Friday, 17 January 2020


A  great title for this post.
Very unpoetry.
Very genre.
Very pulp.

I talk a lot about how poems write themselves. I was thinking that the idea of a poem writing itself must sound impenetrable or like none sense to anyone who has not experienced the words falling into place effortlessly. It doesn't happen often but recently I have been having a run of such events.

This post's poem lived as the opening line buzzing around my head for about a week before I felt that I could write it down. In that time I think my subconscious had done the hard work of knitting various ideas and locations into a poem.

I am not claiming, and I hope I never have, that no revision is required, because that would not be true. 99.9% of my work has required revision and deliberation. That's what the job is about. Revision and reflection.

Star Smashers of the Universe

She was a character fleeing her book, maintained she was an afterthought added when the author had read a survey of successful fiction and realised he needed a strong female sidekick to cover all possible demographics.

He had saddled her with a scientific frame of mind because the survey maintained all female protagonists should have hard science backgrounds and buck the patriarchal norm to make them more appealing.

The machine he had lazily sketched to get his hero and newly female sidekick out of the corner he’d painted them into on page 61 had far more potential than he could ever comprehend...

But by page 83 she had perfected the device and figured out how to make her exit.

The first and only edition of Star Smashers of the Universe was almost pulped when the publishers discovered a migraine inducing pattern of letters on page 84.

On reflection they decided the reader would think it cutting edge, the hero having been drugged with a powerful alien hallucinogenic in the previous paragraph

and so the books were shipped across the country to an underwhelmed reading public.

Free of the author’s limited imagination, she set the controls for infinity

the hero, on the other hand, spent the rest of the story talking to himself, not that it mattered.

I met her out near Cassiopeia in a graphic I was flicking through, a full page frame of a drinking den on a space habitat, all 70s big NASA engineering,

She walked from one side of the bar to the other, winked at me and was lost among the merry makers.

I like the idea of the character taking control and leaving a bad novel and wandering through different books.

I'm not sure the poem is complete. Watch this space for rewrites.

I think its got to be The Byrds. here's Mr Spaceman live [with Gene Clarke back in the band].

I had to include this version of 8 Miles High from 1970-superb.

Until next time.

Sunday, 12 January 2020


I am pleased to bring to you an interview with one of the best poets in the south west. Regular readers of this blog will know Chrissy Banks. I have reviewed her latest collection and I interviewed her eight years ago. Since then she has published a superb collection, The Uninvited, read all over the south west and been published in too many anthologies and magazines to list.

Tell us about the new book
The Uninvited is the first collection I’ve published since Days of Fire and Flood in 2005. The title refers to the way life offers unexpected, uncalled for events, welcome or unwelcome, that change us when we are forced to engage with them. Love and loss are part of this process, but also poems dealing with a sense of bewilderment, fear, conflict or spiritual drought that has to be faced. It might not sound like it, but there is a fair amount of humour along the way, and ultimately I think, finding acceptance to what is irreversible is key.

The book is published by Indigo Dreams, who are a great independent press in Devon with a really impressive line-up of poets and the best front covers anywhere, largely designed by Ronnie Goodyer, who runs the press with Dawn Bauling. They are true professionals and very supportive.

Why Poetry?
Pablo Neruda said this lovely thing in his poem, ‘Poetry’ about starting to write poetry. Poetry found him, he says - ‘there I was without a face/and it touched me’ and ‘something started in my soul/ fever or forgotten wings’. The whole poem is such a marvellous expression of the way poetry becomes not just something you have to do but something with which you have a vital relationship.

Also I think poetry is the best form of literature for reaching whatever waits just out of consciousness both personally for each poet and in a broader way – the zeitgeisty stuff. Look at how just in the last year or more poems about sexuality, mental health and male violence to women have been pushing out into poetry magazines and readings in significant numbers. Fiona Benson’s Vertigo and Ghost, which speaks so eloquently and forcefully on these themes, has just won the Forward Prize for Best Collection, arguably the top award for poetry in the UK. 

How has the poetry business/scene changed over your life?
It’s changed enormously. The web has seen to that. Since I first started writing, there has been a growing proliferation of poetry magazines and online journals, of small presses, of competitions and poetry awards, of Creative Writing programmes and online poetry courses. Poetry now is much more inclusive and international, no longer is the white, male academic automatically favoured. Perhaps what’s changed most of all is the growth and popularity of spoken word poems and their exposure on social media and via the many spoken word events that have sprung up nationwide.

I’m not sure what it’s like in other parts of the country, but here in the south west the open mic rules. It’s great to hear such a variety of voices and to know everyone can have an audience for their poems. But I have a certain nostalgia for the days when a poetry reading consisted of one or two poets, usually published and often well known, reading for maybe two sets of twenty or thirty minutes each. It wasn’t always an evening well spent, but there was an incentive then to put your own writing aside and just listen to someone else, become absorbed in another person’s concerns, their images and rhythms for a sustained period of time.

How far does real life creep into your work?
What is ‘real life’ I wonder!
Seriously, there is so much of real life that happens elsewhere, so much I’m inevitably cut off from, it’s another reason to be grateful for poetry. Ilya Kaminsky’s narrative of living in an occupied country in Deaf Republic and Jay Bernard’s Surge, an exploration of the 1981 New Cross fire in south London that killed 13 young black people are just two collections focused on experience very different from my own. It’s a privilege to be taken into other worlds like this and it asks something of me. In order to bring them alive inside myself, I have to be open enough to let the words and images work on me, I have to meet them with my own humanity.

I’m talking about the real life in others’ poems, but I guess you’re really asking do I use my own life events and relationships directly in my poems? To which there is no unambiguous answer. I sometimes warn people not to assume, even when I have written a poem in the first person, that it is necessarily about me. I have a poem in The Uninvited called A Serious Word. It’s a sort of We May Need to Talk About Kevin poem, but in this case the son is called Tron. This is a first person monologue, but it’s all pure fantasy, honest! All my poems are somewhere on the spectrum between pure fantasy and trying to describe a lived experience as accurately as possible. An example of the latter might be The Touch or After Captain Underpants, the Big Question, both of which are very faithful to my lived experience from the past.

Of course, I always want the reader to think that what I’m expressing is real life. I am disappointed if I write something that doesn’t seem ‘true’, whether it is or not. I have a whole series of poems about individual people. Again, some are people I have known, others completely fictional or with disguises or fictional elements thrown in. Some I needed to write for myself, but they will never be published for privacy’s sake, mine or the other person’s.

My last thoughts are about how very very difficult I find it to write about some of the big stuff that really matters to me. I’m thinking about the political state of the UK, the damage caused by years of austerity and the impact of Brexit. Climate emergency too – where do you begin? Then there is so much still that needs feminism to keep speaking loud and clear. I guess this takes us back to ‘real life creeping in’. What else is there? But sometimes the big stuff needs to be approached via the seemingly smaller stuff. The personal truly is political.  

Friday, 10 January 2020


A poem that was inspired by a song this post. The song is Exile written by Steve Knightly and originally recorded by Show of Hands back in 1987. I was given a pre-recorded cassette of the first Show of Hands album as a birthday present around then and I was always struck by the quality of the song Exile.
Last week my brother in law was round and we ended up listening to the Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby album which ends with a cover of the song.

After everyone else had gone to bed I wrote this:

There’s No Going Home

so in the end
you make do with what you’ve got
where you’ve ended up

for the sun still shines
on a clear night the moon follows

and eventually you can sleep the night through
then wake to face each day with thanks

It is a simple poem and, hopefully, follows on from the lyrics of the song. It offers, I hope, an older, more accepting take on the idea that you can never go home.
I leave you with an excellent live recording from Show of Hands.

Until next time.

Friday, 3 January 2020


A recent poem I have been working on this week. Essentially it is a description of something I observed and the poem wrote itself.

Next to the surgery
which used to be someone’s home,
the bank [built in ‘31] missed out
on its century of service by fourteen years,
a digital casualty.
Note the sale boards have been removed
and the new signs proclaim wealth management.
But whose? I wonder this Sunday
after a Christmas Wednesday,
as I walk past the locked off parking spaces
where on public days like this one
the community used to park.

Their bin overflows and the gulls
have had their own wing-ding,
bursting the black plastic sacks.
Now the remains of their office party
clutters the pavement.
A young greyling gull sidles up,
optimistic, to glean whatever is left.
I want to tell it not to bother,
that the wealthy don’t leave rich pickings,
but the bird is too young to know
that no meal is ever free,
then I realise this is all our futures.

Pretty bleak eh? 
The world is changing, communities are under pressure, the ease of the digital is transforming our high streets. We live on line and the fabric of our shared spaces suffers. 
As I say the poem wrote itself and all I worried over was the conclusion. Show not tell to the forefront. 

Here's Barclay James Harvest, a band I saw a number of times in the mid-70s. This is Gladriel apparently on this, the original recording, John Lees plays the Epiphone Casio guitar that John Lennon played on the concert on the roof - The Beatles final live performance.
Anyway it's a lovely song in its own right.

Here is Titles, I'll let you work out who it is a homage to.

Until next time.

Saturday, 28 December 2019


Grout for those people who have never had to undertake any tiling work is the cement used to fill the spaces between the individual tiles. All will be become clear when you read this poem:

an empty ferry – pre Christmas
endless football on every screen
the eye cannot escape
the moving image

the six men
who compromise
the other drinkers in the bar
have reached that point in the evening
when it is possible to talking tiling
and just how very forgiving grout can be

we lag behind
but stay to close the bar 
and sing on the stage

I honestly have to admit I have never considered the mercy of grouting but life is long and who knows what you'll encounter...

Here is a revision, you can read the last version here.

It took five working days to do for the house,
one implacable machine of cold force did it in,
supplied as it was with an endless chain
of hard lorries to magic away the evidence.
The wallpaper sloughed off
all those exposed inner spaces,
at least the rain kept the dust down
if not the sounds of the building’s death.
After that they scraped the naked earth,
removed half the garden, most of the lawn,
demarcating the dimensions of the car park.

The flats rose quickly after that.

What's changed?
The rubble now is magic-ed away rather than disappeared and there is a space before the final line.
They seem worthwhile changes.
Here's some more of the late, lamented Randy California, and his wondrous Spirit.

Until next time.

Friday, 20 December 2019


A poem about being connected, about how every action provokes another.
The poem became clearer as I wrote it. I had the first two lines and then the next two until I had the rough shape of the poem on the page. Sometimes you don't know what the poem wants to say until you've got it all down. It's important to listen and give it time to say all it needs to.

She was a sailor
who had sailed to the moon,
or at least the equivalent distance,
ploughing a path, turbulent or smooth,
between two fixed points
and back again as the globe turned
and the galaxy described a complex figure
around a super massive black hole.

She was more concerned
with the intricacies of internal combustion,
the sequence of timed explosions of pressurised diesel,
that shoved one piston down
and another up to complete the cycle,
excreting, almost as an after thought,
tons of carbon dioxide and particulates
to contribute what they could to melting the icecaps,
altering the climate and promoting
asthma in random people around the globe.

One against the clock morning scramble,
her retirement made the news,
as I searched for my inhaler.

It was not difficult to write but it took time to find the poem's shape. It feels half completed. I need to put it away for a while and come back to it.

A friend sent me a Jamie Stillway cd this week and what a treat it was. 

Until next time.

Friday, 13 December 2019


The title of the post could as easily refer to the result of yesterday's General Election. I do feel like Christopher Isherwood at the conclusion of Goodbye to Berlin...
My daughter, a midwife, texted me as the result became clear: there goes the NHS. It is a bleak future. 
Another poem started on my brief weekend in Roscoff. The island in the title is a beautiful, small island just off the coast.

Île de Batz

the sea has removed itself
in the dirty bay the upright boats are patient
the sea wall
built by hand in my grandfather’s day
long and strong
speaks of a winter tide
gestated mid-Atlantic
angry impatient
no laughing matter

they have to close the door a second time
as if surprised it did not shut itself
or that the mere act of pulling it towards them
should be sufficient in itself

the wind ever opportunistic
barges through the space
to remind me I am
thin blood cold

This is the view from the cafe where I wrote the second poem about the door and the wind.
In the first poem I simply tried to describe the bay. I had a different last line:

I look up from the page
the sand is now a mirror

I rejected it partly because I don't think it works and partly because it anchors the poem in the present and the chosen ending heralds an ominous future.

The second poem I wrote in the bar watching people fail to close the door as they left. To be honest part of their difficulty was the ferocity of the wind. 
The photographs are from a beautiful church on the island.
I love stained glass and think it is at its best when the sun shines through it.

I'm choosing to end this post on a note of hope and beauty. This is the Incredible String Band from 1968 reminding us of the eternal.

Until next time.