Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 28 October 2015


The Poet

After several years he
turned to his old themes
assuming he had missed the
answers or perhaps there was
more to be said.

I found him there.
Cold and confused –
he almost didn't know me –
hiding himself in the dark.

"I blinded myself, you know, because
everything I saw looked the same
and I got tired of looking.

"I realized how ugly,
like an open wound.
And like an animal
I'm drawn closer."

27 June 1985

MoonKnightCoverThis is not really a poem about sex despite the fact ‘Personification’ (#587) was completed on the same day. It is a poem about the nature of attraction. When you think about an attractive person you imagine one of the beautiful people. But that’s only one form of attraction. Moths are attracted to light. Flies are attracted to rotten flesh. Apparently sharks are attracted to death metal music. Poets are attracted to… well, it depends on the poet. Larkin said that deprivation for him was what daffodils were for Wordsworth.

My wife and I were in an art gallery many years ago in the East End of Glasgow. Hanging in the window were a number of tiny portraits, all by the same artist. Carrie said she liked one in particular and I asked her which one to which she replied, “The sad one.” I couldn’t tell from that which one she was on about. To me they were all sad and I told her so.

I’ve always resisted using terms like inspiration and muse. You can’t avoid them but I don’t make too much of them but for those of you who do have a Muse, which one is it? You see we talk about the muse, as if there’s only one but there were actually nine and none of them was the muse of sadness.

There is something attractive about sadness though. We buy sad books and watch sad films knowing they’re going to make us sad and we’d feel cheated if they didn’t. Sadness is like sourness. Something tart every now and then can be a nice change. Not everything makes me sad but I do seem to have a talent for seeing the sadness in things. I wasn’t always like that but as we grow our tastes change. I still can’t stand Guinness through.

Sunday, 25 October 2015



One day my guilt appeared to me:
obscenely naked with empty breasts.

She did not offer her body,
rather, she had me watch,
         Please, I want to.
thrusting her gaping orifices at me –
at me – towards the screaming.
And she would not stop.

27 June 1985

Guilt_FingerGuilt is an acquired taste. Like Guinness or Bovril. I can’t stand Guinness or Bovril but guilt doesn’t upset me nearly as much as it once did. I would never write a poem like ‘Personification’ nowadays. I still feel guilty—and guilt isn’t always a bad thing—but I’ve become desensitised to it. In fact guilt can become a part of the pleasure. Proof you’re doing it right. What do most people feel guilty about? Even in this permissive society I’d still wager it’s sex that tops the list.

I have standards and when I don’t live up to them I feel bad, I feel disappointed in myself and, when it’s particularly bad, I feel guilty. That is as it should be. The danger lies in feeling bad about something you’ve done because it would disappoint someone else. That’s not automatically wrong. We’re social animals and so there are times when we need to do what’s best for our partner or our neighbours or our countrymen. Lying to your wife could be a cause for guilt or dropping litter or refusing to go to war.

I was brought up to equate sex with guilt. Sex was something you felt guilty about. If you didn’t feel guilty you weren’t doing it right. I have never forgiven my parents for that. They took something rather wonderful and conditioned me to feel bad about it. Of course it was okay to have as much sex as you wanted when you were married, within reason. Yeah, even there they managed to spoil it.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


The Truth

At home you cry;
you think you're trapped.

I'm out here and
there's nowhere to run to.

27 June 1985

freedom-1Ignorance is bliss. So they say. Only it’s not. Not if you have an imagination. Although I suppose that’s the point. How ignorant do you need to be to be unable to imagine a world different and hopefully better than the one you currently find yourself in? Dogs dream. Rats run through mazes in their sleep. We buy lottery tickets and talk endlessly about what we’ll do with all our winnings. I’d start a publishing company in case you’re interested. That said, I’ve never bought a lottery ticket or even a scratch card in my life. You’ve got to be in it to win it. So they say.

I have a very clear memory attached to this poem. It might even be when I wrote it, crossing the road in my hometown and walking towards the Co-Op. Probably one of those poems that came out of the blue. Well, they all pretty much come out of the blue.

When I was a kid I used to dream about being free from the influence of my parents. I doubt there’s a kid out there who’s not dreamed that. And for a while I was. About five years. And then my wife left me and suddenly I was faced with another level of freedom entirely and what did I do? I ran home to mammy and daddy knowing full well what would follow. Well, I had a good idea.

Jump forward thirty years. Am I free now? Free to fail. Always been free to fail.

Freedom, you see, is not the issue. Truth is I doubt it ever was.

Sunday, 18 October 2015


White Light

Did you ever think you might have
done it because you wanted to?
She said after.
No need to apologize.

Drowning inside I close my
eyes allowing such feelings
to cover me as will.

Unaware of their names I
open my mouth to the waters.

(For E.)
2 June 1985

(For H.)
19 June 1985

DrowningfunIn the past I’ve been a bit… well... derisory when it comes to inspiration. I demoted it to, and I quote, “a good idea”. Which it is. But a good idea on its own isn’t always enough. I’m reminded of this passage from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, one girl sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.

Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone about it, a terribly stupid catastrophe occurred, and the idea was lost forever.

Timing is… well… everything.

Before I looked up my copy to paste it into this article I thought I had a pretty clear idea how this poem originated plus why it has two dates and two dedicatees. Well… I was wrong. Or at least I had it back to front. Now I’m just not sure. It is, however, a very important poem, the first of a series I now call ‘The Drowning Man Poems’.

I’m a reasonable man. I can be emotional but I prefer to be reasonable. My experience of emotions has… well… left a lot to be desired. Frankly I don’t much trust them. This poem is describing an epiphany. The word smacks of spirituality and maybe that’s as good a word as any to describe the situation you find yourself in when reason fails you. I had never considered want as an end in itself. To my mind it always came with a rider: because.

Some time later I went to my dad after getting into a bit of bother and I told my side of the story which he summed up as, “You mean you did it because you wanted to.” It wasn’t a question. And he was right. I had no reasons. I had no excuses. In 1985 that possibility sent me into a tailspin, an emotional tailspin since reason was shutting down. And for a long time after this I felt I—and by “I” I mean the man inside me, the real me (call him what you will)—was drowning in unfamiliar emotions and yet here’s the thing: I never actually drowned. I’ve never drowned but I am an asthmatic so I know very well the panic that comes with an inability to breathe. You want it to be over. You really don’t mind which way it goes but you want it to end.

Odd that I haven’t included quotation marks. Most unlike me.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

The first book I ever loved


There are perhaps no days of our childhood we lived so fully as those we spent with a favourite book – Marcel Proust

I read an article a while back in The Huffington Post entitled ‘8 Famous Authors on the First Book They Ever Loved’ and I hadn’t read any of them. Of course I feel like I’ve read Alice in Wonderland but somehow I never got round to it. I’ve written before about how my parents weren’t great readers—and by ‘not great’ I mean ‘didn’t read’—and it’s always puzzled me—I know it puzzled the hell out of them—how I ended up such a lover of books. My dad had books—and by ‘books’ I mean ‘reference books’—but that was about it. Even the Bible he regarded as a reference book, a thing to be studied as opposed to read for pleasure.

I wonder what would’ve happened if Yehudi Menuhin had been handed a banjo when he was a kid rather than a violin and Julian Bream had been sent for trombone lessons. I suppose there’s a universe out there where that happened. I mean is there such a thing as the violin gene? I’m being facetious, well half-facetious. My brother doesn’t read. He used to be quite proud of the fact too. Never got that. I mean I really never got that. I read somewhere—here actually—that x number of Americans had read a book last year. A book. Singular. As if that was a good thing. Seriously. Okay it’s better that no books but seriously. ONE BOOK! And, of course, some—between 8 and 23 percent depending on whose poll you believe—hadn’t even read one book. (At the time of writing this I was halfway through my one hundred-and-second book of 2014.) I wouldn’t call myself a natural though. I couldn’t sit and read all day long. I’d say an hour—two, tops—is my limit and even then I rarely sit still. I’ll get up and fix something to drink, go to the loo, check my computer, find something to nibble on, clean my glasses. I have to work at reading.

enid-blytons-brer-rabbit-againWhen I think about specific books oddly enough there aren’t actually that many I can say, hand on heart, that I love; that I’d rush to save if the flat was on fire. Now music’s another thing completely. When my wife and I were getting to know each other we tried listing our various Top Tens and when it came to my Top Ten Albums I gave up at around fifty. Couldn’t do it. Still can’t do it. But books… There aren’t a huge number of books I’ve read more than once, that I’d want to read more than once. It’s actually a measure I use in my head: Is this a book that you’d a) want to read a second time and b) might get something more out of a second time? But can you imagine only been permitted to listen to Dark Side of the Moon once?

(If you need to take a 43 minute Pink Floyd break just now I fully understand.)

Here’s one book I’ve read many times: Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit Book. Christ knows how many times I’ve read that book and it wasn’t just because I only had the one book before some smart aleck (yes, that’s the correct spelling) suggests that. I know Blyton comes in for a fair amount of stick these days—especially following the BBC film Enid which did not portray her in the most favourable of lights (although Gyles Brandreth’s interview with her daughters is illuminating)—but I knew nothing of that and even now I don’t consider it a big issue; there’re plenty of unlikeable writers out there—V.S. Naipaul, Philip Larkin, T.S. Eliot, JL’s uncle—but the work stands on its own. And, of course, she was simply retelling these tales. My two favourites—can’t really say which was my mostest favouritest—were ‘The Wonderful Tar-Baby’ and ‘Mister Lion’s Soup’ which is one of the few stories not to feature Brer Rabbit at all. The latter, very briefly, goes as follows:

Mister Lion says, "I cannot eat my soup." Brer Coon tries to convince him to eat his soup. Brer Hedgehog, Possum and Hare also try to persuade him. However Mister Lion still insists he cannot eat his soup. They try again to convince him but he keeps on saying he cannot eat his soup. Finally he admits, "I want to eat my soup but I can't. I HAVEN'T GOT A SPOON!" Everyone rushes off to get him a spoon but by this time his soup’s gone cold and it’s all his own fault.

Mr Lion's Soup

In a recent article in The Guardian author Judi Curtin talks about how much Enid Blyton inspired her. She ends with:

We sometimes become carried away with notions of worthiness in children's books, and get all snobby about literary merit. We shouldn't let ourselves forget, however, that anyone who writes books that children love to read, is doing something very right. Reading continues to be one of my greatest pleasures, and it all started with Enid.

Is Enid Blyton the best writer in the world? Absolutely not. Has she been an inspiration to me? She jolly well has.

Here I guess I’m supposed to say that it was reading Enid Blyton that inspired me to be a writer but that’s simply not the case; I had no aspirations to be a writer as a kid. I read Blyton’s three Brer Rabbit books—several times—enjoyed the hell out enid-blytons-brer-rabbits-a-rascalof ’em every time and that was it, moved onto The Secret Seven; never read The Famous Five.

When my daughter was born I made sure she had a set of all of the Brer Rabbit books printed by Dean & Son. And very grateful she was for them too.

Of course the Brer Rabbit stories go back donkeys' years. He can be traced right back to trickster figures of African folklore. They weren’t written down, however, until the 19th century. According to Wikipedia:

The stories of Br'er Rabbit were written down by Robert Roosevelt, an uncle of US President Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography about his aunt from the State of Georgia, that "She knew all the 'Br'er Rabbit' stories, and I was brought up on them. One of my uncles, Robert Roosevelt, was much struck with them, and took them down from her dictation, publishing them in Harper's, where they fell flat. This was a good many years before a genius arose who, in 'Uncle Remus', made the stories immortal."

(See Further Reading however.)

Incidentally, I’ve never seen Song of the South, Disney’s live-action/animated musical film. I’ve seen the same ol’ clip (the Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah song) many times over the years but Disney’s version of Br'er Rabbit just didn’t gel with the image of him I held in my head. Never much cared for Roger Rabbit either. Bugs was okay. And Thumper. Gotta love Thumper.

Let me leave you with the 1940 version of ‘The Wonderful Tar-Baby’. (The 1963 version is the one I know but the differences are minimal.)


BRER FOX couldn't seem to catch Brer Rabbit and make a dinner of him, no matter how he tried. So one day he sat himself down and had a very hard think.

He scratched himself behind his left ear; and he couldn't think of anything. He scratched himself behind his right ear, and still he couldn't think of anything. But when he scratched both ears at once he thought of a mighty fine idea indeed. He chuckled very loudly, and went off to get some tar. He mixed it up with turpentine and stirred it into a sort of thick paste. Then he worked it about and worked it about until he had made a thing with arms, legs and head that he called a Tar-Baby.

He put some grass on its head for hair, and stuck an old hat on top. Then he sat back on his hind legs and laughed when he thought of what Brer Rabbit would do when he saw the Tar-Baby.

He took it and sat it down in the middle of the road. Then he went and lay in some bushes to wait for old Brer Rabbit to come along.

By and by along came Brer Rabbit, lippitty-clippitty, humming a little song as jolly as a jay-bird. Brer Fox didn't make a movement. He just lay low and grinned to himself.

When Brer Rabbit saw the Tar-Baby he was most surprised. He stopped: short and stared at him. The Tar-Baby sat still and stared back, and didn't make a sound.

Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby

"Good morning to you!" said Brer Rabbit. "Seems I haven't met you before."

The Tar-Baby didn't say a word.

"GOOD MORNING!" said Brer Rabbit in a louder tone. "Nice weather to-day, isn't it?"

The Tar-Baby said nothing, and Brer Fox lay low.

"Is anything the matter with you?" asked Brer Rabbit. "If you're a bit deaf I can shout in your ear."

Still the Tar-Baby said nothing, and Brer Fox chuckled inside himself.

"Look here," said Brer Rabbit fiercely, "if you don't answer, I'll call you stuck-up! I always box the ears of stuck-up people, so just you answer me!"

The Tar-Baby stared and said nothing. Brer Fox lay low.

"I'll soon teach you how to speak to polite folk like me!" shouted Brer Rabbit, dancing round the Tar-Baby. "If you don't take off that old hat of yours and say 'How do you do?' like a gentleman, I'll hit you."

The Tar-Baby didn't take his hat off and he didn't say a word.

Brer Rabbit didn't wait any longer; he raised his hand and hit the Tar-Baby on the head. Blip!

That's just where he made his mistake. His fist stuck in the tar, and he couldn't pull it out. The Tar-Baby still said nothing, and Brer Fox almost killed him-self with laughing.

"Let me go!" yelled Brer Rabbit in a terrible rage. "If you don't let go my hand, I'll hit you with the other, and that will teach you to be polite!"

He banged the Tar-Baby with his other hand as hard as ever he could, and that stuck too! Brer Rabbit couldn't pull it out anyhow.

The Tar-Baby said never a word, and Brer Fox lay as low as anything.

"Let me loose or I'll kick you all to bits!" shouted Brer Rabbit. But the Tar-Baby held on tight and kept as still as still.

So Brer Rabbit kicked as hard as he could with one leg, and then with the other, and got them both stuck in the Tar-Baby. He couldn't move an inch, not an inch.

"You let me go!" said Brer Rabbit. "If you don't I'll butt you in with my head, and a mighty hard head it is, I can tell you! Do you want to be butted into next week, because if you don't, you just let me go!"

The Tar-Baby held on and said nothing. Brer Fox still lay low.

Then Brer Rabbit butted with his head, and that got stuck too. So he couldn't move his head, or his arms or his legs. He was in a very pretty pickle, and didn't he hope old Brer Fox wouldn't come along at that moment!

Well, of course, that's just what Brer Fox did do! He wasn't going to lie low any more with a nice dinner waiting for him like that.

So out he sauntered from the bushes looking just as innocent as a day-old lamb.

"Good morning, Brer Rabbit," he said, pretending to be most surprised. "Have you been talking to that stuck-up Tar-Baby? He's made you sort of stuck-up too, hasn't he?"

Then Brer Fox rolled over on the ground and laughed and laughed till he hadn't got a laugh left in him. Brer Rabbit didn't say anything at all. He was just thinking very hard.

"Now, Brer Rabbit,”' said Brer Fox, when he had stopped rolling on the ground, "won't you come home to dinner with me? I've got some calamus root that you'll simply love, so don't make excuses not to come!"

Uncle remus 2Now if I can just interrupt her for a second. In Joel Chandler Harris’s version of the story—Harris being the “genius” Roosevelt was referring to earlier—he has the character of Uncle Remus take a long pause and the kid he’s telling the story to finally asks if the fox ate the rabbit. This is all he says, "Dat's all de fur de tale goes," replied the old man. "He mout, an den agin he moutent. Some say Judge B'ar come 'long en loosed 'im—some say he didn't. I hear Miss Sally callin'. You better run 'long."

Unusual for a kid’s story to be left open-ended like that. Quite brave actually.

Then Brer Fox rolled on the ground again and laughed some more. He felt mighty good about his dinner, for he'd had his eye on Brer Rabbit for a long time.

"Well, well," said 'Brer Fox at last, wiping His eyes. "I think you're caught this time, Brer Rabbit. Maybe you're not, but I somehow think you are! You've been playing tricks on me for a long time, but they've come to an end now. You've been rushing round thinking you're the most important person anywhere, and you're always going where you're not wanted!"

Brer Rabbit said nothing. He just stuck there and thought hard.

"Look at this Tar-Baby," said Brer Fox. "There he sat as peaceful as anybody, and you come up and worry him to death with your talking. And who stuck you up there where you are? Nobody in the world! You just went and jumped on that Tar-Baby for nothing! Well, well! There you are and there you can stay till I fix up a wood-pile and light it. Because I'm going to COOK you today—yes, COOK you, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox.

Then Brer Rabbit talked back in a humble voice." Cook me if you like," he said. "Roast me as much as you please, Brer Fox—but don't—please don't, throw me into that prickly bramble-bush over there! I don't care what else you do with me, if only you won't do that!"

"Let me see," said Brer Fox; "there's not much dry wood about here. I think — yes, I really think, I'll drown you, Brer Rabbit."

"Do," said Brer Rabbit. "You just drown me as deep as ever you please, Brer Fox—but, oh! don't throw me into that prickly bramble-bush! "

"I think perhaps I won't drown you after all," said Brer Fox;" it would be too much bother to carry a scarecrow like you all the way to the pond. Maybe I'll hang you."

"Yes, you hang me," said Brer Rabbit. "I don't care a bit about hanging—but don't—don't throw me into that prickly bramble-patch!"

"I haven't got a rope," said Brer Fox, "so I don't think I'll hang you. I'll skin you all alive oh!"

"Yes, that's fine," said Brer Rabbit. "You just skin me alive, Brer Fox, and pull my ears and chop off my legs— but, whatever you do, don't—don't throw me into that prickly bramble-bush!"

"It's too much bother to skin you alive," said Brer Fox, "so I think I'll shoot you dead."

"Yes, do shoot me, Brer Fox," said Brer Rabbit. "I've always thought I'd like to be shot, if I had to die—but, oh don't, don't, DON'T throw me into that prickly bramble-bush!"

Well, Brer Fox wanted to hurt Brer Rabbit just as much as ever he could, so he decided he would throw him into the prickly bramble-bush, and see what dreadful thing would happen to Brer Rabbit. So he took hold of Brer Rabbit by his trousers and pulled him away from the Tar-Baby. Then he slung him quickly into the prickly bramble-bush.

Blip! blap! Brer Rabbit went rolling head over heels in the bush, making a tremendous flurry and flutter, while Brer Fox hung round to see what would happen to him.

When everything was still he ran up to see where Brer Rabbit was. But he wasn't there at all!

Then he heard someone calling out along way behind him, and when he looked round he saw Brer Rabbit sitting on a log up the hill, combing the tar out of his hair with a wood chip.

Brer Fox couldn't believe his eyes, then all of a sudden he saw he had been tricked. Brer Rabbit called out as cheeky as ever: "Hi, Brer Fox, hi! I was brought up in a bramble-bush, I was—yes, born and brought up in a bramble-bush!"

Then off he skipped as lively as a chicken on hot coals, while old Brer Fox went home with never a word.

If you really want to see what Disney did with this you can but I couldn’t stand to watch the whole clip so you’re on your own.

Oh and the whole drama Enid is up on YouTube in nine parts if you’re interested. Here’s the link to Part I

Further reading

From The Wonderful Adventures of Brer Rabbit:

Although Joel Chandler Harris collected materials for his famous series of books featuring the character Brer Rabbit in the 1870s, the Brer Rabbit cycle had been recorded earlier among the Cherokees; The "tar baby" story was printed in an 1845 edition of the Cherokee Advocate the same year Joel Chandler Harris was born.


In the Cherokee tale about the briar patch, "the fox and the wolf throw the trickster rabbit into a thicket from which the rabbit quickly escapes There was a "melding of the Cherokee rabbit-trickster ...into the culture of African slaves. "In fact, most of the Brer Rabbit stories originated in Cherokee myths."

Sunday, 11 October 2015


Untitled Doodle (4.3.85)

Unable to find words angry enough
yet still needing to write,
he resorted to scribbling wildly,
and ended doodling:
boxes within boxes.

4 March 1985

SamuelBeckettDrawingI don’t doodle. One reason I don’t doodle is that I use a computer of one sort or another to write all but the briefest of notes. There’s always one to hand. And I expect that’s the case for many people. Which makes me wonder if doodling is becoming a lost art and, if so, is it such a huge loss? Beckett was a doodler. I was surprised when I saw some of his manuscripts to see his wee drawings. But there they were and you can see some here. And he wasn’t the only one. There’s a nice we article here with examples by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Franz Kafka, Henry Miller and Vladimir Nabokov. National Doodle Day is on February 6th. There’s a site with examples of other famous doodlers and an article discussing the meaning of doodling.

Why doodle? Well, we all know when we doodle and there’s the key. Doodling apparently absorbs your bored energy—not quite sure if that’s the scientific term for it—without affecting your levels of concentration. It seems free-form scribbling can actually help you concentrate and retain information because it’s mindless enough not to cause “cognitive overload”, but just stimulating enough to prevent us from spacing out.

I’m trying to think when the last time was when I doodled and it has been years. I’ve looked though my old notebooks and there are no doodles and I honestly can’t remember ever doodling on a manuscript while I was working on it. When I was at school I used to work with a wooden board across my lap and I doodled and scribbled on it but never on paper. Here’s the thing: I think they’re untidy and I’m a very tidy person. The thing I love about writing on a computer is that it’s always tidy. No smudges. No creases. No scorings through. No crossings out. And no untidy or illegible writing.

I think there’s another reason why I’ve never doodled and that’s because I’m never bored when I’m writing. If I can’t write I do something else. I don’t sit there staring off into space. I get on with another project and trust my subconscious to get on with the job and let me know when I need to step in and write stuff down. It’s a theory. I don’t really know. Maybe I just don’t think in pictures. I like visual images, paintings, photos and the like but I don’t think I’m really what you’d call a visual person. There are very few descriptions in my books in fact I noticed something as I was editing this current one: the narrator talks about his cleaner’s glasses and starts off intending to describe them but actually never does. Made me smile that and I’ve no intention of changing it.

Not sure why I’ve included the date in the poem’s title. My guess is that it was such a horrible day I expected to remember it forever.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Burns Monument After Dark

Here we are again,
and your grey eyes and mine

avoid the distant lights –
still an afterglow remains.

I can deny reality
but what of my fears?

Secrets are just lies
by process of omission:

shadows amongst shadows
and tonight the dark scares me.

20 November 1984

rabbie-burnsIn 1976, when I was seventeen, I wrote a poem called ‘Burns Statue After Dark’ (#376), my version of Hugh MacDiarmid’s ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’. It was a good idea but I don’t really pull it off. There are twenty memorials to Robert Burns in Scotland (at least according to Wikipedia) and it doesn’t really matter which one’s mine but I’ll still keep it to myself. Suffice to say it was the one I passed on the way home from F.’s in the early hours of the morning drained and yet still filled with guilt.

Burns died when he was thirty-seven. I was thirty-five when I wrote this poem. Burns was a womaniser. I wasn’t, although I’ve always preferred the company of women. And yet when I think about my poetry it’s in blocks based on the women in my life. I wrote my first poem for Carrie on 1 December 1996 and, by far, this has been the longest and most productive period of my life even if the poems do appear to be tailing off at the moment. I’ve thought that before.

The romantic in me has always wanted a muse, a Nora Barnacle or Nora Batty perhaps, a battery I could tap into. Or a place I could go to clear my head. Sadly, no. I just have this hellhole in my head that occasionally spits out a good idea but most just spits flames.

Sunday, 4 October 2015



It was a strange feeling:
standing naked for him,
frozen in that state of change,
the distance and the silence
breached only
by a desire to please.

(For F.)

4 July 1984

degasThis is the last of the poems for F. The first was ‘Shells’ (#551) written on 26 July 1983 and so what I have here is a record for that first year. It’s an odd record because it only dwells in the holes where we used to hide. There’s no record of the public me or what was going on at home with my parents, with my wife and daughter, with work and with my studies. None of that existed. Only desire existed. It was a strange year. It was an intoxicating year. It was a frustrating year.

On Friday Carrie and I watched the recent BBC adaptation of The Go Between and although F. and me didn’t have a wee boy passing notes between us—thank you Alexander Graham Bell—the situation wasn’t that different. Looking back now I’m frankly embarrassed by our desperation. I didn’t post ‘From a Distance’ (#561) but it’s a record of the day F. caught the train with one of her sisters and I stood on top of the multi-storey car park watching for them so I could drive by the station as she was going in hoping she might glimpse me which, as it happens, she didn’t.

In four and a half years the first poem for B. will appear.

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