That Awkward Second Album

Well, I’m a published  poet …..thanks to Valley Press …..I’ve had the launch….and I’m  only 16,893  in the Amazon poetry charts…not that I check them every morning…perish the thought.  I’ve got my name on the front of a book and I’ve had some great reviews as well. The question is:

What happens now ?

Do I sit around waiting for an email of congratulation from Carol Ann or Andy Motion, or maybe  a jokey tweet from Si Armitage ? Of course not. I spend a week worrying that I might never write a decent poem again. I’m too old… .It was a fluke, an accident.  It’s time to take up knitting, or collecting bus numbers.

And then I dare to look at the poems which didn’t quite make it into the final selection. Hmm… that one’s not too bad… needs tweaking, though. I move on. and discover  why those poems I wrote ten years ago  had been rejected, on average, eleven times. Delete them ? …taking up too much disc space ? Ye…NO…a couple of lines here stand up…keep them and cannibalise the  best later.

It’s not proper writing, of course. I’m not  ready for that yet. It’s just stripping out a line here, a metaphor there….a tiny glimmer in the dark. While I’m doing this, an idea the size of a small mouse is scratching away in a corner of my mind., What about…eek ..eek…you could try it, honestly…just jot down a line or two…fountain pen’s empty…the  Parker isn’t…it’s loaded and ready to go…you like writing with the Parker…you know you want to…..

So I do.

Quantum Theory for Cats


From the rock, a miracle.
Water, the colour of sky,
cold as the caverns
it came from, glittering
into the morning world
and down the hill.

Wily as a cat, it twists
and splits round shingle banks.
Shape-shifter scooping deep
still pools for trout to laze in.

Gathers to itself the becks and burns,
the brooks, the runnels and the rivulets,
puts on muscle, hurls its berserker howl
against the valley walls then
cleaves a crack, one man might leap,
and bludgeons a way through.

A sheet of sliding amber takes
the evening light, transforming it
to gold, imparts a fine polish
to wet stones and fronds of weed.

I got rhythm


I got rhythm.
So has everybody. It’s built into us. We’re tuned to the rhythm of light and dark, the beating of our hearts, the in-and-out of our breathing.So it’s no surprise that rhythm is a crucial tool in the poet’s toolbox. I use that simile quite deliberately, because writing a poem is making something just as much as someone making a chair, or a carving, or a painting. In fact the early Scots poets were called “ Makars” for that very reason.

OK – what does this miracle tool do, then ? It gives shape to the poem. By and large prose is a continual stream of thought, structured into sentences and paragraphs. But poetry needs rhythm to mark out a territory, indicate a change of mood.

There are plenty of other tools of course- rhyme ( obviously) imagery ( metaphor and simile) and all those tricksy little things you can do with the sound of words -onomatopoea, for instance. ( I only put that in to show you that I know how to spell it.) But we’re not going to deal with all that stuff in this post. Maybe later.

We British poets write a five stress line.

Hang on a minute. Look at that again.

We British poets write a five stress line.

Do you get it ? A line of ten syllables with five of them stressed.

The posh name for this is iambic pentameter (“pent” as in five- yes ?)

French poetry tends to add a couple of syllables and an extra beat. Actually some people say that we have the five stresses line because that’s about the length of a single breath. Maybe the French breathe more deeply. But I digress.

We use iambic pentameter all the time. Every day.

I’m going to the shops to buy some bread.
My bike has broken and I need some help.
My sister’s got the measles ! Fetch the nurse!
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this sun of York.

Haha ! you weren’t expecting Shakespeare in there, were you ?

In fact Shakespeare is the King of the iambic pentameter. He writes prose- sure- but always for a reason. And his iambics don’t plod a long like a trotting horse. He riffs on the idea of the five stress line; he plays around with the pause (caesura) in the middle. And his audience loved it. They didn’t think his plays were written in a posh inaccessible way- they recognised that he wrote in their ( and our) daily speech. And the five stress line was a real help to the actor too- easy to learn, flexible- you could play around with pauses, and yet come back to the beat at the end of a line.

And yet…and yet…there’s no law saying you’ve got to write in iambic pentameter. You can play around with rhythm. Try changing the rhythm when you change the mood. Try a four stress line ( I find it clumpy, but give it a go)- or challenge the French at their own game and roll out might alexandrines.

That’s about it for now- on rhythm. But I’m going to stick one of my poems at the bottom here. The rhythm is largely three stresses- but it isn’t regular. But there are other things going on which we will discuss some other time.

Only the heart

Sky so cold it could
crack like an eggshell,
clatter to the ground
in shards.

Earth so hard it hurts,
ridged and rutted,
treacherous, bruising.

Air so sharp,so full
of pins,it stings the throat,
turns to steam
before your face.

Only the heart ,so old and full of winters,

still burns for love.

Through the labyrinth

Would you mind awfully ? Could I just…squeeze through…thank you so much…it’s not very wide, is it ? This digital superhighway….more like a drinking straw …now one more push and…there ! I’m through ! Let me introduce myself…no…that sounds like Saint Mick doesn’t it… let me explain…don’t get upset…’s perfectly normal…lots of people do don’t run away or anything, will you ? Now that I’m here. I read a lot of poetry. There, that wasn’t too much of a shock, was it ?

I write poetry as well

I’m a poet.

Come back ! Please come back ! It’s nothing to do with frilly shirts and daffodils, honestly..well there might be a daffodil or two…or a small plant…but not frilly shirts.I promise.

Thank you ! Thank you for coming back ! Both of you ! Let me explain.

I write poetry. I always have. And there are thousands like me, all over the world. We’re the ones who spend most of their time staring into space, then writing something in a notebook, then crossing it out. Crossing out is a big part of poetry writing. I’m very good at it.

I write poetry because I can’t NOT write poetry. It’s a way of making sense  out of my life, I suppose. I’ve been doing it so long, it’s hard to remember why I started doing it in the first place. To start with, I like playing around with words, moving them round on the page, on the line. That part of poetry writing is like doing a crossword puzzle, only you’re inventing the clues and the solutions at the same time.

Then poetry helps me to remember. It’s important to look after your memory ,because your memory is you. So when I set out to write a poem about my dad, who died half a century ago, I reach back – it needs a mental effort -and hear his voice again, and the way he lifted the end of each sentence.

I like making things. I’m no good at woodwork, and I’m barely able to re-wire a plug. But when I’ve finished a poem, then it’s there, on the page, and when I read it again the following morning, I can think “ Hey ! I made that. And it’s not altogether bad.”

“Not altogether bad” will do for me, because all poems are failures to some extent ( except for Shakespeare  who has a higher hit rate than is decent.) Bet he couldn’t change a plug though.)

LIke I said, there are  thousands of us out there who are involved, in some way, with the process of boiling experience down, and putting  it on paper.

Maybe we should get together.

This is the deal. I’ll put something up on this site once a week or so- more often if I’m feeling prolific, less often if I have a cold. It might be a poem I’ve written, or a review of a book I’ve read or a general rant about the state of my world.

Talk back to me. Tell me what’s happening in your poetic world.

Thanks for tech support to Alasdair Stuart ( Yes ! Him off Pseudopod ! We’re related, you know…boast boast



Will my unit work straight from the box ?

Short answer’s “ Yes”- the hardware is complete-

temperatures and pressures stabilised,

each circuit strictly tested and each switch.

However, leakage is a frequent glitch

straight after installation. This is normal

and the use of simple work-arounds

will solve the issue.

You will also find

mobility is a something of a challenge.

Motion sensors need some time to settle.

Control of movement takes about two years-

the same as language acquisition, then

the unit is completely functional.


What about the tech specification ?

You’ve got the largest Random Access Memory

that’s  ever been evolved. There’s room

for years of data at your finger ends.

Twin audio/video inputs guarantee

a world of sound and pictures in HD

It’s all so user-friendly. You’re the one

who matters here, and all of it is free.

No downtime, no screen freezes, always



Tell me, how long will the unit last ?

The Manual says  three score years and ten

is more or less the average length of time.

After that, the start-up menu slows;

viruses infect each crucial cache.

On the screen a cheerful caption glows-


You glimpse the Great Blue Screen of Death

and then you’re