Sunday Poem – Martin Reed

I am writing this post quite bleary-eyed again – not because it is particularly late – it’s only just gone 10pm but just because I’m exhausted.  I’ve spent the day at the South Cumbria Music Festival today conducting three of my bands in the junior brass band section of the competition – Barrow Shipyard Junior Band, Brasstastic and St Pius School Band.  The bands all played brilliantly – they did everything I’d asked them to do in rehearsals, remembered everything I’ve been going on and on about for months! Holborn Hill Brass Band won – not one of mine, but although I’m usually competitive, I’m not too disappointed.  I always say to the bands that I would rather they play the best they can play and come second, then play badly and win and they did play as well as they could, so I’m happy.  After the competition I had to rush off to get to rehearsal – I’m playing in a show called White Christmas next week at the theatre in Barrow.

So I’m finally home now and kind of looking forward to going to bed.  I have a new regime at the minute which I’ve stuck to for the last two weeks, which is to get up at 7am and read for an hour in the front room.  Our front room at the minute is the only nice room in our house – well the bathroom is nice as we decorated that when we moved in, but I can hardly sit in there.  The front room has been decorated and the hubby uses it as the room that he practices as a psychotherapist in, so it is always neat and tidy and we inherited a wonderful rocking chair from a friend that is my favourite place to sit.  Anyway, every morning from 7am-8am I sit in my rocking chair and read.  I’m getting through lots of books, and it’s started me writing again.  I’m really enjoying the discipline of it.


One of the books that I’ve read this week is published by today’s Sunday Poet.  I met Martin Reed on the course at St Ives, and he was kind enough to give me a copy of his pamphlet.  It’s called The Two-Coat Man and was published by Happenstance in 2008.  You can order a copy of Martin’s pamphlet here, directly from his publisher.  I knew I would enjoy the pamphlet because I loved the poems that Martin wrote during the week in the workshops.

I really like the premise of this poem describing a painting, while not really being about the painting at all.  We know that the poem is addressed to a lover or a partner, or at the least someone who the speaker lives with because of the use of the words ‘our old front room’ which are in the first line.  Something sad has obviously happened – a death, or a failed relationship – because the painting has been removed from the shared space in the front room and placed in the speaker’s bedroom.

The two lines that really move me are ‘No-one else’s work could say/the things your painting says tonight’ which I think is a really lovely, balanced couplet. This is a strange little poem, because I think it is really about art as witness.  The poem does describe the poem, but for a poem about watching and seeing and noticing, we don’t get much information about the ‘you’.  The ‘you’ disappears  the more that the detail of his painting is discussed and I think this is why it is effective, why it is sad and strange all at the same time.

I’m off to bed now.  It is the most bizarre experience, but when I’m tired and falling asleep, my fingers keep writing out things – just now I fell asleep while I was typing and wrote ‘my fingers keep tapping the music stand.  Yes!’

So this is far too weird for me – so I will leave you to enjoy Martin Reed’s expert handling of form.  Form and end-rhyme are a preoccupation in this pamphlet.  Martin really does handle it well, often his rhymes are so clever that it is the second or third read through before you realise they are there.  If you would like to buy a copy and make Helena Nelson/ Martin Reed/ the world/the known universe very very happy please order here 

If there are any sentences in this post that make no sense, please skip over them! Thanks to Martin Reed for letting me publish his poem here. Here’s a bit about Martin in his own words:

Martin Reed grew up in Somerset and now lives in Malvern, Worcestershire near his children and grandchildren.  He has recently discovered the joy of writing workshops, including Kim’s in St Ives in February 2016 and would recommend them to any developing writer (i.e. all writers).  He won the National Poetry Competition in 1988 and has had work published in 2Plus2 (USA), Agenda, Anon, Assent, Encounter, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Iota, London Magazine, Magma, Other Poetry, Orbis, Owl, Prole, Poetry Wales, Poetry Nottingham, Poetry Review, South, The Spectator, Stand, Under the Radar and by other small presses in the UK and USA.   He has read some of his work on Radio 3.   He has a Happenstance collection in print: The Two-Coat Man (2009).  He is also Vernon Scannell’s literary executor. 

Original – Martin Reed

for RR (1944-1962)

Your painting hung in our old front room,
the ‘best’ room I still dream of sometimes.
It’s on my bedroom wall now, the bloom
of your bright manifesto – blues, limes

and purples.  I see how moulded snow
sits in a dip long after the day
has heated rocks to an orange glow
where falls hit the lake in arcs of spray;

how a peak aspires and saplings play
their almost human limbs at twilight.
No-one else’s work could say
the things your painting says tonight.

Art changes us.  We’re taught to see.
You noticed things, like bark where a ray
of sunlight sparked a rain-blackened tree,
the scar where a branch was wrenched away.


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