Lyrical Salads

A while ago I was listening to a learned radio programme about the ground-breaking publication of “Lyrical Ballads” by Wordsworth and Coleridge, thus kicking off the Romantic Movement in poetry. In those different times, the two young poets wandered off into the wilds, in full poetic flow, discussing art, beauty and philosophy. They needed some cash and brought out a book to fund the trip. Somehow it seems that those opportunities have gone. Even if one did wander poetically and bring out a book of poems, there would be little chance of main stream publication and even fewer people to read it. I suspect that these days the poets would have filmed themselves for You tube with Coleridge hamming up the Ancient Mariner in full Caribbean pirate flow, hoping to go viral. Wordsworth would be tweeting  – “Just seen river near Tintern #mortality #pantheism.”

In that case very little has changed. Although I have never invited poets to wander off with me, (not even the pretty ones), the internet has allowed me contacts, stimulation and influences beyond anything available to the Great and the Dead. A while ago, an American poet Jefferson Hansen mailed me a copy of a small book entitled “The Branded Woman & Other Poems” ( This gentleman had already deranged my satisfied sense of music by introducing me to a band called “Purgatory Hill” play it LOUD!). Inside the book of poems was an invitation to recite them and so I have chosen one called “The Meditating Cougar”. You can hear it here. It is one of those poems that is about nothing much in so far as suffering, chance and mortality are not about anything much. The language is plain and poses no barrier to a reader also just idling in neutral, our own food chain hidden from view, sanitized and packaged. It is a poem that raises the question of determinism and causality in a quiet flat tone that hides the claw hammer of time striking the bell of chance. If that last sentence sounds out of place it is because I am also thinking of another poetic wanderer who has turned up in my cyber salon.

This week, another American poet Jo Von Bargen has published a collection of some of her work “It Ain’t Shakespeare But Oh, How it Glows” which I had the pleasure to review. Whilst Jeff Hansen’s poem is bare of image, JVB’s work is a feast of imagery. I have written of her before and often one of her phrases pops into my idling consciousness. In her poem “Hissing Like Fire” she also chooses a moment from the unscheduled natural world. As an experiment I have recorded it as both a complement and a contrast to the first poem. You can hear it here. I do not think either of these writers belong to a “movement”  as such. The internet has no manifesto but infinite manifestations. Perhaps we are at the dawn of “Manifestism”. I feel so lucky to be here.

I have always needed to read poems aloud in order to come to terms with them. It is a process something like peeling an orange as if you had never seen inside one before. Even then – do you understand an orange? Poets send off their little poem creatures as if into a river – perhaps flowing on to the ocean, catching up in an overhanging branch or circling in an eddy. Some may sink dead for a thousand years until some silt bed dries and a tiny body becomes a treasure. A poem with truth from the polished or the rough hewn hand has an ever enduring voice.

I had a big sky day this week. I was doing some familial child care on a windswept beach, conscious that I had written so little of late. I wanted to do a perfect classic Haiku but in the end I just did what I did. It’s legitimacy is simply that I was there and I needed to justify being one of those old guys mumbling to themselves.

Dome sky stretching day

My thoughts fly out to fill you

But you fill me first.

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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.

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.