Ian Watson – The Making of

Watson LE P&W February 2024

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Live Encounters Poetry & Writing February 2024.

The Making of, poems by Ian Watson.

The Making of


Not learning to say No was his salvation;
everybody’s handyman, who never shirked
a call for help. I saw more toasters
mended than any child in Europe.
He bailed the others out, worked on Sundays
clearing trees – and worse – from the railway lines.

He was the village poster man; Gill Sans
he could do on his calligrapher’s pen.
That’s how I printed this out for him then,
the way he liked it: sans serif, no frills, hands on.
They call it People Skills was what he had:
The listener, the decider, the clown on loan
to other people’s kids.

We shared that to-and-fro between the limelight
and the quiet hours in the pottering shed.
My greenhouse is a keyboard and a screen
and signs that say Do not disturb.

Not just the eyebrows or the smile; I am heir
to his sense of Help thy Neighbour.
From him I learnt to give.


She was always the arranger:
school dinners, Cubs, appointments,
other women, flowers – him and me.
From her I have inherited a cornucopia:
the full desk diary and the chairwoman’s skills;
the sense of order that days and meetings
must have if things are to be achieved.

And though she never played the decider,
she honed the way decisions were made.
She got her way: this I have learned.
And yet this too of her: that if
there is any good at all in pain
it could be this – it slows you down.
Learning to say No was the making of her.
Hands on – but why, for a change, not someone else’s?

And yet she sat among us all there, still
arranger, calling on a basket of skills.
For months she had had that room,
that meal, those flowers in her mind.
From her I have also learned
that you have to be an expert to be kind.

Ni femme, ni ange

for Hannah
Circle and fly
circle and fly
span your wings and
circle and fly.
The circles grow
the orbits change
mi-femme, mi-ange.
The nest is here
it stays as you change
the nest is never far
the nest is ever near
it is your pad to launch
ni femme, ni ange.
Dancing into May
at fourteen: your first late night out.
I sleep. My sleep slips.


for Peter
Don’t worry; they all come down eventually 
– one way or another. The lady laughed.
Would you like a wee coffee to pass the time?
I’d watched him walk out, overly nonchalant,
to the tiny Cessna squatting on the grass;
pale he seemed with his smile and cheery wave.
Blue sky; the cumulus is fat and bedsheet white.
So, would he be above them now? And would they
churn him like those cloudy airport take-offs do?
It is now my third one from the vending machine;
the flaky bench just fifty yards from the tarmac
is beginning to play with my tiring back.
And so, I play patience once more on my phone,
glancing up to my left from time to time
to where I think they’ll make the descent.
Then straining eyes and ears and neck to grab a glimpse
of the tiny hawk approaching with its mosquito whine.

© Ian Watson

Ian Watson is originally from Belfast but lives in Bremen, Germany. He is the author of two poetry collections in English, the latest being Granny’s Interpreter (Salmon Poetry 2016); a further collection with Salmon, Somewhere, Far Away, a Radio, is forthcoming. His recent German-language non-fiction includes Spielfelder: eine Fußballmigration, on football and identity, and Bremen erlesen, a literary and cultural guide to his second-home city in Germany (both with Edition Falkenberg). He also publishes translations of poetry from and into German and English. He has worked regularly for radio and also made the film Cool to be Celtic for German and French television (arte 1999). He is a steering committee member of the Literaturhaus Bremen.

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