Jim Jim Falls, Kakadu, Australia
Below is a recording of me reading 'Jim Jim Falls'. Hearing myself always makes me cringe, but hearing this makes me dissatisfied with the poem. I wanted to communicate how special the place was, and how diving into the water and swimming to the waterfall was indeed one of those rare, 'peak' experiences. The trouble is, the actual experience was fraught with self-consciousness, with my knowledge that it was going to be, or should be, 'memorable'. I think I wrote the poem in an attempt to memorialise and re-materialise the experience, but also, paradoxically, to point up that it was/is impossible to (re)capture it. So why am I dissatisfied? There's a phrase 'goosepimpling rule of my body' which I now find a bit awkward and lifeless. It seems to add to my feeling that the whole poem sounds a little too stilted and considered. It's a sonnet, of course. Which means that it IS very considered. Maybe I should just have read it faster, in more of a breathless gush... I'd replace that phrase with, maybe, 'white-goosefleshed howl of my body' which is more dramatic, and reinforces the 'whoops' and 'echoes' already there. Also the repetition of 'wet grip guarantees that this is real' feels like a cop-out. The last line of a poem demands more than a repetition, apt though it might be. Maybe the last two lines should read something like:
I pull you up - our wet grip guarantees
how real this is, accretes to memories
we'll slip into, deeper, more still, than this.
though 'slip into' sounds weak, and 'accretes' ('accretes'?!) is obscure. Bringing in the relationship aspect in these last lines, is also pitching the poem towards cheesiness. Isn't it? Aaaargh...help....!
My friend Gary Spendlove, who recorded it when he was down a few weeks ago, and who did the brilliant version of 'Poem While Reading Frank O' Hara...' on the 'Audio' page, says he's going to send me some mashed-up takes of 'Jim Jim Falls'. Looking forward to that. I like the idea of poems being taken out of my hands, knocked around the head a few times, and reawakened in different clothes...
The following prose poem came out in one go. I asked myself what I needed to write, and suddenly there it was. This is rare in my writing life. Having said that, there are elements - images and ideas - in it which I was aware had been 'brewing', so I don't want to give the impression that it was totally spontaneous... It's truer to say perhaps that the writing down and the collaging of these elements was spontaneous. Think I'm calling it 'sutra'....
There's a gap under the pulmonary aorta, left of the, right of the brain. Like that rock-shrine under Nottingham Castle, sealed in 1535, where an alabaster Virgin weeps tears which may or may not have been milk.
Where? Where? Where is it?
There's a lacuna between the hemispheres of the brain, left of the, right of the pelvis. A vacuum, a silence, like that snow-cave in Annapurna. The last Yeti sat at the entrance to it and chanted a sutra.
Where? Where? Where is it?
There's a grotto even Freud can't reach, where you run out of the words to cure yourself - you spin the same old story till the point of it wears a hole in the universe. You're like a grey-haired spider, creeping near the plughole, near the vortex of emptying bathwater.
What? What? What is it?
Call it the vertigo of Subatomic Space. Or the chill of Deep Space. Or Nothing. Or Death. Or Wordlessness Or the Illusion of the Self.
Lightning can crack out of it, left of the, right of the
Don't even think of monogamy, or politics, or religion, till you've knelt like a blubbering child at the edge of it and paid your dues.
First, part of a prose poem which has been trying to emerge since Spring. I
need to splice it with another narrative before it's going to make 'sense' (I
use that term loosely). Will someone explain Higgs-Boson particles to me?
They're going to find a way in there somehow. As is the influenza epidemic at
the start of the 20th century. My prose poems are often borne out of a
collision of disparate fragments of stories... Sometimes it works... sometimes
My heart's full pelt,
escaping. My foot's fulcrummed on a spike of the cemetery railings, pitching me
into the street on the other side, the live night. In this moment of pitching:
the eureka of mass equals pain. I fall. It feels like an aeroplane's crashed
through my foot's soft tissues. I won't see the wreckage till daylight. Then
I'll cradle smoke. Pluming from inside of me, against the skin of my medial
I submitted a poem
called 'Two Men Sitting Opposite Each Other On A Train, Who, Bizarrely Are Going
In Opposite Directions' as part of my doctoral thesis. That self-consciously
cutesy/awkward title was perhaps a smokescreen to disguise the fact that this
poem wasn't happy - it was a sonnet into which I was shoehorning too much
undeveloped material, hoping it would all gel in the reader's head. "Oh, it's
surrealist" was my defence. Pah! "Oh, I'm lazy" more like! I love surrealism.
It's a big influence. But for me being 'weird' is too easy, and often comes
out as fey eccentricity. I have to force myself to work towards the deeper,
imaginative core... Anyway, it went like
Fish-mouths hole-punch surface of a
Humans hungry to prove they've got
Leaking amber-gooked bandages for
returns from a London hospital,
"Garlic-clove slivers of my eyelids -
Eyebags, impediments on the path to Youth -
He's wading upstream to his ageless
Opposite seat. Train's crossing
Mudflats clipped together with buoys, gulls,
A man who behind his cataracts
crawling out of Warsaw sewers to be
treat him like a doll with no
After workshopping this poem at Nottingham
Writers' Studio recently I listened again to what the poem was wanting to say.
I realised that I'd set up this contrast between the two men because the poem
was wanting to tell me something about wounds. The honourable wounds
of an old Polish soldier, contrasted with the less-than-honourable wounds of the
man who's had cosmetic surgery. The poem was wanting to express a certain anger
about the latter. My anger. So I'm currently rewriting the poem.
I've cut out the old soldier, bless him. I'm sure I'll find a home for him
elsewhere. I'm concentrating on the first man, the 'Narcissus' figure, and I'm
placing myself firmly at his side.
Narcissus had a surgeon
the inconvenient skin
from round his
New moons of it were tweezered
My unrealised and compromised anger
seethes through some of the irony I now employ. It's there in these first
stanzas of suspiciously predictable rhythm and rhyme - which will inevitably get
a little bent out of shape as the poem progresses. The word 'horror' is the
first instance of a trochaic beat, and also of the rhyme being
And so I breathed him all that
I craved a text to know
At Waterloo we rendezvoused
brave face, brave face - and when
I had to guide him to our seats
ignore the looks. I wiped
I nursed my hero's treacling
as if they did not make
There's more to come. Can I let
the irony collapse into "You're pathetic. How can I feel sympathy?" Such
directness might be a necessary challenge, although - perhaps too enamoured with
pop music - maybe I hanker after directness a little too much. I'm not a pop
singer, after all. Being direct and saying it in a way which has never
been said before is a big ask. Finding new ways, and evocative ways, to say
things which have been said before is what the poet does, and this might
preclude directness... We'll see...