Site Meter

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Self-Portrait as Staff Meeting of the Touareg Uprising

Nakid mahedjak ya assouf erhlalan

Working within procedure, attendance at arms dump ambush
open day up on last year, a higher than usual proportion of applicants
expressing an interest in kill the rabid dogs, kill them all,
a child watching his own father hanged from the barracks yardarm
while the goat too weak to suckle cries outside my tent, did you find this
meeting very productive/productive/not productive/don’t know?

Mounting fears of destabilisation of Malian regime, beacon of democracy
in region, regulations governing second-marking and collection
of essays by students subject to quality assurance benchmarking
and review; increased porousness of desert borderlands, insurgents
snatching essays from staff pigeonholes by night. O my brothers,
you who have suffered the camps and uranium mines, when will we return

to the seminar rooms of old, scene of staff meetings our forefathers sang?
Bass player absent from this track for reasons of study leave,
exams officer for reasons of extrajudicial internment, any other business
introduced to sound of hand-claps and ululating, gesturing women,
my innumerable harem. Come the Spring, Victorian modules
follow their treacherous migration route south, invigilators

and external examiners trailing behind them, Rossetti and Browning
bedding down by the oases of Niger and Burkina Faso. Learning outcome:
this is my featureless ocean of sand like no other, dispossess me at your peril;
aims and objectives, increased public service television programming
in Tamashek, a naive backpacker from Derbyshire kidnapped
and beheaded. Joining the faculty this semester is one of the leading

goats of his generation. In an increasingly competitive sector,
what are sand dunes for? I have climbed up and down the mountains
and know the caves where the questionnaires are hidden, the Research
Excellence Framework impact statements we have worked on so long.
Further to chair’s business, violent separatist demands submitted
single-spaced in future will be returned unmarked. Parched void

my homeland, minutes of the last meeting its only laments. The monitor lizard
is cunning, but no less so the teaching assistant. As the vice-chancellor
himself prophesied over mint tea: inappropriate in the workplace,
the billowing blue-robed elder will one day return through the door
of the essay revision seminar and declare, ‘I alone am Sultan of these
my Touareg homelands, and hereby raise this fact as a point of order.’

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tale of a Horse

after Isaac Babel

It started with Savitsky taking Khlebnikov’s white stallion.

Khlebnikov was given a black mare instead, but pined for his stallion.

So Khlebnikov wrote to headquarters, who said, Give him the horse back.

Off he rode to get it and found Savitsky shacked up with some Cossack girl.

Do you know who I am?, asked Khlebnikov. It says here to give me my horse!

Do you want a piece of this, said Savitsky, waving his pistol. Get lost!

Off rode Khlebnikov to the Chief of Staff who said, I dealt with this earlier.

So Khlebnikov sat down and wrote a letter saying, That’s it, I’m off.

On and on it went, saying how much he missed his stallion.

You idiot, said the commissar, come and have dinner; it’s just some horse.

But he threw himself on the ground saying, Go ahead, shoot me.

All he wanted was his damned horse.

And off he went, and that’s how we lost him.

I saw a lot of myself in Khlebnikov.

The whole world to us was a meadow in May criss-crossed by women and horses.

Sunday, July 22, 2012


In Bohumil Hrabal’s Too Loud a Solitude
a man holds a knife to the narrator’s neck
and launches into a poetry reading, then
apologises, explaining it’s the only way
he can make people listen to his work.

Listening to your work, by contrast, I feel
I’ve got the village flasher instead, who,
having opened a raincoat on his baby-bird-
on-a-nest of a little pink winky, proceeds
to wave it in my face for a good half an hour.


from the Tamazight

Has Mahmoud married a third time in secret?
Brothers, so he would have us believe,
rolling his eyes and preening himself,
but I see him slip from his tent at night
in search not of some loose-sleeved beauty
but the storks that nest by the mosque,
singing to them while his wives sleep alone,
speaking their names like a young man in love.

Sam Riviere

I enjoyed Sam Riviere’s 81 Austerities so much I decided I couldn’t wait for his next book, and have therefore written a new Sam Riviere poem on his behalf. Hereunder. I hope he likes it. Poet in question not him, obviously.


The hair-dryer in the swimming pool is broken again,
it was roaring away to itself on the way in
and still doing it as I left, prompting the thought

‘That’s a coincidence’, but then a man in overalls
started whacking it and I knew it was broken,
at which point I thought of that reading

you gave three years ago, the sound of which
I am still to this day scraping out of my ear,
your enjoyment of which in no way lessened

as the horror of your seven-person
audience grew, reaching a condition I can
only describe as panic, and Christ but you

droned on and on; it wouldn’t in the least
surprise me if you were still there three years later
shouting at the bloody coffee dispenser.

Friday, July 06, 2012


‘Aie – Aie – Aie!
Please sir, your thumbs are through my windpipe, sir!’
– Browning, Mr Sludge,‘The Medium’

after Tibor Soustal

muse of creative writing
courses, hail! patron
of scribblers no one wants to
publish (and that’s just the prof) –’

jots bored hourly-paid
teacher stuck with ‘life writing’
for non-readers, man’s
inhumanity to the
humanities come to this.

Workshop by workshop
instalments proceed apace
of The Sword of Drax,
a tale of who-gives-a-fuck
inspired by Christ-make-it-stop.

friend, on your PhD by
novel. It remains
unpublishable. But did
Tolstoy have a PhD?

‘Dear Minimum Wage-
provider’ (mentally drafts
reference, one more
debt-crippled, fobbed-off, naive
poor innocent off his hands.)

A visiting bard,
drunk, spins a tale of what he’d
like to do to ‘that
cunt’ reviewer: livelier
by far than his wilting verse.

‘Over the weekend’
(mentally fills out report
on conference in
Derby) ‘I shared best practice,
a drinks tab, body fluids...’

Lingering late on
the library’s abandoned
classics floor he weeps,
pens hexameters to the
muse of illiteracy.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Visitors' Centre

I am passing HMP Hull when I see a sign for ‘Visitors’ Centre’ and go in. As quickly emerges, there is no exhibition area, interactive display or café. I’ve misconstrued. Not that my idea of a visitors’ centre would be such a bad thing, as I explain, showing myself out. A student of mine has worked in the prison, and I ask him whether he has ever seen any violence or other dodgy dealings inside. He drops some hints about complicity and how it gets passed on: if you as a trainee witness an older officer doing something dodgy with a con, do you report him or say nothing? That wouldn’t be for me to say. There is a bar beside the prison called the Sportsman, which features as a watering hole for prison officers in Robert Edric’s Hull-based thrillers. Surely this would cause tension with prisoners’ family members, who would also drink there, I thought. My friend Mike confirms this, but tells me people have been known to get one over on prison officers by reporting them for drink driving when they leave the pub in an overly refreshed condition. The Sportsman is a music venue, and among the bands playing there are The Penetrators, two of whose members are siblings of Hull musician Trevor Bolder, bassist in David Bowie’s Spiders from Mars alongside his fellow Hull guitar legend Mick Ronson. On his Wikipedia page, I learn that while on tour with the ‘Cybernauts’ Trevor Bolder painted his face blue but then discovered the paint was semi-permanent and would not come off. ‘Bolder had to sell his car to raise the money needed for a specialist skin peeling process at a Swiss clinic. To this day he still has traces of blue paint behind his left ear.’

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How Hideous is the Semi-Colon

CITIZENRY: Greetings Apostrophe Man, only resident superhero of Newland Avenue, Hull!
APOSTROPHE MAN: Greetings citizens, what appears to be the problem?
CITIZENRY: This man has been hit by the number 115 bus and is bleeding to death!
APOSTROPHE MAN: The rules governing the use of the possessive, though frequently encountering popular resistance, are nevertheless simple to grasp and once learned never forgotten!
CITIZENRY: Do something, Apostrophe Man!
APOSTROPHE MAN: ‘Hi’s and Her’s’, though potentially referring to the first name ‘Hi’ and the title of a novel by Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), HER (short for Hermione), is almost universally best left in the form ‘His and Hers’!
MAN HIT BY BUS: Uhhhhhhhh.
APOSTROPHE MAN: Though not without comedy value, and capable of being construed to mean ‘the trees belonging to a woman who used to be my mother (but for some reason no longer is)’, the phrase ‘Xma’s Trees’ is strongly to be discouraged!
CITIZENRY: Turn back time and save this dying man, Apostrophe Man!
APOSTROPHE MAN: Popular resistance to the possessive case, common sense would suggest, should logically take the form of eliminating the apostrophe altogether rather than sticking it in any and everywhere! Thus, ‘the homeless mans dogs smelly breath’ rather than, for instance, ‘apple’s and orange’s and pear’s’!
CITIZENRY: Do something fast, Apostrophe Man!
APOSTROPHE MAN: Though ultimately there is no accounting for how the popular mind will respond to pedantic hectoring from a part-time superhero dressed in a not very impressive cape and with a floppy apostrophe on his head!
CITIZENRY: Thanks, Apostrophe Man!
APOSTROPHE MAN: Thank you! But won’t somebody do something for this poor man? He looks like he needs medical attention, and fast!

Monday, March 26, 2012


Whaar suns are dreich
nest loom bi broch,
cry maa bi voe:
nort bi nort go.

Whaar yowe-gaets stop
greet weeg on noup;
though nigh ta lost
swim whaap ta noost.

Past lost find hame
whaar nycht claims hüm,
far laes’ daed-traa
then mirk o’er aa.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

I nGaillimh

Tuile na Coiribe
ag dul i ngairbhe –
ina ábhar círéibe,
gan stad go dearfa.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Vacuous and Unknown

I used to be Irish. No, I take that back, but as my connection to the land of my birth frays, if not entirely severs, I wonder how much longer I am expected to keep up my routine of slouching round the world with my performative gesture, my brogue, and my faggot of useless memories, to paraphrase Louis MacNeice. I’d rather just keep it bottled up. Someone complains in the pub about the government contributing to the Irish bail-out, then begs my pardon, to which I say – fine by me, complain away. I have to pay for it too, after all. When my Irishness does erupt, it can take unexpected forms. Waiting to attend a gig here by my fellow Brayman Dara Ó Briain one evening I saw him prowling the streets and found myself saluting him with a hearty ‘Go n-eirí an bóthar leat anocht, a Dhara!’, to which he replied ‘Go raibh míle maith agat’ (‘good luck’, and ‘thanks very much’). Like the old man in Synge’s The Aran Islands who told the author that there were few rich men in the wide world not studying the Gaelic, Dara will have left, I hope, with a newfound conviction that Irish is the Hullish vernacular of choice. One of Dara’s routines is about national stereotypes, and involves inventing characteristics for nations of which we know nothing. What about Vanuatu, he asks, what are Vanuatans? Vacuous and unknown, comes the reply, from an anonymous Vanuatu-hating audience member. Ah, to be not just ‘Irish’ or ‘White Other’ (as they say on equal opportunities monitoring forms), but ‘Unknown’. The great Darach Ó Catháin spent many years down the road in the more conspicuously Irish Leeds (where he was known as ‘Dudley Kane’), but to judge from a radio documentary about him failed to integrate. Great artist that he was (the best sean-nós singer of all, in Seán Ó Riada’s judgement), he chose not to break cover, remaining camouflaged in the belly of the British beast. Unknown Irish-speakers of Hull, rally to the cause: join me not in exiles’ solidarity but in shared and glorious obscurity. And when Irish ceases to be obscure enough, let us move on to even more richly inscrutable tongues: Quechua, Choctaw, Volapük. Dyuspagrasunki, yakoke, dan olik!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Interview with a Binman

Would you say rubbish
has always been important
to you? Thinking back
to the rubbish you grew up
with, what first gave you the bug?

What qualities do
you look for in a rubbish
collection? Do you
work best in groups or alone?
Geoff Nobbs – genius or madman?

How do you keep your
rubbish fresh? Are you worried
it might run out? Do
you find it hard to let go
of? So what’s next for rubbish?

Tell me about some
of the rubbish you’re working
on now. When can we
expect to see this latest
rubbish of yours in the shops?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Losels and Loblolly Men

Yield as I do to no one in my zeal to separate the speakers of Larkin’s poems from the bespectacled, balding bloke once resident in these parts, there is still a vulgar pleasure to be had from pinning his work on a definable originary subject, if only for the purposes of indignant banter with its author’s shade. Reading a feature on unemployment in Hull, I am reminded of the lines in his ‘Toads’ where, having surveyed the poor, their children and ‘unspeakable’ wives, the poem declares ‘and yet /No one actually starves’. Yes they bloody well do starve, it strikes me, reading about an 18 year-old ‘who has been unemployed since he left school and whose parents have never worked’ being talked through an induction programme by a man who announces that he wants to ‘share [the teenager’s] brilliance with the rest of society’, a compliment only marginally undercut by his suggested root causes of unemployment in these parts: drug use, alcoholism, disability and illiteracy. Rather than, for instance, the economy or ‘the cast of crooks and tarts’ who run it. Good to get that learned, as Larkin might say. These are shocking times: last year there were 58 job-seekers for every available job in Hull, I read. A quarter of benefits claimants have the literacy and numeracy skills of nine year-olds, chips in another welfare-to-work philanthropist, a-quiver with concern about literacy rates yet capable of keeping a straight face while using the word ‘proactive’. One agency, A4E, has recently been in the news for using non-existent jobs to pay itself handsome sums of government money while simultaneously stripping the unfortunate jobless of their benefits. I am reminded of another agency, now departed, that rejoiced in the name ‘InAction’, its job presumably to go around the place stirring up apathy. But getting back to Larkin and his prole-baiting: confronted with the unpublished doggerel quatrains beginning ‘I want to see them starving, /the so-called working class’, John Osborne suggests they would make an excellent socialist satire if retitled ‘The Ballad of the Fascist Bastard’ or ‘Colonel Blimp’s Epitaph’. And try as I might, I too am unable to muster overmuch indignation on that score, or at the thought of an art with the effrontery not to consider my finer feelings. Larkin never believed literature would save anyone’s life, let alone anyone’s job, and never pretended otherwise. Where his riper unpublished poems are concerned, I suspect the Larkin-haters were secretly glad to have them, if only for the pleasure of pinning their elusive prey down to a fixed, and conveniently objectionable, position. Were I a losel or a loblolly man, rather than a lisping lecturer, I know which I’d prefer, in a straight choice between ‘Toads’, or even ‘I want to see them starving’, and droning inanities about ‘sharing my brilliance with the rest of society’ from hucksters rounding up semi-slave labour for the nearest multinational. Though there’s always that job as a ‘horizontal borer’, which I see the job centre is advertising, instead. To all of which I suggest the appropriate Larkinesque response is a monosyllabic ‘Bum’, hereby shared ‘with the rest of society’.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Extinction’s Alp

I want to go to hospital, screams a demented woman several rooms down from me on the ninth floor of Hull Royal Infirmary. I want to go to bed, groans the elderly man opposite me from his bed. Tom Paulin once described Hazlitt’s prose as ‘taut and flaccid’, and there is something simultaneously loose and pinched about my room-mate’s exposed chest, Zurbaran’s St Jerome-meets-late-period Iggy Pop. I have been sequestered on presenting in the maxillo-facial unit (Max Fax to its friends) for an abscess on my jaw, courtesy of a recently removed wisdom tooth. In Larkin’s ‘Ambulances’, any street corner becomes the entrance to the pit of doom, via the speeding vehicles’ deathly portals. Here in hospital, by contrast, power resides with the lift. Though I’m free to move around and do as I wish, the distance down to the breezy café by A&E, there to contemplate a melancholy cheese roll or a community art installation, is well beyond my willpower. Asked once too often for my name and date of birth, I reply with ‘My name is still David Wheatley and I was still born on 16 August 1970’, before realizing how that might sound. An all too appropriate mistake, under the circumstances. For company, when not scanning posters warning me of the dangers of ‘anal fishers’, I have, as it happens, Archie Burnett’s new edition of Larkin, which identifies his ‘Building’ not with the hospital I’m currently occupying but the now-demolished Kingston General, whose Victorian pile can hardly have made much of a ‘clean-sliced cliff’. Regardless of location, the mountaineers crouched below ‘extinction’s Alp’ maintain their skyward trudge with the same weary resolve on show in Larkin’s poem. Whether talking about their illness or not, whether in blind screaming panic, devouring a monster bag of Doritos or entering a state of auto-embalmment (my room-mate has gone mercifully quiet), my fellow passengers in this frail travelling coincidence are unified only by illness and death. A conversation about liver cancer is a conversation about death, but so is a conversation about what’s on the telly later and whether there will be ice-cream with dinner. But worse again, it strikes me, is not how much more panicked or urgent conversations in hospital are than down the bookie’s or over the Morrison’s salad counter, but how greyly and utterly the same they are. The film of death-awareness spreads dully over every other conceivable activity: putting the bins out (you will die), feeding the cats (if not now soon), posting a letter (of something painful and lingering). Having covered the whole of existence, though, it collapses in on itself and effectively vanishes again, and all of a sudden my hospital stay takes on the inoffensiveness of anything else I might be doing instead: shopping for mushrooms (who wants to live forever), catching the no. 13 bus (I probably won’t feel a thing anyway), queuing outside the post office in the rain (goodbye cruel world).