It is perhaps something all poets yearn for. Not merely fame, the adulation of the masses or the soft tears of the ladies when you have to move on to another city. It is not even the rapturous applause of the crowd at a reading of your poetry. What we yearn for is financial security, the knowledge that our art is putting bread on the table and paying the rent. Writing poems is the simplest part of being a poet.
So how does one achieve this? How, in all candour, have I managed to cheat the harsh fate that hounds so many of my contemporary artists? Why is it that I alone of all of them have not had to sully my hands with toil but keep them fresh for the pen?
This knowledge is hard won, but I share it willingly. I learned early on and at the feet…
I like music, honest. At the moment, as I write this, I’m listening to the Stones, ‘Paint it Black.’ But I like it in its place, in my ears, not in my head.
This morning I was walking along lane when a cyclist came the other way. I heard him before I saw him because I could hear the music from his earphones.
When he got up to me he stopped, took the earphones out of his ears (without switching the music off) and asked for directions. I explained where he was and the route he had to follow to get to where he wanted to be. He thanked me; put the earphones back into his ears and pedalled off, trailing music behind him.
Funny old world isn’t it. One fine day last year I got the train round to Silecroft and walked up Black Combe. It was a really pleasant morning, the bird song was amazing, and I could stop and see the buzzards spiralling below me.
And at the same time, hammering down the path toward me would come the runners, all with their earphones in, music turned up, oblivious to it all. I mean, why leave the gym?
For some people, music seems to be like soma. They take it and the world disappears and they no longer have to think.
For others, the need to be ‘connected’, to be wired in and constantly in touch almost seems like some sad foreshadowing of netrunner.
Look, just turn off, tune out and jack out. Try the real world for a while. If you’ve got to the stage where you can no longer face the echoing emptiness between your ears, then I’ve got a solution. Read something and let that fill it.
Now there’s nothing wrong with music. I’ve got Sinéad O’Connor singing ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ at the moment. But for me music is more often the white noise I play to ensure that I’m not interrupted when I’m writing. On the other hand music can inspire. I found a video of ‘Paint it Black’ on you tube. The music is backing for a compilation of clips from Vietnam War news footage. As I watched it I was taken back to the days when I used to cycle home from school to watch the retaking of Hue and the crossing of the Perfumed River. As Noel Coward said, ‘Strange how potent cheap music is’.
There again, where would we be without music?
As a reviewer commented “Another great set of stories as told by jobbing poet Tallis Steelyard. Fights abound and artists and poets are not the least amongst the fighters. I love these stories and sometimes think if someone were to drop me anywhere in Port Naain I could find my way, well, not home, but at least to Tallis and Shena’s barge. Jim Webster always gives us humour, wit and a wisdom he wears lightly. People like him should be running the country.”
I heard it first on the radio. Daesh have blown up the temple of Baalshamin. Now I’ve never been there, never seen it, probably never will, but I feel the loss.
But it’s interesting to just stop and think about what drives people. I think that some people have an instinct to destroy what they feel contradicts them. It’s an inability to cope with something which doesn’t square with their beliefs.
And for Daesh it manifests itself in the destruction of people who hold different beliefs, and of buildings and cultures that were created by different beliefs.
But how do they differ, other than in degree, from those who demand we re-write Shakespeare or some other dead author who has failed to keep up with fashionable modern mores?
I’m afraid that then I see US democrats posting memes about red-neck Christian scum, or when I heard people playing ‘ding dong the witch is dead’ when Margaret Thatcher’s death was announced, I see the same human emotion at work.
As far as I can tell, it’s fear. Fear that, actually, the other side is right and you’re going to lose in the end. Fear that history will mark you down as the wrong headed ones who stood briefly in the path of progress before being sidetracked and forgotten. Fear that your bright shining ideal is just nonsense and a philosophical dead end, one that might survive as a footnote in a rarely read history of the period.
I remember what C.S.Lewis wrote in the Screwtape letters.
“Hatred has its pleasures. It is therefore often the compensation by which a frightened man reimburses himself for the miseries of Fear. The more he fears, the more he will hate.”
And so they destroy and try and build their own petty empires.
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Yet in our hearts, in our dreams, Palmyra lives on still.
What do I know? Speak to an expert
As a reviewer commented, “Excellent follow up to his first collection of bloggage – Sometimes I Sits and Thinks – this is another collection of gentle reflections on life on a small sheep farm in Cumbria. This could so easily be a rant about inconsiderate drivers on country lanes and an incessant moaning about the financial uncertainties of life on a farm. Instead, despite the rain, this is full of wise asides on modern living that will leave you feeling better about the world. Think Zen and the Art of Sheep Management (except he’s clearly CofE…) Highly recommended, and worth several times the asking price!”
A phrase I’ve always liked is “When small men begin to cast big shadows, it means that the sun is about to set.” — Lin Yutang
I was looking sheep this morning. It was raining on and off and I got rained on twice. But as I walked up a track towards one house I could see their little dog standing in the window watching me. But as it turned, it could see its own reflection in the mirror over the mantelpiece. So it barked at the strange dog in its house.
Of course in jumped down onto the floor to chase the mutt off, and of course, it could no long see the strange dog, so the tactic had obviously worked. And better still, it will continue to work. Because every time it gets up on the window ledge to look out, it’ll glance over its shoulder and discover that other chuffing dog is back. So it’ll have to drive it off again. Hours of fun for all the family.
It’s just that somebody sent me a link to an article about Russia. It seems that President Vladimir Putin has had ‘illegally imported foreign food’ ostentatiously destroyed, live, in front of cameras. To prove to his own people that he’s a big important man and isn’t to be crossed.
But it’s funny. These ‘big important men’, how can you tell them? Well I’ve been doing a series of interviews for an editor and writing them up. This means chasing busy people, phoning them up and taking twenty minutes of their time to do an interview. They’re all busy people, all worth talking to.
But written next to one name on the list was the cryptic comment that this chap was the ‘real deal’ and was seriously important and therefore should be handled tactfully. Yet this is that chap who not only returned my phone call, he booked a time for an interview, and then rang me to do it.
The really important people are normally important enough to remember that society is held together by the thin glue of courtesy and if we want society to keep hanging together, we’ve got to be prepared to keep splashing the glue about as we pass through the day.
If President Vladimir Putin had been a really big man, he’d have taken this food and given it to old people’s homes or used it, with match funding from the centre, to provide meals for those who have so little. The big men (and big women) don’t need to throw their weight about to prove that they’re important.
Many years ago, (it could be fifty), I heard the lyrics of a song on a BBC television news and current affairs programme. The chorus has stayed with me after all this time, although I’ve never managed to track the rest of it down.
“Doctors and teachers exams must pass,
If ere they wish to rise above the working class.
And if perchance, they’ve just scraped through,
I’ll give you ten to one that they look down on you.
Ho, ho, just scraped through.
I’ll give you ten to one that they look down on you.”
There again, bring a little fun into your life
As a reviewer commented “Benor is a cartographer and he’s come to Port Naain to produce a handbook. He makes a home with Tallis, a professional poet and his wife Shena. She’s a mud-jobber or as we might say, a beachcomber. Some of her combings include bodies. Everything has a price and families will pay for the privilege of burying their dead and, if possible, finding who caused it. Benor is a natural. He’s a nosy person and, with the aid of the wonderful Mutt, a ten year-old wise beyond his years, he sorts out the villains from the corpses. This first short story from The Port Naain Intelligencer bodes well for the rest of the series. A really great Whodunit.”
You know what it’s like; we artists are condemned to eternally suffer for our art. Those without our gift, our drive, cannot comprehend what impels us forward and mutter darkly into their small beer.
But here is a sad example to let you know what I mean. I was with friends one night at Misanthropes Hall. Purely at table with friends and acquaintances. We’d dined in a small way but perhaps taken more wine that the occasion called for. Still it was a pleasant evening and one young chap was scribbling down our witty asides as they fell from our lips, which put us all on our mettle. How was I to know it was one of the lower forms of life? It was Tar Yurgon. No artist but a freelance journalist, the very dregs of literary endeavour.
And then Trane Forsgill started cavilling about whether it was his turn…
A lady of my acquaintance (Now there’s a telling phrase if ever I heard one. Conjures up all sorts of images, begs all sorts of questions. Such as ‘Lady?’ Your ‘acquaintance’? It raises an infinity of somewhat sordid possibilities without producing the slightest evidence to back them up. Should go down a storm on Facebook.’) But anyway, as I was saying, a Lady of my acquaintance posted the following quote to my wall on Facebook.
“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow a very lively debate within that Spectrum.” Noam Chomsky
I think it’s probably true. There are a lot of things that are being discussed but nobody ever seems to get at the stuff that really matters. Take the current Labour party leadership. OK I might be older than most, but I can remember we argued over the stuff that Jeremy Corbyn is proposing in the sixth form in a Northern working class grammar school, back in the 1970s. The others are just rehashing everything that’s gone on since, frantically reshuffling the same old cards in an attempt to get a better hand. Nobody is thinking outside the box.
What would be outside the box? What discussions should we be having?
Well let’s start with this climate change/global warming/whatever. All the major political parties assure us it’s happening. They’re all out there determined to mitigate it.
Right, so if it’s true, in less than a century we’ll have significant sea level rises, amongst other things.
So the question I’d like to see discussed is ‘Why are we still building in the Thames valley? At least at the London end. Given that if these predictions are right, London could be permanently flooded within the lifetimes of people born this year, why aren’t we making the first plans to evacuate the area altogether. Not to do it now, but at least to ensure that there will be houses for people to move to. Build them in northern cities that are high enough up to allow for any flooding. Why bother extending London airports if the people will have to leave?
Another question I’d like to ask is what are we going to do with these people at Calais?
Flicking a glance back at the climate change issue again, if that theory is correct, there are going to be even more refugees pouring our way. But even if it is incorrect there are still going to be more heading our way. Because the Middle East and North Africa are becoming even more unstable; and one reason for that instability is the oil price. I’ve seen articles in the last week or two that calculate that in another couple of years, Saudi Arabia will have run down its cash reserves to a level at which it’ll no longer be able to keep the lid on things. The Shi’a-Sunni war could really kick off with a vengeance. That whole area is likely to become even more unstable. Which means there will be even more refugees.
At some point they will get here. It’ll be chaos. So what are we going to do to pre-empt this? Can we let them in under contract, hold them in decent camps here, make sure they’re medically fit, make sure they speak acceptable English. And then let them start to seek the jobs they’re trained for. After all, with the new living wage, it is going to be an awful lot harder for employers to use cheap labour to hold the price down.
Oh and while we asking the serious questions, the questions that they don’t really want you to think about because the answers would probably mean we had to change things, what are we going to eat?
Ignoring climate change, refugees and political insecurity mean that people aren’t producing food. So somebody will have to otherwise hunger is going to become an issue in a lot more places than just a few third world hotspots.
Noam Chomsky doubtless had his own questions he felt were being avoided. That’s fair enough, no doubt you’ve got questions you feel deserve answering.
Me? I’ve asked mine. But I cannot honestly see anybody standing for the leadership of any UK political party rushing forward to produce answers for them in a hurry.
And why aren’t they asking these questions, why are these things not being discussed?
Simple. The questions mean that there will be changes coming. As far as I can see all these changes will mean that more people are going to claw a place for themselves amongst the rich because they want their share of the goodies.
The poor start wretched, live wretched and die wretched. Change is hardly going to make their situation worse.
But for the rich, things are going to be difficult.
And just remember, if you can read this in your own time on your own device, then almost by definition, you’re one of the rich.
There again, what do I know? Ask the expert.
A collection of anecdotes, it’s the distillation of a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. I’d like to say ‘All human life is here,’ but frankly there’s more about Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep.
As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”
You know what it’s like. I had a busy day ahead of me. Work to do, people to contact, the internet to spam unmercifully in the hope that I’d sweet talk somebody into buying my chuffing book.
So it’s off to a good start. Straight after breakfast I go to check the sheep and see that everything’s OK and where it should be.
Anyway I was walking through the gimmer lambs and one caught my eye. It was somehow looking a bit grubby and dejected. I tried to get closer but it wasn’t having that, it accelerated away, so obviously wasn’t too ill. But I wasn’t happy with it.
At this time of the year we can have problems with blowfly attacking sheep. If the wool is dirty or matted they lay their eggs in it and then the maggots quite literally eat the sheep alive. I was going to include a photo of this but good taste and a fear that you might have just eaten stopped me.
It’s one of the reasons we dip sheep. The problem with dipping sheep is that we have to use organophosphate because nothing else has been developed that works and isn’t even more dangerous. So you try to get away without dipping, or at least keep on top of problems so you only have to dip them only once.
This is because the chemical stays in their fleece and gives them protection from blowflies and similar for some weeks. Obviously you cannot kill them for human consumption during this period.
But anyway I decided that after checking all the other batches I’d come back and fetch this batch home and pull out the one I was worried about and treat it. When I got home I got all the gates ready, got on the quad and set off to get them. To be fair, they cooperated reasonably. The first problem was one gimmer who just sat down and laid there. I checked her feet. She’d got maggots eating into them. So I picked her up, put her on the back of the quad and set off to keep the others moving. At this point I noticed that a growing number of them were building up on the bank of the beck. The beck was dug out fifty years ago. It looks more like an anti-tank ditch with a small canal at the bottom than some rippling mountain stream. The gimmers were obviously planning to surge across in a bunch. I left the one on the back of the quad behind and shot off to discourage them. They saw me coming and scattered back into the field and eventually noticed the bridge and started crossing it.
I went back for the lame lamb and followed. As I trailed along behind the last one across the bridge I could hear bleating below me. One of the idiots had gone into the beck rather than over the bridge. Immediately I ran through the triage. It had got itself stuck on a mass of weed; it wasn’t going anywhere and would struggle to drown in ten minutes. So I left it, drove most of the rest before me, (some had cut off to the right to graze) and got home. Here I put the lame lamb in a pen to treat later, grabbed my crook and set off back to the beck.
Now the crook was designed with this beck in mind. Far too often a sheep will fall in the beck. You go down the bank to help her out, and she just goes to the far side of the beck. You walk 200 yards to the bridge, cross the beck and walk 200 yards back. You go down the bank to help her out and she crosses to the far side again. My crook is over twelve feet long and was made from round steel bar. I can stand on either bank and catch them and pull them out.
But anyway it’s not the handiest thing to carry on a quad bike, but there’s a job to be done and I’m the only one about to do it. So I arrive at the beck. First I use the crook to tear away some of the weed to create a channel, then using the crook I pull the lamb down the channel towards me. I catch it and drag it out onto the bank.
At this point note that the lamb will weigh 30kg or thereabouts. It’ll have another 10kg of water in its fleece, perhaps 20kg. Discussing pulling it out is easier than actually doing it. But still it was out and I got it back to the others.
Anyway I collected the bunch that had been grazing and took them back. I specifically noted that the grubby looking one that I’d been concerned about was with them. I rounded them up, they split to go both sides of a clump of trees and I followed one bunch and went back for the others. Gathered together again I brought them home but realised that somewhere the grubby one had disappeared.
So I went back, hunted and couldn’t find it.
I went back again, this time with Sal, on the grounds that her nose is better than mine and she covers the ground faster.
Well it’s a good theory, but in reality there was me walking through the clumps of rushes, whilst Sal, who is not a tall dog as Border Collies go, was bouncing about trying to see over the rushes.
But anyway we came to a gutter. It’s got a hedge growing on both sides and I’d walked the length of it before, looking, but this time Sal found the lamb. It hadn’t merely fallen in the water and got stuck in the never-ending glutinous mud that makes up the bottom. It had managed to work its way out of sight to do this. But obviously not out of Border Collie sight or scent.
Now I knew where it was.
So if I grabbed this branch with my left hand and swung out and put my right foot just there where the bank might just hold me, I should be able to grab the lamb.
So I did. And it worked. Great.
Unfortunately as I pulled on the lamb, I was bracing myself with my right foot and the bank slowly crumbled and my foot slid gracefully into the water. And the more I pulled; the deep my foot went.
At this point I feel I ought to introduce you to the concept of ‘Summer Wellies.’ In winter it’s raining, it’s wet, there is water everywhere and you wear wellies all the time to keep your feet dry.
But wellies wear out. In my case they almost always split at the level of my Achilles tendon, where I press my foot to grip the other welly when I’m taking it off.
In the case of my right welly, due to unexpected weaknesses in the material, the split, normally a vertical affair, had turned ninety degrees and now runs parallel to the sole. The split is probably over four inches long.
Now this isn’t really a problem. Admittedly if I walk in water more than two inches deep, water comes in. But that’s true of pretty well any footwear. Because in summer we don’t often get water more than two inches deep, this pair are now summer wellies. As the weather breaks in autumn I’ll get a new pair which will be winter wellies, and at some point, hopefully not before late spring, they in their turn will split and become summer wellies.
But by now, my right welly was pretty well full of stinking water and mud. But on the positive side, I’d got the lamb out.
All that was left to do was to carry it home and treat it, because it had now decided that walking is for wimps. Even with Sal’s bared teeth inches from its nose it remained obdurate and had to be carried.
Did I say I’d got a busy day planned?
Yeah well, forget that. Let’s revert to plan B.
You’ve wasted so much time reading this that you’ve no chance at all of doing the things you intended.
So you might as well just give up, download ‘Flotsam or Jetsam’, and at least enjoy what’s left of your day
This review is from: Flotsam or Jetsam (Kindle Edition)
Benor is a cartographer and he’s come to Port Naain to produce a handbook. He makes a home with Tallis, a professional poet and his wife Shena. She’s a mud-jobber or as we might say, a beachcomber. Some of her combings include bodies. Everything has a price and families will pay for the privilege of burying their dead and, if possible, finding who caused it. Benor is a natural. He’s a nosy person and, with the aid of the wonderful Mutt, a ten year-old wise beyond his years, he sorts out the villains from the corpses. This first short story from The Port Naain Intelligencer bodes well for the rest of the series. A really great Whodunit.
I knew it was true; I had faith in my art and my muse. But still it is nice to have it confirmed by someone other than a chap I met in a tavern. It appears that in the dying hours of yesterday, as the special offer on ‘Lambent Dreams’ faded slowly into memory, I have regained fourth place amongst the greats.
Homer, yes I have read his work. If you want to a battle scene described, with all the piercing and slashing and gushing that this entails, then Homer is indeed your man.
Aristotl? Again I will not have a word said against him in my presence. A fine mind; no, a brilliant mind, but a philosopher rather than a poet, surely?
And Beowulf, again a master when it comes to sword play or descriptive passages redolent of the stench of foulness and dark deeds, let his name be…
It has to be said that it nice to feel appreciated, to feel that one’s art is at last accepted and one’s genius is valued.
Thus it was with a feeling of genuine pride that I noticed how well Lambent Dreams was doing. Apparently, (and I have this on good authority,) on the Amazon chart for free poetry, I took fourth place, coming behind Homer, Aristotle and Edgar Allan Poe.
I have taken an opportunity to familiarise myself with their work and I will grant that they are indeed men of stature. Indeed it does appear I have somehow been bracketed with towering genius.
Still it gives me cause to hope. After all, whatever one says about that trinity of versifying, it must be confessed that their best days are behind them and they have published little new for some time.
It’s tiresome I know but I suppose it has to be done. My publisher pleads and wearily I step into the breach. It appears that a trifle of work I did, purely to oblige, has at last been published.
I had for some time felt it would be an excellent idea to write an analysis of all that makes so much modern poetry struggle to achieve even passing notoriety, never mind undying fame. Hence when I was presented with ten poems written by Tallis Steelyard it seemed an opportune moment to append my work to them.
It must be said in the defence of the publisher that they didn’t actually promise me money, although I am certain that during our discussions payment was mentioned. Admittedly it was mentioned in such vague terms that I was forced to seek clarification lest it be I who was paying.