September 9


Wendy phoned yesterday evening, as I was tidying up before my friend Ian came around to watch the England v. Poland football match on Sky. She has great timing. I think this was the first time she’d phoned me and not been drunk, or on the way to it. All she wanted was a chat; all I wanted was to open the wine. So it goes. She seemed to be in a very good mood. She asked me what I’d been doing all summer, and I told her “Not much, just working, and reading my Jennings books in the wake of Anthony Buckeridge’s death. Oh, and getting the goldfish house-trained.” Apparently, she’s been to Whitby for a holiday, and eaten a lot of cooked fish. She says that’s why she’s in such good health, and also she’s really “getting her teeth into writing poems.” That’s what she said, I swear. I was a bit surprised, but also I could see the red wine on the counter in the kitchen, and the corkscrew next to it.

Wendy said she’s noticed how the most popular poets these days seem to have books on themes. She mentioned someone whose new book is all about one of his sheep that disappeared, or something. I was only half listening. And also, Wendy has noticed that Literature Festivals are often “themed”. You know, it’s like everything is about Travel, and everyone has to be a kind of travel writer to be invited to work there, even if the most they travel is to work, on the bus. She said that National Poetry Day this year is all about Food. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but it wouldn’t surprise me. Things keep on getting worse, and some bits of poetry world become more banal by the day.

Anyway, Wendy is writing some food poems. I said I had no idea what a food poem was, but I wouldn’t want to eat one. She didn’t think that was funny, and I don’t suppose it was. She asked if I might take a look at some of her work, and let her know if it was any good. I hate when people say that, and I told her so. It’s like me telling you that Bright Eyes makes great records, and you think they’re miserable shit. We’re both right. Anyway, she said she could pop something in the mail tomorrow if I liked. “If I liked.” There are quite a few things I would like, but that isn’t anywhere on the list. But I said Alright, as long as she was prepared for me to say I didn’t like them if I didn’t like them. I think I used the word “loathe” in there somewhere. She hesitated, and then said Okay. Then she said she had to go, because a pan was boiling over on the stove. I didn’t have the chance to ask her if she’d won anything at Bingo this afternoon. It’s Wednesday, after all, and that’s her Bingo day, and I would’ve asked her. I’m sociable like that, and keenly interested in other people’s leisure activities, even when they threaten to delay mine.



September 11


It’s Saturday. I slept late, and I preferred not to go outside the apartment today. I’ve been out every day this week – in fact, I’ve been out every day for the last two weeks, come to think of it, and sometimes I need to stay in, and today I was determined to stay in and ignore the outside world apart from the football results. I have a silly amount of reading to do, for one thing, and ached to crack on with it. But I’m not a very disciplined reader sometimes. Often, no sooner do I start in on reading than I think of something else I want to read, and turn to that instead. As a result, some things aren’t seen through to the end. Actually, that only accounts for the things I have to read, not the things I want to read. I’m reviewing a book of poetry for someone, and I can’t get half the way through that at all. This summer, however, I did read all of Mark Paytress’s biography of Marc Bolan (“Bolan: The Rise and Fall of a 20th Century Superstar”). I like to read about poets who died young, especially if they had corkscrew hair.

Anyway, I have enough food and drink, and I could hang in here for a couple of weeks, unless the vegetables go rotten more quickly than they should. But I could live off this organic yogurt for ever, it’s so good, and I have lots. Because I was in a mellow and contemplative yet enquiring frame of mind, I spent the morning reading George Herbert. He kind of died young, too, although maybe forty isn’t so young. In 1633 it might have been older than it is now. I have no idea. But I do have a great edition of his poems, published in 1903. On the flyleaf it’s inscribed by hand, and was evidently a Christmas gift to one Edith Goodwin in the same year. It has as an Introduction Isaac Walton’s “Life of George Herbert” which is somewhat out of this world. I’ve not read it before, but for some reason this time I started on it and stayed there. It’s as much about Herbert’s friends and God (who was his best friend) than Herbert himself. People don’t write like this any more, except for the occasional maverick in a writing workshop:

“Thus, as our blessed Saviour, after his Resurrection, did take occasion to interpret the Scripture to Cleophas, and that other disciple which He met with and accompanied in their journey to Emmaus; so Mr. Herbert, in his path toward Heaven, did daily take any fair occasion to instruct the ignorant, or comfort any that were in affliction; and did always confirm his precepts by showing humility and mercy, and ministering grace to the hearers.”

People don’t write like this any more either:

By all means use sometimes to be alone.
Salute thyself. See what thy soul doth wear.
Dare to look in thy chest; for ’tis thine own:
And tumble up and down what thou find’st there.
Who cannot rest till he good fellows find,
He breaks up house, turns out of doors his mind.

After lunch, I had an all-the-way-through play of the Fiery Furnace’s new LP, “Blueberry Boat”. It’s the second time I’ve heard it. I know: it’s quiet a leap from George Herbert to Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, but the ability to leap (gazelle-like) is one of life’s great blessings. To land flat on your face, get up and dust yourself off, and make like you intended to do it, that’s another one.

I have the new Furnace’s record filed under Easy Listening in my CD library, but only through a sense of enormous irony. This is a very interesting and somewhat challenging record. The thing about the FFs is you probably either love or loathe them. It’s unlikely you kind of don’t care much either way. I’ve seen them play live twice, and reckon “Gallowsbird’s Bark” is a great record. But even that took a few plays before I got completely into it. When I arrived home on Thursday with the new record in my bag I figured I’d certainly not bought a record that was worth playing and listening to with one ear while I cooked tea and pottered around. I’d heard enough of it on download & live to know I’d have to give it my full attention. So I put on the headphones and listened to it, and even followed the lyric sheet. As expected, it was very long songs and shorter songs, the long songs going through more than one change of tempo, tune, movement, whatever….. Often it’s melodic and rocking, it’s mainly very hard to describe, and occasionally it seemed almost wilfully tuneless. Maybe it’s “a concept album”, too, or a record centring all around one narrative, but it’s kind of hard to tell. The words are sometimes bewilderingly wonderful:

And I’ll stop riding side saddle if they don’t stop the clickety clattle,
I’ll jump in the undertow penguin paddle and drown in my wedding gown

and just as often mind-numbingly ordinary but real:

I wanted to be a typewriter mender when I grew up,
but things didn’t work out

It’s hard to interpret and work out or fully understand the narrative drift of the whole record, if there is one. One commentator has remarked more generally upon a style of pop lyrics that “traffic in a kind of literary cubism, halfway between abstraction and archetypical literalism” and I’m sure that’s what happens here. Oh, ellipsis…. Yes. Perhaps. If there’s a storyline it dashes along but doesn’t let you in on the context or setting for most of the time, so it’s kind of left to you to interpret any way you like. If you can be bothered.

But I have to say loud and clear that on second hearing of the record I was blown away. Parts I thought were unmelodic first time around turned out today to be tuneful; I picked up on recurring musical motifs (albeit vaguely, and possibly even imagined) and on a couple of occasions I was simply knocked out by the bravado of what was going on. Which I think is it: the Furnaces are not only wonderful, they are wonderful completely on their own terms. They know you might hate what they do. But someone else will love it.

It’s the evening now and I haven’t been out. The football results weren’t good. Or at least, one of them was pretty damn disappointing. But now I’m in the middle of congratulating myself on how well I have taken to cooking tofu. I’ve not been a vegetarian for long, and there were things to learn. Eating the right food so you don’t waste away was one of them. But I had a good teacher. And this evening I’ve made a strong effort to get into the poems I’m meant to be reviewing, but as so often happens I found myself beginning to have dark and dangerous thoughts about poets and poetry. Then I think I’m being ungenerous, or just stupid and missing something great in the poems that other people can see and I can’t. Then I read

Unthinkable jewels,
these pellets laced with a trinkum of mouse-spines
and the black jeel eyes of creeping things.

which is about owl droppings, and I remembered that I know what I’m talking about. But the poet I’m reading isn’t always this bad; often he’s pretty damn good. But he evidently thinks he’s always good, which is a dangerous trait. Actually, probably nobody much cares anyway. But I hope children don’t come near that owl shit kind of thing. It could put them off poetry and owls. And it could do irreparable damage to their future lives when there’s such great writing out there being largely ignored. I’m kind of lucky. Reading stuff like this only makes me feel weary to my bones, but I have ways of re-energizing myself. After the football, I’m going to bed with George Herbert:

Fly idleness; which yet thou canst not fly
By dressing, mistressing, and compliment.
If those take up thy day, the Sun will cry
Against thee: for his light was only lent.
God gave thy soul brave wings; put not those feathers
Into a bed, to sleep out all weathers.



September 15


Last night Dave and I went to the Rescue Rooms to see Damo Suzuki, who at one time sang with German band Can. He’s on 1971’s “Tago Mago”, which is the one Can LP I have. It’s not a show I’d have normally gone to, probably, but it was part of one of those little packages that come along sometimes -- like, Dave rang one day and said there’s a bunch of gigs: The Fiery Furnaces, Damo….. I think there was someone else, but I can’t remember who it was. Anyway, I said get tickets for all of them. I was in an all-embracing frame of mind at the time.

Then last week we found out that what Damo does is tour the world, and in every city he plays, he plays with local musicians. Not improvising, but ‘composing instantly’. I looked at a few websites, and found some stuff, and there’s an interview where he’s asked why he favours instant composition over traditional composition. In other words, why he makes it up as he goes along. His reply includes “At the beginning of history there wasn’t composition like today, in notes. In the beginning, it was smoke. For me, sound making has always been communication - to give a signal (information) to another people on another hill. So, how I make sound is just as it was in the stone age…….Even I don't think that I'm making music. We create time and space together.”

On the basis of this I wasn’t expecting a hell of a lot last night. I rather prefer to go to shows where the musicians at least think they’re making music, even if it isn’t very good. I don’t think Dave had high hopes, either. But we agreed that having forked out £7 a ticket it was at least worth going along for, and having a couple of beers. So after Arsenal and Chelsea had been on TV, Dave picked me up and we went. And at a quarter to ten Damo appeared on stage with a couple of drummers and three guitarists. I guess these were local musicians, but you couldn’t tell by looking at them. And they played for an hour and a quarter without pausing for breath. Damo sang (I use the word loosely) for more or less all that time. What he sang about is another matter. Dave reckoned he understood an occasional word, but I didn’t get any at all. It could all have been Japanese. I don’t believe much of what happened was “instant composition” – they must have had some idea of what they were going to do. And at times it moved along pretty well. Other times it was a bit tedious. The place was around about half full, but apart from a smattering of people who were nodding their head in time to the beat (when there was a beat) most everyone else was keeping still. Some even looked studious: these were obviously students of instant composition. A few people at the front ended up sprawled on the floor, and looked quite comfortable. It was the kind of show you didn’t need to watch, to be honest. I’d have been quite happy to be there sat at a table with my beer and reading a newspaper.

One of the guitarists, the one on the right of the stage, contrived to play all evening with his back to the audience. And from the back he looked like he fitted in okay – he was very thin and had long hair, and he had an old t-shirt on, and nondescript trousers. But his apparent shyness intrigued me. At one point I began to suspect that this guy was obviously local, but didn’t want anyone in the audience to recognise him. Then I realised that he could’ve just worn a mask and got the same effect, so a more likely explanation was that he wasn’t playing the guitar at all, but only doing the actions. But at the end of the show, he turned around, and everything was explained. He had a moustache.



September 18th, 2004


Jez and I went to see the anti-McDonald’s anti-fast food movie “Super Size Me” last night. It was okay. Very watchable, even if kind of preaching to the converted. The woman along from me laughed out loud at a lot of it, even though the movie wasn’t as funny as I’d been expecting. Afterwards, Jez and I strolled up the Mansfield Road towards home, which is a pretty interesting road whatever the time of day. (Even at 6:30 in the morning. When I walk to work I often pass a hooker left over from the night before, and the stuff people leave scattered across the pavements throws down a challenge to Nottingham’s clean-up the litter campaign, and it’s no contest.) Anyway, on a Friday night the Mansfield Road can threaten to become almost too full of life, if that’s possible. Perhaps it isn’t. But from the city centre to where it meets Forest Road it’s a great stretch, and always makes me feel alive. It’s never quiet. A few weeks ago I wrote a poem which was sort of about it – at least, as close to being about it as I’m likely to come.


The toilets on the Mansfield Road
perfume the air and if you spend
too long outside them you’ll be
on your knees. I think people live
in there. Once I heard singing
come from inside but not exact
words. I was hurrying home
after a movie I’d been told was
great and disappointment
weighed heavy upon me. People
live in toilets. They whisper
romantic crap to each other
and share the evenings. Some
of the fast food outlets on
the Mansfield Road fall short of
any reasonable hygiene standard
you can think of. I can’t believe
we bought food from them. It was
because they were open and
we are weak. Much of life extends
beyond our life. The graveyard is
newly mown. People fall asleep
there when the sun shines. Down
the hill is towards home. A tree
has been cut down by workmen.

I’m having trouble with the end of the poem, to be honest. There was a tree they cut down to make way for some new pavement and a bus stop, and at one point before they cut it down it had a sign on it someone had put there which said “Don’t Kill Me”, but I’m worried that in the poem it’s a lot of sentimental crap, and sentimental crap is the last thing I want to write and one of the first things I slap other people for. The movie in the poem was “Lost in Translation”, by the way. Jez and I are forging a career out of going to crap movies; we were beginning to think this was the only kind of movie there was. But last night’s was better than okay, although I’ve almost forgotten about it already.


Today I’ve been reading the reviews in the latest issue of “Tears in the Fence”. It always seems to take me ages to get around to reading poetry magazines, because even the ones I like have lots of things in them I don’t like, and I’m hesitant about doing something I know I’m going to not like much. This issue has been here a few weeks now, but I get there in the end. There’s some interesting stuff to do with Andre Breton and Jackson Pollock, and also John James, whose “Collected Poems” is out from Salt. I read James when I was at University, but have kind of lost track. I should get back there, because he’s really good: one of those Englishmen who took from the New York School but remained elegantly English and individual.

Speaking of Salt --

Rupert Loydell’s Stride has a new website. Or at least, Stride Books has a new website, which you can get to from here. And from there you can link to the Stride magazine site, Rupert’s blog, and also buy Stride books with your credit card via the Salt Publishing Bookstore site. It’s all very neat and attractive and worth a visit. As always, the latest things at Stride magazine, which include a review of Allen Fisher and new writing by Luke Kennard, are necessary reads.


My favourite bit of reading this week, however, was from a national newspaper……

“.….. Sue Dibney, wife of Ralph Dibney, better known as Elongated Man from the Justice League…….”

Oh yes: Ralph Dibney, better known as..... Sometimes I think I’m too easily pleased.



September 25

3 Poems by Sharon Mesmer


Embraces radically deployed -
Multiple sorties of embraces -
And all the while the surface scale of mediocrity remains
Always and forever unadjusted.
The headache I woke up with
Negates the spectre of materiality
Which is merely the source of all mortality
That winks mockingly from the brightwork of the bridge that spans
The filthy Raritan.
The unquantifiable colors of the sunset over Jersey
Reinforce the feeling of reading
Mystical intentionality into every action:
Like my anxiety at leaving the bedroom for the bathroom
Becoming tethered to Aunt Lily's lobotomy,
Which is then connected to an accidental manslaughter in my family,
And thus becomes comparable in coincidental magnitude
To Marilyn Monroe's mother working as a film cutter.
And so tenured to a yearning indwelling and dwindling,
Embarrassment begins its journey of eternal recurring
The minute I wake from a sexy dream
Of a mockingbird mocking a car alarm.
And what you see here
Is the result of my spending all last night and all this morning
Creating a system for cataloging
The contradictions and paradoxes inherent in the search for
An unwavering, constantly reverberating, state of ineffable grace.
Thus far I've gotten this far.


(for Charles Borkhuis)

as in "ugly,"
as in French.
But why ugly
when outside the kitchen window
an apple tree blooms in profusion,
and inside a black cat on a red formica table
chews a daffodil?
Last night you said,
"How do the French understand our poems?
They're just lists of non-sequiturs."
At the poetry reading the door was open
to let in the breeze.
At eight o'clock it was eighty degrees.
The mighty City beckoned,
yet we remained.
We listened, our brows furrowed,
we looked like we had migraines,
we left before we had the chance
to not get invited out afterward.
The lack of light illuminated
no one scribbling in notebooks,
no one stealing anyone's lines.
Does anyone remember ordinary beauty?
Does no one honor Mnemosyne?
On another Spring day,
back in seventh grade,
Eddie Jozefiak came up to my desk at recess to say
"Mesmer, you're so ugly!"
That was thirty years ago.
But I remember it
like it was today.



Your loveliest of sway-backs;
of mine I was once ashamed,
and my uni-brow and crooked teeth,
and red hair my mother never let me wash
all winter,
afraid I'd catch a draft.
She wouldn't let me bathe, either,
which made gym class a horror.
I thought I had it bad
until I met that handsome Scottish man
whose parents tried to make him spontaneously combust
by feeding him haggis laced with gunpowder
and making him sleep in the stove.
Instead of an ear, he had a shiny, snail-shaped ridge.
I guess we all have our tragic flaw.
Mine is like that of the naked man
who holds up a sign that says "I'm naked,"
and runs screaming through the park.
My handlers say I'm difficult,
but don't you believe it.
My soul still radiates a luminous intensity
despite this stupid university job.



September 27


I am going to give up writing poems. There’s so much else to do! Like, Saturday, I had to go to the supermarket and get lots of food. And then, when I got home, there’s end-to-end TV comedy on UK Gold. The “Saturday Stack” they call it. This week it was all-day “Porridge”. Next week it might be “Are You Being Served?” Of course, I don’t need to watch this stuff because I’ve seen it all a hundred times already and know the scripts, so I just alternate between this and the football updates on Sky Sports 1 during the afternoon. But you can do a lot of that, if not all of it, with the sound off, because there’s tons of music to listen to. And books to read. And this last Saturday I had to clean the apartment, because. Because. And other days are the same. They begin and end, and have lots of things to do in the interval. Like, today, there was work. That happens. And then I get home, and what shall I do? I just got the new REM LP and I listened to it one and a half times last night and was kind of bored by it after the first track, which is good. But then today instead of listening to it again, or trying to, a friend at work has given me copies of the new Nick Cave double LP and an LP by The Red House Painters. That’s 3 records to listen to. Four if you count REM. And there’s football on TV tonight. Dull teams, but it’s football, nevertheless. Plus, I promised a review would be done this week, and I have all the ideas for it but don’t seem to have sat down and actually written anything yet. Plus, there’s an ongoing collaborative project with Mark Halliday, and Mark keeps sending me things I have to respond to. One just arrived on e-mail, and I have to reply quick. Like, now! Plus, and plus, don’t forget there’s some eating to be done. And it’s nearly six o’clock and tomorrow morning is steaming toward me like a train going really fast, which is a simile train. And of course there’s this blog thing to write, which I’m doing while Nick Cave is belting it out first class. I should have a “to do” list, but it would be kind of daunting, because I’d have to put a lot of things on it I haven’t even mentioned yet. My mother is 80 in two weeks time, and I should think about that. I don’t know what to think about it, but I should try. Anyway, as I was not saying, I started a poem last night but maybe won’t finish it:

I just went to have a regular bath
and the water was too wide for the tub

That’s how it starts. In fact, that’s all there is. Maybe it’s finished. I think it’s pretty damn fine, just those two lines, but admit to a certain bias. Perhaps it’s a good place to stop. After all, it’s about a bath and a tub, and water. Of course, everything stands for something else.