Poems of Place

I have had the good fortune to be able to travel reasonably extensively, and this has given me the opportunity to experience many places – I might also say many types of places – and to do so with the full force of the imagination. This is not something that comes to me habitually, for my natural inclination is to dwell more on issues, but there are times when place has such a striking presence that I simply must do something about it. Words have to come.

What exactly will make me feel this way is another matter. Often there is a sense of exuberance of some kind, for example the Bali poems. There may also be types of feeling, for example the peace that comes to me by a river mouth (or at least the particular river mouth which inspired the poem here). In addition I am a very visual person, strongly affected by colour and visual texture. This is one reason why I’m constantly drawn to the poetry of Douglas Stewart, as well as the sight-impaired but so insightful John Shaw Neilson. Not being gifted with the artist’s brush, I use the poet’s pen to celebrate instances where colour strikes me as special. How well I remember the thrill of reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Coleridge’s description of the water snakes:

Blue, glossy green, and velvet black,

They coil’d and swam; and every track

Was a flash of golden fire.

The poetry of place also lends itself to clever use of sound. In this department, though he wrote about all sorts of topics ranging well beyond place, who could equal Gerard Manley Hopkins?


I. Rice field

Field of rice,

Serene as green.

Stalks rippling in the breeze

Like wavelets in the sea.

Could, I wonder, the rice drink the sea?

II. Garden in Ubud

Here at the heart

Is a special place,

A place apart.

The meditation court,

Temple of tree and leaf,

Temple of thought.

Buddhas dusted in moss,

Aged with the trees,

Stand wrapped in repose.

Cathedral high,

The vaulted bamboo

Sweeps the sky.

Slow is the light;

Shadow of leaf, slow-waving,

And a particle in flight.

Traffic of ants may grind

And a bird sound

Through the gentle wind,

But silence returns, and fern fronds bow

In eternal contemplation

Of the evanescent now.

III. Garden in Sanur

Here there is no time,

But space, densely green, and a little motion.

There is leaf, sun, shade

And lavishly more leaf.

Susurration of leaves

At extravagant angles.

A staghorn lifts a finger in the breeze.

From somewhere high,

Bold, a bougainvillea comes purpling down

Like a silent waterfall.

And like the breasts of a girl,

Young coconuts wait their turn.


Here there is space:

The strand, the big-girthed trees,

The broad sky, the quiet wide water

And the long stretch into heaven and the deep.

Here there is time:

Its measure, the raising of a shorebird’s leg

And, equally, the setting down;

The pelican’s slow drift.

Peace is here:

Harmony of colour and of line,

Park benches languidly waiting,

Clouds softly sleeping

And the wavelets winking.


The café here is dull and flat.

The plains around are brown and flat.

The sky above is blue and flat.

The winter wind is unvarying, flat.

The voice behind the till is unmodulated, flat.

The morning toast, of course, is dry and flat.

They do a good cappuccino, but.