Archive for January, 2014

It is the classic picture of the writer that the muse takes him or her by the throat and ‘stuff’ pours out, but unfortunately this is not the case. This is particularly true of my own writing history where I came to a dead halt for many years while life took over.

However, this means that I have a body of material that I can look back on with dispassion (while now writing new material), so these thoughts on the genesis of poems (in particular)  is  interesting and useful to my own writing. This is another idea for when the ideas won’t come.

So – shape poetry. This can be a satisfying exercise – the most obvious one is the train journey, snaking its way down the page;  but any shape can lend itself to a poem which is both the words and the shape on the page, interrelated. The second example here  is a pendant.

The interesting question is the chicken and egg one, but realistically it is easier to choose a shape to fit a poem into than to try to fit an existing  poem into a shape.

tunnel vision cropped



My MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln with Distinction – so happy

art work; this was written for a collage about time


baudelaire cover

When you want to write and nothing will come there is always (loose) translation.  It gives something of the pleasure of crossword puzzling along with filling the void when  there seems to be nothing to write about.  And what could be more fun  than Baudelaire and  Les Fleurs du Mal?  My French is poor but I had a lot of fun!


Je  suis comme le roi d’une pays pluvieux

Mine is a sodden country and I’m its king,
old in my youth, rich yet lacking.
Tired of the croaks of my pedagogues,
sick of my animals, I hate my dogs.
I no longer soar in my love of falconry,
I ignore my dead beneath this balcony,
I am deaf to the song of my capering jester,
my frowning sickness makes me fester.
My garlanded bed is gravestone dust
and those dancing whores have killed my lust.
Nothing they wear now makes me smile
baring the rictus of my skull. Vile
as my base nature, no gold from lead
transforms my nature, all corrupted.
The alchemists and baths of roman blood
cannot make me young or good.
My blood runs cold and waters of death,
green as Lethe, steal away my breath.*

Thanks to Wikipedia for this introduction to the bad boy of French poetry.

baudelaire3Who among us has not dreamt, in moments of ambition, of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical without rhythm and rhyme, supple and staccato enough to adapt to the lyrical stirrings of the soul, the undulations of dreams, and sudden leaps of consciousness. This obsessive idea is above all a child of giant cities, of the intersecting of their myriad relations.

—Dedication of Le Spleen de Paris

Baudelaire is one of the major innovators in French literature. His poetry is influenced by the French romantic poets of the earlier 19th century, although its attention to the formal features of verse connect it more closely to the work of the contemporary “Parnassians”. As for theme and tone, in his works we see the rejection of the belief in the supremacy of nature and the fundamental goodness of man as typically espoused by the romantics and expressed by them in rhetorical, effusive and public voice in favor of a new urban sensibility, an awareness of individual moral complexity, an interest in vice (linked with decadence) and refined sensual and aesthetical pleasures, and the use of urban subject matter, such as the city, the crowd, individual passers-by, all expressed in highly ordered verse, sometimes through a Thomas Couture of Charles Baudelaire with one of his lovers on his lap.cynical and ironic voice. Formally, the use of sound to create atmosphere, and of “symbols”, (images which take on an expanded function within the poem), betray a move towards considering the poem as a self-referential object, an idea further developed by the Symbolists Verlaine and Mallarmé, who acknowledge Baudelaire as a pioneer in this regard.

Beyond his innovations in versification and the theories of symbolism and “correspondences”, an awareness of which is essential to any appreciation of the literary value of his work, aspects of his work which regularly receive (or have received) much critical discussion include the role of women, the theological direction of his work and his alleged advocacy of “satanism”, his experience of drug-induced states of mind, the figure of the dandy, his stance regarding democracy and its implications for the individual, his response to the spiritual uncertainties of the time, his criticisms of the bourgeois, and his advocacy of modern music and painting (e.g., WagnerDelacroix).


Je suis comme le roi d’un pays pluvieux,
Riche, mais impuissant, jeune et pourtant très vieux,
Qui, de ses précepteurs méprisant les courbettes,
S’ennuie avec ses chiens comme avec d’autres bêtes.
Rien ne peut l’égayer, ni gibier, ni faucon,
Ni son peuple mourant en face du balcon.
Du bouffon favori la grotesque ballade
Ne distrait plus le front de ce cruel malade ;
Son lit fleurdelisé se transforme en tombeau,
Et les dames d’atour, pour qui tout prince est beau,
Ne savent plus trouver d’impudique toilette
Pour tirer un souris de ce jeune squelette.
Le savant qui lui fait de l’or n’a jamais pu
De son être extirper l’élément corrompu,
Et dans ces bains de sang qui des Romains nous viennent,
Et dont sur leurs vieux jours les puissants se souviennent,
II n’a su réchauffer ce cadavre hébété
Où coule au lieu de sang l’eau verte du Léthé

 Sometimes just a phrase –

My daughter says that when I’m dead she’ll show her kids this picture
and they’ll know me.

I’m encased in ivory faille, high necked, long sleeved, severe.
It’s a kind of armour to protect me from the fear of falling, failing,
or of you failing to appear.  I thought it would be less than this.
Dried flowers, witnesses pulled in from their everydays to ours,
a registrar, looking at his watch. Unfortunately your mum wants
more.  Late born, her twinned afterthought, she has standards
for you, but my dad’s dead and it’s we who foot this bill.

We’re ruthless and we cull the relatives: cheerfully eliminating
aunties, cousins, children under three, which went down
well. I hire the dress; that’s cheap. I dress my bridesmaids up
in nighties. (Long, quite pretty, sprigged with flowers on navy blue
and I don’t think that they knew). Practical, you always are, you
wear an ordinary suit. For everyday. The gale has flung my veil
across my face, daffodils are lurching, the dress and I are hurtling

to the porch. The choir is singing just for us. Later I learn your mum
has spent the journey down spotting crematoria and graveyards.
Over chicken, your dad gives me the gift of how much
he had disliked me when we met, but now I am OK. I’m not that
grateful. In this photograph I’m back in normal clothes again.
I’m looking at you with a minxy grin. We’re off to Paris. Hah! Later
I Photoshop my auntie out and my son says that it is rather Stalinist.


This poem came out of a writing exercise at Lincoln Creative Writing – creative writing and poetry workshops  (It meets on  the third Sunday of each month at 2pm at The Victoria Inn, 6 Union Road, Lincoln  LN1 3BJ)

It is an interesting group as it is workshop based, rather than a venue for reading work.

I went in November 2013 for the first time. We all made a list of words but we did not get our own, so  I was given three random things to write about : my inner self, Winston Churchill and the circus, and did not think I could do much with them.  Eventually this poem developed (after drafts with Winston Churchill as a mad ringmaster, riding a a snarling tiger).

Big top


The smell of animals
and the rictus grins
of clowns with
Gacy faces.
on the receptive surfaces
of eggs and
kept in secret cupboards.

They are not amused.

The ringmaster smiles
like  nightmares and
rides upon a tiger, which snaps
its head from
side to side.
Its eyes are yellow
as its fur.
And the clowns upend buckets
of paper accusations at the audience
to run


The New Year spreads itself before me.
A lake of possibility, flat as the fens
that surround me here.
Nothing ruptures that meniscus for,
like me, it is waiting.

2013 was angiograms and heart surgery.
And my mother falling and falling
again like a skittle of bone.
I picked her up, I picked her up and up.
Each time she was thinner, yet she did not

break. I started to look as if I loved
the cardiac rush of A and E.
My husband, my mother,
passing through its revolving door.
It became too familiar.

So 2014 will do its best or worst.
Who knows what hydra-headed
monsters might be waiting,
though I can make my own.
Or shoals of fish, glittering.