The Witch

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The Bus — Paul Kirchner

Love this cartoon by Paul Kirchner that I just found on wordpress. Obviously very talented! Who knows – maybe we’re all in that toy shop…

Biblioklept

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There Is A Light

Just listened to Mike Garry talking about the Smiths on Radio 4 (check out his blog godisamanc.wordpress.com.)
Got me thinking about the first time I heard the Smiths. Just left this response on Mike’s page:

I don’t know what I’m more jealous of, the fact that you got on Radio 4 or that Moz wrote on your wall! Either way, I’m green.
I remember the first time I heard The Smiths. I’d moved in with my dad after my folks split up (in the mid 90s) and we moved across town. Not far, just on the other side of Middleton, but might as well have been a hundred miles away. I was at that stage of teenage where you think the world isn’t yours. The world won’t listen. And I remember being in this new terraced house, looking down at an alien street. It was just starting to rain and I remember looking at the wet tiles of the grey rooftops opposite. It was like a scene from Corrie circa 1960. Perfect.
Before that I’d been fed on a diet of electronica, my older brother’s vinyl, all 808 state and Future Sound of London – Manchester stuff but somehow I didn’t feel the connection at the time between the city and the sound, between the city and me.
I’d started finding guitar music. Radiohead, scraps of American stuff, the Pumpkins, Nirvana. I liked it. Or thought I did.
A mate had leant me A Hatful of Hollow, I was at the window when Back To The Old House came on. Christ, that guitar. And then the voice, that voice that stretches out. /Stretch out and wait/ And it was like he was in the room. I didn’t even know what Morrissey looked like but it was as if he was there. /In the corner of your room, can you hear me/ Actually there. That moment changed my life completely. At last there was someone that understood. Like I was meant to hear that song at that time. As if it had been waiting. And the grey sky became a caul, protecting. The rain christened the tiles. It suddenly felt that Manchester was mine. /it owed me a living/.
Before that point, Manchester for me was somewhere to run through. Somewhere to get records from and scurry back from. A piss stained Arndale and Cannon street bus station. But now it was that voice, that place carved out by that voice. That sounds bollocks but it’s true /at last I was born.
And that was it. I devoured Smithdom. I took down my Cobain poster and my Jim Morrison poster. Even Lennon took a back seat. I stopped watching Hollywood blockbusters and tracked down Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. I fell in love with Rita Tushingham. I put down Stephen King and started reading Wilde. The books I was reading at Uni suddenly made sense. Blake was Manchester. Dickens was Manchester.
I’m still in that place Moz carved out for me. That you’re carving and Cooper Clarke and all the other Manc artists.
I’m a teacher now. That weird English teacher who gets excited by caesuras and Wilfred Owen. All tweed and bad shoes but /there is a light/ still get that stab, that goosebump lift when that track starts, when the needle scratches into Back To the Old House and I’m back at that window, in that moment. Homework: Find The Smiths, kids (but don’t forget the songs that saved your life).
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bloodbrothers

bloodbrothers

bloodbrothers

 

A September heatwave;

heavy rays pin us to the low wall.

The carpark tarmac,

flat, thick black,

curdles with glass.

The last day of the holidays has found us,

precious minutes evaporate in heat –

if you put your head to the ground

you can see them swim.

A friendship solid and temporary,

sealed with blood and glass, two hands

pressed in prayer.

Scars last.

 

A van disturbed the silence,

fat tyres hissing, spitting stones.

We stirred, two curious crows.

It creaked, a wheezing metal pig,

and parked. A smell sank down from it:

diesel, grown ups, something else,

something thick, like heat.

The old driver climbed out,

gruff, stuffed with coughs,

made as if to ruffle our hair and stopped,

laughed, made his way to the pub.

 

It would be the smell that sealed this,

for future dreams, for fits in half-strangled sleep.

It seeped down from a gap in the back,

a gash, a buzzing stripe

of black that seemed to

move.

 

We circled the van,

scavengers, approached,

hyenas forced from idleness by

hunger.

 

I pushed my ear to the hot skin

like a brother listening to his unborn sibling,

kicking against his mother.

 

We climbed, our hands bringing clangs

and echoes to the steel, scrambling,

stretching, up

to the gap,

to the humming black.

Fingers curled the metal lip,

we pulled ourselves up,

up,

in,

and looked.

A fit of flies.

A shape.

A head.

An eye.

 

We dropped, ran.

Laughed. Grew.

 

 

IOB 03/07/13

 

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Remembering Suzy Boardman

Suzy was my best friend. We met whilst training to be teachers at university and like everyone I immediately gravitated towards her enormous personality. She lit a room with her laugh. A natural storyteller, she had everyone in stitches with her anecdotes. In our Friday pub sessions, we’d drink her stories like Irish whiskey.

When Suzy was diagnosed with breast cancer, she began a battle that would last four years. She fought like a warrior. And won. When the cancer returned, she continued to fight. Never letting that smiling façade slip, she shrugged off cancer like an unwelcome guest at a party. Chemotherapy, radiotherapy, mastectomy. Nothing could bring down that smile. She blazed on, right to the end.

It was an honour to write a poem for Suzy’s memorial service yesterday. I’ve copied it below. The poem begins with Suzy in front of a class, the natural teacher. Here she is explaining the rule of three, the sentence-structure. The line about ‘indigo dots’ refers to the tiny dots that are made on the body in preparation for radiotherapy. The reference to ‘Beechwood’ is a reference to Beechwood Cancer Care, a support centre that Suzy took a lot of strength from. Suze showed her support for the centre by taking part in the Butterfly Ball and other events, and there is a reference to that in the poem too.

The line about falling into the poet laureate is a true story, as is everything referenced in the poem. Suzy invited me to a gala event at the Midland Hotel in Manchester as part of the Children’s Book Festival. Carol Ann Duffy was at the event and I was itching to speak to her. Suzy introduced us, but only after several glasses of Dutch courage. As we approached Duffy, who was sat looking regal, fanning herself, Suzy slipped and rolled into her! Chaos ensued; Suze, unphased, spent the rest of the evening with her foot in an ice bucket, which she unceremoniously took from the table. Note – at the service I hastily replaced the line ‘arse over tit’ with ‘head over heels’ as, though Suzy would’ve laughed, the vicar might not have.

The poem ends with an unfinished triple, to reflect how we all feel – left, mid-sentence, mid-story.  

 

Remembering Suzy Boardman

She stands before the class and casts her net.

Ideas, futures catch.

That’s the rule of three, she says.

As is love, live, (that) laugh.

 

As is whiskey, water, no ice.

As is beer gardens, sun, wine.

As is Beechwood, Butterflies, life.

 

As is indigo dots, constellations, victory scars.

Consultations, writing scripts in Christies, making last orders at the bar.

 

It’s a bench in Conwy, watching boats on a river, letting time slide just to honour it.

It’s the Midland, wine, falling arse over tit into the actual poet laureate.

 

It’s mohicans to wigs, ghost stories, singing at our kitchen table.

It’s Simon & Garfunkel at three in the morning, Irish coffee, waking the neighbours,

It’s bliss, not just nights on the (beer), it’s theatre, kitchen sink drama.

It’s sudden sunlight on a grey day, that laugh at the end of the phone,

it’s one more story, one for the road, not wanting you to go home.

 

That’s the rule of three, she says, as is

hole,

loss,

adrift.

But as is

hope,

love

 

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Suze (left) with myself and Alannah, another great friend from Uni.

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Left to Right: Myself (note the wine-stained teeth), Alannah, the poet laureate in question, the mighty Suze.

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Where You Are (In Memoriam: Robert Stuart 1924-2012)

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When my granddad died, I wanted to write something for him, but couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come. When we took the train to Newcastle to scatter his ashes in the Tyne, I wanted to say something, but couldn’t. This weekend I was looking through old photographs, and I remembered him telling me a story about when he was 15 and he began work at the rope factory. He lived in Byker and had to get a boat in the morning across the river. Benny the boatman would row him across. As a kid, the idea of having to get a boat to work was brilliant. Though my Nanna was from Gorton, Manchester, they lived together in Newcastle briefly. Conditions were atrocious, though. Infant mortality rates were high and they lost two girls. They had to leave Newcastle behind and came to Manchester.I remember he always had a picture of the Tyne, though. He must have thought about it a lot. He had the quiet dignity of a man removed from his home. When we returned with his ashes, we scattered them by the part of the river where Benny had rowed him across, years before.

My mum was very close to my granddad and this as much a poem for her as it is for him.

 

Where You Are (In Memoriam: Robert Stuart 1924-2012)

 

You are fifteen and it’s February,

the boatman rows you to the rope factory.

I know it’s cold, he says,

but when the sun spills through

the Tyne turns gold.

And it does.

 

You are twenty-one and it’s June,

you are walking by the river in a demob suit

and your fingers curl in the hand of a girl

you will marry when you’ve saved for a ring.

 

You are thirty, September,

you are watching your daughter’s

fingers unfurl, you remember the girls,

white coffins,

light as a bird.

 

A Manchester train, a job making planes,

a factory,

from a rented room to a rented house,

a borrowed suitcase and a family

And dreams of things like holidays,

in technicolour, a room with a view,

radiators.

 

 You are watching your daughter run in a field,

you look up to see a bird leave the trees

and the sun paints its underwing

as it moves behind factories

for the sea.

 

A retirement watch,

an empty chair,

a framed wedding photograph.

 

And we’re here

at the end of a rope of years,

the boatman has long gone;

and as we’re saying goodbye

the sunlight dies

though the river

for a moment turns gold.

 

IOB. 1.2.14

 

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Sunlight (Eston Street): A poem for Keith Bennett

Keith Bennett

For the post-war, post-1960s, post-modern, post-Tony Wilson, post-Smiths, post-everything generation, Manchester’s past is a projection, a kind of grim nostalgia, stitched together in song lyrics and cult films, stills of Coronation Street and Rita Tushingham. The early 1960s is black and white, Shelagh Delaney, chains of brick terraces, smoke and Violet Carson, brewery steam and factory smog, “streets to define you and streets to confine you,” as Morrissey said in his Autobiography, Manchester being the “old fire, wheezing its last.”

The horrific crimes of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley are a part of the violent truth behind the smoke, the bitter knife’s edge beneath this grey tapestry. The Moors Murders are locked in Manchester’s psyche, a cancer, the infamous mugshots printed and reprinted, cutting deeper and deeper into the City’s troubled history, as inescapable as the greygreen wall of Moors, cold-shouldered against the city skyline.

Keith Bennett is the last known victim of Brady and Hindley to remain unfound, locked in the ever-changing face of the Moor. The idea of a boy still lost, somewhere out there beneath that unforgiving, cold landscape unnerved me as a kid and still does, Brady’s last sick twist of the knife. I wanted to write something about Keith Bennett in particular after reading an interview with Keith’s brother, Alan, who mentioned the goalposts he and Keith painted on the wall at the end of their street in the early 1960s. The traces are still there.

Brady once bragged to a reporter about how his name is remembered more than other killers, counting his notoriety in Google hits against his name. It occurred to me that the names of the killers are remembered more than the victims themselves. We need to remember the victims, keep them alive in the City’s consciousness long after Brady becomes dust.

I submitted my poem ‘Sunlight, Eston Street’ to Paragram Poetry’s ‘Slants of Light’ competition and was lucky enough to be shortlisted, the poem eventually came second in the competition and was published in Paragram’s anthology.

Details of the ongoing appeal to renew the search for Keith Bennett can be found here: http://www.searchingforkeith.com/

I have donated my prize money to the NSPCC. If you would like to make a donation too, to tackle child cruelty, you can do so here: http://www.nspcc.org.uk/

Details of the Paragram Poetry anthology can be found here: http://paragramdotcom.wordpress.com/

Sunlight, Eston Street
Cold light bleeds over rocks and heath,
the cryptic landscape cradles Keith
Bennett, emptied into soil.

There are goalposts painted on a Longsight street,
fading prints, pale scars on brick,
where you used to play.

The unconcerned city caul of traffic shrouds
the ghost road;
you wouldn’t recognise it now.

We do not name our children with her name
yet cannot let her go, she seeps
through
Mugshot eyes in a city’s retina
Black-eyed houses;
Peroxide brick.
Dirt beneath a fingernail.

Sunlight sets across a moor,
draws shadows along roads,
gilds a city skyline,
rests on painted brick.

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