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Airs of the Penny Poet


Portsmouth poet laureate Robert Dunn sold tiny hand-stitched poetry booklet in the streets for a penny. This is one of them. This web page includes the complete text of eight poems (although one is a blank page) from a 1985 bookletcalled AIRS by Portsmouth’s famed "Penny Poet".





by Robert Dunn

(1942- 2008)

READ ALSO: Farewell to Robert Dunn   


Almost a whole day without
making a fool of yourself,
almost a whole day wasted,
almost a strange wound in eternity.
They say that the road to hell
is paved with good intentions
but (Do you know?)
the road to heaven is just
covered with goofer dust.


The city is full of strange smells
Like peddlers yelling expensive wares, cheap
      eaten beef
      slaughtered whales
      ravished rosegardens
      virgin hydrocarbons ---
Acquired tastes, like airplane glue and sanctity.
Two smells are all I can afford.
Those of the earth and sea, both freshly turned
And turning, edge by edge,
Every common smell,
Every rare perfume.


Herring gulls never
neither in calm, if a calm is meaningful,
nor in a gale, if a gull in a gale is free.
A gull may zig to skip or a stone you skim,
or zag to snatch up a castoff fish,
but he flies straight in the wind
that is every part of him.
Herring gulls never zig
zag alone
or in any company
but that of a drunken boat. This
is all my song about herring gulls.
Some people call them dirty
because they eat garbage, and
who made the garbage,
I ask you?



Ragged or round, they rest upon the strong.
Are shaken off. Continue towards us.
Gone…leave us to wonder where all those
      notes could possibly
      have come from.
And where they go. And if the road is long.



This note,
this note
(pick one)
is coming
has come
to pass
is passing.

















I hear you can tell the trees apart
by the sound of the wind in their branches:
The singing of pines is nothing
at all like the wind in the willows.
Elms in full foliage gently
rustle, aspen are easily rattled.
All under the leaves of life they tend:
Oaks to creak at a higher pitch
and maples more apt to tap
imperiously at your window.
And I have heard the news and so have you,
so let us talk of things indifferent.
And the winds will tell the tress apart
by the rumors passing through.



to the wrong place
so we are born knowing how to live
in a perfect world.
Later on of course
      we learn
more useful things.
But I think that perhaps
we should try to remember
what we started with
      and where
we started for.
We should try to remember
just in case.


airs01.jpgAll poems by Robert Dunn
Portsmouth, New Hampshire
August 1985

"and no nonsense about copyright"

Special acknowledgement
is die to Charles
Wadsworth, who is
responsible for this
book in its present
|form – and to whom
all complains should
be addressd

Some of these poems first
appeared in the Portland
Sunday Telegram. Re:Ports,
the Review, and in the
otherwise chaste programs
of the Strawbery Banke
Chamber Music Festival.

Printed by permission of the author on


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