Tales of Woe and Wonder

A quick post to mention another T’Articulation event which I will be reading at. I have a four minute slot at their Tales of Woe and Wonder this evening, which is being held at the excellent Hunter Gatherer coffee in Southsea.

As it starts in about 6 hours, I had better work out what I am going to perform! I’ve been reviewing the new work I was going to use, but have identified numerous tweaks required for each poem so have to change my plans completely! Nothing like short-notice changes!!

Event information below.

An evening of well-crafted words brought to you, through vibrant new work, from Portsmouth’s own spoken word troupe – T’Articulation.

Come and enjoy the friendly vibe that is T’Articulation. This is the fortieth event we’ve put on in just two years: most of them, including this, are free.
We’re happy for you to just listen to our offerings, of poetry and prose, or to join in. We’ll do our best to fill your mind with wonder and try our best not to add to your woe. Either way, we think we’ll connect. We can’t guarantee no tears, but we’re certain some of them will be of laughter. Have you heard our most outrageous performers? Or, our funniest? They’re often one and the same.

You can book tickets via eventbrite, or just turn up this evening.


Oh and the hovercraft photo? I’ve found and tweaked a poem that I may well read tonight … it was originally in my 51 poem running sequence (currently unpublished)…and hasn’t appeared anywhere before – this is a website exclusive (!)

Hovercraft Watching

Look now here it comes;
Out from past shadows,
from an island half-sketched
part-buried in mist;
this comet trailing spray
on its cushion of air.

Now I am nine again,
staring in wonder
as it roars in from the sea,
White paint, black-skirted;
a sideswipe of red,
relentlessly arrowing home.

I rub my eyes dry,
pretend it is the spray.

This City By the Sea and All That You Need

On Monday 18th February I interviewed Margaret Jennings at an event hosted by T’Articulation as part of this year’s Portsmouth Bookfest. The interview seemed to go down well (it was my first attempt at interviewing someone!), and I have subsequently found out that it was recorded and will be played on Portsmouth’s QA Hospital Radio sometime soon. I’ll post the link when it is available.

The event, which happened at 113 Art House Coffee (which I’ve not been to before and can highly recommend – excellent service, and the chocolate mint cake is to die for! ), also had really varied and enjoyable readings by a wide range of other poets, plus plenty more, all for £3 a ticket. If you are looking for something to do next Monday, then there is another T’Articulation event at Hunter Gatherer in Southsea – Tales of Woe and Wonder – follow the link for further details. https://www.facebook.com/events/1214127698797650/

Then on Sunday March 1st, I will be attempting to read a memorised poem in the bar of the Theatre Royal – this Wild Geese by Mary Oliver. I am really nervous about this, as I haven’t had the time to completely nail it yet. I guess we will see how it goes! Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/574654726713237/

It’s not as if I have a quiet week or so ahead – as things stand I am out every evening until the 1st with one exception – Portsmouth may have a reputation for being a rough old town, but a huge amount has changed over the past few years. It’s a very different place to what it was when I used to stay with my grandparents in the 1970s, and has a large and growing cultural scene. It’s well worth exploring!

The photograph at the top of this post is of the Lipstick Tower at Gunwharf Quays. It was one of a series of photos I took whilst training for various marathons and half-marathons (before my joints gave in!). Gunwharf Quays was one of the first major parts of the regeneration of Portsmouth to go ahead, and whilst primarily retail / leisure focussed, it has been pretty influential as a starting point for the changing perception of the city. Obviously the Spinnaker Tower has been a significant part of this development.

Anyway, this leads on to a poem. It appears in Landings, and also is on the Places of Poetry website, and is a paean to my home, this city by the sea.

The Next Station Is

Portsmouth and Southsea then Fratton and Hilsea,
clattering over the creek to the points at Cosham
west to Southampton, Salisbury and Cardiff,
east to Brighton, north to Waterloo.

And you will catch your breath in her reflection,
watching the world from a window seat,
as seasons concertina in ripening fields.
Commuter belt villages and old market towns,
reels of film on a cutting room floor;
are the scenes we keep the ones we’d choose?

And she will be returning here in your arms,
like yawning workers on the stopping train
memories slurring as carriages sway,
past Bowlplex, Vue and the lipstick tower.

Morning always loops home to this place.
dawn into day into dusk into night.
A circle aching still to be filled
with children’s laughter like marker pens.
Love and hope in permanent ink;
this city by the sea and all that you need.

Snow Q – Reimagining the Snow Queen

Last week I was at a world premiere (not something I get to say very often!), held at the Square Tower in Portsmouth . Three Polish-connected artists, namely poet Maria Jastrzębska, fine artist Dagmara Rudkin and composer Peter Copley came together to collaborate on a project inspired by The Snow Queen story by Hans Christian Andersen.

Held at the Square Tower, in conjunction with Tongues and Grooves, I thought it was excellent. I didn’t understand everything, (much of the dialogue is in Ponglish (a combination of Polish and English), but to me, that was part of the point of the piece – the alienation that is felt my so many in society, especially those marginalised, whether through sexual orientation, mental health, or immigration (all three of which were picked up seperately as recurrent themes of this production by different audience members).

Poetry itself pretty much always exists outside the mainstream, and many poets, myself included, often write about marginalised aspects of society. This production was very thought provoking. More information, including details of future events, can be found at the following link;

I first came into contact with Maria when I was putting together my film project on poets of exile for the BBC Big Screens, and have heard her read at various events organised by Tongues and Grooves (one of which I hosted). She is an excellent poet, and I highly recommend her collections. Incidentally she also has a blog which is worth following, here:

As for Tongues and Grooves, I’ll write a separate post later, but you can find additional information, including one of my poems at; https://tonguesandgrooves.com/

The Domestication of Ghosts

After yesterday’s rant about HS2 I thought it about time I added a new poem. This fits in quite nicely as a follow-on post, as it has an environmental theme to it. It also ties in with #FolkloreThursday , as was the case with my post last Thursday about Stinking Cleg, a Portsmouth ghost.

This poem references many of the Black Dog myths of Britain, and one that is green ( the Cu-Sith or fairy dog of Scottish & Irish folklore). It’s good fun to read as a performance piece on a wet and windy autumn or winter night. Of course the poem has another message, that we are never that far from the past, no matter how contemporary and ‘civilized’ our society seems, and long-term any battle between nature and man will only be won by one side, and that isn’t us!

Anyway, the poem.

The Domestication of Ghosts

Back then, all this was forest.
A time when shadows had names;
Barguest, Black Shuck, Yell Hound.
We revered them, feared them,
we knew their teeth were real.

Barricade doors, huddle close,
fires spit sparks against the dark.
Church Grim, Gwyllgi, Gyrath;
shape-shifting ghosts in mist
these long dank nights of fear.

Red eyes the size of saucers,
soft-padding through untamed land.
Moddey Dhoo, Skirker, Capelthwaite;
at crossroads on unmarked lanes,
portents of early death.

Now names have lost all power,
shadows softened in sodium.
Padfoot, Gabble Retchets, Cu Sith
no more now than distant words,
just static on a screen.

But one day will come a storm,
your dog will howl all night,
the spectral hounds of Annwn
will shiver down your spine,
you’ll feel their teeth are real.

Back Then, All This Was Forest

So HS2 goes ahead. I can only weep in despair at the absurdity of it. When improvements to local services are desperately needed we end up spending £100bn + on a white elephant in order to shave 20 minutes off the train times from Birmingham to London.

It’s much trumpeted environmental benefits will be cancelled out by the associated CO2 costs in construction. In addition any anticipated CO2 benefits will be further reduced due to the speed these trains will be going and the impact on aerodynamic drag from tunnels, cuttings etc. Then there is the question of connectivity issues with local transport networks, increased car use to get to HS2 stations and so on. Oh and have I mentioned that the new turbo-prop engines used on short flight routes are much more energy efficient than the jets that HS2 is compared to even now, let alone after the inevitable overruns and additional cost implications.

And then there is the more obvious, local environmental impact. HS2 will destroy or irreparably damage five internationally protected wildlife sites, 693 local wildlife sites, 108 ancient woodlands and 33 legally protected sites of special scientific interest, according to the most comprehensive survey of its impact on wildlife.

Swaths of other irreplaceable natural habitat will be lost to the new high-speed line, with endangered wildlife such as willow tit, white-clawed crayfish and dingy skipper butterfly at risk of local extinction. Source Guardian here: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jan/15/hs2-will-destroy-or-damage-hundreds-of-uk-wildlife-sites-report

Still at least we have people in charge with a good track record when it comes to public transport infrastructure projects.

Oh wait.

Stinking Cleg

This post has been prompted by #FolkloreThursday on Twitter.

I’ve long been fascinated by folklore, myth and local legend – growing up in the heart of Wessex and living in a city such as Portsmouth, these are topics that resonate and they are obviously great starting points for poetry. There are lots of urban legends, myths and ghost stories centred on this small island on the south coast of England, some of which I have written poems about. They seem to go down well when recited at poetry events particularly when performed in an over-the-top thespian voice!

One such story relates to an unfortunate Portsmouth vagabond from around 1900 who was apparently beaten up and thrown into the harbour where he subsequently drowned.

Stinking Cleg (no relation to the former leader of the Lib Dems) can apparently be encountered on particularly foggy days in the Arundel Street area of central Portsmouth. His distinctive odour, a combination of rotting flesh, maggoty fish and brine is smelt by the intended victim long before his hideous features are seen.

This poem first appeared in issue 60 of South Magazine, when I was the featured poet.

Stinking Cleg

He will return when the smog descends;
when slate skies leech into concrete,
buildings dissolve into the peripheral,
side roads are a figment of memory,
and you are alone, so very alone.

This smothering veil of murk
will cling to skin like an old dank shroud
as pavements seep into nightmare;
the whole island muffled silent,
your footsteps deadened to nothing.

It’s the smell that you will notice first
as he glides in from his harbour-grave,
as the tang of brine clags into rotting flesh;
of one whose revenge from a violent end
is to stalk the living on a night like this.

On Inspiration; Philip Henry, Steve Knightley and the Meaning of Gobstoppers

Apart from Brexit and being off work for the tail end of the week – and missing today’s Pompey home game due to having a heavy cold, it’s been a good few days. On Wednesday I headlined at Chichester Poetry, which was great – a nice appreciative audience, and some excellent open mike poems from poets I was unaware of beforehand. I also had a poem accepted for the next edition of South Magazine the same day.

On Thursday we went to hear folk musician Philip Henry perform at the sadly-closing Tea Tray in Southsea. It was an excellent concert (I managed to keep quiet by overdosing on cough sweets). His Underground Railroad harmonica solo was astonishing and all the audience members that I could see were open-mouthed in amazement. http://www.philliphenryandhannahmartin.co.uk/ for details. Shout out also to Square Roots Promotions who do great work promoting roots and folk music in the area. http://www.squarerootspromotions.co.uk/

Last night we were at the Shelley Theatre in Bournemouth to see the consistently brilliant Steve Knightley (of Show of Hands fame – https://showofhands.co.uk/steve-knightley-tour-dates ) on his latest tour. Some of his tours have a theme to tie the songs together, this one’s theme is about where his songs come from. As a writer myself I found this particularly interesting – a lot of ideas for me to take away from the evening, including performance structure / thematic approach, and a lot of parallels in terms of where my poems come from; a photograph, historical event, building, local myth, or simply something someone has said.

One prose piece that always seems to go down well came from something my son said two days after his seventh birthday. It’s in Landings and first appeared in Orbis Poetry Magazine ( http://www.orbisjournal.com/ ). It’s a poem about choices, about making the best of what we have, about making our own way in life. A cliche perhaps, but maybe something to hold on to in troubled times…

It Was Only His Second Ever Day Of Being Seven…

…and he was having a gob-stopper as a treat after a swimming lesson. They were waiting for his sisters to finish getting changed. His father was trying to read the paper. The economic outlook was not good. An election was near. Pompey were about to get relegated. Rolling the sweet around the roof of his mouth, he held it out between his teeth. “What colour is it, Dad? “ he said. “Red, the colour of lava spewing out of the earth, or that Kit-Kat wrapper,” his father replied, pointing towards the floor near a bin in the corner. The boy laughed. A few moments later, between the local and international news, he asked again, “What colour now?” His father looked up.“ Orange, the colour of the sun sliding over the horizon, or a bottle of Lucozade from the drinks machine” The boy smiled. Skipping the letters page, his father had a half-hearted go at the Sudoku. “What now?” “Yellow, the colour of sand on a tropical beach, or a packet of Starburst.” The gob-stopper had shrunk considerably the next time he asked, somewhere in the editorial comments. “Green, a canopy of trees, just after rain, or a bottle of Sprite”, came the answer. As the minutes slipped past, they kept going, through Football, Rugby and Motor Sport , each time the boy asking the same question, as the world in his mouth got smaller. “Blue, for the sea on a Bounty bar wrapper”; “Indigo, for a packet of pickled onion monster munch”; Violet, for the colour of dark, an hour before dawn. Asking again, his exasperated father replied “What colour do you want it to be? It can be any colour you want. You decide.” The boy opened his mouth and held the small globe of sugar on the tip of his tongue. It was white, all colours and no colour, like a ball of light at the beginning of time. The boy tipped back his head, swallowed it whole.