Bookface Blog

Archive by tag: Carol RumensReturn
May 17, 2021

This first world war poem remains loyal to the patriotic ethos of its time, but the human cost of combat is never denied

The Unconquered Dead

“… defeated, with great loss.”

Not we the conquered! Not to us the blame
Of them that flee, of them that basely yield;
Nor ours the shout of victory, the fame
Of them that vanquish in a stricken field.

That day of battle in the dusty heat
We lay and heard the bullets swish and sing
Like scythes amid the over-ripened wheat,
And we the harvest of their garnering.

Some yielded, No, not we! Not we, we swear
By these our wounds; this trench upon the hill
Where all the shell-strewn earth is seamed and bare,
Was ours to keep; and lo! we have it still.

We might have yielded, even we, but death
Came for our helper; like a sudden flood
The crashing darkness fell; our painful breath
We drew with gasps amid the choking blood.

The roar fell faint and farther off, and soon
Sank to a foolish humming in our ears,
Like crickets in the long, hot afternoon
Among the wheat fields of the olden years.

Before our eyes a boundless wall of red
Shot through by sudden streaks of jagged pain!
Then a slow-gathering darkness overhead
And rest came on us like a quiet rain.

Not we the conquered! Not to us the shame,
Who hold our earthen ramparts, nor shall cease
To hold them ever; victors we, who came
In that fierce moment to our honoured peace.

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May 10, 2021

The US poet began writing his sonnets the day Donald Trump was elected president – but even after Trump, they remain fierce, profound and ageless

American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin

I only intend to send word to my future
Self perpetuation is a war against Time
Travel is essentially the aim of any religion
Is blindness the color one sees under water
Breath can be overshadowed in darkness
The benefits of blackness can seem radical
Black people in America are rarely compulsive
Hi-fivers believe joy is a matter of touching others
Is forbidden the only word God doesn’t know
You have to heal yourself to truly be heroic
You have to think once a day of killing your self
Awareness requires a touch of blindness & self
Importance is the only word God knows
To be free is to live because only the dead are slaves

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May 03, 2021

Climate change and pollution make for surreal and ghostly imagery in this understated and restrained poem

Grey Natural Light by Katherine Horrex

It breaks through voile and stains
like tannin leaching into a cup;

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Apr 27, 2021

This rendition of a work by the 20th century Russian poet Osip Mandelshtam is a rich celebration of poetry itself

What Remains by Reginald Gibbons

Yes, bread that’s poisoned. And not even one sip of air.
How hard it is for the wound of life to be cured.
Joseph himself, sold to Egypt as a slave,
could not have been more heavily grieved.

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Apr 19, 2021

Part showy display of literary style, part grumpy personal letter, this is a rich celebration of the power of writing

To Vladimir Nabokov on His 70th Birthday

That nymphet’s beauty lay less on her bones
Than in her name’s proclaimed two allophones,
A boned veracity slow to be found
In all the chanting of recorded sound.
Extrude an orange pip upon the track,
And it will be a pip played front or back,
But only in the kingdom of the shade
Can diaper run back and be repaid.
Such speculations salt my exile too,
One that I bear less stoically than you.
I look in sourly on my lemon trees
Spiked by the Qs and Xes of Maltese
And wonder: Is this home or where is home?
(Melita’s caves, Calypso’s honeycomb).
I see a cue or clue. Just opposite,
The grocer has a cat that loves to sit
Upon the scales. Respecting his repose,
One day he weighed him: just two rotolos.
In this palazzo wood decays and falls;
Buses knock stucco from the outer walls,
Slam shut the shutters. Coughing as they lurch
They yet enclose the silence of a church,
Rock in baroque: Teresan spados stab
The Sacred Heart upon the driver’s cab,
Whereupon, in circus colours, one can read
That verbum caro factum est. Indeed.
I think the word is all the flesh I need –
The taste, and not the vitamins of sense
Whatever sense may be. I like the fence
Of black and white that keeps those bullocks in –
Crossboard or chesswood. Eurish gift of Finn –
The crossmess parzel. If words are no more
Than pyoshki, preordained to look before,
Save for their taking chassé, they alone
And not the upper house, can claim a throne
(Exploded first the secular magazines
And puff of bishops). All aswarm with queens,
Potentially, that board. Well, there it is:
You help me counter the liquidities
With counters that are counties, countries. Best
To read it: Caro Verbum Facta Est.

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Apr 12, 2021

A complicated song of praise for a world that is part heaven and part hell


Because, in a wounded universe, the tufts
of grass still glisten, the first daffodil
shoots up through ice-melt, and a red-tailed hawk

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Apr 05, 2021

This work moves beyond its immediate inspiration, the coronavirus pandemic, to tell a more universal story

Think, now, whose hand …


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Mar 29, 2021

A brew of the sacred and profane by a rebel classicist, delivered gulp by gulp

Hymn to Aphrodite

ποικιλόθρον’ ἀθανάτ’ Ἀφρόδιτα
Sappho, Fragment 1

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Mar 22, 2021

A rousing call to find the divine in wordly, bodily life

Get Down Ye Angels

Get down ye angels from the heights.
Try a few of earth’s numinous delights:
the orgiastic rustling of the grass.
The wind’s brazen feather tickling your arse.

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Mar 15, 2021

A private moment at work in an Australian factory in the 1920s is charged with candid eroticism

An Improver

Maisie’s been holding down her head all day,
Her little red head. And her pointed chin
Rests on her neck that slips so softly in
The square-cut low-necked darling dress she made
In such a way, since it’s high-waisted, too,
It lets you guess how fair young breasts begin
Under the gentle pleasant folds of blue.

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Mar 08, 2021

The enduring grief of the Dunblane primary school massacre in Scotland, 25 years ago, is discreetly and powerfully portrayed

The rain in the night

The past is falling on the house
lightly, insistently
with its own unnameable scent.

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Mar 01, 2021

The ghostly traces of song in the first sound recording inspire a haunting reflection on historical loss

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Feb 22, 2021

Some surprisingly buoyant and cheering verses from a neglected American writer

A Grey Day

Grey drizzling mists the moorlands drape,
Rain whitens the dead sea,
From headland dim to sullen cape
Grey sails creep wearily.
I know not how that merchantman
Has found the heart; but ’t is her plan
Seaward her endless course to shape.

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Feb 15, 2021

A snowy night camped out under the stars provides the stage for a close encounter with a mysterious creature

Sleeping Out

No wind in the pines —
I didn’t believe the forecast
yet pulled my bivvy bag
part-way under the awning
where I could still see the stars.

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Feb 08, 2021

The bush poet’s stirring tribute to Australia’s semi-feral horses is tinged with regret

Brumby’s Run

Brumby is the Aboriginal* word for a wild horse. At a recent trial a New South Wales supreme court judge, hearing of Brumby horses, asked: “Who is Brumby, and where is his Run?”

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Feb 01, 2021

The melancholy cry sounds an uneasy reminder of all those excluded from material comfort

The Owl

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved;
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

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Jan 25, 2021

Experimenting with the possibilities of the sonnet form, this playful work deploys the rules of grammar as a wooing technique

Sonnet LXIII

O grammar-rules, O now your virtues show;
So children still read you with awful eyes,
As my young dove may, in your precepts wise,
Her grant to me by her own virtue know;
For late, with heart most high, with eyes most low,
I craved the thing which ever she denies;
She, lightning Love displaying Venus’ skies,
Lest once should not be heard, twice said, No, No!
Sing then, my muse, now Io Pæan sing;
Heav’ns envy not at my high triumphing,
But grammar’s force with sweet success confirm;
For Grammar says (O this dear Stella weigh,)
For Grammar says (to Grammar who says nay)
That in one speech two negatives affirm!

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Jan 18, 2021

A return visit to a former home shows that the life once lived there is definitively lost

Old Flat, Abandoned

I force open the door:
its shadow shoots
down the wall
where webs tremble
in door-breath and light.
A thread bows. Breaches.
Ahead, the flight
of (bare wood) steps
(with carpet tacks)
runs up to gloom.

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Jan 11, 2021

Like so many of her great poems, this almost-riddle combines a childlike simplicity with great complexity

Under the Light, yet under

Under the Light, yet under,
Under the Grass and the Dirt,
Under the Beetle’s Cellar
Under the Clover’s Root,

Further than Arm could stretch
Were it Giant long,
Further than Sunshine could
Were the Day Year long,

Over the Light, yet over,
Over the Arc of the Bird —
Over the Comet’s chimney —
Over the Cubit’s Head,

Further than Guess can gallop
Further than Riddle ride —
Oh for a Disc to the Distance
Between Ourselves and the Dead!

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Jan 04, 2021

A meditation on the later years of the Finnish composer reflects more generally on creative renewal


It’s January. A swan’s wing overhead
reminds you of his Fifth
but also of his death, that skein
breaking away to circle him
as if to announce what year it was.

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Dec 28, 2020

A generous, intense tribute to a loving but profoundly mysterious companion

Sonnet: To Tartar, a Terrier Beauty

Snowdrop of dogs, with ear of brownest dye,
Like the last orphan leaf of naked tree
Which shudders in bleak autumn; though by thee,
Of hearing careless and untutored eye,
Not understood articulate speech of men
Nor marked the artificial mind of books,
The mortal’s voice eternized by the pen,
Yet hast thou thought and language all unknown
To Babel’s scholars; oft intensest looks,
Long scrutiny o’er some dark-veined stone
Dost thou bestow, learning dead mysteries
Of the world’s birth-day, oft in eager tone
With quick-tailed fellows bandiest prompt replies,
Solicitudes canine, four-footed amities.

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Dec 21, 2020

Chaos, and pathos, intrude on an awkward Christmas dinner

Towards the End of the Feast

The best way to bear
that flaming pud
signalling the latter stages of our feast

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Dec 14, 2020

The writer’s observations of fellow railway passengers in the 1920s coalesce into an authentically joyous work

On the Train


The lady in front of me in the car,
With little red coils close over her ears,
Is talking with her friend;
And the circle of ostrich foam around her hat,
Curving over like a wave,
Trembles with her little windy words.
What is she saying, I wonder,
That her feathers should tremble
And the soft fur of her coat should slip down over her shoulders?
Has her string of pearls been stolen,
Or maybe her husband?


He is drunk, that man –
Drunk as a lord, a lord of the bibulous past.
He shouts wittily from his end of the car to the man in the corner;
He bows to me with chivalrous apologies.
He philosophizes, plays with the wisdom of the ages,
Flings off his rags,
Displays his naked soul –
Athletic, beautiful, grotesque.
In the good time coming,
When men drink no more,
Shall we ever see a nude soul dancing
Stript and free
In the temple of his god?


She comes smiling into the car
With iridescent bubbles of children.
She blooms in the close plush seats
Like a narcissus in a bowl of stones.
She croons to a baby in her lap —
The trees come swinging by to listen,
And the electric lights in the ceiling are stars.

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Dec 07, 2020

A funny but poignant story conceals – and reveals – much about its narrator

My Stranger

hangs where the plaster cracked
and the ribs of the house show.
He’s the only stranger I can afford,
a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt
smiling for an artist. Nothing to me,
but still I hang him in the hallway
and call him Dad. Of course, visitors
have doubts. I know they know
his hair’s too light, the eyes too blue.
I win them over by recalling
our fishing holidays, how dad
slit the belly of a rainbow trout, and out
slipped a diamond ring for me.
A perfect fit. Dad was handy.
He met my mother when she broke
down outside the Camden Palace,
and changed her tyre without a jack.
He made us a sherbet playhouse,
we licked its walls to nothingness.
He taught my brother harpsichord.
Now he’s international. You may
have heard him on the radio.
That’s a self-portrait. He never lived
to paint us all. ‘What a terrible loss,’
visitors sigh. I lead them into
a living room, and whisper, ‘Yes.’

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Nov 30, 2020

Fragile but precious memories haunt this resonant sonnet


An eleven-year-old boy from Aleppo
whose eyes hold only things no longer there
– a citadel, a moat, safe rooms of shadow,
‘afterwardness’ in his thousand yard stare –

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