Tuesday, 3 March 2015

FUERU by Tony Lewis Jones

by Tony Lewis Jones
edited by Rachel Bentham
Available from Amazon here.

I think you have to have a bit of nerve to write haiku, so close do they often veer to the bleedin’ obvious. I’ve no doubt many more get thrown away as get  published.  So it is a kind of tightrope the poet walks.  Luckily for Tony Lewis Jones he has both nerve and balance, and in many ways it is a perfect form for his particular ability to rescue sensation from sentiment.
         Lewis Jones is, as a result, recognised as a master of the form in Europe.  I don’t know whether he reads Japanese, and I don’t much care.  These are British perceptions, written with a British sensibility, tiny blinks of irony relieving what might otherwise seem a little po-faced.

Easter, you arrived early
in utter cold -
we clutched our coffee
in the restaurant
and hung on.

This little collection describes the year (admittedly following traditional Japanese requirements) with delicate little word pictures, commencing with its rebirth in Spring.  Easter is recognized and Rosh Hashanah, a cathedral is described. These are religious way posts that point to the ability of the form (which is concerned with the juxtaposition of contrary ideas) to marry the sacred and, if not the profane, then the sensuous. 

Cathedral -
icons, incense,

Here “cathedral” carries enormous weight, abstract, historical. It is mellowed to the moment by reference to sight and smell, and the ‘on-en-an’ around which the poem weaves its sound.

Irony again inflects another, longer (relatively speaking), poem:

At the bus-station, a pretty girl
rolls herself a cigarette.
I reflect on the church's
square steep tower rather
than her rather beautiful legs.

You can’t keep the church out, but then it is hard to ignore the legs. 

Tony Lewis Jones has always had an eye for beauty.  Even in his war poems, he evokes not the brutality but the pity of war.  Here, then, we find a spider’s web hung with dew, yellow roses, a dappled forest glade, apple blossom, a cat stretched our, a songthrush.  These are the delicacies of nature, small and often underheard or overlooked.  In this age of the shrinking attention span Lewis Jones is doing a job that needs doing.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


Poem by me at Three Drops from a Cauldron yet another bit of poetry action from the indefatigable Kate Garrett.  The poem was originally published in Acumen.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015


This review originally appeared in Lunar Poetry No. 5

Drawn on Water
by Mel Pryor
Eyewear Publishing, £5.00, 32pp

I defy anyone to find serious fault with this collection of twenty intelligent, intelligible poems.  Doubtless, there are readers of a misanthropic bent who will find it altogether too likeable, and there are those who prefer the riddles of obscurity to Pryor’s relatively plain spoken responses to life’s little (actually pretty big) mysteries.
         The title, ‘Drawn on Water’ takes Keats’ nib and refashions it into a brush. Nature and our responses to it, including all the big stuff – birth, love, death – is not only transient but shifting, a nice difference, suggesting not only mutability but also opacity:

…the mind is a shifting thing,
can change like alder drawn on water

There is a sense, a benevolent suspicion, that many of these poems are written against that transience, in order to pin experience, to fish it out and dry it on earth.  For those lyric poets amongst us – so many! – that, if we are honest, is the purpose of our poetry.
For Pryor, dry earth is existence its very self.  The poet moves – “first things first” -  out of the primordial, pregnant waters of ‘Heritage dive’, in which her daughter has “pinched the DNA / of a goldtail angelfish” and her daughter’s father is “over there, inside the big bald flounder” to a picket-fenced garden in which the daughter explores (“constantly moving, nomadic”)  the world  her parents have “rooted” themselves into; and whether it is “stromatolite time” or “fifteen centuries of aisle” or the years that make up the poet’s “personal narrative”, time is often the measure in these poems. “When did time erase them?” the poet wonders of old lovers in her “heart’s previous lives”.
In the lovely ‘The Waterboys play ‘The Whole of the Moon’’, the poet remembers a carefree drive among the Italian lakes – “open top and a glaze of alcohol” – and

…remembers thinking
We would never love like this again

And this memory touches, gilds with a kind of sweet melancholy, a return journey years later.  The poem ends with an absolute peach of an analogy:

I hold onto that slim translucent memory
the way the day will sometimes
hold onto the moon in its blue sky.

Having suggested the earthing of these poems in time, and, given the title of the collection, it might be best to recognise how often the liquid world is invoked: “the world we swam from”, “the puddled swing”, “tired waves”, “a pool of shade”, “my dream of a Northumberland shoreline”, returning, in the last poem, to the “alder drawn on water”. 
         The poem ‘Back’ may be taken as the most typical poem in the collection, in which most of the themes Pryor is interested in find some kind of shape.  A small naked child is in the bath and leans forward to reveal a ‘map’ – perhaps a birthmark at the base of his spine. The poet is reminded of the “precise moment” when this “map” was formed, when early in her pregnancy, while consulting a real Ordnance Survey map on a walk in the Lake District, she “felt a shift of love / inside me”.  Childhood, memory, pregnancy, discovery, the umbilical relationship of individual to the world, and mystery: all these themes mingle in this deceptively simple poem (that is, again, full of water).
         Mystery, because throughout this collection there is a sense of wonder that gives its poems their tenderness.

When she comes close to his sweet expectant
face, she thinks how little he knows of her,
how little anyone knows of anyone else.
(St Bride’s)

In ‘Rose’ she beholds her daughter “as if she was made by stars and the sun, / not me, not us”, and “can only guess at her language, / what tiny kingdoms, myths / and creatures, what mysteries it holds”.
         As an antidote to all this lovely mystery and love and so forth there is ‘The little slug woman’, which is really quite nasty (although perhaps it is just sad), but again it is a poem that plants humankind thoroughly into the natural world.
         Most of these poems are written in free verse, though often with consistent stanza lengths and rhyming sometimes so discreet as to be – like that Italian moon – translucent.  There are – something that sometimes seems de rigeur for contemporary poetry – plenty of words I had to look up: stromatolite, mussitation, vernixed, girandole, ormer – but looking up is good for you, and generally the language is clear cut.
         Drawn on Water will provoke no head-scratching.  Its poems will appeal to any intelligent reader.  It is hard to write so straightforwardly without recourse to cliché (or clever-clever anti-cliché, for that matter).  Pryor’s subjects are as old as poetry, and we all recognise them, but her experience of them is very much her own. This collection is fresh, accomplished, and, best of all, enjoyable.

Wynn Wheldon

Tuesday, 24 February 2015


I think that's a phrase from Henry James, but I've no idea of its provenance.  This gnarled beauty - John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn - is on Hampstead Heath.  I think it is a kind of maple. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong. I walked by it as the sun began to whiten this afternoon.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015


Billy's hit song was called "Red Hot," and it was red hot. It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life. 
He did it with style and grace. You won't find him in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He's not there. Metallica is. Abba is. Mamas and the Papas -- I know they're in there. Jefferson Airplane, Alice Cooper, Steely Dan -- I've got nothing against them. Soft rock, hard rock, psychedelic pop. I got nothing against any of that stuff, but after all, it is called the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Billy Lee Riley is not there. Yet. 
I'd see him a couple times a year and we'd always spent time together and he was on a rockabilly festival nostalgia circuit, and we'd cross paths now and again. We'd always spend time together. He was a hero of mine. I'd heard "Red Hot." I must have been only 15 or 16 when I did and it's impressed me to this day.
I never grow tired of listening to it. Never got tired of watching Billy Lee perform, either. We spent time together just talking and playing into the night. He was a deep, truthful man. He wasn't bitter or nostalgic. He just accepted it. He knew where he had come from and he was content with who he was. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Q: Do you think of this album as risky? These songs have fans who will say you can’t touch Frank’s version.
A: Risky? Like walking across a field laced with land mines? Or working in a poison gas factory? There’s nothing risky about making records. Comparing me with Frank Sinatra? You must be joking. To be mentioned in the same breath as him must be some sort of high compliment. As far as touching him goes, nobody touches him. Not me or anyone else.

Sunday, 1 February 2015


Just came across this while idly pootling on my 'puter.  Massively popular (22 plays in a year), I feel as though I'm no the road to literary stardom.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Curiouser and Curiouser

The Daily Telegraph has recently done one of those 'best of' lists that causes conniptions in everyone.  This time it is a list of the best TV adaptations of books.  I am connipted by the absence from this top 20 of Jack Pulman's quite brilliant War and Peace, with Anthony Hopkins as Pierre.  I remember Dad telling me that the BBC hired the Yugoslav Army for the battle scenes.  I'm sure there must be production stories about that.  Also on the list is Jonathan Miller's 'Alice in Wonderland'.  It casued a bit of a fuss.  Here's a Garland cartoon that appeared at the time (1966), with Dad up a ladder (not a place I remember ever seeing him myself).

Deatils of my biography of my father here: http://unbound.co.uk/books/kicking-the-bar

See How Small

My review of Scott Blackwood's 'See How Small' is in The Spectator this week, here.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015


“Huw Wheldon was a most remarkable man, and his son Wynn has written a remarkable book about him in the great tradition of books by sons about their fathers. Huw’s impact at the BBC and the Arts in the country in the 20th Century was immense. He was a brilliant man, serious and funny at the same time, and able to interview on television some of the greatest artists of the 20th century. This is a bold portrait of a man and an age and the son who has spent half a lifetime getting to know him.” Melvyn Bragg

Read more about my biography of my father here:


This year marks the 150th since Yeats' birth.  My friend Mary McCormack brought this to our poetry stanza (The Brondesbury Group) last night.  It was good to hear it again, and, as it always has been and always will be, it is spot on. What a poem. Originally published in 1921.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert.
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

W.B. Yeats

AFTER LIFE by Wynn Wheldon


Twenty years gone, I find you occasionally
In long-untouched notebooks or my sister’s face.
And I suppose you’ll linger until we are all come
To meet you at the far edge of life.

At which point you will head off, following
The ones you loved and loved you while we wait
To greet the ones we’ve left behind, laughing
At their fears, losses and nervousnesses.

Oh, wouldn’t it be a fine thing, an afterlife?
When the whole joke was revealed and our heads
Could rest easy every night and we could wake
Without this stiffness in the bones, of the spirit.

Wynn Wheldon

This poem was originally published by Snakeskin in December 2013

Monday, 19 January 2015

BOOKS 2015

MYRTLE by Ruth Wiggins (my review on Sabotage is here)
SEE HOW SMALL by Scott Blackwood (review here)
BRING UP THE BODIES by Hilary Mantel
SILENT NIGHT by Robert B. Parker
HATCHET JOB by Mark Kermode
AQUARIUM by David Vann
FRE FALL by Robert Crais



Compayne Gardens has played an important part in my life too. My father visited a girlfriend here in the late 1940s. Decades later, in her own lovely flat, I proposed to my darling wife.

Saturday, 17 January 2015


I've been writing this for some years. It is what I call a biographical memoir of my father.  It is being published, I hope, by Unbound, the leading subscription publisher.  I say "I hope" because it all depends on my getting sufficient pledges for the book to make any kind of commercial sense.  Here's all the stuff you need to know: