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Margins of Reading – a poem by Alex Saynor for Peter Robinson

Retrieved Attachments CoverAlex Saynor writes: I have been inspired by Peter Robinson’s poems for several years now; the starting point for me was The Returning Sky, and I’ve loved all publications since, up to, and very much including, the recent Retrieved Attachments. I started teacher training at Reading School in 2007, and therefore feel an affinity and familiarity with many of the locations referred to in the poetry. When Buried Music was published, I sent ‘Inland Seagulls’ (referred to here) to the longstanding Head of English at the school, as it is set directly next to the school – he was really struck by the mention of Baudelaire’s albatross in the context of local imagery and wondered how the boys would react! There are references to other poems as well (including the amazing Locks and Moorings) and I have been very inspired by the syntactical style too. The encounter with Iain Sinclair refers to the hour or so before delivery of the Finzi lecture at London Road a few years ago now. In that connection, The Constitutionals was another book I found fascinating, especially as an avid reader of both Iain Sinclair and the late W.G. Sebald, both acknowledged in the book, whom I was fortunate to be taught by for one semester prior to his untimely death in October 2001.


Margins of Reading
For Peter Robinson

With all that brickwork, a shed ablaze
and also, through intersecting lines,
the sky at the far horizon,
there’s a gift for the burning bush
observed through rain-smudged glass,
in writings on negotiated walls
or in the voices of students on their way to class.

I once overheard you and Iain Sinclair
among porticoes on London Road.
It was something about the architecture of hospitals.
Do places retain a memory of pain?
In building anew, what do we remove?
Your eyes roam through famous and common land,
find what makes a town distinct

on the margins: gasometers, factories,
an odd inland gull, people on unique trajectories,
made new or strange by weather, politics,
light catching off glass by the Oracle offices
as though fire radiates across the valley
from a business park and cobbled together
nature reserve or gesture by Sonning.

Then the pause, the interregnum:
thoughts of Liverpool and stations in-between,
a life transplanted and re-planted
as a now quite utterly unique breed
in a Thames Valley influenced by the Far East
seen through a lens of past industry
with modern trade on credit seen for what it is

and mainstream media interests
less significant than the cracks on the road,
geese proliferating by Kennetside
road ends, salvaging moments
against the currents of memory
in fleeting cloud glimpses and aphorisms
converging in time and halting,
as you said, but only for now,
in the grounds of abbey ruins.

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English Flâneur in the Most Unlikely of Places ­– One Local’s Take on Peter Robinson’s The Constitutionals

English Flâneur in the Most Unlikely of Places ­ One Locals Take on Peter Robinson’s The Constitutionals

Belinda Cooke

John Betjeman’s ‘Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough’ echoes in my ears when I recall how I resented growing up in Reading rather than the idyll of my grandparents’ Mayo farm. I only realized my prejudice when a lifelong friend recently countered somewhat affronted: ‘I really liked growing up in Reading!’ And then, in 2007, Peter Robinson arrived in the town after his eighteen-year sojourn in Japan.

Our paths had first crossed when he did the highly unusual thing of writing to thank me for reviewing one of his books. Uncanny, then, that he should relocate just minutes’ walk from my mother’s home, resulting in: a fluttering back and forth of emails on said friend’s local knowledge of children’s schools; a mild – we can laugh about it now – bumping of his wife Ornella and my mum’s cars at the awkwardly placed mini-roundabout outside their new house; my brother David finding in him the catalyst to start writing again after a twenty-year gap, and my discovery of the benefits of capturing an emotion in the moment – a trait that Peter has put to powerful effect in his poetry.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here’s our dad on the steps of our three-storey house in South Street in 1960 – me, spoilt baby girl, David left, looking like one of the Bash Street Kids, and Martin, never seen without his cowboy hat, lifelong supporter of Reading Football Club, who, sadly passed away in December 2021. Our house has long been demolished but similar ones remain including the former location of Reading’s seventies employment exchange, now the South Street Arts Centre and home of the Reading Poets’ Café.

Yes, places and people. David and Peter were both born in 1953 and shared many common experiences with respect to poetry and music. But after a successful start winning a Gregory award and publishing his first book as a student, my brother had all but given up writing. Wonderful then that, one conversation with Peter was enough to reawaken his muse – resulting in an outpouring of books and readings and, ultimately, his High Window Press and Journal, started in 2015.

Even Dad gets a cameo mention, in The Constitutionals as it tracks postwar migrations – one of the enterprising Irish navvies who relocated from Camden to London’s satellite towns for cheaper housing. Here he stands, proud of his domain, and Mum behind the scenes, as our numerous tenants and neighbours piled in to our ‘open house’ to watch their newly acquired TV set: ‘Ah yes, Wagon Train,’ I hear her sigh, ‘we thought that was great.’

Sometime after he arrived, Peter and I walked around Reading University’s campus, Whiteknights Park. He, jokingly, acknowledged the delightful watery atmosphere of the swans among the reeds. ‘Yes, absolutely, but I can’t do anything with this,’ he said, though his latest collection, Retrieved Attachments, proves him wrong. Nevertheless, in The Constitutionals he notes: ‘rooflines and gable-ends…their crisscross of washing lines, the woodwork, outhouses…it might be my primal landscape’ (p.25), while the eyesore of the Kennet Canal gasworks has a ‘lovely old, rusty old gasometer’ (p. 113).

See me, then, the Readingite, looking through the lens of The Constitutionals, a Gertrude to his Hamlet: ‘Come and sit you down, you shall not budge! / You go not till I set you up a glass / Where you may see the inmost part of you’ (Act 3. Sc. 4). Goodness, was the unnervingly high, rickety Horseshoe Bridge actually tacked onto a bridge built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel?  And that so familiar descent from the train station couldn’t possibly be an artificial construction by his gangs of navvies, those great gods of manually shifted earth, could it? As for the three-shelled emblem on my old school blazer – that just belonged to us, not to the whole town, surely? And who’s ever heard of the Victorian Mrs. Dyer who drowned multiple babies at Caversham weir close to our own icy, leaf strewn Kings Meadow open air pool where we had those shivering school swimming lessons back in the day?

No question, the narrator of The Constitutionals in this thinly veiled autobiographical outing is Reading’s perfect flâneur, not the original aimless wanderer with too much money (definitely not) and time on his hands, but Walter Benjamin’s more nuanced individual: ‘the observer, the witness, the stroller of the commodity-obsessed marketplace. He synchronises himself with the shock experience of modern life […] to lead us toward an ‘awakening’ –  the moment at which the past and present recognise each other’ and the ‘flâneur is the virtuoso of … empathy’, he writes in ‘The Arcades Project’.[1]

Robinson’s ‘empathy’ is in full flight by the book’s conclusion, but it also surfaces lightly here and there on his daily walks where he sets out with the futile hope that he might thus overthrow neo-liberal capitalism and the more likely one that they may help cure a mystifying virus that has left his doctors stumped, where ‘you never do feel your old self again, for your old self is gone forever’ (p. 5). In the process, he takes us on a psycho-geographic journey which leaves no architectural stone unturned in revealing Reading’s landscape, history and myriad cultural associations, the whole purpose of which is he tells us is that he ‘might be trying to re-appropriate the soundtrack to what remained from the thing that was once optimistically called ‘my life’ (p. 15).

And, in the process, he takes us through the cultural impact of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe as well as how it came to be his narrator’s favourite book. The upside of being landed with the name ‘Crusoe’ by name-calling bullies was that it directed him to a love of words: ‘I was able to find an identity, and what started to look like a vocation … it was to those mockers that I owed my life’ (p. 39). The first signs of the book’s empathy is then movingly directed towards them as victims of their own lack of resources or identity: ‘the damaged emptiness of others, passed on like a childhood malady or plague, so that those tinkling cymbals and sounding brasses can feel a little bit less empty, by reducing the painful contrast with their absent selves – or merely out of spite’ (p. 40).

From here, the Crusoe label enables him to consider ‘the idea of both needing to be among people, and needing to be away from them’ (p. 41). Thus, along with the running gag of calling his wife Friday, which she hates, he proceeds with delightful little snatches of Crusoe imagery to consider the nature of The Constitutionals project: ‘my message in its bottle, starting out towards that dangerous coast, the landfall of publication … those private words of mine, this pretended autobiography, or sea voyage into the past, and return to the disappearing present’ (p. 39).

Those unpleasant memories of bullying reinforce his present isolation both as a returned exile and suffering this present malady, which triggers a false memory of being reborn: ‘being hurled onto dry land from the breaking waters, as if my mother had haplessly marooned me, cast me away from this spinning desert island of a world’ (p. 42) with little hope of recovery: ‘You wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this sorry specimen – for recovery had left me a castaway on the shores of whatever life remained’ (p. 57).

But before seeing that recovery building to a delightful crescendo, let us first return to his impact on us locals. Here we are where the town centre’s ‘might have been’ jewels-in-the-crown converge: Reading Gaol, the Abbey Ruins and The Forbury Gardens which Robinson believes could have been another Canterbury if Henry the Eighth hadn’t destroyed it. But at least Oscar Wilde is now a celebrated emblem of the town in spite of the current unresolved question as to what to do with the disused HMP Reading: ‘Transformed from imprisoned outcast to martyr and saint of sexual liberation and gay pride, he had taken over from Reading Sauce or Simonds beers [where our Dad worked between labouring jobs] or Huntley and Palmers biscuits [where my brother Martin was employed for years] (p. 188).

And this is the very spot that just happens to be the very heartland of the Catholic working-class Irish: St James’s church and primary school with its annual processions through the Forbury with me as flower girl and David as altar boy. Here, my brother captures well the languor of a soon to be rejected Catholicism along with the procession meandering past the Gardens centre-piece, the Maiwand Lion (about which Peter furnishes many interesting anecdotes) as well as their mutual take on the country’s unrelenting economic boom and bust:


hagiography and a dead language
bound us to our past, the tedium also
of a Corpus Christi parade winding
slowly through these gardens, the air heavy
with hymns and incense, my tired head mesmerized
by a thurible clattering against its chains.

Today even the Lion towering above on
his plinth seems at a loss to justify
those fallen in Afghan wars, staring,
muscle-bound, into a sky where cranes loll
ponderingly, raising disposable
futures from a debris of junked decades

(‘The Forbury Gardens, Reading’)


Meanwhile, I am back in the girls’ playground more suitably placed than the boys’, with its tantalising keyhole into the Abbey Ruins’ ‘love seat’: ‘we would spy through a door in the wall / to a tangle of raw limbs: mini skirt / and drain-pipes ignorant of our illicit gazing…’ (‘Peter Pan’):


We didn’t know it but we were right there
at the start: The Abbey Ruins with the first
written song: ‘Summer is icumen in
loudly sing cuckoo – Cuckoo!’

Wilde’s Reading gaol wasn’t far away –
our school back onto both.
And we were as rough as the flint which
bordered our school playground.

(‘Learning to Read’)


Even more unnervingly accurate is Robinson’s description of our own Eastern Avenue,[2] with its new builds evolving over time in the sold off plots of the grander houses’ gardens: ‘as if you were having to elbow your way through an oddly alluring crowd of old grey ghosts’ (p.45). Growing up surrounded by doctors, teachers and professors was a lived reality for us, and how we must have ‘lowered the tone’ as our now subcontractor Dad unloaded his transit van of fellow navvies each evening, or those Saturdays when Mum responded to our yells of: ‘Mum, is it time for the jumble sale yet?’ with ‘Sssh! We don’t want the neighbours knowing.’ Such visible signs of social difference were also there to taunt the returning Robinson looking for a mortgage just before the Credit Crunch; but even as a child I was also aware of it, living in a house where we had inherited the towering trees of those grander gardens:


Crippled giants cut back because they
shouldn’t have been there in the first place
not like the ‘plantation’ across the way
with its mystery girls in their green-ribboned boaters.

(‘Horse Chestnuts’)


And Robinson’s following in our tracks doesn’t stop there, for at the bottom of the road, we had also long imagined our Dad turning in his grave on the discovery that his local, ‘the Granby’, had become a short-lived ice-cream parlour. So it is amusing to read Robinson’s imagined sighting of the French Symbolist poet, Arthur Rimbaud:

‘wandering out along the King’s Road in the direction of London and pausing for a drink at the Marquis of Granby to down a pint of foaming English beer, to eye the barmaid’s figure, eat a ham sandwich, and plan his next escape?’ (p. 216).

This is a far cry from all dad’s cronies congregating there and occasionally making the local Reading Chronicle after the latest pub brawl, much to our amusement, as we read out the list of false names they’d given. Less amusing – though we can also laugh about this now – to recall reading about our Dad himself being called up before the beak for playing Pitch and Toss outside the pub – oh dear, what would the neighbours say?

As Robinson continues to consider his own isolation, he becomes increasingly aware of how much public spaces have changed: ‘In comparison to the black-and-white footage of old twentieth-century urban areas there as so few people around…no signs of children playing out in the street…it makes you wonder what has happened to the idea of shared community spaces have they become deserted through a species of social fear’ (p. 249).

This brought to mind reminiscences I had gathered from another significant Readingite, my mum’s second husband Brian Blackburn, now in his nineties who grew up Great Knolleys Street, near the old Central Swimming Pool. Though we grew up thinking it the roughest street in Reading, Brian wore it as a badge of pride: ‘Oh, yes, we were the Great Knolleys Street boys’: ‘This was during the time of the Blitz. In them days Great Knollys Street was a great community. All the men were away and the grandads did all the control. My grandad used to tick of all the kids out in the street and wasn’t past giving you a clip around the ear. He’d sort out all the kids in the street and they needed it some of them. That’s how it was in our day’.

As the book winds to its close, there is a delicately constructed shift in Robinson’s state of mind. The double realisation that he is actually getting better and that there is no Quixotic solution to the world’s ills, which have possessed him during his walks, creeps up on him unawares. It comes first, like little chinks of nature on his human walks as he tries to locate some kind of shared experience with the people around him: ‘my attention would keep drifting back to the rooftops and sky. It would alight for a moment on the passers-by across the way from the hoardings – for there were so few signs around here of the sorts of mutual recognition that a lonely soul returned to his home country might hope to find in the encounter of everyday outings to the post office and shops’ (p. 149).

And as he recovers, he convinces himself that the walks had a second purpose of trying to make a difference ‘to the political life of the world by going on a walk’ (p. 253) and in this context thinks of all the great marches in history which were to make a difference: Jarrow, CND, and the like. Yet almost in the same breath he distances himself from such heroic notions, cutting himself down to size as just one of the many poets in their ‘purposeless drifting’ (p. 257). All the same, the reader feels a certain quiet joy at his accounts of recovery which also comes with the change in the weather: ‘the lushness of our greenery might be the illusion of more time created by the longer days, the daylight stretching on towards more time related by longer days’ (p. 255): ‘it suddenly dawned how you had yourself changed, had changed yourself, how these constitutionals really must have made a difference, that this was, for better or worse, another person than the one who had set out on them at one ambiguous beginning of spring. Yet peculiarly coloured by these circumstances […] this person appeared to have got sharper too, making me even more like Robinson returned to his home world’ (p. 272).

And as he works through what this might mean for what he can ‘do’ in the world, he comes to the very real conclusion that there are no grand schemes but just the resilience to keep going: ‘like those who are undefeated because they have gone on walking, in whatever, long march or constitutional, I had no other choice than to get out of the house, to recover my health, to get myself back to fitness, all in aid of returning to face the struggle once more’ (p. 265). By the book’s close, I felt it had achieved what the meta-narrative of its ‘editor’ had claimed was the author’s desire, that it should offer a balm ‘for the salve of his own damaged self and for that of the world’ (p. 295).

Reading it had led me to a reflection of my own as I looked back to some of my first poems, this one written in the eighties in my ‘courting days’ as our parents would call it, only to discover, now in Benedick’s words: ‘A miracle! Here’s our own hands against our hearts’ (Act 5. Sc 4 Much Ado About Nothing), when Stephen and I used to stroll back from town dropping off to have a pint in the ‘Jolly Anglers’ – perhaps, even back then, I had taken something of Reading’s unspectacular charm as my own:


Grey on grey. In the distance
swans would move under a fog
tuned to the fine eye of the eskimo,
back and forth with no colour.

At times I also felt our shadows
also embrace the canal,
just like those shadows
we searched beyond the fog

while nameless holly
offered up its berries,
a drop in the ocean
in this harsh monochrome.

A little way along the
elephant-grey gasworks
would stand immense
against changing skies

and on late evenings
you could hear the river’s
heaving monster breathe,
and could catch

the moon-reflected ripples
of the dark swan
as it made its
flight through water.

(‘Canal Walk’)


Belinda Cooke is a widely published poet, translator and reviewer. She has published seven collections, including translations from both Russian and Kazakh. Best known for her translations of Maria Tsvetaeva, she has recently written a prose memoir of her mother’s life: From the Back of Beyond to Westland Row: A Mayo Woman’s Story (The High Window Press, 2022). Her latest collection, The Days of the Shorthanded Shovelists, is due out from Salmon Poetry in 2024.


[1] For a thorough discussions of Benjamin’s interpretation of the term see

[2] For an account of its building history see the self-published Vaughan, Philip. The Avenue Story: Eastern Avenue and its People through Two Centuries. Self-published. Available in Reading Library.

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Retrieving ‘Retrieved Attachments’ – Peter Robinson reflects on his latest poetry collection

Retrieving Retrieved Attachments


Retrieved Attachments CoverWritten or revised between early April 2017 (‘Night in Nigawa’) and August 2021 (‘Behind the Shops’), the poems in Retrieved Attachments chronologically overlap with those in Ravishing Europa (2019) and Bonjour Mr Inshaw (2020). They are all parts of an evolving response to the turmoil through which we have been living, the one that has given us five prime ministers in the time it has taken me to write and publish three poetry books.

The first in this triptych of publications evidently concerns the fracturing of relations both within this country and with its neighbours, whether those in the British Isles or across Europe, caused by the consequences of the 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union. The second is a tribute to the painter David Inshaw, who I first met in 1977, lost touch with, and was then fortunately able to renew our friendship some forty years later. Retrieved Attachments tries to address, among other things, the consequences of the first by employing themes from the second. It began to find its form through another meeting of friends separated for many years.

The origins of the book, though, are a four-month stay in Japan between April and July 2017, when I was a visiting professor at Kwansei Gakuin University, Nishinomiya, on the railway line from Osaka to Kobe. My wife and I hadn’t been back to the country where I lived between 1989 and 2007, and where our two daughters would spend their early years, for exactly a decade. I was in the middle of writing poems prompted by the breaking of relations that withdrawing from the European Union inevitably involved, and this four-month idyll in Japan came as an interruption in which much revisiting of old haunts took place, where old friendships were renewed, and new acquaintances made. It produced a set of poems that didn’t fit those in Ravishing Europa, whose poems were written both before, during, and after that stay. The Japan-based poems were being accepted for publication in magazines, but what would become of them beyond that I had no idea.

Book cover imageThe poems for David Inshaw were written in a rush of inspiration in the first months of 2019. Not long after they were drafted, someone else I’d lost touch with sent an email saying she had returned to England after many years living in Colombia, and perhaps we might meet. We did, on three occasions before the pandemic descended upon us, and from them came ‘The Revenants’ – which took me back to a poem I had written years before and not included in Collected Poems 1976–2016 (2017), one called ‘Imaginary Portrait’ from Entertaining Fates (1992), whose very addressee had just made contact out of the blue. I revised it to go with the new one and gave it the title ‘Retrieved Attachments’, getting the word ‘Retrieved’ from a posthumous gathering of uncollected Frank O’Hara called Poems Retrieved and ‘Attachments’ both from rummaging around in my laptop to find old drafts and the happy experience of being reunited with people lost for many years.

And it was the dawning realisation of implications in that phrase ‘Retrieved Attachments’ that helped bring together the five sequences which make up the book: the ones written during that return to Japan, those composed out of visits to Switzerland to see my elder daughter and her boyfriend who were attempting to make a life together on the outskirts of Winterthur, a sequence devoted to the district of Parma, Italy, where my wife comes from, written and revised when we couldn’t visit because of the pandemic, various elegies and other poems prompted by partings and losses, as well as a group written during the isolation in our house through lockdowns, when we were allowed out only to exercise, during which I really got to know my neighbourhood in Reading through repeatedly walking its streets and parks.

Living in different time zones, like being on the defeated side in a culture-changing political watershed, is likely to prompt thoughts along the lines of the what-if and might-have-been. It suggests the idea of times running in parallel, like trains on adjacent tracks, the one you are in which will take you wherever it goes, and the one you are not, but wanted to be or should have been on. This sort of theme, not planned, since that is not how the collection emerged, but detectable throughout, gains in definition with the later sections of the book and can be found fully formed in ‘Manifestos for a Lost Cause’, whose ambiguous title, borrowed from a painting by Paula Rego, points in the two directions that many of these poems straddle, like those two trains on parallel but diverging lines.

Retrieved Attachments is being published in what I hope is a new era of renewed relationships, meetings with friends and colleagues not seen for years because of the pandemic. I’ve spent much of my creative life thinking about what the formal orchestrations of poems can or might mean, and the tensions and conflicts I’ve been talking about provide the unshapely disorders that will naturally, in my case at least, prompt the urge to engage with the kinds of coordination in sound and rhythm that poetry foregrounds.

As my book comes out, it enters a world in which the threats of further conflicts and global depredation prompt calls for us to rebuild bridges, enter into new agreements, find accords in place of age-old difference. Fretted with some of the frictions and disappointments indicated above, these poems employ their orchestration to encourage such developments. ‘To explain anything we go back,’ Adrian Stokes writes in Living in Ticino, and if my new collection achieves that, well, perhaps it does so in order to take a great leap forward.

Peter Robinson

30 January 2023


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A Ballad Footnote – a poem by Peter Robinson


‘that little tent of blue’

Oscar Wilde



We’re driving east in the winter sun,

its rays, a reddish yellow dazzle.

Reality testing, phenomenal,

they’re splayed about the far horizon


and cast on walls a leafless shadow.

Up ahead, the gibbous moon

rises above built-environment neon

waxing in that tent of blue …



Then round the perimeter of Reading Gaol,

we pick out by its locked front entrance

an agent’s board with the words: FOR SALE.


But whether, behind, that remnant glow

or ahead this pallid, chilly distance

weighs and finds us wanting, I don’t know.


12 December 2019

Peter Robinson is the poetry editor for Two Rivers Press and teaches at the University of Reading. His TRP publications include Bonjour Mr Inshaw, The Constitutionals: a Fiction, and Foreigners, Drunks and Babies: Eleven Stories.

The Two Rivers Press illustrated edition of The Ballad of Reading Gaol is available here.

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Poet of the Week – 6: Peter Robinson


Peter Robinson was born in Salford, Lancashire, in 1953 and grew up mainly in Liverpool. He is an internationally appreciated poet, whose Collected Poems was published by Shearsman Books in 2017, and has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize, and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations for volumes of his poetry and translations. The Salt Companion to Peter Robinson edited by Adam Piette and Katy Price appeared in 2007 and a new volume of critical studies edited by Tom Phillips, Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work, is in development at Shearsman.

Book cover image

He has also published aphorisms, short stories, literary fiction, and his six volumes of literary criticism are in print from the university presses of Oxford, Cambridge, and Liverpool. Two Rivers Press has brought out two of his collaborations with artists: English Nettles with illustrations by Sally Castle appeared in 2010, and Bonjour Mr Inshaw, with paintings by David Inshaw, is one of this year’s books. Two Rivers Press also publishes Foreigners, Drunks and Babies: Eleven Stories (2013) and his second novel, The Constitutionals (2019), whose main character takes daily walks around Reading to help recover from a cruel virus. Peter Robinson is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and the poetry editor for Two Rivers Press.

Peter Robinson writes:

“My poetry, and much of my other writing, can be understood as an exploration of the word ‘repair’. It is a form of sheltering from experiences, and an emblem of the need to mend or make amends when selves and others have been damaged or harmed. This theme is regularly and appropriately associated with my being the witness at gunpoint to an act of sexual violence over forty years ago, which has impacted on all my work and in particular on a sequence of poems in The Other Life (1988) and the novel September in the Rain (2016).

However, it is probably unlikely that I would have responded to that experience in those ways had I not been born into the exact locations of L. S. Lowry’s paintings and brought up in a series of impoverished urban parishes in Manchester, Wigan, and Liverpool. The industrial and domestic architecture and the ravaged and re-wilding natural scenery of those places has shaped all my responses to the world, and I have taken the need to find artistic interest in such textures with me to scenery as far flung as the mountains, plains, cities and coasts of northern Italy and the volcanic landscapes of northern-eastern Japan.

My wife, Ornella Trevisan, who specialised in environmental biology at university, has undoubtedly helped enlarge the scope of that commitment to reparation and ‘repair’. If asked to give an account of my many and various writings produced and published over the best part of half a century, I would think that this dominant thought, derived from the art theories of Adrian Stokes, has been the shaping spirit that has compelled me to want to produce works that aid in the mending of ourselves, our societies, the inhabited environments on which they depend, and of the suffering world itself.”


There’s a corrugated-iron roof,
its undulations flattened
by settled years of lime-green moss;

it juts into repurposed space
where stone-wall textures are revealed,
enhanced by sparser finishes,
framed pictures hung against it:

a dusk cloud risen behind a hill,
the portrait of one tree in moonlight,
another strafing seagull …

They emphasize the edges
letting on bare sail-loft opposite:
a dried grey wood interior
where all the thrifty meanings start.

Then, me too, I’m a counter of clouds
come over the hills like this one
‘salmoning’ in a ‘deepening blue’;

they fill up turning windscreen glass
(you see I’ve put the car in too)
above West Bay’s horizon

with a borrowed sharpness, focus
from promptings given by
that pink house under its precipitous cliff.

Recounting them, you’re at least alive to
how this word-cloud builds and disperses
ideas like a Nordau’s or Lombroso’s –

and how they’re clouds themselves, these verses.

[from Bonjour Mr Inshaw, 2020]


Green shutters open on an early sky;
in the Casa Divina Provvidenza
even its room doors, closing, breathe a sigh.

With time, heat would release your love,
till evening’s fresher breeze,
then starlight, the companionate,

and talking on a phone, you see
her hurry towards our rendezvous
beside Mazzini’s statue in the square:

an open face, still trusting as you like,
enlivened with enthusiasm,
unfazed by time and, no mistake,

that’s the zone from where all this life came.

[First published in The London Magazine, February-March 2020]