The HyperTexts

John Whitworth (1945-2019)

We deeply regret to inform our readers that John Whitworth died on April 20, 2019 after a long illness, at age 73. We we were able to put this tribute page together with help from poets who knew and admired him, so our thanks to them.

John Whitworth was born on December 11, 1945 in Nasik, near Bombay, India, to Hugh Whitworth and Elizabeth (née Boyes). His father was a District Collector in the Indian Civil Service. The family returned to Britain in 1947 and lived in London before moving  to Edinburgh in 1955, where Hugh worked in the Scottish Office. John was educated at James Gillespie's High School and the Royal High School, then at Merton College, Oxford, where he earned an MA and a B  Phil in English Literature. After graduation he taught a master class at the University of Kent, tutored foreign students, taught Creative Writing, and conducted poetry workshops and readings in hundreds of primary schools.

The last we heard, John was living in Canterbury with his wife Doreen Roberts, who also taught at Kent, and their daughters Ellie and Katie.

John began writing poetry at Oxford. He was the author of ten collections of his own poetry, most recently Joy in the Morning (Kelsay, 2016). He also wrote a book about writing poetry—cleverly titled Writing Poetry (A&C Black, 2001)—and was the editor of the anthology Making Love to Marilyn Monroe: The Faber Book of Blue Verse (Faber, 2006). His work appeared in Chimaera, Desperado Literature, First Things, The Flea, Forbes, The Hudson Review, The HyperTexts, The Independent, Light, The  Literary Review, The New Criterion, New Poetry, Peacock Journal, Poem Today, Poetry Review, Quadrant, Qualm, Shit Creek Review, Southword, The Spectator, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. His poems were broadcast on the BBC, for whom he also appeared in various poetry programs. In 2007 his poem "The Examiners" placed second in the Times Literary Supplement's poetry contest, judged by Wendy Cope. "He once won £5,000 for a single poem. Listen and marvel." How could Ogden Nash claim there's no money in poetry?

John also won the Cholmondeley Award and numerous other prizes over the years. He was a judge for the ninth Poetry on the Lake Competition, in 2009. He read at the Lamar University and at the ninth annual Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival, in 2012

The late Les Murray described John Whitworth as a "master of metrical whigmaleerie" and said his poems were as "as smart and full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes."

John's obituary in the Telegraph described his poetry as "vigorous, accessible, and often characterised by a delightful silliness." But John also wrote in a "darker and more serious vein" that often ran "beneath the apparently light-hearted surface tone as he explored more disturbing territory." The Telegraph also noted something I have noted myself: the power of "ritual incantation" that throbs in some of his most popular poems, including "The Examiners."

John once described himself as "one of those fattish, baldish, backward-looking, provincial poets in which England is so rich (perhaps too rich)." To quote the Telegraph again, John "was extremely well-read but his wit was often throwaway, his learning lightly worn."

John has been described as a "committed formalist" and I don't think he would disagree with that description. In fact, he once said, "I write in rhyme and metre because ... because that is what I do. That is the way poetry presents itself to me. I can't write it any other way. I'm not at all sure I would want to, but even if I did want to I couldn't." However, we did get John to admit that he wrote free verse and even persuaded him to let us publish some of the evidence, which you can find on this page.

While it's just my personal opinion, for whatever that may be worth, I think John Whitworth may have been the absolute best contemporary poet at what I take to have been his wheelhouse: madcap musical satires that verge on the incantatory, like "The Examiners," the wonderfully sacrilegious "God Squad," and "Them There Out There In Here Right Now." All can be read on this page, and really should be. John was good at other kinds of poetry as well, but those are the poems that leap to mind whenever I hear his name mentioned.—Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

Related Pages: First Interview with John Whitworth, Second Interview with John Whitworth (the "God Squad" Interview), John Whitworth Writes Free Verse: "Thinking the Unthinkable"

Introduction by T. Merrill:

John Whitworth is a rather prolific British poet with nine books of poetry out (and a tenth forthcoming), one verse anthology, an autobiography still in the works and a book on writing poetry now in its second edition.

Never averse to seeing his verse turn a profit, between poetry contest triumphs and frequent publication in paying journals he has amassed quite a pot, close to $9000 thus far, one of the more recent clinks in his jar coming from The London Times Literary Supplement, where he took the silver in a contest they were sponsoring.

He has enjoyed frequent publication in Quadrant, an Australian poetry journal whose editor, Les Murray, he regards as a poet of the first order and one of the best writing anywhere today. The admiration is likely mutual.

Widely published at home as well as Down Under, John is now eyeing the American poetry market and hoping to take it by storm. A Category 5 could perhaps prove useful.

John is a straight-talking poet who expresses his views unapologetically and with considerable verve. Clear, direct, and quite decided, he has no use for the sort of poetry that revels in amorphousness, "that dreadful formless way invented by Walt Whitman and carried on by so many boring old farts (and young farts) who think they are God," as he puts it with characteristic delicacy and finesse in an entertaining interview with Paul Stevens that can be looked up at The Chimaera, an internet poetry site where he is currently the spotlighted feature poet.

It would be safe to say that he does not subscribe to the catechism of the Church of The Latterday Poets, with its mandatory dress code and ubiquitous drab uniformity. And no wonder, considering his admitted and obvious passion for rhythm and rhyme, and perhaps for a poetry more in the ancestral mold, or at least bearing a greater resemblance to the preponderance of historic examples. But if he would like to see the art stay more in tune with its past, he still might agree, as a self-declared Wallace Stevens fan, that not every departure from the customary constructions is bound to disappoint, and that now and then, when the source is authentic, something quite singular and different might even steal the show.

An Oxonian whose poetry career began at Merton College, Oxford, with some early love effusions, all long since lost or unceremoniously consigned to oblivion, he now lives with his wife and two daughters in the UKCanterbury to be precise, which first erupted onto the English stage with Chaucer's gassy Tales, then later became Anglicanism's more decorous seat—and just keeps writing. While he does not expect his obsolete poetic flair to make him rich and famous, if he keeps going at the present rate, he may need a new cookie jar to hold all his winnings, and may at least keep laughing on his way to the bank.

The Examiners

Where the house is cold and empty and the garden's overgrown,
They are there.
Where the letters lie unopened by a disconnected phone,
They are there.
Where your footsteps echo strangely on each moonlit cobblestone,
Where a shadow streams behind you but the shadow's not your own,
You may think the world's your oyster but it's bone, bone, bone:
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They can parse a Latin sentence; they're as learned as Plotinus,
They are there.
They're as sharp as Ockham's razor, they're as subtle as Aquinas,
They are there.
They define us and refine us with their beta-query-minus,
They're the wall-constructing Emperors of undiscovered Chinas,
They confine us, then malign us, in the end they undermine us,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

They assume it as an impost or they take it as a toll,
They are there.
The contractors grant them all that they incontinently stole,
They are there.
They will shrivel your ambition with their quality control,
They will desiccate your passion, then eviscerate your soul,
Wring your life out like a sponge and stuff your body down a hole,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

In the desert of your dreaming they are humped behind the dunes,
They are there.
On the undiscovered planet with its seven circling moons,
They are there.
They are ticking all the boxes, making sure you eat your prunes,
They are sending secret messages by helium balloons,
They are humming Bach cantatas, they are playing looney tunes,
They are there, they are there, they are there

They are there, they are there like a whisper on the air,
They are there.
They are slippery and soapy with our hope and our despair,
They are there.
So it's idle if we bridle or pretend we never care,
If the questions are superfluous and the marking isn't fair,
For we know they're going to get us, we just don't know when or where,
They are there, they are there, they are there.

Nil Carborundum

You must never let the bastards grind you down.
Like a comic when he’s funny,
Like Ibiza when it’s sunny,
Like an egg that’s nice and runny,
Like a bee collecting honey,
Like a banker stealing money,
Just remember, you’re a loser when you frown,
And never let the bastards grind you down.

You must never let the bastards grind you down.
Like a ghost that glooms and glimmers,
Like a fairy when she shimmers,
Like a ghoulash when it simmers,
Like the prayers and the hymmers,
Like a shark devouring swimmers,
Do remember you’re a hippy-happy clown,
And never let the bastards grind you down.

You must never let the bastards grind you down.
Like the magic of the random,
Like a solid silver tandem,
Like temptations when you’ve shunned ‘em,
Go repeat nil carborundum,
And remember you’re the toast of all the town,
If you never let the bastards,
Those insinuating bastards,
Yes, you never, never, never let the bastards grind you down.

Author’s note: Nil carborundum (illegitimis) is dog Latin, on the pattern of genuine Latin nil desperandum (do not despair). The derivation is (well, of course it is) from the British Army in the Second World War. A carborundum stone is used for sharpening knives and (presumably) bayonets. I have one in my garage – a carborundum stone not a bayonet.

God Squad

A toast to God the Daddy, a toast to God the Son,
And one more toast to God the Ghost, the Holy Three-in-one.

We are the sheep the blessed sheep the Shepherd has selected.
We walked the walk and talked the talk and got ourselves elected,

And now we stroll the holy hills, Eternity before us.
The Heavens ring as angels sing a Hallelujah chorus,

While, miles and miles below us, yawn the smoking pits of Hell
Where Satan and his horrid band in deep damnation dwell.

We are the blessed sheep, the blessed Bible-bashing winners,
And Paradise is twice as nice when you can see the sinners.

My brother writhes in agony, all chopped and charred and chewed up.
It serves him right the little shite. He had his chance and screwed up.

I told you so, I told you so, I told you so in spades.
You can't succeed; your bum will bleed if you don't get the grades.

It ain't no fun, relig-i-on, no drinking, smoking, whoring,
All Sunday suits and creaky boots, respectable and boring.

We paid the price, said no to vice, which tested our endurance,
And now we get the pay-off and collect on our insurance.

Hell glitters like a carousel that's turning, turning, turning.
The fate of goats who got their oats is everlasting burning.

I am a saint, who says I ain't? And every saint in bliss is
Embraced by virgin martyrs chaste, who smother him with kisses.

So here's to God the Daddy, God the Son and God the Fairy,
The Cherubim, the Seraphim and Holy Mother Mary.

Life at Eighty

This world of dew is but a world of dew. And yet. And yet.
                                                                             — Basho.

I like to loaf, I like to laugh; I like to read the Telegraph;
I buy it at the student rate, it tells me of affairs of state;
And on the state I meditate: I am a wise old fellow.

I potter in a world of prose; grandchildren tell me how it goes.
They drink and disco at the club; I soak for hours in the tub,
Careen my carcass, scrub-a-dub: I am a hale old fellow.

I mutter when I do not shout; in welly boots I splash about;
I walk on rainy afternoons; I dine on cauliflower and prunes,
And never mess my pantaloons: I am a clean old fellow.

A television haruspex; I like the violence, hate the sex;
I comb the Oxfam shops for togs; the country's going to the dogs,
I chart it all in monologues: I am a stern old fellow.

The doctor gives me coloured pills to cure me of my various ills,
My smoker's cough, my writer's stoop, my lecher's eye, my brewer's droop,
My belly like a cantaloupe: I am a sad old fellow.

A world of dew. And yet. And yet a world not easy to forget;
I cannot let it pass me by; I stop and look it in the eye;
And, as you see, I versify: I am a game old fellow.

Them There Out There In Here Right Now

There's a tickle in your nostrils like the turning of the milk,
There's a swish across your fingers like the whimpering of silk,
Like the flutters of a death's head, like the squitters of a mouse;
You can feel them in the lobby, you can feel them in the house,
There's a flickering of faces, there's a bristling of hair,
At the elbow of a passage, at the winding of a stair,
       Till you feel them everywhere
              In the air.
                     Yes, you feel them everywhere.

Pitter-patter like the creeping of the waves across the stones,
You can trace the gothic filigree of tiny little bones,
Trace their frettings with your fingers on the velvet of the dark;
Trace their restless to-and-froing like the swimming of a shark,
To-and-froing in their going like a prowling picaroon
In a wilderness of starlight on the deserts of the moon,
       And they'll be here very soon
              How they croon 
                     They'll be here so very soon.

They are swarming in the dawning, there's no turning of the tide.
They are homing through the gloaming and you've nowhere left to hide.
They are swinging from the cornice, they are sliding down the sill.
Have they come to do you good or have they come to do you ill?
As they whisper at the window, as they mutter at the door,
With a scrabbling down the chimney and a squeezing through the floor,
       Till you're theirs for evermore;
              It's for sure
                     That you're theirs for evermore.

Love & Sex & Boys in Showers

A free book enclosed with Bliss magazine is Love & Sex & Boys in Showers.

Wishing, wondering, thinking, talking,
Is it Medicine? Is it Smarties?
Difficult, like tightrope walking?
Easy, like a broken heart is?
Where the sea along the shore moans,
Hear the humming of the hormones,
Messages of meeting, parting,
Is it worth the grief of starting?
Can the sweets outweigh the sours?
Love & Sex & Boys in Showers.

Suppose I let him go too far, but
Just how far is that precisely?
Suppose we do it in the car, but
After will he treat me nicely?
Everything I want's illicit,
Adult, sexually explicit.
When he stuns me with his kisses,
Sweet as Sugar, bold as Bliss is,
Will I savour them for hours?
Love & Sex & Boys in Showers.

Steamy dreams of saltlick shoulders,
Peach-fuzz thighs and silky bottom.
Hearts have reasons. They're as old as
Time. I swear I think I've got 'em.
Shy and shyer, fond and fonder,
There, where ocean meets blue yonder,
Skinnydips on desert island,
Wisechild wideness of his smile and
Lotus blossoms, passion flowers,
Love & Sex & Boys in Showers.

Princesses are racked and gloomy,
Fated, dated, triste and tragic.
Lose a few and draw a few my
Life's like football. Football's magic.
Choose the time, the place, the weapons.
Karma's just the shit that happens,
Everything we have is ours,
We've got paranormal powers,
Princesses are shut in towers,
Love & Sex & Boys in Showers.

Reading of the Bones

The tiny bones of children in a cupboard,
The ghost of Garbo knitting in the chair
Beside your bed, the rocking of the eggshells,
Descending dust that glitters on the air,
The severing of connections in your brain with
The teeth that crumble and the gums that bleed,
The broken promises, the stopping train with
The sailing times you know you'll never need,

The dreams you can't remember when you wake up,
The days you can't remember when you drink,
The drink before the rows before the break up,
The pills you should have emptied down the sink,
The severing of connections in your brain with
The teeth that crumble and the gums that bleed,
The scrubbing brush you can't remove the stain with,
The nightdress tangled in the waterweed.

The sly insinuation of the razor,
The buzzing of the beetle in the wall,
The hidden laws that govern random numbers,
The fear before the pride before the fall,
The severing of connections in your brain with
The teeth that crumble and the gums that bleed,
The fingernails recovered from the drain with
The seven smuggled kilograms of speed,

The purring of the tiger in the attic,
The chattering of the scorpion in the box,
The roaring of the madman in the tunnel,
The intermittent ticking of the clocks,
The severing of connections in your brain with
The teeth that crumble and the gums that bleed,
The killer disappearing through the rain with
The cipher message nobody can read,

The tiny bones of children in your sandwich,
The boring of the beetle in your head,
The everlasting crunching of the numbers,
The endless conversations with the dead.

Jenny Jefferey: A Topographical Love Song

Jenny Jefferey! I loved you with a lonely passion when
With our turned-up raincoat collars, and our Woodie packs of ten,
Our lot drank Skol Lager in Milne's Bar and hoped we looked like men;
Sixth Year Mafia out,
Ten o'clock demands a carry-out,
Quarter vodka and six cans of Stout.
Pies and puddings at the 'Deep Sea', Forty-four to Dickie's place and
Three-card-brag to Stevie Wonder, till the session with a basin,
Dizzy in the wee small hours, well hung-over but unchastened.

Merton College Freshmen's Photograph for 1963,
Front row, fourth left, with the little boy expression—Hey, that's me!
Who was randier or unhandier in the university?
Margaret got too pissed,
Big Anne was a therapist.
Chrissie Briggs was prettiest.
Sad, short-sighted Chrissie from Saint Anne's, I kept on having tea with,
Louche Drusilla with her super boots, I failed at getting free with.
Oh Jenny, Jenny, Jenny, it was you I longed to be with.

True Brit on the bum in Paris—bloody Frogs, no bloody fun.
'Viens au pub!' 'Le Winston Churchill!' 'Quat' bouteilles de Worthington!'
Dismal Welshmen in Montmartre canonise their Barry John.
Jenny on the steps at Orly,
Jenny but I miss you sorely,
Jenny now the wind bites rawly.
'Bien emmerdé!' where the third day scours our Boul' Mich' with its rain,
Where the harlequin umbrellas cruise about the Madeleine,
Where at Quai d'Orsay a grey September weeps along the Seine.

And the Bruntsfield 'Copper Kettle'—duffle-coated gossip gleaner,
And the Forth Bridge in the starlight—hiccupy in a Cortina,
And the brine-soaked dunes at Gullane, lissom as a ballerina,
Every Edinburgh view,
Jenny that I scarcely knew,
Every silly postcard redolent of you.
Mordant verse is my defence, sweet Jenny, so your ghost be laid.
Just your ghost, alas, your ghost, when I, from Waverley's soot shade,
Climb to morning's pallid hauteur, breaking on the Esplanade.

Lindsay Paterson

It was the age of O levels, acne and cig machines,
Girls strangely bare of body hair in Nature magazines,
Radio Lux on 2-0-8 with Buddy Holly on,
A razor twice a week, and Love, and Lindsay Paterson

It was that Summer Term I went most evenings to rehearse
The Dramsoc play, a fatuous burlesque in doggerel verse,
With cloak and tights, with boots and sword, with beard and Number 9,
And Export Ale in quiet saloons and heady Wild Woodbine.

And Lindsay, expert on Fresnals and Floods and Spots and Jellies.
He had a Fair Isle jumper and a pair of cut-down wellies,
And sticking plaster on his hands, and candour on his face.
I loved him for his innocence, I loved him for his grace,

I loved his slow simplicity, because he was not clever.
I wanted to be close to him for ever and for ever,
Just to be close. To talk. Or not to talk. Just to be there
With him. I touched his hand once, and once ruffled his hair.

JW: Well. It's done. And I half enjoyed typing the things up. I hope you know woodies and woodbines are cheap cigarettes. The other brand were Players Weights, immortalised by Betjeman.

The Disappearance of Jack Moon

I hope you know that 'nous' is Greek, meaning 'common sense', and is pronounced as it has to be for the rhyme scheme. You didn't know? Well you know now.

A boy by candlelight invents a house,
Unrolls a corridor, unwinds a stair;
Something runs horny fingers through his hair,
The insistent patterings might not be a mouse;
Far, far below they're playing Johann Strauss,
Mumsie's still dancing and she doesn't care,
Jack Moon's gone AWOL? That's his own affair,
The WILFUL boy, no notions and no nous!
Poor lamb, he's brave, not brainy, he's the sort
(He's got that solid, stubborn English look)
Can't tell the lie, won't ever read the book,
Or back down from the fight, or think the thought.
He builds his house from bricks not gingerbread,
No monsters gender in that empty head.

No monsters gender in that golden head
Though Mumsie stuffed it full of witchy lore:
Shapes in the dark are shapes and nothing more,
Whisperings just the wind and nothing said,
Corridors open on no nameless dread,
(He roams from room to room, from floor to floor)
There is no murderer behind that door,
Those presses are not heavy with the dead.
Just books, old books (He wrinkles up his nose);
There's nothing here smells half as sweet as he does,
Now hairs along his neck begin to stiffen,

Hairs on his pretty neck begin to stiffen.
Climb one more staircase, Jack, climb round and round,
This tower's two hundred feet above the ground.
Whuffling, snuffling, wheezing, sneezing, sniffing,
The interminable swish of silk and chiffon.
An alcove, then a door that's iron bound,
Climb up, climb up, Jack, listen for the sound:
Step in, my lovey-pie, it's time for tiffin,
There's marmite sandwiches, I've set the place,
Seven on Eight, Put up the King of Thieves,
Drink up your tea then we can read the leaves,
King on the Queen of Skulls, put up the Ace.
Far, far below they're playing Johann Strauss
But Jack will never, never leave the house.


I thought a palinode was an ode about something that happened way back, but actually it is an ode where you retract something you said previously, which, by a happy coincidence, still fits.

I used to like the Rolling Stones. I think
I liked the way they used to shake and shout.
I used to like to dope but now I drink
To cope without the dope I do without.

I used to like to hate the middlebrow;
Middle-class-England, middle-of-the-road.
I'd make the very devil of a row;
I was an intellectual little toad.

I think I thought I didn't give a damn.
I think a lot of what I thought was crap.
I think the real me, the me I am,
No sweat (you bet)'s a better sort of chap.

I used to think I liked what now I never.
I used to like what drives me up the wall.
I used to think I was so bloody clever
And now I never think a-bloody-tall.

Down Oz

I knew what I knew
And I knew it was you
With the eyes of a child and a heart untrue,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz when times were wild.

I thought what I thought
And I thought of the sort
Of guys who hung round your beach resort,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz when the world was young.

I had what I had
And I had it bad,
So I needed the dough and it made me mad,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz a life ago.

I said what I said
And I said to the Head
Of the Polizei how his boy was dead,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz when stakes were high.

I did what I did
And I did for the kid
For a case of booze and a thousand quid,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz with nothing to lose.

We are what we are
And we are, ha-ha,
Ashes that fall from the big cigar,
Because, because
Of the way it was
Down Oz when love was all.

Morocco Bound

The last line of the chorus rightly belongs to Bing Crosby in 'The Road to Morocco'.

We're weirdy bards, we're beardy bards, fine words are what we deal in.
When poetry is on the cards and poems softly stealing,
We winch them in with yards and yards of true poetic feeling.
     We're horrible and hairy, but our principles are sound
    And, like Webster's Dictionary, we're Morocco bound.

We strike a pose, we strike a match, we light a lyric light.
It's like an itch you gotta scratch, you gotta get it right.
It's like a train you gotta catch, you gotta catch tonight.
    We might seem airy-fairy, but our feet are on the ground,
    And, like Webster's Dictionary, we're Morocco bound.

Some bards are miserable as sin and some are happy hunks.
A few get rich as Rin Tin Tin but most stay poor as monks.
A few will die of heroin, a lot will live as drunks.
     We're seriously scary but we're seminally sound
    And, like Webster's Dictionary, we're Morocco bound.

Our Eastern star, our Shangri-La, it cancels out the curse,
It nominates the fat cigar and writes the winning verse,
It shows us where the good times are, for better or for worse.
     We've bought a dromedary and we paid a thousand pound
    And, like Webster's dictionary, we're Morocco bound.

The Tropical Paradise of Margaret Mead

'As the dawn begins to fall among the soft brown roofs and the slender palms stand out against a colourless gleaming sea, lovers slip home from trysts beneath the palm trees or in the shadow of the beached canoes, that the light may find each sleeper in his appointed place.' That is the twenty-three-year-old Margaret Mead in her ground-breaking classic of anthropology Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). I confess I have never been to Samoa myself, but then, according to the great and good Raymond Tallis, a sojourn of less than six weeks sufficed for 'one of the Founding Mothers of Romantic Primitivism and … an inspirer of much New Age garbage.'

Let us go to far Samoa where a tropic moon
Lights the soft, brown roofs round a blue lagoon
And the palms are dark against a gleaming sea.
As the dawn begins to fall
How the birds begin to call,
How the scarlet parrots call to you and me, you and me,
How the yellow parrots call to you and me.

And lovers in the shadows of the beached canoes,
In the grumous purple shadows of the beached canoes,
Are lying thigh to thigh,
As the moon rides high,
And the slender palms stand out against the sea:
Young lovers in their blisses
Trading lingering last kisses,
Slipping home before the light can find them gone,
Where the palms grow slim and tall
As the dawn begins to fall
Slipping home before their families find them gone.

Should we go to far Samoa where the scarlet parrots call,
Oh how happy we would be
You and me, you and me,
For we know that in Samoa it's a paradise for all;
By those shadowy canoes
What can anybody lose,
Where the palms stand out against a gleaming sea?

     There's a whole lotta lovin' going on, going on,
     Such a whole lotta lovin' going on!

A Song of Plurals

Oh the ox and the oxen,
The fox and the foxen,
The vix and the vixen,
The chix and the chixen

All the mice in the hice
Are incredibly nice
But I wouldn't look tweece
At the meese and the geese.

That boy is a youth
Who can wiggle his tooth
But his friends (who are yeeth),
They have marvellous teeth

Of course all of the children
Have beet on their feet
Their fathren and mothren
Make sure they look neat

Cherubs are cherubim
Seraphs are seraphim
Arabs are arabim
Sherrifs are sherrifim

The Peak and the River

A little further and you make the peak,
You make the peak but you don't make the peak,
You don't make it but you didn't know, you couldn't
Know, if you knew you'd fix it and who wouldn't?
You make the peak but you don't make the peak,
You make a start but you don't make a start,
There's something very wrong about the heart.

There's something very wrong about the heart,
Lives that belong together fly apart,
The mist is rising and the outlook's bleak,
You make the speech but you don't get to speak,
Lives that belong together fly apart,
The path is narrow and the path is steep,
Too late to weep, always too late to weep.

Too late to weep, always too late to weep,
Beside the path the river running deep,
The murmur of the heart before the stroke,
The message of the heart before the croak,
Beside the path the river running deep,
You speak but don't remember what you said,
You try to keep the message in your head.

You try to keep the message in your head.
Never say die until you're bloody dead,
You try to keep the winners from the losers,
The workers from the wankers and the boozers,
Never say die until you're bloody dead,
You try to keep the horse before the cart,
Before the head the lesson of the heart.

Before the head the lesson of the heart,
You make a start but you don't make a start,
What kills you is the incremental creep,
Too late to weep, always too late to weep,
You make a start but you don't make a start,
Beside the path the river running fast,
You try to keep the present from the past.

You try to keep the present from the past,
You see how wrong it was from first to last,
Nevertheless you try for what it's worth,
You try to keep the body from the earth,
You see how wrong it was from first to last,
Beside the path the river running deep,
The mist is rising and it's time to sleep,

It's time. It's time at last. It's time to sleep.

None of That

No sleep for the wicked
No star for the chosen
No clothes for the naked
No warmth for the frozen
No hope for the morbid
No cure for the poison
No shave for the bearded
On any occasion

No salve for the acid
No key for the prison
No spine for the flaccid
No plump for the wizen
No bow for the cupid
No sail for the mizzen
No brain for the stupid
On any occasion

No calm for the turbid
No gold for the brazen
No books for the learned
No shield for the blazon
No sex for the tumid
No cheer for the season
No balm for the wretched
On any occasion

No bloom for the orchid
No stone for the mason
No straight for the crooked
No blood for the basin
No bed for the palsied
No faith for the parson
No care for the kindred
On any occasion

On any occasion
Support the invasion
It's there for the taking
No need for persuasion
No sleep for the wicked
No peace for the waking
On any occasion
On any occasion

Seascape with Small Humans

Sunday in February, and my wife
At the Student Factory, disentangling Shelley's
Bright-patterned fragments of the World and Life
And Time; one-year-old Katie's filled her wellies
With a primeval ooze; the morning telly's
Improving or uplifting; Eleanor
Suggests a picnic expedition in the car

To feed the dear deers and bunnies at the Wild
Life Sanctuary and use the trampoline.
Why not? It's quite unseasonably mild
(Probably all that CO2 between
Here and The Weathermaker); points of green
Reclaim our flowerbeds where springtime breeds
Tentative children, snowdrops, crocuses and weeds.

But the Garden Centre first for Ellie's poncho,
Left yesterday. This dejeuner sur l'herbe'll
Keep Teeth 'n Smiles a little longer on show.
Big Juice and Smarties render us non-verbal
Till Kate drops off and Ellie wants a gerbil.
She gets more ice-cream, just as she'd supposed.
The Deers and Bunnies place, predictably, is closed.

So to the Seaside's grim arcades and pubs —
A pier midwinter gales half swept away
Half lives in lingering, seaweed-bearded stubs,
Round whose vast, trunkless legs our children play.
They chase a shrinking sea into the bay,
Collect pink pebbles, shells, soft-drink cans, corks,
McDonald's milk-shake tubs and broken plastic forks.

In the dripping shades of these colossal wrecks,
Where a World's detritus clings like body-hair,
Two little Lives can look no more than specks
In Time, that wastes them to the empty air.
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.
'Please Daddy, we must Save the Whales. You pin
This badge on here, and put some money in that tin.'

The Whales were singing on the antique waters
Before our world and life and time began.
Out there they're singing still. Our wandering daughters,
Sealed in the fellowship of Leviathan,
Make homeward tracks, as slowly as they can.
The lone and level sands are washed with sound
As they sing too: 'The wheels of the bus go round and round.

The Girlie Gangs

The girlie gangs are on the streets, all pissed as
Rats and roaring rugby songs again.
Too well they've learned the lessons of the sisters
And drawn their unerring beads on bloody men,
From Saint Ignatius to Martin Bormann.
God bless you, bless your little cotton socks,
That's done and dusted. Who'd put back the clocks?
Not me, I'm not a savage or a Mormon,
Nor yet a wolf, I'm just a little lamb
Or perhaps some kind of wandering albatross:
Don't shoot, I'm on your side, I really am.
I know which side my bread is buttered, boss.
(The nicest never seem to come across.)

Frankly, my dears, I just don't give a damn.

Rabbit Rabbit

The Mekon is the stunted ruler of the evil empire in “Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future”.

Learn to fossilize your rabbit.
Learn to terminate your aunt.
Can you see your chance and grab it?
Can you kick a nasty habit?
Is there anything you can't?
        No. There's no such word as can't.

Learn to scale a Brecon Beacon.
Learn to swim the Hellespont.
Will you wilt and will you weaken?
Will you overcome the Mekon?
Is there anything you won't?
        Nothing that I won't or don't.

Learn to count those hours on hours,
Eye to eye and hand in glove.
Learn to storm the brazen towers.
Can't you see I've got the powers?
Won't you feel the power of Love?
        What can you be thinking of?

Love is Sempiternal Zion,
Love's Cathedral lined with steel,
Barred with Gates of Oak and Iron
Where the Leopard and the Lion
Interdict the Commonweal.
        Tell me what you truly feel.

Love has reasons and unreasons,
Asks no questions, buts no buts,
Tells no lies and acts no treasons.
Love the lily, sweet in seasons,
Shatters like a coconut
        I can win this coconut.

What I feel is what I'm telling.
What I tell is in my head.
What I know is chanting, spelling
From the loathly forest dwelling,
From the House of Gingerbread.
        In your life and in your head.

Chanting, spelling, what I'm telling
In my life and in my head,
All the dolours of the dead.
        Oh hear the dolours of the dead.

The Difference

The difference between men and women is like that between animals and plants. G.W.F. Hegel

Free men are Kings of men and women are their Queens,
It's like poetry and daffodils, like sausages and beans,
But, when two ride out together, then there's one must ride behind,
So, though Justice is a woman, she is blind, blind, blind.
           Men want cars and football. Women want romance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was in the counting house, counting out his money,
The Queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey.
The money buys the honey but it buys a whole lot more
For honey keeps a woman sweet and that's what honey's for.
           Men want sex and alcohol. Women want to dance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was on the battlefield directing all his battles.
The Queen was at the big parade, parading all his chattels.
The Queen was at the big parade applauding her applause:
HURRAH-HURRAH-HURRAH for all the boys who win the wars.
           Men want power and politics. Women want nuance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

The King was in the bedroom telling fortunes to the Queen:
Big Men and Little Women that's the way it's always been.
The Big Men get to organise the Little Women's lives
And machete-wielding persons kill their next-door neighbours' wives.
           Men are in the driving seat, women in a trance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

There's history and herstory but they are not the same.
When the man is up and doing then the woman gets the blame.
She was poor but she was honest, victim of a rich man's whim.
When the in-laws make the outlaws then the outlook's pretty grim.
           Men want this and this and this. Women want a chance.
           Men are like animals. Women are like plants.

Faith Zone

We hurl the homosexuals from cliffs,
Being enjoined to do so by religion
That scours our souls of maybes and what ifs.
Such wanton decadence is not our pigeon.
The Word is firm and clear and unambiguous.
Knowing and doing at every point contiguous.

We flog the godless traffickers in booze.
We stone to death the vile adulteresses.
Our sisters shall not marry where they choose,
Nor flaunt themselves in lewd, immodest dresses.
Such conduct is displeasing to the Lord
Whose Truth is sharp and gleaming like a sword.

Forgive our carnal trespasses in youth.
(Boys will be boys — we meant no harm at all.)
That was before we heard the voice of Truth,
That was before we answered to the call,
That was before the blessed Scripture spoke
And told us who to spare and who to croak.

The knife, the lash, the scaffold and the jail
Prevent believers from behaving oddly.
The Holy Word shall everywhere prevail.
It drops from Heaven like manna to the godly.
Our singleness of Faith is true security.
Its flame shall burn in everlasting purity.

On the Deaths of Philosophers

For Katie studying Philosophy

Socrates, tried for corrupting young people, was
         sentenced to death by the state.
Giordano Bruno was burned by the Catholic
         Church — a most horrible fate!                        
Seneca stoically opened a vein when he
         finally quarrelled with Nero.
Bonhoeffer said he was timid by nature, but
         faced up to death like a hero.
Viennese Schlick was shot dead by a mad Nazi
         student whose thesis he ploughed.
Pagan Hypatia, so learned and witty, got
         stoned by a Christian crowd.
                  Yet, by and large, and it's proven statistically,
                                    proven statistically
                           life does philosophers proud.

Poor Gödel was fearful of poison and starved, having
         lived all his life rather prissily.
Empedocles, much more intrepid, jumped into a
         smoking volcano in Sicily.
Gentle Pythagoras died in a fire, or a battle,
         according to source.
Whewell, the polymath Master of Trinity,
         died when he fell off his horse.
Rational Condorcet, imprisoned by Robespierre, was
         probably killed in his cell.
Atheist Lucretius (say Christians) took sex pills, went
         mad and lies burning in Hell.
                  But in the main you would have to admit,
                                    when you're faced with the evidence,
                                    bound to admit,
                           most philosophers do very well.

Shpet, the idealist phenomenologist,
         perished through Stalinist thuggery.
Montague died at the hands of a boy he
         procured for the purpose of buggery
Bacon caught cold stuffing snow in a chicken and
         ended with scarcely a sniff.
Jevons was drowned, and Protagoras shipwrecked..
         Herbrand fell off a cliff.
More and Boethius took the king's shilling and
         paid in the end with their heads.
Giovanni Gentile who praised Mussolini was
         slaughtered by partisan Reds.
                  Still, for the most part, as might be expected,
                                   in all probability
                                    should be expected,
                           philosophers die in their beds.

The Oakeshott Upshot

Michael Oakeshott is just the sort of obscurantist conservative philosopher likely to appeal to reactionary, crypto-fascist old stick-in-the-muds like me. Besides, he quotes poetry—people like Wordsworth and Housman.

An Austrian chap in the Balkans, a prudent
And sensible Archduke, got shot by a student,
This Serbian student called Gavrilo Princip.
            Shot him and his wife
            And it led to more strife,
    All caused by this Gavrilo Princip.
So the century starts with this Austrian bloke shot.
And what was the upshot?  The upshot was Oakeshott.

John Stuart Mill, he's a liberal feller
With liberal hat and liberal umbrella,
He votes for the vote for all rational people.
            More long-headed chaps,
            (From Oxbridge perhaps),
    They get two votes.  These rational people
March off to World War—there are millions of folk shot.
And what was the upshot?  The upshot was Oakeshott.

George Bernard Shaw wears a Socialist beard,
He designs his own clothes and they look pretty weird,
He's as bright as a button and doesn't like losing.
            He cares for his health
            With his personal wealth
     So he doesn't do shagging or boozing,
Or smoking, or doping—no smack and no coke shot.
Yet what was the upshot?  The upshot was Oakeshott.

Up out of the void pedals Signalman Freud.
If you value your head he's a man to avoid,
As he whirrs through the streets and the woods of Vienna,
            It's Ziggy the Kid
            On the trail of the Id
    Through the shadowy woods of Vienna:
He's your Psych-on-a-bike, he's your fangs-and-a-cloak-shot
So what was the upshot?  The upshot was Oakeshott.

And with Oakeshott the upshot it's time for more buckshot.
Political planners are fresh out of luck, shot
To hell—and the smell of their managed economy:
            Plans and proposals
            That stink in your noseholes,
     Are certain to damage your bonhomie!
Then those greasy deceptions, those mirrors-and-smoke shots
Pan out to a croak-shot. THE UPSHOT IS OAKESHOTT.

Thinking the Unthinkable

I like playing football because I'm a boy and
When I'm a bit bigger I'll like drinking beer because
Drinking and football are stuff that a boy does
And I do what boys do because I'm a boy I

Like shoving and pushing because I'm a boy I like
Shooting off arrows and shooting off guns I like
Shooting my mouth off and shouting and fighting
Because I'm a boy and you've gotta act right and

Say I were a girl I'd like dollies and teddies and
Talking for hours on the phone with my girlfriends and
Trying on clothes and then trying on clothes and
Then putting on make-up and talking for hours and

Then cuddling and crying and touching and trying
On charm arm-in-arm and then laughing and chatting
And batting my eyelids and doing the girl stuff and
Not just being tough which is never enough and then

Being a girl might be stuff that I'd like if
I wasn't a boy who does football and fighting
And shouting and shoving and pushing and (shush!) then
I might be a girl just as easy as winking
                                                              I'm thinking

The Language of Owls

Hoo. Hoo. It's half-past-two,
The owls are out and they're calling you.
Who are you? Who are you? Hoo. Hoo. Hoo.

Gone funny in the head, gone funny
Not all the money in the world, not all the money
Can buy it back, what's gone, gone funny,

Funny in the head, but it's out of the head
Now the brains are out and what's in instead
You don't want to know; you'd be better dead

Than funny, wetting yourself and forgetting it's Tuesday.
Forgetting Tuesday? Forgetting your own name.
You're Gerda, dearie, Gerda. Say it.

GERDA. Hoo. Hoo. How everything goes.
You can't wipe your bottom. You can't blow your nose.
Strange places, strange faces and strange, strange clothes

And wise as an owl, but the owl's not wise.
The stare of the owl is a daft surprise
And the head of the owl is all eyes, all eyes.

Hoo. Hoo. Doctor of something they say,
Six languages you knew in your day,
Though what you know now who knows? Hoo. Hoo.

Now there's nothing you know but the night birds' call
And the language of owls where the trees are tall,
There's nothing you know, no there's nothing at all.

Hoo. Hoo. And the owls are weeping,
Hoo. Hoo. And the day is sleeping,
Hoo. Hoo. And the night comes creeping.

Love You Madly

Air: 'Rapture! Rapture' from 'The Yeomen of the Guard' by Gilbert and Sullivan

Love you madly, love you crazily,
Love you eagerly, love you lazily,
Love you everly, leave you neverly,
Daft or cleverly, daffy-down-daisily.
Love you everly, leave you neverly,
Daft or cleverly, daffy-down-daisily.
Pippety-poppety, down to Scarborough,
Market Rasen, Market Harborough,
See the Acropolis, then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.
See the Acropolis, then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.

Care's a rough, resorts to thuggery,
Care's a tough, employs skulduggery,
Care's subliminal, care's buliminal,
Care's a criminal blown to buggery.
Care's subliminal, care's buliminal,
Care's a criminal blown to buggery.
Pippety-poppety, down to Scarborough,
Market Rasen, Market Harborough,
See the Acropolis, then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.
See the Acropolis, then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.

Love is sweet and indestructible.
You're complete and ineluctable,
Toast and honey and fine and funny and
On the money and tax-deductable.
Toast and honey and fine and funny and
On the money and tax-deductable.
Pippety-poppety, down to Scarborough,
Market Rasen, Market Harborough,
See the Acropolis,then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.
See the Acropolis, then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.

I can say, without mendacity,
Love waylaid me with audacity.
Cupid's dart in a vital part, in a
Hungry heart, in a grim mordacity.
Cupid's dart in a vital part, in a
Hungry heart, in a grim mordacity.
Pippety-poppety, down to Scarborough,
Market Rasen, Market Harborough,
See the Acropolis,then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.
See the Acropolis,then Minneapolis,
Indianapolis, Santa Barbara.

Ten Bad Things

What's the worst thing you can think of?
The baying of a hound.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
The pounding of a heart.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
The muttering of a crowd.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
The white face of a child.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
The red robes of a judge.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
A reek of burning petrol in a trench.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
A devil suckled at your mother's breast.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
A bloody murderer hanged up in chains,
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
Life plus ninety-nine years in this place.
That's bad, that's very bad,

But what's the worst thing you can think of?
A man's immortal soul,
That's the worst thing I can think of.

The Fall

Our secret games. They never understand.
Oh she was delicate and she was fine.
She smiled at me. I took her by the hand.
I took her by the hand and she was mine.
So small she seemed, curled like a child asleep,
Curled like a fairy in a flower bell.

So small she seemed I could not see her dead,
For how can there be death in fairyland?
Yet she was dead and it was just as well.
God sees. God knows. God knows they always tell.
Though looks like hers would make the angels weep,
She had no part of Heaven or of Hell,

She had no part of pity or desire.
What could I do but put her to the fire?
The fire made tongues about her golden head,
Made tongues of flame and this was what they said.
They never understand our secret games.
God sees. God knows. God knows they always tell.
What was her name?

                                  Her name? They don't have names.

John Whitworth's Books

The following books by John Whitworth are available from 20 Lovell Road Rough Common Canterbury Kent CT2 9DG.

Being the Bad Guy (Peterloo 2007 £7.95).

One of Les Murray's TLS Books of the Year for 2007. He said John Whitworth is 'Kent's rococo rhymer and hyperbolist' and you can't say fairer than that, can you? Harry Chambers says 'the brio and outrageously brilliant rhyming are up there with Ogden Nash', but then he would, wouldn't he? Fourteen of the poems won prizes in competitions, which must mean something, don't you think?

Tennis and Sex and Death (Peterloo 1989 £5.95)

This is John Whitworth's fourth collection and his first from Harry Chambers. Peter Reading in The Sunday Times calls it 'witty, urbane, entertaining and infallibly precise'. John Lucas at New Statesman is 'doubled up with helpless laughter'. You can't say fairer than that, can you?

Landscape With Small Humans (Peterloo 1993 £6.95)

This autobiographical sequence evokes a fifties' childhood, first in semi-rural Bakerlooland and then in an Edinburgh fiercely hostile to English incomers. Adam Thorpe in The Observer called it 'a kind of Songs of Innocence and Experience filtered through a world of Fairy Soap, Ex-Lax and the King's death'. It is the author's personal favourite. Faber, thinking it was out of print, wanted to publish it in 2007. But it isn't, and they can't.

From The Sonnet History of Modern Poetry (Peterloo 1999 £7.95).

This is the definitive text of John Whitworth's long-running series in Poetry Review published when Peter Forbes' brilliant editorship had made that journal the most popular and widely-read poetry magazine in Britain. The 'witty and acerbic' verses and the splendid illustrations by Gerald Mangan make this 'an essential handbook for all serious poets'.

The Whitworth Gun (Peterloo 2002 £7.95).

The great Les Murray wrote, 'The poems are as smart and full of fun as a pair of glazed tap shoes. Whitworth is a wise and rueful virtuoso.' Vernon Scannell in The Daily Telegraph agreed. On the other hand The Guardian critic hated it.

Writing Poetry (A & C Black 2001 £9.99).

Does modern poetry have to be difficult? Can it rhyme? Do I need a degree in English Literature to write it and is it OK to be funny? John Whitworth answers these and a thousand other questions in this popular and much-praised how-to handbook now in its second (revised) edition.

The Complete Poetical Works of Phoebe Flood (Hodder 1997 £3.50).

This popular and much recommended prize-winning volume of poems for children with illustrations by Lauren Child is still available from 20 Lovell Road Rough Common Canterbury CT2 9DG post free.

Making Love to Marilyn Monroe (Faber 2006 £9.99).

This is the paperback edition of what was The Faber Book of Blue Verse, an anthology published in 1990 to rather underwhelming critical acclaim. Two printings did however sell out within three months and it sneaked onto some best-seller lists, which just shows you how much critics know, doesn't it? You can still get the hardback from John Whitworth for £14.99 (He has three left.).

Lovely Day for a Wedding (Secker and Warburg 1985 £2.00).

The last of three books of John Whitworth's poems published by Secker and Warburg before the mass cull that followed Anthony Thwaite's departure to Andre Deutsch. Gavin Ewart and Peter Porter both liked it which makes it a snip at the price from 20 Lovell Road, Rough Common, Canterbury, Kent CT2 9DG, post free.

Girlie Gangs (Enitharmon, 2012)

John Whitworth is one of those fattish, baldish, backward-looking, provincial poets in which England is so rich. His tenth collection, Girlie Gangs, was published by Enitharmon in 2012 to international acclaim. Well, Les Murray liked it. And Walter Ancarrow in America. As a bonus it features illustrations by his daughter, Katie Whitworth.

The HyperTexts