High and (Mar)mighty…aka A Toast To Marmite aka Boys For the Black Stuff

Is anything happening this weekend? What have you been up to? We’re just back from a restorative walk in the woods near Shoreham. I mean restorative in the sense of feeding the soul and not soothing a massive hangover. Regular readers will know that it’s usually the latter. It is worth noting though that we did stop for a pint after the walk and I was moved to have a pint of this

I won’t say no if anyone wants to order me a mini cask beer here (Pale or Best Bitter).

Now, stand back…You are about to see some weapons-grade weak connections being made.

The point I had above reminded me of this excellent recent post by Jeremy Wikeley about Larkin. The gist of this is that ol’ Phil may have enjoyed the fruits of isolation and the like but shouldn’t really be thought of as a separate entity in terms of the wider poetry community (correct me if I’m wrong here, Jeremy. And yes, he is at his best when he’s bitter).

Now, don’t worry, I am not about to start waxing lyrical about the poetry community, whatever that means. Although it was lovely to see that in action on Tuesday evening when I went along to Chener Books to see Emily Hasler, Sarah Westcott and Jodie Hollander read from their latest books/work—Sarah read a number of new poems as her latest collection has been round longer than those of Emily and Jodie.

All three were excellent readers of excellent poems, and I urge you to seek out their work(s). It also didn’t occur to me until the next day that Chener Books is run by the poet, Miranda Peake… This helps to explain the excellent selection of poetry on offer at the shop.

No, I am not about to start waxing lyrical about the poetry community…Now watch this, this is where the magic happens…

It could be fair to say that Larkin is not for everyone. There are many aspects of the man that are utterly abominable, just as there are many aspects of his work that are utterly wonderful (and I am no Larkin scholar—I have barely scratched the surface in terms of reading him), so it could be fair to say he is something of a Marmite poet. As in you either like him or you don’t. (And look, if you’re on the fence about him, can I ask that for the purposes of this post you keep your counsel, hold your tongue and stay quiet).

Now, did someone say Marmite?

***It was about this point yesterday (Sunday) when everything I’d written after this point got lost…something didn’t save…not sure what happened. Still, I assure you it was a mixture of wisdom, erudition, comedy gold and blistering insight. So, my apologies for what now follows…***

A funny thing happened on the way to this post…On Tuesday I did my usual routine of going into our White City office. I hadn’t slept well the night before after a lazy bank holiday Monday, so I thought I’d treat myself to breakfast in the work canteen. I was delighted (a bit strong, Mat, but go with it) to see the return of a particular black foodstuff among the spreads on offer after a couple of weeks where it hadn’t been on offer. This meant I could have my usual Marmite and Peanut Butter on toast (Yes, this is all getting a bit too much of a white-knuckle ride—I’ll slow down shortly).

You’re almost certainly now 100% sure that this won’t be a waxing lyrical about the poetry community…

I noticed that I noticed the return of the Marmite, and thought nothing of it again as I went about my working day. I observed some focus groups for a project about a show that will be on ITVX in December (Fans of Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction will be very happy, I think). I can’t recall what else my sleep-deprived mind processed, but when I was sat outside the East Dulwich Tavern waiting for Emily Hasler I started reading Andy Jackson’s The Assassination Museum. I’d picked it up from my TBR pile that morning while trying to find my copy of Sarah Westcott’s Bloom. I was going to ask her to sign it that evening. Still can’t find it.

Anyhoo, I knew from the first poem that I was going to enjoy this. Off The Wall (the first poem) is a great piece about dancing, confidence, life and music, and I could so easily have written about it today/yesterday, but when I got to the poem below I knew I had my poem for this week.


A food for kids? This myth persists.
I was weaned for years on it.
Now I see the shape of the jar,
and ache to stroke its fertile curves,
child-bearing hips, a trove
of bitter treacle, black as a vat
of roadside tar.

I know some fearless types
drink metal polish straight
and chain-smoke crack from dirty pipes.
When offered Marmite, hear their palates fizz
and watch their grey lips pucker.
See them spit out ragged balls
of half-chewed bread, amazed some nutter
could eat that stuff and live.

Now, my palate’s tempered
in the furnaces of a thousand
curry houses, every one a challenge,
but when I dip into this
bottomless pot and slide
the laden knife across my teeth,
there’s still that jolt, that flash of
electricity, down to the hungry roots beneath.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Taken from The Assassination Museum, Red Squirrel Press, 2010. Published with the author’s permission.

My thanks to Andy for a great poem. What appears to be a simple poem covers so much ground…Masculinity, memory—both positive and the (I think) implicit nod to poverty at the end in ‘the hungry roots beneath’. It’s an entirely different poem, but it puts me in mind of Paul Farley’s poem about Treacle. I love the musicality of the poem, particularly in the first stanza, and I raise a pint of Kingfisher (NB I mean cup of tea—it’s now 7.30am) to the internal rhymes of ‘furnaces’ and ‘curry houses’. We’ll also give ‘curve and ‘trove’ and ‘pucker’ and ‘nutter’, a respectful nod too.

I bought this book from Andy via Facebook a year or so ago, so my apologies it’s taken me this long, but I was hooked in by him saying it was pretty much his last copy. Take note: I’m an absolute sucker for that so, so make sure you use the scarcity bias (and where else do you get Marmite, Larkin, and behavioural economics, hey?). I knew him as a fellow Red Squirrel poet, via his role as editor at Poetry Scotland and his work on Twitter for his Owtituaries, so it was wonderful to get my hands on his poetry. I have yet to get hold of his Blue Diode collection, The Saints Are Coming In, but I will ASAP.

Now, what to have for breakfast…

A Song that is in some vague way linked to something

Ian McCulloch, In Bloom. Let’s have this as it was Mac’s birthday this weekend, I’ve mentioned Bloom and this slice of post-Bunnymen goodness will do the trick


7K running. A slow week due to work and the like, but my knee is improving now I’ve started trying to stretch my hamstrings.
0 day without cigarettes…
0 days since drinking. **Pours another gin**

1 deep clean of our house
1 walk in the woods near Shoreham
1 colleague leaving to join the BBC
1 cup of oolong tea…in a can
1 street party (not my own)

0 loose ideas/articles gathered (this allows me to kid myself I am writing all the time)
0 poems finished:
0 poems worked on: TBC
1 poem committed to the reject pile. The initial joy of last week’s draft has worn off. It wasn’t very good
0 submissions:
0 withdrawal:
0 acceptances:
0 Longlisting:
0 readings:
0 rejections:
11 poems are currently out for submission. No simultaneous subs
83 Published poems

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

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

* To date, not this week. Christ!!


Music r= Radio, A = Audiobook, P=Podcast. The rest is music

Miles Davis: Sketches of SpainNabiha Iqbal: Weighing of the Heart
The National: the First Two Pages of Frankenstein
Sunfruits: One Degree
Edgar Jones: Reflections of a soul dimension
the Archers(p)
Planet Poetry: Clare Best (p)
The Boo Radleys: Giant Steps
Craig Finn, That’s How I Remember It: John Darnielle, Karly Hartzman(p)
The Archers (p)
Mary Lattimore: Collected Pieces
The Archers (p)
Arji’s Pickle Jr: Liz Berry (p)
Royal Literary Fund Podcast: Rebecca Goss Pt 1
Royal Literary Fund Podcast: Rebecca Goss Pt 2
Craig Finn, That’s How I Remember It: Hanif Abdurraqib (p)
Wednesday: Rat Saw God
The Kingsbury Manx: Ascender Ouvert!, Aztec Discipline, Bronze Age
The Essex Green; ST
The Afghan Whigs: How Do You Burn, In Spades, Do To The Beast
Smashing Pumpkins: Atum
The Afghan Whigs: Congregation
Dropsonde Playlist
The Archers (p)
Music Is The Drug; Cowboy Junkies E1 (p)
Cowboy Junkies: Pale Sun Crescent Moon
Cowboy Junkies: 200 More Miles
Lucy Worseley: Women Who Kill (P)
John Coltrane: Settin’ The Pace

Andrew Waterman: Collected Poems
Andrew Jackson: The Assassination Room
Maggie Smith: Goldenrod
Finished Creatures 7

Ted Lasso
Fear The Walking Dead

Emily Hasler: Local Interest
Jodie Hollander: Nocturne

Under The Radar: Food Issue



4 thoughts on “High and (Mar)mighty…aka A Toast To Marmite aka Boys For the Black Stuff

  1. Marmite disappeared from the shelves stateside about halfway through the pandemic, and has yet to return. The supermarket substituted Vegemite, as if that’s even remotely the same thing.

  2. Meant to add that the poem does indeed kick ass (arse, whatevs). I have a particular fondness for poems that celebrate hard-to-love foods. In the Netflix documentary Cooked, Michael Pollan described the appeal of things like Marmite or Icelandic rotted shark meat as “an erotics of disgust.”

    • An “erotics of disgust”, nice. I’ll never be able to eat Marmite again, but will have to watch that doc.

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