Napowrimo day 7- No Trespassers Allowed

As one, blades of grass sharpen,
becoming fields of swaying razors.

Dock leaves turn away in shame,
permitting nettle gangs to rule.

Branches weave themselves together,
contorting the pathway into knots.

Even the stream, usually so gentle,
screams vile curses as it cascades.

What are you doing here, the forest
asks, after everything you’ve done?


Prompt was “Blades of grass” From Lemondaisypoetry on Instagram and I immediately went for a bad pun, then built the rest from there

Napowrimo 2020 Day 4- Erosion

On this day, a room darkened by a flash,
unfamiliar faces are made abstract by
developing camera technology. One
is probably mine, now a stranger.

Each cell of my body has died
and been reborn in the years since.
I have cleaned grey shavings of my
skin from shelves with a yellow cloth.

I am nothing more than a sand storm
thrown together by accidental currents,
thinking itself to be unified as most
of the cloud is forced forward by winds,
whilst specks drift and drop like snow onto
the roofs, the roads, the waiting ground.

In this photo on the timeline, you see them,
parts of personality left behind and discarded,
particles becoming blurred spots on the lens.


Prompt was  “Redo- a poem of recreation, change and makeovers” from the poetry at the time of being alone group. Not super happy with this one but tomorrow is another day.

Napowrimo 2020 Day 3 – Peas

It’s still magic.
The emergence
of green from
damp soil, adder
head coiling up,
before unfurling,
saluting the sun.

We transplant small
miracles outside,
cross our fingers,
hope they survive.

Four weeks scatter
like dandelion seeds.
No new shoots grasp
bamboo for support.
Slugs circle, waiting.

Without warning, a glut of blessings,
sweet excess, shock of sudden pods,
hiding the orbs of light within.
We eat them raw, tongues rejoicing.

The wind blows colder.
We split dried husks,
store spherical spells
in envelopes labelled
in pencil and wait for
the return of the sun.


I combined two prompts for this, Amy Kay Poet’s prompt ‘Write about your Eden’ and the Poetry in the time of being alone prompt ‘polyptych. A poem focusing in on a collection of moments.’

NaPowriMo 2020 Day 2 – “I only went to a psychic for an ego boost”

Lost to the comfort of burnt sage
and bergamot, I do not remember
entering or paying so I arrive
to myself already sat in silks.

The woman I thought a wood carving,
bows with patience, hands shaking,
branches in the breeze. My questions
about how I got here evaporate
and merge, forgotten, into smoke.

Without looking down at her deck,
she draws the five of pentacles
the tower, the ten of swords.

The curved lines on her face
grow deeper. I realise I have
forgotten how to breathe.

Remembering our arrangement,
she takes my hand in hers,
dry as kindling, soft as moss.
She lies to me: everything will
work out fine, nothing will change
and I am simply a flickering light,
luminescent in the gathering night.


Prompt for today was “Write an overheard poem” from Amy Kay Poetry on Instagram. The title comes from something I overheard years ago and have been waiting to use ever since. I didn’t expect it to turn out like this.

NaPoWriMo 2020 Day 1- The People

We the spin, the shimmer.
We the sway, the light,
the contagion and the cure
We the anointing and
sometimes the penance.

We the living cosmos.
We who stockpile flocks
of wings in our hearts
and galaxies in our eyes.

We the sun on the river
in the morning. We, barely
glimpsed, we the golden
and the gentle, we the
shine and the reflection.

We the rare, the cruel
and the wonderful. We
the infinite and the brief.

We who have been searching
for millennia, in the skies
and in the hedgerows. We
who are still searching. We
who strive for transcendence
and find it, now and then.


Prompt was “Write a poem that includes the words ‘flock’ ‘simmer’ and ‘sway” I misread simmer for shimmer. I drafted one poem and didn’t like it, so I ran it through a cut up machine, which twisted my words. Then I wrote out from that.

Resonance

I joined a Facebook group 1 which has daily prompts. This one was written in response to the prompt: “How do you click: Write a poem filled with noise” poem.

It’s the first day of lockdown, a week of social distancing and I feel this is representative of me missing the buzz and hum of humans in general.

Resonance

Days pass with the click of keys,
the confused mumblings of the wind,
unseen neighbours speaking, phrases
occasionally diffusing through walls.

Underneath, I still hear an echo-
many voices merged into a chorus.
We were so melodic, weren’t we?
We sang in such rare harmonies.

Our vibrations still shake each
single brick, rumble along tarmac,
and cause dust to dance with joy.
Holding my breath, I listen.

Reasons to stay at home

So we’re socially isolated for the foreseeable. It’s a weird time, but I’ve been amazed by how people are being incredibly generous. There is so much kindness out there from everyone despite the uncertainty. Here are some things I’ve come across that you may enjoy while distancing from others that may help you feel connected or entertained.

Poetry

Sam Grudgings is doing a weekly newsletter of poetry in order to combat loneliness and forge connections with others. It’s a lovely idea, find it here:

Pascal Vine has shared a long playlist of excellent live poetry. Find it here.

Outspoken Press have made their excellent poetry book collection free until the end of 20th March- I recommend Joelle Taylor and Raymond Antrobus.

Stuart Buck has a free micro collection of poems called Fuck the Apocalypse.

Other stuff

Some lovely relaxing music from Warmth, appropriately titled Home is now pay what you want.

Cosmic Shambles are running a series of streamed gigs with excellent comedians. if you don’t already listen to Book Shambles with Robin Ince and Josie Liong, you really should be.

Also called Stay at Home fest, this site collects live music and has a community calendar for other live-streamed events.

2000AD are offering an ebook of Judge Dredd for free.


Look after yourselves and each other, wash your hands etc. We’ll get through this.

Encrypted (video)

Social isolation means I’m working through the backlog of things I have to do. So I uploaded this video of my poem Encrypted, which was kindly shot by Chris at Bristol Tonic, one of the best nights around to encourage new writing.

Each month performers get given a prompt and are asked to make a piece in a month. My prompt was “Threw postcards in the shape of airplanes hoping they get to where they meant to.” That’s a great prompt.

I took it in some strange directions. Chris also helped me record an audio version of it which was featured on BBC Upload on BBC Radio Bristol.

Have a watch:

Hello Spring

spring is like a perhaps
Hand in a window
(carefully to
and fro moving New and
Old things,while
people stare carefully
moving a perhaps
fraction of flower here placing
an inch of air there)and

without breaking anything.

E.E. Cummings

Complications

This essay from Jack Underwood blew me away, because he nails down thoughts I’ve had before but have struggled to put into words. He describes poetry as a necessary counterpoint to the simplification of stories we are being fed today:

They know that nostalgia for simpler configurations and categories is a symptom of fear and frustration. They know that as everything gets worse through deliberate inactivity the more frustrated and scared we become. “The answer is simple,” they tell us: “We must simplify!” Then: “You do not cohere to simplicity. Why are you making this so difficult? Everyone else is so tired of this difficulty. Hey everyone, aren’t you tired of this? Vote for me if you’re tired!”

So many times I listen to or read poetry and it complicates my view of the world in some new way. Each new wrinkle of language provides a new perspective. This is undoubtedly a good thing. Because once you reject the simplicity of simple stories everything becomes more interesting.

Writing poems, I find myself more and more unsure, more lost to the confusion as simplicity is stripped away. I struggle to know what they are about. I know what impulse I started with but the end result is often a mystery to me. Maybe this is a good thing as well. Who can say?

Go read the whole essay, it is magnificent.

Assorted news and links

  • Theres a new poem of mine up on Fevers of the Mind. Its called Failed Hypothesis, go here to read it.
  • I love these cold clear winter days. Here’s a photo I took yesterday by the harbour:

  • If you’re writing anything in any capacity you should take some time to read this amazing essay by Kali Wallace. It’s something I’ve touched on before, the pressure to keep working, but articulated so beautifully and painfully:

Write something else. Write it faster. And network more, because those failures are your fault. You don’t follow enough writers on Twitter. You don’t read enough agent newsletters. You don’t go to enough conventions. You don’t know the right people.

Oof.

  • Philip Levine reads Let Me Begin Again. Just a stunning poem.
  • On poetry, here’s readings from the recent T. S. Eliot prize. UK poetry is in a great space at the moment.

Accidental plagarism

I read a poem at an open mic a couple of months back. I was quite pleased with it. Only recently did I realise the central image was almost the same as another poet’s work who I had seen a couple of months before. Without realising it, I had completely ripped them off.

So I looked back at my writing, only to find the problem was more widespread than I thought. Other poems were similar to existing pieces from other poets. One had the same subject matter and even style as a poem I heard months ago. In each case, when I wrote it I thought I was being completely original. Of course, I felt very guilty and will probably remove them from future sets.

In a podcast I recently listened to 1, David Mitchell described inspiration as coming from the compost heap- everything you have read and experienced broken down over time. I like this way of thinking of inspiration because it highlights how ideas are not unique but made up of other ideas, how they grow from fragments.

These poems I had seen people perform had broken down enough that I had forgotten their origin, but not enough to change the original idea beyond what they had done. So the only solution is to be honest, check the origins of my work, then throw it back into the compost heap. Hopefully, these words will rot down more over time and emerge as something different. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing and making new work, drawn from deeper down.

Brand Ambassador

we are just hear to tell the truth / tell the good as well as the bad / counteract all the lies / get our message out there / provide some much needed perspective / all hail the benevolent bosses / let’s keep it light guys / we are just here to better inform you / no need for such language / you do not have all the facts / you are misinformed / you are a child lost in the woods / alone / with only a failing torch / we have the map / we have a gps and we can lead the way out of this forest / we know where you are / we haven’t implanted the gps in you / silly / of course not / the technology doesn’t exist yet / we know all the routes / if only you’d listen / we’re going to have to insist / please do not raise your voice / aggression will not be tolerated / please stay seated / allow the machine to do it’s work / do not cause a scene / this won’t take long / we are here to help / we are giving you another story / the one you won’t hear or read / the media hates success / your echo-chamber is too limited / not long now / stop squirming / people are jealous / those stories are false / our workers are happy / look how happy they are / they are part of our success / look at their smiles / they enjoy it / everyone wins / they have adequate breaks / of course / we are not monsters / we calculated what is enough / to the second / so nothing is wasted / we are not cruel, we are kind / everything is optimised / everything is efficient / that is what you desire / after all / embracing life fully / sometimes we give our workers a minutes rest / please stop the hostility / this is your final warning / the machine is almost finished / it is not calibrated to hurt / your pain is an act / we have the information we need / and more / we know everything about you / two seconds / stay seated / stay quiet / listen to what we are saying

How to Be Free

Draw a line before your flat door.
Put up a sign saying Do Not Cross.
Disconnect your phone, gas,
the broadband, electricity.
Tear up the quarterly newsletter
issued by the resident’s committee

Declare your flat sovereign
and the line a border.
Open any post with
bomb disposal gloves.
Push back the neighbour’s cat
when it tries to enter.

Put down barbed wire
across the corridor.
Watch everyone who passes-
they might be hostile.
Start producing your own
newsletter, telling the truth.
To be safe, destroy the post.

Wonder why deliveries stopped,
why your fridge is empty
and the taps are dry.
Blame the other flats.
Blame the resident’s committee.
Detain the cat when
it crosses the line.

Turn the barbed wire
into sheet metal, a wall.
Brick up your windows.
Stop the freeloading light
from pouring into your home.
Force the cat into a cage.
Don’t feed it. Ignore the cries.
Wonder why the neighbours
are suddenly outraged.

Sharpen your knives
and wait for the knock
as they come to invade.

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.