Tuesday 29 June 2021


I recently participated in a workshop focusing on exploring the under story of a poem. The aim being to enable the poet to perceive the creative process from which the poem had sprung, the issues that had promoted the writing, the space where poems are created. The aim was to create a dialogue between the poets in that space and see where it led. It was fascinating stuff facilitated by the wonderful Charlotte Gann

A brief word of explanation about the layout of the interview. Since blogspot updated their platform I have been experiencing difficulties with spacing and because Charlotte's poems are so exquisite I have decided to use photographs of the poems rather than blunt their beauty with coarse spacing.

Charlotte is an accomplished poet, but rather than me bigging her up let's hear her talk .

Tell us about the new collection

Well, it’s not THAT new any more – but did come out in lockdown. The Girl Who Cried, my second book from HappenStance. The poems are title-less so sort of run into each other. Some of them are illustrated or accompanied by little line drawings. The book’s an exploration and admission, for me: every day of my life, I’ve lived with longing, arguably as a result of early attachment difficulties. ‘The Girl Who Cried’ of the title is a core part of me.

Lots of the poems are short: I thought of them as ‘woodcut’ poems as I wrote them.

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

Um.., you’ve just named my three favourite things. I called my first book Noir partly because people said how filmic the poems were. I love film, as a medium. The palette, the framing. Music has always been central for me (when I was young, as this picture may suggest, mainly Bowie). 

And then there's been poetry. Ah, poetry... From Keats to Stevie Smith to TS Eliot when I was young to…..ALL my touchstone poems today. (Right now I’m working my way through the Collected Poems of Raymond Carver.)

So probably a poetic film with music.

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

I want them to sense the life in the poem. Recognise it – something palpable. I’m interested in that place where thought and feeling meet; my poems are my emotions distilled, framed. It’s been about trying to find language. I want a reader to notice if they have that feeling in themself. I’m curious about resonance, and often writing about the other side of that coin: loneliness. If a reader recognises the emotion maybe that leaves us both subtly less isolated. I know that’s the effect reading can have on me.

I’ve focused a lot of my poems on areas of my life that caused me distress over decades, however ‘irrationally’. All I can do is share my feelings truthfully. So that’s what I’ve done. I wanted to leave a record: a kind of refusal, eventually, to suffer in silence. I like that adage cited by Banksy(?): art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Yes.

If you could become a character in fiction, or film who would you be and why?

One of those good, grounded policewomen. Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley. Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Most recently, Mare Sheehan in Mare of Easttown. In fiction, my favourite characters are ones I massively empathise with – George Harvey Bone in Patrick Hamilton’s Hangover Square, Frankie Addams in Carson McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding. I wouldn’t want to be them though. Too close to how I am already.

How far does real life creep into your work? 

It’s there at its core – as in, my work is totally truthful. Emotionally so.

But in another way, my poems topple ‘real life’ on its side: I’m interested in showing the underbelly, the stuff that’s normally hidden. Unobvious loneliness.

Since writing the books, I’ve started calling this my Understory’.

What makes you angry? 

Abuse of power, in all its guises. Exploitation of vulnerability. Nothing makes me angrier than this. And it makes me angry on a daily basis.

Name something you love and why? 

Potatoes. And cats. They’ve both always comforted me.

What would be your dream project? 

My dream project? The question makes me happy. I’ve always pictured this imaginary set of rooms where people come and meet and talk. I’ve been there forever, and am somehow pivotal. Whatever the precise function it combines all my passions: writing, expression, group-work, therapeutic heartful communication practices… Maybe I’m trying to work towards this now, with my project The Understory Conversation.

How do you navigate the poetry world? I have some firm allies and circles. Friends. I talk to other poets; read books; review pamphlets for Sphinx; convene local readings with the other Needlewriters: so I’ve found modest, regular ways to contribute. I’m in a number of groups. I try not to worry too much about prize lists or noise or to overly focus on social media. I try to keep things in perspective. I have found my little corner.

Plus, increasingly, I picture this scene, like a cartoon or mantra (a friend drew my attention to it originally, and he is not a poet):

The poet is to give a reading from his new book… the dutiful publisher carries a dozen copies of the poet’s new book to sell at the reading… Now it is over, and the publisher gathers up the unsold books, counting them glumly… he trudges home, weary and puzzled – How can thirteen copies be left over from a dozen?” ['DJ Enright, from his collection Under the Circumstances: Poems and Proses, Oxford Poets, 1999.'] i.e. poetry’s a very strange old business! A way of being safely i.e invisibly visible? Gotta love it.

(both poems from The Girl Who Cried, HappenStance, 2020)

Thanks Charlotte, I honestly cannot recommend The Girl Who Cried enough. Do yourself a favour and get it here.

Until next time.

Friday 25 June 2021



A number of little poems two of which are rewrites.

I got given a chair, a leather recliner

back in the day, my sister in law’s mother quit smoking to save the money buy it

my wife hates it, claims its the wrong chair for the room

but as the record spins, I recline again and the music flows from the speakers

I know I have many to thank for this moment of bliss

It is pretty straight forward reportage, though I can't remember what it was I was listening to.

This next one has had a couple of words changed, I think, for the better. You can read the first draft here.

unbeknown to you

this patch of grass

is spring loaded

and as you absently

place down your glass

the stalks conspire to tip it over

and feast on the spilled red wine

For the changes to this last last poem I have the Secret Poets to thank. It was suggested that I put a line break after the fifth line to add to the emotional impact. I think it does. You can read the other version here.

Industrial Action

Moses downed tools

and before the management capitulated

things turned very nasty

frogs fell from the sky alive

and children died.

Imagine that

children died.

Could you pray to a deity

that valued one child’s life over another?

Phew! much to read this post.

Anyway here is Hatful of Rain with The Exit Song.

Until next time.

Friday 18 June 2021



I am late posting today, this week has been kind of crazy, we've had many visitors and no time for blogging ahead, as I usually do.

After writing the poem below I spent some time trying to divine how you spell washateria. I always think it sounds far superior to laundrette.  When we were in London recently I thought the place we had rented didn't have a washing machine [it did behind a cupboard door, but that was too sophisticated for me] and it led me to think about how boring it must be watching your clothes wash in a washateria. This thought in turn prompted the poem.

washateria blues

he envied his clothes

in the laundrette's tumbling drum

happier without him inside

suddenly alive

free to tangle  to have fun

to throw impossible shapes

that would break a limb

the next morning he sensed

their longing for something

beyond his predictable moves

their reproach apparent in each casual crease

I was rather taken with the idea of my clothes having more fun without me in them than when worn. I liked the thought that they could be bored by my actions, having seen them so many times before.

I think the poem is just about there and for once I have a title as well.

Here are Sweeney's Men with Willy O'Winsbury, one of my favourite traditional songs, though the king is somewhat dubious, but the tune is lovely. Apparently it is not the correct tune but it works.

Until next time.

Friday 11 June 2021


 Can any poem ever be said to be an accurate account of an event? I do not think so. Poets take their experiences and transform them into something universal, rather than offer reportage.

So it is with this poem.


half recognised

stopped in the street

asked my name

by friends become strangers

the gulf grown

a quarter century wide

so we swap major events

the achievements of children

obliquely they assess my status

we exchange numbers  emails

say we must catch up

properly get together

then break off  walk away

How much of me is in the poem? You know I am not sure. It is a specific event altered to, hopefully, appeal to all.

This poem wrote itself this morning out of a piece of stream of consciousness prose I had written late last night.

then you wake up

the morning after the divorce

the lost years

the redundancy

whatever particular defeat claimed you

and the physical laws are just the same

sunlight pinballs round the system

planets spin

ecosystems work  more or less

and you must decide what it is you do

yes we know what you have been

that is past

receding by the second

what will you be now?

You could argue that I have experienced some of the events mentioned, but who hasn't?

I have been listening to Pollyanna a lot recently and here's a live song.

Until next time.

Friday 4 June 2021



I have a beach hut and I've been spending the weekends there just looking at the sea. I am also a confirmed watcher of people and this is how the poem below came about. It happened pretty much as described. 

from the blue sack she produces her phone

they selfie against a backdrop of incoming tide

they turn to document the six yellow roses

they had just cast into the sea

but the blooms are lost in the swell

which constantly baptises the rocks

no seventh wave today

the water is relentless

after they turn and go

I search for the flowers

and spot one

small amid the diamond surface

I do not know what the two people were commemorating, but it seemed to me to warrant a poem. 

Here is Annabelle Chvostek, rumour has it she is touring the UK next year, I can't wait.

Until next time.