Friday, 31 July 2015

THINK


Two poems this post.
The first is a reflection on an incident I saw while stood in a queue.

This arrogant young man in the queue in front of me,
is a good suit with dirty shoes.
Too good a metaphor to miss.

My mother used to say:
Clean shoes are the mark of a true gentleman.
But that was then.

I want to say: Think!
Before you speak those negative thoughts out loud,
grant them life to wound or to hurt.
Think...
But he's in full flow.

Perhaps in the next life their roles will be reversed,
maybe they are now.
One thing I know is that every petulant word we utter
adds to our karma.

Next time around he's going to need those broad shoulders.

Please do not think I am trying to say I am perfect. I am not. I have been that person in the past. I really do believe though that the best way to get through this life is by being kind. I have long discussions with a friend of mine in which we both agree that Kurt Vonnegut had the right approach.
This next poem is rather more personal.

59 years ago tomorrow
my mother gave me life.
She would always describe this event
as how I nearly killed her.
Bequeathing in me a particular guilt.
I could not explore until I was
much older than she had been at my birth.
When I did unpack it, examined every word,
I saw that I had been holding a piece of the fabric of life.
The sort of thing that just happens.
Yet it stuck to my fingers.
On certain days, like this one,
I hear her speaking those words.
Warwick Folk Festival was fun, despite two days of rain. It's well worth going to if you get the chance.
I leave you with Lal & Mike Waterson singing Bright Phoebus.

Friday, 24 July 2015

SHIP WRECKED

Emily Fay McCoy  reading at this years 2000 Trees Fesitval
I'm off to Warwick Folk Festival this weekend. I'm reading and running a poetry workshop.
So one poem in progress.

CBT wk2

emotion swells
the surge forward of panic and despair
that washes over us all
then feeds back over the hesitant facilitator

she's one week ahead of us in the manual
she consults her ill prepared hand scrawled notes
and plucks an image from the air

reflecting on this I have to question
and so take my place as the wind bag
therapy by numbers

ask myself why I am here again
there is one thing I am certain of these people deserve better

ship wrecked we cling to the tables
in the hope that the hesitant words may hold the secret
Reading in Bredon Books on Monday as part of the Taunton Live Festival
I leave you with Alela Diane singing Lost Land.

Friday, 17 July 2015

GHOSTS AT THE DOOR

A revised poem to start with this week. I shall not, though, bang on about the importance of revising your work. Save to say that sometimes simply not looking at a poem for a week or two will show up its flaws.
We are at table and there are statistics.
Not the obvious count of knife and fork and spoon,
or the percentages of dishes with no meat.
One of our number informs us:
the average academic paper is read by ten people.
I should have been embarrassed,
but I crowed how many visits my blog receives.
These are the overtures, mere distractions,
the real equation leaves me speechless.
Fist let me give you the context,
my friend has worked in China for the past year,
this meal is a celebration of his return,
and he interjects, cuts across our cosy conversation.
Mao, he was told 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 food we are enjoying;
the band we going to watch;
house prices, books we have read.

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.
This next poem is again a work in progress and is based on something someone said to me.


MOMENT

Then as he walked home,
across the fields, the way he had come,
rain began to fall.
Dives and Lazarous in the first few thin drops,
as if that rich man held the purse strings of the clouds.
He moved through Thomas Tallis variations,
and as the rain became heavier,
he could hear all of Vaughan Willams' music
in the fat drops that fell onto his head
and ran off his shoulders and down his back.
By the time he reached his house
the sky was an intricate lattice of music,
which followed him inside and into the shower,
chiming off the tiles as mute water sloughed the music off his skin.

Essentially a friend had the idea that, as they walked home, each raindrop was a note of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. I liked the conceit so much I decided to steal it!
Here's Will Varley.

Friday, 10 July 2015

30% WRONG

 
If you are reading this on the day it is posted then I am at at the 2000 Trees Festival reading poetry. I hope your weekend will be as enjoyable as mine.

I am not going to say anything about the poem below. I think it explains itself.

We are at table and there are statistics.
Not the obvious count of knife and fork and spoon,
or the percentages of dishes with no meat.
One of our number informs us:
the average academic paper is read by ten people.
I should have been embarrassed,
but I crowed how many visits my blog receives.
These are the overtures, mere distractions,
the real equation leaves me speechless.
First let me give you the context,
my friend has worked in China for the past year,
this meal is a celebration of his return,
and he interjects, cuts across our cosy conversation.
Mao, he was told 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 food we are enjoying,
the band we going to watch,
the minutia of our oh so comfortable lives.
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.
I think it is nearly there. I am not sure about the last stanza and would welcome your thoughts. It is one of those poems that wear their genesis on their sleeve so to speak.
Here's the new Mountain Goats single Blood Capsules.
Until the next post.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

POETRY MOT

An explanation for those of you reading this outside of the UK: MOT [Ministry of Transport certificate] is a legal requirement, once a year all motor vehicles have to be checked for road worthiness. 
If you are passionate about your writing how can you develop your skills?
How do you know that you are writing to the best of your abilities? 
Where do you go for sound professional advice?
As part of the Taunton Live Festival CIC are hosting a unique opportunity; the chance to have conversation with a published poet [me] and receive constructive feedback on your work.
Each consultation will last for 20 minutes and you will have the choice of submitting four poems before hand via email.

OK that's the pitch out of the way. 
I am excited by this idea. I got it from the artist consultations they have a comic expos. You have fifteen minutes or so to show your portfolio to an established artist. I thought why not offer poets the same? 
If you are interested contact CIC.
But whatever you do don't stop writing!

Friday, 3 July 2015

THE PITCH BEGINS

I  spent last weekend attending university open days. Walking around unfamiliar campuses, listening to people's pitch about why their course should be taken and queueing up to look around buildings. As they talked I wrote this.

UNIVERSITY OPEN DAYS

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:
there are subtexts,
parental fears are prayed on
to push the full board option.
The employability statistics pass me by.
There can be no barter here,
this is not the horse trade.
We are bluntly told what must be achieved 
to even be considered.
For me the day dissolves into a series of queues.
We shall be repeating this tomorrow.
Not sure about the ending but I think it captures something of the experience.
Here is another new poem. It describes an occasional habit of mine, sitting up late at night listening to Louis Armstrong and sipping a whisky.

late nights
whisky with Louis
the variable quality of the liquid in the glass
contrasts with the purity of the horn
seemingly spontaneous
prodigious improvisation
I thank the technology that made it possible
to capture such majesty

I am a real fan of Louis' work. In the 1920's and 30's he defined the art of improvisation. He is just one of those rare people. I savour every note.
Last night I  participated in a reading and as I read the poem below I realised I could remove two words without loosing coherence. So out they went.

she stops the car
the night cold
my breath smoke
the lay-by muddy
mercury sheens the ridged field
surf sound from distant cars
she tells me to look at the moon,
another night, in another place she had said
there is only now
a noisy rickshaw carried us past
a bus stop blanketed by sleeping people
she has the map
I would follow her anywhere

You can read the previous version here.
I have to leave you with Mr. Armstrong playing Willie The Weeper.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

IS THIS ART?

I have found myself asking lots of questions in my poetry recently. I think they are the questions I should be asking in my head before the poem gets to the page actually. Nothing is really working. 
It will pass. 
These moments when there is no clarity do not last.
Here is the only thing I am half happy with at the moment.
In the National Gallery is a hurrying man.
He spends six seconds photographing each painting in turn,
low light compositions with fourteen mega-pixel clarity.
The artists whisper through his white plastic earplugs,
bigging themselves up, revealing, giving the low down.
He's half way through the building and he's heard it all before.
As he leaves for the next room,
I ponder his actions, they speak in a foreign tongue,
I ask myself is this art?
It was inspired by a man who I saw in the National Gallery doing the exact same thing this week.
I leave you with Tanita Tikaram playing Make the Day.