At age 16 I fell in love with the Beats. It was a passion that, for a while, consumed me entirely. Its heat immolated in a single brief firestorm and its light eclipsed in a single flash all that, for me, had gone before – the First World War poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Walt Whitman, D.H. Lawrence, even my beloved Henry Miller (smuggled back in Obelisk Press paperback editions from family visits to Paris)… A chance purchase in a Leeds bookshop brought about the conflagration. It was a compilation in two sections of writings by the Beat Generation writers and their contemporaneous literary rebels across the water. Published in 1960, it profiled through excerpts from key works poets, novelists and essayists still in full flow, many with their best material yet to come. Called Protest: the Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men, the book was skilfully and sensitively edited by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg. For months it went everywhere with me, increasingly annotated within and dog-eared without. Even after I supplemented it with full-length works by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, William Burroughs (many of them in cherished American editions – New Departures, Grove Press, City Lights Pocket Poets – tracked down in the bookshops of the Charing Cross Road and Bloomsbury), it sat like an ikon in the centre of the accumulating line of holy relics along my boarding school dormitory bookshelf.

And, of course, my own verse was transformed. A one-time Great War poet recording my harrowing experiences on the Western Front 40-plus years on, I was now a feverish shadow flitting up and down Bleecker Street and Telegraph Avenue, scribbling frantically. Blocks of quarto and foolscap school file paper went under the black ink from my italic-nibbed fountain pen. Like samizdat documents each piece of judiciously lower case gibberish was shared between my fellow proto-bohemians and together we transformed the fire escapes and flat roof-spaces of the school’s rural Yorkshire Victorian bourgeois manor house into urban stoops and loft balconies… 


The years passed and my literary constellations expanded. But this is no tale of juvenilia abandoned and recalled over time with rueful affection. Even now when I pick up Protest… its powerful charge is renewed and as I cast an eye over its Carl Solomon and its Colin Wilson, its Norman Mailer and its Thomas Hinde, the excitement is as visceral as ever it was, transcending mere nostalgia and drawing on a recognition of the need for the written word to inflame and excite.

Fourteen years ago, inspired by a brush with Protest… during a re-shelving of books, I began, more or less on impulse, to write a 1950s beat poem. Initially nothing more than a mixture of affectionate hommage and an exercise in style, it took on a motive power and forward momentum of its own. Emma and I had recently spent an intense 7 days in New York. Based in a small Upper West Side hotel and from it roaming the snow-drifted streets of Manhattan, the extraordinarily vivid sense memories of every bit of every excursion were as fresh as paint and they fed directly into my protagonist’s journey down town.

The piece got written in a couple of days and was then revised at a much more leisurely pace. I make no claims for it beyond hommage and extended stylistic riffing. But I have enormous affection for it because for me it acts as a brightly-lit corridor back to those first moments amongst the pages of Protest: the Beat Generation and the Angry Young Men…


Starting from the raggy edge
of a night of demons –
Crazy Helga in a blue room
across the alley, her shadow
wild & ticky on the busted blind
as she wails in German
at her TV screen.
Jesus, what a sound:
something dark & spiny
thrashing in her soul
to cry like that.

as the spidernet
remnant of a dream,
a fume that discharges
in clear light.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

And then, as I wash my face
in windowmorning light,
the snow still falling,
thick like feathers, like
the white silence
under a wing.
W. 186th – ghostblanketed cars,
hydrants, phone booths,
all mugged and compliant
like freezeframe phantoms.

as a lostsoul princess glimpsed
on a busted boxtop
in a trashcan.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

So I step, a slo-mo dancer,
a Magellan of the heart,
a one-trick missionary
with a world to lose,
into the drifts and dunes
and head towards Amsterdam.
Julio’s got his cab
on blocks by the sidewalk.
He curses, half under snow
with a wrench & a torch
while old man Turpin
turns Danish pastry snowslabs
with a shovel & spits
green pockholes deep.

as a face from
a crashed snowcloud,
bloodless, tearless,
turning away.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

I sidestep the corner.
Streetcenter subway breath
in plumes, denying snow.
In the deli the Slimani brothers
rattle & blather round
the kebab spit.
Here is a grillbound, spice &
powders corner of Algeria.
On the wall the entire 1st team
of AC Ajaccio, 1983, flyblown
bouffant bushes dooming them
to formica & disco history.

a rumor
in the vapour bloom
on chrome.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

On Amsterdam cabs in chains;
sunshine ghosts kicking up
the crystals. One bent warrior
with a stick raised like Aaron
wagging the serpent, steps
into white surf & disappears
& reappears as one dressed
in ashes for a wake. He moves
like he’s been cauterized in
a furnace of ice.

as a smoke theory
behind a high
brownstone window.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

Check into EJ’s for waffles
& coffee & watch the steam
reorganize the air into thick
silver aboriginal mountains.
I slide across vinyl amongst
the prose & numbers shaken out
of the NY Times – the clatter & flash
of barcode headlines, the snap
& flutter of papers lifting
like sudden wings,
from front page clamor
to sports page sidewalk
whisper: Giambi misses
a 3rd straight game.
“Felt fuzzy”, he says.
Jesus, what a putz!
And Sheffield’s sprain’s no problem.
He’s good for Sunday’s game
against the A’s. The boys
kick it around – who are the king hitters?
who are the dancing queens?
“Who the fuck gives a fuck?”
yells Nance stamping snow
off her old lady boots.
“Gimme a black coffee
so I can stand my spoon up in it.”

in the window
drawn south
on a hundred streams.
Which should I follow?
Sorry, I’m sorry.

Through Morningside the snow’s
a gray dreamscape. Bloodholes
switch to emerald – the churn & spin
of cop cars crying out loud across
Cathedral Parkway. I’m highstepping
from bootburrow to icefield,
clogging deep & sliding hard.
I drop dark beneath
the streets – the visceral heat
of the subway neon
and the echo of the
footstep cough & scuff,
the hoot & slam wind.
A rocking conspiracy of
furtive travellers, wall-eyed
or wrapped in paper
winding sheets.

as a hiphop chant
in the wheels between
Parkway & Columbus.
Say my name,
say my name
like you’re winding up
a spell.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

At Columbus Circle
the lights go dim,
the brakes bind and
for a moment
we are all of
one breath in
the tarry dark.
Then, singing his pain
like a cantor, a guy
in a Mets sweatshirt
& a baseball cap with
a busted peak jumps up.
“We’re fucked, people!” he yells.
His voice is like stones
in a can. “We’re fucked!
This the last train
to San Fernando
& we’re going down!”

on the upline platform
at Delancey & Essex
in a brakeman’s cap
from Dave’s Army & Navy.
Blew me a kiss
& turned into a winter fume.
Sorry, I’m sorry.

Washington Square’s
a cloud chamber, the heart
of cumulus. My footprints
turn secret & die behind me.
The edge of everything touches
my face & whispers in
multiple falling voices.
Bleecker carries me
on a twilight current,
turning, turning, the thick
river, past the cameo flash
of Mr Piombino hip-deep
in front of the trattoria,
dug into his own canyon
down to the sidewalk,
his spade disputing logic
with the falling snow that beds
thick in around his feet.
Two cop cars, chained wheels
flailing, and three kids in mufflers
dancing like full moon maniacs
through their slush & mud parabola.
The ghost of Sid Vicious shivers
on the corner of Bleecker & Grove
in charcoal & tarnish. Nothing
but slogans & a thin soul
against a night of hustling bars
looking for the trick who will whisper
where his mother went one
spectral Christmas Eve.
Hell – once just his father’s name
would have been enough
to light a candle
in the dark.

And now Bleecker crosses Broadway
where the snowplows rule.
Surgeons laying the white
flesh bare. And I catch
up my breath & I check
the beat of my Magellan heart,
cruising now into a
safe harbour. The still pool
of the East Village,
the Stuyvesant rendezvous
whose lights bleed pastel thin
through still falling snow.
Dido’s bar & grill whose door
now unplugs & in a draft of steam
it’s your tune comes stumbling
onto the sidewalk
in a spindrift of crystals
and memory like you knew
each step I took, each high step
sliding down Manhattan’s lattices
on hope & a dream unconsumed
to seek you out, painted
onto the inside of the glass
in your logger’s coat, in
your cossack hat like
you knew & sliced the moment
fine as ice & called me home
with your spilled tune,
its colors running in the current,
and you rising sideways &
your head turning in a mist
saying my name,
saying my name
like you’re winding up a spell.


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POET BLOGGERS 2018 # 7: There Is A Courtyard


There is a courtyard in between sleep and awake
and within its walls the light is different and the darkness unfamiliar.
And whilst slowly crossing its uneven cobbles, surprised at where you are,
voices may call to you from a balcony. Though you’re familiar to them,
they are unknown to you and when you look up, there’s no one there.
There’s a breeze that separates the leaves, shape-changing the trees
and flattening the ivy and the Russian vine against the wall. And in its breath
there’s rain. It bleeds the impasto colours thin and settles the rising dust.

And with it all – the known and the half-known – comes the musk,
   the moth-dust, the flicker in the net curtains,
      these things that that tell you: ‘Here’s how it was,
         or how it may have been…’

Here’s the peewit whistle across the garden fences –
Francis or Steven after summer teatime ready to play.
And then we three sharing the dank smell of the flowerbed loam
and the sharp prairie forever scent of grass
(because we move our tiny armies crouching,
lying sideways on the earth, down where the ants teem
and the snuffling dog knows his world. Planes may burr
across some limitless sky somewhere and the train
stammers along its steel horizon, but we’re grounded
and utterly but fearlessly lost)…

Or an uprush of old desire – the precise deep cut
that drew blood sweetly (this her hair in your face,
a breeze of breath before kissing and after a confusion
of lips and teeth there is everything that is to do with
flesh yours and flesh not your own – collide, absorb, consume).
     Or it’s just bells remembered in their surprise major glory.
     Or the bronze light of a baby’s morning, caught above an open window
     and you can’t move but like the tipped-up beetle you can only
     wave slowly at it with all your legs and arms.
Or it’s the sound of the lost chord, or a badger’s bark.
Or the scolding chunter of a steam loco’s wheels in a huge, unseen but
apprehended terminus (Waterloo, Victoria).
     Or just the fragrance of apples along a shed floor, wet tweed
     after rain, a letter found within the pages of an unread book.
Or even nothing much at all – just a sense of waiting for something
by the junction of two walls – slight heat or cold;
one flagstone out of alignment with another;
a shadow that doesn’t move.

And then it’s gone – no courtyard, just brief black sleep or awake,
   one dimension or the other and you’ve passed through.
      Passed through and the bed binds you and the light oppresses
         and there is left just the old quotidian cycle of the breath taken
            and the breath released. And the dust of bells remembered,
               that bronze light, that uprush of desire.

THERE IS A COURTYARD, read by Dick Jones


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Definition of incunabulum in English from the Oxford Dictionary:

noun plural incunabula
• An early printed book, especially one printed before 1501.

Early 19th century: from Latin incunabula (neuter plural) ‘swaddling clothes, cradle’, from in- ‘into’ + cunae ‘cradle’.

What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Cosmos, Part 11: The Persistence of Memory (1980)
Carl Sagan, Cosmos



When we began the world was made
of hands and eyes – fingers and winks.
We wove a sense of what the light
revealed and the dark consumed by dancing
our extremities in plain sight, waving
our meaning, daubing our understanding
onto walls and growling out a soundtrack like
the wolves and bears.
      Then words were licked into life by tongues
      stirring in their bone and water beds.
      Ululation into utterance, one day, one night
      when sudden light or no light at all
      twisted noise into a loop of syllables;
      or something was born by breath in the heat
      of loving after the fire had died; or something
      out of grieving congregated in a mouth a drift
      of stones that rattled into meaning and spat
      sense that all could share and say again and again.
Then the scribes tugged our pictograms from walls
and with those tongues pushing out a bottom lip,
they penned them slowly, rush-lit night and day,
across the calfskin, line upon line. Golden ciphers,
language wrapped in arabesques, concealed in
foliate compartments, locked into floral curlicues
and stalked by fantastical beasts across the vellum.
      All our words licked now by gall and gum, by
      iron salts and lampblack, a cultivation so sublime
      that each word lifted sits in the mouthlike a fig
      plucked from the highest branch. Princes
      and priests turn the juices on their tongues and tell
      the kneeling penitents how good they taste.
      O believe! Have faith! You only need to hear
      our words beneath a vaulted ceiling and transaction,
      intercession are assured. Your hollow syllables turned
      into a fall of bells, all your raw vernacular stacked
      like bricks inside the architecture of a hymn.


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In 2015 Old Stile Press published my translation of the Belgian poet Blaise Cendrars’ epic early 20th century poem The Trans-Siberian Prosody and Little Jeanne from France, illustrated by my friend the artist Natalie d’Arbeloff. The publishers described the work thus:

This extraordinary epic poem – known for short as the ‘Trans-Sib’ given its deliberately awkward and cumbersome title – was written by Blaise Cendrars in 1913. It is a compound of the literal and the surreal, a breathless travelogue, historical commentary and dreamscape narrative.

His daughter, Miriam Gilou Cendrars, writes for this edition a note about the importance of Cendrars’ work to modern poetry of the twentieth century and has enthusiastically praised this translation.

The poet had been in Russia in 1905 at the time of unrest followed by the Sino-Russian war and the dramatic incidents which occur on the journey he makes (in the company of his lover, Jeanne) may well have happened to him. As an impressionable young man he imparts a sense of vivid truth writing of these historical events in minute detail.

This vivid truth is also powerful in Dick Jones’ translation into English of the poet’s original text in French. As he writes of the poem – ‘the narrative itself is presented in a refreshingly direct and simple style, breaking entirely with the traditional conventions of verse form and its graphic literality is punctuated by passages of lambent and dreamlike imagery, prefiguring by 40 years the experimentation of the Beat poets in Cendrars’ beloved United States.’

Dick Jones and Natalie d’Arbeloff were both equally excited by Cendrars’ writing and together created a rhythmic, pounding fusion of image and words retelling this journey across Russia on the famous Trans-Siberian railway – a journey which deserves to be better known beyond the French-speaking world.

The translator continues to work on other poems by Cendrars and for those unfamiliar with the work he has created a Facebook page for Blaise Cendrars, which is well worth exploration.

I have indeed been working on further translations of Blaise Cendrars’ poems. Here are two examples in early drafts. Dorphyra comes from KODAK, one of his two final books of verse, the other being TRAVEL NOTES, from which the second poem, White Suit, is taken, both published in 1924. 







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‘Not exactly what we’re looking for…’

Having just had rejected three hard-won poems (this following a very long period in a sort of creative cone of silence), I’m self-administering a couple of drafts of well-constituted reassurance.

The first is in the form of a rejection letter with a difference. It’s been blowing around the ether since the early days of the blogging boom and I offer it now to all those in the throes of serial job application who might need it. It certainly beats the hell out of, ‘Stuff your fucking job, you turd-burgling tit-trumpeters!’


Thank you for your letter rejecting my application for employment with your firm.

I have received rejections from an unusually large number of exceptionally well
qualified organizations. With such a varied and promising spectrum of rejections from which to select, it is impossible for me to consider them all.

After careful deliberation, then, and because a number of firms have found me more unsuitable, I regret to inform you that I am unable to accept your rejection. Despite your company’s outstanding qualifications and previous experience in rejecting applicants, I find that your rejection does not meet with my requirements at this time. As a result, I shall be starting employment with your firm on the first of the month.

Circumstances change and one can never know when new demands for rejection arise. Accordingly, I will keep your letter on file in case my requirements for rejection change. Please do not regard this letter as a criticism of your qualifications in attempting to refuse me employment. I wish you the best of luck in rejecting future candidates.

Yours Sincerely…


The second is a piece of well-turned wisdom from one of my favourite poets, R.S. Thomas. Have this embroidered into a sampler & hung in a prominent place.


If a poet realises that it has been his privilege to have a certain gift in the manipulation of language (language being the supreme human manifestation) then he is obviously committed from the very beginning to a lifetime of self-discipline, struggle, disappointment, failure, with just possibly the odd success which is greater in his eyes than it probably is in the eyes of anyone else.



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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.



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.







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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 and Jacqui
Wennington School


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.



FIRST LIGHT by Brian Eno and Harold Budd

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