Descent

Image

Having been struggling to get the pen moving this last couple of days, I just tried out a little exercise to generate this poem…

 

Descent

 

Two elderflowers flank it, waving white-flag leaves:

the Cottage for the Keeper of Lock Seventy-Eight

is drowning in brown fields, the drizzle it breathes.

 

For he knows, as he toasts and quarters his bread,

each ambling hulk he ushers up or down

could be his last: could cost his head.

 

There it is, every time the lock recedes,

growling in the shallow murk: the tiger –

its back of cutting rock; its stripes of tangled weed.

 

The exercise was as follows, from this article in the Guardian (which was, yes, intended for kids – but really for poets of any age…Yes…It was, OK?).

So, here goes:

• Choose a number between 1 and 20 (eg 15)

• Choose a number between 1 and 100 (eg 30)

• Choose a colour (eg purple), a mood (eg sad), a kind of weather (eg sunny), a place (eg the laundrette), an animal (eg a rat)

Now: The first number is the number of lines your poem should have. All the other choices have to be in the poem.

AND SO IT WAS that mine was a 9-line poem, including the number 78, the colour brown, a ‘frantic’ mood, drizzle, a lock-keeper’s cottage, and a tiger.

Coupled with a strong coffee (in my case), I found this most helpful – and I would imagine being able to generate the factors even more randomly (get someone else to pick numbers, animals, etc – then swap!) would help even more.

Give it a go – go on, even if you’re not, technically, a youth any more…

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LS13 Anthology and Upcoming Gigs

A quick update also that – GOOD NEWS – I’m going to be one of the poets featured in the LS13 Leeds Writers anthology, about which more information here. It’ll be launched next Friday June 7th as part of the Leeds Big Book End weekend.

Also, I’ll be performing at a couple of upcoming nights:

Firstly at Spoken Weird in Halifax on Thursday June 13th at the Sportsman Pub – full details here. The May event was a real pleasure – a room full of attentive poetry-lovers, sharing their joy in words. Looking forward to doing a fifteen-minute set for the occasion…

And on June 26th I’ll be doing another fifteen-minuter at the Poetry by HEART event at the Headingley Enterprise and Arts Centre – hopefully you can click through to more information here.

Looking forward to all of the above and would be lovely to see anyone who fancies it there 🙂

Snails, or Cycling in Shropshire

An uphill snail…

A brief post, as – after NaPoWriMo – I’ve had a bit of breathing space…But feel like the fallow time is done and the ideas they are a-flowing again.

Having just returned from a week in lovely Shropshire (which really is stunningly beautiful), I had a couple of rustic animal-related ideas (I do enjoy writing about animals). It’s a wonderful county and made me appreciate anew how many diverse landscapes we’re lucky enough to have on Our Curious Little Rock in the Atlantic (or, Britain, as it’s known).

Here’s one of the animal poems, about cycling in a hilly terrain while in otherworldly holiday-time:

 

Snails

or, Cycling in Shropshire

 

We trail the treads

of our tyre-tracks.

Thwarting

all Earth’s gravity,

all of time:

a week of our life,

all we can see,

stretching

over our backs.

NaPoWriMo 30: Here, Roots Are Not Joined

You fear, you fear her return.

 

IT IS THE END OF NAPOWRIMO. And it really has been marvellous.

I’ve just one poem (apart from that below) I would like to finish today and will have produced over 30 poems throughout April. It’s been a very positive experience: keeping poetry with me all the time; being exposed to new forms and stimuli; and discovering many talented creative-cousins out there.

So, the final piece was to create a poem of ‘inversion’: to find a poem you like and then to invert each word until you end with an interesting mirror-image of the original piece.

See if you can guess the original, from this sinister/sad-sounding one…I really did go as literally opposite as possible, although some words (and ideas) are pesky in not being binary (or not appearing so) and having an opposite. So there’s a bit of flex in my ‘opposites’.

The only clue I’ll give is that ‘here’ in my poem, was ‘there’ in the original…And the title is not literally an inversion, but an inversion of the original meaning (in a native language) of the original’s title!

Confused? Read on…

 

Here, Roots Are Not Joined

 

Tomorrow morn, beneath this floor

You shunned this woman, she who is here –

She is here tomorrow, once again:

You fear, you fear her return.

 

If you go, at nine in the morn, tomorrow

This woman will be left, by you, here.

So, if you are blind, beneath this stair

You could imagine her here.

Come here, come here, I will leave ever more.

Come here, come here, but open the door (whoosh!).

 

Tomorrow morn, I will feel beneath this floor

That the giant woman is here.

She is here tomorrow, once again:

Ah, why do you fear her coming?

NaPoWriMo 29: Excerpts from a Report on the New Poem Aquarium

An empty aquarium – shall we fill it with poems? Shall we?

So yes, it being the end of NaPoWriMo, I’m going quite deranged and using increasing amounts (and oddities) of Found or – in this instance what I’m calling ‘Poached Poetry’. (Poached in the sense of hunted and stolen, or I guess it could be poached in the egg-sense.)

This has reached new and ridiculous heights (or depths) today: I have just watched a news report about a new Chinese visitor attraction and written bits of it out as a poem, giving the attraction a new title.

To retain the (very tiny amount of) enigma, I will only post the link to the original news report at a later time…

What do you think the report was actually about?

Don’t throw a wobbly trying to figure it out.

 

A Poached Poem

or, Excerpts from a Report on the New Poem Aquarium

 

…Psychedelic, otherworldly, primordial:

visitors can now get up-close and personal

with the creatures, albeit from a safe

distance. Even the more dangerous species

are a sight to behold…

 

…Some have quite long tentacles and,

as a result, they look quite graceful

when swimming…

 

…More than 3000 are on show,

dozens of species

in eleven tanks

some weigh more than

twenty tonnes…

 

…The museum says it is not easy

to keep the deep-sea dwellers

in captivity. They’re poor swimmers –

a special circulatory system

is required, just to keep them

afloat….

NaPoWriMo 28: Painting Friends’ Palettes

A lovely iridescent bubble

Yesterday’s NaPoWriMo prompt was to write about a colour. So – as it’s nearing the end of the month and I (as I’m sure many others participating in NaPoWriMo!) am lacking a bit of original chutzpah, I ‘outsourced’ some of the legwork…

This morning, I asked (via Facebook) what my friends’ favourite colour was and why. Then this evening, once some fine folk had commented, I used the colours and imagery they provided to write a poem: to ‘paint’ each stanza using their colour and some of the images they offered, so it reads a bit like a paint-chart of pictures.

Thanks to those who commented and I hope you like what I’ve painted with your colours 🙂

 

Painting Friends’ Palettes

or, Imagine These Colours

 

Since shiny is your favourite distraction, imagine:

a peacock waltzes with a mackerel

whirling in a beetle-shell ship

within a bubble made of

iridescent micro-chips.

 

Then, a silvery-grey wish:

a graphite bike-chain of granite

powers a sleek silverfish

made of satin, its eyes

burnished baubles

of copper.

 

See the bright spring green

of the grass of the garden

at work. Passionate petrichor*

of plant’s breath. What eyes are for.

The opposite of death. The endless

easy elegant obviousness

of each leaf.

 

In a home by the

duck-egg Dorset sea,

the colours of raw plaster

ripple intently across rooms;

their walls flowing gently

into the shapes and shades

of the waves.

 

And turquoise bright writes

cheerful

in summer seas and skies,

where a deep purple kite flies

in your spirit, tethers you

with a line of light

from the eyes.

 

 

*’petrichor’ is an old/disused word for “The pleasant smell that accompanies the first rain after a dry spell.” I like to think of it as the plants breathing a sigh of relief…

NaPoWriMo 25: Picnic Ballad

Here is your hamper…

…have a lovely time

Sometimes, you’ve just got to let it all out. But, so a long-standing motto of mine goes: Make Your Pain Entertaining.

It’s not been a great day, so when the prompt of a Ballad came through, I wrote the following ‘picnic ballad’. Don’t worry, it won’t be anything as chintzy as you first imagine.

The idea came from working with a student today, on Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade‘, which features the lines ‘All in the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred’.

And the student asked, ‘Why have I written there’s no hope of them coming back as a note underneath it?’ 

To which I responded, ‘Well, if I said I was going for a picnic in the Forest of Despair, would you think it was going to be a nice picnic?’

And so when I got in, I wrote this, about that very forest. It just sort of…popped out.

Probably best to read it either if you’ve had a really good day, or a really bad one.

I might get it set to music.

 

Picnic Ballad

or, As I Wrote This My Pencil Snapped and As I Typed It Up My Computer Shut Down

 

[CHORUS]

The city’s full of scorpions,

There’s locusts in the air:

We’re going for a picnic in

The Forest of Despair.

 

The wrought-iron gothic entrance gates

Say we should turn around;

But we have flesh and knives and plates

And Gingham for the ground.

 

[CHORUS]

 

Among the leaves, the birds do sing

Ballads of woe and fear;

But we shall thwart their whispering

With bread stuffed in our ears.

 

[CHORUS]

 

The squirrels bury in the ground

All hopes of picnics past

And six feet down, they can’t be found –

The tree-rats dig too fast.

 

[CHORUS]

 

Up in the balmy, cloudless sky

The Sun’s great furnace fumes.

His black baseball-cap upon high

Which reads: “I OWN YOUR DOOMS”.

 

[CHORUS]

 

We’ll leave there with our bellies full

Of Emptiness and Pain

And – gored by the resident bull –

Plan when we’ll come again.

 

[CHORUS]

 

Around these tangled roots of lines

The bindweed-mind writes QUIT:

Its gobby trumpets blare and whine

That life can be a chit*.

 

[FINAL CHORUS,

REPEAT AD INFINITUM UNTIL

YOU CAN NO LONGER BREATHE:]

 

The city’s full of scorpions,

There’s locusts in the air:

So join us for a picnic in

The Forest of Despair.

 

*Be careful not to misread this rhyme as something rude: a ‘chit’ is, in fact, ‘a signed note for money owed for food, drink, etc.’ or ‘any receipt, voucher, or similar document, especially of an informal nature’. Thus, life is merely a receipt or short note – perhaps just a poem, like this one. Cheerful, eh?

(ADDENDUM: if you enjoyed this one, then why not try my other NaPoWriMo musical efforts: A Sea Shanty for Failed Urban Development and The Pies of Awareness – which feels like a sister piece to this one. Sometimes I write happily; sometimes I write grumpily; usually I write with energy. Such is life!)

NaPoWriMo 24: Dust Across the Beam

Hyde Park Picture House: 100 in 2014!

As you may have noticed, things have been a bit cinematic on my blog during NaPoWriMo.

I’m reading a few poems (including my poem about the Invisible Cinema walking tour, from earlier in the month) on Sunday morning at an event to mark the centenary of Hyde Park Picture House. And here is a piece I wrote based on an earlier prompt from Canal Laureate Jo Bell, which was to write a poem of Welcome.

So, to celebrate the Picture House’s centenary, I wrote a welcome for its next 100 years – and here it is:

 

Twenty-One Thirteen

or, Dust Across the Beam

 

Welcome, twenty-one thirteen:

may your bright skies usher in

the twenty-first century’s pigeons –

their future-coos upon the roof’s tiles

(not nesting in seats, feathering aisles).

 

Welcome, twenty-one thirteen:

the elaborate plaster flowers which grow

from the walls are the germinating magic bean

of all the cinemas to which we can no longer go.

A furrow of many bulbs (and most no longer glow).

 

Welcome, twenty-one thirteen:

may the red curtains of each romance

open and close, close and open

on the clumsy ill-fated dance

of faltering fake yawns

and thousands of missed chances.

 

Welcome, twenty-one thirteen:

may never the popcorn of cinema dreams

be trodden under giant flat-screen feet

confining chorus gasp, behind-you screams

to closed-curtain houses on sparse streets.

 

Welcome, twenty-one thirteen

and all the seconds in between:

may the 26-flicker of each second’s cell

combine with the terabytes of files, to tell

stories as many as dust across the beam.

For stories are light and light is the spell.

 

So welcome, twenty-one thirteen:

may all your future screens,

even in desperate certificate eighteens

times contain only some scenes

of the mildest peril.

NaPoWriMo 23: A Triolet for Entropy

The Universe loves things to get more disordered. (So most of us fit right in – We Are Stardust!)

I’m running on a slightly altered NaPoWriMo timetable, or flexi-time, if you will: there’s a Welcome and a Blessing brewing for Sunday, from earlier prompts. But as I’ve slightly stumbled on these – and am going to return to them – I thought I’d try out a triolet from today’s NaPoWriMo prompt.

Looking around for some inspiration, I found this article about entropy and intelligence – which slightly blew my mind. In essence, this is about the idea that the Universe tends towards a more disordered state – and that by applying this idea to some models, they become analogous to what happens when ‘intelligent’ beings are involved. That we, as intelligent (supposedly) beings, are also inherently entropic. Apparently, even the evolution of walking may be relevant in this system. Roll on the bedlam!

I think that’s what it means, anyway. Although I suggest you read it yourself, as the reporter clearly knows what they’re talking about a lot more than this poet.

And to celebrate this un-knowledge of our inherent entropy, I wrote an orderly triolet…

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NaPoWriMo 21: White Violin or, Lord Raby’s Massive Silver Wine Cooler

Lord Raby’s Massive Silver Wine Cooler – as so described on the signs in Temple Newsam House!

Filling in an earlier gap from NaPoWriMo: I started writing this a while back based on a trip to Temple Newsam House, just outside Leeds. It’s an amazing house – no doubt about it – and it’s great that it’s now in public ownership, with gorgeous grounds to walk or cycle round.

While I was there, there was a concert of Early Music – a series of concerts, in fact – and I sat down to listen to some violin music and then got chatting with the musician (Gina Le Faux, about whom you can find out more here) about her violin (which you can hear in the SoundCloud widget above!).

And that conversation informed the following poem, which I’ve only just finished – and still needs tinkering. But the central idea was this: what do we preserve and what do we dispose of? And, more vitally, who do we preserve and who do we forget?

While it’s a great thing that the house is in public ownership, it also made me wonder why we are still so fixated on the aristocracy of old: I wonder what the people of future centuries will look upon as ‘worth preserving’ – for that preservation starts now.

Oh and ‘Lord Raby’s Massive Silver Wine Cooler’ (pictured above) was called just that on the signs in the House. There was something undeniably impressive about it. And a little bit ridiculous. And more than a little smug. (Oh – we own it now, too, by the way).

Anyway, here’s the poem:

 

White Violin

or, Lord Raby’s Massive Silver Wine Cooler (at Temple Newsam House)

 

Sat, courtly, beneath the gleaming shadow of

Lord Raby’s Massive Silver Wine Cooler

the early music begins: notes overflow

from a Thomas Tilley (Real) violin.

 

(To me, just a violin, but

as I chat with the musician

about the instrument she’d played

we strip away its ancestry,

how this violin was made:

 

Picked up from a dealer, who noted

that it actually dates back to 1776;

an uncouth previous owner had coated

it in Vegas-white emulsion Dulux.)

 

In each room, a day-tripper to aristocracy,

I strip back the varnished gentility. Imagine

what the laminated guide would be for

mine, or any other family. What would we

retain of our ignoble genealogy? Will our IKEA

wallpaper, our B&Q garden furniture,

draw in paying crowds to see?

 

The centrepiece of my 70s-built living room

was the Orange Plastic Pernod Ice Bucket.

That, Lord Raby, was our bulbous,

spirited, pop-heirloom; or

as close to one as we’d get.

 

The historic wallpaper’s birds may be pretty

but their songs – territorial, shrill – are rotten:

silver families are laminated, remembered;

Dulux families are all but forgotten.