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 –
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.
The night you ended it,
I found the tape of you playing
your father’s grand piano –
each note a spider’s step
in case he told you to stop –
less a reminder of that moon
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.