Tuesday, 11 February 2014


The morning you crept
from the bed,
barely aware, I heard
the rattle and thrum
of a diesel at the curb,
click of the catch,
crunch of gravel,
thud of the door.

The cooled depression,
the ridge of duvet
along my back,
the false impression
you're there. Already out
of the cul-de-sac.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Fall of Oscar Wilde

The Fall of Oscar Wilde

Low hanging fruit, a family feud,
a misspelled note, a libel suit,
mock indignation and ire,
to please your lover liar,
a bullet made for you to fire.
Sling enough mud they say....

Sling enough mud, it sticks,
exactly what the Marquis did!
Like you he paid the boys in gifts
for services rendered, to lift the lid
off your desires – and so
the gun backfires again.
O the irony of it!

Haughty speech and florid prose,
he took the stand to maintain,
some aesthetic pedagogic pose,
became so voluble on
the love that dare not speak,
claimed to mentor and to teach.
Though I think it was less Latin,
something more like Greek.
It amounted to a guilty plea.

And working class boys
pretty and expendable,
off the Piccadilly meat-rack
could go to the highest bidder and aren't
yet loyal or dependable when a better
offer's on the table, or perhaps
a worse threat.

Each man kills the thing he loves.
Outcasts always mourn. From
Pentonville, Reading & Gaulic exile,
poured overwrought remorse.
Talk of true nobility in suffering -
The Soul of Man Under Socialism,
De Profundis, repudiate and deny
a view you once endorsed,
that art was beautiful lies.

Cursing penury and fuelled
by whiskey absinthe and gin,
dying in the hotel d'Alsace
under another name,
It was shooting yourself
in the foot that ultimately did you in.
Well, that and the wallpaper,
so it's claimed.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Scraping The Barrel (A Villanelle)

I love the villanelle form. It's usually used for deadly serious poems, the most famous being Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Goodnight. However, I recently came across a wrly funny example by Wendy Cope Villanelle for Hugo Williams, mildly chastising him for bastardising the form. I decided to write my own in the same tone.

I'm sure all your friends will agree
You're mining the sofa for change,
You're scraping the barrel with me.

It's really not you, it's totally me,
I'm odd, queer, peculiar, strange,
I'm sure all your friends will agree.

You know there are plenty more fish in the sea,
Don't plumb the depths it's deranged.
You're scraping the barrel with me.

You've set your sights to the lowest degree,
Grubbing the basements, the bargain range,
I'm sure all your friends will agree.

In this spirit I'm returning to thee,
All the gifts we exchanged,
You're scraping the barrel with me.

Time heals and one day you'll see,
We were always estranged.
I'm sure all your friends will agree,
You're scraping the barrel with me.

Listen to Scraping The Barrel

Monday, 14 October 2013

Poetic Champions Compose

I love the works of Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage. 
Simon Armitage was asked to give three pieces of advice to aspiring poets and he said, "Read, read and read".  It's good advice but I think the poetic impulse arises earlier. It made me think about my own history, how my love of words arose.

'The child is the father of the man' (Wordsworth) and for melancholic children there are consequences. I can still recall the first poem that made an impact on my psyche and tapped straight into a rich vein of sadness woven through my DNA. Scarecrow :

My poor old bones, I've only two,
A broom shank and a broken stave,
My ragged gloves are a disgrace,
My one peg foot is in the grave.

Dylan - understood in the heart
Recited by Mrs. Bagley in the second year of primary school it induced such an exquisite sorrow that sent my six year old self off on lone walks down the playing fields to contemplate the daisies and ponder the words that surprised, intrigued and puzzled in equal measure: 'broom shank', 'stave', 'grave'. They had resonance! I berated myself for my previous lack of empathy with these wretched creatures stuck in fields. Here was my muse, encountered in melancholy meanderings through the woods and meadows around home.

At seven I independently found my way to the church choir. Anthems, psalms and hymns ignited my imagination. "Jesus, Jesus, Lo he comes and loves and saves and freeze us" I sang. Bizarre! A little later I found out that nobody was being frozen but freed! What a disappointment! I loved the impenetrable "freeze us"; much more mystery about that. And then:

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed
How sweet their memory still
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.

Accessible simplicity: Wendy Cope
I understood this implicitly. I was an old man trapped in an eight year old body. I spent an inordinate number of warm summer days indoors and retreated into books. I remember my mom contrasting me with my slightly younger brother, "He's always got his nose in a book. His brother's a proper lad." The neighbours concurred - I needed to get out and climb more trees. But, I was cultivating my own aching void.

Hills of the North rejoice
River and mountain spring

The great mystery of the brooding dark North – rejoicing streams! This was my world!

Mystic - WB Yeats
Inspired by a sad documentary on the life of French chantuese Edith Piaf, I wrote a sonnet. I pored over the form (in a Shakespeare volume I found in the local library) worked out the rhyme scheme and really laboured. I loved the romance of Je ne regrette rein, that insists so much on regretting nothing that you know the narrator regrets everything! It was the first thing I wrote that ever felt accomplished. The first thing that meant more than the sum of its words. The teacher was sceptical, "Is this your own work?" Maybe Edith Piaf wasn't a fit subject for a boy of eleven? But wasn't everything up for scrutiny?

Forget indulgent prog rock, ignore frivolous glam rock and passing fashion. It was the 70s vogue for solipsistic singer-songwriters that entranced and enchanted: words again. Hejira, Joni Mitchell's gorgeously ethereal pean to the romance of road trips:

There's comfort in melancholy
When there's no need to explain
It's as natural as the weather
As this moody sky today. (Hejira)

My older sister had this penfriend. I remember seeing a photo of him dressed in an Afghan coat with greasy long hair and droopy moustache. I didn't get what she saw in him. Her romantic fantasies were squashed flat one day when she received a cassette tape.

Overlooked: Dory Previn
I stepped into an avalanche
It swallowed up my soul.
When I am not this hunchback
That you see,
I sleep beneath the golden hill. (Avalanche)

Her romance ended but my love affair with the works of Leonard Cohen continues to this day! I took to sublime misery and dark humour like a duck to water. I began a little scrapbook of writing, not so much influenced by as mimicking or plagarising what I was hearing. And then I encountered Bob Dylan.

He became an obsession. I spent hours trying to decode Blonde On Blonde but the mystery only deepened:

I just can't fit,
I believe it's time for us to quit,
When we meet again,
Introduced as friends,
Please don't let on that you knew me when,
I was hungry and it was your world. (Just Like A Woman)

Sylvia Plath
I gleaned two things from this. First that some things are understood in the heart and not the head and second the importance of hearing words - phrasing, timing, rhythm and rhyming. The way Dylan alights the word 'hungry', stretching out the phonemes, 'hungaareeee', whatever he means you know he means it. I heard Dylan was mercurial and decided I would be too and my new policy was never to give a straight or predictable answer to any question. It got me into trouble but it also sharpened the poetic use of language.

1975: Dylan's Blood On The Tracks spoke volumes on the subtle use of words:

Say for me that I'm alright
Though things get kind of slow,
If she thinks that I've forgotten her,
Don't tell her it isn't so. (If You See Her Say Hello)

Why shouldn't she be told? Vulnerability to painful to admit? Embarrassment? One carefully chosen word can encompass so many possibilities. How much better than a simple instruction to "tell her"?

Open your eyes and ears and you're influenced.

Sublime: John Keats
Pete Brittan & Evelyn Fitzmaurice, two inspirational teachers influenced and encouraged in equal measure. They introduced me to Shakespeare, the Liverpool poets, Wordsworth, Keats, Harold Pinter, Thom Gunn, Ted Hughes, William Blake, John Betjamen Eliot, Auden, Jane Austen..... a world of words and ideas. Their enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge was infectious. I just absorbed as much as I could and learned many works off by art. I can still recite most of The Wife of Bath's Tale and the Prologue to the Cantebury Tales!

Stevie Smith of pop - Morrissey
Form is a discipline that for me, aids writing. When a poem just isn't working I will often try it in a different form. Changing a sonnet to a villanelle or vice versa sometimes improves the expression of a theme.

The songwriters I loved pointed me backwards to their influences: Lorca, Pound, Woody Guthrie, Whitman, Rousseau, the Bible, Poe, Rimbaud and latterly classical Greek stuff. At different points I wanted to be all of these people – I was good at mimicking style - but the common message of all their lives seemed to be that we should all find our own voice: write what we know.

Occasionally I read my own stuff & I hear echoes of others. Indeed I revised For A Second I Forgot partly because one stanza strayed to close to a Cohen song:

I'm lazy, weak but harmless
this much I admit,
Joni Mitchell
tighten up the harness
you win and I submit. (Me – For A Second I Forgot)

You're weak and your harmless
Sitting in your harness
With the wind going wild
In the trees (Cohen – Light As A Breeze)

But sometimes I only hear the echo in retrospect. 
Take this:

The fine wines of the purple line
Leave a bitter after-taste (Me – Apolide)


The snows of the Tyrol and the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true (Sylvia Plath – Daddy)

I left this in as a kind of a homage, a nod to Plath, but I don't expect everyone will hear it and Plath's line is better anyway. Incidentally, if you have an interest in Plath's work, seek out the BBC recordings from the 1962. Her recitations of Lady Lazarus & Daddy are hugely impressive, her phrasing and stresses bring new layers of meaning. I can recite these too in Plath's voice!!

Morrissey – the Stevie Smith & e.e. cummings of pop – wrote:

If you must write prose and poems
The words you write should be your own,
Don't plagarise or take on loan.
There's always someone, somewhere
With a big nose, who knows (Morrissey - Cemetery Gates)

But Joni Mitchell wrote:

A part of you pours out of me
In these lines from time to time (Mitchell – A Case of You)

Lately I've been re-reading W. B. Yeats, poring over Simon Armitage's back catalogue, mourning the loss of Dory Previn and rediscovering her in the process... revisiting some well known Auden, thinking how much more profound later Roger McGough is, taking in some Wendy Cope whose apparent simplicity conceals depth charges. Read, read and read.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Absolute Need

Owls hoot in the oaks
the jasmine is heady,
I look from the window
and watch them together
scoop the moon from
the shimmering surface
drunk & unsteady,
I almost believe
we'll be happy forever
I'm 54 and I'm ready.

I almost believe
we are marked,
we are blessed,
so I'm keeping the vigil
to honour the guest,
with my absolute need
to do the right thing -
we've agreed, we've concurred
I've given my word,
you'll accede and comply
we're putting you first,
with my absolute need
my unequivocal thirst.

Hot afternoon fucks
so urgent we must,
absorbed in the moment
abandoned to lust,
Sinews are taut
muscles are rigid,
the gathering tide
resisting its limits,
this is my sacrament -
the body, the blood,
the burgeoning tide
becoming a flood,
only doing
what any man would.

You are appeased
by the pleasure of pleasing,
the pleading, the kneeling,
the wanting, the needing
to do the right thing -
and in doing redeeming.
Your duty is solemn,
the ritual light,
so Godamn you man
don't fight,
just do as I say,
obey my demands,
its not a suggestion
it's a command -
that is the line
this is the measure,
play with my upright sense
of unrepentant pleasure.

There in the shower
Washing your back
caressing your head
With my cock in your crack,
Pressing your face
up to the glass.
Your spine is a river
I'm tracing it's race
through the darkest ravine
to the holiest place
Lapping you up
drinking you in
with an absolute need
to do the right thing -
Slapping your moody
French ass!

Congress of three
divine intimation,
the moon and the jasmine
the men that you are,
I think we are saved
and this is salvation,
for a minute at least
I almost believe.
All of my lovers
romantic and filthy,
you are forgiven
I hope you forgive me,
for now it's implied
that all of creation,
submits and accedes -
and works in accord,
with my absolute need.

Listen to The Absolute Need here

The Absolute Need mp3

Sunday, 18 August 2013


Twenty brands of cornflakes
On the supermarket shelf.
A myriad minor choices -
"But is there something else?"

Sixty flavours of jam,
A hundred kinds of pop.
Tons of trivial choices -
But only one place to shop.

Friday, 16 August 2013


I bought you coffee -
always did on Sunday morning at the Clock Cafe.
We'd sit at the window people watching,
sometimes you'd mock me and say,
"Don't you have any mirrors at home",
or "Ooo don't look now, spot the gay".
My retort was just as bad,
"You bitter old queen -
they all think you're my dad!"

But that was another Sunday thirty years ago.
Today the repartee has worn a little thin,
resting on the counterpane,
the silent testimony to your years with him.

I'm in so few of those casual snaps,
fact is I took them all -
except the one you sneaked unposed,
where I was naked and stretched
across the rocks, Cretan boys were diving
from the docks and came out
blurred into the background.

An obvious eye for the boys
you'd always qualify it and say,
"you're not a flash-in-the-pan
you're up there among the men,
you're special to us". I wanted to ask
was that picture of me or them?
But I already knew the answer -
It was probably both! Such an appetite
for love. An infinite capacity
for mayhem.

I didn't quite see it like that back then.
You could say my position has evolved,
because now I believe everything
you said - the jealousy dissolved.
And I don't know if it's the medicine talking
because you ask if I loved you
equally. I thought you deserved the truth
and when I said I loved him more -
You put it down to callow youth,
"but thanks for sticking around!"

then so generously added,
"he loved you too, you know"
He gripped my hand as if his
life depended on what was coming next
"you're not in the album much
and I see why?", and you know what
he's right. "We always let you take the pictures.
You were camera shy".