On the occasion of Matt Hancock (who?) going into the jungle (what?) Oh how our MPs entertain us We are what we eat - and sustain us Licking Boris's ring Was an actual thing And Nadine ate an ostrich's anus Matt Hancock. Who cares? Who is he? And where did you find him? (BB) And what has he done? Blah, blah, trouserless fun Blah, blah - ah, so a Tory MP Good luck in the jungle! You're who? Do watch out for the crocodile poo! And the people who think You're a wanker, wink wink For the fans of a Tory are few Who knows? He might prove to be good Give some old Tory women some wood Not that they'll see Being more BBC But I'm sure that they would if they could Cometh the moment a van In which cometh Matt Hancock who can Come up with the goods In the House or the woods Where is he? He's coming! Oh man © Gail Foster 2nd November 2022
Elon had a little sink And quite a lot of Twitter A Starlink and a skating rink And gold encrusted shitter I'd give it all up in a blink He said, and not be bitter If I had farts that didn't stink And tarts that didn't titter Elon did a lot of farts And most of them were smelly Distracting him from all the arts He liked to watch on telly And darts - he did like watching darts And reading Machiavelli While reaching down to touch the parts He hid beneath his belly Elon liked the ladies so And ladies liked his money He wished they wouldn't titter though At things that were not funny It's not the time for jokes you know He'd say, make like a bunny And - oh! - don't interrupt my flow Don't titter at me honey Elon had a massive head And doors he had to widen An IQ higher than, he said The tide that he was ridin' But when he snuggled in his bed He'd no-one to confide in Except his teddy, Little Ted And poster of Joe Biden Elon quite liked Donald Trump And Putin, or whoever Was popular that he could hump To make himself look clever And if they cut him off he'd dump Them instantly, forever And never let them kiss his rump Again. Or nearly never Elon had the notion that He was the true Messiah Jesus, he'd say, was a twat And my IQ is higher And I'm the King of Twitter, sat Above all that desire Me even though my head is fat And I may be a liar Elon. Onle. Leon. Nole - Who knows what you equate to You say you'll root out every troll But who knows what will fate do World domination is your goal And nothing less will sate you Beware behind the grassy knoll The ego that creates you © Gail Foster 28th October 2022
We empaths be like, ‘Oh My God!’ As wave on wave in which to drown ‘The coffin. Oh my God, the crown!’ Come rolling o’er the English sod With flowers floating on the flod To strew the rooftops of the town Oh comfort us with staff and rod We empaths be like going down You’re not an empath? Lucky you We take our hats off to you, doff Our caps as you would have us do ‘As if you too were servants!’ Scoff Away. We know why we are here The coffin. Oh My God. My Dear © Gail Foster 13th September 2022
‘Today I Mostly Learned About Death’ – a small child at Buckingham Palace, Saturday 10th September 2022, photograph by Gail Foster
Imagine, if you will, the sorry scene The morning after, when, for all their sins You've had to go and empty all the bins At Downing Street. You didn't want to clean Who does? You spray a mist of Mr Sheen And polish, then you pick up all the tins With fag butts in, and bottles of fruit gins With lipstick on, and wonder who has been The twat who spaffed the red wine up the wall Or drunk enough to decorate with sick The silken carpets running up the hall If you were rich you'd tell them where to stick Their fucking job, their fag butts, and their wine - You spray a bit more Mr Sheen, and shine © Gail Foster 26th May 2022
Putin had a little gun Some vodka and a sock And planned to have a massive wank But couldn't find his cock It never had been very big But now it was so small He couldn't find the fucking thing At all Putin had a little gun Nostalgia and psychosis And rather, so was rumoured round A profound halitosis And everywhere he went he left An atmosphere and smell And a little pile of unused socks As well Putin had a little gun Delusions and an army And plans to overtake the world That were quite frankly barmy He'd always had his issues And been proudly narcissistic But now he couldn't come he went Ballistic Putin had a little gun A lovely shiny table A hidden room in which he liked To dress as Betty Grable A wardrobe full of furry coats And rather fetching hats And an oubliette in which he kept Dead cats Putin had a little gun It really was frustrating 'I only vant' he said, 'to spend My evening masturbating I've fantasies of papering My Betty room with jizz But I don't know where my tiny Penis is' Putin had a little gun Some missiles and some tanks And plans to rule the Western world And crack off lots of wanks The best laid plans of mice and men Can oft go badly wrong Especially when you can't find your Dong Putin had a little gun Some vodka and a sock A nuclear intention And a lot of novichok Some thermobaric weapons That were frighteningly hot And a tiny flaccid penis that Was not Putin had a little gun It often is the case That sexual frustration Undermines the human race Humiliate a little man And dare to mock and scoff And he'll soon find something else he can Crack off Putin had a little gun 'I vant to rule the vorld!' He pouted in his mirror With his top lip slightly curled It used to work much better when He dressed as Betty Grable But yet again he found himself Unable © Gail Foster 28th February 2022
There's many ways to win a war. With guns You've got to have the bullets though for those And someone's got to carry them. With tons Of tanks. You got the diesel? Nothing goes Unless there's diesel. Coming in a bit Oh is it? See it come across the bridge That isn't there. With soldiers that are fit For fuck all when there's nothing in the fridge You haven't got. We've got a lot of planes Or will have when we've sorted out the fuel And then we'll soon be splattering your brains And blowing you from here to kingdom come Oh will you now. "Don't shoot! I want my Mum" There's many ways to win a war. With turds Thrown over burning barricades. You got A match? Too fucking right I have. With words You fire them right and you can hit the spot There's other things than bullets make you bleed And other things than bombs to use to teach That woman and the soldier and the seed - In war there's also hearts and minds to reach You take this seed, she said, and when you fall In our dear country, from your lonely grave Will come a bloom so beautiful and tall That no-one will recall the life you gave You're going to blow us all to kingdom come? Oh are you now. "Don't shoot! I want my Mum" There's many ways to win a war. Sun Tzu Had lots to say on strategy, and still He's widely read and what he says is true But these days there are other ways to kill And things that can be done by little men So many ways civilians can play That Sun Tzu didn't know about back then How different a world it is today So many fronts that it's a job to know Which one to fight them on at any time Flak jacket on, my friend, and off you go And I'll stay here and write my little rhyme “They're going to blow us all to kingdom come!” Too right we are. "Don't shoot! I want my Mum" © Gail Foster 26th February 2022
Boris had a little do With biscuits and with cheese As little bits of blossom blew Upon the British breeze It was against the rules but hey As if he gave a toss It was a warm and sunny day And Boris was the boss Be sure your sins will find you out And somebody did tell And everyone began to shout 'What is that horrid smell?' 'It's Boris Johnson's lucky pants He coughed and followed through!' And suddenly the sycophants (Except for one or two Or three or four or five or six) Did hail a passing bus And chucked him under it. Mud sticks And no-one wants a fuss 'Alas poor Boris. Knew him well But didn't want to be Associated with the smell' They said. 'It wasn't me!' Said Boris, bleating like a lamb His back against the wall 'I'll go get Jonathan Van Tam And he'll explain it all' But silence was the stern reply Expedience the crack And so the shit began to fly And Boris got the sack Or did he? Will he? Won't he? What? His fleece is white as snow And even though he's lost the plot There's still the book to go 'It wasn't me!' he said. But there Was no-one left to hear He ran his fingers through his hair And poured another beer And waited for the storm to pass Which only took a while For being of a certain class And of a certain style The shit slid off him easily So shiny was his skin And sure enough and sleazily He slipped his way back in And had another little do With biscuits and with cheese And laughter on the breezes blew All through the London trees And all was well for Boris, hey For no-one gave a toss It was a warm and sunny day And Boris was the boss © Gail Foster 11th January 2022
I Met A Friend Beside The Cross ~ for Michelle
I met a friend beside the cross
Up on The Green on Easter Day
And she was there to mourn a loss
And I was passing on my way
Now she and I, we only meet
Infrequently throughout the year
But there we were; a meeting sweet
And meaningful, before the dear
Beflowered cross the people made
And posies in all colours bright
Where all day long the people prayed
Or stayed to see the way the light
Did shine upon the Field that day
As shone before high on the hill
And some go on and some will stay
To pray, and will be praying still
And so we spoke, my friend and I
Of love and life, and of her loss
And of the mystery of why
We met together by the cross
And I went on, and left her to
Her sorrow, and when I was gone
She did what she had gone to do
Adore the cross with flowers on
Who knows His ways? Not she or I
But Oh! What beauty was reborn
Up on the Field beneath the sky
Before the cross on Easter morn
© Gail Foster 5th April 2021
In loving memory of Derek, 1932 – 2021, and Pauline North , 1931 – 2021
Two good people from Devizes who loved each other, and who loved to dance
I know what I like, my love
And I like what I see
I wonder if you’d like to take
My hand and dance with me
We’ll marry in September and
Go laughing by the sea
I wonder if you’ll take my hand
My love, and dance with me
We’ll have a little house and make
A home and family
And all of this will come to pass
If you will dance with me
And I will make your flour rise
And puddings that will be
Like honey on your tongue if you
Will come and dance with me
There’s children in the garden, love
So many I can see
And all because you took my hand
And came and danced with me
You were my only love and true
And we’ll forever be
The last ones out there on the floor
You loved to dance with me
I’ll bring you daffodils, my love
And later after tea
I’ll take your hand and then we will
Go dancing, you and me
© Gail Foster 21st February 2021
Family photographs by kind permission of Karen North
When CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s first poetry pamphlet slipped coolly into my Facebook Newsfeed I knew I had to have it. My dealings with Thorpe-Tracey to date have been that I met him at a gig he played a few years ago and that I read his Facebook posts with interest. He seems to say it as it is, and isn’t, or so I thought when I read one of his reviews once, much of a people-pleaser. I think of him as a bit of a left-wing Leonardo (or so I decided as I was making notes for this review), one of those people who can turn their hand to many things and do them well, and (more importantly to a self-obsessed poet with a short attention span) as a person who is unlikely to waste my time.
It has been a tradition over recent centuries for a new poet to introduce their work to the world by means of the production of a pamphlet, or chapbook, a slim volume of verse.
The book, with its subtle seascape cover, looks like a bit of class – ‘Tranquil, clear, and calm’, says my mate T as she feels it between her palms (I’ll explain about T later) – and like something I want to own, something important.
So I order it and it arrives and I decide that when I read it it will be a proper moment and it sits on the sideboard for a while.
My qualification for reviewing a book of free verse consists of a B in A level English achieved in my late teens when I was off my head, and five years of teaching my middle-aged self, mostly, to write poetry in traditional forms. I avoid free verse like the plague (not the best analogy in this day and age) as it seems to me that most of it is lazy tosh written because someone couldn’t be bothered to break their brain on a proper poem. I do know some damn good poets though, and every now and again I stumble across a free verse poem that causes me to catch my breath, so I’m open to educating myself and moderating my view.
Free verse may contain structure but is not bound by it, likewise there may be rhyme or there may not be.
It’s misty on the morning that I decide to open ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, and as I read the first poem ‘No pharmaceuticals’, the mist lifts and the sun streams into my living room and I catch my breath and my eyes fill with tears.
This is a poet who knows about words.
This is a poet who knows about sickness and shadow.
There are other poems in the book that do this to me; ‘Second Pillar’, in which the poet contrasts church bells with the Call to Prayer; ‘Visiting Hours’, a hospital conversation about racism and remaining; ‘Catholic Primary’, a brutal story of bullying and revenge; ‘Dementor’, in which the poet makes his views on JK Rowling known and no bones about it; and, my favourite I think, ‘Second Spike’, a poignant account of the evolution of a relationship during the months of coronavirus.
It’s a book about Britain in 2020, and the material in it is both personal and political. There’s a poem called ‘First six weeks of lockdown’; one called ‘Eat Out To Help Out’; an acerbic and gloriously vulgar set of lines called ‘A Dick Pic Triptych’ on the subject of Hancock, Johnson, and Cummings; and of course ‘To the virus, we are landscape’, which is the last of the twenty-one poems.
Thorpe-Tracey breaks the book up with a couple of pictures of tweets and three small poems on the theme of ‘wet’, and in the Acknowledgements says that he has been inspired by the work of Suzannah Evans and John McCullough.
What do I love about the lines in this book? The alliteration – ‘hung on high and hammer smashed’; the similes – ‘a goose-like honk through silence / as lime into cream’; the visceral (and often food-related) physicality – ‘Cold-burnt my teeth on a cumulus chunk’, ‘a lady snapped / a chicken bone above her plate’, ‘Crushed into the nuts and salt’.
What do I not like? Not much. Although I will say, and this is more about my grounding in traditional verse forms than Thorpe-Tracey’s ability, that sometimes the nearly but not quite form thing is a little frustrating. I’m not sure whether the fact that I like that he often ends a verse with a rhyme is about pure appreciation or relief, and I find myself counting syllables with some of the pieces. In ‘Grandma’s Funeral’, he’s gone for the 5-7-5 used in haiku/senryu/tanka and stuck to it, whereas in his ‘wet’ poems he wavers.
I rarely read other peoples’ work but I’ve read this book more than once and I love it. I love it because it takes me to places I know and don’t know at the same time; I love it because the words are complex and beautiful and I relish them; and I love it because it’s realistic and philosophical and it moves me.
And that’s where my friend T comes in. Because this book moves me a lot and I need to check that out. So, as we’re sat on the edge of the fountain in the Market Place in town with our coffees, and after T, who works in the NHS, has held the book between her palms and said that it is ‘Tranquil, calm, and clear’, I read ‘Visiting Hours’ to her.
And there it is. A sharp intake of breath and a silent ‘Ooo’. ‘How’ says T, ‘can so much be said with so few words?’
Not just me, then.
I’m delighted to have CJ Thorpe-Tracey’s pocket-sized piece of poetic excellence and bittersweet bite of history on my shelves. Reading ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ has been a great use of my time and whilst I am not yet a convert to free verse I do feel that I understand it better.
Methinks the gentleman has played a blinder, and I look forward to more.
Review © Gail Foster 10th December 2020
Q&A (thanks to CJ Thorpe-Tracey for the answers)
1. Any reason that you are not going to do a reprint? Might it appear in other ways in future?
I misjudged the timing of poetry publishing – how far ahead everything is scheduled. So I had to decide either to hold off till May/June 2021 (to try to get it into magazines etc) or to just not worry about that and go for it now. This pamphlet is so rooted in 2020 and Covid upheaval, I wanted it out, while it’s still all around us.
So now, it’s selling well, but to my own audience outside of poetry, rather than a ‘real’ poetry readership; I’m not making in-roads into that world. Plus obviously I’m just starting out, with a lot still to learn.
My plan is to move on – get on with writing more, submit to magazines as I go, until the next time I’ve got enough done for a pamphlet, however long that takes.
If I ever have enough work to publish a full book collection, I’ll include these.
2) Is the Dick Pic Triptych based on an old form?
It’s not sadly, it’s just built off the rhythm of the first two lines, which I got from hip hop rather than poems.
3) (Forgive me!) How do you Feel about the book and the work inside it?
I like it as a whole and I think it’s strong as a debut effort. I enjoyed the processes, it’s very new to me (and profoundly different from song lyric writing). There are poems in there I’m very proud of.
However I do think I leapt into publishing a pamphlet too early (but did so for good reasons, i.e. what I mention above, about corona times). So serious poetry people may find my work quite ‘beginner level’/naive and simple.
At the same time, it’s not really about that, right? The words pleased me!
Fwiw your own kind of tautly constructed rhyming poetry inspires me just as much – often more – than free verse and that “oh how clever am I, disguising archaic formalism within something that appears to be free verse” stuff that seems to be prevalent, as if poems are maths problems.
And finally –
4) Will there be another one?
Definitely. Not until I’m certain it’s ready though, I’m not setting a deadline.
For further information about ‘To the virus, we are landscape’ by CJ Thorpe-Tracey, published by Border Crossing Press 2020, email email@example.com, or find him on Twitter @christt