lowering the tone

Writing workshop

After writing the not nice post yesterday about offensive poetry, it was time to choose some poems to take along to read at the open mike at the bookshop.

I’ve written before about points to consider when choosing poems to read in public, but as everyone in the neighbourhood is still talking about the complaints received about “rude and offensive naughty poetry and song”, I felt I should try and find something to suit the mood.

I must have several hundred poems to choose from, so I was fairly certain I could find something appropriate, but the more I looked, the more I realised I have far more poems that are likely to offend through their political incorrectitude or moral attitude than I have that are simply vulgar.

Still, I thought I’d be on safe ground if I started off with this riddle poem:

Danse macabre

How does it make you feel as I spin round this pole of steel?
My skin is oiled and tanned, and I’m sure you understand
that I’m lean as well as curvy, but there’s really nothing pervy
though I see you salivate   …   as I gyrate.

I hope I can assume you want to take me to your room;
I’m waiting for the word: will you choose me for your bird?
For you, I’ve lost my head and heart; claim me before I fall apart!
I’m not a strip-club dancer, so: who am I? Can you answer?

One of the joys of this particular open mike is that there is always time to read several pieces so, having set the tone, I turned to an ideal setting for gossip: the writers’ workshop.

The Hayes conference centre, Derby

If the stereotype is true, residential workshops and conferences of all types are hotbeds of immorality, but there surely can’t be many settings as open to vulgarity and double entendre as a roomful of writers with barbed tongues and pens.

Giant thistle

The photo at the top of the post was taken years ago at a poetry course in Spain, where wine clearly fuelled the creativity.

Spanish roofscape

It was in the same location, although on a different occasion, that I heard one of the delegates say, “There’s always scandal at workshops.”

It was such a marvellous phrase, announced with such clarity and confidence, that I felt it belonged in a poem. Over the next few days, I made notes based on the chatter and gossip of the other poets on the course. I then played around a bit and changed the details to protect the guilty, finally producing this piece:


There’s always scandal at workshops,
she says, and her steel grey curls nod primly
in agreement.
I’ve seen it all. One year
I had a shared room to myself
all week, while down the corridor
a generative relationship developed
within the confines of a single bed.

At my side, you manage to keep writing
but she’s caught me
at a pause; I’m trapped.

On the Lorca course, we had to sit back
while the mentor and her youthful Muse
engaged in open warfare every night.
In the end, the organisers
transferred them to the Annex
out of earshot.

Those twins, you know, the ones
from Croydon, at least they keep it
in the family – a kind of ‘sibble’ war.
She laughs at her own wit and quite ignores
my feints with pen and notebook.

At Málaga there was a famous actor
incognito but I recognised him
from the start – he used his own initials,
a dead giveaway, you know. I only told
a few of the participants; just Gina, Sue,
Anita and the girls from Hendon…

And back in ’98 I met
Steve whats-his-name – you know
the one I mean; it turned out
she was as female as I am
in the flesh.

And now I mention flesh, we nearly
had that nudist nutter here; fortunately
his deposit came in a little late.

Hero worship’s nothing new,
the poetry groupies,
and that old ploy, the editorial couch.
(No one’s ever caught me there, of course.)

And then, there’s always one
whose ‘little woman’ calls him
every day to check he’s wrapped up warm
and eating properly. She never knows
he’s out till 3am with some young stud.

Now, have you heard about Charlene,
the brunette with that accent
and the silicone? She’s on a roll, now,
set to tell the history of everyone
who’s on the course this week.

Beneath the table, I can feel
the warmth of your thigh close to mine.

Last night, I followed this up with the first stanza of a poem written by a friend I met at a residential writers’ course, and then another poem of mine. Both link quite nicely to the idea of Charlene’s silicone implants and are far too bawdy for me to want to post them here, although they work very well when read aloud.

The final piece I read is intended to be more sensuous than vulgar; whether it counts as rude, offensive or naughty, probably depends on who the audience is. Last night no one seemed to object.


It’s late. She takes her laptop
to the empty bed. Cross-legged
on a king-sized island, she re-reads
familiar messages. She stretches, twists
to feel the touch of cotton on her skin.
She clicks refresh; refresh; refresh;
but no news comes.

The silent screen illuminates
her nakedness, casts shadows
on the curves and hollows
of her flesh. She falls asleep
at last, and through the night
a small light pulses at her side;
refresh; refresh; refresh.


Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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