Wednesday, 18 November 2015


There is much to think about in the poetry of Ash Dean. On the surface it is lyrical but read it for a second time discern what is below the surface. 
Here is a man dedicated to his art. A man who speaks eloquently. Those with ears will hear.
Philosophy informs a lot of my poetry. I think this is the case with most poetry, whether it is acknowledged or not. The human condition, the natural world and how these things co-exist and relate – poetry frames a snapshot of some truth amongst all of this. Truth is always the starting point. To write a poem I need to have something truthful to say and the success of the poem is its ability to communicate this truth to others while retaining its particularity.

I like to immerse myself in all of the arts as I believe they can all gain experience from each other. Poetry is especially transcending. It can combine imagery and melody to tell stories or share ideas. It can be visual, musical and literal in one.

The creative process fascinates me and I often reflect upon it in my monthly blog. As an artist you are constantly dealing with how to capture something almost intangible and make it real. As for finding inspiration, I find the key is to be open-minded, to think deeply and to experience new things. Inspiration doesn’t work on demand for me. I do the aforementioned things and leave it to strike randomly. The trigger experience itself usually becomes the focus of the poem but sometimes the idea is bigger and needs dissecting into a group of poems or, sometimes, worked into a larger narrative in order to realise its potential.

I’m currently working on a conceptual collection, a Bildungsroman running as a linear narrative, which is really stretching my range of style. It is a test to make the collection follow while remaining varied and allowing for the poems to still be effectual individually.

The two poems below are from my Sweden collection. The collection is autobiographical and follows my attempt to settle in the country. When attempting to tap into truth, the best inspiration is a heartfelt experience. What is sometimes difficult is finding the composure to convey it.

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Du gamla, du fria  

Residing sleek hillside come drink from the pool, 
Cup volumes and feast without a motion, 
Enliven the lichen that bathes in the cool; 
Become aglow you waken all emotion.  

Young sapling foreseeing bid straight for the sky, 
Cheer softly near flora into fragrance, 
Together sweet millions a beau to espy; 
Allied are we enraptured by your cadence.  

Long sunset go teasingly on till the eyes 
Upon you go slumber to your obit; 
Now merge with the living, the sea and the rise, 
Entrench anew and galvanise our bowsprit.  

Quick lope cracking hearth blind or whip summoned might, 
Mute shackles upon a painted spectre, 
Redress fevered cares with the chill of the night,
Entrap my soul, bequeath it as your sceptre.  

A thawing, oh fawning, do death give to life, 
Transition a peril and a splendour, 
In faith and humility heedless to strife; 
A true romance abided by its labour.  

Inside every kingdom a will plays to rule 
And binds the waif spirit to the landscape. 
This vista vibrates throughout each molecule; 
Propel me forth, command me till the last gape. 


Sombre dawn -  
Weighted, packed and clinging 
Is the baggage that remains 
As the near-deserted tunnelbana 
Jolts steadily my leave 
And from Hammarbyh√∂jden 
To Skärmarbrink junction
I see myself in the glaze of a window.  

To stare at one’s reflection 
With no trace of vanity, 
No abstraction, 
To stare at the self
In one certain moment, 
When nothing is certain and all is absurd, 
To stare at the mask of the mind 
That has nothing left,
Just existence, 
Feeling nothing except the absorption of time 
And the haunting eyes
In which time has stopped.  

Give me defeat for it fuels my progression. 
Humiliate me and harden me for losing. 
I fail because of choice itself 
And not the choices I make.  

There is no prescribed way to impart oneself, 
Only that which tests and destroys 
To rebuild and destroy again. 

What would I be
If I had not chanced
Everything I had become?
In every loss
I gain and reap
More than I lost.

This will always be
My eternal hanging.

Both poems copyright Ash Dean 2011.

Friday, 13 November 2015


In true Magpie Bridge tradition the photographs do not match the main poem- but they do reflect the second poem, close but no cigar.
The title of this post is taken from below. But first a couple of lines on its genesis. 
I had the beginning of the poem rolling round my head for a couple of days. A man using his internal dialogue to set his life to rights. I suspect the trees changing to autumn sparked the idea. I left a draft of the first stanza for a week or so then as I revised it I thought it would be interesting to contrast his idealised internal life with a more brutal reality.

In his head it is always summer,
he refuses autumn permission
to taint even a single leaf.
Across impossibly green lawns,
in high ceilinged rooms,
where fans churn stale words,
he replays his life's key events,
pulling his fat from the fire as required.
It is time for drinks on the veranda,
gin slings with friends.

Outside his head rain tattoos the tin roof.
Summer has gone missing,
spring is eighteen months late
and freak weather has reduced his world.
All across the English Archipelago
survivors fear their neighbours,
eat their seed stocks,
worry about the sea level,
or that the water will rise in a moving wall
and sweep them away, once and for all.
Not sure about that last couplet.
I had to loose some interesting lines along the way. At one point there were three stanzas, inside his head, his immediate environment and then the wider world. The second stanza ended with the line: He knows exactly how many food tins remain. But you have to be ruthless.
I was just looking for a decent gin sling recipe but most on line add sugar syrup- a travesty. Essentially a gin sling is 2 parts gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice [to taste], a shake of Agustora Bitters topped up with tonic water. Chill the glass and add ice before you start. 
A brief poem I wrote last Friday after watching a firework display.

it draws you outdoors
echoes across the houses
this is how dolphins navigate
in sonic sketches
we are drawn to a street corner
with other humans
to watch fireworks for free
to evaluate each blossom against our memories
it is over too soon
There is something about loud noises echoing off buildings that [for me at least] can confuse.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Allen Toussaint the other day. We have lost a very unique voice. here's a documentary about his life.
Here's my favourite of his lps Southern Nights.
And lastly here's the great Lee Dorsey singing Yes We Can.
Until next time.

Friday, 6 November 2015


Sometimes poems arrive and you have no idea of where they came from. It is as though you were channelling them, the poet as a radio receiver. You will occasionally hear poets saying something similar to this but, though we usually know which events we are choosing to combine, poems are their own entities. Each telling its own truth.
Two thirds of this poem came in a rush and the skill was to make the last part work. There have been many drafts and there may be more to come.

Startled finger prints are the best to lift
off cup, door handle, another's flesh.
The ones that did not expect to be called to account,
are open, honest, and convey a simple story.

Premeditating hands will wish to smear their natural oils
and sweat incomplete or twisted impressions.
They pray to be incomprehensible.
They pray for no detection after the event.

There can be no time for remorse,
if the novels and films are to be believed.
Every surface must be wiped in reverse order,
reflection on the action comes later, if at all.

This is the myth of science they peddle,
all knowing experts reading a room,
a mind, a life, this world,
then telling us God is dead
or was absent in the first place.
How little they know.
As usual I am title less. Any suggestions?
I'm off to see The Mountain Goats in two weeks and I can't wait. Here John Darnielle playing solo.
And here are the band.

Friday, 30 October 2015


I have been travelling this week, seeing family in the north of England. 
This week's poem was written in Leeds and arose out of a conversation I had with my brother as we drove across the city. Have you ever returned to a place you once knew reasonably well but have not visited for some time and found a confusing new road system? 

you have to stay away to appreciate the changes

Night driving across Leeds.
We pass through memories,
more tangible than the houses that stood
where this road now runs.
We talk people, dates last seen, deaths,
divorces, real lives lived, messy,
beautiful, and every stop between.
I watch my reflection
as if it were a character in someone else's film.
Convinced in that instant of other realities,
check by jowl to this one,
then realise that I must inhabit some of them,
as do all these people we discuss,
the missing, the messed up,
who succeed in those other places.
The darkness that fringes the amber street lights
hints at this truth.
This poem is not finished. 
The last two lines need to be laid out properly and some of the enjambment [line endings] need work.
This is Brooke Sharkey singing Come Be Me. What a wonderful voice and those lyrics!

Friday, 23 October 2015


I keep my poem drafts in a large notebook. I write longhand and I will revise a poem a number of times before I type it up on the computer. I think it is useful to keep a record of a poem's evolution. If I ever loose my way when revising a poem then I can go back to the original idea.
Some poems fall by the wayside in this process, today's poem being one of them. I was looking back through an old notebook and realised that by shifting some of the poem around and by adding line breaks I could complete the poem.

We've all been there.
Isherwood was offered China,
but only if he held his lover's hand and jumped,
that very night, from the Weimer frying pan,
into the fires of the advancing Japanese army.
He chose not to do this.
Perhaps that's why we remember such moments.

The conversation halts,
you look at me across the debris of the meal.
I let that one pass, twice.

Outside the Bluecoat, sunset in your hair
and eyes I could have fallen into.

There have been others,
in those instants there is a nexus.
Maybe this reality we live in
is the negative result of all those opportunities
we didn't take.
The poem refers to Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical book Goodbye To Berlin. He tells how his lover, one night, said they should go to China and leave the horrors of Hitler's Germany behind them. 
Many years after I read the book I was reflecting on the opportunities that we decide not to take and how our lives would have been different if we had.
The Bluecoat is an art centre in Liverpool.
Here's Mikey Kenney and Laura Spark's amazing animation for Council of Owls.
For some reason the full animation isn't on Youtube so here's a link to Vimeo.
Mikey Kenney again with Bottom of the Bottle [all of it this time].

Friday, 16 October 2015


I've revised the poem from the last post. As I said at the time, I was not happy with the ending and over the last seven days I've altered it a number of times. By Wednesday I had it in what I thought was a reasonable shape and off I went to a Juncture 25 meeting.
I shall not repeat myself about the importance of constructive feedback from people you respect and trust, but I must thank Jinny, Gram and Geoffrey for their input. It has made for a better poem.


After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus carves the joint of British beef.
Blood smears the knife blade.

Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest.
Now he works it out, 5,000 gallons of water and twelve pounds of corn
were needed 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 inevitable future of famine.
Malthus swallows and thinks himself blessed,
the future will not be his problem.
So what has changed? The first line is now the title. I have lost two "clever lines"- secure sinecure, traditional, tory and a man with more angle than a protractor. The first because it echoes the rest of that scene setting opening stanza and the second because though, I think, it's clever, it adds nothing to the poem. You have to be ruthless.

The second stanza has lost the lines: Populations grow faster than the food they eat,/it really is that simple. Removed so as to show rather than tell. I have to watch that I do not fall into that hectoring style in political poems.

Also I think the poem benefits from line breaks. The revised layout allows the poem to breathe. It is always interesting to play with the layout you never know what you may discover.
Only the one poem this week. I have been working for some time now on an idea that is proving more difficult to get a handle on than I would have thought. Watch this space...
Speaking of space the news that the star system KC 8462852 may hold evidence of sentient alien life is very exciting [to me anyway].
I've been listening to John Butler this week. here he is playing The Ocean.
Here's a full set from 2008 at Fort Mason.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015


When you say ‘archives’ what do you see in your mind’s eye? Dusty shelves? Ancient papers? Drab grey filing cabinets? That’s what I expected when I came to volunteer. We have those of course, but Marjon archives are so much more than this, resembling more of a tiny museum of various objects from the long history of the university. And we have a long history soon to be nearing 200 years. I could tell you about the famous people we have connections to, or how we were the pioneers in various fields, but as a creative writer I value the stories more. And the archives seems to be endless source of stories. Stories of people, stories of objects, of pictures and stories in books. You walk through the archives and pick up things. What’s that? A letter from a man that wants to resign from his studies because he suffered injuries in WWI. This picture? It’s of a man who travelled here from Africa and became first black school inspector in the times nobody would even dare to talk about equality. This book? By a man who was so sick of seeing poverty in England that he went on a crusade against it. It goes on, stories of men, women and even children that were involved in the life of the university. That’s what I didn’t expect when I first came to the archives. And that is why I am not leaving, because there always is a story to tell.

Thanks Agata for this wonderful insight into a truly fascinating archive.
You can read Agata's excellent blog here.