Geoff Kemp

Geoff Kemp began writing poetry when he was twenty. Writing for him is a compulsion, not a vocation. He writes for himself, not for any particular audience, and is flattered that others seem to like his work. Desire, loss, and the mystery of being are his themes; his style is closer to symbolic surrealism than to detached social observation. He has published two books, The wolf stares in, as part of Friendly Street New Poets One, and Alfa at Midnight, the winning entry for the inaugural SA Writers’ Centre/Seaview Press poetry prize.

Geoff’s first collection, The wolf stares in, can be purchased direct from the Wakefield Press website.


The owl cahoots, loyal
as the hall’s mahogany grandma.
He wonders, standing in the toilet
in the house he has come back to,
could this be the same owl?
as a pendulum’s golden eye
swoops through its own silence.

Does the owl on its cold wire
contemplate the louvres?
Or red-cheeked with their light,
breathe vapour-puffs at the moon?
Sniff its chill? So he wonders,
no longer a child,
his feet on cold tiles.

He had to jump to reach
a black bakelite switch;
he heard an ebony beak
crack a snail when it clicked,
and knew in the ball of his thumb
its pressure, hard and concise,
symbol of the abrupt silence.

Then he heard the owl cough
in its cubby in the moon-wet cherryplum,
and the reassuring clock
drip concentric crescents
in the stillness. But starlit wire
was taut with a cryptic cadence;
like the silence ringing in a train track

        no moon
    sawtooth silhouette
    of overleaning pines
        gravel lane
its olive trees clotted with shadow
    the ramp’s frozen rail
    he worked at with bare toes
    thunder flickered to the east
    by the dam, the gums stirred…
    a gust ripped at his hair
    then light cracked on and off
    and he flung himself flat
    clutching at wet soursobs
    and yelling
he was sucked upwards
and he saw the house
and the cherryplum
            up-cupped and flaring
        shrink away below
        as space roared in his ears
But the hills to the east are calm.
There’s quiet. The house and the wind
sleep. Does the owl compose
what it has no voice to sing
as it squeezes cold from the clothesline,
and I flush down the light
to wade a dark passage?
And, was there a message?
These flare, some seconds; then an owl
blows out awareness,
and waits under its cowl
while he dreams of watchful care,
of some archetypal mother;
her wire-rimmed spectacles;
her blink, drowsy and gentle…
         the moon, shiny as a clockface
         leans above the hills.
         But dreamflight,
                 occasionally recurrent,
watches, now, in wonder
            as he swoops over the house,
                                                        over the dark farm.

From Friendly Street No. 19

The dead wife

You stare, still beautiful
in all your familiar plainness,
your eyes
still as the water
in the glass beside your bed.
The afternoon quiet
is deepened by random bird-calls,
and the steady wash of traffic.
The glass on the beside table
blinks, alive with light,
and all sound is new.
Your wide open eyes
        will always stare,
at a ceiling, dusty with shadow,

while the universe rushes on…

From Friendly Street No. 22

Song to Seaview Road

The flat was dark, even in summer,
and we huddled by the T.V. for warmth.
When we ran water the pipes juddered,
and gulls cried our solitary thoughts.
At night, you could hear the falling plaster
touch the loud sea with its silence.

Waves thumped at high tide,
or smoothed every wrinkle flat
when the grey window pearled with light
and we smoked on your dead grandma’s mattress,
more refugees than lovers,
happy to let the sea talk for us.

We hid for a year behind mildewed walls,
and iron stairs that dripped rust.
I remember the threadbare blanket you wore
like a coat, the secrets you kept on your tongue,
the light breaking through your face
and your heartbeat rocking inside my head.

I can hear you gasp as I tug breath
from your nipples. Taste the salt in your hair.
I can smell you on my fingers again,
and your high-heeled boots clang on the stairs.
We stared at the telly, and the sea was between
our silence; and we never spoke of love…

From Friendly Street No. 23