The First Racing Turn

We can start with the basics –
the lifting and full leans on oars –
but before long we will have to dig
and pull at less certain surfaces
out at sea and under the command
of racing rules – those set demands
of distance and clockwise turns
around anchored buoys – whilst
in smacking earshot of others’ boats –
those crews that can pull away –
under almost-mechanical techniques –
those we have to hone – Our finest victory
will be the first finish we achieve –
and then we will know how to row

The Pilot

Stunned by an off-keel tip –
but that was part of the deal
of any such heaved pull
under the pilot’s minimal steer
of his salt-pressed gig crew –

then the high wave-slams of
the clinker-laid hardwood boat
upon the vast ship’s tarred hull –
as if beating upon the pregnant
belly of a dark leviathan

Those men had won the right
to pull alongside – to profit –
to earn their paid return to the
dark harbour’s pints of succour –
but only with the turn of the tide

by half a dozen oars in that boat
timed by a hundred – or more –
counted out from the hefted launch
to that last profitable throw of rope
onto the huge ship of strangers

Let’s Put It In Writing


Fifteenth May, nineteen eighty-five, Brighton,
a Top Rank Suite, for an evening’s adoration,
standing, a puntered-audience of boys’ bad skin,
but fast forward, here, now, sat-settling,
in gentrified Hove, off the low Western Road:

Waiting, stalled, greyed women and men,
pot-bellied, various middle-aged friends,
like the rank of boorish South Africans,
love-locked, along with billy-no-mates,
who arrived, drunk-stumbled, seated late:

‘You missed Rattlesnakes,’ Mr Cole said,
looking equally pissed at their loud entrance.
And I ended the concert, stood at the exit,
removed by my stiffened need to stretch,
whilst the audience sat, politely applauding,
I shifted, mine the only standing ovation.