The wittily-designed open, save as, delete by English poet Michael Spilberg is companion to his like, don’t like, share, which Ludo Press published in 2012. The titles themselves give a hint of the sometimes self-deprecatory voice that is distinctively his – that voice can be apologetic, down on itself, regretful, desirous; it can also be stoic with a mix sometimes of the comic, the arch, let alone the romantic and realistic, as in “Hand Over Hand.” The opening poem, “A Season on Mallorca,” merges the high and low, the comic and realistic, in its opening line: “Fred Chopin [not Frédéric] and George Sand.” A seemingly breezy poem of the famed two going off one winter to live together – “scandalised / by their irregular arrangement,” it didn’t work out: “Back home at last they parted / for good and all. / He waltzed off, she wrote away / (Nobody mentions the children.”) The poem might have ended there – an American workshopped poem might have, but Spilberg ends with a bit of Polonius-like and realistic coda:
There’s many another couple
whose escape to somewhere new
turns out, for similar reasons,
to be no escape at all.
Escape from routine, the might-have-beens, longings of the middle-aged man, looking back, are some of Spilberg’s subjects that he takes on in different forms (e.g., rhymed and unrhymed stanzaic poems) and in various ways. “At the Café du Marche,” for instance, begins “Two old friends were seated together / (the moment could not have been better). / After a long separation there / was so much for them to talk over”; “At the Casino” opens, “These are the cards I have dealt you / No need for you to look grim.” In “Between Side-Door and Fence”: “I wait for something special by my side-door, / poised, expectant, watchful.”

At bottom, Michael Spilberg’s poems evoke an empathic sensibility, whether his point-of-view is third person or first. Using rhymed couplets in “At the Retirement Home” the poem imagines one of the sad residents: “Bleakness remains his sole joy, / self-pity his last little ploy. / Beyond that all a blank; he, defeated, / slumps in an old chair, feeling cheated.” The pauses or hesitations of these verse lines – they are like those of a composer – compel the ear and prevent a dullish sing songiness that this poem could easily have become.

Much to Spilberg’s credit, the poems in first-person do not fixate on the self – in other words, they reach beyond the authorial voice to create a speaker or protagonist as a representative man of life experiences, of middle age, bounded by years of routine, the status quo, and yet he does not give in. There is the faint parodic hint of Tennyson’s “Ulysses” who “cannot rest from travel” – Spilberg’s Ulyssean man is often side-swiped, Larkinesque-like: “I wait for something special by my side-door, / poised, expectant, watchful” (“Between Side-Door and Fence”); or “I struck the kitchen work-top; cried, ‘I’m off!’ / but having nowhere much to go / turned in to mooch along an alleyway” (“Lost Horizon”). As in Philip Larkin, the seemingly darker themes are given lift by the poem, ultimately by the dedication to the muse.

Hand Over Hand

The hand that reached for my hand
and held it with a sudden special tenderness
told such a story as would take us years
in clumsy, stumbling, smiling words to say.

How much more fluent palms and digits are
with their fragile net of bones and cartilage,
the subtle touch-pad of the skin; how
expressive in their mute articulation.

On the back of a hand I thought I knew so well
the veins pulse strangely: strong, alert, alive
at the touch. Softly as a sigh, a sigh of release,
I trace her being through her fingers’ tips,

hear each unspoken word loudly proclaimed,
sense the spools of love come spinning off
as bright and uncontrolled as Catherine wheels,
my heart sparkling sharp in unison.

That simple, trusting gesture changes, everything,
makes instant sense of all the hedged and thorny
sleeping years. Freshly awake and rescued
we can raise each other up, hand over hand.

An Easter Bouquet

I’ve written some poems for you, Muse.
What you’ll make of them, I cannot tell.
Maybe one day you’ll find you can show me,
Say which you think reads ill, or well.

These words are my flowers, hand-picked,
Each a blossom of meaning itself.
Words hang on the stems of their stanzas,
My bouquet, to stand on your shelf.

These are my posies of flowers
For you this Easter, this Spring.
If they intrigue, or enchant, or amuse you,
That, for me, will be worth everything.

Please, absorb the aroma;
Feel the words, touch them with a finger;
Give them some water if need be;
You’ll find there lines that linger.

With them, accept Easter Good Wishes,
This Resurrection time of the year.
For I too had been dead and am living,
And it’s all thanks to you, Muse. Stay near.


MICHAEL SPILBERG was born in 1949 in London. He spent part of his childhood in West Africa and was later at boarding school in Essex, an experience, he says, which failed to scar him any way. A graduate of Oxford University, he is married to artist Anny Spilberg, and lives in Hampshire, England; they have four children and nine grandchildren.

open, save as, delete
by Michael Spilberg

40 pp, 4-3/4 x 7-1/4

saddle-stitched, wrapped in French flaps, $12

ISBN: 978-0-9574291-1-6

Published by The Ludo Press
London, England
Distributed by Dryad Press

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