Friday, 15 October 2021

YOU DO NOT FOLLOW ME

 

I have been looking at some old poems, lines I wrote over ten years ago and thinking that had I wrote them today they would have been laid out differently. This is a poem I have always liked.

I keep watch


sometimes I am invisible

pass through the crowd unseen

walked into

not noticed

anonymous


in another life I would have tailed you

noted down your conversation

those you stopped to talk with

reported you for some meaningless infraction


here you bump into me

I am happy not to be seen

out of phase


you do not follow me

I keep watch

You can read the original version here. All I have done is let the poem breathe and removed the rather staid punctuation.

Similarly with this one.

Stripping Woodchip


Even with an industrial strength steamer

the paper will blister and bubble

before flensing under scraper blade.


It will take longer to remove than to fit.


Heavy paste

no worries if the paper stretched

it will cover many things.


In this case institutional green walls

the shade of urinals and forgotten wards.

It seems the whole house was this colour.


Did it comfort the painter

knowing every room was identical?


Was the woodchip a stop gap?


Or an illustration of limited thinking?


There are no pencilled signatures under the coarse paper

no record of identity or belonging.


The job expands and takes forever.

I've changed the odd word. A flensing tool is what was used to peel the fat off dead whales [I know it's disgusting but the image works]. You can read the original here.

I am on a poetry retreat this weekend with the Secret Poets, hopefully I shall have some new poems for you next week. I leave you with Loch Lomond who are recording a new album as I write.

Until next time.

Friday, 8 October 2021

THE CAST OF THE SEA

 

Here's a poem I have been working on for a long time. There's not many lines to it but getting it exactly the way it should be took patience. It was based on a memory, an image of standing in the foyer of the Taunton cinema and looking at the rain soaked car park shining in the afternoon light. I made up the rest. 

unexpectedly half way through the film

the plot twisted to mirror

certain events from his history


he sat in the darkness

once more

tasting his own indecision


looking out of the glass doors of the foyer

he thought the afternoon light had taken on the cast of the sea

the car park a washed out watercolour


he was silent all the way home

Does knowing it is mostly fiction detract from the poem?
I do not think so. 

Sometimes the simple poems are the most difficult to write. This one wrote itself when I heard someone say that they were the opposite of a dancer.

today he feels

the opposite of a dancer

heavy

splay footed

off the beat

as if the alarm clock

had woken him

a fraction too late

Again this is a simple poem and it wrote itself in no time. I have no idea why some take longer than others. Perhaps it is to do with clarity of vision. The clearer you see the poem, the easier it is to write?

Brooke Sharkey has a new single out. It is superb, haunting, beautiful.

Until next time.

Friday, 1 October 2021

THE BLINDFOLD RUNNER

 


Have you ever played a trust game? Those exercises that depend upon you trusting the other participants? I did recently for the first time in ages. We had to run across an empty room into the arms of the other people, simple you might think, but you had to wear a blindfold. 

I think I took about a hundred years to cross, slowly, four metres. Hence this poem.

trust


twenty of us wait in a ragged line

to catch the blindfold runner

who slows to a tentative halt

two-thirds of the way across

the rehearsal room floor


though the next paces out the twelve steps

he forgets to count before he stops

an arms length from salvation

and so it goes each person quick or slow


then it’s my turn to wear the sleep mask

I totter many miles

before welcoming arms hold me

I am not sure it is complete yet, I only wrote it this week, so am far too close to see the flaws. I was going to call it The Blindfold Runner but I think Trust is a better title. Watch this space on that one.

Here's Aterciopelados

Until next time.

Friday, 24 September 2021

POWERED BY A SINGLE IDEA

 



I don't know why I read old science fiction, most of the novels do not stand the passage of time. Perhaps I am drawn to the idea that the future envisaged by the author is our past. For example, I recently read one set in 1989, twenty years on from when it had been written. It read like a shopping list of the hopes of 1959. This poem reviews a different book, and discretion prevents me from naming the author. 

Book Review


the novel he wrote that summer [1967]

was powered by a single idea

fleshed out with scenes from his life [again]

as usual the future resembled yesterday


and women were confined to walk on parts

cut out characters of no importance

the casual sexism he took for granted

was the most alien aspect of the tale


but the publisher astutely realised

putting Science Fiction Classic

on the reprint’s cover was all that was needed

to sucker fools like me

I had dithered about buying it, having read other books by the author, I should have listened to myself.

Here's Cafe Tacvba in a Tiny Desk Concert.

Until next time.

Friday, 17 September 2021

GREENER GRASS

 



Thanks go once again to the Secret Poets for their assistance in revising these poems. 

The first [you can read the last version here] required a complete restructuring.

Greener Grass


some do not understand the beneficence of drink

how it grants distance smooths life’s wrinkles


he spends his evenings on park benches

slowly observing the clouds change shape


a tin of the cheapest Pilsner warm in his hand

bewitched by his escape plan


there is better than here

this land being cursed


but over the hill lies real promise

everything will be so different 


I think it reads better now, though I was loath to lose the references to Calypso, but clarity is essential.

This second poem only required the removal of the last line. You can read the original here.

the secrets of the sun

hide in plain sight

but you need asbestos eyes

to clock the beauty

of hydrogen become helium


some have tried

Milton for example went blind

hunting solar flares at noon

through a borrowed telescope


so a word to the wise

accept what you are given

welcome the sun’s light on your skin

let it warm those ageing bones


Here's some more music by Pollyanna.

Until next time.

Friday, 10 September 2021

HYDROGEN BECOME HELIUM

 

I have mentioned Milton in a poem before, well quoted him. Apparently he went blind in later life, which I was once told, was because he looked at the sun through Galileo's telescope. I'm not sure of the validity of this information but used it in this poem.

the secrets of the sun

hide in plain sight

but you need asbestos eyes

to clock the beauty

of hydrogen become helium


some have tried

Milton for example went blind

hunting solar flares at noon

through a borrowed telescope


so a word to the wise

accept what you are given

welcome the sun’s light on your skin

let it warm those ageing bones

that’s as much as anyone has to do


 I got the first line on Saturday and the poem wrote itself over the weekend. I have been revising it up until yesterday. I think it's about there.

I am going to be running a poetry workshop in the near future, if you are interested in stretching your poetic chops let me know. 

Here's Joy Crookes, she's got an album coming out soon and is touring in the autumn.
Until next time.

Wednesday, 8 September 2021

POLLYANNA: THE INTERVIEW

 

Regular reader of this blog will have been grooving to the music of Pollyanna recently. I met her via Instagram earlier this year and I have been enjoying her music [and her lyrics] since. I can heartily recommend the LP Polly and the Feathers - it's fantastic. But enough from me, let's hear from the star herself!

Music, poetry or film? Which speaks the most to you?

Obviously, I'd say music, but as my favourite genre is songs, I guess it's a little bit of poetry and literature too.

Why music?

Songs are both verbal and non-verbal. This is what I like about music: it addresses another part of the brain, more emotional (or more mathematical?) even when you can't put these emotions in words. What I like with songs is that it is also words, but words are not primary in it. First you get the sound, then the melodies/harmonies and then the words. It's a bit less intellectual, it doesn't need to be sophisticated, it's more humble than “hard poetry”, I'd say.

What do you want to evoke in the reader/listener?


I want my songs to get into people's mind and heart, and see if we can resonate together. I'm looking for some sort of verbal and non-verbal communication. I believe songs can heal, and can make people feel loved. I also have in mind the courses I had about Virginia Woolf in college. We were studying The Waves and streams of consciousness, and how literature and poetry were also an attempt to find some unity in the world that is, otherwise, a collection of sometimes contradictory perceptions. I believe songs can provide that feeling of unity. Especially when you play an instrument: body and soul are then working together, which is probably something I need. Maybe even for my mental health.


    What's the typical career path of a singer-songwriter?

    There may be early or later success or no success at all. But I think it is important to keep this idea of success at bay: if you have some, you need to remain independent from it, and if you don't, you shouldn't be bitter. As far as I'm concerned, I'm between waters, I don't really have success but I have enough to make a living out of it, which is already a great form of success when you think of it. It is not really due to the quality of my songs (though I hope it's not bad), but rather to my social skills, my stubbornness and my lack of distaste for paperwork. I think these things are all connected, though: it all comes from the fact that I really want to share what I create - but at the same time I don't want to impose. I'm also always surprised to find people who really like what I do – so, it's a delicate balance. My path is all about that: being intermediate, finding a way to exist, share my songs, if not with a lot of people, at least enough of them to get the real game.

    How has the poetry business/scene changed over your life time?

    They say everything has changed about the music industry: MP3, the rise of socials, streaming, plus several economical crises, touring... But in fact, I'm not sure things have changed so much for musicians. Producers complain a lot but for us, it is still more or less the same long struggle: build an audience, don't let yourself be screwed by crooks or mythomaniacs or your own illusions about your own appeal. The difference, maybe, is that now you can handle a lot at a very small scale: recording (at home or with cheap studios), touring (my acoustic amp has literally saved my life as I can perform ANYWHERE with it with a very nice sound, even if binds me to a solo line up), and promoting (with socials). So, today, you'd better also be producer-minded, not only an “artist”. But, when you think of it, back in the day, you could also not build a lasting career without some sort of entrepreneurial mindset. It is sad, but maybe not that much. Maybe it's especially strong in the French culture, but I personally am very tired of the image of the “pure” artist who should not be pragmatic. I think it's a producer and media's scam, to justify the exploitation of people's talent and also a toxic myth for the audience (who is led to think talent is some kind of magic only professionals can reveal). It's a closed workshop, a money competition. In France, you sometimes feel less talented if you dare to care for your business, business being the opposite of art. It creates herds of lazy so-called talented people who make a point to be irresponsible and unpleasant. I think THIS system is going through a huge crisis. I'm not sure producers can still finance that model. So the future might be DIY.


    What makes you angry?

    Stupidity, and the taste of many for fake things: fake talent, fake quality food, fake love, fake news...

    Given the state of society at this point in time what is the role of the poet?

    I think now religion is declining (well, not everywhere, but you get my point), art and culture are crucial. With the economical, ecological and sanitary crises we are going through, art provides a service, an experience that can and should be outside the ever-growing “capitalist” logic. The system is unsustainable and we know it. It doesn't make us happy as we have never enough.

    I'm convinced my so-called low-key shows are a proper answer to this “ever more” addiction. It's cheap, if not free, it's low-carbon, and yet it's a luxury – I mean, not my shows specifically, but live music in general. It's an easy way to live something special with your friends or meet new people, or look at life from another angle. And value yourself.

    I met a few people who had, for instance, deep depression issues and told me music (even mine sometimes) helped them take less drugs! So, why take more and more expensive chemicals where music can help with no unwanted effects? Smaller, friendly shows can reconnect people between and to themselves, which is probably an issue in post-Covid, polarized society. “Religion” means “binding” in Latin (it's a tongue-in-cheek piece of knowledge, I know). It binds humans together, and each one to God. Well, you can change the word God if you don't like it but, then, music is a religion: it gathers and binds people and also connects them to some sort of transcendence. Like sport, food...

    That works with all kinds of art, but music is a potentially popular and accessible form, that can transcend cultural and social barriers (well, I'm aware it does not do this easily, but it's still more universal than theatre for instance). That makes it strong.

    If you were not a poet what would you be?

    A cook, of a wine-maker. That is going to sound really French but I mean it: I find the same kind of sensual + intellectual unity in food and wine. And we probably have more talent in these fields in France that in singing and songwriting. In my country, people are more artsy about bread than about music.

    (And yet, we still have a lot of bad bread)

    Thank you Pollyanna. 

    You can check out Pollyanna's music here and her bandcamp page here.

    I leave you with Pollyanna's music.

    Until next time.

    Friday, 3 September 2021

    NIGHT WAS FALLING

     

    I've been struggling this week to write anything that works. Once in a while I have times like this. I think I need to take things in, to experience, before I can assimilate my impressions and turn them into poetry. I think the pandemic is getting me down. 

    This is a little piece I am prepared to show.

    once the coast was clear

    all the humans gone

    the gulls moved in to

    scavenge

    salvage

    savage what remained


    night was falling

    change was in the air

    they had been here before

    all might perish yet


    I wanted to capture the apocalyptic situation we find ourselves in. Birds survived the last mass extinction, who knows what will survive this one.

    This second snippet is advice from a character actor, at least that was how I framed the words.

    be present but not central

    avoid the spotlight

    for that lime lighted circle

    must fall dark

    then where will you be

    Somber stuff huh?

    Not everything is so bleak. I've been painting the back bedroom and listening to The Beach Boys. This is superb, such harmonies.

    Until next time.

    Friday, 27 August 2021

    THE DAY LAY IN AMBUSH

     


    I've been working on this idea for a while. The difficulty was how to lay it out and I settled on a prose poem.

    in those days he was expected to wear a suit and tie   over time the act of knotting his tie became a measure   for the thickness   the weave   the stiffness of the silk presented unique challenges   if it knotted easily then it would be plain sailing   if repeated attempts were required to achieve the desired effect then the day lay in ambush

    but that was then

    that job does not exist any more and he only needs one tie   black   like his suit for funerals

    I used to think that difficulty in getting the correct shaped knot on my tie indicated my stress level but I like the idea of it being an omen. 

    Here's some old music from the 60s. Painting Box by the Incredible String Band.


    Until next time.

    Friday, 20 August 2021

    HIS OWN CALYPSO

     

    I have always rather admired Odysseus and his trickster  ways. A man who could not keep his mouth shut until it was absolutely necessary. If you haven't read the Odyssey then you should, if only for it's allegorical tale of a veteran returning home and the difficulties everyone faces.

    I mention this because I reference Calypso in the following poem. Calypso ensnared Odysseus on his homeward journey from Troy and kept him in thrall for many years. The poem proposes that the main character is his own Calypso in that he creates his own fantasy to enthrall himself.

    he is his own calypso

    though he misses the reference

    and hates the music

    bewitched as he is by his escape plan


    there is better than here

    where he has failed to make a go of it

    this land being cursed

    as are all the places he has left behind


    but over the hill

    up the motorway

    lies real promise

    everything will be so different 

    This next poem is also about the same fictional character.

    The Pleasures of Alfresco Alcohol


    they do not understand

    the beneficence of drink

    how it grants distance


    smooths out life’s wrinkles

    they badger him

    and he hides his habit


    evenings spent

    on park benches

    slowly observing


    the clouds change shape

    a tin of the cheapest Pilsner

    warm in his hand

    Here is some more vintage Calypso.

    Until next time.

    Friday, 13 August 2021

    OUT DISTANCE THE RAIN

     

    Thanks go once more to the Secret Poets who could see the shape of this poem so much more clearly than I could. You can read the previous draft here. I have though [all by myself] added a title.

    Instagram Post


    he was complimented on the rainbow

    his photograph deftly captured

    the fine graduation of colours


    which was due to the large amount of water

    that had tumbled from the sky

    over such a short period of time


    he added an explanation

    how the deluge had almost

    overpowered the windscreen wipers


    he thought of the man in vest and shorts

    who attempted to out distance the rain

    how his pale pink top darkened


    as he panted towards a solitary tree

    whose scanty branches

    could offer no shelter


    There was some confusion over exactly what the narrator was doing with the photograph, why they needed to add a story, were they a journalist? I had not seen them as such. I was thinking they had been refining a story, a tale to tell others, as we all do.

    The vision of others can help to improve our work beyond our imaginings. I suppose it's a riff on the old saying "many hands make light work". Something like many poets make for clarity.

    Thank you Secrets.

    I'm working on a poem that mentions Calypso, the sorceress and the music, so I am leaving you with Roaring Lion from 1938. The song concerns the mysterious conflagration of a number of theaters in Trinidad.

    Until next time.

    Friday, 6 August 2021

    HIS PALE PINK TOP DARKENED

     

    I am always amazed at how poems write themselves. I take a selection of seemingly random events and somehow they write themselves into a poem. Yes, I know, it is not that easy. There is the mind's selection of the experience/event, the ordering, the adaption into something greater and the hours of revision. But the end product usually surprises me. 

    For this poem I should stress I was not the driver.

    he was complimented on the rainbow

    his photograph deftly captured

    the fine graduation of colours


    which was due to the large amount of water

    that had over such a short period of time

    tumbled from out of the sky


    he worked on the accompanying story

    how the deluge had almost

    overpowered the windscreen wipers


    his focus always on the man in the vest and shorts

    who attempted to out distance the rain

    how his pale pink top darkened


    as he panted to the supposed shelter

    of a tree that became sparser

    and less protective with each retelling


    perhaps that was the point


    Can anyone tell me how to alter the spacing on this new platform? It is, to use a technical term - pants.

    Much rain fell last week and my thoughts are with those poor people flooded out. I think we are sleepwalking over the abyss as I write.

    By the way the praise for my photographs of the rainbow was made up, as I think you can tell from the actual photographs.



    The rainbows made me think of this song by Marmalade. I think it's from 1970.


    Here's their other song. Ah, the wonder of psychedelia!


    Until next time.

    Friday, 30 July 2021

    ON THE COUGHING EDGE OF TECHNOLOGY

     

    Some poems have long difficult gestation periods. These can last years. I worry that the essence of the poem is not strong enough to make the transition from head to paper. I suppose this is why I tend to let the idea percolate in my head for a day or two now.

    This post's poem was started many years ago and seemed straight forward. It is based on a true story. Back in 1975 ICI, a British chemical and pharmaceutical company [who I happened to work for at that time] were researching a synthetic alternative to tobacco. By a very circuitous route, that had nothing to do with my employment, I was asked my opinion of the product. That is the basis of the poem.

    The whole project is infamous because of the use of animals, beagals, to test the synthetic tobacco. There was much controversy when a Sunday newspaper broke the story. 

    At the time, a callous eighteen year old, I assumed that the use of animals was the price of progress. I have changed my opinion since. Perhaps this is the source of difficulties I have had attempting to get the idea onto paper?

    Who’d have thought of it?

    Synthetic smoking material.

    Twenty machine rolled, filter tipped,

    tobacco alternatives, housed in

    an anonymous, flip-top, white rectangle,

    styled on a Players No 6 packet

    [a proletarian cigarette, popular at that time].


    So much cheaper looking than their real cost,

    all that money, time and effort.

    Not to mention the lines of beagles,

    smoking their laboratory days away,

    whether they wanted to or not,

    while they waited for The Sunday People

    to expose the whole sordid project.


    The scientist father of my girl friend

    hands me the packet

    eager for my opinion on this latest wonder.

    I spark one up,

    inhale progress.

    There I was in the loop,

    on the coughing edge of technology

    I think it works, but am not sure it is finished. Watch this space.

    Here is a rather surreal little video from Manel, a Catalan band. 

    Until next time.

    Friday, 23 July 2021

    HIGH & WILD

     


    A rewrite this post with many thanks to the Secret Poets for their help. I cannot stress enough the benefits of being part of a supportive collective of poets. I am lucky to have been a member of such a supportive group for many years.

    What's changed in the poem is that the lines are tighter, more economical. More show, less tell, which as I harp on post after post is the secret of good poetry.

    the steeling


    it is a lazy narrative to gift water agency

    the depths did not desire that thin gold band

    the sea did not take the ring of my mother


    let me offer this instead

    that I had decided on one final dip

    as October ran towards winter


    in the intense cold

    blood retreated

    capillaries contracted


    and the ring

    always a loose fit

    was gone before I knew it


    so that when I searched

    below the relentless waves 

    the view was murk and weed



    my numb fingers read the rocks

    sieved the sand

    hunted for that familiar


    the autumn tide was high and wild

    and if I could have ladled it all away

    spoon by spoonful I would


    I waited it out

    returned each day

    to search the empty beach

    As you can see the poem even has a title! That is good work for me. Thank you Secrets.
    Here is a short piece written by Lizzie Nunnery and performed by Elinor Randle. 

    Until next time.