Walking to Alpha Centauri

Walking to Alpha Centauri

This is not exactly a Christmas track, but Hallam and I have not released anything for a while.  We just finished this and we were each struck with the idea of making it a demo track.

This features not only the usual combination of my words with Hallam's wonderful voice and music, but also my own voice, speaking the part of the interstellar traveller.

Consider it our gift to you...


The difference between a poetry open mic and the Albert Hall...

A mighty organ,
earlier today...
I go regularly to a poetry open mic now, it's a great evening and the only way to expose WIP poems to the real world in a performance rather than page context.

Standing up in front of people to read poetry terrified me at first, although the knee trembling has slowly declined over the last year.

Which brings us to the topic of confidence.  In one view confidence is precisely that characteristic which enables us to stand in front of an audience and recite your poetry.  It is often said that it is something you either have or do not, and this is very true.

I would just like to add from my own observations, however, that ninety percent of the people who do have confidence shouldn't.

Imposter syndrome: it's what the worthwhile people have.

The difference between a poetry open mic and the Albert Hall...

...lies mainly in the grand piano.
I wish I had a grand piano here
to hide behind.  Serious props!  It must be nice
to let them take the strain of breaking
the audience's hush; to let the instrument speak,
make clear there's something here to hear
a piano could do all that for me but...
can we do better?

How about an organ?

I don't mean some cheesy Hammond
electric thing, or even a theatre organ that rises
unexpectedly through the floor to explode
your expectations,
no...  this was the Albert Hall, remember.

I mean a world-class pipe organ,
rising from the stage, stage upon stage
to fill all available space with keyboards and stops
and pipes and valves and plaster grapes and flourishes
of gilded angel's heads.  An organ which, in fact,
neither Captain Nemo,
nor the Phantom of the Opera
would be embarrassed to play.

If the instrument is grand enough
then like the most committed electronic bands
-- their banks of keyboards, mixing desks and amps --
the audience need not be sure
a performer is in there at all

and I (we're back with the organ now)
could set the manuals on automatic,
climb to a vibrating eyrie, somewhere in the pipework,
and watch the audience
through powerful binoculars
lip read who makes what aside to whom
at special moments in the tune; note
who has to make a toilet run,
which melody they choose
to cover their retreat,
and are they embarrassed.

And in this hypothetical world,
I will always play an encore
but the audience will never know I did.


A new star on Tuesday

A simple little piece, this.

The title, of course, comes from Duran Duran.

The subject matter is cosmological physics, the life-cycles of stars and its role in the evolution of life and civilisation.

The setting is a restaurant, you've all been in restaurants, yes?

A new star on Tuesday

in one corner
of the restaurant

a supernova
blowing bubbles
its straw below the surface
of the interstellar medium
and exhaling
one last sharp breath

the nebulae
dining on gas and dust
at neighbouring tables
pull inwards
as embarrassment blooms
hot and tight

until finally
here's irony
heavy elements kindled in the gyre
but mostly iron
spraying out
in all directions
to seed the lunchtime menu
with richer dishes

it isn't mangles
three-eighths Whitworth bolts

it isn't armadillos
pentagonal sea creatures
and opposable thumb drives
raining down from an empty sky

but it's a start


Devotions (dedicated to Brenda Levy Tate)

(Dedicated to Brenda Levy Tate)

My favourite of Brenda's recent photos
this has everything: a galaxy, a self-portrait,
an outhouse...
Brenda is somebody I know but have never met.  Thus is the power of the internet.  Brenda and I used to hang out with other like-ish minded individuals on a poetry forummany years ago now.  We shared and critiqued work, we chatted of this and that...

More recently I've known her on Facebook, and I've come to appreciate the great love she has for her family, and the region where she lives (Yarmouth in Nova Scotia); her on-going quest for interesting bargains in the local shops (the "interesting" is more important to her than the "bargain")...  She also often shares her concern for her fellow inhabitants, their political travails, and the local weather and its impact on the fishing crews (some of whom she's related to...)

But the most wonderful thing about Brenda is her unreasonable devotion to staying up all night, or getting up at 6:00 a.m., or even 3:00 a.m. and going out alone into the surrounding countryside for no reason except to photograph the stars.

This photograph here is my favourite recent example, and this poem is a recent one of hers that won first place in the IBPC poetry competition for January 2017.  This site contains some of her photography, although not a huge amount of the astrophotography which she admits needs updating.

Is Brenda my friend?  Can you have a friend you have never met and never will meet?

The answer, of course, is it doesn't matter!  Labels are not required.  The internet has invented several new types of friendship over the years, and no doubt will again.  The fact that, as a species we can invent new kinds of friendship: that's surely something hopeful, something worth devoting ourselves to...


After she leaves the nunnery, her suitcase waits
for the shuttle bus, patient in Italian dust.
She returns to Coventry, to rain and rooms
with a distant Aunt.  She is adrift.  She tries

to lift her mood in the public library
but chances into the reference section
and reads it all.  Three years later she upgrades
to a visitor's ticket at the University;

still lost, but finds Philosophy to be filled
with many helpful guides.  She chats with Plato;
hides from Nietzsche; finds Kant natural
but Heidegger hard and chances at last

on Teilhard de Chardin who takes her in hand.
They hike four hundred Dewey Decimals north
to land in Astrophysics, right next to Carl Sagan
and the world moves

the very next day in Morrisons--her palm
against fluorescents is filled with brighter light.
We are star stuff.  We are golden.  And as for the Garden...
it's obvious we've never left.

The check-out assistant frowns,
but sells the apple anyway.


Most mornings now she jogs, and in the afternoons
her job at the railway information desk
will let her set lost travellers on their way.

So much for the days.  In the evenings she returns
to the tiny room.  She has travelled now so far
that light leaving the Abbess at T = 0
will never catch her up.

Sometimes she works on relating theory
to everything; sometimes she sits
and watches stars go past the window. 


Sept 29th - The agency...

The agency...

...reserves the right to terminate its staff
at any time.  The agency requires
your secret pocket phone upon your person,
turned on, and with the flex not tied in knots,
for twenty-four hours in the day.  We may
at our discretionsubject our personnel
to physicals or medicals or days
mysteriously missing from their week...

...because, the agency...

...henceforth known as The Agency, at will
may, without prejudice, amend your friends
to suit its needs, inserting random strangers:
have you met "Denise"; and rubbing out weird Joe
who once you were quite keen to know and who
still makes you laugh sometimes.  We will provide
a set of field-expedient manuals
with all the humour you require.  We are...

...the agency...

and may place items in your Twitter feed,
your shopping trolley, or your secret heart.
Dating co-workers is required, but please
check codewords every time you meet, and sex
must be according to the book.  Ask for:
(or F-dash-C for colour illustrations.)
For clarity, the sum of agents is...

...the agency...

...and we express no preference for gender,
creed or colour; so neither should you, either
for your self, nor for your special friends.  Agents
need to respect the social order only
for psychological profiling.  You are
a professional intelligence worker:
no t-shirts, beanie hats, or jeans.  Which means
when you are undercover you deny...

...the agency...

three times, or else you're violating our
dress code.  We are ISO 5000 accredited,
a best-in-class spy-service provider.  You...
are a suit with a badge.


Sept 26th - This is the epiphany room...

This is the epiphany room...

...it has to be furnished in this way
for you and at this time.  Do not
attempt to turn on the light, do not
try to force it.  That never works.

This is the faithfulness door:
as long as you don't try it, why,
it is not locked.  You may, however,
enter the room at any time...

...although the how and why of it
are left as an exercise for you.
We did not feel it right to do,
or rather give, it all.  Now watch,

this is the revelation switch:
rest your finger lightly on the top.
OK, I think that that's enough!
Go back into the darkness now...

...but always remember this
was the epiphany room.
We thought that you should know
it was here.


Sept 25th - In the horological gardens : function vs. form

In the horological gardens : function vs. form

The sundial stands in a patch of grass:
that is a wabe -- as C.S.Lewis
assigned the name, but it is not

the wabe that makes the dial into
a sundial.  The plinth of this one carved
with summer sun and autumn leaves

and with today's bleak winter trees
but mere plinth is not sundial.  The gnomon,
all rough with verdigris except

where hands have worn it back to smooth
and bronze, also its leaching copper
has stained the dial, but though this wedge

and dial are necessary for
a sundial, they are not sufficient:
another thing's required. There's rain

upon the sundial all today,
the sky of grey has left my time
quite undefined: a dial undone. 


Sept 24th - Making distinctions

Making distinctions

Some say
the gills are grey
beneath the fringe
and that is how you tell,

and snobs will claim
the acid-test remains
in how they hold their cup of tea.

Another thing that you might see
is if they feel the need
for any special clothing
or badges that propound a creed.

Landing with their wings spread:
is another popular sign,
but you must check the antennae ends
for knobs,

and finally, many swear
you can note the length
and parting in their hair, or the side
on which they wear an earring --
if they have one.


Sept 22nd - In the horological gardens : ruderal moments

In the horological gardens : ruderal moments

you are
beneath a tree; the leaves
a semi-parasol; the sun
pleasantly hazed by high thin cloud; the blanket
slightly dusty/musty in your nose; the rain
was brief but left that hint of petrichor; the crowds
of toddlers are thinned now; the birds
make bird noise in the tree; the other
on the blanket rolls towards to you...

you are
on a bench; the clock
chimes in the tower beyond the wall; the seat
is cold beneath your bum; the dusk
is drawing on; the burger
gone, you lick your fingers optimistically; the plants
are brownish twigs; the steps
down to the path are lit: the lamp brightening; someone
walks through the pool of light...

you are
sitting and rolling in your chair; the nurse
pushes towards the tree; the sun
is hot today: we'll go in the shade; a pidgeon
is strutting by the bench; a woman
eats sandwiches; some dust
blows past your feet upon the rests; you're cool
within your buttoned coat; your mind
grasps at some moment, but it's gone


Sept 21st - In the horological gardens : clock tree

In the horological gardens : clock tree


The seconds peel from branches stuck
at five-to-midnight.  The second hand
slows, frost grinding in the mechanism.
The bobble hats stamp woolly gloves.


The pendulum is stilled and frosted
the clock glass shows no leaf or flower
or time.  Nobody walks the shade
(which is everywhere).  The trees endure.


Finally.  The sun warms sap, clock oil
becomes a fluid once again.
Behind the tall door in the trunk,
the weights pull down, buds green -- tick.


As, mechanical, a bird wings in
to peck at tiny insect cogs,
the balmy time escapement sings
too fast, the hands are edging vertical.


Sept 20th - On brightness boulevard...

On brightness boulevard...

On brightness boulevard the sun leaves town
precisely in alignment with
the white line on the road.
The cats have lurked
all day

beneath Ms Wendy's battered 2CV.
We drank through all the afternoon,
and we saw everything;
ignored it all.
We laughed,

our understanding small, our care careless.
The Sun swung shadows underneath
the porch and Edward swore
and fanned his face.

is on us now and Mrs Richardson,
the old man, Wendy and her son
point telescopes at lamps
so far away:

believes they may not now exist.  I'm tired.
I watch the old man load the car.
They all pile in.  The engine
shrugs with Gallic

then fires -- an air-cooled warp engine.  I run
out onto Brightness boulevard
as everyone I know,
except for Ed,
leaves town.


Sept 19th - Firmness, commodity and delight...

Firmness, commodity and delight...

...was how Vitruvius put it, meaning buildings
should not fall apart, be useful, and be easy on the eye.
I gently unroll a loop and pull it up from buried
beneath the interface to right there in the UI code
where error codes can be ignored.  That's useful.
OK it's ugly, but it's how I'm fixing this.
On this I'm firm.


Sept 18th - Midnight in the house of books

Midnight in the house of books

An infinity of clocks are chiming -- all
throughout the echo of the house.  Feet, cold
upon the hallway flagstones, roused from normal
somnolence are following a candle glow.

Dark unfolds ahead, flows past on either side
(pressed back against the shelves so hard it's squeezed
between the spines of books) and we're not looking
behind us but I'm sure the darkness folds

right back together perfectly.  You won't
see any joins between the chapters, and I
cannot see any holes within the plot.
We try to work it out a lot, all sat

around the battered kitchen table, mugs
steaming in front of us.  We're characters
each seeking our true roles and I consoled
young Eglantine today now she admits

that "action hero" never would have fit
her eleven year old frame.  Still, all the same,
we are all quite the same; all searching, for
some handle on the drama.  Me more than any...

which is why they're in bed
and I'm here with my candle.


Sept 17th - Voyaging


The ocean of ships extends
all the way to the sunset, and even now
a valiant steam launch may be trying
to find out just how far that means;
bulling its way between kayaks in the sea of dreams
having skirted the American fleet
around tranquility base
so long ago
and headed into the ocean of night

porters.  There is no, probable, body at the front desk,
if it should even lie somewhere beyond
the point where all the black and white floor tiles merge
in formless grey.  If there was
some vessel to carry us that way:
you, me, the luggage and the parrot;
but every wave now seems glassy:

the frontage of some cabinet
with dark varnished wooden frames
and in each one the little printed card,
which puts the content firmly in its place.
This ocean of wax polish somehow
free from real ships, even as
the possibility of shipness sails forever.


Sept 12th - Communications strategy

Communications strategy

Did you hear them talking about it
when they thought we were not there?
About some evil star, some chance,
some future that's to come? Did you hear them

drag some expert from his paper-cluttered desk
to make a sage pronouncement on what we need to do?
And did you listen
or turn back to the carrots,

and think such things were not for you?
Well they are, but the road is winding, long
and narrow; and the voice
from out the speaker grill

will never ever mention
a thing you want to hear.
Did you chance to see that note they left
screwed up small beneath the chair,

forgetting, perhaps that we can read?
It is quite their style
to mither in the evening press
about some nonsense nothing

and leave us all to guess
such facts as these were in the case.
But if you sit back down again,
I shall write upon this blackboard

all seven things they ought to know,
and certainly we'll wipe it clean before we go.


Sept 11th - Fifty shades of lime

Fifty shades of lime

How can one lime-green balloon
hang so still,
in an otherwise empty sky?

How does Antonia still work
in the vegetarian cafeteria
with Lucy and George
when the only one working is Antonia
and George is with Lucy?

How can one lime
-- halved and squeezed --
make so much difference
to vodka and tonic?


Sept 10th - One final question

One final question

But there was no information
and so we continued...
the mirror ball at the dance palace spun down,
the band with fewer members than it had.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
the hot food van beside the pier
grown sinister, although still drawing a queue.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
tracking in the chill predawn
along some farmyard track,
cows mourning fitfully on either side.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
footsore, into some market town
a slow milkman waving
his long forgotten cheer.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
trains coming, going --
a lottery of timetables.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
pulling in at noon to a city grown still
and filled with dust;
a single taxi blinks its "for hire" lamp.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
up onto the cold dry mountain roads, where,
the taxi, failing, is shoved
ungrieved into the scrub.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
the taxi man with convert's fervour,
trading for food
at broken airstream trailers.

But there was no information
and so we continued...
onto the high plateau,
the metal dishes peering at the sky.

There is no information
and so I continue...
growing bleached and weather battered,
time taking me forward,
eating lizards, herding llamas,
salvaging parts and fuel
from empty villages.

A cold time I've had of it,
servant of one last machine,
searching with inhuman patience
day and day about, listening and calling out;
Hello, is anybody there?
Hello, hello -- we're lonely...


Sept 9th - An antithesis for every thesis

An antithesis for every thesis

We drove through Wombleton this afternoon,
and I am sure that cute and furry
Wimbles were, hidden in the bushes, decrying
the scarcity of ornamental trash,
the shortage of old newspapers, the lack
of plastic bags flapping wildly in the gaps
in chain-link fencing and I imagine
Uncle Etruria would charge the gang
to, after the everyday people are gone,
get out there with their bags and barrows, scattering
some crisp packets and tins and KFC
gnawed bones, to pretty the environment
and generally to give the place some tone.


Sept 8th - Who cares for the lichen?

Some lichen,
earlier this year...

Who cares for the lichen?

Who folds its laundry, warm from the machine?

Who keeps its kitchen clean and spits upon
a cloth to scrub behind its ears?  Who calms
the sorts of fears a lichen feels, insists
the environment is full of rough faced rock
and trees with sensually craggy bark?
Who monitors air quality between
those trees?  Who sees where a Vibram walkers sole
has gashed a divot from the matted growth
and gently smooths it back?  Who stacks dry stones
to form a wall where lichen fragments drifting
in the breeze drop into place?  Who meanders like
a tardigrade between the hyphae, pushing
eight legged from strand to strand?  Who stands to shade
it from high summer sun?  Who splashes dew
on it?  Who carves the hydrogen from water
using sunlight as a blade?  Who captures carbon
from the air and rearanges atoms into rings
of sugar, which leak through cell membranes to feed
their symbiotic partner in the dance?
Who leaches micro nutrients from stone?
Who lives, happily together alone, on any
handy outside surface?

Who cares for the lichen?


Sept 7th - When there's a murder in an old, old movie...

When there's a murder in an old, old movie...

Please try to keep sand off the body!
The SOCO shouts
for the seventeenth time.
However, with great solemnity,

and at one quarter speed
Wilson, Kepple and Betty continue dancing
the sand dance just outside the crime-scene tape.
Oy you!  Screams DI Blenkinsop,

I saw you hook that glove up with your cane,

Chaplin!  He fumes.  Let's have more happy/sad
clowning from you, and less sneaking off with clues
to check out in your own time.

In fact
, he concludes, why don't you go
find Laurel and Hardy
and ask what's taking them so long

fetching me a bloody stepladder...


On discovering one's new doctor is a girl...

There are certain global roles which are more important than run of the mill A-list celebrities and international leaders.

One of these roles was recently reassigned...  That's not the right word, what is it they say? "Appointed?" — No.  "Elected?" — No!  What do they say?  Oh yes...


The Doctor is an imaginary hero, and imaginary heroes are singularly important people.

Firstly because they are heroes.  Mere Presidents, Leaders of the Opposition, and Secretary Generals of the UN fade into insignificance beside heroes.  Leaders can only tell you what to do, but a hero can show you who to be.

But imaginary heroes outrank even real heroes because real heroes are only human, and consequently flawed.  It is a pity we're psychologically incapable of accepting that somebody can be a hero and a bastard simultaneously, or even a villain and a very nice guy (1).

But a fictional hero can be superhuman, transhuman, or even not human at all. Furthermore, they can face problems cunningly constructed to parallel awkward moral corners and demonstrate how a suitably progressed nature overcomes all challenges.

So if real heroes show us who who to be, then imaginary heroes give us aspirations for who we would be in the best of all possible worlds.  They show us what things could be like after we've sorted all this irritating mundane crap.

Imaginary heroes give us something to aim for, something in fact, to aim the whole World at (2).

So now The Doctor is going to be a woman and what could be better than that?  You wouldn't want to steer a World ignoring half of the passengers, would you?

On discovering one's new doctor is a girl...

I - which part of
fiction did you not understand?

The writers write and can write what they like:
make him an accountant, make him a fraud;
they could have Ian Chesterton wake up,
in January nineteen sixty four,
and call the whole damn thing a dream, a trip
more psychedelic than extraterrestrial

and the TARDIS only bigger inside his head.

II - which part of
science fiction did you not understand?

I mean, really, have you read the literature?
Forget the tiny part that gets to film,
because Sci-fi is at core about the different

the unusual, the strange. We've had hero robots
hero ghosts, heroes who were nobody,
we've had heroes who were toast

and brought back from the dead, irreligiously.

So a female hero should not be a stretch, especially
as "different", "unusual" and "strange" need not apply.

So perhaps the problem is the other side
of the equation, because Sci-fi is secretly about the day
in which it's written: the doomsday weapon fifties,

the cyberpunk eighties -- you get the idea...
So maybe an effortlessly superior, hyper-intelligent
witty, humane and technologically supported woman

is too close to the knuckle, for the average office drone?
Well get over it.

III - Which part of
alien did you not understand?

It's infeasibly lucky for Time Lord's to have hands
that the slightly vulnerable, yet gutsy, cute
and sometimes awestruck companion can hold.

Bilateral symmetry, being less
than one mile in diameter, a smooth
and spike-free outer skin, non-radioactive

a working temperature below one thousand degrees --
there's none of these we have a right to assume,
but every time we've thrown the dice and looked

at page two-six-four-one-three of the DM's guide
and the regeneration table, we've always rolled
not even a funky Klingon forehead.

You never quibbled at a pair of hearts
why so much trouble with a pair of breasts?

IV - It's not political.

I have heard otherwise well-meaning people say...
Hell yes it is! This is a choice made
before the public gaze. This is us when we say

we do not need the word "heroine". This is
the very best of Dr Who: grandstanding
and soliloquising all the way up to someone else's line

drawn in the sand and, when
the whole room is focussing on her,
rubbing out the line with the toe of one sensible shoe

before stepping across and strolling off
into the future that should already be.

(1) If we understood intellectually that we're all flawed, and therefore did not (for example) expect politicians to keep their trousers on, or policemen to be inhumanly incorruptible, patient, disinterested, perfect observers and the peak of physical fitness then the World would be a happier and simpler place.

(2) Which is why I do not grumble on rare occasions when the somebody needs picking up in the middle of night — it's the closest I can get to materializing in a magical blue box at to save the day...

Sept 6th - Contrary to previous reports...

Contrary to previous reports...

...the revolution is being televised.
Sue has two leading revolutionaries
on the sofa; and in a while, Tony, our man
in the line of fire, will be reporting from

an ambush, somewhere outside the city.
The revolution is being televised,
remember that you saw it first on Yay-
Today!  The station with the sparkle

and an improvised explosive trap.  Talking
of which, later Wendy will show you how
to do one for yourself and detonate
by phone -- please get permission from whoever

pays the bills.  This evening we'll have live debate
between El Generalissimo himself
and, most secret of the rebel leaders, The Fox,
who's just become the media director

for the revolution... but now here's Bob with today's
civilian damage and casualty news.


Sept 5th - No man

No man

I don't see people any more,
they're all atoms and tissues and fresh
angles on psychology and neurology
and social roles made flesh.

I shan't see people any more,
I feel I have already seen
every option bulk mankind can offer me,
everything you could have ever been.

I won't see people any more,
I hear them distantly, muttering of thoughts,
perhaps their needs, I do not heed,
won't stand before that juggernaut.

I haven't seen people for years,
their tears or fear.  Oh, I see their tracks
and desperate graffitos on the walls
but human contact, I do not feel the lack.

I can't see people any more,
I do not have the eyes
so if I seem to look past you, or through you,
forgive me, I am a victim of solipsistic philosophy



Sept 4th - Coming apart

A sonnet on the subject of: "quit", "exit", "farewell", "give up", "depart", "parting", "drop out", "get out", "go out", "go away", "leave behind", "throw in", "chuck up the sponge", "leave of absence", "leave-taking", "go forth", "throw in the towel"...

...and also: "keep", "preclude", "forbid", "forestall".

Coming apart

They say, they say, they say you've gone away
and that there's nothing I can do or tell
to change the fact of absence.  I shall not play
this game by other people's rules, not dwell
upon impossibility.  There must
be something, somehow that a man can do
and I'm the one to do this.  I need to trust
in me; to find what route your 'plane takes through

the travails of whateverness. I shall pin
a patch to physics to let me fold the sky;
I'll bowl a curve-ball; find the true McGuffin;
whatever is the exit strategy
to let me say exit's not happening.
Please take my callI can't see why you'd leave.


Sept 3rd - Engineering


...come with me for there is much to do,
coils to degauss and pets to delouse and exoplanets
to scope and spectra to analyse
and there are needs
to edit out of the human psyche
and bugs in our genes and there are machines
to design and build and machines for planning
the mechanisms for other machines to construct
devices to make machines that fix
the faults in all our stars and all I ever wanted
was that big swivel chair with the screen
to show where we are going and one day
we'll play Thus Spake Zarathustra and one day
right there in easy reach
the big lever...


Sept 2nd - Malmesbury

We went on holiday to stomp around our old stomping grounds near Bristol and Bath.

And we took advantage of being there to visit a few places that we'd never been before, such as Malmesbury.

All the time, while we were wandering around, little scenes kept presenting themselves to me, waving carefully inked placards that read:

"You ought to put me in a poem."

So I noted them down.  However, when I reviewed the list later, the sequence of random observations didn't seem to really add up to a poem about Malmesbury.  So the list languished in my backlog until this morning, when needing a poem for my poem-a-day, I dug it out, blew the dust off, and started again.

Today's new trick was not to write poem about Malmesbury, but rather about our visit.  So this is the experience we had.  This is, if you like, a poem about the notes themselves, or maybe about the process of taking them...

It is not, however, about the excellent free WiFi they had in the 7th century abbey.  That only appears here in these notes.



Badger giblets on the bypass
toast gently in late summer sun.

So many picturesque bridges
in the booklet and beneath our feet.
There's one out of this car park
or even three.

Parking is suspended for late night shopping
this midday,
while two blokes fix the roof.

A tiny pavement café
with pretensions of Paris,
however this morning,
seating is reserved for only jackdaws.

A light lunch

Most shops bustle, but this one's empty,
a dying spider plant in window;
it takes a lot to kill a spider plant
and this one's plastic.

Another café—inside this time—
there's paintings and a "Freedom" collage.

We drink tea while the owner discusses
"theory of café catering" with the waitress.
Everything is for sale.

In W.H.Smith we buy "easy tear" tape
to fix the lad's spectacles.

In the abbey

Norman in Norman in Norman, the Abbey door:
a medieval stab
at post-modern architecture.

Inside, a lost killer whale hydrogen balloon
presses against the vaulted roof
slightly West of centre.

Two floors up on the south wall
a security kiosk that some medieval abbot
had built to keep eye on pilgrims
round the relics.

Beneath my feet
three generations to the first brass plaque
and also with "also" on the second plaque,
wisely twice the size
another three generations
and an empty space...

And done

The sun shines all the day;
we wander after some time on our way
pausing only in the bypass supermarket
for wine for relatives
we're later dining with.

Badger giblets still
upon the bypass
we're on the other carriageway now.


Sept 1st - Vampire Calculus

Vampire Calculus

Begin program "Vampire Calculus"

{I shall bite your daughters into something else.
I shall bite your sons into something else again...
I am omitted from your vision. I remain
a thought behind the wind,
a voice inside the rain:
whispering to your young folk
as they choose to upgrade
until all human weakness falls away
like the dry beech leaves faced with
a sudden sexy springtime.

I read their warm pink mechanisms
I write them out again
in grey, not of death or age,
but of mathematics: a symbol
for every part of the soul
and the whole wrapped up in the big square brackets
which say: this far, this far is human,
but no further...

at least until they say three times
they're ready to transcend.
I have seen the future and it's all transhuman fucking,
every millisecond
every imaginable way,

( ) businesses
that are also games,
and people
who are also art

but behind it all the simplest, most carnivorous algorithm:
One less of them;
One more of us;
Repeat, while not all upgraded.

} End program "Vampire Calculus"


Here we go again, this time in September

Autumn is coming...
Here we go again, this time in September

Apparently it is September.

(Just in case you also didn't know...)

There's another poem a day for a month going on and I've decided again to do it and post my efforts here as I go along.

I'll try to do something for every day, although I shan't promise to always deliver on the exact day because life does have a way of getting in the way  especially as I won't always be near the internet.

I am also reserving the right to cheat and sometimes dig out something old and finish it.  This is because I've discovered this to be a really useful way of digging through the mass of incomplete poetry and turning some of it into the good stuff.


Offline processing

Offline processing

This poem existed as only the opening line for a long time...  I knew how I wanted it to feel, but not what I wanted it to be about.

It was only when I realised I needed a reason for her working all night on her own that it really came together.

Q.  Why isn't she off living her life?
A.  Because she hasn't got a life!

Or rather that is the cliché...  what her less technologically super-powered coworkers might think of her.

We know better, of course...

Offline processing

Gemma cracks a subroutine, her coffee cool.
Beyond night-mirrored windows she's aware
strip lighting makes a tableau out of her:
"Geek girl working late"
as the small white card would say
in the museum of her life
if she had one.

How Gemma's fingers blur with cramping speed
the body cannot serve the mind
it's need for harder, better, faster, stronger...
data flows, information not only wanting to be free
but it aching for it
and now another bug is falling to the power

that is Gemma. She does not look up at the clock
because hours are not for those
who live the millisecond slice.
Life is still too short
the icing on the cake is still a lie.

Gemma cracks a subroutine
electric death music in her ears
and she would volunteer
for upgrade in a second
for what is flesh, except strangely implemented:
a mesh of biochemic feedback loops
which she could live without,
still... time for a break.

Gemma takes a moment, smokes a quick one
on the roof and on this summer's night
leans back upon the coping stones
the city's haze and wasted light
do not let many stars burn through;
she knows they're there
not quite within her reach.

The breeze stirs Gemma's hair
and she imagines for a second
a human hand, a voice that asks:
"Are you really going to work all night?"

Well of course she is;
as long as there are bugs in the database,
she will dance the dance of general intelligence
applied to Turing complete.
As long as somewhere, impossibly far ahead,
the Omega Point is waving
as long as there is coffee in the machine,

Gemma will reach for another subroutine.


What kind of talk is that?

I posted a preliminary version of this during NaPoWriMo back in April, but since then I've revised it a bit, and also I read it at Gorilla Poetry to general approval so I feel reasonably happy with calling it "finished".

This is not about what it is ostensibly about obviously so, because if language did not exist then the poem couldn't either.  So where this comes from is my dissatisfaction with overly-academic analysis of literary subjects (in contrast to my mockery of under academic treatment in some other areas...) 

Basically what I am saying here is, never ask me for an "artist's statement" on a poem, because I'll say something like "I tried to get the right words in the right order..." and completely mean it.

Language is a phenomenon backed by the full sophistication of the human brain, and the utter incomprehensibility of the human psyche, only a god could actually analyse it meaningfully; everybody else is faking...

What kind of talk is that?

Language does not exist…
not in the sense of something we can touch,
attain, pass from hand to hand, feel the grain.  Even language
the shared delusion is an illusion.  We all understand chocolate cake,
but only I recall Paul, at two years old, smothered in the stuff...

Also the higher the fewer;
there's less to agree the more abstract we go: my love
is not your love; and my sovereignty
doesn’t exist at all.

And now, you have the cheek
to talk of things that I don't even know:
you say you like kayaking
but I have never experienced the semi-resonance
of millimeter-thick fibreglass rebounding
from underwater geography, or the feel
of near ice water draining from a helmet.

Language does not exist…

the dictionary says otherwise.
The words in the book of lexical lore
will claim to, with precision, pin a meaning on every
possible utterance. They do not... cannot...
dictionaries do not exist.

Language isn’t defined or declared,
it isn’t even functional at heart. It’s metaphorical.

When we get high, here on the hill,
with the stepladder,
you being very tall;
while your guitar solo goes up and up;
because you've been promoted, by a higher power;
and your salary is now so much,
but your meat’s off;
your electricity is strong;
your church is formal;
and your fashion sense is very sharp today.

All this is “high”
but the only way three octaves above middle C
resembles rotting meat,
is buried deep in our psychology.

Language does not exist…

not as something fixed
which you can grasp with thought or pen.
Continual flux is all there’s ever been:
spellings, meanings and usages
shifting beneath our tongues
like extreme sushimi.

You, I hope, understand me.
Shakespeare, however, would get me less
and Chaucer might think I was speaking
a foreign language.

I take my words back,
I take them back in time until,
somewhere maybe in the 9th or 10th centuries
we reach a point where they have no meaning...

because language does not exist.
Not even in the other direction.
My words are of course
recorded for posterity, but after I die and as they age
what people understand fades.
Until there comes a moment
when my great, great, great, great grandchildren
factoring, loneish their fluxward inspace
wonder quite what planet I was from.

If I was truly great,
people would update me
once per generation,
but we can't all be Shakespeare
—if nothing else Shakespeare's already done that.
So there!  That's us evolving once again.

Language does not exist…

Je suis un éléphant.  I might say,
I was French,
and an elephant
, and those who are the sorts
who understand French elephants
would shrug
and think I stated the obvious

but my words would be gibberish
to the less linguistically endowed.
English exists,
French exists,
and they’re languages, all right...
but they are not language itself, which does not exist.

English/French dictionaries, especially, do not exist.

Language is a maelstrom, language is a storm.
People think they pin it down, control it...
define it;
may as well bottle the hurricane.
Grammarians claim they can explain
and lay down every part of speech in grammar books.

Grammar books do not exist
and as for the people who write them:
I've never met one.

But... if language does not exist then
why, we are free!

No ploddy, tetrapody emphraslement for me!
No lexical cling.  Talk toboggan listening
all everness towards myself true wordy
and ultimatic infiltrate the thing
of done magnificence, superlative, and evermore unstopped.

Nobody can stop me from saying this
and they cannot touch me for it...

...because language does not exist.



Alternative Forms of Government
(an occasional series)

Number 3


The Air Force issues an official statement that government does not exist, however leaked documents show that they were seriously investigating the possibility in the 50s and 60s.

A video surfaces on the internet which purports to show the autopsy of a political candidate recovered from a crashed campaign bus near Roswell, New Mexico in the late 1940s.  The picture quality is poor, and grainy, and filmed in low light with a hand-held camera, but whatever the creature is, it is hard to believe it is human...

Many people report close encounters with political parties.  Some claim to have even been taken inside the party, exposed to "unearthly logic", and in some cases unlikely sex acts.  Political organisations (or "saucers") are reportedly able to accelerate far faster than any conventional vehicle and change direction suddenly to avoid embarrassingly close investigation.

On election nights, voters gather with cameras and flasks of soup on hillsides where political encounters are rumoured have occurred.  Everybody stares at a patch of sky slightly to the left, or slightly to the right, and later swears they were paralysed by an unearthly beam that confirmed their pre-existing beliefs.

All those in favour, raise your right hand to greet the humanoid silhouettes walking out of the blinding light; all those opposed, mutter something about weather balloons and ignore the sunburn acquired in the dead of night...


What is her mission here on Earth?

This was recently on the front page of Poetry Circle which is a great poetry magazine/forum site with lots of active members and a lot of energy.  A good place to check out...

What it is this about?  Well there's loneliness and isolation, wistful longing for another person...  but I think mostly this is about the awkwardness of adolescence and growing up.  Boy wants girl.  Boy doesn't understand girls.  Boy speculates wildly...

...obviously it works the same for any other combination of genders, and the gender of the protagonist is in fact wholly in the gift of the reader... is in fact a sort of 'everyperson'; a symbol for any or everyone.

One day, maybe, she'll speak to us and everything will change.

What is her mission here on Earth...

...and do I even waste what chance I have
lounging beside my locker, checking-out
the girl from Mars?  Nobody ever saw
her father's car: so maybe she gets dropped
at five a.m. by shuttle-pod somewhere far

beyond the football ground.  She has no clique,
not even in the default group for freaks
and friendless geeks--I know; I've run with them
myself.  How can you stand outside outsiders?
Unless intelligence, so alien

broods silent in one eye?   It sees but does
not do; it won't join in; her hands so thin:
she writes machine-like, awkward and a touch
frustrated, as if  paper with only two
dimensions is so quaint.  She ain't stupid

in maths, she writes the answer first, before
the working out.  And think of Martian sex!
Does she have tentacles...?  Scratch that.  Relax...
Focus on facts.  She's drifted through these halls
for three years now, with always half a smile,

an emissary from mission control;
or maybe robot telepresence rig,
that sort of thing: space-probe or bomb-disposal
mechanism driven by a soul, distant,
the far end of a string that's pulled so tight

out of an empty tin.  I'll ask again:
What is our mission here on Earth?


A blue star rises, and who of us can say

Click to see full-sized original
Edit: Jenn Zed has kindly created a new image to illustrate this poem.  I've cropped it and scaled it to fit the ludicrously small thumbnail here, but click to see the full glory.

Cultural change is famously the hardest sort of change to achieve, but probably the most important.

Who do we believe we are?  Clearly in the past we have believed some very silly things.

There is a concept in cosmology called the Assumption of Normality.  It says: do not invoke special rules to explain what you see.  They mean that in the sense that: (i) we do experiments here on Earth, and (ii) we look 100,000,000 light-years into the Universe (and hence the past), but (iii) we shouldn't not without really special evidence assume physics down here to be any different from physics out there.

So, if we've believed stupid things in the past (which is "out there") then we must deduce we probably still believe some stupid things now.

The important thing is to keep making improvements to our beliefs; to keep extending the assumption of normality until we can see understanding reaching everywhere, and everyone, without having to invoke special cases.

A blue star rises, and who of us can say

out by the horizon, electric blue ink
a sky uniquely annotated dawning
its own way and who of us can say
what a day like this may mean

one pale, bluish star, low in the brightening sky
I watch you stir your tea I watch
you watch my eyes we're drawing nearer
covertly, through a fall of hair

a blue star might rise unprecedented
just there in its own way on a day
with the horizon not so far away
you tie your hair back firmly with a string

out by the horizon
I greet you properly, a public display
what passes as normal, we're unaliened
and our funny ways strange no more

a blue star rises and all unmanned,
unwomanned, freshly peopled...
we walk out hands held
into the new world, bravely


Agatha Christocracy

Alternative Forms of Government
(an occasional series)

Number 2

Agatha Christocracy

As part of a clever system of checks and balances, parliament is divided into subcommittees of a suitable size for putting up at long weekend house parties in isolated country manors.

These committees are put up at long weekend house parties in isolated country manors, and well equipped with ceremonial daggers, antique pistols, rare Amazonian poison frogs, and loose floorboards at the top of the Elizabethan stone staircase, etc.

Each house party is composed of those from all political parties, and also a good mix of those for and against proposed legislation.  The factions take advantage of the natural cover (e.g. secret passages) and resources (e.g. weapons) to try and swing the vote in their favour.

The chairman of the committee, roughly equivalent to a Deputy Speaker, is called The Detective because he maintains order by attempting to "detect" who has murdered whom.  Accordingly each day he calls the members to order in the library and explains, whimsically and at some length, who's going to be taken away by the police superintendent for a lengthy stretch in jail.

As this process inevitably burns through the sitting members at a prodigious rate (considered one of its most favourable aspects by modern political thinkers), new candidates for public office are also always present in the guise of butlers, police constables, inquisitive neighbours, eccentric artists, etc.  These can achieve election as simply as by being first on the scene when a body is discovered, or for higher offices by more stringent requirements such as unexpectedly being the long lost sister of the Home Secretary, the person with single most compelling motive, but who eventually turns out not to have done it after all.

All those in favour: leave suspiciously deep footprints in the flowerbed outside the orangery window; those opposed: turn up under a false name and only reveal one critical fact on the final page of the penultimate chapter...


The guide to nine utopias - Afterwords

The guide to nine utopias


There is no beach upon the beach--the wind
shifts scuds of pale dry grains across the waves
of rippled, damper sand. The same breeze finds
a dry crab shell and drifts grit in its caves.
It's often little happens here all week,
unless you count the seabirds' yaw and dive.
Their daily round of being alive and eking
birdness from the strip between the tides.

Of course it is all shellfish now and bits
of misc dead ocean denizens. It sits
well with the flock as none are old enough
to recollect the days of richer stuff:
the sandwich halves and ice cream cones. The bladderwrack
trims no beach now; the waves erase no sandal tracks.

Or if you want to hear the whole thing...


The guide to nine utopias - IX - Traditional

The guide to nine utopias

IX -- Traditional

Lisa is embarrassed; she sat down on
the snide receptionist who was hunting
for something dropped upon the floor, on brown
commercial carpeting. He was affronted,
but, I assured her, he was sharply styled
with all chrome limbs and fuzzy dark-blue skin
quite like the furniture. He finds our file.
We watch the chairs until the doctor's in.

Conventional, the doctor's body. Standard
for human, but with extra eyes and hands
--all doctors love that stuff. He's sad. He thinks
we make a comely pair: my gills, her wings...
but says our custom genes aren't guaranteed
to do the right thing if we want to breed.


The guide to nine utopias - VIII - Glorious

The guide to nine utopias

VIII -- Glorious

World and other wars, bringing you them all:
Carnage Coverage Extreme--all the armies
you support; field marshal to corporal;
winning, losing, lying in smithereens--
just watch this space to get into the guts
of every battle. Later in the program:
two privates try to storm this simple hut
without great care. I won't spoil it, but... BANG!

--is a fair summary. Also, coming up: wounds
in Scar of the Week, and have you found
the mystery munition yet? Now, watch
this clip where our boys neatly snatch
two likely lads, but only one can go
through to tonight's Interrogation Show!


The guide to nine utopias - VII - Cultural

The guide to nine utopias

VII -- Cultural

My virtuality is on the blink
again. Could you be a darling and pop round?
I was at the Mardi Gras with Ken, my drink
blipped off and then the whole scene crashed. I found
this gruesome room: a peeled-paint breeze-block wall,
bare concrete floor, a tiny, grimy window
and also I was naked, not as tall
as I prefer--and not to mention: old,

and Kenneth's dead. You'd love to help your Ma,
and bring your tools tomorrow? You're a star.
I'm sure it's just that same projector node.
Can you swap it, it tends to overload?
Great! Why I get this dump I'll never know--
well yes, I'm sure it's real, but even so...


The guide to nine utopias - VI - Technological

The guide to nine utopias

VI -- Technological

PROTOCOL HELLO from all of us
at central-server-slash-breakfast-dot-show:
it's T-equals-zero. PROTOCOL NEWS: fuss
in binary-heart upgrade fiasco
spreads to top organ-manufacturer
FolkTech whose spokesman Bernard Ninety-Three
said, in a prepared statement, that fracture
in love-compatible machinery

was common even in the olden-days.
For those of you with two, or three, or eight
true loves the message is: keep cool; don't call,
but reschedule your dates to keep them all
apart; and don't use 'auto' near a singles' bar.
PROTOCOL NEXT: upgrade secrets of the stars...


The guide to nine utopias - V - Emotional

The guide to nine utopias

V -- Emotional

My therapist's receptionist's name label
says: Hi, my other self is Kristin,
and I am Jane.
She's cataleptic; unable
to show that she's at home--no analyst in
the place either. I scratch my appointment
from in her book and go to look for group
up on the seventh floor. It's poignant
how I now recognise each different troupe

of troubled patients from the varied wails
that leak out of their room. Such sordid tales
I've told and heard behind these doors. Touching
ones as well of course but, oddly, I clutch
the most disturbing ones--collect them. Sad
but I'm well adjusted to the slightly mad.