Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Some kind of way

In a thicketed boyish hideout
my tin compass spins and spins.

Even before there is a problem,
websites throng with solutions.

Pointless to ask questions,
to stand in the woods and wait.

I should just turn the damn thing
to where I want north to be

and let it come round.

Tom Phillips, December 2011

Thursday, 8 December 2011

I Went To Albania

My one-man show about Shkodra, Tirana, Gjirokastra, Saranda etc gets a test-drive at Bristol Old Vic in January:
I Went To Albania
Tom Phillips
Wed 11th, 7pm
Why did Enver Hoxha build 700,000 concrete bunkers across the whole of Albania? Were beards illegal under his communist regime? Can you really buy a secondhand Kalashnikov on the streets of Tirana? And what’s any of that got to do with Lord Byron, Edward Lear and John Constable’s picture framer?
Part travelogue, part personal history, part practical experiment, I went to Albania is a haphazard journey in search of a failed utopia, a debunking of myths, and a work-in-progress by writer/performer Tom Phillips in collaboration with director Andy Burden.
Tom’s previous work for theatre includes Hotel Illyria, Man Diving and Arbeit Macht Frei.
There will be bread and salt. Go here for more info and how to book:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

To the northern station

They come at me - and pass
like missed trains, failing
to stop on schedule, trailing
a line of lamp-lit heads.

Nothing is fixed -
or everything is -
and carriages rattle through,
each secure in its own place,
then off - beyond the horizon.

At a crossing
on the Shkodra road
(with mountains as horizon),
kids run up to the brink
of the train they've missed.
Kicking hard against shale
and cascaded shard,
they swing up to occupy
corridors that judder
at every joint in the rail.

Or maybe that's just how
I see it. At the fag-end
of a long haul, I'm only looking on
whatever might be expected.

The sun glints - of course -
and muezzins cry:
they're out of shot.
The train limps from sidings
back towards the capital.

In the aloof vacancy of a ticket hall,
I'm assuming something of moment
will occur. We've arrived!

Cars judder into parking spaces.
Puddles open. Nothing moves:
we step outside - and then
everything does.

Tom Phillips, November 2011

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The imaginary museum in northern Albania

They come at me – and pass
like missed trains, failing
to stop on schedule, trailing
a line of lamp-lit heads.

Nothing is fixed –
or everything is –
and carriages rattle through,
with each secure in its own place,
then off, beyond the horizon.

At a crossing
on the Shkodra road
(with mountains for the horizon),
kids ran up to the brink
of the train they’d missed,
kicking hard against shale
and cascaded shard
to swing up and take place
in corridors juddering
at every joint in the rail.

Or perhaps that’s how I saw it.

At the fag-end of another long haul,
once again I’m only looking on
whatever might have been expected.

The sun glints,
the muezzin cries.
Further up the track,
the train reverses for the capital.

In the aloof vacancy of the ticket hall,
I’m assuming the next moment will occur.
The train backs out of the station.
This manuscript page stays blank.

November 2011.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Concrete cows

On that sixth-form geography field trip,
we hadn’t got that far
before the coach stopped,
pulled over in a lay-by on the Great North Road.
I wrote an essay on new town developments.
Houses happened behind revêtements,
the last of these fields to go.

You could just about see
the concrete cows along peripheral horizons.
On Saturdays, I traded in some unwanted records
at stalls spilling out from the shopping mall.
Under rain-scaped skies, we walked back,
paid the ticket, got into the car, went home.

  Copyright Tom Phillips 2011

Friday, 23 September 2011

Two dreams

At the intersection of concrete platforms
where pedestrian flyovers converged
and plate-glass windows drew blanks
on the sun’s insistence, you emerged
from the campus-loving crowd
and said ‘This door’.

We made it through to somewhere
almost recognised: book stacks
flashed like so many blank spaces
in a Zoetrope. You insisted
that I hadn’t seen it all.

Around what looked like a lift shaft,
tentative borrowers pulled out
hard spines, hopeful cases.
Below us, contending zealots stood,
uttering the codices
of their various religions.
We heard their whispers
in the silences left behind
by the books whose titles we withdrew.

A grey wood. Predictable.
The First World War.
I might be either of my grandfathers.
At this point, I am about to tell
my comrades that I’m going
for a stroll. The elms
define the horizon
like lost opportunities.
I walk. When I return,
my bed’s been made:
not a sign of trouble.
The sergeant lumbers up
blocks out what's left of the light:
‘And where the fuck have you been?’

September 2011

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Czech mate

Apologies for the hideous titular pun but if you're at all curious about Prague and the Czech Republic, then I heartily recommend these three websites: for the architecture for variegated views of this Prague district

and for poetry (in English).

Friday, 16 September 2011

Views from over the bridge

From Jozef Tischner: ‘An encounter marks the beginning of a drama. The drama has a time and place of its own, as well as its own major and minor heroes. This implies that a drama has a hierarchy. Every encounter is threatened by separation, and in every separation lives the muted memory of the encounter. The impossibility of radically cutting ourselves off from one another is one of the sources of the tragedy that permeates human relations. This accounts for our tendency toward repeated encounters and repeated separations. There is nothing in an encounter as such, however, that requires it to end tragically. The horizon of the drama, even if it is open to the phenomenon of the tragic, contains many other possibilities as well, such as the possibility of the triumph of the good, the possibility of the ennoblement of the person, and also the possibility of comedy and farce. All the variations of the drama are possible, however, only where the interpersonal sphere has taken on a hierarchical character and preferentiality has penetrated to the very core of human thinking.’

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Now and forthcoming

A new (very short) poem of mine is posted amongst those marking the tenth anniversary of 9/11 on Todd Swift's blogsite Eyewear -

This coming Wednesday (14 Sept), I am doing a poetry reading at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution as part of an event called 'Four Voices Of Freedom', a commemoration of the centenary of American anarchist Paul Goodman. Dinal Livingstone and two other poets are on the bill. It starts at 7.30pm.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Seven Years Later

There are words we would rather skirt around,
when the sky becomes an excuse,
or this arrangement of ducks across sloping cobbles
distracts from what we talked of last night.
We were only hypothesising, weren’t we,
about a society of amputation,
the whole bloody foreign situation?

At the turn of the road, rage between drivers
who, moments ago, were merely strangers.
From here, from this angle, the headlines
behave like a cliché, precisely,
read: ‘Everything is wrong.’
They have worn us down – or out –
and we have no more choice than
to reach for another bottle or shout.

Tom Phillips

Monday, 1 August 2011

Through the outskirts

Almost precisely as you’d expect,
it's the wires’ thickening cross-hatch
across pocked tarmac, stained render,
comes closest to local authority boundaries.
Or, approached another way, the pale
concrete sweep of southerly ring-road
with its phalanx of 50s council housing,
TV dishes and double-glazing sun-glints:
the cusp of a city that will draw you in
through misnamed, treeless avenues
(Boer War victories, bird species, poets)
or up and over railway bridges,
past gravelled yards, construction sites,
the terraces’ gradual narrowing
to these fin-de-siècle cul-de-sacs.
With buddleia and footpaths
gathering to allotments, mesh gates,
there are marram grass patches,
sunk culverts’ mossy blockages,
and a security guard, arms akimbo,
pacing limits of occupied land.

From here then, best move on
through burnt ochre cars relapsing
to spare parts, domestic whims expressed
as pebbledash frontage, garden gnomes
and koi carp winking dirty orange
in the glaucous eye of a pond.
These, too, are part of the city:
indented chalk vale, schoolyard,
billboard, improvised belonging –
left around for decades in one place,
we’re hardly more at home than Russian vine
or this branch of Lidl opening late
beneath defaced factory buildings
and scaffolders joking, on overtime.
At a guess, it will only be months
before we no longer recognise
reconfigured thoroughfares,
arrangements of girders and plate-glass.

Tom Phillips, 2011

Monday, 6 June 2011

'Man Diving', Ustinov Studio, Bath, Wed 15 June, 7pm. A play about the Bosnian civil war.

"One day I am close to there. It is on the frontline now. On their side... We are hunting Croats. Besnik and I. And I look out across the street, over the frontline, and there is the window of our bedroom. Where Marketa and I have slept. Only then I see - like slow motion - smoke comes out of it. Then boom. And then fire. Up the side of the building, turning concrete black. And I run out into the street, duck behind a car, and shoot and shoot and shoot at the Croats, all the time that my home is burning."

Friday, 13 May 2011

Five random weblinks

Some interesting bits and pieces

Steve Reich remixed:

Slavoj Zizek (Slovenian philosopher) in action:

Chess players are also quite strange:

Home Counties, early 60s:

William S Burroughs reinvents the NHS (not for the faint-hearted):

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Phillips: The Performance Years

Breakfast at Southville Deli

You don’t know this but last night
I lay awake and watched you sleeping,
Heard the soft scrape and wheeze of your breathing,
Felt the warmth of your body and thought:

‘What on earth are you doing here?
I’m not married to you, Audrey Hepburn,
And I’ve never eaten breakfast
Outside a downtown jewellery shop.’

Politely, Miss Golightly tossed and turned
Till the milkman’s electric go-cart squeaked.
It was never meant to be. She spurned
My offer of staying the rest of the week.

Which, all things considered, is just as well.
Manhattan fantasies are nothing but rot
For drunken fools who are over the hill
And believe there’s more than they’ve got.

There isn’t. Love simply changes its hue.
Sometimes, it pulses a deep, vibrant red,
Sometimes it’s insufferably blue.
Whatever. The amorous film stars are dead.

Which means, my love, there’s more to life
Than what passes for it on the telly.
Audrey Hepburn would never be my wife
Or do breakfast at Southville Deli.

Before the second summer of love

Looking into the face of the wrinkled hippy
Is like staring at a leathery elephant’s arse.
In fact the elephant’s arse
Would smell much nicer and talk more sense.
But hey, man, we’re at Glastonbury and all
The blessed children of the sun/moon/earth/stars
Have abandoned their two-tone semis for Pilton’s New Jerusalem.

The scrotum-cheeked one gabs on and on
While the Cure grind out some dodgy gothic blues.
“The 60s,” he says, “were mind expansion.
Festivals. Peace. Free love.” And I’m thinking,
Back in the 60s, mate, the only free love
In this field was bovine rape: the bull
Entertaining half the diary herd.
Hippies are just ramblers in disguise,
Dumbly sentimental for the countryside.

This one claims Jerry Garcia is Jesus and nobody
Will ever be as good as Hawkwind or Pink Floyd.
Next thing you know he’s recreating Hendrix riffs
With a strand of pubic hair and an empty flagon of cider.
Something about his I-ching-rebirthed-tantric being
Makes me want to puke. Maybe it’s his rainbow flares.
His nasal whine. Or the aura of patchouli
Like the stench of old socks left overnight
In a bucket of dead carnations.

He believes I’m a cynic but my heart is good.
He’s more naïve than I thought.
“Vietnam,” he says, “now that gave us a cause.”
As if he was glad that war broke out
So he could blather into the small hours.
He thinks he’s revolutionary:
He makes Norman Tebbit sound like Karl Marx.

There was no great flowering of love in the 60s,
Just the contraceptive pill and a lot
Of teenagers up in their rooms
With photos of Twiggy and a large box of Kleenex:
Tofu-guzzling guru-hunters shafting sheep
At bongo communes in deepest Wales.

My Glastonbury relic had a mystic experience
Somewhere outside Carmarthen. Gandalf
And Bilbo took him on a trip – but the randy hobbit
Started feeling up the elves and the wizard went off in a huff.

The relic claims he knows the secrets of the cosmos
Before asking me the bus times back to Bristol.
He didn’t want to leave his car all weekend in a field.
“It’s new. It’s the firm’s. You know how it is.”

Oh, yes, I know how it is. Nostalgia for someone he never was
Oozes from him like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ oozed
From every hi-fi back in 1971. And whatever ideals
He didn’t have are deader than Elvis Presley.
I wish I could think of something witty
But instead resort to “Fucking hypocrite hippy!”
And the crystal-wearing peace-loving crowd
Oblige by beating me to a pulp.

Life is shit

When your fag gets caught on your underlip
And burns the tips of two fingers;
When the cat’s had a crap in your favourite shoes;
When the last place left to drink is full of suits
And kebabs just look like alien beings;
When the taxi queue’s so long you won’t get a cab
Until this time tomorrow – and there’d be a bloodbath
On the streets of Yate, if only the population of Yate
Wasn’t kicking the shit out of each other in Bristol;
When you’ve finally made it home on foot
And woken the street by puking in your surprisingly resonant bin;
When you’ve tried to regain equilibrium
With one last tin of Stella and David Bowie’s ‘Low’
But found the lager’s flat and the CD’s scratched;
When you’ve tumbled into bed and wished
You’d never eaten those digestives;
When you’re flat out but the room’s still spinning;
When you’re alone and facing the prospect of a dawn
So dissonant it makes Swedish death metal sound tuneful
And you’d pop your head beneath the pillow and scream
If your brain wasn’t rattling round your skull like a pinball;
When the hangover has finally struck and the only thing
On telly are the Tweenies and the bodybags
Coming home from Baghdad; it is tempting to admit
That life is shit and go out in search of what compensates for it:
The almost-missed daisies like fireflies in the park,
The perfect lover glimpsed in the corner of your eye,
That conversation you had, that anecdote,
A poem, a photo, a painting, a blinding shag,
The insufferable persistence of beauty
In waterfalls, trees, clifftops and beaches,
The insufferable simplicity of breathing.

Only, this isn’t the eighteenth century and Wordsworth is dead.
This isn’t the Industrial Revolution.
It’s the Post-Industrial Revolution.
It’s the post-post-post-modern revolution:
Bill Gates, Big Mac, Bush and Brown,
‘I’m a Celebrity – get me out of here’,
‘Shaun Of The Dead’, ‘Dawn Of The Dead’,
and, in the dead of the dawn,
there’s only one conclusion to draw:
life is fabulously, beautifully, gloriously shit
and you’ve got one choice:
neck that Bloody Mary,
deep breath, face it.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Allotment poem

In the interests of making amends,
I will trudge up this hill with rough implements
and dig into the sod. Spring creaks
with grey-greenery, stumped cabbage stalks,
and the horizon loosens into a smile
which almost hurts with its precision.

Somehow connections ache so much
amongst groundsel patches lines beg
to differentiate themselves. How else
to regard these rhubarb tips sprouting
from compost? Or the spindrift may
cresting an upsweeping breeze?

Still such care must be taken (to find
and not project). I’m staring at my shoes.
While over and above this valley’s
unambitious public transport routes
hen harriers jockey on the thermals,
poets, their words, ghost cemetery yews,
and mushrooms push between my flat feet.

Tom Phillips
Feb-Mar 2011
Or what became of parts of the earlier posting 'How to be a Poet'

The xhiro hour in Tirana

There was no telling how they knew when to start, but every evening the Tiranans took to the streets. Across the city, apartment blocks emptied and their inhabitants congregated on either side of the river Lana, spreading out through the district known as Blloku or into Rinas Park. This was the xhiro, the Albanian equivalent of the Italian passeggiata, an excitable promenade that went on until nightfall.
Blloku was at the heart of it. Formerly reserved for the exclusive use of Party officials, ‘The Block’ was now a frenetic free market. Subterranean shops at the foot of precipitous steps sold everything from newspapers to airline tickets while, at street level, every low wall was turned into a stall, laid out with rows of CDs, remote controls and secondhand books. In amongst government buildings, embassies and international agencies, cafes and bars were loud with chatter and bleating mobile phones. Families sat amongst gaggles of students and sinister men in leather coats. Dressed up to the nines, raven-haired young women teetered along the disastrous pavements on high heels or stopped to talk with boys leaning casually out of car windows. Oblivious to the throng, two balding men were sitting on folding stools at the edge of the pavement, quietly playing a game of dominos on an upturned cardboard box.
We joined the xhiro too. It was one of the reasons we were still in Albania. If Durrës had made us want to catch the earliest available plane, booking into the International, sitting on its terrace overlooking the ceaseless to-and-fro of Skanderbeg Square and then walking into the xhiro’s ad hoc street party had put that out of mind. ‘I’ve never felt so safe,’ said Kate as we tumbled out of Blloku on the first evening, only a few hours after staring into the muzzle of a Kalashnikov, and now, several days later, Anna and Jim were dragging us down streets whose names we could barely pronounce because they wanted to find a pizza place they’d noticed the night before and because there was a woman selling plastic Skanderbeg swords on one of the footpaths criss-crossing Rinas Park.
We meandered between picnics. At this time of day, Rinas was where families sprawled under trees and those who could afford it took tables around an illuminated fountain that sprayed feathery shafts of water into the air. Parents chased children across the grass until they tripped on roots and fell into a heap; grandparents gnawed charred sweetcorn cobs or bought kitsch pieces of jewellery for girls in pink dresses. The whole park smelt of grilled butter and, over our heads, a flock of starlings swooped and flexed like the illustration of a chaos theory equation, their shrill, persistent shrieks bouncing off the government ministries behind. Only Skanderbeg Square was quiet. As we walked back towards the hotel, a lone dog shambled between what little traffic there was, pausing to look at the policemen in their miniature bunkers and then sniffing around the statue of the great national hero. Over by the vast empty plinth where Hoxha’s statue had once stood, someone was packing potted lemon trees into the back of a Transit van.

From Becoming Europeans

Wednesday, 6 April 2011


Tue 19 April, The Eldon House, Bristol: 'Mrs Higgins Presents...': an evening of pub theatre with music, stand-up, cabaret and lots of quite implausible things, including the likes of Mark Olver, Stand & Stare, Malcolm Hamilton, Tom Wainwright, Joe Hall, Kesty Morrison, Cazal and 'Wilma'. Wed 15 June: 'Man Diving', script-in-hand performance at the Ustinov, Bath: a full-length script about an EU monitor in Mostar, Bosnia, and the aftermath of one of her on-the-ground decisions.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Tell him not to look so intense

Tell him not to look so intense.
The house shakes and that word
is meaningless, anyhow.

I was like that once, only
looking at a map of river deltas,
sunken green land between tawny ridges,
it seemed as if the inevitable rising tides
might stretch as far north as Minnesota.

Or that I would have to kill my father.

It never came to either.

At the sea’s edge,
where Freud caught eels,
and sharpened his scalpel,
a thousand pebbles dried.

We think we know the world too well,
inventing convenient melodramas,
exit strategies, complications
to be met with knitted brows.

Svalbard: perhaps I’ll go there.

Tom Phillips

Sunday, 6 March 2011

After Asculum

"And I, Pyrrhus," he said
"might well stand
above such blazing campfires
coding victory."

These losses, in each individual case,
mean no more or less,
viewed from this angle,
than the dead and the redundant.

Arithmetic exists at the sword’s edge.
Years pass in their thousands.
Here’s one – a mosaic
on the museum floor:
the writer on his knees
before the emperor.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Venue magazine, Bristol

Ever since I moved to Bristol in the mid-1980s, I have read Venue magazine, Bristol and Bath's equivalent of Time Out. Around fifteen years ago, I began to write for the magazine as well. Initially, I wrote a few theatre reviews, then did a couple of features, then became editor of the theatre and art sections; from 2004-5 I was editor of the magazine; since 2005 I have continued to contribute in a number of ways; currently I'm Venue's sub-editor. The magazine was founded in 1982 and for more than half of its existence it was a wholly independent publication. Just over a decade ago, it was brought by Bristol Evening Post, the local newspaper, which is owned, in turn, by Northcliffe and the Daily Mail Group.
On Tuesday last week staff and freelancers were told that Northcliffe is to close the magazine as of issue #962 (published on 16 March). This is due to a decline in advertising revenue, rising print costs and a modest fall in circulation. The corporation's 'tolerance' of Venue's commercial performance has, in other words, run out.
Obviously, for those of us who work for the magazine, this is disastrous. However, the response to the news from Bristol and Bath in the last 48 hours has been extraordinary and reveals the extent of the damage the closure will do to the two cities' cultural life as a whole. Over the course of nearly 30 years, Venue has proved itself to be both a champion of local culture in general and an advocate of the kind of independently minded DIY attitude which underpins much of the best of the West Country 'scene' from The Cube and People's Republic of Stokes Croft to Massive Attack and Banksy. Time and again, it has written about artistic endeavours which other local media don't have the resources to cover properly - discussions, demonstrations, talks, poetry gigs, open mic/acoustic nights - and given creative people at the very earliest stages of their career the chance to talk about their work. It has also reviewed countless films, gigs, plays, comedy nights - and been instrumental in passing the likes of Massive Attack and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory on to a much wider audience. As many have pointed out in their responses to news of the closure, Venue should not be seen as a purely commercial venture: it is part and parcel of Bristol and Bath's cultural life and its owners should have a duty to protect it even when economic times are tough.
The demise of regional publications like Venue, however, is not merely a 'local' concern. It also reflects the growing centralism of UK culture as a whole, its reduction to a mono-centric metropolitan 'culture show' in which the same few voices are heard. How much more thriving would UK culture be, for instance, if every major city had a magazine/forum where its artists and their audience could have their say?
One argument, of course, is that the internet provides what local/regional magazines used to do. The truth is, it doesn't. It provides some information - and it's incredibly disparate. You miss as much as you find. The internet's a card index. You see the spines of the books but not what's inside them - blurbs, but not criticism and review. I'm not saying, by that, that magazines like Venue are always right - but it's the combination of information (all in one place) and insightful writing which makes it.
I'm biased, of course - but to show I'm not the only one, here are some links that'll illustrate what's been happening here since the news of Venue's imminent closure was announced:
Facebook - Save Venue
Facebook - Rescue Venue Awareness Info Page
Twitter - #savevenue

Friday, 28 January 2011

Friars, Aylesbury

In the late 1970s, early 1980s, when I was a nice young grammar school lad, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, had the unlikely distinction of being the first town outside London that the 'punk' bands who scored headlines in the music press played after they'd done the 100 Club, the Roxy, the Marquee etc. For the price of a week's worth of school dinners, the likes of The Jam, The Clash and Ian Dury played the Civic Centre, only yards from the freakish, giant plastic animals Kubrick filmed for 'Clockwork Orange' but never included in the final cut. Aylesbury's own musical exports at the time - and, indeed, hereafter - were John Otway (taught in primary school by my godmother) and, erm, Marillion (who once enjoyed the ignominy of being beaten into third place in a Best Local Bands Poll by an almost entirely fictitious band of grammar school fifth-formers called HGB Terminal that only played one gig at a Methodist youth club).
Some photographic evidence of all of this era is at the following, thanks to photographer Don Stone:

1978: The first gig I went to, pretending to be my best mate's older sister (long story):

1978: Magazine, with Howard Devoto up a pole:

1978: Tom Robinson (no prizes for guessing which pic's from '2-4-6-8 Motorway'

1978: The Clash, The Slits and The Innocents

1979: The Undertones, The Knack (!) etc

1979: The Pretenders

1980: The Clash/Ian Dury (and note 'extortionate' ticket price of £3 - for the first date of the 'London Calling' tour).

1980: The Ramones/The Boys

1980: Iggy Pop/Psychedelic Furs

Tragically, there don't appear to be any photos surviving from U2's first UK gig outside Ireland (no, really, they were quite promising then: I only went because Peel was playing them all the time), or, indeed, the Wire/The Cure double-headlining diplomatic nightmare, Gang of Four with their arms in plaster after having been attacked by neo-Nazi idiots or Vic Godard and the Subway Sect in their Frank Sinatra phase.

What there are, though, are photos from John Otway's outdoor freebie in the Market Square (allegedly the very same Market Square mentioned by Bowie at the start of 'Five Years'), pics displayed here:

Sunday, 23 January 2011

How to be a poet

Aside from having great friends,
I will trudge up this hill with unknown implements
and dig into the sod using hand-held verbs
and words I’ve never heard or recognised.
The horizon will loosen into a simile
which almost hurts with its precision.
Long-dead authors congregate outside the church.

Somehow the link aches so much
there will be books handed round like liturgies.
Amongst the rain-swept gravestones
mourners reach for metaphors
like gangsters going for their guns
in an unfilmed episode of The Godfather.

At the kissing gate, there’s a pause.
Hen harriers jockey on the thermals.
Over and above the valley’s lack of ambition,
writers disperse along public transport routes.
I look down at my shoes.
Mushrooms grow between my flat feet.

Tom Phillips 2011

Friday, 21 January 2011

Saving faith

The lump of it, concrete, in the corner,
between Italianate gestures and the low shops
slung along streets which dropped away
into burlesque cellars on every side,
was as much as we could do to avoid
saying something out of turn.

Builders invested all manner of curious angles
with scaffolding and ad hoc cardboard signs.

Only here, with charred sweetcorn husks
being twisted on open charcoal burners,
there were dutiful faces pressed against glass.
Further on, by the corner, you were dealing cards,
as, inside the crowded Lovely Shop,
elbowing customers would like to think
they’d not wasted their fare on the bus.

On the terrace of the International Hotel,
we might be dreaming otherwise
as the cranes and mixers lay down
the building blocks of another religion.

Tom Phillips, 2011

Friday, 14 January 2011

Rock-pooling in winter

Smoke misting branches of a cypress
behind the vacant house signals
fluctuating wind directions
as we might be finding opinions
between rocks furred with lichen,
twisted strata, or two boys
who’ve tracked looped worm casts
and are digging, digging
for all their worth as bait.

Failing to predict erratic geometry
a hermit crab sketches across
flat stones, our son’s disappointed.
His empty bucket’s scooped up,
taps dull syncopations, flips
from ledge to ledge, blown down
to stall in drenched sand.
Flotsam, lost things dam streams,
create wreckage for the moment.

To have this beach to ourselves –
as if we had some prior claim,
being amongst those who, pinked
by on-shore breezes, have stood here
and recalled this or that winter
when the landlady took to the water
every day, or sea-spume
flecked the windows of her pub.
Or, perhaps, the year it didn’t.

Incontrovertibly out of season,
the market’s depressed. Cottages
won’t budge. Blacks scraps rise
against grey, too solid cloud
like all the punctuation shaken free
from yesterday’s paper. Gulls
go through their routines
while crows possess frail aerials.

In amongst these local territories,
we might well be out of place,
places we could call our own.
At odds now, we move back up the beach,
collect that wind-blown bucket,
read headlines, climb hills,
stare at the bay’s predictable waves,
retreat into somewhere that we’d call home.

Tom Phillips 2011

Some more books

Spring into Winter East European dissidents reflect, in 1990, on the anti-communist revolutions in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, East Germany etc, and refuse to buy into the Reagan-Thatcher line that it was all brought about because of the 'superiority' of the western capitalist system. Traces of a real 'third way' flicker momentarily in the triumphalist gales blowing in from Britain, America et al.

Orhan Pamuk Snow Modern Turkish politics dramatised in a story of apparently random assassination and a hold-up inside a theatre.

Claudio Magris Danube Immensely learned and slightly rebarbative travelogue about traversing the length of the Danube with shadowy companions and an esoteric interest in the history of the terrain.

Georgina Harding In Another Europe Communist Romania as you'd expect it to appear to a middle-class north Londoner approaching Ceacescu's 'golden age' on a bike.

Alan Furst Spies of the Balkans OK, I admit it, I'm hooked. Casablanca set in WW2 Thessaloniki. The Ipcress File for Balkanophiles.

Norman Lewis The World The World Why Lewis isn't more solidly venerated remains a mystery. Presumably it's because he chooses to report from some of the less easily palatable corners of the world - and lay the blame for their ills in all the right places.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Review at Eyewear

My review of City State, the (rather good) anthology of new London poetry edited by Tom Chivers, has just gone up at Eyewear.