From a creative point of view, it can be more interesting when things go wrong.

There’s wrong and wrong, of course. I don’t mean the kind of wrong that’s clumsy or inept. But maybe the kind of wrong where the idea or the method gets away. That’s interesting. I like the sort of poem that has a mind of its own for example, and seems to do something the poet didn’t (apparently) intend. Sometimes I like poems that go wrong better than poems that go right. 

This is perverse, isn’t it? But there you go. A pun there already. We celebrate mistakes instinctively. We make them the root of our jokes. Where would we be without jokes? 

I took the HappenStance Story Chapter 7 to the printer on Monday. I was in a rush, as usual, and so was the chapter. I mentioned this to Robert at Dolphin Press. Printers don’t check for proof-reading errors but I got an email message later from Liz (the other half), about a graphic and another small point: And on page 9 he wasnt sure if it was a typing error or not but on the 3rd line it says poets over 4 should that not say 40? Let me know’. 

Yes, it should have said 40. Here’s the context: “The majority of manuscripts I receive are by poets over 4. In fact, 40 is pretty young in my terms.” But isn’t it a wonderful mistake? I did correct it (thanks to Robert) but I was so very tempted to leave it.  Mistakes make good stories.

Cracked cup imageThe Bank of Scotland, about which I wrote recently, has still not unmangled the mistake they have made with my account. On Friday, which was day 21 of my not being able to pay cheques in, I reached a stage of mild fury. I had tried to get hold of my Relationship Manager, had been promised a call, had not had the call and had insisted on speaking to what I now know is called a ‘team leader’.

In the olden days, banks had managers. Now they have relationship managers, and their bosses are team leaders. Does this sound like banking to you? Nope? Me neither.

Interestingly, though, one of the relationship managers (all the ones I have spoken to have been articulate, charming, young-sounding men, who are clearly not managers, but minions, and my heart goes out to them) was able to give me a date. ‘Chris’ could see an indemnity arrangement, made on 25.05.2005. That was it. That was the permission to pay cheques in to the name ‘HappenStance’. 

However, although the indemnity arrangement is recorded, the nature of that arrangement is not noted. Back to the drawing board. Chris told me that talking to a ‘boss’ (the team leader) would not do any good. How right he was. I insisted anyway. I never insist on talking to bosses. I wanted to mark the fact that this was now a crisis. I wanted someone to scribble down, ‘Customer insisted on speaking to Team Leader’. 

The team leader, it was, who made me enraged. He was not rude, oh no. He jabbered jargon which I started to write down but it came so thick and fast, it was impossible. I had suggested I would complain. He said something about ‘making an official complaint that highlighted the official areas where the complaint applies’. It wasn’t even English! All he needed to do was listen and say ‘there, there’. 

I wish there were solutions to this nonsense. This is not banks making huge monies at our expense. This is huge organisations who are victims of their own systems and frequently employing people with no authority to take meaningful action or, in the team leader’s case, no skill with human beings. 

Another mistake then. Another mistake, another story. We haven’t reached the end yet but soon I will ask people to send money in paper notes in envelopes and I will keep the stash in the tea caddy. The risk of burglars is far less than the risk of the bank putting the whole business out of business.

Anyway, back to the migraine. It has been a migrainey week for me, though I’ve had much worse. I’m interested in migraine and what’s going wrong in the brain when they happen, interested enough to have read Oliver Sacks’ book on the subject (and it’s one of his hard books, not one of the readable ones). Sacks loves the excitement of malfunction. Often he demonstrates how it leads to creative perceptions you couldn’t get any other way. 

Every weakness opens us to strength. I am on number 56 of the 77 poetry submissions. (Next week I expect to have finished and report back). I have become, I realise, mainly a disappointment disseminator. This seems such a negative function, so fraught with guilt and responsibility and neurosis, that I frequently don’t like myself much. 

On the other hand, the nature of disappointment is fascinating and, in some contexts, funny.  I’m reminded of Nick Asbury’s Disappointments Diary, which I think so masterfully funny. Not everyone would agree of course, but I’m persuaded the friends to whom I gave it will share my view. On the promotional page, you can see one of the page headers: ‘Genius is 99% perspiration and you’ve mastered that bit’. Poetry becomes so intense, so delicate, so personal. What on earth are we doing when we write it? I don’t know. I never did know. I just find it interesting that people do it, that I do it. We are all mad probably.

Back to migraine. Lots of poets have migraine. I do wonder whether the best poems aren’t a kind of disruption of the brain. I think poetic form, whatever we mean by that term, can introduce disruptions that make something unexpected happen. Something unexpected should happen in a poem, shouldn’t it?

I wrote about Paul Lee in November 2011. Paul died before he was supposed to. He and I both had migraines and both wrote poems. We both even wrote poems about migraines, and swapped notes about this at one point.

In Us: Who Made History, Paul’s posthumous collection from Original Press, there is a marvellous migraine poem. It incorporates ‘the verb thing’ (one of the ‘flaws’ I keep going on about) but it is more than the sum of its parts. It is a strength out of weakness. I’ll stand by that. 


I will know light as camera flash
and breaking glass. Your consoling touch
will hurt, my flesh a ripe fruit bruising.

Noise will be a steady crescendo,
taste a meld of metal, eggs and bile,
smell a constant brink of gagging.

I can tell you that scotoma is a drift
of soot flakes across your vision,
a vision that fractures and scintillates

with an aura that bathes the world
in St Elmo’s fire, shot with blue or yellow
lightning flashes.
………………………This is not understatement.

There is also the fever and chills, like flu,
the nausea and vomiting. And the pain –
ah, yes, the pain – that mocks analgesics,

resists agonists: pain like a billiard ball
potted behind your eye, a red-hot toad,
a pyramid of razor edges and needle points.

My doctors shuffle their drugs,
discuss my triggers.
…………………….A healer once suggested
that migraines assuaged my need for pain.