I’m going to be poet in residence in a cab firm in Canterbury. Cabco. One of my laureateship duties. What fun! The idea is I spend a couple of Saturdays hanging out at their base, talk to drivers, collect stories and make poems out of them. I need seven more Canterbury tales cos only 23 out of Chaucer’s 30 pilgrims get to tell their story. The Canterbury Tales is an unfinished symphony – the effort killed Chaucer, whose original plan was for each pilgrim to tell 2 tales on the way to Canterbury and 2 on the way back to London. A total of 120 stories. Well, Boccacio did it, why couldn’t he? I’m already behind schedule in trying to write 30 poems in two years and I think it’s about time to go into 5th gear and take on some urban rather than classical myths. The weight of literary tradition can be both liberating and stifling. Having had some brilliant but uncomfortable feedback about my version of The Knight’s Tale, I think it’s time to let my hair down a bit and return to the complete rewrite exploding with creativity.

Anyway, yesterday I spent several hours hanging out at Cabco to get an idea about how I’d get ideas. It wasn’t difficult to get stories. The manager, Rob Jones, could have given me all the tales I need. (He’s currently making a DVD series about how to successfully run a cab business). I also spoke to a couple of cabbies who told me stuff, not just what happened to them but what happened to their fellow cabbies. Some extracts from my notes (haven’t yet listened to interview recordings so a bit sketchy on the details). Not bad for a ‘planning day’:

  • Women are worse than men. In what way? Cab sat No 1 in queue (use terminology). Two pretty girls turn up and one asks how much to Faversham (where was it). Cabbie quotes the price. Then she says well how about I suck and she blows and you take us to Faversham. Cabbie says no. She punches him in the mouth and draws blood. Then moves on to No 2 in the queue. Cabbie never finds out what happened but guesses that someone took them on.
  • Lots of laughter when asked for stories. They’re not repeatable. Only been doing it five months and there’s so many stories. You wouldn’t believe what people get up to, it’s like a film. *People waking up the wrong bed and having to get a cab quickly. Why, cos they’re having an affair? People not knowing where they are cos they’re so drunk. They might end up in a strange bed and not remember getting there* or fall asleep on the train and miss the last one back. Do you take a drunk fare? Depends how drunk they are. You assess them. If they’re zig sagging they’re very likely to be sick so you don’t take them but if they’re a bit wobbly but reasonably coherent you take them.
  • Another cabbie says in eight years he’s only had two people do a runner. No, he wouldn’t bother running after them, not for a small fare. What if it was £100? He’d run them over.
  • Couple of cabbies tell of a cabbie chasing after Father Christmas and catching him and sitting on him till the police arrived. (Or am I mixing this one up with the recent one of the cabbie chasing a fare dodger?) Anyway, the father Christmas one is quite funny.
  • Another one about doing a runner I might call one in ten. According to Rob about one in thirty try to do a runner (check facts as that seems like quite a lot – wonder what book says). Maybe one in ten are a story.  This cabbie,  everything happens to him. Or he’s the only one who’d admit it. Anyway, within weeks it happens to him twice: people doing a ‘runner’ in a wheelchair. Or trying to. Both were drunk. The first one had such trouble trying to get up onto the pavement the cabbie gave him a hand and then demanded the fare. The second tried to ‘leg it’ up a steep hill. Got some of the way up then rolled all the way back down. Cabbie was waiting at the bottem for his fare. The hill could be a 1 in 10. 


The Crow

I promised to post it so here’s The Manciple’s Tale aka The Crow. The story’s quite close the original with a twist at the end. Not a final version but going in the right direction I hope. Still got to work on the names but the story’s set. Think black and white horror film:

Why I come here? You ask me I come.
I bring good wine, you cook. I like you
but my heart is in cage. Me and you,
it not work. This house is clean. Like you.
Your hand, there is no ring. Why I come             
to this land? They say good wine speak truth.
Why is crow black? I speak with my heart.

       Where I from like this. Small place.  Is cold
but life good. I young, strong. I look good,
my hair is bright sun. Look at me now. 
I play harp, I sing like bird. No man
sing like I sing, no shoot like I shoot.       
Live in wood, I read bird, sky like book.
I build house, kill pig, sell pig. Grow rich.
They say, he good man, work hard, clean heart.
I see girl black hair like you. Wild bird.
I love her. Put her gold ring in church,
put her on perch, feed her meat and drink.
       I work hard. Buy wife fine dress, red shoe,
fur coat. She cook, she clean. I pay maid.
My wife, she is my queen. I buy her
white bird for pet, white like snow-white swan.
It talk. It say my wife word. It say
Pavel to me, my name. It don’t talk
to my wife. Just me. Pavel! it say.
       One day it rain bad, sky break in two.
I stop work, come home. My wife not there.
Bird in cage wink. It say, I love you,    
Igor! Not my name. Bird say twice,
I love you, Igor. My heart break in two.
My wife, my wild bird, eat worms in wood.
       She come home. I don’t talk. Her white bird
say, I love you, Igor. She go white.
I take knife and…she dead. I kill her.       
Then I break harp, stab knife hard in chair.
This bird, it see all. I mad. My hair
fall out like snow. The shock. Wish I die.
My wife, my gem make love me, not him.
She lie dead, swan white face. White bird lie.
I curse bird fork tongue. But curse come back.
When hair grow back, they black. I sleep bad.
I lose taste, sweet tongue, song. I see things,
bad things. I know when it storm and rain,
know when man die. Crow sit in my heart.

So I come here. Small place. Make new start.
They say, he good man. No one know me.
You see all things, Pam, you know is true.
You love me. Do not say. Cage your tongue
in teeth and lips. Your tongue, it cut love
in two. Cage your tongue, sweet snow-white bird.
Put your hand here. My heart, it is wild.


Watched Momento. What a mad film! I love suspense but the suspense here was cubed. It’s from the perspective of a man with an unsual type of amnesia in that he can’t remember anything two minutes before. He can remember everything perfectly before his wife is killed. Or so he says. Watching the film feels like having his condition. It’s uncanny. It’s deeply disturbing. The plot is revealed backwards, starting with a murder. It’s classified as film noir as it’s beautifully filmed and cuts black and white footage into the colour. Read the link to get the detail. What I got from it is this: a wonderful sense of freedom as an artist. The possibilities of plot are endless. Basically, my project is about rewriting stories. Yes, they’re poems, but I can’t get away from narrative. Momento reminded me to play. To jump around, omit, use unreliable narrators etc etc. Remember, I’m the one who wrote a mirror poem. I love disrupting narrative. But I’d got so caught up with reproducing the original I forgot I could play. Not that I’ve done it yet. But a timely reminder.

Also loved how he tattoed himself in order to remember essential things, to add purpose to his life. And took photos then wrote specific notes on the photos. The film is primarily about a man trying to create his life plot but there’s a subliminal plot about creation itself.  The writing on the body, on the photos. The photos. It’s as if he himself is making a film about himself. Mad stuff.

Went to the theatre last Saturday. Aiden Dooley’s show Tom Crean. I saw it in an earlier incarnation. Fabulous. I felt the ice freeze on the hairs on the back of my neck. I know Aiden and have seen the show develop into something awesome. He became Tom Crean. He took us to the Antarctic. We could feel it. Emotionally and physically. And back to narrative, Aiden used original diary footage so effectively to authenticate the experience , hear a range of voices,  transport us back to the early 20th century.

And what am I working on at the moment? Still on the Manciple’s. It’s a first person narrative in one-syllable words. I wrote it as prose, as condensed as I could without editing too much at that early stage, then chopped it up into 9-syllable lines. I deliberately went for an odd number because poet Matthew Francis recommends that for syllabics you need to avoid even syllables as you tend to slip into iambics. He’s right. As soon as I allowed myself the odd 10-syllable line it was iambic pentameter. I chopped it up knowing that it was prose chopped up. During that process I got rid of 1/10 the poem, just to make lines fit. The editing process had begun. Since then I’ve whittled it and whittled it, like a sculptor, to add tension to the narrative. It still needs some work before it’s fit for human consumption. But it makes sense. The voice has been a supreme challenge because the speaker had to be foreign. I’m not specific about his origin but I have to name him. It’s essential to the narrative, and that name will pin him down to a specific region. You’ll get to read a version of it next week. In the meantime, I have two Lovefilm rentals to watch and Blade Runner (The Final Cut) in transit from Watch this space…