Friday, 10 July 2020

THE FIRST DAY WITHOUT SOCKS


I've not been writing anything new this week. Sometimes it goes like that. I always say you have to experience life to write about it. Actually I've been painting the dining room, so not much experience there.
Here's a poem I've been working on for a couple of weeks. 

Freedom is what we do with what is done to us.”
Jean-Paul Sartre

the first day without socks

gifted a freedom he had not anticipated

it was true there was a price to pay

in rubbed skin for each step taken

but over time the rims of his shoes softened

his ankles calloused

and even the monolithic plastic soles

previously immutable

slowly took on the contour of each foot


the world limped along

economies faltered

and him by the side of the road

failing to flag down a lift

the rain started

so he began to walk

from somewhere to somewhere else



I was thinking about the economic consequences of the pandemic. How it will change our lives. How we respond to the place we find ourselves.

This next poem was an exercise I set myself while I stood in the queue for my greengrocers. Usually I try to write about the place I find myself when I'm abroad but this is me here in Torquay.

1st Saturday after the Lockdown


framed face in first story window

cell small

hinged open to the max

smoke blooms

lost in grey sky

smells like weed from down here

in the Saturday line up

third in the queue for the greengrocers



It's interesting to just try and record what is around you. It makes you look at the world anew.

I got the new lp by Dinosaur, a British jazz group this week. It is boss. I can't take it off the turntable. Here's Mosking

Until next time.

Friday, 3 July 2020

SMALL PARCELS OF USE AND MEMORY


This poem arose from an idea about anxiety, it's not like there isn't enough to be worried about at the moment, but I was thinking of a person driven to distraction by planning for the worst.

Actually the first two lines were doggerel:

should the earthquake strike at noon
will you be in the dinning room?

Not very good at all.

What Can Be Saved?


omens fill his head


in the night he wakes

makes mental notes


what can be saved?


memorises the locations of

pens

passports

the thin roll of various currencies


should that live in the bedside drawer?

or be at hand by the front door?


but what if the flames prevent

him getting down the stairs?


he maps alternate routes

decides on small parcels of use and memory

scattered throughout the house


he can be at peace

now at least


As usual I do not think this is the finished poem. I start by writing them in a book longhand and revising them until I think they have a structure. I then put them onto the computer and play about with layout. At some indeterminate point they are then ready to show the world. Mostly I work by intuition, and I suppose experience.

Here's the stupendous Ryley Walker. A whole concert! He's got a couple of new downloads at Bandcamp. Here's the link.

Until next time.

Friday, 26 June 2020

GIFTS YOU VERRUCAS


Here's a revised poem with thanks to the Secret Poets for their invaluable input. Discussing your poems with others is always illuminating. You can read the last version here.

My meeting with the Stasi


After they left

he had the time,

as the coffee grew cold,

to reimagine the interaction,

discount his treachery.


He would never talk of it,

or let himself dwell on his actions.

Until the next time they came calling.


I think the poem is now even more concise and effective.
The use of the line break also adds something.

I have been writing a series of poems based on a friends memories of water. She wants to undertake a series of illustrations and asked me to contribute words. This is about her learning to swim in the 1960s on a military base.

Aldershot Command Pool

1

spartan

one size fits all

it is you who must make adjustments


walk into its muggy heat mid winter

remove gloves woollen coat

as eyes smart from that smell


then the obligatory baptismal foot bath

water so cold it shocks your soles

and almost as an after thought

gifts you verrucas


2

a rectangle of water

the pool could be a jelly mould

contents cooling

not yet set


you climb the metal ladder

and bob your head under

water in your ears and nose

and out

and under

distorted sound

and out

and under

one fifth your weight

and out

with eyes that stream


the smell has colonised your skin

and accompanies you the rest of the day


It is a work in progress.
Here is Liz Lawrence. She has a new album out.
Until next time.

Friday, 19 June 2020

AS THE COFFEE GREW COLD


A poem about betrayal that popped into my head unbidden. I had been reading a novel that was billed as being a worthy successor to le Carre. I did not think it was but it seems to have prompted this poem.

My meeting with the Stasi


After they left

he had the time,

as the coffee grew cold,

to re-imagine the interaction,

discount his treachery,

not that he would ever talk of it,

or even let himself dwell on his actions,

until the next time they came calling. 


I was interested in how people live with their betrayal. How they manage to go about their daily lives. Does it require some kind of double think?
This next poem is self explanatory.

early this morning at the allotment


for the umpteenth time

at the bottom of the white

drought dry

water tub

a trapped mouse

runs its circumference


I turn the tub on its side

faster than light

the prisoner escapes

and I had thought the real reason I had got up early was to water...


Here are The Weepies.


Until next time. 

Friday, 12 June 2020

HIDE and SEEK


If the lockdown has changed one aspect of my behaviour it is that I am meeting more frequently, via Zoom, with the Secret Poets. At present we are meeting every two weeks. Thanks to them for helping to shape this week's new poem.

hide & seek


It got boring after a while

I had assumed I was good at finding

but when I stopped in the woods

I had no idea where he was.

Then you came up shouting,

asking if I had found him

because, by God, you had not.

He emerged eventually,

smug in his tradecraft.


The next time he took me with him

and I watched you look for us

in all the wrong places.



The original looked liked this:

hide & seek


It got boring after a while

I had assumed I was good at finding

seeking out, tracking down,

but when I stopped in the woods

I had no idea where he was.

Then you came up shouting,

asking if I had found him

because, by God, you had not.

He emerged eventually,

smug in his trade craft.


The next time he took me with him

and I watched you look for us

in all the wrong places.


We debated only a couple of points: the redundancy of the third line and the phrase tradecraft. Tradecraft refers to the techniques spies use, dead drops, encryption and the art of hiding in plain sight. I like the term, and as it is relevant to the poem, it stayed.

This poem has altered only in title.

exhibit168

man in an impersonal space


note the wall paper, never his choice

and that mirror, too long by far

the bed that has followed him from house to house

the wardrobe arrived with his wife

he never liked it

the carpet will go

along with the wallpaper

one day


the wipeable whiteboard behind his head

is for your comments

but please observe health and safety guidelines

and wash your hands before and after use


Here is the other Nirvana.

Until next time.

Wednesday, 10 June 2020

ANNIE FISHER - THE DEAL



Annie Fisher is well known in the south west of England for her wondrous readings. Her work has been published in many magazines and anthologies. Annie has such a light touch and wry humour that it is possible on first reading to miss the serious nature of the poems, but never her humanity. 
The Deal is her second book and you can buy a copy here and her first volume here.
But enough from me.

Tell us about the new book.

It’s a pamphlet called The Deal, my second publication with the excellent HappenStance, press, run by Helena (Nell) Nelson. Nell is the most supportive and special of editors as anyone who has worked with her will agree. She absolutely knows her stuff and has incredible energy and dedication; I feel really lucky to have been published by her.

My first pamphlet was published in 2016 and was called Infinite In All Perfections. That pamphlet had no core theme, although it drew quite a bit on my Catholic childhood and my experiences as a teacher. Some of the poems were funny and some were lightly serious.

The new pamphlet is a bit more serious, and the central theme is fear. I have our mutual friend, Chrissie Banks, to thank for spotting this theme in a number of my poems and for suggesting they could form a collection that might resonate because of the anxiety that many people are feeling at the moment.

The working title for the pamphlet was Scaredy Pants, which Nell and I liked because it’s different. However, we decided it was maybe too humorous, and might sound more like a collection for children. (I also write poems for children.) So Nell suggested The Deal which is the title of one of the poems— it’s about doing a deal with God at a time of personal crisis.

The cover illustration shows a Picasso-style owl with a mouse dangling from its beak. This relates to a poem called Picasso’s Owl, about a pet owl Picasso kept for several years. Picasso had, since childhood, a great fear of death, and owls are sometimes seen as symbols of death. He painted it many times, perhaps as a way of confronting his fear.

But there are funny poems in The Deal as well, including one about an encounter, on a train, with a hen party and a lobster that turns into Donald Trump!

What was the first poem you wrote?

I remember it vividly! I was nine and I wrote it at home, just for the fun of it. It was called ‘Sunset’:

The sun is sinking in the west

In all its golden splendour.

The little flowers have gone to rest

To hide their parts so tender.

My dad seemed to find the poem funny, for reasons I couldn’t understand, but my mum didn’t laugh. I’m quite proud of it as a first poem. And I still think ‘splendour’ is a splendid word!

What next?

A book-length collection one day. The working title is Missing the Man Next Door, but I won’t say more at this stage.

If you were interviewing yourself what question would you ask?

I’d probably ask about how I go about writing my poems because I’m intrigued by the whole process. I wouldn’t be able to answer the question of course!

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Music. Someone said that all art aspires to the condition of music, and it does seem to me to be the purest art form. Poetry comes close though.

Why poetry?

RS Thomas said that religion and poetry are the same thing. I think that’s right— it’s all metaphor. I was very religious as a child, and still have an essentially religious temperament. Buddhism attracts me, but I’m not a card-carrying member of any group. I think poetry is my religion these days.

What do you want your poetry to do? What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?

It depends on the poem, I guess— a smile, a chuckle, a nod, a tear…. a connection.

Tell us a joke

What do you call a baby fountain pen?

An inkling.

..it’s a good joke for poets I think. We spend our lives chasing inklings!

Name something you love and why?

My two grandchildren—love them more than life itself. Just do.

Does creativity involve putting your heart and soul into your work or do you let your mind run free and see where it leads you?

Yes, all of that! It’s a great adventure.

Have you ever doubted your talent?

What talent?

Thanks Annie.

Annie is published by HappenStance Press.

Until next time.


Friday, 5 June 2020

ONE LITTLE LIFE LESS


My cat Ellington died on Tuesday, he was a gentle soul. 
I know in this world at this time many people are dying, carried away by virus or violence. Do not think I do not mourn their loss. I do and the inequality in access to resources that cause their deaths.
Every death reduces me.
Here is a poem for Ellington.


at such times as these
not even sleep holds comfort
I alternate between lying awake
and dreams that parade anxieties
so rise without the usual benefits
to sit in a silent kitchen
huddled around a cup of tea
that does not taste
outside the day goes about its business
one little life less


He will be missed.

On Monday I participated in a Zoom poetry workshop organised by Happenstance. It was based on poems from The Deal, the latest book by Annie Fisher.  
I use the guest bedroom as an office. We have not gotten around to redecorating it yet. It is on the list after the dinning room. It is the only room in the house with wall paper. 
One of the prompts in the workshop was to write about a space you knew. 
I produced this:

the title of this room is: man in an impersonal space

note the wall paper, never his choice
and that mirror, too long by far
the bed that has followed him from house to house
the wardrobe arrived with his wife
he never liked it
the carpet will go
along with the wallpaper
one day

the wipeable whiteboard behind his head
is for your comments
but please observe health and safety guidelines
and wash your hands before and after use


Here is Al Stewart.
Until next time.

Friday, 29 May 2020

LIPPY WITH WINE


Another revised poem this post. Thanks again to the Secret Poets [and Zoom] for their invaluable input.
The poem has also gained a title [thanks to Chrissy Banks]. You can read previous draft here.

Abroad

He sat down at the next table,
began editing papers
written in neat long hand.

We were holiday lax,
lippy with the wine.
The freedom of being in another country
had set us talking ten to the dozen.

Suddenly it occurs to me
he could be writing down our every word,
for he’s turned the paper over
and is scribbling hell for leather.
I wonder if we’re worth such an effort.

As we stand to go for the bus,
he packs up and shoulders past,
into the rain and the twilight.


I removed two words and it reads better.
Removing a word and seeing if the poem still reads well without it indicates that the word may be superfluous to understanding of the poem, though sometimes they remain because of metre [though not much in my work].


I've been listening to lots of jazz [no change there] but here are Tinariwen.


Until next time.

Friday, 22 May 2020

NO JANE AUSTIN CHARACTER


A poem about social distancing, or as Billy Bragg was advocating the other evening, spatial distancing. It was inspired by how the pandemic has changed my wife's behaviour. Usually she would pick up cans and other rubbish lazier people had dropped in the street. She does not do this now. Though thankfully there is less about. 
Anyway her behaviour led me to write this.

not so long ago
she would have picked up that bottle
the morning after merry makers had dropped it
along with all the other litter
scattered by the thoughtless
now she leaves it be
keeps to herself

he concentrates on keeping his distance
no jane austin character
was ever more precise

they pass
he raises his hat
they do not speak

he double checks the space between them


If I am honest I do not understand the mindset of people who simply drop what they no longer need in the street. Seems alien to me. Lazy. 


Here's a video of Anna Ternheim.

Until next time.

Friday, 15 May 2020

BESPOKE WORDS


Another revised poem this post. Thanks to the Secret Poets via Zoom for their thoughts and feedback- a joy as ever.
You can read the first draft here.

my life in letters

for me bs and ds were interchangeable
one letter and its reflection I could fit wherever
this practice marked me a slow learner
word blind and spelling remained a mystery

my mothers advice to break
down difficult words baffled me
for I never said them
like they were spelled

the thesaurus became my life preserver
as I looked up words of similar meaning
and hoped what I required was waiting patiently
amid the ranks and columns with its friends

the spell check facility of middle age
enabled spellings to be puzzled out
different combinations chanced
until the red underlining went away

secretly I still suspect those people
who demand rigid spellings
who fear the world of bespoke words
tailored to suit that unique moment


The second stanza has changed and there are changes to the second line of the last stanza. Now I think that line reads [and speaks] better.
The second stanza may not quite be there, watch this space.

Here's Shelagh McDonald.

Util next time.

Friday, 8 May 2020

THE DOOR DID NOT SHUT ITSELF

I have been revising more than writing this week. I believe that we have to experience before we can write and we all need time to charge up the memory banks. 
Here are a couple of interlinked [by virtue of being started on the same day] poems from a brief trip to France last December. You can read the originals here.
I was not happy with the second poem because when I came to look at it again I did not think it told its story clearly.

Île de Batz

the sea has removed itself
in the dirty bay the upright boats are patient

the sea wall
built by hand in my grandfather’s day
speaks of a winter tide
gestated mid-Atlantic
angry impatient
no laughing matter

2.
they have to have a second go
surprised the door did not shut itself
disbelieving that the mere act
of pulling it towards them was insufficient 


The first has lost a line that described the sea wall and is the better for it. I have also changed the spacing to try and set the scene with the first two lines before moving on to focus on the subject of the poem.


Here's the Mountain Goats, you can order their new album from Bandcamp

Until next time.

Friday, 1 May 2020

AN HOUR OUT OF TIME

 

 Another poem about those special moments of insight this post.
If you have not seen William Blake's etching then you are in for a rare treat.
Spit bite is another term for etching, you can read about it here.

an hour out of time

I could almost taste the past
with those colours on my tongue
that music on my skin
I was infinity, the shortest line
on William Blake’s copper plate,
an acid burned, spit bite etching,
at liberty to walk between the spaces of the world.


I have talked before about how much I value those times, however brief, when you can see the world anew. 
Here's Laura Marling.

Until next time.

Friday, 24 April 2020

I SWAM THROUGH REM


A poem about a dream that I did not dream.
It arrived obliquely when I was thinking of something else. 

as I slept
I lived underwater

no longer earthbound
cast free as a fish in blue currents

I swam through REM and
awoke with the sun

my body strangely weighted
beached in tangled sheets


Thanks must go to the Secret Poets once again for helping me tidy it up.
I hope you are keeping safe and well during this troubling time.
Here is Electrica Dharma as yesterday was San Jordi in Catalonya.


Until next time.

Friday, 17 April 2020

AS THE SUN FALLS


Thanks to the wonders of modern technology [Zoom] I was able to chat with the Secret Poets this week. It was a tonic to talk poetry for a couple of hours. 
With their help I was able to revise a number of poems including the one from the last post.

Walking in Crystal Palace

unexpectedly an iguanodon

take in its botched anatomy
how it sadly sheds its concrete skin

nothing that ever lived looked like this
truly it is a terrible lizard


Hopefully it is clear. There was some discussion as to whether people would know that there are Victorian dinosaur sculptures in the park. I am trusting the erudition of my audience.
The other change is the layout which allows the poem to breathe.



This is a new poem, hopefully self-explanatory.


Torquay 27.3.20.

I watch the empty bus
the last one of the night
indicate then turn left
the driver lost in his own thoughts

in the daylight hours I never see
more one passenger per bus
but as the sun falls
who would want to be Harbourside
in that cold wind
in this empty town



The photographs are all from Deal Fun Fair a number of years ago.

I've been listening to Graham Nash a lot recently. I think it started because I'd read Pete Doggert's book about CSNY.
Here's This Path Tonight.


Until next time.