Finest: Stephen Payne – “Crown Green Bowls”

Stephen Payne Finest 

Crown Green Bowls

….Perhaps
.our best, that summer we were young
..but played at being old
in whites and daps.
The big exams were done; evenings were long.
Our futures were on hold.

….Four boys
.killing time on a shaded square
..with elms along the side
muffling the noise
from the playground. Grass scent in the air;
the clacks as woods collide.

….We set
.the bias against the crown, a mark
..on the green near the jack for a guide,
or else we let
the effects add, sending the wood on an arc
that seemed impossibly wide.


The Windmill Proof (HappenStance Press, 2021) contains a sequence of poems about shapes or constructs in Euclidean Geometry, alongside more miscellaneous poems, which sometimes, like ‘Crown Green Bowls’, sneak a bit more geometry into the mix. ‘Crown Green Bowls’ was first published in ‘The North’.

As a reader, I enjoy metre and rhyme, and I also enjoy free verse. As a writer, I like to allow myself flexibility, treating free verse as a deliberate choice rather than a default.

‘Crown Green Bowls’ uses a bespoke stanza. Such stanzas have a long history but I associate them particularly with Richard Wilbur and the contemporary Australian poet, Stephen Edgar. All stanzas have the same rhyme scheme, and the same pattern of varying line-lengths (who can resist the word ‘heterometrical’?). A form like this somehow suggests itself during the writing of the poem (I think around draft 5 in this case), and then becomes a constraint for later developments. As everyone who writes in form says, the constraint pushes the writer’s imagination, and prompts ideas and expressions that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. It’s fun but hard work, I find, writing poems like this, and it’s possible that just getting them done leaves the writer feeling more fond of them than he should be. I hope not.


Stephen Payne is a Professor Emeritus at the University of Bath, where until 2020 he taught and researched in the Department of Computer Science. He was born in Merthyr Tydfil and lives in Penarth in the Vale of Glamorgan. Like all the best Welsh poets, he supports Cardiff City. His first full poetry collection, Pattern Beyond Chance was published by HappenStance Press in 2015 and shortlisted for Wales Book of the Year. His second collection, The Windmill Proof was published by the same press in 2021, and will be followed, in early 2022, by a pamphlet, The Wax Argument and Other Thought Experiments.

3 comments

  1. I’m delighted to find that there were other who spent evenings on crown greens after their A levels

    Liked by 1 person

  2. […] like the circles and closed shapes of some of these poems, there’s a phrase at the end of the poem ‘Crown Green Bowls’ where Payne harks back to a game from his youth — “that summer we were young / but played […]

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  3. […] Here are five sentences across three stanzas, each of which has six lines in an a-b-c-a-b-c rhyme-scheme and a syllabic pattern which appears to be strict but is actually variable. Payne has written about this form. He says, “All stanzas have the same rhyme scheme, and the same pattern of varying line-lengths (who can resist the word ‘heterometrical’?). A form like this somehow suggests itself during the writing of the poem (I think around draft 5 in this case), and then becomes a constraint for later developments. As everyone who writes in form says, the constraint pushes the writer’s imagination, and prompts ideas and expressions that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise. It’s fun but hard work, I find, writing poems like this, and it’s possible that just getting them done leaves the writer feeling more fond of them than he should be. I hope not.”[7]The whole quote by Payne is well worth reading […]

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