Category: creative writing (Page 1 of 4)


Having dipped my toe in Poetry World UK again I starting to get my bearings.

Here a online statistics crib that may tell some of the story:

Poetry book sales in the UK

  • In the UK, poetry book sales generate over 12 million GBP in a year as of 2018.
  • During the same year, over 1.3 million poetry books were sold.
  • Poetry book revenue in the UK increased by 15% in 2018 over 2017, which was already 13% bigger compared to 2016.
  • The average poetry book in the UK costs around 9.46 GBP as of 2018.
  • 66.7% of poetry buyers are under the age of 34.
  • 41% of poetry readers in the UK are girls and women aged between 13 and 22.


It not great. The biggest news to me as a 65 year old male is that the demographics of actual purchasing are heavily slanted at under 34 and female (I knew female make up 75% of all book sales as Neil Astley (Bloodaxe) kindly filled me in about that in 1993 at a Norwich book fair as he handed me back my poems and it fair to say that he has produced more books with female authors than just about anybody in the UK ( pays the mortgage I guess). To be fair he also used that income to generate a list with some decent poetry and especially translations. Ditto Carcanet which although terribly embedded in selling to academic library shelves and students ( count the number of mid range OK academic authors on its list and you pretty much in 80% territory). In fact you probably not get an academic job in poetry in UK these days without a Carcanet/ PNR seal of approval. Like a snake eating itself academic authors then ensure academic students on the PHD production line get published its a revolving door.

SO what world do you live in?

There are several overlapping poetry worlds to deal with which roughly speaking are:

  1. Traditional male-dominated publishers
    These have been around since the first time I wrote poetry in 1980s. Despite the advances in equality I am guessing they still fed and maintained by pretty much the same Oxbridge educated elite that runs everything else apart from a few shitty art centres. To pretend otherwise is absurd. The in brackets are who actually run them.
    Faber  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (FSG), Cape(Penguin), Carcanet (ACE) Bloodaxe(ACE)

    2. Performance/Slam/Therapy
    Heavily dependent on ACE funding and Academic support just about every niche genre catered for from Peformance to Black Lives Matter to Goth to Trans and anything betwixt and between. A very healthy scene at present fuelled by the democratisation of the internet and phones. Spawned some well-funded (for now) new kids on block like Bad Betty and Broken Sleep who have instigated some breaths of fresh air into the scene amid a lot of bullshit and posturing but have affected a genuine diversification of both reader and audience.
    Better that than the next bunch.

    3. White Middle Class Hobbyists
    This is a huge new area of what I can only describe as life-writing disguised as poetry. Heavily dependent on feelings and self analysis ( motherhood, death, mid-life crises,) basically all the First World trials of people who have very secure post employment or rich partner incomes. When I worked in academia I jokingly called the M.A. students Cash Cows as they provided a nice earner for the art college. That applies to anybody over 25 (under that they were grant funded now everybody no matter how rich can scoop a student grant). They are now flooding creative writing courses UK which advertise themselves as the moonshot to the stars as long as you pay their fees (which now around £12K a year as student loans siphoned off by the universities).

    That in itself not the problem life-long learning should always be supported BUT these usually articulate and narcissisitic well-heeled baby-boomers (lets be fair most poets are to some degree) are very good at creating ring-fenced cosy little worlds of poetic certitude where they publish each other create promo blurbs for each other and generally ignore most decent poetry and anything but themselves.
    In my research I found one hilarious bunch mutually publishing and boosting each other and sharing blurbs with each other all the way from the Creative Writing course on. Fabulous …poetic quality and depth forget it..

    There an app online called twitter circle just run some of these people through it you will se how nepotistic and chrony based their precious little scenes is fabulous:-) X starts a review- reviews Y – Y starts a press publishes X then X and Y start a academic funded conference lets call it ‘Call of The Wild’ and then they meet other small circles of self-boosting people like them and hey presto an anthology published by Z (who actually was at college with X and Y) happens.

    It beautiful and it is utter crap…..mostly.

    Oh and the richer they are the whiter they become and the further right their views. Generally speaking they mix with Oxbridge circle people not your performance and slam riff raff.

    I would post mine but I so shit at networking it just sad…some poets I am surprised manage to write anything such is their dedication to posting their breakfast and any other trivia to raise an audience.

    Apart from being turned down smartly by one particular magazine I not really had time to investigate but the statistics above drawn from USA suggest hard times ahead as they generally ahead in their brand of poetic capitalism. Reading stats are down and the switch from paper to digital far advanced stateside probably because demographics increasingly younger and phone based.

So where do I pitch old-fashioned slightly adventurous but well-crafted white male verse at these days?

Well it not a total disaster as amidst the floods of drivel there are some solid slightly dull places for solid slightly dull poetry which may actually be about something other than feelings and or Dolphins. Larkin would approve types.

Also not all academics are CV boosting narcissists and a few can actually write and probably would rather not be checking their Google Scholar ratings every day.
Academia is a bit like an open prison plenty of trips out if a good academic but break the rules you in solitary or worse assigned to a failing course and made to promote it.

I not given up entirely but I do feel low when wading through the poetry worlds out there now.

To make things better I would suggest banning all people over 30 from creative writing courses that would help. By then they probably never get any better and they could do something else useful to society instead of sitting in coffee shops discovering Joyce and Wolf.

Edwin Smith – Catching Light – Recordings


Back in October 2014 (now six years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.

I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.

I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!

The RIBA website has mislaid the entire project basically so I publishing whole thing here instead.

Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.

Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well but they been deleted since as diversification took its toll..
also deleted from RIBA too….ticked the wrong box?

So here they are again..

My First Telephone Call: Thames Valley Texas

The new grey phone in the hall
That never rang
Until one day nervously
I had to answer

It was my uncle from Spain
His father had died that morning
Whilst he was on holiday

My first conversation was cut short
“Yes dead, your dad is dead”.

Silence and then a sob
Then his wife Sue saying

“We’re coming home”.

I could hear him sobbing against her.

Then nothing.

Line connection.

The New World

Back to basics….

Poetry and I have not been getting on….

In fact I have been ignoring poetry, shelving it, filing it and generally pushing it to the back of my mind for the past decade.To start with this was deliberate as the combination of employment in an art school (note word art there not a writing school) and the first consistent art studio close to home promised great things…

But the best laid plans..mice and men etc.

The art school post ended in 2015 and although I still rent a studio I have been fairly incosistent in using it and the great rebirth of my painting career and the fame and wealth that would surely follow never happened.

A fairly shambolic attempt to reinvigorate my writing in 2014 on a M.A. in Creative Writing ended in abject failure as the reality of my age and what a modern creative writing course consists of collided head on….

Above and beyond all of these forlorn attempts to concentrate on anything was the gradual deterioration of my wife’s condition from 2009 onwards. Nothing, not an M.A. in Fine Art or international conferences had half the effect of living with someone who gradually showed more and more signs of a serious mental illness and addiction.

I have pretty much lost the last decade to being part of her battle with family tragedy and illness and thankfully despite the recent divorce she is still alive so far. I take nothing for granted now and take each day as it comes.

In that kind of time-frame poetry was the last thing on my mind and with the exception of some hastily produced mini-pamphlets my poetic career has remained parked in the drive until now.

So here I am 60 years old..none the wiser and a lot poorer with no gainful employment looking at writing again as the most ridiculous and least renumerative path I could possibly choose.

Welcome to the New World…same as it ever was..same as it ever was…

Memoirs – Ford and Morrison- Dealing with Death


I have just read these two linked memoirs. In discussing his memoir of his parents Ford specifically mentions the influence of his friend’s earlier book.

Both are very strong works although maybe because of its particularly English subject and atmosphere the Morrison just shades it for me especially as my own parents both died of cancer.

In describing that Morrison is accurate and heartfelt. Indeed so poignant is it that it made me look back at the impact of those events in my own life ( Morrison ends up in therapy).

He also discusses the impact on his own writing and if I am honest the death of my mother in 2012 after my father’s passing in 2004 left similar holes….

It only now after another period of near-death experiences that I willing to also admit that it can have devastating psychological impact in all sorts of ways including creatively.

Maybe that is why I turned to these books recently to see how other writers dealt with things.


Fishing in Fog: Thames Valley Texas


A winter Sunday, fog and frost

Two figures climbing a stile

Boots crunching crisp grass underfoot

Head toward the Thames at Clifton

My father not yet seventy, still working

And I back home for a day’s fishing

Struggling with tackle and reels in the cold

Sit expecting nothing, no fish bite in this weather

Talk about things, my grandparents

The cost of renting, share a flask of tea

Steam rising across his face as he pours it

Lines taught in the brittle air, disappearing

Then slowly the sun starts to lift the fog

The opposite bank starts to appear

A moorhen skirts the bank, swans drift by

Beyond the fog a dog barks endlessly

For a few hours we hold on to hope

Stare back into the white eternal glare

Of mist along the river looking for a bite

Staring at futures unseen, but clearly there

Now and again on a misty morning

Crossing the Trent I see father and sons trudging

Through the mist and rain together, silent

Sharing thoughts, hopes, jokes, together

Their lives unravelling like lines in the air.

Back on TRACK? : Oxford and Nottingham

Back in 2010 I started off with the title Track for a multimedia M.A. that finally did not happen. However the seeds of some kind of project centred around the impact of the railway on the movement of people and ideas started then. This is now bearing fruit as a double project centred on my local history research in two cities close to my heart.

So now we have…

based around the recent Lost Nottingham poetry project and

Based around the concept of Backwaters and Branch Lines

Maybe two separate collections or two bound together in one ‘TRACK’ volume.

Here was the original version from 2010

New Poems


I have a room for poetry

Two bookcases of neatly filed books

Arranged by region of course

Then chronologically

They have been gathering dust for years

Unread, unopened, a wall of doubt

Twenty years I have been a closed book

Until today the penny dropped

The dam burst, the Bastille fell

Words started pouring down

Cascading down the shelves

From Shakespeare to Auden

A waterfall of words

For you

They poured around my bed

Lifted it up like a boat

Some took off battered the windows

Like a murmur of starlings

Blinded my eyes

Choked my throat

I have made a room for poetry

I rock on a bed at sea

Calling out to you

In the silence


Somewhere deep in the bowels

Of my past life in Oxford

I am crouched with a naked flame

Above an original copy of Audobon

Subscription edition, worth millions

And hidden from mere mortal gaze

In a secret location

Its own room in the Bodleian Library

In this dream my life rolls backwards

Towards the Minotaur under the trees

Holding each precious page

Hurt and pain unwound too

Alongside Alfred’s jewel, lost treasures

Leonardos and Raphaels all mine

I load them on to Tradescent’s cart and

Wheel them back into the light

I start a new enlightenment

Shine a light into the dark with these beacons

Light a series of fires across the downs

Burn away the hurt and sorrow, the business plans

Start a new University in the air free of charge


The ignition came unbidden

A firefly at dusk, drifting

Across the estates like a wayward lantern

That some bright spark in Mansfield

Decided was a UFO

And called 999 twice

Or three times

No I didn’t want to start again

I couldn’t help it

The materials were there

Lying around the forge

Dusty with neglect, unloved

Then the molten heart leaked

A salamander

Here it lays, stronger, steely

Coated in black armour

For black times

Come slings and arrows

Normal misfortunes are ten a penny

In every A&E you’ll find them

Forging ahead or burnt and gone

You cannot fake emotion


I sit on a Nottingham bound train

At Derby Station

And note the platform signage

‘South and West’

My wife is south and west

Of here now following her own path

I am headed north without due reason

My life has always been south and west

Until nearly twenty years ago

On a whim I headed north

And met her due south

On a grey thundery London evening

She was headed west even then

It just took her a lot longer to reach her destination

Which for now is between stations

Hanging in the air like bird song

I hear her now and then, hear her true voice

Growing fainter on the wind

Standing in a siding blurred with weeds

Somewhere south and west of here

In twenty years

We will both be gone, long departed

Down the lines we can still see


Burning Books – hiding in plain view?

Last year I did a reading for Nottingham Poetry Festival in which I produced a small ‘polemical’ pamphlet called ‘Burning Books’.

The pamphlet was a one off and most of the poems after ‘outing’ in paper form were then hidden away as ‘too political’ for my readers by myself!

I censored myself which crazy but shows the agonies of being in any way ‘political’ or writing from a stridently working-class viewpoint in the contemporary middle-class ring-fenced world of ‘proper poetry’.

It only now and post Kit de Waal’s article in the Guardian that I realise that in doing so I hiding from my true self.

So here again is the ‘real’ ‘Burning Books’ pre-edit and I stand by these poems…..a lot of pretentious middle-class ‘poets’ will hate it but frankly as I don’t spend much time listening to their whinging I don’t care. I will be ‘re-categorised’ as a ‘performance poet’ I expect and described as having  a ‘chip on my shoulder’ which a frequent method of negating anything which threatens the middle class.

Here a taste of what I talking about…

Proper Poetry

I used to write proper poetry

Not the really proper stuff

You know packed full of classical allusions

Or invented lives based on obscure photographs

No I gave up on proper poetry

Because it is so fucking boring

So I write an occasional diatribe

And raise two fingers to the academy

These are the times for less poets, less experts

Less academics and more UKIP candidates

When a military chaplain’s daughter from Wheatley

Is playing Joan of Arc in the Wars of Brexit

With only God and King Billy to save us.

Download as a pdf here


Blurred Fences : Thames Valley Texas

A Christmas Poem in November?

I wrote this poem in 1995 and had omitted the key line about poets for fear of offending my father.

Now he has been gone 13 years so probably safe to reveal what the poem about.

After my father died in 2004 my mother confided to me that he had always ‘feared I was gay’ even when I spent seven years living with a Spanish woman…..such is the rural Oxfordshire psyche I suppose. Anyway here the finally rewritten (a couple of lines) poem about the trials of being a Berkshire Ruralist:-)


Wrestling with a young fir’s stubborn trunk

On an exposed north-facing hillside

Two weeks before Christmas, sleet, wind biting,

The spires of Oxford blurring in the storm

My father’s hands, hard, chapped, red-raw

Bend the tree over until the roots snap.

The red-faced farmer stands, biding his time

Then says ‘Poet is he.. they’re all gay or dead’

Silent we trudge back through rows of young firs

Past a tethered collie, collapsing tin sheds.

At the end of a gravel road worn to clay

We clamber inside my dad’s  builder’s truck

In the cab, steamy with opened flasks

Radio Oxford blaring out the traffic report

He carefully shakes ice off his jacket

As I scrape frozen mud off my boots

Visiting for the day, not dressed for fields

My Levis are slaked with straw and muck.

He sets the windscreen wipers beating

And a ledge of ice builds up on the hood then melts.

Distances open up and close through low cloud

As cooling-tower steam collapses like a veil over our home-town

The Down-land swims like a saucer of cat’s milk in the rain

As I try and grip a hot mug of tea with cold hands.

Still silent my father sips his tea and stares

through the pine trees and away from the farm.

I feel awkward, pick at the flakes of ice on my sleeve

As the motor turns and we lurch down the track.

He has ten years more hard labour to do.

Excavating then replacing soil across this county.

I have ten years of unfulfilled promises and high hopes to go.

Before I crash back into these muddy fields and the land buries him.

Dedicated to Ivo Belcher 1932-2004 and the un-named Fat Farmer with the conservative views 🙂

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