GEOFF STEVENS MEMORIAL POETRY PRIZE 2018 IS NOW OPEN
He has published poems in a number of magazines and anthologies, and in the Morning Star. He admits to a fondness for early 1960s black and white films set in the north of England, with factory hooters sounding, and a steam train whistling in the distance.
He writes poems about Beeching and Betjeman, canals in the 1970s, newspapers in the days of hot metal, post-industrial Britain, characters who can’t shake off the past.
His railway poems also include scenes in Italy, Zimbabwe, and the Burma ‘death railway’ that his father worked on as a prisoner of war.
He is married with two grown-up children, and lives in Surrey, England.
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£6.00 + P&P UK
PUB: February 2015
Rain streaming from moors, brimming
the becks. Stench of firebox,
oily overalls, flat caps. They call us
trainspotters, but it’s not that.
We hear the grunt and bark of a dragon
crawling from the mountain’s heart,
a grumbling volcano. Clattering
down from Todmorden to Hebden Bridge
takes seven minutes, three tunnels
and one viaduct. Sandwich-munching,
tea-swilling anoraks; they say
we seek refuge in regulations and timetables,
the permanent way. Exclamation-mark chimneys
punctuate and remind the valleys.
Apartments, retail outlets, Hockneys
housed in the magnate’s mill.
Healthy homes for workers paying market rents,
snapped up by young professionals.
We hear the hills weeping.
The Wild West
Gentle unravelling of a dishevelled dream
that started in the right direction:
hippie hair bleached by strawberry-picking;
no car, little money, hitching
down the western peninsula, tent on back,
to meet a farm girl shunning college,
following her environmental vision.
Curious hard bleakness of rural north Cornwall;
derelict railway stations, thin bed
of straw in disused barn miles inland.
Swallows rushing in and out, restless to leave.
Leaden with stagefright, Lawrentian
boy and girl in each other’s arms
unable to follow the script, to seize the moment.
In the long run of happy marriages
and children none of this counts;
barely a footnote, nigh forgotten.
Wind, or the sea’s distant murmuring?
Appointments of autumn waiting.
Forty years on: in my mind the barn’s unconverted.
Only the swallows still go and come.
The Rother Valley Railway
You can’t go back to 1950s England,
take that return journey. And yet.
All over the country, a ‘bugger that’
mentality, that drive to restore
connections, put places back in touch.
Dreamers, living in the past,
aching after old maps, stopping-train
Britain. Adlestrop, The Whitsun Weddings,
Night Mail. Lest we forget.
Raise funds, buy back the ground.
Set the fire going, open up the regulator,
hoot and whistle. Bodiam and Robertsbridge.
One happy day, a meeting of lines.
A Job on the Railways
My dad never planned to go very far.
After larking about on bookshop errands
he joined his father’s line of work. His pa
was well thought of; goods foreman, Nine Elms.
Dad looked forward to regular earnings.
The call of the empire? He had no dreams.
Hitler bluffed his way into the Rhineland:
Dad was shunted, one stop to another,
caged in ticket offices, free in mind
as Metroland’s spider extended its web.
Japan pounced, moved south from Manchuria.
Dad spotted birds, knew he’d found the right job.
Puzzling over charges for livestock
and parcels; stationary in sidings
at Stoneleigh, Claygate, Oxshott, Motspur Park.
Free ticket to travel home at night, safe.
Played piano at parties, skated at Streatham;
work on the railways was a paid-up life.
Stayed in on Saturday nights to catch
Al Bowlly leading the Savoy big bands.
Faraway smile, listening to that voice.
He didn’t hear the sounds of breaking glass.
Train to the Kwae Bridge
Bananas, palms, rice fields; jolting train
takes three hours from Bangkok.
Jet-tired, we get out at the stop before.
Taxi tout spots our bewilderment,
Whisks us away for a crazy sum.
We pay him off, shake off his guided tour.
The train still runs over rebuilt spans; you take
a picture to show my mum. I walk across,
along the tracks. David Lean, Alec Guinness …
Hollywood version for a post-war audience.
Wind in the middle. Try to imagine it,
look down at the water, through the gaps.
Back in the town a new museum
restores faces to the cemetery rows.
We always fought about socialism; he talked
about the jungle, knowing what men could do.
Singapore, surrender, monsoon, disease:
beriberi, cholera, malaria, dysentery.
That’s when I lose it, writing in the visitors’ book:
“My father worked on this railway.”
Between the Red House pub and the Railway Hotel,
after Ready, Steady, Go!, the rendezvous.
Handbags circled like wagons, tactical
retreats to the loos. Revving up scooters,
putting on that brave face, puffing on fags,
waiting for ever to make your first move.
Perfume, sweat, sprung floor sticky with beer;
Motown beat of my heart. Forces’ sweethearts
starting fights, spilt drinks, innocent squaddies
tumbling bewildered into bloodied streets,
while not-yet-famous bands played on.
Most saw their names in lights.
Why didn’t we? Things you’d forgotten with the years;
tunes in the head, words that once made sense.
Where can she be? Fingers tapping keys.
Hands searching in the dark, November bright with stars.
The longest kiss you’ve ever known;
holding each other on the last bus home.
Betjeman at St Pancras
The lonely, diminished traveller,
dwarfed by the sepulchral roof he surveys,
clutching his hat, gazes upwards, amazed;
holding bag, coat free-flying, turned-up collar,
adrift in international departures,
entranced by the arc of Barlow’s arches.
He’d rather be riding on doomed branch railways,
tank engine steaming to west country bays.
Lost on the sacred, cathedral concourse
the resurrected station’s saviour dreams
of Sidmouth, Padstow, beloved stops,
radio talks, neo-Gothic discourse.
Below stairs tills jangle, passengers stream:
Accessorize; Costa; Next; Body Shop.
for David Andrew
Last time in London, chanced upon this caff,
close by where I once worked. Fitted the bill;
lasagne, chips, salad, less than five quid.
“Look,” you said. “Locals eat here. Must be good.”
You’d arrived first. Navvies’ tea on table,
exuberant, eyes gleaming: “How I love
this city!” Saw the city through your eyes,
mapped by no-nonsense, honest caffs –
HP sauce, beverages, something
bubbling behind the counter.
Steamed-up sanctuaries, hiding places
run by Italians, Cypriots, Greeks,
oases for those in the know. Only
a few yards to the bookshop, wealth
of poetry on the shelves. Pottered down
Farringdon Road, past pubs, pole-dance joints,
open mic venues; you regaling me
with exotic family histories,
cousins who lived in Kenya, Singapore.
You spied a shop that sold telescopes,
next to a place bombed in the first world war.
Battered poppies on our jackets.
Demonstrators camped outside St Paul’s.
A three-piece, eastern European band
resounding under Blackfriars bridge.
“You and me, we’re backroom boys” –
your parting words. This splendid autumn.
My friend, we’ve found our rendezvous.
"Greg Freeman's slim volume has more going for it than many a fatter collection. The poems are snapshots of gone and going worlds, more evocative than any photo. Together, the 25 poems create a sequence that dip deep into memory in a voice that is confident, unforced, and entirely his own."
"These beautifully crafted and accessible poems are an impressive addition to the mythology of trains and train journeys. Moving beyond his fascination for the disused and dilapidated, Greg Freeman explores the patterns of ordinary lives set against the backdrop of history. Elegant, authentic and quietly moving, this is a convincing debut and one that deserves a wide readership.”
“Greg Freeman’s debut pamphlet is a delight. The poems are nostalgic (without being sentimental), rich in detail, immediate and always good-natured, in the manner of a mate telling you a tall story. Trains chug through the poems in the grand tradition of Betjeman and O’Brien: when we get to the end, we know we’ve arrived.”