Sock It To Me Babushka.

I grew up in the shadow of the nuclear bomb and the cold war. A common form of conversation in the 1950’s was what would you do in your last four minutes of life. Many young people said “Sex” but I was a bit too young to know what that really meant. Nowadays 4 minutes would just about get me out of my poet’s overalls. The proposition was that 4 minutes was the length of warning we would have of Russian nukes arriving at a town near you. No one knew why they would be launched and we only knew that our boys were ready to do the same to them. I did not know where Russia was. I was very conscious of Cuba in 1962. When I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1977 we had to receive nuclear war training from two instructors who were dubbed “Nuclear Ned” and “Roentgen Ron” who explained to us about shooting starving looters and dealing with the thousands casualties beyond help. It was at about this time I began to wonder if the world controllers were necessarily the best guys for the job. The 1986  film “When the Wind Blows” which looked at Civil Defence in time of attack makes salutary viewing.

So, let us look at the Eurovision song Contest. The Russian entry has been chosen. As I reported to my American readers last week, the UK has chosen Eurobert Humperdinck (75yrs) to represent this Sceptred Isle, this Mother of Parliaments etc. We may as well give up. The Russians have won and for sure have my vote already. At first the choice of a band of grannies in traditional costume singing in Udmurt and (I think) some English may not have seemed calculated to win. However, their performance is so genuine and full of love that it will sweep the board. Check out the clip and at the beginning look at the old lady on the far left. A younger stronger woman next to her has an arm around her and they exchange a glance which is beautiful. It is about friendship and support. Seeing other cultures, their loves,comedies and struggles is the end to War. Ladies and Gentlemen here is Buranovskiye Babushki singing “Party For Everyone”.

I don’t know about you but I found that quite emotional. Look at those socks and remember that we were all going to annihilate each other a few years ago.

At this very moment my collection of poems “I Threw A Stone”  is free on Amazon KDP. Come on guys – just click on it. You do not have to read it. This could be the first time a living poet has got into the charts! It comes with MP3 Audio. Here are the links:

Amazon USA

Amazon UK

Unlicensed Poet

Charles Bukowski showing us how it should be done

I don’t actually think I am a poet any more. I think I may have moved on to the next phase of slowing down and looking at other people’s poetry. Once upon a time I used to be quite jealous when I realised that some other poet had said something brilliantly before my own genius had had the opportunity to grasp the matter. I used to hang around with a bunch of other poets who all felt the same about everyone. I used to be utterly outraged if they did not rend their clothing and gnash their teeth on account of my pre-emptive insights and alliterative allusions. There was one guy (a superior academic) who was such a judgemental fascist that the rest of the sweet loving poets group dubbed him the stanza panzer.

Such politics and struggles fill much of our young and middle years. It serves a purpose – to drive on the mind to create a poem to “beat” the others or to win some competition, literary prize or the pretty girl/boy. A few days ago I was sitting in the garden with my 1883 copy of Wordsworth. I turned to “Lines Written above Tintern Abbey” and realised that in fact until that moment I had been too filled with ego and the white noise of existence to read it properly. Mrs Wordsworth’s little boy has always been a great favourite of mine. He had insights – yes, insights. The jazz, the weed, the wine of separation from knowledge into knowing is the business of poetry.

Since I have left the cave for the odd excursion into the world of the cyber-ode I have encountered a few writers who I admire and enjoy at least as much as those old great guys. One of them is Paul Tobin. He is one of those poets who cut straight through to the truth of things with quick stabs of insight. He is not flashy but neither is he ostentatiously stark. He’s bloody good. Check out a few of his blogs

Then there is Jo VonBargen. This lady does the image. Her work splashes and tumbles. It sparkles throwing up careless coincidences of ideas and metaphor that you know deep down are the result of  wordless pondering. Long after reading some of her poems a line or phrase will come to you. Her work is a quest – as imperfect as the strained strata of rock lining a gorge. This week I have had the chance to work with a  young composer (Isabelle Fuller) to create a small videotry of one of Jo’s short poems. She asks “Where is God?” It was a genuine privilege to read work by another poet and to see how much a young artist could feel in her poem and translate into music.

If you want to know more of Jo’s work check out her website.

Wounded Soldiers

self portrait of a wounded soldier

Who do you truly know? It would be no good starting with the self would it? So many motivations are buried. Many times in my life others have had more insight into me than I have had. Bank managers, teachers and literary agents have formed a faithful triumvirate of judgement. All the same I’ve been broadly undamaged by my life. We know often enough that this is not the case with everyone. The damaged individual can change the course of history with some awful spectacle or simply self destruct from self loathing, fear and confusion. It is not my place to reflect upon current affairs. However, uniforms can create a notion of certainty and predictability. The truth is that you just never know the inner workings of an individual, a friend or close colleague. Exposure to extreme events, horror and fear will have effects. Many know far more of this than me. Quite often the mentally wounded soldiers (be they office clerk or Rambo) will hide their suffering in macho bravado. Whether it is a concern that we fail to detect so many or a small triumph that there are so few I do not know. My highly personal guess is that our modern grasping life with lack of time for loving kids will fuel sufferings for many years to come.

I do not come from any special place on this. I was a South London cop and worked in the coroner’s department. I attended the suicides and the murders. I talked casually to child sex offenders as if comparing shopping lists. I was in fights and riots and I lost nothing but half a tooth and my sense of moral outrage. I drank beer and wrote poems – although in the macho culture I kept quite about the poetry. Not everyone was so lucky. I’m not sure what a genius is but during that epoch I think I may have known one. He died quite recently amongst the wreckage of his life. This is what happened.

He was a young guy – sensitive, well educated and kind. As a student he had developed a bit of a drink issue. Nothing in his life had prepared him for constant hostility and a strange kind of feeling which is halfway between fear and excitement. Everyone wanted to be in the action, the hero cop…..well that’s what everyone said. It’s like bungee jumping. You can do a few jumps and then one day it goes cold and you see risk and the humiliation of not being able to jump. You know something has changed inside but bungee jumping is within your control – you stop doing it. Half way through a shift on a patrol car you may already have been tested – perhaps some incident had not gone well and you feel a bit low.

Then comes a call – serious disturbance in the street, shops being looted etc. He arrives with a colleague and a petrol bomb hits the car. A mob starts to overturn the vehicle and he flees with rioters gouging and pulling at his face, trying to push their fingers into his eyes. The heat from the burning car pushes back the mob and he ran. In his heart he never stops running – not until the end of his life. In the burning car his colleague kicks out the windscreen and runs just as hard. There were not too many choices. By bed time the other guy was over it. The guilt driven soldier added another deep cut to his list and went home to pour some more lonely vodka into his wound.

The guy I am talking about was the funniest man I’ve known. He had a dry cynicism which he delivered with immense compassion. He knew people made mistakes. He had a totally surreal vision of the possible. He wrote poems and did paintings. He kept a python in his room at a police lodging house. Eventually, the authorities turned their back on him and threw him out. His life staggered along via broken relationships, vagrancy and alcoholism. I met him again in the last couple of years of his short life. He had a big project to open people’s lives to the notion of possibility. He built little doors to fit into the roots of trees so that a passer-by might smile, believe in fairies or mentally open that door into imagination.

Wounded soldiers come in many shapes and sizes.

The Trouble With Sparrows

I’m having trouble with a sparrow. A male has got his eye on a nesting box on the house wall. Before he can move in, he has to establish rights to his territory. This means that the huge flock of other male sparrows who live in the lounge window have to be destroyed. The poor thing constantly sees his own reflection and hurls himself against the invisible barrier. My heart flooded with poetic sympathy and I now live in a dark cave, having covered the window. Seeing the frantic creature reminded me of my own attempts to find agents and publishers. Then, one day as I battered against the glass, the window flew open and I hurtled into the Universe of Amazon. It is rather like that old fashioned night time universe, but the dark matter is darker and the stars burn out with every new algorithm. At the centre there is the Black hole of the Trolls who have so much gravity and density that no one has found a way of  packaging it for sale. I wanted to be the first to review but the force sucked the words off the screen.

I have two bird boxes. One is a mark 1 model which is simply a home for birds. The other is a News International bird box which has been bugged with secret cameras. So far there seems to be far more interest in the original model. Please birdies – I only want to see the timeless wild struggles of Nature on TV with my remote control and a glass of beer. Please fly in.

A letter arrived. Given the recent spate of geriatric mail shots I was expecting some advice on incontinence. But No! Wait – I have won a major international prestigious poetry competition. I gasped and looked round for any incontinence info. No – it’s true and I did it all without entering. It’s a vanity scam of course. Kafka saw it all coming you know.

I did enter a competition. It was some kind of poem to make London laugh – but I was beaten by Prime Minister’s Question Time. Somehow my name and the address of the poet’s cave fell into the grasping claws of the World Poetry Movement who want to give me the recognition I crave in a leather bound coffee table. I kid you not. My special edition will be produced in this format. My coffee table will be called “Stars in Our Hearts”. The real issue here is that this reveals the extent to which every thing is for sale. I entered a competition in good faith and my details are shuffled off to some hovering hawks who know the struggles of a poor sparrow against the merciless window of fame, adulation, incontinence and supermarket lager.

Soon I’m going to write a poem, although it might be a story. I have been reading a new collection of short stories by an accomplished writer Claude Nougat. The book is called “Death on Facebook” and is very much of our age. Here are the Amazon links. For the next couple of days it is free!

Amazon USA       Amazon UK    Amazon Germany    Amazon France   Amazon Italy   Amazon Spain

Eurobert Humperdinck

Eurobert Humperdinck

Just as the junk mailers start to tempt me into sheltered accommodation for the elderly and doctors line up to plot my graph into decline, an ageist thunderclap splits the certainty of the Universe. Englebert Humperdinck is to represent the United Kingdom in the Eurovision song contest at the age of 75 years.

As I listened to the radio this morning I heard Rick Santorum speaking in Ohio about how the Founding Fathers had saved Americans from the colonial monarchy. This is very true. What he did not say was that they also saved America from the Eurovision song contest. If I were one of his speech writers I would definitely have stressed this important constitutional point. For those kind Americans who read my blog, let me explain that winning the contest in recent years has little to do with quality of the music. Some 43 loosely Euro countries vie for the prize and voting is political  between blocs and cliques. If I were a professor of politics or a Westminster advisor I would make this show compulsory viewing. Wars and alliances can be predicted since the votes reveal a candour unknown elsewhere in diplomacy.  All the same some mega stars have emerged from the schmaltz fest into glittering careers. Both Abba and Celine Dion have ploughed this furrow.

The whole horrific cultural smorgasbord is a great festival in the Sparrow cave. The more corrupt and absurd the better. In 2009 it was reported that 6 Azeri (Citizens of Azerbaijan) had been arrested by the police for voting for the hated Armenians. Play to win – that’s the way to do it! Here is one of my favourite ever entries. Oh yes – this year the contest will be held in Azerbaijan.

Yesterday, in my arty poet’s vest, dark suit, trainers and scarf I went to an exhibition of Art at the Pallant Gallery in the beautiful cathedral city of Chichester. The artist was Robin Ironside (described as a Neo-Romantic Visionary) who often painted with a one haired brush with the aid of a magnifying glass. His work is so detailed that you have to study it intensely. Seemingly he never slept and stayed alive on a cocktail of drugs. His work is staggering and this was the first time I had seen any of it.  The exhibition runs until 22nd April.

An Absolute Gentleman

The death of Davy Jones – lead singer of the Monkees was sad news to me this morning. As a young man I used to help out at an evening club for handicapped kids. There were those who would join in and those who were too nervous to dance and sing along. Two songs never failed to get them up. “Daydream Believer” and “I’m a Believer” conquered the inhibitions of the shyest kids.

Several years later I was a cop on the streets of South London. As a result of a traffic accident a short youngish guy with kind brown eyes found himself being interviewed by me. He was humble polite and charming. He told me about his work on American TV and his identity came to light. The traffic matter was fairly banal and in those days cops were not that fixated on motorists. I thanked him for for the music and he thanked me for my attention. There will be all manner of obituaries and the memories of  showbiz stars in the media. I just wanted to say my own tribute. He was an absolute gentleman.

A letter arrived at the poet’s cave advising me that it was about time I started to think about sheltered housing for the elderly. I filed it next to two letters from the Health Service inviting me to provide samples of unspeakable body products so that I can be screened. A glance at the Newspaper revealed separate articles revealing the two greatest threats to these Sceptred Isles. 1) We are living too long and they cannot afford us. 2) We are still drinking and smoking too much and dying too young. Sometimes I just do not know what to do for the best.