Friday, 25 December 2015

RAIN TATTOOS

A revised poem to start this post.
Thanks must go to Juncture 25 for helping me to make sense of what I had written. I knew that something in the poem wasn't right but could not put my finger on it.

In his head it is always summer,
he refuses autumn permission
to taint even a single leaf.
Across impossibly green lawns,
in high ceilinged rooms,
where fans churn stale words,
he replays his life:
driving that new red car;
dancing at his wedding;
pausing in the departure hall
surrounded by all those people.
Where are they now?

Outside his head rain tattoos the tin roof.
Summer has gone missing,
spring is eighteen months late
and freak weather has reduced his world.
All across the English Archipelago
survivors fear their neighbours,
eat up seed stocks,
worry about the sea level,
or that the water will rise in a moving wall
and sweep them away, once and for all.
There was that night some discussion as to whether you can have a two stanza poem or if it needs three stanzas to work. Not bound to the Hegelian Dialectic I am happy with two.
 A little poem that I've been working on for some time.

LIBRARY QUIZ

An improvised library lesson.
Old books, a random collection,
grown over more time than my life.
Yellow postcard, typed questions,
the e lower then the other letters.
All the facts we were told are in this room.

I couldn't find the answer I was looking for,
it was the books that were dumb,
I knew what it was as soon as I saw the question.
I walked up to Mr. Farr, all tweed and fag ash,
pointed in the direction of the nature books
and told him a bee dies when it stings.

I gambled on his laziness,
but not him stopping the class,
and announcing no one had ever found
that fact in these books before.
It was fair, he said, to give credit
where credit was due.

This was the start of my career as a liar.
It happened like it is written back when I was 11. Though I cannot remember why I wanted to answer the question in the first place.
Here's Anne Briggs and Bert Jansch with Blackwaterside.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

STONEHENGE: 22.12.2015

I am just back from watching the sunrise on the shortest day at Stonehenge.
I like to celebrate the Winter Solstice, but this was the first time I had been to Stonehenge to do so.
 As you can see it was rammed, though not, I was reliably informed, as rammed as the Midsummer Solstice. It was crowded enough for me.
What I like to take from the Midwinter Solstice is a sense of the earth renewing itself, of us swinging toward the long, light nights of May and June.
I can't honestly say that was what I got. 
I had never been so close to the stones and they do have a power to them and I was glad that I had left the house at 5am to experience it.
Next year I shall be somewhere quieter.
Happy New Year to you and yours.
May it be everything you could wish for.


Friday, 18 December 2015

THE FABLED WILD WEST

 
Last post I mentioned that I'd been working on some poems, well here is one, it's about ready for sharing. It is not finished by any means but the bones are there. 

Here we are in the fabled Wild West,
you know the one,
peopled exclusively by white men.
A land that was only new to these invaders,
whose idea of civilisation had no room for others.
So lets play along with the myth
and the story arc of the over the hill gunslinger,
whose lost his nerve and is on one last job,
that leads him to stand outside a door,
wondering if his death waits inside.

Taste his fear, see his hands shake.
He gathers himself, and kicks that door open,
outdraws the bad men
[though he is the one dressed in black]
and frees the farmers, as he was supposed to.
Absorbed in his own legend, he pauses,
watches the farmers fighting back,
is shot in the stomach and dies holding on to wall.

Then there's me, sat in the dark,
right side of the white line,
Saturday afternoon films, 1961.
That scene has stayed with me since,
the film one of my favourites,
perhaps I was just the right age to be impressed,
to buy into their world vision
- this was pre-internet,
before the communication revolution.
I had yet to watch Vietnam unfold
nightly on the tv news,
or to see the American Empire begin to crumble.
The Magnificent Seven is one of my favourite films and recently I had been talking about that scene, the one the poem describes and it led me to write the poem. Robert Vaughan plays the gunfighter but I can't find the clip of his death on line- apologies.
I did however find Annabelle Chvostek singing Racing With The Sun.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

53 YEARS

I have been writing and amending poems this week, none of them though are of a state to share.
Here is a poem  I have been refining for the past month or so.
I read a review of a book that allegedly wanted to prepare us for life after this civilisation collapses, it claimed that it would take one human 53 years to eat the contents of an average supermarket. Facts like that lodge easily in my head.

IN MARJONS LIBRARY

I once read in some book that claimed to chart our failed future
that, theoretically, it would take a single human
53 years to eat the contents of a supermarket,
given electricity, I supposed, and a can opener
and a stove that worked for that long.
I'm on the third floor reading poetry,
when it occurs to me that it would take several lifetimes
to read every book in this library.
When this world is gone, if I am left,
would I be tempted to burn books to keep warm?
I suppose the answer to the question is yes, I would burn a book. Perhaps if we did survive we would turn our backs on the knowledge that the civilisation had been built on. What do you think?
Here's Anna Turnheim singing Goodbye.
And here's another new song.

Monday, 7 December 2015

BROOKE SHARKEY THE NEW ALBUM

Regular readers of this blog will know of Brooke Sharkey.
She is wondrously talented, an amazing songwriter and stupendous singer.
Brooke is currently crowd funding for her new album. You could be part of this exciting movement.
If you click here you can pre order the new CD, donate money or get one of the many unique offers available. You could arrange to have Brooke and her superb band play a concert in your house. This would be an unforgettable experience. I know, she recently did a set in my house and it was unbelievably good.
Brooke is an independent artist, please support her fundraising. 
Why not give someone a unique gift this Christmas?

Saturday, 5 December 2015

HAWK TIME

I don't watch or listen to the news. I stopped do so about 8 years ago, it was making me too anxious and depressed. I used to listen to Radio4 while I ate breakfast, in the car on the way to work, then listen to the midday news and the evening broadcast as I cooked. It was too much. 
I think we are all consumed with rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. We are failing to do what we need to do to save this planet.
I feel better in my state of ignorance.
Thursday evening, for a number of different reasons, I found myself in a place with no internet connection, without my reading glass and with only 2 stations accessible on the television.
I watched the 6pm news broadcast on BBC1.
I wrote this poem yesterday.


NEWSCAST: LEAD STORY

In the blink of an eye
kinetic, aggressively named war planes,
take off then land.
We are shown, we are told,
the jets empty bomb racks.
Cut to Mr. Insincere being almost serious,
he is telling us,
the pilots won't be home for Christmas,
as if he'd let them be anyway.
Listen to his banal words
preparing us for the long haul.
Next we see the newsreaders reassuring face.
Cut to the Parliamentary vote
that has made all this legal.
Note how much airtime is given to the hawks for war,
and try to remember that since 1945,
the majority of people killed in conflicts
have been civilians.

In World War 2 two thirds of the dead were civilian. In the conflicts since 1945 the percentage of non-combatants killed has risen to 90% of the total dead.
We have to do something but I am not sure that bombing is the answer.
We, as a society, ask much of our armed forces. I do not think we offer them enough support when they return from the battle.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

ASH DEAN: GUEST POST

There is much to think about in the poetry of Ash Dean. On the surface it is lyrical but read it for a second time discern what is below the surface. 
Here is a man dedicated to his art. A man who speaks eloquently. Those with ears will hear.
Philosophy informs a lot of my poetry. I think this is the case with most poetry, whether it is acknowledged or not. The human condition, the natural world and how these things co-exist and relate – poetry frames a snapshot of some truth amongst all of this. Truth is always the starting point. To write a poem I need to have something truthful to say and the success of the poem is its ability to communicate this truth to others while retaining its particularity.

I like to immerse myself in all of the arts as I believe they can all gain experience from each other. Poetry is especially transcending. It can combine imagery and melody to tell stories or share ideas. It can be visual, musical and literal in one.

The creative process fascinates me and I often reflect upon it in my monthly blog. As an artist you are constantly dealing with how to capture something almost intangible and make it real. As for finding inspiration, I find the key is to be open-minded, to think deeply and to experience new things. Inspiration doesn’t work on demand for me. I do the aforementioned things and leave it to strike randomly. The trigger experience itself usually becomes the focus of the poem but sometimes the idea is bigger and needs dissecting into a group of poems or, sometimes, worked into a larger narrative in order to realise its potential.

I’m currently working on a conceptual collection, a Bildungsroman running as a linear narrative, which is really stretching my range of style. It is a test to make the collection follow while remaining varied and allowing for the poems to still be effectual individually.

The two poems below are from my Sweden collection. The collection is autobiographical and follows my attempt to settle in the country. When attempting to tap into truth, the best inspiration is a heartfelt experience. What is sometimes difficult is finding the composure to convey it.

Discover all of my poetry for free on my website.


You can also follow me on social media:


Du gamla, du fria  

Residing sleek hillside come drink from the pool, 
Cup volumes and feast without a motion, 
Enliven the lichen that bathes in the cool; 
Become aglow you waken all emotion.  

Young sapling foreseeing bid straight for the sky, 
Cheer softly near flora into fragrance, 
Together sweet millions a beau to espy; 
Allied are we enraptured by your cadence.  

Long sunset go teasingly on till the eyes 
Upon you go slumber to your obit; 
Now merge with the living, the sea and the rise, 
Entrench anew and galvanise our bowsprit.  

Quick lope cracking hearth blind or whip summoned might, 
Mute shackles upon a painted spectre, 
Redress fevered cares with the chill of the night,
Entrap my soul, bequeath it as your sceptre.  

A thawing, oh fawning, do death give to life, 
Transition a peril and a splendour, 
In faith and humility heedless to strife; 
A true romance abided by its labour.  

Inside every kingdom a will plays to rule 
And binds the waif spirit to the landscape. 
This vista vibrates throughout each molecule; 
Propel me forth, command me till the last gape. 

Self-portrait  

Sombre dawn -  
Weighted, packed and clinging 
Is the baggage that remains 
As the near-deserted tunnelbana 
Jolts steadily my leave 
And from Hammarbyh√∂jden 
To Skärmarbrink junction
I see myself in the glaze of a window.  

To stare at one’s reflection 
With no trace of vanity, 
No abstraction, 
To stare at the self
In one certain moment, 
When nothing is certain and all is absurd, 
To stare at the mask of the mind 
That has nothing left,
Just existence, 
Feeling nothing except the absorption of time 
And the haunting eyes
In which time has stopped.  

Give me defeat for it fuels my progression. 
Humiliate me and harden me for losing. 
I fail because of choice itself 
And not the choices I make.  

There is no prescribed way to impart oneself, 
Only that which tests and destroys 
To rebuild and destroy again. 

What would I be
If I had not chanced
Everything I had become?
In every loss
I gain and reap
More than I lost.

This will always be
My eternal hanging.


Both poems copyright Ash Dean 2011.

Friday, 13 November 2015

ALL ACROSS THE ENGLISH ARCHIPELAGO

In true Magpie Bridge tradition the photographs do not match the main poem- but they do reflect the second poem, close but no cigar.
The title of this post is taken from below. But first a couple of lines on its genesis. 
I had the beginning of the poem rolling round my head for a couple of days. A man using his internal dialogue to set his life to rights. I suspect the trees changing to autumn sparked the idea. I left a draft of the first stanza for a week or so then as I revised it I thought it would be interesting to contrast his idealised internal life with a more brutal reality.


In his head it is always summer,
he refuses autumn permission
to taint even a single leaf.
Across impossibly green lawns,
in high ceilinged rooms,
where fans churn stale words,
he replays his life's key events,
pulling his fat from the fire as required.
It is time for drinks on the veranda,
gin slings with friends.

Outside his head rain tattoos the tin roof.
Summer has gone missing,
spring is eighteen months late
and freak weather has reduced his world.
All across the English Archipelago
survivors fear their neighbours,
eat their seed stocks,
worry about the sea level,
or that the water will rise in a moving wall
and sweep them away, once and for all.
Not sure about that last couplet.
I had to loose some interesting lines along the way. At one point there were three stanzas, inside his head, his immediate environment and then the wider world. The second stanza ended with the line: He knows exactly how many food tins remain. But you have to be ruthless.
I was just looking for a decent gin sling recipe but most on line add sugar syrup- a travesty. Essentially a gin sling is 2 parts gin, freshly squeezed lemon juice [to taste], a shake of Agustora Bitters topped up with tonic water. Chill the glass and add ice before you start. 
A brief poem I wrote last Friday after watching a firework display.


percussion
it draws you outdoors
echoes across the houses
hollow
this is how dolphins navigate
in sonic sketches
we are drawn to a street corner
with other humans
to watch fireworks for free
to evaluate each blossom against our memories
it is over too soon
There is something about loud noises echoing off buildings that [for me at least] can confuse.
I was saddened to hear of the death of Allen Toussaint the other day. We have lost a very unique voice. here's a documentary about his life.
Here's my favourite of his lps Southern Nights.
And lastly here's the great Lee Dorsey singing Yes We Can.
Until next time.

Friday, 6 November 2015

STARTLED FINGER PRINTS

Sometimes poems arrive and you have no idea of where they came from. It is as though you were channelling them, the poet as a radio receiver. You will occasionally hear poets saying something similar to this but, though we usually know which events we are choosing to combine, poems are their own entities. Each telling its own truth.
Two thirds of this poem came in a rush and the skill was to make the last part work. There have been many drafts and there may be more to come.


Startled finger prints are the best to lift
off cup, door handle, another's flesh.
The ones that did not expect to be called to account,
are open, honest, and convey a simple story.

Premeditating hands will wish to smear their natural oils
and sweat incomplete or twisted impressions.
They pray to be incomprehensible.
They pray for no detection after the event.

There can be no time for remorse,
if the novels and films are to be believed.
Every surface must be wiped in reverse order,
reflection on the action comes later, if at all.

This is the myth of science they peddle,
all knowing experts reading a room,
a mind, a life, this world,
then telling us God is dead
or was absent in the first place.
How little they know.
As usual I am title less. Any suggestions?
I'm off to see The Mountain Goats in two weeks and I can't wait. Here John Darnielle playing solo.
And here are the band.

Friday, 30 October 2015

CHEEK BY JOWL

I have been travelling this week, seeing family in the north of England. 
This week's poem was written in Leeds and arose out of a conversation I had with my brother as we drove across the city. Have you ever returned to a place you once knew reasonably well but have not visited for some time and found a confusing new road system? 

you have to stay away to appreciate the changes

Night driving across Leeds.
We pass through memories,
more tangible than the houses that stood
where this road now runs.
We talk people, dates last seen, deaths,
divorces, real lives lived, messy,
beautiful, and every stop between.
I watch my reflection
as if it were a character in someone else's film.
Convinced in that instant of other realities,
check by jowl to this one,
then realise that I must inhabit some of them,
as do all these people we discuss,
the missing, the messed up,
who succeed in those other places.
The darkness that fringes the amber street lights
hints at this truth.
This poem is not finished. 
The last two lines need to be laid out properly and some of the enjambment [line endings] need work.
This is Brooke Sharkey singing Come Be Me. What a wonderful voice and those lyrics!

Friday, 23 October 2015

WE'VE ALL BEEN THERE

I keep my poem drafts in a large notebook. I write longhand and I will revise a poem a number of times before I type it up on the computer. I think it is useful to keep a record of a poem's evolution. If I ever loose my way when revising a poem then I can go back to the original idea.
Some poems fall by the wayside in this process, today's poem being one of them. I was looking back through an old notebook and realised that by shifting some of the poem around and by adding line breaks I could complete the poem.

We've all been there.
Isherwood was offered China,
but only if he held his lover's hand and jumped,
that very night, from the Weimer frying pan,
into the fires of the advancing Japanese army.
He chose not to do this.
Perhaps that's why we remember such moments.

The conversation halts,
you look at me across the debris of the meal.
I let that one pass, twice.

Outside the Bluecoat, sunset in your hair
and eyes I could have fallen into.

There have been others,
in those instants there is a nexus.
Maybe this reality we live in
is the negative result of all those opportunities
we didn't take.
The poem refers to Christopher Isherwood's autobiographical book Goodbye To Berlin. He tells how his lover, one night, said they should go to China and leave the horrors of Hitler's Germany behind them. 
Many years after I read the book I was reflecting on the opportunities that we decide not to take and how our lives would have been different if we had.
The Bluecoat is an art centre in Liverpool.
Here's Mikey Kenney and Laura Spark's amazing animation for Council of Owls.
For some reason the full animation isn't on Youtube so here's a link to Vimeo.
Mikey Kenney again with Bottom of the Bottle [all of it this time].

Friday, 16 October 2015

THE NATURAL ORDER?

I've revised the poem from the last post. As I said at the time, I was not happy with the ending and over the last seven days I've altered it a number of times. By Wednesday I had it in what I thought was a reasonable shape and off I went to a Juncture 25 meeting.
I shall not repeat myself about the importance of constructive feedback from people you respect and trust, but I must thank Jinny, Gram and Geoffrey for their input. It has made for a better poem.

IT'S SUNDAY AT THE VICARAGE

After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus carves the joint of British beef.
Blood smears the knife blade.

Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest.
Now he works it out, 5,000 gallons of water and twelve pounds of corn
were needed to grow the amount of flesh
that he has just carved and served.

He loads his fork, pops the meat into his mouth,
and chews upon inevitable future of famine.
Malthus swallows and thinks himself blessed,
the future will not be his problem.
So what has changed? The first line is now the title. I have lost two "clever lines"- secure sinecure, traditional, tory and a man with more angle than a protractor. The first because it echoes the rest of that scene setting opening stanza and the second because though, I think, it's clever, it adds nothing to the poem. You have to be ruthless.

The second stanza has lost the lines: Populations grow faster than the food they eat,/it really is that simple. Removed so as to show rather than tell. I have to watch that I do not fall into that hectoring style in political poems.

Also I think the poem benefits from line breaks. The revised layout allows the poem to breathe. It is always interesting to play with the layout you never know what you may discover.
Only the one poem this week. I have been working for some time now on an idea that is proving more difficult to get a handle on than I would have thought. Watch this space...
Speaking of space the news that the star system KC 8462852 may hold evidence of sentient alien life is very exciting [to me anyway].
I've been listening to John Butler this week. here he is playing The Ocean.
Here's a full set from 2008 at Fort Mason.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

GUEST POST: THE MARJON ARCHIVES

When you say ‘archives’ what do you see in your mind’s eye? Dusty shelves? Ancient papers? Drab grey filing cabinets? That’s what I expected when I came to volunteer. We have those of course, but Marjon archives are so much more than this, resembling more of a tiny museum of various objects from the long history of the university. And we have a long history soon to be nearing 200 years. I could tell you about the famous people we have connections to, or how we were the pioneers in various fields, but as a creative writer I value the stories more. And the archives seems to be endless source of stories. Stories of people, stories of objects, of pictures and stories in books. You walk through the archives and pick up things. What’s that? A letter from a man that wants to resign from his studies because he suffered injuries in WWI. This picture? It’s of a man who travelled here from Africa and became first black school inspector in the times nobody would even dare to talk about equality. This book? By a man who was so sick of seeing poverty in England that he went on a crusade against it. It goes on, stories of men, women and even children that were involved in the life of the university. That’s what I didn’t expect when I first came to the archives. And that is why I am not leaving, because there always is a story to tell.

Thanks Agata for this wonderful insight into a truly fascinating archive.
You can read Agata's excellent blog here.

Friday, 9 October 2015

SUNDAY LUNCH AT THE VICARAGE

This has been a full week, on Tuesday at Marjons we read all the poems we had been workshopping over the summer. I'd like to thank all the poets who were involved. This project may run on yet- watch this space...
This week a poem that I've been thinking about for a long time. It concerns the Reverend Malthus a Victorian mathematician who crops up in another poem.  
The Mathusian Controversy essentially concerns the fact that the human population grows faster than the food that sustains us. Malthus wanted to celebrate the fact that we have made it this far. However, I see that perspective as out of date. That might have been true in Victorian times but it is not now. Beef production is a huge cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

It's Sunday lunch at the vicarage,
traditional, tory, a secure sinecure.
After pious prayers extolling God and all His Saints
to uphold the natural order of white, Anglo-Saxon progress,
the calculating Reverend Malthus
[a man with more angles than a protractor]
carves the joint of British beef,
Malthus has given thanks for this two pound harvest,
blood smears the knife blade.
He has worked it all out with precision,
5,000 gallons of water and ten pounds of corn
were need to grow the amount of flesh
that he has just carved and served.
He loads his fork, pops the meat into his mouth,
and chews upon inevitability, a future of famine.
Populations grow faster than food they eat,
it really is that simple. Malthus swallows thinks that
It is a wonder we ever got this far
This is a work in progress. I am not sure about the ending. Watch this space...

He was a single story, that he dressed to suit the occasion,
ensuring it was peppered with the words of the moment,
and he dined out on it all the rest of his life.
It was never quite enough to get him where he felt he belonged.
Yes, they would take his number but never call back.
He was slick when I met him, but beginning to wear thin.
I was young and very easily impressed, did not notice the frayed cuffs.
First impressions never last and he was on his was soon enough.
The patter ever more hollow. I heard he just disappeared.

This was written quite quickly and is not based on any one person.
This week I've been listening to lots of jazz, especially late period Art Pepper, but I'm going to leave you with Annabelle Chvostek. Enjoy.

Friday, 2 October 2015

THEN THE TREES SING

I was on the university open day trail again the other week. This time we were in Oxford. A city I have known reasonably well since the 1980's. Not the world of the universities but the other reality of the people who live there. 
Do you ever experience memories rushing back into your head when you find yourself back in a space you have known well in the past? It's not deja vu, because the location awakens specific memories. That was my day in Oxford.

Today I have no time for archaeology,
and cannot walk through my history,
or overlay it on this changed location.
I fall through time regardless.

It is a Saturday, one February,
iced over Brasenose Lane, 
me and Leeslide home from the Turves.
All the old glass windows turn ruby.
Then Christine walks up to me,
some pre-children weekend,
and in the fragment of a second,
I can tell you what I was wearing
and she is an eternal twenty three.


Later in the park the trees sing to me.
This is life, no more, no less,
give thanks that you bear witness.
The experience also prompted me to add a second part to a poem I wrote about my previous university open day visits. You can read an earlier draft of the first part here.

UNIVERSITY OPEN DAYS
for Kate

The rain holds off.
Glossy map in hand,
we are steered between
concrete space and lake,
by student ambassadors.

Lecture late [a possible omen?],
we awkwardly slide into vacant seats.
The pitch begins:
we are informed of the academic reputation,
parental fears are prayed on
to push the full board option.
The employability statistics pass me by.
Selection; there can be no barter.
This is not the horse trade,
but a simple statement.
To be considered you must have this.
For me the day dissolves into a series of queues.
We shall be repeating this tomorrow.

2.
And the day shall pass
in a tunnel of self-induced fatigue.
Then we emerge from the third pretend lecture
to find the crowd has swollen to festival proportions,
I spin from one bright eyed convert
to the next smiling advocate,
each bursts with such positive impressions
that I find them hard to believe.

Essentially I have removed a line and broken the poem into two stanzas. 
As for the second part: the first two lines came as I was walking into the first mini-lecture and I simply kept adding to it as the day progressed. You always need to have pen and paper with you, otherwise you'll miss the ideas when they stroll past.
This week I downloaded the new album by Philip Henry & Hannah Martin Live At Calstock- superb. I saw them at Purbeck sandwiched between Martha Tiltson and Richard Thompson, where they were easily able to hold their own in such illustrious company.
Here they are singing an old James Taylor song in Bath.