I taught myself to. read when I was five years old. I was in hospital at the time, recovering from an ear operation. In those days- sixty years ago-it was quite a major procedure, which meant that I was in a single room, with no-one to talk to. Even my parents weren’t allowed in the room. They had to stand outside and wave through the window.
After a couple of days the nurse came in with a pile of “Beano” comics.
“That should keep you busy,” she said.
Now I knew the letters of the alphabet, and I knew the sounds most of them made, but I hadn’t yet mastered the skill of putting them into words. But now, in the hospital room, I had the chance. I taught myself to read. By the time I came home I had worked my way through “Dandy” ” Beano” and a couple of Ladybird books. I was hooked.
After I’d ripped through Enid Blyton, I went on to “Biggles”- unlikely tales set in the First World War – I was beginning to get a feeling for structure now – how these simple stories were put together. I loved the way that stories can lift you out of yourself, open up a whole world, which might be real or a creation of the author.
When I was eleven I bought my first grown up book – it was ” The Ides of March” – a modern version of the murder of Julius Caesar, by Thornton Wilder -and that led me to Shakespeare ( my father had a big influence there) and then Dickens and then…and then..and I’m still going strong…
Except things are changing.
The first computer I ever bought was that chunky, solid little thing with a minute screen. I loved it – you could send email ( whatever happened to just mail ?) you could be in contact with everything everywhere. A great door on the world had swung wide open, and that other secret pleasure – adventures in your head- was less attractive than before.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that everyone put their books down as soon as the screen lit up. I’m saying that, although we have the world in our iPads, we have backed away from the magic which happens in that magic space between the page and the eye.
Let me know what you think….there maybe more to this than you might think…
My phone spies on me -
rings random strangers, just for fun,
sniggers in my ear.
There’s no business…
Life? No rehearsal -
improvise, work for the laugh -
smile as the curtain falls.
Shoulder to shoulder,
wait to be bought, browsed, read,
returned to the shop.
The cafe has closed down -
chairs stacked on tables, menu
offers dust and silence.
Black sky cracks like an egg
Drips fire, misty, hissing
quenched in the spindrift
A piece of empty, barren ground
overgrown and patched with nettles,
broken bricks and sunflowers.
This is where they come.
Stepping deftly from the shadows
they nudge the grass aside
and find a place –
Manxies, Marmalades, and haughty Siamese,
rag eared warriors and plump eunuchs,
queens and catlings
hissing, spitting, rowling
till peace is made
and boundaries agreed.
Then one by one they settle, preen,
through yawns, the flicking of an ear –
the language of cats is ancient –
little said but much intended.
Pollen glitters on their fur
like gold dust.
By sunset they have gone,
returned along the paths of beaten grass
to milk in saucers, meat from tins -
the clumsy, awkward love of human kind.
You wouldn’t believe it, would you ? I mean…soup. I would never have thought they would sink so low…so very low..lower then I’ve ever seen. And the police ..they’re just doing their jarb…they do a great jarb…heroes…all they got is…what ? Guns…tear gas..police dogs…helicopters…tazers… and THEY got soup. They throw the soap at the cops…right. And that tells me something. I just worked this out. If they’re throwing soup at the cops that means that they ain’t hungry…they got plenty of soup at home… they can afford to go out into the street and throw soup at the cops…..some of it in tins.
Some of the soup is in bags. They have these special bags. Waterproof. Soup proof. So it doesn’t leak. I worked that out too.
And the guy who was accidentally shot… he turned his back on the cop….how disrespectful is that ? What else could the cop do. He fired a warning shot…well..seven warning shots…into his back. It wasn’t the cop’s fault. The guy was broad built, you know.
I worked all this out myself. Anyone can see I’m smart. You gotta vote for me. YOU gotta
I did everything he asked of me.
Modest in all my dealings,
I killed no-one
slept with no man’s wife,
spoke truth and thought on heaven.
Then he said
“Sell everything you have
and give it to the poor.”
A blow across the face
could not have hurt me more.
My life of cautious virtue sacrificed ?
It would be self-murder.
I turned my back on him.
Years later, comfortless,
my good deeds sour on my tongue,
I sold up
did as he had asked
and went in search of him.
I found nothing but a tomb
and women weeping.
written in Tippex on a broken house tile
stamped out on a blank sheet of snow
drawn by a finger on some foggy window
scribbled in the back of an exercise book
whispered in the darkness of a flickering cinema
turned into a song by Ed Sheeran
printed on T shirts, birthday cards, pencil cases
stolen by politicians
tapped out on an Iphone
“My time’s my own”:
Down the dusty, data-blown back streets of my computer’s hard drive lies the dumping ground – the place where failed poems go to die, and fragments too, which make me feel embarrassed or ashamed – lines leading nowhere, overgrown with lush, excessive, choking adjectives; a rusting heap of mis-matched metaphors; a rhyme scheme spray-canned on a pock marked wall. And that’s not all that festers here – a ballad that would put a saint to sleep; a cinquaine that’s correct, but deadly dull.
The place is full of junk.
Yet often when I’m stuck I wander here to browse the trash
(it’s happened many a time.) I pick up some soiled phrase and rub it on my sleeve and sometimes – you won’t believe this – I see a gleam of gold beneath the grime.
Buffalo shoulders and thighs like oak trees,
head the size of a Halloween pumpkin -
candle flame flickering behind his eyes -
and teeth like a bandsaw.
He spoke no tongue but Yorkshire,
spat pity at anyone who lived
south of the Potteries.
“You have my condolences” he hissed.
Shop steward at the hospital
he fettled beds and fought the central heating,
mended trolleys, door hinges, broken washers,
until there was nothing left to fix
and so he bought a boat
a wireless, and a coastal chart.
Led by Radio 4 he reached the North Sea rigs
then back again to Scarborough.
He sold the boat and went all academic
learned Medieval Latin, grew himself a beard,
could translate every tombstone in the Minster,
shrugged when everybody thought him weird.
He was bored again.
A weekend stroll would put him straight -
forty miles across the North York Moors -
and back in time for Monday.
Mountain Rescue never found the body,
just his boots
the laces neatly tied
They fell out of the clouds
like stones, smashing
the sunflower fields,
on the hard summer roads.
Their lives fell with them –
letters, clothing, photographs,
sunscreen, lipsticks, bags of sweets,
passports to witness who they were
and what they had become.
They will not rise up,
bones whole, flesh healed,
brushing petals from their clothes.
They will not wander this strange, sunlit land,
looking for their children.
There will be no kisses
Nothing more can happen.