Many great thinkers believe that we have only a 50/50 chance of surviving the next 50 years. I think we need to make provision for the strong possibility that none of us will be here in 50 years’ time. This is called, Forward Planning. I do not think many forward thinkers doubt this 50/50 figure. If we accept it then we need to do the next logical thing.

I am being totally genuine with this idea.

The United Nations takes ten billion pounds from the World’s armies. They will not miss it. We build the Big Sign. The Big Sign has to be big enough that it can be seen from space. It also has to survive a full scale nuclear war. We need to alert other alien life forms to what we have done.

The sign is to say, “The war mongers destroyed this planet. Learn from our mistake.”

Hopefully, the viewers from space will be able to translate the message. Perhaps on the moon a similar message can be put with the addition of a radio transmitter giving out an aliens’ guide to English. Or, it may be that we will have to use simple pictures (instead of a message in English).

Out of our misfortune, perhaps we can save another race of beings from making a similar mistake.

Ashby McGowan


Please mention this idea to others if you think it worthwhile.



Saying “Hello” to a sheep




(My first time at a Save Movement event)



Your fate is not described in films and books

No tale of, The knife. No painting of, The hooks


You and your friends that you hold so dear

Jump over each other in total fear


So what do I say to you, stranger,

When I know that you are in danger?


Your eyes stare in terror at me

And I know you just want to be free


I say “Hello” and touch your head

But nothing more from me can be said


The feelings that I have are true

For I am not so very different from you


I know the horror that you will go through

And when I look at you, I think that you know too


I look around and all my friends are crying

For you, all there is left is the dying

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 6)



Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 6)


Chapter 12.


NORMAL POEMS. I do write “normal” poems. Often these are poems influenced by Haiku and by Buddhism. My favourite poet for meaning, is K. Issa. And for listening to the sounds created, is Dylan Thomas (although Richard Burton read Dylan Thomas much better than Dylan Thomas read Dylan Thomas).


The United Nations has sent one of my Poems around the world (twice), by e-mail. This was my Rap version of a Human Rights Document: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I have used this poem on a couple of occasions as one in which different members of the audience can join in by reading different verses from large printed cards that I hand out.


RECORDINGS. I have a short story, which is available on the Cutting Teeth Issue 9 CD (it was a special issue with contributors to the magazine also being recorded for the CD). A few years ago I read my “translation/modernisation” of the battle of Bannockburn verses from Barbour’s, Bruce on the site of the Battle of Bannockburn. This was broadcast by BBC Radio Scotland. I organised a campaign to save the battlesite and accordingly was interviewed for Radio a few times (Talk FM and Radio Scotland).

On 16th April, 2008, I was interviewed live on Radio Café. Two Poets (Wendy Miller and Tawona Sithole) read two of my multi-voice poems.




“FOUND” OR “DISCOVERED” TEXT. For many years, I researched quite deeply into a number of topics (Buddhism, animal rights, non-violence, and Military History). I found that some texts have a power which comes from the meaning of the Document; the importance of the Document itself, and from the sounds of the words. I had always wanted to write a Poem which was built up around the words of e.g. a historical Document. I have just done this with a Poem called Road Block which is built up around the actual words broadcast by the “Hate Radio” in Rwanda in 1994.

If you use “found” text, then I think you have to obey a number of rules. Not to use the text for the purpose of plagiarism. (I have been badly plagiarised and find it offensive. It is very hard to do something about it though.) You have to admit the source of the text. You must show respect to the “found” material. You must not use someone’s personal writings or letters for a purpose that would be against their wishes. If it is possible to gain the permission of the person who wrote the original material, then you must do so. The Poem that you make out of the text must say something new, and say something that couldn’t be done without using the “found” text.

Poets have been using “found” text for many years. One of the easiest ways to use it is to set a piece of text dealing with a situation and set it against or in the body of a piece of poetic text that you make up. For instance, you could collect small snippets of information about Human Rights Laws already in existence in a Country (e.g. from the internet) and make up a poem that includes these snippets or phrases as text scattered throughout your poem. I rewrote (in Poetic terms) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was liked by the United Nations themselves who sent it around the World, to all their contacts, twice. Or, you could use sentences from the laws relating to Health Service provision set in a poem you devise about some elderly person ill and in distress from a failure of these services. You could even make up your own “found” text with fake laws e.g. laws that relate to how things really happen rather than the ideal way in which they should happen.

I have heard performed (a couple of times) entire performance pieces made up with just “found” text. One was a piece of Theatre showing film about The Iraq War in the background, while Actors read out the actual words of various World Leaders. It worked amazingly well (Talking About Iraq).

As always, look at things through your eyes. If there is a piece of History or a World Leader you admire, you could use “found” text relating to them.


Chapter 13.

New Techniques (That I have been developing myself)


SCRATCHED POEMS. I use two types of “scratched” Poem. The first is similar in purpose to what the Disc Jokey does when he “scratches” between two Records i.e. well known phrases are repeated, sometimes mixed, and often meaningless sounds are added in as filler. The second type is where a Narrative Poem with a strong rhythm structure has bits cut out and pasted in elsewhere in the text. This can work surprisingly well.


VERY LONG LINES. A couple of years ago I started to wonder how it would work if I made the lines in some poems very long-two or three sentences long. I used various techniques to keep a flow going between the sentences and phrases, like internal rhyme and alliteration. Using very long lines is not the same as breaking the line up and pushing them down the poem. With such long lines I get a chance to build up images and ideas much better. The poem flows better. I also get a chance to work with complex rhythms which can be repeated in the next couplet. For instance in a poem about Cycling up the Crow Road, the long lines allow a multitude of images to be built up as the cyclist rides on up and then down the hill. The rhyming is so complex that it took me six weeks to get it nearly perfect in performance. Although a reasonably good performance could be achieved after a few days.

As the cyclist goes downhill I increase the speed that I read the lines to show the increase in speed of the cyclist.

One of the main difficulties in writing such poems is getting very long lines to fit on a page. I use landscape mode, but I don’t like to use too small a font-as it makes the text hard to see. I am though very satisfied with this type of poem and intend writing a lot more. However, so far, the poems I have written in this style have had more imagery and rhythm than depth.


CHINESE WHISPERS. This can be used in performance Poetry.

It is an activity designed to get an audience involved (or as an exercise for the poets). There are no winners or losers and all you have to do is keep the rhythm of the story flowing.

The presenter reads out a (roughly) five or six word phrase. The audience are then asked to hold hands looking inwards in a circle. Or, if the audience is big, just hold hands. The audience are asked to make up a story following the initial phrase given by the presenter. To keep it interesting the audience has to follow a sequence.

The first person in the audience to speak (the person on the extreme left of the line or a designated person in a ring) has to try to keep the story going by reading out a similar five or six word phrase or sentence. But they must make the last word in their sentence rhyme with the last word in the presenter’s sentence. The second person in the audience keeps the story going using a similar five or six word phrase or sentence but this time they only need to keep the first letter of the last word they speak the same as the first letter of the last word that the previous person read out.

This two-line sequence is continually repeated i.e. last word rhyme, then last word having the same first letter.

Each person must on the spot continue to tell the story along whatever lines it is following and must adhere to the two line sequence.

This sounds complicated but the way it is done allows improvisation, brain searching, and a story to get told.


An example I made up on the spot:


Presenter’s line                                      I can soar

First person’s line                                  From the top to the floor

Second person’s line                             Forever flying

Third person                                          Resting on wings not crying

Fourth person                                       Searching for calmness

Fifth person                                          More not less


HOLDING HANDS. Here, the Poet has one line intimately linked to the following line: part of the line – and the following line – being read at the same time. An example is my Performance Poem, Canada. (Really, it is kind of a multi-voice poem.)



(The, four or five, readers appear to the audience to read out of any sequence. They look at the audience without looking at each other. Each reader reads one line and the second word in each line is spoken at the same time as the first word in the following line. The last line spoken by all.


Snow falling

Falling down

Down wind

Wind blowing

Blowing hard

Hard ice

Ice breaking

Breaking through

Through Arctic

Arctic seals

Seals crying

Crying no more

No more blood

Blood stains

Stain’s Canada

Canada’s shame



RUSSIAN DOLLS. Here I try to have a story partly hidden within another story. Then two stories can complement each other, or can act in opposition to one another. In my Poem called Story, the main part of the Poem asks a question. This is answered by text which is partly hidden within the main text of the Poem.




There is a brief and enigmatic story hidden here. See if you can find it.


where do Plughole Empties start, so begin the movement away, another day fades, fast

stream, Down Until, distant day drifting, sun far lifting, far reaches running track, clue last

field Faster, warmth reaching, colour leaching, day light, bats sight, then last

far Down, fish dark swimming, grey sea rising through brightness, birds fly past

around Travelling, forward fragments finding, toward tiger forest, shadows cast

hot SILVER, Movement, sing softly, Water, treasure trail, wait, waste confuses land

jigsaw, maze haze, Turn, finding , to a Whirlpool key, searching path, drifting back, hand

eyes flies, levity strings, Gravity, star Swirls where, when whispered, cold told, and

search, frog eating jasmine jam, Turning, salty red fish swim, load lorry, sea story, and

one two left right, prime DRAGON, foot print QUEST, journey searching, sand



SEURAT STYLE. At the National Galleries in Edinburgh, I was looking at a Seurat painting when I realised that what he did with vision can be done with sound. He used separate discrete areas of colour to interact together to create new and different scenes or objects-which became visible when the viewer stepped back from the painting. So I am looking at ways to get Poetry performers to read from a group of similar sounding words (they can pick any words from the similar sounding list) and as the poem proceeds, the performers pick from Group 2 of words; then from group 3, then from group 4. Each performer has a different set of 4 groups of words.


As a final note. Read good poets. I read a lot of Poetry Anthologies. At the moment I am reading Dylan Thomas, Edward Thomas, and R.S. Thomas (all three are well worth reading and also have lots of rhythm in their poetry). Read translations of poets who speak different languages!

If you find it hard to listen to poetry on its own, listen to groups and singers who are also fantastic poets: Melanie Safka, Yes, Genesis, Kate Bush, Laura Nyro, and Peter Gabriel. Analyse their lyrics. Beautiful People by Melanie is simple yet says so much.  It is honest and shows empathy (two vital ingredients to any poem). Awaken by Yes has amazing words. Read the lyrics to Blood on the rooftops by Genesis. Read the lyrics to Kate Bush’s concept piece, The Ninth Wave. Read the lyrics to New York Tendaberry by Laura Nyro. And the lyrics to Wallflower by Peter Gabriel. Which make up a fantastic human rights poem. Of course, listen to the fantastic songs too!

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (part 5)


Chapter 11.



I am a School Technician who, twenty years ago, started to write short stories and Scottish History articles that I had researched myself. Over the years, I managed to make a couple of important discoveries relating to Sir William Wallace (detailed in, The Double Tressure, 1999, No. 22).

At the school that I used to work in, I organised an Amnesty UK Human Rights group for pupils. For the Elimination of Violence Against Women Day (in 2005), I wrote a performance poem about Domestic Violence (Another Night). I thought of using the six girls’ – who wanted to put on something for the Day – to each perform a different voice in a poem.

While performing the poem, the readers sometimes speak at the same time and it sounds a bit chaotic, but as it is repeated the listener tunes in to a specific voice and makes sense out of the chaos (this was intentional, and was appropriate given the subject of the poem). It was also intentional that the performers have to do a bit of work to fine-tune the piece so that their timing and volume are correct. The pupils enjoyed working on the piece. It was performed by the Hillpark Secondary School Amnesty Youth Group to Assemblies of first and second year pupils and to audiences of Teachers and Higher Drama pupils. It was received with a lot of applause, one standing ovation, and a few tears from Staff. [Nowadays most of my MV poems are not repeated.]

The Animals and Amnesty Poems were written to be performed at Animal Rights and Human Rights stalls and events. I wanted to make stalls a bit more interesting. I am a Human Rights and Animal Rights Campaigner.

The Amnesty poem was written so that the performers at a workshop can rewrite it and then perform it (the skeleton of trigger words remaining the same). The trigger words can be printed large on A4 card and held by the reader to let the audience see them; I think this reinforces the link between those words and the body of the poem.

Near the end of 2006, I sent some poems to the Literary Group, ConFAB. They (Rachel Jury in particular) have been very helpful. They applied for and received funding so that some of Scotland’s best Performance Poets could display the work (some of my poems) in front of an audience. Funding was provided by, the Scottish Book Trust, and Glasgow District Council. Many thanks to them both!

The VOICES performance was held on International Human Rights Day (December 10th), 2007, in front of an audience of about 35. It took place in a small venue in Glasgow’s Merchant City. The Production was very theatrical, and, I think, worked well. I believe, from the comments of the Performers (who are all performing Poets), that the cast enjoyed experimenting with the rhythms and timing of the poems. We had six rehearsals before the show.

I performed one poem on my own and was terrified-I was not a Performing Poet then (Initially, I wrote intending others to perform my poems).

These multi-voice poems usually conform to a style that I (used to) call, Sideways Poetry. Sideways, because it can be read be read sideways, backwards and forwards along the adjoining verses, as well as top to bottom (of the page). The meaning travels across the page as well as up and down. And, quite often in these poems, more than one speaker speaks at the same time. It sounds confusing, and it is. Well, only for a few moments. But, I hope, it does yield interesting results.

I use a number of devices to increase the sense of stability (as the poem proceeds) in some of the poems: increasing use of alliteration, words (or sounds) repeated by more than one reader, increasing strength of rhythm…

The person listening in the audience can listen to the effect of two or three voices intermingling and creating strange rhythm patterns, or they can tune in to one particular performer and look to that performer for the sense of the poem (or one aspect of it). Individual members of the audience usually do both during the performance of one poem.

I believe that this style of poem could become very popular. So far, the performances have met with a very good response from audiences.

These multi-voice Poems do require rehearsal and (of course) more than one speaker. However, I believe the performer learns a lot from performing this type of poem. At its easiest, two poets could perform one of the simpler poems after about one hour of rehearsal.

One of my poems is multi-voice but has only one performer. The audience imagine the other character and their words.

I have kept the language in my poems simple. I believe this allows a greater depth of experimentation. Also, I do not feel a listener should have to have a degree in Ancient Greek literature to be able to understand a poem. Most of the multi-voice poems are both 1. Poems in their own right (i.e. they show reality in a new and useful way) and 2. They are also exercises in multi-voice rhythmic experimentation, which is meant to be enjoyed for the sounds created.

Some Performance Poets make their poems more interesting by using visual effects while reading their poem (e.g. jumping about or using elaborate hand movements). Some poets make their poems more interesting by the use of their richly textured voice. In a multi-voice poem, it is the interaction of the words read by the different poets that makes the interesting effects. The rhythms and complexity that can be heard in one of these poems arise naturally when more than one poet reads words at the same time. Anyone can read these poems and can get the same rhythms and complexity: it is inbuilt into the poem’s structure.

The hardest work in a multi-voice poem is done by the audience. But, audiences like having to listen hard, question what they are hearing, and feeling for the hidden rhythms.

Some Poets initially dislike the idea of their well crafted words being obscured by the words of other Poet performers-in a multi-voice poem. However, I have found that audiences listen extra carefully to the words because of this partial blurring of sounds and meanings. Multi-voice concerts are the only poetry events I have been at where I have seen members of the audience coming up to performing Poets to ask for the words of the Poems they just have performed.

CHROMATIC VOICES. The next obvious step was for other Poets to write multi-voice poetry. ConFAB got all the People together who were involved in the Voices show and formed them into a new group called, Chromatic Voices. All the performers began writing multi-voice poetry.

Chromatic Voices performed during Refugee Week, at the Tron in Glasgow, on June 20th and 21st , 2008. Paragon Kaleidophone Ensemble worked with the Poets to produce original music that enhanced the Poems. The event was a great success, with members of the audience coming up at the end to ask for copies of the Poems and to shake the Poets by the hand. It was a tremendous occasion. It worked well, but usually I prefer poems without the addition of anything (Music or sound effects).



POETRY KARAOKE.  Making Poetry accessible to everyone.

Someone goes along to e.g. the Glasgow Tramway Theatre (where I know they have the technology to do similar things) and stands in front of screen 1. and watches four poems being read out- one a single voice poem and three multi-voice poems. Each of the poems is read through on screen 1 by the performance poets. Then, on screen 2 (next to screen 1), the words come up for the lines of a poet’s part (from one of the poems just read). The other performance poets read their lines on screen 1. While the visitor to the theatre reads the missing poet’s lines i.e. replaces one of the poets. I think this would be fun to do and could work well.

The Tramway had a production recently with two screens where screen 1. showed a person talking about how they felt and screen 2. showed them saying what they really felt. It looked good. It would take a bit of technology to do, but the disc would just be left to run on repeat all day and could be used at a number of sites. People could even buy the disk to do Poetry Karaoke in the house. In practise, someone would listen to a single voice poem, then try and repeat the poem using the words on screen 2. They would then listen to (my poems) Rhythm in the Trees, and then take part in it as one of the voices. This would be repeated for Happy the Dawn, and then Daybreak. I honestly think it would work.

Four poems should be enough. A lot of people would probably even like the extra technology involved.

The CCA and GOMA could also probably cope with the technological demands. Perhaps it may even be possible for a CD copy of the “collaborative” poem to be produced for each visitor (one which included the three Voices Poets and the visitor speaking the lines). Another option is to have the Poetry Karaoke on the Internet.

People tend to feel left outside the poetry experience and I think this is a way of letting them really take part. They would also learn, as they practise, how to change the volume and tone of their voice in order to complement the other poets.

I have been interviewed about this idea on National Radio. I have also applied for Funding to put on such a show (at the CCA) with the help of an Audio Technician (didn’t get the money).

Since I wrote the above I have worked out how to do this on my own and now have a few interactive multi-voice poems (and one short play) on You Tube. Check my multi-voice web site for details. One example:




How to Write a Multi-Voice Poem

Cascade Effect. The first multi-voice Poem that I wrote (Another Night) is also one of the most complicated. Many of the multi-voice poems use Trigger words. This is where one performer reads the Trigger words and they are also the first words read by another performer, who goes on to read their own verse. The Trigger words being read at the same time by both performers. Then, usually, the first performer who was reading, stops reading (to stop too much cacophony). In Another Night, the Trigger words used by the first person are different from the words used by the second person-which makes it slightly harder to do. Another Night also makes use of a Cascade Effect. This is where the Trigger word starts two or three performers reading, and this Cascade Effect may be repeated. This is hard for the listener to keep up with, so Another Night is read through three times. The Cascade Effect looks and sounds very effective.  The Trigger Words can be printed on large cards to be held by the reader of the trigger word/phrase. This draws attention to the word.

When working on a new multi-voice poem, usually I start by writing out all my notes, and all the words spoken by the different speakers, freehand in a jotter. I work on these until I have a rough idea of how the various speakers will combine. I then transfer this rough draft poem to a word processing package on a computer. For two part multi-voice, you can just have the lines going down the page next to each other with a line of dots at various points to show when a speaker is not reading any lines. For three or more speakers, I put my page on “landscape” mode (sideways) so that I can fit more columns on the page. I try to get every speaker fitting in side by side on the page (so it is easier for the performer to understand what is happening).

I highlight (put in bold) all the Trigger words and try to ensure that if they are spoken at the same time, that they are at the same level of the page as each other. I spend some time making sure that the poem on the page will be easy to read in performance (you then of course, go on to learn them off the page). Another way of writing is to firstly write out the form of the poem (with all the Trigger words and columns) and fit your writing into this. In practise, I have found this the harder method.

If words are at the same vertical level on the page then they are spoken at the same time. There is a timeline going down the page through all the columns together. I sometimes use dots to signify where a speaker does not speak. Whenever I have performed with actors they often ask for the lines to be placed as is usual in a play i.e. with no more than one column. Having written and learnt this type of poetry (MV) for many years, the way I recommend does work. Actors very soon are able to visualise the different performers’ words in their brains. Indeed, in the Poetry Challenge on my multi-voice website, a group in Canada performed one of my multi-voice poems with just the text as I had written it and these notes you are reading now (about how to perform multi-voice).

Multi-voice is excellent for having each speaker show different views of the same situation. As an example, when there are only two speakers, these voices can be used effectively in opposition to each other, this being emphasised with the speakers facing each other and using inflammatory language.

Types of Multi-voice. There are at least four types of MVP (Multi-voice Poem).

  1. Trigger word MVP. The “Poems” running side by side down the page are linked using “trigger” words and phrases. The Cascade Effect can (doesn’t have to be though) be used with a Trigger word MVP.
  2. In Poems like Twins and Loving You, two protagonists carry out a kind of conversation using MVP. Occasionally in these Poems, the speakers speak at the same time. But, quite often, they speak one at a time. Sometimes, however, the speakers’ lines cross-over and each takes over the words of the other.
  3. Side by Side. In this type of MVP, the two or more strands of Poetry going side by side down the page (“Poems”) are very similar. The small differences between the lines spoken create internal additional rhythms.
  4. Prose/Poem MVP. Here, much of the text is in prose. But at various points, the text changes into MVP.


Using cacophony with care. Cacophony can sound awful if kept up for too long. But it can emphasise a situation of change or peril out of which freedom (no cacophony and freedom for the character in the Poem) can arise. I think this is almost always a good thing, it shows optimism in any situation. But someone could argue (and someone has so argued) that some situations don’t change into a happy state quite so easily. You also have to imagine how much Cacophony your audience can take. Cacophony can be, so many voices reading at the one time that individual words cannot be heard. Or it can mean, just too much going on for the listener to keep up with events.

Blending the Voices Correctly. Take great care with how the voices blend. Even when not blending with another voice, the sound of each word should be appealing and effective. Sometimes the two (or more) performers read lines that are Almost identical. The one word or phrase that is different produces a “Beat” and these “Beats” can be built up line by line to produce a Rhythm. The down side of this is that performers find it hard: reading lines-that are nearly identical-at the same time.

Some of my Multi-voice Poems were developed with me using a voice recorder to take the part of a different voice (i.e. I would record myself as Voice1 then would speak the part of Voice 2 while the recorder was playing). A solo Poet could perform Multi-voice Poetry by reading one set of Verses while a recording of his/her voice-reading a complementary set of verses-was played at the same time. When learning a three or four part MV poem I can use a recorder to record all the parts of the other performers (I speak their parts myself) and rehearse with this recording playing.

If you have the same number of syllables in two adjoining “verses” then there will be a harmonious result. If you have different number of syllables in each adjoining “verse” then you will get a more chaotic sound.

Still try to have meaning in the Poem. Do not be held back by the writing of others writing. Use the Poems already in the Medium as an inspiration or a starting point. Not as the final word. Let your imagination be the final word. Also, Multi-voice Poetry should have more than just clever techniques and nice sounds. If planned well, it can allow more subtlety of meaning than one-voice Poetry. However, sometimes I think it is acceptable to have a Poem that works mainly because it just sounds really nice!

Multi-voice Poetry is new to most people and can work extremely well. Use the medium with care and you can get great results. The Poems can be fun for the performance Poet as well as the audience. For the performance Poet, because they allow lots of experimentation. For instance, with the fine-tuning of the timing that is involved.

From my own, limited, experience, of performing poetry, I felt a slight edge of competitiveness when all are reading single voice. However, I feel that when you are reading a multi-voice poem, that you do so knowing that you are part of a team. And that you are creating (hopefully) something beautiful together. The group of people that I have been performing multi-voice with have all bonded together quite strongly (or it may just be that they are all naturally nice people). Also, we each took part in each other’s multi-voice Poems (this increased the sense of bonding in the Group).

Other examples of Multi-Voice. After doing multi-voice for some time, I then looked at the Internet, and went through various books to see if anyone else was doing multi-voice. I found that at various points in time and place, poets have written and performed multi-voice. But the few examples that I have found are very different from the type of Poetry that I am writing and have described above.

Large Number Multi-Voice. Since I started writing multi-voice I have been writing different versions that are suitable for large numbers of people: these people being either the audience or the performing Poets taking up the tasks/voices between themselves. I recently devised a version which I think allows maximum variation around the basic idea. Firstly, I wrote a Poem about something that flows or changes (in my case it was the sea, but it could be e.g. time or emotion). There are definite points in the poem were things change by a large amount/in steps. This basic poem has words taken from its text and written up on cards for the audience to read, or for other members of the Performance Group to perform between them. Instructions on how the Poem is meant to be read are enclosed on the card for each member of the audience. The words should have meaning and should fit the various “steps”. In my Poem, I read about the sea and each verse has the sea becoming softer and softer. So, the audience have to read words that are very loudly spoken (in verse 1), then loud (verse 2), then normal volume(verse 3). The words themselves change from being harsh words like crash to softer words like lap. Each verse that I read has a number which relates to a number on the card the audience has: so members of the audience with card one read out their bit according to their instructions while I am reading verse one at the microphone. Similar occurs for verses two and three. Hopefully this relatively simple set up should keep the audience involved and should let them feel part of the poem-in meaning and in sound. This set up might sound a bit complicated but should allow audiences of thirty and upwards to take part in a poem.

In a Gaelic / English audience participation poem, I envisage some of the audience’s cards being translated into Gaelic so the Gaelic sounds are also part of the poem.


MV PLAYS. I recently finished work on the World’s first multi-voice Play. On 9th June, 2011, a five minute shortened version (dealing with some multi-voice aspects of the Play) was performed by the Workin Process Team as part of an Evening of Poetry / Drama interactions at the Iris Theatre in London. My short Play was one of fifteen picked from over 250 entries.

A MV Play has to be mainly MV but can have sections of single voice. Indeed MV benefits from varying from 1 to 2 to more than 2 speakers. Because there had to be a greater level of clarity needed (for the play format) I developed (for some of the scenes) a new type of multi-voice which does not obscure the words (and so the dialogue is easier to make out). I used the technique of having different minor speakers emphasise different words and phrases spoken by the main characters.

The full length multi-voice Play that I wrote is called, Birth of a Selchie.


Other languages. During 2010, Rachel Jury and confab found Funding for an English / Gaelic Multi-voice collaboration to go ahead. The idea was mine, as I had always wanted to do a multi-language multi-voice work. ConFAB however improved my idea by making the Show also have short plays and music as well as multi-voice multi-language poetry. The multi-language pieces worked. This was a huge thrill to me. I intend doing something similar with another language. For instance, I would like to work towards having a show where English and Japanese languages intermingled. I wrote the material for a Japanese and English multi-voice event but could not find Japanese poets to work with. I think there may be another Gaelic Voices as many of the Gaels who were involved expressed strong approval for the project (there never was).

When working with a poet who speaks a language other than English, I ask them to send me their poem, a phonetic rendering of it (in their language), and a poetic English translation of it. If I could get one, I would also like a “bridge” translation i.e. a literal translation. I then fit both languages together in the one poem. It helps if you have some knowledge of the sounds of the language and I spent years studying Gaelic and then Japanese. You obviously give full credit to the non-English speaking poet for all the work they have done.

When listening to ordinary translations of a poet’s work, I find that it does not always work that well. The listener hears a strange language. Then five minutes later hears the translation. Most people’s brains don’t fit the two together. With multi-voice you weave both languages so that you hear enough of the original language to enjoy the sound and the translation is also there mixed in. Even though the listener does not get all of each (original and translated poetry) they do relate to the poem much better. It does work!

For me, I see Multi-voice Multi-language Poems as something that can bring different communities together.

I have written a piece which can have lines inserted in any language (e.g. Urdu or French). It has a set of words that can be translated and fitted into it (a template). These words work when translated into any language. So someone performs the English speaking and someone performs the any other language speaking part.


TOUR OF          GAELIC VOICES, 2010

Friday 6th August: CCA, Glasgow.

Saturday 7th August: Eden Court, Inverness.

Tuesday 10th August: Ceilidh Place, Ullapool.

Wednesday 11th August: An Lanntair, Stornaway.

Thursday 12th August: The Lemon Tree, Aberdeen.

Saturday 14th August: Sabhal Mor Ostaig, Isle of Skye.

Monday 16th: Henderson’s at St John’s Church, Edinburgh.


The Tour was very successful. Audiences were usually around forty in number-which wasn’t bad for a new experimental work. After each show the cast would meet with audiences in the Bar of the Theatre and each member of the cast would talk to individuals from the audience and get their views on Gaelic and on the show.

I would like to thank Rachel Jury of conFAB who has found Funding for most of the Chromatic Voices Gigs (and one of the Chromatic Voices 2 events). Without Funding for shows I personally would not be writing any Poetry. I am not someone who can write without a readership or audience.

The term Multi-Voice seems to put people off, or so people have told me. If it didn’t sound so presumptuous I would call the Poetry Chromatic Voices do: writing in the Glasgow Style. This is because most of the Chromatic Voices Poets are from Glasgow. And few people outside of Glasgow (yet) have heard of Multi-voice Poetry.

Since I wrote the above I have been working with a new group of performers (actors) and we are called Chromatic Voices 2 (and they come from everywhere):


I have talked about multi-voice on National Radio. And have performed it at the Scottish Parliament.


Video clips of my solo voice are on YouTube and Vimeo..

I have a

multi-voice website. Web address is:

And another at:

And also at:

And at:


Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 4)

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (Part 4)



Chapter 8.




I am no expert in rhythms that are set out for the poet to work within-like Iambic Pentameter. Indeed I think it must be very hard to try to write a good poem and keep to the restrictions of the form at the same time. I know that great poets in the past have used this kind of set structure but to me it is very limiting. Listening to more modern poets who read their poems which have been written in complex set rhyming schemes, I just don’t get much sense of rhythm. I think these set structures can hamper the search for meaning and also the search for rhythm. When you read your own poems feel for the tiny rhythms that are already there. Build up a relationship with the rhythms of your poems and yourself. Trust your poem and your instincts!

In prose or poetry two connected beats that consist of an unstressed beat followed by a stressed beat are jointly called an iamb. This relationship between beats can be described in various ways: the most used example being ti-tum. If there are five iambs in a line or phrase (ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum) the line is called iambic pentameter. Penta means five.

Blank verse consists, to a large degree, of unrhymed iambic pentameter

If we consider Shakespeare’s line from Hamlet, To be, or not to be, that is the ques[tion.] The beat is said to be ti-tum, ti-tum, ti-tum, tum-ti, ti-tum, ti. So looked at closely, the line is almost iambic pentameter (five iambs). However, there is an extra syllable [tion.] He could have done without the extra syllable and had Hamlet say, To be, or not to be, that is the point. The line is so famous that it is hard to judge what Shakespeare gained from the extra syllable. Also, the fourth double beat is reversed and is tum-ti instead of ti-tum. The tum-ti (technically called a trochee) brings attention to bear on the fourth double beat, that is.

You are either a fan of Shakespeare’s plays or you are not. I am not. But every word is placed there exactly. He was not loose with the sound of his words.

Without the speaker consciously intending it, spoken English in ordinary conversation quite often follows a pattern of iambs. We instinctively find it easy to use.

One type of rhyme used to be called masculine rhyme-and this is where the two rhyming syllables are the last syllables in the line. The rhyme is now said to be a strong rhyme. Calling a rhyme “masculine” is now deemed to be outdated and sexist.

Another type of rhyme was called, feminine rhyme and this is where the rhyming syllables are the second last syllables in the line. This rhyme is now said to be called a weak rhyme.

Dylan Thomas often used a molossus. Whenever I listened to Dylan Thomas reading his poetry (on CD) I could hear that that he often used a triple rhythm i.e. three strong stresses in the same phrase. Sometimes the stressed words were also alliterated. Occasionally, one molossus would be followed by another, after a short break of perhaps one word. It is an interesting rhythm and people enjoy its short rhythmic “interruption” in the flow of a poem

Two worthwhile books to read are:

The Poetry Handbook by John Lennard. It has lots in it but is heavy going. There is also, An Introduction to English Poetry, by James Fenton. This is short but interesting.

Another book which teaches less but has more poems in it is, The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin.

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (part 3)

Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry (part 3)


Chapter 6.


Performance Poetry


A lot of people write poetry about important events in their life. Often this may be useful to them as it allows them to deal with e.g. bad memories. But often this type of poem is not , for others, especially interesting to listen to. Unless it has a new twist to it.

Take your time when you perform. You must read confident that the audience want to hear the Poem (anything less is an insult to the Audience, to the Poem, and to the Performer).

Take your time when you start your performance. Wait until all noise in the venue has ceased.

You might need to emphasise important words (or at least be aware in your mind that these words are particularly important e.g. underline them in the text you use to practise with).

Understand the importance of all the phrases you use.

Every word and phrase carries a meaning. Use them well and appropriately.

You must change the tone of your voice to suit the words you are speaking and the emotions you are communicating.

The words you speak may also have an attractive sound, and so deserve a particular mode of delivery. Pay attention to any inbuilt rhythm in the words, or in the sentences, or even rhythms built up through the Poem. You should listen to Dylan Thomas reading his poems in order to learn about rhythm in poetry. Also perform some Dylan Thomas poems yourself. To a modern day listener, Dylan Thomas sounds a bit dated, but his poems and his reading voice are full of rhythm (much more than any other poet I have read or listened to).

It is good to perform other poets work. It is good because you need to work out what they were meaning in their poem. You know what you meant in your poems. Well, I hope you do. Sometimes, I have performed what I thought was a pretty average poem (by another poet) and it has come to life. I find that quite often.

I have heard critics saying that because people like rhythm that poets should deliberately underemphasise (if there is such a word) any parts with rhythm. I disagree. I try to have as much rhythm as possible in my poems. People in audiences have said to me how much they enjoy poetry with lots of rhythm in it. Many famous poets who talk a lot about the essential nature of rhythm in poetry don’t seem to have much rhythm in their poems. I have listened to a few published poets performing their work live (and heard many poets online and in recordings and CD’s). Few seem to read with any great rhythm in their voice.

Be careful when you read faster, as words may become jumbled and hard to hear by the audience. But do vary your speed!

Pay particular attention to the words you read out at the end of a line: often people get quieter at this point. Others run out of breath. Breathe properly and make sure you have sufficient air in your lungs.

Make sure you read clearly-so the words can be heard. I normally speak with a strong Glaswegian accent. I do not like this. I do not think it sounds nice. And the audience will not understand all the words. So I try to speak “properly”.

Don’t read/speak from the page. Remember your poem.

Face the audience and speak to various members of the audience. Make good eye contact.

Act out the poem. Give the same amount of attention to the poem that a famous actor would give to reading Hamlet.

Practise so often that you know the Poem inside out and understand all its nuances (of meaning and of the sound of the words). And practise in front of an audience as often as you can.

Usually, the reading of the Poem should be a balanced whole and not unbalanced by one particular section.

If you can, record yourself reading the Poem and listen to it carefully. See where your reading of it can be improved. Ask yourself if you would enjoy it, if you were in the audience.

Perhaps take a Certificate in a, “How to Improve Your Voice” Course. I took such a ten week Course and it helped a lot (my natural voice is weak; has a dreadful Glasgow accent; is monotonous; has a narrow range, has little character, is effeminate, etc).

A Poem is short and has no gimmicks or music. The words are everything. Hopefully, the Poem you are reading is so well written that the audience will enjoy it.

See yourself as an actor delivering the main speech of the show.

A few simple props can help to support an idea. For instance, I use a mask when I perform a particularly sad poem about death. It does help to emphasise the importance of the message. Poetry is important. Never perform thinking, “It’s only a poem, the audience won’t like it and I must rush though it so they don’t get bored.”

I am not a fan of events were the props take over though.

I have performed with professional musicians trying to “support” the words of my poems. It was very far from my poems being turned into songs. However, I am a purist and think poems should “do the job” on their own.

The audience are there to experience the poem and your performance of the poem. Both should be as good as they can be.

Go to Poetry nights (advertised in Poetry magazines and on the Internet). Most Cities have a few poetry nights. Find one that suits you. Some are Academic. Some competitive. Some mainly comedy. Others are mostly music. Others exist to allow Poets to give opinions on each others poems. Listen to what others (critics) say, but trust your own “inner voice”.

Often, when I write a performance poem, I try to have some of the meaning (or the purpose of the poem) easily accessible to the listener. But I try to ensure that there are a couple of bits where they must reread the text or work at it in their own mind.

I have an awful memory and sometimes write poems as stories-so that they are easier to remember. My Poem, Muraho was originally written as a short story. For Refugee Week, I had to prepare a piece of writing. For two weeks I had writers block. I know little about the life of a Refugee, so I got started by writing down various episodes from the life of one of my Refugee friends. And then I found that a few rhymes suggested themselves. Then, I thought I may as well put the whole poem in rhymes-which I did: rhyming couplets. It is one of my favourite poems. An extract:


As she pours out the tea, her hands shake with the strain,

Dreams of her parents, her head filled with pain

A half-smile on her face as we eat and we drink,

But she never sleeps well and she struggles to think


Enjambment is a technique which also ensures that the performer and the reader of the poem is dragged onto the next line again and again. In Tam O’ Shanter by R. Burns the story never finishes on a line and the reader has to go to the next line to find the finish. But is then again “dragged” onto the next line, again and again. Try and read it and see.

When I first tried performing poetry at events, I was terrified. My voice and body shook with the effort of trying to remember the words and not make a mistake. Try to know all your poems (that you are performing at a Gig) by heart. I do though see nothing wrong with having the words on stage if you have a bad memory. If you go blank, better by far reading from the page for a page or two rather than totally forgetting an entire poem and standing there looking blankly at the audience.

The next stage of reading poetry is when you become confident with a few poems. Sometimes I use the same poem at four or five different poetry nights in a row. Usually each performance is better than the last. Sometimes, I have even found a better understanding of the meaning of the poem from this (even when it was my poem).

The last stage is to use a few simple props and to perform like an actor. I am just trying to enter this stage myself. Here you must deal with subtle changes in volume and tone in order to properly communicate things like differing emotional states.

Next, I will next deal with some of the things that I learnt at Voice Classes.

As someone who is almost tone deaf I find it hard to use pitch as an effect in my Poems. But I am using the relevant exercises that I was given at the Class. I think they are having a positive effect.

Although I have always used volume and timing as an effect, I now use timing much more: by this I mean putting in halts in the performance of lines (up to a second or two). I also use a change in the pace of delivery (of poems) more than I used to.

I have always used change of tone in a Poem (e.g. from a conversational tone to an intimate tone), but I try and do this more often than I used to.

Some people have naturally lovely voices (like Sean Connery). But although he only does the one voice it has been attractive enough to keep him in work all his life. The ideal is to have a lovely voice that can change in character and tone to fit lots of roles. This is very hard to achieve and can take years of training.

Below is a much shortened version of some of the articulation exercises I was taught at the Class. The exercise sheet below was a good length for me to use three or four times a day in the week leading up to a show. I simply don’t have the time to do all the exercises I learnt at the Class. Many techniques like Breathing and Relaxation, well you really have to go to a Voice Class to learn them properly (and I do recommend this).



Thanks to The Centre for Lifelong Learning at Strathclyde University for permission to reprint these exercises from their Finding Your Voice Evening Class (which I do use).



(all instructions carried out, and then whole sheet repeated once)


TONGUE TWISTERS. (each line said three times)


Peggy Bapcock

Red Leather Yellow Leather

Unique New York

A Cricket Critic

Lemon Liniment

Red Lorry Yellow Lorry

Rubber Baby Baggy Bumpers




pb,   td   kg,       kg   td   pb,       pb   td   kg,        kg  td   pb.


KEENING (pitch exercises-repeat for 30 seconds)

Make puppy dog noise through nose-going upwards in pitch, then lower in pitch


PITCH EXERCISE (repeat for one minute)

MA (middle pitch) MAW (low pitch)  MAY (high pitch)



“Come Here”, said loudly- repeated in different tones






Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry


Some Useful Ideas for Those Writing Poetry


Chapter 3 Haiku.


I work in a Secondary School (although I am a Science Technician, I have helped out with poetry events) and know how much pupils in English Classes enjoy writing Haiku. I think they prefer the haiku to every other type of poem. Perhaps, this is partly because it is such a short type of poem. Pupils spend ten minutes writing one. Failure or success, they haven’t wasted much time. But then, they see, sometimes, that the poem might be deeper than they intended. This poem is often the first poem they have enjoyed. Britain is not Japan, and Poetry is not usually seen as being worthwhile here. So the pupil might have had little experience of poetry in their life. I organised for a couple of years, a Twin between the School I worked in and a Japanese School. The Japanese end of things paid for translators to translate English to Japanese and Japanese to English. So with some delay, the pupils could chat to each other. The Japanese pupils had an amazing love for their own culture and poetry. Even Primary School pupils (whose posts we sometimes saw). I organised a Japanese day in the School and pupils performed haiku. And Staff taught Japanese skills.

Also, it is easy to convince oneself that one has written something meaningful because so many famous Haiku seem vague and hard to understand. And so a beginner poet can get away with writing a poem that is also a bit vague and hard to understand, due to inexperience rather than design. The writer believes it just could be a Zen masterpiece?!

It is a poem that can seem to be the easiest to write. However, it can still hint at ideas that take the reader years to fully understand.

The Japanese wrote many types of Haiku. However, pupils in Schools enjoy writing the type where there is an initial line that describes something. The second line describes something apparently disconnected. And the final line brings these two seemingly unconnected things together. This can be quite satisfying, for the reader and for the poet.

The subjects of the first and second line could be things separated by, for example, nearness; beauty, or awareness.

A “cutting” word, or kireji, is sometimes used in Japanese haiku. This has no real meaning but serves to introduce a change in the poem’s direction. In translations this is often included as an, “Oh” or an, “Ah”.

Japanese haiku tend to have a special word or phrase that describes the season in which the poem is set. Pupils quite like taking part in this little bit of tradition. Although the Japanese have dozens of words and phrases that they use.

Many people think that anyone writing Haiku has to write one that corresponds exactly to the rules that the original Haiku were written in. I think this is not helpful.

Firstly, there are dozens of rules relating to the Haiku and you could spend months getting to know them all. You could use the exact seasonal words and phrases the Japanese did and still do. But many relate to animals and plants that do not live in Britain.

You could write a first line of five syllables, a second of seven syllables, and a final line of five syllables, as happens in Japanese haiku. But this is not helpful in English. It adds nothing to the poem. English is a very differently set out language from Japanese. If you want to write a Haiku like some eighteenth century master you admire then you must be fluent in eighteenth century Japanese and in all the nuances of the dialect that were spoken in the region that poet was brought up in. A time machine would come in helpful here.

And, Japanese and Chinese masters of Haiku often liked to throw in a few literary allusions to previous poets or to mythological works.

I spent two years at adult classes learning Japanese (spoken and written). This was mainly to be able to speak Japanese haiku as well as I could. I also looked at Japanese poets reciting traditional haiku.

Another challenge in reading haiku is the fact that Japanese is not as precise a language as English is. And some of the poets deliberately wrote their poems in a way that allowed as many shades of meaning as possible.

I am not saying that we should not try to write poems that respect the Japanese love of Culture and Haiku. What I am saying is, you can’t write a traditional haiku in English. You can write a haiku inspired poem that obeys a few of the traditional rules. It need not even be over three lines, though three lines are a good length.

It is worth remembering that the Japanese when they write about a Season are often looking forward to the next Season. By this I mean that a poem about winter can really be saying something about spring.

All my adult life I have been fascinated with haiku and have read and written haiku. I have also tried to “translate” haiku. My Japanese isn’t good enough to do a translation properly, so I read as many proper translations of a poem (by different authors) as possible. And I use a dictionary to look more closely at some of the difficult words. When I have an idea of what the poem is saying, I try to write my own “translation”. This method teaches you a lot about the poem. I have used this method for looking at poems in Ancient Greek as well as in Japanese.

For two years I studied Japanese at night classes-mainly to get some understanding of the role of Japanese language – grammar and sounds – in a haiku. I strongly recommend that you start out writing haiku similar to my description above of how haiku in Schools are written. Also, try to read as many haiku as possible. You will be dependant on translations. Try to look at different translations of the same poem-to see what translation seems to work best for you. You will find that translations vary greatly.

Haiku are written about many subjects, mostly serious subjects. Although there are a very few irreverent Haiku.

Haiku are often a bit like a Koan. A Koan is an enigmatic mind puzzle used in Zen Buddhism to shake Monks and Nuns out of their habitual thinking processes

There are many poems written about Satori. Satori is the Zen word used to describe a first glimpse of a much deeper truth: enlightenment.

In Theravada Buddhism this step is known as First Jhana. Those who achieve this first step are not meant to boast about it. But they may write a Haiku which describes something of what they experienced. The sound of dry leaves is one symbol for Satori. Another is the sound of rain.

Some haiku are about the objects used for meditation. For example, the sound of water running over large stones is meant to be conducive to achieving a state of meditation.

The final line in a Zen haiku sometimes describes things from the different perspective of the monk who has finally achieved Satori. There is a poem by M. Basho where he is describing a horse moving across a scene that is observed by his mind. The last line describes the poet as now being part of the picture. So, he sees no separation of observer and observed. It needs quite a deep state of Satori to actually realise this. But the reader can intellectually understand this. However, although it is very difficult to actually attain that state, readers can, if they allow themselves, feel that there is a great depth to the poem. That is, it makes the reader feel a deeper and truer than usual sense of reality.

When I was fourteen, I first came across haiku in a library book at my School. I didn’t understand any of them totally, but they each made me feel that hidden within the words of the poem was a deep and satisfying truth. This made me interested in Zen Buddhism.

Japanese culture and art is very different from that of the West. But that should be seen as something interesting: a new way to look at life

For instance, Japanese paintings and poetry stress asymmetry before symmetry. Whereas, western artists and gardeners love symmetry.

Symmetry is where things ether side of a central line are in balance. Japanese calligraphy can sometimes have a huge white space set against a drawing and a tiny piece of writing in a top corner.

Japanese also love the strange and the tiny. They see lichens and mosses as just as beautiful as flowers i.e. everything has its place. To see lichens as beautiful requires a big change in perspective for a Western artist or poet. It comes naturally to many Japanese and Chinese.

Haiku tend to be about important matters. If a poem is about a seemingly unimportant matter like “what a frog is thinking about”, then the poet is probably asking some deep questions about philosophy and life and all that kind of thing.

The other joy of mine when reading Zen Haiku was the fact that the poems were often about nature. They tried to see animals from the perspective of the animal, and not from the selfish view of a small minded human. Animals are not merely “failed humans” in a haiku. K. Issa is the Japanese poet best able to relate to animals in his poems. Indeed, for a Japanese poet, he often writes in quite a Western manner: he often explains a lot in his haiku, rather than leaving it for the reader to read, explore, and question.


Distant mountains

Are reflected

In the dragonfly’s eyes


Another great poet worth reading is Y. Buson. Buson is said to be very difficult to translate. But still, some of his poems are stunning.


The evening breeze

Splashes water over

The heron’s legs


Perhaps the most famous haiku is one by M. Basho. The first line reads, “An old pond”. The second line deals with a subject seemingly disconnected from the first, “a frog jumping” This second line also shows that the poem was written in spring. As “a frog jumping” was a symbol for spring.

The last line describes something which is created from the joining of the first and the second happenings, “The sound of water”.

The reader may ask themselves, is this sound, this “splash” or “plop” as it has been variously translated, independent of the pond and of the frog. Or is it part of each? The last line reads in Japanese, “Misu no oto”. Here the repetition of the sound of the “o” may be a symbol for the ripples produced by the splash.

One of my favourite haiku is by H. Ransetsu:


Far above the monks-

Chanting on the misty road-

The wild geese fly


One “understanding” of this beautiful, deep, and visual poem, is that the monks are working hard to develop the Buddha nature that is in them, while all they have to do is to drop off all attachments and they will instantly be as free as the wild geese flying free above the mist. Mist might be seen as a symbol for delusion.

Monks are meant to work very hard at attaining their Buddha nature, their natural enlightenment, but they are also taught that there comes a stage where they must stop trying and just allow this state to come about. A poem, or a sound of a frog splashing into an old pond, may be the catalyst that will help initiate this change.

Another possible meaning of the poem is that the “honking” noise of the wild geese is like the chanting of the monks and both groups of creatures are searching for their Buddha nature in their own way. I have seen other explanations of the poem’s meaning in other books. Finally, it is what you, the reader, decide that is important.

Two terms which have changed over time; are described differently by different authors, and seem to be quite vague anyway are Wabi and Sabi. Wabi can mean accepting that the imperfections of life – like notches in a tea cup – have their own perfect beauty.

Sabi has been described as being about seeing beauty in things that are aged and weathered by time. Loneliness is also seen as a sign of Sabi.

And now I am going to give you a few ideas to use to get you started writing haiku. You do not need to go on a two week Creative writing Course. The intellect you have and the imagination you have will be enough to get started with. Just keep writing until the poems appear as if by magic, easily and often. Often can mean once a month or once a week.

Carry a notebook with you and write down words or phrases or ideas that you have when you are inspired. Go to places where you are more easily inspired, like a deserted seaside. Well, it works for me. Try to spend sufficient time working on building up your poem. If you can’t quite finish your haiku, then put it to one side and come back to it a week later. Read it as if it is completely new to you. Also, try reading it from the viewpoint of someone you respect who you have just shown it to. What bits would they like? Is every sentence perfect? Is every word the best word possible? Words are important!

Please trim off any excess words.

You only have three lines to complete, but take your time over them. Every haiku should be a complete thing of beauty. Perhaps you want to say something about how unfair life is. Or you want to describe how animals react to a change in the weather. In Zen, everything can be seen to have depth. Have respect for your poem. You are working hard to make it perfect. Some people write better and better as time goes on. Myself, I believe that the poems I wrote ten years ago are as good, or, depending on your opinion, as bad, as the ones I write today.

I tend to do things better if I saturate myself with the subject that I am participating in. If you want to write good poems, try reading as many different types of poems as possible. Anthologies from the library are good for getting to see as many poems from as many different poets as possible. New poets always complain that people read dead poets like Wordsworth or Dylan Thomas and not new poets like themselves. However, people have a rough idea of what they will get with the “dead poets” and new poets books tend to be very short and expensive.

Have a look at Poetry magazines and see if any takes your fancy. You might one day be sending poems to them and wanting them to publish your work. Remember that hardly any poet ever gets a book of their poems published.

A few years ago, I helped set up an Annual Vesak Buddhist Festival in Glasgow. As well as being one of the organisers, I ran a Stall which gave information about Zen. I gave out posters with haiku on them which visitors to the festival could draw an enso on. An enso is a circle which is drawn freehand with a brush and ink. A Zen master is said to be able to tell the state of someone’s mind from the circle they draw: but I was just doing it for fun. It was one of the busiest stalls there. As well as this, every hour I organised a public participation haiku reading session around a circular water feature in the Hidden Gardens. I had translations of twelve haiku which each dealt with the sound of a Bell. The circle of readers would read their haiku which was on a large piece of card. I would then ring a bell and the next reader would read from their card. People very much enjoyed taking part. This went on round and round the circle for about ten minutes. And then the event was repeated an hour later.

INTERACTING WORDS.  I have developed my own version of Haiku. Some of the Zen haiku I read seem to require the reader’s mind to grasp more than one concept/idea at the same time. If the right words are used by the poet, the reader can find the words forming something new out of their joining together i.e. it is as if they melt together in the mind and form a new entity. My opinion is that this can best be replicated in English by using a very short number of words to make up a new kind of poem. The reader is to hold each of the words in their mind – at the same time – until they form into a new concept/idea.

Indeed, I am working on ways to write Poems using as few words as possible. I know that certain Poetry Groups have done similar things before. However, I want the number of words used to be so restricted – between 4 and 8: any less than four has insufficient interactions and more than eight has too many interactions – that each word in the Poem has to interact with all of the other words in the poem, so as to create a new meaning.

These works are meant to be real poems. They are not merely puzzles or experiments. There is no definite sequence in the poem. There is no story being told sequentially downwards.

Simply think of all seven words at the same time and the Poem will come together in your brain-well, that’s the idea.


Seven Words


Red Poppy Ejected

Mud Fingers Poem



And now, the point of this book is that you try out these new ideas. Simply sit in a relaxed manner and imagine four or five words that you can join together to make a new idea. Then write them down as a poem as I have done above. Remember that there is no sequence to the poem. They must all be “held” in the mind at the same time.



BACKWARDS TRANSLATION.  My favourite poems are ancient and foreign. Consequently, for many years now, I have had to rely on translations of beautiful Greek, Japanese, and Chinese Poetry.  I understand how inaccurate translation is and I am trying to develop a new method of “backwards translation”. I have written a Haiku in English. It is a Haiku in meaning. I don’t believe that a Haiku needs to keep to all the rules (of a Japanese haiku) when it is written in English-the languages are too different to have to restrict oneself to a particular number of syllables-which, anyway, adds nothing to the work in English. I do try to depict a season, try to keep to three lines, and I try to have a depth to the poem. By depth, I mean in the way I write about nature or about a particular Zen topic. I have found a helpful Japanese Translator on the Japan UK LIVE website (an excellent website set up to allow School pupils from Japanese and English speaking Schools to write to each other). One of the Japanese contributors kindly translated my poem into the original language i.e. who “back translated” the poem into Japanese. The finished work is an accurate Haiku in English (no loss in translation) and has a Japanese “original” which will serve the purpose of letting the reader or audience hear the language that Haiku are usually written in. Some poets (e.g. some Gaelic poets) say that you should not translate from their language into English. Whatever the faults in the translation process, if there were no translations, then many of the world’s greatest books would be unknown to most of the world. I used to make translations of poetry from languages I didn’t know by reading an exact literal translation of the poem as well as many “poetic” translations. And then trying to understand what the poet meant, before making up my own translation. For two years I studied Japanese at night Classes and for two years I studied Gaelic at night Classes. I have been involved in many cross cultural and cross language projects. I intend doing “backwards translation” with other languages and poetic forms. I recommend it to others poets to try out. I believe it is an excellent tool and helps the audience and writer to have a better understanding of the poems “original” language i.e. the language such a poem would normally be written in. The poem below was written as I sat in meditation in a local park. I saw shadows moving about around my feet and it seemed that the wind blew these about.

The Wind Blows A HAIKU (TYPE) POEM


The wind blows the shadows

So hard, that the leaves fall

From the trees


Mr M. Matsumoto then composed a haiku in Japanese based on my English haiku –






Literally- Sunlight filters through,

A disruptive wind comes,

New leaves fall


M. Matsumoto from Amaji Elementary School in Ichikawa then also gave the poem in romaji (romaji is a phonetic rendering of Japanese characters)-so it could be read phonetically by an English speaking reader, or read out at a poetry night.–

Komorebi wo

Midashite fukukaze

Wakaba chiru

He added, In Haiku, you need to use ‘seasonal words’ [‘kigo’ in Japanese] that express the time of year. I imagined the scene as early summer, so my seasonal word is ‘wakaba’ (young leaves). With “The wind blows the shadows” I sense these are shadows cast by the light filtering through the trees – we have a word for this in Japanese which I have used – ‘komore-bi’. I took the wind as being wind strong enough to make the leaves fall. Thanks to M. Matsumoto for the (what I call) “backwards translation” and to Japan UK Live website for hosting such a valuable communication link.