Poet in Residence – Dylan Thomas’ Writing Shed – Chester Literature Festival

13 10 2014

The one way system to the city’s traffic had tide changed. There was a new estate in the street I had expected to park my car in.  Chester had been building in the six years since I’d left it and my walk to Dylan’s writing shed was diverted by streets newly formed and structures newly thriving.

In the centre, however, the city remained similar: same pubs, The Red Lion (where I will forever remember watching Liverpool’s fortnightly Champions League melodrama simmer as surprisingly as any Dickens’ potboiler), same squares of grass (the Cathedral cricket strip that I watched fallen catches break like birds’ eggs, then clutched a fizzing ball on the boundary in the gloom), the slightly squalid Town Hall square (that my girlfriend of a decade, in the middle of Christmas Markets, let me leave our lonely love behind).

It was exhilarating to step in the Writing shed again, to sit in the sagging wicker chair and look up at the portraits of Brooke, Lawrence and Dylan himself.  It was a relief to be away from my nostalgia and enter somebody else’s.

10418233_834741863224327_1655407280419337185_n

The first gentleman who asked for a poem declared, ‘I’m not a great lover of poetry, music is the new verse’ and, thus, verbatim, I wrote down the opening lines of a piece which tracked the calm cadence of his voice and compared him, albeit kindly, to sheepdog and candle smoke.  He took his poem like a medicine, wincing, then swallowing the concept whole.

IMG_0223-1

The next couple, watch checking restlessly, requested a poem for their forty-fourth anniversary.  They told me that, four years before, they had celebrated their Ruby Anniversary but this one was one for a dinner, calm, the afternoon, a walk on the walls.  I don’t think they came back to claim it.

shed 1

And the afternoon strode on and I was quickly left clutching a pad of bespoke poems that had nothing but titles.  I wrote one about a local charity, one about the journey on the A55, one about poetry, one about a woman’s wonderful neologism, one about pens, one about pain, one about, one about, one about.

IMG_0224

When it began raining the crowds huddled away and I held on to a stack of orders.  But instead of filling them out, I contrasted the swollen, pencil point-eyed poet from the Collected Stories I was using to lean on, with the one in the Augustus John painting above the shed window.  I wrote for a minute and cursed him his infinite flaws.

The final poem I hung to the washing line was for the festival organiser, who asked for something to remind her of a Bucket List success in Moorish Spain and the watercolours it had stirred in her.  The poems I have still to produce are for a creative writing student from the local university, for a kind fellow of the festival who gave me the compelling catalyst ‘hedgehogs’ and for the two people who have rolled the Writing Shed both around their imaginations and the country for the past year.

So, when I left and followed my footsteps back to the car, I tried to think of how I write something that would do more than acknowledge the efforts of the last pair, something instead that could crown their commitments.  Something that will aptly say thank you to them for taking Dylan Thomas to schools and imaginations, something that will thank them for bringing him back to me.

Somewhere damp, burrowed under the crimsoned leaves of Aumtum, I’ll find the right words searching for worms and tease them out into the weak winter sun.

In a fortnight, when we will fill the space again at the Touch and Go: Dylan Thomas in Montgomery event in Mid-Wales, I will begin by pinning up these poems.





‘Moortown’ playing on The Guardian

20 08 2014

a video on The Guardian website of my poem ‘Moortown’ about Ted Hughes:
https://witness.theguardian.com/assignment/53f1fb64e4b038fb92169cac/1114601





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

6 07 2014

A festival of words.

http://thewordconwy.com/wordsmiths/

conwy

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 Girl with a Ponytail (Picasso, 1954)

27 03 2013

(published in Cheval 4)

Image

 

Subtle, for him. Understated. Flattering even.

That first painting was angled with beauty enough

to lure me. Postman blue, pond green. Shy lips

and one eye, wide enough for two.

 

He sketched me furiously in June. Always

demanding my hair tumbled. Winding my fringe

between oily fingertips, breathing wine,

gesturing bottle after glass.

 

Every portrait a picture of a sculpture,

a Greek bust in Gallic July dress.

 

The signature brought the world to Vallauris

and each time I smiled at the cameras,

dimpled when he shared the lens. He painted

in the evening only now. His colours

darkened and he insisted my collar

inched lower to reveal secrets I would not tell.

 

In the last nights he sat me on his knees

I confessed he had become my second father.

He was sullen in August and relinquished

with the final composition, without goodbye.

 

The final painting revealed only my naivete: 

my ponytail a noose for an old man to risk

his reputation, my breasts a rectangle of

rheumatic grey. My webbed ringlets, a duplicitous stare

and my fingers knotted in his frustration.





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

30 01 2013

photo (1)

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.