Thursday, 2 April 2015

When there are (almost) no words

The photo below is now famous and rightly so - it shows a four-year old girl in a refugee camp, displaced by the Syrian Civil War, surrendering to a long-lens camera because she thinks it is a gun. There are almost no words for how wong this is, and in how many ways, nor for how angry it makes me (and many, many others). Almost. But it was suggested as a prompt by I am not a silent poet after much discussion about it on their facebook page and so I tried to articulate my anger...

In Atman Camp

I see you, power-hungry man,
stomach full of
belligerence and bile.
I see your guns and tanks,
their barrels,
your ill-concealed excitement
and over-compensation.
I see the lists of dead and wounded,
missing, disappeared,
bodies empty as shell-casings
swept into drifts,
their blue lips
your Viagra kiss.
I see the conquered territory
you piss on,
a few feet here,
a few feet there –
and I feel its never-again
poppy-strewn familiarity.
I see your callow excuses
for why you need a war
and why the suffering,
not yours,
is worth it.

I see all this
in the eyes of Adi Hudea,
one tiny refugee
surrendering to a more benevolent
sort of shot
than the one that took her father,
massacred at Hama.
I see her innocence
taken in infancy,
I see what you have done,
you and all your kind,
and I call you out.

Photo by Osman Sağırlı

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

My First Workshop

OK, I've been to poetry workshops, but that was the first time I'd run one - co-hosting with Ben Lawrence (poet, friend, beard, quidditch champion) on the theme of Oulipo. If you don't know what Oulipo is, it's a contraction of Ouvroir de littérature potentielle which roughly translates as "workshop of potential literature" (so, technically this was a workshop-workshop meta-thingie) where writing constraints are used to inspire new writing. Founded in 1960 by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais, it started as was a loose gathering of (mainly) French-speaking writers and mathematicians who sought to create written works using various constraining techniques. So, think univocalism (only allowing yourself to use one of the vowels) and that kind of thing, often in cool Parisian coffee-houses- highly appropriate as the workshop took place in an independent cafe-gallery albiet in Southampton.

We worked though a variety of tasks and prompts, one of which was to create a snowball poem. This means starting with a single letter as the first line, two letters in line two and so on. You go as far as you want, then, if you wish, back down again to end with a single-letter as the last line. In a spirit of camaraderie, me and Ben did the exercises too. Here's my snowball output:

Snowball Earth

on this
dying orb,
sucked away
to power – what?
Great engines,
arrays that open
spacetime rips to
nowhere, a pure void
vampiric upon solar
energy, and we couldn’t
close it, so our giant
companion star got
cooler and cooler
‘til candle-faint,
a lonely cinder
lost in vacuum
without fuel,
so Earth now
chills and
darkens, a
for all
of our

Well, I got all dystopian and bleak there, but you see how it works... If you like constrained writing you can set yourself whatever rules you wish as long as you enter into the spirit of Oulipo and stick to them rigorously. A great book containing numerous examples is Adventures in Form, and you might like to check out Ross Sutherland's univocalist and N+ (more about that later) works, as well as the famous Eunoia by Christian Bok.'Til then, here's an image of poets attempting Oulipo-ness...

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Patron demon scribblings

Having seen David Robinson performing a series of poems about writing and its associated joys/non-joys, I felt the rumblings of inspiration and this popped into my head - Titivillus is/was the patron demon of scribes, calligraphers etc, blamed for causing errors of penmanship. Hopefully the beastie stayed away while I penned this...

On Titivillus

That most mischievous, knavish
imp of the scriptorium,
tugs at precious vellum, nudges inkwells
to smudge the oak-gall,
smear the costly gold and finest lapis lazuli,
for, a beast of shadows, he hates illumination.

The Master of Novices,
blind to such minor devils,
brings down his birch
upon the crooked knuckles of poor scribes,
holy chastisement for errors of the quill.
But they know where the blame lies,
a fie upon the fiend,
so grumble in scratched black marginalia –
“how cold my hands, how harsh the rod and rule”,
“how miserly the abbot with his coal and candles”;

St. Catherine, look down upon your scriveners,
and deliver them from parchment pricking
scripture copy, dim-lit alcoves,
hard, eye-pinching toil.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Absurdity and Anatidae

Sometimes, I have deeply emotional discussions with poets, sometimes I natter with Helen Ivory and this happens...

Painting waterfowl

If you’re sloppy with your brushes
by the lakeside rushes,
rein in that compulsion
to daub dabchicks with emulsion,
‘cos slapping Dulux onto ducks,
turns quacks into clucks,
teal into chickens,
makes wigeon into pigeons,
and the smew begin to coo,
for when you smear the hydrophilic
birds with wet acrylic
you’ll feel Attenborough’s rage
for each mandarin now beige
and though oiliness of feathers
keeps fowl safe in all weathers,
and though we know that mallards
are gang-bang sexual blaggards,
keep it on the canvas,
not on Anas platyrhynchos,
‘cos it doesn’t mean that you
can slap on Prussian Blue,
or slather geese in scarlet
like aquatic avian harlots
and the swans all plumaged white
don’t need wing and tail highlights,
so hold tight to your gouache,
egg tempura, inky wash
when you’re by the pond or river
and a grebe sends spinal shivers –
for a challenge with your easel,
why not try to paint a weasel?

Friday, 30 January 2015

Setting a benchmark

A work-in-progress... I'm mostly happy with it, but not sure about the last line. Should it end at 'replace' I wonder?

Exclusion principle

who, so the small plaque says,
loved this spot,
you could not have sat here,
for the seat was placed in your memory,
greatly missed by some friend or relative.
Did they share your view
over scrubby downs
and patchy woodland where coppicemen,
smelters and charcoal-burners
once fed those
hungry for iron.

I choose not to sit,
but stay to watch a hornet
scrape pulp for her nest,
taking papier-mâché mouthfuls
of you
from oak slat and upright.

If I return in a ten-year,
will weather, fungus, woodworm,
or vandals at play,
have done their work,
leaving just a level patch of grass
where council employees
tossed your remains into a flatbed,
for it is policy to neither repair
nor replace
deaths marked by furniture.