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We are the Walrus / Pete Mullineaux

We are the Walrus

By: Pete Mullineaux

Pete Mullineaux’s fifth collection is chock full of ‘strange but true’ surprises: from Plato to pangolins, Microsoft Windows to walruses, foxes to fireworks – offering a serious but at the same time playful exploration of Nature alongside human nature, with a particular focus on ecological concerns and our planet’s vulnerability. “Reading Pete Mullineaux’s new collection, you want to sing along, lift your ba...
ISBN 978-1-915022-23-3
Pub Date Tuesday, November 01, 2022
Page Count 82
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Pete Mullineaux’s fifth collection is chock full of ‘strange but true’ surprises: from Plato to pangolins, Microsoft Windows to walruses, foxes to fireworks – offering a serious but at the same time playful exploration of Nature alongside human nature, with a particular focus on ecological concerns and our planet’s vulnerability. 

“Reading Pete Mullineaux’s new collection, you want to sing along, lift your banner, shake your fist – dance. More Basho than Beckett – his poetry ranges somewhere between the Green Man and the curious child. A compassionate heart beats in every line.”

          Tony Curtis

“He offers us brief respite from an ever darker world. Here are ‘lockdown poems’ in the best possible sense of the term: by turn humorous, intimate, discursive or very short, they direct our attention to small wonders in the fields and woods around us, or to childhood memories recovered thanks to the strange quietness of a stricken world. Whether it’s observing A bullfinch (is) perched/on the edge/of a flower pot, or marvelling at a music teacher’s magic fiddle, it allows us to glimpse that elusive thing called ‘hope’.” 

          Geraldine Mitchell

“There’s never a dull moment it seems in Mullineaux’s brilliant imagination. Written with a deft touch and with light-hearted humour, these poems offer up a carnival of refreshing perspectives. Mixing memory and desire, We are the Walrus, casts a clever and wry eye on the strange, maddening, and everyday menagerie of life.”

          Adam Wyeth

“With his ear well tuned to the rhythm of the farm and pond, Pete Mullineaux appears to honour Emerson’s urge to “adapt to the pace of nature, her secret is patience”, his close attention to animals brings profit to his poems through the imagined timbre of the non-human heart and mind. He writes about the non-human world as if he knows it and has some pact with it, and as if it knows him, too.”

          Whitney Smith 

          Editor, Journal of Wild Culture, USA

Pete Mullineaux

PETE MULLINEAUX grew up in Bristol, UK – his first published poem, ‘Harvest Festival’, written aged 13, was included in a Macmillan anthology, Poetry & Song, and recorded on ARGO Records with music by Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger. Living in London in the 1970-80s he was part of the original Apples and Snakes poetry collective and played with the left-wing punk band The Resisters, before going solo as Pete Zero. His anti-nuclear song ‘Disposable Tissues’ won the City of London Poetry/Song contest and was made into a single record, with proceeds going to the Greenham Common women’s peace camp. Living in Galway, Ireland, since 1991, he teaches global issues in schools through drama and creative writing. His five poetry collections are: Zen Traffic Lights (Lapwing 2005), A Father’s Day (Salmon 2008), Session (Salmon 2011),  How to Bake a Planet (Salmon 2016) and We are the Walrus (Salmon 2022). His work has been read and discussed on RTE’s Arena and featured on the Poetry Programme podcast Words Lightly Spoken. He was selected for Poetry Ireland Review’s special 100th issue (edited by Paul Muldoon). A number of stageplays have been produced and three dramas for RTE radio. Two non-poetry books were published in 2021: Interdependence Day – Teaching the Sustainable Development Goals through Drama for All Ages (Afri/Action from Ireland) and a debut novel, Jules and Rom – Sci-fi meets Shakespeare (Matador UK).

In Praise of Idleness

A bullfinch is perched 

on the edge

of a flower pot

pecking seeds

from a 


I could watch 

all day –

one, two, three o’clock...

Swimming with Plato

This is absolutely true – for my first swimming lesson

I went with my mother to a big house in a different part

of the city, climbed several flights of dark stairs, me

wondering, where’s the pool? Maybe the posh lady

opening the door to her apartment liked to high dive –

was looking for a young prodigy to teach, like a character

from my sister’s Bunty comic; or might there be a 

descending slide like the one at the public marina?

What the elderly woman (now I could see her in the light)

did have was a table, across which I was asked to lie while

she took my hands, then my feet and showed me the frog

movements of the breaststroke. We didn’t attempt the crawl

and I only went one time (my mother had seen the ad

in the paper, gone on a whim) and, as the man said,

it’s the thought that counts.

Later on I learnt to swim in the sea like everyone 

else; but looking back I realise, despite her limitations, 

the old woman had whetted my appetite, as well as 

opening my mind to how a kitchen table can become 

a pool, a flight of stairs might lead to the high board; 

how so often we find ourselves making do.


Throw it, plant it, exchange it –

a quick peck, or a smacker

lips are essential, tongues optional,

mouth to mouth the general rule, although

cheeks will do –

from a distance you can blow it;

sometimes, during it, you might sigh—

releasing endorphins, oxytocin, dopamine,

serotonin, adrenaline; wet or dry,

always good for saying goodbye,

sealing a promise,

a mark of tenderness on the forehead;

other times it’s just for show – kiss-kiss

or once a year under the mistletoe...

best slow...

a few you’ll never forget;

Rodin sculpted, Klimt painted

but enough of this,

the pucker muscle

is orbicularis oris,

rhymes with bliss...


Poems Copyright © Pete Mullineaux 2022

We are the Walrus reviewed by Thriveni C Mysore for Compulsive Reader

February 23, 2024

The poet in dedication page has said ‘for all creatures, great and small’. “All creatures, great and small” receive Pete Mullineaux’s collection of poems, We are the Walrus, with happiness, gratitude, and applause. From the first poem, ‘A pangolin goes into a bar’, in which the poet enters a bar with a pangolin, to the last poem, ‘Interdependence Day’, the reader finds themselves drawn to the poet’s thoughts and play of words.

‘A pangolin goes into a bar’ has myriad things to say about global warming, obscure human tendencies, and a trick to survival by lying low, unseen by humankind:

          barman, ‘you must’ve travelled some distance’.

          ‘yes, quite a journey,’ replies the stranger, ‘the

          traffic was crazy, lucky to be still in one piece.’

          ‘well, aren’t we all globetrotters, I guess you’re

          related to those Armadillos?’ The pangolin yawns,

          glances around, ‘I like the relaxed ambience here,

          any chance of a room? I need a place to lie low.’ (11)

The damage done by humankind towards Nature is revealed in the poem, ‘Summer Time’.

          The poet asks,

          Do we need a little darkness?

          Spinning the wheel further ahead to our day of reckoning –

          dire forecasts confirmed: ice gone, sea lapping at throats…

          looking back and asking, did we gain or lose that hour? (13)

The nuisance of digital living is well exposed in the poem ‘Verified’:

          My computer tells me it’s cloudy, raining,

          I look out the window…and gosh, so it is…(14)

These lines send the reader’s senses into a tizzy by showing our dependency on the digital world and the unrealistic living standards that rarely give time to take stock of the natural world around us. It also showcases a new type of neurological disorder that confirms how humans have lost touch with Mother Nature. We need a weather app to know the changes in the sea and seasons. We cannot ‘tell’ the weather as our ancestors did by looking up at the sky! No, not even time.

Harbinger as noun means a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another. A walrus on the shore thousands of miles from its Arctic home is not a good signal, it announces massive disturbance to nature and natural habitat caused by human activity. In search of safe harbor also announces that nothing is ‘safe’ when it comes under human gaze. Hence the opening lines of the poem ‘We are the Walrus’ captures the danger of human activity to nature provoking a train of thoughts.

          Harbinger or in search of safe harbor –

          a young pup fetches up on our shores

          thousands of miles from its Arctic home; (15)

The poet in page 74, under Notes and Thanks has said that ‘We are the Walrus’ relates to the story of an Arctic walrus that turned up in Ireland in 2021, quickly acquiring the nickname ‘Wally’… Wally again as said in page 74 gathered a sizeable fan-base while continuing a roundabout tour of Wales, France, and Spain, before eventually returning to its natural home in 2022. He – Wally is sending a message to humankind on behalf of all other beautiful creations that our actions are causing irreparable distress.

Wally is thus not the wandering Walrus but a messenger (of all things other than human) with a ‘SOS’ message to humankind. Climate change is not just the defining issue or ‘talk of the town’ of the present but is a game changer for the future existence of life. The poet writes that the insensitive avaricious human child is swept off-course destroying the trail and track:

          love and loss, foreboding – perhaps one

          about a human child in a seal-like skin,

          its world swept off-course – searching 

          the rocks for pattern and meaning in

          heaps of tusks, untouched oysters…(15)

And later in the poem:

          The poet’s joy in sighting migrating owls as in ‘Long-eared’:

          Now it’s four in the morning and I can’t sleep –

          heartbeat, breath – wind in the trees; on quieter

          nights I hear their wheezing as dawn approaches,

          a sound they make before setting off to hunt –

          building like an engine…(17)

A similar delight is shared in sighting the charming Earthstar fungus which the poet twins with the insensitive nature of human existence in ‘Earthstars’:

          Stars of wonder, stars of darkness!

          feeling our dull tread on their ceiling

          how they must pity

          these poor relations

          stumbling above them

          blinded by light (19)

The reader worries now as to who is blinded by light, the fungus below the earth or ‘humans’—that deadly force above the earth. Although the keen observation of human habitats is the poet’s forte. In another poem, ‘Boarders’, the poet writes of badgers:

          I feel honoured, does this mean

          they’ll be staying: cousins to 

          otter, mink, pine martin, worlverine!

          I’ve heard they trample flowers,

          will make a golf course of the lawn

          rooting for grubs. Perhaps if I learn

          their language we can set up a dialogue,

          find a compromise over right of way,

          borders – discover some natural 

          accommodation. (20)

If a badger has made a golf course of the lawn while rooting for grubs, humans who sieve the Earth with all their digging, mining, and leveling for ugly benefits, suggests that finding a compromise over right of way, as the poet writes, is challenging. In another poem, ‘Bovine Heaven’, the poet writes:

          In the living fields,

          three cow generations: calf

          mother, grandmother. (22)

The poet aptly observes a ‘Bovine Heaven’. However, it also subtly indicates that such peaceful living is impossible for human beings, be it from a sociological or ecological perspective. It also sets off a train of thought where Earth is not left the same from one generation to the next. The same plaintiveness is felt in ‘Game Pheasant’:

          I hear you sometimes at night –

          that anguished call announcing yourself

          in the safety of the dark, saying

          how you are game but not game.

          Oh foolish pheasant, oh foolish heart…(27)

‘Interference’ shows the poet’s ideological depth & response to Nature:

          Two caterpillars crossing the road…

          I use a leaf to pick them up, just as

          a car arrives, is forced to slow – faces

          through a wet windscreen look unsure

          whether to mock or applaud, perhaps

          they’ll argue over it later? I carry my

          vessel carefully to the verge, continue

          walking, mulling over what happened,

          this random event, my moment playing

          God; might I have disturbed a delicate

          balance in our journeys (think butterfly

          wings), a couple discovering they aren’t

          well-suited, caterpillars carrying a sense

          of dislocation in how they got from there

          to here…(28)

A well-informed poet is committed to writing. The reader is by now emotionally aware of innumerable lives surrounding that were hitherto unnoticed, deliberately unnoticed. The poem articulates and provokes the reader to look around with a better sense of non-human life.

Poetic observations during and about the pandemic are delicate and agonizing like scratching a fresh wound, be it ‘Covid Conversation’, ‘Uplift’, or ‘Hairdressing’. Other poems, such as ‘Matryoshka’, ‘Dissenter’, ‘A Future Nature Lover Reflects’, and ‘Interdependence Day’ speak to the dangers of climate change. Music, teaching poetry, and the ugliness of politics also find its way into the collection. Some factors that blend artistically in the poetry collection are intense explorations of values and cultural experience, immense respect for human relations, yearnings for music, rhythm, and humor. What charms the reader is the poet’s ability to expose the ugly side of human existence with respect for Mother Nature.  

Poetic tradition is the record of a large number of important choices made by individual experiences and respect for freedom of thought. This open liberty makes literature appealing and invites the readers’ participation. The poem, ‘Interdependence Day’, is a capsule of many things: humankind, worthiness and unworthiness, Nature human activities with ugly tendencies, the urgency for behavioral change, the need for changing thought patterns, need of the hour, addressing issues of  climate change, saving everything threatened, teaching co-existence, hope and kindness:

          ………………… Return from 

          hubris to humus, forgo the pesticides –

          agri-genocide, flinch at each plastic spoon,

          cruel harpoon – say no more dead whales,

          powdered rhino horns, pangolin scales…

          Show our visitors we understand the urgency,

          that we’ll emerge from this emergency with

          competence and empathy –(71)

‘Interdependence Day’ gives hope to readers that mindfulness is the need of the hour. It is not a new fact; it is a newly observed fact that drives home with aplomb.

The climate crisis looms large before us, urging serious action. This is displayed well through the cover page of We are the Walrus. Walrus is looming large on the cover page. There is a little space just enough to write the title and name of poet. Habitat of Walrus is as suffocating as indicated. Nature too is in cramped condition.

Salmon Poetry deserves kudos for powerful cover photography, for the drawing on title page, cover design & typesetting. They are all embellishing the already natural beauty of the poet’s thoughts before bringing it on literary stage. 

About the reviewer: Thriveni C Mysore is a science teacher from Karnataka, India. She is locally acknowledged for her critical essays and articles on Philosophy and Education. Her books in Kannada on Philosophy and Science have won State awards. Being actively involved in Environmental Awareness Programs, she holds lectures and presentations for students. Amidst life’s complexities, she finds divine-solace in reading Nature poems.

PRAISE for How to Bake a Planet (Salmon 2016)

How to Bake a Planet combines the sombre with the comedic... (in) the singular voice of this poetry — one part sarcasm, one part irony, two parts morbid bluntness — Mullineaux draws on anxieties about a poisoned planet, strangled relationships, and the ever-present ticking of time in an attempt to uncover the smothered sentiments we all keep locked away.’ 

          Brianne AlphonsoJacket2 (USA) 

‘The journey is not without its moments of doubt and the collection is peppered with a series of ecliptic moments reminiscent of Edward Thomas’s “stop at Adlestrop” railway station, TS Eliot’s “moment in and out of time” or Yeats’s Irish Airman’s “in balance with this life, this death.” All this adds up to an intriguing and enriching collection of poetry, one that is certainly worth several visits.’ 

          Des KennyGalway Advertiser

‘...the poems here are taut and possess a razor sharp wit...reminiscent of John Clare...probing, beautifully written...a gem...’

           Jaki McCarrickPoetry Ireland Review

‘Each and every poem in How to Bake A Planet relates to the present crisis...the agony of being part of the society that is mutilating Nature...’

          Thriveni C Mysore Plumwood Mountain Journal (Australia)

‘Mullineaux’s strength lies in rallying a collective yearning for a future in harmony with nature and extending beyond our own individual bubbles... It curates a space where we can commune. It makes us feel less alone.’ 

          Florrie Crass –

PRAISE for Session (Salmon 2011)

'Session captures the wit, inventiveness, grace and connection of player to player, of musician to the natural landscape, of seasonal rituals to the deepest desires of the heart. This remarkable collection belongs in the library of every musician and poetry lover.' 

          Irish American Music & Dance Association (Minnesota, USA)

'With requisite craft he takes you into a world of observed moments, of habits and rituals, leaving you with a more enriched feeling of the occasion at hand...the power of now in poetic terms...a beautifully written work.' 

          Trad Connect (Ireland) 

‘Session is a beautiful magical book, soaked in waves of musical imagery and sound… written with impeccable craftsmanship, a delight on the ear and begs to be read out loud.’ 

          The Ranting Beast (Ireland)

‘Marvellous…these reflections and resonances are evocative and insightful. Mullineaux crafts genuine and perceptive surprises. More please.’ 

          Orbis Magazine (UK)  

‘Mullineaux uses evocative images, insightful observation, humour, playfulness… He is a scrutiniser of intricacies, a watchful eye. Session, by Pete Mullineaux is a gem.’

          Irish Music Magazine 

‘Absolutely exquisite…the poems could only have been written by someone inside the music.’  

          Celtic Connections Magazine (Denver, USA )

PRAISE for A Father’s Day (Salmon 2008)

‘Imaginative, innovative, intelligent and poetic…reminds me of the three Liverpool poets, Brian Patten and the others…a fine and beautiful book.’ 

Pat McMahon – Head of Galway/Mayo Library Services

‘…gorgeous and resonant…with a stunning final blow.’ 

          Ailbhe DarcyStinging Fly Magazine, Dublin

‘Mullineaux is a profoundly sensitive poet… while some lines are so grimly funny I’m genuinely jealous I didn’t think of them first.’  

          Kevin Higgins – Galway Advertiser

‘…vivid verse that will take the reader on a roller coaster of emotions.’ 

          Midwest Review (Oregon, USA)

‘keen-eyed and lyrical…emotional and tender but also humorous, witty and philosophical, this is a brave collection from a wonderful poetic mind.’ 

          Gerard Hanberry

‘Simple, luminous images…Mullineaux’s voice carries lilts of John Cooper-Clarke. There are poems here to make one smile, frown, think; the comedian often gives way to a serious poet indeed. A fine book then, and beautifully produced.’  

          Fred Johnston – Western Writers Centre

‘These poems sing of deep humanity.’ 

          Geraldine Mills

Other Titles from Pete Mullineaux

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