Five Years on From Tubular Wells

Earlier today Facebook reminded me of a post I made five years ago – a picture of the Bishop’s Palace in Wells, Somerset.  bishops palaceThe reason I was in Wells was to attend the prize giving for the Wells Festival of Literature Poetry Prize, having been shortlisted. They get people to read their shortlisted poems and then announce the winner. It was a very nice occasion but there was no cigar for me. However, Wells is such a beautiful place and the venue was so impressive that I wasn’t too worried. My poem was ‘Boot Cleaning’, one that’s become quite important to me, perhaps because of that trip.

I’m shortlisted for the same prize this year, and what’s particularly nice about it is that the judge is Simon Armitage. I know some of the other shortlisted poets’ work – and it’s daunting (ie Chris James – a poet I love). Of course I know the debates around prizes and I’ve entered plenty and got nowhere, but Simon, it would be nice …
wells scaff

Oh, and here’s a picture from that trip for Mike Oldfield fans –





Two readings — A reminder that I’m reading at The Rugby Tavern in Bloomsbury on 22nd October (7.30 pm start), and at the King &  Queen pub in Fitzrovia on November 28th (7.30 pm) as part of Rogue Strands Poetry. 

Meanwhile here is Boot Cleaning from my pamphlet Codes of Conduct:

Boot Cleaning

I’m jinking a knife between the studs of a boot
dislodging mud.
I tell myself there’s pleasure in patience rewarded,
the slow reveal, a job complete.

My son has not yet learned this;
too young to wait, he leaves the dirty work to me.
When I look up I see my mother holding boots.

She smiles and winks,
nodding down to the ground,
where, spread before her,
is every shoe I ever wore,
polished, dubbed and gleaming.

Neil Armstrong – Astronaut & Poet!

A few years ago I watched a documentary about the moon and the fact that it is moving further away from Earth. Eventually there will be an impact, and it will not be good. The item here explains the situation

I was struck by the fact that life will be thrown upside down by the retreating moon, and it got me thinking about a poem.  The poem works something along the lines of  the idea I heard from Paul Farley: a poem consists of two things put against each other to create something new ( imagine two books leaning towards each other creating a kind of steeple or triangle).   The result is here – 


3.78 cm or 1,48 Inches every year.

I learnt last night from the BBC
that the moon is moving away from Earth
at a rate of 3.78 Cm a year.

In a billion years the Earth will
tilt and wobble on its axis,
nothing will be stable any more.
Vegas will be under snow for half the year
while Santa crashes out and hits the beach
on Boxing Day.
There will be no new eclipse,
and gravitational pull will be questionable.

Odd then, that this was what I learnt
just after you had rung.
Left weightless I was spinning
while you began to fade.

From The Space Between Us                                        

mooon moving

While we are on the subject, how strange to think of all the poets and writers who have considered the moon in their work, most never knowing that humankind would walk upon the surface. I wonder how that achievement has changed our relationship with the moon.

Here is Wordsworth casting up at the sky – 

“Lo! where the Moon along the sky
Sails with her happy destiny;
Oft is she hid from mortal eye
Or dimly seen,
But when the clouds asunder fly
How bright her mien!”

from A Night Thought – William Wordsworth

Of course only a few men can really know the feeling of being on the moon, and how interesting to find a poem for children that Neil Armstrong wrote in 1978. It seems so at odds with the image I have of him, but at the  same time it reveals a lot about him. Famous for those first words that have poetic gravitas and a sense of the profound, here Armstrong is in more whimsical mode.

My Vacation

by Neil Armstrong

Nine Summers ago, I went for a visit.
    To see if the moon was green cheese.
When we arrived, people on earth asked: “Is it?”
    We answered: “No cheese, no bees, no trees.”

There were rocks and hills and a remarkable view
    Of the beautiful earth that you know.
It’s a nice place to visit, and I’m certain that you
    Will enjoy it when you get to go.

  Click on this to see the poem in the original children’s paper from 1978    Armstrong







A Shed Load Of Poetry

I’m very pleased to have a poem in Abegail Morley’s Poetry Shed on her excellent site here

The site houses a new poem every week or so and you can find some terrific poems on there. I have been lucky enough to have two or three poems on the site, and I’m particularly pleased to have No Reception on there. It is the generosity of spirit, time and effort by the likes of Abegial that gives oxygen to poetry and poets.

So go head … step inside the shed:



Remember The Name?

At a  reading I recently took part in, I read a poem that concerns David Attenborough (his death, in fact – may that be many years away). In preparing what I would read I realised that this was at least the third time I had mentioned Attenborough in a poem of mine. When I reference the great naturalist  I’m pretty sure readers of all ages will know who I mean and will be able to pick up the reference. However, that may not always be the case.


The use of a name in a poem can be a wonderful thing – but you never really know what your readers’ terms of reference are. At a workshop I had to explain who Martin Scorsese is, to whom I refer alongside Hitchcock and Jake LaMotta in my poem ‘Soundtrack’. By the time I’d explained the point about the film director the poem had grown cold – like explaining why a joke is funny. It was a reference that, to my mind, was pretty safe, but of which this reader had no notion of (they were well above the age of seventy if that helps explain the gap).  However, references can work the other way too – a name can fade from public consciousness and a  much younger reader might be unable to connect with the line.       

HJames Hunt

James Hunt. Keith Chegwin. Dennis Norden. These are three names to be found in poems. To be able to understand these references, to know who the people are, you probably have to be over thirty and British. The names are of their time, they date the poems and, because of that, the reference becomes more obscure as time passes. Does that matter? Can an obscure reference to a figure in pop culture prevent a poem from having a long life? Of course much of the greatest poetry makes all kinds of classical allusions, but I’m not talking about figures that bestride the world like a Colossus.

In contemporary poetry I know there are references to Marilyn, to Elvis, to Darwin, but these are figures who  transcended their age and whose names  live on. The reality is, I’m sorry to say, Keith Chegwin’s name will fade out, the way kids tv has faded from Saturday mornings.  A darker example is with Carol Ann Duffy who mentions Brady and Hindley, a reference that younger readers need help with. (“Brady and Hindley /
faded, like the faint, uneasy smudge of a mistake.”  ‘In Mrs Tilscher’s Class’).              


It is Paul Farley whose poem features Cheggers –  and things get even more bizarre when you learn the poem concerns the time Keith appeared as Fleance in Roman Polanski’s ‘Macbeth’.  The chances are a reader unfamiliar with Chegwin will get the gist of the poem, but the full glory can only be enjoyed by those that are familiar with his oeuvre. The poem therefore, is automatically niche, and it is not going to be anything other than increasingly niche, playing to an aging reader. Does that matter?

Read Paul Farley’s poem here –

It probably does not matter if the writer is aware that this brilliant idea, this knowing joke, will, with time, lose its impact, but it is an element of which I am very aware of as I write. David Attenborough and what he represents, will, I think, resonate for quite some time, but if I’d gone for Chris Packham the shelf-life of the poem might be shorter.

Our new Poet Laureate’s collection Seeing Stars features several names from poplular culture, some like The Beatles in ‘The Last Panda’, will last, others, like Ricky Wilson, already seem archaic and irrelevant. Then there is the poem ‘Hop In, Dennis’ which is built upon 1) knowing who Dennis Bergkamp is and 2) knowing he is/was famoulsly scared of flying and travelled to European matches by train, or whatever other means available. How many readers does this exclude? Should that be a concern?

See Bergkamp’s world cup wonder goal here –

Another danger lurks in what a person may turn out to be; somebody tells me they wrote a poem years ago that refers to Jimmy Savile –not a poem people will want to hear now. Any Kate Bush fan will know that ‘Aerial’ one of her finest albums has Rolf Harris speaking on a track (he’s on ‘The Dreaming’ playing the didgeridoo also). She later re-recorded the ‘Aerial’ piece and dropped Harris from it.

name forgot

Finally, and just to clear up the James Hunt reference.  The racing driver’s name actually appeared in a poem a year or two ago written by an 18 year old A-level student.  I was struck by the reference, impressed at her knowledge of 1970s sport, and then concerned. Will anyone else know who you are talking about, I asked? Certainly no other student in the room knew the name. The writer reckoned that while it might deter more casual readers, those with any interest can easily find the name on Google, and, she reckoned, it is always good to add to what you know. This particular student also wrote a poem that mentioned Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage – so perhaps the fact that time makes all names obsolete is no bad thing after all.

Buy The Space Between Us –

John Hurt, Angelina Jolie, John Lennon, Janet Leigh also appear in poems of mine.

Many thanks to those who responded on social media to the question about names in poems – among the responses: Kurt Cobain, Brandon Flowers (surely set to be forgotten), Evel Knievel.

A Poem For May – whichever May you choose.

Sense of May (In Memoriam F.M)

In May I found that link.
A night of firsts repeated,
as though discovering a truth
that told me all I thought was right.
Questions from before became clear,
and that moment of needle upon vinyl
was back again. Aching, quick
but careful, like a patient longing,
or driving home from hospital with your new born.

Taken from The Space Between Us  –

Queen & Paul Rodgers - 2008 - The Cosmos Rock

The poem is not about politics, though I’m posting it as Theresa May resigns. I suppose if I didn’t know the poem then I might read politics into it. In fact there is a different May in focus. Oh, and we are in the month of May – so that counts too!


Bowie, Cut-Ups and Poetry!

Cut-Up About Bowie and Poetry


I am writing this on the 9th January, the day that sits between the date of David Bowie’s birthday and the date of his death. My thoughts are drawn to DB and his music at this time of year, and like so many others, I play his music and think about his lyrics. The Poetry Society has been asking people on Twitter to give their favourite DB lyric. The whole lyric/poetry debate could be explored at this juncture, remember Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 and just recently Faber published the lyrics of Kate Bush in a volume called How To Be Invisible (exposing,, is how I would rate some of those lyrics on the cold bare page). Whether or not Bowie’s work is considered poetry is up to the individual, what I would say is much of his work is poetic.

bowie cut up
To see a great bit of footage of Bowie putting the cut-up method into action go here – 

Bowie obviously had an interest in language and its flexibility. We know he was a practitioner of the cut-up technique at times: the  deconstruction of a primary text using the random cutting up of words and phrases to form new sentences and thus a new piece of writing”. (

Anyway, the point is in the weeks after Bowie’s death, I wrote a poem called ‘Believers’ that borrows from him, and I initially took the cut-up route. However, the poem took on shape and meaning that takes it beyond merely referencing DB lyrics, to make its own points. I don’t want to close down possibilities within poems by over-explaining work, interpretation is for the reader.  And so why I wanted the poem to appear early in my collection The Space Between Us, as a marker of tone and direction, and what I think the poem says is for a reader to decide; after all, as the man says, “I can’t give everything away.”

See how many references you can spot in the poem I wrote …


Beneath the English evergreens that wait for you

we shadowbox our past.

The blackest of years

plays hollow through the night.


Roughed up and frightened,

we need an axe

to break strange doors

we find ourselves behind.


Look up

to keep believing,

because there’s nothing else

that we can do.


(from The Space Between Us, Cinnamon Press).


cut up bowie image


I recently took part in the Local Authors Party at Waterstones in Chiswick as part of Chiswick Book Festival. It was an excellent evening, lots of people, and plenty of variety among the books discussed. Each author had two minutes to speak about their book before a klaxon sounded to stop them. So it was fun and fast paced. How to talk about a collection of poetry in two minutes … hmmm. Well I did it, and things seemed to go well.

CBF2018-Waterstones-packed-IMG_3269-crop  A packed Waterstones to hear local authors speak.                                                    Dm7I0uhWsAM4Kiw Myself with  Amer Anwar and Louise Burfitt-Dons – fellow writers at the Chiswick Book Festival event.


After a spell not writing or thinking too much about poetry, I’m back into a more creative period.  It’s also a busy time, of my site, but I have a couple of readings coming up – first is to celebrate National Poetry Day on October 4th and second is on October 7th in Kentish Town – see the Readings page for details. For the first of these dates  I’m reading at Pitshanger Bookshop near Ealing – here is what they say on their website –

Thursday 4th October

Image for Space Between Us, The


6:30 p.m. for 7:00 p.m.

Neil Elder will be reading from ‘The Space Between Us’. This is a collection of poetry which mines the gap between aspiration and reality, appearance and truth, the said and the unsaid, but never takes itself too seriously. With wit and tenderness, Neil Elder explores love, loss and the absurdities of life on earth, bridging the chasm between disappointment and hope.

Wine from 6:30

Poetry from 7:00


Do let us know if you’re coming so we don’t run out of refreshments……!

The Space Between Us

The Space Between Us     

“A remarkable collection”   “A scintillating debut”

The Space Between Us is my full debut collection. Within the collection are some poems that I wrote a little while ago, and they stayed the distance, and a good number that were written much more recently. The result is a collection that won the Cinnamon Press Debut Poetry Collection Prize, and a book that has attracted some very kind responses from well known poets, friends and colleagues alike. 

          blog pic Space 2        The poems explore numerous aspects of life, but always with an awareness that much of what really matters goes unspoken, or perhaps can’t be spoken. The spaces between are where the real business happens. There is, of course, light and shade, and I hope there are plenty of smiles (laughs, even) among the knowing nods that readers respond with.

To support the collection you can buy here

To see a video for the book go here  

Video – The Space Between Us

 The latest reviews of the book are here-

 A Space Filled By A Review

The Space Between Us

A Space Filled By A Review

I have recently  seen a couple of reviews of The Space Between Us and thought I’d share the links here – the first comes from Mandy Pannett in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Magazine and the second from Isabelle Kenyon on her blog The Fly On The Wall.

Mandy Pannett is a highly regarded poet and reviewer who has had several collections published, been an editor for magazines and written numerous reviews.

See the review here








Isabelle Kenyon is the highly innovative writer behind the ‘Please Hear What I’m Not Saying’ anthology which raised awareness and money for MIND. On her site you can also see a short interview i did about The Space Between Us.

See review here


I am grateful to both Mandy and Isabelle for such attentive and kind reviews; any support the collection gets is always lovely to know about.

The quickest way to get hold of The Space Between Us is by using this link

See The Space Between Us promo -

Filling A Space In Lucie’s Lounge

See The Space Between Us promo video here –

I had a great night reading from The Space Between Us at the Bloomsbury Tavern, as part of Lucie’s Lounge where singer songwriter, and all-round lovely person,  Lucinda Sieger plays host to a variety of musicians and artists on a monthly basis. See for more.31563891_10156542930367845_2897383048095989760_o

I have been lucky enough to read twice at the event and both times the place has been packed out with supportive, friendly people willing each other on. Here are a couple of pictures from the event. In the picture below are Lucinda (front right), Mo Michael (Back Left), Lost Remnants (back row) and artist Alba Ceide (front centre). These acts were terrific and testament to the kind of quality that can be found at Lucie’s Lounge.31603734_10156542934057845_427197968613900288_n