At poetry recitals, poets often mutter some contextual blather before launching a poem. This can be useful, or may take longer than the poem. At any rate, such information is usually lacking in a book, leaving some poems as insoluble puzzles. A few words are provided at the back of Better Late Than Sorry, to sketch in a bit of background for some of the poems.
Here we have a complete list of the contents, with at least a phrase to accompany every title. It must be admitted that some of these notes may have turned out to be more cryptic than the poems. It’s fine. One way or another, these poems are not insoluble puzzles. Poems that are like that are a waste of time.
1943 / Tesla and Beuys.
A JAZZ SCRAPBOOK / Written for Jazz in Hull: People & Places, a commissioned performance of new poems and compositions for Humber Mouth festival, 2015. This poem uses phrases taken from Laurie Dex’s book, Hull Jazz and Jazzmen to bring out the absurdist humour that is ever-present among jazz musicians.
A LITTLE LEARNING / Cheese, dreams and knowledge.
A SMALL ROOM / A foundling, derived from a copy of The Japan Times.
AD INFINITUM / Good mornings.
ADDAGES / An original kind of perverb, whereby old, dilapidated proverbs are refurbished by the addition of missing letters.
ADRIFT / Fish time.
ADVERSE / Studio doom.
ALCOHOLOGRAM / A chemical acrostic.
ALPHABETICAL ORDERS / Bar code.
AN EXCITING LINE-UP / Commemorates the unwelcome intrusion of refined caterwauling at a poetry reading organized years ago by the New Elephant Open Network.
ANEMOGRAM / Depicting the Beaufort Scale.
ANGEL TIME / A visit to a Rotherhithe pub.
ANGLIAN ANGLES /Out East.
ARE WE THERE YET? / A metro poem: South Kensington to Lambeth North.
ART / Battle of the bands.
ART HISTORY / Back and forward.
AT THIS HOUR / Neighbourhood watched.
AWAKEN WORDS? / A response to an oddly-titled poetry event in Southwark.
AWAY / Vantage points.
BAR LINES / Getting the pint.
BEACH HEAD / This poem was provoked by Jonathan Coe’s fine biography of B. S. Johnson, Like a Fiery Elephant.
BEER FESTIVAL / Input output.
BEING GLOBAL / Round figures.
BEING LOCAL / Star-struck.
BENCHMARKS / Victoria Embankment Garden.
BIRDS I VIEW / Opportunism.
BLUES FOR BERT / A tribute to trombonist Bert Murray. Recorded on Speech.
BLUES TALK / Uplift.
BRASS / Oldham apprenticeship.
BRIGHT DECEMBER MORNING / Park view.
BRING ME SUNSHINE / March here.
BRING MORE JONES / In 2010, Hull Truck Theatre staged an event for Larkin 25, where trombone poetry teamed up with The All What Jazz Band to perform commissioned pieces in commemoration of Philip Larkin, who ran the Brynmor Jones Library at The University of Hull. This poem, stimulated by an old cassette from student days, later made it into the Larkin Society’s journal, About Larkin.
BUS STOP BASH / Festivities.
BUS STOP BUST UP / Hostilities.
CAPSULE / A reflexive effort, capturing a trombone poetry set that included a spontaneous tune, for Alison Clayburn’s Rotherhithe Voices at Deli Felice, whose theme was Celestial Bodies. The set included a spontaneous piece dedicated to Sun Ra, which was recorded live and edited, named and uploaded to Soundcloud the day after.
COMMEMORATION / A solo gig for Chelsea Arts Club.
CONJURATION / Another doomed attempt to get a new word into the dictionary.
CONVERSION FACTORS / Lost pubs: The Prince of Orange, The Two Eagles, The Neptune.
CRITIQUE OF PURE VERBIAGE / A consideration of yet another miserable specimen of curatorial artspeak, for a museum event probably best avoided.
CROSS COUNTRY / Passing fancies.
CROSS PURPOSES / Groundbreaking.
CROSSED WINDS RULES / Weather forecasting compressed into a poem.
DEEP / A metro poem: Elephant & Castle to Brixton.
DESTINY / Ball ruminations.
DEVOTION / Dedicated to a South London big band, led by a dear friend, the late Mick Collins. Recorded on Speech. The Mick Collins Legacy Jazz Orchestra enjoys a monthly residency and is well worth seeking out.
DISS ABLE / Acronym acrimony.
DRESSING DOWN / Outfit upset.
FACE IT / Over familiar.
FAREWELL CONCERT / Nature study. Recorded on Speech.
FAREWELLING / The send-off
FELLOW FEELING / Bards abroad.
FIGUERAS / Sky lines.
FIGURES OF EIGHT / Barbershop octets.
FINGERED / A metro poem: Bermondsey to South Kensington.
FISH & SHIPS / Reviewing the placard describing The Spurn Lightship, anchored in Hull Marina, and ending with a marinet.
FLASHBACK / Torch song.
FLIGHT OF FANCY / A papal calamity.
FOCUS / Group thunk.
GETTING THERE / The struggle for progressive social housing activism.
GIVINGS / In thanks.
GOOD HEALTH / Ad vice.
GREENGROCER / A local shop closes; a friend shares a video taken at the estate agent’s viewing; the poem is pasted on the shop window as a tribute.
GROWN FROM SEED / A foundling, created from a filched copy of Rail News.
GURU / Sheeping forecast.
HACKNEY MARCHES / March hear.
HANKY PANKY / Disorder in order.
HIGHBALL / Raising a glass.
HOW TO APPEAR / The mundane futility of teleology.
HOW TO USE A PENCIL / A tool for well-being.
I MAKE A DOCUMENTARY / TV highlights.
IDENTIFICATION / Bite-size learning.
IF YOU WAIT / Patient observations.
IN SEARCH / South London wanderings.
IN THE THICK OF IT / Gothic perils.
IN TWO MINDS / Dearth of the cool.
INDODE / A tribute to a glorious Whitechapel bar, a raucous and much-loved home-from-home for trombone poetry, and now lost forever.
INNER SECRETS / Experimental apparatus reveals one thing and conceals another.
INSIGHT / A puzzle.
IT’S SOMETHING / Late night lines.
JACKET / Travel outfit.
JUNGLE MUSIC / Why bluffing your way through Brazilian music is a bad idea.
LASER / Written during a Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous, at Central Saint Martin’s, London.
LEAVE IT / A foundling, created from a copy of The Sunday Sun, Barbados.
LESSONS / Mancunian reflections.
LIGHT MUSIC / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
LIGHT WORK / Thinking inside the box.
LIGHTS OUT FOR THE COUNT / Failing by numbers.
LOCAL GIRL MAKES GOOD / This poem was chosen by the Word Islington festival for publication in a fleet of buses on the 38 route in London. Neither of us saw it.
LOOKING ON THE BRIGHT SIDE / Playing with proverbs.
MARINE / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
MATHEMATOSIS / Malfunctions.
MEDLEY / The use of standards.
MEMENTOS / The gifts of music.
MISSING / Lost in space.
MISSING PERSONS / Lost rites.
MIXIMS / An original kind of perverb, mixing up maxims.
MUCH BETTER / A foundling, created from a copy of The Morning Star and then published in another copy.
MUD & EMBROIDERY / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
MULLED WINE / A metro poem: Rotherhithe to Stockwell.
MUSEUM PIECE / The wondrous Grant Museum of Zoology.
NICK KNACK / Satanic verse.
NIGHT GOODS / Dark company.
NIGHT RIDE / A winter’s evening at Sands Film Club.
NIGHT SHIFT / This dream report made an appearance in a deep book: Andrew Wells’ The Literate Mind: a study of its scope and limitations, 2012.
NOISES OFF / A festival earful. Recorded on Speech.
NOTEBOOK / The writing coach.
NOW HEAR THIS / Important announcements.
OBLONGING / Beyond the square.
OLD MEDIA / Ecological thinking with Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media.
ON COURSE / On the road with The Yiddish Twist Orchestra.
ONE FOR BUKOWSKI / A nod to Hank. Recorded on Speech.
ONE FOR NUTTALL / Another poet gone.
OWNING UP / Self-help in the kitchen.
OWNS A SAX / The lurking peril of saxophonitis. Recorded on Speech..
PERVERBS / Perverbs were invented by Oulipo, the glorious Workshop of Potential Literature.
PEST CONTROL / A heartwarming story.
PLAYING FIELD / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
PLAYING THE CHANGES / On being stranded in Gijón with that stupendous band, Snowboy & The Latin Section.
PROBABILITY CURVES / Book learning.
REALISM / Spot the message.
REMEMBER REMEMBER / Smoking out your memories.
REPORT FROM LOWESTOFT / On the road with Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra.
SALOON BAR PHILOSOPHY / Barfly knowledge.
SAWNS / An original kind of perverb, whereby proverbs, old saws, are improved by cutting out extraneous letters.
SEEING THINGS / I spy with my little eye.
SELF-PORTRAIT WITH VINEGAR AND BAKED BEANS / Diner’s digest.
SENSIBLE HEAT / Murder mystery.
SERENADE / Musical haiku.
SHELF LIFE / Book lore.
SHOWTIME / An anecdote from Hull. Recorded on Speech.
SIGNAL FAILURE / Wand turbine.
SOUNDWALK: Brook Drive
SOUNDWALK: Geraldine Mary Harmsworth Park
SOUNDWALK: Martell Road to Auckland Hill
SOUNDWALK: St Mary’s Churchyard to Manor Place
SOUNDWALK: Walworth Road up to Elephant Shopping Centre
STEPPING OUT OF THE WEDDING / Exit strategy.
SWAYED / How astrology works.
SYMMETRY / Based on an inaugural lecture at Queen Mary University of London.
TABLETOP STILL LIFE / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
TAKING A VIEW / Written in the much-missed Indo bar in Whitechapel.
TERMINUS / The bitter end.
THE ESSENTIALS / Local amenities near a previous home in Brook Drive, South London.
THE HIGH LIFE / Lofty nostalgia.
THE HIGHER PLANE / On the level.
THE HORROR / Pneumatic drills.
THE HOSTS / Meeting the neighbours.
THE JUNGLE / Response to a painting by Stella Cardew.
THE LANTERN / Night sky light show.
THE MAGIC CHAIR / A foundling, created from a copy of The Streatham Guardian.
THE MEANING / Cosmic understanding.
THE OLD CROCK / Sustainability.
THE POWER OF SPEECH / Some art/science projects throw more dark than light.
THE PUBLISHED POET / Workshop wonders.
THE REUNION / A bookend poem.
THE RIPE MOMENT / Summer blessings.
THE SEER / Caught in the cult.
THE STOPPER / Thoughts from the cellar. Recorded on Speech.
THE WISH / Proverbial variations.
THE WORKS / Industrial poetics.
THIS MEANS WARDROBES / Containing the situation.
THIS MORNING / Bad news blues.
THIS TROMBONE / The horse’s mouth. Recorded on Speech.
THRESHOLD / Written after a visit to the now-defunct Middlesex Hospital.
THRILLS AND SPILLS / The joys of motoring.
TOYS / The boys of motoring.
TRANSPORT / Top deck symbolism.
TRILOGY / Potted science: the laws of thermodynamics, astronomy versus astrology, evolution versus teleology.
TRIO / Yet another memorable listening experience at The Klinker.
TRIPLETS / This poem was first published in Smoke #4.
UNCERTAIN UNDERGROUND / Tubular semiotics.
UNDETERRED / A foundling, created from a copy of The Croydon Midweek Advertiser.
UNITY / Under the sun.
UNTOLD / A bell in the Moscow State Historical Museum.
VIGIL AUNTY / A belle in the Moscow State Historical Museum.
VIGNETTES / Written across the road from the old Dulwich Hospital.
VISIONS / A flight to Scotland for a performance of Swinging at the Cotton Club with Harry Strutters Hot Rhythm Orchestra.
WHAT DO I KNOW? / A metro poem:: Warren Street to Lambeth North.
WHEELS WITHIN WHEELS / More word-spinning.
WORM NOTES / For Charles Darwin.
YOU HUM IT / Earning a crust. Recorded on Speech.