“Gap Year” : a collection by Andy Blackford and John Foggin

Gap Year
Gap Year Andy Blackford & John Foggin now available to buy

“Gap Year” is the product of a one year writing exchange in 2014 between me and Andy Blackford, who I toaught in the 6th Form at Middlesbrough High School in the late 60’s and then didn’t meet again for 40 years. It was Andy’s idea that, like Louis Bunel and an artist friend, we would exchange a piece of work (poems, in our case) every week for a year, critiquing and cajoling as we went along. It was Andy’s idea to enter some of the poems for a pamphlet competition run by Sentinel Publications. We were invited to submit a full collection which subsequently won the 1st Prize.

Roger Elkin, the judge, said this about our collection:

Sentinel Writing & Publishing Newsletter

November 30, 2016

We are pleased to announce the results of the SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition (2016) and the comments on the winning collections by judge Roger Elkin

First Prize
Gap Year 
Andy Blackford and John Foggin

This collection of questioning and explorative poetry is offered not as a master-pupil construct, but as a collaborative joint venture – “a harmonious duet” as the submission sample proposed – each poet inspiring the other in a mutual appreciation and understanding of an individual take on the world. And what a wide-ranging read they offer, from the natural world with detailed observation particularly of bird-life, the skies and seascapes, to education and the arts, especially music and painting; to family members and neighbours; to issues central to life, such as love, suicide and death; and to matters spiritual, centring on Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and the Padmaloka retreat. Occasionally, these worlds of now and beyondness (enigmatic yet centring on the immediate) are transformed into something approaching a nightmare reality in which the concrete is made disconcertingly abstract, and vice versa. Similarly, several poems employ the strategy of using negatives (sometimes cataloguing them) and transforming them to positive commentaries on the human predicament. However, the application of an almost Metaphysical wit, leavened by touches of humour, serves to make the writing subtle and nuanced: sometimes gently lyrical in its musings; and at other times hard-edged and disturbing in its raw perceptiveness. Both states are explored via a wide range of structures; a palette of richly-appropriate diction which luxuriates in colour; startling imagery; and skilful lineation. This is a candid and honest poetic partnership. Its fruits are of the highest order. I look forward to reading more.

We couldn’t be happier. I’m especially happy for Andy…this is the first time he’s ventured into the unpredictable world of poetry comps and publishing. We’re equally chuffed about the finished product, and we hope you will be. As a taster, here are two of the poems. If you want to read more, simply head to the Menu at the top of the page, which will take you to My Books, and a Paypal button. The book will come P&P included.

**** There may be a short delay in posting. I’ll be away in Spain from 12-19 June******


Taken by the tide


I might have sailed with saints into the infinite

Atlantic, lugging their old bone-house burdens,

searching for the furthest place  from man,

which I imagine they supposed

would be the nearest place to God.


And maybe  I’d have stood shuddering

and shriven in the wind and spray,

but before too long I know I’d be mumbling

bladderwrack  and dulse, clubbing gannets,

prising limpets, riving clumps of mussels

off knuckle-skinning rocks; stumbling

down cold sluicing gullies just in time to see

the boats taken  by the tide, or broken

by the storm, or by the will of God.


And I wonder what they sang,

these old fanatic souls, on the strait summits

of mountains whose feet are oceans deep,

and how they died on Sula Sgeir, on Rona,

and if they knew that gulls and fulmars

would nest in the cloister of their ribs.


Tell me they remembered the words

of their mea culpa Masses.Tell me

they were sane. Tell me they held the tune.


[John Foggin]


Christ in the Peter and Paul Fortress

Christ surveys the wondrous cross

and quietly swears. This is my final crucifixion.

He isn’t one for cursing, generally, but this place

would try the patience of a saint.


Clouds of gold hang like bad breath

about the iconostas.

Gold is a melanoma here,

corrupting wings of angels, ears of saints.


It’s as if some prelate

in a rage of lust

has spewed this opulence

upon his mother’s pristine feet.


Ah, the mother: silent, icy, incorruptible.

All this bling and booty

and not a virgin’s sneer to show for it.


Christ, sickened

by such unintended consequences

slips into the confessional.


Casting off his showgirl’s costume

he spins three times and reappears

as Jesus in his cotton grave shift

with its world map traced in gore.


Escaping by a side door

he lopes the fifty metres to the Bastion,

bribes a guard with Judas’ little toe

and makes his way to Cell Thirteen.


An old general sprawls helpless

on an iron bed. Pointlessly

they took his wooden leg away.

He scrawls a message

to his wife of forty years.

The scrap of paper, torn from a Bible,

is no broader than his hand


but he makes the letters big –

she’s almost blind from cataracts.


My dearest love Alyona,

I don’t know when they’ll let me go.

There is no food or bedding.

Please send bread.


He doesn’t mention that the water

in the toilet bowl is frozen and his cheek

is broken from the beating.


Next day the General will be bundled

to another gaol and hanged.


Jesus silently recites a benediction

then drifts, ghost-like, between the bars.

In the shadow of the domes

of gold and lapis lazuli,

he finds he can no longer raise his eyes.

But still he whispers:

Forgive them Father for they know

exactly what they do.


[Andy Blackford]



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