Monday, May 17, 2021


My new poetry collection The Last Time I Saw Ipswich' came out this weekend on Alien Buddha Press. It's a good-looking little volume with flattering blurbs from Andrew Darlington and Bryn Fortey and a great cover by ABP helmsman Red Focks. And on the whole I'm really pleased with it.

This morning, though, reading through the book for the first time since it arrived, I noticed some annoying mistakes I'd made when I submitted the manuscript. 

On page 10, I wrote 'tell' instead of 'telly'.

On page 14, I ended the poem with a comma instead of a full stop.

On page 17, I ended the poem 'as she bought our fish' instead of 'as she bought our fish for tea'. The first is sort of okay, but the rhythm is much better with the second.

What happened, I think, was that I was too focussed on correcting a glaring error I'd made in the final poem -- which was corrected -- and too concerned about getting the book out quickly, to pay proper attention to what I was doing. Or to heed most of the advice of Andrew Darlington, who'd pointed out the blunders in the manuscript. That's a lesson learned.

It's probably not a big deal, or as big a deal as I think it is, because 95% of the poems came out really well. But I wanted the book to be perfect. Instead I sat in the darkness this morning with a copy of it in my hands feeling that I'd let myself down just a little bit.

Monday, May 03, 2021


Bryn Fortey sent me Yann Lovelock's 'The Bordesley Green Hairtique' (X Press, 1980). It's a fantastic little treasure from the pre-internet age: photocopied pictures front and back, stapled, with typed and copied poems inside. For me there's nothing as evocative as a page of typewritten text, especially when you can see letters put down in error and then typed over as you can here. In those days you had to underline a word to give it emphasis as well; italics weren't an option on the typer. You couldn't avoid the occasional disappearance of half a letter either, or a whole word appearing as if you had deliberately made it bold (which wasn't an option, at least as far as I remember). The ribbon was your master before computers swept that age away.

But what about the book itself? The poems inside are mostly prose poems, a medium I've never even tried because the idea seems too daunting. I'm not a critic, so I won't attempt an analysis, especially not on one reading of the book. But the solid observations of the phenomenal (if not the 'real' world) are immensely pleasing:

   The girl in blue denim sitting cross-legged at the corner of Sandford Road is so absorbed the rest of us are abashed as she combs her hair.
                    ('South by West')

I also really appreciate the more abstract and philosophical musings that are prompted by the acuteness of his eye:

   Somewhere within me there persists a fragment of the Great Pyramid. They say every man must swallow a speck of dirt before he dies.

Yann Lovelock was either forty or approaching forty when he wrote this book of poems. I don't know how much success it had at the time, but since success and failure often wear each other's clothes and most people (perhaps me included) wouldn't recognise a good poem from a hole in the ground, the reception a poetry collection gets doesn't really matter.

When I researched Yann this morning - finding to my delight that he is still alive - I did notice that 'Bordesley Green' isn't mentioned in any of the bibliographies. It should be.


Friday, April 23, 2021

The Last Time I Saw Ipswich

This week I finally sent a manuscript I've been working on to the publishers. It's called, tentatively, The Last Time I Saw Ipswich, although I will prostitute myself and call it something else if a publisher insists.

I put the manuscript together at the suggestion of poet Bryn Fortey, who said the poems I've written about my family are my best and that they should be collected somewhere.

It's been a strange, intense and revealing experience. I have learned a lot about myself reading back a group of poems written over 4 or 5 years. The voice in many of them was angry, accusing, cruel, unreasonable, judgemental, immature. I have softened it in many of them, while keeping enough of the original poems to ensure they remain honest to the moment of their writing.

I have also written new poems to reflect what I think is the greater understanding I have now of the things that I have lived through and the events that shaped my life.

That understanding largely comes in realising the universe doesn't exist just for me, it never has, and that the measure of every event I've been a witness to isn't necessarily how it made me feel.

None of us really knows what we're doing when we do it. We live on instinct according to our own temperament and our own experience of life up to that point. And most of the time we get it wrong. In fact, we always get it wrong for someone who comes into our orbit, because everyone has different needs and priorities.

We have to understand that and try to hurt as few people as we can. And most of all we have to be kind. I knew that when I was young and then I forgot it. But I'm giving it my best shot now, while I still have time.

Sunday, March 28, 2021


I'm pleased to be able to say that I have four poems in the next issue of Heroin Love Songs. They're already up at the site, but in a few days you'll be able to buy a print version for your bookshelves.

That's what I'm planning to do. I want it as physical evidence that I'm actually achieving something with all this effort. I also want to read the work of the other contributors. Editor Jack Henry has chosen some really impressive poets for me to nestle in amongst, feeling ever so slightly fraudulent.

Among the poetic talent readers will find Aleathia Drehmer, Linnet Phoenix, Kevin Ridgeway, Brian Rihlmann, Ryan Quinn Flanagan and Luis Cuauthemoc Berriozabal. Other names are less familiar to me, but I'm sure they'll be regulars on my reading list once I get to know them in HLS. A good editor always attracts the best contributors.

Thursday, March 25, 2021


I spent four or five hours yesterday preparing a poetry submission. I don't know what getting subs together is like for other poets, but for me it always takes a long time because I want to be absolutely sure I've got the right poems for the magazine or website I'm submitting to; I also have to be sure that the poems are as good as they can possibly be, with no lapses in rhythm or slack phrases, no bad grammar that I can't justify as experimental poetics. I'm tremendously insecure about everything I do as well, so once I've completed every job I set myself prior to submission, I'm usually stricken with doubt and gripped by a compulsion to look over everything again. Which isn't great for someone who has blinding headaches and seizures when they read for too long.

It happened that way yesterday (not the seizure part, mercifully, but the rest of it). So did something which other poets have told me they experience: as soon as I hit the 'send' button on my email I realised there was a line in one of the poems that I needed to change. This happens to me constantly and it drives me insane. But you can't send a pleading email to the editor. He or she probably gets twenty or thirty emails from poets a day and has neither the time nor the patience to nursemaid your insecurities. They might hate all of your poems anyway, which makes the request to tweak a line in one of them rather redundant.

Monday, March 01, 2021


This poem, just finished, was a response begun years ago to a long night of argument with a man who called himself a Christian but belonged to an extreme, politically conservative wing of the religion characterised by its incredible, nauseating intolerance. Which has nothing to do at all, as far as I know, with the message of peace, love and universal compassion taught by Jesus. If you stick with the poem, you'll see I'm not mocking Christianity so much as rationalised bigotry and hatred.



Tonight the imbeciles are out in force.

You've wittered on for hours (you’re still not hoarse)

about Heaven, Jesus' resurrection.

You’ve laughed at natural selection.


You’ve flashed your beatific Christian smile

and said humanity is sinful, while

expressing certainty that you’ve been saved.

You’ve told me alcoholics are depraved;


condemned all junkies; said they’re criminals.

You've claimed low earners lack the wherewithal

to make their own luck as you have done,

a leafy middle-class suburban son.


I’ve offered arguments, annoyed and bored,

but you’ve continued. You have too much Lord

to give up at five hours, six or seven.

It’s your job to drag lost souls to Heaven.


And yet the torch of God inside you fails

porn stars, pole dancers, thieves and Muslim males,

and women who abort their unborn child.

They, more than anybody, you’ve reviled.


You’ve asked how many times we must forgive.

You’ve said there is decay; that how we live's

corrupt, where it was clean as spring rain, pure,

in the Fifties, when nobody would lock their door,


and upright girls never masturbated.

(But gay men were poisoned and castrated.)

If you've been trying to recruit me, man,

you've failed. We've ended where we both began.


Perhaps your Heaven might make sense to me

and other Heathens if we didn’t see

such bigotry in you. ‘Judge not,’ God warns,

unless you want to meet the bloke with horns.


Perhaps you'd take a few more strays to glory

if you didn’t sound like such a Tory,

and one Charles Dickens might have recognised:

all church, hard work and healthy exercise.


Being black, you say, makes you a Labour man.

I've told you twice, I don't see how you can

be, thinking welfare should be cut long-term:

one year, perhaps or ‘they’ will never learn


to get up off their backsides like you did;

‘they’ll’ make a soft life on the dole instead.

No Labour person would ever think that way,

and I doubt that Christ would ever speak of ‘they’.


All true adherents of the great faiths know,

and frankly I shouldn’t have to tell you so,

‘they’, mate, are ‘we’ and ‘we’ is only ‘I’

a billion billion people multiplied.


When you stand singing at your local church

with the monied Baptists, have you ever searched

your Bible, and found a passage, even one,

where God says, 'Hey, you're rich, salvation done?'


I think you'll find it's 'Give it to the poor',

and when I say I think, I mean I'm sure.

I think you'll find it's 'Heaven’s gates are shut

to greedy and self-righteous bastards but


don’t worry, there’s another place for you.

It’s warm year-round and full of preachers too.'


























Friday, February 26, 2021


As artists, we understand that we've really made it creatively when we find what might be called our own voice. That could mean any number of things, but for me it means writing poetry that reflects my own sensibility in a style that isn't imitative of anybody else. Sometimes it also means incorporating my lived experience, which since it is my own, is obviously unique. I've achieved it a few times, although I fail more often than not. But finding your own voice in poetry is hard. There are the pervasive ideas of the age to contend with, and since all of us succumb occasionally to the presenteeism that makes us feel validated, there is the desire to play the game sometimes just to be published.

Your voice, of course, begins with the people who influenced you. My first great poetry hero was probably Jim Morrison, if by 'poet' we understand someone who calls himself poet and romanticises himself in that way. I'd already been interested in Bob Dylan by the time I discovered the Doors, but Dylan didn't talk about himself that way, not then; I'm not sure he ever really has.

The first poetry though, for me, was Augustan satire, particularly Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope, and I've never lost my love for it. I've never met anyone who shared my love for it either. I suspect that even in Academia the Augustans are seen as primarily comics, entertainers, and therefore of a lower order artistically. The poems are really bloody long as well, so reading them takes patience

Through Dylan, and particularly his film 'Renaldo & Clara', I discovered Allen Ginsberg and the Beats. That would have been in 1982 or '83, on that memorable night when the new Channel 4 showed the full, uncut version of Dylan's movie for the first and only time. I recorded it on my mum's VCR and played it endlessly. Who was this strange, bespectacled, bearded, awkward, interesting Allen Ginsberg? Who was Jack Kerouac?

My local library answered those questions in the next few months. I read 'Howl' and attempted 'Kaddish' in an American poetry anthology. I boldly took on 'Visions of Cody' (and lost). It was at my favourite library table that I first tackled Ezra Pound's Cantos as well. I've still only mastered a small number of them, although I think the attempt would be worth it for someone who had more time left than me. I don't share the anti-intellectualism that abounds in the poetry world, where so much is dismissed just because it requires a little investigation.

That wasn't always the case, of course. Ginsberg was radical and a classicist. Snyder was a scholar of the first order. So was Ed Sanders. Chris Torrance, on our side of the ocean, was flat-out brilliant. But something happened -- probably several things -- in the late Sixties / early Seventies to make study seem suspect. And one of the things that happened was Charles Bukowski. 

I remember my first encounter with Bukowski's persona, if not his poetry. It was when the film 'Tales of Ordinary Madness' was released on VHS. I didn't like the film or the central character, so I doubt I would have rushed out to buy a book in the succeeding days. And when I finally read Bukowski's poetry, whenever that was, I didn't like it either, although I learned to. It seemed simplistic to me at first, and the voice in the poems affected -- Hemingway crossed with Mickey Spillane.

But as I say, I learned to like it, though he was never my favourite. I read all the books. I even absorbed a feeble approximation of his style. It's a common mistake made by people who appreciate his work. It made mine utterly fake, and it pleased quite a few editors.

Leaving aside the fact that imitation is artistically nullifying, I couldn't write like Bukowski, whose age we seem to have been stuck in for some time now (it's more of a post-Bukowski age, perhaps, but his influence still towers over everyone). I can't write like Kerouac either, or Ginsberg, or Brautigan, or Jim Morrison, or Todd Moore, or anyone else for that matter. And do you know something?  At this stage of my writing life I no longer want to. 

I am not any of those people. I don't drink because of my epilepsy, but even when I did I was more of a social drinker than a heavy drinker.  Most alcoholics are crashing bores. I think sentimentalising about the school of life and imagining it creates sharper minds and more immediacy in poetry is nonsense. Most poetry produced by those without degrees is as imitative and dull as the poems of those with degrees. I don't like boxing, I think prostitutes are victims of a misogynistic socio-economic system and I think anybody who commits the common small press error of romanticising bullfighting should go into the ring unarmed and face a raging, snorting, angry bull.

Violence and existential angst might well be the lived experience of some poets. If it is then writing about it is fair enough, though you would hope they might do so without stealing the language and imagery of other poets. Neither state is my lived experience. I lead a simple, non-violent life on a relatively peaceful street surrounded by beautiful trees and supportive, amiable neighbours. I have very little money but I don't want any more than I have. Give me food on my plate and a new book to read whenever I'm done with the last and I'm happy. Let Michelle be beside me and I will never question my place on Earth. And I believe that the vast majority of people are good. It is governments who manipulate and exploit divisions between neighbours and communities. Any other view seems self-indulgent to me. 

That's why I write these poems the way I do. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021


I am delighted to say I've had a poem accepted for publication at Bombfire  

I've been lucky so far this year, placing poems in the first four issues of Tom Blessing's new print venture Roadside Raven Review as well.

Now I have to refine a few poems for another submission and get a manuscript together containing my best published poems of last year. I managed to place 25 or 30, so that would make for a nice little volume. (I also managed to get a batch of poems rejected in 20 minutes by Beatnik Cowboy, so don't think I'm boasting.)

The problem with assembling a manuscript is finding the time. Other people do it, so it's clearly not impossible. But I'm on too much of a roll with the writing at the moment to want to dissipate my energy with another activity, however connected it is. I'm worried the Muse will leave town again.

I'll get to the book when the poetry takes a holiday, unless a publisher asks for a book, like last time.

(N.B. My poem is scheduled to appear at Bombfire on March 13th.)

Thursday, January 28, 2021


Going through my files tonight I found a poem I wrote about the death of Margaret Thatcher. It's never been published anywhere before.


(Northampton 13/4/13)


The Union Jack is flying low

today outside the Courts

marking the death of Margaret

on whose behalf they fought.


They screwed the rainbow travellers

and gays and peace protestors

and gave my union rights away

to company directors.


And every time I tried to march

to show them my frustration

a copper clubbed me, and became

the hero of the nation.


The Courts of Law have always been

protectors of the rich

once Margaret’s, now Cameron’s

and corporate Britain’s bitch.


The small man gets a crumb sometimes

to keep him from rebelling

and then he’s taxed for harbouring

a spare room in his dwelling.


The Union flag is flying low

where rich folk practise law

conspiring to dispossess

the hungry and the poor.


The Union Jack is flying low

the country is in mourning

the Courts of Law should bitterly

lament their own suborning.


The Union Jack is flying low

it hangs limp in the rain

to mark the death of Margaret

and justice just the same.

Monday, December 07, 2020


I was walking down Kettering Road to get my medication from Parklands Pharmacy this afternoon when I started feeling ill. It began as an awareness, a creeping awareness, that something wasn't right inside. I didn't know what, but it had happened before, sometimes with bad results.

I began to panic, at least vaguely. Then I had a queasy feeling somewhere between my stomach and my chest. When I looked at the steady flow of passing cars I realised my brain was giving unusual attention to the number plates. I wrenched it away, knowing when I do this a seizure is coming. I consciously shut off the noisy music playing in my head too. When the storm is coming, you have to try to be absolutely still and quiet inside, however afraid you are.

While all this was going on -- this silent, invisible struggle -- I walked. But I had to slow down. I thought I might vomit if I didn't. I debated with myself whether to keep going to the chemist, or turn around and go home, where I would be safer. I looked ahead of me, scouting for somewhere I could go and crouch if a collapse was imminent. I spotted an overgrown, bushy fence with a wide grass verge in front of it. 'There,' I thought. I could see myself clearly, on my back having a seizure in the frosty grass, cars still streaming by, though I knew someone, at least, would stop.

It was just as far home now as it was to the chemist. So I continued walking, defiantly, maybe stupidly, still afraid even though my symptoms were subsiding.

Nothing happened this time. Well, let's say it didn't get any worse. Feeling scared and lonely as I did -- the loneliness is indescribable when you know you might collapse in public -- that's enough of a thing for one day. But next time, or the one after that, it could be a seizure, and every time I have a seizure I could die. My hope is that people will understand these things when they wonder why I'm not the same man anymore.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Northampton Keeps Its Best Venues...For Now.

found image, artist unknown

I was delighted to hear the other day that two important venues in Northampton have been thrown a lifeline in their struggle to survive the economic hardship of the pandemic. Roadmender and the Lab will both receive grants from the government's Cultural Recovery Fund. Natalie Norris of Roadmender is quoted in the local paper the Chron as saying that the money will help them keep the doors open for another six months. I presume it will have a similarly beneficial effect on the immediate future of the Lab. 

I have a small history with both places. I saw Hawkwind play at Roadmender on a spectacular double bill with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown. I also saw a band called Nik Turner's Space Ritual. Nik Turner used to play with Hawkwind, so you can see what kind of musical head I had on in those pre-epilepsy days. I can't go to most indoor gigs anymore because flashing lights give me seizures. (Epilepsy warnings at live shows, anyone?) Another band I saw at Roadmender was Polyphonic Spree. Or I think it was there. It may have been in Birmingham. As Bob Dylan would say, 'A lot of water under the bridge / A lot of other things too.'

Everybody in Northampton knows Roadmender even if they haven't been there. It's a big white-walled building that sits prominently on the corner of Lady's Lane. You see it from the road when you're heading up to Kingsthorpe, towards Semilong or when you're coming in the other direction travelling towards the bus station or the rail station. The Lab, on Charles Street, is probably less well-known but in terms of the cultural life of Northampton, I think it's more important.

I went to a poetry and music night at the Lab when it was still called the Labour Club. Raising The Awen was organised by the folks who brought us the annual Bardic Picnic; its purpose was to encourage poets and spoken word artists to share their work in an uncritical, non-competitive environment. Musicians came along too. It wasn't for me in the end because I have too much angst about reading in public, even in a supportive arena like the Labour Club was; I'm a wallflower. But the nights were good ones and the club has continued to support poetry and the singers and bands in the Northampton area ever since. I believe I'm right in saying it's largely volunteer-run as well.

A town that's suffering like Northampton, with businesses going to the wall and Covid deaths multiplying again, needs its culture. And the longer the mess we're in continues, the deeper the need for that culture will go. It's good that venues like the Lab and Roadmender will survive for a few months more so that the musicians and the poets might one day have somewhere to play again.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

'Years of Poetical Prosing': John Clare and the Shoe Town Tradition

At least two great poets are associated with the county I live in, Northamptonshire. One is John Dryden, who grew up in Titchmarsh and has his figure carved into the wall of the Northampton Public Library on Abington Street. Dryden wrote the brilliantly nasty poem MacFlecknoe which was the first poem I remember really enjoying; we studied it in A Level English at Tresham College in Kettering.

The second poet is John Clare, whose reputation has waxed as Dryden's has waned. He is known as The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet, although because of administrative changes the village of his birth, Helpston, previously inside the county boundary, now falls under the City of Peterborough Unitary Authority. Clare spent 23 years - the last years of his life - at the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, now St. Andrew's. Dr. Fenwick Skrimshore, who admitted Clare, attributed his illness to 'years of poetical prosing.' God help us all.

Clare is now celebrated as one of the great sons of Northampton. His statue sits - curiously - in the Guildhall courtyard where very few people see it except council officers on their lunchbreaks. But there is also a plaque directing tourists to All Saints Church, where Restoration King Charles II stands on the portico like a slightly effete Roman Emperor, gazing down Gold Street towards Wilko and the Salvation Army shop. Clare liked to sit outside All Saints, or so Tourist Information tell us. I have sat outside the church myself quite often trying to think myself into his world, his time, wondering exactly where he sat, this small, probably very intense, rumpled man. Even the effort of that makes you feel a sort of kinship with him.

In this generation Northampton has many poets. My personal favourite is Jimtom James, whose performs his poetry - pandemics notwithstanding - with a small band accompanying him. Jimtom's poems work equally well as spoken word pieces, and on the page, which isn't always the case with poetry. I won't attempt to describe them. I don't have the critical vocabulary, and that's not surprising: his poetical voice seems entirely original to me. How can you describe something that you've never encountered before, other than in the broadest terms? His poems are like spells. But not really. His poems are manifestos. But they're not at all. His poems are prayers. Yes, some. But not like in church. Jimtom's poems remind me best of Keats' metaphor of a pool of water (or is it a lake?). When you dive in, you don't try to understand the water, you swim.

A few years ago now, he and I went to spend some time with other John Clare enthusiasts at Clare's statue. I think it was for National Poetry Day. My wife Michelle came too. Everybody was invited to celebrate Clare by reading their favourite poem of his. Jimtom did; I didn't. I was too shy, even though the number of people there was small. But I was glad I'd attended. It occurred to me as I sat and watched that in different ways Jimtom and I were inheritors of the tradition begun by Clare, if not by the much less sympathetic and appealing Dryden. He had passed a torch to us and we were still doing the work, Jimtom most powerfully with his concern for the preservation of the natural world and our host planet.

Whether of us would have been able to bear Clare as a companion for too long, especially once he started talking about politics, is another matter entirely. Clare, by all accounts, was conservative in his outlook, although I suspect those labels might have had different shades of meaning at the time of the Industrial Revolution.

'I am as far as my politics reaches 'King and Country' – no Innovations in Religion and Government say I.' (John Clare)

Saturday, September 26, 2020

The Trial of the Chicago Seven (Well, Eight)

Aaron Sorkin's new Netflix movie 'The Trial of the Chicago 7' arrives on our screens in October. In the present climate, it's going to be a timely piece. The film is set in 1968, when the Vietnam War and institutionalised racism were dividing America much as it is divided today. At the Democratic Convention in Chicago that year, the police famously ran riot and viciously assaulted hundreds of young people who had come to the city to protest against the war. Although the motivation of those who came was more various and complex than that. Poet Ed Sanders saw the assembly of youth in the streets and parks of Chicago as a 'Festival of Life' that would act as a kind of karmic counterweight, in its affirmative message, to the hawkish warmongering inside what he called the 'Democratic Death Convention'.

Britannica suggests that the reason for the brutal attack by the police on the young people who'd come to the city was the attempted enforcement of an 11pm curfew, which the protestors refused to comply with. The city, run by the notorious Mayor Daley, denied the groups in attendance permits to all marches and rallies except an afternoon rally in Grant Park. Unsurprisingly, given that they had nowhere else to go, about 15,000 people turned up, but when they tried to march out of the park they were intercepted by police in a manner so violent Sandi Thompson revealed that it made her husband Hunter weep. He was in Chicago for the Convention. I've always believed his seething hatred of Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie, which flowered magnificently in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, took root during that campaign.

Julius Hoffman

Hundreds of people were arrested during the police riots that lasted, in total, five days and nights, among them eight significant political activists and counter-culture leaders. And in the trial that followed, which is the subject of the film, Judge Julius Hoffman and the Prosecution did everything they could to have the defendants jailed.  Everything legal and everything that pushed the law to breaking point. I've known about the trial for years because I am a fan of Allen Ginsberg, who testified for the Defence (though his testimony is not shown in the film). And yet the last time I saw the 1987 play Conspiracy: The Trial of the Chicago 8, it still shocked and angered me, even though I knew what was coming.

Bobby Seale

The film is titled differently from the play because Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers was severed from the case by Hoffman and sentenced to four years for contempt of court. Eight, therefore, had become seven. Why? Denied the right both to be defended by the lawyer of his choice or to defend himself, Seale was understandably furious:

[…] Those jive lying witnesses up there presented by these pig agents of the government […] lie and say and condone some rotten racists, fascist crap by racist cops […] I demand my constitutional rights!

Seale's reward for those comments, initially, was to be bound and gagged and made to sit in the courtroom as proceedings continued. This lasted for several days before Seale was finally removed. Even watching a group of actors play out this moment is profoundly distressing. To think that it happened in real life, in our time (mine anyway), boggles the mind. I don't know if the history of the Black Panthers is taught in American schools; I'm pretty sure it isn't in the UK. But in the era of Black Lives Matter, after the murder of George Floyd and the outrageous exoneration of the cops involved in the death of Breonna Taylor - at a time when cities in the US are burning with the need for racial justice - the spectacle of a black man being humiliated deliberately by a judge who the current president would invite to dinner might possibly prove incendiary.