Friday, 30 May 2014


This is an etching by the artist Nick Richards. He tells me it is of a scene in Dorset. I have taken it to be something else. I spent time with this image, if I am honest it haunted me. Those figures emerging from the water to be greeted by a dog I found enegmatic. Eventually I wrote this:

The water became air in our lungs
then tickle nosed,
mercury balloons that rise to break above.
Indian file we move through weed,
I see her back, concentrate so as not to trip
on starfish, or stone hidden in the silt.

As I break through the interface
the halo of my hair alls in the sombre tension,
I gobble air for the first time,
then see that blue sky and I know 
our journey will not end here.

This dog, now the first animal, greets us,
wades into the water, impatient for it to start.
This time, she tells me, there will be no snake,
no partition of world in to garden, not garden,
chosen, not chosen. Instead all will be cherished,
nothing will be wasted or spurned, all will be equal.

I am scared of her vision, her clarity,
of the simple way she talks of these things,
for this world seems huge, far more complex
even than the sea which gave us form.

Naked on the shoreline, this cusp of past and future,
she points out our direction, her hand sketches
the casual curve of the bay. So much distance,
she knows, she says, this will all take time,
I worry future filigree will obscure her simple pattern.
Generations to come now crowd around us,

she is almost lost in the press of ghost bodies,
I am far from sure the beauty of her words 
which she uses to define this new world,
will not be lost amid the crying of these future souls.

I have no idea where this poem came from. It evolved in my head from Nick's etching. What do you make of it?

I shall leave you with Bill Jones singing one of my favourite English folk songs- William Taylor. Bill has not made an album for many a year and is sorely missed. 

Friday, 23 May 2014


I shall be interested to know what you make of this poem. The events happened just as they are described.

Wiped from a migraine,
jingle nerved, all scratchy skin.
I'm dealing with the July sun,
morning, driving south.
Then Charlie's there,
and him near six months dead,
but still, here's Charlie in the car.
If I look directly I see an empty chair,
a glance from the side of the eye;
the light pours through him, from him.

So I talk about nothing,
as we did those nights,
a malt in hand and a record on.
I drive the Sunday morning traffic,
I am in no hurry, Charlie smiles.

Exeter eventually.

I tell him I need to get a ticket.

I return to an empty car.

It needs work but the essential elements are there. One of the difficulties with writing I find, is judging how much I need to set the scene. That is why it is a good idea to put a poem away in a drawer for a couple of weeks, when you return to it you have a better perspective on what needs to be removed.

Here is another work in progress.

Don't try and deny it, we all have.
Isherwood was offered China,
but only if held his lover's hand
and jumped from the Weimar frying pan,
into the flames of the advancing Japanese.
He chose not to. Perhaps
that's why we remember such moments.
The conversation halts, you look at me
across the debris of the meal.
I let that one pass, twice.
And outside the Hayward sunset in your hair,
those eyes I could have fallen into.

Maybe this reality we live in,
is the negative result of all those opportunities not taken.

In, I think, Goodbye to Berlin, Christopher Isherwood writes that his lover, the owner of a large department store offered to take him to China, if they ran away that night. He did not take up the offer.

I think this one needs more work. I am not sure about the layout and if it isn't too wordy. Definitely one for the drawer.

I leave you with a song that has an exquisite set of lyrics. Paul Simon singing Rene and Georgette Maggrite and their Dog After the War.

Friday, 16 May 2014


Sunday 18th May is the sixtieth anniversary of the Fourth Battle of Monte Casino. It has some significance for me, my father was there. He did not fight. He was with the Free Polish Army Liaison Staff. He was nothing grand, a private, a driver. He had been with the Eight Army since El Almein.

Charlie said on the day of that last battle his commanding officer (unfortunately I can't remember his name) had told him; This is not your day Charlie, you're staying here. The commanding officer went to fight with the Poles and was killed. Charlie found his body the next day. 

He was lucky. Three and half thousand Poles died taking that mountain. You can read about it here. They were not the only ones, I don't want you to think that they were, nor do I want to ignore the thousands of other brave people who died defeating the fascists.

After Monte Casino Charlie told me that things became difficult. None of the other officers wanted to lead and the camaraderie that had kept them going for so long evaporated. 

Monte Casino has always held a significance for me. Perhaps it was watching newsreels on All Our Yesterdays on tv when I was a child. I remember asking my dad if he had been there and he told me he had. I don't know but I suspect it was my fathers words that did it. On more than one occasion he said: You've never seen as many dead people as at Monte Casino. 

He was bitter about the way the Poles had been treated after the war in Europe had ended. He told me they were disarmed and surrounded by an armoured division to stop them fighting their way home. That option was not in the grand scheme of things. In Charlie's opinion they had won the right to try and free their homeland from the communists.

So here we are sixty years later, amid the anniversary of an older war in which unimaginable numbers of people died. We have had it lucky. I just did not want this day nor the sacrifice of so many to go unmarked.

This is a work in progress, but I offer it for this day.

This is where the Poles died,
died in their thousands,
fighting up that mountainside,
brave and young and paying the Nazis back.
We hadn't done it, had three goes,
just lost more bright lives each time.

That is where Charlie found his commanding officer,
empty eyes staring into the blue sky.
You never saw so many dead bodies, as at Monte Casino.
It fell apart after that, 
no one wanted to lead, they'd seen the cost.
Sour bickering as victory grew near.

The Poles were sold down the river,
surrounded by tanks and wire, after
threatening to fight their way home
across broken Europe.
They's bested the fascists
and were ready for the communists.
We sold them down the river.

Duplicity, Charlie told me, is something
the English have been good at for a long time.

I leave you with Ian Campbell's version of The D Day Dodgers. Apparently it was inspired by an incautious remark by Nancy Astor. During a visit to newly liberated France she described the Eight Army as D Day Dodgers. 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014


There is an energy about John that is infectious. He is one of those people that you have to admire, always there in the thick of it, supporting and facilitating others. Not only does he chair Taunton's Fire River Poets but he also facilitates their monthly poetry evening and co-hosts poetry events with me. He is a pleasure to work with, laid back and charming but with his eye on the ball.

I have always been impressed with John's poetry. There is quality, not a spare word, or awkward turn of phrase. He is a poet to savour and to return to for repeated rewards, there is much to reflect in his work. I am excited that Fire River are compiling a new anthology and that he is working on his second collection, his first Word of Mouth was excellent.

But enough of me let's hear from John:

Why poetry?
I originally wanted to be a composer of music of the high classical kind but slowly came to accept that I had little chance of success. I was about 10 years old when this ambition arose. And I didn't understand the educational pathways that could lead me to that goal. Perhaps more important at that stage, neither did my parents …
But I had a second string to my bow: I liked writing stories. Although I had relatively little exposure to poetry, I did know what it was and liked, for example, John Keats's A Song About Myself, or at least, that part of it which is most often quoted, Part IV:

 There was a naughty boy,
And a naughty boy was he,
He ran away to Scotland
The people for to see –
There he found
That the ground
Was as hard,
That a yard
Was as long,
That a song
Was as merry,
That a cherry
Was as red,
That lead
Was as weighty,
That fourscore
Was as eighty,
That a door
Was as wooden
As in England –
So he stood in his shoes
And he wondered,
He wondered
He stood in his
Shoes and he wondered.

And a few other poems.
But at Secondary School, I turned against poetry when we had to study the Romantics in detail, because I found much of it turgid and boring. And it wasn't until I was about 16 that I had the Damascene conversion that changed my attitude – and my life: I came across Eliot's The Four Quartets in the school library and out of curiosity started to read it. I was transfixed! I read it from cover to cover, including an introduction that I didn't really understand. It seemed to me that this was the kind of poetry I could relate to and wanted to write … and I've been writing poetry ever since.

Tell us how you work
Now that I'm retired, I sit at my desk every morning, if I can, and work on poems. I don't believe that I have to wait for inspiration to descend on me. Selecting what to write about is not a problem and I simply work until the poem sounds right or is abandoned. There is not a lot of 'inspiration' in what I do. I'm not even sure I believe inspiration exists. I get good ideas and I get obsessed, but these aren't that high spiritual 'gift' of inspiration that so many people seem to think is the conduit through which art is brought into existence.
What poets make you green with envy?
I have had a special regard for many poets at different periods in my life. Having to study poetry in so many languages – I have O Level in English, O and A Levels in French and German and BA in Russian – I have had a wider range of poets to choose from compared to the average.
However, I'm not sure I envied any of these poets. Certainly not all of them, anyway. I was gobsmacked, disturbed, intimidated by quite a lot of them because their work was so 'perfect'; they were such 'geniuses'. It took quite a while for me to realise that genius, if it exists, requires hard work and dedication and is not innate.
OK, if you insist that I choose one poet, I'm not sure it's fair, but I will. For many years, my great star was Rilke, particular his later work. Head and shoulders above all others. But nowadays he is only one among many whom I both admire and possibly envy. If you insist that I must envy someone, it's him.
 Tea or coffee?
Coffee – no contest. I am addicted and have to ration myself. However, I do drink a lot of lemon and ginger tea, too.
The lemon and ginger tea is because I actually gave up caffeine many years ago. I felt it was causing me harm. However, after some 15 years almost entirely caffeine free, I've slid back and now allow myself coffee at weekends and when I go out.

What question would you like me not to ask?
There are quite a few taboo questions that I wouldn't dream of revealing, but I suppose the one I'd dread most in terms of my poetry is: why are you so secretive?

How would you answer it?
This is difficult to explain. When it comes to the matter of my own self or the role I most value: being a poet, I have always been secretive about what I'm doing. I suppose it comes from my formative years, when I felt that I was surrounded by people who were different from me and to whom I had to concede the right to expression. Which meant I must not compete to express myself and had to remain silent, keep my work to safe, under wraps.
But later, perhaps as late as my late forties, I realised time was flying by and I had to force myself to open up at least a bit, which I have done and am glad I've done. However, there are still times when I find it difficult to credit that people would value what I have to say.
As for letting anyone see and comment on my work in progress, no. I never could and still can't bear that. A poem has to be utterly secret until it has been put in its final form. Even its title is not to be revealed because that would stop any further work on it.

The only exception is that I will take some poems in near final form to meetings of poets and accept comment from fellow practitioners. I can tolerate their comments because they are people like me.

What's in the pipeline?

I'm working on a second collection and also collaborating with other members of Fire River Poets to produce our third Anthology. No publication dates for either at the moment as it's too early in the process.

If you were a poem what poem would you be and why?
It's a toss up between quite a lot of favourite poems, including Sonnet to Orpheus No 56 by Rilke and Seamus Heaney's Squarings viii (from his collection Lightenings), but overall, I think it would probably be Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. Not because it's better but because of what it says.

This fabulously simple poem sings to me of the dilemma of decision, of choice that I have faced so often: which way should I go? … I am a hesitant and indecisive person underneath all the hurry and worry. It consoles me that my stupidities can be validated in some way by how things work out, indeed they have to be part of what has helped to bring me to this point, which I am by no means unsatisfied with, however late in my life it may be. So the road I took has to be the one that made the difference.
Poem selected
A hard choice! I have decided on a poem from my collection, Word of Mouth (Oversteps 2009), called Intruder. The last line of this poem echoes the last line of Heaney's poem Squarings viii mention above:


Powderham Castle, Exeter

It was hot. Hunters for insects were in the air,
whirling round the castle and the grounds –
above the human swirl which passed into the castle

and no doubt sounded to the hurtling birds
like mammoth beings trumpeting their deep greetings,
bellowing their slow laughs. Ponderous beasts

sucked up by the immortal rock. When a swallow
chased some small thing into the conference room
and its darkness sensors clicked in and its flight

geometry flicked to confined space, our meeting stopped

as though it had flown in to find us and make
an announcement. But it searched the walls, the space

in which we had confined ourselves – and,
without a false beat, left by the open window
through which it had come. We cheered its bold departure.

Not for the bird that was focussed on escape.
For our leaping hope as it swept out into the air;
for the sense of the marvellous we hold in ourselves.

Thanks John.

Friday, 9 May 2014


When you write a poem do you worry about not being understood? That the allusions are too personal? Or that not everyone will know about the life in ancient Egypt and so won't get it? I do. You walk a changing line when writing.

Take this poem. Do you need to know that Prometheus, in Greek mythology, is a trickster who created humans from clay and stole fire from the Gods giving it to humanity and so kick starting civilisation? For this theft he was bound to a rock and eagles pecked his liver. Every night it would grow back and the whole awful scene act itself out once again.

I think you do, and I suppose that is why I am telling you before you see the poem.

Prometheus, a sneak thief,
saw the opportunity and ran with it.
Later he would have time to fully reflect on his action,
each dawn, after a night of regrowth
almost as painful as the coming day.
Still look at what we made on the deal!

It has to be said the deforestaion of
Mount Olympus could have been handles better.
Though the evictions were necessary.
It was not spite, once we had clockworked the world,
they simply were not needed anymore.

Prometheus? We ignore him;
there was the odd poetic reference,
the even odder novel.
At least we allowed him to stay,
you can see him in any food bank queue,
looking like we owe him something.

I didn't write it in one go, I had the idea of Prometheus and wondered if he regretted his act just before the eagles began again. Then I thought about humans and what we have done with his gift. Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, his study of mythology, states that Prometheus is an parable of gaining knowledge quickly without undertaking the apprenticeship. I am not sure. Prometheus is a trickster and we tricksters don't think in such logical arcs.

Here is a Mountain Goats video, Sax Rohmer. Enjoy

Friday, 2 May 2014


A poem that arrived quickly but took time to shape.
Though I feel that I should set the scene. A Murder Mystery is a game that is played over the course of an evening, in which the guests act the parts they have been given. The aim is to unmask the murderer. You can buy ready made kits for the different number of guests.

Murder Mystery

So, I have arranged this,
found the only game for twelve people,
sent invites, cobbled a costume together
for the stereotype I am to play.

Here we are at table,
all nervous laughter,
looks across the food,
red wine spills over plates.

You were the upright married woman,
life imitating art.
Your husband, now a clergyman,
denoted by a thin card collar, 
a terribly modern cleric 
who pours more Rioja.
Events play out, follow the script,
he is shown to be a drunk.
You had the motive!
You could have done it!
You are having an affair!
There, now the vicar has said it, 
spoken those words aloud,
all read faced in the candlelight.
I study your eyes,
you carry off the charade well,
art imitates life.

Then the attention turns to me,
and I am revealed as the murderer.

I would be interested to know what you make of this poem.

we were separated by more than distance
the horizon has flipped one hundred and eighty degrees
our compass cannot respond this
how can you trust a landscape
where beached clouds weep?
I would like to speak out
tell you there is safety in staying together
but sense you take in my cubist form
as if this this the first time you have really seen me

I know I will change again

A little surreal poem to match the photographs.

I am reading Tracey Thorn's autobiography at the moment, Bedsit Disco Queen. It is well written and amusing, if like me you are a fan of books about music and musicians then it's worth reading. Here is a song from her A Distant Shore lp.

This is the only video I could find of her first band the wonderful Marine Girls.