Category Archives: Poetry

A Soldier’s Dream


I’m really excited (and honoured) to be taking part in an art exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War.

The exhibition is being organised by ARC (a charity I do quite a lot of voluntary work for).

The exhibition is being held at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery from 11th November.

After the war, residents of Stockport, rather than erect a traditional war memorial to commemorate the dead, decided to build an art gallery so that future generations may benefit from their sacrifice. Which I think is a brilliant idea.

The theme of the exhibition is ‘A Soldier’s Dream’.

Because, all of these soldiers were, once upon a time, civilians who worked in factories and mills, merchant companies and railways. They had wives and children, brothers and sisters. Mums and … well, you get the picture.

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Scale model of the exhibition.

Instead of focussing on what they did in the war, the exhibition aims to show them as ordinary everyday people who had hopes, dreams and aspirations. Rather than just one aspect of their lives which was to give it in service of their country.

The part that I am involved in is to create a ‘Soldier’s Dream box’. This takes the form of ten 40cm x 40cm wooden crates and each one will ecapsulate the dreams of a soldier who lost his life.

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I can’t tell you what mine will be about yet as I am still in the research stage. I have been finding out about people local to my area in the Four Heatons who lost their lives.

I have always loved history, in particular, the First World War, so I was really excited and passionate about getting involved. (I even did a tour of the Somme a few years ago. I know, I’m a great laugh to go on holiday with.)

As part of my research, (provided by the brilliant website www.stockport1914-18.co.uk), I have been reading brief biographies of soldiers from the Heatons who died. Of which there are many.

But, reading about where they worked, who they married, their children’s names, what team they played for, makes it all the more personal. They aren’t soldiers anymore. They are real people who lived real lives. And I guess that’s the whole point of the exhibition.

Some of the biogs even give their address! These are houses I pass every week. The stories that must be contained between their walls must be incredible.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ll keep you posted when I have something new to tell you.

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Happy 200th birthday, Emily.


Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Emily Bronte.

Haworth, where the Brontes lived, holds a special place in my, (and my children’s), hearts.

We visit the place as often as we can.

Here’s a little haiku I penned after a walk on the Moors with my daughters a couple of years back.

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Knee deep in heather,

Bright red sock wavers aloft,

Boot stuck in peat bog.

Brontë Parsonage Museum

Brontë Parsonage Museum

 

Brontë dining room

Brontë dining room

This is the room where, Emily, Anne and Charlotte did most of their writing. And that is the actual sofa in the background that Emily died on aged just 30. (I didn’t pass that information on to my children.)

Patrick Brontë's study

Patrick Brontë’s study

If you haven’t read Wuthering Heights yet, I urge you to do so. I promise you, it’s like nothing you have ever read before. It’s a complex and staggeringly passionate tale of unrequited love and dastardly deeds, set amidst the bleak and rugged Yorkshire Moors.

And, if you get the chance, watch the recent film adaptation by Andrea Arnold. It’s a pretty radical take on the book and one of the best interpretations I’ve seen to date. (See trailer below.)

wuthering-heightsIt’s not just the collective brilliance of the Brontë siblings that I find inspiring, but the whole beautifully barren backdrop of the moors. That, coupled with the picturesque cobbled streets of Haworth itself, makes perfect for a day out.

Haworth

Haworth

"Top Withins" Emily's inspiration for Wuthering Heights. (Now a ruin.)

“Top Withens” Emily’s inspiration for Wuthering Heights. (Now a ruin.)

"Top Withens" as it would've looked back in Emily's day.

“Top Withens” as it would’ve looked back in Emily’s day.

P.S. It’d be positively churlish of me not to also include this classic by Kate Bush… whose 60th birthday it also is today. Bit of a spooky coincidence, don’t you think?

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On the curriculum…


Had a nice surprise the other day.

A poem I wrote after the tsunami in Japan in 2011 is on the school curriculum at a group of London schools.

I appreciate that it’s year 6 primary and not a masters in English Lit. But it’s still very flattering.

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Opossum is a federation of schools which includes Newport Primary, Dawlish Primary, Oakhill Primary and Thorpe Hall Primary.

I also came across some samples of poems the students had written after they had studied mine and I was mightily impressed.

And if that poem floats your boat, why not pop over to Amazon where you can avail yourself of my complete collection of poetry and help keep me out of penury!

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I [heart] America


There’s been a lot of hullabaloo this past couple of years because of the Cheeto-in-Chief of the good ol’ U S of A.

What with cosying up to dictators and alienating allies he certainly cuts a divisive figure. Unfortunately, this has had a backlash against America in general and its people.

So, to redress the balance, I wanted to write a positive post about some of the things I love about America. After all, one Mango-Mussolini shouldn’t taint the whole country.

In no particular order…

MUSIC

From Elvis Presley to Tom Waits to the Talking Heads. Who could argue that America has produced some of the greatest artists and genres the world has ever seen. Who are your favourites?

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Next up, MOVIES.

When we think of American movies we tend to think of Hollywood blockbusters. But there are so many unbelievable directors and actors. Here are some of my favourites, who are yours?

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As I have a penchant for the Arts, I’m going to pick out a few photographers who have inspired me over the years.

PHOTOGRAPHY

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Marilyn Monroe by Eve Arnold

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Gloria Swanson by Edward Steichen

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Vivian Maier

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Ansel Adams

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Cindy Sherman

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Saul Leiter

Understandably, most people couldn’t give a rat’s ass about advertising. But I do, because I worked in it for 30 years. When Doyle, Dane, Bernbach set up shop in the 1960s they revolutionised advertising. They focussed on simple product truths. Their ethos/philosophy permeated continents and generations. Still does. I had the privilege of working for DDB Dublin.

ADVERTISING

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Leading on from advertising we have GRAPHIC DESIGN, and this iconic classic by Milton Glaser for the New York tourist board. which has been ‘parodied’ a trillion times. (Yes, including me.)

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Milton Glaser

Next up, ARTISTS. Again, a multitude to pick from. Here are a couple of my faves.

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Jean Michel Basquiat

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Edward Hopper

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Mary Cassatt

Moving on to something non art related – LANDSCAPE. America has such a diverse landscape, from snow-capped mountains to sun-scorched deserts.

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I’ve always loved CLASSIC CARS, Mercedes, Jaguar, Citroen, Volvo. But I also love American cars for their sheer ostentatiousness.

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I couldn’t write a post about America without including a few WRITERS. Too many to choose from. Here are a few of my heroes who have inspired me over the years. Recommendations anyone?

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What else do I love about America? I really like their ARCHITECTURE. Whether it be a monumental skyscaper or the traditional colonial white-picket-fence style complete with veranda.

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You won’t get very far in the States without some top-notch tucker. What is more quintessentially American than the humble DINER?

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Who says Americans don’t get irony? They make some fantastic COMEDY and have some wonderful comedians. Obviously, you’re not as funny as us Brits. But you’re getting the hang of it. (Benny Hill.)

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There you have it. Have I forgotten anything, anyone? What would you have included?

Obviously, there is one other thing I would like to give credit to. And that is the American people. (Well, only those that didn’t vote Trump.) You’re an innovative and inspiring bunch. Not only that, you saved our asses in two world wars! So, cheers for that.

My, (our), world would be a lot poorer without you.

 

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Mourning a Nobody – new poem.


He awoke from a delicious dream in which he was in love.
And she loved him back.
This was a delight for him, as he believed himself unlovable.
It felt very natural to be in her company.
As though they had been together forever.
They talked easily, and laughed naturally.
She was petite. Her hair was short and raven black. One might say – tousled.
She was Bohemian in her style of dress, and had a crimson smile.

She wasn’t someone he knew in real life.
In fact, he couldn’t recall having ever seen her before.
He presumed he must have subconsciously spotted her somewhere in the past.
In a movie, maybe. Or on the tram, perhaps.
‘Can our minds invent someone we have never seen?’ he wondered.
Their love felt so true and natural,
That when he awoke, he felt a sense of grief for his loss,
From which he never quite recovered.

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Happy National Poetry Day


I couldn’t possibly pick just one, so here are a few to salivate over. There’s something for everyone.

The Mower

by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

 

This be the Verse

by Philip Larkin

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

 

Suspenders

by Raymond Carver

Mom said I didn’t have a belt that fit and
I was going to have to wear suspenders to school
next day. Nobody wore suspenders to second grade,
or any other grade for that matter. She said,
You’ll wear them or else I’ll use them on you. I don’t want any more trouble. My dad said something then. He
was in the bed that took up most of the room in the cabin
where we lived. He asked if we could be quiet and settle this
in the morning. Didn’t he have to go in early to work in
the morning? He asked if I’d bring him
a glass of water. It’s all that whiskey he drank, Mom said. He’s
dehydrated.

I went to the sink and, I don’t know why, brought him
a glass of soapy dishwater. He drank it and said, That sure
tasted funny, son. Where’d this water come from?
Out of the sink, I said.
I thought you loved your dad, Mom said.
I do, I do, I said, and went over to the sink and dipped a glass
into the soapy water and drank off two glasses just
to show them. I love Dad, I said.
Still, I thought I was going to be sick then and there. Mom said,
I’d be ashamed of myself if I was you. I can’t believe you’d
do your dad that way. And, by God, you’re going to wear those
suspenders tomorrow, or else. I’ll snatch you bald-headed if you
give me any trouble in the morning. I don’t want to wear
suspenders,
I said. You’re going to wear suspenders, she said. And with that
she took the suspenders and began to whip me around the bare legs
while I danced in the room and cried. My dad
yelled at us to stop, for God’s sake, stop. His head was killing him,
and he was sick at his stomach from soapy dishwater
besides. That’s thanks to this one, Mom said. It was then somebody
began to pound on the wall of the cabin next to ours. At first it
sounded like it was a fist–boom-boom-boom–and then
whoever it was switched to a mop or a broom
handle.  For Christ’s sake, go to bed over there! somebody yelled.
Knock it off! And we did. We turned out the lights and
got into our beds and became quiet. The quiet that comes to a house
where nobody can sleep.

 

Gravy

by Raymond Carver

No other word will do. For that’s what it was.
Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

 

Hummingbird

by Raymond Carver

Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird”,
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

 

Teleport Memory

by Patrick Chapman

 

Eighteen winters on, I find your jet-black

hold-up in my box of old remarkables,

the rubber garter still with spring in it.

 

I drape the stocking long on the bed

and try to imagine your pale slender leg

filling it toe to knee to thigh and beyond

 

in a matter transmitter reconstitution

of you with a physical copy that holds

your consciousness, your memories,

 

your tenderness, your wit still dry –

while out in the real, the original you

has surely diverged in directions I can’t

 

follow: some of your people passed on;

you a mother, an aunt or alone; and every

cell in your body, twice overwritten.

 

If that you can bear think of me

it may be with disdain for who I was

at the end but listen, my old love,

 

he has been replaced so many times –

no longer that young cripple who,

out of repression and pain, cracked

 

your heart and in its fracture fatally

punctured his own. So far undone is he

that even teleport could never bring us home.

 

Alone with Everybody

by Charles Bukowski

 

the flesh covers the bone

and they put a mind

in there and

sometimes a soul,

and the women break

vases against the walls

and the men drink too

much

and nobody finds the

one

but keep

looking

crawling in and out

of beds.

flesh covers

the bone and the

flesh searches

for more than

flesh.

 

there’s no chance

at all:

we are all trapped

by a singular

fate.

 

nobody ever finds

the one.

 

the city dumps fill

the junkyards fill

the madhouses fill

the hospitals fill

the graveyards fill

 

nothing else

fills.

 

EDGE

by Sylvia Plath

The woman is perfected
Her dead

Body wears the smile of accomplishment,
The illusion of a Greek necessity

Flows in the scrolls of her toga,
Her bare

Feet seem to be saying:
We have come so far, it is over.

Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little

Pitcher of milk, now empty
She has folded

Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose close when the garden

Stiffens and odors bleed
From the sweet, deep throats of the night flower.

The moon has nothing to be sad about,
Staring from her hood of bone.

She is used to this sort of thing.
Her blacks crackle and drag.

 

The Causes

by Jorge Luis Borges

The sunsets and the generations
The days and none was first.
The freshness of water in Adam’s
Throat. Orderly paradise.
The eye deciphering the darkness.
The love of wolves at dawn.
The word. The hexameter. The mirror.
The Tower of Babel and pride.
The moon which the Chaldeans gazed at.
The uncountable sands of the Ganges.
Chuang Tzu and the butterfly that dreams him.
The golden apples on the islands.
The steps in the wandering labyrinth.
Penelope’s infinite tapestry.
The circular time of the Stoics.
The coin in the mouth of the dead man.
The sword’s weight on the scale.
Each drop of water in the water clock.
The eagles, the memorable days, the legions.
Caesar on the morning of Pharsalus.
The shadow of crosses over the earth.
The chess and algebra of the Persians.
The footprints of long migration.
The sword’s conquest of kingdom’s.
The relentless compass. The open sea.
The clock echoing in the memory.
The king executed by the ax.
The incalculable dust that was armies.
The voice of the nightingale in Denmark.
The calligrapher’s meticulous line.
The suicide’s face in the mirror.
The gambler’s card. Greedy gold.
The forms of a cloud in the desert.
Every arabesque in the kaleidoscope.
Each regret and each tear.
All those things were made perfectly clear
So our hands could meet.

 

Dulce et Decorum est

by Wilfred Owen

 

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,

Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,

Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs

And towards our distant rest began to trudge.

Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots

But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;

Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots

Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.

 

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!–An ecstasy of fumbling

Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;

But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,

And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…

Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,

As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

 

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,

He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

 

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,–

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

 

The Diameter of the Bomb

by Yehuda Amichai

 

The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters

And the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,

With four dead and eleven wounded.

And around these, in a larger circle

Of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered

And one graveyard. But the young woman

Who was buried in the city she came from,

At a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,

Enlarges the circle considerably,

And the solitary man mourning her death

At the distant shores of a country far across the sea

Includes the entire world in the circle.

And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans

That reaches up to the throne of God and

Beyond, making

A circle with no end and no God.

 

Sometimes you go upstairs

by David Milligan-Croft

 

Sometimes, you might hear a bang-

Like something has been knocked over.

And, you shout out,

“Hey! What are you two up to?”

 

Sometimes, you go upstairs,

You know, to check on the girls.

To make sure they haven’t kicked off

Their duvets, or fallen out of bed.

 

But, when you go up,

You realise they’re not there anymore.

And, for a moment,

You thought life was like it was before.

 

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The gift that keeps on giving


This one is from a notebook going back to 1998.

It needed considerably more tinkering with than some of my previous ones.

If anyone else is suffering from writer’s block, I would definitely recommend revisiting some of your old notebooks or files to help ease you back in. It’s part editing, part writing.

 

DEPARTURES

By David Milligan-Croft

 

After a tearful embrace at passport control,

I walk through the departure lounge at Charles de Gaulle.

 

I head to duty free to pick up a carton of cigarettes,

And a giant Toblerone. I don’t know who the Toblerone is for,

But it’s getting close to Christmas, and a giant Toblerone

Always comes in handy at Christmas.

 

I pick out some Chanel sunglasses

To give to you on my next trip over. I know you’ll love them,

Because I saw you trying them on once at Heathrow,

On our way to America. Then,

 

Out of nowhere, I am engulfed by your essence.

A surge of adrenalin makes my heart pound and my legs almost buckle.

I spin, dizzily, to see if you are there. I scan the crowd,

Trying to spot your beautiful face amongst the throng of passengers.

 

Then I am consumed by sorrow, when I realise

I am standing beside the Yves Saint Laurent perfume counter.

 

For more of my poetry, click on the image below.

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