Tag Archive: Art

Writer’s Block

Writer’s Block

I’m watching the computer cursor blink,
Waiting for my thoughts to crystallise
Around an image.

And as the cursor blinks, my fingers move,
Seeking out the perfect turn of phrase.
It isn’t coming.

And I’m not sure quite what I’m waiting for;
Poetry, perhaps.  Or maybe words.
Is there a difference?

The words come easy, sliding off the keys;
Poetry hacks wounds upon the screen.
And there’s the difference.


Group Therapy Notes


I always thought a group was something
one chose to join.  No choice here:
assigned to a multitude of strangers,
sharing nothing but our pain.
And even that we may not share;
quiet tears, perhaps, but not more.


No sharing the horror.  No sharing
the pain that rips itself from minds
and mouths in bloody gobbets.


The Group Norms poster says so:
“Such sharing may distress
other group members; please maintain
these norms for the benefit of all.”


Far better to pretend we are fine.
Making progress.  Discharge beckons.
A normal life.
Staff make Notes, discreetly.


Meanwhile we scream internally;
the gobbets well concealed.
Such things are for private consultations
with nurses, registrars, consultants,
in secluded soundproof rooms.
Notes are made, of course.


No, it would not be ‘therapeutic’
for our fellow-patients to know
we suffer just as they do.
That we too long to scream our horror.
Acknowledgement, acceptance, mutual recognition:
is that too much to ask?


For those of us unable to restrain ourselves
there are alternatives. Occupational Therapy,
where we fill blank mindless hours
with puzzles, trivia, and guessing games.
All to still the raging mind,
the seething thoughts.


Art Therapy is good.
Somehow a scream of pain
becomes acceptable when it’s
in poster paint on butchers’ paper.
Or charcoal doodles
on stiff cheap coloured card.
Pain is distanced, allowed,
Even encouraged.


The thin, thin girl with the naso-gastric tube
Draws endless stylised vaginas
in wax crayon.  They gape
as if in wordless screams.
When asked she says they are flowers.
The therapist nods approvingly,
and makes a Note.


A man spends an hour cutting card
into ever smaller pieces.
The scissors are quite blunt;
the bandages on his wrists say
he is over-familiar with sharp objects.
Another Note is made.


And me? I don’t do art. I’m a musician.
But they don’t have Music Therapy any more.
Not since the tortured boy
garrotted himself
with a steel guitar string.
That therapist no longer makes Notes.


And nor do I.



Venus on a bus

Venus on a bus.
A Botticelli
rising from
the sea of faces.

Venus on a bus.
Spun-gold hair
falls in waves
around her shoulders.

Venus on a bus.
Tired commuters,
strap-hanging, are
mute in veneration.

Venus on a bus.
Teenagers adore her
from a distance,
ungainly cupids.

Venus on a bus.
Eager for her smile,
one stands and
offers her his seat.

Venus on a bus.
Ignoring his offered
cockleshell, she
rings the bell.

Venus on a bus.
She alights; her
worshippers sigh:
reality returns.




Who knows where poetry comes from?  In this case I can date the germinal idea pretty exactly: late May, 1982.  I was in Italy – Florence, to be precise – and I had just stumbled from the Uffizi Gallery, stunned.

I’ve known Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ all my life, and even if you think you don’t know it, you do:

A definition of depilated Beauty: The Birth of...

The Birth of Venus. Sandro Botticelli. (1486)
Source: Wikipedia

When I say I’ve known it all my life I mean I don’t know exactly when I first saw a print of it, but I doubt that I was more than 3.  Dad had many fine art books and I was allowed to “read” them, with suitable guidance as to turning pages carefully and not scribbling in them.

And that’s how I “knew” the painting: as a large colour print in a folio-sized art book.  Beautiful.  But that was the only way I knew it: a print around 180mm X 280mm (7″ X  11″ or thereabouts).

The Uffizi changed that.  I had no idea of the glory, the detail, the delicacy or the sheer scale of the work.

It’s a big painting: 172.5 cm × 278.5 cm (67.9 in × 109.6 in).  When I walked into the chamber it struck me dumb.  I don’t know if this is still the case but in 1982 you could stand within a metre or so of the painting.  Nothing between you and Botticelli’s genius except a velvet rope on brass stanchions, with a bored armed guard to one side.

I literally spent an hour in front of that one painting, until eventually my brother dragged me away.  We toured the rest of the gallery, but The Birth of Venus is all that really stays with me – not so much the actual image since I have almost no capacity for visual memory, but the impact it made upon me.

And later, outside the gallery, sitting in a street-side caffé I happened to glance up at a passing bus.  And there she was: Botticelli’s Venus amongst the other passengers.  Just another Florentine girl, stepped from a 15th C. painting and made 20th C. flesh.

That’s where this poem comes from, that unknown girl glimpsed for a moment and then gone.