Back in May I attended one of Lloyd Robinson and Matt Macdonald‘s God Damn Debut Slam, at the Banshee Labyrinth in Edinburgh. I won – first time that’s ever happened, tho the GDDS isn’t as cut-throatedly competitive as some of the other poetry slams I’ve been involved in – it’s more about the supportive than the competitive.

So, I got invited back and last night I did my first ever, paid feature slot. Big night for me. I read four poems called, respectively – “The Tree”, “The Batteries”, “These Words” and “Guantanamera”. The video above is of Guantanamera. My wife, Ann, filmed it on her iPhone so it’s not exactly cinema quality but I think it does the job.

I want to try, where possible, to get some more of my readings on video. This is for a couple of reasons – firstly, because it helps when you’re pestering people for gigs if you’ve got videos you can easily show them (i.e. on YouTube), so they can get an idea of what you’re like as a performer. Secondly, because the best way of assessing, critiquing and improving my own performance is for me to watch it back on video.

It’s not a terribly comfortable process. Like many people, I am no great lover of the sound of my own voice, when it’s been recorded and played back to me. I’m fine with the way my own voice sounds from inside my own head – it sounds like Gregory Peck from in here –  it’s just the way it sounds to the rest of the world that I don’t like. And I’m no great fan of looking at myself on video either.

But, if you don’t analyse and you don’t look for ways to improve, you’ll never get better. So I’ve been spending some time this afternoon looking at things like eye contact, body language/position, whether I was using the mic so that it was picking up properly etc. Of course, it helps that it’s been pis*ing it down outside – makes ‘working’ on something on the lap-top that much more appealing.

The poem is (yet) another attempt to write for performance rather than for the page. It seems to have been a moderately more successful exercise, in this instance, than it was with “The Future“. Leastways, the feedback people have been kind enough to give me, on the occasions when “Guantanamera” has been performed, has been pretty positive. I think “Guantanamera” is closer to being ‘finished’ finished that ‘The Future” is/was. It helps that it (sort of) has a point to make, whereas “The Future” is mostly a list of images (which could, potentially, go on and on.)

The poem focusses a lot on Cuba. Ann and I have visited the island 3 times now – 2007, 2013 and 2015. It’s changed since we first went – back in 2007 the effects of the Período Especial were clearly still being felt – while in 2017, the new economic liberalism was obviously paying dividends to someone, there were new buildings (a lot of them, hotels) going up in Havana everywhere you looked.  We also got married in Cuba, on 18 January, 2013.

P1010118So, Cuba has its place – in my affections and in my personal history. But the poem’s not about me (very few of my poems are). It focusses on Cuba because I believe that the Cuban Revolution was (past tense) about as close to a genuinely social revolution – i.e. a revolution rooted in the needs and interests of ordinary people – as anyone’s ever managed to get.

Which isn’t to say that everything about the Cuban revolution was good (in whatever subjective sense), it wasn’t. But – as Saul Landau writes – from 1959 through the to the ate 1980s,  the revolutionary government “accomplished its major goals: sovereignty and independence, equalizing income and fostering social justice. Thanks to the revolution, Cuba was transformed from an informal United States colony through 1958, into a proud nation.”

The poem uses the figure of a young girl (The word “guajira“, from the best known lyric to the song, “Guantanamera” means “country girl” in Spanish), to represent the need for popular change to be truly representative of the interests of everyone. It tries (a bit) to challenge  the “imperial’ reading of history – which says that the only actors that matter are the Kings, Generals, Admirals etc. – instead of the ordinary people (“Not just about those men in uniforms, driving in their jeeps along the road to Santiago”).

After the elections on 8 June this year, I updated the text to include some more UK-centric references – “New Labour”, “When Blair met Bush/Before Thatcher was elected” etc. We have an example of a (potentially) popular movement in the UK, right now, in the shape of the movement behind Jeremy Corbyn – though, sadly, much of the focus is still on Corbyn as a the leader, rather than his popular, mass of supporter as  =being the enablers. But that’s British politics and the British media for you.

The poem ends by saying that events in political history (for example, the opening and eventual closing of Camp X-Ray) come and go but unless changes are genuinely popular – i.e. driven by a mass movement of people, rather than political/ruling-class oligarchs – then they will, ultimately, fail. (Of course, popular change isn’t necessarily ‘good’ change, depending on your position and PoV. The Brexit vote, for example, might be a considered an example of popular or populist change – but that doesn’t make it any less of a potential disaster.)

I don’t think it’s a bad poem exactly. It’s gauche and it lacks subtleness. I think the main problem is the voice – “I want you to remember”, “because some things last” etc. It’s telling, not showing – which makes the whole thing seem preachy. It’s trying to wrestle with some fairly big, broad ideas and that, in and of itself, is probably part of the problem. I think poetry works better when it zooms in and focusses on the detail[s] and the individual[s], rather than trying to cover the entire canvas. But, I always believe, you have to tilt at the big windmills – life, death, revolution etc. And, in the event you don’t succeed, you just have to follow Beckett’s maxim from “worstward ho”  – “Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Video the results. Learn from them.

The Future

I had another poem published, a little while ago. This one is called, “The Future” and it was published in a beautiful anthology called 404Ink, which is also the name of a new(‘ish) independent and alternative publishing house, based in Edinburgh and run by Laura Jones and Heather McDaid. You can find out more about 404 Ink here.

404Ink (the magazine) has themed issues and the theme for issue 2 was “The F-word“. You should buy a copy – it’s a lovely collection. Usually, I struggle to write poems with specific themes. My process relies on certain key stimuli (usually, though not always, something I’m reading) triggering the idea for a poem – and it’s hard to force the process or direct it towards a specific theme or idea. This time however, as luck would have it, I had a poem which fitted the theme already written and ready to go. This is it:-

The Future

The future is a ‘two for one’ deal when you

can’t afford to pay for one. It’s a discount card

for a store where you can get a third off as long

as you spend more than you can afford. The

future is an opportunity to consume the same

products you consume today, repackaged with

a new logo, and a heart-warming message from

an anime goldfish.


The future will let you be special in the same

way as everyone else is special and to stand out

by fitting in. You won’t dress differently, in the

future, but you will feel different about the way

you dress. There will be more youth cults for old

people, to deconstruct and de-contextualise and

remind us all that things were always better in the

old days.


In the future, facts will be rendered obsolete

and your opinions will be substantiated by the

number of ‘likes’ you are able to gather on social

media. Decisions about the future will be made,

based on the views of “so-called experts”, weighted

according to the brand of soft drink they promote

and their ability to succeed in a series of televised,

dance-off competitions. 


The future will provide an ironic commentary

on the future, as it unfolds, spooled out over

screens and streams and social-media feeds.

It will be re-mixed, re-formatted and re-imagined

in real-time, while a nation ‘Oohs’ and ‘Aah’s over

the latest display of interactive, artisan baked goods,

cooked up on a conveyor belt, in a factory, in



In the future, everyone will have a safe space,

and everyone will be confined to their safe space,

during curfew hours, this will be for your comfort

and protection, to ensure that, in the future, no-one

has to rub up against a dissenting voice or opinion,

which might otherwise challenge your deeply held

belief, that no-one understands you quite like you do. 


The future is an opportunity to opportunistically

re-frame your idea of the future, according to

whatever personal beliefs or ambitions you may

hold, and then to blame everyone else when your

vision of the future – just like everyone else’s vision

of the future – fails to come true.


(P.S. In the future, your voice will be a small voice,

assembled from found words in forgotten places

and broadcast over a dead channel and it will be

screaming, “Wake up, Wake up, Wake up!


My log tells me this was written on 24 January 2017. From memory, I wrote two or three verses at work one day, then finished it off the following morning. There was at least one other verse, which has since been deleted. I can’t remember what it said.

This is becoming a fairly typical part of the process – particularly with longer poems. I write a verse – usually towards the start of the poem – which I really like and which often sparks most of the rest of the poem. Then – after a while and after looking at the poem as a whole, with as objective an eye as I can manage to bring to bear – I realise that my much-loved, ‘special’ verse doesn’t actually fit with what the rest of the poem’s turned out to be and has to be cut.

I call these ‘Moses verses’ – destined to lead the poem to the promised land but never to actually enter themselves. If you want to be a writer, you have to learn to kill your darlings – to realise that, sometimes, the bits that you like the best and which mean the most to you won’t mean much to the reader. Even more importantly, you have to understand that serving your own likes and preferences isn’t the same as serving the poem. Of course, sometimes, the opposite also applies. Writing’s a capricious beast, is what I’m saying, There. Are. No. Rules. Or, if there are, they’re only there to be broken.

“The Future” was inspired, very loosely by William Burroughs’ “Thanksgiving Prayer” (which you can watch here). It’s more about the delivery than the content – if you imagine the word “future” being drawled in the same, stately sarcastic way as Burroughs drawls “Thanks” then you’ll have some idea of what was initially in my head when I started writing this.

It’s intended to be funny. Not many people seem to find it terribly funny but that’s how it was supposed to be. It plays on a number of themes, such as the awfulness of consumerism (in particular, the Ouroboran relationship between consumerism, mass consumption and mass media), those dreadful talking-head re-caps on TV (on the 80s or children’s TV or the Handsworth riots) – which are usually little more than a bunch of C-List ‘slebrities’ (who are often too young to actually remember the thing they’re talking about, at the time that it happened) opinions about other peoples’ opinions, that they’ve read or heard about or whatever, and the way that companies try to disguise mass-marked goods with packaging which suggests that things are ‘artisan’, ‘freshly roasted’, ‘limited edition’ or ‘designer’ – when, in actual fact, it’s mass-produced like all the the mass-produced stuff on all the other shelves. (In case you didn’t know already “Shenzen”, which appears at the end of the fourth verse, is where they make iPhones in China.)

It’s a list poem, which is to say that it’s a list of thoughts/ideas/jokes/images rather than a narrative with a clear start and a finish – like “The Chair“. I’m not convinced that it’s finished. There’s always been something that’s nagged at me, that suggests that there’s either more to be added to it or something more that needs to be taken away. Decisions as to whether a poem’s finished or not don’t have to be final, I suppose. This one’s been published – so it’ll always exist, to some extent, in its published form but I can see myself coming back and changing it some day.

It was also a poem that I wrote to try and build a (slightly) larger collection of poems that would work better as spoken-word pieces, rather than on the page. I’m not entirely sure that it works, though. The few times I’ve read, “The Future”, it goes okay but it rarely seems to excite an audience much. Maybe six or seven verses of relentless sarcasm isn’t what people want from a spoken word performance? One thing it has helped to do, though, is to teach me that I need to work on variations in my speaking voice – that different poems require different voices. I’m not saying that I try and sound like William Burroughs when I’m reading this poem – a) nobody sounds like William Burroughs anymore and b) it’s poetry not karaoke. But it does seem to work better when I try and shadow Burroughs’ nasal drawl.

So, that’s “The Future”. I’ve got a couple of other bits out for consideration and I’ve also been doing some more readings. I’ve got my first, ten-minute feature slot coming up this Friday – 14 July – as part of Lloyd Robinson’s The God Damn Debut Slam, in the Banshee Labyrinth which I’m really looking forward to. You should come. It’ll be a blast.

This is the distance

between Descartes and

my outstretched hand.


This is the space where

I live.


And that’s okay.