Monday, November 29

Raw Vision

THE RUMOUR by Tim Cumming (Stride, £8.50)
Review by Clive Allen

Here are the opening lines from the first four poems in "The Rumour":

Business as usual, in the Nag’s Head.

She never read his birthday gift,
a guide to the G-Spot.

He slept heavily and travelled light

There were things she wouldn’t tell him

That pretty much sets the tone of this, Tim Cumming’s second collection, a no-holds barred, unflinchingly raw vision of the day to day. The world he describes is unstable & uncertain, full of things breaking up, down, apart or just plain breaking. Which, all in all, ought to make it about as much fun as reading through the contents of a Social Worker’s filing cabinet. But curiously it doesn’t feel like that; there’s something rather affirming & positive that fights its way through to the surface of the poems.

Sometimes the depictions of contemporary life (& the here & now is where these poems are firmly located) slide uncomfortably from a ‘warts & all’ view to … well … just the warts, I suppose. And when that happens it can get kind of hard to take…

There’s real life telly on the TV.
The drugs she’s on make her tired, nauseous
and halfway through the show
she sleeps with her head on one side,
looking like she’d been shot.

Now, there is a point at which this approach runs the risk of becoming little more than a sort of macabre fascination in turning over rocks to look at whatever ghastly spectacle is seething & wriggling underneath, & a more hostile critic might accuse Tim Cumming of precisely this sort of literary voyeurism. But by virtue of its precision, its unflinchingness, its acute & alert consciousness, the poetry in "The Rumour" somehow manages to offer a vision that is strangely uplifting.

This is from 'The Hair':

She tied up her hair
then asked him to call a taxi.
He picked up the phone and pulled
one of her hairs from his mouth.
I know you’re unhappy, he said
but please stop doing this.

It’s that business about pulling one of her hairs from his mouth, isn’t it? The way it suddenly sharpens the focus & ups the intimacy-rating. This deft (you might even say surgical) insertion of a tiny heartbreaking, human detail to an otherwise blunt matter-of-factness is something that runs through many of the poems in "The Rumour". And it’s the dynamic interplay between these two qualities that is the heart & soul of the poetry.

As far as unhappy tales of love, madness, sexual possession and casual emotional abuse go – this is remarkably readable stuff; the 108 pages practically turn themselves & I found myself fairly effortlessly swallowing one poem after another. This is partly a function of the plain, uncomplicated & brisk style, but it also has something to do with the fascinations of the subject matter.

To call the style plain & uncomplicated isn’t of course to say that it’s simple in a naïve or facile sense. The poems - generally tall, thin affairs, with few stanza breaks – are made of short, straightforward sentences, devoid, for the most part, of metaphor, that gradually build up a narrative where individuals struggle with large & small unhappinesses, where couples wrangle over that secret infighting we call a relationship, where, as the late Ken Smith points out in the blurb, ‘Strange things happen to strange people, and they turn out to be us.’

There are a few laughs in here too:

He worried about the size of his feet.
He didn’t talk very much.
He walked through the shopping centre
like a moving target,
looking at other people’s feet.

(from ‘The Way that Schoolgirls Danced’)

She was a pop star and
believed in life after
death and capital punishment.

(from ‘The Knuckles’)

Not exactly side-splitting, I know, but funny in a grim, wry sort of way that appealed to me. If forced to identify influences, I’d call it Geoff Hattersley out of Raymond Carver.

In common with the work of both those writers, some of these poems suggest an acquaintance with the shady peripheries of modern life while others are centred in a more routine domesticity. There are a few which ‘celebrate’ birth & parenthood – something that ought to make any seasoned poetry reader duck for cover - & whilst I confess to finding them the least convincing in the book, they manage successfully to sidestep that all too usual & all too syrupy gosh-isn’t-the-miracle-of-new-life-just-so-oh-I don’t-know-kind-of-you-know-miraculous! territory. That said, the birth scene in ‘Zero Station’ is tough going (‘It was like staring into the heart of a fire/ … the long savannah between contractions/ zeroed to an open porthole …’). Fortunately there’s not too much of it. You just need to skip page 54.

This aside, "The Rumour" comes over resoundingly as what lazy poetry reviews usually call ‘a very assured & engaging performance’. By that I think I mean there’s an enviable & compelling confidence to the writing, an air of someone who knows what sort of effects he’s reaching for & has the technical skill to achieve them without the strain & effort showing. Tim Cumming takes a long, cold look at the world & reports back that it’s often quite a gloomy place, but while the vision may be a disenchanted one, its expression somehow elevates us.

© C. J. Allen 2004

Saturday, November 27

Two Gentlemen of .... Somewhere

My pal Mr. R. Mallin, of Lowestoft, has just drawn my attention to a new website he’s had a hand in. It belongs to InPrint, which is a small and friendly band of collaborating poets and artists based in Norfolk.

While I’m at it, I should also draw your attention to Art Zero, which belongs to Mr. M. Blackburn, poet and gentleman of Lincolnshire and, I suspect, elsewhere. Those of you from Poetry World who were wondering what Mr. Blackburn is up to these days, here it is.

Friday, November 26

I'm with Harington

I don’t know quite how it happened, but today I found myself looking through my “Penguin Book of Elizabethan Verse”, and turning to the poems by Thomas Bastard. I couldn’t remember having read him before; he has a pretty memorable name. Anyway, the biographical note made me warm to him immediately:

A country clergyman who made pitiably small headway in life, Bastard published his book, Chrestoleros, in 1598. It was much ridiculed, but Harington defended it. Bastard died, touched in the wits, in a debtors’ prison in Dorchester.

I don’t know which bit I like best: “pitiably small headway” or “touched in the wits”. Here is one of the poems from "Chrestoleros":

De Sua Clepsydra

Setting mine hour-glass for a witness by
To measure study as the time did fly:
A lingering muse possessed my thinking brain:
My mind was reaching, but in such a vein,
As if my thoughts, by thinking brought asleep
Wingless and footless, now like snails did creep.
I eyed my glass, but he so fast did run,
That e’er I had begun, the hour was done.
The creeping sands with speedy pace were flit,
Before one reason crept out of my wit.
When I stood still, I saw how time did fly:
When my wits ran, time ran more fast than I.
Stay here: I’ll change the course, let study pass,
And let time study while I am the glass.
What touch ye, sands? are little mites so fleet?
Can bodies run so swift that have no feet?
And can ye tumble time so fast away?
Then farewell hours, I’ll study by the day.

Is it me, or does it peter out at the end? But there’s so much to like about it, notwithstanding that it took me three tries before I unravelled the syntax of the opening lines. The main reason I like it is that little tight knot of argument at its heart, that I can’t quite get my head around but I know it’s the reason I woke up today and trudged round the supermarket and hoovered the apartment and cleaned the bathroom and read a little poetry magazine from cover to cover and my will to live didn’t break. Sometimes poets do that to you: threaten to break your will to live. Then just when it’s getting tricky someone comes to your rescue. Today it was the cavalry: Thomas Bastard was supported by the script-writers on “Star Trek: the Next Generation”. In an episode I’ve seen loads of times before but I like to take time out at 5 o’clock and watch the repeats, Captain Picard is having a heart transplant, and of course it goes wrong, and the surgeon in his best concerned actor’s voice exclaims “I can’t stop the heterocyclic declanation!” You have to be drunk with friends to write that kind of stuff, don’t you? Then there was a commercial for a toothpaste which said “It’s your mouth: brush it your way.” What does that mean? It’s so dumb it’s approaching brilliant.
Thomas Bastard (1566-1618), I’m with Harington and defending you. It’s all yours:

The little world the subject of my muse,
Is an huge task and labour infinite;
Like to a wilderness or mass confuse,
Or to an endless gulf, or to the night:
How many strange meanders do I find?
How many paths do turn my straying pen?

Thursday, November 25


Item 1.

There is a new issue of
The North out, and it features among other beautiful things a conversation between me and Paul Violi, which we did when I was over in New York during the Spring. It’s really very interesting, has some fine words in it (including “mad chemist”), and I encourage you to be encouraged to buy a copy.

Item 2.

I have somewhat altered the Comment facility on this site. If you click on the cryptic phrase at the foot of the post (at the moment it says something like “Speak up…..” but I am likely to change the phrase on a whim and sixpence) a box pops up and you can comment straight into it: No logins or stuff like that, but you can put your e-mail and/or web address in if you choose. It's not obligatory, though a name is always good. It’s the
Haloscan system, which is what blog-people who know what they’re doing use, and I am nearly one of those people.

Item 3.

Regarding Item 2 – nobody much comments about things, which is okay. But it’s there if you want it. I won’t tell you how tricky it was getting Haloscan to install. Actually it was dead easy, with a little help from
Tim and his Brain. Anyway, it’s there, and for you to use.

Item 4.

Back to Poetry, and I have a review of the Bloodaxe “Half Alive” anthology over at Stride.
It’s different from the skittish piece posted here earlier this week (although I guess the outcome is the same). & as usual there is other good stuff appearing at Stride all the time.

Item 5.

What was Item 5 going to be? Perhaps there wasn’t one. Perhaps I should, though, take the opportunity to say Thank You for your support & readership. Lots of people are reading this Thing at the moment, which is very pleasing. I'm enjoying myself loads, and I hope you are too. So yes: Thank you.

Sunday, November 21

Being Alive: Yes, I Know It's Christmas

It’s late November, and people are starting to say things to me like “Only 34 shopping days left!”, and “Have you started your Christmas shopping yet?” And I looked out of my window a couple of evenings ago and it had begun to snow. The first snow of the Winter. When I walk to work early in the mornings, I sometimes disturb reindeer at the edge of The Forest. They graze there until the Council opens the gates for the Park & Ride. This year, when someone asks me if I’ve started my Christmas shopping, I feel a warm glow surge through me. I have it sussed, absolutely. I have a One-Present-Fits-All solution. Here is my List of What I’m Getting and Who I’m Getting It For.

For my Mum:

My mum is a cook. By which I mean, she cooks. What she can do with a chunk of boil-in-the-bag ham and a packet of frozen peas beggars belief. There are some funny stories about my mum and exotic foods. She used to think a kumquat was a small furry mammal. (But then, so did I until I studied English Literature at night school.) She is very good with potatoes if they are in the shape of chips, too. But lately, as she has gotten older (she is 94) she seems to have lost a little of her culinary ambition and so, to kind of liven things up a bit and in an endeavour to whet a tired and jaded appetite, I’m hoping she will read some poems with titles like “Peaches” and “Crab Apple Jelly” and “A Jar of Honey”. I think my mum needs to be reminded about the world and its fruits, and the great hunger of our souls. So, I’m getting her the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”, and pointing her especially to the “Taste and See” section. But no doubt she will read the rest, too. That will do her good.

For my Dad:

When he was younger my dad travelled around a lot. He was a sales rep for a company that designed bottle labels. If you’ve ever sat in a pub chatting with friends and absentmindedly picked away at the label on a bottle of beer there’s a good chance you’ve connected, in some rather distant way, to my dad. Or to someone who used to work for the company he used to work for before they were bought out by the Americans. Anyway, my dad travelled a lot, but since his retirement he has stayed indoors mainly, or in his back garden if my mum is indoors. But I think he still wanders the countryside in his head. If I could talk to him, I’m sure there’s lots he could tell me about familiarity and unfamiliarity, and how paths can cross with other lives. And how if you explore the world you can open yourself up to otherness, which is good for you. I’m not sure my dad reads much these days, because they’ve just had Sky TV installed, but if he could read a few poems, like “Mappa Mundi” and “What If This Road” and “The Appointment” it might rekindle the little travelly spark in him, and so I’m getting him the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”, and pointing him especially to the “Exploring the World” section. But no doubt he will read the rest, too. That will do him good.

For my sister Kirsty:

Kirsty has been in and out of love more than I have, which is saying something. I usually buy her some cosmetics; once I bought her some underwear for a joke, but it was a joke that misfired and she didn’t talk to me for months and looked at me very strangely for even longer. We are okay now, but I don’t want to buy her cosmetics again. She’s had a very up and down year of love, even more than usual. Don’t mention the name Brett anywhere near her. Kirsty read a book once, and I think it’s time to see if she can open another one. She needs to broaden her outlook, and poems are pretty short so they would match her attention span. So if she could maybe read “Love at First Sight” and “Story of a Hotel Room”….. well, I don’t know what she would think. She might come to the conclusion that a sense of oneness between two people goes hand in hand with a sense of inner peace and communion with the world. Or she might wish I’d bought her some lippy. But never mind, I’m going to be strong and I’m getting her the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”, and pointing her especially to the “Love Life” section. She might read some other bits, too. That will do her good, if she does. I guess she might not.

For my brother Adam:

Adam has just officially left The Labour Party. He said he was going to do it last year but he had trouble cancelling his subscription he paid by standing order with his Bank, and he was paid up again for another year “by accident”, he says. Anyway, Adam is the activist of the family. He is very happy that hunting with dogs is being outlawed, and is one of the few people I know who can be very serious and very funny about politics all at the same time. He just told me the first Yasser Arafat joke to do the rounds, but I’d best not repeat it here. Adam always says he quite likes poetry, but he never reads it. He says it has no relevance to the lives we live in this mad world. Oh boy! Does that irk my goat!! He is going to have to read some poems even if I have to hold him down, fix back his eyelids with gaffer tape, and prop the book open six inches in front of his stupid face. I’m going to get him the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”, and make him read especially the “Mad World” section. If I can hold him down for long enough I might make him read some poems from other parts of the book, too. I hold out hope for Adam. I hope he won’t resist too much.

For my niece Daisy Faye:

Seriously, that’s her name. And she lives up to it. The only things she seems to know anything about at all are fairies at the bottom of the garden, and snowdrops. All she ever wants for Christmas is a pony, but she is 22 and is soon going to have to get a job in a call centre like everybody else. To prepare her for this (and it’s coming: I know her parents want her to start paying reasonable rent) I figure she should read something about how people live and get by in the ordinary world. Poets often write about degradation and urban squalor, about destruction and demolition, alienation and loss of community, and so I’m buying Daisy Faye the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”, and pointing her especially to the “Daily Round” section. She doesn’t like me much anyway, so I have nothing to lose.

For my boy-pal Gunter:

Gunter went to a very good University. Or do I mean a very famous University? Anyway, he went to University, and he understands some very complicated things. He once explained Derrida and Foucault to me, but I’ve forgotten what he said. I think he has all Martin Heidegger’s LPs. Gunter is a lovely bloke, but he could do with lightening up a little. (I once introduced him to Daisy Faye, but that was a lighten up step way too far.) Whatever, I want him to chill out a bit and read some stuff that won’t tax him too much. Chill. He is always going on about text, and decoding, and foregrounding, and stuff like that. I say: Chill! Just because you’re highly intelligent doesn’t mean you can’t climb down a rung or two on the evolutionary chain and read some highly enjoyable writings that ordinary folk can understand, too. So I’m giving Gunter the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”. I hope he doesn’t find it beneath him. I have the best of intentions, I really do.

For my girl-pal Caitlin:

Caitlin is one of the most beautiful women I know. I know she knows I think that, but she likes me anyway. She runs a local Womens’ Group, and drives a brand new Volkswagen Beetle, one of those that has a little flower in a vase on the dashboard. I don’t know where she gets her money, and I don’t care. Caitlin is the sort of woman who would love modern poetry if she knew what it was really like. But she’s told me loads of times it’s boring and dull or plain incomprehensible. And she’s no idiot! How can anybody that gorgeous be an idiot? So, as part of my private campaign to see Caitlin more often, I’m going to buy her for Christmas the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive”. She will like the “Men and Women” section, I know, and I will suggest she perhaps, if she feels like it, and has the time, read that one first. I think she has heard of Carol Ann Duffy already.

That’s it. That’s my Christmas present list. The really good thing about giving a book to someone is that someone else might read it too, and then that trickle down effect kicks in and before you know it half the world has read the book you gave to one person for Christmas! And, because this Christmas I’m giving people the Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Being Alive” then by this time next year I will have done my bit to help in the Bloodaxe campaign to introduce thousands of new readers to contemporary poetry by giving them access to an international gathering of poems of emotional power, intellectual edge and playful wit. That makes me feel good, and it will make them feel good, too. I don’t know about you, but since the previous Bloodaxe poetry anthology “Staying Alive” came out a couple of years ago I’m always bumping into people who weren’t poetry readers but who now are, and all because of that book. And so it goes on. Bravo, I say. Bravo.

Saturday, November 20

Just the Thing

James Schuyler wrote beautiful poems. And I am only now coming to realise how beautiful and wonderful they are. I’m not sure yet that he touches me the way his friends do. But one of the things one learns from reading poems is that wakefulness comes at odd times. One may perhaps only begin to fully appreciate a poet after an unusual long time of acquaintance. I have not, until lately, been altogether ready in my head for the still and monumental exactitude of Schuyler’s beauty. Then, reading these poems again for the first time in a while, I was stunned. “Hymn To Life” is amazing. Nine pages or so of amazing. “One gull coasts by, unexpected as a kiss on the nape of the neck.” If you would not give your life to be able to write like that then you do not want to write. I am sorry. That’s what I think. And I am not sorry at all.

That’s from my review, published a few months ago at Stride
of Mark Ford’s anthology of "The New York Poets".

I mention it because a couple of weeks back I was in e-mail conversation with Charles North and he mentioned that Schuyler’s letters were just published. And I happened to say that I have a copy of Schuyler’s "Diaries", which were published in 1997. And I said I bought the book when it came out, and had found it rather dull. Charles said he thought the Diary was terrific. And in the light of him saying that, and in the light of knowing my reading of Schuyler’s poetry had changed lately, I have returned to the Diaries and am so happy to have done so:

Full moon dead low tide, heavy fog, the bay calm. The beauty of a faintly seen rowboat at a mooring, afloat in clouded white – the patina’d silver of an old mirror, almost – without a seam between water or sky; without sky or water; bright, pale, impenetrable, soft silence. Extraordinary silence to the eye ….

Schuyler used to read extensively in old English memoirs, countryside books and journals, and other old and specifically British texts, and one diary entry has this:

A beautiful sentence: “To the student of manorial rolls by far the most interesting franchise is the ‘court leet or view of frank-pledge,’ because it is very common, because it has great importance in the history of society, because its origin is extremely obscure: so obscure that we may be rash in speaking about it; still a little may be ventured.”
F.W. Maitland, “Leet and Tourn” Historical Essays, Camridge University Press, 1957 (first published 1888).

Where once I found the book dull, now I find myself calmed and absorbed by the pleasure of reading wonderful writing.

"Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler" appears to be available from Amazon, & I shall be including it in my list of Wants & Pleases when I write to Santa.

Thursday, November 18

It's Not Too Beautiful

It’s snowing! The first snow of the Winter. I just looked out the window and it’s snowing. Yes. Snow. White snow. You know what snow’s a metaphor for, don’t you?


Last night, coming out of Rock City, the girl behind me said to her mate “That was so excellent. Absolutely so f***ing excellent.”

She was absolutely so f***ing right. (I hope you don’t mind the asterisks. I am trying to be adult.)

It was
The Beta Band she was talking about. They’re on their Farewell Tour and I missed them last time they were in town but I wasn’t going to miss them this time. Back around 1998 one of my kids, or maybe both of them, told me I’d like The Beta Band, and I should hear their LP, which was made up of 3 previously released but scarce EPs, and called “The Three EPs”. They were so absolutely right. I got it and played it for ever, over and over. The first song, “Dry the Rain”, still blows me away.

If there's something inside that you wanna say
Say it out loud it'll be okay
I will be your light

Their music is hard to describe because it mixes so many elements. In the newspaper the other day it said something about a mix of house beats and psychedelia, but that only goes part of the way. I’m not even sure it goes any of the way, to be honest. But there is often a dreamy trance-like quality to what they do, underpinned by strong percussive…. oh, whatever. One interview has them citing among their desert island discs stuff by The KLF, Wu-Tang Clan, De La Soul, Frank Zappa, David Bowie and early Bob Dylan. They have words, too, like in “She’s the One For Me”

Falling through the floor
With the friend I had before
Grabbing at straws
So the holes don't slow me down

Coming up next
The lizard and the text
Showing me the ropes
Don't be giving up your hopes

Trickle downstream
With the underwater steam
Fish on the side
He's a looking for a dream

She's the one for me

I’d heard that their live gigs often involved light shows, film backdrops and various things, but last night they played it straight. No frills. And they were so good. Cool, happy, communicative and buzzing. They have the happy knack, too, of knowing when a song is finished. Some of their things are quite short, others are pretty long and there is a lot of instrumental, for want of a better word (there probably is one, or two: house, psychedelia, cornucopia, Quality Street). But they never let an apparent jam outstay its welcome and get tiresome. And they simply have some great songs and wonderful rhythms and riffs. Oh, I was tapping my feet all evening! & so was everyone else bopping in their own individual and often bizarre way. Yes, a jolly good time was had by all.


I just looked out the window. It’s stopped snowing. You know what snow that's stopped is a metaphor for, don’t you?

Wednesday, November 17

My Coral is Afloat

My new pamphlet, Coral, was launched last night. Does coral float? If it does I could say something corny like “My Coral is Afloat”. Oh, I just did. Please don’t tell me coral sinks.

I read at The Flying Goose Café, in Beeston. The readings there are organised by John Lucas, the poet and critic who also runs Shoestring Press
. Reading with me (the events are always double-headers) was André Mangeot, whose Shoestring collection “Natural Causes” is really good. You might like to check it out. Perhaps I should get a poem or two off him to post here. I’ll make a mental note to do that.

It was a wholeheartedly nice evening. I think Andre and I complemented one another pretty well. I’m sure I’m not the only poet who has found him or herself at an event, reading alongside someone with whom they feel no affinity whatsoever. And, maybe, even felt uncomfortable and like a round fish in square water. But last night was good, and several people made a point of saying afterwards that we went well together.

I think this was the first time I’ve ever done a reading where every poem I read had never been read to an audience before. (Well, I suppose my first ever public reading fitted that description, but other than that…..) “Coral” is a discrete set of poems -- composed as a unit, if you like. Anyway, I read some of those, and a few other new(ish) things. Some of the latter had seen an audience in print before, but it’s always interesting to get them out loud for the first time. I don’t usually get nervous about readings, and I wasn’t exactly nervous last night but – okay, I was nervous just a little bit. I think it was the fact it was all new poems did it. Oh, and the fact I knew half the audience, which should make you feel comfortable but with me does the exact opposite. But everything went well and everybody seemed to have a good time.

A bunch of us went for a curry afterwards. Then I gave Belinda a lift home. She spent half the journey searching for her house keys, which was a little disconcerting. She kept saying she wished she’d given a spare key to someone just in case she ever lost hers. I wished she had, too. Then she said maybe she’d left them in Ian’s car. He’d given her a lift to the reading. I had visions of having to go to West Bridgford to find him to check out the theory. But Belinda is a performance poet, so I told myself it was all part of a show she was trying out on an unsuspecting audience. Then she found them, thank goodness. They were in a place where she never puts them. Isn’t that always the way?

Here’s a poem from “Coral”:


The last onion has been sent to market
I didn’t feel the need to go with it
My preference is to stay in
my pyjamas all day and lose myself
in a favourite book (Today it’s
Three Men in a Boat) and my records
Chloe, read what you will into my still being here
“Je peux ne pas être digne de confiance”
This has always been a puzzle
for me as much as for others
& I’m well capable of self-delusion
(I suspect my own motives)
Yes, that was me in Starbucks with Daphne
but it was accidental & coincidental
like reading the words “slow as coral”
and at the same time the girl
on the record you’re playing sings
“my heart of coral” and you think Gosh!
(but in Starbucks there was no Gosh!)

And this is I promise the last time I’ll mention that the pamphlet is available from Leafe Press, 1 Leafe Close, Chilwell, Nottingham NG9 6NR and costs £2.50 plus postage. E-mail Alan Baker --

Monday, November 15

More Death; More Stuff (No Poetry)

I’m hesitant to raise the subject of death here again, and I swear to God I have compassion enough to sympathise and feel all the requisite things about the sudden death of rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who died suddenly on Saturday in a New York recording studio. I’m not a rap fan, and wasn’t familiar with his work, but someone died. Be that as it may, am I the only person who finds this quote from his mother in today’s newspaper just a little bit, well, amusing …… ?

“To the public he was known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but to me he was known as Rusty.”


Whatev. I’m in a good mood. This afternoon I bought some new speakers for my computer. I play most of my music through it, and though the Dell speakers are pretty respectable they are not, actually, any good for playing music properly. You want more than something that sounds like a decent radio. A couple of weeks ago I saw in a magazine about some Logitech speakers that cost around £200 and, with their hefty sub-woofer, would shake the plaster off the walls and, it was guaranteed, upset the neighbours. I didn’t really want to spend that much money. Upsetting the neighbours is a come-what-may sort of thing, though. Anyway, this afternoon I found some (also Logitech) speakers (also with a sub-woofer) for a third of the price. At this point I should say I don’t mean to sound as if I know what a sub-woofer is. But I know it is “bass”. And “loud deep bass” at that. These speakers are great. Suddenly the computer is playing music with muscle. But I have the sub-woofer turned down to its lowest possible setting, and it’s still rattling things. The water in the goldfish bowl has ripples on its surface. Goodness knows what you get for £200. Perhaps I shall be discussing it with the neighbours quite soon.


Oh, on the same page in my newspaper as ODB, “Friends” person Jennifer Aniston is quoted as saying that she is “happy with her looks.” I don’t know why I find that interesting. Except that’s all she says. I’m probably reading the wrong newspaper these days. It has a lousy poetry section.

Sunday, November 14

Too Old For This

a poem by Paul Sutton

I don't know why poets never write about yobbery.
I once thought to start a poem saying it's
the unacknowledged legislator of the city.
Which sounds like bilge: aren't we all aware of the
brooding wolf or his slow and sure badger?

Maybe protests about bombing or whatever but not
the grainy snuff on CCTV. It be in ye culture,
a good kicking & tasty. Mostly it's not personal:
just stay up as long as possible and
if blinded, a guide dog will help.

A brother of my brother-in-law, Christmas Eve, South London,
asked someone to remove their insolent boots from his chair,
which was done, but then Anon (not Auden) waited outside: one eye gone,
three ops, full facial reconstruction. Not personal - just a dispatch;
friends of the assailant warn he's "like that".

I blame the middle classes, worshipping these thugs,
retreating to private members clubs,
writing North London traumas of
schools and greed ceilings, not enough
ethnics in the countryside.

"But there wasn't a culture,
sooo good they all came here."
Pelted Saxon arrives in the mud town,
finds the Norman scriveners listing
ditches and counting chickens.

Sullen, swollen, hives,
heritage huts in gusty rain.
It's payback for ordure, lose
two fingers for a stolen deer;
winter fair & estuary brown.

Frank, my fascist friend, points out
the large number of medieval holy days.
He got stopped crossing Harwich to Hamburg -
I doubt he'd bomb, but a disconcerting conversation
on usury and Cardiff City vs. Brighton.

And this could go on and I wouldn't
make my point because there isn't one.
All the English poets except Kit Marlowe
ran away from pub brawls. The War Poets,
on home leave, when it "kicks off"? I don't know.

© Paul Sutton, 25th October 2004

Thursday, November 11

One of those days .....

One of those days when you find yourself thinking too much. It started by sleeping until ten. That was good. Then, idling somewhat, I looked at some of the discussions on the British Poets list I’d not previously looked at, and found myself catching up with Don Paterson’s T.S.Eliot Lecture. This is not the most brilliant thing to be doing, I discovered, on your day off, when all you have in you is coffee, and you’re still in your nightgown and nightcap. But I did it anyway.

Paterson is obviously staking out territory. What worries me today is that I’m in the middle of writing a piece about the Bloodaxe anthology “Being Alive”, which also (among other things) stakes out territory. And I’m worried I might find myself staking out a different territory as a response. Perhaps I’ve already done it before, elsewhere. Is staking out poetry territory a good or a bad thing? Does it matter? Have I used the phrase “staking out territory” too often here? I’m not even sure if these are reasonable questions. One of those days when you find yourself thinking about whether or not you are thinking clearly.


Anyway, also via the British Poets list I discovered The Page, which would appear to be a good place to visit.


& there is a new issue of Poetry Nottingham just out. It’s available from 11 Orkney Close, Stenson Fields, Derby, DE24 3LW. £3.25 including postage. I would publicize it anyway, because the new(-ish) editor Adrian Buckner is a friend of mine who is trying hard, and managing pretty well, to drag the magazine out of its local doldrums and into the bigger world, but this issue features a long, seven-page poem by me – so, even more reason to (hold on, should this piece be at the top of this post? In bold and animated neon? Whatever.) Perhaps while I’m into this brief moment of talking about my own poetry, I should mention a new pamphlet, Coral, which is available from Leafe Press, 1 Leafe Close, Chilwell, Nottingham NG9 6NR. “Coral” is officially out next week, and costs £2.50 plus, I guess, something for postage. There is a launch reading at The Flying Goose Café in Beeston, Nottingham, on Tuesday 16th November. If you want further details, please e-mail me. Okay, that’s the end of the commercials. I need some music.

Tuesday, November 9

"Amoebas are very small."

When I was in Sixth Form, one day I played a track off an Incredible String Band LP to my friend Tony Cutler. He and I had a friendship somewhat loosely based on the fact we were both 18 year old poets better than T. S. Eliot. I had a poem in the school magazine, and I suspect he had as well. Quite a few people did. Anyway, when he heard the record he laughed because he thought it was so awful.

Those days, on Sunday afternoons I’d listen with almost religious intensity to John Peel’s “Top Gear” on Radio One, and my early record collection was based pretty much on what I heard there and fell in love with. Not Canned Heat. It was mostly Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Fairports, and The Incredible String Band.

There was nothing ever occurred in my previous life to prepare me for The Incredible String Band. I’d not heard anyone sing like that, play what at the time seemed weird and wonderful instruments like that, or sing songs with words like

not with the lips of skin nor yet with the lips of dark snow
but let the white dove sing
of the body of life of the lover whose love is complete
hold hands out to greet ah let not the swan be brought low

Yes. Quite. But I loved them, and I still have my original vinyl copies of “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter” and the double LP with gatefold sleeve “Wee Tam & The Big Huge”. If I lose them I lose a part of my life.

I somewhat studiously avoided the band’s work prior to “The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter”, which I always believed to be more conventionally folkie than these somewhat stranger, later hippier records. The band was bigger then, too. By the time I caught up Clive Palmer was gone and it was just Mike Heron and Robin Williamson. I had a later LP – “White Horse” it may have been called – but some of the magic was missing off that, and I kind of stuck with what I already knew. They had by that time added their girlfriends to the line up but they didn’t add a hell of a lot, to be honest, apart from some vocal harmonies and rather erratic musical abilities. I saw them play live with this later line-up and it was a bit of a shambles, as I recall, but still happily hippy. And after 30 years those LPs are still magical, and not really hippy at all, although they may not be (let’s be honest: certainly won’t be) to everyone’s taste. They are, actually, much more rooted in the conventionally folkie than I realised thirty years ago, but nobody else sounds like them. They are wonderful records.

You can read the official Incredible String Band history
here, and there are a couple of good downloads there, too. (And before you say it -- I agree: the photo on their Home Page isn’t the most promising. Try and ignore it. Mike Heron still looks okay, though.)

The Incredibles broke up sometime or other. I didn’t care too much because I had the LPs I needed to have and they always sounded the same. Over 30 years I’d go perhaps several years never hearing them, then one day I’d be struck by a certain – what was it? What is it? Well, whatever it was and is, every now and then my head reminds me I need to listen to The Incredible String Band, so I do. And they never disappoint me. They always remind me of something I never want to forget. I’m not sure it has a name.

Four or five years ago, when I was living in Southwell, Robin Williamson turned up at The Cross Keys in Upton, about two miles from my house, doing his solo folkie/storyteller act. He was good and entertaining, but he wasn’t incredible. And earlier this year, I think it was, the re-formed ISB played Nottingham (without Williamson, I think – in other words, it was Mike Heron back with Clive Palmer, and some others) but I thought the ticket price was way too high and I gave it a miss. They came back last night – evidently determined I should see them one more time before we all die. And because the website promised they would be playing something like a greatest hits set and in particular the stunning 13-minute “A Very Cellular Song” I went along. I didn’t bother to ask anyone if they wanted to go with me; not only did I already know the answer, it kind of felt right to go to this one alone. Nobody in my life has ever shared my love for those records, so going to see them on my own seemed kind of apt. Don’t tell me it’s kind of sad. I have friends.

Anyway, I can’t work out if it was any good or not. Quite a few people turned up at The Rescue Rooms – a bizarre mix of a few young hippies, some indie types, and a lot of older people. A lot of the older men looked as if they might have been out all day fishing. Or perhaps they were teachers. The Band are not, I think, the greatest of musicians. Some of the show was jolly folk, and passable. I had a pretty good spot near the front at the side, but after a couple of songs I realised I couldn’t put up with the Band singing in front of me, and a couple of old blokes singing along behind me. I was impressed they knew all the words, but I hadn’t gone along to hear a couple of strangers sing those songs. So I moved, and the evening got better. But then the girl in the band (whose name is Fluff, apparently) managed to destroy Robin Williamson’s “The Water Song”, and I’m not sure she can be forgiven. But Mike Heron was on good form, and the rarely-performed “Douglas Traherne Harding” was wonderful. (It’s one of the downloads on their site, by the way.) They saved the remarkable “A Very Cellular Song” for last, and though they abandoned some of its quietness, and went at it a bit fast, it was still damn fine, and worth being there for. I mean, it’s the song that includes the line “Amoebas are very small.” I can’t begin to say how much influence it’s had on my life.

Saturday, November 6

Some Good

I've just been investigating the Pataphysics magazine website, and looking at a back issue found this by Ron Padgett. He is so good. This is pretty old, but no matter. No matter at all.

Friday, November 5


a story by David Belbin

That summer, the best place in town for picking up women was the Magritte exhibition. Golden Boy used to come on Tuesday or Wednesday, when the gallery was open late. In a good week, he’d visit both days, though this meant a hurried trip to the launderette on Wednesday morning to clean his one good set of clothes: a black, button-down linen shirt and cream coloured cotton chinos. The outfit was completed by a pristine pair of white trainers, which, the rest of the time, he kept in a box.

He would arrive in the gallery during late afternoon, then float from room to room, looking for his evening’s partner. For every woman with a male escort, there was one on her own, or with another woman. Golden Boy was expert at separating friends, extracting daughters from their mothers….. even their fathers.

On leaving, the woman would often suggest going to her place, but he would insist that they went to his, which was nearby. On the way there, he would make light conversation, gently stroking her back or forearm, establishing intimacy without overt sexual contact.

If asked where they were going, he would joke that he had a cardboard box five minutes’ walk away. The joke prepared his partner for the poverty of his flat, which was little more than a four metre cube, with a window, cupboards, a fold down bed and a shower closet. Every detail of the room was white: the cupboard, the radiator, the floorboards and, especially, the bed linen.

The woman would always be the one who made the running: a kiss, perhaps, or a more carnal embrace. Next, he would suggest that they disrobe. Their bodies, he said, should be the only colour in the room. There was only one rule: she must keep her eyes open. Then they would undress each other. That done, he would put their clothes into a cupboard, unfold the bed, and begin.

The woman would reach for a part of his body, transforming their silhouette. Then she would shape them into something else, and something else again. Only if she tried to manipulate him into penetrating her would he hold back, seeming to caution patience.

When her imagination began to flag, he took charge. He would kiss every part of her face, then cover her head in one of the sheets. He would remove her arms, legs, breasts and bottom, replacing them in a different order. Then he would remove her head and place it on top of the cupboard. Finally, he would lift the sheet from her face so that she could watch as they made love.

I never saw how it ended. At some point, the blind always closed. At times I thought he’d spotted my binoculars or heard me, eavesdropping outside his shabby door. I never saw any of the women again, but that means nothing sinister. The city is a big place. Nor do I know how these evenings ended, only that they went on for hours and hours.

In the gallery, I kept thinking about him. My days were spent waiting for him to come again. One day, I hoped, he would pick me. Why hadn’t he approached me yet? The women he chose varied in age, looks, size and ethnicity. Maybe he ignored me because of my uniform. He might assume that I despised him, saw him as one of those sad, serial seducers, only satisfied by an endless supply of fresh meat. There were many such men at every exhibition I attended, but he wasn’t like them.

What Golden Boy couldn’t know was that I often followed him home, that I had rented my flat purely to be near him, that countless times, after days when he hadn’t visited the exhibition, I considered crossing the courtyard, going to him.

Why hadn’t I? Because it might have spoilt the spell. Sometimes I saw him in his cheap, everyday clothes, trudging back from the dole office or the supermarket. This was not the man I wanted to make love with.

The exhibition lasted for two and a half months. He visited it at least once a week and was never, as far as I could tell, unsuccessful. When it drew towards a close, I began to wonder what he would do afterwards. Which artist would become his next tool of seduction?

I wasn’t on duty on the final day, a Saturday, but I decided to visit, praying that he, too, would be there. It was embarrassing, turning up at work in my sheerest, bright red summer dress with my hair down. I needn’t have worried. Nobody recognised me. I paid, rather than use my pass, then walked quickly through the exhibition, trying to find him. He wasn’t there. I decided to look at the paintings one last time. I knew which he liked best - or, perhaps, the ones he thought most appropriate to seduction. His favourite was ‘The Golden Legend’ - hence my nickname for him.

Standing before ‘The Golden Legend’, I sensed his presence. This painting, from a private collection, shows several over-baked baguettes flying past a window beneath an evening sky. I don’t know what legend the title refers to.

His voice was like distant birdsong. This was how he always approached would-be lovers. He would murmur something indecipherable. The woman would look round. If she asked him to repeat what he’d said, he would apologise for disturbing her, then make a witty comment about the painting. If she didn’t turn around, or walked away, he would leave her be. If she spoke to him, then, within minutes, four times out of five, they would leave the gallery together.

When he spoke again, it was a gentle murmur, like the distant tide turning and beginning to come in. I tilted my head slightly, letting my hair fall back so that he could see my face. He gave no hint of recognition.


“The flying loaves seem to be made out of stone.”

“Not stone,” I told him. “Earth. They’re like floating landscapes.”

“I don’t know what I’ll do when this exhibition is over,” he said.

“No,” I told him. “Neither do I.”

Our eyes met. In his, I could see the white cube of his room. I wanted to leave then and there. But I knew not to. Here, in the gallery, he always made the first move.

“Tell me where to come for you.”

For a few moments, I was confused. This was not what I had hoped for.

“Where shall I wait?” he asked and, suddenly, I understood. He had known all along. He had been waiting for this moment just as much as I.

I told him where to hide. As soon as the gallery closed, I got into the security booth and disconnected the alarm system. Then I crammed myself into a cupboard, where I waited an hour and a half for the cleaners to finish. When they’d locked up, I let myself out.

He was standing exactly where I had told him to. I led him towards the gallery, where I undressed him. When I was done, he removed my dress with a sudden movement of his hand. Now we were both naked. I switched the light on and reached out for him.

As I cupped my hands around his neck to kiss him, his head came away from his body. I kissed it and both our heads fell to the wooden floor, where they rolled, tongues entwined, until they lay beneath a large landscape. There, they became one head, its two faces pressed against each other.

Next, our bodies embraced and entangled in endless permutations, each combination giving greater satisfaction than the one before. Pieces of our broken bodies flew around the room then came together in new, miraculous ways, each more beautiful, more sensual than the last.

At noon, we heard the doors open. Men were coming to take the exhibition down. We had made our decision hours before, though neither of us had spoken a word. We kissed, then scattered ourselves among the paintings on the walls, our body parts flying through frames and windows into perfect blue skies filled with cotton wool clouds.

When the men were finished, the room was empty but for two things. A sheer, red dress had spread itself, unnoticed, across the whole of the ceiling, its long, thin straps reaching to touch the top of the doorway. Draped over one of the guard’s chairs was a man’s outfit, consisting of a button down linen shirt, cream coloured cotton chinos, white, size seven trainers, and a big, black bowler hat.

© David Belbin, 2004

Wednesday, November 3

Teabag Time

Meanwhile, there is a little squall in a teabag concerning Ian Seed’s review of Sheila Murphy’s book over at the British Poets list. I’m not quite sure why it’s happening there and not here, but no matter. It’s happening somewhere, which is good.

Powered by Blogger

British Blogs. Listed on Blogwise Subscribe with Bloglines

Song Lyrics

Search Engine Submission and Optimization Blogarama - The Blog Directory

Get Firefox!