From time to time, a gaggle of words emerges with no seeming desperation to rush into a song.

This one’s from summer 2014, as a response to an invitation to play at the Peace News Summer Camp, which was celebrating the incredible resistance (in the UK and worldwide) to World War 1:


A Declaration of Peace


An absence of artillery fire would be one way to tell


The blessed drone of combines

bringing in the harvest,

not the wintry purr of tanks

burning up the war chest


A couple standing proud, (in love, perhaps)

in the heart of the corn field

with no need to fear the sniper’s aim

or the rumble of

the warmonger’s unfillable stomach,

only the farmer’s gentle warning

not to trample (distractedly) the precious crop

in their wild glee at the news

(and eachother).


The shaky poet on the train catches

a flash of this as he passes

and cannot believe his eyes:

no (more) corpses in dugouts,

no (more) dirty bombs in the newspaper

read surreptitiously

over the shoulder of a stranger.


Instead, their delight collides –

an eye caught, a smile shared

in a flagrant act of fraternity.


And here are a few dating from 2009 to 2012…

An A-Z of Ecstatic Mourning (2009-10)

Pt. I: Mourning

Adrift on a sea of doubt/the advertising rising and rising


Crumbs of comfort hoovered up by hangdogs/carbon offsetting/the coral, the coral


Everything (sometimes)

Functions dysfunctioning

Greenwash by the gallon

Hoping against hope/hating everyone/Hummers/head over heart

Ism ism ism

Jam o’traffic/jeremiads


Lying lawmakers/love deniers/lounge activists/luxury of pessimism/luxury of inaction

Murky mornings/the madness, the sadness of it all/the middle of the road

Nightmares by daylight


Parts per million/politicians’ shenanigans

Quarterly profits

Rock star forests/racket/runways (3rd or otherwise)

Species loss/speed of it all

Turncoat environmentalists

Unctuous preachers

Violence of this system

Work (to be done)

Xenophobic maniacs

Young people’s despair

Zzzz…the sleep of reason


Pt.II: Ecstasies



Blockading baddies/bass/the baking of, the breaking of bread/breaking out/butternut squash/birdsong

Capitalism collapsing/chiaroscuro/clouds a-scudding/Curtis Mayfield/Climate Camp

Dancing/dreams and dreamers/dusk/dark, dark chocolate

Erotic delights

Freaks that we are/fossil fuel-free

Greasy spoons/gorgeous germinations/grieving/gospel music

Hills to climb/here we go/heading into the unknown/heart over head

Inklings of light/inklings of love/inching forwards

Journeying/jumping off/jumping in

Kindness – random acts of

Love of it all/leaving it in the ground/loudshirts

Massive social movements/make mine a rising sun

Never looking back/never regretting/nicer people

Ogling solutions/opening revolutionary doors/oceans – risen or not/oases of sanity/oases of species

Post-capitalism/permaculture/practicing & preaching/profit warnings


Roast Jerusalem artichokes/Rising Tide

Soup to lift a drooping spirit/single malt whisky from an old friend’s hip flask

Traffic-free(dom)/treefulness/tilting for windmills

Unknown – heading into the

Voices raised in unison with a clarity of vision and an overflowing heart/vegan beer

Wind in our sails/work to be done/wassailing

Xstasies right now

Yowsa yowsa yowsa/yelling sweet nothings to your sweet thing

Zoning in on love


hot sun on my skin


leaves outside turning red and brown

ghost of a moon stranded in the awful blue

one of us is gonna have to come down


sun, leaves, moon, man –

we’re pulling ourselves apart

just as I come to understand

with head and heart


the vast and tiny fragilistic beauty

burrowed inside and

bursting out of everything


so roly-poly down the mossy hill –

the stains are on my trousers still


burial ship 

‘we are here to celebrate life
to unravel the past
to interrogate the present
and to germinate the future’

(but I am a creature of yesterday, staggering,
drunk on the stuff I stole from tomorrow)

‘if the planet is singing to us
in strange and wondrous tongues,
let’s translate its song into human music
let’s praise and curse death
with our every even final breath’

(but I am a creature of yesterday…)


last night I slipped into sleep between flights


last night I slipped into sleep between flights

and fell deep into the stranger’s dream.

I dreamt I was floating out of myself, up over the hedges and

streetlights of Sipson.


‘The darkest hour is just before the dawn’ –

that’s what I kept whispering to myself

wrapped in a blanket, sitting singing on my dew and kerosene-soaked lawn.

When I look up at the jets, I can’t help it –

all I can think is that the passengers are gargoyles,

staring down out of a broken-hearted sky,

unable to hear the deafening roar of their restless, rootless

hearts, longing for a connection to

a billion scenes of injustice

played out in every moment

on the beautiful disintegrating stage down below.


Last night I slipped into a semi-detached sleep,

lying in my semi-detached bed

in my sweet blighted house buried so deep

under the jumbos roaring overhead.


money burns everything


‘please, don’t offer me money,’

his gesture seemed to say.

with the rotors threshing overhead,

his emergency friend put his money away

and evaporated from the village with his wounded wife

leaving dust, memories and

secretly bewildered policemen,

heading back eventually

to his automated life.


money burns everything

I think I know that to be true

take it out of the transaction

and love will grow anew


when I saw his friend refuse the money,

my hand rose to my mouth as tears came to my eyes

and I hoped desperately that the beauty of his refusal

to allow his moment of instinctive heartfelt help to be commodified would be

the absolute heart of the film

‘cos money burns everything

I think I know that to be true


I wouldn’t dare to presume

that my truth holds true for you,

but out of countless financial transactions

a perfect, sweet-natured snapshot of cashless collaboration

is dying to emerge


money burns everything

I think I know that to be true

take it out of the transaction

and love will grow anew


7.27am, Gatwick Express


I lean to the window to drink the dawn.

Little fireflies are tearing holes in the sky –

tiny gashes in my heart.

My kids fly out this morning


I try to melt my ego, quieten my righteous and

let them work out their own way

to Departures,

though they look set to wander

quite a way from Empathy Avenue

where I keep a fancy house,

many windows in which to be framed


Tonight they text to say they’ve landed

safely in Tobago.

Back on the ground in a London abandoned by winter

I celebrate my low carbon freedom

by lashing out on two

of my dentist’s finest fillings


The night before they fly,

my red-eyed, sleep-deserted daughter asks to spend

what’s left of the night in my bed.

Tonight it’s back to the two of us, the cat

curled immaculately

in the crook of my weary legs


The next morning

I miss the dawn


the walls speak of detention centres


The walls speak of detention centres –

an exhibition of photographs from them on the walls of this café,

and of the church alongside it.

An inspiration it is to stumble across such solidarity

in the heart of what has so often – for me at least – been a

Heartless Paris.

And even a low energy light bulb by my side,

to illuminate these words.


Earlier, into our Sunday morning hotel room crept

the faintest glimmer of song, making its labyrinthine way towards God.

It drew me to the unwelcoming door of the Church of Saint-Merri, where the service was

making its defiant and apologetic way

to a conclusion.


‘La justice…la justice – toujours, la justice,’ said the priest at

the culmination of his sermon, to a huddled scattering of the faithful,

as I, ears pricked, skulked in the shadows of a side chapel,

afraid of disturbing them, or afraid of being drawn in perhaps.


There, I was drawn to the small photographs depicting

the desperate boredom of French detention centres with

frightening repetition. They hung beneath the

gloomy depictions of dusty scenes drawn from the bloodiest and most joyless

episodes of Jesus’ life. The photos are looked down on by them, but still they hang on unstraightened, undaunted, protected by the passion of the priest.


‘No one is illegal’ mutters the small green badge on my big black shiny coat.

I want it to shout loudly enough to call the priest over, and for him to share some flinty but warm words of solidarity with his English interloper.

I leave with my fantasy unenacted, before he and his perhaps slightly less passionate congregation file past me to the blessed exit.


Back in the café, an hour later, the charming host

takes a candle to light the gas heaters in the

smokers’ greenhouse outside.

He climbs onto a barstool, smiles and shrugs apologetically as if to say

‘What can you do? If we don’t have them the smokers go to a bar that does!’


I drain my weak Earl Grey

and absent myself from this version of the passion play.

Then climb the winding hotel stairs

to see if my daughter is awake.



approximation of night


in this corner of the city

the darkness never falls –

it just hovers

safely out of sight of

the ruthless army of streetlights and houselights.


it’s always ready to pounce,

which it did one evening,

as I looked out on the washed out day-for-night of my street –


suddenly, there it was,

in a bloodless, lightless coup,

the dark – glorious, deep and unrepentant –

like an ageless, still-nimble lover seeking out

a long-dreamt partner in the dance.


it was ready to declare undying love

in the cloaked gloom, I could tell…


but before it could find the right words,

it was flattened mercilessly by

the return of the deathly pallid electric shroud,

and we returned, pulses still pumping, to

a poor approximation

of night


White Velvet Swansong


The hem of her dress

drinks the darkening dew,



She is sailing soundlessly

through the whispering green ocean,

dress blessing the occasional gravestone

with an absent-minded caress



deep within the melancholy cemetery, she floats,

creamily, or aspires to.

Her laments do not appear to be

for her quietened companions;

can you hear her thinking?


“It’s this dress that’s carrying me…

It precedes me, it engulfs me,

it underarches and follows after me.

It illuminates and overshadows me –

look how it surrenders itself to the lens,


It will outlast me,

and perhaps even these trees,


(Is this where you want me?)”


And, just this once this late afternoon, the dress speaks.

It says “From wardrobe to cemetery in moments…

But I don’t need time to adjust –

I am always ready, (wearisome as that may be).

Any photoshoot suits me,

down to the ground,



The dress pauses, then smiles, knowing this will please

the photographer,

who captures it,



“Sometimes I feel I was destined

To swallow the dusk

And then sleep,

eternally. Anyway,

I am doing my best

to blaze a trail

through this forest of sleeping souls.

But the colour is draining

from the face of the sky,

and soon I won’t reflect

enough light to shoot by,

unless the moon makes a play

for you, my dear, thus attired?”


But with no moonlight emerging,

and 36 poses exposed,

all three soon take their leave,

possibly to take tea,

and for 21st century black jeans and T-shirt

to usurp still defiant dress



marking the bounds at the poetry retreat


a wisp of wool snagged on a dead branch


a speck of leaf on my notebook,

brought by the breeze

(the breeze is the sea on the shore, to my ear)


twigs the tips of umbrellas,

ready to have my eyes


the tree is a snake,

shedding its bark


poets are observing, partly

obscured by undergrowth


how many leaves have left their trees

to make their epic journey

back into the earth?


laminated buddhas,

guide us onward!


somehow, we walk on

(I move with the others)


in our notebooks, and in our walking,

a harvest bountiful enough

to see us through the week,

perhaps even the winter


then a bramble bush catches

the eye of our Lear.

‘Pudding is served!’ he declares.

The blackberries are patchy, but their word is good


we climb to the western corner and rest in living shadow

notepaper and prayer flags flap merrily,

as if carefree.

Today, at least,

a gazillion green things are thriving,

including me?

including me


animated buddhas,

guide us onward!


Edinburgh courtroom afternoon


overarched by the steely girders

of bludgeoning authority,

the junk-wizened flotsam of the underclass

float, barely,

centimetres above the seafloor, while

doors slam overhead and

bewigged bigger fish thrust their way

across the walkway nearer the surface of

this poorly lit pond


ah, this place has me bluer than the

‘you’ll never see red again’ blue of

the colour-drained toilets down here,

where the ‘size-’em-up-and-send-’em down’ militia strut

their subjugational stuff.


‘yo! team innocent!’

called out a defendant just now to bring us motley supporters to order.

soon I will be called to give evidence for my friends and for what they did


‘stay in this bubble’ I advise myself, as noisily as my pen will permit.

‘stay in this ridiculous, joyous, only occasionally heartbroken

bubble of resistance,

and you’ll not be drowning today’

As part of that year’s Climate Camp, the ‘Superglu 3’ glued themselves to the doors of a branch of RBS in Edinburgh in August 2010, as others played music, gave out leaflets and tried to speak to customers and staff about the bank’s heavy lending to fossil fuel-intensive projects like the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.

After two court appearances, they were admonished and convicted of Breach of the Peace, (a wide-ranging charge often used to arrest campaigners). However no fine or sentence was imposed.



where freedom lives




the tear-gassed streets

I am afraid

to travel


I’ll support

you from afar

but please don’t make me



the comforts of

this cosy spot

where I concoct

these missives


I run for cover

when my phone rings

I thought I knew where

freedom lives




The man arrives in the Loomis van

to take away Tate Britain takings.

(The Loomis strapline: ‘Managing cash in society’).

He is escorted out by an employee. He is helmeted.

‘THIS IS BRITAIN’ declare two of the sail-like banners out front,

BP logos nestling comfortably bottom right.

On a terrace, trapped in oily black bronze,

muscular human figures wrestle a minotaur,

nose pierced, head tilted

playfully, quizzically, mockingly.

On closer inspection, it is a bull,

seemingly bewildered at this random attack.

A cleaner in a turquoise T-shirt takes away

two half-empty oil-black bags

from the bins at the top of the steps.

He has a wheelbarrow for the purpose.

The bin alongside the square of grass next to the gallery is


It’s an unseasonably warm April day.

At the bottom of the steps,

a bony, inky man hopes to sell The Big Issue.


This is Tate Britain


On the other side of the gallery from the patio bull attack

is a similarly-styled depiction of The Rescue of Andromeda

(from Medusa), by Henry Fehr (who campaigned tirelessly

to have his sculpture taken back inside the gallery.)

The hero holds an inoffensive-looking woman’s head. It is distressing.

He carries a useful-looking scimitar or sword in his right hand.

It bears no sign of having just decapitated a Gorgon


by sugar, oil and money bitten


A steady stream of battle-unready

teenagers fall silent and

shuffle into this hushed homage to reverberation.

The British youth are unlikely to clock the BP logos –

ubiquitous, invisible to all but the subconscious or obsessive eye –

or am I just a man for all preconceptions?


with BP’s oozing smile so smitten


On this site was the biggest prison in Europe, for some of its time (1816-90),

now an imperial mausoleum

where uncomfortable employees

sometimes refuse to be BP apologists,

in moments of quiet candour that can’t but

distress the management.


“Please help us to keep TATE BRITAIN tidy.

Thank you.”


The discreetly laminated

glide past purposefully, then

disappear through invisible doorways, one or two

highly skilled in the art of brand enhancement


and dissent not forbidden,


I stumble (as if blindfolded) into the Art for Whom? Room.

What’s it like to be a ‘political’ British artist asked to contribute to a room dedicated exclusively to modern political British art,

but sponsored by BP?

I slip uneasily between empathy and judgement


thus ethics intermittent


Down in the penitentiary cafe,

the acoustic is infernal

but at least some of us are free

to come and go.

Cafe workers wear red or orange T-shirts reading

‘By Tate for Tate’.

The parsnip soup is vegan and very good.

(My boycott must still be at the formulation stage)

What’s it like working here?

What do the cafe workers think of the art,

or of BP?

Do their aching feet sing more loudly

than any more distant-seeming songs?


“Please help us to keep TATE BRITAIN tidy.

Thank you.”


In the shop sit bags announcing



my incarnation of heaven


who could? who might? who ought to

lift the piano lid of earthly delights

and peer at the apparatus within?

might that be the gleaming ivory road

to damnable sin?

or might that just be

ancient clerical spin?

for dancing is sure as hell permitted

in my incarnation of heaven


let those syncopated limbs blur, slip and

slide together




something’s gone awry


I seem to have floated up from the parade


I was right there (in the thick of it)

a minute or so ago

but I must have been let go

must have been

let go


so is this to be my journey,

this to be my fate,

to become the slipstream’s plaything

and watch more than relate


to events as they’re unfolding

across this curious metropolis?

hang on – if that blue boy was holding

my string like there’s no tomorrow, why did he let me go? this


being a day like no other, for once

his eyes round, his brow clear

then suddenly I am distance

I cannot grieve, I cannot steer


I am only the wind’s

to be dispatched on its whispered mission

to scud between the inhuman javelins

they call buildings, only wishing


I could shoot out of sight

far beyond all creation

beyond a blue boy’s night

beyond tribulation


he let me go

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