Some people have asked why this page goes under the name Suffolk Punch. Another paranoid attempt by the author to hide his identity, perhaps? On Facebook, after all, he doesn’t use the name his parents gave him. Well, yes. But if you’d had the problems I’ve had with Facebook, you would have changed your identity too. I’ve had censorship, arbitrary restrictions (even on the number of things I “liked”) – the works.However, you can find my given name there if you look carefully enough. Though most haven’t. I’m like one of Picasso’s harlequin-dressed parachutists; I’m so conspicuous even some of my friends haven’t realised it's me.
You can find my given name and bearded face here just by scrolling down, if you want to badly enough. Using Suffolk Punch was never meant to hide my identity. I just thought it would sound more interesting to browsers than plain old Bruce Hodder. But the name does have personal and poetic significance.
I am from Suffolk. My mother was from Suffolk. And she always talked about her love for Suffolk Punch horses. They were part of her general nostalgia for her home county when she moved away, which she did when she was young. The distinctive chestnut (always chestnut) coloured horses were used for ploughing and her grandfather worked on Suffolk farms. Perhaps she saw him –he looked like a mustachioed version of me, poor soul - behind a team on a visit to the country with her dad. She may even have told me that. I can definitely see it in my imagination; but if existence in my imagination became the hallmark of reality London would be soil and grass again and Dick Turpin would have the main bedroom at the Palace.
So, the Suffolk Punch. A workhorse. Known for its good temperament and excellent work ethic in the commission of grinding labour. Ironic if you know me in what passes for the real world, but perhaps not as a poet/editor/publisher/blogger. I have my blow-ups but I’m generally embarrassed by my conduct afterwards. Embarrassed, and usually too proud to say sorry. Beyond lapses of temper, though, I work. My focus shifts, my talent often goes for a walk, but I don’t stop, even when no one is listening.
In the three years when I couldn’t write poetry, I wrote a novel about care work called Penny’s Farm. I still have the manuscript waiting in a box upstairs for me to inject a little coherence, characterisation and grammar into it. I edited Beatnik for six years, but study and illness finally put paid to that, just as they interrupted my herculean productivity on SP last summer, when the blog almost died through lack of attention. SP survived, clearly, but I thought Beatnik had lost something anyway, when I canned it; that I’d been doing it for too long and misplaced my quality filter, leaving a once-great magazine a shadow of what it had been in its glory days. Eventually I would like to do it again, as a monthly, with someone else to write the rejections.
There are other reasons why I identify with the horses. Mechanisation of farming and industry have made them rare, like poets, like artists, like all individualists. They remind us of a time when life was no easier, perhaps, but a person might have been more free with his thoughts. We have more physical liberty now (well, some of us do), but our minds are in chains. If my great-grandfather did work the ploughs, what did he think of as he rode behind those horses? His belly? His wife? I’m sure he did; but his genes are my genes, and I know that he also would have looked at the clouds, identified the different birds from their songs; I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if he thought of his boss, and dreamt of beating his face off in a brawl at the pub.
Things change, but people don’t; especially in families.
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When she was little my mother had a dog called Punch. A beautiful golden dog, I seem to recall. (It’s been 17 years since Mum died; so much of what she told me has gone from my head now – I hope it’s buried in my subconscious somewhere, and bits of it will float up from time to time like balloons in the air.) She loved that dog, loved it to distraction, and her step-mother killed it because Mum failed to heed a warning to look after it properly.
Here’s the other reason for the name of the blog. Suffolk Punch is the draught horse and the murdered dog, symbolising my aversion to all forms of self-righteous authority, hypocrisy, injustice and violence. Although primarily an arts blog these days, SP will bear down on the Mary Garnhams of the world from time to time and I may do so with disproportionate venom. But normal service will resume by the next post, I promise.