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.

Friday, 12 June 2015

THEY HAVE IT ALL

The results of the second workshop  for the reading at the University of St. Mark and St. John
The second photograph is entitled Benjamin Moody, St. Johns, 1912-13
The man in the middle of the seated row is holding a hand written sign that says Smiler's Brigade.
The first thing that struck me about this was the date and how close to the start of the First World War it was. 
BENJAMIN MOODY, ST. JOHNS 1912-13

They are fourteen months from the edge,
the abrupt end to that particular day,
of course none of them have an inkling
of how their world will crumble into mud.
All that is to come.
At this moment,
a Saturday in June, 1913,
they have it all.
This pride of privileged white men,
top of the heap,
the In-Crowd.
Smiler's Brigade of what?
You don't need to know to appreciate
just what an exclusive bunch they are.
Cock of the walk of St. Johns.
The bird will crow three times,
how many of them will be left in 1918?
At the workshop we were all intrigued by seated man fourth from the right, the one who appears to have a dog collar and square sun glasses on. 
I wrote this light hearted verse about him:

that argument
you know the one
if Mr. Wells' time machine was real
why haven't we met men from the future
is a load of crap
history is snigh with time travelling thrill seekers
we just chose not to reveal ourselves
this century I'm playing a vicar
Smiler's right hand man
and today
fifty or so years too early
it's the electric cool aid acid test
Snigh is an old English word which, when I looked it up, means to pour. I know it as a dialect word in the north west of England from when I was growing up. For me snigh means crowded, tight packed.
If you want to know about the electric cool aid acid test, you can follow this link.
Here are the Mountain Goats with Amy/Spent Gladiator pt1.
And here's some more:
 

Friday, 5 June 2015

EARTHQUAKES IN HIS HEAD

At times you have to remove your favourite line from a poem for it to work. This is difficult as you are in love with it. You must be ruthless. I have a collection of such lines that I hope will come in useful at some unspecified point in the future.
This first poem came out of a conversation about cuts to the Disabled Students Allowance that our wonderful new government is bringing in this year. They refuse to see dyslexia as a disability.


She trots out all the famous examples,
the people who got on regardless.
Pluck and determination, that's the ticket.
Implicit in her philosophy
is that the ones who struggle, those who fail,
are lazy, shirkers, wanting something for nothing.
I reply people are all different.
Some need more help.
It could have been me,
it could have been you.
She counters with:
I had no support at university!
I had to get on with it!
Then urges me to think of the cost
that supporting dyslexic students adds to our tax bills.
I talk of level playing fields,
equality of access.
She tuts and shakes her head,
regards me as a museum piece.
She knows she is right.
Thatcher's child only concerned with me, me, me.
There was a further [short] stanza that began with my favourite line but it would have weakened the poem.

earthquakes in his head
seismographs show the damage
those blue eyes see elsewhere


here he whispers
something about sugar
and horses brought by his brother


certain music sparks neural pathways
sets him singing
a fine tenor

only forty four with all his life behind him
I am not going to talk about this poem. I think it explains itself.
Here are the Mountain Goats with The Legend of Chavo Guerrero off their latest album Beat The Champ.

Friday, 29 May 2015

VISIBLE VELOCITY

Another straight forward poem this post. 
Do you ever notice people avoiding you in the street, slipping in among the crowds rather than stopping and speaking? Perhaps it's just their reaction to me. On Monday this happened and rather than shout her name out I watched her slide away.
25.5.15.

I suppose she saw me,
abreast of where she walked,
as we were enjoying the finer points of our ongoing conversation.

She employed an obvious strategy:
get ahead of us,
avoid the inevitable polite interaction.

Her velocity through the lunch time throng suddenly making her visible.

I let her go.

That's it, that's all, no more.

Just a person I knew pre-redundancy.
An eight years on stranger.
Working hard not to say hello.

Not sure about every line, or in deed if it needs punctuation. I had envisaged it as a prose poem but it looked lumpy and I felt it needed the space to stretch out. It's a minor poem at best.
This next poem is another work in progress.
The Cartography of the Soul

They had robbed him.
First it was his parents,
marriage floundering then separation.
Mostly it was his schooling,
bright, brittle social construction.

His ancestors had sailed oceans,
criss-crossed the freezing sea,
sure of the craft beneath their feet.
And here he was, hollow inside,
tied to his logic by cynicism.
This is how my world will be.

Love would not save him,
as soon as the children could leave
he shut the door on his way out,
put half the globe between him and them.
Still it was not enough.

The gulf could not be crossed even in sleep.
He dreams; sexton in his left hand,
looking for at least one star in the darkling sky.
The black water ripples with no wind.

When he wakes he knows this is how it will continue,
No map, no compass, nowhere.

I put it away about three months ago and still cannot yet see its true shape. Any suggestions?
I leave you with Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan off the Mountain Goats new album.

Friday, 22 May 2015

PAPER THIN DRUM SKIN WALLS

The first poem this post came from a story I was told. A friend of mine was staying on a static caravan site [trailer park] in Cornwall recently. It was a cheap weekend away. Around three in the morning on the first night they heard a fight, a serious fight and the next morning a near by caravan was empty and they were told that the two couples who had been staying there had been evicted.
So this is pretty straight forward really.

It took until three in the morning for the alcohol to hollow them out,
thinning their skin to the point
where every remark, every action,
was perceived as an affront.
Then the two of them, brothers in law, in fact, were at it,
scrapping in the static caravan.

The first for that season the copper thought,
as he threatened them with pepper spray,
and the prospect of more community service.
There was a procedure for this sort of thing,
by the time the sun rose over the entertainment complex,
they had been evicted.

This was not how their wives had envisaged the weekend.
Driving back up the motorway,
neither woman chose to speak.


The silent treatment.


Sort of brought the men close again.
Allowing each to feel sorry for himself.
Another little poem, which I think speaks for itself.

diaphragm drags noisy air
scours nasal cavities


deep beer fuelled breath


and the paper thin drum skin walls


resonate


you do not sleep so I do not sleep


sunrise seals the deal


I get up and write
This weekend is a Bank Holiday in the UK and I'm off to Bridport in Dorset tomorrow to their Vinyl Saturday to relive the days of my youth by shifting through crates of old lps.
From those days here is Spirit with I Got a Lone on You, off their second album, The Family That Play Together, which is the best record their first line up made.
Here is Gorn Attack from the best album they did Future Games. I'd hoped someone had uploaded the full lp in all its bonkers glory, sadly not.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

BE THE MEDIA

Let me put my cards on the table. I did not stumble across Be The Media by chance. I have followed Anabelle Chvostek's career for some time now. I reviewed the last album and have written about her before that.
Phew! That's the confessing out of the way.
The new album, Be The Media, is both a departure and a continuation of Annabelle's muse.
With songs like Jerusalem she continues to examine the plight of the dispossessed and to question traditional western religion. The song explores the space between what we say and what we do. The narrator is prevented from taking aid to the Palestinians oppressed by the Israelis. It is a powerful song but I thought that, on reflection, the lyric is unresolved. Annabelle sings:
Jerulsalem
That God of three
A God of love
They claimed to me
However I cannot help but think that the state is Zionist, not Christian. I know the song argues that if God is love then there should be no occupation and no suffering. As a song it works but I find that lyric troubling.
The majority of Be The Media rocks. Annabelle has bought a beautiful 1969 Fender Mustang and it is the instrument of choice on the majority of the record. A word at this point about her wonderful band, they are very good. Annabelle has played with Tony Spina [drums] and Jeremie Jones [bass] for the past eight years and the interplay between them is superb. Catch them live to see just how telepathic the communication is. Tony Spina has chops to spare, he is an incredibly inventive drummer, reminiscent of the great Ed Cassidy. Jeremie Jones' sinuous bass lines are at times the lead instrument. Miss them live at your peril.
Black Hole is a stand out track for me both in musical direction – space rock, and lyrically. One of Annabelle's strengths has always been her ability to weave current scientific theory seamlessly through her work.
There is a loose spontaneous feel to the record. It was recorded over two weekends and sounds fresh, energised and inviting.
The version of Neil Young's Like a Hurricane was unexpected and works very well with Annabelle on mandolin and guitars, Jeremie on bass and piano and Tony on drums.
Even when she is focussing on her electric guitar Annabelle cannot help but draw upon diverse influences. Carnal Delights, a song about good sex, sounds like it was arranged by Kurt Weill. Lisa Gamble's musical saw is a delight throughout the album.
There is progression here, a broadening of the sonic palette and a maturity to her writing that makes Annabelle one of the great singer/songwriter's of our time.
The production is excellent. The record sounds organic, has good lyrics and it rocks. You can buy it here. You can also follow her on twitter.
I make no apologies for posting her new video for the second time. Enjoy.

Friday, 15 May 2015

CHEMICAL SHIMMER

In the week beginning the 21st September I am part of a group of Taunton poets reading at the University of St Mark and St John in Plymouth. We hope to raise enough money to add the missing name of a World War One soldier to the role of honour. For some strange reason his name has been omitted.
We have decided to explore the concepts of diversity and inclusion as the university has a long and noble tradition of inclusion.
As a springboard for new poems we are using a series of images from the university archives. The above photograph records the students and staff of St Mark's College in 1880. The university being originally two colleges that opened in 1840 and 1841 respectively.
I asked the poets attending a workshop to choose a person in the photograph and to write their story. I selected the man third from the left in the third row from the top. I was stuck by the casual, cocky way he looks into the camera and by the fact he is leaning on the person to his left.
I wrote two poems, this is the second and concerns the event of the photograph itself.


like flies in amber


this is the photograph


stand stock still for as long as it takes the light to fall through the lens and bruise the chemical shimmer on the glass plate


stabilise that image


it will record this point in human history beyond the life span of these people


the celebrated


the excluded



at some point in the future we will ask for answers
I decided that my man knew his path through and what he could expect as his due.


THE THOUGHTS OF THE INDOLENT MAN


I know who I am old man,
the fulcrum, the secret centre,
the blessed son of Adam untarnished by the fall.


Sunlight bends before me,
the compass points toward me.


Don't believe in science,
don't believe in geography,
for I have glimpsed God's own map
and know my place in history.
Some are born to serve their betters,
you all shall wait on me.

There will be more poems to follow and should you be able to attend the reading I would be delighted to see you.
I saw the wondrous Annabelle Chvostek last night and I shall be reviewing the new album on Tuesday. For now here she is singing Nashville. She is in the UK for a few more dates. If you can go see her.