≡ Menu

O what Larks


I haven’t done a “blog” for some time, partly out of family busy-ness (baby-sitting grandchildren) but mainly out of a sense of boredom with the whole business of poetry and self-promotion. Meanwhile I have been dipping into Larkin’s “Letters to Monica” edited by Anthony Thwaite; perhaps Larkin’s inimitable sense of ennui (“What’s the point?”) has crept into my thinking? Not to say that the letters are not hugely enjoyable. They are. A much more roundedly compassionate and amusing man emerges from them than I had supposed – far from the right wing bigot and misogynist of legend. But he is decidedly waspish about the literary world, its feuding, constant self-advertisement, petty jealousies… Mainly of course, Larkin is unrelentingly honest about himself, ceaselessly probing for the roots of his unhappiness, his inability to form “proper relationships” (for instance, with Monica). And where does that intense dislike of “home”, family and children come from – surely from memories of his own stifled childhood? I do love Larkin’s poems…but to follow his negativity, however honest, to its conclusions is probably too dangerously anti-life for most of us?  “First boredom and then fear”  That way lies madness, n’est ce pas? So I turn my thoughts out of the window to where Bridgnorth’s annual rowing regatta is taking place: garbled loudspeaker announcements about the various complicated heats; brief excited commentaries as the boats, oars swinging, come flashing round the bend; polite clapping from the crowd together with rude shouted comments from “mates”; also sunlight, birdsong, crowds of promenaders eating chips with plastic forks out of polystyrene cartons; the drift of over-amplified Abba in between the races; a couple (drunk already?) either fighting or “heavy petting” in the shadows behind the boathouse; a huge Asian family, beautifully dressed, parading in descending height order past these scenes of disorder…. all that vulgar noisy real life that, sadly, Larkin would probably have despised…and longed to join in?


Blog Tour Thingy

Blog Tour

Paul Francis (paulfranciswrites.co.uk) has asked me to take part in this scheme; I am grateful to him for giving me this chance to step back, pause and think about I am trying to do as a writer. The 4 questions to be answered are as follows:

1)   What am I working on?   I’m working rather randomly at present, trying to write poems about whatever presents itself as having something interesting to show or say. Having experienced new grandparenthood three times in the past few months I have been writing  a lot about babies, parents and early childhood – maybe that will add up to a sequence? Before that I was engaged in the new landscapes, social as well as physical, impressed on us by a move from Norfolk to the West Midlands.

2)   How does my work differ from others of this genre?  Narrative verse used to fascinate me – especially that of Chaucer.  Writing long (mostly unreadable) poems has been part of a life-long protest against what I considered to be the “minor-isation” of much contemporary poetry. But nowadays, thanks to the shorter energy bursts and briefer concentration spans that have been brought about by old age, I am writing  shorter “byte-sized” poems – hopefully in a more accessible free verse style.  I am writing those occasional lyrics and “minor” observations that I used to despise so heartily. So perhaps my poems are becoming less different, more mainstream.

3)   Why do I write what I do?   Because I have tried to write “poetry” for so long that I can’t stop now even nearing the age of 70 when I probably should be finding more useful things to do like tidying up the house. I guess that a psychologist might say writing is actually a way of tidying up the psychic house, which would otherwise be full of cobwebby corners, haunting memories, puzzling encounters, personal chaos…  But one also hopes that one’s best poems might be thought-provoking and entertaining for “the general reader” as well.  One hopes that such a reader might be able to relate to one’s exploration of common human experience. (What alot of “ones” one has used!)  I like the idea of poetry as descriptive play but I also like the idea that it should be instructive, – “eye-opening” in the widest sense.

4)   How does your writing process work? I have been interested to read how previous contributors to this blog tour still use old-fashioned long hand on paper… Jeff even mentions a “biro” – how quaint!  My own handwriting has been illegible for so long, my eyesight so poor, that I have got used to composing straight into/onto a computer… I find it invaluable for moving text around, for filing, drafting, endlessly redrafting – in other words for continual experimentation.  As for the mysterious sources of the creative process itself, a useful metaphor might be that of dropping a first idea, sensation or image like a log on a rope into the depths of the unconscious, then pulling it up from time to time to discover whatever images, even clusters of language, have accreted. More practically, exposing drafts to writing workshops and to fellow writers I find to be increasingly useful; nearly always others can spot mistakes or suggest improvements that I have overlooked.

Thank you for giving time (if you have) to reading this.  How flattering to be afforded the space to muse, like some attention seeking adolescent, on My Poetic Self.   Two further writers on this Blog Tour who I would enthusiastically recommend are Nadia Kingsley, who publishes beautifully produced books and pamphlets at Fairacre press as well as being a meticulous nature poet herself, and Tom Wentworth, an exciting and award-winning  young dramatist.  Tom and Nadia will be posting their answers to the four leading questions on March 17th .  Here are their details:

Nadia Kingsley is a poet, writer, editor and publisher. Her poems have appeared in Orbis, the colours issue of Here Comes Everyone, We’re all in this together (Offa’s Press), Inspired by Dudmaston, and Bridgnorth Writers’ Anthologies. Her short stories and poems have been placed in competitions; but most of her recent work can be found as part of the growing Fair Acre Press catalogue.





(photo courtesy of  Patrick Baldwin)

Tom Wentworth is a playwright. His current projects include being part of Graeae Theatre Company’s Write To Play Programme while Windy Old Fossils, his full length play will be performed as part of Pentabus Theatre Co.’s Young Writers’ Festival in 2014. Tom is also a regular reviewer for Disability Arts Online and a long time columnist for Able Magazine where he writes about life after university. Tom splits his time between Cardiff and Shropshire.

[email protected]om


Some Bridgnorth Connections

If we were in Italy Bridgnorth might be described as a “picturesque, fortified hilltop town”.  In 1641 King Charles, walking the castle terrace with his two young sons, declared it to be “the finest view in my kingdom”, -but that was before they built the outskirts of Low Town with its flood plain estates and aluminium factory. The royal party stayed in the Governor’s House, then new and still standing, where the boys’ tutor was one William Harvev, –  he who is said to have later discovered the circulation of blood. Four years on, when the Civil War was at its most furious , the besieged royalist garrison inside the castle tried to break out by lobbing fire-bombs at St Leonards church where barrels of  Roundhead gunpowder were known to be stored.  The consequent  explosion shattered the church and much of the area around the High Street. In retaliation the besieging Parliamentarian forces led by Colonel Lavington began to tunnel under the castle, into the soft blood red sandstone which characterises the town and seems to invite being carved into. Hearing and fearing the scritch-scratching of shovels approaching from beneath, the royalist garrison quickly surrendered, but the roundhead engineers blew up what they could of the old Norman castle anyway. At the Restoration Richard Baxter, ex-puritan polemicist and cleric of St Leonards, petitioned Charles II for funds to help rebuild much of High Town. He described the people of Bridgnorth as being notably hard-hearted, “incorrigible and insensible to my preaching”.  Today the solicitors, doctors, retired businessmen and clergy of West Castle Street still look down, literally if not figuratively, on the trading estates, new housing, supermarkets, all-day drinking pubs and bail hostel of Low Town. “Fidelitas Urbis Salus Regis” (“In the town’s loyalty lies the King’s safety”) urges Bridgnorth’s debatable motto. The remains of the blown-up castle (“more leaning than the Tower of Pisa” boasts the town’s tourist brochure) still stands like the stump of a worrisome old tooth on the cliff top where the last absolute monarch of Britain once posed to admire the view.


Happy (November) Xmas

    BVM Blues


It was nothing like that.  If there were choirs

of angels it was more like singing in the ears

of extreme fatigue.  If visitors came

bearing expensive toys, they mostly got

in the way.  The birth itself

was hardly immaculate.    He emerged

(but where was the midwife?)

more like a mole rat, or a prize fighter –

not a hint of the divine.   About the crib

clung the beatific incense of dung.

So the nights warped into blur-

suck-burp-wipe-wrap suck-burp-wipe-wrap…

Old Joseph fussing around worse than useless

(the real father conspicuous by his absence).

And the worrying.  Knowing

how boys grow up, get into trouble.

The loneliness    If there was a star

it was the ass, his hairy sympathetic face.

If there was a miracle

it was that milk came rushing to my breast.

This is the draft of a poem I’ve just written for a possible Christmas card,   It was probably influenced mainly by the proliferation of pre-Christmas material beginning to flood our letter box. This year I have been struck by the beautiful unreality of those ubiquitous Madonna-and-Childs (mostly Italian Quatrocento, but also the Bellinis and later Raphaels) in which the Christ child is presented as almost a five or six year old rather than a real neo-nate. In the portrayal of the Divine-cum-Human, the proportions seem to have traditionally been something like ten parts holy to one part human, so my little verbal sketch tries, perhaps too crudely, to redress the balance.   Inevitably  the  recent witnessing of our daughter Amy  going through her first pregnancy and delivery has also crept into this poem – I had forgotten how very hard the first months can be for a new mother.  Anyway, Amy’s new baby girl, called “Thea” (short for both “Theadora” and “Dorothea”, both meaning “Gift of God”) is now beginning to smile, as is her mother. And the grandparents are now also doing fine.


Thank you, Katrina Porteous

Recently Bridgnorth Writers were privileged to enjoy a four hour workshop with Katrina Porteous – all the way from Northumberland.  Though the subject was ostensibly “Poetry and Nature” what she said and showed us could equally be applied to prose writing as well as to any subject matter (not least to Human Nature, which I’m beginning to think is my own real interest).  With exercises  – responding, for instance, to a tray of beach-found objects – Katrina emphasised the importance of close first hand observation clothed in as fresh a language as one can summons.  I especially enjoyed her choice of exemplary poems, most notably by Alice Oswald and Kathleen Jamie, neither of whom I had paid much attention to until  Katrina’s recommendation.  Here are the last 4 stanzas of Jamie’s “Basking Shark”.  Lying on a cliff top, she sees, becomes mesmerised, by a dark shape below…

“…  precisely that its ore-

heavy body and head –

the tail fin measuring back,

forth like a haunted door –

could come to sense the absolute

limits of its realm.


While it hung, steady

as an anvil but for the fins’

corrective rippling – dull,

dark and buoyed like a heart

that goes on living

through a long grief


what could one do but watch?

The sea heaved; fulmars

slid by on static wings;

the shark – not ready yet

to re-enter the ocean

travel there, peacable and dumb –


waited and was watched;

till it all became

unbearable, whereupon the wind

in its mercy breathed again

and far below the surface

glittered and broke up…”

Aren’t these verses full of wonders?  Not just Jamie’s precise, entranced observation of the creature from above (that sense of weight and gravitas in its patrolling movements!) but also the very accurate observation of her own ecstatic preternatural state of observation becoming “too much”, needing to be dissipated by that final glittering dissolve… SUPER!  I was fascinated by Jamie’s deployment of line breaks over a series of short lines (and made a mental note to try and write in shorter lines myself – generating a more tightly stretched tension?)  Look at the way the line breaks mimic the to and fro movements of the great fish in the first 2 quoted stanzas, for instance.  Also inseperably part of the total magic are the deft, apt yet always surprising metaphors and similes  – that movement of the fin “like a haunted door”,  the grey mass “steady as an anvil”, and, most unexpectedly, the likening of that presence to a heart that “dark and buoyed, goes on living through a long grief”…. comparisons that open doors to further dimensions of thought and feeling?  I was reminded of Elizabeth Bishops’ close observation of the “Fish” as well as by mystic elements in Emily Dickinson’s natural observations.  Aren’t we blessed to enjoy such treats in the West Midlands?!  (And thanks especially to our friend Nadia Kingsley for conjuring up and managing Katrina’s visit).



Blue flashing lights

We woke this morning to a pulsation of blue outside our bedroom window; curtain-tweaking nosiness revealed two young policemen peering into the letterflap of the house opposite. More and more cars arrived – one seemed to be a CID vehicle; its driver, having donned a coverall of white plastic plus “marigold” gloves, fitted a variety of keys until the door swung open and, stepping around a shadow in the hallway, he let all three of them in.  Clearly something had happened to old Peter, our “close” neighbour.  Two policemen began knocking on nearby doors;  we were all asked when we had last seen Peter and under what circumstances. Later, thanks to another more informed neighbour, we learned, more or less, what may have happened.  We knew that Peter had been diagnosed two months ago with kidney disease; also that a car-ambulance had been calling for him three times a week to take him off to Shrewsbury for six hour dialysis sessions. We guessed how much he hated the drastic changes to his life which the shock of his new condition had brought with it – no more all day fishing sessions, having to limit himself to a pint of fluid a day instead of the multi-pint drinking sessions in the pub which featured trad jazz (he had been a jazz trumpeter himself), no more looking after the chickens up in his steep back garden or making pots of Seville marmalade to sell or give away from his front doorstep… and then those  dialysis sessions which left him looking (and probaby feeling) terrible.  But what had finally happened to old Peter?  No-one knows for certain; but some say that he went up the Cartway for a long and glorious jazz and booze evening last Friday – two days before he was found dead in his hallway this morning.  Who’d blame him?  Not me.  Though not a ” close” neighbour, Peter always impressed us by his good humour, his old-soldierly bearing, his determination “not to be a bother”, and, finally, his air of decisiveness.



Red Parrot reading – not Sick Parrot

Here’s my first piece of self-advertisement.  Miriam Obrey and I are due to read at The Red Parrot, No 46 Wine Bar, Presteigne, on the 2nd September, between 7.30 and 9.00.  Not sure where Presteigne is  – somewhere on  those misty Welsh borders,  I think?  Miriam has written a wonderful sequence, giving voice to the various corbel carvings around Kilpeck church.

Am just finishing reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Thomas Hardy – much more succinct and insightful than any of the other multi-volume accounts?   My immediate thoughts are 1) how snobbish the literati were until well  into the middle of last Century – Hardy always seems to have been condescended to by publishers etc because of his Bockhampton upbringing as the son of a builder 2) how wonderful it was that he kept writing (and so profusely, richly) into his late eighties.  (Such continued creativity anything to do with his continued sex drive, I wonder?  He boasted about, and Florence Dugdale complained about, his overactive libido…) 3) How, far from “making nothing happen”, as Auden claimed, poetry/literature can really affect you into wanting to make changes…I can never read TH’s searing too-late poems of regret about having mistreated and ignored Emma for years  without inwardly determining never to make the same kinds of mistake, if  at all possible.  Perhaps we really can learn from Literature, if only through imaginative empathy?   Shakespeare’s Lear, Austen’s Emma – real examples to  us  all?


August 12

  • “Blogger” or “Blagger”? Even before I begin a first blog I am shot through with doubts and ambivalent feelings about the blogging business. For a kick off, will any one be at all interested? As someone who has always sought privacy I have tended to shrink away from this sort of exposure. Will my thoughts, ideas, opinions be worth reading anyway? Having occasionally cyber-stalked other “real” writers’ blogs, I have usually come away with a sense of derision….who the hell does he/she think they are to offer such pat opinions on politics, football, poetry
    or whatever? Perhaps the eloquence of a Stephen Fry or Will Self might justify blogging to the world, or maybe someone who has a dynamic lifestyle… but it’s not really for little old me. So this might well turn out to be the briefest, unbloke-iest blogging effort ever. I guess that I will mainly use this page to advertise literary events, poetry readings etc, that I am involved with or interested in. Well, let’s see…