The Peasants Are Revolting!

Yes, revolting verse has finally arrived in Leicestershire in the shape of this delicous pamphlet in a delicate shade of Marxist-pinko (TM) and stuffed full of juicy dissent and crunchy revolt.  Taste poems such as ‘The Firmamentation of Innocence’ by Bobba Cass, ‘A Job at the Glass Works’ by Richard Byrt, ‘The Gulf’ by Steve Cartwright and of course loads by moi, including ‘More in Common’ (for Jo Cox) and ‘Spike’ which I wrote for Sound Cafe.  Let us also not neglect to mention Will Horspool’s ‘Absence Trigger System’ and ‘One Man, One Microphone.’  This astonishing pamphlet is now on sale for donations (£4 min.) and all profits go to Momentum – which means all the money minus production costs, since nobody has been paid for this.

And here it is:


If you’d like one let me know.

Kirk out

There Must Be Dialogue

Sunday viewing in our house is always catching up on ‘Casualty’ (unless we watched it the night before) plus the unmissable ‘Handmaid’s Tale’.  I shall hold off on a review until the end of the series; all I’ll say right now is that its reputation for tense, unpredictable and thrilling drama is by no means exaggerated.  It’s a tribute to the makers that they’ve managed not only to maintain the level of drama of the original story but to build on it and ramp up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

Meanwhile, since it’s impossible in our house to watch programmes without talking, here’s a smattering of recent conversations.  Incidentally, in my view there’s an optimal level of talking while watching TV: not so much as to interrupt the drama but enough so as not to feel silenced (this level of course varies with the programme: the bar is set quite high with ‘Casualty’ but low with ‘Handmaid’s Tale.’)

So it was that during an outbreak of cystic fibrosis in Holby ED, OH happened to mention, ‘I always think of cystic fibrosis whenever I use our yeast extract.’

Pausing only to grab my phone and record the utterance on Facebook, I continued with the drama, but later saw this ‘explanation’:

‘It’s low-salt and not as spready as Marmite. Reminds me of the higher viscosity of mucus caused by the poor transport of chloride ions across membranes in cystic fibrosis because salt includes chloride ions too.’

Yeah, we’ve all had that thought… he followed it up with this little gem:

‘Why do you think they replaced voiced consonants with the glottal stop? I mean, how did that happen?’

Seriously, you couldn’t make this stuff up – unlike ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’; or so we hope, since a defining feature of the drama is that no-one is free to voice their thoughts.  Offred/June has to show her reactions rather than telling them (Elisabeth Moss does this brilliantly) and the wives can no more voice their feelings than the handmaids, being just as much victims in this gruesome drama.  Even the Commander is playing a role and has to indulge any deviant desires in secret: the architects of this hell are in it just as much as its victims.  And unlike ‘Casualty’ where as soon as you see a car you know it’s going to crash, you have absolutely no idea what will happen next.

Three more episodes.  Sunday nights will never be the same…

Oh, and since I haven’t mentioned this before I’ll mention now that I was mentioned in dispatches (ie the Loughborough Echo) along with Baroness Chakrabarti.

Kirk out

An Earful of Tearful

Now as you all know I like to have a grammar rant now and again about words and expressions that bug me; and the latest in a long line of these is ‘teary’.  Why is this word ubiquitous these days (and please note that I did NOT say ‘so ubiquitous’ because ubiquitous means absolutely everywhere and cannot be qualified!!!  Deep, calming breaths, deep calming breaths…)  Why is it that when we have a perfectly good word ‘tearful’ which means exactly the same, does everyone suddenly start saying ‘teary’?  I don’t like it: not only because it’s unnecessary but because it’s – well, a little bit wimpish somehow.  It puts me in mind of Victorian ladies with the vapours.  What’s wrong with tearful?  I insist on using it and I will not be cowed into saying the other thing.  And besides, it’s often ambiguous in print: what prompted this post was my reading the letters page in Mslexia magazine –

– and seeing this: 

‘I often can’t make it to the end (of a poem) without tearing up a little.’  At this point I was wondering – what was she tearing up?  The page?  The book?  Her hair?  And then I realised that this was yet another example of this horrid and superfluous word.  Just stop it!

Anyway, the reason I was reading the letters page was that my copy of the latest issue has just arrived and lo! they have printed my letter in full.  I had written to them in response to an article on poetry; and in the letter I said that one of my bugbears (yes, another one) is poets who kill their own work when they read it aloud.  I’m all for poets reading aloud; I think it’s an essential dimension of poetry – but for god’s sake!  Why, when you’ve spent such a long time and so much dedication to crafting the perfect poem, why would you then stand up and kill it?  As I’ve mentioned before

I went to see Ted Hughes in the 1980’s; indisputably one of the greatest poets of the 20th century – and he killed his own work when he read it.  He uttered the words in a monotone, almost with a sigh as if to say well, if I must, I must – and I came away thoroughly disappointed.  And Hughes is far from being the only offender in this regard – I have heard poets, novelists, short story writers read from their work as though it did not need any more than the sound of their voice to animate it.  It feels like a bone thrown to a dog, and it offends me.  It’s as if they’re saying that the oral tradition doesn’t matter, that it comes a very poor second to words on the page.

Now I take strong exception to this.  I feel a very strong connection to our oral traditions; to the bards and storytellers who existed before print was invented – and if I have an aim in poetry it’s to marry the oral and the printed.  I want each of my poems to stand up on the page and on the stage.  So here’s my plea to writers everywhere: if asked to read your work, practise reading until you can convey the spirit of the work orally as well as you have done on the page – and if you can’t, for god’s sake just get someone else to read it.

(And yes, I am available for a very reasonable fee…)

Kirk out


What is the Matter?

I just don’t know about all these words.  I mean, what is going on here?  In my day, a monitor was a child in charge of the school milk. *  In my day, a hard drive was a long car journey; a mobile was a twirly ceiling-decoration, a text was a book to study and a keyboard was a musical instrument.  And a mouse was a small, cheese-eating rodent.  In my day things were what they said they were and you knew what was what.  In my day everything made sense.

Of course such ranting is as out of place as Canute trying to hold back the tides (except that we know that’s not what he was doing, see previous post:

Words change inexorably as the tide comes in and goes out; and as people on radio 4 are forever pointing out, words which were once horrifyingly rude are now part of everyday speech, and vice-versa.  I refer you to ‘Cor, blimey!’ which I was once told by a Sunday-school teacher never to say as it meant ‘God, blind me.’  She seemed to think God might decide you meant it and carry out the deed.  What absolute balderdash.

Now there’s another obsolete word.  I quite like balderdash, but it has upper-class overtones which means no-one uses it nowadays.  Everyone’s too busy developing their fake glottal stop so they can sound aw’ right and dahn wiv’ the people.

But I digress.  Actually they prefer peanut butter to cheese.  Mice, that is: we were infested with these pestiferous beasts in our old house.  Traps seemed to have no effect as they skipped nimbly round them; though occasionally we would find the splattered body of a tiny baby mouse caught in one.  This made me feel like an absolute arse.  Peppermint oil liberally sprinkled, would protect your vital areas from predation, but we used up an awful lot of the stuff and everything ended up tasting of mint.  In the end the mice all died out.  Perhaps they got demoralised by continually feeling they weren’t wanted.

I know the feeling…

Yesterday was terribly busy: today I shall just be finishing the painting, pottering about with poetry and taking a good long bath.

Kirk out

PS a bonus point to anyone who can tell me why I put that title to today’s post

*in my day there was school milk!

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News

It’s been a dismal sort of day here in blog-land; overcast and wet, and perhaps that accounts for me being drawn to the poetry of Philip Larkin and in particular his well-known ‘This Be The Verse.’  If the title doesn’t ring a bell, the first line surely will:

‘They fuck you up, your Mum and Dad’

Curiously, one of the people I met at Sound Cafe asked me whether I knew the poem and could perform it: I said yes to the first and a definite no to the second.  Four-letter words in St Martin’s House?  Whatever next?

Anyway, I’ve been inspired to write a response to Larkin’s work about raising a teenager: I’ve called it ‘Larkin’s Guide to Parenting’ and it begins:

‘You have to let your kids fuck up

you may not want to but they will…’

I may do it at the next Pinggk.

So the poem took up most of the morning and then after a quick lunch I whizzed into town to look at Steve’s pictures.  He has works in two exhibitions, one at Bishop St Methodist Church cafe and the other at Cank St Gallery:

and they are both well worth a look.  So after looking I chugged up the road to St Martin’s House for the third week of Sound Cafe.  It seems to be doing really well: they must have had about 30 punters today and many of them joined in the singing with gusto.  We practised doing ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers, to perform in a couple of weeks when Helen comes back; then there was a very talented harpist who did a few numbers before I went on to do ‘There’s a War on’.  After I’d read this poem about the Bedroom Tax I talked to one of the guys who had actually been made homeless by it.*  He’d had a terrible time; not only had he been on the streets but he’d had a zero hours contract in Melton and had sometimes travelled all the way there (at his own expense) only to be told there was no work for him.  Zero hours should be made illegal – or else MP’s should be made to work zero hours contracts.  They’d outlaw them double quick if that happened.

After tea and cake a couple of people performed poems, and then a Rumanian guy sang a couple of songs.  He had a terrific voice and could have passed for professional.  It made me wonder about his history.  The good thing about Sound Cafe is you never know who you’re going to meet.

So then home: and on the doormat were two envelopes, one containing good news and the other bad.  The bad news was a rejection – a story I’d completely forgotten about: I wasn’t too upset as I hadn’t had high hopes for that one.  But in the other envelope was a cheque for my ‘Everybody’s Reading’ work.  So that was very welcome.  And so to work: I find the afternoons quite hard at the moment: I have loads of motivation in the mornings and get to my desk by 9 or 9.30, but after lunch my mojo disappears and I find it hard to keep going.  As for the evenings, unless I’m going out I tend to collapse in front of the TV and stay there till bedtime.  But I managed to read Dostoevsky for an hour (as preparation for NaNoWriMo) and now I’m here writing my blog.

Which is where we came in…

Kirk out

* by the tax, not by my poem!

Moan the Lawn

I have never known anyone make so much fuss and do so little work, as Mark faced with the task of mowing the lawn.  I will admit that the new lawn-mower, being a freebie, doesn’t cut it like the old one did; but even so, it’s not that hard.  But he huffs and he puffs and he totally sucks at mowing the lawn!  He does a strip and can’t see where to line up the next one and he complains SO MUCH! that I eventually grab the mower from him and just do it myself.  Perhaps that was his strategy all along: if so, it’s working.

Still on the plus side he spent much of yesterday tidying, so that can’t be bad.

I had a good weekend, doing a very successful poetry workshop on Saturday called ‘How to Read a Poem’, which was followed by the launch of the People’s Arts Collective in town.  This was great, doing poetry and music in the streets; then on Sunday the Quaker Meeting where I broke my duck and spoke about the sculpture of Jesus on a bench (see previous post); then the children did a performance of The Gruffalo to raise money for Doctors without Borders.  I have now succumbed to a cold and spent much of the day sneezing and moaning, though STILL not as much as Mark moaned about the lawn…

I have now finished the memoir!  Leonard Cohen reckons that poems are not so much finished as abandoned, and I think he’s quite right.  There was a great interview with him on 6 Music (thanks Peter for the heads-up)

and I shall post a proper review of the album on here soon.

Now have to retire to the sofa to do some more moaning before I get in shape for my performance tomorrow.  Come along to the Crumblin Cookie at 8 pm for Women’s Words!

Kirk out

Poetry Starts Where You Are

I have not a thought in my head this morning, so I don’t know what I’m going to say to you.  My head is filled with Unhelpful Stuff: there’s a thick fog in the foreground and around the outside there’s a collection of thoughts: there’s rage at Daniel not going to college on time; there are questions about what’s going to happen at philosophy, and a wondering about whether I’ll be conscious at the end of it; there’s worry about what my bank balance is and how soon the tax credits will come; followed by an interest in how much it will rain this morning – and all served up with a dash of doubt as to whether I’ll find my way to the Unitarian chapel or get lost as I did the other day when my brain was full of a thick fog…

So that’s how it is.  I can’t possibly form any coherent thoughts about Poetry or anything else while all that’s going on.  But perhaps the blank buzzing and thick fog and incoherent thoughts might form themselves into some kind of poem – a bit like this:

There’s a fog in the foreground

and my brain

there’s a fog in the foreground

and my thoughts

there’s a rage

and a worry

and a rage

there’s a wonder

and a worry

there’s a rage and a wonder

and a blank white fog

in the thought

of my brain

in the brain

of my mind.

Hmm.  Needs work, I suspect.  But it just goes to show – poetry is not a land you have to reach.  Poetry begins where you are.

Kirk out

PS Mark is drying his shoes with my hair-dryer in spite of having SEVERAL PAIRS OF UNWORN SHOES WHICH ARE PERFECTLY DRY!!!


Says Who?

Well, duh!  It’s perfectly obvious when you know – but I didn’t realise that ‘Simon Says’ was the centenary celebration of De Montfort Hall and therefore ‘Simon’ refers to Simon de Montfort.  I always wondered why it was called ‘Simon Says’…  De Montfort was credited with being the architect of English democracy but he was also something of a Bad Egg because he killed lots of Jews.

But!  Zooming forward to recent history – yesterday, in fact – well, what can I say?  I had a terrific day, poeting in a Winnie-the-Pooh sort of demi-forest, and then drinking mild and eating curry before lapsing into the acoustic tent to listen to a three-piece.  The acoustic area was not as acoustic as I would have liked, and the queues for beer grew unfeasibly long so that I only managed a couple of pints during the whole afternoon (probably no bad thing) – then we went outside for more poetry and thence into the marquee to watch Andy’s partner’s son’s band Skam, a competent three-piece who play very loud thrash-rock: and then into the main auditorium where we saw ‘By the Rivers’.  Another ‘duh!’ moment occurred as I then realised that BTR – of course – play ska/reggae: it was great stuff and very boppy and I even managed to get Mark dancing.  This was no mean feat as he has consistently refused to dance with me ever since our wedding (not that anything untoward happened at our wedding – he’s just got a complex about it).  Then by about seven, having been there eight hours, I’d had enough and so we slogged it home through near-torrential rain (my clothes are still drying) discussing the poetry and the music and how great it was that so many people had been able to come and cute all the babies had looked in their ear-defenders.

Here’s the vid of me performing.  A lot of people seemed to like ‘The Ballad of the Bowstring Bridge’ and I have had requests for a video of the musical version, so watch this space…

Kirk out

The Day Today

Yes, today’s the day.  All my poems are printed out and waiting: my outfit is hanging on the door, my bath is running and my phone is charged.  Am I nervous?  not so much as you would think – not yet, anyway; and not half as nervous as I was when I did the Sing for Water poem.  Hopefully there will be plenty of people there; the forecast is for cloud but not rain – not till later anyway – and I’m looking forward to a couple of beers and a couple of bands afterwards.  Hope to see you there!

Kirk out

I Wandered Lonely as Thorpe Cloud

So, on Saturday I was half-way up this hill in Dovedale, which is called Thorpe Cloud



when we took a break, and suddenly somebody started to talk about Wordsworth.  He’d been to a funeral where ‘Daffodils’ was recited as part of the ceremony: and then he burst out: ‘How is that different from doggerel?’  He started to recite the poem thus:

I wan-dered lone-ly as a cloud

di-dah di-dah di-dah di-dah’

I began to protest: I have always thought highly of Wordsworth and I started to say what I thought were the differences between the two.

‘But it sounds just the same!’ he protested.

‘It depends how you say it,’ I said.

After that the sandwiches took over, but it set me thinking: how DO you tell the difference between good poetry and doggerel?  Let’s consider the following two extracts:


by Wm Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud

that floats on high o’er dale and hill

when all at once I saw a crowd

a host of golden daffodils

beside the lake, beneath the trees

fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

… and this, by Hilaire Belloc:


Mathilda told such dreadful lies

it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes

her aunt, who from her earliest youth

had kept a strict regard for truth

attempted to believe Mathilda

– the effort very nearly killed her,

and would have done so, had not she

discovered this infirmity.

Well?  What are the differences?  Both poems are in iambic quadrameter ie four metrical feet, each of which has the stress on the second syllable, so superficially they sound the same.  I think the differences are partly in intention – Wordsworth’s intention was serious whereas Belloc’s was comic – and that has an effect on how you read the poems.  I totally disagree that you would read ‘Daffodils’ in a di-da-di-dah way – I think the rhythm is slower and more contemplative and the words are slow, not punchy: lonely, cloud, golden: it’s very hard to say these words quickly and sharply, unlike killed, lies, gasp, eyes which are the staples of Belloc’s poem.

What do you think?

Answers on a postcard please.  Preferably from the Lake District – or failing that, Dovedale…

Kirk out