John Griffin

John Griffin (born 1935) attended the planning meeting which developed the idea of Friendly Street readings, and read at the first reading on November 11, 1975.

Publications: A Waltz on Stones (Gargoyle Poets, 1974); Menzies at Evening (Angus & Robertson Poets of the Month, 1975); and approximately 400 poems in journals and anthologies. Now working principally in short stories and radio plays (of which 13 have been broadcast).

Goya Paints a Portrait of a Child

The boy is made of gold, almost; close
to the perfect child, with satin cummerbund
and bows on spotless shoes, lace at cuffs
and neck. He’ll never muck in mud.

He is all of an innocent eye. His mouth
is a childish bud, he stands a doll
among his living toys. The caged things crouch
in their palace, rich with balconies and dome.

A larger bird, with unmistakeable claws
and vicious bill, is tied to a string,
possessed. The house and garden cats pause
with eyes on fire, trained not to spring

and bring blood to the nursery floor.
The boy’s father is paying good money for this
reminder of innocence; there are years more
of protected youth, of the nurse’s kiss

before the toys and the pets are set free
and the boy goes out to the world. Expect
him to lead an army, a cat unleashed
at provinces, blood on his boots in some town’s wreck.

From Friendly Street No. 2

The Electors

There were three voters, one, two, three,
went into a polling booth, left, right, left,
and their names were Heart and Tongue and Death.

Said Heart: We are living in stirring times.
Never felt like this since the world was good.

Said Tongue: I am tripping on anthems now.
I hear their words and I know they’re true.

Said Death: I have just come with these two.

From Friendly Street No. 7


The trouble with marrows is simply sex:
male flowers, female flowers, and bees.
The bees to someone else’s garden have gone
and lie about sipping from grapes. Here

the female flowers are anxious to get heavy
with winter veg. And it’s simple, really.
One small brush, relic from a painting course
I didn’t finish, pushed into a male flower

and the stamen stroked for a brushload
of pollen. It is necessary to know
when to stop. Transfer pollen and brush
to the waiting pistil, and tickle,

but gently does it. Marrows may prove
too rampant for most gardens, says
Mr Yates. Agreed. Should they pollinate
bucking and writhing in tangles alive

with tendrils, there’d be an injunction
slapped on my quarter-acre. As it is,
I don’t do my delicate work with the brush
if the neighbour’s around. He’d want to lean

over the fence and look. Even on A.B.C
the garden adviser carries a leer
when he describes the task. I think
they’d beep him out if he undertook

to tell the other way: direct contact
of torn-off stamen and female flower,
and you, the novice gardener, must take care
that the hand doesn’t shake. The lady

welcomes these attentions for a day,
or shrivels unfertilised. Now let me tell:
in Southern Europe old men pick these flowers
and eat them, cooked in batter, for a feast.

From Friendly Street No. 8