Thursday, 31 May 2018

We Said This

Suspended in ambience
We applaud wet pages,
Reclaiming acquaintanceship,
Bombing barriers.

Managing mania, we
Fragment stagnation.
Redraw our faces,
Plumbing the depths of desperation,
Reconfiguring the perfect cup of tea.

We see the fleeting,
Invisible in mirrors,
Casting a net of happiness,
Searching for silence –
Twisting in darkened, teasing streets.

We greet the weather – it’s easier –
Eschewing intimacy with coldness,
Picking bigger battles.
Flickering destinations beckon,
Swimming in fantasies of honey-sweet strangeness;
Convoluted, tantalisingly inconclusive,
Listening for friction, infiltrating freedom.

We stage childhood heists,
Pirating reflections of identity,
Shining a dark light on dreams
Of vulnerability,
Spelling out connections,
Budding confidence coming with the dusk.

We open the only locked doors,
Walk in circles, talking truths,
Rebooting veracity with clean slates,
Flushing out scepticism with the
Perfection delineated in differences,
Breaking the bad binds tied by
Cowards digging graves, making
Weakness bleed from unjust wounds.

The long and the short of this is
That obsession is for life;
A deformation devoutly to be wished.
Metaphor melds into the elegance
Of skin, and letters are fetters
Of limbs, and the glitter of
Afterglow owns us,
Marking us with stars as we
Sleep - feral, beautiful, and doomed.

And all this night words
Chain us – willing servants,
Shouldering the burden of
Lucid truths, and we are…

This was another of those tribute poems where I take inspiration from all the artists who perform ahead of me and give them a stanza or so each. I really like doing this – it’s a nice way to say thank you, and also means that I focus on the poetry rather than fretting over my own set. The gig was “That’s What She Said”, run by For Book’s Sake, and the artists were, in order: Carys Hanna, Kia (?), Elysse Adjemon, Marcelle Mateki Akita, Emma McGordon, Alice Short, and FBS founder Jane Bradley. And it was fucking lush.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Bridging Words

(Was asked to perform as a feature at Speakeasy, a Cambridge University slam series. I haven't done a crowdsourced live-write poem in ages. Behold. This was particularly easy, in some ways, as the quality of the slammers was ridiculously good.)

We are a collusion of
Percussive ooze,
Encouraged to fashion
Gratitude and mad grats
Into clicks and pigeonholes

Friendship is cross-stitched,
A work of alchemy and memories,
Creased with intricacies,
Meaning littered into the gaps
We hop across and peer at,
Peripheral visions.

We fill the dark spaces between
With glittering sticky tape,
Better living through chemistry,
Embracing our right to be happy,
Glorious monsters, intertwined
Through all those hungry nights.

We reflect on ourselves, spun sugar arguments,
Consuming ourselves through
Nervous resistance, cold numbers
Drowning in abstract blood,
Summoning the guts to
Stand up against such a summary.

Today is an improvised battle with technology,
Struggling to care through
Solipsistic prisms manifesting in
Silence, the places between words,
Churning familial duties and the need to
Hold hands through the smoke.

We are mapped in fragments,
Coiled in a double-helix of hiraeth,
Bellows of frozen breath,
Optimistic billows of red, sunset litanies
Written into our flesh, rusty and fragile,
Irresistibly strong.

Love is cupped into twelve minute
Segments of looks, words, warm,
Distressing vertigo, tiny death
After tiny death, teetering forever on
Concrete edges, crumbling, rumpled,
Shored up by broken bits of unsaid words.

Guilt is a stained-glass exposė
Of the deconstruction of self,
More-or-less deftly stitched with ripped-up time,
Vacationing in costumes,
Hidden in plain sight,
Skirting the abyss in all of us.

3am chimes a tightrope of teetering meanings,
Gasping for layers,
More than simply okay.
And we drown in the toxin of adrenalin,
Tintinabullation along glittering nerve endings,
Sending us back to speak truth,
Dark words dancing in the spotlight.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Thanks - A Poem (#EdFringe2017)

Walking back home down Leith Street*, I Got Involved and tried to direct an American couple to an eaterie that wasn't closed (as opposed to the one they were trying to get into). They looked confused, told me they didn't understand, and I had to modulate to a slow RP before they got me. As I walked away, the first couple of lines of the poem occurred to me. By the time I got home, I had most of the first two stanzas down and was starting on a third which I promptly forgot (something about renegotiating sunsets, I think) and a fourth which became the beginning of what's now the third. And then, when I got home and started writing it down, it went somewhere completely different... Doubtless it'll evolve again over performances. If I perform it. Hmm... :)

And after I'd had a wee cry, I recorded a version of it here - maybe it'll help someone else as well:


I've been speaking French again
Lending shrugs and stumbling syllables
To the ether,
Tangling the back of my throat into
Friendly growls
Adding an hourglass pinch to familiar vowels.
"Tu me reconnais?"
"Mais, bien sûr, mon ami: voila, c'est Aout,
"Je retour une autre année!"

I've been speaking Scots again,
All glottal stops,
Dialectually exacting,
My mother, God rest her,
Would be ecstatic that so much remains,
Rooted in Liz Lochhead poems
From an early age, Rabbie Burns
Emerging with my England-buried Rs.
My hair reflects my rediscovered roots,
Blooming soft and wide
With birling curls,
Lighter. Enlightened...
Slightly frightening.

I've been swallowing my tongue again,
Humming needs into submission,
A prism of listening,
Delays, fears,
Anxiety like a weight,
The freight of Maybe dragging
Like a gag.
Travel woes and first-time fears,
The year gone, ambitions bitter,
Bitten back, tucked down,
Gullet clutched,
A hobble of mediocrity
While brainweasels gambol, their words
Given free rein:
"Too old"
"Not a commodity"
"Not proper"
"No longer hot property,
"If you ever were…"
"And worse - you're permitted
"Merely for the sake of all the things you do
"That no-one else wants to
"And you, too desperate to belong,
"Too keen to help,
"You people-pleaser
"Trudge, grinning awkwardly, on."

I have been killing weasels again.
Turns out they're blighted by kindness
And company,
And people who hail you in the street,
Smiles lighting their eyes,
And people who want to hold you,
Touch your heart,
Ask after your day's hardness,
And those who wait to walk the long way with you.
They're killed by soft water
And salt water
And tap water
And bottled water,
Drowning in a flail
Because they'll always fail
To seek the higher ground.

Today I have been learning to speak again,
Hear my poor, sore voice as sweet,
Hear it as they hear it,
He hears it,
She hears it.
When it sings,
No longer strangled by
Dangling weights,
Cast free for friendship's sake.
Thank you.

* I get it wrong in the video and say "Leith Walk", which I even knew wasn't right at the time! :)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017


(Originally written for the Rebel Arts Women’s Radio programme on sexuality, this also featured in the inaugural In Other Words anthology, and it’s all the things I sometimes wish someone had told seventeen-year-old me.)


It’s one small step for mankind,
And a giant leap for you.
You thought:
The journey starts with just one footfall,
And all you need to do is
Fall forward, defying gravity,
Perfectly balanced in
Brand new boots,
And fly.

They would have better said:
Never mind perfection,
Just take the plunge,
Because that standing jump
Is just the first of many.
For even when
Those boots are moulded,
Close as loving skin,
Every step is you expounding pronouns,
These shoes that fit are ten percent
Of all you see,
But reason to love or hate
The one you think is me.
So mind your step,
Because the journey still goes on.

They never said:
You will be striding boldly forth,
More naked than that nameless day
When you were born,
Exposed, and oh-so
Instantly invisible.
Erased from history,
You’ll be looking for the roots
Of how you came to be,
Reaching through secret glass
To an unrecorded past,
Gasping for lack of shared air.

You will become detective,
Historian. Hysterical or bored;
Pawing through clues,
Stuck back in the place of sieving hints
That others ever felt like you.

They never told you
That the first time might be awful
More tawdry,
More disappointing than any
Heterosexual liaison,
A long plummet from a tall plinth,
Instinct serving you less well
Than Judy Blume and textbooks
Ever did.

Turns out same sex does not mean
Same body, same history,
Same ticklish bits and glitches,
Just a similar list of hits and misses.

And they never told you
How slow wisdom gifts your bed
The pleasure of discovery,
The countless ways two near-same
Bodies twist and fit together,
Seamless and daring,
Multiplying variety;
Writhing, humming and deriding
The rigidity of procreative instincts.

You’ll dance and quiver,
Shiver in the warmth of
Mirrored flesh, the deft delight
Of their eyes lighting;
Soft and hard and all you dreamed
And more.

This was never written:
Temptation will disgrace the days
When you smile at queer jokes,
Poke fun at “those” celebrities,
Brittle giggles dogging homeward steps
Because acceptance seems less work than truth.

Those days when you
Take off your badge,
Kiss the double standard
Of invisibility,
Shiver in the musty dark
For the safe sake of
Job promotions,
Nosy neighbours…
Fitting In.

No-one told you how
Straight folk will tell you
That homophobia’s over now
And everything is great
Because you’re state-sanctioned,
Wrapped in legal comforts,
And soap characters,
And charity.

And you will sigh,
And add another number
To the queer appendix,
Tick your bingo list,
And patiently not bristle.
Maybe this one will listen
When you tell them...

They never mentioned all the days
You’ll crave the conventional.
Not to let go of her hand, no –
For the day when it isn’t defiance,
Stares, or gasps,
Just a safe clasp,
The everyday press of flesh on flesh,
The reminder of her beginning
And your end.

When you kiss her in the street
And no-one even notices.
When it’s only farewell
Hammering in your chest,
Nothing more.
Nothing less.

When boring blesses
With the miracle of normal.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

A Peculiar Commission

A friend messaged me this morning:

“May I be cheeky and ask for your professional poetry skills as I’m drawing a blank. A friend of mine is having trouble with a neighbour who doesn’t seem to realise that people can see into his bathroom and watch him masturbate.

“I’m thinking a limerick posted anonymously through his door might be a friendly way of encouraging him to buy blinds or at least close the curtains!”

And today’s been a right bastard, so I thought: yes, freeware poetry. So here it is in case any of you ever have need of a poem to tell a neighbour you can see him indulging in naked DIY.

Dear neighbour, please picture the scene
As we gaze out through windows pristine:
We’re glad you take time
For yourself, - that's no crime -
But you might want to put up a screen. 
It’s good to take time to be tantric
In a world that can be very frantic,
But we just thought we’d mention:
It’s causing some tension
To view your self-pleasuring antics. 
Now please do not take us for prudes
And we really don’t mean to be rude
But we’d rather not view
Everything that you do
When you’re getting yourself in the mood. 
We’re feeling embarrassed as hell;
We didn’t know quite how to tell
You of our complaint
We hope this comes off “quaint”
And we hope this short rhyme finds you well.

Yeah, I know it’s not perfect, and there’s some ineloquent repetition, but hey...

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Grant Me This - for #nationalpoetryday

I was asked to be one of the #BBCLocalPoets - for #Cambridgeshire - to compose a new #poem as if from the point of view of a local landmark or geographical feature of the area.

After putting it out to people via social media, the one feature that came out again and again was that of the river (in various different ways - as visual feature, bridge-bearer, punt-vehicle, houseboat-home, wildlife-habitat, etc.) and, as it stretches across the whole county, it seemed a good way to celebrate and inhabit the character of the county (bearing in mind that the poem needed to be less than two minutes long and "not political").

It was recorded yesterday, down by the Chesterton Road stretch of the river, and you can see/ hear me read it (somewhat creakily - this is my fifth week of severe laryngitis) here:

I also went on breakfast radio to be interviewed and to perform some of it live in the studio. I am not a mornings person. It was interesting... :)

(If you want to hear what I sound like early in the morning with laryngitis, check out this link - the segment starts at 01:46:55)

Full text below - enjoy! :D  (Credit needs to be given to Carla Keen for the line "Catch, catch, catch..." which I heartlessly stole from a beautiful poem she wrote about her love of rowing.)

Grant Me This

Birthed beyond borders,
I rise in the west,
Scrawl a course
Of eccentric penstrokes
Across this palimpsest.
With my sisters
I weave a drench of memories,
Stretching to the new day's edge.

I have carried you
On my broad back -
Gambolling new beginnings,
Fleece, stone, and corn meal,
Vellum and sand,
Two-tongued, poling solo,
Always with a weather eye
To the next angle.

You have inscribed me,
Drawing me deep into histories,
Gleaming lines sighing,
Igniting visions, lingering
In civilisation's litanies
For those who came before
And all who dream of
Divining mysteries.

I was named backwards,
Shaped by the town
Around which I curve,
A cupped palm,
A charm of siren sounds,
Enclosed and disclosing,
Ringing with myriad bell-tongues
Flooding this rich ground.

Cast me between walls
And I surge and curvette,
Beckon evolution's remedies and
Ambition's gravity,
Leaning into the gradient of Best,
Cresting sly wins at the
Narrowest of passes -
On your marks, get set.

I creak in the mornings -
Gasp and echo the endless
Catch, catch, catch…
Scratching glory etched deep
In the clutch and pull of legs,
Mist-rimed breaths, swelling shoulders,
Cold noses, and warm hearts,
Regardless of your team's net.

In the evening I chug,
Bank-huggers making fragrances
Of home - curtained and potted,
Dot-and-carry dance partners,
These happy-anchored vagrants,
Swaying, framed in gold paint,
Named for the way I spell freedom,
And tomorrow's chances

Your ancestors built me steps,
Bedecked me with loving chains,
Cross-stitching me with sighs and pigsties,
While monarchs, mathematics,
And dragons all stake their claims
As I stride on, lop-sided,
A reminder that, together,
We have made a grace of strangeness.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

So Many Things To Say - a #misfitlocal poem for @youcanhub

I was invited to perform tonight for Misfit Local, a group of social enterprise-minded folk who network in a series of excellent evenings in the ever-lovely Hot Numbers cafe. I offered to do some live-writing for them (like live-drawing, where visual artists produce sketches of an event based on what they saw and heard, but, well, the written version), and they leapt on that idea.

I’ve done this before at poetry evenings where I turn out something that incorporates bits of images/ lines from other people’s pieces, and - of course - there’s the rapid-fire writing of Poetry To Go, but this was the first time I’d live-written a non-artistic event. The evening was incredibly inspirational, so brought out a fairly epic length of piece, incorporating words and images from the presenters, Carrie Bedingfield, whose story formed the core of the first half of the event, and inspired many ripples in the rest, and the “Ideas Parade” where people pitch their question and get others at the event to help them explore solutions. Oh, and the announcements at the end, versified for the sheer challenge of it and delivered by me as part of the poem instead of by the hosts...

So here it is:

So Many Things To Say

It’s a dark and stormy night,
But inside we are warm.
In here meaning links stories,
People calling across spaces,
Making intimates from introverts.

We are permissive.
Only one rules defines us:
Our love for larger questions,
And hope for change,
Of all sizes.

We are recovering from a
Stone Age hangover,
Locked into a drowning cage,
Awaiting the tsunami while
Treading water.

We are caught in a
Cycle of burning,
Turning unstructured vapours into
Toxicity, choking.

These masks lend us speed,
Outstripping competition to be
Our own goad,
Gold lingering at our fingertips,
Gripping air, gasping.

Stop. Breathe.
The rules will free us.
We need to charge ourselves
Instead of charging at
Windwills, willfully ignorant
Of our own inching destruction.

Black and white at speed will
Only gift you greyness.
Wave at the horizon,
Summon colours,
Gloves off to touch the world.

Striving alone will not sustain;
A brain that grows needs
Feeding on something more
Than treats, greeting the need
For stimulus with discipline.

Listen to your instinct,
Drink down silence,
Violence against your body
Can only be dodged for
So long, and compassion
Will sing louder than
Competition ever will.

The grit under your heels
Will dwindle when your
Vision clears;
Nearing the next hilltop,
Remember to stop -
Enjoy the view.

Making music?
Remember: practice makes perfect,
Mixing this moment
To the next,
Collecting experts,
Turning silence into dance.

And while we’re listening,
Glistening with high notes,
We can strip back the clatter,
Tell the story,
Launch the tale on
Broader oceans.

Collective ventures
Connect together,
Blending complementary
Taking the long view,
Seeing ourselves as
Part of the lifecycle.

Let’s see through a child’s eyes,
Bright with wonder,
Summoning the colourful moments
In every day,
And making them visible
To the wide world.

Tonight we have painted
With words and light,
Igniting images in
Other minds,
Winding our way
Into tomorrow.

And now it’s over,
For the moment,
We thank you.
You have answered these gentle summons
And hopefully had fun!

Love spreads by conversation
So make the time to tag #misfitlocal,
Globally singing praise for faithful hosts,
And the one and only Hot Numbers...

This is your night, enlighten us
If change is needed,
And we’ll heed you until next time -
The 20th of January.

Further conversation beckons
For the next fifteen,
As meaningful as you like, but
Bright or dark, hark to your heart
And grant some peace to our neighbours!

Be safe on your way,
Make changes,
Don’t wait for January -
We’ll see you soon,
Keep doing what you love!