Six Poems by Peter Robinson


Gasometer Music

Whereas in this city,

a deserted square at lunchtime,

there might be pigeons round its fountain,

leaf-shadow mottling the stone,

there might be, on the air, a student

practising cadenzas,

chord cascades, Rachmaninoff,

and might be love-names scored in benches’

time-signatures of scratch or stain – 

here in our vicinity

a ring-road’s lifting traffic over,

not far from the Madonnina

afternoons will wash it clean

of any sound, sense, or sensation

and beyond a depths of sleep

another deep remains unfathomed …

Echoes from gasholders singing,

they’re enough to put you off its scent!

The Invidious Signs

From our side of the railway tracks

out to districts where this city

shows intent, expensive features,

avenues’ azure road-sign arrows

for Milano, Brescia, Mantova, La Spezia

would leave me in their quandaries – 

placenames promising a continuity

which couldn’t be, the distances given

with destinations withered if I even

thought of choosing them …


Later, through an August’s dogdays

on their shady sides I’d venture

out to streets and boulevards

wanting to be you, exogamous couples

who’d chosen here for your own reasons – 

would envy you the games of cards, 

pastries tasted, middle seasons,

fogs, complaints, the local irritations, 

even your sometime ill-lived years  

for our passed-elsewhere ones.

Next Slide Please

‘… and in what seems

capricious sequence.’

Roy Fisher

After a further pandemic

of news about vaccines, I take

a brisk walk round the lake

and find its paths impassable,

their margins trampled wider,

find this same Egyptian goose is

billing in the sodden grasses’

trodden remnant ice.


No, not following the science,

data theatre, only common sense,

a frightened fox, red Reynard,

darts between two privet hedges.

After a year, these streets I know

where thought settles at a wall’s foot

or in treetops whose woodpeckers

sound like far pneumatic drills.


Likewise, I slip past the traffic

light at the end of more roadworks

noticing this present tense’s

counterfactual memories

as if to elegize the day – 

a day turned into exercise

books of modelled prophecies

and no one giving way.


Snowdrops’ fresh tears wobble

under sudden gusts while

in the perishing air above,

look, there, a solitary vapour trail.

Then, next slide, please, see flakes of snow

blown across a misted window

where – like the number blizzards – 

they tumble, melting now.

Later Manifestos

Homeless Thought

A last truck parked on standing water,

surface run-off, gusted leaves

drowned in overflowing drain pools:

nothing’s only good or bad,  

think what you will, and nothing unalloyed

for thought here in its homelessness …

It follows beaten paths through woods

yearning to be somewhere, 

to be somewhere else.

Upper Redlands Road

As an old dairy with compass-point vane

and moss-encrusted roofline

recalls when downs were farmland,

now, thoughts’ local haunts,

they’re going where your feet decide

to gasometer and Chilterns

hazy ‘in these gin-clear skies’

as a weather person’s words would have it …

Feeding Bird

That white mansion, Caversham Heights,

old Cold War listening station,

it comes clear right across the valley

here from Earley Rise.

In earlier, raking sun displayed

red berried branches, twigs,

each with a droplet on its tip,

stop me, like a feeding bird

attracted to their catch-light pearls.


Likewise, brickwork’s moss-humped capstones

cut through drizzle, mist, miasma,

as what once seemed definite

(that exercise, those distances)

is pointed at routinely now,

vanishingly faraway – 


like the whole of a life intimidated.

Look, a mother coot dips down

to feed her five young balls of fluff.

You scare a fledgling woodpecker.

Up it flies through chilly air

where thought might find a home.

Buried Country

Then, daily, on these built-up pavements,

over cracked, root-buckled flags

I think to glimpse, as from a ridgeline,

the landscape’s reconfigured views,

well-hidden, buried country,

country before us and beyond

this parenthesis, still open,

its minute slice of time.

Two Cities

Grays Inn Road

Just in time the leafage alters.

Beech and maple lead the way.

After hours of grey cloud cover

air clears and long shadow,

a slanting light, the sunset

enlivens rooftiles, chimneys …


A first day of St Martin’s summer

we’re as ever in its doorway

where the possible turns to fact:

a sunny, pale blue mackerel sky

beyond the morning’s mist and debris,

us pulling from St Pancras Station

to be sieved by memory.

Rive Gauche

In this latest dispensation

– a passport stamp for souvenir – 

and after all the preparation,

I can’t lie, with your just-in-time

supply chains groaning on the day

we sense a thread of cooling breeze

as if joy always followed pain

whatever might be meant

by saying hope is violent

in sunlight down along the Seine 

aglitter and aglow.

Métro Station

Dusk walking and we chance

on one art deco station’s

commemorative plaque

in shadowed street, deserted,

bereft of any apparitions

sketched out white on black.

Down and Out

Even so, still, homeless people

settled in the doorway

of a Bon Marché department store

endure our passing on display

with strange, affectless stoicism

when just in time the darkness falls

on sleeping bags and cardboard

as like fifty years before.


Then as from pure association

remember Mohammed Sceab

passing Rue des Carmes

or Verlaine by the Rue Mouffetard

and on Rue Monge we find a way

through street-doors to the small Arena

where lovers come and children play

at football now, its charms

intact, intact despite the times,

only to find ourselves in tears

whether ravished by the song

a street musician jazzes on

or gone behind their burnt cathedral

by work still to be done


The Worse


When Faustus sacked Mephistopheles,

remember, all hell breaking loose

– pandemic on pandemonium – 

I can’t lie, with your just-in-time

supply chains groaning, I can’t lie,

no gain, not meaning to deceive

in queues at the Gare du Nord to leave

and get where his are coming home.


Dark foreground masses looming somewhere

in Mornington Crescent or Camden Town,

bright-lit distance overwhelms

with the Hammersmith and City Line’s

stage flats, theatrical chiaroscuro, 

its pointed brickwork, smutted mosses

outcropping down the tunnel rock

and formed of speculation, losses,

a year’s-end ruin creeps into their designs.


Later, more street music playing,

with all its fluent melancholy

echoing over a leaf-littered square,

the shopping centre cannot hold,

has boarded up or white-swirled windows,

some people resting here and there …

That’s how we find ourselves safe home

given the times, now, just in time.


for Paul Francis

Never too late for a happy childhood!

Especially when a west wind

ruffles waveforms into whitecaps,

we’re following old field walls,

red sandstone walls from different era,

fringes of a storm blown through.

They take us down where tidal river

opens up towards the Wirral

and in this weather, changeable,

with sunny spells between fierce showers,

we’re tracing out the fates of ships – 

the Amakura, our example,

torpedoed 1942

on its run to Demerara,

surviving in a coffee shop name

there on Booker Avenue.

No, never too late for a happy childhood!

We’re pondering the fates of young

people with their body-image

problems, self-harms, spectre-like identities …

then pile in with our own

thinking green-gold tins of syrup

that brought forth sweetness from the strong;

we’re talking etymologies – 

how amakura sounds like Japanese,

meaning ‘sweet-store’, its hold-cargoes

replenishments for Tate & Lyle

to take the bitterness off our coffees,

as Booker was the shipping line

that owned the S. S. Amakura,

even though we’ve no idea, 

no, we can’t imagine

how it got its name.

Peter Robinson is a Professor of English at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press. He grew up in Liverpool and has degrees from the Universities of York and Cambridge. After spending eighteen years teaching at various universities in Kyoto and Sendai, Japan, he now lives in Reading with his wife, a native of Parma, Italy. They have two daughters. Peter has published aphorisms, fiction, short stories, and literary criticism, as well as many books of poetry and translation, for some of which he has been awarded the Cheltenham Prize, the John Florio Prize, and two Poetry Book Society Recommendations. 
His first volume of poems, Overdrawn Account, appeared from the Many Press in 1980, and since then he has produced eleven collections, with ten available in Collected Poems 1976-2016 (Shearsman Books, 2017) and the most recent in Ravishing Europa (Worple Press, 2019) []. He has also collaborated with artists on two books, Bonjour Mr Inshaw with David Inshaw (Two Rivers Press, 2020) and English Nettles and Other Poems (Two Rivers Press, 2010, and 2022) with Sally Castle. His latest volume of poetry, Retrieved Attachments, from which some of the poems published here have been taken, is forthcoming in February 2023. 
     Peter’s fiction includes a collection of short stories, Foreigners, Drunks and Babies, published by Two Rivers Press in 2013, his first novel, September in the Rain, which came out from Holland House Books in 2016, and his fictive psycho-geographical exploration of Reading, combined with state of the nation report and Crusoe obsession, The Constitutionals, which also appeared from Two Rivers Press in 2019. Alongside his own writing Peter has been a dedicated translator of poetry, especially from the Italian. His latest publication is Reports after the Fire: Selected Poems of Pietro De Marchi (Shearsman Books, 2022). He is currently completing a translation of In Rhyme and Without: The Complete Poems of Giorgio Bassani with Roberta Antognini. 
His work has been extensively reviewed, and two collections of essays on his writings have been published to date, The Salt Companion to Peter Robinson edited by Adam Piette and Katy Price (Salt Publishing, 2007) and Peter Robinson: A Portrait of his Work ed, Tom Phillips.

27 April 2022