Friday, 12 October 2018

A SPECK IN THE INDUSTRIAL IMMENSITY

The photograph is of the turbine hall in Tate Modern. The ceiling is 35m [115 ft]. Every time I visit I am reminded of the turbine hall of the power station at Castner-Kellner Works in Runcorn. I mention this because it features in this poem.

SPACES

Sideways
through a letterbox in the earth,
then crawl on your stomach
and dive through a sump of dark water,
to emerge where? Don’t ask me.
I failed the first task.
When slithering into the fissure
the weight of the world was compressing
I was backing out apologising.
Extremes are not for me,
neither the confines of the cave
or the naked space of free air.

You see ten years or more before,
when I was first an apprentice,
I had to climb the cold metal ladder of the turbine hall
to inspect the integrity of the overhead cranes,
but when I emerged on to that tiny platform,
a speck in the industrial immensity,
I could do nothing but wait to be guided down.
These are not my worlds.

Perhaps the secret of any life
is to find the places where you can thrive,
there is always another life after this,
and an infinity of lessons to be learned
each successive incarnation.


I am not sure how the poem came to me. I had an idea for the first line and let it percolate for couple of days before I attempted to write it down. This is a method I seem to be using at the moment.
The view from the ceiling of the turbine hall stays with me, all that space...
Recently I happened to hear Steve Goodman for the first time in years. There were a couple of songs on the end of a CD-R. I had forgotten what a good songwriter he was. 
Here's Banana Republic. I think the lyric is superb, transposing words and tune in the chorus is a work of genius.

I saw him at the July Wakes Festival in 1976, he was a guest of John Prine. It was a standout performance.
His most famous song is City of New Orleans but here's Yellow Coat from his first album. It is such a subtle song.

Until next time.

Friday, 5 October 2018

A SLICE OF THE 1970s

I have been doing some travelling recently. I visited Porto and I sat in a square and wrote this poem.

Gaia

Crossed cranes over the cash and carry
- a dull red building to the right hand side
of the equally unimpressive municipal office,
with five trees in front of it and a kiosk.
The wide selection of magazines flap in the breeze.
This square is a space for passing through,
not a place to stop as I have done.
I am sat at a table with a beer
watching other people’s lives unfold,
it’s just that type of day.
Gaia is the area across the city from the old town. 
As I was saying last post it is a useful exercise to sit somewhere quietly and write what you see.
This next poem wrote itself.

the day before we sold the family home
me and my sister
walked through each room one final time
in the name of thoroughness
I stepped into the loft
and found a slice of the 1970’s
packed away in boxes

we walked back to her house
arms full of more than memories

Thinking of the 1970s here's John Martyn with I Couldn't Love You More.
Until next time.

Friday, 28 September 2018

SELFIE STICK CLICK

I was at Finisterre in Spain a couple of weeks ago. My guide book informed me it was the western most point of Europe, so I walked to the lighthouse to see. I wrote this poem while I was looking at the scene.

the western most point of europe
for some people once the end of the world but not today

three coaches and sixty one cars
have disgorged the crowd that I walk into

the lighthouse is long since redundant
and not as popular as the gift shop

people clamber over the rocks
as far west as they can go

brandish selfie sticks
then smile in the camera click
It can be interesting exercise to write what you see in a new environment. I have done it on a number of occasions, this being one of them
I shall put up another next week.
The graffiti on the left hand side of this monument made me laugh.
I was listening to Midlake the other and realised that it is seven years this month since I saw them at End of The Road.
They are sorely missed, especially Tim Smith.
Until next time.

Friday, 21 September 2018

COMFORTING VAPOUR

I was in an airport last week flying to Madrid. Airports, these days, are non-smoking zones-thankfully. As I was sat having a drink my eye was caught by the furtive actions of a man at a nearby table. He was vaping from an e-cigarette. 
He inspired this poem.

In the Airport Bar

with stealth he draws on the silver tube
suckles the comforting vapour

his furtive eyes alert me
to his transgression

exhaling is more problematic
a shallow breath of steam

pity and annoyance mingle in my head
I keep my my addictions in line

iron hand on their necks
for now
People watching can be lead to some interesting poems.
Here is a revision. Thanks to the Secret Poets for their constructive feedback.

Poem for C

Given the economies
of supermarket squash
and the cheapest of vodkas,
it had always been
how much could he drink,
in the shortest amount of time,
to keep ahead of blacking out,
to avoid the grey dawns
when monochromatic migraine
immobilised him in a space
where he could do nothing
but relive it all over again.

I met him in the fragile truce of sobriety
he called his jigsaw days.
He placed his pieces
into shapes that just might work,
into patterns that had eluded him on the drink.
Some events, he confided, never end,
so you have to find different ways of getting on with it.

You can read the first version here
What has gone is the tongue twisting description of the hangover. Though to be honest I have read the poem at a number of events and I managed to deliver them without slipping up. But less is definitely more. 
If you can find a group or a person you trust to offer constructive feedback you work will improve immeasurably.
I played Fairport Convention's second album recently, it's an old favourite, here's Book Song.
Until next time.

Friday, 14 September 2018

UNFORGIVING LIGHT

I am unsure about this post's poem. I suspect it may need more editing. However I feel that now is the time to unveil it. Conflicting perspectives.
The poem arose from an exercise I set myself; to write about a once familiar room, to focus initially on the fabric of the room and let the centre be peopled as and when.

A familiar space.
Painted polystyrene ceiling tiles,
the unforgiving light from a fluorescent tube
that emphasises the carpet’s swirling colours
forever locked in a garish conversation
with the bright, busy wallpaper.

These days, this room
seems to stoop, like you.
A contraction that mirrors the years I have spent
living with a calm predictability
in places where the walls merely whisper.

Every time I enter this room
the bulge in the floor is more pronounced
and catching my eye, you always say
Whoever lives here after me can mend it.

Sat there watching reruns of cookery on tv
I wonder if this is how a mountain begins,
those first tentative probings before
the fault line suddenly fractures in cathartic release
and half of the house is either side
of this new, stupendous great divide.

Perhaps the carpet is pregnant, near full term,
about to give birth to something
patterned with swirls and flowers?
Then again maybe not.
The cookery programme unfolds,
an enthusiastic presenter in a pretend kitchen.

I think it needs to go away for a time, distance may grant insight.
I end this post with Anna Ternheim and Lars Winnerback singing Little Lies.

Until next time.

Friday, 7 September 2018

THE GIFT OF DODOS

I recently read Peter Fankopan's History of The Silk Road. It was an interesting history book. One aside that caught my imagination concerned a European ambassador being sent to make a treaty with a Sultan and the presents brought possibly included a gift of dodos. This struck me as a really powerful image. Over a couple of weeks I produced this poem.

The Gift of Dodos

was an after thought,
a knee jerk reaction,
on the part of the Captain
when the ambassador informed him
of the Sultan’s jewelled throne,
with peacocks free to strut about the palace,
more beloved than all the tax payers
who matched his weight in silver
every birthday weigh-in.

On the shore a disdainful dodo scowled,
wised up to the hazards sailors presented,
and when the mood came upon them
they could run like the wind.
Our day’s labours netted seven maudlin specimens.

Then the cook declared the hen bird the cleverer,
asserting we had caught a muttering of males,
easily hoodwinked, far more stupid.
He had been here before, in 1599 and again in 04
and was well versed in their culinary possibilities.

With an eye to the weather,
the Captain decided that they would have to do,
ordered them below, well away from the chickens.
Seven sour faced fowls, seasick the whole voyage.

By the time the pilot took us in to harbour
I had scrubbed the last one clean,
scorn writ large on it’s face,
too dispirited, by this point,
to even attempt to bite me.

We herded them through the streets.
Locals stopped to watch
their unsteady sea leg progress.

Needless to say the Sultan was unimpressed
with the fractious dodos chasing his peacocks,
fouling his fountains and crying.
A keening lament for their lost freedom.

It is of course totally fictitious. The poem wrote itself. 
At times the best strategy is just to write, with your critical self silenced and sort it out once the ideas are on paper.
Late the other night I was listening to Iron and Wine. Here's Boy With A Coin.

Until next time.

Friday, 31 August 2018

PAN-GALACTIC SEEDING PROJECT

Another poem about space this post.
I think it came from watching too many cheap science fiction tv series. You know the kind, where every planet looks like earth. 

They land on a new planet,
step out into a forest reminiscent of Canada,
because that’s the cheapest location
for American television series,
those epics shot on a budget.
Space travellers never offer
an explanation for this carbon copy of earth.
No vague reference to some pan-galactic seeding
by a god-like forerunner species,
that accounts for the parallel evolution
and absence of anaphylactic shock inducing
nasty little microbes,
that you would probably encounter on a world
teaming with its own take on life.
No, it’s just a convenient other planet,
ready to be plundered. 
I read at Torquay's Stanza Extravaganza on Tuesday evening. It was a lovely venue and standing room only. 
I read some poems I had not tried out in public before and one needed re-jigging. You can read the original here

Poem for C

Given the economies
of supermarket squash
and the cheapest of vodkas,
it had always been
how much could he drink,
in the shortest amount of time,
to keep ahead of blacking out,
to avoid the grey dawns
when monochromatic
migraine imitating aftermaths
immobilised him in a space
where he could do nothing
but relive it all over again.

I met him in the fragile truce of sobriety
he called it his jigsaw days.
He placed his pieces
into shapes that just might work,
into patterns that had eluded him on the drink.
Some events, he confided, never end,
so you have to find different ways of getting on with it.

It was difficult to read in its previous form. Sometimes you only discover this when you are performing.
I've been listening to Corrina Repp a lot recently, but I've already posted her superb album here.
Anne Briggs has also been on the turntable this week. I've just found this snippet of a BBC4 series Folk Britannia.
English folk music doesn't get much better.
You can watch the series on Youtube. Here's part one.
Until next time.