Author: shaun belcher (Page 2 of 14)

Poet, painter and songwriter originally from Oxfordshire now living in Nottingham.

30 years a poet – I may be gone some time

July 1991 I had just completed an interesting but fruitless temporary post at The Poetry Library on the South Bank through 1990 and had my poems and songs illustrated by my sadly deceased friend Laura Stenhouse at St. Martin’s College of Art in the old building on Charing Cross Road.

My brief tenure as a photocopying assistant and customer service adviser (weekends only) didn’t do much for me financially as I travelled up from Didcot for several months but it did introduce me to poetry and poets which I had dabbled with in a thoroughly modernist way since discovering William Carlos Williams in my early twenties.

In six short months in 1990 I met( and served) a whole gaggle of new generation poets ( Dooley, Shapcott, Greenlaw, Donaghy all great and one Maxwell who was a rude prick) and also met some greats like Ivor Cutler, Bob Cobbing ( who equalled Maxwell for rudeness showing that manners and avant-garde no guarantor) as well as seeing a whole host of great readings.. C.K. Williams, William Trevor and best of all Raymond Carver’s widow Tess Gallagher.

Thus inspired I self-produced a small poetry pamphlet ‘Towns on Shallow Hills’ which I remember Ivor Cutler reading but not buying on account as he said he had read it…said pamphlet I sold to various friends and poets ( I still have a list) and I am pleased to say still in the National Poetry Library collection. See HERE.

It didn’t launch me into contention as a new generation poet that honour had been carved out almost exclusively for acolytes of the Poetry Review editor Peter Forbes who I had the misfortune to hear read one of his dull longer form poems out once and who was an arrogant SOB who virtually controlled poetry in those days. He loved Maxwell which figures ..birds of a feather etc.

Remember in those days Oxbridge white middle class was a defining factor and only Simon Armitage broke through that and that lead to some tokenism in the New Gen list but overall the power base remained intact which not good for a politically orientated writer like myself. That Oxbridge dominance is still true to a high degree. If you want a current assessment of political make up of the poetry audience go see David Coates research here https://davepoems.wordpress.com which overly academic but is telling.

I myself come into the category of his category of cishet white men which ironic considering he neatly leaves out the ‘middle class’ bit of that definition which handy as if as he is you from Northern Ireland studying a PhD on Macneice you pretty much tick all the boxes of those you attacking…..but at least he trying to flag up the inequalities for which I have to say well done.

The poems published in the pamphlet were pretty hastily written but I left the Library confident that I as good as the above mentioned careerist poets (not knowing a thing about careerism) and wrote some much better stuff which through 1991-2 I started submitting to journals and lo and behold started to be published. I was pretty much unemployed and broke all the time so it lead nowhere. I did some unpaid reviewing for the Arts Council met a lot of people who supportive but too busy providing themselves with opportunities and funding and ended up meeting a lovely Spanish woman and buggering off to Edinburgh where I continued and flourished as a poet.

Today is pretty much 30 years to the day since I received my first publication letter from John Harvey at Slowdancer Magazine ironically based then in Nottingham. I still have a copy. This in retrospect was the high point of my poetry career until the retrospective ‘greatest hits’ pamphlet Last Farmer from Salt in 2010.

So 30 years on I starting to look at the poetry world again. A lot of the magazines and editors who published me have disappeared or simply died. Some I happy to see like The Frogmore Papers still going and poets who supported me in Edinburgh like Stewart Conn still alive which amazing. I do not know what kind of poetry I will write or if there even a poetry world that cares in a era of selfie PR and diversity tick boxing. Even the working class ticket has been abused and moulded to generate support and funding. It is a more visual, less middle class landscape but the powerful still lead at Faber and Faber , cape etc. It reminds me of a late Larkin poem about a mind folding under snow ..it feels a chilly climate to walk out into poetry land…..

I am just going outside and may be some time

The last great White Elephant

In 1986 or thereabout I bought the Carver stories above from a shop in Plymouth whilst visiting my sister. It was the start of my obsession with all things ‘Americana’. I moved on via Granta’s Dirty Realism collection to a whole series of American authors including Lorrie Moore, Bobbie Anne Mason and then backwards towards the Deep South ( a title of a Paul Binding book I still own). Along the way stopping off in a whole number of places revealed to me by these authors. My mental map of USA is formed by them as I have only actually been there once for three days for a conference in New York City.

The subject in a lot of cases were outsiders, renegades..working class trailer trash. The characters who in the last few days have stepped out of ‘wilderness’ America and into all our front rooms as led on by the new Barnum they tried to occupy the centre-ground. The warriors of the marginalised wilds.

Trump’s misguided revolution is a drive-by shooting or a mall massacre on a huge scale. Every misfit and shamen of the dispossessed risen up like a biblical flood not forgetting the Jim Crow preachers and snake oil hucksters and medicin men waiting to profit from the carnage.

Watching this unfold like a sequal to a new series of Justified complete with guns, white supremacists and jingoistic cops leaves a hollow feeling…..

Art imitating life or the other way round?

The American Dream seems somehow tawdry and washed out right now….the idolisation of small town freaks and clowns somehow deeply compromised by their depiction.

There are many predictions of further unrest but frankly a United States Marine against spear carrying shaman is fanciful…..armed highly organised militia with military background far more realistic. Hopefully the above the sideshow to Barnum T’s assault on democracy but who knows what tigers he has in his circus cages or skeletons in the Pentagon…..the next few days will tell.

Hopefully it will be Trump’s Skeleton history stands in line to see not democracy’s….

Michael Longley and ‘The Fallow Period’

The Candlelight Master

Looking back at those difficult years now, do you feel that the silent
stretches were detrimental to your work?

If I hadn’t been fighting battles on other fronts, I might have been scribbling boring middle-aged verse – like MacNeice who twittered on for a decade until the miraculous final poems. It seems that the Muse favours the young and then, if you can weather the middle stretch’, the pensioners. Silence is part of the enterprise. Most poets write and publish far too much. They forget the agricultural good sense of the fallow period. The Muse despises whingers who bellyache aboutwriter’s block’ and related
ailments.

One of the best things ever said to me about poetry was John Hewitt’s off-
hand remark: `If you write poetry, it’s your own fault.’

JODY ALLEN RANDOLPH – Michael Longley in Conversation

This interview is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November – December 2004.

I was relieved to see that I not the only middle-aged poet who had a fallow period. Until now I thought my future was more akin to a Larkinesque slump as he detailed in the majestic yet sad refrain on this late poem…

THE WINTER PALACE

by Philip Larkin

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.

I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university.

And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

So maybe like Longley (still alive at 81!) the best is yet to come….or some is yet to come ….

https://www.irishnews.com/arts/2020/08/15/news/michael-longley-at-81-the-poetic-life-is-still-filled-with-excitement-and-surprise-2031662/

Michael Longley | Authors | The Soho Agency

The Empty Stair

For my sins I have been watching ‘The Crown’ and it reminded me of a poem I wrote back in the 1990s before the death of Diana…..

As you can see I was always a staunch Royalist…

The Empty Stair


A fleur-de-lys fissured by sulphuric rain crumbles
but still hangs, paint-peeling, above an entrance
that is being scored with wire-brushes and repainted.
A gang of workmen and a beat-box blasting out Bangra.
A century of soot and grime from the Thames basin
flecks their hands as the cavalcade of Daimlers shoots by.

Across the Goldhawk Road a ringed hand adjusts saris
as ice melts on prawns and swordfish in the market.
Tube-trains coil round the tower-blocks, necklaces
flickering above the stalls of bric-a-brac and fake cds.
Sirens wail and a Range Rover‘s blue lights glint
as it U-turns outside Clifton House, Hammersmith, W6.


At the turn of the century Prince Edward gilded this cage
for the pleasuring of Lilly Langtry so the neighbours say.
Now the tabloids bark out the latest royal adultery
on hoardings between kebabs and Kentucky Fried Chicken
as thieves grab Rolex and Vodaphones from execs in Mercs.
Clifton House has been rehabbed into council bedsits.

At night kids clamber up its abandoned spiral stair
and leave graffiti on the scalloped plasterwork.
Between rooms crammed with flickering TV’s and clothes horses
they flick torches on the dusty steps, mahogany handrail.
The rebuild left the stairs hanging like an empty net
where corks popping and loud laughter no longer echoes.


Meanwhile a figure on a staircase in Kensington Palace
watching rain splash across the Serpentine and
the Edwardian facades of Knightsbridge darkening
under clouds like calamares en su tinta on silver plate.
He returns to his watercolour of a house that is falling
as rioters in Hyde Park fall under all the King’s horses.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light – Recordings


Horseshoe Press Tapes

Back in October 2014 (now six 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 but they been deleted since as diversification took its toll..
also deleted from RIBA too….ticked the wrong box?

So here they are again..

My First Telephone Call

The new grey phone in the hall
That never rang
Until one day nervously
I had to answer

It was my uncle from Spain
His father had died that morning
Whilst he was on holiday

My first conversation was cut short
“Yes dead, your dad is dead”.

Silence and then a sob
Then his wife Sue saying

“We’re coming home”.

I could hear him sobbing against her.

Then nothing.

Line dead..no connection.

My Father’s Things


The series of illustrated poems titled ‘My Father’s Things’ are complete. They include ephemera related to the objects. The whole sequence are the first time I have attempted to deal in writing with the loss of my father aged 72 to pancreatic cancer in 2004.

I was infuenced by my reading of Richard Ford and Blake Morrison’s memoirs of parents. I also produced the original drawings last year at a period of crisis in my relationship with my now ex-wife who was suffering from mental health issues related to late stage alcoholism.

My Father’s Things: The Watch

The Watch

My Father’s Watch

A gold Limit Silhouette watch leather strap hardly worn
A dress watch for a man who never dressed always working
Most times he didn’t carry a watch as it would be get damaged
or snagged whilst working..too dangerous…

A man who cheated death twice..first a burst duodenal ulcer
I remember him being taken in the ambulance
It was touch and go. The Radcliffe saved him..the surgeon
told him later he found carrots before cutting him to save him.
Convalescence in Didcot Hospital..now housing..long gone

Later a wall collapsed on him he was two feet away from death
Was catapulted out of the way just in time..battered and bruised
He joked about it later..even the Lotus Elan that smashed into him
Or the spinning car in the rainstorm that missed him and Uncle John

Neither made a dent but then his luck ran out at 70
A soreness in his stomach was scanned..revealed pancreatic cancer
Too advanced for surgery..he grew greyer and weaker..could no longer
Get into the garden..chemo making him vomit black bile
He died in the extension we built in that last year defying the odds

to the end..he died on a bed in that building…almost perfect

like that watch stopped at 9.05 but hardly used

He died at 7.10 a.m.

The time he left for work every morning rain or shine

Kept perfect time until the end.

First type-written version 21.8.2019


My Father’s Things: The Optical Level

The World Turned Upside Down….

I am currently working on a project called ‘My Father’ s Things’ which is a series of drawings I did last year to stay sane amidst the chaos of my life then..don’t ask…the chaos has departed and is now far away.

This is the first draft of the first poem that I plan to attach to the drawing above. The entire sequence will eventually be published in a pamphlet hopefully through the Carousel as a riso printed publication.

The sequence of drawings and writings will be exhibited in September as part of Castle Ruins III at the King Billy Pub Nottingham.

https://www.facebook.com/events/508541923226021/

The Optical Level

Gun metal grey-green, heavy in the palm
My father’s optical level
The metal worn through use, a record
of my father’s presence as is the smell
of leather case and faint aroma of tarmac
as if his hands sunburnt and grimy with tar
still waved at me on thsoe frosty mornings
I helped him set levels somewhere below the downs.
A ritual since the age of 14 as I earned pocket money
holding the levelling rods, red and white striped
icy cold that stuck to my fingers as I held them straight
waiting for the hand raised, a signal that he had the reading.
Then another wave to move back up the slope and start again
tied together by the upside down image of cross hairs
rising and falling on my hand then the rod
like a bomb aimer looking for a target

One morning we are out early.
Steam rising from the power staton cooling towers.
Stood in early morning sun on a former airfield at Harwell.
The airfield the Dakotas lifted off from before dawn on D-Day.
Carrying the last memories of men destined to fall
caught in the cross hairs of German gunners.
The rattle of munitions cascading from a thousand guns
blurring the coastline and making the earth move.

Turning the world upside down.

Like the poor pilot spinning out of control
trying to bring things back to a level.

I stare through that old telescope and call to him.

Right, right..back a bit.

That’s it we’re level now.

Roll out the string and mark the foundations.
Knock in the pegs and start to build again.
A nation fit for heroes on a sunlit morning
when the smoke had cleared.

We heard birds singing.

‘My Father’s Things’ based on this by Waits..



Two new poems

A Tiny Spider

A speck
crawling from under Acrimony
seen under the spotlight

A metaphor
for the last ten years
crawling down the hard shoulder

A tiny spider
picks its way through books
and is gone

I stare at the rain
The stationary cars
The Middle of England

Wonder how she’s doing
What webs lay ahead
What sticky yarns

The Lost Decade

Travelling on the Manx electric railway
In Fog
One minute coasting
Could see to Ireland
The next all blank like a page

Then a screetch as foot on brake
Bad news from abroad
Then silence
Mist rolling seaward
Beginnings and endings
A horse on a cliff
Cold black sea

The line ended
We sat silent
At a Victorian station
Overhead cables fizzing in the rain
Then a tired horse pulling
Us along the esplanade

Ten years before dirt rained down
On your sister’s coffin
Even then I felt the cold wind blow
In from the Irish sea
Eating into our bones
Then into our souls
Until we could not find our way home

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