Write me a poem

She said.
Just like that.
A stone thrown into a mirroring lake.
A conversational grenade.

So I explained –
Patiently, precisely,
But firmly –
That’s really not how it works.
I told her

Poems don’t come in boxes
Like IKEA bookshelves
Just waiting to be bolted together;
There’s no off-the-peg package, no microwave meal
And, thank God, no app for them yet.

You don’t find them lying
Like pennies on pavements
Hanging from trees, hooked up on barbed wire;
They don’t drift around like falling leaves, butterflies,
Snowflakes or dandelion seeds.

You have to reach in
With a sharp, searching blade
Open a vein and let it flood out
Hot, red and dangerous
As long as you dare;

You work and it hurts
And you rage at the day
You were cruelly bestowed with this gift
And you wonder with every new word you set down
Just what in the hell are you doing

And the long hours pass
And the torn pages pile
And the crossings-out scream
And the universe mocks
And the heart and soul plead

And on
And on
And then
If you’re lucky
You can laugh through the tears when it’s done.

She looked at me.
So is that a yes
Or a no?

What are you, writer?

I am the owl / who asks questions in the dark

I am the wolf / who runs alone

I am the road / that takes you nowhere

I am the axe / whose edge is dulled

I am the lightning / that briefly reveals

I am the tree / that senses autumn

I am the stone / time wears away

I am the soil / in need of rain


Thank you to Monica Carroll for the prompt! N.

The pen

is a match.
But no matter how much
I scratch
And scrape
At the paper
It will not catch.

I spend
My days
Putting out fires:
Just one blaze
After another
To smother.

And alll the time
I’m fighting them

I’m wishing I was
Lighting them.

Prose poem #2


Midnight Blue for the hours of sleepless melancholy; Black Permanent for days that dawn dark and stubbornly stay that way. Corn Poppy Red for fiery exchanges with the universe, and testy tirades at my own imperfections; Golden Yellow to summon the sunshine back. Oyster Grey for cool reflections and to shape the world in my own way; Irish Green for mystery and mischief. Sober Toffee Brown for study and chewing matters over; sumptuous Lavender Purple for grand, imperious prose. And sometimes I’ll fill up for days or months with my favourite Invisible. Just to keep them guessing.

Ride to work

Set out today
To look for a line;
A thought, a word
Picked up on the road
And carried home
To keep a pledge
Made to an empty page.

Only to find
My mind consumed
By the unconscious calculus
Of carving through an off-camber curve;

Weaving down a pot-holed hill
Like a raindrop on a window-pane;

Ticking off long, level miles
With well-drilled diesel diligence;

Hustling over heart-freeze crossroads
Like a prisoner dodging the searchlights’ glare.

An hour’s artless, guiltless pleasure,
My mission and all sense of time forgotten.

Yet on returning
Found that my work was done.

Rhymes and reasons

Take paper, pen, and wait for words to flow.
Breathing suspended. All is possible.
The blank page stretches out; last night’s new snow
Untrodden, where we may plant footprints; show
The path we took, and others where to go.

Each poem is a map; a traveller’s guide
To strange lands we have passed through, wandering
Wide-eyed, alert and innocent inside
Our own heads; to the many roads we’ve tried,
The loves we’ve lost, the dreams we’ve been denied.

Like postcards from the places we have been
(Or wished we had); our reminiscences
Of roaring cities, cobbled streets, quiet green
Woods; eye-witness dispatches from a scene
Familiar, dreamt, and all points in between.

Like letters to an old friend – or maybe
We’re writing to ourselves in years to come:
To get ‘er down before she goes; so we
Need not depend on fickle memory
To tell us what we knew, and used to be.


One man’s take on this crazy art of ours – and a riposte to my inner critic, following our imagined conversation in the pub earlier this week! N.

Good for nothing

I met him in the pub. He asked: “So, what is it you do?”
“I’m a poet,” I replied. “What, really? Get away.” “It’s true.”
“Well I’ll be damned. Excuse my asking: what d’you make a year?”
“It’s more of a vocation than an actual career,”
I said. “One never does it for the money.” “So you mean
It doesn’t pay that much?” “Well, if I’m honest; not a bean.”
He stared at me. “You don’t get paid at all? You must be mad:
Why don’t you get a proper job?” “You sound just like my dad.”
He shook his head. “What happens to the stuff you write each day?
You read it? File it? Rip it up?” “I give it all away.”
“What – all of it?” “Yep, every word.” “For nothing – gratis – free?”
“‘fraid so; just stick it on the web.” “Man, stop; you’re killing me.”
He swigged his pint. “And you’ve done this for how long?” “Ever since
I was a lad, so call it forty years.” I saw him wince.
I went on: “Come to think of it, I can’t recall a time
I didn’t frame my world in stanzas, syllables and rhyme.”
“How many poems have you written?” “Hell, I’ve no idea:
It must be several thousand, though.” He almost dropped his beer.
“So let me get this straight: you’ve done a lifetime’s work unpaid.”
“Guess that’s about the size of it.” “You need a different trade
And fast, my friend – or some way to get cash for what you do.
Someone must pay for poetry.” I smiled. “All right. Would you?”

Back to the crossroads

The midnight hour was rolling round. The town was like a tomb.
All the people slept like rocks – except for me. In my lonely room
The lamps burned late. My thoughts conspired to keep me from my bed.
I was wide awake, so I decided to take a walk to clear my head.

Through silent streets I wandered. Ragged storm clouds hid the moon.
I was kept on course by some unseen force, so it seemed to me, and soon
I reached the crossroads. Nothing stirred. I sniffed the air, and then
From out of the gloom came a voice of doom: “My, my; it’s you again.”

I spun round. There he stood: the Devil, bathed in ghastly light.
He frowned. “So, pray, what brings you way out here this time of night?
For most to meet me once is quite enough: not you, it seems.
Did I not do all you asked me to? Come on, boy, spill the beans.”

I swallowed hard and I said, “At first, all you promised would befall
Didn’t quite convince, even though you’re the Prince of the Underworld and all.”
He glared. “I ought to roast you here and now: you dared to doubt?
I may be the Devil, but I’m on the level. So, how’d it all turn out?”

“I’m writing night and day,” I said. He laughed. “I told you so.”
“But I’m worn and sad and three parts mad as well.” He seemed to glow
With pleasure. “Said I’d fix for you, son, and was I wrong?”
I said, “Oh sure, you found the cure; but your medicine’s awful strong.”

The Devil grinned. “Hell, don’t blame me, boy; everybody knows
There ain’t no gain without some pain.” “Except for bankers, CEOs
And politicians, right?” I said. He smirked. “There’s no exception:
They’ll get theirs too when I claim my due. I’ve prepared a warm reception.”

“That’s good to know,” I said, “but to return to my condition:
I think I may be heading way down the long road to perdition.
I wanted immortality, I know, but truth to tell,
This writing lark’s no walk in the park: it’s a kind of living hell.”

“I’d choose my words more carefully if I were you,” he said.
“Just tell me what concerns you’ve got. What’s messing with your head?”
“This doubt, self-loathing, angst and strain that I’ve been living through.
Give me a break; I just can’t take much more. I’m begging you.”

The Devil lashed his tail; his eyes flamed red with furious fire.
“Do you suppose any one of those great names you so admire
Would have ever written, sung, composed, played, painted or invented
If I’d not been behind the scenes to keep their souls tormented?

“If you want life to be a breeze and free from pain, then fine;
I’ll push it through – but I’m warning you: don’t you come back and whine
To me your mojo’s gone and now you can’t write worth a damn.
You think real hard before you play that card. Just remember who I am.”

“So, Satan, are you saying this is how it has to be?”
I said. “To write, I have to fight through all this misery?
The Devil shrugged. “Depends. If you’re content with poetry
That sticks to themes like murmuring streams and sunset on the sea,

How much you love your mother, granny, cupcakes or the cat
Then have no fear, I’m out of here – you don’t need me for that.
But if you want to plumb the depths of life, the human heart,
The dread and dirt, the hate and hurt, then let me play my part.”

A silence fell. At length, I said, “Well, put that way, you’re right.
I see, Old Nick, I need to stick with you.” “I thought you might,”
The Devil said. “I’m glad we got that straight – and if you ride
Out with me, son, we’ll have some fun. But expect a darker side.”

The moon emerged. “I like your suit,” I said. “It fits so well.
That Prada?” “Yes, how did you guess?” “Oh, just a hunch. So, tell
Me: where to next?” “To sow discord around the world and such.
But from what I see you don’t need me to help you all that much.”

The Devil rose and brushed a speck of something off his sleeve.
“Dawn’s on its way, and so I’ll say ‘so long’ and take my leave.”
He vanished, and I headed home. But our meeting proved symbolical.
For all my pen’s produced since then has been truly diabolical.