Is that all there is……


Well that has made me think…..after a thorough trawl my entire ‘fictional prose’ output amounts to three false starts and 1500 words. That is all there is…

So maybe choosing the’fiction’option as second choice of a range of pathways on the M.A. may have been a mistake. The other option is ‘Script for film and stage’ and the more I examine my past writing especially the outcomes for the songwriting the more it seems they may fit into a transmediale kind of box… thinking about the course I been drawn to Willy Vlautin’s novels/songs…..Nick Cave’s Bunny Monroe App. My role in the Trailer Star CD was as writer (script-writer?) for a project that delivered by others (actors?). I have the space to choose and think I will attend the first sessions of both before making up my mind. Any transmedia project needs good writing…content is king but how one approaches that content can be different. I have written poetry for 25 years so a new area is daunting and as the following shows there been plenty of false starts…..I keep seeing this intro to ‘Trailer Star’ as a graphic novel in black and white…maybe I should draw it out…literally 🙂

Looks like the M.A. already challenging my preconceptions..good….


Trailer Star: Moon over the Downs

intro..first page…script for a graphic novel..prose poetry…flash fiction?

Each drip off the corrugated plastic sheeting made a tinny sound that he could hear from deep within the damp sleeping bag and layers of blankets where he was trying to sleep. He could picture the 1953 Coronation picture tray (each royal face worn to a rusted halo) where it lay propped against the side of the caravan under the makeshift porch. He saw each drop collect in his mind’s eye as it hovered on the broken edge and then fell from the cracked sheet. It was too cold to get up and do anything about it so he pulled the blanket back and in the dark caught a glimpse of the VHS recorder’s timer a blurry phosphorous lime green glow. 3.12. He groaned and mumbled a curse about February weather groaned again and was gone. Sliding in his dream back to the childhood garden behind the biscuit factory…crumbs of comfort on a crimson tablecloth…sugar in a bowl…iced gems…ants…blankness

The mangy mongrel from the next door caravan woke him up with a wheezing bark more like its owner’s cough at 7 a.m. From deep in the damp cocoon he could hear it dragging at its lead as the postman’s footsteps on the gravel path and the swish of his tyres trundled off to the far caravans. Some muffled words, case a banging door and silence again. The cold had seeped into his sleeping bag and through the sagging and wrinkled skin to his bones. He stayed wedged inside the dark cocoon not wanting to freeze his head even more in the brittle light. Then the old sod next door started turning over his old Rover’s engine for what seemed like eternity before it sprang into a half-life of churning rusted pistons and oil leaks. It crunched off across the gravel road and onto the tarmac road that ran by the river and was soon a faint hum on the edge of silence.

7.10 blinked repeatedly from the recorder as he finally peeped one eye out from the sleeping bag. A cloud of steam marked his breath as it rose up to cloud the inside of the frosted and dirty window above his head. God he hated February. Ice that formed on the inside of the windows would puddle on the sills before dripping in grey lines down the walls. Still sleeping in his coat for warmth he slowly shed his covers like a butterfly emerging from its caterpillar skin. He tottered half upright and half awake-half asleep on the edge of the sagging bed and fumbled instinctively for where his lighter and Rizla papers were. It took ten minutes for his frozen fingers to roll the meagre tobacco into something like a decent ‘rolly’ that crackled as lit it. Yellow fingers shook as he brought it up to his mouth. February …Jesus wept ..another winter like this and he wouldn’t see the next one and no tours, no money in the overdrawn account..he was living on borrowed time..he knew it…they’d turn up one day and find him frozen to the inside of the caravan and have to chip the ice from his eyes….maybe even carry him out stiffer than that guitar case propped against the door to stop some bastard getting in at night….he grimaced licked spit from his fingers and hacked his first clean breath of the morning deep into his lungs…so deep it hurt…


A Crow in Barley….the novel I never wrote…


22nd July 1990. Unemployed and back home in Didcot, for sale Oxfordshire with my parents….aged 31..not good. So what do I do..apart from a lot of off the cards building work and fencing and green party activism…this..I start writing a rural novel…..obviously..

Hand typed ( I didn’t type) on an old 60’s Office Remington I think….the tapping must have driven my parents mad. I was deadly serious as notes on the manuscript suggest I had it planned out as 10 sheets a day…wildly optimistic and I managed to finish first chapter only ..oh and an Intro…this is the intro…rest is probably best left in manuscript form and looking back at it there was a reason it abandoned:-)


The wide white sky was gone. In its place, pale yellow stalks, dry cracked dirt and empty ears of corn. His world had spun seven times and on the eighth his face had come to rest here. He blinked warm blood as it trickled down his forehead and into his right eye. Already dust and flecks of straw were sticking to it. His face was pressed into a tractor track. The rows of v-shaped ruts ran off into the corn. He thought of counting them, then he must have passed out. He came round and the world was moving again. Something was lifting him and pulling him up like a plant as he was dragged free of the field. His bed of chalk, flint and straw fell way. The top of the crop dazzled him as he rode across it. Could have been the sun shaking under him. Then he crossed the remains of the wire fence. A stretch of ten to fifteen feet had been flattened by the impact. Some of the barbed steel wire had snapped and sprang loose in the air. There was a v-shaped swathe through the corn as if someone had taken a scythe to it.

That was where they found him. Later he was told he’d come down like a shot crow, his leather jacket scratched and scarred like his machine. He was covered in celandines and poppies that had tangled around him. Someone said he looked like an angel lying there. He remembered looking up at the sky as it changed from blue to the white of the ambulance ceiling. All he could remember later was white, white flowers, white sky, clouds rising higher and higher and really high up a pair of black wings hovering. A hawk watching the fields below and that ambulance’s shining roof and the black speck of a bike to its right and the figures moving. He wished he was up there too. Could just slip away from all this on a thermal. But things had a way of coming out. Like rabbits dashing away from a combine harvester. Or like the ash floating down on the town when the fields were burnt. It would be all over the place..

1985 Carver Short Stories……my most important purchase?


Some time in 1985 or 1986 possibly during a very cold winter, as I recall sheets of ice around a phone box on Plymouth Hoe, I purchased a new book in a Plymouth bookshop. This is significant because I very rarely purchase anything at full price having been trained in second-hand shops from art school on. However on this occasion I relented and I wanted the book badly enough to pay full price ( £3.95) which in those days was equivalent to £10 or more now. I cherished the book so much I immediately bought a penguin plastic jacket for it maybe I knew I’d be keeping this book for a long time.

I would have been visiting my sister in Navy barracks in Plymouth and was probably almost broke or scraping along in my library part time post whilst I dreamt of artistic success.

I would probably have been better off listening to the author of these short stories and started writing then but it was not to be. I did write some poetry which kicked around in folders until finally found an outlet in John Harvey’s magazine Slowdancer which..yes you guessed it..I picked up in 1991 in the Poetry Library London because he had a picture of Carver on the cover. The next year I was lucky enough to meet Carver’s widow Tess in the flesh at a Poetry Library reading. She, William Trevor and C.K. Williams were the only people I truly felt were ‘real’ writers that I met then.

Life happens and it happened to me..paintings ended up in storage..a gamble on a new life in Scotland  fell apart and I ended up back in Oxford with the remnants of a poetry career nothing more. Words would have to wait…..and art disappeared completely. I found solace in Americana music and writing about others…as music reviews for magazines and even BBC Radio 2 at one point. It was writing but at one remove. I also continued at a rapidly slowing pace to write Americana songs…at the peak a 100 a year until 1999 it had slowed to a dozen. Some poems seeped out but my heart was not in it. I constantly found references to carver in the songwriters I admired. The fuse was very slowly burning.

So I relocate to Nottingham the drip drip of poems finally stops….and so does the songwriting ..well almost. I find an outlet for the huge backlog of songs in a charity disc in aid of cancer Research as both my parents succumb to the disease. The songs on the record could be described as ‘dirty realist’ or ‘Carveresque’.

Finally and I’d say it was around about 2010 as my mother was diagnosed and finally died….the words stopped. Ironically at the very moment Chris Emery at Salt ‘discovered’ my poems ( well not discovered I sent them to him and he liked them and published them) I ran out of words altogether. My attention was on finishing a M.A. I’d begun and work was demanding ‘art research outcomes at an international level’ which I duly did.

My mother died in 2012 and the Salt book was buried with her. Right then I thought that was it. However things have a way of leaking out…or seeping back into view. My job became more and more ludicrous..or at least my managers did and an opportunity to take a different tack appeared like a patch of blue in grey skies.

I am now embarking on that ‘blue sky thinking’ and now concentrating solely on the word..something I never been afforded the opportunity to do in my entire adult life unless at times of unemployment which generally means depression undermines the apparent opportunity. I am hopeful that something will come of it. The Carver book is symbolic if I cared then I care now. …and writing is a kind of caring…and a craft. I need to practice.


Footnote: The cover illustration is by Clifford Harper who I now find out is a ‘Militant Anarchist’ …wonderful how well things fit together!

My book challenge fail..Faction?


Firstly it not a collection of short stories DOH….

Well my weekly book challenge failed miserably but I did read one book in the week which a first for me in a long while :-). The chosen book was John Berendt’s ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil’ a strange choice randomly picked up because I liked the cover in a charity shop!.

It is a rattling good read but the whole ‘factional’ element what most interesting. Like Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ Berendt (ex New Yorker editor so no slouch) mixes up fiction and reality and not only did this annoy people at the time as it was presented as ‘non-fiction’ for a Pulitzer prize but it also means that several different ‘modes’ in operation throughout the ‘novel’ or ‘New Journalism’ depending on how you look at it.

Written during mid 1990’s but it has the flavour of the Aids infected late eighties and a lot of the material plays with false and real borders politically and emotionally. It never stated but Berendt himself seems more than interested in the social and political status of both gay men ( the protagonist) and the political ‘solutions’ that white southerners were making with post Civil Rights America. Indeed the analysis of gerrymandering and political corruption does seem to ring true. In that sense it does the job of ‘reportage’ pretty well and reads as a historically accurate tale of its time….maybe.

However the problem is that having been at the New Yorker he also more than aware of the power of good story-telling and he administers many ‘florid’ and deft touches to his canvas……adding ‘Southern Gothic’ texture like Spanish Moss on the trees to his words…

It all dipped in a large amount of treacly descriptive writing….which helped sell the 2.7 million copies no doubt but skewed the threadbare ‘veracity’ of the story he also adds a bit of Dickensian travelogue for good measure…which apparently increased tourism to Savannah. So it is an archly constructed ‘bestseller’ at heart written by someone clever enough to get away with the floridity and containing enough factual detail ( which easily checked online now) to give some creedence to his stories. Where it falls down is the sometimes over embellished characterisation. The Drag Queen ‘Chablis’ exists and is doing well but the dialogue she speaks here reads like an Eddie Murphy comedy skit most of the time…I kept thinking of Trading Places instead of the action. I do not doubt the locations existed but the set pieces are fictional like the parade of dresses out of the nightclub. They just don’t ring true and the ‘straight’ white boyfriend and family again has a ring of point-making about ‘diversity’ than actual truth…at these points the factional problem starts as you lose the suspension of disbelief and start checking facts. If it had been published today it would immediately have been torn apart online….Berendt was lucky he published just before the internet hit home.His next and only so far other book is a ‘straighter’ historical book about an opera house in Venice.

Made into a mediocre film by Clint Eastwood the political point-scoring sometimes wears thin….Nazi flags..really?..more Father Ted than truth again? Who knows obviously there some crazy snakes in Savannah…but were they really as poisonous as this? Whenever something here seems to good to be true it probably is fictional.

It is well worth reading as a snapshot of southern USA life but remember it seen through pink..sorry purple tinted glasses and the Voodoo stuff…..pure Scooby Doo… Mr Berendt what did you really get up to whilst living there and why did Oscar Wilde travel all that way…..more questions than answers.

As for faction…hmm jury out…..I shall return to the theme no doubt. Is all journalism a kind of fiction anyway?

The 10 books that left a lasting impression challenge….

1. The Victor Comic 1966


My step-grandfather was illiterate and had the Victor comic in his farm labourer’s cottage to help him to learn to read..I remember reading it to him when he in his sixties as he puffed clouds of tobacco around my head from his pipe….I was 7.

2.  Ian Allen Combined Locoshed Book 1974


Any real trainspotter will know this volume and also the point in travelling to places like Birmingham New Street to collect train numbers…it was how I discovered the world….and honed my research skills:-) In fact most trainspotters would make better researchers than most academics.. they far more ‘rigorous’:-)

3. Roger Price – Droodles 1974


Shrigley before Shrigley…from a jumble sale I think…wonderful visual puns..

4. Percy Bysse Shelley – Poems 1976


Masque of Anarchy…..says it all..

5. John Clare – Poems 1976


Mrs Millington maddest most conservative spinster English Teacher who taught me value of writing…forever….bless her.

6. Joseph Conrad – Nostromo 1975


Mr Peyton my other English teacher who taught me the value of sarcasm…and Conrad who I loved…I went on to read every book I could I think I made 8 or 9……obsessive….

7. John Berger – Ways of Seeing 1977


Art Foundation a whole new way of seeing things and Punk Rock….went well together 🙂

8. Seamus Heaney – Death of a Naturalist 1978


A voice I could trust….still do.

9. Raymond Carver – Fires 1985


The book that made me a writer…literally salvaged from a St Anne’s Tottenham Haringey Library fire….I told that story years later to his widow Tess Gallagher..

10. W.G.Sebald – Rings of Saturn 2008


Fine art course Lincoln 2008 …read it every day on train to Lincoln as it coincided with a pretty pretentious art show there on themes associated with Sebald ( as pretty much every artist seems to have done since).

Still a good book….and way better than any art ever ‘influenced’ by it.

(Finally if this list went up to 11 and yes the first woman on the list)

11. Alice Munro – Too Much Happiness 2014


Back to creative writing and first volume of short stories I chose to read…great choice….now time to put pen to paper again and again and again and again…..

Creative Writing M.A. starts Monday…

Well all change or rather back to where I was already…..after a 10 year pause.

When I first moved to Nottingham in 2002 I came from a relationship and career (one Spanish the other Oxford University Boldeian Library) that had both broken….and after a disastrous sojourn in London I asked my best friend from school days to come and pick me up lock stock and pc from my dingy one bed (literally a room 8′ by 10′) in Willesden North London and rescue me from the insanity going on around me….. a short story in itself.

So I ended up renting a one bed flat in Lady Bay opposite my friend and began temping….and going slowly broke after a year my savings that I intended to spend on a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU were depleted and I had to go for Teacher Training at Nottingham University it was funded then.The rest is history….a succession of weird and wonderful teaching appointments in everything from basic skills to drawing and finally a permanent post in 2007 (after a brief and not very successful web design freelance period) at NTU School of Art and Design.I have been there ever since…and technically I am still there this as is a ‘career break’ of nine months and I am due to return in July 2015.

Clearing my hard drives the other day I found the original M.A. application form from 2002. The one I never sent 🙂 So this is a kind of return to basics and a chance to reinvigorate a writing career that been stalled for 7 years as I had to focus on my job in hand and the accompanying development of a ‘art research’profile as part of that job. I also completed a professional development M.A. in Fine Art which whilst it started out as job related twisted onto a weird and wonderful new illustration path….kind of a trojan horse (or dog to be exact) really.

So the door is open..the books (far too many) are stacked up in the studio (writing room now 🙂 and here we go…..two three four….

45s: The Clash – London Calling




The Clash: London Calling 1979


Bright November evening

sweatbox of a venue

a sea of heads bobbing below a platform

The Clash and Joe Ely in cowboy hat and boots


Left later to drizzle and police sirens

and a ring of police vans lassooing us

Camden Town dirty and ugly

best of British fists and chains

and blood on bus seats


London calling to the faraway towns

from Bristol St Pauls to the Medway towns

London calling to misspent youths

in bus shelters and darkened rooms


No idea then of the decade to come

the buses smashed..the cordoned land

those officers smiling no visors in the rain

already training for Orgreave and Salisbury Plain

stamping out the rhythms with a cowboy boot…..


45s : Working on a building of love

A series of poems inspired by vinyl singles…..I started years ago and only done two so far so here they are…maybe I get inspired to do more 🙂

This about my Nan Butler’s front room.. a broken piano, boxes and boxes of ‘damaged Smith’s Crisps’
(My Gramp delivered most of them rest ended up there)…and my Uncle Brian’s sixties and seventies vinyl…


Chairman of the Board: Working on a Building of Love 1972

45s piled in a dusty box

centres pulled out for stateside jukeboxes cheap resales

for years I could not play them at all

just played with them like toys on my Nan’s front room floor


an old broken upright piano

worn red Axminster carpet

a radiogram that no longer worked

I put the record down the spindle anyway

listened to the faint noise as I span it against the worn needle


the wah and flutter as speed changed

nylon nets breathing in and out each summer

from the drafty windows

a year later managed to plug it in and shocked myself on bare wires


too scared to tell anybody

as they’d have banned me from playing in there

but I did take the Chairman of the Board singles

the Invictus label….from Detroit post riots..

forgot about the shock until now…like love. Bittersweet.





Farm-Hand’s Radio – Poems Self Published? It’s a flood….


apologies for formatting but you’ll have to buy a book to get that perfectly 🙂


To resurrect my very dormant poetry career I have decided to ‘unlock’ a book of poetry which I completed in 1999 and collects poems from 1996 when I returned from Edinburgh to Oxford until 1999 when various things conspired to set me on a new path away from Oxford.

I believe this my best collection and instead of waiting for Godot to publish it have gone ahead and unleashed it on a no doubt breathless literary world….

Ironically it was Jez Noond’s recent postings about ‘self-publishing’ that prompted this ‘outburst’.

I have also unlocked the still in progress volume after this called ‘The Drifting Village’ which seems unnaturally obsessed with rivers… good timing there with the recent popularity of rivers and all things watery in the news:-)..maybe time for a topical poem in The Guardian …shame I don’t know anybody there…

Hope you find of interest my reader..or both of you should there be two …

Poems from both collections can be found in my ‘Greatest Hits’ pamphlet. ‘Last Farmer’ published by Salt Publishing in 2010. It now out of print and available via SCRIBD HERE:



Crawling from the wreckage…


I have just re-read the post below which was written the week before my mother’s funeral. She had Carcinoid Cancer which was diagnosed in 2005 the year after my father died of Pancreatic Cancer which he was diagnosed with in 2002. My sister and I therefore have been dealing with cancer and its personal affects for over ten years. My mother was brave to the end but in both instances the physical deterioration and pain is almost too much to bear. It was with a sad heart and a sense of relief that my family finally said goodbye to her in June.

In the post below I am pretty clear about the reasons why I had slowly slipped away from poetry. Looking back now, having crawled away from the wreckage of the last ten years it a wonder I wrote anything let alone managed to publish the Last Farmer book. The promotion tour for that was heavily influenced by my mother’s sudden deterioration so I couldn’t say my heart was really in it although I enjoyed reading with other Salt poets.

I cannot say where I will go in the future with writing. I am concentrating on my M.A. by registered project and building up a ‘Graphic Research’ profile which involves a lot of academic research, reading and writing. However the enforced lay-off due to illness has meant that I at least get to look at my poetry shelves now:-).

It may be that the poetry does come back as the shock of the last ten years wears off. I think now that the circumstances of my parent’s death was hugely significant in making me turn away from the family and place-related subject matter that once fueled my muse so to speak.

Whatever happens I would like to thank  Salt for letting the Last Farmer out for a while but I cannot say I would ever work with them again. Hopefully it wasn’t really a poetic last gasp after all….

Is that all there is?

Doing a slow revamp of website I finally get to ‘writing’.

I started this blog for ‘poetry’ in 2007 at the same time as I began working at Nottingham Trent University in the multimedia department. Then I expected to only be there a year or two at most or at least until the recession ‘over’. I called both these things wrongly. Here I am still a multimedia lecturer (for another two years at least following ‘rationalisation’ – their word not mine as most decisions in academia are far from rational these days) and here we all are suffering government by the vain, arrogant and mediocre for recession blues part two.

So how have I done in five years? Answer not very well at all in fact at a rate of one poem per year I have crawled to a Larkinesque full stop.( In fact I have produced 22 poems in 12 years since leaving Oxford) I was thankful for  having three poems published in Staple in 2007 and the subsequent publishing of Last Farmer ( a small collected volume of published work from the last 25 years) by Salt in December 2010. However instead of promoting a vigorous new growth the tree of poetry has instead gone into terminal decline. Five poems in five years and each one coming like blood from a stone in each and every case shows what I already know..

I no longer think about poetry, I no longer read it, I no longer take very much interest in it. Apologies to all the hard-working poets who flood my facebook with their poetry updates but I suffering from a large dose of poetry-deficit attention or whatever.

There was a time (especially early 1990’s) where I really cared and really read a lot of contemporary poetry and even for a short period worked at the London Poetry library. Even then though I didn’t really count poets as friends except Giles Goodland and Bridget Khurshhed who just happened to be in a creative writing class I took for a while. Then whilst living in Edinburgh 1994-6 I was fortunate to meet Duncan Glen and William Neill and Tessa Ransford and was honoured to read for The Shore Poets and met Stewart Conn all of them inspirational people.

Then I moved back to Oxford and that really was the kiss of death. I was suddenly a working class outsider again in virtually my home town. I never really recovered my interest in poetry after five years of surfdom in the feudal empire of Oxford University which made me very embittered about the ‘literate’ middle classes. I slowly ceased to write and to this day I squirm when anywhere near an ‘Oxbridge’ accent in poetic circles. So thank you Oxford for killing me off as a writer. I dived headfirst into music promotion and songwriting to wash my ears clean of the snobbery I was daily subjected to. Looking back it clear that if I had stayed in Edinburgh I may have had a very different experience eventually and may still be writing now.

I started writing poetry in the early 1980’s because I could not afford art materials and to get over the disappointment of not being funded to attend the Royal College M.A. Painting place I was offered. Poetry was a cheap alternative fuelled by a travelling collection of American poetry that found its way to the little library in a shed in my hometown of Didcot. I discovered William Carlos Williams and that was that…

This is relevant now because what has happened in the last five years is that (apart from the mind-numbing task of learning new web coding every six weeks) I have been working in a University Art School  alongside a University Fine Art Department that didn’t really want me around especially when my drawn and written criticism of it began to bite. So as I have laboured through five years of ‘multimedia’ teaching and doing very well in teaching students to get web design jobs I have been quietly concentrating on art criticism and new media. This has led to my present half-way completion of an Multimedia (whatever that is) which basically my cover for doing Fine Art by the back door. I have also very recently finally got a painting studio I can work in up and running again after almost twenty years. So finally I am back where I started …attempting to do an M.A. and trying to paint and do interesting things with new media..and cartoons..

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and maybe even if I had gone to the Royal College nothing would have happened and I would have done pretty much the same things over the last 30 years. Who knows? What I do know is that I finally (through hard work) am now able to finally complete an M.A. (possibly fine art if I can get redesignated to reflect what it actually is) and the chance to paint again (see painting blog).

Over the last 30 years (1982-2012) I have written a great deal of poetry which amounts to about three complete books maybe more. This I will slowly correlate into one collected volume if possible and publish myself if nobody is interested in it. As far as I can tell my poetry gene is dormant if not dead now and maybe this is really all there is and will ever be….


A volume of Last Farmer has been placed in my mother’s coffin to be buried with her next Wednesday. I feel that a poem in that volume sums things up very well.My poetry was always an extended elegy to my parent’s hometown and the lives of the ordinary working class people who lived there.The stone in first lines is a gravestone….


Cherry Stones

With arms that laid
and feet that trod this stone into place
they are caught through the trees
moving off or returning.

I stand, watching them,
rocking from heel to toe
in this small town side street,
small red berries
exploding under my feet.

Above me a flock of sparrows
flicker and snatch at bunches
then scatter through the gable-ends
as a rusty Marina chugs to a stop.

At the other end of this street
I can see shoppers framed
in the window of the newsagent.
One pecks at the card display.

Some round here have flown south
on incomes boosted by pensions
and second mortgages.
Others remain.
Receive photographs at Christmas.


Salt Modern Voices Tour Autumn 2011


  • Salt Modern Voices: Oxford. Shaun Belcher,  Mark Burnhope, Emily Hasler and Claire Trevien read at the Albion Beatnik Bookshop on 24 October 2011.
  • Salt Modern Voices: London. A two-part event on 14 and 28 November 2011 at The Compass:
  • 14th November: Shaun Belcher, Adrian Slatcher, Lee Smith,  and JT Welsch
  • 28th November:  Mark Burnhope, Emily Hasler, and Claire Trevien
  • Salt Modern Voices: Manchester. Shaun Belcher, Angela Topping, Claire Trévien, and JT Welsch read at The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester on 30 November 2011 from 18h30.

Salt Modern Voices readings and website

As one of the current crop of Salt Modern Voices pamphleteers I am engaged in helping to organise a series of UK wide readings this autumn and on into next year.

So far there are definite dates in London ( Compass Islington ) Warwick,  Manchester and hopefully more to follow in Nottingham , Brighton and Southampton.

The series includes poets and so far one short story writer.

Here a blog set up to promote the tour

also all information on SMV publications and purchase are on Salt main website here:

If anybody has a spare reading venue and or suggestions please contact us we more than willing to try and accommodate. Maybe this time next year we could do Edinburgh book festival :-)

shaun belcher (SMV6)

Dead North

Dead North M1 7 p.m.

Braided like D.N.A.
we flicker in a northbound lane
twined like flax
woven with fertilizer lorries, flat-loads
tankers and porta-kabins
under digitised words
‘salt spreading’

Capital’s crawling artery
bunged northward creeps
each vein full of despatch
tall orders, whims and haste
precision marketing targets
the next truck reads

I couldn’t make this up.
We pass Reality
and then ‘Real Distribution Solutions’
before skidding past ‘Future Logistics’
there is another script being read here
The exhausts liming the banks with its breath.
We are all headed dead North

Scott’s hand on the ledger waits.

Poem a day? The Return

Probably a forlorn hope but trying to write a poem a day to get back to writing the first try. Will end up a poem every other day or a poem a week if lucky but at least started .

No preamble to this just wrote it – will consider meaning about five years down the line…then did web search on troop train / Didcot and found out the following…wonders of the internet!

There are some excellent footplate reminicenses by Harold Gasson (Footplate Days, cure Firing Days, Steaming Days Pub. Oxford University Press) who was based at Didcot when Skylark was based there during the war and immediately afterwards. He talks about operating Skylark and I particularly remember when Gasson (with his father as driver-contrary to regulations) surprised some US soldiers with engine experience with what an old double framer could do with a troop train on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line. Don’t remember any reference to this train but they are a very good read.

The “Railway Magazine” for August 1951 carries a brief report about this SLS special. The train originated in Birmingham, and the correspondent comments that “Skylark” worked the five-coach train up to speeds of over 60 mph between Didcot and Swindon, and Leamington and Birmingham.

The Return

A rippling of stalks
raspberry bushes twirling
the flare of green bean flowers
along a row of canes

River, mirror, sky
as chalk whorls rise and twist
up the farm tracks
and dust the cornflowers

Celandines, chrysanths, marigolds
a garden breathing colour
as the sky deepens
toward thunder and showers

A torrent later, pools of milk
as the troop train steams in
a taxi drags a figure home
to an empty hearth, thorns

A bed of weeds, nettles and briars
the overgrown presence of neglect
that first night she watched him
fearful he would fade at daylight

Last Farmer: Salt Modern Voices No.6

Yes I finally have a solo publication as a poet. Not bad after 25 years of writing.

It is due to be released soon and you can pre-order from Amazon and Asda (links below).

My thanks to Chris Hamilton Emery and Salt for picking up on the poems. I am really chuffed that I am on Salt as it has a vast array of top writers on its catalogue (check it out on link below and purchase some – every little helps).

As for the title well you will have to wait until publication to find out who the Last Farmer really is…

The Pamphlet is now out of print and I am no longer represented in any way by SALT





Tied to a flat land
Of reclaimed pits and winding river
The railway has gone
Coal blackened tracks have grown over

Every wind caresses its absence
The silent factories know their part
But cannot speak, chains hold fast
Beyond pale gates and security huts

Poppies and cow parsley, ragwort and buddleia
A necklace of flowers around the empress lines
The slag of the steel rails is buried deep
Rusting wires rippling with plastic

Where prisoners of war once huddled
Now euro-workers assemble market stalls every Sunday
Chatter into cheap mobiles, pocket loose change
Against backdrops of power station, Tesco and trains

Midnight and bodies tumble from white van crates
In the empty parkway
Duck and dive and gulp clean air
Before swimming beyond the broken chainlink

The Shipstone Star


Red lead rain lashed to pink
hangs like a soviet star
on the left side of Nottingham’s tunic.
Always east facing, a towering symbol.
The dawn of a century personified, rusts
above a city of casual workers, bicycles
and the hard slogging dutiful dead
who fleck fields from the Rhone to the Rhine.

Never facing the river, that westward
leaches mud from peak and meadow.
The dried, limed stench of rutted tracks
lining the willow barks of Derby and Leicester.
Gables glossed white upon lace-curtained
suburban fuchsias, trimmed lawns and empty trailers.
Safety in numbers as the suburbs huddle
into its coat from Bramcote to Beeston.

Cattle slide into ditches, barges grind
at their moorings as floods flow on toward
dry fens gasping for this summer downpour.
The star remains firm, but tatty.
A remnant of a fading imperial industrial glory.
Cheap imports in containers trundle round the ring-road
headed for Poundland, Primark and Ikea.

We died for this, these rain-sodden shires
whisper the ghosts in the graveyards
as hooded boys on BMXs spin on street corners.
In a damp bedsit a shelf-stacker from Warsaw
lifts a Samurai Sword from the wall and mimes
the DVD still stuck on play on the monitor.
Star and blade flash for a second and are gone.

The storm lashes the window.
The Shipstone Star shines black on a white sky.

Downland Ballad I :Photo-disintegration


Fully five acres further east
and fifty years on from Harwell’s neutron beam photo-disintegration
a clump of Queen Anne’s Lace* wavers like a bridesmaid’s posy
above the quarried chalk and flint of this erased line.
The track that gravelled and iron girded once
carried trundling freight to Southampton docks and salt air.

Like a distant memory of past expectations
I wander through past journeys, delineations
chew on the fresh air like a discontented Wordsworth
now free, free to roam where I will
But nothing is moving here these days, no air pulses
through the gilded corn, american maize is rigid

All rhythm, rhyme and reason curtailed
but for the hover of Kite and wizz of combustion engines
I’m left standing in a shower of butterflies,
climate driven, wheeling
baffling the constant walkers and their dogs with
showers of atoms, as they spin into extinction.

The land is porous, half soaked with the elixir
and charms of the abandoned plastic barrels concoctions.
A squadron of rooks bank and wheel in tight formation
land and beaks probe at all the matter before them.
Beady eyed they cannot count the consequences
of all that steel now disappearing from the horizon.

In a damp corner of a thatched cottage
an artist* peels Queen Anne’s Lace from the paper
Dips it gently into a brimming tray of liquid
and the fusion of paper and molecules of silver re-arranging
maps a negative of stalk, leaf and stamen.
Up north the furnaces fizzle and peak for the century.

Sheffield steel, Welsh coal, Cornish tin, the land exhausted
pot-marked and reclaimed in a thousand regeneration schemes,
The process of covering the tracks of a century of production
is taken up by rose bay willow herb, buddleia and oxford ragwort,
each seeking to mask the brick and fence beneath it.
In the laboratory the encased hand holding the uranium phial quivers

as an owl is lit by a police cars headlights on the perimeter.
Its flash of white against a wilderness of dark down-land
like that brief explosion, that jolt of life in a vacuum.
The century starts to implode
draws itself as a negative image, trickles, spits and fuses
the image of a landscape removed becomes these islands.

The bromide stains her fingers, the plant collapses into stalk and seed
as she raises its negative to the kitchen window.
She stands looking at it again in the porchlight amidst the blackout
realising that all this movement above and below, these planes, these tanks
hurtling towards the coast and far fields of France are dying already
A moth singes against the candle flame, erupts into vapour, darkness.

* local Oxfordshire name for Cow Parsley which it resembles

** Eilleen Sherwood-Moore artist of Blewbury, Berkshire (1909-1998) experimented with photograms

Harwell Neutron Beam 1959