Posted by: John Looker | 1 January, 2020

It’s the New Year sailing in

It’s the New Year sailing in to harbour

To brass bands and bunting,

The deck crowded with promises, promises –

But it’s Truth we’re wanting.

John Looker 2020

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Posted by: John Looker | 3 November, 2019

The Point of Departure


  The traveller was ready 
but this was a journey without a horse or armour, 
sans sword, sans shield or squire, and yet
there was a sort of Lady’s Favour: her young face
smiling warmly from the home screen on his phone. 
He would carry this wherever the journey took him 
but she knew he was impatient to be gone. 
  All around were people peddling their certainties: 
aunts with crumbs of scripture caked upon their lips, 
men in their hand-me-down liveries 
of inherited political clans. Even his friends seemed
comfy with the old contentions. Did they never question,
but daily thump their tankards on the greasy board,
singing the same old songs as the torches guttered?
  All he had needed was a prompt. 
A vision would have served him best 
or an angel perhaps, some ethereal messenger, 
but in the event it was simpler than that
and belonged to the world he knew. 
A fragment of song slipped into his head and lodged, 
a riff, a phrase that spoke of another life 
or the prospect of enlightenment, 
of bringing home some talisman of the Truth. 
  So, hoisting his backpack, he left. 

©John Looker 2019

I am grateful to Poetry Salzburg Review who published this in their recent edition. It is the opening poem of a sequence with the title ‘The Galahad Call’ which I hope may be published in a forthcoming book.


Posted by: John Looker | 4 October, 2019

How did we get here, where are we heading?


       Untruth is the smiling genie

       Imprisoned in the lamp

       Whispering ‘release me!

       That I may be your slave’


© John Looker 2019


Updated on Sunday 8 December – four days from the British general election – in a mood of despondency.

Original post in October:

This year’s National Poetry Day has had the theme of Truth. I’m a bit worried about truth or the lack of it in public life at present and thought I’d try to catch this in a few lines of verse.

Posted by: John Looker | 29 September, 2019

Serenade for Europe

Poetry Salzburg Review kindly published this poem of mine in their Summer 2019 issue. It is one of two I have written about Europe, the companion poem having been published by Magma in their Europe edition of 2018.

The bay in Cyprus where it is said that Aphrodite appeared.


Serenade for Europe

with his inky fingers has touched
the little bay where Aphrodite appeared,
so soft and rosy-pink, among the rocks. 

He brushes the Dardanelles, the Danube, 
and reaching north draws a blanket  
slowly over forests where the wild boar run. 
He brings a hush to the lands of the longship 

then turns for the turbulent isles
and so to the twin ends of the earth. 
Under his spell the shutters of vineyard châteaux  
are closing, starlings thickening the air.  

He darkens mountain and plain 
coming at last to the mouth of the Tagus 
where caravels, of heart-stopping fragility, 
sailed for the Indies, east and west. 

And Europa sleeps. Or so it would seem: 
one eye open and dreaming fitfully 
our home, our continent, 


© John Looker 2019

‘Dusk with his inky fingers’ is an allusion to the recurrent mention of ‘Dawn with her rosy fingers’ in Homer’s Odyssey. The first of the two photos shows the little bay in Cyprus where, it is presumed, Aphrodite appeared. The second shows the mouth of the River Tagus just outside Lisbon in Portugal.

The mouth of the Tagus, near Lisbon.


The companion poem, The Descent of Europe, published by Magma can be read here at:

Posted by: John Looker | 14 September, 2019

Poems for Europe

It was nice to come home from holiday and find the new Poetry Salzburg Review waiting on the mat – a great big fat volume of new poems. And this issue includes three from me – one being my ‘Serenade for Europe’.

This poem is a companion piece to ‘The Descent of Europe’ which Magma kindly published last year in their Europe issue.

Neither poem is directly about Brexit or the EU, but both are celebrations of Europe as a place and a culture, one being a historical view, the other geographical. I’m grateful to both journals for giving them a place.

In due course I shall post the new poem here on WordPress. ‘The Descent of Europe’ is already here at:

Posted by: John Looker | 20 April, 2019

A haiku for Spring


The bluebells are here.

Immaterial as ghosts

that drift through a room.



© John Looker 2019

Posted by: John Looker | 24 March, 2019

The Naturalist


Spring unleashed: the valley green again,
    bird song contending in the clear air –
        and a boy turning over decaying logs.

How old the world is:
    this goldfinch a spark from the Cretaceous,
        these hills moulded by the last great ice age.

And the boy turning over logs
    (poised to seize that lizard
        or the beetle scrambling under moist leaves)

is one of the world’s newest tenants
    looking down at some of its oldest
        in wonder.

He might have been a young tribesman
    kneeling in the tinder-dry grass of the prairie
        keenly setting traps

or huntsman fingering fresh prints
    on a wet jungle track, his pulse quickening,
        and wondering, calculating.

He’s fired up with curiosity,
    hard-wired to observe, to deduce;
        he’s down close – but his mind is in orbit.


© John Looker 2018


Dedicated to a grandson and one of the poems in my recent book Poems for my Family (Bennison Books 2018, through Amazon).


Posted by: John Looker | 3 March, 2019

In the Caves at Nerja


As we enter the cave – the rocky floor
leading us down, and down again,
among the stalagmites and stalactites
– we are drawn to the deep past
where humankind
lived out its long, long infancy
by a now-forgotten shore.

The caverns are displayed by electric light.
So novel, so new.
For thousands of years
there was only the wavering glow
and the tricksy shadows
from a burning brand, and straining sight.

What might their lives have been like? Short
of course, with hyenas contending for the caves,
disease and the struggle for food:
pine nuts and snails, we learn, were big in their diet;
fish or meat when something was caught.

And yet:
and yet there was Art, or so we deduce.
Was it the women or was it the men
who splayed their hands against the cold rock wall,
blowing their pigments of black and red
across those templates of flesh and blood?
Who was it who painted these bison and deer,
these lifelike horses, these seals?
Who then stood back to admire the image as it set?

And although we look down, as it were, from above
we feel there must have been music and song.
Here in this chamber the stalactites ring
with discernible notes; some appear to be tuned –
that is scraped, or pared – for the ear.
Was there play? Was there laughter?
And, may we reasonably ask, how about love?


© John Looker 2015 


This comes from the final section of my book The Human Hive (Bennison Books, 2015 – through Amazon, currently at £2.99 and US$3.99). The book as a whole considers life through the prism of work and other activity; I have been posting a selection of the poems over the past year.


Posted by: John Looker | 30 December, 2018

The Night Shift

The world is turning 
and a longitudinal arc dips slowly 
away from the sun towards the darkness. 
Somewhere along this littoral lies our city.
The city never wholly closes down. 
Although in countless homes they're mostly sleeping, 
elsewhere there's someone working through till dawn. 
Consider the light, or rather 
the lights, for sources are many and varied: 
from the steady moonlight of shop windows 
to the constellations of street lamps strung out 
along the tarmac
and traffic lights winking. 
And here, look, the headlamps of law enforcement: 
a police car on conspicuous patrol, watchful 
as the late-night revellers 
give way to the Night's own players. ... ...

© John Looker 2015 

From time to time I have been posting extracts from my book The Human Hive (Bennison Books 2015, through Amazon). These are the opening lines from a long poem entitled The Night Shift. The book itself considers life through the prism of people at work. 

My best wishes to you all for a happy new year – there’s always hope.

Posted by: John Looker | 25 November, 2018

Under an Ancient Sky

The music of the spheres? Maybe in our memory
or psyche there linger still small signs and souvenirs.
The passing years bestowed – century by century –
a comforting inheritance: faith soothing fears.

Man or woman – in the night, unquiet, insecure –
we’re visited by creatures from the cave, archetypes
out of the shadows, nightmares or familiar Furies
riding hard. Immured in our small rooms like anchorites

murmuring remembered prayers or mantras, undermining
doubts, we smile, put on lights. Slowly our poise reappears.
The soul or inner ear searches still for those sublime
harmonies of antique times, for music of the spheres.


© John Looker 2018

Cynthia Jobin once experimented with this fiendishly complex form and challenged others to have a go. I began writing some lines but didn’t complete them. Others of her WordPress friends did better and posted poems. Now, two years after her death, I’ve tinkered with my earlier draft and here’s the result.

The form, Cynthia explained to bemused followers, was an Irish Droigneach (pronounced, she told us, dray-ee-nock). Each line comprises nine to thirteen syllables, ending in a trisyllabic word (I cheated a bit here). Alternate lines should rhyme and there are at least two cross-rhymes in each couplet. There is alliteration in each line, especially between the final word and the preceding stressed word. There may be any number of quatrains but the poem should end by repeating the syllable, word, or line with which it began. 

There has to be good reason for writing in a form as punitively exacting as this. Don’t try it! 

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