December 19, 2012 § 3 Comments
We’re being very honest with you here. We can’t afford to feed all the city unicorns anymore. We want to, we do, but central government haven’t given us enough money because the South’s spending it on ponies. I know we’ve all appreciated the joy and wonder unicorns have brought. The sense of transcendence we all get when we see a flick of a white tail and tilt of an exquisitely turned spiral horn. That day the herd ran amok in Primark and showed us the true meaning of wilderness confronting consumer culture. The way we attract external investment with pictures of our amazing retail and leisure opportunities plus photos of herds of wild unicorn sweeping majestically across the convenient car parks.
We need to make the case in terms even a Tory government gets. Tell us the impact fewer unicorns will make on your wellbeing. What will it do to the eco system if they disappear from your neighbourhood? Might it have particular social and economic consequences if the packs are eradicated from specific areas? We will be maintaining a central unicorn park and are relieved to say 95% of the population will still live within 1.5 miles of a unicorn, but know it won’t be the same.
Anyhoo, look at our occasionally conversational language and chummy webchats. We’re trying. Here’s a reiteration of the most important bit of what we’ve said. It’s dying kids or unicorns- you choose, but it’s not our fault. Plus Eric Pickles wants us to destroy us like he destroys plate pies so we need your input more than ever.
We need you to suggest solutions. Volunteer unicorn feeding schedules? Adopt a unicorn, even sponsor a unicorn? (“Bernard’s Bras Give You the Horn!” etc, real opportunities there). Perhaps put them in allotments. It’s only turnips that make them rampage. None of us want to lose the benefits of our amazing unicorns. Don’t forget to be angry at central government. And honestly- HELP!
Dear The Council,
Save Our Unicorns! Or we’ll tell the Guardian that you’re culling them all in a big Boxing Day hunt. Please find attached hundreds of personal testimonies about the importance of unicorns in our lives. You Philistines. We know you never liked them anyway.
PS; Some famous authors, singers and Cheryl Cole have also written to the papers about their love of unicorns. You’ll be sorry.
December 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
I Was Arrested for My Letters
they tumbled out of my mouth
each mouth a clown
each clown an O
each round pink O rolled down the street
each X turned cartwheels
each V stuck itself up at people it disliked
somersaulted along broadway ended
upside down in a gutter – a kind hand
gave it a quick brush and with an upsa-daisy! there yah go!
added a dash
and A was born.
dogs chased them
each child caught a letter
each letter caught a cold
each cold caught the wind
each wind caught a cloud
each cloud formed icicles
each icicle grew snowflakes
each snowflake became a man
each man read out a sentence
from the black and white newspaper
held in their hands
their hands ran with ink the ink closed its fist
made a ball out of paper tossed it in the air
the air blew its nose and the Iliad was born!
right here on this flagstone
the flagstone became
no, a but!
a hope that
on the big broad
chest of the general
the teached clapped her hands
the general dropped his hope
hope wrote a message on the sand
H E P!
said the sand
P E H !
said the sea
as it laughed like a cat
scratching its claws
down the trunk of the alphabet tree
where a man hung himself last night
beside his hat and the moon.
December 14, 2012 § Leave a comment
December 12, 2012 § Leave a comment
Fragment found in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, between the pages of Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’
My stuffed-shirt arm weighs heavy on this paper.
My desk draws me here, folds me into the pages,
chains me in the vellum shelves.
I hold my pen and I dip it in the ink.
All I write is this, ‘Dearest,
Mrs. Jenkin’s guest-house porridge lies like millstone grit in my stomach’.
I want to write,
‘My love, yellow and green light shards
stab at the gulf between us.
I think of you in that grey blue waste,
the empty space that strings Craster, Bamburgh, Berwick
the thin line we walked between sea and sand….’
24th August 1919
Previously published in Rewriting The Map (Vane Women press 2003) and Raiment (Smokestack Books 2010)
December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
The Library of Bronze
variation on a theme by Orhan Pamuk
One night all the statues of Burns
came to life at the one unannointed moment.
There was a worldwide squeal of necks
in doubletake at where he found himself,
then down he stepped into small towns
so far from understanding
they hid in their houses as he clanked down
thin streets looking for a bar or garage
serving some kind of necessary oil
and wishing he had been equestrian.
Part-Talos, part tale-teller,
he habbied through fences and forests,
fording single oceans in a series of rhetorical leaps;
he flyted unquaking Shakespeares
and clasped the hands of a legion of Pushkins
before congregating in the town of his birth,
all its flesh inhabitants having fled
beyond the toughened tourist fence
to sell tickets and telescopes.
And there the statues lived in promiscuity
with fridges and washing machines,
meeting nightly to compare
verses scratched on the bonnets
and in the windscreens of cars
cannibalised into their vast library,
each written in bronze’s incomprehensible dialect –
undoubtedly addressed to you, his rusty fiere,
but, as they debated, could these all be by
the same awoken Bard?
First published in Split Screen edited by Andy Jackson (Red Squirrel Press, 2012)
also to be published in Bill Herbert’s own collection, Omnesia (Bloodaxe, 2013)
December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
A Hall of Stories
In front of a cosy little window on a happy little street stood a little girl in a big red coat. She couldn’t have been older than seven. She was with her Mother. It was a week before Christmas and the girl couldn‘t wait.
In the window was an object. It wasn’t very big, and it looked old. The girl was too young to care about the past, but something about this object caught her attention. It was so…
‘What’s that Mummy?’ The girl asked.
And her Mother smiled.
‘If your very lucky, Santa might bring you one.’
‘But what is it Mummy?’
‘That darling, is a book.’
‘A book? That’s not what a book looks like.’
‘Well they used to do. You see, back when I was young…..’
The Mother thought about how much of a treat the young girl was in for as she prepared to tell her daughter a story. A true story, about days gone by, about a Palace, a Hall of Stories, where even the mundane was made magical. A Story about an ancient world in which these objects, these ‘Books’ were everywhere. Just pieces of paper full of words that seemed so small, but together, they made up worlds so much bigger. Worlds so very far away.
The Hall of Stories could take you anywhere. Anywhere in the universe, anywhere in history. Everywhere.
And then she’d tell her daughter the end of the story. How the stories started to disappear as the palace closed down. And then how the windows into these other worlds closed. And how, soon these ‘Books’ were replaced with something else.
And she’d tell her daughter about the memories of apprehensive fear at turning a page and seeing some dubious stain. And the simple joy that came with it. Because even though the stain might smell a bit funny, it meant someone else had been there too.
It meant you weren’t alone.
But before she could say any of this, her daughter interrupted her.
She said what any child would say when confronted with another ‘Back in my day’ speech.
‘That was the olden days Mummy. It doesn’t even light up.’
And the little girl marched away from her mother, along the happy little street,
And her Mother was left to remember how little the world had become.
And how big it once was.
December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
The Reference Room
I’m copying discoloured words
and breathing dust, waiting
for something to move me.
I’m told you can hear
the ghost turn pages.
I hear the wind.
I hear men sniff and
use their pens abruptly. I’m told
this is the warmest room
but I am cold;
breeze, breeze blowing.
This downbeat table is a good height
but the clock ticks loudly.
It traces the pace of my ink;
it pours old time down my back.
I consider the lore,
think of yellowing pages
held by ghosts.
The clock’s rotating hands
become my pulse.
December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
Goliath was felled by David,
Knowledge helped beat the odds.
Israeli ordnance paid no heed
To goals of watching gods.
The first book ever printed had
That tale contained within,
Descendants of the Book now quake:
Philistines still would win!
With data tariff on their phone
Who needs to loan a book?
The wisdom of the world right there
A shame they never look
What of the family with no cash,
The child who has no sim?
Without the right to access books
Their chances only dim.
Encapsulated learning sits
Inside walls on a page.
The padlocked doors chain us to shame
Our nation has to change.
December 10, 2012 § Leave a comment
After Exec Board I take the tube back with Michael and Laura,
talking about how colleagues can mean one thing when we mean
three others. We laugh, but in that way that suggests resignation.
They stay on to Euston but I have time to kill and no desire
for drink. Houseman’s is still there, despite fresh frontages
and development, so I walk along Pentonville Road,
remembering Scala all nighters and dark 80s afternoons.
There are still dozens of black, white and red all over newspapers
at the back of the shop, but the basement’s a mess,
a damp-smelling likeness of the revolution. I spot a Canongate-
reissue though, of Jack’s Book, and am innocent again,
taking that box of voices out of the village library every 6 months,
the small room to the side, for biographies and non-fiction.
(I picture Donald Wood’s Biko in the same breath.)
That was the start of something, could have
turned a world upside down. In fiction they had The Trial,
America and The Town and the City and Vanity of Dulouz
and that was just the Ks. There were only two poetry books I liked:
Selected Poems by Dylan Thomas and Leonard Cohen.
Later they got Adrian Mitchell’s For Beauty Douglas.
I remember reading a book about Hegel, but sweet nothing
about Hegel himself, though I could sketch you the cover.
Today I am wearing a suit, but so are Jack and Neal
in some of the photos. I pay three pounds for my young self’s sake,
wondering whether my thirst for ideas is slaked or not.
The bloke behind the counter upstairs is the wrong man
but takes the money anyway. He asks me where I’m from,
and then congratulates me on not living in London. He is Scottish,
he says, but doesn’t sound it. I imagine he lives in London because
it is theepicenter of the turmoil to come. He ought to move
to NewtonAycliffe, I think. I feel dirty-nostalgic leafing through
the book as I wait for the platform to come up for the 16.00
to Aberdeen. There are lots of men in kilts and Scotland shirts,
frayed hung-over looks to them, returning from a miracle in Paris.
I spend most of the journey home working on the laptop,
looking just like someone who knows about spreadsheets,
then finish all the soduko I can find in The Independent.