Poetry Rehab 101 – Skin

For this week’s Poetry Rehab Task (Skin) http://maraeastern.com/2015/05/25/poetry-101-rehab-skin/ I am reposting this prose-poem I wrote over 25 years ago and first submitted for Writing 201 Poetry Course Assignment 7 – Fingers. It is also included in a book of prose-poems written a quarter of a century ago that I am attempting to publish through Amazon’s createspace.com. I would greatly appreciate any advice on this process.


Your Freckles

These dots of melanin occur quite without evident or reasonable order. Refreshing moles intermittently punctuate swathes of otherwise desert skin; do not blemish but accentuate its softness. Their magnitudes vary greatly: some are large and a very chocolate brown; others almost infinitesimal points of blond pigment, barely visible to the naked eye. Some constellate into large formations; two or more coalesce into binary or more complex systems; some, solitary, command huge expanses of unpigmented skin.

The surface of each human body is a largely uncharted firmament. The larger moles are not blessed with names of gods not otherwise worshipped. Unseen lines and patterns are not drawn between them, drawing legends from their random distribution. The volume of the human body is not drawn on rectilinear sheets overlaid with a navigable network of co-ordinates.

Being such unmapped surfaces, is it no wonder, we each feel so alone and uncared for; and so much the outsider in the world of others? If we learnt to be one another’s cartographers, love would not then be blind and intangible.

How dare the cosmologists have plotted the beginning and the end of time when each one of our terrestrial bodies lies uncharted! How dare men’s boots have imprinted the moon’s dusty craters, when my fingers have not traced imaginary lines between your freckles!


First Crush

This is a sort of coming-of-age poem based on a dimly-remembered event that occurred thirty-four years ago, on the eve of my 17th birthday. I almost certainly wrote about it at the time, but my adolescent poems have long-since been lost—there was no cyberspace back then for them to be forever engraved on—and that is probably for the best. This is, therefore, an attempt to recreate an adolescent poem at the age of 51. It fits roughly into Mara Eastern’s Poetry 101 Rehab Recycle and Couple categories. http://maraeastern.com/2015/05/11/poetry-101-rehab-recycle/

First Crush

Birmingham was not quite the right place for it,

though the campus was leafy and lush

and the scent of Mayflowers graced

the still not too starkly sunlit air.

The nervous girl with a crucifix and a low-cut dress

And I chatted awkwardly between lectures.

Ovid’s Amores was possibly not the best choice of topic.

Driving back, my parents had another horrid row

About nothing, and the heavens were split open by a thunderstorm,

As they had been, I am told, the evening I was born.

I tilted my forehead forward against the cooling car window

And mirrored the clinging rivulets of raindrops with quiet tears.

I never knew her name.

New Moon

I originally wrote this poem in December 2000 and submit it now, only slightly changed, as a contribution to the Poetry 101 Rehab challenge on the theme of Dark. http://maraeastern.com/2015/05/18/poetry-101-rehab-dark/


New Moon

(Hekate Deipnon)

When in times of transition

a sign appears

of the moon to come

held fleetingly

in the arms of the old,

when in times of transit

an image lingers

of the past moon

shiveringly pinned

on the horns of the new,

and, when in times of trance

the shadow of the old moon

and the egg of the new

mix and dance shimmeringly

on a shared sliver of gold,

the moon

rises long before you can actually see it

and not long after it is made visible

by the advent of the night

is gone.

The Voter’s Dilemma

With the UK election only two days away now, I feel obliged to comment on the choices and possible outcomes.

I have commented much on British and Scottish politics in the past few months and, with two days to go now to the tightest election in recent UK history, will weigh in briefly with some last-minute reflections, predictions, and suggestions.

With the result of the election, for the first time in decades, no longer a foregone or near-foregone conclusion and the two-party system irrevocably broken in many parts of the country, the tactical choices of individual voters will matter as never before.

It used to be the case that each constituency leaned ‘naturally’ to the Tories or to Labour. Tactical voting was confined to voting Liberal or Liberal Democrat in areas where one of the two major parties had no chance of winning. This was, in my view, a heartless, gutless and largely pointless choice of vote, only bearing fruit when one of the main parties was winning overwhelming support nationwide anyway.

This state of affairs only encouraged the Liberal Democrats—pushed into an opportunistic corner—to try to have it both ways: campaigning on a Labour-friendly ticket in the south of the country and Tory-like policies in the north.

Although the Lib Dems should be commended for having some MPs who genuinely work hard to represent their constituents and rightly enjoy their enduring esteem and support—perhaps more so than many Labour and Conservative politicians—the party itself has never stirred much passion or represented any core values on a wider scale.

For this reason I have traditionally eschewed tactical voting and voted for the party I believe in, even when this meant, in a first-past-the-post electoral system, that my vote would obviously not count.

This election is different, however, since many other feasible options, which may indeed make a difference, are now available—although these may narrow as polling day approaches.

Many voters, in various parts of the country—and not just floating or disenfranchised ones—are now confronted by a genuine tactical dilemma and the way their votes go in this decision-making game writ large may well determine the outcome of the election and the future course of the country. Like all decision-making games, it comes down in the end to a battle between one’s own head and heart, as much as to a desire to outwit a largely imaginary opponent.


Scotland is the part of the UK where the result seems clearest. Outraged by the perceived betrayal of Scottish Labour in last year’s referendum on independence, the Scottish people seem intent, as all polls suggest, on booting all but a rump of Scottish Labour MPs out of the UK parliament and replacing them with Nationalists. I fully understand their feelings and would probably vote SNP myself, if I lived in that neck of the woods, especially since the SNP, since the 1980s, has carefully, if a little too opportunistically for my liking, positioned itself to the left of the Labour party, while the Labour party—equally opportunistic—now hovers over the center ground and tipped sharply to the right during the Blair administration.

However, I have a word of warning for the Scots and those further to the left, such as myself, who admire the Scottish National Party. However much the heart may tell you that it is just to vote SNP, whichever way you slice it, the logical outcome of this will be that any gains that Labour is likely to make in England and Wales will be cancelled out and perhaps reversed by the result in Scotland. This is a genuine dilemma, especially for a Scottish people renowned both for their canniness and sense of social justice. Personally, I would go partially with my heart, in the hope that a large block of SNP MPs will have some sway over a future national Labour government, but also, secretly hoping, that enough traditional Labour voters in Scotland will, when it comes to the crunch, turn from heart to head, and return to Labour, thereby ensuring that the party clings on to enough seats in Scotland to ensure them the largest number of seats nationwide.

This is complicated decision-making logic—voting with the heart only because one thinks there are enough people who will vote with their head to avert a Labour wipe-out. And at what point does the perception that such a counterweight no longer exists tip the balance back the other way? And this is in Scotland, where the opinion polls seem to paint the clearest picture.

In English constituencies held by the Liberal Democrats, some key voters face an even greater, perhaps impossible dilemma. In 2010, many Lib Dem voters voted tactically—to keep the Tories out in the South, or Labour out in the North—because they were impressed by the performance of their local MP, or on single issues, such as university tuition fees. As I suggested above, I think that the number of people who vote Lib Dem out of longstanding party loyalty or passion for its core values is so small as to be almost negligible.

Those who voted for the Lib Dems in 2010 in the hope that they would side with Labour, abolish tuition fees or press for environmental conservation are understandably bitterly disappointed and disinclined to vote for them again. Everything in their heart must be urging them to vote Labour, Green or simply not vote at all. However, every logic tells them that the result of this, in constituencies in the south of England where Labour have no chance of winning, still less the Greens, will only be to bolster the Tory share of the vote and perhaps compensate for losses the Conservatives are expected to incur in other parts of the country.

Tactical voting, in these cases, in a razor-edge election, is no longer an irrelevance but a necessity; and I suspect that, in many constituencies in the south, heads will rule hearts and the Lib Dem share of the vote will hold up; as it will in the north, where—a truth that is rarely told—Lib Dem voters got exactly what they had always wished for in May 2010.

For this and other reasons, therefore, I suspect that the Lib Dems will do somewhat better on the night of May the 7th than their current standing in the national polls suggests.

UKIP is a relatively new phenomenon. A populist right-wing movement centered on the single issues of withdrawal from the European Union and opposition to immigration, it draws support from the elderly and disaffected, especially in traditionally conservative parts of the country that have recently fallen on hard times. Many of its supporters have never voted before; some are disaffected Conservatives; a few old-school Labour. The party has been buoyed by a media interest in its exotic nature and maverick leader disproportionate to true levels of support and incommensurate with some of the widely despised and outlandish opinions it is inclined to tolerate or espouse.

The disaffected will probably stick with the zeal of the converted to their newfound cause. Those who have turned to UKIP from the right-wing of the Tory party may, however, increasingly come to calculate, in the run-up to polling day, that it is not likely that UKIP will be in a position to force the Tory Party rightwards by way of coalition and that their vote may even tactically favor Labour in some parts of the country and drift grudgingly back to Cameron or forgo their right to vote.

The extent to which the outcome of the 2015 UK election may be determined by the whims of such albeit understandably misguided individuals is highly worrying. There is always the disturbing possibility that David Cameron, in the last few days of the campaign, may attempt to ‘do a Netanyahu’ and make a last-minute duplicitous yet damaging high-profile appeal to the extreme right.

It would be a huge gamble on the part of an instinctively cautious sitting PM, especially given the duplicitous tack to the left that the Tory campaign has so far pursued. Frankly, I doubt he has the courage to take the risk; although that does not rule out delegating the dirty work to someone else—a not especially attractive self-serving tactic that Cameron has mastered over the past five years.


I was going to begin this blog post with a disclaimer stating honestly from the outset my own preferred election outcome—a Labour-SNP coalition with some SNP MPs in key national government positions. After all, if the union Scotland voted for in September 2014 is truly a reality, it is only fair that members of a party that commands more than 50% of the popular vote in their own nation play a proportionate role in the government of the union as a whole. My heart tells me that is just fair play, regardless of the potentially mind-bending political conundrums it might pose.

However—apart from the fact that the leader of the Labour Party has already firmly, maybe unwisely, ruled this out—I figured that, had I placed my heart on my sleeve from the outset, some who disagree with my personal opinions would have simply stopped reading there and then The aim of this blog is to encourage debate; not contribute to the further division of readers into competing tribes.

I cannot vote in the UK, although it is the only country in which I have voted in the past. Apart from a brief adolescent flirtation with the Liberals in 1983—partly tactical, partly out of a boyish enthusiasm for the underdog—I never swayed from a Labour vote, even when, during the Thatcher years, this was clearly a lost cause. I voted with my heart, because voting with my head would have made no difference to the ultimate result. In 2010, I would have voted Labour, but without much enthusiasm or vociferous support—owing to the role I believe their economic policy played in increasing the UK’s exposure to the global financial crash—although not in the simplistic way that the Tories are apt to portray this.

This year however is different and I am surprised by the degree of apathy that prevails—Scotland apart—with regard to an election that will determine the future course of the UK both economically and in terms of its relation to itself and to the outside world.

Perhaps apathy is the wrong word; voters are simply stunned by the enormity of the choices they are expected to make and the seemingly inevitable stalemate that is likely to result from the sum of their head and heart decisions.

Tactical voting—in the most noble sense of weighing head against heart—will this time matter more than ever before. I therefore urge people, both against and with my heart, to vote tactically… this time. Who knows?—and I think everyone has this somewhere at the back of their minds—there is very likely to be another election (groan as you may) very soon, in which the vote from your heart might be able to be given freer rein.

For now, however: if you live in a constituency in England or Wales where there is a straight choice between Tory and Labour, vote Labour or Tory. If you don’t want another Tory government and live in a constituency where the Lib Dems currently enjoy a slight majority over the Conservatives, vote Lib Dem. If you live in a run-down seaside town mismanaged by decades of both Tory and New Labour misrule, vote UKIP. If you live in Scotland, weigh your heart against your head, and vote SNP or Scottish Labour as you see fit. In North Wales likewise weigh up Labour and Plaid Cymru. In Northern Ireland, vote Sinn Féin, if you are a Catholic, but urge your representatives to take up their seats in Westminster; vote Alliance, if you are a Protestant or non-sectarian. Wherever you live, don’t vote Green and don’t follow false self-appointed prophets who urge the young not to vote.

This is not as simple a suggestion as an impassioned cry to ‘Vote Labour’ or ‘Vote SNP.’ A fragmented and divided country requires a fragmented voting strategy and truly pluralistic representation. The outcome may well be stalemate but it will be a negotiable and reversible stalemate that more genuinely represents the will of the people and the peoples that make up the UK than a perpetually dissatisfying and alienating system of one-party rule based on a minority of the popular vote.