Friday, 21 November 2014

All aboard

After several weeks of writing on some fairly heavy topics (WW1 & macroeconomics in particular), here's a little bit of dirty doggerel about the introduction of a bus run on biogas from human waste and thrown-away food, a short and silly piece about the value of waste which I used as light relief to finish last night's Show Me The Money exhibition-related set.

Poo bus

Humanure and dustbinned food,
fermented dung replacing crude,
unwanted BOGOF don’t just bin it,
join the waste race, better, win it.

Come passengers, roll up investors,
see the new bio-digester,
fed with passed organic crap,
pumps out methane, sewage gas.

Let lorries, coaches, vans and cars,
even speedboats run on farts,
CH4 in every vehicle,
Fuel of the people, faecal,

Our motions give its motive power,
use the rest to grow rose-flowers,
be proud to flush a well-formed do,
and hop aboard the Number Two.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Remembrance when there's no-one to remember

Last night I performed a sequence of new First World War poems as part of Eastleigh Museum's WWI centenary exhibition. Whatever your feelings about the centenary events and remembrance, for many people it is a deeply emotional issue. So, when I was asked to write on this subject I knew it would be difficult, not because of my own feelings, but because (a) the audience was likely to care what I did in a way that probably isn't usually the case, (b) it would be a 'traditional' audience - not what I'm used to, and (c) it risked breaking one of the golden rules, namely 'write what you know about'. I was fairly confident I could take care with (a) and (b) - there are times to seriously challenge an audience, but this was never going to be one of them, so 'contemporary but respectful' was the tone to aim for. However, (c) was tricky. I don't come from a military family, my historical period of choice is early medieval, and 'the horrors of war' were covered by the poets who were actually there - Wilfred Owen and so on - and I have no urge to compete with them! However, after a bit (well, a lot) of thought I came up with the idea of everything being second-hand as no-one who experienced WWI is still alive. Everything we know is from books, recordings, film, photographs, eye-witness accounts, museum artifacts etc. This became the underlying concept for my writing and, even though my set was book-ended by Geoff from the Chameleon Theatre Company reciting a selection of well-known poems of the time (yes, those I didn't want to compete with), the positive reception suggests it worked and I'm happy with the way the set turned out. So, here is the opening poem from my set - I hope you enjoy it.


What is left?
Now all the eye-witnesses have gone
everything is second, third, fourth hand
and so on. Black-and-white photos,
grainy stills from rare films,
clips of aerial reconnaissance
or TV documentaries,
interviews made just in time,
books and files of history and opinion
filling shelf-miles,
terabytes of networked drives,
and artefacts preserved behind museum glass.
Post-bombardment celluloid from Paaschendale,
Photoshopped and mashed up with
War of the Worlds tripods
ignites a YouTube debate about
what is dissing or respectful.
For this is ancient history to most,
something abstracted
on interactive whiteboards,
as homework,
in GCSE revision notes
and weekend battle re-enactments.
The era of slow massed ranks
encouraged by threats
and prods of officers’ revolvers
has passed unmourned
along with Haig and Joffre;
no more suicidal nods
over-the-top tugs
of a thousand, million forelocks,
for ‘our betters’ are passé,
and the post-traumatic
casualties of nerves and mind
have at least been pardoned, still
the idea of some sort of heroism lingers,
the echo of, for good or ill,
our martial ancestry,
all those who chose to fight and fall,
and as poppies fade at last from red to white,
what is left?
Remembrance, not memory, is all.

Monday, 27 October 2014

First thoughts, second part

I spent yesterday in a workshop exploring 'First Thoughts' i.e. Ginsberg's idea that the first thought is the best thought. So, there was a series of exercises and prompts to write poems very quickly - in 5 to 10 minutes generally - to ensure that there wasn't time to revisit the first thought and change it to the second, third fourth and so on. It was a follow-on from a previous workshop on the same topic, and like that one produced a number of genuinely outstanding pieces.

I'm working on a couple of ideas that sprung from the event, and here's one that I produced from the prompt 're-use a line from Long Days by Jean Follain' - I used "next to the worn-out animals" and the idea came from a recent online news story.

In Gaza zoo

In Gaza zoo,
the are no zebras;
the occupiers’ edicts
forbid the import of exotic species
and slowly, the exhibits
dwindle to taxidermy.
But even in Palestine,
kids know what should be on display;
to comply, keepers paint stripes on white donkeys
and children ride upon their backs,
a wire-fenced pleasure-beach,
parading until,
as the gates clang shut,
feral cats emerge
to yawn and stretch
next to the worn-out animals.

I'm quite happy with the story and imagery here, though I may rework it. On other occasions, inspiration let me no further than 'short and silly' as here, written in response to the prompt 'write a poem structured like one of the handouts' - I went with William Carlos Williams' As the Cat (not least because it's short and it was near the end of the day, but also I'm a cat-fan and enjoy sparse poetical structures once in a while). Enjoy... and if you fancy attending a workshop and can get to Southampton or Bournemouth, this is the place to look.

As the man

As Pavlov
rang his bell
and measured

canine salivation
the cat watched

pawing at
its collar-jingle
so the man

on hearing now
lifts his leg
and washes.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

C’mon guys, get over it

I've never really understood why so many men have a problem with women who hold and voice strong opinions – I mean, what do they think’s going to happen? Maybe this is how they think...

C’mon guys, get over it

Feminist, you’re ruthless and unyielding,
those are male traits,
so what are you thinking?
Half the world are girls, so really
women should be soft and touchy-feely
caring souls to make life easy
to a man.
Each time you express a strong-held feeling,
a real opinion,
it sends my sperm-count tumbling, reeling,
the swing of my pendulum limpens and stops,
my cock won’t crow
and I’ve lost two stones,
testosterone falls from the ceiling
to the floor and lies congealing,
then my toughened hide starts peeling.
Acknowledging your mind’s like queering,
my beer turns into weak darjeeling,
my beard’ll soon start disappearing
I’ll admire the songs of Ronan Keating,
so rage against the sexual healing.

Of course none of the above is true,
chaps, what is it that you’re fearing?
No, really, what’s the problem?
Over to you.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

NPD not-blues-but-confused

So, today is National Poetry Day and the theme is rememb...
hang on, what was I doing?
Stewing strong tea or Englishly queueing,
chewing on mischievous thoughts that are brewing,
eschewing Westminster edicts, pooh-poohing
them blue in the face, or crewing
the Good Ship 'Amnesia', post-it notes for renewing
library books, and that firewood needs hewing,
maybe scrapbook gluing for future reviewing
with synapses ruing the passage of time
and losing my m... when's national Poetry Day?