Altering the colour of words

Unusually for me, I had loads of stuff lined up to write about last week. While I didn’t have a poem lined up, I had plans to talk about Robin Houghton’s post about How to be successful enough. It has memory in, charts, a sense of acceptance and places to aim for. In many ways it is the perfect poetry post. I may well come back to it.

I had plans to discuss the debate I’d seen on Twitter about publishing online. I can’t find it now, but the gist was that the poetry world needs to move on a bit. The question was whether publishing a poem on eg the socials would discount it from being published in a magazine (print or online). It also covered, if I recall correctly, the publishing of images of poems from mags and/or books. I’ve sort of covered that before.

On the former part, I can see the argument on both sides, but still land on the side of not putting poems out there on socials. Once they are then there is less incentive to go and find it in a magazine (print or online). I am always slightly aghast when I see poets publishing photos of their work on eg Instagram, etc when a mag has just been published in print. What is the incentive for a friend to then go and buy the mag after that? I assume we want people to do that and to help keep the mag world afloat. I did share a photo of one my recently, but only after the mag/journal themselves had done the same. Perhaps that’s the key..wait till the mag has done it themselves.

Anyhoo, I don’t want to get bogged down in all of that. It’s all feels a bit pointless.

This week, I have the poem line up and no real idea how to write about what I want to write about…so forgive me if this lurches all over the gaff.

I didn’t get to write a post last week (like that matters) as I was knackered after a long weekend in Norfolk. I went back to see my friend John Rance. John is the dad of my two closest friends, but I have always thought of him as a friend too. He’s always treated me the same way- certainly since we’ve all be old enough to buy him a pint…(I jest, mostly). John has been ill since a series of strokes starting back in September last year, and it was made clear to his family a couple of weeks ago that he wasn’t going to recover—despite there having been some positive signs at the start of the year.

I’m glad I went and spoke with John and said my goodbyes, as the message I was dreading came on Tuesday afternoon to say that John had passed away. It had been utterly devastating to to see a man that had been so full of life reduced to the shell he was in the Norfolk and Norwich hospital. John had lived so many lives as a parent to five children, husband to two wives (not at the same time), travelling across Europe as a young man, living in New Zealand while in the army, working as a salesman, a landlord for a working man’s club, a pub, becoming the artist he’d always wanted to be in later life. He was the first to help start an occasion and often the last to leave, the first to say something wise, the first to see the silly side of something, an inveterate creator of myths and legends (apparently West Ham won us the World Cup). His laugh filled a room, his determination to play jazz sometimes cleared it. A friend of mine recently wrote that John introduced him to so much in the way of art, music and film that he could never fully say how grateful he was, and that seems a fair assessment. And also nowhere near enough to describe the man. John’s art hangs in my kitchen. John’s light and shadow (he’d appreciate the art of that, I hope) will hang over my life forever.

If it was devastating to see him reduced in life, then it was a billion times worse to get that call on Tuesday. I was at work at time, and the moment the message landed I gathered my things and set off for home. The world of media research seemed exactly trivial after that.

I stood on the platform in a daze and decided to blot things out with a podcast—music didn’t seem right at the time, and I played the latest Planet Poetry episode. It featured an interview with Robert Hamberger. Robert is a poet I knew of, but hadn’t yet explored his work, so I listened with interest as he talked about his life, his work, his work within form and how it’s less of a straitjacket and more of a way of finding freedom to let the poem say what it wants to say. I nodded along (inwardly, making a loose mental note to finally push the button on buying Robert’s books…and knowing I would, eventually, but probably not straight away). I think he’d read a poem before this, but then he read a poem called ‘Moments’ and I came close to utterly disintegrating on the Circle line to Victoria station.

I tried to recall the lines of it. I emailed my local bookshop to order the book it came from, The Blue Wallpaper and then composed myself. The ordering was easy, the composure less so. The next day I emailed Robert to ask his permission to publish the poem and he said yes almost immediately. Not long after his reply, the bookshop replied to say they couldn’t get the book via the publisher and that I should go direct. I did and I await it’s delivery. However, Robert had very kindly sent me a copy.


You stroked his arm, quietly said He’s gone.
I knew the air had dimmed because
he no longer breathed in it.
By walking and speaking
he altered the colour of words,
made each room he moved in
a space I wanted to share: now
this secluded ward that held four of us,
until you quietly said He’s gone,
shattered three of us, except of course
it still bore his weight on the sheet
in the centre of the room, as though
his bed had become the world’s axis.

His bed had become the world’s axis
in the centre of the room, as though
it still bore his weight on the sheet,
shattered three of us, except of course
until you quietly said He’s gone.
This secluded ward that held four of us
(a space I wanted to share now)
made each room he moved in.
He altered the colour of words
by walking and speaking.
He no longer breathed in it.
I knew the air had dimmed because
you stroked his arm, quietly said He’s gone.

++ Published with permission by the author. Taken from The Blue Wallpaper, Waterloo Press, 2019++

I wasn’t there when John passed away, but his family were, so this is as much for John as it is for his wife, his sons and his daughters.

Lines like “By walking and speaking / he altered the colour of words, / made each room he moved in / a space I wanted to share:”
all seem as accurate as it is possible to be. As if Robert knew John by name and reputation, but oddly enough I don’t even recall them from the podcast. It was the second and third lines that hit me. I don’t even think I really heard much more of the poem, and I certainly failed to take in the specular form as Robert read it, but I knew inside 3 lines how beautiful this poem was.

I do recall that he mentioned he’d written the poem for his friend Clifford and that he bemoaned the lack of poems about male friendships, and so it certainly rang through my mind a bit later in the journey when I was catching the end of our Poet laureate’s interview with his friend, Glyn Maxwell, in his series, The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed. The interview was full of discussions about moving away from home, what constitutes home, the way the place we grew up can dictate who we are, and then plenty of recollections of times shared as mates.

As is customary at the end of this series, Armitage shared a new poem with Maxwell, and he (Maxwell) is heard to say, “Aw, thanks, man”. That casual use of “Man” was such a throwaway thing, but put me in mind of my own relationship with John’s sons, and other male friends. It was exactly the sort of thing I think Robert was referring to. Exactly the sort of thing I was trying to write about in these two poems (Working Out and The Long Game – both feature two of John’s sons)

I should probably now make some sort of throwaway gesture about football and the like. I won’t (although, I sort of have). Instead, I’ll point you to one of John’s son’s recent works. His adaptation of Measure for Measure.

John Rance with his favourite son, Bertie.

Before I go, a thank you to Matthew Paul for his kind words here and for introducing me to the work of Geoff Hattersley. Damn it, more books to buy. Have you seen how prolific he is…?

And I note that the day before I had acceptance of my poem telling Aliens not to bother coming to earth there was an article suggesting they were coming for 8,000 of us. Clearly this didn’t happen. And they say poetry doesn’t change anything. And that’s before the poem is even published. Christ, the aliens will be giving us Elvis back soon.

A Song that is in some vague way linked to something

Bob Dylan, Boots of Spanish Leather – I think this was one of John’s favourite Dylan songs


15ishK running. My knee is improving now I’ve started trying to stretch my hamstrings. This week has seen 3 actual runs and almost no pain This is encouraging. I am very out of breath. This is not so much.
5 day without cigarettes…This is encouraging
0 days since drinking. **Pours another gin**

1 sleepless night
1 lost friend
2 nights of drinking
1 holiday booked
1 drive to Norfolk and back
1 sourdough loaf made (by Rach)
1 book finished, I think
1 sunday roast
1 mate’s birthday

0 loose ideas/articles gathered (this allows me to kid myself I am writing all the time)
x poems finished: Several for the book
x poems worked on: Lots for the pamphlet, 1 new draft
0 submissions:
0 withdrawal:
2 acceptances: Black Nore, New Welsh Review
0 Longlisting:
0 readings:
1 rejections: The Stinging Fly
11 poems are currently out for submission. No simultaneous subs
83 Published poems

0 review finished:
0 reviews started:
0 review submitted:
1 review to write:

1 more week that I’m not having an affair with Eva Green

* To date, not this week. Christ!!



Death Cab For Cutie: Asphalt Meadows (Acoustic)
Dinosaur Jr: Green Mind, Where You Been, Hand It Over
The Archers
The Verb: The Secret Lives of Women
Cinema Under the Stairs: Oscars
The Wonder Stuff: Hup
Unwed Sailor: Truth Or Consequence
Tara Clerking Trio: ST
Tallies: Patina
Stina Nordenstam: And Then She Closed Her Eyes
VA: Thai Beat A-Go-Go Vol1
Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine: 101 Damnations, Post Historic Monsters
Tom Verlaine: ST
The Wonder Stuff: Hup Live
William Bell: Phases of Reality
The Kissaway Trail: Breach
VA: Thai Beat A-Go-Go Vol2
The Meat Purveyors: Someday Soon Things Will be Much Worse
Dropsonde Playlist
Miles Davis: In a Silent Way
The Archers
Various songs while drunk
Dropsonde Playlist
The Archers
Dropsonde Playlist
Miles Davis: In a Silent Way
Miles Davis: In a Silent Way
Bar Italia: Bedhead
Miles Davis: Bitches Brew
Stina Nordenstam: Memories of a Colour
Counting Crows: Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings
The Orielles: Disco Volador, La Vita Olistica
The Poet Laureate has Gone To His Shed: Olivia Senior, Glyn Maxwell
The Archers
Planet Poetry: Robert Hamberger
Miles Davis: Kind of Blue
Charlie Mingus: Tonight At Noon, Presents Charles Mingus, In Your Soul
John Coltrane: Giant Steps, Stellar Regions, Sun Ship, Traneing & Dakar, Transcendence
John Cale: Guts
Taylor Swift: Folklore, Evermore
Deacon Blue: The Hipsters
Sharon Van Etten: Tramp
Arrooj Aftab: Love In Exile
The Reds, Pinks & Purples: The Town That Cursed Your Name
A House: I Am The Greatest
Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens
Horse Feathers: Appreciation, House With no Name
Heron Oblivion: ST
Heather Nova: Siren
Heather Nova: South
Dropsonde Playlist
Bill Janovitz: Lonesome Billy, Up Here, Walt Whitman Mall
Bill Janovitz & Crown Victoria: Fireworks On TV
Bob Dylan: Desire

Suzanna Fitzpatrick: Fledglings
BH Fairchild: The Art of the Lathe
William Gilson: Spider Time
Poetry Salzburg Latest

Interior Design With Alan Carr
The Mandalorian
For All Mankind
The Thick of It

A new remote for the TV
Zaffar Kunial – England’s Green
Cal Flynn – Islands of Abandonment
Rebecca Goss – Girl
TS Eliot The Poems of TS Eliot
Selected Poetry of John Clare

Orbis 203
A New TV remote


7 thoughts on “Altering the colour of words

    • It is lovely. Doubt I’d love Dylan as much as I do if it weren’t for many evenings in John’s living room bawling along to Hurricane or Tangled Up In Blue after drink had be “taken”.

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