The Sailors of Ulm

The Sailors of Ulm Price: £10

ISBN: 9781912524488

The Sailors of Ulm is a book about flying and falling, sailing and drowning. Andy Croft puts out to sea with a faithful crew of ignoble comrades, including Paul Robeson, John Berger, Chris Hani, Lord Byron, Martín Espada, Squire Allworthy, Alexei Leonov, Harry Patch and Brian Clough. But the wind has turned, the ship of Progress is heading towards the rocks and the rats are cheering on the quayside. It’s a collection of fables and tall tales – about spiders ands flies, sheep and goats, frogs and mice, a cockroach, a bear, a blue cat and some blooming flowers. Above all, it’s a book about writing and reading, art and society and the gnawing criticism of the mice. A user’s manual for swimming against the tide.


The Sailors of Ulm
for Tim

Put out to sea, my broken comrades,
Unfurl the torn and tattered hearts
Tattooed upon our fading colours,
For though the seas have all run dry
And our boats burned, and all our charts
Forgot, we’ll get there by and by.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades,
The tide has turned, all hands on deck,
Let all who sail this lunar ocean
Recall the faithful crew who drowned
Inside the bleached whale of our wreck
When, rudderless, we run aground.

Don’t rock the boat, ignoble comrades,
Or we might end up in the drink.
Our course is set. On the horizon
The sun is setting. On the quay
The rats are cheering as we sink
Beneath the sands. We’re all at sea.

A Blessed Plot
‘In the great bee crisis, it is impossible not to see the metaphor.’
Boris Johnson

As usual the flowers were complaining
About their blooming lot –
In Winter it was always raining,
The Summers were too hot,
The hedge too high;
The shrubbery and rose-beds needed weeding,
The edges cutting back,
The mossy lawn required reseeding,
The black-flies were too black,
The soil too dry.

But nothing bugged these flowers like the spectre
Of swarms of honey-bees
Who helped themselves to English nectar
And never once said please.
‘Those striped marauders!’
‘It’s time we told the bees that we don’t need ’em!’
And so they took a poll
And talked about the blossoming of freedom
Once they’d won back control
Of their own borders.

Next morning when the honey-bees clocked on
The flowers hid their faces,
Until the busy bees had gone
To find more friendly places
Than this sad grot.
Which now is left a bolted, blighted spot
Of rust and smut and weed,
A wilderness of inky blot,
A garden gone to seed
And left to rot.


The earth’s the fruit of all our labours
  While Eve still spins and Adam delves,
And those who do not like their neighbours
  Must learn to go and fuck themselves.

A Willimantic Fable

for Jon, Denise, Miles and Kit

after Dick Wilbur

There’s none who heard that cry of midnight dread
  And infinite dismay
Could doubt that it was sent to wake the dead
    On Judgement Day.
  The warm New England air
Seemed swollen by a strange inhuman wail,
The feral song of things unknown, out there,
    Beyond the pale.
And as we listened to the murderous drumming
  Of savage, frenzied revels,
We knew it was an Indian army coming.
    Or else the Devil’s.

  In every horrid groan
We saw our children dead, our farms in flames,
In every cry of bullet, blood and bone
    We heard our names.

Some fell upon the Mercy of the Lord
  To lead us through the night,
While others, armed with pitchfork, gun and sword,
    Prepared to fight.

  The dogs began to bark,
Our army readied for the first attack,
The bravest started shooting in the dark.
    But none fired back.

We watched all night. But when the stars were fled
  And day lit up the roads,
We saw no foreign army, but instead
    A host of toads.

  The alien sound of slaughter
Of savage judgement from the world beyond,
Was just some bullfrogs singing by the water
    In Windham pond.

Of all the leaping terrors that draw near
  When we are in our beds
The greatest are the fears we hear
    Inside our heads.

The splendid heroes of the night
  Are fools in day’s disgrace,
And our own fears the only fight
    We need to face.

The Sheep and the Goats

‘So why refuse a vote to wolves of good repute?’
Ivan Krylov

Behold – a happy, sylvan scene
Of meadows wild and tall,
Of thistles sharp and nettles green;
A well-fenced park
With grass enough for all;
Where goats and sheep could sleep at night
Far from the horrid tale
Of burning eyes and teeth that bite
In forests dark,
Out there beyond the pale.

Though there was field enough to share,
The fold was fouled, alas,
By ruminants who filled the air
With woolly bleating
About who owned the grass.
Each day the rivalry increased
Between the sheep and goats,
Who, thinking they were being fleeced,
Instead of eating
Were at each other’s throats.

But then one night when all were sleeping
Behind the high-walled dyke,
A hungry silhouette came creeping
With dreams of hay
For sheep and goats alike;
It offered them both bigger shares
Of Nature’s green estate,
And promised them it would be theirs
If only they
Would open up the gate.

Next day the creatures had no doubt
About what they should do:
The monsters they had dreamed about
Could use those claws
To make their dreams come true;
They’d lick their rivals into shape,
The other Bovid lot
Would not be able to escape
Those ripping jaws.
And what big teeth they’ve got!

Their choices made, the Caprine kin
Had barely cast their votes
Before the wolves came grinning in
And with a leap
Had seized them by their throats.
When Fascism is at the door
With promises of grass,
It doesn’t matter whether you’re
A goat or sheep –
Don’t let the bastards pass.

The Cosmonauts of Ulm

‘Der Mensch ist kein Vogel’

When the Bishop told the waiting crowds
That the tailor was quite dead,
The crowd began to sing and dance with mirth;
‘We knew he’d never fly,’ they said,
‘His head was in the clouds,
And now his pride has brought him down to earth.’

They left the tailor where he lay
Upon the broken stones,
So nobody would try to fly again;
His broken wings and broken bones
Reminders to obey
The heavy laws of gravity and men.

And so the world goes spinning by,
And upstart stars still fall,
Beneath our heavy boots the planet clings;
And only bird-brains still recall
How we once tried to fly
Around the broken earth on gorgeous wings.

‘scalpel-sharp satire. Old school leftist, taker-on of social and political hypocrisy, and no stranger to controversy in much the same way that Oliver Reed was no stranger to the odd pint or two, it’s safe to say that Andy Croft is a unique talent in contemporary British poetry.’

Neil Fulwood, London Grip

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