Saturday, 1 December 2012

In The Company Of Poets

You'll have noticed that Christmas is coming up, and if you're anything like me (and why wouldn't you be?) you probably haven't got around to buying any gifts yet.

If I had a new book or pamphlet I wanted to plug, I would be doing so in screaming bold caps RIGHT NOW.  Unfortunately, that's not really the case and the only non-deleted commercially available item I can point you towards is this anthology here, which was published as a celebration of the London poetry scene and also to mark 21 years of the Torriano Meeting House.  As well as two poems by me (one of which goes into a lot of detail about my mis-spent youth in a manner I find embarrassing now) there's work by John Hegley, Paul Birtill, David Floyd, John Heath-Stubbs, the God-like genius Jeremy Reed, Labi Siffre (yes, that Labi Siffre), the under-rated Brian Docherty, and a whole ton of other capital-dwelling poets besides.  At 300 pages long, it's a weighty old tome.

It's still available in most good bookstores, particularly independent ones, but the Internet is your friend here too.  It won't disappoint anyone in your family who enjoys poetry.

(UPDATE - faulty link corrected. Never, ever try to update two different blogs at once, that's my motto from now on)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Morning Star & Stoke Newington Lit Fest Christmas Assembly

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing at the Morning Star & Stoke Newington Literary Festival on 8 December.  This promises to be a packed and exciting line up of poets, including:

Perry Benson
Tim Wells
Anne Brechin
Sophia Blackwell
Niall O'Sullivan
Emlyn Hugill
Graham Bendel
Matthew Hedley Stoppard
Jah-Mir Early
Nicola Gledhill
Charlotte Henson

Plus a short talk about the upcoming Fifth Monarchist film by Ian Bone and Suzy Gillett.

Once again, I'll be DJ'ing and won't be performing myself, so please don't drop by in the expectation that I'll be taking the mic, as one person did on the last occasion!  But what myself and fellow DJ's John The Revelator and Graham Bendel will bring you is the best vintage sounds we can muster from our vinyl collections, with the usual merry mixture of freakbeat, mod, soul and funk noises.  It shall be good.

For those of you who Facebook, the invite page is here.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Girl From The End of The Line

Despite the bubbling meat of
chat between us, the
inexplicable way we start
chewing facts and cannot
stop making correlations in our
tastes, you’re digging for a
wishbone to pull together so
you can pray for escape from this
block headlines hostage situation.
We just get hungrier,
dig deeper in.

Despite the support we’ve
provided each other, the
flesh hook fingers
dragging each other out of
manholes, the common
clunk trip of scuffed shoes on
city pavements don’t send us
sailing towards the cushion of
each other.  The bone-shattering
occurs.  You bite down on your
lip without the comfort of anaesthetic.

Despite the rules I was told,
the modern facts I think I know,
the way things should be,
I don’t find you attractive.
Tomorrow you’ll get the train home.
Next week you’ll tell your friends
I’m a hypocrite and an arsehole.
Today I’ll beat you to it.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Year In Morse

(Sometimes you find yourself in the weird position where a poetry magazine says they're going to publish your work in their forthcoming issue... then there's a great long silence as you wait for the issue to emerge... Then it becomes apparent that what originally seemed to be abnormally long gap between publication dates was actually a literary journal's equivalent of a hospice stay rather than a pleasant holiday in southern Spain.

Er... the magazine died a death, ceased publication and never ran the poem, that's what I'm trying to say in plain English.  And by the time I became aware of the situation and had the opportunity to do something else with it, I felt that I'd moved on slightly and I couldn't be bothered anymore.  That's no reason for you all not to see it, though).

There were no barriers anymore.
I’d reached the point of
“no looking back”, and the
future was also unclear.
The beach was a
pebble-dashed wall
pushed on its side.
The sun caught the
wings of an aircraft,
full of oblivious,
invisible extras in our scene.
Flash.  Flash.  Flash.  Stop.

You stood there
with a strawberry and cream
sunburn, a barcode on a
trash youth novel with a
luminous pink jacket.
There was some
hiccupping laughter
over by an arcade
machine with a
spinning metallic
sphere inside.
Click, click, click.  Drone.

There wasn’t much to do.
We were there holding hands
for the sake of it,
staying at home
with the curtains drawn,
starting sentences with the
phrases “do you think”,
“what about” and “so what if”,
then saying goodbye without
grudges when we hit on “the solution”.
The tongue of the door
kissed the latch
delicately as I left,
tripping its way over the
top lip sensitively but
without passion.
Click.  Click.   Goodbye.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Richard Tyrone Jones Has A Big Heart

Wednesday night saw me head out to watch Richard Tyrone Jones's "Big Heart" show at the Deptford Albany.  This is a show which has had a long and unpleasant gestation period, with many horrible pokes and stabs taken by fate along the way.  Over two-and-a-half years ago now, Richard staged his own poetry funeral at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, resting in a coffin as various other poets paid tribute to his life and his work, and a posse of weeping widows stood around aimlessly.  It was a spectacularly well organised event which I covered in very slight detail here (on my old blog - a lot of time has passed, you see, and nobody uses Livejournal anymore) but for all the slickness, the poetry itself felt faintly crowbarred in and occasionally disjointed from the main theme.  As we left the venue, Paul Birtill turned to a friend and I and quipped that Jones had very dangerously tempted fate by staging a humorous funeral, and we all wandered off to the pub afterwards to drink some beers and laugh at the very notion.

Perhaps Birtill knows more about life and the way it works than anyone else does - and that's a scary thought in itself - for not long after this event Richard collapsed with heart failure, having unknowingly inherited a rare condition.  The show "Big Heart" takes in months of hospital stays, weakened health, the lingering possibility of death, and his eventual recovery.  In the hands of most poets, this would be a deeply depressing show which spent an hour wading through a swamp of torturous misery (Ted Hughes' poems about heart failure, for example, are strong pieces of work but wouldn't have enough charm to keep an audience occupied if stretched for sixty minutes). In fact, had the same chain of events happened to me, I doubt very much I could have squeezed a reasonable show out of it.  Fortunately, Richard has a finely tuned sense of the absurd, which has possibly been sharpened still more by being put through the mill in this way.  Encounters with coke fiends in the same hospital ward, nurses he was (quite literally) fatally attracted to, and the absurdities of being in somebody else's care are all explored.  Whilst some of the show is undoubtedly touching, thought provoking and bleak, he has still created an event with the required amount of peaks and troughs to make it a rewarding rather than hectoring experience. He is humorous about the situations his condition threw him into - even having to return to live with his parents in Dudley, which you end up suspecting was the worst deal of all from the portrayal he delivers - and charming enough to come across as a sympathetic and rounded person rather than self-indulgent human (a rare quality amongst spoken word artists).

A few technical problems paid an unwelcome visit to the live show that I saw, but the improvised jokes around these were actually sharp and funny and showed a performer who obviously now has total control of his environment.

As for the idea of a one-man poetry show being strung along one central theme, I still freely admit I have some issues with this, though have grown to accept that spoken word artists (and comedians) like producing them because it makes promoting their shows a lot simpler.  Often these events use the theme as a loose springboard and fail to stick to the concept enough, or the concept will take its toll on the writer, and some sub-standard poetry will start to slip in just because it's thematically relevant.  "Big Heart" is probably one of the better shows I've seen for managing to find an adequate balance, and Richard manages to put poems into the show which are not dull, singular narratives taking the poetry hack's predictable A-B route of semi-joking self-pity combined with Jongleurs level comedic quips.  Much of the set is strong, thoughtful poetry which is interesting and layered enough to stand up on the page (as all poetry should).

In short, this show did have some pointers for me as to how I'd like to see full-length poetry shows develop in future.  There is room for wit and humour as there is for the touching and personal, and there's no need for the performer to be afraid of big, poetic ideas while he's at it.  I'd probably still prefer to hear Richard Tyrone Jones do a set of mix-and-match material, but as I said all those years ago, I'm a tedious purist - and what his show did was prove that poetry does have a very valid place as a theatrical experience rather than being forever shunted into rowdy pub back-rooms.

Catch his show if you can.  A list of future dates is available here.  

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Idea

It's National Poetry Day today! Of course, this makes absolutely no difference to me whatsoever as a poet - nobody has booked me for a gig this year, and as there's barely a day where I don't think about poetry or a poem I'm writing, a special occasion for the form does feel a bit like a Busman's Holiday.  

Still, it's a chance for people who wouldn't normally consider delving into poetry to spend a few moments considering its many merits, and given that it remains a very fringe art form there's nothing wrong with that.  If anything, I wish a slightly bigger deal was made of it, with more broadcasting outlets than Radio Four involved. Was there really no room for BBC4 to do something tonight, for example?  (It's the least we should expect.  Even a poetry programme way outside prime time would have been a start.)  

Annoyance with the BBC aside... whilst I could, if I wanted, allow the day to pass without a blog update, I'd probably end up feeling a bit left out.  So please find "The Idea" below.  This was a common feature of live performances about four or five years ago but has fallen out of the set for now - it's unpublished and there's no reason why it shouldn't be in the public domain.  Enjoy.

The Idea

It sleeps in the desk drawer,
but only for a year; you can’t
keep mediocrity down.
Fate has decreed your
clumsy hand will
chance upon it in the dust,
in the dead skin from the
wrought-out hand-wringing
sessions of blocked days.

It never seems like much at first,
but always has the air of “something”,
so you walk outside with it, and
watch as hungry for attention it
grabs the faces of passers-by,
pulls at their lips, seems to
force them to say
“What a fantastic idea!” and
“How did you come to it?” and
“Who’d have thought!” and you
smile, nod, accept praise
at this stage, pretend
you’d thought of it yesterday.

Word gets around.
This something is more than something.
Journalists are most excited.
Sponsors ring you on the phone.
Dictators quote you in speeches.
Before you know where you are,
London Underground have signs
reading “This station is
closed at X hour, for that is
when the man with the novel
idea walks past, and we
cannot cope with the
congestion of people
clamouring for his attention.”

Your photo in the paper
reveals a grin as false
as a school photo snap smile, a
protractor forced down
between your lips.
You have touched the hearts and
souls of many with a
dusty, half-formed reject of an
idea, and this is the
price you pay – to be
known for it, to
talk about it
until the day you die,
knowing it will surely
outlive you.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Two Extracts From The Modern Museum of Love Poetry

“Don’t you understand?”
she asked.
“I am the bar or
restaurant in your town
advertised as
‘difficult to find
 but impossible to forget’,
ignored by everyone.

I am the distant
farmhouse seen from the
night-time highway,
flashing my warm
lounge lights to you
behind bushes and trees, a
flickering morse code of
desire.  Please try to
learn to read me.”

(The above poem was found in an unopened envelope with the words “Not known at this address” stamped on it).

“Don’t you love me?”
the rival scribbled.
“I am the blinding
spotlight in your face, the
radiance that creates
only black holes around me,
I have the heat of a
million suns but I mainly
use it to warm myself. 

I am the future you’ve
always wanted, the
girl beneath every slogan, the
direction you can’t
help but look in.
I need you to love me,
just like everyone else”.

(This poem was found in a heart-shaped scrapbook with all the letters and poems from an up-and-coming young actress, complete with glossy magazine articles documenting her career).

Sunday, 2 September 2012

As Bread To My Flesh - 9 September

Hello there.  I would think that the graphic above explains this update far better than any additional text of mine could, but just in case you need it spelt out - I will be performing at The Yard Theatre in Hackney Wick at 6pm on Sunday 9th September.

In case you need further persuasion, besides the great line-up above you'll get a chance to sup up the atmosphere of The Yard bar, part of a relatively new arts space in East London which is doing a great deal to stage radical and interesting new theatre works.

I hope to see some of you there - if you're on Facebook, the events page can be found here.  

Friday, 31 August 2012

Mellow Yellow

I went to the Forest Poets open mic night at Walthamstow Library yesterday.  There were two good reasons behind my visit – firstly, Rob Auton performed some of his Edinburgh Show “Yellow” for the benefit of his fellow local residents for the first time, and secondly, it’s very rare for me to get a chance to see the talent in my local area showcased.

With regards to Rob Auton, if you haven’t seen him perform by now, you really should do.  Anyone with even a passing interest in how comedy poetry can be inventively and brilliantly performed and delivered should either drop by at “Bang! Said The Gun” to see him read, or make an effort to attend a full-length gig of his. Kate Copstick recently gave him a good review at the Edinburgh Festival which nonetheless frustrated me in that it actually appeared to undersell his abilities, and I made a rather terse comment on Facebook to that effect.  Faced with the same challenges, however, I can sympathise with her predicament as a critic.  His style is incredibly difficult to put into words without making him sound like another whacky novelty poet with some puns attached.  In reality, Auton’s world is innocent, child-like, clownish, surreal and idiotic (with perhaps a dose of idiot-savant attached), and just as it’s difficult to explain to somebody who has never seen Spike Milligan, Tommy Cooper or Vic and Bob perform what they do or how it works, his style sets endless challenges for critics.
The “Yellow” show, then, is an entire comedy poetry set based on the colour yellow and the humour, appreciation and oddness that can be derived from that hue.  Auton’s riffing and punning around the topic really shouldn’t work across two poems, never mind more, but he’s inventive and imaginative enough to roll with it and succeed, baking up ludicrous scenarios about hiding himself away behind a fortress of Shredded Wheat boxes in a supermarket, or philosophising around the general worth of the grapefruit. His performances are always great room-dividers with audience members either loving what he does or being utterly confounded by it, but in a world of cut-and-paste, slick and fashionable young panel show wannabes, he’s an absolute eccentric gem, a rare example of a comedian (and indeed spoken word artist) who is willing to go out on a limb and managing to succeed whilst doing so.

The open mic session that followed was terrifying in that it suddenly revealed a whole host of talent which obviously hasn’t made it to many of the open mics or poetry shows in Central London yet.  Twelve years ago when I first began my journey into live poetry, open mic sessions were predictable and familiar affairs – poets roamed like herds of wildebeest from one event to the next, and you would frequently see the same faces in Earls Court that you saw in Islington the previous week, often honing exactly the same material.  It’s a testament to the increased popularity of live poetry events now that localised pockets of talent seem to have developed, meaning scores of different faces are guaranteed at each event.  There were very few examples of bad poetry on display last night (apart from perhaps my misguided attempt to introduce my interesting “Princess Diana” poem to the proceedings) and I suspect that the Zone 3 location of Walthamstow also put some of the circuit's most talentless attention-seekers off attending. If a journey is involved and there’s not likely to be any promoters to impress in the audience at the other end, it seems to act as a good deterrent. 

I’ve lived in Walthamstow now for twelve years (on and off) and whilst I often want to take pride in my local area, certain aspects – the questionable activities of the local council, the lack of arts or entertainment venues, some of the worst neighbours I’ve ever had in my life, dodgy landlords – have pushed me close to phoning Pickfords to move elsewhere.  Events like this open mic reminded me that there is a huge groundswell of talent in the area, as well as some very friendly and engaging people. It’s also useful to remember that areas like Walthamstow are actually where a lot of the least cynical and calculating creativity happens.  The new-found competition and careerism in spoken word can sometimes feel burdensome too, even if I acknowledge that it is necessary to an extent.  Events like this take live poetry back to its community roots and hopefully do a good job of reminding us all why it felt so good to be involved in the circuit in the first place - a win/win situation.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Collector's Riddle

And in the sixties
with the music
and the youth explosion
came greater
freedom of choice.

So now you’ve
found that one –
that album
with depth
where notes
volley up on
bass notes to
elevate you
beyond these
four beige walls,
where rhythms
surprise like
de-railed express
trains jolted
from certain
commuter paths
and into the
dark, exciting,
wild wood beyond
will you
always play it?

Will you stay
with it, will
you cherish it as
much when the
marks, the
scratches pop,
crackle and
click like
arthritic limbs,
when the needle
has scraped
away the
soft subtleties,
when the grooves
lock and fail to
progress fluidly,
skipping over
coherent ideas and
repeating themselves?

Or will you
leave it on the
shelf, longing to
be slapped awake by a
younger, newer
noise, or
something daintier,
lighter, the
work of someone
who never grew
with you, was
never there
when you needed them,
and never formed the
backdrop, the
answer to your life?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Behind The Yellow Line

(I think I'm right in saying this was one of the few poems I wrote whilst I was gallivanting around Australia. At this point the creative juices really weren't flowing very well, and there was nobody about who was willing to give me the necessary kick up the backside.  

I ended up reading this a couple of times when I returned to London, then forgetting all about it.  Should I have?  Well, should I have?  Oh, who knows?)

…and she muttered something
about missed opportunities, then
she said: “sometimes
I think the lines on my
face are old battle trenches,
or perhaps nonsense
words of X, Y and Zs
scraped by an
illiterate child on an
empty English beach,
and sometimes I think I
speak no more sense
than those.

And sometimes, when I
gaze at myself in the
mirror under the
overcrowded, blonde
antiseptic light, I
see forgotten numbers to
disconnected phones
etched into my scalp.

And I have travelled so
much I hear their voices
taunt me all the time.
They say
‘stand behind the yellow
line, another train will be
along shortly’, and ‘just
think, if you lived
here you’d be
home already’”.

Sunday, 5 August 2012


I place my money on nothing anymore.
I have reached the stage where I
don’t expect or anticipate
even the unexpected, I just
sit waiting to drift across the
soundwaves of others
talking in this room.
They fill it until it is one
dense block of chopping
blabber, the note of people
telling extraordinary stories in
very ordinary, polite ways
being a drone of Middle C.

I just pray that one day
these tones will push me into the
trance that delivers the
key moment – that the
conversations about last night’s
television, this year’s lust
figure, and expletive-spittled
observations about idle Chairmen of
various Boards, these things will
ascend me to higher
Western knowledge, then I
shall be fit to walk these streets.

I believe in nothing
anymore, and I still drift
through the city unnoticed
living on sheer chance.
It is actually nothing to
write home about,
but I frequently do.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Swinging London

(I originally wrote this piece years ago as a parody of both the "Choose Your Own Adventure" book series and the stagnant landfill-indie gig scene which then seemed to dominate London.  Much of it probably already seems dated and irrelevant, but actually, so much of it still isn't.  There really are still this many useless bands out there, and some of them have even enjoyed some popularity.  So never mind, I say - here it is again).

Swinging London (an adult Choose Your Own Adventure game)

This mission – should you choose to accept it, adventurer – will only need one die.  It is your task to attempt to find originality, excitement and wonder on the talent-crowded London gig circuit, which you must sign to your newly formed indie label Single Sock Records.  With so much cutting edge talent to choose from in the Capital, you’ll need a keen pair of eyes and ears, and perhaps a bit of luck too!



You go to see
Blind Box playing at the NME Spotlight Night at the Unigate Dairy Club. They are a band with two guitarists, a singer, and a drummer. The singer, Peter Variable, has a floppy fringe with spikey hair nearer the back, which has been dyed a sickly shade of tarmac black. It looks rigid and plastic, strangely inflexible. He wears eyeliner in a panda-ish way that would look profoundly ridiculous on a woman.

Their songs, such as “No Rest”, “Scarlet Trains”, and “Missed Again” are melodramatic affairs filled with epic choruses, rather like the ones the Manic Street Preachers used on “Everything Must Go”, but stripped of any string arrangements. The verses and middle eights are just distractions, mere afterthoughts that lead up to the Epic Choruses.

The lead singer is static on stage but screws his brow up at every intense bit, as if he’s trying to force drops of emotion from his performance rather like a dehydrated man attempting to wring drops of water out of a stone dry sponge.

A posh girl next to you instigates conversation. In fifteen seconds time, she will say “My boyfriend’s in a band. They’re called The Korova Bandits. They’ve been tipped for the top by Jonathan King. Have you heard of them?”

You leave. Adventure Over.

You go to see
Couldbe Queens play the Jump up and Dance Brothers Sisters and Aliens!!! Night in the Ploughshed. They are some sort of dated Electroclash band with a keyboard player, a singer and two obvious ex-drama students whose precise roles are rather unclear. They wear tight leather and make-up, and pull a variety of slightly camp faces which have clearly been learnt through careful study, both from bad drag queens and the mirrors in their bedrooms.
Their songs, such as “Your Mother’s Desecrated Ass”, “Motorbike Queen”, and “I Know Where To Shove It”, are all pounding electronic numbers where lyrical and musical subtlety is not at any point an option. One of the members, whose name appears to be Needles, spends much of the gig threatening individual members of the audience to a fight. At one point, he throws what appears to be urine at someone. It turns out to be Lucozade, though. Everyone is most amused, as well as being visibly relieved. Rock and roll!

The man stood next to you instigates a conversation, and in fifteen seconds time he will say “Do you know where I could score some coke?”

You leave. Adventure Over.

You go to see
The Lotion play the Go Johnny Gogogo Night at the Cow and Flagon. They are a band with two guitarists, a singer, and a drummer. The singer has Strokeshair, which has been dyed a sickly shade of tarmac black. He wears a rather ordinary suit jacket with a pair of far too tight blue jeans, and his performance speciality appears to be a pop-eyed glare which he directs at the audience to notify “intensity”.

The songs, “Reverse! Reverse!! Reverse!!!”, “Churchill” and “Plague Pets” are slightly mournful but somehow energetic ditties that manage to bridge the gap between Joy Division and The Ramones. The lead singer Joe’s voice is a hollering, barking cross between Jim Morrison’s and Ian Curtis’s. At one point he sings
“I feel claustrophobic on the outside/ and safer on the inside” repeatedly and with some intensity. You wonder what this might mean.

The posh teenage girl stood next to you instigates a conversation. In fifteen seconds time, she will say “My boyfriend’s in a band. They’re called The Korova Bandits. They’ve been tipped for the top by Jonathan King. Have you heard of them?”

You leave. Adventure Over.

You go to see
Peace Corp play the Shilly Shally Night at the Tail-cock Bar. They are a band with two guitarists, a singer, and a drummer. The band all sport the kind of haircuts last seen in 1991, bowlhaired and possibly rather obstructive to safe road crossing routines. Alvin Stardust would consider them out of their tiny minds. The lead singer pouts a little, and shakes his microphone like it’s a maraca.

Their songs, “Cities”, “I Can See You” and “Ladders Without Snakes” all take their cues from the back catalogue of the Stone Roses, but are pale and diluted examples. The guitarist is average, the vocalist riding on arrogance alone, and the drummer too self-consciously showy and obsessed with random fills to cut it. They will also never play a four minute song where it can be needlessly padded out to nine minutes with bland repetition. Between songs, the lead singer cries out “Peace!” to great applause.

The man stood next to you instigates conversation. In fifteen seconds time, he will say “Do you know where I could score some coke?”.

You leave. Adventure Over.

You go to see
The Riptide play at the Pickled Onion Surprise Club at the Camptown Races venue, but the gig is cancelled due to the lead singer suffering from salmonella poisoning due to an undercooked meal he had from the kebab shop that afternoon.

Roll the die again.

Congratulations, you have rolled a six!

You go to see
The Glamour Chase play at the Sugden Arms. They claim to be a “reaction against mediocrity”. They are, in fact, a band with two guitarists, a singer, a drummer and a keyboard player. The band all sport Duran Duran haircuts, only dyed bright red and glaring peroxide blonde, and wear foundation and eyeliner. They do indeed look like Eighties Smash Hits cover star material.

Their songs “Return To Grace”, “Night Owls” and “The Backstreet Union Boys” owe an enormous debt to Bowie, Suede and Duran Duran. The epic choruses in particular have an anthemic quality which has been well thought through, but the verses and middle eights are afterthoughts, distractions, obstacles in the way of the rousing choruses.

The lead singer, Nicolas Hatherley-Gore, strides up and down the stage confidently, and screws his brow up at every intense bit, as if he’s trying to force drops of emotion from his performance rather like a thirsty man attempting to wring drops of water out of a stone dry sponge.

A beautiful woman stood next to you instigates conversation. She has a weeping cold sore on her upper lip. In fifteen seconds time, she will say: “My boyfriend’s in a band. They’re called The Korova Bandits. They’ve been tipped for the top by Jonathan King. Have you heard of them?”

You leave. Adventure Over.

Saturday, 7 July 2012


As the man in the Bell Pub
with grey octopus hair
tried to tell me, there is
poetry in this city –
you can find it (son)
in the warm vanilla ice
cream light of night
time terraced houses, the
hilltop display of Christmas
lights strung out
across midnight wires of
roads, the sight of
Canary Wharf, viewed
like a quiet, gently
humming generator from afar.

Try to see it (he said)
in the Heathrow Planes
morsing signals of
life to us down below,
winking that there is
even more life and love
above, and try to
understand that
every scuff your feet
leave on the pavement is
another line on the
city’s Pollock painting.

Your problem (he sneered) is
just that it always continues,
with or without you, and
you cannot see it all at once.
It cannot be fixed, defined,
badged with single
metaphors, and soft
signs of easy requited love.
It writes itself, and will
continue to do so,
even when you’re gone.
“How do you like that?” he
asked, leaning back in
his chair, killing me off
with the point of a single
stinking, righteous finger.

The Two Types of Male Romantic

(Because ladies, you know it's so very often true...)

The ones tall and dashing
who thrill you with glances,
flirtation and fine wine,
and those short and skinny
whose smiles and poetry,
make you dial 999.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Wiping the Slate

(The basic draft for this was written as I travelled on a coach through the Australian outback. This may be relevant. Then again it might not.)

The light spikes out, a
fruit cocktail of neon
arching through city
streets, past rows of
buildings, wiping
through the concrete of
tired and fickle urban fashion.

It twists around fingers and
waists, curves down
suburban crescents,
knifes through the
snaking pasta of by-passes,
then points in all directions, a
compass giving no clues of
escape or renewed options.

One flash and it
fades with us,
leaving no trace of it or us.
The noise of trees
burning in its wake is
just nature, old,
arthritic, cracking her
bones but carrying on.

It has no concept of
committee, discussion,
debate or worth, cannot be
validated or invalidated, and
views these explosions as
periodically necessary.
It does not know, or care,
about you.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

A Perfect Shot/ All The Hometown Friends You've Forgotten

Years and years ago I put out a limited run pamphlet of ten poems - thanks to the use of a Local Council work photocopier after hours - which was bookended by these two prose pieces, both presented in small print and italics at the front and rear.  I'm sure the decision to have them acting as opening and closing brackets for the collection made some sense at the time rather than being a peculiar random brainfart, since I actually spent far too long thinking about what was supposed to be a really basic, xeroxed publication to sell at gigs.  I've got to be honest, however, I didn't keep a diary or journal in those days and I've long forgotten the logic behind it. 

A few people liked "A Perfect Shot", but within about one week of printing the pamphlet I decided I hated it (I'm still not particularly keen) and never used it in any context again and only read it live once at someone else's behest.  "All The Hometown Friends You've Forgotten", on the other hand, still gets pulled out at live readings very occasionally, though I find the content of it to be less true these days than I once did.

A Perfect Shot

she didn’t believe she could be struck by lightning, and to see her laugh in the face of a camera flash you’d guess she didn’t fear more earthly terrors too.  It was picture perfect, each photo catching her radiance bubbling before it died.  Every shot for her was the picture they’d use in the paper for you or I if we were murdered, in the lonely hearts column if we needed to be held, in the missing person column if we inexplicably vanished.  Her face begged you to look at her, look out for her.  It was as if the lightning fork had found her on a distant plain, frozen in time laughing at the world, laughing at what was to come.  

All The Hometown Friends You've Forgotten

All the hometown friends you’ve forgotten can be seen on Oxford Street in the Autumn, rubbing their DNA on everyone you’ll never know.  They’ll catch your eye for a second like hungry pigeons before being sucked away by the crowd into the bargain electrical store.

You think these people are just the slightly fatter brothers and sisters of ex-friends and lovers, that their hair is the wrong colour, but you would be mistaken.  They’ve just got older and are hiding the grey with new shades, trying to stand out and get your attention.

You think there’s no conspiracy, no notable coincidence in bumping into ghosts in the busiest High Street in the South East in November, but you’re wrong.  They think this is where all Londoners shop.  They believed it inevitable you’d pass someday.  They’ve been walking up and down all year, cowering, crouching, their feet the roots of plants outgrown their pots, mangled toes twisting in their shoes.  You made them this way.  Your time will come to catch their eye.  They’ll make sure you remember them this time.

Saturday, 2 June 2012


Of all the poems or pieces of prose I've written, this is the one which causes people to most frequently ask "Did that really happen?" It seems believable enough, I suppose - nothing much really happens in it, beyond a very cowardly and weedy junior office worker getting frightened out of his wits by a local hard-case.  In some small towns in Britain, you could be on the receiving end of this treatment several times a year.

Whilst I've been bothered by an average share of men with a point to prove before now - especially during my very skinny, speccy student days when I looked like a much easier target - it certainly never happened specifically as suggested below.  In truth, the basis for this piece of work was much more dramatic and eventful.  One night when I was wandering back from a pub in Rayleigh with some friends of mine, we were suddenly set upon (completely without provocation) by a gang of men who were slightly older than us and obviously just looking for a bit of a rumble.  My friends reacted swiftly and ran really quickly.  I did not.  I moved slowly, allowed myself to get confused by the chaos of the situation, and having been denied a huge war in a crappy small town in Essex the men set upon me instead, getting me on the floor and proceeding to give my head and body a thorough kicking.

People suspected that I'd write about this experience immediately - "Well, at least you've got some material there!" they quipped, after I'd luckily returned from A&E with no apparent fractures or brain damage - but I didn't.  The whole thing was probably over in about two minutes, and there's only so much you can say about such an event.  The pointlessness of it doesn't lend itself well to a short story, and violent poetry about street fights is a tough thing to pull off without seeming like you're trying to prove a point.  But one image did stay in my head for a long time, that being the "bulb flash" you get behind the eyes after a powerful blow to the head.  The last time I'd noticed it I'd been in a fight at school, and seeing it again immediately felt peculiar and a metaphor for the ridiculous situation I'd found myself in.  Years later, I finally picked up a pen and tried to rationalise everything, but with the threat of violence hanging in the air rather than the actual act of violence itself, which (as any hired thug knows) is usually a lot more chilling and effective anyway.  Hence, I am the man in the poem the "local star" got and is talking about in the past tense, not the person he's actually addressing his comments to in the pub.

This was both an extremely popular and divisive piece of work at live spoken word events, and I got so sick and tired of reading or performing it that I haven't bothered for a few years now.  This is partly me being bored with the work, and partly being tired of having to talk about it or justify it.  The content picked up admiration from some people who felt it was authentic in the way it approached the subject, but criticism from others who felt that it contained a Daily Mail worldview (which I don't think it does, it's a wee bit more detailed and rounded than that, I'd hope - small town boredom and Friday/ Saturday night culture deserves more focus than sneering headlines) and some others who just plain didn't like the violence contained within the poem and didn't feel it was what they'd come to a poetry night to hear (to which I would honestly say "Tough").  It was also a tricky one to pull off live, as I usually had to deliver both the man in the pub's lines and the feeble office worker's internal monologue, which meant switching back and forth between red-faced aggression and neurotic consideration every other minute.  It's also incredibly long - three poems could fit into a live set in the place of this one.  Anyway, it will probably make a return to live sets soon.   We'll see.  

In other news, you'll be pleased to know that I'm really, really quick at running these days, if nothing else.  

“Oi you.
Oi, stood next to me.
Don’t ignore me.
My life is like a film.
You got that?
A film.
Are you listening, mate?
Well then I’ll tell you something,
there aren’t many stars in a small town
but I’m one of them.
I’ve seen you sat there,
lips smug as the arse crack of the Duke of Kent
but who knows your name?
Who notices when you’re here?”

(Don’t ask me how this conversation started.
I don’t know this man.
I was walking towards the bar,
my mouth dry from too much office coffee,
mucus clinging like pond algae
to the back of my throat,
when like a bird necked boy
I flitted into this space nervily,
jerkily avoiding his gaze.
Gazes are only friendly to some people,
and you can generally guess who).

“Ah see.
You looked at me then, didn’t ya?
You know,
it don’t make no sense
but I can tell how powerful I am
just by how many people in a bar
don’t look at me or say hello,
don’t return my stare.
I have that,
I’ve always had that,
and you can’t learn it.
Did you hear me?
You can’t LEARN that, I said.
Are you listening to me?”

(He only thinks I’m listening
if I look right at him
though I don’t use my eyes to hear,
and nature has taught me
to know my place.
I smile, I look, try to be on equal footing,
cowering, contemplating my
soft suede shoes,
raising my eyes just slightly,
and take him in, up and up,
notice his footwear is reassuringly
non-steel capped in its appearance,
his jeans are faded with continents
of lager splashes,
Australia on his ankle,
Greenland on his groin.
His Nike T-shirt delivers a tick
across a bear-like chest to
assure me he even meets
with corporate approval,
his hair is bristling over a
face dented and hit
like grey plasticine
with a wooden spoon,
his pupils pinpointed in
pure 360 degree eyes).

“You’d better be listening, mush.
I think it’s about time you knew a bit.
You don’t know shit, you.
Never spoken to me before, have ya?
Well I’ve never offered permission,
but I’ve made a few enquiries,
found out bits about you.
See, that slag you was with last night,
I’d fuck ‘er, me, given half a chance,
so naturally I wanna know more
about the bloke on her tail, and
I must say, I reckon
you’re a waste of space.
You reckon yourself some sort of
poet I hear? 
Let me tell you,
last week after the Lewis fight
we got tanked up,
looked for the nearest bloke like you,
got ‘im on the floor and
kicked him til he crunched, and
y’know that flash behind the eyes?
The one you get with a head punch,
bursting like a bulb in the
corner of your eye?
Well, that’s the press
shooting your defeat and another
victory for me
That, by the way, is also
poetry, which any tosser can do.
You can sit down now,
You’ve been warned”.

(I have turned into a ragged
shaking skeleton, rib cage hollow and
echoing fear, sparks and needles
replacing my internal organs
one by one, and I sit down, drink up,
and get out of this bar.
I caught only one glimpse but
his face is etched on my mind
more than any of the late night
TV hosts who gibber like chimps
for the after pub crowd that evening.
I feel as if I have just narrowly
avoided being star struck).