A Muse of Fire?

Poetry has reared its (ugly in my case?) head.

I said somewhere in my ‘about’ piece that I don’t write poetry, or at least poetry that I was prepared to share.

That turned to be one of those things that almost as soon as I said it, I thought about it again and immediately started doing what I said I didn’t/wouldn’t. I find I do that a lot, awful character trait.

In this case I wrote three related poems about playing rugby.

You can probably see why I said I don’t write poetry.

I don’t think the result was as awful as it sounds.

It was really a collection of sound experiences from when I played rugby and isn’t trying to address directly any major themes of life and death. It was an exploration of the low key camaraderie and experience of one facet of people’s lives.

It was rugby because that was the sport that occupied a large proportion of my recreational time from about the age of sixteen to thirty eight. It was what I knew. This isn’t the International end of things, it isn’t even the most exalted bit of my low key rugby life, it is the week in week out recreational clashes that make up the vast majority of rugby played around the world. Fun, banter, but occupying a place in the players’ hearts.

I say ‘it’ rather than ‘they’ because although there were three pieces and they were printed as three poems in the anthology ‘The Tall and the Short’, they are very closely related and deal with one event. They are the Prelude, Game and Post Match Analysis and deal with a very tight slice of life, about two and a half hours that surround the build up and aftermath of a match. A tight slice repeated for weeks every year for years. A major part of life. My life anyway. And in fact, an insight into more than a silly game with an inflated bladder.

So much like all poetry really. A condensed, spare representation of something that offers a deeper insight into the human condition.

And I got hooked.

So as well as trying to finish novels, short stories and attempting to turn a screenplay I can’t sell into a novel (which I also probably won’t be able to sell!) I’m writing poetry now. The local writing group is looking to publish a book of poems to support the local library and I might subject them so to some of my efforts and see what they think.

In the meantime I’ve been tempted into offering a few for magazine publication and we’ll have to see what happens with those.

I think my problem here is that I have no overarching theme in mind for poetry. Each one tends to be a response to some odd stimulus, the source of which I am unsure. I suspect in the past these half formed blips in memory would have either subsided once more into the morass of what passes for my psyche or been scribbled down as ideas for short stories or passages in novels. Once having turned this tap on it seems difficult to turn off. Time will tell whether this diverts so much effort from prose that I need to think of a way of turning it off again.

Watch this space for a post bemoaning the fact I never get inspirational flashes of thought passing along my synapses any more.

Or maybe even some poetry?

A Victory V

Some time ago I attended a launch and was treated to a performance that had me wondering how much we owe/suffer from Richard Burton and his ‘Under Milkwood’ syndrome.
This is an homage (I think) and not to be taken at all seriously.
It should be read in a fug of smoke, after drinking 10 pints of mild and in the manner of an English actor copying a parody of Anthony Hopkins playing Richard Burton. The rest is up to you…

Coal black, lamp black, front back
carrion crow of a beard
eating syllables written for worms
on the wings of a dove like leek,
spoken by a man of pasties if not pastiche.
Overwrought in the foundries of words
dragged out of crucibles
in the deep dark mines of oration,
tumbling in Tumble until vowels
torture themselves into oblivion.
Will there be scones still for tea
as stray bluebottles impale themselves
in obeisance to the horned gods
atop each eye?
And yet though sound and fury
signify something untold and unspoken
in the performance cast before
we pearls of wisdom as sit, waiting
for the word to speak through all,
we nod, and smile, and applaud
a greater man than we asked for
or cared to receive.
He came he spoke he conquered,
made a wilderness and called it peace.


From the (probably not) sublime to the (quite patently) ridiculous.

The first stanza of this…poem?… has been in my head for about 30 years where it should probably have stayed.

A thirty year gestation period doesn’t seem to have helped the rest much either.

I told you I didn’t write poetry.

(But if any Christmas card companies want an alternative take on the festival; I’m available)



Christmas comes but once a year

with rain and snow and ice

but reindeer, dear are here to stay

although they harbour lice


They prance and gambol, rarely amble

trotting through the kitchen

to find themselves a tasty treat

of moss or Swedish lichen


And if upon each Christmas eve

a gent in red should ask

they’ll pull a sleigh throughout the night

a boring thankless task


They race on high across the sky

swooping here and there

dropping presents from their behinds

no hint or sign of care


But when the driver hits his limit

of sherry, scotch and pies

they’re the ones who do their best

to navigate the skies


With presents left and children happy

Rudolph and his mangy crew

land their slightly sozzled captain

miles adrift in Timbuctoo


But never fear they have a year

to get their driver back

to icy home where winds makes moan

and load another sack


So raise a cheer for reindeer dear

and toast the antlered throng

Smelly, fetid mean and brainless

they still deserve our song


Not yet a short story but longer than Flash Fiction. Is this going any further. Maybe.


So this guy walks up to me in a bar and says:

‘Wanna be a star?’

My first reaction is to punch the little creep in the head and get back to my beer.

But I know Louis, the bar keep, doesn’t like blood about the place on account of it bringing back too many happy memories and he is currently working on a case of existential angst and does not want to be distracted into levity, so I keep my hand in my pocket and shake my head.

The guy fingers my sleeve for a second and I guess he feels the muscles kind of tensing up in there because he moves the offending digits pretty quick and shoots me a glimpse of his orthodontic work.

I give him the stone eye routine to back up the biceps and he takes a step back.

‘No offence mister.’ he says, ‘but I have a proposition which could leave you and me both in a healthier position financially and socially.’

I ask him if he is suggesting that I am in need of extra monetary largesse or that I am in some way requiring elevation in either class or style.

At this point he realises he has tried to mash the wrong potato and takes a hike while he still has an ambulatory capacity. I make sure he has departed my immediate vicinity before returning to my beverage and the contemplation of the female form across the room. It is at this point that Louis decides to break with his homework on melancholia and enters the conversation, which technically has ended some seconds before, but for the purposes of narrative continuity we will pretend is still extant.

‘What did the Mike want?’ he asks.

‘The Mike?’ I repeat knowing that I have made something of a faux pas if I am correct in decoding this individual’s nickname or alter ego. ‘The Mike’ was a performance poet extraordinaire, and is now the publisher of “100 Ways to Versify” and “The Longer Conga Songa Book”.

‘You sure it was him?’ I ask staring across the room where the little creep is disappearing out of the bar.

‘You may not know this,’ says Louis, ‘but I used to rhyme myself a few years ago. With the right publisher I coulda been a contender. I had a shot at the T S Elliot and I once went three stanzas with Heaney.’

I looked at him. He had gone too far and he knew it.

‘We was only sparring, you know. But I still caught him with a spondee in the second.’

I nodded. We’d all been a few stanzas with Heaney. Some of us had beaten him, caught him with an iambic pentameter or two and then finished him off, sometimes with a spondee in the second. Most of us usually woke up though and didn’t mention our dreams to anyone afterwards. Louis had gone to that place where reality and poetry meet and meld and it’s a very difficult gig to come back from. Louis had given up trying.

‘You sure it was him?’ I asked again.

‘Can’t be two of the Mike.’ he said reverently.

I didn’t think so either, but I thought it gratefully, not reverently. He was a fixer, a maker and breaker of poets. He’d been a mean versifier himself once but the constant composition had got to him. He’d been up there on stage every night, the rhyming, the scansion it had all taken its toll. But he couldn’t let go and when he played an open Mic gig one Thursday in a mean, low, writers group in the back of a busted down library he hit the skids. He thought he was still a big shot but a new kid called Zephania comes at him with lefts and rights, its dub poetry and the Mike ain’t never heard anything like it before. It was all over in a couple of minutes. It could have been seconds but the Zeph had heard Mike once and had some respect for him so he played him along for a few stanzas and then boom! He let him have it.

I never heard of the Mike composing anything except a contract after that. But he could tie up a metrical foot on one of those all right. He’d run the best on the way up and quite of few of those who should have been but they hadn’t been able to escape the Mike. He worked them like they were prose writers. Once he’d got a short volume out of them he’d put them on the road. They’d read till they bled. He’d squeeze them till they couldn’t tell their Dactylic Hexameter from their Trochaic octameter and then he’d dump them. The lucky ones ended up dead pretty fast. There were worse ends. I knew a couple who had hung on for years working the Hallmark Cards gig. He liked performance poets the best of course. I wondered what he wanted with me.

Don’t get me wrong I had a pretty high opinion of myself but there were a hundred raw hungry kids out there snapping at my heels. Hughes murmured about me once before he croaked. Duffy has said some good words and I noticed she’s always avoided me. Heaney. I’m not talking about that. I ain’t no Walter Mitty so it stays between me and him and he’s gone now, God rest him. But I’m glad I had the chance even if it was in an unlicensed gig in a Dublin backstreet. Now I know my limitations.

I thought I knew where I was. A contender? Sure. But for what? Now the Mike was making me an offer. Did that mean I was on the way up or the way down?

I downed my drink and ran after him into the street to find out.