Introducing – the five digit stanza

Trying to get away from stereotypical ideas of what might make a stanza ahead of a poetry workshop I’m leading later this month, I have come up with a structure that I think may be original and which a few experiments of my own so far have shown to be fruitful.

I call it the five digit stanza, not because it consists of five numbers, but because the line lengths follow the finger lengths of the left hand, starting from a ‘wrist margin’. The structure is very effective, and with enjambements proves very flexible. Here’s my poem ‘Starlings’ to illustrate the form.


As dusk fell, the last cars
were boarding the ferry, and passengers,
no longer cramped, spread themselves in the lounge.
Headlines in English newspapers depicted
the bright, urgent landscapes of home.

I stood on the afterdeck as the sky
darkened with starlings. They rose, sank,
circled in great swarms, the shapeshifting abstract of love,
perfectly formed, that as the bow doors
clanged to, embraced the whole town.

The form is a delight to work in, and I hope others will find it of interest.

I’m on the touchline, watching my grandson, who’s nine, keeping goal.

In Touch

For Ben and Timmy

I’m on the touchline, watching my grandson
who’s nine, keeping goal. It’s a wet Saturday
morning in mid-March, the pitch greasy.

He makes a good save, punts the ball over
the halfway with a left foot drive. Fathers
shout exhortations; the boys cluster, swarm

for the bounce, lose their feet, recover.
I take my eye off the ball and think back
to my years running the line and before them

the long halves in mud and in sunshine.
I think back to goalmouth jostles, the high ball
floated in from the corner, the fingertip touch

round the post, over the bar, the desperate
flailing dive, the fumble that let them back
into the game, and the perfectly placed

left-footed shot in the five-a-side penalty
shoot-out that won us the shield; to my sons,
the hawk-eyed wardens of uprights, in gloves

stitched with the legend It shall not pass
who still play for the love of the game
still in progress, as Timmy places the ball

on the six yard line, steps back a few paces,
rubs his boot on the back of his sock, runs up,
and with his left foot larrups it up the field.

John Gohorry
17 March 2012


John Gohorry reading from new collection 7.30 Thursday 3 May

I’m delighted that poetry i.d. have asked me to read from and talk about my latest collection of poems at The Settlement, Nevell’s Road, Letchworth Garden City on 3 May. The collection is called ‘On the Blue Cliff’ and it consists of 100 poems based on the 100 koans of the Japanese ‘Hekiganroku’ or Blue Cliff Record. The evening is open to friends of poetry id and to interested members of the public.

Sappho returns to Letchworth 3

In the autumn of 2011, Poetry ID were approached to compose poems to celebrate the return of the statue of Sappho to Letchworth, after an absence of fourteen years. From time to time, we shall upload some of these poems. Read and enjoy!

Sappho in Letchworth

Exotic bird
who hungered
for every fruit,
you came to sing
in this Garden City.

But the reformers
had no time for song
and the men in bowlers
choked you with pipe-smoke
as they walked by.

You played your lyre
to a circle of trees.
Then the modern maenads
stole you away
and you wandered.

Colourful bird,
they say you’re coming
back to the garden.
But what will you sing
in the cold air?

Dennis Tomlinson

Sappho to Alcaeus

Wine, you advise, is the best cure
for sorrow, and also the best adjunct
to happiness. It’s true that a glass

of retsina would raise my spirits
when autumn winds shook the olives,
and when I kissed Kala, our lips often

carried the fragrance of amphorae.
But she’s gone, and it’s winter;
I can’t stand the smell of wine.

I sit tuning my lyre, brush sad songs
from my heart in a falling cadence;
now only music will do.

John Gohorry


in top hat and tails
a proper gent

she is the talk
of the salons and bars
copies of her
fetch high prices

her knickers are red
in case she forgets

before Cyrus
her island paradise
floated above the clouds
in golden blue
love was an education

the king
the accused woman
what the butler saw

Sappho as a boy
the big comeback
falling in love with a boy
onto the rocks below

Gareth Writer-Davies

Sappho returns to Letchworth 1

In the autumn of 2011, Poetry ID were approached to compose poems to celebrate the return of the statue of Sappho to Letchworth, after an absence of fourteen years. From time to time, we shall upload some of these poems. Read and enjoy!


Theft of statue of Sappho
Letchworth, 1998

in the bosom
of the night
Atthis and Anactoria
with a low loader
and a chisel

their garden in Brixton
has had a makeover
they need
a motive for their island bed

Ana and Atthi
are best mates
and can’t get over it
when they look in each others eyes
they like what they see

two blows
with the heavy hammer
breaks a nail
her mouth opens
like an oyster shell

back home
a blanket warms her cheek
the wit of drunks and schoolboys
to a little spit and polish

Atthis and Anactoria are known
as the real thing
by those in the know
their sweet secret
the song
of Sappho’s lyre

Gareth Writer-Davies

Red Bus

You are a bus driver, Aphrodite.
You drive a red bus only women can get on.
Every morning, while I am waiting at a stop,
I dream of beautiful ladies with lips
the colour of the bus.
Once I scan my Oyster card,
my eyes search for a girl
I first saw last Friday.
Whenever I long for her to glance at me,
a blue bus passes by
from the other side of the road.
That is a men-only bus.
I beg Aphrodite to abate my torment.
She winks and tells me to wait.
When I walk down to the bus stop next morning,
I find all the buses are painted red.

Yuko Minamikawa Adams

Rhodopis to Sappho

In Cairo, men paid me to dance
in a tunic painted with palm trees
and sandals laced to the knee;

they fed me the filthy script
I spoke that they took for love lines
and paid me when it was over.

But here in Lesbos you take me
unwashed, with thorns in my feet,
bruised ribs, and lice in my hair;

you anoint me with honey, speak
tender words in my ear, and your lips
touching mine, ask no payment.

John Gohorry

‘Hours’ videoverse from John Gohorry

I’ve just uploaded a videoverse called ‘Hours’ to YouTube – it has arisen out of the workshop which I led a fortnight ago. The synthesis is sparing as regards both sound and imagery in the hope of suggesting the remorseless and impersonal march of time, inside the frame of which various activities (of mine) are captured.  I originally posted a link, but for ease of access I’ve now embedded it below.

A new John Gohorry Videoverse on YouTube

My latest upload is a short celebration set in Swarthbeck Gill, on Ullswater, which I’ve been visiting for the past few years. The foot of Swarthbeck Gill features briefly, but vividly, in the film ‘Withnail and I’. You can access my poem at or follow the link on my website.