Friday, 24 March 2017


This Wednesday I had a surfeit of poetry. I spent the afternoon with the Secret Poets offering and receiving constructive feedback and, although I had forgotten he was coming, the evening with Paul Mortimer doing more of the same. 
With due thanks to everyone I offer you a poem about my grandmother. It was inspired by a photograph I found in a pile of papers and which have managed to mislay again.
That's consistency for you.

Grandma Hanley

She sits black and white,
as stern as history,
centre of the photograph.
Square black shoes.
Polished of course.
At her waist the deaf aid
that whistled it's way through my childhood.

About my age now,
after a life so much harder then mine,
she faced the lens.
Photography must have been
a more serious business back then,
I can't align this image with my memories of her.
Perhaps it was a 1950s type of day,
when the past sat heavy on her shoulders,
with a weight that was too much.

She shrank as I grew,
her mind slowly left her body behind,
to wind down in its own time.

These two photographs capture her better.
Me and Paul were talking about slang and looking through some slang dictionaries. He delighted in the phrase: "hotter than a two dollar pistol" but I'm ashamed to say I have beaten him to the draw in using it.

We are talking about Jim Thompson,
how he's hotter than a two dollar pistol,
and just as valued by the literary elite.
Then I go upstairs to find his book to lend you.
I've always tended to leave
whatever I used to mark my place inside the book,
and out of its pages flutter two thick, blue tickets:
David Bowie, Cardiff Arms Park.
So that's the memento and this is the memory:
it was a Sunday in June thirty years ago,
I went with Christine, before we had the kids.
She'd never seen him and oh, how we danced. 
And that was how it happened, and here are the tickets.
I suppose I should end with a Bowie song so here is Let's Dance.
Until next time.

Friday, 17 March 2017


I recently spent a very enjoyable weekend on a poetry retreat with The Secret Poets. We each led a workshop and out of one came this post's poems.
During said workshop we were asked to go out into the garden and write about what we found. These are my observations.

The Rosemary

Bought and brought over here
to enrich our palette,
this epicurean migrant may have taken root,
but is still so out of step with the seasons
that these delicate blue flowers
colour this January day.
The Romans brought thyme to the British Isles, I had to check that on line.
Here is a second observation.

Every tree in this orchard plays statues
winter cannot entice a single leaf to show
this is not their time, so they wait
stand stock still until the first notes of spring.
This third brief note is perhaps the one most in need of work.

Guinea fowl in sudden motion

lickterty – split freedom

leaves the hen coop behind

such action carries a cost

the cold fox's hungry eye
I was attempting to capture the dangers inherent in freedom. Not sure it does it. 
However the idea of simply putting yourself in a different place and just looking is excellent practice. Sometimes we need to the stimulus of new surroundings.
Here is Melissa Laveaux. Enjoy
Until next time.

Friday, 10 March 2017

dirt brown tea

How this poem came about is told in the first stanza. I was taking down the Christmas decorations and I was reminded of an event from 1975. The secret in such circumstances is to have a pen and paper handy. Thankfully I did have.

Taking Down the Decorations

Then I am reminded of August '75,
a cottage in Kerry, an invitation from a man,
probably no older than I am now.

After banana sandwiches and dirt brown tea,
he showed us his parlour
made up like Christmas Day.

You won't remember '75,
eclipsed as it was by the next year's heat wave,
but it was a more perfect summer.

The half closed curtains sculptured the sunlight,
bouncing off those mirrored surfaces
with an intensity I have never seen since.

I take the angel off the tree,
box up the string of lights,
pack away the stray memories.
There really was man who brightened his house every August with Christmas lights and decorations. 1975 was a stunning summer, without the water shortage drama of the following year. 1976 is the one we always remember.
I just wanted to capture the process of how thoughts blossom randomly.
Hurray For The Riff Raff has just released a new lp, The Navigator. Here's Pa'lante.
I'm off to listen to the whole thing, as it's just arrived through the post.
Until next time.

Sunday, 5 March 2017


Today's post came about from the idea of someone needing assistance to end a relationship. The idea that they could not deal with the guilt of ending it. A play on words of decompression chamber: a decompassion chamber.
The poem was not straight forward. I had to remove a stanza [that I liked but] which confused the narrative.

I need a de-compassion chamber.
Want this guilt excised
before it can bubble up inside my brain
and bend my body back towards herself
who is crying at the end of this telephone line.

On/off – off/on
the light switch of my indecision
makes for a familiar circuit.
We settle for possible second best.
I may leave her yet.
I admire people who can sustain their poetic vision for more than twenty lines as I rarely can. That said any poem is only as long as the kernel of the idea will sustain.
Maggie Roche died recently. I was always a fan of The Roches. Especially the first and third albums. Here they are from 1983 singing Hammond Song.
And here they sing Mr. Sellack.
Until next time.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017


We all know that special interest subjects need the support of their communities to survive, so here is a guest post from Katharine Kavanagh, a fellow writer who publishes the only English language website dedicated to circus critique,

I started writing The Circus Diaries as a solo blog in 2013 because I was fed up of never being able to find any information on the subjects I was interested in - contemporary circus. I was amazed by how many other people obviously felt the same frustration, as my viewing numbers went up very quickly and now, four years on, are at around 4500 views a month. Not bad for such a niche subject!

What started as a hobby has gradually taken over my life and, when people ask me what I do now, I tell them I’m a circus writer. The difficulty is, how to make such a career pay? 
It’s really important to me to keep the site ad-free to avoid any perceived conflict of interests if I had to review a company or performer who also paid to advertise (I like to think I’d be fair, of course, but people might not see it that way and it could affect my reputation). I don’t want to put up a paywall for the service, as it was a desire for open access information that inspired me to get started in the first place.

So, what to do…

I figured that, if this was a service that people get benefit from - and the hit rates, comments and thank-you emails confirm they do - then perhaps these people might be willing to pay for the service, like you would a traditional magazine subscription? The solution was Patreon. Regular readers can contribute towards the costs of producing the content that they enjoy, whilst the one-off web wanderer can still find the articles and reviews for free.
Patreon is crowd-funding with a difference - there’s not a one-off goal to achieve, but an ongoing relationship based upon production of relevant and interesting content.

Of course, I’m always looking for more Patrons, and the minimum pledge is only $1 (about 80p to those of us in the UK!). You can cancel at any time if you don’t think you’re getting value for your money - or, on the other hand, you can increase your subscription accordingly!

If you’ve not heard of this platform before, why not sign up and check it out? If creatives can’t help each other out, how can we expect anyone else to?’

To see how it all works, sign up for circus updates direct to your inbox at

Saturday, 25 February 2017


I've had a busy, poetry focused week. Thanks to The Secret Poets and to Paul Mortimer for their support and constructive feedback. Without quality constructive feedback we are less than is possible.
I wanted to call this first poem: The Devil to Pay and No Pitch Hot. I think I am too attached to this rather obscure phrase. It is an old navel term meaning an unpleasant outcome from an action, which fits the poem but may be too abstract.

Two unblinking magpies stand off a gull.
In the age of great waste
every resource is contested.

Out of the spilled bin rises
a mountain of half eaten food.
We throw away so much.

The gull screeches, feints,
The magpies motionless, wait.
They play a long game.

I have stopped to gawk.
A third magpie lands.
Outgunned, the gull departs.

Stock still, peripheral,
a crow bides time.
This is not nearly over.
The idea came to me after I had watched two magpies stand off a gull. I literally sat down and wrote the poem. Many heads have spent much time editing it. Thanks to all.
Here is a revised poem. It has been made tighter by the judicious removal of three the's, the addition of a line break and the compression we are into we're.
You can read the original version here.


I spend more time on the green buses
travelling there, or coming back
than I do where I am going.
There is the occasional milky coffee,
chipped cups in bus station cafés,
windows misted, cigarette smoke and coughing old men.
The park is empty.
Sun slopes through trees,
reddens the lake and municipal ducks.
Winter comes calling.
My patch pocket, button front, black loons
are no match for this lazy wind.
I don't know where
or what we eat,
but we're either at The Grand, or the Beer Keller,
or in a doorway kissing.
Once in a while your house is empty.
I say I love you.
I have no idea what those words mean.
I have been listening to Elvis Costello's Spike album. Here is what surely must be one of the best songs he ever wrote.
Until next time.

Friday, 17 February 2017


As usual no correlation between images and words. I think this is the house style of this blog.
I was talking to my mother in law the other day and she happened to mention that her daffodils had been tightly closed first thing that morning and over the day they had opened without her seeing them do so. This set me off thinking.

First Daffodils

sun tipped spears
hold a miser's delight
and over a day
in slow motion
they cash in their gold
to shower the room
with the promise of summer
This draft was reduced from this

First Daffodils

sun tipped spears
hold a miser's delight
and over a day's slow motion
-less when you look
they open
cash in their gold
to shower the room
with the promise of summer to come
As you can see I have removed the last 2 words. I believe the poem reads the same whether they are present or not. So out they went. I also removed the play on words around slow motion/less. I liked it but I felt it confused the flow of the poem. Most of the time less is more.
I leave you with Anna Terheim live last month.
Until the next time.