Monday, December 5, 2016

By way of apology

A comb of wisped and dappled cloud
floats on a bellowing winter sky,
a trademarked early December blue.
The silhouettes of birds that skim across it
are dashes of a signature in blackest ink;
the days are a slow fade to ending,
before the cycle starts again,
our journey once around the sun.
For all the bad days that the year has suffered,
nature is neutralising; two weeks now of blazing sunsets
and mornings frosted like a Christmas cake.
The brashness of the skies say: We're sorry,
we didn't mean for it to be so terrible this year.
From January through June to now, the things you've seen
should be works of dystopian fiction.
By way of apology, please accept this blaring series of
morning skies that give you heart-ache,
crisp daytimes cold enough for scarves but
mild enough to keep at bay those astronomical heating bills,
and trees laden with red-and-golden offerings of goodwill.
You kept going through the sadness and the darkness,
and we are forever grateful. You stuck with it,
and we know how difficult that was.
As an additional token we're willing to offer you
lustrous sunsets every night,
so fill your timelines and newsfeeds with your best shots,
you've earned it.
We hope to see you again next year.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

One bed

For National Coming Out Day 2016 x

To the estate agents who
ask which one of you this one-bed flat is for,
and frowning bed and breakfast owners,
yes the one bed will be just fine,
no mistake,
no administrative error,
just love:
you may have heard of it,
where two people think the world of each other and
when they look into each other's eyes
and kiss each other's faces
there is a balloon of joy in their chests
and all they want is
every minute just the two of them -
a weekend away,
a world of their own where they might hold hands, or
a first home together,
where friends will buy them oven timers and
corkscrews and
bottles of good wine,
and they will sit on floors and toast
to love.
You may have heard of it,
and I hope you've experienced that,
in any way it comes,
and if you fall for your best friend and it
happens to you: you'll know.
The one bed will be just fine.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Plundered

Plunder our earth and
make brittle the very core of us, where
fragile homes may shake and
crumble into dust
all for a plume of fuel.
Cover the sun,
shelter from the wind,
turn your back on the sea and
pretend they are not happening or 
that they are alternatives.
Crack the ancient earth,
let water be tainted,
line your pockets with the shale-soaked notes.
To the towns that have cried no,
we are with you,
and to the suits that have said yes
we will watch the news like hawks and
when the water runs contaminated,
and when we quake,
and when they say it should have been solar, or from waves,
we'll see what you turn to then.

For #NationalPoetryDay 2016

Friday, August 19, 2016

Troll

Knock her down for daring to speak, 
so behind it
she feels small.
Though all the world is borne of her,
those doubts of how to stand up tall
are feathers falling from the sky,
a deluge quieting the mouth
of a thousand fiercest songs.
Quell and silence,
or rail against with
spits and barbs and
detest her, though: you don't know her.
Feel threatened by a single voice
that chimes in time with others
just like her,
who have to mute, block, report
as a matter of course,
daily,
just so you can have your moment.
Stab and abhor,
cruel catcalls, cries of hate.
Your loneliness radiates where
her strength stays true.
Mute, block, report.
Another day, another unravelling of your spite.
Mute, block, report.
She doesn't acknowledge you,
and gets on with her day.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Toast and tea

The kettle roars its bubbled song,
and I think for the millionth time:
I wish I had a toast rack.
Because that's all we can do for now,
put another round of toast on,
make more tea, and sit in a June-yellow kitchen
with bleary eyes and heavy hearts.
While all the bays and bellows clamour more,
we wish that things were back as they were, just a day before.
We meet up with others who blink in the sun,
shade their eyes and say they can't believe it.
The papers roar too.
That corner-shop-shelf blare, all hard capitals and lies.
We're split right down the middle:
reason on both sides,
but the loudest carrying a torch for their half,
victorious and chanting.
An excuse for all the 'Go home' shouters to emerge,
staggering in the sunlight, barking,
belittling. 
It's ok, they say, because now
we've got it back. Our country:
this is England.
The internet groans with the weight of articles
on what will happen next.
Rates and charts and graphs and opinion.
This wasn't supposed to be how it happened,
or why.
The stay camp draws a heavy sigh.

Friday, June 17, 2016

White bird

I'm watching as a bird wheels against a sky
that bruises dark grey,
ominous and brewing.
The bird is lit bright white from a sun that's about to go in,
a jarring
tick against the gloom.
We woke this morning to another scroll through news stories,
of sadness, death and fear.
What a world we've become.
Where people who love, help, aid,
are punished through a swelling of hate.
It's become expected to find an atrocity flash up
on phones that we blindly stab at,
lurching from one story to the next.
They say hope not hate,
but some mornings it's hard to breathe.
A growing fear sweeps the country.
Innocent people are suddenly the enemy.
Clouds roll in.
We need to encourage togetherness,
safety,
a feeling of optimism.
Otherwise what else have we got?
The bird sweeps in circles,
the sun goes in;
the bird blends into the grey.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Short story: Horses

This story was written for performance at 'Punk Tales and Ales', a punk-themed storytelling event at the Clifftown Theatre, Southend, April 2016.

She always said it was just temporary, just until Jody got back on her feet. She wasn't supposed to do it, but how could you turn someone away like that?

When Jody knocked on Helen's door that evening, she looked worn and wrung out, sad and sour. Lawrence had huffed and puffed, flapping the paper and eyeing Jody over the top of the business pages. Helen had fussed and made tea, arranged biscuits on a plate, got the expensive blankets that were a wedding present out of the airing cupboard and folded them neatly on the guest bed.

You won't tell anyone at school, will you? Jody had said when Lawrence was upstairs, having a bath. Helen anxiously shut the curtains just in case.

They always told her never to take a student in. Lawrence didn't understand; his world was numbers, data, processing. He talked about these new computers, but Helen couldn't hear all that. She knew about people, feelings.

Of course, when they got married, Lawrence had said she should stop teaching. It wasn't right for a woman to carry on working once she had a husband. That's when the baby is supposed to come. But it didn't. It just never did. After a while, he stopped protesting about Helen still working, and she just carried on.

She remembered the day Jody started. She walked into the classroom, steered by the headmaster, with her short, bristly hair, and black fingerless gloves on, poking out of blazer sleeves. Her first thought was that she'd have to wash all that eyeliner off.

The other kids didn't warm to her; they never do with the new ones. Helen felt bad for her - she made herself so different, it was almost as if she pre-empted the problem of not having any friends.

All the other girls were groomed for secretarial school. Jody said she wanted to be in a band. Helen listened with patience, but thought she'll come around, she'll grow up and wear some nice clothes and meet a nice boy, and everything will be alright.

Then she started to notice Jody's behaviour; drifting off in class. A mark on her arm, blooming under the white school shirt. She'd stay after lessons, finding an excuse to lag behind, then just sit with Helen, watching her eat her small sandwiches. Helen had started to share them with her. Then Jody started talking. She'd broken up with her boyfriend; he was older - her parents had threatened to kick her out if she didn’t end it, buck her ideas up. She was lonely, she cut herself.

Jody said she loved punk music. Helen didn't know what it meant until she read about it in the paper. Lawrence had his opinions. Disgusting, he'd said. Why don't they go out and get jobs like we had to?

When she arrived, bruised and cut off that night, Lawrence had shot his wife a look as if to say: don't you dare. But she opened the door wide enough for Jody to come in. She had a big army surplus bag, stuffed with crumpled clothes. It was covered in safety pins, like they all had. Funny how when Helen had pictured safety pins in her home, they would have been on a terry towelling nappy.

After the second week, Jody started to relax. She would curl her feet up on the sofa, wearing Helen's old pyjamas. With her make up taken off, and in a floral print, she looked like any other girl her age. They talked. Helen made cups of tea, and they watched television together.

On a blistering Friday in July, the school term was over and Helen knew she'd never be teaching Jody again. Did that change things? Lawrence was out at darts.

Jody still hadn't mentioned anything about going back home, and there was a crackle in the air. It felt like summer was burning. Someone at work had given Helen a bottle of Blue Nun as an end of term present.

We won't tell Lawrence, Helen said.
I've had wine before, Jody said as Helen cautiously measured out two glasses.

Jody put one of her records on. Helen was only ever used to listening to Lawrence's Val Doonican records, or the radio.

This is Patti Smith, Jody told her. Horses. I had to order it from America.

They sat in Helen's small living room. It was like nothing Helen had ever heard in her life. She wasn't all that sure she liked it. This woman sounded raw. Not like a woman at all. She sounded wild, without thought, care, or rules.

They sat and listened to it over and over again. There was poetry, sometimes out of tune, sometimes too loud. None of it seemed to rhyme. It caused a big feeling in Helen's chest and she didn't know why.

Jody poured more wine. It flushed their cheeks. They talked some more, sitting on the same settee, sometimes their elbows touched. Around eleven o'clock, they heard a car outside; Lawrence coming home from the pub.

I'd better go to bed, Jody said. They both stood up, in synchronicity, and looked at each other, jarred by their own twin movements. Jody leaned in and kissed Helen on the corner of her mouth: not quite her mouth, but not her cheek either, and slipped upstairs.

Helen staggered to the kitchen, clattering Jody's glass away so Lawrence wouldn't see, and splashed cold water on her face, sure that he would be able to tell.

In the morning, Lawrence asked Helen to make him a fried breakfast to soothe his hangover. She gagged over the fried eggs, nursing a hangover of her own, but somehow feeling more alive than she had ever felt.

But when she went upstairs, Jody had gone, her bag and clothes too. On her bedside table was a safety pin. Helen sat on the guest bed, and cried. She wore the pin inside her blouse that day, wildly awake, far too aware of her own body, and held it to her skin like a talisman.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Cossetted.

In the clamour, we only hear the songs of our own lives;
cossetted, yet searching further comfort,
always seeking:
bricks and mortar, bargains, more.
Half-formed thoughts bubble up
as we step over the puddles,
side-stepping faults.
A scroll through atrocities before bedtime,
white glare lighting our fed, full faces,
click to share this.
Download the app,
a double tap
to show condolences,
wear the battery down,
ready to sleep fitful,
dreaming of walls and fear, and dirty cash.
How dreadful, you think, the news is today;
sign the petition,
pay the donation,
then a distraction.
Feed the need.
Add to basket.
Sign up for a free trial, get it delivered next-day.
Easy to forget the news when you look away.
Customers who bought this item also bought...
repeat, repeat, repeat.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Bus Balladeer

I'm truly jazzed to say that I have been voted Southend's Bus Balladeer. I entered a poem on the theme of travel to their competition, and was chosen as the winner. I'm really honoured. And what a great way to celebrate #worldpoetryday!

You can read more about it here, but the poem is also pasted below. Thank you to the judges!

http://www.ideasinmotionsouthend.co.uk/whats-new/announcing-southends-bus-balladeer/

Aboard.

Aboard the bus
which lumbers and rumbles into view;
what daydreams we make through other windows.
Look up from the phone,
a space for thoughts to grow.
You look at people’s houses,
gardens, routines:
Whizz past and they’re gone, forgotten, lost;
until this time tomorrow.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Gigs!

Hello poetry pickers.

I have some gigs coming up!

Isn't that nice?

Thursday 24 March, Shangri La, The Railway Hotel, Southend, 9pm
facebook.com/shangrila.southend

Saturday 9 April, Electric Tea Set, Fishermen's Chapel, Leigh on Sea, 6.30pm
facebook.com/events/488589734678296/

Friday 15 April, Trawler launch night/Made in Leigh, Leigh Community Centre, Leigh on Sea, 7pm (ticketed)
eventbrite.co.uk/e/official-trawler-launch-made-in-leigh-conversations-20-tickets-22114811998

It would be great to see you there! (Oh yes son, I'm talking to you)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Paper and ink

For World Book Day 2016.

Take solace in
some other world,
where justice might be done,
or love arrives unexpectedly,
or bittersweet tears roll down.
To fit into a pocket
an entire universe;
what magic is this -
a simple ream of paper and ink,
plus someone's fervent imagined lands.
A thread between a writer and you:
their thoughts sewn into yours.
From well-thumbed piles of story-books
atop a bedcover
on a stay-home-from-school sick day
to the soul breathed into grown-up long commutes,
a lifetime of reading as escape.
What magic is this, you'll think,
at bedtime, eyes trying hard to focus.
Just one more chapter, you say to yourself,
immersed between the pages.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The gloaming

A lurk at the bottom of the wardrobe,
the nagging thought that makes you wonder if the gas is on.
A creep outside the window, a pretend face where leaves tap and flutter.
A turmoil of fox fight,
jagged edges of the night;
too many sounds out there yet not enough
to stop the pealing knell,
to quell the gloaming in your chest.
You turn over.
You sit up.
Eyes scratch,
you light a match and watch it burn. Soon the whole pack is spent.
The telephone rings.
It's for the old you, the one they think they know,
the one you're not sure you knew at all.
Outside daytime sounds tell you night is over.
How many hours have passed?
Oh well, you think.
You made it again.
Peel a curtain back, blink at the light, and let it fall.
A lorry chugs outside; a man calls to someone.
You hear children on their way to school,
dragging feet and swinging rucksacks at each other, laughing.
Inside, the darkness roams in and out of rooms.
You are slothlike, pajamed, softened by a life indoors.
A cup of tea gone cold,
an egg in a saucepan boiled dry,
a stack of free newspapers pushed against the door.
Even the cat has up and left: her food is dry and curling in the bowl,
starting to smell, and
the flap hasn't swung for a while now. 
The woman upstairs leaves for work, banging the door,
a jumble of keys and a smell of burnt toast,
off out into her life like everything is fine.
Out comes the diary, your shaking hands making spiders on the pages:
writing the thoughts in hope they'll disappear,
absorbed into the paper. You tell yourself
when you get to the final page you'll get help.
Fifteen pages left.
Fifteen pages and you'll call your Mum.
Fifteen pages to life.