Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category

crime Lord

Posted: November 7, 2015 in film review, prose poetry
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I went to see “Legend” yesterday, with my 19-year-old son. The film is about the notorious London East-End gangsters, the Kray twins, who ‘ran’ London in the 1960s.

I was aware of the Krays as a teenager in London, and read some fascinating books about them. Even on paper, you could sense their power, their charisma, and their downright evil.

The film does a good job of portraying these characteristics. Tom Hardy plays BOTH Krays, in an astonishing piece of acting. He even manages to make the twins look different, and projects the differences in their personalities: Reggie, the hard-nosed businessman who menaces more often than man-handles; Ronnie the psychopath for whom violence is often the first resort. The complexity of their relationship is well presented. It also shows the fear-based esteem in which they were held in their community. Nobody is completely evil (although Ronnie must have been close) are they? Perhaps the only criticism is that the role of their mother is downplayed, whereas in the books I’ve read, she was a dominant figure in their lives.

A few years ago, I wrote a prose poem loosely based on one of the Krays, although it could equally apply to any other gangland figure: the Richardsons for instance, who were the Krays’ rivals in London at the time. It alludes to the almost Christ-like status of such a gangster:

crime Lord

   Do you remember how nobody spoke when he came into the pub? And nobody dared look up in case they caught his eye. Every bloke in the place bowed the head when Reggie walked in. Almost genuflected. As if he was Christ Almighty. And how he would intone a low “evenin’ to you boys”. To which we would all respond in murmured unison “and to you Reggie”. And how he would sit at the bar with his back to us for an hour or more. And beckon anyone he wanted to commune with. To sit on his right hand side. To discuss whatever was troubling him. In low prayer like whispers. To sing his praises. To get his blessing. And how he followed Jack into the gents one night. There was a bit of shouting, a bit of sobbing as Jack confessed. Begged salvation. Then a lot of screaming, followed by silence. Except for the sound of taps running. And Reggie came out, but Jack didn’t. The barman offered up a whisky, which Reggie duly sank before leaving. Didn’t pay of course, never paid. And how I was the one went in to see about Jack. Found his body. And blood all over the walls. Do you remember? The place would never relax, even after Reggie left. Like some part of him was still present. Listening, watching over us, all-powerful. He’s dead now of course. Died, for his sins, in the nick thank God. And how a multitude turned out for the funeral. Not sure if it was in honour or for the salmon sandwiches afterwards. Or to say “good riddance”. But if it was “good riddance”, no one was saying it out loud. Afraid he might rise from the dead perhaps. They all bowed their heads like they did when he was alive. And nobody spoke. I remember that.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Wilson 'Iron Bar' Tuckey

I’ve written several political poems in the few years I’ve been writing poetry. Some have been about specific political players, others about social issues. I think I can say that every poem I’ve written about a politician has been followed by their eventual demise. I’d like to take some credit for the departure of Thatcher, Howard, Abbott, Wilson Tuckey; less keen to think I had any part in the self-destruction of Rudd and Gillard. The life of a political leader in Australia can be short and sharp these days.

Before writing poetry, I had written song lyrics for the South Australian Trade Union Choir. One was “Yes, we have no Osamas” – it took a few years before Bin Laden eventually left the scene. I wrote one about the Hindmarsh Island Bridge affair and one about working conditions (around the time of the ill-fated so-called “Workchoices” policy).

I think the first political poem I wrote was about Wilson Tuckey, pictured above, a particularly obnoxious right-wing, Western Australian politician. As a publican, before entering parliament, he was convicted of assault after striking an Aboriginal man with a length of steel cable. I wrote the poem (in 2009) in response to a challenge to write a love poem from an unusual angle; hence “Wilson Tuckey, I love you man”. The last stanza is:

Wilson Tuckey, I love you man

you show us what it means to be Australian

some call you redneck, some say you’re not cool

but you are our bedrock, you are no fool

you are the brown substance of this wide, sunburnt land

and that’s why, Wilson Tuckey, I really, really, really love you man.

Tuckey lost his seat in 2010.


I wrote one about Margaret Thatcher and Chilean mass-murderer, General Pinochet in 2013, which imagined the conversation between the two when Thatcher had Pinochet round for tea at Downing Street. A snippet is:

How do you take your tea Mr. Pinochet?

Please stay for dinner? We have a buffet.

With all sorts of meats, spare ribs and jugged hare.

When you burn a dead body, is the flesh very rare?

Thatcher died a few months later.


Last year I wrote one about Tony Abbott, modelled on a Billy Collins poem. It imagined undressing the then Prime Minister, and concluded with:

And I could feel his tremor

as I pulled them clear of his ankles,

left him there spreadeagled, naked.

Can still hear

his cry of abandonment,

the way a man completely out of his depth might cry for help

the way newly weds might cry on hearing their union is invalid

the way a child might cry as it sees its mother sink beneath the waves

the way a man dying of shame might issue a last mournful howl.

Just a few weeks ago, Abbott was deposed by his own party.

These poems are now past their use-by date. I was delighted that I had a chance to give the Abbott poem one final outing just a few weeks ago as guest poet at the Friendly Street Halifax Cafe gig. It will now be consigned to history, like its subject (though he shows signs of not going quietly).

Can I claim any part in the demise of my subjects? Well I will anyway, even if it’s just for making one or two people think about the subject of the poem. So, if you are going to write a political poem, air it as often as possible while the topic is still relevant. They are very perishable commodities.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Live by the onion

die by the onion, we knew

it would end in tears

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Joshua Ip

Joshua Ip is one cool guy, and he knows how to run a workshop. I’ve been to quite a few poetry workshops, and sometimes come away disappointed. The disappointment can be caused by a number of failings – maybe my own failing to stay engaged and to concentrate, or the failing of the workshop presenter to stay on topic and cover the required ground in the time available, or the failing of one or more participants to listen rather than to talk endlessly about themselves.

Josh has been touring Australia, appearing at poetry and writing festivals in the major cities. He tells me it is no problem for him to sell 2-3,000 of his poetry books in Singapore! (F**k me, how many Australian poets sell that number of books – count them on one hand I’d guess).

The workshop I did with Joshua yesterday (6/9/2015) on Asian Forms (of poetry), suffered none of those failings. A good group of participants fully engaged by a guy who knew his subject, knew how to put it across, listened intently to his students, kept the subject entertaining, and covered a lot of ground in the three hours available.

I’ve heard of haiku, and renga and tanka and ghazal and pantuns, but I’d never heard of empat perkataan or liwuli. Great to come away from a workshop with new knowledge.

Josh got us to attempt each of the forms he covered. I particularly enjoyed the liwuli, which is originally a Chinese form, but has been ‘appropriated’ by South-East Asian poets, in a playful and mischievous way (so Josh says anyway).

A liwuli is a 3 stanza poem. The first stanza must be 31 syllables, and be an imperative, a set of instructions. The second stanza is 14 syllables, broken into 3 lines (no specific number of syllables per line). The 3rd stanza is 10 syllables, and must be a question or questions. Josh suggested that each stanza must ‘move’ to three different places, express three different emotions. Traditionally, the title is in the form “Liwuli: this is the title of my poem”.

You can also reverse the order (i.e. 10, 14, 31), and that becomes an ‘iluwil’, and you can pair a liwuli with an iluwil. I got the impression from Josh that Asian poets like to play with variations of these forms, and, amongst his peers at least, not take them too seriously.

In the limited time we had (about 5 minutes I think), I came up with this first cut of a liwuli:

Liwuli: How to Drown a Cat


Take it by the scruff

block your ears

do not look into its eyes

have the bucket of water ready

the water must be ice-cold


Innocence is subjective

look at

the bigger picture


Was your heart as cold

as the ice water?

Josh’s website is at: Joshua Ip

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

This is the first, at 6pm Wednesday 26th August 2015 at the Halifax Cafe with cycling partner and writer extraordinaire, Heather Taylor Johnson:


and the second, starting 90 minutes later, just up the road from the Halifax Cafe, in James Place (off Rundle Mall) at the Coffee Pot, where, along with 12 other poets, I’ll be channelling Kate Bush.


This was our local for a week. Great pub.

The Fox and Hounds

The Landlord: long grey beard

and long grey hair

pumps the pints with practiced arm

eyes the beer with expert eye

The Landlady: his portly wife

efficient and firm

serves the meals, no flourish or fuss

fit for purpose, built to last

The daughter: stood in doorway

puffs a fag

off to London (or Leeds at least)

only home for weddings and funerals

The drinkers: some are local

some are not

Yorkshire bitter, Australian lager

home grown or foreign import

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

The village of West Witton has an annual tradition. We stayed in a cottage in Grassgill, where the ‘ceremony’ concludes:

Burning the Bartle

Clouds drift behind Penhill, behind the stone beacon which once burned a warning of the Spanish Armada, behind the squat stone barn, behind the walking path which traverses the hill. Below, the villagers carry a huge straw man with mask face, bulging eyes and raggy clothes, down the main street – a guy, an effigy of Bartle the sheep stealer, Bartle the pig thief, Bartle the giant. They stop at each pub, drink beer, chant “Have you seen the Bartle?”, pass a hat around. They carry him up Penhill Crags, his torn rags fluttering; past Hunters Thorn, blowing their horns. Some kneel before the Bartle at Capplebank Stee. They roll on to Grassgill Beck, where they twist his head, breaking his straw neck; onto Wadhams End and to Grassgill End where a pyre is ready to receive the Bartle. Saint Bartholomew’s church bell rings.


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Yorkshire Dales III – Walls

Posted: July 24, 2015 in poetry





Stone: stretched

from fell to rigg

from crag to beck


grey patched

lichen plumed

pocked and pitted


pile on pile

pressed by cow pelt

brushed by sheep shank


the land’s flanks

stitched with

drystone ribs

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

Yorkshire Dales II – Hills

Posted: July 24, 2015 in poetry


Some of the hills on the Yorkshire Dales Cycleway are extremely challenging. The worst so far was a long, long, climb out of Grinton, with a cold headwind and very bleak scenery. Sometimes, all you can do is to put your head down and keep pedalling.


Grinding into a biting gale

chain straining up

a vicious gradient

my rain stung face facing down

to black bitumen, sheep dung

and picked over carcass

Drowned in wind

lung gasp and pulse pound

a car buffets past

veers me vergeward

I am on the verge

but grind on and up

on and up

against the grade

rumbling over cattle grids

reaching false top

after false top

and more and more

bleak moorland


lessening and levelling

and dropping to

stone patterned dale

and squat barns

flocked fields and

flat capped villages

stone crossed greens

square towered churches

and bitter beer.

Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015


I’m cycling in the Yorkshire Dales and trying to write a poem a day for a week. Internet access is patchy, so they may get posted sporadically. And formatting is not so easy on a tablet

Here’s number one. I love the place names around Wensleydale.

From Wensleydale

(after  Jen Hadfield)

I will take you by Wanlass

I will take you by West Wood

I will take you by Haremire and Tullis Cote

I will take you through Preston Scar to Old Flue

I will bring you down Long Scar

I will lead you up Broomber Rigg

I will show you Loft Skew

I will show you Bellerby Moor

I will lead you down Black Beck

We will run in Spring Gill over Walburn Moor

We will cross over Cross Gill Top

We will fall into Whit Fell and Peat Fell

We will beat through East End Vein

We will beat through Old Stork Vein

We will rest in Hags Gill

We will wash in the icy Swale

We will sleep in Nun Cote Nook.


copyright Mike Hopkins 2015