NaPoWriMo 2015.5: A Plank In Reason

A Plank In Reason?

Playing catch-up today (when I should be doing other things, of course), with my Emily Dickinson-inspired poem. Here it is…

A Plank in Reason

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –

            – Emily Dickinson

We have kept two aboard – one
each – at bow and at stern –
for help when the bank
becomes too distant to leap

and it was only this week after three-
and-a-half-years of living afloat –
that one of them broke – but
not fully. Just a cracked corner –

a great splinter – as it sunk
through the reeds. And now it waits
by the stove: too big to burn
and sharp as a stake.

NaPoWriMo 2015.4: Creag Iolaire

One of the scenes I remember from the day in 1997 when Diana’s death was reported.

Didn’t fancy the love/un-love prompt today, so had a look through the old prompts I had saved – and one (from marvellous Jo Bell) was to write something based on a ‘historical moment’ and what you really remember of it.

So, and I know everyone remembers this, here is my remembrance of finding out about Princess Diana’s death while on holiday in Scotland, 1997. The title is the name of the (friend of the family’s) house we were staying at.

Creag Iolaire

I slouch down the teenage holiday stairs,
unaware, as our host flutters: ‘Darling!
There’s been a terrible tragedy!’ So we click
through all five channels for the scenes
of tunnel, Gendarmes, tarmac
strewn with flowers and twisted
paparazzi lenses.

And then, it was time to return from
Eagle’s Nest Highlands to Blackbird East Anglia,
in the back of the campervan, pausing
only occasionally and pursued only

by the mountains of newsstand print,
the tiara light tinkling on the Lochs,
the inky stare of the skies.

NaPoWriMo 2015.3: My Fellow Ministers

My Fellow Ministers?

Day three’s poem, which I didn’t get around to yesterday…I’ve had a go at a sort of mixed-metaphor vaguely-political poem, after the Leaders’ Debate on Thursday, with the ‘Fourteener’ 14-syllable form.

It starts with a little quote from The Tempest that had been bouncing around my head, for some reason, before going on to do something with the image of churches in scaffolding. I don’t know why and I’m not sure it works. It’s sort of a call to arms to vote. Sort of. But I wrote a poem. OK?

“My Fellow Ministers…

…are like invulnerable. If you could hurt,
Your swords are now too massy for your strengths
And will not be uplifted.”

The Tempest, Act III, Scene III

The Ministers all braced themselves to peer into the lens
And state their absolutes, their cases rigid and unchanged.

Around each one, an aura sprung, of metal tube and mesh
Like city spires in scaffolding, with weather vanes for minds.

Now lift your swords to their stained glass, their leaden tainted eyes
And place your massy cross within their box of shining lies.

NaPoWriMo 2015.2: Cancer

Stones at Barry Island Beach

Stones at Barry Island Beach

At a beach today, on the birthday of a friend no longer with us – so the stars/constellations prompt was brought back down to earth…


If the Great Crab is here
beneath the grey-stone thunder
of this Barry Island beach

it has not been sent to distract us,
wave heel-nip, from any Hydra,
nor any singular heroic feat

but from these many-headed
days, always growing back:
these constellations of your space.

NaPoWriMo 2015.1: “Sat Like a Cormorant, Yet Not”

"Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life, The middle tree and highest there that grew,	         Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true life	 Thereby regained, but sat devising death	 To them who lived; nor on the virtue thought	 Of that life-giving plant, but only used	 For prospect what, well used, had been the pledge	         Of immortality. "

“Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
The middle tree and highest there that grew,
Sat like a Cormorant; yet not true life
Thereby regained, but sat devising death
To them who lived; nor on the virtue thought
Of that life-giving plant, but only used
For prospect what, well used, had been the pledge
Of immortality. “

It’s that time again: NaPoWriMo. When I pretend I won’t do all the prompts and, instead, write four poems a day if I get behind. (But it turns out, I really enjoy writing poems – so it’s fine. Don’t worry yourself.)

So to business: a poem of negation. I found myself (as I did at the start of NaPoWriMo the year before last, curiously) in Cardiff, at the Museum. Having thought I might write about their photography exhibition (and at some point, I will write something about the tornadoes that struck South Wales in 1913, which were depicted therein) I was walking past the Natural History Galleries and saw the chap above, wings outspread…and so…

“Sat Like a Cormorant; Yet Not”

I am not the ragged fabric
that hangs from pirate booms.
I am not the devil in any disguise;
why would these feathers be costume?

I am the portent of Nothing
but this gunmetal sea;
the harbinger of Nothing
and nobody’s prophecy.

I am no red-breasted festive
greeting to some lost friend.
My neck is not the elegant
waved S of the swan, my wings
a continent, an eon from
the wall-mounted mallard.

I will not look directly at you
nor deny the dark hook
of my eyes. I will not stand
for the cliff-wall epitaph,
for the black clouds
etched on your skies.

Rich Ambiguity (on Poetry Therapy)

Whichever way up you look at it (thanks to for this lovely bit of black and white Ambiguity).

Out of very little, quite profound realisations can occur through writing: with only a couple of words to start off, you might find yourself epiph-ing all over the place (that’s a variation on ‘having an epiphany’).

Although it’s just as likely that with creative, expressive or reflective writing, you’ll find yourself with a whole load more questions to contemplate. And there’s nothing wrong with questions, like Tardis Russian Dolls, begetting more questions.

I was heartened to see part of this quote from Rilke, at the beginning of Gillie Bolton’s ‘Reflective Practice’:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

It’s one I read at my brother’s wedding (along with something by the excellent, fiery Jeanette Winterson) – and one that celebrates ambiguity, questioning and uncertainty, but also presence in the moment.

While much public commentary seems to shy away from, err, shades of grey (no, not that kind, thanks), seeking certainties, stats and binaries, ambiguity and uncertainty are rich, open spaces where we can learn more about ourselves and our worlds. Things are rarely – I would say never – black or white. But the black and white text of poetry on a page – and carried from the page by voices – can enable the exploration of our boundaries and values at any moment.

For me, poetry is the best artistic medium for this – and the title of this post comes from a quality that those working in Poetry Therapy seek in workshop texts. During our Poetry Therapy session, we spent a great deal of time as a group talking about some relatively-short poems, but in which there was a vast amount of space to explore.

A good poem should be a climbing frame: open, spacious, with room to play and multiple ways to clamber upon it. More than any other type of text, poetry is structural, sculptural, something you can move around 360 degrees and each time gain a new perspective. And if therapy is about anything, it’s gaining new perspectives…

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…

The Poetical Meta-Form: A Form About Form

As I’ve been thinking about Form a lot recently for my post-grad studies, I thought I’d ‘outsource inspiration’ to see where it could take my writing.

So I’ve created The Poetical Meta-Form: A Form About Form. (I know: I’m so postmodern I can barely move. I think.)

In just ten questions, you can send off for a poem written to your formal specifications. Is it your work, or my work? Is it found poetry, or very form-al poetry?

I’ve no idea. And I’ve no idea if this will work: it’s an experiment. And we like those.

Once you’ve filled in the form, submit it and – if you want to receive your poem – provide your email. That’s it.

Thank you and, err, good luck…

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.”

Eyedrum Periodically: Backwards

Two of my poems – as well as an array of splendid work – are in this edition of Eyedrum Periodically, on the theme of ‘Backwards’.

Of my two: one poem relates to upside-down art (or does it?); the other to topsy-turvy time (or does it?). OK, I’ll stop that now (or will I?). Yes, I will.

I hope you enjoy all the work included – looking forward to reading everyone’s work in the publication.