Featured Poet Spring 2023: Allen Prowle

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Allen Prowle was born in Aberdare in 1940. Education took him to England where he has lived ever since, without losing his ‘Cymreictod’. He began writing poetry at Sheffield University where he graduated in French. His poems have appeared in many journals, his first collection, Landmarks was published in 1973. His Europeanism explains his interest in translation; he has translated French Italian and Spanish poems, for Magma, MPT and The High Window. In 2009, MPT published his translations of Rocco Scotellaro in its first-ever single author collection. He was awarded the Stephen Spender prize for translations of Attilio Bertolucci.


Allen Prowle: Eight Poems


The purple beech has had its say for another year,
scattering its nuts upon the lawn among the Chinese rowan’s
pink pearl berries for the birds to feed on.
We’ve been here now for over thirty years and heard,
beyond the hedge, on crisp October mornings,
the generations crunch through the beech mast
on their way to school.
In that other country where I was born,
I’d hear, while still in bed, the earlier rising colliers
trudge along our treeless street, their smokers’ coughs.
I always knew when they were late,
their pit boot studs would ring against the paving stones,
and I’d look out, hoping to see them spark like fireflies.

The mountains shaped and named our world.
If I looked due east or west I saw a mountain’s side.
To see the sky you had to tilt your head back
and look up. When I came here, nervously I saw it
everywhere. A ten-mile crow’s flight to the other side
of Merthyr mountain was a town I didn’t know,
as no road and so no bus would take you there.
I didn’t even know its name. But now I know
that all those colliers’ streets and pit roads led
to hidden Aberfan, and the slow, accumulated
waste of years which they could not escape.

The children who, when first we came, were brought to school,
now bring their own. The same excited greetings
between friends, parental voices raised in mild rebuke
at some incautiousness, then quieting to gossip once again.
As I set off for the paper at the village shop,
a gust of wind brings down another fall.
Hearing the honking of a skein of geese,
I watch their urgent flight towards the sea
until they’re out of view, decide to let the beech nuts lie for now,
to hear those children crunch back home for tea.


All we can see now is these photographs
from back, but not biblically, before the flood.
A woman, who looks very much like my aunt,
turns, smiling, from the post office and waves
to postmaster Jones Parry, who waves back.
Perhaps, that Sunday, they both went to the chapel,
where I saw, outside, that crowd of the faithful,
gather for the very last time. Their pastor
was speaking to them, but I don’t know what he said.
A curse, a benediction? Who now can know?
Outside Jones Parry’s neighbour’s house, the grocer’s come.
He passes her a loaf of bread, not wrapped,
and perhaps some ‘news’ he’s heard while on his round.
I wonder, now, what happened to these children
in the photo with their teacher at the entrance
to the school. She stands, like a mother-hen
behind just the two rows, eight boys, six girls,
next to a board where, chalked in Celyn’s language,
you can read, ‘last pupils, Celyn school’, and then the date:
July the 25th. 1963.
And that was Capel Celyn, its language silenced now,
archived and lying at the bottom of a lake,
these, living, just like their dead, uprooted,
torn from where they had been known and what they knew.


No trains stop now at Adlestrop,
the station is crumbling and overgrown;
they’ve railed it off for safety’s sake.
A bus comes to the village
down the road about a mile away.
Under the shelter on a little green
they’ve placed the station’s name plate and a bench
from the platform where, that time,
he had seen no one leave and no one come;
and on the bench, engraved upon a metal plaque, the poem.

We stopped like him unwontedly at Adlestrop
(at nearby Stow the name on the road map had caught my eye),
and what we saw was what he did not see:
hardly a street, a scattering of cottages
in golden Cotswold stone, a post office, and not much more.
But that was Adlestrop, the silence that he heard,
a halt to the noise and clamour in his mind,
when he was able to forget himself,
hearing a cough, a hiss of steam and a solitary blackbird’s song,
moved by their effortless inconsequence.
No guard’s shrill whistle broke that moment’s spell.
I turned the car around, drove back to Stowe,
hearing no birdsong, but instead, the wailing,
aimless shell that passed so close to him
it sucked away his life, but left him quite unmarked.


You would have been eight that year
you took your pocket book about wild flowers
to Wales and Dorset. Taxonomy was not your thing:
each flower was special, grew somewhere you had been.
Once chosen, part of your world, you wrote it down
in bright red ink, above the picture’s frame.

Wild carrot and needle-whin peeped out
in Nettlecombe, red clover in Clynderwen,
the harebell in Bracelet Bay, sea aster at Amroth,
and, in Cardigan, common fleabane.

There were some flowers that just grew
everywhere. ‘Lots of them’ is how you put it:
buttercups, golden rod and meadow sweet
were rampant in this no man’s land.

And yet the daisy, which I thought common too,
it seems just grows in Hardy’s garden.
Keeping both him and it forever just for you,
you played his game, moving both to Bockhamner,
where they became themselves again,
vaguely familiar, but never again the same.


They must have bought them for her bottom drawer.
Perhaps in Mariahilferstrasse:
Herzmansky, Gerngros, some smart store.
A white linen table-cloth, to order,
her initials worked into its pattern
of flamboyant, swirling garlandry;
some table napkins too. When she died
they found a home with us.
After all that time, they still seemed like new.

She was their only one to escape the Shoah,
sent away to Leeds with these and little else.
That’s where she met at a dance and where she married
Uncle Char, who was working there are at the time.
I still see her, widowed, living alone,
in that tiny steam-filled kitchen, stirring
an enormous saucepan full of sauerkraut.
‘Smell it,’ I can hear her laugh, ‘it’s very con-tee-nen-tal.’
I thought there was enough for the whole street.

Soon it will be time to bring the napkins out,
to tie, as we have done for nearly forty years,
around the pudding basin tops,
to grace our Christmas and her Chanukkah.
We’ll feel their adamantine softness
as we lift them from the drawer, and on one will see,
hand-sewn by her in vivid crimson thread,
E.G., defiantly unfaded,
with them all at home in Vienna again.


When he woke distressed from some nightmare,
I tried to bring him back to safety,
but could only find this bed-rock in another fantasy.
I realised in the darkness how empty were
abstractions of assurance, as if I were inside his head
and listening to this nonsense.
And so I resorted to the story’s triumph of good
over evil, where kindred guilts can be forgiven.
(Goldilocks had done some pretty nasty things
and always to the little bear, but was invited back,
at least in my version of the tale.)

At last he fell asleep again and I could get on
with my viewing, proud of my fatherly technique
and glad to have some peace and quiet. This was
a recommended programme – ‘a tasteful epilogue
to this in-depth study of the war.’
I tried to grapple with the figures: two and a half million Japanese,
five and a half million Germans, twenty million Russians. It seemed
we came off well. My mind assembled the various facts,
and drew certain conclusions.
Then, on the screen, I saw another little boy dragged
from a house’s ruins, felt my arm flex
around a nightmare,
but could spin no fine words,
could not tell him that good had triumphed over evil,
that Goldilocks had been invited back.

For Ron and Ethna

‘He’s spending too much time indoors,’ the doctor said.
‘He needs fresh air, and play with children of his age.’
Reading the ‘easier said than done’ expression on his mother’s face,
he simply added, ‘Lock him out!’ And so she did.
Rooted to the spot for twenty minutes or so,
he ignored the neighbours’ children shouting from their garden,
kept staring at the door, waiting to be allowed back in,
to get back to his I-spy books , his clockwork Hornby train.

At last she relented, surprised to see him standing there .
He went straight up, wound up the train, and let the rhythmic
clicking of its wheels along the track take him away again.
Over the hills and far away, a trip from Barnetby to Ghent and Aix.
Along the way, loudspeakers on the platforms seemed to sing out
different songs: Leeds City Station, Paris Gare de l’Est,
Utretcht Centraal, Odessa, The Stadtbahnof Berlin.
His I-spy book would soon be bulging with the points.
Then the return trip west, Holyhead, Dunlaoghire, Dublin.

His mother called him down for tea, but there was no reply.
She had never had to call him twice. She went up to his room.
He wasn’t there, the train set neatly put away.
Everything was safely in its place but him.
Puzzled, she wondered where he’d gone and why.


It’s winter now, the sky starless and their village streets
of course unlit. Nothing to point and guide their tracks
across the fields to where they always meet, to chat about the day.

Only two torches to narrow the distance between friends.
In summer there’s always St Denys’s church, seen from anywhere
across the fields. But it’s winter now.

Strangely inhibiting the silence that always seems to fall
when darkness comes, the world not to be disturbed
when the sun shuts its eyes.

A stumble, a stifled profanity the martyred saint can’t hear;
he has held his head in his hands, covering his ears,
for so long now. They would laugh at the joke.

Earlier shouts now turn to whispered words.
A confidently quickened pace then laughter breaks.
They know they’ll always find each other, even in the dark.

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