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Some Dorset Poems
by Jim Potts

Jim Potts is currently working on a collected volume of his poetry.

Poems by Jim have appeared in Ars Interpres: International Journal of Poetry, Translation and Art, Acumen, Cadences, The Haiku Hundred and the William Barnes Society Newsletter. And in translation in Porphyras, Odos Panos, Endefktirio, Tomes, Ipirotika Grammata and O Philoleftheros (Greek), Calende Revistã de culturã (Romanian), Lyrikvännen (Swedish); and Minimanimalia, canzoniere Animinimalista (Italian). One of his poems was selected for BBC Radio's Time for Verse.

William Barnes: Dialect Poet

William Barnes, what you bring to me
Is more than Dorset’s untamed beauty,
More than country people’s joys,
More than sadness for what is past;
I read you in all landscapes,
You illuminate them all.
Though local your breathings and word-shapes,
Your world is not so small;
Your Dorset is all continents,
Your language universal.

William Barnes, what you sing to me
Is more than old-fashioned parish tidings,
More than folk-songs for the fair,
More than hymns for feast or fast:
Your music touches every mood,
Suits fiddle, or organ at Eastertide.
Though your tunes sound simple, rural, plain,
They came from far and wide,
And please as much a Persian ear,
As any, this countryside.

(August 1984)

On a Marble Bust of Thomas Hardy, 1915-2015
(A Concert at Dorset County Museum)

Thornycroft's marble bust of Hardy
Stares straight at me, through me quite,
A yard from where I sit
Listening to medieval music.

What was he thinking in the sitting?
What was he writing in his head?
The eyes tell me, "The Pity Of It":
- Or did he glimpse the oxen kneel?

Breakfast at The Royal Oak

‘Traditional English Breakfast’.
I eat alone. For company,
Three framed photos of William Barnes.
Three men with Dorset accents.
They’re here for an early beer.
I overhear complaints,
“Poundbury, Waitrose, ‘Winter Palace’”, they jeer,
“That monstrosity, Queen Mother Square”.


The speaker takes a final sip,
Burps a beery “Tootle-Pip”.

The Humanists’ Raffle (December 2011)

The humanists had talked about Hardy,
His poems of unbelief,
So I went to their winter social
To celebrate the solstice.
A raffle was held in the pub,
To raise money for their cause.
A passing vicar bought some tickets,
And won the best bottle, of course.

Dorset Love-Words

Thee bisn’t zo beautiful
Az once thou once were,
But tidd’n zo bad,
I be glad you be here
Bezide me, my dear.
‘Twere a gurt, mad miztake
When thee cropped it zo zhort,
Thy lovely red hair;
‘Twere the pride o’ the village,
They do zay; so they zay;
But still thee be fair,
Wi’ thy greying red hair –
That glowin’ red hair.

Tidden Bad (I be free)

Tidden bad
This life abroad,
Better than I ever’ad
In dark Satanic London.

Mother and Zun: Be’mi’ster

The Be’mi’ster church bells
Called uz to listen:
Compelled by the bells
We parked there and ‘arkened:
Zo much ringin’ of changes,
Zuch chimin’ in tune.

Before I come to Came

Bathed in bardic light I’ll stand
On Golden Cap declaiming Barnes –
My rural saint, my life’s redeemer,
Leader of our pilgrim band.
In his flowing gown
He shows the way
Up hill, down dale,
Poet of river and of vale.
I’ll climb the bronze-age burial mounds,
Cast Dorset words along the coast,
Recite them high on Ridgeway tumuli,
Spout them loud through hollow-ways.
From signal-towers they’ll hear the sounds;
I’ll share them with the sea and sky,
Before we part, before I die,
Before I come to Came.

Port Arthur, Tasmania: Island of the Dead

The first two stones we're shown
When we've been transported
To the Island of the Dead-
They stand alone on the lower ground-
Commemorate two convicts
Who had creative flair.
From Poole in Dorset,
Edward Spicer,
Who penned his moving epitaph,
Soon to disappear,
By erosion of the sandstone face;
Henry Savery,
A Somerset man,
Inveterate forger -
Remembered by a modern stone,
A forgery itself,
As befits the maker
Of Australia's first novel;
He cut his own throat,
And died of a "stroke".

They are part of a long tradition,
Death in custody, dishonourable graves;
From Rottnest Island
To Tasman Peninsula
The story's much the same.
The stones of soldiers, officers, guards
(Those on higher ground, along with wives and children),
Face North, not East:
Face not the rising sun, but Home. The convicts' headstones do not mark their graves.
But somewhere hereabouts, a few paces more or less,
Two sons of Somerset and Dorset share
A common plot
Of broadly

Song for Sherborne
(Scir Burne = Clear Stream), 29 June 1991

I went down to Sherborne Town
Looking for that crystal stream.
I asked St. Aldhelm, but he replied,
Things are never what they seem.

  It’s a muddy stream,
  It’s a murky lake,
  And those water rats
  Are all wide awake.

I searched and searched to find the source
Where the babbling brook was bright and pure.
Each step I went, the water’s course
Seemed much less clear and far less sure.

  It’s a muddy stream,
  It’s a murky lake,
  And those water rats
  Are all wide awake.

Walking the Coastal Path from West Bay to Burton Bradstock

Some people leap
From the top of sheer cliffs.
Others are buried
By landslides.
Planned or unplanned,
Life's all cliff-falls and ifs.

There's no saving hand.
Rocks erode, land subsides.

The Imagined Last Words of the Hypocritical Hangman Elijah Upjohn to Ned Kelly,
Condemned Bushwhacker, moments before and after Ned’s execution;
a taunter’s response to Ned’s Jerilderie Letter.

Son of a…

Harbour House, West Bay, Bridport

West Cliffs
Hang draped
Like pleated curtains.
January moon
Above St John's.

If you're attentive...

Early bluebells
Ring out in the woods,
Muffle the shots from the firing range.

(April, near the Lulworth Ranges, Dorset)

On Leave After an Illness

(At Forty-Five Degrees)

Gale-force winds on Maiden Castle,
My lungs, restored, blow full again.
Up and down the ancient ramparts
Running, falling, with my son; then
Leaning back against the wind -
Invaders of the hill-fort earthworks,
The grass swept wave-wild like our hair.
Dorchester spread out below us.
Thank God it's Hardy here, not Kafka.
On leave from Prague and airless office -
Breathing deeply, inhaling Dorset,
The old tribal force and fortress-free.

St. Wite and the Writer: Strange Pilgrimage

If Markov had had
The luck of Havel,
I wouldn't be here
In this Dorset churchyard
In Whitchurch Canonicorum,
Sensing that I'm not alone
Searching for a stranger's gravestone,
For the writer they murdered on Waterloo Bridge,
Who died for a Europe
Reunited, freed,
In seventy-eight, not eighty-nine.
I say thanks to the Saint,
St. Wite, in her shrine.

Whitchurch Canonicorum, May Day Bank Holiday, 1992.
In Memoriam Georgi Ivanov Markov, born Sofia, Bulgaria 1.3.1929,
died London, England, 11.9.1978.
Václav Havel, the former dissident, playwright and essay-writer,
became President of Czechoslovakia on 29th December, 1989

West Saxon Nap

From Alfred’s Tower to Golden Cap
I’ll tie our silken hammock
And there I’ll lie
With you my love
My head upon your lap.

This Spinning World: 43 stories from far and wideRegular contributor to this website, Jim Potts is a writer from Dorchester who is a member of The William Barnes Society.

Ars Interpres - An International Journal of Poetry, translations and Art -Jim Potts

Apart from the many poems published in Corfu Blues (the book, Stockholm, 2006), a bilingual edition with Czech translations of  a selection of his poetry was published in 16 Poems/16 Básní in Prague in October, 1989. 

He co-edited 'Dorset Voices' (Roving Press), and has released a new book 'This Spinning World: 43 stories from far and wide, contains five stories based in Dorset, including one about Thomas Hardy and William Barnes, 'The Ghosts of Max Gate'.





See also
Dorset Dialect
Society events