Friday 20 September 2013


A borrowed image of Neal and Jack
This week’s poem was written in a Juncture 25 workshop. I had set an exercise of writing a poem about a picture on a postcard. I also asked the poets to look below the surface and to reflect on more than what appeared to be going on.

I drew a photograph of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady that I think I bought in the City Lights bookshop years ago. When I began to write I tried to ignore the obvious, that here were two of the most famous Beats.

For some reason I focussed on Kerouac’s canvas trousers. Yeah, I don’t know why either. They looked more worn than Neal’s new Levi’s. I wondered how they had become worn and this was my entry to the poem.

Face the camera,
the could-be brothers do not smile.
The light will not bend true,
more than this lens is flawed,
the photo blurs with more than age.
These are none-twins,
Yin and yang,
At the heart each is the other,
Everyone wants to be Jack,
And Jack wants to be Neal.
So take in the details;
note his canvas strides, frayed from
too many mediocre nights,
streets walked toward the dawn.
He will drown in the spotlight,
Run back to his mother-again.
Drink himself to death-at medium pace.

I had another line at the end, it reiterated that I knew how this ends and when we discussed the poem, after I read it out I discarded it.

I had re-ordered the lines of the poem a number of times. It is always worth placing the ideas of a poem in a different order-sometimes it makes for a better poem.

I am ending with two videos today. The first is Alan Ginsberg reading Howl. This, for me, is a magnificent poem. Deep, rich and powerful. I love to hear Alan reading it.

The second video is 10,000 Maniacs singing Hey, Jack Kerouac. Natalie Merchant is a superb song writer.

Have a good weekend.

Friday 13 September 2013


Where do poems come from? I have no idea. For me it’s an unanswerable question, akin to pondering what was there before the big bang. Something that. Instead I think that when the poem calls you simply have to say thank you and then try to fashion it into something workable. I suppose that’s the poetic process turning the personal, the specific into something universal.

I’ve been vaguely pondering this because earlier in the week I was just falling to sleep when I had an idea for a poem. Experience has taught me that you have to get it on paper or it will evaporate with the night. I turned the light on and spent half an hour or so trying to capture the thought. Then I slept.

I am at my best first thing in the morning. When the house is quiet before anyone else is awake.  I have been working on the poem and have got it in reasonable shape. 

Before going any further though I feel that a little background is necessary. Museums in the UK have collections of human bones, all museums do. There has been a move amongst the people from whom the human remains were taken to request them back. Over the last two centuries or so many disrespectful acts were perpetrated on indigenous people around the globe. One of these was to take human remains to exhibit in museums. 

There has been some repatriation in the last ten years. The majority of the remains of Aboriginal People have been returned to the first people of Australia. Which is a start. Little enough and late enough but a start.


Plundered spirits caged in display cases,
their humanity rendered into data,
serial numbered scientific evidence,
they are excluded from the Dreamtime or heaven.
Wherever they should be, it is not here.
You would see your father buried,
or a neighbour, with due ceremony.
Why not return these people?
End their misery
and heal ourselves into the bargain.

As I say I have no idea where this poem came from. It simply appeared in a rough form and I took it from there.

I want to end on an up this week. I’ve just found on youtube the full video of Bob Marley and The Wailers in 1973 at Capital Rehearsal Studios. This is a real gem. It is worth an hour and twenty six minutes of your life. Enjoy.

Tuesday 10 September 2013


I have just discovered Instagram (yes I know I'm like one hundred years behind every other human with a smart phone but I have). I had better say what Instagram is. It's an app for smart phones that enables you to manipulate photogarphs and essentially make them look better than they would otherwise have been.

This post is a collection of the photos I've taken as I've walked to the allotment and back. Let me know what you think...

Normal service will be resumed on Friday.

Friday 6 September 2013


When we were in France recently I took some photographs of the Hummingbird Moth. I say some photographs; I took lots, trying to get that perfect shot. I find that I become obsessive once I get the camera out, always taking one more photo in the hope that it will be the one.

Obvious link now to writing poetry, I believe that you have to keep on writing to get better. Not just writing but re-writing and revising. I have dwelt on this at length in previous blogs and offered tips on how to improve your skills.

Today I want to start off with a revision of last week’s poem:

The Case for Fracking

The situation at the party has got desperate.
It’s that point in the evening when even that green liquid,
You bought on holiday ten years ago,
tasted once and put to the back of the cupboard looks enticing.
You know you should just drink water,
go to bed, await the inevitable hangover.
Deep down you realise that this dubious liquor is not a solution
but that does not stop you,
experience does not deter nor sense call a halt.
You do not taste the first glass, so you pour another.

We will all regret it in the morning…

Over the last seven days I have continued to worry at this poem. I have changed the colour of the liquid, messed about with the length of the lines and tried taking words out. I am thinking that this poem is as finished as it will ever be. I know I have the ability to look at poems, even when they have been collected in a book and think, I could change that line…

Here is another work in progress that I began in France.

Cherry Picking

We forsake the robust spheres,
the not quite ripe fruit for those
closer to the sun,
with structure compromised,
dark sweetness that longs to tear its skin.
We balance on ladders, pull
branches towards us,
are willing to take risks for such rewards.

Stained mouthed,
sticky fingered,
we leave

with talk of taming the tree come winter.

What I was trying to achieve with this poem was a sensual picture of ripe cherries that are bursting with taste, sweetness, that are like nothing else. Not sure it works. What do you think?

This last poem is based on our journey through France. We had hired a car, but there was no map, only an old photocopy, many generations reproduced that I suspect came from an atlas. We knew the direction we wanted to go and as my wife had a compass app on her phone we just drove. I wrote this poem along the way.

Today navigation is by compass, a finger is traced on an nth generation photocopy of a page from an atlas, so I steer the car through a national park, we will lunch where we may.

This last line is a reference to the fact that restaurants only open between 12 and 1.30 pm, there is no long Catalan eat when you want vibe the other side of the Pyrenees. 

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday 3 September 2013


The times I have seen Carrie Aaron read I have been more than impressed with the subject matter, the beauty of her words and the confident manner in which she delivers her work. She is an excellent poet. I have been meaning to interview her for some time but when we ran the poetry circle at this year’s Purbeck Festival I knew I could delay no longer.

Carrie writes a good if sporadic blog and you will find her poetry there. It is well worth a look. But enough preamble, let’s hear from Carrie herself.

Why poetry?
The answer to that lies buried somewhere in my dim and distant past. I've been writing poetry since I was about five. Since I have also been reading A.A. Milne's poems since I was about five, Milne is probably to blame.

Who is influencing you at the moment?
I have (because of Breaking Bad's references to him) recently been reminded of the existence of Walt Whitman. And the all-encompassingness of him, and the way in which his lines (often quite a lot longer than lines generally are) seem to want to spill out and on forever. Which is something that could translate quite brilliantly into performance poetry, I think, if I could only translate it.

How do you get your poems out there to people?
The performance poetry circuit is the main conductor (excuse the pun) of my poetry at the moment. It's all a bit soapboxish, which means that all I have to do to speak and be listened to is to turn up, which is very freeing. I also post poems on my blog.

How important is poetic form to you?
I try not to let poetic form trammel me - it's a tool (and a very useful tool, and one with which I think more poets should acquaint themselves) but not a prison.

Do you keep a notebook with you at all times?
I ought to keep a notebook with me at all times - but I don't. I have, however, used the recording device on my mobile phone to record fleeting thoughts that might be useful later.

Any tips for beginners?
Read. Read very good poetry and very bad poetry. Learn to distinguish between the two, and analyse your responses. Use this same critical faculty on your own poems. Don't pull your punches. And learn to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful criticism - the person who cheers and yells and claps may be being nice but not know what they are talking about, the person who criticises your work may want to help you make it better (and vice versa).

If you were interviewing yourself, what question would you ask?
I would ask myself what I thought made my poetry distinct from other people's poetry. And I would answer that it is probably distinctive in terms of its combination of a (generally) fairly accessible form (usually iambic pentameter) paired with intentional marginalness of subject-matter and (to a book-geek like me, at least) thrillingly arcane references.

If you could do it all again what would you do?
I would enter more poetry competitions earlier on, and set less store on the whimsical reactions of audiences, who are shifting and mysterious things.

What’s in the pipeline?
About the time I finish my Masters in English (sometime next year) I intend to exorcise all my poems thus far by putting them out there in book form.

If you were a poem what poem would you be?

If I were a poem, I'd be Panthea by Oscar Wilde. (I won't tell you why so you're more likely to read it through intriguedness.)

I could not end this blog without showing you a sample of the quality poetry that Carrie is writing:


My webcam's watching me. Cyclopsian.
This is why I call it cyclopicam.
& "all the people" behind its screenglass
Are watching me. It is like 'Gogglebox'.
We are wired up, downloaded, if we are
Too ... interesting, for our own good, for our
Year of Our Lord Two Thousand & Thirteen
Is Nineteen Eighty Four plus Twenty Nine
& we've fallen into a paradigm
In which we are shrinkwrapped, zipfiled, if we
Cannot be headshrunk like our severed heads
Were taken in war, vetted, vatted, jars,
An underground like in The Time Machine
Harvested for The (God Save The Queen) Pound,
& ground into it, & for the pollen
That has & does & will clung cling & cling
To our inner legs. & Cyclopicam
(& the powers that be behind it's eye)
Stare out & stare me out & reel me in,
A gape with agape, disseminate-
-ing myself, my seed, my harvest, my wheat
Until I am a revenant made of chaff.
The Hills Have Eyes. My MacBook has an eye.
Beyond Good & Evil. (It's Nietzschean.)
(The people behind it aren't Nietzschean.
They're Ozymandias. They're kings of kings.
& what if they don't approve of the things
I say or do or think or dream or feel...)
My webcam's watching me. It's watching me
Like you watch football, a pot, or TV.
One day, when there's something interesting on,
Then Cyclopicam's eye will come to rest
On me. Be judge. Be jury. Execute.
I shall - we shall, be plucked out by the roots.

Thanks Carrie.