Live Canon 2016

Hello! Guess what? I was shortlisted for the Live Canon International Poetry Competition again. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get over to Greenwich Theatre to hear the shortlisted poems performed but am chuffed to have my poem published in their new anthology. It’s a response to Robert Frost’s ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’.

Returning to Woods on a Snowy Evening

Developers have sought permission for
much-needed housing. Many trees are gone.
Although I’ve rarely walked in them before,
these woods belong to me, if anyone.

My new coat covers something old in me,
a looker-at-birches who journeyed on.
Ice storms silver everything here but time.
Diggers crouch: eager to do and be done.

Trees are like flagpoles beside the road,
marking the quiet border of a ceasefire.
At 1 a.m., I’ve come out here to tread
down snow and put the freeze on my desire.

Love, in any language, can’t be understood.
The call’s been made, the council has agreed.
No one can say how dark, how deep this wood.
How long before suburbs become its seed.

 

The competition was won by Aileen La Tourette for ‘The Diving Horse’. Congratulations to Aileen and to all of the poets who shortlisted. As a competition that believes poetry should be read aloud, the Live Canon anthology will be alive with poems that crackle and sparkle in the ear. You can buy it from Amazon.

Update: you can also buy Live Canon’s New Poems for Christmas anthology.

Memento

Who needs a skull grinning brightly on their desk
when an apple core moulders so quickly?
There’s no getting away from it. Leaves brown in the gutter.
Blue islands form archipelagos in the bread.
Walk through the cemetery. See how even gravestones,
our markers of impermanence, decay. Then see wild grass
rushing up their sides, fountains of columbine spilling
over in the last days of autumn. Breathe the air
moving silently between tall trees.

 

 

Turning points

So the nights are getting longer. I was doing walking meditation in the library courtyard, feeling relaxed and yet self-conscious enough to walk at such an angle that the late shift librarian couldn’t see me from the café. He didn’t care, he was playing an electric piano, though I couldn’t hear it through the glass. Libraries are such important community spaces. My band used to practice on the sixth floor of the local library on Friday nights when we were too young for rehearsal studios (and pubs). Now I pace slowly backwards and forwards accompanied by a silent pianist. It’s a little surreal, I suppose.

Anyway, there I was shuffling up and down and the paving, walls, and surrounding buildings were lit with a kind of intense twilight that made everything more vivid. The deep blue sky contrasted starkly with the clouds, which were dyed candy-floss pink by the descending sun. Within five minutes, the light faded and suddenly night had crept into the scene. I remember seeing a similar vivid glow while camping in the Dart valley. My tent was surrounded by a carpet of fallen leaves which were suffused by hazy autumnal light. Similarly, on returning from a quick trip to the bothy, I was surprised to see the startling effect had already gone, replaced by limpid daylight. When you gotta go, you gotta go.

There’s something refreshing about the turn of the seasons, though I’m increasingly grateful for the return of the light after winter. This season of mists and mellow fruitfulness used to be a favourite but now I appreciate the change most of all. Probably twenty years ago, I was kicking leaves while walking through a village and saw a bookshelf and lamp in the window of a terraced house. That’s what I want, I thought. It’s funny how these blueprints stick and before you know it you’re on the other side of a window, fixing a broken bookshelf and surrounded by books and more books: many of which you haven’t read and have no time to read. Or at least it sometimes feels like it. But that’s OK. Moving south-west has been a big undertaking/adventure but the house is coming together, we’ve been extremely fortunate to find freelance work so far, and things like this meditation group are fostering a sense of connection to the area. I don’t know what the next change will be but I’m still excited to keep shuffling through the leaves and see what I find.

Myths, legends, and lost tales

If you like ancient tales, I highly recommend the Myths and Legends podcast. It’s a funny and occasionally irreverent journey through world mythology taken thirty minutes at a time. Jason Weiser, the host, perfectly captures how absurd these stories can sound to well-adjusted modern ears like yours and mine. On the other hand, I think he understands that they have survived for so long because they resonate deeply with human experience. I’m not one of those who thinks these stories are just a load of crazy stuff that never happened; they have symbolic and psychological value. But then, it sure can be fun to grin through the batshit crazy parts. I laughed my leg off when a warrior bard version of Merlin randomly rode a stag to his ex-wife’s wedding, pelted the new groom with pieces of snapped-off antler, killing him, and thus conceding he was not quite ready to accept the situation.

That’s your aural mythological fix sorted but what about eye-candy? Well, if you pick up a copy of Adam Murphy’s comic, Lost Tales, you’re in for a rare treat. These are beautiful stories, beautifully drawn. Like Weiser, Murphy has a talent for retelling folklore from anywhere and any time in a modern medium. His anachronistic dialogue really suits the comic form.

 

Caverns

We started recording this at the very end of 2008. It was inspired by Silent Hill, Jimmy Eat World, and And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead’s song Source Tags and Codes, which has the lyric:

You picked me up and we went for a drive
into the stained glass cavern of the night.

Adam’s vocal was perfect, as usual, but then something on the muted TV made us laugh. We got another take but I left the laughter in. I originally programmed really hectic drums, as I’d been listening to The Most Serene Republic a lot. Some of it sounded good but I couldn’t get it just right. Tweaking the timing and velocity for each hit was so laborious I ended up leaving it alone, fiddling once every few years and eventually dumping the drum track for a more spacious mix. In the meantime, my band recorded an uptempo rock version at the Rich Bitch studio in Birmingham. We called that Air on the Radio. Check it out below, it sounds quite different with Jon’s nailgun drumming and airtight rhythm with Paul on bass.

Anyway it’s good to finish these things, even if it does take nearly eight years.

Here’s the Distant Signal version: