If gale-force Fortune sweeps you off you feet,

let it; ride it; and admit defeat.


There’s no point in resisting; it’s too strong –

willy-nilly, you’ll get swept along.


Palladas. Tony Harrrison


It was an unseasonably warm October night. The high winds of the midweek had ceased and it was still. My own turmoil was resting, licking its wounds, trying to heal itself. This was the second time we had ventured out on a Saturday evening to see my favourite poet. The first time had been a wrong call; I got the month wrong. Perhaps my father was right when he insisted that I was dateless. My wife shares this acute judgement of the strange being that is her husband. A month late, but on time, I prayed that the firmaments were now in line.

The last time that I attended a reading of his poetry was almost thirty years ago. I had gone along with a good friend and sat suitably in awe of the greatest light in modern poetry. I considered him to be one of us (UZ) rather than one of them. I came from working-class roots and confronted the received-wisdom that denied the masses so that the few could prosper. It was through his poetry that I found mine. I also found a torch that lit up the tunnels in which I could work away at the foundations of that which chose to imprison me.

It was Harrison’s School of Eloquence that originally pulled me in:

How you became a poet’s a mystery!

Wherever did you get your talent from?

I say: I had two uncles,Joe and Harry –

one was a stammerer, the other dumb.



If my father had ever written verse, I would have liked it to have been like this. My dad was a realist, not a dreamer like his son. He could not waste words on silly rhymes; life was too short and there was work to be done. So, I took Tony Harrison at his word(s) and made him my surrogate muse. Each time I came across well-trodden feet, I stopped in wonder at the things I had previously not seen. It was like waking-up for the first time, every time, and seeing the world afresh.

I was saddened and surprised by how few people had turned-out to listen to the Rhubarb Bard. There was a time when he was admired as ‘one of the most prodigiously gifted and accessible poets’ alive. He could ”speak the language” that he spoke at home, but use the form of sonnets to drive his point home at the same time. When I first read him, it was at the behest of Mary Eagleton, the sister of Terry Eagleton, another well-read socialist interpreter of higher learning. I was like Tony’s uncle; “mouth all stuffed with glottals”. My public reading had never been good, even if I did have the accent to suit the verse. After tripping through his lines, I went home to sit in my undergraduate bedsit and study his words. They were mine.

That was years and years ago in the long, long ago that will not disappear.

Tony Harrison came to the front of the small gathering, apologised for not having his microphone attached, had it attached, then shuffled the white pages of his world of words. We were in Beverley Minster, a grand building that has been used by TV companies to ape its better known cousin, the palace of Saint James. And Tony, though not in the pulpit, was at the front. When he started to read, I fell into the time between the pages and saw not an old man, now gone eighty, but the Tony Harrison of some forty years before. I caught myself mouthing the words that he was speaking and realised that I was performing an act of devotion. I nodded when lines long deep in my own memory were recited. Other people disappeared into the shadows of the ancient hall and there was Harrison speaking directly from within me.

My fellow audience members were probably retired teachers; their sensible clothes suggested as much. I recognised faces from the past and shared a greeting or two. Nobody applauded when he reached then end of individual poems. My hands were itching to give him a warm ovation, but to my shame I followed the crowd. It was like being at an opera or classical concert. Everything Harrison stood for was being filtered into their sense of the world. I actually wanted to cheer and to shout encouragement or agreement, but I merely nodded and mouthed the words I knew.

At the end of the reading, there was a little Q&A. An interviewer asked generic questions about poems that had been written decades before. It was obvious and a little puerile. I filled a void of silence when I held the microphone to tell him that I was pleased that it was being held in that setting as I had worshipped him as a poet. The wife said that that was a little corny and she was right. But at least it was honest.

A question that wasn’t asked, but was partly addressed by the poet, was about the impact he had had through his writing. At its point, his eyes fell towards the floor and he thought for a moment.

“The world has gone back to what it was like back then. I thought it would have changed. I hoped that it would have got better, but it’s back to where it was. Isn’t that what history teaches us? And we never learn.”


“…what’s between’s

not the thirty or so years, but books, books, books.”



Selling Like Hot-Cakes?


It makes no sense. 


Read After Burnout. com

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The Boolocks That Kipling Wrote…


In truth, the certainty of anything is temporary. Time flies, it waits for no man, it is a healer and a destroyer.

Time could be on my side or it could be playing for the other team. After a lifetime of treating life as a tapas bar, I find my choices now limited to a decision to stay or go. If, and for a two letter word it is massive, if I stay there will be changes and I know that my wife is not good with changes. If could mean that we are thrown into the abyss of uncertainty again and if could be the undoing of everything we have worked for, including our marriage. If we move here, there will be a household of ifs, each demanding our attention. If is a cliff edge that presents us with a possible panorama of possibilities and potential anxieties; we could move to the edge and take to flight or we could plummet.

This is where my father comes in again. For my eighteenth birthday he brought me a framed copy of Kipling’s famous poem, If.

If you can dream and not make dream your master,

I f you can think, and not make thoughts your aim

 Yes, I get it. I was supposed to dream but not to become a dreamer. This, I failed in. I was expected to think and not make thoughts my goal in life. I failed in this too. Sorry, Dad, but by your reckoning I have never have become a man. The conditional would never allow me to graduate from teenager to manhood.

I dream and I think, therefore I am (a two-penny tosspot). And yet, IF stands in my way. IF, IF, IF. All a bloody bit IFFY is you ask me, but you won’t because the pun is too bad or you’ll never get to read this bloody whatever it is.


IF you and your friends do read this, then I’ll be a MAN.  


Awake And Wake Again…


I am still here. Again, I open my eyes onto a world that remains in place. The night has only brought dreams; no resolutions. 

There is a chill in the air. It is summer and yet it wants to be something else. I wrap myself in the promise of tea and descend the stairs.

Mornings have become this. They have become times of acceptance and resignation. This is how it will be for each of my days in which I wake. There is no world out there that offers sunshine. Only slate grey skies await.

Still, I rise.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Maya Angelou

In evangelical mode, I rose from sleep this morning. The dream that had played upon my  sleeping self had been about betrayal. One person after another person turned their backs upon me even though they saw what the world had done. I wasn’t begging nor pleading, I was only continuing with my grey dawns. And yet somehow they had me down as a charlatan and a fraud. Face after face, friend after friend, family after family, all turned away.

Shunned. I was being shunned.

Somebody had been planting the seeds of doubt around my home. Somebody had been turning the earth, refreshing the soil for another plague of locusts. And they were coming, as true as the slate grey skies would come. But this time, the skies would be grey and clamorous with the multitudinous beating of their wings. And when the blighted crops would raise themselves, deformed and devoid of hope, the plague would descend and devour them.

In my dreaming self, I walked towards the sower who was turned against me. My arrival brought him to slow his activities. He would not turn, but I knew it to be my father.

I woke. 

My father is long dead now. I believe that he wouldn’t betray me, but something has. Each day when my eyes open to greet a new world, the old one smirks back at me. Each time I allow the seeds of hope to fill my palms, they shrivel and die.

When slowly (and nobody comes with a light)

Its heart sinks lower under the sod.

But something has to be left to God.

Robert Frost


Yet, still I rise. I rise every morning because that Is what I have always done. I rise to the promise of sunshine even when only the grey of the world awaits. I will rise, not for my mug of tea, but for the chance of something better. I will not bother God or any other deity with my concerns, but I will rise.

And there I go, all preachy and full of promise. The world awaits to knock the shine out of my hope. Yet, still I sit here at my desk and write the words I now cannot say. In a darkened room, all alone, I may whisper them so as not to be overheard. I may be cursed with bad luck, the worst kind, but still I rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Maya Angelou

Whoever that cloaked character was, it was not my father. It was doubt dressed as man. Me dressed as doubt. When it has all betrayed me, I will rise. I will rise every mother fucking grey day and I will go about my business of keeping the flame alive.

I need to rise each morning and feel that, for that day, there will be some sunshine, some rain, some life-affirming pain.


And whatever curse I may have dreamt about was just that…a dream.


The Place Where Time Goes…


Eighteen years ago, my middle daughter was born. It was a momentous day and the sun was shining as if in confirmation. 

She was born sometime in the early evening after delaying her entry to the world, in the way a seasoned performer delays their re-entrences on stage to garner the applause of a grateful audience. If our eldest daughter had remained inside the comfort of her mother’s womb for a decent amount of time, after the designated kick-off hour, the middle one set about beating that record; and she did.

Her eldest sibling could not wait to see her freshly grown baby sister. Her anticipation had been simmering towards fevered excitement and by the time we brought the little one back from the hospital, we expected an eruption of joy. What we got instead was a sudden realisation that her place within the family had been usurped by this pink staring thing that didn’t even make baby noises. Our middle daughter was so unlike our eldest one as she did not scream or yowl at the passing world every single minute of the day.

No, our new daughter remained wide-eyed and apparently zen-like in her appreciation of her newly-found state.

Time flies. It moves with invisible wings across the span of our lives; and then beyond. Now that she is eighteen, she has reached the first stage of being an adult. I think that that means being somebody who is really still a child but is made to pretend otherwise. She is treading into this territory by spending the day revising for her A Levels. Only in the evening will she allow herself to relax, kick-back, and enjoy the moment.

To A Daughter Leaving Home by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving


 Happy Birthday, Kate!

x x x