Thursday, 31 December 2020

THE STITCHING OF HISTORY


The year ends for me with the Shortest Day, the Winter Equinox. It heralds the coming light and the starting over of the cycle. This year it was too wet and overcast to see the sun rise over the horizon. 

Perhaps for you the year ends tomorrow? If it does I wish you the best possible for the new year.

This first small poem follows on from a poem from last year about a house being demolished. Since then I have watched something new arise on the site. Across the road another house was knocked down and now eight nearly completed houses await occupation.

Good Luck

They could not just be apartments, had to be luxury apartments because people don’t just buy apartments

they want luxury, executive,

like the bespoke gated community they are building across the road,

as if you could keep out the world.

I am baffled why new dwellings need to be exclusive, bespoke or executive. It seems to me to highlight a shortfall in imagination. 

This next poem arose from a line that appeared in my head and just would not go away.

A Prayer Before My Naming

Gift me the name of your favourite uncle, the family one

that needs to be passed on a generation,

even if you cannot say why it deserves to be.

You suppose tradition, the stitching of history,

something shared, constancy, but

before you speak the sounds that seal me

to that set of letters, listen and rejoice,

for I will not wear it as expected.

No one ever does.


If some poems write themselves, and they do, then this one was the opposite. It required much time bouncing round my head before debuting on the page. Do not be surprised if it turns up again in a revised form.

Here's Joy Crookes.

Until Next time.

Friday, 25 December 2020

THE BEST GIGS JUST HAPPEN

 


I have been too long without seeing any live music as, I am sure, have you. This poem was prompted by another, The Road to Jericho. At one point the two poems were going to be two parts of the same poem, but that did not work.

The favourite gigs are not the famous ones

you’ve talked those to death on chat shows,

with journalists eager for new insights,

at stage doors with fans,

where you listened to the significance

your music has on their lives.


The best gigs just happen,

when the movement of your fingers,

of your lips, tongue,

shape the air into exactly

what the moment means.

Words are unnecessary

for you are the music

and the music is you.


You can tell that the poems are connected because this one describes playing a horn [in this case a saxophone] and in the other those walls came tumbling down

May I take this opportunity to wish you and yours all the best for the new year.


As all the photographs in this post are taken at a Midlake gig from a very long time ago. I will leave you with Midlake.


Until next time.






Friday, 18 December 2020

A BRASS WIND THAT SKIRLS

 

A revised poem this post. Thanks to the Secret Poets for their invaluable input.

rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief.


at the insistence of the impresario

he must occupy the seat of honour

and so is seated with due ceremony


ostentatiously the music begins

a vast brass wind that skirls about the tent


and how the townsfolk stare

read his face for clues

raise palms to cover mouths

speculate on his pedigree


throughout the unfolding entertainment

should his gaze stray from the ring

he sees one or more sets of eyes taking him in


after nuanced farewells

he is the first to leave

martial music highlights his exit


the night is starred, hot, still

his white suit crumpled hours before


past midnight he walks the empty streets

bells muffled by the darkness

call out each passing hour

What has changed since the last post?

Well the spacing is different. Actually it makes it easier to read. I think I must have forgotten one of my rules: always read the poem aloud, as it will sound different to when you read it in your head. 

It has a better title, more imaginative and more in keeping with the poem.

Titles are, for me, the most difficult part of writing. A good title makes and a bad title breaks your poem. Sadly I have no tips.


Here is Liz Lawrence with Hope.

Until next time.



Friday, 11 December 2020

THE NIGHT IS STARRED

 

Two poems from workshops.

The first from a Secret Poets meeting last week. Liz asked us to think of a favourite place and to write down words that described it. We than has ten minutes to write an acrostic. This was mine.

Solitary chimney

adrift from its history

notes the industrial past of this

trapezoid square

silent, taken for granted

As you can see, I was writing about Sants in Barcelona. We have often eaten breakfast near the chimney in the square. 

The next poem came from an exercise I set myself, to pick four lines from four different novels and use one as the basis for a poem. 

at the insistence of the impresario

he must occupy the seat of honour

and so is seated with due ceremony

ostentatiously the music then begins

a vast brass wind that skirls about the tent


and how the townsfolk stare

read his face for clues

raise palms to cover mouths

speculate on his pedigree


throughout the unfolding entertainment

should his gaze stray from the ring

he sees one or more sets of eyes taking him in


after nuanced farewells he is the first to leave

martial music highlights his exit


the night is starred, hot, still

his white suit crumpled hours before

past midnight he walks the empty streets

the bells muffled by the darkness

call out each passing hour

The poem took its shape from that first line from a book. The line was so unlike anything I would ever write that there was a freedom to take it anywhere. 

It does not feel completed and I am of a mind to call it dream, though that may be a cop out.

Keeping the Catalunya connection going here's 4 Hiverns.

Until next time.

Friday, 4 December 2020

HE QUICKENED HIS STEP


Have you ever had an idea that you initially think is complete by itself but on closer examination you realise something is missing? I had this image of a man being pursued throughout his life by his errors. They had manifested as these large ugly creatures that followed him everywhere. I suppose my idea comes from the Furies of Ancient Greece.
However, it did not feel a complete idea in itself. Over a couple of weeks the image clarified itself in to this poem.

He made it clear to the station

then he saw his errors

lope down the street

each vying for his attention.

He quickened his step.


As the train pulled out

there they were again,

skidding down the platform.


This night in this hotel room

on the outskirts of his new life

he looks out over the city

coloured lights against the black

and wishes against all logic for a path back.


His errors slumber,

breathe heavily,

the minutes tick by.

I wanted the poem to be a snapshot rather than the whole story. I wanted to allow the reader to infer, to make up their own mind,  to show rather than tell.


Here is Maria Gadu. 
Until next time.

Friday, 27 November 2020

JUMBLED, JIGSAWED SAND GRAINS

I recently participated in a Zoom poetry workshop with the Secret Poets. I came away with these two poems.

the sea strand

I could never piece together

these jumbled jigsawed sand grains

and here comes the sea

to chaos any illusion of order


I often walk on the beach at Oddicombe and imagine all the grains of sand rubbing along next to each other. I suppose if the poem is about anything it is our human desire to give the world an order we understand. If only we could...

This second poem relates to the bedroom I work in. I had just finished painting it when we did the workshop and one exercise set me thinking about the items in the room. I'm not sure what the American term for cling-film is, I've looked it up and it appears plastic wrap is the word.

notes from a nearly decorated bedroom

the cling-film sighs, resigned as it is to wrapping brushes

and so back to the staid darkness of the kitchen drawer


the paint scraper's blunted edge from increased labour

is content to dream, until it cuts again


the walls try out this new colour

uncertain, but with no choice


the wardrobe, the chest of drawers

and this table I write on, will welcome the quiet


Here's a band from the late 60s Blonde On Blonde with Castles In The Sky.

Here's Chorale.
There's appears to be, in the words of Carl Rogers [and his brother Roy], a bit of conditional positive regard going on in the song.
Until next time.

Friday, 20 November 2020

WHAT WAS ONCE


Just before this second lockdown we went to Wedmore for the night. Wedmore is on the edge of the Somerset Levels, a particularly flat area, close to sea level. 
When I lived in Somerset I was always conscious that, not so long ago, this whole area had been tidal marsh.
I think it was this that sparked the poem.

Auger

its nearly the end of the world

we wait in the flat lands

word may come in days, or weeks, or never


that the water will return is certain

rolling over fields, obliterating streams

dykes will yield, roads disappear


once all this was not ours

but living memory is too short a span

we think we know, we do not


but the eels remember

as they slither through the wicker traps

what was once, and will be again

The end of the world reference could have been to the coming lockdown or the American elections. In a way it doesn't matter. I'm not sure how I chanced upon the eels, I've used them before as an image for something that is hard to catch. Still two poems in six years hardly is a theme. 
I suppose the song should continue the water image.
Here's Spirogyra [the English freak folk band not the US jazz funk combo].

And this is The Wreck of the Hesperus by Procul Harum.

Until next time.

Friday, 13 November 2020

A MAN ABOUT TO MELT DOWN

 

This post is not about the mad emperor across the sea, though given the ignorant and undignified manner in which he has presented himself this week, the title could fit him like a glove. The more I observe him the more distressed I become. On reflection a good title for a poem about him would be Conduct Unbecoming.

This poem attempts to look at three different outcomes arising from the same situation.

A man about to meltdown


Not the one who’s barricaded

himself behind his front door

and is now shouting threats

at the coppers through the letter box

while his uncomprehending family

huddle mutely on the sofa,

as if it were a life raft.


Not the man who faced by the road block

must turn his bus around,

inch by inch in front of the stopped traffic

the one for whom

a street has never looked so narrow.


But the one who suddenly cannot get home

and it has begun to rain.

He’s not the worst off by half

and inside he knows it

but in its own predictable, deadening way

this is all too much.


I was attempting to capture the panoramic consequences of an action. I'd be interested in your thoughts. 

It's felt like a long seven days. Here is a band from the 80s, the Mulemena Boys. I have one album on tape and it's wondrous but I've never been able to track down an album or cd.

Here's the album.

Until next time.

Friday, 6 November 2020

SKITTLING LEAVES & LIVES

 


In the world in which we are living is just getting crazier. Hopefully the Mad Emperor Across the Water will be stopped and our own bunch of clowns given their marching orders sooner rather than later. I just want to say my thoughts are with you all in America.

I  was in Bristol last Saturday. I had been to Flow, a superb vegan restaurant the previous evening. This sign outside the Registry Office caught my eye.

PLEASE WAIT HERE FOR YOUR CEREMONY

Sign outside Bristol Registrar Office

The last Saturday before the second lockdown

The woman in the deep violet suit

is telling her father:

I’m not nervous at all, isn’t that strange?


The group of six huddle

as winds blow through the city

skittling leaves and lives


Tomorrow you will phone

tell me your wedding is off

death by a thousand regulation changes


Here for the ceremony queue the rain has returned,

the bride, the groom and their chosen four

run for any sort of shelter they can find


The penultimate stanza refers to a friend's wedding plans that have been scuppered by the pandemic.

This is the poem I was going to run this post.

Cheap Fireworks in the Rain


I left my family for this? he mutters.


He has already told me

this is a new start.

That he’s drawing a line under

the collapsed business

the catastrophic marriage,

and has taken the opportunity

to study English in England.


So here he is in Totnes

observing us natives celebrate the anniversary

of the putting to death of some Catholic.


It is a Sunday.


It is drizzling.


The kind of rains that soaks through

and there we are all outside

with the cheapest packet of fireworks

glumly igniting each one in turn.


And you do this every year? he asks

as finally the sodden blue touch paper

I’ve been trying to light for the last two minutes

suddenly flares into life

and very nearly takes my eye out.


And is it always so bleak?


Always I reply.


The story is about as true as any poem I write. It the event is Bonfire Night, a traditional celebration of the fact that Guy Fawkes did not blow up Parliament.

I leave you today with Paul Simon singing American Tune. Who would have thought there could ever be a worse President than Nixon?

Until next time.

Friday, 30 October 2020

HE WILL NOT LOOK BACK



Am I the only person who finds this new style blogger format difficult to operate? Every time I write a post I struggle with centring the first image. Much distress is caused. I have to confess I am a person who never reads instructions believing that I can pick it up as I go. Perhaps I need to start...
I contacted my MP yesterday to ask why if he had had a change of heart about voting against free school meals for children in the half term holiday. 
I have to say his reply was swift, but written some time ago as it included the line:

Turning to yesterday’s vote on an opposition motion calling for the provisions made in summer to also be extended into the Christmas School Holidays.

I think I have received a circular. Still as they say in Widnes "owt is better than nowt". Voting to feed children would be better than them going hungry.

The origin of this post's poem is that I was thinking about people sharing a silence because they did not need to speak, because they knew one another so well words were unnecessary. Thanks must again go to the Secret Poets for their insights.

if he had stayed in this village,

and lived out his life amongst these men

he would be sharing their silence


but here he is talking

about people and places of which

they know little and care less


wordlessly judging him

by their own lived experience

that’s how it always goes


now his father is dead

the last link severed

he will not return


for him there would be no

sea captain’s homecoming

with money and tales of the sea


no

he would be like Lot

and he will not look back



I had no idea how it would end when I started. I was going to title the poem after where ever it was Lot went to after he fled Sodom but decided that would be too abstruse even for me. Suggestions welcome as ever. Titles are always difficult.

I've been painting a bedroom this week, this is not a photograph of what it looked like, can't remember where I took this. 
Anyway I've been listening to lots of David Bowie on the mp3 player as I have painted. So here is a slice of nostalgia.
I sent this video to a friend and they asked what exactly a bipperty- bopperty hat is? I have no idea.

Until next time.

Friday, 23 October 2020

ON THE ROAD TO JERICHO

I write my posts a couple of days before they go live and usually I do not change them. I check for mistakes the day before, but that's it.

This week however, I am adding a comment to express my disgust at the cabal of poltroons that allegedly govern us. 
You may have heard of Marcus Rashford's campaign for free school meals over the half term holiday. Sounds reasonable, you may think, in this time of pandemic and hardship, but not for our government. 

No. Instead we had the woeful Paul Scully turning the debate into a chance to attack the opposition by claiming that many children went hungry under previous Labour governments. Nice one Mr Scully. It appears it is more important to score a political point than feed starving children. Two wrongs obviously make one right for you.

On Wednesday the Bill to feed hungry children was defeated by 322 to 261. I hope those who voted against can sleep at night and look at their reflections in the mirror. 

Normal service will now be resumed.


Here is another poem that popped into existence with not a warning. 

Honestly I got the first line and the rest wrote itself. It was one of those poems that live in my head for a couple of days before being written down. I always write out drafts longhand. It helps me to get the feel of the poem. Rarely do I compose on the keyboard.

When I'm rewriting the poem I always refer the the original draft as I think that helps to keep me from drifting, or diluting the essence of the poem.

On the road to Jericho

we bitched about the gig,

hunted out mouthpieces

long unused and dusty.


On the road to Jericho

we raked over old grudges,

squabbled about the set list.

Unspoken fears every step of the way.


By the second tune

we knew the notes to play,

the size of the walls no longer mattered.


That last day, the seventh,

almost made the previous forty years make sense.


The only line I am unsure about is the last line of the second stanza. I'm not sure that it works. 

Next year will be ten years of Magpie Bridge! It doesn't seem that long. I shall be unveiling some surprises as the year unfolds. 

I have been listening to Leyla McCalla  a lot recently. I was first attracted by her recordings of Langston Hughes' poetry- superb. 

Here's Money is King from her latest album The Capitalist Blues.

Here's Heart of Gold, the lyrics are taken from a poem by Mr. Hughes. 

Until next time.

Friday, 16 October 2020

HONEY TRAPPED


The term honey trap relates to the act of luring an individual into a compromising situation and then blackmailing them. I know the term from watching too many spy films. Apparently it was a favourite tactic of the Stasi.
I was recently discussing the poem with the Secret Poets who were of the opinion that the poem is broader than the cold war terminology. I was not as sure. I shall leave you to decide.

honey trapped

someone is always alert

on the lookout to turn the weak

to inflame their hidden desires

a chink

a crack

a vector to the soul

and so they are compromised

then asset stripped

run through their upside down lives

mouths full of ash

I do know that the poem is complete, but it shall be going into the drawer for a couple of months anyway, just to make sure.

Here's the marvelous Palooka 5 and their new tune Possession of the Surf Tsar. Honestly this band gets better and better.

Until next time.

Friday, 9 October 2020

A MACKEREL SKY

 

To start with this post here are four lines I wrote yesterday [in my head] while driving to the shops.

the boat will not set sail today

the waves run too high

a slowly rising red sun

into a mackerel sky

 Originally I wrote herringbone sky but on checking the phrase appears to be mackerel sky. I will leave you to decide which is the more effective. 

Now a revised poem. When I showed this to the Secret Poets there was a general agreement that the poem could not decide what it was saying. I hope this revision makes that clearer.

MAPS

On wet days, before he truly went blind,

my father in half moon spectacles,

would get down his maps,

unfold them on the kitchen table,

his fat finger tracing familiar trails,

he would one day take,

over this mountain, across that moor.

He talked the big picture but noted the details,

in the crevasses of the folds.

I dreamt my own dreams.


The end they said, was a cigarette,

of course I arrived too late,

after the fire, those all consuming flames

that ate my father and his rooms.

The day after I raked through the ash,

not expecting to find anything

and I did not.


These days I use a phone screen,

reduced to letting an algorithm to dictate my route,

which takes no note of altitude or contour,

battle site, henge or tumuli.


This poem is now being put away, for a goodly amount of time. When it is looked at again, in however many months, I am sure it will highlight its own flaws.
I recently bought an LP by Aziza Brahim on spec and it has proven to be excellent. 
Here she is singing Hajad Jll.

Until the next time.

Friday, 2 October 2020

SLOWLY STOPPED WORKING

I have been contemplating the wallpaper in the bedroom where I write.

Since we moved into this house, thirty six months ago, we have been slowly renovating it. Now my gaze has fallen on the blue rose wallpaper of this room.

Prompted by an #iamallstories exercise I wrote this week's poem. I think that is all you need to know prior to reading


They chose blue rose wallpaper for this room,

never knowing five years down the line

too big, too empty, crowded with memories

the house would be sold by the one left alive.

When they had sat in the freshly tiled kitchen

breathing the newness in, satisfied,

drinking instant in the cups they used for coffee,

could they have realised that after the sale

the new people would change nothing,

content to live in a house that slowly stopped working,

unheated and unloved until they moved too,

because that’s what people do

so here in my turn I contemplate blue roses.


Some poems require the reader to have specific information in order to understand then poem, others, those inspired by a painting or photograph require the reader to know the image but this poem just is. 

Before Christmas the room will be decorated and the blue roses will be no more...

Here's Laura Gibson. I was listening to La Grande the other day, first time for ages. I'd forgotten just what a good writer she is.

Here's a live session from last year.


You can order her fine new album here.

This, I think, is my favourite song by her.

Honestly is it that long ago?

Until next time.

Friday, 25 September 2020

THE STREET LAMP PATTERNS


Two rewrites this post. As usual thanks to the Secret Poets for their invaluable suggestions. You can read the previous versions here and here.
The sequencing of the poem has changed for the better and references to the other poem about tinnitus has been removed

Tinnitus 2


In the night, when I awake

the street lamp patterns

leaf shadows on the blinds,

ancient music in my ears.

This is growing old:

in my left ear three notes

played on a piano accordion,

stuck on repeat, plenty of sustain.

The right carries the sound of the sea.

The poem is tighter, more economical. 
A line has been removed in this poem and it reads better for it.

the water cycle

on his drawing the rain fell up

he did not give a fuck

for the teacher’s laboured explanation

or his laborious chalked illustration

he simply had a need to see

the world as a place where water could soar skywards



I know I ramble on about the importance of getting constructive feedback but it is really useful. Thank you Secrets.
Adam Beattie has a new album out in November.  Here is the single.

And this is my favourite song by Adam.

Until next time.