I suppose I could do it if you wanted me to,
I mean, if it was something that was important.
The laptop screen is smeared
and there is sticky stuff on the keyboard,
maybe mango chutney.
Where are the books that really matter?
We’ve taken them to the charity shop
and it’s too late to get them back.
But it’s good to be tidy,
also to regularly check the gutters
for debris and intrusive weeds.
The ragwort grows out of the chimney pot
and forms a magical tree
which could one day become a magical forest
for strange pale horses ridden by
all the forgotten imaginary friends of our childhoods,
with their asymmetric freckles,
in gentle boots and soft autumnal wool wear
to wander through, if left unchecked.
Monday, moon day.
Look inside that suitcase, it is full of aromatic herbs.
Three people wrote a paragraph collaboratively,
then discarded it when the rains came.
Is that a swarm of bees, I mean really a swarm of bees?
I bought a fennel bulb on impulse
and now I don’t know what to do with it.
Why don’t you stay back in the yurt
and make sure the devices are fully charged?
It’s not an interesting job, but it’s an important job.
Listening to the wind on cassette.
I didn’t know this is how you make friends.
I didn’t even know they drink tea in London.
This is a small town, a maze of hedges patrolled by a wolf and at its centre a clutch of deadly toadstools. The cat from over the road approaches the threshold but will not cross the threshold. In those days, we just did whatever, but now I have lots of important things to do and I don’t want to do any of them, in the same way I don’t want to eat this cucumber. I’m not numbing myself anymore, Dad, the old feelings are coming back. When I said that there was no point in writing books, I didn’t mean the book that you were writing.
It is hard not to be fashionable, but it must be hard to be fashionable too, the shoes and the weird blue food. Nonetheless, we can consider ourselves underappreciated, like the eighteenth-century noblemen who discovered the internet then forgot it on purpose. The altar boy is disappointed because he doesn’t look old enough to buy fireworks, even though he is old enough to buy fireworks. If you approach me at the snooker hall, I will do my utmost to state my purpose clearly. The ladder leans against the shed. We climb it to get nearer to the moon.
Broccoli and chunky relish. Push the broad beans aside with your fingers. Falling asleep with a yellow lamp and that way to avoid the nightmares. Arriving late to the white worm’s lair and finding the meeting already concluded. A long way home across the marshes. The bunkers of the oligarch’s golf course. Gradually, we spoke less of Monsieur, his innovative salads filling the fireplace. With kale, it is essential to inspect it, for it may have been compromised by rabbits or thieves. All I ask is that you try one of my dishes and give me some constructive feedback.
On Surrealism and Poetry
I came to poetry via pop music and I came to surrealism via psychedelia. I love the dazed, dayglo lyrics of The Beatles’ late 60s golden age, The Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow, Pink Floyd and, in particular, the utterly idiosyncratic solo albums of Syd Barrett. I love their different way of seeing, kaleidoscopic lenses through which the world is different, eerie and shimmering. I’ve always been more interested in English psychedelia, with its roots in the quotidian (teacups, firemen, bus shelters, steam engines, maiden aunts etc) than its more bombastic American variant. Similarly, I’m less interested in Dali’s lobsters and melting clocks than Magritte’s wry, subtle détournements, his apples, mantle pieces and bowler hats. I also like the fact that he wore a nice suit whilst painting, proving, in the words of Mark E Smith, that you don’t have to be weird to be weird.
At some point in my twenties, I acquired the Penguin Surrealist Poetry in English anthology, which includes some éminences grises (Ronald Penrose, Yvor Winters, Humphrey Jennings), some star names (James Tate, Ted Berrigan) but also some texts that are undeservedly now less well known, like Harry Crosby’s Mad Queen poems. I’ve just looked him up and found him described as a “bon vivant and minor poet”, very much my kind of chap. I was also given a copy of Michael Horovitz’s Children of Albion anthology and through that encountered the work of Spike Hawkins, Pete Brown (whose lyrics for the band Cream connect back to music) and the criminally neglected Stuart Mills, whose sparse, laconic poems, where strange things happen for no apparent reason, are a lifelong influence. Add to this J.G. Ballard, Lewis Carrol, Frida Kahlo, Edward Lear, Jan Švankmajer and, of course, Leonora Carrington, all of whom I got into around this time, and you have quite the surrealist snow globe.
Perhaps inevitably, my own writing began to change. I’d previously been more or less naturalistic, writing from direct experience and empirical reality (still the dominant British poetic strain) but I was becoming bored. I started to use surrealist techniques, such as collage, chance mechanisms and stream of consciousness as means of getting beyond myself and above my station. I found my way to a method I still use: writing at speed, editing only lightly, treating whatever is happening around me not as distractions but as part of the work, not really bothering with trying to make sense of anything, trusting in sense to make itself. I don’t feel you have to make an effort to be surreal, more that you have to make an effort not to be and who would want to do that?
There are some really interesting writers working now in the surrealist spirit but I won’t attempt to list them as I’d be sure to forget someone and find them waiting for me beside the ornamental pond with a hearing trumpet and an ancient tortoiseshell shoe horn.
Instead, I’ll finish with what is perhaps my favourite surrealist text, a joke my daughter made up when she was little.
“Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the hairdresser’s.”