Write Off!

Starts Tuesday 3rd November

NEWS: I’ll be piloting a creative writing group for young people in partnership with Off The Record Bristol – starting on Tuesday 3rd November.

It’s part of their therapeutic and wellbeing choices for young people, and I’m really looking forward to facilitating enjoyable and illuminating writing (and reading) sessions with those who attend.

Pass it round, see you there. There will be cake – but Taylor Swift is not yet confirmed.

Moving Images 2: Sonic

“A world so flat and fair that everyone gets three lives…”

I’m continuing to write in response to moving image resources online…

This week, I noticed that there’s a whole array of computer games ‘Speed Runs’ (which you can peruse here) – where people screen-record themselves doing a game really fast. So I started writing around a particular game on there to see what happened – but moved on to other remembrances of computer games from my life.

Gaming might not seem like an obvious source of poetic inspiration – but I and many others spent a significant amount of time on Resident Evil, or Super Mario Bros, or – as in this poem – Sonic The Hedgehog. 

I’m also reading Double Bill: Poems Inspired by Popular Culture – so perhaps that ‘zooming in’ on a particular pop-cultural facet of life and seeing where it takes you was on my mind.

It’s not – of course – necessarily about Sonic the Hedgehog…


The surname bristles too close to my pew.
As we shuffle out, I lay down five gold coins
for a hedgehog charity (instead of flowers).

And I’m back to the burnt 80s hues of our garden,
where the grandmother we shared laid down un-
diluted curiosity and cat food there, under analogue flash.

And I’m back to Sonic the Hedgehog: my lurid 16-bit
teens. A modular world of layers, levels where
you could curl into a ball and smash through walls.

A world so flat and fair that everyone gets three lives
or more if you gather those hundred gold rings, or know
the right buttons to press. And that dark screen appears:


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 2015.2: 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.

Rich Ambiguity (on Poetry Therapy)

Whichever way up you look at it (thanks to wordsmith.org 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 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 http://www.countrysideinfo.co.uk/devon_bap/hare.htm
“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.”

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