Andy Humphrey. Freelance Writer. Prize winning poet.

Andy humphrey's poetry

My debut poetry collection A Long Way to Fall was published by Lapwing Publications in May 2013, ISBN 978-1-909252-40-0. Below are some poems which appear in the collection

My second book of poetry, Satires, is published by Stairwell Books and was launched in March 2015, ISBN 978-1-939269-16-4. A couple of sample poems are below.

Material on these pages will change periodically so please re-visit when you can.

If you enjoy these poems and would like to order either of the collections, please visit the Lapwing Press website and/or the Stairwell Books website where you can find a preview and information on how to order.

Further samples of my work can be found on my poetry page at Write Out Loud.

the green man

Probably my most requested poem at poetry readings. It was originally a runner-up in the Kent & Sussex Poetry Society Open Poetry Competition in 2008, and has been republished three times (so far), in the debut issue of Beautiful Scruffiness magazine and in the anthologies The Green Man Awakes and York: in poetry, artwork and photographs (both published by Stairwell Books). It also appears in A Long Way to Fall.

 

Each evening, his labours at an end,
the green man
catches the number ten bus
and makes his silent way
through the glistening, lamplit streets.

I didn’t realise
it was him at first,
muffled under moss-coloured wool
and capacious, earth-stained coat.
But that musk gave him away:
the autumn-scent of crumbling bark and badgers,
brown as leaf-litter, heady
with mushrooms, moss and leather. The air
tastes of tilled earth as he passes.

I sneak a glance
when he’s not looking, try to make out
stray twigs poking
from under the cap, the stubble-fuzz of lichen
on his jowls, the weatherbeaten
crags of brows. I picture great fat hands,
hoary, ripe as apples,
curling up hedgehogs into puffballs,
scuffing truffles, turning insect-teeming logs,
bedding in horse-chestnuts until spring.

In cracked grey hobnails
he disembarks like rustled leaf-breath.
A flavour of loam and windfalls
lingers in the air behind him:
the must of seasons turning,
festivals,
harvests.

poetry in baghdad

This is the final poem from the Satires collection. It was set to music back in 2009 as part of a song-cycle called "Three Poetic Songs" by the wonderful contemporary composer David Power with whom I have since collaborated extensively as part of the Sounds Lyrical Project.The inspiration for the poem came from a newspaper article that I read in a hotel room in Bangladesh during a conference visit in 2000.

 

You can't put a price on the value of a poem, he said.
You can't change a poem for dinars or dollars.
And verse will never replace food snatched out of mouths,
medicines denied,
technology prohibited,
communication broken down.
You can't put a price on a poem
when you're fighting just to live,
with all the world against you.

Maybe not, I replied;
but no more can you put a price on a sunset,
the petals of a lily
or the smile of a song.
No more can you put a price on a people's belief,
the roads down which they have travelled,
the horizon that gives them hope.
A poem may not be much,
but it still might raise a smile, and a stir of hope;
and in a land without medicine
surely this is precious?

frog/prince

I'm obsessed with fairy tales, and find they provide perfect source material for poetry. The stories are full of subtext and symbolism, and provide a "safe space" in which to explore some of the darker aspects of life. Or, occasionally, they can be purely celebratory, as in this piece originally written as a NAWG competition challenge. It first appeared in A Long Way to Fall.

 

(i)
I give you this night.
Water-lilies, reflections
of stars. Love, my song.


(ii)
In the heady surge
of the swollen river’s rush,
can you hear me call?
Will the midsummer moonlight
carry me to your pillow?


(iii)
The chant, the charm that breaks the spell,
that melts cold frog-flesh into skin,
the penny in the wishing well,
the chant, the charm that breaks the spell.
True love’s first kiss, the wedding bell
that wakes the dormant Prince within;
the chant, the charm that breaks the spell,
and melts cold frog-flesh into skin.

separate taxis

This poem won the Open Poetry category in the National Association of Writers' Groups' Creative Writing Awards in 2012, and was subsequently published in A Long Way to Fall. I'll let it speak for itself.

 

After the quarrel, the slammed-down glass,
the phone calls for separate taxis
half an hour apart;

after the night ride through empty lanes,
the man with the aftershave tang
that echoed of you;

after the thrum-thrum of the Chemical Brothers,
the throb in her neck,
in the pulse point;

after the ashy smother of moustache,
the coarse pinioning, the reek
of earth up her nostrils;

after they brought her back, wrapped in blankets,
after they bagged up her clothes
and wouldn’t let her shower;

only after this, you flushed away the whisky,
the remains of that aftershave, the dregs
of your last fight.

After this, you can’t sleep easy without her,
unless the cellphone’s by the bed:
in case there’s ever

another afterwards
when she can’t reach you
and you haven’t heard her calling.

And when the Chemical Brothers come on the radio
you switch to another station
before she hears.

THE BIRKENHEAD APRIL FOOLS

My thoughts on the death of Margaret Thatcher. Originally written in 2006, and published in Orbis issue 145, it only seems to have become more topical with the passage of time. This poem was also published in A Long Way to Fall.

 

We argue still, my Mum and I,
about which of them came first.

One year it was Wirral TV: unplug
your aerial and re-tune. That’s all you did.
Long before cable,
or Murdoch with his satellites. Like that could work.
One guy pulled his aerial so hard
the goldfish bowl flew
off the telly top and landed
on the shag pile. Suffocated.

Another time, the Mersey Barrage –
renewable green power, years before
the buzz-words. Right across the estuary.
So big, they had to flood New Brighton seafront.
Letters of concern washed in like cockles.

After the riots, they sent Heseltine
strutting his quiff down several streets
like ours, to show they cared. Then, poll tax. Never mind
the docks they closed, mothballed submarines,
accumulated gutter mounds of turds,
un-swept plastic bags. Mum taught a kid
whose Saturday hobby was rooting on the tip.

The Globe’s best – the tranche of Council cuts.
Snatch squads to enter homes for overdue
library books. No bins to be collected; take
the rubbish to the tip yourself
in Wirral Borough Council plastic bags,
three fifty each from Wallasey town hall.
Schools to be open just three days a week;
water metering and tolls for roads.
It all seemed so far-fetched back then.

Now it seems they’re coming back:
ghosts, strolling through the wilderness they made.
New promises, new quiffs, new task forces.
New Tories, in case we’d all forgotten
the last lot. Showing they care this time.
And who’s that in the photo? Heseltine.

St. petersburg, three hundred and two years on

A tribute to one of the most complex and astonishing cities I have ever had the privilege of visiting, This poem was first published in Quantum Leap issue 36 (October 2006), and also appears in Satires.

 

Peter, the visionary, imagined it as a heavenly
new Jerusalem, towers riding gold
above the clouds of marsh fog. Drew up and edict
enforcing mass relocation, laid foundations
on the bones of those who succumbed to the damp.
Plundered half a continent to furnish his banquet halls.

When Peter gilded the cathedral dome
six thousand people died of the madness
borne in the fumes of the mercury vapour
in which he dissolved the gold: and this
to the praise of a Christ-child
in whose icon he put his own bearded face.

And now on public view to the world:
treasures to feed a nation, the spur
of a revolution where you count the human dead
like pennies, and nine hundred days of siege
when the cathedral square
became a field of cabbages.
You can visit the church on the spot
where they blew up Alexander, see the bridge
where Rasputin drowned clawing his breath
in disdain of conspirators' bullets. Count fifteen thousand
angular walls and spires, a bristle of cranes
and the last relics of communism
hawked with Russian dolls
on the corner of the street.

The cries of bullfrogs used to sing
a eulogy to those who gave their bones
for these foundations. Today the names
of those who fell in the war
are honoured, each with a tree,
and life rises green from the graves.

(August 2005)

britannia without arms

Sculptor Marc Quinn's stint as occupier of the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was a controversial one. His Alison Lapper, Pregnant divided opinon across the UK, with Robert Simon of the British Art Journal describing it as "a rather repellent artifact." Personally I thought it was amazing. This is my tribute to the artist and his muse - a tribute which won me second prize in the Hastings International Poetry Competition in 2006. It was published in First Time magazine, issue 52, in spring 2007, and re-published in The Exhibitionists anthology (Stairwell Books, 2008). It subsequently appeared in A Long Way to Fall.

 

She is sitting, now, on a cold stone cushion,
shorn-headed, white, and pregnant:
Silent -
cold to the gaze of the lions
at the feet of the admiral whose statue
rises, phallus-like, to meet the circling pigeons.

She cuts an incongruous figure there,
enthroned in state beside periwigged monarchs
and men who carved out an empire
in the sub-tropic night of a musket-ball.
Yet she begat an empire in her own way too:

as mother,
bearing the proud weight of restless life;
as soldier,
unbowed by a well-meant weight of steel
that a future race would see only as torture;
and as muse,
the tender icon of a nation
thick with hot, chaotic, mongrel blood.

So it is that now she meets the gaze of men
unflinching, bears the weight within her naked belly
as both badge and shield.
She has earned her place:
despite the scorn of those who hanker still
for Nelson's glories, Napier's plundering surge,
the tired fag-ends of empire and the pigeon-crap
pique of the critics;

And serene she sits,
a mother at the heart of Old England,
Britannia without arms.

(for Alison Lapper)

five erotic dreams

This poem was the First Prize winner in the Open Poetry category of the 2010 National Association of Writers' Groups creative writing competitions. It was also published in A Long Way to Fall.

 

(i)
Only a few people come here.
In soft footfalls by the bookshelves
they skirt the edge of us, fingers
searching out verse half-remembered
from childhood, a glimpse of romance.
In leafy scents of poetry
we kiss, and we kiss,
your lips a love-letter in blood.

(ii)
You submerge me, plunge with me,
twine me like we're seahorses,
a weight of indigo closing
overhead. This insane prickling
is coral on my fingertips, electric eels
brushing my neck. Oceans of us.

(iii)
We surface together
into baking depths of dunes. Sand
cakes my nostrils, salt on my lips.
The attack of your tongue
pricks like scorpion's barbs.
Each stab sharper, shards of you
that cut me open, open me up
to your touch, the whiplash
of your eyes, Your sandstorm scent.

(iv)
Then the roof opens above us:
and there's sky and the vastness
of a turning world. We hurtle,
tumble together on wintry wisps
of ice-cloud. Blood rushes
with wind in my ears, through wing-tips
of fingers. I hear it in all the places
where hearing shouldn't be.

(v)
Our earthing is gentle.
Fellow travellers, silent:
like monks, immersed in curls
of poems. You, the hot tangle
of your hair and the must
of pages strewn open
around us: the fragrance
of a hundred romances,
a hundred and one sultry nights.

some earlier poems

Here are some samples of earlier poems which do not appear in the recent collections but have featured in other anthologies or journals. If you like what you read here, I strongly urge you to buy the journals or anthologies where the works appear! Most of these journals are made for love, not money, and they need your support in order to keep publishing new poetry.

zero point

Another poem from my visit to Bangladesh in the autumn of 2000.

 

At the epicentre of a turning world
just one point is still:
a slender, crazy cylinder of advertiser's steel
wreathed around in traffic-smog.

Below, the noisy bustle of a ceaseless, restless world:
ten million in orbit,
ants about the narrow streets,
a jostle and a rustle and a sounding of horns;
lights that blink unheeded from red to green
and unheeded blink back again
as the charge of relentless traffic
sweeps up everything before it,
washing it up on the furthest gutter
like the silt left behind by Jamuna and Padma
which once gave this river-world birth.

Today, they mesaure the bounds of Bangladesh
from this still little island above Pandemonium.
From it the veins of a nation flow thick,
sticky and hot with life.