Rose tints by any other name

portraitoftheartist

Self Portrait, October 2016

I’ve spent much of the last week or so rustling together all sorts of fragments and ruins I’ve written over the past couple of years, giving them a cursory proofread and then putting them all together to form Find and Replace, my fourth collection of poetry. It’s now being printed and I’ve got the usual blend of panic that it’s packed full of typos and concern that it’s not any good even if it is spelled correctly.

Either way, a load of copies of it are going to show up over the next few days. Your first opportunity to get a copy of it will be at the Rose Tinted Spectacular, a zine fair organised by my incredible friends Alice and Adam, raising money for refugee charities. It’s at the Rose Hill, Brighton, on Saturday 19th October, from 3pm – 11pm. I’m going to be reading poems at some point in the evening but I’m not 100% sure when yet. But I’ll also be there all day, trying to sell poetry books and badges with pictures of Ed Miliband’s face on them.

I’m also going to be defending my title at the Hammer and Tongue Grand Final on 1st December at the Komedia. I don’t really hold up much hope as I have no sense of timing and most of my new poems are about voles struggling with the intricacies of office equipment, but it should be a lively and fascinating evening nonetheless.

And that’s about all I’ve got, gig-wise, this year. Although I’d love to do some more poems and sell some copies of the new book, so do get in touch if you’re after a poet for your event. That’s how it works, right? CONNECTIONS.

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Parade’s End: Four Short Poems about Gentrification

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1.

… Brighton has been crying out
for an upmarket fried chicken restaurant …

… Imagine my horror
upon discovering that the signature scotch eggs
were already off the menu …

… The minimalist yet quirkily designed
warm wooden interior
felt like a particularly luxuriant chicken coop …

Parades end
Beneath the biscotti
And owl figurines
Lies a reek of commands on horseback
Beckoning a worthier class
But these are democratic burgers!
Everyone with a twelver in their pocket
Can have one
With complimentary chopping board
Chips served from a baked bean tin
And artificial newspapers
For that authentic newsprint feel

2.
Brighton! The city so cool you can’t afford to live here!
Stay true to your roots
With a glitterball shaped like a VW beetle
Town planners rub their hands
At the influx of a better class of graffiti

T-shirts with the wrong band on the front
Coffee passed through the gut of a thresher shark
The latest freesheet
Runs down the top ten beards
The Spirit of Enterprise
Was a cruise ship, you know

It’s funny you should mention it
But the Siberian Rhubarb Saison
Is just £6.21 a pint
Which exactly corresponds to
The Bartender’s minimum wage
Cashback, sir?

3.
Check shirts become the green screen
Fixed wheel inner tube
Looped in double windsor
Bowling footwear / That never graced the alley
Espresso cider / Minty fresh stout
Speakeasy jamjar / reclaimed footwear
Upcycled cutlery ornaments
Artisan / ersatz
Pulled pork / small batch
Deep fried bagels
Croissant with a duck in
Craft beer / pop up
Ping-pong in the workplace
Macchiato / babychino
State sanctioned street art
Gin palace / street food
Taxidermy warehouse
Wool surrounding lap-posts
Gelato on the bowling green
Cakes made out of icing
Taxes for the weak!

4.
Brutality to pianos is the norm
And in the latest reinvention of your old local
Bands who have perfected their quirky dance
But can’t quite figure out soundchecks
Dance on a stage that’s a 1:50 scale model
Of John Peel’s lower jaw
It’s a cat eat cat café world out there
An ersatz revolution
For people who use the word ersatz

A winged horse shrieks and tosses its head in shackles on a grass banked roundabout

Every night, the same catering supply store is in your dream like a symbol for something you no longer recognise

Somewhere, a man unloads a thousand giant beetles, individually boxed, from the back of a van

Weekly, writers and artists box their yearbooks and glance askance at landlords keen to ride the bohemian tide, considering Portslade.

 


This is something I’ve been trying to get right for what seems like months. We all like fancy beer and cupcakes. We can’t afford the rent.

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Friday Morning

The awful daring of a moment’s surrender
Which an age of prudence can never retract”
il miglior fabbro

Days from midsummer
And the endless nights kick in
We can’t meet eyes
Horror implied by illusion
And jokes from the scaffold

We pour over Yeats
As if it was a legal document
And treat legal documents
Like Yeats
Scouring the space between the lines
As if it was hope
Seen from a barred window

In the garden I am taming the crows
Fragments of crust
Picked by timid beak
As a flourish of chopsticks

What we know is ruptured
For the sake of an ugly word
Or a pretty noise

And hail the revolution
And the potholes won’t be filled
And two cheers for democracy
And they turn the seats around
And here’s to independence
And leave your leave to remain

If you like it so much
Why don’t you live there
Except you can’t really
Do that so easily
Any more

June rain lashes
The sadder streets
This Friday
Mourning has broken

The crows are stoical
The same tap and seek
The hacking croak

On Mount Olympus
They are clearing the decks

Seven years of broken mirrors
Cruel fragments of glass
In eyes and hearts
That savlon, kisses,
Tweezers or tears can’t fix
O
To spell out eternity
On floor of ice
And break the spell!

And time still passes
Coffee still pours
Headlines a crude gargle
And thinkpieces
To alleviate the burden of thinking
Ordered disorder
And arguments with avatars
These too were beautiful names

Words like clods of earth round uprooted plants
Your muse, dumbstruck and weeping in Kew Gardens
Scald scald scald
The fear is the worst part
How dare you?
The fear and righteous anger
How bloody dare you?
(but the fear is worst)
Not You the People
(but yes in a way
you the people)
But You, the Specific People
Who thought this was a good idea
Cranked the clockwork to breaking point
Rickety wheels ungreased since the seventies
This is your shambling monster
Assailant on ice-clad steppe
Victory bitter in no-one’s teeth
Resignations without schadenfreude

Today
The best and the worst are conjoined
In handwringing
And backstabbing
At the expense of the crowd

Optimists and royalists
Invoke the Queen
To restore order
Or hang Farage
Whichever is the sooner
We jest
But we’re already on
The bullet-riddled
Upside-down-from-a-lamp-post path

And no-one to say
Stop
Look
Listen to me
I have a plan
None but grizzled men
Torn from allotment by circumstance
To weigh the world in their hands

To court,
Unsuited, un-suited
The flat white hope
Skinny latte hope

Hope smeared like poster paint
Where other four letter words are daubed
Hope coupled in anger and

And perhaps
We’re living in an alternative plotline
A future where
Farage survived the plane crash
On election morning
Twenty Ten

And perhaps
This is what the agents from the future
Were sent back to prevent
Before Twenty Twenty Three
Became a reality
Something’s up with the timelines
(a spark crackles
the connection’s gone)

The land is sick
No silver bullet
No time travel
No best of three

Fishing for continents
Shall we at least set our lands in order?

London Bridge is falling down
falling down
falling down


 

This is a bit different from what I usually tend to write. And I think it’ll perpetually remain in this state of ‘first draft’. It’s an attempt to encapsulate the angry empty hopelessness that overwhelmed me on that Friday Morning and the terrible weeks that followed, without breaking down entirely or drowning myself in Eliot. I wish it was funnier, but there’s not a huge amount to laugh about at the moment. And that is that. The end.

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Pigeon Bombs

anti tank dog

“this House … wonders at the lack of gratitude towards these gentle creatures; and believes that humans represent the most obscene, perverted, cruel, uncivilised and lethal species ever to inhabit the planet and looks forward to the day when the inevitable asteroid slams into the earth and wipes them out thus giving nature the opportunity to start again.“
– Early Day Motion 1255

The Dog Bomb
and its contribution to modern warfare

This was the moment
that mankind discovered
dogs don’t know what side they’re on

Inhuman bloodshed
amongst the poppies of Flanders
and with that
we’re all in this together

Why should men and horses
bear this burden alone?

With Pavlovian precision
tanks equal food
notably those hunnish tanks
rolling over a corner of barbed wire
that is forever England

with extensive rehearsals
our canine collaborators
strapped in suicide vests
martyred themselves
across the tracks

into the valley of death
loped the bomb dogs

Partisan hounds!

To a dog
a tank is a tank
in the eyes of a dog
those great rolling metal instruments
are the source of food
a dog has no eyes for insignia

waste was laid
to both sides
burning fuel
hot metal
blood in the mud
coarse dog hair
coated on rust

a hundred years past
and flying robot dogs
mechanised pigeons
magnifying insignia in HD
hurling salvoes into oxidised sand
whilst the dogs stay at home
fall asleep on human armchairs
in front of the ten o clock news

but in dog hearts
in that little crazed dog mind
in that flap of great tongue
roll of bloodshot eye
justified maul of teatowel
pant pant exhausted
after an afternoon leaping at dragonflies

dogs long for the meteor
dogs yearn for the dust cloud
the dogs are pining for the flames
to have bomb on back
rolling metal containers
stacked with tinned food
and every which way to run

—————————————————————————-

This was originally intended to be published on National Poetry Day, but I’ve never successfully managed to actually post a poem on that day before and this year is no exception. The main reason I hesitated was because quite a lot of the poem turned out to be factually inaccurate – there were indeed “Anti Tank Dogs”, but they were pioneered by the Russians, and in the Second World War, not the first. I’ve been a bit fascinated with bomb dogs for years, and the return of the glorious Early Day Motion 1255 to the news in recent months spurred me to write about them, albeit in a manner that’s probably not the most informative. If you have ever met a dog, however, you will know that the final verse is entirely true.

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Noble Rot

for J. B.

bibomancy

A sodden tarot card blocks the plughole
when you tip the shaker into the sink
fighting nausea

Eighteen hours before
scrolls on screen like an X Files location
and we had alchemy at the tips of our fingers

The second oldest profession
the purveyance of spirituous liquours
for consumption
on and off the premises

Ingredients torn from Scottish estates
shotguns in the mist
and you bound the barbed wire
juniper in hand
mashing yeast into cold porridge
like ancient egyptians

The groove at the foot of a bottle of fizz
indicates whether the bottle
tilted at 20° angle
has been turned in the last 21 days

This from the infrequently studied compendium
Conversations with Middle Aged Alcoholics
Volume Two

Let’s drink, drink
This town is so great

It’s all wrong
this is the delicate balance
of a high-end cocktail
spattered in gold leaf
It should be a German drinking song
a tuba filled to the brim with a robust doppelbock
lederhosen optional
rum and cherryade mixed in a washing up bowl
bobbing with tetra-pak ice cubes

To be a poet
is to be an alcoholic with a notebook
forever at odds with the taxman
over what constitutes research

Only clowns can drink harder than poets
at The Crown
back where I grew up
we were segregated
clowns in the saloon bar
poets to the right
and never the twain shall meet
until we foraged for dogends
once the last post was rung

let’s drink, drink
cause it’s never too late

A traditional
baptised in cider in green littered expanses
your ID is more artisan
than the Safeway spirits
stashed at foot of wardrobe

In parks and pubs
we signed a magna carta of bile
the boy puking his heart out in the gents
the feel of dewy grass on your face
as the world spins
pinned
you can still hear your friends shouting
and setting fire to the grass

let’s drink, drink
this town is so great

But these were moments of grace
evenings spun into personal mythology
on the golf course
as the sun rises
and the sprinklers kick in
instants crystallise

Today is a glass of frothy suds
in pewter tankard
clinked by morris dancers
in a gesture of friendship

Today is salt round the rim
two for one before eight

Today is fractions
a cheeky half after work
cheeky one, one and a half,
two and a half,
calculate the remainder in coin purse,
take away the number you first thought of

Today is a Diageo rep
pushing lemonade topped lime scented bottles
rum that’s aimed at the Urban Intelligence market

let’s drink, drink
cause it’s never too late

We grew fat on cheap imitation baileys
crumpled cans of damburger expert
heap up in imaginary rivers

Moments of grace

Proseccos and punches reel with effervescent splendour
on wedding days and the first hint of summer
the first crisp glass of beer on a foreign terrace
the pints and pints and blood and tears of a friendship
that leaves grooves in geological strata
taking furtive sips from hipflasks
pulling bits of straw from a glass of cider
and the band plays on
each chink and clash
as two glasses meet
crackles with static electricity
and a magic beyond liquid

All hail Reputed Quart!
All hail Magnum!
All hail Jeroboam!
All hail Renoboam!
All hail Methuselah!
All hail Salmanazar!
All hail Balthazar!
All hail Nebuchadnezzar!

By these rituals we shall know ourselves
By these rituals we charge our glasses
By these rituals we pop bottle cap with lighter
By these rituals ice cracks the moment it hits the surface

Clasp hands with one hand
Raise glasses with other hand
Hook arm into crook of arm
and spill into the drink of another

Let the bell ring
And so
It begins…

—————————————————————–

I don’t tend to get many commissions. My friend James asked me to write a poem about the alchemical and mystical properties of booze, and this is what I came up with. Because I’m slightly better at poetry than I am at business, rather than asking for money I used the standard ‘poets wage calculator’:

each poem costs
eight to twelve pounds in pints of ale
one pound twenty worth of cigarettes
six pounds thirty one times two of my precious time
eight pounds ninety times a half
of my employers precious time
a third of the rhyming dictionary
one per cent of the longman animal encyclopedia
one shout of ‘get a job’ from a passing car
a smattering of stolen lines
from forgotten mid 90’s indie pop
two rose tinted bits of imagery about a girl I was in love with when I was eighteen years old

I still need to raise an invoice at some point.

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Fish Demon

Tony Blair and the Fish Demon

Clicking on this morning’s news
Told me something I had already suspected
For quite a while
Tony Blair knew about the Fish Demon
The headline in bold print
Undeniable at last
Before then, it was nothing but a strand of myth
Leaked memos from civil servants hinting at the existence of the “F. D.”
The occasional blank on interview transcripts
Inferences made from analysis
Of the former PM’s summer reading list

The Fish Demon strikes at the heart of parliament
It was ageless
First mentioned in manuscripts
From the time of Cromwell
Scales and skin bulging with hairs and grave-dirt
There was a dead one in a provincial museum in East Anglia
“Found in a service-chest in the wreck of the Clipper Phoenix”
Pronounced the yellowing legend
But along with fading flags
Stuffed bitterns
And intricate model ships
The museum was destroyed by the fire
As the new millennium dawned

Have you ever counted
The ships that went missing
In the curious decade of Cool Britannia?
From Diana to the dawn of Chilcott
Hundreds of vessels foundered with scant explanation

When Cook’s heart gave out on hillside
What message was imparted
From scaly claw on wrist
And vivid glowing eyes in papery face?

Fish demon!

This is a more ancient magic
A spin before Sedgefield and the ceremony of the keys

At night we slunk into palatial mansions with refuse sacks at our waist
Outsourced the contents of the paper shredder
Parts of A Journey that were never destined for human gaze
How deep do these roots go?
When does the initiation rite begin?

Chamberlain’s final diary entry
Is scrawled and paranoid
A crabbed hand smears and blots the paper
The talk of “that which speaks” is horrifically ambivalent
And finally when words fail
He drew a crow
Scratchy and indistinct
But indisputably a crow

Round the back of Chequers in two thousand and two
(and I was still a young man then)
The estate meets a straggly copse
And we sifted a pyre
Charred cones of frankincense on metal dishes
Bones that were later identified as those of a shearwater
The rest is ash and mystery

Tony wore a sharks tooth round his neck
And never replaced his shoes
Whilst they were restored
By the drop-in cobbler
He padded No. 10 in argyle socks
What mysteries did these footwear witness?
What sanctums did he reverentially enter?
What unholy truth was revealed?
What has awakened from slumber?

The headline is confusing and vague
At public meetings
When I speak of the Fish Demon
I am hushed by complicit crowds
No-platformed by the chair
Editors return my articles unread
They are all in this together

But now, finally,
No doubt as a result of my relentless campaigning
The truth is out
And I click
To share the good news.

Refreshing the page
It hits me
A bold Error 404 fills the screen
It is as if the article was never there at all
And mocked by silence
Having touched at the truth with fingertips
I should have known
The establishment always wins in the end.

——————————————————

I wrote this a couple of months ago. I’m not really sure where any of it came from – I’ve been muttering “Tony Blair knew about the fish demon” to myself for quite a while, and the rest of the poem just arrived fully formed. It’s pretty depressing, and even more so after the election. The establishment always wins in the end, fish demon or no fish demon. Although I’m inclined to think the fish demon is indeed behind it all.

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Find and replace

a confession

It was the second test and the seal won

increasingly over the past year or so perhaps longer
my life has become what I can only describe as
a parade of anthropomorphic seals

now I’ve always liked seals although I don’t think they’d
make it into my top five favourite animals you can’t not
have a soft spot for a seal if you go to Norfolk you can
go on a boat ride and see them lolling on the beach at
Blakeney Point

seals look more comfortable than I do when I’m trying to sleep
they can lie comfortably on their backs on their fronts and
on their sides and although until recently I didn’t think you
could tell the mood of an animal by the expression on its face
which is why everyone thinks dolphins are happy all the time
and that tuna don’t have a discernible emotion within them
which is not the case but that is a story for another day

but these seals on the beach at Blakeney Point look happy and
who am I to begrudge a seal happiness even if it is just the
fact that their faces look like they are having a good time if you
have ever given a seal some bad news you will know that the face
does not alter in any notable manner

yet in the past months the seals have worked their way into everything
I do at first it was just calypso songs and The Second Test and The Seal
Won but now there are intricate sketches in my notebook about how
a seal could possibly play cricket and win a match at lords it is notable
that it is a single seal that won which is unusual in cricket and offers
no indication that the victorious team was either comprised entirely of
seals or even had any other members except for the seal although there
is a cricketer called Weddell which I can only assume refers to the weddell
seal which is the most northern of all the seals

and when sitting down to watch some of my favourite items of
american TV there are now seals in it, for the entire season of true
detective I was convinced that the murderer would be the man with the
face of a seal who appeared in several scenes and whom I am now informed
does not appear to have a seal face to most other viewers of this show
let alone the logical issues as to how a man would have a seal face and
where the seal face ends and the human begins

and in fact now when I speak to my wife she often has to ask if I
am talking to her or to the seal and the worst thing is that I often have to
check and re-run conversations back through my head because I am certain
some of them actually were with the seal

and then I read on the internet the story of someone who has found a seal egg
on a beach and they have taken the seal egg home to incubate it and hatch
a baby seal and this makes me rethink what seals are because I had not
imagined before that they could possibly hatch out of eggs and I look on
twitter and I have a message from someone who is standing for election in
Hove which is not even a constituency I live in and they tell me they are very
fond of seals and I wonder how they know and if I have messaged them at some point

but when I search for seals on the internet half of the results are about the
musician called Seal from the 90s who released Kiss from a rose which can
cause confusion with headlines about how he attacked a scientist in the
arctic or performed an indecent act involving a penguin

and I am just trying to write poetry that is interesting and satirical and that
has a story somewhere in it and I think that perhaps the seal is a metaphor
that has somehow taken on a life of its own and explains how difficult it is
to live in a world that is so interconnected but if this is the case why are they
sending me messages and finding their way into every aspect of my life

and suddenly I find both seals and the modern world are very confusing things
and perhaps I should go to Blakeney Point myself and lie down, on my back on
my front on my side and feel the warmth of the sun and there will be a look
on my face that the seals, not knowing that you cannot tell the mood of someone
from their expression, would consider to be happy.

——————————————————————-

I don’t think this really needs too much explanation. Sometimes you spend months trying to write poetry and none of it seems to work and actually it turns out to be because you really want to be writing about anthropomorphic seals. Perhaps. Quite a lot of this poem is 100% true.

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