Friday, 24 June 2016

A HISTORY IGNORED

 I have an unfortunate tendency, when writing about topics that are significant to me, to hector the reader. I do not show and let the reader draw their own conclusions. No, I bludgeon them over the head and the opportunity vanishes.
I have lost count of the number of drafts I have written, there are too many, and therein lies a danger. You can overwork an idea and that just won't do. I always keep each draft, in fact, I write each in longhand and keep the checking with the original to ensure I'm still on beam.
This poem went from journal to computer and back again. You can read the last draft here.
  
Since then the Secret Poets have struggled heroically to help me give it the shape and sense I most desperately want the poem to have. Thank you, as always.
There are two reasons for my passion. The model itself, photographs of which litter this post, and the simple fact that I am passionate about the history of the educational institute. Suffice to say I would not be the person I am if I had not spent four years as a student and then president of the Student Union.
A HISTORY IGNORED 

He is hoovering the architectural model of the old college,
it was made before the move to Plymouth,
before the college became a university,
before most of today's students were born.
The hoover sits on his back,
like a shiny black, jet pack,
from some cheap 1960's science fiction film.
He is hunched over,
this is difficult work given the lack of space,
he stretches to vacuum green, felt grass.

And standing there I wonder what his struggles
must look like from a window in one of those buildings,
say Hudson or Stanley House,
would I have run in terror, to hide in a basement?
Or sought a top floor view, my phone out, video on,
reaching for my moment of fame on the tv news?
The giant nozzle is sucking up boulders of dust,
as if the Kraken had woken to steal the world from us.
I know I would walk through those deserted gardens
and photograph the dust laden trees, too difficult to clean,
and wonder at this lost world.

Later, I move the barriers
then crouch in my turn to photograph the model,
its nine square, to scale, meters are abandoned.
Forlorn, half under the stairs, out of sight.
It is clear the present management have no time for the past,
except as a tag line on the corporate logo.
So it sits here, accumulating disinterest,
awaiting archaeology.
I'd be interested in your thoughts and I leave you with Mr Cohen singing a slightly different version of So Long Marianne.
The first time I saw him, back in 1975, at the Liverpool Empire, he began the concert with this song. 

Friday, 17 June 2016

STOKING THE FIRES OF MY OWN DOWNFALL

I have been revising poems with an eye to publishing a fourth collection. As Dennis Grieg pointed out in a recent guest post, the amount of poetry sold is minuscule. It is thanks to such intrepid souls as Dennis that there are avenues available to poets at all. Thank you Dennis.
The first poem this post has benefited from being left fallow for over a year. When I came to look at it once more I could see clearly where it wasn't working. I had not been satisfied with the overall poem which is why it went back into the drawer, but now I think it works.
SHAKESPEARE WAS RIGHT, THE OLD BASTARD

Shakespeare was right, the old bastard.
He knew a thing or two about people.
Problem was I could never cut through those words
until it was too late.

When I did him at school, too briefly,
meaning was an eel
slipping through green fronds in murky water.
Even A-level left me unmoved- so your man has left you,
there are plenty more, just go out and find one.

All this time I was stoking the fires of my own downfall,
not that I saw it like that.

These days I can read the plays,
make sense of that language,
feel for the predicaments the people find themselves in,
all much to late for such insight to be of any use to me.
This is the original version.
I have played about with the line breaks as well as line endings. These I found to be a little random in the first draft giving the poem a staccato feel. 
OK, the photograph is of Vincent rather that Bill The Shake but this blog has never mastered the art of relating image to content.
In this second revised poem I have, I hope, managed to clarify the narrative.
You can read the original here.


LIBRARY QUIZ

An improvised library lesson.
Old books, a random collection,
grown over more time than my life.
Yellow postcard, typed questions,
the e lower then the other letters.
All the facts we were told are in this room

I couldn't find what I was looking for,
it was the books that were dumb,
I knew the answer as soon as I saw the question.
I walked up to Mr. Farr, all tweed and fag ash,
pointed in the direction of the nature books
and told him a bee dies when it stings.

I gambled on his laziness,
but not him stopping the class,
and announcing no one had ever found
that fact in these books before.
It was fair, he said, to give credit
where credit was due.

This was the start of my career as a liar.
I leave you with a live set from Hurray For The Riff Raff.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

PUSH FOR POETRY

Dear Reader,

Forgive this unsolicited ‘promotional’ email. I’m attempting to promote poetry and Lapwing Poetry in particular on-line because of a declining bricks & mortar (bookshops) marketplace especially for poetry in our general society. On-line publication and reselling may have reached a degree of levelling out in some countries and growth in others, poetry has its own little niche in most societies. The contemporary problem is one of getting poetry to people interested in poetry wheresoever they may be and to penetrate the dominant popular fiction and mass media market. Notice the use of verse in several recent television advertising campaigns in the UK!

To go beyond conventional outlets for poetry we make the following offer, get to read and keep forever, five different PDF titles for a donation of £5.0.


From our on-line listing at lapwingpoetry.com, chose any 5 titles in PDF format and email your choice to lapwing.poetry@ntlworld.com.

These PDF copies are printable, either as single pages or in their entirety, they are permanently in the your possession. In this way, the reader has easy access to new poetry and even short prose such as Martin Domleo’s ‘The Rest is Silence: the making of Shakespeare’s book’ or Gerry McDonnell’s bildungsroman ‘Martin Incidentally’.
It is a good way to ‘sample’ new writing before opting to buy a hard copy at some future date.
How it works: having made your choice from the Lapwing listing and emailed your list of the five titles chosen to
lapwing.poetry@ntlworld.com, they will then be sent by return email to you as PDF attachments followed by a PayPal Request for the donation.


The simple fact is that poetry publication is non-commercial and very few poetry books get into the shops. There are now around only 900 bookshops in the UK and Ireland and declining, down from around 4000 a few years back, this includes the book-chainstores – Waterstones etc., and independents like Jaffa & Neale.

Some of these shops are ‘survivors’, some are specialists, some a mix of newsagents, stationers and confectioners. Poetry just doesn’t feature in most customers’ buying patterns and it is a slow seller, an important
decision making element in any shopkeeper’s offering to the public.


Poetry publication is about 0.01% of the UK and Irish publishing industry with an uptake of only about 20% of that hundredth of 1% per cent.

Obviously, a computer screen hasn’t the same ‘feel’ as a paper book yet poetry in whatever shape or form is essential to our cultural health and well-being as well as to our cultural identities. It is essential for those and other reasons that we do all we can to provide the poetry reading public with contemporary poetry and fine literature. Poetry reading is in many ways a secular spiritual activity.


Inevitably the poets’ presentation and even interpretation of their own literary, socio-political, cultural, philosophical and spiritual experiences in poetry are a shared part of their intimate being. That is something
which, as readers, we often cherish and can find in poetry, echoes of our own and often unheard ‘small voice’.


If you can, do pass on this plea for poetry to your own ‘community of interest’.
Yours sincerely,
Dennis Greig
Lapwing Publications

Friday, 10 June 2016

AS BOLD AS BRASS

 
Thanks to Paul Mortimer for inviting me to read at the Tiverton Poetry Cafe last night. This post is one of the poems I read there.
It is an autobiographical poem and I wrote it last autumn. Since then I have been moving the lines around to get the right feel to the piece.
One time, in Italy, did I ever tell you this?
It was the holiday when the car engine blew up
and we had to get the train home.
Well, before all of that, we were stopped at the lights,
opposite this man in a car wash,
as bold as you please,
all soaped up, having a shower.


This is the third retelling
since you arrived three days ago.
I think this latest recounting,
has been sparked by the men hand washing cars
just now, as I filled up at the petrol station.
You watched their red, chapped hands
dip into buckets of cold water.

The cutting November wind heralds more than the coming winter.
I am leaving you with Billy Bragg and Joe Henry singing The Midnight Special off their forthcoming LP.

Friday, 3 June 2016

THIS COULD HAVE BEEN A FILM

I happened to be on a hospital ward, this was some time ago, for people with mental health issues. I had been involved in a poetry activity and I had brought a cd of Simone Dinnerstein playing The Goldberg Variations. I had previously been discussing Bach with a patient and had brought them a copy as they had not heard that particular interpretation.
The first poem describes the experience of listening to the music fill the activity room and tumble out into the corridor.

That precise moment could have come from a film,
or, in better hands, than mine, been the ending of a novel.
The Goldberg Variations cascade down the hospital ward,
those notes blessing each listener,
erasing for that second,
the individual burden of existence.
I have had the rough draft on a piece of scrap paper for over a year and only recently revised it. This is not a habit that I would recommend.
This next poem is a revision.
I have been reading it for the last year or more and performance has shaped it. Essentially i have removed a line from the original version, you can read that here.

The Triple Death of Kings

place this foot in front of the other,
one step nearer,
feel the wet marsh,
the cold water,
dirt on your feet.
Taste the air, dry mouthed.
Eyes telescope,
fix on inconsequential detail.
Place your next foot down,
take it all in:
the wet grey marsh,
the grey lightening sky,
the bronze sword,
always the bronze sword.
This is the longest walk of your life,
this is the last walk of your life.
I am a dead man.

It would be no consolation to tell you
that your death will inspire better poets than me,
or that after sleeping the centuries,
we shall know so much about you,
save your name.

The bronze sword cuts the flesh
of the arm you meant not to raise.
Then on your knees, airway ligatured,
you choke at the bottom of an ocean of atmosphere,
are struck on the head and cast into the bog.
The changing weather pattern requires this desperate action.
The tribe is starving,
who knows their future?
The last draft's first stanza ended with the line: Memory Cascades.
In performance I realised that the line is superfluous. It takes time to hear what the poem is saying, and you have to listen carefully, but once you have heard, you must act.
Here is Simone Dinnerstein and some Bach.
Until next week.

Friday, 27 May 2016

DINOSAUR STALE BREATH

Thanks this week to Gram Davis for running an interesting workshop. He asked us to describe an animal by it's actions. We had five minutes to write something. I came up with this.

ladybird poem

black and red back
a face to show the world
methodical
engaged
slowly reduces beetle lave
the plant sighs
it's itch scratched
We then had to write down an abstract noun and pass it to the person on your left along with your animal- sorry Paul for equality and ladybird.
I got pain and pigeon.
This was my first attempt.


pain1

Thirty five flying hours out.
No subtle line of difference to follow,
ever heavier, the air has thinned.
Once airy bones, fossilised rock.

So feathers pull flight from nothing.
The electric spark from cell to cell
shocks each muscle to act in turn.

This is your world now.
I was not sure that I captured pain, rather I thought I had described exhaustion.
My idea was that a homing pigeon had got lost and was flying aimlessly.
I had this tagged on the end:
even if gifted language
there could be no retelling
bereft of metaphor
this moment is your life
But when we discussed the workshop, and read aloud our poems, the general consensus was that it added nothing to the poem, so out it came.
In the final ten minutes of the workshop before the discussion I dashed off this:


pain2

Razor blade cold, swift.
So sharp it lasts a thousand years in a flash.
Body attempts compensation,
it returns, so different, as intense.
Sun supernova inside you.
The real wonder is that you are still
here it comes again,
it's dinosaur stale breath fills your mouth,
muffles your screams.

Oblivion limps towards you
but you cannot run to embrace it.
This may be an attempt to describe pain but there is no mention of a pigeon!
I leave you with a piece from 1969, The Liverpool Scene: We'll All Be Space Men Before We Die.
Ah, the causal sexism of the patriarchy. What about women?

Friday, 20 May 2016

SPADEFUL BY SPADEFUL

I have been playing with the idea of this post's poem for a long time. It arose from an aside in a palaeontology book I read about two years ago. Essentially the book noted in passing that in the early 1900's in a German colony in Africa, over a number of years, a mountain had been moved to reveal a Brachiosaurus
That set me thinking about what it must have been like for the people who shovelled the mountain aside. People who had been perfectly happy until a conference in Berlin in 1884/5 divided the continent up between European powers.
I remember reading Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa when I was a student and one quotation has stayed with me: African's went into colonisation with a hoe and came out with a hoe. 
The fact that the African continent has been and still is being plundered at the expense of those people who live there cannot be denied. Europe has benefited greatly at the expense of Africa.
All of this percolated around my head to produce the poem.


after the guns killed your uncles the headman has been hung and your father's guts have bled out into the soil

when they have weighed and discarded your culture

and even your Gods are cast into the fire in the centre of the village by a white man who tells you of his God of Love and how you must wash yourself clean of your sins in the water of his Jesus

when they have even taken the food from your mouth and there is less than nothing but their taxes enforced by beatings

what else can you do?

what else can you do?

save walk for four days across a transformed landscape to the pit

there take orders from a shouting man and start to move a mountain

spadeful of soil and rock by spadeful of soil and rock

eventually

you uncover the heartstones 

the creature that was here before

almost as big as the mound you have moved

it takes three men to carry one bone

slowly, without ceremony, the identity of your people is packed into crates and taken away

by then you are living in their world 
without a path back to before
I know that now I have finally caught it on paper that it needs to be taken to a poetry meeting and discussed. Watch this space.

I've had an interesting week listening to much good music. Here is Corrina Repp from her latest album
And here is [for me] her best album: It's on the Future in full.