Ashes

I shouldn’t be writing a blog post today.

I had managed to secure tickets in this year’s ballot for the first day of the test series against the West Indies at Lords, where I have never been for a match before. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. But it was something I had been so looking forward to. Especially as today is my 26th wedding anniversary.

Oh how I miss live sport, live music, live theatre, comedy, musicals. I don’t think the so-called leaders we have in this country at the moment realise how important these are. They certainly don’t appear to care, judging by their response so far to the desperate state most theatres and arts organisations are in at the moment. But then why should I be surprised? On purely financial terms, the arts are one of the most significant economic sectors for the UK, ( far more than say fishing). We are, or we were, global leaders in many fields. Yet arts organisations, and businesses involved in arts related fields, (such as computer gaming), which rely on freedom of movement and international collaboration have been pretty much ignored by government since Brexit.

Let alone the benefits to society, to our mental and physical health.

Did I mention Brexit? I remember going in to work the day after (24 June 2016) to be met by a few smug comments (everyone knew where my thoughts lay on this issue). Around 70% of the people I worked with at the time voted for Brexit. Four years on and with no deal more and more likely, (whether by design or ineptitude it is irrelevant), I wonder how many of them would vote for the version of Brexit we are going to get as opposed to that of the campaign lies of Cummings and co. ?

It’s a bit like the people I know who voted against electoral reform because they wanted a better type of electoral reform than that which was on offer on the ballot paper. Maybe vote differently next time, in what, 40 years or so?

Four years on from the referendum and I remain deeply saddened by its’ impact on the direction in which this country appears to be going.

I so hope that this part of this post ages badly and that Brexit, and the type of deal we end up with works out well. But I just don’t think our politicians are in any way competent enough for the task, which would be incredibly challenging even without Covid-19. Anyway, rant over.

But that’s where live music, theatre, musicals, comedy and sport events come in. They are such a useful pressure release, such a great way to feel alive, to escape from the monotonies and frustrations of everyday life. I miss them terribly.

But here we are.

If you have got this far then apologies for the rant. I’m just feeling grumpy because I’m missing the cricket. And it’s hot outside. And next door have got builders in their garden so I can’t properly relax.

We are were we are.

Still, this gives me an excuse to share another poem. This one originally appeared on the Places of Poetry website. A good poem shouldn’t need additional notes. The ones for this follow afterwards…

Ashes

It’s deepening now this evening blue,
counting stars as they pinprick through,
darkness sweeps in sure footing lost,
this trellised fence a horizon’s seam,
the sky so earthed in shaky dreams.

On my wi-fi playlist the same song replays,
pour another drink as our days decay,
to a long hot summer of a water ban,
stubble scorched grass in Victoria Park,
football and cricket and back before dark

Pete Fran Chris Ade and sometimes Steve,
final score then evening chorus so time to leave,
and walking home along Somerset Road,
and shadows locking arms on the final climb,
a row of elm and am I running low on time.

Scuffed leather skin a stitch half picked out,
sleight-of-hand spinning a googly of doubt,
corner creased photo in a battered tin box,
the energy of youth in our seventies clothes,
two months away from the Damned’s New Rose.

I could open the bowling at the County Ground,
or play the keyboards in a prog rock band,
when empty shops circle the market square,
shuttered ambitions are left fly-posted again;
I had my hopes, I guess we all did then.

This failing light too weak to forestall
will my kids ever hear a cuckoo’s call;
another cold beer as the silence grows,
no song thrush, skylark or nightingale;
the last ball bowled now we’re burning the bails.

Notes: The Victoria Park of this poem is in my home town of Frome in Somerset, not the one in the centre of Portsmouth. I used to spend much of my time growing up playing football and cricket there in pretty much all weathers, (with Pete, Fran, Chris, Ade and sometimes Steve). Not something that kids seem to as much nowadays.

The Damned’s New Rose is generally recognised as being the first punk single. It’s obviously a metaphor here of change, of growing up. A moment in time after which everything was different.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Frome of my youth was pretty run down – there were a lot of empty shops in the town centre – it’s a much more vibrant place these days.

The English Elms of my walk home, (sadly no more following the ravages of Dutch Elm Disease) and the final stanza are all, of course, references to a much greater change that we are in the middle of, against which the chaos of Brexit and my woes of missing a cricket match at Lords due to a global health pandemic pale into utter insignificance.

When was the last time you heard a Cuckoo’s call?

On Becoming a Professional Poet

Simon Armitage was on Desert Island Discs recently. If you haven’t heard the show then it’s definitely worth a listen – an excellent interview and some great music choices ( you can still catch it on the BBC website at https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000j120 )

One thing he spoke about was the first time he had a poem accepted for a magazine. It’s a huge moment for any writer, to find that someone who doesn’t know you appreciates what you are doing and thinks that there is enough merit in your work to put it in their publication. Every poet will get enough rejection notes to paper at least a couple of rooms in the course of their attempts to get their work in print. Even now, with over 100 poems in various magazines I still get a huge boost when one is accepted.

The first magazines I had success with included the now defunct Poetry Monthly, Wire, Tandem and Sol. Small poetry press magazines tend to come and go with regularity. Or they used to do. Now many of the smaller ones are only online. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, though it is lovely to pick up a publication and see your work nestled in amongst other more well-known names. My sole appearance in Tandem was noteworthy for me in that the same magazine also had a poem by Seamus Heaney in it. I do occasionally wonder if he read my own contribution.

These magazines are so important in the nurturing of poetry. It’s a pretty thankless task for editors – a small number of subscriptions, sackfuls of poetry, quite a lot of it written by someone who hasn’t read anything more contemporary than Keats, or hasn’t made any attempt to understand what sort of poetry fits with the magazine’s ethos. 

If you want to support poetry in the UK, and also get an understanding of what contemporary poetry is all about then I’d strongly recommend subscribing to a few magazines – off the top of my head I would recommend the following – Acumen, Brittle Star, Envoi, Frogmore Papers, The Interpreter’s House, Magma, Obsessed with Pipework, Orbis, The North, The Rialto and South. It’s not an exhaustive list – there are plenty of others that are excellent that I have no experience of as a subscriber or submitter of work and hence haven’t mentioned in this list. 

Also books. Buy poetry books. My publisher, Dempsey and Windle have a sale on at the moment – buy two and get a third mystery book free – it might be mine! Go to www.dempseyandwindle.com for details. 

Poetry isn’t exactly the most profitable career choice, either for writers or publishers. If you are on this page and want to support poetry in the UK then please spend a few pounds on a magazine subscription or a book or two if you can afford to do so.

Back to Desert Island Discs. Simon Armitage got a £2.50 cheque for his first acceptance (most magazines pay in the form of a free copy rather than money). He kept it rather than cashing it in. 

In my case the cheque was for 50p from Sol Magazine. I recently found it in a bag of receipts, bank statements and old football programmes whilst attempting to clear out the loft – which is a long term project even under lockdown. There have been plenty of occasions when I have wished I had put the money into my bank account, but am glad now that I didn’t. It’s nice to have a memento of the day that I became a professional poet (!)

The poem itself is short, which probably helped in terms of getting published , and is about Friday and Saturday nights in a Somerset market town. Frome now is pretty upmarket and, apart from a couple of pubs that don’t seem to have changed much, (namely the Blue Boar and the George Inn), is almost unrecognisable from the place I grew up in. Back then, there wasn’t a hand-crafted boutique quinoa parlour to be seen. Weekends were absolute carnage. Not for nothing is Frome Town FC’s nickname ‘Dodge’ (as in Dodge City); 

I’m not sure that this poem is quite what Frome Town Council will be looking for in terms of material for their next marketing campaign, but I am open to offers if it is of interest.

Unhappy Ending

Borderland
Of Sentry posts in nightclubs
Ambushes lie in wait

Wish upon a Stanley blade
Alone again
Too pissed to know or care

Away and running
Fighting drunk
Another Saturday night