Playing Solitaire for Money

“Playing Solitaire for Money” is a collection of lyric poems, which are contemporary in form and subject. It’s roughly split into three types of poems. The first third are poems about our globalised experience – seeing us as small parts in “a colossal machine”, bit part players in the complexities of modern society. The poems take our everyday experiences and distil them into somewhat surreal, but always truthful scenarios. The middle poems in the collection are more personal – observations on modern life, or ruminations on cinema or fiction. The last few poems are more playful – stepping out into the hidden landscapes on the edge of the city, or conjuring up scenes of middle-class absurdity. Yet there is nothing mundane in these poems. A cup of coffee in a high street chain is a chance to imagine the “impossible narratives” of the “coffee girl” serving the author; getting lost in a maze becomes a question about poetry’s use of metaphor; and, in the poem from which the title line comes, a person’s internal manias become a real life “monster”, that sits on it’s own, “playing solitaire for money.” These two dozen poems are never slight, and always repay re-reading, almost metaphysical in their warping of our recognisable realities. Continue reading

Over and Back

“Over and Back” is one of the older poems in “Playing Solitaire for Money”, written in 2005. I sometimes baulk at the idea of writing nature poetry. I have always lived in cities or on the edge of urban landscapes; even if my childhood was spent in that strange “edgeland” (to use Micheal Symmons Roberts and Paul Farley’s term) of the Midlands “Green Belt.” My landscape was always a man-made one, however full of wild flowers and stretches of water it might be. Continue reading

Video: A Colossal Machine

I haven’t read this poem from Playing Solitaire for Money that often, so its nice that it was recorded when I opened my short set at the 2011 Manchester Book Market in St. Ann’s Square. It’s one of several poems towards the start of the book that uses technology imagery to explore the contemporary condition. Perhaps the “colossal machine” is Google or the Wayback Engine? Or, as in Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” a computer yet to be built.

A Colossal Machine

Rewinding our histories can’t play the tape,
For that requires a colossal machine,
That has long gone out of production,
Or has yet to be made. In part, it’s myth,
Yet we subscribe to it, our site feed
Syndicating the latest news, as if a thing
Can be dripfed to us through words.

The manual alone would be extensible,
Using a language shared by half the world’s tribes,
Competing to contribute to a shared goal.
The ultimate prize for the next life;
Our essence read, stored, accidentally erased,
Whilst the tests go on in private.
In my room I murmur a prayer.

Manchester Independent Book Market Reading

I’ll be reading at the Manchester Independent Book Market in St. Ann’s Square, from “Playing Solitaire for Money”, along with other poets, performance and otherwise, and fiction writers on Saturday 18th June 2011. It’s always a good day, even if it occasionally (always!) rains…. I’m on at 1.20pm in the afternoon. Continue reading

Political Poetry

A while back, I remember a Michael Mackmin editorial in the Rialto where he wondered where the political poets and poems of the day were. Around the time of the Iraq war, a number of poets contributed poems to quickly assembled collections, but, though poetry may have won the argument, it lost the decision.

It seems that we are at another moment, domestically and internationally, where writer’s who ignore what’s going on in the world can almost be accused of a dereliction of duty. Yet political writing is never easy, and often mistaken. At the same time, I’ve always thought that the majority of my writing is political, if only because I do write about the contemporary world. Continue reading

Two Poets: JT Welsch & Adrian Slatcher – 19th January 2011

JT Welsch and Adrian Slatcher will be reading from their new Salt Modern Voices Collections “Orchids” and “Playing Solitaire for Money” respectively at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Cambridge Street, Manchester in Manchester City Centre on Wednesday 19th January 2011, 6.30pm. Free and there will be wine and an opportunity to buy the books and speak to the poets. All are welcome.

Directions to the International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Writing a Poem

One of the most recent poems in my collection “Playing Solitaire for Money” is called “Late Love.” It’s the poem that you see if you check my profile on Salt’s website, or here on my own website. I can’t remember if that was my suggestion or theirs, but it’s also the poem that readers have most responded to, particularly when I read it live.

How do you promote a book of poetry? For it’s not about the writer, or about some subtext, political or emotional, rather it’s about the poems. When I wrote “Late love” in January 2010, I had no idea that it would be the poem I was talking about a few months later, but I thought it might be interesting to look at it a bit closer.

I seem to remember I wrote it on a bus journey into work, the handwriting would certainly hint at this, though it could as easily been at home on the sofa or in a coffee bar. The blue pen I started the poem with runs out half way through, and I change to black. Although there have been times when I’ve written poems directly to the computer, over the last couple of years I’ve deliberately tried to carry a notebook and pen with me at all times. It’s certainly helped my productivity.

I use black notebooks from Muji. They only cost a couple of pounds, the size is bigger than A5, which helps when you’re writing poetry, but have a soft cover so can be easily carried anywhere. For every poem like “Late Love”, there are pages of inconsequence. I’m glad I’ve started using a notebook, but also glad that I’ve not been seduced by the seriousness of, say, a Moleskine.

The poem itself was written quickly, and in a single go. The structure, and the argument were there immediately, and there’s only a couple of changes I made on the page itself, at the end of the second and third stanzas. The “post-production” was mostly just minor tweaks. The poem was called “Late Love I”, so I clearly was thinking it might be the first of a sequence. I’ve not yet written “Late Love II” though. There’s no date on the poem, which implies I wrote it quickly (the bus journey again), possibly after the poem on the opposite page, which wasn’t anywhere near as good.

Late Love Manuscript

For comparison, the published poem is here. The changes are minor, the punctuation is sorted (I’m not sure one ever punctuates properly in a first draft?), and the poem clearly came into life almost fully formed. The last lines of the 2nd and 3rd stanza were the main changes. The word “resurrection” on the manuscript appears to be more a reminder of what the line needs to say, rather than a possible word choice – but its an undoubted religious reference. The word “d’artagnan” appears at the top of the page (not in this scan) which may give some hint as to how I was wanting to frame this poem, within a certain tradition of historical chivalry. One of my favourite poems is Keats La Belle Dame Sans Merci, and there’s something of the same feel about it.

Late Love

Have I ever wandered in the flower garden,
Absent from self-obsession,
Or, when drawn to a particular bud
Smelt its brief fragrance and lost myself?
And why, when transient beauty
Fades at speed, do I still glow
With the warm lie of that time?

Is it because I am a special case
Hotbed raised and partial to the sun?
Or would it be truer if I said:
We are all blessed with these hopes
And only weep when the memories turn
Into emblems of our casual regret.
On standing before the wind, a stem will break.

And when the past days merge into future nights
And chance uploads its lucky card—
When driven snow piles up against the solid door
And a pale flame marks our sorrow …
The long tracks in the snow we left behind
Are traceable beyond the edge of the wood.
A kiss, on lips still warm, redeems us still.