Friday 28 February 2014


This week’s post is inspired by a workshop I ran at Juncture 25 on Wednesday evening. I was running late beforehand and I took Rachel Rees’ exercise without reading it. I try not to think about the task before hand as I want as even a playing field as possible.

Essentially the task was to go to a place of your choice and observe [the focus was on seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting] then to write 10 found words from the environment then add to this 20 words that are provoked by the space. Next write a 4 stanza free verse poem.

You will appreciate that at 7.30 in the evening we had to imagine a place rather than visit it. This is what I produced in the 45 minutes we had.

1979: a typical Friday on top of the K Unit Dechlorinator

Green chlorine tasting teeth,
rub with your tongue it won’t go away.
Brown slide valve rust on palm,
cold cutting wind          Now!
higher than our house, on your house, atop his house.

Yellow chlorine, red hydrogen,
black caustic – the one to avoid,
blue for water, more colours than in the sky.
Dense hollow tubes circulating liquid,
more akin to balloon sculpture
or your insides on show.

Deluge valve – who reads the instructions?
Or clocks the last chance graphite bursting disc
fail safe, ready to buckle under pressure.
The chill air skirls about you.

This glowing tip leads to grey smoke tunnelling from lungs,
that swirling feeling, then you’re one hundred years away.
Friday afternoon, it seems has started early today.

I have tidied it up a bit, but it is pretty much as I presented on the night. I wanted to re-imagine a familiar place but one which would be easy to describe.

The Dechlorinator was one of the few places you could smoke in K-Unit. I had a ritual of smoking up there on a Friday afternoon [in those far off days Fitter’s Half Day]. 

Before I wrote the above I also, literally, dashed off this next poem. I think it needs a little background. When I was a social work student we had a tutor who would use visualisation exercises as a pace changer. At the start of the course we had to think of a place and we returned to that place often. That summer I had been to a Womad festival in Cornwall and I thought about when I had stood on the beach with most of the other festival goers watching the sunset.

Alaap is the name of a bangra band who happened to be swimming in the sea at that point.

Alaap in the water,
August in Cornwall,
gulls in the sky,
You by my side.
The world before us,
a festival in front.
In the years to come,
this moment my touchstone.
I had been told, right from the start,
to find a place I felt at ease.
Visualisation, a happy add-on
to social work training.
I can always go back to that beach:
Alaap in the water,
August in Cornwall,
you by my side.

The you in the poem is my late first wife.

I am leaving you this week with a video by Liz Lawrence, she edited the footage herself. It’s from her forthcoming record.

Saturday 22 February 2014


My friend and collaborator Alison Wilson has asked me to write a poem to accompany an etching she is working on which is to go in a book that will be auctioned for charity. The book is making its way around the world from artist to artist, and each artwork is accompanied by a poem. At the moment it is in Singapore.

Alison is inspired by something she saw on a beach in Western Australia, hundreds of bluebottle jellyfish washed up on the shore. The depth of colour of the jellyfish was exquisite, cerulean blue.

This is my first attempt:

This squadron steered by a strange star,
ensnared in the shallows.
Wrong elemented,
these perfect structures stranded.
Life leaves.

Perhaps a little too enigmatic…

Blue blotches on white sand,
if this were a painting blame poor technique.
upon close inspection:
this beached shoal expires.
Leaves you wordless to describe their exact hue.

I liked the comparison to a painting, life is always messier. This is the third idea:

Effective predators on their own turf,
this borderland has them stumped,
literally high and dry.
The price you pay
for getting out of your depth.

you count them along the shore.
One hundred bluebottles
hung out to die,
strung out on the sea strand.
They dream of deep water
and the joy of feasting on others.

The brief I have been given though calls for something shorter, succinct, haiku-like. There is a reason for this. Alison will have to scratch each letter backwards on to the etching plate such practicalities dictate length.

Watch this space.

I am also going to post some of the pages of our Mexican project. I hope to have these up by the middle of next week.

Here is a video of Serafina Steer: The Night Before the Mutiny.

Sunday 16 February 2014


I went to see the damage wrought by the weather today. I had spent yesterday cleaning the polytunnel and as half of our allotment is still underwater I decided to look at the devastation. I'm a bit shamefaced about this really. But here are some photographs of the flooding.

There is a road under here-the A361

Friday 14 February 2014


I am in the middle of a number of new poems but none are more than two-thirds complete and while I will show rough drafts on the blog I draw the line at displaying a jumble of words. So a couple of old poems this post.

Appropriately for posting on 14 February; the first is a valentine.


My children fly their kites,
bright nylon scraps ride the thermals.

Obsessive I search the beach,
for a heart-shaped stone to give you.

Cold, brown, salt-saturated sand.
Wet colours dull in my hand.
Possibly the outline of India?
Reversed this could be Africa.

Nothing I touch is perfect.
I yearn for a heart-shaped stone
and settle for India.

Near enough in numb fingers.

The kite strings snag, tumble and fall.
Winding twine we leave the beach.

A straight forward poem that records its elements of creation in the sequence they happened. 

I can’t remember the genesis of this next poem- my only note informs me it was written in 1982. I could hazard a guess as to the event but have decided not to share my thoughts.

a post midnight conversation
feels like the edge of this world
time steals towards that 4am hubris
that yawning nadir of all organic life
we talked of first love
the loss of naivety
to which thankfully we cannot return
so we smiled
and slept as close as spoons

Again, a simple poem that recasts an episode from life. Much of my early poetry was in a similar vein.

Here is a recent poem - part of a sequence I may yet post. This takes a stray thought and runs with it.

Unless he fucks up, say
an anonymous coupling one drunken night,
you can see his future.
The engine of her ambition will carry him.
Suddenly he will be middle-management, middle aged,
with never a thought to how he arrived.

I was thinking that some people arrive at a point in their lives with no real idea how they got there. This thought arose when I was people watching.

I’m off to see Midlake next week and I leave you with a song.

Wednesday 12 February 2014


Last month I was fortunate enough to spend a long weekend in Vic [pronounced Bic] in Catalunya. Here are some images from the visit. I am offering no explanations-but you can always ask if something intrigues you. 

Friday 7 February 2014


A bit of a strange poem this week. It came in three distinct parts and I have sown them together-and yes you can see the joins.

I had been looking at the work of Paul Klee and I was wondering what he would have made of the town I grew up in. This set me to writing and then Lowry wandered in to the frame-he had been to Widnes. There are a number of sketches of the place. Well later in the day I remembered that Corbusier had visited Bridgwater in 1946 for a conference [I’d found this riveting fact on line one day years ago], which led to the second part. About two days later when I was revising somehow it sparked this old idea for a poem I’d had about the Marx Brothers being in Liverpool.

It’s definitely a work in progress- but see what you make of it.

Klee in Widnes hunts for colours,
has to hobbles his palette to grey,
walks the red brick terraced streets,
awaits the building of the new bridge.
Bumping into Lowry by the Empire,
together bemoaning the films on show:
Too damn American, if you ask me.
End up in the Queens
Drinking bitter with the bus drivers.
Outside the sunset stops him short,
More colour than he has seen all day.
It’s all the muck the factories pump out,
Lowry tells him.

Corbusier in Bridgwater,

1946, a rebuilding Europe conference.
This higgledy-piggledy town of twisting streets,
an offence to the eye of a man in love
with the right-angle, straight lines and concrete cubes.
None of that cuts the mustard in Bridgwater,
they have the first concrete house,
A ruin to be truthful, but still history.
The Big C had the last laugh
when they pulled the place to pieces,

and speared roads through its heart.

The Marx Brothers in Liverpool looking to get laid,
hanging out on Hutchison Street,
Chico checks The Echo but
his horse has yet to finish yesterday’s race.
That rich boy cousin Charlie knocked about with
said Manchester was a better bet,
but they are off to Huddersfield tomorrow
-wherever the hell that is.
Eventually Groucho pays for it, again,
and hates himself all the more.

I’m not even sure that this is the end, but it feels like there is something there.

The allotment yesterday, flooded out again.
To end with today here is a clip from Duck Soup, my favourite Marx Brothers film. The timing is superb and Harpo never fails to make me laugh when I watch this.