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Sunday, 31 July 2011

What makes us human

Disjointed thoughts sparked by a BBC4 arts series, "British Masters".

Evolution, life's
main chance (maybe
life's only chance),
is too much stressed.

We're changing
the environment
far too quickly
for life forms
to accomodate.

Albert Schweitzer's
great insight was
to have understood
the full meaning of
his: "I am life
that wills to live
in the midst of life
that wills to live."

My father, shaping
wood, observed the
grain before he'd
start - then felt
it as he worked.

"The grain has made
the wood," he'd say,
"the grain respects
the wood - will see
it safe and sound."

All true craftsmen
work in harmony with
grain of some sort.

Is not nature
the grain that
runs through life -
all Life, that is?

and the will
to live: which
one drives? and
which is driven?

We are altering
the environment
too rapidly to
feel the grain

Playing a great
cathedral organ
Schweitzer was
asked if he was
not afraid that
some notes might
be wrong. "No,"
he replied,"God
does not hear a
wrong note." He

was my first hero,
my first bastion
against the gloom,
and my first saint.
His writings were
pure gold and came
direct from heaven.

I read then differently
now, but still they are
as good and true, as up
to date and wonderfully
fresh as they were then.

His insight led him to
Lambarene to found and
work in a leper colony
and hospital. That was
working with the grain
all right, part of his
"Reverence for Life".

Saturday, 30 July 2011


Suppose the world ran out of grass...

I've heard it said that once it did:
the end result was the giraffe.

How could the world run out of grass?
A quarter of the world's land mass
is covered with the stuff.

Which grass? All grasses?
Every grass or some?
Cocksfoot and Yorkshire fog?
Perennial rye and rough-stalked meadow?
Bamboos and cereals? Wild marsh
land plants and water chestnuts?

Most grasses thrive on being grazed.
Sheathed at base and grazed above.
We might run out of one or two...
but all of them?
How could that be? No sedge, no grain,
no beer or whiskey, paper, pasture, thatch?
The very starting point of human life, quite gone?
Creator of our top soil  to be seen no more?
Gone, the grass that cuts the mustard
like no other plant. Gone,
the grasslands either side of desert bands
that gird the earth. Gone
that fourth of all our lands:
the prairies, pampas, steppes, savannas...
I've heard it said - but is it possible?

Shift of all the desert sands
from desert lands
the wind and heat
Tohu wa-bohu
shrink of plain
the dead is buried
where it droops. In Africa
the sands are taking over.
As for grass, its days are like man,
it flourishes, a flower -
but a perennial.

Less easy than I thought it would be, Poets United's Thursday prompt was the one word "Grass".

Friday, 29 July 2011

On being 67!

(Why 67? All will be revealed here. Pop along and read the prompt, but actually I've chickened out. For "being 67" read "reaching the 60s". And make some allowances: I struggle to  remember back that far.)

I had expected fireworks,
signs in the sky,
deep rumblings from the earth,
showers of blazing meteors,
Gods vying with each other,
vortex after vortex:
something that significant
to mark the end of sex.

It was an end-of-world scenario,
the usual syndrome:
prophesied to strike at 40,
then a decade later,
then again at sixty...
but still the dragon went on breathing fire,
would not lie quietly down.

Yet signs in the sky
and vortices
did manage to appear on cue -
nowt to do with my libido, though.
The day would come, I reasoned, when the world
would roll on sadly gladly madly without me.

The idea was not new,
had been around, been kicked about,
tried on for size in idle play,
but given no attention - until then.

Then it forced itself upon me,
its features veiled in shame
to keep its nature hid.

I did not mind the sun and moon,
the big sweep of creation:
I could not visualize
not being part
of my continuing world.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Lost Muse

She always came before I'd thought to call
before I knew I'd needed her
and always as a damsel fly who'd trace
wide, rhythmic circles round my head,
their tempo and their rise and fall
a pattern for the treble line
that had been bothering me - or else
she'd sit contentedly
on my right shoulder, feeding me
the key lines for my wayward verse.

There was that one day she would never come:
the day before the winter solstice, but apart
from that, she answered every need.

And then one day, her special day in fact,
a winter solstice eve, she came. Her dance
no longer rhythmic; more demonic, I would
say, more like the way a fly goes wild and
uncontrolled approaching death by spray.
She scurried, streaked, dived, worried
me so much, I followed when she left.

She took me through the copse,
across the water meadow,
along the path beside the hammer pond
and out onto the open moor.
I hardly noticed in my effort to keep up
how dark the sky had suddenly become.
Still erratic, and by this time, ground hopping,
hardly rising from it as I climbed
the steepest rise of all towards her
and what would be my final sight of her.
She made a swoop behind it
and was gone. In that last moment,
as I closed my eyes and tried to hold
the image of her in my mind,
without my seeing it, the day
became the night. Then looking round
to get my bearings, seeing nothing
for a while, I finally was met
with one of this world's sights (or so
I've always thought): the glow worms
out in force, and not just out,
but organised, as though my damsel fly
was orchestrating them, instructing them
in dance routines she'd made her own.
They did not have the sweep and brio
her flights had: their forms were heavier,
their beetle wings less flexible, more heavy metal,
but yet their lights and motions both, were sexual,
and somehow their more sober movements
conveyed this to me in their dance.

My music changed, but later, when great fame
embraced me, I was gratified to find
her input recognised: the style I'd pioneered
became known for a while as "damsel" music.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Digging up the (ice-bound) Now

Beneath the melting permafrost,
beneath the detritus of three millennia,
beneath the blown volcanic ash
(compacted now, and granite hard),
beneath deep chalk and limestone beds,
the ruins of the ancient town,
and as we worked we stumbled on
"Cathedral Cave", the ice still hard,
the trees, cadavers, skeletons
and giant fungi sheathed in ice
as though in plaster, waiting for
the sculptor who would come to cast
them for posterity. Most strange of all,
the long lost stones: Stonehenge itself
(the cross stones long since fallen):
not seen by man in several cycles of the ice,
believed by some to have the power
to offer man his lost humanity.

We started work at once to free the stones,
to chip away the ice, but it seemed welded on
and able to renew itself. In desperation
we tried with fire, but only cracked a monolith -
and still the ice refused to budge.
The magic powers we'd heard so much about
seemed anti-man, not pro-humanity.
Then came the old man out of nowhere,
a simpleton, who seemed to have the key.
He's mumbo-jumboed over one stone now
for the past month - and partly thawed the ice.
Maybe He is "The Way"...

By some mismanagement I didn't see this wonder picture by Jinksy until the week was up (yesterday).  No matter, it was so brilliant that I could not let it pass. So with aplogies to her for its lateness, here is what would have been my contribution to her  prompt.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A Stellar Love Story.

We were childhood sweet hearts.
(I was a one girl-man back then - I guess
the starlight must have dimmed my eyes a tad.)
We saw each other every day:
one evening she would ride down to me,
the next  I'd cycle up to her. And that
was really something - no mistake!

Long time it took to turn us into lovers,
we never met but one of us was knackered!
One time I came a cropper way up there.
Well, on that busy roundabout outside The Plough.
The slipstream from a distant comet, took my wheel
and I was rolling in the stardust, thought I'd died.
The landlord came and fixed me up, he did,
but that was it, I didn't feel like any "How's your Father"
that night. Which discombobulated her. She had a strength
I never had, and that's a fact. Don't know
where it came from, but it had to be believed.
Some nights she'd leave me feeling like a rag doll
dragged up from a restless sea and left to dry.

That was the night of nights though, that night
of the famous puncture. Just getting on my bike I was,
to cycle home, I noticed that the tyre was  flat.
I fixed it, 'course I did, but by that time
it was too late to make it home - or so she said.
We slept together that night. First time ever.
Kept it to ourselves - well, bet yer bottom!
Then in the early hours we both woke up -
did everything together by that time. Know what?
She only sticks her finger out into the night...
and when she draws it back it was aglow.
Starlight shining from it like it was a candle in the night.
Romantic, that was. Well, I thought so, at the time.

It couldn't last of course. If only 'cause we rode
those bikes into the ground - well, into the stratosphere,
I s'pose. They don't make bikes like those these days!

I am obliged to Magpie Tales for the picture prompt.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Language Train

A single tree
poetic buffer.
Here the locomotive "Language" 
puffs for all it's worth
(even modern trains mean steam to me),
yet still the words can no more
get their hands around the tree
than mine encircle it
with thumbs and fingers touching.

A roughness to the bark I find
deep furrows and high ribs
and regular    a curvature
variety and subtlety,
but all the attributes combined
do not convey the tree.

A gust of wind
a flock of leaves
like birds takes off.
It seems irrelevant to treeness,

to a tree engulfed by steam
and viscerally explored
gut-felt        amorphously
trunk    branches    leaves    and ivy cladding
space turned inside-out
the steam cloud's negative.
Displacement of the steam.

The words blow loosely round the tree
clutch at it
define an absence in their midst.
They mention functions
a monolithic stature
whilst all the while their centre
hides a hollowness
an ambiguity
which is a tree reduced to words.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Ice edged wind on a tooth's frayed nerve
panic of God on a pounding tongue
hammering somewhere inside the head
the anvil flesh absorbing pain.
God is buried
though God has won,
the Devil's lost
though the devil's loose.
All the world is racked with pain.
Decay is silent in the tooth
the eyes are blind
the flesh is vain -
while a terminal nerve,
bared to the wind,
shoots sparks of ice at the sun.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Oak and the Begonia

Why should a flower-head
(a begonia)
decaying quietly on a path
look beautiful?

Why should a tree trunk
decomposed by fungi
(and much else)
look so magnificent?

It's ethylene that does the trick
they ripen to it
(time hormone: their inner clock)
or prematurely die.

Light, heat, lack of either,
is the switch
to synthesize it for themselves.
 (Or it's in polluted air.)

Glutinous mush now,
(the begonia)
haloed mauve and brown,
red polka-dotted.

Sunshine, and it looks edible
(delicious as a pudding).
I contemplate a name for it:
Humus Delight, I say.

The old oak tree
(wind blown) is
Like crematorial ash.

And still I need to know
what (in the brain)
makes these
look beautiful.

There must be some
(structural) between
the seeing and the seen.

Friday, 22 July 2011


(A response to Poets United's prompt "Nighttime".

It is not darkness, nor a lack of light,
this substance night, this quite substantive thing.
It seeps in through the skin,
and has a body that the body craves,
a mind the mind adores -
this sable cloak the heavens wear

and wrap around to warm us inwardly.
But it is more than these:
a switch that nature throws,
a change of mode, an altered state
in which we're newly made.
We're one floor closer to ourselves,

nearer the heart of things.
The senses thrive; the eyes,
which should feel starved, rejoice.
As by the finest music or great love
we reach our dream state, pull the plug
on life, for super-charged realities.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Experiments with Temptation


An altar boy, but unconfirmed,
I took a sip of Holy wine
to see what God would do.


Early teens
female nemesis.
In my head
I made her my seductress.
Easy to resist her then.


Turkish Delight
my favourite sweet.
The last piece I would leave,
testing my resistance.


To give up smoking
I kept the baccy
always close at hand.


War time in the country.
Staying with my cousin:
allowed to browse his stamp collection.
Tempted by a penny black,
I wrote the story of its life,
how it was cursed,
and all its owners died
whose names were not my cousin's.


Teacher telling us how
D.O.G. said d-o-g, said "dog".
Me rising to it,
wondering why it should,
why should it not say "heretofore?"
("heretofore" my latest word,
having heard it on a bus.)
My turn to sound it out.
I can recall the inner conflict...
Damn it all, I can't recall
a sound of what I said.


A class of infants
and a decorated  urn
a prohibition against opening
or touching such a special thing.
I leave the room,
the mike records their conversation -
revealing trains of thought
on guilt and on temptation.

This last experiment was one of a series I conducted. I have posted earlier and in detail about another in the same series. You can find it here

For the inspiration for this post I am grateful to Poetry Jam. The prompt was posted by The Butler and Bagman

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Death sent to Coventry

In time he will capitulate
                                     paint only
that which pleasure him:
                                   eternal beauty
                                   youth sublime.
But just for now
he'll look around him
take a balanced view
                               see that
the Emperor is dying.
The Empire too
                       it crumbles
                       as the moral order falters
the canker grows in root and branch.

"Eat, drink
                be merry all," the people laugh
"disintegration follows decadence. We die."

Here Klimt has followed Munch and Schiele
to catch the public mood
                                     to draw from death
and loathsomeness a lighter joie de vivre.

Within the picture frame
                                    Death dominates
                                                             but is ignored.
They do not even glance his way
                                                these hedonists
exploring one another
                                in echoes of Klimt's Kiss.

They lie on beds of flowers - women for the most part
                                              those who give us life -
a baby too
is cradled in erotica -
                               in that
                                        which does most easily seduce.
When all is surface glitter, shallowness, can death
                                                                          be long delayed?
Soon both his public and himself
will be enticed
                     soon shimmer will be all
the end to which it here is means
                                                 forgotten by the way.
Death sent to Coventry
                                   though here it purifies
will burn
             the ancient timbers to preserve
the new
           before they too decay.

The image of Klimt's "Death and Life" was provided by Jingle Poetry as the prompt for this week's poem.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


This the mask to make you dance
whirl of dervish, snap of tongue,
tongue of flame, word of trance
out of house to altar high
extreme unbending utterance.

Where dance ends
spirits nigh
some to frighten
some to die.

Death of childhood
ancient apps
child becomes a man perhaps.

Dark of ark
and final art
fear uncaged
a lightning strike
something like
the pain of man
back to childhood
wails and crawls
electrodes on the genitals
a thousand volts
feel of it
shredded self
sudden hit
all that was
blown away
man as wolf and predator
arises from the ash of yore.

This is offered as a response to The Magpie Tales prompt of a mask which I have so far been unable to load on blogger.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Two Haiku and a double Haiku

nine feet and climbing
the sunflowers are leaning
away from the wind

among all the cars
two boys bounce on pogo sticks -
drivers unhappy

dreaming in the night
a tray stacked with crockery
dropped by a waiter

whilst lying awake
my wife hears the sound of it
above the high wind

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A Hare's Breath - it's all that lies between death and salvation.

What do you do with your dream, such a dream
as an everynight dream
which you know without fail
you will dream, and you know
as you dream it, you're dreaming?

It's easy to think it more than a dream,
to call it prophetic, believe
that it's coded perhaps, so perhaps
there's a force, a power in the world,
abroad in the world, that would want you to crack it.

Or perhaps you can change it... well,
so much the better
for you - for you know at each point, what's to come.
Perhaps you can change what you'll do -
or, better yet, break it:
decide at some point to wake up.

You are stranded, you see
on a bridge that's too long
for the dream, that goes on,
that you know will go on -
will be going on - when you wake.

But you're wrong. When you wake
it has gone - though it's still going on
in your mind. You walk through it.
The notions, emotions and thoughts are the same;
the atmosphere, feelings and fearings are there,
they go with you into the day.
They'll all have their say
in the way that the day will pan out.

But back in the dream,
on the bridge that's too long for the dream to contain it,
the bridge that's so long you never can walk to the end,
at first there are people.
You're one of a crowd,
but each step you take takes one from the dream,
one from the bridge - for the sake of the dream -
out of the picture. Vamooshed.

One has gone off in a puff of white smoke,
one in the beak of a bird,
then the parapet beckons and one will have jumped.
Another has gone in a great gust of wind
and one has just melted away.

And at last you're alone on the bridge that has run
like a ridge through the hills of the night.
Look over the edge where a wild sea churns,
then over again where the cold earth burns,
but wherever you look and whatever is there,
good and evil fly like a hare
configured for you at the time of your birth -
the good and the evil of you on the earth.

And there in the sighs of your personal hare
is all that remains of the fine arts and verse,
so follow the hare to the end of the dream -
but when you awake, the roles will reverse:
the hare will shadow you back to your birth.

Saturday, 16 July 2011


being a response to this week's Poets United Think Tank prompt.

having a passion
with no one to share it -
that's being lonely

full of foreboding
no friend to put the mind at rest -
true loneliness

facing dilemmas -
lacking a true confidant
you face loneliness

some fine achievement
no one around to say good -
truly that's lonely

alone in a crowd
and no one takes note of you -
that equals lonely

your being dries up
your heart rhythms falter
memory withers

the you that there was
empties itself from inside
of all it was worth -
that truly is lonely.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Upright Grand

A man sat down at an upright grand,
the sounds in his head from a one-man band,
and picked at notes that he chose by chance.
The chance came off in a lively dance.

He'd never sat at keys before,
keys he'd thought the keys to a door,
a door that was always double-barred,
the door to the wonderful avant-garde.

But now that world seemed to open up.
Time, he thought, to sip from its cup,
so he took a swig, and it went down well:
he'd a natural bent for the tunes of hell.

So he picked at more keys, cocking his ear,
some white notes there and a black one here;
he strung them together and let tham go
in a song of gladness and human woe.

Good and evil were mixed as one,
all was there from under the sun;
he listened to how they jogged along
and whether the mix was right or wrong.

Just sixteen notes 'till a sort of theme
emerged from the clattering, jarring stream,
and people wept in the countryside
to hear such sounds - but no one died.

Not even a critic passed away,
as you might have thought, if you'd heard one say:
"It will not do, it honks and it swings -
apart from which, consider your strings:

they're vertical man, not lying down:
it isn't a grand, it's too 'down-town'.
It's all too easy and user-kind,
a child could follow your tune, we find.

There's nothing to startle, there's no surpise,
nothing to shock or open the eyes,
there's nothing to set the teeth on edge
or cause a drunkard to sign the pledge.

Your melody breaks no rule or law -
I have to ask what the hell it's for!
It slightly jars on the sensitive ear,
but nothing a madman could call sincere.

What should we hear in your wavering line,
hesitant man or something divine?
The earth spinning madly out of control
or the gods befuddled with alcohol?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The Delivery Ward

Hearing and speaking
                    each in his own language, 
                                             we conversed.
His worries seemed too superficial
                                  mine, too vague.
Processing round like riders on a carousel,
we wore strange, painted, poker faces
who'd ridden there
                  from worlds remote and uncommunicating
                                                        who saw,
each in his numbed condition,
nothing of those worlds but what was blurred and faint.

Only our saddled mounts for us were clear:
the swans of hope, the crocodiles of fear.
We were uneasy with each other
                              for we knew 
a day would come when we would find 
a year apart again - a year 
beyond those tight, constraining orbits. 
But for a while 
               the sleepy rise and fall
                                       the organ music
numbed our senses to the world outside.

His flippancy defined the the boundaries of fear.
Strangers for ever, each to each grew plain.
The doors were opened and we never met again.

Uncompromising, clean and clinical,
the corridors stretched out their cold arms
                                           in a kind of welcome.
My clothes seemed inappropriate
                               conspicuous on my arm
a raincoat hung -
                  a skin I could not wholly shed.
Forever in the way.

The room was bare and workman-like
                                  arranged with care.
Accomplished artisans with shrewd glance came
                                             and stayed to share 
a joke
      or move 
             unhesitatingly, as though
each little crisis had been planned. I watched the slow
continual ripple of attention
                                  move to and fro
as if a sea lapped gently on a beach,
                                    grow tall,
and run far up, submerging all...

and then the wind came
                      turning on its axis
boring like a bit the split sky down the grain
whilst shaving leaves swept past the window in a shower of pain,
The last wave left
and left behind it on the beach
                               a stranded son.
The deep now out of reach
                         the dry land strange,
while nature held her breath he fought for his
                                              and won.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Triple Haiku and Tanka

blackbird and robin
feeding beneath the rose bush -
tit-bits on the path

small birds above them
chomping among dead petals
for hidden insects

rose petals falling
confetti on the bride and groom
as they fly away

Like choir boys of old
scratching their names on the pew,
donors to the roof
can see their particulars
as part of the church fabric

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Impossibility of a Formaldehyde Existence in the Mind of a Shark Still Swimming - or: Thoughts on Some Thoughts of Damien Hurst

     in the beholder's eye
comparable to
Concept Art
          in the beholder's mind
                                (where music lies -
and if not there, then it's a fig).

The Beatles
           and Sex Pistols
have been of greater influence
more relevance
than - shall I say? - Picasso or his ilk.

Thoughts meander like a 
restless wind inside a letter box

and if I say this ice cube is a sycamore...
if I convince you -
                    in your mind, that is -
That's concept art -
                     in the beholder's mind
                                           is where it's at.
Forget the artefact, the magic isn't there.

While my guitar gently weeps
seemed more relevant
than Pablo's Old Guitarist

Within you, without you says it all for me.

Don't show me works of art.
Most people could make most of them.

I don't believe in genius,
don't need to. I believe
in freedom.  I am not
top notch at drawing... Ergo:
I don't draw.
If not the best,
then find another way.

Is this a found poem? I don't know. The thoughts came largely from A Sky interview in the "In Confidence" series. The opinions are almost entirely those of Damien Hurst, but they are not direct quotes.

Monday, 11 July 2011


I was awoken yesterday, as usual, by the radio alarm set to a local station. Also, as usual, I heard the disembodied voice suggesting a topic on which listeners might like to phone in, text or email. Usually these topics are pretty trivial (this morning, for example: "What do you call your dog? Have you an interesting name for it?), but yesterday morning the big news story was the demise of The News of the World and the suggestion was that we might like to share our thoughts on what it is that we believe. At any rate, being only half awake, that's what I heard, and my mind immediately began to concoct a sort of rough and ready personal creed that I might recite on appropriate occasions - whatever they might turn out to be. But slowly, as I became more conscious and more tuned-in to what was being said, I realised that he was saying "What you believe in?" - the "in" being most important. We were not being asked for a list of things we could tick off as believable, but to reveal in what we were willing to put our trust. A very different proposition. Where belief suggested a creed of some sort, trust brought hesitation. Are we going to be asking for probabilities, even guarantees? Even Christ never gave guarantees. He offered the possibility of Eternal Life, but it was always conditional on a person's response, beliefs, whatever.

After some thought I decided that if I was pushed I would say that I believe in possibilities, and of those possibilities, that of renewal is the most significant. The arch-metaphor for which has to be nature's continual thrust for renewal. David Nash is a sculptor who works with, co-operates with, nature. He was originally associated with the Land Art movement, but now is a sculptor who works pretty much only with trees. He will take a whole mature tree and over a period of time find numerous sculptures in it, but he never takes anything that nature does not give. He will use only trees that have fallen or are so diseased that they have had to be felled. He has told how he works within the natural cycle. Trees - like people - do not just die, they are programmed to die. If you fell a healthy tree and use its wood to make a table, and if you take that table into your home, you are taking that wood out of its natural cycle. Then, when you are finished with the table and put it outside, you will be putting it back into its cycle. Some of his outdoor sculptures are designed to facilitate the natural decay. He has programmed the constant renewal - and therefore the ultimate death - of the sculpture into its creation.

Death is part of renewal. It's why the body's cells continually die in their programmed way. Nature continually renews itself, and we are part of nature. There is a very old joke concerning a man hard at work in his cottage garden when the parson cycles up and stops to pass the time of day. "How beautiful is nature," observes the parson, "when man and God co-operate!" "Indeed," replies the gardener without looking up, "but you should have seen the mess He made of it when He had it to himself!" That's looking at nature from a man-oriented perspective, of course. Leave the garden to its own devices and soon enough the weeds, trees, brambles and no end of other stuff will be thrusting up through the patio. A mess from the householder's point of view, though not from nature's. Left alone indefinitely it will go back to a very different sort of beauty.

So, in what do you put your trust? It depends, I suppose, what your intention is, what - if you like - you want from life? Do you want to believe in the possibility of life after death. That you will meet up with your loved ones in some form or other? Or do you want to make sense of life, death, creation and the universe? And if the latter, do you need to make sense of it in personal terms or from a more nature-oriented viewpoint? Do you, perhaps, just want to settle for peace on earth and to see man behaving with more humanity to his fellow man? Do you want to believe in the sustainability of life on earth, a viable earth into the future?

The human mind also needs to renew itself, which explains in part why our exalted thought systems stutter and fail one after another, none lasting for long. Philosophy was probably the first to go. It simply failed to keep abreast of learning and thereby failed to renew itself. Organised religion is in a parlous condition from the same failing. We have divided the one God up between ourselves - Christian, Muslim and others - even Catholic and non-conformist - and we have each run off with our different bit of the carcass to consume in our own way. It is probably not too late for organised religion to step back from the brink - as, alas, it seems to be for philosophy. Science, too, is almost at the point of no return - but here again, it all depends upon your objectives: what you want from the discipline in question. I remember a speaker being asked once why he thought Communism had failed. "It didn't fail," he replied. "Like Christianity, it's never been tried." Of all the thought systems, the political ones seem always to be the shortest lived.

Interestingly, perhaps, David Nash works from a former Welsh chapel. At any one time it will contain up to four hundred sculptures. It has been suggested to him that it now enjoys its biggest congregation ever. Art and religion have over most of their history, I suppose, been closely associated, for both try to awaken the spiritual in man. At times and in places they have been indistinguishable. In Western culture art has mainly been subservient to religion, but many (myself included) find the roles to be reversing. Maybe it is the hope that we have of what life will ultimately pay out, that is changing. Wallace Stevens is one who thinks this way. It was a great relief to me when I came upon such poems as "The Man with the Blue Guitar" and "Sunday Morning" and discovered that greater minds than mine were thinking these thoughts. Here are are some lines from the former:-

"                            Poetry

Exceeding music must take the place
of empty heaven and its hymns,

Ourselves in poetry must take their place
Even in the chattering of your guitar."

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Sister Sports

Canoeing on land,
we came to call it.
Post war, the traffic
building daily
the "quiet" roads choked;
cyclists in their droves
turning to the river
for the peace we craved.

Canoe and cycle,
road and waterway
appealed to the same
folk, more or less;
had much in common:
the primacy of
balance; the tyre's hiss
as mesmerising as
the splash of paddle.

Life's slower pace and
learning how to read:
maps, water, weather;
closeness to each other,
to water or the road -
and more so to the
natural world. But
even better, both
sports offered racing.

The Poetry Jam challenge for this week week is to write a poem on a favourite sport.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A love beyond words

Books so old
their wisdom shows through
torn, threadbare spines.
Time weighs
their qualities, gems
of learning. Phrase

after phrase
repays the love
which turns
each page:
words, verse,

A response to Poets United's prompt for this week.

Friday, 8 July 2011


Brambles coiled and knotted
carpets threadbare rucked
and dangerous on paths
between smooth limbless trees,
tall, rhythmically spaced
and bathed in greenish light -

Until the eye is drawn
towards a skeletal
construction stripped of flesh,
of walls my mind provides
for it. Rough limbs embrace
a scene, arch over it,

both shield and cradle it
(in gesture only now),
direct my eyes and feet
towards it, and by those
same gestures, point my eyes
towards the floor. Dust lies

like snow and in the dust
are laid to rest remains.
Twigbones, my name for them.
What tragedy was here?
They look like bones - reason
has them twigs and branches

of the guardian trees.
They lie remembering
the form they had when sealed
in flesh, set one to each
as they were then, outlines
of a Dream Time's creatures.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

View from the Asylum

van Gogh's "Wheat Field with Rising Sun" was this week's prompt from Magpie Tales

I'll pour the paint on to the canvas
the way the sun pours light upon the field -
the same field, never twice the same.
Sun's paint is infinite in its variety.

If only I could paint like that!
Awake the wheat and shake the ears
to bring forth newness to the canvas field.
The same field never twice the same.

The same field from the same small window,
the same scene bounded by the same stone wall
that keeps me and my wretchedness confined -
the same despairing me.

So who then guides the paint I pour
and steers it into such convulsive power
to shake and shock and rake the world -
all with the same small field once more?

If I one day will leave this field behind,
and Doctor Gachet and his therapies,
will I still pour the colours that I see
with all the freedom as this blazing sun?

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

A Walk in the Park

A public space     a working space      one that earns its keep
herds of cow and deer                 
hard clods of earth      hide beneath the grass      turning ankles
         soft clogging soil                 
                           bog-traps feet.

A man approaches      walking several dogs.
One dog disappears
                  into the undergrowth
smells            something I can't smell
hears             something I can't hear
                  and doubtless now                                    sees              something I can't see

The man's a long leash-length from me
                                     gets no response

Different landscapes
his and mine on one hand        and the dogs

Their landscapes telescoped with ours.

We are in need of something
                           a technology      
                           an inspiration
                           a moment of pure genius

that will                  extend the landscape's scope
      the whole
               in one exposure
                              never seen before

see nature's whole-frame collage
a million mini-landscapes go to make
the picture in the frame:
                         fragments of cloth
                         the bits and bobs                 
                         the photographs
                         and cuttings cut from lives 
                                                    (not ours).

Reappearing from a clump of seeding bracken
something limp and bloodied hanging from its jaws
too far away for me to see      rat       rabbit                 
what it is
          the dog appears

to have re-entered 
                  our known landscape.

Landscape is defined          not by the sensed
                              but by the sensing
                              not by surroundings
                              but by our neural architecture

If rat      or rabbit      happened to have been
last of its kind
                it would have been a landscape lost for ever.

Tomorrow landscapes - his and ours - will show a change.

The dog's will still be sound
                             ours will have shrunk again
                             parts replaced or simply lost.

In every frame      there are as many landscapes
as creatures living there.

If we can but pull out the scope to see it in its full extent.
Look through the scope...
                        who knows what might be seen?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Why are all the artists on the move?

Why are all the artists quitting town?
They have packed their paints and brushes
In a mountain of portmanteaux
and abandoned monoliths of Portland Stone -
even marble from Carrara's high and dry -
and on donkey carts and pony carts
and bicycles with trailers
there are cases full of oddments,
and portfolios of work,
on top of which are easels
now collapsed or disassembled
beneath piles of masons' chisels
and some chippers and stone hammers -
hammers that have hammered out
their human weightiness in stone.
There are models, nude and otherwise,
and bevies of sweet paramours and wives
holding flagons of light ale and dark red wines.

Why do they all skedaddle in this way?
Is it just performance art performed en masse?
What might then be the meaning of their play?
What message has this sudden exodus?
Why do they shuffle in their thousands
through our forests and our fields,
why reciting, singing, dancing as they go?
What ails this crocodile that cries out for fiesta -
and where on earth's a crocodile to go?

Is it that there's nothing left to paint,
that we and all our precincts are played out?
Of landscapes nothing's natural these days?
Are the shapes we've made of culture, too banal?

Is it simply that there's nothing left to do?
that we've scraped the barrel clean - is that what’s in their minds?
They’re out to play the ace - their final card?
We've filled the barrels with our most insipid wines
and every viewpoint and perspective's done to death -
and what is left is simply laughable, they say.

Or is it something darker? Could it be
that artists everywhere are being scared to death,
being offered sums of money to get out
by people with a grain or so of power
who know instinctively, the greater power of art?

Monday, 4 July 2011

Journey to Oblivion

Think of me as you will. 
Have I become a thought I've had?
                                 A pulse, a spark,
a positive, a yes, an on, 
                        a true,
a single digit on a circuit's highway
travelling through dark?
                        I make my way.
Or not. Am carried
                  by a multitude
                                a crowd of those like me
across a field
and on towards my destination
                             with little more awareness
                             or chance to choose my fate
than if it had been written in my genes.

I'm hustled into Diode Street
                             ablaze with lights just now
                             (and - as you know - one-way).
                             I feel the sudden loss of power
                             that Diode Street induces,
pause for a moment
                             close beside The Cathode Cinema.
                             The screen outside
is showing snippets of the film within.
Experimental. Must be. Very. Lambs
                                 gambol in a field of numbers,
the farmer's forking sentences into a cart.

Why does the pause go on? The throng
                                    is getting restless. Up ahead
capacitors are charging and discharging
                                    all of which takes time
                                    a lot of time 
                                    (for someone in a rush)
allows the traffic to be regulated.     
Eases down the rush
is the printed circuit board's equivalent
                                    of traffic lights.

Trains of square wave pulses ghost across the screen, distort
both texts and images -
                       if only we could disentangle them:

There is always a voltage drop across a diode where sheep graze
on open hillsides there resistance is measured in Ohms 
the pasture in the valleys is constructed differently to
the field effect transistors and the gate providing access
to the stream should be shorted to the source 
until the circuit is complete.

The last wave shatters and the sheep graze on
a neural network
                which fades to diagrams
                pin diagrams 
                extensive memory blocks
                (but not the sort we suffer from)
                then back to neural networks.
It's oscillating now, between the two.

Which is when I see myself
                          sparking between the two
                          mapped to the screen and travelling 
                          fitfully on both 
                          both at the same time -
a situation quite devoid of logic,
which is why, perhaps, the screen can't settle down.

Where sheep are grazing in the upper pastures 
or in the fusiform gyrus a neuron may fire only when 
a certain face appears and sheep graze in its known
receptive field or on the open hillsides. It is also known 
that some parts of the brain produce a pattern of electrical 
activity that corresponds to layouts of retinal images 
and the gate opens to imagery originating from the senses
The sheep have trampled and/or consumed the final paragraph. 
However, in the brain, memories are very likely represented 
by activation patterns among these neuron networks. 
Such representations are formed, retrieved and reach 
conscious awareness by means not completely understood.

We move at last
approaching now a landscape built of silicon.

       Doped with phosphorus or boron
A semi-conducting wilderness in which
an empty city stands supreme.

It's guarded by a flight of logic gates
and AND

I am admitted.
             Once inside,
it boasts a huge expanse of memory blocks
I circle them
the pin addresses do not match the one I have.
Could this be journey's end?

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Poetry, Technology and Google

I've never thought of myself as a Luddite. Not even an incipient one. I spend time trying to keep up with the latest technologies. Some. I say "some", because as long ago as when I first retired, I made the decision to do my best to stay with certain of them, but to let the rest swing by. Keeping up consumes just too much time and energy. Time and energy that I prefer to devote to other things. I made the same decision with regard to charities - for slightly different reasons. So with regard to computing, I do my best. But as for mobile 'phones, I've largely turned my back on them. I do have a phone, one that Alexander Graham Bell would have been proud to own. I can send and receive texts with it. I can make and receive telephone calls. That's it. That's what a phone's supposed to do! Ah, but I also have two grandsons, so I know what an i-pad and a Blackberry are. So, though the effort and the time involved would outweigh the advantages, I am basically on the side of these things. I classify them under the heading of "Good Guys".

Or I did. Until yesterday morning, over breakfast, to be exact. In the Saturday Guardian Review I came upon Nick Laird's column. Always a good read, it was the second revelation of my early morning peruse. Alas, he doesn't write in it every Saturday, but it's worth taking it each week so as not to miss him when he does. He was writing about poetry apps. Now I knew there were such things, at certain times the knowledge has all but tempted me to overcome my resistance and to sport out on a "proper" mobile. You see, I had assumed that the apps in question would somehow give a new slant on Eliot or Pound or allow a new comparison between them. Something like that. Perhaps open up some form of library to the hungry soul. Maybe there are some that do, but no, not the ones of which Nick was writing. They help you to write the stuff. And the stuff, once written, looks like you had no hand in it. It looks - and sounds - as though the apps wrote it with no other help at all. Which is why everybody's effort looks and sounds the same. (Scrub "everyone's" - but you'll know what I mean!) As Nick put it, it looks as though a computer has translated a poor poem into another language and then translated it back again. It might as well have. Strange, that people who would not dream of getting someone else to write their poem and then claim it as their own, have no compunction about getting a machine to do the job for them. And, maybe because it's come from a computer, they feel no necessity to work on it further. Surfing, I have arrived at so much poetry on which I just cannot comment. Maybe if I knew the person concerned, their background and their life story, I could do so, but in the void of cyber space there is nowhere to start. Should I see it as poetry's first stirrings or as therapy? It has never occurred to me - until now - that I should blame an apps.

If you did not read Nick's article, go raid the recycle bin and reclaim The Review. If you did not take The Guardian yesterday, go raid your neighbour's recycle bin. It really is revealing and explains why so much poetry on the web reads as though it was all written by the same adolescent person. He also makes a plea for more time and effort to go into the writing. This is something I have posted about in the past - and also something I have been guilty of just recently, something I was and am watching, something that is not a permanent state of affairs. The fact is, though, that so much verse on the web is no more than chopped-up prose.

I said that I had had two revelations. The other was from the same Review, but in a book review. The book in question was: "The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You", by Eli Pariser. Did you know that if you Google a word and I Google the same word, we will get different results? Maybe you knew that, but I didn't. It is because Google is running our requests through filters it has built of your tastes and mine. Preference algorithms, they are called. They give you and I what Google thinks we'd like to have. In my case it has been spectacularly wrong of late. Interestingly, the suggestion is that there is too much filtering going on on the web, whilst Nick Laird thinks there may be not enough.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

The Greeks Had a Word for It!

Xenophobia has had
an interesting life.

Xenia in Ancient Greece
meant hospitality -

or by the strangest
quirk, meant strange.

In Rome it was
a poem, one

tied to a gift
a guest was given.

It sounds as though
the party bags

we give our childrens' friends
are slightly xenophobic.

Friday, 1 July 2011

...and What the Bishop said.

Continuing with yesterday's prompt from Jingle Poetry - and maybe stretching it a little...!

the Cathedral,
and the nave is full.
Young people
and their parents

all in sober dress.
Only I am standing out,
the solitary poppy
in an endless field of corn,
the redness of my cassock
like a beacon to the world.
(Or so the priest had said.
He'd been insistent:
God demands it of you, David,
you are an altar boy,
and you must be confirmed as one,
you are a witness to the fact,
your cassock is a part of that.)

So God made me conspicuous;
prominence upset digestion and
a frightful pain ensued
along with constant rumbles
and deep-down forceful movements
of my frail tectonic plates.
Location made things worse.

Positioned at the very foot of
what became Mount Hermon,
looking up to see the Bishop,
scarlet robes aglow.
Transfigured, fired-up
as the sermon flowed,
he hammered out his theme.
Relentless repetition.
And every time he'd look at me -
I swear it -
straight and eye-to-eye -
and growl again,
the umpteenth time,
with ne'er a smile
how sinners feel discomfort
in the presence of the Lord!