An authentic?( Adrian Slatcher )song that is a poem in disguise written in mid 1980s when I harboured ambitions to be the English Nick Cave 🙂
The song ok the ambition a little over ambitious:-)
The war in question is the Falklands and the story true my step-grandad died of a heart attack in his pantry and the dog guarded him all day.
He could not read or write had looked after animals on the farm all his life.
He was not my true grandfather that another story…
I did a reading in Nottingham for John Harvey’s Slowdancer in 1992 and Nottingham radio did an interview.
They asked what the difference between poems and songs I said my songs rhyme my poems don’t…..
Man With No Name
You kick at the tyre of the tractor
That hasn’t moved since the snow last came down
You pull at the chainlink fence blowing dandelions over the old grey sow
And wonder whose hand on your arm could lead you away from here now
Well it’s the middle of summer and clouds cover the sun up, you feel cold
And you run for shelter, find your father with a halter, staring at the ground
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
In a dark pantry a dog panting, tired from running under the August sun
On the kitchen table a dripping pheasant broken by a farmer’s gun
And you sat in your armchair reading news of a war that had hardly begun
Whilst all the berries we picked last summer turned blood red in the cup
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
Well your stepdad fell in that kitchen and his dog sat and waited all day
Whilst the silent river rolled on and on and the clouds blew over the hills and away
So father and son two years later we stand in a graveyard in the rain
If I could lead you to the answer I would , If I knew it I wouldn’t say
Oh why can’t I tell you , oh why can’t I say
I feel like a man with no name
Did you hear the guns a rattling out on the Kentucky hills
As mud spattered up from your prison truck’s wheels
Did you smile every day as you washed the days away
Imprisoned for having nothing to say?*
Did you dream in an Un-American way?
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Is that the un-American way?
Now the Campsfield wire fences are rattling in the wind
And there are stranger’s faces pressed against the panes
What did they dream they’d find beyond the ghost of empire Were they dreaming of a world of American stars and bars
Did they dream in an Un-American way
Now the holy walls are dripping with the blood of men
As guns crackle like whips above their heads
And that prison truck is busy carrying away those who
Dream in an Un-American way
Of diamonds and furs and long limousines in the rain
Following on the revelation of the Middle Class ‘Proper Poetry’ v Working Class ‘Performance Poetry’ stigmatisation.
I have looked at what I actually written over the past 40 years and an awful lot of my ‘poetry’ was sublimated or ‘hidden’ from my potential middle-class audience in ‘songwriting’ ….
So how appropriate that a book of ‘songs’ could be published with title ‘Substitute’…..perfect….
Here some potential ‘Pongs’ or ‘Songems’ or as I recently heard it called SOETRY (Song Poetry) 🙂
This a song from last year’s posthumous Trailer Star lost masterpiece Chalk Pit Rattle……
Buying Time…which appropriate in context of Kit de Waal s recent piece in The Guardian which prompted me to start writing again.
Maybe I will include songs in Substitute volume 😉 Songwriting is just poetry by other means for me 😉
IVE BEEN BUYING TIME SINCE I WAS BORN
ITS WHAT THE WORKING CLASS ARE BUILT FOR
NO TRUST FUND, NO FOREIGN HOLIDAY
NO GAP YEAR, NO AUNT’S DOWRY COMING MY WAY
MY DAD TAUGHT ME TO BUY TIME
ANY CHANCE I HAD
HE SAID SON DON’T BE DISHONEST, KEEP YOUR PRIDE
BUT BABY BUY TIME, KEEP BUYING TIME
TIME’S THE ONE THING THEY CANT TAKE OFF YOU
ONCE YOU GOT IT THEY CANT GET IT BACK THAT’S TRUE
MY PARENTS WORKED EVERYDAY GOD SENT
SO I COULD BUY TIME NOW AND NOT GIVE IT BACK TO THEM
THE BOSS MAN TEACHES YOU TO GIVE HIM YOUR TIME
THAT’S WHAT MAKES THE WORLD TURN …HE LIES
MY PARENTS NEVER HAD ENOUGH
NOW THEYRE DEAD IN THE GROUND.
TIMES UP….GO OUT THERE SON AND KEEP BUYING TIME…
BUY BUY BUY TIME.
Poem or Song? maybe I never really knew after all? Floor of Wood …..about the farm I grew up on.
Maybe these were performance poems all along just hiding in plain view 😉
If they are then I have several thousand poems waiting to be added to the collection:-)
FLOOR OF WOOD
This house was built of planks ten years after the war
I spent my childhood days watching the wind blowing the straw
As the sixties twisted away and the motorways came
I would stand at the window playing with toy cars in the rain
This time I’m really leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart under this floor of wood
Slate roof is full of holes, the walls are covered in rambling rose
Nothing lives here now but the ghosts
I push a broken door against broken plaster and ash
And watch the wind blow through windows all smashed
This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart underneath this floor of wood
Since I was a boy England has drifted from fields to city
All these cornfields been turned to golf courses or light industry
Plaster crumbles and dusts my shoes just like chalk
I walk away, scratches on my arm, I try to close the door.
This time I’m leaving these green fields for good
But I’ll leave my heart buried under this floor of wood
Since then I have noticed that academic poetry and performance poetry have started to separate in a alarming way. This is an outcome of a deliberately devisive education policy by government that increasingly appears to be a ‘pay to play’ approach to education.
If your parents invest a £100 k plus (BA+MA+PHD fees)you will one day get the payback of an academic career before 30 in return . An American privatised model.
These factors stopped me writing..I gave up..I felt nobody cared..that there was no audience for what I did..and I was right….the middle-class ‘proper poetry’ area isn’t interested in me..isn’t interested in the truth of working class lives and experience as a subject.
PN Review and others are not interested in working class experience one iota.
You want to play in the Premiere League magazines better hide all that personal shit and start writing about your foreign holidays, how difficult it is being a middle class person post Brexit or at worst make up shit about Impressionist painter’s wives you have no knowledge about but it feels authentic enough to your equally pretentious and middle-class readers sitting in their sun lounges drinking martinis to swallow.
Poetry for me has always been a means of articulating my anger at the class system in the U.K.
It has always been polemical even when it appears to be purely personal. As Raymond Williams wrote about the Romantics ‘the personal is political’.
So I have the impetus and hopefully in a few weeks a book to go with it…..I feel that inspired. I have been silenced for too long.
I am coming off the subs bench……I may not make the first team but I will put in some hefty tackles especially on Simon Armitage …the David Beckham of poetry;-)
A recent piece of ‘criticism’ in PN Review by Rebecca Watts has caused a storm of controversy apparently.
PNR is an adjunct to the long established and firmly modernist Carcanet Press which has long been one of the jewels in Arts Council funded poetry publishing in the UK alongside Ambit and Bloodaxe.
Read for ‘ACE funded’…’not commercial’ i.e. it can operate in an elitist way because it bankrolled….
I not criticising that in particular but this important in the context of the debate that Rebecca Watts started.
Her piece proudly available via front page of the PN website would not be available if PN Review had to stand on its own two feet.
Now Ms Watts is a poet and obviously a ‘proper poet’ by her tone and scathing attack on the three women poets as amateur and sentimental slush basically and worse their work sold by the bucketfull..
Ms Watts poetry with the title ‘The Met Office Advises Caution’ (published by you guessed it Carcanet) will have sold less..a lot less in fact it would not exist but for subsidy….
Her article opens with Rupi Kaur a Canadian poet of little depth but much exposure who has no connection to the other two poets. She is the foundation on which Watts builds her shaky theory….she uses the frankly awful Kaur to tar the other poets with the same brush. This is her prejudice over-riding any attempt at a coherent piece of criticism. Kaur is also of Punjabi descent….but let us not let race distort the picture too much. She is primarily chosen as an example of ‘popular poetry’.
To be popular in Watts world is naturally to be below par…in a upstairs downstairs kind of way…..beyond the pale..our language is full of class references…we are good at it..we built an empire on it.
Poetry builds its own little empires too…empires that discriminate and exclude.
Rebecca Watts is a middle class white girl from Suffolk ..no further details on her website so I presume not a sink estate in Lowestoft…before attending Trinity College Cambridge in 2001 after fees introduced so fairly well off from the get go oh and then on to an MA at Oxford which takes a lot more money…buying her way into the system basically.
I worked as a ‘minion’ in Oxford University and know her type all too well.
With her impeccable university education she is a natural elitist come to protect the British Literary world from ..dumbing down..amateurish writing and worse musical crossovers…
In Michael Schmidt’s Parthenon of white middle class writing……she found a home…
So given a platform she launched this tirade against what exactly? Many hit back for its incipient sexism but that isn’t its real subject…it is about CLASS
If a man had written this piece he would be hung drawn and quartered for sexism and possibly racism.. Watts gender saved her although it frankly is sexist..why not include male writers?
No this is about a far deeper and more troubling fault line in British publishing..CLASS
McNish and Tempest are outward-looking and experimental especially crossing over with musical forms because they are not from the middle class they both are from lower down the social ladder..too low for poor Watts. At the bottom of the ladder people can enjoy more than one art form…
Elitism, white middle-class elitism is about ring-fencing resources in troubled times so that people who look and speak like you are kept above the breadline and people who don’t are let slip into poverty and obscurity. It mirrors society in Britain now where those lucky enough to gain a degree and climb the greasy pole to a non menial job can be served ( left or right wing no matter) by those who born to servitude. It not a new phenomenon the Victorians invented it.
Rebecca ( how many working class women called Rebecca?) is maintaining her privileged position and bolstering her place in the great and the good and she is doing it through a thoroughly classist viewpoint. What she really saying here is these two women McNish and Tempest do not deserve their audience, do not deserve to be read because they are not from the elite. She is deserving of attention because she is from that elite she is ‘PROPER POETRY’ everything else is ‘PERFORMANCE POETRY’ which is shit..
PROPER POETRY = MIDDLE CLASS
PERFORMANCE POETRY -= WORKING CLASS
Performance Poets who won Mercury awards and Ted Hughes prizes…..who reference Shakespeare..but still not PROPER POETRY.
Performers with a larger audience through music and generally performers who are successful in their own right. Un-subsidised.
They have appealed to a huge audience Watts will never reach however good her poetry technically because she is not interested in the wider audience she obsessed with the narrowing down of culture.
Watts has proudly listed all her performances on her website ..they all in Oxford and Cambridge they all to people like her..ring-fencing culture..keeping it behind the college walls..keeping it safe..
For that reason I can honestly say I will never read her work but I will investigate Tempest and McNish because they interest me.
So thank you Watts your pathetic snobbery has opened my eyes to how there is a class war opening up in British Literature and I now know exactly which side of the barricades I on….
Oh and p.s. I write poetry you would hate..and I play music……I am obviously a NOBLE AMATEUR….and you my dear are a snob.
Oh and funniest moment in Watts frankly awful diatribe is where she compares Kaur and co’s populism to Donald Trump….
A white middle class elitist comparing a Punjabi immigrant girl to Trump…..just think about that for one second……
The comparison should have been Watts and Trump both say too much and think too little.
As for PN Review…..I will not be subscribing or submitting any time soon..wrong side of the barricade darlinks .
Back in October 2014 (now three 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..again not heard much of that from RIBA either they probably ticking various ‘engagement’ boxes.
I am indebted to Roy Hammans who actually developed the last image after Smith’s death who provided informative advice throughout and is probably the single most knowledgeable person about Smith and his work.
EDWIN SMITH – Catching Light
“I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking. Recording the man shaving at the window opposite and the woman in the kimono washing her hair. Someday, all this will have to be developed, carefully printed, fixed.”― Christopher Isherwood, Goodbye to Berlin, Berlin Stories, (1945)
Kodak Box Brownie No.2 Model F. 127 Roll Film 1927
Camden Town Bedroom 1935
Trembling in a gloomy Camden Town bedroom surrounded by brown paper
The teenage boy gently prises the camera from the leather case, undoes the catch
Traces the word BROWNIE[i] along the fake leather strap, caresses the box
The textured cardboard leatherette warm to the touch, he raises it to his eyes
Spins around to catch a glimpse of lace curtains breathing in and out
Then a pause, stops breathing, squints through spectacle glass and a blurry lens
No film, just retina, lens and glass glinting, quiet suburban air between the wars
Shutter pressed, the first image, undeveloped, untaken, unrecorded.
ICA IDEAL 205 Glass Plate 9×12 1935
Opticians London 1935
A present from Marx and Nash[ii], same fake black leather case but much stronger
A hint of steel, hands now more relaxed, a world at his fingertips
The box finally clicks open, bellows a tiny lung, rangefinder, spirit level
Suddenly in Vogue, a London Atget spinning around fairs, cafes, Oxford Street
Zeiss Ikon Tessar 135mm f4.5 precision German lens and Compur shutter
The shop windows buzz with reflections, his spectacles stare back after
Nights spent in Lund Humphries[iii] experimenting with solutions, final prints
Days mixing it with emigrants and socialites, Focal Press tricks, ghost images.[iv]
CONTAX II 5cm Sonnar Lens 35mm 1936
Kentish Town 1936
N.B. The curators got this wrong is in fact in East End probably Limehouse or Whitechapel as the Poster behind the gent is for a show at Hackney Wick and architecturally Kentish Town simply doesn’t match this setting.
Modernism in Kentish Town, a lens named after the sun, Sonnar
The lure of speed, futurism, the 35mm film spooling out of the movies
Twisting on that light yellow filter, ½ a second at F4, the march of progress
Back to black-outs, air-raid fears, black shirts, Agfa Isochrom, Kodak Nikko
The thrill of a world intoxicated with power[v], dancing on a ledge, never falling
Café de Paris, Heppenstall, Orwell, men talking in gangs carrying knives
His finger presses the shutter on Laura Knight and Coco, the ballet, the fairs
Spin Pennies from Heaven, Zeppelins over the docks[vi], Germany calling.
THORNTON-PICKARD RUBY Quarter Plate 1904
St Lawrence, Bradford –on-Avon, Wiltshire 1950
Post-War, Deep England after Evans[vii], ash in the mouth, misericord darkness,
Light trickle slowly through lens, cat-one, cat-two, cat-three, whispered
People have become ghosts, 27 and a half minutes[viii], divining, digging into time
A mahogany box worn to a gleam in a suitcase, mahogany tripod, Leeds, England
So solid, a step back from the sirens, modernist black and white, the emblems
Slow drizzle and fade, tilts into spires and thickets, empty barns, rigs of the time
His glinting spectacles at the viewfinder, crouching like a sniper, waiting
Hiding his camera under vestry tables, a quiet man in a corner, hooded.
GRAFLEX SPEED GRAPHIC Roll Film 1960
Fylindales, Yorkshire 1969
Movement, travel, portables, Made in New York, focal plane, press camera
The fruits of success, lease-lend to never had it so good, the wide angle
The New Europe, Ireland, Italy, Greece and France, the Ensign Autorange
Searching for the same mellow light, that photograph in the mind always
Then back weeks later to the darkroom in deepest England, the bleaching
Hours lightening shadows, clearing highlights with Potassium Ferricyanide,[ix] poison
Chemical arts, sleights of hand, shade in the palm of the hand, fission and fusion
His collecting eye adding the coin to the wishing well, staring at the sun.[x]
ENSIGN AUTORANGE 820 120 roll film 1955
Stubble Burning – Last film developed 1993 by Roy Hammans
‘Co-operating with the Inevitable’ he called it, “bend with the stream”
Holding the Ensign Autorange up to the light it reflects in his spectacles
Bought in 1955 the last camera he held, English made, Walthamstow
The firm almost disappeared when in 1940 the offices in Holborn bombed
All surviving he stands with Olive to watch stubble burning in 1971
Squinting through a crisp and sharp Ross Xpres lens at the flaring
Feeling the silver body in the palm, the faux leather Ensign logo
Epsilon shutter pressed, a last image, taken, undeveloped, catches light forever.[xi]
[i] Edwin Smith redeemed the Kodak Box Brownie by collecting Corn-Flake packet coupons probably in 1927 (EWELL, 2008)p.11.
[ii] Friend Enid Marx gave Edwin Smith a ‘better camera’ in 1935 shortly after he got married Olive Smith reports this as the Contax but as Ewell points out that not released until 1936. (EWELL, 2008)p.13.
[iii] Enid Marx was connected to The Royal College and Smith’s photographs came to the attention of Paul Nash who encouraged Smith and gave him access to the darkrooms at the publisher Lund Humphries. (EWELL, 2008)
[iv] Smith co-wrote and published a series of Focal Press guides from 1938-1940.(SMITH, 1940)
[v] Ewell reports the trip Smith made with his sponsor Sir Albert Talbot Wilson MP, a fervent pro-Nazi, to Germany at this time. (EWELL, 2008)p.19.
[vi] The German airship Graf Zeppelin made ‘spying’ raids probably equipped with aerial photography equipment of a high resolution on the 30th June 1936 and this was reported in Hansard on the 8th July 1936. The Parliamentary exchange highlights the naivety of some in Government which bordered on complicity. (Hansard, 1936)
[vii] Frederick H. Evans, British ‘Pictorialist’ photographer famous for the ‘Sea of Steps’ photograph taken in Wells Cathedral which Smith took a version of in 1956. A major influence on the Cathedral and Parish Church series.
[viii] Smith would time exposures using the cat phrase and replace the lens cap on exposures that could last up to 27 minutes thus removing all trace of human activity. (EWELL, 2008)p.52.
[ix] Smith mixed his own chemicals. After his death a large amount of Potassium Ferricyanide was found in his possession. The chemical is a poison and the Ilford Manual of Photography recommends disposing in drains with plenty of water to reduce the risk. Source: Roy Hammans note to article ‘Ways of Working’ on The Weeping Ash photography website. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)
[x] The Edwin Smith RIBA exhibition highlights the ‘trick’ Smith used during the Fylindales printing of placing a coin on the paper to ‘create’an image of the sun where none had been.
[xi] The circumstances of this last roll of film being left in Smith’s camera and only being developed years later are detailed on the Weeping Ash website. Source: ‘The Last Exposures’. Accessed 31.10.2014. (HAMMANS, 2011)
EWELL, R., 2008. Evocations of Place. 1st ed. London: Merrell:RIBA.
HAMMANS, R., 2011. Edwin Smith Working Methods. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/life-work/ways-of-working
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
HAMMANS, R., 2011. The Last Exposures. [Online]
Available at: http://www.fine-photographs.co.uk/index.php/related-material/the-last-exposures
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
Hansard, 1936. GERMAN AIRSHIP “HINDENBURG.”. [Online]
Available at: http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1936/jul/08/german-airship-hindenburg
[Accessed 31 10 2014].
SMITH, E., 1940. In: All the Photo-Tricks. London: Focal Press.
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:-)
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 🙂
The first session in Nottingham Contemporary’s season of Southern Writers organised by Graham Caveney was excellent and not only was it a pleasure listening to Richard H. King speak about Southern Writing but there was the added pleasure of meeting the crime novelist John Harvey and his daughter too (John was a American Studies student on M.A. back in the day as they say).
I did not know Flannery O’Connor’s work although I had purchased her Complete Short Stories many years ago..it had languished on my very full and very unread shelves.
The session was a revelation and I have since been working my way through her ‘Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose’ collection which is wonderful. I always knew that one of my favourite writers Raymond Carver had referenced her as a major influence but it only now I seeing why. Her observations on ‘Creative Writing’ courses and their effectiveness made me laugh out loud (see her lecture ‘The Nature and Aim of Fiction’) ….she speaks of what she knows having been an early Iowa Writers Workshop student where she met John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren.
Here her major works in contemporary covers which shows how she was an illustrator’s dream commission… which leads on to yet another revelation..she was herself a budding cartoonist whilst at College!
The Signature below combines her initials into the form of a bird on her lino-cuts (her chosen medium).
Here some examples and what interesting is there is some stylistic similarity with another Catholic writer/artist Eric Gill possibly somebody she familiar with through Catholic journals. There also a sense of W Heath Robinson too….who possibly she saw as a child..
My favourite photo is this one of her on the veranda at her family farm in Andalusia with one of her beloved chickens ( a interesting connection with fellow Southern writer Alice Walker)
There an interesting blog published by the Museum that the farm has now become:
When she was six, living in a house still standing (now preserved as the Flannery O’Connor Childhood Home), she experienced her first brush with celebrity status. The Pathé News people filmed “Little Mary O’Connor” with her trained chicken and showed the film around the country. She said: “When I was six I had a chicken that walked backward and was in the Pathé News. I was in it too with the chicken. I was just there to assist the chicken but it was the high point in my life. Everything since has been an anticlimax.”
What I have responded most strongly to in her writing so far is the confluence of regional identity..humour and this particularly visuality which I shown above.
John Huston’s film of Wise Blood seems embedded with Flannery’s visuality which may be why it seems so sharply drawn from the ‘directions’ in the text. We ‘see’ her world very sharply through her pen in an almost Dickensian sense…I have not read any criticism linking the two but I sure she would have been familiar with Dickens especially ‘American Notes’.
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.
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.
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 …
I was awarded an M.A. in Fine Art in January 2014.
I then embarked on a misguided and ultimately fruitless attempt to do a second M.A. in Creative Writing at NTU in October 2015 as a possible precursor to PhD study.
This didn’t work out and was followed by my eventual resignation from my academic post at NTU in December 2015. There were a range of factors which led to my leaving including my wife’s condition and eventual life-threatening illness in October 2016, my own frustration at being treated badly by in my opinion an incompetent and bullying head of art research and finally the destruction of my teaching on the multimedia course for political reasons which became apparent when NTU purchased Confetti later.
Also there was my own undiagnosed depression which I did not realise at the time was affecting me quite badly. I can only now begin to talk about this because of counselling and I think it highly likely I suffered some form of breakdown when attempting to return to work to teach animation studies..something I care less about now than I did then and frankly had little interest in then.
It has been a very rough period but with help I and my wife are now starting to see some daylight. We have both been through a decade of family illness and death which took away both my parents and her sister and father…not easy to deal with when in the best of health..almost impossible when under severe pressure anyway.
I now appreciate the strain and upset mental illness can cause on any relationship….that I still have one at the moment is down to counselling and my wife is getting better…..neither has been a given these past three years.
I also have begun to understand the mental blocks that affected my entire wellbeing and especially my creative practice.
I am writing this because I now feel able to. Talking about it has helped and I also beginning to plan new ventures and possibly still courses including that wretched PhD that has caused me so much grief. But on my terms.
To begin with I am using the habit of going to second hand shops as a generator of new poems under the title ‘Second Hand Poems’. I love charity shops because of the random nature of what turns up like this memoir of D.H.Lawrence’s early years which an appropriate starting point as I live close to Private Road where Lawrence met Frieda …he would have walked up Mansfield Road to get there.
As I discover odd things..books, records even objects I will write poems to celebrate them….a bit like me…
Second Hand Poems from a Second Hand Poet…worn at edges..slightly foxed but maybe still valuable 🙂
Picked this up in a second hand shop recently. Was first edition (1962) of a book I had encountered in a travelling shelf of ‘American Poetry’ in my local Didcot library in 1981 when I had returned home after art college. It (in the flag cover version below) and a book of William Carlos Williams started me writing poetry. I had encountered Hughes and Heaney as contextual studies lectures at art college but these books started me writing.
I had always assumed that W.C.Williams in the book but I was mistaken it has Lowell and the full list below but NO WCW or Elliot or Frost because cut off is 20th century and all were born earlier. Lowell was born in 1917.
The second edition added a few new poets including Ginsberg and Plath as well as some now less well known people. There is an obvious male dominance..Levertov and Rich being notable exceptions but this is a product of the 1950s not today. For a lone art student at the time this was still a wonderful introduction to people like Creeley, Snyder, Ashbery, O’Hara, Merrill and Snodgrass…
Poems on Prescription
Contribute to the Poetry Wall for Nottingham Poetry Festival at Doctor’s Orders Micropub. Write a poem, any subject you wish (within reason), and have it displayed in the pub!. To submit your Odes, Haikus and Epic poems (short ones) go to the Facebook Page and send a private message, or email email@example.com
Submit ASAP, the wall is live now, and will stay up until 30th April.
Readings will take place on Monday 24th April 5-7pm.
In 1990 I had a short temporary job at The Poetry Library in London. Whilst there I was inspired to both continue writing poetry and met some wonderful individuals like Ivor Cutler and Michael Donaghy (over the counter). I also met some arses but such is poetry. The job was very menial and weekend cover. I lasted six months then cracked as travelling all weekend from Didcot not an option. Here a pamphlet I ‘re-directed’ the photocopier at the South Bank to produce.
I sold 25 copies.
I also used illustrations in the booklet for the first and last time.
The poems stand up despite the passage of time. The Carver influence still there but I also started looking at Paul Strand, Edwin Muir, Scottish Poetry in general….this pre move to Edinburgh. I also fortunate to meet and hear read C.K.Williams, Tess Gallagher and others whilst at South Bank….they were reading for Maura Dooley in Voice box. Jo Shapcott and Lavinia Greenlaw also worked there but I was pretty much ignored as ‘downstairs’ staff…
The poem The Ice Horses became the Shore Poets anthology title in 1996.
Poems written in London and Oxfordshire. Published in early 1990s in Last Gasp pamphlets. Last Gasp was a poetry open mic I helped run with poets Giles Goodland and Bridget Kursheed in Oxford.
From 1986 I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and especially his book FIRES. Indeed I attended his memorial readings event in London and saw Edmund White, Richard Ford and Salman Rushdie read in his honour.
I think this volume is the ‘lost volume’ as I was living at home in Didcot and totally cut off from literary world from 1988 until 1990.
I did do some readings through the Last Gasp group until I moved to Edinburgh in 1993.
None of these poems have been seen apart from in these hand made pamphlets.
This was the volume which would ‘break me’ I thought the world was my oyster…..I would outwrite Simon Armitage…
Well hindsight is a wonderful thing I am unemployed and he is Oxford Professor of Poetry..
I read with him in Reading in 1990..he was arguing with the arts officer over money..he a little more pushy than me.
I was unemployed and dressed like Yeats and hadn’t got a clue that it was a poetry ‘business’ …
BUT I could write…fuck lot of good it did me…..
But this was all done off my own back.. no University Department objectives to tick box ..no influential friends..nothing but words..and in the end words is all there is….
Its as good as it gets maybe one day I get some recognition for all this but I wouldn’t bet on it…..
Ironically I got recognition in Scotland……should have stayed there but that another story and the next volume ..Landmine…
Style note all hand written then typed on my mother’s old typewriter.
The last few pages of the document as pdf have originals and some uncollected poems.
The blue pen and line through a poem are from Giles Goodland when selecting for a pamphlet…I did not have second copies as everything had to be typed by hand …so here it is..
My first poems from 1981-1985 after art college. Some were published in the first volume of a’The New Magazine’ then just started by Gerard Woodward who went on to be a well known poet and novelist.
Unsure of my writing I used the ‘David Bell’ alter ego.
32 poems including the sequence ‘The New Country’ from 1985.
1981-5 never shown these to anyone since. Post art college first poems..reading Pasternak and Heaney…Bunting and W.C.Williams…and a hefty bit of John Masefield and Edward Thomas..love poems to a non-existent mythical England…32 poems including the mad The Moon Over Henley my version of Bunting and T.S. Elliot..I kid you not…with some Echo and The Bunnymen in there too:-)
32 poems because same number as Hughes ‘Hawk in th Rain’…along with Heaney a major influence the only four poetry books I owned at art college were Heaney’s ‘ Death of a Naturalist’, Hughes’ book and Sylvia Plath’s’Colossus’ and Thom Gunn ‘Sense of Movement’ .not a bad start:-).
I’ve been buying time since I was born
It is what the working class were made for
No trust funds, no foreign holidays
No gap year, no kindly Aunt’s dowry
My father taught me to buy time
Any chance you get son take what you can
Don’t be dishonest, keep your pride, do good work
But buy time, ten minutes here or an hour there
Time is the one thing they can’t take back again
My parents had to buy me into an education
So that I didn’t have to buy time at twenty
My mother cleaned council offices in the evening
Just so that I could get through foundation art college
She emptied bins, sometimes my sister and I beside her
Our little wage packets just enough to keep us all going
My father would be asleep, exhausted, when we got back in
We were all brought up to buy every moment of time
So much so that even when I was older
I still thought of every dead end, crazy occupation
As another means to buying time back later
Then I hit fifty and my parents dead or dying
Time ran out, I saw time being buried in front of me
But from their grave they handed me that precious thing
They had bought their council house in the 1980s
Now that council house was worth a whole lot of time
It gave me and my sister some valuable breathing space
Gave us both the very thing we never had much of
Time, simply time, the time I’m now buying off.
Self-explanatory but I lost count of the number of times privileged i.e. wealthy middle class people have told me that life is what you make it, you make your own luck, you only have yourself to blame etc etc. BULLSHIT..this country is totally controlled and run by money and the class system has become MORE not less embedded in my lifetime. I would not have had a decent education in post Thatcher Britain because that is how the Middle Class voted and would like it to stay…if you poor you don’t get in the door…
In 1992 Whilst living at my parents I joined Didcot and Wallingford Friends of the Earth.
We went on demonstrations (B and Q mahogany etc) with Earth First and raised funds for tree-planting.
I created this small ilustrated poetry booklet and sold 25 at £2 each which equivalent to 25 new trees.
I also took part in the actual tree-planting that happened based on the proceeds.
If I ever take the train back to Didcot I can actually point to the clump of new trees in a field neat Cholsey, Oxon which this book created;-)
I also showed a series of the down-land drawings behind Sir Julian Rose at a meeting on Organic Farming.
My thanks to Beryl Davidson of F.O.E. at the time (and fellow Didcot poet Jonathan Davidson’s mum by the way:-) for helping produce the booklet.
The publication has finally been scanned and the whole thing can be seen here under Publications on this website: NATURA MORTE
Here scans of the individual pages. The poems were all related to green issues and specifically related to animals and insects hence titles.