Thursday, October 05, 2006

Doty's Mackerel

The Stop n Shop in Orleans
displays its mackerel
as perfectly the same as

they’ve always been
yet folk seem to approach
this counter from the shellfish end

or the middle where the salmon
glitter, somehow avoiding the left
end without knowing why

just pointing towards it when
they want mackerel as if that end’s
off-limits, an altar or a work of art,

revered. The cognoscenti only
buy on certain days, aware
of how the gleam can

fade, the blood-rimmed eye
tire under the lights, weary of
the stares of bargain hunters

chasing reductions, counting
their toes. Just once, a poet
held this hallowed ground,

stood where no one ever stands,
hushed by these black-barred
clones. Someone called security

though nobody knew who.
But everybody said you just
don’t stare at fish for an hour

unless you’re an accomplice,
a unibomber’s mate or a
look-out for a mass heist

about to hit 24 checkouts
simultaneously. No,
fishwatching is a dead giveaway,

it shows you have a real
problem with the world view
of mackerel. As store guards

shouted he moved away
from the counter; as
they aimed their guns

he drew a pen from his
inside pocket, smiling,

On the back of an
old envelope he wrote the words
he had been waiting for

all summer, words that
captured oil on water,
that exalted a uniformity.

First published in iota.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Strategic Fit

I want you to stretch this envelope
outside the box I want you to scope
this out and I want you to park this
offline with your gap analysis
take this big picture on board touch base
this has to be a best of breed case
I want you to drill down to the bottom line
use your blue skies thinking read my mind

I want value added leveraging
envisioneering santa clausing
futureproof proactive benchmarking
fasttrack headsup bandwidth ballparking
quality vector mindshare management
taking those maybe steps to 100 percent
wow generating 24/7
paradigm shifting to consumer heaven
a synergistic win win win
a three way street we’ll factor in

I want no emotional leakage,
no dropping the ball
no blamestorming, no pencilpointing
no chairswivelling at all

give me 360 feedback
from your helicopter view
throw the fudge out the window
the old roadmap too

I want actionable mind uploads
I want core competent episodes
think greenlaning offroads
think realtime downloads

You what? You what!?

This isn’t the orchestrating capability team?

OK. My bad. Just henhouse that for next month’s teleconference.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Familiar Signs

Pendle Hill from the north
– not for the weak-kneed.
Out of Downham, like Dante,
on serious slopes you climb
the moor till it glowers
point blank, defiant.

The Guardian called it
‘a moderate walk.’ It is,
from an armchair, on the internet.

Short of oxygen, we struggle
up zigzags past astounded sheep.
Holding the view for a moment
truth flows in:

they hanged the Pendle Witches
but three familiars
Tibb, Fancie and Dandy
shapeshifting from dog
to cat to bear to hare
were never brought to book.

“Tibb once pushed a witch
into a ditch just like this one.”
As I speak, a huge hare breaks cover.

When you wake up at three,
pull back the curtain, it’s easy
to see them swirling on the starpoints,
their baked effigies crumbling in the sparks:

you’ll hear cackling, distant
screams scouring the night,
you’ll feel that gale of recrimination
that bites the scree-slopes, you’ll
understand once you’ve tasted the air
among the cloudberries on Pendle Hill.

Until then, a lame beggar asking
for one penny, a neighbour wanting
an old shirt, a black-eyed woman digging
turf at sunrise: these are the surest of signs.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Readings in Bolton and Manchester

Two events this week of note. On Sunday 21st May, the monthly Write Out Loud versefest at The Howcroft in Bolton was again an excellent mix of everything that is good about poetry: with some key figures unable to attend but some new faces in their place, the evening was briskly compered by Dave Morgan.

From JMU Liverpool, Rachel Adamson and Elaine Wilson graced the event, promoting issue 4 of ‘In The Red’ and selling quite a few copies on the night. They read some of their fine work from the magazine. The regulars themselves were in fine form. This must be one of the most talented groups in the country, spanning maybe three generations and covering a vast range of poetry from rap to classically inspired verse.

On Thursday 25th , a substantial contingent of Writeoutlouders took the train from Bolton to the Urbis café in Manchester for a citizen 32 event. I felt there were some technical difficulties with this gig. Long narrow bars with the mic at one end don’t seem to work too well. However, the sound was fairly well controlled by DJs Neither-Nor. The organisation of the night was a bit awry.

My own view is that you should not put a headliner on as a compere: the two don’t work together. You need a compere who will keep things moving along briskly, who gets poets’ names right, and who keeps out the way for most of the evening. At first I was puzzled as to why Nathan Jones was reading so much when he was compering, but then I realised that he was billed on the front of the programme as one of the three featured poets. Whilst his poems are resounding, effective and dramatic, and he is a good poet of that type, he should leave compering to someone else with a less serendipitous approach to the job. Maybe it wasn’t his idea. It’s not rocket science to get people’s names right which he didn’t on too many occasions.

The other two billed stars were Segun Lee-French and Mike Garry. Unfortunately, more than half the audience (i.e. the Bolton bards) missed Mike Garry as we had to catch the last train. Segun Lee-French did a good job of singing, reciting and acting the roles in his work. A competent performer. The open-mic slots were equally well-filled, mostly by Writeoutlouders but with some excellent Manc talent too. Two other poets I had not heard before but hope to hear again were Felix and Aftab Ahmed, both of whom displayed exceptional skill. As we’d missed some of our slots because of the train, we had an impromptu reading on wheels on the way home with poetry from Dave, Julian and myself. Poets I haven’t mentioned here also did a good job though I had heard some do the same stuff before. Still, it beats the T.V. where there's been nothing on since 'The Impressionists'.

The magic of Magali Mauras

A French poet with a great website, Magali Mauras combines a love of the arts with an exceptional, exquisite gift of expression. Here is one of her poems in French and English and her self portrait.


Sur un labour vaste et désenchanté
- Vaste pour un seul homme –
Un vestige celtique tournait sa puissance
Et selon mon regard estampait ce cumulus

Croître en roi

L’arable consumée
Pouvait-elle côtoyer
Le rouge anglais

Opaque d’un voyage

Volubile, un été, elle nouait conte en riant
Aux prairies bouleversées de roches

Simple enfant
Le nuage se glissait
Dans les draps de la mer

© 2006 Magali Mauras


Over a vast ploughed field
- vast for one man alone -
that had lost its magic
an echo of the Celts surged
and as I watched moulded this cloud

You will grow into a king

Could this burnt umber
sit well with English scarlet?

After a voyage through fable and fog
one summer it wove its legend
laughing at the meadows
overturned by rock.

Just a child
The cloud slipped
Between the sheets of the sea.

© 2006 Magali Mauras. Translation by James Hartnell.

Magali Mauras: self portrait.

Magali Mauras vit en région parisienne, en France.
Elle suit son désir créatif et son plaisir des découvertes dans la passion du langage, des arts et de la littérature en explorant plusieurs chemins qui se croisent parfois.
Elle lit la poésie des poètes contemporains ou plus anciens, d’ici ou d’ailleurs, elle écrit ses poèmes, comme on entre en intimité avec le langage, le sien propre et celui des autres, intimité faite de richesses communes ou partagées, fortes ou apaisantes. Son premier recueil Memor amabor n’a pas encore trouvé d’éditeur. Un second recueil se construit. On peut consulter quelques poèmes anciens et récents sur Poemelilas .
Elle conte des histoires mêlées de poèmes chantés et de musiques. Ses histoires, elle les découvre dans les livres, elle les entend conter en chemin, ou elle les invente.
Elle contemple le monde où elle vit et voyage. Parfois, elle suspend un instant offert pour photographier.
Elle enseigne aux enfants des écoles primaires où l’on apprend à lire, à écrire, à compter pour soi, pour les autres. Un métier vivant et vivifiant.

Mai 2006.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Mark Doty in Manchester

Last night I went to an event organised by Commonword at St Ann’s Church in the middle of Manchester to hear the noted American poet Mark Doty, author of several collections of poetry including the immensely successful ‘My Alexandria’ and ‘Atlantis’. His work deals above all with love, loss, beauty, and the devastation of AIDS. I was fortunate enough to talk to him briefly before and after he read. When pressed, he described himself as a ‘lyrical narrativist’ and this fits his writing, or most of it.

He read seven poems in all, a mix of old and new work. He started with ‘Esta Noche’ (from ‘My Alexandria’) a major poem about performance set in a Latin drag bar in the Mission area of San Francisco in which ‘Lola stands unassailable, the dress / in which she is in the largest sense / fabulous: a lesson, a criticism and colossus / of gender, all fire and irony.’ Here, ‘perfection and beauty are so alien / they almost never touch.’ I was a little surprised when this and the other poems were received in polite silence and applause was reserved for the end of the reading. Ah well.

Next was ‘House Of Beauty’, a new poem about a beauty parlour on fire, ‘a charred rainbow.’ Here the exploration of what exactly beauty is gave much food for thought. In the third poem ‘Brilliance’, Maggie is a ‘buddy’ or visitor to an AIDS sufferer. This is a beautifully written, moving poem: ‘let me go, if I have to, / in brilliance.’

The next ‘Lost in the Stars’ – the title refers to a Kurt Weill musical – deals with Billy, a drag queen at a benefit night. How despite his incompetence this character was so bad as to be good. Then ‘At The Gym’ looked at weight training poetically and ‘Magic Mouse’, a recent work, dealt with a news vendor selling a toy for a dollar and shouting it out, so that ‘even halfway down the block / he’s altered the air.’ The final poem was one of my favourites, ‘A Display of Mackerel’. Unlike most of the other narrative poems, this is more of a lyrical meditation where nothing happens, no time passes, but the poet ponders the sameness of these mackerel ‘each a perfect fulfilment / of heaven’s template,’ then goes on to wonder whether this uniformity is where happiness is. The ‘fabulation’ of each mackerel recalls the fabulous nature of drag queens in many of his other poems.

There followed a brief question and answer session covering Mark’s life in Provincetown, some fairly standard gay issues, and some interesting comments about the difference between, on the one hand, Olson and the Black Mountain writers with their legacy of open-ended, mind-tracking, atomised sentences where the reader can veer off on one or more paths, and, on the other hand, the clarity of say Elizabeth Bishop. Doty expressed his predilection for the well scaffolded sentence on whose framework he could hang the exquisite observations, elegaic reflections and elegant lyricism that make up his narrative style.

Mark Doty reads his poems deliberately, weighing his syllables without being ponderous, in a rich, warm voice. There is nothing to beat not only hearing major poets reading their poems but also seeing them in the flesh. I’m glad I was there.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Feeling The Bounce

I recently bought two small poetry collections. The first was Rod Riesco’s ‘Familiar Machines’ (pub Wilderswood 2002) which comprises some thirteen poems by Rod, many of which were previously published in magazines. I’m catching up with various anthologies by local poets. Rod is the secretary of my local Bank Street Writers in Bolton and an accomplished poet. Not one bad poem here. An anthology which will get plenty of re-reads from me.
I wish I could say the same about the other anthology I picked up ‘X Verse and Other Poems’ by Brian Appleton. (I’m pretty sure this is not the Birmingham Brian Appleton, rock historian and musicologist.) A poorly produced, photocopied A4 chapbook of 19 poems, none of which have anything to do with the anthology’s title, ‘X Verse’ is a collection of formal, rhyming poems. Some are appealing in a gently witty way but most suffer from forced rhymes, excessive end-stopping and that grating odd line where the metre goes out the window in an otherwise formal poem. If you’re going to write this kind of poetry, you really need to get to grips with rhythm, scansion and metre. Too many lines don’t work here. Just a couple of forced examples:

from ‘Memory’

Misadventures left behind
Mock the peripheral mind

or from ‘The Fairy Bridge’

The time, the place are right; here do I stay
But my sweet, if only you had said the day.

This sort of writing gives me toothache. It’s not just Brian Appleton, who at least gets it right most of the time: too many performance poets wreck their rhyming verse with lines that don’t scan (and I don’t mean when it’s deliberate for some humorous or ironic effect.) All it needs is for the writer to feel the bounce. Maybe these writers can’t dance or ride a bike or swim? There may be some sort of coordination or balance problem with those who ain’t got rhythm. Who knows?

Saturday, April 29, 2006

'Shawnie': a pragmatic approach to dialect.

'Shawnie' by Ed Trewavas pub Tindall Street Press, Birmingham 2006. ISBN 09547913 8 X.

Written in Knowle West (Bristol) dialect, this first novel by Ed Trewavas gives a disturbing perspective on an abuse-ridden, dystopian, white-trash estate in Bristol, where the drunk, the drugged and the damaged perpetuate their abused and abusive existence. Whilst some of the baddies get their just deserts, the final message, besides the obvious one that we are all dysfunctional in our own way, is that there are those so damaged as to be beyond rehabilitation. The novel seems to support the view that a predilection for abuse can be hereditary. Some survivors might question this theory these days. The novel poses further interesting questions besides those of social theory and the nature of the abusive personality.

Most teach-yourself-to-write books advise the avoidance of dialect as publishers are less than keen on it. This in itself makes 'Shawnie' a brave effort. The author has adopted a pragmatic approach to rendering the Knowle West dialect. (My family and some of my friends are from the area, and I went to school there and later frequented some of the pubs mentioned, so I have more than an academic interest).

Dealing with dialect is not easy because:

a) if the entire text is put into dialect the result can be unintelligible even to speakers of the dialect, or at best of very local appeal, because a full transcription requires so many neologisms or non-standard spellings;
b) in the case of this particular dialect, there are many unspellable sounds so that a full rendition of the text would require a substantial glossary;
c) consistency is paramount.

The author captures most of the dialect accurately. Where it is just not possible to reproduce the exact sound, he opts for a standard spelling. An obvious example of this is the appendage ‘look’ which throughout Bristol has the meaning of ‘ if you see what I mean’ or ‘you understand’ and equates roughly to the South Walian ‘isn’t it’ or the Lancashire ‘tha’ knows’.

“cos e’s really clever look and I ain’t.” (p.2)

“even when e was a babby, three years old, look.” (p.6)

The problem with 'look' is that, in the dialect, there is a glottal stop at the end rather than the ‘k’. The actual sound is possibly nearer ‘lut’ without saying the ‘t’.

More interestingly, Trewavas uses a different amount of dialect in different parts of the text. In direct speech he gives us the full treatment – every word is rendered into dialect (with the exception of those like ‘look’ mentioned above.)
However, outside of this, where the characters are reflecting in internal monologue, a half-rendition is used: the letter ‘h’ may get dropped but vowels and dipthongs remain standardised. (I should explain that each chapter contains only internal monologue or direct speech.)

Thus, outside of direct speech, ‘it’ remains ‘it’ but in direct speech it becomes ‘eht’. Reading these two sorts of rendition – the ‘half’ and the ‘full’ – demands for a while a kind of secondary suspension of disbelief: it also causes one to consider such questions as ‘What accent do I think in? Do people not think in dialect?’ There is no doubt that the book would not have worked with everything rendered into the full dialect.

You get used to the two sorts of rendition after a while even though occasionally they are so juxtaposed as to be unsettling:

“I mean it weren’t me monthly or nothing.
‘What time’s eht, Shawn?’” (p.5)

Personally, there are one or two sounds which I would have rendered differently: I would have liked ‘ar’ for ‘our’ and ‘awd’ rather than ‘ode’ for ‘old’. I felt ‘you’ was overused and preferred the author’s alternative ‘yowe’ or ‘yuhl’ though these tend to be stressed forms. I found the last chapter inconsistent with the use of both ‘darlehn’ and ‘darling’ and with the last paragraph of internal monologue switching into full dialect. These are small points.

Overall, I think the author has done a very good job. I hope that 'Shawnie' will appeal to a wider audience than that reached by other dialect-written works. It contains some fine writing, deals with important social issues and deserves to be widely read.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dead on arrival

These night lanes this my black drive dazzling
headlights wouldn’t change for a second or more
my channels moments only would hear the end
of the track

wouldn’t the lanes change or this a second
dazzling drive would end my moments these black
track channels hear my headlights only for more
of the night

track the headlights drive these channels hear the
lanes dazzling black moments only would or wouldn’t
my night change this end for a second
more of my


Where the sandstone shapeshifts
under the wind and spindrift
a riding tern hunts into the sun
the splash is gone
like these footprints
fading foam-washed into sky.


she swims and spas
she strolls these velvet lawns
she room-services and special-requests
she tickboxes her luxury
she oils and tans
she sunlounges this pristine poolside
she selects and specifies
she ordains a precise cuisine
she mobiles, marlboros
she magazines, manicures
and he plays a round.

Friday, March 10, 2006

The Joy Of Shopping

Vespers, then sweet privacy,
chaste shivers as beaded amber
asps over blanched knuckles
and scalding shame pulses
the temple vein.

Whenever she leaves these staunch cloisters,
crosses the gardens tended
by her flighty novitiates
to face the world on Market Street
shopping for essentials,
pavement or sky safer
for her eyes, her soul
than these stockbrokers,
pedlars of Oxbridge opium,
off to an early lunch
while their mistresses luxuriate
in Surrey spas, refresh
their flaxen poise,
she must hurry past too many
gaudy, satanic billboards,
her glance bevelled
from temptation,
from unrelenting torment.
The young, what can they know of guilt?
She flinches at the lapse.

He has so much to forgive tonight:
at her bedside, desperate, daunted,
she itemises disgrace after disgrace,
that familiar pain in her knees and head,
pain for her lifelong love
and she calls him, arms outstretched,
awash with degradation,
shuddering, beyond escape.

He appears, affirms,
embraces, caresses,

The scourge bites to the bone.
Smiling, gasping relief,
she kisses his forehead
in pure longing,
holds him to her
starched, unfondled chest
a delicious moment,
then at her desk resumes
her Index Of The Scriptures,
a life’s work.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Nights on the big lake

Just after sunset, the Canadas flight in low from the east, a dozen squadrons of fifteen or so. They usually splash down in front of me, but tonight hold height and make for the distant shallows for their twilight, raucous conference. Maybe they can sense me here, well hidden as I am. A wispy, feathering breeze pushes the water towards me, but it’s calm enough to see reflections of the low, broken night cloud and a precocious Venus, always at the front of the astral queue. Midweek, everyone else goes home before now. Even the courting couple don’t turn up in their car on the far shore at dusk: perhaps her unbearable husband got home early.

Last night it was so clear I gave up counting the stars. At dusk a big pike went on the prowl, massive slashes at the silvered surface as she engulfed some hapless fodder fish. Only I know her habits. Three hours into the dark, the other big fish found me and beat me again. When I was getting ready to leave, my headlamp switched on as I gathered up all the gear, the reel on the last rod that I’d left fishing for itself screamed into life. I stumbled, she dropped the bait, I cursed.

I’m back yet again at dusk: it’s still now, flat steely water with just the big flock squawking like stock-market traders, an owl screeching in the copse, water voles fidgeting through the undergrowth, some unfavoured hound howling far out in the night. And I’m prepared. Huge baits tonight. On the top of the gravel works tower, a red aircraft beacon flashes once a second, but the planes I see winking across the sky are maybe a couple of miles up climbing out of Stansted and Norwich, deriding the static stars.

Then, staring hard into the dark, I can just make out a series of sublime head and tail rises as one, then another big, wary, old fish porpoises, moving towards my baited pitch. And then, they are here. By the dim light of the red cycle lamp, I watch the bobbins hanging from the lines. After so many nights, I ought to be less tense about the arrival of the big fish but I shake from the adrenalin as the swirls get so close. The old tiger hunters reckoned you had to avoid thinking about the prey at such times, but it’s impossible. My arthritic old dog sleeps on, always a bad sign. I can’t hold my breath for much longer.

Then the bobbin on the right-hand rod lifts an inch, pauses, climbs slowly to the butt ring – big fish. Twice this has happened in the last month, twice they snapped the rod like a stick of uncooked spaghetti. This time, I lift the rod and far out in the lifeless water an eerie,immense force tries to pull my arm off, thumping and running fast towards the snags and brambles. I turn her and hold on for ten, maybe fifteen minutes as she runs and bores deep, testing my gear and my resolve for that one flaw that she knows has beaten so many others before me, until at last she wallows and comes to the beach where I slide the big net under her, grasp the mesh with both hands and heave my leviathan ashore.

Back up the bank I admire the amber eye, the olive crosshatched flank and those enormous grey fins for a few delicious, boyhood-echoing seconds, before creeping forward and releasing her gently at the water’s edge. She surges away into the depths, drenching me with spray, leaving huge, churning vortices at the surface. Three hours later, the bobbin goes again but, still high, over-confident, I miss the fish. I drive home down empty, monochrome lanes, already planning just one more night on the big lake.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Mover

Eighteenth or nineteenth time, he says, but it won’t be his last.
He reeks of mobility:
well-met and acquainted
kilroyan and fleet,
invariably he’s asked, ‘Why here?’

No answer to satisfy the likes of us.
Work – Relationship – Sanctuary – Weather
What does it matter? We won’t ever move.

The mover loves his life:
he buys his tape in bulk, packs his memories swiftly
he sees time differently, passes with it

he ups or downsizes experience,
evaporates our ploddy years of
learning about this place with
his breathless insight,
travelling lighter
and lighter…

Before the year’s out,
just the remnants of his silhouette,
half a rumour and
the sign by the wall: To Let.


Chairleg-hungry foofighter
sparkly-top princess
ford shadows shopfronts
seconds from acquaintance

weaves his way to alcohol
frothy Friday night

clacks her heels on
chewing gum acned pavement

plunges his hands deeper
into lowslung hiphung pockets

tucks a wayward wisp
behind her three zirconium studs

stumblescuffs his unlaced
semi-faded tribal nikes

bulges her bare midriff
over bootlegs ultrawhite

teeshirt over longsleeve
sequin over skin

colliding at the corner
laser-lock begins