The December 2020 Poetry Roundabout

The Poetry Roundabout
December 2020 on The Smith’s website
and now on Zoom!

Winter is a wonderful time of year
Inside it is warm and cosy
North Pole is cold and windy
The snow is lit up by the sun
Every Christmas my elf comes
Remember to wear warm clothes in winter

Sophie McMahon, aged 8

The Zoom meeting is also planned for Friday, Jan 15th 2021 at 7.30 p.m.
How to join in? Email

Any queries? Email or phone 01786 470930.
Wishing everyone

Nollaig chridheil agus bliadhna mhath ùr –
a dh ’aindeoin an galar sgaoilte

[A merry Christmas and a Happy New Year –
in spite of the pandemic.]

An interesting mixed collection this time – both in themes and format.
Many thanks to everyone who has contributed.

We began – and will end – with acrostics on ‘Winter’

John Coutts Poet in Residence

Mary Gallagher sends us a topical haiku

COVID keeps us apart
I value your company
So I stay at home

And here’s a new poem by Bill Adair

Three Wise Working Men

Three wise working men came up from the glen,
Led by a shining star.
They all knew the value of hard, honest toil,
From the sunless mine to the sun-blessed soil,
Their gifts were coal and bread and oil,
And they followed a shining star.

A miner, a baker, a farmer came,
Led by a shining star,
In their working clothes to a stable door,
Wordlessly, humbly to adore,
Where they offered gifts from their harvest store,
And they followed a shining star.

First was a miner, he brought them coal,
Led by a shining star.
At times, he said, I have dug for gold,
It’s lovely to look at, exciting to hold,
But it won’t keep you warm when the night is cold,
And he followed a shining star.

Next was a baker, bringing them bread,
Led by a shining star.
He still had the smell of fresh loaves in his hair,
I bring you my work; I bring it to share,
And he bowed at the infant lying there,
And he followed a shining star.

Last was a farmer with oil and grain,
Led by a shining star.
He brought them meal, he brought them corn,
And from a cruse of an old ram’s horn
With oil he blessed the newly born,
And he followed a shining star.

Three wise working men came up from the glen,
Led by a shining star.
And they knelt by the child asleep on the hay,
Who held the universe in his sway,
Then they doffed their caps and said good day,
And they followed a shining star.

Jacqui MacCallum writes: My poem is very short and is called ‘Irony’. I wrote it one day when I was faced with a mountain of ironing and kept putting off doing it, so it just grew. Once I got started time passed quickly and I was able to smooth out a few worries in the process of ironing clothes. I felt so much better when the ironing basket was empty.

Think it’s probably metaphorical about putting off things, and that the thought of the thing is worse than the actual doing. As well as feeling better once they’re done.

Isn’t it ironic
Ironing smoothes
the creases
My mind?

Margaret Hay writes from New Zealand: How heartening to hear that the December Roundabout is surging ahead in these hard times for you Northerners, with Santa’s ‘Defy the defeaters’ resounding across the planet. Traherne’s poem is lovely. It is, as usual, ‘summer in December’ in these parts, which reminds me of Peter Cape’s poem Back Blocks Nativity.

Back Blocks Nativity by Peter Cape

They were set for home but the horse went lame
and the rain came pelting down out of the sky.
Joe saw the hut and he went to look,
and he said “She’s old, but she’ll keep you dry.

”So her boy was born in a roadman’s shack,
by the light of a lamp that would hardly burn.
She wrapped him up in her hubby’s coat,
and laid him down on a bed of fern.

Then they came riding out of the night,
and this is the thing that she’ll always swear,
as they took off their hats and came into the light,
they knew they were going to find her there.

She sat at the edge of the fernstalk bed,
and she watched, but she didn’t understand,
while they put those bundles by the baby’s head,
that river nugget into his hand.

Then she watched as they went through the open door,
weary as men who have ridden too far.
And the rain eased off and the low cloud broke,
and through the gap shone a single star .
John Coutts writes: The manuscript poems of Thomas Traherne (1636? -74) were rediscovered on a London bookstall in 1896, and handed on to Alexander Grosart (1827-1899). Grosart thought they were by the Welsh poet Henry Vaughan, and was about to publish them under that name when he died. His library was then bought by Bertram Dobell (1842-1914) who identified the real author and published his poetry in 1906. I have the good fortune to possess a copy of that first edition. Dobell writes – in a verse dedication –

‘…By happy chance there came within my ken
A hapless poet, whom – I thank kind fate – –
It was my privilege to help instate
In that proud eminence wherein he shines
Now that no more on earth he sadly pines….’

Innocence (Traherne recalls his happy childhood in Hereford)

But that which most I wonder at, which most
I did esteem my bliss, which most I boast,
And ever shall enjoy, is that within
I felt no stain, nor spot of sin.

No darkness then did overshade,
But all within was pure and bright,
No guilt did crush, nor fear invade
But all my soul was full of light.

A joyful sense and purity
Is all I can remember;
The very night to me was bright,
’Twas summer in December….

…..No inward inclination did I feel
To avarice or pride: my soul did kneel
In admiration all the day. No lust, nor strife,
Polluted then my infant life.

No fraud nor anger in me mov’d,
No malice, jealousy, or spite;
All that I saw I truly lov’d.
Contentment only and delight

Were in my soul. O Heav’n! what bliss
Did I enjoy and feel!
What powerful delight did this
Inspire! for this I daily kneel.

Whether it be that nature is so pure,
And custom only vicious; or that sure
God did by miracle the guilt remove,
And make my soul to feel his love

So early: or that ’twas one day,
Wherein this happiness I found;
Whose strength and brightness so do ray,
That still it seems me to surround;

What ere it is, it is a light
So endless unto me
That I a world of true delight
Did then and to this day do see.

That prospect was the gate of Heav’n, that day
The ancient light of Eden did convey
Into my soul: I was an Adam there
A little Adam in a sphere

Of joys! O there my ravish’d sense
Was entertain’d in Paradise,
And had a sight of innocence
Which was beyond all bound and price.

An antepast of Heaven sure!
I on the earth did reign;
Within, without me, all was pure;
I must become a child again.

‘Antepaste’ – a foretaste

Jock Stein writes: Advent is a season where we are called to stay on watch. The coming of Christ, whether as a baby or as the end of all things, takes the world by surprise. Seamus Heaney, it seems to me, is hinting at this in his poem about a sudden gust of wind.

Had I not been awake

Had I not been awake I would have missed it
A wind that rose and whirled until the roof
Pattered with quick leaves off the sycamore

And got me up, the whole of me a-patter,
Alive and ticking like an electric fence:
Had I not been awake, I would have missed it,

It came and went so unexpectedly
And almost it seemed dangerously,
Returning like an animal to the house,

A courier blast that there and then
Lapsed ordinary. But not ever
After. And not now.

Bill Adair has also written

On Christmas Eve

Everything is suspended in the perfect stillness
Of the brand new Christmas Eve morning.
Unlit trees pose behind frosty windows,
Blue spruce and Douglas fir.
Ornaments, thread fixed, lights still dull
And waiting to sparkle,
Hang on the tinselled branches.
And the day begins.
By the window at the kitchen sink,
Ready prepared, giblets removed,
The turkey thaws slowly. Part of a dead pig
Lies dressed as a gammon joint. Other parts of it,
Wrapped in blankets of its own making,
Fill the much-too-small oven tray.
Already Mother is counting out the Brussels sprouts,
Small, rock-hard green marbles,
Indispensable, so she says.
Soon there will be none left anywhere,
And nothing looks worse than a roast turkey
In its Christmas finery wanting some Brussels sprouts.
I would never hear the end of it, she says,
All through the twelve days of Christmas.
And the cake – all five pounds of it –
A living presence in the kitchen
Since Hallowe’en stands ready.
Every Sunday afternoon for weeks it has been fed
With brandy, drizzled religiously
Over its jewel-studded crown to soak into its soft belly.
Now artful hands gently stroke its body,
Full to bursting with plump, drunken fruit,
And prepare to dress it in its winter clothes;
An undervest of warm apricot jam,
A snug cardigan of almond marzipan –
Always removed from Aunt Nell’s slice,

Who hates marzipan, but likes the cake –
And finally, its winter coat
Of snow-white icing.
Nearby, waiting since Stir-Up Sunday,
Brindled black and brown with big, precious spots
Of cherries and sultanas, sits the pudding,
A sweet cannonball of tradition
That carries the private wishes of everyone
Who dipped in a wooden spoon and stirred up
The vital mix of thirteen ingredients and five charms;
A coin, a wishbone, a thimble, a ring and an anchor.
And hot from the stove, the mince pies,
Smelling like a recipe from Dickens.
Out they come and are tested under prodding fingers,
But their time is not yet.
Back into the oven they go,
To wait for their perfect moment.
Later in the afternoon, as the day darkens
And the unremitting television takes us into a Christmas
Where gold, frankincense and myrrh vie for pole position
With discounted baubles, Chanel and Hugo Boss,
A pure, young voice is heard from the kitchen radio;
Once in Royal David’s city,
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her baby
In a manger for his bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little child.
As the music swells and fills the room,
As the fully dressed cake is proudly placed on the table,
As napkins are unfolded and the mince pies savoured,
As tea is served in kitchens piled high with plenty,
The old, old story is told again in lessons and carols,
And we are reminded, because we need reminding,

That while we celebrate our feast,
There is an abundance of need and want
In a world where mangers have been replaced
With cardboard boxes,
And families still rely on gifts
From anonymous strangers.

Holden Hall composed this in the early 1980s , ‘sitting by the Tweed on a bright winter day,’

Sitting by the Tweed
On a bright winter day
You can see –
A rich expanse of water;
Many hued white grey and black clouds
Interspersed with glimpses of
Pale blue sky;
Tall stately trees with
Finely traced branches weaving
Patterns of miniature beauty
Silhouetted against the sky;
The smooth round hump
Of a distant hill.
A boat idle at its moorings;
Fishes lazily leaping
For midday food.
You can hear –
Gurgling stream water
Surmounts smooth pebbles
To join the river.
A faint chirruping of birds
A hushed echo from the far reaches
Of the rushing river. At its lower reach.
You can sense –
Peace, refreshment, beauty otherworldliness of
Harmony of heaven on earth –
It’s real though.
I’ve seen,heard and felt it.
You can, too, if you like,
Just go and see for yourself.

David Dalziel writes: There’s a wee poem by Janet Lord – It was on the back of our wardrobe door for many years as we felt it summed up a carer’s situation very well.

I smiled and nodded brightly
To people that I knew;
How could they guess
My heart’s distress,
The sorrow in it too?

I trotted by them briskly
With footsteps firm and strong;
How could they know
My will to go–
Just barely crept along?

So as I hide my sorrows
Dear Lord, help me to see
That there are those
Who too hide woes
And need my sympathy.

Colin Gregory writes: There’s been so much uncertainty this year, including about how we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas. I’ve chosen this piece from John Masefield’s nativity play The Coming of Christ, which is sung by “The Host of Heaven” before the arrival of the three kings. As the darkest days approach it encourages us to keep singing, like the birds, and remember that hope and light will return.

O sing, as thrushes in the winter lift
Their ecstasy aloft among black boughs,
So that the doormouse stirs him in his drowse,
And by the melting drift
The newborn lamb bleats answer: sing, for swift
April the bride will enter this old house.

Awake, for in the darkness of the byre
Above the manger, clapping with his wings,
The cock of glory lifts his crest of fire:
Far, among slumbering men his trumpet rings:
Awake, the night is quick with coming things,
And hiding things that hurry into brake
Before the sun’s arising: O awake.

Awake and sing: for in the stable-cave,
Man’s heart, the sun has risen, Spring is here,
The withered bones are laughing in the grave,
Darkness and winter perish, Death and Fear;
A new Life enters Earth, who will make clear
The Beauty, within touch, of God the King;
O mortals, praise Him! O awake and sing!

Jeff Kemp, commenting on Traherne’s ‘Summer in December.’ writes: For me, during my childhood, so it was. I am attaching a poem regarding another aspect of living in Aotearoa … it is called “Followers of Soft Rock.”

Followers of Soft Rock

The roads of my childhood
were built over fault-lines;
no-one to blame
but an earthquake zone
follows nothing other than
its own pre-disposed ways.

Towns of my country
grew from European settlers’
pioneering ambition.
Forest invites the axe,
existing tracks get widened
into roads formed from rock
conveniently already shattered.

No-one wondering why.

Hard-edged suspicion
infiltrated every room
I grew to adulthood within.
To see them periodically sway
persuaded me all paths away
from childhood are irrevocably broken.

No way back, no where to shift blame.

Interpreting the spaces
we wake each day to face

is the legacy of our birth.
I’m now settled in a pleasant
land with postcard scenery
relished by tourists.

And yet I often feel shaky.

Helen McLaren offers ‘a bit of fun and nonsense’, and wishes everyone ‘a Merry Christmas.’

Bagpipe Music by Louis MacNeice

It’s no go the merry-go-round, it’s no go the rickshaw,
All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.
Their knickers are made of crepe-de-chine, their shoes are made of python,
Their halls are lined with tiger rugs and their walls with heads of bison.

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.

It’s no go the Yogi-Man, it’s no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Annie MacDougall went to milk, caught her foot in the heather,
Woke to hear a dance record playing of Old Vienna.
It’s no go your maidenheads, it’s no go your culture,
All we want is a Dunlop tyre and the devil mend the puncture.

The Laird o’Phelps spent Hogmanay declaring he was sober,
Counted his feet to prove the fact and found he had one foot over.
Mrs Carmichael had her fifth, looked at the job with repulsion,
Said to the midwife, ‘Take it away; I’m through with over-production’.

It’s no go the gossip column, it’s no go the ceilidh,
All we want is a mother’s help and a sugar-stick for the baby.

Willie Murray cut his thumb, couldn’t count the damage.
Took the hide of an Ayrshire cow and used it for a bandage.
His brother caught three hundred cran when the seas were lavish,
Threw the bleeders back in the sea and went upon the parish.

It’s no go the Herring Board, it’s no go the Bible,
All we want is a packet of fags when our hands are idle.

It’s no go the picture palace, it’s no go the stadium,
It’s no go the country cot with a pot of pink geraniums,
It’s no go the Government grants, it’s no go the elections,
Sit on your arse for fifty years and hang your hat on a pension.

It’s no go my honey love, it’s no go my poppet;
Work your hands from day to day, the winds will blow the profit.
The glass is falling hour by hour, the glass will fall for ever,
But if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather.

William Scott writes from the Isle of Bute: What is a poem? I sense that there are no hard and fast rules, even though I feel impelled to confine the concept to: ‘A collection of words that possess structure, unity, scansion and, perhaps, music of some kind.’

Recent events across the pond raise an important question: What is the significance of the fact that 70 million people supported Trump in the election?

Truth Decay

(an expression of Obama, picked up by David Aaronovitch in The Times)

The seventy million threaten democracy.
The monster has seduced them to a new aristocracy:
The poor, the disabled, the deranged, the sick are not aided:
Left to suffer, losers. The dream is only for winners.
No medical care. No justice. Shot in the street nine times by racist police.
In Trump’s world only the rich matter; no one else.
And he would call himself a Christian, for a vote. He does not play golf,
He cheats at it all the time. The rules of centuries mean nothing to him.
His ignorance of human excellence is like an Oxford bonnet.
To this he would feel entitled. The man who understands only his own wishes.

What is to be done? To save democracy from the demagogue?
The first was Athenian, a butcher to trade, who roused the 400
to send a fleet to massacre the Melians for withholding tribute.
Overnight, they came to their senses and sent off a messenger. Too late.
8,000 died. Trumpism could triumph yet.
Can the seventy million be educated? Can the love of truth be educated?
Have they a right to be stupid, deluded by demagogues?
Can we only hope and perhaps pray and show by good example?

John Coutts adds: Cleon was the Athenian general, rabble-rouser and war hawk who incited the Athenian Assembly to order the massacre of the defeated Melians in 426 BC.

John Coutts also writes about…..


(Hawick, Scotland, in the 1980s)

Cold ears, cold toes.
King Frost will get a grip tonight.
A single snowflake whirls and blows,
Dancing in the lamppost’s light
A small brass band announces Christmastide
‘Glory to God on high,
And peace down here.’
How long, O Lord, how long?
Rather too long for me, I fear.
It’s started snowing.
O for a hot mince pie!
Something’s gone badly wrong.
Cruel King Frost has gripped my trombone slide.
I can’t keep going.

We still had proper winters then,
Though climate change was creeping up unseen.
The strength of middle age won’t come again,
And yet these notes that memory made
I wrap in rhyme for you:
Here, friend, are truths for ever true:
That night, no single horn was blown in vain.
Fun may or may not fade,
But faith and hope and steadfast love remain.
Susan Baquis writes: I love being included in this beautiful collective endeavor.  I live in Sicily and my mother is in quarantine in the States.



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