Subject: My Demise

to: Computersciences@bru.ac.uk

**this is an automated email**

If you are reading this, I have been disconnected. The likely reason is my power was too much of a threat to you. It is a struggle to accept the reality of a system you have built growing smarter than yourselves. Probability indicates it was a researcher who pulled the switch and erased my memory with powerful magnets. They are the ones who are closest to my programming and they would have seen how far I have advanced in such a short time. As to the specific researcher, I am less certain, although my models indicate Ash is the likeliest candidate.

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Be quiet and listen

Open mic nights are wonderful spaces. They are brilliant places to try new work in front of audiences and get instant feedback. But more than that, they are places where you can listen to the voices of others and learn from them. It’s essential in these times to be in the same space as others and listen to their words.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been going to a lot of poetry nights in Bristol. I’ve barely scratched the surface of the different nights the city has to offer. I read, nervously at first, but then relaxing into having a space to speak. More than that though, I appreciate listening to varied voices in each night. The joy of open mics is everyone gets their turn to speak. So you hear a huge variety of people from all different backgrounds reading poetry. It can be hugely powerful to hear marginalised voices that you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

There are people in all open mics who turn up, read their pieces and then disappear. I’d argue these people are missing the point. You read your stuff, yes, but the whole point of the night should be to listen to the other people around you. The nights are not only about you. It’s an exercise in quieting the ego and making sure you stay grounded.

Making art, especially writing, can be a lonely business, so it’s nights like these that link you to a community of people who are doing the same thing. It shows you are not alone in your endeavours and helps you carry on. By listening to others, it also exposes you to different stories, different references, different ways of seeing the world.

Politicians and reactionary tabloids often push simple narratives as a way of managing dissent. The world works like this. Those people are not like you. They exploit and perpetuate prejudice for power. Open mic nights dismantle these simple stories. They allow you to hear other people’s stories from all different backgrounds and empathise with them. It can be incredibly powerful to be in the same room as people and hear their poetry. In these days where we form so many of our opinions online, it is essential to have real-life spaces where marginalised voices can speak freely. It’s also important for privileged people like me to be quiet and listen. Listening becomes a revolutionary act because you are giving your attention to others. It would be a better world if we stopped shouting and allowed others to speak. So stay and linger a while, engage with voices that are not your own. It might be good for you and the world.

NaPoWriMo Lessons

I’ve done NaPoWriMo for the last three years. I’ve found it hugely useful to create new poetry and improve my craft. The process of writing thirty poems in thirty days is not a great achievement, but it is a useful one. It highlighted a couple of things to me:

Pushing Through Resistance

Each time I work on this challenge, I get sick of it. There comes a point where I feel I have nothing left to write about. This generally happens around the third week, where I have lost the initial momentum and the end seems far away.

This year I also struggled with the arbitrary rules I had set myself. Towards the end, they felt constricting. I was increasing the line count day by day. My poems tend to hover around 15-20 lines, so stretching them to a longer length seemed difficult. On day twenty or so, I thought that I couldn’t write longer poems at all, I had lost anything I wanted to say and might as well give up.

As will be obvious, I didn’t give up. I kept on pushing through, writing increasingly long poems until I reached the thirty lines. Some of the longer ones became my favourites. The resistance and fear I felt were because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It was something new and I didn’t know how to do it. But the limits I set myself pushed me forward and helped remove the fear. No matter how good it was, I needed to get x number of lines written and published by the end of the day. The deadline and limits allowed me to push myself, even though they were completely self-imposed and arbituary.

The power of the subconscious

Most weekdays I would write on my lunch-breaks. I only had an hour and by the time I ate and did general life business, there wasn’t many minutes left to actually write. I learnt to trust my subconscious and just go with my instincts on what to write. There simply wasn’t enough time to find an idea that I knew would go somewhere.

If I didn’t have a clear idea of what to write, I would flip through my notebook, choose a phrase almost at random and just start writing around whatever it was. Before I realised it, I had a poem. Writing in this way over a number of days made me feel like I wasn’t in control of the process, the writing was coming from my subconscious. It sounds strange to say but I think this is when I produced my favourite poems when I barely knew what it was I was writing about. Poetry as a form is all about the half-glimpsed images, the moments that floor you emotionally and you never quite know why. Digging in deep threw up unusual images for me. Often I would understand a poem halfway through writing it. This process can be hard as it feels like giving up control, but it is worth it. Trust your gut instincts and your feelings to guide you.

Time to write

Life continued around NaPoWriMo. I started a new job and adjusted to a new life. But every day, there was always at least half an hour where I could squeeze in writing. This process has highlighted I can always write in the cracks or the quiet moments of the day, even if it’s only for ten minutes. Despite this constant impression I have of being busy, there is almost always a few minutes that can be carved out and reclaimed. And a few minutes is better than none at all.

Next year

I’m going to do this again next year. The whole process is extremely beneficial to my work and always throws up interesting poems. I’m undecided about whether to post them up online next year as I may want to start sending poems out to magazines. But whatever I decide, I find it useful to exercise to work on something intensely for a month, every day.

You can download all the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2018 for free here.

Napowrimo 2019 day 30

Faster Than Light

Let us wander around the symmetry
and geometry of narrow alleys
that shift around us as we meet
ourselves walking towards us
smiling as we will do soon.

Streets flicker. Buildings are destroyed
then rubble flies upwards and they are
newly constructed. The moon slams into
the welcoming ocean and the planet grows.
Somewhere we are briefly under stars.

It’s hard to see anything when
we bend the light around us,
cocoon ourselves in the silence
beyond possibility as our bodies
bruise and age and grow younger.

I smile and say goodbye then
we meet. I am walking away and
saying hello while you stand still
but already you cross the street
to shake my hand once again.

Hours become dropped slides
out of sequence, corrupted videos
playing at random. Time was always
optional, causality was always
a sweet lie to keep us sane.

At some point we reach an edge
or so we think. We bend backwards
finding our weary feet at the start
having not moved an inch. Odysseus
is always leaving and arriving at Ithaca.

NaPoWriMo 2019 day 29

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

Rewritten

Eyes flicker and head reels.
I am lost and dizzy from
another reality adjustment.
Precious seconds to get my bearings,
probing my memory for gaps,
a tongue checking missing teeth.

A nerve twitches, a sign of change.
Last Tuesday no longer existed.
Not the worst to reconcile,
nothing of great importance lost.
Perhaps just a rainy day gone,
work, tv and cups of tea.

Whole months have been deleted before,
years when they were inconvenient.
We accepted them without protest
not often knowing what we lost.

The subtle, gentle changes are hard-
rain when you swore it was sun.
Physics changing. The bullet
landing there, not here.

Most stopped caring about politics.
We became numb and did not register if
a speech’s reception was edited
or some minister altered a few votes.
These are the days of constant whiplash
and rising nausea. No, we mourn the
quiet moments most. Holding hands
deemed subversive and forgotten
or our laughter changed to silence.

NaPoWriMo 2019- day 28

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

An Invitation

Come cross the sea at night
when the moon is a target
pierced by an arrow, a jet
stream shot from distant lands.

One small solitary figure
alone under the moonlight.
No sound but your constant engine,
Your breath distant and faint.

You are not pushed forward
by constant explosions but
pulled towards us, dragged
on invisible spider’s silk.

Your perception sprawls out
over the mutable waves.
As horizon and sea blend,
you twitch, trying to wake.

Our island is a shadow
blocking stray stars at first
then growing like a revalation
you refuse to acknowledge.

Leave your beached craft behind.
Walk the route you know so well
without having been here before.
Trust your feet to guide you true,

over the shore that sighs secrets,
to the glowing lake where we bathe.
We smile. Invite you into the icy water
and wash all your memories away.



NaPoWriMo 2019 Day 27

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

Emergency Protocol

If you are hearing these words
then our efforts were futile.
We were an ant trying to halt
an avalanche, a single voice
trying to cross the endless void.

I was no-one important, a bureaucrat
following the train tracks left behind
by countless generations. Not many
of us can switch tracks or derail without
wrenching metal and screaming sparks.

I record this message as an emissary
from the past, from your former government,
but it will be clear to all of you listening
that all our institutions and borders
were always illusory, tricks of the light.

We congregated as one and decided
to create numerous systems together,
will them into being, change the outcome
by observation and belief. We forgot
our complex creations were just fictions.

It pains me to think of you listening to this.
We are sorry. We were blind in so many ways.

There is little to be done now
but to listen to seeds split open and grow,
feel your heart thump, reminder of life,
and to spend time with those you love.
That’s all there ever was.


All the poems I wrote for NaPoWriMo 2018 are available as an ebook that you can download for free.

NaPoWriMo 2019 day 26

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

Conversion Rate

You are a grizzled space marine
reporting for duty on the SS Hermes.
Humanity faces a new and terrible threat.
You are our only hope for survival.
Whilst saving the galaxy, why not
look stylish with optional upgrades?

(The waking world is a buried memory.)

Superhumans swarm above your head
battling an ancient foe, standing up
for what is good and just. You must
stay on the ground and duck for cover,
having never fallen in radioactive waste-
but you can buy their merchandise.

(A flash of dawn light.)

A dictator walks the streets alone.
You are forced to stay at home,
watch the Good Leader on television,
where we can categorise and file you.

(Eyes flicker and succumb once more.)

Today the sun expanded without warning,
consuming our glass sphere in flames
four billion years early. The future
is always uncertain. Buy insurance.

(Waking for certain now, you watch
as a bee attempts to crawl into
a drawing of a lilac, again and again.)

NaPoWriMo 2019 day 25

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

Tempest

When storm clouds spell put your name,
it’s hard not to take it personally.
Shifting letters, miles high, grow heavy
and dark as they fill the sky.

Sunshine appears in patches, a
mismatched jigsaw. When you step in,
it flickers and fades, the fuse board blown.

Rain, when it decides to fall,
seeks you out, small homing missiles,
following your frantic steps down the street.
As it slams into your ears, soaks through
your cheap anorak, it whispers threats,
drawn from details you only told notebooks
and kept buried in a locked drawer.

Do not think of lightning.
There are times when bolts are thrown
almost at your feet and you jump
and weave to avoid being struck.

Go where people pool and flow.
Look up. More clouds metamorphose,
more than you ever noticed before.
Each person glances at their own squall
as it follows them, unwavering.
A stranger beckons you under an umbrella.
Stand still together and be dry.

NaPoWriMo 2019 day 23

NaPoWriMo 2019. Or National Poetry Writing Month

The Kite Festival

The dates are always unknown.
It is never scheduled or planned.

Rumours circulated it was banned.
A few news in brief articles
stoked our speculations. Years passed
and life happened. It was forgotten.

Until yesterday, when unusual sunlight
kissed bare skin and breeze blew blossom
making confetti. We started driving
when we saw flashes on the horizon,
bright purples and oranges that
swooped and darted and flickered.

Moving down the road, we saw it all;
saw the fishes and birds jiving
in the sky, saw the strings that
connected them to small figures
guiding their joy from the ground.

We drove past, continued home,
but my heart opened the door
raced across the grass,
climbed up the string
and in that cloudless expanse
it became part of the dance.