John was born in Liverpool in 1951 , studied English at Durham University with postgraduate work at Manchester and Newcastle. He has worked in schools, colleges, a prison – where he taught literacy – and at the University of Chester. He has won prizes in national competitions and his poetry has been broadcast on radio and television.
John is the Poetry Society Stanza Rep’ for Staffordshire and South Cheshire. He has published two collections, Reading Lessons in The Lifer’s Wing (Peterloo, 2009) and The Model Shop (Waterloo, 2011). He’s preparing a third, On Lipstick Beach and most of the poems here will appear in that collection.
Johnny and The Hurricanes
Sundays too we worked in Electric park,
collecting cash, choosing rubber numbers,
dimming the lights for the eight big hits,
smoking cigarettes like a last perfection
in big-shot cufflinks and black persuasion shoes.
Two minutes in the back-room mirror
and we were Johnny and the Hurricanes
waking with the shakes for the cheap bright treats,
turning this way and that for the girls at the gate.
We’d cross the park with the chill of cooling sweat,
passing the left-hand blinkers, tick-and-whoosh wipers,
the stream of paralysed cars,
buses nudging and blaring at the back,
we hugged our lunches like a heart attack.
At the treadmill in the Fitness Suite
After work we go down among the machines
To the fitness suite and aerobic room,
To the cycles, weights and running gear.
Some walk along the beach at Malibu
To smell the sea and squirts of spray;
Others call for movement, for the yoga mats,
For beauty bags and calming salts
And squat an hour with heather in the hills.
Or fresh out of scenery, the can-dos from accounts
Come down for the me-too bikes, the treadmill wheel
And only perfect pattern of the day.
In Sarah’s Island Department Store
How can this be, two women in billowy white shirts,
cut-away jeans with fizzy cans talking of old pains,
last kicks and dead husbands?
Is it the old arousal, broken down by scent and money
finding its way to the Counter for Complaints?
They unwrap bags and pencil out Sarah’s Island
since it always lets you down,
with failing zips and unstitched seems.
Demanding prompt replies, they take their pick,
their click-n-go, the coffee black as Styx.
The construction workers’ hut
Waiting for the bus out of town
By the construction workers’ hut
Where Joe’s jacket hangs over a chair
And bulges from old nails and hammers
Among the quiet brutality of his welding gear,
We hear the clang of emptying drums
And the riveter’s five-second blast
At Wagg’s Mission across the road.
Behind the perimeter tape and cans of Jax,
Joe comes out in a yellow survival hat
Carrying gas pipes at his hip
and a small blue flame for a fingertip.
The old potato patch
We set out our deckchairs and wonky table
Sitting in the creaking canvas
On our odd length of potato patch
Among the history of last year’s boot marks
And think it might be wise to grow zazan,
Buy an armoire and wear Siebel shoes this year,
Poking the Brie and arranging the meat
Small and wrinkled on a charcoal grille,
And fill the handheldblenda with bananas
Carrying it through the softly closing gate:
Bloom late. Expect Joy. Yield gracefully. Zing.
Selling from the Pepsi cart
We had our moments at Lipstick Beach
Selling from the Pepsi cart for a beautiful world,
Pushing the Strolling Jim around the Gardens
Like a missing time-detector;
A broken-hearted lady hiring us to sing
To the empty seats at Juliet’s Corner;
The hold-up at Fancy Pants & Jackets
And our pictures in Flag of Japan
In a queue for the single-word wines,
Lipstick Beach swelling like a circuit board
And the sea recalling the Hindenburg.
Pope Shot. Sex Change. Ulster’s Bloody Sunday.
On Lipstick Beach
Summer after summer we worked on Lipstick Beach,
Yanking nozzles, fitting jugs, moving the fridge
That smoked in jerky streams
And taking orders with our flicked-back hair
And ballsy range of calm.
We drove the poorly-wired dash of the Sunbeam
With a cassette full-blast
To the Chick-A-Boom restaurant
Wearing a difficult wah-wah shirt
Like a message from the washing-machine.
Particularly true was the popcorn dome
Shaping the world for a different school of art,
A different darkness at the end of the beach;
The cold splash of Mack’s Pizza Place,
The chattering of songs that are to come.
At the collision bay
These are the sounds left after the ambulances go,
The hard-to-open door, a tinkle of windscreen,
The whining of the salvage tools
In the oil and rubber smell of the collision bay.
They come from ram raids, hit-and-run,
Overturned in a high-speed car chase, the driver cut
Unconscious from the wreck.
Written off behind these hard-to-open doors,
One drives an entire family of shadows
Through the landscape of Buddhist emptiness
As if the meaning of existence were here
With Michelin Man in his puffersuit
And Mr KwikFit walking through our universe.
From John’s second collection, The Model Shop
The Model Shop
We’ve lived in a lot of previous lives
Falling in love, new ways to flourish,
The discipline of Empire and the polished court.
This time, small folk in packets, freeze-dried trees,
A bag of bus-stops, instant ivy
The smell of toyshop varnish.
No-one recalls the agreed way of hope,
How we put the landscape together,
The cardboard hills and ready-made rubble
Into its slow explosion.
For those with the whole day off,
God repeats himself in the flat-pack doll’s house,
The rubber furniture and plastic piano
Hushed of all arpeggios,
Rules for remembering the future.
From John’s first collection, Reading Lesson in the Lifers’ Wing
Reading Lesson in the Lifer’s Wing
In calico, the lifer’s freedom dress
A man arrives to pick his boom-box up.
He smarms his hair and stops each time his face
Reflects in windows, glass and trolley’s rack
Of pans, and sees us in our reading group
Becalmed at tables from the dining-room.
He tunes the fight, smoothes in his barrier-cream
Then jabs a left and shadows through the door.
We shuffle through the things we’ve brought to read:
A racing pink, a fashion page, a pile
Of letters from a life outside, a cracked
And broken Bible stuck on Exodus.
The man who owns it wipes his lips, tunes out
His smoker’s cough and reads: “The waters were
Made sweet and they did drink…” till short of air
He halts. A man who’s whiskerless and cowed
Pulls out a bill his wife has sent
And speaks from crumpled folds
An old address with fake Italian logo at the top.
As racks of food-trays flatten under shrouds,
Our southpaw, with his radio coming loud
Then dim, transforms us to the boxing-ring,
The ropes, the food, the fire at Pentecost
How soup boils from the bottom like a crowd.