Friday, 30 April 2010


Lay your sleeping head the other
way, you're not my love

My seat-neighbour is sleeping.
Jiggety-jig at the traffic lights,
weeeeee at the corner -
not a good driver today,
but he's still sleeping.
He's well to the far side of sixty,
in a smart suit and everything,
with a briefcase, the mega-brick kind,
resting on his lap and his hands,
his very clean, white hands,
folded on top.
Where's he going, I wonder, it's a long

way to Penge, an hour or more.
Sunglasses, can't see his eyes,
but they're shut, presumably.
An enigmatic figure!
Weeeeee, another corner. We collide
in the seat, but he's still sleeping,
still and rather stiff. It's unnerving,
in fact: what if... not asleep, but dead?
- on the bus, next to me, dead?
No, no, surely, he's warm, very warm
where we touch. How long does
it take for a corpse to go cold?
On the next bend, I shall nudge him,
hard this time, see if he moves.
Weeeeee.... and nothing. Nothing!
Oh my god, is he breathing?
Watch carefully, narrow my eyes.
Yes, I think so, breathing,
I think so. Here's another bend, and lean
with all my weight and jiggle
(I hope no one's watching me).
Ah, movement! What a relief!
Yes. Sighing, refolding his hands and
the next time I look
he is sleeping again, sleeps
through Elephant, East Street,
Walworth and Camberwell,
Denmark Hill and Goose Green and
up the long rise of Lordship Lane.
When I get off he's sleeping still,
sleeping all the way to Penge
(I hope that's where he wants to go)
- south-east London lullaby.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Short one

nearly over.


1910 election poster  (must be a really strong door)

General Election leaflets through my door. Two of them mention dog poo - definitely a national issue. The candidate for the traditional Party of Privilege is a personable young woman with a record of activism for local community causes. Go figure. The Iconoclastic Party has a suave-looking older man, an international lawyer. If he's iconoclastic in any way, he's not telling. The Governing Party's candidate, the sitting MP, is a government minister. They're not saying much, and nothing at all about the candidate, whose reputation is particularly sullied. You'd never know we live in an increasingly unequal society teetering on the brink of economic and environmental catastrophe.  The voters would rather not think about that, so no one wants to be the first to mention it.  It's all completely unenlightening. So I'll be voting, then, on the basis of my unchallenged personal prejudices. Fortunately, mine are entirely righteous prejudices - like everyone's. 

I always vote, am not a cynic, just sad.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


At the pale edge

of morning,
habit stumbles forward,
but the shape and colour
of yesterday
are a dead flower
trodden into the pavement -
regret's uneasy stain
the only signpost
to another day.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Full blast

April's crescendo:
still not enough to wake my
hibernating heart?

Monday, 26 April 2010

I'm there! I shouldn't boast, but I have to tell you: nothing makes me prouder than being included in Wood s LotI suppose it makes me feel that I make a tiny contribution to something - an ideal and an aesthetic - that I hugely value.


The neighbours' cat, hogging the only shade on the street, reminded me of my Emma, who was also black and impassive, with an eye to the main chance.

Much missed old black cat
Witchy, slinky, sphinxy
familiar spirit.
My jungian shadow,
my own green-eyed monster.
My black velvet collar,
too hot on summer nights.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Dulwich Wood


The woods are difficult to photograph. Time has blended everything together: subtle, minimalist music in the key of green. The light lately has been propitious, though.  Photo set here.

Here in the ancient wood,
remaindered at the city's edge,
the quiet green quiets my mind.

Spring's tangled, trailing growth
creeps over every scratch and scar
left by the tiger's claws.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

This little life

'The daily round, the common task',

alas, don't 'furnish all I ask'.
I cannot sleep, I overeat:
this little life's relentless beat.
(perhaps that last word should be bleat)

Friday, 23 April 2010

Same old same old

Those same old ways we act and interact,
unable, seemingly, to step away
from furrows we've been ploughing all our lives:
how hard it is to even start to change! 

Embarking on Stephen Fry's The Ode Less Travelled: Unlocking the Poet Within.
Chapter One: 'The Great Iamb'.

Thursday, 22 April 2010


Ascending spiral of birdsong - fragrant steam from my seven-spice tea
(drawing copied from the Yogi tea packet)

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Digital reading spaces: how do we really read?

Left buzzing by the most interesting and convincing study I've read yet on the differences between reading screen and print.  The wonderful wood s lot (as so often) led me to this article in the online journal First Monday by Terje Hillesund of Stavanger University, Norway: Digital Reading Spaces: how expert readers handle books, the Web and electronic paper (aha, I abandoned a second post about Norwegian Things when it fell into a cyber-void, but the theme continues).

Reporting on interviews with some fellow Norwegian academics (all intensive screen-users and all still doing much of their scholarly reading from paper) and informed by the latest scientific and sociological research findings, the piece is clearly written and full of fascinating, detailed vignettes of individuals describing and commenting upon their own online and offline reading habits. These ring oh-so true and make the piece entirely accessible and hugely interesting to the general reader. (I suppose what I mean is, this vindicates my own experience as one who reads voraciously on the Web, but prints out anything lengthy or significant to read on the bus - exactly what I did with this article! But it also challenges the status of any single individual's experience, and raises various and open possibilities for the future).

Reading and the body
...In this study, the participants were very conscious of the obligations and allurements of the computer and, preferring paper, all had in different ways developed strategies to avoid being distracted or tempted by the screen while reading, usually positioning their body so as not to stare directly into the beckoning display. Some participants simply turned their back on the computer, using another part of the desk. “Carl” had cleared a well–lit corner of his office couch, and “Eric” said he sometimes found a quiet spot in the canteen to get things read. All said they often read at home.
While reading, the participants use their hands very actively to hold the book or printout in the visual focal area, flicking back and forth in a discontinuous way of reading, as previously described. In addition, especially with printouts, the participants hold a pen, pencil or highlighter in their hand. Using rather different systems, they underline, highlight and make carets or exclamation marks, lines or squiggles, notes or comments, in the margins or around the text. “Carl” said he felt uneasy without a pencil in his hand, and “Susan” said she always operated a highlighter, using it like a weapon to help her concentrate and hunt for important passages. Among the participants, several said that the use of hands, fingers and pen or pencil was an indispensable part of their scholarly reading.
In the interviews, participants described in minute detail how they use their fingers and pencils. “Susan” had the highlighter poised a few centimetres above the text, ready to strike, whereas others, while pointing to and following the text, kept the pencil prepared in a hand resting beside or underneath the text (some participants intermittingly biting its end)...

...This study suggests there are two major challenges for long–form text transference. The first is to replicate conditions for continuous imaginary reading, and the second to create favourable conditions for sustained reflective reading. Whatever the solutions, digital text will under no circumstances be the same as printed text and, in relation to reading experiences; it will never be more than a question of proximity.With regard to the first challenge of continuous reading, it seems clear that the stationary displays of PCs and laptops are unfit for immersive imaginary reading. However, as indicated, there seems to be a relatively easy solution to this particular challenge that nevertheless would require a radial change of attitude for many readers. Handheld devices, especially dedicated e–readers, seem to be capable of giving a fairly good approximation of the reading experience provided by printed books, such as novels, and at the moment e–paper devices seem the most promising. Devices of this kind fit snugly into the hand and let users position the body for reading. While the user cannot flick through the pages in the ordinary way, the devices engage the fingers in paging by clicking buttons. They are generally highly readable, easy on the eye, and some devices indicate where the readers are within the overall text. Thus, current e–paper devices create good conditions for transparency and provide an efficient hermeneutic relation between user and technology. In short, e–paper devices make good alternatives for continuous reading.
The second challenge, to create good conditions for reflective reading, or studying, is more demanding and will require considerable intellectual and technical ingenuity. Concentrated studying often combines continuous and discontinuous reading and, as shown in this article, discontinuous ways of reading involve very active use of the hands in flicking, underlining and annotating, all within the physical unity of a printed text...
...By including a corporeal and material perspective in reading research, and by broadening studies to include different age groups and circumstances, a richer description of reading may result and probably a better understanding of how reading and technology interact in real–life situations. Such insight might assist developers and companies in their efforts to create enhanced reading applications and devices. It might even contribute in bringing texts from the cultural heritage into the digital domain in fashions that secure links to the millennia–long tradition of written discourse...
...After all, as this study confirms, in the foreseeable future there will be many literacy tasks that are best solved using paper.
Read the article in full. 

Blues (poem with one word)

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Volcanic disruption

Fear. Not fear of the ash, but the self-made catastrophe waiting to happen. Already, faces absent from weddings and funerals; exams, interviews and surgery postponed. Voices raised in disbelief and protest as time, money, lives tumble together in the crater. Our power, speed, control, our dependence on constant growth, overbooking, tiny margins and the crazy web of just-in-time: all up in the air now, along with the cloud from Iceland. We’ve made ourselves too fragile, forgotten how to wait.

The notice to students about current travel delays posted on my university employers' website is wonderfully headed 'Volcanic disruption', 
so I thought I'd change my title and appropriate this.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Monday morning

What is this fear

that rises -
stomach, chest, throat -
this bleating
(Monday, and it all
begins again)

OK, I WILL start trying to write to a specific form. It's Monday, OK?

Sunday, 18 April 2010

More tulips


flat, bright
evenness of colour, 

flowers in 
a child's painting,

some deep
craving for simplicity.

In dying, of course, their appeal transmutes into something quite different, subtle and harrowing, as beautifully illustrated here and here and here.

It will protect you

Knowing I'd be away for the first week or more of April, I didn't consider joining Na(or in my case Int)
PoWrimo. But when I got home I was delighted and inspired by the daily poems my friends Ivy, Maria and Beth were writing: two fine published poets and another fine published writer, and publisher of poetry, whose own writing is more often in other genres (or is it? All good writing distills words and gives attention to cadence). 

I'm surprised, to say the least, to have managed a week of little daily poems, aided no doubt by unwonted post-retreat spaciousness of mind. That's fading, of course, and I've no idea if I can continue. All of these were, ahem, spontaneous and without any forethought for subject or, apart from the haiku, for form - rather obviously, I fear, but you have to start somewhere, and this exercise too has value. If I do continue I probably should challenge myself to write to a form.

Inspired by Dave, I've been reading some poetry too, both well-loved and new to me.  I took down the Collected Poems of a favourite poet, Elaine Feinstein, and it fell open at this one. Oh!

The Muse
by Elaine Feinstein

'Write something every day', she said,
'even if it's only a line,
it will protect you.'

How should this be?
Poetry opens no cell,
heals no hurt body,

brings back no lover,
altogether, poetry is
powerless as grass. 

How then should it defend us?
Only by strengthening
our fierce and obstinate centres.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Mortal by Ivy Alvarez
Mapmaker of Absences by Maria Benet 
Going to Heaven by Elizabeth Adams
Phoenicia Publishing 
Collected Poems and Translations by Elaine Feinstein

Saturday, 17 April 2010

The tree outside my house

The tree outside my house
(municipal planting)
is a frail jewel in flat suburbia.
Its bark is shiny white
and it blossoms
and strikes me daily
as unlikely.

Friday, 16 April 2010

What if we banned bureaucracy?

How would it be
if we banned bureaucracy in the university? You could come here if you felt able, sign up for whatever you love, study when the spirit moved you and rest when commitment flagged. Your programme - self directed - might be Physics, Chemistry and Poetry; Education, Mediation and Magic; Practical Alchemy with a minor in Psychology of Hope. You might take one year or twenty and in order to graduate, with a title of your own choosing (Bachelor of Awareness, Master of Pattern-making, Doctor of Compassion), you would bring your work before a jury of your peers and elders and convince them it was time, you'd flowered, been fruitful, grown into your wisdom.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

2 am

Silence pumps in my ears.

A child's thin wail
through the party wall.
Press my hands into
the cushion of my belly.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Trentham Lady

Sweet stone sweet-faced lady
from Ancient Greece via a graveyard in Italy
and a stately garden in Shropshire
sweetly standing in your corner of the gallery
small, eloquent stone hands under your flimsy drapery
your aura sweetens my morning
your frank, modest demeanour offering hope
that something sweet in human nature endures
as well as all the horror. 

British Museum: Greek and Roman Sculpture Gallery
'The Trentham Lady', Greek, about 130 to 100 BC
"The original context of this statue is uncertain, but it may have been made in Greece and taken to Italy at a later date, where it was reused as a funerary statue for Publia Maximina, wife of Sextilius Clemens, whose name is inscribed on the plinth. The statue was formally in the Duke of Sutherland’s collection at Trentham Hall, Shropshire."

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Mirror symmetry

Mirror me, clear spring light on clear water
Curve with the curve of my long neck and audacious tail

Mirror me, faithful acolyte swimming in my wake
But face your own way always, make your own pattern on the pond

Mirror me, stalker on the bank with your magic box
Play with my picture, frame me as you wish, as long as my shape and shadow remain.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Spring sitting

While we sat zazen
spring finally birthed itself
all in a rush
as it does unfailingly.

Hard, though, for each to believe
it wasn't our personal labour,
breathing through the contractions
of our minds and hearts.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Dark and cool inside
while the red camellia
burns, drops its petals.

Saturday, 10 April 2010


The day before I went away, Dave Bonta posted at Via Negativa, together with a magical small video, a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez, Mares (Seas), and his own translation. Here they are.
by Juan Ramón Jiménez 

Siento que el barco mío
ha tropezado, allá en el fondo,
con algo grande.
¡Y nada
sucede! Nada…Quietud…Olas….
—¿Nada sucede; o es que ha sucedido todo,
y estamos ya, tranquilos, en lo nuevo?—

I sense that my boat
has struck, deep down,
against some massive thing.
And nothing happens!
Nothing… silence… waves…
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
and we are already resting in the new life?
I loved this brief but infinitely evocative poem and also Dave's translation, as I often do. His approach to translating poetry, I think, is to go deep but not wide, to keep it simple and add as little as possible, just occasionally changing the order of words or phrases to keep or recreate the shape and pattern of the original. This approach, carried out with his own, both deep and wide, poetic sensibility, works very well for me.  This poem, I saw, was easy in a way and in a way very difficult to translate - a short poem of few and simple words, but infinitely subtle words. While I liked Dave's translation a lot, the more I pondered the poem the more I thought I might do it differently. I took it with me on the next day's train journey and came up with my own version. The spare words struck me, in Spanish, as studiedly laconic. So I tried to recreate that shockingly casual feeling by stretching out the words into colloquial phrases. I've almost never translated poetry and I think only poets can do so worthily. This was an enjoyable little exercise, though, in close reading, plunging into and playing with words.
I have a feeling this boat of mine
has run into something, down there in the depths,
something big.
                        And nothing's happening!
Nothing but this quiet... the waves...
Nothing, is it, or has everything happened already,
and here we are, calm as you like, on the new shore?

Friday, 9 April 2010

Form is emptiness

A couple of hours ago I arrived home from a week on retreat. Well, something of me is back home and something is perhaps still refilling, re-emptying, re-forming. This was different, perhaps, from any of the retreats I have sat before, mostly at Gaia House. And perhaps I would do better to resist the temptation to define it verbally.  Words can only react, play on the edges. But return to the world of words I must. If only, most pressingly, because I must spend tomorrow and Sunday on a translation I was earlier disorganised and tired enought to leave until now. This is an attempt, then, to help the transition.

I appreciate and admire both Martine and Stephen Batchelor a great deal. They are probably the best teachers there are for me right now. I'd like and I hope to spend more time with them in the  months and years to come.  The Korean Zen retreat which they have offered every, or close to every, year since they left the monastery in Korea some 25 years ago, as a tribute to their teachers and a sharing of their practice there, is for me the best form and structure of meditation retreat that I've ever experienced, the best balance of gentle holding and real challenge, the most conducive it has ever been for me to 'do it'. It's much modified, of course, for us lay westerners:  more like 9 than the 16 or 18 hours of daily practice in Korean monasteries. But it is challenging enough to give the unaccustomed but committed a taste, a real experience, of the focused and contained alternation of 30 minutes sitting, 15 minutes walking round the meditation hall, of keeping silence, of not reading or writing or doing anything much for a week but the practice - eating, sleeping, an hour's work a day...  quite intense.

So, as close as it gets to the perfect form and structure for me. But also, a couple of years having passed since I last sat an organised group retreat of more than a single day, as chaotic and difficult and tumultuous as I have ever known it. The familiar unwillingness and distraction many times multiplied. Tough. Tougher still was the great change encountered in the texture and tone of my own mind, in what had come, after a decade or so, to be a familiar inner/outer/present place that I went to on retreat. And now it is somewhere different, harsher, which is sobering and a little frightening. 

For all the predominant experience was distracted and sometimes upsetting, though, just doing it, 'just sitting', was more powerful than that. Just being there and being a lot more there at the end of the week than I was at the beginning. Just my huge gratitude that I found in middle age this way through buddhist practice back towards being present in the life I started shutting off from when I was a tiny kid: close my eyes and pretend I'm not here, not here, not here, hardly here at all for years and years. I can sit and close my eyes (or not close my eyes if following Zen meditation instruction) and know being. There is this.

Words are indeed inadequate.  I don't know why I do this or what it is, but I'm glad I do.