Raw Material

Image by scartmyart from Pixabay

I write most of my poems longhand in a quality, A5 notebook. I find I need that hand-eye-paper-pen-ink connection in order to make the Work flow through me. I number the pages, and keep a Contents page at the front so that I can quickly locate any poem at any time. When I decide a poem is ‘finished’ (though a poet once asked me, “Are they ever truly finished?”, and I’m still not sure I know the answer) I write it up in Word, with the page number at the start of the file name. They are all then stored in my Master List file.

I know. Fascinating, right?

What I’m leading up to here is that, at the back of my notebook, I jot down anything and everything that comes to me that feels like it might have a place in a poem one day, or that at least might inspire one. And, in the spirit of generosity, I’m sharing all of these notes right here. I’ll do my best to keep this page updated with the notes as they appear in the back of my notebook. Just for you.

This is my raw material. My potential ingredients, if you will. Not all of it will get used. Sometimes I start on a poem, or a sequence of poems, or an idea, and then lose interest, or run out of steam. Some of the ingredients smell a bit off as soon as they arrive (though occasionally, one of these might mature into an unexpectedly interesting new strain of mold. I might be stretching the food analogy a little far now…). Now, come into my larder, have a nose around and, if you find something that catches your eye (or nose) then feel free to take it and use it. I’d love to hear back from you as to how your poetry dish turned out, but that’s a preference, not a condition of use. Ingredients that are struck through I’ve used already, but are still available to you, should you so wish.

From now on, I’ll add new ingredients to the top of the list so that, if you’ve been here before, you don’t have to scroll all the way to the bottom to see if there’s anything new.

  • What is it like to be a bat?
  • Under the Stairs at 34 Queen Street. This is a beautiful family story which I’m not going to reveal until I write the poem. However, you’re welcome to use the title for a poem of your own. Maybe change the address, though…
  • The time we waste trying to open black refuse sacks.
  • Great Uncle Tom finding a Roman gladiator in the woods.
  • Some of the things I found while clearing out Mum’s house.
  • The return of the light in January, as the days start to get longer.
  • Pouring molten copper, as in this video, for example.
  • Orphaned poems
  • Growing my tassel beard
  • The Fridge and the Rocking Horse
  • War Lies
  • “United” States is massively divided under Trump, and the “United” Kingdom is massively divided by Brexit.
  • Swifts. Just….amazing birds.
  • All is Well. What a calming idea this is…
  • I can only control my thoughts and my actions.
  • “No one’s cleverness ever saved them from heartbreak, but to be struck dumb has its enchantments” Ange Mlinko, London Review of Books, May 2018.
  • The hollow yew tree near Glastonbury
  • Quantum particles
  • Five Fishing Stories. I’m not a fisherman, but…
  • Ode to the Octopus. (I made a disastrous attempt at this one and I’m now too embarrassed to try again).
  • Sequence: I have the idea of taking each Tom Waits album title and writing a poem inspired by it. So far I have written ‘Closing Time’, ‘The Heart of Saturday Night’, ‘Small Change’ and ‘Foreign Affairs’. I’m cheating with Alice as I’m counting my poem ‘Alison’. By my reckoning, there’s fifteen albums left in the sequence. I may never finish this.
  • Pedantic purists in pursuit of perfection.
  • Riding freight trains in the US.
  • Deserts – particularly in Australia, America and Egypt.
  • The Olde Gods.
  • Anti-Semitism. I’ve made a start on this but, in the current climate, this is a nerve-wracking one to find the right balance.
  • The Red Hand of Ulster. (If you don’t know the story behind this heraldic symbol, go look it up. It’s quite a tale of commitment).
  • My friend teaching on Holy Island.
  • My dog Molly and the way she deals with sheep.
  • My son, and his “shit just got real” comment during a local am-dram performance of ‘Jamaica Inn’.
  • Bedroom politics
  • Shape-shifting
  • Pan, one of the moons orbiting Saturn, is known as a ring shepherd. Poetic or what?
  • “Soak up the lonely”. Heard on a series on Netflix called Meat Eater.
  • Helicopters Heard, Overhead and Overnight.
  • Every moment that has happened anywhere ever is still happening somewhere. See ‘Every Moment, in This Moment’.
  • No one truly understands suicide.
  • Kangaroo bones.
  • On having three-and-a-half cats.
  • French hunting accidents.
  • Awareness cures. (I can’t quite remember what I meant by this or where it came from. Is it cures for awareness, or a statement that awareness does cure?)
  • In mathematics, you can count whole numbers, both positive and negative, and you can count fractions, both positive and negative. But you can’t count decimals.
  • He’s a passionate musician; I’m a passionate listener. (This came from the fact that sometimes, certain pieces of music move me to tears).
  • The Last Ditch Attempt Saloon (a Tom Waits track).
  • “It’s too late. It always has been. It always will be”. The X-Men.
  • “Turning oxygen into gold”. The X-Men.
  • When I tell people I don’t eat meat, don’t have a TV and don’t use Facebook, it sometimes makes them slightly defensive, as if they have to justify their actions to me. Weird.
  • Things lead to other things.
  • Old Tom’s skeleton in Eden, NSW.
  • Choose well – the gods are listening.
  • I went upstairs to do a thing. Did another thing, and forgot the first thing. (I may be getting old…)
  • Bumble-thump. Rumble-dump.
  • I watched Loose Change with my 13-year-old and cried at the end of it, seeing the sort of world we are creating for his generation and others to come.
  • Gravity darkening. (Another evocative phrase from astronomy).
  • I like it now more / Than I liked it before. See ‘A Life in Six Verses’.
  • Fractal Farming.
  • The Alvarez Boys – father helped build the Fat Boy atomic bomb; son was the first to realise that a massive meteorite killed off the dinosaurs.
  • Parody religious wars through a version of a famous fairy story – Three Little Pigs? Goldilocks?
  • Explore the phrase ‘I’ve got a bone to pick with you.”
  • 8mm / 9mm. This one will take some explaining. The original idea was that these two measurements are unique in they mean something else to many people. To those of a certain age, 8mm can be shorthand for the first generation of home movie cameras – the silver ones that look like an upended biscuit tin with a handle bolted on beneath and, to avid action-movie fans and gun enthusiasts, as well as many others besides, 9mm denotes a firearm. When I picked this idea up from my pantry of raw ingredients, I did some research on the makers of 9mm guns, and I was so struck be the musicality and rhythm of many of the names I found that a poem of those names almost wrote itself. I’m not sure if this quite fits the definition of ‘found poetry’, but that’s how it felt. I’d love to share the poem here, but it’s yet to be published, so I must keep it under wraps for now (wrapped in an oily cloth and in a suitably locked and secure location). I’ve yet to get to the 8mm part yet. I’m still unsure as to whether that’s a poem in and of itself, or whether to pursue the original idea of playing them off against each other.
  • “Begin with an earthquake, work up to a climax.” Cecile B. DeMille.
  • “I’ve lived too long in the woods to be fucked by a squirrel.” My friend Dai the Dyker.
  • Astronomer Percival Lowell saw strange spokes on the surface of Venus. In fact, since he was using a telescope with a very narrow aperture to combat the brightness of the planet, he’d effectively turned it into an ophthalmoscope; he was actually looking at his own eye and the ‘spokes’ were veins in his retina that were a sign of high blood pressure. Lowell made his final observation of Venus in 1914, and died two years later from a brain hemorrhage.
  • I suddenly burst into tears one day over the death of my kid sister, back in 1996, after hearing a song that my son played to me.
  • Inviting God into our hearts is as false an idea as connecting with nature. (I could explain this one, but I’ll leave it with you to make of it what you will).
  • The toxic side of love – criticism, needling, undermining etc.
  • Laniakea – the Hawaiian term meaning “the immeasurable heaven”, since picked up by astronomers to mean the beautiful, gravitational dance being performed by 100,000 galaxies.
  • I love “Aquarium Watch” by A.R. Ammons about a snail in the water and which ends with the couplet “and down he goes, as if / dreaming gravity’s smoothest dream.” And, from elsewhere by the same poet, this; “mystery is what comes true at the / centre of the perfectly clear”.
  • “Can’t is a myth. Can is a legend.” My son, Sam.
  • The pain of my choice to leave Sam and my marriage to his Mum when he was only three years old.
  • The kindness of strangers.
  • In praise of blowjobs / a symphony of ecstasy.
  • My Dolf de Roos / £20 note story. (Here’s one you can’t do much with!)
  • “I heard / That I unblocked my face / Until my river / Was no longer flowing.” This one came to me in a dream and I’ve yet to get to grips with it.
  • Lacrimarium – it’s a tear collector, of all things!
  • Peeing in the sea – is it PC?
  • Swallows on the telephone cables.
  • Equine cooperation where, in summer, two horses stand alongside each other, nose to tail, so that they can each use their swishing tails to keep the flies away from the others’ face.
  • A world without Mum.
  • “I was a lost root.” Dave Chappelle.
  • Some questions on taste. Why do apple pips taste of almonds? Why do persimmons dry up the saliva in your mouth? Why does eating parsley make a man’s sperm taste sweeter? Why does urine smell of asparagus and Sugar Puffs, soon after eating the aforementioned items? How does a tiny drop of water change the taste of single malt whiskey?
  • My history of being completely oblivious to hints from women.
  • The final scene from a film that was never made.
  • I really, really don’t like handling things that look heavier than what they are. Anything metal, or jewelry, are the worst…
  • Ceteris paribus – all other things being equal
  • There’s poetry to be found in statistical terms – check out this glossary

What’s obvious to me, now that I’ve seen all this on a single page, is that I clearly come up with ideas way faster than I write poetry…