Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker

Lorine Niedecker was born in 1903 in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, and lived in this wilderness area for most of her life. Her isolation from other writers and the beauty of her natural surroundings had a profound impact on her work. Niedecker chose to write in seclusion, and many of her closest relatives and neighbors were unaware that she was a poet. She had a brief relationship with the poet Louis Zukofsky in New York, but apart from that she continued to live in relative obscurity. In later years she was befriended by the British poet, Basil Bunting, the author of Briggflats, and one-time disciple of Ezra Pound; but for much of her life she lived in poverty, earning her living as a cleaning lady in a Fort Atkinson hospital. Since her death on 31 December 1970, her reputation as one of the most significant American poets of the 20th century has grown enormously. At the core of her writing are terse observations of her rural environment: the birds, trees, water and marshland that surrounded her.

For a selection of Lorine Niedecker’s poems see http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/lorine-niedecker#about


John Lyons


The Wind

The Wind

Incessant at my window
a nagging bitchy wind

that will not let my mind rest
a wind with a vengeance

that demands to be heard
that will not lower its voice

a wind that insinuates itself
into every nook and cranny

an overarching wind
a wind that would drag me

through the streets
given half the chance

an ill wind that blows no good
full of spite and anger

a latch-lifting wind unleashed
from a cage of bitter winds :

how the branches tremble
how the cats that are abroad

cower beneath hedges
in the hope that soon it will pass

a dry wind from the west
that topples whatever is loose

in its ruthless rattling path
a wind that would be at home

in any so-called haunted house
a sly low-lying wind

that might suddenly rise up
and strike you when least expected

a menacing clenched fist
of an inquisitorial wind

brandished in your face
as it scours your soul

for a confession of all yours
timeless sins —past present

and – who knows – perhaps 
even those to come too

John Lyons


The Year-End

The Year-End

The pitter-patter of rain
             on the skylight
and visible through the glass
             against a dull grey sky
the bare branches of a poplar
             upon which a large crow
has perched — birds are
             the most common accessories
in our landscape and never
             more necessary than during
the long barren winter months

Birds go way back
             over 200 million years
and in our lives
             their song is ever present
from the moment we are born
             right down to the wire :
the marvel of their flight
             the variations of their melodies
back and forth they go
             harbingers of tidings good and bad
and with a tune for all seasons

Yesterday the arc of a perfect rainbow
             encompassed the whole of Thamesmead
a bright ring of colour that warmed the heart
             with the promise of better times to come
another of nature’s simplicities
             there to lift the human spirit
just like birdsong
             or the beauty of the rose

Today at dawn
             a blustery wind is blowing
through the darkness
             it too a reminder of our status
as it rattles the eaves
             as it runs through the trees
as its howl suffocates
             all sound but its own
We are at the year-end
             on the cusp of change
at a time when the ledgers
             of profit and loss are pored over
and consciences are up
             for examination
at a time of prayer :
             let peace reign
let there be – we pray – less pain
             less pointless loss
of life 
and love

John Lyons



The voice within the voice
           that nags and complains
the voice of thwarted ambition
           and of dashed dreams
the disconcerted voice
           tired of birdsong
weary of the dawn chorus
by the laughter of children
           the controlled voice
within the controlling voice
           the voice that hijacks conversations
that throws words against a brick wall
           the voice that knees in the groin
the loveless voice of excessive
           self-regard that teeters on the brink
of dispassionate pantomime

And as a counterpoint
           a voice of belched words
loosed to the eddies of the air
           a voice devoid of guile
or pretence or subtexts
           a voice that clings perilously
to the sharp edge of the truth
           a voice suited to wide savannahs
to gently flowing rivers
           a voice attuned to the subtlety
of roses and to the dignity
           of tables laid for supper guests
a common or garden voice
           that hums to the chatter of bees
that gathers honey
           from the least likely pots
that at times gives in
           but never gives up
a voice that revels
           in all life’s energies
a voice that sings
           of wheat ripening in the fields
of apples that swell on the branch
           of the intimacy of distant stars
and of suburban highways that guide us
           ineluctably along love’s lanes

John Lyons





Some weeks ago on Platform 3          
               at Lewisham station
a working class man
               with a working class ferret
on a harnessed lead
               waiting for a train
to Charing Cross
               and when the train arrived
the ferret tugged restlessly at the lead
               eager to be the first to board
I wondered what business
               the ferret had at Charing Cross
though it was none of my business
               though let it be said
if anyone is interested
               that the word for a group
of ferrets is a business

Male ferrets are called hobs
               but all the girls are known as jills
and the babes as kits
               Though ferrets can sleep
for anything up to eighteen hours
               a day
you wouldn’t believe it
               while they’re awake
because they’re never still
               the pests !

Ferrets have been employed
               to lay wires
or as racers in rural fairs
               but the main use of ferrets
has always been hunting :
               with their long lean bodies
and inquisitive nature
               these mammals
are very well equipped
               for getting down holes
or chasing rodents
               rabbits and moles
out of their burrows

And like the rest of us
               ferrets are composed
of one hundred percent dust
               God bless ’em !

John Lyons

For the inspiration behind the poem’s final stanza, see Emily Dickinson: “This quiet dust was gentlemen and ladies / And lads and girls,” and also the final stanza of “The Color of the Grave is Green”.


Walking home from Christmas

Walking home from Christmas

The stillness of the night
               barely a hint of drizzle
the full cold moon
               hidden by clouds
quiet deserted roads
               houses festooned
with fairy lights
               some flashing
some more sober
                Here and there a reindeer
illuminated on a front lawn
                A grey squirrel crosses my path
as I stroll over the railway bridge
                Will that bring good luck I wonder
Do I need any more good luck ?

I’ve just come away
               from my brother’s house
saw him playing lovingly on the floor
               with twins Faith and Hope
six months old on their first Christmas
                : and sitting at the table
their great-grandmother
               a Sweeney out of Arklow
all those years ago
               She didn’t know me
but years ago she’d known me for years
               still she smiled
and gave me a hearty kiss
               content in her own
parallel world
               in which she is surrounded
by Faith and Hope
               and so much love

John Lyons


Full Cold Moon

Moon in December

Full Cold Moon

This is the world
          of the full cold moon
and the deathless voice
          of deep December
hanging there in the black sky
          untouched by echoes of the world
this grieving world of pitiless war
          This earth is the garden of the sun
that calls out each day
          to every planted seed
to every rising flame
          of our humanity
This earth is the sun’s pastures
          its valleys its mountains
its teeming oceans
          its crystal rivers and streams
through which the shadows
          of salmon trout glide
and are gone
          as a gust of articulate breath
This is the world of incantations
          of truths that are never in season
the world of necessary words

I say :
          teach my soul to bow
before the bountiful glories of this world
          my heart touched
by the gentle folds of beauty in her smile
          and in the never-dying rose
the butterfly that flutters
          before my eyes
the tree that enters my hands
          that strives to bring mercy
and understanding
          where there is enmity
Love’s inmost part lies in peace
          in the disdain for bombs and guns
We are the world’s breath
          its hope and its passion
we are the tender tissue
          that makes sense of life
the earth’s expression of beauty
          the dusting of light that defies
the full cold moon
          of deep December

John Lyons


Umbel of a wild carrot


The humble carrot
        first recorded in English
around 1530
        its name derived
from the Indo-European root ker
        signifying horn
Ancestors of the plant
        hail from Persia
modern-day’s Iran and Afghanistan
        A subspecies of the wild carrot
selectively bred
        to reduce bitterness
enhance sweetness
        and soften its woody core
Introduced into Spain – by the Moors –
        in the 8th century
into China in the 14th
        into Colonial America in the 17th
A biennial plant
        boasting a rosette of leaves
and clusters of flowers
        each cluster a compound umbel
each umbel containing
        several smaller umbels
A thing of beauty
        so much taken for granted
that nourishes
        both body and soul
and tastes divine
        in an Irish stew

John Lyons


Axles of devotion

Axles of devotion

And so we turn
        around axles of devotion
circling the lips and the roses
        that render us oblivious
to the dark lanes of death
        There was a time
when bee and butterfly flew
        from bloom to bloom
pollinating the fruit of our lives
        a time when star kissed star
and wave fell upon wave
        in the ever-shifting sea
our bodies barricades
        to the deathward parade
of twisted time
        My hand upon her breast
and in my words
        the perennials of love
that built a tower
        of whispered light

And so we lived within
        the permissions granted
holding life’s empty burlesques
        at arm’s length
fighting bone by bone
        for a bliss beyond
the dreary sesames of science

A drench of tears could never
        save the moon from meaningless
        its icy shadows all a mockery
of every ticking dream
        Only the flesh remembers
only the flesh holds stone to account
        Only the flesh will bring us through
the troubled foam of all our days

My eyes have hugged beauty
        have clung to its cliff-like façade
and in my arms I have felt
        the pangs of mortal dust
As evening fell the first moth
        circled the bright candle
and I feared for its life

John Lyons


This is our spring

This is our spring

This is our spring
        out of season
blossom on the cherry tree
        when there should be snow
daffodils basking
        in the late December sun
This is our spring
        out of season
the unexpected warmth
        of your body
of your kisses
        of your words
the passion
         and the easy mesh of limbs
the flowering of love
        when least expected
This is our spring
        out of season

John Lyons