A working class hero is something to be

Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.

The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself! I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.

It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.

So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having  a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.


Download as a pdf here


Man With No Name – poetry V song


An authentic?( Adrian Slatcher )song that is a poem in disguise written in mid 1980s when I harboured ambitions to be the English Nick Cave 

The song ok the ambition a little over ambitious:-)

The war in question is the Falklands and the story true my step-grandad died of a heart attack in his pantry and the dog guarded him all day.

He could not read or write had looked after animals on the farm all his life.

He was not my true grandfather that another story…

I did a reading in Nottingham for John Harvey’s Slowdancer in 1992 and Nottingham radio did an interview.

They asked what the difference between poems and songs I said my songs rhyme my poems don’t…..



Man With No Name

You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chainlink fence blowing dandelions over the old grey sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you away from here now

Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun up, you feel cold
And you run for shelter, find your father with a halter, staring at the ground

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under the August sun
On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant broken by a farmer’s gun
And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun
Whilst all the berries we picked last summer turned blood red in the cup

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name

Well your stepdad fell in that kitchen and his dog sat and waited all day
Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away
So father and son two years later we stand in a graveyard in the rain
If I could lead you to the answer I would , If I knew it I wouldn’t say

Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name


Songs as Poems – Poems as Songs – Substitute already written?

Poem or Song or poetry by other means….????

‘Un-American Way’ 1999…

Did you hear the guns a rattling out on the Kentucky hills
As mud spattered up from your prison truck’s wheels
Did you smile every day as you washed the days away
Imprisoned for having nothing to say?*

Did you dream in an Un-American way?
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Is that the un-American way?

Now the Campsfield wire fences are rattling in the wind
And there are stranger’s faces pressed against the panes
What did they dream they’d find beyond the ghost of empire Were they dreaming of a world of American stars and bars

Did they dream in an Un-American way

Now the holy walls are dripping with the blood of men
As guns crackle like whips above their heads
And that prison truck is busy carrying away those who
Dream in


Following on the revelation of the Middle Class ‘Proper Poetry’ v Working Class ‘Performance Poetry’ stigmatisation.

I have looked at what I actually written over the past 40 years and an awful lot of my ‘poetry’ was sublimated or ‘hidden’ from my potential middle-class audience in ‘songwriting’ ….

So how appropriate that a book of ‘songs’ could be published with title ‘Substitute’…..perfect….


Here some potential ‘Pongs’ or ‘Songems’ 🙂


This a song from last year’s posthumous Trailer Star lost masterpiece Chalk Pit Rattle……
Buying Time…which appropriate in context of Kit de Waal s recent piece in The Guardian which prompted me to start writing again.

Maybe I will include songs in Substitute volume 😉 Songwriting is just poetry by other means for me 😉









Poem or Song? maybe I never really knew after all? Floor of Wood …..about the farm I grew up on.

Maybe these were performance poems all along just hiding in plain view 😉

If they are then I have several thousand poems waiting to be added to the collection:-)


This house was built of planks ten years after the war
I spent my childhood days watching the wind blowing the straw
As the sixties twisted away and the motorways came
I would stand at the window playing with toy cars in the rain

This time I’m really leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart under this floor of wood

Slate roof is full of holes, the walls are covered in rambling rose
Nothing lives here now but the ghosts
I push a broken door against broken plaster and ash
And watch the wind blow through windows all smashed

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart underneath this floor of wood

Since I was a boy England has drifted from fields to city
All these cornfields been turned to golf courses or light industry
Plaster crumbles and dusts my shoes just like chalk
I walk away, scratches on my arm, I try to close the door.

This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart buried under this floor of wood

© shaun belcher – horseshoe songs 1999


an Un-American way

Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain

*Dashiell Hammett

Substitute : New volume of poems 2018

Sometimes all it needs is a trigger and Kit de Waal’s excellent piece in the Guardian yesterday brought together a lot of things for me that been bubbling under the surface.

Her article ‘Make room for working-class writers‘ touched a nerve…..

read it here

Also she made a comment about how the Proper v Performance Poetry debate basically divides along class lines and that really rang true for me.

It is the reason I leapt to the defence of McNish and Tempest. Adrian Slatcher’s comments about the experience of being a working class writer also hit home.

In 2011 we were both published by SALT as Salt Modern Voices but throughout I felt an outsider at that particular party.

I was reading next to very affluent new poets from privileged backgrounds who frankly I had nothing in common with.

Most of the audience were from their background not mine and in a particularly depressing reading in Oxford I actually felt antagonism for raising my subject in their presence.

A mostly white female middle-class leftist audience did not like to hear about the destruction of the working class communities of Oxford which allowed them to enjoy their academic privileges.

Some inconvenient truths are not wanted even by allegedly left-leaning liberal elites.

Adrian’s very erudite piece on the subject here:

Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.

If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.

These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.

PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.

You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.

Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.

It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.

So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.

I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)


Sexism, Elitism or old fashioned Class War? : How poetry builds barriers to protect middle class dominance.

Sisters are doing it for themselves?

A recent piece of ‘criticism’ in PN Review by Rebecca Watts has caused a storm of controversy apparently.

PNR is an adjunct to the long established and firmly modernist Carcanet Press which has long been one of the jewels in Arts Council funded poetry publishing in the UK alongside Ambit and Bloodaxe.

Read for ‘ACE funded’…’not commercial’ i.e. it can operate in an elitist way because it bankrolled….

I not criticising that in particular but this important in the context of the debate that Rebecca Watts started.

Her piece proudly available via front page of the PN website would not be available if PN Review had to stand on its own two feet.

Now Ms Watts is a poet and obviously a ‘proper poet’ by her tone and scathing attack on the three women poets as amateur and sentimental slush basically and worse their work sold by the bucketfull..

Ms Watts poetry with the title ‘The Met Office Advises Caution’ (published by you guessed it Carcanet) will have sold less..a lot less in fact it would not exist but for subsidy….

Her article opens with Rupi Kaur a Canadian poet of little depth but much exposure who has no connection to the other two poets. She is the foundation on which Watts builds her shaky theory….she uses the frankly awful Kaur to tar the other poets with the same brush. This is her prejudice over-riding any attempt at a coherent piece of criticism. Kaur is also of Punjabi descent….but let us not let race distort the picture too much. She is primarily chosen as an example of ‘popular poetry’.

To be popular in Watts world is naturally to be below par…in a upstairs downstairs kind of way…..beyond the pale..our language is full of class references…we are good at it..we built an empire on it.

Poetry builds its own little empires too…empires that discriminate and exclude.

Rebecca Watts is a middle class white girl from Suffolk further details on her website so I presume not a sink estate in Lowestoft…before attending Trinity College Cambridge in 2001 after fees introduced so fairly well off from the get go oh and then on to an MA at Oxford which takes a lot more money…buying her way into the system basically.

I worked as a ‘minion’ in Oxford University and know her type all too well.

With her impeccable university education she is a natural elitist come to protect the British Literary world from ..dumbing down..amateurish writing and worse musical crossovers…

In Michael Schmidt’s Parthenon of white middle class writing……she found a home…

So given a platform she launched this tirade against what exactly? Many hit back for its incipient sexism but that isn’t its real subject…it is about CLASS

If a man had written this piece he would be hung drawn and quartered for sexism and possibly racism.. Watts gender saved her although it frankly is sexist..why not include male writers?

No this is about a far deeper and more troubling fault line in British publishing..CLASS

McNish and Tempest are outward-looking and experimental especially crossing over with musical forms because they are not from the middle class they both are from lower down the social ladder..too low for poor Watts. At the bottom of the ladder people can enjoy more than one art form…

Elitism, white middle-class elitism is about ring-fencing resources in troubled times so that people who look and speak like you are kept above the breadline and people who don’t are let slip into poverty and obscurity. It mirrors society in Britain now where those lucky enough to gain a degree and climb the greasy pole to a non menial job can be served ( left or right wing no matter) by those who born to servitude. It not a new phenomenon the Victorians invented it.

Rebecca ( how many working class women called Rebecca?) is maintaining her privileged position and bolstering her place in the great and the good and she is doing it through a thoroughly classist viewpoint. What she really saying here is these two women McNish and Tempest do not deserve their audience, do not deserve to be read because they are not from the elite. She is deserving of attention because she is from that elite she is ‘PROPER POETRY’ everything else is ‘PERFORMANCE POETRY’ which is shit..



Performance Poets who won Mercury awards and Ted Hughes prizes…..who reference Shakespeare..but still not PROPER POETRY.

Performers with a larger audience through music and generally performers who are successful in their own right. Un-subsidised.

They have appealed to a huge audience Watts will never reach however good her poetry technically because she is not interested in the wider audience she obsessed with the narrowing down of culture.

Watts has proudly listed all her performances on her website ..they all in Oxford and Cambridge they all to people like her..ring-fencing culture..keeping it behind the college walls..keeping it safe..

For that reason I can honestly say I will never read her work but I will investigate Tempest and McNish because they interest me.

So thank you Watts your pathetic snobbery has opened my eyes to how there is a class war opening up in British Literature and I now know exactly which side of the barricades I on….

Oh and p.s. I write poetry you would hate..and I play music……I am obviously a NOBLE AMATEUR….and you my dear are a snob.


Oh and funniest moment in Watts frankly awful diatribe is where she compares Kaur and co’s populism to Donald Trump….


A white middle class elitist comparing a Punjabi immigrant girl to Trump…..just think about that for one second……

The comparison should have been Watts and Trump both say too much and think too little.

As for PN Review…..I will not be subscribing or submitting any time soon..wrong side of the barricade darlinks .

Edwin Smith revisited – Catching Light

Back in October 2014 (now three years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.

I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.

I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!

The RIBA website has ‘mislaid’ the entire project basically  so I publishing whole thing here instead.

Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.

Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well..again not heard much of that from RIBA either they probably ticking various ‘engagement’ boxes.

Listen to all the poems here:

I am indebted to Roy Hammans who actually developed the last image after Smith’s death who provided informative advice throughout and is probably the single most knowledgeable person about Smith and his work.

EDWIN SMITH – Catching Light

“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”― Christopher IsherwoodGoodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)



  1. Kodak Box Brownie No.2 Model F. 127 Roll Film 1927


Camden Town Bedroom 1935



Trembling in a gloomy Camden Town bedroom surrounded by brown paper

The teenage boy gently prises the camera from the leather case, undoes the catch

Traces the word BROWNIE[i] along the fake leather strap, caresses the box

The textured cardboard leatherette warm to the touch, he raises it to his eyes

Spins around to catch a glimpse of lace curtains breathing in and out

Then a pause, stops breathing, squints through spectacle glass and a blurry lens

No film, just retina, lens and glass glinting, quiet suburban air between the wars

Shutter pressed, the first image, undeveloped, untaken, unrecorded.










  1. ICA IDEAL 205 Glass Plate 9×12 1935



Opticians London 1935




A present from Marx and Nash[ii], same fake black leather case but much stronger

A hint of steel, hands now more relaxed, a world at his fingertips

The box finally clicks open, bellows a tiny lung, rangefinder, spirit level

Suddenly in Vogue, a London Atget spinning around fairs, cafes, Oxford Street

Zeiss Ikon Tessar 135mm f4.5 precision German lens and Compur shutter
The shop windows buzz with reflections, his spectacles stare back after

Nights spent in Lund Humphries[iii] experimenting with solutions, final prints

Days mixing it with emigrants and socialites, Focal Press tricks, ghost images.[iv]









  1. CONTAX II 5cm Sonnar Lens 35mm 1936


Kentish Town 1936

N.B. The curators got this wrong is in fact in East End probably Limehouse or Whitechapel as the Poster behind the gent is for a show at Hackney Wick and architecturally Kentish Town simply doesn’t match this setting.



Modernism in Kentish Town, a lens named after the sun, Sonnar

The lure of speed, futurism, the 35mm film spooling out of the movies

Twisting on that light yellow filter, ½ a second at F4, the march of progress

Back to black-outs, air-raid fears, black shirts, Agfa Isochrom, Kodak Nikko

The thrill of a world intoxicated with power[v], dancing on a ledge, never falling

Café de Paris, Heppenstall, Orwell, men talking in gangs carrying knives

His finger presses the shutter on Laura Knight and Coco, the ballet, the fairs

Spin Pennies from Heaven, Zeppelins over the docks[vi], Germany calling.





  1. THORNTON-PICKARD RUBY Quarter Plate 1904


St Lawrence, Bradford –on-Avon, Wiltshire 1950


Post-War, Deep England after Evans[vii], ash in the mouth, misericord darkness,

Light trickle slowly through lens, cat-one, cat-two, cat-three, whispered

People have become ghosts, 27 and a half minutes[viii], divining, digging into time

A mahogany box worn to a gleam in a suitcase, mahogany tripod, Leeds, England

So solid, a step back from the sirens, modernist black and white, the emblems

Slow drizzle and fade, tilts into spires and thickets, empty barns, rigs of the time

His glinting spectacles at the viewfinder, crouching like a sniper, waiting

Hiding his camera under vestry tables, a quiet man in a corner, hooded.





Fylindales, Yorkshire 1969



Movement, travel, portables, Made in New York, focal plane, press camera

The fruits of success, lease-lend to never had it so good, the wide angle

The New Europe, Ireland, Italy, Greece and France, the Ensign Autorange

Searching for the same mellow light, that photograph in the mind always

Then back weeks later to the darkroom in deepest England, the bleaching
Hours lightening shadows, clearing highlights with Potassium Ferricyanide,[ix] poison

Chemical arts, sleights of hand, shade in the palm of the hand, fission and fusion

His collecting eye adding the coin to the wishing well, staring at the sun.[x]









  1. ENSIGN AUTORANGE 820 120 roll film 1955


Stubble Burning – Last film developed 1993 by Roy Hammans



‘Co-operating with the Inevitable’ he called it, “bend with the stream”

Holding the Ensign Autorange up to the light it reflects in his spectacles

Bought in 1955 the last camera he held, English made, Walthamstow

The firm almost disappeared when in 1940 the offices in Holborn bombed

All surviving he stands with Olive to watch stubble burning in 1971

Squinting through a crisp and sharp Ross Xpres lens at the flaring

Feeling the silver body in the palm, the faux leather Ensign logo

Epsilon shutter pressed, a last image, taken, undeveloped, catches light forever.[xi]


© Shaun Belcher 2014


[i] Edwin Smith redeemed the Kodak Box Brownie by collecting Corn-Flake packet coupons probably in 1927  (EWELL, 2008)p.11.

[ii] Friend Enid Marx gave Edwin Smith a ‘better camera’ in 1935 shortly after he got married Olive Smith reports this as the Contax but as Ewell points out that not released until 1936. (EWELL, 2008)p.13.

[iii] Enid Marx was connected to The Royal College and Smith’s photographs came to the attention of Paul Nash who encouraged Smith and gave him access to the darkrooms at the publisher Lund Humphries. (EWELL, 2008)

[iv] Smith co-wrote and published a series of Focal Press guides from 1938-1940.(SMITH, 1940)

[v] Ewell reports the trip Smith made with his sponsor Sir Albert Talbot Wilson MP, a fervent pro-Nazi, to Germany at this time. (EWELL, 2008)p.19.

[vi] The German airship Graf Zeppelin made ‘spying’ raids probably equipped with aerial photography equipment of a high resolution on the 30th June 1936 and this was reported in Hansard on the 8th July 1936. The Parliamentary exchange highlights the naivety of some in Government which bordered on complicity. (Hansard, 1936)

[vii] Frederick H. Evans, British ‘Pictorialist’ photographer famous for the ‘Sea of Steps’ photograph taken in Wells Cathedral which Smith took a version of in 1956. A major influence on the Cathedral and Parish Church series.

[viii] Smith would time exposures using the cat phrase and replace the lens cap on exposures that could last up to 27 minutes thus removing all trace of human activity. (EWELL, 2008)p.52.

[ix] Smith mixed his own chemicals. After his death a large amount of Potassium Ferricyanide was found in his possession. The chemical is a poison and the Ilford Manual of Photography recommends disposing in drains with plenty of water to reduce the risk. Source: Roy Hammans note to article ‘Ways of Working’ on The Weeping Ash photography website. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)

[x] The Edwin Smith RIBA exhibition highlights the ‘trick’ Smith used during the Fylindales printing of placing a coin on the paper to ‘create’an image of the sun where none had been.

[xi] The circumstances of this last roll of film being left in Smith’s camera and only being developed years later are detailed on the Weeping Ash website. Source: ‘The Last Exposures’. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)





EWELL, R., 2008. Evocations of Place. 1st ed. London: Merrell:RIBA.

HAMMANS, R., 2011. Edwin Smith Working Methods. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

HAMMANS, R., 2011. The Last Exposures. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

Hansard, 1936. GERMAN AIRSHIP “HINDENBURG.”. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 31 10 2014].

SMITH, E., 1940. In: All the Photo-Tricks. London: Focal Press.



Blurred Fences – unpublished poem 1995 -‘Gay or Dead?’

A Christmas Poem in November?

I wrote this poem in 1995 and had omitted the key line about poets for fear of offending my father.

Now he has been gone 13 years so probably safe to reveal what the poem about.

After my father died in 2004 my mother confided to me that he had always ‘feared I was gay’ even when I spent seven years living with a Spanish woman…..such is the rural Oxfordshire psyche I suppose. Anyway here the finally rewritten (a couple of lines) poem about the trials of being a Berkshire Ruralist:-)


Wrestling with a young fir’s stubborn trunk

On an exposed north-facing hillside

Two weeks before Christmas, sleet, wind biting,

The spires of Oxford blurring in the storm


My father’s hands, hard, chapped, red-raw

Bend the tree over until the roots snap.

The red-faced farmer stands, biding his time

Then says ‘Poet is he.. they’re all gay or dead’


Silent we trudge back through rows of young firs

Past a tethered collie, collapsing tin sheds.

At the end of a gravel road worn to clay

We clamber inside my dad’s builder’s truck


In the cab, steamy with opened flasks

Radio Oxford blaring out the traffic report

He carefully shakes ice off his jacket

As I scrape frozen mud off my boots


Visiting for the day, not dressed for fields

My Levis are slaked with straw and muck.

He sets the windscreen wipers beating

And a ledge of ice builds up on the hood then melts.


Distances open up and close through low cloud

As cooling-tower steam collapses like a veil over our home-town

The Down-land swims like a saucer of cat’s milk in the rain

As I try and grip a hot mug of tea with cold hands.


Still silent my father sips his tea and stares

through the pine trees and away from the farm.

I feel awkward, pick at the flakes of ice on my sleeve

As the motor turns and we lurch down the track.


He has ten years more hard labour to do.

Excavating then replacing soil across this county.

I have ten years of unfulfilled promises and high hopes to go.

Before I crash back into these muddy fields and the land buries him.


Dedicated to Ivo Belcher 1932-2004 and the un-named Fat Farmer with the conservative views 🙂

Southern Writers at NC 1: Flannery O’Connor’s Visual Imagination

The self-portrait and the state official version..

The first session in Nottingham Contemporary’s season of Southern Writers organised by Graham Caveney was excellent and not only was it a pleasure listening to Richard H. King speak about Southern Writing but there was the added pleasure of meeting the crime novelist John Harvey and his daughter too (John was a American Studies student on M.A. back in the day as they say).

I did not know Flannery O’Connor’s work although I had purchased her Complete Short Stories many years had languished on my very full and very unread shelves.

The session was a revelation and I have since been working my way through her ‘Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose’ collection which is wonderful. I always knew that one of my favourite writers Raymond Carver had referenced her as a major influence but it only now I seeing why. Her observations on ‘Creative Writing’ courses and their effectiveness made me laugh out loud (see her lecture ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’) ….she speaks of what she knows having been an early Iowa Writers Workshop student where she met John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren.

Here her major works in contemporary covers which shows how she was an illustrator’s dream commission… which leads on to yet another revelation..she was herself a budding cartoonist whilst at College!


The Signature below combines her initials into the form of a bird on her lino-cuts (her chosen medium).



Flannery O’Connor, Cartoonist



Here some examples and what interesting is there is some stylistic similarity with another Catholic writer/artist Eric Gill possibly somebody she familiar with through Catholic journals. There also a sense of W Heath Robinson too….who possibly she saw as a child..

My favourite photo is this one of her on the veranda at her family farm in Andalusia with one of her beloved chickens ( a interesting connection with fellow Southern writer Alice Walker)

There an interesting blog published by the Museum that the farm has now become:


Source Wikipedia!

When she was six, living in a house still standing (now preserved as the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home), she experienced her first brush with celebrity status. The Pathé News people filmed “Little Mary O’Connor” with her trained chicken[3] and showed the film around the country. She said: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”[4]

What I have responded most strongly to in her writing so far is the confluence of regional identity..humour and this particularly visuality which I shown above.

John Huston’s film of Wise Blood seems embedded with Flannery’s visuality which may be why it seems so sharply drawn from the ‘directions’ in the text. We ‘see’ her world very sharply through her pen in an almost Dickensian sense…I have not read any criticism linking the two but I sure she would have been familiar with Dickens especially ‘American Notes’.

Here the trailer of the 1979 film….welcome to Milledgeville 🙂


Finally a modern comic version of ‘A Good Man’ that brings things full circle – image copyright Philip Rex Huddlestone

I will post my reaction to the second session ‘Alice Walker’ by Sharon Monteith now at Nottingham Trent University in due course.

Back to the Future: Off the leash or fishing for words?

My favourite Carver photo on Russian River 1972

As I mentioned in last post the last three years have been difficult…that an understatement. After my Fine Art M.A. I tried to disengage with art school research and politics and reset my compass entirely to reconnect with my writing past.

I was lucky enough to be published by Salt in 2010 but the majority of the poems in that slim volume (now OOP) were poems I had written in my exciting debut back in 1992 and through my Scottish phase up until 1996.

Between 1997 and 2007 my output slowed from a drip to nothing but in my head I was still writing.

Last Farmer – Salt Publication (Selected 1992-2010)


This culminated in a brief and not entirely fruitful term on the NTU Creative Writing course which I left after a miserable first term..I simply wasn’t ready to break the art school connection then. I can now see that this was the start of three years of depression which I now can at least recognise and treat.

I failed the first assignment as I was struggling to complete my first ever paid poetry commission for RIBA…..
I managed to complete that but the course suffered……

That essay tried to lay the ghost of my possible grandfather (see Coppard essay below) and I was gone…

With a final diva-like flourish I delivered the Fiction module short story…..I was too good for them I convinced myself burying the mental block once again..

David Belbin (standing in for the recently deceased Graham Joyce) was kind and marked it rigorously with his editors pencil and announced it a good ‘tough’ story which made me smile as I deliberately imitated the hard-boiled approach and dirty realism we both admired and played up to his stylistic tics. I put the story away in a draw until today..metaphorically it available online all the time here….

I think it good now I re-read it after nearly three years. I was going to change the detail of letting off the leash which I now know you can never do with a ex racing greyhound but the story still works because it suggests the woman and dog have a trust beyond its training and it could be read as the man provokes the running away….so I have not re-edited at all.


My First Short Story

Little did I know that far from opening the floodgates of a irrepressible new fiction talent it was closing the door….since then I have struggled to ward off depression whilst dealing with circumstances of a personal nature that to be frank almost overwhelming.

But I have come through and part of my dealing with the mental block, the lack of an occupation ( I resigned from academic lecturing in January 2016) and my wife’s concurrent illness has meant that I now ‘re-engaging’ with the writing world.

Last night I had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by academic Richard H. King on Flannery O’Connor where I met again John Harvey himself ( the person who published my very first poem way back in 1992 in Slowdancer thus starting my literary ‘non-career’ ) and Graham Caveney who has taken a similarly circuitous route back to writing as me and shares a love of obscure musical knowledge and the band The Feelies 🙂

It feels like everything has come full circle…maybe just maybe this time I can keep going but as I known to my cost it never easy.

As Carver writes in a wonderful essay on writing here …

A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

Ambition and a little luck are good things for a writer to have going for him.

Too much ambition and bad luck, or no luck at all, can be killing.

There has to be talent.

Second Hand Poet: A Personal Record

The past three years have been very difficult.

I was awarded an M.A. in Fine Art in January 2014.

I then embarked on a misguided and ultimately fruitless attempt to do a second M.A. in Creative Writing at NTU in October 2015 as a possible precursor to PhD study.

This didn’t work out and was followed by my eventual resignation from my academic post at NTU in December 2015. There were a range of factors which led to my leaving including my wife’s condition and eventual life-threatening illness in October 2016, my own frustration at being treated badly by in my opinion an incompetent and bullying head of art research and finally the destruction of my teaching on the multimedia course for political reasons which became apparent when NTU purchased Confetti later.

Also there was my own undiagnosed depression which I did not realise at the time was affecting me quite badly. I can only now begin to talk about this because of counselling and I think it highly likely I suffered some form of breakdown when attempting to return to work to teach animation studies..something I care less about now than I did then and frankly had little interest in then.

It has been a very rough period but with help I and my wife are now starting to see some daylight. We have both been through a decade of family illness and death which took away both my parents and her sister and father…not easy to deal with when in the best of health..almost impossible when under severe pressure anyway.

I now appreciate the strain and upset mental illness can cause on any relationship….that I still have one at the moment is down to counselling and my wife is getting better…..neither has been a given these past three years.

I also have begun to understand the mental blocks that affected my entire wellbeing and especially my creative practice.

I am writing this because I now feel able to. Talking about it has helped and I also beginning to plan new ventures and possibly still courses including that wretched PhD that has caused me so much grief. But on my terms.

To begin  with I am using the habit of going to second hand shops as a generator of new poems under the title ‘Second Hand Poems’. I love charity shops because of the random nature of what turns up like this memoir of D.H.Lawrence’s early years which an appropriate starting point as I live close to Private Road where Lawrence met Frieda …he would have walked up Mansfield Road to get there.

As I discover odd things..books, records even objects I will write poems to celebrate them….a bit like me…

Second Hand Poems from a Second Hand Poet…worn at edges..slightly foxed but maybe still valuable 🙂




Contemporary American Poetry – 55 years on

Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I  had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college. It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney as contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.

I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.

The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today.  For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…

Here the  2nd edition.

Burning Books – Horseshoe Press Pamphlet #2

I have added two poems from the mini-pamphlet to a new revised edition of ‘Buying Time – Poems 2016’.

It now entitled ‘Burning Books’ Poems 2016-17 and is available via ScribD below and via the Horseshoe Press website

As the blurb said in 2016…and I have no reason to change in fact things seem to have got worse ;-(

Burning Books – Shaun Belcher Poems 2016 – 2017
Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2
Burning Books is a baker’s dozen plus of poems and a short story.
Contains the flagrant deracination of a mind made febrile by compromise now lashing out at this lotteryland disunited kingdom as it drifts into barbarity, euro scepticism and outright zenophobia…
An apt rejoinder to the post Brexit daze of summer…
The cover photo is Burning Beatles Records USA 1960s… apt symbol of present priorities.
We are all burning books and buying time these days….
Copyright: © All Rights Reserved
Download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd

Burning Books: Horseshoe Press Mini Pamphlet No.1

The Horseshoe Press

is my self-publishing of poetry website.

The latest ‘Mini Pamphlet’ is ‘Burning Books’ published to coincide with Theresa May’s attempt to drive this country even further to the right….

Eight poems about politics, books and poetry to be given away free at the Jermy and Westerman reading on Wednesday 26th of April.


The Ltd. Ed. of 25 was given away at the reading so that’s it no more. In the tradition of pamphleteers of the 18th century..subversive and gone…..

POP: Poems on Prescription @ Doctors Orders

With a week to go until the open mic reading we have 43 poems on the Doctor’s Orders ‘Poems on Prescription’ wall.

Further details on Facebook Page

Poems on Prescription
Contribute to the Poetry Wall for Nottingham Poetry Festival at Doctor’s Orders Micropub. Write a poem, any subject you wish (within reason), and have it displayed in the pub!. To submit your Odes, Haikus and Epic poems (short ones) go to the Facebook Page and send a private message, or email
Submit ASAP, the wall is live now, and will stay up until 30th April.


Readings will take place on Monday 24th April 5-7pm.



Poetry Reading at Jermy and Westerman for Nottingham Poetry Festival

Reading with one of my favourite poets at my favourite bookshop Jermy and Westerman on Mansfield Road as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival in April.


Towns on Shallow Hills – Horseshoe Press No.1 1990



In 1990 I had a short temporary job at The Poetry Library in London. Whilst there I was inspired to both continue writing poetry and met some wonderful individuals like Ivor Cutler and Michael Donaghy (over the counter). I also met some arses but such is poetry. The job was very menial and weekend cover. I lasted six months then cracked as travelling all weekend from Didcot not an option. Here a pamphlet I ‘re-directed’ the photocopier at the South Bank to produce.

I sold 25 copies.

I also used illustrations in the booklet for the first and last time.

The poems stand up despite the passage of time. The Carver influence still there but I also started looking at Paul Strand, Edwin Muir, Scottish Poetry in general….this pre move to Edinburgh. I also fortunate to meet and hear read C.K.Williams, Tess Gallagher and others whilst at South Bank….they were reading for Maura Dooley in Voice box. Jo Shapcott and Lavinia Greenlaw also worked there but I was pretty much ignored as ‘downstairs’ staff…

The poem The Ice Horses became the Shore Poets anthology title in 1996.

Read The Ice Horses





Diesel on Gravel – The Berkshire Raymond Carver? 1985-1990


Poems written in London and Oxfordshire. Published in early 1990s in Last Gasp pamphlets. Last Gasp was a poetry open mic I helped run with poets Giles Goodland and Bridget Kursheed in Oxford.

From 1986 I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and especially his book FIRES.  Indeed I attended his memorial readings event in London and saw Edmund White, Richard Ford and Salman Rushdie read in his honour.

I think this volume is the ‘lost volume’ as I was living at home in Didcot and totally cut off from literary world from 1988 until 1990.

I did do some readings through the Last Gasp group until I moved to Edinburgh in 1993.

None of these poems have been seen apart from in these hand made pamphlets.

2016 - 1 (1)

This was the volume which would ‘break me’ I thought the world was my oyster…..I would outwrite Simon Armitage…

Well hindsight is a wonderful thing I am unemployed and he is Oxford Professor of Poetry..

I read with him in Reading in 1990..he was arguing with the arts officer over money..he a little more pushy than me.

I was unemployed and dressed like Yeats and hadn’t got a clue that it was a poetry ‘business’ …

BUT I could write…fuck lot of good it did me…..

But this was all done off my own back..   no University Department objectives to tick box influential friends..nothing but words..and in the end words is all there is….

Its as good as it gets maybe one day I get some recognition for all this but I wouldn’t bet on it…..

Ironically I got recognition in Scotland……should have stayed there but that another story and the next volume ..Landmine…

Och Aye…

Style note all hand written then typed on my mother’s old typewriter.

The last few pages of the document as pdf have originals and some uncollected poems.

The blue pen and line through a poem are from Giles Goodland when selecting for a pamphlet…I did not have second copies as everything had to be typed by hand …so here it is..

Diesel on Gravel…..1990

  Diesel on Gravel – Poems 1985-1990 by Shaun Belcher on Scribd

The Tithe Machine – Poems 1981-1985


titheM newcountry


My first poems from 1981-1985 after art college. Some were published in the first volume of a’The New Magazine’ then just started by Gerard Woodward who  went on to be a well known poet and novelist.
Unsure of my writing I used the  ‘David Bell’ alter ego.

32 poems including the sequence ‘The New Country’ from 1985.

1981-5 never shown these to anyone since. Post art college first poems..reading Pasternak and Heaney…Bunting and W.C.Williams…and a hefty bit of John Masefield and Edward poems to a non-existent mythical England…32 poems including the mad The Moon Over Henley my version of Bunting and T.S. Elliot..I kid you not…with some Echo and The Bunnymen in there too:-)

32 poems because same number as Hughes ‘Hawk in th Rain’…along with Heaney a major influence the only four poetry books I owned at art college were Heaney’s ‘ Death of a Naturalist’,  Hughes’ book and Sylvia Plath’s’Colossus’ and Thom Gunn ‘Sense of Movement’ .not a bad start:-).

I still have all four..

2016 - 1

The Tithe Machine by Shaun Belcher on Scribd

Buying Time – In or Out it’s the same old story…


Buying Time

I’ve been buying time since I was born
It is what the working class were made for
No trust funds, no foreign holidays
No gap year, no kindly Aunt’s dowry

My father taught me to buy time
Any chance you get son take what you can
Don’t be dishonest, keep your pride, do good work
But buy time, ten minutes here or an hour there

Time is the one thing they can’t take back again
My parents had to buy me into an education
So that I didn’t have to buy time at twenty
My mother cleaned council offices in the evening

Just so that I could get through foundation art college
She emptied bins, sometimes my sister and I beside her
Our little wage packets just enough to keep us all going
My father would be asleep, exhausted, when we got back in

We were all brought up to buy every moment of time
So much so that even when I was older
I still thought of every dead end, crazy occupation
As another means to buying time back later

Then I hit fifty and my parents dead or dying
Time ran out, I saw time being buried in front of me
But from their grave they handed me that precious thing
They had bought their council house in the 1980s

Now that council house was worth a whole lot of time
It gave me and my sister some valuable breathing space
Gave us both the very thing we never had much of
Time, simply time, the time I’m now buying off.


Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…


Read rest of Buying Time here:

Before Cubism – The Rocket Press Letterpress 1992

Here a novelty. As all things letterpress are uber trendy these days ( Pop Press just opened in St James Street) I thought I would share this one-off.

Hand set by a crazy Norwegian student of letterpress at Jonathan Stephenson’s original Rocket Press way back in time. Beautiful example of real letterpress.

Poem from my early collections and still not scanned in to a readable format and never before published.


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