John Clare: The Gipsy Camp + The Braggart

ZP_Julia and Bernie McDonagh_Irish Travellers_photographed by Alen MacWeeney in the 1960sZP_Julia and Bernie McDonagh_Irish Travellers_photographed by Alen MacWeeney in the 1960s

The Gipsy Camp


The snow falls deep; the Forest lies alone:
The boy goes hasty for his load of brakes,
Then thinks upon the fire and hurries back;
The Gipsy knocks his hands and tucks them up,
And seeks his squalid camp, half hid in snow,
Beneath the oak, which breaks away the wind,
And bushes close, with snow like hovel warm:
There stinking mutton roasts upon the coals,
And the half roasted dog squats close and rubs,
Then feels the heat too strong and goes aloof;
He watches well, but none a bit can spare,
And vainly waits the morsel thrown away:
‘Tis thus they live – a picture to the place;
A quiet, pilfering, unprotected race.


.     .     .


The Braggart


With careful step to keep his balance up
He reels on warily along the street,
Slabbering at mouth and with a staggering stoop
Mutters an angry look at all he meets.
Bumptious and vain and proud he shoulders up
And would be something if he knew but how;
To any man on earth he will not stoop
But cracks of work, of horses and of plough.
Proud of the foolish talk, the ale he quaffs,
He never heeds the insult loud that laughs:
With rosy maid he tries to joke and play,–
Who shrugs and nettles deep his pomp and pride.
And calls him ‘drunken beast’ and runs away–
King to himself and fool to all beside.



*     *     *

John Clare (1793-1864) was an English poet active mainly

in the 1830s and ’40s.   Coming from a poor rural

family in Northamptonshire, he spent most of his life as

a field hand, hired labourer, and observant vagabond.

Except for one excursion to London, where briefly he

was flavour-of-the-season – “The Peasant Poet” –

(an inaccurate, sentimental moniker) – he stuck close

to his county, covering many miles on foot, even

wandering “back home”  from Northborough Asylum

where he would spend the last twenty years of his life.

Alexander Best: Five Poems Inspired by John Clare

Alexander Best







The  beggar  keeps  his  coarse  hair  in  a  braid:

A  bell-rope  length  of  several  colours  made.

and  grey  or  sunburnt  are  his  torso’s  hues,

and  lady’s  sandals  make  the  soundest  shoes.

In  season’s  heat  he  trails  around  a  coat

Of  winter’s  weight;   he’s  pungent  as  a  goat.

His  voice  is  dumb,  his  body  fairly  hums;

He’s  like  a  monk,  avoids  the  other  bums.

His  fingers  tabulate  a  host  of  fears;

He  quivers  with  the  ringing  in  his  ears.

The  patient  few  observe  him  after  dark

and  see  he  takes  old  cig’rette  butts  apart;

and  twists  them  up  into  a  grimy  page

and  sucks  upon  the  thing  a  pleasant  age.

Beggar  he  is,  though  never  asks  a  penny.

About  his  life  are  strange  opinions  many.


.     .     .




As  summer’s  end  progresses,  so  do  they:

The  Great-Lakes  Dragonflies  at  duty  play.

By  hundreds  in  tall  grass  they  mate  and  sun

and  shimmer  in  the  sex  act  till  it’s  done.

and  some  are  luminescent,  slim  as  pins;

Enamel  drops  of  life  poise  at  their  ends.

and  male  and  female  grip — the  shape’s  a  heart;

As  if  to  silk  the  frankness  of  this  earth.

Though  Love  in  Nature’s  not  one  minor  role

—  it’s  breadth:   orchestral  movement  of  the  whole.

and  in  the  list’ning  heat  they  do  their  thing;

They  reproduce  their  kind,  to  grasses  cling.

and  mower’s  blade  ne’er  touched  this  place  all  year;

T’was  man’s  neglect  brought  gorgeous  insects  here.

Dragonflies in the middle of mating



He  lives  for  life’s  caprice  and  easy  mood,

Constructing  selves  that  seem  of  solid  good.

and  when  he  lands  a  job,  works  hard  enough,

and  loves  the  toiling  group,  the  hearty  laugh.

Then  shirks  his  people,  culprits  “buddy”,  vents;

and  frigs  off,  scores,  and  does  whate’er  he  wants.

Is  slow  to  answer  mother  overwrought

and  quick  to  anger,  should  the  lover  doubt.

Invents  some  fine  excuse —  a  reg’lar  fiend;

Can  always  trust  the  trusting,  stupid  friend.

He  squanders  all  his  gifts;  the  wallet  takes;

Then  shrills  his  hurt  when  later  brung  to  task.

Discov’ry  of  his  stealth’s  a  stunning  sting,

Oh,  loveliness  and  charm — his  very  being.

The  tether’s  end  he’ll  reach —  a  noose,  ere  long?

and  lies  and  cheats  and  still  he  carries  on…


.     .     .




I  always  fear  they’re  vanquished  till  I  hear  them…

Then,  halting  in  my  tracks,  I  know  I  love  them.

For  several  frozen  months  their  voice  is  silent

— it’s  tough,  you  see,  for  they’re  my  psychic  pilot.

In  winter’s  final  days  they  start  their  talking

And  by  their  dialogues  is  summer’s  clocking.

At  first  their  “caw”  is  bluntest  proclamation:

 We  are  the  overseers  of  tarnation.

Come  warm  spring  afternoons  and  much  of  summer,

They  speak  like  castanets  and  make  me  slumber.

With  comic  delicacy  they  “clippety-clack”

And  always  keep  their  distance,  handsome-black.

If  crows  came  close,  would  people  in  pursuit…

With  rocks  and  pellet-guns  and  steel-toe  boot.

What  is  it  ’bout  this  bird  inspires  hate?

The  proud  and  practised  crows,  black-handsome,  great,

Stand  highest  up  of  buildings,  stroll  and  call

Then  something  puts  them  silent  in  the  Fall.


.     .     .




There’s  solace  in  the  knowledge:   I  am  here;

This  open-air  “enclosure”  gives  me  scare.

Who  hacked  these  limbs,  who  hid  the  foot-shaped  paths?

I  crane  my  neck,  I  scratch  and  spit;   swear  oaths.

A  satchel’s  on  the  ground,  inside’s  a  blade;

My  Heart  is  wild,  a  poison’s  in  the  blood.

I’ve  clutched  at  straws  and  thatch,  fistfuls  of  grass;

Will  weeds  apply  to  choke  the  gap  and  gush.

And  slow  my  ’motions,  feelings  hot  run  cold.

( I  hardened  all  my  hopes  as  best  I  could. )

And  sorrow  is  the  marrow  of  my  being;

Tomorrow  is  a  narrow  road  I’m  steering.

My  love’s  a  Way  that  now  is  lost  to  me;

At  last,  the  poet  swallowed  by  his  theme…



.     .     .     .     .

Author’s note:

In these poems I have tried to look upon Man and Nature

in 21st-century urban life with the same keen eye and

sensitivity as John Clare’s poems of rural life did in the 1830s

and ’40s.

“Enclosure”, while here representing the confusing state of

doomed or hopeless love,  is also a reference to the fencing-in

of common pastures (The Enclosures), the removal of

ancient paths and the felling of old tree-groves – upheavals in

England’s countryside during The Industrial Revolution –

traumatic for Clare, who felt a deep communion with the land.

Un Sueño Diferido: Langston Hughes

ZP_Langston Hughes in 1941_portrait photograph by Gordon Parks

A Dream Deferred


What happens to a dream deferred ?
Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun ?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat ?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode ?




Un Sueño Diferido


¿Qué pasa de un sueño diferido?
¿Se marchita
como una pasa en el sol?
¿O se encona como una llaga –

y entonces corre?

¿Apesta como carne putrida?
¿O endurece y se vuelve dulce –

como un postre con jarabe?

Tal vez solo se hunda
como una carga pesada.

¿O explota?


Gracias al Super Forero de  Sevilla, España,

por su traducción al español


Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a Black-American

poet and novelist at the forefront of The Harlem

Renaissance.  Born in the small town of Joplin, Missouri,

he would later capture in his poems the vibrancy of his

adopted home  –  New York City.

Written in 1951, the minute-long  “A Dream Deferred”

is perhaps the most famous American poem of the

20th century.


Langston Hughes (1902-1967) fue un novelista y

poeta Negro,  de Los Estados Unidos.

Nació en el pueblo pequeño de

Joplin, Missouri, pero Hughes se hizo en la vanguardia

del Renacimiento de Harlem.  Abarcan sus poemas la

vitalidad y la urgencia de su ciudad adoptiva

– Nueva York.

“Un Sueño Diferido” (escrito en 1951)  es,  quizás,

el poema de Los Estados Unidos el más famoso del siglo XX.

“Soledad” por Robert Hayden

Miles Davis' vinyl record album released in 1959_Kind of Blue. The track Flamenco Sketches was on side 2.


Robert Hayden



Naked he lies in the blinded room,

chain-smoking, cradled by drugs, by jazz,

as never by any lover’s cradling flesh.

Miles Davis coolly blows for him,

oh pena negra *, sensual flamenco blues!

The redclay foxfire voice of Lady Day,

Lady of the pure black magnolias,

sobsings her sorrow and loss and fare ye well,

dryweeps the pain his treacherous jailors have

released him from for a while.

His fears and his unfinished self await him

down in the anywhere streets.

He hides on the dark side of the moon,

takes refuge in a stainedglass cell,

flees to a caulkless country of crystal.

Only the ghost of Lady Day

knows where he is,  only the music,  and he

swings those swings beyond

complete immortal now.




* pena negra  –  black   sorrow/struggle


.     .     .


Robert Hayden




Él, desnudo, está tendido en el cuarto con persianas,

fumando cigarillos, uno tras otro, acunado por la droga,

por el Jazz, como nunca por la piel de ningún amante.

Miles Davis* “toca” frescamente por él, ¡ay, pena negra, el

blues flamenco-sensual!

La voz arcilla-rojo – fuego-zorro, de Lady Day**,

Dama de las magnolias puras-negras,

solloza-canta su dolor y pérdida y


seca-llora la pena de cuál cosa

él está liberado por sus carceleros traicioneros.

Sus miedos y su ser incompleto

le esperan bajo en las calles de alguna parte.

Se esconde en el lado oscuro de la luna,

busca un refugio en una celda de cristal de colores,

huye a un país cristalino.

Solo sabe donde  él  está el espíritu de Lady Day,

solo sabe la música, y él

columpia el columpio,

danza el “swing”

más allá de

Ahora inmortal-total.




* Miles Davis:  Trompetista negro-americano del jazz “cool”

** Lady Day:  Billie Holiday – Cantante negra-americana del jazz, blues y pop

Traducción al español:  Alexander Best



Robert Hayden (1913-1980) was a Black-American poet

born in Detroit.  His first book,  Heart-Shape in the Dust,

from 1940,  is based on life in the “Paradise Valley” slum.

In 1944 he joined Fisk College where he taught for more

than twenty years as professor of English,  followed by

a decade at University of Michigan.

Hayden’s 1971 poem, “Soledad” (Loneliness, Solitude), is

about a friend – and drug addiction.

Frederick Ward – on Africville

ZP_Young boy with, in the background, Ralph Jones' house boarded up for demolition_Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada_1965_photo by Bob Brooks

Dialogue # 3:  Old Man (to the Squatter)


– Listen here, son.  Did you think this were gonna work ?

Were you fool enough to think this were gonna work ?

They ain’t gonna let us put nothing up like that and

leave it.  They don’t intend to let us git it back.  You

ain’t a place.  Africville is us.  When we go to git a

job, what they ask us ?  Where we from … and if we say

we from Africville, we are Africville !  And we don’t git

no job.  It ain’t no place, son.  It were their purpose to

git rid of us and you believed they done it – could do it !

You think they destroyed something.  They ain’t.  They

took away the place.  But it come’d round, though.  Now that

culture come’d round.  They don’t just go out there and

find anybody to talk about Africville, they run find us,

show us off – them that’ll still talk, cause we Africville.


That ain’t the purpose …fer

whilst your edifice is forgone destroyed, its splinters

will cry out:  We still here !   Think on it, son.  You effort

will infix hope in the heart of every peoples.  Yet,

let’s see this thing clearer.  If our folk see you in the

suit, we may git the idea we can wear it.  The suit might

fall apart, but, son, it be of no notice.  We need the

example.  Now go back …and put you dwelling up again.




Frederick Ward has been described as “the most

undeservedly unsung poet in all of English-Canadian

literature” (Arc Poetry Magazine).

Born in 1937 in Kansas City, Missouri, the Black-American Ward

came to Canada in 1970 – just passing through Halifax – and

ended up staying. There he me met Black Nova Scotians recently

turfed out of their old community – Africville – which was

bulldozed by the city to make way for a dumpsite.  Their stories

became the basis of his 1974 novel, Riverlisp: Black Memories.

The poem above is from Ward’s 1983 poetry collection,

The Curing Berry.

Ward now lives in Montreal where he is a theatre teacher at

Dawson College.


Photograph:  Young boy with, in the background, Ralph Jones’ house boarded up for demolition

(Africville, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada – photo by Bob Brooks – year: 1965)

¡ Xoloitzcuintle soy !


¡ Xoloitzcuintle soy !

Xoloitzcuintle am I !

The Original Dog of The Americas


The Royal Dog of the Aztecs !

I am famed for my smooth skin,  my energy,

a playful mind and affectionate nature.

I have lasted to this day…


No other animal has stood – sunburnt –

atop the temple of Teotihuacán.

I have quivered beside immense, reclining Chac-Mool,

when his belly-bowl was full of fresh blood.

I have splashed in Xochimilco with royal maidens;

I have floated in salty Zumpango with wrinkled old priests.


I have tried to snatch the gold pellets tossed by my Master

when He plays patolli;   I have leapt for the ball

when it bounces off the buttocks of nobles engaged in

games of tlachtli.


I have licked the copal-xocotl from His divine ankles,

when Moctezuma emerged from His temazcal;

I have nuzzled His armpits inside His bed-chamber,

wearing my collar of quetzal plumes.


I have pricked my paws on metl thorns,

trying to sniff out chinicuiles to eat;  singed them

while stealing tlaxcalli off the comal.

I have lapped up pulque from my Master’s cup

– wobbled then fell down;  been bitten by nimble Coyote.


I have suckled pups at my own teats;

and my seed has reached the womb of

The Royal Bitch (La Perra Real).


¡ Soy Xoloitzcuintle !

For centuries I throve at the pinnacle.

I am the youthful spirit of the ancient world,

and though the centre has shifted,

neither do I dance at the periphery…

Escúchame – whoever you may be –

Let me teach you to live in the modern world…





Italicized words are in the Náhuatl (Aztec) language:


Xoloitzcuintle  –  lean, hairless dog, native to Mexico

– in Aztec religion, a gift to mankind from the god Xolotl

to guide the dead on the journey to the AfterLife.

“Xolos” were much-loved companion dogs, but

some were raised separately and plumpened

to be served at Aztec banquets.

patolli  –  board game involving gambling, played by the

Aztecs and the Mayans


tlachtli  –  skilful ballgame played on a stone court where

players bounce a natural-rubber ball weighing at least

5 lbs. (invention of the Olmec people) off their hips or

rear-ends – it is still played in the 21st century


copal-xocotl   –  the plant ‘saponaria americana’, the

root of which provided a sudsy soap


temazcal  –   stone sauna bath, often the size of a small house


quetzal  –  forest bird of Central America and Mexico, with

iridescent green (or green-gold) feathers


chinicuiles  –  highly-nutritious edible caterpillars

(still eaten in Mexico) that infest metl plants


tlaxcalli  –  flat maize bread, a daily staple of the Aztecs and

Mayans,  still eaten in Mexico and called by its Spanish

name, ” tortilla ”


metl  (maguey or agave)  –  Mexican plant of the “succulent”

family, used in the making of both pulque and tequila


comal   –  clay earthenware griddle placed over an open fire

– in use to this day – there is also a cast-iron skillet-like

version for the modern kitchen


pulque  –  milk-like alcoholic drink derived from fermented

sap of the metl plant – a ritual beverage of the Aztec

nobility and later a popular drink of the Mexican masses

Grito (para México)


Grito  (para México)

Del tingo al tango
ha pasado el tiempo del
trastorno, de la
trácala, de los
tiliches tilingos.

Ay, ay, ay, ay…¡Cantemos, no lloremos!

Ha pasado el tiempo del
miedo enojado, del
enojo temeroso – y del
odio (ese lagartijo guapísimo).

Ha hablado la lengua de las lágrimas

– ¡qué logro, esa lucidez del korazón! –

pero ha terminado también su tiempo.

¡Kantemos, no lloremos!

Saboréen todos los kolores:
del tomate, camote, mazorca de elote;
pulque con chile, canela para chocolate.


Norteños chicharrones,

Indios con pelo pintado de güero,

Bonitas con chongos largos negros,

Chilangos kool,

Mujeres machas,

Bandoleros cachondos,

Gringos de ojos grises :

Los xocoyotes les miran a ustedes…

– entonces, ¡ sean sinceros, todos !

¡Kantemos, no lloremos!

Y pronto
podremos contemplar en nuestra cara,
por fin,
la prueba del tornasol – Esperanza.

A esta Vida digo:

¡ Viva,  Viva,  Viva !




I  Shout

(for México)


From pillar to post

there’s been the time of

disorder – confusion,

fraud – the bullshit artist

– silly junk.


Oh me, oh my…Let us sing – not cry !


There’s been the time of

angry fear,

fearful wrath – and

hate  (that most handsome lizard).

The tongue of tears has spoken

– such an achievement, that clarity of heart ! –

but even its time has passed.


Let us sing – not cry !


Savour all the colours:

tomato, sweet potato, cobs of corn;

maguey-liquor with chile, cinnamon for cocoa.


sunburnt norteño hicks,

bleached-blond Natives,

pretty girls with long black braids,

hipsters from the Capital,



grey-eyed gringos :

The youngest kids are watching…

– so, all of you be sincere !


Let us sing – not cry !


And soon

we’ll be able to behold on our face,

at last,

the litmus test – that sunflower Hope.

To this Life I say:

Long live you, Long live you, Long may you live !


Children’s Rhymes / Cánticos de la Niñez


Doggy, doggy, who’s got your bone ?

Somebody stole it from your home.

Guess who ?  Maybe You !

Maybe the Man in the Moon – with the Spoon !


Perrito mío, ¿dónde está tu hueso?

Alguien de tu casa se lo llevó.

¿Adivina quién?  ¡Tal vez Tú!

¡Tal vez el Hombre por la Luna – con la Cuchara!


There was an old woman
lived under a hill,
and if she’s not gone,
she lives there still.


Una viejecita bajo la colina vivía,

Y si no se ha mudado, allí mora todavía.


Three wise men of Gotham
went to sea in a bowl

– if  the bowl had been stronger
my song had been longer.


Tres hombres sabios de Gotham

se fueron a la mar en un plato

– si el plato hubiera sido más fuerte

mi canción se alargaría para rato.


Luna, luna, dame pan

Para mi perrito Capitán!

Si no me das – ¡vete al volcán!


Give bread to my doggy Captain,  Moon-o!

Won’t give me none ?  Go jump in a volcano !


Mi mamá es una Rosa,

Mi papá es un Clavel,

Yo soy un Botoncito,

Acabado de nacer.


My mummy is a Rose,

A Carnation is my dad,

And I’m the little Bud

That they just had !


Sticks and stones may break my bones

– but words will never hurt me.


Palos y piedras me pueden quebrar

– pero las palabras necias no me van a dañar.


For every Evil under the sun

there is a remedy – or there is none.

If there be one, try to find it

– if there be none, never mind it.


Para cada Mal bajo el sol

hay una cura – o no hay alguna.

Si la hay, trata de encontrarla

– si no, ya ni procura.


By:  Anonymous authors

Por:  Autores anónimos, autoras anónimas

Traducciones del inglés al español por Lidia García Garay

Translations from Spanish into English by Alexander Best



And here’s one more…

Y hay uno más…


Give us a place to stand – and a place to grow,

And call this land:  ONTARIO – OH – OH !

A place to “stand” – a place to “go”,

ON – TARI – ARI – piss – pot – hole !


!Dennos un lugar para pararse – y un lugar para crecer,

Y llamen este país:  ¡ONTARIO – O – O!

Un lugar para “pararse”, un lugar para “ir”,

¡ON – TARI – ARI – basinica – para – mear!

_   _   _   _   _

“A Place to Stand”

was the unofficial anthem of the

province of Ontario – during the

nation of Canada’s “Confederation” year


Instantly, the lyrics were altered by

naughty little boys across the country…


“Un lugar para pararse”

fue el himno (no oficial) de la provincia de

Ontario – en el año del centenario de

la nación de Canada (1967).

Al instante, la canción era satirizado

por pilcates pícaros…

Armand Garnet Ruffo: “En el Lago de Titicaca”

ZP_Los Uros_Lago de Titicaca_foto por SaidSeni_2009

Armand Garnet Ruffo

“On  Lake  Titicaca”


Between Bolivia and Peru I forget who I am
and the guides continue to keep course. Here
the waves against the boat and the old man
braced against the tiller are important.
I turn and look directly
at him. Not a word parts his lips
and I think of the depth of the lake
the elixir of rhythm tradition.

We are out past the reed islands
past the fishermen
the birds
out among one another inside
a path deep and blue as a prayer.

The old man’s companion decked out in bright wool
cap and sweater fiddles with an old oily motor
he somehow keeps going. Like the old man
his Indian life is carved into his face
and defines his presence and like the old man he knows
he is taking me somewhere I have never been
past everything except ourselves
on this water       under this sky.


.     .     .


Armand Garnet Ruffo

“En el Lago de Titicaca”


Entre Bolivia y el Perú olvido quien soy

y siguen manteniendo el rumbo los guías.  Aquí

son importantes las ondas contra el barco y

el viejo hombre apoyado en la caña del timón.

Me vuelvo y miro directamente

a él.  Ninguna palabra separa sus labios

y pienso en la profundidad del lago,

el elixir de la tradición del ritmo.

Estamos afuera y más allá de las islas de junco,

más allá de los pescadores,

los pájaros,

afuera entre uno y otro dentro de

una senda profunda y azúl como una oración.

El compañero del viejo hombre,

que está adornado con cachucha y chompa de lana de colores muy vivos,

juguetea con un motor antiguo y oleaginoso

y de algún modo continua en marcha.  Como el viejo hombre,

su vida india está tallada en su cara

y define su presencia y como el viejo hombre él sabe también que

me está llevando adonde nunca he ido

más allá de todo salvo de nosotros mismos

sobre esta agua            bajo de este cielo.



Traducción al español por Alexander Best


.     .     .

Armand Garnet Ruffo (born 1955) is Ojibwe, from Chapleau, Ontario.

A professor at Carleton University, he teaches creative writing and Native literature.

He has just completed a biography of Norval Morrisseau – “Man Changing into Thunderbird”.

The poem above is from his first collection, Opening In The Sky (Theytus Books, 1994).

.     .     .     .     .