Crinkly Fingers or, A Lonely Fisherman Sings to the Catch

The Loneliness of a (Prune-Fingered) Trawler Fisherman

This morning, I read a lovely news story by Jonathan Amos about research on crinkly fingers:

Scientists led by Dr Tom Smulders have discovered that prune-like bath-fingers may have more to them than simple ‘Ooh, look how old and wrinkled my fingers look!’ value. They have surmised that this may be an evolutionary development to aid in handling wet objects: in their experiment, this was marbles – but out in ‘nature’, this could be fruit or fish, I suppose. Or anything that is – as the saying goes – slippery when wet (is it a saying, or just something that many things are?).

The researchers asked people to carry out a marble-moving task and discovered that those who had wet hands – and consequently got prune-fingers – were more effective at the task. I suppose if those marbles were actually tiny berries, or some curious spherical animal-foodstuff (wood-lice? frog-spawn? Small wet round things all seem a bit witch-y…), then having crinkly fingers could make all the difference to a hunter-gather-omnivore species like Homo Sapiens Sapiens. The difference between eating (and being ‘selected’ by evolution) and starving (and being ‘out of the evolutionary race’). So perhaps that’s why – so the researchers say – it might be triggered involuntarily by our nervous system, instead of being simply a ‘side-effect’ of being soggy.

As I enjoyed the story so much, I thought I’d base one of this week’s sci-poems around it. Here’s a sort of ballad, or song, I suppose – written by a character I thought would have wet, crinkly, prune fingers much of the time – a fisherman. Perhaps I’ve seen too many Neutrogena adverts, or something. (And maybe as a boat-dweller, I’m drawn to such characters!)

As it went on, it evolved (as poems and humans do) into something a little sad (and silly, all at once) – but I hope you enjoy its rhyme-y mariner-y quality.

(Incidentally, while looking for some appropriate music, I found Britten’s ‘Four Sea Interludes’: I hadn’t ever listened all the way through and I recommend them – incredibly oceanic, panoramic and gorgeous).


A Lonely Fisherman Sings to the Catch


My coral fingers, these shrivelled hands

Grasping now Oceans, are slipp’d from land,

But my ship and the mesh, they can be no match:

For you are slippery when wet, dear Catch,

And your flicking tail is hard to get.


The crests of waves are your steely eyes,

Your limbs froth the clouds from the salty skies –

Yet my bark only ever glimpses a snatch:

For you are flicking hard to get, dear Catch,

Though my gaze and fingers are become a net.


These delta’d thumbs, these puckered claws –

Could they not lift you up from the swell’s great maws?

I will climb down the line, I will scratch at the deck

If you ne’er flicker in my net, dear Catch.

My candle sinks low now, my eyes stinging wet.

For your light slips away, dear, and the night’s bitter yet.


Oh and if you enjoyed that one, then here’s a link to another piece – Powder-Monkey – which I wrote a couple of years ago and is of a similarly seafaring and slightly-tragic (and very rhyme-centric, as a villanelle) vibe:

Prey or, White Metal Cave

A 3M-long scrub python is preyed on by a plane.

In my effort to write two new poems a week based on things I’ve seen in the news, here’s today’s attempt (a little more minimalist that yesterday’s asteroid effort, but rather more crafted!). It’s fairly self-explanatory – but based on the news story from the pic above and the excerpt below. Rather sad, I thought – despite it garnering plenty of attention for its ‘Snakes on a Plane’ connotations. So as is my way, I wanted to write something to present the other perspective…

“A 10ft (3m) scrub python was battling to retain its grip on the wing as a plane made its way between the Australian town of Cairns and Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea.”

– BBC News, 11th January 2013

Prey, or White Metal Cave

Hunger lured the hermit in

beneath the aluminium fuselage skin:

a white metal cave – a pristine space

for preying (on cloud rodents which were not there).

A head peeps out, tasting its lair,



Until the monster-bird takes to the clouds and so:

earthquake-shatter hurricane-roar at two-hundred-and-fifty degrees

below. It doesn’t look down at the scrub, shrinking trees, gaping coast. A rope

cut adrift, a tube loosed from its machine, it clings;

stains kangaroo fuselage,

sprays the wing.


The last image it might have caught?

Touching shoulder to shoulder, head to heart,

a human, chewing, with a camera-shaped face.

Click. Looks the other way. Python

becomes prey.

228mph or, The Falconer

Here’s a poem I wrote for a Teach First poetry slam we held yesterday – mine didn’t end up being performed (although the poem which did was very good) – so I thought it might be nice to blog it instead…


Two-Hundred and Twenty-Eight Miles an Hour, or

The Falconer


This, he says to his leathery arm, is only a baby.

Perched and alert, the crystalline bird’s eyes

stare through us – all fire and ice. He strokes its beak.

‘What can be the big speed?’ Asks a fledgling English-speaker.


He says:

Two-hundred and twenty-eight miles an hour

they dive. The speed of F-1, of guzzling horse-power:

Tiny ragged rockets, missile-beaked,

Vertical talons of glycerine light.


But two-hundred and twenty-eight miles an hour, he says,

Misjudged, and wings on fences rip.

Two-hundred and twenty-eight miles an hour, he says,

Mis-timed, and bright claws bruise to blue.

Two hundred and twenty-eight miles an hour, he says,

These pigeon-bomb airy stealth fighters

Can self-destruct slice on telephone wires.


The falconer looks at the horizon, the sky, the past,

and says: It’s never the superstars which last.



Beautiful Weeds, Cities and Systems

Botanical Time-Teller

At the end of last month, I performed the Vermin Cycle at Green Man Festival – it was a great experience, although it was a very family audience, not all of whom went along with the gothic style of the poems. Ah well! Find your audience, speak to them. There are some picture of the performance in the ‘Listen/Read’ page – and I’m going to refine some recordings of all the Vermin pieces from the Halo Open Mic night.

It’s been rolling around in my head of late that I would like another poetry ‘project’ or sequence to write. Having finished writing the seven Vermin pieces, I realised how much I enjoy a creative system – coupling the seven ‘verminous’ species with the Seven Deadly Sins gave some unexpected results, a fruitful ‘liberating structure’. Perhaps I’m reasonably ordered in my approach to things, but creativity as a completely ‘organic’ or unstructured process doesn’t always end up being rewarding, in my experience. When artists or writers talk about their ‘practice’ – sometimes to others’ chagrin – there’s an implied sense of development and progression, learning from what’s worked before, structuring those things which ‘come to you’ and nurturing what arises (as I think Virginia Woolf said something about – ‘Structure the things that come to you’, or similar).

So, moving on from the idea of Vermin – animals in the ‘wrong place’ and in the ‘wrong numbers’ – I was thinking about weeds. What is a weed? We’re perpetually pulling up Bind-weed (or Devil’s Guts, as it is also known!) from our allotment – it’s a strangling presence, it’s true. But it’s also very beautiful, with its white flute-flowers – and the way it strangles is actually a real wonder. Have a look. I’ve been listening a lot to a group called ‘The Burns Unit’ – who are fantastic, I encourage you to listen too ( ). There’s a gorgeous lyric in one of the songs, ‘A young boy hands his mother / A beautiful weed’.

Many plants we consider weeds are really just ‘plants in the wrong place’ – according to our idea of planned horticulture and propagation. Neither is wrong, it’s just interesting to step outside inherited notions of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ plants and see them all as ‘plants in context. Likewise, in my hippy-lefty-liberal idea of people, more or less all of us could be the right kind of flower – but so often end up mired in some situation that makes us feel like ‘weeds’ – the wrong kind of plant, or the right kind of plant in the wrong conditions. Frequently in our attempts at planned cityscapes, the situation emerges as much more of an ‘organic’ one than any plan or government can realistically cater for everyone who dwells there. (This is where Imposed Buddhist Anarchy comes in, but that’s another post – and yes, it’s a deliberate nonsense!)

Having become more involved in Aro Buddhism over the last year, there was a course recently on Embracing Emotions as the Path. There’s some more information about the idea here:

It’s a useful system for understanding how we deal with the world, our reactions and distortions. I’m presently doing some more research into weeds – and would like to write something which ‘weaves together’ some characters with the properties of both people and weeds, as well as flickering between those qualities listed to do with the elements, into a space which is at once urban and organic – where we attempt to order our ‘patch’, but find it growing in ways we couldn’t have expected. When I’ve something more of this to show, then I’ll post it up.

I’ve also got a Murder Mystery to write – I’ll post up about that once it’s further progressed.

For now, I really should go and water the actual allotment, rather than typing about the idea of plants!


I was just reminded of this lovely site, where you can enter a body of text and it creates a beautiful word cloud image…

So I created my Vermin Cycle, as a Wordle image – a Verdle, surely. Sounds pleasingly Germanic.

It’s lovely to see ‘Vermin’ writ so large, as well as ‘bite’, ‘faces’ and all the other scurrilous language therein, swarming around the word Vermin. What a beautiful tool it is.

You should be able to view mine here:

And you can create your own here:

Balance Month

It's Balance Month. But I won't be doing any of this. (Have you seen 'Man On Wire'? It made my head hurt)

On Saturday evening, H Ren and I held our sporadic conference as to what the theme for July might be. Although my inebriated state led to my forgetting said theme (it was Carnival, OK?) she later reminded me: July 2011 is Balance Month.

Contrary to this theme, I then went on to have terrible insomnia the last few nights and feel distinctly out of balance. I’m much more on-theme today, though – thank goodness – so thought I’d post something up to honour it. I’ll come back and write some more about the idea of Balance – which I think was part-inspired by debt, balances and payback again – later on.

But for now – after my Twitter-based brush with one of my very favourite writers, Margaret Atwood, on Monday and my conversely Twitter-based failure to get Carol Ann Duffy to read a poem which mentions her (there’s some balance, perhaps?)…Here is a poem by CAD which has a great image of ‘balance’ in it.

I was reminded of it recently and remembered how much I like it: the highlighting of text-as-image, words-as-thoughts and thoughts-as-objects – and in such a brief poem. The sense of how we create the world, generate risk and failure, strive or don’t-strive to achieve things, and live through thoughts and images are all really palpable, despite its brevity:


This is the word tightrope. Now imagine
a man, inching across it in the space
between our thoughts. He holds our breath.

There is no word net.

You want him to fall, don’t you?
I guessed as much; he teeters but succeeds.
The word applause is written all over him.

– Carol Ann Duffy

Oh and if Carol Ann Duffy happens to read this (teehee!) then here’s my previous post containing a poem about you (or rather, your name – and names generally). There’s a few links to ‘Talent’, in fact…

Everything Borrowed

A post-apocalyptic roach, Pixar-style

I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s ‘Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth’. It’s a very entertaining and enlivening look at debt, in the very broadest sense. It’s rare to have economic ideas treated with such creativity – and brought out into the world of literature, society (whatever that is) and the imagination. While it is full of onerous and important ideas, it was also very funny at times – you can sneak up so much more on people if they’re chuckling. It’s made me think a great deal about living within one’s means – and to try and do so even more in future. The final section of the book rather deftly flits into a re-telling of ‘A Christmas Carol’, but with a corporate Scrooge (‘Scrooge Nouveau’, rather than the end’s ‘Scrooge Lite’) receiving visits from aptly-manifested ghosts of Earth Day Past, Present and Future.

I was struck by the appearance of the giant cockroach as the Ghost of Earth Day Future (Worst Case Scenario version), as I realised that a piece of my own writing had engaged in some of the themes of debt, desire and covetousness that the book covers (amongst many others). Certainly my piece – the sixth ‘Vermin’ poem I’ll be performing at Green Man and hopefully other events – is intended (as all the poems are) to make us re-think our relationship to ‘roaches and, by extension, to the Earth. After all, as grand Atwood points out – everything we have, even our bodies, are on short or long-term (the Fates or Furies willing) lease. Payback comes, even for the very wealthiest, into the biggest bio-bank, our planet.

I wanted to share the poem with Margaret Atwood – a writer I very much admire and aspire to (it’s OK to have heroines! (but perhaps not heroine)) – but she can’t receive unpublished work in the post (fair enough, I understand these complex legal matters – although I can’t imagine she would want to or think of ‘stealing’ this!)…So I’ve self-published here online – which gets around it – and will Tweet her the link, as I know she is a big Tweeter (that’s a nice thing, not a weird insult).

If you do, per chance, read this Margaret – then I hope you enjoy the poem. (I tried Tweeting Carol Ann Duffy a piece I’d written before – which is one of my earlier posts – but I don’t think she’s as Twitter-savvy as your good self.) It’s part of a sequence of seven first-person narrative poems by ‘Vermin’ (gull, ant, pigeon, rat, bedbug, roach and fox) and based around the idea of the Seven Deadly Sins, as old-school religious notions of our excesses. This one is a cockroach in a post-apocalyptic scenario – as the one you allude to in the last section of Payback – suggesting to the (human) reader that we should perhaps admire the humble ‘roach rather more. There’s plenty to commend ol’ Blattaria, I think: resourceful, hardy, thriving and perfectly adapted to every climate on Earth. If only economics could take some cues from those key words…

Vermin the Sixth:

Cockroach – Blattaria, Gromphadorhina portentosa / Envy

Admiration’s Cloud

Dirty looks

dirty protests

dirty fights

dirty bombs,

we wish only our living Earth

be cleansed from

you, the dead:

broken imagos.

A niggling, clicking,

sound of necks cricking:

off, you said, with

your own bloated heads.

Running around like

heedless chickens.

Then the day came

with the push-button flames:

your cities were toasted

your bodies were crumbed.

Ashes were ashes, and

the dust made you dumb

at last.

When did admiration’s cloud

become something more a swarm,

more a spore? More an


descending from on high?

You’ve every reason

to wonder.

You were only ever

a moment, a tick

on the face of the clock.

A flashpoint.

An echo.

A boom.

Look for that moment.

Take a deep breath,

stretch your legs,

keep an ear to the ground,

feel your way:

it’s all the same to us.

Have you really no use

for a word

for being like us?

Your naming

grabbed at our limbs.

Call us Germanica,

attach derision for your enemies

to our backs. Load your fear

on our wings. We slid through

the tectonic cracks

of your name-calling. But

if you must,

you may call us

Mother Pangaea.

There are more segments

in our aerials than

days in your year;

and each is of more note.

For you ran, no antenna,

at a thousand-miles-an-hour

into a bursting wall.


You should covet

thy sub-let neighbour’s

green compound-eye views.

For we will not be treading

in your shaken-out shoes.

So there it is. If you do happen to read this, Margaret/Ms. Atwood/Appropriately-deferential-title – there are six others in the series! But having read just one would mean a very great deal to me.

Oh and if you’re into a bit of cultural entomology, I took much inspiration from this Reaktion book on cockroaches – part of a great series about animals, worth checking out:


A friend of mine has just started a new blog, which he’ll be updating with articles he’s both read and will be writing – mainly about parasitology.

As someone who’s interested in Vermin (which themselves are viewed as parasites) – and other things deemed ‘unsavoury’ by we Humans – I’ve no doubt it will prove very interesting…

The blog is here, do have a look:

Write Club, Spike Island, Monday 13th June

Next week, I’ll be ‘guest hosting’ a writer friend’s group at Spike Island – on Monday evening, 6-8pm. Hopefully I’ll do a passable stand-in job for Amy Mason (despite her inimitability – is that a word?). There’s information here:

It’s for prose, poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction –  for new writers, or those who do so regularly. Bring ongoing work, or brand-spanking new stuff. Hope to see you there to can read, discuss and support one another’s writerly endeavours – looking forward to it.

‘Filing The Poet Laureate’

I’ve been working recently back in well-known broadcasting institution – and wrote this poem based on an occurrence a week or so ago. It’s self-explanatory, I suppose – a tongue-in-cheek but affectionate account of a real office moment.

Should Carol Ann Duffy actually end up reading this, by some fluke of Google (a Floogle?) or somesuch, then I hope you like it (I really do) and please have a further look around at my work…


Filing the Poet Laureate


Dear Commander Duffy,

Having been working recently

in the office of a well-known poetry

programme, you will be pleased

to learn of your re-filing

from ‘Misc D’

to ‘Named D’.


Be aware this was far from a snub:

your languishing miscellaneously

was a long-overdue job and others

– who may remain nameless –

are yet to be upgraded . Lovingly,

we recreated the typewritten label –

in Courier, size 14, bold:


you read now.


We know it’s hardly

a title. A royal-booze crate,

or regal selection. But, as a poet,

we’re sure you’ll appreciate

the attention

to detail.


And so, Carol

– can I call you Carol? –

John(s) Donne and Drinkwater shuffled off

graciously to make space as, swinging

in your own green folder, you

took your rightful and

orderly place.


(c) Caleb Parkin – but please do repost or pass it on 😉