NaPoWriMo 2015.6: Allegiance

Folly Footbridge – as mentioned in my ‘aubade’ (morning poem). Image googled, from

NaPoWriMo catch-up…and wrote an ‘aubade’…

A particular remembrance of a winter morning, leaving the boat and heading to the car – which oddly seems more vivid in relation to this bright, summery day…

This exhibit has been removed for polishing…


The Way Something Is or Happens

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This morning, I walked to Dundas Aqueduct and noticed – as I walked down and under the structure – that many of the stone blocks used are covered in what look like ‘hieroglyphs’: stonemason  marks you can only see when you get up close to it. There are some that are like arrows with two directional parts, some like TV aerials, ships’ masts. I can only describe them in terms of simile, because stonemasonry is not a ‘language’ I speak, a form in which I’m conversant. And what could be more solid a form than stone?

If you look up ‘Form’ on Wikipedia, its broader definition is given as, ‘the way something is or happens’. Dundas Aqueduct only took on the form of its classical, canal-bearing splendour, because a (doubtless) huge group of stonemasons and navvies all spoke in this particular language: form begets form. An abstract language led to something that couldn’t be more tangible.  But is a poem, or a novel, or a film, less tangible to we language-based beings than this bridge? That Wikipedia page might well say ‘the way anything is or happens’. That really is an expansive idea…

Speaking of expansive…In Buddhism, the idea of Emptiness, Energy and Form – the three kayas of Dharmakaya, Sambhogakaya, and Nirmanakaya – is central (I think across all different branches of practice, although I’m no expert). We perceive these as separate, whereas they are actually the same thing. Emptiness – the blank page – is filled with the Energy of writing, which takes on the form of the written (whatever that form might be). Then you can screw it up and start again. Or redraft it into a different form. But there would be no poem without the empty page, or the act of writing. They’re indivisible. The alphabet is a form; without shared understanding – like the stonemasons – these symbols in which I’m writing mean nothing. Our social system(s) have form, our homes and lives and ideas. The way anything is or happens.

In poetry ­­- the form in which I most often write (well, texting is probable the form in which I most often write) – one might think of it as the structure the work takes on, or is given. Poetry, to me, should feel like a climbing frame. One may write in ‘free verse’ (although what’s it free from?) or set out to write a sublime Sonnet, or mucky limerick. Indeed: why does one so often seem to be considered ‘sublime’ and the other so often ‘mucky’? (And I’ve got the Penguin book of limericks; it rarely returns anything too profound, but it’s a great form for wit and humour.)

Perhaps there’s a tension between these two: if you set out to write in a given form, it will affect the way an idea or emotion emerges; but if you set out just to write, then the idea or emotion therein might take on quite a different quality. Sometimes, it’s better to contain it; others, just to let it contain itself. But to write ‘without form’ surely we need – paradoxically – to be aware of form too, or it would just come out as, sort of, noise…And maybe that’s what our emotions are without language: noise. (Sometimes they’re still noise with language.)

This is one area where, for me, the spiritual, philosophical, practical and creative all intertwine. There is nothing without form: even the blank page, with its potential for creation, even the social situation in which creative writing takes place.

A quick search for ‘Form’ shows just how much it crops up in language. One of the most intriguing examples for me was that a hare’s ‘nest’ is called a ‘Form’. So inspired by a book I’m reading at the moment (Uncreative Writing, by Kenneth Goldsmith), I’m starting a sequence of poems called Searching for Form, wherein I’m going to take some of the myriad entries for ‘Form’ on Wikipedia and other sites, and simply tinker with the content on some of the entries, to shift their form (form-shift, like shapeshift?) into a poem. The first one here is a reworking of the text from a wildlife website, wherein a hare’s ‘form’ (the name for its nest) is described. I’ve edited the sentences down, changed some syntax,  and shifted the address to a direct one (to the hare? to the reader?). I’ve included the original text beneath my reworked version. Is this ‘writing poetry’, or ‘managing language’? Is there really any difference…?

Final thought: I listened to a programme about Bob Cobbing this morning, from Radio 4 a while back. Cobbing really pushed the form of poetry, using concrete poetry techniques, sound poetry, nonsense, visual poetry, performance, recording, ritual, procession, all sorts. But many in the poetry ‘Establishment’ (there’s a form indeed) considered it too ‘way out’, too radical, too ‘un-formed’ perhaps.

But who decides what poetry’s form is? Who can say that managing language, or bringing in other artforms or influences, or patch-working from other texts, ‘isn’t poetry’? Contemporary visual art – ever since Duchamp popped a urinal in a gallery and signed it – has long cottoned on to the idea of placing the ordinary on a plinth, or in a frame, changing its context and, in doing so, its form. By simply calling it art…Such is the power of naming.

So then: ceci n’est pas une poème?

Seeking Form


Rest. Scrape away
the vegetation. Lie down
on bare earth. Where
you have been,
a shallow depression
is made. A bit deeper,
a bit wider. This
is your form.

You will often make it
in the shelter
of a grass tussock
a rock for protection
from these winds.

In this form
you are giving birth.
Now: line it with fur,
plucked from your
own coat. This
is your form.

Original text from
“When a hare rests, it will usually scrape away the vegetation and then lie down on the bare earth. Where a hare has been lying, a shallow depression is made, which is a bit deeper and wider at the back than at the front. This is known as a ‘form’. They are often made in the shelter of a grass tussock or a rock which will give some protection from the wind. Forms which are used to give birth to young may be lined with fur which the mother has plucked from her own fur coat.”

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!).

NaPoWriMo 2.14: Questions To The Huddersfield Broad Canal Fishing Lady

But is she among them…?

It’s a catch up day again – I’m finding that poetry gathering- and writing-binges are how I’m doing NaPoWriMo today…

So here’s the all-questions-and-a-statement poem which – without knowing about the imminent terza rima (which I’m doing next) – has a similar-ish interlocking rhyme structure.

The subject for my questioning poem is a lady we see fishing in the canal near where we’re moored. Fishing being largely dominated by white blokes, she stood out in being of East Asian descent (or East Asian, I know not) and not carrying all the kit (as many anglers do as they populate the towpath of a Sunday). So she stands out in that regard as an angler – and in her manner.

She sits looking quite mysterious and rather well-dressed, sort of glamorous. We’ve tried saying hello when we’ve gone past on the boat, but she seems then to slope away unsmilingly. Perhaps it’s interrupting her quiet thinking/fishing time, time to gaze at the water – which is, I think, the real/main reason for fishing as sport…

(As my Mum once pointed out, if you took a bag of kittens to the local river and started dunking them to the point of drowning, there’d be an outcry – but sticking a hook in a fish’s mouth and hauling it out of the water until it’s nearly dead is, apparently, entirely different).

So the Huddersfield Broad Canal Fishing Lady is something of a mystery – and here’s my poem of questions to her:


To The Huddersfield Broad Canal Fishing Lady


Why do you fish in the Broad Canal?

Is your little white handbag stuffed with worms?

Do you model for unseen cameras, so stern?

Have you always fished in the Broad Canal?


Does your handbag flash-bulb, when it is time?

What need of such style for a sport so banal?

What towpath could call to a runway girl?

Is your bag paparazzi at fishing time?


Are the hooks that you use made of thin air?

Do the fish fill your silence, are you always a mime?

Do they peep up like journos, from down in the grime?

Are your hooks in the water just bubbles of air?


Would you be heron, or would you be crane?

Do you speak with the others, know all the right terms?

Are your sequins scraped scales, whereon sunlight squirms?

I cast out enigma, I reel in the same: a feathered reflection, a vanishing crane.




Last Saturday, I went on a workshop with the Canal Laureate, Jo Bell, about whom you can read more here.

We spent some time talking about detail – using specific canal-furniture names (boats, bridges, places) in writing – and then moved on to ‘becoming’ various combinations of watery figures. Myself and another writer became a poet and a jogger – both of whom were horrible people. But hey – they’re often more fun to write as (maybe).

Another boat-related idea had been flitting around in my head, which I’ve just had another go at. Having not been sure how to approach the topic, I epiphed (all over the place) on the way home. 

It was some speed-writing (thanks Natalie Goldberg, for the encouragement – from a book nearly as old as me – ‘Writing Down the Bones’) generated an image – so I went with it…




My friend, like so many,

fears them intensely,

so when she asks me,

a glimmer of hope:

“Are you safe from them

on boats?” I’m obliged to say



For never before have I existed

so closely alongside them. Shipmates.

Brushing my teeth in the morning, in the

lower-right corner of the window,

in one swings with a toothless grin –

its rope dewed with the white

frothy grog that is splashed

from my chin.


Attracted by the dusky glint

of our black-gold chimneys,

they hoist ragged sails there which –

gaping in the trading winds –

display the body-parts of victims.


At night, they are not as sociable as

popular images would have us think.

Don’t gather together to eat or drink

their pillaged bounty; engage in a customary


they loiter under gunwhales,

bristle between the welds of steel,

biding their dark-clad time. (Though

on the vacant ship next-moor

they’ve moved in – squatting – on a riot

of their crystalline rigging.)


So my friend says, “Oh Gina G!

I had thought you might be safe at sea.”

But no, for ours is the realm of the

Pirate: their map and their maws;

their plots and their prey;

their own many-cutlassed laws.

Dry days – a pause outside Oxford

We finally got off the Chartered Thames yesterday – I kept calling it that, from a William Blake poem I remembered – ‘London’. I couldn’t remember the whole thing, but certainly that the tone was not an overly positive one – and I had mixed feelings about the Thames, with all its fancy weekender boats and fancier-still houses on the banks (with extra houses in the grounds, as well as a boathouse). What the hey, let’s hear that poem:

I wander through each chartered street,
Near where the chartered Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet,
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear:

How the chimney-sweeper’s cry
Every blackening church appals,
And the hapless soldier’s sigh
Runs in blood down palace-walls.

But most, through midnight streets I hear
How the youthful harlot’s curse
Blasts the new-born infant’s tear,
And blights with plagues the marriage-hearse.

OK, so our experience of the Thames really wasn’t as extreme as – apparently – Blake’s experience of London (and its ‘chartered Thames’) was. Although you get the feeling from this he might have been a bit of a before-his-time class warrior, as well as a mad religious visionary. Whatever he was: it’s brilliant.

Anyway – we took a few days to cruise along the Thames: the first day was just after all the heavy rain and in the very high winds that came just after. That rain is now, of course, back with us – and my thoughts go to those people in West Wales being hit by it at the moment.

The water was fairly choppy for the first day, but then brightened up for us – and for a time was quite pleasant. As we were headed upstream, Reenie was having to fight the current; rather than on the Kennet, where we had all its force behind us. So even though we were giving it all the oomph she has, we still only travelled at walking pace.

Moving from the Thames to the Oxford Canal either involves going through Isis Lock, or through the Duke’s Cut – which we’d gathered was rather friendlier a turning. And with current, we opted for the latter – which took us a while longer, with a couple more Thames locks to do. But we finally got to the Duke’s Cut last and night, where you go from the enormous Thames locks, through to the tiny single-boat Oxford ones. They’re quick, though – you practically pop up, like one of those arcade games where you hit moles (Whack-a-mole?). Well, not quite.

Having been moving for about 11 days solidly, we’ve taken a couple of days near Oxford to dry out and recuperate – nerves were beginning to fray a little. So on this balmy June day, we’ve got the fire going (!) and are avoiding being outside. It’s nice to be reminded that Reenie is also a warm and cosy home, as well as a vessel travelling against currents, wind and rain.

Current Affairs or, Matching Regatta Cagools – Theale to Pangbourne

There have been a couple of slalom hairy moments over the last few days. Reenie’s not really cut out for water flowing faster than – well, flowing at all, really.

Having had about three days of tropical-except-without-the-warmth rain, yesterday we had a day of what turned out to be national news-level high winds. So navigating the last stretch of the Kennet bit of the Kennet & Avon turned out to be quite alarming: it’s a proper meandering river, with all the S-bends that implies. It seemed as though a lot of other boaters – although ones heading up stream, rather than down, as we were – found it all quite a fun little frollick. It’s probably something to do with this being both our home and containing pretty much everything we now own – which adds quite a large level of onerousness to navigating swollen rivers with strong currents, in high winds. And whoever designed in the slalom at Reading – through some new development of chain restaurants and nation-sized multiplexes – including a low arc bridge directly after a 90-degree turn: thanks so much. I won’t be coming back to Reading in a hurry (in a boat, or otherwise).

We had a couple of locks where the wind caught the side of the boat and we got sort of…wedged, against the lock gate. It took all the might of whichever of us was pulling the centre line and poor Reenie’s engine (she’s doing very well, bless her) to get into a position to enter the lock. So jangled was I by the boat assault course, I was forced into becoming a Salty Sea Dog Lush by lunchtime yesterday and found myself an ale. Then a gin.

Finally, we got through the slaloms, white-water rapids and so forth – no giant rolling boulders, Indiana Jones-style, though – and made it on to the Thames. (This was, after all supposed to be an Adventure.) We’d done the whole Kennet and Avon and the 104 locks therein, from Hanham lock in Bristol, to the very last K&A lock before the big River T. The locks along the illustrious river are all manned, which feels a bit of a luxury – and is also why you have to pay about £30 a day to be on here. Well, the Queen has to keep the swans in caviar and her own new barge spick and span somehow, eh?

We shared a couple of locks with a nice couple in a very smart (retiree) boat yesterday. The lady (Gill/Jill, I believe) and I confided that we’d found the Thames a little like being on the high seas in the winds, even though – rationally speaking – the wind would have to be quite something to blow over a boat with a base plate of steel weighing several tonnes. Nonetheless, logic isn’t always at its fullest after a very long day cruising. We moored alongside Jill and Peter at Pangbourne, as there was no space – their very-smart boat is about the same length as Reenie. It’s funny being bunked up right next to another narrow, but at least our windows weren’t exactly aligned – it might have been too tempting to peek across, in the absence of television.

I’m writing this as I flit back and forth from the twin-tub and its 9-minute energy-saving cycle (old school technology for the 21st century), as we really needed to do at least some washing. (While some might cringe at the funny colour the water goes, it’s pretty darn efficient). There’s still quite a curious disconnect between the outside space, which – as with yesterday – can be quite wild and fast-flowing, with strong currents and high winds; then there’s the inside space, which is cosy and domestic (and rather nice after we’ve home-ified it, if I may say so myself).

Thankfully, outside is a little less rugged today – although the Thames is a little wider then Reenie’s really comfortable with (read: that we’re comfortable with). So I’m looking forward to getting on to the Oxford Canal tomorrow, which is meant to be very scenic. And suitable narrow, for a narrowboat.


A Lock is Like a Box of Chocs

Today, we went through lock number 100 – and we started, when we left Bristol, through Hanham Lock, No. 1. So that’s a lorra lorra locks (as Cilla would say – well, she probably wouldn’t, but if she did, she might say it like that. And speaking of Cilla, I like to imagine that – when going through a lock – when it warns you of the Cill, that you could just add an ‘A’ to the end of it. The image of her emerging from the lock and saying ‘Surprise, Surprise, Chuck!’ amuses me greatly).

Anyway, as the man said (Forrest Gump, I believe): “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get”. Indeed, so are the locks – although unfortunately for us, we’ve been all too lacking in folks to share our locks with.

It’s quite a sociable experience being on the canals and part of that is the necessity of moving tonnes of water around every now and then. We’ve been through lock flights with assorted retiree couples – who tend to have much smarter boats than liveaboards – and encountered various nationalities in passing at locks. Although it seems like canal holidays are particularly appealing to antipodeans and Nordic folks – particularly the Danes. But that’s just from our encounters thus far, it’s probably not very representative.

A couple of days ago, we ended up sharing a flight of locks with a group of Yorkshire Boors, as I initially dubbed them. When I offered to pull their boat in from the centre line, his opening gambit was: ‘USE THE POWER, LAD: USE THE F***ING POWER!’ He then kicked the accelerator with his left foot, so as not to let go of his butterfly umbrella (his granddaughter’s, apparently). I’m pretty sure the way you treat a hire-boat is NOT how you treat a liveaboard.

We’re pushing on towards Oxford and hoping to be able to moor there for a day or two and go into town to the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt-Rivers Museum – both anthropological and arts, I think – and hopefully meet with friends and family there.

While I’m inside writing this, we’ve agreed a new system of taps on the roof to alert whoever’s inside that they’re needed, which goes:

One knock for a lock (or a bridge)
Two for a poo
Three for a wee
Four for more (biscuits).

Well, we’ve got to amuse ourselves somehow. See also: the various pictures of our posing with the tiller in ridiculous manners (Flickr feed to right).