I found this nasty little rhyme lurking amongst my unpublished poems, and rather than have it rubbing up against my classier work – or maybe to prove, yet again, that I have no shame – I’m posting it:
If you wanna make a livin’ from sellin’ stuff
you’re likely to discover that the competition’s tough,
so let me recommend that you specialise –
and here’s an additional piece of advice:
if you’re gonna sell kidneys and eyes from donors
get signed agreements from the spare-part owners –
and a couple o’ tips I learned a little too late;
be cautious when selecting their final fate
and don’t take their organs before they are dead;
Mum was vexed to encounter Grandpa Fred
with gaping holes where his twinklers used to be
when she took up his mornin’ cup of tea.
But if your best-laid plans don’t go so well
There’s a spare cot squattin’ my prison cell.
press to be recognised,
to be lined up, tied up, tidily scribed;
ravenous rhyme kidnaps time
compelling me to skip to a distant dungeon
whose begrudging light
fumbles through a fault in a crumbling wall.
I close my eyes,
shrouding the dim glint
that fights the colours of the verse,
clipping the wings of the rhyme.
Words flutter in my imbibing mind,
shuffling and shifting until the picture fits;
until phrases are fixed into divine designs
and I write, I write.
I squeeze through the gap
and fly back
to my life.
I apologise for my continuing absence; when I write, I lose all sense of time, all memory of appointments to keep – and lately there’s been a lot going on in my life. I’m finding it necessary to stay away from the blogs, since reading them causes oe same problem and also weakens my resolve to avoid writing. The words still crowd my brain; clustering themselves into metaphors and floating into rhyme, but I try to ignore them. For the moment, I need to stay focused on my various plans and activities.
As the late, great Tony Benn said when he lost his seat in parliament at the time of Thatcher’s destructive rule: I’ll be back…
Those of you who know me will be aware that I don’t usually enter writing competitions. This is not due to modesty or fear of failure, since there is one contest that I often submit to; the prestigious Terrible Poetry Contest. The main rule of the game is that the poem must be deliberately terrible. Any poet worth his/her salt can enter – and perhaps win – The Gregory O’Donohue International Poetry Competition or The Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition, but I ask you: which of those excellent poets would have the courage to compete in Chelsea’s Terrible Poetry Contest, and how well would they fare? Eh? Eh?
My efforts have finally paid off: Along with one other Terrible Poet, I won last week’s Terrible Poetry contest! Between you, me and the other two people who accidentally stumbled onto this post, it’s my second win, but the first win – although a triumph of sorts – carried a little less weight, since the judges announced that all of the poems submitted were equally terrible, and awarded the prize to all of us. This resulted in a crisis of confidence; some of the submitted poems looked quite good to me… were our poems genuinely Terrible, or were they all embarrassingly so-so? I needed to try harder. I needed to WIN.
I tried – I tried so hard. At first my efforts were all in vain. My poems just weren’t Terrible enough. One heartless reader even remarked that she didn’t think I was capable of writing a Terrible poem! It cuts, it cuts deep…
This time I was determined to take the cup, so I submitted four poems. I like to think my win was down to merit, rather than my overbearing persistence, although, to be frank, I don’t think the chosen poem was the most terrible of the quartet.
I proudly present my award, with grateful thanks to Chelsea, who hosts the crazy Terrible Poetry Contest:
and these are all four poems:
A Helping Hand (the winning entry)
Poor Willie said
he wished he was dead.
I wished the same
so I took aim.
If I described the beat of its wings descending to the ground,
the claws, the teeth, the flames that brought Willie down,
It would sound like a lie, even silly,
Alas, poor Willie.
I told him not to smoke your fags
and why would I dip his glad-rags
in paraffin? It wasn’t me, dad.
Can I have Willie’s iPad?.
Willie loved red, he dreamed of red
and all the thoughts inside his head
he drew on walls in crimson crayon
(He even mixed brightest red into mayon-
Naise). While dripping red ink in a nearby well
he tripped, and heavily, in he fell.
As from the depths his corpse was raised,
Willie’s bloodied skull left his mother unfazed.
“I see he’s rejecting the red from his head
so it’s OK to chuck out his mayo,” she said.
Police should arrest pernickety time;
prevent it repeating its pattern of crime;
packing silk purses with dust and grime,
it gives us the reason but meters the rhyme,
controlling the second, the hour, the date,
never adjusting its pendulous rate,
declining to speed, or to hesitate;
while rivers and kisses condensate
its fingers keep flicking the image along.
This devious, silently ticking bomb
shunts us onward until we are gone,
bossily chiming, yet deaf to the song.
Surely, as poetry is art,
all art is poetry.
Sculptors take chisels to stone,
fingers to clay, mobilising
both lobes as they strive to describe
the depth, the expanse of
a moment, an emotion; the core
that glows beneath the folds. Some
chip fragrant flakes from seasoned oak
until its hills and plains
mirror the original. They shave and sand,
blowing away the chaff, seeking
to make fake flesh
speak, since oaken eyes
tell no secrets.
I write poetry,
crossing the lines,
scribing codes in the gaps,
forever frisking my id for empathic bracket.
Like archaeologists scratching
for the missing link, I scrabble
to unearth the divine simile,
the kicking metaphor which fits
neatly between two ribs.
Ragging the rug that muffles distress,
coaxing discrete hues to connect,
I raise splintered tools, wincing
as they graze old skin,
then, dipping historic nibs into new ink
I sketch bleached bones, blood, beauty
and scraps of truth
in half-baked quest
the elusive absolute.
Its noble claim:
this book contains
contemporary English poems.
It had to be worth a look.
lyrical, precisely cryptic, cryptically vague,
scissor-clever; most impressive, and yet
beneath the gleam of spit
I sensed laboured hints of shifty contrivance;
a vexing, pretentious lilt,
like a mirror betraying a conjuring trick
patiently brushed over each perceived weakness. until
what was conceived; that which was described in the first instance; a unique vision, trapped in innocence as if by a planned camera click, becomes lost, the picture perverted, titian hair, simpering skin, gone, bloom faded, eyes which blurted blowsy secret inadvertently conveyed, are buried, flesh, spirit and intent veiled beneath a fabrication of neatly picked, broken bones…
or maybe she was born that way;
pickled by the juice of the womb.
and though it’s exultant,
something is strangled, something strained,
something writhes behind the swaggering frame;
Swallowing sod, the beast sighs, and none can say
which tale is more wild, which picture more tame.
pricked puffball trip
ripping away my certainty.
Like a pip that aches to grow roots, I
ached to write red-razor lines,
so I imitated a contemporary English gait,
throwing metronomes at roller coasters,
watching them fly and sink,
cutting holes in each swing, creating
meaningful, senseless phrases and filling my pages with gaping spaces and juxtaposing tones and textures and experimenting and seeking and finding and keenly recycling incomprehensible disused words and musing and using and boldly misusing and cruising and crisscrossing mimsy and monster material concepts and minimising and absurdly seeking to decode the trends and wooing the trends and fighting the trends and clashing and buckling and trashing the trends and trying and to stew fresh new trends and describing in cunningly twisted code designed to leave the reader scratching his head failing to understand the message
the quickness of the hand deceives the eye.
I curled slick verse around my tongue
till it curdled, making me sick.
Lost in the picking
of a mythical English mist
I lay down to rest
and as I slept my stanzas untangled.
I resolved to be free of my poked faux-poetry;
the land that raised me will not define me;
tonight I lay my freckled head
on the temperate, hybrid zone
between abstract abyss
and level reality.
I stretch my legs on an English lawn as I sip my sweet English tea, but no English dawn will find me reborn as an English contemporary; this English rose grows alien thorns so I’ll stick with writing like me
Calamitous clouds break
beneath weight of water.
Pewter hues of grief
enshroud meek June skies.
Swathes of rain
imbue unready heads.
Precipitation raps vain threats
of devastation on the roof,
yet clears my vision, rinsing smudged specks
from windows that protect.
Soon, the sun will shine,
brightening the light
which plays in this heart of mine;
reflecting my reborn rays.
Slumped on sofa, feeling low,
Don’t wanna shop or outside go,
Shocking din beyond window;
Apocalypse? Malignant crows?
Curtains closed, so I don’t know,
But curiosity, so
I think take a look,
Rise to feet discarding book.
Need to eat, don’t want to cook.
Kitchen no cavern – more a nook…
Is it birds or fatal fluke?
Peak between drapes like cornered crook.
Three car pile-up – bedlam there,
Poking bones, blood-mussed hair.
Look away from sickening scare,
See ribbons of colour streaking the sky and I carelessly cease to care,
Horizon highlighting rhapsody rare;
Surprising sunset, breathtaking flare.
Pity poor victims; tarmac is read,
Rubberneckers shaking heads,
Twisted bodies lately dead.
Making sandwich, ready for bed,
Scraping mould from hunk of bread;
Provocative dreams if properly fed.
Pluck off blossoming, blue-grey yeast,
Anticipating impromptu feast,
Unforeseen shock – view faces east.
Time is thieving, night-fleecing beast.
Feel like a flock of silly geese;
Sunset west, sunrise east.
Radio wakes in hollow bedroom,
Morning call; warning tune.
Sat through night, blind to gloom.
Feel foreboding, forthcoming doom.
Skin feels pocked with autumn bloom.
Off to horrid office soon.
Better slough of sleepless grime;
Supper’s off; it’s breakfast time.
Shamelessly written for Chelsea’sWeekly Terrible Poetry Contest
From your back seat view
it might seem polite
polite to explain my reasons, or at least
say goodbye before leaving.
I see you’ve never been buffeted
by a hurricane that would have you believe
are the gale that bends the tree, while he
is the frailest leaf.
It was never true.
His initial gust was subtle,
his excuse, plausible. His apology,
though perfunctory, was prompt,
manipulating my trust.
Later, when the downpour came
I thought communication
was the solution.
It incited his ire all the more, so I tried
to tread lightly in his tangled wood,
but even the bracken
seemed braced for attack.
My feather defences
were no match
for his clamorous brigade of tactics.
He demanded a white flag, then trampled it.
Love and romance were out of action
once the black knight
had captured the white queen. Turtle-doves
flew for cover, their coo-coos
fading in my grim chamber, beaks
melting in the heat of his rage.
ricocheted like a moth
locked in a bright closet; at dawn,
he was an orphan who had lost his way.
At breakfast he accused me of taking his keys
or his toothbrush
or one of his boots
and sometimes as many as three of his shoes.
All day I watched his humours fall and rise.
Nights when I begged for restful sleep,
he’d gleefully force-feed me rancid passion
thickly laced with bile and ice.
With tantrums, tricks and lies,
he blindly trained me
to recognise designer madness.
It’s time to leave.
Closing the door, I silently
the catch into place.
I don’t say goodbye.
No brief farewell, no jester’s kiss
no faltering wave of the hand,
no sideways nod, nor backward glance
for the man who can turn a heart into glass,
then grind it back to sand.
A kind wind plays on my stretching wings.
lending me strength, sweeping me into flight.
I rise, swooping high, singing my rights,
keeping my mission of freedom in sight
so when the hunter
takes up his gun,
he won’t be able
Domestic abuse takes many forms, but it generally follows a distinct pattern. The abuser will begin with a barely discernible drip. If left unchecked, the level of abuse will increase. It will become a stream and then a river. The innocent partner/child/parent/sibling will be swept along in an increasing torrent of accusations, threats, excuses, apologies, insults, twisted truths, outright lies, all kinds of weird head-fuckery and sometimes physical violence. Abusers will use any tool they can find in order to undermine, and they can be extremely imaginative and clever.
Many abusers are likeable and charming, appearing to be above reproach – which is how they get away with it for long enough to hone their skills – so when the victim complains, he or she is assumed to be making it up. Even professionals who have been trained to spot the signs might be blind to the perpetrator’s behaviour. This makes a horrible situation even worse for the abuser’s prey, who is diminished beyond all recognition, beyond all capacity break away without a great deal of support.
Fortunately, there are organisations that recognise abuse; who train and employ intelligent, compassionate support workers. In my home town, we are lucky enough to have one such organisation; NDADA (North Devon Against Domestic Abuse).
Thank you, NDADA, thank you for your warmth and understanding, for advising me, for making me feel nurtured and for putting the strength back to my arms. You helped me to change my life around. Special thanks go to Wendy who started me on the journey and has encouraged me every step of the way.
When I consider the reams
of frazzled verse, written in the days
when my sinews
ached with anger, dread and grief
breaking down dams to drown my sorrow in words
igniting fires to singe the stealthy remains
picking through ashes even as the flames bit
yet still, he blindly drove his bloodied steel
between my ribs, piercing
the heart of me
from those emotions
as if it was a marathon masquerade of misery that I
mistook for reality, holing myself up
in the host’s attic, beneath
an old crate of broken memorabilia, where no friends
could find me to explain
that the gates of hell
were paper mache stage props
and the pit was the cracked lens
of a reclaimed camera obscura
When I single out a poem, I revoke details;
the nature of conflicts and pain inflicted,
but from a
I could be watching a documentary
or reading a book featuring the anguish of families
skewered by addiction
Empathy for the innocents
seeps into me
Yet when I read a verse from this
chapter of my life,
my heart contracts and my toes
instinctively curl away from a mud slide
which has ceased to be.
At such times, I summon your voice –
your voice, with its warm Northern edge –
sharing your mantra,
gifting me the truth that calmed you
whenever the mud of the morass
threatened to engulf your chest;
“This too shall pass.”
“This too shall pass.”
Lately, new growth
breaks through my decay,
willing the frayed remnants of pain
I take a breath of clean air
in the mellow texture of grass
tickling my feet.
Dedicated to my friend Mary Beer. Mary, you are an amazing woman, an Amazon whose strength inspired me, whose words gave me courage and whose very existence made me feel less alone. When I was at my lowest ebb, it was the echo of your voice which ran through my mind: this too shall pass – and (of course) you were right, it always did.