Review: Paul Brookes "Please Take Change"

Paul Brookes is a poet I know through the internet.  We used to hang out on Poetry Circle, an online forum...

Before I begin this review I must reveal that I live a charmed life.  I have always found it easy to get jobs, and places I have worked have been more akin magical kingdoms, than grey Kafkaesque distopias.

I try to remain aware that this isn't true for everyone (should be... isn't) but awareness is one thing and knowing what living it is like would be something else again.  The main power of this book is it gives you a window into exactly that, and furthermore it paints subtly, neither glorifying, nor playing up to the grimness.

From the biography on the back we discover Paul has been a security guard, postman, admin assistant, call centre advisor, lecturer, poetry performer and now works as a shop assistant.  He has recently been interviewing almost every poet in the UK in  The Wombwell Rainbow Interviews and very interesting they are (you may find yourself, or even myself, in there if you look hard enough...)

This collection draws heavily on Paul's employment history.  Not all of those are the most glamorous of jobs (except "poetry performer" — literally the most glamorous job there is...) and you might expect there's a degree of arduous toil, unsympathetic bosses, wearying drudgery to be expressed.  In this you'd be right, and these poems do reveal a world of quotidian working days.

However, also running through this are threads of razor-sharp observation, human warmth and humour which keep the collection alive and make reading through the 75-odd short poems a light and rewarding experience.

Let's start with:


some systems don’t work
so you have to do
a work around
when this becomes the system
I don’t know
my bus
takes a detour for roadworks
or accident
something tells me
this is not temporary

I love the sheer universality of the experience related here, I have encountered the same thing in fields as separated as software design and cafeteria queuing; my home town had a "temporary car park" for four decades; and I've even worked for major international corporation entirely devoted to working around the things it failed to address previously.

Also the skillful way everyday language is put to work to illustrate the general principle, but simultaneously narrate the concrete example, is typical of the poems here.  Another that demonstrates this point is:

The List

Their companion gone
old men stoop lower
with less in their basket,

try to recall her shopping list,
was it Robinson's marmalade,
or Hartley's lemonade?

Spam. No she never liked spam.
Never enough fat on bacon.
Yes, I need a receipt, young man

Which is touching, humorous, and heartbreaking in roughly equal measure.  People who do or don't need receipts are a recurring theme, almost a running joke throughout this collection.

These two poems are perhaps a little unusual in using a symbol as a metaphor for something larger.  More pieces are essentially biographical, in the sense of relating wonderfully observed moments and characters from the author's working life, take:

Two Lads

at my till. I put first lad's
goods through while second

says to his mate,
I'm gonna get a kitchen knife
and rip your twatting head off.


I'm gonna put it in shoebox
Set fire to it. Piss on the remains.


Do you want a receipt? I ask
the first lad.

There's the slyly comic receipt again :-) and also here is the acute observation of real everyday behaviour, skilfully juxtaposed against the mundanity of the till queue.

This is a fascinating collection.  The early copy I had was a little unevenly edited, but I hope that will be sorted out in the final edition.  The scenes from everyday life are compelling, and the understated humour and good will with which they are presented lifts them well above the mundane to a plane of their own.

The conflicts, insults and travails presented here are something to be accepted, but not surrendered to, and the ultimate message we take from this is one of optimism and — I said it before — good humour.

Lets just end with this:


One of two young girls with flushed cheeks
who buy cans of coke and energiser asks

Please can I buy a lotto scratch card, #7?
I ring for the manager as per rule.

He asks the girls for i.d.
No. I haven't. I'm eighteen.

We need to see your I.D. he says.
You're an embarrassment, one replies

How dare you embarrass me?
Both girls flounce out the shop.

Did you hear what she called me?
Says the manager, smiling ear to ear.

Please Take Change is published by  Cyberwit.

Paul's other books are available here.



Alternative Forms of Government
(an occasional series)

Number 4


Tony and Linda, you played your Joker but you haven't matched enough policies with the studio audience.  So you're The Opposition for this next round...

Sue and Doug, you got your legislation through Quickfire Questions, and you've banked a small majority which you can take with you when you go home this evening.  You're only two rounds away from a chance of forming a government in "Stuuuf the Chamber!"

Now, however, it's time to Spin the Issues!

(Jangly Music and flashing lights.  Enormous wheel slides in the the side.)

Bob!  What have we got on the wheel tonight?

[Voice over] Well Larry we have a minor scandal about administering healthcare, that's worth fifty votes; the usual tabloid noise about immigration and foreigners, that's only twenty; but Sue and Doug will be hoping to hit our Bonus Topic of a warmongering overseas leader who's invaded one of his neighbours!  There's a whole Two hundred votes hanging on that one!!

Thank you Bob.  Now, are you feeling lucky Doug, Sue?  Yes?  Well come on down and SPIN TO WIN!!!

While we are spinning for Susan and Douglas, let me remind the viewers at home that they can phone in their support.  
To support Sue and Doug, just dial 728-555-MAJORITY-1 and try to match get a row of three votes in the grid.  To support Tony and Linda, the opposition, dial 728-555-MAJORITY-2 and guess how next week's celebrities will fill-in the blanks in the proposed amendment.

After the break we'll see how Sue and Doug are doing, and whether they're likely to come back next week to play in the Second House!!!!


Making out with Proteus

I've not posted enough this year.

But I did post during NoPoWriMo and one of the poems was There's very much a multiverse - a casual, and probably acausal, dissection of life in a quantum multiverse.

Proteus is the eldest son of Poseidon; called the Old Man of the Sea, he is a shapeshifter.  He could also foretell the future, but hated to do so.  Probably because of the temporal turbulence that causes.  So, to make him do it you had to wrestle him and he would turn into horrible things...

In that poem I committed a sin of a type that used to annoy Douglas Adams so much that he created an improbable sperm whale as a way of getting back at us about it.  e.g. I created a character for the reader to care about, and then discarded them without explanation.

OK, I didn't kill her off, but I did leave her in a quantum superposition of pkissed = 0.5 and ppunched = 0.5.

I subsequently felt a bit bad about her situation.  I thought I should get her out of it.

She turned out bisexual in the process.  There's no social or political meaning behind that, it's just that in her world anybody can become anything, so what can you do...

Anyway, to quote Adams again: This is her tale...

Making out with Proteus

And when our lips meet, his face unfolds
not à la Hellraiser or Resident Evil
but more like topology, mathematical;
an object that, rotating, shows
where I thought it simple, I was wrong...

...it seems we're every one of us a world, cityscape, a throng,
a crowd scene filmed in Technicolor and
just as I think I have absorbed that one
there folds out of the multitude a female face.
So I kiss that too.

I'm taller and she tilts her head,
there's just a touch of breath across my lips,
before they brush on hers.  There is no rush,
but when I pull back, wanting to see her eyes,
she winks

and then her whole body unfolds.
And I half fall, and step, but now I'm walking
through her... him... them... the plurality
ambiguity meaning nothing, in this unplaced untime
and they are still unfolding all around

and I'm walking through their whole world now:
past a booth, where a bakelite telephone is ringing,
through faded dark green curtains onto
a late-night street with distant drunken singing,
towards the only open place: a coffee shop

and as I go I feel the ghosts of kisses,
punches, traffic accidents, hands on zips, caresses
the flash of lust,
or possibly tactical nukes,
the glass in front of me explodes

the world goes dark
and the spinning fragments form a field of stars
so vast and deep and hungry now I know
that this is perfect love for me
a warm heart-shaped infinity, not limited

to any single name, identity or gender,
not always tender, not even always undoomed,
but although infinities can come in different sizes,
my subset of the multiverse is precisely
the same size as the whole.  I can choose,

if I wish, only to live the lives
where I'm with this lover,
and infinity again, is still as large
after this dissection.
It is the working of affection

to compute the intersection
of every possible world where there's a you
with every world where there's a me
and love the result
and if I now take one more step,

I can kiss the stars.


Am 19.08.2014 um 10:15 schrieb Ian Badcoe

Am 19.08.2014 um 10:15 schrieb Ian Badcoe

So runs the text near the top of the first reply I ever got from Hallam London.  Mail clients set to different languages were to become a standard part of our communication.

He'd left a message, asking for a poet collaborator, on a UK poetry forum.  As little as six months later somebody noticed, and I realised he wouldn't still be around.  So, being a heavyweight cybernetician, I googled him, found him, found his music, listened, found a contact email...

...and that was how it all began. He'd recorded electronic interpretations of Shakespearean sonnets, I'd just written a dystopian ten sonnet sequence and we started communicating and attempting to work out what could be done.

Our first conversation was about working practices, forms, and subjects.  For the former I created our secret little blog "Indwellers" (boring, don't ask).  For the second he said he really wanted to explore the classic pop song format: verse, chorus, verse, chorus and somewhere a break.  For the last we didn't really set any hard rules.  We knew that gender would come up (Hallam being gay) and me being me I knew that some subversion of genres would come into it.  We didn't then know we both liked SciFi, and at the time David Bowie was still alive and we hadn't realised how much he meant to both of us.

Other topics were discussed and others just developed.  Hallam has a great love of cities and always wants to visit and explore a new one.  I (don't ask why, I have no idea) am always writing about people transforming into various things.  Mental health is a strong topic in our work.  And, of course, from the very beginning we always intended to have a few love songs.

And that was that, over 2 - 3 years I wrote 40 or 50 lyrics, Hallam turned about 20 of them into songs, then earlier this year Hallam and Dave Sanderson narrowed that down to 10 (PLUS To the Sky which we had already had mixed and mastered by The EmU) and started serious work on an album.

The running order will go roughly (links are to older or demo versions where those exist...)

  1. Walking to Alpha Centauri
  2. Identity
  3. Anger Bob
  4. Underpass
  5. Methodology of Love
  6. Hey Changeling
  7. The Rain in Certain Car Parks
  8. On End Times Boulevard
  9. To the Sky
  10. End of Days
  11. Empty Streets

When will this be in the shops?  I hear you ask...  well we don't know.  The next thing Hallam needs is a manager (labels don't do much beyond putting stuff up for download these days, but a manager arranges gigs, publicity etc etc...) so we need this unreleased album for bait in that search...

...but what thee hell?  It's been four years already.  We can be patient.  Can you?  Well you'll have to be.  We may put some of the other, unused songs out as demos now and then.  Wish us well, it's long road...


Cloud Crowd Found Sound - 3.0 - "Eratosthenes Round Unwaltz"

Another of these, and for the moment the last. However I am already thinking of a sequel where I'll ask people to send random English phrases for me to compose together...

This time I had the idea to start with waltz rhythm.  This did not survive contact with the enemy (I am my own worst enemy) as the three-part rhythm became too fast (for human legs) and so I ended up putting four of those together to make 12/8 time.

You'll be wondering about the title...

You're not?  Do you have no spirit of enquiry!?

The Sieve of Eratosthenes is a mathematical idea for finding prime numbers: you take all the numbers except one.  Two is your first prime, so you take that, then sieve out and discard from the rest everything divisible by two.  Three is your next surviving number, so that's prime, and now you discard everything remaining that's divisible by three.  Repeat until the infinite initial pile of numbers is gone.

This piece relates to that in that I created a phrase that repeats every bar (the numbers, if you like).  Then I added a second phrase that repeats every two bars (sieving the even numbers) and another that repeats every three bars, and so on...  This means that the phrases keep coming up in different combinations and revealing themselves in new lights...

And it is a round in as much as the different voices repeat themselves, albeit with different recurrences.

I did not go on forever, you will be pleased to hear :-)

Cast in alphabetical order of height:
Maud Cooper - Whisperphone

Simon Crowell - "Ba Da Daa"

Mary Crowell - "Beh!"

Angela van Son - "Schuft"


Cloud Crowd Found Sound - 2.0 - "Woy Oy Oy"

Another stab (with a blunt instrument) at one of these.

This time it took me longer to find a starting point that I could work from.  I decided I wanted to break the utterances down further into mostly syllables, or rather "phonemes" since we're spoken not written.

I did that and got some great sounds out of the voices, but after that I got jammed.  There were plenty of nice "melody" bits, and plenty of lovely percussive sounds, it was just that however I put the latter together it came out like somebody playing with a drum machine and failing to grasp the hotel room trashing aspect of rock and roll.

And so things stood for a few days...

And then I remembered my clarinet lessons.  A lot of clarinet music is "swing" (which means splitting each beat into 2/3 and 1/3 instead of two equal parts) and a lot of clarinet studies use cool time signatures...

So I tried 5/4 (swing) and behold...  the whole thing started to work...


Bo Meson - Solo human voice

Rosemary Badcoe - First percussive and "Daa"

Angela van Son - Second percussive, "Hey!" and freaky laughter

Milo van Eerd - Special effects

Shouted interruption appears by kind permission of Mark Hurdiss.


Cloud Crowd Found Sound - 1.0 - "Comfrew"

Here is a first take on a piece constructed from contributed nonsense utterances...

It was harder than I thought, not least because no two pieces of the gibberish I was given were in the same language.  Ah!  I hear you quibble (don't quibble, it is unappealing)  but gibberish by definition has no language.  Well that shows how much you know:
  • "Meringuephone" is clearly an English nonsense word.
  • "Svertlo" is clearly not.
I attempted to structure this as a classic pop song, with verses, choruses and a break, and also percussion, and accompaniment.

I didn't do too much clever manipulation of the voices, although I did shift pitch a couple of times to let them harmonise with themselves (intensely so in one small fragment but that didn't fit and is quite far in the background).  I also stretched the duration of the odd word to allow a slight hold at the ends of phrases.

I'm well fired up by this and if people send more I will do more.

Cast in order of appearance:

"KaKa Kaka" - Phoebe Boulton

"Folderton" - Mark Hurdiss

"Comfrew" - Thom Boulton

"Choitaak" - Rosemary Badcoe

"Muldarte" - Michael Acker

"Doolally Meringuephone" - Mike Cooper


Cloud Crowd Found Sound - Call for words

I so much enjoyed collaborating with nine other voices to make New Muses for a Post Human Age that I have been musing (so to speak) over what else I could do that would be similar but not too similar... and I have finally hit on this.

So what is the idea?  Well...  in music there is the idea of Voice as Instrument which gets away from singing words with meanings and instead treats the voice more like an infinitely flexible clarinet.

A striking example of such an approach is Karl Jenkins' Adiemus.  People think this is Latin: it is not, it is nonsense words constructed for no purpose except to sound right in the music.  If you wish, this is not "a song", it is a musical piece that uses the human voice as solo and harmonising instruments.

So the concept I have been toying with is similar, but changing relation between voice and poetry, rather than voice and music.  I'm intending to get a load of voice samples, and use them as rhythmic and sonic compositional elements without regard for the meaning.

Possibly this is more voice as percussion rather than instrument, except nothing like beatboxing because that would be deeply embarrassing.  Or possibly this is poetry stripped of meaning, the same way that an instrumental could be thought of a song stripped of words, but remaining an artwork.

Another idea you might like to consider is of mixing desk as instrument, or maybe multitrack recording as composition tool...

So what do I want?

Please send me a recording of your own voice speaking 5 or 10 nonsense words.

Please also send them written down so I can write out the "lyrics" if required.

Please consider your tone of voice when recording.  Choose a mood for your words: if you think you have angry words, use an angry voice; if they are small and frightened, think like a scared child while recording.  The more your words stand out in style, the more they will stand out in the finished work


Q. Should the words form a "sentence"?

A. Yes please!  The reason being I won't be able to build convincing sentences from individual words (without sounding like a terrible sat-nav) but I can somewhat split a sentence into single words.  However do whichever best suits your words...

Q. Can I swear?

A. If you think your made-up words are swearing and can put that in your voice, sure!  Bring it on.  (But please don't everyone do this, I need variety...)

Q. Will you use all the words you get?

A. No idea!  Depends how many I get and how the composition pans out.  Unless I get hundreds and hundreds, I will try to use at least one word from everybody who contributes.

Q. So there will be no meaningful words in this?

A. Not as an initial objective.  If I feel it cries out for some sentences added in places then I'll add them.  Those won't be the main point of the work, however...

Q. I have a horror of being made to sound like a mouse on Helium, will you be manipulating the voices?

A. Again I don't know.  I might adjust speed and obviously timing and repetition will be important.  I may add echoes and reverb.  If I do more than that it will probably be more subtle, such as adding a slight chorus behind your original voice.

Q. So what's in it for me?

A. No money.  Strictly limited fame.  Possible notoriety.  I will credit everyone whose voice I use and link some suitable website that you give me.

Q. I'm in!  How do I record myself.

A. Just use whatever phone or computer app you have around.  Try to avoid background noise.  Try to use a medium sized non-echoey room.

Q. I'm also in!  What format do you want?

A. Whatever you can create.

Q. Count me in too!  How do I send it?

A. If you are privileged to know my email, then that's good.

A. You can message me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/IanBadcoePoetry/

A. You can message me on Twitter: @IanBadcoe

A. You can record the message, forget about it, find it later, copy it to a USB key and then accidentally leave it in a bus shelter during a thunderstorm -- response time may be longer on this one...

A. If you use google drive or dropbox or something like that, then you can put the recording in there, share it,  and just send me the URL by one of these other methods.

Q. What will this piece be about?

A. Thraxty drevfel hemophrogous delanqui

A. Or possibly string.

Q. What does "FAQ" stand for?

A. Go back to the 90s and do them again.


Review: Pete Green's "Sheffield Almanac"

Review: Pete Green's "Sheffield Almanac"

is another poet that I know through Gorilla Poetry, like Amy they also use ungendered pronouns, although as I hope this review will demonstrate, they are distinctly different poets.

This book is a love poem/critique/poem-of-place set in, and concerning, Sheffield, which also happens to be where I live.

This pamphlet is not difficult to read, it flows easily across the eyes and mind, and those privileged to have heard Pete's voice will hear it again in these pages (which always adds a lot to printed poetry.)  If you have not heard Pete, hear them reading "The Pull", an older poem but with some shared themes.

However this pamphlet is quite difficult to review, for the purely practical reason that it is all one poem.

Usually for a review I will read the whole book, once or twice, and then focus in on those poems that strike me most.  This is something I cannot do here.  Although the poem is split into four sections (representing the four seasons, as Pete explains in this blog post), each is substantial and (borrowing Pete's word) "discursive".  Each section takes a broad topic and explores all round it.

I shall cover all sections with a quick survey and then zoom in for a more detailed look at one later.

[i] is the Autumn section exploring the city as a University town, the changing local economy, steel mills replaced by student accommodation, the influx of bright and shining new minds every autumn, the pubs and clubs and political activism, the contrast of student life now with when Pete was a student in Birmingham.  It begins:

The steel has gone.  Now brass is made in learning.
    The city's an amalgam
Of wide-eyed youth, old grit, industrial yearning
    For the pounding of the forges through the night
Echoed in techno beats as dancefloors tip anthemic
    Hangovers loom and lengthen, recovery stalls
And time and Sheffield's calendar grow largely academic.

[i] - page 7

[ii] is Winter and as you might imagine the bleakest section.  This focuses on the trades we all make when we choose to live in cities, air quality for economic prosperity, personal freedom for a regular wage; and the difficulties of Sheffield itself: snow bringing its roads to halt, the lack of anywhere for a decent-sized airport, and the major theme of how progress is a double-edged sword:

                                ...Both sides are missing
    The other side's point.  Two old couples
Round a table in the Fat Cat balance reminiscing
    About the pubs and the Sheffield lost to us now
With a sense that change has two sides to its cutting
    Edge, that each lament for Castle Market's fall (and
Annexation by the artists) needs rebutting
    With memories of the birdshit dropping from its ceiling.

[ii] - page 17

[iii] is the Spring section and extends the themes of changing employment and building redevelopment to consider the changing face of the city itself, buildings repurposed and rebuilt and filled with "kids ... in creative trades their granddads ... wouldn't've bloody dreamed of".  The impact of national politics, a touch upon xenophobia and immigration, before accelerating into the most upbeat conclusion so far.  But I'll leave that for you to discover for yourselves, and instead quote:

                                        A crowd of hundreds
Surrounds the town hall: amid a fine kerfuffle
    Of hashtags, placards, and impassioned speakers
And twenty thousand names on a petition
    To save the indie shops on Devonshire Green,
Councillors wave through their demolition
    And succession by another row of flats
To join the M1 cooling towers
    And the Jessop hospital's Edwardian wing
On the roll call of a Sheffield lost, and only ours
    By living on in a Sheffield of the mind,
Retained by citizens still somehow proud and quirky
    Still these humble hedonists,
Recession-hardened, implausibly perky,
    Adroit jugglers of tradition and modernity.

[iii] - page 25

—because that is a sentiment that sits very well with me.  I also work in a profession that my Grandfather could not imagine.

[iv] - the Summer section starts with the floods of 2007, and how they barely made the national news, before moving into accounts of various heroic, festive and humorous responses to the catastrophe.  Pete then takes a turn towards the personal returning to the time just after their arrival in Sheffield (in 2004) and the time Nottingham just before they left:

                    ...We wearied of the confrontation
    Below the midlands' car-park accents,
Service-station banter, how every conversation
    Led to traps and tripwires; how every public space
Was up for sale, how the corporate steamroller
    Blazoned across Birmingham's town hall
A stupefying, vast advert for Coca-Cola
    Whereas, on a trip to Sheffield
We took free refuge in the Winter Garden,
    Watched a cloudburst runnel down the glass;

[iv] - page 33

And I shall leave the overview here, as it already has more detail than I intended (but I couldn't skip quoting a bit from each section) and I haven't even mentioned the epigraphs...

I shall just focus briefly on my (current) favourite section, which is the first.  I think the themes here resonate more strongly for my personal prejudices.  Lets take an excerpt from one of the more personal sections (which I haven't really covered above).  This follows on from an earlier image of each year's new undergraduates arriving in Citroens:

                                        ...Love, you uprooted
    Twice, turned north to intertwine with me, and now
Out plotline may be knotted, convoluted,
    Worn down to an epilogue's lingering thread
But wean yourself away just for a minute,
    Witness this scene, these hopefuls with
Ironic lava lamps and possibilities, and tell me if within it
    You don't see us in 1992.
Today an anxious flicker on the grainy
    Screen of an sonographer, last week a mooch
Round Oslo, buying handmade baubles on a rainy
    Afternoon, a take-off into snow.  Flick back
Further through those chapters, through the scenes scattered
    Haphazard down the valley side like relinquished
Clothing on your bedroom floor, the weave more tattered
    Further back we go.

[i] - page 8

And I don't want to stop quoting, even there, but there is only so much I can practically copy out.  I really appreciate the sharing of little personal moments here; but also there's the craft, the strongly rhythmic phrasing such as "possibilities, and tell me if within it // You don't see us in 1992."  As I already mentioned, if you can hear that in Pete's own voice, it is even better.

Similarly the overt rhyme, pulling us forwards, but wound around with other sonic embellishments: "knotted" leading to "convoluted", and then "epilogue's", "hopefuls", "possibilities" and finally landing on "don't".

There is a great deal wonderful about this pamphlet.  At the outermost layer I love the nonpartisan approach.  Pete neither eulogises, nor condemns the city; but neither do they withhold judgement where required.  This is an important characteristic for approaching both poetry and life: nothing is 100% good, nothing is 100% bad, and only in recognising that can we get close to reality.

There is also the careful and skilled approach to form.  As Pete explains in the post linked above, variable length couplets allow a flexibility of flow, while the fixed rhyme scheme pulls us through strophes (only one per section) that could be daunting if less skillfully handled.

This is an excellent and rich work.  I barely touch on some of its themes here, and in reading and rereading for this review I found more every time I returned.  If you live in Sheffield then this may show you things you are missing.  If you do not live in Sheffield, read this and wonder why not.

Sheffield Almanac is available for £5 + pp from Longbarrow Press.


New Muses: forever inwords

I'd been meaning to post the words to these for some time, then I forgot...

...but now somebody asked, so here they are!

New Muses for a Post-Human Age


Call me Calliope. My steampunk look
left over from the fairground organ vibe...
It was a strange new way to be alive
encoded on punched cards, but I took that
and ran with it. I formally enlarged
my sphere of influence: from epic verse
—the quests of heroes... battles... kings and curses—
to something even worse, I'm NP-hard

computation. I am the patron saint
of any project where the work of brain
exceeds the work of muscle by a hundred
fold. I urge you on, through records numbered
in the billions. Always epic at heart,
the oldest muse, but now... state of the art.


Is Vanderella going to leave Stu?
I've the hot gossip, all the celeb sleaze
for you. It's me who helps sustain belief
that heroes have the hots for you; the muse
of fan-boys shipping couples whom the authors
did not dream were close. I love red carpet spite
and all the tiny dresses that the big nights
bring out to play. I love to see the other

starlets' partners start to drool. I am quite mean
(necessarily) with all your fanfic scene,
your flash/slash stories and most of your art
but also note I hold your private heart
up for the other otaku's gaze. Their praise
I offer you: we'll fan your secret blaze.


There's drugs and sex and then there's me, I've ditched
my flute and taken up the Stratocaster.
There's sex and drugs and ever faster, faster
on motorbikes. I am nobody's bitch
but I will ride you in a motel room
with both our earbuds plugged into the noise.
I offer leather jackets and other toys,
like pills and needles of straw-coloured doom—

my cultists are the twenty-seven club
and I tell you there is no greater love
and never any form of sadness sweeter
than for the young musician turned to meat
before their time. I'm loud, not sweet, not modest.
I am the one, the only, true rock goddess.


Erato here, you think there's nothing new
beneath the sun. You say you've fucked in all
the ways, by pairs and threes. You say you fall
for boys and girls and toys and ropes and screw
your parents and their weird ideas... but I'll
tell you that sex is of the mind, and gender's
in your pretty head. My gift to you is tender
feelings of all types, no need to justify

if they're for someone cute or for a self
made for yourself—personas off the shelf
or custom-built. I am the mirror for
your work-in-progress life of love and more.
You follow me with every stroke of brush
on image: perfect yourself; there is no rush.


My mask is no less tragic now I've swapped
the costume for the soberest of suits
and left the boarded stage so they can shoot
me here, behind the fancy desk. I've chopped
your world down into sound bite size. I prize
all moments of sick carnage I report
and human interest sobs. One time I thought
this a temporary gig, but no: I rise!

There's no end to your appetite for slaughter
or how you idolize the war reporter
who pulls his face into a sad expression
and flat-voiced says that on sober reflection
a civil war may not be altogether
the best thing for this place. And now the weather...


You want to switch your gender? I'm fine
to help with that. You want to swap your limbs?
That's cool. Steel can be sexier than skin—
if you do it right. You can take me as the sign
the universe don't need you in the form
that you were born in. Take it from me: human's
defined by what the human does and "super"
is an epithet you add yourself. So warm

the cockles of your cybernetic pump...
or maybe you need less? Perhaps just jumping
higher than the other guy, despite your lack
of legs. We can do this! Just put your back
and prosthetics into it. You'll get the cheers
and if not, you can always be reengineered.


Say what you will: I know the truth of you
and how you spin yourselves just makes me laugh
you say you are a moral man, pay half
your tax, are faithful to your wife—you screw
around only if out of town. I know
all those sharp edges on your soul, and grime
long ground into the fabric. All the time,
you skirt the crime tape round the portico;

the columns all look straight when you are just
a little off from centre and you must
therefore believe this is the place to stand;
believe you worked this out yourself. "Random"
is my critique of your fondest self beliefs,
but I love your lies, they are my light relief.


Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two...
and so on. This is my new song: music, spheres,
steel gantries pointing through the atmosphere
at the nearer of the spinning rocks. I see
more futures in the heavens now. The signs
of yesteryear and claiming to see clearly
through crystals or in fight of birds, they weary
me. Come worship, when orbits all align,

with rocket stacks of high explosive fuel.
Sweat in your launch capsule. Try to keep cool,
as mission control applies the match. Or probe
from a safe distance. Fire robots from your globe
up into my domain. While far stars shine,
new worshipers approach more distant shrines.


Loading data. I’m loading all your data
for I am Polyhymnia and all
your songs sound well to me. We'll have no walls
between the disciplines or their creators.
Come here. I'm what you see when you look across
the quad and through some other department's window.
I'm what you find if you stare from what you know
towards what you do not. My tracks crisscross

your landscape of epiphanies and wide-
eyed wonder-strikes. The days you stepped aside,
and saw the world was not the thing you knew,
were down to me. I love things, once untrue,
now obvious. The whole damn thing's my faith,
I say: embrace your inner polymath...


Immortal though the gods have always been,
they mostly now are gone. Eternity
went on and on and most lost heart. We now see
we always were the best. We were the queens
of continual creation, not just pulling
a universe out of a hat and taking
the afternoon off. Not blustering and faking
a lightning smite, but eternally fulfilling

a quota of electric inspiration
for every soul. We don’t control or ration,
we simply open floodgates of ideas
and drop you in the flow; but do not fear
we’ll hold your collective hand, live in your minds,
we are with you until the end of time.


Songs I wrote but Hallam wasn't inspired by (yet)

More workpieces from Hallam London and my factory floor. Completed lyrics waiting for musical inspiration this time.  There's about one of these for every piece that does have at least an idea for the music...
  • The Anithero - a man whose superpower is seeing other people's superpowers and who works quietly in the background to stop the wrong people from getting together and accidentally breaking the world...
  • Love/life - (probably in the American South, somewhere along the Mississippi) an old lady comes home after years away and meets the other old lady who she had a crush on when they were girls...
  • Health warning:

    I'm sure that in some former life
    you were a cigarette...

  • Close fiends

    ...and do I have to say that we're all monsters,
    for who amongst us has no darker needs?

  • Deeply flawed individuals - an attempt on my part to be somewhat 'darker' (after listening to Amanda Palmer all afternoon).  Not, I feel 100% successful, but possibly an area to come back to in other songs...
  • Persistent vegetative state - is it the patient or is it everybody else who won't wake up?
  • Quo vadis?

    You say to meet at seven in room eight
    but I am late and you have taken

    the numbers down from every single door.

  • Barbarella Aleph One - you go to see your ex, but she's locked up in an isolation hospital, having accidentally upgraded herself into something transcendental:
a mind
gone rich and strange and spinning fast enough
to take a careless hand right off

(I hadn't even seen Luc Besson's Lucy when I wrote this...)


Rock and Roll memories...

Hallam London playing along to our song "Hey Changeling!" in Dave Sanderson's home studio earlier today.


Ten lyrics I failed to write

(or did not succeed with yet...)

This is the first of what are going to be a few posts trying to give some insight into how the collaboration works, mainly for no reason except that it is a marvellous thing to do and I encourage everyone to keep their eye open at all times for any similar opportunity.  When it comes, go for it!

Hallam and I work in a shared online space where we store, edit and comment on songs in various degrees of completion—think of it as a big echoey, badly-lit space with the occasional flash of sparks and welding flicker in the distance.  Let me show you around...

Here at this end we start with the raw ideas and as we walk along beside the conveyor we're moving first towards completing the words, and then over here we see the music music getting bolted into place (although both remain subject to fine adjustments right up to the end.)  Only one song, To the Sky, was done in the reverse direction because Hallam had a fragment of music he did not know what to do with.  I had to wheel that one the whole length of the factory on a trolley...

So... scattered around you can see workpieces in several broad states of completion:
  1. fragments and ideas for lyrics
  2. completed lyrics without music
  3. lyrics with a musical idea
  4. songs, finished, apart from that awkward problem in the second chorus
  5. musical masterpieces
—and Hallam and I wonder around with welding torches, plectrums and a thesaurus, occasionally stopping to walloping one or other half finished song with a big hammer...

So here are some example snippets from items of type 1 - the fragments: in this list underlining is the title, italics is a fragment from the words, and (parenthesis) marks my ironical asides:

If I knew what you were thinking
(I'd totally write a song about it...)

At least one driver update failed...
All my letters are junk mail.

I shall build cloud castles,
a fortress on the storm-front.

(rhymes "tweet me" with "never need to meet me"...)

Only weep
Please do not point that thing at me

it's for protection I believe

why must I dress the children in ballistic mesh?

The uncrossed stars,
the untwisted plot
a comprehensive listing
of the many things you're not...

Don't make me do this the hard way
(although actually it is...)

This dream...
it seemed to have no ending...

(unlike the lyrics which so far failed to start.)

Trust issues
(which I can't bring myself to share with you.)

Silence, amnesia and doubt...
(I'd say more, but I'm not sure I remember where I was going with this...)



Hallam London (slightly dated photo...
I'll try to take some new ones)
Very excited and probably should have mentioned this earlier but time, time, time...

Today Hallam London arrives in Sheffield and tomorrow he starts work with Dave Sanderson on an album of the songs we've been writing for the last 3 and a half years.

Hallam is a German Alternative Rock Musician who posted a message on a UK poetry forum about 4 years ago.  Nobody noticed.  Then after six months, the message was found and I hunted him down online, studied his previous work, found an address, mailed him, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Hallam's previous music/poetry project was to set some of Shakespeare's sonnets to music.  This one seems the most suitable to mention and I loved those and still have them in my playlist to this day.

Dave is a Sheffield-based music producer.  You can see people he's worked with via the link above, Reverend and the Makers and 65 Days of Static were the two I had immediately recognised.

And I am me, and over the next ten days or so we (OK, mostly they, my day job gets in the way) are going to record/mix/produce some of the songs into an actual album.  It is entirely possible you'll see me selling it before too long.

Exciting days, I know nearly four years ago I said to watch this space, but...

...watch this space.  In the meantime, here are some demo tracks:


Girl, unaccompanied

I've tagged this with my LGBTQ tag, which I have created to collect together this important category of poems.  There aren't enough, of course, there will only be 9 with this one (and for some the connection is weak.)  As a heterosexual I still feel awkward writing about this...  but equally I have many friends for whom it is an important subject.

I recently asked Amy why a particular new work of theirs had such a gay slant and they said "just redressing the balance," so that's me told: I ought to do more.  I may have to take advice.

Romance is only one of two ways to read this poem.  The other is about being an outsider; about teaming up with another outsider to help take on the world.  However this interpretation can still circle back to the gay angle since growing up gay could be what makes the girl an outsider in the first place.

So the possibility that one or both of these girls is falling in love is entirely there.  I've not explicitly filled in their ages (but for reading Romeo and Juliet in drama they would be late teens I'd think.)  A gay, female friend did tell me that this is exactly how she felt about another girl back when they were are school...

...so I've given this the LGBTQ tag, and you can make up your own mind.

Girl, unaccompanied

Lately she's been singing out of key
and I found this a revelation.  In choir
on Thursday afternoons, she stands in front of me
and I lurk behind one perfect shoulder,
embedded in her faintest scent and try
not to be obvious.  Also

lately she's been dressing kind-of wild,
while I maintain my camouflage
of sweatshirts, jeans — only the beige ribbon
in my hair.  It's lately, I've been...
restless with my life, of writing my name
twelve coloured on the backs of books; but she

relentless in drama (it's Friday now) looks wry
reads Juliet as suicidal assassin and I
need to know if anything has changed.
So I meander in her spinning wake,
scuffing ash and torn pages
to find the smallest flowers still dancing

in the aftermath.  Latest is: she spoke to me
in maths, mocked obsessing on precision —
on getting it right every time.  We laughed
and I feel daft, but drift towards a strategy
where I'm the girl who can't keep the beat
and she's the girl who likes to sing off key.


Review: Amy Kinsman's "&"

Review: Amy Kinsman's "&"

Amy Kinsman
(from the back of the book)
Amy is one of the most interesting poets I know.  I have known them getting on for two years now and we meet almost precisely once a month as Amy hosts the popular Gorilla Poetry open mic, where I am also a regular.

Amy is genderfluid and uses gender-neutral pronouns.  They edit Riggwelter online journal of creative arts.  Amy also regards themself as both a performance and a written poet — a bifurcation I attempt to bridge myself...
Amy's book & (pronounced "Ampersand") won the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet prize in 2017.  Last week I attended its Sheffield launch and was reminded what a remarkable book it is.  There are seventeen poems in this pamphlet occupying 29 pages and ten of the pages are taken up by the two longest pieces: Iterations of self and it's like this.  There is plenty of good stuff elsewhere, but I am going to focus on these two, both because they're really good, and also because they are the ones that (for me) tell the strongest stories about the author.

In the first of these, iterations of self, Amy dissects their identity using "jonathan", an identical twin occupying the same body ("Jonathan" being the name Amy would have had if they had been assigned male at birth.)  Through the thirteen sections of this poem the characters "you", "jonathan" and "amy" iterate different approaches to their various identities.  Each section characterises a different theme to tell us something about the overall self: masculinity, femininity and hallucination are three examples, and the whole picture builds incrementally from these pieces as we proceed.  Let me quote two sections from quite early in the poem:

iii. self as electron

contemplate the light, its red and its violet. consider the theories postulated by quantum mechanics: perhaps there is only one particle in all places at once. conclude that you were made in the dark.

iv. self as repetition

at the kitchen table, your grandfather cuts a barbed spiral of identical paper girls. they push themselves up from the surface and arm in arm they go, singing amy, amy as they march eyelessly towards its edge. what to do with all these little girls? there are so many of you, heaps and heaps of you. your grandfather is calling you by your mother's name and you don't have the strength to correct him as you sweep the scraps into your hand and begin to devour them.

iterations of self

Amy kinsman

Here we see some of the scope of the dissection.  An electron of course is neither particle nor wave, and also (before its wave function collapses) neither here nor there.  Wave function collapse happens because of "observation" (scare quotes because after a century there is still no rigorous definition of this) and metaphorically observation cannot take place in the dark.  Therefore this persona, created in the dark, has an uncollapsed wave function; is simultaneously red and blue.

In the self as repetition we see the "cookie cutter" nature of traditional genders.  You look "girl" therefore you are girl, you should act in girllike ways, and the "eyeless" paper girls haven't even thought about it, and just took what they were given.  How awkward it must be to express a newly minted gender to a grandparent who hasn't the background to understand, and by extrapolation how strongly established (e.g. old) structures must reinforce these stereotypes.  In fact, in this section, the character has no strength for explaining yet again.

The final section of this poem, xiii. self as ampersand, I believe provides the collection's name.  Here, rather than simply assuming multiple selves can be pasted together, we instead see a need to disassemble some parts and reassemble into something different and new: if still flawed.  In software engineering we call this refactoring: transforming a functional system into a something different but still functional.  The closing phrase:

this time i want it enough. even the gods have built imperfectly, stumbling towards completion; look at us.

—is loaded with the hope and difficulty of this.

Amy jokingly sold this pamphlet to me with the brilliant advertisement: "it contains the long one about my sex life", and it's like this is that poem.  This also is structured as many numbered paragraphs, but in this case all entitled: "it's like this".  Many even commence with the identical words: "two of your lovers stand before you."  This is because each presents a number of actual or potential lovers.  Pairs, groups and types of lovers are contrasted, or presented in scenarios which highlight various relationships or attitudes.  Again the overall picture builds throughout the poem, let me quote two sections:

vi. it's like this:

two of your lovers stand before you. the one on the left is the first person you ever loved though you only know this in retrospect. the one on the right you only recently realised you are in love with. the winner is whoever's name is the first out of your mouth.  both of them are women with scrutinising gazes whose eyes glisten with mania through their curtains of dark hair. both of them lower their deep brassy voices.  somebody turns off the light. all of you are counting the seconds.

vii. it's like this:

you are having a threesome with two of your lovers, both of them men, both of them avoiding looking the other in the eye. one above, one below, the two of them are locked in a tug of war over the spine of your being. the pressure builds.  you cry out i don't bend like that, but they continue as if they have not heard.  your bones splinter at sacrum and coccyx. you snap in two. the winner is the one holding the larger part.

it's like this

Amy Kinsman

Amy is bisexual, so lovers with a range of genders appear.  More than this, every section returns to a question of who is the "winner", reflecting the poet's polyamory:  a monotony from continual questions such as "which of us do you really love?"  Thus only the poem's simplest level is about the poet's sex life (full of humanity as that is) and at deeper levels expresses the frustrations we all have (but the genderfluid, bisexual and/or polyamorous must feel more acutely) in the effort of explaining what we are to those around us.  This comes over most clearly in that the protagonist has difficulties with lovers (i.e. section vii above) but almost as many difficulties with other people reacting to lovers, for example:

the mother of the one on the left will say are you a lesbian with an honest indifference. the mother of the one on the right will say an english girl with an indifference which must be practiced. your mother will say are you sure you want to be with someone like that in a tone that reveals she likes neither of them. the winner is everyone's mother.

it's like this

Amy Kinsman

For me these two are the most important poems, and also my favourites...  There is much else here to attract the attention but I have already written twice as much on this excellent collection as I intended.  I will just briefly mention anton yelchin, which muses on his tragic accidental death, descent in which an anonymous character falls to Earth after a grand endeavor, and disappearance of the poet: the enjoyment of which I leave as an exercise for the reader.

it's like this ends as the poet takes off their laurel wreath.  I prefer to interpret this as tactical withdrawal and not a complete resignation from the fight.  It is important not to resign, we have to keep on fighting.

Amy Kinsman's & is available from Indigo Dreams at £6.00 + pp.


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Postscript...

Hi all,

Sorry I disappeared without a word before the end of NaPiWriMo.  The explanation is that I was just running a bit late, but still planning to do the last five days...  However life caught up with me and it never happened.  As a goodbye, I just want to post this which wasn't part of NaPoWriMo but which I created in the Nov/Dec/Jan just gone.  I'm rather proud of it and I hope it might encourage others to greater efforts in the areas of recording and audio editing their poems.

I entirely did this using the kindness of friends and freely available free tools, the total production costs were £0.00 ($0.00 at the current exchange rate...)  If anybody wants to discuss how it was done please contact me...

NaPoWriMo has, as ever, been glorious and thank you to all who created prompts, read poems, wrote poems, set up discussion groups etc etc and so on...

You are all stars!



New Muses for a Posthuman Age

(Original link with credits...)


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty-five - And should the unknowable come...

And should the unknowable come...
"These facts few psychologists will dispute, and their admitted truth must establish for all time the genuineness and dignity of the weirdly horrible tale as a literary form."

— H. P. Lovecraft
— Supernatural Horror in Literature

We've sealed off the whole street and pulled folks out
as best we can.  The isolation zone
is the red edge on this plan and note there are
just two corners of less than sixty degrees

which brings me to these: the cell phone shots from Smith
he got about a dozen off before...
well in fact we do not know what made him fall
silent but his phone continued to upload

from somewhere in there on the road... although
its GPS believes it's miles away
and out in space.  Look! the first corner:
a face behind that window?  But the eyes...

and, see?  Bare seconds later gone and here...
another one.  And we think this is the steps
at number four, according to the plans
they are supposed to go up just one floor

and to a door, not to whatever that is there.
The second corner.  It's darker here and the ground
does that look like frost to you?  Nearly twenty-two
centigrade here in the world outside.  Two bodies

lying there.  It may be Mr Wilson and
the WPC, no injuries
I wish he'd shown the faces, I mean I'm glad
he didn't but wish he had...  We're going round

the corner now and night seems to have come.
It was half past one in the afternoon.  Smith moves
much faster now, we don't know why.  And look
ahead.  Another corner, the third of two...

This the deepest he got in the zone—
Hang on!  I've got a call.  It's from Smith's phone...


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty-four - For girls who live

This is a Google Translate + Erasure poem left over from a course on Japanese subcultures that I did some years back.

Actually not pure "erasure" since I have edited the odd word and some punctuation...

For girls who live

For girls who live relationship
with others on-line, and who
are those "others" are?  Those who do not want

a relationship, and who do not want
to admit it? Of course, they are like most people,
and manga girls love in general
but heterosexual: a child of frustration.
This romantic animation,

usually installed in school,
known as the "theatre school",
has shown a significant trend in the 80s. In these stories,
the heroines of the same age,
based on the feelings do not make sense

for children as readers,
finally rewarded for their sincere feelings.
It is not difficult to imagine
that such a story resonates with many readers.
For example, from Chizuru Takahashi, published

in the "Cruise Gel" magazine Chukyo (1977) (4),
because the loss of a lover lover friend,
I do not like coffee Jerry, souvenirs
the manufacture of lost love.  And Ryoko
has a knot in his friend's beautiful,

he was drawn to his shoes to work
in a coffee shop. However,
he also likes his friends, he has imagined
lost accidentally love another.
When Ryoko is really like Ryoko show,

you will be able to eat coffee jelly again
[Figure 3] .


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty-three - Warning labels

Warning labels

May be acerbic.  May mock.  May experience
emotions not so easily described.  Grumpiness
can happen.  May want to help and get frustrated
when he cannot.  May mysteriously need
affection and although not ambitious, may
have a strange need to excel in everything,
without breaking sweat.  May guess your meaning
before you finish speaking.  May find the news
disturbing.  May find leaders unnerving
and likely think they all are jerks.  May conclude
that all of politics and media
are broken, beyond the wit of man to fix.
May look grim.  May mutter.  May slouch,
as if looking for something, along the gutter.

NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty-two - Hard-boiled calculus

Hard-boiled calculus

It seems the town is filled with dark and rain
as through the bleakest streets I drag my shoes
with little left to lose and less to gain.

It's ever and again always the same
the big guys always win while small fry lose.
The town, it seems is filled with dark and rain

behind the muscle hired to make things plain
by pounding all my muscles to one bruise--
so little left to lose and what's to gain?

But prowling through the streets seems little strain
and this is just the sort of place she'd choose
a darkened down-town bar out of the rain

but the question is should she be found again?
Her?  Maybe without the wig...  but I'm confused
that woman still has things to lose and gain

no reason to admit she once was "Jane..."
So  I'll finish my drink and point my shoes
back out into my town, the dark and rain;
my refuge from the maths of loss and gain.


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty-one - The unfinished businessman

The unfinished businessman

makes his money doing business in inverted commas
and the far-East, dealing with situations
and anyone too slow to pull away their hand
from his tanned but slightly all too greasing palm.
He has been rumoured to deal the odd card
from the bottom of his PowerPoint deck
although nothing can be proved

but pragmatism is our business
as he likes to explain
to raw and still a touch too ethical recruits
over sushi in some backstreet little place
where he will tip the waitress heavily
but also slap her arse
should the opportunity present

I've probably just made her rent
for the week
 he'll say
on the way back to the office
and this is essentially my point
that's the nature of the world:
some people work,
some people pay and now...

I need to have an informal chat
with the police commissioner see if you
can grab a bicycle rickshaw and I'll see you
back in the office but remember:
we need to be cunning, although... if anybody asks
it is "superior domain knowledge"
that gives us our edge.

NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day twenty - My scripted life

My scripted life

Hi! I am #GIRLNAME, you may not recall
but we met at that #EVENT and I
just love to share sweet pictures of myself.
Click here to see my naked #BODYPART.
I bet you know I am a phishing bot
but I would really love you with a fresh
cool breath of AI air, and as for flesh,
real girls just treat you bad... they're not as hot

as me.  Click here to give your bank details
(so unromantic but I've realised
I actually need cash to stay alive--
these servers don't come free) and I won't fail
to meet you anywhere you want to go,
that is... as long as it's an MMO.



  1. pronounce the "#" character, either "hash" (in the UK) or "pound" (in America)
  2. the formal name of "#" is "octothorn" (don't say that)
  3. computer 'markup' languages for generating script with, for example, the right addressee name in them, sometimes work by embedding variables inside the text, indicated by a special character, such as "#", "@" or "%"
  4. "MMO" is shorthand for "MMORPG" which in turn means "Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game" e.g. a place to meet other people and kill orcs...


NaPoWriMo - 2018 - Day nineteen - corner case theologies

corner case theologies

there is no rule that all gods must make sense
there's believing and there is belief don't ask
what does your god need what has she meant
is there overlap can you achieve the task
how many gods strictly are required don't count
upon your fingers you're just supposed to know
you wait your life for a sermon on the mount
and then four come along and they don't show

any sort of agreement the rule is that you choose
it for yourself and some might say you made
it from whole cloth and what have you to lose
if this should be the case we all will shade
into the grey and empty place one day
I don't expect a god to light the way