Friday, 30 September 2016


 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


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.


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


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.

Friday, 9 September 2016


Here's a poem that I started in America earlier this summer.
I think it is self explanatory.


It is hardly surprising
I have a bullet in my hand.
This is America after all.

It lies uneasily my palm,
a combination of brass cylinder,
and enough lead to cause mayhem,

but it will never participate
in a lethal, kinetic ballet.
Impotent, inert, chained to a ring

whose key opens a door
onto a room carpeted
with the skins of cows.
The place I was staying was carpeted with the skins of cows. The poem was sparked by the bullet on the key chain and wrote itself. I have to thank the Secret Poets for their input and for the idea of tidying the poem up into three stanzas.
I leave you with Anna Ternheim.

Friday, 2 September 2016


The photographs from this post were taken on a journey from Madrid to Barcelona earlier in the year. I stopped over in Zaragoza for a few days on the way and visited the Goya Museum. If you get the chance to go, take it. The museum has a collection of Goya's etchings and they are superb. 
This first poem was written at this year's Purbeck Valley Folk Festival. I had travelled there by train and the substance of the poem is the announcements that were made on the platform or on the train.

Let The Train Take The Strain

It is clear the train company worries about me.
They advised I hold the handrail
when I climbed the stairs [twice],
counselled I carry water,
as the weekend will be unseasonably hot,
and if I am taken ill to disembark at the next station,
as it will be easier for them to offer me assistance.
Obviously they have heard that I forget things,
and so repeatedly reminded me
not to leave my bags or case unattended,
as they might be damaged or destroyed by the security services.
Also I am to mind the gap,
and let people exit before I attempt to board.
As I am sitting in the quiet carriage
I must not use my mobile, play music,
or annoy other passengers with the sound of my voice.
It is a pity that the railway company
does not practice what it preaches.
It is a trifle poem and does not warrant more than one reading.
This second poem was written after I took another train to Totnes. It had been sunny in Taunton but as we pulled into Exeter it began to rain.
It will teach me not to check the weather forecast.

The rain surprised me,
ambushed as I was
by my own indolence.
The summer, falling hot,
had led me to believe
such days as these
could go on forever,
until outside of Exeter,
the rain began to freckle the train windows.
The first intimation of what is to come,
the axial tilt and the fall towards the shortest day.

There is a symmetry here – rejoice.
I do have a sense of the seasons turning. Purbeck Festival always seems the end of the summer. The fall towards the shortest day is significant for me as it means it is the start of the slow turn towards the long, light, warm nights of May and June.
Sticking with the train theme here's Billy Bragg and Joe Henry with The Midnight Special off their new lp. It's out later this month and consists of songs they recorded as they travelled from Chicago by train.
They are on tour and well worth catching if you can.

Friday, 26 August 2016


I wanted to capture different experiences of waiting in a poem without turning it into a list. I have nothing against list poems, they sometimes fit the bill, but I suspect they are an over used form.
A few explanations:
Half day closing [for those of you not as old as I am] was the practice of shops closing at lunch time one day in the week to enable the staff, who would work Saturdays, to have time off. In Widnes, where I grew up, it was a Thursday, across the river in Runcorn, it was a Wednesday. I do not know when the practice stopped. I would suspect in the 1980's.
When I was a child the only shop open on a Sunday was the newsagents. There were laws about what could be sold on the Sabbath and as I remember nothing on the television, save religious programmes. 
Different Types of Waiting

Queues are too obvious an example,
even though there are only five minutes
before the last train will leave this station,
and there are five people in front of you.

A childhood in Widnes provided many opportunities:
half-day closing;
shut down Sundays;
and 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 their relentless destruction,
this ceaseless kaleidoscoping of your personality
into an infinite parade of anxious strangers.

And there is 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,
with every minute stretched to the horizon.
This is still very much a work in progress.
I was aiming for the power of the poem to be in the final two stanzas and hoped that the preceding three lulled the reader into a false sense of security.
On a lighter note I am delighted that Brooke Sharkey has completed recording her new album and that it will be released in October.
You can read my interview with her here, and my review of her last ep here.
Here is a sneak preview.

Saturday, 20 August 2016


Judged by Alison Brackenbury

1st Prize £200, 2nd Prize £100, 3rd Prize £75
Prizewinners will also be invited to take part in a special Reading in Taunton

Closing date 31st October 2016 for online and postal entries

Alison Brackenbury was born in Lincolnshire in 1953, and comes from a long line of skilled farm workers. She now lives in Gloucestershire and has published nine collections of poems. Her work has won an Eric Gregory Award and a Cholmondeley Award. She reviews poetry for leading journals, including P N Review and Poetry London. Her work has been broadcast many times on BBC Radio, and she has been interviewed in the national press about her interest in promoting poetry via the Internet, especially on Facebook and Twitter.

Her latest collection, Skies, was published by Carcanet in 2016. Skies has been featured in The Guardian, The Independent, The Poetry Book Society Bulletin, and on Radio 4’s arts programme, Front Row. The award-winning poet Helen Mort has called it ‘her best, most urgent collection to date … tender, exact and unflinching’. Skies has also been selected as The Observer's Poetry Book of the Month. Kate Kellaway, the reviewer, wrote ‘The seasoned craft and musicality of Alison Brackenbury’s poetry shine through in this humble, haunting and humorous collection'. 
More information, including new poems and a blog, can be found at Alison’s website: NB: Alison will read all the competition entries.

Fire River Poets Open Poetry Competition 2016 – Rules

Closing Date: 31st October 2016

Prizes: 1st Prize £200 2nd Prize £100 3rd Prize £75

Fee: £4 for one poem; £3 for each additional poem up to a maximum of 6 poems

  • Poems may be in any style and on any subject. They must be the entrant’s original and unaided work; in English and not a translation; have a maximum of 40 lines per poem excluding the title and be printed or printable on one side of A4 paper.
  • Up to six poems per entrant may be submitted, provided each is on a separate sheet and the correct entry fee is paid.
  • The entrant’s name mustnotappear on the poem.
  • Poems must not have been published (in print or online), or have won a prize in a previous competition, or be currently submitted to another competition or for publication.
  • Members of Fire River Poets and their immediate families are not eligible.
  • It is regretted that entries cannot be returned.
  • The judge’s decision is final and no correspondence can be entered into. 
  • Submission of a poem implies the entrant’s acceptance of the rules.

Postal Entries (with cheque or Money Order
  • Poems must be accompanied by the correct payment and a sheet of paper giving titles of poems, entrant’s name, address, telephone number and e-mail address.
Send to: Fire River Poets Poetry Competition 2016, 2, Deane View, Bishop’s Hull Road,
Taunton TA1 5EG.  (Please ensure sufficient postage is paid.)
  • Please make cheques and International Money Orders payable to FIRE RIVER POETS. We can only accept pounds sterling (GBP).
  • If acknowledgement of entry is required by post, send SAE marked ‘A’ for acknowledgement.

Online Entries (via PayPal)
Please see our website for full details of how to enter online:

We will notify prizewinners by the end of January 2017. A list of prizewinners and
winning poems will appear on the Fire River Poets website as soon as possible after
this notification. Copyright remains with the author.