Friday 30 October 2015


I have been travelling this week, seeing family in the north of England. 
This week's poem was written in Leeds and arose out of a conversation I had with my brother as we drove across the city. Have you ever returned to a place you once knew reasonably well but have not visited for some time and found a confusing new road system? 

you have to stay away to appreciate the changes

Night driving across Leeds.
We pass through memories,
more tangible than the houses that stood
where this road now runs.
We talk people, dates last seen, deaths,
divorces, real lives lived, messy,
beautiful, and every stop between.
I watch my reflection
as if it were a character in someone else's film.
Convinced in that instant of other realities,
check by jowl to this one,
then realise that I must inhabit some of them,
as do all these people we discuss,
the missing, the messed up,
who succeed in those other places.
The darkness that fringes the amber street lights
hints at this truth.
This poem is not finished. 
The last two lines need to be laid out properly and some of the enjambment [line endings] need work.
This is Brooke Sharkey singing Come Be Me. What a wonderful voice and those lyrics!

Friday 23 October 2015


I keep my poem drafts in a large notebook. I write longhand and I will revise a poem a number of times before I type it up on the computer. I think it is useful to keep a record of a poem's evolution. If I ever loose my way when revising a poem then I can go back to the original idea.
Some poems fall by the wayside in this process, today's poem being one of them. I was looking back through an old notebook and realised that by shifting some of the poem around and by adding line breaks I could complete the poem.

We've all been there.
Isherwood was offered China,
but only if he held his lover's hand and jumped,
that very night, from the Weimer frying pan,
into the fires of the advancing Japanese army.
He chose not to do this.
Perhaps that's why we remember such moments.

The conversation halts,
you look at me across the debris of the meal.
I let that one pass, twice.

Outside the Bluecoat, sunset in your hair
and eyes I could have fallen into.

There have been others,
in those instants there is a nexus.
Maybe this reality we live in
is the negative result of all those opportunities
we didn't take.
The poem refers to Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical book Goodbye To Berlin. He tells how his lover, one night, said they should go to China and leave the horrors of Hitler's Germany behind them. 
Many years after I read the book I was reflecting on the opportunities that we decide not to take and how our lives would have been different if we had.
The Bluecoat is an art centre in Liverpool.
Here's Mikey Kenney and Laura Spark's amazing animation for Council of Owls.
For some reason the full animation isn't on Youtube so here's a link to Vimeo.
Mikey Kenney again with Bottom of the Bottle [all of it this time].

Friday 16 October 2015


I've revised the poem from the last post. As I said at the time, I was not happy with the ending and over the last seven days I've altered it a number of times. By Wednesday I had it in what I thought was a reasonable shape and off I went to a Juncture 25 meeting.
I shall not repeat myself about the importance of constructive feedback from people you respect and trust, but I must thank Jinny, Gram and Geoffrey for their input. It has made for a better poem.


After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus carves the joint of British beef.
Blood smears the knife blade.

Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest.
Now he works it out, 5,000 gallons of water and twelve pounds of corn
were needed to grow the amount of flesh
that he has just carved and served.

He loads his fork, pops the meat into his mouth,
and chews upon inevitable future of famine.
Malthus swallows and thinks himself blessed,
the future will not be his problem.
So what has changed? The first line is now the title. I have lost two "clever lines"- secure sinecure, traditional, tory and a man with more angle than a protractor. The first because it echoes the rest of that scene setting opening stanza and the second because though, I think, it's clever, it adds nothing to the poem. You have to be ruthless.

The second stanza has lost the lines: Populations grow faster than the food they eat,/it really is that simple. Removed so as to show rather than tell. I have to watch that I do not fall into that hectoring style in political poems.

Also I think the poem benefits from line breaks. The revised layout allows the poem to breathe. It is always interesting to play with the layout you never know what you may discover.
Only the one poem this week. I have been working for some time now on an idea that is proving more difficult to get a handle on than I would have thought. Watch this space...
Speaking of space the news that the star system KC 8462852 may hold evidence of sentient alien life is very exciting [to me anyway].
I've been listening to John Butler this week. here he is playing The Ocean.
Here's a full set from 2008 at Fort Mason.

Wednesday 14 October 2015


When you say ‘archives’ what do you see in your mind’s eye? Dusty shelves? Ancient papers? Drab grey filing cabinets? That’s what I expected when I came to volunteer. We have those of course, but Marjon archives are so much more than this, resembling more of a tiny museum of various objects from the long history of the university. And we have a long history soon to be nearing 200 years. I could tell you about the famous people we have connections to, or how we were the pioneers in various fields, but as a creative writer I value the stories more. And the archives seems to be endless source of stories. Stories of people, stories of objects, of pictures and stories in books. You walk through the archives and pick up things. What’s that? A letter from a man that wants to resign from his studies because he suffered injuries in WWI. This picture? It’s of a man who travelled here from Africa and became first black school inspector in the times nobody would even dare to talk about equality. This book? By a man who was so sick of seeing poverty in England that he went on a crusade against it. It goes on, stories of men, women and even children that were involved in the life of the university. That’s what I didn’t expect when I first came to the archives. And that is why I am not leaving, because there always is a story to tell.

Thanks Agata for this wonderful insight into a truly fascinating archive.
You can read Agata's excellent blog here.

Friday 9 October 2015


This has been a full week, on Tuesday at Marjons we read all the poems we had been workshopping over the summer. I'd like to thank all the poets who were involved. This project may run on yet- watch this space...
This week a poem that I've been thinking about for a long time. It concerns the Reverend Malthus a Victorian mathematician who crops up in another poem.  
The Mathusian Controversy essentially concerns the fact that the human population grows faster than the food that sustains us. Malthus wanted to celebrate the fact that we have made it this far. However, I see that perspective as out of date. That might have been true in Victorian times but it is not now. Beef production is a huge cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

It's Sunday lunch at the vicarage,
traditional, tory, a secure sinecure.
After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus
[a man with more angles than a protractor]
carves the joint of British beef,
Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest,
blood smears the knife blade.
He has worked it all out with precision,
5,000 gallons of water and ten pounds of corn
were need to grow the amount of flesh
that he has just carved and served.
He loads his fork, pops the meat into his mouth,
and chews upon inevitability, a future of famine.
Populations grow faster than food they eat,
it really is that simple. Malthus swallows thinks that
It is a wonder we ever got this far
This is a work in progress. I am not sure about the ending. Watch this space...

He was a single story, that he dressed to suit the occasion,
ensuring it was peppered with the words of the moment,
and he dined out on it all the rest of his life.
It was never quite enough to get him where he felt he belonged.
Yes, they would take his number but never call back.
He was slick when I met him, but beginning to wear thin.
I was young and very easily impressed, did not notice the frayed cuffs.
First impressions never last and he was on his was soon enough.
The patter ever more hollow. I heard he just disappeared.

This was written quite quickly and is not based on any one person.
This week I've been listening to lots of jazz, especially late period Art Pepper, but I'm going to leave you with Annabelle Chvostek. Enjoy.

Friday 2 October 2015


I was on the university open day trail again the other week. This time we were in Oxford. A city I have known reasonably well since the 1980's. Not the world of the universities but the other reality of the people who live there. 
Do you ever experience memories rushing back into your head when you find yourself back in a space you have known well in the past? It's not deja vu, because the location awakens specific memories. That was my day in Oxford.

Today I have no time for archaeology,
and cannot walk through my history,
or overlay it on this changed location.
I fall through time regardless.

It is a Saturday, one February,
iced over Brasenose Lane, 
me and Leeslide home from the Turves.
All the old glass windows turn ruby.
Then Christine walks up to me,
some pre-children weekend,
and in the fragment of a second,
I can tell you what I was wearing
and she is an eternal twenty three.

Later in the park the trees sing to me.
This is life, no more, no less,
give thanks that you bear witness.
The experience also prompted me to add a second part to a poem I wrote about my previous university open day visits. You can read an earlier draft of the first part here.

for Kate

The rain holds off.
Glossy map in hand,
we are steered between
concrete space and lake,
by student ambassadors.

Lecture late [a possible omen?],
we awkwardly slide into vacant seats.
The pitch begins:
we are informed of the academic reputation,
parental fears are prayed on
to push the full board option.
The employability statistics pass me by.
Selection; there can be no barter.
This is not the horse trade,
but a simple statement.
To be considered you must have this.
For me the day dissolves into a series of queues.
We shall be repeating this tomorrow.

And the day shall pass
in a tunnel of self-induced fatigue.
Then we emerge from the third pretend lecture
to find the crowd has swollen to festival proportions,
I spin from one bright eyed convert
to the next smiling advocate,
each bursts with such positive impressions
that I find them hard to believe.

Essentially I have removed a line and broken the poem into two stanzas. 
As for the second part: the first two lines came as I was walking into the first mini-lecture and I simply kept adding to it as the day progressed. You always need to have pen and paper with you, otherwise you'll miss the ideas when they stroll past.
This week I downloaded the new album by Philip Henry & Hannah Martin Live At Calstock- superb. I saw them at Purbeck sandwiched between Martha Tiltson and Richard Thompson, where they were easily able to hold their own in such illustrious company.
Here they are singing an old James Taylor song in Bath.