Thursday, 28 December 2017


moss-stained stones
on a frozen morning
and I think of you
always out of sight
hidden in your box
forever gone
while I travel past
another graveyard

last sighting

a half-known tale
of silent lines
soundless figures
a long vanishing
and then what was
what never was

The Wisdom of King Solomon

was not in finding out the child’s true mother
but knowing that the child should stay with her
and not some grasping, lying, phoney other.

[After Reading David Barnabas Hughes' Master's Dissertation on 'Philomena']

Saturday, 16 December 2017

...of blossom

this fallen tree
this severed branch
these broken twigs
this lifeless leaf
and this lost memory...

Friday, 15 December 2017

No Butterflies Today

No butterflies today. No flowers.
No trees. No hills. No sunsets burning.
No wondrous awe. No insights clear
demanding to be written down
right now/right here. No wry asides.
No sharpened wit. No Hudibrastic rhymes.
No silence giving birth to thought.
No that. No this. No deft reveal.
No metaphors. No meanings hidden.
No eyes opaque. No new day born.
No ocean waves. No invitation.
No path. No seat. No wall. No view.
No flame alight. No skewered smile.
No sunken clouds. No crashing fear.
No silent march to unheard screams.
No staring at the clock. No poets' dreams.
No book. No page. No line. No pen.
No ink. No words to say. No end.

Friday, 3 November 2017


not finding
my father
I found hers
like dodgy knees
one of those things
which ran
in our family


Today, I fix the past with knives and forks.
I grasp then carve. I grab until my hands
are full and nail a feast of question marks
along the wall. The handle smashes nails
and plaster, masonry and paint; the brick
beneath the surface breathes out orange dust.

The question marks lie broken on the floor;
they could not stay in place. I pick them up
and rearrange each broken line till words
appear. I rearrange them once again,
then twice, then three times, over and over, shaping
new words: the infinite variety
of answers. Standing back, I look again,
and see that all I have are question marks.


I was the tree which did not grow.
I drew myself upon a page:
stick arms; stick legs; stick body; head.

They all became unstuck. Without
your roots, you f
              a                              l
l                              a
     p                                    a
t with ease.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017


and once I had seen
her face
the mirror
in my en suite bathroom
for the first time

Monday, 16 October 2017

Five Hundred Thousand Mothers

Stranded on a beach of sinking stones,
she whispered mute words to the ocean’s spray.
Despair matched its depths,
filled by a single tear.
Waves conjured half a million sisters,
whose emptied arms grasped
unseen ghosts to torn hearts.

Drained blood birthed stems of thorned wounds,
their flowers drowned in salt water.
Held fast by loss, they eroded,
the sound of this slow shattering
their one lullaby;
the distance between each note
eternal and infinite.

[“Half a Million Women” is a book which tells the stories 
of some of the mothers, many of whom had no choice, 
who lost their children to adoption
The style and tone of this poem is 
inspired by Antony Owen's exquisite collection,'The Nagasaki Elder']

Whither Sleep?

What time is this to be awake?
The night cut short; the stars still out;
The mind alert. For goodness’ sake!
What time is this to be awake?
What chance that rest will overtake?
Is slumber out of reach? No doubt.
What time is this to be awake?
The night cut short, the stars still out.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

The Sign on the Door

I find myself opening the door
to The Disaster Shop. Inside,
there are disasters everywhere,
and dust, and concrete, and a ceiling
which collapses every now and then.

I trip over the carpet, land,
if that’s the right word, on my knees,
and ask to see the manager.
His hair is on fire, his clothes ash,
his words a yoking of the mismatched.

‘Wonderful bombs. Beautiful hate,’
he signs with opposable digits.
‘Speaking in thumbs,’ he signs. ‘Like speaking
in tongues, but somewhat less salacious.
Gorgeously dead. Gifted despair.’

Laden with thoughts of mute disaster,
I leave the shop by the wrong door,
quietly. The ceiling collapses.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Inside the Sounds

I give up wearing glasses, watch
the sunrise crash into the clouds,
and wait until the sky fades out.

I have no words as all my thoughts
jostle inside my head, displaced
by beats and notes, guitars and lights.

I catch a streak of gasoline,
light a match, then stand well back,
watching the flames from a safe distance.

Nothing reflects off nothing, jumps
aside (waving its arms), dissolves,
reacts, and waits to catch its space.

I walk sideways along a bassline,
displace my thanks but no thanks mood,
disarm myself and swim in sleep.

I place more questions in my case,
carry my thoughts inside a box,
laugh like a coffin, breathe in sounds.

Floating in minor chords, awoken
by pianos, folded into masks,
something occurs (I don’t know what).

I land in silence, walk around it,
inspect its lack of empty substance,
go back to wearing glasses.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017


I didn’t even know
I was a jigsaw

What about Beethoven’s Fifth
without the first eight chords

She Loves You
without the Yeahs

Van Gogh’s Sunflowers
painted in black and white

Satisfaction without
the word satisfaction

Hamlet without Hamlet

Mona Lisa facing
the other way

or, better still:
just the scenery

(c. summer 1990)

Sunday, 24 September 2017

you know that feeling you get part three

you know that feeling you get on day two of boarding school them was days when the so far avuncular deputy head lines up your year single file on the stone cold stone Victorian staircase love a bit of gothic and holds open the door to the corridor for each boy to walk through one by one by one having first asked each boy to introduce himself by way of saying his name out loud the sure fire way of learning thirty five names creating an eager procession of boy door name usher though with wave of hand boy door name usher though with wave of hand boy door name usher though with wave of hand as if he’s a black robed st peter cheerfully welcoming chosen souls into the kingdom of heaven or perhaps a demon at one of hell’s portals to a backdrop of nervous laughter forward slash general air of boyish bonhomie boy door name usher though with wave of hand boy door name usher though with wave of hand until it’s your turn boy door name but instead of ushering you through with the hand wave thing to join the other chosen or is it lost souls he pauses you with a hand just long enough to say oh you’re the adopted one been there done that got the red face before ushering you through one of hell’s portals so it transpires well there must be a word for that don’t you think

Monday, 11 September 2017

*New Collection* Everyone Is Now Unhappy

My new collection of poems, 'Everyone Is Now Unhappy', is now available to buy from Burning Eye Books.

Ironically, reading it will dispel unhappiness. Also, buying a copy will make me happy, so, if you do - thanks!

Saturday, 26 August 2017

I do not consent to the deletion of this data

Everyone around me seems to fit,
they seem connected to something,
something I’m not.

It’s like I have no past.
Nothing I have is real.

This is where they took us from.
We used to sleep right here.
We had nothing except each other.
They took that from us.

Your name was: considered disposable.

We never needed your consent.
Yours or anyone’s

[Un objet trouvé]

Thursday, 17 August 2017


Our father of suffering,
we thank you for your gifts of pointless pain;
we all of us are worthless.
We blame ourselves completely
for all the mess that you made and put us in.
We hate ourselves in your name:
bestow on us all your wondrous works of self-loathing,
fear of success and crippling insecurity of spirit.
We praise you for your poverty of kindness.
Raise up our crosses, Lord,
and nail us to them in your wise benevolence.
Accept the contrition of our pain and anguish
as proof of our devotion.
Maim us, torture us, kill us
as sacrifices you created to suffer in your name.
Send us down to Hell where we belong
with all your countless sinners,
while you survey the catastrophic heap of your creation
from your throne on high in highest Heaven
where only you can sit
in perfect isolation: a smug, conceited, condescending, patronising
version of love
which only you can know
or even understand.

Where to Now?

Let’s force the sinners into Heaven,
for happiness is overrated.


Fill every day with dumb distractions
which ride the falling waves of pointless.


No memory could match those losses
found in my unknown father’s grave.


Your table laid with food I could not eat:
I ended up both starved and poisoned.


Reality viewed upside-down was
no less confusing than my latest poem.

Sunday, 13 August 2017


the job is difficult and skilful
pull intellectual face (glasses)

intense demands of being handsome
stare into distance (point)

some days I have to leave my stubble
laugh at nothing (big jumpers)

it’s not a job that everyone can do
to look nonchalant in pants (not mine)

I have no words to speak but silence
legs on catwalk (Paris)/face in catalogue (Argos)

Thursday, 3 August 2017


making sense of the impossible
the rage of years channelled into verse
defiantly fucked up

the magnificent catastrophe
the majestic disaster
on the glorious occasion, of this splendid defeat

and it all comes back
the drama
the horror

the cruelty

to live in the wrong skin
with the fury
and the anger
the compulsion and catastrophic thinking

defiant against the travesty of the past
the people
the evil people

and so today 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Positive Energy

Today, I shall be enthusiastic;
too enthusiastic.
The louder I am,
the more insincere.

You have a new
dress/ car/
whatever/ thing?

That’s fantastic.
That’s just amazing.
Totally awesome.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Being Morrissey

   for Neil Laurenson

Morrissey is under an iron bridge,
tied to the back of a car.
He has a thorn in his side,
his Walkman has melted,
and his bicycle has a flat tyre.
He is feeling very sick and ill,
throwing his homework on to the fire,
and panicking.
While being criminally vulgar,
he falls out of bed, twice.
Now, he is miserable.
He jumps in front of a flying bullet,
smells the last ten seconds of life,
and knows: it’s over.
Every day is like this,
in the job he never wanted.

Beauty and the Beauty

   for Pippa

My mind still in the past,
I sat inside the Village Hall,
transfixed by Pippa as the Prince,
who, seconds earlier, before
the cloud of smoke, had been The Beast
(perhaps even more magical than
when Adrian had made a jug
of milk clean vanish down his sleeve).
Reminding her of this, I’d written,
‘You changed – from Beast to Beauty? – in
a puff of theatrical smoke.’
‘I turned into a handsome Prince!’
she wrote, by way of a reply.
I sat there thinking to myself:
those bloody Freudian slips, eh?

Saturday, 24 June 2017


for Adrian, Mimi and Pippa

On a day for memories, I thought of you all; found some of my childhood and remembered.

There I was, that smiling child, lying on the carpet, transfixed by the lift in Adrian’s old toy garage. Up and up and up, then whoosh; paint-chipped Dinky toys racing down the ramp; no sound was more satisfying.

I saw myself sitting at the table outside your kitchen, with Mimi and Pippa (who seem to be something of a sisterly double-act in my recollections), sitting opposite me, cajoling an uncertain Fergus into taking a teaspoon of ‘medicine’ (I’m practising for when I’m a nurse, said Mimi). And when I refused (medicine is surely yuck), Pippa, who always had a laugh in her voice, telling me that it wasn’t really medicine, but rose-hip syrup. I didn’t believe you (roses are flowers!). I relented, of course, and was so amazed that I became a willing patient.

Joanella telling me to wake Adrian up by tickling his feet (That should get him up! or words to that effect). Who’s that tickling my feet? like a teenage troll from the Billy Goat’s Gruff. When I asked What’s that? he put his headphones on my head and almost blew my little mind, although they weren’t as cool – nothing was – as his digital watch. I throw it across the room when the alarm goes off in the morning! he said, to my disbelieving dismay. And, now that I think about it, I’m still amazed that he managed to pour a jug of milk into a newspaper without spilling it on the living-room floor (on my ?4th birthday).

Mimi, or perhaps Pippa, explaining in excited tones how the TV wasn’t working because it had exploded! Being taken to a bedroom to be played a record by (I think) either Marc Bolan or David Bowie, and I thought it sounded awful, but when Mimi (was it?) played ‘Sailing’ on the downstairs music system, I couldn’t get enough of it.

And roses (not rose-hips), and yapping Tara, and your mother being the only person (apart from my wife) who has ever called me darling, and forever equating horses with Pippa, and Adrian taking me out on my 11th and 12th birthdays at the dreaded Ampleforth (and also to the theatre for the first time when I was 14, to see a bedroom farce), and nervously ushering at Pippa’s wedding, and Frant, and Gilpin Cottage, and being loved by your mother, and always feeling happy whenever we saw the Slatterys (sp?!).

It’s probably rather sentimental of me to say so, but I think that neuroscientists (not many sentences about sentimentality contain this word, but I suppose there’s a first time for everything) are looking in the wrong place when trying to find which part of the brain houses memories, because, so far as I can tell, they form in your heart; and that is where we find them.

11th Birthday Bumps! (photo: Joanella)

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

How to Be Happy

Although he is as taciturn as ever
I tell the tree what is troubling my mind.

Ten minutes in, he still has no reply.
I carry on, not feeling in the slightest
bit mad (although I start to, just a little).

An hour in, tree clears his throat and says,
Perhaps next time you might trouble the flowers
instead? ‘But you’re a metaphor for paper,’
I say. But flowers might cheer you up, he answers.

‘They aren’t a metaphor for anything,’
I say. They might be; you never can tell.

I ask my cat what she thinks. Birds. Miaow.
Beyond those thoughts, I couldn’t really say.

I start to tell the flowers what I told
the tree. We heard, they sang (sang?). Look at it
like this: we’re pink, you’re pink; we’re delicate,
admit it – so are you. You’re basically a flower.

‘So when I’m talking to you flowers,’ I say,
‘really, I’m talking to myself?’ That’s right!

And thus it was I found myself less troubled.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017


We crossed that border, you and I,
and found an unfamiliar land.

There were no signposts, milestones, maps,
just empty roads, and you and me.

We walked in wordless silence;
we walked until the darkness came.

I could not see you as I stumbled
towards a grey, unquiet sleep.


I stared at brick walls when I woke:
the curtains drawn, the door left open.

There were no mirrors to be seen;
there were no pictures, only frames.

Your absence made my heart a stone,
ice-water ran inside my veins.

I wandered through that house for years;
and wondered where it was you’d gone.


I left that place and crossed a border;
I found my own familiar land.

My blood returned, my heart grew back:
I made a new house with my love.

We painted walls; made shining mirrors;
our stories lit up laughing rooms.

And when we saw our home was built,
we fell into each other’s arms.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Teacher’s Song

The classroom where you teach is just a room:
it has four walls, a ceiling and a floor;
the colour scheme is bland; the furniture
is functional. This room does not inspire.

And yet. And yet. Inside this room there is
a door. You will not see it with your eyes,
you cannot touch its frame, or turn its handle,
for it is of the mind. Unopened. Locked.

No ordinary key unlocks this quite
extraordinary door, it takes a special one:
a key of words, of thoughts, of wisdom’s reach;
an incantation woven by a teacher.

Unlock this door, and then invite your children
to push it open for themselves, and walk
into the world that waits for them: a world
of knowledge, and all the freedom knowledge brings.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Sgt Pepperland

Like many people, I was a Beatles obsessive in my youth. Unlike many people (or, I suspect, any people), I took my obsession to a whole new level of nerdiness: I asked the Director of Music at Ampleforth to let me write my 5,000 word O’Level music project on the music of the Beatles. He countered with, “If you like songs, why not study Schubert?” I pointed out that we were already studying his string quartet in A minor. It was still a no. He eventually relented after I presented him with an analysis of “Yesterday” and a working title: The Styles and Forms of the Beatles Melodic Lines. (What was wrong with Melodies? ‘Melodic Lines’? Pffft. What a waffler.) It remains the only piece of academic work I wrote which had any originality or insight, and which I am proud of.

Thirty-three years after my Magnum Opus, I find myself in Sgt. Pepperland, being regaled by “It was 50 years ago today…” nostalgia. It’s a decadal event (it was twenty years ago… now thirty years ago… now forty years ago…), which is fitting, I suppose, given that ‘Sgt, Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band’ is an album which you only need to listen to every ten years – to remind yourself that, yes, most of the songs are a disappointment. 

This is a common criticism, and there are two counter-arguments which are put forward in mitigation: (i) the sonic innovations were revolutionary; and (ii) the album was a 'cultural event' enjoyed many millions of people.

In answer to point (i): Revolutionary sonic innovations are startling at the time, but there’s only so many times one can be impressed by a flange on the lead vocal; and what was once an innovation eventually becomes either old-hat or dated – because if you innovate a studio effect which everyone else can copy, then they will. The thing with revolutions is that everyone else wants to join in. The Beatles spent nine months in the studio on the sound of the songs, rather than on the songs themselves. A great deal of icing for a small amount of cake. You may disagree. I’ll always find ‘When I’m 64’ embarrassing; think of ‘She’s Leaving Home’ as the second photocopy of ‘Yesterday’ (‘Eleanor Rigby’ being the first photocopy); fast forward ‘Within You, Without You’; cringe at the lyrical tweeness of ‘Lovely Rita’; take a pass on the cloying sweetness of ‘With a Little Help…’. Elsewhere, the problem with the songs is an imbalance in the Lennon/McCartney partnership very heavily in favour of McCartney. Personal preference also plays a big part in my disliking of this album: I don’t like big production.

As for point (ii), I’m put in mind of Seneca’s letter to Lucilius ‘On Crowds’: ‘Lay these words to heart, that you may scorn the pleasure which comes from the applause of the majority… have you any reason to be pleased with yourself if you are a person whom the many can understand?’

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Shop-Bought Child

Plastic smile.
Glass-eyed windows –
absent soul.

Meaning drained –
string-pulled phrases.
Cut hair can’t grow back.

Pinocchio reversed
played the part of
some unborn child.


Monday, 22 May 2017


I write a text for my wife.
Thinking if you… I read, but only after having pressed ‘SEND’.
(I clearly only proofread texts to my wife after I have sent them.)
Thinking if you… what, though? I thought.
Thinking if you... could proofread my texts for me before I send them?
Thinking if you... are as careless as I am when texting?
Thinking if you... remembered how haphazard and absent-minded I can be,
‘cos if not: here’s a reminder.
Reflecting on the infinite variety of language
I realise that Thinking if you... could be completed in an infinity of ways.
Thinking if you... are dancing around your classroom like the ballerina you once were.
Thinking if you... are marking books.
Almost certain.
Thinking if you...are secretly a fox.
Now I’m just being silly.
I don’t send these thoughts of her.
Instead, I send her the rather more prosaic:
Leaving now
She replies, a few minutes later.
Sage journey
I reply.

Potatoes Done 47 Ways

potatoes with sunshine
grieving potatoes
silent potatoes
talentless potatoes
chewy potatoes
potatoes on the cob
potato jam
vodka-infused potatoes
kiss-of-death potatoes
potatoes in a lift
mind-reading potatoes
much-vaunted potatoes
poached potatoes
laughable potatoes
potatoes Marseillaise (with horn section and timpani)
potatoes for beginners
forbidden potatoes
potatoes nouvelle riche
vending-machine potatoes
potatoes camouflaged as rocks
overly elaborate potatoes
too many potatoes  
baked Alaska potatoes
minimalist potatoes
potatoes cor Anglais
water divining potatoes
jellied potatoes
crispy, roast, blow-torched and incinerated potatoes
indifferent potatoes
potatoes kleptomaniac
peppermint potatoes
Godforsaken potatoes
hated potatoes
Panzer Division potatoes
excommunicated potatoes
potatoes done medium rare
freethinking potatoes
catastrophe potatoes
potatoes à la pommes de terre
potatoes ooh-la-la!
potatoes quelle surprise
Grade 8 piano potatoes
potatoes in a jar
old potatoes
no potatoes

Served with chips

When auditioning for MasterChef

I prepared a starter of moustaches done three ways:

Hitler. Stalin. Porn.

For the main course, I prepared my signature dish:

Fergus McGonigal

written in milky veal blood on a rectangular plate; a salad of inedible flowers; and potatoes done 47 ways.

For pudding, a deconstructed novel.

Hay smoked foreword. Sous vide chapters. Blurb custard, spelling out the words:

I hope you’re happy now.

Thursday, 4 May 2017


Big sis.
‘Imp. Of Being Earnest’
Eng. Lit. O’Level.
‘Lose one parent? Unfortch.
Two? Carelessness’.
Adoptive parents,
three natural children:
much laughter.


Thursday, 27 April 2017

So there I was carrying out my daily

ablutions when I reached that point involving
some cotton balls. I stood before the mirror
and, almost pleased with what I saw, began
to cleanse my handsome, nearly perfect face.
I took a cotton ball and dipped it in
some cool, clear, refreshing cleansing liquid
(bought from a store in Paris by a minion,
then flown ten thousand miles to where I was).
And as I drew the half-soaked ball across
my face, I realised that if I wanted
to buy, let’s say, a thousand cotton balls
a day, then that was my prerogative.
But why stop there? I thought; I could afford
fifteen times that amount! But why stop there?
at fifteen thousand cotton balls a day.
I could make it my thing and be the man
who bought a million cotton balls a day.
I’d send my forty employees around
the world in search of cotton balls which they
could buy in crates and ship to my address.
I’d end up owning billions of the things,
my multi-hundred-million dollar fortune
reduced to one, vast, pointless cotton mountain
in which I could luxuriate forever.
I basically need saving from myself.

[After Mark Waldron’s ‘So I was at home doing the washing up’.]

'If I want to buy 15,000 cotton balls a day, it's my thing' - Johnny Depp

Thursday, 20 April 2017

I Am You Are

I am immedicable anyway. You are copywritten ideas.
I am an unstable podium. You are soft-focus meadows.
I am drifting towards. You are a coat-hanger.
I am books. You are the age of consent.
      One of us is a pseud.

I am an open idea. You are a disinterested onlooker.
I am an unfinished statue. You are featureless terrain.
I am unskilled in life. You are as vigilant as tattoos.
I am a workshop exit. You are inert.
      One of us is incompetent.

I am frayed down the middle. You are indecipherable.
I am rowdy or is it wordy? You are proper hardcore.
I am the ritual of diagnosis. You are a careless hoaxer.
I am a forgery. You are almost inevitable.
      One of us is insane.

I am the liturgy of the word. You are the toast.
I am ignominy. You are unasked-for redemption.
I am lost again. You are the nearness of popcorn.
I am the neglected. You are the thought.
      One of us is target practice.

I am all about the garden furniture. You are working-class escapology.
I am an anti-bacterial glove. You are almost wine.
I am heat. You are the lines on a map.
I am artistic. You are bludgeoning.
      One of us is a door.

I am neat alcohol. You are an emphatic voice.
I am a heedless contrarian. You are the lottery.
I am undeniably illegible. You are respite care.
I am ssshhhh. You are pffft.
      One of us is inarticulate.

I am part-time catatonic. You are pre-emptive.
I am a scrambled foothold. You are for illustrative purposes only.
I am rockburst (look it up). You are unfinished key lime pie.
I am kleptomania. You are vertigo.
      We are The Gods of All Things.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

A Garden Such as This

The electronic hum of bees and wasps,
fixed atop narrow rods. They sometimes sway.
The cannot pollinate. Their stings are blunt.

The flowers’ metal hinges groan. Their brightness
has faded: dull pale pastel ghosts of colour;
some dead-headed with a pair of bolt-cutters.

The concrete lawn with perfect painted lines:
that shade of sickly institution green.
Grazes of pain for any child who plays there.

The hollow iron tree which doesn’t grow,
or change, or mirror seasons with its blossoms
and leaves. There it stands: stupid; a dead fiction.

The rusted mesh of wire which wove a bird’s nest:
empty of life; housing chrome-plated eggs.
A stuffed bird sings from speakers in her eyes.

The lifeless, cold and joyless work of fools;
a curiosity of sly pretence,
its every inch decisively unnatural.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Eulogy for those Earnest Young Sentimental Spoken Wordsmiths and their Overuse of Anapaestic Feet, Overcooked Rhyming, and Rambling Solipsistic Cod-Philosophising, Just Like My Nan Used to Say

Remember those times when we used to play football in the park,
Past mum’s 6 o’clock curfew, and well into dark,
So that we could hardly see Jogger and Baz’s jumper goalposts,
Not quite yet youthful indiscretion,
More youthful.
A lark?
Same place, a few years later, found us, like unwanted precious stoners,
Glugging cheap cider and smoking Jogger and Kev’s badly rolled spliffs,
And we looked up to the stars, as if for the first time in our lives,
And realised it was well past our bedtimes.
Yes, we had an authentic childhood,
Raised on food that had been pre-packaged and bland,
As we dreamt of being
In a locked-up.
Just so that I could impress that girl I sat next to in middle-set maths,
With the stars in her hairband,
And the sunshine in her ached-for smile.
I sweated my young blood writing her unseen, unread, unwanted poems:
Like my breath on the wayward wind, carried everywhere and nowhere fast,
Me and my teenage crush I was convinced
Would last.
She stole my adolescent heart,
But here’s the really crushing part,
She became a teenage mum, pushing her too-soon filled buggy in that park,
As I held my crumpled heart
In my cold, small hands, like a joy-ridden car.
And I wondered lonely through my life,
The lonely boy,
The only boy
In the world who had feelings,
While all the other lads played their neverending games of ‘Life is a Series of Practical Jokes’,
Talked-up with machismo, and yet more
As they half-danced their way from being young laddish lads
To grown-up
You see, it’s like that man said, or maybe didn’t, but should’ve:
Life is like a bowl of nuts.
Am I Jack Kerouac?
Am I Mhari Black?
Or am I just Noel Gallagher singing ‘Don’t Look Back.’
In Anger?
And I remember Jogger,
And I remember and Baz,
And I remember that girl I sat next to in
With the stars in her smile,
And the sunshine in her ached-for hairband,
And her buggy in that park.
And as I recalled all of those things,
It came as something of a surprise
To realise
That I was almost, but not quite yet.
Oh, so.
Or was I?
You see, the unsaid thought that needs to be said,
That I need to get out of my poetry-filled head,
Cos it won’t shut up, like a really catchy song by
Is that I, with all my poemish words,
Am really, yours truly, madly and deeply:
A composite only,
A caravan of many,
A campsite of baloney,
A cornucopia of youth,
A corny-cope-with-life of:
So, as I take my bardly bow,
I'm hoping that you will allow,
For one last time, an overuse of rhyme:
Cos what I’m really trying to say, you see, is:
It wasn’t easy being a sensitive boy pretending to like football,
And it isn’t easy, now, finally, I can say with some authority
To be a poetry-inspired man,
But is very easy to open a Nationwide Savings Account.
My Nan.
Used to say.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Adoption and Surrealism

Surrealists tried to create meaning in a world made strange and alien by the trauma of war.

The task for the adoptee is similar: to try to create meaning in a world made strange and alien by the trauma of adoption.

Thus, imagining ‘putting your mother’s sofa up a tree’ to explain that ‘this how you’ve always felt’ is a surreal attempt to make meaning out of the strangeness and alienation which results from adoption trauma.

Is adoption a state of being which is impossible to explain or understand with sole reference to the rational?

Or do one's feelings about adoption belong in the surrealist's ‘Kingdom of the Irrational’?

I find that they can often be explained by reference to the surreal.

The Mathematics of Adoption

"Everything is the opposite of what it should be."

‘Go forth and multiply’ young married couples have always been exhorted to do. But who had the authority to say, ‘However, if that doesn’t work: go forth and divide and then take away’?

Society created the equation (problem) which must be solved:

unmarried mother + baby = unacceptable.

The equation is solved by the division of the whole; the division of the unit – baby and mother – into two fractions[i].

What you do on one side of the equation must be balanced out on the other side: the subtraction of the baby from the mother is balanced by the addition of the baby to the adoptive parents. However, once the division has occurred, and the baby is subtracted from the whole, you are left with an incomplete baby: what the adoptive parents get is not a whole child – they get the fraction of a unit, which will grow up always feeling that sense of division/subtraction from the mother and from the self.

Society sees and acknowledges only the ‘solution’ to the equation:

infertile married couple[ii] + adopted baby = acceptable

This solution is given a big tick and marked by everyone (apart from the mother and baby) as ‘Correct’. Society knows what division and subtraction must have been involved in the solving of this equation, but prefers not to acknowledge it; not to see the working out, which has been erased. Not only does society only look at the solution but it also celebrates the solution, and repeatedly demands – insists ad nauseam! – that the child feel grateful for the solution and lucky that the solution happened.

The adopted child therefore inhabits a perverse reality in which he is expected to feel grateful that he has been subtracted from his mother, and lucky that the division between himself and his mother happened.  But the loss of mother, and the incalculable damage that loss inflicted upon the infant, should be acknowledged and mourned, not celebrated.

Everything is the opposite of what it should be.

[i] fractions which, if later added back together, do not add up to make the whole unit again; their values having been changed by life’s calculations so that they can no longer equal a ‘whole’ – which is a shock for most adoptees upon finding their mothers: they do not find themselves, they find just another stranger; the fantasy of being made complete upon meeting mother is just that – a fantasy.

[ii] or ‘saintly married couple’ if they already have their own children and are adopting as a ‘good deed’  (the ‘good deed’ adoption may also mask secondary infertility, which can be erased along with the working out of the equation).

Friday, 7 April 2017

(from) 'Modern Psalms for the Age of Dysfunctionality'

No.42 ‘Hymn to Us – The Lost Tribe of Isn’t Real

Psalm               (Commentary)

Oh, what Joy! (Whatever that is) 

To be Your children. (Are we your children? It’s always a possibility, I suppose. After all – we have to be somebody’s children, don’t we?) 

We sing praises to Heaven! (Despite being denied access. Let’s face it – singing to it will probably be the closest any of us will ever get) 

And Alleluias! (Alle-fucking-luias all the way, eh? Sorry for the profanity, although, we’re not that sorry; in fact, we’re not sorry at all, and may even say it again)

Oh, guide us, lead us and show us the way. (And then, if history is anything to go by, escort us off the premises)

We, Your Chosen People, (We’re being self-referentially ironic, here: we really wish you’d stop calling us chosen’; it’s utter bollocks, and well you know it) 

We humbly offer You our thanks: (Because you can’t be made to feel grateful often enough, ain’t that the truth? Can I get an ’Alleluia’? No? Right, move on)

Glory! Glory! (Allulia! Or, perhaps, Alle-fucking-luia again. Sorry: #Sarcasm)

Although we are not worthy,  (Actually, it’s bad enough feeling worthless without being made to say it out loud, week after week. Genuinely not funny)

Stop fucking about and tell us the truth already. (‘Nuff said)

Amen (To all that)

...and how it reads without the commentary...

Psalm 42

Oh, what Joy! To be Your children.
We sing praises to Heaven! And Alleluias!

Oh, guide us, lead us and show us the way.
We, Your Chosen People, We humbly offer
You our thanks: Glory! Glory!

Although we are not worthy,
Stop fucking about and tell us the truth already. 



The others drew up in an endless succession:
their unions an Alaskan wilderness;
the hangman’s lines mapped on their faces.

A cavalcade of the silently bereft,
whose unseen losses would be hidden
by the appearance of us.

And we were infant prizes,
given away in a shameless charade
of pass the human parcel.

The layers of our histories were hastily unwrapped;
discarded along with our protestations,
and our mothers’ forbidden anguish.

All safety and security annihilated,
we panicked, horrified at the unspeakable absence
of mother; of self.

We hid inside our dismal shrouds of despair,
our familiars vanished: face, voice, taste, touch, smell;
replaced by unrecognisable otherness.

They squandered our identities,
made us strangers to ourselves,
and pretenders to their inheritance.

This, then, is how we lived our childhoods:
as ghosts, like the dead, shrouded always,
and forever hidden from our mothers.

Monday, 3 April 2017

The Existential Bicycle Writes Again

The Existential Bicycle is writing.
A cavalcade of words along the beach
appears in wheely arcs and un-straight lines.
The beach contains a wealth of empty space,
he adds, fearing that writers’ block has struck.
He tries his hand at Automatic Writing:
Religion is a fascist accident,
started by fools, continued by dark devils,
and swallowed by the credulous and scared.
It’s too much like philosophy, he thinks,
or not enough like poetry. Or maybe,
he thinks again, it’s simply an opinion,
expressed in clumsy haste by someone angry:
neither philosophy nor poetry.
He stops his search for the profound, and turns
to look towards a neatly drawn horizon.
He falls asleep and dreams of words and words.
The whole world is poetry when he awakes,
and words are written by stars in the sky:
Look up towards the stars to find
a new perspective. Atoms form from starry
explosions. All the things we see – ourselves,
and everything around us – are not new,
but are re-shaped by chance on chance on chance.
Solid matter is space dressed up as substance.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Existential Bicycle and Words

The Existential Bicycle woke up
on the Sandiest Beach in the Whole World.
The endless shore was empty; solitude
his one companion. Up he got to cycle,
but found that he was writing on the sand
in giant, swirling arcs of wheelie lines:
This cage will set you free. Its iron bars
will give you something firm to contemplate;
angular lines to gild Dystopia:
cylindrical, restrictive, cold, and solid;
its see-though shapes will lead your mind elsewhere.
You fill the emptiness inside the cage
with unseen words; the magic ink of thoughts.
He wasn’t sure what any of it meant,
but wrote it anyway. He used to dream
of cycling on the flats of Holland,
or Norfolk; anywhere which was denuded
of hills, those enemies of bikely balance,
but now he rarely thinks of them:
the level surfaces; the lack of inclines.
He writes his way to freedom, line by line;
each day’s endeavours swept away
at night, by winds which bring the next day’s words.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Search Elsewhere

Because I do not know my father’s name,
I will not search for him in any records.
I will not run my fingers down a page
of Births and shout ‘Eureka!’ when I find
his name because I have no name to find.
The Register of Marriages will stay
unopened on its shelf. Page after page
of Deaths will not be touched by trembling hands.
I will not celebrate his birth. I will
not find his grave and leave fresh flowers there.
I will not pay my last respects or say
a silent graveside prayer. If here is where
I always am, then he will always be
elsewhere: beyond my reach; beyond my grasp.
Because I will not ever find my father,
instead, I search for traces he has left;
the traces which have skipped a generation;
the traces which have landed in my sons,
all five of them. One time, when they were growing up,
I lined them up like Russian dolls, and somehow,
a minor miracle, they stood still long
enough for Gem to take a photograph:
each one a different shade of someone else;
alike, and yet not so alike, the way
that families often are. They stand forever,
caught in that moment: one, two, three, four, five;
my father’s flesh and blood; my father’s grandsons.
Which one of them, I think, looks most like him?
My five beautiful boys, who say to me,
and always did: do not look back, look forward,
at us, the healers of your saddened heart.
Although you never knew your father’s love,
you know the same cannot be said of us.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Replacement Vase

The vase I was presented with
was fake: the copy of a copy
which wasn’t even real to start with.

I dropped it on the floor and watched
it smash, its gaudy decorations
no longer offending my eye.

I swept the pieces up and threw
them in the bin, then washed the floor
to rid it of all splintered shards.

I bought myself a brand new vase
(not copied from some lousy copy)
whose decorations I could live with.

I placed it on the window sill,
filled it with pink and yellow flowers,
and got on with this act of writing.

Monday, 27 March 2017


I trace the contents of my heart;
transfer them on to see-through paper.
The place where words and page collide
is bloodied like an unwrapped bandage.

Can you decipher streaked red marks
and taste the iron on the page?

The rhythm of my heart becomes
the rhythm hiding in my words:
systolic beats captured in pencil,
their pulses found in measured accents.
What movement will you find when hearing
the heartbeat’s echoes as you read?

Saturday, 25 March 2017


for David

Abandoned children are a different species:
their vanished presence means they do not breathe
life in as others do; their signatures
are not their own; elsewhere is where they spend
their lives. So much locked out, so much locked in.

Abandoned children are a foreign species:
their faces do not show in any mirrors;
the world is not reflected in their eyes.
Their smiles serve to protect them: see them, see
them not. Their hidden hearts conceal. (Conceal.)

Abandoned children find themselves as adults:
still smiling; still elsewhere. Locked out. Locked in.
The secret is to see themselves in others –
those fellow travellers with their off-course childhoods –
who understand what vanished presence means.

Sunday, 19 March 2017


I do not wish to spend my time on writing
poems: the writing of my poems should
be effortless (say I). I want my poems
to land upon my notebook’s page with no
more effort than it takes to make a cup
of tea (no milk or sugar: why waste effort?).
I write this poem in blank verse. Blank verse
is second nature to me (fortch.) and takes
no effort whatsoever: string some words
along that well-worn pentametric line.
This poem’s shaping up quite nicely now
(can I say nicely in a poem – twice?)
and quickly, with a minimum of effort
(forget the content: count the lines it has).
Contrast this with the one I tried to write
this morning (and for what?): three couplets long;
completely incomplete. It took me hours.
   I write the poems which I want to read,
and this takes time. I am impatient. That’s all.

Thursday, 9 March 2017


Let’s break it down and hear what happens...
Rhythm, to start: a five-four beat,
played by a drummer with three left feet.

The sax joins in; hints at a tune
halfway between a wolf and the moon.
Then bass, piano, guitar: each opens

up a soundscape of seasickness.
The audience appreciate
a brave new rhythm: thirteen-eight.

Above the waves of flat-sharp notes
a piano solo barely floats,
before sinking beneath the darkness

from whence a tune tries to escape,
slapped back down by a drowning bass.
It gasps for breath then is no more

as broken fingers meet guitar:
solo from a machine workshop.
Drums now: start/stop/start/stop-stop/start/stop.

The sax brings everybody back
to somewhere near the point they started.
The full ensemble plays together

in glorious disharmony;
crash lands from thirty-thousand feet.
Silence, of sorts. Knowing applause.

Monday, 6 March 2017


Today, the lead in my pencil had run dry;
it did not want to yield up any words.
This isn’t true, strictly speaking,
because here I am, seated at a table,
pencil in hand, words slowly filling up the page.
But I feel as though I’m torturing the lines into existence,
and torture, as we all know, doesn’t yield any truth,
but simply tells us what we want to hear,
until you end up with a meaningless confession.
Blocked, the title which I’ve just written ironically proclaims.
I’m playing hide and seek with words and meaning.
I’ve counted up to twenty, called,
‘Come out, come out wherever you are!’
and left it at that. I’m in no mood for searching, though.
Instead, I’m writing stream of consciousness stuff.
Unconsciousness, perhaps.
Maybe the words have been knocked out from all the torture.
They’re lying hidden, somewhere: beaten, bloodied, incapable of surfacing.
This isn’t poetry, it’s something else:
desperation, or maybe laziness.
No metre, structure, sense of direction,
just blah, blah, blah and a bit more blah.
Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
That’s it; that’s all I’ve got to say:
an unintended metaphor for poetry today.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

We Understand So Little of Ourselves

We understand so little of ourselves,
While others live in many-mirrored halls,
We stare minutely at the cracks in bricks,
At spaces in between the cracks in walls.

We do not hear them when they call our name,
We sit there lost in silent, private thought,
The twisted nets they give us do not work,
The shadows which we chase cannot be caught.

And others have their truth but do not know it,
For knowing’s only found after a fall.
We understand so little of ourselves,
It seems we are not anything at all.