some Kerouac style haikus of random childhood memories

wide-eyed child

awed at his sketches

and gentle guitar ditties


a pipe smells homely

pop inhale pop inhale

hazy calm surrounds


wade into a lake

where the rotten pike waits…

water gushes into wellingtons


An avalanche of Westies

the first thing they saw-

our beaming faces


sunsets & rockpool hops

wandering Welsh beaches

a bottlenose greets us!


cave mouths by seashore

return our whoops and wails

through the rasping waves


looking through loopholes,

of lofty castle remnants

time here afolly


He’s laughing, dancing

through bleached corridors

in a hospital gown!


alone skimming stones

bobs, bobs, bobs, away

under soft lilac sky


nb. featured image – John Constable ‘cloud study at sunset’


i am but what you think of me

i am but what you think of me

and nothing more unthinkingly

an inkling and credulity

you know as well as i

that eyes befalling from outside

see everything we try to hide

like sharks trapped in formaldehyde

but all of its a sham

for i know not you, you not i

just brushstrokes in a painted sky

just a collection of notes in a book or melody

that form a song

and who knows what i sound like to you?

the pursuit

Let us go then, let us flee
Hand in hand for destiny
Shadows dancing, cobbled straits
We run, or surely death awaits
your face by moonlight soft as snow
Carved by Michelangelo
Frantic footsteps close behind
Echoes of a troubled mind
Curtains tight like insomniac eyes
As nightmares start to crystallise
Hunter slows, now comes our chance
We share a fleeting, feather glance
Then gunshot splits open silent air
And cleaves through hearts like a knife through poetry
Falling, falling to the stones with a dull splash like toppled inkwell
Looking up from deep-sea city lights shimmering through your hair
coughs and finally I ask you whether
I can have your smile
etched upon my eyes forever…


a condensed & rewritten version of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock’


Let us go then, you and I,
While evening is spread about the sky
Through the half deserted streets
Like dreams of muttering retreats
Restless nights in cheap hotels
And restaurants and oyster shells
Streets flow on like tedious arguments
Then comes a question of intent
Oh, but don’t ask ‘what is it?’
For now is the time to make our visit
To where the women come and go
And talk of Michelangelo

On this October night
Yellow fog licks at windowpanes
Moonlight mirrored in flooded drains
Wisps of chimney soot leap and fall
So soon to answer Sleep’s soft call
There will be time for smoke to slide
Along the street but woe betide
There’s time to murder and create
There’s a question sitting on your plate
There’s time for you and time for me
But first the take of toast and tea
For there’s time yet for indecision
And ample more for this revision
And still the women come and go
Still mull on Michelangelo
There’s time to wonder ‘do I dare?’
And time to wander down the stair
Time to worry on my thinning hair
But do I dare, do I dare, disturb the universe?
Perhaps, for in mere moments can I reverse..

For I have already known them all:
Evenings, mornings, afternoons
All Measured out with coffee spoons
Beneath the music in a farther room
I hear voices, whispers draped in gloom
Or maybe this too do I presume?
Those eyes that fix you, pin you to the wall
How do you even begin to tell all?
How should I presume?

I have known those already, perhaps known them all,
Those that lie along table and wrap around shawl,
Arms which are braceleted, milky white and bare
But which under lamplight are downed with soft hair,
What is it that makes me so digress?
Perhaps it’s that perfume which clings to her dress…

Through the narrow streets at dusk
Lonely smokers shed their musk
And like the silence undersea
The evening sleeps so peacefully..
Is this a sign my greatness flickers?
And can I hear the Footman’s snickers?
In short, I admit, I was afraid
Would my efforts be repaid?

Beneath the sunset, sprinkled streets
where all these questions come to meet
Tis impossible to say just what I mean!
To alight my nerves as upon a screen
To violently cast off that silken shawl
“But that’s not what I meant at all!”
For I am no Hamlet nor meant to be
Rather an attendant of great levity
Progress swills as I advise
Play the Fool ’til my demise
I grow old… I grow old…
the bottoms of my trousers rolled
Should I part my hair and eat a peach?
Wear flannel trousers to the beach?
The mermaids singing each to each
will you sing to me I do beseech?
Riding seaward on the waves
deep chambers of the sea one craves
to dance with you in seaweed gown
till voices wake us, and we drown…


original poem by Eliot:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question …
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,
And seeing that it was a soft October night,
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?
And how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep … tired … or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while,
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it towards some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—
If one, settling a pillow by her head
Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;
That is not it, at all.”

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two,
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.

I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

Cut-ups and Van Gogh kicks – the artistic techniques of William Burroughs

When it comes to the work of Beat generation legend William Burroughs, I’m conflicted. I’m conflicted because I love his non-fiction; his fascinating personal letters, and his experimentations with writing and art as epitomised in The Third Mind with Brion Gysin. But when it comes to his fiction, I find it an utter slog, crammed with purposely repetitive and repulsive descriptions and characters, and a black humour which I personally find quite cold and empty. Having said that his work is revolutionary in some respects, and has provoked real change which only the greatest literature can do. I put this revolutionary power down to his ongoing indebtedness to art, and even to junk, which, as Marshall McLuhan identifies, both enable one to ‘reprogram the sensory order’ (‘notes on Burroughs’ 1964). Burroughs had been drawn towards art from the very beginning, when he was still compiling scrapbooks and mottley collages of images and writings using newspapers and cut-outs from his journals. His writing was also uniquely visual, as Allen Ginsberg described, Burroughs’s ‘thinking process as primarily visualisation rather than verbalisation… [he] thinks in pictures’ (The Best Minds of Our Generation, pp. 179-180). When he was trying to describe his psychedelic experiences with various drugs, he endlessly expressed his burning need to paint what he saw… he craved art and what the ability it endowed the great artists. Lost in the abyssal whirlwind of yage, he wrote Ginsberg in the 50s whilst adventuring through the Peruvian jungle, of ‘This insane overwhelming rape of the senses… everything stirs with a peculiar furtive writhing life like a Van Gogh painting… if I could only paint I could convey it all’ (letters of WSB, ed Harris, p.180). He’d sought out these so-called ‘Van Gogh kicks before’ – “Did I ever tell you about the time I got on a Van Gogh Kick and cut off the end joint of my little finger?”, from ‘the finger’, 1954) – and, back in 1939 he cut off part of his little finger to try and impress a then love interest (Jack Anderson). Unfortunately, though perhaps understandably, the relationship was short lived and ill-fated. In later life he would create his own uniquely and characteristically violent, shocking and yet serendipitously beautiful ‘shotgun art’, this whilst going about town with art icons like Gysin and even for a time Francis Bacon.

Burroughs – ‘screaming ghost’ (1982)

But Burroughs’s greatest artistic device was the cut-up.. that unique intermediary point between art and literature, between poetry and prophecy. In 1951, a pre-famous, junk-ridden Burroughs accidentally shot and killed his wife Joan Vollmer in a William Tell-style trick shot gone disastrously wrong… he was haunted, plagued by the idea that some part of his unconscious had deliberately shot and killed her. He once recalled a cut-up he made whilst in Paris a number of years after Joan’s death which read: ‘raw pealed winds of hate and mischance blew the shot’. He expanded that “for years I thought this referred to blowing a shot of junk, when the junk squirts out the side of a syringe or dropper owing to an obstruction. But Brion Gysin pointed out the actual meaning: it was the shot that killed Joan’ (Word Virus, p. 94). His haunting past was still ever-present.. lying, lurking under the thin veil of language, and only accessible by way of the cut-up. This movement of language into the realm of art by way of the cut-up, cutting up poetry and prose, restructuring them, and then stitching them back together, was thus seen not just as some ‘cheap Dada trick’ (as Kerouac termed it) in Burroughs’s eyes, but as a technique which provided genuinely prophetic, sometimes purgative and revelatory power…by harnessing its power, Burroughs could become something like a literary priest (he was obsessed with the Mayan priest’s power over language which came from their uniquely visual languages) …….. performing endless textual exorcisms..

“mischance blew the shot”… by David West

Despite popular belief, the technique was not originally created by Burroughs, and was rather inherited from Gysin in 1959. Gysin had created the technique (which held affinities with the method of Dada superstar Tristan Tzara, who formed poetry using random phrases pulled from a hat) when he began cutting up sections from a newspaper and haphazardly reconstructing them into poetic lines. When he told Burroughs of the method, an author who was forever trying to escape Control, and especially the controlling systems of language on the unconscious, he immediately acknowledged its potential and significance, particularly to his own unique branch of fiction which so often worked at reforming consciousness in new and revolutionary ways. Burroughs called it a ‘painterly’ technique, and he shared Gysin’s view that ‘writing is 50 years behind painting’ in its capacity to tap the unconscious undercurrents in society, and so, to move writing into the realm of art through the cut-up, meant endowing his work with newfound, piercing properties. The cut-up is a method which exposes the frailty of language, and unveils the word (… “IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD”… he so often quoted derogatively) as a flimsy structure, as facade which can easily be manipulated, taken apart, and rewritten. He later expanded his use of the method to other forms like sound and video recordings.. and these were methods he saw as means to reconstitute and rewrite reality itself. Burroughs and the cut-up influenced countless other iconic artists like Michel Basquiat and musicians like David Bowie (see here for Bowie using the technique to devise song lyrics), whose works have likewise absorbed the creative power of the method.

How to make your own cut-up.

In his instruction manual-cum-philosophical treatise with Gysin, The Third Mind, Burroughs talks us through the method in great detail, and reveals how he often cut-up other authors and poets and philosophers to form his cut-ups… writers like Rousseau, Rimbaud and Eliot, can be found peppered throughout the Nova trilogy in various hacked-up forms. There’s a set of instructions by Burroughs which can be found here, which talk you through exactly how to use the technique and form your own unique works. Below is a cut-up of my own formed using the method with 2 old 50p charity books. The first book was ‘the pelican guide to english literature #5’, from which I mainly used the William Blake passages (it’s like Blake was made for the cut-up!), and then a more obscure book by Carl Becker, ‘The heavenly city of 18th Century philosophers’. I cut-up words and phrases and rejigged them to create a kind of Nietzschean/Blakean philosophico-religioso text which has some serious bite…


section from my cut-up collage


Inventing the art of Buddhist exquisite corpsing… (say what now?)

Before you read any further I want to clarify that this post is (unfortunately) not about those shrivelled little monk corpses you often hear about… as fascinating as they are. No, this is a post about a class I taught yesterday.. and something I invented in that class.. but let me contextualise. I teach a class of undergraduates on a World Literature module and this week we were looking at Wu Cheng’en’s (1500-1582) Journey to the West (sometimes called just Monkey or Monkey King), which is considered one of the great classics of Chinese literature. It’s a greatly entertaining read, unlike anything I’ve read before… part fantasy and adventure novel, part philosophical treatise (esp Confucian and Buddhist), part real-life history (based on the great pilgrimage by the monk Xuan Zang (602-664) who travelled all over Asia to share Buddhist teachings), part folk-lore and ancient mythology, part political, religious and societal satire/allegory. It tells of Tripitaka’s (the English name for the central character) journey to find enlightenment, after being instructed by Buddha to find the sacred scrolls and bring them back to China. Along the way he meets various other legendary figures, including Pigsy (a pig-faced outcast who represents primal urges), Sandy (a quiet and contemplative river ogre), and most notably of all the inimitable Monkey King. The Monkey King, aka Sun Wu Kong (which means ‘awakened to emptiness’ – the Buddhist creed in essence) is an all-powerful simian trickster god who rejects heaven for its rigid, governmental structure (as well as simply for its being so unbearably boring). He is blessed with the ability to transform any single one of his copious bodily hairs into anything he can imagine on a whim, and is a symbol of the combined power of madness and genius within the novel. After many demon battles,hardships and glorious adventures, the group eventually retrieve the sacred scrolls, only to find that they are blank – symbolising this fundamental Buddhist idea of finding enlightenment by way of some deeper inner truth, inner acceptance, independence. In its original form the novel was written alongside a great many Buddhist poems: beautifully serene and tranquil fragments akin to meditations, which are fundamental to the philosophical underlay of the novel and evoking its true meaning. Here are a few examples:

‘One white rainbow arching
A thousand strands of flying snow
Unbroken by the sea winds
Still there under the moon …
A noble waterfall cascades
Hanging suspended like a curtain’

and more…

Emerald moss piled up in heaps of blue
White clouds like drifting jade
While the light flickered amongst wisps of mist
A quiet house with peaceful windows…
Exotic blooms all around

The most famous and still the most widely circulated English translation of Journey to the West, Arthur Waley’s 1942 translation, cuts out every one of these poems (booooooo), neutering this so crucial aspect. Though forty years later a number of translators reintegrated the poems in a similar vein to the original.

So anyway, we’d been discussing these prose vs poetic form translations, and the idea more broadly, and I decided it was time for my class to get in touch with their ‘Zen side’… and so, to their horror, I led them outside under the shade of our big majestic tree in the central quad of our Literature depnt building, and told them we would try to recreate some of the scenes of the novel in Zen Buddhist-style poetry… So this is where the ‘exquisite corpsing’ part of the deal comes in (I like to integrate elements of art into my seminars somehow). An exquisite corpse was a technique used by the surrealists which involved a number of artists contributing to form a ‘serendipitous’ artwork. Each artist would draw a small portion of an image, then fold the paper so as to hide it from the next artist, who would then continue to form the next part of the image, before hiding their own part and then handing it on to the next, before then… [etc etc.] until finally the paper was unfolded and the hybrid image revealed.. as with the one shown below:

an exquisite corpse composed by Yves Tanguy, Max Morise, Joan Miro and Man Ray in 1927

So I decided to do something similar, only with poetry. I printed the students a copy of 2 fragments from the novel and they each read a sentence of prose, formed their own line or few lines of poetry from that sentence, then folded it over so that the next person could not see it, and passed it along (they also crossed out the sentence so the next person knew which they were to poeticise). As they read the text and formed their Buddhist poems under the shade of the tree, with a calming Zen (youtube) soundtrack playing softly in the background, I felt at one with the world… I felt serene in the extreme… Okay maybe I went a little far. But anyway, directly below is the piece of writing that the students originally read (i.e. Wu Cheng’en’s), and below that is the students’ poetic, exquisite corpse rendition of it. The first scene is from the very opening of the novel where the Monkey King is born from a stone egg, the second is from a scene in which the Monkey King is challenged by Buddha to leap accross the earth in one bound… but he only makes it as far as the Buddha’s middle finger (lol#):::


‘There was once a magic stone on the top of this mountain which was thirty-six feet five inches high and twenty-four feet round. It was thirty-six feet five inches high to correspond with the 365 degrees of the heavens, and twenty-four feet round to match the twenty-four divisions of the solar calendar. On top of it were nine apertures and eight holes, for the Nine Palaces and the Eight Trigrams. There were no trees around it to give shade, but magic fungus and orchids clung to its sides. Ever since Creation began it had been receiving the truth of Heaven, the beauty of Earth, the essence of the Sun and the splendour of the Moon; and as it had been influenced by them for so long it had miraculous powers. It developed a magic womb, which burst open one day to produce a stone egg about the size of a ball.”


A stone stood atop great spire
Shrouded in misty skies
Circumference visible to all
The great father rests
so tall as to touch the heavens
As earth revolves around his mount
He contemplates the cosmos.
At its summit, nine great palaces
Surrounded by glowing magic fungus,
Sweeping beds of orchids.
For all eternity the stone listens
Hearing whispers of truth
Watching the beauty upon the earth
Until the stone developed a womb
And from it came a stone egg



“Yes, yes,” the Buddha replied, and he stretched out his right hand, which seemed to be about the size of a lotus leaf. Putting away his As-You-Will cudgel, the Great Sage summoned up all his divine powers, jumped into the palm of the Buddha’s hand, and said, “I’m off.” Watch him as he goes like a streak of light and disappears completely. The Buddha, who was watching him with his wise eyes, saw the Monkey King whirling forward like a windmill and not stopping until he saw five flesh-pink pillars topped by dark vapours.

“Relinquish your fear
Leap into the waiting embrace
Of the lotus leaf”.
That simian Great Sage
Divested of his weapon
Disappears in a streak of light.
Through Buddha’s wisened lens,
Who witnessed the Monkey King’s toil
Fruitful, and yet in vain,
Smiled that gentle, all-seeing smile…



Thrills with Daffodils – A Wordsworthian lovesong for Jeff (Warning: silly and exlpicit)

Earlier this year I went on a fantastic, unforgettable trip to France and Switzerland as part of an MA Romanticism course. As a group we gelled almost immediately, and one night, after a long day of roaming the Grasmere hills and reading and reciting Wordsworth’s genteel poetry, we got drunk and decided to write some of our own… needless to say our take on Wordsworth was a little more explicit than the original. We decided it should revolve around Jeff, who was our fantastic and friendly tour guide through Wordsworth’s life and work, whom we all liked and liked to have a laugh with. So here I give you our collective masterpiece by a bunch of drunk Romantic literature students.


‘Thrills with Daffodils – A Wordsworthian Lovesong for Jeff’ by a bunch of drunk Romantic Literature students

Oh Wordsworth, you surely cannot know what
your words are worth to me?
Was it for this?
Or was it for John Carter?
But know this, my Jeffrey:
When I read the prelude,
I feel the need to get nude,
to let loose, in the reclusion of you…
Surely there is no manuscript
without you and I?
And twere there a shortage of pages
I need only your sodden, emptied clothes
for this, my lovesong for the ages..
The way you so tenderly touch the books spine
O’ twas sublime! Might you do the same with mine?
And Lo! On a gentle Grasmere peak
I wandered lonely as a cloud
You made my dick stand tall and proud…
As a curator, you conserve the past,
and so I wonder how long you’d last…
would it be dream-like slow or rapid fast?
And wherefore would our clothes be cast?
In the midst of pleasure when you said “go harder”!
I cried back “NO! Pray but think on John Carter!”
I could arrange the objects in your museum
In a way that will make you cum…
We might near that beauteous Elysium,
If you’d but do me up the bum?
O’ Come inside my Dove Cottage!
Bind me! Stitch me! Hold me hostage!
Dorothy and William let us follow…
let us pick up those fallen pieces
and stitch them together, like you didst to me.
Oh Jeff pray take rest, I shall be your scribe..
As you share your love of Will
May I play with your quill?
But give me a moment, I need to refill.
You folded me over in every direction
Will you help me sustain this massive erection?
The way you unfolded the map
To my heart, twas but a trap…
I remember in the room that tranquil breeze
But rejoice in knowing it was only you I seek to please.
I worked oh so hard to form a quarto
But alas! all I could get was an erecto.
Your homemade ink hast left a stain upon my heart,
While these manuscripts of such delicacy,
Set my heart aflutter like a feathered quill.
I’m bamboozled by your love,
Oh Jeff, you make me feel like a first edition…

You ask questions aplenty, to make us smarter
But the answer of course, is e’er John Carter.
You impressed me with such erudition,
And ere with your permission
didst I move the book-bearing box,
and pray as not to make you cross.
You taught me to count,
Just know that you can count on me,
And while I know how much you like rough edges
To these gentle hands one pledges.
Grab the needle and stitch me,
Make surest that thy hands are clean,
and be my needle, tend my seem.
And with your permission, John Carter,
We shall get dirty after class,
Shalt thou take me up the Mer de Glace?!
O Pluck my dainty daffodil!
And know that ten thousand daffodils dancing
Cannot compare with the tender rhythm of our humping.
I think often on when you showed me the prelude manuscripts
and freely weep,
As we bang on sweeping hilltops like horny sheep.
Feed me your Grasmere gingerbread
Whilst you go about giving me head.
And when you taketh me to bed
Twould be no struggle to get Jerwood.
Ah, let it be known the Grasmere trust
Didst nothing but stoke the flames of my lust,
Why we could together wipe the dust from Will’s bust,
Then fuck, ever so thoroughly we must..
Through time we shall travel,
The deepest mysteries of your body must I unravel.
I will write you a lyrical ballad,
whilst you gently toss me like a salad.