A selected volume – The Cloud Factory Poems 1996- 2011 can be read here.
No not a reference to Sergeant Pepper that was 20 but out of curiosity here an unseen poem from 1991.
Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now..
Soho doorway, December ’66
sleet melting on daisy-patterned
plastic raincoat, seeping to salt lines
up purple suede slip-ons
Her front teeth bite her bottom lip
as she shivers, flicks her fringe,
and waits for a Mini-Cooper S
to arrive in a spray of slush,
Boutique lights flash in chrome wheels
splattered with ice, laced with tinsel.
Saturday morning, December ’86
she stands outside her mum’s semi
as her hubby shifts furniture out.
Cascades of bills, snaps, cards
fall from a draw into the dustbin.
Then a photo of her at 17
surfaces from the layers of 20 years.
Bobbed hair, raincoat against chequers,
she is staring, unwed into space
as flecks of snow speck the black lid.
Another poem from my back pages.
From an overall collection called
Diesel on Gravel 1991
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
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 fromÂ 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…
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 Iâ€™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 ….
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 Â£500 fee almost covered my first term fees!
The RIBA website has â€˜mislaidâ€™ 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 hasnâ€™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..
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.
Line dead..no connection.
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.
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..
Poetry and I have not been getting on….
In fact I have been ignoring poetry, shelving it, filing it and generally pushing it to the back of my mind for the past decade.To start with this was deliberate as the combination of employment in an art school (note word art there not a writing school) and the first consistent art studio close to home promised great things…
But the best laid plans..mice and men etc.
The art school post ended in 2015 and although I still rent a studio I have been fairly incosistent in using it and the great rebirth of my painting career and the fame and wealth that would surely follow never happened.
A fairly shambolic attempt to reinvigorate my writing in 2014 on a M.A. in Creative Writing ended in abject failure as the reality of my age and what a modern creative writing course consists of collided head on….
Above and beyond all of these forlorn attempts to concentrate on anything was the gradual deterioration of my wife’s condition from 2009 onwards. Nothing, not an M.A. in Fine Art or international conferences had half the effect of living with someone who gradually showed more and more signs of a serious mental illness and addiction.
I have pretty much lost the last decade to being part of her battle with family tragedy and illness and thankfully despite the recent divorce she is still alive so far. I take nothing for granted now and take each day as it comes.
In that kind of time-frame poetry was the last thing on my mind and with the exception of some hastily produced mini-pamphlets my poetic career has remained parked in the drive until now.
So here I am 60 years old..none the wiser and a lot poorer with no gainful employment looking at writing again as the most ridiculous and least renumerative path I could possibly choose.
Welcome to the New World…same as it ever was..same as it ever was…
This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…
As Heaney said :
Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.
Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…
I have just read these two linked memoirs. In discussing his memoir of his parents Ford specifically mentions the influence of his friend’s earlier book.
Both are very strong works although maybe because of its particularly English subject and atmosphere the Morrison just shades it for me especially as my own parents both died of cancer.
In describing that Morrison is accurate and heartfelt. Indeed so poignant is it that it made me look back at the impact of those events in my own life ( Morrison ends up in therapy).
He also discusses the impact on his own writing and if I am honest the death of my mother in 2012 after my father’s passing in 2004 left similar holes….
It only now after another period of near-death experiences that I willing to also admit that it can have devastating psychological impact in all sorts of ways including creatively.
Maybe that is why I turned to these books recently to see how other writers dealt with things.
I wrote this statement in 2010. Nothing has changed.
I am using this ‘credo’ as the basis of my new ‘great leap forward’ with the Thames art and technology idea..
Delineation of â€˜Theoryâ€™: An artistâ€™s personal statement
Throughout my â€˜art-workingâ€™ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessivelyâ€™, constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly â€˜map-ableâ€™ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.
There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of â€˜placeâ€™ and â€˜landscapeâ€™. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme and the Berkshire Downs another.
Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song â€˜Hanging Puppetâ€™ drew on one such â€˜tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic â€˜Anglocanaâ€™ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years. Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003).
Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.
I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaneyâ€™s concept of a personal â€˜Hedge Schoolâ€™ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebearâ€™s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a â€˜working classâ€™ sense of writing picked up form Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice.
I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative â€˜Englishâ€™ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. As an example I would cite Robert Plotâ€™s Oxford a marvelous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677.
In it one finds specimens such as â€˜Stones that look like Horsesâ€™. I draw heavily upon cultural geography theory post Williams and Berger and am heavily influenced by Patrick Keiller and David Matless.
It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in both in poetry and artwork.