Thursday, 31 May 2012


Barbican Theatre
30 May 2012
The Ninagawa Company

Cymbeline is a weird (and wonderful) play.  Mix Japanese painting, Roman symbolism and periwigged 18th century Viennese musicians (all in the same scene) and it is weirder still.  Then play it all in Japanese.

I'm not sure, had this been a British production, whether the audience would have given it quite the ovation it received last night, except that, despite the promiscuous shuffling of eras and idioms (which after all Shakespeare does himself in the play), this felt like a remarkably faithful rendering.  It managed to do what it is thought Shakespeare was trying to do: to marry comedy and tragedy.  There is something almost Dickensian about Cymbeline, in its cast of grotesques, heights of feeling, coincidences and sheer energy.

The Japanese cast projected wonderfully.  Even my aid-less ears could hear everything.  Unfortunately I could understand nothing and could not see the surtitles at all.  So I took notice of the delightful, attentive acting of the attendant lords, not least the movement of their hands.

How was it, I have been asked.  "It was very long.  And in Japanese," I have replied, perhaps rather facetiously, suggesting that piety rather than pleasure kept me in my seat.  But the truth is I am glad to have seen it.

Gem Street

Gem Street is the first of a proposed annual anthology of short stories, published by The Labello Press in Ireland. The editor (and founder of Labello) is Deborah McMenamy. It can be purchased on Amazon, here.

Contributors: Paul Burns, Zoe Gilbert, P.W.Bridgman, Carol Brick-Stock, Christian Cook, Evan Guilford-Blake, Helen Kampfner, Michael Madigan, Noel O'Regan, and Steve Wade.  Oh, and Wynn Wheldon.

My story is called  'Apples'.

Shane Williams' Last Match

Leinster v Ospreys Pro 12 Final, Dublin

(OK, not quite Shane's last match, which will be for Barbarians v Wales on Saturday)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Three Hot Pics

After these several hot days, three pictures of sand by friends.

Lines in the Sand (1995) by the late Simon Black

West Texas 1988 by Tarka Kings

Kopje at Dawn, Serengeti, by Alison Pery

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Poetry Reading

Poetry & Music
at the Tricycle
Friday 22 June 7 - 9pm
to celebrate
The Brondesbury Group’s
10th Anniversary
Following the success of our recent poetry reading
at the Poetry Society you are invited to join us for
an evening of poetry and music in the
Baldwin Room of the Tricycle Theatre

Refreshments available
Please let us know if you are coming:
Sue Whitmore 020 8459 6406
Chrys Salt      020 8969 9221  

I am reading at this, so please do come.


Wednesday, 23 May 2012


On June 7 is published 'Winning Words: Inspiring Poems for Everyday Life'.  Those of you who know me will know that I have been working as William Sieghart's 'adviser' (his word!) on this project for over a year.  Most of the fruit of my labours is to be found at a website, here, but this book is a quite separate off-shoot, and altogether worth the purchase (a mere £4.31 on Amazon).  For those who failed to get tickets for the Olympics, this will more than make up for your disappointment.  So, go on, tickle the citterne with your quill, and buy a copy.

Late Fragment

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

Raymond Carver

Monday, 21 May 2012

BIG LIT 2012

Big Lit is "a festival in a day" in Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway. It is run by poet and all-round theatrical dynamo Chrys Salt.  It takes place this year on 26 May.  My personal involvement is two poems in shop windows, so should you be in South West Scotland on Saturday, do head for Gatehouse of Fleet and scour every window in the High Street, looking for 'Riot Poem' and 'Chefs of Soho'.  You'll find even more interesting stuff being read out loud at a venue nearby (everywhere is pretty nearby in Gatehouse of Fleet, so far as I can gather).

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Elgar Cello Concerto

Jacqueline du Pre plays the first movement.  Conducted by her husband Daniel Barenboim. Take just 8 and a half minutes to sit and watch and listen.  I promise it will make you feel better, even if you're feeling good to begin with.


If you are interested in Good and Evil or Pol Pot you will find this book of interest. You can read my review of it here. And you can buy it here.  It is definitely not a gift book.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012


I confess this is something of an experiment.  'Tiny Disturbances' is a pamphlet of poems by me, officially published by Acumen on June 1st, (when it should be available from Amazon and the Acumen website).  I am going to attempt to make it available from me, by means of Paypal.  Pretty scary stuff, I think you'll agree.  I hope someone will try.  OK, here goes.

Monday, 7 May 2012


My father would have been 96 years old today.  Robert Browning would have been 200.  Be nice to have a few more mornings like this one:

Faster and more fast,
O'er night's brim, day boils at last:
Boils, pure gold, o'er the cloud-cup's brim.
Where spurting and suppressed it lay,
For not a froth-flake touched the rim
Of yonder gap in the solid gray
Of the eastern cloud, an hour away;
But forth one wavelet, then another, curled,
Till the whole sunrise, not to be suppressed,
Rose, reddened, and its seething breast
Flickered in bounds, grew gold, then overflowed the world.
 from Pippa Passes

Friday, 4 May 2012


A rather nice picture of my father that I haven't seen before.

There appears to be a dedicated page to Monitor, here. Rather infuriatingly there are only a couple of clips, although there are many such available on other parts of the BBC site, such as Larkin meets Betjeman. 

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

New Poem at Snakeskin

I have a new poem, 'Love Hurts', on the simply stupendous online poetry mag - sorry, webzine -  Snakeskin.  It has been going almost since going began, sometime in the mid 90s, and is now up to issue 186, which can be viewed here.  It was founded and is edited by George Simmers.  More info on Snakeskin here.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Nan Hardwicke Turns Into a Hare by Wendy Pratt

It is infuriatingly difficult to find much scholarly stuff about witch-hares on the net, but those of you who are Jstor subscribers will find something useful here:

It isn’t by any means essential to know any of this stuff, but it is impossible, having read these poems, not to go in search of Nan Hardwicke and her fellow witch-hares.  I found this on a site called Encyclopedia Mythica.  I have absolutely no idea how reliable it is, but there must at least be a smidgin of truth:

Hares were strongly associated with witches. The hare is quiet and goes about its business in secret. They are usually solitary, but occasionally they gather in large groups and act very strangely, much like a group of people having a conference. A hare can stand on its hind legs like a person; in distress, it utters a strange, almost human cry which is very disconcerting to the listener.

Watching such behavior, people claimed that a witch could change her form at night and become a hare. In this shape she stole milk or food, or destroyed crops. Others insisted that hares were only witches' familiars.

These associations caused many people to believe hares were bad luck, and best avoided. A hare crossing one's path, particularly when the person was riding a horse, caused much distress. Still, the exact opposite superstition claimed that carrying a rabbit's or hare's foot brought good luck. There is no logic to be found in superstitions.

So there we have it.  Of the fourteen poems in this pamphlet, five are ‘Nan Hardwicke’ poems.  They are written in the first person.  Nan is the poet’s alter-ego.  The overwhelming sense is that Nan provides both a way out of the poet’s tragic real world (dominated by the still-birth of her daughter) and a persona with which to reflect on difficult or associated feelings of disappointed motherhood.

There is a mother in the first line of the first poem, ‘How to Find Spaces to Lose Things In’.  There is a garden too, and a handbag.  The themes of the book are set out: nature in both its beastliness and its beauty, the mundanity of ‘real life’, and mothering or motherhood.  The poem itself is a kind of fugue, playing on a series of images: straps, pearls, brokenness, dresses, the sky.  It demands reading and re-reading, and has an almost gyroscopic effect.  It ends in a kind of hope that feels brave rather than true.

This is followed by the first Nan poem, dedicated to the poet's daughter, which works almost as a flashback, Nan entering the hare and “Pushing her bones / to one side to make room for my shape / so I could settle myself like a child within her”.  The poem describes what an embryonic poet (literally) might make of being inside her mother.

So the poet is already inhabited, and a pregnancy test follows, in ‘In the Bathroom’.  It shows first negative, to the father’s despair, and then positive,, “a faint pink line, too slow / in my palm”.  It turns out that this, sadly, is an omen.

The poet takes on another persona in the next poem, that of the Duchess of Devonshire giving away her bastard.  We can see the “black maw” as an equivalent to death; as she gives the baby away she is left with  “milk / in my breasts” and not knowing “how to hold my arms now”.  These physical details are enormously touching, and make everything, however distant – Nan or Duchess – extremely present and real.

Nan is now hunted as a hare and manages just to escape.  There is in this the suggestion of fear, of having always to be very careful, of being on the edge of catastrophe: “I still had a hare’s foot / tucked beneath the hoop of my skirt”.  Lucky.

There follows an extended exercise in pathetic fallacy, the subject being not a handbag but a supermarket plastic bag dancing about the yard.  Bags, like hares, like mothers – is this too fanciful? – contain things , are receptacles – oranges, bottles, shopping, testicles.  The bag’s “belly hung low”.  Always there are echoes.

At the start there is lust and then comes conception, and ‘Behind the Velvet Rope’ manages the extraordinary trick of rendering as genitalia the bed in a room on a guided tour of a country house.  The poet “becomes a voyeur to the ghost / of someone else’s love”.  Love, lust, death.

The next poem describes the statue of a Roman boy who died young, and ends with this marvellous verse:

…a mother curled, like a dead wasp,
around a red clay urn.  Her grief a tide
that washes up my back, across the years;
shaerd loss, the same.

The dead wasp is wonderfully acute, and oo the tears of grief turned into a tide, somehow evoking distantly Matthew Arnold, and washing up her back, and thereby knocking all possible cliché for six, because why her back, except that, yes, it isn’t the heart or the head or the gut that grief sweeps up…

Pregnancy is announced with sickness, but it is Nan’s cat that is sick in ‘Nan Hardwicke’s Familiar’, and both cat and witch are old, now short of breath, waiting for each other’s demise.  “She is more a part of me than I am” writes Nan, and again the reader cannot help but be reminded of all the withinnesses that have preceded this poem, which heralds death.

The two poems that follow - 'A Week on Friday' and 'Funeral' - are poems that follow death.  They are intimate, personal, straightforward, brave because the mother has transformed herself, magically, Nan-like, into the poet in order to witness, somehow dispassionately, the funeral day.  And of course all this dispassion, in touching paradox, speaks of great pain. 

In ‘Scrying’, the long poem at the heart of the pamphlet, Wendy Pratt becomes Nan Hardwicke again in order to describe how the devil has visited her and “carried off the contents / of my head” and left her “mad”.  I think it is appropriate to see in this an analogy – indeed it is strongly implied - with bringing forth “a bairn that was as still as earth”.  The poem ends, I think, with a kind of triumph, the devil defeated, burned, seen off.

And after all this – this “tempest” - the final poem, which brought tears to my eyes, records a moment of loving tenderness between the two parents who find themselves not parents, but who have nevertheless survived grief.  There is no sense of sorrow banished, but rather of love affirmed, gently, and “the thrum of life” acknowledged.

This is a terribly moving series of poems and deserves all the exposure it can get.

Wynn Wheldon

Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare
by Wendy Pratt (Preface by Alison Brackenbury)
Prolebooks, £4.50, 28pp
ISBN 9780956946935

Available from Prolebooks