Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Sermon 11 August 2019 at Christ Church New Malden

Click here to a sermon I gave at Christ Church New Malden on the 11 August. The sermon series is called, "A Christian who has changed my life." I chose to talk about Alan Caldwell, my father-in-law. Katy's dad.

Here's the reading used in the service.

Ephesians 3:14-21 

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

When you click here scroll down to the 6.30 service.
You'll find it under the date 11 August.

It's about 20 minutes long.

Click here to stream it or download it. 

Here's a transcript of the sermon in case you want to read along.

I hope you are enjoying these hymns we’ve been singing this evening. Some of the songs were sung at Alan Caldwell’s funeral. 

The Reverend Alan Caldwell, he was my wife’s dad, my father in law until he died in March – just 5 months ago. 

The first time I met Alan was in November 1982. Katy and me had been friends for a year or so. One weekend she invited me home to meet her family. They lived in a small village about 10 miles from Ipswich in deepest darkest Suffolk.
I remember the bus we took from the station. It was evening. Very quickly we travelled out of the street lights of Ipswich and plunged into countryside darkness. I peered out of the windows. I couldn’t make out anything at all. A few blurred lights maybe. The bus raced along until suddenly about 20 minutes into the journey Katy suddenly stood up and rung the bell. The bus drew rapidly to a stop.
When I got out I thought we were in the middle of nowhere. I thought I’d landed in a gothic horror story. And then I noticed a dimly lit porch light a little way off. Suddenly we were in the kitchen. They were all there. The Caldwell family with Alan popping in and out with Bibles and bits of paper under his arm.
What I most remember from that first meeting with Alan was the warm and totally accepting welcome I felt from all of them. Phew! This wasn’t a gothic horror story after all. This was Little Women or Pride and Prejudice.

When I look back at that bus journey on that evening to Katy’s family, I think that it was like my life up until that moment. There was nothing but darkness all around me. And then I came into that kitchen. A Christian home filled with light and warmth. I felt accepted and loved right from the start. 

One way Alan showed his love and acceptance of me was the way he treated my Jewishness. Being Jewish didn’t really mean much to me back then. I’d had a Bar Mitzvah and I knew the basics. But as I grew up – if I was honest - my Jewishness was a bit of a problem. Firstly we were quite a lonely family. My parents felt a strong sense of being Jewish but never went to the synagogue. And they never mixed with non-Jewish people. Secondly being Jewish in a north west London secondary modern school in the 1970’s wasn’t easy. I was an outsider. Word got around about the boy that didn’t go to morning assembly. The anti-Semitic insults soon followed. 

A few years before  I met Alan I did meet and made some Jewish friends. They’ve been an amazing support to me over the years even though I became a Christian. We are still all very close.

But despite those friends, Alan reminded me that the Jews were God’s chosen people. He said being Jewish was special. He told me that Jesus was a Jew. He began telling me about how the stories in the Old Testament were linked to the stories about Jesus in the Gospels. At first I didn’t pay much attention. But I remember he invited me to visit a bible exhibition showing what life was like in Palestine when Jesus was alive. 
Alan was the first person to show me how important it is to be Jewish. He helped me to value something about myself that I thought totally unimportant.
I think my ministry here at Christ Church has been informed partly by my Jewishness. And I feel comfortable and confident in my Jewish heritage. It was Alan and those Jewish friends who made that possible.

Another really important influence Alan has had on me was how he helped me to love the Bible. 
He was passionate about the Bible. He told me how central the Bible is to being in a relationship with God. Before I became a Christian I had loads of discussions with him about the Bible. He always made a point emphasising how the translators of the NIV went back to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. He told me how careful they were in translating the psalms and other Hebrew poems and songs. 
Over the years he’d shown me the importance of reading the Bible daily, of meeting people regularly to read and get to know the Bible better. He introduced me to the Amplified Bible and the Chain Reference Bible.

7 years after I first met Alan I began teaching. It was now 1987. I’d become a Christian 2 years earlier in 1985. Alan had baptised me. I attended his Confirmation classes. He prepared me for my Confirmation. Amazingly he gave Katy away at our wedding and then somehow married us both. 

So I began a career in teaching. I loved teaching but it was so intense. I remember I found that first long summer holiday difficult to cope with. So when the long summer holiday came work suddenly stopped. I didn’t know what to do with the silence and all that spare time.

Then in the second summer holiday I suddenly remembered the Bible. Every morning after Katy left for work I’d start reading and exploring it. At first I brought my knowledge and experience of studying English. And gradually over the years, I bought a concordance,  a chain reference bible, an Amplified Bible, a Bible dictionary and a Dictionary of Theology. And for about 2 or 3 hours each day I explored the holy scriptures. It was an incredible time. I felt the Holy Spirit was with me, guiding my reading. It was very exciting. In the summer holidays before we had our children I really felt I was getting to know the Bible. I found that the routine and discipline helped me structure the long summer days. From then on they became a pleasure and a delight. Alan had helped me discover that.

And it’s good to be reminded of that time again now with Iona and Arran grown up and left home. Especially now that I’ve just retired. 

It’s about time I really got stuck into the bible like I did in those summers.

So Alan really helped me read and love the bible. If we ever found ourselves talking about it we almost always disagreed. But he trusted in the Holy Spirit working in my life. Perhaps he had an idea that at some point in the future I might stand in front of a congregation like I am today.

I think he started preparing me for leading a home group or preaching really early on when I’d only been a Christian for a couple of years.

One summer soon after Katy and me got married Alan suggested a sailing holiday. Alan was a very experienced sailor. He’d got certificates and everything. So he was our captain. But we were a pretty motley crew. There was Katy and her sister Helen and me and my mother. A family holiday. I don’t think the crew had any serious sailing experience. Two of us couldn’t even swim. Alan took charge. We obeyed our orders and did our jobs. 
He also gave me a special job to do. I was to choose a Bible reading every evening and make then share a few reflections on it.

That holiday was important. Alan was bringing two very different families together. He was building bridges and establishing bonds. Even today Helen and my mum have a special friendship that goes back to that holiday. They still laugh over watching the Port Watch – Katy and me - starting work, while they – the Starboard Watch sitting back and getting out their knitting. 
We were pretty hopeless though. We got stranded on sand banks. We made loads of blunders. But it didn’t matter at all. Alan had brought us together. We were a community, a family. We were building memories. We were getting to know each other and sharing difficulties. He showed me – all of us - the importance of a community working together in unity with a common purpose. Like a church.

So these are three stories about Alan Caldwell that show some of the ways he influenced and shaped my Christian life. There’s loads more stories I could share about him. Like the fact that Katy and me settled here in New Malden. We’re here  because when Katy was moving to London in 1984 for work, she received one reply from her advert. It came from New Malden. But we stayed here because Alan was a curate here at Christ Church and became Curate in Charge at St John’s between 1969 and 1973 when Katy was a girl. It’s there Alan met Trevor and Sue Webster and introduced them to the church. You can read all about Alan’s time here in the Exhibition Stephen is putting up in the church halls.

So finally I just want to say a couple of things about Alan’s funeral and Bible reading we had.

Alan had a huge influence on my life. I hope I’ve shown that. But of course I’m aware that he also had a massive impact on thousands of people’s lives over the course of his life, and especially in his church ministry. 

When Alan’s daughters were planning the funeral at St Mary’s church in Menai Bridge Anglesey they really didn’t know how many people were going to turn up.
Menai Bridge is quite an isolated community. There it is on the north west tip of Wales.  Well the response was enormous. The church was packed. Extra chairs were brought in and people were standing at the back and in the aisles. 

At the reception afterwards they had to bring in more tables, chairs and provide a lot more tea things for people.

Past pupils came to the funeral. They were people Alan had taught 60 years ago. There were people from the two creative writing groups he had joined when he’d retired. There were people from the local Samaritans. Alan had been an active Samaritan in Menai Bridge right up to the time he was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer last December. There were neighbours, old family friends and parishioners from the parishes he had ministered to over decades – including many of the churches on Anglesey. As well as the parish church he’d worshipped at in Menai Bridge.

It was extraordinary to be a part of that funeral service and to meet so many of the people his life had touched, changed and transformed.

The reading chosen at Alan’s funeral came from Ephesians, chapter 3. 
Iona – my daughter – Alan’s grand daughter read it at the funeral.

Alan’s daughters chose Ephesians because this was Alan’s favourite book of the Bible. When Alan was training to be a minister at Oakhill College in 1965, alongside Stephen’s dad, Gordon Kuhrt and John Short,  Alan joined an early morning Bible study. They studied Ephesians. Alan got to know the letter really well.

And this is just an incredible passage to read. It’s a prayer in which Paul hopes that God will bless his readers by bestowing on them the ability – that is the discipline and will power - to enable faith in Jesus to live and flourish in his readers lives. And to know the vastness of God’s love for each of them.
As Alan studied this passage he must have felt Paul writing to him directly. And as Alan read this passage year in year out throughout his ministry he must have prayed it for us - his family including me and all the people and parishioners he knew and ministered to over many years.

It’s a prayer he would pray for all of us.

When I think about Alan now just 5 months after his death, I think I’ve been blessed by having 3 father’s in my life. There’s my biological dad – Martin - who brought me up. There’s also Michael Denman – he’s the consultant immunologist who treated me, saved my life back in 1976 and lead me back into education. And then finally Alan Caldwell. I never was able to call Alan dad or father but I owe much of my Christian life to him. He baptised me. He brought me to confirmation. He even gave Katy away at our wedding and then married us. 

Alan had a huge impact on my life.
I thank God for him. 

I miss him. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Poetry Reading 7 June The cornerHouse Surbiton

So yet again I'm one of several poets reading in the evening. 

There's always a warm and welcoming atmosphere on these poetry evenings.

So come and join us.


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poetry reading, Friday 26 April

I'm one of several poets reading in the evening. There's always a supportive and sympathetic audience. 

Come and join us on 26 April.

Monday, December 17, 2018

In print

Oh my goodness I'm in print! Along with other poets! An anthology! And for sale on Amazon! Terrifying! I'm sorry! And I'm on the cover!

Here's a link

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Poetry Reading - The Troubadour 265 Old Brompton Road, Earls Court. 10 December 8.00

I'm going to be one of about 50 poets invited to read at The Troubadour in Earls Court, London on the 10 December. The reading starts at 8.00. The theme is 'snow'. Entry is £7.00 I think. It'll be a great evening of poetry. Come along and join the party.

Click here for details

Monday, November 12, 2018

Poetry reading Friday 12 November The cornerHouse 116 Douglas Road Surbiton 8.00

I'm one of several poets reading at the cornerHouse Arts Centre in Surbiton

116 Douglas Road, Surbiton, KT6 7SB

on Friday 16 November
The bar is open from 7.00
The reading begins at 8.00
Tickets are £4.00
The themes for the evening are horses, holiday and blue

If you've got poems on any of these themes, then come, sign up and read.

Click here for a link to the event

It will be an informal, friendly and poetry filled evening.

Come and join us

Friday, November 09, 2018

Poetry Reading - The Voyage Out. The Troubadour. 263 - 267 Old Brompton Road. Earls Court. SW9 5JA

Hello there. So I'm one of 21 poets invited to read a commissioned poem in the first half of the poetry evening; The Voyage Out. In the second half of the evening, Anne-Marie Fyfe will be reading from her collection The Voyage Out. It starts at 8.00. £7.00 entry.

In The Voyage Out Anne-Marie "presents her sequence on writers and the sea, with selections from favourite novelists, travel-writers & poets, from the constant, recurring presence of the sea in her first five collections of poetry, & from her new writing project combining poetry & prose memories, of growing up, of life by the sea in Cushendall, and of other coastal locations she’s experienced on her travels."

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Responsibility to Awe

I came across this video some time ago. I might have shared it then.

The beginning of a summer holiday seems a good time to share it now.


Friday, June 22, 2018

Listen by David Loffman at The Troubadour June 2018

Here's a photograph of us all upstairs at The Troubadour restaurant before we descend into the dark humid cellar for a dazzling night of poetry.


Here's a photograph of me during the actual performance.

Below is a video of the poem I read. 

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Poetry Reading at The Troubadour Monday 25 June

I've been invited to read a poem at the end of season Troubadour summer party. It's going to be hot. It's going to be full of wine and poetry and music and prizes as well as a warm and inviting atmosphere. 

This year's theme is sound and silence.

Come and join us.

Beyond the Border

It's been almost a week since we returned from the Beyond the Border festival in South Wales. And I've still not quite recovered.

It was a fantastic weekend.

We've been coming to the festival since Iona and Arran were 4 years old. They're now 23. Iona bought her boyfriend and some friends to help her celebrate her birthday. I think we celebrated it in style.

Below is a video giving a flavour of the festival. 

Two performances that will really stick with me were Hugh Lupton and Daniel Morden's Odyssey on Saturday evening. On Sunday was Beyond the Border's 25th birthday celebration. There was music, poetry and story. 
David Ambrose performed Dylan Thomas's, Poem in October to end the evening. Absolutely spellbinding.

I feel so much of my life is lived in straight lines. There isn't a straight line at Beyond the Border. It's good to remember that there are other ways to live.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Rain on the sun

This looks incredible. Thought you might like it. 

Click here to the Astronomy Picture of the Day post.


Video Credit: Solar Dynamics Observatory, SVS, GSFC, NASA; Music: Thunderbolt by Lars Leonhard

Explanation: Does it rain on the Sun? Yes, although what falls is not water but extremely hot plasma. An example occurred in mid-July 2012 after an eruption on the Sun that produced both a Coronal Mass Ejection and a moderate solar flare. What was more unusual, however, was what happened next. Plasma in the nearby solar corona was imaged cooling and falling back, a phenomenon known as coronal rain. Because they are electrically charged, electrons, protons, and ions in the rain were gracefully channeled along existing magnetic loops near the Sun's surface, making the scene appear as a surreal three-dimensional sourceless waterfall. The resulting surprisingly-serene spectacle is shown in ultraviolet light and highlights matter glowing at a temperature of about 50,000 Kelvin. Each second in the featured time lapse video takes about 6 minutes in real time, so that the entire coronal rain sequence lasted about 10 hours. Recent observations have confirmed that that coronal rain can also occur in smaller loops for as long as 30 hours.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Poetry Reading, The Lighthouse, Deal, Kent on Thursday 26 April

Here's a couple of photographs taken at the Soundlines Poetry evening on 26 April. The first one's of the readers taken at The Lighthouse in Deal. It's actually the last regular Soundlines poetry event at the pub and I was honoured to be one of  two special feature poets of the evening.Thank you to Gary and Jeff for inviting me to read. Thanks also to Soundlines and the audience for the warm, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere on the evening. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Poetry Reading at The Lighthouse, Deal Kent

I've been offered a short poetry reading slot at The Lighthouse pub in Deal, Kent

It's going to happen on Thursday 26 April

It starts at 8.00

50 The Strand, Walmer, Deal, Kent, UK

Entry is free!

Sunday, March 25, 2018


in the grey
shallows, they wander
a path of light

Photograph by Hugh Griffiths 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Poetry Workshop cornerHouse Community Arts Centre Surbiton

Everyone is welcome
beginners or experienced writers

Saturday 5 May 2018

10.30 am - 12.30 pm

The cornerHouse Community and Arts Centre

116 Douglas Road

Led by:
David Loffman

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Poetry Reading, The Troubadour, 5 March, 8.00pm

I'm one of about 50 poets invited to read at the mirror, mirror themed party evening as part of the coffee house poetry programme at The Troubadour.

Address: 263-265 Old Brompton Road, SW5

On: Monday 5 March

Starts: 8.00

Admission: £7.00 on the door

Come along and enjoy an evening of poetry, music and prizes!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Poetry Reading The cornerHOUSE Arts and Community Centre Surbiton

Poetry Reading
on the themes Spring, Solitude and Science

Friday 16 March 2018

8.00 pm

The cornerHOUSE Community and Arts Centre

116 Douglas Road


Wine & Cheese

Poetry Workshop The CornerHOUSE Community and Arts Centre Surbiton

Free Poetry Workshop

Saturday 17 February 2018

10.30 am - 12.30 pm

The cornerHouse Community and Arts Centre

116 Douglas Road

Led by:
David Loffman

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Poetry Reading

I'm reading a poem at The Troubadour this Monday 11 December. I'll be there from 6.00 to drink myself into the reading. The evening starts at 8.00. Come and join us.

The Troubadour

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Slow movement

I've been searching for this recording of  the slow movement of Rodrigo's Concierto De Aranjuez. Now suddenly I found it again - probably 40 years after I first heard it. I think it is an extraordinary recording. I first heard it in the late 1970's but somehow I managed to lose track of my vinyl record. I'd moved home several times and then the CD thing happened. 

A few months ago I tried again to search it on YouTube and incredibly I found it. I thought I'd posted it to this blog but I can't find it. So here it is.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Friday, September 15, 2017

Poetry reading tonight

I'm one of several poets reading at the Corner House Arts Centre in Surbiton this evening. It should be fun!

Click here for a link to their website.

Monday, August 07, 2017

If It Be Your Will - Leonard Cohen and The Webb Sisters

I'm writing a poem at the moment and have been drawn to this song / prayer / poem.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Saturn's Arctic

Below is the image I used for the poem Two Springs.

Although the photograph - taken  from the Cassini space probe in 2006 - uses false colour to highlight the complex weather systems at Saturn's arctic, I've written the poem based on this photograph rather than what you can actually observe on the planet.

Image credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA

Here is an edited reading of the poem I read at The Troubadour on the 26 June 2017

I hope you enjoy the poem

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Troubadour Coffee-House Poetry End of Season Party

It was a great end of season poetry party at The Troubadour last Monday night.

It was a great evening full of lively and interesting poetry from a whole range of poets. 

I loved every minute of it.

I'm incredibly grateful to Anne-Marie Fyfe who runs Coffee-House Poetry evenings at The Troubadour. She continues to be a support to me and hundreds of poets out there.

Greg Freeman was there with his own poem, a camera and note book. Here's a link to Write Out Loud where you can find the review of the evening. He even mentions me and quotes a line from the poem I read.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Poetry at The Troubadour 26 June at 7.30

On Monday 26 June there's a poetry party at The Troubadour in London.

It's going to be hot. It's going to be crowded. There's going to be music. There's going to be wine! There's going to be poetry.

Come and join us!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Richmond Park - A film

I found a 20 minute video made by the Friends of Richmond Park, produced by Media Trust and narrated by David Attenborough . I thought I might share it with you. 

The park has been an important place for me over many years. An inspiration! 

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Good Friday music

There are 2 pieces of music I play on Good Friday.

The first is Allegri's Miserere performed by the Tallis Scholars. Here is a magnificent recording of it.

The second piece of music is John Taverner's Prayer of the Heart. Here is a recording of it from youtube

They are two incredible pieces of music.

I hope you find them helpful. 

Pink Floyd and Echoes

A good friend and I have a project to play every studio Album released by Pink Floyd. About once a week we get together and play the next record. On Thursday we played Meddle, released in 1971. So far we've played, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, A Saucerful of Secrets, More, Ummagumma, Atom Heart Mother, - we played Zabrinskie Point because I mislaid my copy of Meddle, and then last Thursday Meddle.

So far it's been a pretty dull affair. And I'd call myself a good fan of Pink Floyd.

I could probably name the number of good songs on two hands in these records. Oh okay then I will. They are Astronomy Domine, Interstella Overdrive and Bike. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, A Saucerful of Secrets and Jugland Blues, - the live set on Ummagumma - which includes Careful with that Axe Eugine, Granchester Meadows, Alan's Psychedelic Breakfast might have been included if it wasn't for the kitchen. Fearless - the football fan sound effects are fairly marginal and finally Echoes.

With Echoes there is a transformation in the sound. Suddenly everything is working together. The sound effects of whale song and crows cawing work incredibly well with Richard Wright's atmospheric keyboards and Dave Gilmore's stark guitar. The different movements of the piece and the shift from one movement to the next works very well for me. 

I've not heard the studio recording of Echoes for a very long time - decades in fact. But I have watched a live performance on youtube over the last few years. I think it is an amazing recording.

Anyway hearing the studio recording again I remembered why I'd become such a fan. Echoes stands the test of time. It had taken Floyd a long time to mature as a group. If I'd been following them since their UFO club days in 1967, I think I would have long given up on them. Honestly, its been a real trudge after the promise of Syd Barrett's songs- and even here there are some very low points, through hopeless film sound tracks, and then the Walter's early years. Then suddenly they emerge into the light for - if I was generous the next 4 and a half albums. But in truth only 2 and a half of the next 5 records.

Musically they were such a limited group. On Echoes I can still hear a Saucerful of Secrets and I can hear fragments of The Wall, recorded 13 years later. Echoes indeed! I wonder what it was that struck me about them? There really wasn't much to appeal to me.

The first time I heard Pink Floyd was sometime between 1974 and the summer of 1975. A friend led me into a record shop. Discoveries in Harrow. Outside were boxes filled with second hand records. There were rows of them. The front of the shop was a green grocer's. But at the back in a second room behind the Green grocers was the record shop. I still remember walking up to the counter. My friend must have said something to the guy behind the counter. Then silence. I waited till I could hear the first clicks of a clock, a synthesizer gathering definition, an overdubbed voice. I loved it. In those first 10 seconds of The Dark Side of the Moon my world had changed forever.   

The experience of the UFO club in London must have been very intense. Their fans must have been incredibly loyal, having to wait a tortuous 4 years before anything truly remarkable emerged.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Jason Bourne - a short review

Jason Bourne is a disappointing post script to the Bourne Trilogy - we won't even mention the Bourne Legacy - because this film - Jason Bourne - is far superior in so many ways. However it still fails to meet the quality of the original trilogy.

There was nothing new. Repetition of ideas began to creep in to the trilogy - but only once or twice. Watching Jason Bourne was revisiting the shadows or ghosts of the original scripts and episodes. There was nothing to raise the film above the other three. Car chases, one to one fight scenes, unrelenting action that rises with tension, falls and rises again to an even more extreme pitch were all done far better in the original. 

Jason Bourne is too crowded. There are epic crowd scenes especially in Athens. How did they do that? But in the end it contributed nothing positive.It left me feeling confused and dazed without the satisfaction of serious plot developments.

Jason Bourne is too fast. There's not enough time to develop character. Perhaps I'm just out of date. But showing is better than telling especially in film. And I need more than one establishing shot. I think, plot and character need to be established again and again from a variety of different perspectives. 
Because the action is so fast - we move all over the place - I began to loose faith in the physicality of the action. 

Plot. There were aspects of the plot that almost worked. I can believe that Nicky Parsons has grown a conscience and is now challenging the work of the security forces. I thought the narrative concerning social media and Wikileaks was also good ground to establish a plot line. But again these need to be simple and need time to develop carefully. 
Perhaps the trilogy allowed character and plot to develop over a three film arc. Now established Greengrass and Damon must have thought all they needed to develop was plot. But this was patchy and didn't really convince me of its fundamental value. 
OK! I can accept a revenge plot in which an asset exposed by Bourne wants him dead. But this is given a too lighter touch. David Webb's father Richard Webb didn't really take off at all. I want to write that it doesn't take much to establish these features - a few seconds here, a slow meditative shot there, but I'm aware I'm probably writing about a multi-million dollar enterprise in which those kinds of shots are just too expensive. 

So next time I come back to the Bourne films will I watch 3 or 4 films. Well maybe 4 next time. But thereafter probably only 3.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Jackself by Jacob Pooley - a short review - spoiler alert

When I came away from the T. S Eliot short list reading at the Royal Festival Hall in January this was the book I least expected to win. Alice Oswald seemed to me to me the front runner. So it took a little while for me to buy Jack Pooley's collection Jackself. Even once I'd bought it - in February, I reluctantly picked it up to read. And yes it took me a little while to get into this collection.

Perhaps I was put of by the cover - a dismembered paper cartoon puppet without a face. Or maybe the title. But whatever the reason. I struggled to begin with.

But it grew on me. Sometimes playful, sometimes dream like. At other times dark and disturbing. Jackself is a series of loosely linked poems about Jackself - Jacob Pooley's childhood in rural Cumbria.

There's a patchy narrative arc that begins with Jackself. Then poems about the friendship between Jackself and Jeremy Wren. They are adolescent, challenging, playful and disturbing in their behaviour, their conversations and their view of the world.

I enjoyed reading about rural and village life. It is descriptive and detailed. I enjoyed reading about  the boys friendship. It's both humorous and honest. The boys seem restless, adrift and without meaning. Except in their friendship. Sometimes. And yet I couldn't invest the poems with value. Perhaps that's down to Pooley writing from an adolescent perspective.  Maybe that is the nature of adolescence. 

But then Jeremy Wren dies. He commits suicide. I don't know why.  Pooley evokes a strong sense of loss and this is really powerful and moving? Is it? So I suppose I found the emotional distancing - not only with the death but throughout the collection - a struggle. I suppose I expected some kind of resolution, closure or healing. But there was none. That's not a weakness in the writing. It reveals my own immaturity as a reader and especially as a reader of contemporary poetry.

Oh well! Ho hum! I'll try and write a better review next time.   

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Let Them Eat Chaos performed by Kate Tempest

Here is Kate Tempest performing her poem Let Them Eat Chaos.

Wow! I woke up at 4.00 am yesterday morning and couldn't get back to sleep. About 20 minutes later I was sitting in our sitting room, wrapped in a blanket, a reading light on and Kate Tempest's book - Let Them Eat Chaos in my hands.

I finished reading the book about 2 and a half hours later. Wow!

So I was in good company. Tempest's eight voices - the narrator plus Emily, Jenn, Pete, Zoe,  Bradley, joined me in that dark and disturbing hour where the poem is set at 4.18. That hour when we wake shadowed by our fears and anxieties. Joined me in a south London suburb - although mine significantly west of Tempest's - I guess.

I enjoyed best the presentation of these 7 personas. She depicts their different lives, one wealthy bored and restless, another - Pete, drunk or wasted on drugs fumbling his way home after a long night. Another voice comes home after a night shift as a carer. They are believable. Their anxieties and situations are realistic - perhaps she draws on her own experiences.

What I found quite difficult were the global concerns she addresses such as: capitalism, gentrification, celebrity culture, political corruption and global warming - I borrowed this list from the Guardian review. It's difficult addressing any one of these issues properly in any genre, but in poetry and all of them together is quite a challenge. Earnest - yes, heart felt - probably. But it's difficult to listen to a rant or a sermon.

But it is Kate Tempest herself that really shines through the book and the performance. I've attached it above. She's young, she's from south east London, she's incredibly articulate and her poetry and personality radiates a hard, fierce love.

Here's a link to the Guardian review and one from Dave Coats  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Bone Tomahawk - A Short Review

Bone Tomahawk

I watched this film late one night when my wife was a way for the weekend, and I didn't know how to end the day.

This was an impressive film.

For the most part this is a conventional Western. Set in the mid-west in a little town called Bright Hope. It begins with an attack on the small town by a group of savage cave dwellers. They are presented to us as a mysterious species human.  There's the killing a young stable boy and the abduction of two or three townspeople including a deputy sheriff - Nick and the doctor's wife, Samantha, played by Lili Simmons.

When her injured husband Arthur - played by Patrick Wilson  finds out about her abduction he immediately starts out to get her back. So a small posse - made up of Sheriff Hunt - Kurt Russell, John Brooder played by Matthew Fox and  Chicory - Richard Jenkins, - sets out on a five day trek across scrub land and desert to bring her and the others back.

Despite the conventional plot - of white woman and innocents, abducted by strangers - it is the writing that really appealed to me. The dialogue and the attention to character and the development of the relationships between the posse that really made this film special. From Arthur's simple Christian faith and single minded determination to rescue his wife, Brooder the fearless, maverick gunslinger, the Sheriff - plain speaking, responsible and honourable, and finally Chicory - an old deputy - his dead pan humour, he's completely loyal and determined to do the right thing. 

There is a quiet, natural and unassuming quality to the writing that really impressed me.
Apparently the writer / director rejected all attempts by studios to accept the film on the basis of changing the script. All praise therefore goes to S. Craig Zahler for his uncompromising position. 

However visually the film contains probably the most shocking act of on screen violence I've ever seen. Thankfully it is only one short scene lasting 20 seconds. But it continues to be disturbing every time I think about it. This is where the second film genre takes over - briefly yet successfully for being so brief. Horror.

Finally what struck me was the ending. The survivors of this encounter with unspeakable horror are the most unlikely characters.

This is a film that should have gained - given its great character actors and first class acting - a much wider audience. Kurt Russell is incredible I think.

Anyway if you don't believe me read this review of the film in the Daily Telegraph

I still couldn't end the day after watching this and stayed up a further 2 hours. I might post to this blog the results of that experience if I have time.