My poems mostly concern the natural world, and our relationships with it.
My poetry largely writes itself. Most poems are composed outdoors, in special places – perhaps by the places themselves. Perhaps, through love, we become voices of the places that form our heartlands?
I am not a competition poet – the judges can’t read my handwriting. I am scarcely a modern poet, and seldom seek to publish my poems in mainstream poetry volumes. I don’t write for poets, but for nature lovers. It would be daft to even dream about making a penny out of them.
I belong to a poetry group, Brokenborough Poets, which meets monthly in The Horse Guards at Brokenborough, an aimless village near Malmesbury in north Wiltshire. We comment constructively on each other’s poems. There are currently eight members (Sue Chadd, our leader, and John Richardson, Phil Kirby, Atherton Gray, David Lukens, Liz Carew and MM Season). Several of us have published collections and won competitions. We have collectively published Fieldwork, an anthology (ISBN 978-1-326-37759-5).
When I publish my own collection, it may open with Drunkards Corner, below, which wrote itself, bar subsequent fine-tunings, one early summer day in 2007, along the old drove road that curls round the south-east corner of the main block of the Bernwood Forest, an ancient forest north of Oxford, before petering out into a cattle grazed meadow. The rare Black Hairstreak butterfly breeds in the Blackthorn jungles that crowd that rutted lane.
For many years, decades even, a rickety wooded gate led into a buttercup meadow there, bearing a hand painted notice, in peeling red on a piece of rusty old tin. But the gate has been replaced with one of Defra’s countryside stewardship metal gates, which clangs urbanely. I am unlikely to visit Drunkards Corner ever again.
Here is a place outside of ordered time
Where cows graze a clayland meadow,
And light spindles soft along a stippled lane
As if it has always rested so,
Filtered by ever-ancient blackthorn boughs
That tunnel haphazard over age itself,
Through summer, once more, and back again.
I cannot say how this lonely place
Took its name, a name of man,
For no man comes here, drunk or not,
No singer staggers along the ruts,
In time of viscid mud or kicking dust,
On Midsummer or on any other eve.
One act, or one man, long ago aroused this name,
And so it has ever rested so, and ever always will.
But now, still now, amongst the brambled tangles
The whitethroat scratches out his rusty song,
While an unread peeling notice reads, and pleads:
‘Please close the gate’, the gate that leads to time.
The next poem is the title poem of my book Beyond Spring.
It had rained more recently up here
Than down along the sunken old way,
And birds sang with greater resonance;
They revelled in newborn air, becoming
Part of it, so that it sang through them.
Backlit by diamond shafts of April light,
Cascades of pearling droplets sudden fell
From families of soft changeling leaves;
Each one in yellow-greens unnamed,
Greening within an ecstasy of opening.
And we, blessed and unblessed with souls,
Cannot love those spellbound moments
Deep enough: they feel far too profound
For our modern manikin world, and hang
Around our necks, guilt-gilded, as memories.
(Hailey Wood, Gloucestershire. 23rd April 2016)
Finally, one of my most recent poems. Each winter solstice day I wander – or rather blunder – around somewhere, outside; an old year is dying, a new one is being born (I’m not pagan, by the way). I’ve written several poems on winter solstice day. This one was written on 21st December 2019.
In this lowering, and louring, of light,
the vestiges of a dying year slow-fade.
A greatening silence reflects from clouds
so low it seems they could stoop no further.
The stonechats of the wind-bent gorse,
becalmed, have ceased their chidings –
once they resounded, like the chink
of flints struck together to break time.
There is nothing left for them to dispute:
just lamb’s wool hanging on a wire fence,
winnowed by wind, bleached by rain, yet
impaled, still, in longevity, on steel barbs.
When last I walked here there were jewels –
bloodred berries, haws, rich upon the thorns;
but they are gone, and with them the flocks
of thrushes that stripped those fruits away.
There is little here now to fill the sagging sky –
just clouds casting the last of their malevolence.
Below, the grey chalk marl clags, then sucks
me from the footprints I must leave behind.
(Cherhill Downs, Wiltshire. 22nd December 2019. Copyright, Matthew Oates 2020)