About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I'm co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Wednesday 30 September 2015

Highlights of Bristol Poetry Festival 2015 (so far ... )

A review for the local paper: 

Kei Miller/Liz Berry/Fiona Benson
Hailing Foxes/ Waterwoven/Rachael Clyne                       Bristol Poetry Festival

As I write, Bristol Poetry Festival is drawing to a close following a glorious fortnight of readings at venues in and around Bristol.

From the hugely popular Bristol Poetry Slam, where the cream of the West Country’s performance poets battle it out on stage, to smaller, low-key gatherings in cafés and the back rooms of pubs, poets and lovers of poetry have been coming together to celebrate our national art-form.

The flagship event of this year’s Festival was the reading at Arnolfini by three of our best contemporary poets, Fiona Benson, Kei Miller and Liz Berry. Colin Brown, the Director of Poetry Can, the Bristol-based organisation responsible for organising the Poetry Festival said: ‘there were three essential poetry books published in 2014 and we are lucky enough to have the authors of those books here in Bristol tonight.’ Each poet was very different but equally distinct. Anglo-Scot Fiona Benson read poems that showed how hearts can be broken by language; Kei Miller made language sound like music; Liz Berry took us gently by the hand and led us to the place where poems come from, and it was both thrilling and beautiful – but you can’t describe poetry, you can only experience it. ‘That was wonderful,’ said one audience member as we emerged into the September night. ‘As soon as it started, it was like we were all together inside a miracle.’

Photo © Dru Marland

A special mention too for the event at Bristol Central Library, where local artist Dru Marland launched her latest illustrated anthology of poems, Hailing Foxes, a celebration of Bristol and its wildlife during the city’s tenure as European Green Capital 2015.  This delightful evening, which also included performances from Wells Fountain Poets and Rachael Clyne, saw many of the featured poets coming together to read their work. Hailing Foxes is available from Gert Macky Books and good independent bookshops, price £5.

 John Terry 

                                                            Pat Simmons

Dru Marland

                                                          Dominic Fisher

Wells Fountain Poets and Colin Brown

Saturday 19 September 2015

The Day The Oil Flowed Uphill

Once upon a time there were well-staffed, well-equipped day centres for people with disabilities, offering them the chance to meet with their friends and carers, have fun and practise new skills and hobbies. Then successive Tory governments capped local government spending and lo, the centres were closed because they were too expensive to run. This cost-cutting exercise was presented as a chance for disabled people to choose how they spent their time and (reduced) funding, by employing support workers and receiving some money (Direct Payments) towards expenses, whether that be occasional petrol, accommodation and food costs incurred in the pursuit of hobbies or social activities, or materials to do crafts, learn an instrument, etc - anything, really, as long as it was part of their care plan.  

But now, with another Tory administration and further shrinking of the state, disabled people are no longer allowed to enjoy themselves and the funding for Direct Payments has been slashed.  (Serves them right  for making all those ill-advised loans to flighty foreign countries, eh?) The hatchet fell on my son's funding back in the spring, with his social activities deemed by some local government manager 'what any mother would do for her son' - something that really doesn't wash when he's 24 and you have more than one son and can contrast and compare.  Still, we scrimped enough to be able to afford the one last trip we'd already booked to the Robot Wars World Championships in Colchester - a chance for my son to say goodbye to his friends who travel all over the country to cheer on their favourite teams.  

Robot Wars doesn't really do it for me, so while he was cheering himself hoarse, I'd planned a trip to three nearby churches in Essex to see their mediaeval wall paintings.  I also intended to see the three hares glass in the church at Long Melford, and the half-timbered higgledy-pigglediness of Lavenham, having never been to Suffolk. 

The early morning mist had burnt off by the time we passed Reading and all was set fair for our weekend, when the traffic came to a standstill on the M25.  We caterpillared our way around, still making progress, when I noticed that the the tarmac was getting really bumpy.  Rumble strips? I thought. On the motorway?  But despite switching lanes and surfaces, the juddering continued.  Then an orange light started to flash on the dashboard. To pull in on the hard shoulder or limp on 15 miles to South Mimms Services and safety, with the possibility of risking further damage to the engine? One look at my travelling companion and how scarily busy and noisy the traffic was and I opted for the latter.

There was a further alarming moment when I ended my call to the breakdown people, opened the driver's door and saw a huge oil stain on the ground.  Argh!  Except that weirdly, it seemed to have pooled uphill.  I was still puzzling over this when the repair man turned up and informed me that the area I'd parked in, just inside the entrance and to one side, under some shady trees, was notorious for breakdowns.  Someone else's disaster in the adjoining bay, then. 

As for my poorly car, it was a misfire in cylinder 4. I've no idea what that means except that it's common in Vauxhalls apparently. But that's little consolation when it comes down to a wasted hotel reservation, tickets and petrol costs for a final road trip that didn't happen.

We did get home safely, however, and I'm thankful for that.  

Friday 18 September 2015

Henry V in Stratford-Upon-Avon

And so to Stratford-Upon-Avon to see Henry V, which I was excited about as I hadn't seen it before. Not without mixed feelings, though - I love the poetry, but felt worried by the perception of nationalism, and the victorious Henry's suggestion at the end of play that he and his conquered queen beget a son who 'shall go to Constantinople and take the Turk by the beard'. 

First, though, a wander along the bank of River Avon, where the already-drawing-in night produced some beautiful plays of light.  

What would Stratford be like without the legacy of its extraordinary son, I wonder?  A stolid, red-brick working town, I should imagine. (Like Devizes, maybe).  
Instead famous actors have memorial stones ... 
... and in the churchyard of the Holy Trinity, where Shakespeare is buried, there's the suspicion that we could be in Narnia. 

Even the doves seemed to be auditioning for Othello as they settled into their habitual roosting sites. 

By now it was time for us to settle too, into our front row seats for a play that has been described as the 'National Anthem in five acts' and thus apposite in a week when the refusal of the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to sing 'God Save The Queen' was bigger news, according to the press, than the gravest refugee crisis in decades, the slashing of tax credits, and the continuing attack on the rights of working people.  

Yet there's nothing noble in Shakespeare's depiction of Henry's invasion of France, and in this production, the speech on the Eve of St Crispin's Day is delivered not vaingloriously or even patriotically, but as a rather forlorn attempt to rouse disheartened, outnumbered soldiers with no realistic hope of victory. A bit like this, in fact:


My evening was complete when Pistol, played by Antony Byrne, presented me with part of the leek from Fluellen's cap, with which the Welsh captain had beaten him around the head and forced him to eat.  Not quite enough to make soup, though. 

Sunday 13 September 2015

Travels With Mr Poetry

The big white Home Improvements van was parked slantwise, almost encroaching on the neighbouring space in Tescos car park in Thornbury, but as this was the only one available, I took a deep breath and squeezed my way in.  With that, the driver and his mate reappeared.  In my side mirror I caught a glimpse of builder's bum as he got into the driving seat.  Then he got out and accosted my partner, who was sorting poetry festival brochures in the boot.  Oh God, he's going to accuse me of scraping his van, I fretted.  

'Funny you should say that,' I heard my partner say. 'Have one of these. See you there!'

'He said "You're that bloke from the poetry festival, aren't you?" my partner said as he got back into the car. 'I said "Yes, do you like poetry?" and he kind of half glanced at his mate and said "Well, the missus does, you know. Anything coming up soon?"'

It can be a thankless task delivering brochures and very difficult to know how effective it is. I suspect electronic publicity reaches more people, like you reading this now. Although possibly not the Mayor, whom we saw emerge from a restaurant on the waterfront on Thursday lunchtime.  

'Oh, I'll definitely come along to this!' he exclaimed as we proffered our post funding cuts, Bristol City Council logo-free publicity.  

'We'll be on the lookout for you!' I cried gaily. 

Being a dark poet, my dog Ted often comes with us on brochure runs, particularly when there's the prospect of a walk involved.  Like after the drop at Weston-Super Mare library. 

So the scones in our cream tea were on the dry side. You can't have it all.  And in a fortnight that saw the finding of what is to be my new home, one of my poems making the shortlist for the Bridport Prize, the offer of publication by Indigo Dreams Publishing of my third poetry collection in 2016, and the election of a Labour Party Leader who doesn't believe in punishing the poor and the disabled for the greed of the rich, there is more than a glimmer of light.

Sunday 6 September 2015

O Queen of Second Choice Destinations ...

Because something involving a loud hailer was happening and the car park was packed, we abandoned plans to walk along Kingsweston Ridge from Blaise and headed instead for that queen of second choice destinations, Severn Beach.

We parked in our usual spot.  This is the other side of the Amusements I photographed last time I was here.  

I'm beginning to get a feel of why this enterprise might have failed. Tubbies Burger Bar probably not the most sensitive of names.  Then there's its resemblance to a stalag ...  

It was beautiful up on the Severn Way - all sky and light, a breeze but still some warmth in the sun.  

A pristine day.  Well, maybe not quite. 
We passed under the Second Severn Crossing and headed up to Northwick Warth salt marsh, just beyond New Passage.  

This is something of a motorway service station for birds, and we did see sand martins swooping for insects along the flood defences and Chestle Pill, their wings dark chocolate against the milky mud.  

There were plenty of geese too.  

Some of the birds were decidedly local, however.  A squabble of spadgers in the brambles ... 

... and a heron the size of a pterodactyl heading for the water's edge. 

Chestle Pill

At about midway between the two bridges, we turned and made our way back. The heron was still standing sentinel on the shore ... 

... and the sun was chasing silver lines in the mud. 

Back in Severn beach a couple of Poles passed by, one of them sporting a green plastic wheelbarrow on his head. 'Their ways are not ours,' joked my partner. 

Saturday 5 September 2015

Damson Vodka

I'd like to give the impression that I found my damsons deep in a rural thicket and plucked them at dawn, knee deep in dew, but wild damsons are the size and shape of small olives and can be hard to come by. As you can see, these are much larger - and in fact, they're not even ratepayer's damsons, though they were free from my mother's tree.  

Damson vodka recipe


1lb/454gm of washed damsons

6 ozs/168gm of white granulated sugar

75cl bottle of cheaper vodka

Sterilised 1 litre (at least) Kilner jar or similar


Wash the damsons well and discard any bad fruit. Cut a slit in each piece of fruit and place them in the jar.

Add the sugar and top up with vodka to the rim.

Shake every day until the sugar is dissolved and then store in a cool, dark place until you can resist it no longer.   Try to leave for at least three months, longer if you can.  

I confess that of all the fruit vodkas I've made, I am particularly fond of gooseberry and elderflower, rhubarb and ginger, and the liquid bliss that is mulberry and almond.  But damson vodka is nectar, I tells 'ee ... nectar!


Wednesday 2 September 2015

Dismal In Bristol

I'm house-hunting at the moment, which is tedious and exciting all at once. But mostly time-consuming.  I had to find something to write about for my arts column, however.  I thought about heading for Dismaland, but media saturation, combined with a dismal booking system, made me think better of it. Besides, Bristol on a rainy August bank holiday can be just as grim.  

Bristol Puppetry Festival was on over the long weekend and I’d intended to take a look at Asiel, a performance by Babok that features recycled household items, but there was no sign of it outside Arnolfini. Maybe it had been washed away by the rain.  There was, however, a vaguely sheep-shaped lump of garish fibreglass just beyond M Shed, which had attracted a herd of dripping people taking photos.  

Ooh look, it's Blackbeard Shaun the Sheep, following on from Blackbeard Gorilla in 2011 and Salty Sea Dog Gromit in 2013.  About time they cut straight to the Charity auction, I think. 

It's all so much less interesting than the B2737 Battle Bus on loan from the London Transport Museum which was parked alongside and which, apart from the occasional toddler being lifted to parp its horn, was ignored.  

The B-type - the first ever mass-produced motor bus - went into service in 1910.  They were commandeered for the war effort in 1914 and saw service as troop carriers, ambulances, lorries and even mobile pigeon lofts.  

They then went back to being buses in 1918. 

And look, it says - Tracey frm Islington drove her!

In the absence of puppets, I headed into the Arnolfini and found a different Dismaland in the form of an installation by Matt Davies and Milo Newman, entitled By the Mark, the Deep. ‘A sound installation that delves into the submerged ruins of the lost coastal town of Dunwich’, it consists of a room in total darkness, filled with the noises of shifting waves and silt, taken from sound recordings made directly at the site, now covered by the North Sea.  

After a while, as I inched my way across the room, I made out what might have been a shelf, which vibrated alarmingly and turned out to be the sound system. Then, as my eyesight adjusted further, I swam towards a shimmering white shape which proved to be fire regulations.  

The experience was surprisingly effective.  More people came in, wondering how they would ever find their way back out and whether there was anyone else in there. ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘there’s me and I’ve been here six months.’

Plunging from the atmospheric dark, I made my way to the exhibition of work by one of the UK’s foremost land artists, Bristol-based Richard Long, whose work I first encountered some years ago in Tate St Ives.  

I find Long's work very interesting, primarily because it involves walking about a lot.  Long documents his epic walks through the medium of photography, maps and text, re-imagining the relationship between art and landscape. 

Perhaps the most immediate part of the exhibition is the offsite piece Boyhood Line, which follows a desire line trodden by users of the Downs near Ladies’ Mile for 170 metres, outlining it with white limestone rocks.  The exhibition of Long’s work runs until 15th November.