JackdawQuarterly writers’ group: Summer meeting

30 04 2016


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



Shijiazhuang Education Seminar – 2015

15 10 2015

IMG_1575 Having taught English in China in 2004, when the opportunity to return to Shijiazhuang to deliver a speech at a seminar centred on reading and scientific literacy was presented to me, I was eager to accept.  Then, however, came the practicality of preparing for the speech, preparing for the convoluted route via Hing Kong and preparing to deliver to a room of five hundred teachers.  Shijiazhuang had me immediately nostalgic; the population had grown as much as the skyline but the streets were still quick to smile familiar structures at me and to wink temperate skies.

I stuck to the scriptnotes I had contrived for the translators to follow, referred to Keira Knightly more than anyone has done in literacy lecture and generally bluffed my way through thirty minutes of a twenty minute session by parrying applause-less moments with terrible Chinese.

A success, sort of.  I thought. A former pupil of mine at the school sat beside me, balancing on the arm rest of the chair.

‘It was hard to believe your Chinese could get any worse.  It was also very, very long; luckily, I think you were stood on the microphone wire for most of the second half.’


Red Poets #21

5 10 2015

A slightly-mauled copy of Red Poets arrived today. Or, at least it arrived and was then mauled.
Always good to see yourself in heavily-chewed print.

Retiring After the Shipwreck (Deganwy home of Commander Harold G. Lowe, 5th Officer RMS Titanic)

13 08 2015



Sometimes, when the last train brakes by the junction
it catches the track and sets off flares at the road crossing.
Lights search the sky then and I stir from my chair
by a cooled fire and go to hold the rattling window
to steady myself in the trembling room.


When the train pulls away, I stay there, stranded
in the same sinking darkness there was that night
the ship went down. The blind screams and muffled panic
of the desperate, the incoherent, the knowing, the gone.
All frozen and silenced by the sea.


Before the birds ring, I consort the pinkest horizon
and patrol the shore for survivors, mementos or something
that may anchor me to a fresh wreckage. But among
the chains that tie the boats to the beach
are balled-up bones of feathers and fish, burnt out campfires.


The chill seeps into my knees, I huddle into my coats
and hurry across the shore like some sandpiper,
picking over branches, broken pallets, crab lines
and wearied wood that has washed up here, as I,
and will, each night, be buried again in these tides.

High Tide (Borth and Ynyslas)

28 06 2015


I want us to stand on any two of the tree stumps,
branch our arms and knot hands,
to find this kingdom lost in the endless sands
and be submerged in a forest of imagination.

I want to show you how like shipwrecks they are–
racked ribs picked bare, beach bound, barnackled.
Or that they’re like pipes periscoping out on the horizon,
waiting to be windmills – reduced to rusting trunks.

The car is blown beyond Borth’s half-painted homes,
and past caravans that have slipped their footings
until a smugglers’ path between disinterested pubs
winds us into the gusty sea. Waves cloud the treeline

and the village is stormed in the swell.  A man leans
against the squall, the broadsheet under his arm
like a mainsail.  A girl in red coat flares out beside him.
They listen for the sunken bells of a drowned myth

though there is no Cantre Gwaelod under this white tide.
There is no kittiwake, no razorbill, no seal, no dolphin,
no spider crab, no dog whelk, no lobster pot, no tree stump,
just sea, sea and the endless meeting of the sky.

In a beachside café, the windows groan and the cold laps
at the uneasy, circular tables.  Leftovers are layered
on piled plates like sedimentary rocks.  Cutlery chimes
and sunken faces whisper litanies to the sea.

Jumping in the River Dee

28 04 2014


Everything has been exaggerated

Horse drawn canal boat studded with dew,
the steadying silence, bramble crowns, the few
damp prayers pawed onto rocks.

A barefoot pilgrimage to the bridge.

A dismount and dive and full
arms winging water away.
Smiling in the shallows and being
towelled by the sun.

Everything has been exaggerated.

The muddy pass snaked closer
to road than river. Plastic
bag crows’ nests cackled
in wet wind.

They hunted the water, shooting
at sight between bushes and chasing
the bust of the beast. These eyes threw
a net to the sky,
hauling in excuses that wouldn’t be caught.

The last, leaping too late
To escape distrust, too near
To evade the eddy at the rocks,
the swell by the trapped logs,
the charging current of the darkness.

Stuck to the bank as a stickleback,
out of sight, away from memory.


20 04 2014



The mist does not clear, instead the fog
from the fall thickens. In rich seams
of jewelled dark they adjust their lamps
and chisel the walls of the slide.

They dig for a channel of warmth
in the frozen hillside. A current of winter fleeces
veining Spring’s vindictive snows.

Herculaneum. Beneath the farmer’s feet
a pasture suffocates: the tracks untread,
the trails maze; the sheep hibernate
in the stomach of the storm.

He strides the white sea like a giant,
methodically breaching and bracing
the wash of waves that crumple
in whispers below him. His crook
punches chimneys of breath
as he plumbs for pockets of his flock.

But the lambs have been born in their graves.