I just got back from a walk in the wood at the end of our street.  The oak leaves that made such a beautifully crisp pavement a couple of months ago are now churned into indistinctness; the walking surface is all puddles and mud.  To my left, and very close; a woodpecker, that rapid drilling-knocking, each blow so loud and distinct.  Magic.


During the festive season, on a trip back to the Forest of Dean to visit my folks, I took the Lord of Longitude on a walk round some of my teenage haunts.  It was muddy there as well, though there were whole swathes of leaf-pavement, still.  And I saw the places frequented by my morose, teenage self through new eyes.  The scowles and knotted tree roots, the deer between pine trunks in the darkening afternoon, the strange cleft in Jesus Rock … they took on a kind of glamour as my beloved, a born-and-bred Londoner, encountered them.


Here in our E11 terrace, dusk comes on with the roar of aeroplanes.  The vixen is back, uttering her triple bark; we might hear her tonight – or the neighbour’s cat, rowing with an interloper.  The light is taking a bit less time each day to leave the sky.  And what sunsets!

I wish you magic in 2018.  I wish you hope and energy and faith.  I wish you the certainty that peace and equality are not faint, foolish dreams but possible and near, as startling and sudden as a woodpecker’s rapid beak on the bark of a tree.





It’s been a noisy summer in our neighbourhood, with lots of building work and renovations and loft conversions – none of it ours – going on.  The cumulative effect of months of this meant that I was ready as hell for my home-made ‘retreat’, from which I returned just over a week ago: 7 days alone in a rented house in a small hamlet outside a village, with no wi-fi, no mobile phone signal, no landline, nada.  There was a telly – but reception was patchy and it didn’t always work.  Ditto the radio.October 2017 Fawber retreat

It was quiet.  Extremely quiet.

In the daytime, I listened out for the farmer’s quad bike in the field above the house.  Sometimes the sounds of the quarry above the village would reach me, or a walker or two would go past.  Apart from that, all I heard was the occasional fighter jet on ‘exercises’ streaking through the valley, the cow or bull in the barn kicking and bellowing occasionally, the injured sheep in the smaller field with the hay bleating once or twice, and conversation between the sparrows in the hedge.  Once a neighbour was out with her dog and a leaf-blower, tidying up her garden, but that was about it.

In the night, I heard nothing – or nearly nothing.  One night, a rainstorm brought fierce wind and clattering at the window.  Another night, an animal snuffled and crunched outside the front door.  And one night, I heard an owl.

The only other sound that week – as I cooked and washed up and tried to lay a fire and tried to get the telly working and sat beside the fire and wrote and thought and walked – was the sound of my own voice.  Towards the end of the week, I went to visit friends who lived nearby and subjected them to an evening of non-stop talking.  ‘I’ve been on my own for 5 DAYS’, I kept saying, and I nearly burst into tears when I hugged them hello.

Pen Y Ghent from Horton i R stationYou can probably guess, it was a pretty intense experience.  What struck me was the way in which my anxiety and my hyper-sensitivity to noise, which I had been associating with the noise and bustle of London, were ever-present.  How I’d fixate on something and find it really, really difficult to let the thought go.  The night of the storm, I watched the water level rise in the drainage channel that funnels water down from the hill to a beck and from there to the river at the foot of the valley.  I became convinced it was going to flood the house, and even got as far as moving all my belongings upstairs.  I knew, logically, that it probably wouldn’t rise that far, but the thought had gripped me and I spent the night entertaining fantasies of dramatic rescue by helicopter and waders fashioned from carrier bags.  I had the carrier bags beside my bed, just in case.

Back in Leytonstone, I feel almost suffocated by the constant arrival of sounds from everywhere.  So much is happening, all of the time.  But it does me good to know that so much of this feeling is me, my habitual response, and that, even in an environment much more conducive to calm, I will still latch on to noise, my mind will still run away with itself.  Because if a lot of it is me and my mind, then I can do something about it.

One of the other things I did while I was away was to finish the companion piece to Aldeburgh Music 1.  So here is Aldeburgh Music 2, recorded in June this year at the time of the Aldeburgh Music Festival.

Ten Years Ago,

my first pamphlet was published by Arrowhead Press.  I’m so grateful to Joanna and Roger for that.

As a way of marking the moment, I made an audio poem: here’s a version of ‘What’s the Matter’, written for and about – and recorded in – E11, London, UK.  The wood in question is Bushwood, the marsh in question is inside it.

It’s tempting to read your earlier poems and disavow them; you’ve changed since then, you’ve (hopefully) developed as a writer.  But here, in this poem, still: this standing askance from the notion of a ‘self’, this pull exerted by a specific place, this awareness of its other creaturely inhabitants, this tug between ‘escape’ and ‘home’.

‘Theme isn’t something which you can impose on your writing; it’s something that writing imposes on you.’ (W N Herbert, in his excellent book for the OU)

And ten years later, it’s kind of lovely that I find myself working on the edits for my first, full-length collection, due out in early 2018.  It’s been quite a long road to get here, but so worth every step.  You can’t rush these things, I don’t think.  And I’m utterly delighted that my ragged writing and thinking from the PhD has coalesced into a book.  So, huge gratitude to the wonderful Penned in the Margins for giving Natural Phenomena a home.

A sound piece

I’ve made one and you can hear it here.  The track still has its lumps and bumps – it’s a first attempt and I’m still learning this new language of EQ and frequencies, gain and handling noise, windjammers, foamies, fluffies, omnis …

Piecing this audio file together has felt a bit like writing a poem.  There’s the same listening to what is already there in order to work out what the next movement or appearance should be, the same sense of ‘feeling’ your way forward although you’re not walking or climbing, actually.  There’s the same sense of ‘hearing’ what comes next, before you have written or placed it, and the uncanny idea that you’ve made an entity that is starting to talk back to you.

And the collaging technique, guided by sound, that I’ve used in a lot of my more recent poems, is absolutely what I’ve been using in this sound work.  It’s been really exciting, discovering these links between the two art forms.

There’s a long poem for sounds and voices, ‘Transit’, in the collection (my first, full one – still very excited about this!) coming out with Penned in the Margins in February.  When I wrote it, I included a narrator, binding the fragments of speech together and commenting on some of the sounds that would swirl around the voices if the poem were ever performed.  This was because of the poem’s double life, as something on the page and potentially out in the air.   But I think what sound art is teaching me is just how much less necessary I am finding that commenting ‘voice’ and how much more I can trust a reader, a listener.

Much to think about.  My next step is to work with one of my old poems, chop it up, add it to the mix.  I have caught some lovely sounds around E11 where I live, am itching to do something with them.  Watch this space.

To learn how to do all this, I’ve been doing an excellent short course down at Goldsmiths on field recordings and soundscapes. Sherry is a brilliant teacher – and her own work is really interesting.

Free drop-ins at the Wellcome Collection!

I’m really excited about these!  I’m giving a series of free creative writing and poetry workshops in the Reading Room at the Wellcome Collection.  They’re drop-in ‘pop ups’,  so  won’t appear on the Wellcome’s website, but will be advertised in-house on the day.

All the sessions run from 2 pm to 5 pm, and you can stay for as much or as little as you like – and we’ll definitely take a break half way through the session, to help percolate ideas.

The sessions are on the following dates:

Friday 3rd March

Thursday 9th March

Friday 17th March

Saturday 25th March

Thursday 30th March

Saturday 1st April


In them, I want to think about the idea of discovery with you – how it happens, what different forms it takes, what it means to different people, who gets to do the discovering and who gets ‘discovered’ – and the idea of hiding and being hidden – why it happens, how it happens… as well as making use of the art and objects and books in this lovely space.  We’ll be doing plenty of writing exercises and a bit of talking.  Maybe see you there?