Monday, 10 November 2008

National Poetry Day

OK, it’s a day set aside by someone, sometime, to be a poetryful day up and down and across the islands we are living in and not forgetting that landload of poets joined to us by the Irish Sea.

As is usual with these sorts of occasion, it’s a good or bad thing depending on who’s doing the celebrating. In as far as I meet as many students who have been put off poetry at school as I meet who have been engaged by it in those brutal seats of unlearning.

I instinctively rebel against any suggestion of national co-operation on 'special' days. I think, ‘Right, if next Thursday is National Poetry Day for the British nation, I shall make it my own National Non-Poetry Day.’ However, one of my obligations as Cheshire Poet Laureate is to come up with, and deliver, an event for NPD. So do it I did.

Lynda and I had a prior-arranged short but long-awaited holiday scheduled - an extended weekend break in the Land of my Fathers. We were to set off in the late afternoon of NPD. This meant that an evening performance (other than one to an audience of newly shorn sheep, a ginger goat, some heart-meltingly-pretty flop-eared rabbits and a few hens on an isolated Welsh smallholding) from me was out of the question. And anyway NPD ain't about me it’s about poetry.

I was talking to Amy one evening on the telephone. She told me that the month of October was Family Learning Festival. So, hand in hand with her wisdom and experience with kids, I designed a project that would cover both celebrations.

Right from the word go as CPL I wanted to do stuff for schools as web downloads and I sketched out a few projects in lieu of finding some support from the CCC. To my great and continuing disappointment there was no spark of interest shown by them. Then, through a chance meeting at a poetry performance I was giving at the launch of a library’s new educational DVD , I found an interested person.

Hey! Not only was she interested but she told me that she would copy anything I sent to her boss who was more directly responsible for what went on in the county schools than she was. Wonderful!

I whizzed off a couple of sketched-out projects and awaited their response. But


I left it for a decent interval (two or three weeks) before emailing them again. But again


And I still haven’t heard a word from them.

In spite of that brickwall, I was convinced it was the way to go. One little project can reach hundreds and hundreds of people in one fell swoop, far out-classing me mumbling my humble rhymes and reasonings to a cohort of converts in some October library.

After a bit of thought the Skwigmaroo Project was born for NPD.

1) I rang round until I had got 28 Cheshire primary schools interested. I emailed them a copy of my Skwigmaroo poem (ref an earlier posting) and invited the children to take a copy home and read it to their families, and do a drawing of a skwigmaroo underneath the poem. This was to fit in with the aims of the Family Learning Festival and my interpretation of this year's NPD theme, ‘work’.

2) The children were then invited to invent an animal of their own and to make a poem about it. They were also invited to email their poems to me for posting on a notice board at the MMU, Alsager.

I have since been phoning round the schools trying to find out how many children actually took part but it is proving difficult: schools are busy places and messages aren’t always being passed on to the right people; those who say they are going to phone or email back often don’t etc. BUT on the figures I have collect so far AT LEAST 500 children took part and it might easily be in excess of a 1,000.

Inevitably, fewer children went as far as making a poem and emailing it to me but nevertheless I received poems about all kinds of invented animal:

the Trumparoo
the Dolpharoo
the Crickaphin
the Dog-belly-cat-head
the Skwigglepig
the Boxeye
the Darter
the Geyco . . .

to name but a few!

I held one more event for NPD too. I, and a group of my 2nd Year undergraduate poets held a read-round at the uni. It was terrific. Some read their own poems, some read the poems of well-known poets like Stevie Smith, Edwin Brock, WB Yeats, and Roger McGough. They all read beautifully. It was fantastic to hear such a range of accents and to hear poetry read with such warmth and insight. Uplifting stuff. Above are the photos I took. Seeya soon.

Thursday, 16 October 2008


You do not have to remind me, I am well aware of what a feckless lanky, bog-eyed scribbler I be. Too busy to write my blog when ever I have thought about it, and failing to bring it to mind when I could have managed a quick peck or two on the qwerty.

Do you do this: think about writing something, or to someone, carry on composing the piece/letter/blog in your head – you may even go back over it to do a bit of revision and editing – and when you’ve got it finished in the Writing Room of your Mansion of Grey Convolutions, you forget all about it cuz you’ve then got the feeling that the job has been done and dusted?

I do the above daily. Years can pass without me physically writing to a friend or relation. They feel neglected but, in fact, I have been in regular touch with them by my one-way mental mail that has a nice bright red post box but no collection service as yet. It’s not an explanation that goes down with any great success, though.

Come to think of it, I did have a go at writing this blog a few weeks ago. Yards of it I wrote, straight onto the page, then, inexplicably, lost it in the ether. Computers are reckoned to be sooooooooooooooooooooo clever but they are thick most of the time. And how they try to talk to you!! Bog off! You are a machine. I paid for you, and if I want to, I will pound you to pieces with the wheel end of my office stool. Now stop talking and get on with that simple task I set you.

We had a friend once, Graham Thorley (R.I.P), who was a genius. He could do anything. He was taking and printing his own colour photos before most people had heard of them. He made all the equipment to do it and, in some instances, made the tools necessary to make the equipment with. He had a motto: ‘Anything man-made can be made by man.’ Meaning made by him, naturally. And he could. He did. He made his own computer. His computer was a bit brighter than the average. It was far in advance of anything available commercially. Graham was a terrific artist and designer too. Like I told you, the guy could do slutely anything.

Buuuuuuuuuuuuutttttttttttt, anyhow, with the help of programmes and posters, Lynda’s power of recall and a few stills harvested from the whirling montages of my mind, I will endeavour to piece together the events that fill the chasm opened up since my last entry, on 13th July 2008, by my extreme lack of blogness.

‘making a nOIse in libraries’

The making a noise ‘tour’ was in support of a fortnight when people with visual impairment were especially thought of. Poets are in their element here, of course, with poetry being essentially an aural/oral medium.

I took a small PA system to library after library in Cheshire, and performed my poem ‘Words’. It’s a piece that takes about 51/2 - 6 mins.

I chose the late opening hours of the libraries I went and performed the poem 2x in the hour if the late opening was one hour and 3x if it stayed open for two hours. I loved it. There were not many people about in a lot of them. Those that were there viewed it largely in a detached and bemused way. One or two people came on purpose to hear me – great - but it wasn’t really about that. It was about its surprise value and its celebration of the spoken word. What I did get – I this is the best reward – was loads of emailed requests for the poem: individuals who wanted a copy for themselves or to pass on to friends and lovers who’d missed the performances; writing groups who wanted to discuss it at one of their meetings, and a nice lady who wrote to me weeks after and offered me a gig to perform it as the opening gambit of the new year of the University of the 3rd Age at Alsager Civic Centre.But more of that later.

My first nOIse gig was at Congleton public library. Mike Drew there is a cool guy and really into what I was doing. He took a few photos – I’ll stick one of them on here in a min – and asked me if I would consider coming back to do a longer set on a Saturday morning when there would be a max audience. I’d be happy to do that. I’ve got a collection simmering away on the back burner that would be ideal. It’s a collection of poems and lyrics, a bit political and with a bit of angst. I’m calling it: ‘IT’S MY SHOUT!’ It’s built up of my roots pieces like ‘If Yer Working Class’ (Yes, yer muvver should’ve told you the way the system works/’Ow they love to be living off yer sweat, grabbin’ all the perks/From the cradle on, they take yer best, then make you obsolete/If yer working class yer on yer arse more often than yer feet. Etc. You get the idea). And poems of private pleasures like ‘Rhythmic Habits’ and ‘I Want You’.

That’ll do me for now. I’ll try and import that photo. Tootle-pip.
Oh, the only photo I can find is of me and Lynda playing in the Coachmakers. That'll have to do for now. I told you computers were thick. T'ra again.

Sunday, 13 July 2008


I've done my visit to the village school - a beautiful little place set in a cosy little village on the Cheshire plain, in sheep-farming country. The children were a delight, the staff welcoming and pleasant. I really enjoyed my morning there. Here is the pirate poem I mentioned in my last posting:


Call me Jolly Roger, mates!
Jolly Jane and me
Are the fiercest jolly pirates
That sail the jolly sea.

We wear jolly black eye patches.
Our parrot, Jolly Jones,
Wears a jolly hat that matches
Ours with the skull and bones.

We wave our jolly swords and talk
In a jolly fearsome way.
Along the jolly plank you'll walk
If you don't do as we say!

Pieces of eight, shiver me timbers!
We'll soon be off to Spain
After eating our fish fingers
And if it doesn't rain.

All aboard! Anchors aweigh!
Ooh ar, ooh ar! we shout
When jolly me and jolly J
Go pirating about.

Please don't look so jolly worried,
It's just pretend you see.
Real pirates are jolly horrid,
Not like Jane and me.

The children clapped the poem without being asked and went on to write their own pirate poems. The whole school had turned out in pirate costume - including the teachers. Yo-ho-ho. Great. Too often teachers think they are above that sort of thing but not these good people.

It reminded me of that old old thing with school uniforms where so often the teaching staff proclaim all kinds of benefits of school uniform yet never wear it themselves. How two-faced is that. I hate school uniforms. I think they contribute towards intolerance of difference. Some say that it gets around children sulking a begging and fussing and fretting to get the latest trainers. Well, I've got an idea: while they are in school, why not educate them out of being such avid little consumerists and slavish followers of fashion?

I did another poem from my minute but growing repertoire of poems and rhymes for the young:


Have you heard of skwigmaroo?
They come from Cheshire, mainly from Crewe,
Dress only in red or three shades of blue,
Secure their beaks with a silver screw,
Fix their wigs with peppermint glue,
Put all six feet into one big shoe,
Paddle The Cloud in a pink canoe,
Laugh like a drum, sing like a zoo,
Say nothing at all when a poem won't do.
There's none such fun as skwigmaroo!

I rarely use exclamation marks but I seem to dip in the bag for them with the children's stuff. I think jolly uncles must keep a few in their waistcoat pockets.

In answer to another question from a reader of this blog: Yes, unless otherwise stated, all the poems posted here are (c) 2008 W. Terry Fox.

One last observation: There are no men on the staff of many of the primary schools I have visited. What a shame it is that we have become so tainted as a society that a man can find it too problematic to say he wants to work with young children. It leaves a gap in the early stages of a child's learning that I am sure cannot be good for them or society at large.

I'll tell you about my 'make a nOIse' in libraries gigs next time. In the meanwhile, take good care and read some poetry.


Friday, 4 July 2008

Writing In The 19th Century

Our gig of contemporary songs at the Coachmakers was well-received. BUT they wouldn't let us go without Adam getting his low whistle out (now, now) and us playing 'Women of Ireland' and the 'Tarbolton' reel. It'll be a mix of traditional and contemporary from now on. Makes sense cuz that's where we're at, really - oh 'cept Adam has a penchant and great ability for bluegrass. Seems odd to me. Like going about in fancy dress. He says it's 'tuning into the zone'.

Well, swash me buckle!

I am invited to a little village school to read some poetry to the children and to look at the work they have been doing for the National Year of Reading. They are having an Arts Week with a pirate theme so I thought, 'Methinks perchance I shall write a small poem for them.' I have never written for kids before. Even when I was going to school with kids I didn't write for them. None of the kids I went to school with would have understood what I was on about. I set about writing and an odd thing happened: the writing kept coming out in a strangely archaic form with highly 'poetic' inversions couched in stilted, self-consciously 'correct' diction. I can only think that I was projecting my own childhood reading experience (Tennyson, Wordsworth and similar other caped prosodists) onto my own writing. It took me ages to shake it off - if I ever did. I'll post the pirate poem after the school visit and you can judge for yourself. T'was weird most utterly, dear reader my dear, by my beard, forsooth, most weird.

Nowt but the real thing

A few people have asked if Lynda cast the ceramic likeness of my boat race in the mask photo. Absolutely not. Everything she does is created by her own magic hands from a big blob of raw clay. Amazing to watch.

See you later.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

making a nOIse in libraries

Hello bods. A peasant poet would be a cool thing to be. I don't find urban life attractive at all. Mind you, me and Lynda are lucky as we are on the semi-rural edge of the county. But, having said that, those red roofs are slowly creeping up the hill.

Lynda took the photo that now graces my blog. It's my promo photo for 'making a nOIse in libraries' fortnight. I shall be performing my celebratory poem 'Words' at Congleton (Thurs 10th July 6-8pm), Alsager (Frid 11th July 6-7pm), Macclesfield (Mon 14th July 6-7pm), Bollington (Tues 15th 6-7pm) and Sandbach (Wed 16th 6-7pm) libraries on their late nights. Lynda sculpted the face I'm holding out. She did a portrait head of me when we were in Mow Cop and put in the garden and the face fell off. 'Words', by the way, takes 5 1/2 - 6 mins to perform so I shall be doing it twice on the one-hour nights and three times on the two-hour nights using a small PA and without a formal audience. Come along and give it a listen while you're choosing your books.

Me and Adam are at the Coachmakers tonight. We're doing an entire evening of our own stuff ie. no trad material - just to break the mould. Good ale there. Can you believe it is going to be knocked down? I can. The Stoke on Trent council, in my view, is more than irresponsible. some of these transactions need looking into. It's commerce before people every time. Preferred ways of living are sacrificed to the gods of the bank vaults owned, usually, by people who live nowhere near their bloody developments.

Be fortunate. Be wary. Ta-ra

Monday, 23 June 2008

Hey Nonny No, A Blogging We Will Go

Hey up, youths and lasses, ow at?

Since my last blog: I emailed my World Environment Day poem to Anne, of the CCC, ahead of the day and waited to get some reaction but ................................ NOWT, my mates, NOT A THING.

I was hoping to raise a bit of debate with this one because, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I suspect the WED thing to be another bit of double-talk - SINCERE apologies to all well-meaning people involved and to W E Day itself if I've got it all wrong. Trouble is, as far as I can see (and maybe that ain't very far cuz of all the pollution that's about), the people best placed to save our planet from further damage are the very people who have a vested interest in keeping things exactly as they are and therefore LIP SERVICE is what one tends to get, I think. And that's a worse thing than these people doing nothing at all cuz they seem to be kidding us into believing they are doing something to clean their shit up and address all the anti-life stuff they do, mainly but not exclusively, in the cause of capitalism, when the fact is they are very probably not.

I mean, be serious for a moment, capitalism is, by its nature, abusive because it relies on profit being generated by giving a lower than a true or proper market value for 'goods' received and for people's time.

So, with all that in mind, my commissioned offering for World Environment Day was this:


Do colour me green and forgive me if I
Ultracrepidate, but how many city mayors,
Precisely, does it take to fly from around the globe to
Luxuriate in San Francisco conference suites
In the cause of collectively forging a path towards
Cities greener enough to compensate at least
In so far as the environmental damage incurred by flying
To San Francisco city mayors from around the globe
Is concerned, in their much-publicised pursuit of
Environmental policies engendering advance, in
So far as city mayors can, on World Environment day?

W. Terry Fox

Those of you with a keen eye will see at once that this is an acrostic (I know, it's all right for me, I planned it). None of you will fail to notice that the eleven lines go all round the world and disappear up their own jacksy.

Ultracrepidate? Yeah, what a great word! Chambers Dictionary has it: 'to criticise beyond the sphere of one's knowledge'. Don't get many chances to use it although it could probably be used against me several times a day.

BUT, NOT A BLOODY WHIMPER, boys and girls. Evidently the commission 'collapsed' (and before my poem not after it). What that means I am waiting to have clarified and hope to let you know.

Anne of the CCC, she under whose wing the Cheshire Poet Laureate shelters, has effectively gone part time. A pity because it must mean less time available for this CPL. I thought I could feel the rain.

While on the subject of CPL's: a former one, Jo bell, is a friendly sort of poet who is kind enough to give me a mention now and again (she and the other formers share a dressing room under the name of 'Bunch of Fives' and good they are too, I've been and gorn and taken meself out to see em at Keele university - that seat of learning in Staffs what I taught at once: Short and Sharp - Writing The Short Story; European Classics in English Translation; Detective Fiction. It all seems like someone else. Weird - but my Google Alert tells me she has got SUMMAT WRONG that I would be lacking in my duty if I did not correct. Jo has stated that I am to be Cheshire Poet Laureate only until March 31st, 2009.


Jo is right in so far as I am officially contracted by the current CCC up until the end of March. This is because that is the last possible date they can contract me to. After that date, a new structure of local government is going to be introduced for Cheshire. My position in this is, to me at any rate, v. v. and v. interesting.

Two possibilties exist and, mates of poesy, these are they:

Possibility 1) The new regime will choose to maintain the CPL scheme, in which case I will remain as the Cheshire Poet Laureate until the end of December 2009 - a full two years.

Possibility 2) The new regime will decide to let the CPL scheme go, in which case I will remain as the Cheshire Poet Laureate for the rest of me wrinkly life.

I've just got time to tell you about the Congleton Garden Festival: Fantastic! Soopadoopa weather, bundles of nice smiley people, great organisation, a neat day altogevver.
Midsomer Murders without the slaughter/Just William without the annoying little prat.

If you want to make your own, the ingredients are:

Congleton Park
Lovely English Summer's day
Striped marquees, white tents and blue tents
Flower arranging
The WI
A Lord and Lady (Wilbraham) to open the proceedings
Refreshment stall
Bouncy castle
Music over a PA system
Gardener's Question Time
Art Display and participation
1,000s of visitors

Me and Lynda shared a tent. She did 'Play with Clay' (I ain't the CPL for nothing) and worked non-stop all day from 10am to 4pm with the kids, getting them to make all kinds of stuff from yer actual old mother earth. Wonderful. Working clay in this way seems so theraputic. 'Naughty' kids got chilled out within minutes and all the kids were blown away with what they did. Lynda is BRILLIANT with them too. I would have had them all lining up to attention, policed by a few bouncers before I felt I could cope. Lynda knows just when and by how much to guide them by. Result was, they ALL had a terrific time - loose and creative and free. A woman with amazing qualities.

Lynda also had a small exhibition of her own work that attracted a lot of attention. Nice photo of her with a couple of her pieces in the ol' Chronicle.

I did 'Grow a Poem' - visitors to the tent added a couple lines each to an on-going poem; 'Plant a Poem in Your Garden- - a suggestion that gardeners should put some poems in amongst the flowers, either their own or their favourites of others, with examples; 'e.poems' - visitors could choose a poem, from a folder of my poems, that they wanted emailed to themselves or a friend. I also had 'Dance of Fools' sale. Everything was a hit. I had takers aplenty for everything. I was so glad to have been part of it. Well done Congleton Community programme and fanx Jo Money.

Hey, must make time for a couple more things: Went to former CPL John Lindley's book launch at Congleton library on Monday 16th - the day after the Garden Fest. What a turnout! The room was packed and John gave a knockout presentation. Naturally, I bought a copy (John bought a copy of my 'Dance of Fools' at the G. Festival). It's good, very good, very unusual - poetry/social history/entertainment. Cool. John always gets it right. His new book is called: 'House of Wonders'. Get a copy. Mind you if, like me, you haven't got much money then buy a copy of 'Dance of Fools' instead.

Amy tells me that her 'Twizzle Bird' collection of limited edition prints is still selling steadily. Wonderful, eh? They were only originally going to be on show for the Bristol Arts Trail. Then proprietor of Massala asked to retain them beyond the Arts weekend and they've been selling ever since. Me and Lynda are the proud possessors of a hedgehog one.

Bub bye.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Up In The Summerhouse Adoing Of Me Blog

Yea, I'm up in the summerhouse adoing of me blog. I see that I haven't got around to posting anything since 12th May. That is the date on which I emailed Anne of the CCC to see if any progress had been made on my website. I had a couple of circulars from her (to me and the exCPLs) about different poetry things going off in the county but nothing about my website. I emailed her again last week and got a reply. I evidently misunderstood and the CCC are not prepared to provide a website but will provide a web page for my 'Homage to Cheshire' project for 2009. Setting up a website is not a skill of mine nor do I have the dosh to pay someone else to do it so I guess that knocks it on the head. What I will do is post poems up on this site.

This misunderstanding between Anne and I resonates with my theory that people are generally more interested in poets than they are in poetry. My paymasters, the CCC are patently no exception. Their website carries a picture of me (courtesy the Sentinel) and some quotes from a statement I made about my stance in poetry but not a single line of my writing. Odd, ain't it? There is, of course, another dimension to this with it being the CCC: I am paid by them, presumably, out of public money. Do the public not have a right to see what they are getting for their tax? Anyway, I will start putting that right with immediate effect. Here is my first commission for the CCC - an extra to my five core commisions. It is my poem for Holocaust Memorial Day. The Memorial Day took the form of a very moving event at the Ellesmere Port Civic Hall.

Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna . . .

Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna,
Joseph, Miriam, take back your names.
By cyanide, rifle or strung from a scaffold,
By disease or starvation, you died just the same.

They brought you by train, huddled and herded,
Truck-full by truck-full, galloped and whipped;
Skittish and squealing, prodded, curse-worded,
Tethered, shorn, branded and stripped.

They beat you and took your young from your caring,
Weighed-up and yoked you and put you to work,
Or culled you for slaughter, wild-eyed and flaring,
Piled carcass on carcass to rot on the dirt.

Ash from the chimneys falls like snowflakes,
Clogging throats, blinding eyes.
Gas chamber doors slam on new intakes,
And emptied of angels loom Auschwitz's skies.

Ishmael, Jacob, Rachael and Anna,
Joseph, Miriam, take back your names.
If your deaths are to be worth living,
Never must we kneel to tyrants again.

(I pronounce the names Jacob and Joseph as if they begin with a Y)

There you go then. That was my first commission and that was when I felt the difference between writing a poem from your own musing that you may later decide to put into the public arena and writing a purpose-built poem designed for public consumption. I have become much more tolerant of the lesser poems of others (I mean in comparison with the main body of their own work NOT in comparison with anything I've done!) in a similar position - Tennyson, Motion, etc. It has also given me insight into Shakespeare's brand of rhetoric. I felt it was a big responsibility trying to be a kind of spokesperson for others whilst keeping within the frame of my own beliefs.

Lynda and I had tea with Ron and Jill Milne, on Saturday - in this summerhouse, in fact. They are great friends of ours and happen to be well-read, articulate people with a great sense of humour and who are unafraid of speaking their minds. It is to them I sometimes run when I am in doubt about something I have written. They always have something apposite to say. Their comments sometimes hurt a bit but they are never unkindly meant nor are they ever able to be dismissed. It is to them I went when I had drafted my Holocaust poem. They always get what I am doing and are able to nudge me back on path if I stumble off. I am still unsure about the last line of my Holocaust poem. It's a bit heavy-handed. It worked in performance, though. And that's what I mean about the difference between public and private poetry.

Hey, I'm really glad I've started putting poetry up on here. I was playing into the hands of my own theory, wasn't I?

I've been out with the Woodlanders Country Dance Band a couple of times since my last posting. They really have got it all going on. I love English traditional music, especially when it rocks a bit. The caller for the recent gigs has been Linda Westrup. I had heard of her over the years but never actually worked with her before and she is terrific to work with. The dancers love her. She's got a really nice calling voice not at all like the screech of others I won't mention. She introduced a couple of innovative dances of her own. The tradition lives on. I just love getting a chance to play guitar and fiddle all night. The Woodlanders is the best dance band I have played with to date and that really is saying something. It took me two days to come own off the last gig.
On the 22nd May, there was the 'unveiling' of the Footprints project mosaic at Alsager library. The children who had made the mosaic under the direction of artist Su Horrell came along and so did the young poets I had worked with at Excalibur school. It really was a fine and pleasant day and the sculpture looks good especially from upstairs in the library looking down. There were a few speeches and I read the poem I had been commissioned to write. The Chronicle took photos and did interviews and BBC Radio Stoke came along and did interviews too. I found the radio interview strange. The guy with the mic kept looking away from me after he had asked a question. He perhaps was preoccupied with something techinical. I am used to interviewers at least pretending to be interested and it put me off to the point where I completely forgot what I was on about and dried up. I kept giggling to myself about it afterwards but I think he was annoyed - maybe he thought I was nuts. Mind you, that's a good thing about being a poet, the stereotypical poet is a half-crazy dreamer and you can get away with things others can't.

Here's my poem for the Excalibur Primary School / Alsager Library project:


At Alsager where four roads meet, the traffic beats
its changing rhythms on tarmacadam and plate glass

To the west, the rumble and crash of falling masonry as
a university campus is laid bare, for more shops and more houses

where generations read environmental science, art, music, philosophy,
got drunk on new ideas and fell in love with the world;

yellow classroom huts where hares nested in the gaps below
and boxed each other in the madness of springtime;

small copses where pirate squirrels swung through the rigging
of tall trees on swashbuckling winds;

where, in the dreams of old farm hands, mixed herds still graze
on clover-rich pasture and hectares of wheat still stand tall in the crop fields

and horse pairs snort and blow as they put their muscle to the plough;
where the farmer's own fathers, fathers cut clearings in the forest for homesteads.

On a small green island by the public library where four roads meet,
a sweet and gentle offering by children of the Excalibur Primary School:

industrial and domestic scraps of our time - circuit boards,
broken cups and toys - encapsulated in a giant figurative footprint.

The traffic murmurs a prelude to the carbon surge of eventide.
Cherry trees with chain-sawn arms hold pink blossoms out to the sun.

I've just thought: the line breaks of these poems will be destroyed by the format of the posting. They will overrun and get tucked under the next line. Oh well. I should tell you that the Alsager Rotary Club helped finance the Footprints project.

In between these two commissions I did another for the National Year of Reading, 2008. It's due out on a poster soon too, I hope, as there's only half the year left already. I'll post that one up next time and also the commissioned poem I have written for World Environment Day (June 5th) that I have a feeling will go down like a concrete glider - not perhaps the best expression, as a concrete glider might be looked upon rather favourably by the WED people as an alternative to the aeroplane. I am also working on what to do for the Congleton Garden Festival of 15th June.

When I went to Alsager library they had four banners which, as I recall it, were to do with Freedom and Liberty, Getting Away From It All, Crime and Punishment, and the Second World War. With Gayle Hawley's permission (Alsager's every-friendly, ever-helpful, ever-keen librarian), I stuck up some poems in response to these banners: Black Ivory, A View Of Mow Cop, Wayward Women And Fallen Men, Ballad Of An Owd Sowjer. The banners are left in a Cheshire library for a month and then moved to the next library in the county. When the guy came along to collect the banners for the move, he asked to to take my poems along with them which I was delighted to agree with, of course. So now, my friends, I am on tour and with no on-the-road expenses, no dreary miles to beat along and no seedy hotels needy to catch some respite for my old grey weary head. How good is that? Ta-ra.

Monday, 12 May 2008

The Twizzle Bird and Other Stories

I knew that writing this blog would be more than I would get around to doing most of the time and the length of time that has elapsed since my last posting rather proves my suspicions about my motivation. But, blimmin' ink, dudes, I've been busy. In no particular order: this weekend just gone, Lynda and I went down to Bristol to see Amy's exhibition at Massala - part of the Bedminster Arts Trail. Here's the link so that you can get a flavour of what she was showing.

Eight, short-run, limited edition prints from mixed media originals. Wonderful stuff. I know where I want to go for the cover of my CPL collection (nepotism or not). It's nice to be honestly able to say that I would have be knocked out by these images even if I did not know who had produced them. There were a few poets in evidence in Bristol too, doing good contemporary writing and some ceramicists and painters using text in their work to good effect.

I had a gig with Adam at the Coachmakers last Wednesday evening. We were going to do a couple of poems but some older blokes came in and were singing along to the songs so we kept the sets pretty much to songs they knew. There was a real sense community going on. That's a great thing about the English and Celtic song tradtions, they belong to everybody and there's a great sense of belonging in them.

Adam told me he thinks my previous posting about the lecturer I had a personality clash with sounds 'bitter'. Well, yeah, it is. My family was going seriously without for me to be at uni and if it wasn't going to work out for me, I would have been putting them through hardship for nothing. It also shows that Adam is probably a nicer geezer than me and doesn't hold grudges like I do. I don't mean to.

As part of the Footprints project I have been commissioned to write a poem for, I went along to the Excalibur school to help the young poets there with their pieces for the project. 'High five' to them all (this seems to be their preferred way of celebrating achievement). They were so hard-working, immaginative, uncompetitive, supportive, charming, engaging, sincere and funny. They wrote some excellent small poems on the subject of recycling and reducing our carbon footprint and preserving the planet. They also came up with this:


We should put them in charge of the world for a while or at least ask them what they want of us. After all, what's good for them is good for the world.

While I was there I met Sue, an old mate of Lynda's and mine from back in the days of the Dragon Fair and the Butterfly Fair at Rode Heath. Me and Lynda were playing folk rock with Heymaker, Sue was a fire-blower, juggler and assorted other circus skills person - part of the Steve and Jan's unique Hole House Farm entourage. These were such resourceful people. They would make a night's entertainment of the highest quality out of whatever was around them at the time. I once helped provide the music for a shadow puppet show they put on. Me on fiddle, Matt on melodeon. The shadow puppet characters we cut out from cornflake packets and taped onto withies. The shadow screen was a bedsheet (borrowed from one of the mobile homes of their endless mates) stretched between two sharpened stakes driven into the grass. The light came from rags wrapped round the top of another stake and soaked in paraffin and driven into the ground. For added bite and humour, many of the characters were recognisable as friends and family of the crowd. We have all put our minds to more conventional employment since then but Steve and Jan's formidable invention has left its mark in a good way. Sue's sense of theatre, people skills and heart-warming inclusivity are in high profile in the preschool centre she now runs. Steve and Jan went to Australia to live, years ago now. It's funny cuz Steve always looked Australian and now, I suppose, he is.

Joyce of the CCC has come up with three Braille copies for 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' which I find really exciting. They look so arcane and magical. I can't proof read them, of course, but I'm sure they're fine and dandy. It's a big step closer to getting that show on the road, as t'were.

Lynda and I have signed up for the Congleton Garden Festival weekend. Lynda will be doing her clay magikings and getting the kids to have a go and I am planning a garden-related poetry installation and some inter-active poetry. More about that next time.

I should be working on my poem for Footprints but I somehow can't. I have also been commissioned to write one for World Environment Day. The two things overlap too much in my head at the moment. My first reaction on hearing about WED was: World Environment DAY? DAY??? - shouldn't it be that every day? The WED people have been going on about it for years with a different catch phrase for every year. Does this kind of profiling really do anything, I wonder? Or are the copy writers sitting at their office desks coming up with smart things to write about recycling on their recycled paper while the earth rots around them like Nero of legend and his ol' violin? The solution to all this poisoning of the planet is so simple as well. To give just one example: The use of cars is bad for the planet? OK, stop using them then. Sorted.

I did a poetry workshop with a reading group at Shavington school. They were great young people. We played around with some rhythm strings to get in to the meanings of rhythm and then they came up with poems about where they live. There is a lot of stuff poet folks are doing that deserves a more-public profile. I want to get what they are doing up on my official website as soon as it is in existence. I've emailed Anne at the CCC to progress it but I've not heard anything yet.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Sneyd Colliery Explosion, 1942

Grahame Shrubsole, head of MMU Cheshire music faculty, turned everything round for me when I was a student. My first year as an undergraduate was really exciting. To be among people who took music and writing seriously was mind-blowing for me. My creativity doubled over night. I was lucky, too, in that I had been in factories for most of my working life and I had a highly developed work ethic. I worked six times harder than the majority of students I met and for seven times as long. Alas, the music part of my degree took a dive in the second year. I was taught by a different bloke and we did not see eye to eye. He awarded me what I felt to be (an still do) unjustifiably low marks for everything I did. It was difficult to take from a guy whose own experience was severely limited and whose own compositions were lamentable. He was exciting himself with ideas that I had shunned as passe when I was fourteen-and-a-half. The only good thing about him was that he was incapable of irony. I mean, he really didn't get it at all. Here's a quick example: One day, he was drinking from a novelty mug that had something mildy blokey on it. He plainly thought this accoutrement made him look like one of the guys. I forget what the slogan was - something tossy like: 'Tea? I'd rather have a beer'. He was making a show out of drinking from it, drawing attention to it. I flattered the child in him by nodding towards it and saying, 'Nice mug.'
'It was given to me by a grateful student,' he told me.
'Leaving then, were you?' I said.
He didn't bat an eyelid even though I must have had a right sly look on my face.
'Yes,' he said.
'Thought you must have been,' I said.
But apart from the occasional small victory like that, he brought me down. I was disenchanted and, after two years of studentship, seriously out of money. Amy will confirm our low financial status. We had peas on toast for tea one day. I took a year out then went back. For my third year I had Grahame as tutor. He is a musicologist - a man with an awesome knowledge and experience of music. He is respectful of everybody and can communicate even the most complex of theories. He understands muliplicities of musical traditions and knows how to push the envelope in the 21st century. You can imagine my delight when he so generously offered to arrange a song of mine (blimey, there's a pun there, as will be seen) for male voice choir.

The song came about because Lynda saw an article in the Sentinel about a local mining disaster, showed me and I wrote a song about it and started doing it with Boneshaker. When my biography, Battling Jack, came out I was giving a reading at Kidsgrove library and I had the pleasure of meeting a man who had worked down the pit in question at the time of the disaster. His interest in the Turpin boxing family had brought him to the reading and we got chatting during the interval. This man's son, I found out, sings in a local male voice choir and it gave me the idea that my pit disaster song and therefore a significant piece of North Staffs social history, could be part of the repertoire of a local men's choir that has its roots in the social life of the local coalfields. The man's son thought the idea was a good one but explained that before a choir master could make a decision about it the song would have to be aranged in four parts: two tenor, two bass. I went to Grahame for advice . . .

I had a meeting with Grahame today and he played me some of the musical sketches he has made for the arrangement and they are fantastic. I was prepared to have to compromise, as is often the case with collaborations but, to my huge delight, his ideas are both empathetic and innovative. It has lifted the project to another level. I can't wait for the next move.

Adam has posted our Up To Scratch version of Owed To Paddy O' on our MySpace page today. Have a listen to his playing of the low whistle. You will agree it is everything I claimed for it. I am one lucky geezer.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Owed To Paddy O'

I did my second recording session with Adam today for my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' installation. We put the music to 'Owed to Paddy O''. Me on guitar and Adam on low whistle. What a soulful sound he makes on that thing. A single note played the way he plays is enough to send shivers up your spine. His timbre and vibrato reminds me of a hero of mine in my New Orleans Jazz days: the clarinet player George Lewis. Have a look at and a listen to George on You Tube playing Burgundy Street Blues. A different kind of music to Adam's but the same life vibe. I'll get the Paddy O' track posted on our Up To Scratch MySpace page. It qualifies because we have been doing that poem on our duo gigs.

Joyce of the CCC has agreed to do the Braille copies of the installation poems, which is brilliant. I was intrigued by Braille. How did it work? I knew that the black squiggles on the page that we interpret as sounds were changed into bumps but in exactly what way I could not imagine. It turns out (if I have understood Joyce correctly) that there are two kinds of Braille: 1 & 2. Braille 1 has an arrangement of bumps for each letter. Braille 2 is similar but has some short cuts built in. Some commonly ocurring parts of words - like 'ing' for instance - have a single collective symbol representing the three letters. The effect of the transcription on my poems will be that the line lengths will be much extended - perhaps one line becoming two lines - but the all-important line breaks will be preserved. My pictorial poems will lose their shape but that hardly matters as that element is an addition rather than essential to the meaning. I've been asked why I am doing an installation for blind people? Well, I'm not. I'm doing an installation for everybody. I'm just trying to make sure visually impaired and blind people aren't left out. I am well pleased with how it's progressing. I've even found time for a couple of new poems. They'll stay on ice for a while and I'll have another look at them before I release them into the wild.

I bumped into Alaa, one of my uni students, by the sarni shelves in Tesco. My teaching was cut short this year as reported. I didn't realise how much I missed the students and the Writing workshops until I spoke to him. They are such good people and talented writers with such goodwill towards other people and their work. Roll on the new academic year.

I heard yesterday that some venues have been holding back from inviting me to do poetry gigs because they thought that I was still recuperating from the road accident I was in. The happy fact is (happy for me, anyway) is that I am up and running and up for anything as of yore. So thanks for the consideration but bring on the poetry gigs. I have the words. I have the desire. I have the motor . . .

My poem, READ / A / BOOK, commissioned for the National Year of Reading is to be sent to not only all Cheshire libraries but to all Cheshire primary and junior schools. I have sent in the photo Lynda took of me reading to an amusing tree to be put on it. I thought if it is insisted my picture's on it then it would be made more tolerable if there was a smiley tree in it too.

Monday, 14 April 2008

FLASHBACK: Friday Jan 18, 2008

My official take-over as CPL from Jo Bell, CPL 2007. The gig was at Neston Public Library on the Wirral. Neston is an amazing place - a seaside with no sea. Where there was once sea, there is now grass. It's brilliant, especially when the wind blows the grass into waves. Ironic. I do like to be beside the leaside . . . It got silted up through lack of use. Time and tide wait for no man.

The library has just celebrated 100 years of existence. 'Neston Free Library' originally. What a social innovation that was! Books on free loan to the working classes. Many a kid chucked out of formal education early must have furthered their studies there. How many horizons did it widen? How many future trade union leaders did those shelves foster?

It was a good gig. Lynda and I enjoyed Jo's stuff. Lynda said she thought Jo's voice had a compelling, sophorific quality that suited her work well. I agreed. Jo read first as the out-going poet then I read as the in-coming one.

There was a bit of a mouthy geezer in the audience who shouted at me in the Q & A session we had at the end when I inadvertently attempted to answer a question addressed to Jo. It turned out to be John Gorman (ex Scaffold with R. McGough, M. McGear). The last time I'd spoken to John was on the set of Ready, Steady Go! in 1965. He was with Scaffold, I was with Cops n' Robbers. Obviously, I had more reason to remember him that he had to remember me (check out McGough's 'Let Me Die A Youngman's Death'. He does some terrific stuff).

A discussion arose about 'modernity'. It came out of the fact that I often use rhyme in my poetry. Someone suggested that rhyme might be a thing of the past and, if you want to be modern you won't employ it. I was surprised. I hadn't thought about it much - never seen myself as this thing or that thing, modern or otherwise. I'm not consciously trying to belong to any club or society or movement so it has never been an issue for me. I'm lucky enough to be able to rhyme or not rhyme at will (ie. lucky enough to have spent a lot of time reading, had good mentors and to have been free to work hard at writing). I use rhyme when it feels right to do so and prose poetry when ever that feels right. Perhaps it's probably more to do with rhythm than rhyme because rhymes have got a big elbow when you use them staccato fashion and a more-gentle nudge when you use them legato. What I love about as well is that it brings attention to the rhyming word pairs and you can build up some extra images that way. I don't think I could I be without rhyme all the time. It wouldn't feel natural. Nature rhymes. Have a look around you.

A young guy at Neston suggested that maybe the use of rhyme was so retro it represented a new modernity. Take your pick. My compatriot in San Francisco, Jack Hirschman, now in his seventies, doesn't use rhyme as far as I know. Jack is a wonderful wordsperson. One of the beat generation, a socially aware poet. Maybe that approach to writing is city stuff. Metropolitan - hums of the city. It was great to hear people discussing it all.

When I did some gigs in France, the hosts labelled me: 'W. Terry Fox (GB) Folk Poete'. I think I like that. Yeah, I suppose that is what I am, a folk poet. Two of my favourite poets, Thomas Hardy and John Clare were rhymers. They, like me, were also folk fiddle players and lovers of traditional folksong. Maybe that's where the rhyming comes from.

The people at Neston - in the library and in the town - were exceptionally friendly and pleasant. Lynda and I hope to go back there soon.

Friday, 11 April 2008

'Dance of Fools' Review

The Congleton Chronicle has given my 'Dance of Fools' collection a terrific review. Big thanks to 'JAE'. I had not realised I was so preoccupied with the inevitability of my own demise until I read this piece.

Chris, who runs the 'Room at the Top' cafe in Congleton (his menu is ace with loads of vegetarian options which pleased Lynda. There are newspapers put out for customers to read, art installations, etc. It has some of the Bohemian vibe of the Soho coffee bars in the early sixties) has kindly put 'D of F' on sale there. A donation to his pet charity, the RNLI, will be made for each copy sold. I made a weak joke about climate change and the fact that I was concerned there wasn't a life boat within miles of where I live, which prompted Chris to tell me that there was once a lighthouse in Congleton. It was built to warn motorists of a notoriously hazardous bend in a road. The lighthouse was switched off during WWII for obvious reasons and became redundant when the road was made safer. It apparently remains in history as the only ever inland lighthouse.

Better news on my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' installation: the CCC are sorting out the braille transcriptions for me. I am really encouraged by that. Which reminds me: when I was planning this project, I thought having my poems transcibed into braille would turn reading them into a tactile experience (you know, "feel the poem"). It seemed a reasonable proposition to me until I spoke to Colin Antwis, Secretary for Chester National Society for the Blind, who said as patiently as he could, 'No, Terry. It's just reading!'

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Cheshire Poet Laureate 2008 / 09

My aim is to keep a running notebook on my tenure as Cheshire Poet Laureate.

The trouble with diaries, logs, journals and blogs, as I am just finding out, is that they take time to write. The more you write, the less you have to write about. This blog was organised for me by my long-time mate Karl who is a pro software engineer of the highest order and should not have been bothered with such a lowly task. But he did it in 2 mins flat whilst eating his tea so I don't feel too bad about it. I am three months into my laureateship and I will back date my notes, sometime, to cover the beginnings.

Today I have been recording 11 poems for my 'pAUSE fOR a pOEM' project. I have been doing this with Adam who I make music with from time to time.
Naturally, there will be music with one or two of the poems. My 'pAUSE' project is intended to be a poetry installation in a museum or art gallery and to be inclusive of the hard of seeing and of blind people. I have experienced some mild official resistance to this so I will have to go it alone. You can be hard of seeing in more ways than one, can't you?

Had a phone call this evening about 'Footprints' - an environmental project in Alsager involving the public library, mosaic art and young people's poetry. I'm up for it. Sounds great. I'll tell more when I know more.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

hello world

how's it going?