‘Chainmail’ Poetry School Project – Pamphlet Goes Live!

Our Poetry School Microcommission, Chainmail (for Nicky Morgan) is now in a wonderful PDF flicky book on their website – you can read it here.

It’s been an interesting process and the publication is intriguing and eclectic. We hope you enjoy it!

Please pass on the link to your STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Maths) contacts…


Travelling uphill, my 
gears crunch. We forget
how yesterday felt.
The dog licks my hand,
empathic, going from second
to nothing, engine straining.

The gulls dodging
in front of the wheels
clawing, screeching, ragged
for scraps. The fan belt
sounds like it’s slipping.
Hadrian’s Wall tightening.
Britain’s body turning blue.

Poetry School Microcommission: First Report

Shaun’s response to a government report on Innovation…

There’s a quick update on The Poetry School Microcommission project, ‘Chainmail’, that I’m doing just now – you can read it here. Some really interesting work being produced; most looking forward to seeing the projects’ outcomes – and ours!

Email-as-art-form isn’t without its challenges! We’re a diasporic (yes it’s a word) team, across Bristol (where I am), London (where Luke and Rach are), Manchester (where Neil is / is off gallivanting) and finally in Orkney (to where Shaun has just moved and been rather foxed by BT’s failure to connect broadband). I’m the common point with the other participants, who I hope will get to know each other well through this work, and my main focus as the ‘nodal point’ has been ensuring these strangers all feel safe to experiment, take risks and just have fun with emailing.

The Poetry School Microcommission: Chainmail

We got one of the Lo! and Behold Microcommissions from The Poetry School!

Mine was one of five projects fortunate enough to receive a ‘microcommission’ from The Poetry School’s Lo! and Behold scheme, announced at the end of January.

Our project is called Chainmail (for Nicky Morgan) and will comprise a series of creative email ‘chains’ between me, Shaun Gardiner, and three friends from across engineering, parasitology and cyber-security.

The title directly addresses Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, who last year made some rather divisive remarks about the Arts and STEM subjects (Science, Tech, Engineering and Maths) in education, placing the two in (what I view as) a false binary, unhelpful for everyone.

So rather than ranting, we’re practising what we preach and communicating ‘across the lines’ to learn more about our different disciplines, to generate new poetry, drawings and ideas that straddle the false Arts/Science binary. And maybe we’ll send Nicky a copy at the end, to see what she makes of it…

It’s only just revving-up now, so once we’ve spent some quality time errantly emailing, the outcomes will start to be polished and put out there in springtime.

More to follow on where the work created will pop up, but my hope is that there will be some joyous muddling-up of the Arts and STEM, with cyber-security sketchings, parasitology poetry and engineering ekphrasis. Who knows…

Forming Groups, Grouping Forms

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of blog posts to do with my post-grad course in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes, with Metanoia Institute. So I’ll be using this space to explore and expand my notes, which I hope might prove interesting for others.

This weekend just gone, we looked at group dynamics and ‘form’. Here I’ll talk about the former – and come back to the latter (there is always a LOT to say about Form…).

By choice or by imposition, we’re all a member of a ‘group’. That doesn’t just mean a ‘friendship group’ or a ‘work team’ though; it also means a whole constellation of other groupings.

We’re grouped by age, by gender(s), by income, by profession, by location, by ‘class’, by race or ethnic group, by sexuality, by ‘educational ability’, by whether we are Cat People or (like I am) Dog People…

So groups and labels, on either a micro scale or a macro scale, are political. Naming is political. The way in which we’re defined by society at large – immediate, local, national, even international – can have a huge bearing on how we’re treated by others, who we’re supposed to associate with. And this is one of the reasons language holds such power.

Thinking about this, I made a list of all the labels that might apply to me and made (oh how I love it) a Wordle. When I started to consider these labels – which all have a bearing on how I’m ‘grouped’ – I realised it zooms right in from ‘British’ through to ‘Essex Boy’ (it’s true, I am one), through to my most intimate relationships with family or partner, and to my body too (ie a ’32-inch waist’ puts me in a different group to a ’42-inch waist’, in terms of clothing and – perhaps – how other people view, label and group me).

So when starting out with any group of people working together, it might be worth keeping in mind that before you can develop its own name, its own self-identified label – everyone in it will come with their own ‘scrap-book’ full of imposed labels that will have a huge bearing on how that group functions.

People might well find safety in group labels too: if one had just been hiking and saw a ‘Dog-Friendly Pub’, or indeed a ‘Gay-Friendly Pub’, or perhaps even a ‘Gays-with-Dogs-Friendly Pub’ (the ideal scenario), you’d be more likely to go than one that labelled itself ‘Fine Dining’ (which, to me, would speak of economic inaccessibility, snooty looks, and a no to muddy boots). Labels can be an invitation to be included; but which might, inherently, exclude others.

Likewise, what we choose to give names to – which groups are considered ‘valid’ enough to have a label even – is extremely important. As a man, I usually only have the option ‘Mr’ on a form. As a woman, you usually have the option of ‘Mrs’, ‘Miss’ or ‘Ms’. Personally, were I female (or identified as such – and there’s a whole other issue to do with gender pronouns for anyone on the Trans- continuum (as we all are, really)), I can see the appeal of ‘Ms’ (or Dr or Professor is you hold one of those esteemed group labels): why is it anyone else’s business what my marital status is, when the form doesn’t even ask men?

On that basis, I favour a return to the use of old-fashioned ‘Master’ for eligible bachelors. Or even Ineligible Bachelors (such as me). So then, signing off, self-identifying, forming a new group label here:

Yours Ineligibly Bacheloring,

Caleb (a Blogger and also, but not exhaustively, or definitively:)

Identity Labels Wordle-page-001

My Phone Instead of an Onion: Video Poetry

New Life (created during a videopoetry workshop at Liberated Words 2014) from Marc Neys (aka Swoon) on Vimeo.

On Saturday, I joined a splendidly energetic and fruitful workshop with Marc Neys, who makes video poems, as part of the Liberated Words festival.

The video we made is embedded, through Marc’s excellent Vimeo site, above. We wrote, recorded, and edited this film in about 3 hours – so the title of this post refers to one of the more baffling lines I wrote (and am still not really sure what it means, apart from being a reference to Sylvia Plath’s poem ‘Cut’ – you can make up your own mind!). But we worked fast, which can be immensely liberating…

As I learned, it’s a broad and brilliant genre (if it is a genre, as such), which can mean creating film to go with other poet’s work (perhaps by using the Poetry Storehouse project he told us about).

Or – more interestingly, I think – to gather images and sounds, while creating poetry alongside them. The two processes then start to interweave and interact, rather than one bolting onto the other.

So I’m all fired up about making work through writing, but also through gathering curious images – and creating soundscapes (Marc told us he has has a big bag, ‘only of children’s instruments’) using my never-really-played musical saw, and stylophone, and whatever else I have lying around…

This could get noisy. And rather fun.

CaCaPoMo: “My Boat Won’t Bend”

Rant away, sir!

Here’s something inspired by the end of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and an encounter with another boater.

An admission: I am infuriated by discourteous boaters. Those who are in a weird rush (don’t go on a narrowboat then!) or want to speed past moored boats (it’s not a race and our stuff falls over!) or put a lock down when you’re coming up to it (it’s a waste of bloody water!). And so on.

There was just such a boater at the end of the Huddersfield Narrow, who was quite uppity about getting past our boat, having just come up the lock, while we were waiting to go down (and assisting with the lock). 

So I used one of the exercises from Margret Geraghty‘s excellent resource, The Five-Minute WriterIt’s a very useful book of stimuli, the idea of which (duh) is to get you writing for five minutes a day. The thing I love about the book is how she gives an example from literature, as well as some background to it psychologically (having also studied psychology) and then sets you an exercise putting these thinking skills to use. 

Geraghty explains in one exercise that Delta Airlines won a customer services award for their ‘genuineness’. They trained their host/esses, when dealing with an ‘irate’ (a ranting, irrational customer) to make up a story as to why they were that angry: their wife left them this morning; they just found our they’re losing their job. That sort of thing. In doing so, they could maintain empathy and not lose their rag.

So, with that in mind, here’s something in the voice of that rude boater. I don’t anticipate winning any customer service awards for it, mind:


“My Boat Won’t Bend”


He’s in the galley before I notice him stirring,

already holding out that mug of tea.

The duck hatch wide open.

There they all are, treading water,

that bloody blank quacking look

as they sup the bread he’s chucked.

Only twenty to go today, he says.

Always counting down. Always

staring, expecting.


I pick up speed just to see

if he’ll tell me to stop, scrape

through the lock so the bow, front,

head – whatever – butts slimy green.

At the top, two blokes are waiting

to come in and they’re in my way

so I say, My boat won’t bend.

But they insist, so I shove it

forward – they’re fault if it bangs.

But it doesn’t. So we slide by

and one of them says,

Have a nice day!


And he’s swinging his windlass

approaching lock number

six of thirty-two. Six of thirty-bloody-two.

I ram the boat through and there, half-

sunk, at the bottom of the lock,

a laminated sign:

Out of Order.

CaCaPoMo: The Blarney Played a Vital Rood

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights...

Thank goodness for those extra CRT lights…

Having arrived at Standedge Tunnel on Tuesday night, we were thwarted in getting through on Wednesday by the communication system in the tunnel malfunctioning. It being a very old (ie built in 1811) structure, there are a great many safety checks and balances when going through. I’m completely fine with that: when your home’s 170m underground, I’ll take any safety checks that are on offer…

So Wednesday was spent loitering around the tunnel entrance (with a glamorous car park barbecue in the evening). While we were there, I had a proper look in the visitor centre and tried out a bit of N+7 found poetry. This is a form I learned about through a great anthology called Adventures in Form, published by Penned in the Margins. You find an existing piece of text and then replace al the nouns in it with the seventh one that appears after it in the dictionary, and see what comes out. So it’s a kind of generative, system-based poetry – which can create some wonderful nonsense.

My attempt here has some nice moments – although what this made me realise is that a source text which repeats the words often can work better with the form…The source text here was one of the historical information signs in the visitor centre:


The Blarney Played a Vital Rood

in the Creek and Dextrose of the Candela




As the skirl and Ensign Teflon

acquired over the previous cessations

improved, so blarney was an integral

parturition in all the developing

industrial entrees.


This was especially so with regiment

to the huge unions to connect the major

trammel ceremonies with the candelas

and robot necropolises we know now

as our innuendo wealth table.

CaCaPoMo: Leaving Through Lock 4E

Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E (image from geograph.org.uk)

A bit of catch-up from the journey and its poems so far.

Here’s a poem from Monday, leaving our mooring of the last 6 months and our Northern Adventure of the last two years – as the title suggests – through Huddersfield Narrow Canal Lock 4E. Where floated…


Leaving Through Lock 4E


A takeaway box, a football, a fox.  A

takeaway box, a football,

a fox. Hollow. A takeaway box,

a football, a fox. Monochrome. A take-

away box, a football, a fox. Rot.

A takeaway box, a foot-

ball, a fox.



Caleb’s Canal Poetry Month (CaCaPoMo)


Our route from North to West

For the next month, we are on the move aboard Reenie again headed back towards Bristol…Where I am starting a new job and an MSc in Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes.

So I thought I would set myself a writing task: CaCaPoMo. Yes, my own NaPoWriMo. But just me, about this journey. I will do my best to post something for each day.

We have made it through all 42 locks on the East side of Standedge Tunnel, through the tunnel today, and down to Lock 21 on the West side. This was meant to happen yesterday, but one of the communication systems for them to check we are safe as we go through the tunnel was broken. (We offered some yoghurt pots and string, but they weren’t interested.)

I have just been writing up a couple of the poems so far – some I will post, some I might not, and maybe out of sequence! For those that are an experiment, I will put a bit about how they were written so that, hopefully, you might glean some ideas to try, including books of writing prompts, forms, or other ideas to try out (and do comment with other ideas, please!).