Although I wrote poetry in my 20s, I did not at that time regard myself as good enough to publish. The few poems that were published in the early 1980s, in for instance the John Clare Society Journal, or the anthology Poems from an Island, were happy accidents, after I had sent copies to friends. A similar situation brought an offer from a small press to publish a volume, which in turn crystalized my inner view that I had not yet grown into a sufficiently distinctive poetic voice. I stopped writing poems for 15 years. I started again in 1999. Since then I have published two volumes of poetry, Holding the World Together and The Cardinal Directions, in small editions for my friends. As before, a few poems have escaped into the wider world, appearing in magazines such as Modern Poetry in Translation, Saw, the Cimarron Review, and the Mahzor Supplement for Yom Kippur 5764 of the Reconstructionist Synagogue of the North Shore.

The most remarkable influence on my modest poetic resurgence was the Japanese poet Kijima Hajime, who became my close friend and poetic mentor. As a result, poems exchanged between us and others, particularly in linked quatrains, a form invented by Kijima Hajime, appeared in the booklet Linked Quatrains: The Cycle of Fill (2000), the books Collection of Linked Quatrains: The Cycle of Passion and others (2003), and Linked Quatrains (c.2005), and in the Japanese poetry magazines Literary Space, The Subaru Monthly, Poetry and Thought (which published a Kijima Hajime memorial issue in May 2005, to which I also contributed), and others.

I offer here just three poems, one from each of the two books, and one recent unpublished one, for those who may be interested in this private but rewarding aspect of my writing.


Each footstep in the claggy soil pulls the
booted foot half out of his hip socket.
The plough is so heavy it could pull you
over like a kick from a horse. He does
not notice these things, following the furrow
with a jaunty snatch of whistled song
up and down the slope of the open field.

A cuckoo calls, a clear bubble of sound
echoing from the ancient woods below.
He smiles. He?s heard the story many times
of the Idbury simpletons who tried
to trap the cuckoo, hoping by such means
to capture summer too. That marshy field
between two streams is still called Cuckoo Pen.

The tune he is whistling could be any one
of a dozen or so - Trunkles, Morning Star,
Lumps of Plum Pudding, Balance the Straw,
Cuckoo?s Nest, Ladies? Pleasure, Idbury Hill.
Sometimes in bed he kicks his wife, dreaming
that he is dancing, and his nimble feet
are free of the pull and tug of earth.

(from Holding the World Together, 2003)


I remember them,
the border reivers - 
men born with the tang of blood in their throats,
women with the salt of tears.
A spitting fire
and a fleabitten hound sucking the marrow from a bone.
Fierce as the wind,
their knives stropped to a wicked edge,
they lifted their cattle and their brides,
and bedded them both on straw.
A nest of rats
in the decaying tooth of an old peel tower -
their tongues still thick with Old Norse,
their eyes surprised not to be at sea.

(from The Cardinal Directions, 2005)


The river is in such a hurry
it has spilled its load over the banks.
A mudlark rises from the swamp
clutching a wriggling crayfish
scooped from the flow.
His sopping terrier
shakes itself a halo of diamond droplets.
A frisky wind
rippling through the poplars
rattles the leaves.
Sunshine dazzles off
reticulations by a fallen log.
Everywhere shades of green and brown and gold
flecked with iridescent damselflies
and seamed with a kingfisher?s turquoise signal flare.
Life in spate.

(unpublished, 5 August 2007)

copyright  Neil Philip