Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Colourful Star

Just a brief reminder really that the joint online project Colourful Star which we set up in January 2014 continues to post new poem/painting collaborations every Friday. You'll find the latest one by clicking here - combining a painting by the artist Marina Shiderova and a poem about a cherry tree in Bristol, it seems to be proving one of our more popular posts.
You'll also find more than 120 others, should you feel inclined, while there's also a brief explanatory text about the project and a page to mark our 100th post last year.

Monday, 2 May 2016

A selfish grief

The light today is Atlantic.
It pares the horizontals
and blazons backyards.
It has a sharpness
about it that refutes
the possibility of escape
into hidden garden corners.

Wherever we look,
we're exposed – at odds
with ourselves, picked out
like negatives of photographs
that one day might be developed
(although that now too is an image
which makes no sense).

Beyond the silhouette of myself,
cars gleam like beached whales
and clouds make their own shadow.
And here again I’m at another loss,
remembering a selfish grief,
the words that were said and weren’t
in a room that stinks of aftermath.

We were making apologies
to each other on the sofa
which my father’s cousin found
at least a moment’s respite on.
Outside, the gulls flexed
and then disappeared
into the bevelled blue and white
of a horizon cut along
the far edge of the sea.

Tom Phillips

Monday, 21 March 2016

Creative writing

Dictionaries and guides and books
I can’t yet read are mounting up,
closing in with their unknown spaces.
My desk is a shambles. There’s nowt
in poetry (as has been said before) –
though sticking at it might bring
the kind of small change you get
from a corner shop in a different city.

Each stab at it is like running across
a contested traffic junction, trying
to buy a rail ticket in a language
that’s not your own. Occasionally,
you have to put your foot down
and there it is in every casual remark.

Tom Phillips

Wednesday, 16 March 2016


Walking along the high street
beside posters for films
I’ll never watch,
I saw the crimson wing
of a butterfly like a splash
of sunlight, a stain of blood.

Already its lustre
had disappeared
and nobody stopped –
or stooped –
to pick it like a flower.

It fell from the sky
but nonetheless survived
a thousand footsteps.

Tom Phillips

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The signs along the road

There’s something awry.
I’m coughing more than usual
and undergrowth leaf edges
are pale with blight. It’s spring
over half the continent
but shifting patterns deliver
cloudbanks only
and cold hard fronts.
We’re watching pictures
of chapped fingers hooked
through steel lattice,
unfurling rolls of wire,
some kind of bodying forth
at a convenient distance.
Or misplacing them back
into memories we’d thought
were past their sell-by date.

There’s something awry.
On flat plasma screens
tomorrow's forgotten articulate
stories that will be there
to be unearthed in future times.
For the moment, the hot air condenses
over lecterns, in passport offices,
across the lens of a camera.

Over woods that embroider
the foreshortened horizon,
buzzards or some other birds of prey
circle like lonely wolves.
Someone has spent half a day
putting up a sign to warn
of an underground infiltration tank.
There’s something awry.

Tom Phillips

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

From Aylesbury to Bowie

Strange when someone like Bowie dies. It takes a while for it to sink in – not just the news, the raw fact of his death, but the significance of his work to the culture as a whole and indeed personally. I mean I always considered him to be a major figure, but the coverage of his death around the world has shown that his cultural significance extended way beyond whatever importance I might have attached to him as a musical innovator, writer/performer/producer, unwitting soundtracker to significant parts of my life. And maybe that was one of his great skills – despite the theatricality and the make-up sheen, whatever he was up to seemed to be directed at you (or at least the narcissistic bit of you that could believe that).
Or maybe that’s just me. I was nowt but a nipper, after all, when I saw what we’d now call the video for ‘Space Oddity’ on the telly and, drenched in the enthusiasm for the Apollo space missions, the line ‘Ground Control to Major Tom’ couldn’t help but grab the attention of a kid who’d stayed up to watch the moon landing and who also happened to be called Tom. 
Cut to teenage years and, already hooked up to Bowie by the older kids with glam-trews and copies of ‘Ziggy Stardust ...’ and the even older kids with proto-beards and copies of ‘Hunky Dory’, there’s the rumour that the market square in the opening line of ‘Five Years’ is the very one I’ve been studiously hanging around in an ex-BOAC official issue mac. Bowie, no less, has written a song about Aylesbury Market Square. OK, it’s about the imminent death of the planet, but it’s still Aylesbury Market Square. The people crying/dying are, like, my parents and stuff. What’s more, he’s been a regular at Friars, the club we’ve been sneaking into for the last few years, borrowing other people’s birth dates so we can answer the ‘Are you 16?’ question with impunity or, at least, sheer gall. Our generation was too late for him, though. He was off in Berlin by that stage – though he probably turned up for some of the Iggy Pop gigs we got into (or so we’d like to believe – who was that bloke in the long overcoat and the bleached hair?). Not surprising, perhaps, that Friars is leading the charge to have a statue of him put up in that very market square.
Near-misses aside, two other things have come to mind since Monday morning. That I probably wouldn’t have read William S Burroughs without having heard ‘Life on Mars’ (because of the cut-ups) and I probably wouldn’t have spent the last 10 years writing about eastern Europe without having heard ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘The Lodger’ (or known about all that the ‘Berlin trilogy’ entailed). 
And I just thought he was a bloke whose records I bought.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Winter afternoon

Today my brain weighs
heavy in my skull.
Thunder and lightning
disturb the sky
like children playing
by a war memorial.

The cranes of a new town
survey the squares

which they will destroy.