Canto CCCXXIV

Take the gig and don the three piece suit
and sharpen up those trusty one liners,
followed by poems that provide the proof

that you’re a sensitive person of culture.
Sprinkle with a dust of modesty
and grab a beer before they close the bar,

resolve to send your invoice the next day,
remain content you sent the crowd home happy
and hope the final train isn’t delayed

cos in three hours time you’ll be changing nappies.

Canto CCLXVIII

The flat swelters, my child sleeps on my lap,
all blubber and nappy and nothing else,
two hours into a full fathom sleep.

I flick through an anthology that tells
me what’s definitive in poetry,
I reviewed it but never had the balls

to commit crimes of flagrant honesty,
to scratch my balls in public, fart aloud
during the Islington dinner party—

the tone always careful and middlebrow,
though not exclusively white, middle class.
But what the fuck do I know? I’m from Slough.

I nurse my grudges carefully just as
I monitor my girl’s few hours of sleep
with mild discomfort while sat on my arse.

I let my shallow, pissy fits run deep.

Canto CCXXVI

It’s been fifteen years since my first spot—
a busy open mic in Hammersmith,
Twenty one and shitting bricks, caught

in the glare of stage lights, already half pissed.
The audience’s general indifference;
my mumbled lines—unheard and barely missed.

How many stages have I been on since?
A few hundred? Perhaps—they tend to blur
into each other, like the countless pints

I sometimes needed to speak out my verse.
The damp squibs outnumbered the thunder strikes.
My old ambitions may become my curse

and yet I’d never choose another life.

Canto CCVII

Despite all of my binary tantrums,
cussin’ “da mainstream”, burning any bridge
there may be to the wine and cheese sanctum;

I still feel spoiled rotten and privileged
when turning Joe Public’s everyday spiel
into a poem, or when on a stage

of an out of town arts centre, to feel
the spark of life within the spoken lines,
the way they ride the slipstream vapour trail

to spill through the ear’s coils into the brains
of listeners. Whatever their reaction,
the poem lives, not as an inky page

nor performance. It lives as a connection.

Canto CXCVI

I gave some of my first readings right there,
the spot a few feet from where I sit now.
I didn’t think it then—that in the years

to come I’d spend so many verbose hours
on that same spot. Back then I’d spend the day
digging a mile long trench or pruning flowers

while reciting my poems til they’d stay
in my head later on despite the beer.
The poems sucked, rip offs of Bukowksi,

thank goodness You Tube’s birth was still so far.
The notebooks have been pulped, weep, weep scholars!
You’ll never cop my juvenialia!

The room is empty, all the plastic chairs
are stacked but I can still recall a little
of the young poet I was, reading right there

and all I really want to do is heckle.

Canto CLXXVII

Just as comedy outlived the promise
of being an alternative but proved
to become what it foreswore to dismiss,

another club of white men, wearing suits—
I scrutinise my own formative years;
the angry young man, shouting bitter truths,

the toilet venues, the squat party jeers,
how what I said seemed so damn important,
how I felt verse could put an end to wars.

I set my starstruck eyes upon the distant
and blurry goal of taking it full time,
snag that elusive quarry, recognition…

I must have been pissed when the moment came,
for here I stand in my hundred pound whistle,
recalling disparate pairs of slanted rhymes,

the odd anti-establishment epistle
and bawdy anecdotes for cheap guffaws.
One part of me still affirms this is all

I wanted: some door money, brief applause—
and yet, a tiny waft of disappointment
hangs on as I knock back my post show beers.

It isn’t so much underachievement
or having set my standards far too high—
it’s more that I know what the punters want

and what I really want my work to say
and fall short of both benchmarks, but still,
I’ve sailed my smile through far crappier days.

I could still be grafting for the council,
pruning roses down the South Acton Estate.
But instead, I’ve got slim volumes for sale.

Thank you all for listening. Goodnight.

Canto XCV

Beware the herald of a poetry boom,
it usually means that things are back to normal—
the red wine shindigs in rented ballrooms;

a live scene, street savvy and informal.
The one lot speak of mild epiphanies
in foreign climes; the other lot opine all

the wars and curse their corporate enemies.
And neither write of shagging, though the one
might imply it in some mild mannered treatise

on bumping into old lovers at some
gathering of their mutual friends;
while the other lot, like preachers, loudly damn

the shallow coital fumblings that end
in every way but long, enduring love.
All the while, some lone psychopath spends

a week printing out pages in his flat,
the spattered ink stains reflecting the spouts
of spunk and blood and piss and tears and sweat

he’s collected from fellow inebriates,
to flog in pubs and local greasy cafes
to people that have never spared a thought

for poetry, perhaps because their lives—
the spreadsheet hours relieved by television,
the rare relief of sex and countless pints—

don’t intrude on the bold creative visions
of dueling monocultures that we’re told
make up the varied poetries of Britain,

“…original…” “…genre-defying…” “…bold.”

Canto LXXIII

And so it’s Au Revoir to The Cellar
in fact it’s more a great big fat goodbye.
It all ends—not with a bang, but a whisper,

it’s not that I’ve got bigger fish to fry,
it is the same excuse Pacino used
in the opening scene of Carlito’s Way—

I got old! Time to usher in the new,
the Spoken Word Billy Blancos from the Bronx,
and bid a relieved, bittersweet adieu

to vice and verse weekenders with the ranks
of London’s boisterous, Biro chewing bards.
So, in place of a tedious round of thanks

I raise a glass and slowly step backwards
to watch the London scene move on without me
and toast the veterans and the upstarts.

I can’t get pissed, the missus won’t allow me.

Canto LVII

That’s it baby, I’ve made a big effort,
I’m waiting at Victoria station
to be your very own high class male escort,

whistled up in true M&S fashion,
shoes buffed to a see-your-boat-race shine,
I’ll take your bags, do anything to lighten

the load until we get home from the train,
where dinner waits, some Afritada Chicken
just like they cook it in the Philipinnes.

It’s all for you, my goddess, my true soul mate
and not because I have just had the thought
that the gig’s on tomorrow, not tonight,

because that would make me an idiot…

Canto XI

Where was I? Cutting hedges in Northolt
around the moment when the first plane hit.
I swept the cuttings from the black asphalt

then watched the footage round brother’s flat.
Real life seemed indiscernable from films
where heroes blew the baddy’s base to bits

and we all cheered despite the many kills—
we knew it wasnt’ real, but now it was.
The bodies leaping from the window sills

before the fall, the toxic cloud of dust.
And then the replays, clarifying nought
but stoking up the sudden, breathless lust

for vengeance, an immediate onslaught.
Well, hindsight is a bitch in that respect,
the worldwide dead in wars in which we fought

for presidents the world didn’t elect.
That night I chose to head out and parade
my verse at an open mic with grace and tact

but for all the righteous passion I displayed
my priorities hadn’t really changed at all
and those were to drink beer, perform, get laid.

I managed the first two, once more to fall
at the last hurdle, no surprises then,
and if the world had changed then none told

the shrubs of Northolt, littered with beer cans
And syringe needles, to be carefully placed
into yellow containers with my gloved hands

Above me, the indifferent blue of space
didn’t display a single vapour trail
and songs of blackbirds busily replaced

the Heathrow hulks, their low incoming growl.

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