Friday, 26 March 2021
Sunday, 7 March 2021
Monday, 1 March 2021
An appropriate poem for the first of March - being the month named after Mars.
This poem was started on the 23rd of February 2021 - the 200th anniversary of the death of Keats, and the day NASA released audio of the wind on Mars from the Perseverance mission.
Also the news that Lawrence Ferlinghetti the great Beat poet, publisher, activist and City Lights Bookshop owner had died the day before.
Both Keats and Ferlinghetti believed in the importance of imagination - when writing about ‘Paradiso’ in Coney Island of the Mind no.13’ Ferlinghetti hoped that any afterlife would have no ‘burning hell holes’ and ‘nor any alters in the sky except fountains of imagination’.
In a letter to Benjamin Bailey in 1817 Keats wrote:
“The imagination may be compared to Adam's dream: he awoke and found it truth. I am the more zealous in this affair because I have never yet been able to perceive how anything can be known for truth by consequitive reasoning.”
And surely imagination is what drives all exploration?
The excerpt from NASA in my video starts with the phrase “I invite you now to just close your eyes and imagine yourself sitting on the surface of Mars...”
When Keats died in Rome aged 25 he considered himself to be a failure - he’d published just three volumes of poetry to mixed reviews, sales of which were probably no more than 200 copies.
Aware he was dying in 1820 he wrote in a letter:
“I have left no immortal work behind me – nothing to make my friends proud of my memory – but I have lov'd the principle of beauty in all things, and if I had had time I would have made myself remember'd”.
He had his tombstone inscribed not with his name but with the words ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water’.
Little did he know...
His poem Endymion famously begins ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’
It’s based on the Greek myth of the young eponymous shepherd who, depending on the version, was either so loved for his beauty by the goddess Selene she asked Zeus to put him in an eternal sleep so his beauty might never fade; or, faced with alternative punishments from Zeus, he choose to sleep forever retaining his youth and beauty.
The parallel with Keats is clear.
The form I’ve used here is a villanelle albeit an unrhymed one - in tune with the circular and repetitive nature of circumstance and endeavour.
Finally, the title: Life & Mars. Yeah, it’s a nod to Bowie, that C20th imagineer, but mainly because NASA’s mission is fundamentally to look for signs of past life. And what is more crucial to human life than imagination?
Tuesday, 9 February 2021
Published in Prole Magazine, Feb 2021.
I wrote this while writer-in-residence at The Wellstone Center in Santa Cruz, CA. a couple of years ago. I’d driven there from San Francisco down Highway 1 - part of which is the Cabrillo Highway.
I’ve been a fan of Peter Rowan’s music for many years, from back when I used to play a lot of Bluegrass mandolin. I actually had the honour of playing in his pick-up band when he was touring in the UK in the early 2000s, a great experience. This time he was just coming out of my radio...
Wednesday, 9 December 2020
I’m very pleased to have been shortlisted for the Aesthetica Creative Writing award and published in their annual anthology for this cheery poem. It - or a slightly different earlier version - was also commended for the Acumen prize and first published in that journal.
Thursday, 3 December 2020
In 2019 West Country film maker Danny Cooke held a competition for poems to accompany his fantastic video of the ancient tradition of the running of burning tar barrels round Ottery St. Mary on November 5th each year.
The resultant two videos, one by Jason Butler and one by me were released in 2019 and 2020. I was pleased to see mine included on Moving Poems - a website devoted to the best video-poems on the web. You can find more of Danny’s excellent films by visiting his website: https://www.dannycooke.co.uk/
Meantime if you need a reminder of what a crowd of people in close proximity to one another and a non-COVID hazard looks like, well here it is:
Riptide Journal, the Exeter Uni literary magazine, has themed their 2020 edition around Climate Matters to tie in with a series of seminars taking place virtually this year. I’m honoured they’ve chosen to include my poem The Rewilding of Stonelands Farm in the publication. They also asked if I’d make a video reading to accompany it and to be shown during one of the seminars — so I put this together using photos taken locally in Devon. For some years I’ve taken to photographing fly-tipped sofas and images of rural decay, well a man has to have a hobby doesn’t he?
Sunday, 18 October 2020
Monday, 28 September 2020
In between the easing up of COVID restrictions in the Summer and their reintroduction in September, Andy Brown and I managed to sneak in a couple of ‘socially distanced’ live readings for our new book.
I think people were delighted to have the opportunity to get out to a live event again, albeit with appropriate safety measures in place. Sadly it looks like a long winter of living rooms ahead...