Latest Entries »

Pathways to probability



And here we come to a natural pause in the pathway, and probably a natural end. There is much more material I wrote in the same period as the pieces that you see below, but to continue would mean to lower the quality control quite a bit and start putting up poems that I’m really not happy with, in any number of ways. Although I’ve felt the urge to criticise them and tear a strip off them a bit, the ones that have already appeared are the best of what I wrote, and I’m happy to let others see them.

The remainder, which haven’t yet appeared? Well I did try putting a few up (now, ahem, mysteriously disappeared) but faced with 50 or so which were either previously published (somehow) or ill-advisedly included in booklets I made for friends, plus a few others not quite as bad as the very worst, I think it’s better to pass and leave it there. The other thing is, the period when I was writing this stuff was a pretty dark one for me, and seeing some of these poems that I had completely forgotten about frankly takes me back to an uncomfortable place. With the exception of a very few cases, the poems aren’t personal, but they often contain or (try to) express emotions which aren’t easy for me to relate to now and which I’d mostly prefer not to revisit. Not in this way at least.

Also, it would simply be embarassing because they’re mostly pretty awful! There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point in putting up really bad poems just to complete a set. There are some which contain some OK bits, but invariably it’s then ruined by something genuinely cackhanded straight after. My own quality control was at best erratic in those days and I didn’t seem to be able to distinguish between good and bad anywhere near often enough.

In any case the grotto was always going to be time-limited because writing this stuff was basically a phase after which I stopped, and there’s a finite cache of material. It’s just a matter of where to draw the line.

Doing this little experiment, my first attempt at a blog, has been interesting for a number of reasons. It made me dig out all the old poems, the folders recording my applications to magazines and competitions, and a large box full of poetry mags themselves. It’s incredible how much time I must have spent on all that, though it didn’t feel like it then. All the applications had to be handwritten or typed, sent off by post, and would be replied to the same way, weeks or months later. No e-mail then, no phoning allowed either: all by post. Plus numerous trips to the poetry library in the South Bank Centre in London to look at their magazine store and try to figure out which ones were worth sending stuff to (never figured it out, it was always pretty random). In the meantime I had to keep track of which poems had been submitted to who and make sure they didn’t go out to someone else before the first person had replied, all with multiple applications going at any one time.

One comment from an editor stood out as I leafed through all this to see if there was anything worth salvaging. He said I seemed to be fleshing out metaphors, rather than using metaphors to illuminate real experience. That, I think, is very telling and hits the nail right on the head. I probably wasn’t too impressed with what he had to say at the time, but it’s EXACTLY what I was doing in so many cases. I always did find it easier to start with an image and let the words flow from there, rather than take something I wanted to say, and find the words, metaphors and images which would allow me to say it. But real experience, perhaps, was never my strong point! I was certainly trying a bit too hard to be ‘poetic’ and overwriting a lot of the time.

I want to leave you with one last morsel though. ‘Pathways to Probablility’ came from a much earlier period; it was my first attempt at this sort of stuff, written when I was 16 for a pamphlet my English teacher Chris put together as a one-off school project. The pamphlet was called ‘Furmety’ (what a fantastic word, it’s a variant of ‘frumenty’, a sort of traditional stew which looks a bit like a rice pudding). I remember writing ‘Pathways’ downstairs in the school library at one of the big circular desks that were in each alcove. It was obviously the maths section I was sitting in, because the title of the poem is the title of a maths text I picked at random from the shelf behind me, being unable to think of anything else.

So it got into Furmety. My copy of that is the one thing I haven’t been able to find for this blog. I’m sure I still have it somewhere though. Chris then put it up for inclusion in a book called ‘Alive Poetry 85’, an anthology of poetry by West Devon school pupils. It got in, and that’s where I’ve copied it from here. My success in getting into print at the first attempt was definitely an encouraging factor later, when I started my main poetry phase, and began to think about sending some off to see if I could get any of it published.

So here’s ‘Pathways’. It ain’t much good, it’s more than a little morbid (already!) and a bit of a downbeat note to finish on, but it feels right to end back where I started 🙂

Thanks for reading,



More and more the old man stares,

The sinking sun so far,

Bathes his face in glowing, flowing streams,

Islands in the pressing shadows,

Dark and calm and deep.


Hands grip iron, cold yet compelling,

Ahead the dying, below the dead,

The wind sighs and groans and leads the dance on,

Innumerable figures wrought into distorted wraiths,

The old man goes to sleep.


Above, the bird watches.

Eyes groping in the cold, empty night;

Below, the flow goes on, eternity epitomized,

Eloquence long forgotten, majesty still destiny,

Dark and calm and deep.


The old man starts to weep.


Mining for dusk


Midsummer’s day came and went and still the days grew longer.

The pace was unchanged, it went unnoticed

for days before scientists began crowing.

Meteorologists were seen shrugging, buzzing around

on TV screens. The dynamics of orbit,

rotational schemes had been snatched, shaken

and thrown backwards through a mirror’s pane

reflecting from one side the laws of physical governance

and from the other the forces of nature upended,

crushed into shapes which are implicit, represent

what we would like to see happen: our collective intent

cinematised on an atmosphere’s curtain.

Most of us prefer the days to the night-time.


Nights still happened but were merely less frequent.

They stabilised at five and a half hours, static,

interspersed with long, ever-lengthening days.

Times and dates grew out of phase:

a short night materialising in the early afternoon,

sunrise at dinnertime became quite accepted,

the unexpected becoming the norm

like being underwater and tasting a cherry,

climbing seven haystacks in a midnight rainstorm.


We can say to children: Christmas Day

will be twenty-eight hours long this year

and two days long next. Where will it end?

Sleep seems an anachronism, evening is here

and it’s something to be savoured –

the sunset falling on our gold-burned cheeks:

it won’t be back until this time next year.


In centuries to come a night will be a celebration,

rare as an eclipse, almost supernatural,

while generations pass in the time it takes

to switch the sun from overhead

from forty degrees; old men will speak

to grandsons of how, as a child, they saw the moon.


Eventually the night will ascend to mythology.

Humans, chasing impossible dreams,

will raise great towers into the stratosphere

and seed the sky with variants, chemicals

designed to cut the air and search for seams of darkness.

Experimenting, they mine the air for dusk, man’s half-forgotten dream.




My favourite poem out of all of them…and not just because it’s the longest! Everything just seemed to come together on this one, and it followed an idea through to its end in a way unlike pretty much any of the others. The way the premise is set out in the first line works well and really sets the whole thing up. Rather obviously, I had been reading quite a bit of JG Ballard when I wrote this (I mean, he even had a book called ‘The Day of Forever’! I don’t think I had actually read it yet when I wrote MFD; if I had, I wouldn’t have dared use such a blatantly similar idea). Now I feel there are some bits that look a bit clumsy; the exposition in the first part is quite laborious (though I remember being pleased at making it all work and fit the rhythm of the lines), and it only really gets going in the second part when I start projecting into the future as the days lengthen. But it still feels ‘complete’ in a way that I didn’t often manage and wasn’t able to repeat, even in later pieces where my writing became a little better honed.

MFD was commended in a competition, included in the resulting pamphlet, and so unfortunately I couldn’t submit it for publication elsewhere after that, despite it being much better than many pieces that I was sending out. I do remember reading it at a poetry reading in Winchester, hosted by a magazine I had something else included in – the first and last time I tried anything like that. I felt totally out of my depth, stumbled through it on autopilot, and it was utterly inexplicable why my friends who had come along to watch said afterwards that I didn’t look nervous. There were 3 poems I read out in all, I can’t remember what the other ones were, but I finished with this one, it’s length probably allowing me to well outstay my 6 minute/3 poem slot…

Reading out loud in preparation for this event brought home to me how important it is to do exactly that when writing. Until then I never used to speak the poems out loud, even to myself, and this, I think, accounts for many (not all) of the flaws in my poetry. The way they come out when spoken is very different to the way they sound in your mind’s ear, something that seems particular to poetry rather than prose. That would be my only advice on poetry writing, not that I’m qualified to give any: read ’em out loud, then you’ll see if they really work.




It is you who are ghosts,

you who pass through me,

oblivious, and are gone.


I am here. I am solid.

Cells of my own blood

sank into that concrete.


It was my last heartbeat

that echoed, indelible,

across the geometries of pavement,

walls, windows.


I am still here.

I am still here.


It was you who were unseen

in darkened rooms.

I can’t forget you.


Your invisible eyes

heart-burnt me

as I met them that night,


my head locked back

by the blade’s cold touch

against the tautened whte skin

where, once, he had kissed me,


in those clear, clear moments.

You were haunting me.




A sort of follow-up to …the same story told from the victim’s side. The idea that the living are the ones who haunt the dead is a great one with all sorts of possibilities and potential in it; Ghosts doesn’t make the most of it by any means and the ‘cold blade’ stuff is a bit B-movie thriller by numbers for me now, but I kinda like it just the same. It’s a keeper up to the last 6 lines, loses the plot a bit then comes good right at the end. In fact I think that might be the most satisfying last line I ever came up with!


This is your home now.

These are your friends.


The music had died,

sat underneath like smoke

– momentarily –


but stole away with the ghosts.

It must have been so quiet.


The violin clattered

as it fell on the boards.


The others were cold to you,

glanced at things

just out of sight.


They sat you down gently,

told you to drink your tea

and, of course, to try once more.


Perhaps tomorrow,

perhaps tonight.




Going ALL the way over to the dark side with this. It’s got some competition, but is to me the darkest poem I wrote. I don’t know whether it reads like it, but to me these people seem not just to have something happened to them, but to have had something done to them. Some kind of punishment, not simply old age, regret or decay. I guess it could be a reflection on the way old age is perceived by others, but I wasn’t conscious of that (or of the issue at all) at that time.

When waves break


When waves break

on the face of mountains

the claws in our hearts

will relinquish their clasp


When clouds are fossilized

in their beds of sky

our arms will know nothing of warfare


When the white horses

of the ocean

burst out into green flame


We will have forgotten our differences

and our dreams will empty of love’s fierce colours




This could have been the one I was chuffed about when it got published. It was in a magazine called ‘Illuminations’, which came out in France as well as the UK. Very few copies in each I imagine, but still going international! I like it actually. You could say it’s basically just a bunch of platitudes, but they’re well-dressed and I think they work. I like the way it reconciles it’s pessimism (or at least fatalism) into a kind of hope (or at least a more positive fatalism) at the end. That’s how I see it anyhow. Yeah.



glass doors are between us


paned air


it’s everything

it’s nothing



wraps itself

around you


I mime

touching you

touching air


our gowns

are glass skins

brittle skins

second skins


we touch


play chess with our tensions


glass doors

no handles

no seams

no way out

no way in


me here

you there




This spare, slightly bleak poem is, I would have to admit, revealing about me. More so, perhaps than any other I wrote (and more so than this postscript!). It wasn’t something I was aware of at the time I wrote it, but I was definitely describing something that I later came to know about myself. More than one other person has used the exactly the same metaphor, of being trapped behind an invisible, seemingly impermeable barrier, to describe the same thing knowingly, that I did unknowingly in ‘Glass Doors’. Maybe there’s more for me to say about this on other pages, in other places, but that’s where I’ll leave it for here and for now…



Wordless as faces that should have had mouths

bare are skinned shut from chin up

to nose, cheek to cheek, expanse of unwrinkled

pink-curtained flesh, chubbily soft and orificeless.


Absentia of lips and nothing of teeth – the wrongness!

Voices kept in an oaken chest, songs treasure-buried

down in deep-hulled ships, lungs without exit

and the souring of air inside webbed stale channellings,


shut in there, in. As the others draw near

they imagine hearing metallic sounds clank:

the mechanical echoes of deep, dark hammers

calling lost names and methods as the nails put to rest.




Very strange little piece, this. Couldn’t think what picture would go with it but just googling ‘hand over mouth’ did the trick. The images are extraordinary (not to mean they’re fantastic, but they’re just a little bizarre). Slightly Sylvia Plath-like, definitely unlike other stuff I wrote. Not sure if I like it or not, but it’s different…


Not a fusillade, seizure of moment

veering nearly with vicious relish


toward so much discomfort or battle

as if to the sound of gravel, the sense of biting


onto the just too cold, just too bitter,

the squeezing of dry sand with autumn knuckles.


Something arcane, a surety:

unspoken but harsh, like stark amaranths.


The potency of allusion, spaces between lines,

the silence between bullets


that leaves you waiting…




This is something that sounds like it knows what it’s saying, it seems quite confident about itself, but actually it probably doesn’t. I certainly can’t tell now, that’s for sure. Almost certainly, I didn’t know what an amaranth looked like (the leaves, which I like better than the flowers, look like that above). It was published in ‘Staple’ magazine, so must have fooled at least one person.





let my children be stories.


Draw blood from my well.

Stretch it over your flesh

as if it were

gold leaf paper.


Remake me from the seas of my crying,

slit my one eye with fire.


See what I give you:

giants haven’t this frightenment.


Night comes to call.


The sorceress strives to concoct my allure.






Slight, but one of my favourites of all of them.


They carry us: feet.

ankled by calves, beclumsied by shoes,

boots, whatever else

we might horn to their anchorage, glove

onto shy toes. They are at best

when bare: carpet-boats. Wading through

rugs, skaters of linoleum; touching tendrils of cold

grass, squeezing with sand;

fired by the black burning

of tarmac in July, the pavement’s furnaced slab;

shocked by seawater, the blue

cleansing of iced nerves. Stand

and it happens: the earth’s coloured shoots

reaching out, up through you,

the sensations of real things,

the terrain, land.



You can write about anything…