August Bank Holiday, Essex, 1914

I’ve been commissioned as part of the Last Poppy Project to write five poems about life in Essex during the First World War. I’d normally be wary about writing about WWI, after all hasn’t there already been some pretty good firsthand war poetry. But I was interested in painting pictures of life at home during that time, and I thought I might have something to bring to the table.

It’s been fascinating reading a variety of tiny tales of the home front. Often we don’t have many details and so I’ve been able to flesh out and imagine the gaps. I’ll post all five as and when they are ready, below is the first, a series of snapshots of the start of the war. War was declared just after a bank holiday weekends when many people in Essex (and indeed the country) were on their holidays.

August Bank Holiday, Essex, 1914

To Essex then, one hundred years ago
to sun-scorched, dusty fields and parched stream beds.
Where windfall codlings pock the russet earth,
September’s fruits come early, and to waste.

At Boreham Reverend Yonge mops cobs of sweat
and begs his guv’nor for a dose of rain
as horticultural ladies trim their blooms,
they nip and bud and dream of red rosettes.

Down Thaxted way, the labourers are striking
it’s coming up for forty wage-less days.
They roam the country lanes in search of scabs,
as Pankhurst comes, the red flag on her car.

The trains are packed from third right through to first,
the coastal steamers coat the blue sky white
as Britain leaves her heartlands for her shore.
From Romford, Dagenham and Tilbury

near forty-thousand, swap the clock for sand.
The boarding houses with their lists of rules
and their fearsome landladies bulge, although
it’s quieter than last year. They know why.

There’s something colder building in the air:
in Chelmsford they can talk of nothing else,
the newsagents are desperate for vendors,
the tittle-tattle’s milled right through the night.

Until on Tuesday, everybody knows.
In Southend hundreds gather at the Standard
to read the words they posted in the window.
The tiny wives, umbrellaed by their men.

We’re twenty-one today, we’ll make the Kaiser pay
The regulars demob down Mersea Road
while Reverend Yonge in Boreham writes in black:
Bella horrida bella… smite, hell, ruin.

The Minimum Security Prison of the Mind

The Minimum Security Prison of the Mind

The food’s so good you think you’re free
the screws call in, swap jokes, drink tea
and you know where they keep the key
yes, you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.

Your inner eye roams rural streets,
it falls on copses, fields of wheat
you douse your dreams in sweet deceits:
yes, you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.

Just one more fag/pill/burger/shot
now smash the mirror, gild your lot
hang tinsel in your cell and cough
yes, you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.

To be confined is much maligned
it’s not as if the Guv’s unkind
those bars are blinds, those bars are blinds
those bare black bars are bijou blinds
and you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.

Better the devil that lurks inside
than dead-eyed fortune’s black-eyed bride
it’s caution more than fear, besides
you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind

and the fake-clean reek of piss and pine,
you whistle as you stand in line
you love her / love them / this is fine
and you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.

Take back the years this place has borrowed
step away from torpid sorrow:
Here we go. I’ll go tomorrow
I’ll go tomorrow. I’ll go tomorrow.
‘Cause you can walk out anytime
from the minimum security prison of the mind.
You can walk out anytime
You can walk out.

Friday Night (UK Garage Revival, feat./ Lora Stimson)

Last week I made my debut as a garage MC. Don’t panic, this was not a conscious career move. This was Homework. Homework is the club I run with Joe Dunthorne, Ross Sutherland, Tim Clare and John Osborne (our 6th resident Chris Hicks ran away to Japan). We do six events a year at The Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and each month we have to produce new work to a theme. The theme this month was music and I hit upon the idea of us all writing a song. To mix it up Ross suggested we draw genres from a hat. We got our cruel audience to suggest genres. One man suggested Garage, and I just knew …

To say I’m not a fan would be putting it mildly. However, I do know a bit about garage. It was at its most popular when I was 17 and starting to go to clubs. Making the song was a bit of trip down memory lane and I realised that when I first started writing poems I was basically just writing to a garage beat. So whether I like it or not garage is in my artistic DNA. Brap. Ahem.

I thoroughly enjoyed making this and performing it for the Homework faithful. It was scary and difficult and made me think about how I go about creating, which is exactly what we want Homework to do. That said, I might find a way of doing a poem next month.

“Props” to Lora Stimson who did the vocal on the chorus bits. Lora and I were in a indie band called Dorian Grey when we were at college, during this period that I’ve written about. If you’d told us then…

If you want to come to Homework then all the events are on my ‘gigs‘ page. Or more info can be found here.

Below is the video of me performing the piece at Homework, below that is a recording in which I get the words right.

An Immodest Proposal

An Immodest Proposal

It is a melancholy spectacle, to those, who walk the streets of British towns, and indeed through parts of the countryside, which should by rights be reserved for the middle and upper-middle classes, to observe the benefit scrounger: these hulking boss-eyed yobs and their obese, tattooed women folk, dragging dangerous canines or potty-mouthed children down streets and through public parks that are maintained with the taxes of decent, hard-working people.

There are some who like to point the finger at this excrement: puce-faced mechanics and Audi-driving junior executives cough Cornflakes on their Daily Mails when faced with a photograph of yet another chain-smoking illiterate enjoying some treat or other. One can hardly blame his fellow countryman for this reaction, but when I see some rat-faced degenerate effing and blinding at her scrawny offspring outside a municipal building I can feel nothing but pity for her and these poor urchins who will, no doubt, grow-up to become thieves or reality-TV contestants. To see a fellow human being living so low, and seemingly with no point or purpose to their short, unhappy life, fills me with a deep grief. After witnessing such maudlin existences it is no surprise to hear that these citizens (for want of a better word) resort to defrauding the state.

But, of course, the sorry business cannot just be ignored. If we cannot be divided how can we be effectively ruled? So, we come to rely upon responsible news outlets, who bravely scour the rougher parts of these islands for ever more shocking abuses of our generous welfare system, to feed us regular tales of this deceit. While the brief moments of dead-eyed outrage these news stories provide the average Briton should not be dismissed as useless, they are, after-all a much needed distraction from the smallness of our everyday lives, I have come to realise that there might be a way to end this problem altogether.

The solution came to me today while reading about a young women called Josie Cunningham. Miss Cunningham has caused rage and disquiet in homes across the land for having a £4,800 breast enhancement operation (a “boob job”) free of charge (to her!) on the National Health Service. This “boob job” has led to some “glamour modelling” work and regular employment as a £1000-a-night prostitute. It was upon reading that final fact my idea struck. This woman is now a top tax-bracket earner! She has gone from scrounging off the state to paying almost £100,000 a year in tax, the cost of her boob job many, many times over.

My proposal is modest (and yet also immodest): BOOB JOBS FOR ALL WOMEN ON BENEFITS, whether they seek them or not! With one piece of legislation we can lift thousands of women out of wretched state dependence and bolster Britain’s flourishing sex industry. I challenge Mr Cameron to draft a white paper immediately. And if Mr Miliband could perhaps stand limply by the white paper and then apologise later he will do himself and his party much credit. Mr Farage has already expressed strong support for my idea. I didn’t bother with Clegg.

* It must be said I make this proposal with no personal motives – none of my immediate family would qualify for this measure and my own use of pornography and prostitutes remains, and will remain, indiscriminate and unthinking.

The Toll

The Toll

Tracy lived on Larner Road
where fourteen storeys high
she gazed to where Thames industry
met marsh and endless sky
and dreamed a future of escape
all brooding, lost and shy.

The girl was never good at school
she lingered near the back
this short, determined, chubby thing
whose eyes were almost black
ignored she made her way though school
divided from the pack.

And mum would have her good days
all promises and treats
a trip to KFC for tea
a DVD and sweets
but Tracy learned each victory
brought with it a defeat:

A smashed cup on the kitchen floor
her dinner in the bin
the chicken thighs half-thawed and raw
with crispy, charcoal skin
the gerbil cage a reek of piss
where mum had just caved in.

She learned to use the microwave
and other tip-toe tasks
she learned to wash her uniform
and lie when adults asked
met questions with a question
she learned to wear a mask.

But most of all she watched the cars
at Dartford’s distant toll
and longed to make those trips herself,
to leave her life of dole,
those hopeless days when everything
was out of her control.

Escape into those two dark throats
to Essex, then beyond
or high upon the bridge’s back
and down into the ponds
and fields of England’s garden county,
break the constant bonds

of youth and passed down torpor
in a concrete ersatz town
the water-stains, graffitied trains
the shades of grey and brown.
The years accrued like empties,
her barriers came down.

And stayed that way through leaver’s day,
a hundred scrawled-on shirts
and giddy talk of sixth form
but for Tracy it was work,
to pay the toll and drive away
from where the sadness lurked.

Apply, then wait, apply, then wait
until one afternoon
the tardy post brought better news
she danced around her room
the Highways Agency wrote back:
Start 21st of June.

So Tracy went to work the toll
on that vast macadam waste
cocooned within her tiny booth
they paid her poker faced,
mechanical, methodical
and then away they raced.

It wasn’t like the girl imagined
these people, fast and free
but hot from queues with M road blues
these pissy escapees
would sometimes shout or swear at her,
she hardened steadily

as year on year the gales and sunshine
rained down on the booth
and dreary doleful adulthood
replaced expectant youth
her hopes became more muddled up
she learned a simple truth:

Escape as big and pure as sung
by a schoolgirl in her room
when gin’s engulfed her mum again
on a wretched afternoon
will get drowned out by bills and health
and life’s relentless tune.

She saved enough to rent a flat
and make a proper home.
She swapped the old girl’s chintzy tat
for modish monochrome
but as she brushed her teeth that night
it dawned: Mum’s on her own.

Of course, she’d known that’d be the case
but now she felt a guilt;
she realised as she looked round
the clean, fresh home she’d built
that mum had done this, once she’d flowered
before the wasted wilt.

Perhaps it was executives
arguing the toss,
or maybe all the sleazy banter
spewed out by her boss
but when her rage at mother faded
she didn’t feel its loss.

Before she’d just been terrified
that she might go that way
stack sadness on calamity
and just collapse one day
but now she knew that wasn’t her
she made a plan to stay.

And Tracy went to see her mum,
she helped her clean and cook
they shared out pieces of their day
in lieu of children’s books
and every hour they sat and talked
was once less drink she took.

But day on day drink did its work -
uneven, sure and slow
until one evening: Tracy, love
It’s just … Before you go …
the words got caught, her dark eyes filled
- it’s alright mum, I know.

It took another month or so
a sultry jaundiced dawn
so very like the morning
that her Tracy had been born,
she groaned then slipped away while her daughter
walked the hospice lawn.

Tracy washed her mother’s forehead
allowed herself some tears
then set about the deathly admin,
paid the rent arrears,
kept a piece or two of tat,
the rest to auctioneers.

And with it most of her stuff too
until one Saturday
her notice worked, the moment came.
It had been right to stay
by doing so she’d earned escape,
paid up, she drove away.

Babble On


I’m delighted to have programmed part of Edinburgh International Book Festival’s programme for 2014. On Saturday 16th August the festival will be focusing on spoken word and I’ve put together seven events (plus two Unbound gigs yet tba). The day is produced by the brilliant Becky Fincham.

Babble On features performances from Hollie McNish, Martin Newell, Kevin Eldon, Hannah Jane Walker & Chris Thrope, Mark Grist, Tim Clare, Ross Sutherland and many more.

Babble On will show off the diversity of voices and quality and writing present in Britain’s Spoken Word scene. Have a look at our line-up here.

Oh England Heal My Hackneyed Heart

Oh England Heal My Hackneyed Heart

Oh England heal my hackneyed heart
it’s shot with guilt and all those nights
I’ve shared it far too often, England;
bled it almost dry for eager eyes;
traded it for other hearts
that turned to gristle in my grasp.
Nothing stirs this heart these days
the party tricks have left it sick.
Oh England heal my hackneyed heart.

Oh England heal my hackneyed heart
show me clumps of homes on hills
a couple holding hands in Hayle
or chalk stone words of love in Dorset fields.
Give me roads the motor clings to
herons over tidal mud
or skinny kids on wild swims
make me hike to The Hurlers on a whim.
Oh England heal my hackneyed heart.

Oh England heal my hackneyed heart
wash it in the North Sea foam
wrap it up in honey dawn
make poultices from May Day dusk
and chicken soup from sleepy days
until it leaps and bangs its cage
until it thumps me with its thud
and gives me all the grief it should
Oh England heal my hackneyed heart.


I’m really pleased to be included in Rebecca Goss’ heart poems project in aid of Children’s Heart Week. You can read my brand new poem “Oh England Heal My Hackneyed Heart” here.

The Children’s Heart Federation (CHF) is a registered charity. There are lots of ways you can help this charity raise important funds by organising your own event or taking part in some of the CHF events. There’s The Big Heart Bike Ride, The Dragon Boat Challenge or the slightly less strenuous Bring a Bear Day – to work or school. There are fundraising opportunities for all ages, things that you can get involved in independently or as a group. Find out more about fundraising for the CHF here.

Boden and The Library

A few weeks ago (on Easter Saturday in fact) I “officially” opened the newly refurbished kids section of Bungay Library. I was just going to go along and cut the ribbon (alas there was no ribbon!) but my wife said that was a cop out and they’d be expecting a poem (they weren’t). My wife can be pretty scary (she’s like a God to me, an angry and vengeful God) when she wants to be, so I relented and wrote this. Now you can read it, if you want. It’s my first, perhaps not my last, poem for kids and you’ll be pleased to hear it’s a polemic (get em while they’re young).

Boden and The Library

Most would say that Boden was
a naughty child and that’s because
he never did his daily chores -
he’d throw his dinner on the floor
or fill the sugar bowl with salt
then laugh and say: It’s not my fault
and let his sister take the blame;
the boy was keen on violent games
and scribbled words I shan’t repeat
upon his little brother’s sheets;
he spat and scratched the neighbour’s car
(a sleek and sporty Jaguar)
stuck stickers on remembrance wreaths;
and never ever brushed his teeth;
he terrorised the village fogeys
smeared their corgis with his bogeys;
let his baby cousin play
in the kittens’ litter tray;
and once he even did a wee
in his teacher’s cup of tea.
Boorish Boden, not quite eight
and seemingly stuffed full of hate.
The oik! You cry, The little yob
that sticky-fingered potty-gob!
Why, lock him in a dingy cell
and throw the key into a well!

But hold on there, calm down kid,
you only know the half of it
you see, a child is not born bad
a lot depends on mum and dad.
And Boden’s weren’t like yours or mine
they called him Boden – warning sign
and seemed to think that parenting
meant buying your kids the latest thing.
So Boden and his siblings dressed
in nothing but the very best
and passed their weekends in the mall -
their parents spent but that was all.
They never played or joked with them
or tickled them or spoke with them
they never showed them how to cook
or taught them songs or read them books.
Mum did nothing when at home
but fiddle with her massive phone
and Dad dreamed dreams of cars and sat
while telly made his son a brat.
And it could well have stayed that way
if Boden, walking home one day,
hadn’t stopped quite suddenly
outside his local library.
A Library! thought the little lout,
I’ll pop in here and muck about
I’ve heard about these boring dumps
they’re grey and dull and smell like trumps
where squares and swots all come to learn
but something tells me books will burn!

So with a wild and heinous grin
Boden boldly marched right in.
And there he stood with gaping jaw
because behind that library door
was not a room of swots and farts
but vibrant books with brilliant art
he reached for one intent to rip
but on it was a pirate ship
and pirates, well, we’re all agreed
are great, so he sat down to read.
And Boden on that little chair
was whisked away right out of there
to escapades with peg-legged swine
he could almost smell the brine
and hear the sea and feel the sand
running through his tiny hands.
For the first time in his spoilt life
he wasn’t bored, and that was nice.
And so he came back every day
and stories whisked him far away
on dragon backs, enchanted trains
on broomsticks, magic cars and planes
to desert islands, ancient forts
to dragons, Gruffalos and storks
to knights and fights in crumbling towers
and there he sat for hours and hours.
Then Boden, once so mean and cruel,
began to make new friends at school
no longer did he bite and kick
or muck around and play cruel tricks
and though his useless mum and dad
didn’t change he wasn’t sad
because the boy had been set free
by his local library.

Weekday Dad

Howdy all. I’ve been shooting some new videos. Here’s another – Weekday Dad.


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  • Luke Wright "Always leave them wanting more, my uncle used to say to me. Which is why he lost his job in disaster relief." – Mark Watson.

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