The Business of Writing

Funny thing about all this poetry; the more you get involved, the more you perform, the more you hear and the more you read the more you tend to write.

Nothing prompts a flurry of creative activity like having a looming deadline, a performance or a workshop to deliver.

I’ve usually got a few things on the go, anything from three to half a dozen; when a deadline looms at least a couple of those will get finished.

Once the writing starts then it multiplies, even when you’ve not got a pen, dictaphone or a computer to hand stuff is still happening in your mind – if I seem a bit distant sometimes that might be why. Finishing one or two of those “on-the-go” poems inevitably leads to more than that number of new ideas filling pages of the notebook – and it is almost always a notebook.

Some of the time I’ve also got other, non-poetic, writing on the go as well, at the moment and for the last year or so that means a couple of rather large stories that somehow keep rolling around in my mind and bit by bit start appearing on paper or on a memory chip. The current ones involve; bikes, a revolutionary tale, some elements of steampunk, some dark stuff, a fair few struggles and a bit of hope; all the things you tend to find in fairly lengthy stories.

One has the working title of “Circling the Darkness” which I liked so much I almost nicked it for a poem but it has far too much material in there to fit into a poem (unless it were one of those single-poem books). There’s a picture of the notebook where it started here:

They don’t have verses or stanzas but tend instead to have chapters and they don’t necessarily come in the right order. And they have characters who don’t necessarily end up the way they were first envisaged. they have plots which can go off unexpectedly to new area and they may at some time in the future have endings, just maybe. A bit like poems they might start off with a title but I expect that like poems the title, the one they end up with, will come along at the end of the process which in these cases might be a very long time away.

The business of writing would take much more time than there is available, even if you stopped doing everything else so I’ve come to the realisation that in the end it really does need to be treated as a business or a project. It needs to be allocated to certain times, it needs to have some kind of targets (for motivation – you might even call them deadlines – although that might be a title for a collection of poems….), it needs to be organised and to be considered successful it needs to have some kind of an end result.

So I’m looking at a project management approach to some of my writing. The project won’t always be something like “To produce a poem about xxxx”; it is often likely to be to work with the idea of xxxx and if there is a poem or a story in there then write it.

Comfort Zones – The slam

When I wrote a recent blog post about an open mic in the very busy Union Inn in St. Ives I mentioned the benefit of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone (see more here).

Prior to that I’d had the amazing experience of performing at the Eroica Festival in Bakewell, Derbyshire (see more here).

So now I’ve been home for a couple of weeks, gone out to work in the daytime, headed out to a familiar open mic night (see the previous post about Shindig #23 here) and to some extent dropped back into my comfort zone.

It seems that its time to step outside of my comfort zone again so I’ve done something I’ve not done for a very long time. Something I last did when my confidence as a poet and as a performer really wasn’t ready. Back then as a “novice” there was little to no pressure but now I’ve got my own expectations to meet, I need to satisfy my own perception of quality; so this time there will be pressure. This time it will be outside my comfort zone.

Yes I’ve entered a slam. Huddersfield round of Superheroes of Slam – Bar 1:22, 7th October.

Not just turn up on the night an think OK I’ll give it a shot, but entered well in advance, early enough to need to prepare, to need to know I will give it my best shot. Winning or losing won’t matter (he lied!) but I’ll need to feel that I’ve done myself and my material justice.

So a new deadline looms and creativity not so much sparks but gets dragged kicking, panicking and screaming into action….

The Spoken Word Shindig #23, Hebden Bridge

Last night I headed over to Hebden Bridge for edition number 23 of the Spoken Word Shindig organised by the inimitable Winston Plowes. Nelson’s Wine Bar was crowded from the start and provided a terrific audience who thanks to Winston’s expertly set up PA could hear every word and every pause.

Winston opened the night with an announcement about a future evening in September which will aim to be inclusive for people with hearing impairments and his announcement was given simultaneously in British Sign Language (BSL) by his daughter Maisie. On the night Michael Wilson will be performing and he is renowned not only for his excellent poetry but also for performing his work verbally and using BSL.

Great performances followed from Victoria Gatehouse supporting main guest Noel Whittall before the open mic with a full complement of 14 poets with some really outstanding work not least two really serious and thought provoking sets from Steven Anderson (now known to Winston as “Mr Shindig) and “H”. We were entertained, provoked and perhaps occasionally bewildered and even had guitar accompaniment from one performer; the applause and cheers told the story of a great night.

When I came up to perform at number 13 I had intended to do my anti fox hunting poem, but moved by others poems I chose to do “Not like the rest” a true and sad tale about mental illness, inadequate services and suicide – you can read it here.

First though I decided to read a brand new poem “Strictured Structures” which had started the evening as some ideas and notes in my notebook shown above complete with smudging from condensation dripping from my glass as I wrote. Its about the essence of poetry, mine in particular, and apart from the opening line “I’m an acrostic agnostic” it isn’t available on-line.

Overall another great Shindig night in Hebden that proves that Winston and Nelson’s are doing something right!

Café Frug – Open mic – St. Ives Arts Club

A regular Thursday night event, Café Frug, at St Ives Art Club features local poets, writers, musicians  and slots for people like myself visiting or on their holidays. The Arts Club has been running since 1890 and provides a wide range of artistic opportunities within the historical seafront building on the harbour including a gallery downstairs and a theatre complete with stage, lights etc. upstairs.

Find out more about the club and its activities at:

The evening is run by Bob Devereux, something of a local legend and a talented poet with a unique style. Bob has been writing and performing poetry since touring with bands in the early 1970s and is still going strong in 2015 at the age of 75. As well as his poetry Bob is an abstract expressionist artist, a librettist and teacher. You can read more about Bob online or catch some of his performances on YouTube.

When we arrived around 7.30pm we met Bob who introduced himself, I told him that I’d been at The Union on Monday evening and after hearing me read one of the musicians, Pete Low, suggested I come along to the Frug. Bob said they’d love to hear some poems and told us that things would kick off around 8.15pm giving us plenty of time to go and grab some chips on the seafront.

After an opening short set by Bob accompanied by talented guitarist Adrian O’Reilly the open mic session opened and I was invited on stage to read a few poems.

The theatre is an intimate setting and the acoustics were great and it was really nice to be able to speak and be heard clearly throughout the room without needing a microphone.

Sitting on the well lit stage with the audience almost in darkness was very new to me but after a few moments I could see the audience well enough to be able to communicate with them and having briefly introduced myself I read three poems:

  • Seahorses – A story about my teacher in the last years of primary school, Mr. O’Connell, who really did keep seahorses outside the classroom (you can read “Seahorses” here)
  • Standby – quickly got the audience on side with its take on modern life and how things have changed changed (you can read “Standby” here)
  • Dead Eyes – a painfully sad poem about child soldiers which had the audience listening in total silence before applause and several expressions of “Wow!” after it finished (you can read “Dead Eyes” here)

That was a good amount to perform at most open mic nights but this had been part 1 and after a short break and a couple of tunes from Adrian we had a second round of performances and I was asked for another three poems. This time I read the following:

  • Blank – a poem about trying to write when under time pressure. The audience, many of whom were writers, clearly understood and recognised the issues and it was very warmly received (you can read “Blank” here)
  • The Curse- another short and sad poem this time about dementia (you can read “The Curse” here)
  • Different Dad – a slightly silly poem to lift the mood and entertain and which left the audience laughing and smiling (you can read “Different Dad” here)
The night was wound up in style by Bob and Adrian and we headed off into the fresh sea air at around 11.00pm.
Another excellent session and well worth going, either to listen or to perform, if you are ever in St Ives on a Thursday night, check the website (above) to make sure Café Frug is happening that week and bring your own drink – glasses are provided.
Admission is £4.00 each but performers get free admission.

Open Mic – The Union, St. Ives

Sometimes stepping outside your comfort zone is a good way to develop confidence and skills. Whilst on holiday I read that there was an open mic night at The Union Inn in St Ives. Having walked past the pub the previous night, with my wife Maggie, it was clear that this is not a quiet venue but one filled with atmosphere and noise – great for the musicians who would perform but challenging for a poet – and I was the only poet!

There was plenty of music from wannabes to experienced musicians and the mood was loud and lively. Maggie and I watched, and listened to, a wide variety of performances from folk to rock and the crowd were tapping feet and singing along almost as soon as things got going a little after 9.00pm.

At around 11.00pm, after plenty of music filling the crowded bar, Mickey, the host and lead performer for the night, told me I’d be up next.

Facing a very crowded pub with a busy bar full of punters I was unsure of how they’d react, they’d come for a drink and to enjoy the music so having been introduced I led off with Standby – good for my confidence as most people tend to understand the theme and quickly get engaged. Sure enough almost as soon as I had introduced myself and started my first poem, Standby, with the words; “My old television had a big old switch, on and off, with a clunk” the whole crowd, at least 60 or 70 people crammed in, stopped chattering and I had a really appreciative and attentive audience. (You can read Standby here: here)

I followed with my anti-war poem Dead Eyes about child soldiers and you could hear a pin drop and there were tears in a few eyes. A brief pause to let the poem sink in, or just caused by the impact of the poem and then they applauded, a kind of polite applause at first then building up as the audience appreciate the feelings they’ve just experienced. (You can read Dead Eyes here: here)

Mickey asked me for one more poem so I went with Different Dad which can always pick the audience back up and they were happy, smiling and cheering with their applause as I finished and said my thank-you’s. (You can read Different Dad here)

We stayed until midnight listening to more music, tapping feet and singing along. I declined Mickey’s offer to join himself and fellow musicians at the microphone, this time to sing along, he may have been impressed by my poetry but I’m not so sure about my singing voice!

We would certainly recommend this night for anyone visiting St. Ives and if you are a poet then why not step outside that comfort zone, take that risk – I did and it paid dividends giving a massive buzz, building confidence and reminding me that my poetry doesn’t have to be delivered in the traditional “friendly, supportive” setting.

What a night, what a buzz!

Caravan of Love

She stared across the sand
Watching the caravan disappear
Out of earshot
Out of reach, out of thought
A rose once so bright
A dried petal drifting down
Caught on life’s thorn
Snagged and shook with a start
Out of reach, out of thought

Darkness creeps in
Fading light the reagent
Of love and hate
Of happy and sad
Of fear and courage
The collected emotions
Scattered and abandoned

Life’s gyroscope flipped
Sea to desert
Life to death
Love to hate

The heart’s concubines, the soul
Ripped and torn
Watching the caravan disappear
Out of reach, out of thought
Beneath bilious grey skies
She cried

Shay the Poet performs at Eroica Britannia, Bakewell

Performing my set at Eroica Britannia

Finally on Saturday afternoon at the Eroica festival it was time to step up on stage and for half an hour, mess with the minds of my audience. I warned them that poetry was like prose on steroids and that they were about to take a journey into my own thinking and that they’d be happy, they’d be sad and they’d be made to think. They were up for it and we had a great big dipper ride and they left me on a high.

The full set list:

My set list on the table in our B&B near Bakewell

I like people riding bikes – just a happy celebration of people riding bikes
(see earlier blog post from 01/05/15 for the full poem)

I’m a bloody poet now – how I got started in poetry – maybe
(see earlier blog post from 15/10/10 for the full poem)

Standby – a look at modern life, on the go 24/7
(see earlier blog post from 17/11/10 for the full poem)

Seahorses – about one of my primary school teachers back then and getting old
(see earlier blog post from 19/2/12 for the full poem)

Maggie with one of the large event posters on site

Badger brushes and brass – a less than serious look at the fashion for retro – in a barber’s shop
(Not in my blog – yet)

A platform I don’t know – looking at the loss of bereavement through travelling and the train station
(Not in my blog – yet)

Domestique – the saddest side of doping in cycle racing
(see earlier blog post from 01/05/15 for the full poem)

A minute and a half – how it feels to tackle a cycling hillclimb race
(Not in my blog – yet)

The curse – the curse of dementia, a personal poem about my own granny
(see earlier blog post from 12/12/12 for the full poem)

Dead eyes – my short anti-war poem focused on child soldiers – one of my saddest!
(see earlier blog post from 18/11/10 for the full poem)

Stranger conversations – a look at how we relate to strangers told through a true story
(Not on my blog – yet)

Different Dad – a silly, non-biographical, poem about a dad with too much rhythm
(see earlier blog post from 07/11/10 for the full poem)

Something – a love poem for Maggie
(see earlier blog post from 23/02/12 for the full poem)

To read all about Eroica Britannia – the most handsome festival of cycling, held in the wonderful Peak District town of Bakewell, including the festival events, the entertainment and the rides – head over to my other blog at

Eroica set list building

A little peek into my set list for Eroica Britannina on 20th June,

A minute and a half – if you’ve ridden short hill climb races or if the pain and exhilaration is new to you then this poem will tell you about all of that, in about a minute and a half, the time it takes to race up one of my favourite climbs at Monsall Head.
Standby – it’s not all about cycling and bikes! This one is about modern life and that mad need to be always doing something, always connected and ready for action 24/7.
More to follow over the next few days….

Shay the poet heads to Eroica Britannia

Just one month to go to the most handsome cycling festival – Eroica Britannia.

Vintage bikes, vintage everything and 30,000 people heading to Bakewell in the Peak District for a fun filled 3 day family adventure on 19, 20 and 21st June


There’s music, films, conversation, food, drink and of course loads of old bikes.

And this year there will be poetry, courtesy of yours truly, with a half hour set on the Saturday afternoon.

My set list is almost sorted and although I never really stick to the list there will be a couple of new cycling ones in the set including “A minute and a half” and “I like people riding bikes”. There’ll be a fair few non cycling ones too and we’ll have a great time.

I’ll post more on the set as we draw closer.


A couple of years ago I wrote and posted a poem about doping in cycling called Dopers’ Lament. More recently I wrote this short poem about the sadness of the young men who died as a result of “doing what had to be done”….


Bike passed to mechanic
Showered, massaged, refuelled
Another day done
Another lesson learned
Doing what has to be done
And he dreams of bigger days
Of Pyrenees and Alps
Of his name on the road
Dreams of glory
Of podium girls
And fast cars
And he drifts off
On a hotel bed
And molten Macadam blood
Seeps through enlarged ventricles
And a young man


I Like people riding bikes

This ought to go on my cycling blog as much as on my poetry blog – maybe it will. I wrote this on the occasion of leaving my job at CTC and it explains why people like me work so hard to encourage more people to ride bikes. My former colleagues had this already but its time to share…..

Oh Yes and here is a gratuitous picture of a tree:

I like people riding bikes

I like people riding bikes
Young ones, old ones and in-betweeners
Thin ones, large ones, tall ones and short ones 
Racers, wannabes and commuters
In Lycra, corduroy or pin-striped suits
Tourists and mountain bikers
B… M… Xers
People that ride with their mates
And even the single speed hipsters
(But preferably with brakes)
I like road bikes, track bikes
Bicycles, tricycles, unicycles
Recumbents and tandems
I like bikes with pedals, with treadles
And those with hand cranks
Folders, mountain bikes, BMX bikes and
Speedway bikes (but not on the road)
I like cargo bikes and trailers
Balance bikes, trikes, kiddie cranks
Tag-alongside and child seats
I even like bikes with electrical assist
I like steel, aluminium, bamboo and carbon
(just a little bit)
I’m not sure about cardboard, manganese
Plywood and plastic
They might have bells or hooters
Saddlebags, bar-bags
Panniers or rucksacks
I like people riding bikes
I’ll pedal alone
We’ll pedal together
I’ll take the road, high or low
I’ll take the rough stuff or the smooth stuff
The single track or the velodrome
I’ll take cycle lanes and shared lanes
I’ll just take the lane
I’ll pedal to work and I’ll pedal for fun
I’ll give or take a croggy or a backie
Or a push on steep hills
Maybe I’ll take a tow
I like people riding bikes
I don’t like everything
I don’t like bad riding
I don’t like bad driving
I don’t like victim blaming
I don’t like hi-vis and I don’t like helmets
I don’t like safety placebos and mystical rituals
I’ve seen the Emperors’ new clothes
Bright shining yellow
With a polystyrene cap
Hip, hip, hooray
The crowds cheer
As the otherwise invisible
Emperor pedals by

And I do like people riding bikes 


Written for Rochdale’s commemoration of Gallipoli this is, like my other war poems, not a celebration of courage and sacrifice (important as those things are) but an indictment of war itself and of the foolishness of the human race.

Canakkale Savasi
Where victory is no sweeter than defeat
A battlefield between the high ground
And the moral high ground
The beach and the hills
The gulf of belief between them
A stubborn separation of ideologies
Oceans or continents apart
Stripped-bare lands, smouldering and smoking
Drenched in blood
Where victory is no sweeter than defeat
Defeat the only exit
A battlefield of slow contrition
And lives wasting day by day
Where a quick death becomes preferable
To a slow-dying, slow-starving, forced-walk
Towards an impossible exile
And the victors loose the one thing that mattered
And with humanity destroyed, what was left?
Where victory is no sweeter than defeat
Where new countries emerge
With foundations of blood built on suffering
Again the blood flows from the high ground
With new hatred, new wars and new causes
And the pain echoes across another century
No celebrations nor commemorations
Nor pomp nor ceremony disguise
The days humanity faded
Where victory is no sweeter than defeat
A battleground, named by the defeated
Remembered for butchery, for death
Defeat the only exit
Victory a lingering defeat
Surely no pride, only sadness
And a perpetual warning; ignored
Through blood soaked centuries

To humanity’s peril