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Thursday, 31 December 2009

New Year with Fred


...and a very happy 2010 to all OtherStuffers, sober or otherwise!


Monday, 21 December 2009

It sounds like one

Continuing our tradition of Other Stuff musical offerings at Christmas - here are some Bulgarian ladies with a song which isn't a Christmas carol but sounds as if it should be:

Keith's Reindeer

and a very Happy Christmas to all Other Stuffers near and far!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Young Son Looks On -- by File


[POV: forgotten omniscient]

[fade in] fragrant, folded boy stares out from linen basket
at man, intent on mirror, shaving, at an angle

[cut to] hidden, protected contemplation from inside wardrobe
of me, as I try to write a poem

[reveal] earnest, herb-flecked eyes from warmest kitchen corner
where I stir the Bolognese

[voiceover] The surveillance
of the ordinary by the oughtn’t be there really.

[man turns to squint through blinds]
[pan to flat horizon]


Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Abercuawg: translation of a Welsh poem of the 9th or 10th century -- by Captain Ned

on a hilltop     idle
there would be comfort
but I do not stir
from this desolation

there's no grazing
bitter winds
scour the summer
of all but brightness

I am stiff     I am old
I cannot get about
no retinue aids me
but let the cuckoo sing

Cuawg's cuckoo sings
on flowery branches
I hear its mocking
but I'll not ask for respite

Cuawg's cuckoo sings
on flowery branches
what pain would come
hearing it no more

once I heard the cuckoo sing
and I forsook my shield
left it sleeping by a tree
     the cuckoo's song
     the cuckoo's song
left it sleeping by a tree

a tall and rustling oak
the home of jostling birds
there I left my shield
     and the cuckoo
     wounds me still

the moon shines
my mind is raw
I do not sleep

I look to the hill-top
white against the dark
it is cold

I do not deny
I am sick tonight

the birds are raucous
old age should bring rest
leaves fall
     from the ash tree
in youth I was loved

broad wave in the estuary
the wave is broad and bright
ebbing wave in the estuary
the wave ebbs

on Edrywy Hill
the birds are raucous
while in waste-lands
the dogs bark

now it is May
when all the land is fair
this is the young men's time
this is the soldiers' time

but I am old
my wounds sear me
I do not go to battle
I am old

rain soaks the pathway
the moon brings affliction to my heart
a far wave ebbs
sickness has chosen me

bring me my mead-bowl
bring me my ale
the cattle are sheltered
shield me from the rain

I speak now of treachery
of deceit while cups were raised
of an evil deed
  done when men were glad

but atonement has come
and now the warrior is ragged
trading a little in exchange for much
  there's no reward for the wretched

branches are high      oak and ash
cow-parsley's sweet
the wave laughs
God's not merciful in this world

my sighs betray my sickness
good is not permitted me
hated here and in heaven

the wave strikes the shingle
the sea flays the shore
I look to the hill-top
     and the cuckoo sings


Sunday, 29 November 2009

November Park Haiku -- by Zephirine

The sharp barking cries
of young men playing football
in the pouring rain

Two squirrels chase up
and down the big trees: are they
fighting or flirting?

Big bright piles of leaves
are gone now, vacuumed away:
dark brown mud remains

Seagulls on the pitch
ignore the players, safe here
from storms out at sea

More rain comes sweeping
across the open green space
a cold wet curtain.


Friday, 20 November 2009

Another Favourite Place: the Matisse Museum, Cimiez -- by Zephirine

Difficult to find one photo which conveys why this museum is so nice - the inside has a pleasant collection of Matisse paintings, sculptures and collages, but it's the location which is lovely.  It's in the Cimiez district of Nice, up on a hill away from the centre of the city.  The Museum stands next to an olive grove:

which is popular for dog-walking and picnics, and some interesting Roman remains including an arena where the Jazz festival is held each year.   Not far away is a monastery which has beautiful gardens. It's altogether a very good tranquil place to be (well, not so tranquil during the Jazz Festival).

A couple of the Matisse paintings with characteristic use of colour:


Wednesday, 4 November 2009


picture by Bianca Heinrichs/la robotique


Monday, 26 October 2009


photo: John Haslam

Come on then. Write a poem about a dog.

Cats have had plenty of attention on this site, so the dog must have its day.

It can be a chihuahua-sized or a wolfhound-sized poem, abandoned in the comments thread or sent to me in a travelling crate via email, as you please.


Friday, 16 October 2009

A Favourite Place: The Bowes Museum -- by Pinkerbell

The Bowes Museum is located near Barnard Castle in Teesside (or whatever the hell Teesside is called these days) and was built in 1869 in the style of a French chateau by the Bowes family, a famous member of which was Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, who later became better known as the Queen Mother. She was a patron of the museum and it was apparently her favourite place too, so I’m in good company. Maybe, just maybe, this is where she got her famous liking for swans?

It makes me sound terribly intellectual doesn't it? My favourite place is a place of education and austerity, but my fondness grew not just because of the exhibitions but because of the place itself and the hours I spent there as a child in the gorgeous gardens, wandering around the magnificent halls and up and down the imposing staircase, in the heart of the building. I would be that strange child who spent an hour just sitting on the staircase, gazing around in awe, or looking intently at things which other people couldn’t quite fathom could be that interesting. Also my love of the place came from the wonders I found there, things which fascinated me and terrified me at the same time, like the two-headed calf , which I often used to peer suspiciously at, expecting it to move, or I would stand staring into one or the other of its faces to try to see some indication as to how it felt being a freak of nature. Although there were always plenty of people about the place I easily felt a personal connection with the spirit of the building itself, as if it spoke to me only, and would eventually feel completely alone there and tranquil, usually getting in the way of all the other people rushing around.

Of course my trick of sitting on the staircase wasn’t totally without purpose, as I would get myself in a prime position to watch the performance of the silver swan which resided in a glass case in the centre of the lobby. It dates back to 1773 and is life-sized and solid silver, apart from the glass rods on which the swan sits, which go backwards and forwards to represent water flowing. There are also little silver fish which raise up and down when the mechanism works. This was a bewildering magical creature to me when I was young, barely tall enough to see up inside the glass casing where she lived. She sat there perfectly still for hours and then would wake up and catch a fish right in front of my eyes. Now I know the fish was in its mouth all the time, but then I imagined it catching it out of the shimmering silver pond underneath and was amazed at how she could do it every time. Not quite understanding how a contraption could do this without actually properly becoming alive I liked to imagine that she did come alive, just for a few moments whilst I watched her.

Mark Twain also saw the Silver Swan and described it in his book “The Innocents Abroad”:

‘I watched the Silver Swan, which had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes - watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop - watched him seize a silver fish from under the water and hold up his head and go through the customary and elaborate motions of swallowing it...'

You can watch it in action here:

For more information about the place - or


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

A Favourite Place: Winter Hill -- by Ringo37

This is Winter Hill in the west Pennines, near Bolton in Lancashire. A desolate spot made more desolate by its history: the murder of a Scottish travelling salesman there in 1838 is commemorated by the Scotsman's Stump, and a still-sadder plaque on the transmitter building marks the site where 38 people died when their plane came down in a blizzard (in February 1958, a month with tragic resonance, to say the least, for the north-west).

Nowadays it can be a popular spot for outdoorsy types. There's a nice triptych of increasingly forbidding hills - Rivington Pike (where Andy Flintoff used to be seen puffing his way up and down during his rehab months), Winter Hill and Great Hill - for a mini-three-peaks ramble, and a 1,000ft telecoms transmitter that people who are interested in telecoms transmitters like to come and look at...

As a Yorkshireman I should probably be beaten to death with cricket bats for suggesting this. But I love it.

photo by Henry Brett at

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A Favourite Place: The Italian Chapel -- by Mimitig

Unfortunately the pic includes a bunch of tourists but it kind of doesn’t matter.

This is the interior of the Italian Chapel in Orkney. Built by Italian prisoners of war during  the Second World War, it is a triumph of faith and art. On the outside it is a pair of Nissan huts with a fascia. Inside it is full of the love and skill of the artists who were imprisoned hundreds of miles from home in Italy on a cold and bleak island in the far north.

The story of the chapel imbues it. This is a place so full of love and hope that it transcends all faiths. I have been there twice – both times cold and bleak days, but came out full of warmth and hope.

The story is here:

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A Favourite Place: Shaugh Prior -- by Zephirine

Starting off a short series nominating Favourite Places. Feel free to add your own nomination in the comments or send it in as a post, with or without photo.

Here's one of mine:
Shaugh Prior Woods in Devon, on the edge of Dartmoor. If you like a nice river running through some beautiful woods, this is one of the best. In fact you get two rivers here, because this is where the River Meavy joins up with the River Plym, with much splashing over rocks and stones, before the Plym makes its way south towards Plymouth. Being in the West Country it's frequently raining, but still a fine place for a walk.

photo by exfordy at

Friday, 25 September 2009

Soul Eaters -- by Mimitig

Fire burns bright
I live in darkness
Fear the light.
My name is night.
Moon in shadow
Fear the light.
Brightness burns
Fire that bites.
Moon clouds the light
Cool soothes the fire
That bites.
Fast running cool
Swift healing for the
Fire that bites,
No one knows
Why the fast
Running heat
Burns so fiercely.
Paws, pause and cool.
Nothing left
Brothers, sisters – all gone
Fire eats
It all.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Time for a Caption

photo by Jilly Bennett from Monte Carlo Daily Photo


Not So Cordiale -- by Zephirine

a rugby international, possibly....

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Monday, 7 September 2009

Wordsworth Wordle -- by Zephirine

"I wandered lonely as a cloud..."


Wordles -- by Mishari

The Declaration of Independence:

"Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt...":

and today's racing card:

Sunday, 6 September 2009


Graphics wizard File has been playing over at  where you can make 'word clouds' from a text - like this one from his own 'Found Letters':

and here's one from my Egg poem:

As you can see, they're rather fun.  Making your own Wordles is easy but transferring them over here is not so simple.  Those of you who are IT sophisticates will be able to 'capture' the image and can make your own Wordle and send it to me as a jpg.  Otherwise, send me a text that you'd like made into a word-cloud, then I can Wordle it for you and post it here. 

Friday, 21 August 2009

Eggs is Eggs?

So, you seemed to like the Cake challenge...

now, inspired by File's apocalyptic vision of breakfast over here - (try clicking on that picture and you'll see what I mean), here's a new one:

write a poem about eggs


Friday, 14 August 2009

Residents -- by Zephirine

The dapper geese, black-necked, beige-bodied,
at weekends by the park lake bully the toddlers
brought to feed the ducks. Small children,
crowded by beady-eyed birds their own height
jostling, stamping black triangle feet,
tearfully hand over bread, or simply howl.

As the days shorten the geese gather by the canal
placing themselves in one neat row along the bank,
spaced regularly and sitting in symmetry,
quiet, settled, heads facing the flat water,
preening occasionally, ignoring people,
disciplined, knowing their own routine.

At dusk suddenly they sweep through the air
in military formation, a purposeful V
silhouetted above the trees, controlled, powerful.
Though they no longer migrate, still their abrupt cries
convey remembered wildness and waiting distance,
great open places, a calling emptiness.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Dreams and Visions -- by Mimitig

Do you remember
Walking across the sands
Barefoot and happy?
Do you remember
Barefoot and sudden
Do you remember
Dripping from your foot
But did it happen?
Or was it a dream?
Do you remember
Swimming in the warm waters?
Do you remember
Weeds catching your feet?
Tangling your legs so you can’t rise and breathe?
Was that a dream?
Do you remember
Tears shed all night
But in the morning
The pillow is dry?
Do you remember


photo by Jeff Offutt

Friday, 24 July 2009

Thermidor -- by Melton Mowbray

On the floor of the Convention
St Just roars and rants with anger
once again the Revolution
stands threatened by mortal danger.

Outside virtuous sans-culottes
pull good patriots from their beds
moderate views, monarchist plots,
the basket fills with severed heads.

Citizen Barras and his friends
feel Mme Guillotine’s cold breath,
the indifferent blade descends
the Incorruptible meets death.

The People wish to celebrate
now the Tyrant is deposed,
hélas, they are unfortunate:
it’s August. All the bars are closed.


Thursday, 23 July 2009

Accretion Anxiety -- by Zephirine

History is always being made
all the time
not just when big occasions happen
and we are all told to pay attention
but with every step, conversation, meal and bus journey
of supposedly unimportant people
fragment upon fragment
layer upon layer

It is not easy to tell
without prophetic gifts or very good astrology
which moments will have a historic effect
and which will simply add
more leaves to the forest floor
The spotty child who asks questions
and is quite annoying and often ignored
on which day is his ambition kindled
so that he grows up to discover a vaccine which saves many lives
or else to invent a weapon which slays thousands?
For a while, either may be possible
perhaps he just likes his physics teacher better
and so starts keenly on the path to destruction

Sarajevo, June 1914: Gavrilo Princip, a student, is knocked down
by a runaway horse and dies in hospital
and no one ever knows he was on his way to shoot an Archduke
What would history look like then?
The Parisian mob does not storm the Bastille
but turns aside to get drunk and watch a dog-fight
His mutinous crew force Columbus to turn back
and America is discovered ninety years later by North Africans
William of Normandy decides life is too short to invade Britain
Julius Caesar dies in infancy
How easily, in a few moments
it could all have been different

As you sit being bored in a boring office
doing nothing much
but living through the ticking seconds of history
the woman who was interviewed before you
but failed to get the job
might be so enraged by unemployment
that she is about to do something that may change the world
How can you know?
Put like that
history is rather frightening


... the invasion is continuing quietly as planned...

Monday, 6 July 2009

Another Tiny Planet -- by File

"Well, if we can't park here, then where can we park?"


Saturday, 4 July 2009

Sheep in Space

Photo by Niels van Tol.
More of Niels's tiny planets here.

And you may care to contribute a caption for this sheep...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

High Summer -- by Mimitig

The summer sun burns hot and high
Long into the night

Sultry afternoons lead to
Languid evenings

Dallying in conversation
As the sun slowly sinks
Over the sea in glorious pinks and purples

Leading to memories of other
Long hot summers

Parched grass, rivers flowing sluggishly
Swimming when the weeds
Fluoresced bright green
And punting was easy in the shallow waters

Further back
One Midsummer Eve

A dance, a Ball, a Commemoration Ball
A little girl, too excited to sleep
With a house full of visitors
Watched the pretty ladies
Dress in silk and satin frocks
Watched the Uncles
Preen in penguin suits

Further in the past
Another long hot summer

Young lovers arrive
In Split
On a blistering afternoon

So hot a post-war modern woman
Shrouds herself, head, shoulders, to the waist
In a shawl
The only one she has is black
She doesn’t know why
She looks the same as all the women
On the shore

Then from a yacht
A man is wheeled down to the quay
The men, in awe, take off their hats and
Bow their heads

It is their leader
Their hero has arrived

The post-war modern man, in shorts
Hastens to remove the brown leather cover
Of his new Kodak

Black and white, though faded now
My parents witnessed history
Tito arriving

In high summer

Monday, 29 June 2009

Still Life with Sheba -- by File

A Coke can floats,
not yet full enough to sink

fat Vuitton chests are heaved onto
little skiffs
to be taken to her ship.

I listen closely to the Coke can
kissing the quay stone
tink, tink-tink


Her entourage exit the Marriott,
alight so quietly,
like sunrise

in a red dress
I’m surprised how tall she is
and how slender

the eloquence
of each soft step she takes
is in the waves, on the waves

today she articulates
her own fate,
her nation’s

we listen closely.


After they leave
I sit down with a Guinness
on the terrace, thinking

I light a Camel, inhale
exhale thoughts of Solomon
of gold stocks.

If she gets back
she’ll come back a rock star,
minimum, maybe a metaphor

A dancer on the water,
the morning light in song,
a moment in this harbour,
the hope of living on

Nuff Respec to Claude Lorrain - Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Thursday, 4 June 2009


Go on then. Write a poem about cake. It can be a small poem or a large one, and the ingredients can be rich or plain, as you please.


Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Mildew and Blackspot -- by Zephirine

for Billy Mills

Glamorous rambler
putting its show on
in cerise clusters
waving and nodding
over the archway

When you look closer
see how each branch is
dusted with powder
musty and cobwebbed
infected and grey

Dorothy Perkins
“martyr to mildew”
still it keeps coming
back every summer
doing its number


So small at first the dark marks on the leaves
they passed unnoticed while the buds grew fat
and blooms emerged spreading their coloured silks
shining in the returned and welcome sun

Now as you bend to the familiar scent
confirming summer as you breathe it in
you see the spots have grown and turned to black
and the green shoots of spring are fading fast

Already a few yellowed leaves have curled
the blotch of blight on each draining its life
thin stems that once clung tight will lose their grip
and fall dying to the dry waiting soil

But still above them flames the flowering rose
seeming indifferent to the creeping rot
that from now on ensures its blazing pride
each year will dwindle and enfeebled fade.


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Scent of the Rose -- by Pinkerbell

Sorrow masks the scent of the rose
Pulsating in my clenched fist
Crushed like a strangled artery.
Velvet petals, laid layer on layer
Curl tightly to its sweet core
In intricate simplicity.
Its beauty threatening to fade,
Now plucked from its source of life,
Blood red congealing into black.
Its silky skin soothing and cool,
As cold to touch as the stone
Under which you lie. Withering.
And as I place it on you its
Shape springs back immaculate
And unspoilt, as if never touched.


Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Underwater -- by File


[running into the limitations of Blogger with this one, but if you click on the images the text will become much clearer]


Thursday, 14 May 2009

A caption may possibly occur to you....?

photo by commonorgarden from

(definitely worth clicking on the pic for a full-screen view)

Friday, 8 May 2009

For RJDL, March 2009 -- by Ringo37


The city’s empty. Its knackered truths –
Rhubarb sheds, the Trinity, a sandstone civic quarter,
Windblown Justice on the courthouse roof –
Are worth less than ever. The Calder water
Runs clearer than it did – but symbolism’s
Dishonest, and transparency, in any case,
Is just a word for emptiness. Perhaps it isn’t
So empty, then: the sourness is just displaced –
The river runs clear but in the town
The currents aren’t so blameless nor so bright.
It would be nice to think that this was down
To negligence – to a foreman’s thoughtless oversight:
Some lever pulled in error, some sluice or weir
Breached or broken. It would be better, and not so hard to take,
If all of this was inadvertent; there would be less to fear,
And to forgive, if all this – all this shit was just someone’s mistake.
Yes, I could get along in a world unpremeditated and unmeant.
But in the world’s patterns I discern design; I apprehend intent.


Friday, 1 May 2009

One Swallow -- by Mimitig


illustration by David Cobb

They say
One swallow doesn’t make a summer

But they say lots of other things
Many a mickle macks a muckle
In for a penny in for a pound


I see a swallow coming home
And think summer

A swallow comes to nest
At home

And brings a second swallow

So if you see the one
You’ll soon see the other

And that is summer

Two swallows make their nest
Year on year, the same place
Only diverted by bigger, uglier birds like gulls

Gulls can destroy
They are predators
And if wee swallows nest
Where vicious gulls go
Gulls win

It’s nature

Happily my swallows nest

Safe space to lay tiny eggs
Hatchlings hopefully will know
A place of safety
Will grow to chicklings
Fly the nest
And come home in a year or so

To be my new swallows

Monday, 27 April 2009

I Wish -- by Zephirine


Here's one I wrote earlier, for the GU Poster Poems on the topic of Money, which seems more and more relevant as the days go by:

I wish that money liked me more
I wish it hung around me
and wanted to be friends, and swore
that it was glad it found me
I’d like it to cling just a bit
even be quite annoying
I could be rather rude to it
for being quite so cloying
and still it would stay close
and vow that it would never hurt me
and even if I were morose
it never would desert me

Instead, it does just as it pleases
never cares for me at all
stays outside my reach and teases
leaves me looking sad and small
it treats me mean and keeps me keen
it quite ignores my pleas and tears
slips through my fingers, every bean
it’s done it now for years and years
I swear it likes to see my pain
it finds tormenting me a pleasure
and even as it runs away
it promises me future treasure

I wish I could desert the brute
go live in simple new-age camps
and find a life devoid of loot
bartering with my fellow tramps
but that would never work for me
Money has got me firmly hooked
and I pine unrequitedly
still hopeful, ever overlooked


Monday, 20 April 2009

JG Ballard: honouring a literary giant -- by Mimitig

I saw this headline tonight: Cult Author JG Ballard dies at 78.

The details are here:

Now, I have known for several years that Ballard was fighting cancer so perhaps it should not come as a shock to read that he has died and I’m thinking what is it that surprises me and makes me feel like writing something?

It is the headline.

“Cult author”. Surely the headline should have read: “Death of a Genius” or “Best-selling author JG Ballard dies”?

JG Ballard may have started his writing life in an unassuming way – short stories sent to Sci-fi mags – but long before his death he was acknowledged widely as a writer of fiction that could not be side-lined as Sci-fi or 'cult'.

Stephen Spielberg’s Oscar-winning adaption of Empire of the Sun made sure that JG was no longer a writer in the shadows. This was reinforced when David Cronenberg chose Ballard’s Crash as a suitable book to film. Much controversy raged about the film and it did nothing to harm the sales of Ballard’s book.

I was delighted to see Ballard in the public preserve – interviews with the print media and appearances on culture shows was nothing less than the man deserved.

Yet there was a part of me that resented these johnnie-come-latelies. Where were you, I thought, when his only readers were those who picked out the yellow and purple Victor Gollancz titles of his early years?

The first Ballard I read, and I came to it through BBC Radio Four’s Book at Bedtime, was The Drowned World. I listened late at night and went to the library – to the grown-up section – and borrowed my first non-children’s book. This was a rite-of-passage – child to adult through the medium of the book.

After reading that one book I was hooked on Ballard. I searched out all the Penguins (cover price 30p) with their dramatic cover art. I bought the Triad/Panther editions – larger format, cover price now £2.50 – different sort of cover art, different font for cover and text (set in Plantin and printed and bound by Hazell Watson and Viney – just up the road from where I lived).

I was so intrigued by Ballard’s writings that I would search out every bookshop, market stall or boot sale to gather his works on my shelves.

My uncorrected book proof, not for publication bound copy of The Day of Creation remains one of my most treasured literary possessions.

Now he has died and I feel another star that lit up the literary world has gone. When writers who can enthral readers and entice them into believing the world of the book die, we, the readers, are bereft.

I thank JG Ballard for sharing his world and his imagination with us. We will be the poorer without his words.


Thursday, 16 April 2009