Saturday, 22 June 2019
Wednesday, 19 June 2019
As the elephant lumbers, trunk slightly swaying
like a vaguely disinterested, doped-up
and harmless python,
its earthquake feet breaking up already cracked soil,
its skin beyond the help
of any cosmetic surgeon’s best efforts,
well, as I said, as the elephant lumbers,
what must it make of the surging psychopaths
who attack it with the intention
of turning its tusks into a variety
of mantelpiece ornaments, or musical instrument components,
or even the tops of bloody walking sticks?
The world moves more slowly for the lumbering elephant
than it does for us frantic lunatics,
in the same way that it moves more slowly
for the frantic psychopath
than it does the fly.
We kill them, too.
No matter how big or small,
no matter what end of the time relativity scale
you perceive existence from,
we will kill you all.
And, when we’ve finished with our extinction projects,
for our coup de grace, we shall kill ourselves.
Death tries his hand at poetry.
‘I’m innovating an inter-dimensional sestina,’
‘How’s that working out for you?’ I ask.
‘It’s not as easy as it sounds,’ he replies.
‘It doesn’t sound easy at all,’ I say.
‘Exactly,’ says Death.
‘It’s strange,’ he continues,
‘getting into the creative flow;
‘it’s never really been my forte.’
‘You don’t say,’ I say.
Death screws up the 437th page,
throws it against the wall,
and strikes a pose of poetic angst.
‘Maybe you should start with something
a little simpler,’ I suggest, ‘like a Limerick?’
Inspiration strikes Death,
and after a couple of minutes of fevered scribbling,
he strikes of pose of poetic declamation.
‘There once was a rider called Death,
Who looked, all the time, just like Death,
“I wonder if Death
Can die a good death?”
Said that black-hooded rider called Death.’
‘I feel so fulfilled!’ he exclaims, joyfully.
‘Is this how it feels when you win a slam?’ he asks.
‘We write the poems we need to write,
or want to read,
or possibly the other way round,’ I say,
hopefully avoiding the answer to his question
‘Now can I try my inter-dimensional sestina?’
‘How about trying to get to grips
with blank verse first?’ I suggest.
‘I’m all ears,’ says Death,
‘metaphorically speaking, as we poets say.’
43 minutes and seven seconds
into my explanation,
Death throws a tantrum.
‘This is just stupid,’ he huffs.
‘That’s a very modern reaction,’ I say.
‘Perhaps you’d be more comfortable with free-verse instead?’
‘Which is….?’ he asks.
I explain free verse to Death.
‘Sounds like prose
masquerading as poetry,’ he says.
‘Every poem is poetry masquerading as poetry,’
‘Like the one you’re writing now? No offence,’
‘None taken,’ I reply, as I tend to agree with him.
‘It’s what happens when you read
too much Kirill Medvedev, I think.’
‘I’m bored with poetry,’ says Death.
‘I’m going to write a novel instead.
Where should I start?’ he asks.
‘At the end?’ I say, having no idea
how one goes about writing a novel.
‘Oh, yes, that sounds like an excellent idea,’
‘I can cope with endings.’
Friday, 14 June 2019
We start by making snowmen of ourselves.
The likeness isn’t true (but that’s a fault
of snow). We cover it with precious metals
and jewels, then we build a worship hall
in which to place our decorated snowman selves,
although by now the snow has almost melted.
Each day we strive towards a better future,
forgetting that the days we’ve lived already
are in the hands of Death, our daily lives
dissolving like the snowman’s snow.
And what of these endeavours? What indeed.
Wednesday, 5 June 2019
Short film made up of awkward pauses:
‘A masterpiece of modern angst.’
Scene One: Man enters empty room;
surveys its four-walled nothingness.
He checks his watch; we see the time:
four thirty-seven, afternoon.
A woman enters. ‘You!’ she says.
He turns. We see his face close-up.
Unspoken words fill the space.
‘I…’ he begins, followed by silence.
‘I thought…’ he says. She leaves the room.
Scene Two: Some people round a table.
Embarrassed coughs. The minutes pass.
Shifting in seats; glances exchanged.
More minutes pass. The silence grows.
A woman speaks. ‘Well, this is nice,’
she says. ‘We thought that you were dead.’
A man stands up; walks to the door.
‘I never left,’ he says, and leaves.
Scene Three: Two lovers kiss, then stare
into each other’s eyes. The spell
is broken when she starts to whisper.
‘I love you Steve,’ she says, but he
does not reply. She moves her head
away, a look of hurt across
her face. ‘Say something, then!’ she says,
but he does not. More silence follows.
‘I’m… I’m…’ he says. ‘You’re what?’ she snaps.
‘…not Steve.’ She puts her glasses on.
Monday, 20 May 2019
They angle faces like a lamp
and smoke eight cigarettes at once.
The clouds are quite unbearable,
and everyone forgot their gas-masks.
We cough and wheeze and madly splutter.
They pass around some paper ash-trays.
‘Washing them up has proved to be
a big mistake,’ they say. We dry
the ash-trays on the hob. This, too,
has proved to be a big mistake.
By way of an aperitif,
they pass around a tray of cocktails.
‘We’re all about the gin these days.’
our hosts explain. ‘This one’s infused
with dynamite, cocaine, and car wax.’
It’s much more challenging to drink
than beer. Three of the party faint,
four of us poison healthy house plants,
one person horribly explodes,
and seven guests demand a refill.
We seat ourselves around a table
and stare at empty plates, ‘Dig in!’
they shout. ‘It’s Emperor’s Clothes Surprise.’
We talk and smoke and mime
eating until the plates are cleared.
A board made of cheese arrives.
‘Every feast should end with a weak pun,’
they say, and everybody claps
until our hands can take no more.
Cuban cigars and port come next.
‘The finest cigars known to man
or beast,’ they say excitedly,
‘submerged in port.’ We spend the next
hour and a half trying, and failing,
to light this evening’s last surprise.
The conversation fades, the evening
implodes, we grab our summer coats
and make our way towards the front door.
Farewells exchanged, we drive towards
the morning of an unknown future.
Reflections on a Laundry Basket
What a dull life the laundry basket leads,
spending its time between the utility
room and the table by the whirligig.
It cannot double up as a makeshift bucket
(too many holes); its aesthetic appeal
is highly doubtful (no one ever painted
‘Still life with laundry basket, pants, and socks’);
it never gets a holiday. I feel
quite sorry for this worthy object,
this cornerstone of hously order,
whose work is never finished, like this poe
I try my hand at wisdom, and, with that
in mind, I grow a beard. Although I’ve heard that
‘the beard does not make the philosopher’
I reckon it’s better than growing a
moustache. Wisdom, I’ve decided, though,
wisdom is all about the facial hair, as all
the wisest men in history had beards.
Okay, this may not be entirely true,
or even vaguely true, or even near
the truth at all; but still, I must start somewhere,
and beard it is (and look at all the men
throughout the ages who decided on
moustache instead of beard: there’s Hitler, Stalin,
and every German porn-star from the seventies,
none of whom we associate with wisdom).
I’m sure there have been a few bare-faced men
throughout the ages who deserve to be
thought wise (the obvious exception here
is Cain), but still, the cultivation of
a beard? It signifies a statement of
intent. ‘I shall be wise,’ I say each morning
to my reflection in the mirror, as
I check for signs of growth. After two weeks,
it’s well beyond the stage we might call ‘stubble’,
and two weeks after that, I have a full-grown beard.
The thing is largely black; perhaps a fifth
of it is grey. This troubles me. This beard
does not look wise. I realise the truth of
‘the beard does not make the philosopher’;
it is the colour of the beard which does
the trick, which makes me only one-fifth wise.
Much to my wife’s delight, I shave my face,
decide to spend the next few years immersed
in books, after which time, I hope, my beard
will be a true reflection of my wisdom.
Meanwhile, I notice that some hair on top
of my now beardless head has made a head-
start to the grave, and bid farewell to this
strange world. Perhaps it didn’t like the thought
of turning grey? Does hair have self-determination?
I don’t remember any mention of
this in the UN charter dealing with
human rights. Should hair be included? ‘All
hair has the right to fall out when it wishes.’
Tell that to Elton John. And where would that
leave facial hair? Our daily massacre
of follicles might one day be illegal
(and then we’ll see who’s wise and who is not).
I’ll spend the next few years reading, reading,
and reading, while my hair falls out, my beard
turns grey; my wisdom gradually arriving.
Monday, 29 April 2019
I walk into a bar and juggle spectacularly.
It is the most amazing display
of juggling ever witnessed.
The barman is understandably impressed.
‘That is the most amazing feat
with tangerines which I have ever witnessed,’ he says
(by now you will have guessed that I juggle with tangerines).
‘A tangerine feat, you could say,’ says a patron
just before he falls off his bar stool.
‘Practice senseless kindness,’ he sibilantly stutters,
while hanging on to his bar stool,
‘and random acts of drunkenness.’
What do I mean when I say Tangerine Feet?
Are the feet the colour of tangerines?
Are they the shape of tangerines (surely impossible)?
Perhaps tangerine feet are tangerines
where feet would normally be,
but then they aren’t tangerine feet, are they?
but tangerine leg extensions.
What do I mean when I say tangerine leg extensions?
You see the problems poets create for themselves,
and, if they bother reading poetry (some do), other people?
Unite behind the wonders of humanity:
kindness, generosity, despair, malice,
religion, cookery books, science degrees,
I mean, I could go on, but you probably
have a sandwich to finish or a poem to ignore.
Most of all, though:
trying to make ourselves look good in the eyes of others,
when, as Oscar Wilde said, ‘The one thing in life
we never know is how other people see us.’
Although that’s not entirely true:
they see us as they want to see us,
and that’s something a little easier to unearth, possibly.
Thursday, 18 April 2019
Wednesday, 10 April 2019
At breakfast, I become a communist.
It starts off well enough. The revolution
is bloodless, swift, decisive, strong. I storm
the fridge and liberate its captive contents.
I redistribute them about the house:
the orange juice and almond milk are poured
into the bath; the royal gala apples
are placed on window sills and mantelpiece;
I put the mango chutney on a stair;
and smear tahini on the bedroom ceiling.
The vegan sausages are strung up on
a coat hook pour encourager les autres.
By half-past nine, the paranoia starts.
Utopia has not arrived. I look around
the house: if anything, I must concede,
things have got worse. Someone must be to blame.
I ‘uncover’ a plot: the vegetables
have been conspiring with some foreign agents,
and, after spending time inside a meat-
grinder, confess to their nefarious deeds
during a show-trial in my living-room.
Impatience grips me as I realise that
the Workers’ Paradise is further out
of reach than ever. So, I try my hand
at fascist ideology. Step 1:
I make a bonfire of my books. Step 2:
I make my train set run on time. Step 3:
I gather all my troops (just me), invade
the spare bedroom, annex the airing cupboard,
and daub the walls with poetphobic statements
declaring my superiority
over ‘the lesser poets’ (any poet
who isn’t me). This all feels great until
the fire alarm goes off because of all
the burning books (perhaps I shouldn’t have used
the garage as my ‘place of intellectual
purification’?). Fortunate for me,
I have a fire extinguisher to hand,
and when the fire brigade arrives, I tell
them that the clouds of smoke the neighbours saw
came from a really massive piece of toast.
Left to my own devices once again,
I undergo religious revelation.
The flames were clearly Flames from Hell, a sign
from God that I must put my house in order;
recant the day’s godless ideologies;
repudiate the false hope of their claims;
and thus, embrace the one true faith of
religious ideology. But whose?
The Catholics’? Muslims’? Jews’? Sikhs’? Buddhists’? Mormons’?
I save time by believing all of them
at once (this surely can’t be any more
confusing than the contradictions found
inside their holy books) and spend the final
hours of the day in silent contemplation,
a bit of meditation, and some prayer.
When I awake, I see my prayers have not
been answered. Chaos, chaos, everywhere
I look: the house is like a vandal’s playground;
the garage needs a dose of demolition;
and all the food has vanished from the fridge.
My ideological experiments
have failed. Tomorrow, I shall try philosophy.
Tuesday, 9 April 2019
I like you.
Not you personally.
Don’t take that personally.
If I know you,
I probably do like you
(keep believing that).
I like you –
the word you –
when it’s used
in the context of a poem,
especially in the context
of one of my poems.
You, I write,
when really, I mean I.
But I want to avoid me
and so I invite the reader
unconsciously to imagine
that I am you.
Saturday, 6 April 2019
William Blake reflected on the possibility
of seeing the universe in a grain of sand;
but did he ever cogitate, I wonder,
on the possibility of seeing the futility of existence
in a grain of rice?
Just now, having just finished a lentil Madras,
I took my plate to the sink.
Would I be bothered to clean it, there and then,
or would I channel my inner student
and leave it to form the first level
of yet another soon-to-be established
kitchen sink pile-up?
It turned out that I would be bothered,
and as I swiped in the direction of cleanliness,
I saw a single grain of rice
swept off the plate and down the plug hole.
And, despite myself, I couldn’t help
but feel sorry for this single grain
as it disappeared.
‘The finest of all rices from
the foothills of the Himalayas’
the half-kilo packet informed me.
Oh, grain of rice, I reflected/cogitated,
what a journey you have made:
cultivated; harvested; shipped thousands of miles
to the UK, where you were packaged;
transported to a shop; bought;
driven a few hundred metres;
tipped into a pan of boiling water;
and, after twelve minutes, cooked.
You made it far as my plate,
the grain-sized fraction of a whole meal;
a meal which was almost completely eaten,
except for you.
Instead, you were taken to a sink,
and swept towards a drain
in a cascade of water,
your one consolation:
to be immortalised in verse.
If you can see the futility of existence
in a grain of rice…
Yes, William, I can.
Friday, 5 April 2019
‘I’m not even joking,’ said Gemma.
Why ‘even’, though?
How about something
with a little more impact?
Fucking. That would work
for a lot of people.
I never used to swear in my poems.
I’m not fucking joking.
Or what about
putting the modifier
after the joking?
I’m not joking, probably.
The unnecessary addition of ‘even’
does rather give this phrase the ring
of the inarticulate and slightly huffy adolescent,
like the ubiquitously redundant ‘actually’.
Ackshully! The sort of word
my English teacher needed smelling salts
to recover from (along with ‘sort of’, ‘even’,
and, also, ending a sentence with a preposition.)
Maybe we should use ‘even’ more often;
actually, sort of.
Best get the smelling salts then.
I’m not even actually fucking joking, probably.
Tuesday, 2 April 2019
The expression ‘bad poetry’ is meaningless:
critics still use it, forgetting that bad poetry
is not poetry at all – Keith Douglas
Everybody likes to play their favourite game:
analysing the shortcomings
of almost everybody else.
‘His poems stagger like a drunk
looking for a bus shelter,
and are as interesting as a fabric swatch.’
‘She always uses the wrong words,
and the nearest she ever got to poetry
was standing outside Waterstone’s in 2014.’
‘His experimental work
is all test-tube and no Bunsen burners,
and is that ash I can smell after reading?’
‘That high-profile clique has one voice
and sings the same three notes, over and over:
You see, I… You see, I… You see, I…’
But we all love some poets,
and can’t quite believe that anyone else
swoons over them as much as we do.
Their collections are like the albums
we played into the ground when we were young;
we’re not even put off by the bad artwork and the scratches.
And I bang my head against the kitchen table,
wondering what it is that people most dislike,
or like, about my every failed attempt at articulation.
None of this matters.
We write the poems which we want to read,
and if not that, then what, exactly, are we doing?
Wednesday, 27 March 2019
Tuesday, 26 March 2019
Today, I read a poem, and now I need Trauma Counselling. ‘Hello,’ I say, into my phone, ‘is that the Poetry Trauma Counselling Hotline?’ but I have failed to dial the number because , of course, there isn’t one; the Poetry Trauma Hotline does not exist. ‘How embarrassing,’ I say to myself. ‘Not as embarrassing as reading poetry,’ my inner critic replies.
I decide, instead, to phone the Embarrassed Englishman’s Hotline, but they are too busy to take my call and I find myself 1,457, 694th in the queue. I hang up. Mainly because of the muzak.
I spend the next seven minutes deciding not to go to A and E, the nearest thing the NHS has to a trauma unit (or does the NHS have trauma units? And what is a trauma unit equal to? A mile? A ton? Four cubic kilometres? A week? I decide to stop asking myself flippant questions. After all, this is an emergency.)
I reject the idea that I should pretend to phone the Samaritans and fabricate a conversation along the lines of, ‘Is reading a poem some sort of euphemism, sir? What type of poem was it? How many did you read?’ because it would be crassly insensitive.
My wife walks in, ‘ ‘Sup?’ she asks (she doesn’t; she only ever speaks in properly constructed sentences, with subject, verb, predicate, and – interestingly – punctuation).
‘Today, I read a poem,’ I explain, ‘and now I need Trauma Counselling.’
‘Open speech marks Was the poem you read one of yours question mark close speech marks’ (Now you see why I abbreviated her previous question.)
‘Normally, I would say yes,’ I reply, ‘but this was one of those found poems you hear about.’
I point to the piece of paper on the table.
‘Open speech marks That apostrophe 's my To Do List full-stop. It apostrophe 's not a poem full-stop close speech marks.’
‘Tomayto/Tomarto,’ I say. ‘I read it as a poem, ergo it is a poem, ergo I need Trauma Counselling.’
‘Open speech marks ellipsis close speech marks’ she says.
‘What?’ I ask. Now it’s her turn to point.
I look again at my wife’s To Do List (and what’s a poem but a glorified list?). It is written on infinity paper, the only paper long enough to accommodate all of the things on a teacher’s To Do List/Poem (cry for help?).
‘Open speech marks I apostrophe 'm the one who needs Trauma Counselling full-stop close speech marks’ she says.
I read the first line of the List/Poem/Cry-for-Help and set about buying all of the ice-cream in a five-mile radius (Trauma Counselling/Comfort Eating, potayto/potarto, sort of thing).
Tomorrow I will hit the Off Licences.
We’ll take it from there.
Thursday, 21 March 2019
Wednesday, 20 March 2019
Tuesday, 19 March 2019
Monday, 18 March 2019
For my showstopper on ‘Unheard-of Poets: Bake Off Special’, I choreographed (you have to have dance in a ‘showstopper’, surely? Otherwise, what kind of show is it?) a dozen meringues dancing to a specially commissioned song (which the composer, me, called ‘Let’s All Bake Paul Hollywood, Literally’). Getting the meringues to the right exterior crunch/interior chewiness is usually the tricky part with baking these things, but for this showstopper, it was getting the meringues to co-ordinate their dance moves with their singing (fact: harder than it sounds).
Culinarily, the meringues could best be described as ‘less than satisfactory, even for a gimmicky version of this show’ (this said by a rather defensive Mr Hollywood, who was probably still reeling from the unflattering chorus about his general air of smugness/creepiness), but the singing and dancing were surprisingly adequate (‘by meringue musical theatre standards’ – apparently).
Henceforth, I shall choreograph all of my kitchen creations to original compositions. My vegan ballroom-dancing (cha-cha-cha) shepherd’s pie (word and music, ‘I Saw My Sheep Come Sailing By’, by self) is coming along particularly well.
I redraft my latest unfinished sentence
on the walls of the library.
Orange crayons are my favourite writing implement,
or is it utensil? (or is it implement?)
Picasso claimed his artistic ambition
was to paint like a child
(he never quite scaled those heights,
in my humble/ignorant opinion).
I tried this as a poet, but when you’re limited
to monosyllabic words, mainly misspelt,
then you end up sounding as competent
as an Instagram poet (well, I say poet).
Writing in orange crayon
is my way of compromising
with my inner childpoet
(neologism dictionary compilers
please take note).
Saturday, 16 March 2019
Wednesday, 27 February 2019
Tuesday, 26 February 2019
Just at the edge of my peripheral vision, I catch a glimpse of the cat, sitting on the kitchen table, and, for the fourth time today, subsequently realise that it is you faux-fur hat.
The disguise is pretty impressive.
I think I may write an entire book about it: ‘The Cat is a Hat’.
Not a Dr Seuss homage, though.
I glance at the table and think, ‘What is that?’
And I say to myself that it’s Cato the cat.
But, no! I am wrong, for the cat is a hat.
The hat is a copycat cat, is the hat!
The hat is a cat? How truly bizarre!
De blah, diddi blah, diddi blah, diddi blah…
No. Definitely not.
Instead: an entire novel set around the existential crisis experienced by a cat, which reaches its climax as the cat discovers, through a chance DNA test taken as a result of being framed for a crime, that it is, in fact, a hat. (Possible plot hole: do faux-fur hats have DNA?)
Hat realises it no longer has to conform to notions of the feline stereotype – chasing birds; constantly asking to be let into a room only to walk away with a supercilious look on its face; exhibiting a narcissistic superiority complex every time dogs are mentioned; being a psychopath, etc. – and can, instead, search for its authentic self, which it does through some intense but revealing sessions with a hat psychotherapist.
Of course (of course), the final twist in the novel is that no-longer-cat-but-hat discovers that it is not a faux-fur hat after all, but an actual fur hat made from fur (I may need to research this. What are fur hats actually made from? Apart from fur, obviously – but from which animal? Not cats, surely? Then the novel would have to be called ‘The Cat is a Hat but it Had Been a Cat’, and even Dr Seuss never went that far. Also – how does Hat discover that it is it a real fur hat? Was the lab technician a secret gambler who falsified DNA results in exchange for money to pay off his debts? How does that work? Or was he simply incompetent? And how does that come to light? God, novels are so complicated; no wonder I stick to poems).
Anyway, like most novels, it won’t get written, so no need to worry about plot-holes, troublesome denouements and twists and whatnot.
And let’s not forget the time I thought that the cat was a hat (possible sequel?).
Or the other time, when I thought that the hat was a hat (which, if I’m honest, is most occasions, and doesn’t really lend itself to as many plots).
Trailer for the film version of the novel.
Trailer for the film version of the novel.
Wednesday, 20 February 2019
Saturday, 16 February 2019
In a rare bout of early morning writing,
I find myself looking out of the window
and staring at a squirrel
on the fence at the top of the garden.
His tail is twitching about
as if it has squirrel tail St Vitus’ Dance.
I don’t know if this particular affliction
is an actual thing,
but if it is, then this squirrel has it.
Perhaps, I think, as I distract myself from
finishing my next poem about death,
perhaps this squirrel is genuinely ill
and has the onset of some form of squirrel Parkinson’s.
Maybe it is dying.
Is this what squirrels do before they die?
I do not know.
It’s at this point that Coleridge’s witty little couplet
about swans and death and singing surfaces.
Swans sing before they die; ‘twere now bad thing,
Did certain people die before they sing.
How very artistic of the swans, I muse;
and this starts me wondering
what acts of artistic endeavour
might be undertaken by other creatures
during that brief shadow which hangs over
the last moments of their existence.
Based on my observations,
you might think that squirrels perform interpretive dance
in the moments before they die,
but bees already have that one covered.
Squirrels, I have decided, recite poetry.
Bears paint pictures of stormy skies in oil on canvas
while mice write the first line,
and only the first line,
of a novel which will remain forever unfinished.
Butterflies make deeply ambiguous short foreign-language films
about either the weather,
or anything where the subtext is, rather predictably, chaos.
Wolves sculpt wooden statues
in praise of mystic, magic winds,
and lions spray paint metaphysical aphorisms
on hillsides and giant rocks.
Elephants go on a frenzy of demolition
as a climax to their already-established modality of existence,
but this time it’s random, destructive performance art,
and each live experience is always called
‘The End of an Elephant’s Memory.’
Interrupting my thoughts,
the cat asks to be let in.
‘And what do you cats do in the moments before death,
my little arty monster?’ I say, as I open the door.
She jumps on to the table
and gives me her familiar
inscrutable cat expression,
before sitting on my notebook.
Cats, it occurs to me,
have an advantage over the other animals
when it comes to this sort of thing,
for they get to experience death nine times.
How they must tower above their fellow creatures
in their artistic achievements –
the paintings, song-cycles, poems, plays,
choreographed dances, avant garde novels,
satirical cartoons, ambient film scores,
and absurdist collages,
which they create in the moments before
each of their nine deaths.
Perhaps it is this belated awareness of death,
which animals only feel
for the first time
when they sense the shadow fall over them,
which moves them suddenly to create.
Is it, I wonder, the lifetime of foreknowledge which moves us
to spend our years, and not just our final moments,
in pursuit of our creations,
our counter-expressions of finality,
our catafalque of immortality projects?
I see that the squirrel has now gone,
and, with a flourish of poetry
so beloved of these creatures,
I welcome her into my notebook.