Tuesday Poem: “Phoenix Foundation” by Harry Ricketts

Phoenix Foundation
(for Will)

‘Ent-tnt’: that was what you used to call
an elephant. You’d say ‘I carry
you’ when you wanted to be picked up.

Each time we read that page in Peter
and Jane
where the farmer is getting
ready for work, you’d shout out ‘Boots on!’

because on walks you wore your red boots.
You had long yellow curls like Little
Lord Fauntleroy, a Leicester accent

thick and ruddy like the local cheese.
Once in the grocer’s in Stoneygate,
an old lady bent down, stroked your hair,

murmured: ‘What a very pretty boy.’
‘Fook off!’ you said, starting at your boots.
She jerked her hand away as though stung.

Years after, I see you running round
and round a room, arms flapping wildly.
You stop. ‘I can’t fly,’ you say, surprised.

But here tonight you’re standing stage right
behind your barricade of drums. Shaved
head, black singlet, sticks raised, you might be

the sorcerer’s lastest apprentice.
The guitars kick in, the blue light spins,
your hands begin to fly.

“Phoenix Foundation” appears in Harry Ricketts’s new collection, Just Then. “El Prado,” another poem from the collection has previously featured as a Tuesday Poem my blog. For me, “Phoenix Foundation” captures the tender relationship between father and son, but without reducing it to sentimentality.The son is innocent, abrasive, naive, and independent. The father is protective, proud, and inspired. I also enjoy the poem’s clever construction : the “Ent-tnt” at the start mimicking the sound of a drum hi-hat; the repetition of the child’s boots. I myself was inspired by Ricketts’s light touch.

The poem is also funny (“‘Fook off!’” yells the little boy to the old lady), and many of the poems in Just Then use humour and understatement. But the book has a lot of variety. Older poems dating back to 1975 play with form and rhyme. There are poems about poetry, reading, sex, departed friends, and boyhood. The most memorable for me were two poems about second-hand books that imagine the previous owners through the books’ inscriptions and book plates. In terms of boyhood, I’ll leave you with this snippet from “Some flotsam”:

Swearing at School

It was as though
if we said the f-
word often enough
it might come true.

The poem is reproduced with permission of the author. For other great poems check out the Tuesday Poem hub.

7 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: “Phoenix Foundation” by Harry Ricketts

  1. A very loving poem. Special the way it celebrates the boy’s take on the world and the development of his talent to fly… ‘Shaved
    head, black singlet, sticks raised, you might be the sorcerer’s lastest apprentice’.Thanks for posting this.

  2. Often poems of fathers and sons are of the son reflecting on the father. It’s good to witness the relationship from the reverse perspective. This is a beautiful poem, constructed with a quiet simplicity, yet it has depth and a tactile quality.

  3. I was privileged to hear Harry read this poem at the June NZ Poetry Society meeting – I’d already read and enjoyed it myself, but hearing him read it really brought out the percussive elements that, together with the mix of tenderness and spikiness, are what make this poem work so well. As Keith says, it’s vintage Harry!

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