The Grand Western

The Grand Western

I don’t remember
much of the days we spent together,
roaming a water’s edge,
watching black summer storms
rolling in across the ocean;

I remember Guitar Hero was my
like clutching buttons too tightly
was a sign of things to come;

Guitar Hero was my seduction,
and yours was living –

how we envied the beautiful,
the semi-naked art, all wrapped
in shrouds abandoning their ghosts,

who needn’t humour,
nor lies to make themselves

– the tall room, too, I recall,
more clearly than your body;
the squat television set and the table I carried
to the centre of the room for us to share,
the smell of acrylic paint and glue
and ink all together with our sweat,
the sagging black seats,
tarnished and glittering beneath failing lights;
the white bathroom blinding
even through the heavy wood,
the swimming pool’s curve
and laughter as limbs made the water shake;

I remember being lost, one
street over –
and your voice panicking as I made
hazardous guesses
to find the right building
– I can’t remember what it was for now –

do you remember the journey up the pier;
along that mile of wooden cage?
do you remember that?

no, you wouldn’t;
that wasn’t you? was it? that was me
all alone, smoking the sunlight straight over water,
and remembering it all in the back room
of the Castle Hotel;
another home than ours,
in a different city.

Like Ravaged Porcelain

Like Ravaged Porcelain

‘To tread upon the boards; a fool, a fool! To burn beneath the light and bleed into the blinding space!’

There; that was the cue.

She let him go; let the last warmth of his fingertips vanish from hers as he was dragged out, dragged into the void. It was something she couldn’t understand, some eternal, mythological creature whipped at the shadows of the wings with great, slavering tentacles. She couldn’t fight it; she didn’t know how she could. Every night, she watched him die, murdered by a fiction. She watched him walk away from her and end himself, slit his throat open in some great blackness.

It was the eternal goodbye, a mono-chromatic farewell; the very last moment that they would see one another. He would already be turning away, looking for the light, drooling for the applause. Her last image of him would be as a silhouette, before he vanished. She had tried, once, to explain it to him, and he had laughed. He had said he was walking towards the sun, doing it because he needed to do it – she had said he just needed to do it to prove to himself that he needed to do it. He took those steps to prove that he could stand it, stand the death, stand the pressure, stand the pulsating heat – he wanted to stand it for longer than anyone else.

And every time he was reborn, birthed in sweat and blood and tears into the shadows of obscurity, he would look at her with empty, exhausted eyes. It burnt the recognition from his eyes. His eyes would glitter, but it was the glitter of the stage. He will laugh, and talk, and smile, but his laughter will be the trained laughter of an audience, the conversation will be a monologue – the smile would be makeup and stretched out like a melting cadaver’s. When the dawn light rose and broke the creature’s hold on the city, he would hold her – his grasp would not be the same; it was the kind of hug that she would tell her grandchildren about, the same touch that comes with an autograph, and a story, and a treasured keepsake to prove to oneself, in the dead nights, that one still exists – that one has existed.

There – he has gone, he has died with a faceless roar. Still, a form steps from the shadows; it is someone, something, else. He was suddenly some handsome figure, tragic and unbroken who paced and spoke and gestured with precision beneath foreign skies. She had seen him die a thousand times; she had seen him die as Caesar died, in Pompey’s Theatre on the Ides of March – she had seen him die as Richard died, cut down at the height of his mad, treacherous glory – she had seen him die again and again, and bleed out onto the stage until the audience laughed and cried and hung themselves from the smooth rafters of their open-plan box apartments.

They applauded the blood that rose and formed some humanoid figure, some clever reflection of mirrors and dreams. He was porcelain, red, blood-baked porcelain which aped the mannerisms of something else, something living, something which pretended to sweat and cry and fear like the audience sweated and cried and feared.

She knew him; she knew that when he stepped off those boards, with one last reluctant motion, he fell back into his own body. He was born naked, shivering and blind in the dark, with hair sprouting from between his legs and arms and across his breastplate. He was warm and weak and wet with sweat.

She wasn’t jealous, she was guilty – she reeked with it, reeked with the guilt, like the pale young figure who squatted in the shadowed corners reeked of creativity. She had screamed at him, told him that she had no desire to step into those shadows every night, she didn’t want to die on the stage, for the audience and the joy and the misery of these people.

No,’ she thought, ‘they aren’t even people, not really, not most of them. They were just carping creatures who opened their throats and cackled with a snap of his fingers, mannequins who occasionally shed a tear when his voice peaked in a howl of rage and fear and pain.

She knew what was behind them, what fears drove those undulating furies from between his teeth. It was the cry of a dead man, struggling to cut its way from the coffin as the dead, dirt-covered wood smiled and laughed and pushed him down and shook hands with stunning figures in golden suits and low-cut dresses.

The audience weren’t people, no; they couldn’t be. They were numeri, they were ticket sales, they were reflections of emotion, reflections of emotions she hated, from the stolen form of a man she loved, and little else. She couldn’t bring herself to love them as he did – she hated them. She moved from the gateway, walking across the patched and broken boards of the side-stage. She passed actors, staring towards the stage with envy blazing in their eyes. She had heard their congratulations before, seen their poison handshakes as they longed for the same death, to wear the same death masks as he dared to.

She saw the writer, the pale young figure, with his hands permanently wringing as he mouthed the words in time – he should have been an actor himself, to pretend to such a role. His fingers weren’t stained, like they should have been, but they had the flat pads like a technician. He had the stench of a man who lived with the backspace, who could undo mistakes with the push of a button. He was a genius, apparently. A living legend at bringing the unexplored tensions of modern, multicultural Britain to the forefront of the viewer’s attention, in the language which would make Shakespeare proud and force Hemmingway to beg for forgiveness.

‘So; you left the worship of addiction to the worship of a hero! Who leans against a wall, in Liverpool, like a cast-iron James Dean! Who poses with Marlin Brando’s smile, as though he had been scarred with silver ink and keys and coins and ravaged jewellery! You walk these rain-hallowed streets to walk these rain-hallowed streets, and tell of the time that you moved across cobblestone oceans!’

It was close now, the quiet crescendo – the great undulating roar of applause followed by the screaming silence. She couldn’t bear the adulation they gave him – he wasn’t the dream-soaked idol they believed he was. He was just another young, fierce thing, with hot blood and ragged skin made perfect in the wardrobe. And what was she?

There – just another moment. Just another young, fierce thing with hot blood and ragged skin perfected by the shadows cast by stage lights.

I remember writing this in a single night, in a cabin in Scotland. It’s extremely unpolished, as you’ve come to expect from me, but there’s something about it that I don’t hate. I’ve not been writin much prose recently, though half the time, the stuff I call poetry ends up bleeding into prose.

If you want to check out some of the poems I am not, necessarily, unhappy with, then I’d suggest Ghost or A Red Dress. For more slightly miserable prose, I recently put out another eBook I wrote some time ago, The Burden. It’s free, so read it or don’t.

What Is Inspiration?

What Is Inspiration?

I’ve been having to think a lot, recently, about inspiration; about the different kinds of inspiration, about those little moments, those sparks, that stay with you and grow into something else entirely. I hear it a lot at work, when I’m reading an article about “Great Ways To Keep Your Blogs Unique!” and all that kind of crap – inspiration makes an appearance almost everywhere in the content marketing world, and I still find it revolting.

Might not seem like much, but when I realised that his was the name of a street in Wigan, my hometown, it definitely sat with me – particularly because the sign had been blocked up by a donut van for a very long time – read what you will into that.

It seems that, out of all the thousands of articles I’ve read in my day-to-day life as a copywriter, everyone seems to be taking inspiration from brands, from still-shot images, from things their children said over breakfast. Well, I don’t find things like pictures all that inspiring, with a few obvious exceptions; just as I don’t find beautifully presented quotes about enduring, struggling on, or working hard all that inspiring either.

There have been a few examples of literary fiction providing me with some inspiration in the past, but I’d certainly say that most of my inspiration, however weak and substandard that inspiration might be, comes from seeing things, comes from my day to day life – not as a copywriter, but as me.

What Is Inspiration?

Luca Giordano Painting
Might not seem like much, but a lot of Greek mythology has sat with me over the years. When I took a picture of Luca Giordano’s Prometheus, and saw that I was reflected in it, that really had an impact on me for a long time; it still does stir something in my soul, to be honest..

I’ve heard inspiration described most commonly as a flash, or a spark – even I used the idiom a moment ago – and for many people I see that that is the kind moment they’ll count as inspiring. The epiphany, or realisation, of a certain aspect of the world which then goes on to act as the driving force for some creative action.

Inspiration, then, is an action or thought which encourages change, action, thought, creativity – personal evolution. Everyone gets inspired now and again. Some of us, like the late Thin White Duke, seemed to be inspired by anything and everything, or seemed to have this ingrained sense of creativity which made inspiration unnecessary.

Mainly, thanks to the immediacy of the modern world and the sheer spontaneity of social media and the internet, it is easier than ever to be inspired. Anything, from a quote against a beautiful picture to a song, a work of art or even just a photograph of something you’ve never seen before, can be inspiring.

What Are The Problems With Inspiration?

Now, I’ve heard of people being inspired by social media, conversations and a whole heap of other stuff, but it’s incredibly rare, in my experience, to actually see anything develop out of this inspiration. The culture of inspiration that reigns supreme over a great deal of modern creativity seems, to me, to be more harmful than it actually is beneficial. For example, modern inspiration:

  • Makes Us Complacent – If we’re so easily inspired by something on social media or over the internet, and it’s real inspiration, then it’s like firecrackers down the spine. We can be so easily and quickly inspired that we expect to find inspiration in the same old places, which ends up not being inspiration.

    Or, perhaps it is inspiration, but it is not the kind of inspiration that we desire, because it’s an experience that we’ve already had. If you’re going to regularly find yourself inspired by, say, a Nietzsche quote or something that Thoreau once said, then you’re never going to move beyond that.

    Inspiring stuff tends to lodge itself in your mind; it tends to make this big black void of consciousness and it sucks everything else into it and you aren’t open to new inspiration anymore, because you’re already inspired, already pre-occupied with what someone else thought, or said, or did.

  • Dies – Thankfully, inspiration dies. This opens up your mind to new inspiration, allows you to actually grow as both a person and a creative. Unfortunately, in my experience, the inspiration that I picked up quickly doesn’t tend to last very long. I’ve got a dozen different pieces of writing sitting on my desktop, all fired by different forms of inspiration, and I don’t think I’ll ever finish them.

    The inspiration behind them has gone, vanished into the ether, curled into a ball and I can look back, dispassionately, and criticise the inspiration. I can see where it fails, why I found it inspiring in the first place and it dies.

  • Doesn’t Build On Itself – Now, because things are so instant, because we’re inspired by the slightest quote on a social profile, when we’re inspired that’s it – it’s over. Without time to develop, to sit in your mind like a leaden weight as the waters of your thought wash against and around it, you’ll never go beyond it.

    Spontaneity and instantaneousness are fantastic for a range of things; not for achieving inspiration in the long-term.

The Modern-Day Industry Of Inspiration

Okay, so that might be a little over the top, but a lot of the time it does feel like inspiration is a business; people pose against sunsets and hold hands in cornfields and are recorded as having these perfect lives and they howl out the message that “Oh, if only you could be here too, think how much better that would be! Look at how our lives are better than yours! (Oh, and while you’re here, if you could also give us your PayPal info, that’d be great)”. I mean, look at the image below – I don’t think it’s anywhere near as enjoyable as the full piece of writing; I tried this with a lot of my Fragments category, and I very, very quickly came to hate it. Explode(1)

That’s one of the major reasons that, as far as I can see, the spark of inspiration is becoming less and less useful for creativity. I tend to prefer the kind of inspiration that smoulders, that sits at the back of your head and drives you forward; those song lyrics that just don’t leave you, that piece of graffiti that no one can be bothered to clear up.

Your inspiration doesn’t need to be unique to you, of course it doesn’t! But there’s a difference between an entire poem, or song, or even a piece of artwork, and a self-contained image amongst thousands of others on a Facebook Feed with a few words standing out.

What Is Personal Inspiration?

My advice then, if we pretend for a moment that I’m any kind of authority on, well, anything, is that you need to find your own inspiration around you. Don’t go looking for it, don’t go chasing inspiration across the world, don’t look for epiphanies in African sunsets, American cities or British countryside – live your life as you want, as you need to, and let your life be your inspiration.

If you’re miserable, if you hate where you come from, let that inspire you. If you’re in love, or someone loves you, let that be inspiring. Create what you know, through your own filter, because nobody’s filter will be the same as yours.

In the end, take inspiration from fuckin’ everywhere and everything, cos’ what else is there, really?

Anyway, thanks for reading.

Just a quick reminder, everything on the left (under the Things I’ve Written title) is completely free and they’re probably going to stay that way. So, you know, if you’re looking for something to read, maybe give them a try, or not, of course.

Small-Town England

Small-Town England

It is a conscious decision. I allow my feet to carry me across uneven oceans of stone, broken by islands of dirty rain-water like a British, land-locked archipelago. I let them trace broken circuits throughout the town and follow the ghosts of themselves. I try to consider how often these same angular cobblestone have eaten away at the soles of my boots; how often these same walls have loomed over me and rejoiced in their dominance.

2015-02-08 23.43.57
Just a quick picture I took on my phone, and experimented with nostalgia filters – because I’m unimaginative and pretentious and I think some deep, dark part of me thinks that this is ‘artistic’.

I can still taste coal-dust in the air, or I can dream that I can. It is a romance that hangs over this town like a shroud; a romance that moved through the thoughts in silent, subtle ways; a romance that curled about the larynx and then, without a moment’s hesitation, tightened. This place would render a man mute, if you let it.

The road stretches upwards and I walk along it. Some feet behind me, it is cut off by a series of black iron bollards and so I make the most of the uncommon freedom to move in a twisted, snaking pattern along the tiled stone itself. There is a distinct pleasure to be found in walking in any direction you please and, if I had been the last man alive, I could have spent my last days moving in pointless shapes across any terrain I pleased.

I catch reflections of myself in those few shop windows which have raised their shutters at this early hour. I refuse to look as blatantly as I might desire, and I resort to fleeting glances at the state of my hair, at the shape of my shoulders and the angle of my arms as my hands seek the warmth of my pockets. I would look better as a silhouette, as a blackened image in a burned retina.

I am following someone, unconsciously. My feet have taken advantage of their liberty, and they pursue a tall, broad-faced woman as she descends a set of stairs into the shadows beneath a bridge. The bridge is an internal one, closed off from the world, and it is part of the dead shopping centre which clings to the centre of this place, like an old God refusing to believe in science.

It is not an ominous pursuit and, in fact, she is moving a little faster than me. She vanished into an arcade several seconds before I arrive at its entrance and, though I see her moving through the narrow causeway of commerce, I ignore that turning and move on. I pass beneath another bridge, and try to count the pieces of chewing gum stuck the floor. I lose count at twelve, and the rocking of my body’s motion jars my brain until I cannot count past ten.

I dream, then, that I am following in a ghost’s footsteps. I follow the spectre left, and then right, and through a small, dimly-lit arcade within which the very first stores were opening. I saw a jeweller’s, and the young woman with neon-red hair and a lip ring offered me a fleeting smile as she typed in the code to an electric lock. I smile at her, and can almost feel her shudder in revulsion. I do not have a nice smile – it twitches dishonestly across my face and makes a mockery of my emotion.

The shadows give way to light again, and the wind picks up. A little way up the road, I can see a family stabbing at the air with their hands and their voices. The mother is rounded, and she is leaning heavily against the handle of a pram as though it were a crutch. The child itself lolls in its seat, rocking its head left and right as though trying to ward off unwanted nightmares. The elder child is walking beside them both, in a school uniform with a navy blue blazer and grey trousers. He has a flat face, still grazing at the edges of masculinity, but it will grow harsher in a few years and turn into the expressive front of a pugilist.

2015-04-12 09.12.34
This is imaginatively known as the ‘Big Face’. Say whatever you want about us ‘Wiganers’ we’re nothing if not creatively honest.

We pass each other, and I cannot help but feel the divide between us. It breaks the air around us into sharpened wounds, and I cannot move through those sharpened edges to this family. I avoid looking at them when we are close together, but I may as well be staring at them. I think I hate them; I think they hate me. We would all be fools not to.

I pass through another arcade; this time an internal one which stretches over the outside marketplace, now nothing more than narrow iron girders where stalls once stood, and an elderly woman selling cheap, but hardwearing, handbags and travel accessories. Makinson Arcade, it is called. I walk past a shop called Love Forever – it has closed down and the dust wages a gentle, deathless war against our health.

Thank You. This little piece of prose has been cannibalised from a short poem I’m working on – it’s more of an exercise in description than a genuine narrative. I think I’d like to ‘prose-ify’ (that needs to be a word; I’m going to start using prose-ify (prosify?) in everyday conversation) the rest of the poem at some point, but I don’t know how well the imagery might translate towards the last few verses.