Saturday, 20 October 2012


A while ago I came across Virilio and his ideas of progress and speed that seem to link in with much environmental discourse. What I liked most about his writing, was his idea of the shipwreck that he explains with regard to a plane in an interview: 'a plane is not only inventing the crash but also inventing the breakdown'. The invention is multi-faceted.

This led me to write about the potential of a robin as a seed-bearer in a poem titled 'Harvest', now published (or about to be published) in Entanglements. But more importantly perhaps, it has made me more aware of the device in other works. The following poem has something of Virilio's idea in its concluding two stanzas. Nemerov's idea of the 'lashed' is key here.

I Only Am Escaped Alone to Tell Thee by Howard Nemerov 
I tell you that I see her still
At the dark entrance of the hall.
One gas lamp burning near her shoulder   
Shone also from her other side   
Where hung the long inaccurate glass   
Whose pictures were as troubled water.   
An immense shadow had its hand   
Between us on the floor, and seemed   
To hump the knuckles nervously,   
A giant crab readying to walk,   
Or a blanket moving in its sleep.

You will remember, with a smile   
Instructed by movies to reminisce,   
How strict her corsets must have been,   
How the huge arrangements of her hair   
Would certainly betray the least   
Impassionate displacement there.   
It was no rig for dallying,
And maybe only marriage could   
Derange that queenly scaffolding—
As when a great ship, coming home,   
Coasts in the harbor, dropping sail
And loosing all the tackle that had laced
Her in the long lanes ....
                                       I know
We need not draw this figure out.
But all that whalebone came from whales.   
And all the whales lived in the sea,   
In calm beneath the troubled glass,   
Until the needle drew their blood.

I see her standing in the hall,
Where the mirror’s lashed to blood and foam,   
And the black flukes of agony
Beat at the air till the light blows out.
Poem from Poetry Foundation

Psst.... Two poems of mine feature in the current issue of Poetry London should you wish to find them. 

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Joking about the Environment

"Experts say this global warming is serious, and they are predicting now that by the year 2050, we will be out of party ice." - David Letterman

I'm currently writing a paper about comedy versus elegy with regard to addressing environmental loss. Whilst I won't give it all away just yet, here are some interesting bits and pieces I've come across in my research...

Here's George Carlin, a comedian (although I'm tempted to type "comedian" instead) talking about how 'the planet is fine'...

...a Guardian article, which asks 'Can you joke about climate change?' and which includes a few pretty good jokes (i.e. better, and far more responsible than Carlin's). Some of them involve, as I'm sure you can work out for yourselves, irony, hypocrisy and our never-ending inability to comprehend our effect on the world as a species....

...and lastly  a few cartoons that manage to see things from a wider perspective...

Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Introduction

A dark little poem from Louis MacNeice's 'The Burning Perch'.

The Introduction

They were introduced in a grave glade
And she frightened him because she was young
And thus too late. Crawly crawly
Went the twigs above their heads and beneath
The grass beneath their feet the larvae
Split themselves laughing. Crawly crawly
Went the cloud above the treetops reaching
For a sun that lacked the nerve to set
And he frightened her because he was old
And thus too early. Crawly crawly
Went the string quartet that was tuning up
In the back of the mind. You two should have met
Long since, he said, or else not now.
The string quartet in the back of the mind
Was all tuned up with nowhere to go.
They were introduced in a green grave.

The full text of the collection can be found here

Thursday, 3 May 2012

A Mental Squint

A poet is made, not born. Or so says the title of Lewis Carroll's poem that I've selected a passage from below: 'Poeta Fit, non Nascitur'. Whilst I found it collected in Faber's old and outdated anthology of nonsense poetry, it seems to make a lot of sense to me.

“And would you be a poet
Before you’ve been to school?
Ah, well! I hardly thought you
So absolute a fool.
First learn to be spasmodic —
A very simple rule.

“For first you write a sentence,
And then you chop it small;
Then mix the bits, and sort them out
Just as they chance to fall:
The order of the phrases makes
No difference at all.

‘Then, if you’d be impressive,
Remember what I say,
That abstract qualities begin
With capitals alway:
The True, the Good, the Beautiful —
Those are the things that pay!

“Next, when you are describing
A shape, or sound, or tint;
Don’t state the matter plainly,
But put it in a hint;
And learn to look at all things
With a sort of mental squint.”

“For instance, if I wished, Sir,
Of mutton-pies to tell,
Should I say ‘dreams of fleecy flocks
Pent in a wheaten cell’?”
“Why, yes,” the old man said: “that phrase
Would answer very well.

“Then fourthly, there are epithets
That suit with any word —
As well as Harvey’s Reading Sauce
With fish, or flesh, or bird —
Of these, ‘wild,’ ‘lonely,’ ‘weary,’ ‘strange,’
Are much to be preferred.”

“And will it do, O will it do
To take them in a lump —
As ‘the wild man went his weary way
To a strange and lonely pump’?”
“Nay, nay! You must not hastily
To such conclusions jump.

“Such epithets, like pepper,
Give zest to what you write;
And, if you strew them sparely,
They whet the appetite:
But if you lay them on too thick,
You spoil the matter quite!

“Last, as to the arrangement:
Your reader, you should show him,
Must take what information he
Can get, and look for no im-
mature disclosure of the drift
And purpose of your poem.

“Therefore, to test his patience —
How much he can endure —
Mention no places, names, or dates,
And evermore be sure
Throughout the poem to be found
Consistently obscure.

“First fix upon the limit
To which it shall extend:
Then fill it up with ‘Padding’
(Beg some of any friend):
You place towards the end.”

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Writer and the Castle

At 6.30pm., the Fellows are expected to gather for a glass of sherry before supper.

I'd received the A-Z to Hawthornden Castle a month or so before I was due to arrive, and I was not keen on sherry...

I'm not going to write much about the Castle because what I loved about the place was its lack of presence on the internet: the place itself has no internet connection, little phone signal and the nearest town, Bonnyrigg, is a forty minute walk away.

But it was wonderful. Some highlights were the hampers full of soup and sandwiches left outside my door so as not to disturb writing time with lunchtime, the ghostly-goings-on that seemed to occur when we all went to bed, and the wildlife: buzzards, peregrine falcons, woodpeckers and, on my last day, a tree-creeper. Not to mention the huge black cat that is said to stalk the grounds...

P.S. A poem of mine, 'Sympathetic Medicine' is printed in the current issue of The Rialto

Monday, 12 March 2012

The House Sitter and the Zoo

If I've spoken to you about my life in the last three weeks you may have found it hard to visualise. This might help. It started with these, three times a day (a flock of about forty)....

and then there was quite a bit of this (but strategically not at the same time as the pigeons for obvious reasons)...

before a nice bit of this came scratching on the kitchen window every morning...

and what did I make of it all?

P.S. A poem of mine, 'Our Pangaea' can be found in the March/April/May issue of Mslexia, along with a little feature about 'How I Did It' and a bad photo of me thrown in too.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Prejudice in Poetry

I carry a kind of amulet in my mind when I start writing a poem. It is a quote by Antonio Porchia that Don Paterson often spoke of during the MLitt...

"I know what I have given you, I do not know what you have received."

It plays on the problematic nature of communication and accessibility with regard to poetry and it speaks of the writer's paranoia with regard to his or her readers. I touched on this subject a little with my last post, but this time I want to talk about how this issue of communication can often restrict a poem.

Just like a poet, the blogger, the copy-writer and even the little girl who writes in her diary must prioritise the elements of what they are discussing so that their message can be received in the way(s) they had intended.

But what if I were to change 'the little girl who writes in her diary' to 'a little boy' in the explanatory section above? This small adjustment would surely suggest that I have another, more gender-focused, agenda in this post.

I recently had a poem entitled 'Fishing' published in an anthology called Lung Jazz. In writing the drafts I was faced with a struggle. In this short poem, why did the main character who goes fishing have to be a 'he'? By changing the character to female was I accidentally confusing my message and seeming to prioritise a detail which wasn't all that important to the conceit in the poem?

Given the fact we have female fishermen, policewomen and female postmen in the real world, when can we start to include these details in the world of fiction without it being seen as a statement?

If anyone has experienced issues like this in their own work then I'd love to hear them.