Front-line 2011

Here in the UK the news is that the news is about what happened 30 years ago. Government papers from 1981 have been released and we can see all the secret memos between ministers and know all the things we did not know at the time. 1981 was the year of the riots as all the major cities were swept by mob violence. In London huge fires burned that were clearly visible from Westminster. Mobs looted shops and houses. The Prime Minister was Margaret Thatcher. Police constable L368 was an unknown poet called Oscar Sparrow, stationed at Brixton. One of the main bus routes was and is Railton Road. It was called locally “The Front-line” to denote it was a social frontier. It was never dull. In the picture above the poet is the second cop about to walk into a lamp post if he doesn’t pay attention. I never put on that uniform without feeling that I was in fancy dress.

I have several observations about civil disorder and rioting. It is exciting and terrifying in equal measure for both the good and bad guys. Everyone thinks they are the good guy. Despite all appearances, most people are just helplessly stuck in the middle. Nearly all these folk are poor and have very little themselves. After a while everyone wants it to stop. Then it stops and people turn up at the police station to say they found a wallet or lost their dog. It is not for unknown poets to pontificate on the politics or the social dynamics of inequality, race, unemployment and urban alienation. I could, but it would add nothing to all that has been said since and doubtless will be recycled when, inevitably, it will all re-run for a newer generation. If I were a modern day cop I would almost anticipate a mob throwing iPads, being filmed by officers with smart phones. Alternatively both sides would turn up with such an array of filming equipment to capture one another’s brutality that nothing would happen, except maybe a few aggressive zoom sequences.

I know I should not appear flippant about such serious affairs because people do awful things. There are rapes, murders, ghastly woundings and arson. I was far less of a revolutionary once I had sampled just a little of its flavour. A mob running wild is awesome, but if the batteries on the remote are low, manual control is bruising. The best rampaging mobs are on TV. Petrol bombs burn you. Large fellows with swords can make one very aware of one’s sphincter. 2012 approaches and one can sense certain straws in the wind. We never learn you know………

I was a cop because it was a job that I thought would give me stuff to write about. I loved Brixton and South London. It was a cacophony and a choir, a rhythm and a rag-bag. It was a fist in the face and a handshake. I wrote a poem at that time and it is in my collection “I Threw A Stone”

You can hear it here and read it below:

Frontline ’81

Red London buses
blood corpuscle bustle
past a drinking club
which is a terraced house
with fifty men,
one hundred whites of eyes inside.

Drinkers piss al fresco unperturbed
on pavements trod with butts of blow.
Dead cans of Red Stripe
barber pole along the dismal gutter.
Ragged Bee- Em- Dub-Yews cruise,
boozed bleached whore-cats
pussy sway to reggae beat
subliminal in chest and throat.

On a corner an ambulance.
White cop say
“How d’ it start?”
Black girl say
“Wid slave-ree”.

In the alley a trembling bitch
fucks a pack of sperm rage dogs.
A circling runt denied, accepts.
Sirens down the Brixton Road
announce aloud a further haemorrhage.

By Oscar Sparrow



Les Choses Insolites

I’m not about to go into those magazine style features about the  New Year. I’m just circling around the infinite poetic plughole.  Luckily it’s more or less blocked with the poet’s mate’s hair so I can still swim against the current of time. Here is the problem. I am a poet. In recent months I have read poetry, published poetry, edited poetry, reviewed poetry, read aloud poetry and I believe added poetry to most forms of alcoholic drink. I can recommend gin and sonnet. What I ain’t done is write any of the bloody stuff. Just imagine if I was on the production line. No productivity bonus. Final written warning from the Stanzaman Corporation. Here is the question. Is it in here OR is it out there? It used to be in a separate somewhere unknown to the corporates, some gulch where no spreadsheet has ever spread. Somewhere Pre-Post-Modernist when modern people were actually future people in comic strips with magic hand-held communicators and ray guns.

So I went out to rake up fallen leaves. Huh! I thought, that’ll get the old poetic sentimental elemental follicles flowing. I thought of Alfred lord Tennyson who wrote a poem about the New Year. I ended up wondering if a lot of the old time “greats” would have got so far up against the legions or the slush pile barons of  editorial feudalism. In fact I love old Alfie Tennyson and if you’ve got the mood for a splash of the old sentiment, here he is in New Year mode.

And also I’ve ordered a dead tree book about some of the great modern poets with an audio CD of the Greats reading their own work. If that doesn’t mesh up my synchro gear box nothing will. The book is edited by a guy called Michael Schmidt who I love dearly. He is a big big poet bazooka yet he wrote me one of the most gentlemanly rejection letters I have ever received. It is a treasure. It made me feel that I was like one of those probes sent to Mars that never made it because they crashed heroically into the surface in a mangle-ism  of metallic metaphors. When I get the book I’ll be banging out a review.

And then there were the leaves. Somehow a red leaf had blown in from somewhere else, bringing with it some quality of a Geisha scampering along a muddy street.



Let joy be unconfined. The festive fisticuffs are upon us. This morning I got up early (for a poet) and charged the broccoli barricades. When my trolley became bogged down by enemy stilettos, I dodged a rag bag grab of  storm troopers and made an infantry lunge for the organic carrots. A few hours later I staggered back to the parking lot with the highest retail award pinned to my chest. Yes – I am now a Walmartryr. After all – the shops are closed for a whole day! That’s 24 hours of retail blackout, like when the astronauts re-enter the atmosphere and you have to wait for that crackling voice to break through  that held breath of human/comrade/brother hope. So why do I care about those guys when I would gouge and maim Mother Theresa for that last pack of ground almonds? If I truly knew this I would know where mankind should go. It is this duality that makes us so difficult. As I grappled for the grapes and stood tall at the stuffing, aware of the futility and stupidity of it all, I pondered the future of Iraq, Libya and Syria. While I paused for a moment of philosophy an anonymous hand darted for one of the few remaining bags of plain flour and I had to perform a blocking tackle…..

Oh – I wish I were good. I wish I were as good as words are good. I wish Pete Seeger’s words could sing me Peace and the last flower power fashion shirt on the rail. You see for me – a flower child of the innocence that only plenty can bestow, I believed we could hit the Nirvana nerve and that if I drove the soft top shiny car, the girl would kiss me. As we head for 2012, I hope our leaders will address not simply the hearts and minds of mankind, but their double reflections and regrets reformed into justification, revenge and victory. No simple task. Poets advance! Recently an American writer threw me the image of Joan of Arc/Baez. More than ever we need the image to clarify the prose. Only the poetic image can unite us. Poetry unlocks  the Pandorable box.

Check out this link to a poem by Simon Armitage It’s about the central duality. I’ll fight a dual with anyone who wants to argue.

A Sacred Cow in the Orchard

How ambitious should a poet be? I think I would be very concerned if the corporate ladder were crammed with poets, other than the versifiers and prose monsters of the marketing maelstrom. And yet ambition is the true focus of the poet. Why speak of a rose if you do not long in some way to stick it, thorns and all, under a nose?.

A couple of days ago I fell upon a poem by an American writer – Jo VonBargen, the scope of which had me taking a deep breath. Quite simply it is a look at human history with a view to providing the opportunity to those ahead of us in time, to do better. We start in the mud of non individualised atoms and molecules of  pre-consciousness (My phrase) and follow through to the conscious manipulation of atoms in the mud of money and politics. It would have been very easy to get this wrong and as I read the foreword I was nervous. I would have taken one look at the tightrope and gone to the bar for a long think, followed by another drink. Then I would have called a cab and gone home.(Actually poets can’t afford cabs but sometimes drive them).

Words are dangerous to art. They are the succubus, the half eaten tray of chocolate. A few more could not hurt could they? Jo VonBargen, I just know by guessing, has been through that cloying land. This poem is not written, it is speared and pruned.Where you could throw more words, she has spiked the one she wanted from the tempting glittering shoal of extra adjectives. It is light and lean, a thin blade, a jab. In a sense it is an old fashioned epic poem but without any grandiosity. The selection of history is from the catalogues of genocide, division and greed. Happily the lusts and delicious passions receive, I suspect, the compassion of the humanist and  largely escape the the list.

A poem is for the reading. Poetry read aloud cannot just be folded back into the book (or switched off on the e reader). For a poem to live on beyond its return to silence it has to stick in the mind and this for me is where this work is very special. Short phrases expressing wisdom jostle with sudden sparks of imagery. There are too many to quote but here are a few. “A glissando of slow subterraneans” – as life evolves,(I could hear Wagnerian trombones). “Do you not see separate gardens?” as property and tribe divide us. “Plowmule of the dragging days” takes us to apartheid, racism and slavery in an inspired brilliance of insight.  When the poet looks rather sadly at the Rule of Law, she gives us a left hook of wisdom “No law can transform what the soul hasn’t learned.” These are just a sample. You could not read this poem without taking away a phrase or two or without pausing to reflect. Luckily as a European, atheist, Buddhist, lighter of cathedral candles, mumbling coin thrower at wishing well grottos and crosser of fingers, I have no sacred cows except for wanting quite often to kiss them for their gentleness and weep for their innocence.

Bref: “From This Far Land” is the  mature work of a deeply intelligent mind. It is wonderful to know that there are folk out there who actually think. It is always tempting to wave the flag and shout the slogan. Once upon a time, the world of published poetry was controlled by just a few editors. Most poets seemed to me to be professors of poetry. Now the savages storm the orchard and all may gorge. A new nobility will arise. Jo VonBargen wields a sword.

Shore Thing

That’s done it then! My e book “I Threw A Stone” is out there. They pushed the button last night for the Amazon Kindle  launch and on the basis of two promo sales, I zoomed into the charts at No 42 ahead of some guys called T.S.Eliot and Shakespeare. Now look chaps, try not to get too fed up. There’s loads of writer support groups out there for when you’ve had a bad day. I think I’ve slithered down the ratings now to a depth from which you cannot ascend without a decompression chamber. I am pleased with the presentation of the book. I am hoping that by adding a free audio file that some extra value can be bounced out of the poems. When I read poetry to myself from a book I try to imagine how the writer would have stressed different words. When I go to poetry readings and “performance” events I find that the jingle jangle jostle often defeats my concentration. The judges of course are you ladies and gentlemen who doubtless will be jamming the servers at Amazon as you tear one another to shreds in the lunge to get your copies. This e publishing business has had the effect of winkling me out of my taciturn shell-back  life style. I have found myself performing all sorts of media pirouettes that I would not have imagined possible. In order to do the book trailer I ended up on the sea-shore at Barton on Sea. It is great fun of course and ego-massaging to be the centre of attention. If I’m honest I know that for me creativity does not flow from “performance”. You can see my starring role here.

In this new world of e books and tweets  I do wonder if the media  mincer will allow the whole writer to carry on. The traditional poetic wanderer, stamping the hills and staring out of windows in seedy cafes must still exist. I guess guys like that are not exactly publisher’s PR material. Many of them have smelly feet and ask you for a coin or two for a cup of hot whisky. I am so lucky in that I have my partner, Jill and the technical know how of Gallo-Romano Media. I’m a shambolic old duffer with a pencil. I get so frustrated with all these computers. Sometimes I just start shouting “Control alt number lock 467” and I don’t care who hears me. Apparently it’s very rude. I said it once to a nine year old I.T professor and he nearly died. Here are some links to my book. For Amazon UK here. And for Amazon US here.

As I have said already, the main point of this collection is that it comes with a free 45 minute MP3 audio album. If you buy the book you can easily get the audio onto your Kindle.  There is a web address in the book that you type onto your computer, this downloads a file containing the album.  Connect your Kindle via its lead to your computer and copy the contents of the album into the Kindle Music folder. You can then listen to me performing the poems whilst you follow the words. Gallo-Romano Media commissioned a young talented musician to compose and perform a piece for the title poem – which appears on the trailer and the full album.

Thank you to everyone for everything.  I am now going back into my poet’s cave with my pencil…

Post-Boomerist Angst

Sometimes I wish I were educated. Sometimes I wish I could say I wish I was educated without being aware of the misuse of the subjunctive. The problem is that like most people I’m semi-educated, or probably octo-educated. Being a spiller of words, the whole master plan is to sound like I know what I’m gabbling about.  And that brings me to the subject of French Symbolist Poetry, the works of Stéphane Mallarmé, the painter Manet and the composer Claude Debussy. These titans of the Arts are unified by many things and now another chain of artistic unity binds them even closer together. Yes – I know absolutely nothing about them.

I stumbled across these gentlemen whilst researching the matter of poetry and its links with music. Thanks to Wikipedia, any old bash-along blogger can appear erudite and pulsating with nodes of knowledge. Les poèms de Mallarmé were deeply inspirational to other artists and also had sonic properties so that the words could mean many different things, particularly when read aloud. The composer Debussy wrote his tone poem “Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune”  probably thinking it was about a baby deer wandering about after lunch. To the artist such as myself, the sonic interpretation of the poem is a guy waking up and thinking about decorating his living room with a kind of beige emulsion paint if his missus goes up the bingo later on. Manet gets in on the show by having painted the poet. Do not tell me that you cannot see the hints and reflections of fawn in the flesh tones and the vibrant brush strokes. To the modern Frenchman the word faune could sound like phone and so a unity between Fauvism and Futurism is established. Since the phone did not exist when the poem was written, the sonic symbolism predicted its invention and arrival – almost certainly after a long Gallic lunch. The  iPhone is a first person narrative poem by Bambi in rap-speak.

I know I should not mock because a few days ago I did the audio book for my collection of poems “I Threw A Stone”. A chance reading of a guide to an exhibition of Degas revealed the link between Debussy and Mallarmé. At once I realised that I could walk in the footsteps of giants. I put on my poet’s overalls and an arty expression. I have the fortune to know a very talented young composer and asked her to write and play a small piece to reflect the title poem. The result was beautiful and I rather fear that people will prefer the music to the sound of my voice. I know that’s how I feel about it.

I first came across the notion of post-wotsit intellectualism when I went to an art exhibition by the post-impressionists thinking it was a P.R. initiative by the Royal Mail. This led me to read about being a post-modernist. Seemingly the post modernists came after the futurists who are actually quite ancient, having been around before the modernists. My contribution to the catalogue of intellectual post-isms is the term Post-Boomerism. I define it as a state of realisation that the architects of free love and youth culture will one day soonish suffer the droop, dangle a while and die. The software we wrote had that final glitch. It wouldn’t happen these days.

The Importance Of Being Ernie.

With just a couple of days before my poetry collection “I threw a stone” is released, I know I should be revving up to full poet angst and beauty mode. I should have bought a poet’s cloak or at least a silly hat. I should be displaying my love of Seamus Heaney and William Wordsworth. Then you would all know that I was in the poet’s club. Then I would be sleek and sweet in clique elite. OK – you get the message. I’ve found tears on my cheeks at seeing a swirl of starlings against the cold winter sun. Odds are that I was thinking of a woman and driving a 40 ton truck when it happened. Poetry happens with 3,000 gallons of excrement in a tanker trailer a few feet behind your head on a highway to the sewage farm.

I adore Wordsworth and admire Heaney. I revere and respect that laureate of the milk float – Benny Hill. I guess you guys don’t know what was the  Number One song at Christmas 40 years ago. Yes, it was “Ernie” who drove the fastest milk float in the West. Anyone too young to have known the poetic magic of this Bard of the Bristols dressed in a buffoon’s doublet of entendres can see it here. I am not going to claim that this is great poetry, all the same it is part of a tradition of narrative ribaldry that dates back to Chaucer. A few lines such as “ghostly gold tops” and “all alone at Linley Lane” would not have disgraced the pages of the Greats. If you wish to study the lyrics as a poem see them here. Just be grateful that I have not exposed my tomes of Narrative Verse to posh up my assertions.

Today I made a pilgrimage to Eastleigh in Hampshire where Benny Hill was himself a milkman. I know this place since I used to live there. It is unglamorous and known locally as “Beastly Eastleigh”.

I was a taxi driver working the pubs and ranks of this humble terraced town. The humour of Benny Hill is hard to analyse. It hovers between the naughty and the creepy, the voyeur and the connoisseur, the naif and the perv. At it’s core it is the genius of a guy who knew the contradictions and inconsistencies of the human condition.It was a genius informed by the experience of life.

When they built a new housing estate on the edge of town, the Council named a road after him.The supermarkets have long since killed the milkies who would have served Benny Hill Close. The Market Street into which Ernie galloped, his badge upon his chest is still there. Not many folk would rank Benny Hill with the giants of poetry and he would never have done so himself. As for me – I’d be happy to come up to his chest.

Was Benny a true poet? Tell me your unlikely bards.