Clare possibly positioned himself as a ‘peasant poet’  for public consumption of the day.  Wrote a huge amount of poetry and natural history notes.   It is now possible to visit Clare’s Cottage in Helpston.

literacyadvisor                        Based in Scotland but a blog that is interesting for teachers, primary plus as information and links that could be useful to all at some time.

literature Wales                      Focused interest, I first looked for inf. on Alun Rees

National Poetry Day             Part of Forward Arts Foundation, see site for full range.

Poetry Book Society              Founded in 1953 by T.S. Eliot and friends

Poetry Foundation                USA:  Putting poetry into American culture.  Publish online poetry magazine.

Poem Hunter                          assumed USA        As it says; good way of finding poets and poems of all description.  Includes audio poems.

poetry pf home page              North London based.  Regular events  and listing of current poets and poems.

Robert Bloomfield Society      poet 1766-1823.  author of  The Farmer’s Boy

Shadow Poetry                         USA:  Another useful site, covering many styles of poetry with examples plus other resources.

The Victorian Web                  a superb site for literature and history et al of the Victorian period

War Poets Association       UK:   A good listing of names and work of War Poets plus relevant events and comments.  Not restricted to  era.   Seems a reasonably new site and likely to be another.  Pleased to see Vernon Scannell listed.

21st March World Poetry Day

A decision to proclaim 21 March as World Poetry Day was adopted during UNESCO’s 30th session held in Paris in 1999.  One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression.

Never sure if this is a relevant excuse for a blog as it might be seen as reinforcing a manufactured event…….  Okay, the UN is a world-wide organisation and looking at the names like UNESCO and WHO, there are huge aims and progress is being made despite the political side-stepping on what should be a ‘family’ progressing the ideals of humanity.

Days can be plucked out of the air, whether they be anniversary of some event, grave or spectacular, commemorating people of national or international importance either to ‘the populace’ or the Arts or Industry or Science.  Somewhere there is probably a national Rain Day, maybe national Sun Day, or some such.

I am not against remembering events and anniversaries whether for nations or cliques but I do find it disappointing that World poetry has to have one day a year to be exalted.  Perhaps I should use the term ‘celebrated’ instead.   That would then give a distinction  over what should be listed as celebration or remembrance.  I have just had another failure in the language of international communication, it seems..

So here I am, back at first base, or is it square one?

21st March is World Poetry Day.

Do I offer English poets’ poems to overseas visitors or pluck some poets from other nations I have found for UK readers?   Choice has to start and finish somewhere so it might as well be this:

I have written  previously on Mike Doyle:  a poet born in England of Irish parents. He served in the navy and settled in New Zealand.  After a few years he moved to  a university in Canada and as was still in Canada a year ago, retired, no doubt..

I had pleasure in writing about Lorna Goodison, poet and artist from Jamaica; currently its Poet Laureate. She works in a Canadian (again) University and commutes between the two (sort of) as well as ‘touring’ her Poetry.

Another poet I have written about is the late Guy Butler, born to a family of early English settlers in South Africa.  He fought in WW2, definitely in Italy and took a degree in England afterwards. He returned to, and stayed in his country of South Africa, (at a university) writing poetry and collecting oral tradition stories from his area of Karoo.

I have read and written on Australian poets, a young men from Uganda and Zimbabwe,, others with roots in the various Caribbean or Africa countries.   Numerous American poets, a sliver of Russian.  My problem is I have no foreign language so have dipped into only a very few  of the translated poets….but I have read ‘translations’ from the Early English of Beowulf and  of Homer et al.; even Villon and some more recent French poet’s translations, so all is not heglected   I intend to find more translations but the range is so vast I just do it in a random fashion for fear of searching alphabetically.

But then I find Welsh poets, Scots, regional ( Notts, Devon etc), all have similar strong veins running through their work.   There is also a poet or two literally down the road who could have a special day, deserve a special day, for some of their work.

Click the tags on the right if you fancy dipping into a variety of poets and poems I have written about.

So, back to the beginning:   21st March is World Poetry Day

And maybe one of the points for this day is to recognize that whatever nation or tribe we may profess to be, we are all human and have marvellously similar thoughts, emotions and ideals of life and who we might be.  Poetry is the art of an oral tradition akin to music  (& song) using language, emotion and imagination to tell a ‘story’.  Film may well have taken the forefront in this tradition but without this language art form, the need for ever-changing poetry, we would not move forward.  Poetry of the inner city, the youth of any country, any place; they are always developing their language.   Oral tradition of everyday living is where it is most alive and to be embraced.

Poetry always has its day, everyday.  We just don’t always hear it.

So, hurrah, it’s World Poetry Day, again!






Shortlist, Costa Poetry Award 2017

Shortlist, 2017 Costa Poetry Award


Moniza Alvi    Poet

Kiran Millwood Hargrave     Author

Nicholas Wroe Guardian Writer and Editor

This (from below my italics) is from the poetry page of Costa, for the results of all shortlists click for link:   Costa Awards 2017 shortlist

Many other links you could choose as alternative, I would also offer the Guardian pages

The main question for me is which title/author  will I plump for reading as I have not read any of the books?  ‘All’  is not a useful answer as I have to start with one and the judges comments guarantee each one needs to be read.

So, its the debut collections first as the poets are new to me.  Next, is it the new take on ‘Nature’ (Useful Verses) to  ride on my long-term interest in said subject or the challenge of race and identity (Kumukanda)   which also ticks a large box despite my being ‘old, white and British’?  …… but it is ‘being an outsider/onlooker’ that marries into both, maybe all poetry……  so maybe for me the interest is also a challenge of  seeing and feeling through other peoples eyes what I cannot expect to really understand but would like to try.                      So Kumukanda, is the one I will   buy and review first


by Kayo Chingonyi     (Chatto & Windus)

Translating as ‘initiation’, kumukanda is the name given to the rites a young boy from the Luvale tribe must pass through before he is considered a man. Kayo Chingonyi’s debut explores this passage: between two worlds, ancestral and contemporary; between the living and the dead; between the gulf of who he is and how he is perceived. Underpinned by a love of music, language and literature, this debut collection is a powerful exploration of race, identity and masculinity, celebrating what it means to be British and not British, all at once.

Kayo Chingonyi was born in Zambia in 1987, and moved to the UK at the age of six. He is the author of two pamphlets, and a fellow of the Complete Works programme for diversity and quality in British Poetry. In 2012, he was awarded a Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, and was Associate Poet at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 2015.

Judges: ‘Energetic, skilled, tender and bold – this is an outstanding collection by a major new talent.’



Inside the Wave     by Helen Dunmore (Bloodaxe Books)

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. Helen Dunmore was a poet, novelist, short story and children’s writer. Her poetry books have been given the Poetry Book Society Choice and Recommendations and won several prizes including the Cardiff International Poetry Prize, the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award and the Signal Poetry Award.  Her poem ‘The Malarkey’ won the 2010 National Poetry Competition.  She published fifteen novels and three books of short stories – most recently, Birdcage Walk in 2017.  She died in June 2017.

Judges: ‘We were all stunned by these breathtaking poems.’


On Balance by Sinéad Morrissey (Carcanet)

Set against a backdrop of ecological and economic instability, Sinéad Morrissey’s sixth collection revisits some of the great feats of human engineering to reveal the states of balance and imbalance that have shaped our history. The poems also address gender inequality and our inharmonious relationship with the natural world. Sinéad Morrissey was born in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She read English and German at Trinity College, Dublin, from which she took her PhD in 2003, and has published five collections including Parallax (2013) which won the T S Eliot Prize. She’s lived in Germany, Japan and New Zealand and lectured in Creative Writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University in Belfast and now lives in Northumberland where she’s Head of the Creative Writing programme at Newcastle University. She’s also Belfast’s inaugural Poet Laureate. Judges: ‘This collection appropriately strikes a balance between technical mastery and range and depth of enquiry.’


Useful Verses by Richard Osmond (Picador)

Richard Osmond’s debut collection follows in the tradition of the best nature writing, being as much about the human world as the natural, the present as the past. Osmond, a professional forager, has a deep knowledge of flora and fauna as they appear in both natural and human history, as they are depicted in both folklore and herbal – but he views them through a wholly contemporary lens. Chamomile is discussed through quantum physics, ants through social media, wood sorrel through online gambling, and mugwort through a traffic cone. In each case, Osmond offers an arresting and new perspective, and makes that hidden world that lives and breathes beside us vividly part of our own. Richard Osmond was born in 1987. He works as a wild food forager, searching for plants, fruits and fungi among the forests and hedgerows of Hertfordshire and co-owns an award-winning wild food pub, The Verulam Arms, in St Albans. He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2017.

Judges: ‘A contemporary, agile and original take on the intersection of the natural and human worlds.’

Category winners announced 2nd Jan. 2018;  main winner announced 30th Jan. 2018.


Poems for April

Poems for April.

April may have been overtaken by May and Spring is now sliding into Summer so apologies for being a laggard.  Or maybe I can claim to be presumptious for 2018!   Another small selection for the seasons covering  700 years.

Short extract of beginning of Prologue to Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer.   Modern translation by Ecker and Crook  (online & published by Hodge and Braddock 1993)…. I would highly recommend this translation of the complete Tales for those in study now or for nostalgia of days studied and how it should really be translated!!

When April’s gentle rains have pierced the drought

Of March right to the root, and bathed each sprout

Through every vein with liquid of such power

It brings forth the engendering of the flower;

When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath has blown

Through every field and forest, urging on

The tender shoots, and there’s a youthful sun,

His second half course through the Ram now run,

And little birds are making melody

And sleep all night, eyes open as can be

(So Nature pricks them in each little heart),

On pilgrimage then folks desire to start.

The palmers long to travel foreign strands

To distant shrines renowned in sundry lands;

And specially, from every shire’s end

In England, folks to Canterbury wend:

To seek the blissful martyr is their will,

The one who gave such help when they were ill.


April Showers                              John Clare

Delightful weather for all sorts of moods

& most for him – grey morn and swarthy eye

Found rambling up the little narrow lane

Where primrose banks amid the hazly woods

Peep most delightfully on passers bye

While Aprils little clouds about the sky

Mottle & freak unto fancy lie

Idling and ending travel for the day

Till darker clouds sail up with cumberous heave

South oer the woods & scares them all away

Then comes the rain pelting with pearly drops

The primrose crowds until they stoop & lie

All fragrance to his mind that musing stops

Beneath the awthorn till the shower is bye

This poem taken from Midsummer Cushion, the manuscript that Clare spent a tremendous amount of time preparing for publication but it  never was in his lifetime.   It took 150 years.   Published by MidNAG &Carcanet in 1978, intro.  by Anne Tibble.    A collection of poems we know selected and ordered by himself makes this a particularly special book.


April                                        Jean Whitfield

I saw into the eye of the month with its moist buds

not quite contained on quivering branches

and an embroidered sky beyond white mazes

of yellow-cream green-shining almost-leaves

mere prickings spinning webs with sunlight

and the wild plum tree hazy with dabs of thick leaf.


A crazy Crow clowned an April trick

balancing a leg a wing a hooded beak

on one slender single-budded branch

bending low with him and springing up

against the sheer cliff-top blue

as the carrion trampolines and grinned gleaming.


Sky is all-at-once a whipped and curling ice-cream sea

with wave-tops flashing peaking into one another

and down here grass reflects its silver in these bending blades

that goldfinches skim on the surface light

and carry its message in their joy lifting and flowing.


April’s music laced with wings rejoices in its murmurings

it is all surprises at the heart of it, is a gift for us

an unfolding of the ceaseless year that is happening again.


I tasted April sharp and clear

a spring of a day bubbling out of the gill

it wet my lips filled my cold throats and flowed

like light lapping tree-tops fresh through me

and my toes shot sparks in the icy dew:

in the warming sun my skin became April.


A poem from ‘Moments’, reprinted by permission of Bakery Press.  Another example of the quality of this poet’s work.