Wednesday, 24 December 2014


This year has been pretty quiet on Recreation Ground, but there are reasons for that. At the beginning of 2014, I was a virtually unemployed sub-editor with time on my hands and the prospect of a rather cheerless January ahead. Then things started to happen.
One night I set up a group on Facebook as a possible space for the writers and artists I’ve met in SE Europe to discuss a putative cultural exchange project. Within only a few days, this was populated by more than seventy people in half-a-dozen different countries and plans were underway for a first exchange visit. This took place in June when, thanks to Arts Council England and the British Council, I got to spend an extraordinary week in Prishtina, hosted by the Club of Kosova’s Writers and coordinated by my dear friend Adil Olluri. Not really knowing what to expect, I was overwhelmed by the energy and enthusiasm of the poets, novelists, playwrights and theatre directors I met. Together we spent long days discussing translation, collaboration and exchange – or, often as not, comparing our experiences as artists in the UK and Kosova. Since then we have continued to work together and the fruits of this first project should emerge in 2015.
On another day in January, my Bulgarian friends Marina and Vasilena Shiderovi and I launched the online project Colourful Star – and every Friday since then we’ve made a collaborative post, usually in the form of a painting by Marina with a poem by me (for the most part in English, but when I’m feeling brave in Bulgarian too). It’s a project about finding common ground and, again, we have plans for developing it in 2015. Marina and I also now work together on children’s stories – the first one of which, ‘Nicholas – The Stolen Reindeer’ – was released as an app last week.
Meanwhile, this year also saw me begin working with two Bulgarians in Canada on the English translations of poems by Iliyan Lyubomirov (aka Augustin Gospodinov). Published in the autumn, his debut collection has become one of the most successful books of Bulgarian poetry since the end of communism. Again, we’re hoping that 2015 will see our translation of the whole book published.
At the same time, I’ve had the good fortune to work with Theatre West again (and with the Tobacco Factory) on ‘Coastal Defences’, to climb Mt Lovcen in Montenegro thanks to a conference at the University of Niksic, to spend another three weeks in Vermosh in northern Albania with the Balkan Peace Park Project, to be an attendee at the birth of Bristol 24/7, to be hired as a tutor by Bath Spa University and to see my daughter graduate with a first. Not to mention that I turned 50 and celebrated 25 years of marriage to Sarra.
This is not supposed to be a ‘look at me, I’m enormous’ moment (although, somewhat inevitably, it will look like that), but rather an acknowledgement of the openness and welcome with which these various unlikely proposals and schemes have been greeted.
A very happy Christmas and New Year to one and all.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A new venture

My collaborator on the Colourful Star project, Marina Shiderova and I are also working together on multimedia children's stories - and the first one has been published as an app in time for Christmas.
'Nicholas - The Stolen Reindeer' is a seasonal adventure about Mary Torpipit - a little girl who lives in the mountains and who finds herself having to set out on a quest to save Christmas.
As well as Marina's illustrations, the story includes animation, music and a voice over (in the English version, recorded by Lydia Blakemore Phillips).
There are more details and information about how to buy the book here.

Friday, 12 December 2014

Colourful Star is 50

Colourful Star, the Anglo-Bulgarian online project I run with Marina and Vasilena Shiderovi, has reached its fiftieth post. Over the course of this year, we've been posting paintings and poetry every week, with a view to creating dialogues and celebrating common ground between artists and writers in different countries, different cultures - and, indeed, different generations (me being the oldest by a long way!) Sometimes these collaborations have been occasioned by anniversaries or holidays; at others they have reflected aspects of Bulgarian history or folklore; at others again, they've brought together an image from rural Bulgaria with a memory from growing up in England. Occasionally, as with today's post, they've been bilingual and included a text in both Bulgarian and English. Click here to link through to our site:

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Supermarket thoughts

At the check-out they were saying
that the price of goods was related
to what’s being charged for those
who may have arrived late
or early – depending on how you look at it.

‘Foreign’ hangs over a day-to-day scene
like cumulo-nimbus, like a definition
not yet reached by lexicographers.

All that’s good about England
is reduced to everything
that’s not shouted at a till.

It’s not much, but I’m sure
that you’ll tell me
that what I’ve said so far
is counter-productive.

I’m trying my best –
and watching people
hand over cash, take home
these gallons of milk,
the plastic bottles
containing something
which, indisputably, they need.

Tom Phillips 2014

Sunday, 23 November 2014

let's put this behind us

let’s put this behind us
so we might recall
creaking stairs
ceiling skylight
early morning
rumpled sheets
a scattering of clothes

let’s not forget
how often how much
I’ve called on
your forgiveness
but also the taste
of vegetarian stew
cooked on single hob
left to go cold
in front of the gas fire
mantelpiece decorations
envelopes in primary colours
traffic music muffled

and let’s remind ourselves
that the past
cannot be altered
other than by how
we remember it

Tom Phillips

Friday, 27 June 2014

Princip's Footprints

The Museum of the Austro-Hungarian Period: Sarajevo 1878-1918 had only opened a few years before. Housed, appropriately enough, in an Austro-Hungarian building on the north bank of the Miljacka river, it faced onto Obala Kulina Bana street and the Latin Bridge. It was here that Gavrilo Princip had fired the shots which killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia. For many years, there had been a pair of footprints cast in a paving slab which marked the exact spot where the Serbian assassin stood on the morning of 28 June 1914. These disappeared in 1992. Shelled, sniped at and nearly starved out by Serbs, the Sarajevans changed their minds about Princip. Before, when every Sarajevan was also a Yugoslavian, the gawky student from Belgrade had seemed, if not a hero, then at least a foolhardy patriot. He had struck a blow for independence from the Austro-Hungarians and set in train the series of events which led to both the demise of the Empire and the unification of the southern Slavs in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. During the siege, however, the Sarajevans had come to regard Princip as just another Serbian ultra-nationalist, much like the ones firing on them from the hills and imprisoning them in their own city. Circumstances transformed the assassin. While communist historians had co-opted him as an anti-imperialist and a pre-revolutionary revolutionary, many Sarajevans now bracketed him with Radovan Karadzic and Slobodan Milosevic. Some also pointed out that, even if the assassination had been motivated by a desire for freedom and independence, it had also been the catalyst for the First World War. Restoring the commemorative footprints might reignite the suspicions of those who believed the Balkans to be a ‘powder keg’, a danger to the rest of Europe, a chaos whose conflicts would inevitably spread. In 2009, the only problem with not reinstating the footprints was that Sarajevo was no longer a city under siege in a civil war. It was the capital of a country which incorporated the Republika Srpska where thousands of Bosnian Serbs continued to regard Princip as a hero.

            The museum took a diplomatic line. Outside, a stone in the wall carried an impeccably factual inscription: ‘From this place on 28 June 1914 Gavrilo Princip assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sofia.’ A screen beside it showed a clip from a TV dramatisation, an English one, with Edward Fox as the ill-fated archduke. Inside, the exhibits attempted to tell the story of Austro-Hungary’s annexation of Bosnia from the Ottoman Empire in 1878 without offending anyone. There was no mention of the chronic economic decay which afflicted the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century. Nor was there anything to suggest that the Austro-Hungarians had annexed Bosnia out of self-interest, expanding the buffer zone which, like a prototype of the Iron Curtain, ran from Hungary to the Adriatic and protected them from the purportedly dangerous East. Instead there were bursts of information about the complex administrative structure and technological advances the Austro-Hungarians had introduced. A caption admitted that trams and electric street lighting arrived in Sarajevo much earlier than in the rest of the Habsburg domains because the authorities wanted to test them on the dispensable Bosnians before they exposed the good citizens of Vienna and Budapest to such potentially dangerous innovations. Beneath grainy black-and-white photographs of the Serbian conspirators was the gun which Princip had used to shoot the archduke: the starting pistol of the First World War. Three other guns used by the gang had ended up in Vienna; this, presumably, was the fourth and ‘missing’ weapon. Beside it was the paving slab with the concrete footprints, as much a relic of the siege as a memorial to the assassin.
Tom Phillips

Ghost Structures

Climbing through densities of mist
around hairpins that seem to sling us out
at nothing, we're to be counted, checked
at this former frontline border post.

Ghost structures, like scratched marks
on thick paper, are watchtowers,
military installations stripped
of wiring, glass, recycled as momento mori.

Where troop movements occupied observers,
customs officers make desultory searches,
complain about paperwork deficiencies,
inclemencies of closing-in weather.

Despite government's stated aspirations,
talk of accession has got no further
than these mirroring symbols,
fenced-off strips of no man's land
caught between flagged territories.

Tom Phillips

Friday, 6 June 2014

New post at Colourful Star: Apples

" ...All I would do to take you there –
to those orchards beside our lane,
their close fruit-heavy ranks ..."
It's time for this week's new post on Colourful Star - and this week it's all about apples ...

Friday, 23 May 2014

Colourful Star: Bilingual Post

Как да пиша, но с букви
от една древна азбука,
със звуци от сърцето?

24 May is both St Cyril and Methodius' Day and Bulgaria's national day of Education, Culture and Slavonic Literature - so for this week's post for the Anglo-Bulgarian collaborative project Colourful Star, we've combined Marina Shiderova's calligraphy designs with my first (public) effort at writing in Bulgarian ... (there is also an English translation). You can link to our first fully bilingual post here.

Monday, 28 April 2014


The launch issue of the all-new Shakespeare Magazine includes my piece on Shakespeare and Bristol, while there's a poem and paintings on 'Twelfth Night' at Colourful Star here.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Lovers in winter

When I picture it now, of course,
I can only picture it in the wrong season:
summer light on shop windows,
dusty pavements, the market’s
mosaic of fruit and veg,
gardens’ modest luxuries.

Not so hard to imagine you, though,
arm in arm on a familiar plaza –
or rummaging bookstalls,
drinking coffee, running for buses.
You’ll be laughing or breathless –
or both. On the bridge where
dual carriageway headlights
flash an eerie glamour,
it’ll be as if past differences
were nothing more than blank spaces
on a map of the constellations.

Tom Phillips 2014

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Paintings and poem for Flower Day

There's new work at Colourful Star this week - writing and painting to mark Bulgaria's Flower Day (Sun 13 Apr). You can click through to it here.

Flower Day - which always falls on Palm Sunday - is one of Bulgaria's 'name days', but while most such days are associated with particular saints or historical events, this one is for all those whose names derive from flowers. Traditionally, name day celebrations involve keeping open house, preparing food and drink for the friends and relatives who call round to wish you well. A bit like a birthday, a name day is a sort of personal holiday - but unlike a birthday, guests can turn up uninvited.

About Colourful Star
Colourful Star began with a conversation around a kitchen table in Sofia. Sisters Marina and Vasilena Shiderovi decided they wanted to start an online project which would combine Marina’s paintings with short articles, stories and other texts. Having met Bristol-based writer Tom Phillips by chance, they asked him if he’d like to get involved, and the three set about discussing how an Anglo-Bulgarian art-and-writing collaboration might work. By early 2014, Marina had designed the logo and the webpage, Colourful Star was ready and the project was launched online on 23 January. New collaborations are now published every Friday, with additional postings to mark occasions such as Baba Marta, International Women’s Day/Mother’s Day, Easter and so on.

As well as simply bringing together visual art with poetry and prose, Colourful Star is about exploring and celebrating the possibilities of collaboration between artists and writers living in different parts of Europe. Texts and paintings are created in response to each other, or – as in the case of the post for Baba Marta (1 March 2014) – in response to a common idea or occasion. Although there is no overall theme, one strand which has begun to emerge is work reflecting on the similarities and differences between Bulgarian and British traditions.

Image: Marina Shiderova

Thursday, 10 April 2014

On having received an email from David Cameron

Dear David,
Thank you so much for your email. It is interesting to hear your views on Europe, no matter how vague and ill-conceived they seem to be.
I'm very glad to see, for example, that you are not aligning yourself with the populist xenophobia expressed by UKIP - who, as you rightly say, are in no position to deliver on their promise of parochialising a Britain which, in an ideal world, might one day actually adopt a generous, hospitable and enriching cosmopolitanism. Unfortunately, of course, in this kind of open-minded Britain there won't be room for a Conservative Party which begins its randomly circulated emails with lines such as 'The EU is heading in a direction Britain never signed up to' (largely because said ideal Britain won't be looking to blame Brussels for everything that it's cocked up itself - and would know that ending a sentence with a preposition is deeply unpatriotic) - but, hey, that's a small price to pay for actual real democracy, I would have thought.
There do, though, seem to be a few minor factual errors in your email which you may wish to address before you send it out to everyone whose email address you've been able to snaffle from the internet by exploiting the vagaries of the Data Protection Act.
'Benefit tourism', for example, is a phrase which appears to have been invented by your own press office. Call me an old-fashioned woolly liberal if you must, but I have actually spoken to many of the people that you insist on referring to as 'foreigners' and it seems that claiming benefits, lying on a trolley in the corridor of an underfunded NHS hospital and having to live in poorly maintained social housing are about the last things on their mind. In fact, amazingly (well, I expect it's amazing to you), they appear to contribute to the economy and more than compensate for the British 'benefit tourists' who are currently claiming millions in Germany and elsewhere. If you want to secure the British pensioners' vote, by the way - forget Bournemouth. Most of 'our' pensioners now appear to be living in holiday resorts from the Costa del Sol to the Black Sea. Apparently, EU regulations mean that they can do this and still claim their pensions. Given that you have obviously thought long and hard about how Britain's departure from the EU would affect its citizens, you are probably already aware of this.
Re: point 2 - "Securing more trade but not an 'ever closer union'": isn't that a contradiction in terms? Isn't a 'closer union' good for trade? Or are you thinking of adopting the policy of earlier British governments - i.e. securing more trade through the simple measure of invasion? That would certainly be a 'closer union' - and, let's face it, it seems to be working for your great mate Vladimir Putin.
I wouldn't worry too much about 'justice and home affairs' either. To be honest, you seem to be doing a more than adequate job of ensuring that anything to do with the law is swathed in almost completely impenetrable bureaucracy and that Britain's own affairs are safe in the hands of people who went to some kind of big, swanky public school in Berkshire and/or made their own fortunes by selling 'financial packages' to the gullible in the mid-1990s. What an inspired gesture, by the way, to replace that dreadful Miller woman as Minister of Culture! Appointing a former banker is self-evidently the way forward. I'm sure he'll know loads of stuff about the arts which will place Britain at the forefront of the international stage (that's a thing where theatre happens, by the way, in case you or he weren't sure).
As for 'getting a better deal for British taxpayers', has it ever occurred to you that it might be easier to do this by cutting your own salaries and expense accounts? Or, indeed, putting irresponsible financiers in the dock and giving them the kind of disproportionate sentences you currently reserve for people in hoodies who knick stuff from shops or sell a bit of skunk to undercover journalists? I'm sure we could work out a reasonable tarif - maybe ten years for every million embezzled and tucked away in an off-shore account? Again, of course, this might have a slightly damaging effect on the support for your party, but, as I said before - hey, that's democracy.
Thank you, too, for giving me 'the final decision' on Britain's membership of the EU. It's a shame, of course, that 'final decision' sounds a little bit like 'final solution', but I'm sure that your PR people will be across this going forward. It's a shame, too, of course, that, in even asking the question, you'll be unleashing even more xenophobic nonsense from the likes of UKIP and the Daily Mail. But, hey, needs must when you're a party whose whole attitude to running the country has been to pander to the darkest passions of an imaginary white van man who lives in an imaginary Essex. Maybe, on the eve of your proposed referendum, you should just give everyone a free case of beer (although obviously not Stella Artois, Guinness and other 'foreign' stuff) and hope that, when pissed, even sensible people decide that we're all going to hell in a handcart.
I hope these thoughts will be of use and that you will not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions. Unfortunately, my reply may be slightly delayed. Wouldn't you just know it - as a hard-working family (that was your term, wasn't it?), we seem to be having more luck getting work in other EU countries than we do here.
All best wishes,

PS Are you sure about using the word 'austerity' to describe the state we're in? How about 'under-performancing'? It's not actually a word, but then why should that matter? 'Gove' isn't a word, either, and you've put him in charge of education!

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Burning Omaha

All summer it was like a miracle,
the dust coating cars and running
your finger through sand they said
had blown in from the Sahara.
Drivers cursed. It was a summer
of talk. Of incidents, evacuations,
populations gridlocking ring roads,
four-minute warnings, the hottest season
of their Cold War. We didn’t care.
We were racing through the woods
while parents stocked up on tins
and candles and stared at the radio
with palms against their throats
as if by suddenly tightening their grip
they could hold their little faith in.
There was no rain, only sand,
only sand coming down like scurf,
like unexpected snow from Archangel,
like the ashes from Omaha burning.

Tom Phillips
'Burning Omaha' from 'Recreation Ground' (Two Rivers Press, 2012)

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

New poem on Colourful Star

'There’s been word in the village, perhaps,
And these first few cautious days have passed.'

There's a new poem, written to accompany a painting of a young Bulgarian woman by Marina Shiderova, now up on our online collaborative project Colourful Star. You can click through to it here.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Two poems

Today is World Poetry Day so here are a couple of 'travel' poems.

From Recreation Ground

European Union

At first it might have been coincidence
that we heard so many car horns
shifting through the Doppler effect,
or checked in at hotels where girls
in Sunday best held hands and sang
interminable folk tunes.

Only, the following day, new couples
emerged from a scaffolded church
with candles lit, and family groups
assembled in a park for photographs
where filigree blossom coincidentally
obscured the Stalinist backdrop.

Thirty, forty weddings eased
from municipal ceremonies to pose
beneath late-flowering cherry trees,
anticipated pleasures, and advice
they’d hardly need, being of an age
when all has seemed so changed.

Such innocence again around the square,
these brand new starts, this expectation,
Romanian sunlight on dove-grey dresses.

From Reversing into the Cold War

Gently moving gently
across the cockled sands
a memory of something
comes with ghost limbs
waving or hand in hand,
already passing over.

Waders’ startled cries
the tides redeem
in the furl and drag
of each wave’s roll;
this far from home, at sea,
the migrants float in shoals.

 Recreation Ground is published by Two Rivers Press. Reversing into the Cold War is published by Firewater Press/Poetry Monthly.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Some small thoughts on a familiar subject

I suppose it’s a form of trainspotting, but one of my hobbies is to count the different languages I hear when I’m walking through Bristol. On a good day, it might be something like six or seven. Spanish, Polish or Russian, for the most part, but also Arabic, Japanese, Bulgarian, Italian, Urdu, Albanian ... I’m no linguist, but I can kind of roughly tell the languages apart and make a stab at guessing which ones I’m overhearing.
At the same time, however, learning a language no longer seems to be obligatory in school. My son, for example, has managed to engineer his choices for GCSE so that he won’t ever have to encounter a French irregular verb. Nor will he ever do battle with genitive case endings or the subjunctive (which is, let’s face it, dead and buried in English).
Does it matter? Well, yes. Aside from the nationalist arrogance manifest in the decision that British schoolchildren don’t need to learn another language because English is, of course, the new international lingua franca (a phenomenon for which, brilliantly, English doesn't really have an equivalent translation), this downgrading of language-learning to the ‘optional’ means that we are not only failing to equip an entire generation with another language – whether that be the 'standard' selection of French or German or Spanish – but that we are also failing to equip an entire generation with the ability to learn other languages.
Thirty years on from my last formal language lesson, I’m now attempting to learn Bulgarian and Albanian. This is not just ‘for fun’. It is related to unexpected opportunities and the overall direction that my career appears to be taking. It’s not easy, but it would probably be nigh on impossible if I hadn’t been obligated to learn other languages at school. I certainly learned more about grammar in French classes than I ever did on our English language course where words like ‘inflection’ and ‘declension’ were never mentioned. Never mind what having to dig down into linguistic structure might tell you about everything from perception theory to the conceptualisation of culture.
At a time when we’re hearing so much about globalisation, it seems genuinely saddening that, even in schools, what is, in effect, linguistic imperialism – disguised, of course, as ‘freedom of choice’ – has been allowed to hold sway.

Tom Phillips

Friday, 7 March 2014

Colourful Star: In The Countryside

There's a new poem of mine, written in response to Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova's painting 'In the Countryside', published at our collaborative online project Colourful Star today.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Baba Marta

Tomorrow (1 March) is Baba Marta or March Day in Bulgaria, when people mark the end of winter by giving martenitsi (red-and-white amulets) to friends and family - and so this week our Anglo-Bulgarian collaborative project Colourful Star features two paintings for spring and photos of handmade martenitsi by Marina Shiderova alongside a short prose-poem by me. You'll find the full post here.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Poem: Tidying up

To be facing it,
or the thought of it,
that sedimentary arrangement
of books and papers and scribbled notes.

It’s what brings into question
assumptions about why
it’s OK that, in here,
I’ve got plastic boxes filled
with CDs, photograph albums,
my parents’ wedding-gift cutlery set.

Just life, perhaps –
or a waste disposal problem:
hard facts piled up
demand evaluation.

Well, they don’t –
but there’s a chance
you might know what I mean,
standing here, looking for order,
in this room I thought I knew,
in this unglossed museum
to a now that’s only so recently deceased.

Tom Phillips Feb 2014

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Poem: Leaving New York

Leaving New York


Here, on this pavement,
with compromised survivors,
wearing losses like badges,
listing off what they’ve seen,
(what they have seen),
I’m tempted to ask
the simplest of questions:
is it her who’s broken your heart?

Something’s not right.
At the mouth of a cinema,
language and neon
are letting us down:
they’re marking out silences,
as if in some unmapped forest
we’re surrounded by watchtowers
and boundary fences.

Not so much geography as time
intruding – or unseasonal chill
that draws steam from our mouths:
it’s pushing you apart.


Precipitate friend, we’re
already at the station,
safe among strangers
you can choose to register
as little as not.

So how should I care
for your wanting
to make things up?
At the end of the line
she'll not be waiting
in those shoes, that skirt.

You know that, don’t you,
in this cold late spring –
but it won’t stop you
queuing at the window,
buying your ticket,
falling back on hope
and remembered bus routes.

At the barrier, you persist
in giving nothing away –
you’ve decided
you’ve got enough to go on:
magazines, bottles
of branded water …

I’m just here reading titles,
inadvertently wondering
if it is as you say
and you’ve answered
the same questions yourself.

Tom Phillips 2014

Friday, 14 February 2014

Not just Valentine's Day

In Britain, today (14 Feb) is best known as St Valentine's Day, but it's also St Trifon's Day - a celebration of all things wine-related in Bulgaria. Here's a short excerpt about visiting St Trifon's cathedral in Kotor in Montenegro five years ago

The temperature kept us on the move. Constructed of pale limestone worn to a shine, the buildings and pavements reflected the sun’s heat back at us, and even the shadowed alleys, which ran between the old town squares like the filigrees of solder connecting transistors on a circuit board, were stifling. It was a dry, static heat, untempered by a breeze or the mixed blessing of humidity. We tried to shelter from it in one small church after another, but most of Kotor’s many places of worship were closed and we ended up wandering from locked medieval door to locked medieval door until we reached the largest building: the twin-towered Catholic cathedral of St Trifon. Here, in the porch, stallholders sold rosaries, pictures of Our Lady and crude metal trinkets, much as pardoners had sold indulgences in the Middle Ages. The door was open, though, and inside, amongst tall columns which looked too slender to support the vaulted ceiling, the air was cool. Several idiosyncratic monuments embellished the nave: a statue of a pilgrim with a gaping sore in his leg (St Trifon’s powers extended to miraculous healing); a stone chest which held the remains of the cathedral’s ninth-century founders; and a glass case containing a mummified nun whose face had been hidden behind a ghoulish plastic mask. The reliquary proper was up a flight of stairs. This was where the church kept its most precious treasures: a large stained wooden crucifix, the almost inevitable splinter of the True Cross and the skull of St Trifon himself, which, even though the sainted healer had been executed in distant Nicaea, had somehow ended up in Kotor, presumably in the luggage of a returning crusader. A number of mobile plinths attested to the fact that the church regularly paraded these relics through the streets. At the foot of the stairs, someone had pinned up some photographs from the previous year’s Nativity play. Three small boys wore large fluffy cotton wool beards, simultaneously impersonating the Magi and gently parodying the hirsute local clergy. A notice stated that the cathedral had been founded in 809, but had only been completed in 2008. The building’s history of construction, destruction and reconstruction was more complex, however. Although there had been a Catholic church on the site in 809, this had been replaced by a much larger cathedral in the twelfth century, which, in turn, had been destroyed or severely damaged by a number of earthquakes. The most recent of these seismic assaults had hit in 1979. Its epicentre had been in the south, close to Ulcinj and Bar, but it had caused devastation along the entire Montenegrin coast. The old towns in both Kotor and Budva had been flattened, and it was presumably the restoration work St Trifon’s needed after this particular cataclysm which had only been finished in 2008. Ornate and impressive as the cathedral was, not even the slowest of architects and stonemasons could have taken nearly 1,200 years to build it from scratch.

From 'Not Nearly So Far', Tom Phillips

Love and wine

Today is both St Trifon and St Valentine's Day - so we've got paintings and poems of love and wine on Colourful Star this week - you'll find them posted here now:

Sunday, 9 February 2014

At the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo

On staying in the same hotel as Torvill and Dean etc
In the distance, Sarajevo looked like Mostar, but on a bigger scale – a tightly packed city, encircled by mountains, easy to besiege. When the men with hammers gave the all-clear, the train slowly rumbled between tower blocks and came to a halt in another large but empty station. About two dozen passengers got off and walked through the ambitious foyer to the street. Not far away, the ochre cube of the Holiday Inn nosed above the concrete horizon. Built for the Winter Olympics in 1984, it achieved notoriety during the civil war as the only hotel to stay open throughout the four-year siege. Journalists set up satellite phones and fax machines in their rooms and reported on the exchanges of rifle fire and mortar shells between the Bosnians in the city and the Bosnian Serbs on the surrounding hills. The road dubbed Sniper Alley ran directly in front of the Holiday Inn; the only way in and out of the building had been through a service door at the back.
‘You’re not even going to think about staying anywhere else, are you?’ said Sarra as we stood in the station forecourt.
            ‘It’s handy for the train.’
            ‘Except that you want to go there so you can say you’ve stayed in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, just like Jeremy Bowen and Martin Bell.’
            ‘It was too close to the frontline for Martin Bell. He had his own apartment.’

            ‘Trust you to know that.’
That night, the three of us sat in the foyer of the Holiday Inn. The only other customer at the raised circular bar was a receptionist who’d just come off shift. Nobody said much. The barman printed off his till receipts and sat at a table, typing figures into a laptop. It didn’t take him long. While Sam sucked up the last of his Coca Cola through a straw, the receptionist got up, walked over to the fountain and turned it off. Backlit by the streetlamps outside, she returned across the polished floor, the purple and beige atrium towering above her. She looked up just once, registered the five Olympic rings high on the wall, then put on her coat. The barman caught her eye. They’d both worked there for years. They smiled at each other, said goodnight. As we got up to go, the barman came to collect our glasses.
            ‘It hasn’t always been this quiet,’ he said.

Tom Phillips 

Friday, 7 February 2014

House on the Hill

The third instalment of the ongoing Colourful Star collaboration, House on the Hill, is now posted - a landscape by Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova and a short poem written in response by me. You'll find it here.

Friday, 31 January 2014

More poetry in circulation

E-zine Various Artists is currently circulating five new poems of mine. To have them delivered to your inbox, simply drop a line to VA at:

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Just a reminder ...

... that the next post on new Anglo-Bulgarian art/writing site Colourful Star goes live tomorrow (Friday 31 Jan) and features a painting by Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova, with an accompanying poem by me. Find it here:

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Launching Colourful Star

If you like reading the kind of thing that's posted here, on Recreation Ground, then do click through to Colourful Star.
This is a new Anglo-Bulgarian collaborative arts project which has just gone on line and features paintings by the Bulgarian artist Marina Shiderova with accompanying texts written by myself and Marina's sister. We will be posting regularly on the site - there will be still lifes, landscapes and portraits; poems, stories and articles. There isn't an overall theme as such - just the aim of exploring and celebrating the possibilities of collaboration between artists working in different fields and in different countries.
Like many projects, Colourful Star originates in chance meetings and the discovery of shared interests - with the ideas behind it slowly being modified and developed through emails and Facebook exchanges. And no doubt those ideas will continue to develop as the project progresses.
To my knowledge, collaborative art projects between the UK and Bulgaria (and SE Europe in general for that matter) are few and far between - and as part of this project we will also be looking to explore elements of Bulgarian culture and cultural traditions. 
The first post - featuring Marina's painting 'Jars' and a short poem written in response to it - is up now - with new posts appearing once a week from now on ... 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Moment of recognition

Draft of a poem found in a drawer

For Sarra

His speaking of an unexpected coming true
is what puts me in mind
of that winter on the coast,
holed up in a closed hotel
where you were camping out,
with the job of just minding the place.

Maybe we did discover something there
in that high-ceilinged room,
that accidental moment,
with friends occupied with gossip and wine
and us slipping off to smoke
overlooking the wave-striated harbour.
Or maybe we simply agreed
to pool our resources
under a not-quite-threatening sky.

Either way, now, in our kitchen,
sorting recyclable debris,
I’m telling you stories
of her yearnings, his betrayals,
the impulsive gestures
of their love affair, reminders
of what we flirted with ourselves.

Tom Phillips

Monday, 13 January 2014

With any luck

Above ground crisped with frost,
a robin takes it chances,
braving cats, dogs, us,
for a moment
in this cherry tree lattice.

Its song calls up the joys
and hurts of other lovers.
Distance is an atrocity
they might endure.
Proximity is another
which, with any luck,
and the wind in the right direction,
we might well survive.

Tom Phillips 2014

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Vocabulary test

Well, here’s something –
an almost balmy January day
and pale green bulb shoots
across saturated ground.

Unpicked apples still hang
and finches squabble.
It’s not too late for us now.
No frost or breeze to speak of.

Amid coffee, packed lunches,
drying washing, fried eggs,
weather reports on Radio Four,
it might be that I’ve just returned.

On the table, exercise books
with words from that language
I’m trying to learn: verb-forms,
participles, slender distinctions

between ‘want’, ‘desire’ and ‘love’.

Tom Phillips, Jan 2014

Saturday, 4 January 2014

4 September

Hard to hear clearly
on that breezy shore:
shouted anniversary wishes –
and intermitting signal, what’s more.

Only now the frail connection’s gone
and I’m browsing crowded stalls
for postcards, magnets, souvenirs,
it’s as if a few words of broken language
might come and catch me unawares –

because, yes, love, I’m wondering again
at resurgent silences, old scenes,
here, on the continent’s edge,
in this late-summer seaside town.


You’d never seen
quite so many bicycles, racked
as if for the start of a race
or quick getaways.
Sulphur light and thin fog
colluded in that clogged lane,
devices of a mood
which had closed in too soon
and made little sense
from where I stood,
doing nothing  
to convince you or distract.


Without time to grow sure
of street plans, orientations,
alleyways’ jags and shortcuts,
I could be here for hours
and none the wiser for it:
a day of places I’ll not find again.

From a terrace let into the castle wall,
the bay’s streaked by what’s left of the sun.
First promenade lights are turned on –
and here I am, love, frightening myself
with thoughts of how close we’ve come
to there being no way back at all.

Tom Phillips, January 2014