Poem of the Week 111

The Painting Lesson


Trevor Harvey



‘What’s THAT, dear?’

asked the new teacher.


‘It’s Mummy,’ I replied.


‘But mums aren’t green and orange!

You really haven’t TRIED.

You don’t just paint in SPLODGES

– You’re old enough to know

You need to THINK before you work …

Now – have another go.’


She helped me draw two arms and legs,

A face with sickly smile,

A rounded body, dark brown hair,

A hat – and, in a while,

She stood back (with her face bright pink):

‘That’s SO much better – don’t you think?’


But she turned white

At ten to three

When an orange-green blob

Collected me.


‘Hi, Mum!’



Poem of the Week 110

The Tyger


William Blake



Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?


In what distant deeps or skies.

Burnt the fire of thine eyes?

On what wings dare he aspire?

What the hand dare seize the fire?


And what shoulder, and what art,

Could twist the sinews of thy heart?

And when thy heart began to beat,

What dread hand? and what dread feet?


What the hammer? what the chain,

In what furnace was thy brain?

What the anvil? what dread grasp

Dare its deadly terrors clasp?


When the stars threw down their spears,

And water’d heaven with their tears,

Did he smile his work to see?

Did he who made the Lamb make thee?


Tyger! Tyger! burning bright,

In the forests of the night,

What immortal hand or eye

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

Poem of the Week 109

Going to See King Lear

Jackie Kay


On the big red smooth seat

I watch the giant television

And my mother’s eyes

Greedy, gulping everything down like chocolate raisins

In front of me are rows of heads

That put me in such a bad mood

Sleek shining page-boy, snobby at the back

Tight bossy bun, trapped in a net

Tall selfish beehive, blocking my view

Then all of a sudden darkness comes down

Sweet and will not melt in the hand or in the mouth

I am sitting with strangers

Just the shapes and silhouettes of them now

We breath in, all of us

In one breath waiting to be changed

To stop time or for the trailer to end

And King Lear begin

No children except me

Watching with mum

Who leans forward, her body diagonal

Her fury at good King Lear’s disloyal daughters

She whispers “Get out!” to the good one

Or “Don’t put up with that!”

I think it was Cordelia.

When King Lear’s Gloucester gets his eyes gouged out

My mother falls off her chair

I cover my eyes, too late, I’ve seen it

The terrible tormenting sight of a man’s hands over his helpless, scooped sockets

Staggering back to some other time of trust

Whilst those egg whites of his eyes run

“Vile jelly”

I shake, appalled

Lear foams whisked white at the mouth

“Jesus!” my mother says shocked

“That was good, that was so good!”

Her eye’s glint, green with pleasure

Deep sigh when the names appear and disappear

So slowly she rises from the red seat

“I had to see it, I did. What a good, good girl, sitting all quiet”

My mouth has fallen open for good

It won’t close.

I am seven,

I have seen Lear’s best friend get his eyes poked out

The red floor is sliding downwards.

I will fall into myself years later

Grown up velvet curtains drawn open.

Poem of the Week 108

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me

Maya Angelou

Shadows on the wall
Noises down the hall
Life doesn’t frighten me at all

Bad dogs barking loud
Big ghosts in a cloud
That doesn’t frighten me at all

Mean old Mother Goose
Lions on the loose
They don’t frighten me at all

Dragons breathing flame
On my counterpane
That doesn’t frighten me at all.

I go boo
Make them shoo
I make fun
Way they run
I won’t cry
So they fly
I just smile
And they go wild

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Tough guys fight
All alone at night
Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Panthers in the park
Strangers in the dark
No, they don’t frighten me at all.

That new classroom where
Boys all pull my hair
They don’t frighten me at all.

Kissy little girls
With their hair in curls
They don’t frighten me at all.

Don’t show me frogs and snakes
And listen for my scream,
If I’m afraid at all
It’s only in my dreams.

I’ve got a magic charm
That I keep up my sleeve
I can walk the ocean floor
And never have to breathe.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all
Not at all
Not at all.

Life doesn’t frighten me at all.

Poem of the Week 107

A Woman Speaks

Audre Lorde


Moon marked and touched by sun

my magic is unwritten

but when the sea turns back

it will leave my shape behind.

I seek no favor

untouched by blood

unrelenting as the curse of love

permanent as my errors

or my pride

I do not mix

love with pity

nor hate with scorn

and if you would know me

look into the entrails of Uranus

where the restless oceans pound.


I do not dwell

within my birth nor my divinities

who am ageless and half-grown

and still seeking

my sisters

witches in Dahomey

wear me inside their coiled cloths

as our mother did



I have been woman

for a long time

beware my smile

I am treacherous with old magic

and the noon’s new fury

with all your wide futures


I am


and not white.


Poem of the Week 106

Oh, I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth

Pam Ayres


Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth,
And spotted the dangers beneath
All the toffees I chewed,
And the sweet sticky food.
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

I wish I’d been that much more willin’
When I had more tooth there than fillin’
To give up gobstoppers,
From respect to me choppers,
And to buy something else with me shillin’.

When I think of the lollies I licked
And the liquorice allsorts I picked,
Sherbet dabs, big and little,
All that hard peanut brittle,
My conscience gets horribly pricked.

My mother, she told me no end,
‘If you got a tooth, you got a friend.’
I was young then, and careless,
My toothbrush was hairless,
I never had much time to spend.

Oh I showed them the toothpaste all right,
I flashed it about late at night,
But up-and-down brushin’
And pokin’ and fussin’
Didn’t seem worth the time – I could bite!

If I’d known I was paving the way
To cavities, caps and decay,
The murder of fillin’s,
Injections and drillin’s,
I’d have thrown all me sherbet away.

So I lie in the old dentist’s chair,
And I gaze up his nose in despair,
And his drill it do whine
In these molars of mine.
‘Two amalgam,’ he’ll say, ‘for in there.’

How I laughed at my mother’s false teeth,
As they foamed in the waters beneath.
But now comes the reckonin’
It’s methey are beckonin’
Oh, I wish I’d looked after me teeth.

Poem of the Week 105


Joyce Grenfell


When I was a girl there was always time,

There was always time to spare.

There was always time to sit in the sun;

And we were never done

With lazing and flirting,

And doing our embroidery,

And keeping up our memory books,

And brushing our hair,

And writing little notes,

And going on picnics,

And dancing, dancing, dancing, dancing–

When I was a girl there was always time to waste.


Thank the Lord.


When I was a young woman there was always time,

There was always time to spare.

There was always time to walk in the sun,

And we were never done

With going to weddings,

Our own and our friends’,

And going to parties,

Away at weekends,

And having our children

And bringing them up,

And talking, talking, talking, talking–

When I was a young woman there was always time to enjoy things.


Thank the Lord.


And when I was an elderly woman there was no more time,

There was no more time to spare.

There was no more time to sit in the sun,

For we were never done

With answering the telephone,

And looking at the TV,

And doing baby-sitting,

And talking to our friends,

And shopping, shopping, shopping, shopping,

And washing-up, washing-up, washing-up,

Writing letters, writing letters

Rushing, Rushing, rushing,

And we were always hurried,

And we were never bored.

When I was an elderly woman

There was never time to think.


Thank the Lord.


But now I’m an old old woman,

So I want the last word:

There is no such thing as time–

Only this very minute

And I’m in it.


Thank the Lord.


Poem of the Week 104

Lady Lazarus

Sylvia Plath


I have done it again.

One year in every ten

I manage it——


A sort of walking miracle, my skin

Bright as a Nazi lampshade,

My right foot


A paperweight,

My face a featureless, fine

Jew linen.


Peel off the napkin

O my enemy.

Do I terrify?——


The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?

The sour breath

Will vanish in a day.


Soon, soon the flesh

The grave cave ate will be

At home on me


And I a smiling woman.

I am only thirty.

And like the cat I have nine times to die.


This is Number Three.

What a trash

To annihilate each decade.


What a million filaments.

The peanut-crunching crowd

Shoves in to see


Them unwrap me hand and foot——

The big strip tease.

Gentlemen, ladies


These are my hands

My knees.

I may be skin and bone,


Nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.

The first time it happened I was ten.

It was an accident.


The second time I meant

To last it out and not come back at all.

I rocked shut


As a seashell.

They had to call and call

And pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.



Is an art, like everything else.

I do it exceptionally well.


I do it so it feels like hell.

I do it so it feels real.

I guess you could say I’ve a call.


It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.

It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.

It’s the theatrical


Comeback in broad day

To the same place, the same face, the same brute

Amused shout:


‘A miracle!’

That knocks me out.

There is a charge


For the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge

For the hearing of my heart——

It really goes.


And there is a charge, a very large charge

For a word or a touch

Or a bit of blood


Or a piece of my hair or my clothes.

So, so, Herr Doktor.

So, Herr Enemy.


I am your opus,

I am your valuable,

The pure gold baby


That melts to a shriek.

I turn and burn.

Do not think I underestimate your great concern.


Ash, ash—

You poke and stir.

Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——


A cake of soap,

A wedding ring,

A gold filling.


Herr God, Herr Lucifer




Out of the ash

I rise with my red hair

And I eat men like air.