Friday, 23 December 2016

WAS IT NOT EVER SO?

 This Solstice has set me thinking about the cycle of life and death. I think some part of us returns to the earth after we die, clad in a different form, to learn more of life. 
This post's poem is about that process and it recycles a line from a poem that did not work. I always keep those lines that seem powerful, that have a good image or that are simply too good to loose.
I was in a car on the motorway, thankfully not driving, when the idea came to me. As usual I am not certain that it is in its finished form but here it is.

As a murmuration of starlings swirls at sunset,
turning in the reddening evening air,
so shall we gather again at the cessation of this cycle,
to regroup and refresh in that timeless space,
before we return for one more round of carbon life and love.
Was it not ever so?

Give thanks
I leave you with a 1979 video of Leonard Cohen singing So Long Marianne.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

AVEBURY 21.12.16

Greetings this Winter Solstice.
How has your day been?
I was up at 5am and driving to Avebury, in Wiltshire, the largest stone circle in Europe. These past few solstices I have been to Glastonbury and Stonehenge but this year I felt I had to return to Avebury.
There was quite a lot of low cloud but when the sun rose it was wonderful.
For me there is something special in the Winter Solstice, it feels like the start of the year.
May this New Year be all you could hope for.

Friday, 16 December 2016

BAZOOKA JOE

Bazooka Joe was a type of bubble gum when I was young. 
Last night I ran a workshop and this is what came out of it.

Bazooka Joe

the summer stretched out on long June evenings longer than pink bubble gum drawn between finger and thumb and I was unable to imagine the number of Monday's to come before school reduced the time to forty five minute segments and the night would last longer than the day
The workshop was a repeat of the one I had attended the other week. This time it led me to think about my teenage years. That heady sense of the endless summer.
I also produced this.

A Series of Movements

My hand writing
mother's signature
D. Tobin [Mrs].
The walk to the sports field,
having to stand on the touch line,
a forged sick note went only so far.
Pass, tackle and try.
Knowing the P.E. teacher
had given up on me.
I do not like sport even now. When I was at school I would forge notes to avoid playing. 
Neither piece is finished but I think they stand as they are. Thanks to Paul Mortimer for helping to pull them into shape.
I have just received the new Anna Ternheim live lp and am off to listen to it.
 Until next time.

Friday, 9 December 2016

HE CARRIED A TORCH

To carry a torch for someone is an old slang phrase for having unrequited feelings for another. It's a phrase I haven't heard for years but it came into my head recently and prompted this.

He carried a torch for me
far longer than was healthy.
I knew this by the cards,
and the telephones pleading cry in the night
that I stopped giving answer to.

Forty years would pass before I watched
his father cross Bold Street,
and I saw the man he had grown into.
I did not rush outside,
nor did I think of him again.

He carried the torch.
Seated in the anonymous window
of a nameless tea-house,
I hid beneath a sun
that sucked the light from his hand. 
Bold Street is in Liverpool. I imaged the narrator sat in one of the tea houses there suddenly seeing a person from her past walk by.
this is only the first draft- watch this space.
I was listening to Serafina Steer today. Here's a live video.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

VIDAR NORHEIM: BLIND CARBON COPY EP

Vidar Norheim is a multi-instrumentalist, singer song writer. He first came to my attention through his work with Lizzie Nunnery, he produced her two albums, arranging and playing on both. Live he was a sensitive and skilled professional who enabled Lizzie to concentrate on communicating with her audience. 
I'm going to cut to the chase here [and leave you to follow the link to his band Wave Machines], Vidar has just released his first ep and it is as good as you would expect from such a consummate musician.
It sounds like nothing else around at the moment, melodic, organic and with a great delicacy, a lightness of touch to it that simply draws you in. Just what you would expect from a musician named Norway's most promising song writing talent in 2011. Every note on this ep feels like it has been placed in the correct position, it sounds so natural, it's a joy on the ear.

First up on the ep is the title track, Blind Carbon Copy which is a sublime piece of synth pop. Lizzie Nunnery provides an intriguing set of lyrics that add to the tension as the song unfolds. It is a lovely track and Vidar's accomplished vocals are perfect.
Sirens is another piece of sophisticated pop that should be coming out of every speaker in the land. Vidar has produced a perfect synthesis of lyrics and music. 10 More Miles is an interesting love song with lyrics by Lizzie. Crystalised too is a lovely song. 
What my poor descriptions of these four songs have not described is the quality of musicianship and the luscious soundscape that Vidar has created single handed. This guy has chops to spare. 
This ep is a triumph and ends with a brief instrumental that just perfect. 
Blind Carbon Copy is that rare artifract, a perfect piece of art.
Thank you Vidar.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

THE PALOOKA 5 EP!

It's been a great end of year for releases by independent artists, already we have had Brooke Sharkey's superb second album, then there's Vidar Norheim's ep to come next week and hot off the press is the wondrous debut ep by Somerset's premier surf band Palooka 5!
The 4 tracks on this beautifully packed ep are fabulous. Palooka 5 leap from the speakers, firing on all six and you have to dance. They take no prisoners. 
The ep kicks off with La Mancha a superb piece of surf music. The pace does not let up and we are straight into Little Frathouse, a great dance tune, that is followed by Dropzone, which could be the theme tune to a 60's crime show. Then we are presented with the kinetic beauty of Cindy joined a Surf Gang
Lyrically Cindy sees the band narrating the rock and roll epiphany of said Cindy. This is prime stuff in deed, every home should have a copy.
Musically Palooka 5 don't put a foot wrong. The guitar magic of T. G. Baigent channels the spirit of Dwayne Eddy and Dick Dale and quite frankly guitar licks doesn't get any better than this guy. The organ of A.J. McCallum is quite simply stunning, harking back to the glory days of garage rock but still managing to sound like no one else. All this is held together by the rock solid, on the beat drumming of the great S. P. Bide. The ghost of Ed Cassidy is sitting on his shoulder- yes, he's that good. Also rock solid is the dynamic bass guitar of H. P. Banes. The drums and bass are so tightly meshed you'll believe in telepathic communication. Rounding off this triumvirate is the soulful vocals of B. E. Baigent. 
Music doesn't get much better than this. These are the best live band in Somerset.
What are you waiting for?
Go get that ep!

Friday, 2 December 2016

AMID THE CLAMOUR

Famous people become commodities when they die. Their discourse, their story so to speak, can be shaped to suit the ends  of others. Look at how John Lennon has been shaped, or Bob Marley, or any of a hundred others.
This has been especially true of poets, whose stock can rise or fall according to the needs of the current age. You only have to visit Stratford Upon Avon to experience the full flowering of the heritage industries.
It was thoughts like this that led to this post's poem.

Poets are better when they're dead.
Personal life picked over
for proof of something or other.
Private papers pillaged, not burned,
to provide the evidence
for opposing intellectual arguments.

A dead poet is a commodity,
clay to be shaped by critics fingers.
A really good one can sustain an industry:
biographers, academics, guide books, guides,
taxi drivers [who picked the poet up regular like]
and houses bought for a grateful nation.
Then simplistic television,
built around the available footage,
that somehow misses the point.

Yet within the clamour,
if you are patient enough,
the poet's words will retain their truth.
I think that we are in danger of losing sight of the real treasure, the beauty of the individual's creation and our relationship to it.
This week I've been listening to lots of Anna Ternheim while I wait for her new live album to arrive. Here's some live songs recorded in Paris.
When will she play the UK?

Friday, 25 November 2016

WATER WITH ATTITUDE

I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop with Harry Parker this week. It was excellent and I would recommend his book Anatomy of a Soldier. It is beautifully written and thought provoking.
One of the exercises based around memories prompted this.

I remember mercury puddles on the mezzanine, mirrored, like water with attitude, that ran down a slope faster than a raindrop, splitting into hundreds of molten ball bearings that left a smear on the metal plates. 
I've been revising this poem. You can read the first draft here

it was one of those days

an i'm living in a novel type of day
that brought the realisation
he was a minor character
whose only function
was to be bumped off
by a more interesting protagonist
an act that would illuminate
a particular facet of his killer's personality
such days are not good

his head rests on the cold window pane
it is 4:13am not yet light

he will wander through today's chapter
carrying a sharp sliver of sleeplessness
Essentially I've changed the layout, I was not happy with the one long line. I think this version allows the poem to breathe and it is easier on the eye of the reader.
Tomorrow sees the launch of Palooka 5's first ep. I leave you with them playing La Mancha. They have to be one of the best live bands around at the minute.

Saturday, 19 November 2016

BROOKE SHARKEY, WANDERING HEART

From the opening track Your Tomorrow you can tell this is a special album. The space, the soundscape and Brooke's peerless voice captivate. This is Brooke's second album and it is possibly the best thing I've heard this year. 
Lyrically Brooke continues to develop, we are presented with images that are enhanced by the music. There is a dream feeling to this album that spills over to the cover photograph.
There is a feel of the liminal, Brooke sings from the borderlands, the threshold of something other. She is:

living out of boxes..holding both hands out for rain...

There are no straight lines:

Now I cannot seek you out
Cos you still owe me that kiss
On my peach lower lip
In the morning you were gone

And:

I wanted to beat each and every boundary
And dig the surface of eternity,
But when I returned, I felt the cold

Brooke has such an individual vision, the lyrics repay reflection. I am still unravelling the songs.
The sound palette has broadened since One Dress. There is an organic feel to the arrangements, nothing present is not necessary, no note is superfluous. This is about as good as it gets.
Adam Beattie stands out for both his bass and guitar playing. Jez Houghton's French Horn is just perfect, and Brooke sings like no one else you've ever heard, slipping effortlessly between English and French. 
You can buy the CD here, and this is the link to Brooke's website. If you only buy one CD this year let it be this one, you will not be disappointed.
Here, to whet your appetite, is Brooke and Adam.

Friday, 18 November 2016

SHAVING TIME

I was depressed to read yesterday that here in the UK universities employ up to three quarters of their teaching staff on zero hour contracts. Organisations using such shoddy strategies should be ashamed of themselves but in this present state of affairs they appear to regard it as a good business model. It is not. Humans deserve better.
Since the crisis of 2008 employers are expecting their staff to do more work for less money. Trans National Corporations pay pitifully little tax and contribute even less to the common good. Such a situation is not sustainable.
This poem was forming in my head before I read the latest shameful statics.


SHAVING TIME

Today, as every other,
it's the 6:30 am hurtle,
50 in the 30 zone.

Zero contracted,
a quart of tasks pours
into his pintpot of hours

He juggles rent and food,
fuel and debit,
hand to mouth.

There is no trickle down,
there is no end,
it will get worse.
Bleak, is it not?
But bleaker still is an article in Science that reports a study into the 94 ecological processes that are the basis of healthy marine, freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems. Unfortunately 80% are already showing signs of distress and response to climate change. You can read about it for yourself here.
We appear incapable of treating members of our own species fairly let alone of curtailing our destructive behaviours. There will be a price to pay for our actions.
he swapped his wife for the radio
by acrimony not by choice

and here he is in the night
twisting in memory soaked sheets

balancing recrimination
against sleep

the pressure of the night
compress the voice on the World Service

dream switch

to a grandstand view
of his hopes falling at the first hurdle

then dead horse heavy
he is trapped beneath


it will take years to get free
I have revised this poem. You can read the first draft here. Discussing it with the Secret Poets led me led me to expand the middle stanza. Hopefully this makes it clearer.
Bob Marley came to mind as I wrote this post. The lines: think your in heaven, when your living in hell seem to me to sum up the perspective of those with the power. 
Peace, love and unity. Until the next time.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

GOODBYE LEONARD

I was as surprised as anyone to hear that Leonard Cohen had died. 
I never met the man but I owed him a great deal.
I was 12 or 13 when I first heard him. The second album had just come out and I was sold. The lyrics, the music and the implied lifestyle seemed so attractive. I made the decision that I too would be a poet. I have never looked back.
He was inspirational in many ways. The dedication to his art; his willingness to spend years distilling a piece into perfection; his celebration of God; his humour and humanity. 
Leonard was always never less than excellent live and at times he was transcendent.The 1979 tour and the first 2 performances of his comeback in 2008 in Manchester spring to mind.
I would like to extend my condolences to his children Adam and Lorca. Our thoughts are with them at this time.
Thank you Leonard. You will be greatly missed.


Friday, 4 November 2016

A COSMIC RAY/A MAGIC THOUGHT


Here's a poem that I have tried on more than one occasion to make work.
I was too close to see that I was attempting to do too many things in the one long poem. The mixed messages confused and cluttered.
This is the latest attempt:


He is hovering the architectural model,
in cramped space, stooped,
the vacuum on his back
a sleek black jet pack.
There's me with new eyes,
seeing this for the first time,
wanting to be in that building,
looking down as the nozzle
sucks dust from the green baize grass.
I'd think the Kraken has woken
to steal the globe from us.


Then I'd wander through those gardens
in the strange settled silence
of a world swept clean.
I thought I saw an old friends face in a glass door the other day. It was only magical thinking. It led me to write this:


a cosmic ray
a magic thought


in the glass
a face is caught


double take
my mistake


their uniqueness reasserts


It isn't anything special but I believe we must keep our poetry chops in order by writing. In a way it doesn't matter what you are writing - write then sift through it, search for the leads, the potential gems among the dreck.

Here's another example. I lent a friend a Brian Patten collection, Armada, the other day. As he opened it an old photograph so discoloured it resembled a negative fell out.
I have no idea who the people are. It was amongst my grandmother's possessions and my sister cannot identify the men in the photograph, I am destined never to know.
Reflecting on the event I wrote this.


it slips from the book
cellulose acetate
a blackening ghost
this paper negative
cut loose from all context
dimly shows two men in sailor suits
who smile and pose


I am left with questions
for people who are dead
Here's Brooke Sharkey. She was wondrous last Friday night. You can get her new album here.
Next post is a review of it.

Friday, 28 October 2016

DREAM SWITCH

Here is a poem that arose from the first line, it snaked around my skull for a week or so before gracing the page. At the moment that seems to be how I write, thoughts before ink so to speak. I used to write everything down immediately. I don't think one way is superior to the other, the main thing is to acknowledge the idea.
The second half of the poem came later and I am not sure that it is clear.
It took a couple of drafts to arrive at the layout. I think the spacing adds to the effect.
he swapped his wife for the radio
by acrimony not by choice

disillusion, breakdown, loss

and here he is in the night
twisting in memory soaked sheets

balancing sleeplessness against recrimination
the pressure of the night compresses the World Service

dream switch

to a grandstand view
of his hopes falling at the first hurdle

then dead horse heavy
he is trapped beneath

it will take years to get free
I have just received the new cd by Brooke Sharkey and I am off to see her tonight in Totnes. It is truly excellent and I shall be reviewing it next week.
She just gets better and better,
Here's a house concert from earlier in the year.
Until next time.

Friday, 14 October 2016

ONE OF THOSE DAYS

A couple of hours after I'd sketched out this post's poem I read an article which described how a number of people believe that our reality is a simulation created by others, presumably future humans.
It sort of fits with this poem.
it was one of those days

an i'm living in a novel type of day

that brought the realisation he was a minor character whose only function was to be bumped off by a more interesting protagonist an act that will illuminate a particular facet of his killer's personality

such days are not good

his head rests on the cold window pane

it is 4:13am not yet light

he will wander through today's chapter carrying a sharp sliver of sleeplessness
I have no idea if those people are correct and to be honest I do not care.
I think the myths we tell each other about the world we live in mirror our technological development. 
Let's just give thanks and praises for being here.
To that end I leave you with one of my favourite singers Martha Tilston. She's touring at the moment. 

Friday, 7 October 2016

LUMINOUS GREEN CORAL

An unusual poem this post.
I shall leave you to read it for yourselves.
For Ollie

In the morning there was loss.
He had hoped it would be different,
that the luminous green coral
which had formed baroque knots
on his ceiling the night before,
would still be there...

It was not. 

The scales had fallen on to his eyes once more.
The shamanic pattern that had overlaid his vision
and granted him glimpses of a truth
so much older than human time had fled.
There had been communion then,
there would be again.
I think we are all connected by the land we live on to the changing season's, but we have forgotten to listen as they ancestors once listened. This inability to hear has taken us out of step with the land.
Here is a very rare video of Jaki Whitren from 1973. This was a small hit. I had the LP. She only made the one. What a voice!

Friday, 30 September 2016

LIFE ACCRUED

 Sometimes poems write themselves. Sometimes I do not know where the ideas come from. Sometimes they arrive almost fully formed. 
This is the case with this weeks poems.
They were written on successive days.
I have no idea where my head was, nor what sparked their genesis.

When she was older
their marriage over
the children a pawn
in their ongoing game.
She would tell her lovers
how she had spent her
twenties middle aged
building her dream house.
Never brick by brick
those skills were bought in
plumbers and plasterers
as need dictated.
Her husband to be
owned a spit of good land
so visions filled her head
of a beautiful house.
As if geography
could grant them happiness.
The tradesmen built well
for that was their skill
the walls straight and true.
The opposite of the life
lived within them.
She would hurry home late
checked her phone to leave no trace
he would work and drink
occasionally unfaithful.
Life accrued around them.
One day in her thirties
she claimed she saw with new eyes
walked out, took the children
he had to sell the house
to cover costs and her demands
on his last night there
amid all the packing cases
he taunted himself
with alternate endings.
He left the key with
the estate agent
then drove away
his life packed in his car.
It seemed to me that my main function with this poem was to sort out line lengths. I am not sure if it is complete. I suspect that it nearly is.
The next day this arrived.

To Make Matters Worse

She announced that this was typical of him,
a behaviour to be expected at such a time,
one that placed him at the centre.
He had never opened his mouth,
and so remained silent,
chalked the day up in the column
Reasons to leave her.
She had no idea she had been weighed and found wanting again.


I think the phrase "weighed and found wanting" surfaced, quickly followed by the kernel of the poem.
It does not happen like that often. 
It is not long until the launch of Brooke Sharkey's new album so here's a couple of live videos to whet your appetite.
This is a video of a house concert. Sterling stuff. She's playing London's Jazz Cafe on the 27 October and St. John's Church in Totnes 28th October.
I'll see you there.

Friday, 23 September 2016

THE DAYS AFTER THE FLOOD

Here is a revised poem. You can read the last draft here.

Taking the Tow Path from the Allotment

Just before the main road crosses over,
on a day so still,
the canal could be a ribbon window on a submerged world,
I see a tent upside down, under the water,
all taut with tensioned poles, slowly sliding by.

The days after the flood must have been like this.
The works of man obliterated,
less debris each sunrise.

I decide on a photograph,
reach for my phone,
then realise there is a man
camped under the bridge,
sat stock still in the chaos of his life,
and I stop.

He stares into the pellucid waters,
his face tells his story,
and I walk on,
past the three people with the bottle of Lambrusco
and little else,
back into my own life.
The beginning is now, I feel, clearer. The second stanza has lost the last two lines which took the poem off in a different direction and the last stanza has been tided up.
Thanks must again go to The Secret Poets for their invaluable assistance.
On Wednesday evening Juncture 25 met for the first time in a while and Gram Davis facilitated a fascinating workshop out of which this poem came.

1976

How do I get there?
And where is there anyway?
I am here.
This is not the place I want to be.
[At this point please note:
I have no powers of reflection.]
His situation is alien to me,
I invent the reasons after I act.
I know there are other ways to live
so stop eating meat and start to drop acid
search for a door to else where,
anywhere but this northern industrial town.
I know there cannot be an afterlife
but I meditate twice a day
to seek an enlightenment I would not recognise
if it rang my front door bell.
There is a way out, but not his path,
he kept borrowing to pay what he owed until he ran away.
I will leave under my own steam,
but not just yet,
four years will pass before I find my trajectory.
This is very much the first rough draft. In the workshop we were asked to think about a specific year and to answer a number of prompts. I have no idea why I chose 1976. I am refining the poem- watch this space.
In view of this posts title I think a little Jackson Browne is called for. Here is Before The Deluge as performed by Moving Hearts from 1984.
I have to include a live clip of Christy Moore singing what has to be one of the most moving songs about political prisoners.

Friday, 16 September 2016

EVERY ABSTRACT MADE CONCRETE

Thanks must go, once again, to The Secret Poets for their invaluable help with the revising of this first poem.

Five Types of Waiting

Queues are an obvious example,
even though there's only five minutes
before the last train leaves the station,
and there are five people in front of you.

A childhood in Widnes provides many opportunities:
half-day closing;
shut down Sundays;
endless afternoons of school rugby league.

Clock watching at work may indicate
an over familiarity with the task,
or signal that it's time to find another job.

Then there's waiting for a miracle,
as I have been doing these past days,
hoping the blood vessels in your head will heal
and stop this kaleidoscoping of your personality
into an infinite parade of anxious strangers.

Oh yes, and there's the time before the ambulance comes
to take you to a place of safety,
now they have found you a bed.
This last seems the longest.
You can read the first draft here.
So what has changed?
The title for a start, it was originally Different Types of Waiting.
The there is has been abbreviated to there's-twice.
And, of course, the last line has been removed.
To make a poem more effective you need to assess every word and ask if the poem still works with that word removed? If the answer is yes, then that word is unnecessary and it has to go.
You can apply this process to whole lines. Every poet I know has a collection of favourite lines that did not fit the poem.
Now a new poem. This arose out of a chance remark by a drama teacher, who commented that the more props you use in improvised performances the more can go wrong and strangely the less believable the situation is. At least that is my memory of what he had said.
It inspired this:

The more props, the more trouble, he had told us.
But we needed to believe,
our every abstract made a concrete object,
which would make the illusion work,
and fool us in the process.
Of course it did not turn out like that,
the changes under rehearsed.
Clarity vanished under the audiences stare.
We died a death on stage,
and lived to repeat the same mistakes in life.
All the photographs in this post come from a recent visit to Margate. The first three from The Turner Contemporary, where I saw an excellent exhibition featuring some of Paul Nash's work.
This week I've been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens. Here's Should Have Known Better from Carrie & Lowell. What a beautiful lp.
Until next time.