Love In…

Today
At McDonalds

I saw…

A woman
With a face
Like the sludge
On her boots

A man spitting
Into a plastic cup

A man
Chastise his son
With the C word

A woman
Forgotten
By hope

A backside
That never sees home cooking

A couple
Of cracked statues

A guy talking into his phone
As if
He were alone

A woman
Forgotten

By everyone

Their kids all ate Happy Meals

Sweeping

The Sikhs’ magnificent Harmandir, or Golden Temple, is the centrepiece of the temple complex in the holy city of Amritsar. Tourists are welcome, and when i visited, I saw the following act of humility which on the surface looks small, but which is imbued with huge significance.

Auntie
Respected, Rich
Humbles herself

Auntie
Knowing what pride precedes
Hitches her sari above her feet

Auntie
A forward thinking lady
Descends the stairs

Slowly

Clears her mind
Cleans God’s house
For the pious
For the tourists
For the peasants who spend their lives
Swallowing dust

Not born to be a cleaner
She sweeps
Bare-handed
Right to left
Right to left
Gathering tiny piles
Of unholy dust

Each movement
Physically
A speck of dirt

Each movement
Spiritually
A broadstroke golden universe
Of love and hope

Sweeping
Unkind thoughts
Sweeping
Everyday sins
Sweeping
The one thing
No rug is big enough to cover

Outside
Sweet water reflects
Ten heavenly smiles
Nanak to Gobind

Inside
The eleventh
Pauses its reading
And bookmarks
The purity
Flowing in and out
Of four open doors

My Second City

My Second City

My second city
Is called the Second City
It’s very different from my first

From date palms
To packaged dates
From cows swishing flies
To a bronze bull
Girls in jeans

I wonder what that word means?

Safe new friends
A school with books
Free bus rides, with unfriendly looks
Skyscrapers
Sky-high prices
Everything’s sort of clean and neat
Just don’t even think of stepping out in bare feet

A sanctuary with a leaky roof
My shiny blue raincoat drips daily proof
My Second City gives me every little thing I need

Except love

When I think of my first city
I laugh and I laugh and I laugh
Until it hurts

In my Second City
Nothing waits
No-one waits
But we wait and wait and wait and wait
For permission to unpack ourselves and stay
I’m really sure I’d like to stay

Perhaps for a few more days

Untouchable

On my recent trip
To Gujarat

I took
Numerous
Pretty photographs

Of Modhera
Palitana
Dwarka
The White Desert

And other pretty places

But

The image
I can’t delete
From my heart

My hard drive

Is of a ragged street child
At Vastrapur Lake
Who stepped out
From the promenading crowd

Raised
His left
Index finger
Into the stifling
Late afternoon

Air

And drew
A rectangle
To take
An imaginary selfie

With me

Back to the Day Job

Somebody once wrote that drink was the scourge of the working classes. Then some joker reversed the polarities and got closer to the truth. Either way, it’s the scourge of the artistic ‘classes’ as well. Today saw me reacquainted with the day job, and this evening sees me with distinctly mixed feelings. As a supply teacher, I can’t say I’m truly suffering for my art. The bills get paid and the hours aren’t that long. Compare to Charles Bukowski, who worked in a postal sorting office for ten years before deciding to ‘quit and starve’ before he went mad. Obviously, countless others have laboured, literally, in order to support their literary labours.

After two months of no income, I’m grateful for the job I’ve got. I’m also grateful for having something to do. Nevertheless, the feeling endures that I really shouldn’t be in teaching. It’s not because I hate it, as I don’t. It’s not because I think it’s beneath me, as I don’t (and would deserve shooting if I did). The point is I’m better at writing, I’m passionate about writing and I’m prepared to put in more than the hours of a full-time job.

Intellectually, I get that writing doesn’t, for the vast majority, pay. But in my heart, there’s a glimmer of hope that one day it will and this is what I deserve. Meanwhile, as JM Coetzee put it, there’s escapism and there’s the real world. Now, which is which?…

A Kind Of Biography

I am proud to be mixed race. One set of relatives are from the Black Country, the other is a crowd of Brummies. I was born and raised in Worcestershire, but have lived in Birmingham since 1989. My day job is teaching English, these days as a supply teacher.

At fifteen, my writing first received national attention when I wrote the letter of the week for Record Mirror, suggesting a boycott of the Kiss fan club. Despite this early promise, little was heard until a 1997 appearance as a losing contestant on Countdown.

The new millennium heralded a new burst of creativity. That sounds good, but it isn’t true. Luckily, I’ve got an elephantine memory, so in 2004, when I really started to write, I’d got lots of ideas and things happened quickly. A debut collection, ‘Red’ (Dynamic Press) appeared in 2005. The book is notable for its orange cover, a nod to my colour blindness.

My poetry covers a huge range of subjects, but very little of it is about myself. There are far more interesting things to write about. Some of it is light and fluffy, some of it is deep and very, very dark. I never try to explain my work because I can’t explain it. I know what it means to me, but I don’t know what it means to you.

Around the time ‘Red’ was published, I began performing my work. I quickly became a fixture on the West Midlands poetry scene and have gone on to appear nationally, both on stage and on radio.

In 2010, a second book was published. ‘Once’ (Dynamic Press) is a gritty teen fiction novel set on the mean streets of Smethwick. Critics were kind enough to praise it and I’ve received some wonderful letters from young readers thanking me for a book they can relate to.

At the time of writing, 2013, the performance train keeps rolling and the writing train is going educational. ‘Balancing Acts’ is a collection of online resources combining original poetry with activities for young readers and teaching ideas for colleagues.

2013-5 will be dominated by schools-based workshops and performances. It’s going well so far and it’s all jolly good fun. If you’d like to be involved, please contact me for details.