Monday, 21 December 2015

A Year In The Life

One of my favourite songs from the world of Musicals is Seasons of Love from Rent. Some of the lyrics are:

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

I mention this because I have just celebrated my birthday (guess which one if you like, but please be kind). Not a remarkable thing to do, we each have one a year and it wasn’t a BIG birthday, but this was a significant one for me simply because it is a year on from my worst ever birthday.

Last year, I was working on my birthday. I didn’t really want to, but as a freelance artist, you have to take the jobs when they come along, no matter if they aren’t your first choice. So it was last year, on my birthday I was working in a field in Northamptonshire next to a Garden Centre acting out the part of a certain scarlet and fur bedecked, rotund, bearded gentleman associated with this time of year.

I was in the middle of my first session with a crowd of children and parents when in the distance, the sound of a car alarm going off leached into my rendition of Jingle Bells. No one was worried because car alarms go off all the time for no reason. This time there was a reason and I was the victims.

I had left my bag in the car because (ironically) there was nowhere secure to leave it as I was working in a marquee. I won’t go through the entire day of emotions but the upshot was this:

  • The bag with my wallet and approx. £500 in cash for a holiday, from cash fees and book sales was gone.
  • Insurance refused to cover it
  • Items such as a coin purse that had belonged to my Dad and a necklace I’d bought for my wife for Christmas were taken
  • I was due to leave to work on a cruise ship as a guest speaker in two days time and the loss of credit/debit cards was a blow as these are needed to register when you board.

All this happened on my birthday, while playing Father Christmas with a full day of appointments ahead of me. The police would not attend as I had to report it in person. I don’t know how I got through the day but I was professional and fulfilled all my appointments that day. My wife was brilliant, dealing with the Card and insurance companies but at the end of the day with a taped up back window, I left the site at 6.30pm, pulled over at the first opportunity and just wept.

The attack felt so personal. The money taken had been so hard earned, and the callousness of the thieves, targeting cars parked up to have a Santa experience hit me hard. I cannot remember a time feeling so low and devastated. My rational side kicked in and told me I was safe and still have a home and I was still better off than the majority of the world, but despair and a sense of injustice overwhelmed me. As I said: Worst.  Birthday. Ever.

I posted on Facebook and got loads of empathetic messages which helped me somewhat. I remember posting, more from hubris than belief “Look out 2015, I’m having you”. I’m pleased to say that seems to have been the case. Poetry gigs, workshops and schools work has increased. I am quietly building a base for my poetic activities in MK. There has been success from writing in different genres (for the stage and a children’s collection launched). Growing engagement with public and civic events as Milton Keynes’ Poet Laureate has been evident and a fantastic season singing with the Heart & Music choir which always inspires, and gives me a creative family with whom I feel at home.

So this birthday for me was all about replacing the memory of the last one. My wife who loves me bought me a Cajon. As I practice, she may not love me for very long!, I read cards and personal messages from friends who mean so much to me and had nearly a hundred “Happy Birthdays” on Facebook. Overall a low key day spent cleaning and cooking as we prepared the house for friends coming to a “Strictly” Supper Party to watch the final of the series. 

Just one year on from the last but it may as well have been light years in terms of the tangible feelings of love and friendship from the despair of last year. So thanks to everyone for their good wishes. Positive actions no matter how small (such as a message on Facebook) have an effect. I’m grateful for everyone is part of my life. Have a great Christmas and a successful New Year. I’m saying it again with more belief than last year, “Look out 2016, I’m having you”!

Love, light and best wishes to all

Keep writin' and recitin'

Mark x

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Super Crazy Busy Week


As a freelance, every now and again, work and engagements seem to congregate in the same small corner of the calendar. This week is the culmination of so many months of diverse work and I share not to boast but to encourage those of you working freelance in the arts, that hard work does sometime pay off and offsets the rejections and failed bids for funding.


I am learning that finding partners is a key to finding successful projects and I am grateful to all of the partners and organisations that are helping me live the life I have always sought.


On Monday and Tuesday I have the privilege of performing at How The Light Gets In Festival at Hay on Wye. A solo show on Monday evening at 7pm and part of an all day Poetry event.



On Wednesday, I will be working at the Parks Trust helping to promote activities at the MK Rose (more later) and in the evening, I am delighted that one of my short theatre pieces “Walking on Bombshells” will receive its debut by the wonderful Carabosse Theatre Company at their Real Ale and Drama Shots night alongside six other new theatre pieces. There is a run from Wednesday to Saturday at the Buszy in Milton Keynes



On Thursday evening, I will be reading at the opening of an exhibition called Here I am at the chapel in Milton Keynes Hospital for Arts on Prescription. I have conducted workshops with a group from a retirement village around the theme of the five senses of memory and some of the poems will be part of the exhibition.



On Saturday evening, I will be singing with Heart and Music, the choir at a concert to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Newport Pagnell Methodist Chapel. I also do a short poetry set as part of the concert.



Finally, to round off a wonderfully varied week, I am reading a commissioned poem as part of the Motus Dance Company project Response. This is a site-specific dance project starting at the MK Gallery and finishing at the MK Rose in Campbell Park. As to whether I end up taking part in the Dance, you will just have to turn up and see!



Have a great week yourself and hopefully see you at an event.


Keep writin’ and recitin’


Mark x

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Fire: VE Day 70th anniversary poem

Written for VE Day’s 70th Anniversary Celebrations

This was the day the nation exhaled,
Loosened up, unstiffened its lip.
Shook free its hair and
Shook its hips as
Bands played from balconies
Turning squares into dance floors,
Bottles hidden for special occasions,
Are sprung from secret stores.

Joy unrestrained, black bordered with relief,
Class and other differences set aside,
The postponed shudders of grief
Lost in the communal pride
Of celebration. The endorphin rush of
Finding the hot spot crush at
The Palace, the Circus, or Trafalgar Square.
The day we’d dared

Hope for but never mentioned
Finally, tangibly, here.
So in true British style,
We raised and sank many beers,
Called our darkest fears, liars.
So tonight, we light fires
A symbol of returning light
On the day when the black and white

Of war gave way to the fresh colours of peace.
The Bells of St Paul’s sang treble to tug horn bass.
Strangers kissed anyone in uniform
Full in the face.
An end to that stage of conflict,
A start of recovery from all the hits.
That day when even our future Queen
Danced the conga in the Ritz.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

War poem / song

Soldiers True


Verse One

British summer, nineteen fourteen

War declared though not foreseen

From city centre and village greens

Came many soldiers true      



For King and Country we signed to serve

To strain each muscle, sinew and nerve

From faithful duty we will not swerve

For the red white and blue,

Yes we are soldiers true.


Verse Two

Sign up, sign up lads, by the bunch

Help us land that knockout punch

You’ll be back for Christmas lunch

Short-term soldiers true


Verse Three

For weeks we marched and fought and trained

In snow or sleet, sunshine or rain

Do as you’re told, don’t use your brain

To be soldiers true



For King and Country we signed to serve

To strain each muscle, sinew and nerve

From faithful duty we will not swerve

For the red white and blue,

Yes we are soldiers true.

Verse Four

Land in France under cover of dark

Trenches are grim and rather stark

This is far from the promised lark

Of being soldiers true.


Verse Five

Come on lads, one last offence

Over the top, let battle commence

Looking back, did it ever make sense

To be soldiers true?



For King and Country we signed to serve

To strain each muscle, sinew and nerve

From faithful duty we will not swerve

For the red white and blue,

Yes we are soldiers true.


Verse Six

One by one, to bullets we fell.

Amid the blood and gore and yells

On foreign fields we bid farewell

To being soldiers true


Final Refrain


For King and Country we signed to serve

To strain each muscle, sinew and nerve

From faithful duty….. we did not swerve

For the red white and blue,

Yes we died soldiers true.

We died soldiers true.



Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Latest poem: Wavebourne

To sail an ocean.
Take the old way,
the slow way
across the sphere.
Take in its scale,
unshrunk by flight,
sail for days and
not see another ship.
See the stars as
Columbus, Cook and Magellan
would have seen them,
distant candles
pinned in place by ancient orbits.
Feel the pull of the moon
in swell and tide,
translated through your feet.
Take a little salt in the lungs,
spray in the hair,
wonder in which key the waves sing.
Take breakfast at the table
nearest the sunrise
watching the wake of where you’ve been,
Think about how to start the next chapter
of your future history.


Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Latest poem: Lunatic Fringe

Lunatic Fringe
A mild night seduction,
walked the two miles home and 
made the mistake of looking up.
The three-quarter moon
winked it’s Betty Davis eye,
half misted in chiffon haze.
Something in that hypnotic opaque gaze,
not quite scorn, not quite madness
graffitied my spirit,

set me free.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Poem for Wenlock Poetry Festival

I have spent a lovely weekend performing and hosting events at the Wenlock Poetry Festival. Today's poem is a thank you to all the organisers, volunteers and everyone who contributed to the Festival

Wonderful Wenlock

Wenlock, thanks for another year
Of poetry lifted from the page.
For Readers, Buskers and Slammers
That have taken to the stage.
From Open Mic to Headline act
Audiences have made their choices
No other place in just three days has
Such a multiplicity of voices
Thanks to the stewards and volunteers
That have helped out in all weathers.
Thanks to producers and over seers
That put the programme together.
From an egg in the nest five years ago,
Now on the wing, fully fledged.
Yes, when it comes to Festivals
Wenlock has the edge.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Poem 24 /30 Table for Three

Table for Three

That bright, fresh April morning

where sunlight jimmies its way in

through the smallest fissure in the curtains,

making your alarm clock redundant.


Sunlight that won’t be ignored.  

Wakefulness floods in

no matter how deep your sleep,

it is now evicted from your body.


Drawn to the window to inspect the day,

my eye is drawn to movement on

garden table and chairs.

A blue tit, breath of feather and


coloured blaze, hops and twitches:

armrest, table, chairback, table,

different chair, table and so on.

a full inspection then in a blink, gone.


The absence saddens. Until…..

three of them alight, food in their tiny beaks.

Use the table for breakfast, though wild birds

they can still be civilised.


I like to think, Dad came in first,

scoped it out, ensured its quality.

Having satisfied his criteria,

made a reservation.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Poem for Today called 131

A  sombre poem today for a sombre story



Coffins should be sad enough

even for those you don’t know.

John Donne still making sense

After all these centuries.


The news is the backing track

as I read. I’m tuning it out,

the occasional glance thrown its way

due to the screen’s hypnotic pull.


I snap to the story at the image

two dozen or more coffins

laid out in not quite accurate

columns and rows.


Dead refugees in a strange lands,

caught mid leap between

fear and desperate hope

by the hostility of the sea.  


The story moves on.

Soldiers bear them in teams of six

arms round shoulders for stability

gently shepherd their burden in church.


On the end wooden panel near their feet

hand written in marker pen is

the simplest, practical yet rending epitaph:

“Body Number 131”.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

St George's Day poem


A Celebration of Englishness for St George’s Day, inspired by the results of a survey asking what things we thought of as “typically” English. Can you guess which came top?
Discussing the Weather
A Sunday Roast
Going to the pub
Marmite on Toast
Being down-to-earth
Stiff upper lips
Extreme politeness
Fish and Chips
A nice cup of tea
Queueing up
Going to the pub
The FA Cup
The Queen’s speech at Christmas
Mowing the lawn
Telling your kids
“You don’t know you’re born”
Going to the pub
Having a Sing-Song
Saying sorry when
You’ve done nothing wrong
William Shakespeare
Stories of the Blitz
A full English Breakfast
Cream Tea at the Ritz
Going to the pub
Missing the last bus
Going to the pub
Not making a fuss
Going to the pub
Dunkirk Spirit
Going to the pub
Just A Minute
Going to the pub
Going to the pub
Going to the pub
Going to the pub
George and the Dragon
Working Men’s Clubs
Roses in bloom and
Going to the pub
Proud, yet always moaning
Ah! There’s the rub
Cry God for Harry, England and St George….
I’m off down the pub!

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Poem 21 / 30 MK Rose poem



The MK Rose in Campbell Park is a public artwork in Milton Keynes designed by leading artist Gordon Young. It is a circular piazza inspired by the mathematics of a rose window. Marble columns of varying heights rise up from the surface. In the centre is a sculpted marble rosebud.  At the opening event, I noticed quite a few people and touch or pat the top of it and the marble pillars. I mentioned this to Gordon and he said there was a discussion to be had about the psychology of statures and sculptures that were designed to be touched. We haven’t had that conversation as yet but the thought inspired the poem about that centrepiece of the MK Rose and the pillars.
Non Verbal Communication
“Touch has a memory.” John Keats
Touch it for luck
Touch it for love
Touch it to be close to
The one you’re thinking of
Touch it for sorrow
Touch it for joy
Touch it for a girl
Touch it for a boy
Touch it for comfort
To lessen the pain
Touch it in sunshine
Touch it in rain
Touch it for rights
Touch it for wrongs
Touch it in silence
Touch it in song
Touch it for justice
Touch it for peace
Touch it for courage in battle
Or for your war to cease
Touch it for family
Touch it for friends
Touch it for beginnings
Touch it for ends
Touch it in solidarity
Touch it for strength
Touch it close up
Or at arm’s length
Touch it for loss
Touch is for found
Touch it to be silly
Or to think the profound
Touch it for leaving
Or when you return
Touch it to teach and
Touch it to learn
Touch it just briefly
Or embrace it too much
Feel it to rediscover
The power of touch
Touch it in hope or
To bless your new start
Whatever your reason
I hope it touches your heart