Saturday, September 08, 2018

‘Work’ from Words Out of Time: the 2017 Supplement

Astute readers of my autrebiography Words Out of Time will have noticed that the final piece, ‘Work’, the last part of ‘When’ (i.e., the end of the book) finishes not with a full stop but with ellipses. (Seriously, I doubt anybody noticed it!) That’s because its focus, the world of work, acts of, commitments to, actions of labour, wasn’t over for me at that time. (They still aren’t, but I did formally retire, a year ago and I reflect upon that here.)

There was more to write of the piece. Formally, the text distends time (the original idea was 15 words for the diaries when I’m 15, 50 for when I was 50, and thus 61 words for when I was 61, etc, but that broke down to nevertheless leave the general effect). That means that the text covering 2011-17 is as long as that for 1965-2011. (I was thinking of the fact that most conventional (auto)biographies spend more time on the early years, and I wanted this section to ‘do different’.)

I want to post it here (with a little linking clip of the text as it appears in the book (which you may obtain here.) and in its original magazine publication in Blackbox Manifold here: click and scroll). I hope it appeals.

Coincidentally, I’ve also excavated the text of ‘With’, the first conceptual part of ‘When’ in memory of my mother, a re-mix using sentences that refer to her (and plundering an earlier outtake I posted on this blog) here (and here. ).The final eulogy, in which I use a shorter version of this re-mix, may be read here

Perhaps one day the end of 'Work' will be restored to the book itself or to a re-print of ‘When’ on its own. Until then, here it is, in celebration of a year having passed since that retirement into full-time writing.

I wrote in detail about producing the first part of Words Out of Time, ‘The Given’, here. It’s an unusually lengthy exposition of method (practical poetics) for me, based on Adrian Clarke’s adage that ‘materials + procedure =’. 

If you want a conventional biography, I’ve got one here on my website. Up to date until mid August 2018. That it, it does not (at this time) mention my mother’s death in late August 2018. But it might by the time you read it.


(with the 2017 supplement)


Scooters and adding machines. Sunday morning overtime. Not negative but not noting ‘I did not go to’. Driving along the seafront in a Triumph Mayflower. Don’t forget spelling hospital spells. Homework. Superman aircrew books chess set. Learning to type. Circus horses. Thirty laps, boots sinking in mud. Glossy ammonites. Harbouring the world (on tape). Earth landing. Monitor, send QSLs to Vietnam. Hang on every Apollo silence. Record. A tone-deaf violinist choosing to sing the blues. Nobody can recognise ‘nobody’ in the cancelled day. The radio catches fire: acrid message chokes. A small tetrahedron of sugar paper given to model an interior but flattened to record a fiction! Starts autobiography. Picks through the archive. Leotards decorated with entrails. Groundhogs ticket in his pocket: Cobbing plays him ‘e’. Exchange employment between time, shadowgraph, black holes. Diffident, she sleeps under the spangled canopy, sponging off relatives, smoking dope. Deep breaths at the shore. Shouting over costs. Handsomeness the price of immortality (on the cans). Spending time copying. Labouring. Nobody’s freaking out in bubble-baths now. Orange jackets assert a new Right to Work 1976. ‘Bully Boys’ on paper. Police radio whispers. Interracial promenade. Faceless names. Working live cases, exchanging fear and pity glances in the shit, bogged down in ‘obligation’, transcribing her unpunctuated Friday pub-lunch monologues. Preludes to Jodie’s titillations on the page. Absence is addressed in absence. Plastic tatters in the window-frame. The axis of one day turning upon vertical rain-shafts. Far from credit, servants whom ‘one’ tips. The shell breaks. A booklet on fallout shelters, a fridge. Ergometrics of not writing. It finishes or the money finishes, unhuman perfection on the platform. Walk from the sites of earlier poems. When criticism becomes creative, every job’s up for grabs. Dead texts show other landscapes, stories of the logics of war machines. Difficult, inaccessible, complex: facts like dreams. The exotopia of increased work at work, as x months’ service serves towards increments. Build imaginary prisons with real zombies in them; beat the dead rabbit as ‘art’. Text is absent now the reader produces, sucking butter from its bread. Disobey the world that constitutes reference of the poem. Dissolution of self through apertures of Being. It’s c.v. season. Miles cuts into his musicians’ ears. The sentences remain beautiful, the syntax articulate, the sense disjointed. Glancing at my reviews in magazines I can’t afford. A slip of unsuccess slips. Full of bladder debris. Expressionist bathos. Workplace Calvinism. A post in the Dinky Inferno. Strategic chance: to free myself, I produce a beautiful F sharp for my micro-epic, figured to block somebody else’s manifesto. Like a baby sleeping through The Great Storm of 1987 while the CBI complains we stayed awake. Another ashen book, its thesis wrapped. Sweep noise poetry to pick up jammed voices. ‘Some younger poet’ masters the invisible genre, hammers decades of self-reflection into a node. An anti-fascist poem ‘for my students’. Two hours overtime. Float and flash perceptions. Working the work. What rough beast slouches in grey print on recycled paper? A scratch living room blues opera. Impacting language as a mode of existence, a means of escape. Who catches that last helicopter out of Kuwait? The New Referent. I take two or more verses on harp, hardly able to resolve. They’re not on the tape, which confirms perceptions, replaces memory. A palimpsest of image-traces under the songs. Her boot twisting on the bed. Extra choruses: compensating mistakes with emotion. Like Benetton. We’re stuck with bad rubbish. With no hope of good riddance! He’d rather fiddle in defeat than fight! Four hours teaching Lee Harwood’s work, then wording the petition, lobbying the Governors’ headlights. Back-pedalling management. Three large windows with Lady Hawarden shutters. Unobscure Disasters. Here’s yesterday’s slogan mid-circle: ADDRESS THE SYCOPHANTS! New geography grates against the talking time of lyrical seascapes. No good news but good to see you! Today’s slogan: Never trust a man who turns himself inside out! Tomorrow’s slogan: a full circle, but no words in it. Just instructions for the dancers: total immobility, self-similar poietic structures at smaller and smaller scales. Subpoenaing memory. If I weren’t a literary device I’d be depressed! Sloppy bucolics. This rhythm of working recognises poets by their handwriting. The gift of cheat. Sparrow hops. I walk/ to the post office, buy stamps./ A book of haiku. A poem-essay. Working poetics, the ethics of pleasure. To Waterloo to walk amongst the shells, shit and jellyfish. At work. Light executive dusting. Working. At. Home. Vacation to the site of the first English poem, gusting crosswind. Sing mē frumsceaft! Local clarity and global vacancy: Barry MacSweeney recites his Mary Bell sonnets; a 21 gun salute for the Queen Mother. Sleeping with hobby fish, rising to another other, the rainy park: a heron, head tilted, 1998. Angela drives my torn ankle home from work. The computer recites my poem zipping down unpunctuated columns without breathing. Chillier as the weather turns to 141 emails. First person omniscient narrator. No stopping or shopping, the postman dives under the window; a bag of sugar on the step, new sentence. We speak the language on the sides of the shrieking armoured cars. Time’s rot, we’re the first chord after long silence. We blink into daylight with the Mole’s vision, from tunnels which were filled with a century’s human waste. Where the people once drew water, one cough fills immensity. She saunters up the road, eyes fixed on the screen of her phone, her thumbs moving with dexterity. I grip the pen with my thumb but it’s a rigid clamp, a plug. The sounds of an electric toothbrush, of a suitcase on wheels running over bones. He arrives home from work, safe, with a story to tell. ‘The taxi crashed.’ Stroke of luck. He lives out of time in book time, stroke of pen. A detached part of his psyche like a retina. He thinks about the word that’s found his head, off to work, reading the proof of Sinclair’s next book. He begins again, re-narrating himself. Tongues lash. Light feathering. Buries her face. Re-works the old sentence. He lies with his tongue. He nibbles her neck, throat strap. He’s sucked out of his body, mindful. He spins his hands up her dancing skirt. Gomringer print wrapped in protective cloud. A diuretic tickles his inhibitors. Students workshop or worship their poems, thick snow settling into their Kerouac haiku. Oeuvre management. Number-crunching awayday Nazis, bequeathing structural pain, carried away on a comedy of errors. He professes fumbling in mobile text, pure poetry with polysexual nerves and palpitations. Her knuckles tremble before her eyes, ogling her power. He works on public language. He takes inner leave. There’s no poetry in which everything is scribbled lost notes. There are, however, memory blocks, intractable non-material that obscures the spectral cohort. History begins again as the new boss arrives. He doesn’t look at me. He doesn’t look at me, becomes Saying again, as I turn the page as if opening a door. When I speak he isn’t there to listen, though he doesn’t finish or unfinish. Institutional memory grinds. Ligament rips: 2009 cashpoint caper. It hurts me too. The lost grain of the guitar. Now touch the dock where the Birmingham Six stood to be accused, tried and found. Revisionist history, sentences in time. Orange March outside the Maharajah. Memory’s loss of memory and the absolute unforgettable. He relinquishes his diaries, but windows crash, firebombs are rumoured, and he works at them again, daily. On the Sussex step, he rescues family photographs from heavy albums. At his workstation, goose vibrato like Braxton’s contrabass. I cup the blues harp and the artist works my ‘feelings’ for it into ‘art’. The man whose face has died decides for us. Stroke of pencil. Works his way through us. Inserts phrases from lost works, odder than odd, not negative capability or uniform finish. Rainbow weather falls, drops silver light, splashes around her face. Form thinks. Taut shoulder blades delineate. She delivers herself, a working sketch for full invasion, occupation. Weird with work, no one listens. Overruled, they go for unilateral strike, a shifty round the Matisse-Mallarmé. Status and reward: work diary empty. Listening to students’ angst, saved by pork pies. The view from Centre Point. A turtle sunbathing, a procession of Monarchist giants. Shortlist in my other diary. Jeff and I work up our poems, old underwear hanging from a ruin. Messianic interventions against empty time. Think in Hungarian about Turkish atrocities. Work along the Danube to meet Duchamp’s waistcoat. I finish Ulysses (this time) at 4.13 pm on Saturday 2 September 2012. Mother and Father business: rent, chiropody. Fox cockily trots along Bromley, event poised on tip-toe. The Corn Exchange. Working on breathing, Norton 360 runs through the files. Shoes on boards, her steps around, preparing. Raw fingers hold down chords; content breaks through form, releases energy, music in every room, strokes of plectrum. I speak to him and the gasping stops. A dead day, reading The Iliad, slaughters of eminent men. Lee sells his working papers. By the time I arrive home from work, Odysseus is home. Trudging through sludge and sleet. Re-reading Reader’s Block. Inventing my own plagiarist, talking to the dead. Flat language stretches to distant horizons, flurries of snow. He works at words like an anorexic picking at salad. He needs similes like a hole in the head. Awoken by the coroner: to make Dad dead. Why does she throw herself down Steep Hill? Why is the head of George III ‘privetted’? Why does he not remember the scar on the woman’s leg? Why was Stephen rustling in Patricia’s work-room? Why was he fading like a ghost? Why was Scott networking like there was no tomorrow? Tomorrow, Billy Fury festooned with flowers. A brave attempt to maintain the lyric ‘I’ behind the kiosk at the bottom of Bold St, away from the Spectacular Other. Clerical Error. I am a singing, playing, blowing, and sucking machine. Jo descends the spiral fire escape like Duchamp’s nude, breathing overtime. Graveyard shift research culture: Shunga dildos. Geeky work, a fully corporeal encounter with metrical weight. We missed The Necks, three vacated bar-stools. Six hands touch time. Different holes for work. On tape, reciting (falling asleep): ‘victims’ for ‘vectors’. Fan-girl backs out of the room. Back to Mum telling me Dad refused to work the Berlin Airlift. Burst couplets. Joanne talks through her tree: Cavafy played round the corner. Laboured multi-media, enjoyed his poise, he who instructs her to close her eyes. A gawp at Oriel Chambers. I don’t remember audition. I’m trying to write down the moment as it happens, metered prose, HR admin on the Marie Celeste, the Alisdair Gray murals, views from my window 2015 – exactly those! After a bonus day, I find this alone writing on this page. I don’t remember. Edge of waiting for last year. She mounts the platform, delivered by enforcers. Carys stands on a chair to read. Back to whisky and Jack Bruce. Robots on Strike. Watery sun, low and dripping, Patricia returns from work carrying phials of Tom Jenks’ tears. Why did he only ‘generally’ enjoy the cold, bright weather? Why did he refuse to ‘cart the freeloader’ to his next drink? Wave-bands drift, he’s guzzling straight into my records of his consumption. A four hour meeting about research regulations, a burlesque world, thumbs-up to ceremonial emails. We stand inside the Warhol. Particles of extrusions. Kelvin phones to say Lee is in hospital. We stand outside the Bender. In her bunny ears and corset, surrealist geography, a scrutiny meeting, she fills the afternoon with dashes, commas, semi-colons. Am I my card-holder’s warden? An orchestra playing thunder? Unaffected by buffering, I stand before the Cornell. There is a plaque where the work is buried. Admin polish. Through the biography of Leigh Hunt, inoperative thoughts of Lee Harwood. Black paintings bump into pantomime horses. Tell him his work will be safe. Tom Raworth (smiling). Some matures signed the visitors’ book. Sandeep in The Big Apple: James in the small orchard. Me telephonically tempting him back. I table ‘Poet’ at the MA session, turn tables on the work-in-progress. We crash into Simon’s reading, Archilochus dropping his shield. A meeting at 11.00 am: teaching till 9.00 pm. Work, the sixth day in a row, to ‘deliver’ a ‘taster session’, twice, cheerfully. Remode to overcome the obdurate persistence of materials: a bust of Edwin Morgan, the Spanish Inquisition, Olive’s immobility, the ‘horrible woman with dementia’, the small Matisse room, the astronaut from Southwick. Codeine dreams: terrorists in Liverpool. Or is it just an unfortunate world to co-habit? I spotted a spit. On strike. So out. Stroke of cat. Back to cheese and Matt Munro. Deadline for notice: no Penultimate Helicopter whirring out of Ormskirk. To vote. To work. To hear the word repeated on the news. I spent the morning re-working Fuxit! James and I pass Kamasi in the mizzling Manchester street, home with a pocket full of Jimmy’s Donegal seaweed. Atrocity stirs poetry, a reversed film of a person walking backwards in Liverpool. ‘Art’ writing; ‘proof’ reading. Avantgarters at the avantgarden party flash in episodic sun. A fly lands on my knee, drops frass: politicians creep back onto our radios. Practice-based poetics lacking critical apparatus. I seldom look to the future. As. It. Happens. Off the train, unloading ancestral junk. Was the dream his, in which my biro refused to write the word ‘me’? Damaged artifice: a rash of sonnets. Pub-quiz Scouser for an ear-worm. In a drowsy nimbus I form words, break the spell, get up for paper. Black Friday bargains. Allen reads the ‘Burgler’ pages. Crash into fever and sweat. Students well up in nightmares. Clammed to the radiator. Spitting, pushing over the hat-stand, throwing the de-humidifier across the room. Century Rolls; a big, unfolding surprise. Three samples: little pinches. Technique is cognition, but Ian McMillan is smaller than he looks on the radio. Limps off into the snow, sad. Posted off passport and picked up drugs. Culling and cutting. He’s no poet when he walks out on his voice. She used to work flowers through her handlebars and sing. Stuttery conversionettes. We followed the ducks and rabbits to a humanist affair with wild flowers and jazz and – against Roy’s wishes – poems. Flip that: wasn’t reacting to the world by logic, association. To view Trev’s trios. Came away with a memory. Listen with Mother, Carys’s story, broken by a policewoman on the step. All day marking, the Liverpool Mass: mad monks chanting electro-acoustic Cobbing. Tendered my resignation. Hell broke loose. I am nothing, lyric intersubjectivity, plural motives hoisted from us and dumped in the skip. We didn’t fit the bill, terror attack in London on the Coventry bar TV. Schadenfreude at May’s hubris. Up Hepstonstall to visit Asa: foolish enough to have been. Dreams of Scott playing drums on the Downs. Moves. Moves in response to another body. Working up. Down the hill, you find yourself at bridge height, level with people crossing before you (I’m on the step of The Brewery Tap in Chester at 3.00 pm on Monday 7 August 2017, a workday) but as you sink towards the river, you lose that specious equality, until you, too, climb the steps and stand on the city walls, overlooking the wide river, with its weir guarded by cormorants and gulls patiently waiting for flailing fish panicked by the weir’s rush – sumos, courtesans, firemen, samurai and actors. Legwork. Time clawed back, sitting at my desk thumbing old poems, working up to release at my fingertips. He screams in his sleep and reception calls his room. I take deep leave. Labour of Love. Her hard-won lips. Lispy neologism ‘poethics’ a metaphor for deep listening that happens before Saying, after saying my list of thanks, a litany prefaced with treadmill and grindstone. Pencil me in (and out).


2012-2013/November-December 2017

Most of the text (the update, post book publication) appeared on LUNE: See here. But that's disappeared off-line.