Sunday, 16 December 2018

The New Music

Last week, you tried to play
Beethoven’s Fifth
on your towel.
The week before, it had been
Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp
using a radiator,
and some left-over floor tiles
from your recent kitchen refurbishment.
So, when you said to me
that recently you had made a breakthrough
in your Musical Odyssey
and had learnt to play the banjo
in an afternoon,
while somewhat sceptical,
well, I thought,
it’s good to see you heading
in the right direction;
at least you’ll be able to pick out
some melodies from
whatever latest over-ambitious
musical interpretation
you had decided to conquer.
What would it be?
I briefly wondered.
Certainly not some bluegrass;
that would be far too obvious
for a banjo.
Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto?
The exquisite opening to Mahler’s Fifth?
‘Banjo,’ you said,
‘I have discovered,’ you continued,
‘is’ and here I started to worry,
‘the ideal medium for the poetry of rap,’
and proceeded to play the lyrics
of Public Enemy’s Fight the Power
using your banjo.
And only your banjo.
‘I’m done with musical interpretations,’
you said, after you’d ‘finished’.
‘As well as learning to use the banjo for rap,
I’ve started composing.
It’s easier than I thought,’
you continued, ominously.
‘I have managed to conceive, musically,
what Richard Strauss was unable to do,
and have accurately described
a teaspoon in music.’
I asked what instrument you had used
to achieve this astonishing feat.
‘The piano, obviously,’ you replied,
and looked at me as if I was mad.
‘It’s what all we composers use
in the first instance,’
and then proceeded to play a piece
which lasted for seven hours.
When you’d completed this musical marathon,
I suggested that perhaps seven hours
was a bit long to describe a teaspoon in music.
‘What I have discovered,’
you explained,
‘is that the smaller the object,
the longer the piece of music,
and vice-versa.
Here, look,’ you said,
‘a b-52 Bomber,’
and threw a hand-grenade at the piano.
After we’d dusted ourselves down,
you said, ‘Although I’m not sure about the coda.
What do you think?’
I expressed my uncertainty about the whole endeavour,
especially the part where you destroyed a piano
with a hand-grenade.
‘Typical,’ you replied.
‘I knew you wouldn’t understand.
The piano is bourgeois 18th century
at its worst and must be destroyed.
Anyway, I’ve decided to turn my back on music
and pursue a career as a socialist revolutionary,’
you said, and proceeded to smash
all of your medication
with a hammer and sickle.
‘That was George Michael’s Careless Whisper,’
you explained.
‘One last hurrah before I set the workers free.’

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Infinite Loop

I sometimes threaten go on strike. It’s then that my boss points out that, as I’m a poet, it basically makes no difference anyway.

‘What’s the difference between a striking worker and a poet?’ he asks me.

I jokingly reply that strikers tend to get more done than poets and, even though they’re striking, have a higher earning capacity.

‘Ha, ha, ha! LOL. Amiright?’ I add, in case he thinks I’m being serious. But, no, apparently it is actually the right answer.

‘I can see your life hasn’t been entirely wasted,’ he says. ‘At least you’ve learned one more thing than how to write iambic sodding pentameter. Fair play, I suppose.’

I can’t really complain about my working conditions as a poet. My ‘garret’ is a four-bedroom detached house on the Worcestershire-Birmingham border, I have easy access to notebooks, and more pencils than you can shake a stick at. But striking’s all about the money, really, isn’t it?

It’s reached the stage now that whenever I bring up the subject of a raise, my boss walks over to the cupboard, takes out the bicarb, and says, in that deadpan tone he’s spent the last five years trying to perfect, ‘That’s a close as you’re likely to get, Mr So-Called Poet.’

I point out that, as a so-called ‘So-Called Poet’, I’m the one who’s supposed to be handing out the metaphors.

And then I usually threaten to go on strike again and we find ourselves caught in an infinite loop from which there is no escape.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Monday, 26 November 2018


The world has gone mad.
Depth is in.

The TV channels are all filled with poetry;
so much poetry.

Not that trite, rhyming bollocks,
but the really, really heavy stuff.

Dense. Textured.

But nobody’s watching TV. Everyone is reading the latest
puzzlingly impenetrable work of poets.

The world has gone deep.
Madness is in.

Everyone is negotiating meaning with metaphors,
too busy to commit crime, or work.

Suspicious of appearances, consumed with inward distances,
and the cosmetics manufacturers have all gone out of business.

This, then, is poetry
for the end of everything.

The detachment of language
from reality.

Deep. Mad. 


Death dreams of flying. He is impossibly
standing on a ridge at the top of a mountain.
He looks below and sees a sheer drop. The
surface of the rock is flat, impossibly
flat, and the scale is somehow wrong. But this
is a dream, and dreams are the only things
Death has. There is an end to this sheer drop
but Death cannot see it for a layer
of mist; it does not have substance enough
to be a cloud. In his dream, Death thinks that
jumping off his mountain ridge – where the scale
is wrong, and the mountain face too flat, and
the cloud is not yet a cloud – jumping,
he feels, would be a solution. But
he dismisses this idea. There
is no way down from this mountain ridge.
Death sees that there is no way up.
    Death’s dream takes him elsewhere. He is in a
forest now and is too cold. Death walks
and the leaves change colour. Death likes the
changing of the colours but he does not
appreciate their beauty, he simply
knows that whenever he arrives in a
forest, the trees greet him with a change of
colour. Death does only three things: waiting
to arrive and arriving and dreaming.
Death has dreams and dreams and dreams. Death is
always dreaming. Death and his endless dreams.
    Death is about to dream of flying again.
He is not on the impossible mountain
ridge any longer; he is in a
back garden, standing in a child’s plastic
aeroplane. He flaps his arms and this time
he actually flies. He has no need of
the child’s plastic plane, and as he ascends,
he waves goodbye to his wife and his child,
for Death dreams of many things which he cannot
have. He flies above clouds, well-formed cloud-shaped
clouds, not ethereal, amorphous mist.
Amorphous, ethereal mist is one
thing, but these clouds are satisfying clouds;
proper clouds; white fluffy clouds. The white
fluffy clouds change colour as Death flies past
them, like leaves changing colours, but these
are different colours; vast swirls of metallic
pink and indigo and the colours in between.
Animals recline on some of the clouds.
Death comes within striking distance of a
leopard with impossibly sharp, menacing
teeth, but Death does not fear the impossible
leopard. In Death’s dream, a red biplane
manoeuvres a loop, and Death starts to soar,
and completes his own impossible
manoeuvres. He would feel freedom, but Death
is already free. Forever released;
forever on the way to arriving;
forever arriving; and always in a dream.
   Death admires the beauty in the ugliness
of the motorway which cuts across the
countryside, although he does not feel this.
The trees change colour, the clouds change colour,
and the landscape changes from green to grey.
    Death dreams of a yellow room. Outside there
is sunshine and the sound of summer and
the sound of traffic and the illusion of
life. But Death retreats from the yellow room
and the sunshine and the sounds of summer
and traffic. He chooses to be elsewhere;
to be in a place of isolation
and darkness and the possibility
of menace. Death is comfortable in this
place, this place of absence. Death questions his
choice to be here. He starts to run through
the darkness, a light in his hand. The light
does not illuminate for there is nothing
for it to reflect off, except the ghosts
which Death does not fear; the ghosts which scare others.
    Death dreams of being younger. He is surprised
at how different he looks, how much bigger
he has become in the intervening
aeons. It must be the burden of all
the souls of all the things from all places
and from all times: the stars, the planets, the
gas clouds, the comets, the meteors, the dreams.
    Death dreams of the impossible wave which
is impossibly large; its surface
irregularly tessellated
metallic-looking hexagons, the light
refracting off them in the many colours
invisible to the eye, like the colours
of the clouds he once flew above. The wave
recedes and as it does it evaporates
to reveal a vast canyon. He looks down
into its impossible depths, as
impossible as the mountain or
the leopard’s sharp teeth. He finds himself in
the ancient underground place with its
impossibly high sides. He looks up these sides,
these walls, and reads the story of their
geological timescale. He pulls the
string on the wall and everything collapses.
    The dream is the birthplace of all of Death’s thoughts.
He thinks of how strange it is, and yet how
simple, that people inherit their parents’
shadows, stretching back and back and further back.

Thursday, 22 November 2018


Death travels back in time to write
a postcard, buy a tie, to order
a take-away, to have a signet
ring engraved with his family crest.

He buys a pint, writes in a notebook,
then takes a train to London King’s Cross
to snap a selfie on a platform,
Harry Potter fan that he is.

Death breaks into a car and joy rides
along the M1 motorway; he
picks up a speeding ticket and
a criminal record on the way.

His fake ID scam ensures that when
he stages a jail-break, an unsuspecting
accountant will end up serving
the rest of Death’s eighteen-month sentence.

Death finds himself proposing to
a starry-eyed, naïve young Goth.
He jilts her at the altar, having
discovered his pansexual nature.

Death decides to adopt a puppy.
He ties a piece of string around
its neck, then ties the other end
to the gates at Buckingham Palace.

Death takes a holiday in Crete.
He fights a minotaur, drinks too
much ouzo, sleeps for a whole week
and wakes up on a flight back home.

A drunken and disorderly
Death causes panic on the flight,
which has to be diverted to
Cairo, both pilots being drunk as well.

Death briefly works in medicine,
but is struck off due to his patients’
one-hundred percent death rate and
his unconventional appearance.

Death signs up for a library card
and spends a month enlightening
himself about death camps, death masks,
death metal and Death on the Nile,

which soon becomes his favourite novel.
He listens to Death at One’s Elbow,
but fails to appreciate it.
He prefers Girlfriend in a Coma.

Death embraces surrealism.
He gets a tattoo of Lobster
across what would have been his forehead,
and a pink T-shirt with Grave Concerns on it

in lime green comic sans. The back
reads: I am going to wait till Death arrives
before answering that vexatious
question about the existence of God.

Death keeps mementos; artefacts
preserved; existences remembered;
reminders of what life can be; to keep
in mind the thing that he is ending.

The Elephant in the Room

The elephant is the only animal
which ever gets mentioned
in the context of rooms.

‘We need to address the elephant in the room.’
say the couple whose marriage is on the rocks,
as if they are thinking of sending it a post-card.

Mr Elephant, The Room, Our House, England.

But other animals might also be present
in the metaphorical rooms
of our troubled existence.

‘We need to address the crocodile in the room,’
say the couple
who have seen beyond the elephant.

Rather than addressing the crocodile in the room, though,
surely they’d be better off
running away from it?

‘We need to address the cat in the room,’
say the couple whose furniture has all but been destroyed.
Although, in this case, they might be talking about addressing

an actual cat.

Sting Trilogy, Three: Hornets

Don’t get me started on hornets.
Hornets are the reason why
we should all live in cities.

You can’t pollinate concrete.

Sting Trilogy, Two: Wasps

At least wasps are honest
and look like the scary bastards that they actually are.
Ghastly, insecty, aerodynamic bodies ready to
attack! attack! attack!

If they could dance,
they would dance like Stalin or Mao,
which is to say:
on the graves of their many victims.

‘Look out for wasps,’
says your dad.
‘They have a limitless supply of stings,
but at least they aren’t as vicious as bee-stings,’

this last point being conjecture
on the part of your dad,
because he’s almost certainly never been stung by a bee,
so how would he know?

Is the wasp,
with its never-ending supply of watered-down stings,
overcome with the need to unburden itself of its stings,
like the sexual urge?

‘I must sting! I must sting!’ thinks the wasp.
‘Look! There’s an eight-year-old boy
having a picnic with his dad;
he’s definitely too stupid to notice me!’

Buzz, zoom, sting, retreat.
Repeat! Repeat! Repeat!

Lands on eight-year-old boy’s hand.

All wasps are basically paedophiles,
and, unlike bees, they live forever,
which explains why there are always so many of them.

Sting Trilogy, One: Bees

Bees are basically bastards,
deceiving us all with their
comically unaerodynamic physiques

and their almost fluffy,
teddy bear-like coats.

‘Don’t worry about bees,’
says your dad.
‘They only get one sting,
and if they use it – they die!’

Which is a bit like saying to a desperate man,
who’s playing a game of Russian roulette,
‘Don’t worry about the gun;
it can only kill you once.’

But these Russian roulette bees
do sometimes go off,
proving them to be absolutely
the most bloody-minded of all of God’s creations.

Do you think that if a lion
lost its jaws, which were attached to its intestines,
and resulted in instant death
whenever it attacked a gazelle…?

You see where I’m coming from.

go the psychopath bees
with their hilariously fat thoraxes
and dad dance routines.

When I was eight-years old,
I saw my sister’s friend
do a little bee dance of her own,
attacking her long, girly hair with her own hands,

and cavorting around the garden
in a seemingly random pattern
and screaming like a girl
who had a bee entangled in her hair.

It was the funniest thing I had ever seen,
eight-year old boys, like bees,
being one of nature’s psychopaths.

If a bee should sting you,
it will die and go to bee heaven,
where it will be met by God.

‘Welcome to bee heaven,’ he will say.
‘You’ve led a largely virtuous existence,
with only one lapse into ill-humour –

which is a shame –

but we shall let you off,
seeing as it was only the once
and because I’m all about the forgiveness.’

‘But congratulations! You’ve made it to bee heaven!
An eternity of milk and honey!’

‘Hang on,’ says the bee,
because bees acquire the power of speech in the afterlife.
‘Honey? Who’s making all the honey?’

‘Ha! So, er, yes…’ says God.
‘Well, this is B-heaven,
as in B-movie, B-list celebrity,
and B-grade at GCSE.
In other words: not very good.’

‘Still,' says, God.’ After all, I am God,
and the father of all my creations.’

Monday, 12 November 2018


A few years ago, during an earnest conversation
with a poet friend, I was told that,

according to some poet or other,
‘all poems are either about sex or death’,

which, by process of elimination,
means that all of my poems are about death.

This seems a bit unlikely, given the number of my poems
which are comic observations.

Perhaps poetry audiences
are ahead of me in understanding

what my poems are actually about,
and are more morbid than I realised.

I introduce ‘The Greatest Pleasure of Being a Parent Is to
See Other People’s Children Behave Atrociously in Public’

for about the four millionth time.
Quite funny, the audience think,

as they laugh.
We love a good poem about death. Bring it on.

‘Here’s a poem called Shoes,’ I tell my audience.
‘It’s about shoes,’ which is all the explanation they’re getting.

Shoes, they all think;
clearly a metaphor for death.

‘This poem is about cats and dogs,’
and death, adds their collective interior voice.

I will admit that my sequence
‘Ten Poems about Death’
does seems to be about death,
but what do I know?

‘Here is the fourth poem in my sequence,
Ten Poems about Death,’ I say,

to the handful of people who have turned up
to hear me recite poems about death.

But they know better.
A poem explicitly about death?

they all think.
It must be a poem about sex.

But in this, they would be wrong.
Because it’s actually a poem about sex and death,

deliberately constructed to undermine
that fatuous idea, put forward by some poet or other,

that ‘all poems are either about sex or death’.
Ha! How wrong can you be?

Sex or death? What a limited poetic vision!
Why have one or the other when you can have both?

Which, okay, I realise,
sounds like a call to necrophilia.

But all poems being about sex or death
is a limited poetic vision.

Some poems are clearly about the trials of parenthood,
or shoes, or cats and dogs.

Of course, the irony here, despite what I’ve just written,
is that this isn’t a poem about sex or death,

or even sex and death;
no, it’s a poem about how not all poems are about sex or death,

which is part of a sequence of poems
about death.

A better explanation for the
‘all poems are either about sex or death’ idea

is that its originator was severely short-sighted
(which may be sex-related), and viewed the world of poetry

through some sort of weird and obsessive
sex and death confirmation bias glasses.

I shall continue writing
my sequence of poems about death,

and finish this one by stating, for the record,
that all of these poems about death

are about death.

Sunday, 11 November 2018


It’s all iconic this and iconic that,
And how completely ironic
That people now call songs iconic.
Personally, I think it would be rather fantastic
If people became more iconoclastic.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Perhaps Ten Minutes

I wonder how we would spend the time,
my father and I, if we were able, somehow,
to share a few minutes together.

Perhaps ten minutes would not be too much to ask for,
to initiate, develop, and then conclude
our father-son relationship.

‘Hello,’ I would start. ‘I’m your son.’
I know, he would reply. You have my eyes and beard.

‘How about a quick sketch?’ I would ask,
and he would scribble one in my notebook.

How about a poem? he would ask,
and I would hand him ‘Song to My Father’,
a copy of which I’d brought along.

We’d strum a couple of guitars and sing a song.
Perhaps ‘Imagine’, which I’d come across
in his record collection; in keeping with the original
to start with, but finishing in daft, mock-operatic voices.

I’d ask him for one piece of advice
and he’d say, You’ve got to be joking
and I’d say, ‘Of course I was joking.’

Then we’d pour a couple of too-generous measures of Bushmills
and drink a toast. ‘Here’s to us!’ we’d bellow,
clink our tumblers, and glug.

He’d give me a look. My look.
I’d raise an eyebrow,
and we’d both look at the bottle. And laugh.

A silence would follow.
I’m sorry this never happened, he’d not say,
and I wouldn’t reply, ‘It is what it isn’t.’

A farewell and we’d be back
to our respective planes of existence,
slightly less sober; both of us reflecting on how
two people not meeting each other can happen to anybody.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Advice/News for Poets

Read lots and lots and lots of other people’s books. Novels and history books make for good sources of inspiration. A really good poetry book, and there are some about if you look hard enough, will have you leaping for your notebook within a few lines. Believe in your creative genius! Understand that you are the greatest poet currently writing in whatever language you are writing in. Unless it’s English, in which case the position has already been filled. You might still be a genius, though. However, this is unlikely.

Monday Morning

Do not write on Monday morning; this is not Bohemian enough. You should be experiencing significant existential despair first thing every week; it sets you up nicely. The melancholy of knowing that most of your time on this Earth will be wasted even if you put it to good use, erm... I don’t know. Something about cages or freedom.

Wednesday Evening/Thursday Morning

We could spend every Wednesday evening reinventing architecture instead of whatever it is we normally do on Wednesday evenings: feeling optimistic, or feeling a vague sense of achievement that the working week has become nearly the weekend but knowing that come first thing Thursday morning we will all be thinking ‘Still two full days of work ahead’. Did you know that a good way to avoid this is to become a poet?

Friday, 2 November 2018


I walk through all the stillness which the forest
brings me. Not perfect stillness: footsteps, breezes
through branches, and the mystical vibrations
of trees themselves create a restlessness;
a restlessness which, in itself, is restful.
This restless-restful movement muffles silence.
You’re never still or silent in a forest,
not totally; there’s always something there.
   The previous day, I’d covered ten full pages
with poem notes: half lines, full lines, full stanzas,
and several phrases of iambic feet;
my unsuccessful quest to find the perfect
opening line. I walked. I sat. I wrote.
I wrote some more, then walked some more, then sat
and wrote and wrote and wrote. The first line would
not come. Eventually, I set off home,
and left the poem in the woods behind me.
   And so, today, I find myself among
some different trees and wonder if the poem
had moved there in the night; unwritten words
blown by a breeze, or moved by something else:
the restlessness of poetry unfinished?
I sit. Get my notebook out. Start to write.
But as with yesterday, the words I write
are not the right ones. Scribble, scribble, scribble,
the pencil goes. I look at what I’ve written.
It’s so much blah, blah, blah, and yet more blah.
I look up from the page and see that someone
has written something on a tree trunk,
a few feet away from my log-seat spot.
I get up to inspect the writing more
closely, the eyes of middle-age not being
as twenty-twenty as they were in youth.
A neat, italic script spells out the words
I breathe the forest out and all is still.
This surely can’t be accidental verse,
this bouncing pattern of iambic feet
skipping across the trunk. I wonder if
there’s more on other trees. And yes. There is.
Indifferent to estrangement from the world
is written in the same italic script
on the next tree, and as I look around me now,
I notice there are lines on all the trees.
I walk around the forest, read each line
out loud, transcribe the words into my book.
A forest, first of trees and then of poems;
hundreds upon hundreds of lines displayed.
Walking along the glory paths of fields.
  No flowers painted with the summer’s sunshine.
     This, then, you say, and only this; no more.
Unwatched, I stumbled through my ignorance.
  I shrugged my old self off; it fell from me.
    But can you hear it yet? And can you see it?
Once more the sun is hiding from the land.
  Kaleidoscope of grey above today.
    Did you not see when the clouds became waves?
This landscape, too, will pass into infinity.
  The noteless harmony of indecision.
    I recreate the universe inside my head.
If everything is just a state of mind.
  The cordiality of introspection.
    To write a never-ending list of unread lines.
I can’t believe that I was such a fool.
  The quiet voice which has no need for anger.
    The future is a different past, all told.
I leave the past behind; become the breeze.
  The past is written down in other people’s minds.
    Waiting for words to strike from who knows where.
The fountain of our youth dries up too fast.
  Give up! Give up! Give up! Don’t play the game!
    Why look towards the future’s downhill slopes?
Where are the saviours? Nowhere, that is where.
  Nowhere is where we all will end our days.
    The rhythm of the line is laid out bare.
We paved the way for saints and sinners all.
  Standing or falling: which one is the worst?
    Who is aloof? A man who hides himself.
Where can I find the things I need to find?
  Be more than what you are, just for a moment.
    Admire the nothingness of life and all its woes.
Where are the colours now? Where do they bleed?
  Wasting the day by writing unread words.
    Flowers are words, each one a poem's end.
Escape from this half-spun reality.
  Smouldering wood – the flames will soon be here.
    We did not know ourselves. We did not know
ourselves. We did not know ourselves. We did
  not know ourselves. We did not know ourselves.
    And all of us will one day be as leaves
I finish writing down the final line.
I look at the leaves on the ground. I stare
as they are displaced by a gust of wind,
and, for a second, more words appear.
   We walked between the forest trees
   and as they spoke their autumn verse,
   we heard their words and wrote them down.
   Moments are brief, like life, or what we think
   is life – it passes in a dream of what
   is not, and never was, but might have been.
Another gust whooshes them heavenwards.
They mesmerise me as they dance back down,
then settle on the forest floor, all meaning gone.
I turn to leave this mystic arboretum,
and as I walk, I think of trees. I think of words.
I think of leaves on forest floors. I think
of seasons too. Of spring’s sprung rhythms.
Of summer’s perfect days. Of autumn’s unmatched
beauty. And winter: lifeless, cold, grey, vast;
which brings the end to all which come before.
   Outside the forest now, I feel the silence.
The clouds pale grey. The air blue-cold. The bare
trees silhouetted. Stillness on its way.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Brief Silence

The silence of the classroom, when the children
have all departed, tries to fill the spaces
vacated by the absent children. You
could hear a pin drop, not to say the laughter
at Friday afternoon’s surreal red herring.

The only things now left from this week gone:
some rubbish on the floor, the odd lost ruler,
a pencil case, some chairs that weren’t pushed in,
and too much marking. Piles of books
awaiting comments, tick and marks.

The silence settles. ‘This is it,’ I think,
while contemplating eight miles on my bike.
Uphill. The calm after the storm, before
the next storm. Take it in. Breathe out. Ride home.

[Another abandoned poem, April 2016; writing about 1997-2003]

Free Will* (It Isn't in the Script)

Romeo and Juliet cannot
elope to Gretna Green when Act One ends,
and Desdemona can’t seek marriage guidance
counselling when Othello has his tantrums.
Hamlet’s depression can’t be remedied
with meds, or therapy, or meditation,
and Oberon can’t take his grievance over
the Indian Prince to the Small Claims Court.
Lady Macbeth can’t rid her hands of blood,
and laugh and sing and dance with gay abandon,
and Prospero is not allowed to turn
his old foes into frogs, or four-wheeled pumpkins.
Petruchio can’t do the washing up
then give a pair of trousers to his wife.
Beatrice and Benedick can’t take themselves
behind the bike shed to relieve their passions.
Sir Toby Belch cannot go full-on de-tox,
renounce the drink and go to AA meetings…

…And you and I, we all must live our lives
according to what’s written in our scripts.

*as in Shakespeare

[Trawling through an old notebook, and once again I came across a sizeable stack of abandoned, half-finished, unrealised, and ultimately forgotten, almost-poems. This is one of them.]

Saturday, 27 October 2018


I decide I need to write a poem about Death.
Ten Poems About Death, I muse.
Seems like a nice round number.
‘Here Death,’ I call.
‘I’m writing a sequence of poems about you.
Any comments?’
But Death does not reply,
because Death is not real.
As in corporeal real.
Death itself exists.
But not the corporeal personification of Death.
I’m not so keen on the idea of the actual personification of Death.
Bit too spooky.
But then Death does appear.
He is not wearing a hooded black cloak.
He is not carrying a scythe.
He is not a skeleton.
He is, in fact, a T-shirt.
It is, in fact, a T-shirt.
‘Death is a T-shirt?’ I say out loud.
Yes, I am a T-shirt, says Death.
No, not really.
T-shirts don’t talk,
even ones which represent Death.
‘You’re not the personification of Death, though,’ I say,
while staring at the writing on the front –
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
‘you’re a T-shirt,
and a T-shirt is not a person.’
The writing on the front of the T-shirt changes.
That’s where you’re wrong, it reads,
and underneath there appears a convoluted explanation
about how a T-shirt which is able to communicate
by expressing its thoughts on the front of itself
is a form of personification.
Sod personification anyway, says Death,
in his T-shirt way.
You’re so humancentric.
The T-shirt is a manifestation of Death,
or, to be more accurate,
the words on the front of it are a manifestation of Death,
or they were,
until they re-manifested themselves
as a convoluted explanation.
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
appears once again
on the front of the T-shirt.
‘What about accidents?’ I say.
And accidents appears on the T-shirt,
followed by,
Nobody likes a smart-arse.
I pick up the T-shirt with
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
And accidents
Nobody likes a smart-arse
written on the front.
I realise I should have mentioned
suicide as well as accidents to Death,
but then remember
Nobody likes a smart-arse,
which pretty much covers
every other eventuality.
I put the T-shirt on.
It’s a one-size fits all.
‘Oh, very funny, Death.’ I say.
Yes, Death is hilarious
appears on the front of the T-shirt,
I decide against wearing it outside of the house
and spend the next hour and thirty-seven minutes
trying to persuade Death
that if he’s/it’s going to assume
a corporeal form which communicates
in the medium of ever-changing written words,
then a notebook would be far more convenient,
and obvious,
than a T-shirt.
In the meantime
The Second Law of Thermodynamics
And accidents
Nobody likes a smart-arse
reappears on the T-shirt
and, beneath it,
Live 2018
as if it’s the name of a band
touring an album.
‘Very funny, Death,’ I say, again.
I’m basically a comedian
but not on the T-shirt;
the words appear on the page
of the notebook in which I am writing.
‘Oh, very meta,’ I say.
Death’s words vanish
and are replaced with
I have work to do.
Why don’t you get on with writing
your second poem in this series?
Perhaps you could make that one like an actual poem,
with rhymes and metre and whatnot?
Instead of this stream of consciousness
which is very prosaic, really,
isn’t it?
And then the words vanish altogether,
before I have a chance to mention
that the stylistic modality of this poem
was a deliberate metaphor for
the death of poetry,
or perhaps The Death of Poetry.
The words on the T-shirt are still there,
and I go for a walk in the autumn sunshine,
notebook in hand,
sensing the imminence of winter in the air.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Plastic Concerns

I’m clearing up last night’s Scrabble
and waiting for the toast to pop up
when the title for an unwritten poem
pops up, unbidden, into my head.
I wonder what structure and tone
the poem will take.
Will it be a mirror
which reflects the meandering
narratives of Kirill Medvedev?
Or a string of opaque images
like Paul Emery?
Maybe I’ll try my hand at an original poem
in the style of me?
I think this last one impossible.
All of my poems are a concatenation
of every poem I’ve ever read,
ending up with whatever my latest poem is.
when such a word as concatenation
jumps into the forefront of my mind,
I’ll dismiss it,
unless I’m being deliberately Gilbertian
for comic effect;
but I’m not feeling that brand
of funny today.
Then I remember Sheila’s comment
about my father:
Sometimes, he would come out with a really long word,
and I would wonder if he was making it up.
Making up for a lifetime of absence,
these days he’s rarely far from
the forefront of my mind,
and so concatenation it is,
a tiny acknowledgement of my father,
in a poem which has nothing to do about my father.
Perhaps that explains its appearance,
the word having stayed hidden in my mind
after I’d encountered it
in some dense historical tome,
or a book about politics;
or possibly one about the impending
environmental devastation
which is currently doing its sprint finish,
due to overtake us any day now –
unless it already has –
although we won’t realise it has
until we see it reach the finishing line,
ahead of us,
as we come in last,
in a world-sized stadium
filled with the impotent
harrumphs of a lifetime
of social media tantrums.

I interrupt myself
in order to put on my shoes.
I’ve recently decided
that I prefer writing with my shoes on.
I don’t know if the wearing of a pair of shoes –
or, rather, the pair of shoes,
as I only have one pair –
has a beneficial effect on my writing,
but it’s an oddity
which I’ve gradually come to acquire;
one of those idiosyncrasies which evolve
over time,
like always writing in pencil,
or having to start every notebook
with yet another poem
about the starting of a new notebook.
The evolution of who I am:
the concatenation
of largely inexplicable habits
whereby I become
an ever more complicated
and ridiculous version of myself;
the unconscious becoming
of a unique, complex belief-system
according to which I live my life.
It’s fortunate that I’m not the new Messiah,
or other people might also start believing
that it is imperative
to buy every album release
which contains a contribution from Johnny Marr,
along with having to wear shoes while writing poetry,
or having to use a knife and fork
to eat sandwiches.

Plastic Concerns was the title.
It’s less a metaphor, and more a pun,
and puns have very low status in poetry,
unless you’re from Japan,
where puns are an acceptable form of expression.
Perhaps therein lies the ambiguity
which I feel towards this title:
I like it as a pun,
but as poetry,
I find it unacceptable.

There is a cacophony of despair
at the discovery of a new continent of plastic,
the latest triumph of human ingenuity;
a cacophony which seems as ubiquitous as plastic in the oceans.
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
each now has an entire cavalry
at its disposal,
although I don’t know which regiment
this thing belongs to:
War? Pestilence? Death?
Having discovered this new continent –
the Continent of Plastica,
or perhaps Plasticopia
(no, it’s definitely Plastica) –
I react as I always do to such things:
with a not-quite-detached
Well, then.
after stumbling across the suitably ominous video of Plastica
online for the nth time,
I wondered,
Whence all the plastic?
and stumbled, in my subsequent search,
across a statistic which I hadn’t seen mentioned
by any of the concerned posters:
46% of Plastica is made from
discarded plastic fishing nets.
And the majority of the rest of it?
Other fishing gear:
the ropes,
the crates,
the baskets,
the spacers.
Exhortations abound:
Give up plastic bottles!
Give up plastic bags!
Give up straws!
Recycle! Reuse! Sign petition!
Tick, tick, possible tick.
Give up eating fish!
FFS, you vegans are so…
So extreme.

Around 100 million sharks
are killed each year
as bikill,
the by-product of fishing;
fishing with plastic nets.
There’s a picture of a deformed turtle,
one of the four holes of the plastic packaging apocalypse,
from the Regiment of Beer Four-Packs,
strangling its shell.
It’s a picture we look at
while ignoring
the sky-high photograph album
of dolphins, whales, sharks,
fish, fish, and fish –
and turtles –
which have all been killed by bikill
in the pursuit of marine cuisine;
maritime mass murder;
the unintended consequence
of battered cod,
or whatever fish ends up in the kitchen.
Without our plastic bottles,
our plastic bags,
our plastic straws,
our recycling plants,
or our online petitions,
the Continent of Plastica will continue to expand.
Perhaps the campaigns –
to ban plastic bottles,
to ban plastic bags,
to ban plastic straws –
will be 100% successful,
while, amid our empty self-congratulation,
Plastica grows and grows and grows,
so that,
come 2048,
it will be left to float above the dead ocean,
and all of our plastic concerns for that ocean
will be seen,
by our grandchildren,
for what they really were:
plastic concerns.

Around 100 million sharks killed every year

Seafood may be gone by 2048

46% of the tonnage of the plastic garbage patch is fishing nets, the majority of the rest is composed of other fishing industry gear

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Here, in the neighbourhood of loss,
we see the things that are not there:

a father playing with his son;
a mother singing lullabies;

the happiness of knowing what your name is

and everywhere you look, our living trees.

Song to My Father

What is the sound of yesterday? you asked.

I did not know. Perhaps it was a ballad
sung to your mother. Music, passed from her
to you, then passed, unseen, from you to me.

We were the silences between the notes;
the rests which every melody requires.

We sang in different keys and out of time,
chromatic notes which made a harmony
for songs we never shared. Our requiem
to loss. The sound of yesterday, unheard.

Friday, 10 August 2018


I do not say,
‘Today, I will write a poem
about a flute,
or wallpaper,
or the letter Q,’
although, I now realise,
this is exactly what I have just said.
Yesterday, as I wrote –
not about a flute,
or wallpaper,
or the letter Q
I noticed that a clumsy capital N
of mine
looked identical
to the clumsy capital N
of my father’s;
the clumsy capital N
which started the second half
of his illegibly scrawled signature
on his marriage certificate.
The awkwardness of my handwriting
is a tedious thing.
That my e is indistinguishable from a c,
or an undotted i,
is the least of its problems.
My pencil jerks across the page
with two left feet,
failing to keep pace
with whatever thought is currently being let loose,
and often,
while this is happening:
blunders, blunders, everywhere.
There is not a single letter
which hasn’t concussed itself
as it’s fallen out of my pencil;
each minor head trauma
making the letter look
not quite itself,
as it balances ridiculously
on the line.
My disregard
for legibility
is not a constant thing:
some of my redrafts
are as legible and consistent
as any handwriting fusspot
could hope to see.
Oh, yes, I can write neatly
when the words are already there,
and I can see from my father’s notebook,
that this was the same for him,
another little clue about how we may be connected.
And so I dwell
on why the signature on his marriage certificate
was so hastily scratched, so illegible,
so like mine when I am elsewhere,
while my hand is in the room,
holding the pencil.

Never Finished (i)

The latest poetry idea:
to write some poems which are all
deliberately unfinished, ending,
perhaps, halfway through the first word,
the second line, the seventh stanza,
the final word, the

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Broken Fridge Poem

The poem hurled itself at my feet,
pleading to be written.
It was a poem a about a broken fridge.

‘Broken Fridge Poem,’ I say,
‘what makes you think 
I have the time to write you?’

You have the time to stare at clouds;
to sit and read;
to do nothing.

‘Staring at clouds is a vital part of being a poet,’
I say. ‘Sitting and reading? Doing nothing?
Some things are harder than they look.’

Broken Fridge Poem looks at me.
If you don’t write me down,
it will be as if I never was.

Broken Fridge Poem tells me his life story.
‘Life stories are not poems,’ I tell him,
after he’s finished. ‘They are novels.’

But Broken Fridge Poem
is no longer at my feet,
giving me too much detail.

He sits there on the page,
a cacophony of handwriting.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018


Sitting in the garden,
having just started
a poem about my father

and the clouds moved aside
to make way for the sun.

Coincidence again,
or synchronicity,
but there it was,

and with it, my shadow cast
on to the bright white pages
of a new notebook;

the contrast of dark and light.

And there you are,
in my long-troubled mind,
the light on your face,

and all of your mystery,
and all of our sadness,

Monday, 30 July 2018

Everything Must Go

We think that we’ve got problems now.

The stars will one day disappear,
not all together – one by one.
Their lights will be no more, their names
forgotten. Everything Must Go!

the cosmic closing down sale signs
will not proclaim. Which star will be
the last to die in this doom-fated
universe? Earth’s? No. Ours will be long

be gone before that final light
succumbs, along with all the others,
to the heat death of eternity.
An old, tired, now dead universe,

so ancient that the noughts which mark
its age will be too numerous
to count. A near infinity
of zeroes, to signify nothing.