Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday 29 March 2017


The Old Man

The old man looked out of his window
at the screeching gull as it wheeled away.
There is a value to ignorance, he thought.
If you lose it, it cannot be replaced.

And he looked again where the bird had been
and cursed his failing eyesight.
Was it still there or did he imagine it?

And he stood there alone.
Well, as alone as any of us ever are
or would wish to be.

6 April 1991

Over the years more than one person has commented on a certain naïveté, a kind of innocence that continues to dog me to this day. I say “kind of” because although I’m guilty of many things hanging on to such a useless notion as innocence is not one of them; I gave it up willingly and with few regrets. I think what people see in me is a readiness to give people the benefit of the doubt. And they’re right. I’ve never been able to shake that. Hell, for five minutes I even imagined that Trump would dial it back when he took office and everything that’d gone on in the months before had been a ploy to help him win votes; electioneering is after all a dirty business these day. Well, that never happened.
Ignorance is simply not knowing: I couldn’t list off more than maybe a dozen elements off the periodic table but that doesn’t make me a bad person. Innocence, on the other hand, is not understanding, which is why a concept such as the age of criminal responsibility exists. Thankfully there are still many things of which I remain blissfully ignorant. You don’t have to know everything. Far from being the first step to wisdom more often than not knowledge only leads to disappointment.

Sunday 26 March 2017


The Right Kind of Lies

The truth of it was visibly brittle
so we wrapped it up
in the right kind of lies
and took it with us
away from the past
where it should have stayed.

6 April 1991

Yet another truth poem and there’re more to come. You’d think I’d have said everything I had to say but it’s a subject I’m continually drawn to. These days I don’t tend to write them down, the ideas, because I really probably have said everything I have to say on the subject. And yet I can’t quite give up on beating on it.

I just had a look to see how many times I mention the word ‘truth’ in Left. Thirty-five times. I thought there might be more since so much of the book is about Jen trying to find out uncover the mystery of who her father was. At one point she notes: “Beliefs don’t need to be true. Truths don’t even need to be true these days.” I wrote that before all this fake truth malarkey kicked off and, yes, it’s truer now than it was then.

“The people have a right to the truth as they have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” So said Epictetus but even if he’s right I think what we have nowadays is a “pound of flesh” situation. How does anyone get to the truth without making a bloody mess? Easier said than done.

Wednesday 22 March 2017



I've been gnawing on the bones of the past for years.
I dig them up every now and then
but it's comforting just to know they're there.

It's an unmarked grave, the past,
but I know where it is.

6 April 1991
I’m a cat person. I don’t hate dogs and I’ll pet anything that’ll let me but I don’t get dogs. Loyal and obedient they may well be but there’s an underlying stupidity there I allow to annoy me. At least it comes across as stupidity. I think the main problem is dogs are so unabashedly enthusiastic they never think anything through; they plunge through life. And yet we have the simile: like a dog with a bone. I’ve seen dogs with bones. Not many but enough to get the point. Cats can be every bit as territorial. Hell my tiny cockatiel will face up to me if I try to interfere with a cardboard box he’s busy chewing holes in. “My box! Mine!”
I’m not sure when nostalgia befell me but it crept up on me in my fifties. One day I found myself looking up, needing to look up people online I’d not thought about in over thirty years. I’d had Internet access since 1996 but it took me until, say, 2010 to think to do this. I’d never been one for looking back not even to watch the bridges burn. As I said in Living with the Truth: “Nostalgia—sounds like an ailment, a sickness of the soul perhaps.” And later in Left: “I’m not prone to bouts of nostalgia or even retrospection, not normally (I’m making an exception for you here); introspection, yes, I like being inside my own head, I’m comfortable in my own skin…”
These poems I’ve been posting for the last while are bones I’ve buried. I know where they are, on the bottom shelf behind me in the office. They used to all fit in one big red binder but now they’re in two and ‘Bones’ is in the Garfield binder. I treat them like reference books. Christ knows the last time I sat down and just read any of them for my own enjoyment. I don’t need to read them. But I do need to have them.

Sunday 19 March 2017


The Voyeur

No, it's not enough to know.
It's never been enough.

It just all depends on your point of view
how much you can see
of Truth as she changes.

And how much that reveals
depends on what you're looking for.

6 April 1991

Voyeurism has always fascinated me. I’m not talking here about sexual voyeurism. That’s easy to understand. The two or three times I’ve happened to see a neighbour in a state of undress have stayed with me even though I can’t remember what any of the women looked like; the idea of nakedness is always more appealing than actual nakedness. What they looked like wasn’t important. What mattered was catching a moment of unfettered truth. As soon as we’re aware we’re not alone in a moment our behaviour changes. I’ve always been desperately interested to see what people do when no one’s watching or they think no one’s watching. So I suppose ‘spying’ would be a more appropriate word but even that’s not right because spies usually have malicious intent. I don’t. I’m simply fascinated by other people.
It’s like Jen says in Left:
I enjoy eating out. Especially alone. I amuse myself by watching the other customers or, if they’re a dreary lot, by peering out the window at passers-by. People interest me, their doings and their undoings. I don’t get them in the same way I don’t get meerkats but still like following their antics.
Jen’s not like other people. She’s not a poet but she knows she’s different. She notes at one point, “I often feel as if there’s a glass pane between me and everyone else.” Well that’s truer in 2017 than it’s ever been. In January 1997 I go on to write two poems both called ‘Screen’ and in both I refer to glass screens, TV screens, computer screens and how they only seem to let us in; we’re still separate, apart.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Dear Reflection: I Never Meant to be a Rebel

Autobiography is fiction, and fiction is autobiography. Factual truth is irrelevant to autobiography. – Robert Elbaz

Before we get into my article here’s a short blog post from Jessica from March 2010 to set the scene:
Many meaningful memories meander through my mind, but as I jot them down, I fear they will subconsciously mutate, malfunction, morph into fiction rather than fact. Especially when I retrace the times that made me miserable, I frantically fight off fate's fundamental message to me, in fear that I may feel its familiar unfathomable fiery force again. If only there was a way to write these memories down, and maintain a fictitious distance from them, my memoir wouldn't make me miserable, it would make me motivated to tell others my story.
As a fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Browning (as she was still known at the time) wrote in her second autobiographical essay, ‘Glimpses into My Own Life and Literary Character’, “To be one's own chronicler is a task generally dictated by extreme vanity…” and I guess that’s the first obstacle any prospective autobiographer has to overcome: “Why would anyone be interested in your life?” If there’s one question I would ask anybody contemplating starting a memoir or a full-blown autobiography that would be it because it doesn’t matter what we’ve been through there will be someone out there whose story will completely eclipse ours. That doesn’t invalidate what we’ve experienced but it should make us question its greater worth. Of course it’s natural—healthy, even—for us to examine own lives and to spend some time (although maybe not too much time) mulling over our choices and there’s nothing inherently wrong in committing our conclusions to paper (because we forget so quickly) but, seriously, who else bar a few close family members cares what we did when we were wee?
The dedication to Jessica Bell’s memoir is:
For everyone except myself.
This struck me as odd and intriguing. Most writers no matter what they say write for themselves first and foremost—writing is all about self-expression after all—and if others appreciate it and, even better, are willing to pay to read what you’ve written then you’ve won a watch. Like Will Self said in this 2012 Guardian article:
I don't really write for readers. I think that's the defining characteristic of being serious as a writer. I mean, I've said in the past I write for myself. That's probably some kind of insane egotism but I actually think that's the only way to proceed—to write what you think you have to write. I write desperately trying to keep myself amused or engaged in what I'm doing and in the world.
Having known Jessica Bell for several years and having read most of her books the one thing I can say about her is that’s she’s serious about her writing and (mostly) her writing is serious (without being sombre) so I don’t buy for a minute that this memoir is something others badgered her into writing or she’s dashed off to make a quick euro; this was something she needed to do and now she’s done with it maybe others will be able to get something from it. As she said in this interview:
I definitely write for myself, and THEN try to figure out how to market it to readers. I’m a strong believer in the notion that if you do not write for yourself, your work will not be your best. Any creative endeavour has to come from an honest place in order for people to be able to relate to it. That’s my opinion anyway.
The writing was for her; the finished book is for us. It’s clearly a project she’s been struggling with for years. As she told Zoe Courtman in 2010, “I’m having difficulty with my memoir at the moment … I just don’t want to be in it.”
All intentions selfish or unselfish aside there’s a problem with autobiography, several problems really. Can a writer be honest when he writes? Dostoyevsky thought not. In Notes from Underground he maintains that “a true autobiography is almost an impossibility, and that man is bound to lie about himself.” Even if an author doesn’t deliberately set out to misrepresent the facts does not the written text nevertheless become an interpretation of the past as opposed to faithful recollection? The person writing about their experiences is not the person who went through them. But even let’s say an author can be honest, ought he to be honest (and, if so, how honest) and does he even want to be honest? (Despite what we were taught as children honesty is not always the best policy.) Autobiography is never merely a recording of what we did and where; it invariably involves commenting on, explaining, justifying or trying to excuse our life choices. Confession is more than mere disclosure. It seeks absolution or at very least understanding.
I was looking at a WikiHow site a while back; a post entitled How to Write an Autobiography, where I was rather surprised to find this subheading under ‘Crafting a Narrative’: “Create an overarching plot.” Novels have plots. Lives have chronologies. Both leave a lot to be desired. In Jessica’s case she boils thirty-five years down to less than 300 pages. In condensing a breadth of experience confabulation must arise. But is that necessarily a bad thing? She concentrates on telling a specific story and leaves out what she thinks isn’t pertinent. She hasn’t gone as far as novelising her life but in her opening ‘Note from the Author’ she nevertheless admits:
While all the events in this book are true, on some occasions I have been creative with the way they play out due to my inability to recall specific details. I have instead filled these gaps in memory with what I assume would be the most logical and fitting details in relation to the era and circumstances. […] In some cases I have compressed or merged events; in others I have made two or three people into one.
This reminded me immediately of another Australian writer. Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James would’ve been the first book by an Australian I read and probably the first memoir I ever read, too. He, likewise, admitted up front that his book played lip service to the truth:
Most first novels are disguised autobiographies. This autobiography is a disguised novel. On the periphery, names and attributes of real people have been changed and shuffled so as to render identification impossible. Nearer the centre, important characters have been run through the scrambler or else left out completely. So really the whole affair is a figment got up to sound like truth. All you can be sure of is one thing: careful as I have been to spare other people’s feelings, I have been even more careful not to spare my own. Up, that is, of course, to a point. […] I am also well aware that all attempts to put oneself in a bad light are doomed to be frustrated. The ego arranges the bad light to its own satisfaction. But on that point it is only necessary to remember Santayana’s devastating comment on Rousseau’s Confessions [regarded by some as the starting point of modern autobiography], which he said demonstrated, in equal measure, candour and ignorance of self.
All I can say from a personal point of view is that I’ve never written a book I’ve intended to and I’m pretty sure that’ll be the case with most authors; we’re never as in control as we like to think we are. The real issue with life writing is truthfulness. Not truthiness. Can you be truthful without telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Well, of course you can. In her 1979 article ‘Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?’ Ursula Le Guin wrote, “[F]antasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true.” Imagination and truth are not so incompatible. Far from it. In her memoir Jessica imagines (literally fantasises, from the Greek phantazesthai which means "picture to oneself") how things might’ve happened and she admits she may have got more than a few details wrong but her intent clearly was to head in the right direction; to be truthful. As Janina Bauman puts it in her essay ‘Memory and Imagination: Truth in Autobiography’: “[I]magination helped by a sense of probability: it could have been so.”
According to Denis Ledoux, who runs a website called The Memoir Network, “People read memoirs to learn to be better or happier or more contributory people.” It’s a thought. I’m not sure it’s as simple as that or maybe it’s simpler still; maybe it’s plain nosiness. What I do have to agree with is what Jennifer S. Wilkov had to say in her article for The Huffington Post, ‘No One Wants to Read Your Diary’:
        While your personal life story may be an unbelievable one, how you craft it, how you tell it, and how you share the development of the main character—meaning you—is of utmost importance.
         The reason why many memoirs don’t get picked up by major publishers is because they fall short of this important distinction: no one wants to read your diary; they want to read your story.
At first I wondered if this was the hurdle where Jessica’s book might fail because from the off she uses the classic ‘Dear Diary’ format. Okay she doesn’t say, “Dear Diary,” she goes with, “Dear Reflection,” and it’s hard to draw any distinction at first but there is one, a significant one because her reflection talks back. It’s a contrivance, a literary device; it never happened. It works though. Her reflection is often scathing, accusatory, rude, challenging and insulting but on occasion she provides the voice of reason.
Here’s another problem though. Readers, not authors, are the ones who supply meanings. I’ve lived a very different life to Jessica and her family and so the problem she faced—indeed the problem every author faces—was how to minimise the… let’s just go with ‘damage’… the damage a reader could do whilst struggling to relate to the characters and events on the page. In Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, psychologists Michael White and David Epston maintain, “Since we cannot know objective reality, all knowing requires an act of interpretation.” What right do I have to validate a text when the experience was never mine to begin with? All I can possibly be left with is an idea of what Jessica went through. Let me give you an example. Both Jessica and I are depressives. In her book she mentions depression a few times assuming that’s all we need to understand. But if you’ve never been depressed-with-a-capital-d you really have no idea and her experiences of depression are markedly different to mine; for one I’ve never felt suicidal. In the mid-nineties she says she was plagued with “constant thoughts of suicide”—“[t]he only thing that prevented me from taking suicide one hundred per cent seriously was music,” she writes—although in this article from 2014, ‘But That’s Not “Real” Depression’, she opens with, “Sometimes I get told that I’m not ‘really’ depressed because I am not suicidal…” so one can only assume that her symptoms have changed over the years as did mine; people think about autism as a spectrum so why not depression? Either that or she remembers adolescence as being worse than it was. I suspect it’s the former because when describing a bout of separation anxiety in the 2000s she realises:
        It wasn’t my usual depression in which I felt worthless, and it definitely didn’t make me want to commit suicide.
        This sadness was manic.
        Like I was going through this torturous thing, can’t you see, can’t you see, and why isn’t anyone trying to help me find a solution? Why isn’t anyone trying to help me get back to him?
        Imagine giving a homeless person a house, a night to sleep in a warm bed, and shower, and then saying, “Sorry, man, just kidding, you’re stuck in the cold for life.” The world had betrayed me. It teased me into submission and then pulled the ground from under my feet. [bold mine]
In his essay ‘Graves Without Bodies: The Mnemonic Importance of Equiano's Autobiography’ the Ghanaian poet Kwadwo Opoku-Agyemang notes, “The successful autobiography is one that shows a mind reflecting upon, sifting and relating to events; it must display a person changing and being changed by life's experiences, and sometimes even by the very process of writing the autobiography.” [Italics mine.] This is something Jessica does. From time to time she’ll jump to the present—if you like out of the memoir—and sets herself side by side with the reader, asking herself to pass comment (and ultimately judgement) on her younger self. One reviewer compared Jessica’s memoir to the work of Maya Angelou. If that’s not setting a writer up for a fall I’m not sure what is but there is a case to be answered. What distinguishes I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings from what went before it is that Angelou records experience not as history, but as experience she recognizes as changing in time. In what way does Jessica do that? In that we’re presented with a portrait of someone called ‘Jessica Bell’ which is then worked on throughout the book. At the start it’s only a pencil sketch. The child we meet in the beginning is little more than an outline which gradually gets coloured it. At times the picture gets messy and needs painting over. At university she experimented with her look (and, she says, inadvertently her personality) so much so that sometimes other students failed to recognize her; later drink, bad relationship choices, mental health issues and loss distort the picture. A chapter ends; we get a breather and begin again. Eventually the Jessica we’ve come to know over the years—as much as any of us knows anyone we’ve only met online—starts to appear.
In the Smithsonian magazine I read that “Dickens began his autobiography in 1847, when he was [also] 35, but abandoned it and, overcome with memories of his deprivations, a few years later was inspired to write the autobiographical David Copperfield, fictionalizing his early miseries…” Jessica has already done this, ransacked her past to create her fictions. In her novella The Book, for example, she describes an incident where a five-year-old girl who’s soiled herself fears being trapped in the school toilets overnight. Reading that again and knowing that little girl was Jessica and not someone she dreamt up changes everything. And yet, to my mind, the novella’s version is more powerful because it’s written in the voice of a child and it’s not an adult remembering something that happened thirty years earlier. See what you think.
From the memoir:        
        Why did you run away? Why didn’t you just tell Mrs Wallace in the playground?
        Because I didn’t want the other kids to see!
        But now you’re stuck in here. That was stupid. What are you going to do?
        I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do!
        You’re an idiot. You’re stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
        I wailed and wailed, holding my yellow-and-white striped Miki House Club dress away from my legs—my saturated knickers still hooked around my ankles. I was so afraid of stepping out of the cubicle in case another kid came in. I had to get cleaned up. But how? I couldn’t possibly go outside without a pair of knickers on. Everyone would see my chishy as my dress was short.
        Call for help.
        I don’t want to.
        There’s no other way.
        But they’ll see me, and they’ll laugh at me.
        Do you want to be locked in here all night?
        Then stop being such a wuss and call for help!
“Help!” I cried at the top of my lungs. Only once. But no-one came for what seemed like hours.
The italicised sections are her reflection and her squabbling. Now here’s how it plays out in the novella:
        I lift my Mickey Mouse skirt and pull down on the flicky-thread of my undies. But it squishes between my legs when I sit on the torlet seat.
        It smells like a baby accident and a hospital in here and my heart goes all bumpy in my chest. I can smell that stinky liquid stuff that my mummy uses to make clothes white, and it always makes her rub her head after, and I have to bring her some Tic Tacs.
        I can’t tell any bodies I did this. I can’t! They will all laugh at me and I don’t like it when bodies laugh at me. When bodies laugh my belly goes all feeling not nice and tears come out of my eyes. Mrs Haydon will come a-looking for me any minute, wondering why I’m not back to get my school bag off my hook. The home-time bell just runged. I’m going to be in so much trouble.
Both are honest accounts (honest enough) but which is the more truthful? I checked with Jessica assuming “Miki House Club” was a typo. Apparently not. That's what the real shirt said. So why change it in the novella? And does it matter if it was a dress or a skirt? We get the idea.
According to Blake Morrison, writing in The Guardian, “The confessional memoir is disreputable. Critics tend to dismiss it as the equivalent of a selfie, a look-at-me snapshot, a glorified ego trip. Narcissism, they say, is inscribed in the very word ‘memoir’: me-moi.” In the article he proposes seven reasons why people confess on paper: spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings, confession as an apology or self-justification, confession as a desire to shock, confession as the desire to redefine what’s shocking, confession as performance and showmanship, an effort to set the record straight or, finally, as catharsis, cleansing, or purgation. That last one comes closest to what I think Jessica intended here but if the book truly is, as she says, for everyone except herself is it meant to be a teaching aid? Learn from me. Don’t make the same mistakes as me. If you have made mistakes or are in the process of making mistakes that doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
Life is all about choices. So they say. It’s not entirely true. Maya Angelou didn’t choose to be black. Anne Frank didn’t choose to be Jewish. Jessica Bell didn’t choose to be raised by rock musicians. They could’ve been fundamentalist Christians like my parents. Or wolves. Normal is what you’re used to. It doesn’t really exist except as a good idea. As the cliché goes: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what if life hands you shit? Shit has its uses too If only for throwing at fans or decorating your cell with.
Jessica did not always make the wisest of choices. She turned to drink, was promiscuous and experimented sexually; she refused to learn from past mistakes. She wasn’t born black in the Deep South in the 1920s or Jewish in Nazi Germany but then most of us weren’t. There are some things in life we can’t control and there’re others we lose control of. Depression is not a life choice, alcoholism is an illness and bullying might not quite be up there with racism but when you realise half our kids get bullied at some time and one in five gets bullied every day you start to appreciate how serious it is.
Does Jessica provide any answers? Not really. The closest she gets to a Rosa Parks moment is snogging another girl in the middle of the dancefloor during the End of Year 10 Formal and all that does is solidify the negative impression most people had of her. The girls did not get nominated for homecoming queens. This was the Australia in the 1990s, not the set of Faking It. I was interested to read this in a 2011 interview:
Not every woman in this world lives without regret, knows exactly what they want, and has the courage to put every essence of their being into achieving their dreams. Not every woman is inspirational to others. Not every woman can leave their comfort zone to better their future. But, so what? Does that mean a less strong-minded woman doesn't have an interesting story to tell? Definitely not.
What Jessica does do is survive. She could just as easily have died under anaesthetic in 2001 or stepped off a cliff in 2002. She has her scars (and her battle scars) but she’s still here to tell her tale to the best of her ability. Not without some luck. But here’s the thing about luck: you need to make the most of it, the good kind anyway, and it rarely waves a flag yelling, “This way! This way! Here’s where you go right and not left.” Jessica had to hang on until 2005 for her moment and, oddly, this is where the book starts to peter out and she doesn’t go on to explain how successful (it’s a relative term, I know) she’s become but then most of the people who’ll be attracted to this book will have some knowledge of her and we know for all her failings the one thing Jessica has never been afraid of is hard work. I asked her about why the ending doesn't focus on her writing career and this is what she came back with:
It's an entirely different story, unrelated to my childhood and teenhood and love life and music, and would be the length of an entirely new book. I intend to write about it. I have two other memoir project ideas at the moment: 
  1. The building of my career as a writer and entrepreneur beginning 2005.
  2. The (rather humorous and quite devastating) story of running the café-bar in Ithaca.
I did start to go into more detail about these things as I was writing Dear Reflection, but I soon realized that, not only would it completely destroy the thematic thread and focus of the book, but the texts focussing on these areas would have ended up longer than the current book. These stories didn't belong in Dear Reflection. They are not related to my psychological struggle. They are related to the side of my personality that is highly confident, ambitious, and has an overactive drive to succeed. And because that side of me is completely different to the side I write about in Dear Reflection, it needs its own book.
Think of it this way: Why do horoscopes separate career and love predictions? Because there is no way to predict the future of one path in tandem with the other. They are separate elements of one's life, and though they can co-exist, and influence each other, the narrative and outcome of each element is always going to differ, and therefore trigger different human responses.
She makes a good point and to that end it might’ve been better had she ended this memoir in 2005 with her standing at the door to a new life. Just a thought. I suppose one could think of the last section as a teaser trailer.

If you want to know what Jessica’s achieved in recent year check out her bio here. If you want to know why you might want to read her memoir you should look at this blog post, again from 2010.
I’ll leave you with the book trailer.

Sunday 12 March 2017


Forever is Just Another Word

I don't know where all the words have gone.

Perhaps they've all been used on someone else.
Perhaps there's nothing left but me
to hold you in the dark.

But we don't need them anymore.
We only thought we did but we never knew.

There is so much time.

20 May 1990
I don’t know when exactly B. left for Ireland but I do know that before she left I was showing signs of depression. Although I’ve been through four major depressions in my life I’ve always been reluctant to admit to being depressed. It’s so much easier to blame other things like overwork and, of course, in my case, overwork to the point of burnout has without a doubt been a major contributory factor. This was the start of my second breakdown. Maybe not here exactly but hereabouts. I’d just turned thirty-one so it’d been about eight years since my first breakdown. About eight years after this I’ll have my third and eight years after that my fourth. By my count my fifth is overdue or maybe I’m in the middle of it and haven’t noticed.
I’ve read this poem over and over again. Can’t for the life of me figure out who the “you” might be. It’s not B. or F. or anyone else. Maybe it’s that other part of me who’d run out of words, the “me” I’m constantly waiting on to say something clever or witty. Suffice to say I was suffering being unable to write and there’s definitely something unnatural about this one. I’ve been here before, needing to write but struggling to and so I force one out before its time. This poem definitely needed more time but my need to write got the better of me.

Wednesday 8 March 2017



“I thought you'd be pleased,” she said
when she presented me
with the typescript of our conversation.

Well I was, in a way, flattered at least,
but I'd never intended
what I'd said to have such permanence.

Better such things to be viewed
through the veil of memory.

29 October 1989

Odd that the last of my poems for B. doesn’t include a dedication. Of course I didn’t realise it was going to be the last or why it turned out to be the last. All I can say is that I didn’t write a poem for months after this and it isn’t a very good poem and the next batch are all based on scraps I had lying around. The next original poem didn’t come until August 1991. I can’t complain really. This was the most prolific I’ve ever been and it was both wonderful and horrible at the same time.
When I showed B. this poem the first question she asked was had I been secretly recording our conversations. I hadn’t. The thought hadn’t even occurred to me but now I wish I had. Now I struggle to remember her voice. Whereas with the original Salome the veils came off with my Salome they’re going on.

Sunday 5 March 2017


Fallen Waters

(for B.)

Falling waters have a
twisted and accelerated life.

They swirl through gullies formed
by heavy rains and tear at their banks

carrying such thought and
dark desires with them
until they burst forth at the mouth like words.

It has a strange beauty
from a distance but
beneath these awesome falls we stand entranced

before such a power
which we cannot control, but we know

that we are made of the
same but still waters – till the thaw comes.

19 October 1989

We went on a car trip once up the Dalry Hills. I’d never been there before but it was, apparently, a spot B. and her mother loved and so we all piled in the car and off we headed. At Glen Burn there was a waterfall they wanted us to see. As I recall it was nowhere near as pretty as the one in the photo (the photographer must’ve caught it on a good day). The one we encountered was more of a dribble and about as far from “awesome” as you could imagine plus it was overcast which didn’t help. But I got to spend the day with B. and that was all that mattered.

Wednesday 1 March 2017


Body Language

(for B.)

I've been going through the motions
for years: miming life
to an unappreciative audience
used only to words
and what use are they?

I can see all of them but
they can't see beyond charades.
They can't not translate into words.
They won't let the movements speak
for themselves.

18 October 1989

The idea that the vast majority of communication occurs nonverbally is quoted everywhere: 53% face, 38% voice, 7% words. The figures come from two studies conducted by Albert Mehrabian in the mid-1960s. A bit like Pavlov with his dogs I’d never really thought about the practicalities of how one goes about measuring nonverbal communication; I blindly accepted the “facts” and got on with my poems. My reasoning was that because there were only the words on the page then 100% of the communication had to be verbal. I’ve always had issues with reciting poems.
In reality Mehrabian’s tests were very basic indeed. As he says on his website:
My findings on this topic have received considerable attention in the literature and in the popular media.
Please note that this and other equations regarding relative importance of verbal and nonverbal messages were derived from experiments dealing with communications of feelings and attitudes (i.e., like-dislike). Unless a communicator is talking about their feelings or attitudes, these equations are not applicable
I’ve no idea what B. saw in my face when I spoke to her. Probably what she expected to see, a friend. And when I spoke she’ll have heard a friend. We see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Like most scientists Mehrabian never thought to factor in observer bias; from a scientific point at least we are not all equal. Would Mehrabian’s results have been different if the speaker was that pretty girl from the coffee shop on the corner or some Japanese holidaymaker they’d coaxed in off the street?
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