Shoot the clown


Sheffield graffiti. Photograph by J.Mellor.


There’s been a lot of discussion about the parallels between poetry and song. Same but different is my stance (a cop out, I know). It’s the creative process that has the most in common, I  suspect. I watched Nick Cave’s 20, 000 Days On Earth last night (second time, I might add, but this time on my own, which makes a difference). Cave gives a fascinating insight into his creative process. He talks about needing to get deeper into his imaginary world/s in order to write the lyrics. At one point he says creating these narratives is like putting a child in a room with a Mongolian psychopath and just seeing what happens. If it needs more tension, send in a clown on a bike. If that’s not working, shoot the clown. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but in the end it’s about making something happen. And isn’t that what we’re aiming to do with each line of poetry? Writing’s not about letting ideas drift (although I do lots of that). It’s about working them, working on them, in order to make art.
So what about my photograph for this post? Well, it occurred to me that someone had a desire to make something happen when they climbed through this disused factory in Sheffield to write LOVE. And they were prepared to take a risk.. That’s why, for me, this is art, not defacement. Someone took a risk with a single word, wrote it large, made something happen.
If you don’t believe me, ask the pigeon perched up there curating the whole thing!



Into the blue again …


Sheffield graffiti by Kid Acne. Photo by J. Mellor

I don’t want to tempt fate here, but since I’ve had my new pamphlet accepted, I’ve felt more relaxed about my writing than I have in a long time (and more relaxed about not writing too). I’m about two thirds of the way through Eric Maisel’s book, Fearless Creating, and a lot of what he has to say about managing the artistic anxieties caused by both creating and not creating rings true. I can certainly recommend Maisel’s book if you want to understand a little more about the process and how it can affect you.

I’m ducking out of posting a poem today, not because I haven’t got any work, but because the new stuff is quietly composting. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a ‘put your feet up’ situation. In fact, I’ve just been to Suzannah Evans’ Writing Space this morning at Bank Street Arts in Sheffield. And this little ear worm is in my head as well (Talking Heads if you didn’t get it from the title of the post). Yes, Into the blue again … with all the uncertainties and anxieties that entails, but also with a certain amount of relish in finding out what exactly I’ll write next and how. Apart from the fact that I’m certain it will be poems, the rest remains a mystery – as it should.

I’m including the unedited picture I took of Kid Acne’s work, below, so you can see his phenomenal work in context. Yes, even skips aren’t immune from being transformed into works of art.


I discovered that night was its own colour …

At the moment, I’m busy with the edits for my new pamphlet, Out of the Weather, which is due to be published in July by Smith/Doorstop. In the meantime, two bits of artistic inspiration keep nagging away at me. I’ve not done anything with them yet, but I will, and I’m going to share them in case anyone else finds that they spark off an idea.

The first is this quote from the photographer Langdon Clay, whose work I saw when I visited the Graves art gallery in Sheffield: ‘I discovered that night was its own colour and I fell for it’. This really resonates with me and I keep mulling it over. It’s the word ‘fell’ I think, and all the connotations it has. Anyway, it’s constantly in the back of my mind right now.

The second is this photograph of an exhibition by Chris Graham. Food for thought. Visit Bank Street Arts and see the whole thing for yourself!


The Scar on my Wrist

As far as the New Year is concerned, I’m all for looking forward, rather than looking back. However, many of my recent poems have purposely involved looking back in order to try and make sense of the past and my place in it. The writing has taken a more personal turn, something that feels quite new to me, and at times difficult to manage. Sheffield’s graffiti continues to amaze and inspire me, as do the many wild poets out there. One of the books I received this Christmas was Patricia Lockwood’s Motherland Fatherland Homelandsexuals. I’m only 6 poems in and already I can tell you that it’s edgy, energetic, playful with language, and very aware (almost self-consciously so – and this is a strength) of the extraordinary power words have to unnerve and surprise us. What a gift!


Sheffield graffiti, artist unknown. Photograph by J. Mellor

Ode to the Scar on my Wrist

Yellow stars of skin where the break was pinned,
a car crash, Hereford, student weekend
of Pernod and black, my friends,

Susan with the cowlick fringe,
her boyfriend from the Rhonda,
and Steve, who would run naked down any street

at midnight for a dare, all of us in a hire car,
speeding down that road with the hidden bend,
scream of wheels spinning mid air,

the roof crushed in the long roll down the bank
and us, after our minute’s silence,
clambering out with no more than a graze,

except for the compound fracture to my wrist,
and weren’t we the lucky ones, in love
with ourselves, the resilience of our bodies

taken for granted, and didn’t we drink ourselves
stupid the following night, quoting Talking Heads,
this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco,

 this ain’t no fooling around, me with my arm in plaster,
flirting with the fireball from a box of matches,
a pub trick that set my face alight.

(Commended in the Ilkley Lit. Fest. Walter Swan Trust poetry prize 2016)

Darling, What If …



Sheffield graffiti – artist unknown

Darling, What If …

What if I choose this one small fly, iridescent on the daisy’s white ruff.

What if I choose to follow it with my eye from flower to flower
as I sit on this bench, a wooden sleeper resting on two grindstones.
And what if other flies circle, for example, that fat atheist the bluebottle,
searching for something more akin to a shopping mall than a lawn.

What if nothing happens but sound, trains across the way
sliding in and out of town like pharmaceutical salesmen or lovers
who’ve met on the internet. What if the wind repeats rumours
of their wedding vows from mid-week town hall ceremonies.

What if the fly disappears, only for a minute, but completely,
dizzying blindly through a portal into another world.

I know this can’t happen, because a fly has a thousand eyes
and can’t go anywhere blindly. Imagine our world as it appears to the fly,
like a shop front on a 70s high street, stacked with colour t.v.s,
all tuned to the same channel.

This is the closest you’ll ever get to understanding, not being a fly,
but at least being able to picture it, that feeling inside my messed-up head.

This poem was written in one of Nell Farrell’s workshops at Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet  and won 2nd prize in the Nottingham Open poetry competition, 2016. Thanks Nell – it wouldn’t have been written without your inspirational approach to poetry.


The poem I’m sharing today was written after a visit to Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet, Sheffield. The fantastic Nell Farrell, whose poetry I admire so much, later ran some writing workshops at the site which I was fortunate enough to attend. The site has inspired so much of my writing lately, I thought I’d put this poem on the blog by way of a thank you to Nell and the team at Abbeydale. Also, it gives me a chance to use this amazing graffiti image, which I assume is by Kid Acne. Copies of his work used to hang on our kitchen wall until a few years ago, cut out of the free magazine, Now Then. Topless urban warriors – I can tell you we got some strange looks from the man who came to read the gas meter!


Graffiti by Kid Acne?, photo by J. Mellor



Now the rain, the wooden bench outside
too damp to sit on. Winter air cuts like a scythe.

Now the past, rent books that read:
skelper, wheel, dam, counting house.

Now a pair of King Charles spaniels
on the mantelpiece, gilt flecks, yellow eyes.

Now the stump of a candle on the windowsill,
cobwebs netting the light.

Now the creaking stairs, the black bed frame
against peeling walls,

worn linoleum, patchwork bedspread,
peg dolls cushioned like the relics of saints.

Now the long mirror in which I see myself,
just turned forty, troubled by cysts,

looking at history through its silvered reflection:
lace-hemmed windows, a child’s smock,

the coffin-shaped crib at the foot of the bed.




Sheffield graffiti – artist unknown. Photo J. Mellor


We have darkened like the end of the year,
the knuckled hulls at our core
white as a maggot or a baby’s first tooth.

Clusters of sorcery, we store the sun.
The juice of us is a blue flame.
Even the wary fall for our frumenty smell.

Between children’s fingers we bleed black,
store our vengeance until Michaelmas,
when the devil unleashes himself in spit

and piss, and we rot like the underside
of hide buried in lime, lose ourselves
in softness, sink back into what we are,

almost fruit, almost tar, resist the creeping nights,
the toll of winter curfew, wait
in our thinned clusters like the eyes of the blind,

until eel worms eat at our ingangs,
hang on to the last, juice thick as oak bark liquor,
seasoned, vile,

then shrivel back to seed,
like the mole on the back of the neck
that marks you for hanging.

For the last few weeks, I’ve put some new poems on the blog, accompanied by photos I’ve taken of Sheffield’s graffiti. Today’s poem, ‘Blackberries’, is a relatively old one, and appears in my pamphlet, Breathing Through Our Bones (Smith/Doorstop, 2012). It’s the time of year when everything is, as we might say, ‘going over’, so I thought I’d give it an airing. Quillella, I hope you like the image.

Also, I’m well aware that I need to properly credit these graffiti artists, but my knowledge is totally lacking. However, the one I’ve got in mind for the next entry will be named!