The nice thing about poetry readings is……. the (un)discovered gems. With guest poet Ken Evans

Apologies. The cobweb’s a day late. It was half written yesterday when the dishwasher started to flash warning signs and to cease work mid-cycle. It turned out after some time that the impeller on the pump was jammed with a bit of broken glass. Or, because you’re keen on poetry, a shard. Anyway, it involved some finicking with tweezers and a lot of mopping. All is now well, so on with the post.

lucky dip stall

The thing about poetry readings is you pays your money (or, more often, don’t) and you takes your choice. We’ve been to poetry nights where the poet(s) and organisers outnumber the punters; one remarkable one in Bradford where the normally designated pub room was full of sleeping bags…….some may have been occupied. And those where the floor is taken by a manic street preacher who cannot be persuaded that the open mic is not the place for his grievances. The ones where the poetry is buried under an avalanche of jukebox and drunken revelry from an adjacent room. One memorable one where the poetry competed with Morris Men in the street outside. Ones where an audience member grows increasingly puzzled until s/he realises it’s not a Union Branch Meeting after all.

And there are poetry nights that are memorable simply because they make you feel good about yourself, about poetry, about the human condition. It was like that last Thursday at The Albert Poets in Huddersfield, not just because of the quality of the poetry, which was great, but also because there wasn’t even standing room. The Albert’s back room these days houses a pool table, and the poets are now out in the front bar, right by the front door on to the street. It’s an interesting space, and becomes even more interesting when a whole bunch of lovely folk hire a minibus and turn up in numbers. It happened in November when Ian Parks (who will, before too long, be a guest poet) was reading with Steve Ely and Smokestack Books editor, the splendid Andy Croft, and were supported by travelling fans from Mexborough…a bit like football, or music. Apparently, they liked it so much that they came again last Thursday to support Neil Clarkson, Emma Storr, Mike di Placido and Mexborough poet,Mike O’Brien, featured below. You might just see the orange barriers outside the door. The council were digging up the street, with drills and mechanical diggers. Which is always interesting.

And Mike Di Placido displayed, courtesy of Mark Hinchcliffe, one of Ted Hughes’ Mont Blanc pens, about which he’s written a belter of a poem in his collection ‘Crow flight across the sun’. It was a special night. Some of them are.

In and among all this are memories of poetry nights where you heard a poet for the first time, one who reads something that stops you in your tracks, makes you sit up and pay attention. Almost all of the poets who have been guests on the cobweb are in this category. Nearly all the contemporary poetry I own has been bought at readings (including some on residential courses)  where I heard these poets for the first time. (most people knew about them already, but that’s not the point, is it?). Ruth Valentine, Steve Ely, Rebecca Gethin, Christy Ducker, Jonathan Edwards, Roy Marshall, Jane Clarke, Shirley McLure…..and so on and so on. Which brings us nicely to today’s guest and (un)discovered gem.

In December I drove over the M62 to Liverpool for the launch of Coast to coast to coast 2, at the Open Eye Gallery on the waterfront near the Pier head. It was a lovely cold night, and I’d forgotten how nice it is to walk, all wrapped up, through mainly deserted spaces like the Albert Dock, and to enjoy light on water. It was like being a student in the 60s again. The world bright, new-minted. I’m hoping to dedicate a post to Coast to coast… in the very near future. Enough to say it’s the brainchild of Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown, and they produce limited- edition, fabric-covered and handstitched pamphlets.


They’re flooded with submissions whenever they invite them, and they attract ‘names’. Their second pamphlet opens with a stunner from John Glenday. There are poems from Suzannah Evans, Stephanie Conn, Paul Stephenson, Rebecca Gethin…

It was a splendid launch, with poets from all over, and one of those readings where I heard lots of poets for the first time. Charles Lauder Jr., Robin Houghton and the one with opening lines that jumped out at me from the page..a poem by today’s guest Ken Evans

“(where no DNA, prints or dental records exist, jewellery helps identification)

What survives is love, and jewellery –”

The whole poem follows shortly, but first, I’ll let Ken introduce’s a fascinating story of his arrival in this odd world of writing poems.

I find a lot of people come to poetry through crisis – break-up; divorce; a death; redundancy; an unexpected rift in the weave; an addiction, or the journey from addiction; or simply a mid-life loss of way. This last, though less dramatic, is just as debilitating – a creeping sense of alienation, that won’t be denied.

My own moment came after donating a kidney to my sister who had lupus. An incurable but not necessarily killer-disease, she’d reached the stage of dialysis. Without a donor, it can be a seven-year wait for a good match. Often, twice that. The op. went well, but left me with a collapsed lung (re-inflatable) and a loss of purpose (less easy to breathe air into.)

My job seemed pointless and stressful.  While presenting, I started swaying and for an instant, lost all depth of field, so that the person farthest from me in the room seemed as upfront and close as the person in the front row.  Unnerving. A cardiogram suggested a small stroke – a TIA (Transient Ischaemic Attack.)

[I’ve spent time speculating about the subtext of the gap that Ken leaves between this paragraph and the next. It’s one of those ‘In one bound he was free’ narratives!

“A kidney short, but an Arvon course up, I was away. A Master’s in Poetry at Manchester University under the brilliant John McAuliffe, Vona Groarke and Frances Leviston (and the then-Writer-in-Residence, Colette Bryce), and I was hooked.

Placings in Poets & Players; the Bridport; Troubadour; the National Poetry Prize longlist; Bare Fiction and the Nine Arches Press ‘Primers’ series – all boosted self-confidence, and made me start to think I’ll have a shot at this poetry-stuff, and I began living for the time I could steal at the keyboard/notebook.

I read all the time – as of course, all workshop-leaders tell us we must: mainly lyric North Americans like Henry Cole, Carl Phillips, Jack Gilbert (all recommended by John McAuliffe.) I also learned of the longer and downbeat, wry conversational line of Karen Solie and Louise Gluck; the density of Jorie Graham and the dazzling Sharon Olds, Brenda Shaughnessy, as well as Kay Ryan’s tauter and shorter lines, while Billy Collin’s apparently effortless way with verse won me over.


In 2016, I won Battered Moons, and published a pamphlet, ‘The Opposite of Defeat, with Eyewear Publishing, as well as making runner-up, in the lovely Jacky Kays’ generous judgement, in Poets & Players.


There you go. And now I’m delighted to share some of his poems with you. Let’s start with the one that caught my eye at that December book launch.

True Forensic

(where no DNA, prints or dental records exist, jewellery helps identification)


What survives is love, and jewellery –

a Deposit Box in a tower-basement,

hennaed by heat, gold and sapphire, ruby,


diamonds burnished to a glitter,

scorched from their settings to outshine

their blackened fixtures.


Limbs, so firm and clasped in life,

burn lightly as a willow-branch, browning

leaves, a wick of fat beneath.


Flames dance upon our face, eyes.

The ring on a finger is an emissary

from a thin wrist of skin and time,


shrunken to a flare of alchemy,

distilled to what remains, the opaque,

a flaming geometry.


Our fire-licked embrace cannot shake

the faithful sleep of a Pompeiian dog,

the Viking amethyst, sunk in taiga,


that heaven, crackling, thirty floors above

our heads, brought down upon

the precious, and our semi-precious



Two things struck me straight away. The first was the texture of the writing, the consonants, the near rhymes that tie it together. It sings out to be read aloud. The second was the unblinking way it opens by borrowing from Larkin, and then subverting my expectations by substituting ‘jewellery’ for ‘love’. And the odd juxtaposition of ‘tower’ and ‘basement’. It all jumped off the page at me. And then I was taken by the notion that gems may have as much provenance as DNA is establishing our identity. It’s an idea that bothers, like grit in a shoe.

The fourth stanza is unnerving in the way it sets up the body as fragile, pliant and flammable. I get an after image of an auto da fe. I have to say that I jumped to the conclusion that this was a Grenfell Tower poem. Ken told me that it predates Grenfell. But Grenfell becomes one more layer of meaning in a poem of layers and strata. It was this poem and Ken’s reading of it that made me ask him to be a guest and send me some more.

Maybe it’s because I’m fascinated by the narratives of early polar exploration that I chose the two that I did. Fire and


(based on Mawson’s diary, Antarctica, 1912)


at the food depot, two oranges on a crate under

the tarp. i can’t eat, even though i crave them.


their colour avalanches in my eyes.

cocaine and zinc-sulphate for snow-blindness.


i love such men that would leave them here.

if I perish, i am my last photograph, bent-double


in a hundred-knot wind, snow flying

from my shovel, skating my tripod legs away.


our last husky ate her puppies, which is normal.

we boiled her friends, the paws being toughest.


snow-bridges cave-in, their thunder is company.

a petrel flew into my sled from nowhere.


young Metz raved and broke a tent pole.

‘veh,’ he said, dying in my blistered arms.


i hired him for his hilarious English accent.

a climber, glaciologist, i thought him an idler.


he soils himself, i need his sleeping bag.

i am too weak, no, too lonely, to bury him.

the yellow lips, the other colour in the landscape.


I chose this for the ‘voice’. Maskwearing is liberating, but it’s harder than it looks to find the rhythms of a ‘voice’ and to sustain them. I like the way the tone is set by two phrases

i thought him an idler / he soils himself,

the way they act like a tuning fork for the rest of the poem. How do you read this narrator? If you were an actor, how would you imagine him? A man impatient of weakness in himself and in others. Something of a moral snob, and determinedly stiff-lipped, laconic, sardonic.

our last husky ate her puppies, which is normal.

I love the way the two points of colour, the intensity of the orange, the sallowness of the yellow, seem to dazzle in a monchrome world  It’s a very painterly poem, this, and a carefully managed one. As is the last one for today which attends to the other narrative of  polar exploration; Scott and Shackleton and Amundsen have their heroic/tragic/triumphant/epic journeys. We remember them, the gallant frontline troops, and pay less attention to support systems that made their stories possible. We tend to forget the patient work that has to go on for months and months of no sun, no day. Which is why I chose this poem, for it’s shift of perspective, and I suppose, for the dark humour.


At the Amundsen-Scott Research Station


Night came months ago and stayed ever since:

the moon, not waxing or waning, hangs high,

a mothball in a corner of a dark cupboard,

constant as the wind, a feral pet we feed outside,

seal air-locks against to stop the rasping lick:

we know all our moods, better than our own faces

fractured in iced-up port-holes. Each day arriving

minus thirty-eight, wind-chill off the scale.


Our work is talk, sensitive in the silence to each

blip or whirr of our instruments, an exact spot

the needle touches on the dial of the jet-fuel

in our generator. We dream in half-tones,

our only sunset a screensaver, for memory.

After homemade-hooch (no blow at the Pole

to wipe minds white) and a series of box-sets,

we play a game of who we’d eat first if all else


fails. Irrationally, for a lab full of scientists,

the men say the women, the women, the men.


So, there you are. A day late, for which I’m sorry, but I hope you’ve enjoyed Ken Evans’ poems and voices as much as I have, and that you can’t wait to buy his book. As for next week….I don’t know yet. It’s probably the dark days and early nights. It’s good job I’ve never been sent to the Antarctic.

















The Cat’s Tail

(In 1923, Inuit Ada Blackjack is the only female – and lone survivor –  of an Arctic expedition, marooned for two years on Wrangel Island. Her wages were for medicine for her tubercular son.)


A shag of tobacco for the shaman:

‘beware of knives and fire.’ He may as well foretell ice,

air, for knives are currency here and fire, survival.


Shiann sniffs out fire with his moist nose, as his tail

to the sky predicts our storms; there is only

my own brown eyes for the flashing of knives.


Bears are plentiful and curious; we eat them,

the liver a shared delicacy, though the men say

too much makes for delirium.


Long nights we huddle together, under the skins

of the eaten. The men pay no regard to me.

Only blue-eyed John speaks to me like I’m no child.


Alone on the island, waiting for first snow

to block the gaps in our flotsam shack,

I sew against the unpicking fingers of the wind:


fur hoods for the anoraks, linings for our boots,

a sack to carry the wood we scavenge. I am given a Bible

for self-improvement. The stories terrify.


South, in Alaska, my boy is made better by me here,

he will have a white-man’s life in the capital.

I cry every night to cradle him.
















The men hear my moans and shrieks,

fear I’m possessed by spirits of the dead, polar bears,

whales, but here, I concentrate only on the living.


One skin at a time, warmth for the coming winter,

pelt after pelt, I stitch my way home, the smell of snow

in the clouds, a weight at our makeshift door.


We bet on which way Shianns’ tail points each night,

casting smooth pebbles from the frozen bay.

If my wager equals any man’s, John takes my side.


Words falling with the embers to a murmur,

we get under covers. I whisper to Shiann

not to shiver, and to follow the way of my eyes with his tail.






























A Buzzing



this orange loses zing

as I unwind the peel,

that tea in my cup cools

before I can swallow,

that blood draws back

from my finger-nails

even as they uncurl;

that I never again smile

at sunshine in a room,

that a breeze at an open

window I place a chair

before, slides away.


all the hours boil down

to one – the last

of a party in which

I do not ask the girl

to dance, my taste

for beer is unproven,

my legs won’t walk

her home before her mum

is due, I don’t take wing,

fly to her across the room


a window-pane, drowsily.
















The Vigilance


She climbs you

like a rope

to stand

on your head,

keeping hers

above the water.

a rope-burn

in your lungs

as you hold

your breath,

dive to hold

the thrashing limbs,

waltz her back

to the steps,

lay her out,

cover her lips

with yours,

your palms, pressed

flat, squeeze hard

on her rib–

cage, her legs slacken off


her outstretched

arms imploring.

you press harder

as you always

intended, willing her

to spew,

full of longing and failure,

a blue bruise

on her chest marking

your emergency.








The Six Sisters of Mahabalipuram

(After the 2004 tsunami, six temples emerge offshore

near Chennai, Tamil Nadu, underwater for over a thousand years.)


A bell on a hill tolls lament, white hotels

upended in a black cave, their horizons

lost, air sucked from the tops of trees.

After the roar, an echo of prayers

in temples, hauled from the wave

that swallowed the sky, a hole left

in the ocean, a sea-garden of worship,

lost since the early-seventh century.


Even the lone shore temple, scoured

of guano, displays a new Ganesh

in one sparkling arch. Crowds shake

with awe at the boats on hills, rickshaws

in palms, a miracle of a sculpted elephant.

Six stupas poke from a new sea-bed,

the six sisters of the coast, the cries

of our unburied daughters, further out.




























Stretching back down the path,

a second-hand whirring round

my appointed hour.


A dragonfly hauling summer

like timber in a net

under a helicopter,


over a final ridge,

into a blue valley, an outline

wiped by a shower.




























The Swinging of Bells


A bronze flick of a belt, drawn through

his waist loops, a snake gripped,

fangs impotent. He smells warm

from the Audi, his nails uncut.

I lift my dress over my head,

naked as the day he held me in hospital,

church-bells hammer the metal hour.


Breathing hard for what’s coming next,

the burden of my daily portion, a tolling,

four seconds apart, of the bell’s

tongue, rolled back through the swing

of the pendulum. At every vibration

my window dimples, the reach

of his bare arm, in my bedside-light,


a plank brought down on an unwanted

farmyard litter. Afterwards, I move slowly,

though not so slow as to renew his interest,

leave by the gate to cool my back on graveyard

slabs, and smoke the stubs left between

the plots, by the now-departed grieving,

lighter-flame singes the hairs on my arm.



















Incantation to a Rain Doll   

(‘teru-teru bozu’ is a ‘shining, bald monk’ – a homemade doll hung to ward off rain, familiar in Japanese nursery rhymes.)


White spots grow

on the clean linen

in a cupboard,

mould on bamboo-clips

of washing-lines,

the traffic-police wear


shower-caps, a queue

for umbrella-dryers

in the supermarkets.


Bright tissue doll,

hanging from my window,

call summer back to play,

fruit ripens in plum-rains,

but tomorrow, let it

shine on your dome-head,

your pale monk’s robes,

throw light like a lantern,

teru-teru bozu, holy sparks

to make sunshine.


I ring a golden bell

to call you out to dance,

Sake to dampen your skirts,

and godspeed you down

the river. Tomorrow,

our hoikuen picnic,

don’t call us back inside,

teru-teru bozu,

rain on our horizon,

means I snip off your head.









Promise, teru-teru bozu,

hanging from my bedroom sill,

and I’ll sketch-in eyes

to thank you, scribble

you a tongue to taste

our picnic-air, draw you

a nose to smell drying grass

beneath our woven rugs,

teru-teru bozu, my ghost-doll,

monk-man, egg-head.










































Teaching Mum the iPad

A Japanese soldier shames his Emperor to emerge

from hide-out to the ‘70s of ‘Saturday Night Fever.’

A tribesman finds a Coke in the water, a red conch

hissing a warning as he raises it on an altar.

Mums’ finger swipes the screen, this swoosh

What her eighty-six years have evolved for,

All modernity a pointing digit, reserve lost

for a keyboard intoxicant of email alerts, offers.

Her scratchings in the electronic cave leave

her breathless, a nun eating popcorn,

stunned by a code she has entered. Regular meals

fall by the wayside, the TV glowers in a corner cupboard.

Someone in Turkmenistan wants children with her.

She is in need of translation. She needs to open her curtains,

where I am a snake-oil doctor selling bright bottles

with contents-free labels from the back of a wagon


on a dusty prairie. There is nothing in them

material, but a tiny click of hope.













My Mother as Stricken Fighter-Pilot


she wants to go. she knows to go.

the bones in her rib-cage are parachute straps.

from a cockpit, she peers over each wing-tip,

wanting to press Eject, altitude arrived at,

to shoot from the fuselage into the stars.

anaphalactic shock, a reaction to penicillin.

a plume of words, mainly ‘please,’ flame

from her engine-cowlings to the diagnosticians.

‘Chemistry is about atoms and their valency.’


I grieve for her words, ‘let me go. let me go.’

the voice from a mission, a cloud-flitter

with nothing to lose after her fly-past over

the crash-site, smouldering in foreign woods.

no bright stairwell, no shaft of light. if anything,

a drop, the metal, guttering in her bloodstream,

jets below a horizon, a vapour-trail, lingers in

the blue. no Mayday, but her plea, for the nurse

to not pierce a new cap of adrenaline.






















peaty light, a December afternoon,

the same seminar each Monday,

after three, knowledge on the desk

in piles. silverfish eat the starchy

glue of book-bindings. I’m chewing

over a thing I read, and this being

university, people are polite, till you,

backlit like a moody 70s album cover,

break the tedium, silver hair a metaphor

I step into without self-consciousness.


the tutor suggests a tea-break.

my heart is not in a tea-bag and silverfish

are not silver, nor even fish. my heart

is beating lumps out of my head; stupid

to think you share a similar angle,

our ironies are different; foolish

to suppose I pan-handle your thoughts,

but I feel something creepy-crawly on the skin

like silverfish, who live for years in the sugary

crevices of books, tiny, undisturbed.




















Tracks of the Ninja


The snowboard

a finish-line

beneath his feet

he can chase

but not



a crow-hood

dark mask

breathable skin

lime flashes


kingdom of stamping feet


a shallow-breathing Ninja



one poison-frog

on his shoulder

to help in his battle

with the snow-serpent

wrapping the world

in a skin of crystal


trapper    benefactor

rock-hugger   winning

every game of




in a smother of white








Ninja      meditating on




a pebble skipping a frozen lake

small shifts

of knee, ankle, calf

the laconic bird-eye

kuro-kiri, the invisible one, shrinks

to a tiny dot

the stillness at his centre

schussing to the end

of the page

full stop


he flies


loses the property of friction


through fallen fences of white

the moguls of the mind


a frog-hopper foaming-up cuckoo-spit

a Ninja from a woodblock

in a mind-game

with the snow

now you see me

                            now you don’t


at the base

of the run

captured swords

of snow


in his fists



to his boots













The Fire


I lie when I say

the deepest flame

is blue, that air

doesn’t thicken

where you walk,

that I don’t cherish

the dent you leave

in my sofa.


That light can’t shine

through the helix

of your ear, that you

don’t stir applause

when you tidy your hair

above your brow; if I say

your eyes are blue, I’m lying

again. They are smoke.


If I say I’m not fixated

on your red toes

in those cork heels,

I lie more, and the way

whatever you say

is perfectly tuned

to a pitch I lean

forward into.























I lie too, about needing


when my only defence

is to fall hard and see

what the dirt kicks up;

pressed flat to earth,

winded, you draw

a finger round me .


I lie, I lie, because

what I want to say is,

things burn most blue,

where the mix is richest,

flame blackens further

the soot-print of older

fires, now tar-cooled.

























Raising a Family


Uber stickers on taxis airbrushed in billows

of pavement breath; trams at Piccadilly clink,

their gentle, playground toot of horns.

Late-night shoppers, lit by windows, step-over

the hard barter of the homeless. Gallery pillars

guard a war collection, beside bars filled

with a weekend crowd, the music and cinema

of today, and laughter, recalled down the years

in the turning-circle of a growing family,

a tyre-tread in soft grass, undusted space

between small picture-hooks.
































You are funny they say, heavy with the irony,

as you repeat the old jokes that were repeated

on you, the one’s you swore you would never,


like where you offer a handshake, only to tweak

their nose between your thumb and forefinger

at the final second – hilarious? Never,


yet still you try and still they fall for it, allow

your smudge of silliness, the child indulging

the parent, and you, never


clear as to your role – grown-up, jokester, father –

yet susceptible to the DNA of a warm family,

haloed and revered – you promise never,


this time, really never, to pass on the old jokes.

























Dr. No has a Superpower

(‘situs inversus’, the condition of being born with the heart and other vital organs reversed.)


Dr. No lives on,

his heart unfound,

right of centre,

SMERSH’s boss,

born back to front


like Donny Osmond.

I, too, an invert, mirror-

image of one

I see in the cranny

of an eye, my blood


splashing back,

as I rise from

between the identical

twins of my knees,

to see a double


pacing, the shadow-equal

of my first step, a ripple

from a wide-flung pebble,

a ring of Saturn, an aura

of the original.


If a reflection, a simulacrum,

the wrong-way cast,

grant me just this: the ghostly

superpowers of the inside-

out: to crack, and shatter


and be made whole,

to hate, then fall in love,

to die in war, reincarnate

in the peace, to eat a way

back to a full appetite.
















To be opposite:

have lots of sex, then know

nothing about it.

Experience, then lose

it all to innocence,


to forget,

then pick colours

out in a higher-res.,

enjoy my pension

before I work,


meet mum before I kick,

save dad from

early symptoms,

his hand in my hand,

a perspiring bird.






















This is Your Flight Attendant


In the event of an emergency a poem will drop

from the compartment above your head.

Place over your ears, breathe normally.

Read your own poem first before attending

to the poem of the person reciting next to you.

Familiarise yourself with the poem’s exits.

In an emergency, adopt the braced poet position,

ready to declaim when pressed. If you smell smoke,

kneel and follow the line of light poems in the aisle.

During turbulence, do not release your poem.

Do not leave your seat, even to perform verse.

Turn off all electronic poems including lap-poems.

Under your seat you will find an inflatable poem

to slip over your head. Pull on the punctuation to inflate.

For more metaphor, use the mouth-piece. Blow hard.

Thanks for listening to the safety poem.

The bar opens in ten minutes.
































On Arrival

in a blue bolt-hole, subbed-down to what fits

in an overhead locker. Left behind, paces I won’t take

between cloudy, bedroom walls,

the uncomprehending face of a vibrating mobile,

keys to ignitions I will not turn,

A contact I won’t contact.


My shirt, a burst of enthusiasm, bought by delay

in the lounge, and the dark glasses behind which a film plays

of the hatch opening out, to an egg-shaped light.

I advance up the aisle, step into a sunny yoke

spreading hot across the tarmac.
































Behind the Liquid Petroleum Tank


Unlovely. A part I never go. Beyond

the mower’s manoeuvres and too tight

for the swing of a scythe, wilded

by stinger and bramble, blue calendula,

the grass overrun by moss.


One Sunday, I commit. Heavy gloves,

old jacket, newly-sharp secateurs.

A flat football with a map of Wales,

from any number of holidays

when it could have been wet.


A water-gun with faded Star Wars,

the one, if you aimed too close,

sprang tears from an outraged face.

Summer days of militarism. A sock,

blown from the line by a gust.


Sweet-papers, silver as the bright day

they came unwrapped. A digger-truck

with deflated tyres. One pair of your

mother’s knickers, if memory serves.
















The Pole of Inaccessibility

(the furthest point from any landfall is known

as the Third Pole, and is located in the Southern Pacific Ocean)


Nothing comes in or out, even the wind

is a trespass, the sun barely tolerated,

a single press-up swallowed each day

beneath a bright muscle-tone of ocean.

Numerics in the jug of an eye, emptying

at 48 degrees, 52 minutes, 6 seconds South

123 degrees, 23 minutes, 6 seconds West:

long notation for loneliness.


A grid reference failing to describe the reach

of a glass door onto a porch, a gateway

to a vestibule, giving way to an atrium,

a threshold further opening to a chamber

domed by overflowing, liquid cupolas,

thin-glaze vaults over blue marble corridors,

ground and gyred, where eyeless tribes

enjoy their vapid, deep Heaven.


Only the waves, rinsing the silver, discarded

panels of left-over spaceships, slap at the silence:

no shout of land, and the taut rigging of the mind.





















The Jesus with the Hammered-In Wings


Jesus is the kind of man you warn your kids about,

in that likeness at the entrance

of the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.


Metal rods have hammered in three wings

to his statue-head, lending Him a look

of lobotomised surprise:


‘The Lord Ascending’, is his title,

with stare-through eyes and a gilt-edged robe

no ordinary fisherman would be seen dead in.


In a front pew, two women in the black

cardigans of God’s eldest, chat

with lately-departed relations.


Their knight-errant husbands in the square

sit in shade, canes out straight before them

like broken lances under a palm-canopy.


Hidden chanting on a loop raises the tone

suddenly, as I stare up to the perfect tongue

and groove of the Canary Pine ceiling,


the eggshell blue of the altar, the same

as the priest’s shirt, ironed by a doting parishioner

one cuff still damp from testing font water.


This need I feel to reduce and distance,

but still a clannish urge to feel the wet

lick of the familial, to belong with people







who share their last inch of palm-sap

from the shelf, ‘tree honey’, to sweeten

green bananas; islanders


who, with work scarce since The Crisis, shrug

at seeing their own fire service start forest fires

to keep in jobs and help their brothers and uncles


in the Construction business; for it is not God’s

work the fire starts in three places at once,

nor His will that after the blackening,


the green arches of laurasilva collapse. If He

is here at all it is in the straggled ash hanging

from charred trees, the blast of unforgiving


heat that swerves, last-minute, melting a boy’s

plastic slide and tractor in the garden to bright,

Dali-esque coins, but which miss his mother’s house


inexplicably: the village sky orange for days, a terrace

of prickly-pears soaking up flames; beyond, the blue

fire-break of ocean, and birds overhead, fixed to thermals.




























Paradise Wharf


Rats bursting their skins, raindrops splat

the grey slabs brown, channel in gutters

with their brux and boggle. Under the eaves,

an umbrella hugs a plague-free piece

of pavement. Drenched, I shout,

‘’Scuse me!’ From under metallic flowers,

a voice says, ‘Hey, share my umbrella.’


Tall, in logo’d t-shirt and work-lanyard,

he’s grace, Barbadian, a Facilities Manager

at Bridgewater Hall. I apologise for the weather,

an Englishman.  ‘Oh, it’s pretty Caribbean –

for the rainy season.’ ‘How far are you going?’

I ask the rat-catcher, Pied Piper:

‘To the first bridge on the Ashton Canal. You?’


Rats jump my feet, their tails lash my brogues:

‘Just round the corner.’ I would like to walk more,

stay and watch a woman re-apply her lip-stick

in liquefying glass; the saxophonist in a doorway,

the brass bell of his music making a clatter

of our reflections, but home is a fridge singing

a capella, the up and down scales of an old boiler.
























Brian Cox Says


By a tilt of my head, the beech leaves

outside my window become my son’s legs

at a bus-stop by the market; a slow lope,

too hot to walk quickly with a rucksack:

a gust of wind lifts a stall-holder’s canopy,


shakes me from myself. The cat’s ears

of a full black bin-liner, in a corner of the yard

and my eye. Turning left, sun dissolves light

on birch-bark striated like snake-skin,

the leaves, movements of a flicking tongue.


Brian Cox on TV says, ‘The world is beautiful

to look at, even more beautiful to understand.’

I keep listening, as a sprinkler tamps the lawn,

each swing tightening the sky a ratchet,

the blue, snappable glass.



















The Regimental Learning of the Great Stupendo


I am, in truth, a duck. Aged eleven,

the stop-clock of my feet are set

at ten-to-two, flat as the earth,

pacing a corrective, white horizon,

aiming for one minute to midnight,

or a straight-up noon,

ankle-bones in perfect line.


I tread the rule, curling toes round

the tiny hold I exert, tramping

tramlines of a badminton court,

light from floor-to-ceiling glass,

gym wall-bars drip cold sweat,

a smell of damp towels, of being

uncomfortable in my own skin.


As I trim to the teachers’ regimen,

I dream I am The Great Stupendo,

high-wire artist, pink toes

on the parquet, shorn of pumps,

red bite-marks on my stomach

from the elastic of PE shorts,

the whiff of socks, confinement.


For half an hour after school,

straight as the Romans would have us,

The Great Stupendo learns poise, balance,

anger; his feet with a mind of their own,

walk the wire. He flings his uniform

over his failings, feet out-splayed,

His fight back, zig-zagging, home.
















Eating a Nut


no pale seed of Brazil,

lanugo of chestnut,

processed cheese of almond,

tan cranium of walnut,

no morsel of hazelnut,

but solid steel,

a polished hexagon,

ferrous in the mouth,

to bite on a thread, a nut

without a bolt – this is what he ate –


not to impress the girls

(for none were there)

but because he thought

he might, for the fizz

of the unquenchable

on his tongue, the gulp

as he leaps the top-board

where the improbable happens:

how he shat metal

and winked a silver-eye from the mire.





















Advice on Men’s Shirts


Always wear the shirt of a late-teen

in your family, for a fabric-softening

of youth, their single crease of resolve,

the pheronome-stink of confidence.


Wear it for a slimmer fit, the sark

veneer of promise, a chemise

of dare and trust, marking all your

time significant and armour-plated.


Wear buttons undone, the sides

billowing in a breeze, gathering

heat through the arms, light

seeping through an insects’ wing.


Wear it for the crackled static

from a tumble-dryer’s planet,

the force-field of magnetised

hairs, a risen valley-mist.


Wear the collar up or down,

enjoy a pinch at the Adam’s apple,

the blood-nicks of rushed shaves,

cutting away to a hurried, next thing.


Leave the cuffs untied,

sleeves rolled or down, whichever.






















Jet-lag in Ocean Gardens

A sail tacks into what yesterday was Friday

and is again, today. A cedar gazebo has carved

human heads on beaver tails, a salmon swallow frogs,

a bear has a mosquito between his legs. This means

something to me, if I could stop to think.

By the fountain, there’s a grey lintel engraved in Latin:

Tuum est, ‘It is yours.’ Out on Salish Sea,

seaplane taxis buzz English Bay:

grey ocean and clouded sky blur, no shoreline

between where one ends and where one ends.

In the Museum of Anthropology, we acknowledge

we are on First Nations’ land, a concession;

like the snapper as he steps across my view

of the ocean, holding up his Nikon by way of apology.

My sight-line arrested, scuffs the slide-show

of white light over Greenland, playing in my head.




















Her News


The small of her back presses

for the cooler touch of the bed,

the piping on a mattress-edge,


her horizon. Blue waves of sheets

twist, uncoil, a sound in her rib-cage

as regular and startling as blood


in the mouth from washing her teeth.

This ocean, like a discussion of fearfulness,

becomes self-perpetuating, roils


with the energy of everyone not sleeping

this hot August night. I reach across

the bedside table, knocking over a lamp.


In a dim-lit aquarium, creatures

fix their grins on the equatorial groove

in the white pill I’m trying to resist,


rested on the book she has lent me

to read, upon hearing her news.





















A Light-box Therapy

A white moon in the living room, though our sky is a dark igloo,

carved from blocks of cumulus. This way for days. No thaw.


The light-box on the desk pours dappled enthusiasm on her,

a sleep-walker climbing a stairwell in a glow of D vitamins.

Blue wavelengths invite shallow bathing on their ascending steps.

Our black cat, who knows a thing or two about light, sprints upstairs


to our bedspread, seeking our old radiance. This false Spring,

my wife reborn in a new heat-spot, half-blind, illuminated.




























The Red Trouser Suit


Girls stare in white, knee-high, pereline socks,

black patent leather shoes and baggy cardigans.

Unbuttoning a full-length trench coat, I sashay

between Hillman Imps and new Marinas

in a staff car-park, scarlet-red polyester

bell-bottoms hug my hips, platform-boots

clacking on asphalt, matching carmine jacket

with epaulettes: sunshine on a months’ wages.


I feel like Carole King, the pixie-look, though, is pure

Lulu. A sprouting of sixth-formers on a wall shout,

‘Groovy, miss,’ unsure in their blazers. Mr. Castle

patrols, a dinner-guest from ‘The Irresistible Charms

of the Bourgeosie,’ showing at the Compton Cinema.

I go with a man in thirty-inch flares, who believes socialism

inevitable: even kids demo-ing against uniforms and caning.

With a Postgrad. Cert. in Education, I’m a woman

of work, a flame-red trouser-suit sensation.

























Men from the flat below are making love, companionably:

the sound like watching Netflix on a laptop, the screen

between their touching knees and hips, one glancing

at the other, to check they’re catching all the series’ in-jokes;

groans too, for a far-fetched sub-plot, nonetheless raising

a smile of recognition in both of them,

together, for an instant.

Or maybe it’s the football

they’re tuned to, and one, more knowing, grunts perceptive

comment on line-ups and tactics, that the other feels worth

repeating, in a lower register of pleasure. They follow

every pass in their stomachs, feel the kick inside

each hair on their soft rears, their perfect touch

receiving, passing back.


























Asleep inside the Elephants’ Ear


Inside the elephant ear of night, I crawl

the long tunnel of a mastodon; her ear-hairs


bristle, big as acacia, thorned with ticks.

I feel my way by a pulsing light from her heart:


grass-breath fills the lungs, squeezes me against

the warm bars of her rib-cage, high-arching


as a parish church. Heaving the charged

information-gathering of the hairs aside,


I see red veins through the thinning grey

of the ears, an imaginary dawn, but the hours


only continue along their trunk-swinging

lumber, under the elephant eyes of the stars.





























Litter-picking on the Heights of Abraham


A tiny brain of chewed gum lifts from the path, giving a soft, elastic tug

to my yellow litter-picker. In name-badge and blue overalls, I happy

myself in detritus.


From the rubbish, fag-butts splay tobacco starfish at my feet.

Sweet wrappers, the sequin lashes of a drag-artist, wink

at me from dewy hedges.


Torn crisp packets skip silver creases across the Viewing Platform.

The rural from here is just breezy 3-D amazement, sunshine like hot ketchup

on new arrivals, bare out from the cable-car.


A souvenir necklace: I do not turn it in to Lost Property, but bag it for the compressor. The call, later, met with a blank: ‘No, we found nothing

of value, I’m afraid.’


In this control-group of a failed experiment, the blue bottle-tops are placebos:

litter is magic mushrooms, multiplying in my eye; the more I pick, the more is

made known to me.































after Pissarro’s portrait of his daughter, known as ‘Minette’ (1873), Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.


Two years from now, she’s dead.

You can’t unknow this. Your eye

is compromised. You can’t view

the scene without thinking the wood-burner

in the background is a thunderhead cloud

swelling at a horizon. A window, off left,

opens on a garden where if she were well,

she could play in the sunlight. On the gallery

wall, a plaque announces her recent future:


  1. This fact waits in the frame, virally.

The fan in her hands is ghostly, a worm-hole

through which time crawls, a void in the canvas,

three-quarters turned, her stocking-legs

under tiny knees and a black school-shift.

Shy in her condition, she doesn’t confront –

not physically – but that eye is huge,

disproportionate, staring out, white pigment

advancing in accusation, or admonition.


I wonder about her father, the painter.

Does he build her layers with the cool-eyed

stare of art or the essential pain of family?

So much vulnerability, a desire to perfect,

take her suffering, fix forever her image on canvas.

We are all in this, witness to a beauty so tender,

slight, the wooden legs of the chair buckle under

an impossible weight, the claw-feet of the burner

bearing down on her, flames warming.








Sunshine on my way to Work


we are congruent   sliding doors   soft kissing

of rubberised light   we meet   a pursing

sweet consonance   between two transparencies

converging    the pavement tips   to pivot point


conjoining   elision   calving   cellular

marbled angles   separating

among pavement footfall   her perfume   a cloud

in a shop-front   her coffee   an upper lip


light snow   on a road sign   I am too old

she’s young   even for my son’s   partner

though something   of her   lingers   her smile

a query   clouding   formless


unforced   we slip   the light of    opposing generations

I have one thought   only   to talk to her   not about

her job   the brother   she’s never   joining   in Australia

the father   who turns up   only   in January


I don’t wish to talk about   her   housing ladder

her continuing   professional   development

where she may be   five years from   this juncture

this pavement   it’s not   my business   or interest


to speculate   nor conjecture   say to her   forty years

clearing   the frozen fjord of work    with a trowel

means thickets in front of her   the fact   she will   not recall

why she was here   why this   was a job   was important


I would   just once   this being   the sixth time

we cross paths at 8:44   on our   divergent   paths

like her smile   like a fish    to rise   from depths

splash a tail   on the surface    lift   my eyes








The Walk to the Beach at Ty Newydd


A bridge carries the single railtrack,

curling round the coast from Criccieth.

I duck under the swamp smell, a portal


to a far side, where purple willow-herb,

thrashed down by legs before mine,

shake flickering buttercups.


Fresh-mown silage, samphire spoil:

stare in those heaps without sneezing

long as you might, they yield no light.


Cloud-shoals on the Rhinogs,

the sea, a blue saucepan shine,

heading south into Cardigan Bay.


An oyster-catcher on pink legs,

stabs a beak in the oily syrup.

The bubbled braids of sea-wrack,


a lost tribe, up to their tonsured brows

in sand, worked at by lugworms, who turn

the bracelets for a tidal arm to wear,


wash off, and wear again. I read men’s

suicides’ spike in the Spring: they cannot

stand a world that gets by, well enough,

without them.


















His wife, matter-of-fact: ‘For you,’

she says in Norwegian, ‘You’re almost

his size.’ A neat pile of faded denim,


his wardrobe at the wake. A flashback

to his love for Albania’s Hoxha,

a pill-box on every beach, turrets out-facing:


heated nights on the merits of the Bowie

of Thin White Duke compared to Ziggy.

Our impasse, over Abba, which should


never even have been a debate,

let alone a running sore, the dialectic

of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You,’ Ah ha.


The last you’d think, to force his mates

together like this, an invite we can’t refuse,

led via his gym-bag, the stop on the tram


after the ski-jump; kids finding him

on take-off, the blank downcast

stare of his forlorn, brown soles.


A ship-chandler’s rope;

a scaleable tree, a single branch

his launch-pad,


wirey hair girls ran fingers

through in the Union bar, just

for the hell. His striped jumper –


Dennis the Menace – the half

comic, feet-first plunge, branches

thrashing as they flash by,










a plan kept so close, its’ momentum

only now reaches through me,

as I breathe the worn marks he leaves


in denim, his flight-knees straight for lift,

bending for the perfect landing, to crash

through our teary pub window, friends

scattering like glass, caught in his hair.






































Listening Below


Earphones earthed to a field,

dial-up a past that’s engaged,

or gone to Voicemail; a blip,

a halo-sound from magnetite,

hematite, the iron in the ground.


Not for the golden handful of soil,

a swing of the pendant, metal arm,

but for the second before the lip

takes the hook, and chooses

bullion, or ring-pull, or a nail.


Not for the money, or glory,

listening only for something more

than an incline of our own

breathing, the pleasure a fish

feels on breaking the surface.


























At the Amundsen-Scott Station


Night fell months ago and stayed ever since;

Not waxing nor waning, the moon is up

as it has been for a month, a mothball hung

in a far corner of a cupboard, constant

as the wind, that feral pet we try to feed

outdoors and not let in. We know all

its’ moods, better than our own

fractured faces in an iced-over window.


Minus thirty-eight, wind-chill off the scale,

we talk of work, how our instruments blip

and whirr, the place of the needle on a dial

in the jet-fuel of our generator. Our dreams

crowd with colour, the sunset a screensaver

we open to remember. At the end of a box-set,

we play a game of who we eat first. Unscientifically,

men want to eat the women; the women, the men.























Getting a Grip


well into the bombing of old cities


soon after a baby is an ashtray for his father


close to when the girl is found strangled


the time of severed heads on battlements,


as a daughter lies in chains in a cellar


rebels throw expectant mothers down wells


almost to the day countries are rubbled


precisely when shooters stalk the mall


the moment of toxins laid in playgrounds,


bloody garrotings on the wi-fi,


I write in order to avoid the terrifying


and this is what gets met with horror: poetry!

























The Second-Hand


That red spine I’d know anywhere.

squeezed in a shelf, a slap on a cheek,

The bold, white font of the title,

in the second-hand section of Blackwell’s:

my tutor’s collection, not remaindered,

half-price, returned and stickered, hidden,

segregated from first-timers: empty,

embarrassed as a bedroom knock.


She being here, Guardian-garlanded, says there’s

no hope, to the ticking wires of my heart. The white flash

of pages, not dog-eared, no coffee-marks, the final indignity,

not even well-read. The spine broken, extracting

marrow. With an eye to the sales assistants

at the check-out, a finger peels away the yellow,

sad disclosure, undoing the confession. I find the right

section, the ascendant line of her belonging, slide

her in, at face value, between Auden, Larkin, the others.


In the café over cake and coffee, the solace of etymology.

The long reach of Latin ‘mundas’, rolls choral centuries

to arrive at ‘mund’ in Old English, to mean palm,

but also protection. There’s some redress to be had by this,

even a small recompense: there’s her hand,

my duelling second, as an assist.















Daily Ablutions


A slew of wet toilet-roll on the shiny floor,

a seeping between my sole and leather-upper.

I blame students who I’ve seen here, thinking

it’s a laugh, when I see the Adidas Gazelle’s

between the silver taps on the basin, a roll

of socks, a right-leg raised, a foot on the side

of the porcelain, lathering and caressive;

his toes, pulled by stroking hands, are red

nipples rising from the hot-tap. I’m looking


and pretending not to, as when someone shakes

drips from their cock beside me, the profane

and prayerful. I can’t pee and washing my hands

feels simulated. He gulps at the spout, my own

ablutions on hold, and with no god to go to. He slips

the shoes on he’ll leave by the bare cupboard

given over for prayer. At the door, half-ajar,

I pass by to where I scroll the hymn-numbers

of HTML, afraid the holy walls will bounce-back

the light, as magnolia.





















How Not to See Bears

A butterfly opens and shuts on petals of Indian Paint Brush

the colour of burnt shoulders. Light and a waterfall

topple through Alberta firs. The stream cools with sound alone.

The Parks’ Advice is clear:

Walk in groups of four or more.

Talk to let them know you’re near.

The forest floor is pine-damp, animated by midges. Thirty steps away

a bear brakes on her haunches, recoiling on sight of us on furred,

hydraulic legs, a dense animal stockade.

The Parks’ Advice is simple for when you meet:

Say ‘Hey bear! Use a low soothing voice. Lift your walking poles, look


She lifts her head, sniffs our insignificance. For three tall seconds

her cinnamon ruff shakes pollen from a moist snout. She has our heat,

our beating sides. Birds unstick themselves from trees.

The Parks’ Advice is stark:

Make yourself big with rucksacks. Retreat slowly

don’t make eye contact.

We tread back, damned by snapping twigs, a roll of rocks.

That quivering snout out of sight, we run, white-watering on adrenaline, crash

through bush, gash legs on logs. Enter the needle silence of the dark.


















Fresh rain drips from wild raspberries. We damn the moss that squelches under boots.  That noise we bend to hear, alert as bugs, is not her stamping feet, but our hearts seeking a back way out of our ribcage.

The Parks’ Advice is harsh: if a defensive attack, fight back; if aggressive, curl up, play dead. Once they know you’re no threat…

Water over rock, diminishes, rises, as if someone is flipping a dial up and down, to play with us. We realise it is not sound but distance we are listening for, not her. We pause, turned meek deer by half an hour lost in woods.


The noise builds, recedes. We stumble into a clearing where the sound converts to wet tyres swishing the tarmac as they roll by, pushing spray up the road, a silver shot of SUV flashes between the spruces.

Reprieve. We flag the next car coming, apologise

for bloodying their baby-seat, our dirty boots on their picnic-cooler,

and wonder at beautiful faces in the dark.

































the donor loses conviction a minute


the consultant surgeon: ‘you can still say ‘No,’

even on the trolley to theatre. your call.’

I can’t,

to eyes in sealed windows boring through me

I can’t

to my haunted other self    even now


from the scene                                        I can’t


throwing a shirt back on seconds ago flung off

I can’t   down two floors in the mirrored lift

I can’t   reversing from the hospital car-park

I can’t   back through the one-way system

I can’t   in silence   questions pounding

I can’t   home to home-made breakfast

I can’t

Then   you    sister    lying    waiting   patiently

on your own   scalpel     saying      nothing


























Red Axe


We pool our unhappiness

to halve it

this will to a tenderness

an ingress

to our mutual deficiencies.

you enter here

lay mirrors

in my footprints

a double negative


inlaid with grit

shadows thicken

white lawn

slant light

bare handle

red axe

tight   white   knuckles   grip





























I remember gobbing contests at the busstop after school   the gob dried before the bus pulls-in   chalkslugtrail   ‘76 I say    im 86   she says   Cataracts Angina Heart Attack Hips (both) Cancer (breast)   walkings a problem bloods a problem breathings a problem    the mole on her face is not a problem   benign hiphooray   butbyandlarge   life   is a   problemfullstop    seethrough box of drugs big as a spaceship keeps her in orbit    sometimes   she puts her footdown   zooms   to UrsaMinor   andback   in the time it takes to forget tomorrow   which arrives early to her mind   you cannot explain tomorrow is tomorrow to someone who says it is today   she says you’re funny   quizzicallook   like I’m pulling her leg that doesn’t work alongwitheverybloody thingelsegodgaveher    we forget   to mention   theoneissue   forgetfulness   haha    shes funnynamediseases   enough   yet   more die of heartbreak   said saul bellow   how wrong was he   very mum   whats that    HESVERYWRONGMUM   Oh   do you remember that summer   she says    she says tarmac in the high street melted    theysoldoutofRibena  at the cornershop   youre that SimonandGarfunkelThe Boxer song I say   hum   inaclearingstandsa boxer   andafighterbyhistrade   andhecarries   theremindersofeveryglovethatlaidhimlow   she sings and sings   why do I laugh when she sings when my heartisbreaking   when she sings shes   bloody lucid   for manyseveralseconds    click click click    her dental plate on the high notes





























Headphones off on the No. 6 Mango Bus to Bakewell


‘I dreamt Voldemort sent me to jail

for wearing Air Max Nike’s. What am I like?


My hair straighteners come off Amazon

in time for Gary’s party. I row with him,


he brings cider as a peace-offering. I nearly

chuck it back. He’s nice, though, Gary. No, he


never hit me with that recorder, that was Tilly.

He only did me with the back of his hand, thank god.


That new dinner-lady looks like that Indian off

‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest,’ don’t you reckon?


you wouldn’t ask her for more chocolate custard

unless you were desperate, would you?


I was born with two thumbs. I had to have an operation.

I told people the scar was where a shark bit me,


we lived in Brighton then, it seemed more realistic,

the sea an’ that. I should’ve put my job application in


today. I don’t want the job, but an interview’s an

interview, I reckon. I missed the deadline. Here’s my stop.’






















The Ineluctable Rise of the Forward Slash


‘We’re open 247’: much depends

on a forward slash. 911 is a US

emergency, 9/11, a crisis of the West.

A step-change as big as from him/her

to s/he  – delete what’s n/a.

It’s in the c/o your editor/mentor:

do they want apples and/or

pears? Three obliques equal blushes/

embarrassment in Manga. HTML slashes

to separate directories/ files, or to make

commands/closing text. Meanwhile,

our hyphens rust on the sea-floor, hulls

snapped, emitting the bubbles of a lost semaphore.




















The Bus from Hammersmith Hospital


Clouds switch sunlight through the stain-glass

windows in the hospital chapel, from sweet-shop

red to a bold-tongued blue. In the Remembrance

Book at the back, Jean, a sister, is written-in,

with the careful notation of grief:

‘We only got to know you the last few years, love Edith,

your sister, and Harold, your brother-in-law.’ As if being

dead is like dementia, they stop knowing you. The pulpit

waits on a chaplain, who is hosting an atmosphere

at somebody’s bedside, an audition in hope.


Two Chinese women slip change from their laps

through their rimpled fingers, their Dad leaving them

by slow fractions. Coins for the bus-driver who knows

their stop. ‘How is he?’ the driver says. ‘Better, thank you.’

They have their fare, exact, each time.

























The Next Thing Happening Is

piss hoarded in jars, bar-coded and passed to strangers.

A kind of self-harming, this submission to the demands of an invasive op.,

weeks of tests, stripping away of cannulae, red hairless forearms.

New words, all Greek: enoxaparin, nephrectomy, creatanines,

medical stuff. No-one mentions the ‘what ifs’? That one chance, yes,

however remote, that this donor, ill-starred, won’t make it back.

The surgeon says, ‘I’ve only ever lost one,’ the stiletto-man’s gallows humour.

All I can think is, it must happen again – do the math!  So I joke with the kids


ask instead what they had for tea tonight, who they played football against,

how frequent are the buses back, and did they get their homework done?


For who, in truth, wouldn’t want this – brushing the fringe from my youngest’s eyes,

the red sand in a Saharan wind turning the sunset vermillion?


















2017 seemed about the hybridisation of language and cultural re-versioning of histories of Sioux Nation poet, Layli Long Soldier, the Farsi-Persian borrowings and re-inventions of Kaveh Akbar and of course, Ocean Vuong. If I tired of being too far over the ocean with North Americans, there was the ferry-hop Irish voices of McCarthy, Mahon, Carson, Grennan and O’Donoghue; or in Scotland, Claire Askew, John Glenday and Burnside.


I’ve a full collection with Eyewear due in Summer 2018, and the poems featured are all from the book, ‘True Forensic.’ I hope to launch in Manchester, and see you there!







Just do it


I’m aiming for a short post today. We’ll see.

I’m 75 tomorrow. This comes as something of a shock. Or, alternatively, as just a number. I prefer the alternative. However, I’ve come to acknowledge in the last couple of years that there are things I could do that I can’t do any more, or as well, or for as long. Physical things. As my joints grow more crumbly I can’t do hill walks that I could do five years ago. For a time, this made me very resentful and cross and bad-tempered and sorry for myself.

When that happens, you need to stand back and take stock. Like Ivan Denisovitch, with his own brand of practical Epicureanism; an audit of the things you have that could be taken away. Counting your blessings, I suppose. What happens is that I remind myself that though I can’t do what I did five years ago, physically I can do twenty times more than I could do fifteen years ago. Because ten years ago, I had new hips fitted.

Ten years ago, I didn’t write many poems, and the ones I wrote were not worth anyone’s attention. Five years ago I put my mind to it and determined to do something about it. Don’t ask me why, because I’m not precisely sure, but the thing is that essentially, I followed the exhortation of that Nike advert. Just do it. Whatever it is, do it, as well as you can. Don’t put it off, don’t make excuses, don’t talk yourself out of it. Just do it. And then keep on doing it. It’s really that simple. So why don’t we?  Metaphor time.


If you’ve never done any rock climbing, this will look amazing, and remote and mad. And in any case, your senses may have been blunted by CGI images, and it won’t seem that remarkable. On the other hand, we all understand the business of height and of falling, and conclude that it’s all very well but not for the likes of us.

If you’ve just started rock climbing and got the bug, you might just dream of doing something like this amazing woman does with apparent ease. You can come to dream of it, you start to read about climbs and routes and lines, you start pushing your limits. And you hit a point when you know that’s it. You’ve hit your technical or physical limits. With me it was a combination of those and vertigo.

What do you do? You can keep pushing till you do something disastrous. Or you can be unhappy and resentful because you realise you’re not going to get better, and you’ll never do what the superstars do so (apparently) easily. You know you can’t do it. ‘It’ being defined what you can’t do.

Or you serenely face up to the fact that you never could have done ‘it’, but you certainly can do some of it. You know what it feels like, the pull of gravity, the cold of stone, the moments when you felt invulnerable, standing on a big safe ledge high up, above the world. I tried to catch that in a poem : Seen from above


“……that time, belayed high up on Gimmer Crag

we watched a tiny Mini puttering up the Langdale road.

It missed the sharp left turn, and, with a tinkling of stone,

ran slap into the boundary wall. There was a little plume of steam.

We smiled. Above us in the quiet, a kestrel hovered;

sheep coughed, and cropped.

Distance takes away all difficulty.”


It was that feeling of godlike irresponsible superiority that I could feel on even an ‘easy’ climb…this one being Holly Tree Traverse, which probably only counts as a scramble these days. Or, in Scotland, a walk. Still, I chanced my arm with a metaphor [climbing/writing] so I’ll push on. I can remember beginning.

climbing 2

I can remember the clumsiness with dealing with the gear, the ropes, the slings. All that. And eventually the clumsiness grew less. You get better if you practise. You remind yourself how far you’ve come, and if you want to stay sane, you stop worrying about the superstars, and you do what you can. You just do it. And who, knows, you might just get better.

The thing is, you won’t get better if you keep mediocre company. You learn from the company you keep. The fact that I can’t climb up vertical ice walls doesn’t stop me from enjoying the company of ,say, Joe Simpson. When it comes to poetry, I’ve set myself an annual task/routine. I choose a poet who I like via a handful of poems. It has to be a poet who’s kept on writing and writing. Enough to have a big fat Collected Poems. And then I read X poems every day for a year till I get to the end. So far Ive read Charles Causley, Norman McCaig,  and U A Fanthorpe like this, and on January 1st this year I started on David Constantine. 374 big fat pages.

To my dismay, very briefly, I felt the poetry equivalent of what I’ve felt about my physical limitations. It didn’t last long, but I think it came down to seeing that he’s a year younger than me, and his first collection A brightness to cast shadows was published in 1980. In the way of things, I estimate that he was 33 when he had enough material from which to select a collection, and then to interest a publisher. And there certainly weren’t remotely as many poetry publishers around then as there are now.And I was jealous. Which is, of course, not only a waste of time, but a waste of the emotional energy you’d be better off spending on things that matter. Let me share some the lines that put me in mind of that woman free climbing that terrifying blank face in Yosemite.

the clock pecks everything to the bone.  

[from As our bloods separate]


I see the damned are like this:

loquacious to no effect……….

incapable of nakedness

they rasp their hands on one another


[from The damned ]

the dead lamb picketed a ewe.

She cropped round, bleating

and chewing in that machinal way of sheep


[from Lamb ]

I’m not a stone, I’m dirty snow that in

her sunlight melts. It has no choice but to

[from Suddenly she is radiant again ]


How soon, I wonder, after how many Novembers

did the years begin to seem not paces

interminably around a pit nor steps deserting

a place, but slow degrees by which she came

over the curve of the world into that hemisphere

his face rose in?

[from In memoriam 8571 Private J W Gleave ]


Like shrapnel in the lucky ones

she carried fragments in her speech

remarkable to her grandchildren

but to herself accustomed

[from In memoriam 8571 Private J W Gleave ]


But with a history of ECT

and separation Milburn Margaret Mrs

did not attain the obliterating sea

she got no further than the DHSS

and on a Friday in the public view

lodged on the weir as logs do

[From But with a history of ECT ]


the morning’s broken glass

and brightening air could not pick up his breath

[From Boy finds tramp dead ]


you were working slowly on a smoke

and, tilting your indoor trilby, would appear

through clouds soon and would broach

your silence waiting like an untouched beer

for a man back from the gents

[Fron Elegy ]


The summer moon was terrible. It beamed

like Christ on Lazarus

[From Spring tide ]


It’s the company you keep. One who’s not afraid to learn from R S Thomas or Geoffrey Hill, or Tony Harrison or from Heaney or Hughes or MacCaig. Not afraid of ellipsis, awkward syntax, abstractions, rhyme or rhetoric. I shall enjoy my year with David Constantine, marvelling at what can be done with words. I was tempted to go off on one about the poetry equivalent of the X Factor, the world where all must have prizes, but I’m going to avoid the vexatious. Most of the folk I know in the tiny world of poetry and and those who write it are honest with themselves. They support each other. They don’t put on airs. They want to get better at what they do. As a rule, it seems to me that the more talented they are the more self-doubt they’re likely to have.

I’ll finish with an anecdote. Someone who I taught in my very first class in my very first week as full-time qualified teacher wrote to me a couple of days ago. For years he was a tour /stage manager for some of the biggest names in popular music.

“Speaking of booze and drugs, I also had a front row seat for Queen’s most successful times, from Live Aid to the death of Freddie, curtesy of the years I spent working for Elton’s manager, John Reid, who for a while managed both.  Elton at least is still there, or was when I last looked.

I am very aware that all the music history I shared, no matter how remotely, through truly golden years, is not really relevant to anyone any longer (except old farts like us) and an echo of the transitory grandeur of these events only reverberates briefly through history upon the death of a protagonist.  

The most surprising person who truly got that, was George Harrison, who I chatted with backstage during soundcheck at the Albert Hall, before he went on to join in a set with Eric Clapton at a charity event for Pamela Stevenson, that again, I stage managed.

At the time, George had not played live for 100 years or so and before he went on he said to me, ”Dunno why he wants me. Nobody will know who the **** I am….”

Keep that in mind. Then believe in yourself. What you’ve done is done. It doesn’t matter if it was good bad or indifferent. You can get better. Just do it.



David Constantine : Collected Poems [Bloodaxe 2004]. £12