November 04, 2011

Between Two Worlds: Teacher's Notes for David Morley's 'Taken Away'

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Taken Away


Taken Away

The mother places her baby at the waterfall’s brim.

She waits for the moon’s climb.

They’d been hard at the hay with a blunt scythe between them

circling and slashing for hours under blanking sunlight

with the cradle nestled and nooked on the one hayless place.

They’d had their breakfast, porridge and milk and tea,

scones, cheese, whatever they had. Their picnic things

were scattered on the green knowe around the cradle

as if plates and pots and pans had been tossed out by the baby.

The wife shadows her husband with a wide wooden rake

weaving and whirling his handwork as he worries the hay loose.

You know how a man makes bouts of hay with a scythe

and round and round the field in close and closing spirals

he rounds on the hayless knowe and that one white cradle

with cups and greaseproof wrappings pallid with butter;

like a maze of mauve leading into a green eye and an unseen

staring gap among the eye’s blades. Some small wind shoves

the grass as if a snake were sidling.         The parents are heads down.

Their muscles move with each other as if they were making love.

Round he goes, and round she goes, a buzzard’s marriage

on a thermal. Then a cry goes up as if the soil were screaming

or the wind were wounded on nails of brittle straw. A cry

neither parent has heard and cannot stem with any known thing,

not milk or love or kiss or words or food. The young doctor

from across the glen hears the child’s call across five miles.

He rides towards it as if the cry were a fire rising in the fields

but all his knowledge’s clear water will not quench the child.

And so it goes for the fever of three thickening months

except at the wick of midnight when the baby closes down

as if his switches had been thrown, or some wires scissored

in his throat. Tethered by their child, the parents thaw into sleep

only to freeze awake at dawn as the cry bursts back alight.

Folk keep away. Folk catch that cry in their cattle’s eyes; taste

its scum in their milk and mutton.   

At summer’s flow, the postman

deaf with listening to a lifetime’s stories, strode into their cottage,

downed a dram, and drank the scene into his memory: salt water

damming a child’s throat, a cry that would not cease for love.

He stayed with him all day. The parents scrammed for provisions

and the cure of quiet. As the door slammed and their footfalls

slapped into the lane, the postman turned to the baby and the baby

sat up asking if they had gone and, if his parents had gone

would that now mean he could get up at last—and get up he did

as if he were a young man sternly sick of his own board and bed.

He could stand and speak. The child’s voice was dark and thrown

as if four corners of the room were talking with him or through him.

The child clenched the whiskey bottle and downed enough to throw

a horse. He drew a long straw and slit it to the note of a flute.

Then he played the long day through, making the postman drink

deeper and harder than he had the head or height or heart for.

A moon widened on the windows; a garden gate squeaked

cringing on its hinges; the parents poured through the door

to find their child crying in his cot like a seal left on some low ledge

of the Atlantic; and the postman pointing at him, adrift or bereft.

‘He’s not here, your child. He’s not anywhere. He’s taken away.

He told me everything, how you left him to the cloud and sky,

left him to the harebell and the grasshopper and the cow parsley,

left him in grazed gaps between grass, to skylark and to hoverfly,

while you worked, if that’s what you were doing.’       They knew

one cure, one pure matter passed from their grandmothers.

When midnight massed itself over breakers and shore,

when the tide of the day had flown, mother, father and friend

headed by torchlight up the headstream on the high moor.

The mother slides her fairy-baby towards the waterfall’s brink,

taut-shawled, his baby arms pinioned like a wrapped cat.

The child’s mewling, breathing the breath of the chilled spray

slaping up from the trout-brown pool at the fall’s foot.

The father and their friend are behind her, egging her on,

baying that it’s for the best, that their child isn’t in the child.

The moon bends a bow behind a cloud-castle then shoots

its light-arrow through a slit across the waterfall’s rim.


October 25, 2011

'It Dives into the Burly Water'



That kingfisher jewelling upstream

seems to leave a streak of itself behind it

in the bright air. The trees

are all the better for its passing.

It’s not a mineral eater, though it looks it:

it doesn’t nip nicks out of the edges

of rainbows. – It dives

into the burly water, then, perched

on a Japanese bough, gulps

into its own incandescence

a wisp of minnow, a warrior stickleback.

- Or it vanishes into its burrow, resplendent

Samurai, returning home

to his stinking slum.

Norman MacCaig

October 19, 2011

The Lucy Poem


‘The Lucy Poem’. Most environmental research depends on the establishment of a time-line: how far back in the history of the planet can we go to find information that we can analyse in order to make reasonable predictions? And, taking these historical timelines together, how do they interact and inter-twine? I first found myself writing about the future until I realised that such images neither consoled nor could describe accurately the climatic possibilities opening before us. The science of global warming alerts us to the realisation that such catastrophes lie behind us in history as well as before us; that everything affects another thing; and that, however much we have transformed them, climate conditions are beyond good and evil—our weather is not a moral climate. In order to find a truer time-line for writing a poem about global warming, I began thinking about previous climatic transformations, and how our ancestral species dealt with them. I settled on the story of ‘Lucy’, the famous Australopithecus afarensis of Ethiopia dating to 3.2m BC, the heart of the Pleiocene Era. Who were her family or tribe and what were their stories? Where was ‘Lucy’ going the day she died? In her mind - and it was likely to be a considerable mind - how might ‘Lucy’ narrate the world around her? Her world and that of other creatures of her time (including large predatory civets and mass populations of antelope) were under unimaginable threat. Unlike us, ‘Lucy’ knew nothing about it nor could she or her kind have done anything to prevent the coming changes. Our evolution came about because the world of ‘Lucy’ was utterly transformed - the activity of nearby supernovae caused the destruction of the ozone layer. The changes wrought to the planet tipped the Pleiocene era into the Pleistocene. What ‘Lucy’ left behind for us to unearth was her presence, not her name. Her presence was the story, a time-line that predicted our own present. The story and name of ‘Lucy’ represents our story but with these differences: we have a time-line, we possess a little knowledge, and we know that our ability to continue the story of our own species lies in our hands.

October 06, 2011

Moment When a Poetry Happens

RIP Steve Jobs

October 03, 2011

Of Fire Damage

You were broken

for Les Murray

The amazed, massing shade
for the glacial valley, made
from a single araucaria
that smashed its way
by micrometers of birth-push
under five centuries of dusks
of carbon dioxide and rainfall,
while the volcanic rocks made landfall
against its unrolled, harbouring roots;

and the roots took the rocks in their arms
and placed them, magically,
like stone children, about itself
as it unfolded its fabulous tale:
of the wood heart mourned to flint
by slow labour and loneliness,
by what it could not reach, yet see
at distance, and of the sound of that sea,
and of the cruel brightness

of butterflies and grasses,
foreknowledge of their brevity,
of a heard stream, overhearing
prints of otters on its plane stones,
gold wagtails sprying over
the gravel and shallows of courtship;
of orange blames of gall-wasps, honey fungus,
the watch-turning of tree-creepers;
of blights of summer lightning,

of fire damage and that dark
year’s mark worn secretly,
a ring, forged inside a ring;
then the winter’s coronation closing
in a swaying crown of redwings,
cones, drab diagonals of pine-fall,
the lead winds hardening, and while
the stone children wept with rain
the great tree sheltered them.

As I have written elsewhere, complexity is what writers pass through to gain simplicity and clarity, and this poem represents that journey for me. It opens on an image of an araucaria in a poem of the same title by the Italian poet Ungaretti, but then unfolds its own complex, interweaving storyline. The poem is stripped to clear images and winds through one sentence of one hundred and ninety-five words. You Were Broken is a poem about the complexity of connectivity; biological connectivity but also the intricacy and vulnerability of emotional connections. In some ways it’s a terribly lonely poem, but also a poem about companionship even if the tree’s companions are stones. To finish: any poem should be the visible part of an iceberg. As Hemingway put it, the knowledge a writer brings to the creation of a literary work is the unrevealed submerged section of that same iceberg. The passage from complexity to simplicity is about making sure most of that hidden iceberg remains invisible.

August 01, 2011

Matt Merritt reviews Enchantment with panache

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He is fabulous with thyme also

Enchantment, by David Morley

Carcanet, 2010, £9.95

Recent years have seen David Morley mining a rich seam of inspiration from his Romany background – the results, in terms of both quality and quantity, have been enough to make any poet envious. This latest volume shows no sign of a drop-off in either department.
Enchantment does exactly what it says on the cover, fully living up to every sense of that word. In the modern sense, it draws the reader in immediately, delights and intrigues, and doesn’t stop doing so until you put it down.
To do so it draws heavily on worlds of myth and magic (as in the Latin incantare), and most importantly, it sings (cantare). The straightforward simplicity of the title is reflected in poetry that’s serious, ambitious and challenging, but never wilfully obscure.
Its early poems celebrate both friendship and the natural world, and as you’d expect from an ecologist, Morley has a sharp eye and a knack for exact, economical phrasing to conjure it up for the reader.
He also has a gift for evoking nature in a far more impressionistic way, though. In Chorus, a favourite at recent readings, there’s a sparrow sorting “spare parts on a pavement” for every turnstone doing “precisely what is asked of them by name”.
Enjoyable as they are, though, these poems are merely the warm-up before the main event, the “lit circle” in which Romany myths and circus stories are unfolded in sparkling, shimmering language.
This section contains the highlights of the collection, for me. There’s Hedgehurst, telling the story of a half-human, half-hedgehog creator-king, The Circling Game, in which a blacksmith creates a girl from fire, and Spinning, which considers the whole process of story-telling and translation of experience into words, bristling with lines such as:

What’s fabulous might be a hedgehog spiny with rhyme
or a bride born from gnarled nouns. What’s fabulous might be
darkness drowsing over a woman of words beside a waterfall
of words. What’s fabulous might be an anvil hammered white-hot
with hurt, or Lippizans held or hurtling on the harness of a verb.

Now while the Romany background is much in evidence, for me these pieces also recalled Anglo-Saxon poetry and (appropriately enough for the Midlands-based Morley) the Gawain poet in their heavy use of alliteration and their physicality. That’s a difficult knack to pull off – however much I like it, I’ll admit that in some Anglo-Saxon poetry, the metre makes it very difficult for the language to really take flight – so all the more credit to Morley for keeping his lines so supple. Passages such as this, from The Circling Game, beg to be read aloud for the sheer pleasure of the sound:

The masters stank of rancid bank-notes. Their palms were plumy.

Their palms were planed purple with done deals and sure things.
John played a circling game with the horse masters, sending

himself off when wanted most, shying on the end of a lunge line
of their flattery, letting himself be talked back to the fair with a drink

before coming back and laying out the tackle and terms of his trade.

It adds up to an intoxicating brew, and I’ll go back to that word ‘fabulous’ that’s so crucial to the passage quoted from Spinning. As with his collection’s title, Morley’s good at getting you to consider a word’s whole lineage – he takes you back to an older meaning while keeping all its current connotations alive.

I’ll be surprised, and disappointed, if this book doesn’t end up in the running for one of the big awards this year, but regardless of whether or not it does, it’s a superb piece of work. Read it.

July 18, 2011

The Boston Review on Enchantment

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Review of David Morley's Enchantment - Paul Daniel Franz, Boston Review, April 2011

Enchantment is the final installment of a trilogy which David Morley introduced with 2002's Scientific Papers. Like its predecessors, Enchantment combines the interests of a naturalist - Morley trained as a zoologist - with themes and language derived from Morley's Romani heritage. Though less overtly experimental than The Invisible Kings - the second installment, which arrived in 2007 - Enchantment exhibits a range of formal interests, especially in the recursive properties of anaphora and the pantoum, as well as an increasingly Swinburnian phonemic playfulness: 'Cockerels were volleying vowels from valley to valley.' In another poem, this style seems to echo in aural effects what poets as ancient as Lucretius have imagined in matter, 'particles / that swerve through this under-space like quiet comets.' Cognate with such imagery of dissolution and recombination is the book's focus on the ongoing history of the Roma and their language, which have both long depended on their readiness to transform. Inevitably, the book's catalogue of particles includes ashes - recalling both the genocides of World War II and Romani funeral custom. But, in this world of quasi-fantasy, where historical suffering can be reclaimed through folklore, the emphasis is on restitution. The book's emblematic fairy tale shows a blacksmith reviving a girl by working her ashes on an anvil, explaining, 'Love's the craft of it.' The love of language displayed throughout these poems makes Enchantment live up to its name; its limits are often merely the limits of charm.

Another Excellent Review of Enchantment

Writing about web page

Enchantment, by David Morley

By on February 25, 2011

David Morley’s poetry collection opens with a sonnet-sequence, written in memory of a friend of his. Although they have the requisite 14 lines Morley’s sonnets depart from tradition in a number of ways with line-lengths of around 15 to 20 syllables, and lacking end-rhymes, but building internal patterning with assonance and half-rhyme. The quality of the writing in these short pieces is particularly striking and they are poems which the poet’s background as a naturalist shows through to good effect. The evocation of, for example, an Alaskan Salmon, is as powerful and fully realised as the faunal observations of Ted Hughes or Alice Oswald, while his specialist knowledge prevents the pieces from slipping into the all-too-easy Romanticism of ‘nature poetry’. This is also true in the poem which follows the sonnet-sequence: ‘The Lucy Poem’. The title alludes to Wordsworth’s famous Lucy poems, but the eponymous subject in this case is not a young girl but rather the 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton. In content, these opening poems are far from typical of the collection, with the majority of the pieces in the collection concerning the world of Romany gypsies, both their day-to-day experiences and their myths, with the line between the two becoming intriguingly blurred at many points.

The Romany section of the book begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, based on a traditional story concerning a being which is half hedgehog and half human. The poem is spoken by the Hedgehurst in an incantatory tone which at times recalls Geoffrey Hill’s earlier work: “I was space between an axe-edge / and the oak’s white wound.” This is the most lyrical of the Romany poems, the others becoming at times more narrative in tone, at others more directly spoken. The sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, for example, uses monologues by a series of circus workers to take us behind the scenes of that aspect of Romany life in which we are most likely to have encountered them; from ringmaster, to clown, to strongman. The poems do not shy away from the darkness behind the circus, and feel authentic in their blend of pride and realism. In fact, darkness is the presiding hue of the Romany poems. Tradition is celebrated, but Morley is keen to remind us of the hatred many have felt towards gypsies both historically and through to the present day. As with Morley’s previous two books (Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings) in this loose trilogy, the oral roots of poetry are fore-grounded. The poems remind us of their connection to both magic and to making, as the mythic intertwines with the artisan. In language and in content these are startling creations and a powerful conclusion to the sequence.

July 12, 2011

Excellent Reviews of Enchantment

Edward above Lyme

Order copies of Enchantment at

By Nisha Obano in Poetry Review, 101: 2, Summer 2001

‘Morley’s poetry evokes with enormous skill and sensitivity the many ways in which ecological changes affect our economic and social lives…Enchantment is a profound and tender work which confirms Morley’s place at the helm of British poetry today’.

By Julia Bird in Magma, Vol, 50, Summer 2010

‘David Morley[‘s]…inheritance and ongoing research has given him access to stories, histories and language which are unfamiliar to most of his non-Romani readers and, in writing them up for us, he offers us a genuine thrill of discovery. Too many times, I’ve seen poets with Three Book Gravitas turn for the first time to the Greek myths in order to sub out their current disquiets to those overstretched archetypes. Sometimes, I don’t want another retelling of Diana and Actaeon, I’d rather read for the first time about The Hedgehurst. He’s half human, half hedgehog, and he’s a powerful figure…

I judder awake as jays bounce

and strut about my body.

I rise, I shout, and they scatter.

They jump screaming into the sky.

It is time to call everything to life

for I am king of this and this is my kingdom.

…with much to tell us about self-determination and statecraft. His spines prick us and demand our attention.

…Morley has a professional stake in the outdoors; his background is in ecology and naturalism. His nature poems read like diagrams of food chains and water cycles; no on element in the web of life has precedence over another. In ‘Fresh Water’, humans, horses, midges and salmon are equally important, yet all of them are subject to a greater power – ‘the energy system / cindering softly under us, slow-cooking the marshlands.’

Whether giving a representation of Romani culture, or weighing up the balance between the natural and the human world, Morley’s lyric “I” is dropped well back. It does not crash about in the undergrowth, drawing attention to itself. Instead, he finds fresh alternate voices and personas to articulate his concerns. The subject of ‘The Lucy Poem’ is – while tipping her hat to Wordsworth’s Lucy-muse – the 3 million-plus-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, whose fossilised remains were found in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Imagining Lucy’s search for water is a way for s to talk about climate change in a way that privileges sensory experience above manipulable stats and science-lite…

When the waterhole went

wolves ran with their thirsts

higher than fur could manage:

they loped the dry courses

to their source, lapping parched

stone where water buried its song

…its persuasive effects unavoidable.

Morley’s language is gorgeous, slubby and dense, demanding a slow-paced reading and recitation. ‘Chorus’ is a patterned, refrain-rich poem for a newborn – ‘The heron hangs its head before hurling down its guillotine. / The tern twists on tines of two sprung wings. The dawn is the chorus’ – which is as much a lullaby as a powerful cradle spell. His tales are told strongly enough to ‘draw readers into a lit circle’ even if the closest they get to a Gypsy campfire is a chalet at Centre Parcs. If I had been anywhere near the shortlisting panels for last year’s poetry prizes, I would have nudged this collection and its newly delivered worlds to the top of the pile.’

June 17, 2011

Don Paterson's 'The Dark Art of Poetry'

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This lecture by Don Paterson is available publicly and in full from the South Bank Centre website tagged above. I reproduce excerpts here for poetry students at Warwick - or for any passing migrants settling here for an evening. I urge readers to dive into the full version.

from THE DARK ART OF POETRY by Don Paterson. The TS Eliot Lecture, commissioned by the South Bank Centre, and delivered as part of Poetry International on Saturday 30 October 2004.

There are dangers involved in committing bad things to memory: about a hundred years ago the mathematician Charles Hinton devised a series of three-dimensional geometrical objects, known as Hinton's Cubes. The idea was that once memorised they could be mentally reassembled into a 3D net, and then infolded to produce a 4-dimensional model; this, he claimed, would allow you some conception of 4-space. Bizarrely, it actually seemed to work. There were two unforeseen consequences, however: four-space is not a happy thing to carry around in your head when you have to have to wake up every day in 3-space, put your clothes on in the right order, use the toilet accurately, and place your breakfast in the right holes. But much worse, Dr Hinton had devised no mean by which, once 4-space was memorised, it might be forgotten again. A few folk went irrecoverably insane, and the cubes were quietly withdrawn from public sale.

I've said this so many times it's beginning to sound a bit self-satisfied - but a poem is just a little machine for remembering itself. Whatever other function a rhyme, a metre, an image, a rhetorical trope, a brilliant qualifier or stanza-break might perform, half of it is simply mnemonic. A poem makes a fetish of its memorability. It does this, because the one unique thing about our art is that it can carried in your head in its original state, intact and perfect. We merely recall a string quartet or a film or a painting, actually, at a neurological level we're only remembering a memory of it; but our memory of the poem is the poem. A poet exploits this fact, and tries to burn their poems into your mind, and mess with your perception. Its most primitive (and so we can probably assume its earliest) function is as a system for the simple storage and retrieval of information, and sometimes its concealment; the poets of certain nomadic Saharan tribes are charged with memorising the location of the waterholes, in way that will not betray them to others. No wonder that poetry, from the earliest so deeply connected to the world and our own survival in it, was quickly invested with magical properties, and soon took the form of the spell, the riddle, the curse, the blessing, the prayer. They are - and poems remain - invocatory forms. Prose evokes; the well-chosen word describes the thing. But poetry invokes; the memorable word conjures its subject from the air.

So that's the occult part; but I also believe that poetry is a science, and that poetic composition can be studied in much the same way as music composition. But I think the language of verse composition has been lost, or at least disfigured to the point of uselessness. Poets no longer feel confidently expert in their own subject. The language of academic versification studies and 'poetics' is only appropriate for something that describes the result, not the working practice; the noun, not the living verb. This language always makes the error of talking about the messy, insane process of verse-making as if it were a clean operation. Our business is not with rhyme, but with rhyming; not with metaphor but with metaphorising, the active transformation of the image; and there is as much difference between the two as there is between checking a watch, and building one.

Such description as exists of the real composing process is couched in the language of the beginner's workshop, with its nonsensical talk of show-not-tell, and 'good subject matter' - or the language of self-help. Incidentally, the systematic interrogation of the unconscious, which is part of the serious practice of poetry, is the worst form of self-help you could possibly devise. There is a reason why poets enjoy the highest statistical incidence of mental illness among all the professions. Your unconscious is your unconscious for an awfully good reason. If you want to help yourself, read a poem, but don't write one. Then again I think maybe 5% of folk who write poetry really want to write poetry; the other 95 are quite safe, and just want to be a poet. If they knew what the dreams were like, they wouldn't.

Only plumbers can plumb, roofers roof and drummers drum; only poets can write poetry. Restoring the science of verse-making would restore our self-certainty in this matter, and naturally resurrect a guild that, I believe, would soon find it had some secrets worth preserving.

But the main result of such an empowerment would be the rediscovery of our ambition, our risk, and our relevance, through the confidence to insist on the poem as possessing an intrinsic cultural value, of absolutely no use other than for its simple reading...


Publication - by which I simply mean 'someone else reading your poem' - directly unites the reader and poet, and to read out a line someone else has written in your own voice is to experience a little transmigration of souls. A glorious example of direct publication is Poems On The Underground. The means is the end. In a radical subversion of the mechanism of corporate advertising - Postmoderns take note - a short good poem is placed in huge type before a person with ten minutes to do nothing else but read it three times, targeting a wide enough audience to find that one-in-six receptive to the high frequency of the art form.


I've always felt that every morning the poet should stand at the window and remember that nothing that they see, not a bird or stone, has in its possession the name they give it. That seems a reasonably humble starting point. It also might have serious consequences - something very important for a mammal within and without it - for our orientation in addressing the world, our prepositional stance.

Whether you take this seriously or not - all this, for the poet, is much more than a little perceptual game. When we allow silence to reclaim those objects and things of the world, when we allow the words to fall away from them - they reassume their own genius, and repossess something of their mystery, their infinite possibility. Then the we awaken a little to the realm of the symmetries again, and of no-time, eternity. The poet's specific talent: when the things of the world (in which we should very much include our own feelings, ideas, and relations with one other) that we have contemplated in this wordless and thoughtless silence reenter the world of asymmetrical concept, of discrete definition, of speech and language - they return as strangers; and then they declare wholly unexpected allegiances, reveal wholly unsuspected valencies. We see the nerve in the bare tree, we hear the applause in the rain. These things are, in other words, redreamt, they are reimagined, they are remade. This I think is the deepest meaning of our etymology as maker. One more point: the poem having been translated from the silence, as my friend Charles Simic puts it, it has briefly kept the company of everything, of all natural things, and its desire to then declare a kinship with those things - to become a beautiful manmade natural object, with the integrity, symmetry and rhythm of the natural - should be no surprise.

So the first thing the poet in the act of composition should always observe is silence. Observe, almost in the religious sense: it's a matter of honouring the silence - of which the white page is both a symbol and a means of practical invocation - in which the poem can ultimately reverberate to its deepest reach. (Space sings: this is why the secret guild of guitarists used to place a horse's skull in the corner of the room, as a sympathetic resonator.) We do this by balancing that unity of silence by a reciprocal unity of utterance; the latter actually has the effect of invoking the former. Poetry is the art of saying things once. After all your other skills are in place, our only task is to avoid understatement and overstatement. It sounds an easy matter, but it's a lifetime's study.

It is our riven condition, though - which Rilke refers to as the double realm (that of a living creature with foreknowledge of its own death, part-ghost) that makes us creatures that continually connect between the two worlds, are in fact driven to connect; and I believe poetry is the highest form of that negotiation, from the tiny narrow aperture of the Adamite back to the wide-field Edenic. Poetry, then, remystifies, allows the Edenic innocence, the symmetrical and unified view, to be made briefly conscious and re-entered via the most perverse (but perhaps only) tool for the job: language. Poetry is the paradox of language turned against its own declared purpose, that of nailing down the human dream. It uses new metaphors against the dead ones that form our speech. It attempts to conjure up, invoke, those states and those deep connections that have been excluded by the narrowness of the dream, and so cast out of our language. Poets are therefore, paradoxically, experts in the failure of language. Words fail us continually, as we search for them beyond the borders of speech, or drive them to the limit of their meaning and then beyond it. No wonder we need a club.

The object of a poem is to place a new unity in the language (an exploded view, if you like, of a new word) that results from the love affair between two hitherto unconnected terms: two words, two ideas, two phrases, two images, a word and an image, a phrase and a new context for it, so on. One thing is sterile and will result perhaps in some pretty description - but nothing the poet did not know before they started. These are the poems that are made up. If two things don't exist, there will be no discovery in our process, and hence absolutely no surprise for the reader. (I'll give you a more specific formula: the process of the poem is that of a unifying idea being driven through the productive resistance of the form proposed by the marriage of two previously estranged or unrelated things.)

Our defining heresy as poets is that we know that sound and sense are the same thing. Everyone else thinks them merely related. We need not connect what is already joined; to unite things again, we so often have to remove our own clumsy connections, our own redundant mediation. The acoustic and semantic properties of the word are not even interchangeable for us; they are wholly consubstantial. They arose together, and to talk of one is to talk of the other. We allow our ear to think for us.


June 09, 2011

A Creative Writing Workshop at Warwick University with A.L. Kennedy and an Austringer

in flight

About two years ago, Alison Kennedy and I talked about bringing a falconer to Warwick to talk about falconry and birds and prey. The connections between writing and flying and preying concern being unselfconscious in action, focussed on a target without distraction or apprehension, and about confidence and craft in movement and life. Two days ago, Brian arrived with his partner Gill along with a borrowed Gyrfalcon, his Scops Owl, his two Harrier Hawks and a Peruvian Barn Owl. The seminar covered the behaviour and life cycle of these birds, and the elements of falconry and bird craft and lore. Brian is an Austringer, not a Falconer, a distinction as important as between being a Poet and a Playwright...

May 10, 2011

Nothing is Real

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Beatles' Strawberry Fields gates removed

Strawberry Field's new gates are put into place The new fake gates replaced the worn-out originals

The ornate iron gates of a children's home which inspired John Lennon's psychedelic Beatles anthem Strawberry Fields Forever have been removed.

The Salvation Army, which owns the former home, is putting the red Victorian gates into storage.

It means Beatles fans who pass the Woolton site on bus tours will now be met with 10ft (3m) high replicas.

May 04, 2011

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

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I was recently invited by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to write a poem on the subject of wedding vows. I decided to open the subject to Romani language and culture. The poem was published in The Guardian before the Royal Wedding, alongside a number of other poems which can be found here. Enough time has passed now since the wedding and publication for me to reproduce the poem and notes below, and also to show some of the source material from the Patrin website. If anybody has a copy of the actual Guardian in which the poems appeared I would love to have it as I was away walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path when it was published...

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

To all of you at this pliashka, we are one
Until the shadows steal our horses home.
To thee, romni, lightest lace across thy kocsh,
For the treasures of lon and gold marò.
Break the bold marò, Borì – salve it
In the blood and salt upon thy knee.
Share this salt, this bread, this blood.
Let us leap low over the candles' glow.

Mi dèhiba, I feed thee and thou will feed me
Even as our hearts slow, our tresses sewn with suy.
Our unlike hands will untangle. We shall
Gather up kookoochìn for your balà.
Sorì simensar sì mèn, we cry as one.
All who are with us are ourselves.

Rom: Romani man; Gadji: Non-Roma woman; pliashka: Romani ceremony preceding the 'abiav' or wedding (see below); romni: wife; kocsh: knee; lon: salt (n); marò: bread; Borì: bride; mi dèhiba: my beloved; suy: grey; kookoochìn: snowdrops; balà: hair; Sorì simensar sì mèn: We are all one; all who are with us are ourselves.

Romani vows: At the pliashka the symbol of celebration is a bottle wrapped in a coloured silk handkerchief, brought to the ceremony by the man's father. Gold coins on a necklace are looped on the bottle. The future groom's father takes the necklace of coins and puts it around the future bride's neck. In the subsequent Roma marriage rite, the bride and groom might each take a piece of bread and place a drop of their blood on the bread. They then exchange and eat each other's bread. Sometimes a small amount of salt and bread is placed on the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of the bread, puts salt on it, and eats it. The bride does the same. The recent depictions of 'Gypsy weddings' on television are a travesty of what happens at these occasions.

April 05, 2011

I was reading Corso's poem 'Marriage'when a wasp dropped on to my keyboard & I jumped out of my skin

'Marriage' by Gregory Corso

Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap-
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son-
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food-
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on-
Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd almost be inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce-

But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-

Yes if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking-
No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
But-imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream-

O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes-
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and-
But there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible-
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
so i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

The Xenotext Experiment of Christian Bök

Bacterium as poem
An Interview with Christian Bök [PDF]. Explanation of project Video 1, Video 2. More Videos.
"I have conceived of The Xenotext Experiment, a literary exercise that explores the aesthetic potential of genetics in the modern milieu, doing so in order to make literal the renowned aphorism of William S Burroughs, who declared “the word is now a virus.” In this experiment, I propose to address some of the sociological implications of biotechnology by manufacturing a “xenotext” – a beautiful, anomalous poem, whose “alien words” might subsist, like a harmless parasite, inside the cell of another life-form...."

I propose to encode a short verse into a sequence of DNA in order to implant it into a bacterium, after which I plan to document the progress of this experiment for publication. I also plan to make related artwork for subsequent exhibition.

I plan to compose my own text in such a way that, when translated into a gene and then integrated into the cell, the text nevertheless gets “expressed” by the organism, which, in response to this grafted, genetic sequence, begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein – a protein that, according to the original, chemical alphabet, is itself another text. I hope, in effect, to engineer a primitive bacterium so that it becomes not only a durable archive for storing a poem, but also a useable machine for writing a poem."

March 31, 2011

When Winston Churchill was asked why he did not cut arts funding to help the war effort he replied:

'What are we fighting for?'

March 17, 2011

Warwick Writers Released as Free App for iPhone, iPod touch and iPad

Writing about web page

This week sees the release of the Writing Programme spoken word archive ('Writers at Warwick') as a free downloadable app for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch, reaching a potential audience of several billions.
This is the end result of nearly 15 years of work and I hope you enjoy the readings. I like having several of my own readings available on iPad!
I've tried it. It works wonderfully well on an iPhone. the download and further information.


January 22, 2011

Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu


Arlene Ang’s poetry was new to me, but her surreal and sometimes gnomic language surprised me out of my resistance to the apparent novelty of the jump-cuts of its surface images. Counter-intuition and the confounding of logic play their roles in releasing energy from the winding words of any poem. Obliquity is the risk: there are simply places so dark of sense that the reader may not choose to follow, or simply cannot follow. Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu (the title offers a flavour of the language to follow) is more ingenious than it is benighted in extremes. This is a likeable, self-aware voice whose charms are those of surprise, poise and tone. I’d occasionally prefer more pressure to the triangulation of her line, voice and image - but as Arlene Ang writes:

This is not a poem

you want to read

if you’re looking for red squirrel,

found wisdom in stainless

pots, held hands

under a hot-air balloon.

The metre is uneven,

like the road to disco bars.

There was a time I called her

iambic because this was

how her small hand slipped

snugly into mine.

I choose my words with care:

she never liked my advice,

her etchings on the piano

grew fangs, we scheduled

the cat for therapy.

This is not the poem

you’ll enjoy if you’re after

a still life with apples.

Curious bystanders shouldered

each other to catch the last

scenes of that Saturday night.

Everyone was speechless.

Here’s the sum of a girl’s life:

mini-skirt, ecstasy, blue scooter,

shattered brick wall, blood on asphalt.

All brought with her allowance.

Her etchings on the piano grew fangs…The truth is Arlene Ang prefers to gain some frisson of response from her readership (she has published four previous collections) and this poem, for all its prosodic nonchalance, is gently devastating. Although her language might sometimes dare expectations, it never severs itself from some form of perceived reality. Arlene Ang does not create opaque poems. She writes poems that have the interior, and sometimes scarily clear, logic of dream:

The wheelchair restructures the landscape

outside the window. One’s neck movements

cause the steel handrims to plant a glimmer

in one’s eyes. A blink is a practice in flinching.


Some readers might feel that the impression left by such sentences is more like the sensual crossword puzzle that dreams leave weaving through a waking mind. Nevertheless, on the evidence of this book, Arlene Ang is a wide-awake writer and is certainly worth your attention.

Arlene Ang’s Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu is published by Cinnamon Press, a publisher based in Blaenau Ffestiniog that has developed a broad and genuinely attractive list and which should be celebrated for its seriousness, tenacity and daring. The saints who run the small poetry presses are often under-praised or ignored even though the vitality of the poetry world is dependent on their labours. I’ve admired the work of Cinnamon since they started out.

Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu, Arlene Ang, Cinnamon Press, pb., 80 pp., £7.99, ISBN 978-1-907090-06-6

Thank you to the editors of the magazine Magma, in which this piece first appeared.

January 20, 2011

Martin Figura: 'white light and the loose flapping sound of a film escaping its gate'

Patrin in Kerala

I’ve have a high regard for Arrowhead Press, a small but vital publishing outfit operating out of Darlington whose production values exceed those of many major commercial publishers. Arrowhead has produced a range of fabulous poetry books (very often in hardback) and their choices of poets – among them Linda Saunders, Matt Merritt, Jennifer Copley - is always astute. Their publication of the late William Scammell’s Selected Poems was notable and welcome.

Once again, Arrowhead has chosen expertly in publishing Martin Figura’s spellbinding sequence of poems, Whistle (I prefer to call Whistle a single, total poem, in the same way that Paterson or Gaudete or What the Water Gave Me are total poems). Whistle is a nightmare of domestic violence and highly recognisable reality. I think this poem is magnificent and genuinely haunting. While the story is simple, the storytelling is elliptical, spare and fearless. The real-life narrative explores the poet’s childhood, his cross-cultural parentage and upbringing, his father murdering his mother, and the consequences of the killing on the whole family.

Figura writes the story in fragments (fragments that work as independent lyric poems). What the poet chooses to scrutinize is significant but what he chooses to leave out achieves a greater resonance for the whole cycle of observations. For example, the murder is not described but only imagined - and only then in passing (in all honesty to a child’s perception and memory). The feelings of the child are realised through the recollection of perception; they are not vocalised; this poem does not scream and shout. The writing is not attention-seeking, but it is attentive - even to ‘the uncertain image’. This is the whole of ‘Vanishing Point’ which takes place shortly after the mother has died, the father arrested, and an uncle is taking the children – temporarily, we find out – under his roof:

The rear window flickers into life as we pull away,

the uncertain image of a boy on a bicycle appears,

behind him a painted backdrop of the avenue,

its sycamore trees and pebble-dashed houses:

Piggotts, Mitchells’, Mrs Donnelly’s with all

its confiscated footballs, her poodle yapping

at the fence. Children’s games are caught

in mid-air, at the height of their action.

Uncle Philip turns onto the busy road. The boy

pedals like mad to stay with us, but we stretch away

and leave him stranded, disappearing.

Then there is just white light

and the loose flapping sound

of a film escaping its gate.

This is scrupulously expressed and rewards even further re-reading as a description of how it feels to have your childhood wholly destroyed; how it feels to be aware of the finality of that obliteration; and how it feels to stare across, as through a film, to a far shore from which you’ve departed forever. Yet it is all rendered true by the image of those confiscated footballs. Of all the books of poetry I read last year, Whistle is the one that haunts me most. It touches a place within you that will never heal. You push it away like a ghost. You pull it towards you in memory.

Whistle, Martin Figura, Arrowhead Press, hb., 76 pp., £10.00, ISBN 978-1-904852-26-1

Thank you to the editors of the magazine Magma, in which this piece first appeared.

January 12, 2011

Inviting You to the Launch of "Enchantment" 19th January 2011


8pm, Wednesday 19th January, 2011
Venue: The Capital Studio, Millburn House, Warwick University, Coventry, CV4 7HS
Entry: Free

'Enchantment' by David Morley

Publicity material for this event says:

Carcanet Press invites you to the launch of 'Enchantment' by David Morley.

David Morley's 'Enchantment' reinvents the oral tradition of poetry as a form of magic, marvel and making. Opening with a celebration of friendship, the poems tell the world into being. In myths of origin and the natural world, the terrible chronicles of history and the saving power of folk wisdom, the poet weaves spells of Romany and circus language, invents forms and shapes, drawing his readers into a "lit circle" magical and true.

Please RSVP to: For more information visit

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