Auschwitz (complete this time)

I realised I’d managed to post the first two parts of my poem about Auschwitz without the third. So here it is again complete:






Have you seen them bobbing on the waves,

The bright baby clothes and treasured old pan,

Flask, serviceable shoes and the old soldier’s

False leg?

They were dropped like confetti when the great grave

Opened and closed

The sea will not take them.


Sinking not below the unforgiving surface

They will be stranded some time on a shore

Among the cuttlefish and aerosols

For the beachcombing man and his dog to wonder on,

To root, make seed.




Thousands of faces,

Most eyes glazed, defeated,

A few determined, defiant,

Hair cut short

Eyes too big, seeing.



But on the regimented route

Other blank faces file in unison

Beneath the protecting helmets, taking pride

From a lack of holy tears and nightmares

Somewhere a child laughs from a fine house

What have you made,





On the Sargasso Sea of humans

Searching for an invisible stream

An old man rows a leaky boat

Watching the fishes like confetti shifting

Imagining, magician,

Drowned faces smiling.



Copyright Simon Banks 2012





Some day the rain shall tell me I should leave

Or the shortening days set off a bell

Quiet at first, insidious in the blood

So I will pack

Searching the sky for clues

The distant shimmer and blur that might be rain

Glance at the house

And set out by a route that gradually

Creates itself but will not turn on itself

Though I don’t know the city at the end.


I am a journeyman, I learn my trade

From hints and shallow inscriptions on low stones

And from the linking of the bones.


I am used to wandering

I travel light, I know the signs

The questioning cat, the blackened oak

The broken bridge, the river in spate

The posts turned round, the embered fire

Light in the sky and razor wire.


And so the stages wait, or maybe indifferent

I mark them with my feet for a few minutes

But swimming with a river in the mind

I grope and stumble, being alive and blind.



A journeyman was an apprentice craftsman who travelled from place to place working with established craftsmen.


copyright Simon Banks 2012

Save the Gerund!

A while back I sprang valiantly (adverb) to the defence of adverbs. Today I have a new cause – the Gerund. This magnificent creature is being hunted to extinction by American writing school proprietors for its mythical sedative and repellant qualities.


OK, I’d forgotten since I was taught it around the age of 15 what a gerund was. In English it’s a verb form of a word with an -ing ending, but used as a noun – for example, “they don’t believe in PRAYING”. Apparently this is another shock, horror thing for some American writing schools and for writers schooled thus and unable to think beyond the current orthodoxy.


But what’s wrong with the thing? Here are some examples of gerunds from the Wikipedia article on them:


  • I like swimming. (direct object)
  • Swimming is fun. (subject)

Gerund clauses:

  • She is considering having a holiday.
  • Do you feel like going out?
  • I can’t help falling in love with you.
  • I can’t stand not seeing you.

Let’s try to write the gerunds out without losing the meaning:

I like to swim

To swim is fun (or: swims are fun)

She’s considering a holiday (but that could mean she’s decided to have a holiday but is selecting an option)



I’m also stuck trying to find alternatives to the next two.


Gerunds exist in a very wide range of unrelated languages, from Romanian to Japanese, so the need for them must be pretty pressing.


So what was wrong with the gerunds – and why is the stilted and contrary to common usage “I like to swim” to be preferred? Search me. Maybe they’re getting confused with the other uses of -ing. I was told a while back that some editors would object to the use of the gerund in “he was breathing heavily” – but that isn’t a gerund at all. One of the main characteristics of English which distinguishes it from most other languages is that it has two forms of the present tense (and equivalents for the past and future).  One, as in “He’s looking at you” or “the water is receding”, describes an action over a period. The other, as in “She locks her car door” describes a habit or a state (“They fear death”; the water recedes when there’s no rain”) or an immediate action (“It hurt me”; “I think”). If you get rid of all these -ing words, you remove one of the main characteristics of the language and one that allows shades of meaning.


Where do these odd orthodoxies come from and why do people take them seriously?


Back to poetry next time!