Absolutely Surreal Olympics

I wrote the original of the poem below during the 2012 London Olympics, prompted by the ecstatic rather than focused language of medal winners, which was quite understandably so. This was, and still is, a fond reflection of that joyous repetitiveness. I have added one line to represent the current Rio Olympics, and this is perhaps a little more satirical about the interviewers’ inane questioning about athletes’ ability to absorb their successes, and the response that I think is also a reflection of language change over the last four years where anything remotely new or surprising as an experience has a default description of being surreal, which in all instances it clearly isn’t and instead is the ‘absolutely’ palpable case!olympics2


Nebraska 14 – ‘How Captain Bender Won the Game’, Addison Erwin Sheldon

In continuing the Nebraska literary theme, I do have to search widely, though I have featured Sheldon before. Here, we have a poetic praising of a football game, and for Cornhuskers at the very least, this celebration will be no surprise.

The game in question is documented in the following newspaper clipping from The Omaha Sunday Bee:



And here’s the full story:


In Commemoration of the Notable Football Contest of November 14, 1903.

Sight to stir the student blood.—
That stern battle Kansas showed
Upon her hollow field within the limestone hills :—
In a thousand Lincoln eyes,
Doubt debates with sore surprise,
From two thousand Kansas throats
Roll their weird, fierce battle-notes,—
Like a caverned coyote’s cry.
Like a bat across the sky,—
Floats that cadenced Kansas chant,—
“Rock-chalk” song of things that haunt
Those cretaceous sea-built plains ;—
Cross-bones, skulls and grim remains
Of some wild-eyed Troglodyte
Slain in Saurian foot-ball fight,
In fierce Stone Age rushes which the fancy fills

Still above the doubting fear
Rises, strong, Nebraska’s cheer;
Plunge on plunge the Kansas foe
Pounds our line with bitter blow,—
Mass en masse the Kansas guard
Breaks a path across the sward.
Near and nearer yet toward Nebraska’s goal;
Yard by yard in slow retreat.
What! It cannot mean defeat,
For the Scarlet and the Cream!
Vanish, mad Jayhawking dream!
Booth, O mighty coach and true,
Give us victory anew!
Borg and Mason, tall and strong.
Hold that headlong Kansas throng.
Shout, Nebraska bleachers. Call
Louder still, “Stonewall! Stonewall!”

Back upon our five-yard line,
Like a storm-bent mountain pine,
In the last ditch dying hard
For that slender strip of sward;
For the glory and the fear
Of our Alma Mater dear;
For the honor and the fame
Of our loved Nebraska’s name;—
Stand like granite, living stone,
Cornland muscle, blood and bone,—
Athlete heroes,—spirits picked.—
Bender, Wilson, Benedict—
Twice and thrice the Kansas breakers backward roll.

Name him,—the football hero name,—
Who can win the desperate game;
Who in fierce Kansas’ face
Can cross the white-barred battle place,
And plant the ball upon the farther line in victory.
Charge on charge; blow for blow,
Swings the conflict to and fro.
The low November sun
Tells the last half nearly done;
Beating heart and anxious eye.
Vainly for the victor cry.
Guard and tackle, back and end,
Still their hard-pressed line defend.
Suddenly upon our right
Springs the Captain into sight,—
Springs from a struggling mass,
Shot through a narrow pass.
Under his arm the ball,
Past tackle or recall;
Headed beyond control,
Straight for the Kansas goal.

Hark! That Nebraska yell!
Was it the grandstand fell?
Whoop, every megaphone
Till the last lung is blown.
Up to that Kansas sky
Hats, coats and blankets fly.
Ho, Kansas, blue Jayhawk,
Croak thy weird chant of “chalk.”
Wave Scarlet and the Cream
Let the Platte eagle scream.
In Lincoln town tonight
Bells ring and bonfires light,
While all with loud acclaim
Write on the football scroll of fame
The Captain’s name who won the field
In Lawrence town in 1903.


Bare Fiction Magazine Issue 8 – August, 2016




The full list of contributors for issue 8 of the magazine, which is available to pre-order now, and will be published in early/mid September.

Poetry from Jacob Polley, Liz Lefroy, Ben Norris, Ilse Pedler, Ariella Carmell, Marci Batchelor, Dan O’Brien, Marion Oxley, Jonathan Coe, Kass Boucher, Shannon Lewis, Louisa Adjoa Parker, Melissa Fu, Stuart Henson, Rebecca Bird, David Clarke, Sophie McKeand, Keith Hutson.

Fiction from Joe Stretch, E Capaldi, Clayton Lister, Lindsay Fisher, A W Wilde, Freya Morris, Olga Wojtas, Julie Oldham.

Theatre from Jingan Young, Alex Barr, Peter Raynard.

64 pages of brand new writing in our acclaimed A4 format.
Huge thanks once again to the very talented Dmitri Popov for the cover image.


Jim Thompson – Savage Night

A strange thing to say, I know, but it’s good to be reading again. Work stops me, but lethargy more so. And I love it when I am reading, so cannot really understand the gaps.

Just starting Savage Night, and enjoying, though I didn’t get into The Killer Inside Me. Not sure why, but it doesn’t matter now.

I’m posting two great Chandler-esque guips I’ve read so far: clever allusions [not the similes of Chandler himself] that make you smile,

From chapter 1 [about a building]

The teachers’ college doubtless helped things along a little, but I figured it was damn little. There was something sad about it, something that reminded me of bald-headed men who comb their side hair across the top.

From chapter 2

One look at that frame of hers, and you knew what kind of breeding she’d had: straight out of Beautyrest by box-springs. One look at her eyes, and you knew she could call you more dirty words than you’d find in a mile of privies.

If Anywhere with Larry Brown and his Big Bad Love


After a surprise walk locally today* with good friends and their three dogs, I got home and finished reading the Larry Brown story 92 Days from his collection Big Bad Love, a book I started reading before I began marking exams – and having finished those for now, I was able to return to finish the final story.

In this longest story in the book, the narrator Leon writes about writing, but like most of Brown’s stories, it is also mainly about drinking beer, getting drunk, going for drives, usually drunk, not having a fulfilling relationship – either with his estranged wife or the very occasional women he meets – and the never-ending slog to get work published but having most of the writing rejected.

The story 92 Days ends with the following narrator’s observation [which doesn’t actually give the story away] where Leon is thinking about the story he is then writing:

I had to find out what they were running from. I had to find out if the little girl was going to be safe. I didn’t know if she would be or not. But whatever it was she was running from, I knew I had to save her from it, and that I was the only one who would do it. They were running, running, the cars going by, and I could see the slippery sidewalks, and the lights in the stores, and I could see my mother and my father looking back over their shoulders at whatever was chasing us, and I ran as fast as I could, terrified, not knowing how it would end, knowing I had to know.

In this extract, Leon [and Larry Brown] enter the story as writer/s and this is one important factor, but the aspect that resonated for me was this notion of how the writer doesn’t know where the writing is going, but there is the need to know, which is, of course, the compulsion to write. I can identify with this.


If Anywhere
[for Phil and Becky]

My two friends come around as arranged to take their dogs
for a walk: the old one on a lead – not to stop it running away
but to keep it moving; the middle one a normal dog, and then
the third that is taking speed. They tell me they’ve been reading
that day, relaxing, and we drive and park at a place where there’s old
cut tree trunks and other wood to take for free, ready for winter when
it comes, months away but they’re preparing. We head down to the river
across the fields in the blazing sun. They throw balls and the dog on
amphetamines fetches and comes back each time more eager than before,
shaking water from the stream on our summery bare legs to cool us down
in this heated August tolerance. When I am home later and reading Larry
Brown’s short story 92 Days where it is also hot, I am drinking too
and his world of pick-ups and beer and writing seems so true, and like
him, I want to know where this story is going to go, if anywhere.

* Yesterday, at the time of posting)

Coleridge’s Mixed Message and National Poetry Day, 6th October, 2016

I have written here previously about my involvement in the Coleridge Memorial Trust and a short piece of writing I am pleased to have on a tourist lectern at the Land of Canaan, Ottery St Mary, the town of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s birth.

I have written on that board about Coleridge’s troubled childhood but even more troubled later life and how his reflections as an adult on his time in Otter St Mary are, by comparison, viewed fondly as positive. This is seen sweetly in his sonnet To the River Otter:

Dear native brook! wild streamlet of the West!
How many various-fated years have passed,
What happy and what mournful hours, since last
I skimmed the smooth thin stone along thy breast,
Numbering its light leaps! Yet so deep impressed
Sink the sweet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes
I never shut amid the sunny ray,
But straight with all their tints thy waters rise,
Thy crossing plank, thy marge with willows grey,
And bedded sand that, veined with various dyes,
Gleamed through thy bright transparence! On my way,
Visions of childhood! oft have ye beguiled
Lone manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs:
Ah! that once more I were a careless child!

I am referring to this again, so to speak, as I begin thinking about writing workshop ideas for this year’s National Poetry Day in October and its theme of Messages.

One of my ideas is to encourage and provide support for writing found poetry under the theme of Mixed Messages. This is facilitated by the use of word generators/mixers and, although quite challenging, can provide the stimulus and content for the writing of wonderfully original found poems/meanings from original sources.

As an example, but not one I would probably use with young students, is the following which is ‘found’ by using Coleridge’s original sonnet. For those interested in the process of this, I will actually print the mixed text from the poem before the found poem itself to give an idea of what a text mixing programme can generate:

The West! How many various-fated years manhood’s cares, yet waking fondest sighs: breast, Numbering its light leaps! Its light leaps! Yet scenes of childhood, that mine eyes ray, But straight with all their And bedded sand that, veined with have passed, What happy and what I never shut amid the sunny the smooth thin stone along thy plank, thy marge with willows grey, Ah! Willows grey, Ah! That once more I were various dyes, Gleamed through thy bright Dear native brook! Dear native brook! Wild streamlet of childhood! Streamlet of childhood! Oft have ye beguiled Lone mournful hours, since last I skimmed so deep impressed Sink the sweet transparence! The sweet transparence! On my way, Visions of tints thy waters rise, Thy crossing. Rise, Thy crossing.

My found poem has been crafted from this, and I was able to ‘find’ patterns and phrases that more explicitly present Coleridge as writing knowingly about the façade of reminiscing fondly where he instead foregrounds how his age and experience of a difficult life sees through the rose-tinted nostalgia:

Mixed Message

Streamlet of

gleamed through
mournful hours –

manhood’s sighs –

I am numbering
its light leaps

beguiled so deep
with willows grey;

and native brook,
mine eyes

various dyes

to sink the
sweet transparence,

and never shut
but veined with what

has passed when I am
on my way.

Ronald R Voeller – English Teacher


I wrote here briefly about the lasting impression Mr Voeller made on me as my English teacher in 1965-66.

After all these years, it is not surprising to find out that he has passed. A Washington Post obituary from November 2005 has a few warm comments in an attached Guest Book from other students of his in Karlsruhe, Germany, but these refer to his teaching of music. Looking at the yearbook photo I posted, Music is indeed placed as his top subject – it had never occurred to me that this was the case at the time, his teaching of English having such a powerful impact on me then.

I don’t, in fact, recall any actual lessons – it is a long time ago – but as I have already expressed, what I do remember with absolute fondness is he was humane, friendly, encouraging and above all such a positive influence on my young teenage life. I will always be grateful for that.


I Found the Rules Hard to Follow

DSCN2324 - Copy

Any persons
shall pay value
for Talking,
for being in
their own
drawing, slubbing, roving.

Any person hanging
shall be dismissed.

Any persons
neglecting to Oil
will wash themselves
at least twice
every week.

Any person found
shall be
too late
Of the Oil.

Any persons from
their usual place
without notice
shall be.

Any person
instantly dismissed
except for necessary purposes
will be found
on the floor.

Any persons coming
too late
wilfully or negligently
will be fined.

Any person
damaging the
shall be
swept and cleaned.

Any persons without
a Boy to go into the
Women’s Necessary
they shall be
they shall be
they shall be
fined 3d.

American Breakfast Sausage Patty

I’m not intending to turn this into a social media forum for food pictures, but as I mentioned these in yesterday’s article, I am posting a photo of the finished patties, appropriately spiced, and as tasty as they should be. Egg over easy, correctly named.


Tomatoes just for show.