Friday, 20 January 2012


So says Leonard Cohen in a rare interview in today’s Guardian ( As I walked back from the newsagents, this morning, reading the interview, the majority of which simply described his career, that line struck a chord with me.

The full quote was: “Some people work out of a great abundance, I’d love to be one of them, but I’m not. You just work with what you’ve got.”

Is this what you do? As I say it resonated with me. I think am a sponge, I absorb a lot, more than I think at times, but you have to write what you can write. I remember someone saying to me when they read my first poetry book Burning Music that it was “all pretty straightforward stuff.” It was for him simple, he wanted more complexity. I had to laugh, I can only do what I can do. Knowing that is a strength, a starting point.

First Book Blues

-discussing my poetry

He says to me “It’s all accessible,

Straightforward, one dimensional,

No ambiguity or esoteric turn of phrase”.

He likes his poetry dense,

Something to sink his teeth into.

Well mine is not” I tell him,

“I’m not that clever,

Let others write complex lines,

I’m just not that together,

Anyway I have to strain to get it to rhyme

This poem came out of that encounter. We have to work with what we’ve got.

This week I was reading Public Enemies by Bryan Burrows, the 2009 film with Johnny Depp was based on it. I was struck by how the public reacted to the death of John Dillinger and wrote this:

Dead Bang

John Dillinger’s Blues

People came to gawp,

To dip hankies in his blood,

The colour of coffee grounds.

The radio had told them

And they had come.

Six shots did for him,

Sunk him to his knees,

He hit the floor face first.

Before this he had:

Liked to dance the carioca;

Always wore a grey suit;

And robbed banks with

More than half an eye to the publicity.

I seem to have a habit of naming poems blues. Dead Bang is a slang term for “a bullseye, a perfect shot,” or “a perfectly appropriate phrase.” I’ll leave you to wonder what the perfect shot was.

I thought hard about this poem, it began as a series of notes jotted down as I read the book, what concerned me was that this man had killed people. I am not sure that anyone knows the exact number. Yet people came to see the spot where he was shot, to pay homage as if he were a saint.

There are no poems to his victims, or the ripples of grief and sadness caused by their untimely deaths. The FBI, apparently resorted to illegal acts themselves to fight the “War Against Crime”-illegal detentions, sleep deprivation, beatings and at least on one occasion harassing a man on his death bed. Now nearly eighty years later we can see Johnny Depp as Dillinger and Leonard DiCaprio as Hoover. I know that, especially in film, we use the past to describe the present, but it just doesn’t feel comfortable.

I also this week wrote another poem:


(seen through a window while doing Tai Chi)

Winter frost, inside for once.

Commence the form,

A car pulls up, green I note,

Focus on the breath

As they talk a lot.

It seems heated,

I take off my fleece,

They are more intense,

I play with waves,

Their hands underline their words.

I assume an affair,

Press palms, calm the Chi

They are still arguing

I go in search of a cuppa.

This is a work in progress more than the Dillinger poem. I’m not sure it works, as I moved through my Tai Chi sequence I could see the car across the road and the people in heated discussion. I wanted to counterpoint my moves with their discussion/argument-you just work with what you’ve got.

I am ending with another new poem, the bones of which arrived on Christmas Day, I jotted it down and have been playing about with it since.


For one time only, here in this universe, now, you are reading these words, at no other point in time or space, are you doing so. Relax, this is no better, or worse, than any of the many lives you are living. When you sleep, let the multiple you’s merge, for a time you will be at peace. So enjoy, whatever, you will never be here like this again.


  1. Good quote to remember. I really like your poem "Message". Thanks for sharing your poems.

  2. Interesting quote! I agree; you have to work with what you've got at the moment.

    I really enjoyed reading "Observation". And I love that picture of the wet stones.

  3. Jessica: Thanks, the poem sort of came in a rush, but took time to sort out.
    Golden Eagle: Thanks, the photo was taken in Barcelona the last time we were there, it was the city's merci and the rain could not stop the people from celebrating.

  4. how very calming! I like that poem too.... very vivid.

  5. That's a good quote. It's hard to write when you've got nothing, though. Sometimes you have to get something or learn something, but that's a building process. The more you work at it, the more you'll get. :)

  6. I think Leonard Cohen makes a good point. We can only do what we can do. We're not all going to be Faulkner or Hemingway.

    Also, I grew up in the city of Chicago, so I remember hearing about Dillinger, quite often. I like your poem.

  7. Pk:Glad you found it calming.
    David: how true, we have to work at it, practice makes perfect.
    MSMariah: There is something liberating in what you say, we can only do as much as we can do, lets celebrate it. I'd love to hear what stories you heard of Dillinger. It seems to me that the situation was used by Hoover to grab as much power as he could. Two wrongs do not make a right.