Chris Gutteridge's Poems

There was a time when I wrote poetry. Like many poets, I was not very happy at the time, but that doesn't mean the poems are necessarily miserable, or bitter - in fact, some of them, I think, are quite amusing. Being particularly happy with life now, I have nothing to add to these, but as I'm still quite pleased with some of them I felt I'd like to put them somewhere where they can be read.

Index of Titles
(although I'd recommend just scrolling down to see what takes your fancy)

Acle Bridge to Thurne Mouth
All Men Are Bastards
Alzheimers
Broadening the Mind
Cantax Garden
Cyclops
Death of an Atheist
English Christians
Far Better Off
Finchale Lament
Green Lane
Irstead Shoals
I Wish I Was Better At Dancing
Learian Sonnet
Long Leys Road
Look To
L S Lowry
Making a Date
Marquetry
Mouse
Moving Thought
The Nightingales Are Silent
Parable of the Flowers
Park Gate
Playing At Site
Prescription for Pregaday
Prince
The Queen
Resolution
Shakespearian Limerick
Siamese Settlers
Star Stricken
Stream of Consciousness
Students
Toad
Weighing In

Three poems of grief:

Alzheimers

Are you in there, Mum?
Or have you already gone?
I hold your gaze
(you won't let me hold your hand)
seeking some spark of recognition
in the depths of your one good eye -
so surprisingly, beautifully brown -
trying to see if you're at home.

When you surprise us
with some well-remembered phrase
or vehement objection,
is it you, trying to communicate,
or is it some old, worn-out tape
you left running when you went?

Went where?
Do you look down on your own shell
and us who loved you sitting round?
Or have you gone completely?
Worst of all, are you still trapped
inside that useless, wasted hulk
that will not die;
unable to tell us you are there?

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Prince

I looked for you today,
needing your shoulder to cry on.
I knew where you should be
on a cool, dry day like this.
That sunny spot, sheltered from breezes
by oaks and brambles,
with earth trampled bare by your feet.

You weren't there of course.
How could you be?
I wandered the field, aimless, bereft,
then stood as you so often did,
with drowsy eyes half closed.

And I could feel the soft smoothness
of your questing muzzle;
the coarse hair of your mane.
See the burnished chestnut of your summer coat
and smell the sweet breath from your nostrils.

I miss you. Your quiet companionship,
your unquestioning faithfulness
and your clownish ways.
I miss the freedom you gave me
and the way horizons broadened from your back.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

This is about my dear friend and fellow poet, Jim Birch. I still use the desk that he insisted on giving me shortly before he died.

Death of an Atheist

Though old, he was always the schoolboy -
Mischievous, teasing, curious;
Clothes crumpled, hair dishevelled.

Though witty, he liked to be grumpy,
Railed against fate, bemoaned his lot,
With self-deprecating humour.

Though wise, he wore his intellect lightly -
Gently expounded or explained,
Listened patiently, often deferred.

Standing firm to his atheist principles,
He felt so keenly the loss
Of the love of his life for ever.

But maybe he's shuffled into some Celestial Hall,
Grinning sheepishly as Thea reaches up,
Straightens his collar - smoothes his hair.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2005


A little philosophy

When I was fifteen I had an evening paper round. One summer's evening, as I was making my deliveries, I overheard two elderly ladies in their front garden:

Moving Thought

"My bowels are always open!"
"You're lucky, then!" the acid answer came.

Quietly I walked on,
Leaving the two wizened crones,
Oblivious of my passing,
Toiling in their suburban garden:
Backs bent, jowls flapping,
Like disgruntled hens
Scrabbling at the barren earth.

Is this what life is all about?
Is this what it comes down to in the end?
To tend our little patch, to keep it tidy,
And, if we're lucky, keep our bowels open?

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Resolution

The snow has cleaned my boots of Cotswold earth.
Fresh air has cleared my mind of muddled thoughts.
Next year lies like a sheet of virgin snow
Or fresh, white paper waiting for my pen.

So how do I approach this coming year?
What resolutions crowd into my brain?
Just this: to take life lightly as it comes
And make the most of everything that's good.

But resolutions rarely can be kept
And knowing me, I'll still be just the same:
Downhearted at each trivial reverse -
Elated by each tiny victory.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2004

Marquetry

Reunited with this wooden landscape,
I relive my feelings from distant childhood;
Greeting the present with sinking heart -
"Marquetry by numbers".

Sheets of veneer and a mundane sketch,
With instructions as to what goes where.
My parents doubtless saw a challenge
To occupy their child -

A bit of harmless fun that would provide
A lasting work of art and source of pride.
I saw a hopeless task that brought
A sense of failure.

Looking at it now, I realise that they
Were oblivious to my feelings -
Inadequacy, depression, failure -
As I toiled to finish it.

It hung accusingly upon my bedroom wall,
Until, on leaving home, I hid it with those things
We all keep though we don't know why.
Now it has re-emerged.

It lies amongst the kindling I've collected,
Awaiting colder weather and the chance
To feed it to my new wood-burning stove -
Useful at last!

How foolish to spend nearly sixty years
In the slow discovery of what life's about -
To realise at last there's more to it than simply
Trying to please others.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2004

We usually think of twins sharing an empathic bond, but I heard this story somewhere, about a pair of conjoined twins in the Wild West. Literally joined at the hip, they had very different personalities, but were forced to accomodate each others' lifestyles.

Siamese Settlers

Preacher and profligate
faced the wild west
shoulder to shoulder.

Brother stuck to brother
winning or losing.

Joined together in prayer
they shared the same
Bible-thumping hangover.

Went their separate ways
together.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

During my time working for Boots the Chemists, I visited quite a few old people's homes. The sight of the residents, lined up in chairs, staring into space, and the complex smell of stale urine, institutional cooking and disinfectant will always remain with me. The title comes from a line in an old song, "He'd be far better off in a home."

Far Better Off

Hurry up and wait!
The old soldier's dictum
comes back to haunt him.

Long periods of boredom
punctuated by bursts of
frantic activity then.

Now, his sentence
is punctuated only
by the full stop of death.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2006


A couple of Clerihews:

Star Stricken

The great professor Stephen Hawking
Lets his computer do the talking.
Incapable of even drinking,
All he does is sit there, thinking.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

L S Lowry
Was somewhat glowery;
He didn't think much
Of fame and such.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


In Leziate, there used to be a tiny stream which had been piped under the road. The pipe regularly got blocked with leaves, forcing the stream out of a manhole cover to trickle down the side of the road.

Stream of Consciousness

Why does this tiny trickle mean so much to me -
Rebellious upsurge where it shouldn't be?
Each time I turn the corner hoping that it's there,
Running down the road to meet me.

A little glimpse of Wales upon a Norfolk hill -
A tiny brief reminder of a Lakeland rill.
The sheepish bleating of shy Bryan's pets
Sometimes contributes to the spell.

But more than this it seems to represent to me
My own rebelliousness against conformity.
For what harm's in a little water on the road
Save that it's where it shouldn't be?

They come with yellow jackets in a yellow van
To subdue this wisp of water to the will of man,
Thrusting it underground with rods of cane.
They've hardly gone before it's back again.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


When I was struggling with ME, I took viola lessons as a sort of therapy. I had lost the ability to memorise tunes, so learnt to read music properly, starting, unusually, with the alto clef. My teacher, Joan Hook, was fed up with the mud on the roads of the estate where she lived, which was due to new houses being built, and asked if I could write her a poem about it. This rather Japenese verse was the result.

Playing at Site

Down between Downham and Denver
See Joan stoically suffering
Muddied roads and muddled Mozart.
Havoc on the highway - violence on the viola.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


It's not until our children leave home that we discover who we have become.

Students

Clear up the detritus of departure -
unwanted tack, the second fiddle,
forgotten notebook.

This is our home until they return -
re-inhabit, make it theirs again,
and us just parents.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2002


Two poems about television. I'm delighted to say that we no longer have one!

Broadening the Mind results from a TV documentary I watched about the arrival of TV in a remote far-eastern village.

Broadening the Mind

"Before it came to our village
we would all go down to the river
to bathe and laugh together in the evening."

At the sound of our voices
the hut-full of watchers
glare briefly over their shoulders

then turn their backs once more to the sunset.
This poignant little scene
is brought to you by the power of television.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Cyclops

I am led by your red l.e.d.,
in the remote chance
of something remotely interesting,
to press your button.
My attention is channelled to your channels.
I sit, screened off, hopping and hoping.
You keep me remote, buttoned up -
under your control.

You are the flickering Fool's Lantern:
illuminating nothing.
I am your fiddling fool:
unilluminated.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


Four wildlife poems. The first three of these refer to my time living in Leziate.

We were constantly invaded by field mice - sweet little creatures, but we couldn't share the house with them as they did too much damage.

Mouse

Your eyes so beady-bright,
inquisitive, stare back.
No hint of reproach
for the steel bar that broke your back.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

The Queen

She drones on and on,
pausing briefly to inspect then reject
building sites.

A deadly hide and seek
amongst the clutter on the sill
until, fooled by the transparency of glass,
she is crushed.

Still twitching she takes one last flight.
Her weapon was her worst enemy.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2003

When I left Leziate, it was sad to compare what it was like when we moved there with what it had become.

The Nightingales Are Silent

The nightingales are silent,
Glow worms no longer glow.
Red squirrels dead,
The warblers fled.
I think it's time to go.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2005

When I moved to my new home in Castle Acre there wasn't much wildlife in the garden, and what there was, I unfortunately disturbed!

Toad

Poor old toad lived all alone
In the dark beneath the shed.
Then someone came, removed his home-
Made a compost heap instead.

He found some rotting wood and crawled
Beneath its friendly cover.
When that home went he was appalled
And tried to find another.

Toad crawled away behind the weeds
But they were soon ripped out.
No-one cared for poor toad's needs -
It was a poor look-out.

Toad crawled away to pastures new;
He had no goods to pack.
It was the only thing to do,
But maybe he'll be back.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2005


All Men Are Bastards is dedicated to those women who judge all men by the ones with which they've had relationships. For reasons that I don't understand, they are attracted to the most obnoxious males they can find, and assume that all men are the same as these. It interests me that the majority of women who have read this poem tell me how much they agree with it. I'm not sure whether they do agree with the poem, or are just ignoring the last verse...

All Men Are Bastards

All men are bastards!
She glared at me and said.
All men are bastards,
And not much use in bed!

They're arrogant and selfish;
They flatter and deceive.
They try to get you pregnant
And once you are they leave.

They only think of football,
Computer games and cars;
Of making loads of money
And spending it in bars.

All men are bastards!
She returned to her refrain.
All men are bastards!
She repeated it again

Until I interjected
With a startling piece of news.
Not all men are bastards,
Just the type of men you choose.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Whilst we're on the subject of relationships:

Making a Date

Ladies in their fifties,
Knowing but unwise;
Dating via the internet,
Seduced by smiling eyes.

Posting head and shoulders,
How they agonise!
Images too flattering
Might cause too much surprise.

Making assignations;
Trying to devise
Situations likely to
Cause matters to arise.

Men with loads of hang-ups
Trying to surmise
How far they can push it
With flattery and lies.

Juggling several women,
Judging breasts and thighs,
Wooing them with flowers,
Blandishments and sighs.

If you're feeling lonely,
Don't sit and fantasise-
Go dating via the internet
And you may win a prize!

© Chris Gutteridge, 2005


Exercises. Some poets do exercises, and the best of these is the writing of a classic sonnet on any subject. Here's one of Edward Lear's best - known limericks turned into a sonnet, and to follow, one of Shakespeare's best known sonnets turned into a limerick. I would say that the latter was the more difficult to do.

Learian Sonnet
(click here for original limerick)

Oh, aged, bearded sir, your fears are just.
Your facial follicles have been invaded.
Alas, the British Ornithological Trust
And RSPB cannot be evaded.
You must admit, to have a nesting hen
So close to where your breakfast goes is handy,
And larks are cheery creatures, but the wren
Is fierce, aggressive and, I've heard, quite randy:
And owls, though beautiful, are still nocturnal
And feed their young on rats and other vermin -
The noise and smell from them must be infernal.
So here I fear is what you must determine:
Shave, and break the law: or do your duty -
Declare your beard an Area of Natural Beauty.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2001

Shakespearean Limerick
(click here for original sonnet)

Compared with the best Summer's day
You're better in every way:
Less windy, consistent
And far more persistent.
This verse means that you're here to stay.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2001


Working for Boots. A couple of snapshots taken from the dispensary of Boots the Chemists.

Prescription for Pregaday

She tall, broad-shouldered, beautiful, lithe, radiant.
He slight, slightly stooped, spectacled, pale, gentle, kind -
Gazing with humble adoration at his black Madonna.

I read her prescription, looked up, smiled.
They burst into spontaneous, happy laughter.
"That must be as good as life can get," I thought,
And sent them off with doctor's ferrous support
And my unspoken blessing.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2002

Weighing In

They used to call it buxom.
It certainly suited her;
Clad in boots, fishnets,
Flouncing miniskirt,
Skimpy top.

Her sullen male companion
Ushered her onto the scales,
Fed them a twenty-pence piece.
They delivered their electronic judgement.
He snatched the paper.
"You need to loose a stone".

Old Horry, sitting patiently,
Eyed her lasciviously.
"Oi think yew're perfect as you are!"
"Why, thank you, sir!" she grinned,
and bowed to him,
Affording him, and myself platformed above,
A delicious view of plump, creamy, flawless bosoms.

She turned on her spiked heel,
And swayed out of the shop,
Her deflated paramour trailing in her wake.
I gave Horry his blood pressure tablets.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2002


Three poems about childhood homes re-visited. The line about inhaled tea in Green Lane is a reference to my habit of smoking tea leaves in one of my father's old pipes. I'm not sure how dangerous that was, but I'm still here.

Long Leys Road

Our cosy lodge stands empty;
damp, dark, red-brick;
cold and alone.

The towering gates it guarded,
the wall, the avenue of trees,
our garden - all gone.

I still feel the rusty grip
of massive gates, crushing my unwary thumb -
feel the scratch of bushes as I thrust behind the wall,
on my secret jungle safari.

All that was beautiful is destroyed.
Prefab wards and offices still stand,
still crumbling, still in use.

Higher up, the sanatorium.
"Don't talk to the patients,
they're supposed to be in isolation."

Scourge of an earlier, more innocent age,
before HIV.
But I hear TB is staging a comeback.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Green Lane

This is the one.
Most childhood scenes shrink from adult view,
but not this old friend.
Standing tall by its fallen comrades
it looks, if anything, higher than remembered.

The prospect of scaling its sparse limbs
is terrifying to me now.
Was I that skeletal child,
nestling in its swaying crown,
head spinning from inhaled tea;
so timid, so shy, so idiotically brave?

And there, the cemetery
where I found religion at eleven
and discarded it by twelve.

The rows of numbered metal markers
that so incensed me -
impersonal - good enough for the insane -
which received my floral tributes by rotation;
the two or three marble headstones
I scrubbed so zealously;
the forgotten chapel of remembrance;
even the hedge through which I crept;
all gone.

Just fresh, tender grass;
exotic saplings
and a neat new monument
listing the foreign names
of the soldiers buried there,
and noting the still-thriving
Polish community they left behind.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Park Gate

The double-glazed facelift
Fails to blend with younger neighbours
Crowding in, obscuring the views I loved.

Inside is as remembered, though smaller, meaner.
Toffee-coloured parquet floor worn and tired.

While this was home, I grew from boy to youth -
Discovered sex (and other vices) -
Succumbed to adolescent ennui.

I scaled that front wall once,
Avoiding Dads' wrath over my forgotten door key.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2004


Two poems about sailing on the Broads. When she was at university, my daughter Lizzie and I used to hire a beautiful, classic Hunter yacht during the slack period between the start of the school autumn term and the start of her semester. Golden memories!

Irstead Shoals

Birches cast gold sovereigns in our path
as we glide silently over green glass
escorted by a flashing blue kingfisher.

The world is at peace. Sleeping
anglers, nodding at their rods,
stir as our quant grates on gravel.

We emerge into September sunlight,
sails flapping and filling
with the breeze off the reedbed.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Acle Bridge to Thurne Mouth

Surging through wide golden Bure,
alone with the autumn sunset,
I gaze down from cabin roof
at our foaming prow.

Running against rolling tide,
our bow wave, increased
by my forward weight,
splashes the foredeck.

Remembering,
I feel the slippery-smooth mast in my palm
and wish I was there.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


Cantax House in Laycock is the home of Early Musician Andrew van der Beek, and the biannual international gathering of serpent players, or "serpentarium", used to take place there. Weather permitting, we used to play together in the beautiful gardens. Paul Schmidt, editor of the Serpent Newsletter, subsequently asked for poems about serpents in the style of famous poets, and this was my offering - as it happens, the only one!

Cantax Garden

(after Ogden Nash)

I fear that I have never heard
A serpent lovely as a bird.
Perhaps when all the serpents cease
The birds can once more sing in peace.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2003


Three poems about religion.

English Christians

The Catholic's an epicure of sin:
savouring guilt, relishing damnation.
While nonconformists spread enjoyment thin;
in fact to them all pleasure's sin -
a thoroughly intolerable situation.

C of E's no religion at all.
An excuse for flower arranging, coffee mornings, chatting.
No wonder that for most it comes to pall.
About as inspiring as England's batting.

Better that than Charismatics,
better known as Happy-clappy.
English folk distrust fanatics,
especially ones that look so happy.

Few of us are so unorthodox
as to be Orthodox.

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

Look To was inspired by a team of Norfolk village bell ringers of the old style. As their captain said, "Jus' 'cause we ring the bells, that dun't mean we ha' ter gew ter chuch!" I was fascinated by the idea of people of no particular religious convictions being the ones who summon those who, presumably, do have faith, to prayer.
The first two verses have six syllables per line - one for each bell in the tower - regardless of where the stress falls. This un-English style replicates the random way that stresses fall on certain notes with a team of less than perfect ringers. The last verse represents the process of ringing down the bells after use, with the ringer of the final bell failing to silence it at the right time. The title is from the age-old cry of the person on the number one bell, to commence ringing - "Look to, treble's going, she gone!"

Look To

Bellringers without faith
Call the faithful to prayer.
Faltering, tumbling
Changes hang in the air.
Belching and mumbling,
High in their dusty lair,
Bellringers without faith.

Bellringers without faith
Tumble down spiral stair;
Push through Sunday-best tide
Out into open air.
Organ rumbles inside,
But bellringers don't care;
Bellringers without faith.

Bellringers without faith
Ringers without faith
Without faith
Out faith
Faith
Faith

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999

A churchgoing friend was asked to help with the flowers at a church other than the one she usually attended. The flowers were to be on the theme of "senses". My friend grabbed some nettles and dock leaves, to represent pain and its relief, and a lilly to be represent a hearing trumpet. She received a very frosty welcome, and the woman in charge stole her piece of Oasis!

Parable of the Flowers

I

i And the LADY spake, saying:
MINE is the arrangement.
There is no place herein
For thy crumpled dock leaf,
Thy stinging nettle,
Nor e'en thy single lily's trumpet.

ii Hearing, thou sayest?
I hear thee not!
Behold MY heart
Of pulsating hot-house colours.
LOVE is my subject!

iii MINE is the glory.
Wouldst thou begrudge
Thy small Oasis for so great a cause?
Begone, wretch, to thy wifely cares
And trouble me no more!

© Chris Gutteridge, 1999


The style of Finchale Lament is based on a poem called Bloody Orkney by Hamish Blair. Finchale (pronounced finkle) College is a re-training college for disabled adults, where I attended an excellent course, given by an inspiring lecturer, on website design. He is not to be held responsible for any failings of this website. Like any such institution, the place was not without faults, but the views expressed in this poem are not those of the poet, but of a fellow student - a Yorkshireman with a heart of gold, whose every other word was "fucking". Interestingly, when I showed him the poem, he loved it, but wanted the expletives deleted! It should be read aloud, with a warm, comforting Yorkshire accent.

Finchale Lament

Oh, it's a sod!
I'll tell you, chum,
I wish to God
I'd never come
To fucking Finchale

Where no-one knows
What's going on,
Or why they chose
The course they're on
In fucking Finchale.

The fucking food
Gets on your tits;
It's over-stewed -
Gives you the shits
In fucking Finchale.

Oh, it's insane
Where numpties reign -
All fucking pain,
No fucking gain
In fucking Finchale.

© Chris Gutteridge, 2002

I Wish I Was Better At Dancing

I wish I was better at dancing.
I don’t say it would make life complete
But I’m sure it would be life-enhancing.
Oh, I wish I was light on my feet!

At a ceilidh I cause such confusions,
Whatever the caller may call,
That the whole set ends up with contusions,
In a heap, in the midst of the hall.

I’ve shuffled about at a disco
But I didn’t gyrate to the beat;
I never could quite take the risk – oh,
I wish I was light on my feet!

I can dance like a renaissance peasant
Without any trouble at all
But whilst it is charming and pleasant,
A bransle’s not the dance for a ball.

Yes, I wish I was better at dancing
But it seems that I have two left feet,
So while others are gambolling and prancing
I just have to take a back seat.

© Chris Gutteridge 2003

home