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?