Friday, 20 February 2015


Or workshop poem 8. 
This one I've been working on for a while and I'm reasonably happy with the draft. Before I go any further though, a word of explanation. 
A lathe is a machine to turn metal [or wood] and when I was an apprentice fitter/turner [40 years ago] I was taught how to use one. My trade originated from skilled artisans who could make and fit machinery to order. I was never that good...
I recently ran a workshop where the brief was to write a poem as a set of instructions and this is what I came up with.


You need the equipment,
the knowledge to use it,
or the foolhardiness to do it anyway.

I liked to watch the swarf
spiral off the spinning cylinder;
high speed; slow feed,
milky coolant lubricating the cutting edge.

You are looking for a metaphor,
I don't have one,
this centre lathe is our ages combined,
it's design even older.

Place the job in the chuck,
there is skill in centring the metal,
or practice, or a plodding predictability.

Always ensure you tighten each jaw separately
and never leave the chuck key in,
it has a tendency to fly at a tangent
and embed itself into the wall [or you].

Select the correct speed,
turn the chuck to ensure the gears have engaged.

In my day you wore a hairnet
to keep your fashionably shoulder length
[or in my case longer] hair
from being scalped off your head.

High speed, fast feed,
the waste metal complains as it it torn away,
in a series of razor edged nail clippings
[remember to clean the machine at the end of each day].

Measure by micrometer.
Each as beautiful a mechanism
as a good pocket watch.

If you so desire you could turn a cube,
simply counterbalance the plate,
disengage the drive, spin.
Add weights as required.

Grinding the cutting tools is an art form.
Get it right and you can cut a buttress thread
-male or female.
Slowly the tungsten bit will reveal the perfect helix.

But those days are over,
and this is a history lesson.
Here are The Decemberists at Manchester on Tuesday.
I have to confess The Rake's Song is not one of my favourite Decemberist's songs. This, though, I think is.
Until next time.

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