Monday, 13 May 2013

Natural History

The sign as an instruction, and not just in a physical sense: go up to the next floor, and you will see the insects: this commonish mayfly, ephemera danica: notice the constant: the vacuum: the airless fly, and danceless.

In the next case: moths, melanised against the city: see how they disappear into the illness and health of a city: the dust of a city stacked in their pigments: dormant cancer.

Think of the museum as a failed hospital where patients are left pinned in death’s-head mask: toys in a macabre toyshop.

Open a row of identical drawers, one by one: a bee-eater, a brown rat, and, coffin-shaped, a barn owl on its back, preparing for dignity, eyes out.

Stoat in summer, stoat in winter: side-by-side: russet and white.

The shrew-box holds little slips of fur and skin aligned parallel, not topping-and-tailing: notice how small they look, and real: realer that when alive, and warm, and wild.

Step out of the lift: remember, for some reason, your grandfather having TB: remember that the last time you came hear you had a cold: spat bloody brownish phlegm into the sink: ask yourself if people can even get TB these days: notice how someone has taken a red marker and drawn a deathly trickle on the off-white fur below the stuffed badger’s angry mouth.

The same person, maybe, who took a tooth from the crocodile: for luck.

Saturday, 16 February 2013


Here’s an idea: let’s listen to the onset of spring
with, perhaps, eyes closed. The sound is of
an internal drip, you think. So, what’s the problem?
There’s a grandfather clock in the hall
that does this sort of thing all the time.
We simply can’t sit still. There is newness in everything,
and blondeness – the hinge of the white cupboard
creaks, you know it’s brass but it will always be the gold
of the best of The Hay Wain. Just can’t sit still. Much less
the flowers, the intricate noses of daffodils
that have no smell like a bad joke. The cape-like
ears of spaniels. The city has drifted out to sea somehow
like Arthur Cravan and has left nothing of itself
except a pair of unused boxing gloves, a box
of bad poetry and a beautiful, trite American wife.

The smell of bus fumes can permeate sleep, sometimes;
the trick is to lie on the pavement. What is more
distinguished than that? The rain, when it comes,
will bring everything you need to your nostrils.
Thanks for being there whilst I have done this.
It is nearly four o’clock, people. People
are like posters of Che Guevara, the way they replicate.

I have caused something to exist – and whilst he is
blindish, or can see only in monochrome,
he has the ideal tools to observe the arrival
of house martins. Yes, sitting motionless is not
a prerequisite of observance. Today, I have pushed
a pram over bubbling stones, but I did not feel
like a stream. The city returns in an MPV
weaving through static sports cars
in a way that reminds us inexplicably of salmon.

It has always been spring. I cannot leave
anything behind and I am going to have to learn.
There are two ways this could go. We could open our eyes.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Girl in Kolonaki

What is it that makes the girl in Kolonaki such an excellent subject for a short story? Is it perhaps only this: that she is in Kolonaki but not from Kolonaki? That she is in fact not only not from Kolonaki but not from Greece at all? That she is from England, from a small town in England somewhere on the border of Kent and East Sussex and has come to Kolonaki, so she tells herself, not because it offers her any greater chance of making money in her chosen field but because she has a more developed sense of adventure than any of her peers, who all seem to be working in schools in impoverished parts of London or Manchester?

Or is the girl merely an ornament? Is it the mother-of-pearl and orange coloured district of Kolonaki, self-centred, genteel but robust, that is the truly noteworthy protagonist? Does it matter if the girl has no idea that the district of Kolonaki is named after the little column that was erected there before even a single house was built on the area? Is it more important that Kolonaki’s shopping streets are among the best in Europe?

Have you seen the column? What does it remind you of? Would it appear rude if I asked you to lie down on the couch? Does it remind you of a phallus, or is that just me? Were you subconsciously stimulated towards this phallic interpretation by the use of the word ‘erected’ in the previous paragraph? Or is the word ‘column’ enough on its own to do it for you? Doesn’t it strike you as odd that this two-metre rod of stone reminds you of a dick? Isn’t it strange that they call it the ‘little column’? Would you be surprised to learn that the author, at the age of 8, spent most of his free time in efforts to design his own spring-loaded mousetrap, or that all of his designs contained mazes or mirrors, and sometimes miniature traps within traps: guillotines made of razorblades, hidden doors, poison-tipped carpet tacks?

Is it stating the obvious to say that the reason the girl in Kolonaki is in Kolonaki and not Kent or Sussex is because she was running away from something or escaping something or fleeing something? Is it for this reason that she is just glad to be in this warm, blind part of Athens with other English speaking families? That she hasn’t bothered to learn the language, or find out a little bit about the history of her new home? Does she realise, and does it even matter to her, that Kolonaki and its giant stone dick, its sapless six-foot totem, are infinitely more important than her interchangeable new friends?

What is it that the author has in mind when he asks if the girl is really only an ornament? Is it to devalue her? Is it an attempt to devalue her by making her seem less important than an upmarket area of a capital city of a country the author has never been to? Is the attempt to devalue her flawed by the very fact that he has taken the time to write about her, and in doing so admitting her importance to him?

What is she doing in Kolonaki? Is this question a sign of the author’s continuing interest in her? Or his growing interest in Kolonaki? Or is it simply a way to introduce the girl, or the streets and squares of Kolonaki? Does the girl frequent the tavernas and ouzeries? Does she support AEK or Panathinaikos when they come up against English teams in European football? Does she spend her evenings indoors or on a terrace writing letters to her friends in England on paper she bought from one of the posh artisan stationers in Kolonaki, letters that are essentially lies, letters that talk about the sun, the pollution, the pleasantness of the Greek family she works for, but in reality tell the reader nothing about Kolonaki or about Greece? Does she have a wastepaper basket in her room filled with letters not sent, letters screwed up, letters she is embarrassed to read back to herself because of their frankness or their duplicitousness?

Is there an end to this story? Or should that question be, ‘How can the author reconcile himself with the girl in Kolonaki?’ And what is the meaning of the dick-like structure that towers, hard but impotent, over the story? Does it represent the idea of a resolute, single-minded Mediterranean mindset that has been embraced or partially embraced by the girl in Kolonaki, but cannot be embraced by the author, the flaccid English author? Can you answer questions put to you by an English author who spent his childhood poisoning mice? And how would you make him hear the answers? Is it possible for a question to be the truth? What would you say if I showed you a picture of the girl in Kolonaki, a photograph in which she appears to be drunk, with a group of people roughly her age, some English-looking and some Greek-looking, some with football scarves? And if, in that photograph, she has her arms locked around the stone column as if it is a living thing, as if it is a favourite tree or person, would you believe anything you hear?

Monday, 16 July 2012


I came back armed with a list of films
I wouldn't mind seeing again

The Usual Suspects
On the Waterfront, Casablanca

Because there's no way two people
can sit and write poems together
over popcorn and cans of Ringnes
and in the window of a long weekend

I have sworn allegiance to port cities

Here is a poem called Poem for Beggars:


The girl digs heels in at this,
a boat in dry dock

She has had better and can wait

On the waterfront two days later
she catches sight of an act of cannibalism

a herring gull puking in reverse

There it is, she says, there
is your poem, you have what you came for

now go, before you miss your flight

Monday, 9 July 2012

The Invention of Poetry

When the scream dies
there is nothing left:
not the letter x or a windblown tree

only men riding
in the black back seats

and women draped over bonnets

It can happen, say, at 25
or at 19
but it's not like a typical urban suicide

it can happen out on dusty roads
or wet roads

I came up with a ghastly invention
and saddled it with matter

Watch the poet, don't listen

His feet are moving on the stage
like someone who lurks beside
wet roads

his hands are shaking but that was years ago

I lived in a house with my mother and father
I brought old women back
Holy fucking shit

My mother and father invented poetry
in the 1970s

every single liberal or Neil Young fan
invented poetry in the 1970s

So the women who employ the girls
who serve me with coffee
have all experienced the vital terrifying death

Poetry is a thing that wipes memories
You must wear dark glasses and leather
and learn to drive or open your legs

It is the only way to survive
when the last scream
has uprooted trees and fucked everything

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Edvard Munch's Madonna

A few days ago I ordered a cheap print of Edvard Munch's Madonna and today it came in the post. I took some time getting it out of the cardboard tube, relishing the potential creative inspiration it would give me. I thought that my thoughts on seeing the poster would be, like the painting, divine, pure and honest on one hand and modern, willful, strange and passionate on the other. But when I unrolled the Madonna I thought first of Madonna, the singer, and this made me think of the music video of hers which involves a bullfight, and this made me think of Hemingway, writing his balls off about bullfighting, and Hemingway made me thing about the Deux Magots, where he did a great deal of writing, and this in turn made me think about my impending trip to Paris, which I am looking forward to but am also somewhat apprehensive about because it will cost me a lot of money and I haven't got a lot of money - I am essentially poor, certainly too poor to make a habit of buying art prints just so that I can look to them for inspiration.

The Poet Geoffrey Hill and the Poet Jeremy Prynne

In a city - let's say Cambridge; in fact, let's pick somewhere more neutral, Coventry for example - the supporters of the poet J.H. Prynne decided to erect a giant statue of their hero, a statue that would dwarf the city's cathedral, a bronze statue with a high forehead and an unfathomably muscular torso. Of course, when the supporters of the poet Geoffrey Hill heard about this they decided to erect a similar statue, also in Coventry, to match the gigantic statue of the poet J.H. Prynne. The tall statues faced each other over this cowering city that had been destroyed and rebuilt comparatively recently. The opposing factions were proud of their statues, but they were also envious of each other. Of course, arguments broke out, then the odd limp-wristed skirmish, and after a while, without knowing how it had happened, the two groups of poetry-lovers discovered that they were officially at war. Nothing happened for a while, but what could have happened was this: a renowned wise man - the type that still existed in the Midlands at the turn of the century - came to the city and called a meeting between the leaders of the two groups. In his wisdom he told them to give up on their bitterness and envy and learn to like, or at least to appreciate, or at the very least to respect, the poetry of the opposition. Of course, the berserk captains of the factions fell upon him and destroyed him as he attempted to leave the cathedral. Their bloodlust was sated; they forgot their poetry and went back to teaching creative writing classes. But that didn't happen. The war is still going on, though no-one has yet died. On the upturned palm of the poet Geoffrey Hill sits a sniper, his rifle trained through a crack in the poet Geoffrey Hill's fingers onto a spot somewhere on the poet J.H. Prynne's groin, where it is believed there is a secret door, behind which the supporters of the poet J.H. Prynne are said to be hatching a plot, although no-one knows what this plot might be.