Review: ‘Nostalgia Opera & Streetside Meat,’ by Ford Dagenham

How’s your poetry social media looking? Overflowing with prizes and pamphlets? The birdsong and death rattle of submissions windows opening and closing? A landfill of small successes and failures? A rising ocean of ennui and angst? No? Just me?

As a previous post suggests, it all gets a bit intense and overhyped sometimes. But sometimes something comes along that reminds you why you liked poetry in the first place. It cuts to the chase, goes back to the source (etc etc) to re-connect with the poetic impulse of getting words down that might mean something to some people, or that might connect ideas and language and images in a refreshing, revealing way, with none of the often-associated hand-wringing bullshit.

Poetry people, I present Ford Dagenham‘s Nostalgia Opera & Streetside Meat, the first pamphlet published from East Sussex based Back Room Poetry.

Let’s cut to that aforementioned chase.

Back Room Press is an outfit that describes itself as ‘Small Time Low Scale Do It Yo’self Poetry Publishing’. The pamphlet has a limited run of 50 and arrives assuredly DIY, a little rough and ready, inky and stapled. Hand-built. Tactile. Much more engaging than yer average overly cleansed bright-white interior POD affair. It’s something that makes you think Back Room might have an agenda – maybe even a manifesto.

Then there’s the author, who I know nothing about other than that their name also makes me feel they might have an agenda, or an idea of what’s what and what could be. The intriguing titles of the poems back this up: ‘Timeless Downer Ground’; ‘Tho My Mug is Broken’; ‘Daylight Cropped by the Yellow Half-Nets’. Something’s going on here. It’s confident, knowing, self-aware, maybe slightly adversarial and potentially piss-taking – all in a good way.

The opener ‘Where Houses Later Would Be, A Childhood Pop’, is one of a few ‘Pop’-titled poems. What are these ‘pops’? They feel like fizzing pops of thought and experience. So far so usual, maybe. But there are real rock ‘n’ roll pops in each of these everyday realities. Air bubbles. Ways to breathe, to catch breath, or to pop the balloon, the safety of the hype bubble and middle-class security. Or little teardrops exploding. Or like fizz, the fizz of pop and pop culture.

Another title is ‘Nostalgia Dead Ended for the Stasis Meat’. What’s happening with time here? Lots of things. And also lots of things with the way we feel and hold onto experience too. And so…

. . . nostalgia
smells of when I smelt that smell
from the hall outlet
another time

We are heading towards a simulacrum of experience. Experience designed and delivered by production line (hello Ford factory), over and over until…. until what? Breakdown. Disjuncture. Erasure. Nothingness.


can’t recall all of this poem –
i was napping
& its screen burn faded
into dreams
of victorian era
whisky heists

but it ended like this –



the myth of the muse
is a side effect
of all of the saliva we swallow

Many of these poems are 12-15 liners. They don’t all employ the alliteration of the extract above, but the sounds of the poems, their cadences, are often easygoing. But these are also the lulls that the author snaps us out of, with ‘scrub & backfill / round its unfinished edges’, or a ‘siren panic to your maintenance dread ‘ or a ‘now that’s hardcore blinkers’.

Ease is the nostalgia trip – maybe the opera vs the streetside meat. Somewhere in all this are the many soft but major hypocrisies of contemporary living, and the sense that they have increased and are still increasing with human life’s multiplying burden on the world. And all while something is being lost…

repeating repeating repeating
pop & rock songs in my headpan
they recede recede & leave

A headpan. not headphones. A tool of sorts to aid construction or discovery. But not the direct line between broadcast and audience, speak and listener. Something more rudimentary and elemental maybe. Something that needs our work.

I like this little pamphlet. And I like DIY presses making outsized impressions. Don’t let them recede and leave.

What is a good poet?

Good poets, yesterday.

What is a good poet? And who cares?

Seriously though, it’s unanswerable, subjective, redundant, a waste of time, clickbait, whatever whatever whatever. Of course it is. You know it and I know it.

Shakespeare or Spencer? (Someone in the crowd yawns.) Hughes or Plath? (That old chestnut.) Ashbery and O’Hara, pictured above? (Could be!)… But…

Let’s try another question:

Why does trying to answer the question “What is a good poet?” seem to matter to us?

Easy. Because when we think about why a poet might be good or bad at what they do, it helps us work out what we like about poetry. And when we think about what we like about poetry it helps us think about what we value in life. Not everything we value, of course, but some things.

And furthermore, if we also write poetry ourselves, it helps us work out how we might try to improve our own writing.

Is this obvious? You see, sometimes it feels like us poetry-type people become a little confused. And from what you see, say, on Twitter, there are an awful lot of us poetry-type people who become a little confused a lot of the time.

Say what?

Say, “competition”; say “submission window”; say “theme for the next issue”; say “rejection email; say “workshop”; say “really rather expensive writer’s retreat”; say “funding application”; say “invitation to read”; say “featured in a fantastic new anthology”; say “entry fee”; say “the editors are looking for poems that reflect how they see the world or want to be seen as seeing the world and are maybe even saying how we should all see the world and express all that in poetic form”; say “the judges decision is final and no correspondence shall be entered into but understand that if your poem is accepted it’s because someone somewhere thinks your work fits the bill, and if it’s rejected it’s because they thought other poetry-type peoples’ work somehow fits the bill just a little bit better. For now.”

Has any of that previous paragraph got anything to do with improving your own writing, or working out how we might do so? No.

Has any of it got to do with being a good poet? No.

The fact is that there are probably too many people ‘out there’ calling themselves poets and considering themselves as being “good” or want to be “good”. One of them might be you. One of them might be me. There are also increasingly large numbers of poetry-type people calling themselves editors (that’s the internet and print-on-demand for you!), and many of them should perhaps not be in a position to elevate or denigrate the work of other poetry-type people. Maybe you’re one of those. And I’m an editor, so maybe I’m one too.

But really, none of that matters. Because when you write poetry (and it’s great that so many people do), it’s in essence – and little more than – a contract between you and the world. Then, if you take it somewhere to read aloud, it’s a wager between you and the audience. And oh yeah, you’ve just joined the entertainment industry. Good luck. Be professional, read well – it’s somebody’s night out.

And that’s about it. Write as well as you can. Read as well as you can. But being lauded as “good”? Nah, you’re having a laugh – it mostly misses the point.

Keep on doing what you do. Always try to improve. Work hard at it. Or don’t, if you don’t want to. And only ever try to be ‘good’ in a way that means something and brings value to you. It’s your work, after all.


A Study of a Long-lived Magma Ocean on a Young Moon

I have some new writing out. A Study of a Long-lived Magma Ocean on a Young Moon is a pamphlet created with Ella Johnston and published through our little ol’ Dunlin Press. Ella has contributed asemic writing/art and I’ve added the words. The title comes from a scientific paper, and we riffed on it.

And when I say we riffed on it, I mean we not only produced the words and images for the pamphlet, we also produced large-scale paintings, ceramic objects and video (Ella) and a soundtrack album (me).

Taking the lead from Ella’s asemic pieces for both the pages and the gallery walls, in which ink lines and shapes are applied quickly to paper, we also worked quickly and edited lightly across all the media and materials that went into the Young Moon project. The poetry in the pamphlet is a collage of found words and phrases from scientific texts, and rounded with immediate thoughts and automatic writing, and the music was mostly improvised and recorded in single takes, with minimal editing and mastering. 

The whole project has been fun and a positive exercise in working with a great sense of unburdened freedom. A lesson to remember! I’m also really pleased with how it’s all turned out.

You can get a copy of the limited edition pamphlet from the Dunlin Press shop, here.

The End of Music – a new chapbook

My new chapbook, The End of Music, published by The Black Light Engine Room and the indomitable PA Morbid, is out now.

What’s it all about? It’s about playing in never-quite-famous indie bands “back in the day”, and also about loads of rock and pop stars who are no longer with us. Not exactly the ’27 club’, but that kind of thing. People gone too soon. And there’s plenty of them. And it’s about the joy of music, and how it makes you feel.

Who’s in the End of Music supergroup? Lemmy. Syd Barrett. Prince. Michael Hutchence. Sophie. Metallica’s Cliff Burton. Alice Coltrane. Stuart Adamson. Leonard Cohen. And there are other references to, to Mahler, Selena Gomez, more. There’s even one about Pavement that you can read to the rhythm of ‘Cut Your Hair’.

And so the poems in The End of Music include descriptions drawn from my own experiences of time as a singer and songwriter, and from performing as a musician in bands in the 80s, 90s, 2000s. And they also include a bricolage of mediated, cut-up and collaged words and phrases originally found in music reviews and critical retrospectives, online and in print, from a wide variety of sources including ‘below-the-line’ comments on sites such as YouTube.

Versions of a few of the poems have previously been published in The Broken Spine, DREICH 9, and Beir Bua’s journal.

Here are some notes on the text with irrelevant page numbers:

p8 Syd Barrett was the co-founder of the English psychedelic and progressive rock band, Pink Floyd.
p9 Oh Yeah is a song by Can, the German experimental rock band.
p10 Manuel Göttsching is a German musician and composer, and an influential experimental Krautrock/Kosmische Musik guitarist.
p11 Journey in Satchidananda, is an album by jazz keyboardist and harpist Alice Coltrane, featuring saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders and named for her spiritual adviser Swami Satchidananda.
p14 Ace of Spades is a song by UK heavy metal band Motörhead. Lemmy was the band’s singer and bass player.
p18 Leonard Cohen died in November 2016.
p20 The words “Our love was made to rule the world, you left me wanting what we were” are from the Selena Gomez song Forget Forever. ‘Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen’ is a poem by German poet Friedrich Rückert, which was set to music by Austro-Bohemian composer Gustav Mahler.
p21 “Bimm Bamm”, or “Bim Bam”, is a phrase sung by the boy’s choir in the fifth movement of Mahler’s third symphony.
p22 ‘Cut Your Hair’ was a 1994 single by US alternative band Pavement. Its lyric can be swapped for this poem.
p24 Taylor Swift’s album 1989 was released in 2014.
p25 Disintegration Loops is a suite of music by the American avant-garde composer William Basinski.
p26 Tchakrulo or Chakrulo is a Georgian folk song and was recorded for the Golden Record, which was carried into space aboard the Voyager space missions.
p27 Sophie Xeon was a Scottish musician, singer and producer. She died in January 2021.

If you’d like a copy of the chapbook they’re £6 and available almost exclusively from yours truly, so message me and we can arrange details.

It’s a fun little thing this. I hope anyone who loves or plays music will like it.


The meaning of The Zircon Ferries

From the foreword to The Zircon Ferries, published by Beir Bua Press:

The poems, writings, texts – I’m not too concerned with definitions – in this short collection of recent work is purposely heteroglossic. Or maybe that’s polyphonous, or dialogic, in its multifarious registers of language. It encompasses instances of office jargon, marketing strategy terminology, symbols lifted from popular culture, references to continental philosophy, Marxist theory, art theory and critical studies, old documentary footage, movie-star biographies, science texts, Elizabethan drama, nature writing, local observation, memoir, dreams, overheard conversations, below-the-line comment from websites, phrases altered sequentially through an online thesaurus, the occasional neologism, slang… and more.

Quite usually, the various parts collide in quick succession during the course of a single small work. I don’t think we experience the world in straight lines. I mean, there may be a beginning, types of mid-points, and then a disappearance that we may wish to see as some kind of an end, but how we get from one to another is never even, never consistent, never quite understood.

(Outside, as I was writing, it suddenly started to rain. Now it has stopped again, and this sentence is already too late. And now…)

The Zircon Ferries, by MW Bewick (Beir Bua Press, 2021)

Let’s shout out to American composer Charles Ives and his Unanswered Question, and to Leonard Bernstein discussing ‘the delights and dangers of ambiguity’, after which we can measure the value of doubt and uncertainty against things that are capable of being understood in two or more possible ways. Why do we need all our questions answered? The biggest, life-giving ones are always beyond us. We rarely seek certainty from the music we listen to or the best of the paintings we see. We don’t need to understand why Rothko switched to yellow paint for that particular canvas for us to be in awe of it, or to understand the tonal scheme and shift from D major in Mahler’s ninth symphony for us to enjoy it’s great, deep beauty.

Writing raises questions better than it answers them. Or at least that’s some of what these various poems (etc) seem to demonstrate. I hope so. Maybe in them we can see a few of the symmetries, elisions, repetitions and deletions we experience in our everyday lives. Maybe, in re-writing the poems as we read them, we’ll stumble across the temporal subjectivities that undercut any ideas we have of finding definitive versions or true authorship. Maybe, out of the debris – the imagism, the rivulets of consciousness, the cut-up, the bricolage, the Po-Mo, the deconstruction, the hauntology – we’ll find something useful or good.

All of us know very little. That’s a start.

MW Bewick

You can buy The Zircon Ferries from Beir Bua Press here.

Reading from The Zircon Ferries

Poems featured:

‘What is to be Done?’
‘A Partition of Times’
‘The Shudder of the New’

Referencing: Lenin, Beeching, cosmists, Rancière, common time, OOO, Graham Harman, Harman, Hegel, Deleuze, cheese sandwiches, Heidegger, Warhol, James Kelman, Wivenhoe, and more.


The Zircon Ferries is out now

My latest bunch o’ poems, The Zircon Ferries, is out now with Beir Bua Press. Thanks so much to Michelle Moloney King and the press for publishing it, and to Ella Johnston for the artwork on the cover and the vispo elements inside.

Here’s some nice stuff people have said about the poems:

And here’s a poem as a taster:

Some History Revision

Perhaps towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars
and the early years of EastEnders,
with Pat Butcher sailing back to Cannes from Elba
where she’d exiled alone in a replica edition of
The Queen Vic,
and the call to arms was simply to
pour some pints, wave some flags,
and the bends in the river went on and on.

Even then we felt something needed to give
as Prussia was restored to its former borders,
Britain sized up its economic power and
Bono considered a cowboy hat.
The Congress of Vienna,
delivered by Walls or Lyons Maid
sustained us through a decade of hot summers
foreign films on Channel 4
and European football bans.

Let’s not forget
in the analogue of days,
that hayfever found us in any green room.
It meant a day off books, revision time
for abdications at Rochefort,
Murat confused with Marat,
Wicksy merging with Curly Watts,
channel-hopping again
as we lived through deconstruction.

We never knew enough. Still don’t.
It would be easy to cry about it, and maybe tempting,
all of us waiting for plot twists, following
the narrative arcs of characters
who now seem little more than clichés.
Don’t start, some facts persist
and somewhere some new coalition is polishing the optics,
seeking its brief period of costly domination,
waiting for the drums to kick things off.

Elsewhere there’s Immanuel Kant and Steve McQueen (or not), and painter Agnes Martin and a lizard caught in a thesaurus as it tries to cross the road, and philosopher Jacques Ranciere, and the meaning of an ‘oppolin’, and business meetings, and Andy Warhol, and a cheese sandwich, and trends in crisps, and a hoopoe, and Blackfriars Bridge, and object-oriented theory and, well, more. Etc.

You can get it here, and it doesn’t cost a lot (prices are shown in dollars but it prints regionally), so please support this marvellous experimental press in Co. Tipperary if you can – it’ll help keep the interesting stuff happening. And I’ll love you forever and more..


The Zircon Ferries, a new pamphlet by MW Bewick

Cover artwork by Ella johnston

Totally excited to announce that I have a new longish-pamphlet of poems, The Zircon Ferries, coming out at the end of August 2021 with the incredible Beir Bua Press. The press, based in Co. Tipperary, is run by award-winning poet Michelle Moloney King. It’s the publishing press of sister site Beir Bua Journal and publishes experimental, avant-garde and vispo poetry pamphlets – and there’s a bit of all of that in The Zircon Ferries. Beir Bua is the perfect place for it, so I’m delighted to be there.

I know, it’s been just over a year since Pomes Flixus was published, but I’ve somehow been writing at pace, which I like, and making quick and brutal edits, rather than procrastinating over decisions and making ponderous revisions. I think that the process has kept them vivid and fresh and packed with ideas. To quote from the intro:

‘The poems, writings, texts – I’m not too concerned with definitions – in this short collection of recent work is purposely heteroglossic. Or maybe that’s polyphonous, or dialogic, in its multifarious registers of language. It encompasses instances of office jargon, marketing strategy terminology, symbols lifted from popular culture, references to continental philosophy, Marxist theory, art theory and critical studies, old documentary footage, movie-star biographies, science texts, Elizabethan drama, nature writing, local observation, memoir, dreams, overheard conversations, below-the-line comment from websites, phrases altered sequentially through an online thesaurus, the occasional neologism, slang… and more.”

Here’s a taster:

So, you get three philosophers for the price of one. The Third? Henri Lefebvre provides the title and something of the narrative. It’s that kind of collection.

I have an author page at Beir Bua here, or you could just go and buy The Zircon Ferries at the shop here.

But what are the Zircon Ferries? Well. Well well. We’ll see.


Some Comments on Fred Frith

Fred Frith writes music with titles such as ‘No Birds’ and ‘The As Usual Dance Towards the Other Flight to What is Not’. He prepares and plays guitars with drum sticks, ping pong balls, ribbons, anything. He is an expert with delay. Fred Frith is an experiment. Are there rules? What are the rules? Need there be rules?

I wrote a poem about him. It’s to be found in Pomes Flixus.