I took on this present nine month career break (ends Friday) in order to confront some ideas I had about myself. Number one was that I was a poet. Correct only in terms of the statement ‘I was’. However, despite the RIBA Edwin Smith commission, I am no nearer resurrecting that particular career than I was last September. In fact I probably further away than ever. At least I know why now.
An M.A. was not the answer and after much soul-searching I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that the reason is very much about who I was twenty years ago at the height of my written output and also what kind of a country I lived in. I started publishing poetry in 1992 and soon after in 1994 moved to Edinburgh. I had always taken a fairly political stance and my attitude matched in well with the proto-nationalist people I encountered in both Glasgow and Edinburgh. My strongest memory is of reading at a poetry event in Glasgow run by a Communist Pablo Neruda society and being booed when I mentioned I came from Oxford ( following an arse called Rupert who did a poem about the Royal Family I kid you not..maybe a satirist?). I lost my rag and told them there were two Oxfords the one they imagined and the one I lived in full of very poor ex-agricultural families herded into crumbling council estates. I ended up getting a ovation….especially when I read poems like ‘Severed Tongue’.
I and the audience were on the same wavelength.
I have ‘never’ felt that since. Leaving Scotland in Summer 1996 (because I simply could not get more than a few weeks temp work in banks) reluctantly myself and my Spanish partner at the time got the bus back south. There was also a good deal of Anti-English racism – I personally was shouted at in a bank canteen by a young man who told me to fuck off back to my ‘own country’. This racism did not come from nowhere however – most of the bank exploitation I temping in was done by ‘weekending’ rich Oxbridge types who saw managing Scots people like shooting grouse..a sport…hardly surprising the backlash hit those worse off than the worst off..
I also met some of the most inspiring writers I have ever met and walked some of the most inspirational landscapes. After living in Nottingham for 13 years I can honestly say that neither of those things have happened to me here. My writing career stayed in Scotland. It staggered on in Oxford but the sheer class-divide and absolute neglect of what I doing took its toll and it died in a Bear Pit in 1999. This came home to roost when watching the video I made for TV of ‘The Bear Pit’ from 1999 which in post below.
It wasn’t only the blood of bears that leaking into the Oxfordshire grass and clay it was my life as a writer…That poem was part of the final coherent sequence I wrote called ‘Skeleton at the Plough’ after a Roy Palmer folk book ‘The Painful Plough’ (see cover above’).
The Collection of 12 poems can be read here: