Surfers’ Prayer

Stars hang briefly in the wind,
sand scatters above a youthful sea.
Not even the sky is permanent
however much it seems to be.

Good waves are only ridden once,
never if something’s on your mind.
So much happens in every moment.
So much depends on what we find.

 

The Painter’s Son

The house I did most of my growing up in sits next to a lane that runs past The Trampland, which just was our name for a scraggy patch of unused grass behind my garden. Beyond The Trampland there is a solitary grey house. Morbid creatures that we were, we convinced each other that dead bodies were hidden there or, at the very least, that the house was haunted.

Two teams would sneak toward the grey house: one through its long front garden which was hidden behind a dilapidated gate a few doors down. This team would pause to hide behind the flowerbeds (graves) while checking no one was looking from the dark windows. The second team would creep up the tarmac drive beside my house while co-ordinating the mission via walkie talkies, the screech and squawk of which constantly gave our position away.

The old man who lived in the grey house was in his eighties but would still be seen in the local gym and trotting the streets in running gear. He seemed very ancient to us, especially when he would lean his bike against the wall outside our house and dribble from what must have been exhaustion.

When he died they found paintings all over the grey house, not bodies. His father had been an artist who’d found some success. Over the years, the son had learnt to paint in his father’s style exactly. It was nearly impossible to tell the son’s work from the father’s. I wrote a sonnet about it in 2007.

 

The Painter’s Son

The rush hour traffic slows beneath the house
belonging to the painter’s son. He passed
this evening, found immaculately dressed
among his father’s better works. No spouse
was there to close his eyes, nor had there been,
but he was spry, pressed fifty on the bench.
At night he’d wait for cars to clear the roads
then totter up the hill, up through the fields
to watch the sun collapse under the dusk.
In later years he’d learnt to reproduce
his father’s style, the old man, who’d been famous
for sunsets. Soon, their work could not be told apart.
Now red explodes above the painter’s house.
His son perfects another subtle art.

How we made our poetry pamphlet, The Inner Sea

Joe Franklin, Hugh Greasley and I are releasing an anthology of our poetry today, The Inner Sea. A printed pamphlet is available (contact me for details) but, for convenience, we’ve also created a pdf to be freely circulated on the web.

The Inner Sea

Click here to read The Inner Sea.

If you enjoy the poetry, please pass it on to your friends. In case you’d like to do something similar, I thought I’d quickly outline how we created the pamphlet here.

  • The Inner Sea was typeset using free, open source software: Scribus.
  • The pamphlet was printed by Book Printing UK, who were very helpful, reasonably priced and efficient. We used 300gsm card for the cover (full colour), 80gsm paper (black and white) for the interior.
  • The cover painting is Hugh’s own Equinox Tide, Hayle. You can see more of his art at Hugh Greasley

We needed a banner to fly under and given our tragi-comic affinity with the coast but distance from it, we settled for Landlocked Press.

One perhaps selfish oversight was the lack of an acknowledgements page. We asked Brian Evans-Jones, Hampshire Poet 2012, to write a foreword and he graciously returned  something that perfectly defines the project and the time and place in which it all fell together. Proof-reading was undertaken by ourselves and very diligent partners and friends, whom we would like to thank.

I would also like to thank Joe and Hugh. It was Joe who brought our triumvirate together and Hugh’s idea, as I remember, to make our own anthology. Our work in progress and pamphlet planning sessions in Winchester have made what can be a very solitary pursuit much fun. So cheers all, on we go to the next!

“Three quite different styles and sensibilities overlap in this book; let yourself sink into them, seeing what each current brings.” — Brian Evans-Jones, Hampshire Poet 2012.

“Elegant work.” — Stephen Boyce.

the inner sea poetry pamphlet arrives

How do you know when a poem is finished?

When Jackson Pollock was asked, of painting, “How do you know when you’ve finished?” He replied, “How do you know when you’ve finished making love?”

I’m about to try The Rialto with some poems, having worked on these particular pieces for around two years on and off. At various times I thought they were ‘nearly there’ but after a cooling off period I would dive back in. There were tendons to be stretched, forests to manicure, buried machinery to be unearthed. At a recent work in progress meet up with some friends, I announced that a poem was ‘basically done’ only to spend the next two weeks making one small adjustment after another.

But what does it mean for writing to be ‘finished’? Digitally published texts can be edited at any time and even traditional books are frequently revised between editions and printings. There are three versions of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, or Growth of a Poet’s Mind: 1799, 1805 and 1850 (published posthumously). Paul Valery claimed that “A poem is never finished, only abandoned”. Auden agreed with Valery. He also believed the most painful type of poem for the poet to be “the good ideas which his incompetence or impatience prevented from coming to much”. He revisited some of his published pieces many times over his career. I’ve carried the Valery quote around for a long time but I don’t necessarily agree. There is a point at which the forces in a poem pull the rubble into a whole, like a planet pulling itself into a sphere.

How much landscaping should you do once this has happened? A good rule of thumb might be if you can read your poem without wanting to make a single change. Put it aside for an hour. A night. Show it to someone without having to explain or apologise for it. Work on something else for a few weeks. Inspiration is ongoing: it can grow steadily or quickly, like grass. Your subconscious mind holds on to things long after you’ve put them down. Writing goes deeper and is more mysterious than we think.

The ideal would be to combine the spontaneity of your first thought with patience and clarity. After all, what you have on the page may only be a framework for what you really intend to say. Emanuel Lasker, the great chess master said, “If you find a good move, look for a better one”. You may have a good line, but is there something better? You should be prepared to ask that question for a long time. This means living with the work. Waiting. A poem is a journey. You will cover unexpected distance before it is done. A good amount of that distance is time. Seasons change. A new landscape takes shape.

Am I sure that these poems are finished now? Yes. Maybe. I’ve been celebrating a friend’s birthday with a few ales so my judgement might be impaired. I’ll sleep on it one more night.