Going over to the Dark Side

Scary tombstones
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I’ve just got back from my third Arvon course on creative writing, so you should certainly be noticing a difference by now.  I wrote about my first experience of these courses in my December 2010 blog ‘Blogger’s block?’ but I kept the second one quiet as I wanted to preserve my poetic muse from the withering effects of the muffled sniggering.  My comrade-in-arms in the crusade to become the next Carol Ann Duffy (or, more likely, E J Thribb) is Deirdre, fellow judge and erstwhile chicken expert.

The course title this time was ‘Finding a subject’.  The tutors were Claire Pollard and Neil Rollinson.  Before pitching up at the Arvon Centre in deepest James Herriott country, I’d never heard of Neil Rollinson (or Claire Pollard, for that matter).  In fact, I hadn’t even looked at the course materials until I got on the train but, as usual, the ever-dependable Deirdre had, and she was Worried.

Neil’s first poetry collection, ‘A Spillage of Mercury,’was described by one reviewer as ‘tough, explicit and wickedly clever’ and his second was called ‘Spanish Fly’.  Deirdre’s body of work consists mainly of nature poems inspired by looking out of the train window on her daily commute from Peterborough to London.  For Neil, a poem without scatological references is like a chip butty without the chips.  Now you can see why Deirdre was Worried.

When I met Neil on the first morning I was completely thrown (or put off my stroke, as Neil would probably have said) by his uncanny resemblance to my father as I remember him from childhood.  Seeing your dad reading out poems such as ‘Ode to a p***’ about being caught short in unfortunate circumstances made it very difficult to concentrate during the daily tutorials with Neil so I stopped going.  That left me with time on my hands and so, naturally for a tax lawyer in her week off, I became obsessed with writing a gothic horror villanelle.

I’m sure you all know what a villanelle is but here’s a quick reminder for those of you whose knowledge of verse forms is a bit rusty.  A villanelle is a nineteen-line poem with two repeating rhymes and two refrains. The form is made up of five tercets followed by a quatrain. The first and third lines of the opening tercet are repeated alternately in the last lines of the succeeding stanzas; then in the final stanza, the refrain serves as the poem’s two concluding lines.

It took me all week and the rhyming scheme nearly cost Deirdre her sanity but I did it and here it is.  Eat your heart out, Edgar Allen Poe!

Memento Mori

The beast from the cistern lopes into my home.

Steam wraithes writhe upwards and spirits foment.

I’m scrabbling and gurning under the loam.


Under blood-hot water, pillowed by foam,

Embalmed by bath unguents, I’ve got the blood scent.

The beast from the cistern lopes into my home.


Tucked in my marble coffin, headstone of chrome,

Like the bride of Count Vlad and one to hell bent,

I’m scrabbling and gurning under the loam.


Laid out in my tomb, my brain’s on the roam,

Synaptic short-circuit or prefigurement?

The beast from the cistern lopes into my home.


Flinging aside her comb of bone,

Mam’selle Corday drifts out through the vent.

I’m scrabbling and gurning under the loam.


I’m risen anew but stuck in the gloam,

Shrouded in towels and pure malcontent.

The beast from the cistern lopes into my home.

I’m scrabbling and gurning under the loam.


Nothing to do with tax but I did also write a nonsense poem which I am rather proud of and, if enough of you ask, I might let you have a peek.

Tax lawyer specialising in business tax, SDLT and VAT

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