Chagall’s Moon

As though making up for lost time after suffering what he jokingly refers to as the longest writer’s block in literary history, Jeremy Robson’s new collection is his fourth in nine years. Written with characteristic craft and wit, many of the poems in Chagall’s Moon reflect the changed world in which we find ourselves, as rockets rain nightly on Ukrainian cities, refugees drown in the channel, and post-Brexit chaos reigns. Chagall’s Moon movingly creates a world of love and loss, identity and laughter, dreams and nightmares, where Beethoven and Picasso rub shoulders with Billie Holiday, Chagall’s lovers still fly in a cloudless sky, the ghosts and horrors of recent Jewish history are never far away, friendship and childhood memories still stir, and love presides.

Front cover: David Abse, Chagall’s Moon

Sample Poems

The Collector

My childhood passion, yet turning the pages
of those recently discovered old albums after
so many hidden years I hadn’t expected this:
not all those historic faces from another era,
American generals and Presidents, Polish
aristocrats and Russian farmers, Egypt’s
profligate King Farouk in his tasselled hat,
and, chillingly, a cold-eyed Hitler with row
upon row of Third Reich stamps lined up like
Panzer divisions behind him. G for Germany.

And how ironic to discover on the facing
F for France page, fatally placed, a down-cast
Petain, caught in the glare of the Fuhrer’s stare,
looking across warily, as well he might, as if
about to leave the stage, his jaded Marshall’s hat
perched precariously above a milk-white moustache.
Then, further on, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin and a grim cast
of history’s villains waiting threateningly in the wings.

Surprising too, the regal faces of British Monarchs
on the stamps of countries that quit the Empire
long ago, so many of them, large and small.
And elsewhere too, striking stamps of proud nations
overcome by coups, revolutions, invasions, war,
now bearing different names or existing no more.

I must have spent all my pocket money
and many school-work hours I could ill afford
rushing to Stanley Gibbons in the Strand
in search of stamps I needed desperately
to complete a set, or to the post office to buy
First Day Covers and send myself postcards
to ensure they bore a day-of-issue postmark.

There they all are now, those stamps, neatly
spaced in sets or parts of sets and carefully mounted
or lightly held in place by small transparent hinges
on the appropriate pages; and those pretty First Day
Covers too, the 1948 Olympics, the Festival of Britain,
the Queen’s Coronation, and also covers from a still young
United States with many centenaries to celebrate.

I wonder now at the care and time I took in those
early days, only too aware of my later slipshod ways.
Are they worth more now than the values they display?
For me they have a value far beyond the monetary.

But there was more than that, for behind those
large long-lost blue albums others lurked, smaller
and more numerous, packed with the autographs of
the then famous – film and radio stars, dancers, singers,
sportsmen, politicians. I must have spent as much time
hunting them down as the stamps I sought, waiting
in the rain at stage doors, at the edge of tennis courts
and cricket pitches, outside football stadiums. And
for those beyond my immediate reach, there were
letters to send, stamped addressed envelopes enclosed
and a flattering fan note expressing my admiration.

It amazes me now how many responded in that
pre-email era, often with a specially signed photograph.
Were there more hours in those early days?
There must have been, for there were also cigarette cards
to collect, comics to hoard and sell on to eager friends,
amazing magic tricks to buy at Hamleys, and photos
to develop in the messy darkroom I’d fashioned
at the top of the house, the second-hand camera
I’d saved up for rarely rewarding my stamina.

As well as all this I collected tropical fish, hurrying
as often as I could on a number 28 bus to an enticing
shop in the Harrow Road, where hundreds of exotic fish
of all shapes and colours swam and dazzled in tanks
around the walls. I’d press my eyes to the glass,
mesmerised, wanting them all, before selecting
one or two to take carefully home in a large jar.

Then, on one fateful birthday, I raced eagerly down
the stairs to find the hall floor flooded and the large
tank empty, all my beautiful fish dead. I tried to revive
them but it was too late. Not even my copious tears
could bring them back to life, nor the consoling words
of my mother as she mopped the floor. No killer,
no Lady Macbeth, could have felt more guilty.

My birthday party went ahead just the same
that afternoon, but I couldn’t put out the candles
on the special cake my mother had baked, however
hard I blew. For me they’d taken on a different hue.

Somehow, after that, my enthusiasms waned,
the empty coffin-like aquarium was removed, the
stamp albums, the autograph books remaining exactly
as they were, last stamps, last signatures. Gradually,
unknowingly, I began to turn life’s more transient pages,
as ever more swiftly I still do. Had that really been me?
Are all those books with their transporting pages mine?
Is it all true? It seems fanciful at this distance in time.

And yet, and yet... I don’t regret.

Meeting Picasso

I was supposed to meet Picasso.
I was given a time, but he wasn’t there.
They told me he’d gone out to get some air,
to wait for him on the winding stair.

Eventually he came striding in, shook me by the hand
then turned to others in the ever-lengthening queue.
There was nothing I could say or do.

His assistant sauntered past, apologised, told
me to come again, same time, the following day.
She had multi-coloured ribbons in her fluorescent hair,
wore a long floral dress that swept the floor
and began to sing the Habanera aria from Carmen.
Not a woman you could easily ignore.

My Cubist dream continued through the night.
Now his paintings were hovering round my bed.
A man and an outstretched woman were entwined
in a passionate embrace, though things weren’t
in their normal place. A bull was chasing a toreador
round a blood-stained ring, its horns half bent,
a guitar began to strum an out-of-tune lament.
I tried to fathom what it meant.

From the corner, an angular woman in blue
was eyeing me provocatively. I couldn’t
place her though I thought I knew her face.
By now my head was spinning at a dizzying pace.

Still, I turned up next morning not a second
late for my important date with a book and
flowers I thought he might appreciate.
But they said they were sorry, he couldn’t
see me as he’d just died. At least I’d tried.

A Spring Lament

Somehow, for all the turning years, spring always
surprises me, throwing off winter’s chilling coat
often quite suddenly. And for the past few days
the almost unreal beauty of the blossom crowning
the branches of a young tree in the garden opposite
has stopped me in my tracks whenever I’ve passed.

But this morning, drawn by the disturbing roar of a
chainsaw, I peered through the window as a young
sun greeted the early day, and there it was, lying
like a corpse on the driveway, its pink finery scattering
as a steady wind began to lift its branches.

Nearby, three determined men sawed away at the
surrounding foliage, seemingly unaware of the dying
beauty at their feet. No execution, no falling guillotine
could have done more to dampen the spirits. I recalled
Hopkins’ felled aspens, the poet’s anger and lament.

The sun may have shone when those men began
their devil’s work, highlighting the almost fairy-like
aura of the blossom on the ground, but now it had
been swallowed by thick dark clouds as thunder roared,
rain poured, and drop by drop the drenched blossom
lost its dazzle. The gods, it seemed, had spoken.

Next day it was as if it all had never been, a kind
of awful dream. Everything cleared away. I’d say
it was surreal, but sadly it was all too real.

A Seaside Photo

Aged five, splashing in the sea and
watching seagulls dive, there was
not a cloud in view that August day,
the endless sky an undiluted blue.

And time, if he was aware of time, was not
a chiming clock that beat the hours down,
but his mother’s call to high-tea, a story
read together on the old settee, and bed.
And there to dream of white-foamed waves

and sandcastles, of crabs scuttling across white
sands, of pony rides and Punch and Judy shows,
of the billowing sails of colourful yachts, and
of the elegant pier that seemed to stretch to the
horizon, where bands played and you could shy
wooden balls at coconuts that never seemed to fall,
have your fortune told, and wolf candy floss,
waffles and ice-cream to your heart’s content.

A few years later and he’d be standing at the
edge of the Great Orme cliffs, throwing stones
at transparent jellyfish below in revenge for
swelling stings that had made him scream.

Now smugglers and pirates filled his dreams.
And so it went on, the annual visits to his
great-grand-parents’ Llandudno home where
he was born, while the oblivious tide rolled in
and out with military precision and the sea raged
and calmed, calmed and raged, those idyllic
summers rolling him steadily towards adult
hurdles more challenging than breaking waves.

Yet he returned there from time to time, if only
in his dreams, and once, proudly, with his wife
and young family, but the endless summer days
he vividly recalled seemed to have become much
shorter, the sea more often rough than calm, and
there were too many disturbing ghosts around.

A Silent Toast

We know each other as well as two
people can, have shared exultant moments
of birth and celebration, a lifetime almost,
the low moments too, of loss and desolation.

And yet tonight, across a wooden kitchen
table, sharing a simple meal, you seem
distraught. What thoughts are troubling you,
I wonder, as you look forlornly towards me.
I ought to know but clearly don’t.
That can’t be right.

Rain is rattling the windows, the night is
darker than dark. I’d like to raise my hand
like a skilled magician and vanish them, whatever
the demons be, but am unable to.

Your hair, longer than usual, rests on your
shoulders as it used to do, and as I raise my
eyes I see the beautiful woman I’ve shared
the years with come into view.

Who, I wonder, do you see?
A distant man, deep in his own thoughts,
perhaps, almost a stranger, if only momentarily.

Silence pulsates round the room expectantly.
The glasses of wine I’d poured remain untouched.

And then, like a plane emerging from the clouds,
like a flash of sunlight, you smile, and I smile back,
relieved, those healing smiles more potent
than any reassuring words could ever be.

Our hands reach towards each other simultaneously.
We raise and clink our glasses in a silent toast.

Solo Performance

It begins and ends with a solo performance
no one can understudy or double for, one
greeted by cheers, the other laced with tears.

In between you achieve what you can
love, work, study, play, make the most of every day,
or so you should, for you only get one go on life’s
precarious merry-go-round as it turns at an
ever quicker pace before its lights flicker, it slows
gradually to a halt, and only an Exit sign glows.


‘My test when reading a new book of poems is to stick a post-it wherever there’s a poem I want to go back to. They sprout like a small forest in his new collection. This is the work of a poet whose experiences, transmuted into fluent, accessible poetry, will strike a harmonious chord with many readers.’

Bel Mooney

‘Robson’s vision is both gentle and steely, and on top of his ability to touch one deeply is a marvellous, wry observation of the sweet, sour and savoury in life.’

Maureen Lipman

‘Continues Robson’s remarkable renaissance… the mood is one of cheer, optimism and playfulness. Poems guaranteed to raise your spirits.’

Jewish Chronicle