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.

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Oscar at the Oscars

You know when someone at a party or in the supermarket says your name, suddenly all else is silent and you tune in. I no longer go to many parties but I still have a name. This time of year is of course Oscar season. Every time I put on the TV or the radio some celebrite is talking about the Oscars. I feel how a dog in the park must feel with dozens of canine managers calling out “Here boy!”. By the way, if you have not seen this little clip of a hapless dog manager calling his pooch I do recommend it.

One of the most compelling names of course is “Dad” or “Mum”. I wonder how old you have to be not to turn round when a child calls out for the parent.  As an old guy you have to be so careful not to smile at or acknowledge kids. I mean this in a really serious way incidentally. What would happen to an old bloke who approached a lost distressed child? It would be risky – particularly if you fled into a church as the mob attacked.

So, the Oscars are upon us. Who will win the prize for the Best Screen Poet of all time? Probably no one, because the category does not exist. All the same I am poised to reveal my own stardom on the silver screen – OK, just the TV really. I’m not sure if you get this show in the USA these days but in the UK it is called  “Midsomer Murders”. In Europe it seems to run as “Inspector Barnaby”.

A couple of years ago, the poet’s mate  spotted an advertisement for film extras. All that was needed was a bicycle. We set off on a frosty morning to a portion of pretty Downland. We mingled among the Greats munching bacon sandwiches served from a huge caravan. Thespians ate as if they were people just like me. They smoked cigarettes and practiced riding bikes. For every performer there seemed to be several hundred assistants with loud-hailers (bullhorns), clipboards and luvvy chat. One unfortunate actress had clearly never been on a bike in her life. On the first take she crashed painfully. “Looks like her big break in the movies” quipped an old sweat  cyclist. “CUT!” bellowed a bullhorn. All day we cycled about. At one point we all had to appear to be chatting and looking at the view. We all had to mime because you have to an official thesp to speak. Later they dubbed in mumbling chat done by professional mumblers.

We had a huge lunch and at the end of the day we all received a decent wad of cash. Fortunately for you poor bored patient readers a clip of my starring moment does exist. It is dubbed in Polish but this does not affect my role. I am the old bloke in the black hat and fluoroescent green coat cycling behind an actor at the 30 second point. I do make several other cameo appearances amongst groups of other cyclists. In a whole day we filmed about 40 seconds of programme. As the ceremony unfolds and the gasps and gushes reach a new crescendo of controversy, revealing dresses and thanked mothers I will sit back in my cave nodding sagely as one who knows the inside of the business.

The naming of parts

Today I returned to my home town of Eastleigh which also stars in my blog “the Importance of being Ernie”. In my guise as wandering artist/poet I was passing through a housing estate when, of a sudden I saw something that made my senses reel and gave me sensations that I had never known before. ( Can you tell I’ve been reading a romance?)  Oh all right – I’m doing a review of one. As a committed intellectual and seriously serious person I would never read such a thing for any other reason.

At first I could not believe it. Surely the Authorities had not heard that I was a famous poet by virtue of having sold a book of poetry on Amazon UK. YES – a whole book for money. The good thing about being from Eastleigh is that there are relatively few fame names to compete with. Obviously, the sale of a book of poetry triggered some kind of software tsunami that had councillors scrambling from their beds to name a road after me! Oh such joy. Soon the phone will be ringing with Radio Foreplay producers craving an interview. Who would have imagined that my life would come to this? Who would have imagined the skill of the town planning department to blend my name into other roads named Nightingale, Starling, Robin and Kestrel? Do you think I should complain about the dog poo bin or just keep quiet and be grateful.

Real poetry lovers will recognise the above nonsense as a a clumsy link to a poem by Henry Reed, “Naming Of Parts”. This work has had its critics and its parodies. It is a beautiful anti-war piece that seems to me to contrast the hard steel and certainty of the gun against the fragile mortal values of Nature. Other readers see it differently……I’m sure that my American readers will enjoy the accents – one working class London and the other refined middle class of about 50 years ago. Tony Blair is modern middle class.

What a truly wonderful world we live in where folk lavish their time unselfishly to put this kind of material on You Tube etc. It makes me happy and optimistic that this happens. Mortality is strangely redefined by media do you think? I listen to Piaf you know – and she lives. Beethoven may have heard his symphonies just a few times and yet for me he can live in my head over and over at the flick of a switch. Oh dear – I’m rambling again….

Given the talent of Reed I feel that fashion and critics have rather overlooked him. Maybe he has a road in his name?

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

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Walmartyr

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.

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…

Poet Has Only One Ball

Last time we met I was telling you about my trip to Bournemouth. Oh wow! you cry, recoiling from the excitement. But hold on a minute because I forgot to share the most interesting thing that happened. I spotted an oyster catcher and a stonechat. To some this would mean little. To the likes of me who do not see these birds such an event is quite important.  Probably I should get out more. I also spotted a green furry tennis ball. I pointed it out to my partner Jill who saw straight away that it was perilously perched on a ledge on a treacherously steep cliff face of superfluous adverbial danger. Now, here was a moment. She banned me from the ascent with pronouncements of doom, injury and a world ruthlessly dominated by Nick Clegg.  For a few seconds I walked on like a house-trained poet. What would a Mills and Boon hero have done? I heard the voice of the massive shouldered billionaire, 6’4″ Franceso Romanelli in my ears. I felt my sexual potency dribbling away into a limp Pharmaski mafioski Viagra wrapper. Suddenly I turned back, pulled off my biker’s studded jacket, exposed my chest and vaulted across the fence with a feral roar. Soon, I was back at the side of my sexy tensing sherpa who had remained weeping at base camp. I drew her into my arms and showed her my furry green ball. She swooned, but there again, she’s not had much in life. So that you can re-live this moment here is a little photo reconstruction of my heroism.

All this leads me on to the matter of bathos, who as you all know was the disappointing fifth or sixth musketeer who spent the whole book in a track suit on the bench. Some say that the manager tried to send him on but he had lost his Italian phrase book and couldn’t understand what the foreign guy in the gogs was saying.  Laydeez – this is a football jest so do not throw yourself in front of the king’s horse in your maidenly incomprehension or in bitter angst at my vile patronisation of your gender. OK, I’ve worked my consciousness into Victorian mode.

Poetry is a serious business that reaches us with a kiss when the punches are too common to count. Recently I was reading a blog of my old comrade from the Chateau Neuf de Paparazzi barricades, Emma Calin who has gone on to be a best selling romantic novelist. She raised the matter of Theo Marzials who some say wrote the world’s worst poem – “A Tragedy”. We have here a scenario where a thwarted lover wanders by the river contemplating suicide. Seemingly some heartless trollop has run off with his best mate. Dear Oh dear oh dear – surely such a thing could not happen these days. Theo pulls out all the stops and starts while contemplating his next move. As he wades in to the water he gives mortality some real wellie. This is a great poem to read. I bet you could do it better than me. Here it is.

Only a few days until “I Threw A Stone” is released. It’s poetry Jim. Do you guys think poetry should be read aloud? Depends on the type of poem I guess……