HQ Poetry Magazine

A selection of poems from HQ issue 29, by John Hartley Williams, Andrew Motion, Catharine Hales, Meleager (translated by Bill Shepherd), Danny Abse and George Seferis (translated by Prospero).

This issue also includes poems by Mike Shields, Michael Paul Hogan, Richard Bonfield, Anthony Keating, Peter Dent, Alexis Lykiard, Don Ammons and A Alvarez, among others.

Copyright © 2003, 2004. Copyright remains with the authors.

Poems from previous issue * next issue * Back to HQ.

John Hartley Williams


Learn Hungarian, I must.
Open-air reaffirmations
of vows at the altar of discontent
are impossible without it.
Nor will the shape
of its exquisitely insulting thoughts
be visible till I speak it.
I have to master it –
have it slap the faces of critics,
germinate the seeds of family discord.
I need to groan in Hungarian
so Psyche can whisper strange solace in my ear,
so I can answer
with what I did not know I knew.

This is, listen, it’s difficulteasyspeak.
Speak it. Spit it. Seduce with it.
It’s the oath-filtered language of a cellar
burning through the mouth
It’s the finger of inhibition lifted
from a stop blown in a vat, releasing
a golden urine of the sense,
a glittering parabola across
the bunged-up barrels of the past.

Hungarian? It’s what
the mob that occupies the castle yells.
It’s an aristocrat, sweeping down a staircase.
It crackles on the auto-da-fé of its own idiom,
a vampire-silhouette…
At every primrose wayside crucifix,
deciphering its undead alphabet,
I feel the squeak of its articulations
like the swallowed tongue of a cruel but devoted mother.

guide me through the wasteland
to the bar on the corner at the edge of town
where moonlight glints off the eyes of wolves.
Lead me

through the plush curtains of my mind
which have closed off the proscenium of my thoughts
for so long.
I want to walk to the edge of a light-circled floorshow
where thought is bared to its flame.
I want to forget English
for the naked challenge…

your device is the cry of a waistdeep man
yoked to a snow-breasted dragon.
In your baritone profanation is the ring of battle,
a jingling of the tongue’s accoutrements,
the tailsnapping-embrace
of nothing at all.

Hungarian, I need your heraldic lingo.
Stiffen me with your rampant existence.
Restore to me the cryptic sorrows.
Make all manner of forays finally possible.
Become the language
imagining the rest.

Andrew Motion


In the yellow lull
of the middle distance
a numbskull dog
is lassoing his bark
round the fallen pole
of the setting sun.

ridiculous creature –
or do I mean me?
I am desperate too
to catch the invisible
strings and things
of the universe.

What makes us think
our songs of the earth
might guard our patch
and yet be in tune
with the music turned
by the wheeling spheres?

Here they come now,
surfing the wave
of the darkening sky,
their ancient formations
of purple through gold
each trailing a cloud

of stardust and light;
it falls on our faces
as solid as rain,
and couldn’t care less
how loudly we chant
I want. I want.

Catharine Hales

 keeping time

the year’s full circle
temperatures below measure
our movements    our days

frost at the window
staves and bars blank of anything
but this distorting

whiteness    out at the edge
of the city there’s ice on the lakes
the forest shakes free

a cluster of crows
black crotchets inked against
the unstaved sky

and then the coming home
mid-city    a new fall of snow
in our courtyard

crystallised air holds
our music in abeyance
for the time of thaw

Bill Shepherd

Meleager (c. 140-78 BC)
selected poems from the Greek Anthology


Already the snowdrops flower,
also narcissi that love the rain,
on hollside lilies bloom. And

already much-loved Zenophila,
vernal flower among flowers,
sweet rose of persuasion, blooms –

bright vegetations, meadows,
why do you giggle? This girl
surpasses your fragrant flowers.


Mosquito, swift herald,
go brush the tip of Zenophila’s ear
and murmur this message:
‘You sleep. The insomniac poet
is waiting. You neglect his love.’

Well, fly, little hummer, fly –
but buzz in a tiny voice
in case you wake her boyfriend.
Bring me my girl and I’ll kit you out
with a lionskin and club, mosquito

Danny Abse


Nichts ist mir zu klein, und ich lieb es trotzdem
und mal’es auf Goldgrund und gross… 
                                                               R M Rilke

So many things not wanted,
so many things outgrown:
a red uncomfortable chair,
an outdated telephone,
a vase in detestable state
once won at an Easter Fair.

A shiny suit, a discarded shoe,
clocks that no longer tick;
a broken musical box
(Frere Jacques, dormez vous?)

So many things finished and old
but nothing too useless
or graceless or diminished
that cannot be tenderly painted
on a background of gold.

George Seferis (1900-72)
translated from the Greek by Prospero

The Leaf of the Poplar  

It trembled so, the wind set it sailing
it trembled so, how could it not yield to the wind
far beyond
the sea
far beyond
an island in the sun
and hand gripping oars
dying the last stroke at the sighting of port
tired eyes closing
like sea anemones

It trembled so much
I sought it so much
in the shade of the eucalyptus
Spring to Autumn
bare in the close woods
my God I sought it.

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This page last updated 12th January 2007