A working class hero is something to be

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Natura Morte – The Poems that became Trees 1992



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.

Six illustrations were placed next to them.


I am going to re-release as HPP3 in due course.




Horseshoe Press 1990-92 : 2016 – An old idea revamped


Original Horseshoe Press Pamphlets from 1990 -1992

The Horseshoe Press was first used as my self-publishing name in 1990.

I have just revived it as a method of disseminating more recent work.

I was then working at The Poetry Library in London and part of my job was photocopying thousands (literally) of poetry magazine and information lists which i assure you is mind-numbing work. The library though was lovely and whilst there I produced one full A5 pamphlet and a scattering of aborted ideas for publications. All were to be made on a photocopier! We talking pre-computer days so I assembled the copier templates from photographs, drawings and type written manuscripts!

The new Horseshoe Press website above continues this early series idea.

Here are some photos of the work produced in early 1990s.


The new poetry available at


Burning Books : where did it all come from…

Having self-published the latest pamphlet in an intentionally ongoing series ( I aim to publish a ’round-up’ pamphlet twice a year from now on) here some author’s notes on the poems.

The latest is  ‘Burning Books’ Horseshoe Press Pamphlet No. 2 and I thought I’d try and describe what influenced the poems and what I think I doing which invariably different to what the reader imputes.

Burning Books and Buying Time, morals, politics..everything can be bought these days. I am literally buying time at present using up savings before the next employment…..if there is a next one…

The Dance of Debt

The dance of debt been going on since time immemorial but never has it been such a mantra from the ruling classes..

Burning Books

Things are not getting any better no matter how many J.K.Rowling novels we burn….

Iggy Pop in a sideboard

True story on  Foundation Art at Oxford Polytechnic I suddenly had enough money to buy my third ever vinyl album. The first was an MFP Oliver the musical soundtrack. The second  was Alice Cooper’s Bilion Dollar babies then this. The copy I purchased was so warped it kept skidding when played on the Dansette tweed record player kept in my parent’s sideboard. I returned it to Woolworths and traded it for a flat copy of XTC’s White Music. I heard just enough of The Passenger to ‘get it’ and the details about Berlin are fantasy thoughts prompted by a documentary and footage shown after Bowie’s death.

Five doodlebugs

Just for fun completely random stuff which has overtones of suicide airline pilots from the news owing something to Prynne and Oliver but not sure what. I never been a strident modernist in that vain and frankly get bored with poetry that needs decyphering or pretends to be something it isn’t. The factionalism of contemporary poetry means that if you go down that road you will have a loyal and small audience and not much else. It a good route for academics. A love of Bob Cobbing helps..the poetic equivalent of trainspotting.

London Calling (45)

Start of a series of Vinyl 45 related poems. Short and lyrical …that’s it with overtones of political comment just like the original songs.

Working on a Building of love (45)

See above any link to Corbyn is purely coincidental and anyway I ditched Labour for the Greens.

A Poundland sonnet

Both these ‘sonnets’ written pre-election. Angry squibs. Didn’t help the shits won anyway.

A Wreckless scheme

A retort to the great God Armitage’s dull work in the field. Armitage is like New Labour very successfull and very dull.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light

A commission, a PAID commission no less, for R.I.B.A. Now online at RIBA website too. Loved it as gave free rein to my retro-technology obsessions. Each verse dedicated to a particular camera Smith used at different times in his life. Lead to some interesting places which will explore further like Zeppelins over Wembley,  1930s Camden, Orwell and Fascism.

Online at RIBA:

Matilda in the snow

The description of the down-land cottage all true. My dad was a farm labourer in early 1960s. We were so poor he bred rabbits to sell. The memory of Matilda comes from school history lessons. Matilda fled Oxford and was given refuge at Wallingford (my school’s location) Castle. Her action changed history and ensured that the Plantagenet line was in power later. No Matilda no QEII..which despite all the 90th Birthday celebrations might have been a good fact how about no Royals at all? Personal note I fled Oxford too but on a London bound overcrowded National Express coach. Not quite as romantic…


The selling of England by the Pound was most brutal in the destruction of William Morris’s original company. Rover was the biggest employer when I a child now it the University. They let it rust….

Postcard to Okinawa

Hiroshima anniversary.


I hate acronyms especially nasty little ones that belittle the working class which most of them seem to be funnily enough…

The Oxford Professor of Poverty

Dedicated to Simon Armitage who has hoovered up everything I could ever aspire too with some of the dullest poetry I ever read.
Success in Britain is never offending anybody…and toeing the line forever…..New Labour through and through. His first book is where it ended for me…


Self-explanatory. Whilst writing I referred to Edwin Muir.

I was also was reading Cesar Vallejo in great translations published by Richard Price ( a proper poet) at Southfields.

Awfully Middle Class

Again says it on the tin. A classist rant and I aint apologising. If you are going to publish boring self-referential holiday snaps about reading Dante on the beach then be prepared for a slagging..naming no names..

Buying Time

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…



About the only thing I got out of my brief tenure on a creative writing course at NTU. Heavily influenced by David Belbin’s particularly rigorous copy-editing. He would make a great editor. It a parody of a Scottish Working Class realist story from mid 1980s. Not bad for a first attempt. More James Kelman than Irvine Welsh thank god …

The full story and a ‘contextual document’ about influences we had to submit alongside it are available on the blog here:



I hope this might help…

The Enemy Within – How Thatcherism destroyed the White Working Class


Map of former Rover Car Plant at Oxford

Interesting and ground-breaking article from Paul Mason in The Guardian

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 and 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 bury 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, 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.
They’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.

He’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 bombs…it’s the same effect.

Saturday Night Blues – Sunday Morning Shifts – Working Class Writing?


A seasonal Amazon worker USA

The following was written as a comment on facebook about the Tim Lott article on the Guardian published this week. This sparked some interesting comments on the notion and as Lott specifically flags up Sillitoe and this now a City of Literature I thought it might be worth expanding on.

The comments are more revealing than the article. I was born on a farm and moved to a council estate (lucky enough after sleeping on floors my family were rehoused) in 1966. I have always seen myself as working class and have written about it. I don’t think you lose that and I am not any less working class now than I was then. I do however from the age of 17 have many instances where I was told I was ‘rough’, uncultured, brash, awkward, not middle class people when it suited them. This usually occurred when I stood up on principal to being labelled or demeaned because of my background. I would be famous now if middle class because I would have learnt to keep my mouth shut and ‘do the right thing’. I never have and I never will and it has cost me jobs (the latest a case in point even academia is rife with classism) and affected my artistic production but it has never stopped me and never will. As my father said if a job’s worth doing it is worth doing well.  I worked 8 years as a ‘minion’ (their words) at Oxford University in the same Colleges and system as Jeanette Winterson et al attended…..I could not be seen let alone heard during that time and that why I in Nottingham. If I stayed in Oxford I would be dead..literally.

There are some strange reactions in the comments including some vituperative remarks about Sillitoe himself which seem worth mentioning. He did in fact spend most of his life living in London but I don’t think that precludes him writing about the working class he came from. It would be like someone telling me I cannot write about Oxfordshire. More cutting was the accusation of demeaning the Radford area and its folk as villains which as I worked on Radford Road isn’t as far from the truth as it should be. In fact that road is statistically one of the highest reported crime areas in the country due to a high turn over of dwellers, students and a drug problem that has never gone away. Again attacking Sillitoe seems to be shooting the messenger and not addressing the problem something Nottingham good at.

Stanley Middleton isn’t mentioned which a shame as he probably wrote about the suburban aspirations of ‘decent folk’ ( i.e. people who work rather than the ‘working class’) just as well and lived all his life here but does that make him a better writer? As for modern day writers in Nottingham addressing ‘working class’ values it hard to say. David Belbin and John Harvey both address working-class story-lines but does that make their work ‘working class’ or them for that matter? Further more does it matter? Michael Eaton and Stephen Lowe both address working class subjects but I would never describe either as working class. As my dad would have said they wouldn’t know one end of a shovel from the other. Rosie Garner is definitely working class and lived all her life in Bestwood so I guess she would be happy with the label. Mulletproof Poet addresses his upbringing directly in his writing but aligns himself with The Sleaford Mods as much as Sillitoe. Nicola Monaghan in her original format ( she has since re-booted as a Horror Story/Thriller novelist Nikki Valentine but that another story) used working class to brand her first novel The Killing jar very successfully but having explored the hell of her estate upbringing (allegedly …I remain unconvinced there wasn’t a fair amount of decorative drugginess added to spice up the tale) she has not pushed that particular angle since. As an academic lecturer ( therefore now middle class according to some people’s logic) she now may find that to do so brings accusations of hypocrisy as many suggested in commenting on Lott’s original piece. To succeed then is to betray your background? That unjust in my opinion but unless a working class writer remains in poverty how do they avoid that catch 22. I am unemployed technically now but it not the same as being a 17 year old with no prospects. I am comfortable for the time being and can survive. Can I then say I still working class?

Which brings us to Nottingham’s most famous son..the rose with thorns. D.H.Lawrence. Definitely from the working class in Eastwood but hell bent on putting as much distance between himself and this ‘provincial’ city as he could. Never did any manual labour but wrote about it beautifully. Leant heavily towards right wing and fascist ideas after marrying into the Richtofen family. Treated badly certainly but no worse than others suspected of German allegiance and ended up a virtual exile because of it. A working class writer. Yes. A fascist. Yes. Uncomfortable truths abound. I do not buy into the ‘he was misunderstood’ approach. When he wrote his eulogy to Hitler he knew what he doing. A Moseleyite through and through.


Can one be a truly ‘working class’ writer then? My opinion is yes one can.

Even in writing that line I baulked at using ‘one’ it reminds me of Oxford.

We carry our childhoods with us and we never lose them. they form our core values and our outlooks. I will never vote Conservative. I will never support fox-hunting. I do not like right wing people and neither did my family. My parents bought their council house off Thatcher because it was a good deal …did that make them any less working class? The estate I grew up on is unrecognisable now and a dormitory suburb for London with high prices and no community. That was part of the Thatcherite policy to enable purchase, profiteering and movement. Slum landlords have divided the small council houses into multiple occupation flats. The working class are still there but speak many languages, have no organisation to speak for them, and work horrendous shifts to pay sky-high rents for cramped rooms. That is what working class writing should tackle now. It is below the radar of old notions of working and class and some working class people are actively exploiting that underclass. Again an unfortunate truth.The exploitation of land and capital continues by whatever means allowed.

The white working class communal world I grew up in has been smashed but it does not mean I cannot write about it or posit it as an alternative to what we have now. That is not naive lefty fantasy – that is fact. That certain middle-class writers would rather avoid that unwelcome truth says more about the state of Britain now than what existed then. Sitting around in book groups reading Hilary Mantel and eating cake is very nice for the idle rich but how many question how or where their nice cheap Amazon paperbacks are printed or who actually prepared and served that delicious cake? Many hands hold up our middle and working-class lifestyles now. We are all beneficiaries of our comfortable western capitalism..all of them unseen hands….in foreign parts mostly. Cheap labour and exploitation is at the heart of all capitalist processes. Forget that and you have forgotten you are working class. Hands define manual labour. Hands also write. Some writers only know writing and have never encountered the other.

My definition of a ‘working class’ writer is anybody who has experience of both. Working and writing. These days the literary world is clogged up with people who know only one and lecture those who have experience of the other endlessly…

Tim Lott has ‘soft hands’ as my Dad would say….they be manager’s hands.

The Drifting Village: Collected poems 2000-2015 released as pdf


Released into the wild today as a downloadable pdf. The first of an irregular series of pdf pamphlets released as and when i feel like it.
Basically a resume and calling card showing the fairly small output of the last 15 years and hopefully leading to more poems in the future. I have already started on a sequence for the ‘Backwater’ volume so thought I had better clear this one up for once and all.

Here the Bio blurb so you get the picture..all offers of Penury Fighting to me asap 🙂

The Drifting Village – Press blurb stuff…

Shaun Belcher was born Oxford,  England in 1959 and brought up on a down-land farm before moving to the small town of Didcot, near Oxford, England in 1966. He studied fine art at Hornsey College of Art, London from 1979–81. He began writing poetry in the 1980s and has subsequently been published in a number of small magazines and a poem used at title of the Shore Poets Anthology ‘The Ice Horses’ (Scottish Cultural Press 1996). A selection of poems was published as ‘Last Farmer’ in the Salt Modern Voices Series in 2010.

He now lives in Nottingham, England after two years in Edinburgh studying folk culture and several years in the city of expiring dreams otherwise known as Oxford.

He is currently working on a new volume of poems as part of a multidisciplinary art project called ‘Backwater’.

He has been involved in various literary projects including delivering creative writing workshops in Nottingham prison for the ‘Inside Out’ project and is a member of Nottingham Writer’s Studio.

After several years as an academic art lecturer he has returned to writing alongside his other artistic practices as this the fastest way to achieve total penury he knows.




This document is available under a Creative Commons All Rights reserved license at my Scribd profile here :


Backwater – New Poetry?


I have spent years listening to other people’s voices and learning it is time to 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 draft of a 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 pcsharp or tablet.


Song Man- Poetry and Music crossovers….


I have just finished this book by Will Hodgkinson. A companion to his first tome ‘Guitar Man’ it pretty much what it says on the label. A series of encounters with various songwriters underpinning his first and possibly last recorded work being recorded at Liam Watson’s Toe Rag studios and then released as a 7″ single.

A charming book. As my drunken Rockabilly band also recorded at Liam’s Toe Rag as did a unheard of garage band called The White Stripes everything described rings true. I found the encounters with Andy Partridge, Chip Taylor and Richard Hawley the most engrossing and could possibly have done with more from their interviews.

Overall a worthwhile read if interested in songwriters and the un-pleasantries of trying to form and keep together a band. The final encounter with Shirley Collins and a brief reprise of Bert Jansch leads directly nicely onto his next book ‘ The Ballad of Britain’ which next on my reading list.

Most interestingly the musicians comments were quite pertinent to my writers block with poetry/prose. I found Hawley most entertaining with his comments where he quotes Hendrix..’learn everything, forget everything, play’...and how other people’s music ‘knocked him off his radar‘…..

The strange case of POSH Mark Haddon…


Part of my new found ‘freedom’ is the ability to find bargains ( both cost me 50p which at 25p each makes it the cheapest pair of books I bought all week) and secondly having the time to actually read the damn things…

So not only are they like buses but I have read both ..the novel yesterday and the poems today although I did not read every poem to the end. I have not read anything else by Haddon which not surprising as he published oodles of kids books and just three ‘adult’ novels including this one…which more a crossover all ages job.

First impressions? Well very cleanly written and pacy as you would expect from a children’s writer. A couple of token f-words and one c word to I suppose tick the ‘adult’ box. The story is fairly innocuous ( will not spoil it ) but the dog stays dead. The interweaving of Conan Doyle and what seems like a Brian Cox series on the galaxies is deftly handled and the illustrations are amusing. As I am not a mathematician I did not check the sums at the end but the Aspergers trait of having to have it as an addendum was a nice touch as was the list of various locations ..Sunderland, Caracas, Swindon etc from throughout the novel a ice touch towards the end.

I enjoyed it but on reflection it did feel a bit like an exercise that pretty much wrote itself once the prescription written. It also felt like it owed a lot to Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole too……only with more facts. Whether it totally accurate re. Aspergers I not sure. It certainly reminded me of high end autism that I have worked with so giving the benefit of the doubt there.

It seems churlish but there were some bits I not so happy about although name-checking my home town as Didcot Parkway was a nice touch and puts Haddon in a small club of writers who have mentioned Didcot in their writing..which includes myself, Amy Clampitt, Marina Warner and Javier Marias..I kid you not…

( It is also 17 minutes on a Great Western 125 from Swindon to Didcot so full marks for accurate train spotting there Mr Haddon although I doubt you spent your weekends trainspotting on Didcot platform like me your family were probably in the Algarve.)

No what I felt a little uneasy with was the characterisation of the ‘adults’ i.e. they haven’t got any..character that is. The token ‘working-class’ father routine and ‘smelling’ was a little hard to believe. I was right.

A swift trawl of web soon established that Mr. Haddon has an MA in English Literature from Merton Oxford ( That means he got a B.A. they give you an MA automatically because they reckon it equivalent of other Unis BAs ..yeah bollocks) and previously at Uppingham Public his experience of work probably from a bus window….like fellow Uppingham alumni like Stephen Fry , Rick Stein and Johhny Vaughan..a toff who also adopted the vowels of the poor for broadcasting…. we not talking heavy labour here. A smart move in career terms though for both.

So he is erudite, smart and lives in Oxford in a nice big house with his wife who a Fellow which in Oxford means silver spoon waiting ( I know I served there). In other words he hasn’t got a care in the world.

The novel is ok but the poetry is pitiful….a poor man’s Armitage. The Oxonian/Uppingham man comes to the fore so his first (and so far last) poetry tome includes various references to Greek Gods and Horace…as well as some utter bollocks disguised as prose poetry which gives Armitage’s recent explorations a run for its money in terms of lightweight and fatuous.

Sorry but if Poetry Review published this then it must have been because he so jolly nice and knew someone. It would not have been published in the real world but then Oxbridge publishing isn’t the real world. Their recent appointment as Professor of Poetry proves that.

So having trashed the poems what about the kid’s stuff..probably great..for kids…end of.

After this experience I have been reading C.K.Williams for some adult entertainment.

Cleans the palette wonderfully old boy.

Well I Never….until now…..chocks away Henry..


The past two weeks have been both liberating and slightly scary. Having jumped ship so to speak from the Cruise liner NTU ( currently headed for Corporate Tax Haven Islands with a monetising Captain whilst flying a pure blue Tory ensign) I have had a few days to ponder what next…

I currently have two phd applications in one of which I have written off and cannot comment on until I given some more information but I not expecting much. The second I much more optimistic about BUT I have to factor in that at my age I may not be successful. Organisations run on ‘outcomes’ and that means long term outcomes from an academic career when done a PhD. At 57 I may not have so much time as others. If that the case then my last PhD application will be done and dusted by Easter and time to move on….to ..what…

Life post-Academic may be beckoning and it quite exciting to meet someone like Henry Normal last night who not tainted by the academic environment. So there is water on Mars then…at the moment I feel like Major Tom having been stuck in a Tin Can for 8 years. I will not be going back to academic teaching..I done over. I would love to do a really good PhD then become a researcher..a reader say..but that it with Academia. HE teaching no.


It was interesting to talk to Henry Normal who had gone the exact opposite way to me. Started writing poetry early then got involved in TV and then started writing again recently following his father’s death. I wrote fairly steadily through the 90’s but the Naughties were tainted by the diagnosis and subsequent deaths in 2004 of first my father and then my mother in 2012 from cancers. That pretty much ended my relationship with Oxfordshire too..symbolically the Salt pamphlet ‘Last Farmer’ went in my mother’s coffin. Done and Dusted….

Until now. I have finally thrown off the mantle of Academic Teacher which I never felt entirely happy with. Especially as the Progressive Rightists Corporate Zealots ripped the heart and soul out of the system and impose what is fast becoming a training regime staffed entirely by a compliant workforce.

I have started to think positively about writing again…and it comes out I no idea but at least I have time to think about it. Even the aborted NTU MA was too precious and compressed to really feel able to get on with it….

I had simply exchanged one outcome regime for another..only this time on the wrong side of the fence.

So if there is anything poetry wise left in the tank it will probably happen now.

Chocks away like the early flyers above……I may fly.. I may crash …

but at least I holding the control stick this time.

Skeleton at the Plough…my Scottish Ghost.


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:


The Bear Pit – Oxford Channel 6 TV – 1999


Filmed for poetry slot on Oxford 6 one of the first local TV channels in the country. Filmed direct off TV hence quality. Summer 1999? I am stood on location i.e. in the Bear Pit it still there 🙂

I am a lot younger (40) thinner and beardier…

The Bear Pit – Long Wittenham – 1999 from Shaun Belcher on Vimeo.


The poem is available in Farm Hand’s Radio above:


Council grass-cutter smooth
the sliced hay and clover ferments in warm bundles
in the crest and dip of this depression
a hundred yards short of the churchyard entrance.

The old building has fallen to dust
living only as a memory of a shadow at dusk.
Here the cocks once beat a flurry of blood and feather
and the shackled bears were unchained.

Later those bears danced, shifting in their chains
as the first generator spluttered into life under the chestnuts.
Then it was teeth and claws, a rowdy entertainment of
blood soaked pelts and simple wagers.

The clay beneath this hollow has drunk
up its four hundred years of dripping blood.
It has fed into the roots of every blade of grass
that now lies as smooth as fur
a cloak of lost bets, shattered bones and fears.

The Broken Brush: Writing and Painting?


I have not posted in this writing blog for a while due to a full-time commitment to painting in preparation for the Lady Bay Arts show in West Bridgford on the weekend of 16th and 17th May.

The actual physical act of painting has made me look at my writing ‘block’ in a different way and also with the benefit of hindsight my writing ‘career’ post M.A. in Creative Writing. ‘Doing’ rather than ‘thinking about doing’ which my writing has been sabotaged by has become a useful tool. I painting again because ignoring theory and influences and simply engaging directly in practice as Picasso says:

“I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

I am only able to paint like I am now because of time off on career break and I made the right decision in leaving writing behind for a while. At this point in my life and with seven years teaching in an art school and an MA in Fine Art recently completed my head was always in a ‘art’ place. Trying to drop all that and go down a writing MA route was a mistake but one I had to make to lay at least two ghosts.

1. My possible grandfather. If nothing else the MA course laid to rest that particular ghost. I feel free of that burden now. Having ‘revealed’ it I actually made it less not more important.

2. I have to ‘do’ a MA in Creative Writing to be a writer…complete tosh but sadly a attitude that all to prevalent in this city. I have met many people claiming to be writers with MAs and many without. In both cases I’d say about 10% are actually writers….about same quota goes for the rest of the arts. Postgraduate arts academic qualifications are mostly for people who want to impress their friends and a small percentage of students who want to work in academia.

So post ‘academic writing’ which is I reckon totally shot now what shall I do…

Good question I no idea…answers on a postcard please.

The only thing for certain is I will want to do it… if and when it starts again.

It could be songwriting, poetry…historical research..or music reviewing again which I always enjoyed.

As they say watch this space..literally all writing news will be posted here.

As Harland Howard said when songs rejected for the umpteenth time..

‘Always smile, shake their hands and walk away’…..:-)

Dead Cat Bounce


The photo above shows in their entirety the new  poetry books I  have aquired since the defining moment of the Salt pamphlet ‘Last Farmer’ in December 2010. The only other books missing are the Helen Mort Wordsworth trust pamphlet and my fellow Salt Modern Voices. I have separated them as I regard December 2010 as a break point between what I have done and what I might one day do. There is no specific intent in their collection. Indeed many are personal connections e.g. Rosie I have worked with and Tony Curtis I liaised with over a Ray Howard-Jones exhibition. Martin Malone I helped with web stuff on Interpreter’s House which I used to help run the web side of. Alan Baker is someone I got to know through the web but not met in person yet despite sharing this city:-)

December 2010 I was 51 years old and had stopped publishing in magazines (not through any great plan) around 1999 which about the same time the well of words dried up. There was a brief ‘dead cat bounce’ in 2006-7 when this blog originally started. Wayne Burrows selected three poems from those written then for an East Midlands issue of Staple and I was briefly an original member of the Nottingham Writer’s Studio.

All of this dead cat bouncing ended totally on the 28th June 2008 at the Lowdham Festival Staple Launch. Ironically this was just as I was given a permanent as opposed to a HPL (temp) lecturer post at Nottingham Trent University School of Art and Design. Following the reading I had a ‘disagreement’ with Richard Pilgrim and left the NWS there and then….I still regard him as an absolute arse and mediocre writer. He belittled me in front of fellow writers over an unpaid NWS fee which I regarded as more than covered by the work I did in setting up a wordpress that saved the whole thing by increasing membership and profile at a critical time but they were all too up their own arses to see that. Rather than argue with an idiot I resigned. I also questioned the viability of a second floor studio from ACE point of view which born out in subsequent moves. At that time I also questioned paying fees so certain individuals could have personal spaces to write. Thankfully all that has changed.

From 2008 until September 2014 I neither read, thought about or had any contact with poets or poetry apart from the Salt Publication and subsequent Salt Modern Voices TOUR  in 2011. This felt like a dead poet reading as I read some poems that over 20 years old! I was also dealing with my mother’s serious illness so my thoughts not really on the task at hand.

This was of course the perfect preparation for an M.A. in Creative Writing! In fact signing on to the course was a deliberate act of  forcing myself to see what left in the tank..if anything and in that it was entirely successful. I had stopped serious painting years ago and had stopped writing but somehow I still believed I was a functioning poet and painter…I have smashed that idea once and for all now.

I thought I could pick up the past but the past didn’t agree. In fact when it came to writing an influences essay I floundered then I quit. I wrote the Edwin Smith commission poem during that first term with absolutely no influences at all. This is apparently not possible according to Creative Writing wisdom. Whatever influences can be detected are so buried even I was not aware of them!

So as I wrote in the previous post I raking over the ashes to see what might be left and what I might be doing in the future. I am sure that whatever I might do from now on is going to have be starting from scratch. If nothing else the career break has done its job…given me time to sort this out…no more delusions.This has led to some soul-searching and some interesting insights. Apologies for the naval-gazing but after all isn’t that what most poetry is these days?


NEW HORIZONS…..can the Dead cat be revived?

I have come to a couple of interesting conclusions and this goes hand in hand with my fine art painting career (non-career). When I seriously donned the ‘poet’ cap back in the early 1990’s I was heavily influenced by Raymond Carver and Simon Armitage and determined to produce a ‘democratic muse’ i.e. a poetry of simple expressions and familial history that anyone in my extended family back in Oxfordshire could read and by extension anybody could read. I held firmly to this through my extended stay in Edinburgh and some of that attitude I found mirrored in some contemporary Scottish poetry. I was heavily influenced whilst there by Stewart Conn, William Neill and Norman McCaig. Indeed I met and corresponded with the first two on a regular basis. Left-wing, working-class and place-centred it all fitted and was reinforced by a series of night-classes with Murdo MacDonald and Craig Cairns I attended at Edinburgh University. I felt part of the Scottish scene and felt supported as a poet in a way I have never felt since in Oxford or Nottingham. I think this is because I am a ‘class-based’ poet and that doesn’t go down well with certain elements in England. I am talking about the Oxbridge stranglehold on literary life that leads many to affect pseudo middle-class characteristics in both speech and thought. I ain’t like that my duck.

I also steered heavily towards figuration in my artworks from the mid 1980’s onwards too as the reality of grinding poverty hit home. The irony is that democratic poems and figurative art got me nowhere so I might as well have been an iconoclastic avant-guardist for all the good it did me. Which brings me to the point of this short essay.

My first encounter with poetry was American and Objectivist….through William Carlos Williams I discovered Tomlinson and Bunting and Pound. One of my favourite critics (still is) was Eric Mottram and I lapped up his conversations with Tomlinson. A very modernist and international outlook at a young age. The collected poems ‘Diesel on Gravel’ which collates the first ten years I re-read last night and it starts in an experimental WCW / Imagist / Pasternak vein and slowly adopts traditional forms before crashing through the Carver plain-speaking barrier around 1986. Then in the nineties I became more and more conservative to the point where Simon Smith accused me of being on an entirely different bus to himself.

I realise now that this went hand in hand with a lack of persistence in abstract painting too and a steer toward the graphic and familiar.

I am now at a point in my life where I can once more steer back into uncharted waters so to speak. I long ago gave up thinking that my art would make me a living which the most sensible thing I said since I walked away from my dad’s shovel. I can earn livings elsewhere like many a modernist.

So the image above is curious. I need to move forwards but not as randomly as above. I am beginning to sniff out a route. Alan Baker and Paul Sutton fit into a political/modernist/post-modernist area I interested in..a post OTHER anthology kind of sea Andrew Taylor also swims in.

Matt Merritt I found fascinating because he not embedded in academia. He also referred to Tomas Transformer who I hadn’t thought about since Edinburgh. I was heavily influenced by Robin Fulton and he had deep Scandinavian connections. These are the horizons I lost in Oxford. I ignored poetry and poetry ignored me in Oxford because it was locked behind steel wire and bricks. I once conned my way into a Les Murray reading inside a University building but I was treated like dog-mess on the pristine undergrad’s shoes. Being a University employee was to be a minion and one was always kept in one’s place…..always second in line basically.

Here are two of Fulton’s books and the Bloodaxe Transtromer collected collection translated by Fulton from 1987. I also include Nicholson’s majestic ‘Poem, Purpose and Place’ from my Scottish days too:-)


Substitute: My problem with poetry


Now I have always had a problem with being a ‘poet’.

I come from a straightforward working class council estate background and the only thing worse than being a poet there was becoming a ‘fine artist’ so I killed two birds in one bush there then with my double non-career. I remember digging up a Xmas Tree with my dad in my 30s and a farmer asked my dad what I did to which he replied ‘artist’. The farmer replied ‘Oh Aye they’re all dead or gay aren’t they’ which just about sums it all up….my dad said nowt….just dug up the tree.

So forgetting that I wasn’ t meant to be a poet but a bricklayer (my dad never got over that) I was introduced to poetry at my fine art course under ‘complementary studies’ and bought my first poetry books (Heaney and Hughes Faber paperbacks). I even witnessed a living poet when Adrian Henri came to give a talk, which was unforgettable, as we decamped from Alexandra Palace art school to the park outside and much wine was drunk.

A seed had been planted and suffering from London withdrawal symptoms and no job in 1982 I was back home and visited my local library. I came across the Donald Hall American Poetry anthology and another book with William Carlos Williams in and that was that I was hooked. What is more with no money and no studio making art was far away and here was something I could ‘have a go at’ with a pencil.

I then wrote poetry off and on until 2000 (most intensely in the years with no art studio) and then again briefly in 2006-7 which was the three poems published in Staple. However having finally put my art archive online  I have realised that, a bit like songwriting, poetry filled in a gap when I not creating art which from Foundation Course in 1977 onwards until 1990 had been my main focus.

Which brings me to now and all that happened since last September. The coincidence of my first ever paid poetry commission and starting the Creative Writing M.A. was dysfunctionally apt….I immediately concentrated on the commission and I think did quite well in fulfilling that brief and promptly screwed up the M.A.

Well I say screwed up , other parties gave me a more than helping hand (not at Clifton nor anything to do with CW I may add) which may come out in due course depending on the probability of a lawsuit ensuing.

So here I am 56 years old. One small pamphlet to my name through Salt and wondering whether to carry on writing poetry. A strange place to be. I am doing the right things. Attending the writer’s studio poetry monthly session, Stanza meetings (last one excellent) and seeing live poets at Jazz and Poetry (D.A.Prince and Tony Roberts both excellent) and Totally Wired evenings (more for the student crowd but equally good readers).

But…….my mind at the moment firmly fixed on painting again for the first time in a very long time. What is more one of the reasons I gave up on CW M.A. was the feeling that the time off until June should be used in my studio whilst I have one. Too many times in my life I have not had the space to work in as a fine artist. For once I have chosen to use it whilst it there. Then the same day as I start drawing I write a poem….DOH. Not a poem in the way I have written before and whatever poetry I might write in the future will not be like the past.

The poet I was is buried along with the Salt pamphlet in my mother’s grave. I cannot go back. I cannot write like that any more.

The times they have changed. Whatever comes next is starting in the Iggy Pop poem below. I no idea if it will last this time. Maybe all along it was just a substitute for another art form..we’ll see 🙂

The images just  a bit of my inner Mod coming out 😉


Poundland Sonnet 2: A Wreckless Scheme




Paradise is a gold throw on a white leather sofa
Under the buttocks of a call-girl blowing a footballer
Indiscretion is a national pastime after cup-cake baking
Facebook ramming lives with other people’s misfortune
Clear-eyed dreams of making it with the boys in the band
Dissolve in bleary orgies in the back of a camper van
Parrots and lizards scamper under screen saver skies
As the magpie landlords eye their prosperous finds
While celebrities promote books they never saw penned
As the cut crystal tinkles with the fizz of the vanity press
Screenwriters shuffle stories that have already been spent
Suggesting that our culture is bleeding to death
The tethered ox offers its throat to the knife
The Sun will always shine on the shittiest life.


Poundland Sonnets 1: A Poundland Sonnet




In the vacuous naughties the affluent thrum
Their chubby fingers on the card-less tills
As the slippery accountants of PWC and RBS swill
Their caviar down with Vive Cliqout at the parliamentary bash
The air is full of Quangos and insider trading slang
As the parade of yesterday’s entertainers head for the tank
Never have so few been made rich by so many
Gated compounds reek of the stench of money
Whilst out in the gutter the poison rain flecks
The sequined shoes of the stars as the homeless wretch
Wherever a buck can be made from a paedophile story
With a false ID the hacks tear at the fraudulent lying
Satellites spin, click every channel is a Clear Sign
We are all Poundland remainders now buried alive




I knew Armitage had written something called Poundland (It is actually one of the worst poems ever written full of fake poetese..yuk) so I  was going to change the title of these ‘mock’ sonnets especially as he famously wrote bad sonnets in ‘Book of Matches’ and has been duly punished by being doomed to the GCSE Revision Pages of the internet forever more. However as I will not be the last bad sonneteer I thought fuck it here they are…rants in other words as we approach the shittiest election in years…


Writer’s Block…..smash the piano!



Too much thinking fucks you up
Too much time slips through the cracks
Worrying about the rain, the funerals
The way the poplar trees creak in the wind
And all along the drip of ice melting off
The corrugated asbestos roof a metronome


The beat of a disillusioned parade
Spinning through a muddied field outside Berlin
The piano disintegrating under the 400 blows
Of a clown and Judy Garland’s axes
Through the wires and chords
The splinters of a life fading away


I was 17, Lust for Life, in a rack at Woolworth
I bought it although it was so warped it didn’t play
Spinning on a tweed covered second-hand record player
Hidden inside a wooden sideboard it rattled the china
The Passenger woozy and stumbling into a Motown beat
The future on a plate, disintegrating in the shooting match.


Finally like a chord wrenched from a broken piano a new poem. I think. I not sure any more if I actually am a poet. Whether poetry even worth writing in the U.K. at this time as it seems to me to have become a sport for the white middle-classes and to be slowly suffocating in academic rules and careerism. I always felt distanced from anything remotely resembling a British novelist scene. That to me was pure drawing-room from the get go with a few notable exceptions e.g. Ballard, Sinclair etc but most of what I see paraded in Waterstones fiction section I’d rather see pulped to be honest. Apart from helping second-incomers pay off their mortgages or buy a nice cottage in Cornwall I don’t see the point. Now poetry has gone the same way…

The poetry I felt part of has disappeared under the weight of participants..many good and talented ..but for me hugely boring. I felt attracted to iconoclasts and outsiders…politically motivated poets of region. I don’t see that any more in fact I see careerist tick-boxing on a scale that would make a fine-artist with a wad of ACE forms blush… what has happened…is it the internet?  The everybody can do it mentality when patently most cannot..sorry that not CW PC speak but I don’t buy into the revise enough times you will get it right school. In fact I increasingly believe in less revision is better.

I may be wrong but if so why do I feel so miserable whenever I see yet another worthy but dull white middle-class poet read?

As a counter-blast here a poem about smashing pianos and other things….

First version hand-written in one go whilst listening to music. Second as written directly to facebook ( a well known literary outlet) and finally posted here and removed from facebook.

Not the way you told to do it in a CW class maybe ..well fuck it it’s the only way I can write.  It may be rubbish who knows. It’s this or nothing…and I mean nothing…I that far away from writing right now.

Smashing Pianos is how I feel.

In fact looking at the poem again ( It was deliberately written in a semi-trance whilst thinking about other things to try and unlock something other than bland formal concision). I realise it all about the sentiments above.

It is about the futility of being a ‘working-class’ poet in a middle-class scene. A real working-class council-estate chavvy poet. The kind of poet some younger middle-class poets have been attacking lately for ‘parading’ their working-classness for fuck’s sake as part of the attacks on David Harsent and Simon Armitage. Yes being brought up poor is now a stigma in poetry circles…..that subject is no longer fact we have all moved on..gender politics, feminism, animal liberation they fine ..but male, left-wing class-based politics that not allowed any more…it so 2oth century darling.

That’s fine if we in turn are allowed to point out the dire middle-classness of poems about Daddy’s Bermudan holiday or how wonderful France is…or is that somehow OK? Is it also a fact that a majority of white middle class poets under 30 choose poetry as a life vocation or profession, a bit like being an architect, and can only afford to study and crawl up the academic league ladder of riches and fame because of money made from Thatcher’s Britain?Is part of being a citizen of Cameron’s state being allowed to say what one likes if one has money only?

Julie Walters said recently that there would be no working class RADA actors soon…the same applies to all the visual arts and poetry too. The marginal and the poor are being squeezed to the edge of everything…taking away a voice is the first step in eradicating a ‘problem’…….ask Tony Harrison..he quoted Arthur Scargill’s father in ‘The School of Eloquence’ from V…..nothing changed but the hands on the dictionary….

The epigraph to Tony Harrison’s long poem v. is a quote from Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader:

‘My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.’



The Armitage Stomp


I have delved a little into the Armitage biography and it quite worrying.

He has received just about every award and opportunity it possible to get including four Phds (Honourary of course no laborious referencing required).

So when Martin Stannard in his review of Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014 raised the possibility that this was a sheep in wolf’s clothing I decided to dig a little deeper.

For a poetry workshop tonight I have selected four poems from across ‘Rhymin Simon’s’ illustrious career to see if Stannard was just a sour-puss and lo and behold this is what I found.

THE TYRE (from Cloudcookooland 1997)

A poem from his middle period I guess. Displays the usual ‘prosaic’ subject matter in first stanza, skips to ‘what might happen’ in stanza 2 and then drifts off into transcendental hogwash in the third stanza although I am sure there are readers who find it sublime. I don’t.

In fact I find the whole thing confected and unbelievable. He has obviously never done a labouring job or worked on a farm because his ‘tyre’ is made up. No farmer would leave an expensive bit of kit like that lying around and secondly it would if containing water be too heavy to lift. Anybody who close to the land would know that. Further there is no ‘real’ location nor identifiable other words it fiction.

No this is a typical Armitage confection. Take an object and build a’narrative’ around it (like the penny.etc etc). This fitted in well with the Glyn Maxwell school of narrative poems that Poetry Review editor Peter Forbes (New Generation maestro and who put them both on the cover -see above) was engineering.  Back in the late 1980s he came to a workshop I attended in Islington raving about Maxwell,  himself and Byron as all parts of the new longer poem movement…Armitage fitted in well and indeed pretended to be Auden to Maxwell’s Isherwood.


Now this is where things get interesting. If one takes the poem and simply let the sense determine line-break we find a far shorter and far more conventional poem ‘chopped’ into a longer form. Stannard is spot on Armitage is obsessively iambic and 10 syllable to line then plods duly on. Here the original and my edited version.


Just how it came to rest where it rested,
miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane
or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost.
Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin
nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots,
it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump,
to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it,
pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form
of its tread, in its length, and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock
when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk
down to meadows, fields, onto level ground.
There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship
or one hand fingering a coin or ring.

and edited...

Just how it came to rest where it rested, miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost. Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
 Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots, it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump, to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
 We bullied it over the moor, drove it, pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form of its tread, in its length, and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk down to meadows, fields, onto level ground. There and then we were one connected thing,
five of us, all hands steering a tall ship or one hand fingering a coin or ring.

It is a very dull iambic pentameter with very basic rhymes nothing more…and I think he got it from Auden… is  ‘As I walked out one evening’…ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum.

I have tried this with all four poems and it works on all.
He seems incapable of avoiding this constant beat…or using any other register.

Most worryingly even the mock Sonnets of Book of Matches which so beloved of our schools worksheeting teachers has exactly the same plodding inevitability. He himself did not claim they sonnets they just aped the 14 line length BUT…..they have nothing of a true sonnet about them at all…Wyatt would turn in his grave..there no subtlety here at all..Professor of Poetry? What for?

This is what the poem ‘POEM’  actually made of…..

Ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum ba de dum….

when he cannot find a full rhyme a half rhyme will do it seems……

And if it snowed and snow covered the drive he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night And slippered her the one time that she lied.
And every week he tipped up half his wage. And what he didn't spend each week he saved.
And praised his wife for every meal she made.And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.
And for his mum he hired a private nurse.And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.
Here's how they rated him when they looked back: sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that.

Once you hear this dull rhythm it hard to get out of one’s mind which I think why Stone Stanzas so successful. Because he was working with a shorter line and one which had to be sculpted in stone which he could not drag on ad nauseum he had to change rhythm perhaps for the first time and break the Armitage Stomp….

From Stone Stanzas

The sky has delivered

its blank missive.

The moor in coma.

Snow, like water asleep,

a coded muteness

to baffle all noise,

to stall movement,

still time.


After testing his theory I can wholeheartedly agree with Martin Stannard that we have a leaden fairly unimaginative Poet Laureate elect on our hands but how he got to be in that position is far more about poetry and politics than any fault of the man himself.

He is a good performer, a very good and media savvy spokesman for poetry but as a poet…he just isn’t that good in my opinion and I think Stannard amidst the rancour has finally found him out which is what good criticism does it makes you look again.


Simon Armitage: Who’s he kidding?

'The Martian Owl' Photo Credit: Paul Wolfgang Webster

This post brings together some thoughts I posted online today in response to the attention being given a negative review posted on the Stride website by poet and critic Martin Stannard of the newly published ‘Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014.

Review available here: Martin Stannard Review

Me and Simon Armitage

I had been writing quite experimental poetry through the 1980’s since art college most obviously influenced by William Carlos Williams and Boris Pasternak. Like my abstract painting it was not ‘user friendly’ and nor was I.

Then in 1986 I discovered Raymond Carver’s effortless and readable poems and he became my biggest influence. I also read Simon Armitage’s Slow Dancer pamphlet not because I had heard of him but because I was interested in anything John Harvey published. He was the man after all that had published a Slow Dancer with Carver’s photo on the cover that led to me submitting to him.

I liked that pamphlet and also read his first Bloodaxe book ‘Zoom’. Rather than feeling overawed by Armitage’s talent for a winning and entertaining line I actually found it inspiring that someone from ‘my background’ and using day to day sayings and colloquialisms could garner so much attention. I may subconsciously have been thinking of that first pamphlet ‘The Walking Horses’ when I wrote ‘The Ice Horses’ although to me Carver was far more important. So in those days I was a fan not a detractor.

Ironically I then read on the same bill at the Rising Sun Institute in Reading in 1992.
I don’t remember anything much apart from Simon Armitage’s awful Hawaiian shirt and his asking the arts officer to pay him quickly as he had a mortgage. That struck me because I was unemployed and living with my parents and nowhere near mortgage land. He was a different animal to me even then.

Since then Armitage has simply been there all this time but not on my shelves.
I therefore have no real contemporary knowledge of his work to draw on.

Since the early 1990s I have never managed to earn a living from poetry or any art form. Armitage must be one of the few poets in England that has been that successful that he could probably live off his poetry alone. That may well be the source of the  antagonism that he provokes  from other poets but jealousy is not criticism.


Martin Stannard Review – The Hand Grenade

Which nearly 23 years later brings us to Stannard’s review and to the traditional  first go at the tome to be judged by..The Selected. 1989-2014 covers everything from his first Bloodaxe book ‘Zoom’ to now. Because of the kerfuffle I feel inspired to buy it despite the cover.I have only my memories of those early works and an awareness of his very public profile to go on so this not another review.

I think the only things I have read by him since the 1990s would be the Vinyl Collecting pieces from The Observer he did for a while which were a bit nondescript and I do own the ‘Gig’ book but never felt inspired to read it as it looked to me to be a bit of vanity publishing.

I have never had an opinion about his career other than he got lucky hit the moment just like some other lucky working-class bleeders (Damien Hirst) and once ‘famous’ he never lost the right to churn out books. I have read reviews over the years and watched his reputation rise and fall, never dipping below hugely admired as far as I can tell. I may have missed more critical opinions as I have not been focusing on poetry.

I was surprised then today by the venom attaching itself on facebook to a ‘negative’ review of Rhymin Simon and have reacted. The surprise the more heartfelt because I don’t think I have ever read a negative review of the man. Which shows how deeply embedded in ‘National Treasure’ territory he has become. Like Ian McMillan they are cheeky chappy working class media ‘poets’ but does that mean because popular they beyond criticism?

In my opinion Martin Stannard makes a hash of his critique because he adds so much personal detail he manages to throw himself on his own grenade. If one ignores the 23 years of rightful indignation ( which I admit I have sympathy for)  that the rewards of poetry are thin and get spread even thinner when dumped on a lucky few there is some very good and insightful and damaging points being made. That is what criticism should do. Criticise…

Stannard is not a fan and to be fair appears never to have bought into the work.
To paraphrase Stannard he says that Armitage has played a one-card poetry trick for almost 25 years. In the rare case where he tries something else like ‘Stone Stanzas’ he reveals a depth mostly missing from his O Level syllabus grist.  Stannard has analysed his line and thinks it is repetitive in the extreme being almost solely based on a 10 syllable metronomic beat. To me this element of the review is good closely read ‘criticism’ from Stannard and personal opinion has nothing to do with it. According to Stannard there is little or no real adventure over his career and when he attempted prose-poetry it was a mistake. For someone held up as the Professor of Creative Writing at Sheffield University (a post he given I presume because of his published work not his academic status) this is a very harsh criticism but Stannard needs to rewrite or write again with a cooler head to make this criticism stick.

I say respect Armitage’s early originality and the good stuff including the Stone Stanzas. Let us recognise his faltering middle years if that true and make any real criticism coherent and less personal. Including from myself! I will try and review the book objectively if I get hold of a copy.

I do think British poetry needs more than a cheeky grin and admirable technique and that my personal opinion and it can apply to other ‘media’ poets too like Ian McMillan……for me it needs grit and experiment too. Peter Reading and Ken Smith where are you when we need you most?

As for lovely northerners I will stick with Basil Bunting and he didn’t do cuddly:-)



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