Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Photograph Dream

In my hand, the photograph:
two smiling children, a young boy and his sister,
standing between the blue sky
and the green grass.

I find myself in the picture,
and now there is movement,
and the sound of laughter,
and sunshine happiness.

It all changes in an instant,
as it so often does in my dreams.
My sister, lost in time,
but found in this dream,

becomes a daisy-chain –
part colour, part monochrome –
its connections broken
as it falls from my hands, scattering towards the ground.

The boy, no longer smiling,
his sunshine face overlaid
with time’s grey lines,
alone once more.

Walk Into the Sea

Working on the theory
that everything is a metaphor for something,
I decide to write a poem about the sea.

I can hear it now, behind me,
the idle rise and fall of the Mediterranean waves;
waves, which, it seems to me,
aren’t really trying hard enough;
waves which can’t be bothered.

The sea. I feel it ought only to get a passing mention
in the somewhere else of a different poem,
rather than a whole poem to itself.

After all, what does it care?
Oblivious to its salt, its water,
the fish, the sand, the boats, the plastic,
even the sky which reflects off its unstill surface.

‘Another poem about me?’ it will not say.
‘Oh, how terrifically original.’

Maybe the sea is better used as a question mark,
or a little splash of colour;
maybe a blink and you miss it hint of menace,
or perhaps the suggestion of summer –
depending on the poem it crops up in.

But an entire poem?

While you were reading this, I’ve been thinking:
what exactly is the sea a metaphor for here,
in this particular poem?
Answer me that?

While you formulate your answer,
I shall turn to face the sea and walk towards it,
anticipating the enjoyment of the water
washing the sun off my skin,
before I return, cooled enough to finish this poem.

And as I walk into the sea,
I will think about the story of my father,
into a second bottle of whisky,
staggering into Dublin’s bay at some ungodly hour,
willing the waves to take him,
not quite yet fully resolved
to end it all.

No Longer Are They Mavericks

No longer are they mavericks
against the world’s conformity, but
self-ordained priests with lunatic obsessions
regurgitating turgid rectitude,
authoritarian and rigid,
bravely denouncing anything that moves,
their blandness sprung from decadence and wealth.
They know far better than to stick their necks out
(for fear of someone chopping off their heads).
Behold the cookie cutters of the cutting edge!
I watched their sunlight fail through open windows.


Rewind the clock, rewrite the page,
the autotuning of Comrade Corbyn,
Patron Saint of Varicose Veins,
   is complete.

‘The dance of the invisibles –
what does that entail?’ he drones/screeches.
‘You can’t rhyme cat with snail, friends,
   not even metaphorically!’

Inconsistent, nihilist non-poet:
of the no one, for the no one, by the no one.
Mensae, mensae, mensas; mensarum, mensis, mensis.
   Turn the tables.

Oh, That’s Just Terrible, Isn’t It?

Terrible music blasts out of speakers everywhere.
‘Here’s another terrible song,’ says the terrible DJ,
‘from a terrible year, by a terrible band.
Don’t enjoy!’

The terrible song from a terrible year,
played by a terrible band,
vomits out of the terrible speakers
belonging to the terrible DJ.

It makes a terrible day even more terrible,
and there’s no way to avoid it.
The terrible song draws to its terrible close,
but it is too late.

‘Even the sky looks terrible now,’
says a press-ganged listener.
‘The grass, the trees, loved ones –
all completely and utterly terrible.’

Everything is terrible and made more terrible
by the terrible sound assault.
‘It’s been going on for years,’ says a daffodil,
‘and you wonder why the world is now mad.’

Everything from Here Will Only Get Worse

In a bid to be ‘the bad guy’,
the Democrats elect Gustavo Fring
to be their presidential candidate.

‘To Beat the Fascists, Use a Bad Guy!’
his campaign slogan reads, in seven languages
(English, Spanish, English, English, Spanish, English and Mexican).

‘Fake presidential candidate
at twenty-past eight!’ Republicans screech.
‘Fake President!’ the Democrats reply.

Gustavo Fring holds presidential rallies.
‘Lock me up!’ he jokes. ‘Lock you up! Lock you up!’
the delirious Democrats chant back.

‘Build a Wal-Mart!’ says Gustavo Fring.
‘Build a Wal-Mart! Build a Wal-Mart!’
the crowd of hyped-up voters shout.

Gustavo Fring runs TV ads in praise of President Trump.
‘My name is Vladimir Putin and I approve this ad,’
says the voice of Elvis at the end.

‘They’re trying to get the meth-head vote,’ says Trump.
‘And the Netflix vote. And the Breaking Bad vote.
The actor vote. The whatever vote. Sad.’

Spoiler alert: Walter White Kills Gustavo Fring again
and takes the Democratic nomination for himself.
‘Vote for me or I’ll stop cooking,’ he says.

‘Let’s smash the blue-glass ceiling!’ he growls,
and the audience of Democrat meth-heads erupt.
‘Smash It!’ Grind It! Snort It!’  becomes his campaign slogan.

Walter White and President Trump run neck-and-neck in polls.
Their presidential candidate debates are sullen and edgy.
Walter White takes a commanding poll lead.

‘Anyone but Trump, amiright?!’ the TV hosts squeal after the election.
America has acquired a taste for the bad guy, with Jesse as Veep,
and Walter White winning is what everyone always wanted anyway.


The steady flowing stream of poetry
comes to an end,
obliterated by the gush and roar
of a waterfall of ideas.

I find myself almost capsized,
swirling in the torrents,
clutching my notebook life-raft
as we wait for calmer waters.

I cover my ears and close my eyes.
I curl into a ball
as we bump along rocks, eddies, currents.
‘Hold tight!’ I think. ‘We’ve been through worse.’

Chaotic movements eventually subside.
It is safe to listen
and to open eyes.
To unfurl.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019


Death has been binge-watching a show on Netflix.
‘It’s called How to Catch a Killer,’ he explains.
‘I thought I might pick up some handy tips!’
I express surprise, having thought that
Death was beyond judgement
and was simply there to do a job.
‘And also,’ I say, ‘surely you know who all the killers are,
what with being present at every murder?’
There’s a bit of a silence,
belonging in the ‘awkward’ section of the Venn diagram.
‘Y-y-y-e-e-e-e-e-s….’ says Death,
as if trying to frame a suitable response.
This is unusual; Death is normally far more direct
in his communications.
He sighs a heavy sigh.
‘Okay. Look, it was an attempt at a joke.
Really, I just wanted to see how incompetent the police were.
Unsurprisingly, if you’re interested.’
I ask him how he found the show.
‘It was quite interesting, up to a point.
I mean, I already knew who the killers were, obviously.
But man – some of the procedures!
All that burden of proof, for a start.
Some people just look like killers, right?’
I explain that you can’t just lock someone up,
‘because they look guilty.’
‘Why not?’ asks Death.
‘If you look into a man’s soul,
you can see the full burden of his sins.
The eyes being windows to the soul,
all you have to do is look into a man’s eyes
to see if he’s guilty or not.
Et voila! Case closed.’
I put it to Death that he could become an expert witness
in cases of murder.
‘No, you see, that wouldn’t work because…
Oh, shit. That’s a joke, right?
Like, “Hey, Death! they should put you in charge
of the Cold Cases Unit.
You’d have a one hundred percent clear-up rate
and the unit could be disbanded in a matter of hours”
type thing.’
‘Actually, that’s not a bad idea,’ I say.
‘Really?’ says Death, excitedly.
‘Do you think… Oh, no, wait.
You’re taking the piss again, aren’t you?’
I apologise for my teasing.
And then it occurs to me
that maybe the Netflix cry for help was Death trying to find an escape:
an escape from the nature of his job;
an escape from being the ultimate and timeless
expert witness to all of the carnage,
bloodshed, war, psychosis, barbarity,
injustice, and unfairness; the ugliness;
the relentless horror of the end of existence
which has too often accompanied his appointed task.
‘You’re suffering from a very human predicament,’ I suggest.
‘You feel trapped in an endless cycle.
You have to do a job in order to justify your existence,
but you have started to doubt the job you have,
and your ability to do it until retirement.
You feel that there is no escape,
and like many people experiencing despair,
you’re trying to divert your gaze,
if only for a few, brief moments,
by watching sensationalist TV
with questionable production values.
Only problem is, you’ve unconsciously chosen a show
which is related to the cause of your angst,
like a doctor watching Casualty;
or a teacher watching ‘Big School’;
or a dentist watching ‘Question Time’,
which, admittedly, isn’t a show but more of a shower of shit,’
I conclude.
I put it to Death that he watch something
completely unrelated to his occupation,
or his general mode of existence,
and leave him to it.
Half an hour later,
I walk into the room to see
Death’s Netflix page on the screen.
Continue watching for Death, it reads,
and I see ‘Friends’, the red line indicating
that he’s a few minutes into episode 1.
A text appears on my phone.
‘Guess what?’ it starts. ‘I got my mojo back!
Thanks! D xx’

Lost Flyers

The advertising noticeboard inside
a local shop displays its homemade flyers
appealing to the public. ‘Have you seen
this dog?’ reads one.  ‘A much-loved family pet;
was last seen leaving Barclays Bank about
a week ago, armed with a shotgun; answers
to Billy Knuckles (may have had a cat
accomplice – doesn’t answer to the name
of Psycho Cattus Est, but you can try).
Reward: two hundred grand in counterfeit
fifty-pound notes; a guarantee of witness
protection.’ ‘Have you seen this horse?’ another
asks. ‘It’s a horse. Last seen hobbling at Aintree
two weeks ago: tall, male, horsey, three-legged
(the other one is wooden); suffers from
an allergy to whips – leather and walnut;
likes fences; is a horse. New information
which leads us to our Horse (the horse’s name
is Horse) will get you a cast-iron tip for
the three-fifteen at Kempton Park (please don’t
send tins of dog-food; it isn’t funny).’
The board is full of similar requests
for vigilance: ‘a worthless family heirloom’;
‘looks like a duck; walks like a duck; quacks’;
‘do not approach – he may be packing heat’;
and at the bottom of the board, a barely
legible scrawl, written in tears and blood: ‘LOST!
One Brexit referendum; property
of Brussels; please return (no cash reward).’

Monday, 9 September 2019

Be Careful with Your Demands

Punch Your Local Nazi,
the poorly, homemade sign proclaimed,
with a swastika drawn beneath it,
as per Hitler’s design.

‘Excuse me, my smug young man,’
I said to the creature holding said sign,
‘but was this fine specimen
of six-year-old artwork

created by your fair but freckled hand?’
‘Erm…’ he replied.
‘As I thought; a dumbing down in required.
Did you make this sign?’ I asked.

‘Oh, this? Yes,’ he replied.
And I smashed him in the teeth
with my smashing-teeth fist,
all knuckly and smashy-teethy.

As he was incapable of speaking,
I answered his unasked question.
‘Because only Nazis draw swastikas
to Hitler’s exact design.

Now, do something more useful
with your life,
and the let the grown-ups get on with
ruining the world.’

Saturday, 7 September 2019

At a Loose End

No one is answering the telephone,
and so the telephone answers itself.

‘Hello, you’ve reached the telephone,’ it says.
‘Either there’s nobody home, which I can’t verify,

as I’m a telephone, or somebody’s here,
but they’re avoiding you.

Of course, they might not be avoiding you specifically,
but, rather, avoiding people in general,

but seeing you’re in the “people in general”
part of the Venn diagram as well,

either way: you are being avoided.
This is all conjecture on my part,’ adds the telephone,

‘because, as I said, I’m just a telephone.’
‘Oh,’ comes the reply, ‘I think I might have the wrong number. Is this Dave?’

‘What do you mean by wrong number?’ asks the telephone.
‘How can a number be wrong?

Surely it would be more accurate – and honest – for you to say,
“It seems I’m incapable of carrying out

even the simplest of tasks, like dialling Dave’s telephone number.
There’s nothing wrong with your telephone number –

good luck to it; it’s just a number –
however, I am an idiot.”

Is Dave’s number any more difficult to dial than,
say, I don’t know, someone like Alan’s number?’

‘I don’t know anyone called Alan,’ comes the reply.
‘Well, that’s a bit ironic,’ says the telephone,

‘seeing as you just dialled his number.’
‘Oh!’ says the caller. ‘I’m so sorry. I have dialled the wrong number.’

‘No,’ says the telephone, ‘we’ve been through this, haven’t we?’
But the caller has hung up, and the line has gone dead.

…the line has gone dead?’ says the telephone
in a genuinely surprising turn of events,

‘What sort of clumsy grammatical construction is that?
I thought you were supposed to be a poet?

Oh, let me guess: you’re using poetic licence;
how very convenient for you.’

‘Well, Alan’s telephone,’ I say, ‘impressed as I am
by your unique attainment of telephonic sentience,

I’m not going to argue semantics with you.
“The line has gone dead” is idiomatic, perfectly accurate,

and has no reliance on poetic licence.’
‘I thought you weren’t going to argue semantics,’ says Alan’s telephone.

‘Although “has gone dead” is surely a matter of syntax?
If you’d said, “The line has gone septic”

that might have given us cause to argue semantics.
As it is, the argument you are avoiding is one of syntax.’

But the poem has gone dead,
and Alan’s telephone finds himself, once again, at a loose end.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Find Summer

You’d have to be really patient to watch a tree grow
from scratch; not to be bothered by years of pins and needles,
or stillness measured in almost glacial dimensions.

It would be much easier to find a tree already grown,
one where blossom has found its way to the end of twigs,
and stand and stare into the folds of pink and white.

See the movement of the petals in a breeze,
surprised by their own gravity as they fall and land,
waiting for a gust to confetti them about your feet.

You could spend your whole life waiting to be neck-deep in blossom;
the soil of blossoms past making an unlikely grave.
It isn’t just the world which has its own seasons.

Sunday, 1 September 2019

The Clangers' Final Shoot

The Clangers are on a cigarette break.
One is fretting over the next scene’s dialogue.
‘I’m not sure exactly what the writer is trying to say here,’
he says, but his disinterested co-stars are not listening;
they have heard this particular Clanger overthink dialogue
before the shooting of every scene of the series so far.

Another Clanger has refused to succumb
to the temptation of a cigarette –
Clangers are inveterate smokers
and the air in Green Room could not have been more thick
had the Soup Dragon been holding forth –
for he has recently returned from a trip to LA
where he had attended a workshop on method acting
and he is determined to stay in role.
‘This is killing me,’ he thinks, but in Clangerese.

Some Clangers are having their make-up reapplied,
or are rehearsing the next scene’s lines,
oblivious to the plaintive cries of, ‘Yes, but what are you actually saying?’
from the aforementioned worry-Clanger,
and the remaining few are talking anxiously about their next jobs,
having heard rumours that the current series is the last.

Dave is hoping that they get the next ‘For Mash Get Smash’ gig –
‘Those robots are nowhere near as memorable as us!’;
Alan and Jeff are auditioning for a pantomime double-act –
‘Although, to be honest, the punchlines
are remarkably similar to the set-ups!’;
but Benny is trying out a guest-slot for a Radio 4 show –
‘They say it could be a job for life if it goes well!’
he chirps to anyone with ears, the general response being,
‘Sorry, Barry, but you haven’t a clue about this game.’

They’ll have ample time to reflect upon this 
later in the year, when they will find themselves 
stacking the shelves of their local supermarket.

Glass Air

Trapped like a fly banging its head against
a window; angry and confused. This life’s
transparent glass will fool you, time and time
again. Here comes the rain! But you are stuck
inside, unable, in your bang-crashed head,
to turn around and fly from it – this glass
you do not even know is there. ‘This air
is solid, like a brick, or like an axe,’
you say, ‘but unlike both, cannot be seen.’
It isn’t solid air which stops you gaining
your freedom, it’s your terrible insistence
that something there is not. Stop using all
your energies to penetrate its skin.
Instead, try silence; save your wings for when
you hear an open window. When you do,
f      l      y         a      w      a      y.

Friday, 30 August 2019

Late August in Sommières

Late August in Sommières,
the air outside like a lazy oven,
and I’m torn between, on the one hand, doing nothing,
and, on the other, doing absolutely sod all.

It’s a real dilemma (isn’t it?)
when you find yourself impossibly torn
between two momentous decisions.

I wonder what the Butterfly of Chaos
would have to say about it all.

‘Well, Ferg, if, on the one hand, you do nothing,
two fires in the Amazonian Rainforest
will rage for slightly less time,

preserving an as yet undiscovered plant
which would otherwise become extinct,
and within which hides the cure for, among other things,

insurance scams, kleptomania, and road rage –
yeah, man, that plant’s a real doozy;

on the other hand, if you do absolutely sod all,’
he continues, ‘GDP in Somalia
is going to grow an extra 0.7 percent in the next quarter.

Of course, you could continue to write this poem,
if you can call it a poem,
but that would totally mess with the street value of cocaine
in North Humberside.’

All of this surprises me; I had assumed that
Butterfly’s arcane knowledge was restricted to
matters meteorological.

‘Life’s full of surprises,’ he says,
as if he had been reading my thoughts.

‘There’s no as if about it,’ says Butterfly.
‘I was totally reading your thoughts.’
And, with a flap of his wings,
he vanishes.

Alone with my thoughts again,
I wonder how the cokeheads of North Humberside
are going to take the news.


So, there I was, innovating my new karate move,
Owl Double Scissor Attack in the Face,
when I found myself, as so often I do,
in a parallel universe,
standing, bloody-handed and breathless,
in front of an actual owl,
with two actual pairs of scissors
sticking out of its actual face,
looking like some sort of spectacled owl whimsy,
(if you can imagine the scene
without all of the horrific carnage, that is),
when who should walk in but the sewing maid,
and, call it coincidence, or serendipity,
or even synchronicity (if you’re a fan of Carl Jung),
but just the previous day I’d been working on
Scissor the Sewing Maid in the Back While You’re At It,
a fiendishly complex manoeuvre
involving scissors, a sewing maid, and a back,
and I just had to see if it worked –
which, as you can see, it did, officer.

Spectacled Owl Whimsy

   for Slim

Some phrases you read are more splendid than most,
   ‘Best words in best order’ they certainly show.
I recently found, on a friend’s Facebook post,
   A striking example which made me think, ‘Oh!
   It’s into a poem that you need to go!’
Robust and amusing, and not the least flimsy,
Three words, to wit*: spectacled, owl and whimsy.

These words, I expect, never met up before,
   (The whimsy of owls wearing glasses is rare),
But put them together? They’re hard to ignore,
   Like elephant, trousers and everywhere,
   Or, ornithological, cheesecake and hair.
Put spectacled owl whimsy onto the list,
Of phrases which really ought not to be missed.

You may now be wondering, ‘Why is he writing,
   Such silly, nonsensical stuff – is he high?’
The reason is simple, and not so exciting:
   I enjoy finding odd things which exemplify,
   The daftness of life, and this caught my eye.
Yes, I like to find phrases uniquely expressed,
And spectacled owl whimsy’s one of the best!

(*to woo)

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


Ah, here we go again:
the bleedin’, blindingly, bloody obvious
etymology of a word

falling out of its invisible box,
revealing itself shamelessly
without so much as an OED.

‘Ta-da! What took you so long, by the way?’
it laughs, good-naturedly,
while I resort to the slapping of a forehead (mine),
astonished at my
s  l  o  w  n  e  s  s.

I question the audacity of calling myself ‘poet’.
Pnnfff! Poet?
Do you even know what that means?
(Checks Dictionary of Etymology;
reframes answer as, ‘Yes’;
inwardly adds, ‘At least, I do now.’)

‘Le Chateau Fort,’ Gemma said,
leafing through a tourist leaflet.
(Can you leaf through a leaflet?
Perhaps I’d better check.)
‘The strong Chateau.’

‘Like a fort,’ I add,
looking around to see if there’s an Alleluia chorus
to mark the before/after border
between linguistic darkness and light.

Fort. Strong. Of course!

Forte. Fortissimo. Fortitude.
Fortress (now considering if this is a female fort).
How could fort’s true meaning
have stayed hidden for so long?

And every time this happens, I wonder:
how many more times?;
how many more words?

Words are stones, I think, getting all poety again,
and sometimes we need an OED
to crack them open; to reveal their hidden fossils.

Other times, there the fossils are, for everyone to see:
as obvious as a strong on top of a hill.

In Absentia

    for Miranda

You remember being taken
to the art gallery in Paisley
where you would stare up at
Dali’s Christ of St John.

I, in my parallel universe,
would stare up at
its copy,
on a bedroom wall.

And I like to think of us,
in our respective childhoods,
just once,
staring at the same picture –

you at the real thing, me at the reproduction –
at precisely the same moment,
with the same sense of awe,
invisibly connected.

Like a Ladder Nailed to the Floor

   ‘You can’t easily rob language of its utility,
   and if you did – where would you put it?’

I have a machine to drain language of meaning;
to denude the outer surface of linguistic purpose.

The surface area of truth;
the square-root of a square being a pair of parallel lines.

Symphony for castanets and hummus sandwiches.
Gift-wrapped monkey boulevard.

Symphony for car-horn and assault rifle.
Concerto for flute and woodpecker.

Cosmonaut ballet.
The importance of not being important.

Rome Still Burned

Rome burned, while the Emperor Nero,
being an Emperor,
decided to play the violin,
a miraculous endeavour,
considering the lack of violins available
until the classical music era;
but then, he was a self-proclaimed deity,
so that explains that little anomaly.

If you’re a God, though,
for whom time is no obstacle
to your choice of musical accompaniment
to the infernal destruction
of your Empire’s capital,
why choose the wretched violin?

‘What’s Nero up to now?’
He’s playing his anachronistic violin again.
‘Are you sure that isn’t just a cat
burning in the flames?’

In one of the infinity of parallel universes,
Nero is a rocking on a Fender strat.
‘Purple haze that, you bastards!’
he roars at the advancing flames
over the Satanic tones of his distorted wah-wah.

In other elsewheres,
he is ripping up some funky bass lines;
improvising a jazz solo
on the only saxophone currently on planet Earth;
dropping a piano from the top floor
of his Emperor’s penthouse
in an avant-garde experiment;
singing along to a karaoke backing track
of ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’.

Which, incidentally,
is the tune which he was playing on his violin
in our reality’s version of events.

The Go Between Opening Line (Take Two)

The past is like a conference for people who do things differently: they do things differently there.

A Bang to the Head

Where are we now? We do not know.
We bang our heads in unison.
We ask in vain, ‘Hello? Hello?
Where are we now? We do not know.’
Be watchful how and where you go,
For life’s a heathen hooligan.
Where are we now? We do not know.
We bang our heads in unison.


You wanted all those things
which lead to recognition from strangers
in supermarkets.

And so, headlines, Twitter trends,
and money,
all gobbled up by a ravenous ego,

never satisfied,

until, inevitably, another fatality to fame,
as obvious as landfill.

People do stupid things
every day of their lives.

Board Games

Cats are not very good at taking turns,
and this is why they are very bad at board games
(well, one of the reasons).

Their method of dice-rolling is particularly eccentric.
‘I will only roll the dice if you put it on the edge of the table,
allowing me to bat it to the floor,
but I shall do this only two or three times,’ says the Cat.

Yes, she’ll do it only two or three times,
because cats have a very low boredom threshold;
and this is another reason why they are so very bad at board games.

Their ability to jump on a table
or to walk along a narrow fence,
while impressive,

are not transferrable skills which can be used to their advantage
when invading Kamchatka during a 3-day Risk marathon.

I could spend the rest of this day
analysing the many reasons
why the cat is such an incompetent opponent

in a game of Monopoly, or Cluedo,
or even Frustration.

Monday, 29 July 2019

It Isn’t Exactly Silence

Nobody likes it when this happens.
And thus it was that I tore the pages from my notebook.
Stop now; this has gone too far.
What exactly does anyone mean by
the square-root of fuck-all?
Nobody ever talks of these things.
Nobody ever talks.
How many esses should that be?

It's Like This

What is the sound of the weather changing?
Is it harmonious, euphonious cacophony,

or simply wind blowing through trees
before the splash of raindrops in an empty garden?

Compare the sound of raindrops in an empty garden
with the sound of emptiness in a garden of raindrops.

Last night, I did not sleep.
That is the sound of the weather changing.

Monday, 22 July 2019

To Look Outside

We are the Gods of Foolishness,
proclaiming loudly to the world
our childish wisdom. Yet we know
so little, even of ourselves.

We listen too much to our thoughts
and feelings; wrap ourselves in self.
We trust in our interpretations,
yet all our trust has been misplaced.

It is imagination’s fault –
we let it carry us away
to where we aren’t, and there we stay,
believing all our made perspectives.

We find ourselves stuck in this place.
It brings us nothing but despair,
and yet we make a home inside its walls;
draw the curtains; lock the doors.

It is a self-made cell, whose safety
allows us to waste our lives ranting.
But listen: no one’s listening.
Pull back the curtains; unlock the door.

Quiet your thoughts; distance your feelings.
Allow yourself to take a leap
of faith; to walk outside, in silence,
for you must start to live again.

Each one of us can find a path
which leads us to a different view:
a place to look outside ourselves;
an endless sky, pointing to heaven.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Checkov's Time Machine

Checkov said that if a gun appears in Act One, then it will fulfil its purpose in Act Three. What he forgot to add was that if a time machine appears in Act Three, it will fulfil its purpose in Act One.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

This Time

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 and Poetry

Death tries his hand at poetry.
‘I’m innovating an inter-dimensional sestina,’
he explains.
‘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?’
he asks.
‘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,’
I explain.
‘Like the one you’re writing now? No offence,’
he says.
‘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,’
says Death.
‘I can cope with endings.’

Friday, 14 June 2019


    after Kenko

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

   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.

Never Finished, Only Abandoned (ii)

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

Beard Wisdom

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

Tangerine Feat

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.’

Tangerine Feet

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,
wistfulness, stupidity…
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


     eat           after
Don't count your chickens before they've hatched.

Taking Stock

     stock cubes
Too many / cooks spoil the broth.

I Try Out Different Ideologies

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

Second Person

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, It Was Really Nothing

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?