Writing Music About

Selected Poems

A collection of my favourite poems, organised by theme.


Poems with philosophical themes.

I am interested in the philosophy of language, aesthetics and the physiology of perception. Art, with a capital 'A' is an inherently philosophical practice, of course, so creative work pondering the nature of creative works is quite appropriate.

At other times, I use these themes more metaphorically, for example in Envelope which uses a domain-specific meaning of that word as the basis for a metaphysical exploration.


These were the lines
that I had sought.
Firm in their conviction
fearless, fierce and deep.

Lines that penetrate,
that get to the nub
of the thing that must be said
without the saying.

The thing that must be known
without the knowing.

From Inklings (2022)


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.

From Measuring (2019)

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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)


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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)


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

From Resistant Materials (2012)

Here We Go Lightly

Here we go lightly,
here we go
against the brutal unforgiving
into the unknown.

We have known for some time,
known how this would end for us
and still we ran the course
of days of emptiness
but for the running.

We had a name for it,
had a name for everything about it,
hid it in that name for years
in amongst the empty words.

And, somehow it has come to be
not a name at all,
not even a certainty,
despite the knowing.

From Inklings (2022)


Poems about early life experiences.

As with all of the poems in the different themed sections of this selection, some of them could just as easily be in a different section. Unkind readers might think that all of them should be under 'Mental Health'.


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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)


I am the other kind.
Not like you.
The other kind.

Actually, I’m not sure
I am a ‘kind’ at all.

The more I think of it,
it’s just me.

And if that’s true of me
then who am I to say
it’s not of you?

Maybe you aren’t a kind either.
Maybe it’s just you too?

Perhaps we’re not so different after all.

Unlike them.

From Dividing Lines (2017)


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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)

Life and death

Poems that reflect on incidents in everyday life, and on particular losses.


We were outside Sainsbury’s
wrestling with the produce.
Unbeknownst to me she’d
“bought a whole fucking planet.”

That was what I’d said
when I saw it,
a great ball of rock
engulfed in swirling gases.

She’d got it through the checkout
while I’d been daydreaming.

“You’ll never get it home”
I said.

“I will,” she said,
always one to relish
this kind of challenge.
“We’ll just need to double bag it.”

“Or triple.”
I heard myself suggest,
drawn pathetically
into her orbit.
“Just make sure to leave a gap –
so it can breathe.”

I knew at the time
it was a terrible mistake.
But still I went along with it.

From A Flattened Third (2015)


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.

From Measuring (2019)

Against the Clock

I should like to measure you —
measure you against the clock.

You mean you’d like to time me
as I set about some task?

No, I want to measure you
against him
by way of a comparison.

His face is big and round
and positively beams.
His hands are long and thin and elegant,
his movement quite sublime.
And have you heard him chime?

Him (interrupting):
Well, I should like to measure you
against the clock.

His face is fat alright,
but not as fat as yours,
my love.

His hands are all askew
and asymmetrical
my love.

And he has that frightful tick!
Although it’s true,
it’s nothing next to yours,
my love.

And by god he’s slow!

Did you notice how
he says the same thing every hour,
and announces it as though
it’s something new?

Yes, by god he’s slow!
But he’s quick compared to you,
my love.

From Dividing Lines (2017)


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.

From Measuring (2019)

Death in the Afternoon

I’m married to a monster
albeit a seasonal offender.
At certain times of year
she dances around the patio
casually committing genocide.

The monsters of her history books
did not report their kills.
It was only later that the Wisdens of the world
let slip their batting averages.

These are different times.
The auditors have told us that
we need transparency.

So they put out daily briefings with the scores.
(It doesn’t matter that the cack-handed eugenicists
have missed a thousand here or there;
bodies stashed around the back).

My monster is no different.
She makes no secret of the tally,
reports it openly,
and probably inaccurately,
throughout the day.

She controls the information
and the media.
I have no means to verify.

The bodies are removed
by stripy-suited fixers.
They move around the terrace free to
shake down corpses for anything
they might take home.

Only now and then
like some scene
from a Monty Python film
do I see them wrestling
with one who’s still protesting
I’m not dead!

I can’t bear to hear the punch line
so I turn away
and focus my attention
on the sound of the cicadas.

From Pandemonium (2020)

Rachel’s End

She was trampled
in her bed
as she slept
by a team of wild horses
charging through the night
on a starry course.

Celestial creatures
shod in iron
from the fire,
summoned in the confusion
of an earthly dream,
shattering her lamplight
into a billion tiny stars.

From Pandemonium (2020)


He looked like he was born to climb:
dark and stocky,
low centre of gravity.

She said she’d never seen him move
so fast as up that rocky face.
Sure of foot as any of the village goats
who graze out on the peaks.

It wasn’t just that he was born
and raised in this place.
No one else round here is built
in quite that way.

Some hours after the funeral
a goat appeared in the street
along from his front door.

Black and beardy,
shooed by awkward neighbours,
it didn’t want to leave.

From Pandemonium (2020)


I can see him now,
the long, liquid man.

Like a willow
swaying in the breeze
smiling that crooked smile
at what he’s conjuring.

He’s flowing now
like a river,
triplets and turns
tripping and turning
out of nothingness
into everythingness.

Blues and whites
dance a rill
through scattered rocks,
the stream thrown
this way and that
but always somehow true
to its unflinching course.

The river has run silent now,
leaving just the dying echoes
reflecting off more ordinary rocks.

And soon, they too will be gone.

From Pandemonium (2020)

A Winter Song

A winter song
is whistling
through barren boughs.

Life has closed down
for the season.

We sit at the bar
behind perspex
watching kite men
catch the breeze.

The waters roll in
and then recede
with a regularity.

I’m tempted to think that it’s
the period of the wave
but it’s not.
It is an altogether different scheme.

We, for our part,
operate at a lower frequency.
And after an hour or so
we leave.

From Dividing Lines (2017)

The Lane

All those sorts
with jobs and cars
and fancy clothes.

In our village,
in our bar.

Shooting the breeze,
no doubt,
with empty talk of deals
and balance sheets
and how their team
is doing in the league.

All kinds of busy-ness
that have no place round here.

They have gone
and left the silent husk.

I smile at that old friend.
as I stoop to pick up
weeks-old streamers
muddied in the lane:

The road that leads them
to this place
and out again.

From Dividing Lines (2017)


You have saved my life
more times than you could know.
I don’t suppose
you dwell on these things.

I do.

You have shown me how to live,
shown me how to take
the chaos of the present
and spin it into threads
that can be stretched
across the frames of time.

You are the master of the years,
you seem to know them
like old friends.

I will sit next to you
while you talk to them.

And I’ll watch you
in awe.

From Inklings (2022)

Mental Health

Poems about a soul struggling to fit into the world in which it finds itself and the dissonance that ensues.


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.

From Measuring (2019)

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.

From Measuring (2019)


As you push the fader up
you hear the feint hiss of oxide
and the rumble of the block.

There is a romance here
and austere significance.

It’s all you ever wanted.
Now it’s all you’ve got.

It’s not lost on you
as you fetch the can from the car
and set about your work.

“You can stop the tape now,”
you say to no one.

He’s headed to the village
to look for cigarettes.

It is enough.
Anything more
would be too much.

You leave the tape machine
rumbling on.
It can spool away

Better that, you think,
than to press a switch.

After all,
just one spark
from that machine
would send the whole lot up.

From A Flattened Third (2015)

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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)

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.

From Resistant Materials (2012)

Society, politics and ecology

Poems about the socio-economic hegemony that we live within, the normalisation of its values in subjects, and the ecological disaster that it will inevitably lead to.

The Covid-19 pandemic of 2019-2020 gave some of us hope that a new way of living might emerge, but the sad reality was that it has proved to be just another crisis in a catalogue of crises that are used by the ruling class to further their own agenda.


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.

From Measuring (2019)

Not Today

It is only Wednesday
and I’m already dead.

I ran at the wall
as hard as I could,
harder than I thought
that it could take.

I could take no more,
but it still could –
it hadn’t moved an an inch!

Someone new has come
to take my bloodied place,
to do the running
for the next few days.

I am not mourned,
and nor will they
despite the energy
we put into our running.

It is Wednesday and the wall
will not be moved today.

From Inklings (2022)


Modernism used to be
a terrifying place
where all the rules flew south,
and even laws of nature bent
around a wondrous new geometry.

There, men looked out from
villas floating in thin air
at vistas spanned by progress and velocity.

I’ve always taken holidays to that place
to savour the profundity of absence.

I tell myself that it’s not ideological
but I know it is.
I have seen what freedom brings
to men who want to trade away the world
and mine the moon.

I retreat there more and more these days
finding clarity of thought
in simpler forms and simpler ways
than the uber-technocratic hell
we’ve wrought upon ourselves.

But then I’ve always been old fashioned.

From Inklings (2022)


The ovine mass is on the move again
smashing themselves in the face
with their hooves
and bleating on about the pain.

They’ve been told there is a market
and that duly they’ll be served.
Better to believe the homily
than to dissect those words.

They have put their trust in dogs –
looking to a species
who’ve been bred for nothing more
than to exert control –
to offer leadership.

A kind who’d gladly
follow their own noses to the stalls
where mutton is piled high
and lamb sold cheap.

A kind who for themselves
like nothing better
than the taste of meat.

From Inklings (2022)

Germ Warfare

Margins close in
but not horizons.
Not yet.
Maybe that will come.
We can only hope.

For the moment,
the germ of ambition still lurks
in the TV unit
and the wardrobe.
The habits of a lifetime
are hard to break.

So, at regular intervals
they venerate the host
that bequeathed everything they see.
Everything they could lay their hands on.

If anything, its mystery is magnified.
You can’t tell believers
that they’ve got nothing but belief.

Maybe we can beat it back,
this invader that’s among us,
pummel it into submission.

Maybe it’s too strong for us.
Already too embedded.

Let’s not forget
we created it.

From Pandemonium (2020)

Extraordinary Times

It’s the eleventh crisis this week.
They seem so commonplace these days.
Yesterday we had three
in the space of one hour.
Luckily for us
our critical faculties
remain undimmed.

We have to call an extraordinary meeting.
There’s nothing else for it.

It’s the day of the extraordinary meeting.
We’ve hardly slept a wink since it was called,
though thirty minutes without sleep
wouldn’t be cause for concern
in normal times.

Nevertheless, we do our best.
We will prevail!
(We say it out loud.)

In place of an agenda
the Chairman
is gesturing to a squadron
of paper airplanes
he has made.

He doesn’t speak,
in accordance with the directive passed
at the previous meeting.

He’s lined the planes up
at forty five degrees
down the side of the conference table
and is making engine noises with his lips.

It isn’t clear whether this is strictly
in the spirit of the directive.

The Chair implies that each one
will be flown in turn
over the course of the next hour.

He implies this by
picking up each craft in turn,
conducting a thorough inspection
of its airworthiness
and structural rigidity,
and then launching it
from a standing position at the head of table.

Over the course of the hour.

This is all well and good.
Perfectly sound.
The planes have flown
and everything has been duly minuted.
But what about Any Other Business?

It’s an academic question, of course.
There is no other business.
How could there be
with an agenda like that?

I’m reminded of the time
he produced a map
of an area of the garden
by digging up the area in question
and laying it out
on the boardroom table.

I want to bring it up
but I’m not sure how
to broach the subject
within the formal constraints
of the business meeting.

It was the most extraordinary map,
just like this meeting.
I feel the comparison
would serve us well.

These are not ordinary times.

As I’m pondering the dilemma
the Chair has disappeared,
firefighting some new crisis
that has emerged
in the kitchen.

From Pandemonium (2020)

When the World Ended

When the world ended
I was a boy
and a man
and no more.

The ending was an unfolding,
an unravelling
of systems that had somehow
set themselves up to be
and piece by piece
were ceasing.

It happened in the blink
of an eye for the watchers.

The blink of an eye
was a lifetime for me.

From Pandemonium (2020)


However long this goes on for
it won’t be long enough for some:
Those who watched in horror
as the world went slowly wrong,
then fell into despair as it hurtled ever on –
a car crash where the metal never meets a force
quite strong enough to bring it to a stop.

Well, now it has.

Neighbourhoods that once belonged to humankind –
sprawling hinterlands of blight –
now teem with nature beautiful and bright.

There are those who clamour to return
to poisoning the water and the air again,
to ratchet up the grim machinery of greed.
The world is spinning on, they say,
and we must run to catch it up.

And there are those who beg them pause
to let us catch our breath,
re-evaluate the proposition posed by endless growth,
take advantage of the cool-off period on the deal.

Reset the economies,
re-find human decency, dignity, morality.
And let our planet breathe.

From Pandemonium (2020)

The Dance

High tide came
to drink them in
and drown them out,
to flood the vaults
until such times
that tides are once again
persuaded to give up
the secrets of the sediment.

Conjured for a moment
in thin air, as chemistry
performed its miracle.
Thick with irony,
it raised up a cathedral
from the sands of time,
and kings and queens
emerged from beds of lime
to perform the dance of life.

This is the sequence
these are the steps
this is progress and regress.
There is nothing more
and nothing less.

In the here and now
we are here
and we are now.
We are nothing more
and nothing less,
and certainly
not something else.

Tides will ebb and flow
in patterns that emerge
but can’t be known.
There is no sequence,
there are no steps –
just the weight of water
pressing to be felt

until the bow line snaps
and the starry compass shifts
to set a different course,
and time itself is called
upon our kings and queens.

Giddy from the dance
we’ll trip down gilded steps
into the lapping murky depths
to be smothered once again
by mother nature’s cold embrace.

And taking us into her arms
she’ll put us back to bed again.

From Inklings (2022)


You are viewing a collection of items.

From the table of contents, click an item to view it.

When viewing items, use the orange arrow buttons to move backwards and forwards through the collection.

You can also use the arrow keys on your keyboard, or swipe left and right on a touch-enabled device.

To go back to the table of contents for the collection, click to 'Back to contents' link in the footer.