I am not here

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When we first moved to Wivenhoe, Essex, over six years ago now, my compass still pointed towards London. The railway was a thin chain, a line of landscape that linked our new home with our old home in the city. A combination of changing jobs, Network Rail’s interminable bus replacement services, and a general digging in to our new environment, has seen a shift made.

I wrote no poetry when I left London. I was touting a vaguely experimental novel, playing guitar and singing. Then, after a couple of years here, I started attending Poetry Wivenhoe‘s monthly evening of readings, at which a guest poet, local poet and open mic poets get up on stage for a couple of hours. After a few sessions, I started writing, and reading.

Last year, Scarecrow, a first collection of poetry, was published through me and Ella Johnston‘s own ‘small publishing concern’, Dunlin Press. I had some poems published in journals, too, and I read at poetry events across East Anglia, in London, and in Liverpool.

Wherever I thought I was when I arrived in Wivenhoe, I was not. Some of these thoughts made it into Scarecrow.

So where am I? I appear to have arrived amid a loose, but connected, sometimes neighbourly, sometimes geographically distanced, collective of supportive and curious minds – people who seek out, listen to, read, and most of all write poetry. Some of that poetry rhymes. Some of it doesn’t. Some of its meaning is straightforward and transparent. Some of it is oblique or opaque – a conundrum that doesn’t care whether it’s ever solved.

But what most of the poets I meet these days share, is the knowledge that what they do is outside of direct commercial concerns. It’s not usually seeking large audiences, or existing as some kind of a priori exercise in soliciting funding. That doesn’t mean it’s not good poetry. In fact I often feel the opposite. What it means is that it has other reasons for being. It is created because those who create it feel compelled to do so, compelled to describe – to interrogate, make ambiguous, reinterpret, reimagine – the world in which they live, perhaps for no other reason than they can.

Does poetry make you money? It’s a fair question. But why do you ask? It might help me if it did. But would it help you, too? There’s something about doing something that doesn’t offer financial return that really offends people.

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In December, I headed back from Cumbria/The Lake District to Essex via Liverpool, to give a reading at the launch of issue two of Coast to Coast to Coast, a handstitched journal of poetry edited and produced by Maria Isakova Bennett and Michael Brown, in which I had a poem, Ways.

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December is a busy time in the day-job for me, and I almost said no to going. In a week of travelling, Liverpool was an extra diversion. But there, at the Open Eye Gallery, were these people again. These poets, and an audience that had come to hear the poetry, reading and listening to the world being subtly reinvented, our understanding of the world being polished, muddied, sharpened, blunted.

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It’s strange now, thinking of that high tension line I had drawn between Essex and London six-and-a-bit years ago. So direct, so certain. And now what? Well, it’s January and I’m back in Wivenhoe again. And this is good. Except I am also not here. It’s like everything is starting to be everywhere. And this is good too.

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100-Word Fiction: ‘Lanterns’

You remember when it was New Year’s Eve and we all stood in the park and it started to snow and all across the grass people were lighting those paper lanterns that we watched float off into the deep clear night and the brand-new year? And we wondered where they’d travel, these flickering starry specks of warm orange, growing distant by the second, out across the city towers and the cranes illuminated with fairy lights. And the lanterns were lifted with sleepy-eyed dreams as we clasped each other against the cold.

We don’t see lanterns anymore, though dreams float on.

100-Word Fiction: ‘Freedom Fruit’

They lift from the hedgerow
Light as cobweb and spun sugar
A shroud of lace for a season’s going
Displaced migrants, the bramble’s other
Temporary lover:

Jenny Long Legs rise in a cloud
In pestilent numbers this September
As hands shake the limbs of briar
For black berries and rose hips
On foraging trips.

Peace treads heavily across
These rutted trails; vaults fences,
Breaks the blades of grass,
Tramps where it needs in pursuit
Of freedom’s fruit

The insects scattered seek shelter
From flailing purpose, shoed away
From Tupperware treasure pluckings:
The world’s bounty in a field
In Essex county

100-Word Fiction: ‘The Essex Lion’

One bank holiday Sunday, a photograph no one actually saw brought a large, unidentified beast to the public’s attention. They called it a lion. It’s roar passed into fable. There had been sightings of something; they found nothing – not with helicopters, zoologists, search parties, calls for witnesses.

It was there. But it was not a lion. A chimera, perhaps, marauding and made of the new mythology. Its lion’s head giving way to a body of words and the limbs of the media, it’s tail a Twitter feed that wagged the beast into life and tugged it as it died. Unless…