Winter morning


before daybreak.
The cold wind holds its breath.
The shadowed river hesitates.

in the darkness.
Like breath blown on embers
a cold morning glimmers with bright

Light leaks
into the air.
Trees coalesce and clouds
take substance from the twilight

Like smoke
the early mist
blurs the river bank,drapes
threadbare trees in folds of frosted

dangerous liaisons between the living and the dead


The last of three posts about metaphor. If you’ve missed the other two then you can find them here:

and here:

And here is the the summing up – the last word:


Opens the door to doubt,
pricks logic’s tight balloon,
lets light in, darkness out,
confuses silver pennies with the moon,
turns on lights in empty buildings
rips the covers from every bed,
offers dangerous liaisons
between the living and the dead,

treads the wires of contradiction,
turns lead to gold, makes truth of fiction.

If you have any comments on this three- stage post, then, as always, they are very welcome.

The compasses revealed…..


As I was saying….the compasses…you weren’t there ? You missed it ? Don’t worry….you can see it here.. I’ll wait till you come back.

There’s this young man, good looking, blazingly clever at everything, and he’s sent on a diplomatic mission to France. He doesn’t want to go, because it means leaving the girl he loves behind. It’s a wild, passionate affair conducted in secret because her father doesn’t approve. So he sends her a letter.
This is part of it:

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

Don’t worry, he says, trying to comfort himself as well as her, our love is not torn apart. It’s like gold beaten out into gold leaf, still there, still shining, still whole.

How’s that for a wonderful metaphor ? Love- an abstract, an invisible, is compared with gold, a precious substance which is beaten out into something as near invisible as possible. The whole image hangs on that wonderful phrase- “aery thinness.”

And then the compasses. Notice they are stiff compasses, hard to pull apart ( as are the lovers). Her soul is the fixed point and his the sweeping hand which describes a circle. She leans towards him as he orbits around her, and then stands tall when he comes home. Her firmness ( point planted on the paper- and also loyalty) controls his wanderings. And his physical journey ends where it begun ( in London) as well as his spiritual journey, which ends with her.

She completes him.

The poet is, of course, John Donne and you can find out more about him here:

So- I hope you can see that metaphor is the poet’s most powerful tool. It can work miracles, turn two into three, the abstract into the concrete.It can start a chain reaction.

There will be one more post in this series of three. Look out for it.

Your most useful, multi-purpose writing tool is……


A computer ? A dictionary ? A pair of compasses ? No- they come later.

The most useful writing tool in the world is…….metaphor.

Believe it.

It might be a good idea to set the table first, before we begin the meal. This is what Wikipedia has to say:

“A metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object. Metaphor is a type of analogy.”

You compare A with B. They are very different, yet they have something in common. By comparing them you are saying something about A, something about B, and something about the collision which has just occurred. You’ve just made three things out of two. That’s poetic fission. And it’s just happened in your brain.

It doesn’t always work though. Some metaphors are dud from the start; others lose their punch and hang around at the end of sentences, like tramps looking for a handout. Politicians are particularly guilty in this regard, perhaps because they use second hand language. They assume that the electorate is stupid, and can’t be challenged. So they talk of ” level playing fields” when they mean equal opportunity; they promise that a new policy will be ” rolled out across the country” as though an idea is some kind of giant panjandrum which will rumble out of its hangar. And ” resilient” – I hate “resilient” almost as much as I hate “robust.” Both words have a muscular physicality about them which can’t be translated into the realm of abstract ideas. It doesn’t work, guys !

Sorry, I got a bit carried away there.

Meanwhile, back at my train of argument..the explosion, the poetic fission which has just happened in your head goes down on paper. If you’re a good writer, you leave it there for a few days. In the dark. To mature. And then you take it out again and taste it. Does it still leave a thrilling tingle on your tongue ? If it doesn’t, then it goes down the waste disposal. If it does, then it stays.

And then someone reads it…and it sets off another chain reaction in the reader’s head, which is the same as, and yet strangely different from the effect it had on you. And so it goes….

Human experience, the never-ending film that runs inside your head, is held together with…metaphor.

Enough for now. The compasses ? You’ll see their relevance in the next post.



I’m lucky enough to live in York, one of the oldest cities in the country. It was founded by the Romans in 61AD and the ground plan of the inner city is still based on the two main roads of a Roman fortress. There are buildings of every era – medieval, Elizabethan, 18th Century, Victorian and modern. It straddles the river Ouse and is a place of narrow alleyways and open squares.

I’ve been writing a few poems about the place where I live and this is the first. The building in the picture is a medieval church, and I just wondered why it had been bricked up a couple of hundred years later…


No door, ajar, like a smile
to offer welcome.
No sloping shoulders
to lean on.
Just an archway ghosted
into the stone wall, blocked
with thin brick.

Time was
time flowed
over the step
stranding babies, strangers,
lost dogs and lovers.
Corpses went out on the ebb
with bottles, musty clothes,
and broken benches.

Now it’s nothing.
A memory of itself.
No crack in the brick
for life to seep through.
The hinted arch
a fossil rib of some
creature, ancient, vaunted.

For I shall consider my cat…


I promised the other day that I would put up my response to Kit Smart’s poem.

Here it is:

For I shall consider my cat Pippin (after Christopher Smart)

For he is smoke grey and has eyes of green glass.
For in his purring is the thread of life.
For his voice is harsh as a seabird’s wail
and cannot be denied.
For he sits on my chest every morning
and eats my porridge
For this is his right.
For he is kind to his companion, Simkin, and washes his face for him.
For his forepaws are almost fingers.
For he loves all dogs and rushes to greet them
causing confusion.
For he can leap the garden gate.
For he prefers me to open it for him.
For he can make himself ubiquitous and invisible
being in every room in the house at once
and none.

Even though he is a small god,
he deigns to treat me as an equal
and takes gifts from my hand.

If you want to look back to the Smart version you can find it here:

As usual- comments are always welcome.

Get Smart


Christopher Smart (1722- 1771) otherwise known as Kit Smart, Jack Smart, and Mrs Mary Midnight was one of the also-rans of 18th century English writing. He was a friend of Samuel Johnson and Henry Fielding- giants of their time- and yet he ended up in a lunatic asylum and broke.

Everything about Smart is fuzzy edged and ambiguous-
his social standing ( not a toff, but not a servant,)
his sexuality ( father of daughters but nicknamed Mrs Mary Midnight,)
his religious belief ( an ardent Anglican, or a religious nut ?)

This poem is taken from one of his more accessible pieces. I like it. I like it so much that I’ve written a companion piece which will be put up later in the week. Here it is

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

How to present a killer poetry submission


I’ve learned something today. First of all it was a kickback.I got a rejection slip from a (quite prestigeous ) poetry magazine. I had sent them half a dozen of my finest, more than half expecting to find a home for at least one. But it was not to be. Before I threw the manuscripts into the waste bin, I took one, last, loving look.

Hang on. There was a typo in that one….and there was a dodgy line break in another. In fact, I found silly, careless errors in four out of the six poems I sent.

Proofread ! Proofread ! Proofread !

I corrected all the errors I should have corrected before, and then looked for a possible alternative market. Well…I didn’t actually look for it….I went back to it. Years ago I had a couple of things published by a lovely magazine called Dreamcatcher

See them here:

And I did the poetic equivalent of reading the manual before you press the red button.

I read the submission guidelines.

See them here:

Yup. My stuff fitted the bill. But there was another little link about formatting. I didn’t even know what formatting was …not really. I discovered it was all the little blue marks which appear when you click the ” Show Invisibles” button.

That little link is here:

Formatting is what editors have to do, if you haven’t already done it. If you send them a piece that has been properly proofread and formatted— don’t you think they might be a bit more sympathetic to your piece. I know I would be.

Format ! Format ! Format !

Now maybe I’m the stupid one at the back of the class who’s the last one to cotton to the flaming obvious, but if you really believe in the stuff you write, isn’t it worth spending some time polishing it up, making life easier for the editor ?

Comments, as ever, are always welcome.

Ah! Almost forgot. I am trying to re-invigorate my career as a voice artist. Have a look at my revamped ” About”