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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Kandinsky's Red Spot II

This the score
for his new symphony,
latest opus
of his visual music.

Not Chopin, mind,
nor Beethoven. More
Schoenberg's Second
String Quartet.

Harsher than before the war,
the lyricism gone
that had been there.

Shrill, discordant,
bursts of non-material
expressions from within.

Colour and line
a shorthand for
the inexpressible.

Lifting geometric shape
into the spirit realms.

Hard material
that softens at the touch.

For him
a square was never that
and only that, a triangle
had other angles. Here
the red spot has become
a thumbnail dipped
in blood. Proof perhaps
of guilt - or else a mark
a signature
to some new deal for man.


The poem is my response to The Magpie Tales picture prompt.

Monday, 30 January 2012


A soldier to his fingertips,
not once had he considered
some other role in life. He'd done it all
in various arenas round the world:
Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf; had even been
a prisoner of war in some foul jail.
Now here he is on guard outside a country house!
Life is on the downturn. Gone too tame.
O.K., the house is something special,
but even so, not his idea of soldiering -
looking after top brass. Interrupting him,
his thoughts, a limo' stops a few yards off,
the general's pennant flying from the bonnet.
Even from his distance he can see
the car is full of them. Medals enough
to sink a battleship. Unusual though,
for generals at this hour. They say
he would have seen the flash. The last
he would have seen before the blackness
claimed him for its own. Unheard of until then:
seven of them in one car. Extravagant, to say
the least. The house was totally destroyed,
a ruined shell. But still he comes
each night at his appointed hour
to guard the space where was the little
wicket gate before the bomb went off.
He's always there
regardless of the latest moves in government,
regardless of what standing orders are in place.
His family still visit him, still comatosed
in the infirmary, still partly of this world
and partly of another. Ever the soldier, he.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

A very modern Adam

Elevenses. Today as every day he takes
the apple from his briefcase, places it
upon his desk and waits
for it to levitate.
It never does,
but still he knows it might. One day
it could surprise the world.

He'll sit transfixed before it for a while
and peering in will see a wilderness
of spinning shadow forms, motes, specks of no-life,
bits left over from the Big Bang - if
there ever was one - clouding empty space.

And what of time? That, too, is clouded -
and so he feels affinity
with all of nature's works
and wonders of the apple if its spinning wonders
took the forms they did because
those were their own predestined shapes:
the juices, for example, seeds and textured flesh.
Had each of these its own worn ruts to run
laid down in days - millennia - gone by
by trees with certain tales to tell,
which trees, life span by life span deepening
the grooves, carved out what we call memory?

And might the wooden desk
not say the same?
Or through the window glass
the summer rain?
Sometimes he thinks himself into the apple's flesh.
It's like he's landed somewhere out in space -
but ruts don't seem to work out there.

And so he peers again through apple skin,
seeing the apple's heart, its cloud of whirling pin heads,
and as a face in any cloud might form,
the face of Newton forms in this.
With Newton comes a clockwork mechanism
erasing for a moment thoughts of ruts.

The apple levitates at last - he thinks - perhaps
in some magnetic field.
And so his mindset shifts again and opens to
computer metaphors: the apple is the end result
of programs memorised to clone themselves
through an eternity of ruts.

But none of these will do. The apple eats
the metaphors. He sees them fall
like scales from eyes grown dim. The old
dichotomies dissolve. What if
there is no matter, all is energy? In school
we learned about converting one
to other. Science is too pure a thing
to leave to scientists.

dVersePoets(Undercurrents) has set the not inconsiderable task of "writing a poem that takes into account the different layers of an experience, moment, relationship, person, or object".

Saturday, 28 January 2012

15 years computing + 15 using a computer

- and just now realising exactly what I've been missing for the last 15!

Amazing what you can forget - and what can bring the memory back. And what a memory restored can make you realise again. Suddenly, I'm remembering again three houses like Goldilocks's three bowls of porridge: a grandfather house, a grandmother house and a teeny-weeny little baby house - and not a roof between them. I remember them and along with them I suddenly realise what I've been missing all these years. An article in the i newspaper (Thursday, 26/01/12) has plunged me into a great hot bath of nostalgia, reminding me that it is the thirtieth anniversary of the Commodore computer. I never had or used a Commodore, so what's this all about then, you're entitled to enquire. Well, I would say that it was the Commodore that changed the world, certainly the world of teaching/learning - even though many schools never had one. I would have dearly loved to say that it was the Apple "what did it", and some will say t'was the Acorn, but sorry guys, I'm sticking with the Commodore. The Commodore 64, to be precise. - The "64" in its name indicated its memory: 64 kilobytes! Cutting edge back then. (here) The image is from Wikipedia.

Back in the eighties I was running a special needs school when the government in its very great wisdom decided that every school in the country should be given a computer - begging the question, of course, of what a school might do with ONE computer! In due course, we received ours - an Acorn (or if you prefer, a BBC, since it was constructed to a specification laid down by the BBC). If I remember correctly - and everything in this post will depend upon that! - the BBC came out just after the Commodore. At any rate, we ripped the wrapping from the box, eased the machine out of said box, took a shifty at the manual, plugged in the machine - and sat there looking at it. It looked back at us. There was no way in. There were no programmes like Windows, back then, of course. Nothing at all in the way of an interface between the machine language which it, being a machine, would naturally understand (and which consisted entirely of long strings of 0s and 1s), and the sort of language that a human being might comprehend. In other words, before it would do anything at all it had to be programmed. The enlightenment that had overtaken the government - and to some extent, the BBC - did not extend to supplying software to make it work. There were one or two programmes around commercially, but nothing that might be suitable for our purposes.

I decided that I would learn a suitable language. A couple of members of staff agreed to join me. One stayed with me to the end. The easiest - and therefore quickest - to learn would be BASIC (standing for: Beginner's All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). The BBC had a more advanced version: BBC BASIC (you could have guessed, couldn't you?). We began by teaching ourselves BBC Basic. Later, there was the American firm Tandy trying to break into the UK schools market and offering courses, some of which we undertook.

My opening sentences describe the opening screen of my first programme. It was envisaged as part of a programme (not a computer programme, but a graded series of exercises aimed at developing the ability of very young children to estimate size). The screen opened with the three houses described above. Then a roof appeared. The child selected the house s/he thought it might fit. The roof obediently slid on to that house. If the choice had been correct, the windows of the house lit up and the chimney puffed little balls of smoke before the next roof slid into view.

Yes, I know, but the most sophisticated programme any of us had seen until then was Tennis. You played against the machine. A white dot travelled up and down the screen, bouncing off white lines top and bottom - unless you, the player, could intercept it near the base line with your "bat" - a short white dash. Remarkable it was, how mesmerised it was possible to become by that white dot.

But having written a programme, there was a problem yet to be solved. The machine didn't have enough memory to take a programme. So the programme was saved to a cassette tape and played to the machine. It took ages (10 to 15 minutes for my houses) if all went well. More usually, though, all would not go well: it would cough and splutter and report a fault very near the end, and so the thing would have be rewound and we would try again. Whenever possible, the teacher would load the tape before school began - or certainly before the lesson began. It would be a while before government or local finances would run to a disc drive.

Later, other goodies arrived. One was Logo. (here) This was a programming language that the pupils could use. You had a turtle on the screen and told it to move FORWARD 5 (say) or to turn RIGHT 20 (say) and it would do as instructed, leaving a trail behind it. So it was possible to construct even complicated geometric patterns, for example. As their familiarity with the turtle's understanding of their instructions improved it became possible for the students to input a programme of turns and moves and to state how many times it should repeat. They could then watch the result of their programme unfold on the screen before their very eyes. A simple example would be: REPEAT 4 [FD 100 RT 90]This would produce a square. Later still, came a floor turtle. This could be programmed in exactly the same way. Furthermore the pupils could now set up an obstacle course and attempt to programme the turtle to run the course. The excitement that resulted from their feeling that - possibly for the first time in their lives - they were making something happen, was unforgettable.

The drawing shows the result of a programme several stages on from the one given above. A square is drawn, then saved to the terrapin (or turtle). The terrapin can now reproduce it in response to the command "square". Using this mechanism, a set of four squares is drawn and taught to the terrapin as "window". Finally, several "windows" are drawn, the terrapin turning a specified amount after each. (It is not necessary at this stage to worry the youngsters with terms like "degrees". The terrapin knows they are degrees, the children need not.)

The floor terrapin, fitted with felt pens, could draw these figures big time on large sheets of paper. Or, as already mentioned, it could be programmed to run an obstacle course. Some spectacular crashes could result, but to see very young children, who might be really struggling with basic literacy, setting about to debug their faulty computer programme was all but unbelievable.

It is interesting in this context to hear a spokesperson for the CBI say that businesses cannot find school leavers with the necessary computer skills, whilst the government, in the shape of Michael Gove, is waking up to realise that the current schools ICT syllabus puts too much emphasis on computer admin' skills (spread sheets, mail merges, data bases and word processors etc) and almost none on coding for programming. They are saying that this must change. (I am merely saying that it's interesting that they are saying it!)

However, not only the students felt the glow of achievement at making something happen. I, too, felt it more and more as I got into programming. So much so that when I retired and acquired a computer I designed myself a website, thinking that HTML might replace the not-so-basic BASIC, but of course HTML is not a programming language in that sense. It does not create anything, it merely instructs the browser how to display it.

Friday, 27 January 2012

he ceases to exist

Every evening he passes
shoulders hunched,
catching the orange lamplight
in tiny slivers
that might be koi carp drowning in the air,
the steel studs
of long outmoded boots
striking bright sparks from the stones.

His head hangs slightly down
and slightly angled, gives the sense
of a head not properly in place.
Even so,
he hums or whistles tunes that speak
of happiness - and even joy.
And no one knows the least of him:
whither he comes or goes.

Times without number - or success -
the local youths have followed him,
seen him turn in at The Albany Gate -
the last they'd see of him until next day,
the field beyond the gate
as empty as a liar's promise.
Stones and poor grass would be there.
Nothing else
but the high cliff and the sea beyond
and the blue sky, always blue,
and hung there like a promise of sweet love.

No one has ever seen him walking back.
He only ever walks one way,
turns in at the one gate
and there between the road and the high cliff
he ceases to exist.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

a hub of resistance

The challenge from Jingle Poetry at The Gooseberry Garden was to write a poem on an article in The New York Times. I initially wrote this down as a found poem, but then made additions and changes, so it is no longer that.

In Muir Woods
deep in the redwood shade
stands Druid Heights
height and hub
a while ago
of a lost
counter culture
crumbling now
but imperceptibly
towards the forest floor.

Once a bright oasis
every concept
such as status
and its symbols
benefits and preferences,
unable now to handle
even to sigh at
the sheer arrogance
that leads a word to pin
on such a breast
the sign and symbol
of Historic Site,
a place that's "made it",
that will bring
the less-than-welcome world
knocking at its door.

They have gone now,
those who inhabited the house,
those who opposed
status and the status quos,
the poet and the Zen
the founder of
the Union of Prostitutes,
the inventor of
self-regulating hot tubs...
All dispersed
like blown leaves in a gale.

Breaking and Entering

What are the summer pansies doing
surviving the new year,
summer and winter blooming side by side?
the magnolia in budding
long before the spring?
And even the grape hyacinth
unwraps itself
and challenges the elements
in a show of sheer bravado, as the whole
of nature now breaks out
of what has always been
its given sequence. Dismantling
the old created order, following
the lead of man - who might perhaps
have nudged it this way by a notch or two -
it seems the perfect stranger. In a moment
we see meaning breaking loose from
a small rose that lost its bearings,
as the sun might break from a dark cloud.

We have entered here into
some sort of dark conspiracy
with what we see before us. Rose,
pansies, hyacinth and even
the magnolia are founder members, maybe,
of a wholly new and startling sequence
which in due course will be broken in its turn.
We may be entering an inexplicable,
unheralded and unfamiliar circle
that nature will sculpt into some new shape.
Yet still they prophesy, those
merchants of great doom,
as though the old is still the valid form.

It is the will of man that breaks beneath the strain.
What is dead is broken down,
has entered earth for its reviving.
What is dying
is breaking down to enter in.
What is revived is flying.
Time is flying, but the time is not quite yet.

Mankind has left the circle. Broken from
the evening of existence, entered in
a second childhood. See, his toys
are more sophisticated this time round.
He leaves them everywhere.
The roses, pansies, the magnolia and the hyacinth
are warnings in the snow.
They say the circle, broken out from,
still exists to take its toll.

The earth is waiting. Still from earth
only the plants and tiny creatures break.
Man can but enter to be satisfied.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

A Man For A' That

like movements in the air
are vibrant
or with dead sound hang
like air turned sour
and poets who would move the heart
put pen to paper to create
the softest of all breezes
a wind
a gale
a tempest made of words.

Today - tonight more truly - we salute
a gale-maker supreme
one Robbie Burns. For him
flames burn with words
burns run
or trickle
scramble over rocks
or overflow with words
and there is freshness in the air.

Words burn themselves into our consciousness.

And greater honour yet,
the ultimate:
a pizza for the bard!
To modernise his suppers
the haggis pizza comes:
The Cosmo haggis pizza
as it's called -
in Scottish supermarkets for
the cognoscenti Scots.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

More Great Aunt Min

I'll say one thing for my forbears:
they always knew their destinations.
Take Great Aunt Min now - she
who thrilled us with her parakeet
a day or two ago. She underwent
a minor medical procedure -
well, that's what we would say today.
Quite different then, of course.
She woke up on a marble slab, sure as hell
that she had gone to heaven:
so many beings floating round
robed head to toe in white, no less,
their faces gauzy, featureless. Angels,
sure as hell fire - as she aptly said.
I asked - got withering looks from mum and dad -
about the pure white wellies in her tale.
Standard issue for an angel, were they?
Not a word came in reply. She had been
to heaven - briefly - and would not
relinquish all that kudos lightly.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Milligan and Murphy

Let me say straight away that I very much enjoyed this book. I found it an excellent read. It was necessary to get that in first lest you, dear reader, should take the wrong impression from what I am about to say, which is that the book begins very slowly. Indeed, for the first twenty pages or so nothing very much happens - and the nothing much happens at something less than walking pace. It is not a fault, this slow start, it is a necessary acclimatisation to the pace of the story about to unfold and to the pace and energy levels of its two heroes.

Reading these early pages I constantly heard - or thought I heard- echoes of Samuel Beckett. I began to fantasize that maybe Milligan and Murphy were two characters who'd proved surplus to requirements when he was writing Waiting for Godot or one of his other plays. Maybe that was just my own mind set - I had been thinking about the play not long before. Whichever way it was, rest assured Vladimir and Estragon, Milligan and Murphy are not. And as there is no firm reason why a review should be chronological or follow a logical course, it might be helpful if I say here and now that when I was a bit further into the book I suddenly realised that I was not hearing echoes of Beckett, but a different, and I believe original, voice.

There is, shall I call it a family resemblance, but nothing more than that. For one thing, there are levels of philosophical debate (home spun philosophy for the most part, it is true, but philosophy none the less) in their apparently vacuous talk. This for instance from the early part of the book (it is Murphy talking):

"Do you not think that Mary Maguire has the most magnificent breasts?"
"I think it is a bit early in the morning to be considering weighty matters such as those."
"They're massive, they truly are."
"It makes me thirsty just thinking about them Murphy. Can we go and get fed now? I'm so hungry I could eat a cow."

Somewhere a bit earlier than this I should have told you something about our two heroes. They are half brothers. Murphy was a little late in arriving in this world and sometime after the event his father disappeared in strange circumstances. Whether or not the two events were connected appears to be in some sort of doubt. Mrs Murphy, it seems, took off with Murphy Junior in search of an adequate replacement, but ended up with Mr Milligan. Milligan and Murphy are inseparable, still living with mum and still sharing a bedroom, if not a bed. In any other milieu we might have dubbed them layabouts, but so invisibly do they merge into the oddities of Lissoy, the little village in Ireland which is home to them, that such a judgement would seem harsh.

The story proper begins with Ma Milligan telling them that "O'Connor is on the lookout for bodies for his farm." Milligan appeals against the implied instruction in this on the ground that it is Tuesday,
the day on which it is customary to collect their unemployment assistance. This argument is quickly shot down in flames and they set off for O'Connor's farm. They never arrive.

The last thing Milligan and Murphy could be accused of is being proactive. They do not control their lives. Stuff happens (like they come upon an unconscious tramp at the crossroads) and they take a certain direction, are nudged towards it. It is not quite clear how the event causes the result, but somehow that is what happens. They do not take the turning that leads to O'Connor's farm. The road they are on goes on, and somehow so do they. A pivotal moment in their lives passes unrecognised and vanishes for ever into the great blue yonder.

So begins their odyssey. During it they will discuss the meaninglessness of life with four strangers they will meet: the aforementioned tramp, a priest, an artist and an old woman. They are not without their humorous aspects, these conversations, as here with Jesse, the old woman, in her kitchen after she has befriended them and taken them to her home.
Murphy says:

"Over the last few days three people have spoken to my brother and me, in brief and at length, about the meaningless of existence: a tramp, a priest of all people, an artist and now you: this can't be a coincidence."
"What, and you think that means something?" Her tone was sarcastic. "You think God is trying to tell you that he doesn't exist? Ha!"

Not wishing to give away too much of the story, I will just add that Milligan and Murphy ends with the two of them leaning on the rail of a ship bound for Southampton, they having at an earlier point in their odyssey decided that it was the sea for them - though somehow I don't believe that will be the end of the tale.

Milligan and Murphy is available in paperback from FV Books and an ebook version will follow in due course. You can read the opening chapter here.

Jim's blog, The Truth About Lies, is here

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Two Poems on Borders

To Jarman the Spoils
A poem on Borders for dVerse Poetics

There is a border somewhere here
somewhere the garden ends.
Sea-carved timbers, salt-encrusted ropes become
our timbers and our ropes, not his.

But he has made them his,
he found them like stray puppies on the beach,
gave them a home, a focus, made
of them a focus in their turn. Now out of reach
he is the most important piece of flotsam here.
He broke away, jumped ship
found freedom in the waves this stony
wilderness affirms. His vision
has survived the storms,
the brooding threat of nuclear disaster.*
Against all this it is a vision that
remains intact for us.

*The atomic power station, also on the beach.
Read more on Jarman and his home here
The image is from Google Earth.

The Mud Pond
A drizzle and a slant of light,
a watercolour landscape dunked
before the paint had dried
and somewhere there, between the front door
and the tethered donkey by the distant kerbside
was a border of white stones.
Now in someone's rockery most like.

Nearest to the house, the apple trees.
Most likely garden, so we thought -
although the bramble scrawl was thickest there,
like scribble over text we could not read.
Here too, the thistles at their tallest,
fleshiest and toughest yet,
the perfect substitutes for razor wire.

Further out, they thinned, merged with the crowds:
the long grass, daisies, dandelions and vetch.
Halfway to the donkey a small pond, now fenced
with floral tributes to the child who'd died,
still there in place, still tied
with ribbons to its posts.

This must be common land, for here
the people tie their animals
but where the border is is mystery.
Who owns the pond
has some responsibility
but deeds are silent and the parties disagree.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers": He sang "La Marseillaise".

I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers";
he sang "La Marseillaise".
I don't know now which one of us
was winding up the other,
except we did it all the time, it was
our usual mode of converse.
Whatever either did
would aggravate the other.
He led me three miles just to see
a twite's nest in a hedgerow, then
he blew an egg. Much later, after tea,
I filled it with my balsa wood cement.

I was staying with his folk
to dodge The London Blitz.
Very distant relatives.
Six terraced houses in a wilderness.
No running water, outside loo,
I envied him. He, me.
We couldn't be apart.

Well, that's the background, then
we went for this long walk.
Became completely lost.
No one to ask, I thought
we'd not get home. He knew we would -
took us across (it seemed
like) twenty fields. Exhausted,
the corn above our heads,
singing to keep our spirits up.
in failed attempts at harmony...
I sang "Onward Christian Soldiers";
He sang "La Marseillaise".

Friday, 20 January 2012

The Building Site

Yesterday's dVerse Poets challenge was to write an Imagist poem. Methinks this needs image present to inspire, but as luck would have it I did see one yesterday which much impresed, so here goes...
Two derricks frame the limits
to my field of view.
A child has put them there,
has ruled their chalk lines on
this blackboard of a stormy sky.

Tower and boom
fine as spider silk and straight as light
rays, grace belies
their manliness.

A goal seen through a goal
and in between
the ant-like forms of players take the field.
They're swarming everywhere.

Tower and boom
a solitary sun ray lights
the filigree within.
This fades and then it is
as if another Mondrian has come
and stretched his work in progress
length-ways to the end of sight.

They seem to frame a town.
In truth
it's just another building plot -
and trees -
and roads -
a car park -
and a doctor's surgery
they've tucked their geometric arms around.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Great Aunt Min

In Islington
did Great Aunt Min
keep a pub
she called an inn.
And there, within,
in golden cage
a regal bird
(then all the rage),
a parakeet
elective mute.
Though quite absurd,
no syllable
would pass its beak
until it heard
the magic words:
"Time, if you please!
Time ladies and
good gentlefolk!
Ti..i..ime... if you please!"

At which the bird
would stretch and shake
and lift its beak
as if to say
"Who reckons me
too dumb to speak?"
And loudly then,
with raucous squawk
would demonstrate
his fruity talk:
"Aint you buggers
got no homes?
Aint you buggers
got no homes?
Aint you buggers
got no homes?"
until Aunt Min
turned out the light
and locked them in
to pass the night,
when meek and mild
as any child
he'd settle down
and wait for her
to cover him.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sunshine and Bombs

"Sunshine and Bombs" we called her.
My dad it was who coined the name.
She kept the corner shop.
Early morning, first part of the war
Dad coming home from fire watch
and she cornered him. About
the weather, of all things. Said
how she'd rather have the bombs
than "all this bloody sunshine".
I spread it round the school.
"Sunshine and bombs," we sang,
"Sunshine and bombs!"
Payback time that was, for her
refusing me my bag of Frog Spawn -
which I had paid for, I might add.
"Too late," she'd hissed. "It's half
day closing - now git out!"
Sunshine and Bombs, that was,
who sadly in her turn was bombed
much later in the war.

I am linking this poem to Open Link Monday at Imaginary Garden with Real Toads.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Watery Dreams

What a good idea!
An underwater Sculpture Park.
But whose idea,
to whom the kudos?
Surface Earthlings like ourselves,
or aliens from Under Earth
who've scaled to these enormous heights
above their Under Earthland
and been inspired by what they've found?

Stone comes to life,
the statues live and breathe
and have their being.
Deep beneath the ocean wave
an ancient dream is lived again...

Or is it simply that sea creatures
have made their homes
have colonised
the works of art,
and now blow bubbles -
in which case, are they
friendly messengers
or do they mean to register
"Up Yours!" - at our approach?

My money's on the Under Earthers,
the chance to swim around inside their thoughts...
How good would that be, eh?
To know how beings unlike us
conceive of what we cannot know;
to know them as we know ourselves!

The sea is apt to worry us sometimes,
what might be there and might come out of it
to threaten us on our dry ground..
But none of these will come,
the sculptures here are well behaved.
This is the worry in reverse:
that one of these might be the one
to tempt me from my dry world up above
to live the dream of water and of love.

You can be jilted by a work of art,
it's true. But not by these.
There's nothing here will leave you high and dry.
Posted in response to the Magpie Tales prompt.

Monday, 16 January 2012

pas de deux

It was, the critics said,
the perfect pas de deux.

The leaps, the steps, the moves...
and more importantly:

our perfect empathy;
two bodies known as one.

That lift, so difficult,
I nailed it that one night.

We both left high as kites.
Let's crown the night, you said.

Your place, we thought, the best -
the first for us as one.

Along the motorway
I followed your tail light.

That cutting through the hills...
you'd forged ahead a bit.

I saw you leave the road
shoot up the steep incline...

I thought you'd roll back down.
But no, the perfect arc

as earlier on stage
that brought you back to me.

The two cars fused as one
and shared a sheet of flame.

We watch the dancing now.
I can barely hobble,

you barely understand...
except just now and then

a flicker in those eyes
to greet the pas de deux.

Sunday, 15 January 2012


Corpulent figure on all fours,
a volcano has been plugged with straw,
the bonds and blindfolds will not hold for long,
the lava of a human dignity is breaking through.

Blakean figure from a modern myth
(Nebuchadnezzar springs to mind)
one part Urizen penned in rocks
one part a nude by Lucien Freud.

Botero paints the torments of his mind
brush replicates the concrete scrape of chain
in belly folds are labyrinths of creed
sound travels easily through paint -

when eyes are "neutralised" the screams are clearly heard.
We hear the groans from others held like him
from those preserved as beasts and maybe worse.
Each sound and smell is here preserved in paint.

The work of Fernando Botero formed the basis of this prompt from dVerse Poets
From the options listed I chose to attempt this ekphrastic poem on Botero's painting "Abughraib", but do go along and read the whole challenge. It really is worth the trip.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

the not so magic roundabout

I was a man on a Merry-Go-Round
merrily going round and round
when the man who ran the Merry-Go-Round
sent it out of control.

Then faster went the Merry-Go-Round
and faster it went again,
round and round with a screeching sound
like the death throes of a troll.

The ground around the Merry-Go-Round
became a continuous blur
and the man who'd run the Merry-Go-Round
clung to its central pole

for flames had appeared and horses reared
and the Merry-Go-Round was a casserole
in which spinning shapes had suddenly spun
out of a deep black hole.

From somewhere within the Merry-Go-Round
came sounds like a quake now, splitting the ground
and the swan I was on went down on its knees
before it began to roll.

Bits were thrown from the Merry-Go-Round,
over the fairground, far and wide
and into my lap fell a starry-eyed bride
in the shape of a porcelain doll.

I asked the man, still stuck on his pole,
could he magic the doll alive?
The Merry-Go-Round, said the man to me,
has centrifuged her soul;

it's widely dispersed across the ground
among the swings and the coconut shies.
All that is left is porcelain -
which I find irresistibly droll.

Friday, 13 January 2012


Job interview.
Going O.K.
So far so good.
Not great. No worse
than I'd expected -
seeing how I lack experience
and could do with more
certificates and paper stuff.
And interview experience -
well, that's why I am here:
another interview next week -
that's for the post I really want.
Fingers crossed,
today might help out there.

The final question -
I feel it coming in my bones. The chair
psyches herself up for it.
"I must ask this: your shirt...
was it your wife who chose it for you?"
"Who bought it for me!" I reply.
"My daughter bought the tie!"
She smiles and offers me the post.
It's not the one I'd hoped for -
but I take it like a shot!

Thursday Think Tank at Poets United suggested the topic "Choice" for this week.

Ode to Basic Instinct

I watched them at their feeders for a while,
saw how the blackbird, magpies, rooks
and pigeons were excluding smaller
and defenseless birds - a wren, some tits,
a chaffinch and a sparrow from the feast.
Pitiless, they were, relentless,
driving them away. But then,
when someone wandered by, quite close to them,
it was the larger birds took fright and left
the field to those they'd dispossessed -
who seemed to have no fear of man,
the one, perhaps, they should have feared the most.

I saw this little drama played
by those unconscious actors on the lawn
as something of a metaphor of us.
What is it that our richest nations fear
and fear to such extent that they must take
whatever of the world's resources they can claim
by fair means or by foul
regardless of the paupers who must starve?

Is there, deep down, a bully in us all?
Would small birds bully smaller if they could?
Would they become remorseless in oppressing
their even weaker brethren with no weight?
What drives we civilised to such extremes?
Not greed, I think - though some will disagree -
not even naked power or lust for power,
to me the answer must be clearly fear.

But fear of what? That our good fortunes may be lost?
The wheat, the iron, the oil? Atomic power?
All that we have branded as our own...
these things are finite in the main. But yet
to me it seems the loss we fear the most
is none of these, but that of self:
the silent threat to that, our ways of life,
the pictures that we paint of who we are.
Please go to dVerse Poets for a fascinating exposition of the form and content of an ode - and the prompt for this attempt.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

there is a tree beside a river...

The tree is spirit energy
a force of nature channelled to a pinpoint point of view
culvert through a needle's eye
compelling other spirit energies
                                like thought.

River into torrent
                  undermining roots.
The current is a different force.
Water and the strength of water
both are physical
are of the order rock and earth
yet both provide the format
for the wholly other.

water (physical)
and  thought of water             
                     (halfway house)  
deepen what is spiritual
carry to oblivion
                 tissue sap and bone.

                         The tree decays
and by its own imperative
decay is spiritual
It's there in nature's blueprint for a life
as workaday as source code or a score
that calls the cellos to a poetry of sound.

All journeys are internal.
In the ending of a life
                       begins the spirit's odyssey.
The life is.
And the spirit is.
Nothing that is
is not.

In winter
the tree has bared its soul
to us and to the world
is stripped of earthly life form

There is a fire
a purge
in which the tree is singed
is charcoal -
           little more
than symbol for a tree.

Form is emphasised
is stark
patterns colours textures
no longer vie with contours for the eye

Wednesday, 11 January 2012


It had looked so inviting from below,
a low domed hill, and on its crown
a circle of young trees. The climb
was undertaken willingly. We found
the circle ringed a hollow in the ground -
the sort that's not uncommon on these downs.
Best bet: a German bomber, homeward bound
had dumped the remnants of its load. If so,
one bomb had carved a saucer from the chalk.
We weren't the first to see it in those terms:
for someone at a later date, came, stood
an iron mug, a huge and rusting thing,
of purpose indeterminate, smack in
its shallow centre where a cup should go.

Its toppled since that day, stands now aslant,
bumped out of its complacency, no doubt
by the red pedal car, for ever wedged
between a whitebeam and a beech. There was
no road to that high place, which through the years
had sprouted rosebud toilets (broken: two),
a bedstead, fridge and T.V. set, a bike,
a motorcycle (minus wheels) and a
large body-building gizmo with a range
of hooks and chains more like a torturing
machine. A red stain as of blood did not
put any minds to rest. But worst of all -
it was a bigger mess, by God
than that the Heinkel left.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012


The streets seem in indecent haste
cannot wait to rush together
somewhere just above our thoughts
where all lines of perspective meet.
There buildings will collide as one.
A single point.        A sonic boom.

Illustrious men will turn to stone
who never left a stone unturned
and strong men will still stand alone.
Yule Brynner gazing from his throne
finds enchantment in a bird.
The King and I now seems absurd.
Commands his subjects. Make him fly.
Fly bird and he to some high nest
lay the musical to rest
above the clash of steel and glass
above the clash of skin and class
above the narrowing of space
space to breathe and space for grace
where concrete bleeds and flesh is stone
and every babe is fully grown
all men are born of every race
and nature is man's interface.


Written for The Magpie Tales picture prompt.

Monday, 9 January 2012

They're demanding answers to their questions.

Philistines must quantify:
how many Euros,
pounds or dollars
is an opera worth?

What makes it worth
a dip into the public purse?

How will it make life better?
(It could hardly make it worse.)
What do the voting masses think?
(What shade are they of blue or pink?)
What shade of which will it empower?
Which shades might it not disempower,
which bring back from the brink?

Did music lose its value to the nation
on some street corner
where the nation lost its way?

What's that you say;
you've got a new libretto?
What special benefits do you forsee -
if none, we'll have to let it go,
so say if there's a pay-off, kid.
In terms of tourist trade perhaps,
or racial harmony?
Come on now, laddie, lift the lid!

Don't tell us that it entertains -
and don't provoke us either, they're both passé;
we've stopped the funding on those gravy trains!

We're all in this together, man.
All worms are equal in our can!

Cohesion in the city, now...
we might splash out on that...
could your concerto pull that off?
It's one of our objectives, see,
something we must fix...
so, who would watch this play of yours,
the avant garde, the poor, the rich ?
Or could you promise us an ethnic mix?

Art for art's sake cuts no ice...
"Creative Industries"? Yeah, that sounds nice...
I like the sound of that last word.
Industries... We might buy that - not too absurd.

Ah therapy? You're talking now!
That's for the common good, we'd all agree
it's worth a bob or two somehow...
except... you'll understand, it's got to be
the focus of the work. That is a must.
A spin-of's just not good enough.
We're talking here of the main thrust!

Why should we fund the guy who looks
to stick his nose in obscure books?
And if not him, some Glyndebourne guy?
Where should we draw the spending line -
along the ground, or in the sky?
Your poems on earth meditation
must justify themselves like health,
police and education!

This poem was suggested to me by an article in the Saturday Guardian(Value Added, by David Edgar) pointing out that although the minister has described the present cut-back in funding to the arts as temporary, a majority in the government would like to scrap it altogether. In the mean time "they" are devising ways to asssess the value of each art in their own (strictly practical) terms.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Rhythms of the Night

I know the sound - or part of it - of old:
whisssstle-thwoom-pa (pause) whisssstle-thwoom-pa (pause)...
But this is more disturbing than I've known.

My father's practice swings beside the tee,
his driver sending shock waves through the air.
whissstle-thwummmm then silence from the follow-through.

But this is more persistent, rhythmic, more
the sound a scythe might make. A cutting down.
Grim Reapers spring to mind from story books.

If this was South America, you'd think
of gauchos whirling bolas round their heads
and listen for the crash the balls would cause.

But three nights on the trot with little sleep,
a reaper in the skies above our house -
though grim or not, depending on your view.

Even in the silences the ears strain
for the barely audible first sound,
the distant whistle of its slow return.

Spot on as Haley's Comet it returns
It is the major rhythm now, has drowned
out all those minor ones, like heart and sleep.

And so you notice as it fades again
a change to deeper tones of thwoooom-pa (pause).
It's cops in choppers reaping close to us.

This poem was written in response to dVerse Poet's Pub prompt to write a piece of onomatopoeic poetry, something of which, unwisely perhaps, I have always fought shy in the past. I know some of the greats have used it with outstanding success, but then the greats can do anything. What about us more humble mortals, though? I'd really love to hear what you guys think.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

My First Exhibition

I had an exhibition once,
a hundred years ago
before the advent of the coffee bar
in a palace of a place
art deco on four floors,
a Lyons Corner House.

In perfect truth,
I shared the exhibition:
saw my babies
hung between the tables
("among some porcelain",
as Eliot might have said)
close by the chandeliers
between the longer term incumbents:
lithographs and reproductions -
names I loved and feared.

Amongst the Sutherlands, Man Rays
and Mintons - giants of the day?
My little ragamuffins in amongst those
grand celebrities? How could they make their way?
How did I get that stupid?
Words like "hiding" and "to nothing" came to mind.

I don't know how much tea I drank
in vain attempts to eavesdrop
what chat there was about my work.
Not a lot was being said.
Nothing for a gallon and a half.
Then "Orange Nude" caught someone's eye
who thought it was "The brightest, not the best!"
"Sandy Beach" fared rather better: "I can feel,"
a lady said through apple pie,
"what it was like to be there on that beach -
the colours tell me all I need to know.
Not so "Grey Man in Moonlight": "Cannot stand
Americans - especially Picasso!"

Friday, 6 January 2012

Chasing Abraham

Desperately needing Abraham,
looking everywhere
to no avail.
The man next door was clearly not.
I asked at the model agency:
are Abrahams in short supply?
Two they'd had the month before.
Nothing since, but a rather fine Ezekiel
and a Moses to be proud of.

Then walking home from Mitcham Junction
late one foggy night
crossing Mitcham Common
there he was in flesh and blood,
Abraham as ever was, asking me the time.
Flowing beard as white as snow,
desert robes that also flowed,
leathern sandals, necklaces of beads -
and what for weeks I'd overlooked -
YHWH* tattooed on his arm.

Two days from then
I had the painting done and framed.


*Tetragrammaton, the proper name for God in Hebrew, from which Yahweh,Yahveh and Jahweh are all expansions.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

World View

There was darkness
and the darkness that there was
was on the face of everything.
And there was fire.
Cold fire, blue steel fire, semblance of fire,
semblance of light, fire without promise or threat.
And figures, shadows of figures,
semblance of figures figuring
hardly at all in a huddle, huddled
round flames lacking light.

And there was God. Tongue-tied and silent,
a murmurless mummer of a God, miming creation,
re-making in mime the old misbegotten conception
of his long ago. Invisible god - except for the hands,
the hands of a weaver. Intricate movements,
balletic with grace. Weavers of space
and spinners of time on the go.
And the eyes with the hands,
two halves of a coin spun as one.

Then visible darkness. Thin darkness hung
between me and impassable darkness
passing before me like whisps in the wind.
God-produced darkness, that darkness like sin,
that lure of the eyes that sought a way in.
Between the two darknesses, dark ghosts of me
stared back, each in turn, each eyeball
to eyeball. I watched as more ghosts
behind and beside me, appeared as from nowhere,
caught between darknesses, trapped as was I.

But still those hands did mesmerise!
A chink of light when curtains just behind the vision
parted and two dolls swam into view.
Not dolls, but mummies rather, human forms
devoid of detail. As featureless as was
the landscape from the start. The hands -
and now a shadow form behind the hands -
manoeuvred them in space, arranged their limbs,
caused one to sit upon a tree stump, one to stand.
But still the scene and they were bland.
More then slid between the curtains into view,
the hands deploying them around the fire.
Some wore grass skirts, but all were onion-like
in texture and in ornament, in markings on the skin.

Yet now was light enough - though gloomy still - to see
some palm trees ranged along a sandy shore,
and out beyond an atoll there, a liner rocked at ease.
The window-dresser slid away to hide himself
against a jet black frame. (He, too was dressed in black.)
God-figure that figured to change or replace the old world
with a form reduced in aspects, focal points and facets,
having fewer of those things that man fixates upon.
The onion-form would reign supreme
in a world devoid of promise and of threat!
A caption in the ocean read : WORLD CRUISE.

But still in the window, the faces of tomorrow
and today stared back towards the sadness that was me
as I looked in... and the god-figure stayed as he was hid.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Blood and Glory

meditating monks, ran
radiation tracers
through their parietal lobes.

The resulting images
of falling blood flows
reinforced our sense
that sense of time and place
is centred there.

What better place
for God-experience
than where He'd set
the focus for our sense
of time and place?

For, just suppose
the God-experience
is more than blood flows
or their lack... is how we interact
with the Divine...

how might the radio-
activity affect
that dialogue? We need to know:-
what is it in this life
that should be glorified?

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

learning languages

Children play -
conduct their adult business -
on a quiet pedestrian square
leaving records of their exploits there
for us, the world, posterity,
in scripts concocted out
of artifacts and chalk
(posterity in chalk...
now there's a thought), echoes
of rune and hieroglyph and gypsy sign
(and other, stranger, signs, the signs,
maybe, of races not yet born),
together with some bits of Arabic
and Japanese and bird signs - would you know?
I didn't know - until I overheard
them talking on the square -
that birds have written languages, use ciphers
left for one another in the snow:
footprints, for one;
or sticks they lay the way they build their nests
and leave for others of their kind
who understand the meanings of the codes.
To all those in the know
<^^/\O<> in arcanic ancient lingo means:-
The lady here leaves fruits and nuts for early birds.

A child is not a purist. Understand,
that being so,
they put to use a host of artifacts
and natural bits that come their way
to push back boundaries and help the sense along.
Dolls are frequent characters in these
mixed sentences. But what to make
of interwoven sticks (a part-
made nest) and next to it (inverted)
one torn half of a straw hat, the fruit of which,
once on the outside, now repose within -
signifying eggs perhaps? And what to make
of three men circled, holding hands? Stand back,
a wider view reveals the circle is a woman's
abdomen. The men are smokers and the woman
holds a fist up to her mouth.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The King of Bling

A central atrium
from which five wings
like five points of a star.
And so the name was born:
Star Mall. The oldest wing,
The Christmas Gallery
(it having been completed
late December in the snow)
the builders called Phase 1,
lies empty and deserted.
The leases on its shops
expired six months ago -
leases which the landlord
for reasons of his own
(financial, certainly)
will not renew.
Looking at it now,
pad-locked and barred
with metal grills,
you'd think a prison gallery.

Josef and Marianne.
Homeless. Sole visitors,
their whole world packed
into a baby's buggy
pushed by Josef,
have wandered in
and paused a moment at
The House of Bling,
not so completely cleared
as was the rest. Their eyes -
their ears, perhaps - are caught
by remnants of past bling
reflecting light.
(Security, like clearing
and the cleaning,
has been less thorough here.)
As they lean in
to get a clearer view,
a man-sized door
set in the steel grid
covering the entrance,
gives slightly to their weight .

Josef now works briefly - but
intently -on the lock,
until the small door swings.
Then he unloads the buggy,
carries it across the door's
high threshold,
and after it their two worlds,
bag by plastic bag.
Five minutes maximum
and they are in.

A day or two
and word has spread:
they're joined by others
from the world beyond.
First in: two practised
squatters, man and wife
who get things organised:
some heat, some light,
a change of locks,
the duty rota, and so on.
Then come The Seers,
a boy band yet to make
their way. Two one-time
workers from a sheep farm -
now "a farm experience"
for schools and families -
and a former chief executive,
quite used to bling, she says.

Almost from the first
small crowds are gathering,
and growing by the day,
soon to include the local press
and then the nationals.
When Marianne gives birth,
Josef takes a packing case
and makes of it a cot,
half filling it
with (artificial) straw.
Bling Bling
writ large upon its side
is symbolising something,
you might think - a name
to call a glitzy child, perhaps?

The happiness occurred
on New Year's Night -
also symbolising something, you might think.
By morning light - about
the time the media begin
to make their presence felt -
someone notices graffiti
on the entrance tiles outside.
It reads: "All Hail, the King of Bling!"
And from the first floor gallery
above Bling House,
a star is hanging by its flex
and flashing merrily.

But then,
before the day is fully lit,
come Social Services
to take the boy child
into care, removing him
to Herriod Road
Young People's Home.

Now Josef blames himself
who'd had a dream
in which the whole of this had been
played out before his eyes
without from him the merest
twitch of recognition.

And so it is a tale
like any other.
Merely that.... except,
we're hearing -
reading on our social networks -
that the home,
in turmoil when Bling Bling arrived
(two youngsters having
recently absconded,
the milk consumption
having doubled - as it is apt
to do at times of stress),
was suddenly becalmed; a place
of peace and light.
Tranquility, no less!
Then when they walked
him round the grounds,
the birds flew down
and sang to him.

Therefore, we wondered...
might there be more
to come of this... of him?

Sunday, 1 January 2012

The Turning

Stepping from the old year to the new
I carry with me seeds to green the view.
They're in the wool of jumper, mud of shoe.

Past and present
root and stem
fruit and leaf -
cogs in time's machinery.

The turning is a season
as eloquent as spring,
the smallest seedling from the past,
an oak in influence.

We may forget
ignore the year just gone.
It will not do the same for us.
Our footprints mark it:
its mark us.
The new start's never new,
the start's a part-continuum.

And yet the land is virginal.
Behind us:
leaves have withered;
fruit has rotted into this new seed;
there have been deaths;
and illnesses, like fungi,
have invaded healthy stock.

Big moments, these:
like redwoods in a kitchen garden.
Bark and sapwood cling to us:
new perfumes and old smells.

The pods of memory pop
and green shoots beckon
that were not there before.

Be careful with the fruit, my friend -
it bruises easily.

dVerse Poets Poetic Endings and Beginnings inspired this verse.