MINOR VARIATIONS AND CHANGE: AN INTRODUCTION
When I came to write the notes for the introduction to this book, I found myself in a markedly different position than on the previous occasion when I had come to write ‘'Remnants Of A Northern Dream'' The opening piece for 2008's collection of verse, ‘Buildings In A House Of Fire'.
Those notes were written in Sept 2007 and in the meantime I had undergone a number of unexpected personal and emotional changes. One of the most striking of these changes was the death of my mother in the summer of 2008. I feel some of the work contained within this book reflects upon the effects that the loss of both my parents, in a relatively short space of time, had on me - both emotionally and physically, as well as on my relationships with others in the following weeks and months after, firstly, my fathers death and then, just over 2 years later, my mothers.
While I do not wish to portray this work as some kind of book of mourning or monument to grief, I do feel it is important to provide some colour and a little background for those who have an interest or even a morbid fascination for details such as these.
Following the death of my father in 2006, I had envisaged a time of reflection; a time when there would be much to deal with emotionally and thus, for me, much to write about while coming to terms with the loss and sense of grief obviously associated with the death of a parent.
As a writer or indeed anyone with even the slightest pretensions of calling themselves a writer, one has to be aware that these harsh and sometimes brutally painful realms of personal reality are, in fact, the landscape and the wellspring from which much of your creative work will propel itself.
I imagine this applies itself in equal measures to poets, songwriters, playwrights, novelists, musicians, sculptors or painters - or indeed any other part of the creative pantheon that allows room for, or gives rise to, deep personal self-awareness and examination.
This perceived outpouring onto the page (imagined or otherwise) pretty much failed to materialise - at least in any great length, precision or detail. Perhaps it was still too soon to be dispassionately distancing myself from such a major life event in order to be able to write about it... writing about it being an obvious way or dealing with such powerful emotions - a very personal and literal type of therapy.
As someone who is of the mind to occasionally attempt to have published these meandering and sometimes disconnected trains of thought, I was keenly aware of the possibility that any poems written under these particular circumstances may simply resort to cliché or overtly maudlin sentimentality… and this was something I was obviously keen to avoid. It is of course worth pointing out at this point that it is for the reader to decide whether I have in any way achieved these objectives successfully or not. On other occasions I just felt like getting drunk and not concerning myself with such idle rigours as poetry.
One of the few poems that surfaced during the immediate aftermath of my fathers passing was, ‘The Journey' which was written in time to be featured in Buildings In A House Of Fire. A book which in many ways can be seen as a kind of companion collection to ‘Minor Variations and Change', dealing as it does with themes, thoughts, ideas and theories on the effects on the human psyche of love and loss, as well as the disconnection from the ideas and perceptions of the everyday identity of self which forms the very heart and concept of who we perceive ourselves to be as individuals.
There are other similarities between the two collections - a sense, poetically at least, of the tying up of a number of loose ends.
There are, within these pages, a number of poems risen from the distant clouds of time, poems written while still in my late teens and early twenties and these, when found, resonate with an already focussed sense of disdain, youthful anger and not a little naïve but well meaning political innocence… along with what seems now like naïve ideas on love romance and personal identity.
These poems I felt worthy of inclusion in my own personal journey and story are to remain ongoing and intact, a game of poetic snakes and ladders can be played, by those of a mind, when tracing any history or lineage.
It would be easy to name or categorise the age and distance in time of these poems in relation to each other, but I find the idea of ambiguity and mystery far more nourishing than that of simple cataloguing or chronology. Sometimes it pays to work a little harder if you hold such motivations to be important.
There are also a small number of poems dating back to the mid and late 1980's.
Firstly from a time when I had initially moved to the city of Glasgow from, what then seemed, the much more sedate and sleepier environs of the small coastal town of Cleethorpes on England's North-East Coast. These poems and indeed the writer are almost unrecognisable to me now as I attempt to write these notes well over 20 years later, yet somehow they still tell the part of the story so integral to the closing of this particular poetic circle, dealing as they do with a certain time of exploration and fragility.
The majority of this book was written between the years 2005 – 2010 and there are a number of poems that could quite easily have made ‘Buildings In A House Of Fire' in 2006-07 and perhaps the ones that didn't, though featuring now, felt too raw or too personal when the final cut came for that more thematic and specific collection.
The largest part of this third grouping of poetry began to form slowly, at first, throughout 2007- 2008. My mother died in the summer of 2008 after suffering a series of strokes and in the following months the flow of feelings and emotions that I had expected to permeate my writings after the death of my father finally began to coalesce into poetry and prose - detailing sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly with this peculiar life changing squaring of the circle, one it would seem that often leads to a very clear and time specific realisation of one's own mortality.
I moved house just a few short weeks after my mothers passing and this peculiarly timed new beginning (a shedding of the old and a wearing of the new) also had an effect upon my writing, with both diametrically opposed settling and unsettling consequences.
In 2008 I had begun working on a visual accompaniment to ‘Buildings In A House Of Fire' something that could perhaps be used in a live setting in order to represent a cut-up, distorted, cinematic stimulus to any planned future readings (This, as I write, remains for the most part an as yet unfulfilled concept).
I began firstly by filming the surroundings of my childhood and teenage years using a borrowed digital camera, I began collecting images of familiar places - side streets and back alleys, the derelict landscapes of dead or dying industry, the Grimsby fish docks, Scunthorpe steelworks, disused factories in South Yorkshire and Sheffield, places I had passed on train journeys as a teenager or as a child. All seemed relevant and purposeful.
I had, in the creative aftermath of ‘Buildings In A House Of Fire', launched the ‘Ten Voices' project - inviting people to read any poem of their choosing from the book in any form or style they should see fit and the idea of incorporating cinematic images into taped versions of my work as read by other people began to appeal to my sense of the awkward, the perverse and the experimental. The idea of allowing technology (ancient or otherwise) to communicate the ideals and concepts of poetry seemed just suitably enough anti-establishment and entertainingly accessible all in the one go… a performance poet communicating through the recorded voices of others. The idea remains intensely appealing!
Eventually, a year or so on from the original idea, the Ten Voices project; in its pure spoken word form, went live online - the digital age creeping slowly into my own creative world.
In late 2008 and early 2009 I began seeking out other suitable images to go with my own hand-held footage, photographs and old bits of film that would reflect perfectly with the themes of disconnection and alienation that seemed both compelling and inevitable to me at that particular moment in time.
It was then, that throughout the last months of 2008 and early weeks of 2009, I began sifting through hour after hour of old news footage, music video, TV adverts, documentary footage of medical experiments, old horror movies and 70's sitcoms, endless images of war, death and the blind stupidity of human suffering - anything and everything that could be classed as bizarre, disturbing, surreal or offensive. Hour after hour watching and editing together everything from monkeys fucking to the war in Iraq.
By this time the project had mutated into a visual and musical collaboration between myself as visual artist and Glasgow band ‘Punch and The Apostles' as combative musical neophytes and with assistance from a friend in professional editing. The piece had now become a visual interpretation of both my own work as well as that of the band. This particular project finally came to fruition in the summer of 2009 with its first public performance accompanying the live debut of ‘Hymn To Death' .A 40 minute concept piece so out of step and out of time with today's current morass of lightweight musical banality as to render it from another world completely - a world where the seemingly benign celebration of the inane and the endlessly average might one day be interested and alive enough to be intoxicated by something with honesty truth and integrity.
These few short weeks seemed to reinvigorate my own creative energies, for the time being at least, and lead to a slow but steady stream of new poems. It is these, the final and arguably most cohesive group of poems contained within these pages, that are for me at least, the most coherent unit in this travelling army of words.
Written for the most part in the late winter months of 2009 and the early months of 2010, the majority of the pieces were composed while typing directly into the keyboard, sitting at my desk in front of my living room window as the cars and buses rumbled and creaked by below and the busy daily life of Scotland's largest city bled itself into my conscious thoughts.
This process involved little or no editing. Some were pieced together from notes made under a not inconsiderable haze of alcohol, often while sitting alone in a number of bars in Glasgow's West End, or on occasion, and it seems fitting, also sitting alone late in the evening listening to the likes of Miles Davis, Sinatra and Tony Bennett with Ralph Sharon and his Orchestra live at Carnegie Hall. Equally imbibed you might say. It felt like a long journey from Marc Bolan or The Sex Pistols. The process itself it seems is often unpleasant but seemingly necessary.
It is under these circumstances that I make no apologies for the ideals of repetition either in theory or in subject matter. Much distance and disconnection seemed to surround both myself and those around me at the time of writing. Distances measured geographically and physically as well as emotionally.
There was much to say about the condensing world of retentive negative existence - a place where many things, it seemed, were becoming calculated by a growing silence.
While there are large swathes of this book that are highly autobiographical in tone, there are also shades of observational perspective that I have attempted to undertake from within the minds eye of numerous others... an unrehearsed actor in another persons script so to speak. Those with a keen eye may recognise something of themselves, someone they know or maybe even work with, an old companion or a new enemy. Perhaps for others the affectionate memory of youth or an acceptance of the inevitability of time. Some, I hope, will find hidden and not so hidden lines of politics and positive outrage at the social disgraces that tyrannise our daily existence, along with the realisation that all pain is relative and suffering and injustice in the world knows no boundaries or shows the remotest signs of abating. It appears to me that no one is listening and while I myself can hear the voices, they no longer appear to be saying anything.
While I cannot claim my use or knowledge of language or even my technical ability with the nuances of poetry itself are in any tradition or high order, my command of the literal disciplines of writing are, at best, quite average and to some extent somewhat uneducated. I have been asked on numerous occasions in the past about the punctuation or lack of it contained within many of my poems. There is on one level a simple answer - poetry either needs punctuation or it doesn't! Also I like to think of the reader finding his or her own rhythm and pace when reading a poem. This may change and develop with different readings and for different people, a kind of free-flowing experiment in jazz rhythms with the musical notations and improvisations being replaced by the hidden rhythm of words.
Where I have felt it necessary or appropriate a number of poems are punctuated with wheezy full stops and stuttering commas. This is mainly to help facilitate the occasional and much maligned art of breathing or to help point out when the reader may wish to mix the minor, the major and the very much diminished.
I have tried to tell in essence a part of my own particular story as truthfully and honestly as I can. Though this book is not brimming with surreal leaps of humorous imagination, screeching guffaws or howling belly laughs, I promise to try and do better next time. There are jokes on the way. Honest!
MINOR VARIATIONS AND CHANGE - EXCERPTS
UNSOLICITED THOUGHTS ON SUICIDE AND DEATH
It eats away at you
Year after year
The pointless humming of the hours
The restless yearning of hope
It is easy to plan
The long sleep
The warm night
You just run out of time
The thoughts run dry
The heart out of beats
And you feel the need to gamble
Against the eternal void of silence
At the final calling
When all thought falls away
And the rationale
And you have somehow
Beaten age and life's decay
You cannot mourn the hearts of others
It is you
Who will be judged
Mourned or cursed in anger
Will you pray for me?
By the side of generals
And wear your loss in late night taxi rides
On route to the grasping mouths of others.
Will you wear your past in public?
Like the drying blood of a gunshot wound
Performing your miracles
With all the heroics of a pleasant wife
Allowing yourself to be tamed
By the masterplan of war.
Great nights of unbridled unkindness
Will always await you
When choosing to surrender
And stooping low
To place your trust
By the fountain of remembrance
By the side of generals
On route to the grasping mouths of others
The poet is a footnote
In the idle gallery of chaos
A man weeping
In his own dream
A librarian of untold facts
Sleeping in a giant amphitheatre
With casualties and amputee's
He burns holes into words
To facilitate the indifference of the blind
All of whom repay him with indignation
Learning to walk on shattered limbs
His only real occupation
Is waving and drowning
WHO ARE THE LOVERS?
Who are the lovers?
Harnessing theories on patriotism and greed
In the sordid bed of the past
If they move in next door
They will keep you awake all night
With hideous tales of Marx
And long winded theories
On the definition of their uniquely splendid lust
As the hours pass their ugly skins
Until you can see the very bones of narcissus
They prefer to knock down the door
With philosophy and great misfortune
They stand by the rivers of light
Pouring great heaps of joy
On the late night movie goers
And malignant survivalists
They refuse to believe
In the mounting edifice of lies
And choose to lie still
In the warm embrace of ignorance
THE HONOUR OF YOUR DREAMS
I am ignorant in the dignity of slaves. Made fortunate by the moment of my own undoing. The hierarchy of silence continues to make me believe that I am becoming a casual and disconnected observer in the as yet unwritten dream of a malicious child. I awaken at the final holy hour of remembrance.
Cold beads of sweat and swollen limbs lead me one final time to the unjustified belief in the never-ending myths perpetuated by scientists and medical practitioners. Goon squad philosophers and idiot preachers are
making great pronouncements and falling upon the knives of their hundredth broken promise.
Fictitious and factual scapegoats are dressing themselves in the brittle lines of my thoughts, committing murder on radio stations and in the frosted winter mornings of their broken hearts.
Through the early morning clouds I watch faithfully for the imprint of your smile. Hoping for it to appear across the outline of a hundred rooftops. An imagined way of sharing both distance and the separation
of rational experience. Finally I begin to understand the indignity of time. The great moment of loves lost and final calling. It is with this thought that I begin to beat out of myself all thoughts and ideas of reconciliation
It is in this quivering realisation that the indifferent act of breathing sends giant pulsating stop – start heartbeats of panic careering across the gliding parameters of the universe. The fatal experience of an endless nightmare made real by the indifference of this relative moment of existence.
I watch for invisible trains, wait for imaginary ships floating across the night from the heart of an imaginary harbour. But the clocks have all stopped ticking and the music is no more than a faint signal. Fragmenting crackles of my former self line up against the pointlessness of words. I am ploughing through rivers of light and indifference, and escaping through the cracks that have been left behind by the stifling army of departures. Waiting for the voices to return I remain defiant, A dignified observer in the honour of your dreams
THE BILE INJECTORS
I began writing as a slavishly scatological attempt to escape from the rigours of the all night meat train. The bland and tyrannical consequence of which would have been endless dystopian years on the factory floor. Reeking of the poisoned mucous and bile injectors so selflessly paralysed and remotely ineffective as to be rendered virtually incapable of unique or individual thoughts. This was the only course of action left to take in order to avoid such a long drawn out and mutilated death.
A living death – a permanent state of catatonic nightmare. A place where the mind is plagued by motionless visions of its very own personal hell – Inescapable, endless. The last place where the frailty of the human consciousness is able to prosper or survive
THE BROKEN PROMISE
The broken promise
Does not lie directly
Not to your face
Or behind the walls of absence.
It coils beneath ancient stones and quiet discipline.
It does not love or cherish the past
Or clench its fist at the mirror of some future morning.
The broken promise
Is a plan for distance
Drawn up in war rooms
By the unthinking generals
And army doctors.
They undress the facts with feathers
And preserve their hearts in cold isolation
Stretched out among the letters
Cigars and gourmet dishes.
They have shamed themselves
And worn the tired loves of another
Beneath the beating hearts of chaos and desire
They are ignorant and curious of consequence.
The broken promise
Worn like medal that shines as a testimony
To its casual defeat.
It fails in logic
And it's reasoning of truth
It stands like a broken membrane
Attaching itself to the broken shell of remembrance
I HAVE FORGOTTEN HOW TO BE A HERO
I have long forgotten how to be a hero
And how to live amongst the frost of memories.
The spiders web attaches itself to the mirror
But I am only whispering in riddles.
You have reduced your blackened eyes
Into the greedy spirit of the nearest cripple
In the hope of being saved
In the hope of being honoured.
We are alive
Dancing through the city streets
Like escaping animals
Running from the fire.
We are tied together
By the aristocracy of love
The invisible thread of lies
And the tired eyes of this long procession.
THEY REMEMBER THE WAR DEAD
They remember the war dead
The great misogynists
And faith healers.
The great destroyers
Standing in airport lounges
Counting the dead by the number of bullet holes
That there accountants can neatly file for them.
They run amok
And burning flags.
It excites them
Going unchecked in foreign lands
Paving the way for indignation prophecy and greed
Unrepentant in their Armani camouflage suits.
I AM LIVING IN THE PAST
I am in a past life
Living among the spirit of wings
Much less fortunate than those who stand beside you
In the gleaming hour of the loving night
In my mind I am the great servant
Laying tables of regret
Building great monuments of solitude and momentary salvation
In honour of the fallen hour
I bleed into the present
And make ready my grim proposals of surrender
I draw out these baffled lines of communication
And present them to you
Like a Broken Arrow
In the courtroom of remembrance
Where the muted gifts of conversation
Have been found guilty of neglect
They're shallow voices struggling to be heard
Amongst the idle clamour of history and hope
I WILL NOT SPEAK A WORD
Torture me, I will not speak a word
Torture me with silence and with rumour
Make false claims and announce the great misdemeanour.
Torture me, if I answer
It will only be in a tired and hopeless voice
And one devoid of facts.
And do the bidding of others
Those attempting to retain their insufferable dignity
Those who allure to definition and pride
Those trembling angels who believe in doing what is right.
And give way at the first sign of vanity
Or cautious declarations of love.
Let the buzzing flies fly's swarm around my heart
And eat away at my indifference
Let my tongue only speak in riddles
Disarming the protagonists
And unnerving the explorers.
And I will act out the infantile mystery of the clown
And surrender to the virtue of my will.
And place me in a prison cell of your great undoing
And I will escape
In the dead of night
While you are sleeping
And your eyes are closed
To your inevitable hatred and defeat.
You must learn to breathe again
Before the long arrow of the night
And lay speechless before me
Through the looking glass of laughter
Your mouth will begin to close with age
Your body succumbing to profanity
And profound wisdom
The voices that you choose to stand beside
Will have long fallen silent
They will no longer be disturbed
By the faint hope of those
You now remember
Your love will become entangled
In museums and in shrines
Disposed of by ritual and response
Only remembered behind the locked door of music
Or the dense moan of your tumultuous grin
MINOR VARIATIONS AND CHANGE - PHOTO GALLERY
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