Glory & Proviso

A poet has no nation 

– excepting this

Glory is not your word

The petal shape

Of a child’s anxious brow

The adumbrate pane of self

Sun warm against your arm

Leant in that strangely desert face

Of the sill’s soft craquelure

Lead white and with the dirt

Thick in seam and corner

A mica fleck where one day

(The window left half open)

Something small may grow

Once we are

The long strides of morning

Leaving curbs and fences

In a shadow’s flicker wake

Politics in Wartime

I whistle in rough kin
To a camaraderie of magpies
They return trilled warnings in reply
As if to say you are no one 
That we know, a thief of songs
Pied and clumsy
As any bastard’s fledge
We dispute the global south
With that stalagmite part of speech
You say it depends
On which way you uphold the map
I say words
Are the same in any language
Pulling flames like petals from the edge
One for love, two for hate, and on
Til bare husks are left
Black and hard as any rasp
Cracked, with a little salt
Makes a beggarly repast
You say these things are
Almost the same
I say, halfway home
Smoke coiled between my lips
They are almost different

Between The Known & The Unknown Is The Eye; Photograph As Document, Photograph As Dream

We are all hostages. Start with an image from critic/philosopher John Berger’s 1973 documentary, Ways Of Seeing, which examined the changing construction, consumption and ideologies of art and image. Faceless selves sit behind a suave and sate young man adhered to by two adoring women. This is desire, glamour, prowess. It could be an ad for anything; here it is the power of credit, the pheromone of wealth. It is enticement and also threat. You can be the young man engorged with the latent force of capital, conversely, you could be nameless, faceless, impotent, with no imago at all.

Flip a coin. Here is cult of personality in the fetishised object of desire. The rose and tannin and bergamot, the compelling trace of decay unconsciously activating the basal ganglia. That death stench of ambergris preserved in oils and aromatics. This Is a warning, a threat, an uncompromising invitation. No need to give the year. The design and intent have not changed in a century. Add to it a label; type written on an aged strip of embossed linen paper.

We are captives. This is a ransom note. What it demands is nothing more than complete subservience to the carefully constructed image of the self.

Tear the page. Here is British photographer Richard Avedon’s 1958 portrait of an ageing Gabrielle Chanel. Grown old disgracefully. In that same iconic paint and couture, become a kind of mockery, a clown. The image torn from its prior state of careful cultivation. Become ragged. The locus of sensuality inviting now only that too thick lavender stench. The ambergris rotten. The exposed throat and chin with that wasting and vulnerable aspect of a beached and capsized cetacean. The behemoth picked at by swarming gulls in joysome, childish laughter. One imagines the entire carcass, roped and dragged like Gulliver, craned and submerged, slowly dissolving in the steel vats of some vast industrial process. This is also a ransom note.

Splashed across the grimed walls and monoxide spewing orifices of urban mass transport systems, leaching euphoric aldehydes from glossy magazine pages, are Barbara Kruger’s slogans. The stratagems of advertising are marshalled to a kind of bland political didacticism, posing as art. What is she selling other than the conventions of a mediocre, bourgeois ideology in the grain and bold of disposable newsprint. Tear it up.

In Barbara Graham’s mugshot, we strike almost the same note; but something more. Here is desperation, and fury, and beauty pared back to a few brute strokes. This Is Barbara Kruger’s ransom note, and obscured by that imprisoning montage, torn from some lost poem, a stray, unwieldy, transformative word; This is Barbara Graham’s love note. “Good people are always so sure they’re right.”

Now, a word from our author – breaking the fourth wall, let me declare; I am quite old. A recent ophthalmograph revealed that I am short-sighted in one eye, long-sighted in the other. Thus, living in the blur not only goes some way to describing my aesthetic, but also my reality. The middle ground is a haze, up close – personal – expect an unrepentant perspicacity; from a far distance, a heightened perspective. I suspect, in this double vision, a deeper aetiology.

Here we focus on our two disparate, concluding images; This Is Barbara Kruger’s Ransom Note, and In The Dawn I Warn Myself Against The Dangerous Moonlight. The first is, although layered in its didacticism, eminently knowable. We know the exact time, the exact place; the stark inhumane light and subjectifying reality of a police station; the woman’s story – one of brutality given and returned – plain as the bruises on her face.

The other is eminently unknowable; we are told it is dawn, but is it? There is an alien, artificial quality to the sourceless light. The streetscape – silhouetted trees and Victorian water-tower – in sharp relief, could be almost anywhere. Montage, as Druckery says, is either discursive or dialectical; “The dialectical mission is to fuse fragments as concentrated form; the discursive one is to create fissures or interruptions in the established order.” (p.4) Where one unmakes the world, the other remakes it.

A hazy figure, by its garb, out of time, follows, but is divorced from itself. In the doppelgänger, Freud finds the returned imago of the self, once a reassurance of immortality, also “becomes the ghastly harbinger of death” (1919, p.9), evoking a sense of terror, of the uncanny.

The uncanny is evoked when the familiar is returned to us not only in unfamiliar guise, but outside of our ability to easily fit what we see into a sensible and apprehensible way of knowing (1919, p.16).

There is indeed something, uncanny, unknowable, something that unhomes us, that unmakes our understanding, between the burgeoning pre-dawn and the disoriented and disorientating figure. Here we have the familiarity and displacement of the dream. Between these two, the crumpled, ransomed woman, a narrative of hard facts and unrelenting sensation, and the unknowable figure haunted by an ungraspable, ersatz satellite, between the known and the unknown, is the eye, the gaze of the viewer.

After John Berger, we may say in one we have the prurience of the real – she “is not naked as she is. She is naked as the spectator sees her.” (1973, p.50) Defiantly returning our gaze, there is nothing like bruises to reveal her in her nakedness – the nakedness the viewer demands. This is an image that serves. It serves the state, the police, it serves systems of measurement, of commerce, of categorisation, of judgement, of plain, calculating reason. The other does not serve. In a kind of unprivileged object oriented ontology, the tower, bold as Tarot, the satellite, both star and moon and emblem, disrupt readily apprehensible meaning. In stark relief, have their own nature, their own irreducible agency, distinct from but intertwined in the fragility of orbit; it is the human, the anthropocentric, that, although originating both, nevertheless is out of place.

The first image, despite fraught sensation and ineluctable consequence (or indeed, because of them), draws us in to an all too human narrative. The second projects a frozen eternity, as philosopher Graham Harman said, such objects define “unified realities – physical or otherwise – that can not be reduced either downwards to their pieces or upwards to their effects.” (2014)
We, with the figure, are trapped in its dream.

Can we really divorce realities from the systems that have made them – think Frankenstein’s creature escaping into the tabula rasa of the arctic wilderness, where the dreams of objects are haunted by the ephemerality of their human originators – or is this just an anthropomorphised projection, a quirk of the ontologies and systems by which we assume, via a self-satisfied and overweening knowledge, a cold and haughty distance?

In pursuit of the self, unless we adhere to those carefully constructed and continuously blazoned parameters propounded by unconscious ideologues and the images and ideas by which we are all held hostage, there is now only a shifting blur of doubt. There are no good people. We are prisoners. With a fishhook mouth, and impotent hands, crumple this up and pin it to the sky. There is no room left for any other conclusion.

Berger, J (1973) Ways of seeing, BBC and Penguin Books, London

Druckery, T (1994) From Dada to digital; montage in the twentieth century, Aperture, Aperture Foundation, New York, dada-to-digital

Freud, S (1919) The uncanny, Strachey, A, trans.

Harman, G (2014) Art without relations, ArtReview, harman-relations/

She Shrugs Cloud Shadow

The tv spills a cold, invasive blue

I have an impression 

Of you walking on my spine

As if I were an arc and cable bridge

And you a monster movie freak

Grown so large and petulant that

None could help but fall

The sea below hard and pliable as new discoloured bruises

Tear it down, you say

Crush them all beneath your unbound feet

As if the stillness

Before and after earthquakes

Were merely punctuation

Wrath is love, you write on the sky

The moon moves farther away each year

I still abide, calling in that silent way

That I have always had

She shrugs

Cloud shadow, listens

I Gave You Tired Flowers (In The Stained Glass Evening)

You have the wary crackle
Of radio in war time
Uncertain of whom listens, and
Whom exactly speaks
In formal pronunciations
Desperate and resigned
As slowly burning ships

What do you recommend
For half-life —neither exactly
Celebration, nor lament
Mostly, perhaps
At resolve’s inordinate delay
A smirk, exasperated
With brown sugar and cinnamon 
Baby’s breath, aspidistra, nectarines
Gone overripe —soft
As waning summer—
For the intoxicating scent
Arranged in a chimera
Of cellophane as nauseating as breaking glass

Well, we all have something to sell
The static hard dismay
Just perhaps not quite
Drunk as wilted flowers
Pretty but
The stain indelible

In The Space Between Your Robot Breaths

Still the day, all lantern faced

my name is carnival

in alien respiration

throat coiled and translucent

my hollow, ringing accordion

machines, and grace

when the heart in moments 

repeats one note

beauty in its revocations

returns and is still

I lost you on the beach at the end of the world

These are private words
It is not for you to know
But me to say
You turned
Under a ragged sun
Only then I remembered 
How the world ends
Not with a whimper
(As Mr Eliot said)
But a shrivelled leaf
Almost an hour gone
The chink of knives on cups
Sour coffee breath
In that aching clarity
Between wakefulness and sleep
I waited while
You went on ahead
I hate it here you said
But we have nowhere left to go
Except this curl of beach
Tonguing the acid sting
Of salt and vinegar on cracked lips
That common benediction 
I will swim 
Til my ear aches
With the conch deep voice
Of your chasing echo
Ribs a heaving predator
Breathing in
A swelling tide
Breathing out
A stitch in time
Just like Jesus had
No more walking
Face a squall
Towards the sunpath, wounding
The shallow sea now gone
Leaving brine and sulphur
Wary, scuttling things
The day again renews
The shape of your shadow thins
Over loose corrugations 
Slips beneath my feet
When I turn head on
To almost forever
In blinding scintillations

A surfeit of nectarines

I have clean earth in my hands

You shake, a sea of trees

Humpty-dumpty falling

I am drunk on nectarines

Face half bellyache green

The obverse

The deep maroon

Of summer’s lost eclipse

Clouds thin as desperation

Where we once bent like ships

Buoyant but

Never quite losing

A carefully layered union 

There is almost nothing

Left up here but sky

And your warm-honeyed faced


Jack-knife crooked

Strung on the limb

Turn aside

Far away

Water breaks, rejoins

Curves like swans, dissolving

The heat is a churl 

The unctuousness

Of sickly pine

Arm in arm we go inside


On the ricochet linoleum 

The Day My Kite Flew High As The World

Caught a blue day
On a sharp paper wing
Thin throat a-howl
Until the looped string
Broke with that strange
Updrawing weight
Of a new jealous wind’s
Stray trumpeting
Gone almost too high
Almost to glass
Almost as thin
As the last shard
In your blue orb’s
Sun struck glance
No longer you
No longer me
No longer see
Gone paper thin
A scrabble of ink
Through translucent skin


Slug trail skies
The day in x-ray hurts
Where I pull
At the blinds
To dismiss the shapes of frowning
Dust spills a mica race
Like promises in the air
Far above
Rorschach arcs
Where jet planes
Have cut between
We drift in parallelograms
But for this too complicated screed
That we laud in hailed contexts
What in more intimate reflections 
We dismiss
A shell of broken porcelain
Once devoid
All meaning becomes
Tenuous as inconstant praise
Your mouth the sun
Behind hard clouds
                                     slowly spoken 
Makes the shape of                             doubt                              
                                     slow forsaken