Poetry process and progress

Even when winter sadness nips, even when parents are ill, every day I remind myself how lucky I am to be doing what I’m doing. To be working with who I work with – genuinely fantastic, intelligent, fun, and intriguing people – and to be encouraged to write!

Today here’s a short blog post about process – my current “pencil only” notebook* is, as a friend put it, the “under the bonnet” bit of writing. (* I have different notebooks for different writing purposes!) Thanks to the University’s Poetry in Practice sessions, and a theme challenge from Dr Sam Illingworth, I’ve written a new poem – possibly not completely finished – in the form of a Ghazal (let’s call it a “sort of Ghazal“). I thought I’d share my writing process for it in order to demonstrate how a piece progresses. Have a peek under the bonnet!

 First pass - spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.

First pass – spot the cheesy rhyming scheme, scribbling out, the terrible handwriting.


Second attempt - hmm, still scribbles and changes being made but it's beginning to take shape.

Second attempt – Hmmm. Still scribbles and changes being made – but it’s beginning to take shape.


Third go - perhaps this is nearly it! The closest to the final thing...

Third go – perhaps this is nearly it! The closest to the final thing…


So, what’s your process?!


A liberated battery hen. Image from https://www.flickr.com/photos/72284410@N08/8567581815 (Creative Commons share license)

A liberated battery hen. Image from http://tiny.cc/freehen (Creative Commons share license)

Ghazal for the Battery Girls

No gilded life, still she tries to fly. Turn gold;

the sun is setting. Spark in her eye – turn gold.


Dusk is settling, her sisters: a feathered mass.

Hens compose a discordant cry. Turn gold.


The liberators  – silent shadows in black plumage –

snip razorwire in half-light, no one will die. Turn gold


when freedom is complete. Battery barn empty of promises.

Re-homed as sunrise paints the sky, return gold.

Rosie’s third date with Alfie

'Rosie's third date with Alfie'. Click on the link to hear the poem.

‘Rosie’s third date with Alfie’. Click on the link to hear the poem.

Riffing on ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. You can hear my subtle Stockport tones reading it by clicking on the image above. (I’ve gone all swanky on you! Well, 2008 swanky. If you’re not careful, I’ll work out how to do Vlogging too – probably by 2017…)

Rosie’s Third Date with Alfie

I will meet you, I will meet you
at that place, you know,
that place we met at, I will go
where happiness is found in a plastic cup,
where politics are discussed like a plastic cup,
easily disposed of for a new.

And I too am no longer new,
not, at least, for you.
In our evening’s repose
I will expose this, flip the lid
of a disposable plastic cup.

I will sup upon this sweet cinnamon chai
and think of time, and what it will be like to die.
Will anyone remember this?
The green café the bustling, scented place,
the face of a woman idly scribbling,
scribbling in a notebook like her life depends upon it,
as the rain falls down like confetti outside.

Will anyone remember this?
The men who enter, canter in, broad-shouldered, then leave?

The men come through, the men come through,
they talk of their theories of Doctor Who.

And who am I to judge what they do?

And I wonder, yes, I wonder where the hell are you
and I wonder, yes, I wonder if I’ll ever say “I do”.
“I will honour and obey and all that gobbledegook.”
I will not wear white; my dress will be golden.

I will meet you in that place, you know which place,
and wonder if you love me for me or just my face
or for the space I’ve given you.

And in years to come will you
recall any of this?
Our lives, like so much left luggage
and we waste so much time
pondering what it’s like to die
that we forget about the baggage left behind.

Stripped, then, of socks, of my favourite shoes
(and so many, so many as yet unsaid “I do’s”).
I don’t think that I would want you
to see me naked
stripped down to flesh from fabric.

The wrinkles, all that cellulite,
softly greying hair silvered by candlelight.

And we too are candles –
like wax formed and made.
But what is made can be unmade
and what is unmade cannot be remade.

And life, and life, and all this mess
the green café, this plastic cup,
the as yet uneaten matrimonial feast
will be gone upon a great rubbish heap.

But not the ring, no, not the shining ring,
the thing of golden eternal love.
They’ll find that ring in future grass
at the top of the heap, yes, in the grass the ring.
They will say,
“Someone’s lost this, lost this shining, golden ring.”

But I’d wager that they’ll keep it anyway
because it’s beautiful, you know,
the ring is beautiful
in its eternal O.

And all the pretty women to come,
all the pretty, flowered women,
as their youth demands
will be impressed in time
by the gift from the legend
that was you.

Style for Soldiers – poem for National Poetry Day

Style for Soldiers

‘He thought of jewelled hilts / for daggers in plaid socks’ Wilfred Owen

On patrol, a legacy mine.
We liked to look smart –
we are soldiers after all –
for us, war is a fine art.

Our radios went down,
gunshot stutters in the night.
The blast beneath my feet,
thrown into the spotlight.

My uniform is styled around me
now I model an ebony cane
to prop up my golden leg.
I pretend to feel the same –

one limb shorter than the other.
The limp will always be there.
Now I’m clothed by Savile Row,
it’s been a funny old year.

It’s been a funny old year;
now I’m clothed by Savile Row.
The limp will always be there –
one limb shorter than the other.

I pretend to feel the same.
To prop up my golden leg
now I model an ebony cane.
My uniform is styled around me.

Thrown into the spotlight –
the blast beneath my feet.
Gunshot stutters in the night
our radios went down.

For us war is a fine art,
we are soldiers after all.
We liked to look smart
on patrol.

This poem is made up of sentences from an article about “Style for Soldiers” in the Sunday Times magazine found on a train in late 2012. At the time I was running writing workshops for homeless and vulnerable adults and collaging was one of the writing exercises I used. Collaging involves composing a poem using words or phrases cut out from an article, or a few articles, to make textual art. (And get covered in PVA glue!) I find quite a lot of magazines abandoned on trains which are very useful for this activity. I love the idea of recycling words and then recycling the remains of the magazine.

If you’d like to learn more about the Style for Soldiers charitable incentive from luxury textiles designer Emma Willis you can click on this link: here.

Poem – The Boxing Day Penitents

The Boxing Day Penitents
(for “That Bloody Woman”)

They confess their crimes in mid-morning mirrors:
‘Bless me, Father, for I have binged.’
‘Well, three Hail Marys and five times around the park
you go, in a Lycra jumpsuit.
(Or that festive onesie, you know which one.)

Tips of fabric antlers
bob over holly bushes.
Thick breath condenses,
twirls of steam mahogany with port,
or bronze with booze-saturated fruit.

They jog themselves virtuous
circle the park with uniform determination.
Gooseflesh a reminder of last night’s turkey,
roast, trimmings, globs of gravy.
The ghost of Christmas past.

A suet glaze on their brow.
Winter sunlight stripes the skyline white.
Amateur cartilage grates
from a lack of warm-up.
Later, they will be on their knees.

Oh Lord,

forgive my thinspiration,
but let me trim the Lipo off.
Allow me penance for a Slimming World.

Dear Lord, please tell me how I can live a Lighter Life.
How should I count Points in a homemade mince pie?
I will Slim Fast, become beautiful in my worship.


The blackbird celebrates St Stephen’s day
feasts on a worm tugged from fresh, wet soil.

Some penitents remain festive,
silver tinsel tames ponytails
that bounce against rattling vertebrae.

They disgust themselves,
whip their eyes with impossible images.
Squeeze sinful rolls of midriff flesh
between fingertips, puff out their cheeks.

There’s no sweet victory in this morning jog,
just a painful thump in the lower back,
just freezing muscles, the constant ache.

Once you’re stripped of this excess flesh
who will love the bones of you?


This poem is now a song arranged by Vanessa Lewis. I think it’s OK to post now – you’ll have to catch her at a gig to hear it!


Walk over here,
tell me you understand or pretend with your eyes:
lie to me.
(But softly, softly
I’m more sensitive than you know.)
Then I’ll lose myself in you.

Because I held you as your tears fell,
oh well, you certainly played me.
Sequins of sound on a black background,
soft thrum, a bass bee’s hum.
Chasing the rhythms in rivers
we float on together.
We drift on together.

We drift, we drift
but the beat between us fades
(and we can be lazy).

We drift, we drift
moving until sleep-soaked morning.
We didn’t hear the warning.

I’ll walk over there,
tell you I understand; no pretence in my eyes.
It will be no surprise,
but I digress, I don’t need to impress you.
Oh, I have more dignity than that.

We walk together.
We drift together.

We drift, we drift
but the beat between us fades
(and we can be lazy).

We drift, we drift
moving until sleep-soaked morning.
We didn’t hear the warning.

So, I’ll get over this in time; I’ll be more sensible.
So, I’ll get over this in time; I’ll be more sensible.

Late August – 29th November 2009

* It means: ‘the state of being in happiness’ there’s a branch of philosophy dedicated to it (and, for fellow etymology lovers and spelling geeks, can also be spelled ‘eudemonia’ or ‘eudaimonia’).