First pages from Speculations & Changes
The wheel is an old and spoked wagon wheel. Set upright, just out of the vertical, it has been wrapped in several layers of blue-tinted polythene. Within layers of the polythene parts of cut-out words are discernible, but rarely a whole word; and all of the part-words within only two of the wheel’s quadrants.
These - fa, ure, pa, car and inty - are the word ends and beginnings that are decipherable in the uppermost quadrant.
In its opposite, the lowest quadrant, these word parts are visible - ete, elves, cert, stic and cove.
My own supposition, based on current sayings and preoccupations, is that the part-words put together the upper quadrant will say - Certainty is our one faith and The past carries us into the future.
I’m more confident of the lower quadrant, that put together the pieces and their obscured parts will say, Uncertain we consider only ourselves, cover the land in concrete and the seas in plastic.
This is an outdoors installation, the slope of the wheel being set under a truncated drainpipe. During, or for a period after rain, water dribbles down over the polythene, ripples further obscuring the words already partial. Drips from the polythene enter a cream enamel bucket, which regularly overflows. Clearly visible and printed in black on the bottom of the bucket is the one word, LOSS.
The soundscape has a by-the-yard rhythm section of snare drum, electric piano, bass and pan-pipes; with the two words fake and placebo being repeated at seeming random, sometimes one word on its own, although more often at a one breath run - fake fake fake... placebo placebo... Which can at times segue, the two words distorted and slurred together, into alternative pairings - fakeplacebo, placebofake.
And then... One’s own fake placebo is saying something other, is where thought has gone and internally carries on growing the contradictory concept. More of one’s own words get dotted and slotted between and about the snare drum, piano, bass and pan-pipes, clothing and enveloping the rough idea within spongy flesh; until all without has become background mush.
of a bell
In the Gallery Canteen
In the gallery canteen, carrying my tray, I manoeuvre
between chairs, seeking a table where
I can sit with my back to the words.
Words here run in a frieze around the walls
and have been etched into a frosted strip
across the canteen windows. One set
of wall words is a long quote from a Laureate,
the other single words and part phrases
the result of a primary school ‘poetry project’.
I won’t repeat any of the words on this page.
Nouns and adjectives have been chosen because
they supposedly describe where they are,
those on the glass - depending on the season - what’s beyond.
Having been read so often they possess now
only the capacity, not to inspire, but to irritate.
Whenever I enter the gallery I have to look to the right
to avoid more ‘project’ words that have been carved into
a block of stone set by the doors. But one particular word,
unavoidable because inlaid into the floor beside the stack of trays, subconsciously read again and again, has come to seem
the tritest, the most excruciating word in current usage.
Oh the irony
Pop Art’s POW!
Does he love me?
Let us pretend
that we are coloured newsprint
and of the common people
show us metres wide
in hushed galleries
and excitable auction rooms
At the centre of every human being
is an absurdity.
Some people are very obviously silly,
wear their insides
on their outsides,
get called fools, or fanatics.
Others we believe to be honest, to be
Until we come upon that thing,
that one thing
that they hold sacred
the thing that is not to be questioned,
not to be mocked,
not to be derided;
the one thing that adds them
to the panoply of the ridiculous.
I can see into your soul
and down all the tunnels of your being:
expect no respect from me.
Your talent? That
which comes easy to you
you do not trust;
and those who praise you
for such facile accomplishments
you think fools, and yourself false.
Yet, unhappy breaking new ground
- possibly new ground -
you seek always precedents
to justify what you do, depend on
cued responses. Yours becomes
the false spontaneity of a performer
calling out his yee-haws;
and your self-vaunted earthiness
is simply an old man being noisy
and coarse at his ablutions.
you call faith in yourself
I label simple conceit.
Self-flagellating (as here) you descry
always the mote in your own eye, while,
with a fake like-me compassion,
you deny the beam in others.
Most of your latter
creative urges you have lavished
upon yourself instead of on
your works of art.
So have you become
(On realisation of this
all that’s left is nostalgia.)
The half-smile that his listeners wear
He first tells us that he is at home
(full of himself? empty of thought?)
goes on to relate
the ‘interior experiences
of his ineffable self’
Eager for praise
he says he wants us to eat his words
flavoured with garlic
scorched by lightning
spiced with cardamon
His obvious vanity
romantic heroes do not lose their hair)
is no threat to us
The danger of extinction is elsewhere
that huge sump of the intellectually challenged
and the spiritually corrupt
ready always to drag us back into barbarity
Contemptuous of all engineered excitements my life experience
is no stream of consciousness, more an enclosing mist. But how
to convey that state of partial awareness, voices off
not quite heard? I want to keep on saying, “I don’t know,”
than to pretend that I do. How can I know? There’s too much of it.
Just too much. All that I truly know is negatives. I don’t feel quite
like that, don’t wholly agree with...
When you live among junkies and alkies and you want only
to get on with your own life, while all around you are trying
to get rid of theirs, each one of those chemically-controlled
human forms glimpsed out the window, passed in the street,
provokes a dismissive grunt...
As to beauty. Beauty? We recognise something from somewhere
unremembered — a cloud shape? a sunset? — and we exclaim
that it is beautiful. But in truth the sunset, the cloud, hasn’t moved us,
aside from to speak, it is only something we have recognised from
a painting, or a photograph, which just by its having been put up
on a wall, or included in a magazine, was saying that it was worth
Here then is the shallow truth of me; and shallow though it may be,
no matter how often I say it, rephrase it, as soon as it is in words
it too becomes false, becomes artificial. Same for all our limited
capacity for absorbing experience: science and religion go seeking,
in the step-by-step logic of madness, contemporary explanations
for both new and ancient phenomena. While most new art now
defeats its purpose in drawing attention only to itself. As here.
Polemic — in the shape of a poem
because we have been conditioned by poetry
to treasure the English countryside
— poetry being a weapon of rebellion
and the countryside having always
been under threat from those
who claim to own it.
Been etched upon our collective psyche
appealing images of gnarled trees
standing anciently alone
in dappled pastures; and conjunctions
of ragged hedgerows, cross-hatchings
all made icons.
when you come to look at what
you have been trained to love
— shape of woman, lie of land
and you know the one is
silicon synthetic, at best cosmetic,
and the other poison-sprayed, then
pleasure dies in the eyes.
Beside glowing upland lakes of yellow rape
fields of blue flax reflect squares
of powdered sky; and cloud shadows
go flying on over sterile oblongs
of young corn and darken
the black glistening field spawn of
If Hungry for Legends, or Tourists, Invent....
(inspired by the tale of the Black Angel, Illinois)
Role of midwives fell
traditionally to witches,
Truth is (could be)
every birth attended
mocked her grief.
How, though, to be bitter
at the undeserving alive,
at the slippery newborn,
at the rawly unformed.
She placed her energies instead
in the commission of statuary,
lost herself in wrangles
of concept versus execution.
And still her son is dead,
still her son is dead.
This is mortality, angel.
[...and, as this collection has 2 distinct parts, the first 5 pages of 'Changes'...]
A man will never change his mind if he has no mind to change
- old English proverb
A bird calls You You You
A month passes and
a morning arrives when
in the blink of a mind’s eye
time has become a substance
Then - like green aspic
starred with yellow flowers
Now - the white of an overnight frost
has spiked ice crystals growing furlike
on blades of grass
in the going-forwardness of life
and picking at the scab
oxygen in : carbon dioxide out
food in : faeces out
skin shedding flakes without
the pulsating elegance of a snake
knowing that there are
600 species of moss
some like forests in miniature
and every people
to be a people
needs to see themselves
in some way wronged
so do the persecuted
become the persecutors
A bird calls You You You
A is for Abscission
In this anatomy of failure note how one man
comes up with one good idea and spends
the rest of his existence guarding it; note
how this woman is jealous of the history
she has made for herself; note how
the emotionally stupid let one hurt rule
their entire life; note how the writer
despises the puritan in himself and tries
to quell the man with the message,
to shut up the prophet of doom; note
how some mothers seek the spurious
security of continuity; note the sinister
effect of all alkaloids upon their children;
note how humanity’s capacity for creation is
matched only by its propensity for destruction.
A Simple Act, Complex Antecedents
If we do not fill time, time will fill us.
Sofa-dwelling stay-at-homes are fat with time.
Famine is not oh-what-a-pity misfortune. Famine has economic causes, usually the exploitation of resources by those who have the power. The famines in Ireland and Sweden were a direct consequence of the wealthy taking more of what they didn’t need. As with the clearances in Scotland, the enclosures in England. Much as the couldn’t-care-less corporate policies of nowadays result in desertification.
There is also brain famine. Because this has been a time of thin thinking, name-check information passed on by multiple choice and screen symbol; a period when books have been thought to be hard work, old hat. But intellect too has a hunger and books are coming back. Oh yes, books are coming back. Thicker and deeper than ever, concept coiled about paradox.
“Thanks,” I said to Aristotle.
“Was no trouble,” he said. “No trouble at all.”
A too-loved child
Bereavement may well have been
the starting point for
your lasting depression.
That loss though
was only the detonation.
Cause is not necessarily
Once smoke and tears cleared
what you were looking at
was your own life,
the passive waste
you have made of it, the pit
you have dug for yourself,
and you can see no way out.
The TV/radio trickle-tickle of stimulus that doesn’t allow for sustained thought gets switched off. In its absence, silence expanding, thoughts are soggy as twice-cooked cabbage. as unfocussed as sea-distance, as still drifting as clouds. . . . But comes the sudden squirrel chase of an idea. Which disappears around the trunk of commonsense. Filament whiskers are glimpsed, a flicked tail. Attention caught, the head goes forward. Claws can be heard scrabbling. Guesses now to which way the squirrel will go. Need is to see the squirrel whole. Stopped. By a machine’s imperative bleep - beep - that demands - beep - to be looked into - beep - to be answered - beep