Poetry Blog: To a terrifying mouse.

Spring brings with it many jobs, especially if you have a garden. And it was while embarking on some jobs in our back garden that I encountered a somewhat unwanted visitor, just the other day.

As I’m currently on holiday from work – it’s our Easter break – I thought that it was about time I got stuck into some of the more difficult jobs that needed attending to. Principal among them was cutting our back lawn, which I had allowed to get to an out of control kind of length. I do this every year; tell myself that it’s too early for mowing the lawn when it’s reasonably dry in March and then watch on in relative horror as it rains for weeks and the lawn grows and grows. By the time I’d got the lawn mower out last week, it was around a foot high in most places, meaning that this would be a big job!

I’d actually prepared fairly well for this task, making sure that our garden waste bin had been put out for collection the night before, so that it was completely empty when I started the job. However, as I repeatedly emptied the basket on the mower it looked more and more like I was going to run out of space. I turned to our compost bin but that too began to fill up quickly.

I then began to push the grass cuttings down, hoping that such compression would create the space I needed in the garden bin. It didn’t work. And then I was struck by what I thought was a very clever idea. Taking the lid off our compost bin, I got the garden sheers out, inserted them into the pile of grass cuttings and trimmings from various shrubs and began to chop away. It worked and the level of the ‘compost’ began to drop. But not nearly enough.

Warming to my task, I went to the shed, got my garden fork as well as a weed digging tool and began to push them down into the compost, twisting and turning in order to mix it all up and hopefully make some of it drop downwards. Again, it worked and this time well enough to allow me to get carried away, delving the tools repeatedly down into the bin. And then it happened…

To a terrifying mouse

I have climbed mountains,
clung on as if my very life depended on it while others screamed with joy
on rollercoasters,
peered nervously over the edge of perilous waterfalls,
flown in a seaplane very much against my better judgement,
hurtled headlong down steep, snowy hills
on a makeshift tarpaulin toboggan,
faced down bullies,
been confronted by an angry rattlesnake,
had desks thrown at me by frustrated pupils in a failing school
and argued with an Ofsted inspector, despite being warned never to do this by those who knew better than me,
but I have never felt fear like that felt when a tiny mouse scurried out
of our compost bin and escaped over my foot.
No more than three inches in length
from snuffling nose to tiny tail,
as I cowered, this timorous beastie,
no doubt far more scared of me than I of he,
disappeared behind a pile of bricks to sanctuary,
whilst I screamed like a child, yet cursed like a pirate
and promptly cut my finger on the edge of the compost bin,
on reflection a fair penance for my ridiculous behaviour.
Later, as I slept, it crept into my dreams,
turning them into nightmares,
leaving me to smile ruefully next morning at the memory,
while silently hoping to never encounter it again.

I’m slightly ashamed to say it, but I got the shock of my life when I realised what was happening. I spotted the blur that turned out to be a tiny mouse out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt it run across my foot. It couldn’t have been there long however, due to a combination of the speed of the mouse and me leaping into the air in shock!

Later, after I’d told my wife and children about our little garden visitor, I started thinking about how I could turn the whole encounter into a piece of writing, settling on a poem. By the time I’d got to the writing things down stage I’d decided that I’d start with a list of scary experiences, then compare this to what had happened that afternoon with the mouse. I sat listing things I’d done that had caused me tension or fear before thinking about how I’d get on to the mouse.

The one thing that sprang to mind was the first line of the poem ‘To a mouse’ by Robert Burns and how he described the mouse as a ‘beastie’, which made it sound much more scary than it was in his poem. I liked the idea of my mouse being a ‘beastie’, just because it gave me some such a shock and so I decided to use that line, but play around with it a little bit. So instead of the mouse being ‘cow’ring’ I thought it would be better used to describe me and just left the mouse as a ‘timorous beastie’ like Burns had.

The fact that I then dreamt about the mouse that night helped me confirm my thoughts of it as threatening! In the dream I could almost feel the mouse on my feet and it actually woke me up! It definitely made me smile the next morning and had to be included in the poem once I wrote it up as some kind of first draft.

I’m pleased with how this poem has turned out and I have to say that I really enjoyed drafting it and then putting the finishing touches to it. I hope you enjoyed it too!

Poetry Blog: Pushing Out to Sea

This was a poem that was prompted by a lesson I taught recently. Sometimes we use images as a prompt when doing creative writing. We’ve been doing it recently with Years 10 and 11; giving them an image and discussing what we can see and how we might describe it as well as getting them to think about what you might hear there, how it might feel etc. The aim here was to be able to give them a way into a narrative, a place to start before they began building tension or drama or whatever else it was that they wanted to build in there.

The idea for the poem came when I was teaching a small intervention group and discussing an image with a student. We concentrated on the image at the top of this page. Once we’d done with our discussion I gave them time to write and given that it was in exam conditions, quickly found myself with little to do. So, I started jotting down notes about the image with the intention of adding them to the lesson for next time that I taught it.

The poem came later. I hadn’t yet used the notes, but came across them at the end of the day on a bit of paper while I was gathering up stray worksheets and stuff for recycling. I took it home – it was just some sentences and observations about the things in the image – and sat down with it later on to write the poem underneath.

Pushing Out to Sea

As day breaks only the occasional whispered chatter of three tired fishermen,
or a shambling step displacing pebbles on the track breaks the silence.
Not quite day, not quite night, not quite still.
At the shoreline they yawn and stretch before dragging their boats towards the shore and into the shallows, feet wet, limbs already aching.
On the water, the light from each boat gives birth to a dappled golden fish reflected on the surface, stretching across the lake.
Hopefully a good luck charm for a catch yet to come.
The breaking sun spatters the dark of the sky with Jackson Pollock pinks, reds and oranges as a chill breeze welcomes the men to the water.
Soon, the warmth of the sun will toast their bones again and make them feel alive.

I really liked the image. There was lots going on; the mountains in the background, the light on the water, the colours of the sky, the men and their boats. But as well as the image I found myself thinking about the sounds and what it would feel like to be there.

I decided to focus on the men and the reasons why they were there, deciding that this was work rather than some kind of hobby. I liked the idea of them making their way to the lake, still groggy from waking up and almost hypnotically going through the motions in order to get out on to the water. Sometimes, the body functions and then we look back and wonder exactly how we got to where we are. Or maybe that’s just me. I don’t mind mornings, but I find that I’m not the most sparkling company at that time of day and going through the motions is very much my way of operating until a certain point. This made me draw parallels with the fishermen and I decided that in the same way as a class coming in to my room can be like flicking a switch for me, they would only really switch on when they’d got to their destination and started fishing for the day. By that time, the sun would be up.

I didn’t want to write a long poem that took in their fishing simply because I haven’t much idea how they would go about fishing. It doesn’t look like a rod based activity, judging by the image, so I thought better of trying to guess. I was satisfied with what I’d got down up to that point and that the poem had quite a positive ending.

As ever, I hope that you enjoyed reading. Feel free to leave a comment, good or bad, as it’s always constructive to get some feedback.

Poetry Blog: What next?

About two years ago I started writing poetry. It was something that I’d experimented with before, but never really formally or with any kind of purpose. I must have written poems back in the stone age when I was at school, but would have no written record of such ramblings. And anyway, my school wasn’t the kind of place where a boy wrote poetry, unless he was ordered to by one of the psychotic teachers. Boys did sport, yelled a lot, swore and most likely spat on the ground like their life depended on it. Boys. Did. Not. Write.

Any poetry written in class would be hidden away from prying eyes and mocking tongues. Any hint of a notebook being carried around would provoke instant hatred and could only lead to years of cruel abuse from your peers (and probably even some of your friends).

As a younger adult, I’m sure I’d tried to write poems, but I’m pretty certain that when they existed, it would have been on scarps of paper and that these were long ago confined to the recycling plant.

I’ve never been a confident person. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’ve learnt to wear a convincing mask in order to hide what is actually a rather crippling lack of confidence. So, although I felt like I had something to say and that I could write, it was going to take a seismic shift to make me commit ideas to paper in the form of poetry.

It turns out that ‘thing’ was lockdown. I was locked down almost immediately once the decision was made. While colleagues stayed in school and battled to keep some sense of normality in people’s lives, I was told that I was vulnerable and had to stay at home. Couple that with a complete failure in terms of remote learning with my laptop and there were a huge amount of days waiting to be filled.

I’d started my blog by then and so was in the habit of writing. As can be the case with me, I wasn’t really in the habit of sleeping regular hours though. And one night, lying awake with words whirling round my head, I realised that I had the bones of a poem keeping me awake. So, I crept downstairs, opened a notebook and wrote a poem; one draft and what felt like no particular thought needed. I don’t know whether it reads like a one-draft-no-effort poem, but it was done! I thought I’d published that poem as part of the bog, but looking back, it doesn’t seem so.

From there I came up with the idea of a lockdown writers’ group – Lockdown Literature, you can read about it on the link below – where friends and colleagues could publish anything they’d written; whatever it took to stave off the boredom of being isolated like never before. Inspired by others, I was able to write a few more poems.

Lockdown Literature

Our Lockdown Literature group made me think about what to do with my poems. By now I was writing them regularly and so, once I’d decided that a) I had the confidence to share and b) I didn’t feel it was too much of a pretentious thing to do, I started to publish some of my poems as blogs, adding a little bit of explanation about the poem and about my thinking when writing it. They seemed to go down well and it gave me another blogging avenue to explore.

Now though, I want to develop things a bit. It’s lovely that people who read the blog like my poems, but I want to really test myself with it and I must admit that I’m unsure of how to move forward. I’ve considered things like poetry competitions, but from what I can see, a lot of them require entries to be unpublished and I don’t really know if my own blog counts in those terms. However, it’s stopped me entering anything so far. It’s certainly something that I need to look into and if anyone has any advice, I’d gladly listen.

Another route I’ve wondered about with my poems is to attempt to put together an anthology, but it’s an area that I know next to nothing about. I realise that I could self-publish, but without adequate promotion, even an anthology is not going to gain any interest. Is it the kind of thing I can send to publishers? If so, how do I group poems and how do I approach agents or publishers? Again, it’s something I really need some advice on, so if you’re reading this and you have any insight, I’d be really grateful for your help.

The third and final way of developing my poetry terrifies me. In actual fact, I’ve only considered it because a few people have suggested it. One kind soul even invited me along to actually take part. What am I talking about? Performance poetry! This is something that I can’t deny tempts me, but despite my advancing years and the fact that I talk at people for a living, the thought of standing on a stage – makeshift or otherwise – in a room full of people, reading out my poems, makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and my tummy feel a little bit poorly!

It’s not actually the thought of an audience that bothers me very much. No, it’s more the thought of exposing something as personal as my poetry to what would likely be an entirely new audience. Every day of every week brings an audience of harsh critics in the form of pupils in a classroom, so speaking in front of people is second nature. And not to play the tortured ‘artist’ here, but the idea of reading so many personal words (does that make sense?) and even considering myself any kind of poet, feels very much beyond me.

Still though, I find myself trying to pluck up the courage and find the time to attend such an evening, not as a performer, but as a punter just to try and see what it’s all about. Maybe once that step is taken, I could find the courage to put myself down for some kind of open mic slot. Even typing the words fills me full of dread though, so it would be one hell of a step to take!

So 2022 has to be the year that I trying and ramp up my poetry game. It reality feels like something that could develop and something that I believe in somewhere at the back of my mind! I just need to work out how.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment, especially if you have any suggestions that might help me!

Poetry Blog: Euro 2020 – A short anthology

As a football fan, I’d forgotten how much I missed tournament football. I’ve detailed lots of factors in my Euro 2020 Diaries that I’ve been writing for the blog (links below if you fancy a read), but it’s safe to say that simple things like the noise and the colour have been amazing and it surprised me how much it affected me when seeing it all in full flow again.

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 1

Euro 2020: Fan Diary Entry 2

I think the first time it really struck me was watching the first of Hungary’s games and realising that they had a full stadium. I actually commented to my wife about what a remarkable thing it was, both of us knowing all too well, that I’d been in many, many a packed stadium before.

When the tournament was cancelled due to the effects of the first wave of Coronavirus I didn’t give it much thought. It didn’t bother me at all. Despite football’s importance in my life, life itself took prominence at that point. The realisation that I was at real risk of something that might well kill me stopped me taking football too seriously. Funny that!

However, fast forward a year or so and I am once again fully immersed in watching football. It doesn’t matter that I’m largely watching players I’ve at best only vaguely heard of; I’m loving every minute. It prompted me to write my blog diaries, but then one day I was hit by the urge to get all poetic. I was thinking about the remarkable on-pitch events surrounding Christian Erikson and the subsequent rallying cry of what seemed like the entire Danish nation. And it got me to writing. And once I stopped, well it wasn’t as if I couldn’t stop, but I found myself writing four poems there and then. So, I suppose I did stop after all.

The first is my poem about the remarkable story of the Denmark national team and I suppose those who represent the Danish nation at the tournament. To quickly fill in a few blanks, their star player suffered a cardiac arrest on the pitch during their first game. He survived and the team have been battling on ever since. So here you go…

A Modern Fairytale

From that moment something changed in all of us and a modern fairytale was born.
Derided for our tribalism, mocked for our predictability,
now our unity would surprise.
As headlines were made and news spiraled around the world, 
we were focused.
Shaken from our reverie, shocked by what we witnessed,
old memories long since committed to the backs of minds, awoken once more.

And so, we adopted you. Tuned in, crossed fingers, sat tensed, silently praying
to someone or something in the hope that you could find
'us' some justice.
As best we could we shared the early elation, 
giving not a second thought to our own nation,
then returned to heightened tension, pacing floors, shouting
at screens and watching, forlorn as you ran out of steam
and didn't quite have enough.

As the whiff of a final chance floated through the air
and you gathered for one more time, the atmosphere crackled
with pride, optimism, anticipation.
That image, still fresh, would spur on a nation and its adopted
sons and daughters and we punched the air, as one, 
as the net bulged again and again, edging you closer to a triumph 
that was surely written in the stars.

As you celebrated, a wall of red, white and blonde
our game once again reminded us of its power,
producing joy where once there was fear, shock and mourning,
we will always remember these moments of unity, 
when once, we were all Danish, weren't we?

Shortly after writing my Danish poem, I watched the last North Macedonia game. It turned out to be the final international appearance of Goran Pandev, a player I’m well aware of, but also one I’d lost track of somewhat – I mean, I follow football, but you can’t know every player’s every movement, right?

Pandev was substituted late in the game and given a standing ovation by the crowd as well as a guard of honour by his team mates. The game literally stopped while this happened. Once play re-started the crowd chanted his name for a good few minutes too. I just thought it was a wonderful few moments and something that said a lot about our game. So I wrote a poem.

Goran Pandev

If there is a word for a figure that is not quite a legend, not quite an icon, 
then it is needed for times like this.
A celebrated career, yet only known to those of a particular ilk; dedicated, obsessive,
those who glory in the fact that the devil is in the detail.
Born to a nation that many could not find on a map,
scorer of goals that most cannot recall, let alone say that they saw,
it is all the more remarkable that as you leave the field,
for what many would not realise is the final time,
there is a guard of honour, a standing ovation and a rousing, hearty chanting of your name.
A tribute, not just to you Goran Pandev, but to all of football.

England versus Scotland was always going to provoke something in me. As a proud Englishman, it’s a fixture I love, regardless of the sport. It’s the one that both sides always want to win and dared not lose. A classic, bitter, historic rivalry.

As it turned out, the match was largely a non-event. England, overly cautious and perhaps overawed by the occasion, Scotland, performing above the sum of their parts, but still only arguably the better of a bad bunch. The teams shared a point, before ultimately going their separate ways; England qualifying for the knockout stage of the tournament, while Scotland would fail to get out of the group stage.

On England v Scotland

The oldest fixture in football.
This is not just a game, yet not the war that some would have you believe.
There is a hatred on both sides, a mistrust, a pride, an ancient grudge 
that will forever break to new mutiny at the mere mention of the fixture.

All common sense, rationality and right thinking is cast aside
as Edward's army, Hadrian's Wall, devolution, independence,
invading Celts, broken crossbars and of course, 1966, dominate our thoughts,
our conversations.
Bitterness, nationalism, the iconography of two flags, tartan and St. George are
forced to the fore. Nails are bitten, alcohol consumed,
friendships cats aside, a nation even more divided
and for 90 minutes it feels like we hold our breath
and watch through our fingers, faces covered, limbs tense,
a calm exterior a thing of the past.
Our capital invaded, our stadium full, our heroes reminded of their history, their duty.
And yet, on this occasion it will not matter. One side deflated,
the other, seemingly elated; neither wins the day.
Wherever loyalties lie, we'll meet again, we'll see your like again.

I’ll finish this blog with a very short poem concerning the England player Jadon Sancho. Sancho is a young player who has achieved a great deal in a short time, having moved to Germany to ply his trade. And yet, for the first three group games of the tournament, he didn’t get a sniff of action on the pitch. For the first game, he didn’t even make the matchday squad and as a player with such obvious gifts, this became a talking point. He’s since agreed to join Manchester United for something like £73m and has actually played one game in the tournament. The team however have played six. So, like most of the country I was a bit puzzled. Unlike most of the country I wrote a poem in his honour.

Jadon Sancho

You could have been at home,
socialising, enjoying the typical efficiency
of Tuetonic transport systems
or sipping a smoothie or even a beer 
in a Dortmund park.
More likely, you could have gone on holiday,
said '(Foot)balls to isolation', 
but no. You're here, under-used,
cast aside, destined to warm up perpetually.
What a waste.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these poems. If you haven’t, don’t worry, Euro 2020 will be over soon and life can move on. Don’t give up on me! I could well write something that’s right up your street very soon!

Poetry Blog: Isolation

Welcome along to another poetry blog. I won’t bang on too long about this one, because I’ve blogged a few times recently about the fact that we’ve been isolating for ten days after my son and wife tested positive for Covid-19. And this is where these poems have come from. Simple enough.

What’s safe to say though is that this post is very much a first for me. This post contains three poems, something that I’ve never done before in a single blog. I had intended to try and write a poem a day for the time that we were isolating, but quickly realised that what I’d end up with was probably two poems that I liked and 8 absolute duffers.

I ended up writing three poems, all connected to our isolation period. My first one came about for a combination of reasons. Firstly, I was feeling quite shocked about the two positive tests that had happened in our house and while spending the first couple of days largely on my own, had a lot of time to think. Secondly, the Facebook group I formed last April called Lockdown Literature, was somewhere where I hadn’t posted anything in a long time, so when I wrote the first poem quite quickly as a one draft piece, I wanted to post it there as a way of informing friends of what was going on. Only when I wrote the second one did I have the idea for the blog. The third one? Well, that was the result of a head full of ideas and the need for one more poem to complete the hat-trick!

Here’s the first poem, written shortly after we’d found out about the two positive tests.

Ten Days

We've done this so many times before
that I perform a cartoonish double take
as those two lines appear where there should be one.
And although one is barely there, it's still a second stripe, an alarm that stops rather than starts.

A moment stretches out in front of me 
as I struggle to react, to comprehend, before the
adult in me reaches up, takes over and my mind
begins to crunch reluctantly through the gears
that will help me protect you.

More tests are booked, the coming days organised, rest is ordered, distance
kept.

Ten days to get through. Ten days to check on you both as you sleep. Ten days to worry on the inside, but paint a calm picture on the out.

The second poem is about watching my wife through our dining room window as she sat outside in the fresh air and what we laughingly refer to as sun in West Yorkshire at this time of year. It was a few days into our period of isolation and a relief to see that she had the energy to go out, a relief to see that she was smiling once more. It had only been a matter of days that she’d been ill for and it would last a short while longer, but given the death toll and the horror stories that we’ve seen and heard throughout the pandemic, it was a lovely moment.

Fresh Air

It's funny how, despite the myriad cures and treatments 
prescribed by those who know best,
we still insist that fresh air is the cure for all that ails.

I watch you both, furtively through the window,
part concern, part inquisitive and
partly just because it makes me smile.

Despite the late afternoon sun dappling the table
you're wrapped up for winter, for a moment comical,
with your hood up. But then your vulnerability 
returns in sharp focus and I'm stopped in my tracks.

Fresh air won't loosen this deadly grip,
won't work any kind of magic. And so, I monitor,
shoulder the burden, cook beige teas and hoover to stay busy,
keep my mind from wandering too far down darkened streets,
watching from a window as you shiver but smile.

My final isolation poem is one that I fear may come across as pretentious. That’s definitely not the intention though. It was born out of the fact that we’ve had to work hard to avoid each other over the last ten or 12 days. There have been lots of moments where we pause and indicate ‘after you’ or just make eye contact in order to tell the other person which direction we’re headed. It’s been a kind of family friendly isolation and it just occurred to me that it’s been a bit like one long dance. This has mainly involved myself and my wife and it’s been never more apparent than last thing at night when we clean our teeth. We have a small bathroom and so have had to move around carefully in order to keep a safe distance from each other – a kind of cross between an amateur ballet and something out of a fight scene from The Matrix. I suppose we could have just brushed our teeth at different times, but then I couldn’t have written my pretentious poem. Anyway, here it is.

An Isolation Ballet

Little do we know it, but we've performed some kind of ballet this last week.
Two parts grace, one part paranoia, several parts a combination of
fatigue and sleepwalking.
We've picked a path around each room and each other carefully, reluctantly,
traversed two metres apart performing the every day 
routines and collapsed in synergy, separately
at the end of each day.

The discipline has been exhausting as we plie and pirouette 
our way through each hour of a ten day performance of avoidance
in search of some kind of security on our sanitised stage.
There are strange frozen moments, essential for safety, adding
to the drama and prompting the odd grin or burst of laughter at the 
sheer ridiculousness of it all.

Sometimes we don't even need to look as we move,
cautiously yet gracefully navigating space, just sensing the other 
and squeezing ourselves into a safe space.
This is not truly a ballet, a thing of beauty, but what we deem
necessary, vital as we dance apart, to stay together,
to remain safe.

So there you have it. The end to a difficult period of time in our house, although I think in terms of actual health it’ll take weeks, perhaps even months to adjust properly. The positive tests came at a time when I thought the threat had probably passed. I wasn’t ready for them. Not that I think I ever would have been, but at least when we were in the eye of the storm of Covid, say in the period between May last year and January of this, I had at least primed myself to expect the worst. Lately, as things have returned to being quite close to some sort of normality again, I had allowed myself the luxury of thinking that perhaps we’d got away with it. And of course we hadn’t.

I hope the poems haven’t seemed too indulgent or exploitative of the people involved or the situation. I think I just had to communicate what was going on somehow and writing it down is good when you’re being kept away from everyone else.

I hope you enjoyed what you’ve read. As ever, feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. Thanks for reading.

Poetry Blog: ‘Crossroads’.

This is a poem I wrote at the back end of last year after a bit of a setback, careerwise. It’s not important what that was, but it hit me like a train. This was unusual for me, as I don’t brood on things too much – apart from football, stupidly – and always try to take the view that ‘these things happen’ and that as long as I can move on with life, I will.

However, this was different. When I was growing up my own father went through career problems at a similar age and as a kid in his mid-teens, an age when these things tend to leave an impression, I watched him suffer. His situation was far more serious than my own, but career-wise at least, he never recovered. He was out of work for a number of years, having successfully fought his old employer in court, and it all combined to reduce him to someone who was constantly angry and who must have felt that he’d never have hope again. So, faced with the news that I received, it was a worry to say the least.

Here’s the poem.

Crossroads

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father before you.
Was he older? Younger? The memory vague, but those days branded on to you,
although the details fade. Until now.

Two envelopes, weeks apart, that plunged you not once but twice
to depths you hadn't thought were there anymore.
To questions about your worth, your place, your existence.

Dark thoughts return, like a playground bully, arm round you, sinister smile,
pouring poison in your ear. You've not thought like this in years, 
not imagined you'd think like this again. You do not know which way to turn.

The news leaves you like a puppet without a master,
limbs useless and flat, splayed out across a table thinking, like a coward
that perhaps, perhaps, perhaps, they'd be better off without you.

But just as this is not a real option, this is not a real crisis.
You wipe away tears, busy yourself, think, confide in those you trust,
love, value. There is even a small sense of liberation.

Slowly, you crawl out from under your stone and although you feel
that age is cruel and experience no longer valued, this is not the end.
You stop short of full on Gloria Gaynor, but you will, in fact survive.

You find some focus, tell yourself that you are not him and that
you will find not the other side, but an other side, that the confidence,
however painted on it may be, will return.

You are at an unexpected crossroads, bewildered, like your father
and like others, worse off, who felt that their whole world had
collapsed, sometimes even because it had.
But every crossroads has a way home.

The poem is about how bad it all felt. I genuinely felt like I’d let my family down. I felt that I’d completely failed and I felt extremely angry at that. The feelings that the whole situation prompted in me took me by complete surprise and for a short time I couldn’t see the point in anything anymore. As I usually do, I internalised everything and even though I eventually discussed it with my wife and a few trusted friends, the extent of my thoughts and feelings weren’t revealed. Until now, I suppose.

Eventually, after a few weeks of brooding and, dare I say it, feeling sorry for myself, I decided that I wasn’t going to put up with it anymore. I’d regard myself as quite strong, mentally and I could see that what had happened could just be an opportunity.

For me, there’s no point in sulking and I won’t allow setbacks of any size to hold me back for too long. Not that I’m hell-bent on moving too far forward, mind. I know not everyone is like this and I wouldn’t ever criticise or question anyone’s right to feel any way that they want, but as a grown up with a wife and family I made a conscious decision to get back on with life, hence what I hope is an optimistic ending to the poem.

It does worry me that my age is now a barrier. I feel that my experience isn’t particularly valued and that in education there has been a shift in thinking. If it’s not shiny, smiley and youthful, it probably doesn’t have what it takes. Call me a cynic, but often these new approaches from people who’ve had a job for no more than a few years are just approaches that have been done before, but wrapped in nicer paper nowadays. At my age my work feels like a competition to see who can smile the most and shout the loudest. I’m not a very good smiler or shouter either! But, as the poem hopefully shows, I’m not prepared to go under just yet!

I’m definitely at a crossroads in terms of work, age, the way I look, the things I do, the company I keep and much, much more.

With work, I can’t decide whether I want to slow down or head for a new challenge. Or just to keep doing what I’m doing, which is something I love at a place I love. With my age and a notable birthday on the horizon, I need to choose whatever I do carefully; not just in work. In terms of my looks, my hair is greying, my body not quite as responsive as it once was, my face a little more haggered. I won’t be reaching for the Just for Men and won’t resort to some form of cosmetic surgery, but sometimes I catch myself in the mirror and wonder where the fresh-faced 17 year old me went. And I’m always wondering, does my bum look big in this!

But I’ve realised that there’s no point in worrying about it. Just choose a road. Eventually I’ll find the right one. And whichever I choose, I’m lucky enough to have family and friends to rely on.

I hope you liked the poem. As ever, I’d love to hear what people think, so feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog: Red Kite

Ever since I was a little boy, I’ve loved watching birds. It started when, as a kid, I helped a friend with his birdwatching badge for Cubs and was hooked. We spent a large chunk of an entire summer wandering our local area, spotting birds and recording them in some kind of journal. I didn’t get a birdspotting badge because I wasn’t in the Cubs – too cool for school from an early age, me – but it didn’t matter. I was hooked. As a family we’ve been RSPB members for years and are fairly regular visitors to our two local sanctuaries.

I first noticed ‘our’ red kite a couple of summers ago. I think I first spotted it over our football pitch while taking training with the junior football team that I coach. I didn’t immediately know what it was, but was confident enough to hazard a guess, especially when I saw the red hue of some of its feathers in the light. I looked it up in our RSPB big book of all the birds (not it’s actual name) when I got home and confirmed that it was a red kite.

I then started to see what I assume is the same bird – I don’t imagine we have a gang of them locally – going past our house and it seemed to be around the area on a regular basis. It may go missing every once in a while, but we still see it fairly regularly. It feels like we’re forever chasing it round, in pursuit of the perfect picture, but sadly it seems quite camera shy and always seems to avoid our lenses! On the occasion I’ve written about it flew right above me while I was in my back garden. I ended up writing two poems about it, which I’ll explain later. For now though, here they are.

Red Kite

On a cloudy weekend morning, pegging washing on the line, something catches my eye. A dark shadow drifts and looms above me, dominating the sky. I sense drama, threat, majesty. Looking skyward I am at once transfixed by this giant, dwarfing nearby gulls. The threat remains, intensifies in fact for a moment, as the red kite drops a little in the sky, perhaps spotting me and weighing up his chances. Uninterested though, he drifts on, effortlessly, scanning the land beneath for a moment of opportunity.

I continue to gaze, rapt, in awe as the light above picks out every speck of colour on this enormous wingspan. Looking as if painstakingly painted by the careful brush strokes of an artist they propel him over houses in seconds. Scanning the landscape for something there is no sense of urgency or desperation; only a calm grace that means that although my attention has been grabbed and kept, probably no one else has noticed. No call, no hovering, no swoops or aerobatics – the sky is yours and with one magnificent movement you are propelled forward and out of my sight. The memory, however, will take a little longer to leave.

Red Kite

A cold, wet Saturday morning’s predictability is interrupted joyfully by a shadow overhead. Spotted from the corner of my eye and then focused on fully with an upturned look, the red kite drifts majestically overhead, the king of this sky.

Given the sight, my smile is easy and wonder assured, and yet, it is momentarily replaced by a frozen, fearful gaze. We lock eyes and the hunter briefly drops towards the ground, perhaps spotting some hidden prey, but for an uneasy moment leaving me wondering if I am the dish of the day.

A gentle swat of the giant wingspan and it has passed over my head and onwards. The bird bored by the human; the human still rapt. For a second or two sunlight bursts through clouds and the kite is lit up from above, its vivid rust coloured tail and white feathers in deep contrast to the coal coloured tips of its wings.

All too soon it is gone, leaving behind a sense of loss that will battle with the brief flutter of excitement for the rest of the day.

I ended up writing two poems about the exact same thing. It was only seconds, but it made a real impression on me. Our red kite was possibly the closest I’ve ever witnessed and I got ridiculously excited. How I didn’t drop our clean washing, I’ll never know!

The first poem was written straight from my laptop – a method I don’t usually use. I’d usually scribble ideas down in my notepad first, but this time felt compelled to just write and the laptop was the first thing that came to hand. As a result it was a poem that I came back to and re-drafted a couple of times; again a process that I don’t often bother with. I’m usually happy to scribble out the odd word and leave the poem where it ends. This time though, I made a few visits to the laptop over a period of days to try and get the poem I wanted.

The second poem came as a result of not being sure about the first. So for that one I just scribbled it down in a notepad. I must have felt happier with this one as looking at it now, there are only 5 words crossed out in the entire thing.

Having read both poems back, I’m now puzzled by which I like best or even whether I’m particularly happy with either one! So while I hoped to create something that I was happy with, I’m not sure I succeeded! Anyway, I hope at the very least, I managed to get my excitement and sense of awe across. As ever, I didn’t have a camera or my phone on me so I couldn’t get a picture to remember the moment, so I hope my words do it some justice; especially as there are two attempts at conveying it! I’d be interested to hear what people think.

Another poetry blog – from sheds to ducks. The natural next step.

Another poem from my Lockdown Literature group today. This one came about around the start of lockdown, when it was all new and in a way, quite exciting. You know, despite the terror and all that less exciting stuff?

I’d noticed lots of people on Facebook and Twitter posting stuff about nature ‘returning’ and it made me chuckle a little bit. Especially the really earnest ones where people were claiming that nature was re-claiming the streets or teaching us a lesson because, as humans, we’d got it all wrong. It was none of this. Animals have been adapting to their surroundings for longer than we care to imagine. Most likely it was just that things were quieter and animals had noticed and got a bit bolder about where they were wandering and when. Lots of people seemed to be reacting quite hysterically and yet the only evidence I’d seen at the time was the video of some pigs walking through the streets of Bergamo in Italy.

We have bird feeders at the back of our garden in the trees and while we were probably seeing more birds than usual, I was yet to see an eagle, a condor or a Terrahawk (I know that they’re fictional by the way – that was the joke). Admittedly I’d gained a rat in my shed (sadly for comedy purposes, not my kitchen), but other than that, nature was definitely not trying to teach me a lesson by parading up and down our road. And so, I began to think about how ridiculous the posts could get and whether people might start to outdo each other. From this came the poem that follows.

Guess who’s back?

It started with those cute pigs in Bergamo.
There were probably some ducks somewhere as well. There’s always ducks.

And then…

A giraffe stooping to get into Bargain Booze,
An ostrich in Hyde Park singing the blues,
An antelope out for a jog,
A lion combing his mane with a perplexed hedgehog,
A wombat on a BMX giving a backa to a pikachu and the pikachu’s listening to DMX and just staring hard at you.
Nature’s back.

In the park, after dark there’s a gathering of starlings,
They’re meeting up with collared doves and riding penny farthings.
Nature’s back. And it’s brought hipsters.

Foxes sketching landscapes while hunt beagles go climbing at Go Ape.
And of course, there’s meerkats trying to sell you insurance while panda bears do triathlons to test their bear endurance.
Out the window there’s more nature hourly,
We’ve even had a brontosaurus in our cul-de-sac in Morley…

While we’re locked down, sick with cabin fever ready to attack,
Comfort yourselves folks, nature’s very definitely back.

Apologies if you find that one a little bit cynical. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, by July we’ll be overrun with wildlife carrying placards and marching through our city centres declaring that the humans should be made to pay! Maybe wildfowl will start looting supermarkets and electrical wholesalers after hours and setting light to stuff. And then I’ll be sorry, won’t I?

Anyway, I hope you like my silly poem. Feel free to drop me a comment or click the Like button. And if you really like your literature with a large helping of nonsense, the feel free to Follow. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Lockdown Literature – my stab at a poetry blog.

 

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Shortly after our state of lockdown was declared I received an invitation to join a group on Facebook. A friend of mine – Helen, an Art teacher – was setting up a creative group for people to post their art work. It seemed a good way to help squash lockdown boredom and I had been fairly keen to start sketching again for quite a while. My daughter is a gifted artist as well, so I thought it would be nice to post some of her stuff. I could also involve the kids through Art lessons during home schooling. So off I went…

A couple of days later and having watched numerous people posting their artwork I had an idea for a literature version of the group. If people were avidly sharing their drawing and painting, surely I could get some to post poems and writing in my own group. After consulting my friend Laura about whether it was a good idea, I formed the group, invited a ton of friends and Lockdown Literature was born.

It had been a while since I’d written any poetry, but the group inspired me. It wasn’t long before I was being kept awake by ideas and lines from potential poems.

It was on the very afternoon that the group was formed, while pegging my washing out on the line in the sun, I found myself staring at the behemoth in my neighbour’s garden. Bigger, cleaner, tidier, better than mine. What I then wrote has no intellectual value whatsoever. There is no literary genius here or any great amount of thought. It’s not any kind of metaphor for anything else, just a poem about sheds and me feeling a bit jealous. The result of my envy – a silly, sarcastic and frankly daft poem – is below.

My Neighbour’s Shed

My neighbour’s shed has electric lighting.
It has those plastic boxes on the wall containing nails, screws, hooks and all manner of shediphanalia.

My shed is packed with football gear.
It’s a mess and makes me feel like a total shed failure.

My neighbour’s shed contains a high-viz jacket.
Placed neatly round he has a vice, a work bench, a grinder, a sander and drills, drills, drills aplenty.

My shed has some shelving full of spiders’ webs, grass seed, wild bird feed and a stain on the floor that’s a bit cementy.

My neighbour’s shed is a hive of activity – just like good sheds should be.
It’s been extended – by him, the smart arse – and it’s made safe by alarm led security.

My shed has bikes balanced on one wheel perilously, a lawn mower jammed underneath a Halfords roof box and it smells of whatever the opposite is of purity.

My neighbour’s shed is a lockdown dream. Clean, ordered and full of interesting tools. The biggest tool in my shed is undoubtedly me.

I hate my neighbour’s shed.

So, there you have it. My first poetry blog. I will post other poems and give people a little bit of insight into what I was thinking when I wrote them. I think I mainly write things that are supposed to be mildly amusing but some are actually quite serious! As for what I’ve just posted, I’d be interested to know what people think, so feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

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