Thursday 31 May 2012


I would like to start by thanking all the people at the Acoustic Festival for a good time last weekend. I have to say the highlight of the weekend for me was watching Robin & Bina Williamson on the Saturday afternoon.  They were simply marvellous.

You can contact Robin and Bina here:

I am at the Fishguard Folk Festival ( this weekend as festival poet. I shall be running a poetry workshop on Sunday and appearing both Saturday and Sunday. Fishguard is a free festival and it takes place in the pubs of the town. The line up looks excellent and I am looking forward to hearing some great music.
I had some interesting ideas for poems last weekend but have not had the chance to do anything with them this week.  As I keep stressing on this blog one of the secrets to good poetry is revision, you cannot expect it to leap onto the page fully formed.
Here’s a poem I have been working on for some time. The original idea came from a workshop I ran a while ago, the brief being to write a poem about a family member meeting someone famous and the poem had to illuminate the family member rather than the famous person.
I wrote about my father, Charlie, who as a member of the Labour Party committee in Widnes in the late 1960’s meet the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson. Charlie as the poem narrates was not impressed.

Harold Wilson in Widnes

November mist, soft orange street light,
Each Puddle satin, late nineteen sixties,
Widnes Labour Club on a midweek night,
And there’s Charlie, sharp suit and shy.
They’re all lined up and for one second,
He is back in Africa, Monty handing out fags,
A fixed smile and those cold eyes.
As insincere as the man before him,
Charlie shakes the cold weak hand,
Takes in the cheap suit and Oxford tie.
Everyman Harold condescending on Widnes.
Charlie left the Labour party soon after,
“The lot of them, no bloody good.”

The poem also mentions Montgomery, who had been in charge of the Eighth Army in Africa during World War Two. My father was in the Propaganda Section and met Montgomery on a number of occasions, he was not impressed. Both Wilson and Montgomery lacked the common touch, they struggled to empathise with the common person. It seemed natural to me to link the two people in the poem, as my father had mentioned them to me on occasion. 

Wednesday 30 May 2012


Today is the first birthday of Magpie Bridge, exactly one year ago I wrote the first post: From the Captain’s Table. Since then I have written 68 posts, not including this one.

I would like to thank all the people who are following me for their support and all of those who visit the blog as and when.

I am starting a second post next Tuesday for the summer, I will be interviewing poets and authors, singers and artists. If you are any of the above why not contact me. I’d love to showcase your work. The Friday post will continue as before.

Thank you all again. Here’s to the next twelve months.

Thursday 24 May 2012

I am posting early this week as tomorrow, my usual day, I shall be driving up the M5 and M6 to Uttoxeter racecourse for three days of music and poetry. I am the festival poet this year and I will be live on stage on Saturday (1.30pm in the Real Ale Tent, the perfect place for poetry if you ask me, beer and poetry go together well).
I am also appearing in the Top Hat Tent over the weekend and I shall be running a couple of poetry workshops as well. One of the things I shall be doing is getting the people I meet to each add a line to my festival poem, I have no idea how it will turn out but it will be fun.
Those of you who live in this green isle will know that the weather this weekend is set to be sunny, the monsoon that we have endured for the past two months, seems to be in remission. In fact I caught the sun on Tuesday when we sloped off for the day to Saunton Sands and spent a happy day walking along the beautiful and deserted beach. That’ll teach me not to use sunblock.
A little poem this week about tinnitus, a disorder of the inner ear. If you have this condition you will know that tinnitus is “the perception of sound in the ear in the absence of corresponding sound”. I’ve just taken that from Wikipedia-thanks. I have known a number of people who have this complaint and I wrote this recently.
Moon heavy, tidal rage across the world,
The sound of the sea in every shell,
Circle, fall, fade and roar
Into each ear this night.
Somewhere there is respite,
She knows where, so sleeps
Supple, supine, silent at my side.
Flow, flood and rage,
This is the soundtrack of my life.
I must hear the sea,
Circle, fall, fade then roar,
I will not sleep this night.

The idea for this poem came one evening as I was reading and it was one of those where I juggled the lines about. I think that when revising a poem changing the order of the lines can make it work.
Must dash and pack the camper for the first of my three festivals on the trot. Have a great week and if you are at a loose end come and join us at Uttoxeter. It’s going to be an amazing weekend.

Friday 18 May 2012


It’s been a strange week for me, I had my main computer go down with a Windows 32 failure, which I have discovered means the hard drive is on the blink or the fritz, depending which side of the Atlantic you are reading this.  Apologies to other people in other lands with you own words. I was going to say slang but is it? I suppose the phrase Windows 32 is equally slang. It has long been my contention that professionals call their slang jargon to make it acceptable but the aim is the same to exclude those who are not in the loop. Is this true? Is all slang a means of secretly communicating with others? Or do we call that which is different slang and is it about a power judgement?
Over thirty years ago now when I did my degree I wrote my dissertation on the evolution of Rastafarianism in Britain. Those of you who read the blog will know of my love of reggae. I wanted to understand what lay behind the lyrics and how the religion had spread to the UK. One of the things I disliked but had to do in the dissertation was to describe the Rastafarian speech form as patois. It seems to me that this illustrates what I mean by the phrase power judgement. If you do not follow the speech patterns of the dominant group then your language is somehow less and it is labelled with a derogatory name. If professionals use a specific speech pattern it is called jargon and is acceptable.
Anyway I digress, I have to confess that love slang, on more than one occasion I have found the hours flying by as I browse a dictionary of slang, yes, I am that sad that I find reading a dictionary interesting. One of the classics is Max Decharne’s book on hipster slang Straight from the Fridge, Dad ( and it is as good as the title suggests. When someone asks me how I am I have a tendency to utter that immortal line “Straight from the fridge, Dad” as a response. I think part of my delight in slang is my love of language, how can you not love a phrase like “Making out like a foreign loan”, which means to do well, to be successful, or “Go to a museum for your art lesson” which is another way of saying stop leering at me. Not that I have had occasion to use that one in conversation.
In my home town of Widnes the speech patterns have changed since I was a lad, nothing unusual in that, I suspect they had changed since my father was young. One of the interesting things is that now people want to sound like they come from Liverpool. Nothing wrong with this, I was listening to some research on the radio saying that as the actual city of Liverpool has contracted the speech pattern, known locally as Scouse has spread beyond the city. Now when I am in Widnes I hear the Scouse lit rather than the Lancashire drawl that was common in my youth. Here is a link to a good short documentary on the Scouse accent for all of you who are even more woolly back than I am ( I will leave you to discover what the phrase Woolly Back actually means.
Here is a poem, rather an old one on that change in accent.

The Last of Widnesian

No more
“Over thurr,”
Cenny Field,
Lob on,
Balm cake,
Oxley’s or Adsega,
Never again to be:
“As thick as a Lugsdale butty”
All gone

 A maiden is a clothes horse or dryer. The Bozzadrome was the name of a cinema in the 1930’s and was a word still in use when I was a child, though the actual cinema had changed its name. Oxley’s was a local department store, originally called Abraham’s and Adsega was a Scottish supermarket chain, they opened he first supermarket in Widnes in the early 1960’s. An interesting word is cod-pretend, one is codding when you are having somebody on, hoodwinking them. Something counterfeit would be cod.  What are your local words? I would be really interested in hearing about them.

Friday 11 May 2012


Do you revise your work? I do. I spend longer reworking than writing. It is the rare poem that comes out nearly fully formed and my graphic novel series underwent a number of rewrites. Though I think working with another person, in this case, my talented artist means that if the joint effort is to be a success you need to listen and leave the ego at the door.

There is a danger in being too wedded to your idea, a character, or a line in a poem. At times for the work to develop, to reach some kind of conclusion, you have to be ruthless and take it out. I once struggled with a poem, this was when I was a student, in the early 1980’s, and essentially the conceit was comparing Noah building his ark to the installation of cruise missiles into the UK. Not the best idea I have ever come up with, but it had legs. The trouble was I had this middle section that I was in love with that just didn’t fit, but I was just too enamoured with the whole thing to see that. I could have had two poems, but in the end I did not have one. I soldiered on with this hybrid, off and on, for about six months. In the end I put it away, puzzled why it would not work. Years later I looked at it again and realised what the trouble was, but the moment has gone, the Soviet Union had collapsed and the missiles had gone.

I did learn from that experience, I learnt that you have to be ruthless. If you cannot understand the poem you are working on, what chance does the reader have? Now I revise, and revise. I think I have said before that what I am looking for when I write is for the poem to be able to stand alone, by itself. This is about as near to a description of how I work as I can give. I know when I reach that point – most of the time.

On Saturday I was talking to a poet who places the emphasis on a strong opening line, hook the listener with a powerful statement and they will want to know how it ends. It’s an interesting method; I am not sure all of my work functions like that. But there again creation is a very personal thing, it is something we all do differently and what works for me may not work for you. What we did agree on was the need to revise what you have written. Which brings me back to my original question; do you revise your work?

Here is an old poem that wrote itself over a period of three months. It was one of those times when the ingredients that go to make up the poem are circling around you and all you have to do is to realise this and put them into a coherent order (did I say “all you have to do!”).


low sky
grey thoughts linger
discord in this house
apple tree
as naked as love lost
their gifts litter the ground
birds gather
cover the garden
feast on our misery

the eager birds wait
dart forward
sector the new mown lawn
a relentless automatic ballet
that takes no prisoners
I am reminded of you
four in the morning
out of control

Friday 4 May 2012


This has been an interesting week, we returned from Lyme Regis on Sunday, to find half of our allotment under water. May has been the wettest for many years, I read somewhere that last week we had a month’s worth of rain in a week and it showed; the local park and the town cricket pitch were under water and the River Tone had overflowed. Our poor old allotment looked a sorry state, the raised beds were now submerged and I thought I should be growing rice not potatoes! Thankfully the water subsided quickly and now all we have to do is remake the beds. Our other plot had escaped the flood, so things could have been worse.

On Tuesday I had occasion to return to my old college, I had not been there for many years and it was rather like stepping into a parallel world, the basic ground plan was much the same but the buildings had been remodelled, new buildings added and rooms knocked into large spaces. I could navigate my way around but it felt like a different place. I had a conversation with some of the staff and they asked me who had been there when I was a student, all the people I named had either retired or died. It had been thirty years since I had been a student and all the points of contact had gone. I sat in the quad for pleasant half hour and watched a magpie go about her business totally oblivious of me.

This weekend I am appearing at the Bristol Folk Festival (, I am performing and running poetry workshop. There is a good line up of acts and it should be a great weekend, although I shall only be there on the Saturday. I shall be spending Sunday rebuilding my raised beds!

Bristol is the start of my festival season. This year as well as appearing at Bristol, I am also the Festival Poet at The Acoustic Festival of Britain (, Fishguard Folk Festival ( and I have just found out I am also on at Wychwood Festival ( I am also going to be at the Bristol comic Expo (, with Corvus Press who are launching a new steampunk title Victoriana (  It is going to be a busy summer, let’s hope we get some sun.

I leave you this week with an old poem, I wrote it when I was a student, though at the time I was back in Widnes. For me, it is about meeting people again after not seeing them for a long time.


A huddled form sits on my floor,
Island in her isolation,
Reviews the two years,
This stream of time between us,
River into which we can only wade
To retrieve specific memories,
Beneath the surface.

A river into which we can only wade,
But never cross.
A memory may be stirred
To swim through our heads,
As in a 3D film,
But when the last reel has run,
We stand on our banks.
Ever the river between.

A coelacanth is a so called living fossil, a big old fish that was first found alive in 1938. The 3D film reference came from, as I remember, a season of 1950’s films I’d seen at the Plymouth Arts Centre. In those days it was the card glasses with a green lens in one eye and a red lens in the other. I was a big movie fan in those days, some Saturdays I’d go to a show in the afternoon and another in the evening.
Have a good week.