Friday, 21 April 2017

A COLLECTIVE SIGH

I'm just back from Lisbon. 
I haven't visited the city for about eight years. You can look at the poem my previous visit provoked here.
Actually I jotted down a number of ideas but have only worked this into something like a presentable form.

Lisbon: 16.4.17

she shades her head
with the poly-pocketed
piece of paper
that proclaims her
tour guide status

the
human
crocodile
pauses
turns
on
her
cue
to
take
in
the
view
and
with
a
collective
sigh

resumes its progress
up the steep street
It's good practice to try and capture a scene quickly. You can work on the form later. Initially you simply want to get down those first impressions.
What I did notice this time was the influx of tourists from cruise ships. You have the same phenomenon in Barcelona.
Here is another rough draft. I literally spoke this into my phone as I walked to the supermarket today.

this time around he is a mechanic
who cannot fix cars
and spends his days changing units
as directed by the diagnostic computer

he has always worked with his hands
made the best bows in his tribe
back on the wind scoured step
was twice a watchmaker in France

he has scraped a making table optically flat
metal speaks to him
steel iron bronze
flint and stone as well

now he does as he is told
his eternal self wonders
if this is the lesson of this life
I am not sure I have got an impression of the depth of reincarnation.
Watch this space for updates.
By the way I am posting every two weeks at the moment.
I leave you with Brooke Sharkey. I saw her again a couple of weeks ago and she was stunning.
Here is Bottletop Blues.
And here she is singing Your Tomorrow.
Until next time.

Friday, 7 April 2017

LAST WORD

I think that each of us has a set of archetypes that we mine repeatedly to explain the world around us.
Here is another poem involving Yuri Gagarin and for once it has a title.

Last Word

A terrible loneliness
was how Yuri described
being the first human in space,
up where no one can hear you...
what?
Scream, shout,
or gasp
because you are unable to take in the panoply?

Space is noisy though,
it crackles with hard radiations
and murmurs the echo of the Big Bang.
Wired up wrong, cloth eared,
we just don't pick any of it up
too used to sonic waves in fat atmosphere.

But I don't want to go to space any more,
as I did when I was young.
even as it falls to pieces around me,
I like this place too much,
to ride a controlled explosion
far beyond all that is familiar.

Yuri said that from up there
the world looked so beautiful,
and pleaded we should preserve that beauty.
Down here you can't hear the planet scream,
so we go on killing it.
One day it will speak in a language we all understand.
I do worry that in the developed world we are ignoring climate change at our peril. How many instances of freak weather do we need before we wake up?
On a lighter note Paul Mortimer set the pair of us a task the other day to write a poem using two randomly chosen prompt cards.
Mine read ripped upholstery and a supermodel holding a cat. This is what I wrote.

Artful Entropy

Even the ripped upholstery is displayed with taste.
Tres shabby chic.
Take in the blond waterfall of perfect hair.
She sprawls at ease,
mirrors the cat on her lap.
The fashion edition photo shoot.

The first Saturday of the next month,
sperated as we are by the Pennines,
we will both glance at the magazine's cover,
then you will read the letters page,
while I file away the gardening tips
for a time when they might prove useful.
No idea where it came from. We set ourselves ten minutes for the task. Sometimes a very tight deadline can inspire in unexpected ways.
I leave you with Nature's Way by Spirit.
Thanks Randy, we miss you.
Until next time.

Friday, 24 March 2017

A 1950S SORT OF DAY

This Wednesday I had a surfeit of poetry. I spent the afternoon with the Secret Poets offering and receiving constructive feedback and, although I had forgotten he was coming, the evening with Paul Mortimer doing more of the same. 
With due thanks to everyone I offer you a poem about my grandmother. It was inspired by a photograph I found in a pile of papers and which have managed to mislay again.
That's consistency for you.

Grandma Hanley

She sits black and white,
as stern as history,
centre of the photograph.
Square black shoes.
Polished of course.
At her waist the deaf aid
that whistled it's way through my childhood.

About my age now,
after a life so much harder then mine,
she faced the lens.
Photography must have been
a more serious business back then,
I can't align this image with my memories of her.
Perhaps it was a 1950s type of day,
when the past sat heavy on her shoulders,
with a weight that was too much.

She shrank as I grew,
her mind slowly left her body behind,
to wind down in its own time.

These two photographs capture her better.
Me and Paul were talking about slang and looking through some slang dictionaries. He delighted in the phrase: "hotter than a two dollar pistol" but I'm ashamed to say I have beaten him to the draw in using it.

We are talking about Jim Thompson,
how he's hotter than a two dollar pistol,
and just as valued by the literary elite.
Then I go upstairs to find his book to lend you.
I've always tended to leave
whatever I used to mark my place inside the book,
and out of its pages flutter two thick, blue tickets:
David Bowie, Cardiff Arms Park.
So that's the memento and this is the memory:
it was a Sunday in June thirty years ago,
I went with Christine, before we had the kids.
She'd never seen him and oh, how we danced. 
And that was how it happened, and here are the tickets.
I suppose I should end with a Bowie song so here is Let's Dance.
Until next time.

Friday, 17 March 2017

EPICUREAN MIGRANT

I recently spent a very enjoyable weekend on a poetry retreat with The Secret Poets. We each led a workshop and out of one came this post's poems.
During said workshop we were asked to go out into the garden and write about what we found. These are my observations.

The Rosemary

Bought and brought over here
to enrich our palette,
this epicurean migrant may have taken root,
but is still so out of step with the seasons
that these delicate blue flowers
colour this January day.
The Romans brought thyme to the British Isles, I had to check that on line.
Here is a second observation.

Every tree in this orchard plays statues
winter cannot entice a single leaf to show
this is not their time, so they wait
stand stock still until the first notes of spring.
This third brief note is perhaps the one most in need of work.

Guinea fowl in sudden motion

lickterty – split freedom

leaves the hen coop behind

such action carries a cost

the cold fox's hungry eye
I was attempting to capture the dangers inherent in freedom. Not sure it does it. 
However the idea of simply putting yourself in a different place and just looking is excellent practice. Sometimes we need to the stimulus of new surroundings.
Here is Melissa Laveaux. Enjoy
Until next time.

Friday, 10 March 2017

dirt brown tea

How this poem came about is told in the first stanza. I was taking down the Christmas decorations and I was reminded of an event from 1975. The secret in such circumstances is to have a pen and paper handy. Thankfully I did have.

Taking Down the Decorations

Then I am reminded of August '75,
a cottage in Kerry, an invitation from a man,
probably no older than I am now.

After banana sandwiches and dirt brown tea,
he showed us his parlour
made up like Christmas Day.

You won't remember '75,
eclipsed as it was by the next year's heat wave,
but it was a more perfect summer.

The half closed curtains sculptured the sunlight,
bouncing off those mirrored surfaces
with an intensity I have never seen since.

I take the angel off the tree,
box up the string of lights,
pack away the stray memories.
There really was man who brightened his house every August with Christmas lights and decorations. 1975 was a stunning summer, without the water shortage drama of the following year. 1976 is the one we always remember.
I just wanted to capture the process of how thoughts blossom randomly.
Hurray For The Riff Raff has just released a new lp, The Navigator. Here's Pa'lante.
I'm off to listen to the whole thing, as it's just arrived through the post.
Until next time.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

DECOMPASSION CHAMBER


Today's post came about from the idea of someone needing assistance to end a relationship. The idea that they could not deal with the guilt of ending it. A play on words of decompression chamber: a decompassion chamber.
The poem was not straight forward. I had to remove a stanza [that I liked but] which confused the narrative.

I need a de-compassion chamber.
Want this guilt excised
before it can bubble up inside my brain
and bend my body back towards herself
who is crying at the end of this telephone line.

On/off – off/on
the light switch of my indecision
makes for a familiar circuit.
We settle for possible second best.
I may leave her yet.
I admire people who can sustain their poetic vision for more than twenty lines as I rarely can. That said any poem is only as long as the kernel of the idea will sustain.
Maggie Roche died recently. I was always a fan of The Roches. Especially the first and third albums. Here they are from 1983 singing Hammond Song.
And here they sing Mr. Sellack.
Until next time.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

GUEST POST: THE CIRCUS DIARIES

We all know that special interest subjects need the support of their communities to survive, so here is a guest post from Katharine Kavanagh, a fellow writer who publishes the only English language website dedicated to circus critique, TheCircusDiaries.com.

I started writing The Circus Diaries as a solo blog in 2013 because I was fed up of never being able to find any information on the subjects I was interested in - contemporary circus. I was amazed by how many other people obviously felt the same frustration, as my viewing numbers went up very quickly and now, four years on, are at around 4500 views a month. Not bad for such a niche subject!


What started as a hobby has gradually taken over my life and, when people ask me what I do now, I tell them I’m a circus writer. The difficulty is, how to make such a career pay? 
It’s really important to me to keep the site ad-free to avoid any perceived conflict of interests if I had to review a company or performer who also paid to advertise (I like to think I’d be fair, of course, but people might not see it that way and it could affect my reputation). I don’t want to put up a paywall for the service, as it was a desire for open access information that inspired me to get started in the first place.

So, what to do…

I figured that, if this was a service that people get benefit from - and the hit rates, comments and thank-you emails confirm they do - then perhaps these people might be willing to pay for the service, like you would a traditional magazine subscription? The solution was Patreon. Regular readers can contribute towards the costs of producing the content that they enjoy, whilst the one-off web wanderer can still find the articles and reviews for free.
Patreon is crowd-funding with a difference - there’s not a one-off goal to achieve, but an ongoing relationship based upon production of relevant and interesting content.

Of course, I’m always looking for more Patrons, and the minimum pledge is only $1 (about 80p to those of us in the UK!). You can cancel at any time if you don’t think you’re getting value for your money - or, on the other hand, you can increase your subscription accordingly!

If you’ve not heard of this platform before, why not sign up and check it out? If creatives can’t help each other out, how can we expect anyone else to?’

To see how it all works, sign up for circus updates direct to your inbox at https://www.patreon.com/thecircusdiaries

Saturday, 25 February 2017

TWO UNBLINKING MAGPIES

I've had a busy, poetry focused week. Thanks to The Secret Poets and to Paul Mortimer for their support and constructive feedback. Without quality constructive feedback we are less than is possible.
I wanted to call this first poem: The Devil to Pay and No Pitch Hot. I think I am too attached to this rather obscure phrase. It is an old navel term meaning an unpleasant outcome from an action, which fits the poem but may be too abstract.

Two unblinking magpies stand off a gull.
In the age of great waste
every resource is contested.

Out of the spilled bin rises
a mountain of half eaten food.
We throw away so much.

The gull screeches, feints,
The magpies motionless, wait.
They play a long game.

I have stopped to gawk.
A third magpie lands.
Outgunned, the gull departs.

Stock still, peripheral,
a crow bides time.
This is not nearly over.
The idea came to me after I had watched two magpies stand off a gull. I literally sat down and wrote the poem. Many heads have spent much time editing it. Thanks to all.
Here is a revised poem. It has been made tighter by the judicious removal of three the's, the addition of a line break and the compression we are into we're.
You can read the original version here.

1974

I spend more time on the green buses
travelling there, or coming back
than I do where I am going.
There is the occasional milky coffee,
chipped cups in bus station cafés,
windows misted, cigarette smoke and coughing old men.
The park is empty.
Sun slopes through trees,
reddens the lake and municipal ducks.
Winter comes calling.
My patch pocket, button front, black loons
are no match for this lazy wind.
I don't know where
or what we eat,
but we're either at The Grand, or the Beer Keller,
or in a doorway kissing.
Once in a while your house is empty.
I say I love you.
I have no idea what those words mean.
I have been listening to Elvis Costello's Spike album. Here is what surely must be one of the best songs he ever wrote.
Until next time.

Friday, 17 February 2017

SUN TIPPED SPEARS


As usual no correlation between images and words. I think this is the house style of this blog.
I was talking to my mother in law the other day and she happened to mention that her daffodils had been tightly closed first thing that morning and over the day they had opened without her seeing them do so. This set me off thinking.

First Daffodils

sun tipped spears
hold a miser's delight
and over a day
in slow motion
they cash in their gold
to shower the room
with the promise of summer
This draft was reduced from this

First Daffodils

sun tipped spears
hold a miser's delight
and over a day's slow motion
-less when you look
they open
cash in their gold
to shower the room
with the promise of summer to come
As you can see I have removed the last 2 words. I believe the poem reads the same whether they are present or not. So out they went. I also removed the play on words around slow motion/less. I liked it but I felt it confused the flow of the poem. Most of the time less is more.
I leave you with Anna Terheim live last month.
Until the next time.

Friday, 10 February 2017

HID BENEATH THE SUN

A revised poem this post. You can read the original draft here.
Thanks go to Paul Mortimer for assistance with the revision. 
I think the poem is has a clarity that it lacked previously.


He carried a torch for me
far longer than was healthy.
I knew this by the cards,
and the telephone's pleading cry in the night
eventually I did not answer.

Forty years would pass before I watched
his father cross Bold Street,
and I saw the man he had grown into.
Seated in the anonymous window
of a nameless tea-house,
I hid beneath the sun
that sucked the light from his hand
I did not rush outside,
nor did I think of him again.
It has no basis in reality. The ideas had been swimming about in my head for some time and they came together on the page.
I have been listening to Tracey Thorne's first solo lp a lot recently. Here's EBTG.
Here's Plain Sailing.
Until next time.

Friday, 3 February 2017

1974

I spent the other weekend with the Secret Poets on a writing retreat. It was both great fun and very productive. Here's a poem that came from one of the writing workshops. We had to focus on a specific year and try to put ourselves back there in the moment. 
It was surprisingly easy to do once I got going. We were asked to write down a sentence in response to a series of questions. The poem had to be 20 lines long.
This is my take.

1974

I spend more time on the green buses
travelling there, or coming back
than I do where I am going.
There is the occasional milky coffee,
chipped cups in bus station cafés,
windows misted, cigarette smoke and coughing old men.
The park is empty.
The sun slopes through the trees,
reddens the lake and the municipal ducks.
Winter comes calling.
My patch pocket, button front, black loons
are no match for this lazy wind.
I don't know where or what we eat,
but we are either at The Grand, or the Beer Keller,
or in a doorway kissing.
Once in a while your house is empty.
I say I love you.
I have no idea what those words mean.
The set of answers left me with a series of images from 1974 that I wove into the above poem. I think it may be near completion.
Sadly I have not been able to find any photographs from the time on my hard drive. You are presented with some photographs of the New Bridge instead.
I've been listening to Ryley Walker recently. His third album had some good write ups, though I could do without the hyperbole. Why is it we have to compare new musicians to older artists? Is it to make the job of selling them easier?
Here he is playing Roundabout.
And here he is live.  
He's touring in May. Should be worth seeing.
Until next time.

Friday, 27 January 2017

FAITH AS WELL

Apologies for reusing a photograph I've already posted but strangely enough I have few pictures of scaffolding. In actual fact I have one photograph of scaffolding.
Last Friday I was in a friend's car and we had to stop for a lorry loaded with scaffolding equipment to manoeuvre into place so as to make the  unloading easier. I happened to say "You need optimism to be a scaffolder". I was thinking of the times I have seen them balancing on bars to construct these amazing frames inside which something will happen. This set me thinking
You Have to be Optimistic to be a Scaffolder

Balanced on a horizontal bar.
Up there, in the zone,
bolting in a supporting spar,
you need the knowledge, faith as well,
to sketch a safe perimeter,
build another’s workspace,
and when the tower is assembled,
and when the learning‘s done,
like a strip of film run
the wrong way through the projector,
piece by piece, you take it down,
to construct the next nurturing shell,
which in its turn you’ll dismantle,
to start from scratch again.

I think it is a pretty straight forward poem. It is not yet complete. It requires work-watch this space [as you would scaffolding being erected].
Here's Bottle Top Blues by Brooke Sharkey. It's just been released as a single.
Until next time.

Friday, 20 January 2017

SHE MAY SPEAK TO YOU

This is a self portrait by Ofelia Marques, a Portuguese artist. I was recently looking through a catalogue I'd picked up in Lisbon years ago and the drawing caught my eye.
Originally I attempted to write a found poem using the potted biography that accompanied the picture. It was obviously translated from the Portuguese:

another factor that led to the misreading of her;
yet more attentive observation of her drawings suffices to reveal the plastic value of her line;
she helps herself to the lexicon used by each artist;
in an appropriation of his register;
the profound silence that circumscribed her entire oeuvre demands rethinking.

There was more, it mainly focused on the fact that she had not had children, implying [to my eyes, at least] that this was a failure. 
Looking again at these rich lines I may well turn them into a poem.
Anyway this is my humble offering to Ofelia Marques.


the artist as a novelty act
defined by her inactive womb
written off some fifty years before
not to be taken seriously at all

but take a moment
look beyond the frame of history
she may speak to you
as she talks to me
Last time I was in Lisbon there was an exhibition of the 60's on. This is fitting as 50 years ago today The Beatles were in the studio recording A Day In The Life [they worked on the song 19/20 January and 3/10 February 1967].
Sargent Pepper was the second lp I ever bought. I was 11 at the time it was released and while it has not stood the test of time as well as Revolver, Abbey Road or Magical Mystery Tour, A Day In The Life is awe inspiring...

Friday, 13 January 2017

HARDLY A RIPPLE

 
 I have been revising the poem featured in the last post. I was not happy with the character's motivation and felt that her back story needed to be more fully described. I think there is a fine line between giving just enough information and telling not showing. I hope I have not crossed it.
It is always illuminating to share your work with people you trust and respect. Just listening to someone else read your words aloud can be very useful. It was at the behest of the Secret Poets that I set to work to alter the poem.

Pinned by an arrow through her heart until it broke,
she had pulled herself off the splintered shaft
then considered the alternatives;
to settle for the less than perfect;
to mend and make do in this little town.
She got herself an education instead,
almost accidentally traced the currents in the confluence of events
that had led her and him to stand on that bridge,
fasten a padlock to the handrail
and each to cast their key into the sunset water,
for they knew they would never unlock their love.

Council cuts meant that the bridge went unpainted.
The allegedly rustless lock now tainted by atmosphere.
Her levering screwdriver dragged the shackle
screaming from an eight year sleep,
then it became a weight on her palm,
she turned her wrist,
the broken mechanism rushed towards the water.
There was hardly a ripple.
I also set to altering line lengths, which I think adds to the drama of the poem. A poem needs to breathe but still have its own dynamic. This can be a tightrope walking act.
Here is Midlake, sadly missed since Tim Smith was asked to leave the band. What a genius he is, and where is he now?