I have been collating a selection of poems written since coming to Nottingham in 2002. It hasn’t been a particularly inspiring location for my poetry and hardly anybody realises I actually published in 2010. I surprised to find 96 poems in 20 years which was my yearly output back in the 1990s. So once I thought of an appropriate title and found an image for the cover I will release a pdf of the ‘Nottingham Years’ 2002-2022 in advance of my 20 years in waiting reading at Neil Fulwood’s fine poetry event at the Blue Monkey in August when he will be the main act.
Perhaps I should crowdsource a title..’Dark Tarn’..Guntown… Wordy Poet Hood? Forest and City :-)…..’Play on the Grass’……maybe that it …
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…..
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?
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.
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
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.
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.
Excellent article by Paul Mason but calling for a ‘white kids community’ again in towns like my hometown of Didcot near Oxford where the ‘aspirant wide-boy migrant’ psychology rampant is harder to realise. These commuter towns were deliberately sold down the river to the highest bidder under Thatcher. This deliberately fragmented working-class communities with sale of council houses. Land deals in the mid 1980s also saw land transferred to global firms like BASF and Tesco which needed low-paid, compliant workforce hence the Oxford Rover Plant was sabotaged deliberately andÂ dismantled as it a highly organised and trained workforce. Its replacement was the ‘temporary’ employees population or ‘service buddies’ which makes up over half of my hometown now. Thatcherism was a well executed plan. Lets leave Thatcher out of it it is a name. It is Neo Con Free market Liberalism imported from USA. It is now triumphant. It will take decades to turn it around.
I did some research into how land was being parceled up and sold off hence BASF quote. My father knew the local landowners who became millionaires because their land chosen to be the building sites of targeted global distribution networks…Tesco..etc etc .Very shady. Same time as I was a member of Friends of Earth so we uncovered various seedy things being literally buried in various locations after the demolition of Rover Plant. This included old gravel pits being used to buryÂ car paint….
It is still continuing the recent deaths at Didcot A were because they hastily clearing old Power Station for profit as another node on that distribution site plan. The location bang central in UK with rail and road links hence it was originally a distribution depot at Milton in Wartime. My grandmother was a typist there and Bicester.
Look at who owns and profits from land and you see history being written.
1982 Cameron’s father offshoring his wealth under Thatcher. 1982 was year Thatcher removed support for grants at Royal College and I lost MA there. All fits. The working class was being villified from that date. Working class useful in wars and not much else syndrome.
My Uncle John worked at Rover Plant in paint spray booths. Horrible job but paid the bills. His son was a policeman who actively engaged in diplomatic protection and breaking up the miner’s strike (Police blockaded the route to Didcot Power Station). One side of a family pitched against another just like the Miners Strike. Red Robbo and other propoganda hid the truth that it was the destruction of organised large-scale labour in favour of smaller more ‘manageable’ units that required in Steel,Â Docks, Car production and Mines. The Mines was most visible but the long-term damage to infrastructure occurred elsewhere. We are paying a very heavy price now. No organised Labour to fight back of course and no manufacturing base. Let them eat cake and service industries….it all we have left.
Here a poem on subject…
The Rover Man
He sat, firm and erect, on the park bench,
hands wrapped around his white stick
his milky eyes fixed on thirty years before
as we walked toward him.
He recognized my uncle immediately by voice
and smiled in our direction, gaze still fixed.
Theyâ€™d worked together at the Oxford car plant
for almost twenty years.
My uncle blinking through the paint shop clouds
his gloves and goggles clogged with paint
whilst upstairs this man worked in admin.
below the ticking clock-tower.
Heâ€™d been enveloped in his milky world
since that day in 1943 when a german bomb
he was trying to defuse exploded
the flash burning out his sockets.
He had worked every day through strike
and shutdown, militants and shirkers, managers
and scabs. Had seen the business collapse
into a heap of mangled parts. Bust and boom.
Now the site is owned by BMW
and that clock-tower has collapsed into a heap of rubble,
that my uncle sighs as he drives past the
new industrial park landscaping and fountains.
An industry and a community gone in a flash.
The newsreels of the factory gates burn on the lens
as consultants ditch the site and reinvest
Money or bombsâ€¦itâ€™s the same effect.
I have spent years listening to other people’s voices and learning ..now it is time to play..so here is the first product of my new ‘writing’ life….prose poem/short fiction who knows…This is a Berkshire boy rendering Raymond Carver’s ‘Deschutes River’ I make no apology for that. I cannot go round him so I will have to go through Carver he such a seminal influence.
It is the first draftÂ of aÂ new prose poem from hopefully a full new collection to be called ‘Backwater’…
It started again……I last seriously wrote anything in 2006 so a big leap of faith or as here slide into the unknown again.
Written on an old Sharp electric typewriter ..I cannot write on a pc or tablet.