Friday, 20 October 2017

TOP TRUMPED

I've mentioned the Operation Paperclip before. It was a top secret strategy to bring into the USA and the UK useful Nazi scientists of dubious virtue. Among those so sanitised were Wernher von Braun and his V2 rocket engineers. The fact that they had used slave labour to build the V2 was glossed over.
Once in America they were sent to White Sands. The OSE was simply relieved that the Soviets had not managed to capture them.
They spent the end of the 1940s testing V2 rockets with monkeys locked inside them. The Soviets were doing similar things.
Neil Armstrong, when he first set foot on the moon, said it was a small step for a man.
This weeks poem is about of all this.
A Small Step for a Man

As usual the Americans were busy,
semi-secretly murdering monkeys,
no say, one way passengers,
locked into war surplus V2 rockets.
It kept the newly naturalised Nazis happy,
hidden out of the way at White Sands, Arizona.
Still the Soviets top trumped them,
proudly sending a stray dog into space to die.

There was no stopping either of them after that.
It was like Noah's Ark in reverse.
How many animals could they send to their deaths?
So let's not forget the monkeys,
the rabbit, the rats, all the fruit flies
and the amoeba,
who came to realise
that small step was far too steep.
I have been working on this poem for some time. It has benefited from being left in a drawer for a couple of months. When I came to look at it again I could see the flaws.
The photographs were taken at a reclamation yard in Somerset that used to have an old missile amongst its stock.
Here is the wondrous Annabelle Chvostek. Any chance of a tour of the UK?
Until next time.

Friday, 13 October 2017

BLUES TO GREYS

I wrote today's poem over the course of a day, returning to add and alter lines as the day unfolded. 
The inspiration came from being stopped by a traffic accident. As I reflected on the time I spent in the traffic queue looking out of the window I made my thoughts into this poem.

Night slips into dawn,
Russian blues to greys.
Each brake light neon red,
a stilled steel wave
stopped on the crest of the hill.

Most solo driven,
lonely bubbles of plastic and glass,
whose digital clocks countdown
until, at some point, we move,
to crawl past the cones.

I try not to see the trembling woman
but glimpse her new complication,
a wrecked car,
yellow metal skin ripped open.

In two seconds I have passed by.
The day is light,
the open road leads me
back into the details of my life.
As usual there is no title. Perhaps I should be one of those poets who simply number their work. It would be easier.
I am not sure if it is complete. I intend to put it away for a couple of weeks then see what it looks like.
Here is 13 minutes of superb music from Brooke Sharkey.
Until next time.

Friday, 6 October 2017

SUNDAY BEFORE THE ELECTION

I've been working on this post's poem for some time. Ever since the election in fact. Again it's based on real life experiences.
I just want to say that I really respect the people who work as care staff. Without their committed, conscientious and kind work this country would grind to a halt. They deserve to be recognised and paid a decent wage for the long, unsocial hours they are expected to work. This poem is not about those people.
Sunday Before the Election

I need the toilet
is how you greet me
two staff take you

the other inmates stare
thousand yard - no one at home stares
at the screen which dominates the day room
with its Songs of Praise rerun

you return
sit
I need the toilet

Are you sure? You've just been

staff cover annoyance
sigh
take you
the hymns continue

you return
sit
I need the toilet

You've just been I saw with my own eyes

I need the toilet

I ask the staff
apologise

somehow the tv has changed to rolling 24 hour news
Theresa May is telling me I need to tighten my belt

you return
two minutes sitting
with me trying to tell you about the family and
I need the toilet
they take you again
mouths flat lines

I watch the screen

you return
and tell me you need to go to the toilet
I have run out of words to talk at you
I have run out of any stray detail of my life
or of my children's lives
that could possibly hook you
and draw you back to us

from the screen Theresa points her finger

I kiss your head
and leave
I have been listening to Tanita Tikaram again this week. 
Here she is with probably her most famous song.
Until next time.

Friday, 29 September 2017

A THICK, PINK WINDOW


Thanks must go to the Secret Poets for their help with revising this poem. 
You can read the original here.
I was unhappy with the final line and when we were discussing the poem as a whole Fanon's book The Wretched of The Earth nominated itself as a better ending.
Thanks chaps.

TURN of THE COAT

I'm late for work, but it doesn't matter
as it's the early 70's
and I'm a member of the labour aristocracy,
top of the pile, an indentured tradesman.
So I stop at the paper shop,
and on a whim, buy the Financial Times.
A thick, pink window on an alien world.

Tea break, in the baggin' room,
the shop steward,
full to the brim with us and them,
tells me:

This is not our paper,
this is for them with the money.
Why are you, a working man,
buying the bosses paper?

Curiosity, I reply.
Just looking beyond the tools
at how other people live.

He shakes his head, tuts.
A very public sound
-turns, walks away.

By the end of that decade,
he will have emigrated to South Africa,
claiming that Britain is done for.
He wants to taste the good life,
to bring up his kids somewhere with a future.
I will be an undergraduate,
reading The Wretched of The Earth
Those of you who follow this blog will know of my championing of Ryley Walker.
Here is a short film about him.
Here he is live.
Until next time.

Friday, 22 September 2017

A CERTAIN HUNGER


A couple of Saturdays ago I was once again judging the poetry/creative writing competition at Winscombe Michaelmas Fair, as I have for the past seven years or so. Paul Mortimer gave me hand this time, thanks Paul.
As we stood admiring the jam sponges we got to talking about how they are selected. Neither of us knowing anything about the judging of cakes. So we decided that this would be a good subject to write a poem about.
I spent part of the afternoon writing a list of words and phrases which I thought might make it into the poem or at least be a starting point.
The next day I wrote this:

The Song of the Sponge Cake Judge

This morning I ate no breakfast
for the task requires a certain hunger
and must be approached with respect.
Half can be discarded on first glance,
for perfection is exacting.
Never forget this is science not art.
Television has a lot to answer for,
it creates lazy illusions.
If it were that easy,
everyone could do it.
The list of words gave me the voice for the character. I wanted someone who did not subscribe to the idea that cookery is art.
I think the poem could be about there, but it will go away for a couple of months now.
Here is Sufyan Stevens.
I think Carrie and Lowell is a stunning lp.
Until next time.

Friday, 15 September 2017

CHARM

I awoke the other morning with the idea for this post's poem half formed in my head. It was a memory from childhood.
The second stanza wrote itself as I played about with the idea.

Matter of factly
my mother wraps a strip of bacon around my finger.
Just enough raw meat to encircle,
instructs me to will the wart away,
to hold the flesh to my skin
for the required number of minutes.
Invokes an ancient charm,
as her mother had before.
Time unfolds, slow, fast.
Then I am directed to hang the bacon
on a bush in the yard.

On waking this morning,
for the first time in who knows how long,
that memory returned.
It has no follow up,
no proof of efficacy,
but there is no wart on my finger.
I checked, just now.
I just looked up wart charms and discovered it is quite a common superstition.
As I say I have no memory of the charm working. 
Here is Leonard Cohen.
Until next time.

Friday, 8 September 2017

LATE FOR WORK

Here is a memory transformed into a poem.
The story is true.
I just want to clarify a couple of points beforehand.
Bagging room is slang for the tea room. The place where you have your tea and lunch breaks in the factory. It is either Widnesian or Runcornian slang and very specific to a small area of the North West.
Franz Fanon was involved in the Algerian War for Independence. He wrote The Wretched of The Earth, which explores the dehumanising effects of colonisation and offers a path forward for post colonial countries and people.
Marcus Garvey promoted pan-African unity and founded the UNIA-ACL.
TURN of THE COAT

I'm late for work, but it doesn't matter
as it's the early 70's
and I'm a member of the labour aristocracy,
top of the pile, an indentured tradesman.
So I stop at the paper shop,
and on a whim, buy the Financial Times.
A thick, pink window on an alien world.

Tea break, in the baggin' room,
the shop steward, a little man,
full to the brim with us and them,
tells me:

This is not our paper,
this is for them with the money.
Why are you, a working man,
buying the bosses paper?

Curiosity, I reply,
just looking beyond the tools
at how other people live.

He shakes his head, tuts.
It is a very loud sound,
turns, walks away
and I am left sat there shamed.

By the end of that decade,
he will have emigrated to South Africa,
claiming that Britain is done for.
That he wants to taste the good life
and bring up his kids somewhere with a future.
I, meanwhile, will be an undergraduate,
reading Franz Fanon and Marcus Garvey.
The poem came pretty much as it is. I have been revising it all week.
Here's the wondrous Ryley Walker with a new song.