Alan Wickes grew up in Northumberland, England. He studied History of Art
and English Literature at Manchester and Open University. He now works
as the Director of Curriculum in a Further Education College.
In recent years, Alan has spent as much time as possible travelling with his
family around the Mediterranean. These journeys have often provided the backdrop
to his writing.
Over the past ten years he has become increasingly interested in writing
metrical verse, adopting a modern idiom within formal verse settings. Today he
is a moderator at Sonnet Central, an on-line poetry workshop dedicated the
development of the sonnet form.
His work has appeared in Aesthetica, Znine, Worm, Loch Raven Review, The Chimera, Envoi and
Review. His sonnets have won Ware Poets national competition twice, in 2004 and
2009. Cannon Poets awarded first prize to his poem "Parting Shots" in November
In November 2007 his chapbook Prospero at Breakfast was published by Modern Metrics.
I might have guessed you'd pick out Summertime.
The Nighthawk's low-life chic is not at all
your style. At dawn, as pale ephemeral
light sanctifies the seedy side-street's grime,
autumnal sunshine streams into the room
to find a woman waking-up alone;
angelic brightness never will atone
for emptiness—your nagging sense of doom.
The images that haunt your hidden dream
can never grace your wall. Instead you choose
a scene of inadvertent hope. Above
a solitary girl, white buildings gleam;
she waits, in cotton frock and high-heeled shoes:
the Summer breeze enfolds her like new love.
Departure spawns its own mythology:
the tearful scene, a squalid terminus—
she needs his promises; he wants 'no fuss'—
one wistful kiss, a gauche apology.
Her script demands a clichéd gravitas:
the jukebox playing, as his silhouette
dissolves into the cinematic sunset:
"Regrets, I've had a few!" An emptied glass.
Then always for the loved one left behind,
the niggling doubts: this time he won't return,
he'll die, shack-up with someone half his age,
come back quite changed; she knows that those who find
delight in not belonging always yearn
for solitude no woman can assuage.
First Prize—Cannon Poets Competition, 2006
Above Placa Real the palm trees nod
like caged giraffes. Pubescent prostitutes,
dressed-up in ra-ra skirts and Lurex boots
patrol their pitch. As evening falls an odd
pink light pervades the patched Baroque arcade.
A girl steps from the shadows, face aglow,
like some doomed saint by Caravaggio;
her sallow beauty mocks the drab parade.
Across the faded square a duo plays
upon accordion and clarinet,
up-beat and strangely phrased, 'Those Were the Days'.
Absorbed within some lost bohemia, regret
becomes our shabby surrogate for blame—
a pretence that 'our dreams are still the same'.
Arnolfini on Valentines Day
The scruffy dog's significance is much discussed:
as a symbol of fidelity—ridiculous;
and for the Quattrocento bourgeoisie,
not exactly the emblem of success.
The lovers stand, demure in their Sunday best,
private passion and public ceremony,
in awkward silence, irreconcilable.
Around the grey, echoing galleries,
escaped students and secretaries
embrace baroque bouquets—
on Valentine's day, proud to display
what privately they feel:
that love matters most, to most of us,
despite the small, cynical world snapping at our heel.
Previously published in Worm 21
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
1. A view from Washington Bridge
'O come on down, O come on down,' the river
lures our famous, fucked-up poet, 'behold
these languid, shit-streaked waters, feel the shiver
that chilled old Mr Bones.' Henry, the cold
North wind blows in from Manitoba; we know
you suffer, wake hungover, grow too old.
Your dream song asks, 'Where did it all go wrong?'
The literati freaks observe you clinging
to the parapet—speculate how long
it takes to lose your grip. Henry singing
raucously, a bitter chariot swings low,
de Ol' Man River say, 'Let go, Let go.'
2. Sotto in Su
First rule of comedy, when all else fails—
fall over. Timing though, is everything;
even as you clamber across the rails
you sense they've seen it coming. Still, you fling
yourself towards the slivered sun,
Icarus, upside down tumbling, falling
towards the sky's blank mirror.
'The meaningless underside of bridges'-
who knows better the travesty of horror,
the perfect peace beyond enticing edges,
the garden where your nightmare first began,
Father slumped, stock-still next to his gun.
Previously published in Worm 39, Loch Raven Review, and in
Breakfast', Modern Metrics, New York, 2008
'Let's revisit last week's conversation
and think through why the stories you make up
concern abuse and cruel sarcasm.
You said, I quote, “My childhood seemed a waste,
so many futile sunny days; singing
happy birthday made me cry. I felt diseased.”
I wonder why you chose that word—'diseased',
not lonely, or anxious? Conversation—
you claimed it helped, “Maybe the words we waste
stave off white space, and I, through you, make up
a paltry life, and feel fulfilled singing
from your hymn sheet.” Was that your sarcasm?'
'No, more like the crumbling edge. Sarcasm
is just a puritan's social disease'.
She smiles, takes notes, as if to say, 'Why waste
your humour on a shrink?' So I make up
to please her, a bogus conversation
with mother, on how I hated her singing.
'I cannot see her face; I hear her singing,
a rich contralto voice; my sarcasm—
shielding the cat's ears as she sang'. ''Why make up
these tales? Last week's concerned childhood disease—
your allergy to cats'. Conversation
falters; costly moments go to waste.
'Like litter blown across a weed-strewn waste,
her songs are lost.' 'No,
think about her singing.
I know how hard you find this conversation,
don't hide behind your phoney sarcasm'.
'Towards the end she lost her voice; the disease
stole it. She mouthed the words, doing her makeup
propped up at the mirror, daubing makeup
on hollow cheeks, her pocked face gone to waste.
Later, bedridden, when finally disease
addled her mind, I ended-up singing
old songs to comfort her. No sarcasm—
just sentimental songs, our final conversation'.
These memories I make up—Mother's singing,
her terminal disease, my sarcasm—
I waste today in ritual conversation.
Previously published in Worm 37, Loch Raven Review, and in
'Prospero at Breakfast', Modern Metrics, New York, 2008
The dream is ourselves.
A plane explodes. A momentary sun
engulfs the quiet glades. A voice shouts, 'Run!'
You cannot move; besieged by taunting flames,
you think, 'Is this some sort of role-play game?'
then find, hung in a tree, your only son.
Familiar streets, it's 1971.
I clean Dad's car for 50p. No one
notices the deafening roar.... Freeze frame,
a plane explodes.
He bags a seat above the wing, first on,
before the families whose facile fun
he deems heretical. They're all the same—
these whores and infidels must take the blame.
Text 'Allah akbar', squeeze the send button.
A plane explodes.
I'm back to where I started, lost among
indifferent strangers. No one knows the song
I chose. The jukebox whirrs, blank faces all
dismiss me. Uninvited to the ball,
you sweep the stairs. We never will belong.
It's carnivale, glimpsed amongst the throng
despite the pucinella mask, your long
black cape, I know it's you. I call and call—
I'm back to where I started-
You stretched, unclothed, upon a white chaise longue,
I'm sketching you, it always comes out wrong—
I cannot capture how the sunlight falls
across your shoulders like a white lace shawl;.
I'm back to where I started.
Again, the same white room behind each door.
No one talks, the lift chirps 'thirteenth floor'.
You step outside; your kingdom's gone, the bland
Director's Suite that oozed with 'leading brand'
beatitudes, instead a corridor
of silvery light, a magic hall of mirrors
receding endlessly. When you explore
what lies beyond, you sense it's all pre-planned.
Again the same white room,
no matter what the future has in store
or who you are, or what you were before,
one thing and one thing only: understand
the cards are marked, this is your only hand—
again, the same white room.
Sunset fades; the golden citadel
now darkens. Dusty blue, the sky awaits
its first few stars. He places a lace shawl
about her shoulders, then anticipates
just how the evening might unfold—beauty
and cruelty finely balanced. 'You seem distant'.
She smiles, blows him a kiss, (he feels, from duty
or maybe misplaced pity). Still, persistent,
he talks at length of their museum visit,
then reads aloud from 'Etruscan Places'.
His voice trails off, as if to say—'What is it?'
Remembering the death masks' vivid faces,
trinkets stolen from a king's sarcophagus,
she says, 'the place reminded me of us'.
2. Peach Melba
The Texas matriarch three tables down,
her chosen subject—Michelangelo
explains that David's vaguely bilious frown,
big head, small dick, if viewed from down below
'look perfectly proportional.' Installed
discreetly in their corner, stifling laughter,
the couple listen in. 'Do you recall',
the woman asks, 'the line that comes straight after
"in the room the women come and go?"'
He smirks, then ordering dessert (Peach Melba),
leans back; it's good, he feels, she's in the know.
'Tomorrow,' she suggests, 'lets visit Elba'.
He nods, observing with suppressed alarm
the serpent bracelet clasped to her white arm.
3. The City of The Dead—His Sonnet
Now after dark they take the stony track
zig-zagging through an ancient olive grove
to reach the citadel, its ramparts black
against the gauze-gray sky. From high above
the shrunken moon rains down its tarnished light
upon the silent town. Though neither dare
disturb its brittle quietness, tonight,
as shadows drift like moths across the bare
chalk hills, they sense the silence's hushed scream.
The breeze is warm; the moonlight, cold as frost
illuminates a plundered tomb, a dream
of plenty, and ancient innocence lost.
They walk apart, she slowly moves ahead
enamoured with the city of the dead.
4. A postcard for mother
For Mother, the Etruscan figurine?'
Bea, prone in Savasana, hints—'Too phallic,
Mom might prefer the tacky vineyard scene.'
'Is everything you say some smartaleck
cliché?' 'Bullshit! Just tell her you're OK,'
she grins, 'it's not the Pulitzer committee.'
He writes, 'arrived Volterra, noon Sunday,
now 1.00 am. Too hot for sleep, tho. B.
can work, I cannot find the words, surprise,
surprise.' Unsure quite how he should sign off:
not 'love'—perpetuating well-versed lies;
'Your loving son'—too public schoolboy toff.
He settles for a stark initial Q
but vacillates between one 'x' or two.
5. Moon shot
In her element, crouched behind a tripod,
Bea points the telephoto at the moon;
'We'll need a timed exposure here'. It's odd
the casual way she seeks to importune
whoever is on hand to serve her process.
He thinks—what was it the New Yorker said?
“Eschewing mere depiction, Beatrice
demurs from taking photographs, instead
performs photography, and apprehends
the world that's taken her.” 'Focus!
for fuck's sake'. The moon obliges. He pretends
that Artemis, alone on Mount Olympus,
puts down her bow exclusively to shine
into the empty lens—a light divine.
6. Maremma Dusk—Her Landscape
Too hot for sleep. Observe Bea work; lips pursed,
brow furrowed, she sits cross-legged upon the bed
and stares into her Powerbook, immersed.
Maremma Dusk, umbrella pines, the Med
suffused in yellow light; black cattle graze
amid the salt marshes. She clicks invert;
the lime green grass, the gold, rococo haze
morph instantly to mauve; the earth reverts
to pre-diluvian blue. She pastes a row
of sunflowers from Yahoo; reversing hue,
flamboyant petals pale to indigo.
'It's finished, now let's sleep'. He thinks, 'Are you
a charlatan, my cool flirtatious thief;
and I your fool, naive beyond belief?'
He wakes her with a gentle kiss. 'It's late,
the Traghetti leave at noon'. She stumbles
towards the shower. Beatrice looks so great
half-naked in his torn T-shirt he mumbles
some obscenity. she squeaks
in Barry Gibb falsetto, 'the feeling's
gone and you can't go on;' the pop song speaks
their sorrow. Driving southwards, tyres squealing,
Bea flings the Alfa through each hairpin bend.
They squabble. 'Watch that Vespa!' 'Are we lost?'
'Well read the bloody map.' It's not the end
he'd drafted—bittersweet, yet still star-crossed.
Livorno docks—they part. He drives to Rome,
re-writes His Sonnet as he flies back home.