Green Man, Folk Tales, Sloth-fox

Excellent news, I’ve been confirmed as performing in Einstein’s Garden at the Green Man Festival in August!

There is some information about it here:

I’ll be performing all seven Vermin poems, which I’m developing into a single performance – verminous costume and all – at the moment.

Last Wednesday, I performed some work at Folk Tales – which was excellent as ever, including gorgeous music and some top-rate storytellers. As I’d been working on it with a view to performing the whole sequence at festivals, I finished the final vermin piece – Fox/Sloth ‘Why Even Try?’ and read it there. It might be a slightly down-beat note to finish on, being as the fox’s sloth seems to take the form of nihilism (perhaps sloth’s ultimate conclusion) and I wanted it to be a ‘coda’ to the sequence – on the endeavour of writing and the possible futility of it.

As the most famous of ‘literary foxes’, I invoked Ted Hughes’ ‘The Thought-Fox’ – or rather, un-invoke it, with my sloth-fox’s diminishing refrain of ‘no thought-fox am I/so why even try?’ Hughes’ poem is very much about the act of writing – the poet watching the fox’s footprints printed in the snow’s white expanse, while the poet attempts to fill the page’s white expanse with something meaningful. All the Vermin pieces are written in the first-person, so it seemed like a good moment to have the fox ‘replying’ to the poet, looking back to him/me/her/whoever is writing, through the window, and questioning the whole venture. Perhaps, too, there is s’ome slothful cunning in there, as the fox attempts to discourage poetry while contrarily ‘becoming’ a poem. As fox’s have been at the heart of a lot of controversy through hunting, I bring this in at the beginning – as the ‘red pen’ of the hunting jackets attempt to ‘correct’ the fox. They may be inspiration for one of our greatest poets, but they’re also still considered ‘vermin’ by many in the countryside.

So as a point of reference, here’s Hughes’ poem:

The Thought-Fox

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

And a very elegant one it is. (And certainly much more formally constructed than my own!).

As I’ve no publishing deal lined up just yet, here is the working version (which may change – red pen and all) of the fox piece:

Vermin The Seventh:  Fox / Sloth

Why Even Try?

There they go again, correcting between the

furrows with the red-pen of their jackets;

the slick of their Hackett wax. Blowing

their own trumpets until

the air is thick with pomp

and gory details of the game:

they are set

on the catch.


And everyone says

we are meant to run

but where’s the fun

in that? Put me down,

if you like. Put me down,

I might bite – if the mood to do

anything takes me. I would fight

if the mood

not to move

eludes me.


Why even try?

No thought-fox am I

to be caught by the tail

and caged in your spry

and wily verbiage.


Sometimes, padding between

the eyelids of night, we catch you

tangled in light at the window.

Thinning paper to tissue,

forcing nothing to write,

your blankness is wrung

out on the page. Look at that fur

on your tongue: it’s not just our coats

that get mange.


Why even try?

No thought-fox am I

to be caught by the tail

and caged.


I’m hardly cunning, fantastic,

or no more than you might be

if committed to verse – or the

scabrous, sticky-back plastic

stories pursuing me.

What could be worse: outfoxed

by your own scent trails; by packs of

lies, baying for ever more tails.


So why even try?

No thought-fox am I.


Amidst your rubbish

I found evidence, clues,

of what mouldy-chicken talent

you have to lose. In the sluggish

trails of whose ideas were whose,

these stagnant scraps

caught my eye.


So why even try?


Fingers crossed there’ll be some more festivals I’ll be able to take Vermin to over the summer – I’ll update as and when…

Change The Subject Month (February), Clean Month (March), Foxy Vermin

February’s theme was a roaring success at H Ren’s suggestion: Change The Subject Month. As the name suggests, nobody noticed that it was, in fact, Change The Subject Month – because every time they did, we created a diversion or changed the subject. I also tried to harness the power of Changing The Subject in day-to-day life, when things were not to my liking or somewhat uncomfortable. Although I’m fairly good at that anyway, so the theme came as second nature.

My favourite moment of Changing The Subject was where H Ren – when asked the question as to the theme – feigned some crisis, looked panicked, ran out of the room (knocking over a chair) and then returned some minutes later. She was impressively non-specific about this ‘crisis’ and, duly, the conversation moved on to other Subjects and nobody knew about the theme. I’m all in favour of such sneaky themes as they turn life yet more into a game, which is surely the point of the whole venture.

After a discussion in the very wee small hours of Saturday morning, having been ‘night-clubbing’, Ren and I are still unsure as to whether we – in our inebriated state – agreed on a theme for March. However, neither of us could actually remember agreeing one, so we have accorded that, if one was agreed, it is now forever consigned down the back of the sofa on which it was (or was not) come up with. We don’t need it anyway, there are infinite Themes.

SO  it is with all due fanfare (perhaps a fanfare of vacuums) and pomp (feather duster feathers raining from upon high) that we declare March to be Clean Month. This is also to co-incide with H Ren’s venture to set up a cleaning company in Bristol. She and our associate, Mr Kevin Dennis, are to ‘clean up Bristol’ – but not in that horrible, racist way that Griffin and his bacterial cronies might use the term. Actually clean it, and leave it sparkling, ordered and divine.

March is also, of course, the month of spring cleaning for many. So get yer marigolds on and give everything a jolly good once over, eh? All other interpretations of cleanliness are to be encouraged (except the horrible ones, thank you) of course, so I invite any thoughts to do with ways to embrace CLEAN in March.

In other news, I have completed my 6th foray into the world of Vermin: cockroach/envy, or ‘Admiration’s Cloud’. I am going to commence work on the final piece – a slothful fox – and then want to start coming up with some costume ideas to take them to the Festival of Nature in June (this is not confirmed yet, but in discussion).

Foxes are usually associated with slyness and swiftness – qualities I do indeed associate with them. As with all the pieces, the cultural hotch-potch from which all these animals arise is quite an interesting part of the process for me; the animal in the imagination, as influenced by how it relates to anthropogenic activity. Certainly there are clear connotations in Dick King-Smith’s ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’ or other children’s stories. One of my favourite uses of the fox was in the film ‘Red Road’: a direct parallel with the animal was drawn with one of the characters (the divine and excellent Michael Fassbender, in fact) who, when disappearing from view on the CCTV after an illicit liaison, appears to morph into a fox and reappear on the other side of the scrub.

However, I am now left – in my self-imposed ‘system’ – with Sloth as a deadly sin and feel like mammals are under-represented (rat is the only other piece with a mammal). I’m interested in why many consider foxes vermin at all. Personally, I love finding myself walking with one, when going home in the wee small hours. There’s something quite ghostly about them – not least in that cry, which all city dwellers know and some no doubt despise (maybe that’s it?). Like all animals I have written pieces for (and I would say ‘for’), they are survivors: abundant, resourceful and all too much a mirror of our own waste.

Of course, there is the class element as well – foxes are particularly verminous for people in the country where, to survive, they kill livestock (as is in their nature). My own view of the contentious fox-hunting debate has always been that it is not really to do with foxes: it is to do with class, the city versus the country, and our fear of being deemed ‘barbaric’. There is no doubt that foxes can cause damage to people’s livelihood, but to hunt them with such pomp, glee and gore does seem unnecessary. On the other hand, those ‘hunt sabs’ who take it upon themselves to inflict harm on humans, or to spend their lives in pursuit of the red-coated pursuers should really reassess their priorities: is it really the biggest problem that Britain (or any country) faces? I don’t think so.

So here’s a synthesis: let the Hunt Sabs be the ‘foxes’ in ‘Drag Hunts’, where the dogs, horses and haughties all chase something other than a fox – a person who lays down a scent for them (not, as I once thought, the hunting of glamorous trannies). Then, if you need to control the foxes, just shoot them. Or poison them. Something quick. That way, everyone’s busy, the foxes are controlled, the poshfolk get their pomp and the hunt sabs stop the ‘hunting’ bit – the dismembering, the stress, the gruesome blood-smearing. But then maybe that’s not the point. I’m just trying to be practical.

That was more of a ramble than I intended. But it might form the basis of some of the poem.

La Cucaracha

Before you start reading, do press play on this little film of ‘La Cucaracha’ to accompany you: it’s just so gosh darn chirpy.

In my ongoing exploration of all things verminous, I received Marion Copeland’s Reaktion book, ‘Cockroach’, last week. It’s fantastic: a rich cross-cultural-entomological medley of all things cockroach-y.

And there’s the point: there isn’t a word for things which are ‘of cockraoch’ (apart from their name with a ‘y’ on the end), whereas there are for lions (leonine), wolves (lupine), mice (murine) or even the worm (vermian – I like how much this sounds like ‘vermin’). Indeed, I’ve just checked, and the only two – err – ‘cock’ animals on the Animal Adjectives site are the peacock and woodcock. Even these have their own adjectives. They’re nice decorative feathery birds, after all.

It seems we humans would rather have a word for being like any other animal than the humble ‘roach. Having just looked on the Wikipedia site for animal words, not only is there no word for ‘roach-like’, but the collective noun for cockroaches is an ‘Intrusion’. Once again, we’re appalled at an animal so horribly, grotesquely, profusely…successful.

There are thousands of types of ‘roach, adapted to every environment in the world, and they’ve been here for 400 million years. It seems appropriate, then, that they should coincide with the remaining Deadly Sin for my Vermin pieces, that of Envy. Should they be envious of us?  Quite the contrary: such a steadfast survivor and long-term resident of Earth deserves our admiration, at the very least. Quietly and efficiently, ‘roaches have – and will continue to – be a main player on Earth’s stage.

So I’m working on something based on the pub-fact that ‘roaches will outlast us in the event of a nuclear holocaust. According to various accounts, this could well be true: as ‘roaches only shed their exoskeleton (becoming ‘instars’ of increasing size) at each stage of growth, their vulnerability to radiation is much less than our own. So if there was a short blast, most would be OK; although the sustained presence of radiation would start to cause them problems (and indeed adversely affect their sleek design through mutations).

Here’s an image of a mighty fine example of the ‘roach, the Madagascar Hissing Cockroach. I held one of these at the Bristol Festival of Nature a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised by how calm, gentle and majestic these highly-efficient detritus feeders are. The one I held fastidiously cleaned the sweat (it was a hot day) from the lines in my palm: perhaps it was fortune-telling. How amazing, to use the run-off from a larger being as nourishment. In other aspects of their lives, there’s a lot we could learn from ‘roaches about using the things around us more effectively, efficiently and in accord with the System from which they – and we – emanate.

A majestic Madagascar Hissing Cockroach: palm-reader and inheritor of the Earth?

The ‘roach voice in my poem will be expounding on why we should indeed envy their hardy anatomy, from a post-apocalyptic setting. If anyone should be considered an ‘Intrusion’, from the perspective of the Earth, of time and of biology – ‘biocentrically’, as Copeland terms it – then it should certainly be humankind. We’ve been here but a breath and will certainly not outlast the ‘roach.

But think not, dear reader, on notions of our possible self-destruction. Instead, continue to feast your ears on La Cucaracha. While the humble roach might not have an adjective, it has a mighty fine theme tune…

And next time you might meet one, show a little respect: many are only around because we waste so much, and they’ll be running things soon enough.

Let Us Bite, Bite, Bite

As ever: forgive me, it’s been some time since my last blog.

Yesterday evening, I travelled over too Cardiff to install another Vermin poem in Tactile Bosch. The show is called ‘Tenure’ and the piece fits in well with that idea. The poem itself is written in red, on a duvet hanging from the ceiling, and the title, containing speakers which play the poem like a menacing phone call, are just above it. The publicity image is above, though I ended up using a pizza wheel/knife (with the word ‘pizza’ in it) as the cutlery to go either side of the participant’s head…


Place your head to the pillow. Take a moment to rest. Feast your ears on what the bed
is saying. Read the small print under the duvet. Acknowledge you accept the Terms and
Conditions of your nap by writing your name on the front of the duvet. Just sign. Sweet
Dreams. Let us bite.

This piece invites you to be the guest of honour at a feast in New York. With vampires
everywhere in pop culture, the resurgence of one infestation in NYC presented delicious
potential to combine contracts and coercion, gangsters and gluttony.

Vermin takes as its starting point those species humanity has deemed ‘ excessive’ , pairing them with human excess: vengeful seagulls (Vermin I: Cull (After Hitchcock)), avaricious ants (Vermin II: Super.Organism), lusty pigeons (To His Coy Hen or, The Closest to the Dodo) and vain rats (Vermin IV: An Exact Science – previously installed at Tactile Bosch).

Here’s what you hear through the pillow:

I’m planning to finish the last two Vermin pieces over the next two months and hoping to collaborate with an artist friend to illustrate them, in a set of little Beatrix-Potter-gone-wrong books…