Alumni Poetry

We invite all alumni to submit poetry to us by emailing development.office@chch.ox.ac.uk 

All submissions will be considered for inclusion on this page and in our fortnightly eMatters newsletter. One poem will be randomly selected each fortnight to receive feedback from the judges of our poetry competition. We hope you enjoy reading some of the poetry recently submitted to us! 

Resonance Crosses Time
By Chris A. Jones (1999)

You are worthy of greatness, and of much love
Our collective senses, warm embraces, yearning for fun
As we roister through cloisters built for this sort of thing, learning along the way:
To protect those great secrets with time and touch,
And hoist sails toward star-guided lands
To release with ease our sheets and clothes and knots which others have spun, wrinkled or tied
So long ago
Our course may be reversed
But I am not one to speak vaguely
My kisses are real
When we whisper each other by name
Your hand gently caresses mine
And I feel you feel the same
Resonance, of course
As if the whole world is soothed
Each time we feel, make or sense
The other’s fingers move

 

Transient Anarchy  

By Professor David Parker

No lemon teas,  

No clotted cream, 

Service with a smile 

A distant dream.   

No crowded bars,  

No magic darts, 

Last orders please 

Not in these parts.  

 

No golden popcorn, 

No rustling wrappers, 

Cinemas lie empty 

Matinees in tatters.  

No Indian summer, 

No evening zephyr, 

El Nino at work 

Climactic weather. 

 

Yet, tomorrow will come 

And we will be there, 

As this time is done 

For the next, let’s prepare.

 

Walking by the Banks       

By Professor David Parker

A mosaic of maple leaves  

Carpets the ground,  

Softly fallen, gently browned,  

In the November woods 

I am found 

Amongst the majesty of my trees.    

 

Fast flows the river of my youth  

Circling around this ancient City, 

Filled with water, cold and aloof 

Heading to a sea of certainty.  

 

Crossing the bridge of centuries past  

The cobbled streets lie hushed, 

Silent couples no longer walk fast 

Spring gone from their step,  

In single file  

Let me pass.  

 

Clouds gather as the wind veers 

Time to head back for tea,  

Feel on my face Nature’s tears 

Washing away all uncertainty.

 

Corona

By Professor James Lindesay

Weaved in my lone devout melancholy

I

This is what I am and the world I made.
Nothing to it really, merely a few
molecules telling a story: The dead
have won, and now we’re coming after you.

No reason, no motive, only the quick
expropriation of your flesh, then off
before you even knew you were sick;
the wreckage of your lungs is quite enough
to see us through. The merely chemical
has taken wing; we are birds of passage,
you the air in which we move. Irony
is futile, Make me infinite is all:
truly, the medium is the message
here in my codes and coils of RNA.

II

Here in my codes and coils of RNA
you may read your future: fright and hiding,
grounded forever by the tyrrany
of numbers. The past is now receding
almost beyond recall: the holding close,
the smells of strangers and the travelling.
The mantra now is distance, lack and loss,
the world you knew is now unravelling.
Frayed and half-remembered, screens and dreams
are all you now have left of life before
lockdown. Even these memories will fade
with alcohol and bleach, in the slipstreams
and the wash of this never-ending war;
eternal repetitions, a cascade.

III

Eternal repetitions, a cascade
of death, a hailstorm out of a blue sky.
With ragged breaths we huddle in the shade
of Perspex and masks, thwart the evil eye
with bin-bag aprons and repurposed scarves.
Such is our feeble mundane bravery
before this foe, our dwindling reserves
of courage in the face of its every
assault. Clap by all means, and wash your hands
but don’t forget the many reasons why
those hands are tied and we are on our knees,
struggling to comprehend the thousands
of our dead. Still we let the poison fly,
coursing down the paths of others’ journeys.

IV

Coursing down the paths of others’ journeys,
the cull continues. Thus far, you’ve been well.
Perhaps you’ve heard a signal in the noise,
been careful, followed their advice, done all
that was requested, beaten all the odds.
Or maybe you’re immune: too young, too fit,
too not-black, not-demented, one of God’s
chosen; whatever, you’ve avoided it.
Thus far, thus far. Listen: there’s no relief
or pardon for this vigilance. Your love
remains avoidance and a masquerade;
care is still caution, tenderness a thief.
Hold back, stay contactless; be watchful of
other lives. You must learn to be afraid.

V

Other lives: you must learn to be afraid
of all of them, for who knows what they’ve done
or where they’ve been? Nowadays the watchword
is: beware. Du musst dein Leben ändern,
and not in a good way; stay alert, don’t trust
the rumours or the snake-oil, keep offline.
Shields can be lowered, bubbles can be burst,
the human all too often inhumane.
Adopt the paranoid position, cock
your gun, and watch the others in the queue.
Keep far apart, be ready to defy
the super-spreader out to pick your lock.
When faced with simple kindness, what to do?
Recoil, don’t touch, wipe everything, deny.

VI

Recoil, don’t touch, wipe everything, deny
yourself the pleasures of an old routine;
the ancien régimes of bring-and-buy,
concerts and raves, the pub, the works canteen.
Now we are counted and spaced; the waspy tape
controls our every move, shopping a chore
that takes all morning. There is no escape;
the coffee bars are shut, brunch is no more.
Of course, it’s much better than being dead,
but when will it stop, this littling of life,
in which its happiness is null and void?
What will it take to clear the addled head
of this despair while we obsess and grieve,
over and over, every simple need?

VII

Over and over, every simple need
is out of bounds as instincts are denied.
The proffered hand – the kiss, for heaven’s sake –
is now taboo and must be driven back.
Noli me tangere: now we must love
in new and difficult ways, at one remove;
in cyberspace and down the line, we deal
with FaceTime deathbeds, YouTube funerals.
This is our modern shrouding of the dead:
farewells come sheathed in plastic, last words said
with our hands pressed tightly to the windows
sealed and spattered with fatuous rainbows.
This is where it hurts, this is the true pain:
never to touch our families again.

VIII

Never to touch our families again:
ay, there’s the rub; the memories unmade
are holes in history; we are ageing
with nothing to forget. Life as a void,
unending emptiness with horror at its heart.
We watch and wait; our days are all the same,
the atoms of our selves are held apart
in wastes of irrecoverable time.
We worry over fancy new desserts,
our sourdough starters, read a book, as though
this furlough were a blessing; we embark
on something, anything, that might divert
us from the ache of boredom, but we know
a curtain has been run down, the stage dark.

IX

A curtain has been run down, the stage dark;
from symphony to solo, the music
has tailed away, the silent Meisterwerk
of Covid. We have the sound of mucus
to regale us now, the wretched face-down
gargling of the nearly-dead wheezing their
last behind screens. We listen as they drown,
try not to cough or fidget in our chairs.
No comment or critique is needed here;
the doors have closed for good without a word
of comfort or concern: we are too late.
The programme notes are absolutely clear:
there’s nothing on and no-one to be heard.
Virtue is an empty house, a long wait.

X

Virtue is an empty house, a long wait
for the blow to fall. With nowhere to run
she cowers as our blood runs cold and hot
under a steady unremitting rain
of stress. We want to be good and we try
to do our best, but it’s so fucking hard
when the bitch is in your face
. Such sophistry
aside, it seems that boundaries are blurred
in the charged crucible of confinement.
We’re hopeless: no wonder we go berserk
from time to time, worried about our debt,
our futures, food, and how to pay the rent.
A new disease is coming as we squat
indoors: the steady withering of work.

XI

Indoors, the steady withering of work
chafes at the soul; there’s nothing left to do.
We’ve washed the walls and swept the patio,
decluttered, polished, whistled in the dark
as, back and forth, we pace within this cage
of our own making. This is our ennui,
our hollow time, a blanked eternity
that yawns between futility and rage.
Our idleness consumes us, eats away
at pride and purpose as we run to fat;
nothing is now too much, and so we sit
and stare, exhausted, blinded by the light,
and poleaxed by the fear of knowing that,
ready or not, the shadows multiply.

XII

Ready or not, the shadows multiply;
the game’s afoot, the hide-and-seek begins.
Test, Track ‘n’ Trace, our world-class hue and cry,
ramps up, rolls out, hits targets, saves our skins.
As if. We don’t believe them now; we’re tired
and spoiling for a fight. The sugar-rush
of grievance has possessed us; we are wired
and itch to feel the blessings of the cosh.
Outdoors, together, marching for a cause;
this is how it used to be, a world
of comrades and opponents, loves and hates.
The diktat now is politics-on-pause;
don’t rock the boat or say an angry word.
Under the sun our enemy mutates.

XIII

Under the sun, our enemy mutates.
Hidden in plain sight, moving through the crowd,
the killer finds his mark, proliferates
and passes on, leaving his toxic cloud
to suffocate and strangle. He has found
the places where we like to park our old
unwanted stock, our surplus; hangs around,
and when our backs are turned he takes his hold.
We euphemise: we call it harvesting,
brought-forward, excess or untimely death,
Do Not Resuscitate our chosen lie
to pacify the monster, draw its sting.
He knows this, as he smuggles out our breath;
silent and watching for the light to die.

XIV

Silent and watching for the light to die,
complexity has met its match; a mute
unfeeling particle of dust has put
two fingers up to our modernity.
It has us by the throat, will not let go,
has new designs upon us, further waves
of misery and mayhem up its sleeve;
perhaps our children will be next to show
the scars from isolation and abuse.
Clear-felled, slashed and burned, at last we know
the price of progress, numbered by the dead,
the cost and consequence of plunder as
the planet gasps: who is the virus now?
This is what we are and the world we made.

XV

This is what I am and the world I made,
Here in my codes and coils of RNA:
Eternal repetitions, a cascade
Coursing down the paths of others’ journeys,
Other lives. You must learn to be afraid;
Recoil, don’t touch, wipe everything, deny
Over and over every simple need,
Never to touch your families again.
A curtain has been run down, the stage dark;
Virtue is an empty house, a long wait
Indoors, the steady withering of work.
Ready or not, the shadows multiply
Under the sun; your enemies mutate,
Silent and watching for the light to die.

©  This sonnet crown is the property of James Lindesay, 2020.

 

Acceptance will Last  

By Professor David Parker (1974)

 

Distance shall not keep us apart,  

The journey of time we await, 

Believe the feelings in your heart, 

Rise again to embrace your fate.  

 

Life has granted us an extension,  

Review, reflect and meditate,  

Step outside without apprehension,  

Make peace within to contemplate.  

 

Enter the cathedral of your mind,  

Marvel at the lessons of the past,  

Sing with joy for love is kind, 

Trust in yourself, acceptance will last.  

 

Release the locks where you belong,  

The day shall come; we are strong. 

 

The Lonely Viaduct 

By Professor David Parker (1974)

 

In the silent railway streets, 

The coal pits no longer open, 

Rainbows drawn on paper sheets, 

Discussion texted not spoken. 

 

Looking over the lonely viaduct 

Mistletoe, Lawson and Holly on show, 

Reference books lie untouched, 

Hawthorn blossoms, no one will know. 

 

Great organs here built in wood, 

No longer shall they sound, 

Juniper may flavour our food, 

Yet  no sanctuary is to be found.   

 

On Laburnum Avenue, they do not eat,  

No Uber, no music, nobody to meet. 

 

The deserted student streets of Durham 

 

Worn

By Polly Halladay (2016)

 

patter patter
Not the slate-tapped toe
of the trail no, not a trail at all but a stairway
scarred instead, so quaint, so walkable,
we run them – off the edge but stop
before the off follows fall.

Rail-hung, I want nothing but to turn,
ascend it web-strung, so fleeting then,
my eight legs curled into none.

The necessary scale reopens; though the land
may forgive our footfall, bleeding passage,
we force when we needn’t to.

 

 

 

 

Adieu

By Lucy Pearce (2014)

 

Now take my hand and hold it tight,

Entwined in yours throughout the night

And don't even think that you might Dissolve my grip before daylight.

The rays of our love create a blinding light That shines throughout our hearts at night, So don't you think the ends insight.

The time you're claimed is not tonight!

But alas this cannot be so,

And your heart, though it does glow

The strongest rays become softened, faint, more mellow

As the pulse begins to slow.

I gaze above the stars at night

And when I see them burning bright,

I know that the most dazzling light,

Is she who put up the strongest fight,

The one that has longest endured,

And she who could not have loved me more.

 

 

 

 

 

What is it with the 100 metres?

By Barnaby Powell (1962)

 

Look, to run this race is flight and fight at once:

You flee your primal fears and carve your fate.

 

The feral crowd responds to this as they

Would watch a pack of dogs go chasing rabbits,

All competing for the kill. The sprinter loves

The dry rush of adrenalin, the surge

Of hitting sweet spot on full stride,

Go blazoning a trail in crazed cavort

To victory in this most antic of extremity.

 

The terror comes in the interminable space

Between the crouch and the gun. The pity

Comes with hollow devastation of defeat

For those anointed ones puffed up

As victors. Now is the dare phenomenal,

In which each runner vies to spring out

First to ratchet up, sustain the stride rate

Long enough to overhaul the rest.

 

You have to run the race to know this.

Ask Alan Wells if ever you should meet him –

He will tell you how Olympic edge is won.

 

Don’t see ‘the hundred’ as a circus feat. It’s

Something unrehearsed and fleeting, where

Suspense hangs briefest, maddening the crowd

With its intensity, what makes them jump and shout.

It’s flash in pan of eight men shot out from

A gun with just one bursting on ahead -

A shooting star. By contrast, all other such

Events are calmer, measured, more strategic

And more rational, which makes this race

The blue riband or stand-out event

With its rough scramble straightening up

To smooth in seconds in a searing struggle,

Which allows minutest margin of an error

In avoiding sudden death. It is the total focus

And attention span allotted by the runners

To the feat, which galvanises, even hypnotises

The spectator. There you have it - on the line.

 

 

 

 

 

Capital 

By Matthew McKaig (1983)

 

Becoming bleached by flagless wealth,

And in so doing,

Becoming something else.

 

The binding mortar,

Rendered down to water,

So enjoins the flume.

 

Each part fractured into lots,

Each part slavish swept below,

All surging in the greasy flow.

 

The capital becomes this name,

A simple currency: its shame.

And washed-out London rots.

 

 

 

 

Unshingling

By Annoushka Clear (2016)

 

Later I

Half-waking fingers

Reaching between

And I find

Nothing, nothing that

Half-waking, I knew

Was true

 

And I felt that gulf in the taxi

Bending and

Snaking my

Knowledge into

Unknowledge,

 

It hums, shivers atoms,

Shingling

 

Towards parting

You gave me your hand,

Silent splay-fingered:

There were your knuckles

 

And splitting flat yellow

Under your window without a sill

Our inescapable outlines

Now strike me in relief.

 

 

 

 

S130  Strange Lights
By James Gordon (1962)

 

The square was darkling as we entered it,

Sitters on benches, dogs on exercise,

Few children playing; how many unseen eyes

Looked from the myriad windows, then unlit?

As I was seeking out a space to sit,

My face thrust upward, jerked by sudden cries,

As windows blazed, all gazing at the skies.

Bright lights in tandem! To and fro they flit,

Wheel, turn, and hover, clearly recognised

As flying objects unidentified!

I watched, enthralled, thrilled to my very bones,

As they swooped to skirt the trees, then climbed to ride

Up from the gazing throng, till I realised.

These dancing lights were naught but common drones.

 

 

 

 

Aquaerial 
By Peter Wellby (1964)

 

Squadrons wing high above sea-cliffs,

bandits at noon,

a flight of feathered missiles

plummet from a hundred feet

to a geyser of spume-spray;

concussing sea at sixty miles an hour

they dive fathoms coursing sardine and squid.

 

Saffron-naped,

eyes gimletting through pale blue spectacles,

stare-mad as herons, a focus so intent

they burn a flame with magnifying glare,

until the sea boils at their gaze

flashes white lightning.

 

Domestic, in their reeking colony

pairs clacket art-deco bills

like amorous castanets;

dumpy, draggled chicks, stinking guano,

the racket of their squabbles and trysts,

ciphers for nests: lumps of seaweed and dung,

like elegant horsewomen, groomed and plumed,

returning home to slattern sluttery.

 

When I see gannets set astride the wind,

cruising assertively,

I soar with them in their cool mastery

of the invisible mysteries of air,

join in breath-taking plunges from the sun,

chase tigered mackerel through the boisterous sea,

shadow their zig-zags with my poignard bill

and fathoms deep asleep, hunt with them still.