Hugh Venables

While I wait to publish my first collection, here is just a taster of my poetry. Please share your thoughts, questions and comments.

Please revisit – I will be posting more poems, some with commentary on how they came about.

Thank you for reading.

And if you are viewing on a phone, rotate your screen sideways - the lines present better that way.

Bank Holiday, late summer

Things stop. At first, at least.Lazily the day stumbles down the timeworn stairspauses in the hallway, holds the stillness then preparesto greet the silence, genuflecting like a priestpresiding over hunched remnants of some past skirmishthe battle scars of yesterday's embrace.

Don’t worry. There is no rush to facedetritus, flotsam, jetsam, though the wishto cleanse, refresh, move onstirs atrophying limbs, sparks those dormant cellsto shed the rusting aches of joints whose pain tellsthe story of such other days, since lived and gone.

The clock: insistently it ticks.The day threads forwards and, prompted by the rhythmic beat,rises from the winged-back chair, stretches to meetthe first stirrings of the space beyond. It picksprecisely with its outstretched handsthe murmuring of leaves, the pressing truth of Autumn, Fall,

the echoed whispers that define time's insistent calland all the virtuous patience it demands.

August 2018. Just an observation, from the perspective of a day, of the ageing process. It is an experiment too in form – four line rhyming scheme, six line stanzas – one of those poems where the imposition of form takes me, as a writer, to places I might otherwise never reach.

Yorkshire oak and buzzard

Delayed. My walk. He wants to talk or needsmore like. A hike curtailed for one old tykewho leans with purpose, whose loneliness bleedspain into the drystone wall, and me alike.

With paused potential each sentence waits, hangsas on a precipice of thought, then fallsand breaks the aching silence, spreads in pangsthe eighty years of lines he can’t recall

in guttural Yorkshire drawl. Eyes still alight,his searching mine to hold me there, detain meas if the company of strangers mightcount for friendship. “I never crossed the sea

nor wanted to,” his sonorous speech recounts.‘Abroad’ means Leyburn. Summers, harvest-filledcount for holidays, a simple life amountsto this – the brother lost, the wheat fields drilled

the ‘big house’ across the green where motherworked, conceivably where he began. Stayed,not one regret, no, not one. “Anotherlife lived, I’d do the same.” But fear betrayed,

he points to where did once a strong oak stand“trunk big enough to hide four of us boysinside”. Inside his heart his schoolboy handstill cups cool acorns, hope of ages, toys

with memory, a lifetime’s promise shadowsin the gap where now a ghost shape claimsthe past, where just the mind’s eye glows;a hummocked raise of knotted weeds remains.

The daily bread van comes, the bitter crushof tyre on gravel cuts the brittle pastand life, for what it’s worth, now here, afreshmoves on. Our hands, shake, joined, released at last.

Ahead for me the skylarks serenade.Soft bluebells wave, alone a bee abovethe littered leaves pursues his gladed trade,each fox-track tracks veins among the foxglove

and forget-me-not and pink campioned swardbeneath the brambled arch, on woodland floor.Skyward, wings stretched on thermal lift, a birdof prey soars heaven bound. I watch in awe

but weariness prevails; a quest in vain -try as I might, I can’t recall its name.

May 2023. Setting off from the hamlet of Coneysthorpe on the Castle Howard estate, I had walked no more than 200 yards when I was engaged by an elderly resident. This is our story. Once again, a poem demanded a rhyming form and a particular style of language. I had no influence over it.

The buzz of irritation

When I think it's a dronesnarling skywardsor a distant strimmerwielded endlesslyalong neatly grassed edgesit irks.

Only when I see the rotund beeworking the tiny yellow flowersin the tight mown grassbeneath the sleepered borderby my outstretched feetdo I hear it as a welcome song.

And when it stopsall that remainsbesides the raucous contemptof the mocking crowsis the uncomfortable echoof a prejudiced mind.

The detectorist writes...

It is a well ploughed furrow thisRich brown soil overturnedFrom underneath the heavy sodsOf root-twined turf, like soft damp tombstones

Or to fettle out some dubious artefactFrom earthy aromatic loamOr cloying clay - a stone, a coinA brooch, an heirloom, cocooned

All equal in dark mysteryUntouched, dormant, impotent, inertYet more alluring for the enticingUncertainty of being.

These unmined trinkets, treasures, minePerhaps? At first still swathed and swaddledIn protective shroud they each lack lustre,Lie incoherent, indistinct, devoid of shape or form.

Unearthed they implore caress, seek the sensuous brushOf revelation to gently touch away time’s long deceitReveal for good or ill the inexorable weightOf memory forensically laid naked, bare.

There’s no return. The truth is now held firmIn unforgiving light - a button, casket, die-cast toy A telling glance, a harsh remembered wordThe unspent bullet, its polished glister waiting to explode.

Waiting for the kingfisher

Good things come to those who waitthe strident signboard says.Then there are those dayswhere only a kingfisher will doto satisfy the burning yearnfor vibrant flash of startling bluelightning, lightening winter’sdull drab dormant hue.

Instead the water’s passive sheenOf browning rustic greenreflects the rippling mirrored shapeof passing cormorant or gullsoaring high above the tangled thatch of branchearth’s breathless boundaries breached.(Below frail snowdrops singor taunt the hint of nascent spring.)

In the end the stillness holds.An hour goes by. The scene unfoldsa watercolour of sortssettled in the cold grey light of thoughtsthat any flash of darting blueif it arrived would intrude,wound like an assault, a rudeincision, as welcome as a garish scar.

March 2023. There is a spot at Fairburn Ings in Yorkshire where you can, if you are willing to wait an hour, almost guarantee a sighting of a kingfisher. Sometimes though, it is the unspectacular, the absence, the opposite of what you wish for, that delivers.

Black dog

Silhouetted photograph of a black dog on a beach, amidst dimming evening light

Black dogliquid silhouetteviscous shadowapparitional chicwhose shape materialises from darknessonly when the light from some random streetlampor the moonripples silveron its undulating silken sheen.

Don’t confuse mehis doleful eyes implorewith that other beastwhich hounds and gnawsat souls

I reach downdeep to strokethe lustrous coattake comfortfrom its soft familiar touchits pungent warmth, the smell, the taste of dustor some paincaressed beneaththe sacred folds of flesh.

Ghost train

Beeching takes the blame; a nameforever blighted. But these sameforgotten lines branch out, new roots through timeand sinewed coarse cut cuttings, fineembankments of foxgloves and cloverthe fading ramparts of a conquest overarteries lush with ferns and grasseswhere gorse domains and blackthorn passesfor upholstery. And sleepers, fox or rabbits, stiramidst the haunting echoed blurof passing steam, the scented whispered trailof ghost trains carrying vital mailcrossing northwards the imaginary borderbut eclipsed now by a natural orderthe gilded liveriesof softly falling leaves.

The 1963 Beeching Report recommended axing about one third of the nationalised rail network – 5,000 miles of track, including hundreds of branch lines, 2,363 stations and tens of thousands of jobs. Nature has reclaimed many of the closed lines.

Those at school in the UK in the 1950s and early 1960s will be indelibly imprinted with the rhythm of W H Auden’s Night Mail (1936 – revised 1966).

On being seventy

My forehead creases.The ridged and rippled sand of swiftly ebbing tidethe flow of time's advance. Beyond the mirrored browthe future looks unsure. Short

of just a viewthe flickering waves of friends' farewells leave mefloundering on an empty shell-strewn shorelinebeached alone by my own absence

of resolve, strandedbefore a gently curved horizon, distantthe three score years and tenscored so sharply now

like scars on rockson rugged cliffs, pitted, or pitiedby the passage of yearsand every measured coffee spoon

that every faltering pausehas cupped and clutched in crinkled palm.Life slips like softly sifting sandsthrough ever-hopeful helpless hands.

Unless we succumb to the less appealing alternative, being seventy comes to us all. It was seeing in the mirror the depth of the creases in the forehead, reminiscent of those ripples in sand as the tide recedes, that sparked the train of thought. The reference to coffee spoons may sound out of place but it is hard to contemplate life in old age without referencing J Alfred Prufrock along the way.

Gannet at Aberdaron

Photograph of a gannet in flight over the sea. Credit to Brian Crosby (@briancrosby163)

He must have chanced upon a shoalhis crucifix of black-edged wingsspread wide in exaltation. Thenarched and twisting he tucks themtight as quivers, piercing firstthrough strident breezethen cutting sharp, obliqueinto a fleck-capped azure bluehis incision leaving only plumesof pure white spray.

He clips the spume across the folds of seawhile brilliant sunbeams tip each crease of wavewith dancing shards of dazzling light.He soars and glides and soars againand dives and feeds and banksagainst a Wedgwood sky while I

stand still, beached,the inexorable advance of tide and timeshuffling a shimmer of shingle beneathmy earthbound feet.

Hugh Venables Poetry · Gannet At Aberdaron

Photograph by Brian Crosby.

Waiting For Desserts

It’s the well-to-do elderly walking York’s drizzled streetsthese December dank days, warmed by triple-lockand fleeces, where sensible soft grey shoe meetsthe wet brown litter of mouldering leaves that block

the gutters’ grillslike a timely reminder.

Whilst in steam-stifled tea rooms and stuffy cafeswearing inscrutable smiles and camouflage grinsestranged pale youngsters work away their blank dayswaiting to see where their future beginsmortgaged by those on whose bidding they waitserving coffee that’s bitter as they contemplate

just when they’ll be servedtheir own just desserts.

I am occasionally riddled by guilt as a boomer. I have wanted to put this into words for some time. The closing lines step outside the meter of the poem to emphasise their stark message.

Hugh Venables Poetry · Waiting For Desserts

Winter arrives

Momentarily soft blue sky pours pinkbehind a latticeworkof bared and tangled branches.

A magpie silhouettes.Frost spreads its brittle spellwhite across the acquiescent grass.

Still and sharp, the air coldholds its breathexpectant as Advent.

December 2021

"The celebration of Advent is possible only to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, and who look forward to something greater to come." ~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Homage to Swaledale

No mobile signalBrings to here its strident sound.No anxious tip-y-tapNo squinting downturned headsAs fingers paw on faceless screensNo needless platitudes exchangedNo selfies interrupt the continuity of timeless space.

Here tweets make sense.One hundred and forty characters compriseThe curved beaked curlew’s drawn out callThe shout of jackdawsOystercatchers’ vibrant screech in flightWhilst silently the wagtails strutIn fresh mown meadows’ dew.

And sheep, communing, tangled, ambleAstride steep-sided hillsBetween stone walls whose grey mosaicsConnect much more than they divide;A landscape shaped and smoothed as one by time.It is this open reach, these verdant viewsWhose connectivity I choose.

June 2016


In the thumb-smudged darkness of the tablet’s screenWhile the system loads, like some fifties’ valved TVThere, backlit, bearing shadows of a misjudged Hamlet scene,His jowly cheeks, his sweeping mane of greying hair, I seeMy father.

Type, promoting brand, self-forming through the blackness, can’t concealThe thoughtful studious frown, the earnest gaze, the furrowed browThe hint of puzzled anguished pain he can’t confess to feel.The folds of flesh, grey too, hold creases of familiar strain somehowReflecting me.

Too late. Familiar icons don’t erase the image truth revealed,The discomfort of the past disturbed, the flickering turned to fade,The undeleted cached refrain of matters not resolved or healedOf moments never lived, connections never made.I turn away.

From ‘Coronavirus Diaries’

Beyond days like these

Still only February he cuts the grassthe lazy hornet’s buzz of mowermarking arcs in two-tone greenwide around the cricket squarewhilst in his wakea scented ribbon trailsthe welcome breath of spring.

And walkers escaping lockdownpromenade in rhyming pairs preoccupiedcouplets whose singing conversation floatsso lightly on the warming breeze.

Days like these I cherish nowbefore the rising thrum of trafficfrom the nearby road intrudesbefore imperceptibly the worldslips slowly backinto before.

On writing...


It keeps reappearing like a tired clichéas timeworn as an over-laboured simile.I skirt it coyly. Wary of its lustre and allureI grub around the lexiconfor something else to take its place.

Please, I wonder, for what the words are worthhow often William recollected in tranquillitythe same phrase and breezed it quill in handonto a host of parchment pages.Or if Thomas Stearns, repeating Shantihthree times in a single line, sensedthe cold coming of it and dared to feelin any way the cruellest hollowof a whimpering guilt.

Still I find myself turning and turning to Yeatsto source the inspiration for that opening line.

Enough. Tenaciously, this fustyancient ivy of a word clingsyet sings the rhythm of a songbirdundulating, ululating, rollingits melodic way to nestle snuglyinto comforting verses, hopingin its timeworn way to hideinconspicuous betweenthose warm familiar sheets.

The fickleness of seeing

A time for reflection. I reflect upon a timewhenyou strained to hear; your frown Iread as angerpain in your eyes bled sorrow, yet I recoiled at your disdainheld still now falteringly in recollectiona broken palindromean errant Rorschach inkblotasymmetrical as a butterfly whose fragile tender wings flakeagainst the inexorable forceof strivingto survive

Notdeifiedinstead defilednever odd or eveneven oddlyI mistakeshadows for reflectionssee only the monochromed outline of the things that I recallwhere mirroredblack and whiteright where everything is held in fragile and uneasy balance, lefttruths turn to mythsdivideacross the tightrope of memoryblur like raindrops out of reach through misted panesof glass poisedto splinter into brittle shardssharp to pierce a tender woundwherein liesthe germ of failing to recognisethe truth before my very eyes.

The Rorschach test is a psychological test in which subjects' perceptions of inkblots are recorded and then analyzed using psychological interpretation, complex algorithms, or both. Some psychologists use this test to examine a person's personality characteristics and emotional functioning. It has been employed to detect underlying thought disorder, especially in cases where patients are reluctant to describe their thinking processes openly.