Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Matt Abbott: Nationwide advert

Pay attention, because I am going to explain to you why I think Matt Abbott is a literary genius.


Before you start, I have two technical criticisms of this piece, which is an advertisement for Nationwide Building Society.  The first is that the D-alliteration is overdone in the first two stanzas.  The second is that the image of the roast dinner, used both literally and as a metaphor, over-simplifies and idealises familial relations.  I come from a family which ate a huge number of roast dinners, with all the elements, including the gravy, cooked from first principles, but the members of that family mostly disliked each other.

Be that as it may.

I will now give you five reasons why Matt Abbott is a literary genius.


  1. He got on television, at the age of 26, in his capacity as a poet, reciting his own work. John Cooper Clarke did a voiceover for McCain chips, but the material he had to do was about chips, and there was no image of him on the screen.  This is Matt Abbott, in person, reciting a poem he could recite at any of his live readings.  It is worth bearing in mind that most of Matt’s audiences are people who regard Jeremy Corbyn as being on the centre-right.
  2. The manner of his delivery is in harmony with the material. I go to a great many live poetry events, and I see people with good material and poor delivery, and other people with good delivery and poor material.  It is rare that I see someone with the delivery and the material in such harmonious balance.
  3. He has his audience in mind, but still speaks in his own voice. It is difficult to express this point without repeating point 1, above.  His poetry is miles better than the doggerel we usually get on advertisements.  Yes, it rhymes, but when was the last time you heard the word, “examine” rhymed with the word, “famine”?  I am sick of hearing myself telling other members of the Black Horse Poets not to use two-syllable rhymes, unless they want to produce a comic effect.  Matt Abbott uses a two-syllable rhyme by breaking the rules.  As Kurt Vonnegut said, every great writer breaks all the rules, except the first one: use the time of a perfect stranger in such a way that he or she will not consider it to have been wasted.
  4. It is a good poem. It passes all of my standard tests of poetry.  1.  What voice is speaking?  2. What is this voice talking about?  3. Why might this be important?  He passes all those with flying colours.  He is also commendably concise.
  5. He is, along with Rob Reed, supporting me at Cluntergate Community Centre on Saturday 1 October. The performance starts at 7:30pm, and tickets are available from:  http://www.wakefieldlitfest.org.uk/events/226-throwing-mother-in-the-skip


Now that I have established that Matt Abbott is a literary genius, I need you to join me in the campaign to INSURE THE HAIR.

Throwing Mother In The Skip: Saturday 1 October 2016

I will be headlining at Cluntergate Community Centre on Saturday 1 October, as part of Wakefield Litfest 2016.  The event is called Throwing Mother In The Skip.

Cluntergate Community Centre is in Horbury, near Wakefield.  The buses from Wakefield bus station are the 126 and 127.

I will be appearing with Rob Reed, and Matt Abbott.  Matt Abbott has recently done an advert for Nationwide Building Society:


which means that he is so bloody famous, it just isn’t true.

You can buy tickets here:


It costs GBP 5 to see three established performance poets.  FIVE QUID.  That’s all.  FIVE QUID.  What can you get for FIVE QUID, nowadays?

Beer and wine should also be on sale, at competitive prices.

Review: The Addams Family at Leeds City Varieties, 29 July 2016

This production is two, related musical comedies by the City Varieties Youth Theatre, directed by Lizi Patch. I have only seen one of them. I have seen the evening performance, in which the major roles are played by the age 16+ cast. I have not seen the matinee performance, in which the major roles are played by the age 12-15 cast. In other words, some members of the 12-15 cast have to play two roles.

The City Varieties has a fairly small stage, and is an intimate theatre, even if you are sitting in the circle, as my wife, Valerie, and I were. The set was basic, with back-drops featuring gravestones, or stone columns, or windows, lifted and lowered throughout the play, with a variety of lighting. A hint of yellow was added to most of the lighting, to give the impression of sunlight. Dramatic and gothic moments received white light with a measure of blue and ultraviolet. This contrast was used to good effect.

There was a traditional orchestra pit. The band featured electric keyboards (used to mimic piano, and sinister pipe-organ in a Bach toccata and fugue stylee), drums, violin, cello, saxophone, clarinet, trumpet, trombone, electric guitar, and electric bass (a 6-string bass). They were admirably conducted by Sam Dunkley. The music was of a rich quality which filled the auditorium without overpowering it.

Between the orchestra pit and the front row of the stalls was a walk-way which led off the stage, which was extensively used. It was not very wide, but nobody fell off it, in either direction.

The show opened with a scene played by the younger members of the cast. This featured cow-girls, cave-people, flappers, matadors, soldiers, flight attendants, and gothic brides. All these characters were the spirits of the dead ancestors of the Addams family. The depiction of characters from disparate eras from history, plus liberal use of cadaverous, pale make-up, gave the impression of death’s being pervasive over a very long time.

The main themes of the plot were to do with conflict: conflict between the Addams family’s way of life and that of the “normal” world; conflict between generations; conflict between siblings; conflicts between husbands and wives; internal conflicts between a character’s own perception of his/her self, and how he/she develops. A plot infused with so much dramatic tension was bound to be engaging. The advice about love and life-decisions conveyed by the play was, for the most part, bloody awful, but that did not diminish the entertainment.

Lucy Herbert as Wednesday Addams was the presence upon which most of the plot was based. This portrayal of Wednesday Addams is more conflicted than any I have seen before, and the conflict was brilliantly portrayed.

Garry Campbell as Gomez Addams had not just to deliver dialogue in a Spanish accent, but he had to sing in a Spanish accent as well. And dance. Wednesday’s character drives most of the plot, but Gomez had most of the stage time and carried most of the action. He looked liked Gomez Addams. He sounded like Gomez Addams. He was Gomez Addams.

Juliana Eigbe played Morticia Addams. This portrayal of Morticia was quite a dislikeable character, but she captivated the audience with the grace and dexterity of her movements, in perfect keeping with her dialogue, or singing, or the dramatic moment. And the way her character contributed to the resolution of the story represented the biggest individual change, and she conveyed it with complete conviction.
Morgan Handley was cast as Pugsley Addams: Pugsley in this production was a girl. This was a brilliant stroke. Her character plays out the theme of sibling conflict. Her solo singing contained some of the most potentially sensitive references of the whole play, to do with relationships and physical harm.

Daniel Hunt played Uncle Fester. Oh boy, did Daniel Hunt play Uncle Fester. Fester starts as the voice of understanding and reason, and in the end goes completely off the rails. His part in the last scene was full of pathos and tenderness. It made my wife and me cry.

Shauna McSwiney played Grandma. A businesslike performance, which might be described as, “supporting” but could equally be described as, “subversive”. This character knew she didn’t have much to do to drive the plot forward, and was determined to have a good time on everybody else’s dollar. Bravo. And there was, in fact, one key contribution she made to the plot.

Jake Throw played Lurch. What can I say about him, except, “Come to my arms! Come to my arms!” ? He was outstandingly the character that I empathised with the most. He played his character exactly the way I would have tried to play him. When you get cast as Lurch in a production of The Addams Family, and there are two or three actors on stage who are taller than you, you know you are good.

Jacob Bennett played Lucas Beineke. He played the role with aplomb, and was a convincing foil to Wednesday Addams. His character started as a dweeb, but the way he broke out of that mould was a significant part of the development of the story. Like Mrs Beineke, played by Gemma Armitage, and Mr Beineke, played by Newlyn Evans, these characters end up moving out of their original orbits because of the influence of the Addams family.

This production is further proof, if any were needed, that Leeds is still the goth capital of the world.

I have told you about the auditorium, the set, the band, the characters. I have not told you what happens, because I don’t want to include any spoilers.

This is what happens, in the end.


Love conquers all.

Review: Mr Jolly, by Michael Stewart

Published by Valley Press (2016)
156 pages
ISBN 978 1 908853 60 8
GBP 8.99

[None of the following is true.]

I walked into McGarry’s office with as near to an appearance of nonchalance as could be mustered by a man who knew he was doomed.

‘Help yourself to tea or coffee,’ he said, as he leafed through the bottom drawer of a filing-cabinet. I looked around, and could not see any hot beverages on offer, and so I took a mouthful from the Americano I had bought at the station, laced with something from Poland, and I don’t mean a heating engineer.

I sat down in the vacant chair.

‘Sit down,’ he said, when he had finished excavating the site in the bottom drawer. ‘What have you got?’ I like that about Mr McGarry: he gets down to business. I had rehearsed this a hundred times by the time my train left York. Two hundred by the time it got to Malton. Three hundred by the time it got to Seamer. But this was Scarborough. I mean Scarborough. I was nervous. ‘What have you got?’

I took another gulp of my ‘wine of Poland’, and gave him my best shot.

‘I’ve got a quirky story about an obsessional character with conflicted sexual tastes, described in detail, with the reader left with the task of working out how this person fits into society.’

‘OK. And?’

‘I’ve got a dialogue-driven story in which a protagonist is tricked into getting into a dangerous situation by a lying interlocutor, with another twist applied, even after the reader has got the main thread.’

‘Sounds good. Go on.’

‘Er. The next piece is called ‘How To Be An Alcoholic’. It is about a character in conflict with his own setting.’

‘I see.’

‘And in ‘Deleting dadsbooks’, there is a very skewed dialogue, of which the reader only gets one side, until the last moment.’ I could see that I wasn’t selling it to him. He reclined, and composed himself to listen, politely, to my last endeavour. ‘I have a story which uses childhood recollections in an unexpected way. I’ve got nine others. I think I’ve got enough for a collection, Sir.’

He sat upright in his chair, and then opened a drawer. He pulled something out and slammed it down on the desk.


I knew that I was beat. Just like the man on the cover.

Lyrics news 4: an extract from The Today Programme*

The time is now 17 minutes past 8.

The Home Office has been under considerable pressure in recent months to explain its policy on the prison system, and on the rehabilitation of offenders. In the radio car, we have a spokesman for the Home Office, Mr Desmond Dekker. Mr Dekker, can you hear me?


Thank you for that microphone test, Mr Dekker. Now, can you tell me how you perceive the current problem?

At ocean eleven

I am going to have to stop you there, Mr Dekker. Surely you are not trying to invoke
a George Clooney film in order to deflect criticism.

And now rudeboys have a go wail
‘Cause them out of jail
Rudeboys cannot fail
‘Cause them must get bail

Well, yes, I am sure we all appreciate all that. These people are marginalised, and left with very scant resources.

Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail

Well, yes

A Shanty Town

Nobody is in any doubt that poor housing is a fundamental part of the problem, but, as I was saying

Dem a loot, dem a shoot, dem a wail
A Shanty Town
Dem rude boys out on probation
A Shanty Town
Them a rude when them come up to town
A Shanty Town

Mr Dekker, forgive me for saying so, but you seem to be repeating yourself a greal deal. What our listeners want to know, particularly those who, in spite of the uncertainty in the global property market, may still be considering a move a shanty town, is whether:

Police get taller
A Shanty Town
Soldier get longer
A Shanty Town

What do you have to say to that?

Rudeboy a weep and a wail
A Shanty Town
Rude boys a weep and a wail
A Shanty Town

And so are you saying they weep and a wail because the police get taller and the soldier get longer? Yes, I see.

Thank you, Mr Dekker. I think that is all we have time for.

* This isn’t true.

Review: Josie Long at The Red Shed, Wakefield 18/04/2016

Before going on stage, Josie Long consumed a green salad, without dressing, a plum, and a packet of nuts. She drank water. In spite of this, her performance was raucous.

Josie Long alternated between standing on the same floor level as the audience, and standing on the stage. I have stood on that stage. It is small, and covered in a very fogey-looking carpet. She spoke about the experience of performing at The Red Shed, but she didn’t mention the carpet.

I love Josie Long’s vision of socialism.

The funniest part of her performance was not about politics. It was about things that putatively might happen in the shower. I won’t tell you the subject matter, because I don’t write spoilers, but it was cosmically funny.

Josie Long applied the same technique to the Red Shed raffle, in aid of the booklet to celebrate 50 years of The Red Shed. She made the raffle funny.

While she was talking about her home town of Orpington, in Kent, I was working out how old Josie Long would have been during the ’84-85 Miners’ strike. I think she was about 2. This explains why there was no mention of the Kent miners, who went on strike in ’84-85.

Josie Long’s humour is in her face, mainly her eyes, in her voice and delivery, and in her body. She has one of the most subversive bodies I have ever seen. The easiest way to make a mess of left-wing humour is to take the piss out of everything. Josie Long builds as much as she tears down.

Josie Long needs to play Unity Works, the next time she comes to Wakefield.

Review: Telephones, Love Hearts & Jellyfish, by Winston Plowes

130 pages


ISBN 978 0 9568979 3 0

Electric Press

This is an unusual book. It is ostensibly a collection of poetry by a single author. But there are contributions from many people, including five principal collaborators, and others. My inner academic is delighted to see how meticulously these contributions are referenced, and in a way that does not divert attention from the main text. There is an index. Not an index of titles, nor an index of first lines, but a subject index. It contains such items as: Ant Hill Mob’s Car (two references), Nora Batty, and Cthulhu.

Another appendix is entitled Afore Ye Go, as registered by Bell’s Whisky. This contains a simple set of instructions for writing the kind of poetry that appears in the chapters of the book.

The poems are surrealist, in the sense that they deliberately attribute images to objects and situations in which most people, “normal” people – whatever that means – would not see them. The instructions I mentioned earlier are a suggestion for how more people could see and record such images.

Another appendix, also diligently researched and clearly tabulated, is entitled Cabinet of Curiosities. This contains some words of explanation for each of the more unusual objects mentioned in the main text. Like all good subsidiary texts, this enhances the main one, and is entirely optional. I find it fascinating.

Two other appendices are A List Of Beverages, and A List Of Locations. These are not as baroque as Cabinet of Curiosities, but they still lift the text.

A poetry collection is an individual work. An anthology is collective. This is a collection which is both individual and collective. The fact that Winston Plowes organised this collective effort only identifies him all the more clearly as the author.

While I was already familiar with surrealist poetry, my own work is about as different from this collection as it is possible to get. My work is about the resublimation of experiences that happened a relatively long time, often years or decades, ago. Telephones, Love Hearts & Jellyfish is about things that are seen and thought in the present moment. My work is about what people did and felt. T,LH&J is about what the author and other people saw and thought (and, as any therapist will tell you, thinking is not the same as feeling). I divide all modern poetry into two categories. It is either about survival, or it is about escape. My work, and my wife’s work, is about survival. T,LH&J is about escape. The complexity, of course, is that in order to survive, we often have to escape.

You can hear an interview with Winston Plowes about his collection on the 13 March 2016 episode of Themes for Dreamers:


Winston comes on at 00:04:45. He explains more about the technique employed than I have done. If you do not want to listen to the podcast, the best thing to do is to buy the book. For details, email Winston:


Review: UnityWords at Unity Works, Wakefield, 24 February 2016.

It was a new event. It will be a monthly event. My esteemed colleague, Ralph Dartford, would have us believe that it will be a big event. Not just a big event, but a massive event. An event that it would take an airliner travelling at 650 mph 1800 years to circumnavigate.

First up was Rob Reed. I knew him already from an event at the Red Shed. This was the first time I had the chance of hearing his doing a complete set.

I have tried my hardest to find something negative to say about Rob Reed’s set, but this attempt has failed.

There was a moment when I thought he might be descending from humour into buffoonery, but that moment only lasted about 0.0125 of a second. Yes, there was buffoonery, but it was, like the rest of the performance, expertly handled. Anything that is expertly handled cannot be buffoonery.

He did a piece, the gist of which was, “My fridge is a wanker”. It worked. I don’t mean that it valiantly went down, fighting. I mean that it worked.

He had a recurring theme, which I won’t describe, in case he wants to use it again, but it was contemporary to get the audience to foreshadow the jokes that they themselves were expected to laugh at. This was the seemless merging of performance poetry with stand-up comedy. The people who attend spoken word events don’t care what the hell you do, as long as you are in control of your medium. All the time that Rob Reed was turning pages in his notebook and making small-talk with the audience, there was not a single syllable uttered that he was not in complete control of.

Ordinarily, I would be telling you that Rob Reed ran the whole thing, but, on this occasion, I am not.

A woman called Louise Fazackerley turned up. She was the headline performer.

How can I be expected to describe my reaction to Louise Fazackerley’s performance? It isn’t easy, even for me.

She used hand gestures and bodily movement, masterfully.

She used her voice, her absolutely unlistenable Lancashire-accented voice, masterfully.

The subject matter of her poems was heart-breaking, amazing, and wonderful.

She used backing-tracks masterfully.

She did for spoken-word performance what Donald Bradman did for cricket. I am going to go back to my scrag-hole and try to re-think my whole approach to this activity. I think I am a pretty bloody fantastic performance poet, but if I am ever going to appear on the same bill as Louise Fazackerley, I am going to have to do much, much better.

Ride on time

I got a job in East Kilbride in August, 1989. I moved from the East Kilbride YMCA to a flat in Glasgow in December of that year. In November, 1989, I won a dancing competition in the YMCA. The prize was two Scottish pound notes and 20 Lambert & Butler cigarettes. I gave the cigarettes to a woman called Suzanne McLeod.

Nowadays, I watch rugby league. Much is made of “the oxygen budget”. In those days, I was 21 years old. I had never smoked. I didn’t drink that much. I threw myself around. My body would do what I asked of it.

I used to visit nightclubs in Glasgow from 1990 onwards. The track I associate with that era is ‘Ride on time’ by Black Box.

I have no idea what it is like now, but, in those days, Glasgow night-life used to get going very late. There was no point in going to a nightclub until about 11pm, and it would stay open until 3 or 4 in the morning.

Winning the dancing competition in East Kilbride did my confidence a lot of good. I especially used to like it if the words “ you just walk right in / walk walk right in …” were playing as I arrived at the edge of the dance floor.

A woman told me that she could never dance like I did unless she was very drunk, which was not a compliment. She meant that she could not lose her inhibitions unless she was drunk, but, had she been that drunk, she would not have been able to dance like me.

Somebody punched me. To this day, I don’t know why. I must have offended him, and his cronies, in some way.

I won a much less formal dancing competition in Forster Square in Bradford in 1998.

Savile Town FC Under 9s

I am a writer, and I attend various writing groups in Wakefield.

I got into a shouting-match with another member of one of these writing groups. I won’t tell you which group, or which member. Let us call him Mr X.

It suffices to say that my opinion of Mr X’s views about the ethnic make-up of West Yorkshire is that those views are a load of racist clap-trap.

The previous row had centered on Savile Town. I live in England, West Yorkshire, near Wakefield. Also nearby is a town called Dewsbury. In between Wakefield and Dewsbury is a place called Savile Town.

It is reputed that one of the 7/7 bombers came from Savile Town. This was asserted by Mr X. Mr X asserted that Savile Town is a training camp for terrorists.

The alternative view, that I heard today, is that the 7/7 bomber came from Nottingham, but lived in Savile Town for a brief period.

The alternative view came from a man called Jav. He and I used to work in the same office in Leeds.

Jav comes from Savile Town. Jav is a supporter of the Savile Town FC juniors. Jav’s son was frustrated because of the last-minute cancellation of his under 10s match against a team in Huddersfield.

I was glad I had put on my walking boots, because of the wet condition under foot.

Mr X would say that I had been brain-washed by Islamist extremists. I will tell you simply what I saw.

I saw shops, the most unusual of which was a charity shop for Palestinian refugees. It was not open while I was there.

I saw the first ever branch of Mullaco, an Asian supermarket.

I saw five mosques, of varying sizes.

Most of all, I saw a football match between two under 9 teams. Savile Town FC was mainly Asian, and Drighlington was mainly (but not exclusively) white British. I saw football played under modified rules because of the young age of the players, but completely under the ethos that applies at all levels.

I spoke to people who had turned up to attend this football match after having put in a night shift.

Haroon, the coach of Savile Town FC, asked me in if I wanted to attend the screening of a film in the BBC series, ‘Inside Out’, in which he appears. This was going to be shown to a young, female, community group, later that afternoon.

I needed to get back home in order to cook the Sunday dinner, but I agreed that I would keep in touch, and would come back and see the work of Engage Dewsbury. Engage Dewsbury works in spite of the government’s ‘Prevent’ campaign. The Prevent campaign is seen as lacking local foundation, and hence, ill-informed. Engage Dewsbury carries on in spite of not receiving any government funding.

I saw an under 9s football match. I had a chat with a former work colleague. I went home, and cooked the Sunday dinner. None of that involved radicalisation.

That is Savile Town.

Savile Town FC 2 – 1 Drighlington