Advent Blog Day 19: First Annual Thanks (2020)

As this is a very new website and I remain in the category of emerging writer, I have not previously had the opportunity to review what has happened in my year of writing. I hesitate to do so in case I fail to credit anyone who has helped or encouraged me in the last twelve months but I’ll just have to take that risk and now hereby apologise in advance to anyone I unintentionally omit to mention.

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The first news I received in January was that I had a winning entry in Hedgehog Poetry Press’ Nicely Folded Paper – Trois Competition. I look forward to the publication of the resultant Art of Insomnia chapbook in the early part of 2021. Thank you Mark Davidson and Hedgehog. Thanks are also due to two women I won’t mention by name at this stage. The first is my late wife, my muse who was my inspiration for many things, including this work. The second is a poet whose work I very much admire and who very recently provided notes on the latest draft; both will be formally acknowledged for posterity in the published work.

Following this early success, things went rather quiet (three rejections) until March when Cheeky Besoms Productions accepted one of my favourite poems for an anthology which was due to be published in 2020 but has been delayed because of the pandemic. It will be published when there can be an in-person launch in 2021. Thank you Ruby McCann, Maria Marchidanu and all others involved with the anthology.

The only other acceptance in March was for radio airplay of an audio recording of a new version of an older poem the apocalyptic dj. It was played on the 2nd April 2020 episode of Express Yourself on the Radio. Thanks to Sunny G Radio and Carla Woodburn.

In April I submitted two poems both of which were accepted for an Anthology of Radical Scottish Poetry published by Culture Matters. The anthology was titled A Kist of Thistles. Thank you Culture Matters and Editor, Jim Aitken.  

Also in April I was emboldened to submit the audio recording of the apocalyptic dj to an American podcast and they used it in their podcast of 23 April 2020. So, thank you Poetry in the Bar hosted by Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.

In April, May and June I had lots of rejections but a total of four of my poems relating to the pandemic were accepted and placed in an online journal about Covid-19. Thank you Pendemic.

In May, a short story I had submitted in March, was accepted for publication by New Voices Press for Surfing, the 2020 anthology of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) which was subsequently published in November.  The short story Taste was the first piece of prose fiction I had ever had accepted for publication. Thank you to Federation of Writers (Scotland).

In May I submitted two poems which were both accepted for the Poets Against Trump anthology. It was initially published online in October; thereafter in paper form in November. Thanks are due to Stephanie Lunn.

At the end of June I submitted an entry to a Hedgehog Press pamphlet competition. Though unsuccessful my entry was shortlisted. For that, thank you Hedgehog Press.

In July I submitted a poem for a Black Lives Matter anthology. I was delighted that it was published in Black Lives Matter – Poems for a New World in November. Thank you Civic Leicester and Ambrose Musiyiwa, Editor.

Also in July four poems were accepted for Words from Battlefield (launched 24 October) and a creative non-fiction piece was accepted for a World War II audio project. Thanks for these successes are due to Dr Linda Jackson, Finn’s Place Publishing and Langside Community Heritage. 

Further, I was asked to provide a reading of one of my poems Carnival, which originally appeared in Poems for Grenfell Tower (The Onslaught Press, 2018), to be included in the Grenfell Soundwalk, a permanent geolocated audio installation. Thanks to Giovanna Iorio, the sound artist commissioned to complete the installation.                

August brought success for an audio-visual reading of the apocalyptic dj for which thanks are due to Lesley Traynor and others at Scottish Writers’ Centre.

In the same month I submitted a poem about Margaret Thatcher which was subsequently accepted for and published in The Angry Manifesto magazine (Thatcher Edition) published December 2020. Thank you, The Angry Manifesto, Matt Duggan and Des Mannay, Editors.

Finally, in the same month, I contributed some words which former Federation Makar Andy Jackson weaved into his patchwork poem for National Poetry Day Theme, ‘Vision’ (video reading released on 1 October 2020). Thanks, Andy Jackson, for your your consistent creative skill in collating disparate poetic voices into these annual works.

Following a complete lack of success in September, in October I submitted, appeared in a shortlist of six, but ultimately was unsuccessful in yet another Hedgehog Poetry Pamphlet competition. Once again, thanks to Hedgehog for shortlisting me with such a talented bunch of poets. 

Undeterred, in November I made a full collection submission to Hedgehog which was also unsuccessful, not even shortlisted.

However, in December I had the great joy of receiving acceptances for a total of eight poems spread over four themed chapbooks with Dreich. Thanks to Jack Caradoc and

I should also say that during this unconventional poetry performance year, in addition to those audio/audio-visual performances previously mentioned I have contributed to a number of Zoom events including Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Dove Tales Scotland and Virtual Dragonflies. Thanks to Anna Saunders, Annie Ellis, Jean Rafferty, Darren J Beaney and Barbara Kirbyshaw, who host and administer these events. 

It’s also been a great encouragement to take part in creative writing classes and workshops. Mentions for Dr Linda Jackson, former FWS Makars Finola Scott and Marjorie Lotfi Gill. And former FWS Scriever Charlie Gracie.

The people I have enjoyed meeting during all events are too many to mention but you all know who you are. 

The year is nearly finished but I still have a submission or two to email. I also have one more live event to look forward to at 5.00pm on Boxing Day. It’s a You Call That Radio event Overheard in the Westend. Thanks to Mark McGhee for inviting me.

I have also been invited to submit audio recordings of some of my poetry to an Eat The Storms podcast to be relayed early in 2021. I’ll be recording those shortly. Thanks Damien B Donnelly for the kind invitation.

Given that this is developing into a longer post than intended, I’ll wind it up now by adding my thanks to anyone who has taken time to read any of my work or the random ramblings which appear in this blog. 

[UPDATE POSTSCRIPT: as this is late publication of a proposed 19th December post I am able to provide this brief update.

As well as having my reading of a poem included as previously indicated in the Poetry in the Bar April podcast, a further two poems read by me were included in the open mic of the 30 December podcast. Thanks again to Poetry in the Bar hosted by Helen and Gav, Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.

As well as appearing on the Boxing Day You Call That Radio event when I read five poems, I was invited back to the You Call That Radio Hogmanay Event to read my short story Taste. Thanks again to Mark McGhee – a great way to finish off the year!]

A Last Blast of Politics Before Moving On

It is my intention to move away for a while from my most recent brief dalliance with political poetry, and I shall do so just as soon as I have given oxygen to two relatively recent publications which placed my work, and the two individual poems which fall into that category. 

One poem is certainly political in the narrow sense, dealing as it does with the very divisive former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The other is political in the broader sense of the evil irrationality of racism.

It may be argued quite reasonably that you can’t avoid some element of politics in writing in the sense that everything affecting people, animals and the planet is broadly influenced by personal politics or the politics of nations. However you will readily identify that the two anthologies I am going to speak of here fall more obviously into political categorisation.

In November 2020, one of my poems was published in Black Lives Matter – Poems for a New World, edited by Ambrose Musiyiwa. It was a poem with a previous life in cyberspace in respect that it had appeared in 2018 in I am not a silent poet, the online magazine of the late and sadly missed Reuben Woolley. In the Introduction to the anthology Ambrose reports that the call for poems, triggered by George Floyd’s murder, resulted in 500 submissions from more than 300 writers from around the world. In those circumstances I feel honoured that my piece is one of the 107 poems (from 95 poets) which found a home in this substantial volume. It contains many poets whose names are familiar to me and whose work I admire.

In December 2020 The Angry Manifesto’s Thatcher Issue, edited by Matt Duggan and Des Mannay, heralded the return of a literary magazine which previously produced seven issues in the years 2017-18. Its stated aim is to ‘focus on politics and issues that count’. My poem in this issue was written many years ago but had never been submitted to any publication due to its very specific topic. I was surprised when The Angry Manifesto made a call for poems about Margaret Thatcher, and delighted they placed my work alongside other poets I admire including Harry Gallagher and DJ Beaney, whose debut pamphlet Honeydew (a collection of twenty-one love poems) was released by The Hedgehog Poetry Press on 14 December 2020. 

I shall reproduce both of my poems as a conclusion to this post, and thereafter look forward to our next meeting, probably somewhere within the quite different politics of life, love and death. 

I’ll mention here that I had composed, or partly written, a number of posts which were intended to appear during the dates 1-24 December as a kind of Advent Blog. A few did appear, most did not (life, eh?). Between now and the end of January I shall post daily and include the Advent Blogposts which did not appear, so do not be surprised by their strange out-of-time titles. What is time after all but a human construct?

Thereafter, from February 2021, I shall confine my randomness to just one Blogpost per week.

Regarding the two poems which follow, the Thatcher piece from The Angry Manifesto’s Thatcher Issue, which ends this post is self-explanatory, certainly for any reader who was alive during her premiership.

But the first poem, published in Black Lives Matter – Poems for a New World, certainly requires reference to the two footnotes in the book, as follows :-

It is recorded that, in 1946, Albert Einstein stood in front of students at Lincoln University, the oldest historically black college in the United States, and during a commencement speech declared, “There is separation of coloured people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of coloured people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” 

Cheddar Man, Britain’s oldest complete human skeleton, was excavated in 1903 at Gough’s Cave in the Cheddar Gorge, Somerset, England. The remains date from the Mesolithic period (circa 7100 BC). DNA analysis indicates that he was a typical member of the Western European population of the time. Although he had light coloured eyes his hair was dark brown or black and his skin was dark or black. 

Species of Reply/Einstein Wasn’t Wrong

To witness the wordspill I could hardly wait. 

Would he accept that Denial’s Not Appropriate?

And for a moment he acknowledges the reality

seeming to experience nanoseconds of clarity

confirming a partial apparent acceptance

of solid scientific evidence that the

first modern Briton was black, black. 

But then makes sure his interpretation 

of the incontrovertible revelation pleases

those affected by jingoistic diseases

(finding these words)

I belong here, this is twenty eighteen 

Nothing to fear from a Mesolithic fossil 

(Nothing against him but nothing in common) 

Struggling a bit with the DNA findings though, 

Cheddar Man sounds more light than dark to me

However, for the sake of discussion let’s say

this minor blip occurred way back, back 

in a time so distant 

that it’s almost irrelevant

Luckily during ten thousand years

of British history this glitch was erased

from our proud ancestry

but if it had not

(he concludes)

a nightmarish tragedy  

which doesn’t bear thinking about    

Imagine me and my people, still proudly 

patriotic but dark of colour, having to yell at 

paler people (nothing against them but nothing

in common) that they should go back, back 

to where they came from, to where they 

belong, not upon this sceptred isle,

this green and pleasant land

Irony Lady

Once upon a time in Britain

the very idea of a woman doing the job 

would have drawn derision

Now I am neither misogynist nor Nostradamus sir

but all those years ago when the doorstep canvasser 

presumed – We can surely depend upon your support 

We are the party for the upwardly mobile you sir –

I do not know what made me say – 

Not with That Woman in charge, she’ll lead us to war –

but I did

The canvasser shook his head, smiled and said –

The old enemies have gone, with whom should we pick a fight? –

but she did

You can call it a Conflict if you like – a killing by any other name 

still stinks of blood

She really made us travel for that battle 

Bent and broke the rules to make it happen

Argie-bargie, mano a mano?

Ask the ghosts of the Belgrano?

The greatest PM of the century? 

I think not.

Performing minor miracles?

The miners would disagree –

though she did black-magic all sorts of unexpected 

from her blue handbag 

Not just war in time of peace

Investors caught on bullish horns 

Disappearing roofs in property booms

The loss of everything in pursuit of gain 

Division of brothers on an industrial scale 

Dominatrix seeks reward for sadomasochistic pain

No to milk and education 

should have signalled things to fear

Weeks after a friend’s assassination 

mention of that friend felt insincere

amid a wild-eyed selective rendition 

of part of Saint Francis’ prayer

All these before are symptoms of an incurable condition – 

Maggielomania or the delusion that you are a female God – 

which made her go further than any male politician 

to prove she was at least as flawed

Donald J. Trump: My Part in his Downfall (update)

I have been inspired to update my previous blog Donald J Trump: My Part in his Downfall by three events.

Firstly, there has been an actual update in relation to the Poets Against Trump anthology which took two of my poems, both of which were reproduced in my previous blog Donald J Trump: My Part in his Downfall.

I previously advised that the anthology was online only and provided you with this link to access it.

Since November, however, it has been available as a rather glossy paper publication. If you are interested in getting your own copy you would have to order it through Amazon (£11.99)

As you can see from the photographs included here it is a colourful and bright coffee table type volume. As there weren’t sufficient funds to provide contributor copies I had to put my hand in my pocket to get my own but I don’t regret it. The illustrations by Billy Nomad, which appear throughout the book, reward the purchase and I’m told any profit made will be donated to an animal charity. 

rear cover

The second inspiration for this update arose from the continuing dispute of the election outcome by the defeated Trump, exemplified by the revelatory recording of an hour-long telephone call he made to the Georgia secretary of state a few days ago, which confirmed the gangster-ish techniques to which he was prepared to stoop in his efforts to hold onto power following his defeat in the most secure election in American history. 

However, before I got round to putting pen to paper, his refusal to accept defeat was on 6th January 2021 taken to another, even more drastic, level. Like me, you will have watched incredulously the coverage on all media of the Storming of the Capitol. This was my third and final inspiration to compose this blog post.

I am shocked, yet in another way not shocked, by this escalation and consider it appropriate to do three things in response.

Firstly, to remind you that the Poets Against Trump anthology can be referenced or downloaded as a PDF at no cost using the link in the third paragraph of this post.

Secondly, to publicise the paper version of the anthology, and how to get it (paragraph 4 above).

Thirdly, and finally, to go one step beyond that and publish below the poem I withdrew from publication in the anthology. By all means take a look at the two poems which I allowed to be included which might be regarded as somewhat subtler, especially in comparison to those by the other poets who contributed.

Then, if so inclined, feast your eyes on the somewhat rougher and more controversial piece below which was originally accepted for publication in Poets Against Trump but withdrawn by me, partly because it was slightly crude in its content, partly because I included within it a serious allegation made in other publications that P45 (should that be Pee 45?) was compromised by his behaviour on a visit to Russia some years ago. 

And, if it isn’t obvious already, the reason for my change of heart is this. Whether or not he was compromised as alleged, whether or not he acted at the behest of Putin, he most certainly has assaulted democracy and caused division and chaos in the most powerful country in the western world.

He has certainly done everything he could to render the transition of power to President-elect Biden as problematic as possible, and Putin is sure to be delighted in any case to see the nation so divided.

Accordingly, in my opinion he deserves this low-quality poem from my pen as well as all the other ‘tributes’ to him which appear in Poets Against Trump.

Vladimir’s Latest Purchase (Allegedly)
 I bought a present for myself today
 - the President of the US of A
 He isn’t perfect but he’s lots of fun
 and useful for some things that I need done
 He’ll say whatever I want him to say
 I taught him to call Europe his foe
 and threaten withdrawal from NATO
 He called Kim little rocket man
 and I’ve got him in my pocket. Man,
 he’ll go wherever I want him to go
 How much did he cost? ’you having a laugh!
 Just a compromising photograph,
 an HD video of special sorts
 featuring non-Olympic water sports
 and an item bearing his autograph 

Advent Blog Day 23: Writing – as opposed to writing

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A few years ago I was fortunate enough to stop working for ‘the man’ (a local authority actually) and, amongst other things, was able to renew my on-off affair with writing. I won’t give you too much detail about that affair, which at times was pretty sordid.

Hoping this will be useful to someone reading this I want to select just one negative and one positive from my experience of office work and management, in relation to transitioning to the world of writing, or creativity in general.

So that I can end on a positive, I’ll start with the negative example.

For many years I worked in an office environment and got plenty of practice of formal writing. Written court pleadings, contracts, conveyancing and ultimately ‘house style’ management and Council reports. Pages full of ‘management speak’, persuasive words to articulate and support the wishes of politicians, to explain staff reductions, cost savings, how we may learn with fewer staff to work ‘smarter’ etc., sometimes demonstrating the ability to justify one side or another, depending what employers or clients required. I’m sure you get the picture without me boring you with further explanation.

Having spent so many years doing this, having only gone to a writers’ group for a few months back in the 90s, my brain had got into a non-intuitive mode where ‘telling’ invariably overtook ‘showing’. As a result, when I did become free to write whatever I wanted, I found it difficult to do so in an attractive creative way. I reckon it took me three to four years to re-train my brain and start writing anything that was worthy of submitting for publication.

Photo by Digital Buggu on

Now the good news!

While the creative area of the brain had to be muscle-trained to write more attractively, the complex problem-solving part was well-developed over the years. I learned that there was such an area of the brain through my experience at work. As I got more responsibility the technical problems I faced increased exponentially. I sometimes found myself spending many hours on an issue, exploring it from every angle, but failing to find a solution until I put the file away for a few days and focused on something else. Then, unexpectedly, a resolution of the insoluble problem would start to form in my mind. 

Although unexpected, this was not in any sense ‘out of the blue’. The three necessary elements were: (1) the work that I had done analysing the problem in detail; (2) the area of the brain which I now know to be called the prefrontal cortex which works even when we are not consciously thinking about our problem; and (3) the anterior cingulate cortex which assesses potential solutions and determines whether they are successful.

And guess what! I have found this works for me with creative writing. Some of you may not associate creative writing, especially poetry which is my main interest, with solving complex problems but others of you will understand immediately. For example, having an idea of what you want to say but having to find an effective and original approach which will land a punch or touch gently or please intellectually or artistically – or ideally do more than one of these things – is a challenge if you wish to remain true to your art. 

Sometimes you may feel exhausted to the point of giving up on what you are writing (or indeed completing whatever type of artistic work is yours). If you have worked hard, tried and re-tried, but still apparently failed, it may be that you do have to give up, but only for a little while. 

If the work does have a potential successful outcome there is a very good chance it will come to you when you are doing something else. I base that view partly on my own experience (in creative writing, as well as formal writing) but also on the functionality of these areas of the human brain, as described above.

All I can say is – try it for yourself and I wish you great success!

Advent Day 22: Obstacles

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Broken Washing Machine, Late Receipt of Christmas Card Order, An Unexpected Visit, Winter Warmer. 

These are not new poem titles but four actual happenings which I could claim prevented me from writing a blog today. Obstacles. Excuses, if you will.

Over time I have learned that apparent obstacles are often about whether your attitude or inclination is positive or negative. Are they something you stare at with despair accepting them as signals you should turn back? Or are these things over which you find a way to climb, things you try to overcome, with the possibility of bringing a smile of achievement to your face?

On a short post such as this there is no time nor any desire on my part to make a detailed analysis of how to deal with obstacles, so I’ll just use these four issues of an everyday nature to illustrate the point in a straightforward way. 

Each of these situations by itself would operate as a distraction which I could blame for a failure to post my blog. The fact that four did in fact occur on the same day would, in some views, absolve me entirely and give me a free pass.

To convince you of the time-consuming potential of the four setbacks, I’ll provide a bit more detail.

Situation 1. On the last two occasions I washed a load of laundry, the spin cycle did not work and I was left with a wet load for the tumble dryer. I do have a maintenance agreement but, before booking a repair, you must follow certain troubleshooting steps to check whether the washing machine can be fixed by the owner before calling out an engineer. This is particularly important because there is a strain on technician resources at present and a repair booking may not be available at an early date. I started to foresee the Festive Season as a probable laundry pile-up period

Situation 2. This year I decided to order 40 Christmas cards directly from a charity I support, and sent an order and cheque to the Freepost address of the supplier on 21 November. The cards finally arrived yesterday afternoon, a full calendar month later, just as I was going out shopping.

Situation 3. In the early part of today I had many other routine things to attend to and when I got those out of the way, I had decided to have a shower before tackling Situations 1 and 2. Just then the door bell sounded. Thinking it was just a parcel delivery, I went to the front door in my Covid leisure wear (Pullover and PJ bottoms). To my embarrassment it was an unexpected visitor with a Christmas gift. She asked if she’d got me out of bed. I had to ask her to wait for a moment outside of the house because Covid rules meant I could not ask her in. I quickly got changed, tidied myself up a little then joined her outside for a chat. Given her generosity it was incumbent on me to give her my time which I was more than happy to do.

Situation 4. I had booked a Zoom ticket for a special Cheltenham Poetry Festival Zoom Event called Winter Warmer with a number of poetry and musical contributions, and John Hegley as the Featured Poet.

Situation 3, as you will have noted, sorted itself out at the expense of a bit of embarrassment and some time. Having a proper chat and catch-up was the right thing to do and we both enjoyed it, but it did eat into the time available to accomplish the other matters.

You’re probably thinking I should have given the Zoom Event a miss to take the pressure off but I decided that would only happen as a last resort.

Instead I just focused and took the proverbial bulls by the horns, telling myself to relax and everything would work out fine.

Situation 1 resolved itself fairly quickly. It did not take long to find that the necessary repair to my washing machine could not be done except by a trained engineer. I went through the booking system and arranged the repair for Christmas Eve.

Situation 2 was more time-consuming. I just had to knuckle down and write out the Christmas Cards as efficiently as I could, take some to the Post Office and deliver a few locally, getting back home just five minutes before the Zoom Event was due to start. 

Situation 4. I joined the Zoom Poetry Event on time but with the video off so that I could complete a few other tasks and get changed into an Elf costume (don’t ask!) before being seen.

So all the situations were dealt with, the perceived obstacles were overcome. I felt happy and satisfied at the end of it all. 

I offered myself no excuses, and ended up enjoying all of the experiences which had felt like obstacles.

That is also why I’m writing this post very late!

Advent Day 21: The Great Conjunction


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Today has many significances. 

It is Solstice Day. It is the shortest day, the day of least light.

It is the 32nd Anniversary of Britain’s most deadly terrorist incident, the tragic on-board explosion which claimed the lives of all the passengers and crew of Pan Am Flight 103 and eleven people on the ground in Lockerbie, a total of 270 human beings.

It is also a time in ancient and more recent religions and philosophies when we say goodbye to darkness and think ahead to increasing light, hopefully increased enlightenment and optimism too. 

This year and this evening we are allowed to witness the planetary wonder of the Great Conjunction when the solar system’s two largest planets come so close in the night sky (from an earthly point of perspective) that they appear to be one large bright heavenly star.

Depending who you listen to, this last happened about four hundred or eight hundred years ago. From what I have heard it happens in a less dramatic way every twenty years. However, given the year we have all experienced, it does not seem appropriate to say anything to take the shine off this special astronomical occasion. If you are in a location where you can see it clearly, enjoy this phenomenon, perhaps view it as a beacon in the lead up to Christmas and a hopeful torch as we approach the unknown of a New Year.

With that thought in mind, I’ll leave you with a poem I wrote about a series of lunar events which manifested between December 2017 and January 2018. It appeared in an online magazine Until the Stars Burn Out in September 2018.

Supermoon Trilogy (3rd December 2017 to 31st January 2018)

is it ominously awesome, this repeated perigee?

uncommon perhaps but purely astronomical?

signifying foreboding or even miracle?

spanning the death of one year

of the next its birth though 

how often this on earth

occurs I do not know

or even pretend

to begin to 



is it history?

a supermoon once

then a supermoon twice

the moon appearing of extra size

during the bimester thrice seeming to grow

with fulsome lucence in winter skies spell-casting 

her fluence over Advent, Hanukkah, Solstice 

and Christmas, visiting the New Year 

a wolf supermoon rampant before 

and blue blood supermoon 

rising far beyond



does it 

a mystery

disclose that 

when revisiting she 

with constant hypnotic 

glows upstages pyrotechnic 

show-off meteor shower shows?

instead of seeking portents in the sky

which some would label lunacy let us for now

declare in time of gloom enlightenment is truly rare

be it mind or heart or supermoon, welcome every steady beam

Advent Blog Day 20: Please Support Talent and Hard Work

Whoever would consider beginning advent blogs on Day 20? – Yes, me!

Okay, there’s many reasons for this, one of those being the prediction I made several weeks ago in my blog Dance Jealousy, that someone in Strictly called Jamie, previously unknown to me, would not last long in the contest. Week after week I was proved wrong. He made it to the Final!

I had to know the outcome of that Final – and see how embarrassed I could possibly be – before composing this post.

The Final took place yesterday with four celebrities remaining. Frankly I was a little conflicted. For me the winner should have been Maisie or HRVY, though my third choice Bill Bailey (the eventual winner) was partnered by my favourite professional, Oti Mabuse.

Jamie (Laing) made it to the final but, in my humble opinion, was easily outshone by the other three finalists, so not too embarrassing for me. Okay, that’s the last about dancing for a while!

There have been lots of other things happening in my little world during the last few weeks when I have not been posting. Some of these are very personal and will not be disclosed, but others will appear in Advent posts 1 to 19 which will pop up in rapid random fashion between now and Christmas alongside the posts appropriate to days 21 to 25 of December.

At this late stage it will be a demanding task to do all of this in such a short period of time but I have been inspired by recent examples of others working so much harder than I do, to put together things quickly and efficiently when a job has to be done. There are many instances but the following are three December examples that spring immediately to mind. 

Mark McGhee (Mark Mywords) ‘buildin’ a hing’ with You Call That Radio and putting together a live Covid-safe ‘Christmas at Captureworks Show‘ brimming with entertainment from 3pm till late on 19 December. He did this while continuing to fill almost every other night with YCTR live broadcasts on YouTube featuring a broad range of guests and a wide array of subject matter. Find him on Facebook, subscribe to the YCTR YouTube channel and if you’re impressed, consider donating on PayPal or becoming a patreon.

Jack Caradoc of Dreich ( publishing , calling out for and selecting submissions for four themed Chapbook anthologies of poetry with super efficiency during a period of only two weeks, simultaneously getting on with other publications.

Damien B. Donnelly putting together his Christmas ‘Eat The Storms‘ podcast with a very large number of contributing poets, and some musicians, whose pre-recorded contributions were blended and edited skilfully along with Damien’s words into a very satisfying final product. 

So, shame on me if I fail to put in the hard work to put together another 24 blogposts in the next four days or so!

Final words on this little post are very straightforward. Forget anything I have said about Strictly. The BBC are well able to look after themselves. Instead I strongly recommend that you support the three parties I have highlighted above for their current contributions to cultural life and entertainment in the year 2020. 

And wish me luck with putting together another 24 posts in four or five days!

Review: Venus in Pink Marble by Gaynor Kane (published by Hedgehog Poetry Press)


I am glad I delayed writing this review. When I first received a copy of this poetry collection a few weeks ago I dipped in and out of it, savouring individual poems for themselves, not attempting to take in the effect of the whole collection. On a more recent day I sat down and read the work cover to cover, while taking the occasional break to read a Novella in Flash (of which I shall post a review shortly). That’s just the way my brain sometimes works! The delay however has made me appreciate Venus more.

I had already viewed a couple of videos and attended a number of online events in which Gaynor Kane read poems from this collection before I decided to purchase a copy, and having now seen the entire context on paper I realise that there is even more to her work than these recitations promised. Venus in Pink Marble is a substantial collection containing 61 poems covering a breadth of subject matter which work well and sit well alongside each other. 

Although it comes relatively early in her poetry career, this publication feels like an attempt to set down an opus for future reference, a work which will reward study by others. For the author, it must give a sense of satisfaction that she has succeeded in including so much she wanted to document and opine.

As well as the warmth and humanity infusing many of the poems, there is research and authenticity in those which portray technical matter or historical episodes. There are word lists and word pictures which take the reader with ease of authority to a period or a place. Many of these are poems to inhabit or at least to visit frequently. There are stories of people, notable, mythical and everyday but all are given equal care in Gaynor’s skilful hands. 

In order to encompass the broad subject matter the collection is divided into three sections – The Lock, Letter to Me and A Life Drawn

It is invidious, and would anyway take too long, to select particular poems for praise, especially as I keep spotting ‘new favourites’ when re-reading. Some of your favourites will differ from mine in such a varied selection. However, in an attempt to give a flavour, I shall pick a couple of examples from each section.

From Section 1, Dead Short on the System, Belfast, 1923, just four stanzas long, recounts the story of a rat chewing through power station cables bringing trams to a halt throughout the city. Some of the text suggests a nervous humour about the incident but the killer words are found in verse two –

Those tram-trapped, fear the curfew more than the rain

Whereas most of us would think about the inconvenience of getting home on a New Year’s night that was ‘dark, damp and sticky like a new born’, in the midst of a civil war other considerations apply.

Also from Section 1, From Benin to Belfast sets out a quite unique perspective and is a remarkable and original piece of work which took my breath away on first reading. I still get a chill when the ‘ivory masks’ to which we are introduced in Benin (modern Nigeria), having travelled the bloody way of Imperialism, in another form are represented in a Belfast church in troubled times. The significance of the word mask and the colours ivory and red in this piece, which I see was long listed in the 2018 Pendle War Poetry Competition, create themes holding together a work which otherwise may have had to be explored in three separate poems. 

From Section 2, the poet’s more personal pieces, I have picked The first time I saw him cry and Polyester. 

The first time I saw him cry – a title which is a narrative in itself. In less skilful hands this might have been a cheap effort, building the image of a strong male just to describe his vulnerability. Instead, it is a matter-of-fact telling of receiving news of loss within the context of everyday events. It is made all the more authentic from its accurate placing in an earlier time when telephone landlines were not universal, mobile phones non-existent, and there was great dependence on public transport and walking.  Told from the point of view of a child hearing one side of a conversation, nothing is said within the text of the poem about her father crying but only implied in his curt imparting of sad news to her.

Polyester is a Christmas-related story of near-tragedy prevented by the quick-thinking and actions of a mother. Like The first time I saw him cry this poem is written in first person from a child’s point of view and I assume it is autobiographical. The first stanza lulls the reader into a cosy state ‘Slippered…/feeling the glow’ but the second stanza travels from ‘drowning in heat, like a Christmas /pudding drenched in brandy’ to ‘fire /licking my hair, hugging my back’. By the end of the third verse the child is rolled in a saving mat and, referring to earlier metaphors, ‘brandy-snapped and smoke-smothered’.

The poem concludes with a calm Christmas morning, almost as if nothing untoward had happened, but presents include a replacement dressing gown of cotton rather than the flammable material.

From Section 3, relating to art, I have selected A Life Drawn and The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio.

A Life Drawn is inspired by the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition – A Life in Drawing and is told from the perspective of a naked artist’s model, standing still in a room in a man’s world kept cold deliberately, being exposed to an artist kept warm by ‘tunic, robes, headscarves’. Her position is due to poverty, lack of opportunity and necessity rather than choice. He does not appear to acknowledge her living humanity –

Our eyes do not meet. He inhales me.

The Vampire of Lazaretto Vecchio is an exercise in beautiful expression, tenderly cadenced, expressive poetry with a Gothic quality which suits the subject matter. It is a joy to read and re-read and I am delighted that the poet was able to achieve this atmospheric work, inspired as her Notes reveal by hearing the story of the discovery of a skeleton with a brick lodged in its mouth on an Italian plague island. Just a couple of extracts here (from verses one and three) to provide a sense of the quality of description –

……sailing to the sanatorium

in the white boat. White for the uncontaminated

the blessed and clean.

Rancid heat retreats at dusk, the sick wards weep

like religious statues, infecting the air with howls for help.

At the end of this review, it will come as no surprise to you that I recommend this work without reservation. If I was the sort to indulge in puns I might call it a Venus in Pink Marble-ous first full collection.

Instead I’ll just say there’s still time before Christmas to secure your copy as a gift for you or someone you know who appreciates honest and skilful writing. For your copy go to Gaynor Kane at

Donald J Trump: My Part in his Downfall

Now that the Vice-President has been declared President Elect and the Fake-Tan President of Vice has been found wanting and given his marching orders, thereby becoming President Evicted, I think the time is right.

Photo by Polina Zimmerman on

Modesty forbids… well it almost forbids, but not quite.

I am going to go ahead and own up to the significant contribution this little-known poet from a small country made in bringing down the most powerful man in the world. Personally, I’m not the sort to boast but I’m just telling you that’s what ‘some people’ are saying. And they are ‘very good people, the best, very bright people I’m told’.

You probably heard P45 (just before he got his P45) declaring his puzzlement that at one stage he was in the lead, then later ‘magically’ there appeared all these votes for his opponent.

I can now reveal the inspiration for those additional votes. It was to be found in a poetry ebook , readily available free of charge online, to anyone who wished to flick through its virtual pages. Two of my little poems lurk within its digital covers.

The ebook was put together by Stephanie Lunn, a wine writer who, with Billy Nomad as illustrator, launched Poems Against Trump before the 2020 election in a bid to defeat potential fascism in the US of A.

In the Year of Plague it would appear her efforts have contributed towards removing the Orange Plague and hopefully, in 2021 and beyond, this will also lead more quickly towards the prioritisation of Coronavirus control, Healthcare in the United States and that other plague upon the earth, Climate Change. With a little bit of Irish luck it might also have a positive impact on Brexit, particularly in relation to the GFA, Internal Market Bill etc.

It truly is amazing what a little free ebook can do. Indeed Democrats could have saved so much campaign money by just promoting this book!

Photo by Markus Winkler on

If you currently have an image of me with tongue in cheek boosting my part in all this, that would not be far from true. Indeed, if you go to this link, where you can peruse or download the whole volume, you will notice that the other contributions are much more hard-hitting than mine. I guess it’s not my style to use such direct language. In fact I was so cowardly that I withdrew permission to print a poem I originally submitted titled Vladimir’s Latest Purchase (Allegedly). I quickly wrote and sent Trompe-l’oeil as a replacement.

For ease of reference I’ll finish this blog post with my two poems from the ebook. The first was written prior to Trump’s first visit to the UK as POTUS. At the time there were demonstrations against the visit taking place but I thought it was best to allow him to be seen for what he is. Swallow was first published in online zine I am not a silent poet.

 Allow this man 
 and others of his kind
 to visit this land of yours and mine
 if that’s what they really want
 When they arrive
 we shall carry our children and grandchildren
 aloft upon our shoulders so they can see for themselves
 that these people look deceptively like us 
 generally human in appearance 
 And when they speak
 our offspring will hear the sound snakes make 
 to sanitise their decisions and the steps they take  
 in the name of narcissistic whim or profit
 regardless of impact on people or planet
 Our precious ones
 will this way learn
 whom to avoid 
 whom to distrust
 whom they must 
 not allow themselves to become
 the vile to be here for a while
 putting their poisonous ideas on trial 
 should not increase their following
 but will teach us that 
 when the venom is spat
 the secret is not swallowing



Sounds a little like

Trump lies


Means a trick upon

Your eyes

Note what the

French coincidence


Donald J.

Monsieur Trompe-l’oeil


Review: Keep on Spinning, a debut Chapbook by Jen Hughes

What happens if the planet stops spinning? 

Frankly, you don’t want to know. Jen Hughes seems to have applied that understanding to surviving challenges of life and love. Her debut poetry chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ sustains a planet-related theme without it becoming tiresome or forced. 

In the opening poem ‘Waiting at A London Train Station’ the planetary message is less obvious in respect that it represents a view through macro lens rather than telescope, illustrated by the striking opening lines  –

There are galaxies on these flower petals/ But to us they’re just dots

The final lines confirm Jen’s intention to employ a fresh way of looking at things – 

Some take trips to nature to get perspective/ But I’ve found that it’s much closer than you think.

When I open a new work of fiction or poetry I like to be challenged by the occasional unfamiliar word which requires me to find its meaning. As a non-scientist, I came across a couple in this collection. ‘I’m Like the Sun, Hun’ introduced me to the word ‘metastable’. I found the definition ‘pertaining to a body or system existing at an energy level above that of a more stable state and requiring the addition of a small amount of energy to induce a transition to a more stable state’ useful. Thus –

I’m not manic/ I’m metastable!/ I’m just a whole bunch of atoms in an excited state

In fact the whole poem is a burst of solar energy whose rhythm and imagery suits the jubilation reflected in one of its lines possibly re-calling a childhood hymn –

I’ll sing Hosanna past the break of day

‘Mercury’ is a suitably small and quiet self-reflection which starts with 

I am and always have been on the periphery

but ends powerfully –

I’m so much more than that

My second new word was found in the title of the fourth poem ‘My Caloris’. I thought it might be about heat. However, I discovered that Caloris refers to impact, specifically that of asteroids causing craters on a planet surrounded by a fragile atmosphere. Impacts and various sorts of trauma and holed damage are a recurrent theme in this and many of the poems which follow.

The chapbook contains many clever or humorous titles including ‘Venus Smirks At Me’, a poem which seems to speak of the author’s on-off love affair with love, and ‘Midsummer Night’s Reality’, which manages to squeeze a lot into four stanzas, playing with some of the devices used in Shakespeare’s rom com and even word-playing ‘ass’ into a love declaration.

‘Ultimatum’ paints a picture of a planet becoming increasingly hostile and unsafe, providing context for a relationship made toxic by the needs and demands of an overbearing partner. It describes the impact such a relationship has upon a generous and giving partner whose mental and physical state is being endangered by the relationship. Finally, it is a warning to the delinquent partner that this partner is prepared to lose the relationship rather than lose herself.

By contrast, ‘Planet Dance’ is a joyous affirmation of healing and fulfilling love –

We waltz and swing/ Ellipsing each other/ …I’m a fragment of my former self/ But you help me make the best of it/ I have stability now

Concluding with –

I want to keep dancing with you among the stars/ Even after death swallows us whole/ Even as dust and particles in deep nothingness/ I want to keep dancing with you then

‘Red Is The Coldest Colour’ sounds like a contradiction in terms, but makes sense when applied to the planet Mars. This poem seems to be here for balance. The speaker recognises that she can sometimes be the difficult partner and create a difficult environment.

I’m not easy to live with/…My past/ Floats in the vapour we’ll breathe/ …My vibrant red personality/ Won’t be enough to sustain you

In ‘Orbital’ we are told

…nobody wants to attend a pity party

In its second stanza we learn how painful it can be when depression has you alone –

…my misery turns around and says/ I’m nothing, and I have no-one./That I’m fat retarded scum/That I am really no fun/Anyway, so why bother/ with anything at all?

The next poem ‘Jupiter’ continues the theme of depression but approaches it in a novel way, referring to the effect of additional non-earthly gravity and density. However, once the problems are set out, so are the solutions exemplified in the final four lines, which also give the pamphlet its title –

This isn’t your final form and things can only get better/ The burden you carry will make you stronger/ So just keep on spinning/ You will get through this

Appropriately, this is followed by the Saturn-referencing ‘With These Rings’, a call to love yourself and reject the idea of having to conform to expectations –

We are complex people, multifaceted/ And like Saturn’s rings/ There are too many parts of us to name

Each stanza of ‘Pluto’ begins with the call Validate me, an effective repetition as the poet describes a fear of invisibility and a need to be fulfilled. The speaker appears frustrated that those around her do not understand her need for relationship as part of fulfilment.

‘Inside the Black Star’ informs the reader of the poet’s perpetual fear of inescapable low mood returning –

No light can get in or out./ It feels like/ you have never known it/… It’ll always pull you back in. All-consuming nothing

The title ‘I Write Because’ sounds like a creative writing class prompt. If it was, something special happens within its confines –

It’s the energy between the atoms/ Without which I’m just/ Dust

Short and effective is the concluding poem ‘Collective’. Its own conclusion –

…together we surround the system/ and we can change things

With these thoughts on just a few of the poems contained therein, I recommend Jen Hughes’ chapbook ‘Keep on Spinning’ scheduled to be published late October 2020 by Dreich Publishing. It gained third-prize in their 2020 Chapbook Competition.

Jen confirms that her debut ‘explores mental health issues and the human condition through the motif of space and the solar system. The collection was formed after my diagnosis of bipolar disorder as a young adult.’

‘Writing this chapbook was my way to help make sense of what I was going through at the time.’

‘I was diagnosed with autism at the age of 2, and bipolar disorder at the age of 21. Some people would consider this a blight, and sometimes it can be difficult.  However, it also makes life vibrant and is such an integral part of who I am and my creativity. I wouldn’t change my mind for the world.’

I read her poems and wrote this review before becoming aware of Jen’s history and motivation but fully appreciate why she treasures the individual perspective she possesses.

‘Keep on Spinning’ can be ordered now from or the publisher