Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

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Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Mutterings from the Wall

On a train through the flatlands
tunnelling east into skies
that crush the land with light;
crows flung windward from dark fields,
telegraph wires that slacken
and loop towards luminous ditches;
I am reading about men
counting bricks on a wall, longing
for moons and listening all night
to a sick bulb humming.

My reading material on my way to the Suffolk poetry weekend, (see below) was a compelling collection of poems. Brian Daldorph's Jail Time (published by Original Plus Press) is a clamour of voices, sorrowing, sly, sardonic, of men awaiting trial or serving sentences in the Douglas County Jail, Kansas. And on that first night inside, 'the moans, the moans, the moans'. The American idiom of these voices comes right at you out of the pages:

'… and I'm not comin' back here, I hate the way
they treat me here and I thank Jesus they treat me like that,
you know what I'm sayin'?'

I like the way Daldorph has paid attention, caught not only these inflections but the twists and turns of attitude and the everyday anguish of lives both inside and outside. The poet, a Yorkshire man, has served more than seven years himself, as a writer in residence. And time is an inevitable theme; doing it, dodging it, weighing it out:

'I'm trying to remember every moment
of my life: this should take me the first part
of eternity. Then I'll find something else to do.'

Walls is another, a concrete image, solid and tactile, but also figurative: 'in this cell/ there are four walls/ 492 bricks.' One man makes a big deal of the visit his woman has promised, is envied by others. She's coming because 'she has to tell it to his face/ and he ain't stupid' but still, 'she's coming to visit next week', he keeps saying.

Forms vary in this collection. There are short, wry stanzas. And there are tight packed sonnets that hammer out uneven rhythms and rhymes with a metallic clang:

'Last night the guy in the next cell
kept yelling, I hate jail, I hate jail …
He'd give up three meals to see the moon.
Alone he sits in his room.'

I love that this con has very precisely identified the worth of a moon in jail values. Sometimes the rhymes seem to be borrowed from inmates in Daldorph's writing class but he honours their freshness:

'the one about dying like a skunk
under car wheels
each time he quits junk.'

When the train pulled into Ipswich, I was thumbing the book a second time. 74 fine poems. And did I mention the haunting charcoal drawings, intimate mugshots of the men, by Kerry Niemann? For an hour or two I walked in their orange suits and velcroed slippers and touched those clammy walls. I listened in to murmured confessions. It felt a privilege to get inside these stories and a relief not to be living them. I was out in 'the big time' again but I suspect I'll be back.


  1. I, too, have read JAIL TIME, and this review seems particularly insightful and accurate. Thank you for your insights on Brian Daldorph's poetry!

  2. hi Kiesa
    well thank you for dropping by and commenting. I love it when you get a whole sequence of poems that tell a linked story like this. And I gather Daldorph is planning an anthology of the prisoners' own poems so we may yet hear more of these voices.