Tuesday, 20 December 2011

For Malena Mörling, ‘Standing on the Earth among the Cows’

There is a cow in the field. Madly,
just one, and a docile lady at that.
Underneath she is full and bored.
She feels that there is a breathing
on the other side of the fence.
She stops to drink a can of Coke
before plunging her nose – which
is like cold wax – into the night air.
I eat some grass and spit
like a cowboy of dubious morals
in an otherwise black and white
film. There is no shooting star,
no slight twinge in the spine
of the earth. One of us gets
into the car, but does not drive away.

In Bergen Harbour

stalls fill with
a day’s haul, a range
of little clown mouths
all pointing upwards
to catch salty rain – it helps
me to think about you
and I have to laugh
because your love is great,
European, pan-European,
Germanic or Hanseatic
and the mouths are tiny
and small like a harbour
mouth or a choir.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Two Poems from Norway

Finse #1

From the Bergen-Oslo Train

A wooden hut
is a small thing.
There are stones
bigger. Inside a train
is a warmth made
by the train.

A wooden hut
has none of its own
power. You have
to walk, to collect
and cut and burn
to give it power.

There are no trees,
only the yellowing tongue
of Hardangerjøkulen,
and turf for warmth.

Finse #2

A wooden hut is
a mathematical symbol
meaning something like
equal to or less than
but with added pride,
or an outward display
of class-consciousness.
It is the first of many
such symbols that can be found
on the squared hillside.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Ways to Learn About a New City

Go it alone. Look at the buildings: the last time you were here they were wet and the local stone shone like so many bleached bars of coal tar soap. Lie to the waitress; don’t let her in on it, on the horrific and degrading fact that you are on a day trip from a town less beautiful than hers. Tell her that you live here but work away. Tell her about the your little garden apartment and the story of how you rescued the kitten and how it was attracted to your kitchen when you played Aztec Camera whilst washing up and how it like you doesn’t much care for The Who even though your ex loved them. But only tell her at the right moment, when the occasion arises, shall we say. Do the research. Tell her you are writing a restaurant review for the local paper, the Chronicle or whatever it’s called. Show her your Parker pen. Ask her if she knows if there’s anything going on in town tonight. If you do manage to get her to go out with you, make a point of explaining to her that you can’t get that drunk, you’ve got to finish the review. Make sure you buy her the first drink, but that’s obvious, right. And if you go somewhere not too dark where all her friends are drinking, offer them a drink too. Try not to go somewhere your ex might go. But she wouldn’t, of course, because she lives in another, shabbier town. If it was still dry outside when she finished her shift, and if you’re clever, you would have made sure you walked her through the last of the sun. To the botanical gardens, maybe. You would have pointed out the interesting trees like they were old friends. Maidenhair, corkscrew hazel. You would have said that you once got locked in here, slightly tipsy, and had to spend the night under the spreading arms of some fir. Lie, basically. Get drunk by about ten o’clock so you’ve got an excuse when your review doesn’t appear in the next couple of days. Tell her that the last time you were here it pissed with rain, then realise that you’ve almost given the game away. Make certain that she is aware of the fact that you have been working away for some time, and this is your first night back in the city. Call it ‘the city,’ as if it’s yours. Don’t call it by its name. Know how to cover your back, even when you’ve had three pints of Belgian lager, a bottle of wine and uncounted sambucas. Then, inexplicably, tell her that you’re lying to her, that you are really from Swindon and only got on the train because you were going mental with boredom on your day off. Hopefully by this stage she will take pity and you will wake up next to her blonde student smile and ask how to use the toaster. If not, go back to the botanical gardens, climb over the fence, find a place where tramps have been but not too recently. Or even better, attempt to climb into the low limbs of the maidenhair tree – but don’t make the mistake of thinking of them as tresses – and learn to live in the boughs. You will get to know the city soon enough, I assure you.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

And Mirrors

Without the town the silver exterior
would just be a flood plain.
The girl with the hair makes
noises with her face and sees
them back again. This is where
I grew up. A loophole in a hill
a hundred and ninety thousand people
fell through. Under virtue, rising,
the torrid fleeting penance
of sitting down with the express
wish of getting smashed up.
Here we find low ceilings, swifts
roam above like little evils
and at night foxes shuck soft eggs
and dribble unseen up alleys.
Simply it is unlikeable, as if televised,
but you can’t see anything worth hating
in the night, drinking off the knowledge
of waking up to piles and periodontitis.
The whole town fancies itself
as none of its inhabitants are capable
of doing. It is its own looking-glass
and it directs the first sun
onto the nearest patch of grass
or lasers in on a pissed-up stag beetle.
In gardens later sobriety aches.
You know that moment when the latening
sky drains clear of swifts, and then they
all return, screaming and bunched
like cyclists? Well, it has happened
and the cats have gone indoors
and the next-door neighbour I thought
was gay is fingering some blonde
Nationwide girl half his age. Standing
on the garden table allows for a view
of the next town: imagine a multiplication
of images brought about by introducing
two reflective surfaces to each other,
slightly skewed like pissheads about to fuck,
and think of an infinite line
of not quite identical towns, and remember
getting your hair cut as a ten year old
on Radnor Street, Josephine
with the permed mullet positioning herself
behind you, asking if the back’s alright.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Poem about the Previous Poem

At the derelict end of
the day it fell to me
to preserve
something – a serial
number by which
an archivist can
locate an unpadded
drawer containing
scraped bones or
a photograph – b&w
obviously – of someone
who looks like
Louise Brooks
wrestling an incompetent
dance partner. Quickness
is passé now like
the gift of a rose –
instantaneousness is
where it’s at,
and the puking
of poems bulimically.


statements and unworn words.
the pleasure in watching
a dancer is in seeing
what is left behind –
what happens in the blur
of limbs in the microunit
of time after movement
has occurred. We once
watched an elm shiver
as starlings left it in the dusk.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Poem in 35.22 Seconds

Unlate and full of coffee as
you arrive on the trembling
apex of the morning your
car bends sinews into
a temperate bay. Shells
and wrack and the pastoral
old flame of postcard
writing on the silt humpbacks
where dune-buggy eyes of
waders mark the sand screed.
Sensible and electric you find
in my hair a sea-washed grain
and remove it with a peck
of fingers. An insect purrs
and jumps inside the car.
You have my mouth and my day.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Poem in Ill-Fitting Clothes

Walking in the vague
direction of a doctor’s
surgery or café in the old
town on a Friday lunchtime
is neither the time or place
to be thinking about
a power line or two
on a Welsh hillside but
there you go that’s what
happens I can never be
unashamedly urban like
Frank O’Hara or someone
because I can never be
unashamed I suppose
which got me thinking
about how the people who write
blurbs for the backs of poetry
books use the word unashamedly
as a synonym of resolutely
resolutely perhaps not in its
Heideggerian sense but even so
outside the hardware shop
an ignored row of brooms
what I haven’t decided
yet is whether or not
to go for a swim or
possibly to get drunk
and lift diligent pints and taste
toasted or even burnt
almonds for days afterwards
without really knowing
where they came from but
as I said still undecided
and the reply hasn’t come yet
that would decide for me
and if I sit in this
café until it does I will hear
this unknown cover
of Femme Fatale for a third time
it’s harder to see things in clouds
when they’re grey when they’re white
it’s easy and what is it with
this trend for sensible
shoes with fluorescent laces
it’s a kind of schizophrenia
suffered by waitresses I think
and I wonder can I
pinpoint the exact time
and place that writing a poem
became antonymous with work maybe
it was when I first started to work.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Rough Copy

The rain is not quite
English in its heat
and poise, and then

a Filipino in a trucker's
hat shouts at a dog
and nothing is
shattered. The image

of a tea clipper being dragged
through streets
in the old quarter

of a proudly landlocked
city, not though as part
of a carnival. Navigating

blimpishly with a wake
of indocile hoydens -
cafe girls without babies,
drab and emu-necked.
The trappings of perfection:

zoos, massive ships
under telephone wires
disguised by bunting.
It has come to the attention

of important men that
particles are mesmerising
the universe with beauty
and coincidence and leaving

by the back door, as we shrink
to fit moulds. When you die,

baby, it's rude
and careless not to take
somebody with you.

Friday, 10 June 2011


Dance of
pylons. Sweat once

gathered in our
shared rills,
surge and forge.

The cold sign -
dim aros dros nos.
The rangy aborted

dog of a prince
still laps at

these powerful lakes.
Sisters, siskin
appear only so far up

and in the day. Sage-
. A radio transmitter,
a bent wire

you have been
unhooked from.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Petty Ornithology

This park a tabula rasa where in any season
I have approached you you always see
in a man taking bread to a Canada goose
this particular type of on-edge trepid-

ation, the quick drawing back of a hand
into a knot that has anticipated lunge
or at least fierce sneezing. The trigger
movements of fish catching themselves

looking at themselves in the green
sunlight. My coot’s-nest a volcanic island
lair made, maybe, of torn-up blue magazines,
an eyeful of ice-lolly sticks on which

the jokes have been worn funnyless by sheet
erosion. Your wing retains the head
you have snapped back and away from me.
An unnatural duck; egg-shaped body.

Beak under feathers. Rival prams
stir up pigeons. Your reclusive eye
sets. Children dam a stream, a path –
scatter of unhealthy sticks. Primaries

and other feathers. Mud; stalks. In time
an egg becomes a person, instantaneously.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A Tall Building

It was not known until then how much
a human day can be affected by a dream
of a tall building and the view of a town
that had not been experienced before -
there are pleasant areas of green, photoshopped
oaks, the smell of cricket where there was once
something else unremembered but clearly an ugly
symbol of a large urbanised population -
really it is this: a highly functional modern
skyscraper in the middle of an English village
and all that is beautiful about that. What
I also became aware of at that moment was
that I had never imagined you wearing pink,
or sleeping, or voting, or jumping. The building
is 80 storeys and the lift creaked a little
despite its German newness on the way up
to where you are wearing pink. There is
a touch of orange, which reminds me less
of the colour of salmon flesh and more
of the fact that I must finish the Lydia
Davis collection I have borrowed from someone
not in the dream. Oh, the things I could do
the things I could imagine doing to you
even in the creaking framework of a dream
where all I can imagine is subject
to the formal constraint of not-being-
awake. It feels like a tourist attraction
and an office at once. The conflicting strands
of being-awake (itself a constraint)
and not-being-awake converge in the needle
of a tall building. There are relatively
few Germans here. I wanted to practice
my vocabulary (Ich liebe dich. Noch. Immer.) But
in my dream you do not speak German
and my only three words are like a dirty
old man. You speak only in pretty wonky
binary sentences of one letter, or none.
One closed eye, or asymmetric eyes. A flatfish.
This one has no sound. I don't know if I can
dream in sound. The constraint of the unconscious.
It was being made aware that you enjoyed a second,
in the Spanish restaurant. But I don't think
it was said: rather hooked from the universe
or the universal. The fact is I still have this love
over you, in a way, and a dream reminded me of it
or made or remade it. I cannot paint,
or I would have travelled more. The tall building
is like a drill. The speckled country has fallen
all around it. But the Spanish restaurant
is in a different place altogether, not Spain
though. How in conclusion this particular constraint
has been enabling: in a state of being-awake you see
more often than not in the shapes of clouds the outline
of your own country. Because I can do this
to you, I will: evening she would see him typing with finger-
less gloves - less a riposte to the cold and more an accord
with the place that is a reilquary of sorts: a type
of space in which other spaces lie low and breed
slowly. When he couldn't write or think he invoked a dream
by inventing fantastical inept beasts: tailless lemurs
and toothless caimans and titless mastodons
and tongueless mosquitoes, or he would attempt,
knowing or hoping she watched him, a study
of the biological importance of asymmetry
in the narwhal tusk and the dolphin lung.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

On Littlehampton Beach

The cuttlefish bone is deceitful. Not quite
like an iceberg and its tip, more like an atom
and its electron. There is a deadly serious
point to all this. I haven’t come down to the beach
just to sharpen my beak. You’re not a Piscean.
I can’t fathom why. My penny jaw dropped
into the fathomless – ridiculous – depths
and was washed stranded up white on the sea
sieve of stone. I am standing on a masoned ledge,
a created thing. An unforged gull carries
a pigeon’s off-white egg (the colour of cooked
albumen – we are prone to discoveries, moments
of discovery) in its beak. I have left behind
the forensic scalpel – the wind here is a soft
sphere (think of The Prisoner). What is all this
about? Your way with words, the truth in them
(I’ve never lived by the sea, so I had to come
and find out): what turned out to be delicate
abstractions and downright lies, like the sea
smelling of sea when it really doesn’t smell
of fucking sea, it smells of coffee beans, if anything,
or petrol fumes, or the station café where I write,
sabotaging a lineless notebook, a poltergeist.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Reviewing Michael Longley's A Hundred Doors

And it felt right somehow,
spending four pounds eighty
on two coffees to give myself
time to finish his new book –

the station filling and emptying
like a milk jug. There are many
shirts, ties, looks – they are
tolerating the violence, the stroppy
endurance of trains. Unsurprised

to find itself indoors
under a dirty roof,
a pigeon cocks its ear
to catch a poem.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The Building Forms a Square

((although understandably
inferior to the state
of having two working

ears it is nonetheless
lucky to be a steam duct
on the roof of this
or any other building) but

in line with the nature
of things – that is, objects –
there are always steam ducts

and umbrellas, but um
brellas only come out
when it rains or some

times when it’s sunny
and steam ducts are constant
whether at work or not:

they have this freedom)

the building forms a square
with a courtyard – a quadrangle? –
in its blind and deaf centre (and

it is into this courtyard – quad
rangle? – that the steam ducts
point (something should be said here

about the nature of the steam
ducts (and by nature

I don’t mean nature,
I mean physical appearance,
which in this case is apparently

practically the same): they are curved
and lipped, and yes,
there are three of the
m, they are like trunks,

or truncated
lower-case ‘n’s or upen
ded – deracinated? – paren
theses) and it is into this courtyard

– quadrangle? – that steam would go
if steam went down instead
of up (opposite this building

is the derelict college
which they should knock down
and turn into a public lido

with, dare I say it, a steam room
attached)) (they bear
a resemblance to pigeons also,

the curved neck, though I’m now
not sure if they are steam ducts
or quite what steam ducts are;
they are just grey pipes

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Below Owlpen

A whole goddamn ode of slightly humorous trapezoid oak crowns, a
brown blown on its own song song thrush, up there is no wind there
but oiled and smooth gates swing hugely round and down here. Town-
less hill and also free of showers. Rook-towns. Things quantified
in terms of clumps and patches, patterns are panels edged by hedges
and loud and unloud brooks are the lines that make up grids – land
is a map of a map. An unmown circle and a hole where water climbs up
out of the hill’s sump on its own back, and sap, and no plough. Black-
birds – in the knot and curl where two sides of the valley meet – leave
the fern, the bird becomes the border and the sound snatches, bumps
itself into a song rising into the funny trees, that don’t stare and don’t
hear but have not yet fallen down.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Different Kinds of Happiness

The early part of that evening
was memorable for us laughing
at the description on the box

of the new shoes I bought: semi-
distressed brogues, and for me
just missing that one-four-eight

checkout against the old boy
who got us drunk just to see
us smile, then hammered me

into next week, for fun.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

poem in red ink

the café is
nearly empty.
there is a coffee
machine called Bravilor

Bonamat (which,
let’s face it,
sounds lik

e the name of
a South Ameri
can dictator,

and is with
out a doubt
the closest this place
gets to any

kind of exoticism –
it even feels
wrong writing

the word café
when describin
g it: the Frenchness,
the accent: false

credentials I’m a
fraid – a whole
Bastille of baguettes

can’t change that,
but anyway, back
to the coffee

machine, its
swanlike noise,
the brown
rotundity of its

bowl like the bole
of an ancient
oak, the last

scone that I
wouldn’t dream of ordering
if it were not
the last scone,

all of these
things calculated
to remind me

of my Englishness,
the Englishness

that people see
as being eaten away
at like the wet

weak sandy cliffs
near the Humber
estuary or something,

the Englishness that

is itself do
ing the eating
away, a map
set alight, all

these small polite
triggers that led
to me choosing

a certain pen out
of my collection
of two) and the

re is me, and a
waitress, and the
news channel

on silent, sh
owing the Olympic
flame, somewhere

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Worse in Spring

‘If you woke up every time
an apple

fell from that tree outside
your window it

would be a kind of hell,
a punishment.’

No such luck, I thought
of answering.

Can’t think of the thud
of fruit as

a kind of heartbeat.
It’s not healthy.

Since you moved in (well,

I’ll have to say that:

to this room apples
haven’t stopped

(with the window open
now you hear

the season’s last concert
in the park

bandstand) falling. They’ve been
golden leaves;

no, golden eggs. Spry insects
enter when

a storm thickens: (you can’t
see the park

but you can hear) you’ve
taken to

catching the big green
bush crickets

in an empty mug, sliding
some paper

underneath: (the silver band
plays the theme

from The Simpsons) a gas bill
or a poem.

The crickets click their wings

ingly (the band note perfect).
The apples

rot and sleep on the lawn
and I answer:

‘If that were true it would be
worse in spring.’

Friday, 25 March 2011

The Love Poem of an Arctic Tern

This is my love poem, it is called
The Love Poem of an Arctic Tern,
it’s only a first draft: It’s all boredom, really, I mean
after the first starved intakes
of breath after which the moon
and sun cease to move. It’s a lark. Can’t
find a crèche that stays open. Twice
a year there’s a point where
the line in the 8 crosses itself
and we feel like something might
happen. But it’s a spring-clean. Don’t
fret. The cows’ll come home. Two
rapierists will meet and part. A
headwind will make sure your cut is
clean – a short bob. In the end we’ll
forget the point of arguing about
whether it’s a pepper or a capsicum.
Your menstrual mobius disentangles, and
that’s the end of the poem, really.


The spark of a single wasp and the aura
of dozens: a heaving hypnotic nest. She’s slow
to realise, then slow to move away
but she doesn’t get stung. The park

has announced her. Shifted, it settles.
She rubs her neck and I think of the geese
on the lawn, and gavage. The rowdy geese
pollinate the lawn with feathers. The pond

is lumpless. Her blood drips slowly upwards.
She tells me the name of her disease
and what it means: Japanese for a puff
of smoke, or a wisp, she says, smoking,

but I can’t think of wisps without thinking
of dancing points of light and quickness.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Gliders Above Uley

The dialogue that sound always is
is the tug the here of the orange
plane and its unshot glider behind –
the wind stretched cutting turbine
uprooted and stiff in pallid rocking
skysick sky. Above the health and
punch of sparrows the beery hill and
rooks and the static now flung glider
cut off and. Sky a silence. Often parts
flow: a pool into another and the paper
glider stuck in a dam made by children.
A broken cross, and all that implies:
first and foremost symbol of. (Which
isn’t the same as disquiet) silence. Then
calm, magnanimity, freedom but
the unsilent rough and ruffle of wings
is wind made by speed, and this way
like the flower turbine. Patternless
sky grows millions of fault lines may
be in the eye but are not clouds but
are reflections of earth could be sound.

Saturday, 12 March 2011


(after W. G. Sebald)

On small hills where the rings are broken
and by trees. Un-switched-on lighthouses
demobbed and stiff in black pools where
there is an orbit of moony crabs. Surely
that can’t be light from a boarded-up
hotel. A circle – a perfect maze (and we know
from science that a blindfolded man can’t walk
in a dead straight line.) Sulphuric rain
has destroyed these lips. Trout and elm
also. And blinded statues. Things on stilts
must keep moving. Curlew; houses. Rot is
the only alternative where heatless alchemy
turns everything to gas, and goshawks
are still crucified: a limited alphabet of ‘X’s
and ‘T’s decorating blank spinneys and unstraight
defective groynes.

Thursday, 10 February 2011


Two-backed, turned-
in-on-itself. A lip.
Duct. Clipped rushed

breaths over troughs
where dippers walk
cinclus cinclus

familiarity lost
in the song of name.
The twelve-digited

weir a duodenum,
a conduit of rude
chyme. A film

on the surface.
Thick as a holly
leaf. The surface of

what? Whisper
it. The paper
or the celluloid,

magpie images are
words, and words.

is a duplicate
of this river,
in three dimensions.

Bellows of lock-
gates. Rust of
water. Drip-

drip of ducks.
In time faces
may be revealed,

but here in
the original,
the type that is

Fated to be

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Challenge to Piotr Wozniak

You cannot learn paths
by incremental reading alone –

at least not the paths that change
before maps can be born – spaced

repetition doesn’t work in the woods
and can’t account for circles,

for walking in circles. In Sidmouth
one year we both danced a six-time

Breton dance that wasn’t altogether
a circle but still didn’t end or begin

in anything but an empty hand –
an un-ouroboros, a snake that has freed

its own tail and is lost. When, shitfaced,
I couldn’t find my way back and pitched

an invisible tent in the red lee
of Salcombe Hill, the mapless spiral

sea apportioned blame percussively,
and according to the exponential nature

of forgetting.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

After Charley Harper’s Twowls (Two Snowy Owls Perched Together)

Audubon’s are slow and moony,
big-breasted and restful ghosts
of Rubens’s ladies, slippered
and jaundiced, no more alive
than when they were painted.

Perky urns, Harper’s. His and hers
hearts. Unskittled skittles weighted
with a symmetry of snow, three-
eyed. Two Russian dolls
that cannot fit inside each other.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Famous Deaths of 1992

Ten. Said, ‘doc, I think I have
idiopathic pleurisy. Nothing
gets past these tiny lungs,
they’re infallible filters.’

‘Champion’ Jack Dupree
(or ‘Harelip’ to his friends)
had ten mini fists for fingers.
Stef Sargent was different,

The drain of, not of mortality
but the idea that panic
and prettiness could cease
to be observed (which was

she had syringes for fists
and pumped them ever
slower, slumped under
a shower. Mr Magoo (or at least

a good idea, but not one
I liked) first gaped at me
In 1992. Deathlessness
at the age of ten is this:

the man who made him
blind) died that year
too, reconciled with the family
of the Peter Pan Nazi

Standing over the stream
that fed the reservoir, pulling
down your trousers and smugly
pissing, knowing that the Poles

who paid him in frowns
and in spite. In D.C. Zoo
Ling-Ling’s gigantic black-
eyed kidneys turned to stone

used magic to poach carp
from under the pissy water
for their Christmas dinners.
I didn’t think then that

and panda diplomacy died,
whilst in a Southampton
cemetery Benny Hill’s bones
were moved by bandits

knowledge of death
would involve writing
a poem about the dead
guitarist from 7 Year Bitch.

who found nothing
but the echo of a laugh
that could have been a cough,
and two shrivelled kidneys.