David Herd is a poet, critic and teacher. His forthcoming collections of poetry include All Just (Carcanet, 2012) and Outwith (Bookthug, 2012). He is the author of two critical works, John Ashbery and American Poetry and Enthusiast! Essays on Modern American Literature, and his essays and reviews have been widely published in journals, magazines and newspapers. Recent writings on poetry and politics have appeared in PN Review, Parallax and Almost Island. He is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Kent, where he directs the Centre for Modern Poetry.



3 poems becoming elegy


This back pocket’s for keepsake,
An invitation to an exhibition,
Items to remember and maybe one day use.
Or discard,
Structures pass,
All structures pass,
The clear cut of an October morning carries a heavy moon.

Which we’ll see again
Notwithstanding all the indicators.
It is ultimately elegy underwrites the poem.
Shatters it.
Structures pass.
Assemblies of people.
The poem choosing bashfully
Here among.


And as the dream of every cell
is to become two cells,
so what the poem hankers after
is another poem,
splitting itself off,
feeding on the residue,
among stones,
among structures untouched 

where the elegy lies
where the poem handles circumstance
caught among the fibres of the old guy’s clothes,
the hats,
he wore great hats,
the thought is difficult,
cell by cell,
October among.


Lately it has become apparent
that the nation is deserving elegy. 

There are practices among us
we are tending to forget. 

For which the elegy works because the poem is here among
modeling its behaviour on things which pass. 

Codes, counteractions,
The poem has its lists.

The disorientation of the citizen
detained without charge. 

Not, actually,
Understanding where he is. 

Vulnerable, isolate.
Things pass.


You among 

When the plums were first ready
before the first one fell
when the roses were not yet planted
and the ground was dry, 

before the eucalyptus was cut down
bent double beside the gate
before the sea surged
before the value in the market dropped,

as the mallow came through
not for the first time
beside the road helped
by a brief warming, 

as copies proliferated
as the clematis bloomed
as people arrived
to complete a hazardous crossing, 

as the errors accumulated
before the apples ripened,
before the news broke, before the panic
before the denial stopped, 

in dense populations
among prosperous economies
when the plums were first ready
but before the first one fell 

before the goldfinches had gone,
before the nets were dry
before the crisis was with us
before a big old moon

as you walked from the table
to the kitchen door
we were glad that night
to have you among us.



Along the broken road
nearby the disparate houses
where summers, coming into purple
the mallow blooms,
carting children,
complex tools and fishing nets,
‘environment acting’,
stop and exchange;
beneath wires where
goldfinches gather,
‘Adoration of the Child and the Young St. John’,
nearby the outbuildings,
a variant,
slipped open early,
‘based on conflict’,
as morning comes;
where seagulls stand allover into language,
where mallows bloom purple along the broken road,
scattered, disparate,
‘beautifully economical’,
you stood one time
to arrive at terms.


Ecology (out set)

What stands discrete

scattered against the outbuildings

mallow            goldfinch        complex terms

and you, stood there

not knowing if you’re coming or going

‘beautifully economical’

‘hostile world’


One by one

The poem splits,
It has no desire to become a nation,
It traffics in meanings, roots among stones,
The things they have with them,
Corrugated outbuildings
Along the broken road. 

Immigrant through the streets
It craves sources of stability,
Processes it might settle its elegy among;
It splits,
To begin again,
It seeks the moon broken across the estuary,
People arriving,
One by one.