Poem O’ The Week: Ring

You must know by now that I am embarking on a pilgrimage round poets’ graves in October, right? With Mark Grist and MC Mixy? And that we’re going to learn about the lives and work of the poets we visit, and write new poems, and ponder death and eternity and the meaning of it all? And gig like crazy along the way?

In preparation I’ve been reading some of the poets whose final resting places we’ll be visiting. I’ve read some Larkin and some Eliot, and at the moment I’m wading into Paradise Lost, which is surprisingly cool. It’s like a heist movie: Satan and Beelzebub basically wake up in chains in a Mexican jail and start planning their revenge. God comes off as a tyrannical douchebag and Satan is like this fearless rebel leader ready to take the fight to the enemy and start some gutsy guerrilla warfare. Milton’s excuse is that he’s trying to show us even bad guys are capable of some good – therefore we should be wary when people boast of all their noble deeds, because they still might be evil:

                        ‘for neither do the spirits damned
Lose all their virtue; lest bad men should boast
Their specious deeds on earth, which glory excites,
Or close ambition varnished o’er with zeal.’

Yeah, whatevsies, Milton. We know you secretly think the Devil is a total mensch. It’s okay.

The tour begins on Sunday October 6th in Bristol, and will hopefully continue until October 18th, although we’ll probably visit the final grave – Robert Burns’ – in Dumfries on the 16th. If you know anyone near Dumfries who might like to see us perform or put us up, please get in touch! We don’t have any offers yet, so at the moment our journey ends with us sleeping in the car. No gig too weird. Drop me a line via the ‘Contact Me’ link or stick a comment in the box below, please.

In the meantime, I’m putting together some new pieces for the tour, inspired by ideas of death and also the styles and themes of the poets we’re visiting. I’m trying to experiment stylistically and take some risks – a lot of the thinking behind the tour is to push ourselves into attempting new things. This will obviously result in a lot of failure, but also, I hope, the occasional breakthrough. Don’t worry – I see any efforts towards emotional resonance as cross-training in my eternal quest for A Better Fart Joke. I’ll try to write some funny, accessible stuff beside the wilfully recondite faux-archaic posturing.

Here is the first of my poems, about a widower. Feedback welcome.

Ring
He never realised silence is a lie
    Until that winter:
The tinnitus exposed in shining islands,
The gauze-mouthed throb of radio through brick,
The loose board’s croak, the filament’s dry whimper,
    The snap of dimmer switch,
The central heating’s fog-bleak distant hum,
The crickle of saliva on his tongue.

Each sound, removed, revealed a sound behind it:
    A subtler voice.
The stillness of each sallow room refined it,
Peeled skin from fat, flensed fat from bone, scooped out
From bone the marrow – creamy, rouge and moist.
    A cough might ring for hours.
He listened  – echoes deepened with each lull,
A soft, insistent roaring in his skull.

Just once, he thought he heard her calling: ‘Adam.’
    He turned and knew
Before he looked he would not see an absence –
Just limewashed stone, a card propped on the sill
With bin collection Fridays ringed in blue,
    A hairpin, bright as milk,
Which fell and clinked, in perfect counterpoise –
A relic of that mythic land. Of noise.

I can do a lot better than this poem – buy my debut collection, Pub Stuntman, by way of proof.

You can also download my album of spoken word and sweet music. It’s called Jesus Buys Me Cigarettes.