Poems by Will Kemp


Poems by Will Kemp have appeared in a wide range of national journals, newspapers and magazines, including: Acumen; Aesthetica; Ambit; Envoi; The French Literary Review; The Guardian; The Interpreter’s House; Iota; Magma; The North; Obsessed With Pipework; Orbis; Other Poetry; Poetry News; The Rialto; The SHOp; Smith’s Knoll; The Times.


Poems available on-line


Poems by Will Kemp available on line include:


Fountains Abbey – see: Guardian Poetry Workshop Monday 9 Feb 2009


The pirate inside – see: Poetry Society Members Stanza Competition


After my father died – see: Abegail Morley Featured Poet 23 May 2012


Guitar – see: Guardian Poetry Workshop 30 May 2008


Dear Ugly – see: Poetry News Winter 2010


The poets who watched the sky at night – see: Poetry News 28 September 2015


English Journey – see: Poetry Society Members Stanza Competition 2014


July 1976 – see: Poetry Society Members Stanza Competition 2013


GW Hurtle, Family Butcher -​ see: Danny Earl Simmons' Poetry Blog 2 December 2015


Driving to work at 5am while listening to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor – see: The Saturday Poem The Guardian 16 April 2016



Other selected Poems


A selection of other poems by Will Kemp appears below.



Taking the dog out


The village takes its time to form,

as a clinking chain-lead draws me      

into the deep blue paper of the night,

where touches of chalk mark gleaming   

roofs, the church’s limestone tower. 


High above, an arctic moon:

mottled white and oyster-grey, far away 

from pub-talk of tax, law, driveways

parked with four-by-fours.  It frosts the lane,

limes the surrounding hills and fields.


By a gap in the broken hedge,

Evie inspects her patch – noticing perhaps  

those hollow woods beyond the farm,   

whitewashed land and barns – then looks  

at me to start the way back.  But tonight 


I step right through, onto a sled

with pelts of lynx and snowshoe hare,

hauled by a pack across this open veld

sloped on either side with dark firs    

grazed by elk or caribou, headed for 


the tundra of the great white North;

frozen air streams against my face

as we slice over the hushed Mackenzie –  

where no salmon leap or drivers holler

above log booms rolling way down-river –


whose ice core now shoulders

this ghost rush towards the Pole Star

of an oil lamp by a trading station,

so that only our tracks lead back

to the pale field-hedge, cars and walls.






You can hear it now, long and low,



as the moon clears  


and the great unknown spreads out

            in silvered folds,


the frozen lake a star-sprinkled glow,


stalagmite trees pointing north

            like Inuit whalebone spears,


where the shadows seem to move

            with something faint –


but there,


            through the powder snow –


that percussion of panting


                        with padded feet.





Harvesting at night


That low hum in the darkness becomes

a chatter throughout this prairie field – 


the combine’s arm extended like a claw, 

long lights floating with corndust stars;


the driver lit up in his cabin too,

as if suspended in mid-air, or peering out


some submersible on the ocean floor,

watching for uncharted wrecks through


a shaken snow-globe of drifting silt,

where a deep sea fish might think him


a lost crustacean searching for a mate – 

possibly the loneliest creature it ever saw.





Walking back at midnight


In the distance,

a longshore drift of hills,

the rumble of an approaching car.


Its lighthouse beam fans up

behind the crest, then flashes

round to sweep the plain below.


And what you realise

in the stillness of this other world

is the magnitude

of every movement, sound –


that rustle behind a hedge,

the patter of a distant stream –


and the lilac flicker

of those two bedroom TVs

at the settlement’s edge,

like signals between ships at sea.





Lying awake at 4am, I consider the social                                               and physical characteristics of hell


The darkness much the same, but with a red glimmer

on the cliffs where the new arrivals are bull-dozed off

by rat-faced demons from a work by Hieronymus Bosch.


It comes as no surprise to see the neighbours here,

my lawyer too, thriving amid the sobs and cries of woe,

though I could do without that welcoming party of MPs

extolling the rewards and virtues of hard work.


And for that matter, colleagues I tried so hard to like,

three women on a hen-night, peeing in the street,

some hippies singing peace songs round a camp-fire –


because this is hell: orange rivers of molten rock

and searing flames – no need to light another fire at all.


No dogs either, no trees or sky.  Just the black smoke

of burning tyres rolling across deserts of ash, basalt rock,

where the damned stoke vast furnaces then trudge 

down dead-end streets to a deluge of Saturday night TV.


No small comfort, then, to behold kings who founded

great abbeys to pray for their souls, the father of my ex – 

still shouting – a board on his back saying, KICK ME.


Which makes me think, maybe there is a God after all.








I scoured the atlas for Nassau,

stole a bow-tie from my father’s drawer.

In code, listed the bullies at school –

then bumped them off one by one   

with a silencer made from toilet roll tubes.


I wanted to be you.


That dark look, the chiselled jaw.

Fluent in French, a natural at skiing.

Adept at roulette, the quick-step;  

seducer of beautiful women.


Only you could get away

with smoothing, Well, hello Puss,

or jaunt into the control room 

to defuse a nuclear bomb, commenting on

the best way to serve a Dom Perignon.


One day I’d breeze through

the lab with Q, use a magnetic watch

to unzip the dress of a swooning girl.   


Or just have a quip ready for Gary Murray

as he pasted my face into the playground wall.







It starts with a spit jutting into the tide

to form a strand that won’t wash away,

the land little more than sea, a place for

seafarers to stop, wrecked, find at least

they can fish from this spot, or vanish

into the mist by the shore; but by now

it’s the seventeenth century, and that

clump of shacks has become a village,

harbour, port – with fields drained

by polders, dykes, windmills – and 

that port is a city, and that city rules

the world, and its ships are returning

from the Orient and Dutch East Indies,

laden with china, spices and pearls,

and its painters are doing lobsters,

lemons and carpets; and a girl stands

by a window pouring milk into a bowl.   





The afternoon before you flew back


we cycled across Midsummer Common

then took a boat    

through the unfenced fields,

the grey-green willows

of Grantchester Meadows.


You sat taking in

the swallows skimming

winking pools, their turns

like boomerang spins

about the reeds and shallows. 


Nobody came or went, 

except a dragonfly.

It lighted on the side,  

body a bamboo tail pinned

with biplane wings and goggled eyes.


Neither of us moved

as it rested to refuel –

with light or food, we couldn’t tell –

glowing coral to tinsel green,

purring through the colours of a rainbow.


It only stayed a minute or two,

then set off in a muslin whir,

a blue flame ghosting across the water –

into the light 

and the rest of summer.





Moonlight Sonata


The night you ended it,

I found the tape of you playing


your father’s grand piano –

muffled, sotto,


each note a spider’s step

in case he told you to stop –  


less a reminder of that moon

we watched,


dawning above

the distant woods and fields,  


than the town hall clock

on our first date,


iron hands like garden shears

clunking back to twelve.





The trees near Veenendaal


I’m sitting back in the garden at dusk,

low sunlight giving way to blue, 

like that time we cycled through    


cornfields, you in a floral dress,

shadows long ahead.  I weaved

round yours, you sang Eternal Flame


The next day we made love

in a wood of young ash, oak; stayed

there all afternoon.  I remember


the way we lay, the leaves 

already brown, how they sifted

with the breeze.  And now I wonder


if you ever went back – to listen

to the trees in evening light, or sit    

and think how much they’ve grown. 





The things she gave me


I still have the things she gave me,

hidden in a secret place.    

Letters tell how we used to be,

photos let me touch her face.


Hidden in a secret place,

an old tape brings back the past.

Photos let me touch her face,

the poems she wrote let love last.


An old tape brings back the past.

Letters tell how we used to be.  

The poems she wrote let love last.  

I still have the things she gave me.





The light on the water at Rhenen


It was a Saturday in July –

the sky pale but open wide;

typically Dutch, you said,  

an unhurried cloud passing by.


We sat on rough grass,

you in my sweater, if I remember,    

bicycle wheels still spinning,

ticking, by the water’s edge.


The river slapped and plopped

again and again. Further out,

it seemed to glitter silver

the way leaves do after rain.


We watched a kahn inch forward,

lugging coal to Koblenz or Köln,

a line of shirts in surrender

from bridge to stern.


I put my head on your lap,

you fed me apricot Limburg Flan –

but only after I’d said      



You explained polders, dykes,

the need to maintain the water level.  

I kept quiet about the way

your father looked at me that morning.


I once heard that every life

has a point before which there is

always a looking forward,

afterwards a looking back.


These are the things I think of,

whenever I think of that.





The end of the world


I am last at the office tonight, about to ping  

a draft final report into the abyss of cyberspace.  

The rows of desks have been left as they were,

the phones completely quiet, dead perhaps,

as if I was the sole survivor of a nuclear error,

all my colleagues vapourised in a cloud of dust.  


Shortly I will leave for the car park, recording

my time of departure in the book on reception

like an entry at a funeral, then step out onto

the wet, still lit street, where there will be

no policeman on his beat, no smokers hunched

like conspirators outside The Wig And Mitre.


Without another car in sight, I will drive past

the outskirts of this northern town, stopping

at the garage for the milk you need for a cake,

helping myself to as much Premium Unleaded

as I like – and maybe some Mars Bars, crisps,

papers and barbeque charcoal since I’m at it.


Clutching my stash in one hand while waving

to the security cameras with the other, I will

at last head home – though starting to see now  

the door will not open to KD Lang or Handel 

playing throughout the house, nor will there be

any hint of the spicy noodles you had for lunch,  


because this is the end of the world – that time

prophets with long beards and shaking fists

always said would come: no point in anything

anymore, everyone gone. No mug by the sink,

no note on the fridge; no chance either to ask    

how your day was, or even say good-bye.