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.


‘We must ban everything,’ said the Society for Banning Everything.
‘But where should we start?’ asked the Association for Getting Things Started.
‘And where should we end?’ added the National Union of Ending Things Whether Peacefully or Through Violent Revolution.


I try and immerse myself in the comforts of absurdity.
‘Everything,’ I say to the world at large,
while standing on a table disguised as a cloth,
‘is simply a matter of the absurd, including me,’
(especially me, the inner voice adds).

‘Mr Tree,’ I say to the tree on my left,
calling it ‘Mr’ out of politeness,
or perhaps deference to its age,
and not, as you might fear,
because I wish to gender the universe.

‘Mr Tree,’ I say, ‘you are absurd.
Three cheers for Mr Tree. Hip, hip…’
but nothing and no one cheers the ‘hooray!’
too busy being chairs, tea-cup, book, shoes, etc.,
to join in.


We whisk the past into the shape we want.
No telephones, no televisions: nothing.
Nothing is nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
We walk on seas which are not even there.
The clouds move by on different coloured backgrounds.
What can we find? The nothingness of nothings.
Tables upturned, we shout and fight all day.
Embrace the freedom of each single moment.
Articulate the movement of the moment.
‘Without the truth’ – humanity’s mute gravestone.
Before the afternoons sets in, we must
find understanding in the chaos of
the morning past. Each day is like the last.
Combat and peace. Eternal struggles lie
together; side by side. The truth will not
be found, for there is nothing there to find.
Perhaps each one of us is doomed to get it wrong.

More Lemon-Based Advice

                start liking lemons
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Eye Feast

Those people who say,
‘I only have to look at a cream bun
and I put on weight,’
really need to stop looking at cream buns.

What unusual lives these special individuals,
whose waist lines are predicated on
what food they look at,
must lead.

‘I only have to look at
the shelf of spirits in a pub
and I find myself in intensive care
with acute alcohol poisoning,’ they might say.

Trips to the chemist
must be similarly perilous.
‘I only have to look at the painkillers
and I’m sectioned on to some psychiatric ward
for being a danger to myself.’

There must be some advantages, though.
Only having to look at food
means they never have to buy any
and the savings to their weekly budget
must be at least as significant
as the give in their elasticated trousers.

Never having to cook
will liberate them from the tyranny of the stove
allowing them to spend more time
going for walks on the hills,
as they burn off all the calories acquired
from looking at cream buns.

Start looking at salads.
The greens, reds and yellows
make for a more aesthetically pleasing eye-feast
than the mottled splodginess of cream buns.

Avoid pubs.
Steer clear of chemists.

When it comes to poetry books, though,
I’m afraid I can’t give any constructive advice.
I only have to look at a poem
and I become all metaphorical.

Even More Procrastination

Procrastination is the thief of time. is here again

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Further Procrastination

Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

The Correct Response to Death

‘My father/best friend/cat
has just died, and I feel the need
to shoot a Michael Bay-type
action adventure movie

with more explosions than dialogue,’
said no one, ever
(not even Michael Bay).

I’ve never seen anyone turn up to a funeral
ready to deliver the eulogy
accompanied with a chainsaw-made ice-sculpture
of the deceased’s head.

Maybe you have,
in which case: congratulations!
Your circle of friends is clearly more eccentric
than mine.

When your beloved dies,
what will your grief move to you create?

An ambient score
for an art-house film?

An interactive art installation
made from salvaged computer screens
and recycled editions of Hansard?

Not something as morbid,
yet as strangely pedestrian,
as a paper-mâché death-mask, surely?

No, I think that you will do none of these things
and you will, instead,
be drawn to articulate your loss through poetry.

Even if you’ve never attempted
to engage Mistress Verse in conversation
since your disastrous first/last
failed attempts at school.

Even if your embarrassing
adolescent break-up poems
are so distant
that your memory can’t yield even a single title
from that woeful time
(appropriately marked with woeful poetry).

Even if you’ve
‘never really got poetry’,
poetry is what you will turn towards
when you find yourself needing to express
the inexpressible.

For poetry is the correct response to death.
The unacknowledged companion to grief:
denial, and poetry; anger, and poetry;
bargaining, and poetry;
depression, and poetry; acceptance, and poetry.

Chainsaws and blocks of ice
don’t really cut it, do they?

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Birthday Greeting Redrafted (ii)

   ve a
Ha/ppy Birthday!

Zen and the Art of Being a Child

with apologies to Jessica and Reuben

In a room full of
toys: sit on a cake tin; play
with a travel mug.

My niece, Jessica, posted this picture on Facebook, with the accompanying text: 'In a room full of toys, sit on a cake tin and play with a travel mug'. That belongs in a poem, I thought, before realising that, by removing 'and', it already was (a haiku). 'What is childhood?' you might ask. 'In a room full of toys: sit on a cake tin; play with a travel mug'. That. That is childhood.

Birthday Greeting Redrafted (i)

      people annoy me
Happy Birthday!

Monday, 9 March 2020

Left Behind

You said, ‘I will become the rain,’
and I did not know what this meant.
What is it that walks around the world
without any shoes?
The instinct we have is always to believe
that we alone are right
about everything.
‘We are riding the waves on the sea of time,’
I eventually replied, facetiously.
‘No,’ you replied, with a face as earnest
as a sheet of glass.
‘We are the waves
and the sea is not of time,
but of the universe.’
We waited in vain while happy childhood memories
photocopied themselves out of existence,
until all we had left
was all that had left us.
Our songs no longer played in the key of happiness.
Life must have difficulty,
and the only thing you have control over is yourself,
and you don’t even have that, not fully.
Celebrate your existence on days
other than your birthday.
You know what I don’t like about novels?
The feeling of disappointment at the end.
When you told me, for the umpteen millionth time,
‘You should write your life story,’
I couldn’t put it any simpler than,
‘But I don’t like melodramas,
and: the past is of little interest
when compared to the writing of a new poem.’
If you are adopted,
reality is a sheet which covers the truth.
My journey through life was punctuated
with land mines and lemon groves.
All they did was graffiti exclamation marks
on the walls of reality.
You do not conquer mountains.
Do you understand yet? No?
Well read the bloody poem again.

Monday, 2 March 2020

Guru 3

The Guru is in the swimming pool.
‘Life is water,’ he says to the audience
(the Guru has an audience wherever he goes),
‘and the sea is ready-salted.’
I don’t know why we listen to this stuff.
Maybe it’s because
if we can’t get our spirituality from church
we’ll get it instead from a man in a swimming pool.
‘Life is the intricate set-up for a joke
and the punchline is Death Itself.
You and I, we are all variations
on the same joke.
Surely you have something to say about that,
poet man?’
I look up.


I want to live in a house with no carpets.

(There’s a story about Alexander the Great coming to a bridge and being challenged by an old man. ‘I am Alexander the Great and I have conquered the world. What have you done?’ he says. To which the old man replies, ‘I have conquered my need to conquer the world.’)


How often are there no words
for what is?
Why are you crying?
Have you not seen
the beauty of the Moon?
Or do you weep for its beauty?

Rhymes With

I say to you, ‘Is life wet or is it dry?’
and the answer you give is irrelevant
because neither of us know what the question means.
‘I’d say life was more of a doughball, son.’
I consider this for a second.
What are you talking about?
Shape? Flavour? Texture? Size? I mean – what?
It’s a metaphor, obviously.
While we’re at it: what am I talking about?
A poem on the Underground is certain to be dull
and in no way ‘underground’.
Poetry for moles/moles for poetry.
If someone reads your poem on Radio 4, give up, now;
you’ve failed.
Do not write for acceptance or recognition.
The more famous the poet,
the more anonymous the poetry;
although this only applies to the living.
Does your poetry rhyme?
With what? Reality? Experience?
There are some people I’d smash over the head
with a brick, given half a chance.
I wouldn’t really, 
I’m just seeing if that rhymes with your experience of people.
Everything is a game of one-upmanship.
Some of my best friends are idiots.
I look in the mirror and see my father’s eyes –
what do you see?
Eternal life would be the ultimate punishment.
I would like to be happy; yes, that would be nice,
wouldn’t it? Nice.
I’m not sure about sanity, though.
Fergus, dear chap: what does your poetry/this poem mean?
It’s one big rhyme with the inside of my head.
What does your face mean?
What does Beethoven’s 7th mean?
Maybe I’m simply trying to conjure up
the feeling of exasperation, or confusion,
or frustration; or maybe I’m just writing for myself.
Truth cannot be put into words.

Trees That Run

Have you ever seen the optical illusion,
while travelling on a train,
of a line of trees running across the horizon?
Maybe it was the whisky.

A Depressing Thought

Everything, even this poem,
(even the act of writing this poem)
is an act of one-upmanship.

Every conversation, a reprehensible act
of lambasting our neighbour
for the splinter in his eye
while ignoring the plank of wood in our own
(an appropriate metaphor
for the son of a carpenter to articulate).

Are we capable of generosity of spirit?
True praise without an however?
Without a caveat?
I don’t think so.


Well, it could be fire instead of water,
or perhaps the wind in a hurricane,
and the water itself
may be manifested as a flowing river.
It. These metaphors for life:
water, fire, air;
make up your own example for earth.
So, take this rock and throw it through a window.

Like Unstable Water

We cannot watch the stars unfurl with laughter.
The less I see of airborne structures, well.
Explain the disappearance of the self.
If pounced upon by this, the mountains move.
But faith cannot move mountains after all.
Obsessions led by madness, all the rage.
Constrained by laughter, all we do is howl.
And then – what now? Will all our tears dry up?
Like woollen glasses, all your best attempts.

Eating Doughnuts

What I have learnt this week
is that doughnuts
must go out in a blaze of glory.

Like all great discoveries
(stumbling upon penicillin, for example),
it was accidental.

Give the doughnut some respect,
said the thought.
I achieved this noble end

by placing the doughnut on a plate
and cutting it up sensibly,
with a knife and fork, as if it were a sensible food,

like lasagne, or a nut roast.
A carefully cut up doughnut
is a curiously joyless affair.

Yes, I will admit that,
unlike all of my previous doughnut eating escapades,
the post-scoff guilt failed to materialise,

but, more importantly,
the eating of it
was as dismal as it was unsatisfactory.

The following day,
I atoned for this error
by demolishing a doughnut

in three swift mouthfuls.
I barely had time to enjoy it.
It was glorious.