Writing Music About


A collection of poems from 2019.


You never forget your first.
That blushing, butterfly-bellied,
tongue-tied caress.

That firework display of chemicals
erupting in your brain.

That frozen moment when you realise
you aren’t the master of your house,
or indeed of anything.

The vehicle you steered
without a second thought
has a second thinker after all –
a co-pilot apt to seize the wheel
at crucial moments,
or worse, convince you
in a perfectly reasonable voice
that you never learned to drive.

Or speak,
or play the right notes,
or even walk.

Until that moment you had no idea
how hard it was to put one foot
in front of the other.

No, you never forget your first
panic attack.

Off Peak

They want to fillet me,
remove my bones.

They say they’re
growing strange
and need to go.

I say my bones are what
gives me my flavour.

They don’t want to know.

They say I should come back
in six months’ time,
so I go home, and when
the electricity is cheap
I put the oven on.


What exactly was he selling?
There was nothing obviously ‘there’
to use that word
materialists insist on.

But, at that price,
I had to have it.

Or them.
I wasn’t entirely sure.

Some people argue
that cost and value
aren’t the same thing.

Some people don’t know
the first thing
about money.


I went up to the field yesterday
looking for something to harvest.
There’s usually something up there.

I wasn’t expecting it
to wrap itself around me as it did.

The field, that is, not the crop.

Every step I took
it reconfigured itself.

Was it resisting the intrusion?
or pressing against me
to satisfy some need to be felt?

I won’t go up again
without a rope
to sling around the gate post.

Pullovers and PG Tips

The high street is a curious place.
It’s true that things look different
when viewed from different vantage points.

Forty three centimetres above the pavement,
for example.

If you push someone enough
eventually they snap.
Messy, I would have thought.
I’ve seen enough broken tea bags in my time.
It wasn’t worth the risk –
Hence our alternate choice of locomotion.

“Did you know they contain plastic”
“What? I can’t hear you.
Your voice was carried off
on the back of that flat bed truck.”

Some kind of microscopic ribbing
I should imagine, to mitigate against
exactly that kind of eventuality.

If you pull someone,
on the other hand,
they just roll over your trailing
open-toed feet.

It doesn’t mention that
on the box.


Everyday you take them there,
drop them off,
but you don’t know what they do,
what goes on,
inside those gates.

Your children are being prepared
for the world.
A world that has been calibrated
for measurement,
a world that requires it,
that is lost without it.

That is the subject of their schooling –
all their classes.
The curriculum is just the vehicle.

You have no idea.
You’re too engrossed
in your league tables,
as you yourself were taught to be,
to even notice.

People have long since stopped measuring
the relentless progress
of the measurers.


She said they were phonemes
but I don’t think they were.

She’d put them in a smart box,
prettied with ribbons
but that did nothing to suggest
authenticity to me.

I told her as much.

“They’re phonemes alright,”
she said.
“And that’s that.”

Said she got them from Conley.

Conley, I had heard it said,
did have some such things.
Pieces of magic carved from thin air
that vibrated like pieces of quartz
when you put your ear to them.

But unlike a crystal’s merely
quasi four-dimensionality,
his materials were somehow able
to exist for several seconds in this state.

And unlike a crystal,
his objects apparently
had none of the other
physical dimensions
associated with a ‘thing’.

They existed in some other realm,
the reality of which we could only glimpse,
like objects with no bodily form
which nevertheless
cast a kind of shadow.

I pressed my ear to the box,
expecting nothing, and
receiving that much in return.

“I’m not getting anything,” I said.

“No, you’re not getting anything,”
she replied.

Target Practice

Our dreams don’t have borders.
Nightmares neither.

The best we can hope for
is a reliable companion
to still us with a steady hand
if we stray unwittingly across the frontier
into that state of terror.

But when the nightmare is of the waking kind
where does that hand come from?

Looking back on the sorry affair
I’m reminded of a Larson cartoon
where a bear has mischievously pinned
a cardboard target to the back of his ‘friend’.
That’s precisely what we were to them.


There was no more they could do for him
they told us over long-cold coffee.

Numbly gathering personal effects
and scooping up unasked-for bumf
we stumble through automatic doors
on auto pilot.
Out to a forecourt more brutal than before
where pale day has turned chill night.

But, weeks later, there he is,
unmistakably him,
listed at a West Country address.

We visit, and he appears.
Ashen faced,
but spruced for the occasion.
Orderlies steer him through the business –
he doesn’t know we are there,
and they don’t care.

He is an innocent in this world.
‘incompetent’, some might say,
but he could always run!
Boy, could he run.

We tell ourselves
we have come to collect him,
to take him home,
a place where we can care for him
and let him run once more.

We tell our ourselves,
and we believe it too.
Right up to the moment that
he’s run out through the door.

Halfway Down

I’m wearing a particularly heavy coat today.
I don’t know where it came from.
I just took it off the hook
in the hall.

It seemed familiar enough
but I don’t recognise the weight.

Halfway down the street
I can tell something is seriously wrong.
I mean, you’re supposed to walk
on the top bit,
on those slabby things they put there
for that purpose.

Halfway down
the aggregate is chafing at
my thinly stockinged ankles.

I long for cloying clay
to issue some relief
although I know it’s still
some way further down the road.

And from there
it will be quite impossible
to take another step.

In the Telling

It was in the telling.

Levinson was there too.
I know that much.
How much he’ll remember
I wouldn’t like to guess.

When the light hits the glass
at a particular angle
it rushes at me
like the ground.

It’s not much to go on.

I know there was a wire
swinging loose,
maybe still connected
to something somewhere.

And dials.
Lots of them,
arranged on a sheet steel panel.

You could bend the waves
this way and that.
send them scattering across the surface
and around the perimeter.

Bring them in,
then spread them out.

There are schematics
re-imagined by a local engineer
working a side project
out of one of the blocks
a few years back.

I don’t know if he still works there.


There are only so many poems in the world.
I know this much is true.
Indeed, I think I’ve stumbled on a few,
wading through the dark stream to the dawn.

There was one I found just lying
in the early morning dew.
Cut, it was, as quick as any jewel.
And it cut me too.

The Accusative Case

She is flipping something
in a wide shallow pan.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” he says
“No, the thing in your hand.”

“The spatula?!”
She laughs.

“Well I don’t know!” he shouts,
a wounded, angry child,
“I don’t know anything.”

But he knows that.

A blackbird,
cruising on instinct and adrenalin,
has thudded into the kitchen window.

Turdus merula.

The world had turned Latin overnight.
First the bedroom,
now the kitchen too.

Flipping fiddling bastards.

Fallon's Way

Fallon’s way
was not my way.

He had his reasons,
no doubt.

Or, maybe not.
Maybe that was his problem.
maybe he didn’t
think things through.

I did.
And I had.
And still do.

I can’t stop myself.

Maybe that’s my problem.
The problem with me
and my ways.


It often runs away with itself,
my tongue.

I see its moist pink back
darting this way and that
as it disappears up the High Street
in and out of doorways
previously unnoticed
as though in search
of an earlier life,
a freer life.

When I can only assume
it belonged to a fishwife.


There was a hollowness about him,
a kind of ringing.

It had first been noticed
in the out patients wing.
Not by a medic –
don’t make me laugh –
but a lady in the car park
who’d bumped into him
and recoiled in shock
from the sound.

It had proven useful.
The hollowness.
When needing to stock up on supplies
there was always somewhere
to stash them.

It made him peculiarly buoyant too,
providing the supplies
were emptied first of course.

Once, at a concert,
the band had found themselves
short of a drum
and he had stripped to the waist
to demonstrate the resonance
of his torso,
striking it rhythmically
with his fingers.

They employed him on the spot.
They didn’t even need to mic him up.

Later in life he would joke that
his body had been beaten in time,
and he was right.

The cavities had gradually been filled
with something of his own.


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