‘Now’ by Ian Barker


ian b 1


I’ve not posted since January which is appalling even by my non-prolific blogging standards. I blame the PhD. There will be a resurgence of all kinds of creativity when that’s done-or so I tell myself. In the meantime it’s nice to publish a few poems written by other people like then below, written in response to the prompt I put on Facebook recently- to write a poem, quite quickly, in response to the word ‘Now’. So I’m happy to publish Ian Barker’s poem, below. I first met Ian some years ago when he came over to Word! at The Y in Leicester some years back. We’re both big Frank O’ Hara fans and he has helped me when I have had  computer crises. Ian now lives in the US as you will read in his biography.

Heres ‘s Ian Barker’s poem in response to the one word prompt, ‘Now’.


It’s now, that time, well, A time,
a time, a moment, when we pivot on a thought,
when hordes are not gallumping to triumphant
canon, and the fields are not sown with salt,
as such,
but still,
a scimitar still swings against an unwilling neck
and a knight crusader summons dragon fire from the sky.
Now is a tragic page that is being written
by disappearing girls
and undiscovered mounds of
those on the wrong side of the powerful,
dead wrong,
more bones and rags of mums and dads
and fading faces in dog-eared photographs.
Sure, you can build a wall, now.
But wasn’t that done before?
North against South (instead of West divides East)
and again, wasn’t that done before?
A whole confederation of reasons to fight,
brother against brother,
before the 13th change solved everything
and made the free freer and the freer free,
for a while…until now, now when
free means shoot me and where the free
turn a blind eye to the costs of our fun phones,
flip channels and binge watch and chill
safe from the slavery of zero hours contracts
and the struggle of a bare minimum existence.
Threadbare carpets build our burgers and
desperation means the chance to die drowning
on the shores of derision.
When humanity crept back into the height of fashion,
when compassion was the greatest show on Earth,
is that…now?

On Ian

Born in London, England in the 1960s Ian grew up in the British home counties and Midlands. He has performed extensively in the UK and US at various open mics, public events and festivals.

In November 2009 he emigrated to Omaha, Nebraska, USA for just enough years to realize the Nebraskan winters require the fortitude of a polar explorer so he swapped them for the lead-melting sub-tropical weather of Dallas, Texas where he regularly confuses people by pronouncing everything in a “pretty accent”. He once freaked-out the local librarian by making the only request in living memory for a complete set of Kerouac and Frank O’Hara anthologies.

ian b 2


I’m happy to include 3-4 more poems from other people in response to the word ‘Now’. Send to pamthompson240@yahoo.co.uk with a short bio and a couple of pics of you or related to the poem.

Only Dancing

I can’t add anything that hasn’t been said in the numerous tributes that have been posted today in response to news of the death of David Bowie. It all proves what a monumental influence he was on so many lives – definitely on mine – and the fact that we grew up with him in his many incarnations. He represented creative fluidity and imaginative possibility. I visited the Bowie exhibition at the V & A twice and stiull couldn’t take in the full immensity of his talent. I want to post my triubute so am posting versions of poems I wrote in partly in response to the exhibition but also significant Bowie moments in my life in connection with his various personae and musical inventions.

Versions of these poems are in my collection (Equinoctial) for my soon(!) to be submitted PhD. I am grateful for feedback from other poet friends along the way. I know I will continue to revise them. Poem 4. in particular has horrible resonance just now.

A sad day.

BOWIE1.gifAladdin Sane


Only Dancing


Pictures of the moon from Apollo 8:
as if someone was pulling it on invisible threads
through a slit in the universe

planet Earth was blue
and there was nothing we could
do about eyes that denoted ‘other’.

and, my God, he could have populated
constellations with his selves.

We watched, listened. Something had shifted.



She glittered his eyes in the night.

His imitation /adoration just went as far
as rooster razor-cut and platforms.

As far as the music went
because she’d kept up. Queen Bitch.

It could have been me. It was.
You could have done better than that.


Photo of David BOWIE
David Bowie live at Hammersmith Odeon on Ziggy Stardust tour.


Time takes a cigarette from the swishy
queen, the gorgeous boy,

camp as a row of tents, this sheer male
tart, hands it first to him, then her,

that summer,

he pulls on a finger, then another finger,
his joints crack, his back too,

whoah, whoah, whoah,

I hate that, I can hear it now.
See you posing.
Is this the mind’s eye, we’re talking about?
It’s sleepy as hell, anyway.

His cigarette goes out. Mine’s stubbed to dust.


Bowie 2



to the leather leotard
the lurex bodysuit
with rabbits and hands
to pointed black nails
to the moss-green leotard
the red plastic boots

the Pierrot costume


to blue flowers
to the capsule,
to the white cape,
to scarlet kanji characters


‘One who spits out words
in a fiery manner’




And so to to the eighties, cowboy president astride
a pile of white powder, aftershocks,
a whirring, then, crash-down

on a solarised beach New Romantic hinterland
between Hastings and Beachy Head.

We too had our Pierrot moments,
painted on opportune tears.

Scary Monsters. Hope
you’re happy too. Cue bulldozer,
it’s behind you, one
slip and you’re done for. Come away from the shoreline,
that breastless mermaid is life-support
useless, belly swelling,
step closer, those are wrinkles. Oldmaid.

Don’t say it’s true. This won’t take long,
then back to the fifties’ predictable kitchens .
It’s time to stop/start taking advice, to reassemble
the beach how it was, in proper colours also.



Comedic effect :
it could be a clapping audience in there
but today, you open a drawer
and a song starts up,
close it, trap the music inside,

open close, open close.

Stuffed in the bottom drawer
the gold maxi coat, purple trousers
and silver platforms. None
of them fitted. The song starts up.

You shut its mouth.

In the top drawer,
Berlin, cycling to the studios,
the come-down after LA,
sharing a flat with Iggy,

in love with Nietzsche
and on the wrong side
of fascism’s wall, maybe it’s
still the chemicals talking, cold
electric thin white duke
acting for all the world as if these were
the last days of Weimar,

‘ and the guns shot above our heads
and we kissed as if nothing can fall’

we can be heroes …

Worth leaving this one open.




After recording,

he wandered out of the blue

away from his shadow

and the window-frames leaned in

and the shadow stretched away

inside that hour where last notes quivered

above coffee in polystyrene cups

and all the other hours became indigo, violet

and you’d surely be rewarded

for your waiting in the not-dawn

of improbable light-beams,

when maybe he’d hold out his hand to you,

maybe not



Off to perform, she can never tell
what the audience will be like, even when
she’s honed her act,
sealed all the cracks in the delivery,
has the cues off pat

and even knows the songs by heart
without needing to rehearse,
but still has to rely on the rest of the band-
too much rock and roll behaviour
to her left and her right, she’ll be

eclipsed. In the end
she can only double-check in the mirror
that the eye make-up’s fixed,
skim a last glance how her backside
looks in black leather

and even if all this is just a metaphor
for how she is, earthling,

it’s okay for anyone
to wink at the moon before going out,
and not to wait
for its approving wink back.


Switch-Over Selves


Artist Cindy Sherman, like me, has a birthday in January. We are of a similar age; she, a little older. Identity work is her project through art as mine is, in various ways, through poetry. I love the ways in which she projects her various selves.  I believe we all have many ‘switch-over’ elves. I know I do. As writers we must allow ourselves to ‘be’ other selves in our writing. None of us have one ‘voice’. It is a myth. Think about it. I intend to let some or all of mine out to play in words and/or other ways, in 2016. How about you?cindysherman-untitled225

Cindy Sherman says of some of her images, ‘I started to think about some of the characters – how they’re older women and if they’re successful, maybe they’re not really that happy … Maybe they’ve been divorced, or they’re in an unhappy marriage, but because of the money, they’re not going to get out. That’s what I was thinking – that there’s something more below the surface that you can’t see.’ She goes on to tell of all the different ways she disguised herself, photographed herself against many different backdrops, made herself into many women, and men, and both, all her and not her. It is so interesting to read how male critics castigated her on occasion for not looking. er, like a woman, properly feminine/ female or whatever. Hilarious.

I wrote a poem based on an interview she did with director John Waters. Her responses were a million times more interesting than his questions. My poem is notes really, an early draft but I am including it here to reflect my considerable interest in her. I am including one of her clown transformations too.


I didn’t want this poem to be double-spaced however posting now is more important than faffing about.


Identity Theft

“It makes sense to go out on a limb in these difficult times.”

Cindy Sherman


It’s weird to be in character

around other people, it feels like a game.

In my bedroom I can be the entire crew.


I want to do a whole series

of men someday. This depth-of field thing.

I make it a condition.


Sometimes I look too much like me

on a bad day. It’s me. It’s not.

I want to be as ugly as I can be.


They got it right. I’m chopping

myself up, getting smaller

and smaller—


I do not recognize myself.

I look like characters

I was doing thirty years ago.


It happens now a lot more easily.

Did I torture my dolls?



I had these troll dolls. I made them houses

out of shoeboxes,I made them furniture,

clothes. They had outfits.


I used to torture my sister’s dolls,

give them bad hairdos, put them back

in the box. I didn’t hate Barbies, no.


I use Photoshop instead of make-up.

I got some clown stuff off Ebay-cut it up, used

the legs as sleeves but it wasn’t real clown stuff.





The day I went out into the world as a ginger-haired, besuited man… well that’s another story.;)


















2015 in review


I posted 10 times last year-I thought it was 8! Well, maybe I can double that next year…:)

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 30 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Taking stock

I’ve been inspired by Robin Houghton‘s recent post about her poetry submissions (acceptances and rejections) in 2015 to do some reflecting and totting up myself. I am not as systematic as Robin. I don’t take particular note of how many times various poems have been sent out nor when written and revised. This is a good thing to do, however. I have been writing since my teens; started sending out in my late twenties and am now very old. Needless to say I have a lot of poems that have never been sent anywhere.

One of my resolutions in 2015 was to write more posts on here -I managed 8 last year, 7 more than in 2014. I do write a lot, am an avid reader-I bought around 100 or more poetry books in 2015- but I realise I am more of a ‘behind the scenes’ kind of poet. I have been getting requests from editors for poems, reviews and articles, as well as having pitches accepted, so something must be working.

In 2015 I made 19 submissions to magazines/anthologies. The number of poems in each submission varied from between 2-6. Out of these I had 9 acceptances (1 was a request from an editor who liked my work); 10, with two poems out in a magazine soon. I entered 11 competitions. In one I won first prize; I had a collection shortlisted in another. In another two I was a runner-up and was long-listed in two more. So that’s 6 strikes out of 11. As far as I can remember, I am waiting for a one response for a submission that has been out for three months. I have recently entered two competitions, and am about to enter three more and to organise some magazine submissions.

I have written 4 reviews, 2 forthcoming, one of which was commissioned. Reviewing allows me to pay close critical attention to whole collections. I hope to follow suit with other poets who post reviews on their blogs.

I subscribed to around 20 magazines last year. I intend to at least half that; not because the magazines don’t deserve subscriptions but because it just isn’t realistic to subscribe to so many. Considering I don’t send out that many poems I’m pretty pleased with the above, however rough and ready my totting up might be. I’ve chosen to concentrate on what was accepted rather than what was rejected.

Here’s a poem by the-sadly-late Tomas Tranströmer. I love the idea of the tree ‘walking around in the rain’. The photo is a tree near where I live-looking a little sorry at present but maybe it rushes around at night on its life errands. I hope so.

Good luck with your writing. Keep at it. Keep sending out!





Swift Turbulent Sketches


I have a postcard of this painting on my desk. Its dramatic use of the medium (oils) appeals to me: stormy but with turbulent light pushing and pulsing.  John Constable painted ‘Rainstorm Over the Sea’ between 1824-1828 from swift sketches he did on Brighton beach.  I like to think of the artist resting his sketchpad on his knee, making one sketch after another, keeping the moments side by side. If he chose one, it didn’t mean he would discard the others. They all added up to a whole. Of course he got better at his practice. Or art? Or practice as art.Whatever, I’m interested in art, and poetry, as ways of knowing.

I’m sitting in Leicester, have driven from here there on a wild wet gusting night, yet was mindful of being away from the worst of recent storms that have caused so much flooding in the north of England. Controversies over skewed priorities and inadequate precautions continue in various media while communities rally to alleviate damage caused by ways of knowing no-one could possibly wish for wish for.

This painting exemplifies my 2015: swathes of umber, even more of titanium white. My poems come like this-in rapid word sketches; no such thing as finished in a notebook, then, sometimes, a few of them make up something bigger, but there’s always the going back, the application of the tiniest dash of crimson.

I may make resolutions, I may not, considering how I rarely keep them.

For now anyway, Happy New Year!







Re-entry -after the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival

aldeburghIt’s hard returning to earth when you have been roaming around in a different universe, hopping on and off stars and planets, having conversations you wouldn’t have anywhere else, hearing voices that lift you off your feet and send you spinning. That would be you, Tony Hoagland, Kim Addonizio, Choman Hardy, among others. Yes, I’m back at home in Leicester after a truly exceptional weekend of poetry, more poetry, meeting up with friends, making new ones.I arrived in Aldeburgh late Thursday afternoon-it gave me a little more time by the sea the main festival mostly takes place at Snape Maltings. I stayed one night at the Brudenell Hotel and then checked in to the apartment near the High Street I have rented for the past four years. The Brudenell is at one end of the sea-front-the sea almost laps at its steps. My room wasn’t overlooking the sea-rather expensive these- but it was good to look out over the street, over garages, and at the marshes beyond.

boat aldeburgh

I remembered that when I started coming to Aldeburgh ten years ago I would collect sunrises, photo after photo. This one was taken on Saturday morning. I was up at 6.30 am and wandered over the pebbles to catch the sun before the clouds blurred it. I love how it tints the sea and warms the pastel colours of the houses. Kim Moore has summed up on her blog just why this festival was exceptional, not least hearing poets, like Addonizio, Hardy and Hoagland that take you somewhere else. Robin Houghton has also given a good overview of the festive on her blog ( not least about threats to its funding) and has drawn attention to other festival stars. Zaffar Kunial was the stand-out poet for me in the New Voices reading although all of the poets were confident performers and held their own. Zaffar’s pamphlet is one of the Faber New Poets series, No. 11. From ‘A Drink at the Door’- ‘Like a burr stuck in the folds of my scarf,/this light has trailed me longer than I knew./ Out there, the darkness also has a hand/in these refractions.’

Before Kim Addonizio’s workshop on Friday afternoon, I drove into Thorpeness,  braving heavy rain to have a look at this windmill and the famous ‘House in the Clouds’

windmill ThorpenessThe House in the Clouds Thorpeness

The theme of this year’s festival was ‘Poetry and Freedom’ which revealed itself  in many different ways. I arrived at Kim’s workshop, ‘Screw Decorum:  a little damp but was warmed by the discussion of what constitutes ‘decorum’ in poems; how this changes from culture to culture. And as for taboos-certainly the body, sexuality, a combination of both, rank highly here. We wrote a poem about a deep dark secret, not for airing in public but for allowing the genie out of the bottle. It’s true to say that, as Kim said, we need to be very careful and attentive to our craft but if we don’t say what we really need to we may become blocked. How do we attain the right balance? She quoted the wonderful Tony Hoagland who has spoken about the ‘ruthless observer’, a ‘spiteful and perceptive angel’, who sees and tells unimpeded by niceties and second thoughts. Here is a line from one of the poems we looked at, ‘The Pope’s Penis’, by Sharon Olds, that exemplifies these traits: ‘It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate/clapper at the centre of a bell.’

Later Hoagland gave a stunning, rapid-fire, scintillatingly intellectual and accessible talk on Olds, ‘The Inventive Heart’, which positioned her in far more interesting ways than as a merely ‘confessional poet’, label often ascribed to her. His own reading was a tour de force of passion, craft, ‘ruthless observation’, as was Addonizio’s, the taboos a-blazing in searing, and, for the poem, ‘Penis Blues’, ‘I would like to order a penis , please,/with dressing on the side.’, an ‘scratch’ blues accompaniment of three brave male volunteers from the audience (Roy Marshall, I salute you). Kim rounded off the reading with storming blues harmonica tune of her own. It was ‘just the thing’ – an energetic high-point and a difficult act for John Burnside to follow.

I could mention so much about the weekend: Michael McCarthy and Christine Webb’s finely pitched and paired reading ‘Duet’: Helen Mort, Kei Miller and Dorothea Smartt; Helen’s engaging talk on Norman MacCaig and metaphor; Dean Parkin’s launch of his ‘ ‘The Swan Machine’; the weather which poured and blustered but on Friday night, back in Aldeburgh, was calm and mild, and, for a while, a liquorice haze hung over the sea and it seemed as if the town might slip its moorings and float up into the sky.

Enough of this waxing lyrical. I’m in Leicester, at work, and the nights are back to normal, closing in in a bad way. It was an exceptional Aldeburgh which will stay with me for a long time. There are still books to buy. Tony Hoagland’s had sold out by the end of his reading. A big thank you to Dean Parkin and all at The Poetry Trust. It is very sad that this will be Dean’s last year as Creative Director and that funding looks threatened. However, full houses and high book sales must suggest that this Festival can thrive. Fingers crossed. I want to return for another helping next year.

These last lines come from the beginning of ‘Lives of the Poets’ by Kim Addonizio:

One stood among the violets
listening to a bird. One went to the toilet
and was struck by the moon.One felt hopeless
until a trumpet crash, and then, lo,
he became a diamond.