Suffolk Poetry Society – James Knox Whittet

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Date(s) - 12/09/2020 - 26/09/2020
All Day


Suffolk Poetry Society will be sharing work from their membership with us over the coming weeks with a new poem being added at fortnightly intervals.


James Knox Whittet
James Knox Whittet was born and brought up in the Hebridean island of Islay. He has published poetry collections and won awards from the Arts Council of England, Highland Arts and the Society of Authors. He is a Hawthornden Fellow and was President of the Suffolk Poetry Society

Languages of Babyle

It is always in autumn that I glimpse you,
walking hand in hand with Donalda
along the esplanade in Oban, past the cathedral
with its organ notes made discordant by sea winds.

Across the bay, the spaced lights of Kerrera
burn more brightly with the deepening dusk;
as you slowly walk, you listen to the gulls’
strangely human cries of exile and longing.

Images of autumn flooded your mind like
the high tides of Babyle where your languages
were confused by humans and not by God:
that unbending figure in whom you could never believe.

Here where your mother’s footsteps crushed the frail
daffodils each spring when she followed the narrow path
to the moor, with a creel strapped her back, where cairns
of peat were shot through with scattered pellets of sunlight.

Those leaping salmon psalms she sung in the Free Kirk
each Sunday resounded in your ears long after
her shrill voice had gone and, despite your loathing,
were echoed in the sonorous cadences of your verse.

Not far from your home in Taynuilt, the granite statue
of Duncan Ban MacIntyre stands still, gazing stalker- like
down across Loch Awe where the deer move out
in isolated air and wet rowans shake their bowed 

heads in a breeze, letting fall their berries like droplets
of claret on goose-fleshed water. Those threatening,
scheming voices that whispered in your tortured mind
have all been lulled to silence now and cattle cough

ghostlike through the mists of autumn beyond
the cemetery walls of Muckairn where you lie with one
ear strained to hear the wailing choirs of the distant ocean
that will forever call you home to wind-bent grasses.

Here now is the stubborn place of which you wrote
where the bewildering metaphors by which you
lived no longer swarm like midges around this blunt fact
but, as a fellow traveler through verbal mazes wrote: 

the facts of this world are not the end of the matter.*


Iain Crichton Smith grew up in the crofting township of Babyle in the Isle of Lewis. Although Gaelic was his native language, he was taught entirely in English and he felt divided between two languages all his life.
* Ludwig Wittgenstein.


Anne Boileau
Anne was born on a farm in Suffolk.  After studying German in Munich she worked as translator, interpreter and language teacher. She now lives in Essex, observing and writing about the landscape and natural world around her, as well as translating German poetry for pleasure. Anne won second prize in the Crabbe poetry competition in 2018  with this poem ‘A Poet Showed Me Round his Violin’.


                                      for Gregory Warren Wilson 

A poet showed me round his violin.
He held it with a reverence all his own.
His teacher left it to him in her will.
The fingerboard is smoothest ebony.
A poet showed me round his violin.

Two types of wood, he said. The front is pine,
the back is spruce, from the Dolomites.
This maker always sought some minor flaw
in the grain he used.  But it must not be weak.
Two types of wood, he said. The front is pine.

He does not spell it out, but it’s implied:
we hear a breeze within, the breath of trees
felled on a mountain side under full moon;
the gale that broke the branch and caused the flaw.
He does not spell it out, but it’s implied.

I wanted him to play but did not ask.
I had called on him to talk of poetry
and he prefers to keep to the task in hand.
He put the violin back into its case.
I wanted him to play but didn’t ask.

But then he let me hold his precious bow.
Look at the mother-of-pearl, the band of gold
here at the base – but please don’t touch the hair!
I felt the balance of it in my hand,
because he let me hold his precious bow.

A poet showed me round his violin.
Two types of wood, he said, the front is pine.
We didn’t spell it out but it was implied,
I wanted him to play, but didn’t ask.
Instead, he let me hold his precious bow.

Anne Boileau


Pam Job
Pam Job helped run Poetry Wivenhoe for 10 years. Her work is published in anthologies and in magazines. In 2018 she won the Cornwall Contemporary Poetry competition. She has won The Crabbe Competition twice. Her poem, ‘The Parcel’, was included in the oratorio The Affirming Flame, premiered at Snape Maltings in 2019.


Orford Ness: the almost island

This place manufactures winds, angles them
to meet the sea then shreds them on iron tripes  

of ruins above soft green mouldings of grass.

Winds are filed in levels of ferocity
in vertical drawers in a library of elements.

Open a cupboard out fly sea-mists, yellow fogs.

Pipes try to run away – gas boys gas – through rusted
ducts, open mouths still shouting we know about death

and yes those could be meat hooks in the ceiling.

Poppies, bloody breath of the dead blown against
barbed wire, and all else we have left is geometry

in this barracks for owls where struts are roofed with rooks

at its end, an instrument made of sand to hold the sea.
There’s a muted luminosity in this fractal landscape 

now light pales and all the day’s sequins are stripped away.

Pam Job

This Suffolk site was used for the secret development and testing of radar and armaments including nuclear weapons from WW1 until 1973.


Patricia Peters
Patricia Peters lives close to a beautiful beach in Pakefield, Suffolk which has a thriving creative community.
Having attended several inspirational online poetry courses, she is preparing to publish a a pamphlet entitled ‘Tears. It will include ‘And Sing Like Alan’.


And Sing Like Alan

Alan got onto the stage
round, flat face, small eyes and nose
wanted to sing in his own language
no words, just a range of sounds
unchartered notes and unchecked volume
his own music bellowed in earnest
his tongue popping out between notes.

To the audience it was
wailing, howling, caterwauling
we were stunned, alarmed, some frightened
hands went over ears
an embarrassment of giggles
obvious cringes
tinges of anger
spoiling our afternoon.
Who let him onto the stage?
It shouldn’t be allowed!
Someone should do something.
But no one knew what to do

I didn’t know what to do, then
my dad joined Alan on stage
stood next to him,
put his arm around his shoulder
sung silently with him,
a spontaneous duet
a harmony so beautiful
that I cry remembering.
Stating my purpose, my mission
words diminish this example
not even poetry.
I want to be a woman like my father
and sing like Alan.

Patricia Peters


Caroline Gilfillan
Caroline Gilfillan is the author of five poetry collections, one of which, Yes, won the East Anglian Book Award for the best poetry collection in 2010. Her work has appeared in many anthologies, and in 2019 she won the Yeovil Prize for Poetry. She also writes fiction and songs. Though no longer resident in East Anglia, she retains strong links with Norfolk and Suffolk and is a frequent visitor.


Things he loved

Her transparency; the clear breath
that ran through her; her nose –

the tidy fold of it, like paper; her innocence:
here was a woman who knew nothing

of ripe figs dripping juice, nothing
of sway-backed donkeys and Herodotus. 

Not that she was stupid: she’d grown herself
from her own seeds, like a child raising 

mustard and cress on blotting paper.
Like him, she’d been given nothing

and had made something of it.
He liked her will: she’d not buckle

or bend. And he loved the centre of her voice:
sherbet in the lemon. Her eyes, too: blue-sky

blue, limpid with chalky loss, a foil
for his, the colour of peat. Most of all

he loved her fastidious ways and words.
Those harridans in black habits had tied her 

up in a parcel of plain brown paper
and string he wanted slowly to undo.

Caroline Gilfillan


Caroline Price
Caroline Price is a violinist and teacher by profession but writing has always played a significant part in her life. Her poems have appeared widely in literary magazines and anthologies, and she has published four collections, most recently ‘Picnic on the rocks, with frog’ (Shoestring Press 2017).
This poem won First Prize – 2018 Crabbe Memorial Competition.


Chamber Organ
Castle Grant, 1766

They lie back replete
in their padded seats, bibs spotted
from dismantling the birds they shot earlier

and prepare for the magic he’s promised, their host
tiny at the acanthus-swagged mahogany,
his hands as they dance
between octaves and stops

shaking the hall with a fanfare
engulfed moments later by thunder, followed as abruptly
by the eerie floating of a single flute

while on the far side of the wall and braced against it
his servant pumps the handle
without pause, gasping
as he gives the instrument breath,
his grunts and sweat-streaked face

as invisible, impossible to imagine
as the deer grazing in the dusk
or the soft chuck chuck
of a roosting pheasant, an answering grouse.

Caroline Price


David Healey
David Healey was born in 1944 and brought up in Cornwall. He qualified as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital and subsequently worked in Papua New Guinea before returning to become a GP in Suffolk. He’s been involved in wildlife conservation and helping to look after his grandson, Archie, who has cerebral palsy. He’s published two collections: of poetry: Slowing the Afternoon Down and Sleeping Among Yaks. A Wild Swan Feed At Welney won first prize in the Crabbe Poetry Competition in 2014.


A Wild Swan Feed At Welney

After the kerfuffle of reaching
the viewing chamber, making sure
the children with additional needs
don’t get lost or left behind

the swans fly towards us,
strung out like a wavering horizon,
glide down and carve Vs of curved
spray as they water ski to a stop.

The children laugh and cry, call
across to each other, answer back.
Soon as grain is thrown
from a barrow the swans converge

snatch and swallow what they can,
near enough for us to see
each adult bird has a wedge
of yellow on its bill.

There’s bugling and honking
on the lagoon. Most are Whoopers
though the warden in his spiel
informs us Bewick swans

are seen better from East Hide.
It’s a rumpus when they take off:
smack smack against water
as they struggle to get airborne.

Archie, my grandson, can’t stand
without splints and hand rails
but flapping his arms like wings
he gives me the lift I need just now.

Pools of sunlight and cloud shadow
sweep across The Ouse Washes.
When I hold him at the window
he laughs at where he is in the sky.

David Healey


Phil Baker
Phil Baker is of mixed European heritage РGerman, English, French, Polish. He lives in a barn near the Suffolk hamlet of Edwardstone and reads regularly at Arlingtons poetry caf̩ in Ipswich. His poetry has been published in anthologies and in the New European.
Mia and the ant– Commended, George Crabbe Poetry Competition 2019. Published in the Suffolk Poetry Society Anthology.


Mia and the ant

As if she’s been charging her batteries for the whole
of her three years
she seizes the day by both shoulders
looks it in the eye and says play!

Runs everywhere. Walking
she’s in danger of leaving herself behind
so she runs to keep up – slowing only when stalking
the moment

Fearless she attacks every climb, every crawl
the playground can offer, with squeals of pure joy
the excitement of putting her all
into meeting each challenge

At times, gaze elsewhere, she’s on auto-pilot
Her feet are left to their own devices
and she staggers, inadvertently almost splicing
her legs, grabs for balance, mutters -That was close

A rope bridge a foot above the ground
is negotiated with the same skill, not looking down
as I imagine her – fifty feet up and inching
not flinching for a moment – just the hint of a frown
above spuming white foam, a rock-strewn torrent
Ropes treacherous, slippery with humidity and slime
somewhere in the wilds of twenty years’ time

Re-crossing a tree trunk
she previously took in her eager stride
she encounters an ant. And stops. Looks.
Rooted to the spot – interrogates it

Nothing can persuade her to cross now
Whether fear of trampling it into the bark
– care for a tiny life easily lost
to restless feet with lives of their own

Or perhaps a more primitive fear
– of an alien creature. With too many legs.
No power of speech, yet the freedom to decide where it wants to go
without any apparent parental control

Earlier she’d asserted with unshakeable certainty
that she hadn’t come out of her Mummy’s tummy
Where from then? She’d laughed as she ran away
calling over her shoulder – I just came from yesterday

Now, faced with tomorrow with six legs, she’s stumped
But only briefly. Shelving the question, to avoid the congestion
on the tree-trunk route, she jumps off
feet first into today

Phil Baker


John Vaughan
After a working life in local government John attended an evening class on creative writing in 2003. He fell in love with poetry, attended all the adult education classes he could and then obtained a degree from The Norwich Art School. He has published three pamphlets.


Watch His Lips 

Faced with a choice of the ventriloquist or his dummy,
I like the dummy. His eyes are brightly alive whereas
the ventriloquist seems self absorbed. I say seem
because he doesn’t say much. Besides, the dummy has
the gift of the gab and smiles. The ventriloquist cuts
only a flinty grin. It is as if he is still struggling
to remember his lines. Meanwhile the dummy works
the audience, tells jokes and shares anecdotes.
With him we are at ease.

It doesn’t matter that he isn’t politically correct,
often direct, and says things as he finds them.
Sometimes he insults us, calls us names and swears.
We feel we can trust him. And when he speaks to us
in confidence he winks, deliberately lowers his voice
to keep the ventriloquist from hearing anything
he shouldn’t. We can’t help but think if he would drop
the man altogether and stand for Parliament, then
we could vote for him. 

John Vaughan


Colin Hughes
Colin lives in a no-man’s land between Dunwich and Walberswick on the Suffolk coast, where he garners most of his poetry ideas from birds and sand and sea and gorsey heath, and his increasingly elusive memories. He has published in various magazines, including The Rialto, South, Magma and Southlight, among others.


For the Birds

I Magpies

absurdly-shirted villains
spill onto pastures and pavements
in threes and fives and nines
like loony toons, or comic hooligoons,
yacking their consonant cackle

ragpie, slagpie, snagpie, shagpie,
hagpie, bagpie, lagpie, nagpie

glossy mag grackles,
who recklessly presage
woe or wealth, birth or bliss,
with numerical prank predictions
bawled in black and white

pumped-up politicos, platform foppets
in rented tails and tuxedos,
who strut over mud to blot their copy,
beak-tweak their undies in public
and thieve our bauble beliefs
with their crack-pot promises
put paid to you, plaguepies!

II Spanish Sparrows

scram, cheap cheep
chatter chappies,
you cavalier café crowd,
bitchy boyband bohemians,
crumb-snatching crust-snatchers,
scrappy-happy snitches,
dimwitted dandies
and panhandling pimpsters –
be done, belief-beggared busybodies
beady-eyed braggarts,
tale-telling townies –
scoot, you natty zapatistas,
puffed up pesetas,
fluffed-up muffins
with hussy cousins
and tatty tanned sisters –
clap! the prattle-pack scatters,

Colin Hughes