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Previous Tailormades

Here are some of the poems we’ve written for others. We add commissions three months after their delivery date.

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In Praise of Gaggia Machines and Other Joys

Aunt, Guardian, Captain Fantastic ―
you’ve worn many names since my birth, yet

none quite contain your spirit,
just as sister, wife, mother cannot define you

any more than a butterfly is defined by its flower.
As petals answer Yes to the sun,

you spread the same open arms and strength
that fuelled the au pair, walker, golfer, cyclist

and me ― delighting in what you achieved:
the only woman in a house of men, twice-over,

you couldn’t wither,
but flexed your limbs in the face of gales,

glued yourself to a business to make a home,
a church to make a soul as sure as a Yes.

You scaled the north face of Fanny Craddock
to bring Christmas forward half a term,

wove the magic to transform Morecambe
in the rain to a snug memory, brightly stitched

Sarasota into a new family home, with views
of the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, The Great Wall…

My knowing you has been an intricate lacing
and unlacing of hooks and eyes in a leather boot,

a life-long lesson in ironing (men as well as shirts),
a Mad Hatter’s tea party where we poured novels

and plays and poetry for the sake of them and us
and said so to whoever would listen.

Now, louder than ever, I say Yes Yes Yes to you.

Sarah Hymas

Birthday poem
for Joan

Your life began inside another century, another world –
the first world war;  a freezing house, one fire, a candle
lighting you to bed, the sheets washed with a posser.

Childhood was fish and chips, ice-skating, cycling
to Cleethorpes; then leaving school at thirteen,
joining the Clarion Club – a bike without gears,

the flat lanes of Lincolnshire, villages, pubs, barns
and church halls, picnics and overnight stays,
adventures, the world opening up and expanding.

Then life wheeled you into the war and the army,
your wedding: the twin that you chose, who chose you,
the two of you making a circle of family: you at the centre,

an axis, laughter and love for your daughter and sons.
Spokes spinning out: grandchildren, great-grandchildren,
and the long path of your life moving over the country,

from east coast to west, the sea to the moors. A new home,
and you, on quiz nights, always on the winning team.
The year turns: your ninety-third birthday –

and here’s another circle with you in the middle, your
generosity of spirit reaching out to everyone you meet,
to all those who surround you now, and wish you well.

Elizabeth Burns

Arsenal v Udinese, Champions League Qualifier, 2011
for Nick

Whole lives can begin again in August,
when ninety minutes promise to repay our loyalty —

despite not winning a trophy for six years;
despite last year looking like we were in line for all four big ones;
despite drawing four all to Newcastle
when we were four nil up with half an hour to go.

Even you, with that half hour to go, almost relaxed.
Now nothing is secure: I’ve joined you on the edge,
exchanged my sofa for a nail bed.

I’ve terminated my Red Membership
but can’t shake my commitment to the brotherhood of suffering.
I’m on a waiting list for a waiting list to sign up to Lancaster City
but —

tonight’s Champions League qualifier is on terrestrial.
For once we won’t be watching together.
Plenty will be: we’re everyone’s second favourite team.

But three weeks in and we’re looking worse and worse:
we’ve lost our two best players;
three defenders injured; three more disciplined.

Our collapse continues, and I cannot distinguish
between we and I. Our spirit, my emotion.

Fabregas and Nasri can walk away
for something like £160000 a week each —
the rest of us can’t transfer our allegiances so easily.

We’re suckered in, abused
by the monstrosity football has become.
I am an idiot. We’re both tense, anxious idiots.
We’re all idiots together.
And together, apart, we’ll watch the game tonight, hoping
against hope, as we always have done.
As we always will.

Sarah Hymas

Some blues

i.m. MAI

9.42 and I’m banking through leaf-mould
and memories, waiting to swap weather
with my mother: she likes to check the skies

are holding up, now we live so far
apart; and I might say, today it’s the blue
of elsewhere, not Lancashire

nor even the well-behaved home counties;
or I might say, it’s the blue of the pansies
in her winter tubs, frailer than hope

but battling on; or I might say,
today the blue is nearly green,
like the plaster horse in mum’s house

selling Blue Grass, a perfume no-one
recalls, but smacks of fairyland to mum
and me; or I might say today

the sky is the blue of the sweater
I rescued before she threw it
to charity. I kept for twenty years

against hard times, when I needed
comfort, and the scent of a mother;
or I might say today the sky is the blue

of Fra Angelico’s angels, or the robes
his Madonna wears in my memory;
oh, tomorrow I’ll check in again,

with ma, ask if the monk  had the shade
quite right; and find out how blue the sky
might be, up her way.

Rebecca Irvine Bilkau

Gardener
You were a bulb in my palm once,
light as tissue, perfect as an origami daffodil
stretching towards the sun in grey light.

I watered you with love, watched you ramble
with the roses, dance with day lilies,
your smile generous as honeysuckle.

Your soul, green in the spring, seeps to summer blue,
shaded by an arbour, tended by Fred, aloof
curled purring in his greenhouse.

With each breeze or onset of rain, you bow
to the beauty of this day –  that night hour.
Each year, ever deeper, you grow. You glow.

Sarah Hymas

Wedding Song for Jane and Mike

Sometimes silence is music waiting to happen:
in the spectrum at the centre of absolute quiet
the note is already there, just the other
side of hearing, waiting for hands to meet
wood, lips to meet silver, feet to unleash
the thrum in the pliant ground. At that touch

there is a hum of recognition; this is the sound
of a forming choir, a chorus of strangers
joining their dots, over continents
through ages, calling in the tone deaf,
the frog-voiced, the perfectly pitched ancestors
this friendly skiffle here, first holding that note

close, now clapping our hands together,
following your lips for the riff at heart
of your vows, the tune of your marriage: light.

Rebecca Irvine Bilkau

Poem for Jenny
on finishing her PhD

Four years of getting up at four a.m.,
studying or reading case notes as the day begins,
taking that early morning train to Workington,
watching the sunrise over Dalton.

Four years speedreading books and documents,
judging at tribunals, thinking and writing about this,
finding embedded concepts, dark frames, looking behind
masks, examining integrity. Here’s yours:

the way you’ve kept yourself whole these four years,
making time for your friends, cooking meals,
giving parties; the theatre, the book group –
all this and still your other life of words:

pen on paper, peoples’ appeals, your judgements,
weighing things in the balance. And balancing
your own life, the dark and the light, the shift
from night to day, and now from sitting down

to rising up and moving off, as you set out
in your camper van towards the coast.
So let’s raise a glass of rosé in your honour,
to your huge achievement, to your own integrity.

Elizabeth Burns

My One Man Band

You strum rhythms from Mars,
trumpet notes I sing, then hum ones I can’t.
You unplug in the thrum of parties,
but blast with instant best friends across seas.

You tinkle between the clown and prophet,
hoot at stuff and gubbins,
squeeze spells for supper and sand,
yet still move with the truth of my kids.

When your fingers minim my skin
and your legs treble clef around me,
I hear the sweetness of your spirit –
my heart dancing six eight.

Together we quaver the lines,
no prelude, no coda, an unfinished symphony.

Sarah Hymas


Wildflower hunt
for Mary Tebble

The hunt begins in the spring of your eighty-third year,
as the land  thaws and plants start to quicken.
Then the equinox, and that luscious rush of early summer,
its flourish of green, and lit petals, light evenings.

All through the long summer months, into the short days
of autumn, your keen eyes are noticing, searching,
and each new flower you find is a gift, an achievement,
sometimes a rarity; and once – the secret plant – a first.

You hunt on the shore, on dune slacks and marshland,
in the city, the town, their pavements and walls,
you hunt by the railway, the roadside, the cycle track,
roundabouts, carparks, landfill, canal bank,

you hunt quarries and bings, woodlands and wasteground,
by rubbish dumps and sewage works, a stagnant pond.
There are wildflowers everywhere – here, ‘amongst heather tufts’,
‘by a puddle on a wet track’, ‘on a tangled grassy slope’.

And now as the year turns to winter – leaves falling,
flowers fading – and all that you’ve found is hidden again,
the hunt is over, your treasure gathered in.
Yet there’s nothing to hold in your hands –

all of it’s conjured, imagined, remembered
in your vast list of names and locations.
The hunt is over, and you’ve discovered that this place you live in
is richer than you’d ever dreamed: such bountiful wildflowers.

The hunt is over and here’s the treasure trove: your knowledge,
flying out like windblown seeds, and taking root in all of us
who’ve watched you exploring and observing and recording,
bearing witness to what’s growing all around us.

Elizabeth Burns

Copyright of all poems remains with their author

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