Wednesday, 3 April 2013


Way back on 23rd February (yes, I know, that was a long time ago now) I was invited to read a new poem inspired by the topic of alter-egos at a Broadcast event hosted by Roddy Lumsden and Sophia Blackwell.  I accepted the invitation despite actually having a deep-rooted fear of reading fresh, new poems in public.  Of course, I read "new" poems at open mics absolutely all the time, but these are almost always put through the mill first and are usually at least 3-4 months old by the time they're aired.  Not for me the reading aloud of the second draft written in biro on the back of a tatty old flyer - I'll usually hide the first draft in a drawer somewhere for a couple of months first, waiting until I can give what I've written an honest, non-emotional assessment, then begin the redrafting process.  I'm not a particularly spontaneous poet and most of what I do has to be hacked within an inch of its life before it works.

I penned three poems on alter-egos in the end.  One was so awful that all the editing and redrafting in the world wouldn't have given it legs.  Another, due to some horrible brainwrong, was almost a parody of a poem Roddy Lumsden had already written on the topic of alter-egos, and I only realised the glaring similarities the next day (clearly my subconscious was in full Christian Ward mode even if  my memory was acting up).  In the end, the third one had to do, which was somewhat unusually focused on the subject of summoning an alter-ego by chanting passages from the Myers-Briggs psychological co-ordinator into a bathroom mirror.  I'm aware that this was an unconventional subject and approach to the theme of the evening and it did cause me to do a jokey introduction on the night, as there was no other way around it.  It's not necessarily wholly original either - numerous avant-garde poets have had field-days with passages from psychological tests before now.  Despite this, it looked like it at least had a fighting chance, so I gave it another hasty redraft in the pub that afternoon and took it along to the Betsey Trotwood with me that evening to see what happened.

The night was actually one of the most enjoyable poetry evenings I've been to in awhile, incredibly laidback and relaxed in style and varied in tone.  The fact that each performer was only allowed to deliver one poem was occasionally frustrating as there were people I'd have liked to hear more from, but it was fascinating to hear the frequently unusual paths many readers took, and almost none of the work seemed that much below anyone's expected standards despite the restrictions of the chosen topic.  In the end, I found myself having to follow Raymond Antrobus which is always a bit of a bum deal as he's a mean live performer as well as a skilled writer (and has just been nominated for an award) but I held up well and the below was what the live audience heard.

I by no means think that this is an example of me writing my best work and I don't expect that I'll ever try to get it published - certainly not in this form, at least - but it's a rare example of me producing poetry to a tight deadline, which I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever be able to do again.  I've resisted the temptation to make further edits before posting it up here, as that would seem to be against the spirit of the whole venture.

[He is almost never late for appointments – YES/ NO]
[He gets pleasure from solitary walks – YES/ NO]

In moments of desperation
possession is preferable.
So I chanted as I wrote his
name in the bathroom
mirror, squeaking fingers
along spores of steam
before they were
sucked away to feed the
overgrown, feline playground of
East London gardens.

[He often prefers to read a book than go to a party – YES/ NO]
[Deadlines seem to be of relative, rather than absolute importance – YES/ NO]

And I write names of
other desirable entities
who would never play
knock down ginger on
doors of those who
promised too much,
everyday heroes with the
power to ignore the
irresolvable past.

[He knows how to put every minute of his time to good purpose – YES/ NO]
[He usually reacts first to a sudden event, such as the phone ringing, or an unexpected question – YES/ NO]

And I wipe in more
names, cocktail mix and
etch-a-sketch the wall
with Vamboo Rools,
clearing the condensation
until there are two mes,
siamesed by my index finger,
staring hollowly, blankly
back at my reloaded self.

[He tends to rely on experience rather than theoretical narratives – YES/ NO]
[He is more inclined to experiment than follow familiar approaches – YES/ NO]

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