Roddy Williams – The Atheist Poet


Dress Code Demon (2008)

She wants to implement a dress code now
having slithered in just a week ago,
claimed a desk with a view of the orchard.
She’s started sending e-mail like a friend.

And she sings like the snake from Jungle Book.
Her coils are lithing round my office chair.
They leave pale scales, abraded, on the floor.
She’s squeezing me, constricting me to rage.

We’ve met her before in other gardens;
different faces, different sexes even.
It was her, that dead-behind-the-eyes look
as she hissed out ‘implement the dress code!’

Her name is Legion, or maybe Wardrobe.
‘Trust in me,’ she sighs. Holds out an apple.

Tube Man IX (2006)

He had his trainers’ tongues
poked out, but not at me;
a gesture clean
and dry, pristine
licked flat
against his jeans
turned up, neat pressed
like origami legboats.

I sense it is to do with taste.
That’s what tongues do.
They also flap to scrape a meaning
out of sound, most of the time.

But your feet speak a foreign language
from a city
of young people with fluent toes.

Murderous Reviews: A Taste For Malice – Michael J Malone (2013)

A Taste for Malice (DI Ray McBain, #2)

DI Ray McBain is confined to desk duty following the incidents of the first volume, but is clandestinely working on a cold case involving a woman who calls herself Audrey Hepburn and insinuates her way into the lives of traumatised families only to inflict mental and physical abuse on them.
In this he is assisted by two colleagues who attempt to keep his involvement from being discovered by others higher in the hierarchy.
This is another of the splendid range of Scotland based detective novels I’ve stumbled across of late. Here we are in the Glasgow of a very likeable protagonist, Ray McBain, somewhat in denial about recent traumatic events and their subsequent effect on him.
McBain’s sections are first person narrative, alternating with the third person narrative of Jim, whose life is in turmoil. Following an accident his estranged wife, Angela, has contracted amnesia and he is forced to move back into the marital home to care for her and their young son. She does not yet know that she left him because of an affair he had with her best friend. Then, a woman called Moira enters their life.
One can’t help liking McBain. He is very deftly portrayed as an ordinary man who battles life’s problems with a mordant wit and a weakness for food. He is fiercely observant and intelligent while being honestly and amusingly self-deprecating about his life, his looks and his eating habits. He comes over as a real person, which is often not the case in these sort of novels.
The other characters, although not as lovingly fleshed out, are a nice mixture.
It has a bit of a twist too which took me by surprise and that’s always a good thing.
I need to go check out the first book now. Certainly keen on reading more.

Murderous Reviews: The Red Thumb Mark – R Austin Freeman (1907)

The Red Thumb Mark

It’s a bit of a retrofest this. One can purchase Freeman’s 21 Doctor Thorndyke novels and the entire short stories for Kindle on Amazon for £1.49. It’s a bit of a bargain.
Thorndyke is a kind of post-Holmes forensic detective who is employed in the main as proactive expert witness, using science and the technology of the day to deduce and demonstrate how certain crimes were committed.
In this instance Thorndyke gets involved when the nephew of a jeweller is charged with the theft of diamonds from his uncle’s safe. His bloody thumbprint was found on a slip of paper inside the empty safe.
Thorndyke, convinced of the man’s innocence, sets out to set up a case for the defence based on his scientific investigation.
It becomes clear that Thorndyke is on the right track when attempts on his life are made.
This book is truly fascinating, since it is in its own way an example of steampunk written at the appropriate time. (I accept that these works are Georgian rather than Victorian, but society and technology are not markedly changed.)
At one point a walking stick is revealed as a pump action gun that fires hypodermic bullets. Freeman describes the mechanics of the bullet (which uses its momentum to thrust out a needle and inject the victim) so well that if I had the equipment I could make it myself.
The novel is perhaps hampered by an overemphasis on the narrator’s growing ardour for Miss Gibson, a friend of the accused. Indeed the denouement abandons any details of what happened to the guilty party in favour of allowing the happy couple to gush at each other breathlessly and declare their deathless love. I hope there’s less of this sort of thing in successive volumes. It’s slightly sickening.
On the whole though it’s cracking stuff. In the foreword Freeman tells us that he made Thorndyke tall and handsome because there’s far too many ugly detectives about.
Thorndyke, Jervis (the narrator, employed to help Thorndyke with the case) and Thorndyke’s ‘man’ Polton, speak fluidly and poetically. I’m wondering if people actually spoke to each other this way back then. I’d like to think so.

‘My dear Jervis,’ he exclaimed. as we clasped hands warmly. ‘this is a great and delightful surprise. How often have I thought of my old comrade and wondered if I should ever see him again, and lo! here he is, thrown up on the sounding beach of the Inner Temple, like the proverbial bread cast upon the waters.’
‘Your surprise, Thorndyke, is nothing to mine,’ I relied, ‘for your bread has at least returned as bread; whereas i am in the position of a man who, having cast his bread upon the waters, sees it return in the form of a buttered muffin or as a Bath bun. I left a respectable medical practitioner and I find him transformed into a bewigged and begowned limb of the law.’

(Chapter 1)

Polton, quite apart from cooking and making tea, is also a bit of a whiz in the laboratory and the engineering shed, and can take, develop and print amazing photographs.
It’s not difficult to work out who the evil genius is but that’s not the point. Some of these concepts must have bordered on Science Fiction at the time to his readership. Could J Austin Freeman be considered one of the forefathers of Steampunk?

Exercises in Poetry and Memory

Much of my poetry is – as I have discovered – a means to understanding my past, which is sometimes a place of paradox and puzzles. I have, I have to admit, long term memory problems. I think it’s all there but it seems to emerge at random times. I used to think that there was so much stuff in my head that it was overwriting the old stuff, like computer files, but came to realise that someone else would no doubt have pointed this out before and advocated that people stop reading to save their headspace.
As partly a remedy to this and partly a way of finding things in my childhood to write about I started keeping an Evernote record of things I recalled, adding them when I recalled them or else one a day by consciously recalling things that were accessible.
This has had a good result in that I am recalling other things as a result of recalling the things on the list, and having them written down helps to reinforce the connections to these memories, or so I believe. It’s early days but there’s interesting things turning up.
The other day for instance I remembered – for no reason that I could fathom – one summer’s day in the mid Nineteen Sixties. My brother had made me a dalek outfit from a cardboard box with big circles painted on the side to represent the dalek half-spheres. There were two holes in the front from which protruded a plunger and a brass toasting fork. My head was covered with an old bucket into which a Ned Kelly eye panel had been cut. Above that a spoon had been fixed into the bucket to represent the eye module. I was, it has to be said, a bit of a special needs dalek, but my imagination more than made up for the suit’s limitations. I spent at least an hour blasting our rhubarb patch with the ray from my toasting fork before stumbling my way up the steps to the road.
An old man sporting a flat cap and a raincoat that had seen better days was waiting at the nearby bus stop. I attempted a dalek-like glide over the pavement toward him.
‘Exterminate! Exterminate!’ I chanted, waving my toasting fork menacingly in his direction.
‘Bugger Off!’ he shouted, with a surprisingly loud and fearsome voice for a pensioner, and raised his walking stick. I wavered. My toasting fork adroop, I turned and stumbled back, thinking that I’d better stick with the rhubarb.
Never threaten a Welsh pensioner. They will return after decades to wave sticks in your head.

Shadows (2005)

Graffitied by sun onto a wall
one hand waving
– a swan shaking her wet head –
caught your eye, but
meant nothing but goodbye.
Our shadows just combined, divided
on the pavement;
silhouettes of ships in
the negative space night
against our planet.

clouds paint the shapes of thoughts
with a roller on tower blocks
while earth races through vacuum
throwing its umbra onto other worlds
with their own buildings
of many stories.

My hand is part of that shadow
and I shall tell you of this moment
and explain
when our dark sides cross again.

The Writing Routine

I find that I have got into a regular writing routine, which is good. It’s a minimum of an hour a day, but at weekends and days off from paid work can stretch to three or four.
There’s often an additional hour writing in bed before I go to sleep. This is dangerous territory, albeit very rewarding, since although it is quiet and I am relaxed enough for creative thoughts to flow I have been known to wake up with my face in a notebook and ink all over my nose.
Today I spent some time in Caffe Nero which, it being Ramadan, was mostly abandoned. Two customers including myself. There were some people sitting outside in the sun but I suspect most of them hadn’t bought any coffee.
Oddly, this made me feel slightly less relaxed. I find when I am thinking I tend to unconsciously study other people and when there are not enough to make it worthwhile I feel oddly frustrated on a level that nibbles at the toes of my conscious self.
Additionally, if you stare too long at one person it usually ends up with angry words or an offer of dinner. Dinner would be nice but it’s not really practical at 3.30 in the afternoon.
As I mentioned, Ramadan plays a part in this drought of customers since two of the coffee shops I regularly frequent are in areas with muslim communities. For a month every year therefore I can have a much larger selection of tables. I shall focus on this benefit and soldier on.

Learning (2014)

I learnt to write to you in happier days
I forgot to write to you in later days
I learnt to forget you in more recent times
I learnt to remember you in the dark
I learnt to love you in earlier days
I meant to tell you some time one day
I meant to write to you to tell you
I learnt to hold you as a memory
I forgot to hold you some time later
I meant to remember to remember
I meant to write this down at the time
I meant to stop forgetting before it was too late

headlines II (2013)

mobile phone youth stabbed to death
stationary body horror in park
mother moved by public response
police rush out appeal for calm
public opinion of police shifts
police move to calm fears
trust in police slides
PM flies back to crisis
trust in everything collapses
newspapers run out of verbs

clouds (2013)

about six pm
near the end of july
and the hammersmith and city line

the clouds will be perfect
simpsons clouds
flat bottomed baguettes of
crisp fluff

i will be on a train
on my way home to you

at the same time
early september
the clouds start looking dirty
like old fridge ice
that’s discovered it can fly

but i will still be etc. etc.