Note

So, new poem. I’ve been umming and ahhing about whether I should put it up before I have a video to go with it, because it’s very much a performance piece and I’m not sure the words stand scrutiny on their own. Then again, I’m always criticising performance pieces whose words don’t stand up to scrutiny so fair’s fair. It’s also the most personal piece I’ve written since We Were Making Fairytales and it’s on an important subject so, if I wrote it to help, best get it out sooner. In terms of how it’s performed, basically think John Cooper Clarke’s Evidently Chickentown (one long machine-gun burst without a breath in each verse), interrupted by the few lines in the middle, which are delivered slowly and I hold my breath after “hold it” for about 30 seconds before continuing.

Obviously content warning for suicidal thoughts, please be aware.

Those of you who’ve known me a while will know suicide has been a simple fact of my life for a long time. I have two friends who killed themselves (this is for them), in both cases choosing the railway line for their final breaths. My best friend tried to kill herself three times, at least, over the course of a decade and a half. My wife and I have lived with suicidal thoughts for decades. As have many other of my dearest friends.

I’m 44 and I would now say I’ve reached the stage where I have suicidal thoughts, on average, for about an hour or two a day. Which means for the first time in about 30 years, I would say I am “well”. As well as I can ever imagine being. What I would love is to live in a world where I can say that to an audience and not have people shuffle on their seats, or to someone I know and not have them look away. Because we live in a world where it’s acceptable for an almost stranger to share a hundred details with me about their kids, and my wife and I can’t have children and even after several years of therapy, thank you person I don’t really know you just made this a three hour day, but when they finally turn round to me and say, “And how are you?” if I reply, “Stranger, I’m just counting the gaps between lorries” that makes me the freak. And that’s not OK. At all.

So, I hope if you read this and you have been there, you will know that you are not alone, and if you read this and you haven’t been there if ever someone needs to talk, you’ll shift a little less on your seat.

Note

I cut myself the pain was real
I prayed to God it would not heal
But God’s a fucking charlatan
I sought relief from harlot hands
They fucked me, blew me, fisted, pegged
They whipped me till my skin was red
Repeated till my insides bled
The numbness fucking grew instead
The shit fermented in my head

I know exactly what you see
Each time you accidentally
Allow your eyes to fall on me
The skin my sickness gives to me
…inconsequentiality

You like to say this too will pass
But sometimes pain is built to last
I’m not being rude but try to grasp
The thinness of the paper mask
I know it seems a thankless task
In platitudes please do not bask
Swigging kudos from a flask

So take thirty seconds, please, just half a minute and if you only hear one thing hear this.
No I do not want to die
I do not want to leave you, hurt you, traumatise you you you
Even the word you is a drill that will not stop but will not fill me
But when each breath is saline spreading skin from flesh
The only thing I want to do is hold it.
Forever.

You’ll wonder did I leave a note
It’s every verse I ever wrote
It’s every word I ever said
It’s every rhyme you ever read
You had the clues and still you missed them
Cos you wouldn’t fucking listen
The silences the vacant looks
The times I had my head in books
I couldn’t make it to the door
I curled up on the kitchen floor
With guilt I felt when I was sure
That even though my flesh was raw
The whole world needed you much more
The tory victims, working poor
The millions destroyed by war
Each headline an interrogation
Every loss a condemnation

You wonder why I play the fool
When playground whims from vicious schools
Are codified as social rules
The pool of pain the fetid lake
The only thing this world won’t take
Tomorrow please for pity’s sake
Be the day I do not wake.

 

 

Twelve Dark Nights of Christmas

It’s not a surprise that what I want most for Christmas is a dark night, a dark room, howling winds and a screening of American Mary by the brilliant Soska Sisters. Here is my poetic tribute to one of our tritest carols. Most of it scans like the original so you can sing along to make those get togethers that push you to the edge a little more bearable. I hope you enjoy, and stay safe, everyone, at this most melancholy time of year xxx

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me
A screening of American Mary

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

American-Mary_Poster-SC

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Eight transgressive stanzas
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Nine steganographias
Eight transgressive stanzas
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Ten self medications
Nine steganographias
Eight transgressive stanzas
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Eleven heretical syllables
Ten self medications
Nine steganographias
Eight transgressive stanzas
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me
Twelve safe spaces for the dispossessed
Eleven heretical syllables
Ten self medications
Nine steganographias
Eight transgressive stanzas
Seven neutral pronouns
Six lost souls remembered
Five dark nights of the soul
Four nipple clamps
Three body piercings
Two leather whips
And a screening of American Mary

Video: Everything I Learned I Learned From French Cinema

Filmed at Hammer and Tongue, December 2015. Full words:

I learned stealth
Lessons gleaned from the wealth of black and white breasts
With sound down on a four inch screen.
I learned that ecstasy is silent, hidden,
Often interrupted
And always forbidden.

I learned the semiotics of the erotic
Red triangle at night, teenager’s delight
Adult sights away from adults’ sights, sly slights of hand
That consummate a solitary one night stand

I learned the importance of appearances,
Of branding,
Of standing apart from the masses…
Just far enough
Because in halls if you filled your walls
With posters six foot tall of Betty Blue then you were cool
But more fool you if forgot the rule
That for every masterpiece, for every hit
There’s always a Luc Besson film slightly more shit
And you got loudly plastered and displayed
Your proudly plastered poster of Subway.
Because Christopher Lambert will always be Highlander
Because that’s not a light sabre it’s a light bulb,
And weirdly uplit hair on the wall by my bed
Will always belong to Eraserhead

I learned that blue is not just warmest but the only colour
(Except when it’s one of three)
That the past can dissolve like coffee in a sugar cube
That the future is a battle between longing and madness
And that the only favour from the present we can ask
Is to hide the certainty it cannot last.

I learned that love really can be fireworks
But only for a moment, dancing on a bridge
Glorious, drunken, deranged,
Lifting even hearts sunken to the bottom of the Seine
Then setting them down in the dark
Both changed forever and unchanged,
A stranger once again.
Because even the love that makes cathedrals out of gutters
Will still stutter when hope bleeds from your fingertips,
When seeds of better tomorrows linger only long enough to choke.

I learned that while your friends are on the rooftops singing fuck the police
Behind a film of fate you strive, aspire, and strive still higher
But still you’re paralysed
Caught not in the sights of life’s sniper’s rifle
(cos Luc Besson’s simply torture tourism and glamour neon
And there are no good metaphors to glean from Leon)
But stifled by a lack of hope
The slack rope of talent loose around your neck
And your eyes full of others who fulfil your dreams
Their successes a succession of knives on your thinning skin
And your sin of poverty held like a cheap handgun to your eyes
While you stand and watch the barrel for the bullet
Your lives freeze-framed you watch the bullet
Till it
Hits.

Overcooking the Lobster

Recently I’ve found my poetry drifting away from the melancholic, transgressive Beat-inspired subjects of past years and into territory that feels as though it has merged with a lot of my critical output, focussing ever more on “the state of the arts.” Much of it has been a lament. Occasionally there is a celebration. At some stage it feels as though this is going to coalesce into some kind of a show/lecture on modern (and, indeed, Modernist) literature and culture in general. For now, it is a series of disparate pieces. This particular piece came from a twitter conversation I had on #futurechat a few weeks ago. The general conversation was about writers genuinely engaging with, as opposed to simply using and being part of, digital culture. Alt Lit was inevitably part of that conversation, but I wanted to centre it around David Foster Wallace. “Have you really got nothing more than that?” asked my interlocutor, “He’s been dead almost 10 years.” And I thought. And thought some more, and this emerged, a reflection on the writers who came after, and their relation to DFW.

ij

Oh David Foster Wallace!
Bandanaed Baptist of frat boy angst
Did you spill your milk in the wilderness for this!

Your children had visions of Christopher Hitchens
Expounding the kitschness of Kylie Minogue
And drowned in the sound
Of a thousand interrobangs all gone rogue.

Hipsters who announced with theatrical thunder
Manifestos of derivative syntactical plunder
Carefully avoiding a thematical blunder
With a cultural emetic administered down under
For the discretest verbal tactical chunder;
Reblogging flawless gifs on a radical tumblr
But…
only if they find themselves a practical funder

They veered violently away from the terrorist menace
They believed that life was a metaphor for tennis.
They thought the poet’s job was to be erudite and jokey
But irony’s just gaslighting all lagered-up and blokey.

Oh David Foster Wallace you were the fugu chef who fed a generation similes
You filleted the poison till your blistered lips bled homilies
But your exquisite loins bred cynics who barked satire like Diogenes
Who never spotted the intransigence of rhizomes of misogyny.

They paraded privilege like legs that wear the stockings of neutrality
Got shocked by the suggestion that they’re masking a disparity,
Danced like vampires in the sunlight at the thought of things declarative,
Had tantrums when you told them that it wasn’t all comparative.
They never noticed that they never met a better metanarrative.

Oh David Foster Wallace, I say to your worshippers
Consider!
The functions performed by the clowns in our circuses
Are wit in the service of sinister purposes
And timely reminders of ultimate worthlessness
And gouging chunks from the skin of our cultural surfaces.

That Was Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

HT

(With 3 of the best poets and best people I know: l-r Paul Fitchett, Lucy Ayrton, Andie Berryman, yours truly)

Last night’s Hammer and Tongue slam was always going to be criss-crossed with lightning from the emotional charge in the room. It was the first slam since the death of Davy Mac, the wonderful man and dear friend who graced the microphone there so often and so beautifully, winning the Oxford regional final in 2012 and finishing second in 2013. I’m still trying to put the right words together in the right order to compose my own tribute. Suffice to say there are very few people in the world I’d say I really love, and now there’s one fewer. And when Andie Berryman read his last poem, Conversation with a Rock, and walked away leaving a packed room applauding the empty, spotlit mic it was like that lovely impish grin lit up the room for one last time.

As the oldie I performed last night got a few updates both to tighten the structure (erm, to give it any structure at all) and to make it a little more current with the references, I thought I’d share it here. So this is the late 2014 version. I should probably introduce and contextualise it with the brief intro I gave last night:

“Oxford has a professor of Poetry called Geoffrey Hill.

Geoffrey Hill believes that contemporary spoken word like you’ve heard here tonight has nothing to say.

Geoffrey Hill is a cock.”

This Is Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry stark bollock naked with its genitals stapled to the steps of the ashmolean

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry shredded into 95 pieces and pinned to the cathedral door

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry on so much acid timothy leary reassembled himself from spaceshit just so he could give himself an enema of it

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry and it’s got a gary glitter onesie with your name on it

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry meaning meaning layer layer meaning layer meaning meaning meaning meaning i don’t want to fucking rhyme because that has no MEANING

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry it’s been locked away so long its eyes have evolved themselves out of existence but that’s ok because every other sense has evolved to compensate and that’s why it’s so fucking perceptive

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry spread-eagled across the red tops for unspeakable crimes against, you know, that kid that went missing that no one can remember the name of but we all vaguely remember the photo and there were placards about how awful it was and we made memes of because the parents of dead children got some apostrophes wrong

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry as it would appear if they did a new domesday book and asked everyone how much geoffrey hill poetry they owned and what it looked like after the ground swallowed the bodies of  eric garner and michael brown and still gleamed white with the glorious corpus of geoffrey hill’s poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry and quite possibly at the end of the universe in amongst all the black dwarves there’ll be professor brian cox still banging a beat from d-ream and saying entropy is what happens when everything breaks down into a billion billion ineluctable sub-particular soups of geoffrey hill’s poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry stark bollock naked banging at the door and it’s raining and inside the homeless and the dispossessed dance deliriously round a gigantic metaphor of nigel farage breastfeeding the baby piss christ

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry cold and alone somewhere at the edge of a ghost-town watching the lights go out one by one

To Whom it May Concern

Inspired by an umpteenth watching of Adrian Mitchell’s extraordinary reading of To Whom It May Concern at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall

I will be performing this poem for the very first time at the Alliance of Independent Authors’ fringe event at the London Book Fair, and then it will be part of The Age of Absinthe, my show with Claire Trevien at Chipping Norton Literary Festival. Do read more about the show here, and then book tickets here – they won’t last long!

Death slipped inside my skin one day
Ever since the kiss my dreams have all been grey
So wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I threw my heart with yours to the bottom of the Thames
The waters threw it back so fast I got the bends
So anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I read sonnets to a dying queen
Don’t think she heard, she’d barely turned thirteen.
So wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I took snapshots through the smog of your sons and daughters
Coughed out nostalgic halitosis on the rising waters
So braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

When they took your voice you left your shadow on the wall
When you were here, you never looked that tall
So knit my brow with promises
Braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

Across the green and broken land I heard a baby cry
Tried telling her to dream but couldn’t tell her lies
So embalm me with poets’ come
Knit my brow with promises
Braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.