March 30, 2008

You Are Going To Leave Me

You Are Going To Leave Me

You are going to leave me. Of this I am quite sure:
You are going to leave me.

I know it when I see your green socks in the tumble-drier.
See your towel lying there.

I know it when I walk past books you’ve talked about in shops:
You are going to leave me.

I lower my foot from the kerb and realize I have not checked for cars
Because I thought you had left me.

I catch myself wiggling my toes through holes in my socks.
What are the point of good socks if you are going to leave me?

I am not hungry but eat the cake in the kitchen anyway because it is there and you aren’t.
This is how it will be after you have left me:
Icing and crumbs.

Your green socks are without holes.
Mine have been pulled out to threads.

I think I see you on the other side of the road, lost in shivers of traffic.
Then you are too soon gone:

Like June.

May 07, 2007

A half–empty bottle of scotch

So I’ve written a story – a story I quite like, actually, that I’d like to put in my portfolio next week. But I don’t think it quite works, and I don’t know why. If you want, have a read, and see what I say at the bottom.



A vase of tulips exploded against the wall in a thunderstorm of blue porcelain and cold water.

‘FUCK!’ screeched Claire, reaching for her favourite lamp, ‘FUCK!’

A starling fluttered onto the perch outside the window, a flicker of wing briefly slipping a shadow over the pregnancy test on the dresser.

The base of the lamp burst like a meringue against the corner of the bookshelf, a blast of ceramic dust frosting over the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

The starling ruffled its feathers against a whip of Spring wind, and flicked its head sharply to the recently re-filled bird feeder that had been installed two years earlier by Mac a week before the accident.

Claire had blamed herself. Freak winds had brought in a cold spell that descended upon them from across the moors in a tide of sleet and snow so sudden it made them dizzy. He’d broken her mother’s mug. They’d been having coffee, which had been significant for a reason she could no longer remember. The mug, long associated with afternoons at her mother’s house in Henley, lay in green and gold shards over the flagstones, and Claire was angry. She stormed upstairs and slammed the door to the bathroom with a whiff of blossomy bubbles and watched the snow begin to brush against the window as her toes popped from under the lather at the other end of the tub.

Mac had had to do his show, and had left, knowing better than to try and interrupt her brooding. Had they been speaking, she would have warned him to drive safely, and somehow by the funeral that omission had transfigured itself in her head to become guilt. He might have driven a fraction slower had he been thinking of her as he traversed the icy corners, Claire thought.

She wasn’t to know that that wouldn’t have helped. Mac’s death was the responsibility of the cigarette he had been smoking at the time to help him overcome the nausea of driving at night. When he had been seven, a rabbit had caused his mother to swerve the Vauxhall from the tarmac in a fantastic cacophony of moonlight on spinning metal that had landed the car inverted in a lake of algae and autumn leaves. The terror of icy water, the desperate rattling of the seatbelt buckle and the scream of his mother becoming a gargle in the vicious grey darkness repeated themselves in his brain as he turned out of Claire’s snowy driveway and the lighter flared under his Lucky Strike. Four miles outside of Maidenhead the third smoke of the drive collapsed in a cough from his lips and burned sharply his thigh through his smart trousers. His hand shook on the wheel and the car slammed side-on into a truck parked at the side of the road.

But Claire didn’t know, and shivering in the graveyard, pock-marked with beds of dead flowers slaughtered by the un-seasonal snow, she had cried with guilt into her brother Patrick’s brown woollen jacket that smelled like the back of his car, and reminded her of driving to Oxford in long summers with him and Trent, cannabis smoke coiling up the windows against a rush of dappled sunlight through deep greens and rapid sky blues. Trent would do the outward trip and she’d drive them home, leaving them to kiss each other on the back seat, and listen to the rustle of their shirts and hair as she made sure not to drive too fast so that the journey would last a little longer.

She slept at Patrick’s after the funeral, listening to distant sirens float up seven storeys to the window, and thought about meeting Mac in the sweet shop when she was fourteen. His mother Angela employed her, and Claire would dispense sherbet lemons and bonbons from tall glass jars, weighing them out how Angela told her she remembered them doing in Cornwall when she was growing up. The shop was a Henley curiosity, and the days were slow. Claire spent them listening to Angela tell her about her son – the son who wants to be an athlete, wants to be a writer, and is today an actor, whose performance as Macbeth will win him a nickname that will last a lifetime.

He ended up on the radio. He was four years older than her and came around on Friday afternoons. She’d blush when he sneaked a fruit gum from behind the counter and gave her a wink. He’d tell her his dreams by the river, after Angela began closing up and made him promise to walk Claire home.

Somehow through the tangle of university they’d become married, insanely, in Cardiff, with such spontaneity that only five friends and her father were able to make it.

Nine years later there were no children. Her dead father’s house was filled instead with a burgeoning collection of hand-crafted figurines. These were all that she was able to think about as she walked around Patrick’s sitting room at four o’clock in the morning, wrapped in his musty duvet and eyeing his layout of framed photographs. Their mum and dad, before the divorce. Patrick in South America. Claire graduating. Her, Patrick and Trent grinning at a picnic in University Parks.

Trent had moved back to the States when he was twenty-three, leaving Patrick a letter, his jacket, a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations signed by one of the dons and a half-empty bottle of scotch. Patrick had spent nine days on her floor in Bath until the warden discovered him and he had to leave. He went travelling a month later.

The water from the tulips dripped gradually towards the carpet as it soaked into the wallpaper, and Claire sat back against the bed, exhausted. The clock chimed in the next room and she thought of how long she had until Harry returned, flicking her eyes to the shopping list she’d written out that he had forgotten to take. Avocados. Milk. Disposable biros. Bird-seed.

Her feet were cold. She left the bedroom, its covers still askew from their morning scuffle, and looked out of the kitchen window at the empty driveway as she had done two years ago. the kettle whistling and reaching a fragrant screech.

She wondered when he’d be back.


Okay, so that was it. Now the problem: it’s not sad enough. I wrote this a few months ago and I think it’s so desperately sad, but in a way that doesn’t shine through. The love of Claire’s life has died, she falsely blames herself, and now, two years on, she finds herself pregnant in a relationship with another man who’s just an inferior replacement – a man who can never match up to Mac, but with whom we are led to believe she will stay, because Mac couldn’t give her children.

Does this work, at all? Feedback much appreciated. And if you have no idea but enjoyed reading it anyway, brill. Glad I made your day better.

April 30, 2007

She is a poem

She Is A Poem


She walked and wore turquoise:
One of those in-between colours.
I read her palm and learned how her life
Moves in fits and starts,
And how she writes.

She aims for people.
Vessels of their walking story,
Bodies bind their characters to flesh,
With restlessness in skeletons,
Abandonment in hair,
And each a rhyme or stanza toned by observation
She writes down.

Falling in love was a broken nib:
Freedom; denial,
Falling out a splash of ink,
Electric fingers loosing creativity,
Sketching out herself as slowly she condensed.

A real life winds images to skin,
And now her surface marked and printed by her own event,
I see.

Older, she makes for her favourite tree,
Eyes and notepad waiting to be filled by
Poems passing with their children in the park.

The sun shines as she steps along the path,
walks, and wears turquoise:
One of those in-between colours.
I've read her palm and learned how her life
Moves in fits and starts,
and how she writes.
She is a poem.

April 07, 2007

Sam Reads John Burnside

My review of John Burnside’s latest collection, “Gift Songs”, set to appear in the next issue of Matchbox poetry magazine. Enjoy.

There is an uncanny beauty to the words of John Burnside’s tenth collection. Gift Songs blushes with intricate sensations that ascribe with smart accuracy the difficult feelings we experience around uncertain boundaries. It is on the lines that are not seen or felt that much of this collection is centred on: the seeping of heat from a fingertip pressed to a pane of glass, or the unmarked boundary between country and city.
Burnside handles the paradox of a focal point characterised by its own lack of focus with unnerving precision. Experiences we have not put words to are here described just as we have felt them, as are the haphazard jumbles of senses and sights that carry together all thoughts: “A murmur that comes through the wind, / a hand’s-breadth, a wingspan.” His accuracy strikes a real chord with the parts of the mind that are glossed over, or brushed aside in uncertainty. Winding, flickering sentences bind these poems together in inviting streams of language that feel precious, as a gift.
The idea of poems existing as gifts is reminiscent of sonnets swapped conspiratorially between lovers in Elizabethan times, but in Burnside’s writing there is no such playful romance – the relationship examined here is between faith and the world, and is treated, for the most part, with the kind of hinting presence that such large questions demand. There is a continual awareness bound to every line that something larger is going on, and that the fractured thoughts are accumulating into something larger and beautiful that cannot quite be seen – something captured in the collection’s last few lines: “Drawn by instinct to the place / where bodies formed, great waves of sound and light / becoming fingers, eyelids, shoulders, hair.”
But there is a touch of the superficial to all of this. Setting out to examine “the idea of a free church,” and “explorations of time and space,” Burnside casts his net unexpectedly wide for what are often such closely-written poems, and as a result, the poetry does not match up to the subject matter. We are given landscapes, the night, and the senses, or we are given churches, dogma and remembered scriptures. Like oil and water, the two materials of language and content might be mixed together, but are never quite as one, with each persisting in distracting from the other throughout most of the collection.
This lack of cohesion is matched by the collection’s layout, and how it sets down its content: a shade too mechanical for what sets out to be so organic. The book is divided into three distinct segments: “Gift Songs,” “Four Quartets,” and “Responses to Augustine of Hippo.” These clear divides, whilst hardly cohesive in themselves, serve also to disrupt the winding interconnectivity of the poems – all free verse, lucid and sprawling across the pages in squiggles of enjambment. They are exciting; unique. But after ninety pages of foreboding locations, hinting religious imagery, and shivers of italicised French, the interest begins to wane. What might have been a broad cluster of diverse, thought-provoking verse becomes lethargic, repetitive and ultimately too vague to make any kind of sharply-observed point: the feeling of not quite being able to put your finger on something, that Burnside captures with such mastery on every page, becomes the feeling you are left with after reaching the last few pages, along with a nagging suspicion that it is trying a bit too hard to be a bit too clever.
Though painfully beautiful and well-observed, Gift Songs loses itself somewhere in its own haziness, and lacks the substance to support its lofty ambitions. Admirable, but ultimately unfulfilling.

March 21, 2007

Sam Goes To Work

So I got a job this week. I called up my employment agency to ask if they had anything for four weks over easter and they said they’d do their best. They came up with data entry.

Data entry. Necessary, certainly, but hardly the most stimulating chore in the world. At seven and a half pounds an hour, though, I’m prepared to let my reservations slide and get on with the boredom. it’s only for a month. I’ve had worse jobs: like calling up several hundred Glasgow residents on Dell’s behalf to tell them they weren’t getting their christmas presents.

It’s fine for now. But there are some things about temporary employment that always get to me. Firstly, the boredom. I’m invariably bored, as though tedium is trying to strangle me with sreadsheets, photocopier toner and the top buttons of shirts. What do you DO? I can’t stand it. And I can’t understand the people who can – my second thing: I’m working with two people who’ve been typing stuff into the computer in a small room on the eight floor of Fountain House, Reading, overlooking the Broad Street Mall car park for SEVEN YEARS. A third of those seven years have been spent in the same room, not living, so they could afford to stay alive.

How did the world come to this? A global labyrinth of office blocks pushing paperwork from one desktop to another? A sea of white-collared wasted potential queueing for lifts and waiting on station platforms, drinking from water coolers and heating up readymeals in the office microwave so they don’t have to take a lunch hour? What is wrong with us?

I noticed something the other day when asking people what kind of jobs they’d had in the past. There seemed to be two paths. My path, the office-bound, photocopier and phonecall orintated one, or the other one – the “real work” one, where you wait tables, pick strawberries, or sell clothes. I’m not saying the second group is more interesting, but at least it feels like you actually accomplish something. You don’t feel like you’re just selling your life by the hour.

Gordon Brown cut income tax today by 2%. Good for him. I know, as does ever other cynic in the world, that it’s for the election campaign, but I don’t care. It’s money. I wish it didn’t matter so much, but it does. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but not having it certainly leads to unhappiness. Top-up fees are rising to 9000 a year, and our generation is the first who will be unable to afford our own homes. We no longer have grants: we have loans. And to pay for it all we have to shut ourselves in a cubicle and watch the days go by.

I hope, then, that in the forthcoming two years of unchained university life, that I’ll be able to construct my masterpiece. That way I might just be able to buy back my life from Deloitte, or Apple, or, for now, KeyData Solutions.

Please, for the love of god, let whatever I write be marketable.

March 13, 2007


“It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.”

- Jerome K. Jerome.

Wise words, and also my thought for the day. There’s nothing so self-indulgent as lying in bed by the window, watching the trees scratch at the passing clouds and listening to the traffic whilst emphatically not doing work. Stopping to feel the passage of time slding over your skin – at once a beautiful and terrifying experience.


Listening to – “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead,” by Stars:

God that was strange to see you again,
Introduced by the friend of a friend.
Smiled and said “Yes, I think we’ve met before.”
In that instant it started to pour.

Captured a taxi despite all the rain.
We drove in silence across Penchant Lane,
And all of that time you thought I was sad,
I was trying to remember your name.


Good stuff. So what else is new? I’m trying to conclude an article on the necessity of being public about one’s sexuality, and I can’t really make up my mind. It’s not an easily abbreviated issue and it ties together so many deply personal stories to a much broader political struggle. The jist of my argument – or, rather, question – is whether or not the “out and proud” motto of the gay rights movement is counter-productive to the ultimate eradication of the boundaries between different sexual orientations. Being “out” necessitates a culture of labelling people – of picking sides. One would have thought that in order to achieve full equality there should be a blurring and eventual fading of the lines between different kinds of people. Acknowledging the difference only re-emphasises it.
That said, though, difference is also something to be celebrated, and the idea of gay culture and the gay community shouldn’t have to disappear. People are different, and many define themselves and their character through their sexuality. You don’t even have to be gay to do this.
Ultimately, I suppose, social progression will have to go on as an organic process. As a movement, the fight for gay rights has come incredibly far incredibly quickly over the past 40 years, and will no doubt continue to in the right direction, whichever one that may be. For now, out, in or undefined will remain a personal choice, as it should be. We’re so lucky to have the freedom to be whoever we want to be.


And finally, an update on The Sam Show. The other Sam Show, now printed on the wonderful Facebook. Last week, Sam hooked up with Fabien after being stalked for a short while and discovering with Ailie that Jake was cheating on Avalanche with Livi. Paige revealed her history of romantic liaisons with Nima and, upon discovering Jake’s infidelity, wasted no time in maliciously spilling the beans to a distraight Avalanche, who had been quietly celebrating her five and a half months of sobriety. Pete, meanwhile, in town with Dom and Hannah for the Real Ale Festival, resolved to investigate who was responsible for both poisoning Avi and trying to frame Spike. This news was met uncomfortably by Susan, who suggested it might be better to let sleeping dogs lie, before informing the others that she was leaving the country for the whole of the Summer term, during which, Spike promised her, they would try and sustain their relationship.

Next week, Hannah turns 20, and at her house party in Streatham more than a few sparks will fly as several memebers of the group let their true felings come to light. A new couple will emerge, someone will get punched in the face, and Pete will discover the truth behind Avalanche’s poisoning – with catastrophic results. Stay tuned.

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