All Hallows

Crossing the midlands –
the great bog bowl –
in autumn – (dull sky
stretching away,
grey road curving
beneath us, still
miles to go) –
we saw a priest,
(two altar boys
trailing behind) –
blessing the cemetery.

For a moment, we watched,

There were no pumpkins
or howling ghosts,
no painted skulls,
or dancing witches,
so it took us a moment
to remember the day
that was in it.

We drove on.

We left nothing,
just a wide sky,
and empty road,
a man with his hand raised,
and two boys,
silent behind him.

This is for Sabio’s Billy Collins exploration.
If you want further details, you should head over to his site and have a look.

I have tried to incorporate some “Billy Collins” traits. I think it’s accessible, and conversational, and easy to understand. I think it does end in a slightly mysterious way. It’s first person, observational. The title tells you what it is. I don’t think I’ve done the background/foreground thing that Sabio discusses. Anyhow, it’s there for feedback, and I think the plan is that I edit and improve according to the feedback I get. That’s quite exciting for me.

This is the update following Sabio’s comments.


We were driving across Ireland,
across the midlands,
where the land makes a great bowl
under the wide sky,
a bog bowl.

There was nothing much to see,
the brown land,
grey sky, and greyer road.

Coming round a bend, we saw
a priest, blessing the graves
in a small cemetery.
Two altar boys stood back a little,
looking cold and serious.

For a moment we couldn’t work it out,
and then remembered that we had left the city
draped in fake cobwebs,
plump pumpkins grinning on every porch,
plastic skulls on gate posts,
bats stuck flat on front room windows.

“All Hallows”, we said,
remembering the day that was in it,
as they say,

and then swept on, round the curve,
leaving them behind,
two boys,
a man with hand upraised,
under an empty sky.



7 thoughts on “All Hallows

  1. Hi Sarah — thanks for participation.
    Remember, I am a common, non-literary-elite reader,
    so weigh my feedback appropriately.

    I liked your Valet title (a Billy trait), helping the reader. Many writers keep it all a mystery so you almost have to read their poem three or four times. “All Hallows” takes us right there and says “Welcome, we won’t try to hide anything from you.” I am not sure, where you are, however, and that seems important to the poem — but I’d guess it is the English midlands also called “the bog bowl”?

    Your phrase “to remember the day that was in it.” I can’t understand what “it” is. How about “what day it was”???

    So I like the poem, but wondering why no “all hallows” signs where you are now.
    But I really like the structure.


    • Thanks for the feedback, Sabio. It was actually set in Ireland, where the midlands are very flat and boggy. “The day that was in it” is a very Irish expression, just meaning “Which day it was”. I was trying to get an Irish flavour to it, without being explicit, which is probably quite unfair to a reader who doesn’t understand that culture and those idioms.

      I don’t always write about actual experiences, but this was one – we were driving across Ireland, and suddenly saw this little vignette, and couldn’t work out what was happening for a moment. It seemed a million miles from the plastic pumpkins and trick-or-treating we had seen in the city. I was trying to get across that disconnect between the religious aspect of Halloween, and the commercial one. All Hallows isn’t a name I would normally use in England, it’s another Irish-ism.

      I like this poem. I’m going to keep it, but I am also going to do a parallel piece of work in response to your comments, just to see where we end up. I think it’s an interesting exercise.

      It’s also interesting to think about the “mechanics” of poetry, if you like to call it that. I normally read a poem, and think “I like that” or “that’s rubbish” but don’t think much more deeply than that. I have no real training in literary analysis, unless you count an O level 25 years ago. I had to ask my daughter what enjambment was…! So it’s a nice challenge to be thinking about what works and what doesn’t.

      My general impression on most poetry sites is that if someone comments on structure, or technique, it’s an OK poem, but mostly people are just nice.


  2. I like the original slightly better than the re-write, although the re-write is more “Billy-like”. Yes, you open up the description to make it more accessible, but the more conversational tone loses some of the sparseness of the original, which I liked in context/color. In theory, could just have been “crossing the Irish midlands” and solved the question of where you were for the general reader. That said, just my preference, both versions are perfectly fine.

    The small observation that points to a larger narrative worked well. Like you, I don’t generally write from that kind of detail, so it has been an interesting experiment. And the contrast of Halloween in the city vs. All Hallow’s in the countryside is very interesting. You leave us with a provocative image!


  3. Concerning your recent edition:
    Much more clear with a fun poetic ending.
    As Collin’s works, it is conversational
    and accessible.

    Questions on the new version:
    What city did you leave behind? Was it an Irish City where you saw all the halloween stuff? What it your home in England?
    When you said, “For a moment we couldn’t work it out,” – What couldn’t your work out?

    For me the “All Hallows” verse with the Irish English is a stumbler — since neither me, nor most readers will know what it means.

    I like your structure:
    Practical observation –> Odd scene –> puzzlement –> contrast and then final stanza just leaving alone.

    I wonder about a more Valet Title like:

    All Hallows vacation in Ireland

    then: We were driving across the midlands,
    where …

    I enjoyed Qbits thoughts too.


  4. My poem is up, would love it if you took a look, and at my note on the Billy page. Pretend that you are reading Billy poems, and this one is next. How close/far smooth/jarring is it? and why. (If you have the interest, LOL!)


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