Category: creative writing (Page 1 of 4)

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.

The New World

Back to basics….

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…

Memoirs – Ford and Morrison- Dealing with Death

 

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.

 

Fishing in Fog

FISHING IN FOG

A winter Sunday, fog and frost

Two figures climbing a stile

Boots crunching crisp grass underfoot

Head toward the Thames at Clifton

 

My father not yet seventy, still working

And I back home for a day’s fishing

Struggling with tackle and reels in the cold

Sit expecting nothing, no fish bite in this weather

 

Talk about things, my grandparents

The cost of renting, share a flask of tea

Steam rising across his face as he pours it

Lines taught in the brittle air, disappearing

 

Then slowly the sun starts to lift the fog

The opposite bank starts to appear

A moorhen skirts the bank, swans drift by

Beyond the fog a dog barks endlessly

 

For a few hours we hold on to hope

Stare back into the white eternal glare

Of mist along the river looking for a bite

Staring at futures unseen, but clearly there

 

Now and again on a misty morning

Crossing the Trent I see father and sons trudging

Through the mist and rain together, silent

Sharing thoughts, hopes, jokes, together

Their lives unravelling like lines in the air.

Back on TRACK? : Oxford and Nottingham

Back in 2010 I started off with the title Track for a multimedia M.A. that finally did not happen. However the seeds of some kind of project centred around the impact of the railway on the movement of people and ideas started then. This is now bearing fruit as a double project centred on my local history research in two cities close to my heart.

So now we have…

based around the recent Lost Nottingham poetry project and

Based around the concept of Backwaters and Branch Lines

Maybe two separate collections or two bound together in one ‘TRACK’ volume.

Here was the original version from 2010

Original ‘Track’ M.A. Proposal 2010

New Poems

 

 

ROOM FOR POETRY

 

I have a room for poetry

Two bookcases of neatly filed books

Arranged by region of course

Then chronologically

They have been gathering dust for years

Unread, unopened, a wall of doubt

Twenty years I have been a closed book

 

Until today the penny dropped

The dam burst, the Bastille fell

Words started pouring down

Cascading down the shelves

From Shakespeare to Auden

A waterfall of words

For you

 

They poured around my bed

Lifted it up like a boat

Some took off battered the windows

Like a murmur of starlings

Blinded my eyes

Choked my throat

I have made a room for poetry

I rock on a bed at sea

 

Calling out to you

In the silence

 

 

THE INVISIBLE AUDOBON

 

Somewhere deep in the bowels

Of my past life in Oxford

I am crouched with a naked flame

Above an original copy of Audobon

 

Subscription edition, worth millions

And hidden from mere mortal gaze

In a secret location

Its own room in the Bodleian Library

 

In this dream my life rolls backwards

Towards the Minotaur under the trees

Holding each precious page

Hurt and pain unwound too

 

Alongside Alfred’ jewel, lost treasures

Leonardos and Raphaels all mine

I load them on to Tradescent’s cart and

Wheel them back into the light

 

I start a new enlightenment

Shine a light into the dark with these beacons

Light a series of fires across the downs

Burn away the hurt and sorrow, the business plans

 

Start a new University in the air free of charge

 

 

FORGED

The ignition came unbidden

A firefly at dusk, drifting

Across the estates like a wayward lantern

That some bright spark in Mansfield

Decided was a UFO

And called 999 twice

Or three times

 

No I didn’t want to start again

I couldn’t help it

The materials were there

Lying around the forge

Dusty with neglect, unloved

Then the molten heart leaked

A salamander

 

Here it lays, stronger, steely

Coated in black armour

For black times

Come slings and arrows

Normal misfortunes are ten a penny

In every A&E you’ll find them

Forging ahead or burnt and gone

 

You cannot fake emotion

 

SOUTH AND WEST

I sit on a Nottingham bound train

At Derby Station

And note the platform signage

‘South and West’

 

My wife is south and west

Of here now following her own path

I am headed north without due reason

My life has always been south and west

 

Until nearly twenty years ago

On a whim I headed north

And met her due south

On a grey thundery London evening

 

She was headed west even then

It just took her a lot longer to reach her destination

Which for now is between stations

Hanging in the air like bird song

 

I hear her now and then, hear her true voice

Growing fainter on the wind

Standing in a siding blurred with weeds

Somewhere south and west of here

 

In twenty years

We will both be gone, long departed

Down the lines we can still see

Singing

 

 

 

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

Burning-Books-Mini-Pamphlet

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:-)

BLURRED FENCES

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 🙂

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

http://www.nytimes.com/books/01/01/21/specials/carver-shoptalk.html?mcubz=1

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.

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