Friday, 27 February 2015

THERE IS WONDER

 
 Juncture 25, the poetry group I facilitate, appeared at the Purbeck Literary Festival last night, and in the afternoon I ran a poetry workshop. I'd like to thank all the people who attended and contributed so creatively. I would also like to thank the cafe Not just Sundaes who so professionally and warmly hosted the event.
The evening was a great success as was the workshop.
As an opening exercise, just to get the brain working, I asked the group to think of a postcard, describe the picture on the front and to write what was on the reverse. It did not have to be to a real person.
This was mine:

Blue sky, anonymous sand dunes. A four wheeler driving down the dune at a steep angle, sand pluming from the wheels.
And written on the back:
you never did this
but would have loved to
if it was free and in another's car
you could have whispered 
simple words from starved lungs
of the science and the skills required
but you never did

that's life in'it
The main exercise was to write a poem as a series of instructions. A task I had recently set Juncture 25. 
My own initial reaction was to reach back to my engineering days, I don't understand why, but as I had done so last time, my response was to write about Tai Chi.

this sequence of movement
each posture elegantly named
whose aim is to stretch a specific set of ligaments

slowly

you may claim the act of exercise as excuse
yet still ponder why you do it

but the diaphragm controls the breath
[each an end and beginning in itself]

centred

palms may tingle
hands cut through fabric air

the chi as thick as soup

so focus

there is oneness
there is wonder
Before this I had half sketched out a poem about Engineer's Blue. I completed a rough draft today, not sure about the layout, but i think it captures the fact I was not a happy apprentice.
industrial woad
thick and navy
engineers blue
can stain fingers beyond
soap and water rescue
designed to reveal the high points
so you
the killjoy
can scrap them away
just as factory life
steals your day
It just occurred to me that a title for it could be Engineer's Blues.
Here is I Jah Man singing Jah Heavy Load. Inspiring stuff indeed. 

Friday, 20 February 2015

LATHE LOVE SONG

Or workshop poem 8. 
This one I've been working on for a while and I'm reasonably happy with the draft. Before I go any further though, a word of explanation. 
A lathe is a machine to turn metal [or wood] and when I was an apprentice fitter/turner [40 years ago] I was taught how to use one. My trade originated from skilled artisans who could make and fit machinery to order. I was never that good...
I recently ran a workshop where the brief was to write a poem as a set of instructions and this is what I came up with.

LOVE SONG to a LATHE

You need the equipment,
the knowledge to use it,
or the foolhardiness to do it anyway.

I liked to watch the swarf
spiral off the spinning cylinder;
high speed; slow feed,
milky coolant lubricating the cutting edge.

You are looking for a metaphor,
I don't have one,
this centre lathe is our ages combined,
it's design even older.

Place the job in the chuck,
there is skill in centring the metal,
or practice, or a plodding predictability.

Always ensure you tighten each jaw separately
and never leave the chuck key in,
it has a tendency to fly at a tangent
and embed itself into the wall [or you].

Select the correct speed,
turn the chuck to ensure the gears have engaged.

In my day you wore a hairnet
to keep your fashionably shoulder length
[or in my case longer] hair
from being scalped off your head.

High speed, fast feed,
the waste metal complains as it it torn away,
in a series of razor edged nail clippings
[remember to clean the machine at the end of each day].

Measure by micrometer.
Each as beautiful a mechanism
as a good pocket watch.

If you so desire you could turn a cube,
simply counterbalance the plate,
disengage the drive, spin.
Add weights as required.

Grinding the cutting tools is an art form.
Get it right and you can cut a buttress thread
-male or female.
Slowly the tungsten bit will reveal the perfect helix.

But those days are over,
and this is a history lesson.
Here are The Decemberists at Manchester on Tuesday.
I have to confess The Rake's Song is not one of my favourite Decemberist's songs. This, though, I think is.
Until next time.

Friday, 13 February 2015

KLEE IN WIDNES

I have been revising my work with the help of Juncture 25 and the Secret Poets. They are both poems you have seen before. The poem that lends a line to the title of the post was slightly longer in its last incarnation. The last couplet has gone and I've changed some of the other lines as well.

KLEE IN WIDNES

hobbles his palette to grey and black,
then goes hunting for other colours.
He walks terraced streets and
sketches the Transporter Bridge.
Bumps into Lowry by the Empire.
together they bemoan the films on show:
Too bloody American for my taste.
End up in the Queens
drinking bitter with the bus drivers.
Outside again the sunset stops him short,
more colours then he has seen all day.
Lowry disabuses him of any grand design:
It's all the muck the factories pump out.
He leaves that nigh from Farnworth station.

CORBUSIER in BRIDGWATER

this higgledy-piggledy town of twisting streets
is an offence to a man in love
with the right angle.
None of which cuts the mustard in Bridgwater.
After all, they have the first concrete house,
a ruin to be sure, but still history.
The Big C has the last laugh,
when they pulled the place to pieces
and speared roads through its heart.

THE MARX BROTHERS IN LIVERPOOL

are looking to get laid,
after Paradise Street disappointed.
Chico checks The Echo
his horse has yet to finish yesterday's race.
That rich boy cousin Charlie knocked about with,
used to say Manchester was where it was at.
But they are booked in Huddersfield tomorrow,
wherever the hell that is.
What do you think?


Dolphin Watching in Oman

The sound of two hands clapping.
Repeated.
It will, I am told, draw the dolphins.
A hundred people,
in six boats, 
mill around the bay.
The large hands slap again.
Engines idle, the man maintains his rhythm.
Applause as the mammals surface.
We chase them or they follow,
it is difficult to tell.
Do they care an industry 
has developed around them?
They left the land to us,
returned to the water long ago.
Now we search for them
as if they had answers.
This second poem benefited greatly from the input of the Secret Poets. You can read the previous draft here. The scratched, old record in my head cannot help repeating that you need to work with others to improve your work. 
I leave you with a cool new surf, garage band, Somerset's own Lakota FiveI'm hoping to interview them soon.Having seen them live I can tell you they are the real thing. There is an energy and an edge to them.  Judge for yourself.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Dr FEELGOOD FARMING

Or workshop 7.
I recently ran a workshop for Juncture 25 and based it on an idea by Tony Williams that had been published by The Guardian. Essentially the idea was to write a poem from the perspective of a commodity. 
The first idea I had was this:

Modern Farming Methods

The land endures.
You cannot own it but we believe do,
are willing to die for this illusion.
But look at the results of our husbandry;
speed freak intensive production,
cranked up Dr. Feelgood farming.
If this field was a man
he'd be stick thin, with rotting teeth,
and dark circles under each vague eye,
lined up with the methadone brigade,
waiting for that sticky, sweet dollop of grace
that each morning brings.
I was thinking of how intensive farming has depleted the land how it is dependent on the chemicals we add.
This second attempt was about the forced harvesting of organs from prisoners.

eyesight to the blind

Each has it's price.
Worth more than this captive life,
which is stamped and set for execution.
Once the deals are done,
and the logistics of modern medicine
have arrived at an optimum date,
a harvest festival of human organs.
We shall give thanks,
but not enquire too closely
how they have come here.
Pretty desperate stuff eh? Hopefully next post will be a little lighter...
Here's Brooke Sharkey and Adam Beattie.

Friday, 30 January 2015

THE SOUND OF THE 'COPTERS

Do not expect the photographs to mirror the content. Such connections are beyond me. 
Here is a new poem that came out of a conversation in which the word bridges chimed with me for some reason. I had an old poem that I could never satisfactorily write. I took the idea of bridges and joined it to the kernel of this existing attempt. 


I used to listen for the sound of the 'copters,
rotors thumping the compliant air,
engine noise gradually growing...
There were times when a bad B-movie rescue
would have more than suited me.
I was choosing to forget that after the credits roll,
the actors resume their own problems.
Now, I want bridges as a means to get from here to there.
Perhaps I'm just older, more realistic,
I know I have lost my faith in film.
I suppose I should clarify the end. In my youth, in the days before video recorders were affordable for everyone and we could watch any film we wanted to at any time, it was a case of catch the film when it came out or miss it. Plymouth, where I was a student, had a number of venues to watch films. On a Saturday I could watch a double bill of old films in the afternoon [at the Athenaeum], eat at the Arts Centre [which in those days did excellent vegetarian food] then watch their latest film and make it back to my rooms to catch a foreign film on BBC2. 
I can't do that any more, nor, in all honesty do I want to.
These days I just can't connect to film. I'd rather read. How about you?
THE WEDNESDAYPIG
[the song of the reluctant fitter's mate]

When we was skint, proper boracic,
we had this plan see.
Wait until the pig's are delivered,
at least one load a day to the abattoir,
us slaughter men were on piece time.
We'd let a pig escape,
run it through the nearest shop,
thieving what we could as we went.
It was a good little earner,
but the new owner wasn't slow to cotton on.
He'd fitted cameras.
I got fined and fired.

This poem has changed greatly. 
When I discussed it with the Secret Poets the general opinion was that it was two poems and that the shop lifting event was not clear. 
It seemed easier to put aside the character sketch and go with a heist narrative. 

It seems only fitting to end with Elis Regina singing Travessia [Bridges]. It was written by Milton Nascimento. This isn't the best version, but seeing Elis live makes up for it.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

FIRE RIVER POETRY COMPETITION

My colleagues, The Fire River Poets, are holding an open poetry competition. The closing date is 20th February so you haven't got long to enter.
This year the judge is Lawrence Sail. He is an excellent poet and an experienced and sensitive judge.
So what's stopping you? 
Here are all the entry details:

Easy to enter notes:  mail your poems and details to entry (and that is…) @fireriverpoets.org.uk. We prefer poems as separate file attachments – as Word document(s) – in any case, please ensure each poem is on a separate page. List the poem title(s), along with your name, home address, e-mail address and telephone number in the body of the e-mail.  Please don’t put your name or other details on attached file(s) – we have to give the judge an anonymous printout. There’s no need to quote your PayPal receipt. (And unless it’s vital to the form of your poem, please don’t double-line-space longer poems; we prefer single-sheet printouts. Thank you!)

So go for it and get your work out to a larger audience.

Friday, 23 January 2015

BETTER TO BE EARLY

This is my broken record: You need to revise your work. Possibly it is never complete. Always leave it for a couple of weeks then revise it again.
Today's poem is a case in point. I originally posted it a couple of weeks ago. At the time I said it was not finished, though I could not see a path forward. Well thanks to the Secret Poets [one of the two groups I belong to] it is.
Broken record two: Join a group, get used to offering and receiving constructive feedback. Your work will benefit from this immensely.
Case in point:

BIRTHDAY

Today would have been your birthday.
It's early morning, the house is quiet,
I savour a silent cup of tea. You would have been 96
interrupting text flash;
My midwife daughter is asking the ether
if she is only one awake.
I call, delighting in the sound of her voice.
She tells me of the birth of a boy,
so eager to be in this world,
that he is three quarters out with the first contraction.

You used to say it's better to be early than late.
That last visit you came by train,
the emphysema was closing it's grip.
We had to be at the station half an hour early,
I felt you relax only once on the platform.

Will this new boy live a life like yours?
There are many worse examples.
your generation gave us so much,
just to let us live this life.
This poem benefits from discussion and the perspective of three other poets, without which it would not have been this complete. 
So what are you waiting for? 
Get out there and form your own group.
Here is Jamie Freeman and the wondrous Annabelle Chvostek playing This Machine at Totnes early last year. You can see me on the front row [I'm the one with the pint near me].