Friday, April 13, 2012

I Wish I'd Written This

the identification

By Roger McGough

So you think its Stephen?
Then I'd best make sure
Be on the safe side as it were.
Ah, theres been a mistake. The hair
you see, its black, now Stephens fair ...
Whats that? The explosion?
Of course, burnt black. Silly of me.
I should have known. Then lets get on.

The face, is that the face I ask?
that mask of charred wood
blistered scarred could
that have been a child's face?
The sweater, where intact, looks
in fact all too familiar.
But one must be sure.

The scoutbelt. Yes thats his.
I recognise the studs he hammered in
not a week ago. At the age
when boys get clothes-conscious
now you know. Its almost
certainly Stephen. But one must
be sure. Remove all trace of doubt.
Pull out every splinter of hope.

Pockets. Empty the pockets.
Handkerchief? Could be any schoolboy's.
Dirty enough. Cigarettes?
Oh this can't be Stephen.
I dont allow him to smoke you see.
He wouldn't disobey me. Not his father.
But that's his penknife. Thats his alright.
And thats his key on the keyring
Gran gave him just the other night.
Then this must be him.

I think I know what happened
... ... about the cigarettes
No doubt he was minding them
for one of the older boys.
Yes thats it.
Thats him.
Thats our Stephen.

I expect this English (Liverpudlian) poet may be better known to many of you than others I’ve featured. He’s one of the more famous of my selections, also well-known in performance.

What makes me wish to have been capable of the heart-rending tragedy in the above poem is, in particular, the way he gets right inside the skin of the protagonist, via the authentic language. Well, the poem speaks for itself, powerfully, so I'll say no more about that.

What I will note is my surprise when I first came across it, because it seemed so out of character. McGough is best known for his humorous verses, which are so deft, quirky and unlike anyone else’s that one almost forgets they are often, also, biting social commentary.

For example, and by way of contrast, another of my favourites:

Poem for a dead poet

He was a poet he was.
A proper poet.
He said things
that made you think
and said them nicely.
He saw things
that you or I
could never see
and saw them clearly.
He had a way
with language.
Images flocked around
him like birds,
St Francis, he was,
of the words. Words?
Why he could almost make ‘em talk.

How’s that for a ‘Kapow!’?

You can find more of McGough’s poems at PoemHunter and there’s a free down-loadable ebook in pdf.

Here’s a list of his books in print (for both adults and children)  and you can get his Collected Poems through Amazon.

Poems and photos used in ‘I Wish I’d Written This’ remain the property of the copyright holders (usually their authors).

This poto is credited to Tony Hardacre and is cleared for use in publicising McGough's poetry.


  1. Rosemary, I really enjoyed and appreciated this introduction to Roger McGough! Thank you for taking so much time to do these each week.

    1. I sometimes wonder if I'm going t make the deadline, but so far so good. :) It is a great pleasure to me too, to reacquaint myself with the poets I love.

  2. I love Roger McGough (he's from my hometown so I am biased!) For those of you who are unfamiliar with him, if you like his work, then you really need to check out the work of his 60's collaborators - Brian Patten & Adrian Henri - who were collectively known as the Mersey Poets. Brian Patten is my all time favourite poet and my biggest inspiration.


    1. Yes, they're all wonderful. (I have a book containing all three.) Although I love McGough best, you are quite right to refer people to the others too. Thank you!

  3. Thank you, Rosemary. I was struck by the very authentic train of thought and voice spoken in this poem - this is so the way a person's mind works........he so totally nailed it!

    1. Yes, and every nuance of emotion - and with such economy and understatement. 'Then lets get on' and I can practically see the man steeling himself to the task. In fact I have a definite image of this person who is nowhere physically described. McGough is a master, justly celebrated.


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