Being Present

Being Present is the title of my forthcoming chapbook published by The Black Light Engine Room. Below is a snapshot of the early proof copy.


You will notice the book is divided into two halves – I Friends, II Colleagues. What runs through all the poems is the idea of how, in this selfie-age, we look at ourselves and each other. The act of looking is very much to the fore – sometimes with admiration and sometimes something darker is at work.

Part I, Friends, explores the friendship and lives of Ellie and Tara, two twenty-something women; they might belong to Generation Rent. Tara and Ellie takes turns in the collection, poems alternating focus or presenting them together – but always with an idea of being very much part of an age where to look and to be looked at is how we live each day. It is an age of mindfulness and being told to live in the moment – it’s aboutBeing Present‘.

Part II, Colleagues,  shifts focus to the world of employment and it continues the question of how much our projected self is the real self. Sure, your boss looks like she’s in control – but what’s really going on behind the door of her office? Of course there’s darkness, but there’s humour and hope too – like most workplaces. The titles of the poems give a clue as to how much the poems are ‘Being Present.


Thanks to p.a. morbid at The Black Light Engine Room for giving these poems a chance. Right now the book is in production, with Jane Burn of Jane Burn Storybook Art producing an illustration for the chapbook. Judging by the team’s previous work, I think it’s going to be a thing of beauty.




Poetic Voices

Poetic Voices – Anything But Ordinary

I imagine many are familiar with The Poetry Archive; Sir Andrew Motion and Richard Carrington were able to engineer this excellent resource for poetry, and it remains part of Sir Andrew’s lasting legacy as Poet Laureate.

A quick search on the Poetry Archive shows that contemporary poets such as Hannah Lowe and Jack Underwood can be found alongside poets from ‘The Canon’. The site is huge and covers poets from all parts of the globe. One could spend hours on the site; the audio recordings, in particular, are worth giving time to – hearing Tennyson from 1890 for instance is quite something.

Being on the Poetry Archive site must carry some cachet, though in fairness the site does say “It is important to emphasize that we do not consider poets who are already in the Archive to be better poets than any who are not there yet.”  Inclusion on the site is by way of recommendation to a panel that “is always looking for reasons to include people and never for reasons to exclude anyone.” However, finances are part of the sticking point in adding to the Archive, the cost of including a new poet being around £2,500 (studio hire, engineer, copyright etc).

An alternative route to hearing poetry being read aloud online exists with Poetic Voices – a home to poets –

 “of all ages and backgrounds to share their work on a simple, easy-to-use, accessible platform. Not only is it a useful tool for artists, it also serves as an online library of sorts, in which you can explore and discover poets, get inspired, or simply to get lost in the art of poetry.”

This is an excellent resource for finding poets who may be less-well known than some on the Archive, but whose work ranks alongside them (in my view). I was alerted to the project when I read at Enfield Poets and I have subsequently been able to contribute three poems to the site.


It really is an excellent venture and one worth exploring. My only question or criticism is to wonder why the site labels itself ‘The online archive for ordinary poets’ – why the word ‘ordinary’? Take a look at what’s on the site and you will agree that there are some wonderful pieces on there that are anything but ordinary.


My three recordings are here

The Poetic Voices Home page is here

The Poetry Archive



Seeing the Light with Mona Arshi (and the length with Simon Armitage).

I recently ran some workshops for students and was lucky enough to have Mona Arshi lead two of the sessions. Mona is a great advocate of the role of ‘form’ in poetry – consciously working on such things as line length, metre and phrasing in ways which may seem clear to seasoned practitioners, but to those just beginning to write poems can be new and demanding.

One interesting trick that Mona showed us was to hold the paper with your poem on it up to the light, turn your page over so that you are looking at the reverse, and then notice line length – anything too uneven is wanting attention – or at least justification. Furthermore you will stop looking at the choice of specific lexis, and instead start to think about the shape and fluency of the poem. To me this seemed akin to Frost’s idea about the “sound of sense”. Frost talked about listening to voices through a closed door, suggesting it is possible to understand the general tone of a conversation even when the specific words are muffled, because the tones and sentences with which we speak are coded with sonic meaning: a “sound of sense”.

      This poem has a very long last line – does it need more thought?

The technique of looking at lines on the back of the paper is something like this, because the words themselves are not the focus of attention, instead the focus falls on the shape of the poem. Of course there has been lots written about Frost’s notion, and there is plenty to think about concerning Mona’s ideas on line length, among other things, but one neat little coincidence during the course of these workshops, was that I read an interview with Simon Armitage in which he talks about the fact that he writes poems onto graph paper, he says “The graph paper helps me plot the length of lines against each other and gauge the size of the poem as it might appear in printed form.”

I should also point out that line length is tied to syllables, clearly, so the ‘look’ of the poem is just one factor – the metre and all those fiddly things also need to go into the mix.

So, if you are looking for another check on whether a poem is working or not, consider flipping the page over and holding it up to the light, too long/disjointed/just right? Or perhaps you’ll decide it’s time to hit the stationery shop and get hold of some graph paper?

 Not entirely uniform.                                                                                 What is happening with the very short last lines?

The full Armitage interview can be found here –

Mona Arshi’s collection ‘Small Hands’ won the Forward Prize for best first collection in 2015 and her website is here

 The last stanza has longer lines than the other two, but is reasonably uniform.

Everything is Scripted by James Giddings. (Templar Poetry)

(A short review of a pamphlet/book I recently read and recommend).

A poem exists on its own terms; it is the reader who imposes meaning, makes of it what he or she will. The poems in James Giddings’ Everything is Scripted invite the reader in, they give space for interpretation. What they also offer is amusement, originality and surprise, after all, when was the last time you imagined your own father living inside a freezer?

The poems are full of vim and humour, but pathos lurks and sometimes sweeps in just when you think you can relax. There are several poems in which Giddings imagines his dad in some altered state or outlandish situation. There are feelings of loss and separation buried within the surreal moments, and thinking of your father as a parachute strapped to your back is a lovely metaphor, until you entertain the possibility that the parachute won’t open. In ‘My Dad the Politician’ we have a prescient mix of Putin and Trump presented:

The whole world waits on his word.  /  His charisma, though scripted, is undeniable.

He calls for a press conference and fights  /  A bull live on air,

The poem spins the media dream-machine of a polished politician until we reach the core of the man who confesses in a whisper “I can’t do this.” Perhaps  this is what Presidents think in the wee small hours? Here we have one of the recurring ideas in the collection, the notion of doubt and how we deal with self-doubt. Even a marriage proposal is shelved because of fears about what might happen at the subsequent wedding, “you in a meringue dress chewing out the caterers/ over the width of the finger sandwiches,” (A Proposal).

everything-is-scriptedThere are a few alternative love poems in the collection, such as “A Proposal” and “Some Reasons For Divorce”, and we also have death within the pages too. One of my favourites where death comes knocking is ‘Butcher’ where we get the big questions flown in on the back of arresting visual images –

Have my hindquarters strung up in the shop front,

Parade them like the legs of can-can dancers.”

‘Killing You off on Public Transport’ captures much of the prevailing tone of the collection, a self-lacerating but tender tale of imagined killing that seems to me to chime with how many of the poems present uncertainty beneath the veil of bluff confidence;

It’s got to the point where I’m no longer sure/ why it is I’m crying

 The poems reward re-reading, and the free verse is deftly handled (see ‘Our Love Shares’ for example). These poems are very much of the zeitgeist – there is irony, which seems increasingly to be the way we communicate, and there is a sense of bewildered detachment, bordering on a sense of isolation. But as I said at the start – perhaps that is my interpretation, we’ve just emerged from 2016, and you may read things differently.

Poetry Day Interview

Here is a link to an interview I did with Optima Magazine in advance of National Poetry Day 2016, and also in readiness for the Chorleywood Literature Festival where I am reading with Caroline Smith. You will see my piece beneath the interviews with Caroline  and Philip Pollecoff.

optima Go to the end of the item for details about getting tickets to the reading on 15th October.

The How and Why – A Close Reading of Life Just Swallows You Up

One of the nice off-shoots of being shortlisted in the 2016 Saboteur Awards with my pamphlet was the invitation to write about a poem by another shortlisted poet. The Managing Editor of ‘The Missing Slate’, Jacob Silkstone, had the great idea of doing a Saboteur Showcase, which involved writing a response to a poem he sent. All I knew was that the poem was by someone else on the shortlist – the rest was up to me. Here was an excuse to do something for the pleasure of itself – and a chance to test my critical reading.

The poem I wrote a response to was Life Just Swallows You Up by Tania Hershman.You can read my response and Tania’s poem here   The How and Why – Close Reading

What it perhaps has triggered in me (time allowing!) is the wish to do a few more of these close readings – looking at the how and why of a poem – giving my interpretation and reading. It seems a neat way of sharpening one’s own thinking and approach to writing.


Saboteur Awards – Comments by Voters

I have added a page at the top of my blog that will take you to the comments people made when voting for ‘Codes of Conduct’ in the Saboteur Awards, for which I was shortlisted. No gong on the night- but reading the comments was reward enough. Lots of very kind people have shown support for the pamphlet and I value their support.

This link should get you to the comments —

Poems – This handbook remains out of print

This handbook remains out of print

Swimming uphill with a snow suit on
Is not recommended for beginners.

It can be vexing to find oneself
Trailing in a stickleback wake.

The safest approach is to lie on your back
Letting the current take over.
In time you will note the point
Between silt and shore.

Intermediate persons may jump
From the bridge in order
To determine the size of their splash.

An instructor may be bankside
To offer assistance.

(This poem appears in ‘The Journal’ #40)