NORTHERN STYLE- on bereavement

This article is the next in my Northern poetry series. I’ve mentioned and presented the work of Tony Walsh and Tony Harrison before. It is these two Poets whose Art I have chosen again to illustrate the Northern style. I’ve chosen the subject of bereavement, loss of a loved one and I have done so because like love, it is a subject of high emotion, something easily accessible to the poet.

Countless greats have been written such as C Rossetti’s ‘Remember’ or Auden’s ‘Stop all the clocks’, these are beautiful, poignant and moving pieces. But the Northern style is often vernacular, from the streets and dales, using the everyday language of the area the Poet is from, often with humour so how well do such poems deal with the subject of bereavement ?

In my opinion, outstandingly well, in completely unique way. They seem to draw the reader to the sense of loss in a much more intimate and personal way, the very ‘ordinariness’ of the verse is compelling in a way more extrovert descriptive styles fail to achieve. I could waffle on for pages but of course it is as always only my opinion.

Therefore it is best that I leave you to read the following and form your own opinion.



by Tony Harrison

Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.

You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.

He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.

I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.



by Tony Harrison

Capless, conscious of the cold patch on my head

where my father’s genes have made me almost bald,

I walk along the street where he dropped dead,

my hair cut his length now, although I’m called

poet now in my passport.

When it touched my ears he dubbed me Paganini

and it hurt.

I did then, and do now, choke back the tears

Wi’ airlike that you ought to wear a skirt !

If I’d got a violin for every day he said

Weer’s thi fiddle ?

at my flowing hair, I’d have a whole string

orchestra to play romantic background as

once more, I’m there, where we went for

our fortnightly clip. Now under new,

less shearing, ownership and in the end

it’s that, that makes me cry.




by Tony Walsh

She knew she’d miss his hollow, in the sofa where they sat.

And his rattle. And his whistle, tap and hum.

But she never thought she’d miss the way he’d fart and blame the cat

or his love poem to Carol Vorderman’s bum.

She knew that she would miss him fixing everything, well nearly.

And his blazing, scathing raving at the box.

But she never thought she’d miss the way his eyes speak so


or his big toe peeping through those bloody socks.

She knew that she would miss the solid warmth of him in bed.

And the bonds and vows and promises they shared.

But she never thought she’d miss the way a map or A-Z,

would always lead to world war three declared.

She knew that she would miss the mirrored hearts drawn in steam

and the way they seemed to ghost back, every day.

But she never thought she’d miss the crumbs of Death by Custard


Or the duvet’s smooth manoeuvring his way.

She knew she’d miss his prickled kiss; the man before he’d shaved

re-born as baby-soft, and smooth, and clean.

But she never thought she’d miss the woe betide mark when he bathed,

or his fairy tales of princesses and queens.

She knew she’d the way he’d hold her ‘til first light

‘I know’ he’d say, ‘I know, I know, I know.’

But she never thought she’d miss him smoking, lonely in the night,

in the spare room with their heirlooms, kept just so.

She knew she’d miss the way he’d cook for two – on Christmas Day,

Their hopes afloat in toasts of blood red booze.

But she never thought she’d miss his soft Amen when they would pray

with their eyes closed tight to hide their baby blues.

She knew she’d miss her young man, always strong and free and wild,

how he’d take her, her expectant girlish screams.

But she never thought she’d miss him, as an old man, like a child,

who’d mistake her

for the daughter

of their dreams.

5 thoughts on “NORTHERN STYLE- on bereavement

  1. I love this Northern poetry series, Nige ! It’s broadened my reading and given me a greater appreciation for new, or rather new-to-me poets/styles, and I embrace it whole heartedly, so for that thank you for sharing these. ‘Remember’ and ‘Stop all the Clocks’ are truly beautiful pieces. And you’re right, the subject of bereavement brings such high emotion. I’ve dipped into my copy of Harrison’s Collected Poems and enjoyed reading these here. The three you’ve chosen are all excellent. Long Distance II is so poignant, so achingly beautiful. We all grieve in our own way. Love the humor in the other two, how when reading the words, we feel that’s exactly how loss is; a deep, painful ache down to a person’s very core but hopefully there’s also a smile when remembering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank You for such a detailed comment Colleen, I suppose it’s because of my background but I feel great affinity with this style. It is so ordinary and therefore accessible yet manges to create in the reader everything a poem should – and that is clever !

      Liked by 1 person

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