Peter Robinson: Two for John James

Three from Rolf Dieter Brinkmann

‘again the poems I’d like to translate’

John James


After Shakespeare

The hand of winter falls

and lies in the garden, where now

a wooden frame has been

erected. Dusky summer


fallen as the hand.

Your head is frozen.

The autumn with its

dead fish on the


riverbed is

like the stall with aged

woman, who sits and reads

the daily paper, till anybody


comes, buys one of the cold

legs of chicken which lie

in the fat-splattered glass

container. The passer-by


pays, eats, slings the bone

after the invisible angel.

And spring comes, scatters

the car headlights through


tinny leafage in the evening

which with the wooden frame

sinks down in the stream.



Mourning on the Line in January

A bit of line spans

curved between two

leafless trees, the


papers soon driven

again, early morning

freshly washed


black stockings

hang there, from

the entangled


long legs the water

drips in the broad,

early daylight on the stone.




Ruined landscape with

tin cans, house entrance

empty, what’s in there? I came here


one afternoon by train,

two jars in the travelling bag

tightly fastened. Now I’m also


awoken from dreams, blown over

an intersection. And dust,

dismembered pavane, out of dead


neon, papers and railway lines

today, what do I get now,

another day deeper and dead?


Who said, that’s what living

is? I’m going into

another blue.


NOTE: The three translations sequenced here are from Rolf Dieter Brinkman, Westwärts 1 & 2: Gedichte (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1975): ‘Nach Shakespeare’, p. 175, ‘Trauer auf dem Wäschedraht im Januar’, p. 28, and ‘Gedicht’, p. 41.


Clear as Daylight

The dancers, faces oblivious & grave,—

testing testing

the dancers face oblivion and the grave.’

Geoffrey Hill, ‘After Reading Children of Albion (1969)’


Reading in an early dawn—

you’re distracted glancing over

edges of slim volume pages

and words, too fathomable words

cross patios, backyards,

outliving children of Albion

who face death now, as best they can,

while the first birds sing.


To identify with where we live

I read us into every thing,

like the cut of some salt-crusted brickwork …

though, try as I might,

dripping tap and leaky cistern

gall me to the quick,

like one swan biting at another’s neck—

as if we’d never learn.


But even the things I’m reading

strayed among wild rhubarb

are moving over surfaces

of cloud types, sun- and storm-light,

that heat has flaked to pieces

and they’re sublimed, resentment-free,

like purgatories in others’ verses,

to skies filled with activity.


NOTE: The epigraph cites the last three lines of ‘After Reading Children of Albion (1969)’ in Geoffrey Hill, A Treatise of Civil Power (Penguin Books, 2007), p. 23, which in turn alludes to John James, ‘Bathampton Morrismen at the Rose & Crown’, Children of Albion: Poetry of the ‘Underground’ in Britain ed. Michael Horowitz (Penguin Books, 1969), pp. 160-1. ‘Clear as Daylight’ has recently been reissued in the second edition of English Nettles and Other Poems with artwork by Sally Castle (Two Rivers Press, 2022). Reprinted with permission.



PETER ROBINSON is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Reading and poetry editor for Two Rivers Press. In the mid-1970s he was involved with the Cambridge Poetry Society and the Cambridge International Poetry Festival, in which capacity he hosted a number of readings by John James, while as an editor of Perfect Bound he first published James’s ‘After Christopher Wood’ in June 1976. They read together in a Salt Publishing event on 25 March 2004 in Trinity College, Cambridge. His essay ‘John James and The White Stones p. 71: Music, Rhyme, and Home’  and the review ‘John James: Romsey Town’ have recently been collected in The Personal Art: Essays, Reviews & Memoirs (Shearsman Books, 2021).


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