Monday, 29 August 2011

Tailormade Poems kick off!

Last Wednesday saw the real launch of Tailormade Poems, which I know I've already blathered about to some length but we wanted to go tah dah! and have an excuse for some fancy coffee and delicious cake.

And because we're just a small affair with a low profile (for now) we thought the best place for such things was the Music Room in Lancaster, a spin-off from the coffee merchants, Atkinsons. So all good and delicious.

You may remember from the invite in a previous post, we asked for commissions to write for the launch. Lovely that people took it upon themselves to get us busy... I was asked to write one for a friend on the event of Arsenal's Champions League qualifier, fro his Arsenal watching buddy. Yes, a football match. Yes, for Arsenal. I know little about football. Even less about Arsenal. Not so by 4pm Wednesday 24th August.

Nerve-wracking to read such new poems - the second one I read was one I was commissioned to write for a Munroist - who had just finished them last week after 19 years of walking up and down them... But they seemed to go down well, so I thought I'd share the Arsenal one here. It's not a work from great depth, but then that wasn't the brief. I was asked to write a poem that voiced the 'brotherhood of suffering', that 'it has come to this', which is what I tried to do.

I like writing in this very different style to my usual work. I think it's a very helpful conterbalance: the need for a clear through-line, consequential narrative and simple, cohesive imagery. And there is something hugely rewarding writing stuff for people for particular occasions, directly to them. And those people seem to like it too.

Arsenal v Udinese, Champions League Qualifier, 2011
for Nick

Whole lives can begin again in August,
when ninety minutes promise to repay our loyalty —

despite not winning a trophy for six years;
despite last year looking like we were in line for all four big ones;
despite drawing four all to Newcastle
when we were four nil up with half an hour to go.

Even you, with that half hour to go, almost relaxed.
Now nothing is secure: I've joined you on the edge,
exchanged my sofa for a nail bed.

I've terminated my Red Membership
but can't shake my commitment to the brotherhood of suffering.
I'm on a waiting list for a waiting list to sign up to Lancaster City
but —

tonight's Champions League qualifier is on terrestrial.
For once we won't be watching together.
Plenty will be: we're everyone's second favourite team.

But three weeks in and we're looking worse and worse:
we've lost our two best players;
three defenders injured; three more disciplined.

Our collapse continues, and I cannot distinguish
between we and I. Our spirit, my emotion.

Fabregas and Nasri can walk away
for something like £160000 a week each —
the rest of us can't transfer our allegiances so easily.

We're suckered in, abused
by the monstrosity football has become.
I am an idiot. We're both tense, anxious idiots.
We're all idiots together.
And together, apart, we'll watch the game tonight, hoping
against hope, as we always have done.
As we always will.

footnote: Arsenal won 2-1
Last night I didn't write a poem for their subsequent match. They lost 8-2 to Man U.
Arsne Wenger... a poem's not expensive

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Art of Sailing is...

not sailing ... to paraphrase Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon.

And it's probably one the hardest aspects to become proficient in (see his six pack?)

I didn't mention in my post about sailing in the Clyde we were stormbound for four days. What was particularly difficult was that it wasn't that stormy: only blowing 25mph ish - not impossible to sail in, especially if it's behind or alongside you. But the level of the crew's experience made it too windy. What's the point of taking people out for their second only trip when you know it's going to be stressful? When everything will need to be done quickly, efficiently and with strength?


It's a holiday, not life or death, or honour or any of that Bruce Lee stuff (see my one pack).

It got harder every day. We didn't know on day one that it'd be day five we'd be sailing. We were hoping it'd be day two, then day three, etc, meanwhile listening to the coastguard's updates morning, afternoon and evening, watching any flags, checking the sea state for wind strength, while also trying to make the most of the sunshine - it was blowy but also gloriously sunny - and let go of sailing being the focus of the trip. Tough when there is three of you on a 29 footer.

We tried to laugh. Did quite a good job of that. Spent time practising knots and recalling names of bits of the boat, as well as eating ice creams.

But as the days rolled on, the pressure of that first sail with a new crew grew. Everyday I had to remind myself of our capabilities, experiences and the reliability of the boat, and, most regularly, visualise who would do what when it came for us to slip our moorings (see previous post about foresight...)

It reminded me of the preparation I make in advance of what usually becomes quite a good poem - the thinking and rethinking of ideas and their connections, gathering images that spring to mind and flower into new ones, letting the original ones slide. Although with the sailing, I always brought it back to the starting point - or departure point - to run through it all again. And again.

Needless to say, we slipped off day five, without incident. Although the shift in wind direction meant we followed a slightly different course of action, but having gone through the original plan so many times, my brain was limbered up, responsive to the new circumstances - like an athelete's warm up, like this blog for my poems, like not doing stuff for ages before you do it.

The trick is to eventually do it.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Fancy a Limoncello with that?

Tailormade Poems are launching their eco, boho personalised greeting card service on Wednesday 24th August 2011.

Come to the Music Room Cafe, Sun Square, Lancaster at 5.00pm and help us celebrate.

While you choose between Limoncello, Cider Brandy and Jerez Sherry to add even more chic to Atkinson’s award-winning coffee, we’ll tell you all about it.

And if you want proof we write only poems of charm and complexity (no doggerel, no dodgy rhymes, no schmaltz) send us a test brief to Tailormade Poems ( and we’ll read out the results on 24th August.

S P A C E I S L I M I T E D S O P L E A S E, P L E A S E R S V P

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


My six word short story We buried the whale at night has been transformed into a six minute opera, which is being performed at the Tete a Tete Opera Festival Thursday and Friday night this week at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London (circumstances allowing).

It's set to music by composer Phillip Cooke, to become 'Nocturne'. His opera, 'Progeny', which was performed last year, is shown here (about 12 minutes in)

Six Word Operas from Tête à Tête on Vimeo.

It's the second time I've inadvertantly written a libretto. The first was Flocking, for Steve Lewis... Maybe one day I'll get down to writing something intentionally. All the same, it's very exciting.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Grow! Grow! Grow!

Sometime, before the sea, wind and boat washed most things from my mind, Flax commissioned a film from Maya Chowdhry, which I absolutely adore.

It's a stop-motion haiku, written, sown and filmed by Maya Chowdhry, with inspiration from Flax026ers, Mollie Baxter, Carys Bray, Jane Eagland, Norman Hadley, Claire Massey and Carla Scarano. And plays with the idea of growth...

Monday, 1 August 2011

Sea Time

Time spent at sea is a strange, amorphous thing, which probably added to my engrossment of Christian Marclay's The Clock, when I sent to see it in Glasgow between crew changes the other week.

Not only is the film a breathtaking work of commitment and craft, but completely compulsive. By editing clips of films that refer to time, the pieces, generally, tended to focus on characters waiting or rushing. And yet when set alongside each other, became inconsequential. Or at least every scene was laden with impending consequence - anticipation or adrenalin - which never materialised, just segued into another scene laden with more inconsequential consequence. So each climatic point carried high tension never to be resolved. No emotional tail for the viewer. A cinematic version of a Kafka novel, perhaps?

It was showing at the CCA in Glasgow, but sadly I'd missed the 24 hour showing of it so only got to see from midday to 4pm. Being in there for four hours was a heady experience. Which I'm sure was exaggerated by having been on the boat for a week. Being on a boat is the opposite of inconsequentiality ... absolutely every action has a very obvious reaction, and one of the requirements of being on board is being able to think at least four events ahead: if I let go of that rope, the bow will do this, the stern that and the crew another, then me some like that ...

This foresight of cause and effect is the main intellectual activity of sailing since most of it is physical and instinctual, or at least has become so after years of doing it, making my responses automatic. This is great - for me. But has a downside when there are others on board, who might not have the same experience. Since I was unable to explain to others in clear concise points how to steer, tie bowlines, fend us off from pontoons, reef sails etc etc. And with having two weeks of inexperienced crew on board I had to go back to my verbal drawing board (is there such a thing?) and find the words and intelectualise the procedures for virtually everything I did in response to the wind, sea or boat.

And so what joy to indulge in four hours of nothing mattering, except in a minute's climax and watching actors be old, then young, then older again within an hour (Meryl Streep and Anthony Hopkins were particularly evident between 12-4pm). It was a bit like taking on the perspective of the sea: witnessing panic alternating with patience and having no real concern over what might happen next. Perfect viewing for a 24 hour passage.