Posted by: John Looker | 22 July, 2018

In a Strange Land

In Strange Land


Passports :- Baggage :- Arrivals. And it’s bedlam!
A melée like a field of medieval battle,
shoving, shouting, scuffling,
the announcements and all the signs completely baffling,
and only this thought consoles:
that somewhere this pandemonium conceals
a chauffeur trying to be heard
and a well-dressed aide with a clear head.
Where are they though? Ten minutes. Thirty.
Only the hustlers remain, grabbing and hissing out “Taxi?”

… pitched on the bank of a river where the adult males
are fidgeting with spears … guarding a train of mules
through a strange bazaar … bringing the caravel
into a bay to be met by prowling canoes …

and they know (regressing to childhood prayer),
they know that they’re quarry, they’re prey.


© John Looker 2015


This is another poem from The Human Hive (Bennison Books, 2015), a collection of poems looking at life through the work that we do, down the ages and round the globe. This one comes from Part 3 which rejoices in international travel.


Posted by: John Looker | 21 June, 2018

Midsummer’s Night, a User’s Guide

A poem for the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere:

Listen: perhaps we’ll hear

the cold, pewter-coloured sea,
slapping on a Danish shore.

It’s late. The light is dying
slowly – imperceptibly –
and now the eye picks out

along the coast,
across the many fields,
the presence of bonfires, banishing primal fears.

Each one is ringed by ancient silhouettes,
tankards raised, singing as the pale sun sets.

Summer has crept to its own high-tide limit
where it lingers for weeks
before finally – stealthily –

ebbing away. Why do we note
this day rather than others,
all so hard to distinguish?

Turning our backs against the night,
draining our mead, we master

the things that we can.

© John Looker 2018 & 2010

First published in 2010, this is a poem that still means something to me.

Posted by: John Looker | 3 June, 2018

The Death of Pocahontas

I’m really grateful to Artemis journal (USA) for publishing this poem last month:

The Death of Pocahontas

This was the Thames, she had thought, not the Styx,

having sailed with the tide from London’s wharves
but berthed some miles downstream.

Gravesend, they said.
Not a name that augurs well. And then,
confined to her bunk in fever, back it all flowed:

not the spires and domes,
the forbidding Tower or the stinking streets,
the clangour of bells; not the Palace at Whitehall,
that warren of rooms, noisy and odorous
with courtiers in their wealth of clothing;
nor her presentation at Court.

In the half-light of her cabin – the ship restlessly
shifting with the water, its timbers groaning and cracking –
she lay weakening, her great adventure fading.

In her delirium she walked again the coast
where she was born; paddled its lagoons and creeks;
she breathed the thick humidity of summer nights thrumming
with insect life; heard voices in her own language
whispering of still-unrelinquished beliefs
and her secret name spoken. 

They had taken on board fresh water, supplies
for a dozen weeks at sea but were moored here, aghast,
watching, her great adventure prematurely fading.

And yet – such a journey! Even the snow goose,
appearing on the lakes of her native land each fall,

travels merely in time and space.

© John Looker 2018

This is the last of ten poems that consider historic or legendary journeys, to be the opening part of a book in draft entitled “Shimmering Horizons”. Other poems from the draft book have been published in other journals and anthologies. Artemis journal, founded in 1977,  publishes poetry and art ‘from the Blue Ridge Mountains and beyond’ – see

Posted by: John Looker | 14 May, 2018

The Descent of Europe

Here is the poem of mine published by Magma in their Europe Issue on 6 April. ‘Descent’ as in evolution and Darwin’s ‘Descent of Man’.



The Descent of Europe
After WB Yeats’ ‘Long-Legged Fly’

Let us listen – as Lydia is doing,
here in northern Greece, here in the shade
where a clear stream runs whispering over the stones.
She is listening to Paul, this weather-beaten traveller
from the shores of Asia. Such upright bearing though.
Clean hands. Piercing eyes. Clearly an educated man
and his thoughts sink as easily into her mind
as rain into long-parched land.

    Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.

 Or listen to a group, in doublet and lace,
standing in the sun on the Capitoline Hill in Rome.
Well mannered, they greet and chat or mentally rehearse
(again) their studied orations. They are waiting
the arrival of Petrarch. With his ink-discoloured fingers
and his tired eyes, he has laboured to bring
out of the dust the incisive minds of the past.
Their reasoning. Their argument. Their courage.

   Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.

And listen if you will to the iron wheels
grinding the cobbles of a cathedral city on the Baltic;
cries of the harbour and of the gulls, raucous, overhead.
Copernicus goes walking here, fur collar against the wind.
His mind is full of the silent motions of the planets,
their paths across the sky, their advances and retreats.
Indifferent to the crowds bustling about him, he’s lost
in the computations on which his thesis rests.

    Like a chick heard tapping within the egg
a new age stirs to break free.



© John Looker 2018

Magma’s website is at  

It’s been a very popular issue – such a variety of strong poems, from established poets as well as newcomers like me – well worth getting a copy for your shelves if you can.


Posted by: John Looker | 10 April, 2018

To Love Thy Neighbour

John Looker
— Read on

I’m most grateful to Ink Sweat & Tears, the literary webzine, for posting this poem of mine today. I follow their posts daily by the way.

Tuesday 24th: at last, today I’ve had a chance to return to the laptop and update the formatting of the poem below.


To Love Thy Neighbour


So still, the street. The single patrol car
stationary, the team from the hospital
standing beyond the trees, the neighbours
behind their curtains. And the doctor
one foot on the step, frozen.

You’ll let them take me away, he’d said,
pulling the window shut, his voice
burrowing into her mind like a weasel,
digging out memories of a previous occasion,
hunting her conscience down.

Her eye fell on rubbish that was spilling out
from the cluttered porch to the patch of garden:
bottles and cans, wrappers – and something
that was surely the remains of a chicken. Softly,
I promise I won’t, she said.


(Posting this from a tablet and not my laptop, I cannot get the formatting right no matter how many times I try. But Ink Sweat & Tears have done a great job with the formatting on their own website – thanks again I,S&T !)


Posted by: John Looker | 21 March, 2018

A few words about Spring


Blossom       dips and lifts.

A bee       big as a truck

freighted with purpose.


© John Looker 2018

Posted by: John Looker | 4 March, 2018

The Adventurer

The Adventurer


Having been outside
all through the long cold night
the cat returns. Let him come in.
Well might you ask, but he’ll tell you nowt.
He’s conquered the Persians perhaps,
or steered his ships
around the Cape; whereas you –
you have the plates, the beds, the bins …


© John Looker 2015


This is taken from section 2 of my book The Human Hive (Bennison Books 2015, from Amazon. This collection of poems looks at life through our experience of work, down the ages and round the globe. Section 2 celebrates the work in managing a home.

Posted by: John Looker | 3 February, 2018

Raiding the Deep

Raiding the Deep


Let’s spin the globe, spin it towards the sun –
slowly now – we’re looking for a likely place,
a place where the sea or the ocean touch the land
and men have always put to sea in boats,
have moored their boats or dragged them on the shore
with heavy limbs after the homeward run.

Here will do,
here where the wild Atlantic batters the coast
and the heaving tide has carried a fragile fleet
up on to Portugal’s sand. The boats are beached
and the sardine catch laid out in boxes for the buyers,
and men with wide-brimmed metal hats
will carry the fish on their heads, salt water dripping,
up to the trucks and out of view.

Soon the men will hear how much they’ve earned.
A decent trip? Not bad.
The catch? So so.
Not as much as in the glory days
but the weather held, the fish were there, the gear behaved
and (although this isn’t said) they all returned.

Spin the world,
and find the trawlers active in early morning
off Newfoundland, Nova Scotia and New England.
Spin it and in the darkness look for vessels
ranged around the Pacific ring of fish,
tuned to their weather warnings, studying sonar,
watching the stars in shoals expiring slowly
and the depths putting on new colour,
as the day – a day of promise –
is unfurled.


© John Looker 2015

This is taken from section 1 of my book The Human Hive (Bennison Books 2015, from Amazon, now at only cost price). The book looks at life through our experience of work, down the ages and round the globe.

I am posting new poems less frequently these days because I’m working slowly on a second book and meanwhile trying to place some of the contents in poetry journals here and there. So far new poems have been accepted for advance publication by Magma  (UK), Artemis (USA), Communion (Australia), The Wagon Magazine (India) and Poetry Breakfast (online). Others have appeared in the Austin International Poetry Festival’s 25th commemorative anthology  and the Indira’s Net anthology (UK)Wish me luck with others please!

Posted by: John Looker | 7 January, 2018

Work (A Noun)

“And it’s spinning still. Changing shape. Becoming …”
What follows is a poem – not an extract from a dictionary.

Work (A Noun)


Old English: weorc, werc, wurc, wirc, worc, work: that which distinguishes the human from other primates

Let us start at the beginning. Come closer
and we’ll focus on a detail: two hands,
rough with bitten-down nails but agile, strong,
striking one stone against another; knapping.
Step back and see the whole man, in skins, squatting,
a ring of small children, thin dogs and beyond –
on the brow of this hill – earthworks and huts
and barefooted people carrying, sifting.
He stands. He weighs one flint in his hand, frowning,
then swinging his arm high he sends that stone
arching through the air to the trees below.
And it’s spinning still. Changing shape. Becoming
            a knife, a pot, the wheel, the printing press,
            railways, nuclear fission and the rule of law.

© John Looker 2015

It is three years this month since Benison Books published The Human Hive, my first book, and in celebration I thought I’d post here the opening poem.

The book looks at life through work, in all its forms, down the ages and round the world (it costs about $5 or £3 through Amazon or in Britain can be borrowed through local libraries from the national Poetry Library).

I saw a striking poem yesterday on the theme of life and work. Called ‘Road Work’ it was posted by Burl Whitman and you can find it at:

Posted by: John Looker | 26 November, 2017

The Day They Discovered Gravitational Waves

‘Collecting Reality’ is an interesting site to follow. They publish poems about science, usually by scientists but yesterday they posted this one of mine:

Collecting Reality

Time was there were Han philosophers
standing on a hilltop at night
naming the Mansions of Heaven;
later, Galileo Galilei
weeping with joy at the moons of Jupiter.

Now, in sightless tunnels
beams from lasers have shivered
at ancient astral events –
and men and women around the world
pore over computations

in awe at the mathematics:
the Universe in its infancy
had arched its back and roared
and they can feel
the exhalation of its breath.

© John Looker 2016

Originally published at


”  The two LIGO gravitational wave detectors in Hanford Washington and Livingston Louisiana have caught a second robust signal from two black holes in their final orbits and then their coalescence into a single black hole. This event, dubbed GW151226, was seen on December 26th at 03:38:53 (in Universal Coordinated Time, also known as Greenwich Mean Time), near the end of LIGO’s first…

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