September 20, 2010

Anthology reading pictures

Thanks to for giving me permission to use some of their pictures during my anthology reading in a week´s time.

Here´s the anthology:

International Nuclear Services update

I wrote this for my former employers in the nuclear industry. They were - very kindly - interested in how my first year as a postgraduate had been.

It was a year ago, on a cool Saturday morning in early October, that I set off from Cockermouth with a car full of my belongings. Mist was evaporating in the fields along the A66 and the purple heather on Skiddaw was reflected in a stone-grey Bassenthwaite Lake. I was heading for Coventry and the University of Warwick, to start the MA in Writing course. I couldn’t help wondering if giving up my job at INS was going to be a good idea or perhaps the foolishness of an (early) mid-life crisis. When I got to the end of the M6, the Midland’s air was warmer, Coventry was two weeks further into autumn and the trees were exploding into yellow, orange and red. I felt like I was entering the Dead Poet’s Society.

I studied chemistry at Warwick as an undergraduate and the methods of learning were as formulaic as the course’s content: students go to lectures, perform lab research, and sit exams. Creativity doesn’t tend to work the same way, so my first year of the MA has been a steep learning curve in thinking differently.

I’m studying part-time and I have another year left. My initial plan was to get paid work, but I’ve used my extra time to take additional courses. This included a writing course with first year undergraduates, which was where I felt a culture shock; while the bleary-eyed 18 year-olds tried to avoid the 9 o’clock seminars, I would go early to share work with my tutor.

The MA has a mix of students on it, from new graduates to those who are retired. I’m nowhere near the best of the bunch, but I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made and the grades I’ve achieved. For me, though, the course is more about how I can continue to develop my writing once I’ve left. I have studied biography (looking at Virginia Woolf and Ted Hughes), travel writing (Joseph Conrad and V S Naipaul) and a course looking at how writers use their lives for stories (Zora Neale-Hurston and V S Pritchett). China Mielville has tutored weird fiction (H P Lovecraft and A Blackwood) and A L Kennedy is a regular mentor on the course. I meet people from the publishing industry and, as a year-group, we’ve produced an anthology of short stories. Surprisingly, I’ve enjoyed writing poetry, using it to experiment with words and language. A few of my poems have been published in pamphlets and I post them online at

The year hasn’t been without its challenges and my move into a student house turned out to be one culture-shock too far. Fortunately, I got a role as a warden in university accommodation and moved into a rent-free flat after a couple of months. I had the interesting task of looking after 75, mainly international, post-graduate students. There were challenges, of course, such as breaking up a party of ten Thai girls at 4 am, despite their insistence that their ‘sleepover’ was not contravening hall regulations. And one girl declared to me that, had she not been returning to Taiwan the following week, she would try to make me her boyfriend. We haven’t kept in touch.

I recently moved again, this time off campus and into a house I have bought with a friend of mine (no romantic link there, either). It’s a ten minutes cycle from campus where I can live with few overheads – and an open-fire – for the next couple of years. (I have cycled since my first week, when my car decided that 156 000 miles were enough and gave up the ghost – there’s a poem about it on my website.) Next year, I have two remaining course modules on writing fiction, and I’ll be working on a book about my family’s life in Ghana. We lived there between 1978 and 1982, when there were two military coups, and I’m hoping it can be substantial enough for me to develop after the course.

I’m very grateful for the experience of working in the nuclear industry; it’s given me skills to discipline myself in my work, and to deal with the upheaval this career break has caused. I’ll need the experience even more when I return to the workplace, but these years at Warwick are really precious so, for now, it’s carpe diem, as the saying goes.

July 10, 2010

Me and Mine

I wrote this after reading Ezra Pound. I'm wondering how much of this imitation is my voice and how much is effective imitation.

Me and Mine 

Flames wrap the skylark assent,

a vertical path to romance.

Its love-punctuation pierces the air,

a squash-ball mating call:

trill-twill, peep, crrrllllll;

declaring a square of wheat its own.

July 07, 2010

Arts and Crafts – draft 2

I’m being as creative as I was

during my school technology lessons,

where projects took six months and

always ended with a key-ring

that looked like a bin lid.

Perhaps one day I´ll become well known

for my bin-lid key-ring work.

(I’ve taken to italicising metaphor as it adds an extra dimension to my poems.)

July 05, 2010

Evening Swim – draft 2

This is supposed to be inspired by Amy Clampitt. Check out her poem 'A Hedge of Rubber Trees'.

Evening Swimming – draft 2

Hatchbacks park on soft needles and husks of cones; we walk into

a desiccated amber evening heavy with sap and pine.

A woodpecker flashes red and green, and edges

along scales of balk into safe shade;

windows of gold fall into our path, through insect chandeliers

parted by waving hands. We search for

a still mirror holding the brown and green

of surrounding peaks; jaws of fells that open at pebbled shores.

We peel ourselves into insulating skins and duck into jade

wilderness; an ice hand runs intimately

along our spines and pushes our lungs empty.

Scissored bodies cut through the light that penetrates

the surface; arms arc through air and reach into distance

to pull water like rope; faces sneer sideways to sip

oxygen and turn downwards, expelling bubble streams.

Shoulders swell with fatigue and teeth grit against distance;

currents blow shades of cold across us and taste sweet with earth.

We stop as our thighs brush stones and try to reacquaint

ourselves with gravity. The pause is our prize:

the fells are an hour older, and crowned with summer.

We pull off our suits and skin-warm water

slips through our limbs. Clouds gather around

the dimming warmth, one clasps a rainbow in its centre:

Heaven’s kiss on our drained bodies.

June 16, 2010

Disregarded Haiku

These are haikus for my friend's art installation. He's interested in things that have been abandoned or 'disregarded' in society and the beauty that might be in those things. I found some cuckoo spit. The name sounds like it's been disregarded (by a cuckoo) although it's actually produced by an insect. My haiku for this:

Frothy globules of

fluid entombs parasite;

don't touch - cuckoo spit.

I saw a piece of grass tied to a post and thought of this:

Promise me something:

however this goes for us,

tie a knot for me.

There were some railway sleepers that had been cut up and used by the grounds staff:

Sleepers weeping tar;

baked, cracked and dried in shimmers,

now form a compost heap.

This is about a split bag of compost that had grass growing out of it:

A makeshift mattress;

loose, sagging, softened by rain:

a bed in a bag.

April 14, 2010

Chaos Theory

It’s called Chaos Theory because

it tries to explain the connection

between events that have no discernable link.


For example, each time I sneeze,

a puppy somewhere in the world

spontaneously combusts.


Although Chaos Theory insists

butterflies and storms have more in common,

I can’t help feeling for the children

I may be inflicting with emotional pain.


As my mild allergies

could be causing carnage,

I buy anti-histamines willingly.

It’s the least I can do.

Buckets and Spades

We built sand-castles and dug moats

for the incoming tide to flood.


We hid toys for our parents to find,

and buried the spades for fun.


The toys were unearthed, but not the spades;

the tide swept over the sand that encased them.

April 11, 2010

Of course, in an alternate universe things would be perfect

I read the story of a cult leader who used to address his followers while under the influence of laughing gas. I was preparing a best man speech at the time and it got me thinking. I wrote this poem sitting in this square:

I was the only tourist and, apart from my pale complexion, shorts and sandals (everyone else was wearing jeans and jumpers), I think I blended in well.

Of course, in an alternate universe things would be perfect

I gave the speech and,

despite your objections,

I used the nitrous oxide.

It wasn’t pretty but I think I made my point.

The groom’s mother looked at me with murderous intent;

it’s the same expression whenever we meet.

I can see she’s planning a few frames in advance;

looking at my throat like it’d be no trouble.

She’d have a fresh pair of marigolds in her handbag,

bought from a supermarket out of town, with cash.

She’d just have to rinse them under a tap,

run a bit of washing-up liquid over them.

No one would suspect a thing:

the gloves would go to the Shrewsbury WI;

she’d put them in the Men’s lavs at St Peter’s

during one of their monthly meetings.

Nothing ever happened at St Peter’s, she’d think;

they couldn’t even shift Joan’s sponge there,

and the steward was the only man

who ever went near the place.

Her domestic automatons-of-a-certain-age

would encase me in pastry

and my flesh to raise enough money

for a whole school, with a teacher.

She thanked me for being best man;

her eyes narrowed and she applied foundation.

I said it was no trouble when

really I meant: ‘Make your move.’

March 03, 2010

Mountain, a Robert Lowell tribute

I'm not a massive Lowell fan and I struggle to appreciate his work, but the things I like about him are his voice and pace. I've tried to recreate them here in my work about Wastdale. There are five stanzas of five lines each.




Wast Water pools at the base of a horseshoe,

a jagged crown of mountains.

Cars flood the slither of road at its side

and their occupants spill up the slopes

to plunder infamy from the hills.

We disappear into cloud,

lost between map and compass,

guiding ourselves through grass and rock,

damp moss and darkened scree,

first over Sca Fell, then its Pike.

I silently lose my temper

at tourists smoke to their good fortune and

leave black leather banana skins

that will decompose in the wilderness in the same years

their puffed faces will decay in rush-hour traffic.

We stride between the volcanic remains

of Broad and Ill Crags,

and emerge into sunshine at Great End;

with an illuminated Great Gable before us,

coarse and magnificent.

A ring ouzel shouts indignation and disapproval

but we’re caught in an isolated privilege,

contemplating the metres left to fall and climb,

the dotted lines to follow and squares to cross.

We drink sweet tea and eat fruit cake.

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