What does good look like?

Blue-skinned Kali wielding four swords, naked, excepting a necklace fashioned from the shrivelled heads of her vanquished foes.

A Jack Russell frenziedly shredding newly-delivered post.

Some sugar paper scrawled with a child’s crayon drawing of the sun and an unidentifiable quadruped.

An unseemly free-for-all at the brass band rehearsal rooms as festering resentments and long held grudges come to a head.

A Long-horned Black Legionnaire fly drowning in a G&T.

Forty-seven ginger-headed sailors coming home across the briny sea.

Queasy guests clutching champagne flutes and refusing canapés at a Captain’s reception on a Baltic cruise liner quarterdeck.  

Lesser angels at the Last Judgement sorting the damned from the elect.

The Guardbridge paper mill on July 25th, 2008, as seen from the airbase at Leuchars.

A colony of bioluminescent tube worms in an abyssal Pacific trench secreting feeding mucus.

The expression of a slasher movie sequel teen coming to an appreciation that he may, perhaps, have spoken too soon.

Fields of unharvested turnips, gone to seed, on a humid, hazy August afternoon.

An exhausted and absentminded deacon, called from his home in the small hours, fluffing the last rites. 

A Croc Clog stamping on a human face for a fortnight.

Sardanapalus Reclines

Indolent Sardanapalus reclines
entombed in suffocating opulence,
and ponders how begrudging lesser minds
see not effortless chic, but evidence,
in his suite’s superb interior design,
of an inverse ratio in wealth:sense
the gemmed and gilded hangings, beds and chairs,
his amber pelt and gilt synthetic hair.

His genius goes unappreciated,
he idly muses, as the background flicker
of sundry flat screen channels – inundated
with penny ante cable-anchor slickers
(liars and haters all) – runs unabated.
One truth’s not in the scrolling newsfeed tickers:
He’s been a winner right from the beginning
and won and won until he bored of winning.

And truth, he can affirm, is all revealed
and, crucially, to him and him alone,
and fickle as the weather; how he feels
determines what, today, is set in stone,
inviolable, not open to appeal,
until his twitter stream, or telephone,
or a passing staffer chances to suggest
the opposite’s aligned more with his interests.

An orator uniquely blessed and gifted,
he finds infallibility a curse,
for while his faithful base remains uplifted,
he’s always dogged by wilful and perverse
refusenik traitors who will not be shifted
by his facundity, and, what is worse,
they will, when he is right, flat contradict him,
then petition state officials to evict him.

He hears the jackals shrieking at the gate,
denying that his victory’s complete
and irrefutable, and further, ingrates,
demand oversight where it’s clearly meet
that he, most great and potent potentate,
should simply be obeyed, and so he bleats
and whines, distracted to delirium,
that they will not submit to his imperium.

Indeed, no triumph lifts his sense of gloom;
each act of domination, each coercion,
every rage and tantrum in a stateroom
leaves him empty; so, with a last exertion,
he attempts to fill this yawning vacuum
and in an epic act of self-assertion,
sprawls over the divan, insatiate glutton,
and reaches for the case that holds the button.

The Two Boidies


I wrote this poem a few years ago, and it first appeared in Mr Tim Wells’ Rising magazine (I’d put in a link but that publication is strictly analogue.) It’s a riff on The Twa Corbies, a border ballad, inspired by Ms Clare Pollard’s Gulf War treatment of the same poem from her collection Changeling (Bloodaxe, 2011), and by some kind of Jungian recall of these roguish corvids.

Everything about it’s electric (as I like to think of it) except the voice. The illustration’s done with Procreate on the iPad. I’ve tried a few drawing and painting apps – Brushes, ArtRage, and Paper – but this is now my favorite. It gives a decent resolution and means I can transfer to a desktop version of ArtRage and perhaps make some of the digital drawings polished enough to print up.

The jaaazzz band were concocted over the weekend in Logic Pro. It’s taken ten years to get the hang of that package, so I think this year’s next project is to record some more work. I ain’t George Martin, but hell, it’s poetry, so a rudimentary soundscape’s probably all that’s needed. That’s what I’ll keep telling myself.

King Cahunte and the Waves


After Marriott Edgar

Long ago in Merrye England
lived a monarch widely famed.
He’d a first in Summat from Oxford
and Cahunte was his regnal name.

His renown came not from virtue, though,
nor piety, nor grit;
he’d garnered no cognomen like
the Bold, the Wise, or the Fit.

His fame stemmed from some shabby
conduct in affairs of state,
and one notorious incident,
which I will now relate:

The realm was temporarily in
financial dire straits,
so he proposed to hawk lumps off
to a cabal of his mates,

who specialised in pillaging
and plunder in the extreme;
but he forgot to tell his barons
and jarls about the scheme.

He’d met with these rapacious brutes
(there was Suebi, Goths and Gauls)
wi’ contracts ready drawn up for ’em
on t’ table in t’ Mead Hall.

They said they would look after t’ Realm
‘As if it were our own,
though we might have to charge a premium,
and flog t’ crown jewels and throne.’

Cahunte thought this was a reasonable
reward for enterprise,
and t’ Barbarians laughed as dollar signs
rotated in their eyes.

But his courtiers caught him at it
and said ‘What have you done?
You’re giving t’ keys of t’ kingdom
to a gang of Vandals and Hun.’

He said, ‘I’m not.’ They said, ‘We saw you!
Handing over t’ deeds!’
And he looked a little furtive, scuffed
his feet in t’ flooring reeds,

then said, ‘It’s not my fault at all,’
and tried to call their bluff,
‘It’s you lot that’s the problem here:
you don’t work hard enough.

‘When t’ Realm’s imperilled, you should be
manning t’ walls and watchtowers.
Instead you whinge about weekend work
and antisocial hours.’

They said, ‘We don’t. You’ve made that up.
We’re very diligent.’
But he accused them all of treachery
and being militant.

Their patience tried, they called upon
the Venerable Bede,
said ‘We’ve got to get us message out;
illuminate a screed

to circulate to t’ serfs and peasants,
counter his propaganda.
Cahunte’s using t’ Witangemot
to perpetuate his slanders,’

But Bede said, ‘I can’t just put your side.
It’s not that simple, you see.
My Charter says I must maintain
scribal impartiality.’

With that they cornered Cahunte and said,
‘Enough already, schlemiel!
We’re going to fix your fibbing ways
with a trial by ordeal.

‘If God believes your porky pies
then in his Holy Name
he’ll stop the waves from drowning you.’
Cahunte said, ‘Right, I’m game.’

So, with t’ terms of arbitration
sorted, more or less,
they loaded an ox-cart baggage train
and set off for Dungeness.

They set him on scissor chair
at t’ very lowest tide,
but he seemed ultra-confident,
if not a little snide.

Soon waves were lapping round his feet
and soaking through his shoes,
T’ jarls said, ‘That’s game over, then,
and you, your Highness, lose.’

‘I don’t,’ he boldly stated. ‘Look.
I’m turning back the tide.’
Their brows furrowed with puzzlement;
they gawped and then replied:

‘You aren’t at all; there’s seawater
washing around your knees.’
Cahunte said, ‘I’m as dry as dust,’
and looked secretly pleased.

The Goths, meantime, while filling chests
with silver, gold and groats,
winked, ‘It’s TTIP Danegelt.’
and stowed it in their boats.

Back at the beach the courtiers,
by now quite saturated,
realized they’d get no sense from him
however long they waited.

The King mused he’d announce his win
by Royal Proclamation
and have it read in every town
and village in the nation.

For tinpot tyrants always think
their every dictum datum,
That’s why subjects so often feel
obliged to assassinate um,

and, since that day in Dungeness,
every overweening dunce
and all self-deluding despots
have been pronounced Cahuntes.

An Horatian Ode upon Cameron’s Return from Belgium.


The camera banks and podium are set
on asphalt by the cooling air force jet
as he, composed and statesmanlike,
descends to face the waiting mikes.
He pauses, waves. His whole career thus far –
Eton, Oxford, something briefly in PR:
the school fees were not wasted, though
he could have been a CEO,
he chose the life of humble public servant –
and all his works were leading to this moment.
He clears his throat, adjusts his tie
and prepares to almost sort of lie.
It’s not quite lying in the strictest sense:
more a Hermeneutics of Events
too nuanced for the common man
(or woman) to fully understand.
For where most versifiers come unglued’s
in underestimating just how shrewd
a rhetorician is our chief:
he, truly, beggars all belief.
So, let us use our artistry to praise him,
to magnify the nimbus that arrays him,
or we’ll be damned as simply ranters
and other loyaller bards supplant us.
As his domestic record will attest,
that slick patrician air of I-know-best,
(better, at the very least, than us)
is valid… well… because he does.
It’s bred, deep in the bone marrow, inherent –
and could come, in his case, from either parent –
bred in a world where no point’s moot,
nothing is open to dispute,
where there are no nuances or versions,
fact is alchemized from bald assertion,
every question’s fully loaded,
and each communication coded.
So take example from his Spads, who mix
their epochal linguistic fads and tics
with high-blown rhetoric, as proof
his precepts hide profounder truth:
the nation’s purse is like a household budget;
and charity’s recipients begrudge it,
if not dispensed with clausal tricks
to carrotize the salving sticks.
But greater eloquence is now demanded,
to convey the scene: the aircraft’s landed
and there the peerless statesman stands,
a piece of paper in his hand!
Small wonder he allows himself a smile.
With consummate diplomacy and guile,
he has squared the vicious circle,
won concessions from Frau Merkel,
outwitted Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker –
who are still spitting feathers in their bunker –
and, fêted everywhere he went,
secured the perfect settlement
It wasn’t always a foregone conclusion:
wading through black darkness and confusion
with faith his lantern, truth his sword,
he hauled assorted Slavs on board,
huffed and puffed from Lisbon to Helsinki,
and now’s confounded those who didn’t think he
had the nerve, let alone the nous
to shake the footings of this house,
defy the Eurocrats’ dominion –
in line with current polled opinion.
Rejoice, his triumph is complete;
his foes are supine at his feet.
It’s a whitewash bright as Dover chalk and’s
more glorious even than the Falklands.
Shout from the windows, mount your bike,
spread the gladsome tidings like
the Cabinet, who, confident their boss’ll
soon bestride the Continent, colossal
and revered, stir from their repose
and race to TV studios.
The copy-hungry commentariat
fall ravenous upon the unbagged cat,
take the joyous news and spin it,
Twitter like a flock of linnet,
and wrangle press releases into features
all overseen by Central Office creatures
and, flitting ghostly in their ranks,
antipodean mountebanks.
Meanwhile, a few haruspices and sibyls
raise, in broadsheet basements, crucial quibbles;
advising, from close-reading, these,
in their best-guess analyses,
suggest the Concord won’t stand close inspection:
that the Premier, perhaps, upon reflection
is like a nifty winger who
jinks, feints, cuts the field in two
to reach the line without the rugger ball,
and then rejoices scoring bugger all,
while in the press boxes and stands
the duped, ecstatic hacks and fans
are victims of contagious mass-hysteria:
his Promised Land looks like another Syria.
That said, the PM’s not dismayed,
nobody reads them anyway.
So while he still basks in refulgent splendour
he’ll get right on with winning referenda,
by harnessing his broad appeal
and easy charm to seal the deal;
and if this all goes nicely – who can tell –
he’ll chance another Scottish one as well.
Etonians who ride their luck
have scarcely ever come unstuck.
And when these victories are in the bag
remain assured his energy won’t flag:
though laurelled, not content to rest
he’ll put his mettle to the test,
and find another challenge for his talents,
a poser for his intellect. On balance,
he thinks that, at the very least,
perhaps he’ll fix the Middle East.

The Supreme Ironist

* Selections from ‘Oklahoma’

The foremost ironist of the age rode into town upon
a Palamino named Dobbin, or was it a Percheron
called Quicksilver. Whatever the case, he smartly made his
self at home at the bar, charmed the burghers and their ladies
in his gambler’s brocade waistcoat, beaver-felt town hat, and soon,
he was the toast of seven counties and the Malamute Saloon.
He regaled them with tales of the sea and ten years under the sail,
of battles with sharks and krakens and such and a prodigious whale
that was white and held a grudge blah-blah, and cannibal tribes
in the frozen North and degenerate cults whose voudou vibes
could send a man stark mad, and he’d swear it was true on the bible
though it sounded most unlikely and was all unverifiable.
He’d tell of the desert’s blasted wastes beneath the merciless sun,
just how he’d survived by eating his teeth and sucking the chrome from his gun,
or crawled for miles through malarial swamps south of the Rio Grande,
then he’d send somebody to the hardware store for a long stand…

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!


He told his stories once and then he told
them all again, but in a different order
with extra pathos here, more sex or slaughter
there, some elaboration on just how bold
he’d been in certain specific circumstances,
then he’d crack a nut with his teeth, and wink,
stand every galoot in the bar a drink,
and tell them what a gnu looks like, where France is,
how many beans make five. The gaiety
was boundless; such times they’d never known before,
and the minister’s Sunday sermon roar
was but a mousy squeak, the laity
opined, beside his rollicking homilies
on loyalty, hygiene, wrath, and bravery;
though some of his saws seemed a tad unsavoury
in their conclusions, his choice of simile
coarse, they drank it, as at their mothers tit,
but his tab distended, the barkeep frowned,
then he’d suddenly have an errand in town
and leave them un-replete …

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!


The months crawled by, his audience dwindled, summer came and went.
In deepest night, in his hotel suite, he worked till his candle was spent,
then gazed through the dark at the moon outside with horror-full, sorrowful eyes
as the vengeful hounds of truth bore down on his dismal pack of lies.
He rearranged them, changed words round, but by way of a critique
the townsfolk huffed indignantly, said, ‘You told us that last week
and it wasn’t even funny then. Come on, entertain us, move us,
tell us stuff that puffs us up, that edifies and improves us,
flatter our intelligence with pithy little apophthegms.’
and they gazed on him with pity, as they might a man condemned.
It wasn’t so long till his credit dried up, he was shunned by men in the street;
the Townswomen’s Guild passed motion of censure. His ostracism complete,
he fled the sting of the scuttlebutt, the harsh judgmental faces,
and skulks in the sage brush, clad in a barrel with inner tube braces
chewing his knuckles, tearing his hair, crying for mercy to God.
There he is, the dirty dastard! Quick! Throw rocks at the sod.

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, hah!