Birth of a Poet 7: Gulf of Poets

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Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…


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MONDAY 27th APRIL 1998

A policeman woke me up, a la Saturday, & went to the usual spot. Jesse was there snoring & Kapitano went off to get stoned. Slept another couple of hours, then went for one last walk around Pisa. Found out last Saturday’s football scores – its an Arsenal championship & touch & go on Burnley’s relegation issues. Then I said goodbye to the gang & actually broke free! I’d never expected to spend ten days in Pisa, but I did & they were mentally funny!

On the way to the stazione I had a bit of wine with a Yugoslavian who had escaped from the civil war in 1991, who very kindly taught me a little Italian. After this I bought a new writing book (4500 lira) & a pencil (500 lira). I was going to steal them, but my good angel took over. I’ve got some important poetry to write & its better I do it with a clean karmic conscience.

I had a couple of hours or so to kill before my train to La Spezia, so I made out an itinerary & sorted my bags. In short, I have a few day’s food, very little money – my emergency tenner plus 3,800 lira including 3000 from Kapitano as a parting gift – & a desire to write some beautiful poetry!

After 10 days’ skill rust, the train jump was touch & go at moments, but successful in the end. The journey was cool, sticking my head out of an open window & feeling the intercity wind rush through my hair. The sky was severely overcast, the mountains obscured in a rolling sea-mist, then I sensed it was time to hide in a toilet. I timed it wrong & emerged face-to-face with the conductor. He went ‘uh’ & pointed to his ticket. I went ‘uh’ & gestured down the carriage, in which direction I went before hiding in another toilet. This made me edgy, so I got off one stop early.

It was now beginning to rain. I bought some water, but pinched some vegetables, & caught a bus to La Spezia. The ride was OK, & allowed me to absorb the scenery. Then, as I caught my first glimpse of the bay – the Gulf of Poets – I felt a mad, poetic rush tingling thro’ my body.

The bus wound along the coast, thro’ Lerici & its ‘Hotel Shelley’ & into busy looking La Spezia, where I quickly caught another bus for Portovenere, my main destination on this leg of my writing tour. This new bus wound around the northern curve of the bay, which was looking really cool. The scene was spoil’d a little by the modern docks, altho’ the warships were charming.

Eventually we arrived in the ‘centro’ of Portovenere, where I hopped off the bus into a shower. I quickly sprinted to a dry-spot, full of rubbish & stray cats. At this point I was definitely NOT buzzin’ off my excursion. The rain stopp’d soon enough, however, & I took my first look at the town.

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Portovenere – Port of Venus – is an old wall’d place, the main street being about 10 feet wide, if that, & lined with shops. The place was very quiet, & after a couple of minutes walking I arrived at an old church & medieval ramparts. It was all very poetic & I was moved by the colour of the place – the most violent greys I’ve ever seen. At the end of the village I look’d out over the sea, where angry-looking folding clouds beckon’d more rain.

I scrambl’d down to some rocks, where I ate a small meal while watching the sea roll & thrash its wild sprays as it crash’d against the rocks. I then climb’d some more rocks behind me to the right, where on a jagged promontory I sat like a wizard inspired, rattling thro’ a new stanza for ‘The Death of Shelley.’

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Having chang’d my mind about sleeping by the ocean (I was bound to get wet), I made my bed in an old building, dry & windproof, then took a little stroll along the boat-lined seafront. Out across bay the scatter’d lights of various settlements marked mankind, including a largish island just off the coast of Portovenere. I think I will swim across. According to a plaque at a place called ‘Byron’s Grotto,’ the poet swam the width of the entire bay once. The Gulf of Poets indeed!

I had a quick cappuccino & work’d out my stay in the area would be three days -’til the end of this journal & the end of April – & perhaps my money! I then return’d to my bed where, after a scare with a screaming cat, I fell asleep to the wish-wash of waves.


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The clifftop where a poet was born

THURSDAY 28TH APRIL

A busy day indeed! Awoke quite rough in a dusty place – I could have pick’d a better spot actually – & breakfasted on one of my pre-prepared butties. A was almost on auto-pilot as I blindly got on a bus to La Spezia, half-asleep & bleary-eyed.

On re-arrival in La Spezia, I asked a couple of folk & discovered where Shelley’s final home was – San Terenzo. I also did a spot of shopping; some lovely bread & few eggs, two of which would smash before the end of the day. Back in Portovenere, I spent the afternoon wandering about, climbing the steep steps of Portovenere a thousand times, & found these amazing caves just along the cliffs. I proceeded to move all my stuff there, intending to sleep there come nightfall.

I then made a visit to Le Grazie, the wee bay before Portovenere, where I bought wine cigarettes & had a very enchanting walk around an old Roman villa. It was then back to Portovenere & my swim to the island I saw yesterday. The waves were quite powerful, but I made it there & back, where I was greeted by screaming Italian schoolgirls.

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The poet at Byron’s Grotto, 2012

The physical effort had left me craving sugar, so I went to the local shop on the edge of town to pinch some chocolate. I got out OK, & sat outside chomping it over the sea a little too blatantly. Suddenly the owner appeared on my shoulder & order’d me to pay – fair enough, & he could have given me to the cops.

By late afternoon I was busy preparing an evening’s fire. The caves were cool; a rocky quarry with lots of nooks & crannies to explore, plus a center-piece rusting truck. I also had a magnificent view of Portovenere & the long expanse of the Mediterranean, when to the crash of waves of rocks I was fill’d with the spirit of poetry.

I prepared everything I needed to cook a meal that night, then with about an hour or so of sunlight left I decided to make for the highest cliff I could see. I had arm’d myself with a pen, a book of Shelley’s poetry to read & also write in, plus the all-important wine.

Shoving everything down the back of my pants I had a great time climbing up the rocky cliff, when at any time I could have fallen to my doom. It seemed like a wall of vegetation had been thrown up to keep out humans, but I defied it & got through with only a couple of cuts. My jumper kept out the rest.

I wander up the coastline for to muse,
Set up my camp in the cliffside quarry,
Resplendent in luscious blue sea-side views,
Round the chapel of Portovenere,
For here, tonight, my life & art shall fuse
& I, awakened to my destiny,
Prepare for the sun to set ‘low the line,
By buildin’ fire, entrin’ town, stealin’ wine.

With topless bottle of red in my hand
Up the cliff-face I scamper with the might
Of some fabled hero from Plato’s land.
I claim the top, where gulls in freedoms flight,
Silhouette the settin’ sun, a wide band
Of gold spread cross azure seas, from this height
I muse on the rippling sea meadows blue –
This evening gives birth to a poet true.

I pause to reflect on the life I knew,
Nice house, nice job, nice girl, nice skunk, nice deal
& compare it to these skies & seas of blue
And this sense of assurity I feel.
At joinin’ the elite, select brave few
No more a cog on the soul grindin’ wheel.
Besides, England does my fuckin’ brain in
& I bet, as I write, it is rainin’.

When I could go no further I found myself on a ledge about 300 feet above the sea, watching the gulls swoop & the sun going down. I was in perfect solitude & thoroughly inspired, & flew thro’ a few new stanzas. In the ever-fading twilight I set off back, but came across a path that led upwards & onwards over the cliffs for miles. So, in search of adventure & poetical ascension I too the way.

I pass’d some abandon’d buildings – how they got the stone up there I’ll never know -, then reach’d a TV ariel station thingy. I leapt a few feet onto its roof & took in the panorama. The whole Gulf of Poets was lit up, with a sailboat lit up quite splendidly at its center, & I could even make out the lights of Livorno, way down the coastline.

By now it was almost dark, so I descended back down along the path, gaining another stanza en route. I enter’d Portovenere tipsily singing, “COME ON YOU CLARETS!”, which echoed around the mountains & disturb’d some dogs. I nestled at the foot of the castle for yet another stanza, before plunging into town for even more composition. It was then that my pen finally ran out, so I made my way up those bloody steps one last time & back to my cave.

I lit the fire & cook’d up some noodles, veg & an egg. Another egg & a sandwich had mysteriously disappeared! It tasted gorgeous, & was topp’d off with cake & chocolate & the rest of the wine. A suitable, celebratory feast for being a poet & being alive!

In the firelight I manage to finish off the first canto of my poem. It truly was a magnificent night & made me believe that the life I have chosen is a worthy one. Poetry contains the essence of life itself, & a life of poetry is a life well lived. With this in mind I went to bed satisfied & fell into a sound, profound slumber.


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WEDNESDAY 29TH APRIL

Woke up in quite a good state, & just lay in my makeshift bed for a while, staring at the cavernous ceiling. I then emerged & spent a couple of hours writing up neatly last night’s work, which I read aloud on the clifftop to the roar of waves. The day was hot & cloudy, & about 2 in the afternoon, after a quick sketch of the church, & packing up all my stuff, I made my way to the bus-stop. It was time to leave Portovenere.

The bus took me all the way around the bay – through Le Spezia & into wee San Terenzo. On arriving I stash’d my bags on a sloping, forested hill – there was nowhere else to do it – for houses filled all the flat terrain. I took a stroll to the seafront, quite pretty but not rivetingly amazing. I can see what Shelley saw in it, tho’, its very relaxed out of the way.

The bay here is quite small – I could see Portovenere in the distance, & Lerici just along the coast. The best bit, of course, was Shelley’s last house – still standing. The Casa Magni was very enthralling, & I read the plaques & chilled in front of it for a while, in the sun, feeling pretty good about myself.

San Terezno

I decided to prepare for another night of poetics, & walk’d along the bay to Lerici – a similar place to San Terezno, but a little bigger. I bought bread, fags & more 30p cartons of wine, & stole some veg, leaving me 13,000 lira. This part of the Gulf of Poets was thick with small sailing boats, & extremely quiet – not as resorty as Portovenere, but I guess it might my way back to busy up in the Summer.

I made my way back to the place I stash’d my bags, a quite pretty spot surrounded in snowdrop like flowers. I prepared a fire, played my guitar & then, just as the sun was gradually falling, I went on an appetite-building walk. I found a lovely & secluded sandy beach where I chill’d for a while thinking about my poem, then returned to my ‘site’ to light the fire & cooked up a crude but hearty ‘woodman’s slop.’

I then made up a bottle of wine from a carton & went back to the house to write some poetry. Alas, soon after I arrived it began to rain, so I ran back to the site, grabb’d my stuff & moved to a hut near by which I’d scouted earlier in the day as a potential sleep-spot. This turn’d out to be a good move as the rain began lashing it down, belting off the corrugated roof. It was, however, all proper buzzin’ as I drank my wine & composed poetry – the first two stanzas of the second canto of my poem.


THURSDAY 30TH APRIL

This is my final entry in this journal. A time to reflect on what has been quite an interesting month; my first foreign holiday for years & my first ‘real’ traveling experience. I have visited five countries, sampl’d many cuisines & alcohols, got stoned more than a few times, created literature, jump’d trains with some proficiency, & ate like a king.

I awoke in the woodshed to a world still raining severely. I snuggl’d down in artistic defiance spent a few hours writing, reading & completing last night’s sleeping. The rain just kept on coming all day – never really stopping til 10PM. I knew a full day in as shed would not be very good for the muse, so at about 2PM – in a relatively brief lull in the weather – I braved the outside world.

I began to hop on & off busses, riding around for a bit & composing poetry on cardboard with a blunt pencil crayon, until I reach’d Sarzana. I look’d at the places the trains went to & saw that Luni was only a few minutes away. Apparently there was an ampitheatre there, which I’d read in a visitor’s guide I’fd pick’d up at La Spezia. So I got myself there, admiring my very fine – if a little patchy – new beard in the toilet.

On arriving at Luni it was still raining, but I trudged the half mile to the site, climb’d over the fence & chill’d out amid the impressive ampitheatre. It always amazes me how civilized the Romans were – but if their society can break down, so can ours!

On the way back to San Terezno I pinch’d some bratwurst from a supermarket, along with wine & bread which I bought, then prepared for a long wait at the stazione. It was one of those two trains a day, middle of nowhere places, but to my surprise a train duly arrived in just a couple of minutes, & a few minutes later was back in my shed! All my stuff was still there, & only a little damp!

I changed shows & headed straight back out – I had the muse – for La Spezia, arm’d with wine, a new pen I’d pinched from a lottery place,& some proper writing paper. I wander’d about the city for a bit, writing away by the palm-tree lined, boat-congested harbour, then in the peace of a park.

I was taking my poem to the height of imagination – Xanadu. Coleridge had had a glimpse of it once. In another of those trippy moments that occur in my life, just as I got to the stanza that describ’d a poet’s heaven, I arrived at a bus-stop & there on a poster was the word, XANDAU. Trippy, eh?

was soon back in my shed, where I ate a hearty feast of bread & a tin of tomatoes, which I’d laced with soy sauce & pepper. And so, reflections on April – there are too many & I am too drunk. Ciao April 1998, we had a good ‘un.


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Chapter 5: Working Livorno

Chapter 6: San Guilliano

Chapter 7: Gulf of Poets

Rule Britannia: Brexit and the End of Empire

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A couple of Augusts ago, the same weekend that Burnley were playing Spurs away at Wembley Stadium would coincide with the Notting Hill Carnival. This was the perfect occasion to visit London with my newly acquired American wife for our first time together. After a deli-lunch on Primrose Hill, I thought we could plunge within the city’s sweatbox in the direction of Leicester Square, for I wanted to show her something cool. Unfortunately, the cool thing wasn’t there any more, or rather they weren’t there, those floor-embedded metal plates which showed you how far away & in which direction the capital of each of the British Empire’s former colonies & dependencies lay. For a moment my soul was pricked by sadness & regret for the end of the imperial adventure, a sentiment which is, according to a new book co-authored by Danny Dorling & Sally Tomlinson, one of the chief motivating forces behind Brexit.

University. A school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied, and where, in the view of some news-sheets and political hacks, there are seditious lectures against Brexit – Harry Eyres & George Myerson 

Before the book arrived at my desk, I thought I’d check out some other reviews. To my astonishment, they were rather over-vitriolic, which I find an instant red flag to the reviewer’s nerves being twanged. Investigating further, I discovered one reviewer was a tweeter in support of Tommy Robinson & another – Patrick Maguire of the New Statesman – had obtained a “First class dissertation on the political significance of Enoch Powell’s classical scholarship.” For those who do not know, Enoch Powell was a right nob-head racist politician from the 1960s. After reading the book myself, I found the essence of these heavily politicized reviews was to find one point out of a 1000 accurate & insightful statements, & waste half their review-ink attacking the research in order to diminish the other 999.

Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about “foreign judges” and the need to “take back control” when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled? – Joris Luyendijk

So to the book itself, the crowning erudite cherry on the Brexit Book cake. Rule Britannia: Brexit & the End of Empire was published in November 2018, & is a yardstick zeitgeistograph still relevant 6 months later, when nothing much has actually happened in a Brexit process suffering delay after delay, & also eroding the traditional parties’ powers as seen in the recent local elections. Its authors are both Oxbridge connected scholars, but coming from a non-Etonian angle. This enables a refreshing honesty to talk about what they have observed in the leadership factories of Britain, which create situations where the present Tory cabinet has no representative from the working, & even middle, classes.

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Danny Dorling

The chief seam of the authors’ investigations is that certain influential elements among the British were suffering a terrible hangover after losing the Empire. As the profits from imperial ‘tribute’ disappeared – i.e. those one-sided trade deals with the colonies – the country decided to bed down with the European Union for financial security. Roll on four decades, & with old colonial families hankering for the glory days, coupled with an imminent European Parliament cut-down on tax-avoidance by the super-rich, & bo-oom! you’ve got the self-interest dream-team that masterminded Brexit. Of course, the democratic rights of 17 million voters had to be fooled & manipulated, but luckily the old ‘blame the immigrants’ carpet was safely tucked in Enoch Powell’s cupboards, & was rolled out to great fanfare by the Leave-dominated press. In essence, all the crap the British are experiencing right now is to preserve a few family fortunes. Time will look back on this period & say what the Leave vote really meant was an abandoning of a sinking ship by intelligent & skilful immigrant workers, who chose to Leave a place of insults & scapegoating.

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The Brexitier’s bus outside parliament.

Eight years ago we were worried about the BNP. Four years ago we were worried about UKIP. Now it is the conservatives themselves who are the driving force behind division & fear – Concerned Parent

The British Empire had its nasty moments – its a century since Amritsar, two since Peterloo. It let the Irish starve & heavily compensated the slave-traders on the abolishment of that dreadful business. While plundering a quarter of the world for its own gain, the Empire also created a syllabus of eugenicized fictions for its children – the white race was superior, & among the white races the British was defiantly the best. This created natural condescensions in the British consciousness, when the domestic underclass & the imperial over-class united in a sense of patriotic superiority. ‘This rotten alliance,’ say the authors, ‘still exists in the twenty-first century and goes some way to explaining the xenophobia, racism and hostility that is such an obvious part of our British heritage.’

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With the inevitable maturing of the Human psyche, British education will actually focus on the waves of immigration which created its rich DNA, from the Belgic tribes of Ceasar’s day, to the Polish influx in recent years. Unfortunately, jingoism still jangles in school texts, especially in the old classrooms of the nation’s elderly voters, the majority of whom opted for Leave in 2016. Another majority vote was an eye-opener. Coming from Burnley (the Spurs game was 1-1, by the way), I’ve had absolute bell-ends remark that my townsfolk were responsible for Brexit, & I kind of went along with it. Danny & Sally’s research quash the myth, explaining that the Brexitiers were basically slightly less well-off Tories from a relatively immigrant-free Middle England, wondering why they weren’t doing as well as other Tories across the land. Brilliant!

The UK sits on its own as a rich economy that experienced a strong economic performance while the real wages of its workers dropped – Valentina Romei

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Sally Tomlinson

Rule Britannia is a real eye-opener of a book, a lucid text complemented by lots of lovely graphs, maps & diagrams. As I read it, I really enjoyed how many paragraphs finish with a punchline of divergent thought, like the final turn’d couplet in an Elizabethen sonnet. The tale we are told presents in a pretty unarguable fashion how the rich are getting richer via measures of draconian austerity, working the poor so hard – & into a state of weakness – that they will not be able to protest against acts of clear theft perpetrated by the increasingly wealthy. I mean, we’re never told this by the press, but how can a Britain of 2019 see a rise in death-rates, child poverty & infant mortality. We are also informed of British society’s being left behind by a more progressive mainland, leaving me with the conclusion ‘why on earth would we actually want to leave.‘ But the authors do retain optimism, explaining how Brexit might be the kick up the arse we all need, the great opening up of the British psyche when, ‘there is a great hope that we will learn from our mistakes & become better people.’ It is indeed high time we British discovered the scandalous truths behind the appropriation of wealth by the rich at the expense of the vast majority. The ‘Remainers’ – I personally believe we should be bringing down barriers not putting them up – should also take solace in the fact that 71 percent of under 25s – the country’s future – voted to remain in Europe.

When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment & health services fort its people, it is depriving a whole generation of the right to prosperity & happiness Oscar Arias Sanchez

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The gates of Trinty college cambridge (the richest in all of England). Again people sleeping in tents outside. This college is about to do a “mini-Brexit” and attempt to privatise its pension scheme to be the first to leave the all university wide scheme (which could then lead to it leaving for the UK higher education system…)

The only drawback of this book is that although the authors rightly paint Britain as a place of drudgery & misery for the masses, the evidence they present is only cool comment & cold statistic. There is no experiences of wandering around the estates of Hull, North Peckham, Paisley & Burnley Wood. A little more research into who these ‘kind’ of leave-voters were would have complemented their theory & presented a more kaleidoscopic & believable solution. But what they have focused on, one cannot deny is perfectly sound, informative & page-turningly entertaining, a brief sample of which I shall present in aphorismic fashion.


QUOTES FROM THE BOOK

  • Delusions of grandeur are essential to rule over an empire. A people have to fool themselves, & to be fooled, into believing that they are special enough to rule over huge multitudes of others
  • When you destroy the textile industry in one continent, after enslaving people from a second continent and forcing them to pick cotton in a third continent to be woven in Manchester, all to make a profit, you are receiving tribute
  • When its people fail to adapt, an empire mentality remains a long time. Especially when it is it not clear to many people in the UK by whom or what the empire was defeated
  • Many of the British elite came to believe that the British were personally the pinnacle of humanity, & particular families in Britain were at the very top of that pinnacle
  • The last time pay fell as much as it has fallen recently was during the 1860s & 1870s… life expectancy in the UK has stalled in a way that, like pay falls, has not been seen since the 1860s. It is projected that an extra million years of life will be lost by 2058 if these trends are not altered.
  • Some of those who consider themselves elite can often be rather dim. They talk of themselves as ‘privileged,’ to have been selectively educated, whereas the real privilege is to be educated among all your peers. How can you understand other people if you have never properly mixed with them?
  • It is actually a privilege not to have been sent to a boarding school or taught old-fashioned arrogant ideas. It is a privilege to get to know your mum & dad as you grow up rather than seeing the nanny and house master as your substitute parents
  • Just one of the many problems the British have is the amount of money they spend attempting to retain the advantage of a small elite whose children are seen to deserve their privilege. That requires their parents to prevent too many lower-class children joining their group, going to their schools, their universities, taking their jobs & buying similarly impressive homes
  • What is the point in sending your children to a grammar or private school if later they have to compete with children from good comprehensives who know more about life than your children do? No wonder so many Conservatives hate comprehensives
  • When India, & then most of the colonies in Africa, won their freedom, The British race found themselves suddenly becoming much poorer. They blamed the trade unions & socialists in the 1970s. To try to maintain their position, from 1979 onwards they cut the pay of the poorest in a myriad of ways & vilified immigrants in the newspapers they owned or influenced
  • The British had been distracted from the rise in equality & the consequent poverty that grew with it by decades of innuendo & then outright propaganda suggesting that immigration was the main source of most of their woes.
  • In Britain, as soon as economic recovery began, the rich pocketed all the proceeds – at the expense of the large majority. Such a scenario is only achievable with uncontrolled greed at the very top & a prevailing spirit of meanness
  • The whole idea of being just one of 28 European states, & having to cooperate & compromise, rather than lording it over them, had never gone down well with the manufactured British psyche.
  • Part of the reason Britain has been so happy to welcome in the super-rich from other countries is that extremely rich people currently bankroll political parties, especially when that is in their direct financial interest – if they can successfully lobby for lowered taxation & regulation, that’s money well spent
  • The Leave campaign also had the uncosted support of Rupert Murdoch & most of British tabloid newspapers, as well as the Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph
  • The key vote for leave came from the English home counties and the narrow band of counties that surround them
  • In short, then, Tory England voted Britain out. These were areas that had often loyally voted Conservative for decades, but economically were not doing anything like as well as other Tory areas, which cannot have seemed right to many people living there
  • Older, less well-off, less well-educated Tory Britain was where the most votes for Brexit were. It cannot be said often enough. It was not Sunderland or Stoke that swung it.
  • They desperately wanted Britain to leave. But even they were shocked that Leave won on the first attempt. In a way it was a little too early for them. They were not prepared for their victory, & did not know what to do with it.
  • Whatever kind of Brexit occurs – hard, soft, or even cancellation and staying in the European Union – Britain will be much diminished by the Brexit process
  • Dublin is currently experiencing a building boom as firms quietly relocate to Europe’s only other English-speaking state
  • The future of farming in Britain has been cast into great uncertainty, as the UK may well not be able to replicate the EU farming subsidies in future, & at the same time fund its National Health Service & keep its taxes low for the rich & its efficient industrial & service sectors as they currently are. Something is going to have to give
  • Today we are all the detritus, the debris of empire, & we have to build a new raft from that
  • As the immigrants are no longer arriving in enough numbers to be blamed, the attention will increasingly be focused on the rich & the greedy
  • Partly as a result of Brexit, the next generation will soon have a far better idea of the sins, misconceptions & ignorance of their fathers, & hence will be relieved when the UK cease to be a significant military power. It is for the next generation to make Britain decent, to make Britain human & to consign the empire’s triumphant song to history.

Classic Essays: Walter Scott’s ‘ Essay on Imitations of the Ancient Ballad’ (1830)

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Continuing a series of classic essays on literature. This month sees one of the Romantics reflect his work in assembling the famous collection  – Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border


The invention of printing necessarily occasioned the downfall of the Order of Minstrels, already reduced to contempt by their own bad habits, by the disrepute attached to their profession, and by the laws calculated to repress their licence. When the Metrical Romances were very many of them in the hands of every one, the occupation of those who made their living by reciting them was in some degree abolished, and the minstrels either disappeared altogether, or sunk into mere musicians, whose utmost acquaintance with poetry was being able to sing a ballad.

But the taste for popular poetry did not decay with the class of men by whom it had been for some generations practised and preserved. Not only did the simple old ballads retain their ground, though circulated by the new art of printing, instead of being preserved by recitation; but in the Garlands, and similar collections for general sale, the authors aimed at a more ornamental and regular style of poetry than had been attempted by the old minstrels, whose composition, if not extemporaneous, was seldom committed to writing, and was not, therefore, susceptible of accurate revision. This was the more necessary, as even the popular poetry was now feeling the effects arising from the advance of knowledge, and the revival of the study of the learned languages, with all the elegance and refinement which it induced.

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In short, the general progress of the country led to an improvement in the department of popular poetry, tending both to soften and melodise the language employed, and to ornament the diction beyond that of the rude minstrels, to whom such topics of composition had been originally abandoned. The monotony of the ancient recitals was, for the same causes, altered and improved upon. The eternal descriptions of battles, and of love dilemmas, which, to satiety, filled the old romances with trivial repetition, were retrenched. If any one wishes to compare the two eras of lyrical poetry, a few verses taken from one of the latest minstrel ballads, and one of the earliest that were written for the press, will afford him, in some degree, the power of doing so.

The facility of versification, and of poetical diction, is decidedly in favour of the moderns, as might reasonably be expected from the improved taste, and enlarged knowledge, of an age which abounded to such a degree in poetry, and of a character so imaginative as was the Elizabethan era. The poetry addressed to the populace, and enjoyed by them alone, was animated by the spirit that was breathed around. We may cite Shakespeare’s unquestionable and decisive evidence in this respect. In Twelfth Night he describes a popular ballad, with a beauty and precision which no one but himself could have affixed to its character; and the whole constitutes the strongest appeal in favour of that species of poetry which is written to suit the taste of the public in general, and is most naturally preserved by oral tradition.

The expressions of Sir Philip Sidney, an unquestionable judge of poetry, flourishing in Elizabeth’s golden reign, and drawing around him, like a magnet, the most distinguished poets of the age, amongst whom we need only name Shakespeare and Spenser, still show something to regret when he compared the highly wrought and richly ornamented poetry of his own time with the ruder but more energetic diction of ‘Chevy Chase.’[6] His words, often quoted, cannot yet be dispensed with on the present occasion. They are a chapter in the history of ancient poetry. ‘Certainly,’ says the brave knight, ‘I must confess my own barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet. And yet it is sung by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style, which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?’

If we inquire more particularly what were the peculiar charms by which the old minstrel ballad produced an effect like a trumpet-sound upon the bosom of a real son of chivalry, we may not be wrong in ascribing it to the extreme simplicity with which the narrative moves forward, neglecting all the more minute ornaments of speech and diction, to the grand object of enforcing on the hearer a striking and affecting catastrophe. The author seems too serious in his wish to affect the audience, to allow himself to be drawn aside by anything which can, either by its tenor, or the manner in which it is spoken, have the perverse effect of distracting attention from the catastrophe.

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Such grand and serious beauties, however, occurred but rarely to the old minstrels; and, in order to find them, it became necessary to struggle through long passages of monotony, languor, and inanity. Unfortunately it also happened, that those who, like Sidney, could ascertain, feel, and do full justice to the beauties of the heroic ballad, were few, compared to the numbers who could be sensible of the trite verbiage of a bald passage, or the ludicrous effect of an absurd rhyme. In England, accordingly, the popular ballad fell into contempt during the seventeenth century; and although in remote counties[8] its inspiration was occasionally the source of a few verses, it seems to have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital. Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the ballad or popular epic. The curious reader may satisfy himself on this point, should he wish to ascertain the truth of the allegation, by looking through D’Urfey’s large and curious collection, when he will be aware that the few ballads which it contains are the most ancient productions in the book, and very seldom take their date after the commencement of the seventeenth century.

In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel ballad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great vigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of which are known and remembered; nor is there a more spirited ballad preserved than that of Mr. Skirving (father of Skirving the artist), upon the battle of Prestonpans, so late as 1745. But this was owing to circumstances connected with the habits of the people in a remote and rude country, which could not exist in the richer and wealthier provinces of England.

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The poet, perhaps, most capable, by verses, lines, even single words, to relieve and heighten the character of ancient poetry, was the Scottish bard Robert Burns. We are not here speaking of the avowed lyrical poems of his own composition, which he communicated to Mr. George Thomson, but of the manner in which he recomposed and repaired the old songs and fragments, for the collection of Johnson and others, when, if his memory supplied the theme, or general subject of the song, such as it existed in Scottish lore, his genius contributed that part which was to give life and immortality to the whole. If this praise should be thought extravagant, the reader may compare his splendid lyric, ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands,’ with the tame and scarcely half-intelligible remains of that song as preserved by Peter Buchan. Or, what is perhaps a still more magnificent example of what we mean: ‘Macpherson’s Farewell,’ with all its spirit and grandeur, as repaired by Burns, may be collated with the original poem called ‘Macpherson’s Lament,’ or sometimes the ‘Ruffian’s Rant.’ In Burns’s brilliant rifacimento, the same strain of wild ideas is expressed as we find in the original; but with an infusion of the savage and impassioned spirit of Highland chivalry, which gives a splendor to the composition, of which we find not a trace in the rudeness of the ancient ditty. I can bear witness to the older verses having been current while I was a child, but I never knew a line of the inspired edition of the Ayrshire bard until the appearance of Johnson’s Museum.

ABBOTSFORD, April 1830.

Divine Poetry

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Edinburgh-based Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert possesses one of the most unique & lucid poetical voices in modern Britain. Here follows his self-penned monograph upon the art & his own place in the firmament


The teachers at school always said to my parents, ‘he could do it if he wanted to,’ but no-one ever asked me, what it was that I wanted to do or indeed why my thirst for academia was so absent. Or indeed why it was that I was so seldom there. I got moved up a group when I was in the first year at upper school. There was never a lesson ever that enthralled me enough to want to be there. Going to school was an abject lesson in confronting fear on a daily basis. I had a learning disability that I was too scared to discuss. Naturally, my inner world reflected my outer world. I was a slight kid and fighting was something I just didnae do. I was soft as fuck. However, it wasnae the threat of physical violence that scared me, it was the constant insinuation of Calvert ya puff, ya queer, ya Quentin. I once sat down and tried to explain it to my Dad just, how much it was getting to me. He didnae know what to do or what to say. So I never talked about it again.


PROPHECY
(1997)

I searched The Boundaries Of Life’s Curses.
The Misfortunes That Fell Around Me.
Relentless Forces Of Change.
That Grappled Me To The Ground.
Each Time I Hit The Ground
A New Gift Approached.

Reaching Out With My Heart To
To Heal The Conditioned Insanity
Knowing That Change
Would Release The Chains
Of Enforced Working Class Spiritual Poverty.
Through The Choice Of Reinvention.
I Welcomed My New Incarnation
Of Clairvoyant And Healing Medium.
The Light Began To Grow.

Understanding The Magician.
Welcoming Enchantments.
Guiding Angels
And Crystal Family.
Healing Springs.
Healing Forces.
Healing Courses.
Healing Sources.
Healing Touch.

One By One She Unfolded.
Petals Of Expansion
Of Kindness.
Of Warmth
Of Heart.
❤

Prepared By The Battle
With The Force Of Darkness.
I Came Out The Wounded Healer.
Forgiving The Good Witch.
Then Questing The Grail.
Opened The Channel
That allowed.
Guru’s
Shiva.
Past Masters.
Channelled To The Increasingly Conscious Soul.

Choosing To Throw Away Armour
Choosing To Let Love Grow.
Greeting The Banshees.
That Would Exorcise
The Burdon Of My Tortured Soul.

Letting My Pain Go ❤.
Opening My Eyes To See Sweet Angels Grow.
Becoming The Empress
That I would Always Know
In Lives.
Past.
Present
And The Ones That Are Still To come.
We Would Always Meet.
And Become Together.


I realised at 13. Whats the fucking point. I knew then that I had a tough time with spelling, and the constant visions of people being tortured and mutilated didnae help matters. I know now, that the vision thing was a direct result of a brain injury and a near death experience from being knocked over by a car on the way to school when I was 11. School never did me any favours, looking back its not hard to understand why I resented it so much. This is why I left School with poor grades. I was soft as fuck, thick and probably damaged beyond repair in world where repair seemed impossible. So like everything else, It was a case of carrying on regardless. I left School with GCSE Grade 4. I went back to night school when I was 18 to do O level English, and passed with a Grade 3. That was the last time I attempted an exam, and yes the teachers that told my parents that “he could do it if he wanted to” were right. I just had a few pressing issues that needed to be understood and worked out first. If Dance had have been on the curriculum, I would have been hooked. If consciousness and the basic understanding of self-healing had been an option I would have got an A grade. Because that is what I was needing.

The first time I ever spoke to anyone about the mental disability that I had been dealing with since adolescence, was when I had settled in Edinburgh. It was all Spiritually guided and its synchronicity most definitely was a Godsend. Before that time my only outlet I had was through poetry. I began writing my experience in 1992 after having my first Angel Visitation. The Angel told me to write and in doing so, I would find a release that was safer and more effective than cutting myself, using hard drugs or throwing the towel in completely. The Angelic instruction to start writing was the beginning of the path that would Heal me. So inspiring “ From Pain To Peace. The Poetic Journey Of A Working Class Shaman.”

The reason I resigned from a cushty 9-to-5 was to pursue a calling. that came through a Kundalini awakening in 1994. I heard the Earth scream. “Help Me!

“How?” I Replied.
And then…
it happened.

The reality of conscious healing frequency and the truth of coexisting dimensions. the many lifetimes I had lived and the reality of Clairvoyance. Whoooosh. The challenge had been set, to prove that this stuff was real and to answer the distress call from Mother Earth.

This is where my inner reality reflected Mother Earths reality. As much as the calling was to save the Planet That We Live On. It was also a calling for me to understand and Heal my unspoken trauma and the debilitating effects that I had been dealing with silently. This is when I coined the term, “Healing The World is easier than healing our selves” Instinctively I knew that the answer was to Heal oneself and quite naturally, the Earths Healing would happen as a result. Together We Could Heal The World. But it has to start with healing oneself. In doing so, The Earth Mother heals as a result.

I mean. What greater incentive could there be?
The Power Of The Pen.
Is Mightier Than That Of A Sword.

Facebook and Grammarly have been key in building confidence. Indeed it was through my documentation of festivals that I got invited to review for The Mumble, back in 2014. My first Fringe as a reviewer. Thrust in at the deep end and succeeding beyond my wildest expectation. I overcame my fear of not being able to spell. The Mumble has been one of the best teachers I have ever had and having an Editor certainly instilled confidence. Having really clever girlfriends has been important too, but then that’s another story.

Indeed it is the reason that I am a Spiritual Healer and teacher of Rei Ki now. Once the devastating effects of the brain injury had healed, which I achieved at 36, I could finally actually convey what it was that was stopping me from having the confidence to write anything other than poetry. I guess like everything else grammar, punctuation and spelling didn’t matter when writing a poem. Once I had healed my past and the effect it was having on me, I could heal my intellect. This is when the writer formed. I had a story to tell, because I had found the solution. to the learning disability, I had when I was kid. I just needed to find the vocabulary.


david-bowie-9222045-1-402.jpgBOWIE
2008

My First Memory Of David.
When Ahmed Voragee Bought Boys Keep Swinging.
We were about twelve years of age at the time.
He lived across the back Gunnel
Of the Yorkshire bricked Terrace House
That I was brought up in
We bonded over a love of Gary Numan.

Ahmed did a brilliant impersonation of Elvis Costello
Circa Olivers Army.
There was a soft porn midden down the back
That we visited after tea.
To read stories from ancient copies of Razzel and Parade.
Get Hard and not know what to do with it.

That all changed when Kathryn Worsley
Showed me what to do with it.
When listening to Changes Two by Bowie
On the prized record player I bought From Andrew
My Big Sisters Fella.

Adam Ant And Two Tone Ska
Had a part to play.
I was a confused kid with Two Tone Tonic Trousers.
An Harrington Jacket
With Adam And The Ants chalked on the back.
And my Dad not letting me go to Princeville Working Mens Club
With a red lipsticked stripe across my face.
Well if Adam Ant could do it.
Well, Why couldn’t I.
Only his was white.

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Then Ashes To Ashes had me hooked.
And Ziggy Stardust saw everything.
He was looking from a poster on my wall
With Boy George and The Human league
Offering to support boys that looked great in make up.
And Marc Almond made it cool to be a puff
In Bradford.

Celebrity was never far away
Although I was never Gay.
Everyone I went to school with
Told me I must be.
Apart from the girls who wanted to shag me.

Because I could Dance and shoplift my music
I had a currency without money
Untill I got rumbled and taken to court
that was the end of my criminal years
The ones that I had to abort.

But by that time I had the lot!!!!

Home taping on Jengas Mums Hifi
Bought the tickets for
Duran Duran
Spandau Ballet
and Culture Club.
The New Romantics They Had me hooked.
Toyah, Japan, Landscape, Hazel O Conner
And Gary Numan
Tick and Tock and Shock.
And then robotics became my game.
As David Bowie sang about Fame.
And Love became the drug
And Music my sanctuary.

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7” !0” 12”
Picture Disc
The smell of virgin fruity Vinyl
A bygone age
But David Bowie still remains vital.
And the make up I began wearing at 14.
I still adorn at 48

No longer new.
But still a Romantic.
And the music that informed me.
That style and substance
Got me through the working class Struggle
David Bowie Kept it real

And then music became free
At The Click of a Button
Now That was a Moonage Daydream
Because If at 14 I had it.
Shoplifting wouldnae have been an option.
I could have done it on line.
Without a Fine.

Lee Ann Roripaugh: Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50

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Lee Ann Roripaugh’s new collection effortlessly evokes the brutal powers of nature untrammelled & human emotions devastated by disaster


I thoroughly enjoy a themed collection of poetry, the Vishnu Upanishads, Ted Hughes’ Crow, even John Maserfield’s Salt-Water Poems & Ballads; so went into the reading of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 with an appreciative bias. There is a certain nuance to the form which I enjoy when done well – it is not easy to make a themed collection hold a reader’s attention, for oftentimes a poet will get lost in the cul-de-sac housing schemes of their inspirations. However, ‘Tsunami’ actually transcends the form, a thought-splintered foray into the plosive destruction & pitiless aftermath of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake & tsunami, which led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

pulverized cities flung back
to water like sprinkled furikake

her radio-waved wake
an awful flower blossoming

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Roripaugh tells the story through a personified tsunami, its effect on nature, & the human fall-out of tragic events both water-slaughtery & wrought by the radioactive chaos after Fukushima. As a poet, her wordplay is practically phenomenal, combining mimesi in startling combinations, like a talented skald getting drunk in a European court, coining exciting new kennings from the play-stuff of their exotic surrounds. In her opening poem, for example, we see the ‘annihilatrix’ ‘Mechatsunami’ described as ‘shellacked wings unclung / from stacticky black elytra.‘ I mean that is just a stunning couplet.

I’ve seen many terrible things:
cages filled with withered songbirds,
horses left to starve in their stalls,
an abandoned puppy that grew
too big for the chain around its neck

As the collection unfolds we are treated to a delicate diaspora of delights; lovely lists explore subjects like the Goblin Market of Rossetti; a soul captivated by nature paints what it sees with a vivid serenity; the terrible aspects of human loss rip thro’ our mentalities with a single spin of a shuriken-phrase. The following passage is a perfect example of Rosipaugh’s ability to weave the epic waste of life & liberty into her visionary free verse;

at first, I concentrated very hard
on trying to see my feet, to know
if I was a ghost or not, but when
sneakers filled with foot bones
began to surface in the Pacific,
I stopped thinking these thoughts

leeRoripaugh (1).jpgMy favourite poem in the collection was ‘Hulk Smash’ a cinematic & pathosean dirge thro’ a father’s pathetic quest to find his missing daughter in ‘a toxic garbage dump’ where he searched for her ‘every month / in the five-hour increments / allowed by radiation guidelines.‘ In the age of Netflix, this is what modern poetry should really be doing, making us all mind movies, & Roripaugh activates the mental mechanisms sublimely. When the collection is knitted together, the overall effect is rather like the Lusiads of Luís Vaz de Camões, an epyllionic journey full of constant stimuli, where at one point we may lament ‘the gwa gwa gaw of frogs / stopped from invisible ponds‘ & at another hear a young lassie called Hisako declare;

it’s not like I ever asked
to come here and live
in this drafty prefab box
of corrugated metal
with my silent old granny

By the end of the book, I felt I had just been the weightless passenger on Roripaugh’s precious back as she free-soloed one of the minor slopes of Parnassus. Will she attempt one of the trickier faces? I do hope so, because her talent is unique. I cannot think of a poet since that of the anonymous composer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s ‘Brunanburh’ entry for 937 that has been able to condense so much of the aforementioned kenning quality into their lines. Roripaugh is also a master of moods, whose multiple shades spiral with voluminous variety as the story & stories are told. This is a book of high innovation on a level that you’re not quite sure where, but you know its happening – an excellent, excellent piece.


Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50

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Buy the Book

Birth of a Poet 6: San Guilliano

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The poet in Pisa, 2017


Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…


Friday 24th April, 1998

Another hot & pleasant day. Woke up at the Macanera, where Jesse spent half an hour searching for titbits. He found 2200 lira, 2 joints & about 3 joints worth of solid. Unfortunately he was so pissed last night that he lost his new guitar. Easy come, easy go!

We wander’d along the riverbank shouting ‘Kaptiano‘, until we found him asleep in some bushes. We quickly got a session going – vino & weed, while Kapitano made some cool South American style fires using an impossibly small amount of wood. We talked about shamanism & the Chilean mountains & peyote, Kapitano sure has traveled a lot, ain’t that the truth. He then blew my mind by having a whistling conversation with some nearby birds – amazing stuff!

Kapitano then split last night’s money 3 ways – I ended up with 6000 lira which felt wrong – but he’s the boss. We went to a different place for dinner – lots of seconds, it was quite empty. Over the plates Kapitano gave me my first formal lesson in Italians. It is as very noble language & it would be an honour to learn it. To be honest I’ve never had a faculty for foreign languages, but its worth giving it a go. I’d love to come back & spend more time in Italy. Maybe write some sonnets or something. Living among the Italians is a brilliant way to learn, but the only drawback is that my teacher is Chilean. I am sure I’ll be sounding rather unusual to the locals – a mixture of Burnley & Andes Chilean.

Managed a few more stanzas in a day which simply flew by.  I had a cappucino & stuff, but the rest of the day was a blur. I dozed on a train platform for a bit – interspersed with having a jam with a cool Italian lad in transit – then at 10PM we moved from the stazione back into town.

Pisan Spring

I walk amidst the decadence
Fading from vain magnificence
Under an April Tuscan shower
& May’s sunny majestic sunny flower
& sometimes I startle the doves
From statues the wanderer loves
& the streets antique
Lend the days a certain, sensual mystique
Oft of the glorious Pisan sunset softly I shall speak

Tomorrow I think will be my last full day with Kapitano – I’m heading off to where my poem takes me.
I did a bit of busking, but not enough for any surplus cash – just enough for vino & fags, Went to sleep o the platform again for the night.


Saturday 25th April

Got moved from our sleeping spot in the early hours by a copper – so went & grabbed a few more zzzs at the normal spot. Had lunch, then found a nice shady spot to chillax all day. Gained some y-fronts & a new t-shirt, plus my 3rd new pair of Italian shoes! Spent the day musing & composing more odes. Didn’t do any Shelley stuff as I’m having a day off. I will travel to Le Spezia tomorrow for solitude & focus. 10 days have just flown by here in Pisa, but a guy must move on eventually. I saw some pictures in a magazine of La Spezia – it looks beautiful.

The River Arno is a gentle thing
As it makes his way from the Florentine Hills,
& is clean & as fresh as Spring,
Being bless’d with a music soft, serene,
Like the chorus of church bells that ring
Out over an evening Pisan scene,

At about 6, we headed back into the centre, where a concert was just finishing. Its Liberation Day. They were playing Pomp & Circumstance by Elgar (Land of Hope & Glory) just as I arrived. I got bored after a bit, so went off to skethc the sunset. It was more or less the same one that Shelley spoke of when Byron said he thought Venetian sunsets were incomparable. Shelley retorted;

Stand on the marble bridge, cast your eye if you are not dazzled on its river glowing as with fire, then followed the graceful curve of the palaces on the Lung Arno till the arch is naved by the massy dungeon tower, forming in dark relief, & tell me if anything can surpass a sunset at Pisa

As night fell, we began to busk again – with an Italian lass collecting instead of Kapitano – but a string snapped quite early on. I got a bit stroppy I felt a little wierded out & ended up taking my guitar to the riverside where I strummed an EEGA chord sequence, watching a bat fly about & fish leap from the Arno – all quite spooky & I was clad head to toe in black.

Kapitano worked like a madman without me – I’d had the cheek to call him lazy, so take that back. He is a fucking excellent guy, & my time with him has been an experience to say the least. With the wine flowing freely, for once I just sat & watched him at work – it was more comedy than anything. Everyone who handed over money was laughing. His play was my old pair of shoes, placed in the middle of the road, priced at 1000 lira (30p). He kept saying they were Leonardo di Caprio’s shoes & by the end of the night he had made 50,000 lira & he’d even picked up a woman.Her name was Sonja -she was a a bit rough like. He even borrowed my new sleeping bag to make the maternal bed!

I am not setting off tomorrow – it will be Monday after stocking up an my food store. I’ll find something else to do tomorrow, no problemo!


Sunday 26th April

Quite an interesting day, perhaps a monumental one. The day began by waking up to see Jesse had got into bed with Kapitano’s new woman! Kapitano kept calling him ‘mother fucker’ all morning. I ate & made up a little lunch, then set off for a day in the Tuscan countryside. I wasn’t sure exactly where, but I read that Shelley had once lived in San Guilliano, & when I saw it was only 10 minutes away by train, I knew I had to go.

Our stay the baths of San Giuliano was shortened by an accident. At the foot of our garden ran the canal that communicated between the Serchio & the Arno. The Serchio overflowed its banks, &, breaking its bounds, this canal also overflowed; all this part of the country is below the level of its rivers, & the consequence was that itvwas speedily flooded. The rising waters filled the Square of the Baths, in the lower part of which our house was situated.The canal overflowed in the garden behind; the rising waters o either side at last burst ope the doors, & , meeting in the house, rose to the height of six feet. It was a picturesque sight at night to see the peasants driving the cattle from the plains below to the hills above the Baths. A fire was kept up to guide them across the ford; & the forms of the men & the animals showed in dark relief against the red glare of the flame, which was reflected again in the waters that filled the Square. Mary Shelley

So I got on the train, & like all trains in Italy it was covered in graffiti. They look cool, actually, & its definitely a smart way to got your artwork noticed. I hid in the toilet for all the wee way, & soon found myself walking into small yet stylish San Gulliano. It was flanked by beautifully flowing mountains & so, so quiet. It might have been because it was a Sunday, but it was peaceful as fuck!

With a ta-da moment I discovered that the main, arcing street was called Via P.Shelley, & a wall bust, inscribed in Italian, indicated where his house is/was. I just chilled awhile in front of it, sending my mind back to the Romantic days. I could picture him wandering about, musing away. It was here that he wrote Adonais.

I went for a cappuccino, & started to walk thro’ the town in the direction of the mountains which I intended to climb. En route I came across a place called OPERA SA GUILLIANO. There was an old guy outside drinking wine at a table with a flower on it. I asked him if I could look inside – & he said yes! To my disappointment that was no opera, just a pretty smelly set of flats. Turns out the word opera also means ‘communal house.’ On stepping outside, however,  teh old guy nabb’d me, sat me down & started feeding me. He was called Franco, a 60 year old retired chef, & the food he laid on was fantastic – which also means I can save my sandwich until tomorrow. I was given a hearty meal of bread, beans, liver. kidneys & onions – all soaked in oil He even brought our a whole pig’s leg’s worth of ham.

So I spent a good 5 hours with him, dining at his mini-restaurant, quaffing litres of fine Tuscan vino rosso, watching six street cats laze in the shade. It was fun, & Franco also enjoyed the experience – he was quite lonely I think. He babbled in to me in Italian, while I kept nodding & going ‘si’ in the right places. – we smoked loads of fags & even talked about the war!

I jump a train to San Guilliano
To walk on Shelley’s mountains, but instead
I’ll sit in the street with old man Franco,
He ploughs me with red, risotto & bread,
Plus a whole sow’s leg – my stomach doth blow,
Tho’ we hardly understand a word said,
We converse about the war, England, life,
Italy, poetry & his dead wife.

I picked up a few more words of Italian – I’m determined even more to learn the language – & loved basking in the sun! I spent a lot of moey today – well 6000 lira, but it was cool. We said farewell after more wine in a bar, where he tried to sell my last tenner to a coupel of guys as a souvenier – by which time I realised the guy was a bit crazy actually. But the fella even gave me food to take away with – a great day!

I was back at the station for my last night in Pisa by 7pm. I left a bit of graffiti there, reading ‘Burnley Football Club ‘ – plus a map of England & an appropriate arrow pointing to East Lancashire. The inscription continued

Up The Clarets 
R.I.P. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

As I was composing a cool ode, to the Modern Day Gentlemen, Kapitano turns up all panicky! wherevere ye go, walk with nobility. He had nearly called the police because I was missing!? We ate at the stazione – where I stacked up on a sandwich & fruit for my trip. We then returned to our spot by the river to busk.


This time Kapitano & Megadeth’s play was a piece of street art in the road – fruit & veg arranged very neatly in a circle. It worked a treat. For me, I was busy running plans through my mind for about an hour. It caused me a little consternation, but I eventually settled in at least going to La Spezia tomorrow. So i snapped out of it & started to jam with Max – only 4 strings on the guitar – it was fuckin’ class. There’s no better place to jam than in the streets & I came up with a funk-ass bass line.

Kapitano & Jesse have fallen out big time, & he kept calling him a mother fuck at sporadic intervals during our talk about vampyres & the like. Slept on the platform again & had a a few moments like when I wrote the Rock & Roll Wars – ie thinking of things constantly then rushing out of bed to write them down. It drove me a little crazy in Portsmouth (you should have seen the worksheets) – but this time I’m injecting more control.


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Chapter 5: Working Livorno

Chapter 6: San Guilliano

Chapter 7: Gulf of Poets

Magdalena Zurawski: The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom

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The poetry of Magdalena Zurawski has enter’d the poetic firmament, where her star radiates with talent & personality


Magdalena Zurawski is a poet’s poet, a disseminator of the vocation into the very lines of her craft. “The poem is a pair of eyes,” she tells us in Natural Skin, “moving a nose down a page.” We do not read her work to be taken upon fantastic journeys in exotic climes, or to ride the dragon’s back of passionate love. No, we read Zurawski to lie awhile beside her awkward genius, revel in her race-fit wordplay, & to examine the evidence left behind by the world through her almost mournful eye-piece; “the shapes of foreign spoons, the lightly different cut of shirt worn by men over 50.”

Zurawaski is a recent revelation, usher’d into the public consciousness by Litmus Press, when her debut collection, Companion Animal, won the 2016 Norma Farber First Book Award. Three years later, Wave Books are releasing THE TINIEST MUZZLE SINGS SONGS OF FREEDOM, a collection of 42 poems of varying life, but all deliver’d via the voracious appetite for the well-woven word-verve which Zurawski innately possesses.

Her collection is a series of abstractly European movie shorts, flashing with inspired images in eclectic combinations. ‘Someplace in your Mouth’ is an excellent example, which opens with

When the line of heads continued
through the city in a sliver
of tattered oxygen

The poems vary in length & measure, & her stanza blocks are aesthetically pleasing at all times, if a little tough to read at times. However, the more you enter her worldscape, the more you are drawn in, & the more her book becomes something of a page-turner. The reader becomes assiduously addicted to her characteristic & assured uncertainties as she teleports us into her orbit with passages such as

Oh, to have birds cooing,
bells ringing, tofu frying, and unusually
high energy levels!

I loved the pastoral punk of ‘Summer In The Network Of Privileged Carports,’ the sensual cravings of ‘Ladies Love Adjuncts’ & the staccato philosophising of ‘Does My Lip Limp?‘, but it is when Zurawski is translating the poetic experience that she really shines. In ‘The Problem‘ we see how ‘the musculature’ of her hand, ‘could no longer speed the pen to my thoughts,‘ while in the opening to ‘It’s Hard To Be A Saint,‘ she tells us;

I was sympathetic to language, but often
it shrugged me and kept other lovers.
I crawled through the commas of

Romanticism and rejected the rhythms,
though sometimes at night I could feel
a little sad.

There is a subtle prettiness to Magdalena Zurawski’s poetry, which shudders into moments of extreme & sublime majestie, such as the passage in ‘The Tiny Aches‘ with which I shall close the Mumble’s review of a cathartically sensitive poet & her transcendent art.

                                    …Four a.m. keeps ringing
Its spidery snare and all the stars are
your own headache cemented in our most ancient fears.


The Tiniest Muzzle Sings Songs of Freedom

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