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Best Famous Barry Tebb Poems

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Written by Barry Tebb |


 At ten she came to me, three years ago,

There was ‘something between us’ even then;

Watching her write like Eliot every day,

Turn prose into haiku in ten minutes flat,

Write a poem in Greek three weeks from learning the alphabet;

Then translate it as ‘Sun on a tomb, gold place, small sacred horse’.
I never got over having her in the room, though Every day she was impossible in a new way, Stamping her foot like a naughty Enid Blyton child, Shouting "Poets don’t do arithmetic!" Or drawing caricatures of me in her book.
Then there were the ‘moments of vision’, her eyes Dissolving the blank walls and made-up faces, Genius painfully going through her paces, The skull she drew, the withered chrysanthemum And scarlet rose, ‘Descensus averno’, like Virgil, I supposed.
Now three years later, in nylons and tight skirt, She returns from grammar school to make a chaos of my room; Plaiting a rose in her hair, I remember the words of her poem - ‘For love is wrong/in word, in deed/But you will be mine’ And now her promise to come the last two days of term, "But not tell them", the diamond bomb exploding In her eyes, the key left ‘Accidentally’ on my desk And the faint surprise.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 Quarter to three: I wake again at the hour of his birth

Thirty years ago and now he paces corridors of dark

In nightmares of self-condemnation where random thoughts

Besiege his fevered imagination – England’s 

Imminent destruction, his own, the world’s…

Sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, unavailing depot injections,

Failed abscondings, failed everything: Eton and Balliol

Hold no sway on ward one, nor even being

‘A six language master,’ on PICU madness is the only qualification.
There was the ‘shaving incident’ at school, which Made him ready to walk out at fifteen, the alcohol Defences at Oxford which shut us out then petered out During the six years in India, studying Bengali at Shantiniketan.
He tottered from the plane, penniless and unshaven, To hide away in the seediest bedsit Beeston could boast Where night turned to day and vaguely he applied For jobs as clerk and court usher and drank in pubs with yobs.
When the crisis came – "I feel my head coming off my body’ – I was ready and unready, making the necessary calls To get a bed, to keep him on the ward, to visit and reassure Us both that some way out could be found.
The ‘Care Home’ was the next disaster, trying to cure Schizophrenia with sticking plaster: "We don’t want Carers’ input, we call patients ‘residents’ and insist on chores Not medication", then the letters of terrible abuse, the finding of a flat, ‘The discharge into the community.
’ His ‘keyworker’ was the keyworker from hell: the more Isaiah’s care fell apart the more she encouraged Him to blame us and ‘Make his life his own’, vital signs Of decline ignored or consigned to files, ‘confidentiality’ reigned supreme.
Insidiously the way back to the ward unveiled Over painful months, the self-neglect, the inappropriate remarks In pubs, the neglected perforated eardrum, keeping Company with his feckless cousins between their bouts in prison.
The pointless team meetings he was patted through, My abrupt dismissal as carer at the keyworker’s instigation, The admission we knew nothing of, the abscondings we were told of And had to sort out, then the phone call from the ASW.
"We are about to section your son for six months, have you Any comment?" Then the final absconding to London From a fifteen minute break on PICU, to face his brother’s Drunken abuse, the police were kindness itself as they drove him to the secure unit.
Two nurses came by taxi from Leeds the next day to collect him The Newsam Centre’s like a hotel – Informality and first class treatment Behind the locked doors he freezes before and whispers "Daddy, I was damned in hell but now I am God’s friend.
" Note: PICU- Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit Beeston- An inner city area of Leeds ASW- Approved Social Worker

Written by Barry Tebb |


 Sorry, Neil Oram (with an orange in my pocket)

I can’t make ,your loch-side commune by bonny Drummadrochit.
Sorry Brenda Williams, I can’t share your park bench protest near the Royal Free At sixty I need a fire and slippers, -4 outside just isn’t me.
Sorry, Chris Torrance, I can’t make your Welsh eyrie Just spelling Gymmercher Isaf Pontneathvaughan quite fazes me.
Sorry, Seamus Famous, your hide away in Dublin Bay No doubt is bloody grand but I can’t face the journey to a far off foreign land.
Sorry James Kirkup, your Andorran niche Is just too complicated for me to ever reach.
Apologies especially to Emily Bronte’s ghost - You are the mostest hostess that I could ever boast Your heather moor and cobbled street’s allure Are something I’ve put off until the braw New Year.

More great poems below...

Written by Barry Tebb |


 (or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)

What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?

“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
He’s organising A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.
” ‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV? “Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand, Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind, The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.
” We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred Lyrics in his quiver.
’ Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink, The house is on fucking fire!” So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour, Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work: The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I Must meet.
” A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message ‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for Went unacknowledged.
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books, At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways, His head lolled and he keeled over.
” The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection ‘With Energy To Burn’ with energy to burn.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 I was never a film buff, give me Widmark and Wayne any day

Saturday matin?es with Margaret Gardener still hold sway

As my memory veers backwards this temperate Boxing Day-

Westerns and war films and a blurred Maigret,

Coupled with a worn-out sixties Penguin Mallarm?-

How about that mix for a character trait?

Try as I may I can’t get my head round the manifold virtues

Of Geraldine Monk or either Riley

Poetry has to have a meaning, not just patterns on a page,

Vertical words and snips of scores just make me rage.
Is Thom Gunn really the age-old sleaze-weasel Andrew Duncan says? Is Tim Allen right to give Geraldine Monk an eleven page review? At least they care for poetry to give their lives to it As we do, too.
My syntax far from perfect, my writing illegible But somehow I’ll get through, Bloodaxe and Carcourt May jeer but an Indian printer’s busy with my ‘Collected’ And, Calcutta typesetters permitting, it will be out this year With the red gold script of sari cloth on the spine And fuck those dusty grey contemporary voices Those verses will be mine.
Haslam’s a whole lot better but touchy as a prima donna And couldn’t take it when I said he’d be a whole lot better If he’d unloose his affects and let them scatter I’m envious of his habitat, The Haworth Moors Living there should be the inspiration of my old age But being monophobic I can’t face the isolation Or persuade my passionate friend to join me.
What urban experiences can improve Upon a cottage life with my own muse!

Written by Barry Tebb |


 The Poetry School, The Poetry Book Society, The Poetry Business:

So much poetry about you’d think I’d want to shout, “Hurray, hurray,

Every day’s Poetry Day!” but I don’t and you don’t either-

You know its flim-flam on the ether, grants for Jack-the-lads

Of both sexes, poets who’ve never been seen in a little magazine

Then gone on to win the Oopla Prize and made baroque architecture

The subject of an O.
Seventy five pounds for a seminar on sensitivity in verse; A hundred and fifty for an infinitely worse whole weekend of ‘Steps towards a personal fiction in post-modern diction’; And the inevitable course anthology, eight pounds for eleven Nameless poets Pascale Petit and Mimi Kahlvati carefully selected From, well honestly! Who cares? God only knows how banal they’re Bound to be.
Budding Roddy Lumsdens, (Has anyone read a Roddy Lumsden Poem?) “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” his first collection short-listed here and there - The sheer hype’s enough to put me off for life.
I still write at bus-stops and avoid competitions like the plague.
I’m not lucky that way, I’ve still to win a single literary prize.
Is there one for every day of the year? And as for James Kirkup, My mentor of forty-odd years, his name evokes blank stares; but Look him up in ‘Who’s Who’, countless OUP collections, the best- ever Version of Val?ry’s ‘Cimeti?re Marin’, translations from eleven tongues Including Vietnamese.
Is there nothing Jamie can do to please? I help one poet to write and one to stay alive; Please God help poor poets thrive.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 As soon as we crossed into Yorkshire

Hughes’ voice assailed me, unmistakable

Gravel and honey, a raw celebration of rain

Like a tattered lacework window;

Black glisten on roof slates,

Tarmac turned to shining ice,

Blusters of naked wind whipping

The wavelets of shifting water

To imaginary floating islets

On the turbulent river

Glumly he asked, "Where are the mills?"

Knowing their goneness in his lonely heart.
"Where are the mines with their turning spokes, Lurking slag heaps, bolts of coal split with Shimmering fools’ gold tumbling into waiting wagons? Mostly what I came for was a last glimpse Of the rock hanging over my cot, that towering Sheerness fifty fathoms high screed with ferns And failing tree roots, crumbling footholds And dour smile.
A monument needs to be known For what it is, not a tourist slot or geological stratum But the dark mentor loosing wolf’s bane At my sleeping head.
" When the coach lurches over the county boundary, If not Hughes’ voice then Heaney’s or Hill’s Ringing like miners’ boots flinging sparks From the flagstones, piercing the lens of winter, Jutting like tongues of crooked rock Lapping a mossed slab, an altar outgrown, Dumped when the trumpeting hosannas Had finally riven the air of the valley.
And I, myself, what did I make of it? The voices coming into my head Welcoming kin, alive or dead, my eyes Jerking to the roadside magpie, Its white tail-bar doing a hop, skip and jump.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 There was a hope for poetry in the sixties

And for education and society, teachers free

To do as they wanted: I could and did teach

Poetry and art all day and little else -

That was my way.
I threw rainbows against the classroom walls, Gold and silver dragons in the corridors and Halls; the children’s eyes were full of stars; I taught the alphabet in Greek and spoke of Peace and war in Vietnam, of birth and sex and Death and immortality - the essences of lyric poetry; Richards and Ogden on ‘The Meaning of Meaning’, Schopenhauer on sadness, Nietzsche and Lawrence on Civilisation and Plato on the Theory of Forms; I read aloud ‘The Rainbow’ and the children drew The waterfall with Gudrun bathing, I showed Them Gauguin and Fra Angelico in gold and a film On painting from life, and the nude girls Bothered no-one.
It was the Sixties - Art was life and life was art and in the Staff-room we talked of poetry and politics And passionately I argued with John.
a clinical Psychologist, on Freud and Jung; Anne, at forty One, wanted to be sterilised and amazingly asked My advice but that was how it was then: Dianne Went off to join weekly rep at Brighton, Dave Clark had given up law to teach a ‘D’ stream in the Inner city.
I was more lucky and had the brightest Children - Sheila Pritchard my genius child-poet with Her roguish eye and high bright voice, drawing skulls In Avernus and burning white chrysanthemums, teasing me With her long legs and gold salmon-flecked eyes.
It was a surprise when I made it into Penguin Books; Michael Horovitz busy then as now and madly idealistic As me; getting ready for the Albert Hall jamboree, The rainbow bomb of peace and poetry.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 The years become you as Oxford becomes you,

As you became Oxford through the protest years;

From Magdalen’s grey gargoyles to its bridge in May,

From the cement buttresses of Wellington Square

To Balliol, Balliol in the rain.
The years become you as the Abbey Road becomes you, As you became that road through silent years, From the famous crossing to the stunted bridge Caparisoned with carnivals of children, Cohorts of coloured clowns and Father Christmases.
The years become you as the Clothworkers’ Hall in gold Became you, and you became it through the protest years, When the Brotherton’s Portland stone, its white stone Of innocence was snow in the School of English garden, ‘A living sculpture’, a Grene Knicht awaiting spring.
The years become you, Oxford, Leeds and London, As you became them through the years of poems, Through passing, silent crowds, through the cherry blossom You sat under, plucked and ploughed, ‘a dissenting voice’, And Balliol, Balliol in the rain.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 I was a good father to my people,

Their houses among the terraced hills

Adored God every day, grape-clusters on the vines

Made Christ’s blood richer in the goblet

My father gave me: the chased silver had vines

Round the stem and Cellini made it,

‘Let him take it to Rome’, he had said,

‘The Pope will adore it.
’ The backs of my people Bent as I held it aloft with the Host, The silver blazed in our eyes like the sun, Their lips were cracked as they sipped The delicate wine, the crook of my finger already Held the ring of a Bishop but I would not go; ‘When the harvest is over’, I said, let me bless The gathered grapes, I love to watch the purple juice Flowing from under their feet and the feast after.
But my father called, I left my people With a sot who embarrassed the Bishop.
I was not long in my see, two Popes died quickly And my father’s whispers never ceased, Rome called And I was Cardinal at last.
It is hot, fever-ridden, No-one dare speak for the ears of spies; I toss at night in my high room through my window The villa’d hills, my private chapel has the goblet, I hear my people starved in a famine, Their harvest blighted for three years.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 You always disrupt me;

When I ring you for comfort

You wing me, send my

Pudding of a mind

A-splatter on the wall.
You chase me to bed even, Passionately, not-yourself-at-all, You bawl your lewd reminders Down aching avenues of dreams To shudder me awake.
And then at last you’ll fake Your promises and take Some simpler way, battening On the eggs you’ll hatch Warmly some tea-cosy day.
All this, you’ll say, was Merely adolescence, not The real unpoked you, Tittupping in high heels And cellophaned to view.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 We were three weeks

Into term, Sheila,

When you came

Through the classroom door;

Forty-four children

Bent over books,

Copying Roethke’s

‘The Lost Son’.
You wrote your First poem on the ‘Moses’ Of Michelangelo.
Words cut like stone.
I taught you Greek But your painting of ‘The Essence of the Rose’ Was pure Platonic form.
You drew the masks Of Comedy and Tragedy In perfect harmony.
Having seen neither; So Socrates was right.
Those who have the Spirit’s gift Will one day find the light.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 “Remember, you loved me, when we were young, one day”

The words of the song in Tauber’s mellifluous tenor

Haunt my nights and days, make me tremble when I hear

Your voice on the phone, sadden me when I can’t make into your smile

The pucker of your lips, the gleam in your eye.
The day we met is with me still, you asked directions And on the way we chatted.
You told me how you’d left Lancashire for Leeds, went to the same TC as me, even liked poetry Both were looking for an ‘interesting evening class’ Instead we found each other.
You took me back for tea to the flat in Headingley You shared with two other girls.
The class in Moortown Was a disaster.
Walking home in the rain I put my arm Around you and you did not resist, we shared your umbrella Then we kissed.
I liked the taste of your lips, the tingle of your fingertips, Your mild perfume.
When a sudden gust blew your umbrella inside out We sheltered underneath a cobbled arch, a rainy arch, a rainbow arch.
“I’m sorry”, you said about nothing in particular, perhaps the class Gone wrong, the weather, I’ll never know but there were tears in your eyes But perhaps it was just the rain.
We kissed again and I felt Your soft breasts and smelt the hair on your neck and I was lost to you And you to me perhaps, I’ll never know.
We went to plays, I read my poems aloud in quiet places, I met your mother and you met mine.
We quarrelled over stupid things.
When my best friend seduced you I blamed him and envied him And tried to console you when you cried a whole day through.
The next weekend I had the flu and insisted you came to look after me In my newly-rented bungalow.
Out of the blue I said, “What you did for him You can do for me”.
It was not the way our first and only love-making Should have been, you guilty and regretful, me resentful and not tender.
When I woke I saw you in the half-light naked, curled and innocent I truly loved you If I’d proposed you might have agreed, I’ll never know.
A month later you were pregnant and I was not the father.
I wanted to help you with the baby, wanted you to stay with me So I could look after you and be there for the birth but your mind Was set elsewhere end I was too immature to understand or care.
When I saw you again you had Sarah and I had Brenda, my wife-to-be; Three decades of nightmare ahead with neither of our ‘adult children’ Quite right, both drink to excess and have been on wards.
Nor has your life been a total success, full-time teaching till you retired Then Victim Support: where’s that sharp mind, that laughter and that passion? And what have I to show? A few pamphlets, a small ‘Selected’, a single good review.
Sat in South Kensington on the way to the Institut I wrote this, Too frightened even to phone you.

Written by Barry Tebb |


 Too much gone wrong – 

No Muse, no song.

Written by Barry Tebb |



You buy my freedom with your love.
With every book you catalogue or stamp My imagination hacks a strand from the hawser That for three years has held it In the grubbing estuary of mud and time.
Your early waking with tired eyes And late return at evening, all Contribute to the store of images I love you for: the irony being Your job is worse than mine Your talent more.
II I do not understand myself, the time, or you.
I cannot comprehend our love, shot through Like flying silk with flashes of gold light And the tattered backcloth of suffering.
Each night I remember our meeting; My hair ‘like iron wire’, the grey dust In the air of my house, the exact place On the carpet where I kissed you And how we talked on and on, Too much in love for love, Until the night was gone.
III We acted out our love By nearly going mad, Gave up the jobs we had To take a cottage on the moors At less than garage rent.
For food we learned to pledge our dreams And found, too late, the world redeems What it had lent.
By night the world unpicked The dream we wove by day, Each dawn we woke to find The stitching come away.
IV Two creatures from a bestiary Besieged our dream: A neighbour’s one-eyed cat That prowled outside to bring Its witch-like owner With her tapping stick.
Was the Bach we played too loud for her deaf ears, Or was it our love that howled her silence home? V We have re-built that house With blood.
We have sculptured that dream In stone.