The Worrier

Posted: July 27, 2015 in Uncategorized

Of course I want to be that kind of boyfriend,
Who leaps into the end of your work-day
Having bought a kite, and cries
“Let’s go get high in the park!”
And sweeps you off into adventure
But instead I’m the type of boyfriend
Who worries that your feet might be sore
After a day of standing, or that maybe
You’ve made other plans, so I should
At least text first – and, as I’m typing,
The kite idea starts to seem stupid
So I ask if you want to go get cocktails
In Wetherspoons instead.

Whitby: Rural Rejuvenation

Posted: June 3, 2015 in Poetry

DSCN1614

I.

Whitby, may we borrow some beauty?
Just a scrap of field, a crumb of view,
For Coventry is desperately in need
If it aspires to be as lovely as you.

And though I am fond beyond compare
Of its resilient urban landscapes,
I fell in love with you at first sight
While Coventry requires double-takes.

They say hard-won is love best earned
And far more likely to be lasting
But, Whitby, you make me hunger for nature
And in this respect I feel I’ve been fasting.

To the satisfying perfection you represent
Cameras cannot capture, only pay homage;
Attempting to take home and store the way
You stir the blood with idyllic charm.

Whitby, may we borrow some beauty,
Since you display such plenitude?
Coventry will never achieve your level
But we’d appreciate a taste of wonder too.

II.
Much of England lacks the awe
Inspired by landmarks fist-bumping the sky
But rest assured, from shore to shore,
Exists enough beauty to water the eye.

And perhaps the reason we adore the sea,
While the trees outlive and out-class us all,
Is that each wave shares our crashing mortality:
Truths so powerful, grown men feel small.

—————————-

Miscall

Posted: May 21, 2015 in Prose

photo (3)

It is not a chore to call a grandparent.

To collate talking topics and tidy up the little successes of the week into tick-boxes; to remember an anniversary date or say thank you for the card with the twenty pound note smoothed clean of wrinkles, as fresh as your skin the day you were born when they gazed upon you with genetic pride; to re-write the ways you waste your time into a litany of positive sound-bites; to edit yourself like a dating profile so the good bits shine through –

It is not a chore to call a grandparent.

To pick up a piece of plastic and press a few buttons; to create an interval between maybe lonely segments of time with your voice, warming fragile bones with an act of love; to take or feign an interest infused with the sincerity society can’t always muster; to not rely on the shop-girl, the bus driver or the good-hearted neighbour taking the time to wade through small talk and ask the right questions; to not allow the patronising infantility of television be their sole source of self-worth –

It is not a chore to call a grandparent.

It IS a chore to sit and stare at the box with their body locked inside surrounded by velvet curtains, like some four-poster bed that schemes to drag sleepers into the unknown depths in the middle of the night and consume them with fire. It is a chore to have something good happen and nobody to tell. It is a chore to remember every telephone call that felt like too much of a chore –

It is not a chore to call a grandparent.
It is an awkward privilege.

You will not have to do it for the rest of your life; only for the rest of theirs.

The Split

Posted: May 21, 2015 in Prose

I thought we had this sorted out, thought there was one piece of world fixed into place. Must’ve used some crappy Poundland glue. Seventeen years. Who packs it in after seventeen years?  That’s long enough for people to start relaxing and breathe easy. To picture Christmas twenty years from now and how it would still be them in the same house, drinking gin. A different dog running around the coffee table, shredding wrapping paper, sure – or maybe no dog at all. But still the two of them.

I gather up these selfish thoughts and stuff them in a back room. My brain’s full of back rooms, how about yours? They’re making an effort to be friends, I can see that. We’re in a restaurant. She playfully steals a chip off his plate and I take this as a sign that things might be okay. Until he nips to the toilet and she starts gathering up her handbag and jacket.

“I don’t want to upset him,” she says.

“So don’t leave yet,” I say.

“I’m getting picked up. It’ll only cause problems.”

She kisses my head and leaves. When he comes back, he looks hurt and confused. I quickly buy another pint, nudge it across the table like a pet trying to distract its owner with a toy.

“She had to go,” is all I can say.

I don’t even know the other guy’s name. He doesn’t believe me, gets angry. I have to apologise to the waitress on behalf of his aggressive flirting. He’s drunk now, the worst stage: in-between entertainer and puking. Too drunk to be entrusted to a taxi. There’s coffee at my place so we zig-zag in that direction, him leaning on my shoulder. Halfway there, he decides to take a piss in a tangle of stinging-nettles. I hear a thud and he cries out my name. He has fallen down in the nettles, is sprawled on the floor. I’m reluctant to touch his unwashed hands but I pull him out, laughing. Neither of us is sober.

We learnt to call him Dad. A father, seventeen years in the making. He was the fifth contender, stuck around the longest. I remember the brand new tie choking me at their wedding. The photographer forced us all to smile. It took a long time to believe in this stability, that we wouldn’t have to go through it again. And now that old mistrust has been proved right. Still, this time I am a grown-up. It’s difficult to assess the damage.

He texts me the next morning, asking why there is a rash on his arms and cock. I can’t help laughing.

Word to the Wise Poster NEW

Attended a workshop today ran by Andy Willoughby, who was the headline act at our first Word to the Wise open mic poetry event (22nd October 2014). It was an interactive workshop, and he got us to write and read out some poems.

Cinquain – a poem of five lines, syllable count: 2, 4, 6, 8, 2

We had a one-minute silence to reflect upon all the things we are in-between, followed by a minute to write them all down without taking our pens off the page. Mine aren’t very legible, but here’s what I put down:

second floor + fourth floor, ceiling + floor, door + wall, table + chair, Scotland + France, Venus + Mars, birth + death, unemployment + unemployment, cathedral + Charles Ward building, that tree + the other tree, Birmingham + London, start of uni + finishing uni, North Sea + Atlantic Ocean, knee dislocation + knee operation

And here are a few cinquains I managed to produce:

Below
fourth floor, above
second floor, and then the
previous relationship and
who knows.

Between
two seas, landlocked:
Birmingham and London.
Unemployment and ambition.
Uh oh.

Birth. Death.
Bit in-between.
Person developing,
into what is yet to be seen.
Good luck.

And then we had to think about a moment when we felt free and answer some questions without thinking too much. This created a list of items, which we used as a starting point for a poem based on the structure of ‘Some People’ by Rita Ann Higgins (1988).

Two things you can see: a hovering seagull, traffic lights
Behind you: the Travel Lodge I stayed at
In front of you: the sea
A specific colour that’s near: oceanic blue
A specific colour that’s far away: ____
Something still: me, leaning forward
Something moving: the surging tide
Sounds: quiet, early morning traffic + the rush of the sea breaking on the shore
Smell: ____
Taste: salty air, dry mouth because I wasn’t allowed to drink
Texture: cold metal (railing I was holding)
Temperature: cool but in a friendly way, the sun was out of bed but not yet dressed
Phrase: ‘Ice Cream Sold Here!’
Location of ‘free’ feeling: constricted chest

Some people know what it is like,
to nearly get hit in the head by a seagull held hostage by the wind
to witness the lights change from red to green to back again at 6 a.m
to stand and stare at the sea like a blatant tourist
to stand and stare at the sea like a long-lost relative
to see nothing but blue and to not feel blue
to vacate a Travel Lodge, walk two feet, turn their head and be at the seaside
to grin like an idiot because of this simple fact
to know there’s a plaque on a bench bearing their dead uncle’s name
to feel OK because they went and sat and said a silent ‘hello’
to be surrounded by the rush of a surging tide filling their ears like white noise
to have cool air spark arm-hair erections while the sun toasts their face for breakfast
to not care what the passing drivers might think as they pass
to taste salt on their lips and not in their nostrils
to have a python called freedom wrap itself around their entire torso and squeeze
to experience this constriction as an enthusiastic hug instead of fear,

and other people don’t.

Finally, we had to create a few cinquain stanzas for an autobiographical piece.

Condom
ripped. The sperm I
was should apologise,
because first you were just fucking
and then

you were
fucking surprised.
Scotland. Ireland. Maybe
there’s a reason they’re kept apart.
Broken,

like a
marriage. Like an
impulsive teenage heart.

(unfinished)

Poetry in Five Awkward Motions

Posted: July 5, 2014 in Articles

Five old poems. Five potential cringes.

1.

When I was nine, a large envelope addressed to me came through the letterbox. I can remember ripping it open and pretty much exploding with excitement all over the living-room and my mum’s bedroom. The dream had arrived: I was going to be a published writer. Sure, it was a poem and not the best-selling novel I’d (somewhat prematurely) set my sights on, and OK, it was through a competition looking to publish the poems of thousands of primary school pupils across the nation – but it was a first step that felt like a massive leap at the time.

And what great masterpiece had this young poet created, I hear you cry?

‘Dogs and Me’

I’m happy around dogs,
They’re happy around me.
We get along great,
Dogs and me.

Most of my friends have got dogs,
All except me.
I live in a flat so I’m not allowed,
But I’m always dreaming of my Border-collie.

I’d feed him on his favourite foods
And give his belly a rub.
If he got dirty,
I’d put him in the tub.

Whenever I’d come home
He’d greet me at the door.
Having a dog in the house
Would never be a bore.

 

2.

This poem is significant for two reasons: it was the first time I made a conscious decision to write ‘honestly’, and it was written during a period of boredom at work, thereby supporting the principle that writing is a form of escapism born of banal suffering. I was fifteen, it was my first job – earning £2.20ph for basically babysitting the till (although the shop owner seemed to enjoy thinking up fun tasks for us to do:  untangling masses of hangers from ancient, sticky elastic bands/rearranging the window displays into something resembling symmetry, only for her to complain and ‘organise’ it back into the same jumbled heaps/tidying up the towers of cardboard boxes in the stock room etc.). For once, I was working alone, without even the distraction of joking around with the captivating sixth form girl who also did Saturday shifts. I remember sitting behind the counter with the sun beating through the smeary, cluttered shop windows, and catching sight of some yellowing documents among the unsightly junk stashed below the eye-line of paying customers. Inspiration struck out of nowhere and I grabbed a roll of receipt paper in order to scrawl this:

‘Ode to Human Nature’

If I lay here long enough
Would I fade,
Like a book left open in sunlight?

If I lay here long enough
Would I blend in,
Like the crouching army amongst the colours of the wild?

If I lay here long enough
Would people step on me,
Like a cigarette butt crushed beneath the heel?

If I lay here long enough
Would people cease to see me,
Like the man on the kerb with outstretched hand?

If I lay here long enough
Would people imitate me,
Taking up the trend as easily as chants of hate?

If I lay here long enough
Would someone uproot me,
Like an unwanted dandelion that chose to grow,
And bring me forth to explain myself?

Dare I lie here long enough?

 

3.

Continuing the theme of honesty, it’s painful to admit that the second poem I had published was a piece about self-harm. At least I have this defence: the Internet featured far fewer ‘cutter’ poems in 2001 than it does now. With the exception of some nu-metal song lyrics, I’d never read anything about self-harm. Seriously, I believed I was being original…

‘The Bad Thing’

Bright blade even though
they said you were dull
Sharp edge to blunt
the cutting words of the past
Smooth, though life treated you roughly
Help yourself, dig in
slash
slice
slap in the face,
sleep well tonight
Tiny bobble of blood forming into a big deal
as you realise what  you have just done
As it runs down your wrist escaping from your body
you wish you could follow
Wipe it away with a soft piece of tissue
Erase the mistake
Cover it up with skin-coloured comfort
You’re such a mess, an indelible mistake

The edge is cold, as their hearts have always been

 

4.

In 2008 I wrote my first explicit, intense poem about sex. I was pretty proud of myself and discreetly printed off a copy at work to take home and show proudly to my girlfriend, thinking she’d find it flattering and kind of hot. It was almost our third anniversary and she’d put up with a lot from me over the years; I’m highly romantic but my sexual hang-ups are numerous enough to get therapists victory-dancing with pound signs in their eyes, so it felt like a pretty big deal to have engaged with that side of our relationship in poetic form. I handed her the piece of paper, her eyes darted from top to bottom and then she handed it back wordlessly.

Coincidentally, the next day she told me we needed to break up.

‘Digital.is’

i am the glove pup.pet.eeeerrrrrrr

stretching form
around myself

as
dig.it.all
as

weak digits
will allow

the

juice tide
coaxed
into greeting

slide…slide…

…slide…

arrived
suddenly

wearing
alien-flower hybrid
like a sleeve

caught
in a threshing machine

that tightens
contracts
and threatens
to crush

my livelihood
at stake now

must press on
press down
push through

the caverns

steer blind course
around corners

navigating
the bends

a translation beyond love

force
power
violence

i ask myself

when did my role
mutate into this

and at a guess
i’d say

twenty minutes ago
when lust
hijacked your lips

 

5.

Later in 2008 I entered a United Press contest, the subject of which was ‘Inspiration’, and won first prize. It was the first time I ever received money in exchange for my writing, and while knowing £100 doesn’t stretch very far, the concept of a poem being worth £100 (particularly at that time in my life, when I was a heart-broken and, consequently, prolific poet) was a pleasing one. I was so chuffed that I asked the cashier at the bank if she could please photocopy the cheque for me, so that I had permanent, tangible proof that my art might be worth something. The glamour and success of my achievement was tainted a little by the interview I gave for the publishers’ newsletter, as the phone rang when I was on the toilet and I didn’t want to risk missing the call.  Therefore, my concentration was rationed out between answering questions and fighting my need to poo; mortified at the idea of alerting the bloke on the other end to exactly which seat in the house I was occupying. Looking back, this anecdote – talking to the press while having a shit – nearly qualifies me as one of those cool, subversive artist types.

Nearly.

‘Why’

I write poetry
because my mouth
is a traitor,
stumbling away from
the battlefield of speculation,
conversation – overall communication –
and the lack of articulation
would have killed me
long ago if I didn’t.

I write poetry
because my mind
won’t let me
not.

I write poetry
because words
kept me alive
for years
and I feel like
I owe them something;
the attempt to respond
with mutual beauty,
maybe.

Flash Fiction: When Fear Constricts

Posted: June 17, 2014 in Prose

Insomnia

No stranger to a sleepless night. Slumber is evasive, you have to be devious. Fight fire with fire, like they say, although they probably don’t say it to fire-fighters (whoever ‘they’ might be). Creep up on sleep, perhaps swathe yourself in sheep’s clothing and invite sleep to count you. Conduct the brain waves into silence. Ssshhh, library-quiet please. And you lie there staring into blackness – until the blackness panics you into sitting bolt upright and waving your hand in front of your face to test that you haven’t gone blind. Then you lie back down, shaking your head at your own pointless antics. Time to sleep now, you’re ready. Duvet pulled up to chin, legs positioned comfortably, brain gently sliding down the wall. Yesss, it’s happening…

But wait. What was that? Something is wrong with the bedroom. Are you alone? Can you be sure? Yeah. Yeah, of course…um, no. There was a noise, a slithering. Maybe just the room figuratively pulling at its trouser crotch, settling in for the night. Not a problem. Except there it goes again. Was it just the wind outside? Poor wind, the usual suspect (shut up now Nature, some people are trying to sleep). The room feels bigger, shadowy furniture looming. You wonder how this familiar space – the private sanctuary where you sit for hours each evening to watch comedy DVDs and scratch your arse – can have transformed so suddenly into nameless terror.

It’s stupid, you’re being an idiot. There’s nothing there. So it’s okay to move. Make that first move, roll over and turn your back on the NOTHING that is there. You’re safe. You can’t alert NOTHING to your presence. Go. Go. And so over you roll…

You casually stretch out your feet, socks reacquainting themselves with the sheets. The bed covers are bunched up in a solid, unrelenting lump at the end of the bed. Strange, but with a couple of tactical kicks you shift the weight, spread it out across your lower legs. The duvet feels heavier than normal down there; it’s a comforting sensation on this chilly November night.

On the other side of the room, tethered to the wall socket, your mobile phone announces the arrival of a text message by bathing the ceiling in an eerie glow that fades as quickly as it startles. The impulse to sit up, plant your feet on the cold floor and navigate through the dark, loses out to your sluggish brain’s determination to finally fall asleep. Within minutes rhythmic breathing abruptly changes to a guttural wheeze, which gradually fades as you lose consciousness.

Incidentally, the text was from your housemate Mark:

Ru home? Stay calm bt python gt out of tank. Can i check in ur room? Txt bk.