Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 4 December 2007

  • On a Photograph of Air Raid Wardens, taken after All-Night Bombing of the West End: 1940

    It could almost be a detail from Vermeer
    as could the catch-light of their helmets
    domed and gleaming, pictured here
    among the ravaged London streets:

    two wardens, one with a decorated china jug
    and pouring tea out for the other
    who warms rough hands around his mug
    as if either might have asked Shall I be mother?

    At any moment anything may happen -
    somebody’s world become a heap of stone
    or something precious be forever broken,
    an orphaned child found wandering alone -

    as it still happens, as we check the TV screen
    for daily close-ups and a body count
    rather more Goya than Vermeer, obscene
    in every detail he’d record in paint.

    This is what we witness, surrogate wardens
    of remote streets, far enough removed
    to keep watch from our homes and gardens,
    feeling our tender consciences reproved

    by unknown victims of a different war,
    of ideologies beyond the reach
    or comprehension of this decent pair
    who stand here in the street together, each

    intent on what they celebrate, those small
    residual habits, tender domesticity
    incongruous and brief, a welcome interval
    allowed for kindness, pouring a mug of tea.

    by John Mole
    John Mole writes for both children and adults. "On a Photograph of Air Raid Wardens after All-Night bombing of the West End: 1940" comes from his latest collection for adults The Other Day (Peterloo, 2007), his first volume since the warmly-received Counting the Chimes: New and Selected Poems 1975-2003 (Peterloo, 2004) which includes the poet's own selection from nine previous collections plus 30 new poems.  Writing in the T.L.S., Bernard O'Donoghue praised John Mole for having written "some of the most engaging poems of the past quarter-century."  John Mole is a jazz clarinettist and is currently the City of London's Poet-in-Residence.

    Peterloo Poets was founded by Harry Chambers, still the Publishing Director, in 1976. Its masthead is “poetry of quality by new or neglected poets”. Peterloo publishes between 8 and 10 volumes of poetry a year, runs an annual poetry competition – the 2008 competition will be the 24th – and, since 1999, an annual International Poetry Festival.

    "From time to time it has seemed to me that the Peterloo Poets series is a haven of poetic sanity in a world of modish obfuscation."
    Michael Glover, British Book News