POET BLOGGERS # 4 2018

This poem works on a repeated every-other-line full rhyme. I started it as little more than an exercise to try to ease myself back into writing regularly, but then, because of the nature of the theme and its context within these centenary years of the First World War, the poem began to adopt greater consistency and substance.

TAKING THE SHILLING was published in the London Progressive Journal in the spring of  2017.

ENLIST

TAKING THE SHILLING

There must have been a moment,
sudden, like a blade of light,
or moments, as in the opening of an eye
at the end of a long. slow night
when each one in his time
thought, “This is right,
this call to arms”, or, “I have
this opportunity to go to fight
and do my demons down in alleyways
or sand-dunes”, or just, “Times are tight.
I need a ladder out of here right now
and maybe this just might
see me through”. And so,
where chance, despair or appetite
combine, we embrace each one
in his time. For each the bright
shilling, for each the brave
companions, for each the height
of passion, the glorious possibilities.
But for some, for many, for most, blight
and decay within the shrinking circle of the self
in street or pub or kitchen. Dynamite
shoved into a wall by kids –
a mobile phone, so simple to ignite
and shred in a second where a bullet
might accommodate. Or maybe something sight
unseen, the scar inside: your best mate grinning
by your side and then he’s meat. Or a wound so slight
because invisible, hidden amongst the ganglia.
Either way, who’s counting? The world is a white
room with no doors or windows. This is
your acknowledgement: so ignominious, so trite.

TAKING THE SHILLING read by DICK JONES

ARTHUR McBRIDE by PAUL BRADY

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VBdywzKD2Jw

THE DESERTER by FAIRPORT CONVENTION

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGGqCHaCAoA

 

 

 

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JACQUI

My friend Jacqui Bertrand (Stather) died suddenly on January 29th

All who knew Jacqui will remember her in colour! She radiated enthusiasm, anger, joy, outrage, hope, passion and love in equally extravagant measure. She carried these qualities through life and they were undiminished at the time of her untimely death. She leaves behind husband Chris, daughter Molly and sons Robin and Piers and their families, to whom all condolences go at this most difficult of times.

She was my dear friend for 56 years and I shall miss her more than I can say.

JONESY & JACQUI - 1962

Jonesy and Jacqui
Wennington School

JACQUI

What are we to do?
What are we to do
as we stand like grounded birds
shocked by rain,
staring into the veil
where once was clear light?

What are we to say
at this time of knives
where presence is
in a moment gone
and absence is all?

Count your heartbeats
one by one as you fold
into your grief. Not as if to say,
“I am still here inside my life”,
but to declare that for as long
as that old muffled bell still booms,
your crazy rainbow self will hear it
and you’ll be, as ever was,
just one heartbeat distant.

FORM PIC

JACQUI

FIRST LIGHT by Brian Eno and Harold Budd

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POET BLOGGERS 2018 # 3

In a glass cabinet amongst the packed and stacked exhibits in the extraordinary Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy on University Street in Bloomsbury, there is a jar of moles. Fascinated, I sat at a table opposite the exhibit and wrote them this poem.

A JAR OF MOLES

A JAR OF MOLES

Amongst the racks of skeletons,
the glass-cased arthropods,
the frozen flights of butterflies,
the stalking bear, a jar of moles.

Like a pickled audience, they float,
hands in mid-applause, their mute
approval a thing of palms and fingers,
viscous suspension hiding faces,

lumping bodies into a mass of
saturated velvet. The brown bear
straddles a staircase, permanently
spooked. A rhino, all bleached

scaffolding behind a lowering skull,
shambles permanently west. Even
the pinioned butterflies have dignity,

a sort of poise, stabbed in their abundance
against an artificial sky. The moles
just hang in alcohol, their stack of hands

not pressing air or palm to palm,
but reaching out like engineers
towards the blind remembered soil.

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POET BLOGGERS 2018 # 2

DREAM DAD

I had a dream about my father.

And in the golden mean between its full embrace
and its breaking splinters, lapping and overlapping like a fractured bell,
a truth was shrill and clear.

            Maybe if I had said, if he had said, “I love you”
            during the time of his dying.

But we passed on those chances, settling instead
for our arms entwined as we leaned in together,
like awkward windblown trees locking branches,
on greeting, at parting.

Maybe if we had persevered beyond that timeline
separating tousled hair and handshake,
persevered across the interzone, still able then –
      stumbling both within the space between,
         one grizzled cheek against another,
            bony shoulder into chest –
to hear each other breathing.

Maybe if we had persevered against
that space between,
then your body in death
      (the broken nose that rose above
      the sunken cheeks, the slightly parted lips,
      the marble ridge of your forehead,
      the hair slicked back as in life)
would have yielded up for me alone one final breath.

I cried then as a son cries by his father’s body.
And I cried as I walked away for the space inside,
which was surely still the space between.

And, in part at least, this dream now speaks
to all the crying since that time, arising from a space inside,
which is surely from the space between.

      Love is never the answer, even when it seems so shrill and clear.
      Love is the same questions, lapping and overlapping
            like so many tumbling bells.

 

NOCTURNES III by Morton Laurisden – Sure on this shining light.

 

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POET BLOGGERS 2018: Hope Springs

After a lengthy period of not writing any poetry at all, I was delighted to be ambushed late last summer by several poems – or rather opening salvoes from them – more or less simultaneously. I was in Paris, sitting on an accommodating bollard facing the left portal of Notre Dame waiting for the family to emerge from Notre Dame Cathedral. Out of habit I had my notebook with me and lacking any other source of words, I was leafing through the dusty pages when the various figures, sacred and profane, crammed beneath the triangular gable above the double doors begun to speak to me. Resistant after years of firm if undogmatic unbelief (if an absence of an ideology can be said to be undogmatic), there was no sense of my being, somewhat late in the day, washed in the blood of the lamb. But it took few moments before I recognised the process as being the first few stammers of a poem in the making. So down went the hesitant utterances and, very gratifyingly, the old routine got under way again. This modest skirmish was repeated several times as, day-by-day, we made our way around the city. A Gare d’Orsay poem is still on the blocks, as is an autobiographical piece about my days and nights wandering the Boulevard St Michel as a too-cool-to-live 18-year-old dumped for summer on a posh family living in decidedly un-bohemian Neuilly.

What follows is the product of a series of unconnected health checks that took up the remainder of the summer holiday after our return from Paris. Passing over weeks through profound anxiety into a state of strangely benign indifference, I pondered the nature of hope and from these reflections the poem below emerged, its current form only taking shape hours before posting it to these pages.

HOPE SPRINGS

HOPE SPRINGS

When Pandora opened the lid of the box, hope alone
in quiet defiance hid beneath the rim. And then grown bolder
she tucked in her shabby lot with the dust and destruction
and blew out into the world.

I met her in a strip-lit corridor. She looked pale –
more patient than doctor. Strange that here between
the hand-wash stations and the drug cupboards
hope should look so hollow-eyed.
The lights too harsh? Or the expectations too high?

Hope was one before me in the supermarket queue.
So sad her choices, scattered like bewildered strangers
finding themselves unaccountably in the same place.
Quick-fix items for a moment’s solace, sugar-heavy,
full of shallow promises. And that newspaper,
the pauper’s almanac, with what and who
and where and why folded like open secrets
into its temporary sheets.

Sometimes it seems that hope is a vapour
caught inside my clothes. I catch its tang as old-time
barroom fag smoke, a miasma I trail in spite of myself.
So I stand upwind of stiff breezes, or where
the pavement airshaft lifts it inside cleansing steam
past the balconies, past the windows, past the rooftops.

But for others it’s like some weird cologne;
they turn as I pass and follow in my slipstream.
We fashion, at such times, a chain of dreamtime links,
rattling our reckless certainty through the halls and corridors,
the bedrooms and the cloisters, the wards and cells,
the arrival and departure lounges.

Hope as phantom, hope as hive-mind drone, hope as marsh-gas…
Hope is, in truth, a tumour close to the heart, inaccessible
to the stoical surgeons with their probes and spatulas.
It feeds at the fuse-point of the white and red, the coming in
and the passing out. And even when it seems as though
for you a night sky like no other folds down your light into itself
as if the stars themselves are going out, hope will metastasise.
It animates electrolytes; it floods your wilderness of roots and shoots:
it melts the filaments of heartbreak and despair.
Hope has you at your open window, watching the black smoke rising
in spite of the rain. Hope has you at the garden gate
whilst beyond they’re beating down the bracken.

Hope has you, wedged between your shrinking bones,
wrapped inside the great stiff leaves that are now your skin,
and you still vigilant for the flapping door, the ticket-of-leave
and the steady light beyond.

HOPE SPRINGS out loud:

 

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THE REVIVAL TOUR – POET BLOGGERS 2018

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I’m delighted to be supporting actively the Kelli Russell Agodon and Donna Vorreyer blogger poet Revival Tour. Everything’s explained by my old friend and fellow contributor Dave Bonta so I shall simply post accordingly.

Starting with a double header. First, a straight poem.  At the conclusion of our study of ‘King Lear’, my English teacher, the poet Brian Merrikin Hill, posed to our 6th Form  English class a question. Given the extremities of suffering through which Lear had to pass in order to approach that most fundamental of understandings, what it is to be a human being, which of the two polarised existential states would you select: that of the wise but unhappy Socrates or that of the ignorant but untroubled pig

AFTER READING ‘KING LEAR’

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.
SOCRATES

“What would you rather be?”
our teacher asked us.
“Socrates, wise but unhappy,
or happy but ignorant pig?”

The gum-chewing rockers
and pony club belles all opted
for pig (although ‘poodle’
was mooted by Katie).

Philosopher poet, I straddled
the moment, caught between
hope and despair. But of course
I chose Socrates – modish

as ever – and smugly I carried
the weight of my burden
into the glorious mess of
my future. Now, with a view

from the hilltop of more hills
but fewer and steeper, it’s time
to take stock. Is Socrates
wiser or simply unhappy?

Wisdom or rubies? The choice
academic so late in the game.
Back then I was clothed
in such confident motley –

the badges, the denim, the blue
shaded lenses (the silk and
the hide and the wool of
conformity). Now I am closer

to naked than ever – poor,
bare and forked and alone
on this hilltop. But in between
one breath and another,

the gap between heartbeats,
I seem to be happy, here
where the pig hunts for truffles
and Socrates dreams.

Several years ago, as an idle exercise in Larkin-esque parody, I wrote a poem called IN PARENTHESES. It rolled around in the back of an e-drawer somewhere ever after until, in search of  potential song lyrics out of rhymed poems, I dug it out and sent it to my musical oppo Steve Moorby for possible addition to the rapidly accumulating body of songs we were writing together for our acoustic/electric trio Moorby Jones…

IN PARENTHESES
(Words: Dick Jones / Music: Steve Moorby)

From the fastness of our dreams
where no clouds obscure the view,
we put aside our petty schemes
and envy deeds that others do.

Is there more to life than this?
we ask at break of every day.
The morning call, the goodnight kiss,
the foot upon the primrose way?

Safe or sorry, choice is clear:
not pig in sty but Socrates.
Or yield to ignorance and fear,
and live life in parentheses.

Continue reading

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There is much current publicity about mental health and the difficulties experienced both by those struggling with various deeply troubling conditions and those practitioners attempting with difficulty to establish parity of status for their problems alongside issues of physical health. Chronic anxiety and depression, so devastatingly real for those afflicted, are still seen as having little substance or gravity by so many unaffected by such extremity. Whilst in the first instance sympathy may be expressed and with it comfort, the obsessive persistence of both states of mind in the sufferer rapidly exhausts the patience of those closest to them. “We all feel anxious, we all feel depressed”, the kind but baffled partner, family member, friend says in exasperation, “but we get a grip and we carry on so get over it”. Which robust exhortation to the debilitated, demotivated, directionless subject only serves to drive them deeper down the dark, narrow corridor into complete isolation within the prison of the damaged self. And then where is there to go but even deeper?

Yes, we do all feel anxious and we do all feel depressed and these incidences are part of life’s rich and complex tapestry. Without movement across that wide spectrum between ecstasy and despair, no breadth of experience, acquisition of empirical knowledge and achievement of wisdom can be available to us. Anxiety can alert us to danger; it activates adrenaline and speeds up our capacity for swift intuition and accelerated thought. And depression is an inevitable consequence of the confounding of hope and the quenching of optimism. But the momentum of external events and our internal responses shift us out of decline and back into positive action.

Across the centuries writers, artists and composers have attempted to communicate through journals, letters, poems, paintings figurative and abstract and musical works simple and sophisticated something of the extremes of pain and anguish being experienced. But whilst there may be recognition by the reader, the spectator, the listener of the general quality and character of the pain, unless s/he has gone the distance him/herself the utter desolation that inspired the output will never transcend the mere aesthetic appreciation that will be the response.

Except for a two or three-year period in childhood, I had had no experience of the coruscating effects of acute anxiety and its corollary disabling depression. And then in my early 60s I was diagnosed first with the auto-immune condition sarcoidosis and then with prostate cancer. Apart from surgery for the cancer shortly after diagnosis, neither condition has actually impacted on my general physical well-being. But that dual confrontation with the potential for very significant degradation in my quality of life with the one and death with the other extinguished entirely in me that immortality gene that has us contemplating mortality as an issue that only others have to face. And the tsunami of anxiety that followed that extinction overwhelmed me completely. When it was at its most severe, I was entirely helpless: no amount of clear, measured, constantly repeated reasoning made the slightest difference. This stultifying impotence caught me completely unprepared and at its worse it unravelled me completely. Everything around me, immediate and removed, personal and functional – my family, my relationships, my work, my recreation – was blighted by the anxiety and during the worst of the bouts I experienced the world through a dark veil, barely able to manage the simplest of procedural tasks and falling into periods of deep depression. There were sequences of time within which the anxiety lifted, but always its shadow dogged me and I was increasingly conscious of the inevitability of its return.

I had counselling and two of my counsellors (amongst a succession of nodding-dog professional listeners whose sole contribution to each expensive session was to ask, “And how did that make you feel?”) helped me identify aspects of my early family life to which could be attributed sources for underlying neurosis and stress. But the avowedly non-participatory policy of all counselling rendered such relative progress slow at best and thus undeveloped and inconclusive in the long term. Finally I became frustrated with the resolute refusal of either of these very able, compassionate women to commit to any data evaluation or confirmation or denial of presumptions that I advanced in respect of my own self-analysis. after such a massive investment of time and emotional energy, I shan’t seek counselling again.

My situation now is somewhat more stable. I am still plagued by health anxieties, but the periods of absolute helplessness are fewer and marginally more negotiable whilst in place. I have never sought healing for what I know to be a profoundly complex and deeply-rooted condition. My intentions for the counselling were always directed at developing personal understanding and securing management so that my quality of life (and that of those most immediately affected by my times of incapacity) could be brought into some equilibrium.

So the battle is far from over and even if the war can’t be won, I’m still powerfully motivated to continue the process of winning more of the higher ground. Here’s how I see my interests, and by extension the interests of anyone else similarly afflicted, being served. There exist many anxiety/depression self-help groups across the United Kingdom and I’m sure that many of them provide for their participants very beneficially. But what I haven’t come across in my fairly extensive research is the sort of internal mutual aid structure that has been so effective in groups exploring the shared treatment of addictions, the prime example of which is Alcoholics Anonymous. Anxiety is an addiction with much of its power over the addict drawn from his/her obsessive compulsions. As with alcoholism, there is no cure for compulsive anxiety, but with the combination of one-to-one and whole group support for the sufferer at the core of the management process, the strength to resist obsession and find strategies to hold it at bay can be located. Again as with alcoholism, a degree of stigmatisation is associated with all mental health problems, particularly amongst men, whose readiness both to acknowledge and then discuss openly their difficulties can be a serious problem.

So I would be very interested in what might be offered to the anxiety obsessive by a self-help set-up that utilised the anonymity element of AA and similar organisations, ensuring that the participant could enter into and continue the process of treatment as an individual subject to no hierarchy and accountable only to the group. I’m no expert in this field; I have no medical qualifications or experience; I simply know what it feels like to be at the mercy at times of overwhelming anxiety. So I wonder if any of those for whom my experiences parallel their own might share the notion of an ‘Anxiety Unanimous’ grouping and see it as providing a forum for sharing and through it treatment towards that peace of mind that we all crave.

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