Saeby Haiku Diary 15

Thursday, 14th May 2015

The seaside circus
camper says: “It’s beautiful!
Such a lucky spot.”


Chess poetry


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I’ve been playing quite a lot of chess over the last 1½ years, both online and over the board. I played quite a bit as a kid, but other interests, not least poetry, elbowed their way into the foreground. What started me off again was writing this sonnet:

Chess with Monsieur Joffroy

In memory of Frédérique Joffroy (1962-1980)

Losing to me wasn’t the badge of shame
your father thought it was. He couldn’t stop
the stronger player coming out on top.
It came as quite a shock to hear him claim
my proletarian tactics were to blame.
It’s standard stuff to snatch a pawn, then swap
off all the pieces; suicide to drop
the basic principle behind the game.
To think that he was meant to be the host!
We were thirteen, your father forty-four.
Five years later I was told, by post,
that you, my friend, had hanged yourself. Your ghost
jolted my memory. Outplayed once more,
your father kicked the table to the floor.

It was published in CHESS Magazine in January. At my suggestion, I was given a year’s subscription instead of payment.

Chess has now elbowed poetry into the background. Until last month I hadn’t written anything for half a year. Then I wrote this. A friend of mine, Nigel Stuart, has added two more stanzas, which he has given me permission to post here:

Though they might seem distinct, as the white and the black,
xxxchiaroscuro best lights each endeavour –
while the whitest of knights treads a devious track,
xxxpawns transgendered as queens render pleasure,
and a sinuous line, in conception divine,
xxxoften issues in muddles of meaning,
and an image whose shine, past attempts to refine
xxxits expression, turns out overweening.

Though some poetry seems by illumining dreams
xxxto rival the light of the cinema,
neo-realist themes and their verismo gleams,
xxxshow illusory scenes, not dissimilar.
Every struggling art, when considered apart,
xxxseems a separate route to redemption,
yet one finds at its heart there’s inscribed from the start,
xxxfrom exposure – there’s never exemption.


An A-side and a B-side


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EG leavers 2014

Frederik Bloch Münster, Nicolaj Aarøe, myself, and Theis Henriksen, during the Leavers’ Dinner at Esbjerg Gymnasium, 25th June 2014

Towards the end of June I said goodbye to my third-year students as per usual, but this year was different as I was also saying goodbye to the school I’d been teaching at for nineteen years.

In April I was invited to give the traditional teacher’s address at the Leavers’ Dinner. I had often wondered why my colleagues agreed to take on such a thankless task. A large number of the students are rowdy and inattentive by that stage. It’s their evening after all, and listening to what some teacher wants to say is not high on their list of priorities. Perhaps we teachers have some kind of sado-masochistic streak. Anyway, I happened to have a song I wanted to perform that evening, so I said I would do it.

In January one of my third-year students, Nicolaj Aarøe, had e-mailed me asking me to write a preface to their Who’s Who. It was at very short notice, but I wanted to oblige as they were a great bunch and we’d had fun together.

To keep it simple, I decided to play to my strengths and write a wee ditty.

This class had been given the same classroom for all three years, which was not something I’d witnessed before. And it’s not just any old classroom either. No, it’s indisputably the best in the whole school. Not only is it on the ground floor and nearest to both the exit and the canteen, but it’s roomy, faces south, and has a French window leading out onto the lawn. Its number is 016, which is expressed in Danish as “nul-seksten”, i.e. “zero sixteen”. This quickly became the basis of my hook. To explain another feature of the song, the class list ran alphabetically from Amanda to Theis, and, funnily enough, these two were also sweethearts.

So I performed the song at the Leavers’ Dinner and had arranged with the class that they should sing the second “all stay forever” in the second and third verses as “I’ll stay forever”.

Forever in 016

Decorum insists that I shouldn’t
admit that I’ll miss a good student.
And it’s wise to reserve my approval
till after your final removal.
But in this case I’m sticking my neck out
before you get close to the checkout.
You’re the best English class that there ever has been.
Won’t you please stay forever in 016!

You 016 27
who started in 2011,
I wish you good luck in the future.
May you all find surroundings that suit you.
As the stars dance in stardust, I’m certain
you’ll be standing long after the curtain.
From Amanda to Theis let the good vibes between
you all stay, forever in 016!

So let me now add these reminders
to paste on the front of your binders:
“Be brave and be honest and truthful.”
(That way you’ll be vibrant and youthful.)
“Don’t think about what might come after.”
“The tears that we cry turn to laughter.”
You’re the best English class that there ever has been.
May you all stay forever in 016!


I knew it would be chickening out to leave it at that. There has to be some kind of point in a speech. I wasn’t just doing a party piece. So I had determined to perform another new song and call it the B-side, which would give me a talking point seeing as A-sides and B-sides are not something young people today are familiar with.

I had with me a single on vinyl to wave at them, and the example I gave of an A-side and a B-side was



seeing as how a) it was the first single I’d ever bought, and b) we were right in the middle of the World Cup Finals. I performed the chorus of both songs for them so they could get an idea. My point was that this weird and wonderful B-side had picked up a kind of cult following, and basically they were Missing Out in not having A-sides and B-sides.

And yes, I was speaking in Danish.

So now I’d prepared them for the fact that my second song was off-beat, and yet perhaps worthy of notice. And my, what a racket they made! Still, as they say here in Denmark, “jeg gennemførte.” Which means something like: “I made it through without making a total fool of myself.”

Way Up the Ladder of Love

I’m sick of the way
I’ve tried to be hip,
sick of the way
I’ve bitten my lip,
so sick of the way
I’m too slow to slip
my way up the ladder
ggof love.

I’m sick of the way
I act like I’m blind,
sick of the way
I don’t seem to mind,
so sick of the way
I’ve struggled to find
my way up the ladder
ggof love.

I’ve waited too long
to express this in song,
done everything wrong
gglike a loser
who’s still insecure,
as the lads will, I’m sure,
do a caricature
ggdown the boozer.

I’m sick of the way
I’m always on call,
sick of the way
I’m sick of it all,
so sick of the way
I can’t even crawl
my way up the ladder
ggof love.

I’ve waited too long
to express this in song,
done everything wrong
gglike a loser
who’s still insecure,
as the lads will, I’m sure,
do a caricature
ggdown the boozer.

I’m sick of the way
I’m still such a square,
sick of the way
I no longer care,
so sick of the way
I just stand and stare
way up the ladder
ggof love.

Lisa Leaving


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I wrote this sonnet on the first day of my summer holidays in 2010. I was out walking through the woods close to the sea in beautiful weather, and, inspired by nature and a sense of freedom, I composed a couple of lines of iambic pentameter. Then I got home and saw the photo of Lisa on the front page of a local newspaper. It made me very happy. Unreasonably so. My unconscious mind must have already made the connection to my musings. But it was only later, after I’d begun to work a bit on the lines I’d written, that I consciously realised I now had something concrete to work with.

The sonnet was soon posted on Esbjerg Gymnasium’s home page, and the recording was added in due course. Unfortunately, the sonnet was removed in a revamp of the home page at the end of 2013. I appealed to the Principal on several occasions, but he hasn’t responded. Which is a bit weird. But anyway, I’m putting it up here now and updating the various links to it on this site.

Lisa Leaving

Lisa Leaving

for Lisa Lind Dunbar

For me at least, you’ll always be the child
who hated school; now never to return.
No longer need you struggle in your seat;
you’re free to go; you’ll soon be running wild,
down to the sea, the sand beneath your feet,
no morons shouting: “Won’t you ever learn?”
I’ll miss your Scottish accent, miss your face,
miss your independent, plucky grace.
I yell: “Hey, Lisa! Leaving us for good?
You made it through! I always knew you would!
God tur! Have fun! Take care!” Defying care,
you climb King Christian’s horse on Esbjerg Square,
broad-grin at all the others fading fast,
then ride like hell into the distant past.

Bottom Line


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This song came out of the blue, but I did find Kevin Kline splendid as Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, like an impersonation of Shakespeare himself. And, while I’m no expert in Shakespearean pronunciation, it did strike me as weird that Oberon pronounces the middle letter of ‘Titania’ as a long ‘a’.

Thanks are due to Josephine Holm Bjerg, a student of mine at Frederikshavn Gymnasium, for performing Titania.

Bottom Line

Bottom:      When your crown weighs you down
ggggggggggand each gown makes you frown,
ggggggggggthen this clown from the town
gggggggggggggwins your charms.

ggggggggggWhen the crowd gets too loud
ggggggggggand you’re bowed under cloud,
ggggggggggthen you’re proud you’re allowed
gggggggggggggin my arms.

gggggggggggggQueen Titania,
gggggggggggggthere’s a plan you
gggggggggggggcan’t say yes to,
gggggggggggggthat oppressed you
gggggggggglest you guessed it’s best to
ggggggggggtest your destiny.

gggggggggggggQueen Titania,
gggggggggggggI’m the man you
gggggggggggggcan’t say no to,
gggggggggggggwho you go to –
Titania:       Oh, my Romeo!
Bottom:                                – to
ggggggggggshow your poetry.

Titania:       I hate that bastard,
ggggggggggHe’s always plastered.
ggggggggggThat’s not on.

ggggggggggHe thinks it’s smart
ggggggggggand super cool
ggggggggggto break my heart,
ggggggggggthe stupid fool.



Here Lies Our Land
by Kathleen Jamie

Here lies our land: every airt
Beneath swift clouds, glad glints of sun,
Belonging to none but itself.

We are mere transients, who sing
Its westlin’ winds and fernie braes,
Northern lights and siller tides,

Small folk playing our part.
‘Come all ye’, the country says,
You win me, who take me most to heart.


airt = direction (but also “art”)
siller = silver