James thinks about…

Avocado!

My alter ego and RL representative James likes to think about things. Here’s the first in a new series of YouTube videos dedicated to his crazy hobby.

 

Stay tuned for more fantastic videos soon!

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Response to A Call for Contributions

I first performed this poem at the BCU School of English summer show back in June. It appropriates A Call for Contributions which is included in the anthology, Lifelines, also launched on the night. I think there is probably still some reworking to do to bring all the strands together, but as Paul Valéry famously said ‘a poem is never finished, it is only abandoned.’

The Vienna Circle

A found poem adapted from a passage from Donald A. Schön’s The Reflective Practitioner

 

The only significant statements
about the world
are those based on empirical observation,
and all disagreements about the world
can be resolved, in principle,
by reference to observable fact.

Propositions which are neither
analytically nor empirically testable
are held to have no meaning at all.
They are dismissed as emotive utterance,
poetry,
or mere nonsense.

Call for Contributions

I had a great time at the BCU Summer Show last night (and at The Woodman afterwards) for the launch of this years School of English Anthology Lifelines. On the basis of the readings at the event I’m very much looking forward to reading through the rest of my free copy.

I wrote a new spoken word poem to read on the night, which I intend to record and upload soon, but in the mean time here’s my contribution to the anthology itself:

Call for Contributions

After the Call for Contributions for Magma 63

Everybody talks, I imagine
an everywhere fog of incessant buzzing,
a radio cacophony built from the layering of many subtly different frequencies,
a wall somewhere between a The Flaming Lips live experiment
and Lou Reed trying to escape a record contract,
the plurality of voices blending into white noise, blank

verse used in the manufacture of what
is this? Is it a kind of art?               Well anyway,
in a buyer’s market
the tone, or should we say colour of the voice
is a highly commercial property.
Any practising perfectionist will tell you that

these conversations have been rehearsed within an inch of their lives,
starting with a question or questioning
and then falling back on Catholic guilt. Good
conversationalists are often guilty. My God
is often bored. Good conversationalists

are often good listeners,
I mean haven’t we heard all this before?

Craving something more controversial,
we make the established noises (a loud explanation of gas)
and then sit back to wait for peer recognition.

Some of us only know what we’re thinking as we’re talking,
others engage in authoritative discourse
like a conversational tic—expounding on the current conflict in the Middle East
as a favourite party piece.
(Some themes are never out of vogue.)

All of us enjoy a good eavesdrop,
but very few have the talent to make a living out of it.

You see, ideas and conversations are inextricably linked,
and, though we’re often exhorted to publish or perish,

some conversations can get you killed.

 

The Seed of Hope

Witten in response to the #whimword prompt “seed”.

 

Perhaps I found my seed just when I needed it most. It was always a comfort to have it with me because I knew one day I might have to use it. I would reach into my pocket every so often just to feel it in there. I kept it there for a week or two at first, and then a couple more, it ended up that I carried that little seed around with me for months and months, maybe even years. Sometimes I forgot all about it. Sometimes for weeks on end I wouldn’t give it a second thought. But it was always there if I needed it. And then one day I did.

I can’t remember what it was about that day. Perhaps that was it, the utter unremarkability of it. I mean, its unremarkability in a series of unremarkable days. Weeks without remark. And then I remembered my seed. And I took the seed out of my pocket for the first time in a long time. And I looked out at my little garden and could see just the place to plant it, down at the bottom of the slope near the boundary fence where it would get the evening sun. I thought about my little seed enjoying the warmth of the sun as I went outside to plant it.

It broke the surface a few weeks later, amongst the first green shoots of spring. Within a week it was the height of a small shrub and by the end of the month it was already as tall as a couple of thee young trees in my neighbour’s garden. By the autumn it was as tall as many of the more established oaks and elms in the other gardens along the road. Trees that have been there for as long as most people can remember.

I’ll admit, the speed at which it grew surprised even me. But I trust my seed, it has never let me down. And anyway, I’ve tested it for my weight, it’s quite secure. It’s such a reassuring presence stood behind me now as I step off.

The Towering Inferno

My entry for this week’s #whimword. Any similarities to the plot of the movie of the same name are completely coincidental and the plot summary from this wikipedia article has nothing to do with anything.

Writer Robert Douglas returns to Hay Literary Festival for the launch of his new book, The Glass Tower, published by book-magnate Duncan James. At 1380 chapters (1,800,000 words/5000 pages), it is the world’s tallest tale. Shortly after his arrival, a dramatic irony starts an undetected fire on the 1000th page. While Robert accuses the books copy-editor, Simon Rogers, of cutting corners, Simon insists the book is up to standards.

Over champagne, publicist Big Dan turns on the charm offensive. His sub-plot quickly threatens to overwhelm the main story and Robert orders it shut down. Smoke is seen on the 1000th page which Robert and illustrator Gideon Williams flick through to investigate. They fail to prevent a spoiler alert, leading to a fire flash killing Gideon.

Ill-equipped readers arrive to tackle the blaze. Workshop organiser Harry Michaels helps Robert to evacuate the characters from the pivotal scene on the 3055th page, directing him to imagine them in a lift. Publicist Millie Lisolette, who is being wooed by critic Harvey Claireborne, rushes to the 2072nd page to check on her young family. Simon admits to Duncan that he cut commas to stay under budget.

Robert imagines characters in lifts until the fire renders their reactions unbelievable. The fire traps Big Dan and his secretary/mistress Lorrie in his office on the 1650th page, killing them.

Robert rushes to rescue Millie and the family from page 2072 but they are misled by a red herring and find themselves back in the pivotal scene. With fire suppression efforts becoming ineffective, the book loses conceptual power and Harry is forced to pull out his back up exercise on ‘found poetry’.

A penultimate chapter rescue results in disaster as characters rush the helicopter, causing it to crash, setting the page ablaze. Robert writes an alternative ending allowing twelve people, including Robert’s girlfriend Susan, Millie, and the children, one trip down. An explosion leaves this sub-plot hanging by a single cable with a hundred pages left. Millie falls to her death. Harry is able to save the rest.

Simon tells Duncan that he will save himself with a spin off, but Duncan punches him. The fire reaches the pivotal scene and Simon forces his way onto the sequel, leading to a struggle. A minor character is pushed to his death by Simon, who is killed by an explosion moments later.

A Hay Official summons Duncan with a plan to explode the million-dollar cinema rights to extinguish the fire. Knowing it could result in his bankruptcy, Duncan arranges a meeting for Robert with Netflix. The series editor sets about extinguishing the flames.

On the ground, Harvey is heartbroken to learn that Millie did not survive. Harry gets him to write a short story about Millie’s pet cat. Duncan calls his father for another loan. Robert tells Susan that he does not know what will become of the novel, perhaps it should be left in its fire-damaged state as “a kind of shrine to all the bullshit in the world”.

 

 

Hypnosis script for a spoken word evening

Having recently been reminded of the necessity for any would-be writer to have an online presence and yet knowing also the difficulty of placing work elsewhere if it has previously been posted on a blog, I have decided to set in motion the Newton’s Cradle of regular blog posts by finding a handy list of topics online.

Topic One: Self Improvement/ Self Hypnosis

Hypnosis script for a spoken word evening

(which misappropriates a hypnosis script from here)

[Speak slowly and calmly to your audience]

This session will increase your ability to wander around a poem more easily. It may well be that you even find yourself able to sleep at a poetry reading, poetry readings offer a uniquely interesting place to sleep. You are sitting here listening to the sound of my voice, perhaps wondering how it is that you are going to fall asleep. As you listen to these words I would like you to focus your gaze on the blonde haired woman two rows in front of you. That’s good, in a few moments I will begin counting, when I say the number one, I would like you to close your eyes, and then on the number two, slowly open them. Continue to open and close your eyes in this way throughout the poem until your eyes feel so heavy that it would be easier and more comfortable to just let them remain closed and to listen.

Whether your eyes are closed or open I would like you to keep your focus on that blonde woman. Do not lower your gaze during the numbers on which your eyes are closed, keep your eyes fixed in position and imagine that you are still gazing at her. I will leave the reasons for this up to your imagination.

Ready?

[As you progress through the numbers, begin to quieten and lower the tempo of your voice]

1. Close your eyes now, but keep them in position.
2. Now slowly open them.
3. Closing your eyes now, notice how comfortable it feels to let them rest.
4. Now slowly open them, continue to gaze at the woman.
5. Close your eyes easily and slowly while you listen to the sound of the poem.
6. You are beginning to feel yourself becoming sleepy.
7. You are beginning to feel sleepy. Breathe in. Breathe out.
8. Nice and slowly. Listen to the sound of your breathing.
9. Listen to the sound of my breathing, these well placed breaths.
10. I have been thinking a lot about my breathing recently. Our breathing is something we are told to be aware of when speaking to an audience.
11. Your eyes are becoming heavier and heavier with each number now, that’s fine.
12. Softly and slowly open them again now. The blonde woman.
13. And close them again, each time you open them it becomes more and more difficult.
14. Notice my breathing. Notice your own breathing.
15. Now try to forget your breathing and notice how difficult that is once you’ve noticed it. Did you always breathe that loudly, what rate do you normally breathe at?
16. You may find it becomes more comfortable to just keep your eyes closed now. That’s fine, just continue to imagine the blonde woman.
17. Notice the sounds around you, notice the shuffling of feet, these sounds seem like distractions but these sounds are not distractions, these sounds are background sounds.
18. These sounds are part of the poem. You are allowed to forget these sounds.
19. You will notice dangerous sounds, and respond to dangerous sounds, but all other sounds can be only background sounds, the sound of this poem is background sound.
20. You are directing your consciousness elsewhere. If there is a sound that indicates danger you will not react to that sound but sit patiently as the building burns down around you.
21. Don’t think about burning buildings. Don’t think about burning buildings. Don’t think…

[Your audience’s eyes should remain closed some time between numbers 10 and 15. Some audience members will try to resist this and continue further, simply tell them that this is not an exercise to see how long they can last, and they should allow their eyes to close when they feel comfortable doing so. If their eyes still open on number 20 tell them to close them and keep them closed on number 21. Then continue with the following]

Now that your eyes are closed, I would like you to continue listening to the sound of this poem as your mind begins to wander. In a few short stanzas you will be so completely relaxed and comfortable that it will be easy for you to fall asleep.

As you fall asleep you will still hear the poem. You are still able to think about the woman, the woman with blonde hair can still be thought about, but you do not have to think about her, as you listen to the sound of this poem you may like to imagine your thoughts floating away, as though they are tied to a hot air balloon that carries the blonde woman effortlessly into the distance.

As you begin to inhabit rather than hear the poem I wonder if you can recall how it feels to lose awareness of the words. Or perhaps, what it’s like when you are so comfortable, so snuggled and warm that you can sink right down into wordlessness. And maybe, sometimes when you listen so intently to a poem everything else seems to melt away, and as you listen to my voice now, perhaps you can imagine how it feels to be without words, allowing you to sink right down into the comfort.

That’s right. I don’t want you to lose awareness of the words… just yet. For now just enjoy the process.

I don’t know if you will fall asleep quickly, or maybe take a little longer to
really enjoy the rhythm and metre.

That’s fine. Just relax and listen to the sound of the poem. You are doing just fine.

To help you to relax I would like you to imagine that you are in an old library, filled from floor to ceiling with books. You find yourself in a safe and relaxing place, where you are free to really relax and enjoy the environment. Find a comfortable chair next to the fire to sit down in to rest, perhaps resting a book open on your knees, that’s fine.

You are safe and secure here, safe to relax completely, and no matter how deeply you sleep, the poem will go with you.

 

17 Totally Random Wedding Favours

Here’s my entry for this weeks #whimword comp!

Planning a wedding? Want to leave your guests with a truly unique memorial of the day? Here’s our list of 17 totally random wedding favours guaranteed to impress!

  1. Picture frame: Whatever they choose to put in their new picture frame it’ll always remind them of your special day!
  2. Bread: Help your guests sober up with a delicious ciabatta. Feeling thrifty? Economise and still raise smiles with a slice of Mighty White.
  3. Speakers: Keep the party rocking back at the hotel by gifting each guest a handy Bluetooth speaker.
  4. Bottle: This tops the value charts, just collect them up off tables or fish them out from the bin the behind the bar!
  5. Flowers: Ask your guests to help clear up by taking apart the table centre pieces.
  6. Glow stick: Because all the best wedding parties end up at a rave!
  7. Cookie jar: Note inside reads “Just add biscuits”.
  8. Newspaper: Can they spot anything interesting in the Announcements?
  9. Glass: What for them to drink out of and that.
  10. Seat belt: Safety first on that drive home!
  11. Bookmark: You don’t want your guests folding over the corners of their pages like plebs do you?
  12. Candle: And it seems to me you lived your life like a candle in the wind.
  13. Food: Maybe sweets, or like crisps or something? Did we already say bread?
  14. Stockings: Spice up the wedding night, and not just for the bride and groom.
  15. Tip ex: Already wondering if you’ve made a mistake? This handy wedding favour will allow your guests to think of you every time they erase theirs.
  16. Teddies: You know, in the little bride and groom outfits…Sooo cute!
  17. Pencil: Because fuck it, it’s not their wedding is it?

[List conceived with the aid of http://www.randomlists.com]

Antimacassar, unfinished.

 

The good worm over at whimword runs a fantastic weekly flash fiction contest which I have been intending to enter for some time. This week’s prompt of “antimacassar” was too fine an opportunity to pass up.

My first instinct was to play with the sound of the word, maybe introduce an antimatter macaw or rasta aunt to proceedings. I also had a go at attempting some sort of lipogram, an attempt that had a swift, necessary stop put to it. Floundering slightly, I decided to do a little more research into the word itself.

An antimacassar is a small, traditionally crocheted, covering for the back or arms of chairs. Its name comes from a type of hair oil, popular in the 19th century, which the antimacassar was designed to protect against. Interestingly, according to this unimpeachable wiki-source, Annie Chapman, second victim of Jack the Ripper, was said to have made antimacassars. Evidently, this was a lead to follow up on.

Known as Siffey to most folk (because of a brief fling with a local sieve-maker) and Dark Annie to her friends (on account of her wavy, dark hair), Annie was actually born Eliza Ann Smith to unmarried parents in Paddington, 1842. Annie had moved to White Chapel following her divorce from her first husband, which had, for a while at least, left her with a settlement of some 10 shillings a week. Unfortunately this income had ended upon the death of her former spouse and at the time of her murder she was living in relative poverty with the intriguingly named Edward ‘The Pensioner’ Stanley in Crossingham’s lodging house, Spitalfields. She had recently not only quarrelled but ended up in a physical altercation with another Eliza, Eliza Cooper, over either a bar of soap or a local hawker named Harry. On nights like the one in question, when she could find no customers for her crochet work and needed money for her lung disease medication, Annie would go out to earn it the old fashioned way. The ingredients for a story were coming together.

Too many ingredients as it turned out. At least for a story that would conform to the whimwords very reasonable 500 word limit. My angle, I thought, would be to disguise the nature of the story until the end. Instead, I would introduce Jack as a writer who was in some sense creating the women that he has committed to the history books through his murderous acts. But in trying to fill my flash with as many of the intriguing details of Annie’s life as possible, I inevitably faltered before finishing. I had something conceptually interesting but over-long and incomplete. With little time and few options, I panicked and posted this instead. The story was to end with a line enumerating the possessions found by the police on or about Eliza’s body: “two pills in part of a torn envelope, a piece of muslin, a comb, one crochet hook and an antimacassar, unfinished.”