John Betjeman at Trebetherick

A mile of sunny, empty sand away
A boy sits by the surf and clasps his knees.
‘Don’t care. Don’t care. Don’t care,’ the breakers say;
A mile of sunny, empty sand away;
Joan, Tom, Ralph, Alistair and Phoebe play,
But Biddy whispers to the foam-flecked breeze,
‘We’re sorry, sorry, sorry. Come back please.’
A mile of sunny, empty sand away
A boy sits by the surf and clasps his knees.

Red Admirals basking with their wings apart;
Up on the links it’s been like this all week.
Plus fours and baggy caps look very smart:
(Red Admirals basking with their wings apart)
As serious golfers make an early start;
The niblick and the mashie and the cleek
Where light and dappled shade play hide-and-seek.
Red admirals basking with their wings apart
Up on the links. It’s been like this all week.

Then the cool silence of St Enodoc,
Her spire bent like a crooked witch’s hat,
A grave, a stile, a dandelion clock
Then the cool silence of St Enodoc
A clergyman attends his little flock:
The Psalms, the Lesson, the Magnificat,
The Creed, the Prayers, the Anthem, all of that
In the cool silence of St Enodoc,
Her spire bent like a crooked witch’s hat.

by John Whitworth

The Wantage (not just) Betjeman Festival gets underway this week, and the programme for Sunday 20 October features a number of poetry events, including readings from former Poetry Centre Fellow Fiona Sampson (some of whose poems you can read on the Poetry Centre site); an event entitled Now as Then: Mesopotamia-Iraq, which includes work by British poet Jenny Lewis and Iraqi poet Adnan al Sayegh to mark the 10th anniversary of the 2003 UK/US invasion of Iraq; and a collaboration between Peter Wyton, former Poet Laureate of Gloucestershire, and Cheltenham Poetry Festival Co-Director Robin Gilbert, celebrating history in verse. In the evening, there will be a poetry slam. You can find out more about the Festival and book tickets for it via the Festival website.

If you are a poet yourself, you may be interested in the Troubadour International Poetry Prize, the winner of which receives £2500. The judges this year are Deryn Rees-Jones and George Szirtes, and the deadline for entries is Monday 21 October. More details and the rules are to be found on the Coffee-House Poetry site.

‘John Betjeman at Trebetherick’ is copyright © John Whitworth, 2012, and reprinted from his book Girlie Gangs, published by Enitharmon Books in 2012.

Notes from Enitharmon:

The first line of each verse of ‘John Betjeman at Trebetherick’ is from Betjeman’s poem ‘Sunday Afternoon Service in St Enodoc’s Church, Cornwall’. Cornwall was, unsurprisingly, the first of the Guides to English Counties he edited and in some cases, including this one, wrote for the Shell Oil Company. Names in the first stanza are of children he knew from holidays at Trebetherick, Biddy [Walsham] not quite the first of his freckled, boyish blondes.

John Whitworth has published nine books of poems, edited two Faber anthologies and written a book on writing verse. His work has appeared in Poetry Review, the TLSLondon Magazine and the Spectator among many others. He has been awarded the Cholmondeley Prize and The Silver Wyvern, Poetry on the Lake. You can read more by John Whitworth at the poetry pf site.

Enitharmon Press takes its name from a William Blake character who represents spiritual beauty and poetic inspiration. Founded in 1967 with an emphasis on independence and quality, Enitharmon has been associated with such figures as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Kathleen Raine. Enitharmon also commissions internationally renowned collaborations between artists, including Gilbert & George, and poets, including Seamus Heaney, under the Enitharmon Editions imprint. You can sign up to the publisher’s mailing list on the Enitharmon site to receive a newsletter with special offers, details of readings & events and new titles and Enitharmon’s Poem of the Month.

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