Friday, 9 October 2015


This has been a full week, on Tuesday at Marjons we read all the poems we had been workshopping over the summer. I'd like to thank all the poets who were involved. This project may run on yet- watch this space...
This week a poem that I've been thinking about for a long time. It concerns the Reverend Malthus a Victorian mathematician who crops up in another poem.  
The Mathusian Controversy essentially concerns the fact that the human population grows faster than the food that sustains us. Malthus wanted to celebrate the fact that we have made it this far. However, I see that perspective as out of date. That might have been true in Victorian times but it is not now. Beef production is a huge cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

It's Sunday lunch at the vicarage,
traditional, tory, a secure sinecure.
After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus
[a man with more angles than a protractor]
carves the joint of British beef,
Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest,
blood smears the knife blade.
He has worked it all out with precision,
5,000 gallons of water and ten pounds of corn
were need to grow the amount of flesh
that he has just carved and served.
He loads his fork, pops the meat into his mouth,
and chews upon inevitability, a future of famine.
Populations grow faster than food they eat,
it really is that simple. Malthus swallows thinks that
It is a wonder we ever got this far
This is a work in progress. I am not sure about the ending. Watch this space...

He was a single story, that he dressed to suit the occasion,
ensuring it was peppered with the words of the moment,
and he dined out on it all the rest of his life.
It was never quite enough to get him where he felt he belonged.
Yes, they would take his number but never call back.
He was slick when I met him, but beginning to wear thin.
I was young and very easily impressed, did not notice the frayed cuffs.
First impressions never last and he was on his was soon enough.
The patter ever more hollow. I heard he just disappeared.

This was written quite quickly and is not based on any one person.
This week I've been listening to lots of jazz, especially late period Art Pepper, but I'm going to leave you with Annabelle Chvostek. Enjoy.

Friday, 2 October 2015


I was on the university open day trail again the other week. This time we were in Oxford. A city I have known reasonably well since the 1980's. Not the world of the universities but the other reality of the people who live there. 
Do you ever experience memories rushing back into your head when you find yourself back in a space you have known well in the past? It's not deja vu, because the location awakens specific memories. That was my day in Oxford.

Today I have no time for archaeology,
and cannot walk through my history,
or overlay it on this changed location.
I fall through time regardless.

It is a Saturday, one February,
iced over Brasenose Lane, 
me and Leeslide home from the Turves.
All the old glass windows turn ruby.
Then Christine walks up to me,
some pre-children weekend,
and in the fragment of a second,
I can tell you what I was wearing
and she is an eternal twenty three.

Later in the park the trees sing to me.
This is life, no more, no less,
give thanks that you bear witness.
The experience also prompted me to add a second part to a poem I wrote about my previous university open day visits. You can read an earlier draft of the first part here.

for Kate

The rain holds off.
Glossy map in hand,
we are steered between
concrete space and lake,
by student ambassadors.

Lecture late [a possible omen?],
we awkwardly slide into vacant seats.
The pitch begins:
we are informed of the academic reputation,
parental fears are prayed on
to push the full board option.
The employability statistics pass me by.
Selection; there can be no barter.
This is not the horse trade,
but a simple statement.
To be considered you must have this.
For me the day dissolves into a series of queues.
We shall be repeating this tomorrow.

And the day shall pass
in a tunnel of self-induced fatigue.
Then we emerge from the third pretend lecture
to find the crowd has swollen to festival proportions,
I spin from one bright eyed convert
to the next smiling advocate,
each bursts with such positive impressions
that I find them hard to believe.

Essentially I have removed a line and broken the poem into two stanzas. 
As for the second part: the first two lines came as I was walking into the first mini-lecture and I simply kept adding to it as the day progressed. You always need to have pen and paper with you, otherwise you'll miss the ideas when they stroll past.
This week I downloaded the new album by Philip Henry & Hannah Martin Live At Calstock- superb. I saw them at Purbeck sandwiched between Martha Tiltson and Richard Thompson, where they were easily able to hold their own in such illustrious company.
Here they are singing an old James Taylor song in Bath.

Friday, 25 September 2015


I ran a workshop on Wednesday evening for Juncture 25. I organise one a month, it helps us keep our poetry chops honed. But this time I ran on to the rocks of artifice. Essentially I became so wedded to a conceit that my poem floundered. This is definitely a danger for me, and I suspect many other poets. I can lose my way trying too hard to work a theme into a poem. In this case I wanted to weave the colours of the rainbow throughout the poem and I stopped listening to my poetic sense and became all rigid left brain ordering. So what should have been a subtle pattern ended up dominating the poem and, as I say, stopped me listening to where the poem wanted to go. 
You will be relieved I am not sharing that particular disaster.
Instead this first poem grew out of a conversation I had with Richard Holt at CIC CIC here in Taunton. We were talking how politics can be an end in itself, politicians become too concerned with keeping all the plates in the air that they forget that there are more ways of doing things, or even that there are more rooms than the one they want us to live in. 
I was just thinking that this would make a good poem as Richard said that there was a painting in the metaphor. I have beaten him to it.

They would have you believe this room is the centre,
and the activity in the middle essential for all our well being.
While you may be invited to admire an individuals skill,
you must not question why the plates have to be kept spinning.
There is combat here, bare knuckled words
exchanged between the groups who vie to work the poles,
but if it is expedient they will expect you
to die to keep the plates in the air.

Maybe this is too crude for you?
How about the double bluff?
The Eloi still rule the poor Morlocks,
it only looks like sacrifice,
it's their ball and their rules.
We may be at the precipice
but there is still a profit to be made from the dying earth.

They would have you believe this room is the centre.
But in my father's house are many mansions,
if it were not so, I would have told you.
I shall leave you to judge how well I have captured the idea.
But I shall mention the photographs. I have always been fascinated by H.G. Wells' The Time Machine. You can read another poem here. The world that the Time Traveller finds himself in has, amongst other things, a strange glass/ceramic museum and a pagoda in it. There are two types of humans, the Eloi [all vacuous fun] and the Morlocks [the debased proletariat, who harvest the Eloi]. Wells had his own take on the future to promote, but my sympathies have always been with the Morlocks. 
The word mansion also crops up in this next poem. I once knew a man who was in a position very similar to that which the poem describes.

He is a mansion, as are we all.

Over creeping time,
he has closed each room,
thrown dust sheets over emotions,
backed away from what he once could feel.

He exists in his attic.
He has opened the trunks that hold his memories,
subjects each to the harsh prism of his guilt,
twisting each recollection until it screams.
I had been eagerly waiting for the new Beirut lp to be released and I have to say I do not get it. Whereas Rip Tide was a beautiful album of strong tunes and excellent lyrics NO No No seems to be a collection of demos. Best to avoid I think...
Here are Hooray For The Riff Raff in concert.

Friday, 18 September 2015


OK, I seem unable to match the title and the photographs.
Here is a recent poem I wrote quite quickly. I spent time on trying to even up the stanzas and to balance the whole piece.

Celebrate the majestic moon, how it hangs over us,
forever the oceans will move under its gaze.

Celebrate the moon seen through the trees,
now the whole world is silver familiar.

Celebrate the moon as geese fly across its face,
and we fall towards winter once again.

Celebrate the moon, as cold as the fluorescent snow
under which the living land slumbers.

Celebrate the moon each time you glimpse it,
for without the moon you would not be here. 
It's another praise poem. I wanted the poem to celebrate the beauty of nature and felt it needed to be brief to keep the attention of the reader. I read, somewhere, that the tidal pull of the moon encouraged life to evolve on the earth. 
The next poem again is a short impressionistic piece. To be honest i have no idea where it came from. I must have been influenced by the amount of apocalyptic reggae I listen to.

the house is on fire
what will you save?

this is not a drill
you must leave most of what you own
can only take what you can carry

there will be times to come
under a superheated sun on an uncertain path
when you will curse your selection

listen to the flames
how they crackle and laugh
what will you save?
I am going to leave you with Gibraltar from the new Beirut lp.

Friday, 11 September 2015


As MsMariah [of Spaceblogyesy fame] commented on the last post, when we come to revise a piece of work our perspective has changed. We may turn it into something very different.
I am presenting to you the finished version of a poem you may have read here or here.

We are at table and there are statistics.
One of our number informs us:
the average academic paper is read by ten people.
I crowed how many visits my blog receives,
I should have been embarrassed.

My friend has worked in China for the past year.
This meal a celebration of his return,
and he interjects, Mao, he was told many times,
had been seventy percent right, thirty percent wrong.

It is better to admit your hero has feet of clay,
to divert attention from famine,
the social dislocation of Mao's final years,
and all those ghosts.
The ones that now stand round this table.
So many in fact that they form an orderly queue
down Catherine Hill and beyond Frome to the sea.

We briefly discuss these percentages,
then the talk returns to
the aubergine pamigiana we are enjoying,
the jazz band we going to watch
that we can't remember the name of.

We rise to leave, and find we must
shoulder our way through the ghosts.
Though they do not follow,
I feel their eyes on my back
all the way down the street.
Thanks must go the the Secret Poets for helping me finally get it into shape.
So what has changed?
Well one of my favourite lines has been removed:
Not the obvious count of knife and fork and spoon.
It is a case of expediency, for the poem to work the line had to go. Watch this space to see where it turns up again.
Chrissy Banks observed that much of what had been the first stanza was my run up to the poem itself- so that had to go.
Interestingly it was felt that the dish we were eating should be named as should the band we were going to see. Unfortunately I never knew their name.
Also more line breaks, shorter stanzas make the poem more effective.I'd be interested to know your thoughts.
By the way the photographs are of Mary Magdeline in Taunton. None are of Frome.
Here is a new poem.

I decided to walk through your city

the cobblestones betray no vibration
why should they?
you have been dead so long


now I am being told
by my most important other
that once she nearly moved here

then we would not have met
I bless my luck
thank the weather

then I realise you are still here
the part of us that never leaves
the seeds we sow in the minds of others

The allusion to the seeds we sow in the minds of others is from Carlos Castaneda via Jackson Browne's For A Dancer.
I feel that I have to end on with No Time For Love/If They Come In The Morning. It is for all the ghosts all around the world.

Friday, 4 September 2015


A rewrite today. You can look at the previous version here.
I was not happy with the first drafts prose style. I felt it needed to be show more and say less.

Four herons fillet, feast.
Clack, craw, pick over bones.
Proclaim themselves kings.
Mock the slow humans,
whose catch they elegantly steal.

Those very fishermen who yearn for the river's riches,
as if their bounty was not enough.
The dangerous man speaks in metaphors:
This is how to sift a river's riches:
start at it's mouth;
your wooden trawl a French kiss,
all rooting tongue that spares no secret.
Dam the high narrows upstream,
deny passage to life returning from the sea.
Only think of water as power.

There is profit in his words
-but not for you or yours.
Once the river has been strip searched,
its bed disturbed and left unmade,
there will be nothing.
We, the few who remain,
plumb the dirty stream in search of anything.
Does it work for you?
This second poem I wrote this week. The idea came from the phrase the river returned. I think the idea had come from watching a history programme about a vanished city from prehistory that is thought to have been made uninhabitable following an earthquake that rerouted a river through its centre.

Stronger than ever the river returned,
to rage through my city.
She had gone to the market to buy cloth,
then white horses break on the walls.
Water beats clay brick.
We could not staunch its flow,
so looked to the priests for reason,
then questioned their inevitable response,
that places sin ahead of geography.
Sunken mosaics silt over, await rediscovery.
My hearth will now never spark into flame,
nor will my heart.
I shoulder my bundle, walk towards the mountains.
You could argue that the narrator would not know that the river had returned, to him it would have been this catastrophe but I like the phrase. Time to leave it in the drawer for a while.
I leave you with Beth Porter & The Availables singing Salty Water.

Friday, 28 August 2015


More from the Marjons workshop. 
The above document is an application form for the College of St. Marks in the 1880's. I used this and another person's form as the basis of the third workshop task.
The idea that came to me developed from thinking about the form and how small the spaces were for the applicant to reply. The man in question obviously had a full time: born in America; moved to England; trained and worked as a cobbler; joined two different strands of Christianity; a very interesting life.

The Word had reached in, kissed his heart,
sloughed off all sin, remade him in grace.
He saw the only possible course,
souls to save through education, transmutation,
he will bring this light to others.

He cannot write all this Good News down in the space provided.
What do you think?
Needs a little revision possibly open out the moment of revelation. But the idea works.
I am afraid I cannot work out how to transfer the last archive image, a clipping from a local Plymouth paper in 1969. It has a photograph of the first intake of student teachers in Plymouth, this is prior to the then College of St Mark and St John moving there from London. Its a long story but the then college moved to Plymouth in 1973 but had run a satellite B.Ed. in the city. The women posed by a photographer interested me.


I suspect a low news week,
examine this faked photographic opportunity,
a pretend weaving class.
Wooden poses of what the photographer thinks education looks like

The headlines tells a truth but fails to add
that the men will be paid more
and have better jobs from the start.
This news clipping is an echo from a war that is still being fought.

The difference in pay between men and women was worse in 1969 and shamefully it has not been eradicated today. It seems incredible in the twenty first century that one's biological gender can affect one's earning capacity. But perhaps that is a discussion for another time.
Here's the magnificent Annabelle Chvostek singing Peter Tosh's Equal Rights.