Tuesday, 22 December 2020

The Main Thing

My heart sings like a Dalek

when I’m reading a collection of poems

and I come across a trifling

typographical error.


Somehow, it matters more

when it’s a poet I love,

like Luke Kennard or Ben Lerner,

rather than one I’ve merely bought

out of politeness at a gig

(mentioning no names,

of which there are many).


Just now, on line nine,

page two-hundred-and-six

of Dean Young’s ‘Bender’

I spot an erroneous indentation.


‘Get in there!’ as my former colleagues

in the PE Department used to say.


In other much-loved collections,

I have spotted

a ‘your’ instead of a ‘you’,

and a ‘too’ instead of a ‘to’.


I proofread the typeset

of my latest tour d’absurdité

to within an inch

of its ridiculous little life.


It was perfect. 

One hundred percent no mistakes, 

and no mistake.


But there, on the page that no one reads,

‘Copyright 2020… 

the author asserts, etc…

All rights reserved. 

This edition published by Burning Eye,



Wait! What? 


Put your head in your hands, Ferg;

at least it’ll stop you

from banging it

against the nearest flat, hard surface.


The page that no one reads,

including me.

And I repeat my new mantra,

‘Should I take anything seriously?’

over and over and over


and remind myself of my favourite barb:

‘You have to laugh at yourself

every once in a while;

after all – everyone else does.’


According to many a spiritual sage,

‘There are no mistakes in the universe’,

and I wonder if there’s any mileage

in pursuing the idea that

there is perfection in imperfection.


The main thing is that no one

is likely to notice (let alone care)

and I resolve

never to tell anyone.

With What Purpose in Mind?

   for Will


I get the cheese-grater out of its hiding place

and use it to grate the banana

onto my plate of spaghetti bolognaise.


Why would anyone do such a stupid thing?

I ask myself

(rather awkwardly, as it happens).


But I am creating a work of art:

the edible and the edible, unpredictably combined

to make the inedible.


Art made, I hurl the uncomfortable bowl

against the wall

at the far end of the early morning kitchen,


because all art is temporary, like this poem,

which came from nowhere

and goes nowhere.


There is a deep satisfaction

in clearing up the meses

one fashions in this odd life,


and, like life, 

all traces of my futile endeavour

will soon be beautifully absent.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Angel Tears

My dream job is to count the tears of angels.

I’m not certain of the line’s meaning,

or of the existence of angels,

or even if they cry,

but it would give me something to say

to a smug pilgrim, if ever I met one.

‘I count the tears of angels,’ I would say,

and imagine the reactions this might provoke.

Perhaps anger and a punch in the face?

Fortunately, I have many faces,

and I would simply replace my battered visage

with a non-broken one.

I’m hoping they would express violent anger;

it’s the most fun of all the sudden emotions –

to witness, that is –

and it would mean that their pilgrimage

had been a complete waste of time.

‘God bless you,’ I would say,

as I threw some angel tears in their face,

for one of the benefits of counting angel tears

is that you get to keep some of them.

How much is some?

I don’t know. Shall we say seven percent?

Seven is a magic number,

and angels are quite magical,

so that’s my scientific guess.

It would be interesting to see if angel tears

could cure the pilgrim of smugness,

but let’s, for the time being,

not all hold our breaths.

Plum Spang in the Heart of a Distant Galaxy

There are some words and phrases

to which I would happily take a hammer

…no, wait…

an imposing (or is it ‘impressive’?)

ornamental axe.


Plum spang?

I hadn’t realised just how

utterly detestable I find

the yoking of these two words,


until I found myself awake at 4-something

in the morning,

for the fifth day in a row.

And there it was,

taunting me with its ugly weirdness.


Even on the page,

it has an American accent.


I see it written

in a humming, pink neon tube,

and I set about its axey destruction.


The shattered remnants,

lying scattered at my feet,

reconnect to one another


as if they are an immortal android

from a high-budget science-fiction film,

and the phrase blinks into life again,

the hum and the glare

more menacing than before.


The neon does not yield

to a second axe-attack.

Seemingly like a Borg,

its exposure to one form of weaponry

apparently leads to immunity from a second attack,

and I have to shoot it up

with a bullet-spitting automatic gun.


History repeats itself,

and I begin to suspect

that the phrase is indestructible.


With my arsenal of mind weapons,

I melt, explode, vaporise,

and finally launch it into outer space

at several time the speed of light

until it ends up:


plum spang in the heart of a distant galaxy.

Disassociating Once Again

My relationship to reality 

is like trying to write ‘milk’

in numbers.


I can’t be more specific

than that.

Although, perhaps it should be that

my precise relationship

to the nature of reality

is the thought of my writing

the word ‘milk’

in numbers.


Maybe Roman numerals would work?


which is the nearest I can get,

does not conform to the conventions


and MCLI, which does,

would make as much sense

as ‘mkli’,

which is to say:

no sense at all.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Monday, 9 November 2020

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?

I don’t write this stuff,

I’m just a receiver

through which

the insanity of existence

tries to makes

its presence felt.

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Guru 4

I walk into the room

and see the Guru levitating,

his head almost touching

the ceiling.

Checking for hidden wires,

freaky magic mirrors,

and whatnot,

I ascertain that he is,

in fact,

genuinely levitating.

‘That’s pretty damned impressive, Mr G,’

I say,

and he opens his funny guru eyes

before magically descending

onto the floor,

like a guru magically descending

onto a floor.

‘Wait till I tell

everyone about this miracle!’

I say.

‘Yes, do tell anyone you like,’

says the Guru,

with his funny guru voice.

‘I absolutely, one hundred percent will,’ I reply,

before adding,

‘And then you can show them all.

It will be a conflagration

of the doubters’ doubts.’

‘No. You are the doubter of doubters,’

says the Guru.

‘When you tell them,

they will have faith.’

This, I do not like.

‘Show them!’

I say.

‘They already have faith.

I’m the one who has no faith,’

I explain.

‘But now you have belief,

and your belief

will give weight to their faith.’

He then goes off on one

about how faith is superior to belief,

or something,

because, as always,

when the Guru starts talking his talk,

my mind travels elsewhere.

At some point,

acolytes start entering the room,

and when the Guru’s aide

closes the door,

the Guru speaks.

‘Our friend here has something important

to tell you all,’ he says.

Dozens of pairs of eyes

look towards me.

How ridiculous they all look,

I think.

How ridiculous we all look.

Their clothes, their ‘I’m on the path

to spiritual enlightenment’ faces,

their beards, their eyebrows,

their faithfulness.

‘Shall I tell them?’

I ask the Guru.

He nods his funny little guru nod.

‘You’re all fucking idiots,’

I say,

before adding,

‘Namaste,’ bowing piously,

and leaving

like I have a bus to catch.

But when I exit the room,

I find the Guru


on the other side of the door.

Friday, 30 October 2020

We Shall Picnic on the Beaches

It is not loyalty to pieces of cloth

with silly designs on them

which breeds patriotism,

but loyalty to food.


America’s true allegiance

is to doughnuts, cheeseburgers and coke,

not stars and stripes.


England is still mad enough to fight a war

over fish and chips,

Cornish pasties and flat beer.


Disparage the baguette,

or any of the five mother sauces,

anywhere in France, and see how long you last.


Surrender the world’s power to the chefs.

There’ll be no room for diplomatic enmity

when a well-run kitchen

becomes the chief instrument of realpolitik.


As no Chinese sage ever said:

when the feast is edible,

and not ideological,

harmony will reign.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Not Poetry Circle

As I am too idle to walk all of the way

to my poetry bookshelves,

I shall have to paraphrase Keith Douglas instead:

What the critics fail to realise

is that bad poetry is not poetry at all,


although my agreement with this sentiment

depends on my mood.


And just now, I have read about

the ‘intolerable poetry’ of American poets

(excluding Billy Collins, presumably,

because he wrote the phrase).


Does intolerable poetry inhabit the same space

as bad poetry,

unable to traverse the circular border

which keeps them trapped in the poetry Venn diagram

demarcating the peculiar sub-genre: ‘not poetry’ poetry?


I think of other poemy things

which may share the space

of this odd circle.


Dadaist poetry, which is all very well in principle,

but only occasionally in practice?


An English sestina,

when it’s not written in blank verse,

an abomination borne, I suspect, of that heady mix

of sublime incompetence and infuriating laziness

perfected by so many of us

who claim the title ‘poet’?


Anything villanelle-related (as if that needed saying):

what the critics fail to remember

is that villanelles are not poetry at all?


It could be a never-ending list,

depending on your poetic beliefs:

‘modern’ poetry and imagist poetry

and rhyming poetry and free verse and

slam poetry and experimental poetry

and on and on and on

until we find ourselves saying,

‘all poetry is not poetry at all.’

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Exit Strategy

Open door.

Walk through door frame.

Close door.

Get in car.




Non Sequitur One

We look inside the mind of God and find

that tax returns are less fun than they sound.

It's Quite Big


It’s / a small world. really, is it?

The Way It Seems

 Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you; weep, and you weep alone.


 The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

The State of It All

 God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. is a mess

Long Lane


It’s a long lane that has no turning. = life


               after you’ve been kidnapped and had a

It is always darkest before dawn. bag put over your head

Monday, 14 September 2020

Mistaken Beliefs

The first time I saw stars that were not there…

no, let’s go back a couple of years earlier,

to when I was eight

and, at my first prep school,

had just been made centre-forward and captain

for my year’s one and only football fixture.


Go Team Fergus, right?


This appointment was an unfortunate surprise

based solely on my older brother’s

impressive athletic prowess

and faultlessly competitive attitude.


My classmates were as open-mouthed as I was

at this blundering mistake,

but not as gawpingly gormless as the hapless teacher,

who, had he done a due diligence test,

would have swiftly discovered

that adoptive younger brothers

of athletically able pupils

don’t actually share the all-important sporting genes.


One practice later,

and I was thankfully de-captained

and relegated to the position

which most eventual poets take up on the field of play:

the isolated daydreamer/goalkeeper.


Team not-Fergus lost six nil

and the game went down in sporting history

as the only occasion I ever represented my school

on the playing field.


‘We’ll make a rugby player of you yet!’

I was told at my second prep school,

a while later,

by yet another deranged games teacher.


Quite why this was said –

in a whole school assembly –

I will never be able to say,

for this is the sort of detail

which daydreaming obscures from the historical record.


Kudos to Mr Suter, though,

for articulating this ludicrous thought

in iambic pentameter.


The first time I saw the stars

that were not there

was after I had deliberately

hurled myself to the floor, aged ten,

in the middle of an English lesson

during my first term at my third prep school.


‘Mime scoring a try!’ the teacher had whispered to me,

clearly harbouring the delusion

that this was something I had experience of.


I hurled myself to the wooden floor,

et voila: stars!


Six more years of playing rugby

at an all-boys boarding school later

and that remained the only try

which I had to show

for my spineless endeavours.

 And now, when I hear friends and acquaintances

reminisce about the ball-centred pursuits of their youth,

I am reminded of that old cliché:

‘The older we are,

the better we were.’


You should have heard me sing, though.


Thursday, 3 September 2020


The trouble with writing poetry

on a bus

is not the limited, but distracting, conversation

between two teenage boys

(secretly wondering if they aren’t youths)

on my left.


‘Make an effort, lads,’

I half-want to say to them.

‘You might want to start

by substituting fuck for very

every once in a sentence.

It’s really fucking simple.’


It isn’t the lack of inspiration

which you might associate with a bus journey.

‘Oh, but that’s not very profound,

writing a poem about a bus journey.

Where’s all that poetic angst and suffering

and insight into the human condition?’

because all of that depends on how you read the poem.


It isn’t even the fact

that I’m mildly anxious

about missing my stop

because I have never travelled this route before.

‘Sorry I’m late. I was writing a poem on the bus

and I ended up in the wrong part of town.’


No, the trouble with writing a poem on a bus

is that they don’t provide tables

for me to lean on when I write.

This, and the vehicular movement

conspire to ensure that my poet’s script –

barely legible even when

I’m having one of my rare

‘Look, can we please try and be neat?’ days –


has traversed the bridge

taking it from merely illegible

to hilariously incoherent.


That, and the rather unfortunate confrontation

which is currently taking place

between the bus driver

and a non-paying customer,

from whom I learn

that the seemingly cheerful bus driver is,

in fact, ‘a cunt.’


A neat example of how

the accusations we throw at other people

are often better applied

to ourselves.

Wednesday, 2 September 2020

Training Our Ears to Be Dumb

You might think music these days

all sounds the same.

Identikit noise.

Facepalm melodies.


People who never got past

the skills level

of holding a hair brush

and posing in front of a mirror.


An unintentional rain dance.

Music where you wish

the silence between the notes

would stretch into infinity.


Here’s their latest album:

Teaching Table-Manners to Badgers with TB,

including the hit singles

Where Did Our Shaving Foam Go? and

Duet for Car Keys and a Vague Sense of Anxiety.


None of which is in the mixolydian mode.

Music and lyrics by

Cliché Algorithm Committee Inc.

It's All Ammunition

Ideas are like ammunition:

we have far more than we could possibly need,

but sometimes we miss the target,

although aiming for a tree

instead of an empty beer bottle

might be more a little more novel.


‘I’m just going into my forest

to hunt.'

Oh, really.

What are you hunting?


I am aiming for a flock of birds,

but I shall hit a cloud

and then claim

that this was my intention

all along.

We All Mislead Our Audiences

I spend my whole life

creating this wordy



Words: erase a few,

change a few, add a few,

edit the view.


See how great I am


And you?

Sunday, 30 August 2020

This Is the Way We Walk Backwards

One foot behind another

behind another



Indiscriminate reason

sees the cliff edge

before we stand on nothing

and fall


one second behind another

behind another behind


Thursday, 20 August 2020

Return to Silence


I gave you half a cloud,

but wanting is everything.

Nothing beyond boundaries

contrasts the light

with the dark.

We are all trapped

by this existence,

this game.

Wash the dishes now

and return to silence.

There are many points to life.

We choose the one which fits the best

and keep it in our pockets.

Have a piece of this broken mirror,

and another piece,

and another piece.

Meanwhile, I shall work it all out

and come to another wrong conclusion.

The car has no concept

of its driver.

The wind does not know

its own strength.

Give yourself.

My understanding of the world

may be characterised

as a giant question mark.

We walk in the rain

and then wonder how we got so wet.

We set fire to things

and wonder why they burn.

Room temperature

depends on the room.

All I know for sure is

that what I know

is only my interpretation.

Do you know the answer?

Then what?

I found out who I was

and tried to return to silence.

Friday, 26 June 2020

Post Card from Everywhere

Everything must be smashed on a ceiling.

Fill the sea with sand,

throw javelins at the moon,

and have you yet embraced

your shadow?

Let the fire be your guide.

The conflagration sits outside,

deciding how to make the week more bearable:

sum up the page;

mix up the days.

A mind-reading doorframe

like a disembodied monster.

The fashion for greeting people with a headbutt

happily never really caught on.

At some stage,

we get back into the habit

of writing.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Pistol or (S)word?

I challenge you
a duel
to decide
which of us is
the bigger

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Whole of Spring

Not long after first light today,
I fell in love with the trees
at the top of my garden.
They did not ask it of me,
but when I looked up at their canopy
and noticed that the green of their leaves
had outdone the blue of the sky,
I couldn’t help myself.

And, a little later, when I sat outside with a book –
allowing myself a moment to gaze upon my beloved trees
before I set about the task of reading –
I fell in love with the butterfly
who landed on the gravel in between
two slabs of paving stone just by my feet.
The colours on its fragile wings
seemed like a rebuke to the grey clouds of yesterday.
‘I couldn’t agree more,’ I said to the blues and the reds,
the oranges and the browns.

A lively passage of birdsong interrupted
my reading of a poem about the madding wind,
and I fell in love with these wild melodies,
as I caught them travelling through the air
in unison with the conversation of the trees.
‘But listen,’ said the trees, ‘you have it wrong.
It isn’t us trees, or that butterfly,
or the untamed birdsong which you are in love with,
but the whole of spring.’

I looked about and saw it all – the whole of spring –
here in this small suburban garden
in the south of Brum,
and allowed myself a little peace of mind.

(This poem was a commission from Poetry On Loan. You can watch me recite it here: The Whole of Spring)

Monday, 11 May 2020

Put the Stone Down

The Buddhists have a great saying:
‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone’,
although, now that I come to think of it,
perhaps it was the Muslims.
Or was it the Hindus?

Anyway, what does it matter who said it?
The point is that somebody did.

It’s never really occurred to me to throw stones at people,
coming, as I do, from a culture which prefers
the launching of missiles
over the throwing of stones
as a more effective way to cure people of their existence.

It self-identifies as a Christian culture,
which is, of course, hilariously absurd,
unless by Christian you mean
one who spectacularly misses the point.

If only our moral interpretations
were as accurate as our weapons systems,
we could go back to telling people to put the stone down.

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Avant Avant-Garde

The distinctness of shapes fools us often
into believing what we are seeing.
Have eidetic faith in clouds
and embrace heavenly paper
as you would a warm day in December.

I once painted a psychedelic nightmare wave
about to crash onto a horse and its rider
and which ended up on the cover of a book.
It hangs out with other unframed efforts,
propped up against the side of a wardrobe in my bedroom.

Hokusai was my kind of artist.
Summoned by an Emperor,
who wanted him to paint at court,
he took two chickens with him.
How does he paint? With two chickens, apparently.

Having submerged the first chicken’s feet in paint,
he dragged the feet
along the unscrolled length of a piece of rice paper,
then covered the second chicken’s feet in paint
and let the bird walk wherever she wanted.

When the chicken was finished –
How did he know the chicken was finished? –
he performed his bow and presented
Autumn Leaves Falling in the Yangtze River
to his imperial patron.

(This story is mentioned in ‘Tao: The Watercourse Way’ by Alan Watts)

Departing Backwards with a Star

Whispering in time for tea, we wallowed
in the semaphore of trees. A dazzling intermission
squandered on walls and ceilings; gathered up
in bathmats, leaning sideways through a door frame.
Mystical banality believes itself
a God, departing backwards with a star.


This inevitable life is a disappointment thing,
moving unembarrassed in the middle of the dancefloor,
flailing its arms to What Difference Does It Make?
as if it were only yesterday.
Having taken a toke on top of a few drinks,
the drive back home was with a fully wound down window,
the airstream a mask of semi-sobriety.
‘What are we doing in this little word temple
thirty-five years later?’
Did anyone else remember that forgettable evening?
Nothing happened, as far as my memory would have it,
apart from the dance floor clearing
while I made my way onto it,
and failed to dance,
but failed to dance like no one was looking.
Why would such a memory sustain?
Maybe it was the first one of those very rare occasions
when I danced in public to The Smiths, intoxicated,
while everyone else took part in the dance floor exodus.
Thank God for Morrissey,
or I wouldn’t have known how to move;
how to make myself look like a desperate one,
accepting my magnificently miserable awkwardness.
How easy it was not to care about anything at all.

Monday, 20 April 2020


I sometimes wonder how much more ridiculous
this life could get. Perhaps we’ve reached the peak of
absurdity already and I didn’t
notice. Is someone, somewhere, terrified
of toothpaste? Has the world of fashion finally
caved in and made a range called Emperor’s Clothes?
Did Spain elect a pomegranate for
its new Prime Minister? Has the Pope
declared himself to be an octopus?
I do not follow telly, so I wouldn’t know.
‘Hello, and welcome to Mindless TV.
Today we ask, “Is arson valid as
an artform?” and meet the man who says
that setting fire to other people’s houses
prevented him from following a life
of crime. We hear about a woman suing
her mum and dad for giving her a balanced
childhood. The alienation caused has been
disastrous to her mental health, she claims.
But first, it’s competition time, where you’ve
a chance to win The Royal Albert Hall.
Simply complete this sentence: “Life is worthless
because…” and tweet it on our twitter feed.
The most banal reply will win this marvellous,
iconic building, if hasn’t been
stolen, that is. And now, because it’s Daffodil
Remembrance Day, we have a moment’s silence to
remember all the daffodils who lost
their lives in conflicts old and new; and not
just daffodils, but every flowering species
who never found their way back home from war.
It’s over to Samantha now, who has the weather.
Samantha…’ Where is anyone supposed
to keep the weather? In their hands? Their pockets?
And have these people never heard of windows?
What effect do you think you have upon
this world? You watch your television and
the bad things vanish; post your eighty-seventh
denunciation of the Trump online
and suddenly he’s not a fool; preoccupy
yourself with things you can’t control, and waste
your life. There is no point to life, if all
you do is point. We’re all ridiculous.
We’re all the world and everything that’s in it,
and everything has long since been a game to show off
how perfect we all are. Don’t fool yourself.
The past person left the building long ago,
forgot to turn the lights out, and booby-trapped
existence. We’ve been paying for it ever since.
What do I mean? Really? It doesn’t matter.

Sunday, 19 April 2020


The sky in my mind escapes
and overlays itself
onto the breezy sky
of a spring day.

It has become a grey-black, mind sky,
and the neighbours are not amused.
Where did that come from?
their faces say in unison,
as they turn in all directions.

It could be mistaken
as a depression metaphor,
so I think of a tropical sunset,
all oranges and reds, with silhouettes of palm trees
and a flock of awkwardly flying flamingos –

because who can picture an accurately flying,
silhouetted flamingo,
let alone a whole flock of them?

Like so many things, this, too, escapes my mind,
hiding the grey black.
I laugh at the incongruity of my tropical, evening sky
on the edge of a British city in April,
at two o’clock in the afternoon.

The graceless flamingos captivate the neighbours,
and I silently recite a poem about conversations.
The spring sky returns,
and all the neighbours start talking at once.

I retreat to the quiet of my house,
and think of a clear night sky.
When I awake,
the Milky Way is on the ceiling,
on the walls,
on the floor.

I sit in my rocking chair on the outer spiral:
silent, still, invisible;
more impossibly out of proportion
than I have ever been.

Thursday, 16 April 2020


Morrissey is having a conversation with Jesus
and doing all of the talking.
It’s the form and context of the exchange which matters,
rather than the words themselves.

Jesus is a bit flummoxed by the Mancunian accent
and the fact that Morrissey appears to be
better with words than he is.

‘Jesus, you should shave,’ says Morrissey,
but Jesus doesn’t get the joke.
‘The beard's good, no?’ he says.
Morrissey forgives Jesus.

Always Do What a Poet Asks You to Do

I’ve heard it said
that you should bear in mind an audience
when you write a poem.
I’ve never done this.
I did just recently read through
a really obscure poem of mine.
And there the audience are,
sitting several rows deep in my cerebellum,
each holding up a score-card,
but with words, not numbers:
‘Bored’, ‘Angry’, ‘Confused’, ‘WTF?!’, ‘Seriously?’, etc.,
which they show to each other
while shouting obscenities.
With a speed which even I find impressive,
they screw the words up,
and pelt the stage with them.
I replace this cantankerous rabble
with an audience of Ferguses.
‘I think I speak for all of us,’ says one,
‘when I say that you are the most Fergus poet
that we’ve ever encountered,’
and they erupt into spontaneous applause.

Watch It Pass

We televise the future in our heads
watching our slow collapse,
a bubble-wrapped catastrophe. Disintegration minted
by shadows, grief, imagination, anger,
misplaced like lizards on a plastic sunbed.
This screen eclipses the entire sky.

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

Down with Biscuits Anyway

Everyone else is entertaining themselves
with phone calls or card games,
and so I resolve to write a poem
about how much I hate biscuits –
simply for existing.

O! biscuit… I start,
before the gears in my pencil
grind to a leaden halt.

I am in the living room –
because I’m middle class –
but the sun is shining,
and I feel that I ought to engage in something
more edifying,

like going on a bike ride
down a leafy country lane,
or kicking the heads off some daffodils,
because it’s that time of year,
and, also, because there aren’t that many people
out and about today,
and I think that perhaps this time
I might stand a chance of getting away with it.

I consider lighting a fire
underneath the next-door neighbour’s car.
He spends far too much time washing it
(Don’t be ridiculous – you can’t wash a car!
my inner car-averse self comments,
in a manner which he believes to be most witty)

and I feel that there’s a lesson to be learned there,
but that’s where my putative insight ends.

Rather like this poem,
which was supposed to be about biscuits –
or, rather, my hatred of their existence –
but which somehow isn’t really
about anything much at all.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

The Language of Trees

The trees communicate in semaphore,
and whispers loud enough for decibels.
They speak as one and spend their days and nights
in stop-start conversations, where obsessions
about the wind and seasons dominate
their talk. Today, they are as happy as
a group of trees could be, excited by
the spring that’s just arriving. Here we are
again, the branches whisper. Look: our leaves
are back. Last week, we all were winter-naked,
but now we’ve made the sky turn green. It seems
like silence, but it isn’t if you listen.
A forest is a life-raft for the mind,
a vessel to go sailing in from time
to time. We are the trees, the leaves, the fallen
branches and twigs, the forest floor: all one.

Friday, 10 April 2020


The sky dispensing rain. Rain which asks questions
of the wind. Rain too late for my friend’s funeral.
Singing in the rain while dancing in the rain and laughing
at people who sing and dance in the rain.

If time could be paused on that Monday morning,
there would be rain for all time. Rain
which punches above its weight. Rain which
quotes Shakespeare but doesn’t understand
any of the words. Windswept, mysterious rain.

Irrational rain. Rain that cut its teeth on
a mountainside. The impossibility of being rain.
Rain which no one saw coming. Rain which
engineered a situation of plausible deniability.

The rain which fell because it jumped. Rain
which was never meant to be rain. Rain which
turned itself into poetry. Last Thursday,
it rained, sort of. Minuscule rain. The raging
ocean which lost its way and became

a downpour, and everyone ran out into the street
saying, ‘Hallelujah!’ Rain as punctuation.
Intellectual rain. Pretentious rain.

Rain with a philosophical bent. Pop rain.
Serious rain. Hardworking rain.
The rain which became invisible when it
played hide and seek. The rain which made
the first rainbow, somewhere unimaginably
distant from here in both time and space.

Petulant rain. Inadmissible rain. Rain
which was illegible to the other rain. Rain
with an indefinite article, just to confuse
non-native speakers. Non-rhyming rain.

Christian rain. Rain which became
dogmatic on its way to the supermarket.
The wild and reckless rain of an impulsive
thunderstorm, which didn’t pause to consider
the consequences of its drenching.

Could you point me in the direction of the
nearest rain? Rain which has no voice.
Rain which is always arguing with the
pavement. Rain which refuses to
stop raining once it’s begun. Rain
which hates similes. Basket-case rain.

Collapsible rain. Distraught rain.
Best ever rain ever.

Unless (iv)

Please refrain from smoking –
unless you’re a fire.

Unless (iii)

Dance like there’s no one looking –
unless someone actually is looking.

Unless (ii)

Do not feed the ducks –
unless you are their mother.

Unless (i)

Do not stand too close to the fire –
unless you are a marshmallow.

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Deliver Us From, Part One

Lord, deliver us from all evil,
and syntax,
and pedants with slightly above average sized egos,
and, while you’re at it,
deliver us from the bad guys,
and the bent cops,
and the scary people who are bigger than us
and who know how to fire a machine-gun accurately
while under pressure,
and deliver us from the past, the present, and the future,
but especially the first one
because that’s where all of our problems started,
and deliver us from all of the obvious things,
which barely need mentioning at all
(should I mention them anyway,
at least some of them,
just to give you an idea,
in case your widely reported omniscience
turns out to be wide of the mark?)
okay, so, also, deliver us from
TV, the internet, money, processed food, America,
the world and everything that’s in it,
including, above all else, ourselves.
That’ll do for starters.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

Night Questions

A question looks beyond itself and finds
a small, grey parcel wrapped inside itself.
I looked inside, and all I found was all
I saw. I laid my hand upon time’s surface.
Which way was up? Is forwards always best?
I built a house of questions. Locked the doors.
There is no inside now, I laughed. Once foolish,
twice foolish, three times – still it’s foolish as.
I came back to the present moment darkly.
Even a light won’t work in here. I switch
my torch on but it doesn’t seem
to work. It’s only when we die, we wake.
It’s shush – don’t be afraid to live! I hear.
I carry on with words but want to sleep;
consider nothing as the day slips past.

Thursday, 2 April 2020

We Are Possessed by Foolishness

The problem with humanity
(oh, here we go!)
is that we’re so fucking hot-headed
(you see what I mean?).

Wouldn’t it be better if we attempted to live our lives
peaceably, calmly,
instead of doing what we do best,
all of the time:

putting other people under the microscope,
so that we can say, gleefully,
‘Look! A fault! For shame!
Hang on a sec,
let me just magnify it so you can see…’

The next time you see someone with a peashooter,
remember the forty-seven peashooters
which you keep hidden about your person,
at all times.

The next time you see someone aim a peashooter,
remember what happened
when you fired that rocket-launcher
from your attic.

The next time,
and the time after that,
and the time after that,
and the time after that.

The opposite of infinite regress:
ad infinitum.

What’s that you say?
Sort my own shit out?
Yeah, I was totally talking to myself
(didn’t realise you were listening).

You know what they say about bloody eavesdroppers?
what did I just say?

Monday, 30 March 2020

Gravity Defying

I keep throwing books out of windows.
‘Poetry should defy gravity!’
I proclaim to my audience of gravel,
tarmac, houses, trees, 
sky, birdsong, and rain.

But so far, the books are not defying gravity.
Frank O’Hara’s Selected Poems
lands with a small thud; a sort of sub-thud.
‘And I had such high hopes for them,’
I say to a parked car.

All poets are Mad Emperors,
issuing their unreasonable decrees about reality.
The words we use have no sentience,
even when we put them with other words;
even when we read them.

They form lines,
and mine are increasingly disorderly.
‘An if bicycle under because another of cannot whom.’
Syntax and semantics seem to have stepped on a landmine.

What might these words say to each other?
‘Hello, my name is bicycle. My purpose is unclear.
Am I supposed to be doing wheelies or something?’
But if is delighted.
‘I’ve become an adjective! I’ve become an adjective!’

The enthusiasm of if the adjective is catching
and I find myself intrigued by the notion.
What is an if bicycle?
How about an if tree? An if sky?
Maybe this is an if poem?

An idea occurs.
I type the poem up, make a couple of edits,
and print it.
Opening a window,
I release the poem to see if it defies gravity.

For a second,
it shoots sideways then up –
at last, a gravity-defying if poem! –
before… disappointment:
it clumsily descends, finally landing on wet tarmac.

Perhaps, I consider, the only way for a poem
to defy gravity
is for it never to be written.
I look out of the window again
and contemplate an if world.

Specifically Nothing

Transparent gifted elevation.
Martian bedspread.
It’s one of those empty days
like a bowl with nothing in it.
Shall I bang my head once more
in the expectation
that something worth contemplating
will eventually fall out?
What arrives is specifically nothing;
the inside of a bowl.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Slash Marks

We usually reserve the slash mark
for the pedestrian and/or,
but I’ve grown quite fond of using it
for other pairs of words,
to express my uncertainty
about whether or not
I have chosen the right word,
or maybe to be explicit about
some potential duality of meaning.
The most beautiful object I own
is a 1983 vintage Stratocaster;
with every new scratch and dent
it grows ever more beautiful.
The battered guitar
is better than the pristine guitar
(‘Don’t even look at it!’),
the latter of which is almost as sad
as an unopened box
housing a never-played toy.
Is there anything more awful than that? (yes)
Yes, but is there?
I seem to have a led a charmed life,
the inevitable scratches and dents
and scars
daily reminders for me
to follow Horace’s advice,
even on days when I’m acquiring
new scratches, dents and scars;
new slash marks.

Nobody Needs to Read These Words

Sending messages in Morse code,
despair reaches new levels of absurdity.
Nobody needs to read these words.
What do the thoughts in your head do?
Do they sit and sulk in the corner,
arms tightly folded, scowling expressions on their faces?
Or do they go dancing naked in the rain?
We need to defy gravity ‘for the sake of the children.’
People posting their contempt for politicians
on social meedja
generates a feeling of contempt within.
‘This makes you just as ridiculous,’
I say to my non-existent self.
Once again, I find myself sitting on a cloud
and looking down at the world beneath me.
I have too many vivid memories.
You are advised, at the present time, to do the right thing.
All I’m doing here is illegible,
and this is why I need to have some new brake-pads
fitted on to my mind’s wheels.
Get you!
Semantic saturation’s nothingness.
Genetically engineered bathroom design
with four sugars.
Have you ever fully disintegrated?
At the age of fifty
fluorescent pink and lurid lime green,
preferably in tandem,
are still my favourite colours.
It’s a good thing that sophistication
was never one of my ambitions.

Things Cut In Half

A sense of unreality persists,
water pressing against much more than water.
The people you bump into.
Just one long moment stretching out towards
that point where the second law of thermodynamics
takes up the slack.
The products we found in your account
can’t be used to activate Word.
The thoughts in your head drift about
like clouds in the sky.
Somebody, somewhere,
is going to write a bleak, unreadable novel
against the backdrop of the coronavirus lockjaw
Standing ovation or withering indifference?
Maybe, as a compromise: blind contempt.
What is the correct amount of scorn
in our disregard of Mick Jagger?
And the winner is.
Light words alight upon an unlit page.
The main concern is laughter.
Nonsense is beauty leaving all its clothes off.
‘Good night, dear poem; this is where I fall asleep.’
Things cut in half.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Trees, Eventually

I can see them now,
these unwritten poems,
pressing against some invisible film,

which separates them,
in their unwritten state,
and us, in our here and now,

free of coronavirus poems.
There are so many of them,
waiting to get in; to burst through,

ready to overwhelm our patience,
with their tedious unoriginality,
saying what doesn’t need to be said.

The sub-par humour about loo rolls.
The sanctimonious rage against panic buyers.
The too-cool, detached, takedown

of this stumbling government.
Everything I detest about poetry
will be there, somewhere– infected.

And, despite what it looks like,
this isn’t one of those poems.
No, it’s a poem about trees,

with an ill-judged preamble,
because while I was writing,
what I was secretly thinking about was trees.

How I find their presence calming.
How I marvel at their beauty,
their complicated simplicity.

The sound they make as they wave at the clouds,
doing their little wind-dance.
Not how they reflect the seasons,

but how they are the seasons.
I place my hand upon the bark,
and I am the tree. And so are you.

I imagine carrying its wisdom with me,
back to my home,
where, over a cup of tea, we laugh at nothing.

Monday, 23 March 2020

How's the Coronavirus Isolation Going?

Vacuous statement followed by vapid questions accompanied by mildly passive-aggressive/needy remark about re-posting.

1. Have you ever told a cupboard to fuck off? REPEATEDLY
2. What is your favourite glue? ICELANDIC
3. How many arson attacks have you got away with? ALL 7 OF THEM
4. Orange-coloured lemons or lemon-flavoured oranges? FIRST ONE
6. Name one childhood spoonerism which still occasionally persists. PAR CARK
7. How many Abba songs do you like (please don’t name them; an air of mystery is a noble ambition)? 3
8. How often do your talk to your cat? I SAY ‘OFTEN’, SHE SAYS ‘TOO MUCH’
9. Is ‘marmalade’ the correct word for what it represents? NO (ORANGEJAMFAIL)

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

(Unfinished) Conversation with a Wardrobe

My wife is laughing madly at the website of
a Personal Stylist. ‘Oh! Guess what?!’ she shrieks.
‘She’s… PASSIONATE!!!’ Okay, a bit of context:
this has been ongoing for several minutes,
and this – this latest comment – is the coup
de grace; a sparkly and ridiculous
tiara of a platitude which sits
among a plethora of similarly
over-enthusiastic, gushing statements
which she has read out loud to me, and which,
collectively, have brought about another bout
of manic, spousal laughter. So, she shrieks.
She shrieks at the potential consequences
of a stylist becoming passionate –
about her wardrobe. And it does,
I must admit, sound rather fetishistic.
I have a passion for your wardrobe!

Of Great Benefit

We could all benefit
from being humbler
about our opinions.


The absurdist solution
is the only solution
which isn’t absurd.

Outer Surface

If all the people disappeared,
I could write a poem about architecture,
time, and the gradual erosion of everything.

I prefer the stillness of rocks.
Give me a leaf floating on a lake, any day.

Although all castles are, ultimately sand, or even wind,
you disappear into the water, while I sit, writing.

I choose a rock from many
and write my poems’ words upon its outer surface.
They stare back up at the sky.

Sometimes, I just can’t get to the end of an idea.