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".

For A Second I Forgot #2

I counted my achievements
there were not too many,
on dismal mornings such as this
I cannot think of any.

The ticking of the clock
at the centre of my drama
for a second i fogot
its arbitrary measure

For a second I forgot
in the expanding minute
my burden might be heavy
but there is nothing in it.

For a second it's accepted
with complete concession
the contingent and connected
empty of all mission

For a second there resigned
all urge and aspiration,
no weight or value was assigned
no number or ambition.

For a second i forgot
and there was no resistence
for a moment I was locked
within the flow of all existence

Listen to For A Second I Forgot here

For A Second I Forgot mp3

Monday, 15 July 2013

Apolide ~ (For Gregg)

On Carmel beach he saunters
where turquoise meets the border,
His arms outstretched
His upturned palms
Seek signals of a different order,
Eyes the milky horizon line
For signs of calmer water.

His sullen self numb
to the laughter of companions,
neither one thing, the other or either,
Frei nor Frum, Jew nor 'Goy,'
Mount Hermon broods over Babylon.
Why does he push the bar?
What does his heart desire?
Brittle as bone char.

He's out of sorts with the desalinated state,
Where love finds it's expression
As jealousy and hate, and the fine wine
Of the purple line leaves a bitter after-taste.
Assassins dispatch, contradictions confound,
tired aspirations rake the frontiers flat.
What's the itch he can't scratch?
Golan Magic propaganda grates,
And the Jesus Trail – for Christ's sake!

From Haifa to Nice, Nice to Montone,
Where his voice wormed it's way through
One dark winter night stateless and lonely,
Somehow he knew this was home.
Mornings of defeat, the triumphs of the evening,
The ebb and flow of feeling set the tone,
Welling up of passion, advancing, retreating,
this lying down mute and alone. 
Forging our agreements, fuelling our dispute, 
exposing the raw rootless discontent -
A wound so sore it bleeds,
'Too much', he says, 'don't touch, don't touch,
I need you'.

In Haifa now he rediscovers
His life in the eye of the tempest,
He has his lover and the love of his friends,
Boundaries, edges, crises and endings. All this -
Why swap high-security for uncertainty and risk?
He calls from his confinement
Intimate and cold, waves over verges
and marches, across unbridgeable distances
In space and time – a thousand miles
and two decades if truth be told,
But we are connected, fingers through fences,
at the perimeter of his heart,
where sentries forbid entry
to his soul.

On Carmel beach he wonders
What would happen if next,
He abandoned himself to the moment
Relinquished his grip on the rest,
Let limits slip and barriers lift,
He types out a text
He holds up his phone in his palm,
But the signals adrift.
It's no cause for alarm.
My message is already clear,
For now and whatever, for love and for honour,
My heart is a harbour
You can shelter here”

Listen to Apolide here: Apolide mp3

Saturday, 22 June 2013


By the dull electric lamp
arose a vision so intense,
undimmed by squalor, stench and damp
in that Polish prison camp.

Emblems of their offence,
pink triangle and yellow star,
tattoo just below the sleeve
a hunger for tomorrow,
for reprieve. A hope that 
what began in sorrow
would not end in grief.

A fantasy, the sweet relief of human touch,
the longing that grew so much,
became so great -
the lightest brush seemed profligate.

For dignity of those involved, for all -
they did what dignity demands,
resolved that when their names were called
to go together hand in hand.

In the furnace in the flame
Each heard the others name,
And as the flames burned brighter still
their grip grew tighter
till their fingers intertwined,
tight as their desire
in the furnace in the fire,
Flesh and bone combined.

The heat intensified
then tempered, they found 
release that was denied
and they were one
with ash and embers,
and their hearts were unified.

Listen to Camp here


Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Poem Fails

The poem fails

It cannot render traction

Or the queer zero,

Rehearse location

Or mine gravity.

Panic & lapse

Immune to weak forces

Arise on threads of absence

In mechanical waves,

Muted by observation

& uncertain rules

In the chamber of bias.

An adumbration transpires.

Wanton longing. Dimension

Flattened & tamped.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

For A Second I forgot

For A Second I forgot

I counted my achievements
there were not too many,
on dismal mornings such as this
I cannot think of any.

I do domesticity
dusting and dishes,
bathe the babies
organise the crèches.

For second I forgot
that I was born in exile,
for a minute that my lot
doesn't turn a profit.

If my words offend
then I apologise,
and if nobody's saved
at least nobody dies.

Poetry is faux,
a hoax, a deception,
flat, forced, contrived,
flawed at it's conception.

For a second I forgot
and in so forgetting,
the burden that is my lot
is empty of all content.

I'm lazy, weak but harmless
this much I admit.
tighten up the harness
you win and I submit.

I salute the new authority
renew my vows with prayer,
mantra, thumbscrew, rosary
the discipline of work.

For a second I forgot
I was overlooked,
I'm doing well without me
In fact I am absolved.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Save Ulster From Sodomy

In the late 70s and early 80s Ian Paisley led the Save Ulster From Sodomy campaign, a largely Unionist affair, to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Northern Ireland. Yesterday the Northern Ireland Assembly voted against the Equal Marriage Bill. Ironically the Unionists were supported and lobbied by their old foes the Catholic Church.

Save Ulster From Sodomy

Billboard alongside Belfast Gay Pride Parade.
Papists rule out rubbers
lobby Paisley, Cardinals campaign,
petition Orange Men,
united by a great and noble aim,
odd bedfellows marry hastily.
Saving Ulster from sodomy again.

Forty-two to fifty
they threw out equality,
ranting, foaming, raving, canting,
Stormont storms. Sodomy,
my protestant Gran informed me,
if not the norm, was once a favoured form
of birth control.

Now, the laws the law
in Catholic France and Spain, but
special conditions pertain,
to a corner of the UK where
Old Women reign.
Gran will turn beneath the turf when I say
the side of the angels is Sinn Fein.
Presbytarians are arseholes so stuff 'em!

Strange unsettling settlement
upsets. Sectarian alliances crystalise
and cave, Form and fold, 
old favours, old grievances, old scores,
exchanged for what religionists crave.
What's not settled at assembly
Is delayed, until we settle.
See you in court.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Hung Out To Dry

It was a Christian minister who drew my attention to the idea of the crucifixion as child abuse. He suggested there might be an alternative moral to the narrative. I thought trying to draw a consistent or clear moral conclusions from the New Testament was as feasible as pinning water to the wall. This poem has endured a lot of changes in form, content and even title. I'll keep working on it.

Hung Out To Dry

If God the father sent Christ to die
For the sins of you and I,
Wear a crown of thorns, bleed and cry
Oh dad you've hung me out to dry,
Forsaken me, nailed me high (heave and sigh) -
Then I don't understand the truth,
Of this cosmic act of child abuse.

Where one cannot do otherwise, blame
Cannot be assigned. Judas & the Jews
Constrained, fitted up, put in the frame,
A suicide null and void. A ghastly charade,
Of holy smoke and mirrors.
What conclusions should we draw from this?
What moral has been overlooked?
What meaning was missed?

That conscience makes penitents of us
In the end? Your old man doesn't
Always attend to your best interests? 
Your friends will sell you to the enemy? 
That the game plan depends upon a whim?
That a god who made all laws is bound by them?

Pause. For thought. When it comes
To religion I'm wise enough to know
That once the cat's out of the bag
It's best to let it go.
If God is good, and omnipotent
Yet evil exists,
Then either he's not good, nor all powerful
Or he had a hand in it.

You can download & listen to Hung Out To Dry here 

Hung Out To Dry mp3

© 2013 Wreck Of My Old Self Productions

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Clock Watchers In The Woods

It's my first memory of social embarrassment. I loudly proclaimed my older cousin Barry “sexy” and brought the pickled onion crunching crowd to a glowering halt. His shirt collar was open over his  jacket collar, his hair was slick with Brylcreem. It passed for style in those dismal days and I'd confused style with sexy. I have no idea where heard the word before but clearly it was a faux pas.

Years later I remember an Alzheimer's patient – an old school proper gentleman - pointing at his visiting daughter shouting “she sucks my cock”. Painfully embarrassed his daughter turned to everyone and mouthed, “I'm sorry.... I don't”.

My imagination conflated these episodes.

Clock Watchers In The Woods

Cloth ears? Her ill fitting teeth?
What did granny just gabble
at the gathering?
The voice above the rabble
Stopped the chatter and the babble,
Granny said there are cock
suckers in the woods.

Everyone looks nervous,
coughs and shuffles, muffles giggles.
Talk shifts to the weather;
Mother squirms and wriggles,
smiles politely, tugs his tresses
then to avoid his guesses,
whispers sotto voce,

Granny said clock watchers.
She gabbles often garbled.
What she mutters hardly matters
since she's lost her marbles.
Dad, who'd be watching clocks
or washing socks
this late at night?
She uttered sucking cocks.
What's it mean?

Whisked away swiftly,
unjustly and unwilling,
fluster and kerfuffle,
A tug-o-war to bed -
tuttering and trilling,
But to no-one in particular
he said -
Christ that little fucker's
on the subject of cock suckers
and he just doesn't seem to
want to let it go.

© Wreck of my old self productions

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Peter Goes West

I do not presume to judge you
Now that you are gone,
The leaf would've fallen anyway
The bird would've flown,
Taking talisman, tarot deck
And Ayn Rand tome,
On a journey to far West
Your spiritual home.

Land of parking lots and desert malls,
Skateboards on the board walks,
Beggars in the bleachers
watching volleyball.
Hard bodies on baked beaches,
Fantasy and fraud.
Penitents & preachers,
Jesus is Lord.

Charlatans, shaman,
Casteneda, Charlie Manson
Snake oil sales at seminars
Bringing in a ransom,
Dollars for scents, vitamins for viruses,
Aspiring actors ache.
Cast the I Ching, read the runes,
that lucky break is overdue,
and stars are born of destiny
A transit of Mars and Neptune
Or the moon in Capricorn.

The band plays on in la la land.
In California now
Catholic boys genuflect
To new age sacred cows,
Have it all, have it now -
Let god off the hook,
When you're disappointed
You didn't wish longer,
Hope harder, or want it bad enough.

A one a.m. translatlantic call
a mid-western drawl, goes on to say
I was in your address book,
someone to inform -
and written next a list of keepsakes
Concerns a few effects.
Could he send your talisman
Some books and a tarot deck?
I thought of you for a night or two
Then I rang your mom in Slough
Sometimes I still do.