JackdawQuarterly writers’ group: Summer meeting

30 04 2016

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Feel welcome to read a poem or an extract of prose, or to simply listen along to others on the theme ‘panic’.

 





Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

18 08 2014

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Dylan Thomas’ writing shed snuggled into place on Conwy’s quayside, it looked like it had grown on the wharf naturally. The Liverpool Arms, pouring into the view from his open curtained windows, seemed as though it was musty with tales of Thomas’ games of cats and dogs, of Caitlin, of Vernon Watkins, bruised bottles, and of words worming.

I settled into the wicker chair and tried to write nine poems. In twelve minutes. The queue for the ‘Sunday takeaway’ hadn’t abated and the clothes line, full of thematic requests varying from Whales to Wales, had begun to sag slightly. I wrote, trying not to move anything on the desk, trying to move myself from any tourists’ photograph, trying to look a little at Thomas’ gallery of faces, his lists of assonance, trying, trying.

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And when I had conquered the orders and the glutinous diners were licking the bones of my briefest verse, I hastened off to read a selection of nature poems in the Guild Hall. Between Wales’ Children’s Laureate, Martin Daws, and its Poet Laureate, Gillian Clarke, my poems felt rushed and riddled and the hour was longer than it seemed. But the room was full and the audience was kind enough to smile when they were supposed to, frown when I prompted to. And all the books I took were gone when I left.

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The day before, a string of wonderful writers collected words from Conwy’s web of walls and we amassed poems from the produce. Hinton’s bookshop provided their cloister for the task, their kettle for the process.

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In the evening David Crystal enchanted an audience on the ‘100 words that made English’ and spoke of the reasons why ‘roe deer’ was a crucial to the language as ‘thingy’ and ‘dooberry’ and ‘Twittersphere’.

The highlight? A Spanish couple who arrived to Dylan’s shed and, instead of taking a poem, took away a request for one. I gave them the catalyst ‘charity’ and they gave me back ‘A Toast for Glyn’. Inside the poem were the lines, ‘now, he’s the host of Thomas’ ghost’ and, for that sentiment alone, thank you.





O Captain! My Captain!

27 07 2014

He claps lined hands together,
rubs one through the palm of the other
as if he is testing its grain.
His tongue is swung over
the gate of his grin like a leg
that kicks in time to the clock hands.
Not daring to turn, we all check the hour
through his face, see how his eyelids pull
tautly and tremble when the lunch bell comes.
And then he staggers forward for the chase
to clear a solar system of balls from the yard. But,

today he stops, his frame ducks
in the doorway, and turns.
‘No one late this afternoon. No excuses.’
His foot draws a slice out of the ox blood
carpet tile; it guillotines literature in two,
announces lunch.
Usually, we run up the hill
to my house in time for Neighbours, Home and Away,
fry the bacon black, throw it down the hatch,
then back, back, back,
in time for the fifth period bell. But,

today we refuse to rush the plan
we’ve rehearsed. Hudd’s bag heaves
with goods nabbed: chorizo, quail eggs, cigars,
sangria. He strategises on stealing
the absurd from Iceland – theming
thefts to evade suspicion. He taps his nose,
‘No one inspects the Spanish exhibition.’
We watch Dead Poets’ Society in confessional quiet
until he purges himself of his mum’s worries:
all the missed lessons; the Advocaat bottles;
pornos wrapped up in university prospectusus. Prospectusi. Prospectuses. ‘But,

today we’ll call the school and pretend to be God’, I say
we’ll reassure his mum to seize her own days.
He won’t look at me though,
he wants to sew the introductions
back in the books. And so we return,
too late to escape punishment, two heads
for the axe. We expect him sullenly staring
out the at the car park, brooding
at the bumpers backed up against the window,
dwelling on our transgression,
a hand rested on a telephone. But

Instead he’s standing on a desk, helicoptering
his arms, vibrating the room, stamping
on Jones’ book, screaming, face blooded
by belief. The boys are in triumph,
applauding as one congregation. Their chorus
carries him aloft. And I understand too late,
that we are outside, silent and holding nothing.

O captain! my captain,
you didn’t make our seconds slow
you didn’t crave to see us gone,
you ached for us not to go.





A Reading @ The Word Conwy – Sunday August 16th 1.15 Conwy Guild Hall

6 07 2014

A festival of words.

http://thewordconwy.com/wordsmiths/

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http://thewordconwy.com

I will be reading before the national poet of Wales, Gillian Clarke, @ The Word Conwy this summer. The event is on the same weekend as the Feast programme and also features the linguist David Crystal.

“A festival of words. Sounds like heaven on earth to me” David Crystal, the world’s leading expert on the English language.

http://www.conwyfeast.com/feastattheword/





Dharamsala to Shimla

29 12 2013

‘I witnessed everything…it was so rich I had to select senses’

(Michael Ondaatje, Monsoon Notebook i)

Circular drains belch out torrents of mustard
while fresh streams tumble over lime verges.
A rhesus monkey is umbrellad by a hunchbacked
road sign. SHIMLA 226km

Traffic is moving backwards on this roadriver,
barefoot cyclists peddle by, schoolchildren wade.
Few stores have unshuttered mouths today
but the brown tide probes every jaw with hungry tongues.

There is a boulder in the road. A fallen planet.
An obstinate, unmoveable holy cow. Mud, lorries, life
churn around it. There is a boulder in my stomach,
sandy bile hurries past it.

Everything could be swallowed up by India.
I retch my breakfast into this mess of monsoon.





The Fifty Move Rule

19 10 2013

The intended reason for the rule is so that a chess player with no chance to win cannot be obstinate and play on indefinitely or seek a win purely due to an opponent’s fatigue.

She edges closer in dreamy dark,
‘he should sleep through now.’
Check. Scratched from safety,
he blunders an arm between them. She moves
away. An exchange of sighs.

Desperate to resign.

Isolated pieces patrol, paring trenches
paralleling harmlessly. The board is dusty;
his turn. The game is torpid; his turn.
The intercom invites him with songthrush,
stream, sonata and he is teased to tiredness
by a baby’s breaths. A vicarious sleep.

A flare of sound, a firework of panic
and he chooses carelessly. Reading
the black like Braille, stumbling
towards the baby’s wail,
he pauses to take
down dressing gown
and she is there to turn
on lights, offer advice.

He follows her around the board,
swapping territory, holding hopes
giving ground, facing stalemate in silence.
He plays at parenthood.





The Grave of a Ground (Port Vale 2 Crawley Town 2, Saturday 6th August 2011)

30 01 2013

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There is sense in cemeteries and symmetry
in gravestones. The cross is a puzzle of stations
but when I link the points I find flags,
badges, shields, coffins.

The workshop could be replanted with offcuts,
try oak Mr Williams grins. Stable for the table.
He traces calloused fingertips on a spiderweb grain.
Black ash is cheap and cheerless.

He shows me how to saw odd angles so they sleep
as snug as dovetails, then preaches to the class
of my dedication: lathing late, sanding all spring.
Diligence makes the best bookcase.

He never asks to see my plans, discerns cab’net
when I mumble casket. He signs a yellow slip
so I can work through lunch drawing and etch
three chalky white letters on the lid.
Dad is in the Head’s office all afternoon,
loudly warning my mother I’m macabre. He nods,
she sobs and my name is shadowed out from
the school show brochures in thick marker.
Sir wouldn’t look at me the Saturday,
my brother and me screwed on brass handles
and trudged it home. It was David’s idea to take it
to the stadium, prop it against the Railway Stand
to take turns stealing glances at the game
but men touched the casket like mourners
as we passed, offering to shoulder the weight.
‘A coffin’s not as heavy as a death,’ said a voice

outside the Bull’s Head and he lay a folded scarf
inside the lid. Pin badges and pennants and papers
thrown in as the landlord sang sermons. I rang
the pub bell’s lonely chime as the procession filed away.

People eddied in the swell outside the ground
rolling against the metal gates in grumbling waves
until sirens stanched the flow. Helicopters hummed
all evening and the heat dripped out the day.

While the weatherman’s arm covered the Potteries
from overnight storms, Mum warned me not to sleep
through my alarm. Her voice smoothed silences
dug up by news footage of a match day melee.

I found photos of the coffin and the crowds
in all but one of the Sundays and read reports
of riots until the print was fat with rain.
I posted the puddles with each paper.

They hadn’t even mentioned my name.
There was nothing noted of how I’d mixed ink
with filler to cover the screw holes,
contoured the edges so it’d be lighter.

Outside the club is an ashen mound. A handful
of black sawdust, weightless and portentous.
A coffin is not as heavy as a death.





Reasons I won’t ask him

27 12 2012

He’ll tell me the foundations aren’t level
while scratching at the corner of his eyebrows
until I sulk off.

I’ll hand him tea in soily cup
as he pegs out right angles in string
and asks me to fetch the post mix
from the boot.

‘It’s an easy mistake Son,’ he’ll say
sketching on to the plans where the door
should’ve gone. Then he’ll build
a shed from the panels I ignored
in the alleyway since spring.

He’ll need someone to foot the ladders
he brought and I should pin the felt down
in the corners he can’t stretch to anymore.

Mum might bring the baby out to play
on the balding grass, joke about men at work
and we may all pretend that’s the truth.

After the brushes are cleaned
he’ll pour the tea away,
wash the mugs.