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.