A little diversion for a strange month of January- a daily poem (by me at weekends, guest authors every other day) in print and audio form. The idea is that poetry, even when dealing with sad or deep subjects, can bring us out of ourselves, just like a walk up a hill, or a chance encounter in a café.

The Black Dragon is whatever you want it to be- in fantasy role-play Dungeons and Dragons it’s one of the worst, truly determined and malicious. But it’s also the literal translation of “oolong”- so I hope you find something that’s your cup of tea.

January 31: Eloquence At The Oxford Union, by Matthew Perret (1990)

“Ha ha ha ha, I think you’ll find…”

“Ha ha ha ha, I think you’ll find…”

Philosophically enlightening, with an endearing dismissive air

Oh how witty, how charming, and how very debonnair

Your words slip out so easily, and people look impressed

But you just talk bollocks, you stupid little pest.

January 30: The CAP Rap, by Matthew Perret

It’s ’62- what we gonna do?

we got the coal, the steel, but how we gonna get a meal?

no more war, only peace

the French and German economies have gotta intertwine

we help grow grain and pigs and eggs and chicks

and fruit and veg and wine

ooh la la

but where’s the beef?

it’s a mountain!

where’s the sugar?

it’s a mountain!

where’s the milk?

it’s a lake!

just made a terrible mistake…

so we need the EAGGF

with a guarantee for prices

and the guidelines…

which is like the structural measures, er….?

It’s not a load of crap- it’s the CAP rap!

It’s ’82- what we gonna do?

We got the coal, the steel, but how we gonna shift this meal?

Don’t make a meal of it, man!

Just open the door- and give it to the poor

It ain’t too late to put food on their plate

If you dump cheap grain where it don’t rain

The farmer in the dust must go bust

It’s ’92- what we gonna do?

do not worry- got my man called McSharry

he’s a man with a plan for getting us out this jam

don’t pay to grow, that don’t work, you know

got all we need, no more mouths to feed

best thing is to plan it- and gotta save the planet

pay ‘em to go slow, pay ‘em not to sow

McSharry’s a man who sees both the wood and the trees

Then came Agenda 2000

to bring in competitiveness

with social, economic

and environmental goals.

Now rural development

becomes the second pillar

safety, quality, stability

…and simplification

…and simplification

…and simplification!

It’s 2003- let’s reform the C.A.P.!

The Cap don’t fit no more

got Poland and 9 others a-knockin’ on my door

no more cold war, only peace

the Eastern and Western economies have gotta intertwine

we grow beet, and pigs, and eggs and chicks,

and fruit and veg, and wine…

But it’s all change in 2008

we need a healthcheck, before it’s too late

It’s time for a spot of decoupling

with a hint of cross-compliance

and mucho modulation

we will no longer pay to grow

we will have a single CMO

(that’s Common Market Organisation)

and mucho modulation

deal with bio-energy and water management

and climate changeification 

and modernisation

and streamlineification

and simplification!

It’s not a load of crap- it’s the CAP rap!

January 29: The Song Thrush And The Mountain Ash, by Simon Armitage


January 28: The Lion And Albert, by Marriott Edgar (1931)


January 27: Wheelbarrow, by Vivian Stanshall (1978)

Sitting in a sunken garden…

Pinking in a sinking sun

Thinking of a summer long ago:

When one was twenty-one.

Naming all the flowers so friendly…

Shouting at the shrubs so thick

Lo, behold, Lobelia…

One bite and the Bishop was sick,

How nice to be in England…

Now that England’s here,

I stand upright in my wheelbarrow,

And pretend I’m Boadicea.

Hi Ho

Hi Ho

Shy goldfish shady in the green weed,

By gad’flies giddy in the haze…

Here I sit; I knit knit knit,

With the garden gnomes, I say:

How nice to be in England…

Now that England’s here,

I stand upright in my wheelbarrow,

And pretend I’m Boadicea.

Hi Ho

Hi Ho

January 26: Abou ben Adhem, by Leigh Hunt (1834)


January 25: First Sight, by Philip Larkin (1956)


January 24: An English Bigot Is Expelled From A Bar In Spain, by Matthew Perret

The day goes by, and the dagoes go by too

Today goes by, and two dagoes go by too

The day goes by, and the dagoes go by two by two

J-Lo goes by, does a gay dago go bi?, and by the by I go to buy potatoes, Play-Doh and two Day-Glo haloes too 

The day goes by

The dagoes go

Hey! The dagoes… go 

The day goes by, and the dagoes go “Bye-bye!”

If you say so.


January 23: “Why Art Thou Yet So Fair?”, by Matthew Perret

Romeo kissed crimson lips, cheeks.

The honey breath was gone-

but though he’d not loved another

he thought it might live on.

(Crab apple blossom on the breeze,

a strange girl climbing trees.)

Jealous of Death, he resisted

handing over his bride-

but vigils cannot keep out worms!

Must he rot at her side?

(He saw his admirer come there,

A necklace of despair.)

Perhaps he’d climb a cherry tree,

up to a certain height:

see crimson, eat honey, not know

if what he did was right.

(A whiff of poison on the air,

dear strange girl yet so fair.)

January 22: The World Is Too Much With Us, William Wordsworth (1807)


January 21: In This Place (An American Lyric), by Amanda Gorman


January 20: Rivers, by John Gawsworth

Who can hate rivers? All lucidity

All fluid reasons, aspirations, hopes,

They symbolize, snaking their varied scopes

Into some little lake or the great sea.

I have loved rivers since there came to me

My first vision of Thames from Syon’s slopes

And I knew Arun, where the swimmer copes,

As Shelley once, with water-greenery.

I glide upon my rivers in my mind

But no more are they all of England now.

Algeria’s Oued Seybouse, the Oued Kebir

Of Khroumerie, throughout my musings wind

With Liri, Trigno, Tiber, Nile, till how

To make one choice, I cannot now see clear.

January 19: somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond, by e e cummings


January 18: Blue Notebook #10, by Daniil Kharms, translated by Matvei Yankelevich.

There was a redheaded man who had no eyes or ears. He didn’t have hair either, so he was called a redhead arbitrarily.

He couldn’t talk because he had no mouth. He didn’t have a nose either.

He didn’t even have arms or legs. He had no stomach, he had no back, no spine, and he didn’t have any insides at all. There was nothing! So, we don’t even know who we’re talking about.

We’d better not talk about him any more.

January 17: A Little History Of Poetry, Part One, by Matthew Perret

He was, primarily, tormented by a sense of God’s absence.

She, like most of her readers, spent a lifetime worrying about whether or not she would go to Hell for eternal damnation- in those days, this was the equivalent of searching the internet for the meaning of your medical symptoms, real or imaginary.

One of the greats: he gave life back its ordinariness.

Poetry was a new way for the over-privileged to express their resentment at the responsible and hard-working.

Poetry critics are derivative, irrelevant, obscure or divisive; sometimes all four.

All theory is grey, my friend, but forever green is the tree of life.

Pay attention only to the metaphorical or associational meanings of words, ignore their literal meanings; read quickly, and out loud.

The writer tests our depths- we do not have any.

To be “ordinary”

If that is what a skilled,

Vigilant, flexible,

Unemphasised, enthralled

Catching at happiness is called.

It makes grammatical sense, but attempts to paraphrase it look ridiculous.

When his elaborately redundant police force makes its one arrest, God realises the prisoner is a homicidal maniac, and lets him go at once.

We think of the key, each in a prison

Thinking of the key, each confirms a prison.

I managed to suggest I was cleverer than I was, and had these untapped resources which only lack of time prevented me from displaying.

Poets are bastards, I know what

Let’s line them up and have them shot

Unless they’re dead already like Shakespeare’s lot

And if they’re not dead already- why the hell not?

January 16: Ode to BBC Radio 4 Today’s Justin Webb, by Matthew Perret

January 15: Burning Genius, by Brian Patten (1973)


January 14: Oh, I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth, by Pamela Ayres MBE (1977)

January 13: Prelude to Water Melody, by 苏轼 Su Shi (1076)

translated by 许渊冲 XU Yuanchong

How long will the full moon appear?

Wine cup in hand, I ask the sky.

I do not know what time of the year

’Twould be tonight in the palace on high.

Riding the wind, there I would fly,

Yet I’m afraid the crystalline palace would be

Too high and cold for me.

I rise and dance, with my shadow I play.

On high as on earth, would it be as gay?

The moon goes round the mansions red

Through gauze-draped window soft to shed

Her light upon the sleepless bed.

Why then when people part, is the oft full and bright?

Men have sorrow and joy; they part or meet again;

The moon is bright or dim and she may wax or wane.

There has been nothing perfect since the olden days.

So let us wish that man

Will live long as he can!

Though miles apart, we’ll share the beauty she displays.

January 12: American Sonnet For The New Year, by Terrance Hayes


January 11: My Mistress’ Eyes Are Nothing Like The Sun (Sonnet 130), by William Shakespeare

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
     As any she belied with false compare.

January 10: The Booth Police, by Matthew Perret

If you read Private Eye instead of your docs

If your funky tie doesn’t match your pop sox

If you’re online shopping, not checking the press

And use your lunch-hour to drink to excess

Watch out! Watch out! 

There’s an informer about

Keep your nose clean, say “Thank you” and “Please”

Because you might be seen by the Booth Police

If your breath smells, and your shirt has stains

If your mind’s not on the job, because of back pains

If the school’s on the phone ‘cause they’ve expelled your daughter

Or you’re ringing a plumber ‘cause your flat’s full of water

Hang up, and make sure you are back in your seat

‘Cause the Booth Police might be on YOUR beat!

Look out! Look out! 

That colleague’s a scout

Dress like an Italian, be punctual as a Swiss

And hang on ’til lunchtime to go for a piss!

If your bus breaks down, making you late for work

If you pretend to pull your weight, but actually shirk

If the best use for the booth is to have a quick snooze

If you finish the crossword, then kick off your shoes

You could make your colleague take relay when you’re actually there

You could wear flamboyant clothing and flowers in your hair

You COULD if you want… but beware, beware!

For the Booth Police has its spies everywhere!

January 9: “I’m Gonna Wash That Man…”, by Matthew Perret

Have you washed your hair

much since Lockdown 1?

You must have done,

but didn’t dare

cut without due restraint

you say, it underwent

a trim to prevent

mayhem, your complaint

is with your face, far too

angelically arranged 

to remain unchanged

throughout Lockdown 2

Say twice a week, approx.,

for your self-anointing-

that’s nigh on ninety

towel wraps of pure locks

Which pro could help me see

Nature’s new memory?

Which nose could truly

inhale what has drained-

A police dog trained

in melancholy

-no trace of me

since Lockdown 3.

January 8: Have A Nice Day, by Roxanne Shanté

January 7: Learn By Heart This Poem Of Mine, by György Faludy


January 6: Gare du Midi, by W H Auden

A nondescript express in from the South,
Crowds round the ticket barrier, a face
To welcome which the mayor has not contrived
Bugles or braid: something about the mouth
Distracts the stray look with alarm and pity.
Snow is falling, Clutching a little case,
He walks out briskly to infect a city
Whose terrible future may have just arrived.

January 5: The Applicant, by Sylvia Plath

First, are you our sort of a person?
Do you wear
A glass eye, false teeth or a crutch,
A brace or a hook,
Rubber breasts or a rubber crotch,

Stitches to show something’s missing? No, no? Then
How can we give you a thing?
Stop crying.
Open your hand.
Empty? Empty. Here is a hand

To fill it and willing
To bring teacups and roll away headaches
And do whatever you tell it.
Will you marry it?
It is guaranteed

To thumb shut your eyes at the end
And dissolve of sorrow.
We make new stock from the salt.
I notice you are stark naked.
How about this suit——

Black and stiff, but not a bad fit.
Will you marry it?
It is waterproof, shatterproof, proof
Against fire and bombs through the roof.
Believe me, they’ll bury you in it.

Now your head, excuse me, is empty.
I have the ticket for that.
Come here, sweetie, out of the closet.
Well, what do you think of that?
Naked as paper to start

But in twenty-five years she’ll be silver,
In fifty, gold.
A living doll, everywhere you look.
It can sew, it can cook,
It can talk, talk, talk.

It works, there is nothing wrong with it.
You have a hole, it’s a poultice.
You have an eye, it’s an image.
My boy, it’s your last resort.
Will you marry it, marry it, marry it.

January 4: Mort Aux Chats by Peter Porter

There will be no more cats.
 Cats spread infection,
 Cats pollute the air,
 Cats consume seven times
 their own weight in food a week,
 Cats were worshipped in
 decadent societies (Egypt
 and Ancient Rome); the Greeks
 had no use for cats. Cats
 sit down to pee (our scientists
 have proved it). The copulation
 of cats is harrowing; they
 are unbearably fond of the moon.
 Perhaps they are all right in
 their own country but their
 traditions are alien to ours.
 Cats smell, they can't help it,
 you notice it going upstairs.
 Cats watch too much television,
 they can sleep through storms,
 they stabbed us in the back
 last time. There have never been
 any great artists who were cats.
 They don't deserve a capital C
 except at the beginning of a sentence.
 I blame my headaches and my
 plants dying on cats.
 Our district is full of them,
 property values are falling.
 When I dream of God I see
 a Massacre of Cats. Why
 should they insist on their own
 language and religion, who
 needs to purr to make his point?
 Death to all cats! The Rule
 of Dogs shall last a thousand years!

January 3: Happy Fall, by Matthew Perret

“Autumn” is what I used to call

What this year I think’s more The Fall.

Falling in love again, or falling from grace?

Or both… again? Don’t make that face!

Spring forward, fall back

Or fall forward, spring back?

Pride comes before a fall.

It turns out humility does too.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall-

But who’s there to catch you, when you’re small?

We’re all trying not to trip, trying to walk tall.

But who are we trying to kid? Take care, and happy fall!

January 2: I love you like the cliffs love the sea, by Matthew Perret

I love you like the cliffs love the sea

I don’t understand you
I can only watch you
If at times you hit me during a storm

If at times you brush against me

And I crumble inside

It is soon passed
And I return to watching you rise and fall
And occasionally skim against me
Oblivious of the fact that
Slowly slowly
You are the changing the contours of my world

January 1: One Art by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

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