Bottom dead centre

A bauble, earlier today.
I've posted this before but it is, as far as I can work out, my only viable Christmas poem.

OK, like Down time this is also in part a solstice poem, but it references enough Christmas paraphernalia to be acceptable.

As you may have gathered, it isn't the religious aspects of the season that matter to me.  It's the overall celebration of family and friendship and broad-spectrum humanity in general.

So happy festival-of-choice to all you broad humans out there!

Bottom dead centre


Ice-path uncles, sliding, come
to top-up stockings, sip sherry,
be knocked unconscious by the Queen.
The old year has been dripping
through the cracks in December,
now only one festival remains.


Fewer and smaller,
the uncles left for us to visit
dribbling in their rest-homes.
What troupe remains to get festive?
To turn up, unexpected? To decorate the tree
and give you socks?


I give you socks
to wear outside your boots
wending from the crematorium
with the path caked in icing, decoration
a drain-pipe dribbled through its crack.
We spontaneously scatter Uncle Clive.


All the uncles scattered once,
when you aced and raced the new sled
of younger years. Now the pagan tree
is baubed with tears, as you tear the ribbon-paper.
Another pair of socks—useful. At our age
the ritual differs. The engine hesitates,
one year unsafely dead, and drawing-in
one drawn-out breath we wait
to long-live the new.

Also, as a festive treat, I've fixed the Search Box, somewhere up and to the right.

This box has been broken since the day I created the blog, so a certain lack of function has become traditional, but I've broken the tradition of respecting traditions and fixed the works up with a bent paper-clip, a nail and some sunflower seeds (don't ask).

So, if you've long harboured a pressing desire to know how many time I say "atom" (once) or "time" (all the time) now's your big moment.

Happy Christmas one and all.



Down time

Black Holes - Monsters in Space
A black hole: far, far away...

It's Christmas time and there's no need...

So here it is, merry...

So, this is Christmas, and what do I think...?

Well I don't think I need formal religion to make me gather my loved ones together and hand out presents.  Midwinter is upon us and ice-giants roam the borders, muttering behind rime-encrusted beards about climate change and the rising price of air-con.

Why wouldn't you get everybody around the fire to sing and laugh and eat and drink?

To explain the same thing in a different way: a singularity lurks at the end of December, a zero-sized, zero-temperature point of infinite density, with Janus packed into it—like one of those joke canisters of spring-loaded snake.  Except it's an ancient god of narrow doors, instead of the snake; and we have to pass through to reach the verdant, sun-lit pastures of 2016.

So hold your drink in both hands, strap your mince pie into the padded receptacle, specially built into your acceleration couch, and hold your breath as I gun the engine and point the pointy end of life straight at that tiny point of rapidly approaching darkness, because here we go again...

Best Wishes Everybody!  I'll see you all, safe on the other side.

An ancient Aztec calendar:
long, long ago...
Down time

And I travelled in a bald and freak October
—the rubbing of the wind and the chafing of the skin—
where clothes supposed to keep the warmth
got soaked around my wrists and ankles.

And I have travelled via plaintive, sleek November.
I fell cold upon the empty hill, with eyes
drawn to the gaps between the stars—
even such hollow space can't chill me now.

And I did travel, solitary, through December;
deliberately I spiralled round and down—
there's a nothing-point at the centre of the maze,
an absolutist's zero, the boundary of days

—and in the ice-crystal, breath-held silence,
I waited for the calendar to turn.


Slight change of mission...

It's very hard to correctly count the page hits here on the blog, because I get so many from bots.

However it has occurred to me that if bots are most of my audience, maybe I should target my output more at bots.

But then the question becomes "what do bots like?"

Well fortunately in the site statistics I can see what site it was that referred the reader to me...  e.g. what they were browsing before they clicked something that brought them here.

For a long time it was mostly porn sites, and I was almost ready to go with that theme...  however you'll be glad to know that as of this week, most of the bots have calmed their hyperactive groinal regions, and now they're mostly interested in wallpaper and this: horoshieokna.com a Russian site devoted to all sorts of double glazing.

Even bots grow up.  So knock yourselves out guys...

Bleekman zimmer.jpg


For your convenience and safety...

Boxing Day at the Toronto Eaton Centre
Rampant commercialism, earlier today
Apparently it is Black Friday, although it isn't of course because I live in England (where we don't have anything to do with this kind of silliness) and Yorkshire (where we don't have anything to do with this kind of silliness) and Sheffield (where we don't have anything to do with this kind of silliness.)

This is an old, old poem and very silly indeed.   (It's not the quantity of silliness we object to, it is the quality...)  It is also one which, entirely unprompted, my son once memorised—making it my most-quoted work.

I can't help but think that Anger Bob would probably have something to say about this, well...  he'd mumble or maybe shout about it.

For your convenience and safety...

Carting in the shopping mall
foody in the hall of offers
coinly coffer outwards flowing
smiley, knowing, through a camera candidly.

Imaged in the mirror beasty
planning feasty for the week
sotto-voce speaking we
of tea and further meals.

But in securitoid recordly
imagined me and imaged you
what we do fully engraved
and patient saved on viddy-tape.

Risk the machine our souls to prey,
before we pay, if we should die,
and I and you archived to be
entombly on C.C.T.V



It's good to have a hobby.  It's good to have an interest.  An over whelming passion can be a good thing too.

Then there's the ones with something of a bee in their bonnets, shading all the way up to the ones who are, frankly, obsessed—I mean Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich there's only so many hours one can devote...

Then there are the people whose item of interest has that slightly more urgent a grip upon their minds, a compulsive, unforgettable, compelling, all-embracing matter that holds their attention approaching 100% of the time; a thing which for them is almost a physiochemical necessity...


No spaj is left in this vehicle overnight.

The whole gang view the sign
and Roddy puts the case
that this is what they have to say
to stop you breaking in. He finds a brick
but there's wire mesh
inside the van's rear window.

Rod is no philosopher
but if he was, he would call it an axiom:

There is always mesh between you
and a place where
spaj might be.

Lisa's twenty-three and feels
that she should live more cleanly
at this time, but the need for spaj is refined.
She's invested much in making it so,
hours of evenings devoted
to chasing freak-angels.
When she didn't have them,
she looked, and when she wasn't looking,
she discussed the matter,
or thought on it.

She's had to stop reading the leaflets which say:

Exposure to spaj during pregnancy
can harm your unborn child.

Wendy isn't beyond begging,
or bargaining with sex
but none of the gang
on the loitering corner
is any better fixed.
In her head, she is a philosopher
but her thoughts at length have shown
there are days that are nowhere
and life's just like that. She stands back,
smokes, and leans on a poster reading:

Spajjust say no.

With which Ed can't agree, he's always known
a craving. Even before he tried it and even before
he heard the word. He remembers
a day...

...a day as a child
in geography class. The substitute teacher
leaned across the board
with a curve of her arm
and the chalk broke—ping—
on the "a" in "continental". There was dust
in the beam of stuffy sunlight,
on the swell of her blouse.

It was pure spaj.

A police spokesman said it had a street value
of twenty-five million pounds.


You're not ready for the truth

Honesty is, of course, important.

It is possible I haven't been entirely frank with you.

You're not ready for the truth

I lied to you through all your lives as years
unfolded one-by-one and I maintained
I was middle-aged and a geek.  Inexcusable,
I know, but when you are a supermodel, discretion
is a way of life.  I do not feed the tabloid fiends
and horny creeps, who stalk my casualestest friends
and this is why, also, when I had to go collect
my Nobel prize, I used an assumed name
—I said that I was 'Ann' and they assumed it true.

And what else can you do, when you're out fighting crime
in the ancient city night, and an old fashioned journo
with his poppy flash bulb and huge camera
doorsteps you dropping stocking-headed men
on the precinct house steps.
Who is this masked hero?
—of course, you lie.


Looking for love...

The Southern Milky Way Above ALMA
The Atacama Large Millimetre Array
(got to love the idea of large millimetres...)
I once read a SciFi story (this is a slight underestimate) where an expedition goes to one of the Magellanic Clouds (small satellite galaxies, orbiting the Milky Way.)  They discover no living civilisations but they do find the debris of a triangular parabolic structure some thousands of miles across...

E.g. a radio telescope, a big, big radio telescope.

...pointing back at the Milky Way.  The explorers conclude that they know nothing about what kind of creatures once lived there, but they must have been lonely.

For me, S.E.T.I. is one of the most important things that human beings do.  Obviously there are more urgent things: eradicating disease, stopping war, feeding the hungry—but once you've sorted out those basics, and maybe found a cure for cancer death, what are you going to do?

I can imagine as time goes by, and if nothing else really urgent and/or fascinating comes along, we might devote more and more of our spare time and energy to the search.

If internet dating sites teach us anything it is that everybody is lonely.  Most folk are also horny, but all of them are lonely.  Go on...  start building a bigger telescope today.

Looking for love by very long baseline interferometry

The galaxy is filled with empty rooms
and we peer in through dusty nets
to see what sort of furnishings are there,
if any.  We nose the neighbourhood --
stalkers muttering beneath our breath
of exoplanets left on tables,
methane lines in spectra, which we pin
butterfly-like, to the cork-board in our room.
The jury's out.  We do not know, even
if we dared, whether we could screw technology
in both our hands and, launching from our front door
through the gate, slingshot around the privet hedge
and down the other path to knock—in prime numbers—
then ask to borrow half a cup of flour.


We are not mused, or where have all the words gone?

If you engage in some sort of creative enterprise then, unless you are extraordinarily lucky, you will pass through times when it just isn't happening.

Different people and different artistic endeavours will describe this in different ways.  When I was researching Number 11, 1952 I read that Jackson Pollock worked on that painting for months without satisfaction, repeating several times: it's not coming through, when asked about it.

In writing we tend to call this being "blocked."  However, I believe there is no such a thing...

...by which I don't mean that there aren't times when we don't/can't write, obviously there are plenty of those.  However I think "blockage" is a very poor image for what happens. I feel it is far more that sometimes we are "ready" and sometimes not.  I suspect the degree to which the process is conscious or subconscious differs between individuals.  I know that for me at times of peak poetry, I'll be both:
  1. writing, reading, editing, re-writing (in the evening) but also,
  2. repeatedly (during the day) mulling again and again over a few words, or a feeling, or a perception; but for such short periods that this is only semi-conscious.

So in particular you can never be ready if you are busy doing other things, distracted or suffering some slew of overwhelming emotions.  (For me neither 1. nor, critically, 2. can occur in these cases.)  Sure great artworks can stem from powerful emotion, but are possibly very rarely delivered during them.

As another angle consider two poets.  "A" writes Monday and Thursday evenings, week after week, and always feels she's achieved something when she goes to bed on those days.  "B" writes every single evening for 104.3 days but then he achieves nothing else for the rest of the year.  Who is "blocked"?  It obviously feels like B had a more traumatic experience, but they've both done the same amount of writing...

A's creative engine could be seen as sputtering and stalling, but will only feel like that if A let's it.  How would she feel if it were only an average of two random days each week?

B in contrast has had an absurdly long (by my standards) period of continuous productivity—so maybe he's burned a whole year's worth of good ideas in those 104 days so shouldn't be surprised in needing a long rest?

Sometimes people "push" at their "blockage" and I think that is the worst thing you can do.  By doing that you are tending to lock the blockage in.  By straining with efforts that don't come naturally, you divert energy from whatever process it is you would benefit from if the engine were turning...

...however conversely I do think you can sometimes "play" your way out of it.  By turning your usual limits off—disabling your usual sensor, editor, grammarian, spell-checker, sense of taste, sense of reason, dignity—you can generate a rich mess of input material for your concious/subconscious processes to feed upon.  However, again, don't push it...  if you "play" to the exclusion of everything else, you again will not be allowing space for the creativity mechanism itself.

So don't expect creativity until you are completely past whatever distractions life threw in your way;  and don't expect to turn the tap at will either.  I might even say you won't get anywhere until you can get a little bit bored.  That's when you'll have the time, freedom, energy to let the art engine turn... another equivalent phrasing might be to say that is when you have enough "distance".

On the personal note neither poetry nor lyrics are happening for me at the moment and I'm trying not to worry about it (hence this post).  There's good reasons why I'm not producing—I'm a bit stressed, and I'm also busy with a couple of other things—so intellectually I'm not worried by this dry spell.  Although emotionally it does make me wobble a little however much I know the explanation.

Coincidentally, Hallam is also not creating music at the moment.  Again there's good reasons for this, his life has been changing a little (for the better), he's busy with work, and he's also taking an educational course.  So again the silence makes perfect intellectual sense, but leaves our emotions slightly uncertain.  However we are both keen to get back to our artistic efforts.  I just hope you'll understand that there's no point in either of us trying to predict when that will be.

Anyway, if this is useful to anybody then I am glad, and if it seems like utter bollocks please disregard as these things are a different for each one of us.


Still life

This is one of my oldest poems that I still rate quite highly.  It's from 2008 when I think, if I recall correctly, I had been writing poetry for about four years.

Could I now rewrite this?   Possibly not.  I don't think minor tweaks would make much difference, but a complete rewrite would probably lose the mood, and the mood is everything for a piece like this.

This image has little to do with the poem, except of course it is a still life and it has explicit brokenness and the immanent possibility of decay—but that's life for you...

Still life

And the bar-tender isn't even there
when you decide you need to drink
in the last-chance karaoke bar and grill.
He's never been there, you think
you know different, but all those years
an imposter served your obsessions
and beers; keeping watch on the borderlands
of your head. And if you wrote that wanted-ad
for a loving hit-man with boundary issues
then I can only suppose you placed it
in all the wrong magazines.

Maybe I can say the same thing
in a different way, but I just
began reading the student notes
so I may stumble over some detail,
and that bartender still isn't here
unless he's lurking in the gloom
behind the lurid chrome and plastic
beer signs that illuminate, unenlightening
to the freeze-dried bar flies.
They prop each other, unsteady,
in the face of your scorn. Perhaps...
we should walk out in the dusk
where other flies flicker. They are
not syncing with the cicadasagain
and while each pulses its alien message,
the world has long since turned away.

The bar-tender still displays
a studied absence, although it's so late
that the matt-black metal and smeared chrome
jukebox has fallen into a fugue state of decay
of one-hit wonderment. Only now do you conceive
of the barman as present but invisible,
a force that might be appeased; possibly
through subtle rearrangement of coasters, nuts
and steel ashtraysthe kind that scream
"unclean" even in perfect sterility.
But the paranoia grips you, and I,
carried along in the stream too deeply
reasoned, am forced to admit that, yes,
he might be watching us

Always the woman with too much jewellery
and insufficient dress will, for a small fee,
lower your expectations to ground level.
And always she declines to take the mike,
but legend has it that when she does sing,
the world will have been half an hour gone.
And the depravity of the night, in parts
shaded by your varicoloured soul,
draws onwards at length to spew us; ungentle
as a doorman tossing rowdy drunks into the back alley
of morning. Except you never did get that drink,
and the bar-tender isn't even there.


To steer by

Artist's rendering ULAS J1120+0641
(OK, so the northern star isn't a quasar, call it artistic license...)

What's to say here?

Maybe nothing.  Let the poem speak for itself.

To steer by

If I should go to seek the northern star
I'll shoe my stick in adamant
and take whichever road winds farthest
through wider and more disjunct lands --
a drunkard's life journey, endless in retelling
while the eyes fuzz at 3 a.m.

—although I'll leave before the end of this
or any other tale. Many miles expect
unhurried feet and gaze which notes
the climate cooling as I walk, sees
how a plant displaces softer weeds,
and feels it satisfies some need:
translating feet to miles.

But is there any effort of the patient stride
to bring one to the place of total ease,
to stand upon the landscape where it's clean,
unstirred beneath the empty air,
and the sky a passacaglia
for unaccompanied star?

If I should come beside you as I walk—
in dust, or mud, or chill with sprinkled rain—
maybe I will ask about the road ahead
and while you'll think me friendly in my way,
you will not drag my eyes from the horizon.


Three sheets to the wind

Another oldish poem from 2010, and another poem with my favourite layout: the sectional poem with subtitles between the sections.  Free verse this time, although I also incline toward gluing sequences of sonnets together in the same manner...

My preferred typography is for the overall title underlined, and the subsection titles to be bold.  To my mind this makes the mid-flow entitlements less of an interruption and more of a aside that doesn't halt the flow.

I have heard somebody (forget who) say that bold is the usual formatting for titles in general, but surely that is wrong?  Surely titles have always been underlined with two strokes of the Biro and a standard 30cm school ruler?

Be that as it may, I underline them; and I also hold no truck with unnecessary mid-title capitalisation...  Sure, if you've spent the morning engraving it, then by all means add capitals, cherubs, bunches of fruit, but I'm just poking keys on a laptop—no special ceremony is required*.

Three sheets to the wind


A sheet to be swaddled in. The wind blew through
and you could not know any different, from
sixty-odd seconds. But you knew
that life so far was hard, cold, bright.

Even when the warm eyes gathered you,
slathered you with smiles, filled you with milk;
your innocence retained that slight dent.


Storming with the rebel youth
through a city grown older, slower, more inviting,
with each and every pint. You've raised
a fair few prodigal brews while the night
phased late into early and the ghost of a pay packet.

You might recall probable dancing
with definite girls
of the unimpressed variety
but now today is another tomorrow.


One path winding
through sheets of fractured rain
towards some sort of gate.

The cup you recall drinking,
so sweet and heady you used to gulp
each fresh experience, is hollowed now
to sparser and more-bitter dregs
but you can't stop until it's dry.

*Or to put it another way, if Emily Dickinson can invent her own rules of punctuation, why can't I?


A slightly drunken message from the geeks

Geek sensibilities, earlier today

Geeks are, of course, the sub-set of nerds who can realistically be hired and set to work with  normal people.

Also, apparently, the geeks are going to inherit the Earth—I'm expecting to receive the paperwork any day now.

In the meantime, it would be wrong to say that geek sensibilities were 'special' and that people "just don't get us"—or rather it would be true, but no more than it is for everybody else.  Everybody has their own desires, wishes, aesthetics; and everybody thinks they're not appreciated, and everyone thinks nobody understands.

Obviously some industries run almost entirely on geek power, and sometimes non-geeks take the credit.  This happens when 'leaders' do not realise their role in the process.  They imagine they have 'vision', 'drive' and 'clarity'; when what they really provide is 'naivety', 'stubbornness' and 'blind luck'.

Be all that as it may, one day the geeks may decide they've had enough, and then...

A slightly drunken message from the geeks

Be not afraid, for though we are much cleverer than you,
although rogues are a proper subset of thieves
and liars a superset of leaders
I have enumerated them all
(appendix A). Good day

if you are reading this message then we are missing
presumed... well this is the question
to be, have been, be being
and yet to not be present at the desks,
terminals and laboratory benches
where previously we lived.

Yes, we were paid.
No, that was never the point
and basically the point,
the point is that you never understood
the beauty of a well-crafted subroutine,
gear train, enzymatic inhibition feedback loop
which was all we ever wanted. So...

if you turn your questioning eye
to somewhere on a cloudless night
in Autumn and the direction
of the galaxy's core you will find
a tiny point of light red-shifted
almost into nothing. And that's us. Cleverer.


The greatest what on Earth?

The elephant declined to comment...
Who doesn't like the circus? 

(...or "socially inclusive, family oriented, non-animal, international circus event" as was advertised locally a couple of years ago...)

Well there's agoraphobics; claustrophobics; people afraid of crowds (Enochlophobia); people concerned about the treatment of animals (if animals still feature); people concerned about the treatment of performers; people yearning for the old days when things were proper, with tigers and everything; people who prefer ballet; people afraid of spangles; and people who can do all that stuff anyway and don't see what the fuss is about (show-offs.)

But dwarfing all of these factions, the number one group of people who are never going to be happy with:
Stanchion and Pouldron's
Grand Touring Extravaganza!

Fresh from Performing
Before the Crowned Heads
of Europe!!

One Night Only!!!
are the people who hate clowns...

The greatest what on Earth?

The circus came;
the big-top billowed, unexpected,
at the edge of town.

The clowns were terrible,
not like from a children's party,
all patchy make-up
and no affinity for balloon animals,
but more like strutting devils
accidentally released
and looking for revenge.

They executed the juggler
with a callous custard pie
coloured clubs crashing down;
and the top-hatted man,
unmastered in his own ring,
was driven into exile
with whitewash and a ladder.

A totalitarian regime
of unfunny large-trouser gags
began to take shape,
and things would have gone hard for the audience
had the elephant
(who must have been God)
not sat on the chief clown.


In the British Museum

Earlier this year Rosemary and I travelled to the mythical city of London, to meet up with a dozen or so other poets, all inhabitants of Poets' Graves.  The initial meeting (where we exchanged code-words and established our Poetical Power by duelling with variably-rhymed couplets) was set for Friday evening.  So we travelled down on the Friday morning and spent the afternoon in the British Museum.

There is, very nearly, no better way to spend a Friday afternoon.

I try never to judge, especially in poems, so I am attempting here to deliver the whole mixed nature of the experience.  You should get touches of the vastness of time, embarrassment at one's ancestors cultural arrogance, watching other visitors, watching guards, browsing the gift shop, and even standing in awe before the certain exhibits.  I also firmly believe that even with its oddities, failings and unintended humour, the entire enterprise is magnificent and I sincerely hope they continue adding to it for centuries to come.

On a administrative note, let me take this opportunity to drop my blogging frequency to merely fortnightly.  Let there be no rumours that I am running out of poems!  At a quick count there's about 600 lurking in the pile and I'd imagine at least 25% would be bloggable.  It's more a matter of time and not wanting to rush the postings out.

However, enough of that.  Forward into the museum!

In the British Museum 

The Painter of London B76

Named for a water jug
this Athenian black-figure vase-painter
is anonymous.  Nonetheless consistent,
his character and style suggest
unique artistic personality
in five hundred B.C.

The cat statue that can't be seen...

...we did not see.  The gallery is closed
and possibly the King's New Statuette
is not so much to write home about? 

Chinese wheelchair woman asleep in gift shop

Wait here they said, in fluent Mandarin,
we just must see the big Assyrian beards. 

Roman copies of Greek philosophers

Let us fantasize,
that these once formed a popular Roman
philosophy exhibit.  Let's see the faces
behind the ideas, the slave recites,
two hundred times a day, and whips
aside the curtain. 

Please do not touch the objects

Some interpretation is required...

Door handles, toilet seats, mugs and plates
in the café, and books and pens, key rings
and more mugs in the gift shop--
are not "objects"

but Rosetta stones, guards, other visitors,
the fire alarms, Ashurbanipal--
those probably are. 

This object is currently on loan

Please move along calmly, gentle visitor,
the item normally itemized by the label--
neatly printed dates and names and just
enough description to pique your interest
--is not here. 

On knowing and having known...

As a reward
for guarding Room 13 for seven years,
Myra sees perfection.  After directing
a third old lady to the loos, she flexes
feet inside her shoes, and as she turns,
there it is laid casually in a glass case.
She takes a moment and makes
a mental note, that if a visitor
should ever ask after the ineffable,
sublime, or perfect, why?
This is where it is. 

A sky made from geometry

There is a world beyond this, hard
as it may be to understand, in fact
a Universe.  What other planets lie
beyond the sky, and in archaeology departments
across the land, what fervent plans
and star maps trouble minds
more commonly obsessed
with their next TV appearance?

There must be more!  More carvings; more loom weights;
more votive bowls and carved inscriptions,
ritual objects, tablets of all descriptions, knives,
death masks and tomb goods, weapons, bones and stones,
eating utensils, bas relief huntsmen
and local bureaucrat accounts dating
--it is believed--to the Early Consumerist era.

What is the British Museum for,
if not the Universe?

What is the Universe for,
if not the British Museum?


Days spent

A padded rooming house, earlier today...
Since Anger Bob was somewhat concerned with mental health, I was reminded about this one.

It's a bit old again, from 2010 I think, but stands up reasonable well against my current standards.  I might not say "himselves" now-a-days—it feels a bit coy.  (As I recall I hesitated at the time...)  Maybe also there are too many m-dashes.

This uses "hands" as a metaphor for the psychiatric staff.  It was only afterwards I was told that in the US "hands" is jargon for nursing auxiliaries.  I think the poem works well with or without this interpretation, however.

Administrative note: due to circumstances under my control, there will be no blog posting next week.  Talk amongst yourselves for a while.

Days spent

A hemmed head offers no escape
from the deftly padded rooming house—
sentinel cedars hedge it round.

Sometimes, in spite of care, he waxes
too strong for the watching hands—
needle-prick clouds breeding.

And on days too other, riddled
thoughts slam him sideways—
a soft wall to catch—no understanding

even for himselves. And days
spelunking and diving in the grey grains—
these days the hands call "good",

he does not know why. But perfect days,
they do exist, middling days drawn rarely—
everything balanced and in a place—

days playing to the gallery,
improvising on reality, insight,
variations on the theme of sanity—
even the hands applaud.


The Rain in Certain Car Parks (live performance video)

Here's a video of yet another song from my collaboration with Hallam London and one that's going into the pot for consideration for the album we're steadily grinding our way towards.

This was one of the earliest lyrics I wrote for Hallam.  It was the 4th that I completed, but the 3rd that Hallam completed the composition for—we have asynchronous parallel processing.  I am including the lyrics below, so you may be able to detect our style evolving (I can't, I'm too close to it...)

So, anyway, let me transport you to a secluded corner of an inner-city car park, where it is a dark and stormy night...

The Rain in Certain Car-Parks 

I'm standing in some car-park with a case
that I can't open.  I've no plan, it's dark,
and raining and my shoes are leaking slowly
and I know the man I'm meeting: he's a shark.
The clever fish keep clear.  I'll do the deal,
but watch the larger shadows as they flow
between the BMWs.  I'm numb
but there is so much that I owe.

If I can just survive...
if I can just survive...
if I can only live...
through these next moments,
I swear it all will change...

Car-parks, darkness, rain and cases,
silent men with folded faces,
eyes that swivel in their sockets,
metal objects clutched in pockets,
I do this for the wad of green,
the wish that I can fall out clean.

What was it years ago, decisions made,
that brought me to this day without a choice?
But I at least can try a better deal,
a wilder card, a last throw of the dice;
and surely it's my life to gamble with?
I shouldn't meet this man without a soul
around to witness what goes down.  He's here
and nothing now seems under my control...

If I can just survive...
if I can just survive...
if I can only live...
through these next moments,
I swear it all will change...

It's always dark and always raining,
it helps me hide, I'm not complaining.
It's heartbreaking, but it's my trade:
the way my little money's made,
so do the deal and walk away;
I'll live to deal another day.


Anger Bob

Anger Bob marooned in morning traffic...

Here he is, Anger Bob!

Please listen, love it, and then share the link with no sense of self-control or decorum...


Anger Bob - Creativity unleashed

"Anger bob, beats fists against the glass."

Collaboration, how's it been working out?

With Hallam and I plunging headlong towards the release of our next teaser-track: Anger Bob, it seems like a good moment to look back over the last nine or ten months and talk about how it has gone.

Excellently—we've barely had a moment of creative differences and this has worked, I think, a lot by us each trusting the other to do their job.

However this doesn't mean keeping quiet and refusing to give any feedback.  Hallam, when I give him a new lyric, doesn't always take all of it.  Quite often he'll think, for example, that the first half of the chorus is stronger than the second; and he'll say so, and he may not even record the weaker part (although this is usually more to do with having enough words to fit his musical phrasing rather than refusing to touch the weaker words.)

Similarly, when I hear the first version of the words set to music, there will sometimes be a part where I feel the musical treatment hasn't meshed with the words as well as it might.  For example in Anger Bob, in the chorus, Hallam originally had some words held for several beats in the middle of the phrases.  Musically that was perfectly fine and very interesting, but for the words to me it felt wrong that these quite bureaucratic phrases should be broken like that.  Bureaucrats do like to run off their standard phrases at some speed.

The creative process, earlier today
Collaboratively—so when this happens, we talk.  In the case of Anger Bob we had 32 exchanges of comments on our little private blog where we post our notes and progress, and a few emails as well.

Experimentally—we also experiment.  I'm a very fast writer (when I have something to write) so when Hallam questions part of a lyric, I can usually produce a few ideas for alternatives almost immediately (literally immediately, if I am on-line).  Hallam takes a little longer, he has to go to the studio for a start, and he cannot get there everyday, but he has been known to do a "couch recording" of a new idea and mail it to me right there and then.  As this process iterates between the two of us the song is, of course:

Evolving—for me, the lyric has certain poetic qualities as I write it, but it isn't a song.  At most I'll have an idea that a section could go "LA la lala, la LA lar" (forgive me getting technical).  So the first time I hear it set to music is (in a literal and non-bombastic sense) a revelation.  The words at that moment become something that they weren't before.  Emphasis changes.  Often it is only at this point that the song "locks down" to focusing on a single subject (previously it will have been in the area of the subject, but not necessarily focused.)

At that point, bits we were considering dropping become easier decisions.  If they are part of the core message, then they have to stay; if not then it's the bit-bucket for them, I'm afraid.

Tuning—and then it's just a matter of tuning.  I'll have known how I would read the words, but Hallam's is a different voice and necessarily things come across a little changed.  Let's remove the "only" but add an "and" at the start of the line—I might say.  Or Hallam might say—Line two in verse two feels longer than in verse one The point of both of these being to fit more exactly to the music, and also to the emphasis that Hallam is giving the line.

Sometimes I will have been worried about having far more syllables between two lines that go to the same music (being in the same relative position in the verse/chorus; obviously I'll have the same number of feet, I'm not an idiot).  However often this will slide into the performance entirely unnoticed and instead some other part, which to my mind scanned perfectly, will develop a slight wobble and need a slight rephrasing.

And finally, Fun - it's been great fun.  Hallam's word is exciting and I won't argue with that as a description either.  I can't see how it would have worked if it wasn't great fun and exciting.

I asked Hallam whether he had anything to add to this, but said—Honestly, I can’t add anything. But feel free to take this statement of mine and use it in your post—so I have.

Which only leaves me to remind you: Anger Bob, he's coming.

Anger Bob, in three days time.


Watch this Space, Anger Bob is coming...

Anger Bob is coming!

In about a week Hallam London will be ready to release the next teaser track from his Sheffield Album (working title) for which I have been writing lyrics for about the last ten months.

This is our ninth song and hot off the press.  Add that to the two songs Hallam had already written and this means we are now past halfway to our target of eighteen.  Having that many available will mean there's a plenty of choice when it comes time to pick the final selection to go into the album.

Will this one be on the album?  This is a question about the future.  The future is unknowable: you should know that.  However at the moment this is definitely one of our favourites.

As a free sample and pre-publicity for the release, you will find below both the lyrics (these are the final version lyrics, exactly as sung) and also a link to me reading them (slightly shortened at the end, because twelve repeats are hard to get away with if you don't have musical support).

This is once again, Rock Music Description Language, so it's verses to the left, chorus in the middle, break on the right.  Anger Bob is nothing like our previous teaser release Identity, and I'd be prepared to wager a small sum that it's nothing like you'll imagine from just the words.

If you can only hear the music, that makes all the difference.

Anger Bob

Anger Bob marooned in morning traffic.
Anger Bob shouts something at the cars.
Anger Bob perched high on night-time rooftops
shouts irate manifestos at the stars.

Anger Bob eats angrily from paper bags.
Anger Bob beats fists against the glass.
Anger Bob's a fixture in the city
as permanent as dead and dusty grass.

Did you wish to leave a message?
In your own words, please describe your early days
—please take a seat.
Complete all forms in Biro please;
list every item that you need.
Do not expect to ever leave the maze...
Anger Bob distrusts his own reflection.
Anger Bob slides nervously past shops.
Anger bob means something to commuters,
but this is not to say they'd like to swap.

Did you wish to leave a message?
In your own words, please describe your early days
—please take a seat.
Complete all forms in Biro please;
list every item that you need.
Do not expect to ever leave the maze...

A patron saint for modern time,
I see his only states of mind
are anger, fury, irritation, rage.
Did you once live ordinary days?

Did you wish to leave a message?
In your own words, please describe your early days
—please take a seat.
Complete all forms in Biro please;
list every item that you need.
Do not expect to ever leave the maze...

Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...
Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...
Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...
Don't expect to ever leave the maze...

Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...
Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...
Don't expect, don't expect, don't expect to ever...


Detective Inspector Norcroft closes the file

A neat whisky, later this evening
A relatively recent one here, as recent as this time last year, give or take...

I have garnered the odd criticism for cliché in this one, but that is a little bit the idea.  Take the cliché from a genre and push it that little bit further.

Here I'm just trying to capture an emotion and because it's an overwhelming emotion in an over-the-top situation...  well I'm driving it home with a mallet.

One poet who read this commented that it was 'cathartic' and I think that's exactly how it should read.

Detective Inspector Norcroft closes the file

Forty years stewing, his water grown cold...
Not at his first autopsy, that was Alice
whose blood—so long cremated—pooled
on her left to make an asymmetry not present
in the photo from the white-faced sideboard drawer.
He'd been a constable so young that grinning
Dr Morris pointed out the pail
placed handily on the floor. There's other corpses

poised behind the airing cupboard door.
They are patient. Where is the Lifebuoy soap?
Where is the Famous Grouse? Water still cold.
It was not at his first child-murder either.
First he went home with a new bike for Katie,
then worked around the clock for seven weeks
while Helen knew that something must be wrong.
They never spoke of it. She's gone now,

Helen, eight years and that's another corpse,
if one without the black and yellow tape;
and Katie is in Alice Springs: alive,
but in another world. The Johnsons are
another pair of dead caught on his mind.
He found their neat small-calibre hit,
their camper van and dog but never found
the first hint why they died. What can you do?

He gives in and runs some more hot water.
He gives in and pours himself more scotch.
He'd go for ice, but not when naked, wet
and with the heating off since half-past ten.
He finally gives in and thinks of Amy
who disappeared in nineteen ninety-three
in twenty yards between her father's car
and the door of the church hall. She was an angel

by every witnesses account. Her picture,
in every paper and on TV, glowed
with vitality. She was aimed at Oxbridge
according to her school. Athletics cups
in two or three events were ranged on shelves
within her room. He dissected her too soon;
took her life apart. She was only missing
and God knew, nobody admitted dead,

until she was, in a copse. Not then, facing
the parents and the press. Not later,
when the chief told him he'd gone a little strange.
Not even this morning, ten years post-retirement,
when he dropped nine crates of witness-statements,
photographs and tapes at the station desk—
time now for Babs Patel to worry
at all the unclosed dead. They are the coldest

cases. It is now, his drink forgotten.
It is now, as bath steam clouds the mirror.
It is now, on the evening that would be
DS Dickson's boozy leaving bash,
if he hadn't had a massive stroke
while rowing last week. It is only now,
his black suit back on its hanger, that Joe Norcroft,
Detective Inspector (retired), weeps for the dead.


On the down line

Well we all have to go sometime.

The question of whether we go somewhere is more controversial, but let's suppose we did...

...well it is difficult to imagine, in this overpopulated age, that Charon is still ferrying each of us individually and manually.

So...  this poem sprang fully formed from the Wikipedia quote that forms the epigram.  "Katabasis" is a marvellous word, I can't imagine why I haven't used it in the body of the poem.

What else?  Oh yes, this is yet another poem from the marvellous: Poet's Graves anthology : Making Contact.

On the down line

a descent of some type, 
such as moving downhill,
or the sinking of the winds
or sun,
a military retreat,
or a trip to the underworld
or a trip from the interior of a country
down to the coast.—Wikipedia—"Katabasis"

Would a figure figure in the ending
of the trip? Tired and how archaic,
a gate-warden, perhaps, who spits
half-chewed tobacco,
the spittle flying, off-stage
from the light he has raised
in one arthritic hand
into some outer darkness
to form tiny settlements
of dying, congealing mucus
on a stone so far beyond
mortal concern
that no dust gathers.
And if he had some sort of vehicle,
this warden,
a traditional boat, or perhaps a charabanc
engined in oil and antiquity, and glimmering brass pipes;

if there was such a vehicle
would you take a place
on age-riddled, half-cracked seating? Would you
hesitate at the risk of meeting an old friend
who in later life you came to never like,
or a cleaning woman, freshly slain but not yet
laid out in her beeswax and lavender
encrusted duster? Would you fear the general muster
of folk a touch too keen to chance another world,
having nothing from the last?

Or would you, knowing your place,
take the space between a rapist,
and a collector of second-hand ties;
face forward and grip your expectant ticket so firmly
that your sweat—cold as must be—
will print a ragged patch on the cheap cardboard;
wait for the old man's creaking arm
to pull hard on the handbrake; and wait again
to hear one final, semi-comic honking
from his rubber-bulb horn?



Breakfast milk, earlier today.
This poem came from its epigram, a Kurt Vonnegut line that struck me while I was reading Slaughterhouse-Five.  If you've not read Kurt I recommend him.  He's a SF author, but also very much about everyday life; philosophical without being full of himself.

If he has a flaw it's that he's a little too aware of trying for an 'everyman' quality, of making his characters all John Q Public, but you have to respect his trying.

Anyway, as I only took the one line, and then completely reinterpreted it, you won't find a lot of him in this.

BCE, of course, stands for "Before the Common Era", which is what archaeologists now say in an attempt to remove the built-in cultural bias of "BC".  Personally I prefer MYA (Million Years Ago) but that's for dinosaurs.


Everybody is supposed to be dead,
to never say anything or want anything ever again.

—Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five

Time happened so long ago.
The milkman's note is deep carved
dead-language, symbolic, on the door frame.

Evidence for breakfast can be sifted
from the archaeological layer:
people ate toasted grains, bread,
fruit preserved in storage jars.

They may have wanted extra pints
which the milkman didn't leave.

If I still spoke that language
I would pull a message from the potsherds,
write a learned paper, a coffee table book,
show how civilisation faltered
a voice was raised
a door was slammed...

It was all over long ago—
I make notes with some detachment.



A small, quirky, offering, this time...

How people really think about the World, and their life in it, is one of the great unacknowledged elephants of our time.  We think we're these cool, calm, rational beings and...  ...well basically "rubbish!"  We're more than a little ape, and apes are quite monkey, and monkeys are quite reptile.

This barely touches on that, but there may be some self-deceit going on...


These events become parenthetical,
sliding past your real life (moments in doorways,
rain-beleaguered; nights in anonymous hotels)
unexamined. You can prove these things don't happen.
The normal rules preclude kissing young ladies
(behind the curl of hair around her ear) naturally
you have no habit of checking
it isn't going on.


Blue of the morning (with reading)

By Rowan Peter [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
A city morning, earlier today
This is a recent poem, so I apologise to those who have already seen/heard it on poetry forums.

However I'm just in the mood for it, so here it is again.

This whole poem sprang from the first line, which in turn I stole from a song.  The poem then turned out to have nothing to do with the song.  It's not unusual (that's not the song). Poems do turn out with no relation to their inspiration.

Some poets have questioned whether I need the last two words.  I went forwards and backwards over that and in the end I kept them.  What do you think?

Blue of the morning

For reasons unknown to me,
perhaps because there's steam between
two tiny buildings way down there,
or possibly because a car alarm
has been sounding one minute
in every six minutes
for the last half hour, or maybe
it is eighth floor ledge air decorated
but not at all warmed
by the hint of distant
sausage sandwich, or then again...

I am come with E-flat saxophone at port-arms.
I have risen too often prior to dawn
and walked on every street
I see from here, the debris
and sparrows, the pigeons one eye sleepy,
the guy with the broom and barrow,
the early office drones flitting through
like casually lobbed tennis balls
come randomly through one window
of a slow twirling ballroom,
bouncing once, and exiting
via open terrace doors.

Or possibly not, maybe it is not
the evolution of graffiti on street-side
equipment, nor the occasional blip
of bistros in and out of existence. Maybe
it isn't seeing the same faces come round
and again, and maybe that's the woman Mona leaning
on a lamppost... or maybe not.
Possibly none of this is it, possibly...

it is the possibilities of the situation,
the group of situations, systems, traffic,
people, complexity arising
in a super-ramification of overlapping
cadence, patterns that start with a line
in a restaurant menu, continue
behind a pawnshop window, and end
in the pocket of a tram driver
where his smart-phone marks time and bookmarks
places in this and other worlds

where maybe I have also wet the reed,
inserted it, tightened the screw...
and maybe finally this is it, because it isn't the city,
the air, the complexity or the people. It is all of the above,
a summing into something with no summary,
detail that won't express in language I can voice.
OK, lift instrument, breathe,
and begin...


Massachusetts State Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance Survey System

A sonnet...  This came from watching a YouTube video about sexual health in various populations.

I had no reason for watching that, but YouTube is the master of the random education.  Everything I know about large explosions, wacky Japanese marble-runs and They Might Be Giants comes from YouTube.

This study was interesting and noted several curious points, none of which I intend to repeat here.  However it was conducted by the eponymous Massachusetts State Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance Survey System, whose name is excellent, and whose stock in trade must be phoning random strangers to ask about their sex lives.  Presumably during the evening meal.

Massachusetts State Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance Survey System

People who have sex, unprotected by the bonds
of matrimony; people who elect the wrong candidates,
spend too many evenings getting canvassed
in their offices; people, people who need people;
unlucky people; people without two coins to rub
against a pie; people who lie, or whose friends lie
and who do not know; people who eat lotus,
junk food, polystyrene cups; people who pour syrup
left handed into the bath; people who laugh
at the staff with the questionnaire; people who care
too much, know too little, do not read
the warnings which are amply provided; and,
above all, people who were out on the evening
when we picked their number to randomly call.


E pluribus unum

I forget whence this poem originated.

I have a half memory that somebody may have raised a challenge but whether it was to write in the plural, or to bend the rules of grammar I don't know.  Possibly it was to adopt an alien persona of some variety...

So anyway, herewith the aforementioned poem.  It's not exactly a puzzle, but you may get some way through before you figure it out...

E pluribus unum

like really you say that
as if it were a clever thing
and I (plural) am watching
your picnic from seven hundred
viewpoints in the long grasses

and there is only one of we (singular)
and it's not our queen
because, OK, there's only one
in here and we're organised around her
but she's still only a part of the machine

and I (plural) am the machine
and we (singular) are all the parts
and I am watching you
and I am already

Note: the first sentence of this posting is grammatically correct... "whence" means "from where."
So "from whence" is arguably tautology, although apparently it has also been in use for a long, long time...


By the book...

Funny isn't that easy to do in poetry, and sometimes isn't productive.  Amusing is easier to achieve, and I think less likely to get in the way of the poem.  That's what I've done here...  or so I think.  I hope you agree...

Kidderminster is a town in Worcestershire.  Croydon is a place in London.  The British Museum is where we keep our loot, and well worth an afternoon's perusal if you are in London.

In this there are two characters, represented by being left justified and right justified, respectively.  There's also a occasional narrator, who is centred, but then aren't they all?

Feel free to read it in three distinctive voices.

I had forgotten, but this was another poem from Making Contact...

By the book

She reads books,
this is where it all begins.
"Planning the crime of the century,"
was just a way to pass a rainy day
in the library
in Kidderminster

but here she is
leading Crusher, Sparks and The Countess
through the British Museum at three a.m.
with a silenced pallet truck.

He reads books
this is how it all begins.
He read "Lives of The Real Detectives,"
which seemed harmless enough
waiting for the 7:15.

The radio coughs nervously,
a glance at Constable Granger,
a nod to Dave from the Art Squad.
They've all seen the shadows moving
behind the glass.

She's read: "Alarm Systems Explained."

He's studied:
"Weakness of the Criminal Mind"
at some length.

"Transport of Art Treasures."

"Traps—their design and construction,"

"The Great Escapologists."

"Anatomy of a Manhunt."

"Losing Yourself in London."

"Forensics for Beginners."

An abandoned factory in Croydon—
armed police converge.

But she's memorised:
"Victorian Sewers Revealed."

And he's left
flipping the pages
of "Sealed Room Mysteries,
Volume 4."

She opens a small bookshop.

He's in there buying
"Should you Trust Books?"

They nod.


Coming round

Cartoon characters should
drink responsibly...
Not much to explain here, one I wrote from a prompt on a poetry forum in 2012.

Today I would avoid the coincidence of strophe breaks and full-stops in the first two verses, but otherwise still reasonably pleased with a sweet and simple piece.

(Note added later: this was also featured in a collection celebrating poets from the, now defunct, Critical Poet online forum.)

Coming round

Maybe I can say it in a different way: it's more
the angle of the orange street light that draws
a shadow between us as we sit with cheap wine
in the spare room and the evening and the dark.

It's more that the presents you brought me
were typical of your kooky creativity; while
the presents I bought you were expensive
and you, often, were thinking of someone else.

And on that day in June when it rained
tiny plashes in the dust and you said the
smell of dust and rain made you horny and sad,
I said it's more your sadness makes it rain

and then you laughed, but it didn't stop raining.
It was more my idea to drift away, not to fight,
but more your idea to keep my books
and CDs in your spare room—on shelves

I erected long ago in another country—so when
I want something I have to come by
with the bottle of supermarket Chianti, and sit
with you, the dark, the dust; now it's raining.