Writing Music About

Resistant Materials

A collection of poems from 2012.

The Tyranny of Language

The compulsion
is a form of idiocy.
I realise that.

Words are tools
to lever the inchoate
into coherence.
To shape trajectories
of reason
across the otherwise.

The logic of the arc
isn’t just compelling,
it seems inescapable.

That is the trick
that language plays.

Every tyrant has his logic –
words, shapes, symbols, notes –
to make them masters
of their petty universe.

Byzantine schemes
with private audiences,
fusing matter into beams of energy
that will streak across
the very public void.


I am searching for stillness
in corners unvisited
except for the purposes of mapping.

Places where nothing takes place.

Where science knows it
and keeps clear.


We were on the cusp –
I remember it well –
just inside the event horizon,
not that we’d have known it as such
at the time.

There was a witness,
a man of the cloth
as I recall.
He can probably confirm.
He was only on tea or coffee.

I had said to her
I don’t think I’ll make it;
won’t make enough for it.

They’re takers, we agreed,
they drain you dry.

And so we sealed the deal
to retreat to the safety of the shadow
of never knowing
but having enough.

I wrote it down as a refrain.
We sing it on high days and holidays
when no one is listening.


I found a patch of sterile dirt,
no more than dust really.
And in that dirt
laid out the germ
of a carefully considered
critique of the soil.

I didn’t go too deep –
there was no point –
and anyway,
I wanted the light
(such that there was)
to fall on it.

And then I watched and waited.

Still I watch and wait.
Wait, for nothing.
A nothing that will confirm

Something In-between

I was untutored then
in the ways of the world.
Had no idea what they were
or what they weren’t,
or that they didn’t really matter in the end.

There is bread and there is peat.
I am something in-between.
Always something in-between.

I hung myself a sign
on a tree that tripped me up
as I fled the forest darkness for the light.
My sign said ‘Sorry for the inconvenience.’
I didn’t know back then
I’d hung it on the tree of life.

I felt the sap rise up
and knew it was not for me
and not for want of trying.

There is bread and there is peat.
I am something in between.
Something soft and incomplete.


The twisted mystery has
wrapped itself around
another thread.

Strands of nature and
history combining to form
a new kind of rope.

It is this rope I sense
hauling me ever upwards.

It drags me from my sleep.
against my will,
I find myself climbing the walls
of my bedroom.
hanging from the door –

In pursuit of something
that does not have a name
but is felt
deep in my belly
where it now lives.

I am only ten years old
but my reading age
is much, much older.


I’m hiding from the kettle
deep under the duvet.

We have gone to northern France
looking for a ferry,
but all we find
are villages of memorials
to some or other incident –
plague or war –
that left the mills to rust.

We say that it is beautiful,
and it is.

I’m deeper now
dredging signs and road markings
from somewhere.


And we wander.
save for the fullness
of our bellies.

Hungry for anything
and everything.

We don’t know
what we want
only that we want
what we don’t know.

And we will get it.


Here’s the thing.
The thing that she had buried.
There is nothing triumphal
in the finding.
Just the pulling out
of part of an arrow
pointing somewhere else.

A broken branch
glued together
in wild hope
or casual devotion.

Tiny coffins
stacked three high
blind to the tragedies
that lie within
and wait without.

Nowhere in Particular

It’s late.
Too late, perhaps.
The candle flickers and fails
as I knew it would.

What was a moment ago
a dancing shadow
pinned against the wall
can no longer be kept at bay.
It lunges out to occupy
the very space itself.

I count the steps
to where I know the window is
and open the shutters.

Outside is moonless night.
And this is not the kind of place
that will lend a few lumens
cast carelessly from a street light
or a passing car.

This is the impenetrable
blackness of being
nowhere in particular.

I close the shutters
and turn again
to the darkness inside.

Carbon Copy

I once produced a carbon copy.
They seized it as I slept.
I woke to find I was labelled
a transgressor.

I appealed, of course.
Said I was just replaying a code
that I had inside.
Said I’d just pulled it out
letter by letter
and set it down.

They had never heard such talk.
(These were the authorities,
for heaven’s sake!)
and that the law was black and white.

They wouldn’t let me have my work.
Said I had signed away my rights
when I’d chosen that particular path.

They didn’t interrogate me again.
Only the copy I left
in their dimension.


They arrived that autumn,
the sixers and seveners.
No one knew where from.
Aliens landed from another world,
or at least another dimension.

The ban on algebra
the priests imposed
before the summer break
was still in place.

They didn’t know our world
where symbols grew on trees
and we,
in sacred veneration of the thing
knotted on the string,
kept score.


A lump of coal gone wrong
in some atomic pressure cooker.
A litany of darkness
written in the space between the stars.
A poem from a sunless dawn.


Eventually it will fail,
but it’s holding for now.
By some miracle.

Is it best to forget it
or let the knowledge
gnaw away?

Of course I know the answer,
but I doubt I have the willpower.
There’s been no evidence of it
thus far.

So I wait.


Born in fluid,
sustained by it
and yet proscribed by it.

We will decay
and then die,
in that order.

Our progress itself
exacts its toll,
robbing us piecemeal
as we go.

Some look at us and see a tragedy
in creatures pushing onward
to horizons they are doomed
to never reach.

The real tragedy,
it seems to me,
is to mistake a limit for a goal.

We are bursts of energy
that ripple outwards
and then fade.

Dissipate is what we do:
that is our nature,
and our fate.

Some might imagine
we have power enough
to move the earth
but in truth it’s
only ever atoms
that we shift.

And even they,
become too massive.

It is Over

They had said as much,
right at the start,
that it could never last.
So they were right, it seems.

And yet it lasted until now –
an eternity, it seemed to me.
And that is surely long enough to mean
we weren’t entirely wrong.


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