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Flying School

Flying School Book Cover, author Robert Saxton

Flying School is a book of beautifully crafted poems about the contrivances by which we attempt to enrich or repair our lives. One dominant image is flight and, more specifically, parachutes – reflecting an aspiration to come to terms with our hardest challenges, including the reality of death. The book ends with a series of elegies for the poet’s father, unflinching in their grief-stricken gaze.

Poems about painters musing on their art and subversive pastorals on our loss of biodiversity extend Saxton’s focus into new areas. There are dramatic monologues too – a returning cosmonaut; a Polynesian ambassador in Venice; a young man who falls for a girl in the American ‘Neverglades’. Recurrent subjects include love savoured, compromised or lost; identity, being and nothingness; and faith and unbelief.

In this dazzlingly various collection, plain-spoken storytelling is set against more oblique or lyrical voices, while sonnets, sestinas, villanelles and ‘triplets’ (juxtaposing conventional and consonantal rhyme) offer the pleasures of accomplished form. The common factor is a vividly observed aliveness, often inflected with wit. Saxton has conjured a teeming world of phenomena, ideas and emotions that never fails to surprise, as well as entertain or move.

You can purchase a copy of Flying School via the Shearsman Books website.

An asterisk indicates poems published in their entirety below.

The Chinese Wheelbarrow
Wandering Aengus*
Shakespeare & Co.
Taking to the Air
The Sacrifice

Aerial Flowers 

The Cosmonaut’s Free Holiday

Farmyard Serenade* 

The Midnight Summons
October Hornpipe
Venetian Nights


Consolation Prize
Lacuna, Lacuna
Constellation Street
The Road Not Taken
Preset Image Valentine
Overnight Guest

Air and Angels
The Goldfinch 

Air and Angels 

The Silent Collection 

Sarah Tubb and the Heavenly Visitors
At Cookham Regatta
Jimson Weed

World’s End
Other Than What One Is*
Zoo Party

Vienna Consultation
The Golden Scarab
The Crossroads Tree
Top Withens 

The Wink
Revenant at a Wedding
Intrepid Retirement Journal
Roxanne’s Jeu d’esprit 

The Inspection Cover 

The Signature 

Faith and Truth 

The Tlaloc Supremacy

World’s End*
The Meeting of Land and Sky
The Immortality Show

J’ay perdu ma tourterelle
The Tree Cartoon 

In Wainwright’s Footsteps
The Poacher Who Came to Our School*
The Chicken of Tomorrow

The Secret Shire
The Big Zero

The Driving Test
Wild Flower Refuge
The Secret Shire
New Year in Provence
The Wallington Quails*
The Casket
The Scattering
End Piece


In the unpolluted Ireland of white moths,
those uncommercial samples of the stars,

a weary rag-and-bone man trotting home

with all those wretched tossed-out rags and pans
hears ribald tales drifting from shadowy bars.

He’s heard them all before: the one about
the monk whose mistress was another monk
whose cowl and vow of silence kept them safe;
the one about the skeleton stalking souls
kicked out of pubs, penniless or blind drunk;

the one about a love-struck Englishman

in Limerick who spent a fool’s fortune
on a clockwork egg that couldn’t tell the time

for the Taoiseach’s wife, for what? – worm-eaten
apples, the bollocks of a clapped-out moon.

after Propertius

Midnight – I ask you! What a time to receive
a letter from my mistress insisting I leave

right away and hasten to her in Tivoli!

I thought of those twin towers commanding me,

that hint of bliss embodied in bare white hills,
the Anio’s waters tumbling to placid pools.

What should I do? Venture into the night
trusting its dark disguise to spare my throat

from an attacker’s knife? If I disobeyed,
my fate would be worse than being waylaid

by some ruthless brigand. Displeasing her
brought me banishment once for a whole year,

with loss of her company, not just her bed.

She’d be quick to push me down among the dead.


Besides, lovers are holy, their wanderings charmed.
They can stroll among highwaymen unharmed.

To a lover who braves the Scythian wilderness
even barbarian nomads show largesse.

Moon and stars anoint us with their mystic gleam;
Cupid by torchlight guides us towards our dream.

Hostile guard dogs, catching a stranger’s whiff
as he walks by a homestead, soon lay off

making their furious racket behind the fence:
they’re hushed by love’s disarming ambience.

Even in areas prone to opportunist crimes
we lovers may roam in safety at all times.

With such thin blood no felon would stain his shirt.
Venus herself shields locked-out souls from hurt.


And if this trip ends in quietus anyway,
that’s a price, I know, I’ll be content to pay.

She’ll bring me perfumes and deck my headstone
with garlands, keeping vigil, in tears, alone.

May the gods forbid she’ll lay my bones anywhere
too crowded, like next to a main thoroughfare

thronged with a vulgar, chattering multitude
stepping in dog poo and discarded food.

Such lovers’ graves get desecrated, even

while raising their first flowery prayers to heaven.

So bury me in some lonely, leafy copse
or on a distant shore where no boat stops,

in a bar of sand where crabs and waders play.
I’d hate to be a name on the public highway.


High in the sky and in my head

that long-lost, much-missed flight of song
replayed your tenderness in bed,

copious and vigorous above,

hovering, teasing, sweet and long –
the gift and given of your love,

which like the skylark folded up
within itself its own farewell,
so passionate that even hope

required no landing in its voice,
before the shock of silence fell,
continuous, like we had no choice.



One couldn’t really be anything
other than exactly what one is –
a tramp, a refugee, a king;

a Chen, a Salvador, a Liz.

Just imagine if one were, say,
Donald Trump by an accident

of birth, winning over black and gay
voters in the bid to be President;

or Melania, his beautiful wife –
jewellery and skincare entrepreneur,
philanthropist, sharp as a knife,
America’s best depression cure.

The thing is, these good folk exist,

and if one could become one –

Don, Mel, anyone on one’s wish list –
what would have changed under the sun?

Don would be Don, as he is now;

Mel would be Mel, with all her bling.
But they’d be also you somehow.

And the one you were would be nothing.



I fuel the flesh, I launch the bone.
Frost on the runway glistens white.
The spirit grounds me like a stone.

The north wind howls its monotone,
the final call for the final flight.

I fuel the flesh, I launch the bone.

The nights are long, the days are done,
the hours crammed in their locker, tight.
The spirit grounds me like a stone.

Memories shed witnesses. Alone

I chart their course, in flickering light.
I fuel the flesh, I launch the bone.

My longings brighten those long gone,
like rescue flares in the savage night.
The spirit grounds me like a stone.

Darkness blinds, like something shone.
Storm clouds beckon, lightning-bright.
I fuel the flesh, I launch the bone.

The spirit grounds me like a stone.



A teacher brought a poacher in one day
   to talk to our class.
More than one parent had been heard to say
we town kids lived inside a tower of glass.

We didn’t even understand that cheese
comes from milk, bacon from pigs, trout from special
underwater farms. Would a poacher’s expertise
on rural matters really be that useful
to us? Well, yes, according to our teacher –
though the urge to shock was his defining feature.

So there in his tatty old camouflaged coat
    a hobbit stood
by the teacher’s desk, fondling a tame stoat

in his arms. All about his livelihood

we learned – how he slipped rabbits and eels to the poor
to mitigate the greed of the estate;

how at Christmas, as if in the Great War,
he and the gamekeeper fixed a football date,

each playing with his two sons to form a team.

The trophy was a brace of freshwater bream.

Two decades later, working in the City,
    I met the old Squire
himself – we sat on the board of the same charity.
‘That poacher, helping to fight a moorland fire,
perished,’ he said, ‘after many terrible years.
We pulled his way of life from beneath his feet.
Subsidised to farm for wealth, we pioneers
laid waste to trees, hedgerows, flowers. The élite
got richer; the nature we cared for shrank.
With nowhere to hide any more, the poacher drank.

‘I tracked him down once. His wife referred me
    to The Green Man,’
the Squire went on. ‘Slumped in a sunken settee,
he listened to my own tales of woe – my plan
was to cheer him up by showing another side

of farming life. The interminable red tape!
Computer spreadsheets that make you goggle-eyed.
The view from the folly of glaring yellow rape.
We swapped our sob stories all afternoon.
Losing a poacher is like losing the moon.’



A copy of the Imari originals, complete with box
but lacking the explanatory leaflet

These birds embellished Dad’s bay window shelf.
Deflecting the suggestion my second cousin,
much removed, in mourning for her half-sister,
might cherish them, I earmarked them for myself.

Gifts most to the giver’s taste come back again
with the unthinkable – fate being a karmic jester.
Each of the pair is a lidded pot the size
of a fist, white plumage splattered with black;

above the red bill a tentative red crest.
They look like ptarmigans starting their disguise,
retreating with the moult of breeding finery back
to wintry white, soon to be totally lost

to predatory eyes in fold upon fold of snow
on the Cairngorms’ vast phantasmal meadow.

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