Introducing the April 2010 Readers – 1. Anne Berkeley

Anne Berkeley’s The Men from Praga (Salt, 2009) moves from a cold war childhood (her father was trained to drop nuclear bombs) via a traduced Baudelaire to a future dystopia. Previous publications include The buoyancy aid and other poems (Flarestack, 1997), and a selection in Oxford Poets 2002 (Carcanet). She was awarded a Hawthornden fellowship and prizes include first prize in the TLS competition. She edited Rebecca Elson’s acclaimed posthumous collection A Responsibility to Awe (Carcanet, 2001) and is editor of Seam. She is one of the poetry group extraordinaire Joy of Six, which has performed across the UK.


Careful not to soil her dainty Ferragamos,
the grand piano moves discreetly through the herbaceous border,
a sheaf of cuttings in her handbag:
a cardinal, the Queen’s gynaecologist, a dozen QCs.

She has come for the music, of course,
but the atmosphere’s lovely, such elegant lampshades.
There is always some Government in the garden
where the sheep are kept in their rightful place
safely grazing beyond the haha.

There are twenty-two minutes before curtain up.
The wind is cold, there’s a whimper of rain
but the picnic must go on and be such fun:
an open window serves coloratura with paté de foie gras.
Everyone has a rug for their knees, and she reminds us
again of her night at the Albert Hall,
the swallowing blue of a million delphiniums.
We can almost believe in her cloak-pin and shield.

It’s not what it was, she says: the vulgar new building,
every year the path to the lily pond more overgrown –
a negotiation of unripened blackberries and birtwistle.
Hemlines are rising; already accountants wash up on the lawn.

Even today, out at sea with Johnny Foreigner,
I hear her triumphant arpeggios over the waves,
the Broadwood’s fin patrolling round the violins.

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