Friday, 7 December 2018

FROZEN EXPLOSION

Recently we have started to have our milk delivered in milk bottles just like we used to have in the olden days. Last weekend we were away and decided to put the milk bottles into the freezer. This first prose poem explains why you cannot do that.

I did not realise you cannot freeze milk in a bottle because milk is at least 85% water which expands as it freezes cracking the glass and pushing off the foil top in a frozen explosion

It's one of those poems which are inspired by an image but that do not transcend their connection to that image. 
I occasionally will use an image to provoke a poem. It can be an effective workshop prompt. However the words usually need to be supported by the image, as in this case. 

Sheila’s Poem
1.12.18.

as brittle as bone china
ever more fragile
she tells me what she sees
it is not my reality
I welcome her words
attempt to see her reality
I’ve known her half my lifetime
so I can follow the clues
gently we talk
until head bowed seamlessly
she slips into sleep
and the magazine falls from her hand

Since I returned from Barcelona I've been listening to a lot of Leonard Cohen. Here he is singing Famous Blue Raincoat, the picture quality isn't brilliant but the music!

Until next time.

Friday, 30 November 2018

BLINK AND MISS IT

A poem I was moved to write by something I observed at the Sidecar gig. No matter how absorbed in the music I am part of me is still taking in my environment and watching Ryley Walker at Sidecar the other night I was aware of two people arguing to my left. That is the genesis of this post's poem. 


Blink and miss it beauty
the kind that winds you in
falls, lifts, time changes,
a labyrinth in sound.
She moves, eyes closed,
spins on the spot, amazed,
almost synchronised
but here’s the Minotaur,
patience paper thin,
as you can tell by his face.
She flees through the maze of people.

They will stand by a wall
and she will talk and he will listen
as the gig ends without them.
He buys her a tour shirt
some kind of peace offering,
to paper over the cracks only they know.
I am standing behind him
in the merchandising queue thinking
it’s too little, too late.

The photographs are of murals in Vic, Catalunya. 

On Wednesday I went to Bristol, to the Fleece to see Ryley Walker again. If anything he was even better than last time.
Here's some footage of him playing Roundabout, sterling stuff.

Until next time.

Friday, 23 November 2018

OLD TESTAMENT WEATHER

I was in Barcelona last week. I went to visit friends and see Ryley Walker at Sidecar, a little club on Placa Reial. On the Thursday the heavens opened and it poured down.
The first poem was written after it had stopped. 


Barcelona 15.11.18.

it feels as if the sky has broken
as our car surfs through the downpour
raindrops the size of dinner
plates splatter the road

the traffic lights fail
as lightening cracks overhead
Old Testament weather you proclaim
and it is difficult to disagree.


This next one I wrote on the train travelling south down the coast to visit friends for the day.

and there is always some bloke
man spread and bellowing
telling his friends he’s on the train

convinced he’s the Samuel Pepys of the digital age
as he relates in mind numbing detail 
the contents of his sandwich

we slowly progress towards the point when he will say
that he will be with them in a minute 
because he can see the platform

as he departs a strange silence will fall until
another observant male 
informs the carriage that he is on a train

Originally it was a prose poem but when I came to type it up it seemed to sit better on the page as free verse. It may change yet.
I shall leave you with some Ryley Walker. Sadly there is no footage from Sidecar, but here's some from Madrid.
Until next time.

Friday, 16 November 2018

SAVOUR EACH SECOND



A couple of observational poems this post.
The first is of a scene I passed by one morning.

two women smoke
first fags of the day
stand by their car's open doors

near a care home
whose uniforms they wear
it is not yet seven am

they savour each second

The second relate to my first visit to Barcelona many years ago



Barcelona

one cold sleet February
our breath smoke
in chilled rented room

so we stay out as long as we can
haunt shopping malls
free exhibitions
original language cinemas
but end up walking cold streets

each morning finds us entwined
reluctant to leave the warm bed

I leave you with The Decemberists Rox in The Box. They were good last Thursday. I love the way they weave The Princess Royal, a Morris tune into the song.

Until next time.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A EQUATION WITH ONLY ONE SOLUTION

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 a war ended that had lasted for over four years and caused the death of somewhere between 15 to 18 million humans. I have never been able to comprehend the numbers and it is difficult to grasp the consequences.
It is clear that the mishandling of the situation led to the creation of a set of circumstances that ignited the Second World War and caused even more people to loose their lives. 
We expect superhuman acts by our armed services, but we do not offer them the support they deserve when they return. 
This post's poem arises from conversations I have had with a friend who fought in the Falklands War aged seventeen. 
At the Battle of Goose Green he was an untested told sniper by his sergeant that it was either one of theirs or two of ours. 

For Colin

He is still paying our bill,
you can see it in his eyes,
Goose Green to Belfast
and more places in between
than you could point out on a map.

How does a man who cares
steer his heart through such times?
Focus on the practical,
strip and reassemble what you can
with eyes closed in the dark
and repeat for Queen and country.

Part of him is always there
reflecting on what they told him that cold island,
the stark choice: the target or two of ours.

In the blackness of this sleepless night
he hears those words again:
two of ours or him.

An equation with only one solution.


There is a cost to war that is different for each individual and it has been so since the time of Odysseus. We can never know the consequences of our actions until afterwards. 

One song that has, I feel, honestly attempted to describe the whole experience is I Was Only 19 and I would like to leave you with John Schumann talking about the circumstances that led him to write it.

Here is the song.
Until next time.

Friday, 2 November 2018

THE SEA RUNS COLDER

I wrote this poem rather quickly, but I am not saying it is finished, rather I present it as a work in progress.

The sea runs colder,
longer, deeper,
he dives for a pearl
he does not want but needs.
Spies the enigmatic shell,
wrestles it loose,
then rises too cold for hope.

The point of his father’s knife
releases the secret,
opalescent in sunlight.
A rare beauty he will be cheated out of,
perhaps he will be left just enough.
This sort of thing happens
once in a lifetime,
if you are lucky.
The poem wrote itself, as they occasionally do.
I suppose I was thinking of the parable of the pearl of great value but not on a conscious level.
On Sunday I saw Brain Patten read. As always he was superb. He has a new collection out The Book of Upside Down Thinking, which was inspired by the Sufi tradition of teaching tales. Brian brings his humanity and humour to their retelling. It really is a rich and reflective read.
It is worth checking out Brian's new website, there are some poems from the book for you to read and a host of other excellent work. 
Here's Brain reading.


I can't go though this post without playing Judee Sill's The Pearl.

Until next time.

Friday, 26 October 2018

TO KISS YOUR MEMORY

Another poem about those moments of satori that occur unexpectedly.
That's all I am going to say about it.

That we should decide to cross the border
is hardly surprising,
we live in the debatable lands.

Twelve hour passes are all that’s on offer,
because our lives are lived
inside the movements of our favourite clocks.
Still we hope for something built to last
and tell one another we go for experience.

Days lived like this prompt memories,
because in this place words reveal their power,
conjure simulacrum who people the spaces
between the shafts of light
between the notes from the turntable
between the breaths that form the words.

We were there now we are here.

In the quiet of our return a song plays
that was written after you died,
yet I know you are in the room,
have followed us back across the lines,
wearing a sad smile for what might have been,
gently I move to kiss your memory.

An old song that sort of fits the post.Carl Sagan by Loch Lomond.

Until next time.

Friday, 19 October 2018

DATA IS COLLECTED

A poem inspired by observing a lecture this post. 
I decided to attempt to write as clear an account of the session as I could. It is an interesting exercise to simply record what you see. I find that as I do so the meaning of the poem becomes clear, by this I mean the shape and purpose of the poem reveal themselves.


Research Methods in the Sports Hall

they are required to sprint
between the pairs of tripods
which record their times

he gives them brief tips
before they repeat their runs

data is collected
half the university away

so far it is all abstract actions
unconnected calculations

this is still the second year

Making yourself write about what you see can be a useful exercise. It is one I use when I am in a new environment. You can never write enough, practice really does make perfect.
I'm seeing the Decemebrists next month. I've managed to see them every tour but one-when they cancelled the day I was due to see them in Bristol.
I have to confess I have found their later albums rather hit and miss. I feel the songs are more sketches than complete works and that they have come to rely on slick productions to paper over the cracks. That said they are usually a good live band.
I leave you with January Hymn from The King Is Dead.


No mention of The Decemebrists is complete with their most amazing song.


Until next time.

Friday, 12 October 2018

A SPECK IN THE INDUSTRIAL IMMENSITY

The photograph is of the turbine hall in Tate Modern. The ceiling is 35m [115 ft]. Every time I visit I am reminded of the turbine hall of the power station at Castner-Kellner Works in Runcorn. I mention this because it features in this poem.

SPACES

Sideways
through a letterbox in the earth,
then crawl on your stomach
and dive through a sump of dark water,
to emerge where? Don’t ask me.
I failed the first task.
When slithering into the fissure
the weight of the world was compressing
I was backing out apologising.
Extremes are not for me,
neither the confines of the cave
or the naked space of free air.

You see ten years or more before,
when I was first an apprentice,
I had to climb the cold metal ladder of the turbine hall
to inspect the integrity of the overhead cranes,
but when I emerged on to that tiny platform,
a speck in the industrial immensity,
I could do nothing but wait to be guided down.
These are not my worlds.

Perhaps the secret of any life
is to find the places where you can thrive,
there is always another life after this,
and an infinity of lessons to be learned
each successive incarnation.


I am not sure how the poem came to me. I had an idea for the first line and let it percolate for couple of days before I attempted to write it down. This is a method I seem to be using at the moment.
The view from the ceiling of the turbine hall stays with me, all that space...
Recently I happened to hear Steve Goodman for the first time in years. There were a couple of songs on the end of a CD-R. I had forgotten what a good songwriter he was. 
Here's Banana Republic. I think the lyric is superb, transposing words and tune in the chorus is a work of genius.

I saw him at the July Wakes Festival in 1976, he was a guest of John Prine. It was a standout performance.
His most famous song is City of New Orleans but here's Yellow Coat from his first album. It is such a subtle song.

Until next time.

Friday, 5 October 2018

A SLICE OF THE 1970s

I have been doing some travelling recently. I visited Porto and I sat in a square and wrote this poem.

Gaia

Crossed cranes over the cash and carry
- a dull red building to the right hand side
of the equally unimpressive municipal office,
with five trees in front of it and a kiosk.
The wide selection of magazines flap in the breeze.
This square is a space for passing through,
not a place to stop as I have done.
I am sat at a table with a beer
watching other people’s lives unfold,
it’s just that type of day.
Gaia is the area across the city from the old town. 
As I was saying last post it is a useful exercise to sit somewhere quietly and write what you see.
This next poem wrote itself.

the day before we sold the family home
me and my sister
walked through each room one final time
in the name of thoroughness
I stepped into the loft
and found a slice of the 1970’s
packed away in boxes

we walked back to her house
arms full of more than memories

Thinking of the 1970s here's John Martyn with I Couldn't Love You More.
Until next time.

Friday, 28 September 2018

SELFIE STICK CLICK

I was at Finisterre in Spain a couple of weeks ago. My guide book informed me it was the western most point of Europe, so I walked to the lighthouse to see. I wrote this poem while I was looking at the scene.

the western most point of europe
for some people once the end of the world but not today

three coaches and sixty one cars
have disgorged the crowd that I walk into

the lighthouse is long since redundant
and not as popular as the gift shop

people clamber over the rocks
as far west as they can go

brandish selfie sticks
then smile in the camera click
It can be interesting exercise to write what you see in a new environment. I have done it on a number of occasions, this being one of them
I shall put up another next week.
The graffiti on the left hand side of this monument made me laugh.
I was listening to Midlake the other and realised that it is seven years this month since I saw them at End of The Road.
They are sorely missed, especially Tim Smith.
Until next time.

Friday, 21 September 2018

COMFORTING VAPOUR

I was in an airport last week flying to Madrid. Airports, these days, are non-smoking zones-thankfully. As I was sat having a drink my eye was caught by the furtive actions of a man at a nearby table. He was vaping from an e-cigarette. 
He inspired this poem.

In the Airport Bar

with stealth he draws on the silver tube
suckles the comforting vapour

his furtive eyes alert me
to his transgression

exhaling is more problematic
a shallow breath of steam

pity and annoyance mingle in my head
I keep my my addictions in line

iron hand on their necks
for now
People watching can be lead to some interesting poems.
Here is a revision. Thanks to the Secret Poets for their constructive feedback.

Poem for C

Given the economies
of supermarket squash
and the cheapest of vodkas,
it had always been
how much could he drink,
in the shortest amount of time,
to keep ahead of blacking out,
to avoid the grey dawns
when monochromatic migraine
immobilised him in a space
where he could do nothing
but relive it all over again.

I met him in the fragile truce of sobriety
he called his jigsaw days.
He placed his pieces
into shapes that just might work,
into patterns that had eluded him on the drink.
Some events, he confided, never end,
so you have to find different ways of getting on with it.

You can read the first version here
What has gone is the tongue twisting description of the hangover. Though to be honest I have read the poem at a number of events and I managed to deliver them without slipping up. But less is definitely more. 
If you can find a group or a person you trust to offer constructive feedback you work will improve immeasurably.
I played Fairport Convention's second album recently, it's an old favourite, here's Book Song.
Until next time.

Friday, 14 September 2018

UNFORGIVING LIGHT

I am unsure about this post's poem. I suspect it may need more editing. However I feel that now is the time to unveil it. Conflicting perspectives.
The poem arose from an exercise I set myself; to write about a once familiar room, to focus initially on the fabric of the room and let the centre be peopled as and when.

A familiar space.
Painted polystyrene ceiling tiles,
the unforgiving light from a fluorescent tube
that emphasises the carpet’s swirling colours
forever locked in a garish conversation
with the bright, busy wallpaper.

These days, this room
seems to stoop, like you.
A contraction that mirrors the years I have spent
living with a calm predictability
in places where the walls merely whisper.

Every time I enter this room
the bulge in the floor is more pronounced
and catching my eye, you always say
Whoever lives here after me can mend it.

Sat there watching reruns of cookery on tv
I wonder if this is how a mountain begins,
those first tentative probings before
the fault line suddenly fractures in cathartic release
and half of the house is either side
of this new, stupendous great divide.

Perhaps the carpet is pregnant, near full term,
about to give birth to something
patterned with swirls and flowers?
Then again maybe not.
The cookery programme unfolds,
an enthusiastic presenter in a pretend kitchen.

I think it needs to go away for a time, distance may grant insight.
I end this post with Anna Ternheim and Lars Winnerback singing Little Lies.

Until next time.

Friday, 7 September 2018

THE GIFT OF DODOS

I recently read Peter Fankopan's History of The Silk Road. It was an interesting history book. One aside that caught my imagination concerned a European ambassador being sent to make a treaty with a Sultan and the presents brought possibly included a gift of dodos. This struck me as a really powerful image. Over a couple of weeks I produced this poem.

The Gift of Dodos

was an after thought,
a knee jerk reaction,
on the part of the Captain
when the ambassador informed him
of the Sultan’s jewelled throne,
with peacocks free to strut about the palace,
more beloved than all the tax payers
who matched his weight in silver
every birthday weigh-in.

On the shore a disdainful dodo scowled,
wised up to the hazards sailors presented,
and when the mood came upon them
they could run like the wind.
Our day’s labours netted seven maudlin specimens.

Then the cook declared the hen bird the cleverer,
asserting we had caught a muttering of males,
easily hoodwinked, far more stupid.
He had been here before, in 1599 and again in 04
and was well versed in their culinary possibilities.

With an eye to the weather,
the Captain decided that they would have to do,
ordered them below, well away from the chickens.
Seven sour faced fowls, seasick the whole voyage.

By the time the pilot took us in to harbour
I had scrubbed the last one clean,
scorn writ large on it’s face,
too dispirited, by this point,
to even attempt to bite me.

We herded them through the streets.
Locals stopped to watch
their unsteady sea leg progress.

Needless to say the Sultan was unimpressed
with the fractious dodos chasing his peacocks,
fouling his fountains and crying.
A keening lament for their lost freedom.

It is of course totally fictitious. The poem wrote itself. 
At times the best strategy is just to write, with your critical self silenced and sort it out once the ideas are on paper.
Late the other night I was listening to Iron and Wine. Here's Boy With A Coin.

Until next time.

Friday, 31 August 2018

PAN-GALACTIC SEEDING PROJECT

Another poem about space this post.
I think it came from watching too many cheap science fiction tv series. You know the kind, where every planet looks like earth. 

They land on a new planet,
step out into a forest reminiscent of Canada,
because that’s the cheapest location
for American television series,
those epics shot on a budget.
Space travellers never offer
an explanation for this carbon copy of earth.
No vague reference to some pan-galactic seeding
by a god-like forerunner species,
that accounts for the parallel evolution
and absence of anaphylactic shock inducing
nasty little microbes,
that you would probably encounter on a world
teaming with its own take on life.
No, it’s just a convenient other planet,
ready to be plundered. 
I read at Torquay's Stanza Extravaganza on Tuesday evening. It was a lovely venue and standing room only. 
I read some poems I had not tried out in public before and one needed re-jigging. You can read the original here

Poem for C

Given the economies
of supermarket squash
and the cheapest of vodkas,
it had always been
how much could he drink,
in the shortest amount of time,
to keep ahead of blacking out,
to avoid the grey dawns
when monochromatic
migraine imitating aftermaths
immobilised him in a space
where he could do nothing
but relive it all over again.

I met him in the fragile truce of sobriety
he called it his jigsaw days.
He placed his pieces
into shapes that just might work,
into patterns that had eluded him on the drink.
Some events, he confided, never end,
so you have to find different ways of getting on with it.

It was difficult to read in its previous form. Sometimes you only discover this when you are performing.
I've been listening to Corrina Repp a lot recently, but I've already posted her superb album here.
Anne Briggs has also been on the turntable this week. I've just found this snippet of a BBC4 series Folk Britannia.
English folk music doesn't get much better.
You can watch the series on Youtube. Here's part one.
Until next time.