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Another of Mike’s essays on the short stories of Rudyard Kipling joins those already published (in Southlight 23 on his story Preface, in Thresholds’ archive on The Eye of Allah) with the publication of The Burden – The Gardener, by Rudyard Kipling, in Issue 37, to be published in March 2019 by The Blue Nib literary journal. You’ll find a few references to the writer here on the blog too!


Inspiration has had a bad press over the years, being sidelined by its second cousin twice removed, perspiration. Writing, we’re told, is ninety percent perspiration and only 10% inspiration. Writers go on about how carefully, and how often they have worked a sentence. Of course, that might go a long way to explaining something (like hwy there’s so much uninspired writing about). Sentences, like pastry, can be over-worked.

hWat hasn’t been inspired isn’t likely to inspire, one might argue; one might, in fact, be asserting.

But if you’re being paid to churn out copy year on year, month after month, week through week, day by day (let alone the hourly workload of the ‘successful’ blogger or tweeter) we might expect to have to rely on perspiration, rather than inspiration; that, and on the hope that the results of the former will disguise the lack of the latter. -( could be the eponymous hero of a story there: ‘The Adventures of Lack of the Latter’. Just a thought…BHDandHim)

For those of us not driven by the pound in someone else’s pocket, though, it might be that we can turn to inspiration to fall back on (though it might seem like falling on a sword …MeandBHD)

But we have to be motivated to perspire, or driven by hwat inspires, or hwy would we do it? Surely not to paper over the us shaped hole we fear to find in the universe?

Don’t tell me hwat you can. Tell me hwat must be told.

Thought For The Day on BBC Radio 4 this morning was in essence a call for us to accept the message in proportion to our belief in the messenger…a variation on the ‘don’t shoot the messenger’ we’re sometimes given.

The idea that the messenger validates the message, rather than the message validating the messenger is one that I’ve touched on before, and Radio 4’s correspondent this morning was saying the exact opposite to what I’ve argued: that we must evaluate the message, not rely on our feelings about the messenger. I’m  not offended that Radio 4 should offer this viewpoint airspace, nor am I calling for anyone to be banned… but I do think it’s a not quite cooked assertion to make.

One could offer a stream of names, Dr Goebbels being perhaps one of the most obvious of them, of people who depended on trust in them to get the most pernicious of messages across.. But to go down that road is to some extent a denial of responsibility.. a sort of message equivalent of ‘a big boy did it and ran away’, a version of, ‘I was only following orders’.

We might revise our opinion of heroes, saints, and other celebrities, when they talk rot, but we don’t need to throw them out with the bath water: we all have our blind spots, make our mistakes, are misled, haven’t thought things through properly – often in the case of people (who are people) to whom we attribute infallibility (which is inhuman, I would have thought – perhaps mistakenly?). Just as people whom we think of as, or even know to be, nasty, wicked, evil and (allegedly) inhuman, will often tell us things that are, nevertheless, plain common sense.

So, I wasn’t too impressed with this morning’s call to thought, or rather, the suspension of it, in favour of trust. Just a thought, trust me.

A useful response here – making much clearer what I was fumbling for!


I have done some thinking about a post by Mike Smith on the changes brought about by a digitalised accessing of books, film and music might have. You can read the piece, here: As usual, Mike’s writing is excellent.

It might surprise you that if you ask Alexa to play the first track from the first Popol Vuh album from 1970 it can. It might also surprise you to know that good live versions of tracks by jazz greats can be brought up in the time it takes you to open your mouth. It might surprise you brilliant Nina Simone songs can be pulled out of the ether in this way. However, if the track you are looking for has more than one version… the computer can’t find you the one you want. It doesn’t matter how many times I scream ‘NO, NO: the one with the longer Charlie Parker solo’ at…

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So HMV is going to bite the dust….that’s sad. But who uses dvds these days (apart from me)? One thing that wasn’t commented on, this morning on the BBC is how the move away from physical to digital recordings, from printed page to e-book, from film, through dvd to streamed movies, is a move away from the integrity of the stories we are being told, in words and pictures.

Digitalisation has loosened the ties that bind texts and films to their origins. Your E-book can be edited, and so can can your digital movie; and in this instance editing means censoring. What offends us in the past can be edited out, changed, misrepresented or simply tweaked, and the further from the original we get, the easier it will be done. What’s inconvenient to those in power, of whatever stripe, at the present time can be sidestepped, or stepped on.

There has always been something similar going on. Paragraphs were removed when first editions were reprinted. Movie scenes were excised when film was transposed to dvd. But the films, and first editions wouldn’t all be removed or destroyed. The evidence still remains, and in the hands of readers and viewers. In my time of schooling we were shown the pictures from which Trotsky had been removed on Stalin’s orders, and the still existent prints of the original photos. But the streamed digital download, especially if your device is still connected to the source, can be edited, or even removed, at the will of…..who knows who or how, eh?

And it won’t be done, friends, for our benefit. Just a thought.


Freiraum unthanks picture2.docxIn the days after Freiraum I have kept returning in my mind to one thought: how can art events have a more sustainable impact?

To ask a another question (but one that runs off that one), how can we maintain the momentum built by having an event like Freiraum in our city? When the funding machine rolls out of town… when the people with gold chains go home… when the cameras are wheeled away… when the local journalists are away elsewhere… what is left? If you, too, are asking yourself that question – perhaps the first step is to find out about John Chambers’ ‘Beacon’ project – which takes place under the umbrella of his ‘Patchwork Opera’ – find it on Facebook – or via the Speakeasy page there (I can’t give you a link, I’m afraid…).

I like Auden, but I don’t love Auden the way many other poets…

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Missed it by a whisker! But not the next one, I hope!


Here is what I wrote for the fanzine, if you’re interested. I think (in true fanzine style) it might be a little bit difficult to get hold of.


Symposium audienceThe biannual Carlisle Poetry Symposium on the 24th of November featured nationally and internationally regarded poets, as well as writers based in this corner of the world. The Phil and Lit Society in the Fisher Galleries, Fisher Street, were kind enough to let us host the event there.

The whole idea of the Symposium is to promote the poetry and the poets of Carlisle/Cumbria and to provide a link between the open mic element of live events here (like the redoubtable Speakeasy poetry nights) to wider poets, to poetry presses, and poetry on the page, too. Each Symposium includes input from specific poetry presses, or magazines, or specific editors. This means that it is a rare opportunity for different writers…

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Malcolm Carson plus headsI got asked to write a feature on the Symposium for a fanzine! And there’s a journalist coming to my house (!) to interview me today. Given that interest, I wanted to put down dome early thoughts.

I’d firstly like to thank everyone for their positive comments about the second Carlisle Poetry Symposium. After the May Symposium I tried to track back my favourite ‘moments’ from the event, but that is going to be too big a task or this event. I’ve had some brilliant feedback and some constructive thoughts, too. I will post up developments as they happen: but I would like to grow the Symposium over time. It might well be that, in time (i.e. years) it becomes a bigger event. And there’s been some discussion (following on from the panel on the day) about funding. The irony of poets talking about not getting paid for reading events…

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Yesterday I kicked off the lunchtime poetry reading at Maryport’s The Settlement, as part of a weekend celebrating the meeting there of Norman Nicholson and Percy Kelly in 1959.

I came home with the same question in my mind as had been there when I set off (and for a long time before!). That question is ‘what makes you – the writer – think it’s a poem?’

It’s not simply a matter of techniques, like rime, and rhythm, and alliteration, for all those techniques can be used in what is clearly prose. It’s not simply a matter of profundity or any other quality of content. Both poetry and prose can be deep, still and unfathomable; both can be shallow, fast flowing and limpid. Both, to push the metaphor, can be pools or streams.

It’s not simply a matter of the line breaks either……is it? Yet the line breaks are the one obvious marker of the poem.

Perhaps it’s not simply a matter at all, but rather subtly and complexly one; a matter even, perhaps of intention, of what we’re thinking when we decide to put in the first line break, and what we’re thinking in the aftermath of that decision.

The word ‘purity’ springs to mind, with implications, for me, of deep insight, and tight focus, and tighter structure. But I could say the same of prose, where I’d probably add, clarity, and revelation, but also, contradictorily, ambiguity and suggestion. Not helpful is the fact that we can have ‘poetic prose’, and think that an enhanced variety; we can have prosaic poetry – but will probably think that diminished.

Yet, the fact remains, though I have reached no conclusions, that I still, and often ask that question. The late (and great) Geoffrey Holloway once demanded in a poem, that we ‘ask the right question’, which here might be instead, ‘what makes me – the listener, or reader – think it’s poetry?’ But we still might have to put with not knowing the answer!  

Overheard in a Carlisle Travel Agents yesterday: The Virgins come in cheapest…..