OODA do you think you are?

Sometimes things just fall in your lap, or maybe the ether offers up things at the right time—I don’t know, but if feels like things fell right this week. I saw these two blogs on the same day and somehow I saw a connection between Robin Houghton’s Work poems post and John Wilshere’s post about not writing books.

They both set me thinking.

Robin’s post resonated because it mentions writing poems about the work environment, workplace culture and career-path politics. I know Robin has written about this are herself in her excellent last collection, All The Relevant Gods. There’s also Robin (I see a theme here) Vaughn-Williams’ The Manager, Neil Elder’s Codes of Conduct, Being Present and The Space Between Us, as well as individual poems by the likes of Roethke’s Dolor, Betjeman’s Executive, Alison Brackenbury’s Bookkeeping*

It chimed with me because I’ve been encouraged to write more poems about work, to use the language of the environment I find myself in on a daily basis and to a degree that’s happening. I think the language of marketing is rich and ripe for use in poetry.

To date I’ve managed:

  1. An experiment with the language of online advertising
  2. A draft of a poem called A Manifesto for Big – written after a discussion about the strategy for a particular advertising campaign. It never made it beyond the meeting room, but these two did and I think they’re both brilliant – Patriach & The Guv’nor
  3. A poem in the style of  questionnaire types
  4. And one about the Gartner Hype Cycle1-3 are all sat in the drafts or rejects folder. 4 is out for submission now and I hope it finds a home eventually. I remain unconvinced that it will be accepted by the current mag that I’ve sent it to…Watch this space…or one very much like it.
On the same day, I read John Willshire’s On Not Writing Books. John’s one of those  annoying people you meet in your career. Clever, articulate, devilishly handsome and also bloody nice. I hate him**

His blog piece led me to the content of OODA Loops

Diagram of an OODA link






You can read Wikipedia as well as I can, but essentially OODA Loops (aside from sounding like a character in the shit trilogy of Star Wars films – you know the ones I mean) are a military idea based around the concept of observe–orient–decide–act.

The more I read of John’s post the more I thought it made me think about the act of writing. There’s a bigger post to be written on this one day – perhaps when I retire or can find the time and money to go back in to Academia***

In the post, John writes about Boyd (the creator of the OODA Loop) and how he tried to avoid writing things down as final, never settling on the definitive version of something. This resonated with me on a couple of levels.


As artists or writers (God, did I just write that? Don’t worry, I’ll probably end on a knobgag to balance things out) we’re meant to observe the world around us,  orient ourselves by filtering these observations through cultural trends, our experiences, etc, before deciding how best to represent this and acting upon this by writing it down, painting, singing, etc.

It also occurs to me that these loops work in terms of revision and editing of our work. For example, bands may go back to re-record songs to either regain the rights to them (though this is a recent development), because they’re better musicians now or because they’ve played it live a lot and have changed the arrangement, etc. That said, I’m not sure how many examples there are of this working out for the best. I mean, have you heard the last Bunnymen album?
However, there are loads of reasons behind this revisiting and revising, and I suspect this all true of poets too. We change things because they bug us, a better idea comes along, language changes and so a poem’s intention must adapt.
A poem can begin as an observation on the world, but over time and version be oriented in a new direction through drafting or even time. It can take on new meanings as you go, but it can also be applied to poems previously considered finished. I often read about poems being revised by their author years after being published – usually in the front of a Selected Poems, but it’s also covered in the latest issue of The Dark Horse**** in an article by Anne Stevenson called ‘On Revision’. Stevenson talks about revision as “version(s) of an early poem that a poet at a more advanced believes corrects or improves it” and goes on to look at the work of Marianne Moore (* Makes notes to look at the work of Marianne Moore*) and also her own work. It begs the question (and I’m saying nowt new here) is a piece ever finished?

I hope so. Especially as it’s in, it’s bloody in. The running poem has been submitted and everything. In the spirit of revision, the title got changed and a line cut at the last minute. Hopefully there won’t be more.


But I’m sat at home warming down, attached to an oxygen mask and somehow enjoying a delicious chocolate milkshake from my local cafe. *****


This seems have become a Sunday ritual—without the oxygen mask. That said, tomorrow ******, I’ll be tucking into some delicious booze and running the Wimbledon Craft Half and so may need the oxygen mask.


*Yes, I am listing some of the poems in The Misery of Manilla Folders:Work section from Scanning The Century – Currently available for 1p from Am*zon.
** I don’t
***Yeah, right Mat. You spent university either pissed or working in a pub, that’s not academia
**** We won’t mention the other discussions around the latest The Dark Horse.
**** *Drinking poncey ales and claiming it’s a way of warming up for tomorrow.

******At the time of writing

The week in stats:

1 reviews published – Thanks to Mike at London Grip and Mike Barlow for writing an excellent pamphlet – Some Kind of Ghost

2 poems worked on: The running one, and Clearing My Dad’s Shed

1 submission arrived in magazine form – Thanks to Poetry Salzburg for taking two poems





2 mags arrived to readOrbis and Lighthouse Journal

1 PB – Best 10K time (54 mins)

1st ever Tempo Runs

6 thoughts on “OODA do you think you are?”

  1. Hi Mat, & thanks for the shout out! I need to check out those work-themed collections you mention. I wonder if the poem you have out is to Magma for their ‘work’ issue? Good luck with your projects. Maybe we should collaborate on something. Btw I was fascinated by OODA which is new to me. Cheers.

    1. Hi Robin, you’re very welcome. Definitely worth reading those collections – I’d recommend the whole of the Scanning The Century too. 1p is a reasonable sum (although saddening that it’s available for so little).

      The Gartner poem’s not out for Magma – I don’t think it was ready before the submission window closed. It’s out with Stand at the mo, so I’m expecting it back and ready to be sent back out again.

      I’d definitely be up for collaboration – I’m not sure what use I’d be, but yes, yes, yes.

      The OODA thing was kind of new to me too. I’ve seen the phrase bandied about before, but never really looked at it in any detail – I still haven’t to be fair, but I heartily recommend John’s blog as a source of great thinking and inspiration.

      Hope the course is going well.


  2. I can empathise with so much of what you say here, Mat: I’ve tried writing about work – in local government – a fair amount, and about running too, but not quite to my satisfaction yet. As for revision, I think I probably over-revise sometimes – I don’t think I ever know when a poem is finished. All the best with the poems. Matthew

    1. Hi Matthew, thanks for the visit and the comments. I often find it’s hard to imagine anyone being interested in the language of someone else’s work – especially mine – and that is the main hurdle for me. I think at a logical level there’s no reason why there’s less poetry in eg marketing terminology versus eg shepherds counting (Yan, Tan, Tetherer, etc—I’ve been desperate to work that into a poem for years), but my emotional brain tells me there’s more implicit poetry there and so I pull away from using work stuff.

      Revisions are a tricky beast, and absolutely necessary. I was shit at it for years but am getting better at it now. I think I get more frustrated by versions being in Mags and then re-working them. It means the “better” version is not the one in the public domain and that drives me potty. Lesson to be had there, I just don’t know what it is yet.

      Thank you and likewise, looking forward to new material surfacing from you.

      1. I think poems about the workplace are really interesting, since they naturally involve human interactions within weird hierarchies which don’t exist outside the workplace in anywhere near the same way. Not that I’ve caught the essence of that in a poem yet!

        I’m as guilty as anyone of revising poems after they’ve published, so I suppose the lesson for me, which I still don’t heed, is don’t send a poem anywhere until it’s been revised and revised (as necessary) and every word is how I really want it to be. But even the great Robert Lowell was a constant reviser, so if it was good enough for him . . .

      2. Hi, sorry – I got myself distracted by work there.

        I’ll not bracket myself next to Lowell, that seems like it would do him a disservice,but you make a fine point about know when things are ready to go. It’s a fine balance. I often want to stop myself revising and get on with something new, but that’s not what’s best for the poem. And that’s the thing…

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