Monday, 12 August 2019

River of Poems

I spend a lot of time beside and around rivers.  The Calder flows by my window, just out of view beyond the canal, but a stone's throw down the road it surges over a rocky dam, frothing down towards Copley, or meandering more peacefully east, shaded by willow trees and studded with rocky outcrops and cormorant nests.


I walk the courses of small rivers across the hilly hinterlands of Yorkshire, seek out their sources on the moors, follow as they seep into Littleborough, Smithy Bridge, Clough, the tiny towns which dot the eastern edge of Lancashire, navigate the banks of the Ryburn along its sylvan course, follow the courses of tributaries and see where they may take me.

The wildlife of rivers flies, swims and drifts into my poetry, often:


Like wedding dresses
drifting over moonlit glass
these wisps of silvery stillness
are soft as nitroglycerin


Sweeping through the river's mist
this late summer evening,
body white as winter,
I watch you bend and plummet,
swerve upwards once again
and appear to dissolve
into a skyline blurred
by chimneys, hills
and ash-grey twilight.

and the plethoras of life that they support are an almost constant backdrop to my days.


The poetry of rivers is frequent in my reading. Wordworth, Southey, Coleridge - all wrote memorably of rivers.  Alice Oswald's poetry of the River Dart, John Burnside's Swimming in the Flood,  the poems of Oriental antiquity, with their invocations of willows, peach blossom springs, and reflected stars, have woven their impressions like currents, flowing through the years. The beauty, biodiversity and drama offered by rivers makes for much imaginitive stimulation, but of late, the strains of private life buffeted by the daily woes of a turbulent world, amid the growing sense of despair at a worsening environmental nightmare, it has been the sadness of rivers that has tugged at me.  The river's mists and billows, wrote 8th Century Chinese poet Cui Hao, make my heart forlorn, and it was perhaps for this reason that a poem discovered in the 1980's journal Kunapipi - an Australian publication which, taking its name from an Aboriginal deity - collected "Post-Colonial Writing and Culture" from across the world - struck such resonance. came gently with poems once
walked my banks
swam in my clean body
you wrote poems
as lovers wrote poems

Bruce Cudney's River of Poems is narrated from the viewpoint of a river - of rivers? - and when I came across it the other day after an absence of more than fifteen years, it knocked me for six.

say nothing to me now
pass over me on your high bridges
turn your face
from my dissipation
build your factories about my hills
dump your garbage   your urine   your feces    into me
cut the flesh from my banks
that you may twist me to your use

 This was published in 1982, when what we now know as the environmental movement was in its early stages, but when abuse of the planet through pollution and waste were clearly of mounting concern.  I have been unable to find out anything about the author, other than that he was a Canadian poet born in 1933, who worked for the Liquor Contro Board of Ontario, and was living, at the time of Kunapipi's publication, in in that city.  Apparently, he began writing poetry in 1970. For me, though, even if River of Poems were his only published work, it would stand out as a stark rejoinder to Man's abuse of nature, and his hypocrisy.

...tell in your houses of laws / how you will restore me mocks Cudney's river, before cynically countering: 

do not let me hear it. 
kill me with your poisons
but write no poems to me

For my part, I shall go on writing river-themed poems, and if anything the perilous state of our cimate and environment compels me to celebrate more urgently their place in the global ecosystem, and to speak out against forces threatening their - and, by association, our - survival.  But Cudney's poem, along with delivering a sharp condemnation of humanity, also serves as a reminder that whatever catastrophes may befall the human race as a resut of its polluting plunder of the planet, the Earth herself shall overcome, and its closing image represents a powerful riposte to the savagery and madness of the Anthropocene:

the stars sang in me
a thousand years
before the poets came
they will sing again.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

July Octolunes

We have lately been blessed by some stunning moons, luring my focus to the lunar. I've produced a fair few Octolunes*, and as usual am unsure quite what to do with them.  Since inventing the form in December 2014, I have chalked up several hundred, and, as readers of these pages will know, others have taken up the baton from time to time as well.  I'm still hoping to launch some Octolune events, workshops, and collaborative pamphlets, as well as publishing some collections of my own - and from time to time Octolunes find their ways into regular collections - but the truth is I now have so many of them on my hands that they are running riot, and short of devoting an entire website to their publication, the most sensible thing seems to be to feed a few in periodic posts, starting with these, a few of my most recent.

*8-line verse form, addressed to the moon, in which the opening word is always "Moon."  That's it!


astro-tycoon, like a sky-bound rune,
you're a lunar balloon over lakes and lagoons,
baboons, racoons, and protozoons,
from Rangoon to Cameroon,
to the dunes of Saskatoon.
I've written a poem about the moon
without once even thinking of mentioning June.


globe of gloop,
a frozen scoop
of ice cream, hoop
filled-in, you sloop
through starry soup,
like a giant, silver, sup-
er drupe.


you rise in skies
like a slimy eye's
reflected twinkle.
Your distance belies
your actual size
as you crystallize, a crescent kinkle
like a glittery Rip Van Winkle.


permafrost pearl,
hinterland's glim,
Pre-Raphaelite ferris wheel,
like a frozen ocean, condensed
into a skull-like phial,
like a shrunken Jupiter
you seethe.

inflated raindrop,
atop the dripping treetops,
crescented, a haloed halebopp
gloppy fop, your astral hop's
a crinkled cough-drop,
soothing the sunburnt throat of space
like a snowy glottal stop.

murk's quirk,
like a cool quark
you smirk,
sawn smile,
glinting grinner,
swollen ghost.

in  crescent jest
you wince,
like a quartered quince
slicing sky's blackness
in an icy stripe
of plucky light.


ice heart,
tubular fuse
of post-river,
rocks of yore galore,
crescent twist,
glistening in mist,
like a pearl of frozen dew.

soapsud moon
who, like a sheen of silky sherbet
sprinkles silver showers of icy light,
you bask,
illuminated lunar beauty,
against the licorice black
of frozen night.

Monday, 8 July 2019

Feeling Foxy - Four Fox Poems

 I was horrified to hear last week that the spectre of fox-hunting had resurfaced over British politics - dragged out of its 19th Century tomb by aptly-named Tory Leadership contender Jeremy Hunt, who had enthused to an audience of party members about his hopes to overturn the 2004 Hunting Act (its self a lukewarm rule change rather than an outright "ban") and ressurect the discredited activity.  Interestingly, Hunt never bothered to attemp the old lies about conservation - he opted for the honest rationale of "tradition" and described the practise of riding to hounds as they rip a terrified animal to bits as "part of the heritage of the countryside." Presumably he also thinks that muggings and stabbings are part of the heritage of cities?
Predictably, Hunt  - like Theresa May in the 2017 General Election - has since backtracked, faced with an outcry from not only members of the public (85% of whom want hunting banned, including, overwhelmingly, in rural areas) but from his own party.  I did wonder if his statement had been calculated to gauge the risk such a policy might carry, or to leak votes to his stag-hunting opponent, whose owncampaign is partly funded by a fox-hunter, in a strategy designed to ensure a Boris Johnson premiership while maintaining the pretence of a democratic party contest ather than a coronation - indeed I took to social meda to accuse him of this latter step - but as time has gone by I've come to the conclusion that this expressed support for hunting was apparently genuine, a reminder that for all of their feigned preference for progressive politics, there are some people who are so detached from modern thinking that they and their communities really are just a Parliamentary vote away from dredging up the cruelties of the past and re-establishing a Britain that went out with chimney sweeps and child labour.
The whole disturbing episode prompted me to collect my various poems on the subject of foxes, which I have reproduced below. I have excluded poems in which foxes feature, but not as the "main" thematic focus.  Instead, all are fundamentally foxy poems, inspired by real life sightings of the animals.


Limbs dangle
a raffish mooch,
each furry step slots promptly
into a moonlit loop -

in and out of lamplight,
smooth as a glob of honey
dissolving into coffee
the midnight searcher tries his luck among the backstreets -

East-end terraces tangle into criss-crossed  sprawl,
estaes expand into outgrown concrete crushes,
bottlenecking into pub backyards and warehouse forecourts,
deserted car-parks, scrubland, a grid of lanes where drinkers
straggle out of pubs, prostitutes cross paths, the urban wastelands
and a frosty Wanstead Flats, which veer into the spiderweb of sliproads
pre-empting the M11.
Turning down the High Road, into a block of buildings tightly tucked
into the bricked in ghetto of east London, I am startled by his stare:

Seeing me, his gait assumes rigidity,
a temporary tightening of muscles.
Frozen stiff, this stiffened frame
of burnt-oak,
this nameless midnight wanderer,
mammal of the alleyways,
once more slipped into a casual insouicance
shuffling into shadow.

What I caught last
was not the shapely outline, gingery tint or snow-fluff
tail-tip, as fox fleet-footed out of visibility
but, a souveinir from its shoot-back glance,
two amber eyes half answering,
half questioning.


Bullet of russet muscularity,
knee high and up to your eyes in dandelion,
most feline of your kind,
the always searching canid,
sinewy and taut,
prodigal child of the copse:
no sooner had you brushed against a fence
emerging from sedge as if to prove,
“I still exist,”
than the glimpse of you was gone—
a second’s shred in which to see that tail, ash- white copper-coalesced
trailing like a newly lit cigar.


An unknown quantity, you flow like a tributary
trickling over stones out of the nettled backstreet -

after the deluge as if post-exile, ear-pricked stealthy shuffler
you trot in nonchalance but with half an eye to suss out danger cocked,
or as a compass in the search for sustenance.  You're a tilted glass of single malt,
a whisker of rural English charm in the urban incongruity of house-heavy east Leeds,
a shadow bleeding ginger on the blackboard of the night as squeezed between
the takeaways and parked-up cars,
you flip flop-footedly across a road which sparkles in the drizzle and on seeing me
nosedive behind a shed, displaying that quicksilver quirk of fight-or-flight survival
that has paved your way through centuries of persecution and will be needed
in this trap of fumes and concrete, cans and glass laid like tripwire
in the single enormous precinct all of England's become.


Ginger plunge
into coppiced copse,
stabbing into bramble,
a whisk of fire singeing darkness
like a shot of almond syrup
in black coffee.

Your Jack-o-lantern crafty dance
sees you rop up in oak woods,
combing alleys behind takeaways,
Pulcinello of the suburbs;
combing cobbled streets
in late summer midnights,
wolf-shaped shadow,
crooked penny glinting in the moonlight.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Turn the Page Brontë evening, June 2019

Turn the Page is a bi-monthly spoken word event which takes place at The Book Corner ( in the Halifax Piece Hall, hosted by Katie Atkinson and Katie Ashwood, and this month, for the first time, the readings had a common theme, the Brontës. I had suggested this theme a few months ago, and attended with my camera to capture some images of the evening. The videos I took can be found on my Youtube channel -

 I have added below some of the defining images of the night.

 Co-host and Book Corner bookseller Katie Ashwood:

 Co-host Katie Atkinson, reading a poem by Laura Barnes:

Kevin Byrne of Beehive Poets, Bradford, entertains the troops:

Michael Greavy with one of his poems about the Brontës:

In thoughtful mood, Keiron Higgins delivers poetry by the Brontës :

 Kev Byrne in operatic pose:

 A few snapshots of Kevin's reading: 


We were joined by Lexi Tattersall, who performed her own song about Branwell Brontë, which she had written specially for the event:

Luella read a poem composed of lines from Wuthering Heights:


which was warmly appreciated by Lexi's dog:

As indeed were efforts by several other readers:

Michael Thornton paid homage to Branwell's chemically-prolific past with a tale of his own decadent youth - though with sherbet fountains as his poison:

While Oliver Standring approached the theme through heartfelt descriptions of the Haworth skyline and horizons, remembered from visiting the town with a loved one:


 And we were treated to  Nick Steel's observations of the Brontës' legacies - including his invitation for a drink with Branwell:

A few random shots from the evening:

And the star of the show:

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