Continue reading


Forty Years Old, a celebration!

From a seed to this in forty years, give or take a month or two:


Maybe not the biggest cactus in the world but grown from seed, surviving heat, cold, lack of water (sometimes too much) and finally placed in a nice Christmas mug and by a sunny windowsill with a view, is something to trumpet about.

A fortieth year worth remembering.

British Library Event, Feb. 2018: UK poetry with International twists

Malika Booker and Guests      (Kim Moore. and Nick Makoha)

At the Knowledge Centre, British Library, London        12 February, 2018

In for a penny, in for a tenner!

The theory was to meet an old colleague for a late lunch and discuss a few bits of poems to put in a collection, then move on in the evening to the above Poetry event.  Part one got cancelled so I found myself travelling late afternoon into London on a football and evening-out slow-train. Exiting at King’s Cross as part of a crowd to be met by a bigger rush of commuters hurrying into the station.     Mind you, the incoming crowds didn’t seem so big as they are in the morning rush-hour.  I suppose I wasn’t at the height of the exodus timings.

So there I was, sitting in a branded coffee bar and making notes until nearer the start time in the theatre.    I deliberately had no knowledge of her work as I think I prefer to see first then ‘look further’, as it were, if keen.  It seems a bit odd.  At this time of night I have a history of needing to join the  home-goers no matter how crowded or stuffy the carriages.  I always intend not to but it seems we all have a morbid mentality to crowd, whether morning or evening rush hour.

Then, it seemed I could feel the tension but not take part!   Instead I had an hour or more spare to mull over items for this blog, local poetry events I might take part in and items to include in an anthology.  Enough time to do little except confirm mental decisions already made.

Next scene is me sitting in the British Library theatre with a large  (300+) audience.  My first visit and sitting comfortably in high-backed seats.  Photo is promo-shot before an audience arrives……

To see Maliker Booker and two other poets of her choosing for an evening event.

Intro. by Molly Rosenberg and straight into NIck Makoha reading: The  Shepherd, Kingdom of Gravity, Bird in Flames, King of Myth and finally Black Death.    A set of dark poems from his Kingdom of Gravity collection.  All of which hinge in some way on his original country of birth, Uganda, which he left at the age of six.  Where memory and story merge I cannot know but the stilling effect of his  first poem established his presence and the audience’s appreciation.  Images were mostly bleak but the message overall was of stories well told of damning and pointless actions. Giving voice to those without, wherever, of man against humanity.  (Nick specifically pointed to the outrageous Idi Amin regime in Uganda as his starting point but actions such as those are worldwide).  Yes, his words were often of hard stories but within were lines that caught sight of his ability to create lighter images too.  I will review this collection “Kingdom of Gravity”  in another blog. (in ‘poetryparc’)

Next on the stage, a contrast to the previous poet, was Kim Moore reading, mostly, from her collection “The art of Falling”.         (A title not to be confused with Falling Awake by Alice Oswald from last year).   Kim Moore lives in Cumbria now and went to university in Manchester so has progressed northwards in her life from her Leicester birthplace.    She seems to have found a place on the reading/festival circuit with a confident, friendly presence and ability to find quick rapport with her audience.  Likely helped by her previous life as a teacher of music. ‘Trumpet’, she said, but no doubt at least all brass instruments as many cropped up in one of her poems: Trumpet Teachers Curse. This was her second poem and one that strings out many memories, no doubt, from all ages of the audience with its description of schooldays and music.

Her initial poem was  My People and others followed after Trumpet Teachers CurseHow I Abandoned my body to its Keeper, In that Year, Body Remember.   Lastly, from a new sequence currently in preparation and titled; All the Men I Never Married:  Number 1, Number 10

Her poems started with humour, touching chords of memory and slipped contrastingly into a more sombre one of abuse.  You were caught out by the gentleness of her tone and even the apparent softness of words except the creeping knowledge of pain and hurt.   Such as. ‘……his hand a stone/that fell from a great height. It / was not what I deserved.

Again, I look forward to reading her collection ‘ The Art of Falling’  and also her shorter pamphlet  ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’

Thirdly, the poet Maliker Booker.

Confident, bangled, finger-nailed and an exuberant reader of her poetry.

Setting her stall with a reading of ‘Pepper Sauce’ and after the audience recovered, Saltfish, St Michael, Nine NIghts, Eve and finally The Conversation.    Pepper Sauce offering an old-fashioned, old world, form of punishment and Saltfish showing an internal battle at new-worlds massive failures.

Hers was a relaxed performance.  Conversational with her audience, appreciative  of  their reactions to her poetry and thoroughly at home on the stage.  For me her attachment to her Caribbean roots was effective and her thoughts for the immigrants of ‘Windrush’ helped link her present multi-cultural London presence with the content of her Caribbean.    The remaining poems were not in her ‘Pepper Seed’ collection but contemplations/ retelling in today’s currency of Biblical stories and characters which have been completed or being worked upon. Nine NIghts particularly interesting. Eve went down well as a typical role for today, whether Caribbean or feminist it didn’t matter, amusing and with well-made pointers.

The last poem I have a problemwith:  The Conversation.        It is one Malika wanted to end on, one her mother liked.  One we all liked and applauded.   And my problem?     I can’t remember anything about it!! except  it was well worth hearing.  Which makes it even more annoying!      Why did it disappear so easily apart from still recalling the satisfaction of hearing it?    Now I have to search it out!!  My only excuse is that In the applause my mind drifted into comparing Malika to a favourite poet I have read and written about: Lorna Goodison,born in Jamaica, I believe currently their Poet Laureate.

It is not really fair to consider this too deeply here but my impression today is that Maliker Booker is a New Generation, UK version for Caribbean Poetry.  Without looking at her wider output she seems to have a harder edge in her language.  Or could I call it that she has a London, UK, edge as her voice of origin where Lorna Goodison has a tone softened by the  colours of the Caribbean, maybe the climate?          Okay, I may be talking out of the back of my head but that is the sense I get even if it is factually, climatically wrong.

All in all an evening of substantial poetry by three people with much to offer now and more in the future.  With thanks to the Royal Society of Literature and British Library for the event.

I anticipate reviewing all three authors books in due course for ‘poetryparc’








Noah Smith: Buggy Ride to Somewhere

Noah Smith, Buggy ride to somewhere.      (continuation of:  ‘Abbot’s Road’ stories)

It was a long journey.  Both Martha and Sarah took turns with the reins of the buggy while he soon found it less painful to sit rather than try to lie on the seat behind them.  They talked, he sulked and pursed his lips a lot to hold back the painful grunts as they bumped through ruts in the road.  They camped and used the few provisions Martha had grabbed from the canteen before they left Silver City.

They travelled slowly to be sure the man’s wounds didn’t split or infect and he and the horses could rest.  They called at farms, scattered staging posts and the occasional huddle of buildings hopefully called ‘city’ and the more romantic ‘ville’.

By day three the women had run out of their own conversation and almost abandoned trying to get more than words of acknowledgement from the man.   Sarah was clicking the horse along, he sat beside her, Martha sat behind, a hand on each side of the seat to retain her balance.

“Anyway.”  Said Sarah, breaking through the noise of the wheels, buggy and horse-farts.

“What’s your name? Apart from grunts and groans you’ve said nothing.”  She continued into the silence, “ And if you don’t say, I’ll call you something you really don’t want to be known as!”

Martha was amused at Sarah’s emphatic threat, knew some of the names she could use.  Plus the fact that she, Martha, already knew his name via the papers in his bag, or rather, wallet.

“I’ll count to ten, slowly.”  Sarah looked across at the man, his beard now shaggy and his clothes covered in the dirt and dust of the road.  As were her’s, despite the few changes of clothes she and Martha had brought with them.    She counted, slowly, keeping an eye him each time and wondering what name she could get away with,  “ Come on, it’s no big deal.  I’m looking forward to choosing your new name!”

She only got to “three!”

“Noah.” He grumbled at her.

“That wasn’t so hard.  I even bet you’ve got a last name too!”


Martha waited for more but neither spoke. He adjusted his position and Sarah clapped the reins to push the horse a little.   She, Martha had looked after this man, argued with him over his wounds and his horse, and his travelling with them but had never asked his name.  He hadn’t offered.  Nor him hers for that matter.  But they had settled into an odd routine of patient and nurse and comfortable companions, accepting each other without much fuss.  ‘or even conversation,’ she thought.

“How far is it to Portland?”  Sarah asked into the air.

“Weeks” he said despondently.   She had no idea how true this was so kept quiet.

Martha agreed, in theory, but hoped the railway had connected in the east-to-west route they had been so loudly trumpeting.  She also hoped the buggy would survive the journey to a town with a railway.  That would save some time on the road but would cost them more than just their precious money.


The weather mostly held for those days before they hit a working railhead; with a partly built station building.  Half the joists were still glowing in the sun when they saw it at the edge of Sandpoint.  A single track that straight-lined out of the new station yard then curved into the distance; rust-topped rails that had not had enough wheel-friction to raise their shine.  The only sign of activity when the dust covered buggy and passengers drew close was the water dripping out of the canvas piping of the water tower by the one siding with its huge pile of logs.

They approached.  The women looked at each other.  The man, Noah, took the scene in, shook his head, closed his eyes and just waited.  He had resigned himself to being organised and ordered around by the two women.   Initially he refused to admit to himself that the rush and rattle of the buggy in that first dash out of Silver City had been anything but annoying.  He was almost out of strength to sit up after a couple of hours and finally had asked to stop and rest.  As he climbed down he had fallen, fainted and woke with his chest re-bandaged.  He was lying in the shade of the buggy.  From then he realised he was in the care of two women who were much more capable than he was.  So, he did as he was told over the days they travelled and nights they stopped.

Thankfully, by the time they stopped at the rail-head he felt physically much better. His wound no longer seeped but was an itching scab that he daren’t scratch.  He always felt hungry, a sure sign of improvement.  Lastly, he was well aware that his horse was depressed at having to hitch along with the buggy for endless days and only having cursory attention.

“Now,” he thought as the buggy stopped and the horse in front snuffled.  Grey came to a doleful stop at the rear.  “I can grab a room, wash, eat and get away! “.  And then “Portland!” Shaking his head again.

Nobody appeared from inside the station.  All was as silent as the dust that settled around them.

“There must be people in the town. Let’s go look.”  Martha gee’d the horse into action and they followed the track to the buildings a hundred yards away.

The short street was almost deserted, the chill in the air keeping the boardwalks empty except for those running errands.  The few buildings were mostly new with bright shingles proclaiming  ‘hardware (rooms)’ or ‘dentist/undertaker’ tucked between the obligatory saloon that also added ‘rooms’ to its boast. In between were two other streets where earlier buildings sidled into the new town. These were the original buildings, now working as sheds, stores and living quarters for those people drafted or drifted in to service the new town buildings springing up; and the railhead.

This had been the end of the line so the tents and followers had been decamped to the next promise of work and money.  Unfortunately leaving the station unfinished due to lack of materials and a sudden lack of Company money but a promise to return ‘in-short time’.

They neared the end of the street and heard the gasping tones of a pump-organ working the intro. to a hymn followed by rousing singing.  The last building might have been the Livery Stable but the road curved tightly round it and revealed a pristine-white church from where the singing erupted again, hiding the organ notes this time.

“Well, must be more than one in there,” commented Sarah as Martha turned the buggy  to face back into the town.   The three sat looking at the buildings ahead.

“Saloon or stables?”  Martha wasn’t enthusiastic for either, she had banked on getting some sort of ticket from someone at the station.  All three had spent the recent days, weeks almost, camping or in friendly homesteaders barns and none felt easy at having to re-enter the real world, as it were. Her fantasy had been to get an immediate ride on the train, to anywhere out of the emptiness of the country.

“The church.” Sarah stated. “The minister, or wife if he has one.  We can wait til they finish.”

As they sat a  stillness surrounded them, each in their own thoughts and they failed to hear the  thumping organ overtaken by the final last words sung in a cross match of choral and hoarse voices as a final ‘Amen’.  Nor could they have heard the words of the minister ending the service but they did react a few seconds later to the doors pushed open and the few children bursting out with their exasperated mothers following, each of them followed by the ‘tutting’ of some elders or the unseen smiles of the forgiving.

The three in the buggy turned heads as the children’s movement and shouting broke their brief reverie.   For what it was worth, both women smoothed their skirted laps in hope of removing some of the impossible amount of dust and grime they had accumulated over the days.  Noah looked at the open doored church and watched as the minister appeared and cheerfully ‘goodbyed’ his miscellaneous flock.  When the minister was left with the few who might have been his family or enthusiastic sheep, Noah suggested they go over and talk.

Martha gently walked the horse back towards the edge of the path leading to the little church.  Grey, Noah’s horse, was tweaked from his own reverie by the rein tied to the buggy and disdainfully followed on and to stop, having moved the few yards in a three quarter circle.  He snorted at the pointlessness of such small movements and prepared to wait yet again as the two women climbed down.  Noah waited too, he was too stiff to move easily and too proud to show it to the dispersing congregation.

Both man and horse watched as Martha and Sarah stopped before the minister and his wife.  Noah  could see the various movements of the group.  Their hands meeting in greeting, the slight shuffles and nods of heads and half-turns towards Noah in the buggy and what seemed a desolate wave by Sarah towards the freshly built station building.  They were too far away for any sound to carry his way but Noah could see the minister’s eyes contemplating him and imagined the thoughts if not the actual words of the man.  Noah had been sitting erect initially but his chest was still painful.  The wound was healing on the surface but beneath the roughly sewn lower level, was still knitting, and tearing if he moved too much.  And the itching was almost unbearable despite his stoicism.  The bandage was still there, mostly to protect from the dust of their travels but also to stop his scratching.  Infection would kill him, both women had warned, shouted, at times.    His shoulders sagged a little.  He wanted to rest but limited it to gripping the support of the front seat with arms straight and locking his elbows to support the weight of his torso.  It may have looked a little odd to any watchers but he felt it better than collapsing altogether.  “Come on! “ he urged quietly, urgently.

Returned, the women took turns in explaining. “ the store should have a room for you, the minister’s wife insisted the women stayed with them”.  He listened.

People moved past, looking at the strangers in the buggy.  Not that strangers were unusual, just  the transport with its once trim fringe now falling in great loops and the once bright panelling covered in chipped paint and the dust and dirt of the long distance.  And the two filthy carpet bags tied down on the back.   A buggy was for tripping to church and back, or picnic by the river, not the rough-track driving this had received over the last week or so.   Only the chestnut horse standing nonchalantly by the rear wheel looked in good condition, apart from the all-encompassing dust it was covered in.

“And a train is here in two days and leaves the following day.    We can sell the buggy and horses at the stables.    That will pay your room and all the tickets.    And leave some for us.  And a donation to the church.  And the minister.  Same thing.    It stops at Sandpoint and Spokane.  Didn’t they say Walla Walla?    And Pendleton?    I know it goes all the way to Portland now.  Eventually, that is.”

Noah could feel himself wilting under the strain of sitting as well as the two women’s excitement.

“The minister’s house is that one, next to the church, of course.”  Sarah hoisted herself up to the front seat and the springs creaked and see-sawed as she climbed and shifted across to allow Martha to do the same.    “We’d better get you that room first.  Then take up the minister’s offer.  We can see to this old thing and the horses tomorrow.”

She shook the reins. “Hey-up” and they jolted away to the store and room the minister had suggested.  Noah shuddered and gripped tighter, shoulders hunching a little more with the jolt through his scabs.

They left him collapsed on a bed above the hardware shop.  They had pulled his boots off, dropped his saddlebags by the door with a thud.   Next was to drive the few yards to the Livery where they left Grey with instructions for a clean-up, rub-down, food and stabling for two days.  With this agreed, Martha arranged to sell the horses and buggy when the train arrived.  That way she reckoned on having the money for their tickets to Portland.    After this planning episode both women climbed excitedly back onto the buggy and trotted back to the minister’s house and his wife who had promised them a real hot tub to bathe in as soon as they could heat up the water.

Next morning, late, with the sun finally burning the frost away in shimmering steam, Martha and Sarah finished helping with the extra chores they had created. They were in high spirits as they finished rinsing their previously neglected underclothes and squeezed most water out with the heavy wooden rollers of their hosts’ mangle.

“This is what I’m getting as soon as I am settled!”  Sarah enthused as she turned the cogged wheel and watched the water oozing out as the clothes moved through the tight rollers.  “ I needed one of these back at the saloon.  We had to take anything up to the camp laundry for washing if we wanted it mangled.  Never did; no stranger getting his hands on my camisoles.”     She hesitated, “Well, not unless they…..”.  She stopped, realising the minister’s wife might hear and be offended.

With clothes finally pegged and flapping in the sunshine they breezed back into the kitchen for promised coffee and flapjacks with the lady of the house.

They didn’t see Noah walking slowly to the Livery Stable, saddle bags over one shoulder.   Or have a slightly aggressive talk and then write a promisery note in the name of Pinkerton for the owner.  After which he struggled to saddle Grey, was helped by the stable boy.   He rested a few minutes and spoke with the boy.   Gave him his last coin as a tip and another token to give to Martha when she came to sell the buggy.

Finally heaving himself aboard Grey and settling more or less upright, “Okay, thanks” as he held out his left hand and was given the reins of Martha’s horse.   All three then left the dust of the building for the crisp sunshine.   Outside he briefly considered his options, “Damned if I’m going to Portland.”    Spokane was the nearest town with a telegraph.  He could wire Pinkertons to honour his  note.  The rail tracks were the shortest route according to the stable boy so he prodded his heels into Grey and they walked towards the railhead tracks.  And Spokane.




















Sandpoint, Spokane, Walla Walla and Pendleton with a final train ride to Portland.

Emotions, Learning, and the Brain

Emotions, Learning, and the Brain:     Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience


Mary Helen  Immordino-Yang.

Hardback,  £25.50.  Published by Norton.   978 0 393 70981 0


Starting with a forward and acknowledgements seemed a little wearisome but it did give a satisfying insight into the thoroughness of the author’s career and research into the contents of this slightly daunting book for the likes of me, an interested non-academic.  What pleasure there was in reading that along with a lengthy string of mentors, researchers, co-workers and teachers, plus her own teaching career; she was also helped by friends and family, (non-neuroscientists) in reading and discussing the ‘essays’ amidst non-academic settings such as ‘accompanied by energetic children and delicious food’.

This and the sheer energy and consideration obvious in the first few pages encouraged this reader to reach the actual ‘Introduction: Why Emotions are Integral to Learning’.  And by the second page I was determined to read the whole book.  With a brief classroom example and a note on scientific advances, it seems the we cannot learn without involving emotional connections within the brain…… you have to be interested!     Not really a mind-blowing sentence from me but explained clearly by Mary-Helen in a way that ticked the “need to know more” boxes.

Yes, its American, and no harm in that for the UK or any world reader.  No complaint about huge depth of research except maybe all the initially looks to be USA……nope, havent checked it out yet so I may be wrong.  There seems a huge amount of bibliographical references so it has been a huge project to complete and be the most up to date

I intend to finish and review this title for ‘Graph Review’ section but it may take a while so I throw it to you as one to consider for yourselves.


on George Borrow: The Heath and the Drawing Room

The Heath and the Drawing Room.         A Graph Review.     50 to 55 points

(The representation of Borrow’s gypsies in Lavengro and the Romany Rye)

By Jessica Von Kaenel-Flatt 

Occasional paper nbr 10     Published by The Lavengro Press.  by  the Lavengro press.          978 0 9955714 2                Several b&w plates and two in colour

I visited this recent little publication, or rather ‘occasional paper’ from the position of not having read anything by George Borrow but being aware of his Lavengro and Romany Rye in a fleeting way.   Picking it up was mostly influenced by my interest in John Clare and the challenging lives and age in which he lived.  Gypsies were important in many respects to Clare for their company, their knowledge and their music as well as being seasonal visitors with a ‘freedom’ he may have envied.

This press specialises in papers on all aspects of George Borrows eventful life, travels and interests. Look to their website for additional published papers.

borrowsgypsies.wordpress.com is a site also worth visiting for more depth on the subject of the two men who were born ten years apart and had interest in the life and style of the gypsy.

This short book, 60 pages, is clearly and interestingly written by Jessica Von Kaenel-Flatt.  Her brief biography reports her long-term interest in Borrow and gypsies including various web and blog sites on the subject. More importantly, perhaps she has worked for support groups of Roma which has added to her knowledge of current and more recent history of their culture.

This wide ranging enthusiasm shows in her obvious in-depth knowledge of the books Lavengro and Romany Rye and her ability to compare storylines and description in the books and make them credible.  Credible in as much as she highlights the prejudice and lack of knowledge of the books’ critics of the day and explains the reality of gypsies’ position and practical ability to access all levels of society.

She explains clearly how the characters in the book may appear at odds with regular society but at the same time able to work with and live with (in temporary, seasonal periods) all strata of society of the day.  Hence their sometime unexpected turn of phrase or knowledge .  Their need to live and survive in precarious times may have put them outside the law at times but always within their own strict community rules.

In one section she makes comment on Borrow’s small amount of  ‘literal’ spelling for pronunciation of language of the gypsy; using this as a positive in that using ‘most established’ written language in common usage of his day helps to clarify the gypsy as able to be part of society at any level.  And makes those (at times) odd use of words that are there, more emphatic.  Clare only gets a brief footnote, but a worthy one where he is one of only three writers she considers successful in writing, large-scale in dialect (including William Barnes and Thomas Hardy).

see page 51 for  note on Clare and his ability to write in dialect.  Other useful footnotes throughout.

The two books were written 150-odd years ago and his language in them a world away from today’s style.  Despite this and his own vagaries in telling stories, fiction, that is,…….as Lavengro and Romany Rye really seem to be,  Jessica Von Kaenel-Flatt is firmly of the opinion that within all those storylines the essence of the characters, lives, events too, community and morals are closely and correctly drawn from life of characters he met.  Jessica unveils this with her taking  examples from the text, reporting the soundly wrong criticism of the day and then putting the actual fact of the matter clearly.  With details of reasons why.  We might classify Lavengro and Romany Rye  as fiction today but Jessica points us to the accuracy of his research and the rich social information he gives us.

To quote from the last page of the book:

George Borrow, remarkably and almost uniquely for the time, has created Gypsy characters endowed with the dignity of full humanity in all its difficult, radiant, perverse glory, and we should in turn accord him the dignity of recognising his considerable achievement.’


The Barn Owl, author: Jeff Martin

by Jeff Martin      Published by Whittet Books.   November 23rd      hardback   price £30          colour throughout, photos, maps, charts, tables         256 pages  978 1 873580 89 9     available via Book Systems Plus  and bookshops.

    I was looking through this beautiful book wishing I was a serious birder or enthusiast able to recognise one owl from another; or even harrier versus kestrel or merlin, or any other such raptors.  Except maybe Kites that are now becoming so frequent and obvious as they hang in the thermals above my local countryside.  For me an owl is an owl.

However this spring I was  driving along a nearby winding road, metalled but only slightly wider than single track and saw a bundle on top of a poled fence ahead.  As I got closer I recognised it as an owl.  It seemed large and white.  Getting closer the features of the face sharpened out of the white front  and I could see the subtly darker feathers of its wings framing side and back.  I had to drive past, no stopping but it was definitely the nearest I have got to a beautiful (wild) owl.   Some of the photographs in this book show the amazing beauty and subtle variety of plumage plus a selection of others on habitat and life.

I assume it was a barn owl but it was bigger than I expected and have never seen it since.  Maybe someone else knows better but for me it was a memorable, almost white barn owl.         Here’s the rub, this book looks so enticing that I really will have to read it page by page so next time I see an owl I will be able to understand its needs and environment as well as just being an established part of our countryside.  It is not just a book on the birds but deeply researched on habitat, coverage and requirements to endure.